The Secret Chicken Society (4 page)

“No lollipops,” said Mrs. Lopez, looking vexed.

When Katrina's grandmother came in to pick up Katrina, she said Katrina's parents were out of town for six months. She didn't know anything about any chicks, and she wasn't going to have any dirty birds in her clean car.

“That's okay,” Katrina told Daniel. “You can have my chick. Grandma's going to buy me a puppy for my birthday.”

Daniel grinned. Two chicks! That was even better than one.

Max had a problem, too. “Turns out my sister is allergic to birds,” he said. “Sorry, Mrs. Lopez.” He grabbed his backpack and ran out the door.

Allison made a face. “I was supposed to tell you this before,” she said. “But my mom said no, too. We're moving to an apartment and can't have pets.”

Mrs. Lopez looked really annoyed now. “What am I going to do with all of these chicks?” she said. Just then Daniel's dad came in, trailed by Kelsey and Emmy.

“We'll take them!” said Daniel. “We'll take them all.”

“All what?” asked Dad.

“The chicks. Tell her, Dad. You said you wanted a flock of hens. Besides, if we don't take the chicks, what will happen to them?”

Mrs. Lopez looked at Dad. “Are you sure?” she asked.

Dad scratched his head. He looked in the brooder. The chicks peeped at him. They blinked their shiny eyes.

“Please, Daddy?” Emmy tugged on his hand.

“Please?” echoed Kelsey, tugging on the other hand.

“If you take them all, I'll give you the heat lamp, food tray, and water bottle, too,” said Mrs. Lopez.

“Well, I guess five chicks are no more work than one chick,” said Dad.

“Good!” said Mrs. Lopez. Daniel thought she sounded relieved.

Dad picked up the cardboard box with the chicks. “Our own backyard flock,” he said. “How about that?” Then he shook his head. “I don't know what your mother will say.”

“I'm going to call mine Primrose,” said Kelsey as they all headed out to the car.

Chapter 5

“Five!” Mom exclaimed. “I said we could take one!”

“It's a little hard to explain . . . ,” Dad began.

Daniel put the box on the back porch. He lifted the cardboard flaps. The five chicks looked up at him with bright eyes.

“Just look at them,” said Dad. “We couldn't leave them at school. They're so sweet.” He pulled Mom over. She put her hands on her hips. She wouldn't look into the box, but the other kids crowded around.

“I'm going to call mine Daffodil,” said Kelsey. She picked up a fat, creamy chick with black legs. The chick had a little tuft of feathers on her head like a topknot.

“I thought you were going to name her Primrose.” Daniel reached into the box.

“That's what I meant,” said Kelsey. She stroked the chick. “Primrose.”

Emmy held out her hands. Daniel handed her a fluffy, pale yellow chick. “My chick's name is Twinkie,” she said. “Give one to Tyler, too.”

Tyler peered into the box. The black chick stared fiercely back. Tyler stroked his chick with one finger, but he didn't pick her up.

“What are you going to name her?” asked Kelsey. She still held Primrose.

“T-Rex,” said Tyler. “She looks tough. Like a dinosaur. And birds are related to dinosaurs. But I don't want a chick. I'm giving mine to Emmy. She can have two.”

“Goody,” said Emmy. “But I'm not calling her T-Rex. That's not a girl name.”

Tyler grinned at her. “No, that's the deal. T-Rex, or you can't have her.”

Emmy shrugged. Better a chick called T-Rex than no chick at all. She picked her up.

Now only two chicks were left in the box. “This little one is Peepers,” said Daniel. He carefully lifted the tiny chick with both hands. “She's mine.”

“There's one left,” Emmy pointed out.

The last chick was gray. Daniel scooped her up. He held her out to Mom.

“No,” said Mom, putting up her hands to ward him off.

“But she's so cute,” said Daniel.

Mom shook her head. “No and no and no.”

Daniel made his eyes big and pleading. “Just hold her for a minute.”

Mom sighed. “One minute.” Daniel put the chick into Mom's hands. “No,” she said, but Daniel could see she was melting. Mom cuddled the fuzzy chick against her cheek. “Oooh,” she said. “She's so soft. I can feel her heart beating. Let's call this one Violet.” So that was that.

Dad winked at Daniel. Daniel grinned back.

The chicks slept in the box on the porch for a few weeks. Daniel fed them every morning before school when he fed his other pets, and again when he got home. He brought Jasper, Speedy, and Mr. Feathers out to meet his new pets, but the animals didn't seem interested in each other.

On Saturdays he cleaned the box and gave the chicks fresh straw that Dad bought at the farm supply store. As the chicks grew bigger, Daniel had to change the straw every day. In a week, the box was
too soggy and stinky to use. He got a new box, and put the old one on the compost heap.

“This isn't working out,” said Mom, holding her nose. “We need a chicken coop.”

“I know,” said Dad. “It's on my to-do list.” But something always came up to keep him busy. In between working on his website and driving the kids to soccer practice and games, he cooked meals. He did housework. He weeded the garden. He helped out in Emmy's preschool. Somehow the chicken coop never got done.

In the meantime the chicks kept growing. Their wing feathers grew longer. Their legs got long and lanky. They had real tail feathers now. They looked like half-grown hens, but they still cheeped and peeped like chicks.

By now the chicks recognized Daniel. They came when he called, peeping loudly. They liked to have their feathers stroked, and would rub against his hand. On nice afternoons Daniel, Kelsey, and Emmy took the chicks out. The chicks scratched for worms in the backyard. Every night Daniel made sure they were safe in the brooder box on the back porch.

One sunny afternoon all the kids lay on their stomachs in the grass, watching Primrose, Violet, Twinkie,
Peepers, and T-Rex scratch for bugs in the dirt. “We should have a club,” Kelsey said. “A chicken club.”

“You mean a
?” joked Tyler. “A chicken club
?” But no one else laughed.

One morning Daniel came out on the porch to feed them. But the box was empty! No chicks! His breath caught in his throat. Where could they be?

He ran back inside. Emmy and Kelsey were still in their pajamas, arguing about what to eat for breakfast.

“Granola!” said Kelsey.

“Flax flakes!” said Emmy, grabbing the box.

“The chicks are gone!” shouted Daniel. “Help me find them!”

The kids ran outside, followed by Tyler, who had just awakened. “What's going on?” he asked sleepily. His hair stuck up in funny tufts all over his head.

Daniel called back over his shoulder. “The chicks are gone!”

“Someone stealed them?” said Emmy. “Bad guys?”

“Robbers!” said Kelsey.

“Chicken rustlers!” said Tyler.

Daniel didn't answer. He didn't think robbers would steal chickens. But where could they be? He padded across the dewy grass in his bare feet, scanning the yard. In the bushes he saw a familiar orange
shape—Poison! And that bad cat had a chick under his paws!


He ran toward the cat, waving his arms and yelling. “SHOO! SCAT!” He clapped his hands hard, like Mom did. Poison released Peepers and took off. He looked over his shoulder once, as if to say,
I'll be back
. Then he squeezed through a hole under the fence into his own yard.

Daniel picked up Peepers. He held her close, stroking her feathers. They were soggy with cat spittle. Her heart fluttered under his hands. Daniel set her down and looked for the others.

A soft
came from behind the bushes. Daniel parted the leaves gently. The other four chicks huddled against the fence. Their eyes were wide and frightened.

Quickly he checked all the chicks. “They're okay!” he told the others. “We got here just in time.”

“Miller family to the rescue,” said Tyler. “Daniel one. Poison zero.”

Chapter 6

In a few weeks the chicks had grown into hens. Their fluff was completely gone. They had sleek, soft feathers. Their plump bodies balanced on skinny legs. Instead of peep-peeping, they clucked softly.

Twinkie's pure white feathers shone like marshmallow cream. Violet was the tallest. She had gray feathers and a delicate pink comb. Primrose was the most unusual. Her white feathers were long and silky. Her fluffy topknot looked like a feathered hat. T-Rex still had a fierce look, belying her sweet nature. Her black-and-white feathers reminded Daniel of polka dots.

Peepers was the littlest, but her comb was the largest. It crowned her head. She had long, red wattles. In
spite of her size, she seemed to be the ringleader. She liked to fly to the top of the hay bale and stand guard. At night she'd herd the others into the coop. Daniel was proud of her. “She's the boss,” he told Kelsey.

A few days later, Daniel took Peepers over to meet Mrs. Grafalo. He chose a time when Mr. Grafalo wasn't home. He didn't like to admit it, even to himself, but Mr. Gruffalo's fierce eyebrows always scared him a little bit.

Mrs. G. was delighted to meet Peepers. She held the chicken on her lap like a cat. Peepers closed her eyes and clucked happily.

Mrs. G. and Daniel sat in rocking chairs on the front porch. Dot and Dash raced by. Their tongues hung out. Their leashes trailed behind them. Miss Clay ran after them, waving her cell phone. Her high heels went clack, clack on the sidewalk. “Come back, boys!” she cried.

“She should put away her cell phone when she's walking her dogs,” said Daniel.

Peepers didn't even flinch when the dogs ran past. She fluffed her feathers and settled down in Mrs. G.'s lap.

“He's a very sweet rooster,” said Mrs. G. She stroked Peepers' soft feathers.

Daniel laughed. “No, Mrs. G., Peepers is a hen.”

Mrs. G. smiled. “If you say so, dear.”

A week later the chickens escaped again. But this time the Miller family didn't notice.

. The doorbell rang. Mom was working late at the hospital. Dad had ridden his bicycle to the co-op to buy organic vegetables for dinner. Tyler was in charge, but he was in his room listening to music and didn't hear the doorbell. Daniel had been playing with Jasper. He put the rat on his shoulder and answered the door.

Mr. Grafalo stood on the doorstep. Rain streamed from his hat. His face was red. His fists were clenched. His eyebrows bristled. “Where are your parents?” he demanded. He didn't wait for an answer. “Your chickens are running wild in my garden!”

Daniel nodded. He was too startled to speak. Jasper clutched his shoulder with his tiny claws. Kelsey and Emmy stood behind him. Emmy grabbed his shirttail.

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