The Ugly Duckling

One Spring, down by the lake, a mother duck waited for her eggs to hatch. It was a beautiful day, and she had waited for a long time, but finally today was the day. With a ‘tap-tap’ the beak of one of her babies broke the egg, and soon she had a collection of beautiful ducklings. Every egg had hatched, except one.
An older duck came to look at the new chicks, and saw the unbroken one.
‘Ah, that isn’t a duck’s egg’ she said. ‘That is a turkey’s egg. You should just leave it.’
The mother duck, however, did not want to leave the egg that she had cared for for so long, and so she waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, several days later, the egg began to break open, and from inside came a big, ugly grey bird.
‘Oh no’ thought the mother duck. ‘It is a turkey.’
The mother duck decided there was one way to find out if this bird was a duck or a turkey: she had to see if it could swim. So, the next morning, she took her family to the water. Every bird jumped in, including the grey one.
‘It is a duck!’ the mother thought.
The mother duck then took her family to the farm, where several other ducks lived. When those ducks saw the big, ugly grey bird they screeched, and tried to peck it.
‘What are you doing?!’ the mother asked.
‘It’s so big and ugly’ the other ducks said. ‘We hope the farmer’s cat gets it.’
No matter what the mother duck said, the other animals continued to be mean until even the other ducklings began to believe the grey bird was horrible. Everyone seemed to hate the grey bird, and finally it ran away.
Out in the marsh the ugly duckling met two geese.
‘You are ugly’ they said, ‘but that makes you interesting. Come with us.’
The duckling thought they were nice, and wanted to go with them, when suddenly – bang, bang – gunshots rang out. The two geese, his new friends, lay dead, their blood making the water red. More shots rang out, and other geese flew into the air, trying to escape. The duckling was alone, scared, and when a big dog came over, he thought he was going to die.
The dog looked at it, and then ran off.
‘Wow, I’m so ugly not even the dog wants me for its dinner.’
The ugly duckling continued, and after crossing windy hills came to a small house where an old woman lived with a cat and a hen. The cat and the hen were very arrogant.
“Can you lay eggs? Can you purr? Only the best animals can do that.”
The duckling told them he liked to swim.
“What a silly thing to like.”
The duckling left these two, who didn’t seem to understand him at all. Alone, he continued until he found a quiet pond.
“Here is a nice place, where nobody can see how ugly I am, and I can swim, and dive. i shall stay here for the rest of my life.”
Time passed, summer turning to autumn, and then towards winter, and the duckling swam around and around his pond. No other animals came near him, and the duckling got cold, lonely, and unhappy. He tried to imagine a different life.
One day, as he looked, he saw some beautiful white birds flying overhead. They were swans going south, away from the cold. The ugly duckling stretched his neck, and tried to call to these beautiful birds, but his voice – which he hadn’t used for so long – was so strange, and certainly not beautiful.
Winter came, and the pond began to freeze. Desperately the duckling swam around and around, trying to stop the water turning into ice, but it was a losing battle. Soon he became tired, and he lay on the ice, the water freezing onto his body.
He lay there, tired, thinking he might be happy to die, when a farmer arrived at the pond and saw him. Using his shoe, the farmer broke the ice and carried the duckling back to his house. His children looked at the ugly duckling and thought it was a great new toy. They chased it around the kitchen, which made the farmer’s wife angry, and eventually the ugly duckling could take no more and ran back out the door into the cold.
Winter was cold, and the duckling sat and waited. He looked at his pond, on which he could not swim, and waited. Finally, slowly, spring arrived.
The duckling stood up and shook his wings – they felt stronger than before – and he tried to fly. Easily, those wings carried him up, and for the first time the duckling felt free. He flew across the fields until he saw, below him, 3 swans in a stream.
“I shall speak to those birds.” he thought. “They may peck me to death because I am so ugly, but that would be better than the life I have had.”
As he got closer to the swans, he thought he would bow his head. He hoped being polite would stop them being angry, but he waited to be attacked. A strange thing, however, happened then. As he looked down into the water he saw his reflection, which he had not seen the whole winter.
He, too, was a swan! He was a beautiful, elegant swan! And as he approached the swans, they bowed their heads to him. He felt embarrassed but, at the same time, so happy. The sun shone on his feathers, and he stretched his long, slender neck up towards the sky.
‘Never did I feel life would be this good’ he thought. ‘Not whilst I was an ugly duckling.’