Sonny spent the day wandering near the fruit trees, his head down and his face serious in thought. In the afternoon, as he rested in some shade, a ripple through the long grass weaved toward him, and a dark, whiskered little face popped up. Sonny tilted his head and stared at the rat twitching its nose at him. “Hello,” said the rat.
“Hello,” said Sonny.
“I’m Holly,” said the rat.
“I know. I know lots of things. You’re Sonny. You walk with the chief rooster.”
Sonny ruffled his feathers and pecked at a caterpillar in the dirt.
The rat sniffed and blinked. “I talk with Winston sometimes. Did you know that?”
Sonny shook his head. “No. I’ve never seen you before.”
“You haven’t? Well, I suppose I am small. I’m not as strong as the bigger animals, but I am clever. Being clever is like being strong in a way, don’t you think?”
Sonny thought for a moment and then nodded. Holly smiled. She scurried away through the grass.
As dusk settled over the farm, Sonny walked back up to the chicken yard. He took the back way, up the hill behind the henhouse. It wasn’t until he was almost at the top that he saw Alfred alone and staring up at the first stars. It was unusual for the goose to be there so late. Sonny slowed down and tread softer, taking a wide arc around him. He could hear him whispering, “What if the old rooster didn’t crow?”
He made it past Alfred, and then slipped around the side of the henhouse unnoticed. The hens were gathered in the yard for their evening chat; it was more subdued and serious than usual. Sonny heard Winston’s name mentioned. Ivan’s too. At the henhouse door the little grey rooster turned and looked out over the yard. In the dim glow cast by the farmhouse porch light, the chickens were almost silhouettes: the hens clucking away; the young roosters nearby, listening to Nelson’s latest poem, an ode to corn; and Ivan with his chest puffed out, strutting up and down the dirt path for all to see. In the henhouse the chicks slept, and Sonny listened to their tiny peeps, talking in their sleep, as he passed them on the way to his own bed in the back corner. He nestled in and was soon asleep.
When he awoke the next morning, it was already light outside. He jumped up, ran past the sleeping chickens and out into the yard; a couple of chicks were scratching in the grass. Sonny looked up at the farmhouse and saw the warm red reflection of early light in the upper windows. Eastward the top of the sun peeked above the pine trees. For the first time in Sonny’s life dawn had come without a crow. He walked down the dirt path to the big red fencepost. Winston wasn’t there. Sonny looked up by the apple tree and saw Ivan was also absent. He waited a while, pacing back and forth; the light shone brighter until the sky was perfect blue, but there was no sign of any rooster but himself. A loud, raspy sort of clucking sounded from up the hill. It was disturbing. It was the chicken equivalent of a bloodcurdling scream.
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