October 1, 2014 – I didn’t sleep a wink last night; none of us did. From what we know about aliens, which admittedly isn’t very much, they will snatch their intended victims any time of the day or night. At the group meeting in the garage, we added Rick the mailman’s name to our white board as a person of interest. I felt horrible doing so, since Rick has always been so kind to me, but it is hard not to consider his involvement in this messy scheme.
We didn’t have a picture of Rick to pin, so Violet drew his likeness from memory. She did a wonderful job. He looks a lot like Santa.
“I feel bad about pulling Rick into this too,” Sawyer shared with the flock, “but he is the common thread that ties each delivery to the next. It’s easy to feel suspicious.”
“How is it that none of these packages contained postage?” asked Gertrude the goat. “Are we believing that they went through the post office simply because the mailman delivered them?”
“I agree,” snorted Vivienne the pig. “What if Rick is behind it all.”
“Don’t forget,” I added, “that the fingerprints indicate a human female also handled the packages. Rick’s prints weren’t anywhere to be found even though he handed the boxes to Charlotte!”
“Perhaps he wore gloves,” Emaline offered.
“What if Rick is the ALIEN?” asked Waffles.
“What if Rick is a SKUNK?” questioned Peaches. “I was talking to him yesterday, and it was either him or me, but one of us stunk to high heaven!”
“It was you,” Wilma droned.
There was nothing else for us to do except prepare for the big surprise Rick promised would be coming our way the next day. As a precaution, we all slept in the garage. At first light, we slowly lifted the doors, unaware of what danger might be lying in wait. We immediately broke into small patrols and canvassed the yard. Dolly Parton, Kellie Pickler, Maisy and Dottie manned the binoculars, scanning the tree lines for any suspicious movement. Tim searched the skies with our one telescope. Except for a dim-witted feline that wandered unknowingly beyond our line of defense, all was quiet.
For the next several hours, the air was thick with uncertainty and vigilance. At one point, Mom poked her head out of her office window to say hello to Betty, who at the time, was crawling on her belly through the herb garden with a slingshot in one wing and the other pushing her colander helmet out of her eyes. She wore an army vest, it’s pockets thickly loaded with crabapples. When Betty saw Mom, the ordinarily elegant hen screeched, “GET BACK INSIDE, WOMAN!” Mom was so shocked, that she slammed the window shut and we haven’t heard from her since.
Then the ducks, who were on border patrol, started to quack a hasty alarm signifying the presence of an intruder. In response, Bo crowed a warning, ordering everyone into position. Seven of us formed the first line of defense across the bottom of the driveway; me, Sawyer, Tim, Waffles, Violet, Emaline, and Kellie Pickler. Rosemary and Gertrude flanked the walkway. The ducks hid under the van in case an ankle attack proved necessary. The others were scattered in concentrated huddles around the property. I looked up and spotted the dogs through the kitchen window, clearly on alert.
A shadow appeared over the rise. Legs. Human. My underwings were sweating profusely.
“It’s Rick!” Sawyer whispered to me.
“Hold steady,” Tim instructed.
“Well, hello there!” Rick’s voice boomed, shattering the silence of a pre-strike hush. “Look at all of you lined up! What a great welcoming committee,” he said, laughing.
I don’t believe I was even breathing at that point.
“Wait a minute. I know what this is about. You’re all here to see what surprise I brought, aren’t you?”
Just then, Wilma came racing out from under a low-lying tree branch, cocked her head, and delivered a vicious round of pecks to the fleshy part of Rick’s behind.
“WHAT THE #@!$@%!” he bellowed, reaching around with his hand to feel what was left of his rear-end.
“Did you see that?!” I said proudly to Sawyer. “I knew she wouldn’t let us down!”
We started to advance on Rick, circling him to block his retreat, when an obnoxious cackling sound cascaded over his cursing.
We gave one another a puzzling look. Wherever it was coming from, it was most certainly, chicken.
“WHOOO HOOOO!!!! CHARLOTTE!! WE’RE HERE!!!!!”
Five hens, about the same age and coloring as Lottie, marched wing-in-wing down the drive. They wore strings of pearls and pillbox hats each one of a different pastel shade.
“Who the heck are they?” asked Maisy.
“They… are our cousins from England,” said Addie, clearly annoyed. “Of all times for them to visit! We’re in the midst of a crisis!”
There was no keeping them back. The ladies approached, walking around Rick who was limping back to his mail truck.
“WE are your special delivery!” they exclaimed in unison.
“That nice mailman has been helping us to surprise you,” the one on the left explained.
“So true,” said the one to her right. “We’ve been in America all summer working tirelessly on a global campaign to free battery hens. We were chosen as the representatives from our country.”
“Well said, sister,” said the smallest hen. “We jumped at the opportunity knowing that we might have the occasion to visit our long-lost cousins before heading home at the end of the week. Didn’t you receive our gifts? We thought they would be a smashing introduction to our long-anticipated meeting.”
“We’re lost?” Peaches leaned over and asked Emaline.
The English Orpingtons walked up to Charlotte and grabbed her in a forceful hug.
“Oh, dear cousin! It has been so long since last we saw you.”
“She hasn’t ever seen you,” quipped Addie. “We’ve only met you through letters.”
“You must be Adeline,” the tallest hen replied holding out a wing for Addie to shake.
Peaches stepped to the forefront and introduced herself. “Are you here to help us fight the alien skunk ship?” she asked innocently.
“I think they ARE the stink badgers,” Wilma explained.
“Wait a minute,” I said interrupting the reunion. “You’re the ones behind all of the mysterious gifts?”
“Of course!” the short hen replied. “Wasn’t it a brilliant idea? Each gift was a clue to our identity.”
Tilting our heads must have indicated our confusion, because the pleasant hen in the middle began to clarify.
“My name is Dandelion,” she explained. “I sent the t-shirt of the lion. Clever, I thought. My sister, Cressida,” she said pointing to the tallest hen, “who we have called Chip since she was 2-days old, sent you the porcelain chipmunk.”
“That was lovely,” Charlotte acknowledged, leaning toward Chip.
“Sometime later, Goldie here,” she continued pointing to the shortest hen, “sent you the treasure map.”
“Because a buried treasure would contain gold coins,” said Violet whacking her forehead with her wing.
“Precisely,” Dandelion chuckled.
“What about the marble,” Charlotte wondered.
“I’m afraid that one was from me,” said a lovely and shy hen with a strange glare. “I’m Beatrix.”
“I don’t get it,” Addie said bluntly.
“Beatrix was the unfortunate victim of a goat attack,” Dandelion said respectfully. “She’s worn a glass eye ever since and has carried on remarkably well. We’re quite proud of her.”
I heard Gertrude lean over to Rosemary and say, “It must have been a sheep. A goat would never hurt a chicken.”
“At any rate,” continued Dandelion, “Beatrix has always maintained a healthy sense of humor over her ordeal. This is why she sent you the marble.”
I watched Charlotte gulp wrestling with the idea of whether or not to keep her precious jewel in light of this revelation.
“Last but not least, the poppy flowers were from our kid sister, Petal. So you see, it truly was our way of endearing ourselves into your life before we actually met you in person. Since Charlotte has been the one corresponding with us, we sent the presents to her, but in our luggage, we have gifts for all of you.”
In one instant, our entire flock, including the ducks and our friends from Mrs. Turner’s farm, stood down. Off came the colander helmets, down went the slingshots replaced with hearty hugs and pats on the back. In no time, Lottie and the ladies of Coop #1 were planning a pot luck dinner and hootenanny to properly welcome the Orpington family from across the pond.
“Hold on!” I said above the frivolity. When it was fully quiet, I asked one more nagging question. “What about the fingerprints? I dusted the mailing tube. We were told they were human, from a female whose identity is classified. What do you have to say about this?”
Realizing that she may have started celebrating too soon, Charlotte took three steps back until she was standing behind Wilma.
“That’s quite simple to explain, really,” one-eyed Beatrix replied. “Didn’t we ever tell you who our human mother is?”
“She’s the Queen!” Petal gushed proudly.
“Wilma is your mother?!” Peaches exclaimed.
“I think they are referring to the Queen of England,” Sawyer corrected her.
“Exactly right,” said Goldie. “We asked our Mum if she could package the items for us before we left. She was happy to oblige.”
To sum it all up, there was no alien skunk ship out to kidnap Peaches. Poor Rick received a nasty Wilma-gram for nothing. I thought for sure, that after weeks of hounding the others to consider the seriousness of the unmarked gifts, I would be banished to live out my days in the small space next to the lawn mower in the shed. Instead, once the welcoming party was well under way, each member of my flock came up to me and pulled me into a tender embrace.
“You love us enough to risk being wrong in order to keep us safe,” said Sawyer. “One day, a skunk-filled space ship, or the neighbor’s cat, may try to cause us harm. But we’ll be ready because you pay attention.” Then she pecked me on the cheek before asking me to play the piccolo for our new friends.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” I promised. I needed to make things right with Wilma.
“Not a word,” the elder hen stated as I approached. “Keep your gooey sentimental crap to yourself. As for that mailman, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. He gives me the creeps. Now go get me a slice of pumpkin bread.”
The night was nearly over before I realized that no one had given Mom the all-clear. I’ll make it up to her in the morning with a proper English scone and a hot cup of tea. The sister cousins camped out for the night with the ladies of Coop #1. I walked by their window on my way to my own henhouse and overheard Charlotte apologizing for our mid-molt appearance.
“Don’t think another thought about it,” Dandelion replied sweetly. “We’d still be in it ourselves if we weren’t 5-hours ahead of you!”
That made me laugh. I think I’ll sleep well tonight.