More than 30 years ago, the Henriettas of Back at the Ranch began having Christmas adventures. They have trouble writing new stories, since they use the “hunt and peck” system of typing, so this is one from their “archives.”

Christmas Eve blew in like a politician up for re-election, except instead of hot air, the wind was cold.

Down in the hen house, all the Henriettas were busy poking coop litter into the holes, which were letting fine snow sift in. (The hens were all named Henrietta because even they couldn’t tell each other apart.)

They were also busy reminiscing. Last year they had pulled Santa’s sleigh.

“But that was last year,” clucked one Henrietta, “and this year nothing is going to relieve the tedium of being a chicken!"

Just then they heard a faint scratching at the chicken-sized door that led into the yard.

“Who could that be at this hour?” asked Henrietta.

It couldn’t be Santa. He always came down the air vent. It couldn’t be the Lazy Human who brought the food. She always came in the people door and let in terrible amounts of wind and snow!

“Maybe one of us got left outside,” suggested a Henrietta.

They heard the noise again, and plucking up her courage, the bravest Henrietta opened the little door.

Horrors! Lying on the ramp up to the door was a fox!

Squawking and fluttering, the frightened hens rushed to close the tiny door, but stopped when the fox began to speak.

“Please, good hens. Just let me in for a little while to warm up. I’m nearly freezing and haven’t the strength to get back to my den and my dear family.”

The Henriettas may have been a little short on brains, but they were big on heart. Grabbing his long, bedraggled red fur in their beaks, they hauled him inside, his lean body barely squeezing through the little door. Then they covered him gently with some reasonably clean straw and went to roost.

None of them slept very comfortably. Naturally, no one could turn away a stranger on Christmas Eve, but still -- a fox?

They were abruptly awakened a few hours later when the human arrived to bring their breakfast. She was in a great hurry to get home to her own breakfast and in her haste, left the big door slightly ajar.

This was terrible! The only thing that protected the hens from the two, huge, chicken-killing dogs next door was the fact that the dogs couldn’t fit through their small door. Now the hens would be at their mercy, and it was nearly the hour when the dreadful dogs usually snooped and sniffed their way through the ranch.

Not only that, the fox was beginning to wake up. He looked much bigger now with his fur dry and fluffy. As he yawned and stretched, the hens looked with fear at his sharp white teeth.

Now they could hear the dogs snuffling and woofing. In a moment they’d discover the open door and all the Henriettas would become nothing more than ghosts of Christmas Past.

They huddled together in the middle of the hen house floor, the fox crouched on one side, the dogs nosing the door open wider on the other. Surely this was the end!

Suddenly, the fox sprang, but instead of landing among the helpless Henriettas he sailed over their heads.

Expecting an easy kill, the dogs were stunned when a Rhode Island Red-colored ball of fur and teeth drove them whimpering from the coop, never to return. As they licked their wounds, they reflected that “scarce as hens' teeth” was a very misleading saying.

Once outside, the fox was not inclined to re-enter the hen house -- he hated being cooped up. So, with a wave of his paw at the still-stunned hens, he trotted off to his den for a Christmas meal of roast chicken (after all, he was a fox).

As for the Henriettas, once their ruffled feathers settled down, they enjoyed their Christmas breakfast to the fullest, including the human’s leftover chicken salad (after all, they were chickens).

Merry Christmas from the Henriettas and the Lazy Human.

Lyndel Meikle lives in the Deer Lodge area.