What Wakes the Rooster (Part 18)

Chickens, being largely immune to the anxiety that infects mankind, rarely experience the feeling of relief. They don’t even have a word for it. But upon hearing the news of the owl’s non-existence—which was interpreted not so much as a rumour disproved as much as a glorious battle won—a wave of relief swept over the chicken population. Each feathered face radiated cheer, and every wrinkled foot stepped with a spring. The chicks danced, the hens sang; every bird roamed freely and unafraid. Even thoughts of a fox faded into insignificance.

That afternoon, the chickens enjoyed their peaceful leisure in the yard. The sun was descending behind the farmhouse, bestowing gentle warmth; the breeze was mild and sweet, not yet with the chill of evening. The hens sat and talked in front of the henhouse while the chicks chased flies around the yard, even over the dirt path as far as the thick grass behind the stables. The roosters went about their usual vain pursuits, and Ivan, as was now his custom, marched up and down the path, puffing his chest and thumping his steps. Around the corner of the henhouse, Sonny and Rosie spoke privately.

“So you’re saying,” said Sonny, “if I look into the camera I’ll be able to see what happened the night Winston was killed?”

“I’ve told you,” said Rosie, “it’s unlikely, but there’s a chance the camera recorded it. But please, we’ve got to get it out of the shed. I’ll be in awful trouble if anyone finds out.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll wait for the opportunity tomorrow, and then I’ll sneak in and grab it. Now, you were saying the camera can see in the dark?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes. Ask Rascal about it—he knows more about it than I do. I think the red light helps it see.” Rosie looked at Sonny. “Do you think the camera saw the fox that killed Winston?”

“The fox?” He turned and looked at Ivan strutting about. “Sure, the fox.”

“And you’ll get the camera tomorrow?”

“Yes. Tomorrow.”

Oh, thank you Sonny.” Rosie smiled and relaxed. She pecked at a grasshopper. “You know, I feel the strangest thing today.” She pecked again. “Aren’t you going to eat, Sonny?”

Sonny stared out over the pond, his face compressed in thought.

“Sonny?”

“Huh? Oh, no, I’m not hungry.”

During the night, Sonny ruffled his feathers, stretched his head out from his bed and looked toward the door of the henhouse, where a pale wedge of moonlight spilled in across the floor. He hopped down, silently passed all the sleeping chickens, and stood in the doorway, his toes hooking over the edge of the top step. The night outside was bright, cool and still; all was quiet but for a couple of faint, far-off bird calls. Sonny looked up at the half moon nestled among long, silver clouds. A light came on in one of the upper windows of the farmhouse, and then, after a minute, went out. In the thick grass beside the stables a slender shadow moved. Sonny looked over at Winston’s shed. A floorboard behind him creaked, and he turned to see a huge dark figure approaching him: Ivan stepped out into the light. “What are you doing up, Sonny?” he said, quietly.

“I, uh, couldn’t sleep.” Sonny uncurled his toes from the step and backed inside the henhouse.

Ivan stretched his long neck out the door and looked up at the sky. He sighed. “Too early,” he said.

“Too early?” said Sonny.

“I don’t know how the old rooster did it,” said Ivan. “Every day he woke up just before dawn so he could crow. I wake up too early or too late.” He sat down in the doorway.

Clouds crept across the sky. Insects chirped behind the henhouse. “I’ll probably go back to bed,” said Sonny. “Are you going to sleep?”

“No,” said Ivan, his eyes on the moon. “I’ll wait for dawn. I have to crow.”

“Oh.”

“It’s the chief rooster’s most important job.”

Sonny crept silently back into the shadows and returned to his bed.

 

© 2020 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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