Excerpt  from THANKSGIFTINGS

From "The Leg"

              Jorges Dunn lifted the plastic tag coded with the bird’s point of origin and destination. He chuckled. “This says his name is Dottie.” He snickered. “You got a girl turkey.”

            “It’s called a hen,” Doug corrected him.

            “Hen, schmen. At least you finally got a girlfriend,” the man teased further.

            “Stuff it, Dunn,” Meershawm ordered sharply. “Hey, Oakley.”

            Doug looked over at the supervisor. “Yes, sir?”

            “Get your bird out of here. We got work to do.”

            “Where you going to put him, I mean, her until it’s time to, you know?” Dalhart asked.

            “She’ll stay in my compartment.”

            The men backed up, and Doug went over to claim his package. Activating the hover mode, he grabbed the handle on the side of the bubble and guided it out of the bay.

            He took the bird directly to the small room designated as his living quarters. The narrow six-by-six-foot square was barely big enough to contain the bubble, but he reminded himself it would only be a temporary inconvenience.

            Setting the container at the foot of his fold-down bed, Doug cracked the seal and opened it. “Hey there, Dottie. Bet you’d like to get out of that thing and stretch your legs, huh?”

            The bird stared at him with its beady eyes. He moved away from it, in case the thing was afraid of him being too close, and waited. After another minute or two, the bird got up, but it was clear it was still too wobbly on its feet.

            Doug checked its food and water bowls. Both were nearly empty. A quick check of the bubble didn’t reveal any additional feed, but he was able to remove the water container and take it over to the tiny sink to refill from the spigot there. He was unaware of the bird climbing out of the bubble until he felt something pressing against his leg. Glancing down, he saw the bird almost hugging the back of his calf, rubbing its head and neck up and down his pants.

            “Hey! What are you doing?” He shook the creature off and tried to shoo it back to its container. Instead of fleeing, the bird clucked, never taking its eyes off of him.

            Doug set the water inside the bubble and watched as the turkey got a drink. As soon as it was finished, it sidled over again and tried to cuddle.

            “What is wrong with you, Dottie?” The second he asked, he thought he knew the answer. He parked himself on the edge of the bedframe. He wasn’t surprised when the bird hopped up next to him and clambered into his lap. Doug automatically began petting the creature as it softly purred, its head resting against his chest.

            “Well, six months is a long time to be cooped up inside a ship’s hold, especially all by yourself with no other living animal around, and in that little transport bubble. If it had been me, I think I’d have gone raving bonkers. I was lucky I spent the majority of the trip in stasis when I came over.”

            The turkey rubbed its head on his shoulder. If he didn’t know any better, he’d swear it sighed contentedly. He stroked its neck. Its feathers were silky soft. He hated to admit it, but he felt the same sense of contentment the bird was displaying. He glanced at the chronometer on the wall. “I hate to do this to you, Dottie, so soon after you got here, but I gotta get back to work. But I’ll be back later. I need to check to see if any feed was sent with you.”

            The turkey was reluctant to let him go. It eventually allowed him to carry it over to the bubble and set it inside. It continued to cluck almost sadly when he left the cubicle.

            He was midway through his shift when the realization hit him. “Damn it, Oakley! You can’t get emotionally attached to the damn thing! You know how much trouble you’d get into if you tried to make a pet out of it! Remember, you brought it here to eat so you can finally have a decent turkey leg for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s all you’ve thought about all year. You can’t chicken out now.