nce upon a time a hen went with a rooster to the nuthouse, and they agreed that whoever found a way to escape would tell the other one.
      Soon enough, the hen found a very large hole underneath one of the sinks in the bathroom, but she kept quiet about it because, although she had an honest face and nice manners, she was often given to irrational moods and fears. So, one night, while the doctors and the guards were drinking beer and playing cards, the hen went into the bathroom, climbed through the hole underneath the sink, and ran away.
      It wasn’t very long before she encountered a large stone well at the top of a hill from which she heard a tremendous crying and groaning. The hen was filled with a strange curiosity and peered over the edge of the well, but she lost her footing and fell into the water. Down at the bottom of the well was a hunchbacked devil, who said, “Now I’ve got you, and now you shall work hard for me.” And he took her away with him.
      The devil gave the hen the most difficult jobs in his kitchen. She was made to bake bread all day long, and at night she was in charge of slaughtering the beasts and preparing their meat for the table, while all she ever got to eat were dumplings that were hard as rocks. “If you do not do as I wish,” the devil said, “you shall become a black poodle and wear a golden chain around your neck, and you shall eat live coals until the flames come spewing from your throat!”
      The poor hen had never felt worse or been more tired, not even in the nuthouse. She made bread all day, and at night she salted the meats for the table with her own tears. It got so bad that finally an enchanted talking ham decided to take pity on the poor hen and try to comfort her.
      “It seems to me,” said the ham, “that both of us have fallen upon a great misfortune. I am a handsome prince that has been turned into a honey-glazed ham by a wicked enchantress, and you are obviously a beautiful princess who has suffered a similar fate at the hands of someone just as evil.”
      “I am not a beautiful princess,” replied the hen. “I am simply a chicken that escaped from the nuthouse and fell down a deep well.”
      “Regardless,” said the talking ham, trying not to get too flustered, “I have a plan that I think we both can profit from.”
      The ham told the hen the secrets of the hunchbacked devil: that he had three hearts, and that each one gave him a different special power. She need only cut off a little bit of the magic ham and put it in the devil’s supper and he would fall into a deep sleep that night. She would then be able to slip into the devil’s bedroom and cut out one of his hearts. If she was able to swallow the devil’s heart whole, she would command the powers that that heart contained.
      There was no way to know ahead of time which heart contained which powers, but the ham and the hen were feeling lucky, so the hen cut a little piece out of the ham’s side and insinuated it into the devil’s soup.
      That night, as expected, when the hen slipped into the devil’s bedroom he was sound asleep and breathing noisily through his mouth, as devils often do. The hen then cut the devil open, took out one of the three small hearts, and swallowed it whole. Before stitching the devil up again, she put one of her eggs in the place where the heart had been, in hopes that the devil wouldn’t notice that something funny had happened while he was sleeping.
      The next morning everyone was feeling somewhat out of sorts. The ham had a pain in his side, the hen had a stomach ache, and the devil seemed more sluggish than usual. “I don’t feel like breakfast today,” the devil said to the hen, “but make me something special for my dinner.” And with that, the devil was off for his morning walk.
      Despite their discomfort, the ham and the hen were excited, for they were still unsure as to what powers the hen now had. The hen tried to wish the ham back into the prince he claimed he was, but nothing happened. The hen tried wishing the both of them out of the devil’s castle, but nothing happened. All morning they tried wishing for different things but nothing seemed to be happening. “Fat lot of good this heart will do us,” said the hen, “if we can’t figure out how to use it.”
      Glumly, the hen quit trying to work the magic heart, and she settled down to make a butterscotch cake for the devil’s dinner. As she worked, she bemoaned her fate, and she kept thinking of all the things she missed from the nuthouse: the paintpots and the board games, the wooden blocks and plastic toys she used to play with.
      That evening, as she was sitting down to eat her dumplings, the hen heard a great ruckus coming from the dining hall.
      “What’s this paintpot doing in my cake?” Roared the devil. “And these board games, and these wooden blocks and plastic toys?”
      “Why, they’re presents for you, dear devil, sir. This is the special surprise you asked for,” replied the hen, for although she was many things, being slow on her feet was not one of them.
      The devil was so pleased with his presents that he didn’t even notice that the hen had run back into the kitchen to talk to her honey-glazed friend.
      “It seems that you have the power to make things appear in the breads you bake,” the ham said.
      “Big deal,” said the hen, rolling her eyes.
      “True,” agreed the ham. “Perhaps you should try swallowing another one of his hearts.”


“Chicken cordon bleu for me?” screamed the devil in falsetto as the hen pushed forward another steaming dish of poisoned food.
      “But of course, dear sir. It seems you have acquired a taste for my special ham,” said the hen.
      “Yummanghuuhhgriffthnegig,” said the devil, as he shoveled the food into his mouth.
      “This better work,” said the hen to the ham when she returned to the kitchen.
      “You’re telling me,” said the ham, surveying the growing hole in his side.
      The ham and the hen spent the rest of the evening digging through the hen’s special breads for presents until they were sure it was late enough to try sneaking into the devil’s bedroom.
      As before, the hen stole into the devil’s bedroom, pulled down the covers, opened his pajama top, and began sawing away at the devil’s flesh.
      “I’m beginning to get a taste for these,” said the hen as she swallowed down the devil’s second heart.
      The clock was just beginning to strike fifteen as the hen returned to the kitchen, covered in blood, and tossed the butcher’s knife into the metal sink with a clang.
      “Did everything go all right?” asked the ham.
      “Yeah, whatever,” said the hen.
      “Did you replace the heart with another egg?” asked the ham.
      “Yes,” said the hen.
      “Do you know what powers you have now?” asked the ham.
      “Shut up, I’m tired,” said the hen. And she crawled into her nest of straw between the molasses and the scouring pads without even washing the blood off her feathers.
      In the morning, one of the devil’s hand-servants arrived in the kitchen to announce that the devil would not be leaving his bed this morning, and would like to have his meals sent up to his room.
      “We’ll get to it when we’re ready,” said the hen. “Until then, you need to get the hell out of my kitchen.”
      The hand-servant stared at the hen for a minute, realizing that she was covered with dried blood, and then scurried away.
      “Now let’s see what these god-damned hearts can do!” said the hen.
      “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” asked the ham.
      “I’m fine,” said the hen. “Now let’s see if we can get ourselves out of here.”
      So the hen wished the both of them out of the castle, and poof, they were out of the castle, sitting on a high grassy hill, looking down on the castle which was miles away.
      And then the hen wished for piles of gold, and poof, they were surrounded by heaping piles of coins and jewelry.
      And then the hen wished the ham back into a prince, and poof, the ham was still a ham.
      “Are you lying to me about this prince business?” asked the hen.
      “I am a prince, I really am,” said the ham as he began to cry.
      “I suppose you want me to kill the devil and swallow his last heart,” said the hen.
      “But I am a prince, I really am. I’m a really really handsome prince,” blubbered the ham.
      “Shut up,” said the hen. “Just shut the fuck up.”
      Back in the kitchen, the hen started sawing away at the ham’s side again.
      “Ow! That hurts!” screamed the ham.
      “Can’t have it both ways, you little shit,” said the hen.
      “Just hurry,” said the ham. “I’m sure that the devil’s beginning to get suspicious, and you shouldn’t have yelled at his servant. Who knows what he’s up to now.”
      “Don’t worry,” said the hen. “In less than an hour you’ll be back to normal, and we’ll be miles away, richer than we could hope for in our wildest dreams.”
      But, in truth, the hen was hatching other plans. For if the devil died, and she had acquired all his powers, then there wasn’t any good reason to leave this huge and gorgeous castle. In fact, she thought, it wouldn’t be such a bad life to have my own bedroom and a house full of servants catering to my every whim. Suddenly, it occurred to her that the only thing standing in the way of her new and glorious life was the talking ham himself, and his knowledge of the secret power of the hearts.
      “I’m going to take this to the devil myself,” said the hen, and she left the kitchen with a silver tray of ham and eggs and began to climb the stairs to the devil’s bedroom.
      The poor sad devil had never looked so frail. He was propped up with several pillows trying to do the crossword in the newspaper.
      “Here’s your breakfast,” said the hen.
      “I don’t think I’m very hungry today,” said the devil.
      “I think you are,” said the hen. And with one deft move she took the hamsteak from the silver platter and shoved it, and her entire fist, down the devil’s throat.


The hen gave a little shiver as she swallowed down the last of the devil’s hearts whole. And, because she was gaining a certain sick pride at a job well done, she replaced the last heart with another egg and carefully stitched the devil’s chest back up, even though she was sure that the devil was now completely dead and would only be thrown into a hole in the garden before the day was over. The hen then took a long hot bath in the devil’s marble bathtub, dressed herself in one of the devil’s terrycloth bathrobes, and walked back down into the kitchen to deal with the last loose end—her honey-glazed former friend.
      “I was beginning to get worried,” said the ham.
      “You’re getting smarter, then,” said the hen.
      “Isn’t it time we got going?” asked the ham, beginning to tremble just the slightest bit at his friend’s new attitude and appearance.
      “We’re not going anywhere,” said the hen. “Why should I leave, when I have all these powers and all this wealth?”
      “But I don’t have any powers, and I’m still a ham!” exclaimed the ham.
      “Well, I’ll turn you back into a prince,” said the hen, “but I’m afraid I can’t let you go free, for how can I trust that you won’t tell the next poor slob who comes along about the secret of my powers.”
      “But I won’t, I swear,” said the ham.
      “Why not?” asked the hen. “You betrayed the devil, didn’t you?”
      The ham just stared at the hen in terrified silence.
      “I will keep my promise and turn you back into a prince, but then you will be banished to the dungeon to live out the rest of your days,” said the hen. And she closed her eyes and began to chant the transformation spell that the last heart had taught her, all the while jumping up and down and flapping her wings in the air.
      It wasn’t long before the kitchen filled with a thick, cloying smoke and everyone in the castle began to hear an otherworldly screaming.
      “What have you done to me?,” screamed the former ham, flailing his arms about.
      “I turned you back into a prince,” said the hen, staring into the face of a handsome prince.
      “But what about the rest of me?” squealed the former ham.
      The hen was about to ask the prince what he was talking about, but as the smoke cleared she realized that she wasn’t looking at a handsome prince standing in front of her, she was looking at the top half of a handsome prince that was resting on a wooden cutting board.
      “Maybe your bottom half materialized inside the devil?” suggested the hen, now feeling strangely uneasy. “We did feed an awful lot of you to him, didn’t we?”
      The half-prince could only gurgle in disbelief.
      “I’ll just have to go back upstairs, cut your other half out of the devil’s belly, and sew your two parts together,” said the hen, trying to make the best of a suddenly complicated situation.
      But, as it turns out, she never got the chance. For just as she was reaching for the butcher’s knife in the sink, the not-nearly-as-dead-as-anyone-had-thought devil entered the kitchen.
      “What’s going on in here?” roared the devil.
      “She’s trying to destroy us both!” yelled the half-prince.
      “And I’ve swallowed all three of your hearts, you fucker,” screamed the hen. “So there’s nothing either one of you can do to stop me.”
      And the hen rose up to twice her height, and her eyes began spinning like pinwheels, and her feathers started shooting sparks, and she was about to banish both the half-prince and the devil to the depths of Hell when suddenly the most amazing thing happened.
      You see, unbeknownst to all of them, the eggs in the devil’s chest had been incubating, and just as the hen was about to work her dirty magic, three small chicks began to peck their way out of the devil’s chest. The sight of these three unexpected children suddenly poking out of the devil’s pajama top startled the hen so badly that she vomited up all three of the magic hearts and they landed on the floor in front of everyone.
      The room fell silent for a single shining moment. And then the chicks started screaming as everyone dove for the floor, punching and clawing, trying to swallow as many of the hearts as they could.


Meanwhile, the rooster had finally found the hole underneath the sink and escaped from the nuthouse.