EXCERPT: Rural Singularity by Alan Dean Foster

CATEGORY: Unmapped Variables in Multiple Intelligences

RULE 3227.0: Touch Nothing in the Secret Lab

SOURCE: Pat Gilcrease, journalist

VIA: Alan Dean Foster

Our next story takes us into the blazing heat of New Mexico. New Mexico is a unique state. It’s given us the first chimpanzee astronaut, the first nuclear weapons test, and the alleged cover-up of an extraterrestrial space craft recovery. From that fertile ground, you can expect a lot of wild UFO stories and tall tales of atomic-fueled mutations.

With that kind of background, Albuquerque reporter, Pat Gilcrease, isn’t expecting much when he gets a report of a two-headed chicken living on a remote country ranch. Maybe a hand-stitched fake. A genetic freak if he’s lucky. He’s certainly not prepared for what he finds.

As Gilcrease learns more, he discovers he is on to the story of his life. It’s a story that proves not all brilliant scientists are created equal, and not every farmer’s daughter is a brainless hick.

Brainless, no. But mad, on the other hand  . . .

Rural Singularity
by Alan Dean Foster

Gilcrease mopped his brow with the halfway clean rag he had scrounged from the trunk of the car. The only extant war between New Mexico and Texas was between ranchers and oilmen who each claimed that their side of the border was the one that was hottest in mid-August. Having driven all the way from Albuquerque, Gilcrease was happy to call it a tie and a plague on both their hothouses.

Not that it wasn’t warm in Albuquerque this time of year, too. It was just that everything seemed hotter in the greater desolation that lay to the east of the Sacramento foothills. This was country that made the high desert terrain around Albuquerque seem positively tropic. With every passing moment he looked forward to the return drive and his nice, cool cubby in the newspaper office.

This was fool’s errand for a slow day, he knew. “Human interest,” these occasional excursions into the creases of an anomalous humanity were called. Just his luck to be nominated to do the follow-up on this one.

His first glimpse of the Parker’s “ranch” did not inspire confidence. Furnished in half twenty-first, half nineteenth-century fashion, the single-story rock and wood structure scrunched back against a succession of rising rounded hillocks like a bear scratching his ass. There was a windmill that on a good day supplied water to the dwelling. Behind and off to the left side of the house was a traditional barn belted by wooden timbers intended to restrain more cattle than ever roamed this particular homestead.

When Gilcrease drove up in a cloud of dust and muttered adjectives, Walt Parker was working under the hood of that undying icon of mobile American steel known as a full-size pickup truck. With the heavy hood raised it looked as if the truck was saying “ahh.” Parking nearby, the reporter took one last optimistic rag-swipe at his forehead and climbed out. The “keep off the grass” sign posted in the dirt driveway made him smile. The only grass for many miles around was to be found high up in the mountains behind the house.

“Walter Parker? I’m Pat Gilcrease, from the Albuquerque Journal.”

Weather-beaten and bank-battered, Parker looked ten years older than the fifty-one to which he would admit. There was more oil in the old towel he was using to clean his hands than in the dusty ground beneath his feet. Gilcrease winced slightly when the man extended a welcoming hand, but having no choice he took the greasy fingers firmly. Parker squinted up at the taller, younger man.

“You’re here about the two-headed chickens, I expect.”

Gilcrease nodded, then found himself frowning. “You have more than one?”

“Whole flock.” The rancher shook his head. “People. You show them something you’re proud of, tell them to keep it to themselves, and they promptly go and call a newspaper.” He shook his head regretfully. “Well, you’re here, and you’ve come all the way from the city, so I expect it would be impolite not to show you.”

Gilcrease didn’t even take out his camera as the rancher guided his visitor around the house and toward the barn. Between the two stood an enclosure fashioned from wood posts and chicken-wire fencing. Parker prepared himself for the worst. More than likely he would be shown a badly stitched and sewn fake. If he was lucky, one of the rancher’s birds might have hatched an honest mutation. Enough to justify a quick snapshot or two and a short article for the People section of the paper. It really had been a slow news week.

“Here ‘tis.” Parker unlatched the door to the coop. As he did so, twenty or more clucking chickens came running. They were accompanied by a snowstorm of at least twice as many chicks. Gilcrease eyed them, and his jaw promptly dropped.

Every one of them had two heads. Every one. And they looked as healthy as any comparable flock of normal chickens.

Having anticipated his guest’s reaction, Parker was grinning. “Didn’t believe, did you, Mr. Gilcrease?”

Having finally succeeded in fumbling his camera out of his shirt pocket, the flabbergasted reporter was snapping pictures like mad. “How ¾ I’ve seen pictures of two-headed animals before. But it’s always only one or two individuals at a time. A two-headed snake, or a two-headed turtle. Even a two-headed sheep. But this . . .” Holding the camera in one hand he gestured with the other. “How did this happen?”

“Want to see something else interesting?” Parker raised a hand. “Wait here.”

Gilcrease continued to fire off shots while his host disappeared into the long, low henhouse. When the rancher returned he was holding several eggs. Double-shelled eggs, like perfect little white dumbbells. He handed one to the dumbfounded reporter.

“That’s how you get two-headed chickens. You get them to lay double eggs.” Like light behind a t-shirt, pride began to show through his initial reticence. “My daughter Suzie bred them.”

“Your daughter?”

Parker nodded. “She’s one clever little girl. Special.” His expression faded somewhat. “You know: special. Home-schooled. Has to be.”

Staring at the back of his camera, Gilcrease was reviewing the pictures he had just taken. They were as real as the two-headed chicks presently peep-peeping around his ankles.

“Why is that?” he asked absently, his present attention more focused on the pictures.

“She’s addled. Clever, but addled. When she was a lot younger ¾ eleven, I think she was ¾ we took her to see a doctor in El Paso. Specialist. He examined her, did some tests. Said she was what you call an idiot savant. I was gonna punch the guy out until my wife told me what that meant. She’s the smart one in the family, Mary is. Visiting her mother in Amarillo this week. She wouldn’t like it if she knew there was a reporter out here knowing about Suzie. But after the neighbors called your paper . . .” He shrugged. “I thought it better to come clean about the chickens to a real paper than wait for some tabloid freelancer to come snooping around.”

“I’m flattered. My paper is flattered, I mean.” Gilcrease pocketed his camera. He had his pictures and his article, but still . . . “Could I meet your daughter? I promise I won’t take any photos without your permission and a signed release. Anything else would be an invasion of privacy.”

Parker scrutinized his visitor closely. “You seem like a pretty straight guy, Pat. All right, you can say hi. But be careful what you say and how you say it. Keep things ¾ you know. Simple. And don’t touch anything. Especially her toys.”

[End Excerpt]