Darren was taken in the night, just after the slaughter. Howie remained, though he had suffered a head wound. Those who committed the crime were almost certainly still in the area, but would be nearly impossible to find, for hiding was among their myriad talents. We had only one option: wait. They would be back.
Katie called me early in the afternoon. She was working the lunch shift at Marco’s Supper Club and for some fucked up reason had gotten it into her head that what our apartment really needed was ducks.
“I had Julia check on Craig’s List and she found some! They’re free but we have to drive someplace. I think it was Burien. Do you know where that is?”
“Yeah but I…”
“Good! We’ll MapQuest it! They’re gonna be so cute! Aren’t you excited!?!?”
I was not.
A few hours later she was sitting in the passenger seat of my sweet-ass ‘97 Saturn cooing into a Goldfish Cracker box that contained not delicious Goldfish Crackers but two tiny little balls of fuzz, one black one brown, both peeping incessantly.
“They’re called Indian Runners,” the brown haired woman had chirped as we stood in her garage beside a plastic kiddie pool a swim with ducklings. “We just had them shipped up from California. They’re two days old. My daughter uses them to train herding dogs. They’re perfect, the way they run.”
“You had them shipped?” I asked, incredulous.
“Yeah. They always throw in a few extras in case some don’t survive the journey. But all these did so we have some spares. You wanted two? Here, you can put them in this.”
The Goldfish box.
Katie took it from her and pulled two fluff balls out of the melee. She was so high on ducky fuzz she could barely speak.
Indian Runners, as the name suggests, originated in India. And they’re runners, not waddlers. Originally referred to as ‘Penguin ducks’ due to their upright posture, they are bred fairly extensively around the world for their prodigious egg production.
But what they mostly do is eat and shit a lot.
The first few days weren’t so bad. We would take them out of the one by two foot plastic tub that was their home and let them run around the apartment. They really do stand upright. Like tiny, furry, armless, people. They would follow us from the linoleum floors of the kitchen, their webbed feet slap slap slapping as they ran, through the carpeted living room (thip thip thip) and onto the tiles of the entryway (more slapping). Occasionally they would lose us around a corner and peep incessantly until we quacked at them, thus conveying our location.
Katie named the black one, Howie, and I named the chocolate one, Darren, because I think Darren is a funny name. Both were unimaginably stupid, but from the beginning Darren displayed levels of retardation normally reserved for vegetables and high school cheerleaders. He was a little smaller, got lost more often, and would repeatedly attempt to drink through the clear plastic container of his water dispenser, unable to grasp that the water came out at the bottom. When we started taking them swimming in the bathtub (Katie insists we “taught” them to swim) the differences between the two became stark. Darren sank. Not right away – at first both would take to the water happily, immediately shitting and then diving contentedly into their own excrement. But after a few minutes Darren would start to lose ground, settling lower and lower into the water until only the very top of his back was visible, his head swiveling nervously from side to side.
“He’s just not very good at being a duck,” I said.
Katie shook her head sadly. “He would never survive in the wild.”
I suppose I was dimly aware that ducks grow quickly, but I failed to consider the implications of this fact before embarking on my raising-ducks-in-an-apartment venture.
Those fuckers get big fast. Within a few weeks I had gone from cleaning out their home (read: plastic tub) once every three days to three times everyday. And it was still constantly brimming with duck shit. We had to move it out onto the porch. Even from there its sour-sick perfume would come wafting into the house in great gusts, inundating every corner of our domicile with fecal incense.
We were also running through duck food at an alarming rate, and driving back out the feed store to get more of the big brown bags that actually read ‘Duck Food’ was an increasingly unattractive proposition. It was becoming clear that ducks and apartments, while both wonderful, are mutually exclusive.
A plan was hatched.
My buddy Horace, who is almost as dumb as me, was keeping chickens in a pen in his mom’s backyard in a suburb of Seattle. We unloaded the ducks on him. Katie and I went to visit a couple weeks after I had dropped Howie and Darren off in his care. They were enormous. And filthy.
“Dude, they’re really stupid,” he said, as if I was unaware. “The chickens roost up on that pole at night and the ducks sleep underneath ‘em to stay dry.”
Hence the filthy.
We had come to Horace’s that day to observe an atrocity. Our duck-finding friend Julia was shooting a short piece for film school and the subject matter was to be the slaughter, by Horace, of one of his chickens. I was driven to attend by morbid curiosity as well as the knowledge that chicken is delicious, and is best enjoyed post-mortem.
After several hilarious minutes of running around in the coop, Horace managed to catch the bird he had pre-selected for dinner. It was awkwardly hung upside down, faintly flapping and for some reason craning its neck to peer straight down at the ground from a garden trellis.
Horace slit its throat.
It didn’t move around much, just hung, wings out, watching its own blood splatter on the cement below. I was a little disappointed. I had expected the old ‘off with its head’ routine followed by an obscene ‘chicken with its head cut off’ release into the yard. But this was a more somber affair. After a minute or two, with Julia filming and the other foul in the coop looking on, the chicken flapped once and was still.
Later in the evening, we bid adieu to the ducks and drove home. And sometime in the night, drawn by the lingering odor of blood and the promise of a free meal, the raccoons came.
In the morning three chickens and Darren, poor idiot Darren, were gone. Horace’s brother Pocket swore revenge.
“There were pieces of them everywhere!” He told me. “Feathers and blood and shit. It was actually pretty rad.”
He promised to “keep vigil” through the night by watching TV and smoking weed on the couch by the window until the bastards showed back up, at which point he would beat them to death with some manner of blunt instrument. I suggested enclosing the top of the coop with chicken wire, but the idea was immediately rejected as preposterous, and, more decisively, labor intensive.
Pocket passed out on the couch. The Raccoons ate well for a second night.
They were just ducks, yes. But they were our ducks. We had plans for them. We were going to teach them to fly and then use them as kites on windless days. We were going to take them swimming in the lake. We were going to get a herding dog, because hell, we’ve already got the ducks right? And really, if they were going to be eaten, I should have been the one to confit them.
Because I love duck.