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The Ugly Swan

There was once a cygnet who was, as cygnets go, quite good looking.

He had sleek feathers and was a bit bigger than his brothers and sisters. He did not look like an ugly duckling, but the problem was that he was ugly on the inside.

He rather liked his reflection in the lake and knew that he would grow up into a beautiful swan. And so he argued with his siblings about who would become most beautiful. It is a beguiling thought for a young swan that he would become such an elegant bird and he felt that his prettiness now would become a beauty against which all would pale.

But what of the ugliness? Now that started way back when it was push and shove for mama's attention and he found he could get to the front by pushing weaker cygnets back. This made him proud and powerful even if it made few friends of his siblings, but he didn't really care about them. Oh, he would make a show of affection, especially when mama or papa was around, but the truth was that he only saw other cygnets as there to admire him.

And so he preened and puffed and hid his ugliness until one day when he was getting bigger and there were some people at the lake, throwing bread. Greedily, he brushed the ducks out of the way as he raced and darted his great neck at the delicious food. Then one of the people took a particularly large piece of bread and threw it, in a long, lazy arc, far into the lake. In the mad dash to it, his brother got in front of him, dare he! In a fit of desperation and pique, as his brother reached for the bread, the cygnet's long neck struck out, hard and fast, striking his brother in a killing blow at the base of the neck.

As his brother flopped, lifeless, something happened deep inside of him. It was as if a deep love and regret was going well up to the surface in a tide of woe, but another part of him viciously shoved this weakness back down deeper into the darkness of his soul. On the surface, he stared around coldly at the frozen scenario around him as he calmly ate the sodden bread.

After that, nobody challenged him. He took what he wanted and went to live by himself on another part of the lake. Truth was that he could not face his mother over what happened, though he told himself they were all stupid and weak and he could now look after himself. Which he could and did in the only way he knew: by taking without asking and bullying without thinking.

And so his inner ugliness grew as others learned to fear him. Though they praised him as he passed they tried hard to avoid him and he knew he was alone. Sometimes that poor hatchling hidden inside would float near the surface, but the die was cast and all he could do was hide the inner sad cygnet and lash out as the brazen, bad swan that he was become.

And so the seasons passed and the brown on his feathers turned to white, as did those on even the once most unattractive of his siblings. And he, too, was now a beautiful swan, but he was still ugly on the inside.

 

***

~by David Straker~

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