Ivan saw Melvin approaching and puffed his chest. He stamped his feet and stood tall; he looked the size of a turkey. All the hens drew back, shielding their chicks under their wings. As Melvin marched into the arena, Sonny ran up alongside him. “Melvin, what are you doing?” he whispered.
Melvin glanced down at him while keeping his head high. “Oh, hi Sonny. I’m going to challenge Ivan. I can beat him.”
“No you can’t,” said Sonny. “He’ll kill you. The other roosters are just making fun of you.”
Melvin scowled and shoved Sonny aside with a swing of his wide hips.
Sonny slipped back into the crowd as Ivan stepped up to Melvin and the two mighty fowls faced off: Ivan like a warrior with a killer look in his eye, and Melvin like a feathered blob with a blank expression. Rosie stood next to Sonny as all the chickens watched on. “This is so exciting,” she whispered.
“Exciting?” said Sonny. “It will be a bloodbath.”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” said Rosie. “Ivan’s not a monster. And Melvin will back down soon enough.”
The crowd hushed. Ivan slammed his foot down and dragged his claws back through the dirt. Melvin crowed, barely loud enough for anyone beyond the chicken yard to hear. He ruffled his feathers, raised his head, and said, “Ivan, I challenge you today for the right of chief rooster.”
Ivan’s eyes glinted with satisfaction. He crowed, loud and long, and then charged at Melvin. Before Melvin could move a feather, Ivan leapt at him, wings spread and claws thrust forward like daggers. He knocked Melvin to the ground and then jumped on him, stamping and raking his claws across his side. After a few violent seconds Ivan stepped off his victim and paced around him. Melvin laid still and limp. A wave of awe swept the crowd as Ivan strutted about. “Does anyone else dare challenge me!” he crowed. No one answered. Every rooster lowered his eyes, except Sonny, who looked intently at Melvin. Melvin’s tail twitched; his feathers ruffled.
“Stay down,” whispered Sonny.
Melvin shook his head and then jumped to his feet. Fury filled Ivan’s face; he rushed at Melvin and knocked him down once more. Ivan raised one foot and then brought it down on Melvin’s neck. The crowd gasped. Ivan crowed and then hammered his beak into Melvin’s face, pecking him over and over. In seconds it was done. Ivan stepped back, his beak and face bloodied; the crowd stood watching in horror; Melvin laid motionless, wheezing in the dark red pool congealing in the dirt around his head.
“I told you,” said Sonny, as Rosie stared agape at the carnage.
Ivan ruffled his feathers and resumed his pacing up and down the dirt path. One by one the chickens in the crowd dispersed, taking a wide arc around the defeated rooster. Hens covered their chicks’ eyes and guided then back to the henhouse. Only Sonny approached Melvin. He stood beside him. “Melvin,” he said. “It’s me, Sonny.”
Melvin’s wide, blood-veiled eyes darted about. His beak trembled as he gasped for breath. Sonny watched as Melvin’s breathing grew slow and shallow. His wounded head lowered and finally slumped to the ground. His eyes closed. A small shadow crossed Melvin’s face and raced away. Sonny looked up; a lone goose flew above.
Later that day, Mr McGinley found Melvin lying in the dirt. He scratched his head, picked up the dead rooster and carried him away behind the farmhouse.
The shock of Melvin’s death subsided by the afternoon. In fact, the mood around the chicken yard was the best it had been since before the old rooster died. Chicks frolicked, hens gossiped, each rooster went about his pursuits, and Ivan strode like a king, back and forth through the yard. Sonny wandered alone behind the henhouse.
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