Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. While there is so much to be thankful for, the twisted author in me wanted to go against the grain and offer you this holiday story instead.
*WARNING: Read before you roast your dinner!*
“Thank you for calling the Butterorb Turkey hotline. What is your emergency?”
“Yeah, hey…Gosh, I can’t believe someone really answered. I thought this was a prank number. You know, to a joke store or a body shop or—”
“Sir,” I interrupt. “What is your emergency?”
All I hear is dead air. He’s hung up.
Wouldn’t be the first time someone called just verifying the number is real. Yes, I work at the call center for Butterorb Turkey. Don’t laugh. It’s a real job. For the month of November, I answer all sorts of phone calls on basting and frying, smoking and brining of turkeys. I share recipes, I help explain the importance of cooking the proper pounds per hour, and I’ve been there for more people than I’d care to admit, who have called with smoke pouring out of their oven because their turkey is on fire.
I’d guestimate about half the country has take-out Chinese or pizza on Thanksgiving Day; especially on a year like this one, when a horrible bird flu wiped out a majority of the poultry in the country in late October.
So here I am, manning the phone lines on the 3-6 am shift—seniority has its privileges—when my phone rings. I flip the switch and take the call. “Thank you for calling the Butterorb Turkey hotline. What is your emergency?”
“You gotta help me,” a man shouts.
I lean forward in my seat. “Calm down, sir.”
“Oh my God. Help me.”
“Sir, what seems to be the problem?”
“She’s trying to kill me.”
A fresh chill sweeps down my spine, which is not because the room is as cold as a refrigerator. “If someone is trying to kill you, sir, you need to hang up and dial 9-1-1.”
The excitement in my voice evokes some rubbernecking by a few coworkers.
“Not someone,” the man says. “Some thing.”
I hear glass breaking in the background from wherever the man is calling from. “I’m sorry, sir. Did you say some thing is trying to kill you?”
“Yes! That’s exactly what I said. Please, help me.”
I flip my light from green to red, indicating to my floor supervisor the severity of the call, although I’m still not sure what I’m dealing with. I listen in on the phone calls my coworkers have taken: Over salting the turkey? An easy fix, by dunking the bird in fresh, clean water. Smoke a sixteen pound turkey for how many hours? Child’s play. I wonder how I got the crazy caller, whose probably pulling my leg—or drumstick, as we like to say around here.
“I really don’t believe I’m qualified to help you, sir.”
“Are you freaking kidding me?”
His gasping breaths lead me to believe he’s running.
“You are the Butterorb people, aren’t you?” he asks.
“Yes, sir. America’s finest turkey.”
“Then this is your problem, too.”
My supervisor scoots closer.
“What did you say was trying to kill you?”
“A turkey,” he says. “A Butterorb turkey.”
Everything stops for a minute and all I hear is silence. My supervisor’s lips are moving, but it takes a few for her voice to catch up. “Penny,” she says. “Take the call.”
I shake my head clear. “That’s not possible, sir. Our turkeys are farm raised and stay on that farm until shipment—”
“Not a live turkey. It’s the one I bought for Thanksgiving.”
I grab ahold of my headset, as if that will clarify what I just heard. “Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me that your Thanksgiving turkey…is trying to kill you?”
“Yes! That’s what I’ve been saying.”
I frantically type shorthand codes into my computer. “Well that is our problem.”
“You’re telling me.”
“What’s your name, sir?”
“Seriously. My mother was Swedish.”
“Not you, the turkey.”
“Oh. She’s a twenty-six pounder.”
As I type, sweat slips like melting butter down my temples. “Head or no head?”
“Hmm, and I thought only chickens could do that.” I pause. “Mr. McDonald, what makes you think she’s trying to kill you?”
“Oh, I don’t know…because she’s chasing me with my battery-powered carving knife!”
The room starts spinning. What can I do? After seventeen Thanksgivings, I’ve never dealt with anything like this before. Our turkeys are shipped from the farm to this very building where I sit. They are processed and packaged with great care. Unlike some chicken outfits, we ate the loss of our turkeys that became infected by the bird flu. They are contained and waiting incineration. It will smell good when they go up, but those turkeys are not edible.
“On behalf of Butterorb,” I say, “let me apologize for the inconvenience our turkey may have caused you.”
“Inconvenience? Lady, an inconvenience would be if the little red button never popped, and I overcooked Thanksgiving dinner.”
I blinked, shook my head, and found my second wind. “You’re so right. Where are you right now?”
“Hiding in my closet.”
“I’m going to help you, but I need you to help me too.”
“Since there’s no explanation for this…walking dead turkey, I’ll need the bar code on the packaging.”
“But that’s all the way in the kitchen.” McDonald’s panic has somehow risen.
“Perfect. Because I also think I know how to really kill this turkey.”
“You’ve got to get her in the broiler. A quick, hot oven may be just what you need to cook her goose.”
“Whatever. On three, I want you to get to the kitchen as quick as possible, and find that shrink wrap. The faster I get those numbers, the sooner we’ll know what’s going on.”
“Okay. I’ll try.”
I listen as Ole McDonald lets out a primal scream while sprinting to his kitchen. I imagine him zipping through halls lined with family portraits, and taking his apartment’s stairs two at a time. Then again, he could live on a farm.
“I’m in the kitchen,” McDonald says, panting. “No sign of her.”
“Great. Crank the broiler to high.”
“You’re doing fine, Mr. McDonald. Now, I need you to find the wrapping.”
I hear him sift through his garbage can.
“Perfect. I need you to read the six-digit number at the bottom.”
“Okay. One-one-two-eight-She’s coming!”
“Mr. McDonald? Ole?”
He’s screaming, running again. I type in the numbers he’s given so far. Fifteen hundred shipments start with this set. Suddenly, everything goes quiet. My mouth is dry. “Mr. McDonald?” I crack. “Ole?”
“I’m here,” he whispers. “I’m in the utility room.”
“Where’s the turkey?”
“I don’t know.”
He’s crying, panicked.
“Oh, God. She’s gonna kill me! She’s…Oh, God. She’ll eat me alive.”
Between his sobs, I say, “You’re gonna be okay. I’m here with you now. I promise, nothing will happen.”
He’s calming, sniffling.
“Ole, I need the rest of the numbers. Can you do that? Can you read them to me?”
“I don’t know. It’s dark in here.”
“Is your washer-dryer in there?”
“Open the dryer. There should be a light inside.”
I hear the metal pop, and then squeal on rusty hinges. “Got it. One-one-two-eight-one-three.”
“You’re doing amazing, Mr. McDonald.”
I type in the remaining digits, noticing for the first time that the whole room has quieted. Every attendant is chewing their nails hanging on my conversation, fed through the system to each headset. I wait for the numbers to find a match, and freeze, like a shipped turkey, when they do.
11-28-13, the code placed on the batch of fowl testing positive for the bird flu.
“Oh my God.” Slowly, I stand.
“What is it?”
Turkeys, hundreds of turkeys, are running the length of the halls surrounding control center. Their feathered bodies reach past window level as they charge toward the door.
A tear rolls down my cheek.
“Mr. McDonald, your turkey has been infected by the Z-2013 bird flu, a highly contagious, and once believed to be deadly, fowl virus.”
“What are you talking about?”
The turkeys are cracking the glass with their beaks and claws, their heads still intact.
“Sir, if you come into contact with your turkey—”
“She’s at the door. Oh, God. She’s breaking it down.”
Turkeys flood into the control station, decaying flesh and rotting feathers dripping off like too much breading.
“She’s in the room!”
I hear the electric blade mixed with Mr. McDonald’s screams until the call is dropped and the phones goes dead. Like Ole, I’m sure.
The bird flu must have interacted with the turkeys on a cellular level, infecting them like a cancer, and bringing them back from the dead. Well, mostly dead. But unlike Ole McDonald, the turkeys hunting here still have their heads and beaks.
And they’re eating people.
I run for as long as I can before I’m swarmed by the zombie turkeys, carving me like I have their kind for so many years. I guess it’s only fair that they take their revenge. But my heart goes out to the millions stuffing tur-duck-hens this holiday season, who will be in for a triple-disaster on more than one level.
I almost took a job opening letters for Santa, but with the potential for mail bombs, I declined, afraid I could die. Who’d have thought working in a turkey call center would be my demise. The turkeys did.
And they’re not finished.
Cook your turkey quick this holiday, because on Thanksgiving Day, you may not be eating your turkey.
Your turkey may be eating you!