Jack Klaubach’s screams shattered the stillness of the day.
I had seen him only a few minutes before. He and his wife, Nellie, had been in their side yard, working on the henhouse and playfully squabbling with one another. They’d been married for the better part of thirty years, and they were a good-natured couple.
When I rounded the corner of the house, I staggered to a stop, confused, for a moment, by what I saw.
Nellie Klaubach was on her knees, feasting on a chicken that still fluttered and kicked as Nellie devoured it. The other chickens ran in every direction, and Jack was sitting on the ground, holding what was left of his left hand. Blood poured from the stumps of two fingers, and his eyes were wide and glassy as he stared at his wife.
Then, as I stepped toward them both, I saw her shift her gaze toward me, and I saw black veins in her eyes. The chicken fell from her lips, feathers plastered by blood to Nellie’s chin. I picked up the two, and a half-pound sledgehammer Jack had been using and brought it smashing down onto Nellie’s head. Her skull split open, her eyes rolled back, and she collapsed limply to the ground.
I turned to Jack to explain what had happened, and the words failed to emerge.
Jack stared at me, and I realized that his wife had bitten his fingers off.
His eyes were wide, then they narrowed as black lines crept out into the whites as the sickness made itself known.
Jack bared his teeth and struggled to rise.
I stepped forward and struck him with enough force to crush the entire back of his head.
Jack Klaubach fell across his wife’s form, and the two lay there beside the dead chicken.
The other hens crept back, then, giving the dead a wide berth, went back to feeding.
I stared down at the Klaubachs for a short time, wondering how in the hell Nellie had gotten infected, and if anyone in town would come down with it as well.
I sure as hell hoped not.