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Stories by Laura Lagana
The Chicken Who Did Not Belong

          The waves crashed against the hull of the ship as the storm raged all around. Thunder rumbled in the distance and lightning flashed across the darkened sky. The baby ostrich cage moved ever closer to the railing of the ship. A cresting wall of water slammed into the hull and the cage went over the edge, landing on a row of jagged rocks. A lone ostrich chick tumbled out of the broken wreckage of the cage and onto the boulder. He turned his head and watched the ship sail away. Rain pelted his body. The ostrich stood and took a step back to scan the distance to shore. He leapt from boulder to boulder until his clawed feet touched rich Scottish soil. His cries echoed across the clearing, but no ostrich responded with a cry of their own. The baby bird waddled and pecked at tiny grass seeds scattered among the field. A winding road twisted through the field and ran along the coast line. The roar of an engine coming closer made the ostrich lift his head and stare toward the automobile. He held out his wings and squawked in his fiercest cry, but the truck continued to barrel down the road. The ostrich flapped his wings and ran in the opposite direction, screeching the entire way. He tripped over a tree root and fell down a hill, scattering dirt and pebbles. With his spindly legs spread eagle, he rolled to a stop.

            Dark clouds rolled in from shore and he hid under a bush, but the rain poured from the sky and soaked his downy feathers. He squawked and wobbled from beneath the leaves. He spotted a red barn in the distance and hoped toward the building. He scrambled inside the barn seeking refuge from the cold that seeped through his pin feathers. Chickens sat in boxes lined with fresh cut straw. The ostrich sniffed and smelled chicken seed. His little stomach rumbled and pecked at the scattered seeds left over on the ground. His eyelids drooped and he spied a mother hen with baby chicks nestled under he wings. He hopped into the box and wiggled in, creating a place for himself. Their yellow downy bodies snuggled up next to him and he closed his eyes and fell asleep. At first the mother chicken clucked, but she saw that the ostrich did not threaten her babies and was fast asleep among them.

            The next morning, farmer Ted came into the hen house and fed the chickens. “What have we here?” He drew up short at the sight of the biggest chick he had ever seen. “You look nothing like the other chickens, you know that?” Ted cradled the ostrich in the curve of his arm and fed him a handful of chicken feed. The ostrich ate every bite. A few minutes later, his eyes closed and the ostrich’s head lolled to the side. The farmer gently placed the ostrich back in the nest and finished feeding the other chickens.

            A few minutes later, he walked back to the house and sat down for his morning cup of tea. Looking over the newspaper, he said to his wife, Kathryn. “One of the chickens laid a doozy of an egg and now the chick has hatched. He’s huge.”

            Kathryn looked up from the stove where she was making flapjacks. “Just how big is he?”

            Ted pointed to the crook of his arm and held out his arm. “He’s as long as my forearm. He’ll make a nice rooster some day.”

            She snorted. “If he’s as big as you say, he may eat too much food and not be worth keeping.”

            He went back to reading his paper. “I think he’ll be fine.”

            Months went by and the ostrich grew well over 6 feet and 175 pounds. Kathryn berated Ted over the rising expense of chicken feed they were now spending.

            “We just can’t afford it dear.” She would complain over the morning bowl of oatmeal and tea.

            He would argue. “I can’t see getting rid of him. He’s the biggest chicken in the whole land. I am the envy of every farmer in the valley.”

            One night when the chickens were settling in for the evening a growl erupted from the edge of the forest. Golden eyes narrowed at the chicken coop. Stealthy foot steps crept closer and closer and slid into a hole in the chicken wire. The fox drooled as he tiptoed toward the chicken nests. His mouth opened and his white razor sharp teeth gleamed in the moonlight.

From out of no where, the ostrich ran toward the fox and squawked with all his might. He opened his black wings and waved them back and forth at the fox. One clawed foot rose and he pounced toward the fox, scratching his hind legs.

The fox yelped and ran toward the hole in the fence and scurried though. The ostrich stood guard over the hole, daring the fox to return.

Light spilled onto the ground, pushing away the darkness and Ted and Kathryn came running toward the chicken coop. Farmer Ted saw the tail of the fox as the creature ran back toward the forest.

He and Kathryn stared at the ostrich. “Wow…he saved my chickens.”

The shrill ring of the phone cut into the silence and she ran in to answer. A few minutes later, Kathryn came running out, panting for breath. “It was the neighboring farm. They called to warn us that a fox was raiding the chicken coops and had eaten almost all the chickens at the last five farms he attacked.” She stared at the ostrich and patted him on the head. “You may not be much of a chicken, but you make a nice guard dog.”

          The ostrich spent the rest of his days guarding the chickens and eating the left over table scraps of the farmer’s wife. He was the strangest chicken, but he fit in just fine.

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