It’s another beautiful day in the village. You stick your head out of your nest at the usual time. The sun is bright today, warm and calming. You draw in a deep breath. The forest air is rich and green. You shake your tail feathers, gather yourself, and let out a loud honk.
The twittering birds pay you no mind. The squirrel on the nearest trunk scarcely pauses his climb up the bark. Even the insects fail to stop their chittering, and you used to eat them before you grew adept at the human art of picnicking.
You cock your head to one side. It is a nice day for a picnic. It’s a nice day to garden. A nice day to go shopping. A nice day to do the wash in the yard. It’s been nearly a week since you did any of those things. A week! Surely it’s time to do at least one of them today.
Casting one last look at your nest—and its trove of collectibles you protect so fiercely, you emerge from your bush, flapping your wings to settle your feathers more neatly around you. You’ll go down to the village today. Surely the mean lady with the broom will be gone by now. And even if she isn’t, those nice ladies at the restaurant might applaud you and give you another flower. You like flowers, but you love applause.
The trip to the village goes swimmingly. The river that wraps around town is cool against your feathers. There are few fish to trouble your way. On the other side of the gate, the garden fence is closed, but you know how to fix that. One twist of your beak, the sprinkler goes on, and the gardener comes running.
He’s always so worried about the water, you think as you waddle along the garden’s neat rows. Don’t humans know that water is good for plants?
The high street is humming with traffic by the time you arrive. You stand in front of the TV repair store for a while, but the shopkeeper doesn’t come out, and so you can’t sneak in. Unfortunately, you won’t get to see how photogenic you are today.
The street is so filled with people that you don’t even have to dodge the nasty shopkeeper and her broom. You contemplate playing with the dinging machine in the corner, but then you see that the crowd of people has congregated at the end of the lane, near the yellow house. They’re standing in a ring, but you can’t see what’s inside.
You waddle down the lane at a cautious speed. What are the silly humans up to, now?
The ring of humans is much taller than you. Thankfully, humans have tall sticks rather than reasonable legs, and the view between them is clear. You approach cautiously, ducking your head beneath a large yellow shopping bag to see better.
In the center of the circle stands a creature. At first, you can’t quite make sense of it. It has a long neck ending in a triangular bill. Its oblong body is covered in feathers. Its legs, thin and spindly, attach to two webbed feet.
It looks very much like a goose.
Very much, that is, except for the colors. Its bill, its graceful neck, even its webbed feet are a dark black. The feathers on its back are mottled brown. Only its stomach feathers and a tiny patch by its eye are goose-colored.
You cock your head to the side, pondering this.
The interloper is not nearly so reflective. It lowers its head, opens its bill, and hisses. Its wings slide backward, and it barrels towards the crowd.
The humans shriek in response. Your secret viewing place is suddenly the middle of a stampede. You flap your wings, desperate to gain a little space, but the humans pay you no mind.
You throw back your head and let out a loud HONK!
This only makes the humans run faster. They scamper back to the market, leaving you alone in the front garden of the yellow house.
Well, mostly alone.
The interloper’s beady eyes are upon you. It is upright once more, rather than in attack position. That’s good, you think. If it is a goose, it might want to be friends.
You waddle forward a few steps. Honk?
The interloper lowers its head. The hiss that echoes from its beak resonates down to the quills of your feathers, low and threatening and decidedly unfriendly.
Well then, you think, drawing yourself up to your full height. You certainly don’t have any time for that.
You honk again, louder this time, more assertive. The interloper eyes you with one beady, black eye. Its wings slide back, spreading outwards.
You barely have time to react before it’s upon you. You honk and squawk and finally, hiss, but that does you no good. The interloper lunges for your feathers, trying to rip them out with its beak.
In the face of such aggression, you have no choice but to flee.
You retreat to the garden. Thankfully, the interloper doesn’t follow. You settle yourself in the carrot patch, smoothing your feathers back to their rightful position with your beak. The gardener gives you a wide berth, and every once in a while, when he isn’t looking, you snatch a bite of carrot.
It’s a peaceful afternoon, especially when compared to the morning. You finish eating and preening and waddle down to the river. What was that thing you encountered on the high street? It certainly sounded like a goose, what with all the honking. The hissing was a little alarming, but you’ve been known to do that too from time to time.
You stop to stare at your reflection in the still waters. Though you hate to admit it, you can see yourself in the interloper. Your body is the same shape, though the color of its feathers are all wrong. Perhaps it’s some kind of mutant? A goose gone wrong?
You resettle your feathers about you and resolve to put it out of your mind.
The next morning you wake up on your nest, content as ever. You waddle out to the forest, shaking your feathers and stretching your neck. The sun is shining once again, and all the things you didn’t accomplish in the village yesterday resurface in your mind. Perhaps you should visit the little gardens behind the houses. That human’s slippers are always dreadfully dirty. Perhaps you could do him a favor by throwing them in the pond.
You swim through the peaceful waters once more, this time angling beneath the bridge and toward the smaller streets of the town. You swim upstream for a while before wading onto land and shaking the water out of your feathers. After that, a short walk past the wishing well and through a narrow alleyway takes you to the newspaper-reading gentleman’s house.
He’s aware, by now, that you get into his yard via a few broken boards in the fence. In spite of that, though, he seems to think that propping them back up after you’ve knocked them down will successfully keep you out.
How silly these humans are. As if a few pieces of wood could keep you out of the garden.
The man sits in his usual chair near the table, newspaper spread before his face. One knee is crossed over the other. A slipper dangles from his toes.
It’s a tempting target. Too tempting. You know better than to try to resist.
You rush forward while the man isn’t looking and seize the slipper in your beak. He doesn’t even notice, and you scamper for the other side of his garden, beyond the neat little hedge row. You waddle up to the pretty little fountain and drop the slipper right in. A cloud of dirt billows from it, darkening the water before it fades away.
Filthy, you think, flapping your wings. What would this human do without you?
You’re about to fetch the other slipper, when you hear a commotion coming from the other side of the fence. You waddle up to it, peering between the slats.
The nosy lady is in her garden per usual, but she’s not snooping today. Nor is she painting. No, she’s standing inside the old bathtub in her yard, shrieking at the top of her lungs. She’s pointing at something, but from this angle, you can’t see what it is. You quickly reach up untie the rope holding the fence together. It clatters to the ground.
Normally, the nosy lady hears that, but not today. No, today, she is caterwauling more fiercely than you could have imagined, and you’ve imagined quite a lot, thanks to the ear-splitting arguments she gets into with her neighbor. The increase in volume is odd. Alarming. You can’t imagine what would make her behave this way.
Until you waddle around the corner and spot the mutant standing next to her oddly-placed tub.
Standing, as a description, is something of an understatement. The mutant is not flapping its wings so much as beating the air with them. It’s drawn itself up to its fullest height. A series of honks escapes with every fervent flap.
Unease begins to bubble up in your gut. You’ve startled the lady many a time—you particularly enjoy standing perfectly still so she’ll put the pretty ribbon on your neck, and then honking like a maniac. But while she’s let out a startled gasp a time or two before, she’s never run away from you. She’s only swiped her ribbon back, shooed you away, and gone on about her painting and her snooping.
Right now, there’s not mild annoyance in the lady’s eyes. There’s outright terror.
You straighten your neck, march up the stairs, and let out an imperious HONK.
The mutant ceases its flapping and turns around. It cocks its head to one side, eyeing you.
The snooping lady sees her chance. She springs from the tub and towards the sliding door of her house. It slams with a thud behind her.
The mutant wheels around, but its too late. She is gone. It hisses at the tub, and then the door, and then, finally, at you.
And you’ve had just enough of that, thank you.
This time, it’s you that ducks your head. It’s you that pulls back your wings. Its you that lets a low, rumbling hiss issue from your throat.
The mutant pulls its head back. Stomps its foot.
The next few minutes are a blur of wings and feathers. The mutant manages to bite you, but you slap it with your wings. The fight carries on across the garden, toppling over the bust and the frog and the windmill. It’s only sheer luck that saves the pretty goose statue. By that time you’re too exhausted to keep it out of your way.
In the end, it’s the wind chimes that save you. You chase the mutant straight into them, setting off a peal of clanging music. The mutant lets out a furious screech of outrage and then, before you know it, it’s gone. Three flaps of its wings carry it off into the air.
Good riddance, you honk at its retreating form. It disappears into the wide, blue sky, and you hope, fervently, that that’s the end of the mutant’s over-aggressive nonsense.
Your luck isn’t that good, of course. The next day, when you waddle into the garden, you find the mutant already there, absconding with the farmer’s hat. That afternoon, you run into him in the restaurant creeping below the tables to steal a serrated knife.
You’re able to go about your business, of course. A few snacks, a little shopping—but the villagers seem unusually hostile to you. Their steps are quicker, and this time, when the broom lady comes after you, she doesn’t just sweep you away—she hits you with it!
All in all, by the time you retreat to your forest nest, you’re sorely aggrieved. Your wings ache from your fight with the mutant, and your tail smarts from your run-in with the broom. To make matters worse, you couldn’t get into the garden today to steal any carrots.
So you sit on your nest, stewing about the evil, territory-stealing mutant until you finally settle into a restless sleep. Tomorrow will be another day, you rationalize. Maybe the thing will be gone.
As if it could be that easy.
Your favorite place in town is, of course, the miniature village. Everything from mock canal to the tiny buildings to the wee people fills you with delight. You don’t know why the humans put such effort into shrinking a bit of their town, but it is a grand playground for a goose.
You swim there first thing the next morning. Stomping the little villagers always makes you feel better when you’re down, and you have been feeling quite down, indeed.
You waddle out of the canal at the usual spot, shaking the water from your tail. It’s a warm day, slightly overcast, and you pause to let the wind ruffle your feathers before moving forward, past the tiny garden and into the town square.
You spend a few minutes stomping on the villagers, taking extra care to squash broom-lady beneath your foot. When your various arch-nemeses have been crushed beneath your webbed foot, you plop down in the midst of their ruined figurines.
You stare around at them in quiet contemplation. It’s an unusual stance for you. On a normal day, you’d be honking in triumph right about now. You’d strut through the rest of the miniature village, a king among peasants. You get a particular joy out of finding the little goose in the village—proof that the villagers recognize your important role within the town—and setting it atop one of the buildings, where it can look down upon its broken, scattered subjects in judgement.
Today though, your heart just isn’t in it. All you can think about is the mutant. It’s been everywhere this past week—at the market, in the back gardens, even in the TV repair shop. You consider yourself a very generous goose—after all, you spend quite a bit of time helping the humans every day—but until a few days ago, this village was your territory, and you find yourself quite opposed to the notion of sharing.
You’re tucking your beak under your wing, settling in for a long nap or a long think, or possibly both, when you hear it. A resounding crash, followed by a deep metallic clang.
You shoot to your feet. You know that clang.
You run around the corner of the miniature village. The mutant is there waiting.
It is taller than you remember. Taller and, in fact, angrier. It stands atop the ruin of the clock tower, neck stretched and wings spread wide. A golden bell dangles from its beak.
For a moment, you can’t see. You can’t think. That’s your bell! You were the one to tear down the previous, flawed version. You were the one to watch from the waterway as the humans unloaded it from its truck and installed it in its place. The idea that some newcomer could just come in and take it is abhorrent. Ridiculous. Beyond the pale.
You’re running before you even realize what you’re doing.
There is no honk that can properly convey your feelings about this situation. No hiss, and no mere beating of wings. You barrel straight towards the mutant, head lowered and wings pulled back.
It doesn’t have time to react. Or maybe it does, and it is too shocked by your aggression to actually move. Either way, you are the first to make contact in this fight.
Your beak rams straight into the mutant’s breast. Its feathers are the same texture as yours, the same size and shape almost, and so you know how much it will hurt when you close your beak on them and yank.
The mutant lets out a startled squawk and drops the bell. It clangs to the pavement, echoing faintly as it rolls away.
You don’t have time to recover it, because the mutant is upon you. Its head drops to the level of yours. Its beak snaps at your face. It is hissing now, a faint, low roar, and you’ve had enough. You are absolutely done with this situation.
You snap your beak down on another clump of feathers.
The mutant honks, a sound of rage and frustration and anger. A wing clips you on the head and you see stars, but you hang on anyway, desperate to rip the feathers off the mutant, to tear it to shreds.
A sharp pain on your neck makes you recoil. You try to rip free of the mutant, only to find that its beak is clamped in your feathers now.
You honk in fury. How dare this, this thing bite you! You, a magnificent goose! The lord of the miniature village! You’ve been the caretaker of this village for years now. Never has your territory been invaded so egregiously. Never has anyone dared to attack!
You rear back, ripping your own feathers out in the process. The pain of it burns. You beat at the mutant with your wings, herding it backwards, across the clock tower courtyard and to the fence. Stay back, you say with every fervent flap of your wings. Stay away.
But the creature will not give ground. No matter how far you push it, it snaps at you with its beak. It hisses at you from deep in its throat. Its wings fly out, and it tries to beat you around the head. Soon, its back is to the fence at the edge of the miniature village. It still will not relent.
Your wings are getting tired. Your breast is terribly sore. You’re exhaling hard through your beak. You want to stop. You need to stop. But you know the second you do, the mutant will come back at you, hard. You’ll be forced to flee. And you can’t flee from this, your most sacred of sanctums.
In the end, you’re saved by the most unlikely of heroes. A shrill whistle splits the air. You pull back from the mutant and see the constable on the other side of the model village’s wall. He is waving his arms wildly, making the odd, strange gestures that the humans sometimes make when you sneak up on them from behind.
Normally, these gestures have no effect on you. But today, you are thankful for the distraction. Your breast heaves with the struggle to draw breath, and as the constable makes to climb over the fence, to chase you away, you are all too happy to indulge him.
You spare one last, fleeting glance at the mutant over your shoulder. It too, is fleeing. Though it cocks its head back at you, glaring with one, beady eye.
A shiver rakes across your feathers. You duck your head and power away, back towards the woods and safety.
You have a slow morning the next day. Though the sun shines as bright as ever, you can’t muster up the enthusiasm to even go for a swim. You lurk about the forest for a few hours, brooding over your nest.
By afternoon, though, you’re bored and not a little bit hungry. You pull yourself together and set out for town.
The sandwich someone’s abandoned on the picnic bench makes a fine meal. You wash it down with a swig of water from the lake. The currents are smooth near the cattails. Calming. Perhaps you’ll risk going into town.
Maybe it’s the mutant’s influence, but for some reason you don’t feel like waddling through the garden today. So you take to the water and float gently through the river, under the bridge, and to the shallows where it narrows. You come ashore there, pausing to shake the water from your feathers.
The wishing well waits for you as always, peaceful and placid. You root around for a moment and find a shiny metal disc on the ground, hidden in the glass. A long time ago, when you were just a wee gosling, you saw a human throw one of these discs into the well. He’d stared at it for a long time afterward, shoulders slumped and head down.
The next week, you’d seen him in the pub, making the honking sound that humans made when they were pleased. The other humans around him were all honking too, and quite prettily at that.
Normally, the magpie in you likes to collect shiny things. You take them back to your nest and use them to decorate. But that day, when you saw the human so loud, so happy—you decided that you, too, would throw some of your shiny things into the well.
You grasp the disc in your mouth and waddle up the stair to the well. For a moment, you stand there, looking at your reflection. You are handsome today. You’re handsome every day. But even in the dark waters, you see the sadness reflected in your eyes. You see the fear of being chased out of town. Of being replaced.
You’re still contemplating your glorious reflection when you hear voices coming from down the path. There are several humans, by the sound of it, and all of them are squawking quite loudly. You set your disc aside, on the lip of the stone well, and turn towards them just as they come around the corner.
They spy you, and an eerie silence descends over them. No more loud squawking. No more agitated honking. There is just the wind whispering through the damp grass.
And then the constable raises his wing at you. “GET HIM!”
The humans rush towards you. Your wings fly out on instinct, but the sight of you, in all your true glory, does not slow them down. Each of the humans is carrying a stick with three sharp, poky things on the end of it. The nearest one jabs his stick at you, and you let out a honk of rage.
Normally the humans are cowed by such displays. But not today. No, today they only come closer and jab harder. One of the poky things hits you on the wing. It stings. You let out a despairing honk. Don’t these humans know who you are? Don’t they remember all you’ve done for them throughout the years?
The humans push you backwards, step by step, towards the canal. They prod at you, fast and sharp, and eventually, you can’t bear it anymore. You turn and run.
The bridge is your best chance for escape. You dive off its edge into the cool, murky waters below. You think that will be the end of it, but today is not your day. Not at all. The humans congregate on either side of the bridge. They jab and poke at you with their big, mean sticks.
You cower into the reeds. How are you meant to deal with this? How are you meant to get home?
The answer comes not with a bang, but with a honk. A series of honks, reverberating off the brick walls of the building and down into your very bones. Before you can blink, a ball of fury hurtles out of the sky.
It’s the mutant!
The mutant wastes no time in dispersing the humans. It barrels towards them, neck outstretched and wings flapping. One human drops his stick in his haste to flee. Another swipes at the mutant, only to be slapped with a wing. The third, the constable, tries to help but trips over his awkward human feet. He stumbles over the edge of the bridge and falls tail-feathers up into the canal.
You swim over and steal his shiny hat.
Gradually, the noise atop the bridge fades. You gather up your courage and swim a little farther away, craning your head upwards.
The sun shines bright on this beautiful afternoon. A figure stands on the bridge, features cast in shadow. Its profile is proud, its wings are strong. Not a mutant. A goose.
It spreads its wings and glides down into the canal beside you. For a moment, you are too dazzled to move. To dazzled to let out even the tiniest honk. Your feet beat wildly beneath the surface, but around you, all is still.
All is right.
The constable’s hat is still in your beak. Slowly, you extend your neck, offering it to the other goose.
Its eyes are still black. Still beady. But this time, when it ducks its head, it doesn’t hiss. It merely opens its bill and accepts the hat from you.
You pull back. Down the river, the constable is beginning to stir. He splashes about the river with less grace than a newborn gosling, but you pay him no mind. You are still too dazed. Still too shocked.
The other goose turns around in the river, angling downstream. It cocks its head at you.
You bob your head and follow the other goose down the stream.
It’s been several weeks since you’ve ventured into the village. Several weeks since you’ve had the desire to leave your forest nest. Your humans have been neglected, of course, but you've had more important things to tend to.
Back in your nest, a loud, reverberating honk sounds. It is quickly followed by a chorus of higher-pitched enthusiastic peeping.
You stamp your feet.
A rustle heralds the arrival of the other goose. It is magnificent this morning, brown feathers gleaming in the mottled sunlight drifting through the trees. It cocks its head at you in question, but you merely flip your tail feathers in response. The sun is shining. It’s another beautiful day in the village.
And you have your very own set of goslings.
They waddle out from under the other goose’s wings on hesitant, ungainly feet. Their downy feathers fluff up slightly in the breeze.
You lead them to the river. The water is as cool as it’s ever been, but it seems more refreshing today. You take a deep drink and watch as, one-by-one, your offspring do the same.
The other goose splashes into the pond next to you. It effortlessly takes the lead, guiding the goslings out of the shallows and across the river. On the far shore, the statue awaits. And then the garden. Then the village.
You hesitate a moment, paddling around to look back. A month ago, you’d been content to live alone in your forest. To steal food and hoard shiny bells and occasionally chase small humans around. You’d reveled in the joy, the power, the freedom of roaming the tiny town.
You have less freedom now, but more joy. And as for power?
You have six goslings. And they are on their way towards town.
You paddle towards the front of the flock. First lesson: how to get into the garden.