The first 3 chapters of my novel. Looking for beta readers!
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My life was awful; you wouldn’t have liked it.
It was small, and lonely. I was the best example of a loser that could be found in the entirety of poultry kind. It all blended together in a blur of mediocrity. I was a rooster, on the younger side of things, but I was anything but naive. I had been living alone for longer than I liked to admit. I had no flock, unlike all the other roosters that lived on the same tiny, old, abandoned human farm as me. I was an outcast among them. I wasn’t permitted to stay in the “suburban” area of the farm, as it was called. The farm was inhabited by a giant flock of chickens, called The Flock. I was cast aside when my parents betrayed the leaders of The Flock, the Brahmas, and defected. They “flew the coop” and when I was left behind I was forever restrained to the bottom caste of society. I had to sleep on the edges of the farm, in a short, fat, broad-leafed tree. At that time, I was thankful that I could even live within the bounds of the farm, protected by the age-old wire fence that kept out most predators.
Every day was exactly the same, or at least close to it. I would wake up, preen my tail feathers and set about my day. I would jump the fence into the neighboring woods, and scrounge for food all day. I would collect everything I found and carry it back to my tree. I would hide it in a hole in the ground and cover it with a rock. I would only eat when I could barely go on, and I never was full. Sometimes, when I couldn’t go out because of a storm or because I was hurt, I would just stay still and try to sleep as much as I could to preserve energy. I was desperate, and I fiercely protected what little I had.
I never wanted to. I wanted to have enough to share, to help anyone else that may have been be like me. I had a soft spot that had hardened over with suffering and starvation. I may have been as hard as a rock during the day, but most nights I cried quietly to myself, feeling like the loneliest, most helpless creature in the world. No doubt, I was in the ranks of them.
One day, everything changed.
I got up at the crack of dawn, like every day, and crowed at the sun. I was so weak that my crow never sounded right. I went off to forage. I barely found anything, because it was growing cold, and things were dying off. I came home to my tree, dejected, when I found it inhabited by four other chickens: a white rooster with a black ring around his neck, brown eyes, feathered feet, and a fat, rounded crown, and what looked like his beautiful twin sister, who shared all of his characteristics, except for the rooster tail. To their right sat a black chicken with a tall, slim crown, rich hazel eyes, and iridescent feathers, and a yellow chicken who had a slightly long neck and bright orange eyes with a swan’s band around them. They looked like the iconic group to end all iconic groups, which I found slightly interesting, but I was too territorial to put much consideration to it. “Hey, what do you think you all are doing? That’s MY tree! GET LOST! Leave me ALONE!” I shouted at them.
“Oh my, I’m so sorry sir. I thought we finally found a home. C’mon gals, let’s go,”
the rooster said. He jumped out of the tree, followed by his ‘sister’, then the black chicken, but the yellow one refused to budge. “I’ve finally settled down. This is the first time I haven’t been at rock bottom in a LONG TIME. Not leaving in a million years,” she shouted. I felt a pang of guilt and understanding.
The rooster rolled his eyes. “Silkie, will you do the honors of getting….” The rooster was interrupted by the black hen.
“Already on it. Blondie! Come and get me! Or are you a raccoon?! A cowardly coon?! A cowardly, blondie coon?!”
“AGRHH! SHUT UP, YOU IDIOT!” the yellow one said. She presumed a flight stance, but lost balance and tumbled down into a pile of leaves instead.
The black hen laughed and pointed. I did everything not to laugh myself.
“LAY OFF! AGRHH!” the yellow hen lunged for the black one, who had already started making tracks.
“Those two never stop!” the white rooster said. “Allow me to introduce myself and my friends. I’m James. This is my twin Cotton, and of those two, the stubborn one is Honey, and the one who is in big trouble is Silkie.”
“I’m Amber,” I replied, feeling my aggression fade. I heard a distant yell.
“I HAVE YOU NOW, YOU FEATHERPECKER!” It, of course, sounded like Honey.
“Cotton, if you would?” James asked.
“Yeah, since of course I’m better at resolving issues than you.” She scampered off, trying to get there before there were any casualties.
“No one said she was subtle. Well, we best be on our way. Again, we are so sorry.”
He turned around and walked away, tail drooping. “Wait!” I shouted with a change of heart. James turned his head around. “I was being a bit… selfish. You, your sister, and those two can stay. It may be a little crowded, but it’ll keep you safe. Raccoon season is coming up, and even though I’m sure that Honey would fit in just fine with them, you wouldn’t. I could be an extra set of spurs if you needed. I can find enough to eat on the other side of the farm perimeters. I could show you how to fly across the boundary. If you want…”
“Really?! You’d let us stay?” James exclaimed.
“Sure,” I replied excitedly. I hadn’t lived with anyone in a long time, and found the idea of having roomies entertaining. “What are you even doing out this far? I haven’t seen anyone out this far from The Flock in a long time,” I said. I almost kicked myself. I felt like I was trying too hard. James, on the other wing, seemed delighted at my interest. “They’re making residential cuts. The Brahmas didn't allocate enough birdpower to the foraging units and they can’t afford to feed and medicate all the residents, not to mention that The Flock is insanely overpopulated. We were pushed from our home perches with barely any time to take our belongings. We were told we were allowed to stay within the fence but not permitted within the Suburban districts. So, here we are,” he explained. “What are you doing out here?” he asked suspiciously. “Before the shortage, the Brahmas only banished criminals,” I sighed and said, “It wasn’t my crime…” but Cotton, returning with the other two hens in tow, interrupted. “You don’t recognize him, James? He’s the son of the Sahdaliahs, the defectors?” she said. He thought for a moment, and then I could see the understanding light up in his eyes. “You, huh. Amber Sahdaliah. Never thought I’d be relieved to meet you. But, you can’t be worse than the Brahmas,” he sighed. “Why would meeting me be a bad thing?” I asked. “The Brahmas chastise you. You have no idea. You’re a public pariah, representative of defectors. Children are taught to be terrified of you, and many of our age are terrified of you as well,” Silkie said. I hesitated. The Flock was even more controlling than when I was last there. The thought of it terrified me, but I decided to put it out of my mind. “Well, let me show you all around,” I said, trying to change the subject. I realized quickly that I hadn’t filled the girls in. “Oh, by the way, you all are staying here,” I said, then walked ahead to show them the storage hold.
My mind was racing. I jumped at the prospect of someone appreciating me for something, even if it was for taking them in out of the cold, and even if they were distrustful of me. No one had ever appreciated me for anything before. My defector parents even ditched me when they left the farm, leaving me to a life of misery at the bottom of the social chain. For the first time, I was looking forward to what was ahead of me. From the metamorphic decision I made to allow the iconic four to stay sprouted a grand scheme, one that would allow us to leave this run-down farm forever.
And begin a new life, with my new family.
Chapter 1: The Beginning
I woke up to a beautiful fall day, golden leaves hanging off the branch above my head. A wonderful cool breeze brought crisp air and the golden rays of sunshine. Another great day with my friends lay ahead of me, but we weren’t playing. It wasn’t long until Racoon Season started, so we prepared carefully. I was scavenging around, while Cotton gathered medical supplies. Silkie was weaving a grass mesh and James was fashioning the branches into a frame. One of James’ genius ideas; a safety net.
The Flock didn’t provide its outlying groups, like ours, with any sort of extra protection in the Chilling Season, from the cold or Racoons. The only defense we had was the wire fence, but that only went so far. It was up to us to protect ourselves. Ultimately, the Flock’s Brahmas, or leaders, didn’t care whether we lived or died. They probably would have preferred us to die; it would mean more land for the more “respectable” families and one less group of outcasts for them to “support”. They didn’t support groups like us in any way. They barely even contacted us. They used us as scapegoats when they spent too much resources on themselves or made poor decisions. They were corrupt with the unchecked power they were hatched into. Instead, we fended for ourselves. We made our own defenses, found our own resources, and foraged our own food.
James and his friends all proved to be horrible scavengers when they first moved in, about ten days ago. James brought back poisonous mushrooms on his first trip. He almost caused himself kidney failure when he started gnawing on one before Cotton checked it. I was so thankful she had some lemon juice to flush out his stomach before it killed him. Cotton wasn’t much better. She was terrified of going anywhere by herself. She was, and still is, a homebody. When Silkie went out, she got distracted and picked inedible reeds for weaving baskets, and Honey just sat around. She, of course, didn’t think she needed to do anything because she’s one-eighth swan. She didn’t know if she was of royal lineage, like many swans, but she still acted as if she knew she were royalty. Good ole Honey; ya gotta love her.
Anyway, Cotton came to me later that morning. She had just returned from a medical hunt, and apparently, a long ride on the train of thought. She hesitated, and then told me, “Amber, I had a dream. A really special dream that I think I should tell you guys about. Should I?” I wondered why she asked me, of all people.
“What was it about?” I asked.
She responded, “Our future.”
I nodded, wondering what she had to say.
I ran to the nail pile and dumped the bucket of nails I had been carrying. I dropped the wooden bucket in the supply hold haphazardly and leapt to the trunk of the tree, right where I carved my calendar. Cotton was talking to James, who looked completely stunned. He succumbed to the shock of the conversation he and his sister had just finished. He sat down with that same slack jawed expression on his face. Poor James. His sister smirked and perched atop an old root. She scraped her claws, asking for silence. She spoke: “My fellow family members, have you noticed something missing?”
We pondered shortly and Honey said “No,” Honey then blatantly walked away with no intention of continuing to listen to Cotton.
“Well, I see two things. A home of our own and children of our own. Last night, I had a dream of a time when I had a brood of chicks. I saw Amber and James with families. We had found a place with towering trees and sunny grassy hills in a land where nature works in mysterious ways. We could see stars every night, and water flowed peacefully in mountainside brooks. There was no Flock, no nothing for as far as the eye could see. We don’t need to settle for this lifestyle!”
I understood why James was shocked… I joined him. No Flock? A family?! Possibly chicks? Good hawk-flipping gracious! I loved the idea, but I just wasn’t prepared to hear it. So much for that though, until we found a place to start such a life. I had heard legends and rumors of such a place before, but I never put any true thought to them. If they were true, folk tales of beautiful woods, a safe haven. If they were true, we could go there, and respect and appreciation would be close at wing. I would have everything I needed, but it would be really, really risky.
Then I paused for a moment. This was nothing more than a dream. I think James had drawn this conclusion before me. Silkie had too. None of us were really mean enough to say anything about it. Cotton went on and on and on until finally James spoke up. “Cotton, this was a dream. Sure, it was pleasant, and optimal, but we are ALIVE here. Why can’t we just keep living without the risk of being killed, looking for some place we don’t even know exists?” James said. Based upon the tone of his voice, I knew he was trying to be kind to his sister. Nevertheless, his message was a harsh one that couldn’t be masked by good words. She seemed to take his response personally. “What do YOU know about living? What do any of us? This isn’t living… what we have is just… existence. How can you judge something without even trying it. It’s real; all of it is. I don’t know how or why but I KNOW it is. It's just within our grasp and you are so closed-minded you cannot see it?” she snapped at James. She got all up in his face, and he leaned as far back as his neck would allow. He whimpered, and Silkie stepped in. “Cotton, chill out. He’s just trying to protect us, particularly you. Have you not noticed how dangerous leaving here could be?” She said. Cotton was appalled. She obviously put way too much relevance into her dream. She didn’t bother responding to either of them. Instead, she just stared at them, crestfallen. I had never seen her so upset in the time I had known her, and clearly this was something rather unusual. She usually had such a calm demeanor, with her boldness lying deep underneath. I spoke up to ease the tension. “Look, we don’t know enough about the land around us to go anywhere, especially with it being Racoon Season. Why don’t we spend a little time to just settle a little bit and look around before we jump headfirst into this?” I said.
There was nothing false about what I said. Chilling season was soon to come. Then after that was the Cold Season. And in between was Molt, when all the birds lose their old feathers and grow new ones, just like furry animals shed fur. Molt incapacitated a lot of birds, making them more sensitive to wet and cold. I knew I wouldn’tve been able to travel without my feathers, and I wouldn’t want to be stuck traveling with Honey while she was molting.
Then I heard a voice behind us. “I agree with Cotton! We should do something. I’m tired of living by the farm’s terrible rules when they don’t even take care of us, but we need to think first.” It was a cracked, worn voice. Honey’s cracked, worn voice.
“Honey? Are you ok?” Cotton asked, a genuinely concerned look dripping down her face. This wasn’t typical. Usually Cotton couldn’t care less, and Honey wouldn’t care about anything Cotton said. I craned my neck to get a look at Honey. Her crown had turned green and her eyes were solid gray! She didn’t even have pupils!
“Yeah! Never better!” Honey replied, obviously lying. She coughed violently, blood leaking from her beak. Then, she collapsed, landing quite awkwardly right on her chest. That was bad, apparently, because Cotton quickly ran and rolled Honey on her side.
“Someone help me! Boys! Get her to my supplies. NOW.” James and I lifted Honey on our backs and rolled her into the makeshift tent, making sure she wasn’t laying on her neck. Cotton motioned Silkie over and told her to mix some cherry pit extract and crab grass juice in a nut bowl. She hesitated and then started mixing… only after Cotton gave her a soul-freezing stare. Cotton had the less pleasant job of adjusting Honey so she was nested instead of sprawled out. Honey threw up yellow and red all over Cotton. I thought I was going to throw up, too.
Cotton then took a big hunk of wet clay, rolled it over, and shoved Honey’s beak into it so that she could still breathe through her nostrils, her beak could drain, but so her head was elevated over the rest of her body. Silkie and Cotton giggled a bit, because when Honey woke up, the clay would be solid and Honey wouldn’t be able to talk.
Honey wouldn’t be happy. I looked to James with a let’s-stay-out-of-this-one look. We both knew Cotton wouldn’t let us help, and Honey would probably just be mad at everyone when she woke up. He looked to me and we backed off slowly. I almost thought we wouldn't do it. We both knew Cotton and Silkie would be furious if we left, but it was better than listening to their passive aggressive comments about us not helping, even though they probably wouldn’t have let us. I almost laughed as we actually bolted, laying down tracks.
“GET BACK HERE!” Silkie screamed. We flew over the wire and ran as far as we could through the woods. We could hear Silkie charging after us. “You’re not leaving us with her!” she shouted after us. James and I laughed ridiculously hard as we kept running. We weren’t paying attention to where we were going. We were both looking back, trying to lose Silkie off of our tails. Suddenly, I felt a lack of footing under my claws. Gravity started pulling me down, and when I looked back forward, I realized we had both just jumped off of a cliff. James and I both screamed, flapping our wings wildily. “James! Amber!” Silkie shouted from the cliff’s ledge as she watched us fall. James and I were lucky, landing in a bushy tree top with a bit of a thunk.
“Are you okay?” James asked. I regained my grip on the branch and shook my feathers out. “I think so,” I replied. “Silkie! We’re both okay!” James shouted up, poking his head out above the leaves. I poked my head up along with his. Silkie looked like a black, angry speck against the boldly blue sky. “Good! There’s something for me to maim when I get down there!” she shouted. James and I shuddered a little. “I’ll find a way down besides a suicide jump,” she shouted, and we heard her walk off, rustling the fallen leaves on the cliffside. James and I fluttered down from the tree and hit the ground, which was thick with moss. “I’ve never been out this far,” James said. I nodded. “Me neither. Maybe we can find some extra food here." “That’s a good idea,” James replied.
We stuck together, walking away from the cliffside where we fell. My idea was a rather good one. We found all different sorts of nuts, and James even found crabapples. We loaded everything up on his back, since he was bigger and could carry more. As we continued to walk, we found more and more food. Berries and nuts, and even bugs. “This is weird, James. It’s the chilling season. There shouldn’t be this much food,” I said as we were both eating some worms. “Don’t think about it,” James said through a full beak. “We’re eating, just be grateful,” he said. James was right, so I just kept eating.
Soon enough, the sun was starting to sink in the sky. “Where is Silkie? She should’ve found us by now,” he replied with a burp. “Well, how far have we gone from the cliff?” I asked. James poked his head up. “I dunno. Fly up into that tree and look,” he ordered, pointing to a rather tall tree. I looked up into the tree, and was taken by surprise. The leaves were all green. “James, look up. There’s something weird going on here,” I muttered, pointing up. James looked up and was shocked to see what I was seeing. “But… It’s Chilling Season. All the leaves are turning,” he said. “We should get out of here,” I suggested before flying up into the tree. I poked my head up and looked for the cliff, but it was nowhere to be seen.
I realized we didn’t know the way from which we came.
It was just us.
Chapter Two: The Middle of No-Where
“What is this place?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” James responded. I stopped dead still and looked around me. The forest was thin compared to the Flock’s, and the trees were like thick lumps of wood with an abundance of spiny limbs. And there were thick bushes of bright green leaves, which continued to befuddle both of us since it was the chilling season, when the leaves change colors to a combination of warm reds, bright oranges, and sunny yellows. There was something strange about this place, as if there was an unknown force at work.
We both continued to wander further into the green forest. The trees were strange in some inexplicable way. The way the air smelled was strange too. It was just odd. I was lost deep in thought when James called me over. “Amber, you might want to see this.” He called. I hurried over to James, who was staring at something even odder. In the apparent center of the green forest was the thickest tree of all. It was at least seven feet thick and hundreds of feet tall. But unlike all the rest, this was not a maple or an oak, or even a pine tree. It was a weeping willow. The biggest weeping willow I had EVER seen. This tree’s leaves were golden, as if the leaves were made of dappled rays of sunshine. It felt very different here. I knew there was something I couldn't quite see.
“At least we have a place… Hold on..,” I looked around. The setting sun cast sunbeams through tall grasses on rolling hills. The babbling brook behind us was one of the only sounds, other than a rather noisy pair of sparrows off in the distance and the faint breeze rustling the leaves of the trees.
“A place! This is it!” I exclaimed.
“What?” James asked.
“Okay, look around you dope. It’s a haven! It has everything we could ever want,” I said.
He turned and said, “And why is this relevant?”
“This is our new home, this is what Cotton saw!” I said, in complete disbelief that he hadn’t put that piece together. I think he was kind of panicking that he didn’t know where he was.
“Wait, this place can’t be it!” he said, completely in shock.
“Why not? I asked.
“It’s too perfect. It’s simply too perfect. I’ve never seen anything like this, let alone lived anywhere like this. This isn’t possible,” James stuttered, tears rolling down the sides of his face. "We've always been pushed aside, this could be a whole new life for us," he rambled on, his voice cracking, withholding his sobs to try to maintain his dignity. I didn’t bother to respond to him. I couldn’t stand his sentimentality.
"Are you not seeing this?" James cried. I nodded. "Yes, I'm seeing this," I responded simply. He looked at me, befuddled by my neutrality. "How can you be so aloof to this? You know just as well as I do that both of us, and the girls, were all orphaned, pushed aside, kicked out, and you're just standing here unphased? Cotton's right; we haven't been living. We've just been surviving. How can this opportunity not shake you to the core?!" James screeched, on the brink of screaming. I rolled my eyes. Yes, I thought James was being ridiculous, but I also didn't have an answer to his question. Though I knew I should have been feeling something, I felt emotionally numb from head to toe, like normal. I grew tired of James' rambling quickly.
I crowed loudly, simply hoping to drown James out. Until I heard a response.
A furious, loud, screaming hen.
James shut up fast. I crowed again, and another response. Silkie. You’d know her high-pitched scream any day. I was sure that she was angry. We had wandered off way too far from the edge of the cliff, and she had likely spent half the day looking for us. However, going back with her was better than being marooned with no way back. James and I followed the sound, careful to not wander astray, racing to get back as fast as we possibly could. The girls would be so excited! I could tell how much Cotton’s crazy dream meant to them, what it symbolized.
James and I crowed again, and Silkie screamed back. She was incredibly close. We didn’t come upon her until I got a bug in my eye. I tried to blink it out, but then I ran right into her. Oops. She was already on one, but… eek! Now I really wanted to run, but I knew better than to try.
“You irresponsible boys! Get back home! NOW!” she screamed in my face, gabbing me by the shoulder.
“Ok, geez. Chill. We found something I think will be of interest to you, though,” I said with an edge of sarcasm. I looked to James and continued, “Guess we shouldn’t tell, because she wants us to go back to camp!” James lost his grasp on his voice box and laughed. “Silkie, I’m going to be honest with you. That reminded me of Honey!”
“AGH! DON’T COMPARE ME TO THAT THING!” she shouted.
“I heard that,” I commented.
“C’mon, let’s just go back to camp. By now Honey should be awake and miserable!” I said, trying to lighten up Silkie. She was sour at James, to say the least. We walked back to camp, myself in-between James and Silkie. James could kick her little chicken butt back to her own chick hood, but he’s not that cruel. Too soft, like his sister.
Soft people tend to drive me crazy, but I guess it’s because that part of myself lands me in trouble. Bad Stuff.
Silkie guided us back through the forest in a northward direction. She led us up a steep hillside and though swampland. She then guided us around and showed us the cliff where we fell off. “That’s where you fell.” She pointed out before continuing to guide us home.
When we returned to the broadleafed tree, Honey was awake. And she was not happy. One thing relieving about the situation was that her beak was encompassed in dry clay. Cotton was mixing more serum. She was also scolding Honey fiercely. I could hear her ranting “You are such a dumb old bird! How many times have I told you not to eat my daffodils! That could have killed you… Oh, you came back. How nice of you! Did you have some kind of fun adventure? With the look on Silkie’s face, I’d guess not,” Cotton said, without even looking at us. She scares me sometimes.
“We have a surprise for you. I think you’ll find it interesting,” James said.
“What!?” She demanded.
“We found our new home!”