It was that time of year again, when the air was brisk and leaves crinkled underfoot. Pumpkins appeared on the doorstep, and the scent of cinnamon and warm spices filled the air outside the kitchen.
The barn took on a whole new look, decorated with skeletons, colorful squash, a fake mummy, and plenty of ghosts. The spider webs were real, clinging to the dark corners. The giant spider next to the tractor was not.
Tom Turkey and Chip Chicken were placing tombstones in the open stalls. Well, Chip was placing tombstones, Tom was watching. The barn animals held a midnight party every Halloween, after the people left. Tom would have helped Chip, but he had scattered a few skeleton bones around earlier, so he’d already done his bit for the party.
Tom hated the days before Halloween. Children streamed through the barn to reach the corn maze outside, and the food dispenser at the door got used a lot more than usual, which made it really hard to be on a diet.
“You got a costume for the party?” Tom asked Chip, who was having trouble with a particularly heavy tombstone.
“Not . . . ugh . . . yet.”
“You know what we should do?” Tom asked.
“We should go as each other,” Tom said. “Look, I’ve got a fat suit for you,” he pulled it out from behind the haystacks. It was the perfect size for a chicken – a plump suit with large tail feathers, and a red mask with a wattle. Then Tom held up his chicken costume – a bright yellow one-piece with a hood that he could pull over his head. It looked like the kind of thing human parents dressed their babies in.
“What do you think?” Tom said. “It’ll be hilarious!”
“I don’t know, Tom,” Chip said. “I kinda wanted to go as something a little more . . . gruesome. I hear Pricilla is going as a zombie pig.”
Tom frowned. This wouldn’t do. Oh, it wouldn’t do at all. He left the costume for Chip and went to talk to Pricilla, who was outside in her pen.
“Hey, Pri,” he called.
“Tom, how’re the decorations coming?”
“Great. Great. Just great. Say, I hear that Billy Goat is bringing his kids to the party. And Sally Sheep, she’s got a couple new lambs, did you hear?”
“Yes, I’m so happy for them!”
“Yeah, it’s super. I love the kids. And the lambs. All the babies.”
“Didn’t you peck little Lisa yesterday?” Pricilla asked.
“Well, yes. Yes I did. But it was because . . . because I thought she had a tick on her. I thought I could just peck it right off.” He made little pecking motions to show how he did it.
“Oh. That’s not what Reggie said—”
“—The point is," Tom interrupted. "I’m worried about the little ones, see, because Chip told me you’re planning on going as a zombie pig.”
“Well, I don’t have a costume yet. It was just an idea.”
“Do you really think that’s wise?” Tom asked, tilting his head and looking thoughtful.
“I don’t know. I just didn’t want to be a ghost again. I was a ghost last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.”
Tom nodded sympathetically. “Hey, you know what? I just had a great idea! Why don’t we go as each other?”
“Yes! It’ll be hilarious, can you imagine? Me, dressed as a pig!” Tom pulled a fake pig nose over his head and onto his beak. “Oink, oink,” He said. Pricilla laughed, it was pretty funny.
“And look, I think this will fit you.” Tom waddled behind the fence, and there, in the hay pile, was a pig-sized turkey suit. He put the head piece on Pricilla, the wattle hung off her chin and she swung it back and forth.
“Gobble, gobble,” Pricilla said. Then she tittered. “All right, I’ll do it. Thanks Tom!”
“Don’t mention it. Oink.”
Tom visited Sally Sheep, Billy Goat, Henry Horse, Calvin Cow, and even the cat, Felix. He convinced each one to dress up like a turkey, while he would dress up as each one of them. The big animals were a tough sell, but he managed. Nothing was going to stop him.
Tom was sick and tired of starving himself all October so he wouldn’t be picked. But now he was the last turkey, so he had to think of another way to divert the farmer’s attention when he came to the barn, like he did on every November 1st, to pick a turkey to take to his brother’s house in Midkip. A turkey that would be fattened up for Thanksgiving.
Not this turkey, Tom thought. Not this Thanksgiving.
My acting skills are so wasted here, he thought. I ought to be on TV. Tom was waddling outside to pick up the tiny turkey suits he’d made for the bunnies when a voice stopped him cold.
“Hi, Mr. Turkey.”
Tom looked over and saw Lukas, the Swiss Mountain Dog puppy who’d just come to the barn. The other animals adored the poor crippled puppy, with his fluffy black fur, a white stripe down his nose and chest. His soft brown little paws.
The puppy hopped over on his three legs. “Mr. Turkey. Please, sir, can I have a costume, too?”
Tom sighed. The kid had had a rough life. No animal deserved to be as mistreated as this one. Born with three legs, abandoned by the side of the road, the victim of rock attacks by heartless boys. He’d shown up at the farm emaciated and weak, a breath away from death. Life could be so unfair.
Still, he was the perfect size. He’d make a convincing turkey.
“Sure, kid,” Tom said, and he dug up one of the spare costumes and gave it to him.
Well, this was working out better than he’d planned. Come tomorrow he’d be snug in his hiding place behind the barn, a dark little cave in the wood pile. Some other poor sap would be stuck in the cage, thrown in the back of the farmer’s pickup truck, never to be seen again.
It was a great party. Tom worried that the other animals might suspect something when they all showed up in the same costume, but they thought it was hilarious. Tom came dressed like a farmer. They were up late, eating and drinking and dancing. Tom collapsed in his dark little spot behind the barn, exhausted from the party, and from all the hard work he’d done.
He woke the next day to a silent yard. That was strange. Even the chickens were gone. He stumbled out into the bright sunshine and blinked. Where had everyone gone?
Then he heard the farmer’s voice. “Yep, shipped ‘em all out this morning.”
“All of them?” another voice asked.
“That was the deal. They said they wanted all the animals. They’re going to make a reality show about sustainable farming, or something. And get this—they’re vegetarians!”
“But Jerry, you were supposed to save me a turkey!”
“I’m sorry, Lem, I plum forgot,” the farmer said. They came around the corner, and Tom saw them look right at him.
“Hey,” the farmer said. “There’s your turkey!”