Reeds, Josiah reasoned to himself, looked nice from a distance. From a long way away, they were lush, wavy and gentle, creating a soft border to the water. They were terrible to crawl through, though. You could feel the oozing mud in your ears and your hands would actually be sliced by those concealed sharp edges. It was such a horrific experience that he would rather reeds had become extinct. The idea was so appealing he resolved to undiscover them as soon as he could. Nearby, a crocodile slipped into the water but was no real threat; he was on holiday and had no intention of eating anything alive. Last night he had ordered a pizza and it had changed his world although he was sorry that the delivery rider had been so terrified. Tonight, it was going to be a curry.
Meanwhile, oblivious to the reptilian gourmet, Josiah was parting more reeds with a view to squeezing through the gap. However, as they parted he found a nervous looking cygnet looking back at him. It was grey and still rather fluffy although it was a rather hefty thing to discover hidden in the reeds. Stretching its neck, the alarmed bird let out a hiss of concern and flapped broad, strong white wings with aggression. Josiah took half a step backwards, raising his hands.
“Easy old fella,” he said, “I was just going to ask if you knew where Mr Hardy the heron was.”
At that, the swan let out an even more distressed hiss and retreated at breakneck speed through the reeds behind it. Josiah blinked. He breathed. His heart beat and his blood circulated. Mucus, saliva and ear wax were secreted. He shed some skin cells and a stray hair follicle at the crown of his head drifted slowly to the ground. In short, lots of stuff happened but not much of any interest or importance. Unless, you were particularly fond of that skin cell, in which case I am sorry if I traumatised you. There is a number you can call if the loss of a few skin cells leaves you traumatised, although I have no doubt that anyone who needs it is probably petrified of telephones.
Before he could move in a more conscious way, Josiah found himself face to face with a rather flustering female mallard.
‘I ask for help and all they send me is work experience kids,” she mumbled to herself. She looked at Josiah and asked if she could help him.
“I was looking for Hardy, he’s a heron,” Josiah answered in slight disbelief.
“Ooh, I know the one,” the mallard clucked (she was fond of doing impressions). “Let me go and see if he’s around.”
She swished back through the reeds, leaving in the same direction as the cygnet had done before her. Trying to remain open-minded though he was, Josiah was still staggered to see a beaten filing cabinet and a photocopier before the reeds closed behind her. There was the sound of avian conversation-which sounds a little bit like water but somehow different- the reeds shook again and the mallard re-appeared. Maybe it was a different one. Who knows? Get off my case and write your own story if it’s that important to you! Go on then-you decide if it’s the same mallard or not...this is the last mallard bit anyway...no skin off my nose...Decided? Good. So, this mallard was there, possibly the same one. Or not.
“He’s gone, no-one knows where,” the mallard told him.
“Did he leave a...”
The mallard quacked a smile “A forwarding address? No, not him. Always played fast and loose with convention, that one.”
“I was going to ask if he had left a reel of cable, you know those big drums for like telegraph wires and stuff. But, I guess not,” Josiah said.
“Well, there is a length of copper piping and a jubilee clip for a Ford Kale.”
“Not what I am after,” he told her and slowly withdrew from the reeds, backing into a box of clarinet spares as he went.
With no alternative, he made his way around the edge of the creek, sploshing through the grass, skipping through the viscous mud and squelching through the shallows. He’s quite a card isn’t he? Every now and then, he found another skulking heron.
“Are you Hardy?” he asked each one, quite used to conversing with waterfowl now. Of course, none of these imbecilic creatures could speak so they either flew away or stood blinking at him stupidly. The frustration got to Josiah, he was desperate for answers and was tired of just being offered skewered frogs, rats and fish instead. He lashed out at a nearby snipe. Big mistake. The snipe had friends in high places and soon Josiah was under fire from five mosquitoes that were circling his head constantly. It was as if they were going to bite him but they never did. They flew close to his ear and up his nose but they never bit him which was worse than if they had.
In the end, he conceded that it was time to go home, saddened by his failure to find Hardy. That was the second love of Cecily’s life that had been lost; perhaps she should start writing her name on them. Bloody and bowed, beaten and buttered, he walked the familiar journey home. He passed the neat, twee houses, with their neat treehouses, ignoring the twitching curtains. Meanwhile, there was the small lady in her open-air kitchen, perfecting her recipe for Small Bits of Plastic Cobbler. She waved to Josiah as she bounced, a large knife in her hand. As she executed a seat drop on her trampoline, Josiah thought that she was an accident waiting to happen-it was just a question of who the accident was going to happen to. Leaving the acrid black smoke behind, he limped on.
As he passed the Henderson’s the front door was opened frantically. His eye was caught by the look of a desperate orcish face, a blindfold perched on its brow whilst the mouth made the desperate shape of the word ‘Help!’ A hand, coated in smooth, sleek latex, clamped on his shoulder and, without ceremony, he was dragged back inside. As he went in, the orc executed a lavish wink. His distress had all obviously been part of some lavish role-play foreplay.
Standing eventually at his own garden gate, Josiah took a deep breath. He opened the gate and walked the long garden path of Fate.
“So, you just quit the job?”
“It was a crap job anyway! That mallard was a right cow.”
“Don’t use language like that!”
“I can if I want.”
“You’re still a cygnet you know. My nest, my rules!”