It was a Drake and Stormy Night


by Terry Hogan


It was a drake and stormy night.  Donald stood along the edge of the lake.  Rain poured down and beaded off his feathery white back.  Lightning flashed as quickly as an ax on a Thanksgiving turkey.  It made him shudder.  It was strange weather for December in Illinois.  Lake Bracken was rising to fill its banks. The recently formed ice groaned in its death throws as it rose and heaved carrying the load of rainwater. The groan was like the sound of an elephant giving birth to triplets.  


But Donald the drake was worried about Ruby. Where was she?  How would she survive in this terrible weather?  And what was the real story about that old man who claimed he needed her help to help the children?  Donald didn't believe it for a second.  It made him so angry that he clenched his beak so tight that it would have hurt his teeth, if he had any.  He always worried about Ruby.  She was a downy soft touch. She'd fall for a sob story like a kingfisher for a shad. He worried it was all over but the splash.


The lightning streaked across the sky again, followed by thunder that sounded like a 12 gauge shotgun from hell itself. It made the lead pellets in his breast hurt just to hear the crash.  His tension rose. His feathers stood on end. He was so hot, he was about to singe.  He listened for the faint whistle of Ruby's petite wings, and he strained to see the seductive curl of her tail feathers.  But there was not a gem in the sky.  Only sleet and then snow to replace the rain.


He was temporarily warmed by the thought of Ruby.  Her fluffy feathers.  The quiet little quack she'd whisper in his ear, if he only had an ear.   He loved her waddle and the perfect "V" she made when she swam in the lake.  And when she'd tilt forward to feed on the lake bottom and her bottom would rise up.  Well, he just couldn't take his eyes off her no matter how hard he tried.  He was, after all, a drake.


Until the stranger showed up, it looked like it was going to be another normal winter at the lake -  swimming around in tight circles to keep a small spot of water open and waiting for the occasional handout of bread, corn,  stale cookies and cake to be tossed their way. But the strange man came.  He saw Ruby. And he began his tale of how he needed Ruby to help the children.  Donald thought, "I need Ruby too." And she has her own pretty good tail.  But there he was.  Alone.  He ached to the very end of his little webbed feet.  Or perhaps that was from the dropping temperature and the snow that was drifting over him. He missed Ruby.  A good duck is hard to find.


Now some of you may think that you are galloping way ahead of me.  Some of you may think that Ruby has a red bill and is going to guide a sleigh for this odd old man.  But some of you may be wrong.


Ruby did play a role with Santa on that magic night.  But she didn't lead the sleigh with her beak so bright.  Rudolph had the role.  And the reindeer were a union shop.  No, Ruby was not even in harness.  Nor did she ride by Santa, using a duck's uncanny sense of migrational abilities to guide him through the darkness. No, Ruby played none of these rolls.


But as jolly Old Saint Nick flew through the sky and shouted his "Ho, Ho, Ho", his big old belly shook.  And he had to loosen his belt a notch. Mrs. Claus had outdone herself with a fine dinner.  And as Santa headed out from the North Pole, she was busy making a down pillow for Santa.  Mrs. Claus was like the hog butchers of Chicago, who made use of everything but the squeal.

Such was the way of Mrs. Claus. Yes, Ruby was involved in slaying on Christmas Eve, but not the one you thought.


It was a drake and stormy night when Santa flew over Lake Bracken.  He didn't even notice the lone duck swimming around in tight circles, looking frequently up into the sky. 


Not all wishes come true on Christmas morning. 


Snoopy heard of this sad tale of a lonely duck.  He decided it deserved to be told.  So he mounted his dog house, and got out his old manual typewriter.  He began the novel that would win him a Pulitzer. His first line will forever register in the hearts of the literate worldÉ.


"It was a drake and stormy night."