The Flattening

T

Don’t pick fleas from a young hen’s neck.

Old Grouse Saying

Gilb likes to read The Daily Gargle with a bowl of fermented heather seeds first thing in the morning. He also likes to finish off his meals, including breakfast, with a few tasty ants, as a palette cleanser. He likes it if one or more of the ants manage to escape and he has to chase them around the den before eating them. Somehow he feels he has earned the meal if he has to catch it. Gilb has been known to help his ants out of the bowl just so he can chase them.

Gilb’s elderly mum was recently flattened by an Austin A35 van heading towards Ramshaw, a human village not far from the Nookton Settlement. Gilb watched as the Broken Grouse Recovery Team peeled his mum’s remains from the warm tarmac. A later inquiry concluded that Pintip, Gilb’s mum, was returning from a morning collecting sheep dung when the accident happened. Pintip was not wearing her sound-amplifier, a small device for assisting deaf grouse with their hearing. Without the sound-amplifier, Pintip was not able to hear the van approaching. A verdict of Self-Induced Silliness was delivered. The driver of the vehicle, who was not present at the inquiry, was cleared of wrong-doing except the wrong-doing of being human which is the default error of all humans and is unpunishable.   

Crossing roads by foot is the second most dangerous thing a grouse can do. It’s usually  recommended that a grouse fly across roads. Most flightpath applications can be done via weasel-mail which only takes a few cycle-bits from the moment of the application being submitted. On the day of Pintip’s flattening, her application for a flightpath to the grassy-patch was lost. Yumpit remembers delivering it and handing it over to Snut’s secretary Clobber. But it appears that the application then got lost, possibly accidentally chewed by the team of mice who deal with the shredding of confidential paperwork.

As Gilb swallows his last ant, he looks across at the antique beak-sharpener that belonged to his grandad and suddenly sees his mum’s sound-amplifier beside the picture of his eldest cock Snuff. ‘My goodness,’ he says, ‘what’s that doing there?’ Gilb calls for Yumpit who is chewing peat outside on the veranda.

Yumpit grabs the sound-amplifier and looks at it quizzically. ‘I assure you that was not there last night before we went to sleepies,’ he says. Pilly must have put it there, before going to the chapel. She must have found it and put it there out of the way.’

Gilb nods his head. ‘You know,’ he says, ‘mum would never cross the road without her sound-amplifier. She would never take that sort of risk just for sheep-dung. She likes to dry them early for burning it’s true, but we already have a good supply of dung ready for the cold-season.  Mum told me she was going to pickle cheesy-bobs that morning, she said nothing about collecting sheep dung. None of what happened to mum makes any sense.’

Yumpit agrees. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘I must go and wash the bowls and then I must go and chew some more peat. Pilly wants to make biscuits to eat while we watch the dark rise before sleepies.’ Yumpit walks over to Gilb and puts his peat-stained paw on Gilb’s wing. ‘Pintip was a fine grouse,’ he says. ‘She liked the traditional ways. I remember the others laughed at her when she said she wanted to sit on the egg-you. But she did it despite their laughter. She sat on you until you came out of your shell.’

Pilly likes to go to the chapel to make offerings of roasted pignut to the Cosmic Flower who, it is believed, created dirt and peat and rock and planted the first heather and formed the first grouse out of her own precious sap. It is also believed, particularly by learned grouse, that the shiny-seed that created The Cosmic Flower fell to the ground after it became dislodged from the immense dark that separates the cycles of the cosmic-ovum.

The human driving the A35 van who was cleared of wrong-doing over Pintip’s flattening is known as Arthur. He has lived in the village of Hunstanworth since he was a fledgeling and has worked in Ramshaw since he became a fully grown human. Arthur is well known to the Nookton Settlement but like most humans he is himself, unaware of the sophistication of grouse culture.

Most Nookton grouse remain wary of Arthur and this is principally because of his attachment to Garrett, the gamekeeper and guardian of human interests on Nookton Fell. Garrett works for the human lords to keep the heather young and appetising and to keep the fell free of predators. He’s often seen counting grouse and measuring areas of heather. Nookton grouse are some of the friendliest grouse ever to have been formed from the sap of the Cosmic Flower. Most Nookton grouse wish no harm to come to any human and believe that human ignorance of grouse culture is due to a blindness that comes about due to their unnatural urge to eat birds.

Gilb leaves the den just as the Cosmic Ovum’s life giving shiny-warmth appears from behind the big grey fluffy-bucket that had earlier spilt water and moistened the peat and heather. The odour of damp wood fills the air. Gilb loves the smell of his heathery home after a fluffy-bucket spill. ‘I am happy to be a grouse today,’ he says to himself, ‘thank you.’ Gilb has a great love for the wonderful works of the Cosmic Flower. A sky-lark begins chirping from her nest somewhere in the curly hair-grass not far from the den. Gilb lowers his head in respect for the moment.   

Gilb makes his way to the ant farm where he is to officially open a new underground complex of seven spleenwort fermentation vats. On his way he meets Pililidip the young hen who has recently received an award for her splendid melodic gargling. Pililidip is on her way to the market to sell dried grubs. ‘I can’t eat grubs,’ announces Gilb as he squeezes past her along the narrow section of the Whiteheaps Walkway. Pililidip is surprised that the Patriarch spoke to her and looks down in respect. ‘I dried them myself,’ she says. ‘The Cosmic Ovum has blessed us with much warmth this high-season.’

Gilb agrees. ‘But the peat has become crumbly and is much harder to cook,’ he says. ‘Well, that’s what Yumpit my weasel tells me.’ Gilb looks up at the Cosmic Ovum. ‘I must go, but tell me first, have you thought about your First Egg? It can be a difficult time for a young hen. Let me know if you need any assistance, won’t you? I believe Pilly, my mate, meets your mum at the Chapel quite regularly. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.’ Pililidip nods her head and then walks away. Gilb calls out to her. ‘I can’t eat grubs because they upset my stomach. But I’m sure yours are delicious.’

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By Adam Lee
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