Night was falling, which was just as well. Pigli and Cleo had queued up behind the cock and were tiptoeing in the darkness, silently circling the house and the barn until Neil exclaimed, ‘Here! This is the right spot!’ That, of course, didn’t prevent him from hitting his head on a piece of board and just about waking up the entire hen-coop.
‘Shhhhh!’, Pigli demanded. But the broads were fast asleep, it seemed. Not one flinched.
‘Don’t worry!’, Neil reassured him. ‘They’re worn out. Long evening in front of the tube, you see.’
They crawled across the backyard flat on their bellies and felt their way through the darkness with some difficulty. It was heaven for Cleo, her heart thudding out of control. Ah, the adventure, she exulted. What do you know, I’m lurking in the shadows like a wolf! She was feeling thankful and generous. To Pigli’s surprise, they left the hen-coop a few strides to the right, and continued onwards in the direction of the main house. On the northern porch, just opposite the wooden cote where the quiet birds were snoozing, there was a rectangular chamber with a large stainless-steel door, scintillating in the moonlight. Neil grabbed the handle and swung the huge door open very smoothly, with an expert’s hand. It opened without a creak.
‘There!’, he beamed.
‘What is this?’, Pigli asked, wide-eyed and astonished.
‘Well, it’s the fridge of course, what else? Come on now, don’t be shy, dude, I’m sure there’s chicken inside.’
‘Hmm, smells interesting. Let me see!’, whispered Cleo from behind and trotted up to the fridge door. She stretched her neck inside and slid all the drawers open, one by one. ‘Hey, boys’, she said. ‘Check this out!’ And taking one step backwards, she revealed the horrid secret.’
‘Why, it’s full of chicken! What the…’, Neil stammered and, dashing in the other direction, peeped through the window of the wooden cote. The hen-coop was a ghost town but the freezer was stuffed.
‘Full of frozen chicken, you frigging bird! Is that your idea of dinner? I’m starving and you drag me all the way down here to treat me to stone-hard frozen chicken?’, Pigli hissed a veiled threat in Neil’s ear. But Neil was so horrified and numb that he couldn’t hear him anymore. His knees were feeling weak.
‘Gees…I always said that TV will kill them, but… all of them? At once?!’ he stuttered in disbelief. ‘What, did they convert to some suicidal sect I knew nothing about?’ He tried a little irony to pluck up some courage. At that point he heard a voice over his shoulder.
‘Psst, Neil! Psst!’ Under the quiet and lonely night sky, the neighbor’s rooster was issuing a call.
‘Nick, dude! Is that you?’
‘Yeah. Keep it down!’
‘What on Earth happened here? What’s with the… henocide?’
‘Not so loud! You mean you don’t know?! I thought you knew. I thought that’s why you ran away. I said to myself, now, that’s one smart fellow!’
‘Whoa… what happened?’
‘It is bad, man. It’s like the holocaust. He slaughtered them all; they all did, for fear of avian flu.’
‘Fear of what?’
‘Hey, if you don’t mind!’ Pigli tried to assert himself and cut the conversation short. Pointless. They continued to unwind the news.
‘Bird flu. It’s supposed to be deadly. So I guess they wanted to sacrifice the birds before they get sick. Switched over to some mammals. Can you imagine?! Oh, sorry M’am’, he said turning to Cleo. ‘No offense.’
‘None taken’, she replied.
‘I’m in hiding, myself’, Nick added. ‘I have a friend over in Jockstown. Says he’ll take me in.’
‘So you mean, no more chicks, no more roosters, nothing?’
‘HEY!!!’ Pigli made another attempt.
‘Wow! As live and breathe…’, Neil carried on. ‘Well, break a leg, dude. And thanks for the info.’
‘No problem. Good luck to you, too.’
I left just in time. What a narrow escape…, Neil thought and was quite shocked by the realization. So much so, actually, that Cleo had to give him a hug.
‘I know I’m an artist but I mean, talk about inspiration!’, Neil whispered as he contemplated his fate.There was gloom in the atmosphere and he was very shaken. So was Pigli, but for other reasons. He was literally shaken by hunger.
‘That’s it!’, the wolf cried on the verge of a nervous breakdown. ‘I’ve had it with you! Tina needs me! I’ll take my chances. Maybe your owner just missed one. I just hope your ex-lovers are tasty and not too stringy.’
With these words, he stormed into the hen-coop, slammed the door into the wall… and found himself in an ocean of white, long, fluffy ears.
‘Aaaaaaarghhh!’, he screamed. ‘Rabbits!’
Then the ferocious barking started.
‘He bought a dog?!’, Neil cried, still in a trance.
‘And a cat!’, quickly observed Cleo, who was looking in the other direction.
The vicious mutt made a huge leap out of his brand new kennel and that put him right in the pussy’s way. Seeing him come, she drew out her claws, braked and turned to a wheel of fur before the two of them clashed mightily. A loud yelp filled the yard. That confused them, of course, and a few precious seconds were wasted away in fratricidal wrestling before they could remember who the real, common enemy was.
By the time they turned their attention once more to their trespasser, Pigli had already snatched up a sickly-looking little creature by the ears, slit its throat and was getting ready to silence his overpowering stomach in the middle of the dirt court. The dog was now barking to raise the dead, showing his teeth and chasing Pigli around, whose own teeth were red with blood and not about to relinquish their prey. Neil’s tuft had almost turned yellow and a terrified Cleo understood that if they were to escape, they had to do it soon. Amid the general commotion, she noticed a hole in the fence. She took it for a safe doorway to freedom and sprang through. Huge blunder! That was the wrong doorway to freedom.
‘Come on, C, wiggle your body through, there’s more of us coming!’ hollered Neil impatiently from behind.
‘I can’t! I can’t! I’m stuck!!!’, came a muffled and horrified reply from the other side. She was kicking and screaming like a mad woman, with her body suspended in midair. Neil attempted to give her a shove with his beak. Obviously that didn’t work.
‘Aaaaaouch!!!’, she whimpered. ‘What’s with the peck, you fool? Are you trying to maim me?’ She still couldn’t touch the ground.
‘Oh my God, I’m going to die!!! Sniff. Sniff. The mad dog’s going to devour me! Mercy! Mercy! Take pity on me!!!’
Pigli heard her despair and made a sharp turn, throwing his enemy off balance. With a screech of his nails, he positioned himself between the dog and Cleo’s frantic butt. He propped himself firmly on his two front paws and lunged the other two with such force into Cleo’s hams that she nearly popped. This however helped to dislodge her, and she rolled over on the other side like a billiard ball. Neil immediately followed, surrendering a red feather to the infuriated feline behind him.
‘I never imagined I’d be so grateful to get my ass kicked’, Cleo muttered, relieved.
Pigli was in a tough spot. Cleo and Neil were urging him to follow but he was ambushed. The dog and the cat were colluding against him and were both only two feet away. The lights in the main house were now on. He could hear human voices, screams and doors slamming and knew he didn’t have much time. He was hungry, tired and out of shape. He quickly recollected the one other major fight of his life. The alpha dog had almost torn him to shreds. What had he done wrong? Come on, remember those martial arts classes!, he told himself. And then it struck him like lightning.To use their energy.
‘Would you like a piece of me, you lily-livered pooch?’, he sneered, inviting his main opponent to approach. Then, as both the dog and the overzealous cat dashed forward and almost climbed on him, he ducked, leaving them without a stable foothold and they collided once more, landing in a heap near the fence. The dog was taken aback. The cat was the first to regain her feet. She sprang on him but he was ready with the punch. Right between the eyes. All he had to do was stretch out his fist, she thrust herself upon it. Then Pigli grabbed her tail, swung her around a few times and threw her on the dog’s back, who squealed and barked like an enraged beast. Old quarrels thus rekindled, they rolled away in the opposite direction, a ball of dirt and hair and entangled limbs. Pigli was just about to make his exit as a flashlight blinded him and stopped him in his tracks.
‘The wolf! It’s here! It’s back! And it’s tearing a rabbit apart with his teeth!’
‘Uh… sorry. I’m not used to eating with a fork’, apologized Pigli and the next second he was over the fence. Their hearts pounding to break their chest, the threesome ran for their lives until they reached the darkness and safety of the woods. It was only way past Abbot Point that they slowed down and caught their breath.
‘Boy, to think the first night I was afraid of darkness’, Cleo said. ‘And what a blessing it is now.’
‘Great’, said Neil. ‘Now the posse is after us, too.’
Pigli said nothing. He looked wild. He had dived into his rabbit and for the first time in months he was indulging himself with raw meet. Heck, he was enjoying it. The white of his eyes looked sharp and feverish and this almost scared his friends. He was happy. He was free. He had outsmarted the enemy and before a new day broke he knew he had the strength to fight for his freedom and for his love to the bitter end.