Chicken Little: The Sky is Flaming
December 4, 2013, 12:58 am
Filed under: creative writing | Tags:

The incident was a thing of history. Not the kind of history you study in school, mind you, but the sort that you take care to not accidentally bring up at a cocktail party. Yet, there was no embarrassment in the decision to move all of farmdom into the barn – not that they were worried the sky would fall, but, really, why not move into the barn?

Embarrassment was, however, clearly evident in Chicken Little’s newfound interest in the physical sciences. Quite responsibly, if I may say so, he wanted to be sure that any future panic was firmly rooted in objective inquiry. (Though, between you and me, I suspect a lingering desire to to differentiate his story from that of the little boy who cried wolf may have also played a part.)

And so it was that Chicken Little held his tongue when he first noticed the temperature rising. He explained away the first hints of smoke and cursed his instruments as the rising cross-draft foiled his temperature readings. In fact, he remained resolutely skeptical right until the weather balloon he sent up fell right back down – melted.

Taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he reasoned that it might be worth a conversation with Henny Penny.

Henny Penny was a hen with purpose. With the swelling ranks of barn denizens, the once abundant worm population had grown scarce. Cluck though she did, Henny Penny watched in horror as increasing rarity fueled a booming market for the squirming delicacies, and efforts to unearth the remaining worms redoubled. Over the protestations of neighbors and her own growling stomach, Henny Penny established a sanctuary in her coop for any worms she could find. And it was there that Chicken Little found her.

“Henny Penny, the sky is flaming.”

“Chicken Little! I didn’t know you had a sense of humor.”

“No, it is a dark irony, but it is the truth. The barn is on fire, Henny Penny.”

“What could have caused such a mess, Chicken Little?”

“I suspect that the fireworks may be involved.”

Now, if I may digress for some history of the sort you might study in school, the logic of Chicken Little’s deduction will become clear. When they moved inside the old barn, with its years of diverse use, the farm animals came across many wonders. The discovery that pleased them most, it isn’t hard to imagine, was boxes and boxes of the farmer’s aging fireworks. Bottle rockets, firecrackers, sparklers – he had it all. And when you’re cooped up in a barn, there are few things that can improve your quality of life like a little light and noise.

Soon enough, fireworks became central to barn culture and economy. They marked special occasions. They sent messages to friends across the barn. And put a bottlerocket in your cloaca, and you could get anywhere you like in three seconds flat. With such widespread uses, it is no wonder that the shrewd Goosey Loosey built a business empire around finding, storing, and selling fireworks.

So, yes. Fireworks.

Though she used them as anyone else, Henny Penny had always thought fireworks a bit unnatural and untrustworthy. She’d once lost an entire jar of worms to a stray firecracker. Chicken Little had her attention.

“But how did the fireworks start a fire all the way up there in the barn?”

Dear reader, the answer may be obvious to you and to me and demand no further explanation. But Chicken Little valued precision, wanting to leave no doubt that his conclusion was based solidly on facts.

“Fireworks are set off by a spark that travels along the length of a filament until it reaches the propellant, which is a combination of carbon, sulfur, possibly phosphorous, and oxidizers, such as nitrates, chlorates, or perchlorates. Various metals may be added for colors or other visual effects, but the combustion process is most directly responsible for the possible barn fire.”

“Possible barn fire? I thought you were sure.”

“I may have misspoke. I did not see the fireworks hit the barn roof, but based on my measurements of temperature, smoke, wind flow, the dancing red light reflecting on the ground in certain areas of the barn, and changes in atmospheric composition, I am 90% certain that the barn is currently aflame.”

“How long do we have to stop it?”

“It might be too late already, or we may have up to two hours.”

“So what can we do, Chicken Little?”

“We must tell everyone, and then we must put the fire out.”

“Can we really put out the fire?”

“If we tell everyone and work together, then it is possibly possible.”

And so the two set out on the hellish road reserved for doers of good deeds. Chicken Little could barely get to “propellant” before his interlocuters dozed off or became mired in confusion. You would think a simple glance upward would have sufficed to convince the animals, but that is because you are not a bird. Have you ever seen a fowl look upward? Sure, their heads can twist like a horror movie on the horizontal plane, capable even of nibbling at their own bottoms, but ask a bird to gaze skyward and you will encounter nothing but a blank stare. Whether they can not or will not, the fact of the matter is that they do not.

And so commenced a great debate among the barn’s inhabitants.

“The farmer would never let the barn catch on fire,” Turkey Lurkey weighed in. “He knows much more about these things than we do, and he’d never let us come to harm.”

Drakey Lakey calmly and reasonably asked, “Let’s say the barn is on fire, what can we do to stop it?”

But before anyone could reply, Goosey Loosey, eager to keep the conversation under control, stepped in. “We have been setting off fireworks for as long as anyone can remember, and the barn has never burned down before. The safety of fireworks is not in doubt.”

Ducky Lucky, the consummate politician, listened intently and resolved to mediate. “Now, all of you, just a moment. What if we’re all right? What if the barn is on fire but fireworks are perfectly safe? Clearly we all value our life in the barn and would not do anything to cause harm.”

“But the barn is burning!” Henny Penny and Chicken Little protested in unison.

“So what should we do about it?!” Drakey Lakey asked again, with mounting agitation.

Ignoring Drakey Lakey, Ducky Lucky reminded Chicken Little and Henny Penny that he believed them completely. “And that is why it is so important that we work together to find a solution.”

“Precisely,” said Goosey Loosey. “As a sign of good faith, I have developed a new line of fireless fireworks, which I will sell alongside the traditional firework range.”

He produced a bottle rocket that appeared somewhat longer than usual. Henny Penny was first in line, but Chicken Little snatched her prize away immediately.

“This is just a normal firework with extra paper covering the fuse!”

“State of the art!” proclaimed Goosey Loosey. “How many would you like?”

Chicken Little would not be swayed. “Do you not feel warm right now?”

Everyone agreed that they were warm. “But that’s natural for the middle of the summer,” Ducky Lucky added.

Chicken Little pointed out that it was, in fact, the middle of the winter.

“How very nice of the farmer to turn the heat on, then,” Goosey Loosey replied. “This comforting warmth is a reminder that all is as it should be. Free fireworks for all, to celebrate the coming of winter!” He grabbed a slender red metal cylinder labeled “fire” off the barn wall and smashed it through the floor boards, revealing a trove of pyrotechnics.

Chicken Little stormed off in frustration and got down to work. He had the courage, he had the data, and after some sawing and hammering, he had a contraption that was sure to persuade – a special chair that would allow any animal to lean backward and get a clear view of what was going on above. It took some time, but he knew it was worth the effort. Goosey Loosey was the first to volunteer to sit in the chair.

“I don’t see a single flame!” he reported with finality. “Chicken Little, thank you for your diligence in proving beyond a doubt that the barn is not on fire.”

Chicken Little was taken aback. “But there’s smoke! Do you not see the smoke?!”

“Ah, now, Chicken Little, let’s not change the subject. We were talking about fire. There are any number of reasons why I might not be able to see the barn roof, but what I do know with certainty is that I do not see flames.”

Chicken Little was frozen in shock. Goosey Loosey continued, “And, even if the barn were on fire, it is not my fault that it is made of wood!”

And then came the crack.

Not the crack of a firework, a sound all too familiar to everyone in the barn. But a crack of splintering wood, which dropped, still ablaze, directly in the middle of the crowd of animals.

Goosey Loosey didn’t lose a beat. “Termites!”

“There are flames!” cried an exasperated Henny Penny.

“African termites,” Goosey Loosey clarified.

Turkey Lurkey’s confidence melted into fear. “It’s Thanksgiving! The farmer is cooking us all!” And he ran off.

Drakey Lakey stared from Ducky Lucky to Chicken Little to Goosey Loosey, waiting for someone to tell him what to do. But it was Swanny Lonny who took center stage. All eyes were on the celebrated beauty as she cleared her throat and announced, “It is clear now that the barn is on fire. I ask you all to join me in doing our part to stop it.”

“What is our part? What can we do?!” Drakey Lakey begs, and finally his question is heard.

Ducky Lucky cleared his throat and asked everyone to remain calm. “What we can do,” he began, “in this most serious of situations is to remain calm and work together to make sure we understand the problem. I hereby ask Chicken Little, Henny Penny, and Goosey Loosey to conduct a study to determine whether this piece of burning wood is a cause for concern.”

In the silence that followed Ducky Lucky’s proposed solution, from a dark forgotten corner, Cowy Zowy let out a fart that tore through the barn like an asteroid from space. If ever the crater gets replaced with a new barn, we can at least be sure that Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and the others will present no threat to its existence.


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