Thursday, 13 November 2008


The chickshaw was a rickshaw drawn by chickens. The little cabin was made of bone, harvested from one of the huge ocean mammals and hollowed and thinned until it was large enough to allow two people to sit comfortably inside it. This one had a long, thin horn rising from the roof, which meant it had come from some relative of the narwhal. It was yellowish, the colour of a nicotine addict's fingernails, and was nearly frictionless. It made it difficult to feel when you touched it; there was a hardness there, but no texture, nothing to report back to you about what you were trying to touch. Sitting in it was a little like floating.
A team of eight chickens pulled the chickshaw, paired up into a column four birds long. They were harnessed together like huskies, but had wooden stays to keep them in line and stop them veering off randomly into the crowds. The birds were large and black, with little yellow and red dots in their feathers, and burning red eyes that stared madly around them. When they started running they put their heads down and forward and you could see their wings shuffling around as though preparing for flight. They had spurs on their ankles that were covered with little leather hoods like the jesses that birds-of-prey wear; I'd heard that some of the teams were also fighting birds.
The chickshaw ran fast, almost scarily so given the size and density of the crowds that lined the streets and spilled out into the road. This was normal at this time of year; autumn was only in its first month and the evenings were quite light. Up in the sky the day-squid lingered well past its winter bedtime, its green-tinged tentacles lazily tasting the clouds as they formed around it and broke away. The crowds gathered at bars, long low buildings that were little more than a storage area for the drinks, a counter and some often broken stools, and a shutter to close up when the paying customers left. They gathered outside the public buildings, standing on the grass lawns but never treading on the flower beds, talking quietly, and constantly in motion as news gossiped its way from one end of a street to the other. The chickshaw hurtled past them, people's faces becoming pale blurs. I would see people drift aside as the chickshaw started on a new street, leaving enough room for it to get through, and if I leant out of the little cabin and peered behind me, they would be drifting back again, filling up the empty space.
The chickshaw halted outside the office, the chickens just suddenly stopping running and skidding to a halt. I clambered warily out of the cabin, having already discovered that the lack of friction meant that I could lose my balance and crash down amongst the chickens very easily. As I pulled my foot clear, the chickens had started running again before I'd put it down on the ground. The chickshaw disappeared around a corner with the click of claws striking stone and the rattle of a wooden axle underneath the cabin, and I looked up at the office of Dr. Monsanto.

No comments: