Everyone Has Nightmares (A Possible Revision)

Here is a huge “THANK YOU!” to everyone who read Saturday’s posted chapter and commented. Sunday I reread all of the way back from the beginning and when I got to that chapter, it truly felt out of place and very jarring. It was a bit as if someone else had inserted a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, and so I worked on a rewrite which you will find below. It keeps the good parts, cuts out the scary parts, and also helps to make some connections to things which happened earlier in the book and prepares for action to happen later. There was also nothing in the original version to help anyone who has bad dreams, so I’ve tried to include something about that too.

Everyone Has Nightmares

The warnings from the other chickens had settled into Pearl’s mind but so had what she had seen and heard for herself. What was she to believe? Understanding people was definitely complicated, more complicated than understanding how to be a good normal chicken.

That night Pearl dreamed about being in The Bottle Cap Lady’s Chicken Freak Show. She didn’t remember how many times the dream came to her or many of the details, just that each time she would make it into the dream just a little farther until finally it felt as if there was no escape.

The dream always started with darkness. It was a darkness so dark it left Pearl thirsty for light. She would have given any and all of the treasures she had collected for just a small bit of light to be able to see even a little.

Each time the dream came to her, she went into it farther and farther, deeper and deeper, until it felt as if there was no way out. It was not just a bad dream. It was a nightmare.

At last, Pearl woke up startled and began calling out frantically. I had just gone outside with morning breakfast salad for everyone.

“What’s the matter, Pearl?” I said as I quickly put down the salad bowl. “Are you okay?”

At first, she acted as if she didn’t know me or trust me. Then she brushed her head with her wings a few times and looked around and realized where she was and that everything was fine.

She fluffed out all of her feathers to inspect them. It was as if she was checking to make sure they were all still there. Then she jumped and flapped into my waiting arms.

“You must have had a really bad night, but you’re safe now.”

She hid her head in the crook of my arm. I felt her trembling come and go. Several times she made sounds I hadn’t heard since when she was just a baby chick.

After a few minutes, her breathing became normal. She looked up at me and asked, “Is there any such thing as a Chicken Freak Show?”

“No, Pearl. That’s just something The Bottle Cap Lady made up. There’s no such thing as a Chicken Freak Show.”

“But in my dream, it all seemed so real.”

“That’s the way nightmares are, Pearl. Sometimes our imagination gets the best of us. Let’s not even call it a dream. Dreams are about things we want very much, like being a comedian with a silly new hat. Nightmares are about things we never want at all. Nightmares can seem very real, but they aren’t.”

“You are absolutely sure about there not being any Chicken Freak Shows.”

“I absolutely am. And if there ever was, I would do absolutely anything to keep you safe from it. Even if it meant being in a Chicken Freak Show myself.”

“That’s what I did in my nightmare. I took Blanche’s place in The Bottle Cap Lady’s Chicken Freak Show. I will always love Blanche so much. I never had a chance to tell her.”

“I am sure she knows from how you took care of her. There has never been a chicken with a bigger or better heart than you. And that is the absolute truth, just like there are no Chicken Freak Shows is the absolute truth.

“But I’m glad you told me about your nightmare. Sometimes when we keep bad things inside, they only get a more powerful grip on us. It’s good to talk about them. It lets light inside the darkness. Then nightmares go away. Don’t ever be afraid to tell me about them, Pearl.”

“If you love someone, is it ever for nothing? Is it ever a waste?”

“No, Pearl, I don’t believe love is ever a waste.”

“Not even in a nightmare that isn’t real?”

“Not even then, Pearl.”

“If you take someone else’s place in a Chicken Freak Show, only there’s no real Chicken Freak Show, does it still count?”

“Yes, Pearl, love always counts, even then. That kind of love is what holds this entire universe together. From the stars way up in the enormous sky above us all the way down to you little chickens right here with me. Love like that always counts.”

I felt her body relaxing at last.

“It’s not the kind of love you can hold onto and store up. It is the kind of love that sometimes bursts forcefully like the gushing water of a huge flood or that sometimes gurgles gently like the bubbling laughter of a little baby. Sometimes it is the kind of love that bleeds out slowly like a healing salve.”

I held her close to my face and felt the warmth of her cheek against mine.

“You have that kind of love in your heart now, Pearl. I know you do.”

We closed our eyes together, and with a kiss, I whispered, “I miss her too, Honey. I miss her too.”

Later I asked Gracie to keep an extra careful watch whenever I was away.

“Gracie, if you see The Bottle Cap Lady coming into our yard when I’m not home, you and the others should make as much noise as possible to attract attention. Pearl had a very bad nightmare about her last night. We all need to help her feel safe.”

“I will,” said Gracie. “We all have those from time to time.”

“But somehow this is different. She dreamed about being in The Bottle Cap Lady’s Chicken Freak Show. Do you remember how you told me once you felt there was a strange connection between the two of them?”

Gracie nodded and thought about this. She paced back and forth and then looked over at Pearl’s Comedy Coop stage which we had never taken down.

“Do you remember how the colors of the lights were changed for a time?” she asked. “It was always at night when everyone would have been asleep. What if Pearl isn’t the only one who has nightmares? What if The Bottle Cap Lady has dark and scary nightmares too?”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe The Bottle Cap Lady was changing the lights because she couldn’t let herself go to sleep or else she would have a nightmare where she felt she had no escape. Just like Pearl. Maybe she was behind that mystery. Then whatever had caused the nightmares passed when her sorrowful season passed, and she could sleep again. Afterwards she put the lights back the way they had been.”

“That does seem a bit far-fetched, Gracie, but I am beginning to think with The Bottle Cap Lady, anything is possible.”

“Pearl’s nightmare will go away because she told you about it. But The Bottle Cap Lady does not have anyone to talk to about her nightmares, not a friend in the world. Chickens can tell these things.

“She is either afraid of something that might happen or plagued by something that has already happened.”

“You could be right, Gracie.”

“No matter what, we will all be extra watchful to help Pearl feel safe. Chickens help chickens feel safe, even when we don’t understand each other. Blanche was right about her.”

“What does that mean? The part about Blanche being right?”

“Just talk amongst chickens,” she said, brushing that part aside. She would say no more about it.

Gracie had wondered if she should tell me about how Pearl had been using the secret gap to visit The Bottle Cap Lady, but she decided against it. She knew that if she told me about it, I would close it up securely. If The Bottle Cap Lady did do something unpredictable like trying to take Pearl away, at least Pearl would have a way of escaping. It was not an easy decision for Gracie, and it weighed heavily up on her heart.

“I do have one idea,” said Gracie. “We could hire The Jump Rope Girls to be our ‘chicken sitters’ in the afternoon when they get home from school. She avoids them.”

“And what would you pay your ‘chicken sitters’ with?” I asked.

“What about cupcakes?” said Bessie who had been listening.

We all laughed together. Bessie truly would have followed through with laying the eggs and helping to bake the cupcakes.

“We can put that on our list of possibilities. In the meantime, I have complete confidence in how well you two girls can keep everyone safe, especially Pearl. I will let her know you will be watching out for her.”

When I shared this with Pearl, she was genuinely surprised that Gracie and Bessie understood about her nightmare and were going to keep an extra sharp lookout.

“Why do they want to keep me safe? They have never acted very friendly towards me.”

“Because you are a chicken, just like them. Chickens help chickens feel safe even when they don’t understand them. That’s what Gracie said.”

“Are people like that?”

“Sometimes. But I must admit that chickens seem to be much better at it than people.”

“Then this is sort of like the one hundred and twenty bones that all chickens have but we can’t see, right? It’s what we can not see that really should be keeping us together and helping each other and not what we can see.”

“That’s right, Pearl. I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

“How many bones do people have?”

“Grownup people have two hundred and six.”

“That’s a lot more than chickens. But then again people are a lot bigger than chickens. But we do have more feathers than people.”

“That’s not very fair, Pearl. People don’t have any feathers at all.”

“Then people must need a chicken’s help from time to time, don’t you think?”

“Yes, we probably do, Pearl, we probably do,” I said with surprise. “How can any little hen be as adorably cute and wise as you are, Pearl?”

“I guess it’s just ‘in my bones,’ especially when it’s time to…”

She paused, flapped her wings, and then we both laughed and said together, “Feed the chickens!”

I have pulled the eBook versions from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble until I have everything polished up and consistent. I am glad that there are no paperback versions out there yet, just my own proofs. Seriously, if you are disappointed by the eBook versions you purchased, I will be glad to personally refund you. Just send your email receipt to John.Spiers@yahoo.com. Thank you!

How Gracie Got Her Name

It was late winter, not quite spring yet. Not wintery cold, but not springy warm. Just in-between. Gracie had hurt her foot, she had spent most of the day before sitting at the food bowl. I had only realized she was not well when I got home and saw her in almost the same place she had been when I had left for the day. I thought she was just being cute by sitting down in such easy reach of breakfast since they always stand to eat. I regretted being in too much of a hurry to really check on her.

But that in-between day, and for as many days as needed, I was going to stay home with her. She spent hours in my lap, snuggled up inside my soft warm cottony jacket. We would talk and look out over the garden. We would be silent together. Those are not easy days to write about because I was afraid I might lose her as we had lost Blanche.

I did not ask how her foot injury had happened. She may have landed poorly when practicing some new ballet choreography. (She would not have wanted me to think she was less than perfect as a dancer.) She may have jumped down from the roosting perch while it was still too dark for her to see clearly because she was eager to meet the new day. (She would not have wanted me to blame myself for being slow in getting up and going any earlier than I had.)

Sometimes it takes a mishap, an unexpected change in the routine, or an almost tragic event to cause us to appreciate what we have. In that uncertain time, Gracie and I stopped everything and focused on what really mattered.

“Do you know when I first had an idea you wanted to be a ballerina?”

“Was it when I stood on your shoes en pointe for the first time?”

“I remember that day so well. That was when you let everyone, not just me, know your dream was to be a ballerina. You must have been practicing that for days and days, and I imagine it took a great deal of courage to let everyone know your greatest heart’s desire.

“But I knew you loved to dance before then. Maybe before you even knew it yourself or knew the words ‘ballet’ and ‘ballerina.’ It was the day when I named you ‘Gracie,’ another day I will always remember.”

“Will you tell me about it?”

“It was one morning when I saw you coming down the chicken ladder when you were still so young with hardly any comb or wattles. You pointed your toes so perfectly as you moved down the ladder. You spread out all of your fluff feathers like they were the finest tutu ever. You stretched out your neck and head, ready for whatever joys and triumphs…or sorrows…the day held for you. And if there were sorrows, you knew you could dance through them as effortlessly as you had glided down the chicken ladder.”

Gracie turned her head to look at their first original coop in the side yard. “I miss those days so much,” she said. “Things were different then.”

“But we are still the same, you and I. And you still come down the chicken ladder that way after you’ve laid an egg.”

“I do my best,” she said, looking up into my eyes.

“That was before I ever brought out my old record player so you girls would have music to use for practicing ballet. I went to every thrift store in this neighborhood and the next looking for old classical record albums. But you danced even before we had those records, and then afterwards, you and Bessie worked out a remarkable Chinese Dance from The Nutcracker Suite.”

“We made you play that song so many times, we thought it was going to wear out.”

“And if it had I would have found another and another still. But that moment when I saw you coming down the chicken ladder was special. It was when I knew you could hear The Music Of The Morning. It was music I could not hear with my ears. But you, Gracie, you could hear it with your heart, and your heart let out that music through the way you moved. And as I watched you moving so gracefully, I could hear the music with my heart too. And that is why I named you Gracie.”

“Will you still call me ‘Gracie’ even if I am not able to dance gracefully again, even if I am not able to dance at all ever again?”

“Gracie, don’t even think such a thing.”

“But it could happen that way. I may not heal properly.”

“You will always be ‘Gracie’ to me. That is your name. I will always be able to hear the music of your dance in my heart, even if you are never able to dance again.”

“I know. I just needed to hear you say it.” She paused as if relieved of a burden. “Can I tell you something?”

“Of course, Gracie.”

“All I have ever wanted was to matter to someone. You gave me a name, a beautiful name, and every day you have let me know I matter. That is all I have ever wanted. What more could anyone ever want?”

I readjusted my jacket over her body and snuggled her closer to my chest. She looked out into the garden nodding her head gently from side to side, side to side, up, down, up, up, down. As I watched her, I could hear The Music Of The Garden, music only the two of us could hear. And so we sat together, mattering to each other, even if to no one else.

All I ever wanted was to matter to someone. What more could anyone ever want? – Gracie

Happiest Of Hatchdays, Little Girls!

Before we did a short Hatchday celebration this morning, I reminded everyone, “I know you girls want to enjoy your celebration, but before you do, let’s spend a moment remembering Blanche. Her own Hatchday is today too. She gave us all so much in the short time we had with her.”

They remembered Blanche with solemn and sincere silence, and then they enjoyed some worms from the compost pile. It was the perfect treat to start their day.

“These past three years have been wonderful,” I told them, “and I appreciate all of the goodness you have brought into my life. May we always remember our friends (feathered or not) with joyful hearts.”

This evening after I get home from work, they will have their “cool down treats” of cantaloupe and green grapes. Then we will all sit under the camellias, and I will begin reading their Hatchday gift to them. Before sharing with anyone else, each chapter must pass the all-important “read-aloud-to-chickens” test. I think they will like what I read to them, even if it takes the whole weekend. (This creative adventure is over 38,000 words!)

Before I can share any chapters with you, our readers, I must get the approval of Bessie and Gracie, my oldest hens. Bessie will ensure that my writing has been fair to chickens. (You already know how she is very emphatic about treating everyone fairly, especially chickens.) Gracie will ensure that my writing has been as accurate as possible. (She is very good with details and observed many events which I did not.)

More to come tomorrow, particularly about why you are seeing two books rather than one. For now, let the celebrations begin! More earthworms for everyone!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!