YRD301: Strategies for Avian Studies
It was a new day, and with it, a new chance for fate to intervene on Johnny’s behalf. He began today the same way he had begun every day for the last two months: praying to God that Claire would cross his path again. Even though he was tempted to give up, he couldn’t quite give in to doubt. Besides, today was different. Today was the day he was finally headed back to London, and London was where Claire had said she lived.
But there was more to think about than just Claire.
At the whopping age of twenty-three, Johnny had finally graduated from Oxford University with third-class honours, after dealing with several false starts, all preceded by his inability to hold onto anything that mattered to him, and headed for seemingly greater dreams in London, which, conveniently, was the place of his birth. Even though he could’ve finished school two years earlier, he decided to change his major from experimental psychology to philosophy and modern language, then from philosophy and modern language to classical archaeology and ancient history, and then from classical archaeology and ancient history to economics and management, before finally making the decision to study experimental psychology. His six years of university had absolutely nothing to attribute to stupidity, however, for he did in fact make it to a reputable college a few months shy of his eighteenth birthday. But the constant shift in direction had left him feeling disoriented, and the disorientation kept him from reaching a far more reputable second-class honours classification, which would’ve made pursuing a master’s degree easier. Therefore, when he finally graduated and returned to London, he felt dizzy. He also couldn’t remember where he was going, if he had even established a plan for getting there. He just hoped that Claire would be there waiting for him.
His plan was to hire a life coach so that he could make decisions that moved him along life’s journey a bit more efficiently. He had heard mention of a couple of good ones within a block of each other near the Strand and thought it might be worth paying them a visit, see which one offered more affordable rates, and maybe determine which of the two would understand his life better. It wasn’t until he got down into the Tube that he realized he was still forcing himself to make a decision. Fortunately, he had an easier time picking between two options than he had picking between a thousand, which was about how many job opportunities he had available to him in London, so he continued moving toward them.
The source of his indecision had planted a seed into his subconscious many years ago when someone close to him had once said to him, “If you love something, set it free. If it doesn’t come back, it was never meant to be,” a variation of the classic saying, made more difficult by Claire’s proper use of it just nine weeks earlier. Claire’s disappearance from his life wasn’t the first time he had been stung by the truth behind the saying, though. Deep down he suspected it wouldn’t be the last. Any decision he made could ultimately lead him to that unfortunate reality once again. He hoped a life coach would help him minimize the risk of choosing badly. He just needed to pick the more competent expert, and that was a coin toss.
Johnny actually hated riding in the Tube. Having to share transportation with strangers had often left him anxious, and the train gave him so many unfamiliar faces to look at that he was overwhelmed. It was especially crowded in the middle of the day. But if anything increased his opportunity to find Claire again, it was riding the Underground, so he relented in his desire to stay aboveground to hail a taxicab and waited for the train instead.
The station was ugly, as he had expected. Trash littered the floor and unsavory characters milled about in shadow. Most of the people who waited near the rails were rocking on the balls of their feet, clearly in a hurry to get to where they were going. They probably didn’t want to be down here, either.
When the train arrived, Johnny fought for his position in the cabin. He noticed a man with a guitar strapped to his shoulders climbing out of a seat near the back. Musicians sometimes had good luck, but it was rare, so Johnny thought he’d skip over that guy’s seat in case he was one of the unlucky ones. Of course, he didn’t expect the guy to bump him with his guitar’s neck on his way by. Probably was bad at music if his coordination had any indication to his talent.
The guy was smiling brightly. Whatever was making him so bloody happy, it had clearly numbed his ability to sense his surroundings. He must not have even noticed the physical force that had shifted his guitar half a foot along his back, for he gave nothing in the way of an apology for bumping Johnny. He just kept walking. Maybe that pretty blond girl attached to his hand had something to do with all that blind joy.
Johnny shrugged it off. He wasn’t going to let the guy’s bumping him ruin his day. Let the guy have his happiness. At least he had a woman who appeared to love him, or tolerate him, or something. A businessman had vacated the seat ahead of him. Businessmen were generally luckier in life, even luckier than musicians with girlfriends. Johnny was happy enough just to get that seat.
“Oi,” the businessman said, when Johnny sat down. “I wasn’t leaving yet. Just gettin’ up to stretch. Go find somewhere else to sit.”
Johnny backed away. Once again he was reminded of why he hated public transportation. Then he glanced at the remaining vacancies inside the cabin. They were filling in quickly. If he didn’t take a seat in the next ten seconds, he would be left standing. He decided to take the guitarist’s seat. At least that guy wasn’t coming back.
After somehow ending up on the Northern Line of the Underground near the Stockwell Station, Johnny hunched over in his seat to inhale some paltry air. It was while his eyes scanned the floor that he affixed his gaze on an object he had never expected to find.
A dirty rubber ducky sat next to his shoes. It was yellow with an orange beak and had a chain around its neck. Attached to the chain was a black flash drive. Johnny scanned the boxcar to see if anyone was looking. When he saw no one looking back, he picked up the toy and examined the flash drive. He recognized the duck immediately.
Curious to what he might find, and perhaps a little afraid at the same time, he opened his suitcase and removed the laptop he carried inside. Once it loaded, he detached the flash drive from the duck’s chain and inserted it into the USB port. On the duck drive were two files, a Notepad file labeled README.TXT and a Word document with the title “A Duck’s Grand Adventure.” Johnny clicked on the text file and read its contents first:
To anyone who finds this, please take this rubber ducky wherever you go. At any point you should experience something great, I beg of you, write it down and attach it to the duck. Then leave it for the next body to find. When the seventh individual writes his experience, keep the duck and publish the letters for all to see.
Johnny didn’t know what to make of the note. As the train bounced around inside the tunnels, he had slight trouble focusing on the words. But he was determined to see what secrets the duck kept. His heart actually raced in anticipation. He had a feeling there was more to this duck than what his imagination could spark alone. God didn’t dump moments like this into his lap without having some greater purpose in mind. He felt his body tingle, and not just from the vibrations of the train.
He minimized the Notepad file and clicked on the Word document. A series of short narratives opened up before him. On a quick scan he counted six of them. Then he scrolled back to the top to read the first. The first one told the story of a man named Will.
To whomever finds this rubber ducky, I say to you congratulations, for you are the seventh person to have stumbled across this truly wonderful creature. It may not seem like much at all, but as you read on, you’ll see this duck has a history of greatness. In the following letters—each written by people who carried the duck before me—you’ll discover how every person who had it had something wonderful happen to them. Of course, greatness is subjective to all of us, and my idea of greatness may not coincide with yours. But I feel this duck has improved the lives of everyone who has touched it, and it deserves some celebration, so whether you think the stories to follow are grand or dull, just know that by finding it, and keeping it, you’re sure to have your story worth telling. And this is my story. Sorry for any spelling mistakes. I’m an artist, not a writer. Well, not the kind of writer you might expect to read. I had to clean up the last guy’s mess, and well, I hope I did okay.
So, my name is Will and I’d spent many nights in a hotel with broken beds and awful food. I had traveled through Europe as a streetside musician when I decided to get some rest in London. My feet were sore, my hair frazzled, my vision was blurry and frankly I couldn’t take another day of charity performance. When I found a cheap hotel in the lower part of the city, I paid for a room with my last bit of change and hid in the bathroom for three days. My eyes were bloodshot, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, the circuit had been bad this year, I’d averaged twenty Eurodollars a day and I was hungry. In all things considered, I needed a change.
On my fifth evening at the Pallider Hotel, I stared at the grimy ceiling with my guitar to my side, when I rolled over, knocking it off the bed. As I leaned over to pick it up, I noticed this worn-out little rubber ducky touching its beak against the wooden floor. When I looked closer, I saw the flash drive tied around its neck and decided, after much deliberation, that I’d take the duck with me.
On the eighth day, I left the hotel and gave the music circuit another go. For two weeks, I slept in the park, and for two weeks, I barely scraped a living. But I endured. When I started showing people the rubber duck, many of them thought it was sweet, so they compensated me for such sweetness. One pound turned into two, two pounds into four, and next thing I knew I was able to afford a better hotel. That was a few days ago.
If you’re wondering how the duck got on the Tube, that answer is simple. On my way to the Diamond Hotel, I decided to grab the train. My stop wasn’t for at least three miles, so I had time to write my story. Fortunately I carry a tablet in my guitar case. My plan was to write about my trip to the hotel, since taking that jump in economic status is a milestone for a guy like me. I honestly thought that in of itself was worth writing about. But, while I was writing about my good fortune, a pretty girl sat next to me and saw my rubber ducky. This was just a few minutes ago, of course. These events are happening in real time! Like reality TV! Okay, please don’t leave now. Just saying. Anyway, she thought it was so sweet that I’d carry something like that around that she kissed me. And thus, I realized right there that the duck fulfilled its mission and now was the time to pass it on. So, even though I was gonna keep the duck to see if I had more interesting adventures to share, I realize, as I finish this last sentence, that my part of the duck’s adventure is complete, so I am leaving the duck behind to bless the next person. And I am hoping this girl will give me her number. Of course, why wouldn’t she? I have a rubber ducky with me.
Oh, and if you’re the seventh person to find this duck, don’t forget to publish this document once you’ve written your part of the story. According to the note, you get to keep the duck. Oops, my stop is next. Gotta hit “Save” now. Good luck to whomever finds it next. I hope you get whatever you’re looking for. Peace out.
Johnny shifted in his seat. As nice as Will’s story seemed, something about it left Johnny unsettled. He groaned inside. He wanted to be happy for the guy who had bumped him on the way out of the train. But he couldn’t help but feel a little jealous. The girl that was following him out met him the same way Johnny had met Claire, sort of. Different locations and different circumstances, but the same basic concept with a far different ending. Johnny had wanted that same ending with Claire, the girl of his dreams. It left him feeling emotionally drained just thinking about what he had lost, especially in the context of what Will had gained. Some guys were just luckier than others, it seemed. Either that or fate actually had a good story for Will to star in, whereas fate had completely ignored Johnny.
He sighed as he moved his eyes toward the next tale of personal woe in the guise of someone else having a happier ending than him.
Okay, I’m in a bit of a hurry here, but I think I can write my tale rather quickly. Have to “borrow” my neighbor’s laptop while he sleeps. I’ll give it back when I’m done. Maybe. My name is Grant, last name’s not important, and I found this duck while I was on the run. Two months ago, I lived in Paris, working as a coffee merchant at a local café, when the French Mafia found me. Even though I lived under witness protection for the last year, I never had the funds to leave France, so I hid in the biggest city in the country. That was a mistake because the French Mafia operated less than ten miles away. In my defence, I thought I could blend in with the crowd. Like a real duck, however, my luck flew south when one of the lieutenants spotted me wiping tables near the street corner.
The reason the Mafia was after me is irrelevant. The important thing was that they found me, and I had to leave my post immediately. The gunshot sounded and my feet kicked into action. With my dishrag in hand, I hopped the metal railing in front of the café and dashed for the nearest bus. The lieutenant, in turn, chased me with his Lamborghini. I barely escaped his bumper when I jumped on the bus. The chase, then, became a duel of wills. He had speed; I had brawn. Only one was going to escape the city alive. And he had the gun. I had the dishrag.
I found the rubber duck in the backseat, adjacent to two lovers engaged in a heated display of affection. I took the seat because it gave me the best vantage of the Lamborghini, but kept it because watching the overjoyed romantics felt like going to the theatre. Between the adrenaline of one issue and the distraction of another, I almost overlooked the duck completely. But in my haste to keep below the window, I dropped belly-first onto the toy, and it squeaked. The flash drive endured my weight. PNY, gotta remember them.
Grabbing the duck, I sprinted to the front of the bus as the sports car sped ahead, and jumped out the door before either vehicle had a chance to stop. From there I bolted through three commercial neighborhoods—taking mostly the alleys—and ended up on the front court of the Gare du Nord, where I dashed for the gate and bought a ticket for the Eurostar.
The quid I made in tips that day was the only cash I had, but somehow it was enough to buy a bus ticket—barely. Even though I managed to lose the Lamborghini somewhere in that first neighborhood and didn’t know what became of it, I kept an eye open for the driver as I waited for the bullet train to arrive. Fortunately, he never checked the station. About five hours later, I was on my way to London.
When I arrived at London International, I immediately ran for the surface and found a job waiting tables. With the pounds I earned, I bought a room at the Pallider Hotel and lay low for the next two months. Under my reserved profile, I continued serving tables, watching for any signs of my pursuers tracking me here, until this morning when everything changed. Before heading off to work, I read in the newspaper that the leader of the French Mafia was put behind bars for attempting to kidnap a Louvre tour guide, and that his entire syndicate was now hunted by Interpol. Feeling my bout of freedom approaching, I decided that my tenure with the duck was finished and that it was time to write my part of the story. And even though some agents will escape the law and continue to search for me, I know now that their chances of catching me are slim. With that, I hope the person who finds this duck will have fewer Mafia types chasing him.
Still not sure why I picked up the duck, by the way. Felt right I guess. Rubber ducks don’t usually come with flash drives. Kinda disappointed there’s nothing that incriminates anyone I know on here, if I’m being honest, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Anyway, gotta go. Can’t be late for work. My boss can be a real bastard when I upset him.
Oh, and to the bloke who finds this, please clean up my spelling and grammar. In too much of a hurry to write anything more than textspeak.
Johnny was having a slightly difficult time reading Grant’s entry thanks to the shakiness of the train, so he decided he would resume reading about the rubber duck’s “grand adventure” once he found more stable footing topside. Plus, he realized he needed a break. Something about Grant’s story was familiar to him; in fact, part of it gave him a sense of déjà vu, and it caused him to screw his eyes toward each other. And, he felt a slight headache coming on. Yeah, he needed to rest his brain a moment. He jumped off the train at the next stop and found himself ascending to a location next to a small park.
He went to the park and found a bench next to the pond. With the exception of a few families having picnics or flying kites nearby, and the few live ducks that swam in the pond, the atmosphere was serene enough for him to concentrate. He reopened the laptop, which was still on, set the rubber duck on the bench beside him, and resumed reading. He’d never taken the flash drive out of the computer.