A small white duck lived quietly with a flock of other ducks. This particular duck stood out from their flock because of a long blue feather on their face.
One morning, the other ducks approached, muttering awkwardly to each other. Their leader explained.
“I know this might be difficult for you, my dear. But the truth is that you are not a duck as we are. You swim a bit differently to us, you fly differently, and of course you have that blue feather. We only wish for you to find happiness with your own kind.”
The duck with the blue feather was stunned.
“But I’m certain that I am a duck. Isn’t there some way that I can prove it?”
The other ducks huddled together with rumbling quacks. When they broke apart, their leader had an answer.
“We have decided on a test. Every duck can hold their breath underwater for at least one minute. Prove to us that you can do this and we will accept that you are a duck.”
The duck with the blue feather flapped their wings excitedly and then plunged under the water. They began counting the seconds. They knew that if they really tried, they could hold their breath for two whole minutes. The duck with the blue feather couldn’t wait to see how amazed the other ducks would be.
The duck with the blue feather burst up from the water spluttering just at the two-minute mark and turned towards their flock to find that only their leader remained.
“I…I think…that was…two minutes!” the duck with the blue feather announced.
The flock leader drifted in close, nodding her head politely.
“Yes! Very impressive. I knew this test would be an excellent idea, because now I understand the problem perfectly.”
“Oh?” said the duck with the blue feather.
“Yes! Of course you can stay underwater for so long! That blue feather of yours, why, that is no feather at all. It is obviously a scale! No wonder we have all been confused. You have been a fish this entire time.”
“I have?” asked the fish with the blue scale.
“Yes! And you are a very nice fish, but there is probably a school very close by missing you dearly! Go to them and be happy.” The leader quacked and flew off to reunite with the rest of her flock.
The fish with the blue scale was totally bewildered. Unsure of what else to do, they began diving under the water searching for fish with blue scales.
Eventually the fish with the blue scale discovered a school of tiny blue fish drifting together in beautiful harmony.
“Hello!” said the fish with the blue scale. “I think I am supposed to be in this school. I thought I was a duck, but actually I am a fish. Is it ok if I rejoin you?”
“You are clearly not a fish!” said one tiny fish from the school.
“And you are not from this school at all!” declared another.
“Can I prove that I am a fish?” asked the fish with the blue scale.
“Certainly!” exclaimed a fish from the school.
One blue fish separated from the group. “Fish are expert swimmers. If you can beat me to that snail shell right there, it will prove that you are a fish and we will accept you into the school.”
The fish with the blue scale readied themselves. When the school of fish shouted “GO!” in unison, the race was on.
Their speeds weren’t evenly matched and the fish with the blue scale nearly fell behind, but at the last moment they reached out their one long blue scale and managed to touch the shell just before the other fish raced past.
The tiny fish returned to their school and the fish with the blue scale approached.
“Did you see? I touched the snail shell with my scale. That proves I am a fish from your school.”
“Cheater!” the school of fish scolded together.
“How did I cheat?” asked the fish with the blue scale.
“That is no scale! That is a whisker because you are a sea lion!” the school declared.
“I am?” gasped the sea lion with the blue whisker.
“Yes! And we’re leaving now before you eat us!” The school darted away at full speed.
The sea lion with the blue whisker shook their head. They felt foolish for scaring the fish and popped up above the water to search for other sea lions.
It took the better part of the afternoon, but the sea lion with the blue whisker eventually found a colony of sea lions lazily enjoying life on a beach.
“Fellow sea lions! I have been away from you for so long, but I have finally returned,” said the sea lion with the blue whisker.
One of the sea lions gave a great sleepy yawn and replied, “Oh! I don’t recognize ya kiddo, but if you say so. Welcome back! Come have lunch with us.”
The sea lion with the blue whisker was delighted and joined the sea lions as they enjoyed their meal of sun baked squid.
The sea lions were fun and friendly. They told outlandish stories and jokes and barked when they laughed. The sea lion with the blue whisker was happy in their company.
After lunch, one of the sea lions flopped its way over to the sea lion with the blue whisker, his face scrunched in contemplation.
“Ya know … I’ve been thinkin,” said the scrunched-face sea lion, “something about you is just … off.”
“It is?” asked the sea lion with the blue whisker.
“Yeah! I mean you’re fun kiddo. You’re welcome to lunch whenever ya like. I don’t know how to tell ya this, but you’re a cat.”
“Yeah!” said the sea lion. “You don’t really bark, but ya got that whisker and all.”
“I’m … I’m sorry,” said the cat with the blue whisker, although they weren’t altogether sure why they were apologizing.
“Oh, not at all friend! Cats are terrific. Bet there’s lots of cats in town for you to buddy up with. Or find yourself a human. They love cats,” the sea lion offered.
“Thank you, I’ll go look,” said the cat with the blue whisker.
The sun began to set as the cat with the blue whisker wandered through a small seaside town. They stopped by a fence to think.
“Of course I am a cat. How could I not see that? Those sea lions were so kind and I stupidly told them that I was one of them. Well, I’m going to be the best cat.”
The cat with the blue whisker heard a soft chuckle and looked up to see a black cat leering down with bright green eyes. The black cat licked her paw.
“The best cat you say? What exactly does that mean?” challenged the black cat.
“Well, I won’t ever bark, just like the sea lion said. And I have this wonderful blue whisker,” the cat with the blue whisker explained.
“True, true,” the black cat granted as she leapt from the fence and landed in front of the cat with the blue whisker.
The black cat curled her tail around the face of the cat with the blue whisker. “But even I can see that blue thing is no whisker at all.”
“It isn’t?” The cat with the blue whisker couldn’t believe their ears.
“Well clearly it is a tail. A very silly blue tail because you are a very silly fox. I mean, I personally have no problem with foxes you understand, but living in the woods and being a dirty little dog-rat isn’t my lifestyle. The sun is going down and I have a lovely house waiting for me, but you’d better start digging a den for yourself quickly. The large predators will be waking up soon.”
And the black cat vanished through slats in the fence with laugh.
The fox with the blue tail raced towards the woods in a panic. As night fell and a bright moon illuminated the forest, the sounds of nocturnal life became a thunderous fog. The fox with the blue tail could not be sure which sounds were hunting them, which sounds were mocking them, or which sounds might be searching desperately for them.
Suddenly, the fox with the blue tail crashed into something and stopped.
“I’m sorry!” they spluttered. “I don’t know how to be a fox! I don’t know how to dig a den! I don’t want to be eaten, and I’m sorry I crashed into you.”
The fox with the blue tail backed off to survey who they had crashed into.
The fox with the blue tail found themselves looking at a small white feathery creature with a long blue feather on their face.
The creature shook as they recovered, then turned to the fox with the blue tail and said, “I’m a duck. What are you?”
The fox with the blue tail closed their eyes. They ignored the storm of unfamiliar forest noise and thought for a very long time. They drew in a long slow breath before replying, “I am.”
Two friends flew away into the night.
About the author
Katie Chacon (they/them) is easiest to think of as a man called Katie…or a goblin called Katie…or a rascally egg called Katie depending on who you ask. They are an American writer from Clinton MA who enjoys reflecting on classic fairy tales and fables, deconstructing them, and writing new stories based on those reflections. Their work has appeared in vol. 1 of the Spoken Word Scratch Night zine. Their hobbies include reading, video games, and analyzing the hell out of stories/movies/tv shows, pretty much any media you put in front of them.
Photo by Jesse van Vliet on Unsplash.