Written for the “A Merry Minion Christmas” collection.
“Wally, the Penguin Who Could Fly”
Dedicated to Ethan, Will, and Quinn
For as long as he could remember, Wally wanted to fly. At dinner, he told his mom and dad about the planes that had passed overhead that day, appearing as nothing but black dots on one horizon and then disappearing on the other, the only sign of their passage a trail of clouds in the sky. Wally thrilled at the sight of the wings and tail making the outline of a giant bird in the sky, and would waddle around excitedly, chirping and squawking loudly enough to wake up the whole flock.
“But Wally,” his dad said, “you’re a penguin. And penguins can’t fly.”
“Wally,” his mom said, “eat your fish. They’re getting warm.”
“Stop squawking, Wally,” his neighbors said, “we need to sleep!”
So Wally learned not to run around excitedly and squawk and chirp every time he saw a plane. But he didn’t stop dreaming of soaring through the air.
One night, the snow glowing in the light of a full moon, Wally saw something different flying through the sky. It wasn’t a bird. It wasn’t a plane. There was a red light that winked in and out and nine flying animals, the likes of which he’d never seen, pulling a large sled behind them. He didn’t hear chirping or squawking, but instead a faint “Ho, ho, ho!” calling down from above.
From that day on, Wally was obsessed not just with flying, but the strange red light that appeared in the sky just once a year.
One day while out fishing, Wally got separated from his family. A strong current pulled him north and his little wings weren’t big enough to make it back to shore. So he sailed away from his home, and his parents, and the only world he’d ever known. But the oceans were full of fish, and he floated easily on the water, and after many days, the current pulled him close to land. The ground was rocky, and the beach was full of other birds of all shapes and sizes, birds who could fly and chirp and tweet. Wally asked these birds if they’d ever seen the red light in the sky, but most of them were too young and too interested in cracking open shells on the ground to answer.
There was one wise old albatross who knew what he was talking about. “The light you seek comes from the north, and it belongs to a very special animal named Rudolph. He doesn’t have wings, but can fly all around the world in a single night. It will be a long journey, but if you seek him, follow the light of the North Star until it is directly over your head.”
Wally thanked the bird and set off to the north, marking off the distance a foot at a time with his short legs, waddling over rocks and hills and through valleys. He swam across rivers and splashed in the ocean. The weather grew warmer, and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to continue, but dreamt of the red light in the sky, and persevered until it began cooling off again. He met thousands of birds and marveled at their wings, wishing, as he did everyday, that he could fly.
Finally, he started to see ice and snow everywhere he went, and the world began reminding him of the home he’d left so far behind him. He still hadn’t found the red light in the sky, though the North Star was nearly overhead, and he realized that he missed his mom and his dad and his grumpy neighbors.
One cloudy night he plopped himself down on a snowbank and cried. Wally was tired. He was lonely. And he knew he’d never fly. He just wanted to go home. Because his eyes were closed, he didn’t see the man approaching him. But he felt the arm around his shoulders and heard the warm voice. “Don’t be sad, Wally. You’re not alone anymore.”
Wiping the tears from his eyes with one flipper, Wally looked up at the man who was speaking. He was dressed all in red, and had a thick white beard, keeping him warm on such a cold night. “How…how did you know my name?”
“I know everyone’s name. And I know what you’re here for. Come, let me carry you.”
The big man in red picked Wally up and carried him to his house, a large cottage next to an even bigger barn. Knowing that Wally wouldn’t be happy wrapped up next to a fire, he brought him to the barn to introduce him to his team. The reindeer were excited to see him – there weren’t many people in Antarctica to deliver presents to, and they hadn’t met that many penguins. They were all friendly to him, but none more than the one he’d followed from the other end of the world.
Rudolph knew what it was like to want something everyone else said was impossible, and he spent hours with the penguin who’d traveled so far, sharing stories and talking about the many places they’d visited. As they talked, the man in the red suit brought Wally a bucket of fish, and Rudolph excused himself while Wally ate so that he could talk to the man. When they came back, the man had a serious look on his face.
“Wally, you’ve arrived on a very busy day for us. Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve, and my reindeer and I need to leave soon to bring gifts to people all over the world.”
Wally hung his head. His new friend was going to leave, and as exciting as it was to finally have met him, he didn’t know if he’d be able to make the long walk home.
The man in the red suit knelt down next to Wally and put his hand on his flipper. “Wally, would you like to come with us? We can fly you home.”
He traveled the world with the reindeer and his new friend, and as they flew back toward his home, the red light from Rudolph’s nose guided them through a snowstorm, bringing them in for a safe landing in front of his mom, his dad, and his squawking neighbors, excitedly circling around Wally, the penguin who could fly.