Thursday, January 21, 2016

Dirty Duck

       by Valerie L. Egar

    A flock of ducks roamed the barnyard on Krista’s parent’s farm. Though all of them were white, Krista could tell them apart-- some had a feather or two missing, or a different curve to their tail feathers. Others had freckled bills and one walked with a slight limp.
Krista fed the flock every morning and evening. They came to her call, “Here, duck, duck, duck, duck, ducks!”  A few bold ones stood close when she threw them cracked corn. Krista tried to teach them to eat from her hand by sitting still as a garden statute, but they shied away.
            In the spring, yellow ducklings quacked and followed their mothers around the barnyard. Krista liked watching the ducklings and noticed one stood out from all the others, because his downy feathers were unkempt and messy. Though Krista knew dirty feathers could mean the ducking was sick, she saw how eagerly he ate and knew he was healthy. She began calling him “Dirty Duck.”
            Dirty Duck was friendlier than the other ducklings and soon learned to take food from Krista’s hand. When she gently picked him up, he didn’t resist and allowed her to carry him around the barnyard. He was always the first to come running when Krista called.
            By the end of the summer, white feathers replaced fuzzy yellow down on all the ducklings. Krista easily recognized Dirty Duck-- his white feathers were as soiled and sloppy as his downy feathers had been. From head to tail, he was freckled with dirt and true to his name, “Dirty Duck.”
            Krista had an idea. If Dirty Duck had a bath, maybe he would look like the other ducks.
               “Mom,” Krista said, “May I give Dirty Duck a bath in the tub?"
            Mom thought for a moment.  She didn’t think ‘bath’ was the right word, because soap might harm the duck. Swimming in water might clean him up though. Since the farm didn’t have a pond, the bathtub was the only option.
“Will you help me scrub the tub after Dirty Duck swims in it?”  Mom asked.
             Krista promised she would.
            Mom helped Krista run water for Dirty Duck. They made sure the water was room temperature, not too hot, not icy cold. They didn’t put anything in the water, so it would be like an outdoor pond.
            Krista went outside and called the ducks. She picked Dirty Duck up, carried him into the house and put him in the tub.
           Dirty Duck had never been swimming before. Back and forth he paddled, content to be in the water. Slowly, his feathers whitened.  Krista gently rubbed the top of his head and his neck with a moist paper towel until they were clean, too.
            When he finished swimming, Krista wrapped him in an old towel and carried him outside. “Now you’re not a dirty duck anymore,” she said. He flapped his wings and shook the water off. His white feathers glistened in the sun. “I might have to think of a new name for you.”
            When Krista called the ducks the next morning, Dirty Duck came running. She recognized him immediately because he was speckled with dirt as though he’d splashed in a mud puddle.
            She patted his head gently and sighed. “I guess you’ll be Dirty Duck forever and a bath won’t change that.” He quacked at Krista and happily ate from her hand. 

Published November 5, 2015 in Making It At Home. Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dragon Mountain (Conclusion)

              by Valerie L. Egar 

When Mr. Gibbons said I would need to return Ziti to the wild, I was angry.  I’d grown to love him and his dragon ways. I worried about him living outside. What if the other dragons rejected him? What if people discovered the dragons and hurt him? 
Before anyone could say anything more, I grabbed Ziti’s leash, whistled for him to come and ran out the door. Mom yelled, “Terry! Come back!” Sheriff Joe shouted, “Stop,” but we just kept going. I needed time to think.
We ended up in the small park that edges the river. I sat on a swing and scuffed my sneakers back and forth in the dirt. “What are we going to do, Ziti?”  I ran my fingers along his shoulder blades to feel if his wings were starting to bud, a sign he was reaching maturity.  Sure enough, I felt little nubs under his skin.
Just then, I heard flapping, high in a pine. Ziti squealed and in a puff of smoke, Melchinor appeared. Melissa ran up and quickly clicked a leash onto his collar. She’d been looking for him and was out of breath.
“Finally! He really ran me around, but I don’t think anyone saw him!”
I wasn’t feeling talkative. I was mad at Melissa, too. She never told me she had to release Melchinor into the wild when he matured and that I would have to do the same with Ziti. “You never told me I’d have to give Ziti up!”
“Once you realized he was wild, I thought you knew.”
“Well, I didn’t and I’m not doing it. I don’t want to.”
Melissa shook her head. “Terry, you can’t keep him. It’s hard enough keeping the dragons a secret. If you kept him, you’d put all the dragons on Crenshaw Mountain at risk.”
“We’ll go somewhere, hide.”
“Did Dad explain to Sheriff Joe what the dragons do?”
I nodded. “They have important work to do. Ziti isn’t a pet. He needs to be with the other dragons.”
Mom came running up. “I’m so glad I found you.” She hugged me. “Terry, I know you love Ziti, but he’ll never be safe in town. Think about what almost happened with Melchinor. Releasing him back into the wild with the other dragons is the right thing to do.”
Deep in my heart, I knew she was right. I still didn’t like it though.
 A few weeks later, Ziti’s wings were fully formed and I knew he could fly. I hooked his collar to a long rope and when I went to Melissa’s he zoomed from tree to tree.  We laughed— it was like flying a kite that had its own power. Melissa had released Melchinor after the incident in town. Now, it was time for me to release Ziti.
Mr. Gibbons guided us to the top of Crenshaw Mountain, near the dragons’ lair. I unbuckled Ziti’s collar and rubbed his head. “I love you, stay safe.” A little smoke puffed from his nostrils and he rubbed his head on my face. Then, he flapped his wings, and flew towards the top of the mountain. Watching through the binoculars, I saw Melchinor fly to greet him. They circled once overhead and then, they were gone.
The walk back down the mountain was quiet and miserable. No one said a word. It was small comfort that Mr. Gibbons told me I’d done the right thing.
When I got home, all I wanted to do was go to my room and close the door, but a small black puppy was waiting for me in the kitchen. He had long fur, white paws and floppy ears.
“I thought you’d like a puppy,” said Mom. “You did a great job with Ziti.”
The little guy wagged his tail and looked like he’d be a lot easier to raise than a dragon. I patted him on the head and named him Ziti in honor of my dragon friend, safe at the top of Crenshaw Mountain.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dragon Mountain (Part 6)

Snicker. The blog is named after him.

         by Valerie L. Egar

Sheriff Joe looked skeptical when he came in. He’d posted one of his deputies in the hardware store parking lot to watch for Melchinor and told the others to patrol the town.  Shaking his head as he wiped his feet, he looked at Mr. Gibbons. “I’ve got to hand it to you, Mike. If you can explain this one, lunch is on me, next time I see you at the Grille.”
Meanwhile, Mom set out the coffee and a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Melissa and Jenna were still out looking for Melchinor.  I’d debated about what to do with Ziti. Leave him in the dining room so Sheriff Joe could see how well behaved and gentle he was?  Shut him in the bedroom so Sheriff Joe might forget him?  After all the excitement, he’d curled up and fallen asleep in the corner, so I decided to let him sleep. I hoped he wouldn’t have a dragon dream and blow smoke from his nose.
Mr. Gibbons took a deep breath. “Sheriff, I discovered a lair of dragons at the top of Crenshaw Mountain a year ago when I was completing an ecological survey. They appear to be a new species and I suspect they came from Iceland.”
Sheriff Joe wrinkled his brow. “That’s a big discovery. Why haven’t any of us heard about it?”
“I didn’t want people to know. I love this town and the wilderness that surrounds it. Imagine what it would be like overrun with trophy hunters, thrill seekers, reporters.  All of it would be destroyed in no time, and the dragons, too.”
“I’m not one for secrets, Mike. What about safety? Are people or livestock at risk?”
Mr. Gibbons shook his head. “No. In the wild, the young dragons are omnivores. They compete with bears for food: berries, roots, fish, whatever they can find. Right now, Melchinor is happy with dog food. When dragons mature, though, they’re nourished by negative earth energy.”
Sheriff Joe looked puzzled and I know I was. I didn’t want to interrupt, but I had to ask. “Are you saying they don’t eat food when they grow up?”
“Well, they do, but not physical food, like you and me. Do you remember learning about how trees use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and make oxygen?”
“We learned that in science. Trees use light, carbon dioxide and water to make sugar and in the process, give off oxygen.”
“It’s a little more complicated, but that’s the basic idea.  Adult dragons seem to engage in a similar process. They absorb insults to the earth’s environment, like water and air pollution and heal them. Nature’s restorative processes seem to be linked to the dragons’ metabolic process.”
“Well, there’s not much to heal here in Maine,” said Sheriff Joe.
“They’re here in Maine because it’s pristine and safe. From that cave on the top of the mountain, they’re healing the whole continent and beyond.”
“Even the oceans? North Pole? Rain forest?” I asked.
“Yes, Terry. It’s why they were regarded as earth guardians in ancient times.”
“Hmm,” said Sheriff Joe.  “How am I supposed to explain a winged beast, huffing smoke, flying around town?
“You won’t have to,” said Mr. Gibbons. “I found Melchinor, the dragon you saw tonight, wandering on the northern ridge of the mountain a few months ago.  I assumed he was orphaned. Now that’s he’s reached maturity and can fly, it’s time to release him back into the wild.”
“And what about that one?” Sheriff Joe asked, pointing to Ziti, who was still asleep.
“When he matures, he’ll have to go back to the wild, too,” said Mr. Gibbons.
“No,” I shouted. “I won’t do it!”   To be continued….

Published January 10, 2016, The Sunday Journal Tribune, Copyright 2016 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.