Ducks and Chucks,
The other night, yours truly ended up standing in a pile of 278 rubber duckies. What a duck-head! Allow me to explain:
The night it happened, my closest frenemy Sir Mallard Jones and I were having a quiet candlelit dinner for two in the great hall of Mallard Castle—which, by the way, has such a long wood-paneled dining room that it could house fifty birds. (Let's not get started on Mallard's ducking politics or we'll never get to the actual story.)
But this was typical of Mallard Castle. The place is so vast that you can hammer on the front door all you like—with either your wings or your flippers—and no one's ever going to hear you. That’s why, when I'd arrived earlier that evening, Mallard had left the following message pinned to the front door, so that I could go inside and DUCKING FIND HIM.
It said (and this is more important than it might seem):
Come on in, old chap, and make yourself at home. My duckie castle is your duckie castle.
The underlining is my own—you'll understand why later.
Anyway, while we were eating, I was bemoaning the fact that no one ever answers the door, when something rather flipper-prickling odd happened. The chandelier above us started to quiver and jingle, and the upstairs floorboards started to creak.
Honestly, Mallard’s castle is usually pretty ducking scary. (I’ve experienced horrors there before—check out yours truly’s terrifying book on the topic.) But that chandelier shaking and clanking was enough to make my flippers sweat. (Although, as Riley always says, it doesn't take much.)
“Goodness!” exclaimed Mallard, gazing upwards. “Could that possibly be mice again?"
“If they're wearing ENORMOUS clogs!” I said. Mallard gave me a sideways look, as I added, "Duck-dammit, that was sarcasm, Mallard! No mouse is big enough to make that kind of noise."
Mallard's eyes opened very wide. "Except for the Eternal Mouse of Doom."
I opened my beak to question this, but fortunately we were duck-stracted by some scratchy footsteps upstairs.
Mallard stared upwards so that his Elizabethan ruff sagged around his duck-throat. (Did I mention it was a *fancy-dress* dinner for two? Ironically—because as Mallard admits, he's the opposite of poetic—Mallard was dressed as the Bard.) “Gracious, old chap!" Mallard quacked. "All the castle staff have gone home! Do you think there’s an intruder up there?”
It seemed pretty ducking likely. So, duck-muggins that I am, I agreed to join Mallard in checking out this potentially duck-hating burglar. My feathers were trembling, but I still brought my appetizer with me, complete with little fork. (What duck can leave a pondweed and lightly whipped tofu souffle on the table for EVEN A SECOND?)
As I quietly ate, the two of us climbed Mallard’s terrifying staircase, up to the second floor of his castle. I’ve been walking with a cane recently because of my disability, so my flippers went slap-slap-slap and my cane went tap-tap-tap, and my heart went quack-quack-quack like a noisy, lost duckling. Up we climbed, further and further, as the scraping and thumping grew louder and louder. Then, once we were outside the wooden door, I was so terrified that I actually abandoned my plate.
“What’s behind this door?” I whispered.
“This is My Rubber Duckie Collection Chamber,” Mallard replied, proudly. (I'd heard about Mallard's duckie collection—my peacock partner Riley was a bit obsessed with it.) Mallard puffed up his chest inside his Elizabethan tunic. “In fact, old chap, it’s the biggest duckie collection for miles! It’s currently being auctioned, don’t you know!” But then his beak fell, as he bent down and retrieved a broken padlock from the floor. “Alas, look!” muttered Mallard, almost tripping over my dragon tail. (Did I mention I was in fancy dress too?) “This lock is meant to keep my beloved collection safe from prying flippers! There must be an illegal intruder within—a devious shadow trying to snaffle my valuable duckies, instead of paying full price for them on eBay."
I thought about asking, but why get into those murky waters?
“We should puff ourselves up,” I whispered, “in case we’re dealing with a duck-napper. Or the Tea Party."
“I hate to say it,” said Mallard, “but you’re rather puffed up already, old thing.”
Yes, my feathers puff up when I’m nervous, making me look like a duck-themed marshmallow.
Perhaps in an attempt to build up some duck-nerves, Mallard cleared his throat. OMD, how can throat-clearing EVER BE THAT LOUD? It sounded more like a bugle than a quack! “Shh!” I whispered, but it was too ducking late. From behind the door, came the ominous sounds of whoever was inside scraping their way towards us—possibly on their claws.
"Oh no!" I gasped. "Is it a cat? They eat ducks, don't they?"
Mallard suddenly let out a blood-curdling quacker-shriek. “I’m sorry, old bean!” he cried, "but I think I’m going to lose my appetizer!” I was about to explain that this was why I'd brought mine with me, but he was already rushing down the stairs as fast as his flippers would carry him.
This left yours truly DUCKING ALONE as the door swung open with an awful creaking noise. And there behind it, surrounded by more piles of rubber duckies than I've ever seen in my life, was. . . . MY DUCKING PEACOCK PARTNER Riley, wearing their favorite veiled pillbox hat.
My beak fell open. "What the DUCK. . . ?"
Riley held their glorious blue peacock-head aloft and dramatically swept back their veil. “Duck! Perfect timing! I, Riley the Magnificent just bought Mallard’s coveted rubber duckie collection on eBay. Riley really needs some muscle to pack it into boxes." They shrugged. "But that's all right. You'll do."
At this point, I got really angry. I flapped my wings around inside my dragon costume and quacker-yelled, “WE THOUGHT YOU WERE A DUCKING CRIMINAL!” and “WHY THE BEAK-HOLE DID YOU TURN UP UNANNOUNCED?” The more I flapped and quacked and stamped my flippers, the more my feathers fell off inside my dragon costume, until finally, I felt like a damp, walking eiderdown and had to sink to the ground just to catch my breath.
Riley, in their magnificent peacock-way, was giving me fierce, angry, glinting side-eye. “I, Riley the Marvelous," they announced operatically, "won a bid on eBay and have come to pick up Mallard’s rubber duckie collection, which is now rightfully RILEY'S.” With their wings, they gave an impressive flourish.
I was beak-to-flippers livid. “COULDN'T YOU HAVE CALLED IN ADVANCE?” I quacked.
“There was no need!" said Riley proudly. They explained that they'd just been "passing by" when they thought to themselves, why not pop into Mallard Castle to pick up 278 rubber duckies? "I, Riley, was about to knock at the door," explained Riley, "when I saw a note. It said, ‘Come on in and make yourself at home. My duckie collection is your duckie collection.’ So the note was clearly written for Riley.”
“It said duckie castle!’ I corrected. “Not ‘duckie collection!’ And that note was for ME!”
"Oh." Riley gave a slow shrug. "This must be that thing I do."
"The thing where you only see exactly what you want to see?" I asked.
Riley nodded. "It's a talent. You should try it sometime, instead of seeing criminals where there aren't any."
So that, ducks and chucks, is how I came to be knee-high in rubber duckies as I stuffed them into one of Mallard's "sturdy canvas sacks."
I swear that duck has never SEEN a trash bag.
The moral of the story? This duck isn't sure. Maybe: Don't live in a really massive, creaky old castle where someone moving rubber duckies around upstairs sounds like they might be Freddie Kreuger sharpening his nails?
Ducks and chucks, I'm sorry I did this ducking outrageous story to you. I hope you are all as well as possible during this strange time. I think of you often. Why? Because you're super-ducking awesome.