Chapter 44:

Duck, Duck, Goose

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.Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

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Just as I’m thinking about popping my head out to check and see what’s going on...Bookmark here

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Ding-a-ling-a-ling...Bookmark here

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“Welcome, iras-...”Bookmark here

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In waddles a family of fluffy, white-feathered, yellow-billed, slim and squat...ducks.Bookmark here

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They march in, single-file, their feet slap-slapping on the floor. I’m guessing the biggest one must be the parent?Bookmark here

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The littlest ones all line up, as the responsible adult takes attendance. ...Oh my gosh, they’re adorable.Bookmark here

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Except that one of them isn’t quite like the others.Bookmark here

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Instead of being snowy white, he’s a dull gray color.Bookmark here

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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. Bookmark here

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I also can’t help but notice that the gray bird is keeping a gap between him and his siblings, his back slightly turned.  Bookmark here

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...Hey, wait a second! These guys shouldn’t be in here at all! We have a “no pets” policy!Bookmark here

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“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?”Bookmark here

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Yeeeah, that’s embarrassing. But, what else am I supposed to say? There wasn’t anything in the employee handbook about addressing animal families.Bookmark here

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The biggest one turns back to look at me.Bookmark here

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“...*quack*...”Bookmark here

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And that’s all I get in reply.Bookmark here

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“...Oh, great. You guys can’t understand me, can you?”Bookmark here

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Well, of course not. They’re a bunch of ducks.Bookmark here

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At least, you’d think that would be the most sensible conclusion to jump to.Bookmark here

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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!Bookmark here

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“...So, now what?”Bookmark here

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I watch as the gaggle of white ducks starts to waddle its way around the store.Bookmark here

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“...You’re wasting your time.”Bookmark here

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“Who said that?!”Bookmark here

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I look left, then right, then finally down to the gray bird, who’s glaring up at me like I’m an idiot.Bookmark here

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Uh... So, this duck was listening?Bookmark here

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I stare in confusion as the chatty creature continues.Bookmark here

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“They’re not bilingual like I am. They won’t understand a word you’re saying.”Bookmark here

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“So, it WAS you! Wait, why can’t the others talk?”Bookmark here

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I crouch down, so that I’m closer to eye level with the well-spoken waterfowl.Bookmark here

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...I knew it. Man, if even ducks can form complete sentences, then what’s keeping the bird-billed kappa from communicating?Bookmark here

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“Well, I’m special. I’m a different color from the rest of my family, and we’re not even the same shape, either.”Bookmark here

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He spreads his wings, to help illustrate his point. Yep, he’s not your average duck.Bookmark here

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“Any idea why?”Bookmark here

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“No, I’ve always been like this. Those other guys can’t do half the stuff I can.”Bookmark here

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I glance over at the “other guys,” who are huddled together, sneaking glances at our conversation as they quack in low grumbles.Bookmark here

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“They’re not trash talking you, are they?”Bookmark here

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“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.”Bookmark here

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Wait, why am I getting dissed, too?Bookmark here

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“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.”Bookmark here

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“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?”Bookmark here

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...Yeah, that sounds an awful lot like bullying to me.Bookmark here

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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?Bookmark here

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“Did...something happen?”Bookmark here

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“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.”Bookmark here

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He states everything so bluntly, so resigned to his situation, that I can’t help but reach out and pat him on the back.Bookmark here

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“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.”Bookmark here

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“It wasn’t pity. I just wanted to acknowledge what you’ve been through, somehow.”Bookmark here

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“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.”Bookmark here

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He turns away, so I can’t see his face.  Bookmark here

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For someone so young, there’s a remarkable amount of depth to his thoughts.Bookmark here

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He’s a lot more forgiving than most adults, that’s for sure.Bookmark here

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Ding-a-ling-a-ling...Bookmark here

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Oh, crap! There’re still ducks in the store! Great, now I’m in for it!!Bookmark here

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I’m pretty sure these guys violate like, twenty health codes, so... The sooner I can hide them, the better.Bookmark here

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“Huh.”Bookmark here

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The slimy, green-skinned creature that comes ­slap-slapping into the store is none other than our usual kappa.Bookmark here

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Great. This web-footed visitor’s going to be more trouble than the ones we’ve already got. Bookmark here

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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?Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

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They seem to have reached a kind of understanding, though. The duckling smiles as he waddles past Masaru.Bookmark here

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“Are you all alone, too?”Bookmark here

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The grey duckling lets loose with a series of quacks. Masaru turns around, his eyes widening in surprise.Bookmark here

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Wait, what’d he just say? It’s not like I understand duck! But...does Masaru?Bookmark here

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He nods in wordless reply. Huh. I guess he does.Bookmark here

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“So, you’re just like me, then. I had a feeling. You’ve got the same look in your eye.”Bookmark here

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I still have no idea what they’re talking about, but it’s making Masaru break out into a smile.Bookmark here

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No, seriously! What’s with all these significant glances and stupidly long pauses?Bookmark here

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Masaru’s purchase is two smaller bottles of coke.Bookmark here

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Of course, he pays for everything in cucumbers.Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

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Something about that makes Masaru freeze up, a chill running through him.Bookmark here

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I wonder what they’re going on about?Bookmark here

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Whatever it is, Masaru’s got opinions.Bookmark here

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“...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?”Bookmark here

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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!Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

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When I peer outside, I can see them sitting on the bench, drinking their coke.Bookmark here

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Wait, is that stuff even safe for ducks?Bookmark here

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No, wait — how did things end up like this in the first place?!Bookmark here

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“Like attracts like, right? I knew as soon as I saw you that we’d get along swimmingly.”Bookmark here

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The grey duckling keeps chattering away, Masaru nodding along happily like, well...a bobbing duck. Bookmark here

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