London Short Fiction: The Wishing Duck Of Regent’s Park

By Londonist Last edited 90 months ago
London Short Fiction: The Wishing Duck Of Regent’s Park


Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This week’s story is by Andrew Lemming, who recommends caution should you ever be approached by a talking duck.

“You look a bit glum,” said the duck. Derek Flatterly studied his stash of lager cans. There were two possibilities: either the drink was stronger than he thought; or, he had been throwing chunks of a stale sandwich at an actual talking duck. In the end he decided it was the sign of a nervous breakdown.

He characterised most bad days as a mild headache — nothing he couldn’t banish with paracetamol and a walk in Regent’s Park. Today, however, was a full on migraine followed by a punch in the kidneys — or should that be a knife in the back. He was a risk taker. There were going to be times when investments came good and times when they didn’t. Thanks to his connections and a little insider knowledge, his hunches usually fell in the former category. However, whistles had been blown by a disgruntled employee and the authorities answered. His employers needed a whipping boy and thought: “who better than Mr. Risk Taker?”.

“Bread me,” the duck demanded. Derek shrugged and tore off a crust. “Want to tell me about it?”

“Hearing voices is one thing — that just means I’m slightly mad. Having a conversation with an imaginary water fowl is up there with people who think they’re washing machines and eat socks (no offence).”

The duck pecked him. He was surprised to find it actually hurt.

“That should give you a bit of a clue that I’m real.”

“Good point,” he conceded. “Do you have a name?”

“Helen,” she replied. “You?”

“Derek.” He found himself offering a hand to shake. Helen glared at him until he retracted it. “So, you’re a talking duck. How is that working out for you?”

“Technically yes, but I’m not allowed to talk about it. I’m more interested in you. Rough day?”

“You don’t know half of it,” he mumbled.

“Would three wishes help?” she asked.

“What like ‘rub a magic lamp’ three wishes?”

“You’ve shown me kindness so I‘m allowed to grant three wishes. It’s explained in here.” She rummaged under her right wing and brought out a leaflet entitled ‘You Have Three Wishes’.

“You serious? I mean there’s no such thing as magic.”

“I am a duck. That talks. What more evidence do you need: turning all the creatures in the zoo over there purple?”

“It would help.”

“You want these wishes? Because someone over at the boating area gave me some of her cake and...”

“All right, I’ll take the wishes.”

“Before we start I have to explain a number of conditions. Firstly, all of the wishes can benefit you but one must benefit someone you love, one must benefit someone you hate and the one must benefit the wish giver (that will be me). The wish has to be specific and wishes are final once granted. There are other terms but they’re explained in the booklet. Your wish may be recorded for training purposes. Do you understand?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Because a breach could result in forfeiture of wishes and other... consequences,” she said. “I’m just going to head over to heronry for an hour to give you time to go through the information and come up with three wishes. You might also get me some more bread — just a thought.”

Helen waddled into the lake and paddled away. Derek plucked a fresh can from one of the packs and leaned back on the bench. Booklets, brochures and newsletters were for budgie cages and recycling bins. He tossed it over his shoulder and took a swig. By the time Helen returned, he had worked through three more tins.

“Read the booklet?” she asked. He nodded. “Any questions?”

“Nope, I’m ready to fire,” he replied — his speech slightly slurred.

“By all means, fire away.”

“Very well, I wish for 50 more wishes!” Derek sat back, arms folded and sported a smug grin.

“I thought you said you read the booklet,” said the duck.

“Well, yes,” he lied.

“I only ask because wishing for more wishes is expressly forbidden. In fact it is in bold and underlined three times. Sorry, that means you lose a wish.”

“That’s not fair!”

“Next?” She shook a few drops of water from her wings.

“All right! I wish that I win the National Lottery — triple rollover and everything!”

“Nope, can’t grant that one either.”

“Why not? I could give some of the money to someone I love or someone I hate. That’s one of the conditions right?”

“You could give some of the money to someone you love or someone you hate not you will give some of the money. Semantics, I know, but I told you to be specific.”

“Damn it!” Tears formed in his eyes.

“Last wish — and you might want to think this one through.”

“Just get me my old job back.”

“Is that what you wish for?”

“Yes!” he howled. At once his stomach tightened with an intense cramp. He tumbled forward scattering empty cans. Writhing, he felt himself shrink into his clothing until they completely swathed him. He tried to wrestle his way out only to find his arms had become wings.

Someone freed him — a woman naked but for a light coating of downy feathers which shed in the breeze. She dressed herself in the shirt and trousers.

“Helen?” he quacked. She gave an apologetic smile and nodded. “What just happened?”

“Again, it was in the booklet,” she said. “The last wish is forfeit. As none of your requests complied with the terms and conditions, I change back into a person. You take my place. You might want to read this.” She rummaged through discarded feathers until she found a leaflet entitled ‘What to do if you become a Duck’.

“This isn’t happening! You can’t leave me like this!”

“With any luck you’ll find someone who will accept an offer of three wishes,” she said. “You just have to hope they’re as selfish and self centred as you.”

Copyright Andrew Lemming, photo by Thomas Burian in the Londonist Flickr pool.

We’re still after your stories — particularly about London's green spaces — which you should send to Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.

Previously in this series

Fairy tales

For children/by children

General London fiction

London at Night

Christmas in London


London razed

Transport tales


  • Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
  • Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
  • Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.



  • The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
  • The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.


  • Routine: The importance of the day-to-day, by Clare Kane.
  • Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
  • A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
  • Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
  • Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
  • The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
  • St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
  • First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
  • Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
  • NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.

Other tales

Last Updated 07 June 2015