Mala’s Adventure

The searing summer heat stuck in Mala’s thick feathers. Her children squawked, stumbling around as she tried to ignore them. She waddled down the grassy path in search of some cool water – and peace. The ducklings bit their siblings and jumped on each other’s backs, mostly in jest but every few minutes one of them would push too far. A fight would break out and she’d thrust her beak into the roiling mounds of dark down and force the ducklings apart. She couldn’t wait until the brood grew their feathers and left her forever. Then she could return to her old life. Except…

She glanced up at the sky, half expecting to see Donna’s stubby form silhouetted against the blinding light of Sola’s Nest. But it wasn’t there. Mala missed her friend. She had felt so alive when she was with Donna on one of their adventures – weaving across the dry flat riverbed where angry monsters had bore down on them with terrifying roars; flapping, and flapping and flapping until they reached the top of a pointed stone spire, far from the river. Donna had squawked joyfully from that uneven perch, relishing in the freedom. Mala had gripped the buttress tightly, dizzy from the height. She feared the fall, uncertain her wings would be able to save her.

That’s where Donna’s plan was born – that pinnacle, high above the other peaks. She spread her wings to soak up Sola’s light and decided to go there. To see Sola for herself. To look into her golden eyes and experience her radiance first hand. And she wanted Mala to be beside her.

The fact that it could be done didn’t faze Donna. No one had seen Sola, ever. The two of them had tried once, back when their pin feathers were new. It was too far. Their wings became heavy and ceased to lift them long before the blazing Nest grew near. But Donna said the starting point was the problem. They needed to be higher, closer to Sola, before taking wing, and she’d heard of a place to do it. Mountain, she’d called it – like every stone spike they’d ever seen, put on top of each other. And once they were at the top, Sola’s Nest would be close enough for their wings to carry them.

And so they began planning. Talking to the old mallards (and even a goose who wasn’t too cantankerous) about flight paths they’d never taken, slowly plotting their way to get to the place called Mountain. But when their plans were nearly complete and the shorter days began beckoning them to warmer grounds, something changed. Dane with his emerald-green head shining in the sunlight stumbled into their lives. Looking back, Mala couldn’t remember why he was so important to them – what it was about him that drove a wedge between her and her best friend. Yet, it had happened, and Mala had won – or so it seemed at the time. She and Dane became mates, and Donna took off on her adventure alone.

Once her brood of eggs was laid, Dane wandered off with his friends, and Mala’s obsession with him cleared. She began asking everyone for news of Donna. No one had heard of her. Many didn’t remember her at all. Others insisted she was dead – like anyone who didn’t follow the Pattern of Life and pursued wild dreams. Mala knew that was probably true, but preferred to imagine her friend surrounded by the glow of Sola’s Nest, planning her next great adventure, and wished she’d gone with her.

A duckling tumbled against Mala’s leg, nearly knocking her over. She bleated at him angrily, then stopped. The down had been ripped off the back of his head by one of his siblings, and a glossy, emerald-green showed through beneath. Her children were growing up. She stepped into the river and they followed, gathering themselves tightly around her as they waited for the next lesson in foraging. In them, were glimpses of herself and Dane. In their shapes and coloring and personalities. In the way they walked. In the things they said. And the Truth of the Pattern of Life became clear.

Donna would be forgotten. When it was Mala’s time to return to the ground, no one would know that Donna had existed. Nothing would be left of her. But Mala would always be part of this world. Her children would carry her forward, having their own children and teaching the same lessons she gave them now.

Mala would still miss her friend. She would tell her children of their grand adventures as they fell asleep, but they would just be stories. Her own undertaking might not be as exciting, but it was more enduring. And she would always have the stories.