Cara felt decidedly strange when she woke up. She was sure she hadn’t had that much to drink at the work Christmas party. And this didn’t feel like a hangover. She just felt... different.
Her body felt stiff and awkward under the duvet and her head buzzed with unfamiliar thoughts. She rubbed her eyes and something slapped her on the side of the head. She looked at her hand, then the other one. They were covered in some sort of large mittens, soft and feathery.
Cara rolled out of bed and waddled to the mirror. She turned her head sideways and stared hard at her reflection. Then she turned her head to the other side. Her mind tried to process what her eyes were telling her. Her eyes which sat either side of an orange beak. A long white neck ran down to an expanse of white body then down to wide orange webbed feet. Shuffling round, Cara looked over her shoulder at a smooth shiny black back. Her mind finally produced a coherent thought.
“Penguin,” she said. It came out as squeaky croak, a squoak maybe, but it still sounded like her voice. She tried again. “Penguin?” She lifted her arms up, except they weren’t really arms anymore, they were wings. Or flippers? Wippers? She couldn’t remember. Could penguins even fly? She flapped them experimentally. It didn’t feel like she could fly. Swimming felt more natural. Swimming through the cold deep water, hunting for a fat juicy fish.
Cara realised she was hungry. She waddled quickly round in a circle then set off for the kitchen. Somehow the hot cross buns she’d been looking forward to had lost their appeal. With difficulty she levered the fridge door open and found a packet of mackerel that made her clap her flippers in delight. Gnawing her way through the plastic packaging she scooped the fish up and savoured the sensation as it slipped down her throat.
Her hunger sated, Cara thought about what she knew about penguins. Mainly what she remembered were the jokes from last night’s Christmas crackers.
Why don’t polar bears eat penguins?
Because they can’t get the wrappers off.
What’s black and white and red all over?
An embarrassed penguin.
Why do penguins carry fish in their beaks?
Because they haven´t got any pockets.
None of this was much good to her at the moment. She tried to get on the internet on her phone but couldn’t even unlock it and could only knock it off the table. As it hit the floor it started ringing and Cara scrabbled to retrieve it. She dragged it out and saw it was her sister calling, probably to say she was on her way to collect her. She stabbed desperately at the ‘answer’ button, finally managing to hit it.
“Hello?” she squoaked, “hello?”
“Cara, is that you?” she heard her sister say. “Are you okay?”
Cara lay on the floor, suddenly unable to speak. Out of the corner of her eye she saw her treasured Jimmy Choo peep-toes, discarded as she stumbled in last night. She looked down at her large, flat flippered feet and realised she would never wear those shoes again. The tears began to well up inside her and she let out a long despairing squawk.
“Cara, what’s wrong?” her sister’s voice came tinnily from the phone.
“P-p-please, come and p-p-p-pick me up,” Cara wailed.
Cara lay in her childhood bed listening to the sounds of her mum and sister talking in the kitchen below. Her sister had arrived at her flat to find her waddling round in circles, flapping her flippers and plaintively croaking. Eventually she managed to calm her down and suggested they stick to their plans to head back to their parents’ for Christmas Day tomorrow. Covering Cara in coats and duvets they smuggled her out of the flat and into the car attracting no worse than a couple of curious looks. One advantage was that Cara was very surefooted on the snowy path.
Back at home, her mum and dad were very understanding, telling her that it didn’t matter what she looked like, she was still their little girl, which set off more emotional squawking and flapping. They gave her a large plate of sardines and her mum tucked her into bed with her old teddy and a gentle kiss on the beak. Cara drifted off to sleep dreaming of ice floes and diving into cold cold water.
She woke early, yawned, stretched and rubbed her hand over her face. She stopped. Looked at her hand. Four fingers and a thumb. She threw the duvet back and looked down at her body, which was hers again, although inexplicably clad in penguin pyjamas.
“I’m me,” she squoaked.
Squoaked? Cara cleared her throat and tried again.
“I’m me,” she said in her own voice. “I’m me!” she yelled, bringing her family running in. They piled into an emotional group hug then all went downstairs to open presents.
And, apart from a tendency to turn round in circles and clap excitedly at the sight of fish, life continued pretty normally after that.