kindness doesn't pay cash.
Please do not rate this story at all. While it is part of a contest collection, it is not part of the competition. Rating this story will unfairly rank it against eligible competitors. And that would be 9 parts of lame.
This story isn't designed to make a case for anything, and I'll leave it to the impartial reader to take from it what they will. I can tell you this. The story is true.
If you were there, where this story took place, in the Spring of 2007, you would have seen a wide variety of kennels and cages, sprawled upon a fallow field. A small structure just off a gravel laneway coming into the field, modestly kept up, had only the necessary siding and windows to preserve it from the elements.
There was activity about as perhaps dozen people made their way from the building to the kennels, stooping to open the small crates or peer in through the chicken wired casings. A cool breeze was making its way through the open air, but the smell of mud it carried further reinforced the Sun's warm reminder that Spring's presence was not turning back. Most of these people were young people, dressed casually, after all, it was a Sunday, and despite the fact that no one was being paid, one would have gathered from their carefree and giddy demeanour that there was nowhere else they would rather have been.
It is April 2007.
Here at a small, rural wildlife refuge, wounded animals are tended to and restored to the wild. Orphaned squirrels are fed with syringes, and the volunteers care enough about the tiny squirrels' wellbeing that they offer no affection, their resolved tough love set in the disciplined understanding that any offset of their ward's independence will inevitably stunt their ward's future ability to survive when returned to where they belong.
Today there is an excitement beyond that of a normal day. While one would expect a certain amount of camaraderie and excitement to be part of such an intrinsic effort, today there is a palpable inrease in the rythm of the Centre's bloodline. Voices carry a little higher pitch and volunteers are a little quicker in carrying out their assigned chores.
It as if Christmas is would be expected within the week.
Everyone seemed to be talking about Lucy. Lucy is the female mallard duck that returned to the centre. There was no question that this could be any other mallard duck. Despite the tag on her ankle, unquestionably defining her as a registered Centre survivor, these folks had been around animals long enough to see beyond their usual markings enough to not their individual characteristics.
This was Lucy, brought in the year before as a starving duckling and adopted and cared for, in a kennel, away from predators until she had matured and literally earned her wings. Then, like all successful animal interventions, Lucy had been set free, off to fly into the wild where she belonged.
Lucy, in a most uncommon move had returned and built a nest beside the barn adjacent to the lot upon which the Centre operated, under a set of wooden deck chairs. It was not a normal thing for an animal to voluntarily set up shop so close to such high activity, and the crew knew well enough not to interfere.
She was, though far enough away to keep her independence but close enough that the staff were able to find a reason to peer over frequently, like proud parents watching her bustle about her nest.
So, the morning when the crew had arrived to find Lucy's missing, a heavy feeling hung in the air. Signs were evident that Lucy, her nest and her eggs were likely raided by a rogue raccoon. Lucy would have stayed to defend them, but by the remnants of eggshell scattered throughout the ransacked nest, her failure was obvious. Her absence would likely indicate that she escaped, at best mortally wounded. Nature, they would tell you, only seems cruel. Raccoons, do, have to eat too.
Things go on at rehabilitation centres with the acceptance that death is in fact a part of life, and not hardening oneself to that reality only slows down the progress of perseverance.
Cynicism, however is a heavy fog and it managed to seep it's way in through heavy hearts. Lucy had made this realization personal. Her return and consequent death was a blow to the oft shaky conviction that against overwhelming odds, at the very least, a difference was being made.
Of course, though, this story has a happy ending. A fantastic one. Wanna hear it? Let's go.
It was a couple days later when excitement struck camp. Lucy had flown in, from across the highway. Her excited state was evident to the volunteers gathered around to be one sounding of alarm and distress. She had flown directly into the centre of the shelter's lot.
Then from her beak, she dropped a shard of a broken egg.
And then she turned around. While others would only attribute this type of sensate response to a dog or a cat, the volunteers knew that Lucy wanted them to follow her.
Lucy picked up her pace, now choosing to fly, taking great care not to move so far ahead as to lose her flightless friends, and with this dynamic and fro type of communication as her delivery, took them to the farmer's harvested hay field across the road.
The persevering mother had not been deterred, choosing to lay her second batch of eggs in the cover of a grown hayfield. Here, the volunteer's discovered what Lucy would not have known in her determined efforts. Out of the twelve of the eggs that she had again laid, many were were badly cracked, a result of the farmer's tractor, that morning, harvesting the hay that wherein Lucy had chosen to hide her eggs..
Nothing could be done. There had been, though good news. Lucy was alive, and two of the eggs looked to be not so badly cracked that they may have survived.
That didn't happen either.
Against all odds, days later, Lucy did return to the centre, across the road, proudly leading ten, healthy, fluffy ducklings. And she led them straight into the empty pen, where she had herself been raised, claiming it for her own family's use. She asked for and received no assistance, as clearly she was more than capable.
Lucy, from from her own experience, knew that this was a safe haven. And she wasn't going to take any more chances.
Eventually, when they were ready, they left, strong, capable flyers to forge their lives independent in whatever natural land they could find, and never returned.