THE UGLIEST DUCKLING
by Hans Christian Russell
Once upon a time, down on The Old Farm, Mother Duck was tending her eggs in a nest by the Big Pond's edge. Many days had passed, and she was impatiently waiting to be done with the whole thing. She felt quite resentful at having to stay home while her friends played bingo, and regretted having given in to Father Duck's wooing words. "Why won't these wretched eggs hatch?!" she quacked in desperation.
That very day her eggs began to hatch, much to her relief. But as the other ducklings broke out and gazed in awe at their new world, the very smallest egg lay uncracked. Mother Duck grumbled in frustration, and as she thought of the long hours still ahead she glared bitterly at her yet-unborn.
Her bitterness quickly turned to revulsion, though, when the littlest egg finally hatched. Breaking out of its shell was a most hideous-looking creature. It was completely featherless, with fluid-coated raw pink skin that stretched over bony, weak appendages. It's duckling body was malformed, and its beak did not look like a duck's bill at all. Sickened at its sight, Mother Duck tipped over the side of the nest and threw up.
"Why are you so sick, Mother?" the pathetic creature asked. "Is it something I've done?"
"Yes it is, my vile offspring, for you are the Ugliest Duckling I have ever seen! Be quick and hide, lest you embarrass me!" The Ugliest Ducking was deeply ashamed of itself, and with Mother Duck's help it hid within the tall reeds. Out of guilt, Mother Duck would feed it scraps when nobody was looking, and The Ugliest One stayed quiet out of respect to its mother's wishes. Indeed, the only sounds it made were late at night when it would quietly cry itself to sleep, and in this way the early days of its childhood passed.
The Ugliest Duckling wanted desperately to know why it had been born so nasty-looking, so late one night it stole away from home to find out if there were others like him. When Mother Duck found it missing the next morning, she quacked with delight. Perhaps a passing Hawk had taken pity on the creature and ripped it to shreds, or perhaps it had simply disappeared like a bad dream. It did not matter. Happily, she headed off to the Big Pond to play with her friends and thought nothing more of it.
The Old Farm was a very large and frightening place, and soon The Ugly One became quite lost. In desperation it approached The Pigs and asked for directions back to the pond. "Holy Jesus, is that a walking piece of crap?" the younger pig asked. "I don't think so," said the elder, "Crap is brown, and this odd creature is sort of pink. But it's very ugly nonetheless, so let's throw things at it." At that The Pigs started to throw corn cobs at it, which left tender bruises on its delicate pink skin as it hobbled away in terror.
Everywhere it went on the farm, it was the same story. The Chickens tried to peck its eyes out, The Horses drenched it in spittle, and the Goat landed it a swift, but sadly non-lethal, kick to the face. The Ugliest Duckling was met universally with ridicule, revulsion, and violence. It was, indeed, along in this world. Hungry, lost and utterly defeated, it fled to the long grasses by the edge of the farm to live in solitude.
In the passing weeks it lived a hermit's life, barely keeping itself alive on whatever rotten scraps it could scavenge. When it was not sleeping or searching for nourishment, it engaged in an active fantasy life. It liked to pretend it had blossomed into a beautiful swan, and all the farm animals would praise its beauty. It became quite occupied by this swan fantasy, so much so that it supposed that one day it might become one, seeing as it wanted to so much.
After a time it grew extremely bored, and its yearning to see its dear mother again overcame its fear. One morning it set off determined to find the Big Pond on its own, taking care to be unseen. By sheer dumb luck it had walked in the right direction and soon approached the water's edge. It was quite bad at sneaking, though, and as it came close one of the ducklings spotted him among the reeds. "Mother, who is that stranger," the duckling said, pointing a wing at The Ugly One. The mother looked at it, and The Ugliest braced for an onslaught of laughter and cruelty. But Mother Duck simply replied, "It is nobody, child," and returned to her gossip.
Surprised, the creature stepped out into the open, cautiously at first. Oddly, it was not met with hostility. It was not met with anything at all, really. The farm animals turned to look at it, then looked away and went back to whatever they were doing. "Have I turned into a Swan?" it exclaimed, and bent down at the pond to look at its reflection.
To its surprise, when it looked into the water a Pigeon looked back at him. A dull-colored, mangy, undernourished Pigeon, but a Pigeon nonetheless. It had miraculously transformed from hideous to slightly below average! Its heart filled with joy! No longer would it be met with ridicule, scorn, or projectiles. It could walk the grounds openly, nay, it could even fly, and nobody would pay it any mind. Much better to be ignored than hated, it thought to itself. Perhaps it would never be happy, but at least it would never be as miserable as before.
And so in this way it lived on The Old Farm, ignominious and sedate, until the unremembered end of its days.
my, that was depressing... ^_^