Return of the Ugly Duckling
by C. Meton
It was lovely summer weather in the country, and the corn, the oats, and the hay looked beautiful in the meadow. Within sight of the meadow, on a nest near a pond, a mother duck was sitting on her eggs, waiting for the time when they would hatch and her brood of ducklings would come forth into the world.
“When are they due?” another duck asked as she waddled by.
”Soon, very soon,” The mother duck replied, “but not soon enough, for I am tired after sitting on these eggs these many days.”
Just as she spoke, the eggs started to crack. One by one, the ducklings hatched. “Peep, peep,” the first one said as it came forth from its shell. “Quack, quack,” said the mother duck, and the duckling copied her as best it could. Soon all of the ducklings had hatched except for one. This remaining egg was different from the others.
“Just leave that egg,” said the other duck. It is probably a turkey anyway. As you can see, it is different from the other eggs.
“No, I will wait,” replied the mother duck. “Eventually, that egg, too, will hatch.” And eventually, it did.
“Squeak, cackle, squeal!” The baby duck did not sound like the other ducklings.
“Quack, quack,” said the mother duck. The duckling tried to quack, but all he could do was squeak, cackle, and squeal.
The other ducklings looked at him and immediately laughed. “He is retarded! Look, his beak is not smooth and round like ours, but pointed and hooked,” and they pushed him and bit him made him feel unwanted and unloved.
“Leave him be,” the mother duck said, “he is your brother and you must treat him kindly as you do each other.”
After the commotion had settled down, the mother duck began to teach the ducklings the graceful art of being ducks. She waddled to the pond and walked right into the water. All of the ducklings followed her, and they had great fun swimming and diving beneath the water and eating fresh duck weed from the surface of the pond.
But the last duckling was too wobbly to walk and could not follow. He was also very hungry. The mother duck had to bring food to the nest for him for several days until he finally gained enough strength to leave the nest and walk. When he finally left the nest, he could not gather food from the surface of the pond like the other ducklings did. When he entered the water, he panicked and sank.
The other ducklings laughed at him. “Look! His feathers are ugly and gray,” they said, which was true, but the other ducklings' feathers were beautiful, soft, and yellow. The other ducklings bit him and pushed him and told him that they hoped the cat would get him. The chickens, too, came by and chided him.
When the mother duck took the ducklings for a walk, they followed in line behind her and entered the pond and swam and quacked and ate and generally had a good time diving under the water and swimming. But the ugly duckling was afraid to go into the water. He could not float on the water like the other ducklings, and his feet had no webs with which to swim like the other ducklings.
Day by day, all the other ducklings treated him more and more badly until one day, he ran away. He ran and ran until he came to the other end of the pond, where he hid himself in the reeds and ate small fish that swam by.
The summer passed and the ugly duckling grew larger and stronger. He learned to fly and found that he could soar high in the sky for hours without even flapping his wings. His feathers grew a beautiful, dark brown, and the feathers on his head and tail grew white while the other ducks' feathers turned brown or gray.
He watched a fishing hawk as it caught fish from the pond, and he learned that he could take the fish away from the fishing hawk with less effort than catching them for himself, so he took to doing that regularly. He built himself a fine nest high in a tree and swooped down to the pond from time to time to grab a fish from the water or to steal one from the fishing hawk. There would be no swimming and diving under the water for him to get his food!
One day the ugly duckling, now grown into a rather large bird, was standing on the shore of the pond eating pieces of flesh from a freshly-caught fish when one of his sibling ducks waddled up to him and spoke. “I see you have grown even more ugly than ever before. You are a terrible example of a duck.”
Immediately he realized that he was no duck at all. His sharp talons and his curved beak proved quite useful in having that duck for his supper.
Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories on behalf of the author