DuckHunt: The Book That Decided Not to Be

The only bad book is the book which does not get made. DuckHunt is one such book. It was meant to be a collaborative project between myself and a homeless(?) guy who worked at the market I would frequent during the days when I had a cell phone and was delivering food for a paperstack, and at first, I was very hopeful. As time went on and the work continued, however, that hope degraded and eroded away until only a PDF file attached to an email in my Sent folder remained.

The problem with the book was not the book, but my collaborator. Honestly, I wanted to finish the thing… until he gave me reason not to through his life choices, behavior, and character in general. Had my collaborator not taken advantage of me at every turn, wasted my time, disturbed my neighbors, burned through my resources both physical and metaphysical, and threatened me after I didn’t answer a text message fast enough, mayhap things would be different.

But, they aren’t. He did do all that. Unfortunate, but he’s only human. I can’t be bothered to hold a grudge.

Truth is, I purged all remnants of this project from my hard drive. All except for the PDF attached to that one email. I rediscovered said email last night and took it as a sign that I should post it, because frankly, the writing isn’t bad. I did good, good work on this one. My collaborator laid a… shall we say shaky foundation, hardly legible since I’m being real, and I built it up into what you’ll read below.

Though the events devolved into more than a hassle for me, I’m glad things went down the way they did. My collaborator for this project and I were not on the same page. Frankly, I struggle to believe we were even in the same book. I was trying to do a fiction piece for The Garden, and he seemed to want to do a memoir of his life. Big difference there, folks. Big difference.

He also couldn’t write worth a shit. Lesson learned: do not approach others with intention of creative collaboration. Let them approach me. Such is the way of an Edenian: the Reality provides, and we do our work. Really it was my own fault. I shan’t’ve broken the code.

The unnamed collaborator has a copy of the PDF as well. Perhaps he’ll do something with it, make some cash, get himself off the streets. Not my business. Being real, I do not care what happens on his end of this thing. This project is not going to be published by The Hillside Commons, so I figured I may as well release what I have for free and move forever forward.

New Commcast at some point today, I’m sure. Thanks for popping by. Please enjoy what was almost the first chapter of DuckHunt, working title: DinnerDuck Saga.

Where the Chickens Drink

The duck did not like defiance. That much was obvious.

It came out of nowhere that late winter day. I was in my bedroom, racing my Hot Wheels up and down the straighter stretches of Forest Grove’s stitchwork roadway, when I felt a chill split the air. Something had arrived to our little slice of paradise. Something disturbed. Something… off.

I was drawn to the northhead window. The one without the screen. Nothing to protect me from falling into the terrible grip of this horror so unspeakable… and yet I looked. I had no other choice. To ignore something so powerful, so demented as to raise gooseflesh from the hide of a ‘man playing Hot Wheels fifteen feet off the ground… I tell you, there was no other choice to make. I had to see.

What I found was a duck. A simple duck waddling on up the long gravel road headed towards the top of the hill. Now I’ve heard I’ve of a chicken crossing the road, I’ve even heard of a turkey crossing the road, but a duck? This was new for us. We knew the situation was serious.

To this day I still don’t know where that duck came from. Nobody does, not for sure. Whispers on the wind suggest it may have come from the suburbs over yon’. A construction project just concluded, a pesky pond of algae where a family wishes to sprout, humanity pushing the limits of nature just a feather’s width too far… but those are merely whispers. Hell, my dad thought he was raised by cattle dogs. Perhaps there was no reason for this duck’s arrival, no spark to set ablaze our tranquil slice of paradise. Perhaps the duck just wandered alone, angry, eager to make himself a problem. Perhaps that was life for the duck.

We do not know if the duck came to us or if he was sent. We might never know. Some things are outside the bounds of human knowledge, of human understanding. One thing, though, is for certain: the LandLady did nothing to stop him.

She stayed in the house at the bottom of Murray’s Hill. We lived in Beaverton, near the center. The land was primarily flat on account of the beavers gnawing all the trees into nothin’, lettin’ the stumps rot, lettin’ the roots go slack and drop all their inclines. Murray’s Hill might be the only piece of topography across the entire Borough, tell you the truth, and eighty some odd years ago, Hellen’s father picked it up and got to work. Troy, he was called. Troy’s handywork wasn’t around much these days, he sold off twenty-eight of his forty acres and moved out near the center of town, I’m told, but old boy left more than the fruits of his labor. Flowers don’t get prettier than the ones coloring Hellen’s gardens.

Despite the meager twelve acres, the land still felt like home to everyone living there. We didn’t get too much by way of animal life – the thoroughfare on top of the hill took care of all that – but the fuchsia rhododendrons, the buttery yellow daffodils, the Douglas Firs, the Norway spruces, big-leaf maples and atlas cedars and evergreen pines… our little spot stood out from the monotonous wheat fields and cookie cutter suburbs encroaching from the north with its dilapidated dirt-brown tall picket fence. Even without the duck we stood out from the rest… but a life without the duck was something we could no longer afford.

It saw me in the window. I watched it turn its head slightly as it crossed before my house. I watched it stop and turn to face me wholly. We stayed like that, the duck and I, eyes interlocked, the moments falling away like stalks of wheat before the silver scythes swung by Hellen’s aging helping hands.

Then, it moved on. I did not. I stayed in that screenless window watching that dastardly duck waddle all the way up to the house worn as cap on old Murray’s Hill. It was hardly the size of an ant up there, the way I was looking at it, but that duck didn’t need size. Not in that moment. My greatest fear was for the return of the duck, for the duck to waddle its way back down to my parents house, to the home in which their children would come of age, and once it got here? Well… it would only take a single peck to the door to relieve me of any and all beliefs I may once have held of higher powers.

The duck did come back, but he didn’t stop at my doorstep. It went further, that duck. That duck… that duck did not like defiance. Of that, we were made perfectly aware.

The rooster, who never carried a name, didn’t have any real function. He would caw, he would cock the doodle-doo. Three in the morning, high noon, but never at sunrise. He wasn’t like other roosters, wasn’t like other birds, and neither, in fact, was the duck.

Behind Hellen’s house was a pool. An inflatable pool, bigger than a mud puddle but child-sized enough to know modesty. Hellen’s children were grown by then, and her husband didn’t wander too far outside of the mist fogging up his bifocals, but that’s not to say old Hellen kept the pool for herself. Where there is a rooster there are always chickens, and Hellen’s chickens drank well.

This day, the chickens were clucking around the coop. The pool was wide open. The rooster was on patrol. The duck was unimpressed.

Slowly he made his approach. The rooster was used to being approached without warning by the others. It wasn’t like other roosters. Its tail feathers were the color of vomit rather than cut and polished emeralds, its comb had less teeth than a rotten pair of dentures, and its wattle sagged like the testicles of a decrepit old man. It was blind in one eye, and the other moved on its own accord.

The duck was unimpressed.

They did not speak, did not exchange noises of the avian beak. The duck merely stood before the rooster, gazed up into its eyes as the duck was small at the time, and looked. It did not blink, it merely watched the rooster, merely bore into the poor fowl’s soul… and then, it walked away.

And then, the rooster followed.

And then, they were over the pool.

Hellen’s chickens drank well. They were not made to resort to a dirty trough, a slobbery dog bowl, a pothole filled with muddy water after the last monsoon. No, Hellen’s chickens drank from the inflatable pool. She and her boy built them a bridge, a rickety plank pieced together by pool noodles and yet more planks, defunct ramps which once provided entry into the chicken coop stolen away from their destiny of decomposition. Bolstered by cinder blocks the ramps rose to the pool, floated upon the water, and sank back down to the earth. The water was not clean, but the chickens paid no mind. Their brains resemble shelled peanuts.

The duck took the rooster to quench his thirst. As it drank, the duck slipped into the filthy chicken water to wet the webbing between his toes. I can’t tell you what possessed the duck to do what it next did, but I can tell you it was something external. Never has such disrespect been delivered by a waterfowl so small, so cute. So innocent.

He floated still upon the water’s surface, focused, tuned in, unmovable by the likes of wind. The entirety of the unnamed rooster’s beak was submerged, it drank that day as though it had never seen water in its life, as though it would never drink again. Its eyes were closed to avoid infection. The duck made his move.

I still remember the splash of the body hitting the water. It wasn’t a corpse, not yet. The duck didn’t finish the job, no, it only started. Only took that first bite, that single nibble of the rooster’s ankle, and it was all over. The cock tumbled straight down. No resistance, no hesitation. No defiance.

The duck does not like defiance.

As the rooster flailed and struggled against the film suffocating the pool, the water changed. Where there was once a clear and separated concoction now frothed a brew so turbid and opaque, so olid with the scent of watery shit it’s amazing it was able to make as much of a ruckus as it did. Every one of us rushed from our homes to see what was causing so much commotion. All but Hellen, as her hearing wasn’t what it used to be. Not that it would have made a difference. Later on we tried to tell her what the duck had done, but she refused to believe. No, sir! You say my Dinner did that? No sir, not my Dinner!  

Maybe she was afraid of the waterfowl too, just like the rest of us. Or maybe she just didn’t care.  

As the founding rooster battled against the merciless hands of sun-warmed death, the duck climbed up out of the pool. He stood tall upon the bridge where the chickens drink and looked at us, he gave eyes to each and every human being watching from what we believed – truly believed – was a safe difference.

Then, he quacked.

We were dismissed, and everyone knew it. The duck waddled off the plank and headed back down that long gravel road, back from whence it came. I was the last one in that day, by no fault of my own. The duck’s quack was powerful, it had strength. It had will. It kept me there, forced me to watch as its maker shrunk slowly into obscurity, my face glimmering with tears, the sky darkening as rainclouds blew in from the west.

As that quack buzzed the air, it became understood. Things would never be the same.

The Duck Waddled Early

The community was shaken for weeks. Folks hardly said a word to each other, not even at the dinner table. We’d just point at the food we wanted and hoped someone would see and pass the dish. I was only two at the time, so I wasn’t saying much anyway, but I do remember how quiet the mornings were. How hard it was to stay asleep during the nights. How lightly we had to tread outside, especially in the afternoon.

That’s when he was most dangerous, during his patrols. He usually came just when the day began to drop from its peak, always from the direction of Hellen’s house. He’d waddle that long gravel road all the way to the top of Murray’s Hill, then he’d waddle right back on down. Sometimes he left a trail of water, sometimes a trail of blood, and sometimes, there was no trail at all.

One time, the duck waddled early.

It was nine, ten in the morning. The skies were clear and the sun was pleasant. I was in my room, debating which patch of shade I would find myself coloring in later on in the day, when I heard the ruckus. Immediately I knew the duck was the cause, but the victim? That could have been any one of us. Could have been me. I ran to the window and peered.

He had been waiting. We’re not sure for how long, only god can know that, but the duck had been waiting. Waiting to strike.

Nancy Jo was the landlady’s daughter. She lived a modest and solitary life, went to work every day, some office job, I’d imagine. She lived in the one house on the other side of the long gravel road and she drove a Subaru, one with an earthy green color. A green almost the same shade as the feathers on the duck’s head.

He waited until she left the house. Nancy Jo was a good woman, be wholly unmistaken, but she had no strength to speak of, along with relatively low emotional intelligence. She was the type to get caught up in it, even if there was nothing going on. The outside world was something outside of Nancy Jo, and the duck used that to his advantage.

She didn’t get halfway to the car.

He moved like a Jack Russel Terrier whose master holds a full bowl of chicken fat. Nancy Jo tried to protect herself, kicking out, swinging her arms, covering her face as best she could, but it wasn’t enough. It could never be enough, not for this duck, not with his jumping and flapping and the relentless beaky nibbling. Not with his taste for human flesh. Not with his determination. Quickly realizing the fight could not be won, Nancy Jo attempted an escape. Nancy Jo became defiant.

The duck did not like defiance.

As though she was thrown Nancy Jo flew into the safety of her motor vehicle, but it was no use. The duck didn’t want the conflict to cease. The duck wanted adrenalin, the thrill of the chase, to escalate the affair until it could go no further. He leaped into the car before she could get a grip on the door handle.

They moved frantically throughout and around the vehicle, out the back left door and in through the passenger, the duck achieving every tactical advantage with his small size and nimble movements, the woman achieving shrieks of unbridled terror, teary eyes, many a’splotch of bruise. She fled back to her home crying and scarred, leaving behind her purse, her keys, three doors hung ajar. She had to get out through the trunk. The duck followed her back to the house, but he couldn’t get through the solid slab of oak Nancy Jo used for a front door. He tried, did he ever try, but his beak wasn’t sharp enough to pierce through. Only dent. Only dent.  

With her house phone Nancy Jo called her mother to come retrieve her dark broad, her war duck so brutal and vicious, and well enough she did. There were no casualties in this battle, but Nancy Jo’s car gave off a slight oder afterward. One that only grew pungent as time carried it on.

Yes, for days, even weeks afterward, poor old Nancy Jo’s Subaru emanated the marshy reek of duck shit.

We All Sat in the Yard

The spring gave rest to the soul of the founding rooster, but to no one else. The summer brought Grandma come happy for a visit. She hadn’t been around in a while, not since before DinnerDuck took his infamous swim. We tried to warn her, god did we ever try to warn Grandma about the duck. We begged her. “Don’t look him in the eye,” we said, my sister and I both, we were on our knees before her, pleading with her, imploring her not to test the natural order.

Grandma did not listen.

She brushed us off. All the warnings, all our pleas. She called us solicitors, I mean… Grandma remained stubborn as a mule, none the wiser to the feathered calamity which had waddled upon our humble homestead. The matriarch would not bend to the whims of a bold waterfowl.

High noon came and passed. We all sat in the yard, a peaceful family barbecue held on outdoor picnic blankets. Dinner came to make his rounds.

He must have sensed my grandmother in the way a bull moose senses the challenge of youth, for he charged at the sight of her standing from the blanket. Thinking quick and moving even swifter she belted him across the head with the back of her weathered Texan hand just for it to snap back into place like a pendulum, zero flinch, not one green mallard feather ruffled out of place. The duck did not like defiance, and Grandma was all out of bubblegum.

The battle lasted fifteen seconds. Nobody intervened. Nobody would dare.

The landlady must have heard the frenzied quacks, for she stepped out and called him over to get his dinner. That’s where the fiend’s name came from, you never knew what to expect when DinnerDuck waddled unto the scene, but one thing was always certain: he would be there when it was time for dinner.

Hellen’s intervention was the only reprieve afforded to my dear old grandma in this sad onesided affair. The fight came to a sudden and unceremonious halt. Grandma wasn’t great, she turned and walked without a word, and she didn’t come back to the picnic. DinnerDuck took this as a form of submission. He accepted his victory as it was served. He left the scene without further quack.

The landlady always thought the best of DinnerDuck. When she was absent he spread those wings of his, he’d span ‘em as far as they could stretch, but under her gaze he was just as peaceful as the elderly trip of goats chewing cud over yon’ in the barn. The only thing that could keep him in check was the might of the landlady’s stewardship.

Grizzled Burgers and Tater Salads

One Sunday in the waning of summer, a few family friends came over to enjoy themselves at a pool party, a suave soirée my folks had been throwing every for the better part of a decade, and that was before I came around. After such a difficult winter and a spring more gruesome than anyone was prepared for, than any of us could have been prepared for… after all we went through, we were very eager to let our guard down and enjoy the festivities. Good food, a new pool, and old friends from the other side of town. What else could have mattered?

Dinner’s rain of terror was so absolute it was easy to forget at times. Had some foolish soul invoked the name DinnerDuck that day, I would have thought they were talking about supper. We frolicked and swam and ate plump bratwursts and fresh summer slaw, grizzled burgers and tater salads, and when the appetizers were through, my poppa brought out a double-wide plate of thick and juicy Texas ribeyes lightly tenderized by hand, seasoned with cracked black pepper and a little bit of garlic butter, cooked medium-well. We knew what we liked. Even back then, we knew what we liked.

One of Terry’s friends got to the party late. He slinked up to the function reeking like burnt glass cleaner, hardly a man at all, but his dog? The dog walked onto the property bold, though only for a short while. There was a large pothole in the lawn, and this pothole found the dog before the dog could find it. It was quite a monstrosity, this crater, this six-by-six embankment in the soil, dug by nature, seen by man, feared by everything in between. The dog took the fact of the pothole as a challenge to its doghood. It barked and growled and thrashed about, it tore up the lawn with its giant untrimmed claws and ate more dirt than the beavers eat trees. The hole was two feet wide and half as long when that mutt was done with it, and he was damn proud of his work. We could tell because he just kept digging, even when we pulled out the silver whistles.

The dog was scaring the children. It was too wily and brazen, and its master had nothing to do with it. Terry’s friend and the dog were asked to make an exit. The party was still half-decent, Terry calmed down a wee bit with his friendly foe gone and we youngins made our way to the mudfort and set up a little toy my great-grandpa invented for his children called the Slip’n’Slide. My parents laughed more that day than they had in long time. Hellen was absent, resting in her abode, and DinnerDuck was elsewhere, outlasting in the shadows, lurking, scheming… waiting…

When the shin-dig was all dug up, Dinner made his appearance. That spunky duck plopped his feathered tail right into the maar, and almost as though his very will gripped our hearts and twisted our minds its way, we all looked, and DinnerDuck looked back. Motionless and persistent, refusing to give an inch DinnerDuck stared down each individual until they submitted, eyes lowered and shoulders slouched, turn now away from the backyard. We all knew what he was trying to say: a new watchpost had been claimed.

DinnerDuck’s patrol had become predictable. You could set your watch to it. In fact, Hellen did. No longer. There was a hodgepodge of tater salads brought to that party, one from every family and none the same as the next, but only the sovereign would sample them all.

From that day forward, DinnerDuck would hold sentry over our stupefied garden.

Defender of the Rampart

Where autumn was meant to come, an Indian summer arrived in its place. The winds of change were blowing, the leaves were losing their verdant hue in favor of the warmer pallet of yellows and reds, of oranges and browns, of fallen leaves piled tall in the yard, my sister and I dropping the rakes of chore to make leaf angels and celebrate the bliss of our adolescence. Normally mom and pop may have gotten impatient with our carefree jovial attitude about the yardwork, but that day they were too busy getting the RV ready for our annual camping season, and once we started, we didn’t miss a weekend ‘til the snow shut us down. It was some of the most fun I had during that part of my life, and that autumn we were especially looking forward to some well-deserved recreation and time away from Hellen’s humble homestead.

But first, we would have to overcome the bird. There were some who weren’t so lucky.

Grandma never came back. She was always uncomfortable around animals, but after what happened with Dinner she carried a chip on her shoulder the size of the great Borough of Beaverton. She was pissed to the point that she never carried another pet. To be the matriarch of a family, to hold everyone together like bands of hot rubber around the bales of Hellen’s wheat… to go through all that woman had gone through in life just to be usurped in private, in front of her family… by a duck. We didn’t blame her. We couldn’t. We all knew what the problem was, and frankly, it wasn’t her problem to solve.

Nancy Jo was cautious and began to carry a switch. She was ready to defend herself. Ready and willing. She also parked a lot closer to her front door. I heard through the grapevine that she started taking yoga classes and hired a private trainer to condition her through breathing techniques and vigorous stretching, but those were just rumors.

Hellen was staying inside a lot. Resting a lot. Fact is she wasn’t around too much when Dinner was holding down the fort. He was docile and timid around her, to give himself an air of innocence and levity, I’m sure, so she let him have free reign. She didn’t know the extent the destruction he wrought, she didn’t understand what the duck was… or maybe she did. I hate to even think it, but maybe she knew and let him get away with it. Hell, maybe she encouraged it. Either way, our landlady kept her distance and let the menace do as he pleased, despite how our cries sliced through the air.

Our family wasn’t doing well under Dinner rule, but we were getting by, coping, living our happy lives. My folks would sit out on the porch whenever we went outside to play, my sister and I, but we didn’t notice back then. There was a lot we didn’t notice, a lot we didn’t understand, but we weren’t dumb. DinnerDuck was terrorizing our land like a dragon would a medieval village. DinnerDuck had power, and power demands defiance.

The mudfort was the crowning achievement of my early years. An edifice of earth between my house and Nancy Jo’s complete with a wrap-around guard wall, tunnels, watch posts, and various passageways, some to get in, some to get out, some invisible to the naked eye. An armada of Tonka trucks piloted by Barbie dolls lined the perimeter of my virtuous empire. We had already claimed a prime stake of the backyard, and our ambitions could only grow larger as time went on. The duck may have claimed his pothole, he may have trumped my mother’s mother, he may even have drowned that nameless fucking rooster, but he would not have my parents’ backyard. That yard is where I did my playing, and I would defend it to my death.

That’s what I always said, at least. To bulk up, seem tough. Seem macho. Had I known how close to the truth I was, maybe… I don’t know.

There’s a lot I don’t know about that Dinner, but there is one thing I know for certain: the duck did not like defiance.

He came from the gravel road. I knew my time had come when a ripple traveled through the guard walls as though they were the surface of some standing brown pond. I crouched low beneath the north tower’s cover wall and peered out, and what I saw disturbed me. DinnerDuck stood there on one leg, the other held out at a precise ninety-degree angle. He brought his foot down and a tremble swam through the earth, by the time it reached me it gained enough momentum to knock me clean off my feet.

As I struggled to recover he made his advance, and there was no one there with me to stop him. When I asked my sister to come outside and play that day she claimed that she was too afraid, claimed that she felt a chill in the air, that she could smell something burning far off in the distance.

She claimed it would be better if I didn’t go out to the mudfort.

But I didn’t listen. Of course my sister was afraid of the duck, she was just a little girl! She should have been afraid of him, but me? No. Never. I build that fort with my bare hands, pierced the virgin land with the rusty blade of my father’s trowel. I was more than just the first son of the Daniels clan. I was Trevor Dean Daniels, watchman of the keep, defender of the rampart. If something was bold enough to stand against me, I would only return the favor.

DinnerDuck bored a passageway through the north wall. From my tactically advantageous position on the high ground I watched the foul fowl flap his way through my compound, moving from support pillar to support pillar, wall to weight-bearing wall, marking each with the tip of his beak as though he meant to come back through with a demolition order and a wrecking crew, but that could never happen. That would be too easy. The work had to be done by Dinner himself.

When the last of the fort’s load-bearing structures were gouged with a shallow trim beakmark, Dinner fled. He flapped wing and landed at the top of the hill where the gravel road melts into the sunset at dusk. He turned to face me, as he knew I would be watching. Then, he lifted one webbed foot off the ground, and brought it right back down.

That duck dismantled my outpost systematically from the inside out. When the shockwave hit, everything crumbled as though it was made of sand. With open eyes I rode the descent into my tomb of wet dirt, thinking nothing, seeing less, hearing but a single quack gone a’sail through the air like a sparrow on the hunt for vermin. I was demoralized. I was broken. I shrank away and didn’t send a prayer.

When the world stopped rumbling, I picked myself up and brushed off the soil. That’s when he came for me.

He attacked the tendons, alternating ankles with each snip of the beaky maw. This was an attempt to knock me off my feet, get me low, bring me down to his level so he might get a taste of the jelly in my left eye and I knew it, and that knowing didn’t make a bit of difference. Every snip pointed to aim and fired at my ankle forced me to pivot, to save myself from yet another sickleshaped scarlet tattoo sliced against my shinbone. Following me like the crazed pondfloater thought I was his mother we swerved weavingly away from my crumbled fortress of ruin and unto the province of Tie-Tye Kitty.  

Momma Kitty protected our family for many generations, and spawned many generations herself. The best of her brood was Tie-Tye. She was a perfect mix of white and orange calico, but with a little flair of tabby on her back. During the DinnerDuck Dynasty she was merely two years old, just like me. It didn’t show at the time, but bearing witness to carnage on such a grand and disrespectful scale left a dark spot on her soul. Near the end of her life Tie-Tye Kitty would skulk around the fields at night yowling en caterwaul, trolling the glades for mates hoping to get pregnant so one day, one cold and desperate day far in the unseen, in the un-looked-at future, she could bring into the world yet another easy morsel born to be tossed to her gluttonous eupepsia.

she ate her fuckin’ babies, dude

In time she would become an authoritative figure on the farm. The cat and the duck weren’t so different in the end; Tie-Tye was made by him, forged in the fires of his unbridled fury, his feathered rampage so ferocious… but on this day, in this fight, she was no kind of contender. On this day without merit it was me and DinerDuck, and he tore down every wall I built between us.

Tie-Tye was watching from a distance. She saw everything transpire. She debated interfering before the mudfort fell, but feared for her safety in all regards. Only when Dinner was approaching the steeper embankment near the edge of her territory did she pounce into action.

With one swift leap she closed the gap between herself and Dinner, and then came a terrible scream.

Nobody was looking directly at them when they collided. Considering Tie-Tye’s raw power and DinnerDuck’s unquellable fury, one can only imagine the annihilation that nearly popped off, that was avoided by a blind and fortuitous turn of fate. Rather than claw striking against talon, they turned and walked off, no looking back. It all happened so quick no one could really see or know what violence the exchange truly manifested… but I like to think they both realized that the shit wasn’t worth it. Too risky of an altercation. A line could easily be crossed, and nobody wanted that.

Not even the rebel. To drown a foe is one thing. To maim is another.

It just wasn’t worth it. Not on that day.  

Tie-Tye Kitty swooped in from the west and warded off DinnerDuck, saving me when no one else would. When no one else could. From that day on I would keep myself armed with a weighted stick at all times. At first I carried a spear, just a poorly-sharpened branch I yanked off a dead birch… but it didn’t do the job. I preferred something with heft, something you could swing. Something you could connect with. Something that suited me. My parents told me a book and a donut would treat me right, but I never listened. I thought I knew better.

In due time, I’d realize I was right.

The Quackhold Crumbled (Under the Blueberry Patch)

It was like the Korean war, but with a cat and a duck.

The stalemate lasted for months. The entirety of the homestead was distraught from DinnerDuck’s continued persistence and the unmerciful chaos which spawned as a result. The only one who could stand a chance was Tye-Tie Kitty.

DinnerDuck’s invasion of the western front disturbed the status quo of the neutral zone between the duck’s nesting grounds and the cat’s many perches, nearly all hidden to the naked eye. The fences on the northwest front and the wheat fields on the southeast front were controlled exclusively by Tie-Tye, and Dinner ran the open spaces. Anything larger than a 7’x7’ block was easily controlled by the aggressor of this war; all the houses on the homestead were connected by these open spaces, making us easy pickin’s for the goddamned duck.

Tye tie attempted a blunt force attack to gain momentum in this building brawl. It was not well thought out, it was poorly executed, and it failed absolutely. She had to retreat and bunker down to prepare a thoughtful and meaningful solution.

DinnerDuck held the central yard and constantly terrorized both sides until she could figure out

a way to stop him. This went on for a good month and a half, two months. Thinking back on it now, I almost can’t believe I was able to learn to walk again. That duck had a pallet for the Achilles, and he didn’t mind the taste of the River Styx either.

When it seemed like our morale was dwindling near extinction, Tie-Tie discovered DinnerDuck’s weakness: a hidden and dilapidated corner on the third floor of the old barn out next to Hellen’s humble home. After many thwarted attempts at infiltration, one day the quacker wasn’t around to stop her. She made it to the place where chaos roosts, dispersing the final clouds of DinnerDuck’s lingering fog of war.

The room’s intermediary was completely collapsed, a sequoia-sized hole, board-ends crumbling with rot. On the pads of her paws she gaited slowly through the main chamber, veering towards the gaping chasm in the center while keeping eyes pinned to the shadowy corners once occupied by furniture and other priceless antiquities. The duck controlled open spaces and he controlled them well, and he could leap out at any moment. As Tie-Tye crept slowly across the plank laid precariously over the gap’s widest expanse, she realized how easy it would be for a drake of such insolence to slip and bring this foolish war to an end. How easy it all could have been… but the rogue game wanted conflict. Bringing it to an end would have been an act of defiance, and the duck did not like defiance.

The nest itself was composed primarily of hay and studded with trinkets and tchotchkes pinched from all corners of Murray’s Hill. Terry’s old Zippo, Hellen’s grandfather’s pocket watch from World War I, my grandmother’s old Texan pin. The old rusty trowel I fought him off with when he brought ruin to my mudfort, which he acquired whilst my mother was applying peroxide and bandage to my visceral battle wounds. This was the latest of his spoils. I still haven’t gotten it back.

The mass was an amalgam of hay, chickenwire, and our trinkets, all of it glued in place by the utter viscidity of his putrid alabaster duckshit. She tests each trinket with her claw, slowly picking out the loose from the firmly plastered. One trophy – Hellen’s brass pocketwatch and chain – she could not leave behind. With a pull of the chain a third of the nest blasted apart, shrapnel and debris off a rocket-struck highrise. The quackhold crumbled like drywall before a sledge, one swung by hands of skill and talent. Pocketwatch held ‘tween teeth she made a slow victory lap around the perimeter of the chamber, then took the laddered ramp down and maneuvered through the old chicken coop supply, the old grain storage, then down to the now empty horse corrals on the first floor, finally exfiltrating after passing by the goats’ pen near the entrance.

From a distance DinnerDuck watched her slink out. He didn’t need to see what the cat did. Retaliation was imminent.

DinnerDuck defecated indiscriminately across Tie-Tye’s territory for three weeks straight to prevent the cat from spying and snooping and whatever else she got up to when Dinner wasn’t watching. From outside the ring of fire, it seemed like they were simply trying to waste each others’ time, but fact of the matter is this: the duck did not like defiance, and defiance did not like the duck. Tye-Tye saw it all from her unshitten hideaway in the blueberry patch growing in the shadow of Leslie and Terry’s willow tree. Despite her emnity, she recognized this offensive front could continue indefinitely if it wasn’t made to halt.

She did not flee that day. She merely made a strategic retreat.

Tye-Tye pondered her revenge for ten full hours. She contemplated every form of punishment possible and concluded that a full-on assault was necessary. She fucking attacked Hellen, swatted right at her, scratched her dusty denim overalls to shreds and uprooted half the crops in her garden. Hellen enabled the duck menace and her garden filled its belly. Neither could continue to prosper.

For her transgressions, Tie-Tye received temporary amnesty with the caveat of eviction if it happened again. The duck’s rations were docked for the role he played, as there was food for Hellen to distribute. Dinner… wasn’t thrilled.

Never has a soul so brave and ill-guided as Tie-Tye Kitty walked the harrowed grounds of Murray’s Hill. Embarking on such a foolish undertaking ailed her in ways she couldn’t possibly have anticipated.  

The next morning Dinner let loose one loud continuous monotone honk, the war cry of his flock. Slow and sure he approached Tie-Tye’s home, beak low to the ground like the snout of a bloodhound. He required payment, a balance in the books if you will, and the only way to collect was the nuclear option.

The uproar concluded with what can only be described as a pained scream, another deafening blast for the masses. Leslie was thrown to the grass, and though I only saw her scars, I can tell you the duck was acting sporadic. He had no plan, no intelligence to his design. He wanted only to maim. Only to hurt. Only to share the pain which so enswathes him, which steals him wholly from the glow of the light illuminating every waking moment of his calamitous existence.

I didn’t see what happened at the conclusion of this battle, and Leslie didn’t tell me much when I finally had enough courage gathered to ask about her run-ins with dirty old DinnerDuck, but she didn’t have to. Full of malice and grit, sinew torn and wounds callused over time; the story woven by her scars was brutal enough.

Precious Little Thing

The homestead had lost its sense of peace. The duck was unsatisfied with its hold over the homestead. He now dominated our conversations, and worse, our minds.

Nancy Jo was haunted the most. She would just walk around outside, all hours of the day and night, head down, shoulders bunched, a dark cloud lurking just overhead.

“I don’t like him… I don’t like him… I don’t like him…”

“Oh he’s jyust a peach, darlin’!” Helen claimed. “Th’way he wiggles those li’l’ tail feathers a’his; precious li’l’ thang, that Dinner.”

“The duck’s kind’a cool,” agreed Terry.

“The duck’s kind’a lame,” argued Leslie.

The duck was getting tired.

“That duck is all nonsense,” said Summer, Tie-Tye’s big sister. “No good for no one, especially poor li’l’ Tie-Tye.”

“My darn Barbies have all bird shit in’em!” Sally raved. Sally is my little sister, three at the time.

“How am I s’posed to play in these conditions?!”

“Will not keep a pet,” Grandma always said. “Animals…” Some things just never change. “…some animals are just too cumbersome.”

“Doesn’t like it when I go a’playin’ my accordion.” Harry. “Cows like it, though.”

It had become obvious that we were living around the duck instead of with it.  

“He stays just out of reach until you turn around,” I heard my mom telling the phone one day, “and then he makes a move for your ankles! He’s a vicious one.”

“That duck dominates this property, has from the day he showed up.” He was speaking frantically, moving about the room. Searching. “The rooster drowning, the general ankle terrorizing. Here…”

My father shoved a leather-wrapped blunted stick into my hands.

“If he comes back again, I’m arming you with this to fend him off.”

The duck needed to go.

“You’d said you’d had pro’lems with’uh waterfaul? Whut are you, ‘tarded?”  

That’s How You Scare the Trees

“This barn needs t’be cut down a li’l’ bit, can I cut down th’barn? Just a bit of it, not the whole darn barn but just a bit of it.”

“Naaaaaaahhhhh, I ain’t gonna do that shit. No way no how.”

“Now I can’t anticipate any form of entertainment that can be better than watchin’ multiple people drive really fast around in a circle and slwoly anticipating their untimely demise, intercepting their vehicle into another. The carnage is a spectacle that even the drivers crave on occasion. At least, that’s what the sponsors say. Those goddamn sponsors have all the money, they talk with all those fancy words, they make more money usin’ all those damn words every time you use ‘em, I need to get myself some own words t’charge y’all with, I swear it! I’ll charge all you bastards, every last fuckin’ one’a’ya.”

“Sheeeeeeeeeit, I caused’a fahre!”

“Well darn tootin’a’baht that four-wheeler!”

“I swear, I swayre I did not try to burn down my father for the insurance money. Or the property, or the dowry, or so Nancy Jo can stop talkin’ all her shit about ‘im.”

“I started feelin’an itch down there and I knew, I just knew I should’a bought better quality rubbers, you, y’can’t use some’a these cheaper rubbers more than once or else they get all weird and droopy’fall apart on ya, just gross as hell, can’t be allowin that shit now hell’fahre.”

“You know what, you know, I’m sick and tired of hearin’ you Nancy Jo talkin’ about this bullshit about everyone behind their backs like who do you think you are, Martha Stewart? You ain’t no Martha Stewart! Like, Nancy Jo just, just go walk away. I did not try to burn drown our father, but, but they love you more, now, you’d be gettin’ more in the situation, you have a nine-to-five job, you function in society even though you look like a bitch, probably developin’ slowly over time, unbeknown to you, slowly developin’, slowly devolvin’, that’s right, I, I, believe in evolution, it’s fuckin’ true, that’s why I have this boy this Pups here ready to kill nanyone tryin’a get at me that’s evolution at its finest right there, right on up there next to titties, that’s right, y’all better have a li’l’ fear now, now, now y’hear this now, hear this raight now.”

Uriah Poke was a character if ever there was one. The son of the landlord, the handler of Pups, the textbook image of a sovereign hillbilly. He didn’t visit much, say, five or six times over the course of four months, but when he was around, he made his presence known.

“AY! Now th’fuck all them cows get gone, now? I, I re-… I remember, like there was cows out here f’r days, like, just thousands of cows, now there’s less room for ‘em, a’course, that’s true, but we still need a lo’a fuckin’ cows around here, we still need a lotta fuckin’ cows, I anticipate cows of higher higher caliber, not lesser cows, now please for the love’a god actually, no, hold up, I’m pretty sure God would not allow these cows to leave my presence, so let’s pray to some other form of deity, The Suited Man, let us now pray to The Suited Man! LEt us… wait, whut? Who… what was I sayin? The cows! We need more cows! There are absolutely none!”

Poke was nigh untouchable because of his bloodline. Helen left bad enough alone in regard to his exploits, mostly due to the boy’s unbridled and irresponsible nature. Anyone who knew him could attest to this truth.

“I can genuinely do whatever the fuck I want on this property. You all are just very very fortunate, just so very humbled and fortunate to realize that I have the good grace to hold myself back, allowing you all to have a, a peaceful life that is only barely interrupted by my ventures and ideals. I believe y’all should find y’rselves lucky and fortunate that I have this sense of restraint that, I have been told, is quite legendary. You should be in awe. Truly. You should be in awe.”

He was brought in for maintenance on many occasions. One day, the barn had to be torn down due to his own foolishness.

“Now, now I did not mean to blow off one wall of the barn. I was just joking earlier, it was notmy attention, I do understand how precarious of a situation this looks on me, because I did say I would do the thing that I’ve accidently done, which again, was not intentional, I, I must be as unbridled and as simple and fair as I possibly can, this barn is kind of a piece of shit, though, and ust needs to go on down and collapse and slowly die, totally not related to that other project I have, that other project that requires a shit-ton’a barn wood, don’t, now… don’t, just disregard that in all ways.”

The willow tree, the one in front of Terry and Leslie’s home, the one where Tie-Tye liked to hide when Dinner was shitting around. It was falling apart, it was dilapidated. Pokë came through to tear it down.

“This rotten thing raight here’s been here for a hunnit’ten years, and I’m gonna be the one to blow it the fuck up! I’m gonna have this giant fahre, just gonna be this giant fahre raight there, and it’s not gonna burn my father no wait, nope, cain’t say that, Nancy Jo’s in the bushes, darn heathen that one, but th’fahre‘s gonna be taller’n’me, gonna have a wide radius, gonna use eyght containers’a’ lighter fluid, not that cheap shit, not that, I want fahreballs, I want fahreballs that will singe the remaining trees int he airea singe their treeline, the canopy, let’s just destroy the natural canopy habitat, let’s just, let’s, in a two-mile radius, let’s, control and demand, let’s, all the trees in the area, to warn them about them rotting in the same way, that’s how you scare the trees.”

Oddly enough, DinnerDuck made himself scarce when Uriah Poke was around. Made himself real scarce… but word would eventually get around.

“Are you all… fucking tellin’ me!… that there’s a fuckin’ quack, literal quack, not just like th’doctor who told me I had that fuckin’ anal cancer, but, but like an actual aviary waterfowl creature, and that’s how I’d describe it based on your interpretations of events that transpired with you and this, you and this duck. It’s like… is this what I’m tempted to believe raight now? Is this the reality of your situations, Little Miss Nancy Jo? Fuckin’ hell, bitch. Hell-fahre.”

Breaking Heathen

Uriah Poke was to DinnerDuck what DinnerDuck was to us: an offshoot of Mother Nature, a belligerent mistake too aware of itself, a being of pure stubbornness and power. The target of our fear and object of all our abhorration had become unmovable…

“…and of course, great power summons great challenge. I’ll be comin’ back in’a few to make sure DinnerDuck pays for all those misdeeds, now don’t y’all worry now, I won’t be tellin’ Helen, that nogood biddy-bottom worry-wartin’ bitch. Well le’me just bring the pit-bull and I’ll take it care myself.”

Near the end he had more control than he did before he arrived. He would run his patrols thrice daily instead of the usual two, he would spend more time roosting in that pothole even though its was drier than the ruins of my prestigious mudfort left to crack under the summer sun. He would brazen his beak more, make us walk on the shattered shells from the eggs he longed one day to see laid. It was Hell, to put it simply. Plain, unadulterated Hell.

“I don’t fuckin’ understand what any one of t’all are doin’ a’hootin’-hollerin’ on about this li’l fuckin’ thing! Like, who do yew think you are pullin some bullshit like that, tryina make me think, y’know I, I guess I gotta believe ya, gonna hav’ta go and get Pups from dang-old Steve Jerryson and take care’a this there murder duck for Nancy Jo and all her little bitchfiddies. That godamned old dang-old Steve Jerryson, he can get pretty annoying sometimes but he aint a bad guy, aint too treach’rous, lends his doles out for a fair price now. Jerry just won’t shut up sometimes, actin’ all intrusive and inconsequential with his mannerisms, just speakng on and on with no form, understand, or any sort of… gosh damnit, now what was I talkin’ about now? Oh that’s raight, the ghost duck! That killer who ain’t there kuz he’s busyin their GAHT-damn’d dream-movienightmares! They want a dead duck I’m’a bring ‘em a dead duck, and that’s just what’s it’s gonna have t’be.”

The duck had us under his wings in the worst of ways, except for when Uriah Poke was around. Poke walked with a certain _, he had a certain swagger in the step of his foot, the swing of his bent and outstretched cocked elbows. The way he smiled, how it didn’t look like smile at all, how it looked like he was clenching his jaw, gritting his teeth, grinding the molars into dust out of sheer and utter arrogance towards the world. If the duck could sense my presence when I was holding watch over the mudfort that day, it could sense the presence of Uriah Poke. The duck never liked defiance, but from Big Poke he steered away.

“Now shut yer damn mouth, Jerry, fuckin’ Jerry… Jerry I am tryna speak I’m tryna allow you to be graced by my knowledge and experience in this delicate matter. There is a problem, big problem, some sort of an authoritative aviary reject is botherin and manipulatin’ my family, my mother, and some of her other folken who keep her money warm for her. There’s an alleged duck, Steve Jerryson. Duck’oo killed a rooster, kind’a conspired against and messed with everyone. He stayed away from me, realizin’ the danger, noticed my astute and perceptive nature, backed off my my visual range… of course, if the duck even exists in the first fuckin’ place. I aint seen tail feather nor beak of this foul waterfowl, but they won’t shut their god-damned traps about it, god-damn-it, so now I need your Pups to go feed him a li’l treat-like. Wha’d’y’say, you gaht-damned Steve Jerryson? I ain’t lettin’ you speak, I don’t have the time of fuckin’ day for that, so why don’t you just hand him over and I’ll use him for as much time as possible, see?

Where many Burroughs of Squirrelvale have underground dog fighting rings or cock fighting rings or pig fighting rings, or naked grease dancing rings… uh, Beaverton has an underground dog assassination ring. Now, that’s not to say we Beavertonians are goin’ in’a tunnels and payin’ the tunnel folk to kill dogs, no, quite the opposite. The tunnel folk have dogs, dogs with certain sets of skills, dogs with a streak of wolf preserved in their genetic makeup. Dogs who will kill so long as their tunnel-folk owner gets paid. Steve Jerryson is one such tunnel folk, and his pitbull Pups is one such assassin dog.

“Sure. Le’me get’im back ‘fore four, a’ight?”

Jerry’s long-witted remarks are legendary in the eyes of Poke. Long-winded indeed. As Poke and Pups were rolling back to the homestead, Poke got down to explainin’ the task at hand. He told the dog all about Dinner, about how he drowned the rooster his first day on the farm, how he chased Nancy Jo clean out of her Subaru, how he took down the matriarch of the renters halfway up the hill. “The duck attacked the cat of my sister,” he told the dog, “Pups. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be done quick.” He then went on to explain strategies, some involving Pups, some involving more of a tag-team situation, all ending in the demise of the psychotic waterfowl. A quiet moment fell upon the car, and Uriah felt his right ear twitch. Then…  

‘Highest Poke… from what you tell me of this duck, I believe this will be an easy job. I believe I am overqualified, and this is a waste of not only my time, but the duck’s time. The duck, Highest Poke… the duck is a child. A welp. An immature dried-out shitstain on the grass growing from my yard who was irresponsibly allowed to believe that he could waddle the farm on his own. A piece of shit laying amongst the land where I lay my own shit. A piece of foreign shit that doesn’t belong. The duck is a cocky vermin who thinks the weather won’t mat his feathers because he grabbed a laem hen and got it to take a swim. I expect two ham-bones and the ear of a cow in ten minutes when this chore is handled.’

Poke nodded once and kept on driving. Jaw straight. Chin up.

                                       bending breaking heathen ho
                                                                        watch the feathers fall and float
                                       ‘mentor duck is staring fast                                                                         might it soon be in our past?

Dinner was sitting at the edge of the garden, just like he did every day. Didn’t matter if the produce was rotten, ripe, or not quite yet, that duck ate his fill. He ate his fill and then some, that duck… that god forsaken duck… and he wasn’t watching his back. Wasn’t watching his corners. Wasn’t paying attention where it should have been paid.

Dinner didn’t hear that pickup truck rolling down Murray’s Hill. He didn’t hear the gravel crunching under the tires, the hum and clank of the engine, the slam of the door when Poke got out to come inside for a visit. He sat on my parents’ couch and had a little chat with them about what was about to happen, about how Sally and I shouldn’t be runnin’ around outdoors for the next couple’r’few, that there might be a lot of honking coming up in the next few minutes, “Now don’t you mind if its gets’n a little loud, now hell-fahre this might get dangerous based on what you’ve been tellin’ me about this duck I want y’all t’just stay in the house, stay in the house, stay right here in the living room, calm yourselves and quell on the endeavors in which I’m undertaking in your backyard.”

After all that he up and left, went right out to the truck. Dinner wasn’t paying attention. We were all beneath him. That was his biggest mistake, in hindsight. Believing he was so far above it he could pay it all no mind. Pups came down there to collect on poor little DinnerDuck’s soul for all his misdeeds, for all them things he done did, and he didn’t waste no time nor effort. One big chomp from Steve Jerryson’s pitbull set that there boy there right, ain’t no two ways to say it.

For a good three to four seconds he walked it off. DinnerDuck kept on waddlin’, kept on wreaking his havoc. Was it to prove a point? To laugh in the face of the devil? To spit in the face of The One? Or maybe did he take those last steps for us, just so the bystanders could say they watched him waddle away, he waddled there with his head dangling just barely, just barely there, hanging by that sinewiest of feathered threadss, hanging there, DinnerDuck waddled with the blood spilling like a broken fountain, he waddled with his head hanging on by just a thread… and then, finally, death.

‘You put up no fight, because that’s what you were. No fight. Just a nuisance. Requiesta en pace, bird. I’d hope you find peace, but I know your kind. You always come back to haunt us.’

Then, from meters away, with a bellyful of satisfaction: “That’s a goon’ there, Pups.”

DinnerDuck was killed for sport that day. All of us on the homestead saw it. All of us but Helen, and she’d never learn the truth. Maybe Dinner got tired of eating all the spoiled crops from the garden and just wandered off, or maybe he felt our land had grown too busy. More cars on the road, Suburbia getting closer and closer. She could never know, but we all do, and I thank the Lord every day for what that Pups did for my family. Pups, and Dinner, tell you the truth. Had I not been terrorized by that duck so early on in my life, I may never have become the man I am today. He taught me to be less authoritative and not to abuse power. That power is nothing without the responsibility to frame it.

My folks brought him into the kitchen ‘bout five, ten minutes after he hit the ground. Cleaned him up on the kitchen counter. I grabbed three feathers off Dinner’s left wing when they weren’t looking, and I still have them to this day. They decorate my sledgehammer, got ‘em bound to the anvil with chickenwire. Whenever I pick up the hammer, I look at those feathers, and Dinner looks back at me.

I can only hope he’s looking now. I hope I make him proud.

A Real Good Dog

“Excuse me, Jerry, I do apologize on the tardiness of the Pups, but the Pups exceeded every expectation, he needed some time to be used in more skillful fashion, just a little bit of murderin’ little bit of fightin’… I will pay for his time, and I do apologize that it’s been two and a half weeks, but it may be two and a half to five more and I do apologize for that as well, but honestly Steve, I’m makin’ a lot of money here, you should be prowd of me that I’m allowing us to make so much money in this endeavor, and honestly, you should fuck off if you’re wantin’ to get ‘im back anytime soon. You genuinely need to stop if you are in fact harassing me, I don’t know if you are, my Ay’Oh’eL is full and I don’t remember my password nor do I care to remember, so I do hope for your sake mostly that you are not one of those bastards blowing up my phone, Pups, Pups, I swear to goodness Pups speaks in my thoughts and I like what he’s sayin’, kind’a weird BUT you trained a good dog here, a real good dog, real mellow-centered despite his carnivorous intentions. He’s a real good dog and I gotta use him. I’m takin’im. And, I do not care for your price. All right now, you have a good day now. Goodbye, now.”

I do not know if Pups ever got back to Steve Jerryson. I don’t know if Steve Jerryson is a real-life breathing human male, to be straight about it. What I do know is that after the stalemate with DinnerDuck, Tie-Tye stayed dormant around the homestead for a long time. Even after Pups finished his work, Tye-Tye still shied away from the light of day. Now, cats are normally nocturnal creatures, this wasn’t the biggest change in the world, but still we were all real worried about her. All of us but Poke.

Poke came back to the farm probably four or five times after that, and each time ended in a disaster of cataclysmic proportions. Foul language, obscene gestures, some property damage. Shouting matches with his sister, Nancy Jo. It was never pretty but it didn’t last forever, and it wasn’t constant like in the days of DinnerDuck. We recovered and leveled out as a community. We survived.

I say survived there because that’s what we did: survive. We hardened ourselves against the forces of nature and the outside world, along with all the outsiders who lurked there. We thought the outside world was a dangerous and scary place, and we were right. Uriah Poke lived in that outside world, and every time he visited he brought it home to us.

In truth it was Uriah Poke we had to fear. Nobody else. Just Poke, and from the very start. I learned that real well that last time he was invited to our land for a visit. We all did.

God, did we ever learn.

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