Once upon a time, there was a little chick named Cuthbert. Eventually Cuthbert would grow up to be a tall, powerful, rooster, but right now he was only two inches high and bright yellow. Like a tennis ball with legs. But Cuthbert was tired of being small. Of being told he couldn’t play, couldn’t stay up late, couldn’t have sleepovers, all because he was too little. So one morning, after being sent to bed early because he was too little to watch a scary movie with his older brothers, Cuthbert woke up determined he would be little no longer. And because everyone in his family was still sleeping (from having stayed up too late the night before) nobody could tell him it was a bad idea.
Because Cuthbert had decided to ask Mr. Fox what he could do to grow up quickly. Everyone knows that foxes are super smart. But what Cuthbert didn’t know (because he was still too little for his parents to teach him about predators) was that foxes also like to eat chicks. And chickens. And especially large, juicy roosters. So when Cuthbert knocked on Mr. Fox’s door, and a bleary eyed Mr. Fox answered (because he had been out late raiding the chicken coop across the lane) Mr. Fox’s eye opened wide, and his mouth even wider, a bead of saliva dripping off his left canine, which was ever so slightly larger than his right one. And he asked, licking his lips “What can I do for you young man?”
“Everyone knows you’re the smartest animal in the village,” Cuthbert said. “I was hoping you could help me grow up fast.”
“Grow up fast?” Mr. Fox repeated, uncertain he had heard correctly.
“Yes, sir.” Cuthbert responded, politely. Because even if he wasn’t the smartest chick in the world, his mother had made sure he was among the most well-mannered.
Mr. Fox smiled slyly. “Of course I can eat, I mean, help you, my dear fellow,” he said, as sincerely as possible for a sneaky, double-crossing, varmint. So he’d have to wait an extra half-hour for his breakfast. A small price to pay for a large juicy rooster, which would keep his belly full for the entire day. A little chick Cuthbert’s size would barely hold him over until lunch. “I’ll tell you exactly what you must do,” he continued. “But you’ll have to come back to show me how big you’ve become.”
“Of course I will,” Cuthbert said proudly.
“Cross my heart hope to die.” Cuthbert said, making an “x” across his chest.
“Yes you do” Mr. Fox thought to himself, chuckling under his breath. He cleared his throat twice, and put his arm around Cuthbert’s shoulder, steering him back down the lane. “So here is what you must do. Listen carefully, otherwise the magic won’t work. Do you know the pond next to the gnarly oak, where the Frogmiller children go to play?”
“Yep. My friend Clara Duck lives there.”
“In the center of this pond is a golden lily pad.”
“I know it!” chirped Cuthbert proudly.
“But what you don’t know is that one bite of one petal of the golden lily will make you bigger and stronger than even your Papa.”
“One bite?” Cuthbert whispered, his eyes as big as marbles.
“Two bites, and you’ll grow so big your feathers will pop off.”
“One bite,” Cuthbert repeated with understanding. Then he ran as fast as his tiny legs could carry him, down the lane, towards the pond where the Frogmiller children loved to play. And Mr. Fox rubbed his front paws together, pleased with himself and the delicious lunch he would soon be eating.
Only when Cuthbert returned and knocked on the door, he was just as small as ever. So small in fact, that at first Mr. Fox didn’t see him when he opened his door, eagerly, his mouth already watering at the thought of roasting rooster.
“What? Who? What are you doing down there?” Mr. Fox asked, once he realized Cuthbert was still a little chick. If anything, slightly less plump for all the running he’d be doing.
“I can’t swim” Cuthbert explained. “And the golden lily pad is in the middle of the pond, and nobody would help me. Not even Clara Duck. Her mamma told her that the golden lily pad would make her toes grow hair and her bill fall off if she touched it.”
“Clara Duck’s mamma doesn’t know what she’s talking about” Mr. Fox said, angry at the misinformation perpetuated by the ignorant and feather-brained. And even angrier about his lunch.
“But you do,” Cuthbert said with certainty. “You know everything. Surely you must know another way I can grow up quickly.”
“You’re right.” Mr Fox said, impressed with the little chick’s confidence in him. If only poultry wasn’t so delicious, Mr. Fox might consider keeping Cuthbert as a friend. “I do know another way. Listen closely. This way is even trickier.”
Cuthbert leaned as close to Mr. Fox’s mouth as he could. So close he could feel steamy fox breath on his feathery cheek. So close Mr. Fox would have eaten him right then and there if it weren’t for his microscopic size. Only one gulp and Cuthbert would disappear entirely. Hardly satisfying.
“There is a blue tree in the middle of Farmer John’s woods. And at the top of the blue tree is a blue apple, with blue seeds inside. You must eat two of the blue seeds. No more, no less. Then come back and show me how big you’ve gotten.”
“Two seeds. Two seeds. Blue tree. Got it,” Cuthbert said, nodding his little head. “I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time,” Mr. Fox said politely. Generously even. But then his tummy grumbled. “Actually don’t. Hurry. Hurry as fast as you can,” he said. Shutting his door with a definitive bang.
Ten minutes later, there was a knock. A little knock. Way too low on the door to inspire any kind of hope.
“What was it this time?” Mr. Fox asked despondently, as he opened the door to find a tennis-ball of feathery down on his doorstep.
“I can’t fly.”
“What do you mean you can’t fly? You have wings don’t you?”
“I’ve never used them before. And they’re too small. Maybe once I’m big I can figure out how to fly,” Cuthbert said optimistically.
“If you were already big, you wouldn’t need the blue apple, now would you?” Mr. Fox reasoned out loud. In his thoughts he added “Or anything else for that matter,” licking his lips again for emphasis.
“Do you have another idea?” Cuthbert asked.
“Yes. But it’s the last one. After this there are no more ideas. Do you understand?”
“You can’t fail.”
“I mean it. If you can’t do this, you won’t get bigger.”
“Fortunately, you shouldn’t have any trouble with this one.”
“What is it?”
“You like to eat grubs?”
“They’re my favorite!”
“Perfect. Now I want you to find the rock shaped like an eagle’s head.”
“I don’t like eagles.”
“It’s just a rock. One that you’ll need to lift up. Because beneath eagle head rock there lives a magical rainbow colored grub. Eat him, and you will grow bigger than your papa instantaneously.”
“Eat the grub. I can do that.”
“I hope so. Then come back and tell me all about it,” Mr. Fox said, rubbing his belly absentmindedly.
And once again, Cuthbert set off down the trail. And once again Cuthbert met with spectacular failure. Because once again, Cuthbert was too little to accomplish his mission, for no matter how hard he pushed—with his wings, with his back, with his bum, even with his head—the eagle shaped rock wouldn’t budge.
“Now I’ll never grow up.” Cuthbert muttered to himself, forgetting all about time, and the slow inevitability of getting older. So angry at this last and most disappointing failure (because not only was it his last option, but also the most delicious—he’d never tasted a rainbow colored grub before) he stomped all the way back to Mr. Fox’s house. So loudly the earth trembled beneath his little feet, shaking the frame of Mr. Fox’s house.
“Oh goody goody goody goody,” Mr. Fox chuckled, rubbing his front paws together in anticipation of what must be the largest rooster feast he’d ever had. And when Cuthbert pounded on the door, with what sounded like bowling ball size fists, Mr. Fox could hardly contain his ravenous glee. He swung the door opened expecting the largest, juiciest rooster ever. But all he got was Cuthbert.
“What happened? I thought you had returned enormous! Why else were your knocks so heavy? Your footsteps so loud?”
“Because I was angry!” Cuthbert shouted. Even his voice sounded like it belonged to a much larger bird. “I was too little to move the rock! What’s the point of telling me how to get bigger, if the way to get bigger is to already be big enough? If I were big enough to move the rock, I wouldn’t need to eat the grub in the first place!” Cuthbert shook his head angrily. “I don’t think you’re as smart as everyone thinks you are,” he said sadly.
“Oh but I am,” Mr Fox countered, snatching Cuthbert’s entire body with a single paw. “And hungrier too. I’ve wasted too much time trying to help your featherbrain. I should have eaten you a long time ago.”
But before his sharp fangs dripping with saliva could close over Cuthbert’s entire body. Before he could swallow Cuthbert in a single gulp, Mr. Fox was attacked by a flurry of beaks and wings.
“Aie. Ouch. Owie. Stop that. Stop it I say,” he shouted, before dropping Cuthbert on the ground and slamming the door on Papa Rooster, Mamma Poule, and all his older brothers.
“Silly Cuthbert” Mamma Poule said, wrapping him up in her warm wings and showering his head with kisses. “Don’t you know you’re born little on purpose? That it takes a long time to grow up for a reason?”
“So everyone could pick on me?” he asked, as each of his brothers took turns giving him a noogie.
“So you have time to learn important life lessons,” Papa Rooster said sternly. “Such as don’t ever try to talk to Mr. Fox again.”
“Yes Papa,” Cuthbert promised, sagely.
“You won’t always have your parents or your big brothers to protect you, or get you out of trouble,” Papa Rooster continued. “You need to learn how to take care of yourself. And that takes time.”
“But there’s so much I can’t do” Cuthbert sighed sadly, as he nestled deeper into his mother’s warm embrace and soft kisses and his brothers looked on enviously.
They were too big to be carried in their mother’s wings.
Cuthbert smiled. Maybe sometimes being little was better than being big after all.