This is the duck story. Some details have been obscured in order to protect the identity of the participants. Also it’s long. You’ve been warned.
One summer a few years ago, a friend of mine – let’s call her Daphne – was doing her library science practicum in the public library in a small town in a rural area. Rather than having a permanent residence while there, she was couch-surfing with friends. Her husband Paul, who was living in our hometown, was coming out to visit a couple of times a month. One night Daphne got on Facebook and remarked that she felt a bit lonely and isolated at times, so I offered to come out and visit on Canada Day weekend.
At the time she was staying at the home of a colleague from the library. The colleague had gone out of town and so was not around for the events of this story. She lived on a property just big enough for her to keep two dogs (a Sheltie and a twitchy dachshund mix), and about half a dozen each of both chickens and ducks. Daphne’s responsibilities included feeding the animals and making sure the birds were securely put away at night.
I’ve never been that big on chickens, being of the opinion that they’re only slightly brighter than compost, but I’ll give them this: they’re smarter than domestic ducks.
Chickens, you see, will notice that it’s getting dark, decide of their own free will that it’s time to roost, and troop into their coop so that all you have to do is shut the door. Ducks have a little more trouble with this concept and usually have to be herded into their coop at dusk. They don’t especially enjoy this process, and neither does anyone else – first of all there’s the fact that ducks don’t understand ideas like “turning around”, so if they veer away from the door on the first go you have to make another circuit of the building. Then there’s the very fine line between herding and chasing. If a duck feels it’s being chased it will freak out and bolt, scattering the entire flock, who decide to go along with it because I guess when you’re a bird peer pressure’s all you’ve got. The night before my arrival, Paul and Daphne had had so much difficulty with this that the evening had ended with one duck running headlong into a wheelbarrow.
Anyway. The morning of July first, I load up my bike with my stuff and get up literally at the crack of dawn, since this trip involves a bus, a ferry and a long cycle through hilly terrain. I make it out there okay, the day passes quite enjoyably, and around 8 PM Paul goes to bed because he has to be up early to catch the ferry back to Hometown the next day. Daphne and I stay up for about another hour, drinking beer and talking, and finally we decide that we have to put the birds to bed. The chickens are tucked in and remarkably even the ducks have gotten the memo and have wandered into their coop.
“Wait,” says Daphne. “One’s missing.”
We count again. There are definitely six, not seven, ducks in there. Hm.
We start looking for the missing one. The property isn’t huge, but it’s moderately cluttered with hedges and shrubbery and plenty of hiding places for one small duck. I’m wearing my trail runners, but Daphne has on a pair of Crocs. We’re poking around near the woodpile when she yelps, “Ouch!”
She lifts up her foot and stuck to the bottom of it is a piece of wood. Poking all the way through the bit of lumber is a very rusty nail, which has also poked all the way through the sole of her shoe. There is blood – not much, but clearly the skin has been broken.
I’m pretty sure this kind of situation is exactly why tetanus shots were invented, though Daphne disagrees. We visit Wikipedia and Daphne rapidly changes her mind after reading the description of what it’s like to die of tetanus. So medical attention is required. Only problem is – neither of us can drive a car, and riding a bike down the twisty local roads in the gathering twilight doesn’t appeal. I don’t know how urgently you have to get the shot. Is it needed absolutely post-haste, or can it wait until morning?
I’m aware of the existence of a non-emergency number you can call for medical situations, but I’ve got it twisted in my head that when you call 911, they ask you “emergency or non emergency?” and transfer you appropriately. I am incorrect about this, as it turns out. (The actual number is 811.) Daphne calls 911 and they immediately ask, “Fire, police or ambulance?” She says ambulance and, since she’s not as good as I am at dodging direct questions, gives the address when asked. The dispatcher then asks a series of questions like “Is the object still lodged in the wound?” and “Is it spurting?”
I’ll say this for the area’s first responders: they’re quick. Within a few minutes of Daphne being told to sit down and put her foot up, there’s an ambulance outside. I go to open the gate and let them in, and two EMTs jump out. “Does your friend need a stretcher?” I sense that being an EMT in this area is probably not a very busy job, since they seem disappointed when I say no.
Remember those dogs I mentioned before? Dachshunds are very territorial by nature, so when two whole new strangers walk into the house, the doxie cross promptly loses her mind barking, which also sets off the Sheltie. This leaves me trying unsuccessfully to corral the dogs into a room with a door that I can close.
Remember Paul? Us neither. He now emerges from the bedroom in his boxer shorts, rubbing his eyes, to find his wife sitting on the couch and having her foot examined by the two paramedics who are, fortunately, finding the whole thing hilarious as I chase two yapping dogs around the living room and kitchen. We explain the situation to him, at which point the doorbell rings. As the only uninjured, fully clothed adult not poking at a foot right then, I answer the door.
The ringer is a pleasant-looking middle-aged gentleman who looks like he wasn’t expecting the door-answerer to be me. We look at each other blankly for a second or two before I venture, “Can I help you?”
He lives across the street and was concerned that an ambulance rolled up, since the homeowner is an older woman not always in the best of health. I assure him that everything is fine, but if he spots a duck out wandering around to please let us know. I close the door and return to the emergency medical exam still going on in the living room.
The EMTs have concluded that a tetanus shot is a good idea and since they’re on their way back to the hospital anyway, they might as well take Daphne along and Paul can come too for moral support. This leaves me alone with the dogs. They are as thrilled as I am.
After about fifteen minutes, my phone rings. It’s Paul. When they left, they forgot to shut the gate, so could I go do that?
I step outside and shut the gate. It’s now about nine thirty and while not fully dark, it’s definitely a bit gloomy. I turn around to go back inside and who should I see, standing across the yard outside the duck coop and looking confused, but our fine feathered friend. I stare at it for a second and it stares back, as if asking me, “Where’d everybody go?”
With a sigh, and walking carefully to avoid tripping in the gathering gloom, I head towards it. By the time I get to where it was, it’s disappeared again. I am resolved that my career of chasing animals is over, at least for tonight, and I’m not going to run after it. It peeks out from under a rhododendron bush. I open the duck coop and gesture in. It still looks baffled. I step toward it, hoping to herd it inside.
Clearly this is the secret duck signal for “I am here to murder you” and the duck flees once more into the underbrush.
Recall, at this point, that my day started at 5 AM and involved thirty or so kilometres of cycling. Also, at this juncture I realize that I have stepped in a dog turd. This duck can go fuck itself. I go inside to text my boyfriend.
At ten o’clock, once it’s properly dark, I remember that it’s Canada Day when the fireworks start going off. The dogs, in a fit of patriotic fervour, join in with a chorus of yet more barking. I give up on life, put on my pyjamas, and get under a blanket on the couch. The dogs join me, despite the fact that it is not a large couch. The Sheltie snores.
A couple of hours later, Daphne and Paul get back. I hear the door open and some quiet talking. Then they go back out again. In my just-woken state, I don’t question this – until I hear running feet and quacking. I put a pillow over my head and mentally chant “I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know” until I fall asleep again.
It turns out that Daphne correctly reasoned that I didn’t have the patience to run the duck down myself, and insisted that she and Paul go find it. They did, but they had to chase it around the yard before Paul tackled it and threw it bodily into the coop. (There is also the story of how things were at the hospital, but that’s their story – you’ll have to ask them about it.)
The next day we all go out for lunch and I go home to the mainland. The end, or so I thought.
About a week later, I get a text from Daphne. “You remember the duck?”
“I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget the duck.”
“Barb [the homeowner] left it out the other night and it got eaten by a coyote.”
And that, my friends, is how shaggy dog stories happen in real life.