10-24-2011, 03:44 PM
So began the life Criss would live as foster mother to six orphaned ducklings. For the first week of their lives the ducklings napped in their makeshift nest, coming out only to waddle around for a while and explore the world around them. Of course their world was limited to the four walls of the production office or Criss' bedroom at Serenity. During their free time, Criss made sure that Hammie was nowhere near them. He did make a point to give his cat some quality time so as not to make Hammie jealous (and thereby not giving him more reason to kill), and to make sure his six foster children didn't get lost.
Dr. Gilchrist provided them with a protein-rich mash she called "duck chow" to feed them every hour on the hour, plus a shallow bowl of fresh water for them to drink. Criss and the doctor also kept plenty of paper towels on hand to clean up any waste the ducklings produced to prevent the spread of disease among humans and ducks alike. "It's a pity I can't teach them to use a litter box like Hammie," Criss lamented. "It'd make it so much easier."
The production office staff learned quickly to watch their steps so as not to step on any of the ducklings or their droppings. The ducklings, in turn, became an inconvenience whenever they were in the office: they turned up in shoes and purses, under desks and chairs, and near heat registers to keep warm. One assistant nearly took a couple of ducklings home with her when they hid in her backpack purse under her desk (she discovered them when she heard a chirping noise and mistook it for her cell phone).
At the beginning of the second week, the staff discovered Criss inflating a small plastic kiddie wading pool. When asked about it, he replied proudly, "Today's the day our little ducks are gonna learn to swim."
He set the pool by the large viewing window and filled it with a pail of water that had been sitting nearby. Then he fetched the carrier with the ducklings in it from his office. He set the carrier on a seat cushion that was the same height as the pool and opened the door. "Okay, little guys," he said. "Everybody into the pool!"
It was only a few inches from the edge of the cage to the water, but to the tiny ducklings it was like being on the precipice of a cliff. They stood there, afraid to take another step. "What's the matter?" Criss asked. "You scared?"
"Ducks don't jump, Criss."
Criss looked up and saw Dr. Gilchrist standing there. "Oh, hey, Doc," he said, rising to his feet. "How's it going?"
"Well, fine, until I saw you trying to teach your ducklings how to cliff-dive," she replied. "They need to walk into the water gradually. That's how they'll do it in the wild."
"Oh, well, okay," Criss said. "So we need a ramp of some sort." He scratched the back of his neck thoughtfully. "Let's see," he mused, "what can we use?"
Suddenly, Lisa, an intern doing data processing for MindFreak Productions, grabbed a clear plastic lid from a take-out container from a wastebasket and handed it to Criss. "Here," she said, "use this."
Criss examined the lid. It was flat and rectangular, wide enough to support the ducklings. "Okay, great," he said. "Thanks, Lisa."
He angled the lid just under the edge of the carrier, setting the other end into the water. "Okay, guys," he said, "now let's go swimming!"
The first duckling made a tentative move toward the plastic lid ramp with one webbed foot, then another, then, confident it would hold its weight, waddled down into the water. It bobbed up and down of the surface, then began paddling away. The other five followed suit, taking to the water without fear. Indeed, they seemed to enjoy it once they got the hang of it. They swam around and around the plastic pool, peeping and fluttering their stubby wings.
Their efforts were greeted with a round of applause from the staff. Criss wiped a dry eye in mock emotion. "I'm so proud!" he gushed.
A tapping on glass drew his attention. Outside the viewing window, a crowd of people had gathered to see the ducklings. Parents brought up their children for a better view, encouraging them to "say 'hi, duckies!'" or some such nonsense. Some held up cameraphones to take pictures, while others tapped the glass to attract the ducklings but only succeeded in frightening them away. Dr. Gilchrist had to leave the office and warn the people not to frighten the ducklings by tapping on the windowpane. "You'll only traumatize them," she told them.
Criss had hoped that the ducklings would stay in the water all day, but Dr. Gilchrist said that even ducks couldn't swim forever; they would have to go back to the nest, or they would suffer hypothermia from the cold water. Criss squatted down and tapped the plastic ramp. "Okay, everybody out of the pool. Come on, out."
The ducklings recognized their foster mother's voice and quickly obeyed, struggling up the plastic ramp to the carrier. They couldn't get a foothold on the slippery plastic, so Criss had to boost them up into the carrier. The crowd outside groaned in disappointment; some of the children pouted over being deprived of the show. Not wanting to disappoint his fans, Criss stepped out of the office to greet them. He, in turn, was greeted with cheers and applause. "Hey, everybody," he said. "How's it going?"
One little tyke got right to the point. "Where are the duckies?" he demanded.
Criss looked down at the child. "The duckies are going to take their morning nap right now, okay?" he explained. "They just had their first swimming lesson, and they're tired, all right?"
"They didn't look tired to me," the child argued.
"Believe me, they are," Criss said wearily.
"So, where'd you get them?" a girl in a grey Affliction t-shirt asked.
Criss related the whole story about finding the eggs by Lake Meade. "I'm not keeping them as pets or anything," he said. "I'm just raising them long enough for them to survive on their own."
"What are their names?" a little girl asked. "Do they have names?"
Criss struggled to remember the goofy names his crew had given his brood. "Uh, the guys named them, but I forgot what they were," he replied sheepishly. "I'll get back with you on that one." He checked his watch. "Uh, I gotta get back now. See ya."
He stayed just long enough to pose for pictures and sign autographs, then retreated to the privacy of his office. Dr. Gilchrist had positioned the carrier in front of the heater and set it on low. As usual, the heat comforted the ducklings and they went right to sleep. "Thanks for all your help, Doc," he said.
"Well, I'm glad to be of help, Criss," Dr. Gilchrist said. "And by the way, you can call me Brenda. Doc makes me feel like one of the seven dwarves."
Criss laughed. "Okay, Brenda."
She turned back to the ducklings. "Well, their next lesson is how to dabble for food."
"That's how ducks feed," Brenda explained. "They filter dirt and grit with their beaks to find food, like bugs and snails and such. That's what the feed I bought is made of: ground-up maggots, beetles, snails."
Criss immediatly felt nauseous. "Please," he groaned, "I just had breakfast."
Brenda patted him on the shoulder. "You'll be fine," she said. "We'll start on the dabbling this afternoon."
"Uh, yeah, sure," Criss said, still feeling queasy about the duck chow ingredients. "Whatever you say, Brenda. What do I have to do?"
"Well, nothing much, really," Brenda replied. "Just stick your face in the water and pretend to dabble like a duck. They'll get the hang of it."
Criss' stomach churned even harder. "Oh, great," he murmured. "That's all I need, a faceful of ground up maggots up my nose."