Introducing “Finish My Story”! In this column, Culture Editor, Ally Yager, and Editor-In-Chief, Maddy Levin, will be writing short fictional stories based on creative writing prompts and letting our audience finish them. Want your ending published? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your finished story and we’ll let you know if we select it!
Prompt: Describe a lake seen by a young man who has just committed murder. Do not directly mention the murder.
By Maddy Levin
My father was the one who taught me pecking order. I was only eight when he first hit me. Drunk and belligerent, he smacked me so hard across the face I saw stars. Stars. I see them now, hanging high above the lake like pictures of the night. My old man taught me about stars, too. How they were dead and dying. Dead, like–
Quack. The stars cast light on a familiar shape. One lonesome duck wads across the water, stopping on the grassy bank a few yards away from me.
He taught me about ducks, too. How they establish pecking order through fights. Sometimes they’re small skirmishes, occurring only because of aggressive tendencies. Other times they result in death. Death, like–
Quack, quack. Another shadow, bigger than the first, crosses the lake, wading onto the shore with the other duck. It’s the males who get the most aggressive. His voice is in my ear, hot with whiskey.
Quack, quack, quack. They seem to be talking. The quacking intensifies. No, they seem to be fighting, arguing over something. Something.
My father was the one to teach me pecking order. I was only thirteen when he showed me how to butcher a pig. A pig’s anatomy is similar to that of a human’s. His hands gripping shoulders, covered in pig blood and guts. Be careful where you slice it.
The commotion of feathers flapping and loud quacking guides my attention back to the duck fight. To the death. They will fight to the death.
And just like that, the fighting begins. The bigger one pecks first. The smaller one pecks back. Quacking at the top of their lungs. Don’t ever disrespect me like that, he warns, his eyes dark with rage. You know who’s on top. You’re nothing but a pig, I say. He lays a punch across my face. I lay one back.
And just like that, the fighting intensifies. They peck harder, now. More aggressively. Birds of the night, fighting with ferocity of bears in the wild. Tiny but mighty.
And just like that, it is over. The smaller duck wades back into the water. Taking only a second to bask in his glory–his life spared–he glides away, the stars lighting his path.
My father was the one to teach me pecking order. I was only sixteen when I laid a hand on him. Only this time he had nothing to say. Couldn’t say anything.
The duck watches me from across the lake. Its beady eyes meeting mine. His stare so cold it could freeze the lake water.
Male ducks are the only ones who try to dominate humans.