Tuesday, February 25, 2014

'Feathers,' by Big Sister

Hello all! Here's a story I wrote for an English assignment this year. :)
The best thing about being forced to live in an Enclosed Village with thirty-two witless chickens and a narcissistic rooster is that there’s always available food.  The worst is that when attacked by an enemy… there’s nowhere to run.

Living with chickens is no salad garden.  They’re greedy creatures.  My wife and I are distinguished Indian Runner ducks and would prefer more intelligent company, but, well, we have no choice.

My wife’s name, unfortunately, is Cinderella.  A bunch of grubby human children chose our names.  They called me Kevin and I won’t reveal my thoughts on this; it makes me too angry.  My only comfort is the rooster’s name: Scruff-Yuck, decided by the children’s opinion of him.  That’s what stops him teasing me about my name, and perhaps from becoming the most arrogant creature on earth.  

 One Saturday, I was enjoying my bath, and Rodney flew down to join me.  He’s a good mate of mine --smart as a brown snake and as fierce as a broody hen--  and likes a little wash himself once in a while.  As a matter of fact he and his expansive family of Apostlebirds feel themselves free to take liberties with anything of ours, especially food. Rodney (proudly named by his mother) chatted with me for a while comparing worms with grasshoppers and complaining about the awful racket the Lorikeets make every night before going to sleep.  Then he said, “Orange’s gang has been causing trouble.”

Orange leads the Crows, arch-enemies of farmers and livestock since Adam was cast out of Eden.  They steal chicks and eggs and have been known to peck the eyes out of weak sheep.  They are the only fellow birds who are not welcome in our Enclosed Village.  All birds are united with us in that -even Scruff-Yuck.  There’s nothing we can do:  Starting a fight could have dire consequences. 

“What’ve they been up to now?” I asked.  
“Stole two chicks over the hill.  Mother hen was in hysterics for three days.”
I stopped grooming myself and shook my head. “Shame on them!”  I paused.  Then, “Cindy’s been trying to go broody-  we want ducklings.  But every time she lays an egg, those feathered devils steal it.  She’s pretty upset.”
Rodney looked sympathetic.  “Have you tried hiding them?”
“Naturally!  Though we’re going to try a little harder this time.  Under the Coop.  It’s cramped and dirty, but she’s willing to give it a go… it’s only a few weeks, thank goodness.  I said I’d give her a hand with the Sitting.”
Rodney grinned at me.  
“You’ll make a great dad, mate!  I can just see you helping teach a floppy duckling how to swim-  flappin’ ya wings in rage and goin’ red in the beak-- well, I gotta go now.  Had me fill of your lovely grain and stuff.  Bye, old Roast!”  
Away he flew.  

Cindy and I had been caring for the eggs for almost a week before Orange discovered them.  He and his mates Eyeball and Bin-Juice noticed me just as I squeezed under the house, and came to investigate.  

“What’ve ya got there, mate?” Orange twanged, his voice shockingly high-pitched for such an impressive looking guy.  
Bin-Juice hopped over on one leg.  “Arrgh harrgh! Eggs!” he said. “How many of ‘em is there?” 
My feet felt clammy.
 “Look, here’s a deal,” said Orange.  “We’ll only take three, and you can hatch the rest.  Fair enough, eh?”  

Cindy was sitting tight and brave on those eggs, but her beak was pale and she was shaking.  I shoved my way out from under the coop.  “Only three?  Sure!  Take three of our babies now, then you can have the rest when they’re bigger!”  
“That’s the idea, mate.”
Cinderella just looked at me, pleading for her babies.  
I could feel the blood draining from my bill, but I shook my tail and said: 
“You’re not taking our children.  Therefore, no eggs.  Got it? Go help yourselves to the human’s giant dump-bucket pile.”  

Orange, Bin-Juice and Eyeball stared at me with their beady, shrewd, wicked little eyes.  Eyeball stuck out his neck and pushed his face into mine. “Well then, mate.  I guess we’ll just have to take ‘em for ourselves! 

They began to crowd close, trying to shove past me.  Enraged to the highest degree, I puffed myself up to my full height and pecked Eyeball on the eye, whacked Bin-Juice with my wing, and with a loud cry flung myself at Orange.  I fought hard and inflicted some damage I think, but in moments I was pinned to the ground.  Orange cawed with rage.  “I’ll kill you!” he shouted, then looked up as a shadow fell over us.
It was Scruff-Yuck.
“Get off my territory!” he said pompously, and pecked viciously at Orange’s head.  “Or I might be forced to use these.”  He stretched out his leg to show off his long, sharp spurs.  “Quick!  Remove your fat, sausage-like bodies from my sight immediately!”  And he crowed loudly to show that he was Scruff-Yuck the great, and no-one ever disobeyed Scruff-Yuck the great.  

With a flurry of gleaming black feathers they left.
Scruff-Yuck looked at me.  
“Thanks,” I muttered.
He shrugged.  “Gotta establish my territory” he said, turned his large, fluffy bottom around and strutted off.

Rodney appeared out of nowhere.  
“That was lucky mate,” he said seriously.  “Those crows are savage.” 
 Then he saw the funny side and grinned.  “Lucky good ole Scruff-Yuck was there to help you.”
“Scruff-Yuck,” I said coldly, “thinks a lot about his greatness; yet for all that he still has a large, fluffy, bottom--”
A shadow fell across us.
It was Scruff-Yuck.
He had come to get some food out of the Communal Food pan.  He pecked at it absently, but the shocking implications of what I had said were too much.  He soon walked away and crouched sadly with his bottom pressed into a post.

My conscience pricked me like a painful bindi.  Scruff-Yuck looked utterly dejected.  
I walked over to him.
“Er… Scruff-Yuck?  I just wanted to say that--”

We both heard it at the same time.  The beating of wings.  We looked up to see the sky dark with crows -- at least fifty of them.  Scruff-Yuck jumped up and gave the alarm.  The hens scrambled to the safety of the coop, but several crows landed on the ramp and headed them off.  Then they attacked.

 Scruff-Yuck and I fought side by side, and I saw those spurs actually in use.   I wouldn’t mind a pair of those things.  My soft feet and blunt bill aren’t much use in a fight.  
I saw Rodney battling near me: he and most of his family had valiantly joined us.  But it was hopeless. We would soon be overcome. 

Then I saw the humans, alarmed by the ear-splitting racket, come running.  They stopped speechless for a moment when they saw their chicken coop swarming with wildly fighting birds.  One of them grabbed their large dog by the collar and shoved him inside the pen.  

I heard a deep growl shiver out of the dog’s throat, and saw his gums snarl back over his white teeth.   With an explosive bark he leapt at the crows and chased them wildly.  Cawing loudly, they fled.

That afternoon, we watched as the humans put strong wire netting over the top of our whole Enclosed Village.  The crows were shut out.  But Rodney soon found a place to squeeze in.  

Now that all was well again, Scruff-Yuck began to fall back into depression.  I headed over to him to finish my interrupted conversation.  
He grunted and began grooming his wing.
“I’m sorry I said-- you know.”
Scruff-Yuck mumbled something under his beak.  
 “Pardon?” I pressed.
He burst out:  “It’s still fluffy!”
“Who cares?  I can’t even crow! Plus I have a little stumpy tail, my beak’s blunt, and Cindy says my feet get flatter every day.  You’re much better off than me!”
Scruff-Yuck didn’t answer, but
 a little smile bent the corners of his beak upwards. 

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