It’s My First Time Working Late Nights at a Convenience Store, and If I Keep Getting Demon Lords, Kappa and Other Oddballs as Customers, I’m Giving My Two-Weeks’ Notice
It’s my forty-sixth graveyard shift.
There’s something outside, squawking up a storm. Normally, I’d assume it was just crows, but this doesn’t sound like any bird that’s ringing a bell.
Just as I’m thinking about popping my head out to check and see what’s going on...
In waddles a family of fluffy, white-feathered, yellow-billed, slim and squat...ducks.
They march in, single-file, their feet slap-slapping on the floor. I’m guessing the biggest one must be the parent?
The littlest ones all line up, as the responsible adult takes attendance. ...Oh my gosh, they’re adorable.
Except that one of them isn’t quite like the others.
Instead of being snowy white, he’s a dull gray color.
Looking a little more closely, he’s a bit bigger, actually. His neck’s longer, too. I’m not sure what kind of duck he is, but I’m guessing they’re not the same species.
I also can’t help but notice that the gray bird is keeping a gap between him and his siblings, his back slightly turned.
...Hey, wait a second! These guys shouldn’t be in here at all! We have a “no pets” policy!
“Um, excuse me! Ducks! ...Man, it feels weird to be addressing a bunch of ducks. Uh! Anyways, animals aren’t exactly allowed in here, so could you...take your business elsewhere?”
Yeeeah, that’s embarrassing. But, what else am I supposed to say? There wasn’t anything in the employee handbook about addressing animal families.
The biggest one turns back to look at me.
And that’s all I get in reply.
“...Oh, great. You guys can’t understand me, can you?”
Well, of course not. They’re a bunch of ducks.
At least, you’d think that would be the most sensible conclusion to jump to.
But, ever since I started working here, it’s been a freaking parade of talking animals! Like the booze hound! He’s even got a drunk-old-man accent! It’s not MY fault that I’ve started to assume that the others can, too!
“...So, now what?”
I watch as the gaggle of white ducks starts to waddle its way around the store.
“...You’re wasting your time.”
“Who said that?!”
I look left, then right, then finally down to the gray bird, who’s glaring up at me like I’m an idiot.
Uh... So, this duck was listening?
I stare in confusion as the chatty creature continues.
“They’re not bilingual like I am. They won’t understand a word you’re saying.”
“So, it WAS you! Wait, why can’t the others talk?”
I crouch down, so that I’m closer to eye level with the well-spoken waterfowl.
...I knew it. Man, if even ducks can form complete sentences, then what’s keeping the bird-billed kappa from communicating?
“Well, I’m special. I’m a different color from the rest of my family, and we’re not even the same shape, either.”
He spreads his wings, to help illustrate his point. Yep, he’s not your average duck.
“Any idea why?”
“No, I’ve always been like this. Those other guys can’t do half the stuff I can.”
I glance over at the “other guys,” who are huddled together, sneaking glances at our conversation as they quack in low grumbles.
“They’re not trash talking you, are they?”
“Oh, they’re just jealous. They’re muttering about how miffed they are that ‘he’s talking to that sorry-looking loser over there.’ They think it’s weird.”
Wait, why am I getting dissed, too?
“It was the same when you guys were all lined up, huh? You weren’t like, part of the group. Even though they all seem to get along just fine.”
“That’s how it is when there’s so much of a disparity between siblings. They keep a wary distance, but they’re never so far away that I can’t hear their muttered insults. Well, I guess the feeling’s more or less mutual. Still, I wish they wouldn’t stare so much. Like, what’s the big deal? Why should I have to be ostracized just because I can communicate better than they can?”
...Yeah, that sounds an awful lot like bullying to me.
Life’s not fair. That much is true. Sure, I’d expect behavior like that from humans, but... Man, bird culture’s pretty damn petty. ...Huh. Now, why does that remind me of Masaru?
“Nothing really. It’s mostly just that I was born different. Isn’t it the same for people, too? If you had six kids, and one of them looked nothing like his siblings... My parents don’t seem to mind, but my brothers and sisters? They don’t see how we could possibly be related. Well, it’s not my fault that I’m not the same angelic shade of white that they are. They call me ‘Dusty,’ you know. Instead of my real name.”
He states everything so bluntly, so resigned to his situation, that I can’t help but reach out and pat him on the back.
“Look, I don’t need your sympathy. I can’t help being born ugly. Besides, I don’t need friends. Or family. I’m only stuck with them because I’m not old enough to live on my own yet. Once I’m all grown up, I’ll be able to spend the rest of my life in peace.”
“It wasn’t pity. I just wanted to acknowledge what you’ve been through, somehow.”
“Well, there’s not much I can do about it. In this world, the majority rules. Animals, people... Anyone who can’t explain why they don’t fit the mold gets cast aside. I’ve known that since day one. A pat on the back isn’t going to change anything, either.”
He turns away, so I can’t see his face.
For someone so young, there’s a remarkable amount of depth to his thoughts.
He’s a lot more forgiving than most adults, that’s for sure.
Oh, crap! There’re still ducks in the store! Great, now I’m in for it!!
I’m pretty sure these guys violate like, twenty health codes, so... The sooner I can hide them, the better.
The slimy, green-skinned creature that comes slap-slapping into the store is none other than our usual kappa.
Great. This web-footed visitor’s going to be more trouble than the ones we’ve already got.
Sure enough, I can see “Masaru” written on the edge of his plate. Welcome back, buddy. I see you’re on your own this time, huh?
He starts to slap his way over to the drink section, but when he catches sight of the grey duckling, he stops dead in his tracks.
The two of them stare at each other, without saying a word; while the other ducklings peer out from behind the shadows of the shelves in judgmental silence.
They seem to have reached a kind of understanding, though. The duckling smiles as he waddles past Masaru.
“Are you all alone, too?”
The grey duckling lets loose with a series of quacks. Masaru turns around, his eyes widening in surprise.
Wait, what’d he just say? It’s not like I understand duck! But...does Masaru?
He nods in wordless reply. Huh. I guess he does.
“So, you’re just like me, then. I had a feeling. You’ve got the same look in your eye.”
I still have no idea what they’re talking about, but it’s making Masaru break out into a smile.
No, seriously! What’s with all these significant glances and stupidly long pauses?
Masaru’s purchase is two smaller bottles of coke.
Of course, he pays for everything in cucumbers.
The rest of the ducks have made their way around to the refrigerated food section. They’ve stopped to have a lively discussion in front of the plastic egg cartons.
Something about that makes Masaru freeze up, a chill running through him.
I wonder what they’re going on about?
Whatever it is, Masaru’s got opinions.
“...You guys know you’re not going to get a brand-new brother out of those eggs, right? ...Ha ha... Oh, come on, what’s that look for?”
You can quack all you’d like, but I’m still not going to get it! ...Don’t you roll those beady eyes at me!
When they leave, the row of waterfowl is short a member. Instead of following his family home, the grey duckling waddles off behind the kappa.
When I peer outside, I can see them sitting on the bench, drinking their coke.
Wait, is that stuff even safe for ducks?
No, wait — how did things end up like this in the first place?!
“Like attracts like, right? I knew as soon as I saw you that we’d get along swimmingly.”
The grey duckling keeps chattering away, Masaru nodding along happily like, well...a bobbing duck.