Mayor Albert had tried everything, but Gerald just wouldn’t leave. Flock after flock of his kin came to Cranberry Marsh and left, making their way south for the season. But the crane never followed.
From the shore, Mayor Albert watched Gerald watch the other cranes lift off in unison and settle in formation high in the sky.
Mayor Albert shook his head. “You can’t stay here, you fool. The fish and the frogs don’t like the cold any more than you do. When winter comes, what will you eat?”
The bird ignored his warning. Gerald continued to pluck grass shrimp from muddy roots.
“You’re a political animal!” Albert said. “So says my eponym. Part time, just like the rest of us: your kind picks a bird to follow up north or down south. If he leads you wrong or grows too feeble you pick another and follow that one instead. That’s how it works, for us and for you. It’s for your own good.”
Albert grumbled to himself on the way back to the New Berlin. In the morning, the Mayor Elect Derey would take Albert’s chair in Town Hall. Derey was half Albert’s age with less than half of Albert’s wit, but the town was younger than it was old now and more concerned with future outcomes than with where they were and how they got there.
When he returned, Mayor Albert called an emergency meeting of the Town Council. The members took their seats. Expecting nothing more than a few pleasant goodbyes, the Mayor Elect stood and cleared his throat to laud his predecessor’s long tenure and to declare a commitment to the same principles.
Before Derey could speak, Mayor Albert pointed at Derey’s chair. “Sit,” he said. Derey blanched, but obeyed without question.
“I will perform one final act as Mayor,” said Albert. “We had a tradition, back when I was a boy, to ceremoniously run a losing incumbent out of town on a rail. Mayor Dausche ditched it and never suffered that fate. But it was a good-natured reminder that the people had spoken and that no single man was above the rest, especially a politician.”
The council was dumbstruck. Finally, Mayor Elect Derey spoke. “Surely, Mr. Mayor, due to your advanced age, this would be dangerous. Not to mention an insult to your long years of service. Why, to the office itself!”
The council murmured agreement. Mayor Albert took up his pen and scrawled his name at the bottom of a slip of paper. He held it up. The council grimaced.
“The hard way, then,” said Albert. He looked to his comptroller. “Renny, you got any wood in the yard suited to the task?”
Renny stroked his beard. “Just shipped out the last shaped material for the season. I got some old fencing laying around though. A solid piece of that might do.”
“Fine. That’ll do fine,” said Albert. He pushed back his chair and stood up. “First thing tomorrow gentlemen. Get some strong boys to hold me up and get the word out to the rest of the town.”
In the morning, most of the town had gathered in the square. Albert pushed through the crowd to where the council stood along with eight young men and a wooden fence panel from Renny’s lumberyard. Albert climbed aboard and put his legs through a gap between pickets. The crowd counted along with Albert, “One. Two. Three!” and the boys lifted the panel and Mayor Albert on their shoulders.
Mayor Elect Derey pawed at Albert’s leg. “Mr. Mayor,” he called. “Where exactly, or which way out of town in particular are we running you?”
“To the marsh!” said Albert. He pointed to the east and the crowd cheered. Someone struck up a rendition of “New Berlin, My Only Home.” The council and Mayor Elect followed meekly behind.
When they reached the marsh, Albert scanned the waters. Gerald floated along the shore, watching the latest flock of visitors graze the waters for food.
Albert plucked a stem from a stand of tall reeds and held it aloft. “Alright boys, this is it! Straight into the marsh, right at those birds! Go now!”
The young men picked up the pace. Albert hollered and waved the reed above his head at Gerald and urged the young men forward. “Right there boys, where it’s deep.”
The procession stopped suddenly and dumped Albert from his perch. He tumbled into the water and shot right back up, trudging toward Gerald and the other cranes. The cranes flew off. Gerald panicked. He broke the surface of the marsh and flew up after the others. Albert wiped the water from his face and watched the crane fly higher and higher. The flock fanned out into a V. Gerald settled at the tip of its left branch. Albert smiled.
He slogged back to the shore and the townsfolk applauded as the young men that had dumped Albert now helped him out of the water. Albert slapped a muddy hand on Derey’s shoulder. “Congratulations, Mr. Mayor. The people have spoken. A bit of advice, if I may: be the leader that they elected. Follow through on your promises. Because if you don’t…” Albert jerked his thumb at the marsh behind him. “Well…”
The townsfolk laughed. Mayor Derey did not.