Title : Valentine's Day Story, Pt. 1
Author : Cthulu


         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 which held the ring which he would use to propose to her
 tonight through the fabric of his thigh pocket. 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
 flashing 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 (whom he had needed to being 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 towards the woman, who seemed to have been
 exceptionally bureaucratic towards him. That, or it was the largish piece of
 spinach that had been wedged betwixt his upper front teeth. "5 hours and 18
 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. 3 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 3 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
 out.
 
         "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 meditation. Except when the skater tried
 to do a jump over that weird sitting guy and didn't quite clear it.
 
                  ....TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONTH...
                      (how's THAT for suspense?)

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