Fly Like a Penguin, Volume 1, Chapter 21

Hopper and Quack arrive in California waters, where the greatest danger yet awaits them.

To read from the beginning, click here.

 

Chapter 21

California

Off the coast of California, about 20 miles out to sea, Hopper found the swimming more difficult as he and Quack continued their journey to the north. The current was heading south, so they couldn’t stop or they’d lose ground. Of course Quack could fly above it all. At least the current was colder water, which was better for Hopper.
One day Hopper was porpoising along while Quack was flying overhead. As Hopper dove under he heard that sound again far away to his left, out to sea. “Help,” he said, and called up to Quack, “Hey, come on down and have a listen in the water. He’d told Quack about the sound before, but the duck had never heard it. Quack dove in, and then as he popped out of the water a minute later he said, “That sure is eerie! What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know,” said Hopper. “All I know is that it always comes before danger. I think it may be a warning for me.”
They agreed that Quack should go on a spy mission to see if he could spot any danger. Quack flew high over the ocean to the west. Seagulls called to each other as he passed by them. They didn’t seem to like this duck intruding in their air space.
For a while all he could see was the sea below him, blue sky above him, and a few gulls around him. His eyes scanned the sea. Far to the west he saw the spout of a whale as it came to the surface. “It’s a blue whale!” he said to himself excitedly. The big fellow raised his tail and dove under, continuing his journey northward.
Then Quack spotted a black dot on the surface of the sea. As he flew closer, he could see it was a seal heading east, toward Hopper! Then Quack noticed it wasn’t the only one. He counted two, three, four…fifty seals spread out over a distance of ten miles, all heading east. They nearly had Hopper surrounded, closing on him in a great semi-circle. The only direction Hopper could go was east, toward the coast.
Quack returned to Hopper and told him the news. “It’s obvious they know about me,” said Hopper, “and they’re driving me to the coast. Well, I guess I have as much chance there as I do out here in the open water with fifty seals.” Then he looked up and said, “Help!”
Now they headed for the California coast at Hopper’s top speed. Quack did routine surveillance to check on the seals’ progress. They were getting steadily closer on all three sides. Hopper had to reach a good hiding place soon or they’d have him.
“I wonder how those guys knew where I was,” said Hopper to himself as he porpoised along. “There must be spies around. I’ve heard of seagulls who would sell themselves for a few clams. Aha! Seagulls! Hey Quack! Did you see any seagulls on Guadalupe?”
“Of course. Lots of ‘em.”
“Any of them look suspicious?”
“Actually, I didn’t pay much attention to them. I was more interested in finding out what the elephant seals knew.”
“Do you think any of them could have followed you from there?”
“Well, it’s possible, but I never would have thought they would do such a thing. But there have been gulls flying high above us all day. I didn’t pay much attention, but do you think they’re in with the seals?”
“I suspect so. How else would the seals know where I am?”
They decided that Quack would go on another routine-looking spy mission to see if he could tell if the gulls were paying attention to them. As he flew over the seals, monitoring their progress, he also watched the gulls. Soon he could tell they weren’t just randomly flying overhead, but were showing the precise location of the penguin.
He returned to Hopper with this sobering news. It seemed they had little or no hope of escape. Somehow they must find a hiding place, safe from the seals and also from the view of the seagulls.
Time was running out. The seals were closing. In the distance was land. Could they make it there before the seals caught up? Hopper was swimming at top speed. “Boy, am I hungry,” he said.
“Me too,” said Quack, “but there’s not much time to eat.”
Hopper said, “We need our strength, though, for the last few miles to the coast. Let’s dive under for some fish.” Soon they had eaten enough to give them the energy they needed, but not enough to slow them down.
As they approached a rocky coastline, Quack had a plan. The seals were now within a few hundred yards. They wouldn’t be able to reach the coast before the seals caught Hopper. Quack said, “Watch me and be ready to swim as far as you can under water to the north toward that little rock island.”
“Right!” said Hopper, although he wasn’t sure about the plan. He’d have to swim right by the many seals who were closing in on him from the north.
Quack dove under water and resurfaced in less than a minute with a nice-looking fish in his mouth. Without stopping to talk (which would have been difficult), he took to the air. Hopper watched him fly up to the gulls and wag the fish in front of their beaks. Then he flew south. The gulls followed him, each wanting to be the one to eat the fish.
Hopper saw this was the time. He dove under water and pretended he was flying north. He wondered if the seals would see him. If so, he’d be no match for so many of them. Soon he could see them above him. They seemed to be stopped, looking up at the sky, and they didn’t notice him.
He swam as far as he could before coming up for air. It wasn’t far to the rock island Quack had mentioned, and he hoped to find a spot there to hide from his pursuers.
Quack, meanwhile, had flown a few miles south with the fish. When he saw he couldn’t stay ahead of the gulls anymore, he dropped it on the beach. The gulls all flew after the fish and fought over it with loud calls and cries.
Quack then returned north to see what had become of the seals and Hopper. He saw the penguin approaching the island. The seals seemed confused, swimming in circles and looking at the sky. He knew he’d better not find Hopper or they’d probably see him. He decided to hide on the bluff across from the island. From there he could watch what was happening in the sea. Later he could join Hopper.
Hopper hid between some rocks at the edge of the water. Sea lions were swimming in all directions around the island, but they hadn’t seen him yet. He looked around and spotted a cliff rising from the water on the side of the island facing the mainland. His eyes scanned the rocky face and saw what appeared to be a hole, which to a penguin would be a cave, a potential hiding place. Would he be able to get there, and if he could, could he do it without being seen? He looked for a route.
As it grew dark, Hopper quietly left his place in the water and headed for the cliff. He had to be very careful. Sea lions were all over the place. Some were likely to be on the island. He quickly hopped from rock to rock, hiding behind them as he went.
He could see pairs of sea lions crisscrossing the island, obviously looking for something. He knew he was that something. He had to make it to that cave. They couldn’t reach him there. Then perhaps he could hold out there for a few days, and the seals would figure he’d gotten away and give up the search.
A few times he had to stand still behind a rock while the sea lions padded by. Finally he made it to the base of the cliff. He froze as a pair of seals swam by. They continued on their way, and Hopper began his climb. It would be tough going in the dark, but it was his only hope for a place to stay. His beak and feet found small holds in the rock as he made the slow ascent. Occasionally a rock would come loose and splash in the water below. Then he would hold tight and remain motionless for a few minutes before proceeding.
After what seemed like a long time, he made it to the cave, crawled in, and fell asleep.
The next morning he awoke to the sound of gulls crying and waves splashing on the shore. He looked out at the world in an effort to see his pursuers. The sky was filled with gulls, obviously looking for a certain penguin. Seals swam continually in the channel between his island and the mainland. Where was Quack? He hoped the duck was all right.
Hopper kept out of sight in his cave all that day, and in the night he heard a familiar whistle from the bluff across the channel from him. Hopper whistled back.
Soon Quack found him and brought him some fish. “Ah, thanks,” said Hopper. “I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever get to eat again.” Quack told him how his plan had worked in distracting the gulls.
“It also confused the seals,” said Hopper, “but they’re still looking for me.”
“Yeah,” said Quack. “I haven’t been able to fly in daylight, but from what I’ve seen from my hiding place on the hill, there are thousands of seals and sea lions in the water and on the beaches, and more coming all the time.”
“Well, I guess I’ll have to stay in my cave for a while and hope they give it up in a few days and go someplace else. Then maybe I can make a break for it.” So for the next few days Hopper stayed in his cave, and at night Quack brought him food.
After Quack left on the third night in the cave, as Hopper was about to go to sleep, he heard the voice again—the same voice he’d heard the night before he left the Galapagos Islands. “When all hope seems gone, look up and you will find your escape,” said the voice. Hopper didn’t know what that meant, but he thought about it until he fell asleep.
The next night Quack came as usual with some fish. “You’ll never guess what happened while I was fishing,” he said. “When I came up for air, a little white seal popped his head out of the water right by me and said, ‘Hello there, duck!’ He then proceeded to talk my ears off. He was really a friendly little fellow. It’s too bad those guys have to grow up and get mean.”
“Yeah, I met some nice little fur seals once, too. One of them was the son of Seep who started this war against me. I think I got him in trouble with his dad.”
“Anyway,” continued Quack, “this little white fellow didn’t seem to be involved in the anti-penguin war. I don’t think he knew what was going on. I didn’t tell him anything, of course, but he just kept talking to me like I was his best friend. He said he knows a place where the fishing is the best in the world. Tomorrow morning, just before sunrise, he’s going to meet me down there in the channel and show me the spot.”
“I think you’d better be careful, Quack.”
“No harm can come to me from a friendly little white seal.”
“It doesn’t seem like it, but be careful.”
After they had talked for a while, Quack returned to his post on the opposite cliff.
That evening as the sun was setting, Hopper felt uneasy as he looked at the water below him. Everything looked the same—seals patrolling the waters and gulls crying in the skies as they flew toward their nighttime roosts. Still he felt uneasy. It bothered him that Quack had befriended a seal. Even if he were a friendly one, word could get out to the unfriendly ones that he was still around. He watched well into the night. Still nothing seemed different. “Well, maybe it will be all right,” he tried to convince himself and then fell asleep.
It was still mostly dark when Hopper was awakened by the voice telling him, “Help your friend.”
Hopper foggily replied, “He’ll be all right, won’t he?”
The command was repeated, “Help your friend, now!’
Hopper looked below to see Quack talking with the little white seal, who disappeared under water. Quack followed him. Hopper dove out of the cave into the water and under it, swimming with all his might toward the place Quack had gone down.
He caught a glimpse of the little white seal and then Quack following him, going down, down, deeper. “Quack can’t go down too much more,” he thought. “He won’t have time to get back up for air.” But Quack still followed the seal deeper.
Then they disappeared between some rocks. Hopper swam to the place and found an opening there to swim through. After a while he found himself going up. He was getting concerned about getting air now and wondered if he’d be trapped in this passage, stuck under water, unable to breathe. Then suddenly he felt his head pop out of the water, but he couldn’t see where he was, and he couldn’t breathe all that well because the air smelled terrible. He quickly figured out he’d come up inside a cave that had an underwater entrance. His first concern was to find the duck.
“Quack!” he called. “Are you here?”
“Yes, I am,” he heard Quack answer in the saddest, most distraught voice he had ever heard.
Then he heard a horrible laugh and a voice saying, “And so am I.”
Hopper’s eyes were adjusting to the darkness, and he turned to the voice. All he could see were two big eyes, full of malice, yet captivating his attention, making it hard to look away, even though he wanted to. “Who are you?” asked Hopper in a trembling voice.
“I am the ruler of the sea. I am he who speaks and it is done. I am he who lives forever, forever ruling the subjects of the sea. None can stand before me. None can out-swim me. None dare challenge me. Woe to the one who angers me.”
As the voice was talking, Hopper was gradually making out the form of the creature. It was huge, and it was shaped like a seal. Then he could tell it was white. The realization hit him that this was the Great White Seal! How he wanted to dive back into the water and out of this stench-filled cave, but he doubted if he could find the way out, and he knew he couldn’t leave Quack.
“Welcome to my throne-room, little fellow. Not many have had the privilege of seeing this place, and none have seen it and lived to tell about it, ha ha.
“So you’re the renegade penguin who’s been stirring up trouble for us pinnipeds.”
“Well, actually,” said Hopper, “that was never my intention. Is that what Seep told you? I suppose now that you’ve caught me, Seep will pay you a good reward.”
Many normal seals and sea lions were around the Great White, some in the water and some by him on the rocky ledge he was sprawled on. Hopper heard them make noises at his latest statement. He wasn’t sure if they were laughing or gasping.
The big sea lion bellowed out, “Seep indeed! Seep is a fool. He gives us pinnipeds a bad name with his clumsiness. I am the one ordering your capture because of your continual rebellion against my rule, and your taunting of my subjects. However, because of my great mercy, I will offer you safety for your return trip back to your home in the Falkland Islands, and I will be sure you are shown the way there.”
“Why would you do that for me, the ‘renegade penguin’?”
“Because I am a great and kind king, showing great patience for those who will serve me, no matter what their previous transgressions were.”
“So you want me to serve you? How would I do that in the Falkland Islands? That’s in the Atlantic Ocean. I thought you considered yourself ruler of the Pacific Ocean.”
“Should I not be the ruler of all oceans? You will help me prepare my future subjects in the Atlantic, so they will be ready to welcome me as their long-awaited, good and great king.”
“What if I refuse?”
“Then you will take your place up on my trophy ledge.”
Hopper looked up at the cave wall behind the Great White Seal. There on a ledge that extended a great distance along the wall (and this was a huge room), were the tails of numerous creatures—sharks, other fish, squid, peccaries, sea gulls, and many others he didn’t recognize.
“These are those who failed me, those who rebelled against me, or those who angered me. Today you and this duck will join them.”
“You could at least let my friend go, couldn’t you? After all, you are a kind and merciful ruler.”
“Bah! Whoever heard of a penguin and a duck being friends? This duck has been with you in your rebellion. His tail will be right next to yours on this ledge.”
“Why are just the tails there? I suppose you bit off their tails so they will live the rest of their lives in tail-less humiliation.”
“Ha-ha. That’s an idea! Ha-ha. Actually, I don’t like the taste of tails, and they make a great trophy. How do you think I got so big? Ha-ha. Well, today I get some brand new trophies, and some new delicacies. I’ve never tasted Rockhopper or Harlequin before. Ha-ha!”
Then Hopper said, “I don’t suppose any of these other fellows have either. They’d probably like a sample.” There followed some muffled arfs.
“Silence!” roared the Great White.
“By the way,” added Hopper, who was now standing before the big sea lion, surrounded by many regular ones, “who was that little white seal we followed in here, and where did he go?”
“There are no little white seals around here, just the Great White Seal. I am the only one. I rule the Pacific Ocean, and some day I’ll rule the Atlantic. I’ve always been here and will never die. No one has ever defeated me or ever will.”
Hopper looked at the water, considering an escape, but he wasn’t sure he could find the tunnel, and seals were everywhere. Besides, he was sure Quack couldn’t make it.
“And no one escapes from the throne room,” said the Seal. “Well, do you have anything to say before I add your tails to my trophy ledge?”
“Well, yeah, I’d like to say, ‘Hellllllllp!’”
Then Hopper remembered the words he heard two nights before, “When all hope seems gone, look up and you’ll find your escape.”
“There’s no help for you here, penguin,” said the Great White.
Hopper looked up and noticed for the first time that it had been growing lighter in the cave, although it was still quite dark. The source of the light was a hole near the ceiling of the cave. It was at the top of the wall the trophy ledge was on, and was apparently a tunnel that led to the outside. As morning was getting brighter, the cave was gradually getting lighter.
“It’s your turn to join my other trophies, penguin.”
“In that case, that’s what I’ll do,” said Hopper, and he hopped past the huge seal to the wall, and was soon up on the ledge. “Come on, Quack, let’s go!” he yelled.
Quack, who had been wallowing in feelings of despair for his blunder, suddenly lifted up his head and flapped his wings, joining Hopper on the ledge.
“You’re only prolonging your misery, you fools!” bellowed the Seal as he lifted himself up to swat at them with his flippers. Quack was able to fly above his reach. Hopper narrowly missed being hit as he hopped away on the ledge. “After them!” shouted the Great White, who was also pursuing Hopper and swatting as he went.
Seal lions were now up on the ledge, arfing as they chased Hopper, who was hopping away as fast as he could on the ledge. “Watch my trophies, you fools!” shouted the Seal as tails tumbled off the wall. “Penguin, you’re making it a lot worse for yourself when I catch you!”
Hopper was nearing the end of the ledge where it ran into the next wall. The sea lions were getting closer. Big White shouted commands and threats, and he was getting closer. He stood on his hind flippers with his face right by Hopper. “You can’t escape, penguin. No one escapes from me!” he said, lifting his flipper to swat Hopper off the ledge. Quack flew behind the Seal and pecked his head. “Hey duck, I’ll get you, too!” he yelled. As he turned to slap at Quack, Hopper found a way to climb higher, out of reach of the big seal and all his servants.
He continued climbing toward the ceiling and the hole as the seals arfed and the Great White Seal yelled threats at Hopper and Quack and his own servants. When the hole was about a yard away, Hopper had no way to get to it. He could see it was a tunnel that sloped up gradually, leading to the outside world. He could see grass, trees, and light. If he could get into the tunnel, he would be free from this cursed, smelly cave, but he needed one more foothold to get there. He began to fear he would be stuck here, and the Seal’s words that no one escapes would prove true.
Then Quack flew up, hovering between him and the hole. “Here, Hop, hop on me!” he said. Hopper hopped one hop on Quack’s back and then one hop into the tunnel. He’d made it! Then Quack joined him, and they scrambled up the tunnel into the sunlight.
They could hear Big White yelling below and many seals arfing. They tumbled in the tall grass, laughing and breathing in the clean air.
“Listen to that smelly windbag down there,” said Quack. “ ‘No one escapes!’ Ha-ha!”
They both joined in the chorus:

Oh a penguin and a duck
You may think we’re down on our luck
But we know that we’ll survive
As least as long as we’re alive!

 

 

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