Before the boy, the Duck Pond Inn, run by Old Mr. and Mrs. Duck of the Barnyard Ducks of the East, was a happy, lively place.

Old Mr. and Mrs. Duck, older than most people and farms in the village, older than time itself, you may think, their feathers greyer than the grey of a stormy afternoon sky, more beaten-down and worn-out than a well-worn duvet, were a friendly lot.

And they got along with all their long-time tenants.

The Frog brothers who lodged in the thick, knee-high grass along the pond’s edge. The Parrots, Sparrows, and Mynas that nested high up in the lush fruiting trees that followed. The house dogs, Lazy and Tiny, though they weren’t technically their tenants. And even Mr. and Mrs. Bunny and their restless kids that raced about all day, in circles and zigzag waves, on the lawn beyond.

They lived off the land and off the travelers who brought news and stock from far-off, exotic lands in exchange for safe lodging.

The cranes were the most fun. Noisy, spirited, fast talkers — when they got partying, the hours ceased to matter. And the sun might as well have risen from the west, for no one was up at that hour anymore.

The deer were the worst. They bought with them foxes from the woods, with a taste for birds and animals alike. For hours they’d cry after the deer, unable to leap over the wall. Making it hard for anyone to catch a decent wink. But so far the stone wall that ran all around the farm, as high and wide above the ground as it was below, had protected them.

And Old Mr. and Mrs. Duck were much grateful for it.

Since they had been here from the start, Old Mr. Duck was in the habit of constantly reminding them of it.

“Why, it was practically all scummy and weedy when we’d gotten here, wasn’t it?” he’d say spiritedly to his missus, whenever any one came around to their home, Tree Hollow by the Pond. “And now look. It’s a paradise for you lot.”

But when the audience, bored or annoyed by the old duck’s boastful ramblings, asked as to how they’d found this place to begin with, Mrs. Duck would only shudder and sigh, and Mr. Duck would shake his head mysteriously, “well, that’s a story for another time, isn’t it?” And change the subject to how soft they had all become, relying so heavily on the services provided by Grampy, the old man who lived with the two dogs in the cottage on the farm, a stone’s throw away from the pond. Its shimmering surface hardly visible from the cottage however, shielded as it was from view by the surrounding trees.

“You don’t know the meaning of a hard day’s work,” he’d say to the young ones particularly, shouting soft, soft, soft, in between pruning his frontyard or raking the pond for imaginary leaves, till all of them, young and old, would come up with some excuse to drift, fly, or scurry away.

Yes, Grampy had spoiled them all. Feeders overflowing with seeds. Sprinklers freshening the lawn beyond. Not a stray leaf disturbing the mirror-like surface of the pond.

Everything was indeed hunky-dory, agreed the creatures when safely out of Mr. Duck’s ever-shrinking earshot. Till the old man decided to sublet his cottage — and the boy with a wicked grin came to stay and ruined it all.

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