Inspired by the news: Penguins ignore the police: Protected Species by Maura Yzmore

The news from New Zealand this week was of two penguins living under a sushi store. They were captured and taken to a little place on the beach, but IGNORED THE POLICE and returned to the sushi place. If you haven’t already seen this report, watch it now. It’s lovely.

We asked writers to send in stories inspired by the news, for a new feature on this blog which might be called Inspired by the News!

We received heaps of submissions, incredible in such a short amount of time, and were lucky enough to meet comedian Miko, recurrent offender John, thieving Vladimir, the ill-fated New Emperor, Officer Alvarez, Sister Evelynn Thoreaux, the almost-named Poppypants, obsessive Whitney, the War against the Emperors, a friendly criminal orchestra, an ill-fated jaywalker, quantum calculations, penguins falling soundlessly in the forest, Sting (of course Sting!), a ‘penguin’ who could fly, and someone who really disliked lobsters!

But the story that sang to us the most was Protected Species, by Maura Yzmore, which you can read here:

Protected Species

Milad and I are tired in that surreal, bone-deep way that you get tired when the sun shines nonstop, so you can’t really sleep, but you aren’t allowed to get up or stretch either. It’s March, early fall, with a balmy negative five degrees centigrade outside. Day three on surveillance of the fish processing plant, which we suspect is a front for a human smuggling operation that’s been running rampant ever since the Antarctic Federation officially closed its borders to immigration five years ago. We believe a man who goes by the name of Akram is in charge, but we have nothing concrete on him or any of his men. They are extremely careful. Not even a parking ticket on any of them. 

Another penguin waddles past the car. This one seems like a young male; it looks bored. Well, it looks sort of like a bored teenage human would. Probably not. I think this perpetual daylight is getting to me. Milad rolls his eyes at my attempt to read the animal’s mood. 

We’ve seen probably a dozen penguins during this shift. Mostly they pay us no mind, which is for the best. You get serious jail time if you hurt or kill a penguin; they’re a protected species. They walk around freely on the streets of New Baghdad, like they own the place. Which, to be honest, they do. Antarctica belonged to them way before our stupid forefathers scorched the Earth with greenhouse emissions and the Middle East went to shit, so people moved out here in droves and all but obliterated the penguins. Milad’s family immigrated early; they were among the first settlers in New Baghdad. Milad often makes fun of me for my sometimes-archaic pronunciation of common words. I can’t help it; I’m a first-gen Iraqi-Antarctican; my parents speak old Arabic. 

“Something’s going on,” says Milad. “Someone’s moving.” 

Finally! I grab the binoculars. It’s Akram with two of his men, leaving the factory and getting into a truck. Akram’s driving. 

“Make sure you get all this,” I say to Milad. I never put the binoculars down.

The truck’s backing out. 

It’s backing out far too fast. 

Noooo! 

Oh, God, no. 

The rear bumper hits the bird while the truck backs out and to the right, then the rear wheel runs over it twice – twice! – first going back, then again going forward. 

They killed it –

They killed the penguin.

Akram and his men drive off like nothing happened. 

I run to the animal and kneel in the red puddle beside it. I wish it would give me another bored teenage penguin look, but there’s no more light in its eyes. I feel myself well up. I wish I could do something for it, but I’m not sure what you do when a penguin dies. 

Milad comes over, grinning ear to ear. “We’ve got them! I got it all on camera. They are going down for this. We’ve got them, man!” 

I take off my glove and gently stroke the penguin’s belly. It’s smooth and soft. 

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Maura Yzmore is a short-fiction writer and science professor based in the American Midwest. Her recent stories can be found in The Molotov Cocktail, Dime Show Review, Coffin Bell, and elsewhere. Find out more at https://maurayzmore.com/stories/

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This was hectic and fun but a success, overall. We look forward to doing it again in the future.

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