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Did I ever tell you about the time I was a Roast Peking Duck.

It was late one twelve o’clock noon when I was out hiking at lake Whatchagonado, on one of the trails there, and boy (or girl) I tell you, it was wet and cold. Must have been forty degrees. And there was so much rain, I thought I was going to drown instead of catching hypothermia. Why, it was so bad I could swear I saw a catfish swimming beside me on the path. Yessir (or madam), I thought I would never make it back home. And I raised my head, and I cried up to the soggy heavens, “Oh, I wish I wasn’t so wet and cold!”

            And then I heard a lollopy voice beside me, saying, “Well, if that’s all ya want, that’s what I can getcha. Easy as algae, yessir (or madam)!”

            And I looked beside me, and there, rising out of the water – okay, rising out of the lake was a big old moose. Yessir (or madam), it was a mighty specimen. Shoulders like giant hairy boulders, a nose thick as a tree trunk, a mighty sail of a dewlap, antlers as wide as museum coat-rack. Beady little eyes. Moose can’t see all that well.

            And hanging off of its antlers, speared upon each tine, was a collection of what appeared to be very soggy books.

            “Well,” said the Moose, “can I get you dry, or what? I don’t have all day. Wait, yes I do. I mean, I have places to go and – no, not that either. Just let’s get on with it, what say?”

            “But,” I yelled, as best I could through the curtains of rain, “you’re like no moose I’ve ever seen! Where did all those books come from?”

            “I took a wrong turn at Dubuque and wound up in a library,” said the Moose. “I figured I’d make a day of it, so I picked up all the books I could find. But when I tried to check out, they threw me out…with the books still attached.”

            “And you think I’m going to ask for help from somebody who accidentally stumbles into a library?”

            “Hey, I couldn’t read the sign!

            “So what’s with all the books?”

            “Absorbing the information? I think? Osm-something. Most of us moose go up to the Olympic Peninsula to pick up the moss in the forest and learn the Wisdom of Nature or some such fanciness, in the same way. But I’m stuck with these books. Should still work though. Now, can I give you what you asked for, or are you just going to keep me here and make me chew algae all day?”

            “Alright,” I said, “Go ahead.”

            The moose hunched, then reared up, and I fell and scooted backwards. Said the moose, “Slippety-sloppity-foo!”

            And POOF,

             I became a duck.

            “WHAT?” I quacked. “What is this? I didn’t ask for this!”

            “You asked to be not so wet and cold! I thought ducks didn’t get wet and cold! Oil in the feathers, and whatnot!”

            “I wanted you to make it stop raining or something! Or make a shelter! Or a fire! Or –

            At that moment, I was nabbed by a net, and bundled, quacking like mad, into a sack.

            “Moose! Help me!” I said.

            “Sorry, only one wish per day,” said the Moose.

 

            Well, they took me to a restaurant in East Podunk Junction, I think it was. That’s what I think the sign said before it was too charred to read. Anyway, they took me out of the sack, and when they did, I said to them, I said “You idiots! I’m not a duck! I look like a duck but I’m not a duck, you ignorant yellow-bellied sap suckers of…”

            Or at least I tried to say all this. It came out as “Wak, blak blak blak BLAK.”

              It seems my transformation was complete.

            Then I heard the chef say, “alright, Roast Peking Duck coming up!” And they grabbed me, and plucked me, and cut off my head, and then they swung me on a string from the ceiling, and they played sink-basketball with me – I’ve made Peking Duck before, and all these steps are necessary for the proper taste.

            Then they rolled me in sauce and stuck me in a porcelain pan, and stuck me in the oven.

            I’ll tell you, it’s not fun in an oven, no sir (or madam). It gets hot. And it’s not pretty to look at. And they don’t even give you refreshments. That was rude.

            So finally, I said to myself, well, I’ve had just about enough of this. So I got up, and I kicked the oven door open. Or I tried to, anyway. Ducks don’t have much mass compared to oven doors. And I noticed – it wouldn’t budge a smidgen. The oven was locked.

            Some idiot must have pushed the “clean” button by mistake. It was going to get real hot in here real fast.

            So I picked up the pan, and I whirled it around, and I threw it at the door, and it made a big THUNK and cracked the oven window.

              It was getting real hot now, and I was beginning to lose what strength I had. But I mustered my muscles, and with a great grunt, I picked up the pan once more, and hurled it hard. The window shattered, spilling hot glass and hot pan onto the floor.

            I leapt out into the kitchen, now with my wings on fire. The sudden explosion of glass, followed by the exit of a heavy pan from an oven, followed by the emergence of a headless, naked, burning duck, caused nearly all the cooks to rush out the swinging double doors. But a bald fellow with a mustache and rage in his eyes held his ground – he picked up a knife and a cast-iron frying pan, and advanced towards me.

            This prevented me from doing what I SHOULD HAVE done, which was to jump into the sink and douse myself. He was in the way. So I thought, hey, there are sinks in the bathrooms, right? I ran out into the dining area, the fry-pan-man close at my burning back.

            The dining area was in an uproar. People running this way and that way, bumping into chairs, tables, each other, diving out windows, diving into windows that remained intact and smacking their heads. (Glass is tough stuff.) In all the confusion, with all the feet rapidly running and stomping around me, I completely lost sight of where the restrooms were. So I was now a burning duck running around a panicking room setting the tablecloths on fire, which spread to the curtains, and – actually, that was a good thing. It meant that people were generally leaving the building.

             Unfortunately, the presence of fire did not trigger any sprinkler system. So I followed the crowd, hoping to find maybe a river or a lake or – there was a pond nearby. I dashed towards it.

            Through the tall, dry grass, bereft of the benefit of heavy rain.

Lake Whatchagonado was the only place receiving any rain in this drought.

            The flames spread rapidly, moving from the pond to a nearby lawn, then a house, then another house. And another. And another. Then to the farms. The fire department was quickly overwhelmed, and had to concentrate on getting everyone out of town. Not including me.

            But at least I got to the pond!

              Which, by this point, was boiling.

              So there I am, simultaneously a charred corpse of a bird being boiled away, and I’m wondering how I would get out of this one, and cursing the moose, my fate, my decision to go hiking, everything. I said, to no-one in particular, “Why, I’d sell my soul to get out of this mess!”

            You know that whenever anyone says they’ll sell their soul, the Devil shows up. Part of the job description.

            He took the form of a huge moose, must have had antlers the width of a museum coat-rack, and his fur was black, and his eyes were shining red. He stood among the flames, unharmed.

            He said, “Well, you said the magic words. And I heard a lot of cursing. I assume you’d give up anything to survive?”

            I nodded, as best a charred, headless duck can (not very well), and said, “Get me out of here and return me to my human form. I just want to go home.”

            “Even at the cost of your soul?”

            “I don’t have much choice, do I?”

            “Well,” said the devil, and he looked at the surrounding flames, “To tell you the truth, I didn’t much like Podunk Junction anyway. And you’re in such desperate straits, acquiring your soul is just too easy. It would be no fun at all, you know? Tell you what. I’ll save you, and in exchange, you have to tell outlandish stories to impressionable children for the rest of your life. Deal?”

            “Deal.”

            And suddenly I was back in my front yard, bereft of clothing in the bright afternoon sunshine.

             The devil can be merciful, but I never said he was nice.

 

Well, children, there you are. That’s the story of how I was a Roast Peking Duck, and it’s why you can’t find Podunk Junction on the maps anymore. It’s a blackened ruin. I go there sometimes and pick at the muddy ashes and laugh.

             No more questions. Run along now.

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