Matt loved penguins. I mean he really loved them. He showed up one day at the beginning of second semester wearing this penguin backpack. It was actually pretty cute: the beak unzipped and you could slide your books and stuff in so it looked like the penguin was eating them. He was assigned to the seat right in front of me in Earth Science, so I had to stare at the backpack every single day. I didn’t mind at first. On his first day I tapped him on the shoulder and told him his backpack was great, and that I loved penguins. He gave me a meek smile, said “not like I do,” and turned back around. It was a little creepy, but I thought it was probably just first day jitters.
Rumors went around school about Matt getting expelled from his last school for “inappropriate behavior,” but I didn’t believe them. Matt seemed so shy, quiet, and nerdy that it didn’t seem possible. I figured the rumors were just normal high school gossip.
As the days went by I began to notice a trend: each day he would add another penguin related accessory to his wardrobe. A different penguin shirt each day, then a penguin watch, a penguin necklace, a penguin handkerchief, a penguin bracelet, even shoes featuring cartoon pictures of penguins sliding down icebergs. It was definitely weird, but hey its high school: fads come and go and people get extremely obsessed over weird things, then burn out and move on to something else.
But now I couldn’t stop noticing things: a snow cap with a fluffy penguin head instead of a ball on top; a scarf covered in tiny dancing penguins; penguin erasers and pencils; and all of his notebooks had pictures of penguins on the front of them. He spent every class quietly drawing pictures of penguins on his binder, and they were really good too; he had a real knack for it. He even had pictures of penguins hanging in his locker, instead of the fast cars, rappers or scantily clad women which the other boys used to decorate. Sometimes we had to peer edit each others papers and his were always, without fail, related to penguins somehow; even his math papers! When we had math word problems he would change every name to “penguin,” and for equations he would cross out every variable and change it to solve for “p”.
I wasn’t the only one to notice. People started talking about him behind his back, calling him “the penguin weirdo.” He was almost always alone. He had no friends. Sometimes I would feel bad and try to talk to him, but he’d just look up, smile, nod, and go back to doodling his favorite aquatic bird. If you weren’t a penguin, he wasn’t interested in interacting with you.
His only friends were a group of meme spouting gamer/weebo types. He’d been walking by their lunch table one day and heard them joking about some game called “Club Penguin.” His eyes lit up and he asked if he could sit with them and then launched into a long speech about how penguin club was the greatest video game ever created, the absolute pinnacle of the evolution of gaming. They thought he was joking and played along, agreeing with everyone of his points and adding their own reasons. He left lunch that day beaming with pride and with the first genuine smile I’d ever seen on his face.
He sat with the gamers the next day and told a long winded story about his top 10 Club Penguin moments, and how depressed he was when the game shut down. They listened half halfheartedly. The next day he gave a lecture on what a complete disappoint the new Club Penguin Island game was, and how it tarnished the legacy of the original, and I could see the gamers getting annoyed. All along they thought he’d been playing a character or something, but now it was slowly dawning on them that Matt wasn’t being ironic; the dude really loved Club Penguin that much.
Finally one of them told him to shut the hell up about Club Penguin, that it was a stupid game for little kids, and that none of them actually liked it. They just thought the club penguin memes were funny, and had taken part in the “speed runs” trend that had occured right before the servers shut down, to see how fast they could get banned from the game by saying horrific things in the game chat.
I saw rage in Matt’s eyes. He got up without saying a word, picked up his tray, and walked to an empty table at the other side of the cafeteria. The gamers just about died laughing.
After that, Matt’s behavior got more bizarre. He drew even further into himself and wouldn’t speak to anyone, not even teachers. He stopped caring about his appearance; instead of fresh new penguin shirts, he now wore the same one every day, along with penguin print pajama pants, and big fluffy orange slippers shaped like penguin feet. He stopped even pretending to care about class. Now he’d just sit there with headphones in drawing ever more elaborate penguin murals. Once he left his phone on his desk and I glanced at it. He was listening to the Happy Feet soundtrack on repeat.
During that time period, I only heard him speak one other time. One of the teachers, in her continual quest to be “cool” and “relatable” to the kids, had posted a meme on her wall. It was an advice animal. You probably know the one I’m talking about: its called “Unpopular Opinion Puffin” and it had some lame line about homework actually being good for you. Except, the teacher accidentally called it “Unpopular Opinion Penguin,” and Matt completely flipped out. I mean he lost it, screaming that it was a picture of a puffin—an ugly, dirty, disgusting bird, the rats of the arctic—and absolutely nothing at all like the majestic penguin. He called the teacher an “uneducated, backwards-ass, redneck ignoramus” and started spouting off facts about the differences between puffins and penguins, while the teacher stood there in shock. Matt got in some trouble for that one, but nothing too serious came of it.
Things finally came to a head near the end of second semester. Our Earth Science teacher was trying something new to get us students more engaged. Instead of a midterm test, he was assigning a project: a presentation in front of the class on a topic of our choosing. Matt ripped out his headphones and perked up in his chair.
To make sure no topics were doubled up on, the teacher had everyone pick a number out of a hat. Which ever number you got was the order in which you picked your topic. Matt got second and he was grinning ear to ear. We all knew what he would pick. But then one of the class clown types in the back row drew first choice. And if you know anything about school bullies, you already know what he chose for his topic.
Matt screamed and slammed his fist down on his desk. He stood up fuming, picked up his book and threw it at the wall. Then he flipped his desk over and stormed out of the room raging. And I swear to God, he ran out waddling, flapping his arms, and honking like a penguin.
The entire classroom burst into laughter. The teacher gave us the evil eye and told the class clown who’d started this whole thing to see him after class.
Matt got suspended for a day for his outburst. When he came back the next class my teacher made the other kid apologize to him. He said he’d only been joking and that Matt could have penguins for his topic, and he’d choose something else. Matt jumped up, hopped over to him, draped his arm over him like a wing, and cooed appreciatively in his ear. The other kid arched his face away from Matt, called him a weirdo under his breath and then sat down awkwardly, his face glowing red from embarrassment. The rest of us sat in silence wondering if that had really just happened.
Our teacher gave us a week of class time for research and to prepare our presentations. Matt spent the entire week in the back glued to his computer screen, typing feverishly, and stopping every once in awhile to laugh to himself as if to say: Ohh Matt… you beautiful, beautiful genius. That line’s gonna kill!
Finally the day for our presentations came and everyone was on the edge of theirs seats waiting to see what Matt was going to try and pull off. And he did not disappoint.
Half way through class Matt waddled in dressed head to toe in a full penguin costume. I mean a super detailed, expensive looking, full on Comic-Con cosplayer level costume. The current presenter stopped mid sentence and the room was dead silent as Matt waddled over to his seat.
My teacher had told us we could bring snacks to eat during the presentations, popcorn and such, as a reward for working so hard on our presentations. Matt plopped down at a desk in the front row and popped open a can of sardines. They stank like death, and he spent the class period slurping them down, apparently swallowing them whole.
One of the other students did her presentation on sea lions, and when Matt saw the subject he honked, threw his head down on his desk to hide his eyes, and covered his ears for the entire presentation.
Finally it was Matt’s turn to present. We held our breaths as he waddled up to the front in his ridiculous penguin costume. Here’s the contents of his speech, as close as I can remember:
“My name is Matt and I'm here today to explain why Penguins are the greatest animal that has ever, and will ever, grace the face of this planet! Before I get too scientific allow me to introduce some food for thought: Penguins are an aquatic, flightless bird. Think about that for just a second. They're birds, but instead of using their wings to fly, they use them to swim underwater! Ha! Imagine that! They’re God’s little enigma. There’s nothing else like them on earth!”
“What about the flying fish?” the class clown yelled out. A snicker went through the room and Matt glared at him.
“Wha… what? No. That’s totally different. Shut up. YOU JUST SHUT UP OK?”
“Stay calm please Matt,” said the teacher. “No more interruptions class, it’s extremely disrespectful. Next person to interrupt a presenter is heading straight for the office. Please procede Matt.”
“Thank you, allow me to continue after being so rudely interrupted. Here’s some penguin facts. FACT: there are 17 species of penguins and they all live exclusively in the southern hemisphere. FACT: the earliest penguin fossils are from 60 million years ago, that means the ancestors of the birds you see today outlived the extinction of the dinosaurs! FACT: Most penguins mate with the same member of the opposite sex every year and return to the same place every year to use the same nest they were born in. How's that loyalty, am I right? FACT: Most penguin species are feminists! The male incubates the egg while the female goes out to hunt. Talk about gender equality! Also, fat male penguins are the most desirable in the eyes of females because of their ability to keep eggs warm. Doesn’t sound so bad, right fellas? I myself have been trying to put on a few pounds to make my costume more realistic.”
Now that I think about it, he did look fatter. He began to strut and waddle back and forth across the front of the room in his penguin suit, hopping on one foot then the other and flapping; apparently to demonstrate his penguin-ness. We all sat in stunned, awkward silence, even the teacher. “Don’t I look great? God I wish I was a penguin…” this he said quietly, staring off into space, as if he were the only one in the room. Then he snapped out of it and walked back behind the desk and put a powerpoint presentation up on the screen. He began to flip through pictures of the different species of penguin.
“Here is the Gentoo Penguin: the fastest swimmer of all penguins, clocking in at 22 mph. And here’s the Chinstrap Penguin, the most common penguin of all with a worldwide population of over 13 millions. This one’s the Rockhopper Penguin, so named for its ability hop from rock to rock up to their nesting place. They jump with both feet together and can reach heights up to five feet! And finally, the largest, greatest, the most magnificent, the most majestic, and the most beautiful of all the penguins, my personal favorite, the Emperor Penguin!”
“The Emperor Penguin can reach heights over 4 feet tall, and tips the scales at up to 90 pounds. That’s almost the same size as some of you ladies here!” He said this with a wink that made me cringe so hard I felt nauseous. The second hand embarrassment was killing me, and looking around the room I was far from alone. He seemed not to notice at all and continued: “In fact, penguins are very similar to humans in a lot of ways. They’re intelligent, loyal, hardy, hard working. They lay only one egg at a time, just like humans only have one baby at a time. Mommy and Daddy penguins take turns warming the egg too, just like human parents take turns caring for the baby.”
He switched to another picture, a close up of a female Emperor Penguin. He stared at it with stars in his eyes, the way some boys might stare at a picture of Jennifer Lawrence or Gal Gadot.
“Such beautiful, feminine creatures. Just look at her. The most beautiful animal on the planet: The glowing yellow patches on the sides of her head like blush, the graceful wings like a dancer, the sleek curves of her body, the nice juicy thighs, that slender sexy beak…”
An awkward silence descended on the room. The second hand embarrassment was practically palabale. And looking at him, I swear to god, he had a boner. A tent pole in his penguin costume, right there in the middle of class. A bird boner. I couldn’t believe it. I looked at the teacher. The color had drained from his face, his mouth hung open, and he appeared to be frozen in shock.
Matt was sweating profusely now. He clicked the button and the picture on the projector screen changed again, this time to a very graphic video of two penguins mating. The entire class let out a groan of disgust.
“My god, just look at that. So natural, so beautiful, so damn sexy. I swear to God, if I was a penguin I’d never stop breeding. It’s all I’d ever do. I’d let that penguin sleep in my bed every night, I’d take her sleek, puffy, wet little body in my arms, I’d kiss her beak, I’d turn her around and I’d–”
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” screamed my teacher, finally. “THAT'S WAY WAY MORE THAN ENOUGH MATTHEW! This is completely inappropriate for this class, and just downright…. Disgusting! Get the hell out of my classroom right this instant. You go straight to the principal's office or I’ll send security to hunt you down and drag your ass down there!”
Matt looked utterly confused. “But… I’m not done with my presentation.”
“Out! Right goddamn now! Get out of my classroom!” My teacher jumped up and unplugged the projector, cutting off the penguin porn. Matt hung his head and trudged out of the classroom, the penguin beak on his costume flopping down over his face making him look extra dejected.
We sat in awkward silence for about ten seconds. Then someone said “Well, that was… something.” The room burst into laughter, and this time the teacher was laughing with us.
There was a blizzard that night and we had off of school for snow days the next two days. The day we got back Matt was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t show up the next day either, or the day after that and we just assumed he’d been expelled.
But on the fourth day the Principal showed up in our Earth Science class with the Guidance Counselor and two Grief Counselors in tow. He stood in front of the class and told us there had been a tragic accident and Matt had passed away, and that Grief Counselors were available if anyone needed someone to talk to. A few of the girls cried, but most of us were just confused. I raised my hand and asked what had happened to him. The Principal looked embarrassed and avoided making eye contact. He said it was insensitive to those grieving to go into details at this time, but suffice it say it was an accidental death and a tragedy for the family and that we should all offer them support in anyway we could.
A few days later we got the real story from one of the Juniors who’s dad was a police detective that had been on the scene. Apparently, on the day of Matt’s bizarre presentation, he had gone home after school and built a snowman during the blizzard. Then he’d spent hour after hour filling buckets with water and dumping them over the snowman. He did this late into the night and by the next morning his snowman was a block of ice. Then he’d spent the next day meticulously carving his ice-snowman into a beautiful sculpture: a majestic, to scale, and anatomically correct statue of an Emperor Penguin. A female Emperor Penguin.
The detective said it was a true thing of beauty. Matt had got it perfect down to the last detail. He had the eye of a true artist. The detective said that the ice sculpture could have been in a art gallery somewhere. But the weird thing, or rather, the first weird thing was, the penguin was bent over, its belly touching the ground.
It didn’t take long for the police to put together what had happened next.
That night, with the snow storm still raging, Matt had gone back out to his sculpture in the empty field. This time he was dressed in his penguin costume, his penguin-feet slippers, and nothing else. He cut a hole in the front of his costume, and then packed the penguin-statue vagina full of snow.
Then, he fucked the penguin.
And when he came, his dick froze to the ice of the sculpture. It froze just like that kid’s tongue froze to the flagpole when he licked it in that “A Christmas Story” movie.
And that's how they found him two days later. Alone in a field, frozen to death, his dick stuck to the inside of a penguin ice sculpture with a HUGE smile on his face.