“If you’ve nothing to hide, then why not just tell us?” said Pig.
The other animals leaned in, tightening the ring in the center of the barn.
“I told you,” replied Chicken. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Look, stop the pretense,” said Pig. “It has been brought to our attention that you have tried to cross the road.” Some of the other animals shuddered. Pig continued, “Goat and Horse both saw you last night.”
“Why would Chicken cross the road?” asked Horse.
“It’s no one’s business,” protested Chicken. “I wouldn’t ask you if you were crossing the road.”
“But you could,” said Pig. “If I crossed the road I’d tell you because I have absolutely nothing to hide. None of us do, right?”
The rest of the animals agreed.
“Nor do I,” protested Chicken, wings turned out.
“Well then, last night?”
Chicken’s feathers ruffled.
“We’re a nice, little farmyard here,” said Pig. “There’s plenty of feed in the pail, water in the trough and hay in the barns. You’ve a good life. It’s a little strange that wanting to cross the road would even enter your mind.”
“It’s not a question of wanting,” said Chicken, shaking her head.
“Ah-ha,” shrieked Pig. “So you admit it.”
Chicken’s mouth opened but no words came out. The ring of animals edged closer. She stared up into their judging faces.
“Look, if you must know,” Chicken lowered her head, “I wanted to… get to the other side.”
A windy riffle of shock swept through the barn.
“Oh,” said Pig. “I see.”
“So,” said Chicken. “Now you know.”
Ox fainted against the side of the barn, nearly squashing some of the geese. Sheep ushered the lambs outside.
“I’m terrified of the answer,” said Pig. “But can I ask why?”
“Who are you to tell me I can’t?” said Chicken.
“You can’t be serious? You cross the road to get to the other side today and what’s next?” said Pig. “Laying eggs in the rabbit hutches? Pecking holes in the irrigation hoses? I can only imagine what you’d do in the alfalfa. No, I’m sorry, Chicken, it can’t be allowed.”
The rest of the animals rustled their feet in agreement.
“Let’s teach this Chicken a lesson,” called Sheep.
“Yeah, remind her of her place,” agreed Horse.
The crowd rose and sounded their assent in a mixture of bloodthirsty screes, grunts, quacks and bays.
“Hold, it’s late,” said Pig, calming everybody down. “We’ll meet again tomorrow night and decide what should be done.” Pig turned to the rest of the animals. “No one is to touch Chicken until we get to the bottom of this. There are processes in place and we aren’t about to lower ourselves. She might be a simple Chicken, but we’re better than that. Right?”
The barnyard animals muttered in understanding, some more reluctantly than others.
Chicken did not sleep. As dawn neared she slid from her roost and snuck out of the coop, careful not to tread on any of the eggshells lining the boards. Over by the gate she could hear the rough breathing of horse and the high-pitched scree of the piglets in the sty. There would be no walking out the front.
She headed past the barn to the wire fence at the edge of the yard. Peering through the diamond-shaped gaps, over the still brush she saw it. The road. A deep black expanse of hardened asphalt, like obsidian under the cold wash of stars.
Chicken worked fast, clutching the bent wire at the bottom with her beak and unbending the links, opening up a gap in the barrier. As she worked she thought about the other chickens and hens all laying eggs in the battery day after day. About the monotony of a life with walls.
Finally, as the sunlight began to lift the darkness, Chicken was able to squeeze herself through the gap in the wire and out into the world. She shook the dust from her feathers and began to pick her way across the scrubland towards the road when the barnyard erupted.
Chicken heard the animals call her name. She turned and saw reefs of dust in the yard as the animals began to run around, searching for her high and low.
She didn’t see him arrive, but Rooster was looking back at her from behind the links, studying her with silent prudence.
“When you crow this morning,” she shouted, “crow this message across the new dawn, so that the other roosters can hear and can tell the chickens in their barnyards that here, a chicken crossed the road, to get to the other side.”
Pig arrived at the fence and beamed at her viperously through his dark, sesame eyes. His trotters were no use for unwinding the links, so he started to force his huge snout through the gap in the fence, tearing the skin as he bent and dug and grasped at the other side in futility. The other animals arrived one by one and began to cry out in panic and alarm.
The sun came up over the horizon and bathed the road in warm blades of golden light. Chicken spread her clipped wings and ran, bounding over the terrain awkwardly. She ran over the strip of faded yellow paint lining the asphalt and onto the smooth, hard surface of the road.
Behind her Rooster crowed into the morning and the other animals swelled violently. But to Chicken it was all white noise — she carried on going, across the twin lines in the center of the road and over potholes; to freedom, to the other side.
Peter Hannah is a writer of speculation fiction from Celebration, Florida. An alumnus of Cat Rambo, his work has appeared in Dr. Fantastique’s Show of Wonders. He spends his free time with his wife his daughter and his books.