Selfish Ducks

Twenty-six evenings later, the creatures of the pond were starting to suspect that the ducks were egomaniacal waterfowl. The rarely-noticed beavers gave the fern leaves knowing glances when the ducks would raise their tail feathers and beaks and splash about as if they owned the pond. Some days there was so much splashing that the fish down below couldn’t get a wink of sleep and the thin green film growing on the surface of the perimeter of the pond could barely survive.

Charles Potashner was speaking to some independent contractors who had been brought in to build a light rail line between Greater Simone and the nearest town. The only problem was that there were no other towns nearby to connect the line to. In fact, at this time, there were no other towns in the entire world. All that existed to anyone’s knowledge was the pond, the new oak tree, some quiet and relatively passive beavers, the film on the surface of the pond, blades of grass, ferns, Charles Potashner, and the befuddled independent contractors themselves. But a job is a job, so those contractors began to lay rail. They decided that since there was no obvious destination for the new light rail line to go they would use the wind as their guide. They probably thought this was a romantic and yet simple solution to their problem. Frankly, Charles thought it was ridiculous, but nothing had been making much sense lately and he didn’t have a better solution to offer so he kept his thoughts to himself. The ducks observed the rail line being built and snickered before flapping off to their 7 pm physics lecture covering how we now use the rules of Quantum Mechanics to design the semiconductor devices like diode lasers, which have given us the internet. Hammering and bulldozing and drilling went on for days and then months and then years. Snow crystals fell on the unused metal tracks and slowly the lines began to snake in and out of the rolling knolls that peaked up from the earth around the pond. The rails went up to the ridges of the hillside and even to the edge of the stony bluffs only to jet right back down again and cross under themselves like a never-ending pretzel or an endless spaghetti noodle.

As the rails grew so did Charles Potashner’s hair. He didn’t care too much about his appearance anymore. He used to cut and straighten his hair when he was a younger man. For a while, he even died it black and the first thought anyone would have when looking at him was “EMO!!”. Back then he would stand in front of mirrors and hate his pimply skin and the craters that those red irritated spots would leave behind after they left. But this was a different time. Ever since finding himself in Simone his thoughts and energy were focused on those around him. He and his body were one and he trusted his body to, more or less, adapt as needed. He had faith in over 2 billion years of evolution to provide him with muscles to swim through the quiet pond and the fat to survive the moderately chilly winters. And so his hair grew. Once he dreamt about being trapped in the turret of a German castle by an evil witch and letting down his hair only to have a Deliveroo driver on a motorised scooter attach a vegan pizza to it. After attaching the pizza, the Deliveroo driver gave the long brown hair a tug to let him know that the food was securely fastened and ready to be lifted. Charles slowly reeled his hair back up through the window, careful not to tangle it, like a fisherman bringing in a marlin. Once the pizza was safely in his room he squirted Sriracha across the top and began to feast.

There was no hierarchical government in Simone. In fact, there was no formal authority at all. So it was impossible for the contractors to definitively know when they should stop building. Mysterious bank transfers were made into their accounts twice monthly so they merrily continued to build. Some worried that the rails would take away from the natural beauty of the pond but Charles found the nonsensical chaos of the rails beautiful in itself. Just then he began to hear a stern voice within his skull. He didn’t know where the voice was coming from but he immediately sensed it was not passing through his ears. Yet, it was unlike any thought he had ever had. The deep and powerful external voice was materialising within his head as if it had not wanted to waste any time taking the traditional route through the eardrums and moving the tiny bones in the middle ear nor bothering to move the fluid in the cochlea. This voice felt as if it began directly as an electrical impulse in the brain and it was clearer than any he had heard before.