The Adventures of Young Jacob Mallard

by Christina Smith

There were a lot of great advantages to growing up so near the city of Saint Canard, one of which was being within walking distance of all different varieties of stores. The windows were decked out to display all they had to offer, straining to catch the eye of the passersby. But there was one destination that didn’t need to advertise itself. Parson’s was the most popular hang out for anyone in the area under the age of twenty. It was a candy store, ice cream parlor, and soda shop all rolled up in one. The fact that the location of the shop was situated so close to suburbia and surrounded by schools only helped its already booming business. Mr. Parson had his share of hired help but the old sparrow still rang the register diligently. He was odd, the kind of guy you wouldn’t expect to run a store where the income was provided by sugar hungry youths. If Jacob had to describe him he’d settle on “grumpy and mean”. The old bird’s sense of humor had crawled under a rock and died a long time ago, that is to say if he ever had one to begin with. So naturally, it was almost a competition between the local school kids who could get the biggest rise out of the old sparrow. Currently Jacob and his crew held the record. Parson’s was a few blocks from the school, and on a clear day like this an easy trek.

The Mallard brothers made their way through the city. Nick would stop and look both ways twice before crossing streets while Jacob barreled on ahead, forcing his sibling to run to catch up.

“Didn’t Mom say to come home after school today?” Nick asked, trying to remain at his side. Jacob frowned.

“She’ll never notice.”

“What do you…?”

“Listen Nick.” He stopped his stride and turned a serious eye to the puzzled eight-year-old. “…We’re not going to get in trouble if we get home before Dad does.”

Nick opened his mouth to argue but Jacob shot his hand to his brother’s neat hair and messed it up. He smirked as Nick grumbled and tried to salvage the style.

“I don’t want to be bothered with you being a goody-goody. Mom will forget and it’ll be fine.” Jacob assured him only to receive a wary glance. “C’mon I’ll buy you a soda.”

The promise of liquid sugar rush drowned the defiance from the duckling’s face. Soon it was Jacob that had to match Nick’s hurried pace. By the time they arrived the shop was crammed with students from all walks of life. They had to dodge a wave of ankle biters from the Elementary School three blocks west as they shoved their way through, their tiny fists hiding change. There were a great deal of secondary school students as well, but then there were the high school students. Or more specifically the high school girls. Now, he never minded seeing them. Nick tugged on Jacob’s sleeve, forcing him to tear his eyes away from the curvy girls in their school uniforms. He eyed his brother to find him glaring firmly at something, or more fittingly, someone, straight ahead. He didn’t even have to guess who that look was for.

A shocked scream came from one of the girls he’d been admiring and he let his eyes slide to where Nick was already scowling. A green feathered rooster laughed at the blushing girl, her eyes filling with tears, and her hands held protectively around her skirt. Despite his disgust he cursed his luck for missing a skirt flip. The rooster’s delinquent friends swarmed around their ringleader, laughing and tormenting the poor girl. The rooster’s name was Eddie Fennelly, and he was bad news. He was seventeen, had a jet black comb of plumage and a beak to match. Eddie had been kicked out of more schools than Jacob thought possible, and made himself a pretty impressive reputation of being no good. He was never seen without his motorcycle jacket and at least four cronies. Mothers city wide prayed their daughters were spared of even meeting him and that their sons would steer clear.

Jacob could only think of two people he’d like to sock more than Eddie. The fact that Eddie had seven years and at least three feet on him didn’t matter to Jacob, especially when the top two spots were currently inhabited by full grown men, one of which he was related to, but that didn’t matter now. As soon as the girl started to cry Eddie and his goons moved on to their next target. A brainy looking young bear had his books knocked out of his hands and kicked into the street. Jacob suddenly became aware of Nick’s hold on his arm. He hadn’t even noticed he’d taken a few steps toward the bullies. Nick pulled him back onto the sidewalk sternly, his eyes shining with a silent statement of finality he rarely saw. It was odd to think he was two years older than Nick when he saw him like this.

“He’ll get his Jacob, but we’d get creamed if we tried it.”

“’We’ huh?” He smirked. “You mean to tell me Nicolas Mallard, Saint Nick, wants to pound someone as much as I do?”

“Oh stuff it.” Nick frowned and released his sleeve.

“Why, if it isn’t my two favorite boys!” sang a sweet voice that made Nick’s face turn as red as an apple. Jacob grinned and faced the girl approaching them.

“Hiya Ruth.”

Ruth. Now there was a head turner. She was six years older than him, had snow white feathers, curly auburn hair, and aqua eyes. He’d known her almost his entire life; she’d been their mother’s favorite sitter for them. She was Jacob’s favorite too, but for decidedly different reasons. Ruth came to a stop before them, a smart little hat on her curls, and a small little box of sweets in her delicate hand.

“I haven’t seen you two in a while; how have you been?” her airy voice asked pleasantly.

“Not too bad.” Jacob sneered as he glanced at Nick through the corner of his eye. “Nick’s a bit of a mess since Mom stopped using sitters. He cries himself to sleep about it every night.”

“I do not!” Nick punched his arm, his face going even redder. Ruth laughed melodically.

“Aw, I miss sitting for you boys too. Though I’m sure it’s nice that your mother has the time to watch you herself now. How is she?”

Jacob stapled his smile in place, hiding the frown that rose throughout him. “Oh she’s good.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Well, I’ve go to run. Hopefully I’ll see you both again soon. I’ll treat you to an ice cream float one of these days, sound good?”

“It’s a date.” Jacob grinned and she pranced away beautifully. When she’d gone he felt Nick’s eyes angry eyes boring into him.

“You can be a real snake sometimes, you know that?”

“C’mon she thought it was cute.”

“I don’t cry…” He scowled, crossing his arms angrily. Jacob just shrugged and started toward the candy shop’s door. Nick followed. “Did Ruth seem… different to you?”

“They did look a bit bigger.”

“That’s not what I mean!” Nick shouted hurriedly, the red creeping back into his cheeks again. “Sh…she looked kind of sad. I hope she’s okay.”

“You’re imagining things.”

The afternoon played out as so many had before. Jokes, snide remarks and laughter rang through the shop. They teased Parson until he told them to scram, while Nick tried to hide from Catalina Ball. She was a cute little thing who had the biggest crush on Nick. She’d leave him notes in his desk when he wasn’t looking and stared mercilessly at him every chance she got. Nick, naturally, was embarrassed beyond belief and avoided her at all costs. So when he spotted her in the shop Jacob tried to get her to sit with them immediately. His ribs still stung from the angry elbow they’d received from his livid sibling. Yes, it was a good time. But now he questioned how much longer he’d remember that.

They lost track of time and were cutting it close. They were either already doomed or saved by God’s grace. Nick had gotten very quiet as they approached their street. He was scared stiff about the day’s bouts of insubordination, and Jacob couldn’t really blame him. As the happy looking house came into view his eyes landed on something that dragged his lingering good spirits through a mile and a half of mud. It was a well-polished ebony 1937 Talbot-Lago. Nick blinked at the expensive shiny car.

“Oh, Mom’s friend is over.”

“He sure is.” Jacob grumbled and scanned the ground quickly for a rock to throw. Coming up short, he made his way up the front steps.

Friend? he thought darkly. He wished he was still that naive. His mother hadn’t been the same these last few years. She’d been a wonderful mother and wife in his earliest memories. She’d always be there to kiss a scratch or tuck him in. She’d be around the house ready to play or read to them. She’d be there to greet their father when he came home exhausted from work. He was only four then, but he remembered what it had been like. It all changed when the war came. Their father worked for a government agency called SHUSH. He didn’t know what the letters stood for, but he stopped caring a long time ago. He wasn’t ever clearly told what SHUSH did, all he knew was that his father was one of their agents in the military division. So when the call of duty came, he was shipped out immediately and their mother’s strength was tested.

She was forced to raise two boys on her own and she was doing well for the first year or so. Society changed to accommodate the heavy load of war and women were recruited to work the jobs their men left behind. She rose to the occasion and hired Ruth to watch them as she worked her fingers to the bone for her children and country. Even when she’d come home tired and sore she’d still sit up with them. Every time they got a letter from their father she’d sit them down and read it out loud to them. Nick had only been two when their father left, so he grew to know him through the letters. Jacob knew they were edited and exaggerated, but to Nick they were the truth and he saw the man as a hero. It was when the letters stopped coming, that that life ended and began its dark turn into what it was now. He still remembered the devastation that seized the household when there was an absence of their weekly update letter. It only deepened when a new letter came by hand proclaiming Special Agent Lieutenant Bob Mallard had gone missing in action.

There were tears present for a very long time, and his mother’s were only eased by diving into the liquor cabinet. The pain she suffered through daily didn’t seem to bother her that much when she would have her drink of choice in hand. One day Jacob had come home from school to find his mother delving into the shelf of bottles, her eyes alight and a smile on her face. His first thought was that his father had been found but it turned out the grin was just for her. Apparently, the relationship his parents shared had been one of oppression. She told him more about her thoughts on marriage than he cared to know, and informed him that she’d finally be able to do as she pleased. For the first time in her adult life she’d be her own person. She could provide for her family and make something of herself, she had told him with a kiss. It was what she’d ‘make of herself’ that upset him.

She was always a pretty woman and her looks only enhanced with age. She still had her curves, her excellent social skills, and her infectious, charming laughter, so she celebrated in them as he’d never seen before. So did a good number of others. She had made a lot of new ‘friends’ with the local gentry, her looks getting her attention from both lower and upper class men. It seemed she would always have a new good looking companion over for cocktails and they usually didn’t leave until the next morning. The woman who had been his mother slipped through his fingers, quickly being replaced by this promiscuous lush. But as disheartening as those times were they only got worse.

It had only been a few months since Mr. Mallard came home. As it turned out their father hadn’t truly gone MIA, he had been sent undercover as a spy, cutting off all contact to protect him for years. With the war over, and victory ringing through the country, the proud soldier came home to a house filled with strangers. He came out of the clear blue sky, his uniform on, and a smile on his face that all too quickly faded -- a smile Jacob hadn’t seen since. The broken family and the morally devoid state of his devastated wife didn’t affect him as one would have thought. He was proud, hard headed, and believed he could shape them into what he wanted with as much force as he deemed worthy. And force was used.

The boys stopped outside the front door, Jacob’s mind void of the happiness he’d experienced so shortly ago. Before he had a chance to reach for the knob the door swung open and was filled with… him.

“Well, hello my boys,” smiled the deep voice that was a bottomless pit of charm and sarcasm.

“Hello Mr. Sanders,” Nick offered with a polite nod.

“We’re not your boys.” Jacob glared at the man.

“I should say not. You don’t look a thing like me,” he replied smugly with a crooked sneer.

Mr. Sanders was one of his mother’s callers and altogether hard to describe. Jacob couldn’t decide on how to categorize him apart from “scum,” which was why he was number two on the list of people he’d like to pound over Eddie. Sanders was a panther, black as licorice with bright yellow eyes. There was only one person Jacob had heard of that he could even compare Sanders to. There was a shifty and extremely wealthy business mogul named Shere Khan that operated out of Cape Suzette. He’d heard his teachers talking about how smooth and cruel Khan was, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Khan was a tiger he would have thought them the same person. Sanders moved aside and Nick walked into the house. Jacob followed moodily.

“Well Jean, I really must be going,” Sanders said loudly as he put on his navy hat that matched his tailored suit. “It’s always a pleasure… Oh incidentally my dear, your ‘darling’ little rugrats are home.” He met Jacob’s glare with a smirk. “Ta.” With that he ambled out the door.

“Welcome home my babies! Give Mommy a kiss!”

Jacob turned his eyes to his mother as she ran a hand through her mussed up hair to tame it. She stumbled as she bent down to Nick and planted a sloppy kiss on his face; he returned the affection, blissfully ignorant to all the things Jacob was seeing. Her red hair was now smooth and she looked at him, that drunken glaze to her eyes.

“Jacob, come give me a kiss.”

He didn’t budge. She frowned at him and put her hands on her hips. “Jacob Mallard you get your tail feathers over here this instant and give your mother a kiss!” she demanded.

With a sigh he put his books on the coffee table and gave her cheek a quick peck. Her arms closed around him and Nick, pulling them into a hug. The stench of brandy rolled off her words as she spoke.

“How are my good boys today?”

“Fine,” he answered quickly, seeing the weakness in Nick’s eyes.

“Of course you are.” She smiled and pushed his hair feathers back gently. “Look at my handsome little boys…”

“Mom, shouldn’t you be keeping an eye on the stove?” Jacob asked, catching a whiff of something burning. She blinked thickly at him.

“Oh fiddlesticks,” she said as she straightened up wobbly. “You boys start on your homework. Bob… uh, I mean your father will be home any minute now.” She wandered into the kitchen as Nick settled down on the floor in front of the radio, obediently opening his book to his assignment.