09 October 2009

"The Wren and the Hen and the Men in the Pen"

By Curtis C. Chen

Every morning, the wren descended from the baron's airship to visit with the hen in the barnyard. The hen neither desired or encouraged these conversations, but, confined as she was within her coop, could do little to prevent their occurrence.

On this morning, the wren shouted from far across the barnyard, "They're here! Can you see them? They're almost here!"

"Go away," said the hen, delivering her customary greeting.

The wren hit the ground and tumbled into the wire barrier around the chicken coop. "The baron's getting at least a hundred interns! They came by rail but the baron had to send trucks to bring them from the station to the north pasture!"

"I suppose that explains all the construction," the hen muttered. The humans had been running their machines day and night, building fences and towers and inexplicable metal things. "What are 'interns?'"

The wren said, "I don't know. But they're humans! I think they're like visitors. They're going to stay here in the baron's care!"

"Great," said the hen. She could hear the rumble of engines approaching. "More mouths to feed."

The farmer emerged from his house carrying an empty basket and stomped over to the coop.

"Morning, Rosie," he said. The hen ignored him.

"We're getting interns!" the wren shouted.

"None of my business," said the farmer, opening the chute at the bottom of the coop. "A little light today, Rosie?"

"Winter's coming," said the hen.

"You let me know if anyone starts shutting down for the season," the farmer said. "We just fenced off some new ground in the north pasture. Girls might enjoy the outdoors if they're not producing."

The hen knew Thirteen and Twenty-Two hadn't laid in almost a week. But no hens ever came back after being relocated.

"I'll let you know," said the hen.

The farmer turned and walked back into the house.

"You're not laying anymore!" the wren said to the hen.

"Shut up," said the hen.

"You could relocate with the other hens—"

"I said shut up!"

The hen snapped her beak. The wren hopped backward and cowered.

A caravan of trucks rolled up to the edge of the fence at the north pasture. The hen could see most of the enclosure behind the edge of the barn.

The baron's guards prodded a line of thin, bald men into the enclosure. The bald men all wore gray, and there were human symbols painted on their clothes and foreheads.

One of the bald men staggered and fell. The nearest guard ran up and began kicking him. The other bald men did nothing. They didn't even try.

The hen watched and wondered when the baron had decided to treat these men more like animals than humans. She also wondered how long it would be before the baron decided that even animals should be treated like property.

"How far can you fly?" the hen asked the wren.

The wren puffed out his chest with pride. "I've flown all the way to the ocean!"

The hen braced herself and said, "Tell me about it."