STORM grey fades to frozen white and the great feather pillow of huddled emperor penguins breaks apart. At its centre and greeted by a loud fuss stands a stranger, more squat and with a thicker bill, yet similar to those around it.
“Sorry to intrude,” the stranger says.
“What are you doing here, you fat, ugly penguin!” the colony leader snaps.
“I’m not a penguin,” says the stranger, “nor am I a razorbill, though I share similar characteristics with both. I’m a great auk.”
“You’re still fat and ugly.”
“Charming. I’m here because I’m the subject of a short story and a blog about animals. I have no idea what this means.”
“We’re proper penguins here, my friend,” the leader says. “We’re Attenborough penguins, March of the Penguin penguins. Not those stupid rockhoppers from Surf’s Up. Not Pingu. I mean, really! Pingu! How condescending is that?”
The auk shakes his head. “You’re too stuffy.”
“I’m an emperor. It goes with the job.”
“Bet you don’t even know where the word ‘penguin’ comes from.”
“I don’t need to know.”
“Yes you do. It comes from me. The Welsh called great auks ‘pen gwyn’ meaning ‘white head’, on account of the white patch above my eye. When European explorers discovered you lot down here, that’s what they called you, because they thought you looked like us.”
“They did?” The colony leader prodded a flipper at the auk’s belly. “But we didn’t answer to the song, ‘Who ate all the squid?’”
“You know nothing. We great auks knew nothing. We trusted humans, like you do. Now we’re extinct. And that brings me to the other reason why I’m here. I have to warn you.”
“About becoming extinct? But humans love us! We’ve nothing to fear.”
“Come, waddle with me. I’ll tell you what happened to us. And then I’ll tell you what could happen to you. You must understand. Catch my drift.”
The leader thinks for a moment, then nods. “OK, Mr Auk. But make it quick. I need to go and fetch some tea. And that’s a 60-mile waddle.”
To be continued…