Once, there was a lord who lived in the ghostly woods with a curious hen.
This was less strange than you may think. No one with any sense would live near or in the ghostly woods without an animal companion of some sort. Animals, as it is well known, aren't negatively affected by ghosts. In fact, they're critical for being able to tell if the visitor at your door is a living person or a ghost attempting to gain entrance. Even the choice of having a hen wouldn't have been considered odd by the neighbors. After all, if you're going to be living with an animal, it may as well be a useful one. True, most folks would choose a more easily domesticated animal, but it worked for the lord.
Living in the ghostly woods put a damper on one's social life. Travel after dark was inadvisable, even if travelling in a large group with many torches, lanterns, and a veritable cacophony of voice and instrument.(1) Still, the rent was cheap and the lord's nearest neighbors were a good hour's ride away. He had groceries delivered twice a month and was generally able to live a simple life, devoted as he was to his books and studies.
No, the problem was that his hen was curious. Generally, curious animals in the ghostly wood had a habit of turning into, well, ghostly animals.(2) The lord had lost a hound to curiosity when he was a boy. He hadn't taken the logical step of swearing to never invite another curious animal into his life, though, which led him to the matter of the hen.
The hen, as I mentioned, was curious. It wanted to know things. Some of these things were good and some were troubling. The lord had learned that if he wanted to keep the hen entertained, he could put an hour glass in front of her. She would watch the sand tumble and be entranced. Other scientific endeavors led to the hall being filled with the smell of singed feathers (3), flooded (4), or on one memorable occasion, exotic dancers (5).
For all its faults, the hen had just barely enough sense to confine her curiosity to the lord's manor house. She would occasionally look out the window and was employed in evaluating every guest, but she never tried to venture outside. Most days, she was content in her nest in the corner and her collection of chicken-operated experimental equipment.(6)
One day, the lord left the house. He'd been invited to brunch at a neighboring manor (7), so he set out shortly after sunrise. He saddled his horse, left some extra corn in the hen's dish, and rode through the sun and shade. The hen, having not been invited to brunch, sulked in her nest.
The moment the lord was out of sight of the house, the local fairies, ghosts, and witches began attempting to gain entrance.(8) The windows, doors, chimneys, and vents were all warded, of course, which deterred many of the contenders. A few of the smarter ones attempted to cajole the hen into allowing them inside.
The hen hopped up onto her favorite window seat to watch the show. The wards kept out the sound, but a few of the fairies had clearly been practicing their charades and put on quite a show, explaining through the power of mime why the hen should let them in.
The hen managed to resist all the requests for a time. She even took a nap. But when she woke up, everything fell apart. For there, on the lawn, a being appeared. It wasn't a ghost, for she would have recognized those. No, this was a wizard or a warlock. The hen flew to the door to allow the man in the house.
Later, when the lord was trying to recover the front section of the house from the mess of chaos, he came across a note from the hen. It read:
Sorry about the mess.
I'll be back someday.
When you meet Bill, you'll understand.
The lord shook his head. Clearly, allowing the hen to subscribe to journals had been a mistake. Still, the lady's gift of a cat was turning out to be a serendipitous treasure. The cat, upon seeing the note, shook his head. Chickens, man. What did you expect?
The lord renewed the wards and made safe the house. The cat took up the hen's post, watching for intruders, ghosts, or anything else that it could chase. He was not curious. No, not in the slightest. He wouldn't be tempted by mere science.
The woods watched and waited. They'd find a way in. Sooner or later, the cat would acquire an adjective and the woods would send out the call to gremlins, ghouls, dragons, or elves. Sooner or later.
(1) - It is well-known that ghosts approve of silence and can tolerate harmony, but will flee from sounds that clash.
(2) - Yes, animals leave ghosts. However, that's not important to this story.
(3) - What is this bright stuff in the fireplace - OH GREAT BIRD IN THE SKY IT BURNS!
(4) - What if I pick up all my shed feathers and stuff them into the drain of the sink? Oh, look, an indoor bird bath! Awesome!
(5) - Okay, so maybe it was a mistake to invent a contraption that could easily replicate letters and invitations. It was probably also a mistake, in retrospect, to automate an address book into the mix. In the lord's defense, however, he hadn't known that the address plates contained those names. Upon inspection, he found the names carved in his cousin's handwriting. He made a mental note to retaliate as soon as possible.
(6) - You can buy almost anything from a catalog. There are some EXTREMELY clever tradespeople these days.
(7) - Everyone who lived in the ghostly woods was nobility. Or enchanted. Or both. It goes with the territory.
(8) - They wanted to cause mischief of some kind or another. It wasn't personal, just business.