Once again, we at YARN are feeling like the luckiest YA literary magazine in the world, because we get to share with you this outtake scene from “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzie Lee. You’re in for a treat, since this book is one of our absolute favorite reads of 2017, and this scene is just as fun and fabulous as the rest of the book. Enjoy!
There’s no reason to linger, so we get to walking right way. The sky is grey and grumbling with the threat of rain. We’re all damp and tired and hungry. The hungry is the worst, on top of the fact that I’ve been sober for three days.
It’s a few miles down the road before we find a farm, a small, thatched roof affair with geese strutting about the yard and a rust-colored dog curled up and tied behind the barn.
I stop on the road, and Felicity and Percy both stop as well and turn back to face me. “What’s the matter?” Felicity asks.
My stomach answers for me with an audible moan. “I’m very hungry.”
“Yes, I think we’re all very hungry.”
“Why don’t you stay here and Percy and I will see if we can come up with something to eat? This might be the last house we see for miles.”
Felicity crosses her arms. “So you men are going to adopt the role of gallant hunter while I, frail flower of English womanhood, stay behind for my own protection?”
I glare at her. She’s being very sour over the fact that I’ve just offered to do all the legwork getting a proper meal requires. “Just stay here, all right?”
Felicity makes a big show of flopping down on a fallen tree off the side of the road, and Percy and I start forward toward the little farm with a thread of smoke trickling from its chimney.
There’s a chicken coop behind the barn, out of sight of the house, and though we don’t know where the farmer is, we decide to risk darting inside it. In spite of our vast height difference, Percy and I both have to duck to get through the door, it’s so small. The inside is dark and dusty, the slatted wooden walls a sieve for shafts of the sallow light. In boxes along the walls are chickens bedded down on their nests. One of them raises her head to regard us, but the rest seem unmoved by our appearance.
For a moment, neither of us moves from the doorway.
“So there are eggs…under them, are they?” I say at last.
“I suppose,” Percy replies.
“And we just reach beneath? Or move them? Should we move them first?”
“I don’t know. Yes. Try it.”
I pick a nonthreatening-looking golden hen near the door and edge toward it. It—she? It has to be a she, doesn’t it?—she’s got her head down, but as I approach, she raises it and fixes a beady black eye upon me. For a moment, we stare each other down. I smell badly enough that perhaps she won’t be able to tell me apart from her farmer.
Then she squawks, and I give a spectacular start.
“I’m not afraid of you, chicken.”
Behind me, Percy says, “What?”
“Not you. I’m talking to the chicken.” I glare at her, then start to slide my hand under her feathers but she squawks again, this time long and shrill like I’m trying to murder her. And believe me, I’m tempted. I yank my hand back as several other of her fellows take up the cry. “Shhh,” I hiss, like that will do a damn thing. The hen regards me critically. I swear her eyes narrow.
Behind me, Percy’s having no luck either. He seems to be trying to convince one of the chickens to move by encouraging it with the tips of his fingers. The chicken, predictably, is having none of it. She’s making a low clucking noise that sounds an awful lot like she’s laughing at him.
I try to slide my hand under the hen again, and this time she snaps her head down and pecks me sharply on the back of the hand. I swallow a curse but force myself to keep feeling around for that egg. She pecks at me again, harder this time, then squawks. “Stop it,” I hiss at her. My fingers close around something round and warm and I’m just starting to feel triumphant when the hen swells to twice her size, then catapults herself straight at my face with her wings spread wide and screaming.
I let out an alarmingly high-pitched shriek and bat her out of the air. The hen hits the ground with more grace than I have in staggering away from her and immediately proceeds to snatch at my ankles with that ferocious little beak. I stumble backward into Percy, sending us both smashing into a row of the nests. All the chickens begin to howl. Another comes at us like a speeding arrow. Gallant that I am, I use Percy as a shield so he gets a face full of chicken over me. On the other side of the henhouse walls, the dog begins to bark.
I grab Percy by the front of his coat and drag him after me toward the door to the henhouse, the chickens still screaming at us. I whack my head so hard on the way out it almost knocks me to the floor.
Percy and I take off through the yard, back across the road and into the trees where we left Felicity. She’s sitting on the ground, three apples and fist-sized pockets of steaming bread spread on a checked cloth in front of her. She looks up as we come pounding toward her. “What happened to you two?”
“Where did you get those?” I demand, pointing to the food.
“I walked to the farm house, explained our situation, and asked if they had anything to spare. The farmer’s wife offered me these and I gave her my earrings in exchange. What did you get?”
I thrust aloft the single egg I managed to commandeer from the hen. Percy’s got one too. He also has feathers in his hair and a bloody spot on his cheek, probably from when I dodged and the hen hit him in the face.
“Eggs?” Felicity asks, one eyebrow ascending. “What are we going to do with those?”
“Eat them,” I say.
“Will we drink them raw? You do know eggs don’t emerge from chickens fully cooked, don’t you?”
I hadn’t thought of that. “We can cook them.”
“How? The sun? With the power of your own sheer determination?”
I want to be angry at her, because she’s being a snot and her plan was so much better than mine, but then Percy starts to laugh, and I fling the egg at him. He ducks and it splatters against the tree behind him. I hear Felicity murmur under her breath, “Useless.”
Mackenzi Lee holds a BA in history and an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults, and her short fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Atlas Obscura, Crixeo, The Friend, and The Newport Review, among others. Her debut novel, “This Monstrous Thing,” which won the PEN-New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, is out now from HarperCollins. Her second book, “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue,” a queer spin on the classic adventure novel, will be released in June of 2017. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home, where she works as an independent bookstore manager and curates a weekly Twitter storytime called #BygoneBadassBroads about amazing women from history you probably don’t know about, but should.