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An Excerpt of "The Para-Dietitian: The Exorcism of a Bad Chicken" by Jeannine Clarke

"The Para-Dietitian: The Exorcism of a Bad Chicken" by Jeannine Clarke is featured in Volume 10: Satellite of Love. The following is an excerpt.

It was late afternoon when Janet pulled up to the Spencer house in her tan Honda Civic. The heat of the summer seeped in, despite the best efforts of the air conditioner in her car.

Gathering her black medical bag from the backseat, Janet took a moment to check its contents. She had learned long ago that it was best to be prepared for any eventuality. Satisfied all was as it should be, she closed her bag and adjusted the plastic badge on her jacket that read in bold text, “Janet Lenski, Para-Dietitian, Agency for Paranormal Gastrology.”

The Spencers lived in a modest home, with freshly cut grass and well-tended flower beds. Mr. Spencer, a short, round fellow that looked to be in his 60s greeted her at the door, obviously relieved to see her.

“Please do come in,” he said. “She’s in the back bedroom.”

Janet dutifully followed him through the house to the back bedroom, where Mrs. Spencer lay. The woman was sprawled on a crumpled wad of bedsheets in a simple pink flowered nightgown, her skin pale and clammy. She gave no indication of seeing Janet but continued to stare blankly at the ceiling.

“Hello, Mrs. Spencer,” Janet said gently, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. “I hear you’re not feeling well.”

“Make the noise stop. I want to go back to my house,” cried Mrs. Spencer, clenching the bedsheet.

“She doesn’t seem to know where she’s at,” Mr. Spencer explained as Janet took her patient’s pulse. “She’s been going on all morning about being on a farm. And she’s hearing noises.”

Janet turned towards Mr. Spencer. “This seems to be a severe case of dietary haunting. I need to know everything she ate in the last 24 hours.”

Mr. Spencer paused to think, and then listed a typical assortment of meals and snacks, before admitting, “One thing… we did celebrate my daughter’s birthday yesterday, with a family dinner here. But I don’t think it’s that because nobody else got sick.” He paused. “There was a roast chicken.”

“That would make sense, Mr. Spencer. In dietary hauntings, the spirit usually chooses just one person who has consumed it to haunt,” Janet explained. Once again, Janet had to dispel misinformation about dietary hauntings; she found it an unending war. “Was the chicken from the market?”

Mr. Spencer shifted his weight uncomfortably. “Well, not exactly. Got it from a fellow who sold them out of his truck. He said it was clean, humanely killed, and had its last rites and all.” Mr. Spencer paused. “It’s just that market chicken is so expensive.”

Janet sighed. It was a story she heard regularly; someone wanted to cut corners by getting a chicken cheap, and then the hauntings started.

She turned, considering Mrs. Spencer. Janet rarely saw such a severe case of dietary haunting; most cases did not leave a person bedridden. Oddly, this was her second serious case this week. This chicken Mrs. Spencer had ingested seemed determined to make her life hell.

Usually, the spirits of such animals were simply confused and just needed a bit of help in crossing over. However, this spirit seemed different… well, now. She was getting ahead of herself.

“First things first. We need to have a séance,” Janet announced.

“We do?” Mr. Spencer said, surprised and a bit concerned.

“Yes. We need to ascertain if it is a chicken, and if so, what that chicken needs to move on to the other side.” Janet cracked open her black medical bag and began pulling short yellow candles from it.

“Oh, dear.” Mr. Spencer said, the apparent weight of his mistake settling in.

“Now, Mr. Spencer, I’ll need your help in preparing the house. To call the chicken’s spirit, we will need to place a candle at all places in the house that the chicken was prepared or consumed. Shall we get to work?”

Janet ended up placing five candles at Mr. Spencer’s direction; on the dining table, inside the oven, on top of the dishwasher, inside the refrigerator, and of course, on top of the rubbish can. She murmured “Exorcizamus te, gallus gallus domesticus” as she lit all five candles. Then she and Mr. Spencer went to the kitchen to pour a ring of salt. Janet was careful to measure the correct amount —even an undead chicken could be over-seasoned. She poured holy water on her hands and took a small bundle of sage from her bag. Lighting the sage, Janet placed it on a plate that had held the chicken and put it in the middle of the salt circle.

At first, nothing happened. Just as a doubtful look began to cross Mr. Spencer’s face, a breeze stirred through the house. The room darkened, as if a cloud had passed above them, obscuring the bright summer sunlight. Something fowl was in the air, something unnatural.

Inside the salt circle, a ghostly apparition formed of light, mist, and shadows. The form of a large chicken became visible, its eyes blackened holes and its beak spilling rancid broth. It squawked an unearthly sound, and in the back bedroom, Mrs. Spencer cried out.

“Dear God in heaven!” Mr. Spencer wailed, covering his ears to stop the piercing sound.

“It’s a poultergeist, Mr. Spencer!” Janet yelled over the squawking. “We must exorcise the beast if we are to save your wife!”

The chicken, mad with rage, tried to burst from the confines of the salt circle but luckily, the circle held.

Janet gathered bundles of thyme and rosemary, and after dipping them in lemon juice, used them to make symbols on the kitchen floor in front of the salt circle.

The poultergeist, sensing that Janet was attempting to banish it, renewed its efforts to break through the half inch line of salt containing it. This was no spring chicken, Janet thought. And it was madder than a wet hen.

“Mr. Spencer, we must hurry!” Janet yelled over the din. Together, they used the thyme and rosemary to draw lines of lemon juice between the candles in the room. The juice glowed yellow in the darkness, and the unearthly wind turned into a full gale, blowing spices off their rack and dish towels off their hooks.

Janet pulled a carving knife from her black medical bag, as all the coupons Mrs. Spencer kept near the telephone flew off the table and into the air. Temporarily blinded by the storm, Janet desperately groped for her thyme and rosemary.

A coupon for eggs fell onto the salt line, creating a small break in the circle. The poultergeist, seeing its opening in the circle, screamed, “BUK-CUK!” and pushed its energy towards the marred line.

In a thunderous crackle the spirit was abruptly gone, and the room fell silent and still. Janet and Mr. Spencer looked at each other.

“Is it… done, then?” Mr. Spencer asked.

“Do I really need to warn you about counting chickens, Mr. Spencer?” Janet said.

The room remained dark. A quiet sound made Janet turn to look at the hallway. There stood Mrs. Spencer. Her pink nightgown hung limply on her, and a ghastly paleness had overtaken her skin. For a moment, hope leapt in Janet’s heart, and she thought perhaps Mrs. Spencer had overcome her affliction. But no sooner than she had the thought, Mrs. Spencer’s head snapped up to look in her direction. Her eyes were black and glassy, and she began to move her legs with a frantic motion, scratching the floor.

Janet’s chest tightened. She had only read of such a state in her textbooks: Restless Egg Syndrome. The poultergeist had entered Mrs. Spencer’s body and now commanded it completely...

To read the rest of "The Para-Dietitian: The Exorcism of a Bad Chicken," purchase Volume 10 in our bookstore or on amazon.

To read an interview with the author, Jeannine Clarke:

Jeannine Clarke is a writer, performer, and director living in the Pacific Northwest. Her short story “Skipping Back” appeared in issue 47 of  Luna Station Quarterly. Her improv comedy work has been featured at Emerald City Comi-Con, Geek Girl Con, The Seattle Festival of Improv Theatre, Improvaganza in Honolulu, Hawai’i, and The Denver Improv Festival. When not writing or performing she can be found petting dogs or finishing her latest endeavor: a novel!

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