The Flight, by W. D. White

Please enjoy this unpublished Short Story.

W. D. White

Box 243-B

Edge Moor,

Del.

THE FLIGHT

At last conditions were favorable and all was in readiness. From the southern shore of France. Pierre Paul, the daring aviator, took off in his plane with a destination of some South American city. His arrival was timed to the minute, so sure was he of the outcome of this venture, and under the elephant skin flying suit he wore his evening dress, for surely he would be welcomed in grandeur. Days and nights he rocked and roared through heavy fogs that hid land, sea and sky. Finally, short of fuel, he came into light. On the sea below he saw an island he did not know, but it was land – and ah! How weary he was. Shutting off his motor, circling, he came to a landing, closed his eyes and fell to sleep. An incessant grayness sped through his brain.

When he at last awakened and looking about him, nothing but black and gray rocks greeted his gaze, piled crazily one upon another and jutting into a gray sea. Where the white surf met the shore, many penguins played. Quite different this all was from what he had expected to attain. Fate had played coyly with him for she has too many men’s destinies within the graces of her hand ever to linger long over the value of one.

Stooped with dejection, Pierre Paul climbed from his plane, took off his elephant skin flying suit, for it was too heavy to walk in, and climbed down the rocks to the shore where the penguins disported. How odd he looked, this fellow, dressed for any Latin American fiesta, scraping his white shirt front against the jagged rocks, yet in color, how in key with the landscape, black, gray and white.

As he neared the shore, the penguins all stared up at him, thousands of them, while thousands more waddled out of the sea. As he came closer he saw that in their bills each held a wiggling fish and thousands upon thousands were all crowding about him as though in wonderment, as though in homage.

Memory pictures came to him of how often before like this, after daring air ventures, he had stood before welcoming committees in evening dress. white shirts and long black tails. These birds were like that, only finer. The whole populace was dressed, and all fit perfectly. His after all was not out of place. For perhaps the penguins all were thinking, ah! a bird like us, white breast and long black tails, only his breast is whiter, he is larger, he is more God-like, he came from a place in the sky that we do not know.

So as Pierre stood surrounded by these many birds a few closest to him came forward and in a kind of decorous bow dropped their fish at his feet. Food! How long ago was it he had eaten. Ah! He leaped on them and began eating, almost swallowing each fish whole. More were laid before him and his hunger passed. But he was not used to eating fish, especially so many and so raw. That night he had dreary dreams and moaned in the moonlight.

Many days passed and many nights. Pierre began to like the fish that the penguins brought, for there was nothing else for him to eat. After a time he even followed the birds into the sea and dove for some himself catching them in his mouth.

As time passed his evening dress became a great deal like the feathers of the birds, his feet even webbed like theirs, large orange colored circles came around his eyes. He grew a bill and flicked his tail as he would waddle out on shore. He felt the simple splendor of just living.

Back in his native land, when after a few days there was no word of Pierre Paul, the newspapers were covered with tall headlines and pale pictures of the lost flyer. Wireless crackled all over the World. Ships at sea kept constant watch for floating things or noises in the sky; but none were found. A woman on the Rue Napoleon had a dream that Pierre was still flying southward, gazing northward, while a very old lady in West Surrey, England, claimed her Ouija board spelled his name. But no one ever knew, and the fateful story of Pierre Paul, remained without an end.

———–

Quite a long time after, a whaling ship, much off her course, put into the island where the penguins played, to renew her water supply. Pierre saw the ship, saw the boat dropped over her side, the men clamber in and take up the oars. He waddled along the surf to meet them with all the other penguins after him in a turmoil of excitement. As the sailors neared, some cursed, some grinned or laughed, but all marvelled at the huge size of this bird.

He tried to call to them – but only squawks came. He could not speak like a man, so long had he lived as a bird. So the men landed and threw a rope around him and a bag over his head and rowed away to the ship, where they put him in the hold and built a wooden cage. Back on the island all the other birds squawked high protest and frantic resentment and waddled on the beach and over the rocks and dove in the surf; but as the ship lifted sail they tucked their bills in the feathers of their breasts and closed their eyes in submissive sorrow.

Day after day to his dim cage in the hold the sailors came to feed him, would crowd about and talk and laugh and name him. One called him Zeus, another Magellan and one Twit after a half-wit in his home back in the States.

One day the ship ceased to roll, as she passed the Golden Gate. The chains rattled down her side, the anchor dropped in the Bay of San Francisco and Pierre Paul’s voyage back to civilization was ended.

The hatch-way to the hold was opened and rays of sunlight came down and down through the rays of sunlight came men from the land, and some women. All stared and marvelled. Bidding and preparations were made for his removal shore. A new cage was carefully lowered and he was placed in it, a cage with a compartment that allowed for his privacy. He and the cage were lifted on deck, then over the side to a smaller boat that steamed to shore where men loaded him onto a motor truck then onto the baggage coach of a train. For many days the Continent passed under him as he was carried eastward to the zoological gardens of the Metropolis.

It was Sunday, one of those beautiful mornings of early Spring, when Pierre was first placed in the enclosure with the other Penguins. A new sign had already been placed, which read: “Giant Penguin – From the Island of San Pupa.” He could hear many bells ringing and see the tall towers of the city rise in a kind of chaste light, their tops glistening. The air itself seemed warmed with a momentary tenderness between Heaven and Earth.

Many people were already in the park and wandering into the zoo. The penguins always did attract them, but even more so today for there had been accounts in the papers of this huge, strange bird. Meanwhile the elephant seemed very angry about something, perhaps because his house was so small; the giraffe from his high point of vantage could see the swarm of people already about the penguin enclosure, elbowing and looking around.

Pierre was at loss and greatly embarrassed. His new bird companions looked on him with envious admiration while outside the enclosure were the crowds of humans with their staring eyes. He tried to hide behind some rocks placed in cement and when the keeper brought a bucket of fish he could eat none. As long shadows began to fall across the enclosure and evening came the people became less for it was nearing closing time of the gardens. He swam a little in the artificial pond with the other birds. As he walked out flickering his tails, he looked up and saw before him a most beautiful creature – a girl standing with her hand outstretched in the palm of which was some food. Twined through a ring which she wore on one finger was a white rose. He waddled forward and gently took some of the food with his bill. It seemed almost flavored by the odor of the rose. Ah! this human food – delicate – with an herb-like after taste. In thoughtless joy he tried to speak but it was only a squawk that brought the other birds crowding about. In a kind of trance he watched her and as the other birds gobbled all she had to offer, she seemed to become less and less distinct, and as they waddled away wiping their bills, she had vanished. He frantically fluttered and stared out of the enclosure; there was no one, save far off some guards sweeping the deserted paths. Pierre now had but the thought: ‘Escape’ – to follow, for surely a being such as this would leave behind her a trail of light. Night came, the lights of the city were lighted, some still and white, some flashing color. Above through a veil of smoke he could see the stars.

A belated motorist, long after midnight sped through the park. Suddenly across the ray of the headlights ran what for the instant seemed a man. There was a thud against a mudguard. The driver threw in his brakes, came to a sudden stop, got out terrified and looked back in the road. There was no one. He called: there was no answer. He was mistaken. He sped away.

Next morning, when the keeper came with his bucket of fish for the penguins, he found them all standing around the fringe of the pond, their bills on their breasts and heads drooping as though looking at their own reflections in the water. All but the Giant! he was not within the enclosure. The keeper ran to call another keeper and they hastened around to the gate – startled they stepped back. On the ground before the gate lay a man in evening clothes. More keepers came and some police who blew whistles for other police. As they stooped over the man to lift him up his head dropped back and he did not breathe. Then they saw in his right hand was clutched a white rose.

Through the morning mists that still had not lifted from the gardens came the drone of an airplane motor. Closer and closer it roared, then stopped as though zooming to earth. All looked up, but through the mists could see nothing. All were sure they heard a voice call “Pierre,” and again, “Pierre.” All were sure they heard the answer, “You have come.” The motor roared again, then again became a drone, then faded out in space, leaving nothing but silence. The mists lifted revealing nothing but blue sky through which the sunlight danced on into infinity.

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