Authors: Judy Cox
“Bedtime!” Dad called from the house. Emmy trotted inside.
“Better come down,” said Kelsey. “We can try again tomorrow.” She followed Emmy inside.
Down below, the house windows glowed like lanterns in the blue dusk. Daniel gave up. He climbed partway down. His shirt filled with twigs. He got one long, red scratch on his arm. He jumped the last few feet and brushed a spider web out of his hair.
Above him, Peepers stretched his neck and crowed. To Daniel's ears it sounded like the mocking cry of a warrior after beating his enemy. Daniel glared at his pet. Then he shrugged and went inside.
That night he made a final entry in his journal.
Daniel couldn't get to sleep. First he was too hot. So he kicked off his covers. Then he was too cold. So he pulled them up. Finally he fell asleep. He dreamed there was a fire. He could hear the sirens. When he woke up, there were no sirens. Only Peepers crowing loudly from the tree.
Daniel groaned. He opened his eyes. It was barely light! He knew he should try to get his pet to shut up. But he couldn't make himself get out of bed. He jammed his pillow over his head.
The next time Daniel woke up, sunlight streamed through his curtains. He'd slept in. The doorbell rang. Daniel rubbed his eyes.
Daniel heard voices from the hall. He put on his
glasses and padded out in his pajamas to see what was going on.
Dad stood at the open door. Tyler, Emmy, and Kelsey gathered around. Kelsey looked scared. Emmy hid behind Dad, clutching her stuffed lion. Tyler was eating a banana. Mom was already at work.
Two police officers stood at the door. Both wore blue uniforms. One officer was tall and thin. The other was short and stout.
Here is my handle, here is my spout
, thought Daniel. He pushed the thought away. This was no time for nursery songs.
“What's going on?” Daniel asked. “Is something wrong?”
The stout officer looked at Dad. “We've had a complaint about a rooster. Crowing. Disturbing the peace. Do you have a rooster?”
Dad shook his head. “Five hens,” he said.
The short officer nodded. “Hens aren't a problem, but roosters are illegal in the city.”
Daniel swallowed. “If somebody has a rooster, what happens?”
The stout officer didn't smile. “The owner has fourteen days to get rid of it. If the rooster isn't removed, we are authorized to seize it.”
“And do what?” asked Daniel. But in his heart he knew. He knew what happened to stray dogs and cats if no one gave them a home.
The Secret Chicken Society met in the tree house right after breakfast. “I'll bet it was Mr. Grafalo who complained,” said Kelsey.
“Grumpy Mr. Gruffalo,” said Emmy.
“He was always grouchy,” said Daniel slowly. “But I think he's gotten worse since Mrs. G. had to go live at Willowdale.”
“Maybe he misses her,” said Kelsey. “I miss her.”
“Me too,” said Emmy. “But if you ask me, Mr. Gruffalo is still a big buffalo!”
The hens were in the yard, pecking in the weeds. Peepers had come down from the tree. He stood watch near the hens. Suddenly he fluffed out his feathers and beat the air with his wings.
An orange streak shot under the fence. Poison!
“Nice,” said Kelsey. “He does his job.”
“Did you hear him crow this morning? I don't know how Mom and Dad missed it. For a little guy, he sure is loud.” Daniel chewed his lower lip.
“What will the police do if they find out about Peepers?” asked Emmy from the foot of the tree. “Will they put him in jail?”
“Worse,” said Kelsey.
“Much worse,” groaned Daniel.
“What, then?” yelled Emmy impatiently.
Daniel stared at her solemnly. “They'll kill him,” he said.
“Kill Peepers? No!” yelled Emmy.
“And eat him,” added Kelsey.
“That's awful!” Emmy started to cry. “Poor Peepers!”
“We have to keep him from crowing!” said Daniel. “We just have to!”
All afternoon Daniel looked in books and on the Internet. He reported back to the SCS.
“Roosters will crow any time of the day,” he told Kelsey and Emmy. (Tyler was at the mall.) “But they mostly crow at dawn.”
Kelsey nodded. “But we tried everything. What else can we do?”
“I have an idea,” said Daniel. “If we can keep the coop dark, he won't crow. But to be extra sure, we can insulate it. So sounds won't get out.”
With Tyler's help, the Secret Chicken Society insulated the Hen Hotel. They used empty cardboard egg cartons to muffle sound. They used black plastic trash bags to keep out the light. Fortunately, Mom was at work. When Dad was working on his website, he didn't notice what went on around him.
At dusk Peepers herded his hens into the chicken coop to roost. Then he followed them up the ramp and went inside. Daniel fastened the door behind them.
“They want to be in the coop at night,” Daniel told his sisters. “They feel safe inside. That's why birds roost in trees. So foxes and coyotes and raccoons don't get them.”
The insulation seemed to work. If Peepers crowed at dawn, no one in the house could hear it. Daniel didn't think the neighbors could, either.
After breakfast Daniel fed and watered all his pets and let the hens out to forage. They seemed happy with their newly redecorated quarters. At any rate, they didn't complain.
“Everything's under control,” Daniel told Kelsey and Emmy at the next SCS meeting a few days later. “We've got it licked.”
But his conscience prickled. Mom and Dad were still in the dark (so to speak) about Peepers being a rooster. Mom and Dad trusted the hens to Daniel's care. Even though he hadn't told a lie, it didn't feel right to keep a secret from them.
One day about two weeks later the weather turned hot. Daniel checked his pets. Jasper drank noisily from his bottle. Speedy panted in his cage. Mr. Feathers fluffed out his feathers and closed his eyes. The guppies were the only ones staying cool. They swam comfortably around in their tank, looking happy.
The SCS members sat in the tree houseâat least Daniel and Kelsey did. Emmy sat on the grass. Tyler was at a ball game. Not a breeze stirred the leaves on the trees. Bees buzzed in the garden. The chickens rested in the shade, not making much noise.
“It's too hot to do anything,” said Kelsey, fanning herself.
“Too hot to think,” said Daniel. He rubbed the sweat off his forehead with his arm.
“Too hot to pink,” said Emmy. She peeled the petals off a daisy and flung them into the air.
“Too hot to stink,” said Daniel, and they all laughed.
“Can we have ice pops?” Emmy called to Dad. He was working on his laptop on the back porch. He nodded.
“Bring me an orange one,” he said.
“Can we run through the sprinkler?” asked Kelsey.
“Sure,” said Dad. “But set it up in the front yard. That grass could use some water.”
They went out the side gate to the front yard, dragging the hose and sprinkler. Daniel didn't see the curious hens follow them out front.
The kids put on their swimming suits and ran through the spray. The cold water felt delightful. When they were completely soaked, Emmy brought out the ice pops. They sat on the hot cement steps, watching the sprinkler make rainbows in the sky. Daniel had raspberry, his favorite. He licked it. The drips ran down his arm.
“Look, blood,” he told Emmy.
“Eww,” she said. She had a blue ice pop. Her lips and tongue were blue.
Just then Dot and Dash ran over from next door, yapping. Dash jumped up on Emmy. He licked her face. He knocked the ice pop out of her hand.
“My ice pop!” cried Emmy. “Bad doggies!” The ice pop lay melting on the sidewalk. The poodles lapped it up.
“Dot!” called Miss Clay. “Dash!” She stood on her front porch and clapped her hands. The poodles paid no attention to her. They spotted the hens.
Daniel wasn't sure what happened next. Suddenly there was a flurry of feathers. Peepers! He spread his wings and arched his back. He danced up on his toes. The feathers on his neck ruffled. He flapped his wings. He charged!
The poodles ran down the sidewalk like black and white streaks. The rooster chased them, darting and pecking.
“Emmy! You left the gate open again!” yelled Daniel, running after Peepers.
“Not me!” said Emmy. “It's Kelsey's fault!”
Peepers chased the poodles back into their own yard. But he didn't stop there. He circled the dogs, flapping his wings. Dot whined. Dash growled.
“My poor babies!” wailed Miss Clay. “Get that
wild animal away!” She grabbed her broom. Kelsey screamed.
“No!” yelled Daniel. He splashed across the wet lawn, slipping a little in the mud. “Don't hurt him! He's just protecting the hens! I'll get him!”