by Clay Glaus
All Bucko could do was watch the dark silver-colored clouds gather above him and hear the crackle of thunder as a storm began to form, making it too dangerous to fly for the day. He was a Canadian goose who had spent the past couple of days making the journey southward to reach warmer climates, as all of his kind did. However, unlike most of them, he made this journey alone. He didn’t want to go alone—on the contrary, he pleaded not to—but his wife Joey, his son Bartty, and his brother Wheeler did not want to go with him.
He sat underneath a tree, using it for shelter until the storm passed. From what he knew of human habits, he was in a farmer’s field, where a line of trees surrounded one side of the plot but grew nowhere else. There were no other forms of shelter for him to use, so he took what he could get.
As he watched the storm form, he tried not to think about that painful moment before he left his family; but as he looked at the monotonous pattern of clouds in the sky, it only provided a screen on which to replay that memory over again.
“Please, Bucko,” he remembered his brother saying. His brother’s wing wrapped around his neck. “I love you and all, but our old migration path doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s too narrow—too strict. There’s no room for maneuvering or changing course if you need to. And besides, there was always some danger on it! There were hunters, storms, predators, and other things we didn’t see. We could’ve gotten hurt! And to go by ourselves again? Bucko, I’m not so sure about this.”
Every year, whenever winter begins to arrive, Canadian geese prepare to fly to the South to reach warmer climates to survive. All geese, to make their trips easier, plan out their flights before embarking on them. Bucko, Wheeler, Bartty, and Joey were going to leave next week.
Since Bucko loved his family dearly, he presented them with the same flight plan they had used for many years, with the map laid on the dining room table. However, they had other ideas.
“Wheeler,” Bucko responded, “every flight has troubles on it. Have you ever heard of a painless flight? I know our old path will have its dangers—tell me, which path doesn’t?”
“There’s this path that a bunch of geese will be going on!”
Wheeler released him and placed a map on the table that he had under his wing since he arrived, replacing Bucko’s with his. “You see, if we take this path here, there’ll be no hunters, storms, or predators around. It’s a completely safe path. No other path has ever existed that was so safe as this one. And we won’t have to fly alone! A bunch of other geese will be joining us, and we’ll have the best of company.”
Bucko inspected the map. He had an eye for paths and reading maps, a skill he had developed after spending many hours making his map, where he memorized every detail, no longer needing to bring it with him. He stared at it for some time, with everygoose else (especially Wheeler) sitting in silence, waiting for him to agree with them.
At first glance, Bucko saw that it was a path that would take them straight to the South while avoiding areas that he knew had many dangers. But after diligent examination, he saw it was crudely drawn and not detailed well enough, its lines only vaguely looking like the land they’d be flying across. The line that showed where they had to follow was just a straight line across the map with an “X” at the end point—it did not even have a compass. Using his knowledge of the terrain, Bucko traced where the land was and its relative orientation to the North. He quickly made a terrible discovery:
“Wheeler, this map will take you north—not south!”
“What? No! This is perfectly accurate. I got it from a bunch of other geese who rigorously studied it.”
“Wheeler, there are many geese that make mistakes all the time. That path will lead you north, and you will die up there from the cold!”
“I’m sorry, Bucko, but I just don’t see how so many geese can overlook such a simple mistake. Our old path could get us hurt. Bartty? Joey? What do you geese think?”
Bartty was the first to respond. “Dad, Uncle Wheeler is right. It’s a risk-versus-reward thing. Uncle Wheeler’s path has no risk, but a lot of reward, whereas ours has the same amount of reward, but a lot more risk. I mean, which one is better to take? I’m going with Uncle Wheeler. Why should we have to deal with lightning strikes, or humans shooting at us, when we could go with him and not worry about a thing?”
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Joey said. “Everygoose but you is right. While we did survive flying through our old path, I’d prefer if we didn’t have to go through any suffering at all. That’s just not what life is about. Sweetie, Wheeler has the right plan, so let’s go with that.”
Bucko couldn’t believe it—no goose wanted to go with him, even though he knew that his brother’s path would lead all of them to the frigid North. He knew their old path had difficulties, but they would suffer even more if they went without him. He sat there trying to think of something to say.
“Listen, I know our path will have its difficulties, but to avoid them is just impossible! Our path actually leads to the South, where the reward will vastly outweigh the risk. Don’t you get it? Your suffering will be compounded once you go on that path. I’ve studied every nook, every cranny, every detail about where we’ll be going, and this is the best path to go down.”
They all shook their heads.
“I’m sorry,” Wheeler said, “but it’s best for everygoose here, including you, to fly my path. I don’t want to see us—especially you, Bucko—suffer on our way to the South. So, since most of us are in agreement, what time next week should we meet with everygoose else to fly southward?”
Bucko was devastated and sank into his chair. He realized if he were to go with them, it would be disastrous for him, too. “I…I can’t go with you. I’d be going to a wintry wasteland. I’ll be…going by myself…to the South.”
They stared at him in disbelief, not knowing what to say. But, after composing herself, Joey responded, “Wait, what? Bucko, are you… sure? Please, come with us! We’re going to the South, same as you are. Why would you want to split?”
“Yeah, Dad,” replied Bartty, “We want you to come with us so we can fly together as a family!”
“Bucko,” said Wheeler, “I know you can be a bit crazy at times, but this is just insane. Going by yourself? On that path? You’ll get hurt! And who’ll be there if you do?”
Bucko appreciated his family’s concerns, but all he could say was, “I’ll be fine. I know I will be.” They sat in silence, with Wheeler, Joey, and Bartty hoping Bucko would suddenly change his mind. But he didn’t, continuing to sink into his chair until he couldn’t see them anymore. Bucko thought, I won’t see them at all once I get to the South, like how I can’t see them right now.
He rose back up and saw them staring at him.
“Well,” Bucko said, “If that’s the choice you geese want to make, then I can’t force you to go with me. We’ll meet in the field next week and depart to the South, but… separately.” Bucko sighed, knowing where they’ll be going.
When the day came to depart, they all met in the field with the other geese. Before they all flew in separate directions, Bucko begged his family to come with him.
“Please, you’re going to the North. Listen to me! Why would I ever lead you astray? I want to protect you.”
He began to tear up.
Joey responded, “Honey, it’s going to be all right. We’re flying to the South, same as you, just on different paths. Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?”
Bucko shook his head. Joey sighed, “If that’s what you want, dear, then you’ll have it.
Just…please, be careful. You’ll be by yourself, and I don’t want to think what could happen to you if you get hurt.”
She hugged him before she departed, with Bartty and Wheeler joining. Bucko held them tight, thinking it may be the last time he’d see them again. They let go.
“Goodbye, Bucko,” said Joey, “I’ll see you in the South. I love you.”
“Goodbye, Dad. Love you,” said Bartty.
“See you down south, brother. Love ya’,” said Wheeler.
“Love you geese, too,” replied Bucko.
Before Joey and Bartty leapt into the air to fly away, Wheeler presented Bucko with their map. “Don’t worry, brother,” Wheeler said, “This thing will lead us to where we need to go. We’re in safe wings.” Wheeler gave him one last hug. Bucko was too devastated to respond.
Joey, Bartty, and Wheeler then leapt into the air and flew with all the other geese who began to do the same, with Wheeler examining the map as he flew. Bucko saw them fly off, and he gloomily waved goodbye as he watched them disappear over the horizon with several flocks of geese.
He looked around and noticed he was the only one around in the field. Everygoose else was heading north, by his calculation, so he asked himself if he was the only one heading south.
He knew for sure there were others, as it was impossible for everygoose to be heading north. He tried to see if there was somegoose he missed—but there wasn’t. He then felt alone—a feeling he would never shake off.
But that was a couple of days ago, and he couldn’t change what happened, though he wished he could. Still sitting under the tree, he watched the rain now violently pour down. He felt the warm air flee from him, and cold water began to slowly drip onto him despite the tree’s protection. He saw lightning crack in the distance; the thunder almost deafened him.
He shivered and held himself for warmth. Even though he had feathers, they were not enough to withstand the sudden cold, and he continued to shiver. He wanted to huddle with another goose, and at first, he thought this was for survival reasons…but then, his thoughts turned to huddling with his family. He wanted to feel their warmth and see their faces and warm smiles. He wanted to talk to them about this current situation where they’d say, Don’t worry Bucko, we’re family. We’ll get through this. We’re in this together. He knew they would help him get through this miserable situation if they were here.
But they weren’t. Instead, they were flying off to the North, and he continued to shiver there, under a tree, all alone. The sky grew darker as Bucko knew the sun was setting behind the dark clouds, and he would be in total darkness soon. He used what remaining light he had to see if there were any other geese around he could call out to—but there were none. He was the only goose there. He shivered more.
“Did I make the right choice?” Bucko said out loud. “Should I have gone with my family? Maybe I could have guided them southward or shown them they were heading in the wrong direction after a day or two. I…I don’t know. Would they have rejected me and told me I’m wrong? Oh, I…I don’t know…I just want to be with my family.”
The rain poured down harder and sucked out more warm air.
“Maybe I should go back and get them to go southward with me?” he continued to say out loud. “Maybe I can still change their minds?” He looked up at the night sky and wondered if he should brave the elements now to try to quickly catch up with his family. He needed to bring them back southward. He got up and braced himself to fly.
Then, lightning struck the tree.
Bucko jumped into the air, scared, and couldn’t see for a brief moment. Panicked, he got on the ground. When his vision returned, he looked up to see a thick branch falling on him. He tried to get out of the way, but wasn’t quick enough.
It crashed on him and knocked him out.
Before he lost consciousness, his last thoughts were of seeing his family and reuniting with them.
It had stopped raining when Bucko regained consciousness. No thunder and lightning appeared in the dark sky, and it was all quiet. All he could hear was the sound of his heartbeat. He had mud on his face, beak, and body, and he realized he was lying on the ground; he was also wet. He tried to get up, but felt the heavy weight of a tree branch pinning him down.
He laid there, trying to think of what to do. He knew he had to get up or be stuck there forever, never seeing his family again.
My family! he thought, Oh, I wish they were here right now. I wouldn’t be stuck underneath this branch and they would pick me back up. He wondered where exactly they would be at this moment, but he could only guess. As he continued to lay there, he thought about his previous plan to find them. But the tree branch knocked some sense into him, and he realized it wouldn’t work. How could I find them in the first place? I have no idea where they are. And even if I did, how could I convince them they’re still going north? They’d just argue with me like last time. Tears began to fall as he realized they would be in more pain than he was in now, once they reached the North.
But as he cried, he realized he could begin to see. He looked up and saw the sun rising. He quickly determined the direction of the South and saw the warm orange glow of the southern horizon. He thought the horizon was beautiful and marveled at it for some time to forget his troubles. My family is smart. Maybe they’ll feel, as they fly northward, the air around them getting colder and colder? Maybe they’ll turn around to fly southward?
He sighed. He knew this may be wishful thinking; but, not having any other choice, he decided to take this gamble. He wouldn’t be able to find them on his own, anyway.
But first, he needed to get out from under the tree branch.
He gathered all the strength he had and slowly pushed himself off the ground with his wings. The branch was heavy, and he almost gave out and collapsed on the ground again. Only the thought of seeing his family again gave him enough strength to move the branch.
He was free! Exhausted, he crawled to lay against the tree to rest.
Bucko looked up to see where the lightning hit the tree and saw where the branch that hit him broke. He considered himself lucky to have survived and not have any broken bones. He again looked back to where the South was, seeing his destination in the distance.
“I will get to the South,” he said, “No matter what.” He stared at it for some time, still resting. A painful thought came to him, I just have to hope my family is there.
After several minutes, he felt rejuvenated and decided to fly.
He looked around to see if there were any other geese, but he found none. It’s possible, he thought, I’m just the only one in my area. I’m sure there are others elsewhere. Right? As he searched, he realized he hadn’t talked to anygoose else since he began his journey.
He knew thinking about his family would cause him to turn around and fly hopelessly north. He had made so much progress, he realized, that it would be pointless. So he tried to focus on flying.
Over the course of several days, he discovered that flying helped keep his mind off of his family, as he had to focus on what was in front, below, and beside him. He had to focus on any potential storm or predator around that may keep him from reaching the South. However, when he had to rest for the night, his thoughts would immediately shift back to his family and how well they’re resting, or if they’re resting at all. Often, he would have nightmares where he would see his family shivering in the cold of the North, with him powerless to stop it.
His perseverance paid off, though, as he eventually reached a point in his journey where he was less than an hour away from reaching his destination in the South. From his position in the sky, he tried to see if his family was there, but he was too far away to tell. He looked away, out of sadness.
Given how close he was, he decided to land at a nearby pond to rest for a bit, as he was tired from flying all day. He landed in the water, hoping the cold would cool him down. But he made one crucial error—he stopped flying—and the cold water reminded him of his family and the freezing conditions they may be in. He got out, quickly shaking off any droplets, not wanting to think about any disaster that may befall them.
He heard a dove coo, and he looked up to see him land in his nest in a tree with a worm in his mouth. Three hatchlings squeaked in excitement as their father grounded the worm in his mouth and fed it to his young. They ate and chirped, thankful for their father, who hugged them. He loved them very much.
Bucko felt like a failure. What am I doing? he thought. I’m supposed to protect my family as a father. Yet, here I am so close to the warmth of the South, while they’re probably close to the cold of the North. But, could they be in the South, though? They’re smart. They could’ve seen reason. Could they be there right now? Oh, I’m so close that turning around would be foolish. I must see if they’re there! I’m so close!
Bucko braced for flight and launched into the air. A little voice inside his head said they may not actually be there, but he ignored it. He wanted to see his family again.
Right as he took off, shotgun pellets flew around him. He panicked and flew quickly in a random direction, managing to get some considerable distance into the air over the forest.
Then he was hit and began to fall down.
He braced for impact, but fell through some tree branches and onto the ground. With a rush of adrenaline, he managed to get up and saw he was shot in the wing—he knew he wasn’t going to be flying anytime soon. He heard footsteps coming toward his general direction and looked around to see where he could escape. But he remembered he wasn’t that far from the South—if he could sprint to it, he could get help from his fellow geese—and maybe his family. Without thinking, he rushed in its general direction, putting pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding as he ran.
He thought about only his survival, fearing that any second he’d get shot again, and he would never see his family or the South. But as he ran closer, his adrenaline subsided, and he began to calm down. However, he still sprinted. Eventually, he could no longer hear whoever shot him.
He calmed down completely, then noticed how weak he was. He looked at his wound again and saw blood still pouring out, with some flesh dangling; all of his feathers around it were shot off. Bucko trembled and almost collapsed onto the ground. However, he knew if he did, he wouldn’t be able to get back up—and he wouldn’t be able to see his family again.
He cleared out of the forest and saw a flat field ahead of him, the vague border of the South within walking distance. His family may be there. They could heal him. He needed to press forward. He had no other choice.
With all the strength he could muster, he sprinted again toward the South; but he collapsed onto the ground, only having run a few yards. Dirt filled his mouth and eyes. He tried to get up, but couldn’t. He looked up from the ground, but only saw a blurry, watery image—the dirt obscuring his vision. He tried to wipe it away with his good wing, but his weakness prevented him.
But he thought he saw somegoose. They were resting underneath a tree within the borders of the South, with their head leaning against the trunk and their wings resting on their stomach. Am I hallucinating? he thought. Is that another goose?
He didn’t know who they were. As far as Bucko was aware, they had not noticed him.
But then came two more geese, landing beside the resting goose, waking them up and talking about something Bucko couldn’t hear, only that it was a pleasant conversation as all of them laughed.
Maybe…maybe that’s them! My family. They made it.
With his remaining strength, Bucko crawled toward them.It wasn’t until he crossed the border that one goose finally noticed him in his wounded state, rallying the rest to rush toward him. They got down to Bucko and quickly noticed how badly his wound was, now dirty from crawling. One of them put their wing under Bucko’s head.
“You’re going to be alright,” they said. “Everything will be alright.”
Bucko’s eyes were still filled with dirt. The other goose’s face was too blurry to make out. He tried to squint to see who they were, but he passed out before he could.
When Bucko awoke, he was lying in a bed in somegoose’s home. Light from a nearby window illuminated the room, and he saw a female goose sitting next to him.
“You’re awake!” she said. “Don’t move. Just rest.” Bucko examined his wounded wing and found somegoose had bandaged it. It still hurt.
“The doctor did that,” she continued, “and he said you’ll make a full recovery soon, as long as you don’t get shot again.”
Bucko looked closely at her but didn’t recognize her. “Thank you…thank you so much for what you’ve done,” he said. “What’s your name?”
“Well Bucko, you made it to the South—barely.”
“Hang on, did you say I’m in the South now?”
At that, Bucko forgot all the pain he was experiencing and lifted his wings in the air in excitement, but the pain from his wound immediately shot to him and he put his wings back to the bed. He made it! He made it to the South! All that pain and misery was now behind him, and he could enjoy the warmth!
But the celebration was short-lived. “Trixie, are any geese named Joey, Bartty, and Wheeler here? They’re my family, and they didn’t fly with me, but I was hoping they made it here. Are they? Are they safe?”
“So that explains why we found you alone. No, I don’t think so. I know everygoose here, as there aren’t that many of us. Though, there’s still more coming.”
“Oh.” Bucko knew it would be too good to be true, but he wanted to hope.
“Did you geese plan to meet here?”
Bucko explained the situation, from before they departed to how he got here.
“That’s one heck of an adventure, Bucko. And I’m sorry to hear that about your family.”
Trixie looked outside the window with Bucko following. They saw three geese flying into the South, and for a moment, Bucko thought it was them, but quickly realized it wasn’t.
Trixie was about to say it could be, but Bucko shook his head. He sighed.
“It’s possible they could realize their mistake and fly back here.” She put her wing on Bucko’s, “Have some hope.”
She patted his bandaged wing and excused herself to meet with those geese that had arrived. Bucko, now alone, looked out the window. He had no choice but to hope.
Off the Rack
by Ronald Walker
Clay Glaus lives in Sikeston, MO where he aspires to become a writer and author. He enjoys learning everything about the world, philosophizing about reason, (hopelessly) trying to convert people to his worldview, and listening to Soviet era 80s and 90s music. Overall, he’s just a very interesting dude.
Ronald Walker works in a painting style he terms “Suburban Primitive”. This style combines his interest in the origins and functions of art along with life in the suburbs, which he views in both a physical and psychological manner. His work has been shown in 45 solo exhibits and numerous group shows over the years. He holds both a MFA and a MA degree in painting and drawing.