Encounter with a Duck

Encounter with a Duck

A Story by Debbie Barry
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Based on a true story from my childhood, this is a fictionalized story of a little girl's terrifying enounter with a duck.

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Encounter with a Duck

 

Chapter 1

 

The sun shone brightly through the window of the little bedroom, with its sloping ceiling, and rose-patterned wallpaper.  It gently caressed the soft cheek, which peeped above the edge of the fuzzy, blue blanket, and the warmth of the rays woke the sleeping child.  As her moss-green eyes fluttered drowsily, rimmed by long, dark lashes, tiny dust motes dances like myriad fairies in the golden light.  The child yawned, exposing tiny, pearly teeth, and then smiled at the sunlight fairies.  She rolled onto her back, thick, tangled, dark curls splayed across the snowy white of her fluffy pillow, and stretched her arms wide, above her head, her fingers uncurling from sleepy fists, until they were spread wide.  Beside her, a battered, much-loved, largely furless, lumpily stuffed panda lay against the pillow.

Suddenly, Debbie remembered what day it was!  Today, they were goiug to spend all day at Uncle Duncan’s and Aunt Helen’s house!  She scrambled out of bed, in her rumpled, flannel nightgown.

“Nana!  Nana!” she shouted, her small, bell-like voice ringing with joyful excitement.  “Nana, I gotta get dressed!  We’re goin’ to Unca Duncan’s t’day!”

As Debbie pulled clean underwear from a drawer in the large, maple bureau, across the sunny garret room from the narrow bed, she heard the familiar step of her grandmother coming along the hall.

“Well, good morning, Sunshine!” Nana said, as she entered Debbie’s bedroom.  “You’re up bright and early.  It’s barely six.”

“Six?” Debbie asked, turning from the bureau.  Her eyes narrowed, as she concentrated.  At four years old, she could count all the way to one hundred, but counting time was a little harder.  “Tha’s too early, isn’t it?” she asked, disappointedly.

“Well, it’s early, but not too early,” Nana said, with a chuckle.  “The sun’s up, so you might’s well be, too.  Let’s get you dressed.”

Debbie’s smile returned, with Nana’s words.  It was okay. 

Nana stepped into the closet, and Debbie heard the sound of wire hangers rattling against the long, maple pole, which ran the length of the long, narrow closet, and supported her clothes.  Debbie plopped down on the soft, green carpet, carefully avoiding the jumble of dolls and blocks, beside the tall, wooden, Victorian doll house.  She wriggled out of her nightgown, and into her underwear.  She waited for Nana to bring her clothes; Debbie was not yet tall enough to reach the hangers, on which her clothes hung. 

“Here we go,” Nana chirped, emerging from the closet.  She sat on the edge of the bed, and beckoned to Debbie, who scooted across the carpet.  “Head’s up,” Nana coaxed.  She held the bright, green tee-shirt, with the ruffly edges on the neck and sleeves, while Debbie ducked under it, her arms straight above her head, and then popped up through the openings. 

“Peek-a-boo!” Debbie said, grinning.

“Peek-a-boo,” Nana gently echoed.  “Let’s get your pants on, Missy.”

Obediently, Debbie stepped into the pair of bubble gum-pink shorts, her tiny hands grippin Nana’s forearms, for balance.

“Good girl!” said Nana.  “Go get your socks from the bureau.”

“Aw, Nana,” Debbie whined.  “Do I haft wear socks?  I wanna wear my sandals!”

“Alright,” Nana conceded, amiably, “where are your sandals?”

“I’ll get ’em,” Debbie said.  She dove under her bed, right between Nana’s feet, wriggling on he belly, like a snake, all the way to the wall.  There, she found one sandal right away, perched atop a red fire truck.  A bit of rummaging uncovered the other sandal, unaccountably wrapped in a napkin, like a baby is a blanket.  Scooting around, Debbie soon emerged, triumphant, from under her bed.

“Got ’em!” she announced. 

Debbie sat on the floor, and Nana buckled the strappy, leather sandals securely on Debbie’s feet.  As she finished buckling the second sandal, Nana tickled the big toe, which wiggled pinkly at her.

“This little piggy went to market,” Nana said, her finger on Debbie’s big toe. 

Debbie giggled.

“This little piggy stayed home,” Nana continued, touching the end of the long, second toe.

Debbie’s green eyes sparkled.

“This little piggy ate roast beef,” Nana said, touching the middle toe. 

Debbie grinned.

“This little piggy had none,” touching the fourth toe.

Debbie frowned playfully.

“And this little piggy,” said Nana, touching the tiny, last toe, and hesitating.

Debbie tensed with happy anticipation, knowing what came next.

“Went wee, wee, wee, wee,” said Nana, running all the fingers of her hand up Debbie’s leg, to her tummy, like a scurrying spider, or a little pig running away.  “All the way home!”   Nana scooped Debbie into her arms, and held the tiny girl on her lap, tickling her tummy and under her arms.

Debbie screamed with happy laughter.  She loved it when Nana tickled her.  Soon, her tiny fingers tickled Nana back.  They ended up in a warm, tight bear hug.

“I love you, Nana,” Debbie said.

“I love you more,” Nana replied.  Gently, she eased Debbie off her lap, setting the child on her feet.

“Now, your hair,” Nana told her.

“No-o-o!” Debbie wailed.

“Get the brush,” Nana said, firmly.

Debbie’s eyes flashed defiance, but only for a moment.  She was a good girl, and knew Nana would brush her hair as gently as she could.  She stomped over to the bureau, but not too hard.  She picked up the shiny, gilt-finished hairbrush, from the small, oval, brass-rimmed, glass tray, and carried it over to Nana.  She stood, reluctantly obedient, between Nana’s knees, facing the windo, as Nana carefully worked the soft, nylon bristles through Debbie’s tangled curls, which fell thickly to the tops of her shoulders.

“Ow!” Debbie protested, from time to time.  “Ouch!  That hurts!”  Soon, though, Nana was done brushing.  She pulled Debbies curls back from her face, and fasted it with barrettes, above each ear. 

Debbie peered into the hand mirror Nana held for her.  The barrettes were shaped like pink daisies, and that made her smile.  Dark brown bangs just brushed the tops of her delicate eyebrows.  “Yay!”  Thanks, NanA!” Debbie cheered.

  

Chapter 2

 

Debbie and Nana went downstairs.  Debbie scampered along the long, front hall, past Daddy’s glass-fronted bookcases, into the living room.  Debbie padded over to a large, console television, set between the room’s two windows, which overlooked the gravel driveway and the large, old, crabapple tree.  She pulled the small knob, and the set crackled to life, the colored image glowing through the thick, convex, rounded-rectangle screen.  Debbie quickly turned the large, round dial, until the number 4 was at the top.  The room filled with the sounds of a coyote fruitlessly chasing a roadrunner along a narrow canyon.

“Beep, beep!” Debbie piped, happily settling herself on the floor, no more than two feet from the screen.  She crossed her legs in front of her, in the way her preschool teacher called “Indian style,” and gazed with rapt attention at the cartoon antics on the glowing screen.

After several minutes, Nana emerged from the kitchen.  She placed a bowl of Frosted Flakes and milk on the floor, in front of the child, and set a small glass of orange juice next to it.  Then, Nana went to make her coffee.

Debbie picked up the bowl, and cradled it it one hand, as she spooned the sugary cereal into her mouth.  Her eyes never left the television.  When the cereal was gone, Debbie drank the milk.  She set the empty bowl on the floor, and picked up the glass.  She took a big drink of the juice.

“Ew!  It’s sour!” Debbie protested, twisting to look at Nana, who had just settled in the chair directly behind her, across the large, square room.

“That’s what happens when you eat sweet things first,” Nana replied.  She sipped her instant coffee.  “Drink your juice.”

“Okay,” Debbie acquiesced.  She drank her juice.  As she set the glass next to the bowl, the family’s large, stripy, gray-and-black tom cat, Dragon, came to investigate the bowl.  His raspy, pink tongue quickly licked up all the drops of milk and crumbs of cereal, leaving the bowl almost as clean as washed.  The cat ignored the sweetly tangy scent of the juice glass.

Just then, a small wail was heard, from Mommy’s and Daddy’s room.  Debbie jumped up.

“The baby’s awake,” Debbie said, gazing at the many small, dark panels, which were inlaid in the bedroom door.

“Put your dishes on the sink,” Nana told her.  You can look at your sister in a few minutes.”

“Okay,” said Debbie.  She scrambled up from the floor, scooped up the empty bowl, spoon, and glass, and walked into the kitchen.

She crossed the dark red, brick-patterned linoleum floor, passed by the refrigerator, and stood up on tippy-toe to reach into the big, white, enameled-steel sink.  Carefully, she set the dishes down.  She was up so early that hers were the first dishes in the sink.

“Mornin’, Sweetpea.”

Debbie whirled.  “Mornin’, Daddy!” she cried.

Daddy scooped her up, into a tight bear hug.  She wrapped her arms around his neck, and snuggled her face into his chest, under his chin.

“Gonna help me scramble some eggs?” Daddy asked, above her head.

“Uh huh,” she agreed.  She tipped her head back, so she could see his laughing, sky-blue eyes.  “Can I stir?” she asked.

“You can, but may you?” he replied, his eyes twinkling.

“Oh, yeah,” Debbie said, somewhat abashed.  “May I stir, Daddy?”

“Yes, you may,” he said, his voice rich with approval.  “Did you already have breakfast?” he asked, noticing the dishes in the sink. 

“Just some Frosted Flakes,” she admitted.  “An’ the’ roadrunner ran away really fast!” she added.

“Did he?” Daddy asked, allowing her misdirection. 

“Beep, beep!”  she said, nodding enthusiastically.

Daddy put her down, laughing.  Within minutes, he had a bowl of eggs, milk, salt, and pepper ready to be stirred.  Debbie stood on a chair, and mixed up the eggs with the hand-cranked egg beater.  It whirred, as she held the top handle, and turned the crank as fast as she could.  She watched the egg yolks slide between the beaters, and come out the other side as a yellow froth. 

Daddy heated a piece of butter in a big, black, cast iron skillet.  When the butter started to sizzle, he took the bowl of eggs.  Debbie watched, from a safe distance, as Daddy poured the eggs into the hot pan.  They hissed, when the first of the egg mixture touched the pan, but then grew quiet.  Daddy gently stirred the eggs, until they were all cooked into soft, yellow lumps.  Daddy popped slices of white bread into the toaster, while the eggs cooked.

Daddy had just spooned the eggs onto four plates, and was adding triangles of golden, buttered toast, when Mommy came into the kitchen, carrying Patty.

“Oh, good, you made eggs,” Mommy said, tiredly.  I’ll eat as soon as I feed her,” she added, tilting her head toward the squirming baby in her arms.

“She can have  some eggs,” Daddy suggested.  “She’s old enough.”

“She won’t be one for another month,” Mom said, sighing.  She walked past Daddy and Debbie, into the pantry.  After a few moments, she returned, carrying three small, glass jars.  Debbie recognized peas, sweet potatoes, and bananas, from the colors of mush in the jars.  Mom paused at the kitchen bureau, set down the jars, and fished in the top, middle drawer, for a small spoon.

Debbie hurried to grab the jars, cradling them carefully in both hands.  Mommy smiled down at her, gratefully, and Debbie followed Mommy into the living room, where she placed the jars on top of the large, green, leather hassock.

Mom sat on the couch, next to the hassock, the baby on her lap, and started feeding Patty the strained peas.  Without further comment, Daddy carried two plates of eggs and toast to the living room, handing one to Nana, and placing the other on the floor, in front of Debbie, who had returned to watching the Saturday morning cartoons.  Daddy brought the other two plates, and set one on the hassock, for Mommy; he settled in the large, green recliner, in front of the cellar door, and ate his own breakfast.

When breakfast was over, and Mommy had changed Patty into a clean playsuit, Mommy washed up the breakfast dishes.  Debbie leaned on the edge of the square, mesh playpen, where Patty was sitting, chewing a large, rubber teething ring, and stated at her sister.  Debbie was disappointed.  Mommy’d promised her a baby brother or sister she could play with, but this baby was taking an awfully long time to get big enough to play.  Debbie sighed.

  

Chapter 3

 

“Everyone ready?” Daddy asked, from the driver’s seat.

Debbie sat in the back seat of the blue station wagon.  Nana sat next to her.  In the front seat, Mommy held Patty on her lap.  Patty’s playpen and diaper bag were in the back.  Debbie had already used the bathroom, even though she didn’t think she had to, “just in case.”

“I guess we’re ready,” Mommy confirmed.

“Here we go, then,” said Daddy.

The ride to Uncle Duncan’s house took about fifteen minutes, and was very familiar to Debbie.  She smiled at the shops, as they passed, and the big, gingerbread-frosted houses lining the village’s main street.  Soon after, she wrinkled her nose, as they paseed by the paper mill, and the part of the river that stank with its wastes.  She smiled, as they passed the tall, wrought iront gates of the college, where her nursery school was located.  Then, they were there.  Daddy turned onto the long, forest-lined drive, which led back and back, until it opened out into the sun-dappled front lawn of Uncle Duncan’s sprawling, white house, fronted by a long, roofed porch, on which were several bent-wood rocking chairs, interspersed with pots overflowing with ferns, vines, and flowers.

Daddy parked the car, and the whole family climbed ou.  By the time the car doors slammed shut, the front door of the house had opened, and Aunt Helen was stepping out to meet them. 

“Bob!  Sharon!” Aunt Helen called, from the porch.  “Welcome!”  She noticed Nana, and added, “Good morning, Mrs. Brown!”

“Good morning, Mrs. Campbell,” Nana replied, courteously.

“Aunt Helen!” Debbie shouted, running across gravel and grass, and scrambling up the three wooden steps.

“Debbie, Dear!” said Aunt Helen, wrapping the little girl in a hug, and pressing a kiss to her forehead.

“Duncan, they’re here,” Aunt Helen called back, through the open door.  Debbie heard an unintelligible reply from deep inside the rambling structure.

“Oh, my, she’s getting big,” Aunt Helen told Mommy, putting out her arms to take Patty.  “You look just like your daddy,” Aunt Helen cooed to the baby.  It was true, Debbie thought; Patty had Daddy’s sky blue eyes, and his lighter brown hair, although it was still quite dark.  She wore a stretchy, pink headband, to hold the jumble of soft curls out of her little eyes.

The family followed Aunt Helen into the gracious entry hall, with its flagstone floor, and glowingly polished wood side table.  There were two benches, which looked like tall church pews; Debbie remembered that Uncle Duncan had recently told her they were deacon’s benches, whatever that meant.  Debbie thought they were pretty.  More potted plants were clustered in front of each of the two tall, narrow windows, which flanked the wide, white front door.

“Welcome!” boomed Uncle Duncan’s stentorian voice, as he stepped out of the shadowy passage, which Debbie knew led to his office.  In moments, Debbie was scooped up, for another delightful bear hug.

“Unca Duncan!” she squealed, as he immediately proceeded to tickle her.  She dissolved into screams of laughter, until she saw Aunt Helen’s patient, but somewhat disapproving expression.  Suddenly she remembered that, except for the recreation room, in the basement, this was a quiet house, and only good manners and indoor voices were allowed here.  Uncle Duncan noticed, too, when Debbie tried to stifle her own laughter.

“Sorry, Dear,” he said, placatingly.  “All my fault.  Don’t blame the child.”

“I don’t blame her, Duncan,” Aunt Helen replied, relenting enough to smile indulgently at the pair.  “You’re a terrible influence,” she added, but Debbie knew she was teasing.  Uncle  Duncan was an important man, and very smart.  He taught her things, and always answered her questions, never telling her to “Stop asking silly questions,” the way many adults did.

The family followed Aunt Helen into a spacious, and very gracious living room, at the back of the house, one wall of which was almost entirely floor-to-ceiling windows, with a set of French doors at the center; these let out onto a broad, flagstone veranda, with steps down to a sweepin lawn, at the bottom of which was a small, private lake. Mom and Daddy sat together on a long, white sofa; Mom balanced Patty carefully on her lap, cautious not to let grubby fingers of baby spit get on the pristine upholstery.  Nana settled herself in a large, round, wicker basket chair, comfortably padded with several soft cushions and pillows.  Uncle Duncan and Aunt Helen sat in matching, wing-backed chairs, upholstered in rich, green leather, which gave them a good view of the sunlight sparkling on the water.  As often happened, Debbie found herself free to roam about.  She knew better than to touch any of the fascinating objects, which adorned the room; four years old was a big girl, after all.  She walked about, gazing at, but never touching, a spray or iridescent peacock tail feathers, in a tall vase, with pictures of China painted on it; at a carved, jade statue of a fat man, sitting with his legs crossed, his hands folded in prayer, which Daddy had once told her was called Buddha; at several skeletons of small animals, which had been carefully rearticulated, and were displayed in glass cases; at a large owl, with real feathers, and large, glass eyes, which stared down at her from atop a glass bookcase, filled with books that looked really ancient; at a delicate statue of a ballerina, the sculpted folds of her short skirt, and the sweep of her hair almost too real for the porcelain from which it was made; at a huge, old-fashioned map of the world, which hung in a heavy, gilt frame; and at many other delightful and mysterious treasures.  Finally, she reached the French doors, and stared out at the lake.

  

Chapter 4

 

“Would you like to go out on the lake?” Uncle Duncan asked, walking over, and dropping to one knee, beside Debbie.

“Uh huh,” she replied, entranced by the water, then, realizing where she was, she turned to him, and said, in her best polite vice, “Yes, please, Unca Duncan.”

“You don’t have to do that, Duncan,” Mommy object.

“Nonsense,” he replied.  “It’s a beautiful day to take the boat out.”

“Not the motor boat?” Aunt Helen asked, sounding concerned.

“No, we’ll take the row boat,” Uncle Duncan replied.  “Won’t we, Bob?” he added.

“Yes, indeed, Skipper,” Daddy answered, grinning.

Before they could take the boat out, Daddy had to get Patty’s playpen from the car.  He set it up in the shade, on the grass, near the end of the veranda.  Uncle Duncan placed three comfortable lawn chairs and a small table near it, under a spreading oak tree.  Mommy, Nana, and Aunt Helen sat in the chairs, to visit, and Aunt Helen asked her maid, Dottie, to bring out refreshments.

Finally, Daddy and Debbie followed Uncle Duncan down to the small pier, which jutted from the edge of the lawn out into the water.  Daddy helped Uncle Duncan get the rowboat into the water.  Daddy sat in the back of the boat, close against the pier, and Uncle Duncan handed Debbie down to him, because her legs were too short to scramble in on her own.  Uncle Duncan sat on the middle seat, facing backward, and set the oars in the oarlocks.  Daddy tugged loose the rope, which held the boat to the pier, and they were off.

Uncle Duncan rowed, with long, smooth strokes.  The oars barely made a sound, as they dipped into the water.  Debbie knelt in the bottom of the boat, and looked over the side.  The water was very clear, and the bright sunlight illuminated the sandy, rocky bottom of the small lake.

“Ooh!  Fish!” Debbie cried with delight, watching a small school of silvery torpedos skim by, not far below the surface.

A few minutes later, she gasped with alarm, “Daddy, the rock moved!”

Daddy peered over the edge, and grinned.  “That one?” he asked, pointing into to sunny water.  Uncle Duncan stopped rowing, and hel the small boat steady.

“Yeah, that one!” Debbie agreed, nodding vigorously.

Both Daddy and Uncle Duncan laughed.  “That’s no rock, Sailor,” Daddy told her.  “Take another look.”

Debbie looked.

“See its feet moving?” Daddy asked.

“Daddy!  Rocks don’t have feet,” Debbie protested.

“What does have feet?” Uncle Duncan asked.  “And a head and a tail, and it moves v-e-e-e-ery slo-o-o-owly,” he added, drawing out the last two words, for effect.

She gazed at the thing in the water.  Suddenly, she saw its long tail, and one clawed foot.  Then, it stretched out its long neck, and she saw the sharp beak at the front of its head.

“A turtle!” she crowed, delightedly.

“A snapping turtle,” Uncle Duncan cautioned.  “Don’t get close, or try to touch it.  They bite.”

Debbie stared with rapt attention as the aquatic reptile moved away, far more quickly than she thought turtles could move.  When the snapper was well away from the boat, Uncle Duncan resumed rowing.

 A few minutes later, something else caught Debbie’s eye.  “Ducks!” she cried, joyfully, pointing to the far end of the lake, far from the house.  Sure enough, a small flock of ducks was swimming gracefully in the quiet water there.  “One, two, three, four, there are five!”  she said, pleased with herself.

“Hmm,” Uncle Duncan said, thoughtfully, turning to look over his shoulder.  “Yep, there are five,” he agreed, after searching the water for a few moments.  He turned back to face Daddy, and said, “We have a family of six ducks here.  The parents wintered over, and they hatched four eggs this spring.  That looks like all the young ones, and one of the adults, but I don’t know where the other one is.”  He sounded slightly worried.

“It’s prob’ly not far,” Daddy said, encouragingly.

“I hope so,” said Uncle Duncan.  “We have some foxes and raccoons in the woods, but….”  He trailed off. 

The three in the boat were a bit subdued for the next few minutes, until Debbie aske, “Wha’s that?”  She pointed.

“That’s the bridge,” Uncle Duncan replied, looking where she pointed.

“Why’ve you got a bridge,” Debbie asked, curiously.

“It goes over the stream that spills out of the lake,” Uncle Duncan replied.

“A stream?” Debbie asked, prompting a further explanation.

Uncle Duncan pointed to a hill, beyond the family of ducks, which Debbie noticed still numbered five.  “There’s a spring on that hill, where water comes out of the ground.  It makes a stream, and that comes into the lake at that far end.  The stream comes out on this end, where it can keep going downhill, until it runs into the river.”

“Why’s it do that?” Debbie asked.

“So the lake doesn’t get too full, and flood the yard,” Uncle Duncan told her.  The extra water goes over the spill, and down to the river.”

“Oh-h,” Debbie said, nodding her understanding.  Then she asked, “But, why’s there a bridge over it?”

“See that path, going into the trees?” Uncle Duncan asked, pointing to the farter end of the bridge.

“Uh huh,” she nodded.

“That leads to my cabin.  Sometimes, friends stay there, and they have to be able to get there.  That’s why there’s a bridge.”

“Oh!” Debbie said, visions of magical cottages and story book cabins swirling in her imagination.  A cabin in the woods sounded exciting.  “Can I go there?” she asked.

“I don’t know, can you?” Uncle Duncan asked, winking at Daddy.

Daddy harrumphed slightly, to stop a laugh, but he grinned.

Debbie flushed scarlet, for just a moment.  “Oh, I can, ’cause o’ th’ bridge,” she said.  “May I go there?” she asked.

Uncle Duncan looked at Daddy, who nodded.  “Yes, later,” Uncle Duncan replied.

“Yay!” Debbie cheered, delighted by the prospect of visiting the cabin in the woods.

  

Chapter 5

 

When the boat ride was over, Debbie helped Daddy and Uncle Duncan turn the row boat upside down, where they’d found it, and cover it with a tarp.  Then, she scampered ahead of the men, across the beautifully manicured lawn, to where the women waited.  She ran over to the playpen, and excitedly told her disinterested baby sister about her adventure.  “We saw a turtle, but don’ touch it, ’cause it bites.  An’ we saw ducks, an’ four of ’em hatched outta eggs, but one’s missing.  An’ there’s a bridge, ’cause the stream up on that hill’ll fill up the lake an’ make a flood, ’less th’ water goes o’er th’ spill.  An’ there’s a cabin in th’ woods, an’ Unca Duncan says I can go there later, but you’re too little,” she finished.  Patty chewed on a hard cookie, yellow dribbles running over her chin, and stared at her big sister.  She thought the bigger girl was awfully noisy and silly.

“Now, that’s not nice, teasing your sister,” Nana remonstrated.

Debbie looked up.  “I wasn’ teasin’ her, Nana.  Jus’ tellin’ her she’s too little to walk across th’ bridge.  She can go when she’s big, like me.”

Nana shook her head, chuckling.  “Well, alright, but don’t tease her.”

“Okay, Nana,” Debbie agreed, brightly.

Just then, Dottie came out of the house, carrying a large tray.  A large, wicker basket hung over her right elbow, and a red-and-white checked cloth was folded over her right forearm.  Debbie saw that Daddy and Uncle Duncan had carried a picnic table from the veranda, and had just set it under the spreading oak, near Mommy, Nana, and Aunt Helen.

Aunt Helen rose gracefully from her chair, went over to Dottie, and carefully lifted the cloth from her arm.  “Thank you, Dottie.  Let me take the tablecloth,” she said.

Mom helped Aunt Helen spread the cloth over the table; Debbie tried to help, too, tugging one corner of the large cloth into place.

“What a good helper!” Aunt Helen exclaimed, approvingly.

Meanwhile, Uncle Duncan took the heavy tray from Dottie, and Daddy lifted the basket from her arm.  With a smile and a nod, Dottie returned to the house.

As soon as the cloth was spread, Mom and Aunt Helen started removing plates and bowls of food from the tray; finally, Uncle Duncan leaned the empty tray against the trunk of the tree.  At the same time, Daddy unloaded the basket, which contained paper pales; plastic forks, knives, and spoons; paper napkins; paper cups; salt and pepper shakers, and a large, glass jug of lemonade.  On the table, Debbie saw a plate of tiny sandwiches, some of which looked like chicken salad; others had pink ham salad; and she saw her favorite: egg salad with olives and pimentos.  There was a big bowl of potato salad, another of macaroni salad, and a smaller bowl of melon balls and grapes.

Daddy and Uncle Duncan fetched three more chairs from the sunny veranda, and the ladies moved their chairs up to the table.  Uncle Duncan said a very short blessing, and then they had lunch.

After lunch, Patty fell asleep in her playpen, and the grownups sat around the table, talking about grownup things.  Debbie lost interest in a conversation about church politics, and became bored.

“Can I,” Debbie began, and then paused.  “May I,” she began again, “go play?”

Mom barely glanced at the child.  “Yes, go play,” she said.

“Stay out of the water,” Nana cautioned.

“Just my feet?” Debbie wheedled.

“Maybe later,” Mom replied.

“Okay,” Debbie conceded, reluctantly.

Debbie was used to playing alone, when she wasn’t at her preschool.  She was used to playing with grass, trees, and rocks for playthings, even though she had lots of toys in her bedroom.  She wandered away from the table, and was soon absorbed in an imaginary world. She pretended she was on an adventure, like the ones Nana made up for her at bedtime, and the ones Daddy and her teacher, Miss Sugarman, read to her from books.  She decided to go find the cabin in the woods.

No one noticed, as Debbie wandered toward the wooden bridge, which lay across the burbling spillway, at the near end of the small lake.  The bridge was hidden from the picnic area by a clump of fat, leafy bushes.  As soon as Debbie rounded the corner, and lost sight of her family, she entered the magical world of her imagination.

Skipping happily, Debbie crossed the grass to the closer end of the bridge.  Standing right by the end post, she looked down into the spill.  There, she saw that a metal grating was erected between the banks, so that the water could flow out of the lake, but the turtles and fish would be blocked from tumbling down the cascade of the little waterfall beyond the grate.  The decided, quite rightly, as it happened, that the metal grate was the spill itself, and the little waterfall was the start of the stream, as it flowed away to the river.  Seeing how far down the waterfall actually went, which was maybe four or five feet, but looked very far, even to a very brave, adventurous four-year-old girl, Debbie held on very tightly to the end of the bridge.

After gazing at the waterfall for several minutes, Debbie stepped out onto the bridge.  She paused, and pretended the troll under the bridge was challenging her, as it challenged the three billy goats in one of her picture books.  Imagining a pet billy goat charging the troll, and clearing the way for her, Debbie walked across the bridge.  She knew about bridges, not only from her books, but because there was one across the stream at the Deer Park, which Daddy crossed with her, each time they went to get ice cream cones, at the Tastee Freeze, next to the park; across the bridge, she could see the deer, which often gathered close to the fence, hoping picnickers might share bits of ice cream cone, hot dog bun, of French fries with the gentle animals.

Once across the bridge, Debbie found herself on a faint, dirt path, which had been worn in the grass by the passage of many feet, through the years.  Bravely, pretending she was Little Red Riding Hood, going through the woods to Grandma’s house, she skipped along the path.

Although it was a hot, sunny day, the path through the woods was shady and cool.  Debbie smelled the moist scent of moss and leaves, the tang of pine needles, and occasional whiffs of wildflowers, growing, unseen, in a meadow, just beyond the thin curtain of woodland.  She paused, from time to time, picking up a prickly pine cone, watching a fuzzy caterpillar crawling on a mossy rock, and trying unsuccessfully to catch a hoppy frog, which bounded across her path.

Stepping around the trunk of a final, bushy pine tree, Debbie emerged into a sun-dappled cleaning.  At its center, there was a log cabin.  Joyfully, Debbie ran all the way around the generously large structure.  It was just as she’d imagined, except that its roof was covered with wooden shingles, instead of thatch.  The large windows, made up of many tiny panes of glass, sparkled in the sunlight, but were dark within.  The quiet emptiness of the cabin excited Debbie’s imagination anew, and she pretended it was abandoned, and, just maybe, haunted by a lonely, but friendly ghost.

She skipped up the three wooden steps, to the wide front porch.  Intrepidly, she put her hand to the large, brass doorknob.  She turned it, and was surprised to find it unlocked.  She pushed the door open, and, being very quiet, she went in.

Inside, the cabin was like an ordinary house, with ordinary furniture, ordinary shelves loaded with books, and ordinary paintings on the walls.  Debbie wandered from room to room.  The cabin was warm, and a bit stuffy, from having been closed up, and the rooms all smelled of pine and cedar. 

Only one room caught the child’s interest, because of its oddit.  It was a very small room, with two wide, wooden benches, each the size of her bed.  There was a dial on the wall, much like the channel selector on her television.  It had numbers on it.  Debbie recognized “100,” and, curiously, she turned the dial to that number.  Immediately, a light came on, in the ceiling, and the room began to get very warm.  Debbie didn’t like the heat.  She didn’t know what to do.  She tried turning the knob again, but the room got even hotter.  Debbie became afraid.  She didn’t yet know it, but she was a bit claustrophobic, and the heat made the room seem even smaller, and more oppressive.  Frightened, Debbie shoved the heavy door open, and ran from the room.

Debbie ran out of the cabin, forgetting, in her panic, to close the door.  She ran as fast as she could, across the clearing, and into the shadowy path.  There, the cool calmed her, and she slowed to a walk, but she was still determined to go back to the safety of the picnic area.  She had to tell Nana about the scary, hot room, which had made her think, just for a moment, of a big oven, where a wicked witch could cook children.

 

Chapter 6

 

Suddenly, Debbie came to a stop.  The bridge was just ahead, but her way to it was blocked.  Debbie stared, confused, at the exceedingly large duck, which now stood in her path.

The duck was very large, and Debbie thought it was a monster, even though, really, it wasn’t as tall as she was.

Debbie remembered the family of ducks, swimming quietly at the far end of the lake.  Those ducks hadn’t been scary at all, but this one was.  She thought this must be the missing sixth duck, the one Uncle Duncan couldn’t find.

Debbie was usually very brave, but the small, hot room had spooked her, and the big duck frightened her.  She tried to be a little bit brave.

“Are you the daddy duck?” she asked, in a small, quavery voice.  She tried to look around the duck, to find a way onto the bridge.

Hissing warningly, the duck raised its huge, white wings.  It took a step toward the scared little girl.  Debbie took a step back.  She raised her hands, to ward off the monstrous duck.

“Quack!” said the duck, and then it hissed again.  It shook its wings menacingly.

Debbie took another step back, and the big, white duck followed her.

Debbie couldn’t see Mommy or Daddy or Nana.  She couldn’t see Uncle Duncan or Aunt Helen.  She couldn’t see Patty’s playpen.  The fat, leafy bushes were in the way.  She could see the back door of the house, but it was very far away, across the sweeping green lawn, and she didn’t see Dottie looking out any of the windows.  At that moment, Debbie wished she was safely in the playpen, with her baby sister.  She was sorry she’d gone on an adventure, to find the cabin in the woods.

Debbie stared at the duck.  It still held its wings spread high and wide, and she imagined him throwing those big, strong wings around her, and catching her.  She was scared of the duck.  Its big, open bill didn’t have any teeth, but she knew that a duck was a bird, and birds pecked things.  That bill was big, and looked like it would hurt, if the duck pecked her with it.

Debbie’s thoat went dry, and she couldn’t yell for help.  She had to get across the bridge.  Slowly, she edged toward the lake, trying to slip past the duck.

The duck took another step toward her, and Debbie saw the end of the bridge.  She thought she could make it.  She dashed around the duck.

There was a great rustle and flutter of feathers, and a noisy, rushin flap of wings.

“Qua-a-ack!  Quack, quack, quack!”

The duck pounced.  The quacking stopped.

The duck bit Debbie’s little leg.  The big, hard bill closed around the back of her left leg, on the soft part, below her knee.

Debbie screamed, but her mouth was dry with fright, and only a very faint sound came out.  She fell to the ground, with the duck on top of her.

“Woof!   Woof, woof!”

Suddenly, Uncle Duncan’s big, brown, chocolate Labrador retriever came dashing around the fat, leafy bushes.  The long hairs of its tail flew out behind the dog, like a wing. 

The duck, hearing the dog, fluttered back from Debbie, letting her go.  As the dog rapidly advanced, the duck did the only sensible thing it could do: it a noisy flutter of its long wing feathers, the flustered duck rose off the ground, flapping its wings to go higher.

The dog reached Debbie, and stood protectively over the small girl.  Even more frightened, Debbie curled into a tight ball on the dirt path.  Her leg hurt terribly, where the duck had bit her.  Cautiously, she reached down, to rub her injured leg.

Above Debbie’s head, the dog growled up at the fluttering duck.  Debbie felt the soft, dark brown hairs of its chest tickle her cheek and ear.  Knowing it had lost this fight, the once-fierce duck turned its bill to the far end of the lake, and hastily flew away.  Peering through the grass at the edge of the path, Debbie saw the duck fly over the water, and land, with a nervous splash, in the midst of its placidly swimming family.

With the duck gone, the dog relaxed.  It used its broad, dry nose to nudge Debbie into a sitting position, and then washed her tear-streaked face with its long, wet tongue.  Only then did Debbie realize she’d been crying.  She gave the dog a quick, grateful hug, and wiped the tears and dog spit off her face, onto the dog’s soft, brown fur.

Debbie scrambled up, and, accompanied by the happy dog, walked over the bridge, around the bushes, and over to the picnic area. 

  

Chapter 7

 

Debbie went straight to Nana, climbing onto her soft, warm, familiar lap.  She wrapped her arms around Nana’s neck, and rested her cheek against Nana’s shoulder.  Debbie snuffled, quietly, as the dog lay down, as close to his young charge as he could get.

Nana took a paper napkin from the table, and started wiping Debbie’s face.

“What’s the matter?” Nana asked.

The words came out in a rush.  “I went across th’ bridge; an’ I found th’ cabin; an’ there was a room that smelled like a treasure chest; and I tried t’ change the channel, ’cause I saw a hun’derd; an’ it got so hot, so I ran away; and there was a duck; an’ it bit my leg; an’ then th’ dog came an’ saved me!” Debbie said.  She burrowed her face into the smooth cotton of Nana’s dress.

“The room got hot?” Uncle Duncan asked, sitting up straight.  “Oh, no!” he exclaimed.  He got up from his chair, and hurried toward the cabin; Daddy followed him.

“That was a fool thing to do,” Mommy scolded.  “You know better than to touch anything in a strange house.”

“Sorry, Mommy,” Debbie sniffled, still clinging to Nana.  “It bit me,” she added, woefully.

“What did,” Mommy asked, eyeing the contentedly panting dog at her daughter’s feet.

“The big duck,” Debbie replied, thinking Mommy should know that, since she’d just told them all about it.

“Ducks don’t bite,” Mommy said, decisively.

“This one did,” Debbie pouted.  Her leg really hurt.  When she peered at it, there was a large, red circle on the back of her left leg, just below her knee.

“Don’t argue,” Mom said.

  

Chapter 8

 

“Bob, we need to go home,” Mommy said, when Daddy and Uncle Duncan returned from the cabin.

“She found the sauna,” Daddy said, chuckling.

“She turned it to 130 degrees, and then left all the doors open,” Uncle Duncan added.  “No harm done, this time,” he said, gazing at Debbie, and catching her attention.  “Everything’s fine now.”

“Well, Debbie’s not fine,” Mommy countered.  “She’s grumpy and argumentative.  She’s overtired.  We need to take her home.”

Reluctantly, Daddy and Nana said good-bye to Uncle Duncan and Aunt Helen.  Daddy carried the playpen, Mommy carried Patty, and Debbie wated Nana to carry her, but Mommy said Debbie was a big girl, and needed to walk on her own.  They all took their places in the car, and they went home.

Nana took Debbie right up to bed.  Nana tucked Debbie in.

“Now I lay me down to sleep,” Nana began Debbie’s bedtime prayer.

Debbie obediently recited the pray, with its requests for blessings on her family members.  “And make me a good girl.  Amen.”  Debbie finished her prayer, and gazed out the window, where the sun still lit up the tops of the trees.  “It hurts, Nana,” she added, in a small voice.

“It’ll be fine in the morning,” Nana replied.  She pulled up the blanket, and tucked it under Debbie’s chin.

Debbie hugged Panda close to her chest.  She curled on her side, and was soon fast asleep.

 

Debbie dreamed about angry ducks, snapping turtles, and avenging dogs.  In the morning, the duck bite was still a big, angry, red mark.  It still hurt, but Mommy insisted that the duck didn’t bite.

Over time, the duck bite turned into a bruise, and then faded away.  It took longer for Debbie to stop being afraid of ducks.

© 2020 Debbie Barry


Author's Note

Debbie Barry
This was meant to be for 4th-7th grade readers. I'd appreciate honest comments and constructive criticism. Please let me know if you find typos.

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Featured Review

Good writing. I felt like there were too many descriptions. They were very well written descriptions, but vivid pictures of wicker chairs don't contribute much to the plot, and I kept waiting for the duck. Also, ducks are pretty harmless. A duck biting a hand feels like a gentle pinching with silicon kitchen tongs. It would have had to rammed the girl really hard to cause that kind of damage, which is really more characteristic of a goose gander. (Aside, snapping turtles also eat ducks). I would reduce the beginning, and expand on the lake adventures. Enjoyed reading this, thanks!

Posted 2 Weeks Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

2 Weeks Ago

Hi, Lee. Thanks for the review. I appreciate your comments.

The story is a barely-f.. read more



Reviews

Good writing. I felt like there were too many descriptions. They were very well written descriptions, but vivid pictures of wicker chairs don't contribute much to the plot, and I kept waiting for the duck. Also, ducks are pretty harmless. A duck biting a hand feels like a gentle pinching with silicon kitchen tongs. It would have had to rammed the girl really hard to cause that kind of damage, which is really more characteristic of a goose gander. (Aside, snapping turtles also eat ducks). I would reduce the beginning, and expand on the lake adventures. Enjoyed reading this, thanks!

Posted 2 Weeks Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

2 Weeks Ago

Hi, Lee. Thanks for the review. I appreciate your comments.

The story is a barely-f.. read more

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Added on February 25, 2020
Last Updated on February 25, 2020
Tags: story, fiction, childhood, duck, birds, animals, snapping turtle, boat, lake, water, family, adventure, cabin, out of bounds, bridge, vermont

Author

Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI



About
I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..

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