DAI-KEAG-ITY and the
CREMATED TURKEY CAPER*
Lewis B. Smith
*This story is entirely, 100% fictitious. Any resemblance to any real, living human beings, especially the children of a certain friend of mine, is purely coincidental. Enjoy this lame attempt to relieve your boredom as you endure quarantine!
“OF COURSE I know how to cook a turkey,” Daisy said proudly. “I’ve been helping Mom in the kitchen since I was a kid!”
“Since?” Keagan said. At nine, he was a young man of few words, but he still knew how to get under his big sister’s skin with one perfect syllable.
“I think you’re going to get in trouble!” Trinity said with a smile which indicated that prospect did not bother her in the least.
“Both of you are hopeless!” Daisy said. “It’s bad enough we can’t have anyone over because of this stupid pandemic; the least I can do is help Mom out by getting the turkey started while she and Dad are out shopping. If you two aren’t going to help, you can just leave! And remember to stay inside; we can’t go out till Mom and Dad get back!”
With that Keagan stalked off to play video games, while Trinity disappeared upstairs to play in her room till Daisy was distracted enough that she felt comfortable sneaking into her sister’s room to hide some of her personal stuff. All children needed a hobby; Trinity’s was tormenting her eldest sibling. Daisy watched them go with a sigh of exasperation and then looked at the big, raw bird she had pulled out of the fridge. She had already looked up the perfect cooking temperature on the internet; now it was just a matter of stuffing the bird, applying the rub, and popping it into the oven.
Skipper and Bojack, the family’s pet labs, watched with great interest as Daisy labored over the large dead bird. They couldn’t understand why she was stuffing food inside of other food, and then smearing with a powdery substance that tickled their canine noses, but both were hoping that the turkey would be set on the ground for them when she was done rather than stuck into the Hot Box, where they would have to smell it being seared for the next few hours. But even though they were both Good Boys (they knew this because each member of the family told them that several times a day), the big delicious raw bird was not placed on the floor for them to maul into small delicious chunks. Instead, the hot box was opened up and the entire carcass was slid inside, without even a morsel tossed aside for the two dogs to munch on. As they hung their heads and retreated downstairs to the family room, the pups reflected on the injustice of the universe.
Daisy, having started the family’s Thanksgiving dinner cooking, decided to go upstairs and call her cousin. The family had only been back in town for a couple of days, and she had missed Bethany, Tyler, and the rest fiercely. Of course, as soon as she set foot in her room, she could tell Trinity had been there. Her phone was not on the dresser where she left it. She sighed and looked around till she saw one corner of it sticking out from under her pillow and scooped it up. She had learned that the more she griped at her sister for hiding her things, the more Trinity enjoyed hiding them. It was better to ignore the offenses than give her sister the satisfaction of knowing she’d angered her, she thought. In a matter of minutes, she was catching up with her cousin Bethany and was soon so deep in conversation she lost all track of time.
Keagan got tired of shooting zombies after awhile and wandered up into the kitchen looking for a snack. He really wanted a soda, but he knew he wasn’t supposed to drink them. Instead, he grabbed some tea and a handful of grapes. The turkey was in the oven and already starting to smell delicious. He looked at the timer and saw that it was set to go off in about three hours; he thought his stomach might digest itself if he had to wait that long to take a bite of the noble bird.
The turkey, to the extent that a gutted and headless bird can feel anything, was enjoying the general sense of softening warmth that pervaded its body as its tissues slowly cooked to perfection. Back when it still had a head and feathers, the turkey had sadly accepted its lot of winding up on someone’s dinner table and had secretly hoped that its noble self-sacrifice would be appreciated.
“Hmmm,” thought Keagan. “You know, I bet if I turned the temperature in the oven up by another fifty degrees, the bird might be done sooner. I’ll just remember to tell Daisy so she can take it out early!” With that he cranked the dial up and started to head upstairs.
“Keagan!” Trinity said. “Can you help me?”
Keagan gave that smile he saved for his little sister when he was in a good mood. “What do you need?” he said.
“Bojack chewed up one of mom’s shoes and scattered it all over!” she said. “You need to punish him!”
“I’m not going to punish a dog for being a dog,” he said. “Did you throw the shoe away?”
“It’s EVERYWHERE!” Trinity wailed. “I can’t get all the pieces!”
“Let’s gather them together, and throw away the mate to the shoe, too,” he said. “That way Mom will just think the pair is misplaced, until we can think of a good time to tell her.”
There were bits of rubber and leather scattered all over the laundry room, but they managed to gather them all up after a few minutes, and after searching for a half hour or so, they found the shoe’s missing companion underneath the couch. It was bagged up with its shredded mate and Keagan was about to take it to the kitchen and put it in the trash when Trinity called out in alarm.
“Skipper’s got your game controller!” she said.
Indeed he did. Seeing his chew toy taken away, the enterprising young canine took His Boy’s favorite toy and was ready to run with it. He knew better than to chew up the precious controller (which didn’t taste good anyway), but he also knew that taking it would get him a good game of chase around the house, which was all he wanted. Sure enough, Keagan took off after the dog as fast as his sturdy legs would take him, and Skipper darted upstairs with Bojack barking merrily behind him.
Trinity watched them go, and then, hungry after all that work, decided to see if there were any cookies hiding in the kitchen. When she got there, though, the smell of cooking turkey drove all thoughts of sweets from her mind. Surely the bird would be done soon! She took an oven mitt and eased the door open just enough for the light to come on; she saw that the bird’s skin was barely turning brown. That wouldn’t do at all! She figured the hotter the oven, the faster the bird would be ready, so she cranked the dial up another hundred degrees, and then went to get a cold drink of water, flushed from the hot air in her face.
Meanwhile Daisy finished talking to her cousin Bethany and dialed up Kylie, who was Tyler’s girlfriend and the mother of Giovanni, who was one of her very favorite people on the whole planet. He wasn’t talking in whole sentences yet, but he knew and loved Daisy’s voice and would gabble happily into the phone when she called. Sure enough, she caught Kylie home and in a good mood. Gio had just finished his bath, and pretty soon Daisy was chatting and singing to him and he was happily listening and responding. On some level she was vaguely aware that she was smelling the turkey sooner than she should have been, but the fact didn’t really register at first.
A few moments later, she saw a blur shoot past her room as the two dogs lunged past her door with Keagan in hot pursuit. Knowing that she had been left in charge, she said her goodbyes and went to help him corral Skipper and Bojack, who were not supposed to be upstairs. It was a merry chase, but finally Skipper was cornered and grudgingly surrendered the controller, which was slobbery but undamaged. The pups were wiggling with delight at this new game, and Daisy and Keagan had a time lugging them downstairs as they thrashed and barked, wanting to play some more.
Once the doggoes were safely locked in the mud room, Daisyy moved through the downstairs area, picking up some of the mess her siblings had left in their wake, when her phone buzzed. It was Mom.
“We’re hung up in traffic,” Mom said. “Everything OK?”
“Of course,” Diz said. “The turkey is in the oven and everything is under control!”
“Oh, I’m glad you started it cooking!” Mom said. “We should be home well before it is done. We got potatoes and pumpkin filling and ingredients for some desserts you can help me with, too.”
If the ghost of the turkey could have spoken at that moment, it might have informed the young chef that something was wrong. Its corpse was not heating evenly – the core was still half raw, even as its skin was starting to blacken from the intense heat of an oven cranked up to 500 degrees. But ghostly birds tell no tales, so a blissfully ignorant Daisy decided she had just enough time to head upstairs and call one of her friends from school – not that she had been able to attend school that fall, of course. But she had stayed in touch with a few kids she liked, and was anxious to let them know that she’d made it safely back into town after a longer absence than had been planned. Soon she was engrossed in a deep conversation about boys, beaches, pets, bands, and all the other things twelve-year-old girls delighted in talking about.
Keagan, meanwhile, began working on a massive Legos set he’d started before they left for California and had been meaning to get back to, and Trinity got deeply absorbed in some of her favorite YouTube videos. In short, no one was keeping an eye on the kitchen as the turkey gave up all thought of becoming a delicious meal and decided that perhaps ending its earthly existence in a bright ball of flame might be the way to go after all. Its skin was now hanging in black tatters, its outer flesh charred to leathery hardness, and smoke was rolling off of it and filling the oven. Only lack of oxygen kept the once-noble bird from combusting on the spot!
It was Keagan who first realized something wasn’t right. The delicious smell of roasting poultry had been replaced by a scent not unlike that of popcorn left in the microwave for too long. He remembered then what he had done to the oven, and nervously walked down the hall to his sister’s room.
“Diz,” he said, “I think something is wrong with the turkey!”
Diz looked up from the phone in irritation.
“There is NOTHING wrong with the turkey,” she said. “It should be just starting to brown at this point, and it won’t be done for two more hours.”
“Uh, I turned the oven up a little bit to help it cook faster,” Keagan said. “I was going to tell you, but then I got busy chasing the dogs . . .”
Daisy took another whiff of the aroma rising from the kitchen and realized that something was indeed not right.
“Sorry, Becca, but I gotta go!” she said to her friend, and then rounded on her brother.
“You TURNED IT UP??” she said. “How much?”
“Only fifty degrees, I’m not stupid!” Keagan said.
“The smell of smoke would argue otherwise,” Daisy said, and took the stairs two at a time going down. The stench got worse as she reached the ground floor, and when they entered the kitchen, she saw tendrils of smoke coming out of the oven.
“Oh snap!” said Keagan, catching himself before swearing in front of his sister.
Daisy glanced at the oven setting and glared at Keagan.
“Five hundred degrees?” she said. “I had it set on three hundred fifty!”
“I just turned it up to four hundred!” Keagan said.
“What’s going on? What’s that smell?” Trinity asked, lured downstairs by the sound of raised voices.
“Did you turn the oven up?” Daisy shouted at her.
“Just a little,” Trinity said. “I wanted the turkey to get done faster!”
“It’s at five hundred degrees!” Diz said. “The turkey is being cremated!”
“But I just moved it from forty to fifty!” Trinity said.
“It was on FOUR HUNDRED, not forty!!” Keagan snapped.
“I’m sorry,” wailed Trin. “Math is HARD!”
Daisy grabbed a dishtowel and yanked the oven open. A cloud of black smoke came billowing out, followed by actual flames. Skipper and Bojack, smelling the acrid stench coming under their door, began barking like crazy, adding to the cacophony in the kitchen.
“The turkey’s on fire! We’re all gonna die!” Trinity said, tears coming for real this time.
“I got this!” Keagan said. “Let me grab the fire extinguisher and I’ll have it out in just a second!”
“We’re not gonna burn to death,” Trinity said. “I meant Mom and Dad are gonna kill us!”
“Shut up, Trin, and hurry up, Keags!” Diz said, frantically fanning at the oven with the dishtowel, which only caused more flames to come shooting out at her. She could barely see because of the smoke, and its foul smell was making her cough and choke.
“Gangway!” yelled Keagan, holding a small fire extinguisher over his head. Working all summer on construction sites with his Dad had taught him a lot about safety, and he also had a level head on his strong young shoulders. Diz and Trinity ducked to either side, and he pulled the pin, pointed the nozzle, and squeezed the lever. White powder shot out from the fire extinguisher, and in a matter of seconds the flames were out, and the cloud of smoke began to dissipate.
The three siblings stared in horror at the ruined remains of the beautiful turkey. Its outer surface was charred black and was covered with the fire-retardant spray. Smoke still issued from the cracks that had formed in charred meat of the turkey’s breast.
“You think maybe if we trim away some of the burned parts, and added a whole lot of butter . . .?” Trinity wondered.
“A gallon of butter and a dollop of fairy dust couldn’t salvage that turkey,” Daisy said. “It’s ruined!”
“Look at the ceiling!” Keagan said, pointing upward. Sure enough, there was a black circle above the oven where the smoke and flames had stained the plaster. “Ok, damage control time! Diz, you take the turkey out to the woods and bury it. Trin, you open all the windows and turn the fans on to get the smoke out of the house. I’ll mop the floor, and we can tell Mom and Dad that thieves broke in and stole the turkey.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to just tell them the truth?” said Diz.
“The truth will get US in trouble and make YOU the responsible one,” Keagan said. “That’s not fair!”
“But I WAS being responsible!” Diz said.
“Come on, guys, we’re all in this together!” said Trinity. “Besides, I don’t want mom to sell us to the gypsies!”
Daisy sighed. “OK, they’re gonna be home in 30 minutes, so if we’re going to do this, let’s do it FAST!” she said.
The three siblings swept into action. Daisy used potholders to lift the cremated turkey onto a little red wagon that Trinity had loved when she was little, and grabbed a shovel from the tool shed, then rolled the charred carcass out the back door and into the edge of the woods. There she started digging an impromptu grave, wondering if this sense of creeping dread and the fear of being caught was what serial killers felt when disposing of their victims. Trinity got the box fans from the shed and opened every window in the house, despite the chill air. The smell of smoke began to disperse, and Keagan used a mop and some hot water to clean up the bits of burnt turkey skin and fire retardant off of the kitchen floor. Within twenty minutes, the house began to smell at least a bit more like normal, and Daisy managed to scoop out a hole deep enough to dump the turkey into and cover it back up, spreading leaves over it to hide the evidence.
Her phone trilled, and she saw that it was her Mom.
“Hey, Diz,” the familiar voice said when she picked up. “We’re nearly home. Everything OK?”
“Sure Mom,” she babbled, knowing she was sounding like a fool but unable to get her emotions under control. “Of course everything’s OK. Why would they not be OK? Did someone tell you things weren’t OK? Because they couldn’t be more OK than they are right now!”
Mom got THAT tone in her voice, and Diz knew they were sunk.
“Diz, what happened while we were gone?” Mom asked.
“Um, well, I don’t know how to tell you this,” Daisy said, bravely sticking to their story even though she knew how lame it was going to sound, “But while we were upstairs playing Monopoly, some thieves broke in and stole the turkey!”
The voice on the other end turned cold, and Daisy shivered as she remembered that her Mom was a cop.
“We’re going to be home in five minutes, Daisy Cora!” she said icily. “You’d better have your story straight by then!”
Diz ran into the house, pleased to see that the worst of the mess, at least, was cleaned up.
“They’re nearly here!” she said. “We’re sunk!”
“Did you rat us out?” Keagan demanded.
“No, but she knows something’s wrong!” Diz said. “What kind of lame thieves break into a house and steal a turkey out of the oven, anyway?”
“Hey, it was the best I could think of!” Keagan said.
“We forgot about the ceiling!” Trinity said. All three looked up, and sure enough, the dark circle was still there on the white plaster, more evident now that the smoke was dispersed.
“One look at that and they will know we had a fire!” Keagan said.
“Flour!” said Trinity. “I can rub flour on the ceiling, and it will hide the dark spot until we can sneak down and paint over it one night!”
“It’s worth a try,” said Diz. “Keagan, bring the ladder in!”
In a couple of moments, Daisy and Keagan were holding the ladder steady while Trinity, who could climb like a monkey, scampered to the top with a full bag of flour. She dipped her hand in it and began liberally smearing it over the sooty stain, pleased to see that the white powder was indeed obscuring the scorch mark.
“You’re getting flour in my hair!” Daisy snapped at her sister.
“It’ll wash out,” her brother said. “Now hurry up, Trinity!”
In the driveway, Elanor turned to her husband Lyndon and said: “Am I seeing things, or are all of the downstairs windows open?”
“They’re open all right,” he replied. “One trip to the store, that’s all I asked for, without the entire crew in tow. But I guess that was asking too much, huh?”
“I’m the one who agreed they’d be OK on their own for a few hours,” Ellie said. “At least the house is still standing. Well, let’s go see just how bad this is. Diz sounded totally panicked on the phone!”
Trinity was busily covering the last of the burned area on the ceiling when the front door swung open and her parents entered.
“What’s going on?” Mom said. “Why is there a ladder in the kitchen?”
“Hi Mom!” Trinity waved enthusiastically, knocking the now half-empty flower sack off the top of the ladder as she did so. It flipped over as it spilled and landed on Daisy’s head, coating the eldest sibling with white from head to toe. Daisy had had enough.
“THEY DID IT, MOM!!” she shouted, her voice muffled by the flour. “They murderized your turkey!” But as she spoke, she snorted so much flower that she began sneezing uncontrollably, shooting out white clouds of flour across the kitchen.
“No, Mom, it was thieves!” Trinity wailed, scampering down the ladder. “They broke in and stole the turkey!”
“I’m gonna kill you, brat!” Diz said, trying to give chase, pull the flour sack off her head, and cough up a sheet cake’s worth of flour all at the same time.
As for Keagan, he was for the most part a serious and stable-minded young man, but his sense of the ridiculous, if ever triggered, was too powerful to resist. As Trinity darted out of the room with the half-blinded Daisy in hot pursuit, trailing a cloud of flower, he sank to the floor and laughed until his ribs ached, and tears started from the corners of his eyes.
Lyndon and Ellie looked at one another, looked at the hastily repaired damage to the kitchen, and then they, too, began laughing, even as Diz’s furious yells and Trinity’s outraged squawks echoed down the stairs. They laughed so hard – partly at the ridiculousness of the situation, partly in relief that their children were OK – that they had to lean on each other to keep from falling over.
So it was that the family had pizza for Thanksgiving dinner that year. The children were firmly admonished and forgiven, the ceiling repainted, and the oven scrubbed clean. Skipper and Bojack, when they were let out later that evening, dug up the cremated turkey carcass, but it was so burned that even the dogs turned their noses up at it. And the ghost of the Thanksgiving turkey heaved a sigh as it surveyed the scene before departing for the turkey version of Paradise.
“All that, and I didn’t even get to be someone’s dinner!” it grumbled.