Chad the Chicken

Chad heard the crack of Rocky’s bat as it connected with the ball. Even before he saw the ball shooting straight to right field where he was, he knew what was going to happen—he was going to duck. He always did.

“Catch it!” shouted Pete, the first baseman, but he didn’t sound very hopeful. The whole sixth grade knew how it was with Chad.

“Raise your left arm,” Chad whispered to himself. “Catch the ball.” But his traitorous body was already crumpling.

He ducked.

The ball zinged past him, and Rocky pounced with a big grin onto first base. And the guy who had been there strolled happily to second while the outfielder chased the ball.

“Pop it to Chad the Chicken!” Rocky yelled to the next batter. “It’s a cinch he’ll miss it.”

The school bell rang, ending the physical education period. Chad took off his mitt and bent down, pretending to retie a shoelace so he wouldn’t have to walk to the gym with the rest of the guys. It’s only a class game, he told himself. It doesn’t matter.

But it did matter. A name like “Chad the Chicken” hurt. Chad the Chicken, he tormented himself silently. Why am I afraid of a softball?

After school Chad walked alone toward home. How do people find the courage to do what they’re afraid of? he wondered. Where does a person look for courage anyway? Wouldn’t it be great if you could find it by eating a chewy candy bar? he thought, probably because he was in front of Mr. Slater’s candy store, where he just automatically seemed to drift these days. Candy didn’t give him courage, but it did make him forget his problems momentarily.

Chad was beginning to put on too much weight. But what does that matter? he asked himself. Maybe if I put on enough weight, I won’t be able to run and can sit on the bench during P.E. period. Wouldn’t it be better to be Chad the Chunk than Chad the Chicken? he reasoned.

There was a man standing in front of Mr. Slater’s store, and Chad could see his reflection in the store window. But behind the man’s reflection there seemed to be another reflection: a huge bird with white feathers and a bright red thing on his head—a chicken!

A fear suddenly gripped Chad. I’ve actually become a chicken, he thought frantically, a real, feathered, winged chicken! In panic he turned to go home. What would his parents say? Would they let a chicken come into their house?

“Chad!” Mr. Slater was calling him. “Come on inside.”

How can Mr. Slater recognize me if I’m a chicken? Chad worried. Do I look different? Then an awful thought struck him. Maybe I’ve been a chicken for a long time. He tried to remember the last time he had looked into a mirror. He usually combed his hair by feel, and he didn’t even glance at the mirror when he brushed his teeth.

“Chad!” Mr. Slater called again, and the boy turned and walked into the store.

“Hi, Chad,” Mr. Slater greeted. “How’s it going today?”

Chad didn’t say anything. He considered asking Mr. Slater how long he, Chad, had been a chicken. He trusted Mr. Slater to tell him the truth. He was always nice to everyone.

He cleared his throat and watched as Mr. Slater scooped into one of his candy bins and held something out to him.

Candy corn!

Chickens eat corn. Is Mr. Slater making fun of me? Chad wondered.

He turned and ran out of the store. It was probably a big joke with everyone, his being a chicken. Well, he’d show them. Mr. Slater and Rocky and all the others. Somewhere he would find courage and prove he wasn’t a chicken.

But where? Can I catch a falling airplane like Superman? Can I fight a raging tiger? Where can I find some courage?

Chad sighed. It was hopeless. He might as well face the fact that he would be a chicken all his life. He might as well go back and peck at Mr. Slater’s candy corn.

He turned around and saw that Rocky and the other guys were heading toward the candy store. He was about to hide somewhere when he saw a commotion inside. It looked as though Mr. Slater were fighting with another man. Chad saw the man hit Mr. Slater on the side of his head, then run away from the store. Mr. Slater staggered after him, shouting, “Help, police! That man robbed my store!”

The man was the same one Chad had seen standing in front of the store earlier. Now he was heading down the street, right in Chad’s direction. In one hand he carried a paper bag, probably full of Mr. Slater’s money.

Chad looked around frantically for help. But there was no one in sight except Rocky and the other guys, and they all jumped into a doorway to hide.

The man was coming straight toward Chad. I’ve got to do something. What can I do? he agonized.

Chad’s knees felt weak as he made his decision. He shifted his feet, planting them firmly on the sidewalk, and watched the big man hurtling toward him.

Chad caught his breath. “I’d better duck,” he murmured. No! he argued with himself. He has Mr. Slater’s money. “Stop!” he shouted, and somehow his voice sounded to him like a loud squawk. But the man kept coming. His bloodshot eyes glared at Chad hatefully. Chad felt as though he would faint.

Suddenly the man dodged to go around Chad. Almost without thinking, Chad threw himself at the man’s big feet. He felt the concrete sidewalk scrape the skin off his arm as the man’s toes struck him in the chest. He rolled away, getting clear of the wildly kicking legs. There was a dull thud as the man hit the ground, then the sound of running feet as Mr. Slater and Rocky and the other guys rushed over. They threw themselves onto the man, pinning him to the ground.

“I’ve called the police,” called another storekeeper. “They’ll be here in a minute.”

Other people came out of stores to help.

“Chad,” Mr. Slater puffed from his place on top of the man, “that was the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how to thank you.”

The way Chad figured it, the only thanks he needed was the way Rocky and the other guys looked at him when he got to his feet. He knew they wouldn’t see him as a chicken any more. Maybe they never had. Maybe he was the only one who had seen that enormous bird in his mind. It was all right. He knew now that everyone was afraid of something, sometime. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t courage down deep inside, ready to go into action when it counted.

“What I could really use is a Band-Aid,” he said modestly, and joined in with Rocky and the other guys as they rocked with laughter.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Julie F. Young