Mack sat on the calm waters of a small pond. He let the warmth of the sun reflect off the surface, heating his gray feathered body and jeweled emerald head, with a small backward tuft of accenting white feathers. With little more than the occasional flick of a webbed foot, he lazily floated. Small adjustments, made only to avoid the tall reeds to the south and the tangle of Lilly pads and algae to the east. It was his last chance to enjoy the serene quiet of the cool waters in the north; he knew it would be time to head south soon. The time was approaching to find a flock and take to the wing.
In fact he decided it was better to go early rather than late. Especially in his case, the last two years had been too close. Mack knew he couldn’t afford to push his luck for a third year. His feet began to roll in a continuous paddle shoving him forward. A small wake formed a V behind him. Spreading his wings in a tumultuous splash of waves; emitting a spray of drops from his feathers. He tilted his wings forward, and rose steadily until he was running across the top of the water. At last, with a hard flap and flutter of his wings; he burst out of the water and into the air. Hugging his webbed toes to his body and climbed into the air, free to soar as he pleased. In wide looping arcs he rose higher into the clouds, until he caught an updraft and could glide freely with only minor flapping.
He headed south east, swooping this way and that in large curls surveying the land beneath him. A lake just a little ways off was usually full of flocks preparing for the trip to warmer climes. He circled the lake over head high up on the wing. There were two flocks arranging on the lake, one to the east, and one two the west. Mack flew another loop while he decided which to join. It mattered to him, the journey took weeks and you couldn’t usually expect to switch half-way through if you suddenly didn’t get along. Something was off. Both flocks were just enough off shore, right where the perfect sized, sweet slippery minnows hung out but not a one was diving after them.
Just then Mack noticed Mal swooping down to the ducks on the west. He was a bit slow, he was a mallard after all; too much preening if you asked Mack. They flew together last year; got along well taking turns flying point. Mack knew what he had to do. He dove head first, dropping fast as he let the gravity take him. The wind whipped through his feathers, tried to pull him up and out of his dive, but it was too late. He cut in front of Mal at the last minute slicing back into the lake. Mal was forced to rise just in time, nearly missing the crack of a shotgun as it blared into the still air.
Mack flew low, while Mal slid over top him as they glided across the lake. Mal quacked down to Mack, “Thanks man, is this other flock we’re headed for cool?”
“No,” Mack cried, “rise.” They climbed furiously, flapping like humming birds. Mal was fine but Mack had lost too much altitude, he gave up too much speed. The second blast blew around Mack. He felt the rush of hot air, he floated off course, fluttering into the wind uncontrollably. He went down into the tall reeds. He called back to Mal, “I’m hit, head south, catch up with a flock you meet in the air, NOT on the water.”
Mal hesitated only for a moment before darting away. Mack cursed his luck. Sure his bright green head was attractive, but it certainly didn’t help him blend in the yellowed, drying reeds. Then he heard the one sound he dreaded; barking. Dogs, it always had to be dogs. Mack hated the things, from the long haired golden ones to the scruffy black and gray ones. He looked back surprised to see only a couple of tail feathers missing. His small moment of relief gave way to pumping adrenaline after he heard the panting of the dog’s breath. Bolting into the air and flapping faster than a hovering bee, he jetted up and away.
Mack took his own advice and headed south, only slightly out of control, wavering and wobbling. He caught up to Mal and a whole wing he had come across. Mack fell in behind Mal at the right end of the V-formation. The point duck a smallish wood duck yelled back, “Hey Mack what happened back there? Mal, here, said you went down back there with a hunter and a hound.”
Mack called in response, “Just lost a couple of tail feathers.”
“You okay to fly for a while? We just took off right before we ran into Mal here.”
“I’ll be flying a little wonky, so I’ll need to be back here for a bit.”
“Sad to hear; Mal said you were a decent flier and I was hoping for another body to take turns at point.”
“No worries, I’ll be back to normal and in control in a couple of days.”
“Good to hear we’ll work you in the rotation. My name’s Sarge, I’m leading this wing. Remember that and we’ll along nicely. Welcome to the flock.”
Mack wobbled a bit. He knew he was getting too comfortable, there was no way he should be alive after three straight hunting seasons.