The mottled little red hen just showed up at the horse barns one day, and decided she owned the place. She squawked and pecked at anyone she didn’t trust. Some of the old timers felt her bossy ways were going to work her right into a stew pot. But in truth, she added another layer of interest to life around the barns.
I sprinkled out grain for her each day, and she tolerated me because of it. But the day I named her, she didn’t have any tolerance at all. That day, when I walked near the barn, she flew at me, pecking and scratching. I yelled, “Get away, you psycho fluff ball!” And that was how she got her name. Fluff for short.
It was weeks later when I learned the reason for the attack. She was still flitting around, chasing every leaf, twig, or creature out of the barn, when I heard peeping coming from a dark corner. Despite her intimidation, I inched closer. Sure enough, there was a nest full of little downy bundles.
I watched as the chicks grew, and then, sadly, they disappeared with only a trail of feathers. I knew that whatever had gotten them must have had a fight, because Fluff was battle scared.
By the time Fluff was acting protective again, most of her feathers had grown back. I snuck to her nest, and sure enough, there was a pile of eggs. The first day that I saw part of a beak poking out of one, I rushed home to get my daughters and my wife. Fluff trusted me enough to let us get within about eight feet before she squawked a warning.
We watched as a little yellow chick worked its way into the world. Within a few days, there was a nest full of them. My own girls often accompanied me, and they always wanted to see how the chicks were growing.
Then, one day, Fluff came flapping and squawking at me. I pushed her away with my foot. “Beat it, Fluff!” She attacked again, then squawking, she scurried toward the barn. I went back to my work, but she attacked me once more, only to run back toward the barn, flapping, squawking, and turning in circles. I watched her for a moment, and then said, “Maybe I have watched too many Lassie reruns, but I think you want me to follow you.”
I took a step toward her, and she rushed toward the barn. I followed, and as I stepped into its dim interior, I realized it was very quiet. Fluff darted toward her nest, and that was when I saw him. A tomcat was creeping toward her chicks. He had seen me and held still, but Fluff knew he was there and wanted me to know too.
She attacked him, pecking and beating him with her wings, but he was huge, and every swipe of his claws sent feathers flying. I was furious. I grabbed a nearby shovel and raced toward the cat. He ran for the door, and I threw the shovel, sending him rolling before he fled into the field.
Fluff lay there bleeding, but when I came closer, she tried to move to her babies. However, her leg was broken. Afraid the cat would return, I put her and her chicks into a box. I placed them in one end of the stallion’s manger. The only way in was through the door to his pen, and the stallion hated cats. I knew they would be safe there.
I scrounged up some little pans for water and grain for them. Fluff clucked as if asking me to take care of her babies. “We’ll get you better, Fluff, and you can take care of them yourself,” I said.
But the next morning found me digging her grave by the barn she had defended as home. My little girls and my wife helped me, and I felt stupid crying over a chicken. But her trust in me, and her sacrificing her life for her babies, made her almost human.
I became mother to Fluff’s little brood, and I endured a lot of teasing from the old-timers as the chicks followed me around. When they were grown, I reluctantly found another home for them. All but one. I saved the feistiest, mottled little red hen, and made a permanent home for her in the stallion’s manger.
I named her Fluff.
(Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at email@example.com; or visit his website at http://ww.darishoward.com)