When we last saw our hero Bolt Waddle, he'd narrowly escaped the clutches of the evil Baron Chordata, but not the fate of becoming a half-boy, half-penguin for life. Living with his penguin colony far from other humans, he's adjusting to life as a full-time werepenguin when his bandit friend Annika tracks him down and begs for his help. Her father has been imprisoned by the Earl of Sphen, another ruthless werepenguin who rules his small country with an iron flipper. Bolt and Annika recruit a washed-up pirate and a plucky were-gull to help with their rescue mission, but as they get closer to victory, they realize that the Earl of Sphen isn't the only werepenguin whose sinister plans could cause their downfall.
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About the Author
Scott has produced work for television commercials, magazines, toys and comics. He spends his free time at his drafting board working on creations of his own. Originally from the seaport of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Scott currently resides on the southwest gulf coast of Florida (he can't stand living too far from the ocean) with his wife, two daughters, and a rather affable pug named Linus Van Pelt.
Read an Excerpt
My Life as a Penguin
It was a city of snow: the glaciers were its skyscrapers, the floating ice sheets its roads, and the thousands of penguins barking along the seashore its remarkably well-dressed, tuxedo-clad citizens.
Humboldt Wattle—people called him “Bolt” back when there were other people around to call him anything—was almost thirteen years old but not quite, and he was a penguin, but also not quite and certainly not at that very moment. He sat in the snow on top of a small hill, wearing only a pair of old sweatpants and a thin T-shirt. That outfit would be quite insufficient to keep anyone else comfortable on this frozen tundra, but Bolt was cozy. He couldn’t feel cold.
However, he could feel the thoughts of his penguin brothers and sisters waddling along the shore, although he was not one of them. Not truly. He would never lay an egg, or at least he hoped he wouldn’t. He would never molt. He would never dive, beak-first, into the near-freezing sea during the afternoon. Instead, he would only dive, beak-first, into the near-freezing sea at night, under a full moon. But those nights were the only times he didn’t feel like an outsider! For on those nights, Bolt would swim with his family, yowl with them, and play with them.
It was too bad that full moons were so few and far between. The rest of the time, Bolt was merely human, or at least mostly so. For Bolt still had penguin blood surging inside him, which meant he could talk with the penguins, and read their minds.
But there was something deep inside the birds, a barrier that was hard and round and slightly crusty, and no matter how much Bolt tried to penetrate that crust, he couldn’t quite do it. Before joining this colony, before even coming to Brugaria, Bolt had been an unwanted orphan. It seemed that, no matter what he did or how far he traveled, he would never truly feel like he belonged somewhere, at least not completely.
That was part of his curse: the curse of the werepenguin.
As Bolt sat on his snowy hill, he rubbed his fingers against a slim gold chain around his neck. That chain had once held a killer whale’s tooth, but the tooth had been lost when Bolt fought the Baron, the diabolical despot who had bitten Bolt and transformed him into a penguin monster. Bolt had won the battle, and now he sat here while the Baron’s remains sat inside the stomach of an orca.
After their fight, Bolt had led the penguins here, hundreds of miles away, and far from other people. Word of a young werepenguin who treated penguins not as his servants but as his family had spread far and wide. The tale had been told from the glubs of fish, the chirps of birds, and the legs of ice crickets. And so the penguin colony had grown.
Bolt stood up, stretched his legs, and waddled down the hill. His walk was part penguin and part human, just like the rest of him.
“Good afternoon,” barked a nearby penguin. Bolt couldn’t bark like a penguin, not in his human form, but he thought the words Good afternoon to you, and the penguin smiled, as best a penguin can, which is not much of a smile at all.
Penguins show their emotions through their eyes, mostly. Beaks are not very expressive.
As Bolt walked through the colony, nodding and smiling to his brothers and sisters, he heard a human shout. It took him a few seconds to realize he wasn’t imagining it. There it was again: a girl’s voice, calling out in the distance.
No, that was impossible. The colony was at least fifty miles from any human town.
Or maybe it was possible.
Bolt turned and there, in the distance, stood a girl, waving. A short penguin sat next to her.
Bolt ran toward the figures, his bird-blood-powered legs skimming across the ice with more traction than if he wore snow boots. He saw the girl with the waving hand, a girl who was about Bolt’s age with blonde hair held up with bobby pins, collapse, first to her knees. Then the rest of her buckled and flopped to the ground like a dead fish. The small penguin beside her gave a doglike howl.
Bolt squatted on the ice next to the fallen girl, his cold-impervious hands holding her nearly frozen fingers.
“Bolt, we found you,” said Annika, her voice a whisper, a small but desperate smile on her ashen face as she closed her eyes and lost consciousness.
Alive and Coughing
Bolt lived in a small igloo, which he’d built with help from many penguins in the colony. Penguin wings can’t scoop snow well, but are excellent for patting down lumps and smoothing gaps.
The igloo had just one big round room and, since it was carved from snow and ice, lacked basic amenities such as heat or plumbing. Now that he had a visitor, Bolt wished he had done more decorating. A small ice table held a pink vase with some green wisps of seaweed that tried to pass themselves off as flowers. On the ground, in the corner, was a sleek stainless-steel toaster that might have made wonderful toast if there had been an electrical outlet. And if Bolt had bread.
The waves from the sea brought gifts like those on occasion. The clothes Bolt wore, for example, had been in a washed-ashore suitcase. The toaster and vase had floated to their beach in a small wooden crate.
Annika lay on Bolt’s snow bed. She wore black-and-white tattered lederhosen, the traditional penguin-like garb of the Brugarian Forest Bandits. Bolt had piled his two blankets atop her.
A small groan floated from her bluish lips. Bolt tucked the edges of the blankets around Annika to keep her warmer. Soon, her blue lips looked less bluish. Some pink returned to her pale face.
Seeing Annika reminded Bolt how much he missed being around people, and especially Annika, who might have been his only human friend in the world. He brushed his hands through a curl of hair that had fallen out from one of her bobby pins.
“Bolt?” Annika’s voice, although soft and quiet, surprised him. “I’m so glad we found you . . .” Annika coughed, deep harsh coughs. Bolt gripped her hand and she squeezed back.
“Why are you here?” Bolt asked. “How did you know where I was?”
Annika coughed again, then flashed the hint of a smile.
Bolt was happy to see that smile, and returned it. He had not been happy in a long while, he realized. He had not been unhappy, either. He had just felt . . . mostly nothing. He had just lived. But just living isn’t doing much living at all.
“My papa and I . . .” Annika began, and then coughed again. Some spittle landed on Bolt’s cheek. She looked away and bit her lips, as if organizing a jumbled heap of memories into one. She nodded, seeming to make up her mind on what to say, then shared her story.
Annika Shares Her Story
After we defeated the Baron, or I suppose after you defeated the Baron,” said Annika, “all of us bandits thought we would continue robbing carriages and kidnapping people. Life would be happy again. Fun.”
“Maybe not so happy or so much fun for the people you robbed and kidnapped,” Bolt pointed out.
“Maybe not.” It seemed difficult for Annika to speak, her voice thin, her bones creaking like a rusted wheel. It pained Bolt to see her this way. “But after the Baron was defeated,” Annika continued creakily, “we became friends with the villagers. The bandits and villagers were like one big family. Have you ever kidnapped or robbed your family?”
“No,” admitted Bolt, who had never kidnapped or robbed anyone.
“It’s not happy or fun for anyone. And bandits rob. That’s what we do!” She raised her voice, but then erupted into a series of coughs. Once they subsided, she cleared her throat. “If I was going to become the greatest bandit of all time, I needed practice kidnapping and robbing, right?”
Annika had often told Bolt she wanted to be the greatest bandit of all time. Her father, Vigi Lambda, was a bandit legend.
“So, I decided,” continued Annika, “or rather, Papa and I decided, that I would go somewhere else to learn how to kidnap and rob. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but after a couple of days I had already robbed two small carriages and kidnapped the daughter of a rich merchant. I had to let her go because I didn’t have a pencil or paper, and everyone knows you can’t kidnap someone without leaving a ransom note. It’s sort of the whole point of the thing.” She let out another loud, raspy cough. Bolt grabbed some snow from the floor of his igloo, clenched it in his hand, and dripped the water into Annika’s mouth. She croaked, “Thank you.”
“Sorry I don’t have any water glasses. I wasn’t expecting company today. Or ever.”
“I’ll steal some for you sometime,” Annika promised. “On my third day I saw a carriage. It was a huge, extra-fancy carriage. I had my knife and I had my bobby pins, although bobby pins aren’t particularly useful in a robbery, and I was hiding behind a bush when a group of penguins captured me.”
“Penguins?” Bolt gasped.
Penguins didn’t capture people. Penguins were good-natured creatures, eager to give a stranger a helping beak, or a sympathetic wing around the shoulder. Only the Brugarian penguins had been different. The Baron had twisted their minds, corrupting them. But Bolt had defeated him.
“I don’t understand,” said Bolt. “Why did they capture you?”
“I was outside the city of Sphen. You’ve heard of Sphen, right?” Bolt shook his head. “It’s a teeming fishing city, much bigger than Volgelplatz, that’s surrounded by mountains on one side and the Deader Sea on the other.”
“It’s like the Dead Sea, only deader. The Earl of Sphen lives in the huge Sphen Castle in the middle of the city. You’ve heard of him, right?”
“If I had heard of the Earl of Sphen, I would have probably heard of the city of Sphen.”
Annika again coughed and gagged. Bolt bent down to crush some more floor water into her mouth, but she waved him off. “I’m good,” she insisted. “But the Earl of Sphen is anything but good. He rules all the people and penguins of Sphen with an iron fist. I don’t know how he lost his hand, but his new iron one is quite deadly. They say he’s . . .” She coughed and this time welcomed the floor water Bolt offered her. Bolt needed to get some snow to repair the divots now covering the ground near his bed. “They say he’s . . .” Again, she coughed, and again, Bolt gave her water. “He’s . . .” More coughing.
“I’m not giving you any more water until you finish your sentence,” said Bolt.
“They say he’s a werepenguin.”
Bolt gasped even louder than his previous gasp. “I thought the Baron was the only werepenguin. Not including me, of course.”
But as soon as those words escaped Bolt’s lips, he knew he had never really believed that to be true. Only someone born with a penguin birthmark and then bitten by a werepenguin could turn into a werepenguin. Bolt had that birthmark. It sat upon his neck clear as day, although he didn’t like to think of it. The Baron had the mark on his stomach, right above his belly button.
Why couldn’t there be others with the same mark?
Of course there are more of us.
Bolt looked up and jumped back. Where had that voice come from? It was as if someone had put headphones in his brain. But that was ridiculous. It must have been his imagination. He pushed the thought away. It was merely his nerves, which felt particularly fragile after hearing about the Earl.
Annika asked for a few more drops of melted snow and then continued her story. “They locked me in a dungeon in the palace basement. There are other prisoners, too. Most are forced to work in the fish stick kitchens, where they mince fresh fish fillets, dredge them in vats of flour and then egg, flavor them with slightly spicy bread crumbs seasoned with a dash of paprika and garlic powder, and then plunge the fish sticks into oil until they are cooked into crispy yet surprisingly delicate fish stick treats. It’s horrible.”
“That doesn’t sound so horrible,” said Bolt, licking his lips.
“The heat is nearly unbearable, and you’re forced to make fish sticks for twenty-four hours straight without resting. Other prisoners are assigned equally terrible chores, like waxing thousands of penguin feathers a day. I heard some prisoners have to teach penguins how to bowl.”
“Not bowling penguins!” yelped Bolt. “Penguins are terrible bowlers. Their wings don’t fit in the finger holes, and their webbed feet ruin the bowling shoes.” Bolt cringed at the thought of penguins wearing shoes. What was next, mittens? Penguins were meant to run free, their feet sliding on ice and snow, or wiggling through water. It was one of the true joys of penguin life. “How did you escape?”
“I’m the world’s greatest picklock, you know?” Bolt nodded. Annika kept her long blonde hair out of her eyes with bobby pins, but they also made excellent lock openers. “After I got out, I didn’t know where to go. You saw that penguin I came with? I found her wandering the mountains outside Sphen. I told her I knew you, and she started yapping like a dog and led me straight here. Well, she kept on chasing her tail, but when she wasn’t doing that, she led me straight here. She was so cute!”
Bolt sniffed. He hated when people called penguins cute, as if that was all they were, and not smart, loyal creatures with so much more to offer the world than being funny mascots in books and movies.
“I don’t understand,” said Bolt. “How did this penguin know where to find me? How did she break the Earl’s brainwashing control? Why was she yapping like a dog? Your story doesn’t make any sense.”
Annika shrugged, looked away, and coughed again. “I don’t know.” For a moment, Bolt didn’t believe her. The story seemed so far-fetched!
There had been a time when Annika had decided to trust Bolt, even though trusting someone else was against all bandit rules. He owed her his own trust, too. She was his friend.
Annika coughed a few more times and then said, “Sphen is far away. We had to hitch a ride on a sled, hide in the back of a carriage, and float on a barge. It took a long time.” She choked again, but before Bolt could grab snow to melt for her, her coughing subsided. “And now here we are.” She reached out and grabbed Bolt’s hand. Her fingers felt warm, and Bolt felt her warmth not just on his skin, but in his heart. “So, will you?”
“Will I what?” Bolt asked.
“Will you go to Sphen? Will you free the penguins? Will you defeat this mad earl and end his evil reign? That’s why I came here. So you could save Sphen, like you did Brugaria.”
Bolt removed his hand from Annika’s grasp and stood up. Bolt was proud of Annika for wanting to free Sphen: bandits were usually kidnapping, not freeing. But this was Bolt’s home now. He was happy here. Or, if not happy, he was at least safe.
“What happens in Sphen is none of my business,” said Bolt.
“Your business is going wherever werepenguins rule. You’re brave and mighty and . . .” She never finished her sentence, as a stream of coughs erupted from her throat.
“You’re wrong.” Bolt wasn’t brave and mighty, despite his past bravery and mightiness. Sure, his name, Bolt, was fierce and strong like a thunderbolt. But deep down, Bolt wasn’t like that at all.
Annika thrust one of her weak hands into the folds of her jacket and pulled out a small toy with a string around it. “Do you know what this is?”
Annika grumbled, tossed the yo-yo away, and dug her hand back into her jacket. This time she removed a thick, leather-bound book. “I meant this. It’s The Code of the Bandit. All eight hundred pages of it.”
Bolt had never seen The Code of the Bandit, the rule book that all Brugarian Forest Bandits lived by. Bolt knew most bandits never read the book because it was long and boring, and most bandits couldn’t read very well. Bolt also knew Annika had read it at least twice.
Annika waved the book under Bolt’s nose. “The code says that bandits have to be tough and fierce. It says we always need to leave ransom notes when we kidnap people, so you need a pencil and paper. The code also says we have to be honorable. Hiding here with your penguins, while the people of Sphen suffer, that’s not tough. That’s not fierce. It’s definitely not honorable.”
“I’m not a bandit,” Bolt reminded her.
“You’re more than that. You’re the chosen one, Bolt. Remember? You weren’t chosen to hide here in the middle of nowhere.”
The Brugarian Fortune Teller had prophesized that Bolt was the chosen one, although she had never specified exactly what he was chosen for. Still, it had seemed pretty obvious to Bolt. “I was chosen to stop the Baron. I was chosen to protect the birds of my colony. And that’s what I intend to do.”
“But what if you were chosen for more than that?”