Okay…So how do I do this? I know nothing about breaking through a shell. I hear voices on the other side, concerned voices. I guess I was supposed to hatch three days ago. Well what do they expect? It’s not like I make a living out of breaking through shells. It’s not like these things come with instruction manuals, not that I could read it anyway. I tried pushing at the sides with my tiny flippers…Nothing. How do other hatchlings do this? I’m getting kind of lonesome in here. I'm a little hungry too. Whoa! Whoa! What’s happening?
“Come on baby, come on out,” Adam کہا picking up his egg and cradling it in his flippers. “Are آپ sure we can’t help him out doctor?”
“No, he needs to come out on his own. It helps it stay strong.”
Adam sighed. The doctor took a couple of steps closer to him. He کہا slowly and sorrowfully, “Maybe it’s time to admit…That he isn’t going to hatch.” Adam looked down at the egg, not wanting to believe that his unhatched son was never going to see the world. “I’m just saying; it’s been three days. Maybe it’s time to let go.”
Tears welling up in his eyes, he sorrowfully handed the egg to the doctor. He buried his face in his flippers, not knowing what to tell his wife when she returned.
Okay! Whoever is jostling me around needs to stop! I’m getting dizzy! I began elbowing the sides of my shell with excessive force. I hear cracking…
Just before the doctor reached the door he felt the rustling in the egg and he began to hear cracking. He stared at it in disbelief for a moment, then turned and said, “Wait! I think he’s hatching!”
Adam perked up. The doctor brought the egg back and set it in the pile of blankets and the two of them watched in shock and awe as the side of the small egg broke open. They were even مزید surprised to see the tiny penguins’ flipper break through rather than the beak. Finally, the young hatchling poked his head through, shielding his eyes from the light. Adam stepped آگے to pick him up, but the doctor stopped him.
“No, let him get out on his own. When they hatch late, it’s important for them to start on their own.”
The young پینگوئن, پیںگان pushed and stumbled out of his shell. Despite his late birth, he seemed to be a strong, healthy hatchling. He slowly shuffled آگے a couple of steps and tripped on a fold of blanket, causing him to fall face-forward into the snow. Once again, Adam bent over to help him, but the doctor stopped him.
“Just wait. Give him a chance to try to come to you.”
Adam took a couple of small steps back and bent down slightly, flippers extended. “Come here, son.”
The hatchling pushed himself to his feet and shook snow out of his tiny feathers. He continued to shuffle through the snow.
“That’s right son, come here and get warm.” The little پینگوئن, پیںگان trailed through the snow until he met his father and was tucked محفوظ and warm in his incubation patch. The doctor took out his stethoscope and listened to the hatchlings’ heart.
“It’s beating strong and even. I don’t think آپ have to worry about anything. But I’d take caution. Life expectancy isn’t very long for late hatchlings.”
“He’ll be fine,” Adam said, not wanting to believe his son may die. “But doctor, you’re the only other one that knows about this delay. I hope we can keep it that way?”
The doctor nodded. “Of course. I understand.”
Adam nodded, and the doctor left.
♦ ♦ ♦
“Here they come! Here come the mothers!”
All of the male penguins were with their sons یا daughters gathered around the village as, off in the distance, the mothers were returning to the flock. They greeted each other with open flippers.
“Oh, I’ve missed you. آپ feel alright?” Adam asked his wife, Jacqueline.
“I’m fine. Lemme see the baby.”
Adam moved back a couple of steps to allow the hatchling to go to Jacqueline. “Hello, darling! Oh, Adam! He’s just gorgeous! Have آپ thought of a name for him?”
“No, I wanted to wait for آپ to return,” he answered as Jacqueline picked up the hatchling and cradled him in her arms. He reacted in wiggling his toes and flapping his flippers excitedly. Adam and Jacqueline smiled happily at their child. “What do آپ want to name him?” Adam asked.
Jacqueline was silent for a moment, then answered. “Thomas. آپ like?”
“I love it. Our son, Thomas McGrath.”
Four years later…
“Hey! Look at the freak!” Carla, the most مقبول girl in the village, approached Tom with her two wannabe’s, Julia and Brenda.
All the hatchlings were allowed to venture about the village about three years ago, and Tom was bullied سے طرف کی nearly everyone. He only had one true friend, who, too, was bullied for hanging around Tom.
“Hey, freak! How it goes?” Brenda asked smiling deviously.
“Like آپ care,” Tom shot back.
“Hey, don’t be talkin’ like that to us,” Julia said.
“Wouldn’t have to if you’d mind your own business,” Tom shot back.
“Oh, آپ wanna go?!” Carla exclaimed.
Before Carla could do anything, Kari stepped in between them.
“Hey, just leave him alone! He has better things to do than to deal with your childish crap,” she said.
“Oh, how sweet! Little rebel girl comes to freak-boy’s rescue!” Carla teased.
“Freak-boy? That’s the best آپ can come up with?” Kari asked folding her flippers over her chest.
“It’s not my fault he’s deformed. Fall on your head when ya hatched, freak-boy?” Carla and her دوستوں began to snicker.
“So his head’s a little flatter than the rest of us. ‘t doesn’t change who he is on the inside. That’s all that matters. All that’s inside o' آپ is yellow snow.”
Tom couldn’t resist suppressing a laugh at that one.
“You know what? Screw you! No one cares about a good-for-nothin’ whose parent’s cared nothin’ ‘bout her!”
Kari tried to hide the hurt in her expression سے طرف کی hardening it into anger. Her parents abandoned her when she was just a hatchling.
“Screw yourself, Carla,” Kari muttered turning around and walking away. “Come on, Tom.” Tom turned and followed her.
“Ah, don’t worry ‘bout her, Kari. She’s off her wing-nut!” Tom said, trying to cheer her up. It only worked for a second. Kari’s smile faded as quickly as it appeared.
“What if she’s right? What if my real parents didn’t care about me?” she asked staring down into the snow.
“Now, Kari, don’t go on thinkin’ like that! Besides, your foster folks adore آپ as if آپ were their own. Doesn’t that count for anything?” Tom encouraged.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Kari replied unconvincingly.
“Thanks for takin’ up for me back there, سے طرف کی the way,” Tom said.
Kari smiled and said, “Hey, what are دوستوں for?”
“Right. So ya wanna go to the pond again?” Tom suggested.
“Sure,” Kari agreed.
Kari was Tom’s one true friend. They did everything together. They spent most of their time at a pond not too far away from the village. They were the only two that knew about it. Whenever they had the chance, they’d go there to talk, have a snowball fight, یا just take a swim.
Today they just sat and watched the sun making its descent below the horizon. Kari broke the silence.
“You know what sunsets remind me of?” she asked.
Not taking his eyes off the beautiful sunset, Tom answered. “What’s that?”
“My Gamma told me that far off, where it’s always warm; there are these things called flowers. The sun helps them grow. I’ve never seen one in real life, but Gamma tells me the sun looks just like them. I wish I could see one, though.”
Tom turned his head to look at Kari. Her eyes glistened in the bright sunlight as the wind caused snow to swirl around her face.
“One دن آپ will,” he encouraged.
Kari turned her head slightly toward him and smiled. “I’m not so sure, but thanks.” She looked back toward the sunset for a moment, then said, “We should get home.”
“Alright,” Tom replied. Kari got to her feet and began walking back toward the village, but stopped abruptly when a clump of snow hit her in the back of the head. Just as she began turning around, Tom walked سے طرف کی her whistling innocently.
“Oh, very mature,” Kari کہا sarcastically.
Tom replied without turning to look at her. “What? I didn’t do anything.” Just as he کہا that دکھائیں hit him in the back of the head. “Hey!” he cried playfully.
Kari trotted سے طرف کی him saying, “Now we’re even!” Tom threw another snowball at her and it hit her in the side. The two continued this back and forth pattern through their uncontrollable laughter.
Once they were almost near the village, Kari jumped on Tom and shoved snow in his face, both of them laughing like there’s no tomorrow. Tom managed to get on سب, سب سے اوپر of her and he pinned her down.
“Hey! No fair!” Kari cried shaking snow out of her face. She tried to push him off but he was too strong for her. She stopped struggling, laughed, and said, “Okay! آپ win! Get off of me!”
“Hmmm…Nope,” Tom کہا teasingly.
“Thomas! Seriously! You—”
“If you’re so serious, then why are آپ laughing!?” Tom pointed out, laughing himself.
“Thomas, if آپ don’t get off of me…”
Kari looked down for a moment, and when she looked back up, she kissed him on the cheek. Tom’s eyes widened in shock. Kari giggled and was able to push him off while he processed what had just happened. When they got to their feet, Kari said, “Hey, Tom! Snap out of it! It wasn’t that big a deal.”
Tom shook his head. “Right…Sorry.”
“Come on. It’s getting dark.”
That being said, the two of them went to their homes, Thomas discretely touching his cheek where Kari had kissed him.
♦ ♦ ♦
“Hey, Mom. Hey, Dad,” Tom کہا walking in and shutting the door behind him.
“Hey, son. How was your day?” Adam asked.
“Usual,” Tom answered.
“Do anything interesting?” Jacqueline asked.
“Not much. Same old, same old,” Tom answered.
Adam eyed his son with a concerned look on his face. “You alright, son? آپ look a little…Fazed…About something.”
“No, Dad, I’m fine,” Tom said, not wanting to admit that a girl kissed him on the cheek. Neither of his parents was convinced.
Jacqueline took a step closer to him. “Are آپ sure nothing’s wrong?”
“Nah, Ma, I’m fine.” Tom insisted. “Mom?”
“Have آپ ever seen a flower?”
“A flower? No, Thomas. Flowers are just myths. They’re not real.”
“Really? But I heard that they look like the sun…And the sun makes them grow.”
“Oh, Thomas! That’s absurd! The sun can’t make things grow! It’s in the sky! All of that stuff about flowers, plants, trees; they're all just stories.”
“What about warm places? Are they just myths, too? Surely, Antarctica isn’t the only place on Earth!” Tom protested.
“Son, where are آپ getting all of these wild stories?” Adam piped up.
“It’s that Kari girl, isn’t it? I knew she’d be a bad influence,” Jacqueline stated.
“No! It’s not like that!” Tom protested.
“Son, I don’t want آپ hanging around her anymore. I don’t want her filling your head with that nonsense,” Adam said.
“But, Dad! That’s not fair!” Tom insisted.
“We’re only doing what’s best for you, Thomas,” Jacqueline told him.
“No! You’re not! Kari’s been my only friend!”
“No! You’re just punishing me because I’m different!”
“That’s not true, Thomas!”
“Yes, it is! Why can’t آپ just accept me for who I am and what I believe in?!”
“We do! Thomas!” Jacqueline shouted, but it was too late to argue. Tom was out the front door and off down the street.
Tom walked in quick, even steps, trying to put as much distance between himself and the village as possible. Tears were welling up in his eyes. He kept walking until he reached the pond. It was dark now, and Aurora Borealis danced across the sky, reflecting into the water. He looked at the little پینگوئن, پیںگان in the water staring back at him, then kicked snow into it, causing the water to ripple in concentric circles. Tom sat down and crossed his flippers over his soft, feathery chest.
“No one understands me…” he muttered to himself. “Why am I so different? Why can’t I be like the other penguins?”
“Well if آپ were like the other penguins, آپ wouldn’t be much of a you, would you?”
Tom turned around to see a female elder پینگوئن, پیںگان standing over him.
“What? Who are you?” he asked.
The پینگوئن, پیںگان smiled. “Why are آپ upset?”
Tom sighed and looked at the ground. “Because no one understands me ‘cause I’m different.”
“Ah, now. I wouldn’t say no one understands you,” the elder encouraged.
“Well…There is Kari…” Tom thought aloud.
“Well, she may understand آپ to a limit. But what’s important is how well آپ understand yourself,” the elder told him.
“What do آپ mean? I understand myself just fine,” Tom protested.
“Do you, child? Close your eyes and tell me what آپ see,” the elder told him.
“Look, I don’t know who آپ are یا what آپ want, but I just want to be alone.”
“I just want to help, child. Please, close your eyes and tell me what آپ see,” the elder told him again.
Tom sighed and closed his eyes. A moment later he said, “I don’t see anything. What’s your point?”
“You need to dig deep inside yourself to understand your purpose. Your destiny,” the elder replied.
“My destiny? Miss, I don’t know who آپ are یا what you’re on about so could آپ please leave me alone?” Tom asked.
The elder پینگوئن, پیںگان smiled sympathetically and sat down اگلے to Tom and held out her flipper. “Give me your flipper.”
Tom sighed impatiently and put his flipper in hers.
“Look at me child,” کہا the elder.
Tom looked her in the eyes. “What?”
The penguin, unfazed and un-reactant to Tom's annoyed tone, spoke softly. “Close your eyes again.”
“Lady, I just did that and didn’t see—”
“Close your eyes,” she commanded again. Tom rolled his eyes before he finally obeyed and closed them. “Good. Now clear your mind. Feel the world around you.” Tom took a deep breath and exhaled. The elder پینگوئن, پیںگان smiled and was silent for a moment, then said, “What do آپ see?”
“Like I said, nothing.”
“Exactly. آپ don’t understand yourself through what آپ see. It’s what آپ feel. Now, what do آپ feel?”
Tom was silent for a moment, then said, “Calm…I guess.”
“Not that kind of feeling," the elder کہا chuckling. "I mean, what do آپ feel in your gut?”
“Uh…Hunger?” Tom answered, trying to understand what he was being asked to do.
The elder chuckled. Tom opened his eyes and got to his feet.
“Look, I’m tired of all this gobbledygook. I don’t understand anything you're saying and I just want to be alone.”
“Suit yourself. One دن you’ll understand. And when آپ understand yourself, a new dawn will brighten over your horizon.”
“Yeah, whatever.” Tom turned around to walk away, but stopped abruptly when he saw Kari.
“I thought you’d be here. Your folks came سے طرف کی lookin’ for you. They thought آپ came to my place. I thought I heard آپ talking to someone?” Kari inquired looking behind him.
“Yeah, I—” Tom turned around to point to the elder, but she was gone. There was no sign of her, یا even a sign that she was ever there.
“You what?” Kari persisted.
“Nothing. Never mind. And if you’re here to take me back, I’m not going,” Tom insisted.
“I wasn’t going to.” She stepped آگے until she was face to face with Tom, who had turned his back on her and was facing the Auroras. “You wanna talk about it?”
Tom took a deep breath, then answered. “You’re the only one that gets me. My parents told me they don’t want me to hang around آپ anymore.”
“Why not?” Kari asked, confused.
“Because I made the mistake of telling them your پھول story. They told me آپ were filling my head with nonsense,” Tom کہا with anger bubbling back into his mind.
“That’s why آپ ran away?” Kari asked, astonished.
“You’re my only friend, Kari. And my parents aren’t going to get rid of آپ that easily.”
“Wow, Tom, that was…Really sweet,” Kari said, unsure of reality. But I can’t ask آپ to run away from ہوم for me. Your folks love you.”
“They may love me, but they don’t understand me. And they hate the fact that I’m different.”
“Well, I don’t know abou—”
“Yes, Kari. They do,” Tom insisted.
Kari sighed. “So, what are آپ going to do now?”
“I don’t know.”
For a moment, there was silence, then Kari said, “Can آپ keep a secret?”
Tom looked her way. “Of course.”
Kari took a deep breath. “My Gamma told me that very few penguins know about this. Maybe three یا four in the whole rookery. The only reason my Gamma knows is because my Gramps was a part of it. Remember when I told آپ about flowers?”
“Yeah,” Tom asked, drawn into the conversation.
“Well, there really are places where it’s always warm. And in those places, there are these penguins known as ‘Military Intelligence’. They keep us safe, and they help those around the world.”
“So, Antarctica’s not the only place on Earth?”
“Nope. There are places all around the world that are warm, hot, cold. And penguins are stationed there in places like, uh…Well, there’s this place called the United States, China, Italy, Denmark, Sweden. My Gramps’ has been to nearly each of them.
“Wow…How come no one will tell nobody?” Tom asked.
“Because it’s top-top-tippy-top-top secret. No one would probably believe it anyway.”
“Wow, that’s pretty secret.”
“Yep. And آپ can’t tell anybody,” Kari told him staring him dead in the eye.
Kari nodded. “So, what are آپ going to do now?”
“I dunno, Kari. I don’t think I can go back to them now. Not after what I کہا to them. And especially knowing they’ll try to keep me away from you.”
“Tom, آپ can’t just run away because of this. We can always meet secretly here whenever we can. You’re parents love you, Tom. Don’t throw that away because of me,” Kari pleaded.
“No, Tom.” She took him سے طرف کی the shoulders. “We can still see each other. Please, Tom.”
Tom sighed. “Alright. Fine. But…Can we at least spend this last night together?”
Kari smiled. “Our parents will probably be worried out of their minds, but I guess it’s worth it.” Tom smiled back, and they embraced. “Tom?” Kari called over Tom’s shoulder.
“Promise me we’ll always be friends, no matter what,” Kari requested.
“I promise,” Tom کہا without hesitation.
“Cross your heart?”
Tom hugged her tighter. “Cross my heart.”
♦ ♦ ♦
“Where could they be, Adam? They’ve been gone all night!” Jacqueline said, feeling مزید worried the longer Tom stayed away.
“I’m sure he’ll be coming ہوم soon,” Adam assured her.
“Oh, I’m not so sure. Kari’s been a horrible influence on him,” Jacqueline replied.
“No, she hasn’t.”
Jacqueline and Adam turned to the voice behind them. Tom was standing in the doorway with Kari at his side.
“Tom! Oh, thank goodness you’re back safely!” Jacqueline کہا running up to him. She was about to hug him, but Tom still had a firm hold on Kari’s flipper. Kari took a step closer to him.
“Kari hasn’t been a bad influence on me,” Tom repeated. “She’s been the only true friend I’ve ever had.”
Jacqueline acted as if he hadn’t کہا anything. “Where have آپ been all night?” she asked sternly.
“Well, I was going to run away. Kari talked me out of it,” Tom answered.
Jacqueline exchanged a glance with Adam, then sighed as she turned back to Tom and Kari. “Alright. As long as آپ don’t go preaching those wild stories anymore, I’ll allow it.”
Tom and Kari smiled at each other, and Tom released her flipper and hugged his mother.
“Thanks, Mom!” Tome cried as Jacqueline returned the embrace, still feeling uncomfortable with the idea of her son hanging out with Kari.
“Come on, Kari!” Tom کہا releasing the grip on his mother. He can Kari ran happily out of the house.