FRANÇOIS BLACKBILL (Flock Supervisor): Did we see the plane coming? Did my flock see the big honking plane coming? You people have this silly animal misnomer… “hawk eyed.” Well, Canadian geese can see everything above us and below us simultaneously, with both monocular and some overlapping binocular vision. And everything is in focus. Everything! Hawks couldn’t handle vision like that. Lookit, that pilot with the white moustache—Captain Sullenface or whatever—he waved us on. Saw him with my own right eye. Sky rules state that below 3,000 feet, birds in a loose-echelon formation have right of way. So I gave the hold steady honk. A second later, I looked down and realized that kamikaze in the cheap navy suit must have had it out for us.
SERGE BROWNTAIL (Rear Honker): Geese should never play the game you call chicken, especially not with an Airbus 320. (Long pause, wipes tear with wing.) Jean-Paul gave the command to speed up the flock, and that’s my job, the gas pedal, so I started straight up bleating. I think I’ve honked that way only once before, when my ex-wife, Marie, was in the path of an oncoming LIRR train. Then Bernadette, François’s wingwoman, turned our V down and to the right. Later, I come to find out this was pure miscommunication. Bern thought that François signaled the turn, when he was simply pointing to the plane and then flipping up his wing as if to say, “What the honk?” We only have ten honks to communicate, eight of them expressions of profanity, so our wings must do some of the talking. And of course I couldn’t say stop because there’s no honk for that. Then, whoomf_, Jean-Paul got… (_Chokes up)… sucked into the engine. Right from out in front of me. I feel myself starting to get pulled in too. Bernadette, ten birds in front of me just moments ago, is suddenly holding onto my wings with hers. I was dangling towards the spinning turbine as if I was on the edge of a cliff. The webs on my feet were getting pulled—ah, it hurts just to remember—like tiny sails in a storm. Seconds before we get atomized, she pulls us away. It was the Miracle Above the Hudson, though I guess we were technically over the Bronx. I remember thinking, “How is she doing this because it’s not like we have opposable thumbs or even hands?” Her grip was so tight, yet her down so soft. You’d think I’m crazy for saying this, but that’s when we started pair bonding.
BERNADETTE BROWNTAIL (Formations Coordinator): I’m no hero. I was prepared is all. The quarter of a million miles I had flown during my migratory career led me to that moment. How I was able to hold back Serge in midair, I’ll never know. Air brakes, right? (Smiles.) For the record, I did not rip his marriage apart. All of us reassessed our lives after that event. While it’s true that geese mate for life, Serge simply didn’t want to deal with a hen that continually walks in the path of moving vehicles. After what we went through, who can blame him?
FRANÇOIS BLACKBILL: Post-impact with the plane, I’m in a tailspin and felt as if I was falling upwards. A feather, sticky with blood, landed on my bill. At that moment, the world came into focus. Scratch that. Not in focus, because everything is always in focus, as I mentioned. So let’s just forget about the focus thing. (Cough/honks.) Anyways, Jean-Paul, Gérard, and Astrid were gone. My whole flock was in complete disarray. It was like before the snap in Canadian football, with the backfield running around… What? You’ve never watched Canadian football? Not even the Grey Cup? How about snooker? Is that right? Wow. Lookit, as chaotic as it was up there, I felt in control. Guillaume and Étienne, who seemed fledglings only a year ago, were hurtling towards Earth Icarus-style, about three wingspans apart. I flew towards them, grabbing one then the other, tucking them under my wings. I said to Bernadette and François, who were locked in this freaky aerial embrace, “We’re gonna be in the Jackie O [the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park].”
ÉTIENNE GRAYBREAST (Cadet): I woke up next to my best friend, Guillaume. We were lying awkwardly close together in the dark. I feel a warm blanket around me, but I have a ripping headache. That was no surprise: we had partied, as we always do before migration, and had way too much fermented algae. “Honking A, we’re late!” I thought, and tried getting up, only I couldn’t because Guillaume and I are tucked under one of François’s wings. All of these tall buildings are whipping past us. It reminded me of my first flight, with the sawgrass and marsh reeds rushing underneath. I was nearly shish kabobed by a cattail, and I didn’t want the same thing to happen on the Chrysler Building. I trusted François, even though he looked crazier than a loon, a pigeon, and a limpkin, combined. He looked as crazy as a penguin, if you can even believe that.
GUILLAUME WHITENECK (Cadet): Every night I dream of crashing into a body of water, and then I wake up in a cold sweat. Every single night. And it’s the kind of moisture that doesn’t bead up and roll off my feathers. It’s sticky. So when I see the park rangers come by to round us up for gassing, instead of flying away, I sometimes go closer… (Looks off into distance.) You’ve heard what François said, just before we hit the water? The phrase haunts me. I never go near schoolyards.
FRANÇOIS BLACKWING: “Duck, duck, goose!” It certainly became the catchphrase again, though I wasn’t trying to revive it. I was thinking only about the safety of my brood. If they both didn’t yaw down, the force of the water could have snapped their necks. A nearby starling said we went in like a torpedo. Thank God it was winter and we didn’t have to deal with any paddle or rowboats. Two red-tailed hawks, some of Pale Male’s boys I believe, lifted us to safety when we emerged. I thought it was nice they suppressed animal instinct and didn’t try to eat out our intestines. You know, I take back what I said earlier. Maybe hawks aren’t such stupid honks after all.
BERNADETTE BROWNTAIL: I wonder if Serge’s ex would rather he had died, so she could play the widow card. Have you heard that she stalks us? Well, Marie, if you’re listening, we’re not going to Coral Gables this year. In fact, scratch the entire state of Florida off your radar. Okay, Marie?
FRANÇOIS BLACKWING: Now that I have my own Duck Duck Goose Feed Co., as well as Duck Duck Goose Down LLC for your pillow and comforter needs, other flocks say I’ve cashed in on an avian tragedy. Yes, what happened was no miracle for us. But while three geese died that day, three were saved. We’ll continue taking to the skies no matter what. We’ve got places to go, breeding to undertake. The collective memory of migration is a powerful thing. Come winter I want to get the honk out of Lake Ronkonkoma just like every other goose that lives there.