The hens went before Ivan, plucking grass and small flowers and tossing them into the air; the chicks raced in circles, singing and cheeping. The roosters followed behind. Sonny was last of all. He looked aside and saw ripples weaving through the long grass behind the henhouse. Movement at the henhouse door caught his eye; he looked and saw Esther, the old brown hen, watching him without expression. She alone had stayed behind, saying such an event would be too much for her in her old age. (She had seen the arrival of a new chief rooster once before and did not care to see it again.) Esther looked skyward, ruffled her feathers, and returned inside the henhouse. A small shadow crossed the yard.
The chickens crowded at the shed, clucking with anticipation. They parted and made way for Ivan, who marched up to the door, then turned and looked at his subjects. The crowd closed in before him, with Sonny scrambling through the throng and squeezing his way to the front.
“Everything is prepared for you, Ivan,” said Sonny, extending a wing through the doorway.
Ivan turned and looked inside. Bright morning light spilled through the open door and sparkled upon the decorations within: green vines draping the shelves, dandelions and clover carpeting the floor, and mulberry juice-stained shirts hanging either end of the old workbench. Behind the workbench, the shed was shrouded in its usual darkness.
Ivan smiled and stood tall. “Spectacular,” he said.
He stepped inside and took his place on the straw bed beneath the workbench; the roosters followed him in, looking around in awe, and filled the front half of the shed. Some of the younger chicks were able to scurry inside, while outside the door the hens climbed on top of one another, trying to get a good view of the ceremony.
Down at the dam, the mother duck, her children with her on the water, quacked at the youngest of her brood, who had halted at the water’s edge. The duckling looked at his mother, and then looked back at the strange object in the reeds that had caught his attention. It was small, thick and black, and made of plastic and metal. On its side a tiny red dot blinked.
At the far side of the horse yard, the Clydesdale foal prodded her hoof in the long grass by the fence.
“Come here, mother,” she called. “Look at this.”
The Clydesdale raised her head from the bucket of oats she was enjoying at the stables and looked toward her child.
“What have you found now?”
“I’m not sure,” said the foal. “But it’s dead.”
Around the back of the farmhouse, Mr McGinley loaded tools onto the back of his truck. He went to the round tree stump; on top of the stump lay only the small block of wood. He looked around then scratched his head.
There was a honk in the distance.
With the chicken crowd at the shed now hushed and as settled as possible, Sonny stepped forward and bowed before Ivan. The little grey rooster then turned and faced the other chickens.
“Today,” he began in a loud, reverent voice, “a new chief rules the roost. He will reign over the chickens, be first in the pecking order, and this shed—the chief rooster’s shed—shall be his. And, most importantly, his crow shall wake the farm.”
The hens cheered, the roosters bowed, and the chicks leapt for joy. Sonny glanced aside to the darkness behind the workbench; two glowing eyes stared back at him.
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