“Grab Marlon honey but leave him in his box until we get closer to the pond. Hurry please, your mom is waiting on us.”
Taylor and her father carried the tattered five ream 11” x 17” paper box down to the water bank, seven small holes strategically poked so the small duck could breathe.
“Is Marlon going to be safe, dad?” the little girl asked while holding on to her father’s hand.
“Yes, Taylor.” her dad responded. “This is his home. He belongs here.”
“Are you sure his wing is healed? He never tries to fly.”
“Yes, honey. He’s a duck. He can fly. C’mon now, your mom is waiting.”
The girl’s father pulled the duck out of the box and set the duck down at the edge of the iced tea colored water. “It’s time to go home, Marlon” the father said as he stroked the duck’s dark brown hair, his yellow spots blending in with the brown like a melted banana fudge pop. Marlon’s hair was still fluffy from the bath Taylor gave him the night before. The family loved and cared for Marlon, but now the duck’s wing was healed, and he needed to be returned to his true habitat.
“Say goodbye to Marlon, honey. We can always come back and visit him.” the dad said.
The little girl pet Marlon once more before her and her dad got back in their vehicle and headed home.
Marlon could hear the snap of the van door and the engine rumble faded as Taylor and her dad drove away.
“Kicked out on the street, huh puffy?” said a noise in the vicinity of a small, dark green rock about five feet from the water’s edge.
Marlon took inventory of the bare trees contouring the pond. The autumnal orange and yellow leaves buried the soil, the fading chlorophyll eulogized until next spring.
“Over here in the shell, beak face.” the little green rock spouted as he watched the duck waddle in circles trying to find the strange sound’s origins.
A small, army green pointed head extended its way out of the shell. Yellow lines ran down the turtle’s neck and red circles were positioned above each of the turtle’s eyes.
“You and your capturers disrupted my nap, Duckleberry Finn. The name is Terrance.” the turtle said.
“I’m Marlon” the duck replied confused, unsure of what was unfolding. “Why aren’t you in the water? Aren’t you too small to be out here by yourself?”
“Not much of a swimmer. Scared of the water.”
“Not much of a swimmer? Don’t you live in water?” the duck asked as he looked in Terrance’s direction then glanced back at the pond where he thought Terrance should be.
“Well Marl, it’s like this…” Terrance’s head was now fully protruded from his shell, slightly cocked as he stared Marlon in his beak. “I’m not so different than you. I had some humans, umm, what did they refer to it as, oh, ‘rescue’ me from the hard surface over there and then subsequently held me in a box over a few nights. Apparently, us turtles can’t wander into the whitish-gray paths that stretch all over the place because of something called ‘cars’. They’ll ‘flatten’ you say the humans…Obviously, I wanted to get out of there and get back to my brothers and sisters, so…I escaped, but they ended up catching me and holding me in a giant clear box. Every morning they would give me these yucky little gray pellets…but I would never eat them, I would never eat them, Marl. So, one morning the smaller human pulled me out of the container because he thought I was ‘sick’, all because I didn’t want to eat the freaking pellets. They tasted like toenails Marl, I’m telling you. Eventually the tiny human’s owner placed me back in the smaller box I arrived in and returned me to this pond. The only problem is my brothers and sisters are gone. I need to find them.”
As the turtle continued talking, Marlon walked to the pond’s edge and pushed off the bank, creating a small ripple in the water behind him. He dove toward the bottom contemplating everything Terrance had just told him.
Marlon returned from underwater ready to learn more about his new friend. “Terrance, come check out all of the—"
“Hey feather head, would you quit your splashing already. You’re not a very graceful swimmer for a duck.” Terrance said.
“Come join me for a swim?” Marlon asked.
“Absolutely not. Terrance and water do not mix.”
“What do you mean, you’re a turtle? Please tell me you weren’t being serious about your water trepidations.”
Terrance pulled his head halfway back into the cavity of his shell.
“Really couldn’t tell you if I can or can’t swim, Marl. I don’t do water. Gives me the heebie jeebies. Just shooting it straight.” Terrance sniffed at the leaves, looking for remnants of decay to munch on.
Marlon laughed hysterically, splashing the water in amusement. “You don’t do water? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.” Marlon thought about that for a second. “Then, how are you going to…” Marlon gulped, “survive?”
“Well, that’s where you come along. I was waiting for you to wrap up your little kumbaya with your parole officers so I could ask a favor of you.”
“And what might that be?”, Marlon asked.
“I…Need…You…” Terrance made a circle motion in the air with his hand, “to fly around this area and see if there are any more ponds, see if you can find my family for me. But first, would you be so cordial as to use your magnificent, and might I say obnoxiously awkward swimming technique to bring me some of those delicious, tiny little fish I see swimming at the bottom of the pond, please sir?”
“I can do that, but…on one condition. Tell me why you are afraid of the water?” Marlon asked.
Terrance walked to the edge of the pond and peered cautiously into the water then refocused so he could see his reflection on the water’s surface.
“DUCKKKKKK” Marlon shouted.
“Yeah, I get it. You’re a duck…” Terrance scoffed.
A gush of wind parted the top layer of fallen leaves, exposing the bare ground. A red-tailed hawk snatched the rear of Terrance’s shell with his talons. The hawk’s wing gusts were so powerful that he lost grip of the baby turtle sending Terrance tumbling, end over end. Marlon turned to witness the commotion before noticing Terrance fully retracted in his shell, plunging from a few feet in the air back down to the soil, toppling over more times than Marlon could count.
“Oh my God oh my God oh my God…am I dead?” the turtle asked in a panic, still enclosed in his shell.
“Obviously not Terrance, you’re still talking…” Marlon said as he rolled his eyes.
“Did you see the size of that HAWK? Holy turtle pellets! He blocked out the entire sun.” Terrance said, still scared to poke his head out of his shell.
“I can’t hear you, Terrance. You’re muffled.” said Marlon.
The tip of Terrance’s nose cautiously appeared. “Marlon, we need to move somewhere safe. Can you fly me to another pond? I’ll have to hang on to you.”
Marlon walked closer to Terrance so that he could hear him. “I. CAN’T. FLY. There, I said it.” Marlon said.
Terrance scrunched his tiny turtle nose at Marlon in confusion. “You have two wings attached to your body, but…you can’t fly? Explain that to me Marlon because I’m a little shell shocked.”
“I can’t fly, and I can’t help you find your family. Everything I need to live is in this pond. I’m sorry, Terrance. I can teach you how to swim so you can protect yourself or whatever else you need, but I can’t leave this pond.”
“This is coming from a bird who…is afraid of heights…or flying...or whatever birdbrain reason you’re feeding me. Some help you are.”
Terrance fully extended his head out of his shell.
“Look, I need to find my family, and you’re my only legitimate hope of that. Not to mention, do you see anyone else out here, Marl? The ducks have gone home to roost, or is that chickens? Either way, every creature that looks like you except that pyscho that just tried to eat me has flown south to warmer temperatures.” The turtle gave a slight shrug as he loosened up the last of his near-death jitters.
Marlon slowly paddled back and forth, not sure how to convince the turtle to stay. “I’ll be fine here, Terrance. I promise.”
“You know, even for a duck you’re a bit on the quacky side” Terrance shot Marlon a smirk, the yellow lines on the bottom of his face fully stretched.
“I must be going then, Marlon. I was hoping you could help me but if not, I’ll have to find my own way.” Terrance took a few steps from the pond before he noticed the echo of his empty stomach. “On second thought, think you could catch me those minnows, please? Before I take off. That should get me to my next stop.”
“That’s fine. I’ll grab you some minnows.” Marlon responded in frustration.
Marlon submerged into the pond pretending to search for a group of minnows. I’m going to be all alone when he leaves, Marlon thought as he swam aimlessly near the bed of the pond.
Suddenly, the water darkened, blocking out the midday rays of sunshine that pierced through the water’s surface. Marlon looked up to see Terrance trapped in the hawk’s talons, this time the hawk flew with a renewed urgency.
“Marlon.” Terrance’s scream was faintly audible as Marlon breached the water.
Marlon waddled on to the bank as he flapped his wings for takeoff. His feet never left the ground. He circled back and positioned himself on a straight away, not far from the water’s edge. It’s now or nothing, Marlon thought. Marlon darted forward as fast as he could, his bottom-heavy torso made it hard to maintain balance. Flap your wings, flap your wings he thought. After a few feet of stumbling, he noticed he was no longer touching the ground. I’m in the air. Let’s go rescue my friend.
He could see the hawk in the distance, still clasping the tiny green dot. Marlon flapped his wings faster and faster until the little green dot came into view.
BAM. Marlon collided with the hawk’s legs sending him and Terrance tumbling into the neighboring pond below.
Marlon landed on his side, thudding into the mud with a duck-sized indentation. Dazed, he lifted his head to determine where Terrance was before noticing the turtle crashing into the shallow water a few feet away.
Marlon hurried over to Terrance, peering inside his shell to see if there was any movement. The turtle lay upside down in the water as Marlon nudged him to shore with his beak.
“Terrance, are you ok? Wake up in there.” shouted Marlon. “Wake up.”
Terrance’s head popped out of his shell like a rocket. “Yo Marl, you just saved my shell. Man, you’ve got a pair of eggs on you.”
“Are you hurt?” Marlon asked.
“Safe and sound, but I was about to be hawk meat…Thank you. If I ever see my brother and sisters, I am going to tell them all about you, how you saved their little brother. The highest-flying duck I ever saw. Going to be a great story, Marlon.”
Terrance lowered his head as he thought about his family.
Several behind Terrance, five little green heads with yellow striped jawlines were poking their noses out of the water membrane.
“Is that you Terrance? You were flying.” said one of the turtles.
“Tony. Lionel. Eddie. Ezekiel. Annie.” Terrance shouted his brothers and sister’ names proudly.
“We thought you were going to be turtle soup, Terrance.” Lionel said smiling at Terrance.
Marlon stood at the edge of the water as he watched all five turtles make their way towards Terrance. Terrance straddled across the muddy bank to greet them, the yellow on his jawline illuminated with elation. Before Terrance knew it, he was neck deep in the pond swimming excitedly towards his family. The turtles circulated around each other, each taking a renewed look at their younger brother Terrance.
“Hawk Killer. Hawk Killer.” the turtles shouted in concert. “You killed a hawk.”
Terrance smiled at his family then noticed Marlon standing by himself. Terrance swam towards Marlon before crawling out of the water to salute him. “This is the true hero, guys…and we aren’t hawk killers, we’re just friends…and he saved my life.. You could have been hurt, Marlon.” Terrance said.
Marlon looked at Terrance and then towards Terrance’s family as all ten eyes now focused on the duck. “I did what any friend would do, plus who was I going to give half my minnows to?” Marlon smiled.
“Well, I guess you found what you were looking for, buddy?” Marlon said.
“Yeah, we’ve got the band back together.” Terrance said as he looked at his family.
“Well, I’m no longer needed here, Terrance. Better head back.” Marlon walked away from the six turtles wondering if he would ever see his own family again.
“Hey feather face, why are you so hung up on the other pond. It’s vacant over there other than you and your minnow buddies.”
Marlon knew he hadn’t been honest with Terrance. He had to tell him the truth.
“I probably should have told you this earlier, but I didn’t want to leave the other pond because I was waiting for my mom and my brothers and sisters to come back looking for me. I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I got lost as an egg. I heard them waiting for me, but one day the noise went silent. All I could hear was the water brushing up against my shell. By the time my egg broke, my family was gone and next thing I knew I was being transported in a box by the family you saw drop me off. I just assumed if I stayed at the pond, they would come back for me.” The duck said.
Terrance fully extended his green head out of his shell and looked at the other turtles, a tear trickling down his cheek. “Marlon is my family too. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. Can he come live with us?”
The turtles huddled close to each other as you could hear them whispering.
“He’s a duck, he can’t be a part of our family.” Lionel said.
“Well, he did fight a hawk…and saved our little brother.” Annie said.
“OF COURSE, he can, Terrance. Welcome to the family, Marlon…that is, if you’ll have us.” the turtles said concertedly.
Marlon wiped his right eye with his light-yellow wing, trying to conceal his tears.
“I would love to be a part of your family. Thank you.”
Marlon and Terrance walked back towards the water, “Now can we go for that swim?” Marlon asked.
“You first.” Terrance answered.
Terrance slid quickly into the pond and completely submerged himself as he dove towards the water bottom. After swimming on the pond bed for a second, Terrance swam back up the surface with a minnow, halfway wiggling out of his mouth. “You catch your own food though.” Terrance said muffled as he struggled to get the last half of the minnow down.
“Agreed.” Marlon laughed as he jumped out of the water, wildly flapping his wings into the sky. After a dozen or so flaps, Marlon tucked both of his wings to his side and dove straight down in the middle of the six turtles engulfing the entire family with his splash.