Rowan Lipkovits (reluctance) wrote,
Rowan Lipkovits
reluctance

Friday, February the 13th

As I guess a given date has a one in seven chance of happening on a particular day of the week, it's probably been a multiple-of-seven years since I wrote this story in high school. The introduction of my recurring 3-day-novel hero Clark Ingledew (named after two brands of shoe), it was published (by myself, its editor) in the school paper, The Ideograph, and serialized in the Kithe e-mag.



And here it is again, for one more kick at the can!


        Clark Ingledew stepped out of the office into the unusually muggy
February heat. His wrinkle-free suit was wrinkled, his briefcase was being
held together with an elastic band; the water cooler had vented its
contents all over his new Italian suede shoes; he had narrowly avoided being
run over by a rampant malfunctioning photocopier; he had a growth of 5 'o
clock shadow and it was only noon; and, to top it all off, looking down, he
discovered, to his dismay, that he had just stepped right in the middle of
something glowing and unpleasant. He could almost hear the water-logged
leather being eaten away. Friday the 13th of ANY month had NOTHING on this
day, Friday, the 14th of February.

        But nothing else could go wrong today. He had left work 5 hours 
early so that he would have a leisurely six hours to reach the dining 
destination where he had arranged to meet Heather, his estranged fiance, for
the first time since he had forgotten their anniversary. And tonight, he
would definitely give her a surprise, he thought appreciatively, patting the
form of the box through the fabric of his thigh pocket which held the ring
which he would use to propose to her tonight. As long as he could make it
to the restaurant, he could handle whatever else life could rummage up and
throw in his path.

        Except, as it turned out, penguins.

        As he approached his rocking car, he could hear their devilish 
jibbering and jabbering.

        "Oh God... Not the penguins AGAIN..." he muttered under his breath 
as he stormed up to the car. The stereo was blaring at full blast, playing a 
tape of what sounded like "The Chipmunks go Disco," the windshield wipers 
were flopping drunkenly, and intermittent blurts of the horn sounded as the 
infernal birds took turns jumping on the front seat. He thought that this 
problem had been fixed at his last tune-up, but the sight of his 
Penguin-B-Gone strip flying out the sunroof along with a dozen herring heads 
dispelled that illusion rather quickly. He pocketed the useless strip and
rifled through his broken briefcase for what had been last resort emergency 
devices which had fortunately never been needed. Extracting a large fistful 
of rubber bands from the case, he wielded his keys bravely and made a lunge 
for the car door, opening it in one swift fluid motion.

        He was right. It WAS "The Chipmunks go Disco."

        Like the wind, he stealthily and efficiently rubber-banded the beaks 
and flipper-like wings of all save the most aggressive penguins, who bit 
viciously through their bonds. No matter. He tossed them all in the back 
seat, and rolled the windows down, to clear the herring smell from the air. A 
flasing light on the dashboard confirmed his initial suspicion: the words 
PENGUIN VALVE JAMMED cheerily winked at him. Cursing his luck at having 
broken this previously unheard-of component of his car, he decided to return 
the penguins to the zoo. After all, he couldn't afford to let them ruin his 
date, and he had a few hours to spare. With an eye to caution, he tossed an 
old blanket over the heap of struggling birds to minimalise the distraction 
they would otherwise pose to his driving skills.

                                     -----

        "What do you MEAN you haven't lost any penguins?" 

        Clark had been forced to attempt to jam a defective parking meter
full of several dollars in change before he realized that it was out of
order. Impatient and unhappy with the zoo staff, who had kept him waiting
outside the monkey house, much to the amusement of zoo visitors, he wanted
to get rid of the damned birds so he could get on with the rest of his life.
The birds (on a leash as proof of his otherwise outlandish story) just seemed
to want to make a lot of noise.

        "I'm sorry, sir, but all 27 of our zoo's penguins are accounted for. 
Wherever you got these ones from, it wasn't here." 

        The receptionist at the zoo's main complaint office was used to
dealing with wackos, but this one was unusually well-groomed. His story
seemed to be truthful, too, but the zoo already had all of its famous
penguins, and they lacked the facilities to house any more.

        "If you fill out this form, we might be able to help you, depending
on how many more weeks Mr. Wiltbloom decides to stay on vacation."

        "No, thank you. I'll just find something to do with these penguins 
MYSELF. You haven't been of any help. Good-bye."

        Clark felt very cold toward the woman, who seemed to have been
exceptionally bureaucratic toward him. That, or it was the largish piece of
spinach that had been wedged betwixt his upper front teeth. "Five hours and
eighteen minutes 'till the reservation," he thought to himself, as he walked
to the car, leading a train of waddling penguins. When he arrived at the
parking lot, he noticed that he was having a rather large amount of difficulty 
finding his car. The fact that it simply wasn't there probably contributed 
to this situation. Of course, he didn't discover that fact immediately. He 
deduced it after wandering for an hour and a half backtracking the 
footprints of his little webfooted compatriots. Even by then, the only clue 
tipping him off to his car's absentee status was the policeman posting the 
"Out of Order" sign on the parking meter which had previously greedily 
guzzled all of his change. Flustered and confused, he sat dejectedly on the 
curb and looked at his watch. Three and a half hours left. Still more than 
enough time to bus to the restaurant and freshen up before dining. He could 
find out what happened to the car later... after all, he had an appointment 
with his destiny.

        The penguin's squawks aroused him from his daydream. He had three and
a half hours left and not a second to spare! Boldly, he dived into his jacket
pocket to withdraw his wallet and bus pass. Sheepishly, he fumbled around 
the pocket looking for them. Frantically, he got on all fours and, with a 
rather undignified air, looked for the wallet. Yet it was nowhere to be seen.
Rather violent thoughts involving the penguins entered his head, and, as he 
turned around to enact his gruesome fantasies, he saw them all lined up on 
the wall, playing catch with his wallet. THOSE DAMNED BIRDS HAD PICKPOCKETED 
HIM!!! With a vicious jerk on the leash, all of the penguins came tumbling 
down onto the pavement, wallet bouncing into range. He glanced from side to 
side, as if expecting someone to go for it, and, seeing that the coast was 
clear, reached out to slowly take it back.

        Almost there, he raised his glance forward to see a penguin mimicing 
his actions. The penguin was closer to the wallet. With a lunge, they both 
grabbed an end of the wallet and started pulling. While Clark had much more 
mass than the puny penguin, the little bird had the aid of several of his 
companions. With a heave and a ho, and a crack like thunder, the wallet flew 
apart, credit cards and photos of Heather drifting away into the bear pit on
the breeze. Clark discovered, to his dismay, that he held clenched in his 
hand, one torn half of a bus pass. He followed the movements of the other 
half drifting errantly on the wind until it ended up as a monkey's 
breakfast. This was most certainly not good. He salvaged what he could of 
the credit cards and pictures, stuffing them into his pocket, and stared 
forlornly at his watch. Three hours, fourteen minutes. At a breakneck run, 
he could make it to the restaurant in four hours, tops. It was worth a 
try... the alternative was to sit there and cry on the penguins, and he was 
far too great a man to stoop to such levels. Determined to rid his life of 
these pests, he carefully tied the lead leash to a post with a knot worthy 
of a Boy Scout University graduate and started in the right direction.

        "'Scuse me, sir, but do you know that there's a law again litterin' 
in this town?"

        The sign-posting policeman tapped on his back and had a ticket pad
ready.

        "Officer, you must be mistaken; these aren't my penguins, they..."

        "I hear a lot of that, y'know." The rather robust lawman looked up 
at the sky and chuckled to himself. "You 'spect me to believe that after I 
saw you tie 'em up right there? Now listen, just pick them up, and carry 'em
with yer person until you can find the proper receptacle, and I'll let you 
go this time."

        Clark began to protest, but, looking at his watch, realized that 
there was no way around it: he was stuck with the damned critters. As if in 
realization, one of them waddled up to his leg and lay down on his foot. The 
officer grinned a smelly grin and hefted himself back to the defective 
meter, where he tried to look important. "I just need a few minutes to 
concentrate," thought Clark. Sitting down on the pavement, he closed his 
eyes and tried to focus on the matter at hand. Noises of the zoo, animal 
noises, people noises, and heavy machinery noises (?) passed through his 
head. Smells of the zoo, animal smells, people smells, and ... other smells 
drifted in one nostril and out the other. His concentration was absolute. 
Nothing could rouse him from his meditiation. Except when the skater tried 
to do a jump over that weird sitting guy and didn't quite clear it.

        Clark awoke to a bright light and loud noises. And quite a lot of 
blood. As his eyes refocused, he made out the shapes of a flock of 
concerned-looking penguins and a pair of grungy looking youths looking down
at him.

        "Heeey, Stu!," one of them hollered to the other, "I guess I owe ya 
five bucks! The old dude isn't dead!"

        Stu looked more concerned, whether for Clark's well-being or about 
the blood stains on his skateboard. "Hey, old dude, are you all right?"

        Clark sat up, and blacked out again.

        He awoke several minutes later, and said, "How much would you sell 
that skateboard for?

        Stu looked confused, then his eyes lit up with the fires of greed. 
"What ya got?"

        Clark carefully probed inside his pocket, drawing a single thin 
piece of plastic with the measured ease of a motion often performed. "It's 
platinum. No limits."

        Stu looked at his friend in awe, eyes bugging out, and bellowed, 
"Radical!" They performed a surprisingly uncoordinated hi-five, and ran off 
toward the nearest Westbeach. Reading his watch, Clark noted that he had a 
mere two hours and 53 minutes left, and decided that it was time to take 
charge. He carefully tourniquetted his gaping head wound with one of the
rubber bands, and tested his balance on his new possession. Finding it
easier than it looked, he took off his belt. No, this is not the eagerly
anticipated sex scene. Getting a good grip on the penguin harnesses, a good
balance on the board, and a good final whiff of that wholesome zoo air, he
cracked his belt at the penguins. And they were off!

                                     -----

        Clark, having watched one too many arctic sagas on late night TV, 
navigated his way through the wilds of downtown, being forced to move onto 
the road after an unfortunate accident involving a glass window being moved, 
a carton of watermelons and a shipment of chickens, and doing eighty-five in a
thirty zone. Fortunately, the traffic cops could see what a hurry he was in,
and he arrived at the restaurant exactly two hours and forty-eight minutes
later, with a windblown hairdo and a troupe of tired penguins. Stepping off
the board, he noticed that their irregular route had inextricably entwined his
hand in the loop end of the leash. He'd have to do something about that in
the gent's room. But first, to confirm the reservations. He casually 
strolled into the entrance of the restaurant, pretending that he didn't have 
a horde of birds attatched to his hand.

        "Table for two for Clark Ingledew, " he exclaimed nonchalantly.

        "M'sieur, zee table ees redy, but zere are NO pets allowed in zees
restaurant! Revovez zem at once, s'il-vous-plait!"

        "Can I just.."

        "No, M'sieur! No penguins in zee building! Can't you see zee sign?
Now get zem OUT!"

        Clark, unwilling to withstand any more of that incredibly bad accent,
stormed out of the building, and re-entered, bird-free, but with a 
suspiciously lumpy and noisy jacket. He also noted the peculiar sign on his
way in the second time: No Penguins Allowed in Building, by order of the
Minister of Food Services.

        "Ah, M'sieur as returned! Weethout hees penguins. Bon."

        {SQUAWK!} went the jacket. The maitre 'd eyeballed Clark
suspiciously.

        "Squawk, squawk. Ahem. I'm just getting over a cold... people tell me
that my cough sounds like a penguin squawking. SQUAWK. Excuse me."

        He then doubled over in a faked coughing fit, throwing some squawks 
in here and there to add validity to his story. The maitre 'd looked
unconvinced, but, doubtlessly impressed by Clark's formidable improvisational
skills, led him to the table. Where Heather was waiting for him.

        Clark gulped, and grimaced as a sharp beak gave retribution for the 
sudden movement. She was gorgeous. He was, well, lumpy.

        "Clark, you're here on time, for once. I've been waiting to see you 
for a long time, you know." She smiled, revealing a glittering full set of 
teeth. In Clark's eyes, the most perfect teeth in the world. Clark would 
have smiled, but he was in too much pain. One of the penguins had started to 
slide down his pant leg.

        "I don't mean to be rude, but I really have to... er... go to the
bathroom. I hope you understand. I'll be right out." Clark, making this
social faux pas, ran off to the men's room and tried to take off his jacket.
But it wouldn't go. The penguins had settled in there and had gotten nice
and comfy, and, after that deal with the skateboard, weren't going to move
for ANYBODY. Buttoning the thing back up, puffing and panting from the
exertion of his attempt, he re-entered the restaurant. He nearly spitted
himself as he passed a waiter bearing a trayful of shishkabob skewers, but
narrowly avoided disaster, and instead just landed heavily on his chair and
spilled his water.

        "Clark, why don't you take your jacket off? You must be getting
awefully hot in there...?"

        "No, I'm fine, really, I am." Clark seemed rather insincere, panting
like that and the way he kept loosening his collar.

        "Listen, Clark, I've been thinking a lot lately, and I think that I
made the wrong decision when we stopped seeing each other... I overreacted,
and..."

        "No, YOU listen, Heather. I was a lovestruck fool with a bad memory,
and still am. Will you... er... will you... just a sec..." Searching his
pockets frantically, he couldn't find the box holding the ring. Remembering
that it was in his THIGH pocket, he relievedly took the box out of his
pocket. To his astonished horror, the ring was no longer in it! This was just
too much.

        "Clark? Were you going to say something?"

        "Where is it, goddammit? Answer me!"

        Clark was ripping his shirt off, talking to the lumps in his jacket.
Taking a salad fork, with a wild gleam in his eyes, he savagely jabbed his
poor coat several times. Squeaks emitted, and he peeled back the coat
revealing a huddled mass of penguins! From across the room, the maitre 'd
gaped in horror, and Clark began alternately throttling and tossing aside
penguin after penguin, demanding where "it" was. Various shocked cries of,
"My eyes! My eyes!", "Waiter, there is a penguin in my soup!", and "To
dishonor the flag in such a manner. Disgraceful!" echoed across the room,
and customers began leaving in droves. Finally, Clark reached the bottom of
the heap, where a miserable looking snivelling penguin huddled, face turned
away, thrusting a simple ring towards Clark.

        "THANK YOU. Now, where was I... oh yes. Heather, will you marry me?"

        Heather looked shocked, then startled, then sick. "You BRUTE! You
PERVERT! I don't even want to know what were you doing with penguins in your
suit. You must have seen the sign in front, you knew it was against the
rules. Now you've ruined this dinner for everyone here. Clark Ingledew, I
never want to speak to you again!" With that, she walked out of the
restaurant, and out of his life, forever.

        Clark looked surprised, mouth gaping, ring outstretched limply. Then
he closed his eyes and bawled like a baby. Alone in the building, his tragic
cries echoed throughout the hallowed walls. Remembering the shishkabob
skewers, he contemplated putting an end to it all, all the pain, all the
suffering. But he was brought back to reality by a nudge on his foot. The
last penguin had gotten up and was trying to eat his shoelaces.

        With a new look of hope and determination in his eyes, Clark picked
up the flightless bird, and said passionately, through tear-streaked eyes,
"At least we still have each other."

        And they walked, hand in wing, into the sunset, of a NEW future,
together.

        This story will now end before it breaches the boundaries of good
taste any more than it does already.

                                      FIN
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

  • 3 comments