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The GraciePress Newsletter - How Gracie Made a Ballet Theater (Chapters 21 to 24)

The GraciePress Newsletter - How Gracie Made a Ballet Theater (Chapters 21 to 24)
My apologies ahead of time for the length of this newsletter, but I’m still sticking with sharing four chapters as a time. One of my favorite readers once said it was fine when these get lengthy because they didn’t feel obligated to read everything all at one time.
These four chapters are perhaps my favorite. They contain all of the “fun and games” elements that readers are likely anticipating: Nate and Gracie finally are able to communicate, Gracie and the chickens begin to put on their own ballet performances in a temporary theater built in the backyard garden, Gracie learns about The Living Library from The Robin who begins to share its secrets with her, and Gracie has her first encounter with The Air Shadows.
Everything appears to be going in Gracie’s favor until The Air Shadows present themselves to her, and we have a setup for what is ahead. Gracie stands firm in her commitment to protect the garden and those who love it.
The last of these four chapters contains several key question:
Gracie had a promise to keep, a promise that depended on dancing in that faraway place called Paris. How could she get there without Lefty? Who would be her partner in the pas de deux?
It also contains a clue to how Gracie will ultimately defeat The Air Shadows!

As the weeks passed, Gracie was still slow to develop, and she seemed to be worried about this. She saw Bessie having fun with the others and doing things that seemed so much more grown-up than the games the two of them had played when they were baby chicks. 
She didn’t like being the slowest to grow into being a hen. Her comb and wattles were the smallest of anyone’s, and her tail feathers were not nearly as full or as beautiful as Bessie’s.
Gracie and I sat together every day while the others were scratching and pecking, and I would tell her, “You don’t have to grow up exactly like the others and lay any eggs for me to love you.”
Once I told her, “The happiest moment of my life was at The Feed And Seed Store when you looked up at me and told me ‘PeeP!’ like it was the happiest moment of your life too.”
“PeeP!” said Gracie, and I had to smile because that was a baby chick word they had all outgrown.
Over time, Gracie began talking to me as much as I talked to her. First only a few words, then more as her trust grew. She would speak to me in Chicken language, and I would speak to her in People language. Back and forth we would talk. She always knew exactly what I had said, but I mostly guessed at what she had said. Even so, I did seem to be guessing correctly most of the time. 
Gracie had been helping me to listen with my heart. She always looked directly into my eyes as if her heart was looking into my heart. None of the others ever looked at me that way, but Gracie always did. And so, it just happened one day without either of us noticing it at first. It was what you might call A Simple Everyday Miracle.
“I love being here with you,” we both said at exactly the same time.
Our eyes got bigger as we looked at each other.
The happiest of smiles slowly came over our faces as we realized something altogether wonderful had just happened. Gracie was speaking to me in People language, and I was speaking to her in Chicken language.
There is no magic in talking with chickens. None of the library books I had read about magic tricks ever had anything in them about talking with chickens, but I guess you could pull a chicken out of a hat instead of a rabbit if you really wanted a great trick.
What happened that day was not magic, but it felt magical. That is how chickens look at the world, and there is no reason for them not to because hatching from an egg is just about the most extraordinarily magical thing that can happen.
Magic and magical may sound the same, but they are not. For magic to happen, someone must say something or do something. Magic is like a flourish and then a wisp of smoke that is gone forever. With magical, it happens on its own without anyone saying or doing anything. It is like a seed and then a sturdy tree that lasts a lifetime.
The magical is the miraculous. At times, I think they are exactly the same thing or at least of the same essence. But neither is magic, and that is probably a good thing. My chickens don’t think very much of magic, but they anticipate the magical and miraculous every day.
The universe is dripping with an abundance of not only magically miraculous elements but also miraculously magical elements as well. There are so many we hardly ever realize they surround us. This is brilliant design.
Eventually, Gracie and I would have long heart-to-heart conversations, but whether totally in People or Chicken, it is difficult to say. Languages blend in the heart. That is where real and true listening begins even when everyone is perfectly quiet.
I wanted to know as much as possible about what it was like to be a baby chick in case I ever raised any more some day after Lefty and the Emperor needed to move out into the country. Gracie told me about her time at The Feed And Seed Store. It had been a scary place for her.
“I stayed close to Bessie in the big box with the heating lamp. There would be a shadow blocking the light. Then The Big Hand would scoop up some of us. I didn’t know what happened to those taken away. I hoped it would be for the better when it happened to me. More than anything, I hoped it would be with Bessie.”
“So do you think it was all by chance that the two of you ended up here?” I asked. “You weren’t in the first group that I brought home. It was only because those others were so cute that I went back for you and Bessie. Even then, it was the sales clerk who picked you out, not me.”
“Maybe some of it was chance,” she said. “But even when you noticed my face was not perfect like Bessie’s, you didn’t tell the sales clerk to put me back. Instead, you whispered to me that I was more than good enough.
“I trust a good heart more than chance. Your eyes told me that we mattered. They told me that you would be taking us to A Most Wondrous Place, what we chickens call BruK-Ä-BwawK! And you did exactly that just as I knew you would. This is A Most Wondrous Place.”
“This little garden here in the city is nice, but I’m not certain it’s all that wonderful. Some parts seem wild and have hiding places for stray cats and other animals that don’t want to be friends with chickens.”
“It may not be wonderful to you, but it is most wondrous to me. That is what I called it because that is what it is. Not every wonderful place is wondrous, but every wondrous place is wonderful.”
“That sounds like a riddle and a very fun riddle too.”
She smiled at how her words had given my face a curiously delighted expression.
“What does A Most Wondrous Place mean to a chicken?”
“We know it exists from the moment we hatch. It is what our hearts are set on finding as soon as we break free from our eggshells.
“It is not something that you can describe. It is not something you can easily point to and say, ‘Oh, look at that! BruK-Ä-BwawK! There is A Most Wondrous Place!’ But you will know when you are there. You will feel it with your heart. Sometimes you will know even before you are there. That is how it was for me on the day you brought us home with you. This is A Most Wondrous Place.”
She told me about dancing with Bessie in the sunroom and how she had wanted me to dance with them. She laughed when I explained to her that I am not a good dancer and hadn’t wanted to step on either of them. 
She told me how I had been The Big Scary Thing, and we both laughed about how silly that fear had been. 
“I thought you might take me back to The Feed And Seed Store,” she said, “Because dancing might mean there was something wrong with me, like the sales clerk had said.”
She told me about how some of the others had said she was acting like a princess when she had been dancing on their first playtime outside. 
She told me about the lessons The Robin had given her and how she had faced The Bigger Scary Thing.
We laughed about that fear too.
“I thought they might be able to convince Bessie not to be my friend anymore,” she said, “Because dancing might mean there was something wrong with me and that I wasn’t good enough to be her friend.”
“Not being friends with Bessie would have broken your heart more than never being able to dance again, wouldn’t it?”
Gracie nodded.
“You have to believe that Bessie and I would still love you even if everything that could possibly be wrong with a chicken was wrong with you.”
“If that is true, then there surely can not be anything scary left,” she said.
“I certainly hope you are right, Sweetie,” I said. “But what if there is such a thing as The Biggest Scary Thing?”
We did not laugh that time, and so I knew an unspoken fear was still very real in her heart. Instead of answering, she told me about the days when they were still discovering the many wonders in our backyard garden home. She told me how she had promised to defend our garden against anyone and anything.
“I have loved this garden from the first moment my feet stepped onto the grass.”
“It was how you stepped that made you such a good worm hunter. You have light and delicate dancer’s feet, and so you could sneak up on them.”
“That may be true, but you really are the greatest worm hunter of all time. Everyone agrees.”
“Are you sure about that? I mean, I do use a shovel.”
“Shovel or not, you are the most generous worm hunter there has ever been. Giving is what life is all about. You give all the worms you find to us—even The Whoppers and The Wild Wigglers. We have never seen you eat a single earthworm. Not one. Ever. It is your unselfishness that matters most.”
She would probably never understand how people don’t look at worms the way chickens do, so I didn’t try to explain.
“Gracie, if The Biggest Scary Thing exists, I know you will be more than good enough to face it.”
“And how will I do that?” she asked.
“The same way you seem to face everything. You will simply dance, and then you will take a leap of faith.” 
“That is what I told The Robin when she told me about the Air Shadows and the one with a name too dreadful to speak without shivering—The Absence of Love. The songbirds call them The Biggest Scary Thing so they don’t shiver.”
“You did not shiver when you said its name just now, Gracie.”
“Neither did you shiver when you heard me say its name.”
And so, we were left with mysteries to solve together just as we had dreams to make realities together.
When you can talk to one chicken, you can talk to any chicken who wants to talk to you, and evenings are the best time for talking. When everyone was up in the coop for the night, Gracie would usually start a conversation with me. Then the others would join us or just listen.
Sometimes we would all be quiet together and think about what had been said. Chickens can be incredibly contemplative.
When there was barely any light remaining, one of them would begin to sing the others to sleep. Their new songs were more refined than the ones they had sung before. They were composed from their hearts with beautiful sounds reserved for their closest friends, and because of that, I always felt honored when they shared their secret melodies with me.
When I couldn’t get to sleep, I would go back outside and sit with them. Someone, usually Lefty, would ask very softly, “Who’s there?”
“It’s only me,” I would say.
Those who woke up would greet me and then fall back to sleep.
Nighttime is when chickens feel most vulnerable because they can’t see in the dark, but their most fearsome predators can. Foxes, opossums, and raccoons can snatch them away in the middle of the night. Rats can come looking for eggs, and mice can come looking for seeds.
Sometimes they would tell me about a noise they had heard. Noises in the dark are especially scary.
“It was probably a raccoon,” I would say because early in the morning, I often saw raccoons climbing back up into their ivy covered homes high in the trees.
“You don’t have anything to worry about,” I would reassure them. “I built your home securely, and I won’t let anything get inside and hurt you.”
With the stars and the moon above me and my chickens beside me, it felt as if there was nothing more I might need or want. We were a family, and it often felt as if they had done the adopting, not me.
Sometimes I stayed with them throughout the night until morning, and on just such a morning, Gracie showed herself to be all that her name meant. The air was fragrant with honeysuckle and the wild roses were beginning to bud. 
As she moved down the chicken ladder, she pointed her toes and spread out her fluff feathers like the finest frilly dancing gown. She was ready for whatever joys and triumphs—or sorrows—the day held for her. Every movement was filled with grace. She could hear The Music Of The New Day with her heart. Then she let out that music through the way she glided so gracefully. By simply watching her, I could hear that same music with my heart too. 
She asked me once, “Will I still be Gracie even if I am unable to dance ever again? It could happen that way.”
“You will always be Gracie to me. That is your name, and I will always be able to hear the music of your dancing in my heart, even if you can never dance again.”
“I know. I just needed to hear you say it.” She paused as if relieved of a burden. “Dancing has been the only thing in my life that has ever made me feel as if I was more than good enough.”
“Gracie, it is not dancing so perfectly that makes someone more than good enough.”
“What is it, then?”
“It’s something each of us must discover for ourselves. Otherwise we may not believe it.” 
“Can I tell you something else?”
“Of course, Gracie.”
“The Robin once told me that my life was for more than scratching and pecking and laying eggs. She said she is sure I was hatched to change the world. What does that mean?”
“You must discover that for yourself too. We all must. That’s what my uncle says. But for you, it may have something to do with how you are the only one to hear nature’s music in your heart and then dance.”
It’s true. Gracie can dance without music, and we can hear the music in our hearts whenever we watch her. But the others would need to hear music with their ears to dance. Since the songbirds were not always the most reliable musicians, I brought out my old record player.
Lefty helped me examine all of its parts to make sure they were still good and working correctly. I added a few drops of machine oil in the right places, gave it a new needle, and even added a decoration from one of my elementary school Valentine’s Day cards. As silly as it may sound, I had saved every one of them at the very back of my bottom desk drawer.
The chickens were curious but extra cautious as they examined this new box with the electric cord attached to several long extension cords. The Emperor and The Empress usually preferred sitting together and just watching everything from a distance, but even they came over to get a closer look.
I showed everyone a record album, and they examined it carefully. It didn’t look like anything to eat.
“Is a worm going to come out of that hole in the center?” asked Lefty.
I showed them how the hole made the record fit onto the turntable.
“How perfect!” he said.
Everyone nodded in agreement.
When I turned it on, their heads moved to follow the record as it went around and around. As soon as they noticed the old record wobbling up and down, their hips began to wobble up and down too.
“This is a dancing machine!” said Lefty.
Except for The Emperor, everyone cooed at how smart Lefty was.
“Actually, it’s a music machine called a record player,” I explained. “And you don’t watch it dance. It plays music so you can do the dancing. Do you see this part here? It’s called an arm, and it has a little needle underneath.” 
I lifted it up so they could see.
“That does not look like an arm. It does not have a hand or fingers,” said Bessie. “Why don’t you call it a wing?”
“That’s silly,” said Lefty. “It doesn’t look like a wing either. It does not have any feathers.”
“It is no sillier than calling it an arm,” said Bessie.
“Let’s vote on it,” suggested Rudy. 
“We cannot just go around changing the names for things we did not name in the first place,” said Lefty.
“Let’s vote on that too,” suggested Rudy.
I was beginning to think I would never have a chance to show them what the record player could actually do.
“Look at that!” said Rudy. “There’s something shaped like a chicken’s beak under it, only smaller and sharper.”
Suddenly, everyone had forgotten about whether to call it an arm or a wing. Everyone wanted to see the part that looked like a chicken’s beak.
“That’s called the needle. When I put the arm with the little needle on the record, you will hear a song.
Everyone leaned in to get a better look. As the song began to play, everyone jumped back in amazement.
“There are songbirds in the box,” said Bessie. “Quick! Let them out! It sounds like there is something else in there too. It might be trying to eat the songbirds!”
“It’s not songbirds,” I explained after calming everyone down. “That’s a flute you’re hearing and some other musical instruments too. Flutes only sound like songbirds. People make musical instruments that can sometimes sound like things in nature. Songbirds make the best songs, and so people want to try to sound like them.”
Everyone nodded knowingly.
“It sounds like dandelions to me,” said Gracie. “Like dandelion seeds spinning around and drifting along on a cooling summer breeze from the river.”
“Dandelions don’t make any sounds,” said Lefty, and everyone except Gracie agreed with him.
“Why don’t you show us, Gracie?” I suggested. “Maybe a dance can let us see what you hear when you listen to dandelion seeds with your heart.”
I lifted the record player’s arm and started the song again, and Gracie showed us exactly what she meant.
When the song and Gracie’s dance ended, the other chickens flapped their wings in approval.
“That was brilliant!” said Lefty.
“Well done,” said The Emperor and The Empress who had been quiet until then.
“I could see the dandelion seeds in my imagination!” said Bessie.
“I don’t think we need to vote on it at all,” said Rudy.
Gracie did her very deepest ballerina curtsy.
“Is the song really about dandelion seeds?” asked Lefty.
“It is a very famous song called ‘The Waltz Of The Snowflakes.’ Even though you’ve never seen snowflakes blown by the winter wind, I can assure you they look very much like dandelion seeds spinning around and drifting along on a summer breeze.”
“Would The Record Player mind if we called our dance ‘The Waltz Of The Dandelion Seeds’ instead?”
“Lefty, are you sure that wouldn’t be changing the name of something we didn’t name in the first place?”
Bessie giggled.
“But I think The Record Player won’t mind. It simply enjoys having a chance to make you happy. Whatever you call the songs and the dances you make up will be just fine.”
“When we dance, I’d like to be the wind that blows the dandelion seeds,” said Lefty. “Is that okay?”
“What do you think, Gracie?”
“I think here in this garden we can do anything our hearts dream,” said Gracie. “It is what you have told me. It is part of what makes this A Most Wondrous Place.”
And so, I began to make regular trips to The Thrift Store in our neighborhood to find old, classical record albums. The chickens asked me to play some songs so many times, it seemed as if the records might wear out. But if any of them had, I would have found another copy and another still.
Sometimes I would find an album with ballet dancers on the front cover, and Gracie studied the costumes and scenery very carefully. I knew it wouldn’t be long before she would want to add those to the little shows they put on for me.
I set up a stage for them using the only garden gate in the yard that wasn’t connected to any fencing. It was just a gate. It had always seemed odd to me because it really didn’t serve the purpose of a real gate which was to keep people and animals out of the garden. Now it did have a purpose. It new purpose was to let us into the world of dance that Gracie and the others created. 
With a small quilt draped over the open gate, we had one half of the part of a stage called the wings which was where we kept The Record Player and where the dancers waiting for their turns to perform.
“What a silly name. Wings are supposed to have feathers,” they would say and then giggle before their turns to dance on the smooth linoleum-covered plywood stage.
With some red fabric on a curtain rod and a string of Christmas lights, the stage had seemed quite magical in the evenings for their shows when the fireflies came up from the ivy. My only genuine concern was how I would explain having a ballet stage and record player in the backyard garden to my uncle if he ever came my unexpectedly.
For their shows, I played the songs they had selected, and they would dance whatever their hearts dreamed. It never mattered what the picture on the front of the album was or what the titles of the songs were. They had their own interpretations, and that was fine.
“You do know,” said Lefty, “It would be possible to add something to the arm with the needle that plays the music. Then we could use our beaks to move it, and we could play our favorite songs for ourselves. We could do it without having to bother you in the audience.”
Lefty had always enjoyed figuring out how things work, but My Best Little Buddy’s suggestion was likely much more about him wanting to be in charge of The Record Player than it was about not wanting to bother me. But being Lefty, he had ask.
“I know. But I like doing it.”
“If you are not sure how, I can help you figure it out because I do understand how these things work. I have studied them.”
“You are very smart, Lefty, and I know you would do an outstanding job without scratching any records. But it makes me feel like I’m taking part in what you enjoy when I work The Record Player. I can’t do the dancing part like you. I have two left feet.”
Bessie came over to us. She had been listening and looked as if she might cry.
“Is that why you always wear shoes and socks? So no one will see you have two left feet instead of a left foot and a right foot?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“Well, it’s not your fault,” she said. “Things like that happen. You must have just hatched that way. No one should blame you or make fun of you for it. Certainly, none of us would.”
Lefty patted my knee with his wing.
“Don’t feel bad,” he said, trying to console me. “You have two left feet, and I have two Lefty feet.”
And for some reason, we all thought that was the funniest thing we had heard in a very long time.
Those really were some of our happiest days together.
Gracie’s old friend, The Robin, came to visit early one morning. “I heard things are going very well for you now, Friend Gracie,” she said and did a slow, courtly bow.
They both chuckled about how she was being so formal.
“It is good to see you, Friend Robin. I never had a real chance to thank you for teaching me so many things about dancing ballet. You are very smart. Much smarter than I am.”
“You know heart things, Gracie. Heart things are what truly matter. We songbirds know other kinds of things,.
“We learn a great deal from people because they welcome songbirds. We visit their yards and gardens. We sing. We entertain. People enjoy listening to us and watching us, but we are secretly listening to them and watching them. They do not realize it, though. Even if someone told them we do more than sing, they would not believe it. To them, we are only songbirds.
“For the most part, we travel freely. And because of that, we are able to collect knowledge. It may be as simple as how to dance ballet or as complicated as how to design doors a bird can open and close.”
“That kind of door might be useful one day,” said Gracie. “Especially since all the ones I have ever seen need hands to make them work.”
“Songbirds are The Living Library,” said The Robin. “And I am a Page.”
Gracie did not know what to say. She was a birds, just like The Robin, but she had never heard about any kind of library for birds.
“You have seen The Gardener writing on the pages in a notebook, haven’t you? Birds have no way to write what we know. We have only our voices. Songbirds collect knowledge. Everywhere we are singing about what we know. It is combined with our regular songs and calls.
“Everything we songbirds have ever learned is in the air all the time. It is being repeated and carried around the world. That way, when one of us dies, no knowledge is lost. It continues. Our songs and our knowledge are all we have.
“The Gardener and the other people you see passing by on the street are moving through the greatest collection of knowledge ever created. It surrounds them like an unseen ocean. Even though they hear it throughout the day, they are unaware.
“What we songbirds know could fill hundreds and thousands of notebooks. That is why we are called The Living Library.”
For Gracie, this seemed too huge to imagine. There were still parts of our own garden where she had never ventured.
“None of us can know everything, and so each Page is devoted to only a particular topic. Some of us even hold the knowledge of the ancient creatures no longer on this earth. Those songbirds are the most protected Pages of all, and they live in the most inaccessible places on earth. If something should happen to them, the knowledge they have been passing along and saving since the very first birds sang would be lost forever. 
“Birds live everywhere and can travel everywhere. Some of us near your own home here, the cormorants, dive under the river water and collect knowledge there. Others farther away, the penguins, are even greater divers. They dive under the ocean and learn the songs of the whales. The penguins teach those songs and whatever else they know to the Arctic terns, the only songbirds that travel from pole to pole.”
Gracie tried to imagine a chicken doing any of those things. Like other chickens, she disliked even a small sprinkling of rain and only ever flew short distances.
“All knowledge is important. We do not know which pieces of knowledge will be needed to preserve the world. Beyond these garden walls, the world is changing. One day, those changes will come here. Those changes are being brought by The Air Shadows and The Absence of Love.
Then The Robin added softly, “But none of that is as important as what your heart knows, Gracie.”
“What do you mean? What does my heart know that is more important than what you have already told me?”
“We can tell you news of what is going on beyond your garden gate. We can give you answers and can tell you how to do things like dancing. We can even tell you what the ancient world was like and recite whale songs for you. But without what your heart knows, it is all useless information. It takes the wisdom in a heart like yours to unlock the power of knowledge.”
Gracie had never thought about what her heart knew. Her heart just knew what it knew.
“Well, I still look up to you,” she said. “I wish I could be more like you. I am not much of anything except a ballet dancer, and that is only because of what you taught me.”
“On the contrary, Gracie. All songbirds look up to chickens. You live closest to people. That is why we help chickens first. You have the best chance to save all birds, even our common predators like the hawks.
“You only need to ask a question. If a songbird does not know the answer, it will go and find the answer from a different Page in The Living Library. Whatever you need to know will be brought to you as long as it is known.
“Sometimes you do not even need to ask a songbird. We will simply come and help you.
“Do you remember the first day I visited you? It was not by accident. A wren told me about you and how you might need my help.
“From time to time, you may look up and see us quietly watching over you, always at the ready. You may hear us early, even before the sun rises, as we begin to sing. You may be asleep or almost waking. Either way, we will sing into your dreams.”
“And what will you sing into our dreams?”
“We will sing whatever knowledge you may need for the day ahead. We will sing what we know into your dreams so softly you will not be aware we were even there. Once a wren sang a picture of you and The Gardener dancing together through the streets of Paris. It was so you would know how beautiful it was.
“We are fine with you thinking the knowledge is your own. Our knowledge has its greatest value only when it is combined with the wisdom in a heart like yours.”
A troubled look came over Gracie’s face.
“Did you sing into my dreams the night before I danced in front of everyone to get rid of The Bigger Scary Thing?”
“That was all your accomplishment, My Friend.”
Gracie felt relieved. She would not have minded if The Robin had sung into her dreams, but Gracie was glad to have accomplished something as important as facing The Bigger Scary Thing on her own.
“If you remember, I was not there for your performance when The Bigger Scary Thing was no more. I stayed away so that you would know for sure it was all your decision and your doing.
“But the ones who provided your dancing music told me, and I made sure that day of your life was recorded in The Living Library.”
Gracie smiled her biggest smile. Next to Bessie, The Robin was her best friend ever.
“If there was anything I thought you needed to know, then I would just tell you because you are my friend.
“Just like a seed, you already have everything you need within yourself to do whatever you are meant to do. Sometimes we songbirds simply sing to set it free. 
“Let the seed within you grow, and you will grow with it. Then you will learn The Promise Of Seeds.”
In the branches above them, a pair of wood thrushes trilled in agreement.
Suddenly the song of the thrushes was interrupted by a strange sound that Gracie had never heard. It was coming from Lefty.
“He is learning to crow so he can become a rooster,” said The Robin. “There is not be much time left before he has to move out into the country.”
“But he can’t leave. We need him for The Ballet Troupe.”
“Ballet Troupe or not, he will have to move away. I’ve seen it time and time again in backyards throughout this neighborhood and across this city.
“But that is not the least of it. Soon you will be a flock of only hens and you will need to protect yourselves without any roosters because The Emperor will have to move out as well.”
Gracie was stunned. She had planned on everything being exactly as it had been all along. They would have a brilliant company of six ballet dancing chickens. They would be the ones on the posters and performing downtown. And soon after that, they would be the ones appear on stage after stage until Gracie and the others were finally able to dance on the grandest stage in all of Paris just as she had promised. 
“But the other Pages of the Living Library and I will help keep you safe without any roosters. That is also what we do.”
The Robin wanted very much to tell her that news of her was already traveling throughout The Living Library and that all of the Pages and the Indexers were eager to hear any news and provide any assistance.
“So tell me about those doors,” Gracie whispered. “The ones we birds can open and close without hands. It sounds splendidly secretive. They might be useful when designing our ballet stage set. Maybe the audience will not realize there are only four of us instead of six once Lefty and The Emperor have moved to new homes. We can use the doors to change costumes. Our audience will think we are a much larger group that want we truly are.”
They huddled closer together. 
“The most important thing to remember is—” The Robin began.
What neither of them suspected was that one day Gracie would use what she had learned about those special doors to help her face The Biggest Scar
The next day, as Gracie was sitting in the comfortable shade of the magnolia not far from the brambles, she heard a whisper. It was a faint, lilting, airy whisper, a whisper she had never heard before as it slowly, innocently wedged its way into the garden seeking a secret gateway into her trusting heart.
At first, she thought it might have been a welcomed cooling breeze, but there was no air stirring, just the sound that air might make if it were to stir.
She called Lefty over to her. He sensed her alarm.
“Listen,” she said. “Do you hear it? In the brambles.”
He stretched out his neck, cocked his head to listen.
“I have heard a voice there before coming from the brambles. It was on the day that Mayflower and the others left the six of us for new homes.”
“Did it sound the same then?”
“When Mayflower left, it sounded like a mumbled laugh. It is different now, but it still makes me feel uneasy.”
“I hear nothing but the regular noises of the garden,” he said. “How does it sound, this noise you hear?”
Gracie listened intently again. “It is not noise, it a voice speaking in a language which I do not understand. Not a voice for ears to hear, so much as a soft, mumbling sounds for the heart to hear. It is as if someone is trying speak directly to my heart without my ears.”
Lefty studied the brambles, looking for any sign of an animal that might be hiding there. “What do you think it’s trying to tell your heart?” 
“I can’t make it out. It sounds to my heart like how the cashier from The Feed and Seed Store did the day she scooped Bessie and me up into her hands and gave us to The Gardener.”
That’s silly, a person is too big to hide in our brambles and not be seen.”
“I did not say it was her voice. Just that it sounded like her voice speaking to my heart—and not friendly.”
“It is strange that you hear it when I do not.”
“If you can’t hear it then maybe it is like how I can hear The Music Of The New Day that no one else hears. It is like when you heard The Waltz of the Dandelion Seeds instead of The Waltz of the Snowflakes. But this feels like the music is all being played backwards. But how is that even possible?”
“I can not explain it, but you have nothing to worry about while I am here,” he said.
“But what if you are not here?” she asked.
She wanted to tell him what The Robin had said about what was to come now that he was almost a rooster. But she still hoped that at the last minute things would change, that he could stay, and that they could dance ballet together. 
She had a promise to keep, a promise that depended on dancing in that faraway place called Paris. How could she get there without Lefty? Who would be her partner in the pas de deux?
“Even if I must leave, I will find a way to help you. We chickens are not as alone as what you may think. In the meantime, I had better check the fencing to see if anyone has been trying to get in and to see if there are any weak places.”
As he worked his way along the play area fence, Gracie peered more deeply into the brambles. “I know you are in there,” she said. “Who are you? Why won’t you speak clearly so I can understand you?”
The mumbling was replaced by laughter.
“Why are you laughing at me? I haven’t done anything to be laughed at. If anything, I should be laughing at you.”
“Then why don’t you?” came a voice from the brambles. “You already know who we are—The Air Shadows.”
“Why are you trying to ruin everything for us here? We have not done anything to you. First you took my friend Mayflower away from me, and now you are planning on taking my friend Lefty away as well.”
“You are foolish for thinking everything you don’t like in life is caused by Air Shadows. Sometimes things just happen a certain way without us. But if it makes you feel better to blame us, then go right ahead. Our hearts do not break the way yours does. We have not done anything yet to disrupt your extraordinary life, but we will.”
“So what are you waiting for? Are you waiting until Lefty has gone because he is a rooster and you are afraid of him?”
“Not at all. We are studying you, Gracie,” said the Air Shadows. “Observe this.”
The voice of the Air Shadows grew louder and more shrill as if the strongest winds from a dozen storms had combined into one whirling thunderous, repetitious roar. Yet not a single leaf stirred.
Gracie looked over at Lefty as he methodically inspected the last of the fencing. He looked up at Gracie and nodded to let her know all was fine and secure. She could see his beak moving but could not make out what he was saying over the roar caused the Air Shadows.
Suddenly the noise stopped, and she heard Lefty saying, “Let’s practice our pas de deux. Dancing will ease your worry.”
“I will be right there,” she called to him. Looking into the darkest part of the brambles, she said, “So you want to know why I can hear you when others can not. Is that it? Perhaps you are not as strong or as extraordinary as you think you are.”
“What is important for you to know, Dear Gracie, is that we can put an end to your dancing and your garden any time we want. Right now we are simply enjoying watching how stupid it is for you to have ever tried to be extraordinary.
“Chickens are not meant to dance ballet. Chickens are meant for much more ordinary things like laying eggs and scratching and pecking, and I will be sending some helpers to teach you that lesson. You will never be good enough to stop us.”
Until Next Time…
Fall is one of our most favorite seasons in the garden, especially when it’s time to roast pumpkin seeds.
If you are dressing up for Halloween, be careful out there! And remember what Pearl loves to say this time of year: Trick or treat! Smell my feet!
Thanks so much for reading!
John, Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia
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J.R. Spiers (with help from Gracie)

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From A Small Backyard Garden and A Most Wondrous Place in Portsmouth, Virginia