Day 9, Story 9: The Olive Egger

The star of the family flock was an Olive Egger named Louise, truly a legend among hens. 

The daughter and animal lover of the house, Lily, was really the only one who could pick her up. Not her father or brother. And usually, not her mother Jane. Lily and Louise had somehow bonded when the now impressive chicken was just a fuzzy flightless nub. 

Lily found the contented clucks of her favorite chicken therapeutic. But for everyone else, especially Jane, Louise was not a source of relaxation. Not at all.

Jane once had to treat Louise’s scratched eye after a hawk attack—though the hawk fared worse—and her attempts to capture the hen had all the action and suspense of a sporting match. The thing is, Louise never, ever panicked like the rest of the flock. She was calm, focused, utterly determined, and highly skilled. 

Truly, Louise could put the NFL’s most elusive running backs to shame. Jane would have her cornered, only for Louise to defy gravity by deftly leveraging wall-as-vertical-launchpad. She would bend down, thinking she had her, at which point Louise would go up and over her useless hands with a quick ping-pong maneuver. Or Louise would pull a lightning-fast nutmeg and leave Jane red-faced and out of breath. Smooth as butter, easy as pie. That was classic Louise. 

Sometimes Louise would sit on the window sill outside the breakfast nook, side-eyeing the family as they ate. While Louise’s signature cheek poufs gave her an unserious look, and Olive Eggers tend to land in the middle of the pecking order, she was in charge. 

Louise even had solid pack status in the eyes of the dog, a squat corgi mix named Sam. They knew this because of what happened when Lily let a couple of curious neighborhood kids into the yard after they asked her some questions about the chickens. 

One boy, about five years old, bent down to try and hold Louise, and Sam growled at him, a deep, low warning to back off. Stella picked up Louise, and handed her to the boy, and all was well. There was a chain of command. 

Sam didn’t have the same protectiveness toward the other chickens—at least not that they could tell. Sam’s seal of approval seemingly solidified Louise as a part of the family.

When an ailing raccoon languished like a furry drunk in the small creek bed just beyond their backyard fence, Louise did not leverage her apex status within the pecking order to lead the other girls to safety. She stood at the fence and shrieked as if outraged at the raccoon, her followers chiming in from behind her. “Our neighbors must love us,” sighed Jane.

vintage tan brown stripe feather image

After letting the chickens out into the yard one early winter morning, Lily came in to show her mother the egg that Louise had just laid. It was much brighter green than the usual muted tones. “Interesting,” they thought, admiring the unexpected vibrancy. And they left it at that.

The next day, Louise seemed lethargic. Lily thought she was yawning, but Jane could see that she was gaping, a sign of respiratory distress. Illness loomed. 

Instantly, Jane regretted getting chickens in the first place, and letting sensitive Lily, who had been struggling to find her place and her people at school, get attached. The timing was unfortunate, adding loss on top of anxiety and loneliness. 

Jane worried about the rest of the flock catching the mystery ailment. They hadn’t yet lost a chicken in a year and a half of keeping them, and the prospect was hitting harder than expected. She felt a bit guilty, but kept her anxieties to herself.

They decorated the coop for Christmas, hanging a wreath with lights to brighten up the flock’s home. Lily said it might make Louise feel better. But the legendary Olive Egger’s condition only worsened over the next couple of days.

While she left the coop, Louise never went out through the run’s open door to hunt, peck, and explore with the others. Another chicken even had the audacity to peck at her. Louise’s perch atop the hierarchy was lost. By all measures, she was plummeting.

They tried getting Louise to drink, and only Lily succeeded in dipping her beak into a small cup of water. But Louise was disoriented and unable to control her neck. Soon she couldn’t even stand for more than a couple seconds at a time. Jane realized that while well-intentioned, their efforts were just prolonging the agony.

Jane decided that if Louise continued to deteriorate, she’d need to put her down. She agonized over how to explain all this to Lily. Again Jane wished that she’d never taken in the chickens, and the inevitable heartache that came with them.

As dusk fell on the third day of illness, Louise somehow found the strength to return to the coop from the run. Jane talked to Lily about the prospect of Louise’s life ending soon. That they’d miss her, but that Louise would no longer suffer. That Louise lived a wonderful life, to the fullest. 

Lily did not cry, at least not yet. She was sad but thoughtful and, frankly, it seemed to Jane, handling it better than her.

Jane didn’t sleep well. When morning finally came, she got up early to check on Louise. But before heading out, she heard little footsteps behind her. Lily said she wanted to come out with her, and Jane felt a jolt of alarm run through her.  But there was no way around it. They’d have to face this together.

The walk out to the coop seemed a mile longer that day. And sure enough they found, upon opening the back coop door, that Louise had died. 

Louise was slumped in the corner of the coop, beneath the roosts where the rest of the flock sat. Tears rolled down Lily’s cheeks. “Why did this happen to her?” she asked her mother.

“There’s no reason, Lily.” Jane put her hands on Lily’s little shoulders.

“Chickens who live free get to enjoy fresh air. Bugs. Room to run, and even sort-of fly!” Jane laughed gently. “But you know, that also means they’re exposed to dangers. Like bacteria and viruses from wild birds, or attacks from predators like hawks and foxes.”

“Maybe we should have kept Louise in the run. All the chickens should stay safe in there,” said Lily.

“Yes, they’d be safer. But you know how adventurous Louise was. I wonder what kind of life she would have had if we never let her explore?” Lily tilted her head to the side, thinking it over.

Jane gave Lily a hug, and then reached into the coop. She lifted Louise gingerly when an impossible flash of color caught her eye. Under Louise, nestled in the wood shavings, was a blue egg. The hue was dreamy and tranquil, with a slight tint of green like tropical waters. Light, earth colored specks added warmth. It was comforting somehow, and reminded Jane of sea glass. 

Lily’s eyes widened, and a hint of a smile could be seen at the corners of her mouth. “It’s a gift from Louise,” she sniffed.

Mom said, “I think you’re right. What should we do with this gift?”

Lily thought for a moment then said, “Let’s use it to make pancakes on Christmas morning. It’s what Louise would have wanted.”

Her mother nodded, then felt the spark of an idea. “Yes, and I know what else we can do.”

On Christmas morning, Lily emptied her stocking while Mom used Louise’s last egg in a batch of chocolate chip pancakes. “They taste extra good today,” said Lily, “Louise would be happy about that.”

Of course, Jane didn’t just crack and discard this seemingly miraculous last egg. 

Lily went to open the presents under the tree, and stopped in her tracks.

There on the tree, right at Lily’s eye level, hung a new ornament that glowed in the morning light. It was Louise’s blue eggshell. So very fragile, and all the more luminous for it.

Lily said, “Thank you, Mom! Now we have a way to remember Louise and how she was not like any other chicken.”

Jane gave Lily a squeeze and replied, “Yes, exactly. There will never be another Louise.”

The end

(Note: Previous remaining holiday stories can be found here, released each day through 12/24, and kept available ever after.)

Day 1, Story 1: The Snowflake’s Journey

Hello! I see you’ve noticed me in the morning sun. I was hoping you would. Please know that while my delicate form may seem miraculous, and my spirit bold for traveling all these miles, I sure-as-shooting-stars didn’t start out this way.

Have you ever heard the saying “as pure as the driven snow”? The truth is, we snowflakes all start out riding the coattails of dust. That’s right–dust! 

I want to share with you the cold, crystallized, and sometimes wonderful truth of it all. And how I wound up here, on your mitten.

A wee speck of moisture in an airborne ocean, I was. No different from trillions of vaporized kin, I remained anonymous but content for a while. How long, you ask? Who can say? Time moves slowly up there. Until it moves fast.

One uneventful day, I detected a shift in the air and in my soul. A deep yearning welled up in my molecules. A growing suspicion that I was destined for something greater. This pull was vague but undeniable. I decided then and there to follow this conviction wherever it may lead. To let it, and myself, take shape.

Not long after, a tiny castoff from a wayward westerly meandered aimlessly in my general direction. At odds with my grandiose thoughts, I was drawn to this run-of-the-mill particle. Through some inexplicable alchemy, we bonded.

We went together like thunder and lightning, which are really one and the same. I had no idea what this would mean for me. I felt scared. Everything was up in the air, so to speak.

Remembering the calling I felt, I considered the possibilities. Perhaps this was the beginning.

Just as I acclimated, and could no longer imagine life without this new part of me, a chill brought new change. Swift as the Kuroshio current, temperatures dipped and a process of metamorphosis was precipitated. 

The roundness of my ethereal being transformed into crisp, angular sharpness. I became multi-faceted, with six delicate branches. Through blasts of cold and warm air, my newly formed arms morphed, refined, and extended, as if reaching out for an unknown future. 

So began the fall from all I’d ever known. As you can probably imagine, it’s a dizzying descent from the upper atmosphere to this rough-and-tumble earth. There were times when I thought I might melt. Times when I felt I was moving sideways instead of forward, which in this case was down. Uncertainty abounded yet I knew I had to carry on. 

I’m not sure how long this expedition lasted. In fact, I began to wonder if there was even a destination at all when lo and behold, at long last, I alighted at the North Pole. 

There I was, perched on the highest tip of a reindeer’s antler before a quick shake of his head loosed me once again. I drifted and swirled briefly until landing at the foot of a young elf.

Like you, she must have been struck by my elegant structure, the artful handiwork of Mother Nature herself. No sooner had I settled, when the elf scooped me up into a perfect sphere of a snowball. And she had an arm!

Suddenly, I was airborne in a way that defied the laws of physics as I had thus far experienced them. This velocity was breathtaking. Straight and purposeful like an arrow. I felt alive but also nervous. Where would this trajectory lead? Over the head of a mischievous toy maker who ducked just in time and–smash! Into the back of Santa’s sleigh, it turns out. Upon impact, a flurry of new and familiar sensations crashed together.

I was disoriented, yet oddly fixed in place. Back to feeling like just another face in the cloud, yet thankful to be part of this festive scene. Of all the places to wind up, I found myself here! 

I glimpsed an old neighbor on an ice sculpture, but there was no time for hellos. Bells and cheers rose, and so did we. Up and away from the earth. Most astonishing! 

We quickly reached Santa’s intended elevation and again I experienced a way of flying that I could not previously have conceived. Soaring as part of a team. Without the foggiest clue about where we were going, I was eager to see what lay ahead.

A few rooftops into our trip, we hit turbulence. The reindeer bucked. There was a jerk and jolt, a dip and a drop, and my fellow frozen passengers and I began plummeting. We were a helpless clump in free fall until a passing nor’easter scattered us.

That very gust brought me here to your front yard. I found myself surrounded by fresh-faced snowflakes. They’d just arrived and sparkled excitedly in the moonlight. To them, the world was new. In them, I saw my younger self.

The night’s stillness was broken by the scraping of beastly snow plows, passing by then fading away, growling into the distance. The darkness of night bowed to the blue glow of dawn, stars now barely visible in the wake of a nimbostratus. As the sun emerged, I saw red birds foraging red berries and soon, there were rosy cheeked children bundled up and venturing out into a landscape remade.

Then I saw you! Marching out from your yellow house, the color of high noon on a sunny day, you carried a silver sled. You shielded your eyes from our brilliant albedo, boots sinking into powder.

I detected a sense of awe and kindred spirit. A new feeling bubbled up. I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Behind you, a much smaller child came out to play. He wore a fuzzy hat the color of pine needles and a look of determination. He tried to run but could only trudge as if pulled back by an invisible rope, due to his short stature and our impressive depth. Unfazed, he plodded his way to an enormous snowbank.

This temporary mountain towered over him. No matter. Step by step, sometimes pulling himself up with his insulated hands, he fought to reach the summit. Ah, but just when triumph seemed assured, he lost his footing, and rolled bumpily down the steep slope until landing face-first in the snow. 

He cried seemingly inconsolably, wailing skyward to curse the heavens. Snowflakes stuck to his eyelashes and tears poured down his flushed face. But you were there to comfort him. You gently picked him up and dusted him off, and all was calm. This was moving to me, as I know how traumatic a fall can be. 

Next, you surveyed the land and a look of creative inspiration came over your face. You began balling up snow and rolling the ball, gathering emotional steam and physical mass with each step. I watched as this process continued into late morning. 

You stepped back to assess your work. There were three imperfect spheres, stacked with the largest on the bottom and the smallest on top. It was pleasing to my eye, despite the lack of elven ease and precision. This was a labor of love.

A woman came out and handed you a striped garment. You wrapped it around what I assumed was the neck of what I began to realize was an abstract human form. Rocks became steely eyes, a carrot gamely took on the role of nose, and a small branch formed a wry, knowing smile. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. 

After another brief evaluation of your work, you turned in my direction and bent down to grab more snow. Once again I had the fantastically odd sensation of being raised up, against gravity and instinct. This time I felt nothing but joy.

You patted the handful of snow carefully, adding round cheeks to the snow human’s face. 

As you finished sculpting, I remained on your mitten. And then I caught a glint of sun and your eye. Perhaps it was chance. Perhaps I didn’t want to let go.

Ahem! Well, that’s that. There you have it and here we are. 

Yes, it’s been quite a journey, indeed.  Meeting you this Christmas morning has made it all worthwhile. 

Would you look at that? The sun is now high in the sky and the day is warming. Won’t be long now!

Farewell, friend, I’m onto what’s next. I do hope I’ll see you the next time around.

The end for now

(Note: Remaining holiday stories can be found here as they are released each day from 12/13 through 12/24.)

12 Christmas stories for 12 days!

You are invited to read 12 festively original stories in the 12 days leading up to Christmas.

I was eager to do some creative writing, and the holidays provided plenty of inspiration. You can find the stories posted here each day, December 13th through 24th.

These tales will vary greatly in tone and topic. Hoping it will add some fun to your holiday season!