Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Parable #6: The Bowing Chicken
Once upon a time in a small white farm on the edge of the frontier, a chicken was voted leader of the barnyard. She was a particularly fine chicken: robust and cheerful, with smooth orange and white feathers. Her sharp little beak was particularly adept at pecking small seeds out of the dust, and she was well liked and admired by both the other chickens and her fellow animals.
The old dog that had previously been barnyard leader took her aside on her first day.
"Chicken," he said, "the most important job in this barnyard is to protect yer fellow animals from predators. The farmer built a nice fence around the property, but now 'n then some varmint'll get in and try to make off with one of the young 'uns. I figgered the best thing was to set a watch every night. The horse took the first shift, and the cows the second and..."
"Cluck cluck cluck!" said the chicken. "You're not the leader anymore, dog. Elections have consequences. I'll be making the decisions from now on. If varmints are attacking us, I'll know how to deal with them!"
"How, then?" asked the dog.
"Reason, of course! Just like when the pigs wanted to eat Horse's corn! I reasonedwith them. And now everything is fine."
"It ain't the same! A fox ain't a pig. And a wolf ain't a horse. They don't live on a farm with reasons and rules. They're wild beasts!"
"Cluck cluck cluck" said the hen, "Go back to your doghouse and let someone smart run things!"
The dog wagged his head sorrowfully, his jowls flapping, and loped off to his little doghouse to chew an old bone.
The chicken skittered about the yard, giving orders. "Cluck cluck cluck!" she sang, "Everybody work! Make your eggs and cheese! So say I: the barnyard ruler. I do what I please!"
And the little farm obeyed.
The sun sank low on the frontier plains. The animals climbed under their straw and went to bed. The chicken flew to her roost at the tippest-top of the old white barn and tucked her head under her wing.
"Baa!" came a sudden bleat, just as the moon cleared the farmhouse roof. "Thief! Thief!"
"Cluck cluck cluck!" cried the chicken, and she flew down to the sheep corral. "Why are you bleating, you foolish sheep?"
"There! There! By the bushes! A baa-baa-burglar!!"
The chicken trundled over to the bushes and, in the moonlight, saw a raccoon attempting to climb back through the fence. His arms were full of cabbages and carrots, and he was having difficulty.
"Halt, thief!" she said "You will drop those things now!"
"Who says?" said the raccoon, his beady little eyes narrowing behind his mask.
"I, the ruler of the barnyard!". She tried to sound impressive.
"I don't wanna. I got twenty hungry babies in a log by the river. We got nothin'. Why should you guys get dese lettuces? We're starving. We need these carrots more den youse do! I'm taking dese carrots and dese lettuces."
The chicken cocked her head.
"That sounds reasonable." She said. "Oh, noble raccoon. Let me apologize for the farmer's greed. We need to share with our fellows and redistribute the barnyard's bounty. My apologies for our selfishness". And then, with an impressive flourish of her wing, she bowed low before the raccoon.
Then she raised her head. The raccoon the carrots and the lettuce were gone.
"You shouldn't a' done that. Now the farmer will have to sell our eggs and milk."
The chicken turned to see the old dog frowning at her. He turned about and loped into the night.
The next day, the chicken strutted about the barnyard.
"Cluck, cluck cluck!" she sang. "Everybody work! Make your eggs and cheese! So say I: the barnyard ruler. I do what I please!"
And another day passed on the farm.
That night she was dreaming of sunflower seeds when "Neigh!" a deafening cry broke the night!
"Cluck cluck cluck!" She cried, and flew to the stable. "What has happened?" she asked the horse.
"A fox! A fox has been in the henhouse! And he's been drinking the milk!" the old nag whinnied.
She turned and saw a red-tailed fox scurrying through the window, his arms full of eggs.
"Halt, thief!" she cried "You will drop those babies now!"
"Who says?" said the fox, his tail curling into a question mark.
"I, the ruler of the barnyard!". She tried to sound dangerous. She puffed up the feathers on her chest.
"But I was ruler first!" said the fox, wiping a milk mustache from his upper lip. "This was once an open field where the foxes played in the grass. We were at one with nature. Until the evil farmer kicked us off our own lands! These eggs are reparations, until we are given the right of return!"
The chicken cocked her head.
"That sounds reasonable." said the chicken. "Oh handsome fox, let me extend my apology for the suffering the evil farmer has inflicted upon you. Take our eggs and milk with my blessing!" She raised a wing and bowed low to the ground. When she raised her eyes, the Fox and the eggs were gone.
She turned to see the old dog in the stable doorway.
"Now the farmer will have no lettuce, no carrots, no milk and no eggs. He will have to kill one of us and send us to market."
And the old dog loped away.
The next day was chaos on the farm. Raccoons came and went, taking everything they could. The foxes were nesting in the old hound's doghouse. Worst of all, two little piglets had been taken for slaughter.
The smell of blood hung thickly in the air. The chicken perched high on a fence post, and called an impromptu press conference.
"Cluck cluck cluck!" she sang. "Everything is bad! Work hard just the same! I inherited this mess. So the dog is to blame!"
The animals mobbed the old hound, picking him up and carrying him away.
"You're making a mistake!" He barked. "There's blood in the air! Something will smell it! Something bad will come tonight!"
The animals heaved and– with a yip!– they threw the dog over the fence. He was never to return.
And a crimson sunset descended on the tiny farm.
In her perch high above, the pompous little chicken tried to sleep. She thought about the warning of the old dog. Was she being foolish? Should she put a watch on the farm? Was there really a danger? She couldn't imagine how the world could be all that dangerous. She had lived all her life in a neat little barnyard. She'd been pampered and spoiled. She'd never faced hardship or battle. The dog and horse and the cow and the other strong animals were just dumb brutes. They chose force when reason was obviously the better alternative.
She wondered now, might the world be wild after all- somewhere beyond the furrowed fields and neat little hogpens- a wild, wild world?
She put her head under her wing and drifted to sleep.
Sometime after midnight, cries erupted all around the barnyard! Animals were bleating and running, scurrying and leaping! They honked and snorted and mooed!
"Wolves!" they cried! "Wolves!"
The little chicken didn't know what to do. She fluttered down, jumping from place to place, wings over her eyes. She caught a glimpse of grey fur, saw hulking forms pouncing on defenseless creatures. She saw a sheep stamping her hooves in terror as she was devoured.
The night was full of growls.
"Cluck cluck cluck!" she dithered. "Oh dear, oh dear!" she hid in an overturned barrel, peeking out through the slats. She trembled as a long grey snout appeared at the opening, and feral eyes glinted in the moonlight. She was about to be eaten!
Then she heard a moo from above and she saw a hoof flash out- knocking the wolf aside! Through slats in the barrel she saw cows and horses forming a defensive ring around the other animals. She heard the blast of the farmer's shotgun.
She heard the voice of the old dog!
"They're on the run! Everybody stick together. Watch the young 'uns! Those wolves can't get us now! No thanks to that stupid, stupid chicken!"
Her feathers on end, she scrambled out of the barrel and perched on top.
"This isn't MY fault!" She cried. "The dog has brought the wolves upon us! He is staging a coup!"
"A coop?" asked the dog.
"A coup! A rebellion. A mutiny! The dog is a radical extremist! This is a plot to take over our barnyard! You– You just don't like chickens!"
"This has nothin' to do with likin' chickens! This is yer fault! Don't you get it? You stupid piece of unplucked poultry! You can't negotiate with wild things!"
"You can so!" Said the chicken. "Watch!" and she fluttered over the fence and out of the barnyard.
As she landed on the other side, the chicken stopped and looked around. She'd never been off the farm before! The world outside was dark, gloomy. The moon shone down on tangled weeds and muddy ditches, on thorny brambles and gnarled branches that reached down as if to snatch her away. Yellow eyes peered from the dark.
"Cluck cluck cluck!" she murmured to herself. She didn't like the world one bit!
Then the Great Wolf appeared.
He padded from the shadows towards her, stopping a foot away. He was muscular, immense, grey, scarred and ragged. She could feel his hot breath.
The chicken cocked her head.
He looked reasonable.
"Oh, noble wolf!" she said, ignoring his rows of teeth. "I am here to apologize for offending you. Too long has the farm shut out your great people. Too long have we been selfish and stubborn– never seeing the wolf's side of things! Let us open a dialog in hopes of reaching a mutual agreement to mutual interest. All animals are brothers and it is my greatest wish that we live together in peace and friendship!"
And, with a flourish of her wing, she bowed low before the Great Wolf.
The last thing the chicken ever knew was the sensation of teeth on the back of her neck...
© Richard Gleaves 2009-11-16