“Chickens do not hibernate,” said Vesper, an old mouse in a new house in Briarwood, the prickly and sticker-filled edge of a 100-acre forest.
“But I saw one, sleeping, out there,” insisted one of Vesper’s grandmice, Imgood.
(Vesper had a little trouble keeping track of names, so he called his grandmice by whatever came to mind when he remembered them. “Imgood” was always stumbling and getting up and saying: “I’m good.”)
“Well, we don’t have chickens here and they don’t hibernate,” tapped Vesper. As a white-footed deer mouse, Vesper talked by tapping. He was the oldest mouse in Briarwood, and he had seen a lot of things in his time, but he had never seen a hibernating chicken.
Vesper and his family, which included his partner Valeria, lived in a cozy den that was made from the remains of an old bluebird house that had fallen to the ground.
The winter had started strong and cold, with only a little snow so far.
It was the cold that kept the mice from venturing too far out into the fields and meadows to look for seeds to eat. Some of the older mice, with memories of freezing winters, were already putting scarves on their long tails, which bounced on the cold ground when they scampered. More than one mouse was missing part of a tail because of the cold.
When the deep snow came, they would be burrowing beneath it, but now they could still lope around the taller grasses and sticks. That was how Imgood came upon the chicken.
Or so he told Vesper.
“Show me,” said Vesper to Imgood, so they bundled up and out they went, joined quickly by Imgood’s sister, Wups.
“Where are you guys going?” she tapped.
“Nowhere for girls,” said Imgood, who was not all that happy Wups wanted to tag along.
“I’m coming too,” she said, tying a scarf to her tail, just in case.
Vesper liked the fact that there was company. It’s always good to have a witness, he thought.
Imgood was first in line, and he led Vesper and Wups a long ways down a narrow path in the grass to where the woods started to grow thick, where fallen trees made dark little caves.
After they stopped to catch their breath and clean the snow from between their paw-toes and munch on a thistle seed or two, they rounded a corner in the path and there was … a chicken that appeared to be sleeping.
“Hmmm,” was all Vesper could say.
“Wowsers,” said Wups. “Looks like a sleeping chicken to me.”
“Told you,” said Imgood.
The three mice approached slowly, as quiet as mice could be. They didn’t want to wake up the chicken.
The two little mice didn’t notice, but Vesper saw right away that this chicken was not really sleeping. It was very still, and the wind moved its feathers, but as Vesper looked very closely, he could see that this was a chicken that slept with one eye open, just a crack.
Imgood and Wups tippy-toed up to the chicken, and just as Wups put out her paw to touch the chicken’s leg, she heard a loud BAWWWWWWWK.
“Child,’’ the chicken said, now with both eyes wide open, looking at Wups, “don’t touch Gee Gee.”
Vesper quickly moved between Wups and the chicken, which had not moved, not even a a little. How curious, he thought, that this chicken will not run away.
“My name, is Gallus Gallus, Gee Gee for short, bawk,” said Gee Gee.
“Gee,” said Imgood. “I mean, Gee Gee.”
For Imgood was truly dazzled by this chicken, which looked like a fat feathery ornament, all shimmering red and gold and brown and black.
The mice walked around Gee Gee, admiring her feathers and colors and orange legs.
“You’re decorated,” tapped Wups, who had been putting holiday decorations all around the mouse den.
Vesper jumped on to the log so he could look Gee Gee in her wide-open eye: “This is not really a safe place for you, is it? Why are you here?”
Vesper was right. In the woods there are animals who would think a chicken would make a tasty friend.
“I needed some sleep,” sighed Gee Gee. “And in my coop, where I live, all the other chickens had taken all the good dark spots. That’s what we do, we find a dark spot and sleep and lay our eggs. Bawk.
“So I went looking for a dark spot. When I got to the woods, there were some nice dark spots – bawk – and I found this one, and went to sleep.”
“But you didn’t go home, you’re just standing there,” said Imgood.
“I would love to go home,” said Gee Gee. “But I’m stuck, look at my feet, bawwwwwk.”
Stuck she was. Only worse. Her feet were frozen to the ground.
Vesper went closer and tapped lightly on Gee Gee’s orange legs. She couldn’t budge her legs. Her feet were stuck in the ice of the cold, cold ground.
“Well, no wonder,” said Vesper. “Your warm feet must have melted the snow when you stopped to sleep, and while you were sleeping, the water froze.
“Gee — and this time I mean gee,” said Imgood.
“Poor Gee Gee,” said Wups.
“Poor me,” said Gee Gee, and a little tear formed in her eye. It froze and made a little clink sound when it fell to the ground.
Vesper always tells his family that he has four favorite words, and now he and the grandmice all tapped out the same words: “How can we help?”
The two mouse children decided this would take some serious thought, so they sat their warm fuzzy rumps down on two ice chunks, and concentrated as hard as they could.
Vesper watched them, thought for a moment, and then he joined them, carefully putting his body warmth over the two ice chunks.
It didn’t take long before the problem solved itself.
For the mice had been sitting on Gee Gee’s icy feet, which now had become wet as their warmth melted the ice. Soon, Gee Gee was able to pull one foot free, and then the other, leaving two big chicken footprints in the melting ice.
Gee Gee blinked, stretched, picked up one foot and then the other, and then with a thank-you-BAWK and a flutter of feathers, she took off running in what everyone hoped was the direction of her chicken coop.
In all that fluttering, she left two shiny, bright feathers on the ground, one for Imgood, and one for Wups.
Vesper untied the scarf from Wups’ tail and used it to make sure everyone’s rump was dry before they scampered back to the burrow.
That night, after everyone took a hike to see the chicken footprints, all the mice gathered to hear the story of the hibernating chicken. They sang songs and did the chicken dance and drank milkweed cocoa. And if they haven’t stopped, they’re dancing still.