What Wakes the Rooster (Part 9)

When Winston and Sonny reached the shed, the old rooster collapsed across the threshold. Sonny had to practically drag Winston to his bed, into which he slumped, looking like a deflated football. He was barely animate. The dash up the hill in his weakened state had done damage. His breathing was slow and pained, and a sickly gurgle accompanied each inhalation. For now though, he was safe; even in his fragile condition, no other chicken would dare enter Winston’s shed. After a few minutes, the old rooster realised Sonny was still there with him, and he heaved himself upright. Sonny tried to help him, but Winston insisted it was unnecessary. “I’m all right,” he said. “The weather… affected me… that’s all… Early winter… I will rest today.” He summoned his remaining strength and looked fiercely at Sonny. “I will be as strong as ever by morning.”

“Of course,” said Sonny. For the first time in his life he did not believe Winston.

“Yes…” said the old white rooster. “I have a job to do… the chickens must be looked after.”

“That’s right, Winston. The chickens must be looked after.”

The old rooster closed his eyes and nodded. In a moment he was asleep. Sonny viewed him lying there: a poor, haggard imitation of a once mighty fowl. Sonny quietly left the shed. It is not easy to witness the decline of a hero, even for a chicken.

The little grey rooster walked up the path toward the farmhouse. His head hung low, full of thoughts scrambling for attention. He could hear the other animals were awake now. As he reached the wide front porch of the house, Sonny saw the cats sitting on the kitchen windowsill; they watched him pass. The front door of the house opened and Mr McGinley stepped out wearing a beanie and a thick jacket over his usual clothes. The sheepdog greeted him with a wagging tail, and off they both went to the barn. Sonny turned in the opposite direction and walked past the house, down to the far side of the pond. It was a slow, sombre walk, and the further he went the fewer animals he encountered. Past the pond and up the hill on the north side of the farm he trekked, further than he had been before. Near the top of the hill Sonny stopped and turned around. He was alone. The entire farm lay before him, as though he had been removed from it and was observing as an outsider. All its sounds seemed miles away.

As he took in this grand view he saw down by the pond, almost completely hidden by reeds, some sort of shelter. It would have been impossible to see it from the chickens’ side of the pond. He went down to investigate, and found it was made from the remains of a wooden crate. The crate was covered with leaves and mud, but inside it was fairly dry. On the dirt floor was part of an old horse blanket, fashioned into a rough nest shape. “This must be Alfred’s house,” said Sonny. There were some human books and pieces of paper lying about, and a small, rusty toolbox without a lid. Sonny inspected the contents of the toolbox: a pair of scissors, a funny looking stone, a shoelace, the hat Mr McGinley lost the previous spring, a ten inch carving knife and a screwdriver. Sonny stepped back out of the shelter.

He took the long way back around the pond, stopping at a grassy bank where the reeds didn’t grow. Over the edge he peered, being careful not to lean too far—he was not a good swimmer, and that water looked cold and deep. He saw his reflection wobbling among the ripples of sporadic raindrops.

“What are you doing here, Sonny?” said a voice behind him.

 

© 2020 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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