The clearing was empty – except, of course for the usual ferns and bushes and small trees. Nebraska walked slowly around. “What’s going on here?” Deloris squirrel asked. The rest of the group clearly had the same question. Finally they all met back in the center of the clearing where their camp had been. “Guys, something odd has happened,” Dr. Rabbit said. “Thank you for pointing out the obvious,” a clearly agitated Deloris Squirrel responded. “Okay, everyone,” the Gray Squirrel said, putting a paw gently on Deloris’ shoulder. “We all want to know what’s going on. Let’s start with what we do know.” “Which is . . .” Nebraska Rooster wasn’t trying to be glib, but he really couldn’t think of anything. “Which is,” replied the Gray Squirrel. “That we’ve traveled to some other dimension or other time. It’s the only explanation that fits.” They all took that in for a moment. Then Dr. Rabbit looked up at the sky and said, “Well, if we’ve traveled to a different time, we ought to be able to use the position of the stars to tell us that.” “Great – that’s a great start, Dr. Rabbit,” said the Gray Squirrel. “How will we know if we’re in a different dimension?” Deloris asked as though ending up in different dimensions was like getting lost on the way to the grocery store. “Well . . .” said Nebraska Rooster, “I think we’ll know it eventually, if we’re stuck in an alternate dimension.” He paused, thinking then said, “Things will be . . . um, different, I guess.” “Like the camp site,” said Deloris Squirrel. Nebraska Rooster was about to say something in agreement, when they heard the sound of a truck pulling up. The Gray Squirrel responded immediately. “Everyone, into the bushes, quick!” he said.
They didn’t hesitate, and all piled into the bushes. A truck pulled up to the clearing seconds later. It was a small vehicle, not unlike the one they’d been transported out to the clearing in. Doors opened, then slammed shut. Boots crunched on the clearing floor. Voices rang out. The truck’s occupants came into sight of where the little group was hiding. “Whoaa . . .” breathed Nebraska Rooster quietly as the newcomers came into view. “This is a different dimension, all right.”
“So let me get this straight. You’re a chicken who can not only talk, but you are from a different dimension.” Will was sitting at his small kitchen table nursing a mug of hot mint tea. “Yes,” Crimson Hen replied simply, gratefully breathing in the scents of her own mug of tea. “And you’re not sure how you got here, but you want to get back,” said Will. “Almost right.” Crimson took a sip of her tea and put down the mug. “I was transported here by a little floaty firework-looking thingy.” “A little floaty firework-looking thingy?” echoed Will. “Correct.” Crimson Hen screwed up her face in deep thought. “It came from inside an ancient archeological dig my team was working on. We found this opening, and these things floated out. They floated around us for a few days until I got up the courage to touch one. Turns out they’re portals or something to this dimension.” “Whoa,” said Will. “There are other dimensions?” “There must be,” said Crimson Hen, “I’m here and talking to you, am I not?”
“Well . . .,” Will seemed unsure. “I guess so, but how do you expect to get back to your own dimension?” “I’ve been thinking about that,” she said as she picked up her mug of tea again and took a sip. “I think the trick is going to be to get back to that archeological dig, find the version of it in this dimension, and use it somehow to transport me back.” “Right,” said Will helpfully. “So, where is the dig in your dimension?” “Lithuania,” was Crimson’s reply. “LIthuania,” Will repeated emptily. “Yes, Lithuania,” said Crimson again. “Lithuania.” “Um, Will, you’re repeating me.” Crimson said.
“Right,” said Will sheepishly. “Sorry, I was just trying to place that word – where is that? Is that a city in Utah near where they found you?” “No, silly,” Crimson said a little reproachfully. “It’s a country in Northern Europe.” “What!” Will sat up a little straighter and spit out a little tea. “In Europe? Like the Europe?” “Yes – the Europe – good croissants, better health care, you know, Europe.” “Well,” said Will after a while. “How do you suppose you’ll get all the way over to Europe? I mean, you’re a chicken and all. They’re not going to let you just get on a plane and fly over there.” Will sounded confident of this judgment, but the look on Crimson’s face made him second guess this pronouncement. Crimson drained her cup of tea and then said, “That, my new friend, is but one of the many ideas I can think of regarding how to get to Europe. This seems like a minor inconvenience, but what’s not a minor inconvenience is that I’m fresh out of tea.” She held out her cup to Will. “Would you be a sweetheart and please put on another pot?”
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?” “Uh, no.” “Did you ever build an evil robot that would do your evil bidding?” “Uh, no.” “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?”
“Private Chuck-Bob!” “Sir, yes sir?” “Private Chuck-Bob, what do you see on that there screen.” “Sir, I see, a . . . a chicken sir. But, sir?” “Yes, Private Chuck-Bob? Be swift in verbalizing your confoundment.” “Uh, yes, sir. Thank you, sir. But, uh, sir? I am having a hard time seeing just what’s a goin’ on in this here video.” “AHHEM!” “Uh, right, sir. In this here video, sir.” “Well private Chuck-Bob, let me pull out my magic colonal’s wand and clear up the image quality of this here security camera footage, and . . . For the love of Pete Private Chuck-Bob, pull yourself together!” “Uh, who’s Pete? I uh, I mean, sir! Who’s Pete, sir!” “Private Chuck-Bob, I’m going to give you one more chance to straighten up, and then I’m going to punt your sorry Private First-Class self into next week! Do you read me, Private Chuck-Bob?!” “Uh, sir, read? – oh, uh, Sir! Yes Sir!” “That’s better Private. Now, tell me what you see on that there video. And I better not hear another word about the image quality.” “Yes sir! That is a chicken sir. It is paused just before the chicken leaves the range of the security camera.” “That is correct Private. That is correct. Now what do we see in this other image.” “Uh, sir? Oh, uh, nothing sir. We see nothing sir. Just empty hallway, sir.” “That is correct, Private. What does this tell you?” “Um, the chicken isn’t in this other video. Sir?” “That much is obvious, Private Chuck-Bob. What happened to the chicken between this camera, and this other camera?” “Um, I guess I don’t know, sir. The chicken seems to have disappeared. Sir.” “Do chickens just randomly disappear into thin air, Private Chuck-Bob?” “Well, sir, I don’t rightly know sir. I had one fly up onto my head once when I was a tryin’ to grab ‘im. It was like one minute it was on the ground a peckin’ at whatnot, and then just there it was, poopin’ in my hair, and Billy, he . . .” “PRIVATE CHUCK-BOB!!” “Oh. Right, sorry sir. Um, no, chickens don’t just disappear. Sir.” “Correct Private Chuck-Bob. Correct.” “So the question is where did this particular chicken go between this spot in the hallway, and this other spot in the hallway.” “Um, maybe there’s a trapdoor there or somethin’ sir. I saw this magic show once where . . .” “PRIVATE CHUCK-BOB!!” “Oh. Right, sorry sir. But you know maybe this chicken can disappear. I heard that this here chicken magically appeared in the desert.” “Private Chuck-Bob, any information you may think you have regarding this chicken is of a completely speculative nature, would be classified at the highest level, and is disavowed by the entire military establishment. Is that clear, Private Chuck-Bob?!” “Sir. Yes, sir. Roger that. That’s a big Texas 10/4.”
“Good, Private Chuck-Bob. Now, let’s get back to business. What rooms are between this point in the hallway, and this other point in the hallway?” “Um, right, sir. Good thinking. But sir?” “Yes Private Chuck-Bob?” “According to military regulations and all, doors are always locked. Sir. And sir? I ain’t never met a chicken who could turn a doorknob. Sir.” “That is a fascinating bit of chicken lore, Private Chuck-Bob. But the fact remains that this chicken slipped into a room off of this hallway. There can be no other explanation.” “Sir. Yes sir. So the rooms in the hallway that ain’t shown in the video are, uh, room 108 – that’s a – uh office of gallus anomalies. Whatever the hey-ho that is, sir. Room 110 – that’s uh, the office of avian groundskeeping – again, sir, that’s super bizarro. Then, uh, room 112, a janitorial closet. Hmm. Uh, sir.” “Janitorial closet you say?” “Sir, yes sir.” “Private Chuck-Bob?” “Sir?” “Do we have any records showing janitorial activity on the evening in question?” “Sir, do you mean were any janitors working last night? Sir?” “Did you not hear me the first time, Private Chuck-Bob? That is exactly what I asked.” “Let me look . . . uh, sir? It seems as though there was one janitor on duty last night.” “Just one? Be sure, Private Chuck-Bob. We have no idea how important this chicken may or may not be. This chicken could be at the very heart of a plot to destroy the entire planet, Private Chuck-Bob. Think of that! We just don’t know.” “Yes. Sir. There was one janitor on duty.” “Let’s see if we can pull up any video footage of that janitor from around the same time period of the chicken escape.” “Sir, yes sir, here let’s use this other video monitor.” “Private Chuck-Bob?” “Yessir?” “Do you see that?” “Yessir! That’s a janitor.” “Do you notice anything funny about that janitor?” “Uh, no, uh, sir?” “I’ll tell you what’s funny about this janitor, he’s pushing a mop and a bucket.” “Uh, with respect sir, isn’t that what janitors are supposed to do? Sir.” “Not, Private Chuck-Bob, when they’re leaving the compound to the rear parking.” “Well, doggone-it, sir, you’re right!” “And tell me Private Chuck-Bob, is that janitor a member of this fine military institution you and I so proudly represent?” “Let, me check . . . no, no sir! That there’s a contractor, a civilian, sir.” “A civilian?! Private Chuck-Bob, are you sure?” “Sir. Yes, sir! And it’s just clear as daylight in the swamp that that there civilian is stealing that mop. Sir.” “Private Chuck-Bob, that’s not all this civilian is stealing. Replay that video segment. There. See that?” “Uh, sir?” “There, zoom in there.” “I see it, sir. I see it! It’s . . . it’s a feather!” “Yes, Private Chuck-Bob. It’s a feather. That janitor is aiding and abetting a known chicken suspect.” “Sir. You’re a genius. Sir.” “Round up some MPs, Private Chuck-Bob, the boys in green are hot on the case. Mark my words Private Chuck-Bob, we’ll get that chicken if it’s the last thing we do. Mark my words.”
“Dr. McCleese?” “Yes, Denise?” “This seems like an excellent spot to set up our base camp, should we drop the equipment here?” “Indeed. Let’s drop all the equipment here, there’s even a good unloading spot, over there, by where Alise is standing. Go see if she’ll help you unload our gear. I will take Maurice up to the dig site, and begin to set up our initial survey. Oh, Maurice . . . ah there you are. Will you join me in setting up the initial survey? We shouldn’t need more than a camera and few stakes.” “Um, okay, Dr. McCleese.” “Very good, this way.” “We should be careful, Dr. McCleese, it rained last night and we don’t want to get mud everywhere.” “An excellent observation, Maurice. Indeed, an excellent observation.” “Look, Dr. McCleese, there are all kinds of animal tracks here just past that clearing. It looks like some kind of bird, and maybe a squirrel, or two? And over here, a rabbit.” “A rabbit? How can you tell, Maurice?” “Oh, I grew up tromping around the woods. I know all kinds of tracks. Bears, wolves, deer, coyotes, skunks, racoons . . . “ “Yes, yes, Maurice, that is fascinating. Let’s focus on the task at hand, shall we?” “Well, okay Dr. McCleese.” “Here, now, it’s just up around those clumps of trees. You know, this ancient mound is possibly one of the oldest archeological sites in Northern Europe. It’s amazing that we found it in the first place, and even more amazing that we were able to get a permit to conduct a research expedition to uncover whatever lies beneath.” “Yes, sir, it’s very – hey, Dr. McCleese, isn’t that the mound?” “Why yes, Maurice, it is the mound, by gosh.” “So if this is an ancient archeological site, what is an open door to the inside of it doing there?” “By golly, Maurice, I have no idea. The last time I was here, it was an undisturbed hillside. Could someone have gotten the scoop before us and pilfered all the artifacts within? Think of it, Maurice, tomb robbers! Come, let’s get closer.” “Well, um if there were tomb robbers, don’t you think they’d have left some kind of trace? All I see here are those same animal tracks.” “Stop blathering about animal tracks, Maurice. The local wildlife is of no importance!” “But, doctor, the tracks, they come right out of the artifact, and -” “I said stop dithering, Maurice. Look, you can look at the pretty wildlife later, okay, right now we need to figure out who was here, and what their intentions are. They could be evil tomb robbers. . .” “Or maybe just regular tomb robbers, you know the not-very-dangerous-kind.” “Maurice, this is the idea of a simpleton! Everyone knows tomb robbers are dangerous. It’s just a basic fact of the universe.” “A fact of the universe, doctor?” “That’s right, Maurice. We must approach the open door with extreme caution. Wait!” “What is it?” “I must get the camera out, and make a recording. This could be a very important moment.” “Uh, okay, Dr. McCleese.” “There. I’ve got it. Here, you take the camera and film me approaching the opening.” “But, uh, okay, doctor.” “I am now approaching the opening into the hillside where ancient archeological site alpha two niner three resides. I am now two meters from the opening. One and a half. One meter from the opening. Now I am next to the opening. Maurice, slowly pan the camera into the opening and sweep it around.” “Uh, Dr. McCleese?” “Yes, Maurice?” “Could, uh, could you do it?” “Why, Maurice, can’t you pan the camera around inside the opening?” “Be-because it’s kinda dark in there?” “Ah – Maurice, I need you to grow a spine now. Just walk up there and pan the camera around. I will be right here. Nothing bad will happen, I promise.” “Uh, ok, Dr. McCleese.” “There doesn’t seem to be any sign of who created this opening, or how it got here.” “You’re right, Dr. McCleese, I think -” “I wasn’t talking to you Maurice, I was still narrating the film footage.” “Oh. Right. Sorry Dr. McCleese.”
“Ahem, let’s see, where was I?” “You were talking to the footage about the opening.” “Ah, yes! Ah,he,hem. The opening appears to be smooth edged, like it was a constructed door. The light inside is very dim, but I can make out patterns on the wall that seem to be man-made. Passages lead left and right. Cut.” “Uh, cut what Dr. McCleese?” “Cut means stop filming Maurice.” “Oh, right, I knew that, doctor. “Ok, Maurice, we have to decide what to do here, first. Before we keep filming.” “Right.” “Yes, Maurice, right.” “Uh, Dr. McCleese?” “Yes, Maurice?” “I think we should get the others, and maybe some flashlights or something.” “Maurice, I was thinking the same. But by ‘something’, I assume you mean expeditionary gear.” “Uh, yeah, that’s what I meant.” “Let’s make that happen, Maurice. Let’s make that happen.”
“RUN WILL!” Crimson Hen was on the ground. A bullet had just whizzed through the window and struck the wall behind her. Will seemed frozen in place. Crimson Hen jumped up on the table and slapped him across the face with a winged backhand. “Snap out of it! They’re here. They’ve found us! We have to go now!” Will came around and dove off his chair to the ground just as another bullet whizzed by. “They’re shooting at us!” he said, stating the obvious. Crimson Hen could tell that Will was not grasping the situation. She grabbed him by the collar and gave a tremendous tug towards the front of the house. Even as strong as Crimson Hen was, a chicken’s tug on the collar isn’t very strong. Fortunately, it was enough to get Will moving. The two of them crawled out the apartment, as low to the ground as possible, to the rear of the main hallway. “Where can we go?” Crimson Hen was thinking furiously. “If they’ve found us, they’ll have all the entrances covered. We’re trapped.” Will blinked hard a few times then seemed to begin thinking rationally again. “There’s a chance they haven’t covered the outback.” “What’s the outback?” asked Crimson Hen.“The outback is what I call the connection between my apartment and my across the alleyway neighbor’s apartment. It’s a little strip of building that juts out from my roof and extends almost all the way across the alley. My neighbor dared me to see if I could go across one time, and I did. It wasn’t hard.” Will was already leading them both up a small stairwell to a panel in the ceiling. “Here – you may need a boost.” He lifted the chicken up into the crawl space, then climbed up after her. Above the ceiling was a small crawl space surrounded by dust and insulation and wiring. “Ugh,” sighed Crimson Hen. She didn’t care for dirty unfinished spaces; too much spider habitat.
They made it across the ceiling to a segment of wall that had a little panel on it. With a small tug, the panel came off, leading to the roof. “Come on,” said Will. “It’s an easy jump! And you sort-of-fly.” Carefully, Will and Crimson Hen leaned out onto the roof. The coast was blissfully clear. On the roof, they made their way, crawlingling low to where the overhang jutted out into space. Crimson Hen peeked out over the edge. Below in the apartment building, they could hear the military police pounding on Will’s door and shouting. “There’s a pair of guards down there. We’ll need a distraction or they’ll see us as we cross over,” Crimson Hen said. She looked around. “Here – a bucket, and . . . yes, a little piece of rope. Okay. One distraction, coming right up.” Crimson Hen placed some broken bits of brick and mortar in the bucket, then sat the bucket precariously on the opposite side of the apartment building, then ran the rope back to where they were hiding, ready to jump across the buildings. “Okay,” Crimson Hen said. “I pull this, the bucket of bricks tumbles to the ground, then we scoot across this gap. We may only have seconds, we’ll need to hurry.” They lined themselves up, and waited for the guards to wander as far toward the far corner of the building as possible. Crimson Hen gave a little tug on the bucket, and it quietly slipped off the ledge of the apartment building. A few moments later, there was a crash as the bucket of bricks met with a sidewalk. The two guards turned toward the sound. “Now!” whispered Crimson Hen. Will and Crimson Hen sprang across the small gulf, landing safely on the other roof. They quickly tucked themselves down so they couldn’t be seen, and held their breath as they waited to see if the alarm would be raised. The guards turned back around just moments after they had jumped, but didn’t seem to notice Crimson Hen and Will on the neighbor’s apartment building. “Whew,” said Crimson Hen. “That was close. Where to now?” “Right,” said Will. “Follow me.” He led the two of them along the roof to a small door. With a sigh of relief, Will opened it, and it came open smoothly and quietly. They slipped into the apartment building. “We’ll need to find a way out of this building too,” said Will. “True, but at least they’re not looking for us here,” replied Crimson Hen. “Didn’t you say you had a friend over here? Let’s see if they’ll help us.” “Oh. Right! Follow me.” A few moments later, they were standing in front of a door. Will knocked and they waited nervously in the hallway, looking up and down, expecting the MPs to come charging in. Then, with a click, the door opened. “Uh, hey Will, what’s um -” Will’s neighbor looked down and saw Crimson Hen standing there. “-um what’s up?” “Sally, we, uh, could we come in?” Will said urgently. “Uh, is that your chicken, Will?” Sally said. “I’m not anyone’s chicken, lady,” Crimson Hen said with disdain. Sally took another look at Crimson Hen, then back up at Will, then slowly at first, but then all at once, she passed out, with a thud, to the floor. “Hmph,” Crimson Hen said. “Some neighbor you’ve got. And why does that keep happening?” She hopped up and over the now inert neighbor. “Come, on, help me get her into the apartment to a couch or something.” Will seemed frozen for a second, then quickly put an arm around Sally’s shoulders, and began to drag her inside. When she was clear, Crimson Hen took one last look up and down the hallway, then closed and locked the door behind them.
“Shhh! They’ll hear us…” Deloris Squirrel was hiding in the bushes not far from where the two archeologists were looking at the opening into the ancient site they had emerged from just a few minutes before. “So what?” said Mr. Rabbit. “We have valuable information that they could use to potentially help us.” “So,” said Deloris Squirrel, “do they look like the kind of people who are overtly helpful?” “They kind of do,” said the Gray Squirrel before grunting loudly as he received an elbow to the belly from his mate. “Whatever happens,” said Nebraska Rooster, “whatever we do now, we’ll need help. And I for one think it’s amazing that people who might be helpful have shown up at the exact time we need help. I’m going for it.” “No!” whisper-shouted Deloris Squirrel, but it was too late. Nebraska hopped out into the clearing. She turned to the Gray Squirrel and said, “does it bug you when he and Crimson just make choices for all of us sometimes?” The Gray Squirrel nodded and shrugged. “I understand your point, but I also trust my friends. And,” he added with a small cough, “I kind of agree with him this time,” which earned him another elbow to the gut. At that moment, Maurice and Dr. McCleese were just turning around to head back to camp to find their colleagues. When they saw a chicken emerge from the bushes they stopped. “See! Dr. McCleese, it’s a chicken! I told you there were some around here.” He paused and looked at Nebraska for a moment. “And that’s not just a chicken it’s a rooster.” “Maurice, we don’t have time for chicken gazing.” Dr. McCleese made a move to walk past Nebraska. But Nebraska walked purposefully in front of him. “Well, Maurice, you have yourself a very aggressive rooster here,” the professor said, unhelpfully. “I’m not aggressive, I just really need your help,” said Nebraska Rooster. “My name is Neb -” he was interrupted by the thudding sound of Dr. McCleese crumpling to the ground like a sack of potatoes. “Holy hand grenades! Y-you talk!” Maurice was frozen in place as he looked first at Nebraska, then at the unconscious Dr. McCleese, then back at Nebraska, unsure what to do. “Hey, kid, help me out with this fellow.” Nebraska had run over to Dr. McCleese and was checking his vital signs. “Pupils seem normal, pulse normal. I don’t think he hit his head. I think he’ll be alright.” “Are – are you performing first aid?” Maurice seemed stuck in a loop. “There’s a chicken performing first aid on the professor,” he said to himself incredulously. “Yes! And I could use a hand.” Nebraska was losing patience. He fanned the professor with one wing while supporting his head with his other. Nebraska’s sharp authoritative tone snapped Maurice out of his stupor, and he came over by the professor’s side. “Here,” Nebraska Rooster said, “hold his head like this and straighten his body out. He’ll come around in just a minute.” Maurice did what he was told and sure enough, a few seconds later, the professor began to stir. “Dr. McCleese, are you okay?” Maurice helped him into a sitting position. “Easy does it Dr. McCleese, you took quite a fall there.” “Maurice,” Dr. McCleese said unsteadily, “I thought for a minute there we had encountered a talking chicken. But that must have been some kind of illusion related to my fall.” “I’m a rooster, to be precise,” Nebraska said. Dr. McCleese scurried hastily back a few feet, which was awkward considering he’d just been unconscious a few minutes before. “This here rooster made sure you were alright, Dr. McCleese, he seems like a conscientious fellow,” Maurice said. “By God, you are a talking chicken,” Dr. McCleese exclaimed. “Rooster.” Nebraska corrected. “Right. Rooster. Maurice! This has been a most extraordinary day! First the ancient site, open to the air, and now this! We. . . we must get the others and document this incredible find!” Dr. McCleese began scrambling to get his camera gear out and functioning. Meanwhile, the Gray Squirrel had come up behind the professor. He reached out and put a paw on the man’s arm, in a quieting gesture. “Please, sir, we don’t need to be documented, we need your help.” “Aaahh!” The doctor jumped back six inches from a sitting position. The camera he was fumbling with sprang out of his hands and landed near where Deloris Squirrel had come up beside the Gray Squirrel. “Yup, we definitely don’t need this around right now.” She picked up the camera and took it off into the bushes. Mr. Rabbit hopped up, and sat near where the professor had backed away to. “Yes, I’d say that given the reaction of these individuals, folk of our ilk are rare in this version of reality.” “Whooa,” Dr. McCleese backed away yet again, only now his back was to a tree. The group moved in closer to form a semicircle around him and the tree. “Wait!” exclaimed Maurice, “I’ve got it. It’s those tracks isn’t it – they’re yours! You all came out of that opening!” He smiled having put the logic all together. “Where – uh, where did you come from?” “Nebraska walked over to Maurice. “That, friend, is the million dollar question.” “Which we will be happy to answer, but your friend here,” Deloris Squirrel walked up to the professor, “needs to stop freaking out, pull himself together, and get with the program.” “Oh, I think he’ll come around,” said Maurice. “But before you go into any details, I’d like to get the rest of the crew. Hang on.” He ran off out of the clearing. “Maurice! Don’t leave me with these – these – these creatures!” Dr. McCleese had pulled his knees up to his chest protectively and was eyeing the group around him with terror. “Hey, buddy,” said Deloris Squirrel as she walked up to him, “you don’t need to be rude, you know. I’ve got pretty thick fur, but if you keep on being disagreeable, you’re going to meet my bad side.” “And you don’t want to meet her bad side,” chimed in the Gray Squirrel, “trust me on that.” A few moments of tense silence later, Maurice and the rest of the crew came running up. “What’s all this craziness about talking animals?” Alise said, pulling up short as she saw the professor huddled under a tree surrounded by a group of very different animals. “Here – here they are,” Maurice said, puffing to catch his breath. “And they talk?” Denise had profound skepticism in her voice. “Yup,” Maurice said. “Greetings,” Nebraska turned to face the two newcomers. “My name is Nebraska Rooster. These are my colleagues, “The Gray Squirrel, Deloris Squirrel, and Mr. Rabbit.” Each gave a little wave as their name was called out. “We need your help.” “Well, I’ll be!” exclaimed Alise, “these are for real talking animals!” “This is crazy,” Denise said. “Crazy, but true. One of them helped the professor after he passed out.” Maurice said. The two women stifled a giggle. Dr. McCleese brought himself to a standing position. Maurice squatted down to be more on Nebraska’s level. “And you say you need our help,” he said. “That’s right,” Nebraska Rooster said. “Our friend is missing, we’re new to an unfamiliar dimension, and -” “- and I’m hungry,” Mr. Rabbit said with authority and finality. “Do you perhaps have a snack we could partake of while we regale you with our tale of woe?”
“Sally! Hey, c’mon Sally – wake up!” Will sat next to the couch where they had laid his neighbor out. Crimson Hen lifted an eyelid of the unconscious woman and put a wing up to her neck. “Her pulse is steady and her pupils aren’t dilated, she must have hyperventilated from shock, she’ll come around momentarily.” “I suggest that when she does, you lay low for a minute,” Will said, rather snappily, Crimson Hen thought. “Hey – what did I do?” she replied defensively. “Well, you can’t just go around surprising people like that, you have to ease them in.” Will started fanning Sally’s face with an old magazine he found on the end table. “Well how would you feel if people just started dropping the moment you opened your mouth. And another thing -” Crimson Hen was about to lay into Will even more, but a groan from Sally interrupted her excoriation.
“Wha – What’s going on? Will, is that you?” Sally rubbed her eyes and lifted herself to an elbow. “Yeah, Sally, it’s me, Will.” He put a hand to her shoulder. “Oh, Will, what’s going on? Did you bring a chicken over?” She looked around the room hesitantly, finally landing her eyes on Crimson Hen, who was sitting decorously on a chair cushion across from the couch. “Oh, there is a chicken, I didn’t imagine that.” “Yes,” said Will, “and, and, uh, and she talks, okay?” Will cringed a little as he said that, not sure how to go. “Oh, Will, a talking chicken? I must have hit my head.” Sally unconsciously rubbed her forehead.
Crimson Hen was using every ounce of restraint not to tell that woman off. The indignity of it, to be treated in such a way. It was barbaric. Still, she remained calm. “Well, Sally, it’s true, and we need you to kind of pull it together, see, we’re in some trouble.” Will stood and walked over to Crimson Hen. “What kind of trouble,” Sally asked. “I . . . I think . . . I mean, would it be okay if I let Crimson Hen tell you?” Will replied. “Oh, Will, please don’t start that -” Sally looked at Will, and saw the serious look on his face. “Oh, uh, I mean, Will, what?” Will just looked at Sally with a plaintive look. “Well, okay. This is insane, but okay,” she turned to Crimson Hen, “chicken, you tell the story.” Crimson Hen looked up at Will and he nodded his assent. “Well,” she said, “first, thank you for welcoming us into your apartment. We are, indeed in a bit of a pickle and could use an ally.” Sally exhaled sharply and sat up. She looked at Crimson Hen and then back at Will, who gave her a little shrug as if to say, ‘see?’ Crimson Hen continued. “I have been separated from my friends, and I need to get back to them, but you see, we’ve run into a little snag. There are some folks who would like to detain us, rather me specifically. I have discovered that in this version of reality, there aren’t talking chickens.” Sally shook her head. “Of course chickens don’t talk, but here I am talking to a chicken. This can’t be real. What? What do you mean by this version of reality?” “Right,” said Will, “you’ll have a bunch of questions, but the short version is that Crimson Hen here is from a different reality, and we’re trying to get her back to her version of reality so she can find her friends again and go home.” “But, if . . . if you’re from a different reality – how, uh, how did you get here?” Sally stood up and moved to the kitchen. “And listen, I need a cup of tea, would you like a cup of tea? Do chickens drink tea?” Crimson Hen veritably leapt out of the chair. “Do chickens drink tea? My goodness my dear, do robot clowns throw pies?” “Uh…robot clowns…?” “Nevermind,” Crimson Hen cut her off, “of course I’d like a cup of tea.” She turned to Will. “Now this is a woman after my own heart.” They moved into the kitchen and made a lovely pot of tea. As Crimson Hen talked, Sally became more and more oriented to what was happening. “So the military is after you?” she asked. “That’s bad. They have lots of resources. I think they’ll find you eventually if they really want to.” “Well, I’ve been chased by worse,” Crimson Hen said, “the trick is to just stay one step ahead of them. Which is why we need your help. We need to escape this apartment complex.” “But won’t they be looking here?” Sally asked. “Yes,” said Will. “I expect they’ll expand their search to this building when they find that we’re not in my apartment. We need to move quickly.”
“And you want to go where?” Sally asked. “Lithuania.” Crimson Hen responded matter-of-factly. “Lithuania.” Sally repeated disbelievingly. “Right,” said Will in a conciliatory tone, “but first we just need to escape the apartment building. You have a car, right?” “Well, yeah, I have a car. It’s in the parking garage. But –” Sally paused, not sure how to say what was on her mind. Crimson Hen gently intuited her question. “My dear, we have imposed upon you, and up until now, you are not identified as being associated with us. If we leave immediately, that status can continue. If you help us, you too may become a target for our military pursuers. That window is closing, and so, dear provider of delicious tea, you must decide very soon what you will do. If you decide to stay uninvolved, Will and I will go without hesitation.” She looked at Will, who nodded in understanding and agreement. “We will have no hard feelings about it what-so-ever.”
Sally took a long pause. She stood up and looked out the window. In the distance, she could see the flashing lights of the military police vehicles. In the quiet, they could hear the sound of a helicopter thwopting somewhere in the distance. She took a deep breath. “Well, you can’t stay here, and if what you say is true, you haven’t done anything but try to find your friends, which is noble and good.” She paused again, but said finally. “I’ll get my keys. How are we going to get past those military police?” Crimson Hen stood from the pillow she was resting on. “You’re right. If we just pile into a car, the military police will certainly search it. We’ll need to find another way.” “What if we escape some other way, then meet up with Sally in her car later?” Will asked. “Right,” said Crimson Hen, “we only need to figure out how to get past the military police blockade undetected. Hey – no problem!” “No problem?!” Sally was incredulous, “how do you propose to do that?” “Oh, I’ve gotten past worse. There was this one time when me and my friends were surrounded by robot clowns and -” “Hey,” interrupted Will, “can we focus on the task at hand? How are we going to get past that blockade?” “Oh,” said Crimson Hen, “that’s easy. What we need is a really good distraction.”
“A distraction?” echoed Will uncertainly.
“Yes,” said Crimson Hen patiently, “A distraction, something to draw their attention away from us as we escape. You know, like the bucket on the roof.”
“Oh,” said Will, “right, a distraction.” He thought for a moment. “It’d be nice if we could blow something up really big.”
“That would do,” said Crimson Hen, “but something less destructive would be better. What would be ideal is if there was something that both drew the military’s attention and also confused them at the same time. An explosion would do the first, but if they’re a military that’s worth their salt, they’ll be able to recover from an explosion distraction very quickly, and regroup. They’ve trained for that. What we need is something for them to respond to that they don’t have any training with.”
Sally had been looking out the window during this discussion, and big, wide smile was spreading across her face. “Hey you two, I think I have an idea. Do either of you know what’s on the far side of this apartment complex?” Crimson Hen and Will looked at each other. “No,” they said in unison.
“Come and look.” Sally pointed out the window. Will walked and Crimson Hen fluttered over to the window where Sally was pointing.
“See that big sign down there?” she said. “Oh, that’s perfect,” Crimson Hen said. “Just perfect.”
Will whistled softly and read the sign out loud. “Farmer Brown’s Organic Poultry and Eggs: Local Free Range Chickens Raised Right.”
“Private Chuck-Bob!” “Uh, yes sir! Right here sir! Say, uh, sir, it’s kinda hard to keep up with you pacing like that. Sir.” “Private Chuck-Bob!” “Uh, yessir?” “Do you have a health malfunction that prevents you from walking apace with your commanding officer?” “Uh, health malfunc – oh, uh no sir.” “Very good, Private Chuck-Bob. What is our status, Private?” “Uh, sir?” “Have you come in contact with our target, Private Chuck-Bob?” “Uh, do you mean the chicken, sir?” “Private Chuck-Bob!” “Uh, yes sir?” “Of course I mean the chicken, Private Chuck-Bob! Have you found the chicken?!” “Oh, uh, no sir, reports from the MPs indicate no chicken spotted.” “Private Chuck-Bob, was the janitor’s apartment located and searched?” “Um, let me check. Yep, yep it was, sir. We found another feather or two, but no sign of the, chick- um targets, sir.” “That is disappointing, Private Chuck-Bob, disappointing indeed.” “Uh, yes sir, sorry sir.” “Private Chuck-Bob!” “Yessir!” “Have the MPs set up a perimeter?” “Yessir. That was the first thing we did sir. Set up a perimeter, sir.” “Very good Private Chuck-Bob. And is there air cover?” “Yessir, we have an MP helicopter on continuous-like monitoring.” “Excellent, Private Chuck-Bob.” “Yessir. If they’re here, sir, we’ll find them. Sir.” “For all our sakes, Private Chuck-Bob, I hope you’re right.” “Yessir, me too sir. I hope I’m right too, sir. I mean -” “Nevermind, Private Chuck-Bob. We’ll find that chicken . . . Private Chuck-Bob! Look – over there!” “Sir?! Oh, my good gosh darned sir, it’s a chicken! Get it! Get it!” “Find the MPs Private Chuck-Bob, close in, but don’t scare it away. Get the helicopter on the radio, make sure it doesn’t fly away. Run Private Chuck-Bob! Run!” “Sir, stay back sir, don’t scare it. I’ve grabbed me a bunch of chickens in my life, and it ain’t easy. Distract it from over there sir. That’s it. That’s it. Now!” “By Jiminy Private Chuck-Bob, you did it! You captured the target, I am deeply and terribly impressed. Hold that chicken tightly, Private Chuck-Bob. Don’t let it go! Hot dang! We did it! Private Chuck-Bob – I may recommend you for a commendation, Private Chuck-Bob. Wait – why are those MPs over there celebrating?” “I, I don’t know, sir. It – it looks like they’re holding a – well I’ll be a three eyed horn-toad, it looks like they’re holding a chicken!” “But we have the target Private Chuck-Bob. We have the target.” “But those men are holding a brown chicken.” “Dear God, it looks just like this brown chicken. Could there be two targets, Private Chuck-Bob?!” “There must be, sir, but wait- over there, there’s another one.” “And, Private Chuck-Bob, there’s another over there! What in the Sam Hill is going on here?!” “Chickens are everywhere sir! They’re everywhere!” “Get them all Private Chuck-Bob! Don’t let even one escape!” “Sir! Yessir! I – I don’t think I can sir!” “Hey! All you MPs, round up every last chicken! Don’t let even one escape! Hey! HEY! Where are you going, you’re not – hey!” “Sir, over the radio, sir. It’s HQ. They’re asking for you.” “Hand me that radio, Private Chuck-Bob.” “Yessir.” “This is – yes Sir. Of course, Sir. No, the target, well, Sir it’s complicat – yes Sir. But Sir, we haven’t acquired the targe- yes Sir. How much does a helicopter cost per day, Sir? Two thousand dollars an hour, Sir? Yes, Sir. I understand, Sir. But Sir, the target – yes, Sir, I am aware the target is a chicken, Sir. . . . Taxpayer dollars, Sir? But Sir, this is a very special chic – yes, Sir. Right away, Sir. I understand, Sir. Thank you Sir. . . “Private Chuck-Bob, here, take the radio. Inform the MPs that they will be returning to base. Please advise them to return any captured chickens to their original locations of capture. This chicken-hunt is over Private Chuck-Bob.” “But sir, the fate of the world, sir!” “I know Private Chuck-Bob, I know. But orders are orders. . . We will just have to continue our search in a different mode, Private Chuck-Bob. A more stealthy and secret mode.” “Stealthy? Sir?” “Yes, Private Chuck-Bob, we must hunt for the chicken without the use of these – ahem, rather costly – ahem – resources.” “Oh, right, sir. The helicopter and such, sir.” “Yes, Private Chuck-Bob, we must search without the helicopter.” “Well, sir, if it makes you feel better, sir, chickens can’t really fly as much as you might think. Probably not enough for a helicopter to be useful.” “Private Chuck-Bob, that does not make me feel better.” “Oh, uh, sorry sir.” “Private Chuck-Bob!” “Yessir!” “We will find this chicken, I swear it. We. Will. Find. This. Chicken.” “Sir! Yes, sir!”
They all gathered around the open ‘Window’ to the archeological site. “So you went in there, turned left, walked until you came back around and popped out here?” Alise said. “That, as they say,” replied Mr. Rabbit, “is the long and the short of it.” “But your friend – another chicken – disappeared when she touched a living, floating firework type thing.” Denise said, rather disbelieving.
“Yes,” said Nebraska Rooster. “And she’s a hen.” “Right,” said Denise, “hen.”
“Listen,” said Maurice, “I think we should go in there and go back the way you came, to see if we can go to the alternate reality.” “It’s a good plan,” said the Gray Squirrel, “but what if it takes you somewhere else entirely?” “I think it’s a risk we have to take.” Deloris Squirrel was all but ready to walk back down the corridor. “I think we need to know how all this works, and we’ll never get there unless we try some things out.” Nebraska chimed in, “Well, I suggest we stick together as a group, that way, if we do end up somewhere else, we’re not separated further into different realities. If we do end up somewhere else, we’ll be no worse off than we are now as long as we’re all together.” “Do you mean, all of us?” asked Maurice. “Or just the animals.” “You have to stop referring to us in such coarse terms, we have lives, concerns, friends, loved ones,” said Mr. Rabbit, “we’re far more than simple animals.” “Right, uh,” stammered Maurice, “I didn’t mean any disrespect, it’s just . . . it’s just, it’s hard to get used to the right uh, nouns.” “Well,” said Mr. Rabbit simply, “instead of trying to use the ‘right’ nouns, try thinking about what the ‘respectful’ nouns might be.” Maurice looked puzzled but didn’t seem to have a problem with that. “The real question,” said Nebraska Rooster, “is whether you lot are going to come with us or not.” The scientists looked among themselves blankly.
“Well,” said Dr. McCleese, “s-someone needs to stay at camp, to, you know, be a control.” “Yes,” said Denise, “and that person will likely need an assistant, right professor?” Dr. McCleese nodded his head vigorously. “Yes, indeed, my dear. So true.” Maurice looked at Alise and shrugged his shoulders. “I guess I’m going with the anim – I ur, I mean with this lot.” Alise smiled. “I’ll go too, what the hey-ho.” The little group went into the tunnel. “Lights on,” Nebraska said, and they all flicked on their lights. “This way.” He walked purposefully in the opposite direction they had walked the first time around. Walking swiftly, with purpose, the little group made good time. Soon the opening came into view again. In a few moments, they were facing the opening. “Ack!!” Shouted Maurice. “Aah!” Yelled Alise.