"Vigilance" | Teen Ink


February 23, 2011
By icebergstromboli GOLD, Benton, Pennsylvania
icebergstromboli GOLD, Benton, Pennsylvania
10 articles 10 photos 34 comments

Kit hurried along the sidewalk in a messy fit. She shifted her arms to get a better hold of the many notebooks in her arms and quickened her pace. She had to get home before nine o'clock. She had no curfew, at least not for another hour or so. No, the reason Kit hurried was to avoid colliding with the insane old man that lived down the street. This man, from exactly nine o'clock to ten thirty each night, would stand on a ladder outside his home wearing an outlandish chicken costume. Kit had made the mistake of walking too slowly many a time, and tonight she knew she just wouldn't be able to handle the old man's crazy antics. Even if he was her great-uncle.

"It's just not worth it," she mumbled to herself. She knew that her father had told her otherwise. "He's family," he chastised her, "Treat him with some respect." But why should she, when no one else seemed to? He was the but of many a joke at school. The lower grade children would imitate him and chase each other around the swings, screaming in mock horror as if the child imitator actually posed a threat to their well-being. Those in middle school would bawk at any passersby and flap their arms, fully knowing who they were referencing to. And when the Halloween dance came around, hordes of high-schoolers would cleverly incorporate the chicken man into their costumes. They would mingle amongst the glued on feathers and paper beaks, heads back flung, sardonically laughing at his oddities and their own wit.

Kit would usually shirk from these occurrences. She couldn't quite bring herself to join in the mocking, and yet she wouldn't dare openly oppose it. To defend the chicken-man would be to join him. If anybody at school knew that he was Kit's great uncle... Kit shuddered. She didn't want to think of what might be whispered in the hallways about her. None of what the town said about him ever seemed to disconcert the old man though. He never failed to appear on the ladder each night in that preposterous chicken outfit. Kit shook her head. If he was too crazy to care about what was said of him, why should she bother to defend him? It wasn't her problem. The only thing it would change is that she would be joining him in his ridicule.

Although Kit didn't know of it, a clue to his eccentric behavior lay in the red-banded patch on his arm. Long ago, when the old man was younger, stronger, and significantly less insane than his present counterpart, he had left his home behind to join the MA. Infantry Division VI the moment he turned 18. The Great War was in full tilt and the streets were blazoned with posters calling for recruits. They were immediately sent overseas to fight side-by-side their European allies. He was assigned to a group known as "The Vigilance." Their mission was to watch the horizon of the battlefield for any sign of the Great War's weapon of choice... gas. If a member of "The Vigilance" spotted a sign of one of the deadly clouds, the message would spread like wildfire and the soldiers at risk would quickly don their gas masks and hence be saved.

One night, the time came for "The Vigilance" to switch guards. The old man, then young, grunted as he pulled himself up the ladder from the trenches to take his shift to stand vigil. He lay on the cold dirt with a pair of filthy binoculars and settled in for the night. At around ten thirty, an eerie green cloud appeared in the skies. Under normal circumstances, an alarm would have gone up at the sighting of the gas, but alas, the old man had abandoned his vigilance and fallen asleep about an hour and a half before. No alarm had been rung and so the soldiers went on , oblivious to the approaching cloud. Only the lucky few who awoke before the gas was upon them survived. The old man awoke to burning eyes and a hundred men's eventual deaths on his shoulders. Soon the overwhelming guilt overtook him and his crazed mind became obsessed with reliving that night over and over again. Somehow in his insanity his mind took the symbol and transformed it into reality, the reason for his rooster regalia. So from the time he had fallen asleep to the time the gas had come, the old man put on his old uniform with the rooster attachments and the "Vigilance" patch in plain sight. Every night he would climb the ladder to vicariously live through what was supposed to have been his time of vigilance that fateful night so many years before.

That night, the time came for the old man to stand vigil once again. The old man grunted as he pulled himself up the ladder. This task alone grew harder with each passing night. He stood erect in his chicken garb with his old pair of filthy binoculars strapped to his hip and settled in for the next hour and a half. A throng of middle school boys had gathered nearby, already prepared with pockets full of small pebbles to throw between jeers. Out of the corner of the old man's eye, he saw a young girl with an exasperated look on her face try to rush through the crowd without being noticed. He caught her glance and held it in his own for a moment before speaking softly to her. "Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom." She broke his gaze and looked around frantically to see if anybody had noticed that the chicken man had singled her out. Then, with a worried expression, she turned from him and hastily dashed away, but his whispered words had already pierced her heart. The old man sighed and returned to a blank expression. He closed his eyes as the pebbles started to rain.

The author's comments:
I had to write a creative writing piece for english class based off of a painting the teacher provided. I do not know the title, but the painting was of an old man in a rooster outfit standing on a ladder with the word vigilance on his arm.

People in the town refer to the man as wearing a chicken outfit, but when the old man refers to himself, he says rooster, or the symbol for vigilance.

I think the quote at the bottom of the page is by Thomas Jefferson? I'm not positive but I think that's who it's commonly accredited to.

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