Danger continues to follow Hopper, and now he finds the whole Pacific Ocean against him.
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A Wanted Penguin
“I hope I don’t meet any more sharks,” said Hopper as he floated along with the current the next day. Then he heard a buzzing noise that seemed familiar to him, followed by a familiar buzzy voice saying, “Hopper, my friend!”
“Hummer! How are you, and how is Hummeressa?”
“All is well for both of us. She has made a complete recovery. But I have something else I must tell you. I can’t stay out here long. Hummeressa and I were flying north up the coast, and yesterday we flew by the island of fur seals. We go by there often, but yesterday the seals seemed to be all worked up about something, so we flew down to see what it was. We heard them talking about you. They were furious that you had eluded them on two occasions. They’ve put a reward on your head and sent messages along the coast to all the seals and sea lions. Whoever catches you and brings you back to Seep will be treated like a king and given a year’s supply of fish. You must stay away from the coast, and even out here you must keep alert for them.”
“Have you seen my friends?”
“Yes, they’re a ways ahead of you. I told them you were okay. I’m sorry for the disappointment you had there. I didn’t realize they weren’t the family you were looking for. My advice to you is to go with the current to a group of islands you will find in about three weeks if you don’t stop somewhere along the way. The seals will expect you to return to the coast to your friends, and I think you would be trapped.”
Hopper said, “But they told me there was another kind of penguin along the coast not far from here. Perhaps that is where my family is.”
“No, Hopper. I’ve seen that penguin, the Peruvian penguin. He doesn’t look like you, but on those islands (and remember, you are looking for an island), I’ve heard there is yet another kind of penguin. Perhaps he is the one you’re looking for.”
“Then I’ll go there. Thank you, my good friend.”
“I will always be grateful to you, Hopper, for saving Hummeressa’s life. I must return to her now. Farewell!”
After Hummer left, Hopper felt very alone. He’d been separated from his friends, and now his life would be in continual danger. He knew he couldn’t trust seals anyway, but now they were looking specifically for him, not just any old penguin.
Hopper looked toward the coast. In that direction were his friends. Also in that direction somewhere, perhaps anywhere, were those who wanted to hurt him. He could see neither. The Andes Mountains towered above him, seeming to rise straight out of the sea.
“Why me?” he asked. “I didn’t intend them any harm.” The mountains didn’t answer, but they increased his feeling of being small and alone.
So on he swam to the north toward some unknown islands where there might possibly be penguins, and even less probably his family.
Several days later he was 1000 miles to the north. He noticed the air was getting warmer, but the water was still cold as he traveled in the current. The cold was more to his liking. He wondered how much farther he had to go. He was lonely. He had no one to talk to. He missed Magellee. He missed Hummer. He missed Emily and Emmett. Would he ever have a home and friends who would always be his friends?
His thoughts were interrupted by that sound again, once again nearer. “What is that?” he thought. “Last time I heard it was when the shark was after me. Could the shark be back?”
He swam a little faster, even though he realized it probably wouldn’t do any good. A shark is much faster, and there’s no place to hide out here in the ocean. You just have to hope one doesn’t catch sight or scent of you.
He decided to swim under water for a while to see if he could see or hear what was there. The eerie sound grew slowly louder, but he could see nothing. He couldn’t really tell if it was ahead or behind him.
He returned to porpoising, nearly at top speed, and then he checked under water again. The sound grew nearer. “Help!” he said.
Porpoising again, he saw what he thought was an island ahead and a little to the west. “I’d better head there,” he said. “This couldn’t be the one Hummer was talking about, could it?”
In a half hour the island was near, and he could see it was part of a small group of islands. The near one rose quite a ways out of the water, apparently formed by volcanic activity. Could this be home? There was no time to think about it. The sound grew nearer and nearer.
He swam with all his might and made it to shore, hopped onto the sandy beach and said, “Whew, I made it!”
Just then a long tentacle arm with huge round suction cups on it snaked out of the sea and wrapped around Hopper before he had a chance to look up and say, “Thank you!”
Instead he said, “Hellllp!” as the thing pulled him back into the water. It was a squid, a giant squid. He knew that, although he couldn’t see much of it besides this long tentacle that held him. He was helpless against it.
Then there was a disturbance in the water. Something happened to the squid, and it let him go! He was sent flying into the air, turning over and over again before he landed in the water a few feet from shore.
He couldn’t tell what happened, but he caught a glimpse of the squid’s brownish body, and also something blue as he was hurtling through the air. Then as he hit the water he heard a tremendous slapping sound on the water where he had seen the squid. Then all was quiet.
Hopper hurried out of the water and away from the reach of any tentacles. “Whew, thank you again,” he said, looking above. “I’ve heard of giant squid, but I wasn’t sure if they were real or just legends. But who, besides you, knows what dwells in the depths of the seas?”
Hopper wasn’t too anxious to get back into the water, so he decided to walk along the beach for a while. He turned to the right and hopped along a sandy beach that was bordered by some low rocky hills. Beyond them were higher hills.
After about a half hour he put his head in the water to listen for any sign of danger. He heard the sound, seemingly farther away than when the squid grabbed him. “Better not get in now,” he said as he continued down the beach.
Ahead of him was a ridge of rock that jutted toward the water, nearly cutting off his route along the sandy beach. As he was going around it he heard water splashing, and then he heard voices. He recognized them immediately as seal voices. He stopped short, hoping they wouldn’t see him. From their conversation he could tell that they hadn’t yet.
“Ah, this looks like a good place to rest,” one was saying. Hopper heard them flop down on the beach with a sigh.
Another voice said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind having that reward. Can you imagine just sitting back on the beach while they bring me my meals every day for a year?”
“That would be nice, all right. But we’d better remember what we’re out here for. It’s not too likely we’ll find that little penguin, but Seep wants him, and he doesn’t care who brings him in. Our pay is pretty good just for running this errand.”
Hopper’s heart was racing. He knew they were talking about him. These seals had gotten here from Seal Island just after him, and now were seeking to spread the news about the reward, as Hummer had told him.
Hopper knew he had to keep from being seen, but he wanted to know what these seals were up to. He peeked around the corner. There they were, lounging on the sand, ten yards away, in the shade of the rocks.
“One of the seagulls who watch the Magellanic penguins for us told us this Hopper fellow was heading north. Apparently he’s a Rockhopper penguin who got separated from his family and is hoping to find them again. Seep is willing to pay a lot to make sure that never happens.”
Hopper’s heart was dropping lower by the second. All he wanted was to find his home, and now the whole world was against him. He decided to go inland to escape the seals’ notice. Keeping the rock ridge between him and the seals, he began climbing toward the center of the island. He could still hear them fantasizing about the life of luxury.
Suddenly an idea occurred to him. He needed to go north, but the seals were heading that way also. He must find a way to make them think he was heading another direction. How could he do that without being caught?
He crept around to a point right above the seals and hid behind a rock. One of them said, “Well, I guess we’ve rested here long enough. Better get back to our mission. Back to the water and north to the Galapagos!”
As they started pulling themselves toward the water, they heard a voice calling from the hill, “Wait, not so fast, my fine friends! Why don’t you stay and have a good meal with me before your long journey. You need a little sustenance to help you on your way.”
The seals stopped, and the younger one said, “Say, that sounds like a good idea.”
The other nudged him, saying, “Shh. Let me handle this. It’s a fox.” And to the voice he said, “That is mighty kind of you, sir, but we have an important errand to run, and we’ve delayed too long already. Er, by the way, have you seen a little penguin named Hopper pass by this way?”
“Why, sure, my fine friend. He too was a good friend of mine and had a nice meal with me. Then I sent him on his way to the coast of Peru where he said his family lived.”
The seals looked at each other, each knowing what the other was thinking, and said together, “Peru, or a nice meal!”
The older one said, “We’ve got to get back to Seep about this!”
The seals dragged themselves quickly back to the water and headed south.
Soon Hopper was able to return to the beach, continuing his walk along the shore to the other side of the island. Then he listened again in the water. Not hearing the ominous sound, he dove in and resumed his northward journey.