Writer’s Quill Winning Stories for Anatidaephobia
Thank you to everyone who submitted stories for this prompt! The judging team greatly enjoyed all of them!
This week we actually have two winners! Congratulations to Maura Martin and Katherine Milliken on their winning stories!
A “Fowl” Sensation
Maura Martin, Grade 10
The day began normally, as always. I woke up, had coffee, and went to work. It seemed like today would be a ‘good’ day for me. I hadn’t had a twinge yet. I got through my first meeting, and started to relax. Then, I felt it. My neck began to prickle. It was here… I hurried through the hallways to my cubicle, and dropped into the seat. The feeling passed. I sighed in relief. It was gone. I was safe.
One of my coworkers peered over the cubicle, and my nerves began jabbing pins into my neck.
“Hey,” he said, not noticing my discomfort. “Could I borrow a pen?” I passed it over, and he sank down behind the wall. My nerves began calming down, but I stayed on my guard.
I was fine for a little while, but half an hour later, I felt it once more. My senses began screeching in my ear, as sirens went off in my head. It was watching again… I put my head between my knees, breathing deeply like the doctor showed me. In…Out…In…Out… Nothing helped. I had Anatidaephobia, the fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you. “You’re fine,” I told myself. “Nothing’s wrong, you’ll be fine…” My nerves began screaming bloody murder, my entire being telling me to run. I suppressed the instinct, burying the panic below a mountain of cold, rational fact. The duck can’t be watching me. It’s not inside. Birds aren’t allowed in office buildings.
My heart and lungs realized that they were not running a marathon and slowed down to a normal pace. I sat up, brushing my hair from my face. “Are you alright?” I turned, looking up at the girl by the door of my cubicle. She worked in a cubicle near me, but we didn’t talk much.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I replied.
“Are you sure?” she asked skeptically. “You look really pale.”
I sighed. “I’ll be fine,” I said softly, trying to convince myself as well as her. “I just need fresh air.” I stood up, and made my way to the open window. Then, I saw it. Its beady black duck eyes were fixed on me like an M16 sniper rifle. I could see its message as clearly as if it was written in blood on my front door. You’re next.
The Birthday Ducks
Katherine Milliken, Grade 8
Martha Hartson was quite satisfied with her seventh birthday. Thinking it over the next day, she couldn’t make any improvements on it, except that she wished they had given her a dragon for a present. Just a little dragon, who was very friendly and would give you rides. She had confided this to her brother Danny, who was a year older and her best friend, and he had been very enthusiastic about the idea. Later he came back to her looking crushed. “It’s no good,” he said. “I asked Mom and she said dragons aren’t really real anyway.”
“They must be, though,” argued Martha. “I just read a book with all sorts of dragons, big, and little, and all different colors and everything. They couldn’t publish the book if it wasn’t true.”
Danny looked puzzled. Then he shrugged. “Maybe they can’t live in our climate,” he suggested. Martha didn’t know what climate meant and Danny didn’t know how to explain, so the discussion degenerated into an argument about dictionaries: Danny was for them, and Martha was against them.
Meanwhile, other than that, Martha felt fairly satisfied. She was sitting by herself in a hammock in the warm summer sunshine, there were three stuffed ducks which had been birthday presents sitting near her, and she had the prospect of leftover birthday cake before her. As she idly admired the ducks’ plumpness, she suddenly felt a shiver of horror. Wasn’t that duck in a different position than it was a minute ago? It was moving–and worst of all, it was looking at her! She felt too frightened to move, and watched with dread as the other two also turned and looked at her. Then they all honked.
That was the last straw as far as Martha was concerned. She screamed and ran away as fast as she could. She only stopped when she ran into Danny.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“My ducks came alive, and they honked at me,” she said breathlessly.
“Cool! I want to see,” said Danny, and he ran off in the direction of the hammock. Martha felt very indignant. What was so cool in the horrible event that had just taken place? She had been hoping for some sympathy.
Danny soon came back looking disappointed. “They sure didn’t seem alive to me,” he said. “They just sat there.”
“Well, they were alive when I was there,” said Martha, feeling slightly irritated. “Danny, can you do me a favor?”
“Please take those ducks and lock them up in a box someplace, where I can’t see them,” said Martha.
“But then I’ll never see them come alive,” objected Danny, “and supposing they get mad and bust out at night and attack us?”
Martha was appalled at the thought. “I told you to lock it,” she said sternly. “Not even a duck could break through a locked box.”
“They might,” said Danny. “I can just see it happen, can’t you? They would creep out on a moonlit night, and they would keep to the shadows and whisper plans of attack, and then,” he continued with relish, “they would pounce on us!”
“Stop that, Danny!” said Martha, “and you can keep the box in your room, if you really think they’ll get out.”
“Okay, I’ll keep them in my room,” said Danny, “but I don’t even know if we have boxes that lock.” He ran off and soon came back with the ducks, looking at them with interest. Martha winced and backed away.
“I don’t know,” said Danny. “This one,” he prodded a mallard, “I thought his head moved, but I can’t be sure.”
“Get them away,” pleaded Martha. Danny looked a little annoyed.
“They’re just ducks,” he said. “What could they do to you, anyway?”
Martha didn’t want to think about anything as horrible as that.
“Just please get them out,” she said. Danny complied, and Martha pointedly looked away until he was out of sight. She didn’t even want to see those ducks.
Danny soon came back looking satisfied. “They’re in my room now,” he said. “Say, they’re pretty cool ducks.”
“Let’s talk about something else now,” said Martha. Danny reluctantly did so–evidently the live stuffed ducks had captured his fancy.
“Let’s go play with my planets,” said Danny. He had little models of all the planets, but Danny and Martha liked to pretend they were little aliens, and they would make up stories about them.
Martha wasn’t quite sure what to do. She liked playing with Danny’s planets, but he kept them in his room, and Martha wanted to avoid those ducks at all costs. “How about you take the planets to my room,” Martha suggested.
Danny looked scandalized. “I might lose them,” he said. Danny was always afraid that he would lose his planets. His mother had told him that they had never been able to find planets just like the ones he had (his own planets, by the way, had been made by his grandfather) and Danny hated the thought of having an incomplete set.
“I don’t see that it would be any easier to lose them in my room than in yours,” said Martha.
Danny considered that. “I guess we could take them in your room,” he said grudgingly, “but we’ll have to be very, very careful.”
Martha decided not to comment, and soon they were in the hallway by their rooms. Martha began to shake at the thought that the ducks were very close, and she quickly ducked into her own room.
“Hey!” said Danny. “We haven’t got the planets yet.”
“How about you get them while I get a place ready for them,” said Martha. Danny saw nothing wrong with that, and he went into his room while Martha arranged books and odds and ends to make a little place for the Planet Aliens to live in. She was almost done when Danny came in with the Planet Aliens themselves. Martha thought in her mind that he had taken quite a while, and she realized with a shudder that he had probably stopped to look at the ducks. Danny seemed a little preoccupied.
“What I can’t understand,” he said reflectively, “is why you wanted a dragon for your birthday and yet you can’t stand the thought of a live duck.”
“Please, Danny, don’t talk about it,” said Martha. She thought of those ducks staring at her and shuddered. There was something horrifying about them.
Danny helped Martha finish the place for the Planet Aliens, and then for a while they traveled through space delivering goods and travelling in desolate places. Then Danny suddenly tired of such tame activities.
“Say, let’s have a battle,” said Danny, and he neatly lined the planets up in rows, and then explained a complicated battle plan to Martha, who, to be kind to her brother, pretended she understood and thought it a good plan. She was sure it was a good plan, but she couldn’t understand any of it. Then Danny flicked the planets at each other and shouted excitedly as one side was winning, then the other side. In the end the bad side won, as he told her sorrowfully.
“That’s too bad,” said Martha sympathetically. “Let’s go see what everyone else is doing.”
After Martha got Danny to put his planets away, they went downstairs and found their four siblings were out in their large yard playing ball. Martha was very proud of her family, because they had not one, but two sets of twins, Eliza and Eli, who were twelve, and Becky and Benny, who were five. Martha didn’t know anybody who had two sets of twins.
After a long time playing outside, Martha had almost forgotten about ducks, and during dinner and nighttime family prayers they receded to the innermost corner of her mind. Then, when she got in bed at night, she suddenly thought of them and felt terrified. She suddenly felt that all the ducks that ever were, stuffed or live, had always been spying on her, quietly discussing her every movement, and usually snickering to each other about her. She could see them clearly when she closed her eyes; gathering in corners, stealing furtive glances at her, and ducking out of her way if she happened to pass by.
She remembered what her mother had said about if you couldn’t go to sleep at night, and she said the Rosary over and over again, skimming over parts when she got stuck. Finally she fell asleep, but not before she had the prickling sensation that she was being watched. She wanted to sit up, turn on the light, and look all around the room, just in case, but she found that she didn’t have the courage, and so instead she pulled the blankets up around her and clutched her stuffed rabbit to her closely. Why, she wondered, didn’t the idea of stuffed rabbits watching her not seem scary at all, but ducks did? She didn’t try to figure it out, and fell asleep soon after that.
She went through this every night at bedtime after that, although sometimes it wasn’t as bad, and sometimes it was worse. She wanted to tell her mother about it, but she always seemed busy when Martha wanted to talk to her about it. If it had occurred to Martha just to ask her mother if she could talk with her, it could have easily been arranged, but it didn’t, so it wasn’t.
Then, one night,, while Martha was shivering in bed wondering if ducks had teeth or not–oh, why hadn’t she asked Danny when she first thought of it?–she was sure she heard a banging on the window. She steeled herself, forced herself to sit up, and with trembling fingers she turned on the light. She was sure she saw a dark shape on the other side of the window. It quickly dived out of sight, but she had seen it. She carefully looked about the room. Nothing looked suspicious, and her alarm clock would be convenient as a weapon if a duck did make an entry, as it was right by her bed and fairly heavy as well. “I have to talk about this to Mom tomorrow, no matter how busy she is,” thought Martha as she turned off the light and burrowed back into bed.
In the middle of the morning the next day, Martha approached her mother. “Mom, can I talk with you for a few minutes?” she asked.
“Of course,” said Mrs. Hartson. They went and sat together on the hammock–that fateful hammock where it all had started–and Mrs. Hartson said, “Now, tell me, honey. What’s the matter?” She smiled at Martha, and it suddenly seemed to her that maybe ducks weren’t so bad after all. Then she thought of the shape she had seen through the window, and she quickly changed her mind.
“Mom, I’m scared of ducks,” she began, and soon she had poured out the whole story, ending with the shape she had seen. “And Mom, when they came alive they honked at me,” she said, in case she had forgotten to mention it earlier. Mrs. Hartson thought for a few minutes, and then tenderly gave her little daughter all the advice she had to give on this somewhat obscure topic. Martha felt a lot better afterwards, but she had a creeping suspicion, lurking deep in her mind, that when night really came, she would be so scared that she wouldn’t even be able to put her mother’s advice into practice.
“It’s not that bad in the daytime,” thought Martha. “It’s just at night that they could sneak up on me, after all. In the daytime, I could at least see them sneaking up.”
It was later that day, when she was sitting in the hammock reading, that she heard The Noises.
Martha was very fond of reading, although she often picked books far out of her depth and stubbornly insisted on reading all of them. To herself, she admitted that she understood very little of these books, but she liked what she did understand. Right then she was reading The Lord of the Rings. The only problem she could find was that the Nazgul reminded her a bit of ducks, or they seemed just as creepy, at any rate.
She was wondering how Caradhras was pronounced when, suddenly, she was sure she heard a Noise. Not just some ordinary noise, but a Noise, a Noise that clearly meant that someone, or something, was creeping up on you; someone, or something, that did not want to be heard, but had very accidently made a Noise just the same.
Martha stiffened. She was sure that it was a duck, but she just couldn’t look around to make sure. The thought of the eyes of the spying duck staring deep into hers was enough to convince her of that. Would it go away? Wondered Martha, in an agony of suspense, or would it decide to settle down to a relaxing session of staring at her? A few moments later she heard it again, and then there was silence.
It took Martha a long while to screw up the courage to look behind her, and then she held her heavy book tightly, in case she needed it as a weapon. There was nothing there, however, and Martha decided with relief that the duck had gone. She felt very unsafe, though, and moved into the house to read. The only problem in the house was that Danny insisted on reading over her shoulder, and he kept making her stop so that he could look up words in the dictionary.
“Danny, do you have to read over my shoulder?” she finally asked in exasperation. “Can’t you read your own book?”
“But your book is more interesting,” said Danny, “and don’t you like knowing what the words mean, anyway?”
“It makes it so much slower,” protested Martha. She didn’t make him stop, though, as she wanted to be around other people after her traumatizing experience.
That night, when she got into bed, Martha said to herself firmly, “There is no such thing as ducks. I won’t even think about them. I’ll think about the story I’m making up instead.”
Martha tried hard to think about the story she was making up, concerning a family of mice who lived in a house and had a snug little hole under a little girl’s bed. A duck somehow got under the little girl’s bed as well, however, and he stared the mice out of countenance, ate all their food, laughed at their hole, and then went away to harass the little girl in the bed above. “This isn’t going to work,” thought Martha unhappily. She tried thinking about all sorts of other things, and yet a duck always popped up at some point, leaving a trail of havoc behind him.
Then she saw the Shape.
The night before she had only seen a dark object through the window, but this time, even without turning on the light, she distinctly saw a Shape, a Very Duck-Like Shape. Luckily it was, again, on the other side of the window, but still it was there. Martha almost thought that she saw eyes peering through at her, but she couldn’t be sure. Frozen with horror, Martha stared at the Shape, and the Shape stared back. Finally Martha could stand it no longer.
“Go away,” she said, trembling a little as she wondered how the Shape would react. The Shape immediately disappeared, but Martha did not feel much better. She ducked under the blanket and hoped that, while she couldn’t see, ducks weren’t squeezing through cracks into her room and gathering around her bed to look up at her.
“This can’t go on,” she thought. “Those darn ducks have got to stop this.” Just then she heard a Voice, an odd little Voice that didn’t sound quite human somehow.
“Excuse me,” said the Voice. “I speak with you a little?” Martha peered out from under her blanket, and it was just as she feared: there was a stuffed duck sitting on her bed and looking up at her beseechingly. “You see,” said the Duck. “We ducks notice something, and we no like.”
“You see,” continued the duck, “you take ducks, shut them in box. They no like. They want to come out. You see, yes?”
Martha nodded. This duck was not as terrible as all that.
“You see, much ducks come, try to get ducks out of box, but there someone there, he keeps looking in box, so we not sure how to them out. You see?”
Martha nodded. The duck must mean Danny.
“So we try to ask you, why you shut them up? They not do anything bad. You no seem to like us, though, so we not sure if we should ask or not. Then, tonight, I think, ‘Something must be done,’ so I come and ask you.” The duck looked up pleadingly. “You let them out, yes? They very good ducks. They no do bad things.”
“They honked at me,” said Martha, although that suddenly did not seem as terrible as it had before.
“What wrong with that?” asked the duck, looking puzzled as only a duck can. “All ducks honk.”
“It scared me,” said Martha.
The duck looked surprised. “Is honking scary thing? I tell them not to, if you no like it.”
“I didn’t know they were alive at all,” said Martha.
“Of course they alive,” said the duck. “How else do they honk?”
Martha didn’t know how to answer that, so she didn’t answer at all.
“You like us now, though, yes?” asked the duck hopefully.
To tell the truth, Martha found that she did like the duck. He was utterly unlike how she had imagined ducks to be; he was, in fact, rather like the characters that she and Danny made up for their stuffed animals.
“I suppose,” said Martha.
“Good!” said the duck, flapping his wings joyfully. “Then I let them out, yes?”
Martha didn’t answer immediately. Then, “I suppose,” she said hesitantly.
“Good, good!” said the duck. An aura of radiant happiness surrounded him as he flapped his wings and flew to the door, opened it with some difficulty, and disappeared into the dark hall. Martha reflected how interesting it was to watch a stuffed duck fly.
“I guess I was mistaken about ducks,” thought Martha. It seemed absurd now to think how terrified she had been by them. “When really they’re quite nice,” she thought.
In a few minutes the duck came back, joined by the three birthday ducks. “Hello,” they all said. “How you do?”
Martha greeted them, and then settled down to get some sleep. The ducks got a book and all went into a corner to read it, honking softly every now and again. “I can’t wait to tell Danny,” thought Martha as she looked for her stuffed rabbit, which had been dropped in her first fright at seeing the Shape. When she located him, he said, “I’d like to join them in reading, if you don’t mind. It’s my favorite book.”
“What book is it?” asked Martha, too tired to be surprised at her rabbit being alive as well.
“It’s Watership Down,” said her rabbit. Martha nodded. She hadn’t read it yet, but Danny had, and he had told her it was all about rabbits.
“All right,” said Martha, and her rabbit hopped off the bed to join the party of ducks in the corner.
Martha was almost asleep when she felt something pushing her hand, and a quiet honk told her it was a duck. She stroked his soft back and fell asleep happily for the first night in a while, while the ever-growing party of animals in the corner ordered a pizza and the moon shone in through the window.