"Short Cut" - Your Story #49 Finalist

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"Short Cut" - Your Story #49 Finalist

Postby TiffanyLuckey » Mon Apr 29, 2013 10:14 am

Short Cut

A coconut is a rare find at a market in Antarctica, so naturally I had to purchase it along with my favorite preening treatment: a jar of mint julep cleansing mask. But when I came outside to rejoin the migration from the ocean to the breeding site, my fellow penguins had deserted me. True, I had been last in the long plodding line, but you’d think they would have waited. Now I’m stranded on this island.

This wasn’t a time to panic and confuse my inner compass. I took a calming breath and tried to decipher which direction to head. East? West? I slathered myself in mint julep, hoping the layer of green paste would insulate me from the bitter air while I considered my options.

“Do you think it’s sick?” A female asked her male companion as they emerged encased in parkas from a research outpost building beside the market.

He approached me gingerly, crouching. A disgusted sneer twisted his lips. “This penguin is covered in some sort of fungus.” He grabbed my shopping bag and rifled through it. Holding up the coconut he said, “Look what it’s been eating!” He waved the woman closer. “Have you got your camera? We should document this.”

“Camera?” The woman lowered herself next to him. “Where’s your heart, Claude? Let’s clean him off and get him back with the migration.”

“Marlene, we’re here to study, not to interfere,” Claude recited, as if born with spectacles perched at the end of his nose.

“If I were covered in fungus, would you document it and leave me suffering?” She huffed and stomped back to the outpost building, abandoning Claude and me to stare at each other.

The wind whistled around us, hardening up the mint julep and ruffling the fur trim around his hood. For a moment, he stood stiffly, watching the outpost door, and then he fumbled with a tape measure he retrieved from this pocket. With his thick gloves he stretched it to my height and mumbled. He looked to be in his early 30s, and besides a shave he needed a transfusion of animal magnetism. Good thing I had plenty to spare.

Marlene charged back lugging a wire cage. She set it on the ground, unlatched the door, and placed my bag inside. I waddled in, the mask cracking with every movement. “You’ll be safe now.” She smiled as the wind whipped strands of her dark hair from underneath her hood. I smiled too, but she probably couldn’t tell. And, like most humans, she didn’t realize that I could understand and speak some English. Under my generous belly flap, I carried a pocket-sized, multi-species dictionary whenever I traveled.

Inside the outpost, Claude jabbed me with instruments, scribbled notes, and collected samples of “fungus.” While his eyeballs peered into a microscope, Marlene stole me away and rinsed me clean. The mask had invigorated my feathers to lustrous perfection. Marlene oohed and aahed, and then her voice flattened. “I’ll get you back where you belong. I promise.”

The next morning, Marlene strapped my cage inside a helicopter packed with research equipment. After she relayed some directions to the pilot, the rotors slowly whooped to life. She buckled herself in beside me. Just as the machine lifted from the ground, Claude appeared from the outpost building, waving his arms.

The copter set back down and Claude boarded. “We’re not running an animal rescue operation.” He lunged toward my cage.

Marlene unbuckled herself and wedged her body between the cage and Claude. “He’s suffered enough for science. Let him go!”

Claude crossed his arms over his chest. “I’ve yet to discover the cause of his infection and whether it’s related to his consumption of coconuts.”

The pilot yelled back to the action. “Do you realize coconut rinds are used as an aphrodisiac to breed penguins in captivity?”

While the humans deliberated this report, I studied my dictionary and pronunciation. Then with my stubby wings, I rolled the fruit from the bag. My squawking voice broke through their discussion. “You need this more than I do, Claude.” Silenced, they exchanged nervous glances.

“Thank you,” Claude said haltingly and removed the coconut. He backed away and then turned to Marlene. “I’ll see you when you get back?” She nodded, half dazed.

Thirty minutes later, I arrived in style at the breeding ground as the first penguins tottered in. Many asked how I’d secured the copter ride. “Talked them into it,” I answered.

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