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Friday short story time: "Duck And Cover"

Last week, I said there would probably be no story this Friday, but then I realised today marks (almost) one whole year since I first posted this story about ducks and the whole tradition began! So I thought I would strain one more out to mark my own anniversary. Admittedly, I haven’t quite managed a story a week, this will be the 31st I’ve posted in that time, but still.

In an indulgent homage to myself, this story also features a duck, and you can see the rest of the backlog as ever. Enjoy!

Duck And Cover

By Nick Bryan

‘Look, you’re not allowed to own a gun anyway, you know, legally, so you shouldn’t be…’ Mid-lecture, Eric stumbled over a tree root and needed several running steps to resume his footing.

‘Some of us have ways and means.’ And Matt hopped effortlessly over that snaking root, doubly mocking Eric with his grace and favours.

‘Great,’ Eric sighed, looking down the leafy slope before them. ‘If only I was a posh twat like you, I too could wander around forests, armed to the teeth.’

‘Don’t call me a posh twat. But speaking of which,’ he looked back the way they’d come and lowered his voice, ‘where’s my girlfriend?’

As the bushes rustled, Julia struggled slowly through. Eric was halfway tempted to repeat what Matt just said, but didn’t think it would ease this already awkward hike. Once his mobile had signal again, he was going to send another passive-aggressive text to his own girlfriend about cancelling at the last minute, leaving him the third wheel in a hellish tricycle.

To be specific, the front wheel; the one that cruised through the shit first so that the back two could avoid it.

But as Eric really got to mental grousing, there was a high pitched scream behind them. Dutifully, Matt dropped his pack and raced over to Julia, who had tumbled over the exact same tree root. Unlike Eric, however, she had not run the impact off, instead twisting her ankle and falling a short distance down the slope before the weight of her backpack brought her to a standstill.

‘You okay?’

‘Yes, I think so.’ But then she reached down to her ankle and winced, and no-one was buying it. ‘Maybe not, to tell the truth.’

She smiled sadly, leaving Eric and Matt to exchange glances. That slope was still pretty long, neither of them wanted to end up helping an injured woman down it. But there was no way out for Matt without looking unchivalrous, which left Eric to support her other shoulder unless he wanted to look like a prick.

Amid a flurry of ungirlish swearwords from Julia, interspersed with manly growls from the other two, they eventually reached the bottom, a mudbowl of dirt, leaves and animal faeces. Julia still could not walk without gasping, in fact their lazy efforts in helping her down had only knocked the ankle more.

‘So, I’ve decided we should stay here.’ She pointed insistently at the ground where she now sat. ‘We were going to camp anyway and I’m not going anywhere.’

‘Oh.’ Eric, to be honest, was happy to get a sit down, but Matt was furious. ‘What? But we had plans. This is just boring.’

Before Eric found himself in the middle of a full-on domestic dispute, in which he wasn’t even sure he supported either side, there was an interruption from a fourth party: a duck. It quacked, it fluttered, then finally skittered away into the foliage.

‘Wow.’ Matt breathed deeply. ‘I didn’t think there was even any water around here.’ And he gave Eric a twinkly grin. ‘So that’s dinner sorted.’

With barely a pause, he turned back to Julia and indicated the dry matter around her.  ‘Sweetie, can you scrape some of that shit together and make a fire?’

And without even waiting for an answer, he was off into the undergrowth, crunching after the duck and reaching into the pocket where he kept that gun. Christ, what an arsehole.

As per his earlier thoughts about chivalry, Eric should probably stay and help the injured girl build a fire. Unfortunately, he had more pressing matters to attend to. Dashing loudly after Matt, he hoped his clodhopping footsteps would make the stupid duck fly away. No such luck.

At last, no doubt due to his better diet, Eric overtook Matt and managed to get between him and the duck. The hunter was holding his handgun by now, which was a little intimidating.

‘Matt, stop.’

‘What now?’

‘You know what.’ Deep breath. ‘I’m a vegetarian.’

‘You’ve got a nice pasta salad. No-one’s forcing anything upon you.’

Eric was fairly sure that click was some kind of safety catch.

‘C’mon, Matt.’ Why wouldn’t the stupid animal just fly away? ‘Don’t kill the duck.’

‘Look, I’m not really in the mood for this. It’s bad enough Julia’s going to be whining all evening about her ankle.’ As Matt muttered darkly, Eric couldn’t help but notice the gun was now pointing directly at him. ‘Fuck off out the way or I’ll shoot you.’

Eric wasn’t sure he’d even seen a gun in real life before, and now he was being threatened with one, out in the forest where no-one would hear, in a fight about a duck. What the hell does a normal person do in this situation?

‘Matt, you’re not going to kill me over a…’

‘Fair point.’ He lowered the gun slightly to point at Eric’s leg. ‘Is this plausible enough for you?’

It was right then, for the first time, that Eric thought Matt might do it. Teeth gritted, eyes widened, sweating heavily; hopefully he’d picked up some kind of fever and hadn’t always been this insane. Eric could think of nothing else to do besides closing his eyes and hoping.

There was a gunshot, and then a flap as the damn duck finally ran for its life.

But instead of hearing his own voice yelling out, it was Matt’s shout that Eric heard. Slowly, he opened his eyes one at a time. His friend was on the floor, clutching his ears but not bleeding from anywhere. Julia, meanwhile, was leaning against very heavily on a tree behind him, lowering a tiny handgun. It looked like she’d fired past him.

‘Christ, what an arsehole.’ She sighed. ‘Obviously, we both have guns. It’s a hobby. So can you come help me with this fire?’

‘But what about…’

‘After that crack about me whining, I hope I blew his eardrums out.’

Matt was writhing on the floor and showing no sign of stopping, and Eric was beginning to think they might deserve each other. He hurried to start helping with that fire before Julia accused him slacking off.

Copyright me 2011, please don’t steal without emailing me first, happy anniversary to me, etc. Trivia: This story was originally called “Another One Bites The Duck”, but that was just too much pun.

(And if you need even more diversion after that, I’ve been adding some backlog material into the arrogantly named “humour” section of the blog.)


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