Once upon a midnight dreary,
and in a place that was quite eerie,
there was a farm which was haunted
by the shades of evil what thirsted…
But that is another story and shall be told another time when I have learnt how to write poetry. OUR story, however, is set at the same farm but does not involve ghosts, evil or otherwise. At least not many.
Behind the farm, in a small hutch built especially for waterfowl, was a mother duck by the name of Aphelia. Well, she wasn’t a mother as yet, her eggs hadn’t hatched but she was a mother-to-be and she was proud of her eggs. She was a single mother who had got pregnant during a party at the badger set a few weeks ago but she was determined to put her partying days behind her and grow up. She was seven years old, practically a spinster in duck terms, so after three years of other ducks telling her of the sheer delight that ducklings bring to your life, she was happy that she was finally going to join the ranks of motherhood.
At first she had found the thought of being a mother to be rather joyous. She read all of Doctor Stork’s books on child rearing and had even learnt how to knit weird shapeless things, but sitting on eggs gets mighty old after a while and she was starting to get cabin fever. When she thought nobody was watching, she would shout and cry and weep and plead for the eggs to hatch. But they didn’t no matter how much she cursed them or kicked them about. They wouldn’t even hatch when she threatened them with a diamond-tipped drill.
Eventually one egg started to crack open and another and another. She was overjoyed! At last! She rushed out of the hutch to tell the other mother ducks about the eggs hatching.
The mother ducks were muttering and smoking by the pond, only pausing to non-committally say “yeah, yeah, I’m watching” without moving their heads whenever a duckling called out to be watched.
“They are hatching! They are hatching!” shouting Aphelia, running towards them. “My eggs are hatched! Whoopee! Hooray!”
The mother ducks coolly watched her approach. “You wait, you’ll see. Children are absolute hell,” said one. “When the brats are up and walking, you will have no time for yourself,” said another. “I can’t even finish a poo without them calling out for attention or food,” said a third. The fourth mother duck simply wept about losing her looks thanks to the stress her ducklings caused her.
Aphelia was astounded by their words. Without saying a word, she rushed back to her nest to greet her ducklings. She was just in time to see four of them emerge. As they did, she named them Dalmeny, Hakeney, Hogarth, and Hofgartner. These were good duck names.
The fifth and final egg hadn’t fully hatched though. There was a hole in the side but no chick. Aphelia gave the egg a slight tap with her beak and the egg broke in half. But what came out of this egg wasn’t a duckling, oh no, at least not any duckling that she had ever seen. It had no bill, no feathers, and no wrinkly waddly feet. Instead it had none of these things.
How furry and ugly he was! Aphelia stared at his whiskers and his tail and did not know what to think. She stared at his four little legs, furry as the rest of him and with claws at the end. Instead of a fine handsome duck-bill, it had a little mouth full of needle-like teeth! She stared at his stomach which was curiously distended as if he had eaten something rather big. Aphelia was confused.
She stared at the chick and the chick stared at her. “Well, I never,” she said thinking about the duck who knocked her up. “He is not as beautiful as my other chicks. I wonder if he inherited something from his father? Goodness knows what faulty genes my chick may have… But he came out of my egg, so he must be a duckling.” She picked a piece of eggshell from his head. “I will name him Steve.”
The next day Aphelia decided to take her ducks down to the pond before the chickens could hog it with their speed boats and nudist sunbathing. The chicks were pretty excited at everything they saw from the water-sausages to the low-flying sheep to the ‘No petting’ sign by the edge of the pond.
She waddled onto the diving board and jumped straight into the water. Dalmeny, Hakeney, Hogarth, and Hofgartner were in awe. Steve was wondering whether he could make an excuse. One after the other, the chicks all jumped in – SPLISH! SPLASH! SPLISH! SPLASH! – except for Steve. He did not like the way the water had closed over them before they bobbed back up like a serial killer in a cheap horror movie.
Aphelia watched her darlings paddle around the pond like bullets, zipping about and bumping into each other and quacking delightfully. But where was Steve? Steve was still on the shore studiously not looking at the water. Why wasn’t he joining in?
She got out of the pond and went up to Steve. “Come on,” she said. “The others have all jumped in. Why don’t you?” She pushed him with her beak and he plopped into the pond with a SPLASH! All the other ducklings had taken to water like, um, ducks but Steve took to the water like a sky-diving elephant. He sank all the way to the bottom amongst the pond weeds and discarded shopping trolleys.
Aphelia quickly dove in and pulled the mewing ugly duckling out of the water. Steve coughed up water and, oddly given he had none, feathers.
“Ah,” thought Aphelia, “maybe his feathers are on the inside of his body!”
Aphelia called to the others, “Oi, come here, you lot! I think it is time that I showed you off to the rest of the farm. Keep close to me though, Boudicca the farm cat loves eating little chicks!”
When Aphelia and her brood arrived at the farmyard, the pigs and the chickens were fighting. It seemed that the fight had started when the chickens became upset that the weren’t allowed to attend the porcine school of wizardry, Pigzits. Things escalated when Headmaster Othello Halfpig had turned one of the chickens into a cooked delicacy covered in bread crumbs (which was carried off by Boudicca).
“I hope you are noting this, my darlings,” said Aphelia, who had herself once protested about the pig-only Pigzits. “Now, chickadees, come along and bow down to the Head Duck, Heavy D. He is descended from royalty and is therefore our social better.”
Dalmeny, Hakeney, Hogarth, Hofgartner and Steve bowed as Heavy D walked past with his entourage and fawning hangers-on. Being royalty, the Head Duck pretended to not notice the ducklings as they were beneath him socially and physically. Not so for his followers who stared and jeered. “You call that a duckling, I call that a chicken nugget on two legs!” said one. “That,” said another pointing at Steve, “is no duckling! Looks like Aphelia has finally lost her marbles!”
“Hey, leave my son alone,” said Aphelia; “he is not doing you or yours any harm!”
“You are kidding, right? He is looking at us like he is watching his next meal,” said one of the nasty ducks. “He is drooling and licking his lips. If he is a duckling, then he must be the ugliest duckling ever.
“Your other ducklings are all good and proper. Very nice little duckers,” said Heavy D, wading into the argument, “but that furry one ain’t right.”
“Sir, you are maybe our fowl ruler but my Stevie is still beautiful to me,” replied Aphelia earnestly. “Yes, he may not be able to swim or waddle or aimlessly peck at things for no reason upon the planet but he is till my child and I would call for you to respect my child no matter how mind-numbingly ugly he may be.” She turned to Steve and hushed him quiet when he began to object at being called ugly. “Steve will, no doubt, grow up to be as handsome as any other duck. He is just a late developer.”
“Whatevs, said Heavy D. “I invite you to eat with me. Even your ugly duck thing can come too.”
And so they all ate with Heavy D and his court of poultry. Yes, the meal just consisted of bugs and water-sausages but they were cooked expertly by the king’s chef so everyone was happy. Well everyone except for Steve who was being bullied mercilessly by the other birds. Even when Hofgartner went missing, they all still bullied him as they looked for the ugly duckling’s brother.
“He is far too furry and four-leggedly to be a duck,” the bullies all jeered.
A pompous cockerel called Hieronymus de Rooster, who was a brawler and serial seducer of gullible poultry (in fact he was the father of Aphelia’s ducklings), started kicking out at Steve with his spurs. Luckily the poor ugly duckling managed to flee despite being oddly distended again. Finding a quiet spot to pick his teeth clean of feathers, he wondered why the entire farmyard bullied him for something which wasn’t his fault. He could not help being ugly.
So it went on from day-to-day after the feast; it got worse and worse. Steve the furry duckling was bullied by everyone on the farm, everyone that is but Boudicca who spent her time smiling vaguely whenever she saw the ugly duckling.
Even Dalmeny, Hakeney, and Hogarth bullied him although that soon stopped one night when they all ran away. There was a search party combing the surrounding countryside for weeks. If Steve hadn’t been suffering from indigestion at the time, he would have helped too.
Despairing over the loss of her ducklings, Aphelia soon took to the bottle and would make comments about how she wished that Steve had never been born. Steve was understandably upset about this but it didn’t stop him lamenting her when she too disappeared.
Steve did go on search parties occasionally. He would go one day with the ducks, another day he would go with the swans or the chickens. Oddly these search parties would then go missing as well except for Steve who would tumble back into the farm, his fur all messed up, crying because they had all been shot by hunters or caught by employers of Mississippi Fried Chicken. The farm would comfort him and tell him that he was brave. They would offer him a good meal but Steve always turned it down. Too full, he claimed. He had bought a hotdog, he claimed.
Very soon all the birds and small mammals on the farm had disappeared except for Steve and Boudicca the farm cat. At no point did the penny ever drop that Steve was also a cat, his quacking had apparently fooled all the animals on the farm. Steve and Boudicca went on to have many kittens together which only goes to prove that cats are immoral.They didn’t live happily ever after because they were cats and cats are rarely satisfied.