by Larah Heal
A young boy loses his father's prized chicken.
|"You come back here you dirty hen!"
A cloud of dust erupted from the ancient barn as Hester Hen, a tiny chicken with a turbulent attitude, came barreling out the door at full speed. Trailing not far behind was a grubby little boy of not more than six. The boy was carrying a large net meant for fishing.
"Hester Hen! Dad'll have a fit if he finds out you're loose" shouted the boy, but the hen paid no mind. She was faster than any human, and what's more, Hester Hen could fly. Just a little. In a matter of seconds, the crotchety yellow bird had found herself a nice perch on a Douglas Fir branch, 15 feet up in the air.
The boy threw his net to the ground and sighed heavily. Hester Hen would surely stay up in that tree all night long. Come morning, Dad would notice his prized hen missing, and he would immediately blame his youngest son. It would only take a few minutes for Dad to locate the little bird way up high in the fir tree, and only seconds more for him to notice the long piece of yarn hanging down from her middle. "Chickens don't walk on leashes" said the boy to himself, imitating his father's voice, "We treat our animals with respect in this home".
It wasn't that the Ben Cooper didn't respect the animals. He just wanted them all to behave a certain way. It was one thing to take Millie, the family's five year old Walker Hound, on a walk. Everyone Ben knew walked their dog. But how much cooler would it be to walk a chicken? Unfortunately, Hester Hen was the wrong chicken to pick for the job, and, come morning, Ben was going to pay for it.
Or... would he even have to wait for morning?
Oh no. Ben could hear the old diesel truck coming nearly a quarter mile down the wooded dirt lane. Grumble Grumble Grumble Grumble. Dad. He wasn't supposed to be home until 6, well after the December sun had set on the Olympic Peninsula. Now it was only 3:00, and, despite the deeply overcast sky, Hester Hen was clearly visible up in that tree. Ben had to think fast. He grabbed a long pole from the side of the barn and ran toward the tree. He had meant to prod the hen lightly, causing her to flutter gently to the ground. Instead, he hit the branch at full running speed, snapping it and sending Hester Hen into a frenzy. Despite her miniscule size, she hit the ground with a loud thump.
Ben grabbed the fishing net and scooped her up before she knew what hit her. He was inside the barn by the time the hen started squawking, and in seconds Ben had tossed her in the coop with the other hens. Just then, Dad pulled up in his old Ford Diesel. Ben wiped his hands on his overalls (Hester had been a tad muddy), and ran out to greet his father. Dad smiled at the sight of his young son, and swept him up into his broad arms. But the hen was still carrying on.
"Hm. What's wrong with Hester Hen?" Dad asked. Ben tightened his grip around his father's shoulders. "Let's go take a look," said Dad, placing the boy on the ground at his side. Inside the barn was dark and musty, and the tattered little henhouse lay way in the back. Dad peered in through the wire at the hens. "Benjamin," he said, not taking his eyes from the coop, "Why does Hester Hen have a piece of yarn tied around her middle?"
Ben looked at the ground. Dad shrugged. "Mom's always getting the chicken scraps mixed up with the trash, I swear. Next you know, we'll be finding pop cans in the compost pile. She musta thrown some yarn in the bucket by accident." This made Ben shake. He certainly didn't like getting in trouble, but he even more certainly didn't like making Mom in trouble. "No, Dad. It was me. I was trying to take Hester Hen for a walk..."
Ben told Dad the whole story. About how he had tied the yarn around Hester Hen's middle, and how she hadn't liked it, and how she had flown up on the tree branch, and everything. The worst part he had to tell Dad was about how he tried to cover up what had happened by trying to knock the chicken down with a pole and scaring her half to death. Dad didn't like to hear about his prized hen being so mistreated, but he was glad Ben had told him the truth.
"Am I in trouble?" asked Ben, wiping his tears. Dad thought for a minute. "Yes." He said finally. "Yes, you are. And because you're in trouble, I want you to do something for me. See, you can't go around walking chickens on pieces of yarn. Chickens just don't like stuff like that. So I want you to make a real harness to walk Hester Hen."
"A harness?" Ben was confused. Dad smiled. "If you want to walk a chicken, you have to use a harness. Tomorrow, we'll look for some fabric scraps and measure Hester Hen. Then you'll have to learn to sew so you can make the harness."
"Boys don't sew." Ben stuck out his tongue.
"I sew and I'm a boy." said Dad, puffing out his chest. "Now, let's go inside and see Mom. I bet she'll be real excited to hear all about your new project!"
And that's how Ben learned it's better to ask grown-ups how to do things first, because sometimes they have better ideas. Like chicken harnesses instead of yarn.
And that's also how Ben learned to sew. Which he found out was pretty cool, since, besides chicken harnesses, he could make cool hats with skulls and bats on them that weren't girly at all.
And finally, that's how Ben learned that Millie the Walker Hound was useless in catching chickens. She hadn't even showed up during the whole incident. What a rotten dog.