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The Ugly Duckling

Malory miiiight have made a mistake. 

But how could she have left the little creature out there on its own, just the perfect food for any goblin walking by?

It was a sitting duck. Literally. 

It had been a rather slow week for Malory. Little work, not in a mood to research, and her house always spotless thanks to Thimbletack, the brownie who lived with her, so she had been doing nothing but reading, working out, and watching television. Why did she even own a television still? She hardly used the damn thing and everything on it was stupid...Oh, right, action movies. And badass fantasy dramas (i.e. Bufy the Vampire Slayer.) But that’s it. No *cough, cough* anything else. 

So, with nothing better to do, Malory left her house in the evening to go patrol the woods surrounding her Victorian home. Her property was on the very edge of the town and consisted of a few acres of forest, which probably was going to be leveled for farmland when the house was originally built, but that never happened. The woods was also infested with goblins. No matter how many Malory killed, how many nests she destroyed, they always came back. At least the new ones didn’t know to fear her, so they were relatively easy to take care of. If just incredibly annoying. 

Judging by the height of the sun, which was starting to set, Malory had been out for a couple of hours. With a heavy sigh at not even finding a goblin pack to kill, she turned around and started heading back to her home. 

Cheep, cheep-cheep...

What?

Cheep, cheep, cheep...

Blinking, Malory turned around in a circle, looking for the source of the cheeping. She didn’t see anything at first, and the cheeping had stopped, so with a shrug, she went back to walking home. 

Cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep!

Malory stumble back quickly as a tiny ball of yellow fluff tumbled in front of her path. What the hell? The ball of yellow turned to face Malory with two beady, black eyes, and stared at her.

And Malory’s heart instantly melted

Kneeling on the ground, gentle hands scooped up the baby water fowl, who had suddenly gone silent again. Upon closer inspection, the “yellow” was smudged with dirt and grime, and one of its little nubby wings was bent out at an odd angle. Probably broken. Malory hadn’t seen any ducks in months, and knew the tiny thing wasn’t an ogre in disguise since there hadn’t been ogres in the area for years. There wasn’t even a lake nearby that the tiny thing could have waddled off from. An egg might have been taken from a nest by a goblin, later abandoned or uneaten for them to hatch cold and alone in the middle of the woods. 

There was no way Malory was going to leave the duckling in the woods in good conscience. With the fuzz ball still oddly silently sitting in her hands, the human stood and went home, cuddling the bird to her chest. 

About an hour later, Malory was sitting on the couch, watching television again, with the duckling wrapped up in the warm towel resting on a pillow next to her, a bag of microwaved popcorn in her lap. When she had gotten home, Malory had carefully washed the duckling in the kitchen sink, being mindful of the injured wing. With the bird being so small and Malory not knowing how to help mend broken wings, she had simply put a tiny popsicle-stick-splint on it followed by gauze wrapped around the duckling’s body. The gauze made it look like the little guy (or gal) was wearing a belt pulled on way too tight because of the fluffy feathers, but it didn’t seem to mind the bandages as it sat and stared around the living room, occasionally cheeping at...whatever it saw. 

Since Malory didn’t really think she could take care of a duckling, nor did she really want a pet, she was planning on finding someone else to take it in the next day. She knew there were farmers and other people with land and chickens in the area, someone would want a duck, right? With a little tap to the duckling’s beak, Malory got up from he couch and went to the kitchen for a minute to grab another beer. When she returned, however, the duckling was not where she had left it. 

“You little thief.” She said with a smile, not even able to pretend to be upset as she saw her half-eaten popcorn bag wiggle back and forth and heard a cheep! come from inside. She pulled the now buttery and salty little thing from the bag, and gave them another bath. Hmm...maybe Popcorn would be a good name for her temporary house guest. 

Popcorn wasn’t as temporary as Malory had hoped they would be. 

After asking around town and the local area, no one seemed to want the duckling. Malory had even brought Popcorn with her into town to show people. Well...maybe not to show people, but because they wouldn’t stop following her around like a lost...duckling. Little guy (or gal) had probably imprinted on her, and she hadn’t even been able to get out the door without them being right on her heels. It had even started pitching a fit when Malory had tried going upstairs to go to bed and Popcorn hadn’t been able to go up the stairs, so Malory had to sleep on the couch with them. She probably could have just taken them up to her bedroom, but the couch was fine and Malory didn’t feel like going back upstairs. 

So there Malory was, walking down the street with a bandaged duckling waddling after her and constantly cheeping their damn head off. 

Cheep-cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep-cheep-cheep, cheep! 

It was driving Malory crazy! The little thing was so annoying...in a cute way. And she couldn’t really be mad at it. At one point when Malory had to cross a street, she picked Popcorn up and held them close. But when she got to the other side, she just kept carrying them. They were finally quiet, and appeared to be dozing off against Malory’s chest, so she let it be. 

Skip forward a few weeks, and Malory still had Popcorn with her almost all the time. No matter where she went, or what she did, the duckling followed. Gone were all the yellow feathers, replaced with more water-resistant brown ones as it grew bigger. Their wing seemed to be in better condition, too, but there was no way to know if they would be able to fly or not when they grew up. Malory still had no idea if they were a boy or a girl, but she didn’t really care. When Malory took a shower, the duckling was sitting on the edge of the bathtub and waiting for a chance to swim in the water when Malory was done. When she went to the grocery store, Popcorn followed behind her or sometimes rested in the pocket of her jacket or on her shoulder. When she went to bed, they slept on her pillow. 

Yeah, Malory definitely made a mistake in bringing the little duckling home with her. Now she had a pet, a tiny life to be responsible for, no privacy, and no time by herself. 

And she wouldn’t ever want to change it.

Popcorn was hers, Malory decided. Once they were big enough to be left home alone—under the watchful eye of Thimbletack—Malory would be able to go hunting again. But for now, she would stay put in her house, watching her little ball of fuzz grow up. 

She should have gotten a pet sooner. 

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