Hopper and Quack head north from the Galapagos Islands, not really knowing where they’re going. Quack knows he’s getting closer to his home, and Hopper hopes he will find his family going this way. When they come to rest on the coast of Guatemala, Hopper makes and terrible mistake, but he finds the help he needs.
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The Dancing Mushroom
Rolling waves were all Quack and Hopper could see in every direction as they swam in silence to the north, each of them coming to grips with his feelings about leaving their friends in the Galapagos Islands. They also wondered about the long unknown trip ahead of them. Hopper porpoised along at about half speed. Quack, whose wing had now healed, flew for a while, and then he would drop into the water to let Hopper catch up.
For a number of days they traveled like this with no land in sight and not really knowing where they were going, although Quack knew he was getting closer to his family going this way. The journey seemed endless, yet their spirits revived as they went on, especially as they talked about the good times they’d had together.
One day Quack was flying ahead to see what was there. He returned, whistling excitedly and saying, “Land ahead, Hop! I see land!”
This was good news to Hopper, who then increased to near top speed. Soon he too could see the coast of Guatemala with its volcanic mountains towering behind the shoreline.
By this time Hopper realized he wasn’t getting any nearer to his home, but he had been instructed to go north. Then the thought was impressed upon his mind that this was the direction to Quack’s home. “Maybe that’s why we’re going this way,” he thought. He felt glad for his friend, but a little sad at the thought of leaving him.
“Maybe this is your home?” he said aloud. “There are mountains here. You said you spent your winters in the mountains by the streams.”
“Maybe so,” said Quack, “but I don’t think these are the right mountains.”
Soon they were on the black sand beach. They decided that Quack would fly inland to the mountains to see if this was the right place, while Hopper stayed close to the water. It was very hot here for a penguin, and he needed to be able to cool himself off regularly, even though the water was also warmer than he liked it.
They found a place where a stream flowed down to the ocean from the mountains. Hopper would set up headquarters there and wait for Quack’s return. He would be sheltered from view at the edge of the jungle, and he could look out at the sea without being seen easily. He was wary of seals, though he hadn’t encountered any for a while. He figured by now they could very well have realized he had tricked them again on that little island when he had pretended to be a fox.
Quack’s plan was to follow the line of mountains to the northwest to see if anything or anyone looked familiar. Then he would return to Hopper in a few days.
Quack flew off, and Hopper sat in his stream, looking out at the ocean. “What am I doing here?” he wondered. He sat there the rest of the day, through the night and the next morning after getting his breakfast in the ocean. A number of animals came by: birds, reptiles, and mammals. Some were friendly, but most ignored him. By late morning Hopper was tired of sitting there and was feeling grumbly inside. He kept thinking, “What am I doing here? This is no life for a penguin.” About this time a beautiful, shimmery green bird with a long tail perched on a branch above him.
“Well, hello there,” he said.
“Hi,” said Hopper.
“You don’t look very happy,” said the green bird.
“Well, I’m all right. I’m just kind of tired of waiting here with nothing to do. It seems like I should have something better to do than this. My friend will be back today or tomorrow; then we’ll be moving on, but even then I don’t know where or why.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Hopper, a penguin, a Rockhopper penguin.”
“And I’m Quigley, a quetzal bird, undoubtedly the prettiest bird in Guatemala, if not the world. But that’s enough about me. You, Hopper, seem to be a bird of uncommon abilities, and one used to accomplishing great things. I perceive you have done great deeds, and you shall do more. I like birds like you for my friends. I can tell that you would be a great friend. I have a secret that I tell only my friends about. Want to know it?”
“Well, sure,” said Hopper.
The quetzal looked around, then dropped to a rock in the stream by Hopper, and spoke out of the side of his beak, “The dancing mushroom.”
“The dancing mushroom?” said Hopper.
“Yes, that’s what you need. The dancing mushroom will tell you everything you want to know about your life—where you should go, what you should do, and whom you will meet.”
Hopper was doubtful about all this, but these were things he really wanted to know. He was weary with the constant struggle, and especially with the feeling of being out of place and not knowing why he was here.
“Where is this dancing mushroom?” he asked.
“If you go upstream for about a half mile, you will come to a waterfall. From there turn east. You will come to a place of hot springs and geysers in about a half hour. From there turn north. You will soon see a huge rock in front of a hill. Behind the rock is a cave in the hill. The dancing mushroom lives there. She comes out to dance at sunset. If you can dance with her, she will tell you all.”
Hopper was somewhat excited about the idea of having all his questions answered, but at the same time his heart felt a little heavy. Before making the trip upstream, he decided he needed some lunch. He dove into the sea to find some fish. As he was eating, a sound he hadn’t heard for a long time returned to him—that almost eerie, low song. So many times it had come when danger was near. This time it sounded the same, yet somehow different. There was an urgency about it, very near and very loud.
He decided it was time to get out of the water. On the shore he wondered what that was all about. He headed for his stream, and as he did so a loud blast of noise from the water behind him nearly knocked him over. “What was that?” he asked himself. Looking out to sea, he saw nothing, and headed upstream. He came to his headquarters in the stream and sat down, looking out at the ocean. He saw and heard nothing, but kept thinking, “What was that?”
The thought came to him that it was the same sound he’d heard underwater, but now for some reason he’d heard it out of the water. “But why?” he thought. He scanned the sea for any sign of danger. He saw no squid, no sharks, and no monster or whatever it was that made that noise.
Hopper sat in his place for a while, trying to figure out what was going on. As long as he sat there he didn’t hear the noise. Then the quetzal returned and said, “Aren’t you going to dance with the mushroom? If you don’t leave soon, you’ll be too late.”
“Well, I’m not sure if I’m going. I’m trying to figure out what that noise was.”
“Noise? I don’t hear any noise. But if you hear a noise, the dancing mushroom can tell you what it is. You have nothing to lose if you go, and if you don’t, you’ll always wonder what you missed, and you’ll continue living your life not knowing the things you want to know…”
The quetzal bird talked on for a time with similar words until finally Hopper said, “All right, I’ll go.”
“You’d better hurry if you’re to get there by sunset,” said the quetzal as he flew off. Hopper stood up and turned around to head upstream. Immediately the sound blasted twice, almost knocking him over. Hopper thought he almost heard it say, “Don’t go!”
He stood there for a minute, thinking, “Who’s making that sound? Is it trying to lure me back to the water to get me, or is it trying to warn me? It has always been there in times of danger, but is it the danger, or is it warning me of danger?” His mind was getting more and more muddled, and his desire to find the dancing mushroom won. Upstream he went at top speed.
The sound came regularly from behind him, still two blasts at a time. He was almost certain it was saying, “Don’t go!” But he kept going. The sound was still loud, but he was getting far enough away that it no longer hurt his ears.
Hearing the sound of splashing water ahead, he hurried on until he saw the stream cascading toward him over a cliff, creating a waterfall glistening in the sun. He paused briefly to gaze at it and then turned right, away from the stream. A half hour later he saw a pool of water that was steaming. He felt the ground rumbling beneath him, and suddenly hot water shot out of the ground in front of him, giving him a hot shower. “Grrr,” he said as he turned left, hopping through the trees.
Soon he saw the big rock ahead of him. The noise sounded, seeming to say, “Come back!”
“I’ve got to see the mushroom!” he said. The sun was almost ready to set as he hopped full speed for the rock.
He came around the rock, and there it was—the mushroom! It sat there in an open space between the rock and a cave in the hill. Hopper’s heart pounded with excitement as he hopped toward the mushroom. “Hello, there!” he called. “Can I dance with you?”
The mushroom didn’t answer. It just sat there like any other mushroom. Hopper approached it and said, “I have a lot of questions to ask you.” It didn’t respond, but he heard the noise from the sea, sounding in the distance, even now sounding more urgent than ever. Hopper’s heart felt like it was in his feet now. The farther he’d come on this little side trip, the heavier it had felt, but he’d kept telling himself, “I have to see the dancing mushroom.”
Now he thought maybe it was asleep, so he nudged it with his wing. It fell over. Hopper looked up, saying, “What a fool I’ve been! I didn’t need an answer from anyone but you! If I needed to know those things, you would have told me. Forgive me!”
Now he heard some snickering up on the hill, then more in the cave, and also in the woods in front of him and behind him. One loud, snorty voice called from up on the hill, “Hey, aren’t you going to dance?” Snorty laughter came from all directions. “Hey, what kind of stupid-looking thing are you, anyway?” called the voice again, obviously that of the leader of these creatures. Hopper could see some pig-like shapes moving closer to him.
He answered, “A penguin, a Rockhopper penguin.”
“Ha! A penguin, he says. Well, you’re the dumbest penguin I ever saw. Everyone knows you don’t believe anything a quetzal says. They’ll do anything for a free meal. In this case, I gave him something he wanted, and he gave me you for my next meal. Ha ha ha! Get him, boys!”
The shapes charged at him from three sides. Hopper could only go toward the rock. Once again an enemy didn’t count on his rock-climbing ability. He found a way up just in time to escape their savage attack with their sharp tusks.
“Don’t think you can get away from us,” said the leader. “There are fifty of us peccaries, and we’re all around this rock. You have no way to get food or water. You’re better off coming down now and getting it over with quickly than to starve on that rock.”
“Aren’t you better off finding some nice fresh meal, rather than waiting for a starving penguin?” asked Hopper.
“Don’t you give me advice! You’re the fool who fell for the old dancing mushroom trick!”
Hopper said a weak “Help!” and sat in silence. Before he fell asleep he called down, “Who gets to eat me, anyway? I’m not much of a meal for fifty of you!”
He heard a lot of quiet snorting all around as the leader yelled back, “I do, of course! I’m the boss here!”
“Then what about the others? What’s in it for them?”
Once again there was snorting all around, now a little louder, and the boss yelled, “You zip up that birdie beak of yours! That’s not your concern!”
Hopper dozed off with the sound of snorting in his ears. He woke up the next morning with a hungry stomach. He was getting thirsty and very hot. How he wished he’d stayed in the stream by the beach!
Below him he could see the peccaries better now. They were mean-looking hairy pigs with sharp, curved tusks. He wouldn’t have a chance of out-running or out-fighting them. He was trapped. He saw no way to escape.
By mid-morning he could tell he couldn’t last long in this heat. “I’ve got to get back to the ocean!” he told himself.
“Better come down soon!” shouted his tormentor. “I expect you’re getting pretty hungry and thirsty, and a little hot, ay?”
Hopper just sat there whispering an occasional “Help!” He had no hope, but about every 15 minutes he could still hear the sound from the sea. Before it had scared him, but now he saw that whoever was making it was a friend, and a very wise friend. The sound had come as a warning of danger, just as it had so many times before.
“Hey penguin, come on down!” snorted the peccary. “We’ll make it quick. Then you won’t be hot and hungry anymore. And I won’t be hungry anymore, either. Ha ha ha!”
Just then Hopper heard a buzzing sound in the trees, and a little voice saying, “Hey piggy-wiggy! Hey, piggy-wig!”
The head peccary bolted in the direction of the voice, yelling, “Who said that?” In the process he knocked over a few of the other peccaries who squealed and snorted.
Then the voice was in the trees in the opposite direction, “Hey, piggy-wiggy! Hey, piggy-wig!”
The peccary was furious. “I hate it when they call me that!” he fumed. He charged through the herd, knocking over more of them. Then the voice came from a different direction. He kept following it, knocking over more peccaries. This went on for a while, and now all the peccaries were fighting mad and began attacking each other. Then the voice came from deeper in the trees, and the leader followed it, yelling threats.
While the peccaries struggled with each other, Hopper saw a chance to escape. No one seemed to be watching him anymore. He made his way back down and hopped as fast as he could in the direction from which he’d come. He wove around fighting peccaries who didn’t notice him. The leader had gone in the opposite direction.
Hopper left them squealing and snorting. Soon he was to the hot springs. He headed for the sound of the waterfall. Then he heard an angry voice, “Where’s my penguin, you fools!”
Another answered, “I thought he was up on that big rock.”
“No, he’s not there. You let him get away while you were goofing off. I leave for a few minutes, and he’s gone. Do I have to do everything myself?”
“Well, he’s your meal, isn’t he?”
“You don’t talk to me that way! After I catch that penguin and have a full stomach I’ll be back to take care of you!”
Then Hopper could hear hooves on the ground, charging in his direction. Behind them he could still hear the snorting and squealing continuing. The head peccary was on his trail! Hopper hopped with all his might for the waterfall. The hooves were getting nearer. “Help!” he said. Then he heard a rumble and a spray, and then a squeal and a snort, “Arrrr! That’s hot! How many times have I passed that geyser? Arrrr!”
Hopper made it to the stream and dove in. He swam underwater and came up under the waterfall, where he couldn’t be seen, just as the peccary charged up to the stream bank.
“All right, I know you’re here somewhere, you little birdie-beaked, flipper-winged penguin! You can’t get away from me. I’m the head peccary! One call from me and I’ll have you cut off from going downstream. All my peccaries are just waiting for the word! You can’t get away. You might as well come out of there now. The only place you could be is under that waterfall. I suppose you’re hoping I’ll start chasing some voice again. Ha! I could tell it was a trick as soon as I’d gone into the trees. You were throwing your voice! You won’t fool me again! And when I catch you, you’ll wish you’d never called me a piggy-wig!”
Just then a buzzy voice right behind the peccary said, “Hey, piggy-wiggy! Hey, piggy-wig!”
The peccary quickly turned around, saying, “Arrr. I hate that. You’d better stop that, penguin!” Then the voice came from directly above him. He looked up and saw a little bird.
“Arrrr! You’re just a little bird!”
“Hummer!” thought Hopper.
The peccary shouted, “You come down here a little closer and say that, little fellow!”
“Okay,” said Hummer, who then descended to within a foot of the peccary’s snout, looked him in the eye and said again, “Hey, piggy-wiggy! Hey piggy-wig!”
The peccary furiously lunged at Hummer, who easily flitted away, causing the peccary to fall into the stream. He thrashed around in a rage, splashing water all over. Then he came out, shook himself off, and looked for Hummer.
“Here I am, piggy-wig!”
The peccary charged after the voice away from the stream, into the woods. Hummer hovered in the air above a familiar spot, calling his taunt at the piggy-wig who continued his charge. He aimed his tusks at the little bird and lunged again. Once again Hummer removed himself quickly and easily at the last moment, leaving the peccary flying over the ground and landing just as the geyser erupted, hitting him square in the chest. The force of the eruption bowled him over, causing him to roll a few times. He ended up stuck in the mud by a hot spring. “Arrr!” he said. “Hey, you idiots! Quit playing around and come get me out of here!”
Hummer found Hopper heading downstream, and Hopper said, “Hey Hummer, my good friend. I must thank you again for your help. I was a goner, for sure. How did you get here?”
Hummer answered, “Not far from here is where I come for the winter. When I heard the call for help, it was my pleasure to come.
“The peccary won’t be able to bother you for awhile, but I’d suggest that you move on from here soon. He may be able to get more peccaries after you when he gets out of the mud, and he’s not in a very good mood.”
Hopper said, “Speaking of the call for help, what was that…”
Hummer continued, “Peccaries aren’t the smartest creatures in the world, but they are fearless and mean. They even attack people sometimes.”
They arrived at Hopper’s waiting place, and he said, “I wonder when Quack will get here. Oh, you haven’t met him yet, have you? He’s been my friend and companion since the Galapagos.”
“I heard he’s quite the duck,” said Hummer. “I’m glad you’ve had some company. Two are better than one, you know.”
“Where did you hear about him?”
“Well, speaking of two, I’d better get back to Hummeressa. It sure has been great seeing you, Hopper.”
“Do you have to go so soon?” called Hopper as Hummer flitted away. “Thanks again for the help!”
“I hope to see you again on less dangerous terms!” called back Hummer, and he was gone.
Hopper’s stomach told him to get some food. He dove into the ocean and ate some fish. He didn’t hear the sound, and he returned to his headquarters.
In the mid-afternoon Quack returned and found Hopper sitting there. “Hey-ho!” he called. “Well, this wasn’t the place for me. I think we’ve got to head north a ways still. Looks like not much excitement here, ay?”
“Not much,” said Hopper. “In fact this place is so dull, I vote that we exit here immediately.”
The sound of many hooves thudding on the forest floor approached rapidly on both sides of the stream.
“What’s that?” asked Quack.
“Peccaries,” said Hopper.
“What are peccaries? How do you know what they are?”
“In a few minutes you’ll see for yourself what they are, but I suggest we head for the water.”
Quack flew over Hopper as he swam downstream. Now they were at the place where the stream crossed the beach. The peccaries, hundreds of them, thundered across the black sand, snorting with anger.
“Have a good day!” shouted Hopper as he dove into the ocean.
“I think you fellows have had some sort of misunderstanding with my friend?” called down Quack.
“Ha! That penguin is your friend?” answered the head peccary. “Whoever heard of a penguin and a duck being friends?”