The Mad Hen

Written April 14, 1997
Translated July 8, 1998

A new day began in the southern Swedish countryside.
It was a day that would late be forgotten, a day of violent and sudden death. In all times it would be remembered as the Black Sunday.
It was the day, during which the War of the Hens took place.

* * *

A group of hens scratched about on the farmyard. The rooster wished the sun a good morning with a piercing "cock-a-doodle-do". Flown up on the barn roof as he was, he had a great view over the flat landscape with its fields that stretched for miles, in places interrupted by a house or a farm. After one last crow the rooster flapped down to his harem.
The hens flocked around him admiringly. He was such a handsome rooster, with his bushy tail feathers and broad chest.
In every hen roost is also the second most important one, the top hen. This roost had a top hen as well who took care of the hens when the rooster was elsewhere busy. In that way the order in the hierarchy could be temporarily kept.
But this disastrous day, this Black Sunday, something had happened to the top hen.
She had gone mad.

It began in a small scale already after breakfast, when the top hen pulled her closest friend aside.
- Don't you think the rooster seem quite a bit too cocky today? she whispered. Just look at him, how he swaggers about and puts on airs!
Yes, as a matter of fact the friend thought so too, now that the top hen had pointed it out to her... surely his manners seemed a bit affected.
By lunchtime most of the hens thought that the rooster had gone just a bit too far. Why, he acted like he owned the entire world, as the top hen so sharp-sightedly expressed the situation.
Right after lunch, while the rooster sat sunbathing on the haystack, the top hen gathered the others around her.
- This must come to an ending! she declared, on which the other hens cheered.
- We must do something about this situation! yelled one. Everybody cackled eagerly simultaneously, until the top hen cried:
- The rooster must go!
With piercing screeches the hens chased the rooster away far out into the forest.

But the mad top hen was not satisfied with this first victory. She led her faithful hens to the next farm, where another group of hens was told what self-important, stuck up cockscombs all roosters were.
At dinnertime all roosters in the entire neighbourhood had been chased away by the growing hen flock.
Out in the forest the roosters gathered to a puny, homeless little crowd. Wherever they appeared, angry hens pursued them.
Without success had they tried to send a delegation that, under a white banner, could talk with the hens about the problem, as one reasonable bird to another.
- We are tired of being henpecked, had they said to the top hen.
- You are nothing but false and unreliable male chauvinists, that keep telling cock-and-bull-stories! had she replied. Then she had ordered her soldiers to attack and the roosters were forced to escape head over heels, with a large band of sharp-beaked hens close behind them.
The situation looked bad.
Finally the roosters put their heads together and hatched a brilliant idea: they would find reinforcement! They would recruit mercenaries from the turkey farm of the place. Helped by the turkeys they could recover their rightful property and revenge the shameful treatment they had suffered!

Late in the afternoon the two armies gathered opposite each other on a big, new-mown field.
- May the strongest survive! screamed the mad hen and lifted one of her wings. On this given signal her hen army began to move. In the middle of the field they met in a cackling cloud of feathers.
Although the hens defended themselves with tooth and nail, the huge turkeys were too strong. Their positions were soon weak and they rushed around like hens on a hot griddle. But in the heat and excitement of the struggle the turkeys suddenly began to attack even their allied brothers, the roosters. Both sides quickly retreated into the forest, where they collected the scattered remnants of the for both parts disastrous defeat, and counted their casualties.
Still on the battlefield, among wounded and dead, stood the turkeys. After some wondering gobbles they walked back to the turkey farm again.
In the middle of the field the mad hen breathed her last, while the twilight fell. Protected by the darkness hens and roosters made peace. They went home, each to their own farm.

Monday morning, when all the country women as usual went to the hen-houses with food, an awful sight met them. Nowhere could more than three hens be found, and only a few farms still had a rooster. The surviving animals were all wounded and dirty.
The field where the dreadful war had taken place was white from feathers, dead poultry and an occasional turkey body.

Over a night had more than 90 percent of the local poultry population been erased. Because of the sudden request for hens from the southern Swedish countryside, the prize of the birds increased violently. Many peasants lost a fortune on restoring their chicken farms to the original number of individuals.
All this, only because one hen went mad!

We humans are far more intelligent than poultry. Therefore we can lean back comfortably in our armchairs, shake our heads slightly and smile at the folly of the fowls, safe in the knowledge that something similar could never happen in our modern, civilized society.


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1998 Jemima & Carl-Henrik Hammarlund. All rights reserved.