That afternoon, Timmy climbed up the lush, green mango tree, its widespread branches laden with fruit, and onto the branch with the nest on it where it forked. The yellow-beaked myna was nowhere in sight. But he could spy three little hatchlings squeaking about, waiting for their mummy to return. With snappy, wriggly worms no doubt.
He sidled across the branch, carefully, and then leaned over to have a closer look.
Just as he’d thought. Three little squeaky things. Noisy with hunger. Or fear.
With his pudgy fingers, he poked their fluffy, feathery bellies, ignoring their anxious chirps, and fed them pebbles and twigs covered in their own droppings. He almost puked on touching a wad of fresh droppings himself. And hurriedly wiped his soiled fingers on the mango leaves, the branch, with disgust. “That’s it,” he said. “Nothing else to see or do here, unless …”
Afternoons became a time of great danger at the Duck Pond Inn. And everybody tried to avoid the boy at first.
When he came, all creatures ran for cover. Those who could climb up the trees, dashed up them. Those who could burrow, burrowed even faster. And those who could fly, flew away swiftly to the outer trees. Far from the reaches of the wicked boy. Or so they thought.
For the brute was persistent. And moved through the foliage methodically, like a skilled hunter. Scanning the tree line, the shoreline, the grounds with his binoculars. Ready to trick and torture anything that moved.
“Bang, bang,” went Timmy as he began his reign of terror against the inhabitants of Duck Pond Inn with a steady firing of his air gun. His first targets, the many visiting ducklings (Old Mr. and Mrs. Duck’s great-grandchildren) playing catch in the pond. Their very sleepy and content grandparents, happy to have the kids for the summer, dozing nearby.
“What was that?” asked Old Mrs. Duck nudging her husband, as she woke up to the first wave of shrieks ripping through the woods. And let out a feather-ruffling shriek of her own.
“Duffy playing dirty again, is he?” muttered Old Mr. Duck lazily, stifling a yawn. One half-opened eye scanning for the miscreant, the other one already ready to doze off.
To their horror, it wasn’t Duffy. Or Fluffy. Or Snuffy for that matter. Who looked up to Duffy as if he were some sort of a cool dude. It was the boy from the cottage. Taking potshots at their great-grandkids. Flashing his wicked, wicked grin.
At first glance, Timmy was a chubby ten-year-old with a gummy smile and puffy cheeks begging to be squeezed and pulled at. And when his parents approached the old man to look after their boy during the summer holidays, while they were off to work, he saw no different. In fact, he took an immediate liking to the boy.
“Sure,” he said to Mrs. and Mr. Bens, one too short and cheerful and the other too tall and grave, perched on the edge of their armchairs. “As long as the dogs don’t bother him and he doesn’t mind spending time downstairs, helping this old man out. These rickety old knees can’t make it up and down the stairs anymore, I’m afraid,” he chuckled, much to the embarrassment of the hosts who had invited him upstairs for tea.
“Of course,” they said together, their bulbous, wide-opened eyes blinking at him rapidly through matching square-framed glasses. “He wouldn’t be a bother at all. Not our Timmy. No, not at all.”
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.