One spring day, a turkey awoke in the bottomlands.
The wind started early, waving tufts of old grass and branches fresh with this year’s leaves. He could not properly discern shadow from trouble in the early morning light, so the extra movement made him quite content to hang onto his branch for a bit longer than average.
Breezes also brought the faint sound of one hen yelping from parts unknown. A month ago, he would have gobbled back with wild abandon— a reaction as natural as snatching up an acorn in the fall.
But the impulse to respond that way had subsided substantially, so he only cocked his head so as to ascertain the direction of it. He could not.
By and by, the urge to eat became stronger than the will to stay. Tom hopped off the branch, flapping his wide, clumsy wings to slow his descent, breaking off twig tips and tender leaflets along the way. He made his way toward the west, to start the day with a meal.
Wood ducks and teal paddled around on both sides as he tread the property-line dike that was just dry enough to traverse. They did not concern him. In fact, when they saw him coming they steered away and disappeared into the reeds.
He was the king of the woods.
He emerged from underneath the spreading arms of the gnarled bur oak that has stood watch in that place since time immemorial. That corner of the prairie was always just hidden enough to feel concealed while scanning the open places for danger. He stood there, now fully in the sun, and took it all in.
There’s that yelping again.
It was coming from farther west. But since he could not see anything of interest, he headed north to search for more of last year’s corn in the field. His empty crop was quite in charge at the moment.
The sun was strong and still climbing. After picking up several muddy kernels, Tom stopped in the middle of the field to preen awhile and enjoy the warmth.
That hen’s yelping came again on the wind, and seemed unnaturally loud. He did not feel compelled to seek it out, but was curious about where it could be coming from. There was more corn to be had, so he kept at it.
After a few minutes more, curiosity got the best of him. If there really was a hen over there, it did not make sense that did she not come out to meet him.
Did another gobbler catch up with her?
Tom took off at once across the field toward his strutting place between the prairie and woods. It did not take long because he did not stop to pick up any more corn. Just when he reached the edge of the grass, he could see there was indeed a hen, right where he expected.
He made a few more strides in her direction, but something was not right. She didn’t turn to face him. She only looked away, stiffly, not moving at all.
Tom halted his approach. He circled her at a distance, craning his neck.
Curiosity was overshadowed by foreboding. It seemed safer under the big oak, so he turned to go back that way.
An awkward cluck from that strange hen pierced the wind. Tom stopped to look back at her one last time.
And that was that.