Letter Nine - To Serve the Flock
February 9th 1987
My Dearest Nieces,
I have another story for you. This one is about a fox whose favorite dinner was chickens. The story is really about people who act like foxes. I call this story:
Sammy the Fox was lying in the grass, being very still. The spring sun was warm on his slick red coat. He was watching seven chickens. His eyes followed every move they made. All afternoon Sammy had been in the grass creeping closer and closer to the little group of birds. Now he was almost close enough to rush out and grab one for supper.
There were big chickens and little chickens. Brown chickens and white ones. They all looked delicious to Sammy. But he had his heart set on a nice, fat red hen who was slowly pecking the ground nearer and nearer to his hiding spot in the grass.
Another foot closer should be enough Sammy thought. The fat hen turned her head sideways to look at a bug. She quickly bent to pick it up in her beak. Then, she took a slow step toward Sammy. She had no idea Sammy was so very close. She was watching for bugs, not foxes.
Sammy was becoming very excited. He could almost taste the drumsticks. He gathered his rear feet under him a little better, moving them around for a good grip on the ground. He tensed every muscle in his body. His eyes were glued to the hen. He strained forward. One more step should be close enough. Then, his empty stomach growled.
All the chickens stopped what they were doing. They all looked at the grass where Sammy was hiding. They cocked their heads this way and that, listening, puzzled by the unfamiliar sound, but ready for anything.
Sammy realized it was now or never. The nice, fat chicken was not really close enough yet. But in another moment the whole flock might take wing. All at once he sprang forward, a blur of red fur! He dove for the fat hen. There was a great deal of chicken cackling and squawking. Wings beat the air frantically. Dust hid everything for a few moments.
When the air cleared there was Sammy stretched out on the ground clutching one, lone tail feather. Not a chicken was anywhere in sight. Sammy just lay still with his eyes tightly closed, gritting his teeth. No chicken tonight he thought. In fact, he couldn't remember when his last chicken dinner was.
Sammy started for home, his head hung low to the ground and his tail dragging. Maybe he'd just have a peanut butter sandwich instead. There had to be an easier way to catch chickens. All the way home he thought about it. There must be someway he could have all the chickens he wanted. He thought so hard that he missed his turn and ended up at the beaver pond.
He watched the beavers swimming back and forth to shore for a while. They were cutting and storing branches under water for the coming winter. Beavers didn't have to leave their pond in winter to eat. They planned ahead. This seemed like a very important idea to Sammy, but he couldn't quite tell why. There was something the same about bark and chickens. But what was it?
Later that night Sammy lay sleeping, his head full of dreams. He dreamed of chickens and chicks. He dreamed of beavers and branches. He dreamed of fried chicken, chicken soup and chicken sandwiches. He dreamed of a thing no one had ever thought of before, something called the State! When he woke in the morning the answer to the chicken problem was right there in his head! Store chickens like beavers store branches. He quickly wrote it down on a note pad so the wouldn't forget. There were six steps needed for all the chicken he could ever want.
That very morning, before the sun was high as the big pine tree at the edge of the field, Sammy was well started on step one. He was building a school house. It was to be larger than any other building in the valley. Which wasn't hard since all the rest were hollow trees and burrows dug in the ground. Sammy wanted it to be very solid and important looking. By three o'clock that afternoon he was finished. And it was beautiful! Really very impressive!
In step two Sammy had to change his image with the chickens. Instead of being afraid of him, the chickens must trust him. Instead of running away, they must be glad to see him. Sammy bought a fine new jacket and a Derby hat. He took voice lessons and learned to talk with authority in a solemn voice that inspired confidence. He slicked his hair back and sported a fine pair of spectacles. Sammy looked very trustworthy and educated. In fact the change was so great that when he chanced to meet his old friend Willy the Weasle along the way, Willy did not even know him!
Next, Sammy spent several days writing a book. It was big and heavy and every bit as important looking as the school house and Sammy himself. On its front cover was a lovely gold lettering: How to Serve the Flock. Writing this book was step three.
Sammy knew step four was the hardest part of his plan. Now he must approach the chickens and convince them of his good intentions. He located the flock under the grape arbor taking a nap in the drowsy warmth of the afternoon. Bees were buzzing at nearby blossoms. A few puffy clouds floated in the blue sky. Altogether it was a very pleasant time of day. With his new book under his arm and his best smile on his face, Sammy walked over to David the wise, old rooster. If he could fool David, he felt certain he could fool the other chickens as well. Sammy cleared his throat and waited politely to be noticed.
After some moments, David opened one eye and looked Sammy over from head to toe. Not recognizing him David said, "Good afternoon, Sir. Is there something I can do for you?"
"My name is Samuel and, actually, it's what I can do for you and the good of all chickens that brings me here on such a fine afternoon," said Sammy with a dramatic sweep of his arm that took in the peaceful landscape. "I see," said David who still had only one eye open, "What, exactly, have you in mind?"
"Well, it is my fondest hope to improve the lot of chickens. To that end I have recently built a very fine school house. I am now offering a free education to every chick," Sammy said brightly, ending with a slight bow of his head and a truly dazzling grin. David considered this for a moment, then replied, "Chickens have gotten along without education since the world began. What need have we of your education?" David's open eye closed halfway.
Sammy was ready for this question. But just then the fat red hen caught his eye. He nearly rushed to grab her and run off! But that would ruin his plans. Sammy struggled for control, knowing if he could be patient he'd never have to chase after chickens again.
"You have the wisdom of great age," Sammy told David with conviction, "but young chicks are foolish and easily fall prey to hawks, owls and foxes. It is my aim to educate them against these and other dangers. They shall also be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. But most important, they must learn about the new idea that has come into the world, the idea of the State. Be assured that I have great love for all chickens." Which was very true, indeed, thought Sammy, especially when served with bread hot from the oven and lots of butter!
He continued slyly, "My dearest wish is to obey the State by serving chickens morning, noon and night. This book here under my arm is my guide. As you can see its title is, 'How to Serve the Flock'." Sammy displayed his book with some pride, but was careful not to let anyone look inside.
By now a crowd had gathered around David and Sammy. There were approving oohs and aahs as they admired the handsome book. This well dressed gentleman had the best interest of chickens at heart. That made them want to trust him. David could see that the hens were eager to send their chicks to the new school house. At the very leaast it would be like a free baby-sitter.
So David said to Sammy, "Very well, Samuel my friend. We shall send our chicks to your school starting first thing tomorrow morning. And we thank you very kindly. We shall all enjoy learning about this new thing called the State and what it means for us."
This was almost too easy thought Sammy. He was so excited! Chickens, chickens, lovely chickens coming to him on their own! Had there ever been a fox half as clever as he? He bid David and the flock good day with a tip of his hat as he hurried for home happily hopping from one foot to another.
Now for the next step in his plan, number five. Sammy took five pounds of flour from the flour bin and mixed it with enough water to make a paste. Then he gathered all his old newspapers and his paint set. He fashioned a giant, hollow papier-mache chicken head. Its cold eyes had no mercy in them. Its cruel beak could be made to move like it was talking. Sammy painted it in blue and white with blood red comb and wattles. The overall effect was very frightening. It even scared Sammy himself when the light was just right.
Bright and early the next morning Sammy was sitting on a stool in the front left corner of the classroom as all the little chicks came in. They peeped and cheeped and chattered at one another as they each found a desk to sit at. Their mothers had instructed them to obey Sammy and not to make trouble. This first day of school was the most exciting thing ever!
At exactly nine o'clock the bell rang. The peeping and cheeping and chattering continued without a pause. Suddenly, Sammy rose to his feet and shouted at the top of his voice, "QUIET!" Rulers and pencils and notebook paper went flying in all directions. Silence fell over the room. Sammy glared sternly at each chick in turn.
Sammy knew that if these chicks were ever going to serve the State he must condition them at an early age never to challenge authority. He said in clear precise words, "Sit down, face the front and fold both hands on top of your desk. I have never in my life seen such a rude and undisciplined class. In the future you will enter this room quietly, take your seat and wait for class to begin. Are there any questions?"
Any questions? Why, the chicks had never been spoken to in this manner by anyone. They could not even think let alone come up with a question. They stared fearfully at Sammy and waited.
"Good. Then we will begin the school day with the pledge of allegiance. All rise, stand beside your desk and place your right wing over your heart." Then Sammy pulled the curtains over the window making the room dark. He opened a panel high on the front wall with a lever under his desk. He turned on a light mounted on the ceiling. As if floating in mid-air, there was the giant chicken head! The effect was terrifying. The young chicks were afraid.
"Now, repeat after me...I pledge allegiance..." Sammy paused to give the chicks time to mumble, "I pledge allegiance," then he said, "...to the Great Chicken State." After the chicks repeated this last part Sammy reached under his desk to move another lever that made the giant chicken beak go up and down as if it were talking. At the same time he spoke in his most solemn voice, "I am the Great Chicken State and I will tell you what to think and what to do. You must obey me in all things. Do you understand?"
It seemed just like the giant chicken head was speaking. All the chicks answered, "Yes". They were vey impressed. Quickly Sammy turned the light out, closed the panel over the chicken head and opened the curtains. His trick had worked perfectly. This whole generation of chickens would believe in the State that he had made up with his imagination!
None of the chicks knew exactly what the Chicken State was, but it was clearly like a very, very large rooster, very powerful and scary. Being so young and so easily tricked the chicks believed in the Great Chicken State from that very first day. Sammy almost believed, too, even though he made it up as part of his plan to get all the chicken dinners he could!
Sammy spent the rest of the morning teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. As might be expected, after seeing the Great Chicken State nothing else could make much of an impression on such tender minds. At noon the chicks were sent home for the day. They told their mothers all about the Great Chicken State. Soon, all the flock was gathered around David, the wise, old rooster to hear his opinion of these new things.
David had no idea what the Great Chicken State might be. It sounded to him like some kind of a god. Nonetheless, he did not want to appear uneducated, so he said, "Our good friend has offered to teach the chicks at no cost. This has left us free all morning to do whatever we like. His only desire is to serve the State and us. It would be ungrateful to question the pledge of allegiance to the Great Chicken State. It is plainly chickenish and, I'm sure, perfectly alright." But he wasn't really sure. In fact, he was beginning to be a little suspicious of Samuel and his school.
And so, the chicks attended classes all summer as they grew into young chickens. Every morning, rain or shine, they pledged allegiance to the frightening chicken head that represented the state. By the end of the summer they had learned that the Chicken State was a being superior to all chickens. They learned that the State was sovereign, which simply meant one must do whatever the State said. They were taught that the State could protect them. And Sammy greatly exaggerated the danger from hawks, owls and foxes which made everyone eager to believe in so powerful a being.
But they never learned that the Great Chicken State was only paper-mache and that it was really Sammy Fox speaking. They never learned that Sammy himself had made up the idea of the State out of his own head to get more chickens. It was about this time that the flock began calling Sammy, Uncle Sam.
At last it was time for the sixth and final step of his plan. On the last morning of school the Great Chicken State appeared as usual. All was darkness, except for the head. Sammy made the beak move by working the lever back and forth.
In a deep, solemn voice that sent chills dodwn the back of each chicken, the Great Chicken State spoke, "Your education is now complete. I have graciously given you this education without cost. Now, you must be prepared to make a sacrifice for the State. The State can only protect you if you protect it. The State is in great danger from hawks and owls and foxes. Its enemies seek to destroy it. You may be called upon to give your lives in its defense. This is your highest and most sacred duty. Go home now. Say farewell to your parents. Put all your affairs in order. Many of you will never see tomorrow, but you will be heros. Come back to the school at sunset. Do all that Uncle Sam tells you."
The giant chicken head disappeared as the light blinked out. The chickens filed out of the classroom with chests puffed up and eyes filled with tears. They were feeling very patriotic and very proud to be able to do something for the State. Perfect, Sammy thought, just perfect!
When the last chicken had left, Sammy rushed to the back room of the school house and took off his disguise. He turned the walk-in freezer to high. He moved the butcher block to the middle of the room. He bean to heat a huge kettle of water and arrange the chicken-sized styrofoam trays. He stretched up high to the top shelf and took down the clear plastic shrink-wrap. He would make packages just like at the supermarket.
It would take him the rest of the afternoon to get ready for so large a group of poultry. Sammy rubbed his hands together with real pleasure at the thought. He would take only enough to last until this time next year, leaving the rest to make more cickens. Was there ever a fox half so clever as he? Sammy chuckled and began to hum little tune as he sharpened the cleaver and butcher knife.
David, the wise, old rooster, listened as the young chickens repeated all the Great Chicken State had said. How could the State be in danger if it was only an idea? The younger generation was about to sacrifice their lives for a new idea! "This is nonsense", David thought to himself. It was time he paid a little visit to Samuel's school.
As David walked up the front steps everything seemed to be deserted. He opened the door and poked his head in. He noticed all the desks set neatly in rows. In the mid-day sun it was becoming a little too warm. David called out, "Hello, anybody here?" His voice echoed around the empty room. There was no answer. He walked to the front of the room and sat down in Samuel's chair. He swiveled side to side and back and forth. It squeaked a little but was comfortable. David noticed several levers under the desk. He looked around quickly. Samuel could return at any moment.
David pulled the nearest lever. There was a rolling sound behind him. He turned and looked up. There was the Great Chicken State staring down at him! He jumped straight into the air and came down on the floor in front of Samuel's desk with his wings over his eyes. He waited several minutes, but nothing happened. Slowly, he peaked over the edge of the desk with one eye. The huge head just stared at him. David was still afraid, but he stood on the desk to get a closer look. He reached up very carefully and tapped the big beak. Paper-mache!
Why, the Great Chicken State is nothing but a great fraud, thought David. This huge chicken head is Samuel's way of making his idea of the State seem real! Elephants seem real even though you've only seen them in pictures. Both elephants and the State are very big and powerful, but only elephants are real.
Why would Samuel go to so much trouble to make chickens believe a lie? With one feather beside his beak, David ws deep in thought when his gaze fell upon Samuel's book shelf. There was the handsome book, "How to Serve the Flock". He removed it from the shelf and placed it on the desk. It fell open to the middle. David read the words, "Spicy Southern Fried Chicken". Why, this is a recipe, he thought. He flipped through a dozen more pages. Chicken Noodle Soup, Chicken Under Glass, Chicken Burgers. This is a cookbook for chickens!
David had a very big lump in his throat and a sinking feeling in his stomach. Suddenly, someone called out, "Oops!", followed by the sound of a plate crashing to the floor. David froze in position. He didn't move even a pen feather. Someone was here.
Turning slowly, he noticed the door to the back room was ajar. Very carefully he tip-toed over to the door. He looked in through the crack and saw the freezer, boiling water on the stove, the butcher block, the styrofoam trays, shrinkwrap, a stack of plates and silverware. And kneeling down to clean up a broken plate, his bushy tail sticking up in the air, was Sammy the Fox! David realized that Samuel the teacher, good, old Uncle Sam, was none other than their old enemy, Sammy the Fox. "How to Serve the Flock", indeed! He saw the whole evil plan.
Well, David had a plan of his own. As quietly as possible he pulled the giant head from its cabinet in the front wall. He was careful to close the sliding panel. The only way to carry it was to get inside. David found he could easily see where he was going through the beak. He could work the beak up and down, too. So, with the handsome book under his arm and completely hidden from sight under the giant chicken head, David hurried home.
Imagine how startled all the chickens were to see a giant chicken head floating down the path toward them. The young chickens that had spent the summer in school quickly lined up in rows and stood still with their right wings over their hearts. They stared straight ahead with eyes wide open. The older chickens huddled around in small groups not knowing what to expect next. Then, the Great Chicken State began to speak. "Hear me all you chickens! You have been very silly. There is no Chicken State, only chickens who have been taught by Samuel to believe in the State. You do not have to sacrifice yourself for the State. Uncle Sam the teacher is really Sammy the Fox." All in one motion, David threw off the giant chicken head and shouted, "And the Great Chicken State is nothing but newspaper, flour and imagination!"
David showed the flock the "How to Serve the Flock" book. They could easily see it was really a cookbook. Sammy loved chickens alright, he loved to eat them! Even so, it took the rest of the afternoon to convice the educated chickens that the entire business of the State was a lie and a trick meant to put them on Sammy's dinner table. When they all understood and had gotten over their embarrassment at being so silly, David said, "Here's what I think we should do with our friend Sammy." Then he told them his plan.
Right at sunset the young chickens filed into the classroom just like nothing had happened. There was Sammy dressed in his fine clothes with a big grin on his face. He said, "All right class, we will now say the pledge of allegiance one last time. Look around at your classmates, by tommorrow two out of three of you will have made the ultimate sacrifice for the State, your very lives!"
The room plunged into darkness as the curtain closed out the last of twilight. Sammy pulled the lever that slid the panel back exposing the giant chicken head. He flipped on the spot light as he began to move the beak lever back and forth. Unaware that the head had been removed earlier, Sammy said in his deep-est, most solemn voice, "The rest of you will wait here quietly as the first row goes into the back room with Samuel." Someone snickered. Sammy became very angry. "Who was that,who was that?!", he cried.
Then everyone began to giggle as they looked up at the front wall. Sammy turned to look, too. There in the cabinet where the giant chickenhead should have been was David the wise, old rooster making the funniest funny faces you ever saw!
"Grab him!" squawked David. "Turn on the lights." David hopped down to the desk and then to the floor. "Bring him into the back room. Set him here on the butcher block," he said as he tested the edge of the butcher knife with a primary feather. David turned to Sammy and said, "You intended to butcher dozens of chickens. It would be no more than right and just if we act in self-defense." Sammy's beady eyes filled with terror as he realized David was quite correct.
"Billy the Beaver will decide what is to be done with you", said David. Sammy saw Billy standing near the stack of plates. "First, I would like to ask you a few questions. Did you make the giant chicken head?" "Yes," said Sammy.
"And did you make up the idea of the State?" "Yes, I did that, too. The State is only make-believe," answered Sammy.
"Tell us why you made up such a dangerous idea." "Well," said Sammy, "I figured if I could teach the chicks to believe in the State while they were young, then when they grew up they could never question it. Whatever I told them to do in the name of the State they would do. It's a form of mind control. And it was working fine until you found out."
David turned to Billy and asked, "What should be done with him?"
Billy the Beaver, who had two very big front teeth, scratched his chin for a moment and then said with a funny whistle to his voice,"Well, what Sh-shammy had in mind for these chickens merits a great punishment." Sammy began to look quite worried. His eyes shifted rapidly from side to side. "But," continued Billy, "as we all know mercy is very important as well. Sh-shammy, will you promise never to teach this dreadful idea of the State or try to control the minds of chickens or try to eat them again?" "Yes, I see that it was wrong and I promise," said Sammy.
"Good," said Billy. "We wish you no harm. I will give you a choice. You may leave the valley or you may join the flock as a guard against hawks and owls and other foxes. They all take care of one another and you will have as much freshly baked bread with butter and jam as you can eat. What do you say?" David had suggested to Billy earlier as a fair and friendly solution.
Sammy was very relieved to hear they weren't going to punish him, but he was ashamed for what he did. He gratefully accepted the offer to join the flock. After all there was one thing he liked as well as chicken, and that was freshly baked bread!
And so, from that day on Sammy was as good as his word. He protected the chickens and they invited him into their homes for lovely meals. Sammy found a mate and soon had his own family of furry little kits. Together they lived in peace and harmony in the beautiful, green valley. The school was used as a meeting house. And no one ever thought about the State again!
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(Isaiah 33:22) For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.
Copyright 1996, 2014, by Gregory Allan; All rights reserved.