The Orbit

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The thunder pulled Pete out of sleep. He rolled over in bed and looked out the window. Great bolts of lightning stitched the sky. The rain pounded on the roof like nuts and bolts.

He made a mental note that tomorrow he would move his bed to the far wall, away from the window. Mildred was the one who had wanted it here, and that no longer mattered. He could do as he pleased now. Being this close to the glass was too creepy, always had been for him.

Thunder boomed and caused Pete to jump. Lightning, bright as mid-day, lit up his yard, the street and his neighbor's garage, which was directly across from his drive. His stupid neighbor had forgotten to close his garage up again. In that flash he had been able to see their station wagon and their kid's toys strung out on their drive. Dumb kid never remembered to put up anything. And with them being uphill, and him living on an incline, about half the time it rained, the kid's junk washed up in his yard. He told himself that next time it happened, he was going to burn the stuff.

"Damn," Pete muttered. If there was one thing he needed right now it was sleep. It had been one hell of a day. Work had been lousy. The board had rejected his idea after he had invested six months of hard work on it, and then he came home to Mildred's goodbye note. He had been expecting her to run off with their dentist ever since she had come back from having her teeth capped with more than a proud smile on her face. That did not concern him. He was glad to be rid of her. The fact that she had left before fixing dinner did concern him. He had been forced to eat out at a pizza joint, one of those quickie-service places, and that damn pepperoni had been wrestling with him every since.

And now this. A storm complete with bass drums and light show. Grumbling, Pete rolled out of bed, went to the bathroom to fix himself a seltzer for his stomach. When he went back to bed he saw a peculiar thing. So peculiar he shook his head to see if he were dreaming. No. He was wide awake.

On the tail of a lightning flash, Pete felt certain that he had seen something fall from the sky and land in his yard. It looked as if it had hit at the tip of his drive, just off the cement and on the grass, but he couldn't make it out.

Lightning flashed again, and Pete was positive that the object was closer now, perhaps a couple of feet. And it looked to be bigger than he remembered. But the flash was so brief he could not make it out.

He climbed back into bed, put his face to the window and watched for a long time, but he could see nothing, the rain had grown so thick.

Just getting jumpy, he decided. What with a day like this one, and then that pizza, it was no wonder he was imagining things. He hoped Mildred's caps fell off her teeth.

Pete pulled the covers up around his neck, and at that moment the lightning flashed. Out of the corner of his eye he felt certain he had seen something, movement, and the object was considerably bigger now. Maybe a foot long and half a foot wide.

He was reminded of a science fiction film he had once seen, Invaders from Mars. A kid had seen a spaceship fall from the sky one night and land in a sandlot in back of his house. Of course no one believed him, and one by one, the aliens turned his family into zombies.

Lightning again, and Pete saw it this time, recognized it. A wave of relief washed through him. Halfway between his neighbor's house and his own was a large rubber duck. The biggest he had ever seen, but nonetheless, a rubber duck.

It was clear to him now. The neighbor's kid had left the duck out with his other toys and the water had washed it into his yard. That was why it had seemed larger with each lightning flash. Optical illusion. It was slowly sliding down the incline, getting closer, and since lightning can play tricks on the senses, it only seemed to be growing. It was merely getting closer at a faster rate than he had realized.

The lightning flashed again.

Pete blinked. The duck was very big now, too damned big to be any optical illusion. It was less than a yard away from his window.

It was some kind of trick, had to be. Someone had inflated a huge rubber duck and . . .

Lightning flashed again.

The duck's rubbery bill punched through the glass not less than an inch from Pete's face. Fragments of glass flew every which way. Pete opened his mouth, froze. He could not move. The duck was as big as a cow.

"Quack," it said, revealing dagger-size teeth in its otherwise duck-like countenance.

And then it grabbed Pete by the head, pulling him through the window before he had time to scream or see the other rubber-like ducks falling from the sky, growing rapidly as they touched ground.




"Quack" was originally published in 1997 in The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent, a collection of Lansdale's short stories published in a limited-edition hardcover by Subterranean Press. "Quack" 1997 Joe R. Lansdale.


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The Orbit

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