Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Janie the Duck

It's been a while since I've shared any of my creative writing, and this seems like a good time. The following short story was written as part of a class assignment. It is probably my only serious attempt at children's fiction to date.

Note: Unlike other features on this blog, which are available for public use under a Creative Commons License that allows anyone to copy, use, or even adapt works free of charge, so long as they give me credit and agree to make the resulting work available under a similar free license, I reserve the rights to this story, and it may not be copied without my explicit written permission.
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Janie the Duck
by Mark Baker-Wright

The coastal waters rolled softly over the sandy shores of the beach, tickling Janie's little webbed toes as she played just at the edge of the surf. Janie laughed playfully, stepping in and out of the area where the water had moistened the sand. She liked the feel of the wet sand oozing beneath her webbed feet, a stark contrast to the hot, dry sand only a few inches away. Her parents watched protectively nearby, marveling at the expanse of blue that stretched out in front of them, and making sure that Janie didn't wander too close. After all, the strong currents could easily sweep a young duck away if she wasn't being careful.

As Janie waddled along the beach, she stopped to pick up several colorful shells she found nearby. Rolling the shells over in her hand, she would pick out names for each one: "Sparkly," "Whitey," "Swirly." Soon she saw a red-colored shell, which looked different than the others. It seemed to be embedded within a hole in the sand. Her curiosity aroused, Janie stepped down to pick up the red shell. As she held it in her hand, it suddenly jumped out, causing Janie to give a frightened shriek. The shell then fell to ground, and Janie could now see that it had claws and legs as it scurried away. As the crab ran back into its hole, Janie quickly waddled over to her parents to tell them what had happened.

Janie's older brother Jack swam in from the water, hearing Janie relate the tale to her parents. He teased her mildly, asking why she didn't catch the crab so that they could cook it for dinner. "Eww, Gross!" she exclaimed, while Jack laughed at her. Jack was a few years older than Janie, which for a duck, was pretty much a lifetime. He was allowed to go swimming in the big bodies of water, while Janie was allowed to go swimming only in the shallow puddles near home. Here, she considered herself lucky if she could even get her webbed toes wet. Jack was in the crowd with all the popular ducks, too, and was always the center of attention at the duck gatherings. Janie wished that she was older, so she could be like her big brother.

Janie envied Jack's friends, as well. Every now and again, Jack would come home with some girl duck he was dating. These ducks were very pretty, with all of their feathers lined up perfectly. They could go in the water, and come out looking as though the water had never touched them. Janie always felt like she looked a horrible mess after she would finish swimming in one of her puddles. Jack occasionally tried to assure Janie that this wasn't so, that water just ran off of a duck's back, and that she looked just the same whether she had been in the water or not, but Janie didn't believe him. Janie felt like a wet mess after coming out of her puddles. Since her parents wouldn't let Janie swim where she wanted to, and swimming in the puddles made her feel yucky, she began to avoid swimming altogether.

And so, Janie began to wonder if being a duck was really for her at all. After all, she had always been told, ducks swim. That's what ducks do. If you didn't swim, then you must not be a duck. So she began to talk to some of the other animals that lived near her puddles.

She talked to the owl, who spent his days in the tall trees. "Owl," she said, "I think I might like to be an owl. What does an owl do?"

"Who?" the owl replied, waking from his nap. "Oh, it's you, Janie Duck! An owl sleeps in the trees in the daytime, and flies through the night. I make my living by finding mice that are running around where they shouldn't be, and I eat them!"

Well, this didn't sound right for Janie at all. Janie had tried to stay up late a few times, but always found that she just couldn't keep her eyes open, and she knew that eating mice didn't sound at all appetizing. Besides, Janie thought as she looked up the tree to the owl, she didn't think she could climb up to those high branches to sleep anyway, and if she could, she certainly wouldn't be very comfortable.

So Janie thanked the owl for his time and went to find someone else to talk to. She soon ran into Big Brown Bear. "Big Brown Bear," she asked, "I think I might like to be a bear. What does a bear do?"

Big Brown Bear looked down at the little duck, and said "Well, I make my living by eating all the food and berries I can find. Most of the other animals fear me, because they know that I could easily beat them in a fight. Then, when winter comes, I sleep for three months so that I don't have to worry about getting cold."

This had some possibilities, thought Janie. Janie liked the idea of being able to eat whatever she wanted, and she liked the thought of having the other animals respect. However, she wasn't sure she really wanted them to fear her. Also, sleeping for three months seemed like such a waste of time. She was actually looking forward to the winter vacation in the Caribbean that her parents had promised her.

So Janie thanked Big Brown Bear for his time, and continued on her way. She passed through a creek that cut between two tall mountain cliffs, not far from her home. She walked along the shallow water, swimming occasionally when the water briefly became too deep to wade through. She soon heard a startled "Quack" from high above. She looked up to see her brother Jack on the mountain side. Apparently, he had followed Janie as she talked with the other animals. Unfortunately, he had just been hit by a falling rock, and had been knocked unconscious. He would need to be taken to their parents, so that they could take care of him. But he was still too far away to reach. Janie panicked, unsure of what to do. She reached out her wings for her brother…

And flapped them, and flapped them again, not even fully aware of what she was doing. Before she realized it, she had flown up the mountain to where her brother was. She was then able to give Jack some help, and together, they were able to make it home to their parents.

After that day, Janie realized what a gift it was to be a duck. Her parents began to realize that Janie was getting old enough to take care of herself, and allowed her to swim in deeper waters, which Janie had to admit that she really enjoyed, no matter what she thought she looked like when she got out of the water. Not only that, but she could both swim and fly, a gift she didn't realize she had until she used it to help her brother when he was in trouble. Now, it would be a lie to say that Janie lived happily ever after. Janie still felt a little awkward at times, as all people do, no matter if they're ducks, or owls, or bears, or human beings. Still, Janie was content with who she was, and that is a wonderful thing indeed.

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