Red Rooster

Photo credit: Tambako The Jaguar / Creative Commons

Old McGuire resisted the urge to shift his position. His right leg had gone numb, but he knew he ought not to move. Instead he checked his sights. The rifle was still positioned perfectly. He could see the edge of the bush under which he had scattered grain. The rooster should pass by this bush on his way to visit the hens. The grain will to be irresistible.

The rooster was old, but he still stood tall and proud, with a bold mahogany head and a magnificent red comb. McGuire would have been happy to leave the old chap alone, but Deborah was adamant. The farm-stay guests were complaining, and she was worried about ratings in Tripadvisor and AirBnB. The city-slickers could not tolerate being woken by crowing. But they are on a farm, what do they expect? Deborah insisted: the farm-stay income was what was keeping them from bankruptcy. Their modest traditional flock of sheep was no longer competitive enough against those of modern farms that were scientifically bred and designed to produce finer quality wool. On the other hand, “farm-stays” were now trendy among holiday-makers, and Deborah had realised the opportunity after reading an article in their local newspaper. So she converted the old cottages that used to house the shepherds, and these have proved popular with day-trippers from Melbourne and those travelling the “Great Ocean Road”. The cottages were almost always fully booked.

McGuire had offered to reward the kids who were staying in the neighbouring farm for Christmas, if they could capture the rooster. The old chap had proved too wily for the teenagers, so he was now having to deal with the bird himself. Yet McGuire had to admire the kids’ ingenuity throughout the summer vacation — the variety of schemes and traps that they set. All futile. The cunning old rooster had figured that something was up and now refused to roost with the hens. Instead, he spends the nights in a little stand of shea oaks, where he is unreachable. In any case, the kids enjoyed a delightful if fruitless summer on his farm. Little Toby, his grandson was also on the farm for the Christmas vacations while his parents were working in the city, but he was far too young to join in with the fun.

McGuire smiled as he thought about Toby. The six-year old was a real charmer. Toby followed his “Opah” around the farm, curious about everything. Recently he has taken to playing hide-and-seek with his grandfather. McGuire would have to pretend he cannot see the boy sneaking up and hiding behind a tree or a farm structure. Toby would then jump out and shout “gotcha”! McGuire, feigning surprise, would grab the laughing lad and swing him up in his arms.

They did not have much money, so Deborah had knitted a bright red cap for the boy. McGuire recalled how an excited Toby tore open his present on Christmas morning, and his yell of joy at the sight of the jolly cap. A huge pompom bobbed merrily on his head as he raced around the farm. He has not taken the cap off since Christmas Day, which was two weeks ago. He even wanted to go to bed with it on, although Deborah would very gently remove it after he had fallen asleep as she read him his night-time stories.

There was a rustle in the bushes that alerted McGuire out of his reverie. The day was just breaking. In the dim dusk there was still too little light to see clearly by, and this was just the time when the birds and other animals were waking up to the new day. The dawn chorus had already started: the melodic thrilling of the Australian Magpie was accompanied by the ruckus cawing of ravens and the high-pitched screeching of cockatoos. He could hear his hens complaining to be let out of their coop. The rooster most certainly would be starting out on his morning rounds.

McGuire rubbed his eyes and checked his sights again. He could see some motion behind the bush. And then there it was, a flash of red. He did not hesitate. A crack. A thud. A cry. In that same instant, McGuire’s mouth ran dry, and his stomach churned as he instantly surmised what had just happened: for the thud seemed heavier than that of a bird, and the cry was not that of an animal. In the distance, a rooster crowed to herald the new day.

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