Sonny turned and saw Ivan walking toward him. Ivan was an intimidating rooster, but more so this morning. Something was different. While Ivan had always had a domineering manner, he was usually a little jumpy, as though he might suddenly trample the nearest bird. Not so today. There was a calmness about him. “Hello Ivan,” said Sonny. “Cold morning, isn’t it?”
Ivan walked right up to the little grey rooster, and stood there towering over him. Sonny took a step back but could go no further without falling off the bank and into the pond. Ivan stretched out his wings then folded them back to his sides, as his eyes took a detailed look around. “Cold morning? Yes it is.”
Sonny would have been glad for another animal to show up then, but he and Ivan were left alone.
“And we almost missed it—I barely heard the old rooster crow. He doesn’t seem his usual self. Did you enjoy your walk with him today?”
“Our walk was fine,” said Sonny. “Maybe Winston was a little under the weather, but he said he’ll be back to full strength tomorrow—don’t worry about that.”
Ivan smiled. “I’m not worried about Winston.” He took a step forward; Sonny had to turn side-on so as not to be pushed into the water. “Listen Sonny, I know you like Winston, but soon things are going to change around here. You’ve got some sense about you—unlike the rest of those numbskulls—so just keep your head down and you’ll be all right.”
“Are you… are you going to challenge Winston?” asked Sonny.
All appearance of friendliness departed from Ivan’s face, and he looked down at the little grey rooster. Sonny lowered his eyes and squatted on the frosty grass. “I’m helping you out here, Sonny,” said Ivan. “I like you, so listen to what I’m saying. The best thing for you to do is leave the old rooster alone, and stay out of my way—” he slammed his foot down on the ground in front of Sonny and then dragged it back “—and you’ll be fine.”
Ivan stepped back. Sonny stood up but said nothing. “Good,” said Ivan. He smiled. He turned and began walking back toward the chicken yard. “You’ll be all right,” he said.
Sonny stepped away from the edge of the bank. He looked at the three deep lines Ivan’s claws had carved there through the dirt. “Ivan,” Sonny called out. “I just want the chickens to be looked after.”
“Wake up, Sonny,” Ivan called back as he walked. “It’s every chicken for himself.”
Sonny did not immediately return to the henhouse. He didn’t feel like company, and he didn’t feel like walking past Alfred, who was running around the chicken yard more batty than usual. The young rooster wandered down to the fruit trees. The fog had cleared, and he could see the big red fencepost not far away. In the shade of the orange tree he sat down and pondered the fate of the sick, old rooster sleeping in the shed. Sonny wondered what Ivan intended to do. Most of all, he thought about who would look after the chickens.
As he stared at the ground before him, a tiny, odd movement caught his eye. Stumbling through the grass was what appeared to be two ants joined together. On closer inspection it turned out to be one ant walking backwards, dragging a dead ant by the head. Sonny watched. The living ant struggled, making slow progress, and then stopped. It released its grip on the dead ant and crawled away, then back; away then back. It positioned itself by the middle of the dead ant’s body and waved its feelers side to side. It grabbed the body and seemed to wrestle it for a few seconds, before the dead ant’s abdomen broke off and fell away. The living ant grabbed the dead one by the head again, lifted its half-body with ease and scurried away. Sonny watched the ant disappear into the grass.
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