The Invisible Duck
By B.W. Thines
In room 308 there lived a young man by the name of Basil Wishbone who had an invisible friend named Harold. Harold was a large duck which only Basil could see. He would introduce the duck to people and most would just pay him no mind, some people called him a ‘nut job’, but of course, Basil paid them no mind.
Basil worked across the street at the Red Door restaurant. He washed dishes, bused tables and kept the place clean. Basil was a hard worker and Harold was there for moral support. Most people that frequented the restaurant like Basil and accepted his peculiarities.
Basil grew up on a farm outside of the town of Bath, New York. He had a loving mother, father and older sister. His family had twenty-five dairy cows and various other animals. Basil had a pet duck which he called Harold. That darn duck would follow him around everywhere.
One day Basil’s father was going into town for farm supplies, so he took Basil along and of course the duck came along. Dad told Basil he would be a couple of hours, so he dropped him off at the movie theater. Basil approached the ticket widow with the duck in his arms and asked for a ticket. The woman in the ticket window told Basil he couldn’t bring any animals into the theater. Well, poor Basil didn’t know what to do; he walked around to the back of the theater to think this through. Basil unzipped his pants and loosened his belt to accommodate the duck. He untucked his shirt and let it hang over his pants.
After having the duck neatly stuffed into his pants and holding them up with one hand he approached the ticket window. Having his ticket now he found a seat in the darkened theater. Two little old ladies sat next to him. They were the Frost sisters, Martha and Innocence. It was well into the movie, Basil’s attention was on the movie as the duck worked its head out of Basil’s pants. Innocence said, “look out Martha!” Martha said, “Oh Innocence, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” “But Martha,” Innocence pleaded, “this one is eating my popcorn!” Martha just stared, not believing what she was seeing. By the time Basil noticed what was going on the duck ate half of Innocence’s popcorn. Basil quickly stuffed the duck back into his pants and exited the theater.
A few weeks later there was a terrible train derailment a few miles outside of Bath. Quite a few box cars were broken open and their contents strewn about the ground. There were bags of animal feed, fertilizer and lawn chemicals. Many of them were ripped open. The authorities had the entire area cordoned off to keep out looters. The following day, the railroad authorities and the insurance people were there to assess the damage. The insurance company hired people to gather up items that could be sold at auction so that they could recoup as much money as possible. These people were told by the insurance people to refill ripped bags with the spilled product and then reseal the bag.
Most of the animal feed was bought by Jim Click’s General Farm Store in Bath. Basil’s father later bought twenty-five bags of feed from Jim Click. He fed the feed to his chickens and pigs. The Wishbones would butcher their chickens and pigs for their own consumption and occasionally sell a butchered pig to a friend.
The first sign of trouble was that a few of the chickens died suddenly and then Basil’s beloved duck departed this life as well. A few days later Mrs. Wishbone became ill, she had sever stomach pain and passed out in the kitchen. She was rushed to the hospital in Bath and diagnosed with cancer. She died within a few weeks. A month after the mother’s death, Basil’s father collapsed in the barn and was taken to the hospital but died one week later.
By this time the county and State of New York was interested in the family’s sudden deaths. The Health and Environmental departments searched the entire farm looking for carcinogens. They took samples of feed, blood samples from all the animals and even took a few chickens and pigs back to Albany for testing.
Basil was staying with his aunt in Bath when she rushed him to the hospital with a high fever. He was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, but it was treatable. He received radiation treatment at Strong Hospital in Rochester. A month later the doctors said that Basil was cancer free. But his mental had deteriorated to where he was unresponsive and would not speak. Basil’s aunt moved to Rochester so she could be with him while he was being treated at Strong Mental Health.
Meanwhile, New York State Health had come to a conclusion on what caused the Wishbone family cancer. They found that some bags of feed had lawn chemicals mixed in. These lawn chemicals were highly carcinogenic. They also found that the bags of feed had come from the trail derailment. The State Attorney General sued the insurance company for negligence. The Attorney General made sure all of Basil’s hospital bills would be paid from the settlement money.
While under the care of Dr. Asha Benanjerry at Strong Mental Health, Basil started to open up. He started talking, but he didn’t remember anything of the incident at the farm and often asked about his mom and dad. He also asked about Harold, his duck. Dr. Benanjerry put Basil under hypnosis and explained what had happened to his parents, sister and the duck. Under hypnosis, Dr. Benanjerry suggested to Basil to accept these facts and that he felt deep remorse for his loss.
It wasn’t long after that Basil’s aunt died. Basil tried living alone in the apartment that his Aunt had rented, but had much difficulty managing the place. That’s when Social; Services stepped in and moved him into the Elk Hotel. Basil adjusted well to the hotel. He would get his meals at the Red Door and catch his bus at the neighboring bus terminal to go to Strong Hospital for his appointments. It was during this time that Basil became aware of Harold the Duck always accompanying him wherever he went. Doctor Benanjerry tried everything to convince Basil that there was no duck. The doctor’s efforts only riled Basil and made him angry, so they decided to leave well enough alone. So, everyone at the hospital accepted Basil as he was, duck and all.
B.W. Thine’s is the author of the collection, Stories from the Elk Hotel.