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Adventures in Homesteading: A Tale of Three Tails Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: Danger

Pudgy, Pipsqueak and Gomer raced back through the hole in the garage, blocking it once again.

Gomer trembled as he re-lived his last run-in with a hawk. The memories. The smell of damp grass, the rush of cold air flitted through his mind, making him even more frightened.

Pipsqueak shivered.

“Everyone calm down!” Pudgy’s voice shook. “We’ve faced worse on the homestead. We can’t let one hawk make us cower in fear.”

Pipsqueak peeked through the crack in the door. “What can we do? The three of us are no match for a hawk.”

“We could always lure it to the garden,” Gomer had stopped trembling and there was a strange gleam in his eyes.

“Why on earth would we do that? Do hawk’s even eat vegetables?” 

“No. But I bet they eat chipmunks.”

Pipsqueak gasped. 

“Wait a minute,” Pudgy said almost to himself. “The chipmunks.”

“WHAT?!” Pipsqueak was horrified. “Did you see what that hawk just did?! We can’t use them as bait!”

Pudgy shook his head. “No, no, of course not. It would be the worst sort of betrayal. Even for strawberries.” Pudgy rubbed his paws together. “We could join forces with them!”

Gomer and Pipsqueak stared blankly at Pudgy. 

“We’ll appeal to their survival instincts. We’ll ask them to join us in protecting the food…and each other from predators.”

After checking to make sure the hawk was not lying in wait for a tasty mouse morsel, the Three Tails raced back to the garden and hid under a large head of lettuce.

“Psssst!” They tried to get the chipmunks attention, but the critters were too busy tearing into a red, juicy tomato to hear.

“Ahem!” Not even a twitch.

“HEY YOU GUYS!” Pipsqueak’s normally soft voice took on a shrill, screechy tone.

Seemingly as one, the chipmunks swiveled their heads, tomato juice dripping from their tiny mouths. 

“First,” said Pudgy. “We’d like to express how terribly sorry we are about your loss.”

“Our loss?” asked Leo.

“Yes,” said Pipsqueak. “The hawk just took two of your group.”

“Oh!” said Leo. “That.”

Pipsqueak looked at Pudgy for help.

“Aren’t you sad?” Gomer wrinkled his brow.

“Oh sure,” said Leo as he bit into another juicy tomato. “Heartbroken.” 

The other chipmunks chittered. 

“*Maybe appealing to their survival instincts is not such a good idea*,” whispered Pipsqueak. 

“Look,” said Leo. “If we were sad every time one of our number was eaten, attacked or taken, we’d be crying all the time.” He took a big bite out of a cucumber. “We’ve learned to cope.” 

“I can see that,” said Pudgy. “But if we join forces, we can be lookouts for each other. Partners. Maybe even…friends.”

Leo twitched his ears.

“Ok,” said Pipsqueak. “Maybe not friends, but colleagues at the least.”

Leo turned to the rest of his scurry, silently communicating with them. There was a lot of chitters, head shaking and high pitched trills before he finally turned back to the Three Tails.

“You have a deal,” he said. “On one condition.”

“What condition?” asked Pudgy.

Leo took another bite out of the cucumber, chewing slowly. “We share *all* the food.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his paw. “Strawberries included.”

Adventures in Homesteading: The Tale of Three Tails

Chapter 3: The Deal

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The Three Tails led the chipmunks to a beautiful garden. Large leafy heads of lettuce grew alongside big bushes of beans. Squash was just starting to sprout and carrots were peeking out of the ground. 

“Well?” said Pudgy.

Leo tore his gaze away from the garden and narrowed his eyes. “What’s in it for you if we leave the strawberries alone?”

“Only more strawberries for us,” said Pipsqueak. 

“There’s plenty in this garden for us to share,” said Pudgy.

Gomer yawned. “And if you don’t share, we can always send the dog after you.” 

Pudgy and Pipsqueak stared at Gomer, shocked. Never had spoken with such calm certainty.

Leo scoffed. “The dog? It’d get you first.” 

Gomer just smiled. A smaller chipmunk raced to Leo and whispered in his ear. “They’re friends. The dog and those three.” 

Leo’s eyes widened and he squeaked. “Er…I don’t think that will be necessary.”

Pipsqueak scurried forward. “Do we have a deal?”

The chipmunks nodded their heads in unison.

“So…what’s the secret?” asked Leo.

Pipsqueak could barely contain her grin. “Gomer, now you can tell them.”

Gomer dashed over to the gate and lifted a small flap hidden in the weeds. “It’s easy. Just lift this door and you can go right in.” He shimmied under the fence.

Leo grumbled. “That was a dirty trick.”

Pudgy smiled. “A deal’s a deal.”

Leo huffed and swarmed the garden with the rest of his scurry. 

The Three Tails headed back to the strawberry patch to have a celebratory snack. But as they made their way home, a dark shadow covered the ground in front of them. 

Gomer looked up to the sky. “HAWK!” He squealed, ducking for cover under the thorny rose bushes. 

They watched in horror as the hawk swooped down and grabbed two chipmunks, one in each talon.

Adventures in Homesteading: The Tale of Three Tails: Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: Rodent Rage

A tidal wave of chipmunks poured out toward the three frozen mice. Fueled by fear, Pudgy, Pipsqueak and Gomer raced back to the garage and barricaded the entrance.

“How many were there?” asked Pipsqueak breathing heavily.

Pudgy, who hadn’t run that fast since he was a pup, shook his head as he tried to catch his breath. “A-huff-puff huff-puff-lot.” 

“What can we do?” Pipsqueak brushed the dust off her feet and fur with a look of distaste. 

“Let me think, let me think.” Pudgy rose to his paws and peeked out the crack. The chipmunks were huddled together staring at the garage. “We are definitely outnumbered, so we’ll have to—”.

GRRRRMMBBLE…grrrrmmmbble.

Pipsqueak and Pudgy looked back at Gomer, who was lying on the floor with a look of misery on his face. “I’m sooooo hungry.”

“How can you think of food at a time like this Gomer!”

“That’s it!” Pipsqueak jumped to her paws. “The garden! The vegetables!”

Gomer’s stomach gave another mighty growl.

Pipsqueak smiled broadly. “We lead them to the garden. We show them all the vegetables…the tomatoes, the cucumbers…all of it.”

“Yes!” Pudgy grinned. “Of course! There’s plenty for all of us.”

The mice tidied up and headed back outside. 

“Well hello there,” said Leo. “Not so tough now are you?”A chittering laughter rumbled through the crowd.

“These strawberries will be gone soon, and there are not enough to share,” began Pudgy.   

Pipsqueak stepped forward. “But there is a place where food will grow all summer. A place where there is plenty enough for all of us.”

The chipmunks chattered with each other. “We’re listening.”

“Come with us, we’ll show you…The Garden.” Pudgy led the group to the back of the house. 

The crowd of chipmunks chittered. “We know about the garden.”

“You do?” asked Pudgy, a bit crestfallen.

“Yes,” said Leo. “It’s a trap. A giant maze of death and injury. The owner has it rigged to keep us out.”

The Three Tails snickered. 

“Yes,” said Pipsqueak. “Unless you know the secret.”

The chipmunks grew quiet. 

“And we do,” added Pudgy.

The chipmunks grew even quieter.

“Yeah,” said Gomer. “All you have to do is–”.

“Gomer!” Pudgy snapped.

“Wait til they take the deal,” said Pipsqueak through clenched teeth.

Pudgy looked Leo in the eye and waited. 

“Show us.”

Adventures in Homesteading: The Tale of Three Tails

Chapter One: The Strawberry Bandit

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Pudgy, a dark, gray whiskery mouse scurried into a cluttered garage. He dodged around boxes, dashed under benches and darted to a makeshift home in the back corner. “We have a problem.”

Gomer, a tall, nut-brown rather gawky fellow stopped chasing his tail and wrung his paws.    

“What is it?” yawned Pipsqueak, a dainty soft-gray mouse.

Pudgy took a deep breath. “The strawberries are disappearing.” 

Pipsqueak twitched her whiskers. This was bad. Strawberries were a delicious treat the Three Tails looked forward to all year. Gomer trembled. “I b-bet it’s that hawk!” 

Pipsqueak sighed. “Gomer, it’s been weeks since the attack and we haven’t seen the hawk since.”

Gomer glared and shook his paw. “It’s only been days since it happened!”

“Don’t be so dramatic. The hawk barely touched you.”

Gomer gasped and pointed to a spot on his arm. “Look! Right here is where it’s terrible talons tried to–”.

“Gomer! Pipsqueak!” Pudgy commanded, silencing their argument. “Let’s have a look around the patch before jumping to any conclusions.”

Pipsqueak and Gomer glowered at each other and reluctantly agreed.

The Three Tails, as they were known throughout the homestead, squeezed through a small hole out into the sunshine and scampered to the strawberry patch at the front of the house.

Pipsqueak sniffed around. “Maybe it’s–”.

Bzzzzzzmmmm! A black and yellow blur shot down and landed on one of the flowers.

“You!” shouted Pudgy. “Stop eating our strawberries!”

The winged creature buzzed around looking for a nice place to land and then turned to look at the row of angry mice. “I’m not eating your strawberriezzz.”

“Then what are you doing?” Pipsqueak narrowed her eyes.

The bee bumbled and buzzed. “I’m collecting nectar from the roses to take back to my Queen.”

They watched as the bee flitted from flower to flower. Before it flew off, it whizzed by the trio and showed it’s legs. “See? Pollen.” 

(Illustration: Close up of the bee’s legs with tiny pollen particles and a definition of pollen in back matter? Maybe as a starburst pointing to the pollen?)

Pudgy sighed as the bee took off. 

Birds flew by but either didn’t see the inviting strawberry patch or had plenty to eat from the multiple bird feeders throughout the property. As the sun sank lower in the sky, their stomachs started to rumble.

“I’m soooo hungry. Can’t I just have one?” said Gomer looking longingly at the strawberries.

“Not yet, we need to leave them as bait. Let’s see if anything is happening on the other side.” 

As the mice wandered to the far side of the patch, Gomer felt something staring at them. “Uh…Pudge?” 

Pudgy turned and saw a small hairy head sticking out of the ground. It jumped out of the hole and scurried over to the mice.

“Are you lost?” The creature’s voice was high-pitched and squeaky.

“No.” Pudgy raised his eyebrows. “Are you?” 

“I’ve never seen a mouse with stripes.” Gomer slowly circled the critter.

“I, sir, am a chipmunk. Name’s Leo.” Leo dashed straight for the strawberries.

“Stop!” Pudgy shouted.

Leo turned back. “Yes?”

“You can’t eat those strawberries,” said Pipsqueak.

“Says who?”

Pudgy stood on his hind legs. “I do!”

Leo shook with fear. Pudgy, as wide as he was tall, towered above him. 

At that moment, Gomer’s stomach growled. Not a low quiet growl, but a loud GRRRRRRRRRMMMMBBBBLE!

Leo cowered and raced back to his hole.

“That was too easy,” said Pipsqueak watching as Leo’s tail disappeared into the ground.

“Yes,” said Pudgy with a frown. 

Gomer rubbed his paws together and scuttled to the biggest strawberry in the patch. 

Pipsqueak took one step and froze. “Pudgy. What’s that?” 

POP! POP! POP! 

(Illustration: The three mice stare at the empty yard. Suddenly chipmunk heads pop up everywhere.)

Pecky Greenleg: Epilogue

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After the events at the hatchery, things happened rather quickly.

Pecky agreed to fly back to H.E.N. headquarters for testing.

Dr. Warner and his team found that Pecky really was the key to curing the runaway virus.

Jake confessed the whole adventure to his mom who, after a dead faint and recovering from shock at what he had done, agreed they could keep Pecky once H.E.N. was finished with him.

But Dr. Warner and Pecky had other plans…

You’ll be able to come and visit me, Jake.

Jake looked from Pecky to Dr. Warner and shook his head. “It won’t be the same. You’ll be so far away.”

H.E.N. HQ is only a flight away.

“Actually,” Dr. Warner interrupted standing and walking around Gilbert’s desk. “You won’t be living HQ.”

“He won’t?”

I won’t?

“H.E.N. has decided to open a satellite office right here in farm country. McDougal Hatchery has agreed to work with us to further study selective breeding.”  

“Really?” asked Jake, excitement filling his voice.

“Really,” smiled Dr. Warner. “Gilbert persuaded them.”

Dr. Warner and his team relocated to the new office inside the hatchery with plans to build a new facility right next door. And Jake would be able to come and visit whenever he wished.

*      *      *

Jake crunched across the gravel, waving at Gilbert and Dr. Warner as he walked toward the red barn. Rounding the corner, he heard what sounded like kids chattering.

“That’s odd,” he murmured. Jake wondered when they had allowed other kids to come and visit the new facility.

“Pecky!”

Pecky paraded around the corner leading a string of chicks. Chicks with green legs.

Jake. I have so much to tell you…

Pecky Greenleg Chapter 11

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Dr. Warner cleared his throat. “My name is Dr. Silas Warner. I work for a large company that studies genetic modification.”

Jake’s mind reeled. “Genetic modification? What—?”

Let him tell his story, Jake.

Jake clamped his mouth shut, glaring at Dr. Warner. Pecky nodded to the doctor to continue.

“As I said, the company I work for HEN – Healthy Engineered Nature — studies and experiments with ways to improve plant and animal life through genetic modification. My team was working to create a breed that would grow quickly, but without injury.”

“Injury?”

“Yes,” said Dr. Warner. “You see, a few breeds of chickens have been selectively bred for meat production. These broilers grow to full size in about 6-12 weeks, eating half the feed of the old-fashioned breeds.

“What does this have to do with Pecky?” Jake interrupted again.

“Well,” continued Dr. Silas. “Everything comes at a cost. Sometimes there are unintended consequences. Because these breeds grow so quickly, their internal systems—heart, bones and joints can’t keep up.”

“They grow too fast for their own good,” said Gilbert.

“Exactly. Legs and spines can twist, break or bow causing pain and an unwillingness to move. Chickens get trampled or starve,” said Dr. Warner.

Jake’s face blanched. “That’s horrible.”

“It is,” continued Dr. Warner. “But at H.E.N., we were coming up with ways to fix this problem. To make sure that all body systems – muscle, bones, heart – grow at the same rate. And we were successful…or so we thought.”

Confusion clouded Jake’s face.

“You see,” continued Dr. Warner. “There are always unintended consequences. Our modification awoke a dormant virus that is normally not harmful to chickens and it started spreading through the test groups.

Jake glanced at Pecky as Dr. Warner continued.

“Every day, we lost more birds. It got so bad that an employee from another division accused us of intentionally harming the chickens. When no one would do anything about it, he decided to remove the birds from danger.”

Wide-eyed, Jake asked, “What did he do?”

“He snuck into the lab and nabbed the latest group—inlcuding Pecky. He thought by hiding them in the hatchery, he was giving them a chance. By the time we figured out what he had done, all of the birds he took had died—except Pecky.”

Jake swallowed and looked at Pecky. “Why did Pecky survive?”

Dr. Warner looked at Pecky with an appraising and excited spark in his eye. “Pecky is different than the others.”

Jake snorted. “Well yeah, he can talk!”

“No, no,” said Dr. Warner. “You mistake my meaning. The others in Pecky’s group also started to develop social behavior, and they still died. But Pecky is the only one in the group with green legs. We thought it was just another cosmetic mutation…”.

Ahem. Pecky ruffled his feathers.

“…but now we think it may be more than that. You see, Pecky has lived well past the others in his test group. He is stronger and his communication skills are more advanced.”

 Dr. Warner paused, looking Jake in the eye. “Pecky may very well be the key to curing this virus and saving future breeds.”

Pecky Greenleg Chapter 10

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Jake was quiet on the drive home from the hatchery. Gilbert said he would send a postcard advertising a free bag of chicken feed once they’d captured the culprits. Then Jake would know to come in.

After three long days, the postcard came. Jake could hardly wait to get to the hatchery. It took some convincing, but his mom finally agreed to take him when he showed her the coupon.

“See, it expires tomorrow so we have to go.”

“Alright, we’ll head there in the morning.”

Jake was torn between relief that he’d convinced his mom to go, and impatience to get there as soon as possible.

The next morning, they were on their way. Jake was wondering how he was going to get his mom to go somewhere else as she pulled into the parking lot.

“Can you get the feed on your own? I need to run to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner tonight.”

He nodded and sighed in relief as he hopped out of the car.

“I’ll be back in a half hour.”

Jake pushed through the doors and walked to front desk.

“Hello, my mom and I got this coupon in the mail for a free bag of feed. I’m here to pick it up.”

“Well hello again dear! Yes, Gilbert told me to be on the lookout for you. You can just head right down to his office. You remember where it is?”

“Y-yes. Thank you.”

He fairly raced down the hall and knocked on the office door.

“Come in!”

Jake quickly opened the door and walked in the room.

“Hello Jake,” said Gilbert.

“Well,” Jake began after closing the door. “Did you catch them?”

Gilbert rubbed his sleepy eyes.

“Yes, we caught him.”

“Him? Who is he? What doed he want with Pecky?” Jake looked around the room. “And, where is Pecky? Is he ok?”

“Whoa,” said Gilbert putting his hands up. “Slow down. Pecky is fine. I’ll take you to him so we can fill you in.”

Gilbert led Jake down the hall and into another room.

Jake.

Relief washed over Jake when he looked at Pecky and saw for himself that he was unharmed. He looked around the room, expecting to see the villains tied up in the corner or at least in a cage.

“Where are they? I thought you said you caught them?”

We caught someone, it just wasn’t who we expected.

“Come on,” said Gilbert. “I’ll take you to him.”

Jake picked Pecky up and followed Gilbert. They traveled down a hallway and down a long set of stairs to a brightly lit room where a man, small and wiry, was sitting.

“Hello, Dr. Warner,” said Gilbert. “Would you like another cup of coffee?”

Jake’s eyes bulged and he spluttered. Was Gilbert really offering this suspected chicken napper coffee?

It’s ok Jake. The situation has changed.

“Hello Jake,” Dr. Warner said with a small, sad smile.

Jake stared from Pecky to Gilbert and back to Dr. Warner. “What is going on?”

Dr. Warner sighed, removed his glasses, and cleaned them with his shirt. “I’d better start at the beginning.”

“Yes,” Jake said. “The very beginning.”

Pecky Greenleg Chapter 9

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“No, absolutely not! Pecky will not be used as bait!” Jake exclaimed.

We don’t have any other options,” said Gilbert. “Whoever is behind this can easily find out where Pecky has gone. It’s only a matter of time.”

“But–“

No Jake. It’s the only way.

Jake looked at Pecky and then turned and glared at Gilbert.

I have to do this. I don’t want to put you or your family in any more danger than I already have. 

Gilbert nodded in silent agreement.

Jake scowled.

It’s a risk, but we have to take it. 

Jake’s shoulders slumped and sadness filled his face. He knew they were right. Setting a trap was a sure way to catch the people bent on capturing Pecky.

“It’s getting late,” Jake sighed, looking at the clock. “We’d better figure out how this trap will work before my mom comes back to get me.”

For the next half hour they talked. Gilbert discarded all of Pecky’s suggestions and Jake poked holes in all of Gilbert’s ideas.

Finally, they decided that Jake’s plan was the best they could come up with.

Don’t worry Jake. The plan is a good one.

“Yes,” said Gilbert. “Pecky will be protected at every step.”

“Ok, let’s go through it one more time before I go.”

“We will put it out that we have a rare, exotic bird at the hatchery,” began Gilbert.

When people start coming to see me, Gilbert will be watching for any…suspicious behavior.

“We’ll watch his pen at night, waiting for them to come back.”

When they come back to get me, Gilbert will catch them and put them in one of the pens.

“Then we’ll be able to question them and find out why they’ve been after these gray chickens with green legs,” finished Gilbert.

“And if they don’t come back?” asked Jake.

Oh, they’ll come back. They’ve put too much effort into finding me to give up.

Pecky turned to Jake with determination in his eyes.

Go home Jake. Gilbert will let you know when it is safe to come back and get me. 

Jake felt chilled. He knew that he may be seeing Pecky for the last time.

As though reading his mind, Pecky ruffled his feathers and gave Jake an affectionate peck on the hand.

Go home.

With one last look at Pecky, Jake turned and walked out the door.

Pecky Greenleg Chapter 8

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Pecky looked as shocked as a chicken could look and was, for once, speechless.

“What do you mean he’s the only one left?” asked Jake.

“I mean…they didn’t make it.”

The accidents. They were…fatal?

Gilbert simply nodded.

All three were silent for a few minutes. Even though Pecky could not remember his fellow chicks, he felt a sadness at their loss.

20160613_100649.jpg

Jake reread the note he still held.

“Wait a minute, did you see this?”

Jake pointed to the final line in the note. “Danger awaits them outside your doors.”

“So?” Gilbert shrugged.

So, it says that danger awaits them outside the hatchery.”

But the real danger was inside!

“Exactly,” Gilbert said grimly.

“That still doesn’t explain why you gave Pecky to us,” said Jake.

“You were the last to place such a large order. We needed to smuggle Pecky out of the hatchery as quickly as possible.”

Pecky nodded, but Jake still looked doubtful.

“How could you be sure that we could be trusted? You could have been sending Pecky into danger.”

“It was a risk, but we had to take it.”

A loud silence filled the room.

Now what do we do?

“We…wait,” said Gilbert.

Jake scowled at Gilbert.

“We can’t just wait around for someone to come after Pecky.”

No. I’m not the only one who would be hurt. I can’t put Jake at risk.

“There is something else we could do,” Gilbert said slowly.

Well, what is it?

“You’re not going to like it.”

“Just spit it out already,” Jake said rolling his eyes.

“We could set a trap.”

“A trap? What would we use as bait…oh,” said Jake turning to Pecky.

Me. I would be the bait.

20160613_100511.jpg

Pecky Greenleg Chapter 7

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Jake eyed Gilbert warily as he stepped into the office.

You can hear Pecky?”

He shut the door.

“Yes,” said Gilbert.

Jake was surprised. Not even his mom could hear Pecky.

Gilbert gestured to the chair in front of his desk.

“Let me explain.”

Jake carefully set the backpack on the floor before sitting down.

You might as well take me out of here. 

Jake looked at Gilbert, still a little afraid he might try to hurt or steal Pecky.

Oh go on. If he wanted to hurt me, he would have already. 

“I don’t want to hurt either of you,” said Gilbert. “It’s why I placed Pecky with you in the first place.”

Jake unzipped the backpack and Pecky hopped out with a ruffle of feathers and a quiet squawk.

2016-05-29-22.11.55.png.png

Now that we are all here, why don’t you start your tale.

“You are not a normal chicken, and you’re not the only one of your kind.”

My kind?

“His kind?” Jake and Pecky said at the same time.

Gilbert nodded.

Well then, you’d better start at the beginning.

“Right,” said Gilbert. “A few weeks ago, we found a box of chicks in the lobby. No one knew where it came from. It just appeared on the front desk one day. When we opened the box, we found 25 gray chicks with green legs. We’d never seen a breed like it before.”

“What do you mean it “just appeared” one day?” Jake asked.

“Exactly what I said, our secretary came into work and the box was on her desk with a note attached to the top.”

Gilbert reached in his desk drawer and pulled out a small wooden box, unlocked it and pulled a piece of paper out.

“We kept it, hoping that one day we would figure out what it meant.”

Jake cleared his throat and read the note out loud. “’These chicks are special and need your protection. Please take care of them and never let them leave the hatchery. Danger awaits them outside your doors.’”

“But, the note says to never let them leave here,” said Jake, looking at Pecky.

“I’m getting to that. For the first few days nothing unusual happened. We were all trying to figure out where the chicks came from and what kind they were. Then the accidents started.”

Accidents?

“At first, we thought they were just that. Accidents. But then we realized that they were only happening to the gray chicks. We questioned everyone, trying to understand why.”

And?

“They all claimed they didn’t know and two of the newer people left before we could question them.”

“They left?” asked Jake.

“Yep. We tried to track them down but no one knew where they’d gone.”

But, if you can understand me, why didn’t you just talk to the other chicks?

“Because,” said Gilbert. “I only found out I could understand you when I got to the post office. I’d already switched the boxes out once. I couldn’t very well do it a second time without raising suspicion.”

Why didn’t you just ask the others when you got back to the hatchery?

Gilbert paused and looked directly at Pecky.

“Because, you were the only one left.”