by Lael Adair

Author's Note: Written because I couldn't help wondering: What on earth was it about J. Gander Hooter that caught Jacob Mallard's eye?


The reflex to the sound could not have been any more immediate if it was planned. Though Jacob Mallard had been directly in the midst of relating one of his more mischievous exploits to his fellow college students, the moment the shout reverberated through the halls of the dormitory he was already up and running.

Doors opened along the hallway as he moved quickly to put as much distance between himself and the shout as possible. More time to think meant a higher likelihood of escape with little to no property damage. Alongside him, though they were slightly blurred, he could see countless heads poke out from behind closed dormitory doors as students emerged to cheer him on down the hallway. Jacob gave them an extravagant wave even as he tried to figure out which one of his pranks had been uncovered. There was no way the Graduate Hall Director could have found out about the pig in the bathroom already!

“You better not have stolen all those rats from the biology labs!”


A sly grin emerged on his beak as he skidded quickly to a halt and ducked into the stairwell. Rather than travel all the way to the bottom floor--a pitifully predictable escape route and, frankly, not very imaginative--he stopped on the second and reentered the building. This time the doors were already open as eager occupants stood in the hall, ready to receive him with a boisterous cheer. But even as he ran forward, arms extended on either side to give high-fives, he couldn’t help feeling a little annoyed. These idiots were giving his position away.

“Perrin’s got you figured out” a well-built rooster with a chipped beak jibed as Jacob slowed to a jog towards the end of the hall. “The Dean’s already downstairs.”

Jacob tsked as he leaned cautiously towards a nearby open window, surveying the scene on the lawn--university security and all. “Can’t a banished resident come back to visit his old dormitory anymore?”

Zane Steale laughed, but said nothing. Jacob straightened to give his friend a mischievous smile. “Give me a five second head start?”

Still laughing, the rooster shook his head. “You wish,” and with that, placed two fingers in his beak to blow a shrill whistle down at the authorities milling on the grass below.

A single hand on the windowsill allowed Jacob to vault cleanly out onto the fire escape. It’s not like he would have been able to avoid detection anyway. Three steps and a nimble leap forward allowed him to transfer to another branch of the iron platforms snaking up the side of the building. Then he was racing down the steps. He hit the ground a good three hundred feet ahead of the authorities scurrying to give chase.

His grin was unparalleled as he took off on the soft grass, the wind rushing excitedly through his feathers. He gave no thought to what Steale had done, or the fact that no one in the dorm had tried to hinder his pursuers. In Jacob’s world people used one another--for entertainment, for favors, equally as a patsy or an alibi. A friend was someone who liked you, who could stand to be around you for brief periods of time, but not at any expense. To them this was just a show--his show. Hell, even he had to admit half the fun was sitting back and watching someone try to save their own ass.

The front steps of his (new) dormitory came into sight from within a pseudo-forest of carefully placed trees. He shot a wry grin over his shoulder. This chase would be over before it started.

They had moved him to a co-ed dorm this time--a big mistake, though it would take the Dean a while to figure it out; in other words, a while to talk to his daughter. In addition to containing four levels of both male and female students, this dorm was attached to two others of equal size via a well-organized series of balcony-style walkways. In short, it was the perfect place to disappear. Jacob’s plan was to get inside and head up to the girl’s floors to lay low for a while until Perrin and his task force had to given up searching. Unfortunately, as he reached his hand to open the door, he suddenly remembered he didn’t have his keycard. And the doors were magnetically locked.

The pause to get inside, though small, had cost him ground. Already he could see the light glinting off the uniforms of the rent-a-cops in pursuit. Swearing quickly at himself, Jacob leapt once again into a sprint and darted around the side of the building. It was all he could do to crouch down inside the doorway of a small, glass shed of some sort before the university police came dashing into view. They stopped when they realized they had lost him and began to loiter together to regroup. They were only a few dozen feet away.

“You do know they’ll check in here first.”

A sudden voice behind him nearly sent Jacob leaping through the roof. He turned to discover that he was not alone. What he had thought was a shed was in fact a semi-enclosed patio complete with tables and benches, and he’d just walked in on a goose that had, up until now, been studying alone.

Jacob swore again, to himself this time. The keycard resting on the nearby table marked the gander as belonging to the nearby dormitory, but he was someone that, as of yet, Jacob had not been able to meet. In addition, the cops were already making their way to the shed. He didn’t have time to woo this guy into sending Perrin’s little entourage away. It looked like he was out of options.

The thought had no sooner left his mind when Jacob saw the goose stand and walk towards the door. Horrified, he watched as the student came to a stop in the doorway and called loudly to the men searching in the yard.

“Hey! You looking for a duck that just ran through here?”


The gander pointed in a far direction. “He ran that way, towards the main plaza. He’s got a good head start on you, so you’d better hurry!” With a goodbye wave in response to the thanks of the police, the goose then returned to his table and sat down as the hoard ran in the opposite direction.

Jacob was shocked as he processed what had just happened. “Uh...thanks.”

The gander tried unsuccessfully to hide a small smile as he raised his text book in front of his face. “I didn’t save you from much. It’s not like they don’t know where you live. But I can’t study with all that noise in the background, and I was here first.”

The mallard laughed as he stood to his feet, brushing off his knees. In truth he was a little...speechless. People saved him from scrapes all the time, but never just because. It was always because they knew him or because they owed him or because they were in love with him. The lack of motivation for this goose to do what he’d done was confusing. Actually, it made Jacob feel a little powerless.

He stepped forward, catching a glimpse of the books the goose was studying--Governmental Structures of the World and Introduction to Criminology. “After that I think I’m pretty much obligated to introduce myself” he said. He extended a hand, “Jacob Mallard.”

The gander glanced up to return the shake, “John Hooter,” and then went back to his reading.

Jacob was, again, surprised. He wasn’t used to being ignored. Most people who spent five seconds in his presence became utterly fascinated with him; enamored by either his looks or his charm or his antics. In any other person this gander’s lack of interest might have instilled resentment or jealousy. But to Jacob Mallard, it was a challenge. And he liked challenges.

Something was telling him that there was a worthwhile opportunity sitting here in front of his eyes. At first glance this goose seemed to be the exact opposite of everything Jacob Mallard would want in a friend, but maybe that was because he’d never had a real one in the first place.

He slid smoothly into the closest seat, and this time even the studious gander’s stare was unable to keep from glancing at him. Jacob smiled broadly as he leaned across the table, elbows covering all of the meticulous notes spread across its surface. He could definitely see a future here...but first they had to get away from all these books.

“So tell me, John. Do you like pigs?”