The goslings had been gliding, hopping, and racing around their parents for months. Now it was time for the next step. One by one, they took their first flapping leap into the rest of their lives, high into the atmosphere. They sped off into the sky, faster than their little feet could go.
On the ground, Dandelion honked at her siblings. The breeze carried hints of wildflowers, ruffling her soft, fluffy down feathers. The lake lapped gently at the shore. Birds sung to her.
That blue, blue sky invited her into its embrace. She imagined how the wind would feel, rushing beneath her feathers as she pierced through clouds. Closing her eyes, she flapped her wings.
Then flapped them harder.
The dirt stirred beneath her feet, and dust lodged in her feathers. But she remained planted on the ground.
When Dandelion hatched, the first thing the flock noticed were her feathers. They protruded awkwardly, fanned out in all directions. While her sibling’s wings developed neatly, hers grew to splay at her flanks. Her distorted wings never brought her pain, and she’d always kept up with the flock. It was never a problem before.
But when Dandelion’s family finally returned to land, everything was different. They still grazed and swam with her, but they slept a few feet away. They forgot to include her when they traveled around the lake. Fissures between her and the flock grew deeper each day.
It’s harder to love someone you’ll have to abandon soon, after all.
Something terrible looms on the horizon. Something scarier than being thrown into a fox pen. Something more intimidating than hearing a dog’s howl in the night.
That something is called change.
Days get shorter. Winter beheads flowers and poisons trees. She swirls her webbed fingertips in the creek until it slows to a crawl. Her warnings are written in the dead shrubbery- run, hide. Dandelion’s heart dies with the world around her. What will Winter be like? What will she eat? Surely, she’ll freeze.
The flock shoves their beaks between bare stalks, picking the land clean of any remaining greenery. Dandelion lifts her head towards the gray, gray sky as a kaleidoscope of monarchs rush past. Hummingbirds race overhead, fighting to escape Winter’s tightening grip. Dandelion’s family honks amongst themselves.
One by one, they take off. And once again, Dandelion remains stuck.
She cries when the last one vanishes into the sky. A tug deep in her chest demands she follows, and before she knows it, her slow feet are moving. They slap the ground with a frenzied rhythm. Dandelion strains against dry thorns and leggy bushes as they reach out to snag her broken feathers. Her struggling only encourages the tangle. A cold breeze blows through, forcing her to tuck her useless wings closer to her chest and wiggle out.
She retreats while her family flies- swiftly and effortlessly- away.
Dandelion, the last goose, wanders the lands like a ghost. Without the support of a family, she’s exposed. She treks to the lake that night (perhaps sleeping on the water would be safer than sleeping on land?). But as soon as her feet dip into the lake, a biting chill stuns her. The very marrow of her bones freezes. She bolts back to land, heavy with misery.
Change is hard.
The last goose tucks herself beneath the husks of trees at night, and searches for blades of grass during the day. One morning, she lifts her head as a burning white dot lands on the tip of her beak. She sneezes and flaps her wings to get rid of it. But the fight is futile. More of the hideous stuff falls, a steady barrage. And it won’t stop! Each one falling on her feathers is an insult. She runs for any measly cover she can get.
Change is hideous.
The snow doesn’t rest until it’s smothered the little grass that remained. The lake puts up a thick shield of ice to protect itself. The Last Goose lays in her pitiful nest all afternoon, unwilling to move. Too tired to fight.
Occasionally, someone strolling on the trail surrounding the lake will pass by. They stop to gawk at the last goose. She stares back with a blankness in her eyes. Even when they get too close, all she does is shift her weight and hope they go away.
Until one family arrives with mealworms, peas, carrots and grain. They toss it right under her nose, so she’s forced to move for the first time all day. She doesn’t think she’s hungry, until the dull ache in her stomach boils over into a sharp pain. Searching through the snow with vigor, she eats until she’s stuffed.
Maybe things will be okay?
The Last Goose ventures onto the frozen lake the next day. Something shimmery beneath her feet catches her eye, and she shoves her face closer to the ice. The fish remains stock-still as she wanders over to stand right on top of it. Fish were mysteries of the lake, things she might accidentally smack with a foot or see washed up on the shore. This was a whole new experience.
It darts forward, and despite herself, she chases after it. They make their way around the lake, with The Last Goose slipping and sliding and honking all the while. Eventually, the fish gets bored and vanishes into the murky depths of the lake.
It’s then she notices her feet don’t feel the bite of the cold as sharply anymore. In fact, with her wings hugging her sides, she’s almost… cozy.
She looks around the lake for the first time in weeks. Truly looks. It’s as if the fog of grief lifts, ever so slightly. Sunlight shines off drifts of snow. Human children, with their melodic laughter, throw snowballs at each other. Twigs crack behind the last goose as a herd of deer travel through the trees, leaving a bounty of tracks in the soft snow.
Maybe change is beautiful.
For the first time, she thinks past this winter. How happy would her family be to see her again? In that moment, she feels less like the last goose and more like Dandelion. More like herself.
Her heart slowly begins to heal.
Megan Malone is an avid nature and animal lover who is passionate about growing as both a writer and a person with everything she does. For as long as she can remember, she’s loved creating stories! She wrote her first book at 14, and she dreams of being a published novelist someday. As well as being a regular contributor for ‘Hey! Young Writer’, she writes blog posts for ‘Young Eager Writers’. Check them out at: https://www.youngeagerwriters.org/blog.