As of this morning, my best chicken is no more. She was old, she hadn't laid an egg in ages, her feathers were patchy, but her mind stayed intact until the very end. She was the only smart chicken I've ever had, and her smarts may have been what did her in, aided by my bad judgment.

One of the easy things about owning chickens is that they instinctively go into the coop once it gets dark. It can be impossible to catch a chicken during the day, but once night falls they want to go home, hop onto the roost and they become docile.

Which is why it seemed so strange that for the last four nights Irene wouldn't go in. The first three nights I picked her up and pushed her inside the little hatch door. She didn't go willingly. Last night I fatefully decided to leave her, if she was so determined to stay out. I'd never had a predator incident, so I thought she'd be okay.

She wasn't. She was eaten, and this morning I buried her remains under a viburnum. Afterwards I opened the big door to the coop and took a good look inside. It was then I finally saw it. In the darkest, furthest corner is a large Thing. It has fur, and it's breathing. It's not a cat, a squirrel, or a rabbit. I don't know what it is. As I write this the rest of my flock is shut in the run, and the creature that poor Irene knew enough to avoid is locked in the coop.

My animal-loving neighbor thinks it could be an opportunistic groundhog that's made a winter nest. So I guess I'll try to catch it in a live trap baited with a marshmallow, which someone told me is like crack to groundhogs. I hope it's not something else with bigger teeth.

I can't face going out there quite yet, but I have to. Once night falls the rest of the chickens have to go in. To keep them safe from whatever took Irene, I'm going to heighten security measures. I'll lock them up early, and from now on I'm bringing a flashlight to check for coop intruders.