Sunday, January 26, 2014

The story of Two (part 2)

(This is the second installment of a story presented in four parts.)

At last, Two's feet fell into the stiff brush by the edge of the hard path. She did not even notice the brambles scratching her legs. Everything felt unreal to her in that moment and she flopped down on the ground as soon as Little One and Little Two had made their way safely off the strange path...the place where they had left Little Three.

At first, the three of them just laid there, exhausted from the effort of waddling such a very long distance on such a hot surface. As they heaved and sighed, Two tried to keep her mind blank. She did not want to remember the roar, the burning hot wind...the image of what she had seen where once Little Three had stood.

She did not feel the air cool or notice the skies darken as clouds began to cover the sun. The cold rain pelted down on her and her two ducklings and she had little awareness. It was almost as though she herself were living in the storm cloud and her very life blood was pouring out of her in torrents. How long this went on she did not know. Nor did she care.

It was only after the rains subsided that Two heard the muffled sobs coming from the feathery heap formed by her two remaining ducklings who lay close together in the thick brush. She knew she had to move but it seemed almost impossible to hoist her body onto her trembling legs. Yet she did it. She waddled over to them slowly and began poking gently at them with her bill.

The two younger ones pulled apart. If Two had any heart left to be broken, it broke yet again when she saw the anguished expressions on the faces of her offspring. The features of Little One in particular were twisted into a painful grimace that made her almost unrecognizable to her mother.

"Quat qua kak ta, Quitchterickwa?" Two addressed her first-hatched in the ancient Duck language. "What is it, my Little One?"

"Quikad ta chwa," Little One responded, "Kwad te dequer ta quam." ("It is my fault. He is gone because of me.") The last part came out so garbled that Two might not have understood had it not been her own words coming forth from her daughter's heart.

For the first time in her life, Two felt utterly alone and she had no idea what to do.

One, her mate, had stayed behind because of an important project the younger drake fathers were working on to make their hatching areas safer. Her parents were older ducks now and did not make these kinds of trips anymore, saving their strength for the long journeys called into their hearts by the Holy One.

As these realities passed through her slowed mind, Two realized that she had not been thinking much of the Holy One lately. She had been so busy with planning the trip. She had been sure that the Holy One would not object to her taking the youngsters to the Lake - for He had made the Great Lake for their sustenance and pleasure...

Yet a cold feeling ran through her as she made motions with her wings to protect and comfort her ducklings. She could not label the feeling with words - certainly not any in the new vocabulary. But not even in the ancient Duck language could she express it, a language that she had previously believed could convey any thought or feeling.

She wondered to herself, "Is this what it means to have turned from the Way?" She had heard of those creatures who departed from the Way of the Holy One but she never in her life imagined that she would do it. Had her preoccupation with the trip been a turning away? Or had it been a disobedience when she insisted on going, despite One's opinion that the ducklings might be too young?

The lethargy and dullness that had overcome her now disappeared with the panicky thumping of her heart. Had her turning, her disobedience, offended the Holy One and led Him to take Little Three from her as punishment? Had she been so set on her way that she had stepped out of His Way and lost the protections He had promised His beloved children?

Little One and Little Two were now squirming under the weight of her wings which she had instinctively rested upon them in a protective gesture. Two shook herself again. She could not let herself dwell on these possibilities. She still had a young hen and a young drake to guide and soon they would all need water and food.

As she pulled her wings back to her body, Two realized that she had totally lost her bearings. She no longer had any sense of where the Great Lake was from their position on the ground nor did she feel that she had the strength to fly any further even if she did. And so she began once again to walk, with Little One and Little Two automatically falling in line behind her.

Soon they came upon a narrow stream of water sitting oddly still in a crevice in the land. Two had never seen a stream that didn't move. It seemed to have swirly patterns of colors on its surface. She looked to the sky and saw no rainbow. What could cause this color and why didn't the stream move?

She held her wings up to caution Little One and Little Two who were about to run splashing into the stream. Poking her bill into the water, she pulled back suddenly. Never before had Two experienced such a dreadfully harsh taste and some of the strange water even seemed to linger on her bill after she withdrew it. This water could not belong to the Holy One, she thought. It cannot be part of His Way. She had never before encountered water that did not seem alive but that was how this water seemed to her.

As she beckoned the ducklings away from this strange stream, Two's mind again drifted to thoughts of the Holy One. She wondered where He was now. She needed His help desperately and yet the world around her felt utterly empty of His presence. Not only was Little Three gone - she still could not really grasp this reality - but now even the water was not right.

Had the Holy One gone away? Had He left her alone because she had been bad? Or had He left their whole world? She certainly could not ask Little One and Little Two if they could feel Him. It would frighten them to even consider such a question, much less to hear it spoken by their mother. Yet she could not help but wonder - for the world around her was no longer the world she had always known.

Again, the ducklings were restless and starting to squawk thirsty sounds. And so Two did the only thing she could do: she began once again to walk...

(to be continued...)