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Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction

The following is a piece of writing submitted by Rachael Acevedo on March 18, 2013

Mother Penguin

The zoo is a deadly place, and still I was wandering around the zoo with Shayera and Clark, two of my best friends. They were, in fact, my only friends, but trust me: we did not go there of our own free will. We were on a school field trip, one that I would very soon learn to regret.

This is me in one word: klutz. I define the word klutz. Every part of my being screams klutz. My body is skimpy and lean with twisted limbs and banged-up elbows. Every day I find myself with fresh bruises and no memory as to how I could have gotten them, but they’re there anyways.

Shayera, although quiet, had a voice that bounced around in one’s head. Every word she said was filled with passion, and she knew something about everything. No one dared to touch any frizzy red hair on her head, not out of fear, but out of respect. As can be imagined, that does not happen often in a school full of teenage misfits.

Clark, on the other hand, was the easiest target in the whole school. He was brave and loyal, but the other kids didn’t see that. They saw the dorky ruffled boy with taped glasses and a dictionary, which he stepped on to grab things above his five-foot reach.

We went to Perdedor High School in Kansas. Every kid who went there had serious issues- and I mean serious. One kid stole his stepdad’s car and drove it off a cliff. He had jumped out of the right before it went down and was found laughing at the edge of the cliff like a maniac (which he was) when the police found him and dragged him away. Another kid was discovered with three paintbrush and a corkscrew in his fists with his beaten-up parents tied up in the middle of the kitchen floor. There were rumors going around, but no one knew for sure what he was planning on doing with those tools, and everyone was too afraid to ask.

I was probably the best kid in the godforsaken place. I ran away from home seven times in two years. Shayera’s mom was the principal; unfortunately, Shayera didn’t have a choice but to go to Perdedor. Clark stole his dictionary from his old principal’s desk. On the way, he also managed to spill paint all over the principal’s desk, shred the books on his bookshelf, and write several not-so-flattering words in Sharpie on the walls. He can have a bit of a temper.

So, anyways, we were at the zoo when Shayera, Clark, and I saw the penguin cage.

“Penguins!” Shayera squeaked. “Oh, I love penguins!”

“Doesn’t everyone?” Clark asked with a hint of excitement.

“Nah,” I said, “I’m more of a-”

“Monkey person, I’d guess,” a whiny voice declared from behind them, “from the herd of them you keep around you.”

“A group of monkeys is called a troop, you idiot,” Clark snarled.

The swarm of girls that had plagued us paraded off, giggling.

“Way to go,” I moaned. “Way to go.”

The penguin cage was glass on all sides. Emperors, rockhoppers, and macaronis swam in the icy water. The tank was about the size of a helicopter, half-filled with water and half-filled with glaciers and ice-covered land. A staircase was laid out for the onlookers to step up to a platform hanging above the penguins’ pool. Sometimes, with luck, one would wade up to you and do a little flip.

I was watching as a gray emperor chick with a black patch on its left wing flitted about after it ran headfirst into the glass.

Not the brightest I’ve ever seen, I thought, but it could be worse. It could be named Kaylee. Well, speak of the devil.

Kaylee, the girl who had made the monkey comment before, strutted up to Clark.

“What?” he asked stupidly.

She smacked him across the face, screamed, “How rude!” and sent him reeling towards me, pushing me over the edge of the platform railing and into the pool.

I realize now she was just trying to get Clark in trouble with the teacher, but at the time, I was just really confused with what was going on. Then I hit the water.

Have you ever gotten caught in a snowstorm? With only a t-shirt and shorts? All sopping wet?? In Antarctica??? This was three thousand times worse. When I hit the water, the sound vibrated in my ears for a second before all was washed out by the extreme pain -20° liquids give you. The water rushed through my t-shirt and hoodie and straight through to my bones. I gasped with the pain.

I went numb for a moment as I desperately tried to claw my way to the surface. Even with all the desperation, a vivid image of Kaylee laughing her guts out popped into my mind. Then I actually imagined her guts coming out. I laughed underwater, and a large bubble came out of my mouth, forcing me to cringe as the icy water flooded into my mouth. I heaved upward in the direction of the giant floating bubble, even though the cold pains that racked my body. When my senses came back to me, I managed to swim over to the icy land, realizing there was no way out of the cage; the walls were too high.

Out of nowhere, one of the zookeepers rushed up to me, probably through a hidden panel in the glacier-painted wall. He helped me out of the water and threw several blankets at me. I grabbed at them hurriedly, but I couldn’t stop shivering. The zookeeper was just holding me and rubbing my head, giving me instructions on what I should do to keep warm.

The next few hours were a bit blurred. I remember flashing lights and sickening bumps. I also remember a man leaning over me. I honestly can’t remember anything else. The only thing that caught my attention was how cold I was and how I just wanted to go home and curl up next to a warm fire with some hot chocolate.

I woke up the next morning completely aware of my surroundings. I was in my room with its blue sheets, purple walls, and blue carpeted floors. I saw my white desk, and it made me shiver as the icy cage flooded back into my mind.

I sat up but immediately decided it was a bad idea. A wave of nausea came over me, so I laid my head back down. That didn’t make me feel any better.

When I finally found the strength to stand up, I slipped out of my pajamas and grabbed my clothes. I walked down the hall and into the kitchen. I was starving, so I opened up the refrigerator to see my options. I shied away from the chill and ended up eating dried cereal from the pantry. I only managed to take a few bites before my stomach grumbled unpleasantly. I groaned. Apparently, my stomach shrank into a sad walnut.

My dad came up behind me. “What’re you doing up?”

“Hungry,” I said. I almost froze to death. I didn’t want to deal with his disposition.

“You okay?”

I froze. Those words never came out of his mouth, along with “I love you,” ever since Mom died. “Yeah.”

“Good.” He gave me an inquiring look and walked away.

Suddenly, I felt something shuffling in my hoodie pocket. I started. It was the same one I had worn at the zoo, and I was not expecting anything to be crawling around in it.

I shoved my hand in the pocket as deep as it would go, but the creature continued to elude me. Obviously deciding that if it did not escape the pocket soon, it would be trapped, the tiny animal poked its head out the other side of the pocket.


The creature was a gray puff with a small black and white head and tiny, blinking eyes. It also had a black patch on its left wing. It was the baby penguin from the cage.

“You have got to be kidding me.”

I could not afford this. The penguin belonged to the zoo. I wondered what the penalty was for stealing an animal from the zoo. I didn’t really steal it, but would they understand that? Where would I go if I got expelled from a school for kids who constantly get expelled? Probably prison. I highly doubted stealing from the zoo was only a light offense.

The doorbell rang. I started to get it, but my dad raced in front of me, told me I needed to be resting, and ran for the doorknob. Funny, it almost seemed like he cared about me.

“Is she awake yet?”

“Just got up.”

“Can I see her?”

“No.” That was more the dad I knew.

“Dad…” I cried. I jumped to see who was at the door. “Hi, Clark.” I never thought I’d be so glad to see anyone in my life. “You okay?”

He laughed. “Me? You are the one who fell into the penguin tank, went to the hospital with hypothermia, and slept for a week straight.”

“A week! Are you serious?”

“Yes. I’ve been visiting every day, but there has been no change. It is nice to see you up and about.”

“So why are you here?”

He frowned. “You don’t want me here?”

I realized how bad it sounded too late. “That is not what I meant!” I screamed a little too loudly. “I meant,” I continued in a quieter voice, “that why aren’t you in school? They don’t let you out of school even if someone died.” It was true. There was a student whose brother was killed in a car accident. The school wouldn’t let him go home to mourn, thinking the student had staged the accident to get out of school. Unfortunately, he probably did; some kids at my school were that desperate. High school was a prison camp.

“I kind of got suspended.”

“Why?” I said incredulously and, I admit, with a bit of jealousy. It was hard to get suspended from a school like Perdedor.

“For punching Kaylee in the face. Then trying to strangle her. Maybe…” He started to turn red.

“What?! Where was I? God, I would kill to be able to do that.”

“You were in the pool.”

“Oh.” It suddenly dawned on me that he got suspended because he was protecting me. That made me feel even worse.

“Good news, though,” he innovated. “You are still an enrolled student at Perdedor.”

“How is that good news? I don’t want to go without you. I need you there to keep Kaylee and her giggling baboons away from me.”

“Didn’t do such a great job last time, did I?” The look on his face was one of such utter defeat that I almost began to cry.

“Come on,” I said as cheerfully as I could muster. “I have something to show you.”

We walked up to my room, where I quickly dropped to the floor.

“Oh my god, what’s wrong?”

“I’m fine. Sit down.”

“Don’t do that. Should you be doing that?” Clark asked worriedly.

“It’s no problem.” I patted the piece of rug next to me. “It’s worth it.”

I stuffed my hand in my pocket. I knew it was still there because it kept rummaging around in my pocket. My guess was that it ate all the goldfish crackers and was looking for more. My hands closed into a fist around a fluffy ball of feathers. “See?”

He stared at me for a second. “Wait. Are you serious?”

“It was an accident. I discovered the little guy shortly before you arrived.”

“You’re not keeping it, are you? You could get in serious trouble for that.”

“I know. It will be returned by the end of the day. I just thought you should hold it first.”

He started to object, but I thrust it into his hands. “He is kind of… cute,” he said, his face changing the moment the feathers touched his palm.


“Trust me. I know these things.”

I smiled to myself. He did know just about everything. His dictionary was rubbing off on him. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He looked up to find me staring at him. “What?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I was just thinking…” I reached my hand over and grasped his.

He jerked away for a second. Then his hand strengthened around mine. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m great.”

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