PETER TIMONY is a member of the Horror Writers Association and the author of The Night Owls, which was a graphic novel published by DC Comics in March of 2010, and nominated for three Harvey Awards that same year. It was illustrated by his twin brother, Bobby Timony. Peter’s published short stories include Dead End Street, published by Quantum Muse, April 1999 and Hero of the Ducks, which won first place in the Sterling Press Annual Short Story Contest in 1998. Peter had a number of one-act plays produced, as well as a Two Act Play, Kiss of Death, which was produced off Broadway in the summer of 1999. In 2005, a short film he wrote, Duck’s 15 Minutes, was featured in the Short Film Corner of the Cannes Film Festival.
He lives in NJ with his wife Kerry.
Hero of the Ducks
by Peter Timony
Seymore took solace in the quacking of the ducks.
Immediately following the loss of his job, Seymore decided to spend the rest of his afternoon in the park, where he had spent so many hours watching the ducks from his office window. Now, he was up close and personal. They quacked, as ducks often do.
“No one can tell a duck not to quack,” he thought to himself. Then, looking about to make sure no one was in earshot, Seymore quietly allowed himself to quack, but just once.
Stealthily, he glanced about to see if anyone had heard him quack, but no one had. Not even the ducks.
He wished he had bread to give them. He promised himself that next time, he would.
At night, the ducks were gone, and the muggers emerged, so Seymore retired to his hole in the wall, sometimes known as his apartment. Now however, it had garnered a new nickname, the Suddenly Unaffordable Shit Hole. He would refer to it as that from now on.
The SUSH was sparsely furnished. He had only the essentials… that is, one chair, one table, one bed. His only window looked out on a brick wall. Seymore wished he could live in the park, or at least see it from his window. He remembered the long hours at work, and how he spent them staring at the park through the window. His pastime became his doom when he was fired.
That night, like every night, Seymore climbed into bed and let the distant sounds of sirens sing him to sleep.
Early the next morning, Seymore went to the unemployment office and waited in a plastic chair for two hours. Still, he took his time filling out the applications. He had nothing else to do. He wondered if it mattered to the unemployment people that he’d been fired.
When his number was called, he handed in his application, was handed some pamphlets (which he threw away) and was told to return in a week.
Seymore stepped out of the unemployment office. Momentarily, he felt lost. Not knowing what to do, or where to go, he began to walk towards the park, though it was easily five miles. He could’ve gone back to the SUSH but that thought didn’t please him. It was early yet.
Five long miles later, Seymore settled comfortably into a park bench. Along the way, he bought a cheap loaf of stale bread. It must’ve been at least four days old. He broke off a piece with a snap, showering himself with stale crumbs. Then he tossed it to the ducks. They didn’t notice.
Still they quacked, and it soothed him. He had an image of the ducks surrounding him, reveling in his gift of bread, and loving him. He imagined them climbing onto the bench with him, carefully eating the crumbs from off his shoulders. When they quacked, Seymore would quack with them.
At the moment, however, the ducks had yet to notice him.
About twenty feet down the path, a woman sat sketching. Seymore didn’t notice her until he heard her curse. He looked over to see her tear a piece of paper from and toss it into a nearby trash can.
Seymore fidgeted. He felt like going into the trash and retrieving the crumpled artwork, but he didn’t dare until the young woman left, but she had begun another drawing. Even more frustrating than that, Seymore didn’t dare quack, for fear that she might hear him.
Seymore stared at the small pond in the park until it was almost dark, and the ducks vanished to wherever it is that ducks go. He fantasized about visiting duckland for awhile. Then he noticed that the artist woman had left.
Seymore rose and began meandering toward the trash, as if he had no real destination. Making triply sure that no one was watching, Seymore hastily removed the crumpled wad of paper. Without unwrinkling it, Seymore went home. It was getting dark, and the muggers would be waking up soon.
He arrived at his SUSH and turned on the light. He sat down at his table. Carefully, he unfolded the paper, pausing once to wipe up a ketchup stain. What he saw unraveling before him was a charcoal drawing of a duck on the pond.
Seymore stared. It was, of course, beautiful. Not without some amount of reverence, he hung it on his wall, above his bed, where he would see it when he woke in the morning.
Sleep that night brought peaceful dreams. Seymore might have smiled in his sleep. His dreams were so placid, a duck might’ve waded on them.
One week later, Seymore stood outside the unemployment office again, having waited in their plastic chairs for a few hours, only to be told he wasn’t eligible for financial aid.
With just enough money in the bank to cover one month’s rent, provided he ate like Ghandi, Seymore began to feel the pinch.
Still, he managed to locate some spare change in his pockets, enough to buy a stale loaf of bread to feed the ducks, which he bought during the five mile trek to the park.
Settling into his bench again, Seymore noticed he was alone with the ducks. His heart raced for a moment. He was really alone. He opened his mouth and gave a hoarse little quack.
Tossing them a piece of bread to get their attention (a ploy that failed), Seymore quacked again, almost in a full voice, but it felt louder to him. He felt proud, heroic, able to quack at nearly full volume. His heart was pounding madly and he almost smiled… until he saw the artist woman walking past him.
Just the possibility that she might have heard him was enough to force a furious blush to his face and send him fleeing back to the SUSH, even before the ducks went back to duckland and the muggers rose from their coffins to prey on the park dwellers that dwelled too long.
That night, he lied in bed with the light on, staring at the charcoal duck drawing on the wall. He was angry with himself for being foolish and shy, and not sure if he had the strength to return to his beloved park to feed the ducks. Not after the day’s humiliation.
Seymore’s dreams that night were full of brick walls and plastic chairs, where ducks waited just beyond the opaque horizon. He knew they were there… he just couldn’t see them.
Seymore spent the next day in the SUSH. His imagination left him. The drawing of the duck seemed nothing more than a dirty piece of paper on the wall.
He looked in the newspaper. He called some numbers. He walked around the city, filling out applications. Eventually, he found a new job, remarkably similar to his first. He went to sleep, feeling better about himself, but it was somehow hollow. It was nowhere near the exhilaration he felt when he was in the park, when he dared to quack.
Instead, he slept. In the morning, he went to work. He found his cubicle. There were no views of the park to tempt him this time. In fact, there were very few windows at all.
For a week, Seymore went to work and went to his apartment, now affordable. He settled into a productive routine. Nothing could disrupt it.
Until he went into the back room for a cup of coffee and saw a loaf of bread there.
For a long moment, Seymore stared at the bread. Then he took it and fled the building with a bread bulge under his jacket.
Outside, he paused only for a second to get his bearings, and then he walked, but quickly. Long blocks flew past, until he was at the park again.
The ducks were still there. They had not deserted like Seymore. But now he had a soft loaf of bread for them, and it was time to make amends for his absence. He broke off a piece and threw it to them, and they noticed! They walked directly toward him, they surrounded him. They ate his bread and they quacked. They all quacked.
And Seymore quacked. He quacked in full voice. Then he shouted his quacks. They were quacks of utter defiance. He was the hero of ducks everywhere, he was one of them, he understood, he was the man who dared to quack! More than that, he was a duck! He threw the rest of the bread into the air, and there, amid a cloud of ducks scrambling to be fed, he quacked as loud as he could, until the lake vibrated with the sound.
And then… he looked around. Of course, she was there. He let his arms fall to his sides. The artist woman was looking directly at him. She was holding her pad in her lap, and charcoal in her hand.
Seymore waited. He felt the shame creeping back into his life. He almost fled, but she held him with her eyes.
The artist woman stood and walked toward him. She showed him her drawing. Seymore looked at the paper with the charcoal smears. His imagination returned, and he beheld a rendering of himself, in the middle of the cyclone of ducks. He had his arms raised triumphantly.
Seymore looked up, slightly uncomfortable, because the artist woman was looking him in the eyes. He felt he needed to explain himself and his odd behavior.
“Quack,” he whispered.
“Quack,” she whispered back.