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by Sandra Crook

A thrashing of fragile wings sent plumes of water splashing furiously into the air. The frisson of excitable terror amongst the other birds was almost palpable, as clumps of feathers were torn out and left to float on the turbulent water of the lake. 

On the lakeside, Becky screamed, pointing at the carnage taking place.

“Oh, do something, Homer,” she yelled, “they’re killing each other.”

Homer’s cousin, Clint, had walked on ahead with his latest squeeze. 

‘Clint’s really the man for this,’ Homer thought nervously, but Becky’s obvious faith in him generated an unfamiliar swell of courage within his puny chest. 

Pulling off his jacket and shoes, he plunged into the water, his senses reeling in shock at the iciness beneath the first lukewarm couple of inches. For a second he panicked, sinking way down below the surface and hearing, through the gurgling of the water around him, Becky’s screams from the side of the lake. 

Desperately forcing himself upwards until his head popped above the surface, he struck out in an awkward breast stroke, his face lifted high out of the water.  Being asthmatic, he had an aversion to submerging his face in water.

The desperate struggle ahead continued, generating huge chutes of water that threatened to engulf him. Becky’s screams changed to cheers as he gained ground, and adrenalin coursed through his veins.

Reaching the melée, he repeatedly forced the predator away from its victim, conscious of sharp cuts being inflicted on his hands by its razored bill. It flew at him, again and again, until Homer had to sink below the surface for respite. Lungs bursting, he emerged again, in time to see his enemy disappearing across the lake, casting baleful backward glances.

The poor victim was now surrounded by a host of other creatures, and Homer could not tell whether it had survived. His chest began to tighten and he realised he was about to have an asthma attack. 

Alarmed to see how far his struggles had taken him, he began to swim desperately for the shore. There was no way this attack would pass without his inhaler, which was tucked inside his jacket at Becky’s feet. Bursting with air that he couldn’t seem to exhale, he struggled on, spurred by Becky’s cries of encouragement. Eventually, exhausted, he staggered out of the water and collapsed at her feet.

“Inhaler” he gasped, as she rummaged frantically through his jacket. He snatched it from her, and dragged several sharp breaths on it, his fingers almost too numb to grip. Then he collapsed on the grass, and waited, as the salbutamol permeated his airways and his struggles began to ease.

Eventually he struggled into a sitting position, dropping his head onto his knees. Becky knelt beside him, stroking his back and murmuring words of encouragement. His wet clothes stuck to his bony frame, beginning to steam gently in the warmth of the August sun.

People had gathered around him, muttering quietly. He sensed their admiration and awe.

Suddenly his cousin Clint pushed through the throng, glaring at him.

“For Christ’s sake, Homer” he hissed, in embarrassment. “They were just two ducks having a shag.”

Becky stopped rubbing Homer’s back, and glanced nervously at the crowd. Then, scrambling to her feet, she melted into the crowd.