Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction
The Fable of the Fox and the ChickensRooster had been guarding the chicken coop for six hundred fifty-two days, sixteen hours, and forty-five minutes -- without a break. Even at night while he was sleeping, Rooster was never fully at rest; every muscle was tense and ready, prepared to sound the alarm at the slightest hint of danger. As you can imagine, after nearly two years of constant sentry duty, Rooster had developed a very grumpy attitude.
So it was that on the six hundred and fifty-second day of standing his post, Rooster found himself on the receiving end of a stern lecture from the Council Of Hens. Miss Betty, the elected chair of the Council, explained, "We appreciate all that you do for us all, but to put it bluntly, you have become quite insufferable."
"But..." Rooster began to protest, but was overridden by the council chair.
"Therefore, we have unanimously concluded that it is time for you to take a vacation."
"Vacation?" Rooster said in wonder. The idea of spending a few days away from guard duty was quite tempting, but his sense of duty required him to say, "But who will stand guard while I am away?"
"I will," Miss Betty replied, in a tone of voice that permitted no argument.
Rooster argued anyway. "But you couldn't possibly do my job!"
The entire Council began clucking angrily, and Miss Betty snapped, "What? Because we are only hens and not a rooster, you think we can't do anything but lay eggs?"
Genuinely surprised, Rooster looked around the circle, then said in a conciliatory tone, "Of course not. That's not what I meant at all. It's just that sentry duty is a highly skilled profession, and none of you have taken the required training courses."
"Then you will train me," Miss Betty said.
Miss Lulu, who had always been a bit flighty and empty-headed, broke in, "Do we really need a guard? Farmer and Bruno can protect us while Rooster is away."
This suggestion was met with a moment of silence, then Rooster erupted into an angry crow that sent the most timid of the hens into a scurrying frenzy. "Are you out of your mind?" he demanded. "Farmer is our enemy! Never forget that! Farmer is the one who steals our eggs and eats us for dinner. And Bruno..." Rooster shuddered at the thought of Farmer's ugly, snarling dog. "Bruno would snap your neck in two if he had a chance. Never ever forget...Farmer is not your friend."
With Miss Lulu's suggestion thus dispatched, all the hens agreed that neither Farmer nor Bruno were friends of the chickens, and Rooster agreed to give Miss Betty a training session in the fine art of coop guarding.
That evening Rooster packed some cracked corn for a snack, a spare comb (he always kept one freshly starched for formal occasions) and a couple mystery novels. The next morning, when Farmer came with breakfast, Rooster slipped out through the gate and began his vacation. Someday, perhaps, his vacation adventures will be chronicled in another fable, but for the moment, he concerns us no more.
On the first day of Rooster's vacation, Miss Betty was strutting importantly about the perimeter of the coop, watching for dangerous predators who might try to climb over or dig under the fence. Over and over again she recited to herself the instructions Rooster had given her.
About mid-morning she noticed a reddish-brown furry creature studying her through the chicken wire fence. "Who are you?" she demanded.
"I am Fox," the creature replied. "Who are you?"
"Oh," she said, "I am Miss Betty, the Coop Sentry. And I've been warned about you. We won't let you in here because you eat eggs and chickens!"
Fox looked simultaneously insulted and despondent. "Who told you such a story about me?"
"Everyone knows it," she replied, "and Rooster warned me especially about you."
"I don't know where Rooster got his information," Fox said, "but it certainly is not true. I eat nothing but nuts and berries and leaves. I'm a vegetarian. The idea of eating another creature's eggs..." he paused long enough to let a shudder start at his neck and work its way down his back, "is simply repulsive to me."
"Then why are you here?" Miss Betty asked, feeling smug and confident in her ability to outwit this wily creature.
"I'm looking for a good place to hide."
"Hide? Who do you need to hide from?"
"Don't you know? I must hide from Farmer and Bruno."
"Because Bruno would kill me just for the fun of it, and Farmer...well, let's just say Farmer's wife likes coats made of fur that looks an awful lot like mine."
Miss Betty was shocked. "Farmer would kill you just for your coat?" she said.
"Sadly true," Fox said, looking pathetic and helpless.
The hen's mothering instincts kicked into gear then, and she said, "I can hide you under the chicken house; Bruno never comes inside the coop, and Farmer never bothers to look under there."
Fox didn't need a second invitation; he quickly burrowed a hole under the fence and joined Miss Betty on the inside of the yard. Miss Betty gave him a grand tour and introduced him to the other hens. At first the others were skeptical, but once she explained that Fox was also the enemy of Farmer and Bruno, they were at least polite, if not outright friendly to their new companion. Silly Miss Lulu asked him if it was true he ate chickens, and if so, what did they taste like? But other than that faux pas, Fox's introduction to the family went smoothly.
That evening, when Farmer brought food and the chickens fluttered with agitated excitement around the feed trough, Fox hid under the chicken house. Miss Betty tried to give him some chicken feed, but he insisted that it was only right that the chickens eat the chicken feed; it would not be fair for him to steal their food, just because they had taken pity on him in his sad plight.
"But you will starve if you don't eat," she said.
Fox thought about this for a moment, then said, "Well, perhaps..." Fox looked as though he was going to be sick, "perhaps I could force myself to choke down an egg or two..."
At first Miss Betty was appalled, but then she remembered that if Fox didn't eat the eggs, Farmer would take them anyway. So she called the Council Of Hens and explained the situation. After a bit of arguing and debating, several of the hens agreed to give up their eggs for their new friend.
On the second day of Rooster's vacation, one of the hens noticed that Miss Vera was missing. She had been seen talking to Fox in the middle of the afternoon, but no one had seen her since then. The Council Of Hens was called together, and Fox appeared before them, misty-eyed and apologetic. "I'm afraid this is all my fault," he said, "Miss Vera came to me and asked me what it was like in the outside world. I fear I painted such a rosy picture of life outside the coop that she may have decided to escape through the hole I dug. I fear we will never see her again."
The hens clucked and wept for a few seconds, but then Miss Lulu's cheery voice pointed out that they should all be happy for Miss Vera, who, after all, had found a better life for herself. The Council was then dismissed, and Fox returned to his place under the chicken house.
On the third day of Rooster's vacation, it was about midday when Miss Betty and the other hens heard a brief disturbance in the yard. It sounded like a frantic chicken squawk cut suddenly short. The hens raced outside and found Fox standing in shocked silence over the corpse of a hen.
"Fox!" Miss Betty exclaimed. "What happened here?"
Fox wept openly. "It was Miss Lulu! I don't know what happened - she just suddenly went crazy! I think she was having hallucinations; she started growling and snapping and foaming at the mouth and saying she was a dog. Maybe she was delirious or had a psychotic break, but when she came at me claws and beak first, I didn't know what else to do!"
The hens all mourned Miss Lulu, but, as Miss Betty pointed out, she had always been a bit on the loopy side; clearly she had finally snapped. There was much discussion about the incident, and all agreed that - had they been in Fox's position - they would have done the same thing. Thus Fox was exonerated, and he was so grateful that he even offered to take Miss Lulu out into the woods and bury her. "After all," he explained sadly, "if we leave her body here, Farmer will find her, and he will eat her!"
The Council agreed that Fox should do as he suggested. By nightfall Fox had returned to the coop and taken up his position under the chicken house.
On the fourth day of his vacation, Rooster finished the mystery novels and the last bit of cracked corn, so he decided it was time to return home. His first order of business, upon his return, was to walk the perimeter of the coop. He discovered Fox's hole under the fence and immediately sounded the alarm.
Sadly, by the time Farmer arrived at the chicken coop, shotgun in hand, half the chickens were dead or wounded, and Fox was nowhere to be found.
You might think the moral of the story has something to do with sexism, the natural roles of males and females in the world, and the inability of hens to do the job of a rooster. But if you do think that, you're probably one of those literary snobs who likes to read subtexts into writing where it is entirely inappropriate to do so. Besides which, you clearly weren't paying attention, since I specifically said that's not what this was all about.
No, the moral of the story is simply this: Those who believe the old adage "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" will eventually be doomed to a rude awakening.
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