Monday, March 24, 2008

The Odd Chicken Out

Chapter 2

Birds of a Feather

Weeks passed and still Dorothea did not let Clarissa eat until she and the others had nearly pecked the yard clean. While a few of the hens were kind to Clarissa in secret, not one spoke out in Clarissa’s defense when Dorothea was around. Clarissa had never felt so alone…or so hungry.

Late one night, Clarissa sat awake on her roost listening to the muffled coos of the slumbering flock. It was impossible to sleep with a belly so painfully empty. Carefully she crept out of the henhouse. Outside the sky was streaked with dark clouds which hid all but a sliver of moon. The cool night air wove its way through her thinning coat of feathers. Shivering, she began her search for food.

Just as she found her first seed, she heard a sound.

“Who’s there?” she whispered, the seed slipping free of her quivering beak.

“Who wants to know?”

Clarissa squinted past the wire fence and into the rooster pen. Byron, the farm’s only rooster stood on the ramp leading into his house. His eyes were fixed on the fields which stretched beyond the yard. Byron was old. Clarissa had heard that he had a bad temper, so bad that he was penned by himself.

“It’s just me—Clarissa,” she whispered.

“Get back in the coop,” Byron ordered, “Coyotes were howling in the fields last night.” His beady black eyes then returned to their watch, scanning the field for intruders.

“I will…after I eat,” said Clarissa, stooping to pick up the fallen seed.

Byron looked back to Clarissa. “You should eat at feeding time like everyone else.”

Clarissa swallowed hard, forcing the seed past the sadness that swelled in her throat. Finally, she managed a whisper. “Dorothea won’t let me.”

Byron’s chest began to swell. Clarissa watched wide-eyed. He’s going to crow! she thought. But as fast as the old bird had puffed up, he shrunk down again, whispering, “You’ve got to stand up to that obnoxious old hen!”

“I can barely stand, Byron,” said Clarissa, her voice louder than she had expected. “Please, just leave me alone and let me eat.” Clarissa then turned away and began again to search for food.

Byron turned, too. At first it seemed as if he was heading back into his house. But at the last moment, he jumped to the ground. Without a word he began to scratch at the dry earth beneath his feet. Leftover feed from the rooster pen flew through the wire fence that the two pens shared. The grains scattered at Clarissa’s feet.

“Thank you,” she said, then started to eat.

Byron continued to scratch until Clarissa had eaten her fill. The two then returned to their houses. They fell asleep to the sound of coyotes howling in the fields.

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