Fly Like a Penguin, Volume 1, Chapter 25

Bhill the Blue Whale leaves Hopper to continue his journey alone, leaving him on the northern coast of Washington State, where he finds a new friend, a new enemy, and a new direction.

To read from the beginning, click here.

Chapter 25

Washington

Listlessly Hopper swam east into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. He wasn’t at full strength. Three days in the hot belly of a whale had sapped much of his energy. He’d had krill to eat in there, but the heat was nearly unbearable for someone who was born and raised in Antarctica. Much longer and he wouldn’t have come out alive.
Now as he swam along slowly he was even having a hard time catching fish to eat. At least the water temperature suited him better now.
He swam near the shore of Washington’s northeastern coast where the great evergreen forest meets a sandy beach, and little rock islands stand as sentinels in the water. Hopper swam cautiously in this new country, watching the skies for any birds of prey, the waters for seals or any other potential foes, and the land for hungry looking creatures. He was thinking he might need to rest on the beach before long.
Plenty of seagulls were flying around, but they didn’t seem to take any notice of him. He doubted if they knew the ones who were serving the Great White Seal, but still he didn’t trust them. Even though he was no longer the Number One Enemy of the Pacific, and that was a great relief, it was still hard to relax. He had gotten used to potential danger lurking behind every wave.
He was exhausted after swimming for a few hours, but didn’t want to rest in the water because right now the current was flowing toward the west. Finding one of the rock islands an inviting place to rest, he hopped out of the water onto a ledge and stood there with his wings outstretched and his beak in the air.
A flock of bluish-colored ducks flew northward far above him. “Hey, those look like Harlequins,” he said to himself. Then the thought of his great friend brought a mixture of happiness and sorrow to his heart. How he missed that duck! He couldn’t help singing aloud:

A Quacker and a Hop
They say this friendship has to stop
But together we will stay
Until we go our separate ways
A penguin and a duck, hey!
A penguin and a duck, ho!…

After he finished his song and was beginning to grow thoughtful about his old friend and all the good times and adventures they’d had, someone on the rocks above him said, “Whoever heard of a penguin and a duck being friends? And what’s a penguin, anyway, eh?” This was an accent Hopper hadn’t yet heard. He looked up and saw a brown, furry fellow peering down at him.
“Hello there. My name is Hopper, a penguin, a Rockhopper penguin. I’ve been traveling a long time, and I’m a long ways from home. How about you? What are you, some sort of rodent, I suppose?”
“Well, technically, I guess you could say I’m a rodent, but I don’t like that label. Some folks might think I’m a rat or something. I’m a lemming. I’ve been traveling for a long time also. I’ve come from far to the north.”
“I suppose your name is Lemmy?”
“No, that was my brother’s name.”
“Lenny?”
“No, that was my cousin. My name is Meadowlark.”
So these two, a penguin and a lemming, became good friends. They both had great stories to tell and took turns telling them. Time and space don’t permit the telling of all the adventures of Meadowlark Lemming.
They spent the night on their little island, and the next morning headed east. Meadowlark had to swim to shore and then run along the beach while Hopper swam near the shore. Sometimes he’d come ashore and hop along beside his little friend.
Once as they went together Hopper asked, “Have you met any people during your travels?”
“Well, not face to face, but I saw some of their boats from a distance. Mama always told me to keep my distance from them, but if I ever saw them I must act scared.”
“Quack and I saw some once, and we actually were scared. We panicked and took off.”
“Why? What did they do to you?”
“Well, actually nothing. We were just plain scared. We couldn’t help it. I hope I don’t see any more of them, but if I do I really hope I can resist the temptation to talk to them.”
They continued along this beautiful, desolate shore for a number of days. Then they both started feeling more and more uneasy. Something was changing, but they weren’t sure what. They thought they heard strange sounds. Some seemed vaguely familiar to Meadowlark, but he couldn’t say why.
Then Hopper said, “Aaaa, what’s that?”
Meadowlark followed his gaze out to sea and said, “That, my friend, is a boat.”
“A boat? What is a boat? What kind of creature is that? Is it friendly? It sure is big.”
“The boat is made by people. They ride in it.”
“People? Oh no.” Then they saw another boat, and then another. “Why are there so many people here?” asked Hopper.
Meadowlark said, “People tend to live close together in places they call cities. We must be getting close to one now.”
Indeed, they were approaching the city of Port Angeles. One might wonder how such a big city could have been moved from Southern California, but closer inspection will reveal that it is a different place in many ways. Hopper was shaking as he hopped. He wanted to swim away as fast as he could, or maybe head south into the woods and into the mountains. Anywhere but here with all these people. They might make him talk.
They came to a river as the sun was beginning to set. “How about if we stay here for the night and make our plans for tomorrow?” said the lemming.
Upstream a little ways they found a grassy place to rest by a huge fallen log. If danger came Meadowlark could hide under the log and Hopper could dive into the river. They sat in silence as it grew darker, both thinking what they should do.
Hopper said, “How about if tomorrow night we swim around the city?”
“I can’t swim that well.”
“You can ride on my back.”
“That’s a right noble plan, but I think I must explore these mountains. I’m heading upstream in the morning. How about you, eh?”
Hopper was glad to have a reason to avoid the city and said, “Sure. That sounds like a great adventure!”
A short time later they heard very faint footsteps in the darkness. They thought they saw something pass by them, a lumbering form of something much bigger than they were. Meadowlark quickly and quietly found his place underneath the log.
The creature lumbered on a ways, then stopped. Hopper could see it waving its nose back and forth, and then it turned with its nose facing them. Hopper stood still, hoping it wouldn’t notice him. The thing was big, and it was heading toward him. Hopper remained motionless, hardly breathing, but when it was within a few feet of him, he said to the creature, “Hi there, how are you tonight?”
It replied, “I’m hungry. What are you, anyway?”
“I’m a penguin, a Rockhopper penguin.”
“Never heard of you. You don’t look like you taste very good, either. But there’s something under that log that smells like a good dinner, so step aside while I proceed to dig it out of there.”
“Nice night, isn’t it?” said Hopper. “By the way, what are you, anyway?”
“What d’ya mean, ‘What am I’? I’m a bear, a black bear. Haven’t you ever seen a bear before?”
Hopper, who had never seen a bear before, replied, “Never seen one as big as you. You’re name wouldn’t be Barely, would it?”
“No, that’s my twin brother. My name is Blarely, and I have a cousin named Barry. My mother’s name is Barley and my dad is Birney. My mother taught me how to dig little edible critters out from under logs, and now I never fail. Speaking of which, I believe I need to find my meal now. Step aside, please,” said Blarely the Black Blear, er Bear, as he nudged past Hopper, making the penguin lose his balance and tumble into the river, shouting, “Hey, Whoa!” and then Splash!
Blarely proceeded to dig after the lemming, even though he didn’t know what it was, and even if he were told it was a lemming, he wouldn’t know what that was. All he knew was that it smelled like food, and his powerful claws were digging after it.
Meadowlark had nowhere to go. It looked like the end for him. He had no chance against a bear. He said a weak, “Help!” and then resigned himself to become part of the food chain.
Then came Hopper’s voice from the river, “Hey Blarely, want a fish?”
“Quit bothering me, pinhead, or whatever you call yourself. If I wanted to fish, I wouldn’t be digging for this little rodent here, speaking of which I will have him in my belly in very short order. I can tell he will be a tasty meal.”
Hopper, who was still weak from the effects of his whale ride, was beginning to feel helpless in his desire to help his friend. He wasn’t sure if he had the strength to catch a decent fish, and even if he did, it might be too late, and the bear would already be having lemming for his midnight snack.
He looked up and said, “Please help Meadowlark,” and then dove underwater.
Soon he spotted a good-sized trout. New strength came to him as he sped toward it. He grabbed the fish with his strong beak. A great struggle followed, but eventually the trout tired, and Hopper hauled it ashore and up the bank where he laid it beside Blarely, who was still digging. Hopper was overjoyed to see he hadn’t reached Meadowlark yet.
Blarely was saying, “You might as well give up, rodent. I’ll have you in a few seconds.” Then he began to reach with his paw to grab Meadowlark.
Hopper said, “I didn’t ask you if you wanted to fish, but do you want a fish?” He pointed a wing at the fish flopping around by the bear.
“Hey, that’s a nice looking fish there,” said Blarely. “How’d a little pendin like you catch such a big trout?”
“It’s what I do,” said Hopper.
“Hey, a guy like you might come in handy around here. Could you catch me another one?”
Hopper, who was feeling weaker, said, “Well, I think so.”
The bear began eating the fish, so Hopper dove in again. He saw a big trout, but he couldn’t catch it in his state of fatigue. He was certain he wouldn’t be able to wrestle it into submission. There was a smaller one. He sped after it and caught it by the tail. The little fish didn’t appreciate the beak on its tail and thrashed wildly. Hopper wasn’t sure if he could even hold on to this little fish, but he didn’t let go.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the fish tired out and Hopper hauled it ashore and up the bank and laid it beside the bear, who had just finished the other fish and was continuing to dig after Meadowlark.
“Here’s your fish, Blarely,” panted Hopper, who felt about ready to collapse.
Blarely looked around at the fish, and then at Hopper. The fish didn’t look very big next to the bear. “You call that a fish?” he said.
Hopper said, “Well, I thought it was a fish. It looked like one. It fought like one. Where I beaked its tail, it tasted like one. What do you call it?”
Blarely said, “Come over here a little closer so I can hurt your feelings.” Hopper waddled a few inches closer to the bear who continued his complaint. “This little thing flopping around here doesn’t deserve the name of fish. You say this thing gave you a good fight. Well, you must be the poorest excuse for a puny little pengon that ever passed these parts.”
“I know I am, but what are you?” replied Hopper.
“I,” said the bear, “am a hungry black bear named Blarely, and I’m tired of you interrupting my digging, and not only that, you try to pass off this little floppy thing here as a meal. I have a good mind to try something new for my midnight meal, and that would be you!” With that the bear pinned Hopper down with his great paws as Hopper was saying, “Help!” The bear’s teeth began closing on Hopper’s belly.
“Stop, that tickles!” shouted Hopper.
The bear opened his mouth to say, “It won’t for long!” and began to close on the little penguin again. Then suddenly he stopped, lifted his head in the air, listening and smelling. “Arg, gotta go!” he said. “If you don’t mind waiting here until tomorrow night, we can pick up where we left off.” Then the bear was gone.
Hopper looked up and said, “Thank you, again!” Then he called, “Hey Meadowlark, are you all right?”
The lemming replied, “I’m fine, with many thanks to you. Hey, what happened to the bear, eh?”
“I’m not sure. Something scared him, I think.”
Then they heard a strange noise on the river, a splish, splish, drip, drip, sound. They looked and saw lights on the water, and then they heard voices, saying, “Yeah, this is the best fishing place in the area. We’ll have our limit in less than an hour.”
“Well, we’ll see…”
Hopper wanted to scream, “Aaaaaaaaa…,” but he was too tired and he knew he would reveal his presence to these…people! People! The very thought made him cringe, and now here they were—two men in a boat in the river he’d just been in.
Meadowlark’s whispering broke him out of his panic-stricken thoughts, “Come on, Hopper, let’s move around to the other side of the log. They crept around the log and found a place beside it where they could lie down, hidden in the grass.
“Oh please don’t let them find us,” moaned Hopper as he fell into a deep sleep.
He began to dream: He was walking upstream with Meadowlark along this beautiful river as it flowed through a magnificent forest. Eventually they climbed higher into the Olympic Mountains. They met deer, elk, marmots, and other friendly creatures. They encountered no enemies and were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Hopper felt like staying on permanent vacation here. He was lounging with his feet in an ice-cold blue lake, spending many days at ease there. One day in his dream, a crow flew to him from across the lake and said, “Hey, Hopper, you should swim to the other side of the lake and climb up that hill over there. Just beyond the summit there’s an old goat who can give you anything you want if you ask him.”
“How could a goat do that?” asked Hopper.
“He’s not just a goat. He’s a very special, ancient goat. C’mon over. He’d love to see you.”
“But why? I’m happy here. What else would I want?”
“Well, how about your family and home. Don’t you want to go home?”
“Oh yeah, home. I want to go home.”
“Then come on. He can send you home with the blink of his eyes. Think of it. No more struggles with creatures who want to eat you, no more long journeying, no more traveling in places unsuitable for a penguin, and no more people.”
“Yeah, that sounds good—home, my family, no more struggles…” Into the water he jumped and started swimming to the other side of the lake.
In his sleep Hopper was thinking, “No, don’t go over there, Hopper! Don’t go!” Dream Hopper swam on. “Turn back, Hopper! It’s not too late!” On he swam, hopped out on the far shore, and started up the hill.
From behind him he heard a low and loud noise coming from the lake. He turned and saw nothing but a ring of waves where something big had been. The sound was vaguely familiar. “Hopper, you fool! It’s Bhill! He’s warning you again!” Dream Hopper climbed on, thinking, “Home, family, no more struggles, no more people, no more people. I’ve got to get home and not see any more people…”
He approached the summit, climbed over it, and looked down the other side. “No! Turn back! It’s a trap! Listen to the warning!” In the distance he could see what looked like a white mountain goat. Hopper waved a wing. The goat nodded his bearded head.
Hopper hastened toward him. “No, Hopper, you nincompoop!” Closer he came to the goat. When Hopper was about ten feet away, the goat said, “So you want to be done with your struggles, do you? You want to be away from people? I can do that for you.”
The goat lowered his head, pointing his two sharp horns toward Hopper, and charged. Hopper was so surprised that he couldn’t move. There was no escape.
“No!” shouted Hopper aloud and woke up with his heart pounding. “Oh boy, am I glad that was a dream,” he said. It took a long time to calm down, but finally he did and went back to sleep.
Soon he was dreaming again. Here he was back relaxing at the lake in the mountains. He heard a voice, “What are you doing here, Hopper?”
“Well, I’ve been traveling the world, trying to help those I meet. I’ve fought off many enemies.”
“What are you doing here, Hopper?”
“I’m resting from my journey.”
“What are you doing here, Hopper?”
“Well, I’m…I’m…I’m…hiding, hiding from people.”
“Hopper, face your fear.”
Hopper awoke and it was daylight. Meadowlark was already awake and said, “Hey, Hop, I thought you were never going to wake up, eh? Boy, you look terrible.”
Hopper replied, “Why, thank you. I was given a message as I slept and I guess my sleep wasn’t so great.”
“What was it?” asked Meadowlark.
“I’m to continue on my journey even if I must face the possibility of meeting people along the way. I can’t go with you into the mountains. I must head east until I can head south to my home.”
So once again Hopper made a good friend, and once again he had to part from his friend. Meadowlark was called to adventure in the mountains. Hopper must travel to the east by sea. They said goodbye and continued on their journeys alone.

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