The picturesque spa town of Bakestone in the north of England is a regular haunt for tourists. They come from around the world to enjoy its quaint 'olde worlde' charm, its splendid unspoilt environs, its invigorating waters and its strangely unpleasant local confectionery. But in recent months its charming car parks and majestic council estates have been terrorised by a strange and most unwelcome visitor.
Details are sketchy, and witness reports do not always agree. The first incident came to light last February. Late one night, as 72-year-old Lizzie Hammil (no relation) was walking home from an exotic cheese-sampling soiree, she heard what she described as a 'queer gurgling noise' coming from behind her. Fearing gusset rupture she stopped to adjust a certain appliance, when she was suddenly attacked by a small yellow creature, which rushed out from behind a bush, bit her on the arse then waddled off with her pension money.
The story was reported widely and even made the national press, though few were prepared to take it seriously, accusing Mrs Hammil of being over-imaginative and neurotic. Those closer to her pointed to her habit of dragging a frozen pike around on a piece of string as indicative of her unreliability as a witness.
Nevertheless, shortly afterwards, more victims of the curious creature came forward. Twelve-year-old Crispin Bakula (no relation) was out walking his Airedale terrier one morning along a popular nature trail when the dog suddenly stopped stock-still.
"The hair on his back was up on end and he was growling," the youngster recalled. "He was staring into the bushes at the side of the path, but I couldn't see what he was growling at. It was very creepy, and I felt really cold. The trees seemed like they were closing in around me, and it was like someone was watching me."
Crispin decided to turn back home, but as he hurried back along the path he had a strong sense of being followed. In his mounting panic he broke out into a run. Suddenly something leapt out in front of him, snatched up his beloved pet in its beak and made off.
When Crispin returned home he was too distraught to talk of the ordeal - but after being beaten savagely by a local police officer, he was able to fight back the tears long enough to provide a description of the beast.
"It was bright yellow," he claimed. Its eyes were glowing red, and it moved really fast. It was like some kind of big mutant duck."
This description seems to match that of the creature spotted a few days earlier by local shopkeeper Harry Nimoy (no entry). Mr Nimoy owns a busy gentleman's trouser boutique in the town centre. As he was locking up one evening he noticed a curiously unexpected movement in his trousers.
"It was a pair of corduroy casuals that we have on special offer," Nimoy explained. "There's a rack of them by the door and I noticed that one pair appeared to be twitching. Suddenly they slipped from the rack, ran around in a little circle, then waddled out of the door."
Nimoy, a man of some considerable experience in the trade, has had a keen interest in trousers since he was a small boy, and in all his years he has never previously witnessed a pair walking out of the shop of their own accord. In his opinion it was something they simply did not do.
Thinking this uncharacteristic behaviour rather curious, he decided to follow the runaway trousers. Locking the shop behind him, he trailed them for some distance as - weaving from side to side - they careered apparently aimlessly down the high street. Upon reaching a junction a bright yellow head appeared briefly above the waistband. It looked left, looked right. Then, seeing the road was clear, the trousers ran across and disappeared into an alleyway.
Nimoy approached cautiously. Peering into the alley he saw that the creature had now emerged from his trousers and was examining the garment critically. Like Crispin Bakula, Nimoy also likened the animal to a duck - although he observed that it was larger and its behaviour was clearly more intelligent. He also adds another bizarre detail: apparently deciding that the stolen booty was unsuitable, the creature opened its beak and emitted a searing jet of flame, which incinerated the trousers in seconds.
"It was horrible," a terrified Nimoy told the police afterwards. "It was like some kind of demon duck - a feathered denizen of the underworld. Believe me, I've seen some scary things in my trousers in my time, but this was evil incarnate."
The last Nimoy saw of the devilish fowl was as it wandered off to investigate a chemist's in the next street, possibly to steal some corn plasters.
What could this strange creature be? Local researcher Iain Dean Anderson (no deposit, no return) has been studying the reports. He has come to a fascinating conclusion.
"These people are all fucking nuts," he claims. "What kind of freak expects you to believe some cock and bull story about mutant ducks? I'll tell you - inbred country bumpkins, that's who. These nutters worship tractors, for Christ's sake. When I first moved here they thought I was some kind of space alien because I had a mobile phone. Even today, they still bring their filthy, disease-ridden kids round so that I can lay my hands on them and cure them of the pox."
A more sympathetic response has come from Derek Shatner (no retreat, no surrender), another local researcher who lives next door to Mr Anderson. He puts considerably more faith in the reports.
"What we are dealing with here is clearly something beyond our normal realm of experience," says Shatner. "You can't ignore the evidence. After all, if it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck - and it breathes fire - then it's clearly a fire-breathing space duck."
Shatner's ideas have met with a mixed response. The newspapers have predictably promoted his space duck idea in a typically sensationalist and tongue-in-cheek way. The locals of Bakestone, however, prefer to link recent reports of the duck with a tradition that dates back to medieval times.
Ozzypandoolah is a legendary fire-breathing bird that features in many myths and stories connected with the town. This unfortunate creature, the legends have it, was the result of an unholy union between a dragon and a duck. Neither one thing nor the other - cast out of the kingdom of the dragons and shunned by its brethren on the duck pond - Ozzypandoolah was fated to wander the mortal realm for all eternity, bringing terror to mankind, causing consternation and unrest, and stealing trousers.
For many, many years the people of Bakestone have blamed all their misfortunes on Ozzypandoolah - or Oswald, as he has rather quaintly come to be known. Plagues, crop failures, wars and poverty have all been laid at the door of the mythical bird. In local tradition he has replaced the classic figure of 'the bogeyman', and it is still commonplace when a favourite shirt gets torn, or the car breaks down, to claim that it's just 'Oswald up to his old tricks'.
The mischievous nature of the Oswald of legend is borne out by some of the more recent reports of the creature. Take for instance the remarkably persuasive story told by Terry Pertwee (no worries), considered to be a witness of impeccable credentials, and also one of the most fragrant people you are ever likely to meet.
Pertwee was driving to work in the early hours of the morning. It was still dark, with just a faint shimmer of purple on the horizon to herald the impending dawn. A thin mist swirled in the beams of his headlights as he drove along the empty road, but visibility was still good - so, when something suddenly ran across the road in front of him, he hit the brakes straight away. Nevertheless, in spite of the sharpness of his reactions, a collision could not be avoided. The car skidded on the wet tarmac and there was a solid thump as it hit 'something'.
Pertwee opened the door and got out - in that order - and went around to the front of the vehicle. He found the nearside headlight smashed and a curious clump of yellow feathers wedged behind the bumper, but of the creature itself there was no sign. He walked back along the road, looking for some indication of it, checking the shallow ditch that bordered the carriageway but, puzzlingly, there was nothing. He was just about to give up when he heard a noise behind him: the pitter-patter of tiny webbed feet on tarmac. He turned just in time to see Oswald emerge from the hedgerow, leap into his car and drive off.
"All I remember is its manic quacking laughter as it sped away," says Mr Pertwee. "Even now it makes me shiver to think about it. It was the most thoroughly evil thing I have ever heard."
Police found Pertwee's car three days later, full of bird shit and minus his collection of Queen CDs.
Stories like this have undoubtedly fuelled interest in the town, and there has been a measurable increase in tourism in recent months. Local businessmen have not been slow to capitalise on their new visitor, and Oswald has become a sort of unofficial mascot for the town. Tacky gift shops are brimming with Oswald T-shirts, Oswald mugs and lucky Oswald mobile phone covers, which ancient tradition says bestow good fortune on the owner. You can take part in an Oswald tour, taking in all the sites where he has reported to have been seen, whilst an over-enthusiastic tour guide regales you with some of the more grisly episodes from the demon duck's history. You can even dine at the Devil Duck Restaurant (formerly Tony's Cafe), where they have a reasonably wide selection of duck-themed delicacies on offer. Sample the duck's egg omelette, or the duck and spring vegetable soup - before being pecked to death by a seventeen-year-old college student dressed as a penguin. Apparently they couldn't get hold of a duck costume.
However, this commercialisation of the ancient myth does not sit well with certain members of the community. There is a small but vocal minority who believes that the duck is a portent of great doom. They warn that, far from being just a roguish trickster, Oswald is nothing less than the personification of pure evil - or at least, the duckification of evil, at any rate. They claim that the recent sightings are evidence of the reawakening of a dark and ancient horror, which threatens to consume the town of Bakestone and, possibly, the world.
His evil deeds, they assert, have already been in evidence: the recent earthquake, a plague of locusts, and the approval of a controversial new bypass, to name but three. Some of the more zealous residents have convinced themselves that they are being punished for their sins and that the apocalypse is near. Panic buying has already resulted in serious shortages of bourbon biscuits and cat food.
Whilst their views may be a little extreme, the fact remains that the duck has started to become something of a problem. Its behaviour has become more and more unruly, and many locals are now genuinely frightened to venture out. At first it was little more than a nuisance, leaping out and frightening old ladies, stealing traffic cones and so forth. More recently it has been blamed for starting a fight in a popular town centre pub, it's been spotted selling ecstasy to kids outside the local junior school, and it has set up a local clinic where it practices medicine without a licence*. It is also rumoured that it made false representations to a senior member of the Church of England, a misdemeanour that has been illegal in the parish since 1842.
The latest news is that it has moved into a three-bedroomed semi-detached house just off the main ring road, where the neighbours complain that it stays up until the small hours of the morning playing Queen records at full volume.
This proved to be the final straw, and the local council has now resolved to rid the area of the duck menace once and for all. They have already attempted to poison it, without success. A system of strategically placed traps has also failed, succeeding only in snaring a few dogs and a couple of unwary children. And their attempts to lure it out of hiding with little bits of cheese then beat it to death with big sticks has also proved spectacularly unsuccessful. The attempt rapidly disintegrated into chaos and confusion, and gave rise to a frustrated mob, which charged around the town beating the living daylights out of anything and anybody that they considered to be vaguely duck-shaped.
Their own efforts having failed, and with the town teetering on the verge of civil unrest, Bakestone Town Council has decided to call in an expert. The question is, who could possibly claim to be expert at ridding the countryside of mutant fire-breathing ducks? Well, astonishingly enough, just such an expert has stepped into the breach.
Retired game-warden, Clint Majors (no ball games) has spent much of his life in South Africa where, during an eventful career, he has ruthlessly gunned down most things that manage to run, crawl or slither.
"Rhinos, elephants, lions, not to mention one or two of the locals who happened to get in my way," Majors proudly proclaims. "Still, got to expect a bit of 'collateral damage' as I believe they call it these days. Once the blasted chaps get in my sights, there's not really much I can do about it, is there? Blam! Best thing for them, really. Put them out of their misery, don't you know."
Following an accident with an apple and a Turkish gum salesman ("Dashed unfortunate business. It would never have occurred if the blasted Turk hadn't sneezed") Majors was forced into early retirement. Nevertheless, he has not been idle and is still frequently called upon to deal with unwanted pests. Indeed, he has achieved a certain amount of celebrity, making his name in 1981 when he successfully rid Nairobi of Simon and Garfunkel.
"There were hundreds of the little bleeders," Majors recalls fondly. "The place was overrun with the things. People couldn't go about their business and children could not sleep safely in their beds at night. Something had to be done. Well, the Simons aren't so bad. They're timid little creatures, spending most of the daylight hours underground - but they do cause an inordinate amount of damage to root crops. But they're easily dealt with: once you've found the entrance to their burrow, you just pop a gas canister down there. They soon come to the surface, choking, and you can just blast them at point blank range with a shotgun.
"The Garfunkels are a different matter entirely. They roam the plains, destroying anything and everything in their path. Left to their own devices, a herd of Garfunkels can eat a whole city in four hours flat. But they do have a fondness for warm milk, and this is their weakness. All you have to do a put down a saucer of milk, select your vantage point, then - Blam! Splat! You blast them at point blank range with a shotgun."
At the moment, Majors is currently engaged in ridding a Staffordshire farm of a particularly severe shark infestation, but vows that as soon as the problem in under control he will give his full attention to Bakestone. And while the locals breathe a sigh of relief now that their duck ordeal will soon be over, Majors is confident that he will have no problem dealing with the demon fowl.
"The good citizens of Bakestone can rest assured that their days of duck-induced terror shall be brought swiftly to an end. I shall study the ways of this duck carefully. I shall track his movements, record his habits, know the devilish fellow's mind as I know my own. Then, when I understand my enemy completely, I shall lure the bounder out with a bit of mashed up biscuit, and blast him at point blank range."
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