Sonny walked away, looking back only when he heard Mr McGinley step out of the shed. The farmer was carrying Winston’s body by the feet. He held it up to examine it. In the light of day the dead rooster looked even more horrific. Mr McGinley shook his head, and then carried Winston’s body away, around to the far side of the farmhouse—that’s where he dealt with dead chickens.
The grieving process of fowls is much shorter than that of humans—which is advantageous for creatures more commonly encountering death—so while the rest of the morning was grave and silent around the chicken yard, by afternoon normality had largely returned. It wasn’t that Winston had been forgotten, but rather focus had moved to more practical concerns. The chicks had been informed of and comforted over the chief rooster’s death (though they were spared the grizzly details); Ivan was parading around the yard, stamping his feet, puffing out his chest and flapping his wings—to the intimidation of any potential challengers; and the hens gathered as usual to share opinions and gossip, of which today there was plenty. Most talk centred on the circumstances of Winston’s death, the threat of a fox, and who would succeed Winston as chief. Rosie, who was usually the most talkative hen, remained quiet during these discussions.
Three days passed, and the chickens adjusted to life without Winston. Though there was no chief rooster to occupy the shed, Ivan, for now, had taken over the morning crowing duties. His crow was mighty, reminiscent of a young Winston, but he had woken late a few mornings and missed the dawn; rising so early was not as easy as it seemed. The chickens enjoyed their taste of Ivan’s leadership: he wasn’t as strict as Winston, and let the birds do for the most part what they pleased. He lacked the care for the chicks that Winston displayed, and had no interest in how many eggs were being laid, but that didn’t seem to bother anyone—except Sonny. Regardless of Sonny’s opinion, unless another rooster challenged and defeated Ivan before the new moon, it was Ivan who would be officially named the new chief. In line with tradition, a coronation ceremony was to be held in Winston’s old shed.
On the fourth night after Winston’s death, a crash shattered the midnight silence. It came from the shed.
The next morning, the chickens waited in the henhouse with anxious imaginations while Ivan and a few roosters went over to the shed to investigate. Upon returning, Ivan declared the noise to have been nothing but an accident—just the wind blowing down a wobbly shelf; there was a fallen plank and a couple of old tins of dried paint on the floor, and no trace of any animal having been in there. This deduction pacified the chickens’ fears only momentarily, for a young chick came forward to confess.
“I know what made the noise,” she said.
The adult chickens humoured her. “Go on,” they said.
“I saw it.” Her little wings trembled as she recalled the encounter. “Last night… I snuck outside—I saw a firefly and I wanted to catch it.”
The chickens laughed.
“Oh, sweetheart,” said one of the hens, “a firefly couldn’t have knocked down a shelf.”
The young chick shook her head. “That’s not what I mean,” she said. Her sudden disturbed look snuffed out the audience’s joviality. “I chased the bug up by the shed,” the little chick continued, “and then I stopped… I just wanted to look inside, that’s all. So I crept up and… I saw it. I ran away, straight back to the henhouse—I promise I won’t do it again!”
“What did you see?” asked one of the hens.
“It was… the owl.”
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