In the shade of the trees by the banks of a lake, Liam was born. He started his life in a nest along with six other eggs. Liam was the first to hatch, and he pecked away furiously at the shell, until he managed to squeeze out into the sunlight.
His mother stood admiring her new son, and waited patiently for his siblings to hatch.
It took a little while but eventually there were seven little ducklings standing on the lakeshore.
"Oh my goodness" the mother duck exclaimed, "What a wonderful family I have". She looked over her babies with pride, and gathered them about her.
As time went by, the mother duck taught her babies to swim, and they followed behind her on the crystal waters. They stayed in a straight line behind their mother, if she went to the left, they followed, when she stopped to admire the beauty of their world, or to dip her head beneath the water to catch a tasty grub, they swam beside her in a circle, hoping to be the one to share her tasty treat.
Liam always liked to be the last in line; he seemed to enjoy watching the other ducklings, as they stayed in formation. When one of them got out of line, he quacked furiously, and cried great big ducky tears.
The mother duck watched Liam, she noticed that he was different from her other babies. He looked just exactly like the rest, with his sweet little beak, and his snowy feathers, but there was something about Liam that worried her. She stayed up at night, in the shade of the willow tree, and pondered about her little son, and what could be wrong.
Who was this little duckling, and why did he act so strangely?
As time went on, Liam didn't quack anymore, he refused to swim in the lake, he didn't like the way the water felt when he put his head beneath the surface to hunt for food.
He liked to stand on the shore looking out into the blue water, tapping his little webbed feet over and over. Some days he walked along the shore and played alone in the rushes. Other days he spent his time sitting quietly, arranging the pebbles in long lines.
His mother was worried about him; he did not like to eat the green shoots that the other children loved. He only ate one particular grub, which were hard for his mother to find.
The other children avoided Liam; he always wandered off and got lost. Mother always sent Lucy and Leroy to look for him, and they got tired of wasting their days searching for him. Lila and Lester wanted to play with the other ducks, but had to baby-sit Liam, even though he was really the oldest one, because he had hatched first.
But somehow, Liam didn't understand danger, and he had to be watched constantly for fear he would get into trouble. "We are tired of taking care of Liam," they wailed. "We want to go play with our friends across the lake, why do we have to stay and watch him all the time?"
Liam's mother wanted to spend the evenings with her friends, for they would gather together in the middle of the lake discussing the latest gossip. She missed these moments, but she had to stay close to Liam during the long night hours. Liam had a hard time going to sleep, and sometimes if he woke during the night, he wandered off into the darkness. Papa Duck often stayed up late with her, talking about their son, and what they were going to do about him.
They missed the old days when they could visit with friends while the children slept.
All night long they stayed close to Liam, sometimes he would let Mama put her wing around him, and she told him stories about the lake, and about the world and how wonderful it was. Other nights, Papa told him stories about when he was a little duckling. Liam did not speak, but they knew that he was listening; Mama stroked his downy head and wept for the little white duckling, who sat so still beside her.
"Why is he so different?" she wondered, "Why did I have such a child?"
When Liam fell asleep, she tucked him in with all the other children, and lay beside Papa, but sleep did not come easily for the parents of Liam.
Liam didn't notice that he was causing any problems. He was happy, he smiled at the flecks of dust that made rainbows in the sunlight. When the other children teased him he didn't seem to care, he created his own happiness, smiling at them cheerfully. Life for Liam was always the same, and he liked it that way. Each day he woke and ate two grubs that his mother had found for him. Then he liked to go to the shore and watch the sun rise. It was wonderful to him that every day when he came to the edge of the water, the large sun rose slowly and higher into the sky. It made him feel good that he could depend on this every day.
One day Liam woke up early, went outside and to watch the sun rise. As he walked to the shore he felt something he had never felt before, a cold breeze ruffled his feathers and made him shiver. As he stood waiting for the sun to rise, he tapped his foot impatiently, for the sun could not be seen on the horizon. Liam waited for a long time, he became anxious. Where was the sun? Every day of his life he had watched it rise, and that was how he started his day.
After a minute or two, a large cloud loomed overhead and the wind blew colder. Liam's feathers became chilly, he stood shivering, and then began to cry. Liam decided that if the sun would not rise, maybe it was lost. He decided to venture out to find the sun that would make everything okay again. He started waddling along the shoreline determined to catch the sun and tell it to rise.
When the Mama and Papa duck and the other children woke a few minutes later, they noticed that Liam was missing. Lester and Larry hurried to the shoreline to see if he was there, but they ran home to tell mother that Liam was nowhere to be found.
Mama duck's heart began to flutter and she quickly went out herself to check the shore.
No one was there, no little white duckling waiting for the sun to rise. Liam was gone leaving a trail of footprints going eastward.
Mother Duck panicked for a moment, she knew that Liam did not know his way around the lake, he had stayed close to home, preferring to sit quietly and play. Where could her little son be?
The other ducks on the lake gathered together, and formed a search party, to try and find Liam. Some flew overhead, trying to spot him; others searched the rushes and soggy marshes near the lake. Papa duck joined the others, while Mama duck stayed home with her children, they huddled around her sadly, hoping for good news.
As the day wore on and Liam had not been found, the children began to cry.
We miss Liam" they cried, "We should have been nicer to him"
As night fell the children finally went to sleep, their little bodies huddled close together.
But Mother Duck could not sleep, she stood on the shoreline, quacking plaintively, calling for Liam. She thought back to the times when they sat together in the evening, and her wings ached to hold her little son. "He was not a burden, " she thought, "he was a blessing". She no longer wanted to be with the other mothers chatting about this and that. All she wanted was to have Liam next to her, as they always did. She realized how much she loved him, and how special he was to their family.
She laughed when she remembered how he loved to have his neck tickled, right in that certain spot. She cried when she realized that she had often wished he were just like the others, so that she could have her freedom. She sat on the edge of the water, during the long long night. But Liam did not return.
The next day as the ducklings woke up, they waddled to find their mother, and found her sitting sadly on the rocky beach. They gathered beside her, and she tucked them under her wings.
Lucy and Lilly began to sob quietly, "We miss Liam" they cried, "we miss the way he smiles at us when we give him a new pebble for his collection".
Lester and Larry joined in, "Oh yes, and the other day when we took him to the water, he put his foot in for the first time in ages! And he even gave a tiny quack".
Leroy and Lila continued, "We have to find him, our family is not the same without Liam".
Mother Duck smiled at her children, and for the first time the worry and sadness left, they were a family and one of them was missing. It was time to take action.
They walked along the shore, each one quacking loudly, calling for Liam. Usually he ignored the calls but it made them feel good to be doing something, so they continued their journey. At lunchtime, they ventured into the water to eat and gather some of Liam's favorite grubs; he must be awfully hungry by now, for his mother always found his food for him. He would never be brave enough to go into the water to find his own.
Late in the afternoon, the little family began to falter worrying that they would never find Liam. They had searched high and low and had been unsuccessful.
Lucy had swollen feet and wanted to turn back, and Mother decided that if they didn't find him in one more hour, they must turn back.
At that moment, the sun came out from behind a large cloud, and shined down on the little group. It was a welcome warmth, for the air had been chilly for most of the day.
As the children sat resting in the sunshine, a small figure walked out of the dense rushes, and waddled to the shoreline. It was Liam!
He stood there flapping his wings joyfully, greeting his beloved sunshine that had been hidden behind the clouds of fall.
All of his brothers and sisters quacked loudly, and hurried over to him. Mother duck stood back for a moment, enjoying the wondrous sight of the seven little ducks, dancing in the sunlight. Then she too, rushed towards Liam and wrapped her wings around him, joyfully.
Liam seemed surprised to see his family, and smiled shyly at all the fuss that was being made of him. Mother duck gave him the grubs she had collected for him, and he ate them greedily, which was a change for Liam. He usually only ate two grubs three times a day.
The little family of ducks hurried homeward, and saw Papa coming towards them. His face was sad and tired, but when he saw Liam, he rushed to him and gathered him close. The children had never seen Papa cry before, and Liam looked up into his Papa's face and for the first time, reached to brush a tear away.
The happy family sat together in the moonlight. Liam was carefully tucked in between them all.
Together at last, together forever.