There Once was an Ugly Duckling
There once was an ugly duckling, with feathers all stubby and brown.
When he was very young, something happened to his Mom and Dad. Perhaps someone had adopted them and put them in a duck pond somewhere. He only knew that he hadn’t seen them in a very long time, so he had no one to protect him. He was all on his own.
All the other ducklings, who were fuzzy and yellow and didn’t look like him at all, made fun of him and gave him a hard time.
They pecked at him. They quacked at him. They made fun of the fact that he didn’t have a Mom and Dad. They thought his short brown feathers looked stupid and named him Stubby. They wouldn’t let him dabble in the slime in his favourite slime-pond.
One duckling in particular didn’t like him. His name was Wakwak and he quacked at him in a very mean way. “Wakwak,” he said, “we’re better than you, wakwak.”
When the ugly duckling asked why, Wakwak just said, “Because we’re fuzzy and yellow. And you’re not.”
That didn’t make much sense to Stubby, because he knew it didn’t matter what you looked like on the outside. But the other ducks disagreed with him and picked on him all the time.
Still, he was lucky because he did have one very good friend. It was another duckling who looked even uglier than he did, all lumpy and grey like mildew. “Let’s stick together,” Tuffy said to him.
He was called Tuffy because he was so tough. When the yellow ducklings quacked at him, he honked right back at them and sometimes scared them away.
Tuffy said to his friend, “You need someone to protect you.” So Tuffybegan to scare the yellow ducklings away when they were mean. Stubby managed to avoid the darting blows of the tiny little orange bills for a while.
They had such wonderful times together in the duck pond! Stubby was so glad that he had finally found a friend.
But then one day Tuffy said:
“You know, Stubs, I’ve been asked to go swim with those guys over there.”
"You mean those yellow ducklings? After what they did to us?”
"You mean those yellow ducklings? After what they did to us?”
“Ah, they’re not so bad. They want me to protect them from those mean geese over there.”
Stubby wondered how the geese could be any meaner than the yellow ducklings.
“When will you be back?”
“Oh, maybe next year when we’re all grown up. But don’t worry, the time will fly by.”
But the time didn’t fly by, and Stubby got very discouraged and lonelyand one day decided to leave this unfriendly flock and go somewhere
where he could at last find some peace.
He walked for seventeen miles on a dirt road until he realized he couldswim a lot faster to where he wanted to go (as far away as possible!), so he found a nearby lake and swam and swam and swam and swam and swam.
He finally found a quiet cove where he could be alone and peaceful. But then he heard something. A croak. A really loud croak. It sounded like a frog. The biggest frog in the world!
Soon he found the lake was anything but peaceful: there were bullfrogs everywhere!
There were so many bullfrogs croaking that he felt like he was in a field of cows!
“I am the Bullfrog King, ribbit ribbit”, said a big fat bullfrog.
“Ah shaddap. I’m the Bullfrog Queen and I’m a lot bigger and smarterthan you.”
The two bullfrogs began to arm-wrestle each other with their slimy green arms and try to poke at each other’s bulging bullfrog eyes. Stubby was shocked! He had never seen anything so mean in his life. This was worse than being pecked at by those little yellow beaks.
“Stop!” Stubby cried to the two wrestling frogs. Don’t you know it’s wrong to hurt another person?” he cried.
“We’re not people. We’re frogs. Who are you anyways?”
“I’m Stubby, the Ugly Duckling, with feathers all stubby and brown.”
“Well, I’m the Frog King and I’m all slimy and green. RIBBIT!” He and the girl frog went right on fighting and throwing clumps of slime at each other.
Stubby was failing in his role as a peacekeeper. It was very discouraging. Even the dragonflies were hissing at each other. Was anybody really getting along in this lake? Why was everyone so mean to each other?
The days grew shorter and colder. Soon Stubby realized his wings were still too small for him to fly, so he couldn’t join all the grownup ducks as they migrated south to keep warm for the winter. He could hear them quacking above him as they flew in a v-formation across the sky.
“I wonder if my Mom and Dad are in that flock,” he sighed. Then suddenly he realized something. The first few flakes of snow were beginning to fall and settle on his stubby brown feathers. He had to find some way to keep warm – and soon! So he had some quick thinking to do. “If I can’t migrate,” he said, “maybe I can hibernate instead.”
“Hibernate” means you sleep all winter, so you have to do it in a warmplace. He began to dig a hole in the ground with his bill, but the ground was full of icky worms.
He began to look for a cave, and found a nice warm cozy one, but all of a sudden a giant grizzly bear roared at him, and he waddled quickly away going wakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwaaaaaaaaaaak!
Finally he found a hollow log and nestled down in it for the winter, hoping he would be warm enough and stay asleep so he wouldn’t be hungry.
But it wasn’t very warm in the hollow log. In fact it wasn’t warm at all.
Soon he began to shiver. How could he ever get through the winter in a freezing cold place like this?
But then: he heard something.
A familiar sort of honking noise.
He couldn’t believe it! It was Tuffy!
“Tuffy! What are YOU doing here?”
“Those other ducklings weren’t so friendly. You were right. They just wanted to make fun of me ‘cause I’m grey and lumpy. Hey, you’re taking my log.”
“No, Tuffy. Nobody’s going to bully me this time. I’m staying. Besides, we can snuggle up together and keep each other warm.”
“Aw, all right, move over. And don’t take the best spot.”
As the weather grew colder and colder, the two ducklings spent more and more time sleeping. Soon they were in a deep sleep and were so still, they looked like two statues.
But then the first rays of spring began to penetrate the holes in the top of the hollow log. Stubby blinked his shiny little eyes and nudged Tuffy with his wing.
“Get up, it’s spring,” he said.
“Oh man, I feel like I slept for three months!”
But then Tuffy noticed something, and Stubby noticed something. Over the winter, they had changed. They had grown up, and now they looked completely different.
Stubby looked magnificent, with a shiny green head, a copper-coloredchest, soft silver feathers on his tummy, and a white ring around his
neck. He had grown into a beautiful mallard drake. He tried out his
quack a few times and was very happy with it.
But Tuffy. . . well, he wasn’t so lucky. He looked sort of weird: stringy grey feathers were poking through the moldy-looking grey fuzz on his back. His neck was very long and bent. His beak looked funny too, very long, and bluish-black.
“Tuff, I don’t know how to tell you this, but. . .”
Tuffy ran to the lake and jumped in. He bent his long neck and looked at his reflection.
“Ay, ay, ay, ay,” he said. “What a mess!”
“Oh, it’s not so bad, Tuff. Maybe you’re becoming a stork or something.”
“This is the limit. Sorry friend, I’m running away before the duck police catch up with me.”
Tuffy waddled away very quickly, hiding his head under his wing, andStubby realized he was alone again.
that being handsome didn’t mean his problems were over.
But just when he thought he’d be alone for the rest of his life, he heard something from far away.
A sort of wakwak sound.
He looked over towards the far side of the lake and saw a whole flock of ducks swimming toward him. He remembered how mean those ducklings had been and wondered whether he should try to stand up to them, or just run away.
But then he noticed something: these ducks looked just like him! Theyhad shiny green heads and rings around their necks and nice fat squatty bodies. They wack-wacked in a friendly manner.
Taking a deep breath, he jumped into the lake.
Just then a very pretty girl duck with ruffly golden-brown feathers swam up to him. “Hey! Aren’t you that duck they used to call Stubby?”
“Oh. Um. No. Well, yes. But that was a long time ago.”
“I used to see those other ducklings giving you a hard time, but my Mom didn’t want me to swim away from our flock to defend you.”
“That’s OK, my friend Tuffy defended me. That is, until he ran away.”
“You know, Stubby, you’re a legend among the ducks. Everyone admires the way you refused to be nasty to those mean ducklings. They bullied you, but you wouldn’t bully them back.”
If a duck could blush, Stubby would have blushed at that moment.
“By the way,” he asked, “whatever happened to all those fuzzy yellow ducklings?”
“Look over there.”
He saw a flock of very ordinary-looking ducks dabbling around in the water. Really, they weren’t any better-looking than he had been, with his feathers all stubby and brown. He thought he saw Wakwak in the flock, but when he tried to catch his eye, he swam away.
“They were much cuter as fuzzy yellow ducklings.”
“Too bad they didn’t stay that way,” his new friend said.
“But it doesn’t matter what you look like,” Stubby said.
The girl ducked looked at him. “No, you’re right. That’s not important.”
Stubby didn’t know how to act around girl ducks. He told himself thatshe was a girl, and she was his friend, but she wasn’t his “girl friend”.
But he liked her so much that one day he decided that maybe she was, after all.
Ducks get married just like people do, and they stay together for always.
So the two ducks decided to spend the rest of their lives together, have a family of their own and be happy.
And that might be the end of the story, except. . . wait a minute, what happened to Tuffy?
What happened to that weird-looking duckling with all the ugly grey feathers and the geeky long neck?
Well, one day he saw a flock of swans gliding around in the water. Swans!
Everyone knew they didn’t like outsiders. They were proud and thought they owned the lake.
In a panic Tuffy looked around for a place to hide. But by then he wastoo big to hide in the marsh grass, and they saw him.
“Ay, ay, ay, ay,” he said. “The jig is up.”
But then something truly amazing happened. One of them waved his giant white wing and said, “C’mon, brother, we need a big swan to swim at the end of the line.”
“Why are you asking me? I’m all grey and lumpy. I’d ruin your colour scheme.”
The swan laughed (honk, honk, honk!). “Haven’t you looked in the mirror lately?”
Tuffy bent his head – it was easy to do, since he had such a long curvy neck – and saw that he had grown up to be a beautiful swan!
Now he saw why swans were so proud! He bent his bill to kiss hisreflection in the water. “I’m gorgeous!” he said.
He was very pleased with himself. But he was still a bit confused.
“How come somebody has to swim at the back of the flock?”
“We need a wingman. Swans get hunted, so we have to watch out all the time. And people are always trying to capture us and put usin parks and stuff. ”
“That doesn’t sound like much fun.”
“It isn’t. But we’re gorgeous, so we try to make the best of it.”
So Tuffy, whose new name was Sebastian Swan, swam over to the flock and took up his position in the rear. He was never captured and put in a park, but he found out that the life of a swan can be harder than he thought. Being beautiful doesn’t guarantee an easy life.
Meanwhile, Stubby (whose name was now Montgomery Mallard, Monty for short) settled down with Melinda Mallard, and they had a very large family of ducklings whose feathers were all stubby and brown. Once in a while he saw Tuffy (Sebastian Swan) gliding around in the lake with his family of cygnets (baby swans), who were lumpy and grey like Tuffy used to be.
But Monty Mallard told all his duckling children never to make fun of the cygnets. “They can’t help it if they’re swans,” he said. “Not everybody gets to be beautiful brown ducklings, like you.”
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