1 jump line.
90 seconds to write.
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The Webmaster is off to Uganda; great time to re-run past Member Mondays based on fan comments.
Author’s Note: We were renters of a place that had a pond with twin waterfalls, 7 koi and 11 gold fish. And raccoons feasted. The owner hired a trapper who’d catch one or two, then nights would pass. Thinking we’d had the last, we stopped setting the traps, and a week later another koi would disappear. The trapper said they were the biggest raccoons he’d seen. Finally the owner threw in the towel.
Rocky waddled up to the pond, listening to the soft splashing of the twin waterfalls. There were no more of the big fish; in the past, they had been so plentiful all could not fit under the ledges. This stop also had a food box occasionally, but no more. The boxes were far different from the food bowls that his clan used many moons ago.
Rocky remembered when more than twenty of his clan would gather on a deck by the river, feasting on dry crunchy protein-laced kibbles. Occasionally there would be piles of softer food, but the older, more senior, clan members would claim first dibs. Moon in, moon out, the deck was a steady, reliable source of food, no matter what the season. His elders told tales of earlier famines during those periods when the big orange orb that was overhead during their sleep would begin rising later and be lower in the blue, just before the leaves would start drying and falling to the ground. But this horn of plenty seemed to always be there.
Then one dark it wasn’t. The clan was not concerned. There had been other times that it would not be there for a couple of darks, forcing them into small groups to seek food elsewhere. Each dark it was their wont to forage, eat, and when sated, return to their sleep-trees.
But this time it never returned. Roaming and foraging in small groups of three to five, the clan survived. One group told of a magic pond that had fat, colorful, and lazy fish. And for those that didn’t want fish that dark, the ground nearby held fat grubs that could be had with very little digging. They told of how a single fish could feed them. There were also floating toys that they could play with, even out of the water, as long as you returned them. Only once had they not returned one. The group told others that they could not come, keeping its location a secret. But then Uncle Frank didn’t return one dark.
A mysterious food box had showed up. With an enticing aroma that reminded him of the food on the deck of the past, Frank had squeezed into one of the oddly configured boxes; only one opening with a lid. The lid had dropped with a loud clunk, trapping Frank. The others had waited for him to come out, but they tired of waiting, so they left.
The next night two boxes were there, but Frank was not. But the food smelled just as good as it had the dark before. So his other uncle, Sid, had gone in. Again there was a loud clunk and Sid was trapped. An older cousin thought it couldn’t happen twice, declaring it was safe for him, and went into the other. CLUNK! The group decided it was time to give up that food source, sending only an occasional scout.
Cousin Scout, for that was his name, came back one rising with the news that the boxes were not there anymore, and the big fish still were, having gorged himself on one of them. So another small group with several new members set out the next dark. But the boxes had returned. Ignoring the warnings from the others, and thinking he was smarter than any old box, cousin Dilbert succumbed to the temptation. CLUNK! Scattering, the group left the pond once again. Scout volunteered to check it out every few darks.
After many darks, Scout reported that the boxes were gone; again. Only one big fish remained after Scout had fed, but smaller ones were as plentiful as they had been. Returning the next dark to feed, the newly reformed group, that included Rocky this time, was surprised once more to find that a single box had returned. Thinking that Scout had tricked them (after all, there was a power struggle for clan leader), they forced him into the sole box. CLUNK! The group decided that Scout had got his just desserts for tricking them, and vowed to never again visit the pond.
But one dark, Rocky decided to return, curious more than anything. Seeing no boxes, he edged up to the pond, slipped quietly into it, and caught the sole remaining big fish. Returning to the clan, he made no mention of it, keeping it to himself, superstitiously thinking that if he told the clan, the mysterious boxes would return.
The next dark, he returned, and the boxes were not back; nor the next night, nor the next. Rocky was happy to have the smaller fish and the grubs all to himself.
The Webmaster is off to Uganda; great time to re-run past Member Mondays based on fan comments.
Maudie was five years old when Papa put her in charge of the chickens. The first thing he taught her was how to feed them.
“Don’t use but half a can of grain. And scatter it around so they all get a chance at it.” He dipped into the grain can, cupped a handful, and tossed it lightly out into the chicken yard. “Here chickee, chickee,” he clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Here chickee, chickee.” He scattered another handful. “That’s the way it’s done girl, now you try it.”
Maudie hugged the can against her chest with one arm while she tried to scoop out the grain the way he had shown her. Most of it fell to the ground at her feet, but Papa just said, “That’s it, girl. From now on, these chickens are depending on you.”
Next he taught her to change the straw in the nests where the hens laid their eggs. She quickly learned to arrange each nest with just enough straw to cushion the rough boards.
Her favorite chore was checking on the baby chicks. She peeked at them every day, opening the roof of the brood box just enough to reach in and touch the downy yellow babies. Sometimes she took one out and cradled it for a moment, marveling at the soft, weightless life she held in her hands.
Papa’s chicken house was divided into two sections. One side for the layers and the other for the fryers. When Maudie’s chicks were grown, Papa put some in each section. She fed and watered all the chickens, and she gathered the eggs from the layers’ side every day. Maudie wanted her chickens to be happy, because Papa said when they were happy they laid eggs with double yolks.
Every time Mama broke an egg with a double yolk Papa said, “Give it to Maudie. She takes good care of her chickens.”
One Sunday after church Mama said, “I could use a fryer, Roy.”
Papa said, “Come along, Maudie, let’s tend to it.” They walked together down the path to the chicken house. “Go on inside and bring me one of the fryers, girl.”
Maudie went inside. “Here chickee, chickee,” she crooned. One of her brood came toward her, jerking its neck, turning to fix a curious yellow eye on her. Was it time for grain, or had she come as she often did with special table scraps? Maudie picked up the young hen and took her outside to where Papa was waiting.
“Stand back,” he said.
Maudie stepped backward and watched while Papa took the hen’s clawed yellow feet into one of his giant brown hands. He flopped the chicken down so that her head lay across a block of wood, and with one swift, sure stroke he brought a hatchet down across the bird’s neck. The head dropped to the ground, and Papa let go of the feet. The bird’s wings flapped, and it ran headless across the yard, showering the vegetable garden with dark red drops of blood, careening wildly until it finally crashed against the trunk of a plum tree, where it lay still at last.
“Go fetch that fryer, girl, grab it by the feet and take it to Mama. Hold it away from you, head down, so you don’t get blood on your clothes.”
Maudie’s eyes streamed with tears and she felt a choking lump in her throat, but she obeyed Papa. She had never disobeyed him. She had never even considered it. Mama had a large vat of boiling hot water in one of the deep cement sinks in the laundry porch. She took the bird from Maudie, held it by the feet and dipped it into the water. “We’ll just scald this fryer for a minute, Maudie, then the feathers will come right out.” She pulled the bird up, dripping and steaming, it’s severed neck exposed. “See this?” She grabbed a handful of its feathers. “See how easy it is? The feathers practically fall right out of a scalded bird.” She reached out and took Maudie’s arm. “Come here, Honey, take a handful.” Maudie gripped some of the wet feathers and pulled. They came out easily, leaving a ragged circle of exposed white flesh.
“There,” Mama said, “see how easy that was?”
Maudie’s hand was smothered in damp, clinging feathers. She tried to brush them off, but they stuck to the fingers of her other hand. Mama watched her and laughed. “You’ve gotta rinse your hands with water, Maudie, you’ll never get ’em off that way.”
That night Maudie picked at her mashed potatoes while Mama and Papa talked over their day, laughing and passing the fried chicken back and forth across the table.
Maudie didn’t eat the next day. For a week she didn’t eat or talk or go near the chicken house. Finally Papa said he guessed they couldn’t keep chickens if Maudie wouldn’t take care of them.
“I’ll just have to butcher the lot of them, Mama. I’ll tend to it tomorrow.”
After her parents went to sleep that night Maudie sneaked out of the house and went to the tool shed. The hatchet lay on Papa’s work bench, still stained with blood. Barefoot, she walked the moonlit path that led past the chicken house to the pasture gate. She held the hatchet in one hand, and dragged Papa’s shovel in the other. Stepping cautiously to avoid goat-head vines and fat summer toads, she made her way to the farthest corner of the pasture where she bent to her work. The field had been irrigated that day, leaving the ground muddy and soft, but the shovel was so big she had trouble getting leverage. Finally she gave up and fell to her knees, digging at the damp earth with her hands. If she made the hole deep enough Papa would never find the hatchet. Thistles tore at her fingers, but she kept digging deeper and deeper.
“Girl, what are you doing out here?”
Maudie jumped at the sound of Papa’s voice, twisting her body around, trying to hide the hatchet from his view, but it was too late.
“Is that my hatchet, girl?”
“Yes Papa.” She bent her head in shame.
“What are you doing with it?”
“You killed my chicken.”
“But girl, didn’t you know we were going to eat the fryers?”
“No.” She raised her chin and faced her father in the moonlight. “You said I should take good care of them. You said they were my chickens.”
Papa hunkered down next to Maudie and took her bleeding fingers into his hands. He turned them over and touched the raw, dirt-filled blisters on her palms. Then he picked up the shovel and stood above her .
“You dug a pretty good hole here, girl, but it’s not quite deep enough.” He anchored the tip of the shovel in the shallow cup she had made and brought his boot down hard on its heel.
He lifted the spadeful of dirt and set it aside. “There, that’s about the right size for a hatchet.” Maudie looked up at her father, but a cloud had covered the moon and in that moment he was a faceless giant towering over her in the darkness.
“Well go on, girl,” he said, “drop it in there.”
She picked up the hatchet and dropped it into the hole they had dug.
“Those chickens of yours are all layers now, girl. That means you’re gonna have to work twice as hard collecting all those eggs.”
The cloud drifted past and Maudie saw her father plain as day. “I will, Papa, I don’t mind.”
Papa knelt down beside Maudie, and together in the moonlight they packed the little grave with soft, damp clods of earth.