Ivan stepped aside, fixing his eyes on Sonny as he walked up to Winston’s bed. The old rooster lay on his right side, with his neck stretched out and his left wing bent back at an unnatural angle. Feathers were strewn all about and dark blood stained the straw. Around Winton’s throat, feathers had been plucked. His neck and face were covered in deep cuts, almost shredded to pieces. His face was barely recognisable: his skull was caved in on one side, his comb almost torn off, and his left eye socket was just a black, oozing crater. Sonny shuddered and ruffled his feathers but did not take his eyes off Winston.
“It was a fox,” said Ivan.
“Huh?” Sonny looked at him.
Ivan stood over Sonny and said, “A fox killed Winston.”
“A fox didn’t do that,” said Rocco, entering the shed. “Something hacked him up and left him there. Look—there’s a damn hole right through his head! Don’t tell me that was a fox.”
“You’re hysterical, Rocco,” said Ivan. “Go outside.”
Rocco took an unwilling step back. Ivan puffed out his chest and stamped his foot, and then Rocco lowered his head and went out.
“You should go too, Sonny,” said Ivan.
The little grey rooster took one last look at his old mentor, and then left the shed.
Outside, there was a universal look of disbelief; the hens were crying. Many were staring at Sonny, and it made him uncomfortable; he wandered off to the side of the crowd and sat on the grass. A few of the chickens wailed in grief. The image of Winston’s shattered and lifeless form was carved into Sonny’s mind. He closed his eyes and forced himself to view it.
The communal mourning hushed, and Sonny opened his eyes. Ivan, with a cold and fierce aura stood in the doorway of the shed, scanning the shell-shocked brood. Watching from the side, Sonny saw the stark contrast between the chickens: Ivan looked enormous, commanding; the rest of the birds, huddled in sorrowful uncertainty, looked pathetic. Ivan stepped forward and addressed them. “Winston is dead. A fox killed him.” Fear rendered most of the chickens speechless, but a few just looked confused, and asked among themselves how a fox could have killed their chief—wasn’t he invincible? “A fox killed him,” repeated Ivan. “Too bad. Winston always warned us about foxes. He should have heeded his own advice.” The crowd parted as Ivan strutted through. “It was lucky for him a fox got him,” he boomed. “Today is the day I was going to challenge the old chief, and I tell you he wouldn’t have gotten off so easily with me. Winston was old and weak, and I would have punished him! It’s time for a new chief rooster. It’s my turn to be chief.” He looked at the faces around him. “If anyone wants to challenge me, you know the tradition—you have until the new moon.”
Not a peep sounded; every rooster (apart from Sonny, who watched on from the side) lowered his eyes.
Hurried flapping and footsteps came from up the hill, and Alfred rushed out from around the shed. His eyes darted about at the strange scene; his breathing was frantic. He waddled around gesturing and mouthing at the chickens, but it was some time before he could produce any words. “It’s… is it… what did… wait. Winston—where is he?”
A few of the chickens looked toward the shed. Alfred crept over to the door like a bloodhound tracking a scent. He peered inside. The old goose stretched his long neck out and blinked hard. His head twitched. “So it is,” he said. He turned back to the chickens, his usual harmless look replaced by a serious, foreboding stare. “I told you. I told you! I… I said… I told you, but you wouldn’t listen. They didn’t listen!” The chickens stepped back as Alfred began pacing back and forth. “What if the old rooster didn’t crow? That’s what I said, didn’t I? You didn’t listen. They didn’t care. Now he’s dead. He won’t crow anymore. Ha! He won’t crow!”
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