For all the Luke Walker chapters click here 🙂
Chapter 24: Rescue
SATURDAY 31 MAY
“Can I wait for you at the park?”
“Can I wait at the library?”
“Because I’m not going to be long.”
“I won’t be long either.”
“Luke. I’ve just got a couple of things to get in here and then we’re going straight home. I haven’t got time to run around after you.”
Luke hated shopping. It was so boring. “I’m waitin’ outside then.”
“Fine. But don’t go anywhere.”
The health food shop was small and crowded so he was glad that at least he didn’t have to follow Mum in. However, time never passed quickly for a person waiting. After standing there for a couple of minutes he decided to read the posters on the window. One in particular interested him very much.
As soon as Mum came out of the shop Luke rushed to help her. “I’ll carry that for you.”
“Oh. Thank you.” They walked back to the car. “I got a big peanut butter this time. You boys get through it so quickly.”
“And I found some mushroom and leek pies that look good. They’re organic and gluten-free.”
“The shop lady says they’re lovely.”
“I bet they are.”
Mrs Walker was pleased that Luke seemed in a better mood than he was ten minutes earlier but there was something odd about him. “You alright Luke?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said absent-mindedly, “jus’ thinkin’ about … the pies.”
“Mmm? Yeah. ….. Er, Mum?”
“Can we rescue some chickens?”
“I’d look after ’em – you wouldn’t have to do anything.”
“Don’t you think you’ve got enough on your plate?” He shook his head but she continued. “You’ve already got Curly and Squirt to look after, and Scratcher, and Dudley.”
“I could do it!”
“Plus you get a lot more homework than you used to.” She started the car.
“They’ll kill ’em if we don’t take ’em!”
“I said no!”
When her son dropped the argument Mrs Walker assumed the matter was settled. But really, she should have known better.
SUNDAY 1 JUNE
An emergency meeting of the Secret Society was held in Luke’s bedroom.
“Did anybody’s parents say yes?” asked Luke. Everyone shook their heads.
“My dad said they’d ruin the garden,” said Tania.
“Yeah, that’s what my mum said,” agreed Isabel.
“Joe? What did yours say?”
“Didn’t ask them.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Why not?” Luke was more than a little affronted.
“To keep ’em at mine I mean, I don’t know what my lot would do to ’em.”
Luke nodded. “There’s on’y one thing we can do then.”
“Keep ’em at mine.”
“I thought your mum said no,” said Tania.
“Yeah but the way I see it, I’ve got the perfect place for ’em: the damson patch. It’s fenced, it’s got a shed, and the rabbits don’t live there any more.”
“But if your mum said no …”
“It’s really overgrown now so I don’t think they’d notice.”
“They’re bound to tidy it up one day,” warned Joe, “they’ll see ’em eventually.”
“Yeah but not straight away.”
“But when they do – what will you do then?”
“By then I’ll have proved that I’m lookin’ after ’em properly, and still gettin’ all my homework done, and lookin’ after the other animals. I’ll have proved her wrong so she’ll have to let me keep ’em.”
The others shook their heads again.
“You’ll never get away with it,” said Isabel, “even if you do at first you’ll be in a heck of a lot of trouble when they do find out.”
Luke shrugged. “I’ve been in trouble before.”
“Ookaay. It’s your funeral.” Isabel opened her laptop. “What’s that address again?”
When they reached Wixham Animal Action’s website, the chicken re-homing appeal was on the front page.
“It says here there’s nine thousand!”
“Nine thousand? That’s a big farm! Is it closing down?” asked Tania.
“Erm …. no. They’re just getting new hens.”
“Says here it’s the law. Hens can’t be more than seventy two weeks old because after that their eggs aren’t good enough for supermarkets.”
“So they replace them with new ones?”
“Yeah. Look, it says they would normally go to slaughter at seventy two weeks but this farmer doesn’t want them to be killed.”
“Why is he a farmer then?” asked Luke. Isabel continued to read silently. “Why is he a farmer if he don’t like killin’ animals?” Luke asked again.
“She. Well, they. It’s a family farm,” explained Isabel. “Look at this picture – it’s an organic free-range farm. The chickens look happy don’t they?”
“Yeah but they’re still gonna be killed.”
“Well she’s trying to get them re-homed so they won’t be killed.”
“Let me get this straight,” Luke’s hackles were up. “These are nice farmers who don’t want their chickens to be killed so every seventy two weeks – what’s that, a year and a half? – they’ve got to find homes for nine thousand birds?”
“But if they can’t find enough homes they go to slaughter anyway?”
“Yes but that’s why …”
“And then they breed another nine thousand new chickens who are gonna need homes the next year otherwise they’ll go to slaughter as well.”
“So this’ll happen every other year.”
“Erm, I guess so – yeah, it says here they’ve done it eight times before.”
“And in all that time it never occurred to ’em that the best way to make sure your birds don’t get slaughtered is to stop bein’ chicken farmers!”
Isabel did her best to zone him out while she continued to read. “Well, the farmer says that most people won’t go vegan so if she closed down her high welfare, organic, free range farm, people would just buy their eggs from low-welfare factory farms and that would be much worse for the chickens.”
“That’s a rather defeatist attitude,” said Tania.
“She says you should blame the consumer not the farmer,” added Isabel, “if consumers didn’t buy them the farmers wouldn’t produce them.”
“Of course,” said Tania, “the farmers are blameless!” and she winked at Luke. Luke sighed.
Joe changed the subject. “How do we tell them we want to adopt some. Is there an email address?”
“Er, … oh no, it says we have to phone this number. We’ve got to talk to them.”
“No, Wixham Animal Action.” Isabel was concerned. “They’re not going to let us adopt without parental consent are they?”
“You do it,” said Luke.
“Me?” Tania was apprehensive.
“Yeah, you’re good at soundin’ grown up. Like when you did that impression of Mrs Tyler. You sounded just like her.”
Tania smiled. “Okay,” she said, picking up her phone, “what’s the number?”
While she waited for the call to be answered her heart beat hard and fast. She turned away from the others so they wouldn’t make her laugh.
“Hello?” said the woman who eventually picked up.
“Oh, hello,” said Tania in her best Mrs Tyler voice. “I would like to adopt some rescued chickens please.”
“Oh great, hang on a minute, let me get a pen. ….. Right, how many can you take?”
“Erm,” Tania looked at the others and mouthed how many? but they didn’t understand her. She put the phone on speaker.
“We like people to take at least three,” the woman advised, “because they’re sociable creatures. Wouldn’t be happy on their own.”
“Oh yes of course,” said Tania, looking at the others for a sign.
“Shall I put you down for three?” the woman suggested, “or have you got room for more?”
Luke held up his open right hand.
“Five?” said Tania uncertainly.
“Five?” asked the woman.
“Yes,” Tania smiled, “five please.”
“Good. Okay, now do you have a garden and a house for them?”
“A chicken house for them to sleep in.”
“Oh yes, a shed.”
“It’ll need nesting boxes and perches. And it’ll need to be fox-proof,” the woman explained.
Luke nodded at Tania.
“Yes,” she said, “it will be.”
“Okay then, I’ll just take your name, address and phone number and then we’ll get back to you on the thirteenth to give you a pick up location and time.”
“Pick them up?”
“Yes. Is that a problem?”
“No no, that’ll be fine,” said Tania with feigned confidence. “Absolutely fine.”
SATURDAY 7 JUNE
When the doorbell rang Luke rushed to answer it.
“Expecting someone?” asked Mum.
“Joe and the others.”
“Oh. Will you be going out?” she called after him. She’d been hoping to have the house to herself so she could give it a good spring clean.
Luke returned from the front door with his friends in tow. “We’ll be in the garden,” he told his mother as they headed for the back door, “where’s Dad?”
“Working in the garage.”
Mum was relieved until she remembered, “oh but you can’t go in there!” she shouted after him as he approached the garage door. Luke stopped and looked back as Mum rushed down the garden path in her slippers. “What do you want Dad for?” she asked, “he’s busy, doesn’t want to be disturbed.”
“Just wanted to borrow a screwdriver.”
“Okay, I’ll get it. Flathead?”
“Okay.” She entered the garage and closed the door behind her.
“Dad’s a bit grumpy,” Luke explained to his friends. They nodded. Moments later Mum emerged with the screwdriver and the Society resumed course for the damson patch. They entered the shed.
“Not bad,” said Isabel. “It’s solid. Bit dusty but we can sweep it out no problem. This’ll make a good chicken house.”
“Let’s put this on,” said Tania, “where do you want it?”
Luke showed her the hole he’d hammered in the wall years ago to make a door for the rabbits. “Down here,” he said, moving the boxes that were blocking it.
“Perfect, that’s just the right size,” said Tania, holding the new cat flap up against it. “Once we’ve got this on, the chickens can go in and out during the day and at night you can lock it closed to keep them safe.”
“Great,” said Luke, smiling, “thanks.” He handed Tania the screwdriver and she got to work.
The others swept the floor, dusted off the cobwebs and cleaned the window. In less than an hour, the shed was almost fit for purpose.
“What are you going to do about bedding?” asked Isabel.
“I’ll get straw from the bale in Curly and Squirt’s shed.”
“I thought it was better to use shavings.”
“Straw’s all I’ve got, it’ll have to do.”
“That’ll be fine,” said Tania. “What about nesting boxes?”
“Ahh,” said Luke, smiling. He opened the door and went outside for a moment. When he came back he was dragging an old rabbit hutch. “This was what Butler kept Scratcher in before I rescued her,” he explained. “When he left it out for the dustmen I went and got it.” It was in good clean condition. Luke opened the doors. “I’ll take the doors off and make a straw bed on both sides. They can lay their eggs in there if they want to.”
“There’s only room for two though,” said Isabel.
“Three,” said Luke, “I’m sure three of ’em could fit comfortably in there, and they’re not likely to all wanna lay an egg at the same time are they?”
“Actually,” said Joe, “don’t take the doors off. If you open them wide and fix them open, the chicks can perch on them.”
“Good thinking!” Luke agreed, “What can we fix ’em with?”
At that moment Mum put her head round the door. “Ready for lunch?” she asked. “Ooh, this looks tidy. You have been busy.”
“Muuum! This is a private meeting!” Luke escorted her back outside.
“What are you up to in there?” she asked, “is it going to be your HQ?”
“Er, yeah, that’s right,” it was as good a cover as any.
Mum smiled. “Looking good. Do you want some furniture? I’ve got a couple of deck chairs and a coffee table you can have.”
“Yeah, maybe,” said Luke, smiling, “thanks Mum.”
“I’ve got some old curtains as well, if you want privacy,” she offered.
“Why? You can’t see in the shed window from the house can you?”
“No, of course not.”
“So you do want privacy. Top secret stuff is it?”
“No, course not, well …. we just don’t wanna be watched, that’s all.”
“I quite understand,” said Mum, trying to suppress a smile. “Do you want lunch? I could bring some sandwiches down here if you like.”
Luke shook his head. “Thanks, yeah, but no, we’ll come up to the house for ’em.”
FRIDAY 13 JUNE
When Luke got home from school there was no one else there. The house was silent.
“Dudley? D’you want to go outside?” he asked when he stepped into the kitchen. The clang of an upended stainless steel water bowl was preceded by the sound of four clawed paws hitting the floor. Dudley was at the back door in seconds.
As they walked to the allotments Luke and his oldest friend talked everything over. Well, Luke talked, Dudley couldn’t get a word in edgeways. Luke had always been grateful for good listeners. The best, he’d found, were those who didn’t try to push their own opinions into the discussion; those who let him get out all his jumbled thoughts and feelings without comment or judgement; those who just listened. That left Mum out. And Dad. At one time Luke’s first port of call when he needed to clear his head or puzzle a dilemma was the damson patch. The rabbits’ listening skills were second to none. Sadly Ash and Rusty had grown old and passed away in recent months. Scratcher was still around but she’d moved into the house for company and was often so busy rearranging soft furnishings that it was hard to get her undivided attention. That very morning she’d spent half an hour dragging the back doormat into the dining room. She seemed to prefer it there, no one knew why. Thankfully Dudley was always ready to lend an ear.
“Tomorrow’s C-Day,” said Luke, as if Dudley didn’t already know. “Mum an’ Dad are goin’ to London to help Aunt Clara move so that’s perfect timing. We should be able to get the chickens all tucked in before they get back. As long as Tania’s dad gets ’em here in time. She told him to go early but he said it was a long drive so he doesn’t know how long it’ll take.”
Tania had told her dad a white lie. She didn’t want to but Luke reminded her the chickens would be killed if she didn’t. She told him that Luke’s mum had an ingrowing toenail and his dad had to take her to hospital to have it removed so they wouldn’t be able to pick up the chickens they were adopting. She asked him if he’d mind doing it instead and he kindly agreed. Tania’s dad had never met Luke’s parents and with any luck he never would.
Luke arrived with Dudley at the allotments, unlocked the gate and walked between the immaculate plots en route to his own. The weird thing was, some of them didn’t look quite as immaculate as usual. What was yesterday a neat row of cabbages, now looked as though it had been trampled by a football team. Some were strewn across the path and a couple of them had rolled under someone else’s bean poles. The carrots on an adjacent plot had also been rudely and prematurely unearthed. Dudley attempted to investigate but Luke wouldn’t let him.
“Dudley no!” Luke wound the lead more tightly around his hand. “If anyone sees you doin’ that they’ll think you made this mess. An’ they’ll blame me!”
In fact the blame was fast approaching Luke’s position, as he soon realised. The trail of destruction led all the way back to his own plot, at which the gate was swinging open. There was no sign of Curly and Squirt.
“Curly! Squirt!” he called frantically. He rushed to the shed and looked inside; he looked behind it and under the bushes. They were gone. Dudley started sniffing eagerly. He seemed to be onto something. “Where are they boy?” Luke let go of the lead. “Find them boy, find Curly and Squirt!” Dudley followed his nose across the grass to the open gate, out of the gate and along the path until he arrived back at the scattered carrots. He loved carrots.
“No! Stop it Dudley! We’ve got to find Curly and Squirt!”
“Young man,” Luke was startled by the deep voice behind him. He turned to face Allotment Committee Man, otherwise known as Mr Fred Tipton. “I believe these belong to you.” Mr Tipton offered Luke one end of a long piece of rope. At its other end stood a very curly haired ewe, accompanied by her son.
“Thank you!” said Luke, “where have you been?” he asked them, “you had me worried sick!”
“Where they’ve been,” said Mr Tipton, “is all over these garden plots. They’ve done a heck of a lot of damage.”
“I’m really sorry about that,” said Luke, “I’ll put ’em back now. It won’t happen again.”
“No it won’t because you won’t be keeping them here any more.”
“What? That’s not fair, it wasn’t my fault!”
“Whose fault was it then?”
“I don’t know. Whoever opened the gate!”
“Who checked on them this morning?”
“Me. But I bolted the gate! I know I did! I always bolt the gate!”
“You must have forgotten today.”
“I didn’t!” Luke insisted. “Somebody else must have let ’em out! On purpose to get me in trouble!”
“They’re your responsib…”
“Somebody who wants an allotment! Whoever’s next on your waitin’ list – they’ve got motive!”
Mr Tipton shook his head. “I can’t run the risk of this happening again.”
“It won’t,” said Luke pleadingly, “I’ll get a lock, so no one else can open it! Please don’t make us leave!”
“I’m sorry, the decision’s been made. No more animals are to be kept on these allotments.”
Luke, Curly, Little Squirt and Dudley walked slowly home. They cut through the park and Luke racked his brains for inspiration. Would Mum and Dad let him keep the sheep at home? After all, the garden was big enough. And there was nowhere else they could go. Plus, it wasn’t his fault. He’d bolted the gate that morning, he knew he had. Someone else had let them out, whatever Mr Tipton said.
Half way across the playing field his cogitation was interrupted by someone calling his name.
“Walker! Nice sheep!”
A group of boys by the swings laughed but Luke ignored them. He had more important things to worry about.
“Got kicked off the allotments did ya?” They all laughed again, even louder. Luke kept walking.
“You should’ve kept the gate shut!”
This voice he recognised. Luke stopped and looked across at the laughing boys. At that moment he knew. Butler did it!
“Where’s Luke?” asked Dad.
“Must be out with Dudley,” said Mum, “I expect he’ll be back soon.”
“Right, well as soon as he gets in, I want to give him his present.”
“You’ve finished it?”
“Yes,” said Dad with a big grin.
“Can I see it?” asked Mum excitedly, starting for the door.
“Not ’til Luke gets here,” Dad laughed and stepped in front of her.
“It’s not his birthday ’til Sunday,” said Jared.
“I know but I’ve got to work on Sunday.”
“Oh no!” said Mum, “didn’t you tell them you had plans?”
“Yeah but they’re desperate. A lot of people off with stomach flu.”
“Again?! Lucky for them you never get it.”
“What if you did?” suggested Jared, “tell ’em you caught it and then you won’t have to work.”
Dad frowned disapproval at that idea.
Mum pouted. “Oh, I don’t want you to miss Luke’s birthday.”
“I don’t want to miss it either. That’s why I thought we could do it now. While we’re all here.”
“Luke and Dudley are home,” said Jared, looking out the dining room window, “and they’re not alone.”
Luke greeted his family with a fierce scowl. “Butler let Curly an’ Squirt out and now they’re not allowed on the allotment!” he told them angrily.
“What?” asked everybody at once.
“Curly an’ Squirt got out and they messed up some o’ the plots and ate some o’ the plants but it wasn’t their fault. An’ I told Mr Tipton it wasn’t my fault either but he said I must’ve forgot but I didn’t an’ I told him I didn’t but he wun’t believe me! He said there was a new rule and no animals could live on the allotments so I had to bring ’em home!”
“Luke slow down. What exactly did Fred say?” asked Dad.
“I told you! He said he wasn’t gonna let animals on the allotments any more coz he couldn’t risk it happenin’ again!”
“The sheep got onto other people’s plots?”
“Yes!” Luke was exasperated.
“Oh no,” said Mum, “did they do much damage?”
“It’s not their fault,” Luke reiterated, “they were just eatin’. They didn’t know they weren’t s’posed to. They didn’t mean to spoil anything.”
“How did they get out?” asked Dad, “did you forget to bolt the gate this morning?”
“No! I told you! Butler did it!”
“Simon Butler? Why d’you think that?”
“I saw him just now – laughin’ with his stupid friends about it! He shouted at me that I shun’t have left the gate open. How would he know that if he din’t do it?”
Mum and Dad exchanged serious glances.
“I’ll speak to Fred,” said Dad, “don’t worry. I’m sure we can work something out.”
“We could put a padlock on the gate,” suggested Mum.
“Good idea ….”
“Won’t work,” interrupted Luke dejectedly, “I already offered to do that. He said no.”
Dad ruffled his hair. “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to him,” and he reached for the phone.
“No!” said Luke firmly, “they’re not safe there. I want them to stay here!”
“They can’t stay here Luke, I’m sorry.”
“Why not? The garden’s big enough.”
“I’m sorry Luke, no,” Dad insisted, “I’ve worked hard on this garden and I don’t want it ruined.” He looked out the dining room window. “Look – they’ve already eaten half my purple mallow!”
“Well they’ve had a rough day! Give ’em a break!”
“I’ll go next door and speak to Anne,” said Mum, “maybe she can keep her slimy son in check.”
“Okay,” said Dad. “Luke, put the sheep in the damson patch. I’ll phone Fred.”
“No! We’re not sendin’ ’em back! A padlock won’t keep ’em safe! Anyone could climb over the fence an’ hurt ’em! I want them here where I can see them all the time!”
Dad spoke low and calm but there was no mistaking his hostility. “Let me make one thing clear: I am not giving up my garden. I tolerated the loss of my vegetable patch to your rabbits and you’re lucky I didn’t put my foot down then. I’m putting it down now. The sheep are going back to the allotments.”
Luke was infuriated. “Aren’t Curly an’ Squirt more important than a few flowers? It’s dangerous for ’em there! It’s cruel to make ’em go back! Cruel and selfish!” He paused for a response that didn’t come. “If you make ’em leave, I’m goin’ with them!”
Mum put her hand on his shoulder in an effort to calm him down but he pulled away angrily and stormed back out into the garden.
Mr Walker slammed his garage keys down on the table. “So glad I worked every spare minute to make that child’s birthday present!” he growled.
“He didn’t mean it,” said Mum sympathetically, “he’s just upset. If he knew what you’d done …”
“He shouldn’t speak to me like that whether he knew or not!”
“I know but …”
“I think I deserve a little bit of respect!”
Mrs Walker reached out to hug him but he walked away. She sighed. “I wonder what it would have been like to have daughters,” she thought.
In the garden Luke led Curly and Squirt away from Dad’s flower beds.
“We might not be able to stay here,” he told them apologetically, “but don’t worry, I’ll come with you, wherever you go.” He stroked the back of Curly’s neck while he considered their options and very soon it came to him. “We could live at the country park!” he said, “there’s trees to climb and woods to hide in, and plenty of grass for you to eat. It’d be like livin’ in Sherwood Forest!” It was a brilliant idea. He wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before. “On’y thing is,” he added, “the chickens are comin’ tomorrow.” He sat on the lawn and pondered. He was sure he could figure something out but it would require more thought. Squirt laid down next to him and put his head on Luke’s lap. Luke looked at him and smiled. “It’s alright,” he said, “I’ll think of something.”
SATURDAY 14 JUNE
When Luke woke up at half past eight the house was quiet. He was greeted by Dudley when he went downstairs but everyone else was out. Dad had left a note on the fridge.
Luke called Joe.
“Can you come round?”
As soon as he put down the phone Luke let Dudley into the garden and checked on Curly and Squirt. They’d made themselves at home and were enjoying the abundance of dandelions in the damson patch. Joe arrived five minutes later and Luke took him upstairs to help look for his tent.
“What d’you want the tent for?” he asked.
“To live in.”
Luke put Joe in the picture.
“So you and Curly and Squirt are gonna run away and live at the country park?”
“What about school?”
“I won’t go to school.”
“It’s the law. You have to go to school.”
“I’m an outlaw.”
“Oh yeah. But how will you live? What will you eat? And what about the chickens?”
“Don’t worry,” said Luke with a conspiratorial smile, “I’ve got it all worked out.” He took his walkie talkies out of the wardrobe, opened the box and handed one to Joe. “I’ll keep in touch with you on this – channel six – and then if I need anything I’ll tell you and you can bring it.”
“Food for a start. You’ve got your own food allowance.”
“It’s only enough for me.”
“Yeah but if you look for stuff that’s buy one get one free, you can give the free one to me. And if you go to the Co-op at the end of the day when they’re sellin’ things that are goin’ out of date – like bread for 10p a loaf – you can get stuff cheap so your money’ll go further.”
Joe nodded slowly. “Yeah, I s’pose I could do that.”
“Good. Oh, here it is!” He pulled out a bundle of grey nylon fabric from under the bed and spread it out on the carpet.
“You’re not going to be very well camouflaged with that picture of Spiderman on the side,” Joe pointed out.
Luke was unconcerned. “I’ll hide that with twigs and leaves.”
After checking nothing was missing he rolled the tent back up and went to the airing cupboard for his sleeping bag.
“Your mum and dad are gonna be pretty upset about this,” Joe told him.
“Well they’re not ezzactly givin’ me a choice are they? My first duty is to protect Curly an’ Squirt.”
Joe nodded. “Yeah, okay, but what about the chickens? Your mum and dad don’t know they’re coming so if you’re not here to look after them …”
Luke grinned. “It’s alright, I told you, I’ve got it all worked out.”
“I’ll come back when they’re not here. Simple.”
“How will you know when they’re not here.”
“I already know. Dad goes to work at seven every mornin’; Jared’s gone before eight; and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays Mum works at the Co-op.”
“What about Tuesdays and Thursdays? And weekends?”
“Well she’ll have to walk Dudley won’t she?”
“But you don’t know what time she’ll go.”
“That’s where you come in.”
“Well, you can keep watch and then tell me when she leaves, with the walkie talkie.”
“But I’m s’posed to be at school!”
Luke frowned. “We all agreed to rescue the chickens together. They’re all our responsibility, not jus’ mine. We’ve all got to work together.”
“I know but how can I do it on school days?”
“Look, I’m riskin’ prison by not goin’ to school at all,” Luke reminded him, “so the least you can do is risk bein’ marked late! That’s not askin’ too much is it? I mean, it’s life and death for the chickens don’t forget!”
Joe nodded. “Yes, you’re right. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Now then, Tania should be here with the chickens by three. That should give us plenty of time to get them all settled in to the damson patch before Mum and Dad get home.”
“When will they be back?”
“They said they’d be gone all day so I s’pose that means after five.”
“What about Jared?”
“We haven’t gotta worry about him. He always disappears on Saturdays.”
“Nobody knows. Skate park prob’ly.”
“So you don’t know when he’ll be back.”
“Late. He’s always late back on Saturdays.”
“Joe! Don’t worry about Jared! We just need to make sure we’re out of here before Mum and Dad get back.”
Luke nodded. “Yeah. But I’d like to be away by four.” The two boys sat in silent agreement for a moment before Luke added “oh, but you’ll have to come back when it gets dark. I’ll give you a gate key.”
“On my own? Why?”
“To lock the cat flap on the chicken house so a fox doesn’t get ’em.”
“Why can’t you do it?”
“Well I can’t leave Curly and Squirt in the park by themselves can I? And I can’t bring ’em with me – they’re not ezzactly stealthy!”
Luke stuffed his tent, sleeping bag and walkie talkie into his rucksack. “I’d better get some rations,” he said, “come on.” Downstairs he crammed every pocket and crevice of his bag with food and a couple of bottles of water. “Now let’s go to the allotments and get some straw!”
“No! Not this one!”
“You said left!”
“I said second on the left.”
“All I heard was ‘left’.”
“You’ll have to turn round and go back.”
“I know!” Mr Walker was in miserable mood. He pulled in to a lay-by and waited for the traffic to clear.
“Are you going to be like this all day?” asked his wife.
“Like what? There’s nothing wrong with me.”
She took a deep breath and counted to ten while she looked out the window. “Did you get through to Fred?” she asked eventually.
“He won’t budge. Says the committee’s votes are final. No more animals on the allotments.”
“There you go then, Luke was right.”
“He still shouldn’t have spoken to me like that.”
“No he shouldn’t but put yourself in his shoes. He was protecting his animals. You should be proud of him for that.”
“I’m sick of being treated like the enemy. I do my best for him. And the animals. It’d be nice if he gave me the benefit of the doubt sometimes.”
“Okay, maybe he did go off the deep end, but he was panicking. And he was livid about that horrible boy next door.”
“Did you speak to his mum?”
“Yes but she’s no use. She thinks the sun shines out of him. He can do no wrong as far as she’s concerned. She said Simon says Luke’s a liar and maybe we shouldn’t be so gullible.”
“Ha! What did you say to that?”
“I admitted Luke can be trying at times but, unlike one child I could mention, he’s not a shallow, slimy, arrogant, little toe-rag.”
“Ha ha ha! Did you really?”
“No. But I wanted to.”
Dad made a U-turn and got back on track.
“That’s it,” said Mum, “left, ……… and then left again. Yes – look: Wixham 36 miles!”
Tania’s dad pulled in to the car park at Butcher’s Field, the ironically named rendezvous for the chicken rescuers.
“You wait here,” said Tania, “I’ll go and get the chickens.”
“I’ll ask the woman with the clipboard.”
“Alright. I’m going to look for the toilets,” said her dad, “I’ll be back in a few minutes hopefully.”
“A toilet Dad, not a tree,” she reminded him.
He laughed and they went their separate ways. When she reached the clipboard woman, Tania waited a polite distance behind the man who was talking to her, but she still couldn’t help overhearing their conversation.
“You a bit thin on the ground this year?” he asked.
“Yeah, because of the charge,” the woman told him.
“She’s charging for them now.”
“Yes unfortunately. She didn’t charge before. Just wanted to save them. But now she says she can’t afford to keep letting them go for nothing.”
“Why? What brought that on?”
“She says she’s losing money ’cause she could get at least 50p each for them if she sent them to slaughter.”
“Yep. Nine thousand birds at 50p each is £4,500!” The man just frowned and shook his head. “So she tells us she wants to charge people for them, thinks it’s perfectly reasonable, and who can’t afford 50p? But of course that’s not what we signed up for. We don’t want to fund animal farming. You pay to release one animal and that money’s used to enslave another.”
“But if we say no, there’s thousands of birds we could have saved going to slaughter. So we had a vote and decided, fourteen to six, in favour of going ahead. The six who voted against it resigned from the group.”
The man shook his head again. “So you’ve had to raise another four and a half thousand on top of your usual costs?”
Clipboard woman nodded.
“You’re an amazing woman Sheila,” he said, “I don’t know how you work with someone like that.”
“When you have to, you do,” she said, smiling.
He started to turn away but she reached out and touched his arm. “Er, Mike.”
“That’s just between us okay?”
He nodded, “see ya Sheila,” and walked away.
“Hello love,” said the woman. She looked tired but she smiled.
Tania smiled back and gave her name. The woman looked down her list.
“You’re taking five?” she asked.
The woman looked around. “You on your own?”
“No,” said Tania, “my dad’s here. That’s our car over there. The red one.”
“Have you brought carriers?”
“No sorry, we didn’t know …”
“That’s okay, we’ve got boxes,” the woman smiled again. “You wait by the car and someone will bring them over in a minute.”
Isabel peered through the shed window and smiled. “Looking good!” she said.
“What time is it?” Luke was slightly anxious.
“Ten past four,” said Isabel.
“Where the heck is Tania? She said she’d be here by three!”
“Actually, you told her to be here by three. What she actually said was, I don’t know how long it’ll take.”
“Well she didn’t say it would take this long!”
Joe came out of the house. “I’ve just seen Jared from your bedroom window. He’s at the bottom of the cul-de-sac!”
“Quick! Into the shed!” said Luke, panicking.
Isabel didn’t move. “We haven’t done anything yet,” she said, “there’s no need to hide.” At that moment her phone received a text. “It’s Tania. She says they’re five minutes out.”
“Joe, go and see where Jared is!”
“You go and see where Jared is.”
Luke went to see where Jared was and got to the back door just in time to hear the front door slam. He stepped quietly into the kitchen and listened. Jared’s heavy boots took the stairs two at a time and within seconds of them reaching the top, loud music blared from his room. Luke ran back to the damson patch.
“It’s alright. He’s in his room with his music on.“
“What if he looks out his window?” asked Joe.
“He won’t. Look, his curtains are drawn. He’s obivlious.”
Isabel resisted the temptation to correct him and smiled. “I can hear a car!”
They all ran out into the cul-de-sac. Tania’s dad’s car had just pulled up. Mr Spriggs and Tania got out and Luke approached them hurriedly.
“Hello,” said Mr Spriggs brightly, “you must be Luke,” and he stretched out his right hand. Luke smiled and shook it without saying anything.
Tania was beaming. “Shall we take the chickens through?” she asked.
“Yeah, quick as we can,” said Luke, “this way.” Tania handed one box each to her eager friends and they carried them carefully up the drive towards the back garden gate.
“Would you mind if I use your toilet?” asked Tania’s dad.
Mr Spriggs ignored his daughter and looked hopefully at Luke.
Luke couldn’t risk anyone going inside and alerting Jared. “Er, sorry,” he said, “I don’t have a key to the house.”
“No. I did have one, but I dropped it when I was … when I went…” he said, awkwardly. “I don’t know where I dropped it.”
Joe felt bad for the man. “I saw on telly that it’s good for compost heaps.”
Mr Spriggs raised his eyebrows, “and you’ve got a compost heap?”
Luke pointed to the far end of the garden and Mr Spriggs ran down there.
“Oh good grief!” said Tania to her shoes.
Isabel looked at her watch. Half past four. “Come on,” she said, “let’s show the chicks their new home.”
They were beautiful. Three of them were orange and gold, with red crowns. One of them was a soft grey and the other a dark red-brown with black at the tips of her feathers. As soon as they were out of their boxes they ran away to explore. The one with black-tipped feathers seemed to be the boldest. Wherever she went the others followed, but if any of them got too close to her she reprimanded them with a quick peck to the head.
“We should call her Boudicca,” suggested Tania.
Curly and Squirt were very interested in the newcomers but when they approached for a closer look, Boudicca saw them off with a squawk and a frenzied flap of her wings. The grey hen kept getting told off too.
“Aw, poor baby,” said Isabel, “they’re picking on her.”
“She’s alright,” said Joe, “Look – she’s keeping her distance from Boudicca and Frosty now.”
“The one with the white face.”
“Okay,” Isabel smiled, “and the grey one’s Millie.”
“I just like it.”
“What shall we name the other two?”
Everybody looked at Luke.
He grinned. “Kes and Neelix.”
“Neelix is a boy’s name,” said Tania.
“Doesn’t have to be,” argued Luke. “Neelix is the speckled one. She looks like Neelix.”
Mr Spriggs watched from the other side of the fence. “A splendid bunch,” he said smiling. “You’ve got them a nice set-up here.”
“Thanks,” said Luke, “thanks for pickin’ ’em up for us.”
“You’re very welcome. I hope your mum feels better soon. Is she back from the hospital yet?”
“Er, no.” Luke glanced anxiously at Isabel who mouthed ‘ten to five’. “But I think she might be home any minute an’ she told me in no certain terms that I have to be quiet and not have any friends round when she gets back.”
“Quite right!” said Mr Spriggs, “come on Tania, let’s make a move.”
“Er, can I cadge a lift?” asked Isabel.
As soon as the red car turned out of the cul-de-sac Luke ran home to get his rucksack. He grabbed harnesses and leads from the hook in the kitchen and tossed them to Joe.
“Can you put these on Curly and Squirt?” Dudley started barking and wagging his tail. “Sorry boy, not this time.” He hitched his heavy rucksack onto his back and returned to the garden for the sheep. He was in such a hurry he didn’t close the door properly and Dudley followed him out.
Joe handed Luke the leads. “Are you sure about this?”
“Got no choice,” he said sadly, “gotta keep Curly and Squirt safe.” Dudley jumped up and pleaded to go with them.
“Not this time boy, I’m sorry.” He crouched down to give his dog a hug. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon. Look after Scratcher for me okay?” Dudley licked his knee. Luke looked at Joe. “Stay in touch on the walkie-talkies.”
He led Dudley back into the kitchen and closed the door properly, but before he could make his getaway, he heard Dad’s car.
“They’re home!” He snatched up the leads and looked frantically for somewhere to hide.
“The garage!” said Joe.
Thankfully the side door wasn’t locked but getting them all in was easier said than done. Partially blocking the doorway was some kind of large structure, covered in an old sheet. They heard Mum and Dad’s voices; they heard the gate hinges squeak. There was nothing they could do but give up. Luke tucked his rucksack behind the rose bush just as his parents entered the garden.
“Oh, you’ve seen it!” said Mum, disappointed.
“He hasn’t,” said Dad, peering over their heads through the open door, “it’s still covered.”
Luke looked back at the mysterious structure. “What?”
Mum and Dad smiled at each other and then at Luke. “Happy Birthday.”
Luke looked at Joe. He’d completely forgotten.
“Happy Birthday Luke,” said Joe with a big grin.
“Did you remember?”
“No,” he laughed.
Luke looked back at his parents, “but it’s not my birthday ’til tomorrow. Is it?”
“No, but we thought we’d do it today because I’ve got to work tomorrow. Is Jared home?”
“Yeah, he’s upstairs.”
“I’ll get him,” said Mum.
“I’ll get the stuff out the car,” said Dad.
“Presents from Aunt Clara?” asked Luke. He was surprised because Aunt Clara usually just sent a card.
“Not exactly,” said Dad as he disappeared through the open gate.
Luke didn’t know what to think.
When everyone was back, Dad put two boxes on the ground in front of him. “Happy Birthday Luke,” he said again, and stood back. “Open them.”
Luke stepped forward and did as he was told. Inside each box were two red hens. He stared at them in disbelief. “But you said no.”
“I had to,” said Mum, “we wanted it to be a surprise.”
The chickens climbed out of their boxes and one of them chased Dudley back into the kitchen.
“And that’s not all,” said Dad. “Marian, Jared, Joe, follow me please.”
Joe looked at Luke, shrugged and then followed the rest of them into the garage. Luke removed the sheep’s harnesses and crouched down to introduce himself to the new chickens.
“Try to herd them to the bottom of the garden,” said Mum, “I’m opening the gate wide.”
Luke did his best but with little success. He could get one to head in the right direction, but as soon as he returned for another the first one would run back towards the house. As it turned out, though, that didn’t matter. What happened next sent them all running towards the damson patch at top speed, closely followed by Curly and Squirt. Through the wide open gate came four people slowly carrying a large, wooden triangular prism. They bent their knees and lowered it onto the concrete base vacated by the old greenhouse.
“It’s a chicken house!” said Mum excitedly, “Dad made it.”
“You made it?” Luke was overwhelmed. “All by yourself?”
Dad laughed. “Yes. It took me a while but, yes, all by myself.”
“It’s marvellous,” said Luke, walking around the new house, running his hand along the smooth wood. “Absolutely marvellous.”
“Glad you approve,” said Dad. He looked at Mum and smiled.
“Thanks Dad,” said Luke warmly. “I love it!”
“Can we see inside?” asked Mum.
“Yes. Okay. You unbolt these and then you use these handles to lift this off.” Dad detached one end of the house so that a person could climb inside if he crouched. “These shelves are the nesting boxes – you fill them with soft wood shavings – and they can perch on the front of them when they go to bed. They’ll be able to see out the window from there.” Dad was proud of the house, Luke could tell. “Put shavings on the floor as well and then it’ll be easy to sweep out in the mornings.”
“Easy,” Luke agreed.
“When it’s all clean you put the end back on by slotting it in like this. Here, you have a go.”
Luke tried but it was too heavy.
“That’s alright, I’ll help you,” Mum promised.
“And then, when that’s bolted back on, you leave the hatch open all day so the chickens can come and go as they please. Close it at night when they’ve gone to bed to keep predators out.”
Luke nodded. “I will.” He couldn’t stop grinning.
“Now, about Curly and Squirt,” said Dad, and Luke’s face fell. “I’ve spoken to Fred and you were right, they can’t go back to the allotments.” Luke held his breath. “So they’ll have to stay here.”
Luke could hardly believe it. “Really?”
“Yes. We’ll make the old shed into their stable.”
Luke looked at Joe. “Good idea,” he said tentatively.
“And the damson patch really isn’t big enough for them so they can share the whole garden with the chickens.”
“Really? What about your flowers?”
“Well, as your mum pointed out, I’ve still got the front garden.” Mum squeezed his hand.
“Thank you thank you thank you,” said Luke, “this is the best birthday ever!”
Dad nodded. “You’re very welcome.”
Luke gazed at the new chicken house. “How many chickens would fit in here?” he asked.
“The plan said up to twelve,” said Dad.
“Marvellous,” said Luke, “absolutely marvellous.”
For all the Luke Walker chapters click here 🙂
All Luke’s adventures are available in paperback from our shop 😀
vegan children’s story, vegan fiction, vegan children’s book, vegan story book, vegan stories
vegan, vegan children, vegan children’s story, short story, animals, animal rights