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Okay, enough with that. Time for some fun. This cartoon, for instance. You might wonder what it has to do with my books. I’m glad you asked.
First, you should know I didn’t draw it. I’m not that talented. My friend Rocky Hails did. Among other things, he’s a sculptor and makes cool things.
This cartoon depicts one of my writerly “What if?” thoughts. As writers, we need to keep our imaginations greased. That means letting our minds traipse through the land of What If, even if we never plan to publish the resulting words, ideas, or stories.
So, for your entertainment, this is a “what if” escapade based on chapter seven in the book Surviving Henry when some ducks almost lured Henry to his death.
I mean, was that an accident or malicious intent?
What if the real story of the duck encounters with Henry went something like this:
“Okay, Huey, Dewey, Louie, listen up,” Mama Duck said. “See that big creature over there?”
Huey chirped, “The one that keeps jumping up and down?”
“That’s the one.”
“Can he fly?”
“No, dear,” Mama said.
“Then why does he keep trying?” Louie piped up.
“Because he’s very stupid.”
Then Dewey chimed in. “Why does he make those horrible wheezing noises?”
Mama rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t breathe right when he tries to fly.”
“Why does he keep trying?” Louie asked again.
Dewey flicked out a wing and whapped Louie on the head. “She already told you. He’s very stupid.”
Huey squinted at the creature. “Looks like he’s going to jump in.”
“Yes,” said Mama. “That’s why I’ve brought you here.”
“He’s gonna eat us all!” Louie screeched.
“Naw,” said Dewey. “Probably only one, while the rest of us escape.”
“Let’s give him Louie,” Huey said. “We don’t need him in the gene pool.”
Dewey nodded. “Huey makes a good point, Mama. Louie’s slow.”
“Yes, dear, but it won’t be necessary. The creature can’t get us in the water.”
“He can’t?” Louie relaxes, forgetting to take offense at the gene pool comment and proving why he’ll still be Candidate One at the next “Who Will Be Eaten?” event.
“Look at that gangly thing,” Mama said. “Skin and bones. You know the rule.”
“No fat, no float,” Huey and Dewey chorused.
“I was gonna say that,” said Louie.
Dewey fluffed up his feathers. “Sure you were.”
“I was. No fat, no…no…”
“No float, for crying out loud.”
“That’s what I was gonna say. No float.” Louie scratched his head. “I knew that. No…no…”
“Right,” Dewey said. “And we want you in the gene pool why?”
Huey nudged between them. “Guys, can we focus here?”
Louie, having obviously forgotten the thread of the argument, looked blankly at Huey.
Huey turned to Mama. “So what do we do now?”
“We swim very close to the dock and quack at him,” Mama said.
Mama pressed her eyes into slits. “Because we can.”
Huey raised a feathered brow and watched Mama waggle toward the leaping, yowling creature on the dock. A look passed between Huey and Dewey.
They pushed Louie ahead. Just in case.
“Is he still trying to fly?” Louie said.
Dewey huffed. “Get off it, already.”
Huey cocked his head at the dock. “I think he’s moved on to the ritual dance of ground animals mourning their lack of flight.”
“Looks more like strange, hopping circles,” Dewey said.
Huey shrugged. “I didn’t say he was good at it.”
“What if he falls in?” Louie said.
Mama hacked an evil cackle. “Exactly! Won’t that be fun?”
Huey exchanged another look with Dewey. “Uh, sure,” Huey said.
They slipped further behind Louie. In case the creature had more floatable fat than they anticipated.
Then an unsuspecting human entered the story. She walked right past the mindless, frothing creature.
“Aw, look at the cute ducks. I’m going to feed them.” The innocent human tossed out generous handfuls of catfish food, which—despite the name—the ducks loved.
Louie zoomed toward the dock, oblivious to the drool raining from the maniac creature’s mouth. Huey and Dewey gorged themselves from the safety of the back row.
Huey, with a half-full beak, looked at Dewey. “Great chow, but I’m a little disturbed about something.”
Dewey stopped chewing. “You mean Mama?”
Huey nodded. “Lucky crackpot or evil genius?”
“Does it matter?”
“I say we do it again tomorrow.”
Huey’s eye got a wicked glint. “So long as we bring Louie…”
Sometime later, when we next pick up the story, the ducks are innocently making their way across the lake. Or are they there on purpose?
Huey craned his neck to see around Louie and Dewey. “Mama, why did you stop us out here in the middle of the lake?”
Dewey nodded. “With the big boats and birds and fish and all, you said we should never sit still.”
Mama’s gaze fixed on the horizon, where a lone pontoon boat toodled across the lake.
“Uh, Mama?” Huey said.
“Don’t you see him?” she said.
Louie nosed between them. “Are we calling boats ‘him’ now? Because yesterday you said they were, um, let me think…oh, maybe they were ‘him’ yesterday too.”
“The creature.” Mama’s voice was deathly quiet voice.
Huey raised his left brow. “Uh, I’m not sure I see it.”
Mama’s eyes turned to slits. “On the boat.”
“Is anyone hungry?” Louie said. “It’s been a long time since lunch.”
Dewey swung a wing and clipped Louie across the forehead. “Not now. What about the creature, Mama?”
“It’s time,” she said.
Louie brightened. “For lunch?”
“For VENGEANCE,” Mama screamed.
Louie rubbed his forehead. “You mean deer meat? Do I like that?”
Huey huffed. “That’s venison, you idiot.”
Mama cackled and swam in an erratic circle. “At last, our time has come! All these days, all these weeks. Waiting, waiting!”
Huey looked at Dewey then ruffled his feathers. “I don’t think we’re following you, Mama.”
She ceased her circle and calmly paddled to Huey. She touched her wing to his face. “Don’t you see?” Her voice gentled to a lullaby. “Now is our chance to even the score. For Bluey, Jewley, Ruey, and Tewey. Don’t you wonder what happened to your other brothers and sisters?”
“Hey guys,” Louie called, “Look at the pretty bird.” Louie swam toward a giant osprey clearly on the hunt.
Huey watched him. “Uh, not really.”
He turned back to Mama. She gazed at Huey but didn’t seem to see him.
He peered into her eyes. “Mama?”
She broke her trance with a sudden screech and waved both wings in the air. “Stolen from the nest, poor babies! Stolen by vicious, sneaking, slithering creatures. Claws! Teeth! Horrible drooling beasts. Preying on defenseless babies!”
Dewey turned to Huey. “We had brothers? Sisters?”
“Apparently,” said Huey.
“Doesn’t seem right.”
“We should do something.”
They looked at their blithering Mama. She spun left, then right, her eyes wild.
Huey cleared his throat.
Mama turned to him, and her body instantly stilled. “Oh, there you are, dear. You’re just in time.”
She pinned the pontoon boat in her gaze. “Let’s go, duckies,” she sang. “You too, Louie. We have to stay together.”
“Now?” Louie called. “What about the pretty bird?”
“What’s the rule, duckies?” Mama called.
“Too-gether, too big,” chorused Huey and Dewey.
Louie swung around and headed for the group. “I never have any fun. What’s that mean anyway? Too-gether, too big. Too-gether meaning together or there’s two gether’s, whatever that is. And what are they too big for?”
“Do we have to keep him?” Dewey said.
Huey winked at Dewey then turned to Louie. “Together we look too big to be eaten, Louie. Don’t you think you’d better hurry and catch up with Mama?”
Louie sailed past.
Huey and Dewey watched Mama swim toward the boat. A provocative, come-and-eat-me twitch animated her backend.
“Ya know,” Dewey said, “you’ve really got to hand it to her.”
Huey nodded. “Genius. I mean, crack pot for sure. But genius.”
“Shouldn’t we help? They were our brothers and sisters after all.”
“What were their names again?”
Dewey shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Louie caught up to his twitching Mama. The creature, clearly having caught sight of the ducks, exploded into writhing gyrations.
“Louie’s a natural with that helpless, wounded look,” Dewey said.
“That’s how he always looks,” Huey said.
“It’s a wonder he’s still alive.”
“Well, maybe not after this,” Dewey said. “They’re getting pretty close to the boat.”
Huey watched Mama and Louie. “You don’t think it’ll work?”
“That the creature will drown?”
“Or maybe he floats and eats them?”
Dewey shrugged. “It’s bound to be a good show either way.” He leaned back in the water.
Huey reclined next to Dewey. “Shoulda brought popcorn.”
If you’ve read Surviving Henry, you know that the story doesn’t turn out like anyone expected. Henry may well have forgotten the whole incident. Or maybe…
He holds a world-class grudge.
In chapter 10 of Surviving Henry I refuse to take Henry for a ride on the wave runner because I figure he’ll want to drive (he’s stubborn that way) and we’ll probably get a ticket for running down ducks. But what if, against my better judgement, I get on that wave runner after all?
The water patrolman pulled down his shiny glasses and hit Henry with a steely gaze. “Sir, are you aware that it’s illegal to run over wildlife?”
Henry’s eyes went wide. “What wildlife?”
“All of it, but in this case I’m speaking about those two ducks.” He waved a hand toward the unfortunate wreckage in the water behind us. “You drove right over them.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” Henry scanned the feathered debris for survivors.
“I’m going to have to issue you a citation.”
“For hitting a couple of ducks? You’re kidding, right?”
The officer whipped out a pen and scribbled on his ticket pad. “Sir, they’re protected wildlife. It’s not even duck season.”
“Shouldn’t they have gotten out of the way? They can fly, you know.”
“You blasted out from behind a rock doing what? Eighty? You didn’t give those ducks a fair chance.”
“You wanna talk about fair? Try watching them waggle their behinds at you when you’re on the front of a moving boat. I’m a predator, get it?”
I put my hand on Henry. “Calm down. We can talk this through. Officer—”
“I had to jump!” Henry shrugged my hand off and didn’t even turn around. “It was in my genes, and don’t think they didn’t know it. Where were your flashing lights for that one? Now you want to ticket me because of their untimely lack of haste?”
The officer froze, his pen mid-letter. “Am I going to have to bring you in? This kind of bitterness leads to further trouble.”
I tried to stand. “No, wait—”
“I’ll show you trouble, Mr. Uniform. I can bite a hole through the backside of your monochromatic excuse for an outfit before you even know what hit you.”
The officer slapped his pad closed and shoved it in his pocket. “That’s it. Dismount the water craft, sir.”
“I don’t think so.”
The next thing I knew, the engine roared to life and I was seeing tomorrow’s newspaper headline:
Nice Christian Woman and Maniac Dog Lead Water Patrol in Spectacular High Seas Chase.
“Henry,” I yelled above the engine. “You have to stop!”
“What do you mean, ‘why?’ He’s a patrolman. He can put you in jail.”
“That’s why we’re going away very fast.”
“He can shoot too.”
The waver runner whipped left, then right.
“Whoa!” I clung to the seat. “What’s with the swerves! I almost fell off.”
“It’s called evasive action. Don’t you watch action movies?”
“You want to talk about movies now?”
“I’m a little busy.” We slam against a wake and plow through.
“Henry, stop. I’ll talk to the man. I’m sure we can work something out.”
“Right. But that inevitably involves me in a cage.”
“You can’t go running down every duck on the lake.”
Henry cranked up the speed. “As if they’re going to give me the same courtesy.”
We hit a wave, went airborne, then came down hard.
“Hey! Look out for that—”
“Too late. Poor duck.”
“You see a duck? Where?”
“Saw. Past tense.”
“Hey, why’s the engine sputtering?”
I leaned over his shoulder a caught a glimpse of the dashboard. “It’s called gas, Henry. No gas, no motor.”
The engine coughed but didn’t die. A disturbing wail rose above the engine.
I glanced behind us. “I think the patrolman called all his friends.”
“Boy, that’s some glow of lights.”
“Can’t we stop now?”
Henry cut hard around the next bend. “Isn’t the dam around here somewhere?”
“How would you know, Henry? You’re a dog.”
“What do you think? I live under a rock?”
We sloshed against the wake, then I caught sight of the dam. “So it’s the dam. So what?”
“Ever see the movie Thelma and Louise?”
“I hated that movie. What a stupid ending. They go over the cliff at the—”
A rush of gas roars into the engine.
“Henry, why are you speeding up? Don’t you see the barrier? There’s nothing on the other side of that blockade but a hundred foot drop!”
“Should we hold hands?”
This is why I don’t let Henry drive. Anywhere. Ever.