A flash of bright steel, the heavy clunk of wood; Rosie’s head rolled onto the stump. Her decapitated body flapped and flipped off the stump as Mr McGinley laid the axe on the ground and stood up. Sonny jumped back as he watched headless Rosie sprint across the hill, blood spurting from her open neck. She dashed and leapt and flapped her wings in a ten-second frenzy, performed a summersault and then collapsed on the grass. “Yeah, that’s what happens,” said a small voice beside Sonny.
Sonny clucked in surprise. “Holly!” he said.
The rat stood on her hind legs at Sonny’s side and twitched her nose. “I know because I’ve seen it before,” she said. “The other animals don’t do it. They just squeal or grunt, give a shudder, and then fall down dead. Rats don’t make any fuss. But chickens go crazy. No animal dies like a chicken without its head.”
Sonny looked down the hill at Rosie’s dead body lying on the grass. A sudden wind swept dozens of small feathers into the air. “I’ve never seen that before,” he said. “I knew Mr McGinley took the chickens here to die—”
“I knew that too,” said Holly.
“But I never knew how they died. Is it like that every time?”
“Every time,” said Holly. “He chops the head off, and the body goes berserk.”
Sonny stared at Rosie’s body for a minute, and then turned and headed back around the farmhouse.
Sonny returned to the chicken yard almost unnoticed. As the other chickens went about their business—the hens chatting, the chicks playing, Nelson the rooster working on his mime—Sonny scratched in the dirt near the henhouse, looking for what little grain was left. A wide shadow covered him, and a heavy wing settled on his shoulder; he looked down and kept still. The wing patted his back and then removed from him. The shadow moved around, and two huge, leathery feet trod in front of him, their claws sinking into the ground. Sonny slowly looked up, into the fierce features of Ivan. “I’m sorry about Rosie,” said Ivan.
Sonny looked down.
“It’s a cruel life,” Ivan continued. “Hens have to lay eggs. Rosie hadn’t laid and, well, that’s the way it goes.”
Sonny nodded and hooked his claws into the dirt. He glanced aside to the darkness beneath the henhouse. “You’re a good chief, Ivan,” he said.
Ivan patted Sonny once more on the shoulder. “You’ll be all right, Sonny,” he said, and then turned and walked away.
In the afternoon, a sudden excitement filled the chicken yard. Gasps rushed through the chicken population, and soon every bird was gathered in a dense crowd before the henhouse, watching above. Perched atop of the henhouse, Rocco the rooster stood tall, staring toward the stables with an unflinching determination. His feathers ruffled in the wind like a superhero’s cape. The onlookers exchanged whispers. “He’s finally going to do it.”
“Do you think he will make it?”
“No chicken can fly that far.”
“He got up on the henhouse roof, didn’t he?”
“He’s so sexy.”
“The stables are too far away.”
From the henhouse to the stables was thirty metres, slightly downhill. No chicken on the farm had flown even close to that distance. Rocco backed away from the edge of the henhouse roof, and out of the crowd’s sight.
“Ah, see, it’s too far. He can’t do it.”
A gust of wind howled up the hill behind the henhouse and rushed out across the chicken yard; rapid, metallic scratching sounded, and a second later Rocco the Rosecomb launched himself from the tin roof with a whoosh of beating wings. A wake of loose downy feathers floated down upon the crowd as they watched the daring rooster in awe. He flapped with extraordinary speed and power… and kept going. He made it across the chicken yard, and the crowd gasped. Over the dirt path he flapped, and as the ground dipped downhill on the other side, it seemed to the chickens that Rocco flew even higher. The crowd began to cluck, shouting and cheering; the chicks chased after him, cheeping, “Go Rocco! You can do it!”
On he flew. Nearing the stables, his propeller-like flapping started to splutter, and he began to descend. The chickens desperately cheered him on. Lower and lower he sank, as he closed in on that impassable barrier, the stable fence. (It was not literally impassable. It was a log fence with only two rails; any chicken could have strolled beneath the lower rail and into the horse yard anytime they pleased, but for some long-forgotten reason no chicken ever did.) With one last mighty effort, Rocco flapped up and over the fence and landed in a breathless heap on the short green grass of the horse yard.
The chickens watched on, staring, utterly silent. Not a feather stirred. After a few seconds, Rocco shook himself and got to his feet; the crowd at the henhouse erupted in celebration. Rocco looked around in wonder. He turned toward the chicken yard, smiled and waved, and then walked off, disappearing around the front of the stables.
© 2020 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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