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By Neal Kemet

I was sitting on the big rock by the lake as usual. The green color was imposing its tyranny on the surroundings. Armies of butterflies, squirrels, and little birds were acknowledging the triumphant arrival of spring. It was relatively warm and the sun stood proudly over the lake. Flocks of migrating birds were throwing themselves into the lake, bathing, diving, and chasing fish. Pairs of ducks flew in circles, descended gracefully into water, hunted food, and swam with the mild current. They were playful, joyous, noisy. They honked, sang in dissonance, producing polyphonic tunes reminiscent of serial music. They looked exhausted from a long, adamant pursuit of warmth. And they seemed hungry for life.

Two men in their early thirties came, watching the ducks. Like me, they were dressed casually. They put their little bags and bottles of water on the ground, sat on the grass, and talked loudly. After a short episode of silence they walked toward me, greeted me, introduced themselves, and sat on the rock beside me. Each of them gave me a ten dollar bill. “Look, Sir: we will shoot at ducks. Each is allowed only two shots. Please give the twenty bucks to him who wins,” said Brian in excited tone. They assumed that I would be entertained by their competition. Somehow I agreed to act as a judge because I did not want to appear indifferent or rude. I asked them what would happen if both lost. They said that I should keep the twenty dollars for myself if none of them killed a duck.

Franck shot first, and got it. The wounded duck fluttered, flew on its side against the wind, swirled, fell vertically on the water, quivered, danced hopelessly for a moment, shook its legs like crazy before sinking under a circle of floating blood. The uneven circle moved slowly with the current, its circumference enlarging, its color turning light brown, its shape becoming ragged, then vanished. The widowed bird became silent, probably confused. It swam away from the blood, as if it was terrified. The lonely duck looked around in fear, swam aimlessly like a drunken old man. Puzzled by its mate’s disappearance, it was an easy prey for Bill’s shot. It moved hopelessly around itself, flapping one wing violently. It floated for moments on its side, with one leg tremulous and the other motionless, and quickly sank. Both shooters won. They clapped, congratulated themselves, and looked at me proudly. I gave them back their money, ten bucks each. Frank thought I enjoyed the exciting scene, offered me his gun to try my luck. “Too many ducks, go ahead!” He said. “Try a flying one first then a swimming one, and tell us which was more difficult,” Brian said in persuasive voice. For moments I did not know what to say. Then I said I was not good at it. We shook hands and departed. They were chatting happily as I left the scene.

Neal Kemet received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Calgary and has taught in
Missouri. Currently he is an independent scholar writing from Marian, IL His most recent stories appeared in Danse Macabre and 50- 1.

Contact Neal.