by Kevin Mercurio
The neighbourhood street was calm and still, as the residents had been sound asleep for a few hours now. Driveways were lined with cars and only a few houses had dimly lit windows, usually of a child pretending to fall asleep but through defiance stayed up playing his favourite video game.
That was the case in the Dawkins household. The main floor was dark, though walls were lined with family portraits and reflected moonlight cascading through the front windows. Up the stairs, Timothy had just finished the multiplayer, online campaign for The Perfect Crime, a game in which you played a detective that was able to go back in time to solve gruesome murders. The main character, Detective Jerry Sambro, was a rising star at the precinct, always able to identify exactly how murders were performed and who committed the crime. The caveat to his powers was that he could not prevent the murder, as that would result in time travel discrepancies likely beyond that of the game creator’s expertise. Consequently, Detective Sambro was incredibly accurate. So much so, that when he eventually committed the murder of his own wife, he continued to go back in time until he got the murder just right to avoid suspicion from his fellow officers. That was the point of the game.
Timothy couldn’t sleep. Visuals of death, courtrooms and paperwork circled in his mind whenever he closed his eyes. He realized what he was missing. He searched his room, but couldn’t find it anywhere. He checked under his bed, in his closet, behind his desk, but it was no where to be seen. He was becoming anxious and had to find it fast.
His mom, a professor at the University of Ottawa, was sound asleep in the other room. Her husband, a mechanic at a nearby garage, was snoring loudly beside her. In an extreme panic, Dr. Dawkins sat up out of bed. It was so sudden that Timothy, who had sneaked into his parents’ room to look for the toy, had jumped back in fright, bumping into the dresser behind him and sending books, cosmetics and other items crashing to the floor.
“Oh no!” Dr. Dawkins exclaimed.
“Ahhhhh!” Timothy shrieked.
“What the—“ Bill opened this eyes and wiped the drool off his face. “What’s going on? Timothy? What are you doing up?”
“I forgot it at the lab,” Dr. Dawkins said.
“Forgot what? Timothy, what are you doing here?”
“I can’t find my penguin,” Timothy said.
“The penguin G-pa gave him,” Dr. Dawkins said. “He left it in my office yesterday and I forgot to bring it back.”
“I can’t sleep without it,” Timothy frowned.
“Oh c’mon, can we just wait until tomorrow?”
“No, I was supposed to bring it for him. I’ll get it.”
“Honey, it’s one o’clock in the morning.”
“But Bill,” Timothy said, “I can’t sleep without it.”
“It won’t be too long, no one’s on the streets this late.”
“It’s just a penguin Tim,” Bill said, “you have a bunch of other toys, don’t you?”
“It’s not just any toy, Bill. You know how much that penguin means to him. He didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye.”
“I miss G-pa. It reminds me of him, when he would do those boring animal shows at bedtime. It helped me sleep.”
“It’ll be quick.”
“Ugh. Don’t forget to put your lights on.”
Dr. Dawkins hopped out of bed and got dressed. She put Timothy in his room and tucked him back into bed. She surrounded him with his other stuffed animals: an elephant, a giraffe, a monkey, a bear. He was covered by so many toys that his face could barely be seen.
“It’s not the same without the penguin,” Timothy said.
“I know, love. I’ll be fast, and then the zoo will be complete,” Dr. Dawkins smiled and kissed him on the forehead.
She climbed into her car and headed to the laboratory. Dr. Dawkins was driving faster than usual. Her group had decided to do a thorough cleaning of the lab, which included the office space that held most of her things. She had decided to bring home the majority of her valuables. However, she left the larger items in the hallway outside the lab. There weren’t that many other active labs around, and the members of adjacent groups were extremely friendly and trustworthy.
There was a loud thump! and Dr. Dawkins slammed on the breaks. She didn’t see what she had hit. She pulled over to the side and got out of the car. She walked a few steps back to when she heard the sound and saw a bunny that had hopped onto the sidewalk. The bunny was still alive, however it seemed slightly injured from the crash. As Dr. Dawkins tried to approach, the bunny awkwardly hopped away into nearby bushes. Disappointed in herself, she walked back to her car, turned on her lights, and continued to the laboratory.
Dr. Dawkins arrived and parked her car in the empty lot. She gave the surprised security guard a greeting and took the elevator to her floor of the building. It was quiet. The only sound that was heard was the low humming of deep freezers and other research equipment. As she passed the neighbouring labs, she noticed they had decided to clean their spaces as well, evident by the large amount of chairs, tables and boxes lining the sides of the hallway. It was difficult to distinguish when their stuff ended and hers began.
To her surprise, there was no penguin in the hallway. She moved tables and shelving units, opened large boxes, but couldn’t find it anywhere. She checked the boxes of the other research groups— still nothing. She entered the door to her lab, and to her pointless desire, searched the empty office space and around research equipment. The penguin was no where to found.
Dr. Dawkins began retracing her steps throughout the day, wondering if she had brought her things to other locations in the building. She checked the women’s washroom, peered through the administrative office door window, the kitchenette area, even both elevators. Finally, she frantically went back to the security desk and asked the guard if someone had found a giant, stuffed penguin. There was no penguin in the “Lost & Found” cabinet.
“Are you sure? Can you check your office behind you?”
“Miss, I can assure you that we do not keep stuffed penguins in the security office.”
Dr. Dawkins went back to her car and started driving. Perhaps she had brought it to the car and dropped it somewhere before going home. She thought about where she had went that afternoon: the pharmacy, the grocery store, the garage to pick up Bill. It just wouldn’t make sense to bring the penguin along while going inside these locations. The penguin was, to everyone’s disbelief, a full meter in height.
G-pa, or Grandpa, was Dr. Dawkins’ father and was very close with Timothy throughout his early childhood. After the divorce with Timothy’s biological father, G-pa would often look after Timothy while Dr. Dawkins was busy with work at the university. They would go to the park, get ice cream, even play video games together. One day, G-pa took Dr. Dawkins and Timothy to the local fair and played the carnival game where you had to get these balls into a basket tilted at a 45° angle. Most people would try and lightly arc the ball in, but this is a common mistake. The real trick, which G-pa knew, was to throw the ball hard, at the top of the basket, which would angle the ball down to the bottom and remain there even with more bouncing. G-pa got all three balls to stay in the basket, and won the biggest prize at the fair: an enormous Emperor Penguin.
It was this next part that remained vivid in Dr. Dawkins’ memory. Upon receiving it, G-pa knelt down, looked Timothy in the eyes and said, “These games, Tim, are as easy as they look. But they take some critical thinking. If you have to get these balls in the basket, or get plastic rings around a bottle, it is not as simple as doing what makes the most sense. Think about why these games exist in the first place. There’s always a catch, and it’s your job to find it. With this penguin, I know you can outsmart them, because you are smarter than them. And I hope that—“
At that moment, Dr. Dawkins had accidentally passed a red light and, without having her lights on, was not seen by an oncoming vehicle from the left side.
Dr. Dawkins woke up in a hospital bed. To her left, there was an IV bag dripping fluids into a tube connected to her arm. Subtle beeps! were heard that monitored her heart rate, which at the time was calm. Her left hand was completely scarred with small scratches. Her right leg had been propped up and was sealed in a large cast. On the far right wall next to the entrance of the room was Bill and Timothy, sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder on uncomfortable waiting room chairs. She had her own private room, usually given to patients in the intensive care unit.
A large white board was on the wall in front of her. Scribbles of black marker listed various medications and times for check-ups by the doctor and nurses. At the top of the board wrote “Reconstructive Surgery”. She brought her right hand to her face, but was met with gauze bandaging.
“Oh god, no…” Dr. Dawkins pleaded.
This woke up Bill, who shook Timothy awake as well.
“Mom!” Timothy yelled.
“No no no, my face,” Dr. Dawkins whispered. Her voice was strained.
“Oh honey, don’t move too much,” Bill said.
“What happened? How long have I been out?”
“About two days. It was one hell of a crash. Police say you ran a red light and collided with another vehicle who hit you on the left side. Your vehicle rolled into a ditch.”
“Oh my god. I must’ve forgot to put my lights on.”
“I don’t think that would have saved you.”
“And the driver of the other car?”
“He was in critical condition, just like you. Though I was told he passed earlier this morning.”
Dr. Dawkins closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“I’m happy you’re alive mom,” Timothy said after a long pause.
“I’m happy to see you, honey,” Dr. Dawkins said.
“Are you hungry? I was thinking of swinging by the convenience store across the street to grab us a some lunch. Tim wanted a brownie. I know it’s early but I think the little guy deserves one.”
“They’re really big. Bill brought me there yesterday during your surgery and I could barely finish it.”
Dr. Dawkins smiled, to the best of her ability. “Of course, but I’m okay,” she said. “Thank you, Bill.”
“I’ll be back. Tim, time me. I bet you my brownie that I’ll be back here in six minutes. Can you set your watch?”
“Ready,” Tim said.
“Okay, counting down. Three. Two. One. Start!” Bill flew threw the doorway, almost colliding with the doctor who entered the room. Dr. Dawkins and Timothy laughed.
“Looks like someone is awake now,” the doctor said. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” Dr. Dawkins said, “though my leg is a bit stiff.”
The doctor laughed. “Glad you’re making light of the situation.”
“Five minutes left,” Timothy said.
“What’re we counting down to, Tim?”
“Bill bet me he would be able to get lunch at the coffee shop across the street and be back in six minutes.”
“What do you get if you win?”
“His brownie, along with mine.”
“That’s a lot of brownies.”
“I would say too many,” Dr. Dawkins added.
“Aw, I won’t eat them all at once.”
The doctor asked a few more questions and went through the checklist on his board. He checked the monitor, facial bandages, and ensured the leg cast was fit properly.
“Four minutes left,” Timothy said.
“Doctor, how extensive was my reconstructive surgery?”
“You want the honest truth?”
“Please, and don’t hold back.”
“The other car was travelling fast went it collided on your left side. So much so that it had pummelled the driver’s window into the left side of your face. There was also extensive battering to your nose and mouth, likely against the steering wheel when your car rolled into the ditch in the far corner of the intersection. Your nose was completely broken, eyes were swollen shut, and you might notice that there are two teeth missing on your right side. That was just your facial area. Your right leg had been broken in several places. Femur bone had snapped in two, and your knee cap was shattered into multiple pieces. It’ll be some time before you can walk again, but rest assured that you will be able to walk again.”
“Three minutes left,” Timothy said.
“And the other driver?”
“The other driver was speeding down the road perpendicular to yours. He wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and got ejected from the vehicle. Skull was cracked, and there was a deep laceration on his right shoulder, not to mention the six broken ribs. He had lost a lot of blood by the time paramedics made it on scene. Upon his arrival, he went through a long surgery to stop the brain hemorrhage and close the shoulder wound. Sixteen hours of work. He was having difficulty breathing after the surgery and was put on life support. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his injuries and passed this morning with his family by his side.”
“Two minutes left,” Timothy said.
“Oh my god,” Dr. Dawkins uttered, not knowing how to react.
“You seem to have stabilized. But rest up, you have a long road to recovery ahead.”
With a final check of his clipboard, and a quick scribble on the white board in front of the bed, the doctor walked out of the room.
Dr. Dawkins was full of mixed feelings. She was thankful that she had survived the crash and was able to see her family again. On the other hand, someone had died. That could have just as easily been her, passing into the early hours of dawn next to her husband and son. She had been extremely fortunate that her injuries were not as serious, and thought about the road to her recovery. Hard days of rehabilitation followed by long periods of rest.
“One minute left,” Timothy said, “I don’t think he’s going to make it.”
Dr. Dawkins thought about two nights before. She remembered that she was on the way home from the lab. She tried to remember why she was there to begin with. It seemed like she was there really late at night, as there were very little people around in the building. A hallway full of chairs, tables and boxes. An empty lot. Turning on the lights in the car. Timothy bumping into the dresser. She was looking for the penguin.
Dr. Dawkins looked out the glass panel into the hall and saw a woman and daughter sitting, holding each other. She looked at them for a while. The daughter comforting her mother, rhythmically shaking up and down. This was interrupted by the faint sound of sirens.
“Time’s up,” Timothy cheered. “That’s two brownies for me!”
The rattle of police sirens became increasing louder, and finally settled outside the window which faced the convenience store.
Dr. Dawkins finished her daily session at the rehabilitation centre. It was a gruelling hour of forced walking and stretching. When the hour was up, she chose to lie down for a few minutes and catch her breath.
It was a month since the crash. The wounds on her left hand had healed. There were very few scars left on her face from the reconstructive surgery: a small cut on the middle of her forehead and another cut on the left side of her cheek. Her nose was badly damaged from the crash and thus was a bit deformed, with less protrusion and slanted towards the right. Otherwise, she was on her way to a full recovery.
She thought about the funeral last week for Bill and the two other patrons of the convenience store. They had tried to stop the robbery. Dylan Paris, an experienced skydiver who was only visiting the area to participate in a World Record at the Gananoque Jump Site, had tried to wrestle the robber to the ground at the cash register. Kelly Tubman, an undertaker at the local morgue, was unfortunately caught in the crossfire upon entry into the shop. Bill had also tried to wrestle the shotgun from the robber with Paris, but was shot and killed. The robber later found himself in a shootout with police, killing one officer before he committed suicide.
Dr. Dawkins cried. What a barbaric end to such prosperous lives.
“Why did he do it,” she whispered to herself.
Dr. Dawkins sat up and walked to the entrance of the rehabilitation centre. She sat down in the lounge area waiting for her mother to pick her up. To pass the time, she took out her phone and opened the Chirper app to update herself on the happenings of the world, and to restrict her thoughts from wandering into unwanted territory. She first looked at the most popular stories. Globally, there were many trending headlines that caught her eye: #Brexit, #climatestrikes, #climatestrikesback, #scalenewriting, #thesurgeonserialkiller, #PrayForPuertoRico, #puppies&kitties, #ghostbustersremake, #MarchForOurLives, #sunshinestartssoon, #hashtagsfordays, #LetsTalkHealth, #wholesomemes, #iscreamforicecream, #KobeFarewell, #faithinhumanityrestored, #flatearthbustysun, #babyyoda, #firstworldproblems, #igotaflushot.
She scanned through the top stories of each but still felt the same. For some reason, she couldn’t wrestle this feeling of impending hopelessness out of her mind. Even staying on #puppies&kitties had little impact to boost her mood.
Dr. Dawkins returned to her newsfeed and scrolled down the page. Stories of newly published papers and the plannings of scientific conferences flooded the majority of her feed. She came to a post by a student researcher who also worked at the university. Saul Crichtons, a PhD student at the university, had taken various photos of a giant, stuffed penguin doing various human-like tasks. There was one photo of the penguin sitting at a small table, having a cup of coffee and reading a newspaper. There was another picture of the penguin outside on a bicycle. The third picture was the penguin at the lab, pretending to look at a flask full of yellow liquid with protective glasses on. There was even a short stop animation video of the penguin moving things back into the empty office spaces, ending with the penguin ordering a fish taco on a computer to celebrate.
“That’s Tim’s penguin!” She said out loud.
Dr. Dawkins’ mother had stepped into the rehabilitation centre and was walking towards her. “What penguin?”
“The penguin Papa gave Tim. I just found it.”
“You’re still looking for that penguin?” Her mother rolled her eyes.
“It’s very important to him.”
“It seems like he’s moved on, honey.”
They both got into the car and drove home. Dr. Dawkins couldn’t stop looking at the post. She couldn’t believe it. Someone had actually stole the penguin. She opened Saul Crichtons’ Chirper profile and scrolled through it. He was a recent manager at a communications company called Synergy before being laid off due to employee strikes and financial downfalls. His latest posts were of the penguin, and the expressed excitement of having the penguin as the new lab mascot.
Dr. Dawkins sent the following private message to Saul:
Dear Saul, my name is Dr. Rachael Dawkins, and I had recently noticed that you had posted several pictures of a giant, stuffed Emperor Penguin. I was wondering if you had found this penguin in the building. I had a similar stuffed toy belonging to my son, who had left it at my office last month and we have been looking for it since. Unfortunately, I have been on leave and haven’t been around lately. If you found this toy, may I come by and pick it up? Thanks, RD.
Only a few minutes had passed before she had received the following message from Saul:
Hello Dr. Dawkins, and pleasure to speak to you. Yes, I had recently posted pictures of our new lab mascot, Plato the Penguin. I hope they had made you laugh as much as they did to us here. I noticed your name as the main supervisor in the neighbouring lab adjacent to us! Yes, I had found Plato while working late one night. In the middle of our hallway, crazy enough! It is unfortunate that you have not been around to claim it, for we had advertised the finding of Plato for a month, and to contact us if you had owned it. Plato has settled well into our group and we hope that you will understand that we have grown attached to it ourselves. Yours, SC.
Dr. Dawkins immediately responded with the following:
Saul, it is unfair that I have not been able to answer to your advertisement. You see, I had recently been in a car accident that required reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation. I have also been busy tending to other family matters, for which circumstances have brought me to neglect looking at emails and social media. As the sole owner of this penguin, I must demand that this toy be returned as soon as possible. Best, RD.
A few moments later, she received the following response:
I thought your son was the owner of this penguin. SC.
Dr. Dawkins was infuriated. “What is happening?!”
“Is everything okay, Rachael?”
“He’s not giving back the penguin.”
“I don’t know, it’s like he thinks it’s become more valuable to him than to me.”
She replied with the following message:
Listen, I just want the penguin back. It means a lot to my son, who received it from his grandfather who has now passed on. I will pick it up tomorrow. RD.
Almost instantly, she received another message:
Dr. Dawkins, I would like to make you an offer. I have spoken to the other members of this lab who also value Plato the Penguin, and they have suggested the following proposal. You see, students in the building have been trying to think of a fun event that brings together both learners and professors. I think this situation provides an opportunity for an interesting debate. We can provide our arguments as to who should keep the penguin in front of a public audience, and have a panel of students and teachers that judge who is the most deserving. You represent you and your son, and I will represent myself and my research group. Whoever wins the debate can keep Plato the Penguin. Regards, SC.
Dr. Dawkins was shocked. He was making this situation so much more difficult. That penguin belonged to her. Even if she had missed the opportunity to claim the penguin, that doesn’t change the fact that he had stolen it from her. Also, she had no time to debate over something so trivial. How could she waste her time at such a meaningless event? After all that happened, she deserved that penguin.
But she was a scientist. Someone who trained her entire life to argue what was true and what was not. Surely with the evidence she had, she could easily show the panel that she was the rightful owner of the penguin. She followed up with the following question:
When and where? RD.
Saul replied immediately:
Dr. Dawkins, let’s say end of this week, main auditorium, 12pm. People can watch during their lunch break. See you then. Thanks, SC.
They arrived home and, with the help of her mother, Dr. Dawkins slowly headed upstairs to rest in her bed.
Dr. Dawkins arrived in the parking lot and headed into her workplace. Her leg ached with each step, but was assisted with the use of a cane. It had been about a month since she was last here, and so much had changed in her life. In contrast to the night she drove here in search for the penguin, the lot was busy with cars. Her purpose of this trip was the same. However, in this case, she knew she would finally get this toy back.
Timothy had accompanied her to the debate. It was one of Timothy’s Professional Development days, and thus did not have to go to school. He never really understood why teachers had to go to school if there were no students there to teach. Today, he was also a bit upset that he was not able to stay home on account of this debate.
“Couldn’t I stay home with G-ma instead?” Timothy asked.
“I think G-ma is tired and needs some rest. She’s been helping all week driving me to my rehab sessions. Besides, I think this could be fun and educational.”
“But why are you here? Shouldn’t you be resting?”
“I told you, I’m here to get the penguin G-pa gave you at the fair.”
They entered the building and followed the hallway to the main auditorium. On the walls, there were posters promoting the debate:
Student vs. Professor Series
Today’s Skill: Critical Thinking
CRICHTONS vs. DAWKINS
Who will keep, PLATO THE PENGUIN?
Where: Main Auditorium
When: THIS Friday, 12:00 pm
They walked into the auditorium, and to their surprise, the room was packed. Professors, researchers, administrators and students filled the seats, happily eating their lunches as they awaited the highly anticipated event. At the bottom of the room was an open space with a table which sat two professors and two students, each with a clipboard and a pen in front of them. In front of the table sat two chairs facing the audience, each having a microphone and stand. Behind the chairs, there was a large screen projecting a slideshow with pictures of the penguin doing other various human-like tasks: playing intramural volleyball, watching television, and performing a presentation in a meeting room. These pictures were met with giggles by the attendees.
Saul Crichtons was speaking with one of the professors on the panel, Dr. Hitchens, who would serve as the moderator for the debate. Saul noticed that Dr. Dawkins and her son enter the auditorium, and came over to greet them.
“Hello Dr. Dawkins,” Saul said, “a pleasure to finally meet you in person.”
“Pleasure to meet you as well, Saul,” Dr. Dawkins said unenthusiastically.
“And this must be your son. What’s your name, little man?”
“Timothy,” Timothy said.
“And a pleasure to meet you too, Timothy. Glad you both could make it. We'll be starting very soon. Dr. Dawkins, please take a seat in the one of the chairs. Tim, you can sit in the front row next to your mother’s friends who you’ve met before.”
“Where’s the penguin?” Dr. Dawkins asked as she pointed to her colleague and motioned Timothy to sit beside him.
“Plato? Ah yes, I sent my colleague to fetch him upstairs. He will be here shortly.”
Dr. Dawkins walked up to the chairs and sat on the left side. Saul took the seat on the right and smiled at her.
The professor who Saul had been speaking to before stood up and talked into a wireless microphone. “Can I have everyone’s attention, please. We will now begin this event of the ‘Student vs. Professor Series’. As you all know, my name is Dr. Hitchens, and I will serve as the moderator for this debate. The purpose for today’s debate is to determine who is the rightful owner of the beloved Plato the Penguin. We have one of our PhD students here, Saul Crichtons, who has current possession of said penguin. This ownership is challenged by one of our faculty professors, Dr. Rachael Dawkins, who has stated that she is the true owner of the toy.”
Saul Crichtons and Dr. Dawkins smiled and waved to the crowd as their names were said.
Dr. Hitchens continued, “our panel will evaluate the presentation of the evidence, the analysis of said evidence between the two debaters, and arguing for or against said evidence to that which benefits themselves. The fight for this penguin, is as easy as it looks. But it will take some critical thinking. If you have to convince us by only stating your desires, or your interpretations without evidence, it is not as simple as doing what makes the most sense. Think about why we are holding this debate in the first place. There’s always a catch, and it’s your opponent’s job to exploit it.”
Dr. Dawkins looked at Timothy, who waved and gave her a thumbs up.
“We will start with your opening statements, followed by main arguments from the initiator with some debate. We will finish with a final round of dialogue between the two of you and a break at the end for panel members to discuss. With that, let’s begin. To decide who starts, I’ll flip a coin. Saul, since it’s your event, you call it: heads or tails?”
Dr. Hitchens revealed the flipped coin. “Heads it is. Would you like to start, or would you like Dr. Dawkins to start?”
“Please, Dr. Dawkins. The floor is yours.”
As Dr. Hitchens sat down with the panel members, Dr. Dawkins cleared her throat and turned on her microphone. “Hello everyone, and thank you for attending this debate during your lunch. I imagine the topic of this debate is very amusing to most of you, and silly. However to me, and especially my son, this is very serious. You see, the penguin in question, Plato the Penguin, was taken from me one night. My son had forgotten it in my office a month ago, and my team and I had left it out in the common hallway during our latest laboratory cleanup. A forgetful incident after another, I had accidentally left the penguin in the hallway along with other things that belonged to our group. It is at this time that Saul must have taken it, and understandably so, since it must have looked like the penguin had no owner. All I want is to give this back to my son, who had originally received it from his now deceased grandfather. Please. I just want him to have it back.”
“Thank you, Dr. Dawkins, for your opening statement,” Dr. Hitchens said. “Saul, your opening statement.”
Saul turned on his microphone. “Hey everyone, and thank you for supporting our ‘Student vs. Professor Series’. I have asked to hold this debate not to wrestle a toy from a child, but to determine the very thing which drives our feeling of ownership for this toy. Plato the Penguin, as many of you have come to know, has brought joy to many people in this building. It was one night, not too long ago that I, working late hours yet again, found this penguin among the junk of many labs and office spaces conducting their annual cleanup. It was not obvious, just like Dr. Dawkins had said, if the toy had a rightful owner at this time, and it was to my credibility that I took this toy into my possession and advertised its finding to our community. We had the advertisement up for a month without any takers. Now, we will likely hear why Dr. Dawkins was not able to observe this advertisement during this time. However, it was this month that I had brought home this penguin to my baby sister, who had grown to cherish its presence. Every time she sees this toy, it always brings a smile to her face. Dr. Stewart, who also brought the toy home to his nephew, also grew a fondness for this penguin. Many of the pictures you see behind us are taken by members of this community who have found joy in sharing the penguin with their family and friends on social media. Therefore, it is to my respect for fairness that Dr. Dawkins must prove, just like I hope to prove, why she deserves ownership of this penguin.”
Dr. Hitchens finished writing on his clipboard. “Thank you, Saul. Dr. Dawkins, your first argument please.”
Smiling, Dr. Dawkins reached into her jacket pocket and took out a pile of photographs. She walked up to the panel members and laid the photographs on the table. She proceeded back to sit at her chair and turned on her microphone. “My first argument is a simple one. I present to the panel actual photographs of my son playing with the penguin. These photographs were taken over a period of several years, where he is seen playing with the penguin at our house. With these, and the fact that Saul has admitted to finding the penguin among our lab’s things during our annual cleanup, it is obvious that the penguin belongs to me.”
The panel members looked at each of the photographs carefully. They were indeed pictures of Timothy playing with a giant, stuffed Emperor Penguin in a household.
“Thank you Dr. Dawkins,” Dr. Hitchens said. “Saul, your counter-argument.”
Saul thought for a second and then turned on his microphone. “Dr. Dawkins has presented physical photographs of her son and a stuffed penguin to members of the panel. Dr. Dawkins, you believe that this constitutes evidence that the penguin belongs to you?”
Dr. Dawkins looked around and saw many eyes from the audience looking at her, as if she needed to verify this claim. “Yes, I mean the penguin is there for your eyes to see.”
As she said this, Saul walked up to the panel members and presented them a photograph of his own. The members each looked at it carefully, starting with Dr. Hitchens.
“I lay before the panel members a photograph of Dr. Samantha Harris, a past researcher in our group. What you will see is a picture of her and her husband at the local fair, holding a giant, stuffed penguin.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Dr. Dawkins said.
“When was your son born, Dr. Dawkins?” Saul asked.
“These photos predate that of the birth of your son. It is therefore possible that this toy, Plato the Penguin, was left here by none other than Dr. Harris after her death about 10 years ago today.”
The panel members all looked at Saul’s photograph, then back to the photographs provided by Dr. Dawkins.
“Oh c’mon. You found it during our lab’s annual cleanup with the rest of our stuff.”
“On the contrary, Dr. Dawkins. Like I said, it was clearly in the middle of the hallway next to everyone’s stuff. Each group in that corridor, including ours, had our stuff lining the hallway. The penguin could just as easily belonged to any one of us.”
“It seems,” Dr. Hitchens said, “that it will be impossible to tell which of the penguins in these photographs resembles the toy in question. Dr. Dawkins, do you have any other physical evidence of ownership?”
“That’s all I had,” Dr. Dawkins said.
“Perhaps we can go along with who deserves Plato the Penguin more, knowing that there is equal physical evidence between the two of you.”
“But that is my penguin!” Dr. Dawkins exclaimed.
Saul stood up from his chair and walked over to Dr. Dawkins. He leaned into her ear and said, “now I want the truth to come out just as much as you. Let’s use what we’ve learned throughout our careers and really give these people a show.” He pulled away, smiled and sat back down.
“Dr. Dawkins? Would you like to continue with your next argument?” Dr. Hitchens asked.
Dr. Dawkins looked down and closed her eyes. She thought about how she could convince people that this penguin was truly hers. She thought about Timothy sleeping with the penguin practically every night. She thought about G-pa kneeling down and giving Timothy the penguin for the very first time. She thought about what drove her to come to this ridiculous debate in the first place.
“Yes, um, for my second argument, I know I deserve the penguin more. Well, my family deserves the penguin more, because of how much time Tim, my son, plays with this penguin. Yes. In fact, Tim has many different animals that together, we call the zoo. He plays with this zoo almost everyday.”
“So the penguin belongs to the one who it brings the most entertainment and joy,” Saul rephrased. “Let me ask you Dr. Dawkins, how long does your son usually play with the penguin?”
“Probably at least an hour a night.”
“Split among the other stuffed animals he has, which for the sake of argument, we’ll say is around four in total. That’s about 15 minutes a day since he was given the penguin? How long ago was that?”
“His grandpa gave him the penguin about three years ago.”
“Doing the math in my head, that would be about… 11.4 days of total entertainment value.”
“Panel members, for the last month Plato the Penguin has always been in use. Whether that be entertaining my baby sister, to playing with Dr. Stewart’s nephew, to our group’s weekly meetings and those of my peers’ meetings. Frankly, if you also count the entertainment value of all those people who viewed our photos of Plato the Penguin on social media, we have equal if not more entertainment and joy brought to people in my possession than in Dr. Dawkins’ possession. I mean, didn’t you and Tim forget the penguin in your office?”
There was a short pause. Dr. Dawkins pulled on her microphone. “Yes that did happen.”
“Saul does raise a good point,” Dr. Hitchens said, “that if we want to use entertainment or joy value, obviously subjectively measured, it seems we have various people receiving entertainment from the penguin in Saul’s possession as opposed to just one person in Dr. Dawkins possession. A utilitarian argument, unfortunately, but for this debate it seems to hold true.”
Dr. Dawkins looked in disbelief at Tim and then at Saul.
“Dr. Dawkins, would you like to continue with your third argument?” Dr. Hitchens inquired.
“Yes,” Dr. Dawkins paused to think again. “Tim needs the penguin, to, sleep properly, Yes. Actually, let me step back a little here, to a month ago. Timothy woke me and my now deceased husband up in the middle of the night looking for the penguin so that he could finally sleep. I had realized that I had forgotten the toy in my office, so I came here to look for it. The penguin was taken away, by Saul, unbeknownst to me at the time, and on my way home I was in an unfortunate accident that led to reconstructive surgery on my face, minor cuts and a broken leg. Anyway, Tim needs the penguin to have a good night’s sleep, and therefore the penguin should be returned back to me, and to him.”
Saul pulled on his microphone. “Why does Tim need this toy to sleep?”
“He’s afraid at night sometimes.”
“What makes him afraid?”
She looked at Timothy. “He’s a child, Saul. I’m sure his imagination is a scary place.”
“Does he watch R-rated movies, Dr. Dawkins?”
“Let me rephrase that. Do you allow him to watch movies that could scare him?”
“How about video games?”
“He plays video games, yes, but nothing bad.”
“So he doesn’t play any scary or violent video games?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
Saul pulled out another photograph. “I have in my hand a screenshot of a game lobby. The game in question is called ‘The Perfect Crime’. I will describe the game in brief. Characters in the lobby play police officers at a precinct. One person is selected to be Detective Jerry Sambro, who is able to go back in time and solve gruesome murders. The catch to his powers is that he could not prevent the murder. But the point of the game, for players that get to be Detective Sambro, is to commit the perfect crime of killing his wife, fooling the other players in his precinct who are trying to solve the murder without his help.”
“How the hell did you know that, Saul?”
He ignored her. “Like I said, the photograph is a picture of the game lobby, where you can see the names of each of the players. Who is the sixth player in the game lobby, Dr. Hitchens?”
Dr. Hitchens looked closely at the photograph. “It says Timothy Dawkins.”
“Are you serious? There are probably many Timothy Dawkins in the world, I’m sure that could have been any one of them.”
“Does your son own a copy of ‘The Perfect Crime'?”
“Yes he does, but…”
“Are there violent scenes in the game that could scare a child?”
“Enough to have trouble sleeping?”
“This has nothing to do with the penguin. Frankly, I feel like you’re attacking the way I raise my son.”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing. You made him depend on a toy for comfort when he was likely seeking comfort in you. He has personified this comfort within some inanimate object when you could have taught him a lesson that could save him from fear in the future.”
“Now hold on there, Saul,” Dr. Hitchens interrupted. “Let’s not get too carried away in this debate. Now the comfort value is indeed an interesting argument and perhaps Dr. Dawkins seemed to have induced this comfort in a toy when she may have been able to provide comfort herself.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” Dr. Dawkins said.
“Do you have a fourth argument, Dr. Dawkins?”
“C’mon, what really drives you to get this penguin back?” Saul whispered.
Dr. Dawkins closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “This penguin, means a lot to me and my family. This whole month has been quite overwhelming for us. The car crash, the robbery at the convenience store across the hospital… There was so much death around us. It reminds me of my father… Tim calls him G-pa. We lost G-pa to pneumonia about two years ago. The year before that, I remember he took Tim and I to the local fair, and played one of those carnival games. You know, the one where you have to get three plastic balls in a slightly slanted bucket. Well, the man did it. With ease too. It was magnificent. He won the biggest prize at the fair, which was a giant, stuffed Emperor Penguin. He immediately gave it to Tim. It was the last gift he received from him and it means a hell-of-a-lot to us. Please. Please, give us back the penguin.”
“A strong argument,” Dr. Hitchens said.
“Sentimental value,” Saul said. “Dr. Dawkins, you’ve attributed sentimental value to this penguin. I get that that is a very powerful thing.”
“Is it something you will be able to see?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, is there sentimental value in that coat you are wearing?”
“What about the microphone in front of you?”
“But there is sentimental value in this penguin?”
“And you will be able to distinguish this?”
At that moment, a man who was standing in the back began walking down the auditorium steps to the front of the room where Saul and Dr. Dawkins were seated. He was holding two giant, stuffed Emperor Penguins. He first presented the penguins to the panel members, and then walked over to Dr. Dawkins and placed them in front of her. He proceeded to walk back to where he was standing at the back of the room.
“Thank you Jordan. Now Dr. Dawkins, could you distinguish which penguin is the one that the now deceased G-pa gave to Tim on that day at the local fair?”
“You’re joking, you’ve had two penguins this whole time? Why don’t you just keep the other one then?”
“Please, Dr. Dawkins, your choice.”
Dr. Dawkins looked at the two penguins. They were basically identical. It’s obvious that there was no physical manifestation of sentimental value she could see. However, she noticed a bit of discolouration in the white coat of the left penguin. It seemed that this one was a bit older than the other. She went for it.
“Okay Saul, I’ll play your games. It’s the left one.”
“Are you sure?”
“Dr. Dawkins, I’m sorry, you’re wrong. Neither of these penguins is the one G-pa gave Tim.”
“No, the penguin is actually at the back of the room with Jordan. You see, there is no real difference in these toys, is there? We as humans attribute value to these inanimate objects, but there is nothing that really connects us to these toys. In fact, if I gave you any of the penguins in front of you now and said that it was the one you wanted, we wouldn’t be here today.”
“What the fuck, Saul. Why are you doing this? Can I just have the real penguin back?”
“We’ve just established that any penguin will do. Why do you want that specific penguin back?”
“Just give it back. Tim, we’re leaving. Jordan, please come down and give us back that penguin.”
She looked at Timothy who, for an entire ten seconds, did not blink once, nor show signs of life at all. She looked at Dr. Hitchens, who was stuck in a mid turn-around motion to look at Jordan at the back of the room. Jordan had been bent over to pick up the penguin, and just never stood back up.
Dr. Dawkins looked at Saul Crichtons. He began changing, morphing into an entity that Dr. Dawkins could only watch in fear. The features on his face and body began to mold into his skin. He became featureless. His hair, his eyes and his mouth disappeared. His arms began to join with his torso, while his legs also joined together as one. He looked naked, but without any features he didn’t seem like he was. His skin tone become a pearly white.
“What the hell are you?” Dr. Dawkins said.
In a deep voice it said, “why do you want this penguin, Rachael?”
“Because! I never got to say goodbye. He died early. He had many long years ahead of him, and then poof! died to some infection in the lungs! He didn’t deserve that. And I was a terrible daughter, just awful. I never really appreciated him. I didn’t even want to go to the fair that day, but Tim convinced me to come. It’s the last good memory I have of him and me. I miss him dearly.”
After all this, she wiped the tears from her eyes and looked at Saul again. He had become this white, human-like, featureless figure.
“What. The. Fuck. Are. You?”
“I have many names. I’ve been called Malak al Mawt, Azrael, Sariel, Dhumavati, La Catrina. I am Death. I randomly selected you as the one I surround myself with so that I can understand the human condition. For although I guide many of your kind to the afterlife, I do not fully understand the traditions and values you impose on one another. I am here and there. There is no time and space that I do not occupy. Yet, I feel that I am both seen and not seen. I am cried about, and forgotten about. But in all cases, I am negative.”
“You are a plague amongst my kind.”
“But why is that? I am not the one who crashed the car into you. I am not the one who robbed the coffee shop. I am not the bacterium that infected your father’s lungs.”
“But you were there. Why didn’t you stop it?”
“It’s choices. Humans make choices that impact each other. Why did that man crash his car into you? Why did the robber shoot your husband? Why did the cleaners of the ventilation system forget to clean the vents to your fathers room? I am merely a consequence of human actions.”
“You have the power to give and change people’s choices! You choose to wait in the shadows and do nothing. Why? What happens if you change whether someone dies or not?”
“Nothing, time in this instance is shifted like another vector.”
“So why not give me that choice?”
Death thought about this for a while. “Okay. I will give you a choice. I will revive the ones you love. But, like your father said, there’s always a catch.”
“What’s the catch?”
“I will revive your father and husband, and only them. But in your eyes they will embody similar looking toys to what your son Timothy plays with. To every other person, they will look normal.”
“What are they going to look like?”
Death pointed to the toys on the floor. “They will resemble stuffed animals, like those penguins in front of you.”
Dr. Dawkins thought about this for a few moments. She really missed her husband and father. At least to everyone else they would look like normal people. It would just seem rather odd to be talking to a toy.
“Do you let them go, or make them live again?” Death asked.
“I choose to make them live again.”
“So be it.”
Death expanded and filled the room, engulfing Dr. Dawkins in white light to the point where she could not hold open her eyes anymore. After a few minutes, the brightness ceased and she slowly began opening her eyes again.
Rachael woke up in a hospital bed. To her right, there was an IV bag that dripped fluids into a tube connect to her arm. Subtle beeps! were heard that monitored her heart rate, which was calm. Her right hand was completely scarred with small scratches. Her left leg had been propped up and was sealed in a large cast. On the far left wall next to the entrance of the room was Timothy and her mother, sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder on uncomfortable waiting room chairs. She had her own private room, usually given to patients in the intensive care unit.
Surrounding the two was a giant, stuffed penguin and monkey, along with various other stuffed animals; an elephant, a giraffe, and a bear.
A large white board was on the wall in front of her. Scribbles of red marker listed various medications and times for check-ups by the doctor and nurses. At the top of the board wrote “Reconstructive Surgery”. Rachael brought her left hand to her face, but was met with gauze bandaging.
“Oh god, no…” Rachael pleaded.
This woke up her mother, who shook Timothy awake as well. The penguin and the monkey also opened their eyes and stretched. They all walked over to the hospital bed.
“Mom!” Timothy yelled.
“No no no, my face,” Rachael whispered. Her voice was strained.
“Oh honey, don’t move too much,” her mother said.
“What happened? How long have I been out?”
“About two days,” her father said, reaching out his wing to her hand. “It was one hell of a crash. Police say you ran a red light and collided with another vehicle who hit you from the left side. Your vehicle rolled into a ditch.”
“Oh my god. I must’ve forgot to put my lights on.”
“I don’t think that would have saved you,” her husband said, hanging upside-down from the heart rate monitor.”
“And the driver of the other car?”
“He was in critical condition, just like you. He passed earlier this morning,” her mother said.
Rachael closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“I’m happy you’re alive mom,” Timothy said after a quiet pause.
“I’m happy to see you, honey,” Rachael said, “and all of you as well.”
“Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”
-- Steve Jobs