It was nearly all the way on the other side of the island! After another foray into the card catalog, and exploration of the library shelves, Penelope found a map of Ocean End and located herself on it. Then with some memory of where she had been and how she had traveled, she located the approximate whereabouts of the yellow house that she had left that morning, nestled on the side of a mountain with a foot hill that she had ridden past when Tom first gave her a ride. She found out that her half day long journey had transplanted her on to the other side of the island from where she started, where she now needed to be.
Penelope was very far from crying now. Now she found the anger and determination to plan. Yes, she was on the other side of the island, but it had only taken her half a day to get there by car, with stops!—long and pointless stops, as a matter-a-fact. And they had traveled around the edge of the island. Seeing the landmarks on the map made her sure of that. If she traveled a little straighter back, though up over part of the mountain, even if she was on foot, maybe she could make it back before the day was over and the chirping of the night insects again filled up the night.
Luella and Old Egbert didn’t even look up from their reading when Penelope left through the front door and struck out across the field in which the library was located. She was pretty sure of her direction, but just in case, she had made a quick copy of the map on a piece of scratch paper she found next to the pencils on a study desk.
At least it was sunny and breezy and not very hot at all. Penelope had a passing thought that this was just the sort of weather that made her forget about how easily she burned. She didn’t have any sunblock with her, so there was really no point in worrying about it. Very soon it seemed to Penelope as though she had been walking forever. She was thirsty, and she realized that the tea she had had with Twibble had been the only drink she had all day—the only drink and the only food. No wonder she was tired and so prone to crying.
As she walked Penelope spotted something in the distance that was not on her hastily drawn map. How could she have been in such a hurry that she didn’t realize she would have to cross a river? Though, as she thought of it, Penelope was sure that her hurry and memory were not really the problem. The map she had been using in the library had been missing a few very important land features. How could a map maker miss a river?
Wondering idly about cartography wasn’t going to get her over the river, however. Penelope now stood on the bank and surveyed the obstacle in her path. It was pretty far across, nothing like the Mississippi river, that Penelope could really only imagine, as she had never been there, but it was much too far across to even try jumping. The darkness toward the center lead Penelope to believe that it got pretty deep too. She was a good swimmer, having been taught when she was two, but the current in front of her was daunting.
After consideration, it seemed that there was no choice for Penelope but to go up or down river hoping for some kind of crossing. Penelope chose up-river. She followed the bank for a while and found no means of crossing, and no shallow spots that she could wade across. Penelope was beginning to consider turning around and trying the other direction when she walked around a bend and saw a little man. But it wasn’t really a man, it had a beak somewhere between the shape of a duck’s beak and a turtle’s beak, but his face was like a monkey’s. His skin was dark like a sea creature and his feet were webbed and on his back was a shallow shell, like a turtle shell.
This was Penelope’s first meeting with a mythical creature. She wasn’t sure what it was, but she figured she was right to think that this was a creature in legends somewhere on earth. Penelope supposed she should have expected to run into something like this on her walk, since she had been told unicorns and mermaids and stuff were at Ocean End. But it made her nervous and a little excited all the same. Hoping that this creature would at least be as relatively nice as the rest of the people she had met here, Penelope got a little closer and called out, “Hello? Excuse me, please.”
She had gotten the creature’s attention and so she continued, “Could you please tell me how I might be able to get across this river?”
At Penelope’s hailing the creature had turned towards her and was making slow movements closer, watching her all along. “I suppose I could tell you, you are a strange cucumber. How did you come down the river at me. Why is it you have wandered to this part of Ocean End, I wonder.”
Penelope opened her mouth to speak, but before she could say anything the creature had begun to talk again. “You smell better than a cucumber. I am so hungry. but… bored. You will play chess with me and then we will see if you will get across the river.”
Penelope furrowed her brow. “I don’t know how to play chess. Couldn’t you please just tell me a way across?”
“Checkers then, you must know checkers. We will play.” And the strange creature turned away and started to draw a checkerboard in the clay-like dirt on the river bank. “We will play,” it continued, “and if you win, I will take you across the river.”
Penelope intended to protest this, but this might be her only hope of continuing on her way back to the house where she had first come to Ocean End. She considered for a short time, and then asked—wanting to know the full story, “What happens if I lose?”
“I eat you,” the creature replied.
Penelope’s mind went blank and she stared wide eyed at the creature who was sitting down next to the drawn-out checkerboard now, putting flat white and black stones on either side. She began to back up slowly, it wasn’t really a conscious decision to run, but fear urged her feet further and further away.
“I wouldn’t try to get away now,” the creature said. Penelope froze. It continued, “if you run I will eat you as well.” And then suddenly, the creature Penelope had been watching disappeared in a blur. His voice came from behind her now as he repeated, “if you run I will eat you as well.”
Penelope’s little child sized heart was drumming in her chest. She chanced more conversation, “Why are so intent on eating me?”
“I haven’t had lunch.”
If Penelope could think about it rationally she would probably suppose that this was an acceptable answer. After all, there were plenty of animals in the world where she came from that would attack and eat her if they were hungry. Why would the ability to speak mean that animals or creatures here would be any different? Penelope couldn’t really think rationally enough to explain to herself the possible motives of other things, at the moment. She could, however, work out the best thing she could do right now is to sit down and play checkers and hope and try her hardest to win. Penelope did sit down, with her legs crossed, as far away from her opponent and the checkerboard as she could while still being able to reach it. She and the strange monkey-turtle creature began to play the most solemn game of checkers that Penelope had ever played.