The Decoy

by Jason Sachs

Once upon a time there was a duck, who was sleeping very soundly until a thought occurred to him and he woke up in a sweat.

My goodness, thought the duck, I wonder what the collective direction of the species is.

He mulled the idea over in his head all day. It began to impede upon his ability to eat, sleep, and find ducks of the opposite sex, and even then he didn't stop thinking about it. He watched some people nearby who were moving things around and making lots of noise. They seemed to be accomplishing a lot, which only aggravated his dilemma. When he looked at his fellow ducks, he didn't see them accomplishing anything, although perhaps they were all part of some covert project of which he was not aware. Were they supposed to be doing something? He did not know.

He went up to a few of them and asked.

``Excuse me, but can you tell me anything about the collective direction of the species?''

They looked at him and blinked. ``What?''

``What are we all doing here, I mean? What's the plan? What are we supposed to be getting done?''

They laughed at him and flew away, all except for a female duck, who smiled at him coyly and said, ``Most of us are just trying to eat, sleep, and find ducks of the opposite sex.'' Then she flew off to join the others, looking back every now and then to see if he would follow. He did not; he just sat there, alone and confused.

He tried joining various kinds of societies, such as the Association of Bills and Beaks, and the Quick Quack Club. He was never turned away, but on the other hand, he soon realized they weren't really accomplishing anything and were just excuses to eat, sleep, and find ducks of the opposite sex.

One day he decided he didn't want to live with these other ducks anymore. He told the ones that were present that he was leaving, but they weren't listening; they had found some duck calls that people had dropped, and were trying them out on a few good-looking females in the vicinity. So he left them there, and went many miles without seeing another of his kind, until he ran across three little ducks who were laughing and singing a song.

Great Duck Guru sits all day;
He won't ever come and play.
When the Great One goes to bed
No one cares what he has said.
If you see him in the trees,
Kick the Guru in the knees.
If he comes to you instead,
Kick the Guru in the head.
He won't ever come and play;
Great Duck Guru sits all day.

``You have a guru around?'' asked the poor lone duck.

``Sure, he's the silly one on the other side of that hill off in the distance. If you see him, tell him he's still `It' 'cause he hasn't tagged us back.''

So the duck went further, avoiding the stones the three little ducks were dropping on his head, in search of the Great Duck Guru, who would surely know the answer to his problem. The Guru would have infinite wisdom. The Guru would welcome him with open arms. He wondered why he hadn't heard of the Great Duck Guru before.

The next day he arrived at the pond of the great master, a bright blue-headed mallard, and approached him.

``O Great Duck Guru, I have a question for you,'' said the duck.

``What is it, my son?'' said the great master, floating effortlessly across the water.

``O Wise One, I was wondering, what is the collective direction of the species?''

The great master thought for a bit, and then responded: ``You are very wise yourself, my son, to have thought of such a question. There is, as you have guessed, a collective direction of the species.''

``What is it, O Most Clever of Them All?''

``I am not going to tell you!''

``Oh,'' said the duck, feeling dejected.

``Hmmn,'' said the great master, not wanting to disappoint a strong, young duck, especially one who might be good at helping the great master with his chores, ``perhaps if you study with me you shall become enlightened.''

The duck was delighted, and stayed with the great master, studying earnestly, so he, too, could know the secret. He watched the other ducks who came nearby, especially ones of the opposite sex, trying to figure out what they were up to, and longing to go back, though he knew he could not, because he was different from them.

One day the master came up to him. ``Have you discovered yourself yet?'' he asked.

``What?'' said the duck. ``No, O Great Duck Guru, I've been trying to ascertain the collective direction of the species.''

``That is the collective direction of the species, my son. We must all find our inner selves and see how we relate to our environment. That is the way in which we are traveling, so to speak.''

``What about eating, sleeping, and finding ducks of the opposite sex, O Great One?''

``That is but the preliminary step.''

``Oh,'' said the duck, feeling dejected again.

Autumn came, and the duck reminded the master that it was time to migrate, but the great master merely nodded. Flocks of birds flew overhead. The great master continued with his studies. The duck became anxious of the coming winter, and was tired of doing the great master's chores, so he slipped off when the next group of ducks flew by. He tried to join them, but he had forgotten his V-formation flying and was concentrating so much on the philosophical problem at hand that he began to fall behind, and he made a few wrong turns as he flew further along the migration path.

He drifted south, alone.

And then one day, when he was sleeping almost as soundly as he had been when he first became aware of his predicament, it came to him: there was no collective direction of the species!

Freed of this burden, he flew through the air, making dips and loops and U-turns, unaware of the two hunters that were lurking below until they shot him.

As he fell down from the sky, he heard a flock of ducks laughing at him, and he had a strange notion that the collective direction of the species was to be prepared for this very moment; various kinds of psychological training had been passed from generation to generation, making sure that when the time came and he was killed, they could properly rub it in.