Children's Stories

 Vacation



One day, Harriet, Hubert, and Hannah Haliburton came home from school to find their Mummy and Daddy sitting side by side on the chintz sofa.

Nothing very unusual in that, you might say. Quite normal, quite as expected. Except that they weren’t sitting there drinking tea or chatting; they were just sitting, staring into space with a blank look in their eyes and their mouths hanging open.

Now, this may be normal for the majority of parents but not for the Haliburtons. When they gazed, they gazed with intensity and purpose. When they sat down together on the chintz sofa it was to have a meaningful discussion. When they were silent, it was the silence necessary to deep, meditative thought.

But not this time.

Harriet said, “Look at Mummy and Daddy.”

Hubert said, “Look at them!”

Hannah said, “Look!”

Harriet said, “Looks like they’ve done too much jogging again or it could be the new superrough muesli ... Maybe its had a sort of opposite effect and they’ve seized up completely.” Harriet was bright, she could make deductions.

“Is that possible?” asked Hannah, remembering with horror that she had fed it to her gerbil as a special treat that very morning.

“It’s not likely,” said Harriet, “it’s more likely to be ‘stress’. Daddy’s always saying it’ll get him one day and it looks like it has. In fact it looks like it’s got them both – simultaneously.”

Hannah wasn’t sure she knew what ‘simultaneously’ meant, but it sounded serious, and somehow it made everything seem much worse. “If they’ve both seized up, what are we going to have for tea,” she moaned, “I mean who, who’s going to cook the food.”

There was a sudden strange disturbance in the corner of the room as Henry, the family dog, staggered out of its bed and came to lean lovingly on the back of Hannah’s legs. He didn’t do this because of a canine sensitivity to Hannah’s mood but because his evervigilant ears had picked up the word, the magic word, “food” being uttered. He would have preferred it if it had been preceded by the word “dog”, thus making “dog food”, a truly blessed combination, but food was enough to make him stir from his deliciously warm and smelly dogbed.

Hannah sank dramatically down onto Henry’s back, partly because the dog’s weight was making it difficult to balance while remaining upright and partly because she wanted to be a famous actress when she grew up and she knew she had to practise constantly. But Henry was ready for this. He had never nurtured any desire to be a beast of burden and had found that total leg collapse to be the most effective means of putting off children eager to play “horsey” with him. He crumpled prostrate on the floor with Hannah in an ungainly heap on top of him.

“You stupid dog.”‘ yelled Hannah. Henry got up slowly and with great dignity and pathos slowly crept back to his bed,  there to sit with his face to the wall, sighing.  In reality he was calculating whether he had generated enough guilt to warrant an extra dollop of dog biscuits from Hannah at teatime.

“Oh. who’s going to feed  us ….”, Hannah moaned on.

“We’ll feed ourselves,” said Harriet suddenly.

There was total silence, even Henry stopped sighing, hie sensed something portentous was about to be said.

Eventually, the silence was broken by Hubert, who wanted to know how they were going to feed. themselves. I mean, who could work the microwave oven, and in any case, Mummy hid the key to the freezer in a different place each week, so how could they.

“Easy,” said Harriet, “we’ll raid our Bank of Scotland piggy banks and go to the chip shop!”

“The chip shop ...” said Hubert.

“The grease ...” said Hannah.

“The cholest and rol...” whispered Hubert.

“So what!” said Harriet.

Hours later the children were sitting around the pine table in the kitchen. A heavy, comforting smell of daysold cooking fat mingled with vinegar hung in the air. The table and parts of the floor were littered with scraps of greaseimpregnated The Scotsman.

“Go into the sitting room and have another look at them, Hubert,” said Harriet.

Hubert hurriedly stuffed another chip into his mouth and slipped off his stool.  He came back moments later. “They’re still the same,” he reported, “just sitting there staring out into space.”

“I think they are a little bit better,” said Hannah. “They managed to eat those chips quite well. I fed them to them one by one, and held their chins up.  And then Hubert and I got them up and walked them round the room a little.”

“But, what are we going to do if it goes on like this we’ll have to get help,” said Hubert.

Hannah looked up, “what  about that nice babysitter? You know, the one that let’s us stay up till 11 o’clock  her number will be in the ‘phone book.”

Harriet shook her head, “No, no, you know what would happen if we got her. She’d ‘phone the doctor and Mummy and Daddy would be carted off to a rest home or something. And we’d have to go and stay with Grandma,” she turned to Hannah, “and you know what she’s like. We’d have to have pink ribbons in our hair and Hubert would have to wear those awful grey shorts again.”

“Yes, but Harriet, what else can we do,” wailed Hannah.

Harriet trailed a chip round in a pool of vinegar on the table in everdecreasing circles. The others watched her. Suddenly she stopped.

“I know,” she said, “we’ll take them on holiday. They need a holiday and we’ll give them one.”

There was a chorus of “Hows?”, “Wheres?” and “What withs?”

“It’s easy,” said Harriet, “we’ll look up a place in that ‘Selfcatering Holidays in Scotland’ booklet and ‘phone up and book it.”

“What about school?” asked Hubert. He felt that this could develop into one of Harriet’s better ideas but there were a few problems to be cleared tip first.

“We’ll send notes to school,” said Harriet slowly, her eyes narrowing with concentration. “No, we’ll send one note, from Daddy to the headmaster, saying that our grandfather has died and we are all going to stay with our grandmother for a few weeks,”

“But Harriet, that’s no good,” said Hannah, “our last grandfather died 4 years ago and you’re only allowed 2, they know that.”

“Don’t be silly, Hannah. They won’t remember. Why, Jennifer McGhee has been off with measles 6 times in 2 years and nobody’s twigged!  We’ll send a note to Daddy’s office as well.”

Harriet started crumpling up the chip papers.

“Hannah, take the gerbil round to Miss Simms and ask her nicely if she’ll look after him for you while you are away on holiday. Remember to lisp, she likes that.”

“What about Henry?” asked Hubert,” is he coming with its or should he go to the Kennels?”

Henry, having consumed. a whole portion of haggis and chips, was stretched out in his bed. On picking tip the dreaded word ‘Kennels’, his ears quivered upwards momentarily then drooped. He raised his head slowly and looked pathetically at the children. His eyes seemed to dim and his right front 1eg began to tremble.

“Oh, let’s take him with us.” said Hannah.

“Yes, let’s” said Hubert.

“O.K.” said Harriet, “it would be difficult to organise Kennels anyway.

Realising that he had been reprieved, Henry gave a small, grateful thump with his tail and slumped back into sleep.

Harriet got up and walked across the kitchen, “Come on then Hannah, go and get the gerbil. Hubert, you and I will find a holiday cottage and you can do the ‘phoning in a deep voice, while I write the notes and post them.”

Hubert looked across the table at Hannah, “But who’s going to drive the car, we hadn’t thought of that!”

Harriet turned dramatically in the doorway, “I will,” she said.

“But  you’re not old enough.” said Hannah, shocked.

“I’m almost 14, and anyway Mummy has let me practise lots of times in the driveway. She says that driving is one of the skills essential to modern living!”

Unnoticed by the children, a small, struggling moan issued from somewhere in the sitting room.

Early next morning, if you had been watching, which nobody was, you would have seen a strange group proceeding down the path of No. 82 Firriswood Road and into the dark blue Volvo parked at the bottom of the drive. The group seemed to consist of 2 extremely befuddled and senile adults supported by 3 children, one of whom was wearing high heels, a woolly hat and a pair of sunglasses.  Another of the children, a boy, was carrying a roadmap and 2 cushions.

Threequarters of an hour later the same blue Volvo estate car was to be seen drawing up rather jerkily at the end of a row of whitewashed cottages in a small seaside town.

“Right,” said Harriet, pulling on the brake and pulling off her woolly hat, which was beginning to itch, at the same time.

“The woman said on the ‘phone that the key would be under a stone by the front door. Silly  anybody could be in her cottage for all she would know! Come on  let’s get Mummy and Daddy inside before anyone sees them.”

“What are we going to have for tea?” asked Hannah as she opened the back door of the car.

“Don’t start already Hannah.” snapped Harriet, “we’ll sort something out.”

“No, I was just thinking...” continued Hannah, smiling. She bent down into the car and squinted at Hubert who was still sitting in the front passenger seat. “Hubert, if you could have anything you wanted for tea  what would it be?”

Hubert answered promptly, “Two mars bars and a whole Kunzel cake.

“Harriet, what would you like?”

Harriet thought about it, “Sweet and sour pork with fried rice and a spring roll. I noticed a Chinese takeaway back there.”

Hannah straightened up, “I’ll have chips again,” she said dreamily.

Harriet and Hannah smiled at each other.

“Well, go on then, go and get it all,” said Harriet, “you’ve got all the money from Mummy’s Save Our Heritage campaign.  There must be about £200 in that box at least. She did better than anybody else on the committee.”

“Oh ...” a thought struck Hannah, “What about Mummy and Daddy... ?”

“Get them some chips. They seemed to co me round a bit after that last lot,” shouted Hubert from inside the car. This could be a great holiday, he told himself with satisfaction.

Two days later, the woman who owned the cottage came round to see if everything was alright. Harriet answered the door and told her that her parents were having an afternoon nap but that yes everything was fine. Harriet waved politely as the woman went down the path. She shut the door firmly and went back into the kitchen.

Everything was indeed fire. Hubert was sitting with his feet up on the table, wearing his new fluorescent Batman suit and blowing huge bubbles from his Hubba Pubba bubblegum. Hannah was crouching on the back doorstep busily counting, for the 20th time, the money she had made on the onearm bandits by the pier.

Mummy and Daddy were sitting side by side on deck chairs in the back garden, leafing through some magazines Hannah had thoughtfully bought for them that morning. They seemed to enjoy the pictures. From above the sun streamed down with unqualified benevolence upon them all.

Harriet walked to the end of the garden and perched herself on the wall.  She could see Henry down on the beach, tottering from picnic group to picnic group, doing his best to look like an illfed stray as he begged for scraps. He was getting noticeably fatter.

After a few minutes, Hannah came down and sat beside her. “Coming to the Bingo tonight?” she asked.

“No thanks. I never win anything,” replied Harriet.

“I do,” smugly Hannah marked her prizes off on her fingers, “I’ve got a set of whisky glasses, 2 guest towels and a gift box of kitchen utensils already and I’ve only been 3 times. The man says he’s never known anyone as lucky as me! You know, we could have a sale in the front garden and make...” Hannah stopped in midsentence as a bright yellow Triumph TR7 convertible came nosing round the corner of the cottages and stopped in front of the girls.

In the car sat a man and a woman. Harriet noticed that the woman was wearing a pair of dungarees in exactly the same shade of yellow as the car. The man pushed his sunglasses up onto his forehead and smiled over at the girls. “Could you kids possibly tell us where 2 Seaview Cottages is?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Hannah, “it’s this one, next to ours.”

She pointed back over her shoulder, “but you can’t park here. You’ll have to drive round to the front.”

“Thanks.” The man put the car into reverse and slowly edged it back round the wall. The girls watched it go.

“Do you think they would like to buy a set of cutglass whisky glasses, Harriet?” Ventured Hannah hopefully.

“No,” said Harriet, laughing, “not even if you lisped at them!”

At 5 o’clock the next morning, disaster struck. Hubert was woken up by a strange crackling, rumbling noise which seemed to come from the wall by his bed. He reached out and tentatively touched the wall with his fingertips. He pulled his hand back quickly. The wall was unbearably hot. Snow seemed to be falling gently round him. Hubert decided he must be having one of his weird dreams again and settled back comfortably onto his pillow to wait for it to end. Suddenly there was a loud crack and a black line appeared in the wall directly in front of Hubert’s nose. Hubert’s eyes shot open and he sat up in bed. He looked around. This was strange, even for one of his dreams. The snow was falling more thickly now. Hubert looked up. Large strips of plaster were curling tip and detaching themselves from the ceiling, to float gracefully down. He could hear Henry whining and scratching at the living room door.

Hubert jumped out of bed and ran down stairs. He opened the door of the living room and was thrown to the floor by the force of Henry’s exit. Behind Henry came billowing, grey smoke and an ominous roaring noise. Hubert wiped his streaming eyes and peered into the room. Smoke and small darts of flame were squinting out from the firebricks at the back of the grate. But how could that be? Noone had lit a fire yesterday, and any ashes left in the grate would be completely cold. Next door - the people next door  must have lit a fire and set the chimney alight. Hubert turned and yelled up the stairs, “Fire! Fire!, Quick.”

Harriet appeared on the landing with a furious look on her face. “Hubert,” she started, “It’s time you grew out of these silly drea ...” Then she saw the smoke. Her voice changed. “Phone the Fire Brigade, Hubert. I’ll get the others.”

“The Fire Brigade! The Fire Brigade! What number is it?” screamed Hubert, dancing up and down. Harriet appeared back on the landing. She smirked superciliously down at Hubert. This was a moment which no big sister could resist  not even with a fire raging around them. “Hubert,” she said quietly, “don’t be silly. Everybody knows what number the Fire Brigade is. IT’S 999, YOU DUMMY!”

Hubert’s panic subsided, to be replaced by a familiar feeling of deflation. He picked up the ‘phone.

The Fire Brigade took a long time to come. By the time they arrived, No. 1 and No. 2 Seaview Cottages were almost completely gutted.  The children stood huddled protectively around their parents on the lawn, watching the flames soaring up into the sky. A few feet away from them stood the man and woman from No. 2 arguing about whose job it had been to make sure the fire was safe before going to bed.

The woman was wearing a short black silk pajama top and the man was wearing a short broderie anglaise nightie. Harriet couldn’t help staring at them. She wondered if that was what each of them usually wore in bed or whether they had got things mixed up in their rush to get out of the house...

Suddenly, the woman in the black pajama top screamed as a jet of water erupted across the lawn, drenching them all. Henry had decided that the hose, writhing sinister and snakelike across the garden,  was the cause of all the trouble. After growling and snarling at it for about 20 minutes, he had finally screwed up enough courage to attack and had managed to rip out a large chunk of it. The children ran across the lawn, trying to get away from the icycold water. They jumped over the garden wall and crouched down behind it. An arc of silver spray passed over their heads, landing directly in the yellow TIV convertible, gradually filling it up. The children watched, fascinated, as the water began to trickle out from the bottom sills of the doors.

“Harriet?  Hubert? John... where... where are we... What’s happening...”

“I don’t know, darling, I... I...”

“That’s done it,” chattered Hubert, from between clenched teeth, “it’s Mummy and Daddy. Listen. The shock of the cold water must have brought them out of whatever it was they were in...”

“John... where... where... are the children!’

Slowly the 3 children stood up. Harriet moved first. She scrambled over the wall.

“Mummy, Mummy!” she cried. “You’re better!’ You’re better!”

“Harriet! What do you mean, we’re better. What’s been happening…?”

“Well, you and Daddy went all funny,” said Hubert, coming up behind Harriet.

“Yes,” said Harriet quickly, looking hard at Hubert, “and you said we all needed a holiday and you wrote a note to school, Daddy, saying our grandfather had died.

“What do you mean?” said Harriet’s father. “Why would I do that?  I don’t remember …” he stopped, confused.

Mummy booked this cottage and here we  are,” went on Hannah.

“But I don’t remember doing that!” said her mother.

“But Mummy - how else could we have got here?”  Harriet’s eyes were round and questioning.

“Yes... yes, I suppose you’re right...” Mrs Haliburton’s voice trailed to a halt.

Harriet’s logic was indisputable.

“It was after those kidney beans,” said Hannah, with conviction.

Everyone looked at her.

“What kidney beans?” asked her father.

“Yes, what kidney beans,” asked Harriet.

“That last meal you made at home, Mummy. You remember don’t you?” Hannah looked questioningly at her mother.

“No… I… anyway, it was why weren’t you children affected.  We all eat the same things...

“Hubert spoke. “No, we don’t. We always feed kidney beans under the table to Henry. He likes them, we don’t.”

“Oh... then maybe it was… My God, John ... it must have been... toxic substances I’ve read about it ... But I …  I… always bring them to the boil for at least 2 minutes…  How?”

Mr Haliburton began to feel warm reality enclosing him again. “Sylvia!  Where did you buy them? I’ll complain!  Probably South American, they’ve no export control.”

“Yes, yes, I suppose so  Oh, dear the poor children – think what might have happened to them … Oh… John”

 “There’s one more thing, Mummy said Hannah quickly, “Your ‘Save our Heritage’ campaign money. You brought it with you for safety and it’s gone up in the fire.”

“The fire, the fire,” said Mrs Haliburton, bemused, “Oh yes, you poor children... how  how did it happen?”

“It was the people next door,” said Hubert, “They set the chimney alight.”

“O God, you poor things  having to cope with all this.” Mrs Haliburton began to tremble.’

“It’s O.K.” said Harriet, grinning, “We managed.” She turned to the others, “Didn’t we!”

They grinned back.

On the road behind them stood a man in a soaking wet broderie anglaise nightie, sobbing quietly into his waterlogged TR7 convertible. The sound caught Harriet’s attention. she turned and looked at the bedraggled figure hunched over his car. “He should have bought a Volkswagen,” she said. “They are fantastically well sealed.”


The end




Erica the Remarkable Chicken


Mimi and Billy were farmers and they wanted to go on holiday.  Before they went they found a Good Man to look after the farm for them while they were away.

The trouble was that this Good Man didn’t know a lot about farm animals. He really just wanted to live on the farm to get away from people. You see, he was very, very sad. He was in love with a Beautiful Singer who didn’t love him and he was heartbroken.

He bought with him a C.D. player, a stereo tape system, an ipod and lots and lots of downloads of the Beautiful Singer singing. He put the stereo system in the farmhouse, the C.D. player in the barn and he wore his ipod headphones on his head all the time.

After the first day, the farm animals could all sing most of the songs ever sung by the Beautiful Singer. The Good Man walked over the fields and cried into handkerchief after handkerchief, while the music played out over the barn, the farmyard and the farmhouse.

The Good Man never once thought about what the farm animals would eat or whether they needed water. He just carried on sobbing into his handkerchiefs and singing along with the Beautiful Singer.

Now, this didn’t matter too much to the pigs in the pigpen. They had a big, deep trough filled by a tap which never stopped dripping, so they had a constant supply of water and they had a huge mound of delicious, crunchy turnips in the middle of their pen. Molly had left them there as a going away present.

The cows in the fields were alright. They could chew grass all day and drink from the stream at the bottom of the field.

The chickens were alright. They had a large, grassy run full of juicy worms and interesting insects. A leaking water pipe ran under their fence, so they always had puddles to drink from.

But it was not all right for the two cows who were shut in their barn with their tiny calves. Billy had put them in there so that they could be safe and warm. He had given them a deep bed of straw and had filled up their water trough of special cownuts before he left, but by the end of the first day the cows had drunk most of the water and had eaten all the cownuts and they were worried.

They were worried because if they did not get anything to eat they would stop making milk and if they stopped making milk they could not feed their calves and the calves would die.

That night the pigs in the pigpen snuggled up together in the pighuts, burping occasionally and dreaming of turnips. The chickens roosted, closely packed on the perches of the chicken house. Big, fat worms wriggled through their dreams. The cows in the fields closed their eyes and leaned comfortably against each other, already feeling tomorrow’s sun on their backs.

But in the barn the two mother cows moved restlessly about, lowing to each other and anxiously nuzzling their calves.

In the farmhouse the Good Man lay, fully dressed, on his bed, clutching a photograph of the Beautiful Singer to his chest and snoring gently while the Beautiful Singer’s voice whispered to him through the ipod. Set on repeat, and linked by Bluetooth, the machines played on through the night, in the cowshed and across the fields. People walking in the lane thought a party was going on at Brush Farm.

Some of the animals hummed the tunes in their sleep. But one animal didn’t.

High up on an uncomfortable wooden ledge in the Chicken Hut, crouched Erica the Chicken. Erica’s feathers were sticking out in all directions, which they always did when she was upset. And she was extremely upset. She was upset because she had to listen to the voice of the Beautiful Singer. And she couldn’t stand it. It was loud and screechy, it reminded her of Aunt Mabel when she was eggbound,  and it was keeping her awake.

Erica sat awake all night, and just before dawn she began to hear another noise. It was the noise of the cows in the barn. They were getting more worried and were beginning to call for help. They were making a desperate animal call which said, “Help us! Help us!” Any animal hearing it would understand it and know that something was seriously wrong.

But as the day broke and the animals woke up Erica could see that they were all singing along with the Beautiful Singer. They were so beguiled by the sound of her voice that they couldn’t hear the cows in the barn.

“Surely the Good Man would hear the cows,” thought Erica the Chicken, and she watched the door of the farmhouse anxiously.

Eventually, the Good Man came out, but he was still wearing his Sony Walkman and clutching a handkerchief to his eyes. Erica watched him walk far away over the fields.

“Something’s got to be done!” thought Erica. “Somebody’s got to do something!” she thought.

She looked across at the pigpen. Four of the pigs were singing in harmony with their eyes shut. She looked at the cows in the field. Their tails were all twitching in time to the beat. She looked around at his fellow chickens. Ten of them were gathered in a corner of the run, arguing over a dance sequence they were choreographing.  And a terrible, frightening thought came to Erica. Somebody’s got to do something ... and ... it’s got to be ... ME ....

All of Erica’s feathers suddenly stood on end with fright. What a responsibility! What was she going to do? “Breath deeply, don’t panic,” she said to herself.

Erica started to plan. She had to put a stop to the music and in order to do that, first she had to get out of the chicken run.

How to do it? Well, she had wings so maybe she could fly out of the chicken run. Erica was not very hopeful about this. The sides of the chicken run were made of chicken wire and were quite high. No chicken had ever made it. But she had to try. She tried ten times to fly over the fence. She took big runs down the length of the pen and then whoosh! Up into the air she flew, flapping her wings madly. But each time she tried it she landed halfway up the fence and clung on with her beak and claws before she fell back onto the grass. That gave her an idea. The idea!

She could climb out of the chickenrun using her claws and beak to pull her up the chicken wire. And that is what she did. It was extremely difficult and just as she reached the top she thought she was surely going to fall right back in. But she didn’t. She launched herself off from the top of the fence and almost flew down into the farmyard.

“I’ve done it!” thought Erica. “I’m free! Now for the farmhouse.”

She dashed across the yard and in through the open kitchen door. Of course the kitchen was empty. The Good Man was still out walking the fields. But Erica could hear the voice of the Beautiful Singer coming from somewhere.  But where?

Erica had some idea where music could come from. She had seen Molly and Billy fiddling with a black box when they sat out on the lawn. She watched carefully and knew that music came from boxes which had bits you pressed and clicked to make the noise.

She looked around the kitchen and saw ... a black box. Well, it was really the microwave oven, but she didn’t know that.  That’s it, she thought. That’s where the music’s coming from.

Erica flapped hard and managed to get up on the worktop beside the microwave oven, “Mmm,” she said to herself, “These little square bits must be the bits you press.” She pecked at the control panel with her beak. Nothing happened. She pecked harder and with a soft clunk the door of the microwave oven slowly opened.

The music played on. “Hmm,” thought Erica. “Maybe the switches are inside this thing.” So she stepped inside the microwave oven. She had to crouch because the inside of the oven wasn’t very big. She started to peck at the air vent. Nothing happened. Erica pecked harder.

Outside in the farmyard a gust of wind blew the dust up in circles. It rushed across the yard and blew in the kitchen door. It hit the microwave oven and the door ... slammed shut!

Erica felt the clunk and felt the door brush against her tail feathers. She turned herself around and pushed at the door with her head. It wouldn’t budge. “Hmm,” she thought to herself. “This stupid music player’s shut on me. Well, at least there is a window where I can see out. I suppose the Good Man will come back sometime and he will let me out.” “Breath deeply,” she thought to herself. “Don’t panic.”

Erica settled down to wait. Outside the mother cows continued to shout “Help us! Help us!” and the other animals continued to sing and dance to the music. After about half an hour the Good Man came back over the fields. All this crying and walking was making him feel hungry. He came into the kitchen and went over to the freezer. Erica saw him and started to squawk as loudly as she could. Of course, the Good Man couldn’t hear her. The Good Man took a white packet out of the freezer.
“Microwave for seven minutes,” he said to himself, reading the instructions as he crossed the kitchen.

He pressed the ‘open’ button on the microwave oven ... the door burst open ... and out flew Erica the Chicken ... her feathers sticking out all ways, her neck stretched out, her wings flapping and her eyes almost popping out of her head!

The Good Man thought a terrible feathery monster was attacking him and he jumped backwards. He stumbled and fell, knocking his head on the terracotta tiles of the kitchen floor,  Erica landing on his chest.

Erica clung on to the Good Man’s shirt front and tried to calm herself. “Oh dear, Oh dear, Oh, chicken livers,” she said to herself over and over again.

Then she noticed that the Good Man wasn’t moving. Perhaps he was dead! Erica looked closely at the Good Man. He seemed to be breathing. “Just unconscious,” thought Erica to herself, relieved. Then she saw the headphones. “Aha, this is where some of the music is coming from  but where’s the box?” She noticed the wire leading from the headphones to the walkman and she noticed the square controls on the box. She pecked at each one and on the third peck the music stopped.

“Right,” thought Erica. “That’s one, but there are others.” She rushed through the house until she found the stereo system. “I’m not getting inside it,” thought Erica to herself. “I can’t stand that again.”

She pecked at the shiny black front of the machine. Eventually her beak hit the right button and the music stopped. Erica cocked her head on one side and listened. She could still hear some music. She listened carefully. “It’s the barn,” she said ‘to herself. “There’s another one in there! “

The music machine in the barn was easy to find. It looked so out of place sitting amongst the hay bales and the feed bags. Erica hit the right button first time. “I’m getting good at this,” she thought to herself.

Suddenly there was no music, no music at all.

The pigs stopped humming harmoniously and opened their eyes. The cows in the field stopped twitching their tails and looked at each other, The chickens stopped arguing about who was to be lead dancer and cocked their heads to one side. And, of course, in that moment they all heard the other sound that had been trying to reach them.

At the same time all the animals’ hearts jumped as they heard the desperate cry of the mother cows. It filled their ears and their minds. “Help us! Help us!” cried the mother cows and all the animals of the farm understood instantly and completely that this was serious and they did what all animals do in these circumstances  they joined in.

“Help them! Help them!” cried the pigs. “Help them! Help them!” cried the chickens. “Help them! Help them!” cried the cows in the field.

The sound swelled out from the farmyard and soared up into the air above. All the wild birds nearby heard it and they joined in too and the noise went on and on growing.

Back in the kitchen the Good Man was coming round. As soon as his ears started to work he heard the huge noise of the animals. Even though his head hurt he jumped up and rushed out into the farmyard to see what was so terribly wrong.

Once inside the cowshed, he saw what the problem was. He quickly gave the mother cows some water and some cownuts and he made up some calfmilk from packets and helped the little calves to suck it up from buckets  just in case their mothers hadn’t been able to give them enough milk that day.

Gradually the noise outside subsided as the animals realised that the danger was over. Erica the Chicken perched on the metal bars of the cowpen and watched the man do all this. When the man had finished he looked back at her. That was the chicken which had flown out of the microwave at him. He was sure of it. The man had a feeling that this was a very remarkable chicken indeed.

“Thanks, chicken,” he said.

Erica clucked softly.

The man went all round the farm checking that all the animals were O.K. and Erica the Chicken went with him.

That night things were quiet. The man sat out by the kitchen door and wrote a song. Erica the Chicken perched on his chair and watched him. Then the man brought a guitar from his bedroom and sang the song a few times. All the animals stopped what they were doing and listened.

They couldn’t understand the human words but they knew what the song said.

It was a sad song and it said, “Help me! Help me!”

The animals joined in, but very softly. The man heard them and he felt a little better.

The next day the man sent his song to the Beautiful Singer.

I hope she understood it, don’t you?

I hope she came to rescue him from his sadness. Because he is a truly Good Man.

The end