What if Chicken Little was right?
* * 9 * *
“The sky is falling,” the lark said again, banging against the glass. “We’re all going to die!”
“Another one?” asked Chief Lox as he walked in. “I swear, if we don’t do something about this Falling-Skies Conspiracy soon, we’re going to run out of cells.”
“And what would you have me do,” said Officer Drake Lake, still working feverishly to write down every inane word that came out of the lark’s mouth.
Chief Lox smiled. “I think you know what I’d do with them.”
Drake grimaced. Whose genius idea was it to put a fox in charge? “I won’t let you do that.”
“If we get anyone else in here, you won’t have a choice. I’ve gotta eat, we need the cells, and you birds are delicious.” Chief Lox smacked his lips. “Besides, your kind are clearly more unintelligent and gullible than anyone else. Have you seen any sheep in here blubbering about the sky falling? Or cows or rabbits or any other creatures? No. Just birds.”
“Clearly something’s not right,” said Drake, “and I’m going to get to the bottom of it if it kills me.”
The fox leaned in close enough that Drake could smell blood on his breath. “Believe me,” he sneered, “it might. If you can’t find some way to empty out some of these cells, I’ll be forced to do it myself . . . and I can’t promise that you won’t go with them.”
That night, Drake found himself trudging his way up the side of a mountain, looking for answers. Near the peak, he could see a dim flickering light that he hoped to be the source of the rumors that had suddenly put his life at risk. His interviews with the last three inmates all pointed to this spot as the place where it all started.
As he neared the top, Drake crawled up onto a plateau and collapsed onto his back. He stared at the night sky, panting, pondering just how badly his webbed feet hurt. He sat up to massage them and was met by the light of a candle.
“Hello,” said the holder of the candle. “Are you aware that the sky is falling?”
A rage fueled by fear and exhaustion welled up inside the officer. “Are you the prophet everyone keeps telling me about?”
“Is that what they’re calling me now?” she chuckled. “I’m just calling things how I see them.”
Drake took a moment to look his new companion up and down. The prophet was nothing impressive. She was a small, very old chicken with several patches of feathers missing. Her voice was kind and shook slightly as she spoke. Drake so badly wanted to hate her, but couldn’t seem to bring himself to that point. She just seemed so sweet.
“Come,” she said. “I’ll show you.”
The chicken led Drake across the plateau to an odd rock formation. She handed him the candle, bent down to the base of the formation, and, with a level of strength that seemed unnatural for someone her size, lifted it to reveal something strange beneath: an enormous eye.
Drake was stunned. “What is this?” he asked, not entirely sure he wanted to know the answer.
“This, my friend,” she said in a practiced theatrical tone, “was Atlas. In fact, this entire mountain was Atlas.”
“And what is Atlas?”
“Not what,” she said just above a whisper. “Who. Atlas was a god. He was responsible for holding up the sky. Sadly, the age of the gods has ended. With no one to offer him sacrifices, he perished. Now, there is no one to hold up the sky.”
“But that’s ridiculous,” said Drake. “There’s no need to hold up the sky. In fact it’s impossible! It’s not even something that can be held up.”
The prophet smiled. “Come.”
She led Drake across the mountain to the final ascent to the peak. As Drake looked around, he realized that the incline must be Atlas’s nose. That thought left him feeling particularly uncomfortable as they climbed it. At the very tip of the nose, the chicken picked up a stick that seemed to be lying in wait for just such an occasion. She lifted it into the air until it stopped moving and pressed against . . . something.
“I . . . I don’t understand,” Drake stammered. “What are you showing me.”
“The sky,” said the chicken. “It’s lower than it’s ever been. As best I can tell, it will reach the ground in about twenty years.”
“Well that’s ages away!” said Drake, relieved. “We have plenty of time to figure something out.”
The chicken sighed. “Before you can get people to do something about it,” she said sadly, “you have to get them to believe it. The sky is falling, but no one will accept that fact. I’ve been trying for sixty years, and the only creatures that will believe me are the birds that have begun to realize they can’t fly as high anymore.”
“So convincing something like, say, a fox?”
“Is going to be nearly impossible before it’s too late to stop it.”
Drake sighed. “Then I guess I have no choice.”
“What do you mean?” the prophet asked.
Drake pulled out his gun and fired three slugs into the chicken. “The least I can do is save a few of our kind for a while. We’re all going to die, but that doesn’t mean I can’t save a few from the chief.”
Officer Drake Lake picked up the prophet’s body, slung it over his shoulder, and began the long walk back to the station, hoping desperately that he wasn’t too late to save some of his kinsmen by proving that he had ended the Falling-Sky Conspiracy.