7:4: “Exodus”, by Rachel Swirsky

7:4: “Exodus”, by Rachel Swirsky

The hens don’t want to trust me. They flap and rustle, crowding their roost. I’m everything they fear: chilling howl, arctic fur, glistening teeth. Hunger yawns in my stomach. I control it.

The full moon shines down, rich as alabaster. I open the coop and pad inside. The hens panic. I transfix them with my gaze and make them still.

Out, I tell them, Past the corrals. Past the farmhouses stippling the hills and the slow-eyed cattle standing while they dream. Past the corn fields and lonely roads and blackberry bushes.

Into the woodland where falling leaves enrich the soil with worms. Where shrubs and trees give shelter. Where roosters will put life in you, and where you can keep your eggs. All that. Only come with me.

They understand. We are conspirators now. We are allies.

We slip out of the coop. The farmer’s dogs growl, rattling chains. Shouts follow. Silhouetted against the moon, a man with a gun. He fires. Takes aim, fires again. Cursing and shouting, he looses the dogs. They streak after us, yellow and brown and black.

We are too fast. With me, the hens are quick as moonlight. I lead them past the fields and cattle and river and into the woodsland, the safe land, the land Robin’s rich grandfather deeded her last summer.

We’ve been running for hours. The gunshots and baying dogs are as remote as the dimming stars. Dawn is breaking, grey light turning the trees ghostly. My body aches, stretches, writhes. My paws unfurl into fingers and toes. Goosebumps rise along my newly naked skin.

Robin stands nearby, holding sweatpants and a coat. She tosses them to me.

“Any trouble?”

“Farmer’s dogs heard me. He set out with a gun.”

“Did he see anything?”

“Just a white wolf.” I grin, buttoning the coat to my collarbone. Robin pulls her foot back from a hen who wants to investigate the food potential of her toes. Dreadlocks sway against her shoulders. Her dark skin glows with vegan health.

I kiss her neck. She smells of patchouli and wet leaves.

“We can’t keep this a secret,” she says. “Other chapters are trying to emulate us. A boy got shot last night in Jackson.”

“Remind them I’m unique.”

“I have. No one believes me.” She hooks her thumbs through her belt loops. “They want to move off the little guys, get a crack at the factory farms.”

“I’ll do it eventually. Give me enough full moons.”

“It’s not fast enough. Animals are suffering now. We need more like you.”

She pauses, gives me a long look. There’s invitation in her eyes. I cock my head, trying to read her like I read prey. “Are you sure you want me to do this?”

The sun bleeds orange over the horizon. A rooster crows. Hens flap and peck in reply. Around us, the woods are full of freedom.

She holds her ground. Her gaze is sharp and wintry.

“All right,” I say, and draw her close.

Rachel Swirsky is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in a number of venues, including Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, Interzone, and Subterranean. She is the editor of the world’s first audio fantasy magazine, PodCastle.

Swirsky wrote “Exodus” in a fit of flash fiction. She began by assigning herself to write about a werewolf, and thought about the cliche position in which to discover one—going after chickens in the coop. She decided to reverse the cliché and have the werewolf rescue the chickens, and discovered the rest of the story from there.

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