Crimson Hen fluttered out of the stairwell and ran down the hall. It was dark, and the offices off the hallway were all dark. Frantically, she tried the closest doors and found they were all locked. Ominously, she heard the stairwell behind her slam open just as she rounded a corner. She heard the voices shout: “There it goes!”
I’m not an “it,” she thought indignantly.
Down the hall she half ran, half flew. She passed locked door after locked door until finally, just as she heard running boots behind her round the corner, a door swung open. Quickly, she darted inside and carefully shut the door behind her.
Putting her head up against the door, and trying to calm her breathing, she listened intently for the soldiers as they came running down the hall.
“D’you see it, Jimmy?”
“Naw, Chuck-Bob, I don’t see the little thang.”
“But Jimmy, you saw it come down here?”
“I thought I did, Chuck-Bob. I coulda swore I saw little brown tail feathers flitter-flutter around this here corner.”
“But Jimmy where’s it now?”
“Must be a fast little bugger and made it to this exit.”
Crimson lost the sound of the soldiers as they walked past the door she was hiding behind and exited to another part of the facility.
“Whew! That was close,” she said to herself.
“AHH!” A voice shouted so close behind her she was almost scared out of her feathers.
“AHH!” She replied, turning to face whatever had yelped at her.
“AHH!” It said again.
“AHH!” she called back. She was facing a rather sallow, skinny young man in blue dungaree overalls. He was holding a mop. Looking around for a moment, she noticed that she was in a janitorial supply closet. “Say – what are you doing in here?” she asked.
“AHH!” said the young man again.
“Oh, ahh, yourself,” Crimson replied testily. “What’s wrong, don’t you speak?”
“Y-y-y-yeah, I do,” said the man, “but how come you speak? You’re a – a – a”
“A chicken?” Crimson Hen finished.
“Yeah. A chicken.” The man relaxed just a notch. “Last I checked, chickens don’t talk.”
“And last I checked, chickens weren’t available for dinner.” Crimson gave the man a hard look.
He flinched. “Well, I have no argument there, I’m a vegetarian.”
“Hmmph, a vegetarian, eh?” Crimson Hen intensified her piercing gaze. “Is that supposed to make me feel better or something? Like what’s that – some kind of weird cult?”
“N-no,” the man stammered, “it means I don’t eat meat. Only vegetables and beans and stuff.”
“Hmm.” Crimson Hen seemed to process this a moment. “Well, as long as I’m not on the menu, I’m good.” She took a beat, then added mostly to herself, “I can’t believe I’m even saying these things.” She turned back to the man. “Say,” she said, “do you know where I can get a decent cup of tea?”
The man nodded his head slowly for a moment then shook it. “Hey,” he said suddenly, “you’re the chicken the loudspeaker was talking about.”
Crimson Hen fixed him with her intense glare again. “Yeah, so what about it?”
“I mean, if they’re looking for you, you must be in trouble.”
“Oh honey,” Crimson said mischievously, “trouble follows me like a bad habit, but I’m no more dangerous than a teddy bear . . . unless of course, you’re an evil-doer. Are you an evil-doer?”
“Uh, evil-doer?” The man seemed confused.
“Yeah,” Crimson fell silently into a posture of kung-fu readiness. “Have you ever made a plan to take over the world?”
“Did you ever build an evil robot that would do your evil bidding?”
“Did you ever think it would be funny to hit someone in the face with a pie while carrying out an evil plot?”
“Uh, I don’t think so.”
“Well,” Crimson said, relaxing a little. “I guess you’re not a threat – but just watch it bub, I don’t take kindly to people that cross me or my friends.”
“There are more of you?” The man asked.
“Well . . .” Crimson slumped a little. “We got separated.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the man said. “I know what’s it’s like to be away from the people you love.”
“Yeah? Hey that’s nice of you.” Crimson looked back up at the man. Maybe he wasn’t so bad after all.
“Yeah. But I have to ask. What’s a talking chicken doing in my janitor’s closet?”
“Oh,” Crimson Hen said, pulling herself together. “I’m sorry. My name is Crimson Hen.”
“Yeah,” the man said, “definitely crimson-colored. Not brown at all.”
“Right?!” Crimson replied.
“Oh, and my name’s William – but everyone calls me Will.” He gestured at an ID clipped to his lapel.
“It’s nice to meet you, Will.” Crimson paused, unsure how much to trust this new acquaintance. She decided to take a leap of faith. “Will, my story is a kind of a long and strange one, but I would like you to trust me, and I hope I can trust you. The military is out to get me, and I need to escape, so I can figure out how to get back to my . . . friends.”
Will nodded. “I can see they’re out for you.”
“I know if you help me escape this complex, you’d be putting yourself at risk, but I don’t see how I can get out without help.”
Will nodded solemnly again. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I think a chicken has the right to forge her own path, free of military intervention.”
Crimson fluttered happily. “So you’ll help me?”
“I will. Here,” Will dumped the water out of his mop bucket into a sink and wiped it out with a rag, then set it back on the ground. “You’ll just fit in there. It’s a little gross, but you’ll be completely hidden when I put the mop on top, like this.” He laid the mop out over the bucket.
Crimson caught on to his plan immediately and jumped up into the bucket. “I’ve been in worse spots, before, believe me.”
“Ok,” Will said. “It’s a plan, but . . . um, you need to know something about me.”
“What’s that?” Crimson said.
“I . . . uh, can’t lie.” Will looked bashful as he said it.
“You, can’t lie?” Crimson asked incredulously.
“Yeah. I uhm, can’t lie. If I lie, I start to stutter and shake. It’s horrible, and then whoever I’m trying to lie to figures it out, and then . . . well, I just can’t lie,” Will said with finality.
“Well, we’ll just have to risk it,” Crimson said firmly.
Will took a deep breath and said, “Ok, we’ll risk it.”
Once Crimson was carefully tucked into the mop bucket, Will opened the door and cautiously walked out into the hall.
“Don’t act cautious!” Crimson hissed. “You have to look normal!”
Will immediately began walking down the hall back the way Crimson had run earlier. Soon, the sound of boots running on linoleum flooring came up behind him.
“You there!” The voice of a soldier fell around them heavily.
“M-m-me?” Will said with exaggerated innocence.
“Yes, you.” The soldier said shortly. “Have you seen a brown chicken around here? About yeay big.” The man held his hands out about a foot apart.
“A-a-a brown chicken?” Will said.
“Yes! Do you have a hearing problem?!” The soldier was clearly agitated. “A brown chicken.”
“N-nope. I haven’t seen a brown chicken around here. Sorry.” Will said with relief. Crimson Hen quietly sighed with relief from down in the mop bucket.
The soldier gave a last squinty look at the janitor before returning to his linoleum-pounding run around the facility.
“Whew!” said Will quietly, “that was close!”
“Just keep going,” Crimson Hen said encouragingly. “You’re doing great.”
A few turns later, Will rolled the mop bucket out a rear exit and toward a large Suburban truck. He carefully picked the bucket with Crimson in it up and slid it into the back. Soon they were underway and rolling up to the gate leading out of the complex where a soldier stopped them.
“Say,” said the soldier. “You have a good . . . um . . . is that a mop in the back there?” He motioned to the bucket where Crimson hid.
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, it is,” Will said nervously.
“Isn’t that, uh, military property?” The soldier had a stern look on his face.
“Uh . . . uh . . yeah, I suppose it is . . . I-I-I . . .” Will was starting to stutter and fall apart.
The soldier broke into a wide smile. “Gonna do some mopping on the side, eh?”
“Uh – uh . . .” Will couldn’t speak.
“Well,” the soldier said with an excessively conspiratorial tone, “ain’t nothing wrong with a little side hustle, eh?”
“Uh- well, uh no. I guess.” Will let out a breath as the soldier nodded and winked, then stepped aside and raised the gate. They drove through and out of the military complex.
“Wow!” Crimson Hen said as she squirmed out of the mop bucket and up to the front seat. “That was close. You were great!”
Will blushed. “Well, I – no. We got lucky.”
“Nope,” Crimson said firmly. “That wasn’t luck – you held it all together back there.” They drove in silence for a minute. “Where are we going, anyway?”
“Uh, I thought we could go to my house.” Will shrugged. “I don’t really know where else to go.”
“Okay,” said Crimson Hen, “that’ll do for now, but tell me – do you have good tea there?”