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Ronald and Penelope

A short story

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Out in the dry heat of the wilderness, past the lapidarian canyon, which spreads its girth along the perilous renter line, filled with constantly shifting rifts of sandstone, shale, and limestone of the Arizona desert that challenged the pair’s physical constitution was Ronald and Penelope. The pair is probing at the remote possibility of finding the cure for Penelope’s sickness, being the inability to speak, which, of course, induces the desperate Ronald to do something about it. Driven by anger for a lanky pace, had, after due length, left him chagrined. He will do anything for his treasured darling, Penelope, no matter what happens.

In any time, in any hour, poor meager Ronald always had Penelope. They’ve grown up together since Ronald was eight years old. She was there since they had journeyed vast beyond the desecrate lands of the west. They’ve gone a long way since their days back at the old shack of a tomato plant farm, off their rundown town of Windmill, Texas.

She has been his only friend. She helped him raise up those crops on his land and has been a companion that sticks around, even through the toughest times, like when Ronald started seeing things. When the crops went through a shortage, she stuck around, of course, what choice did she have? She was living there after all. When they left in need of more stock for their supply of goods, she had been his shade in the blistering sun, like a carriage to get him where he needed to go, and was there whenever he needed her most; he had always admired that about her.

Like that time when they took on a group of viscous rattlesnakes, “Remember that time when we took on those darn coiling rattlers” he would say with a cheeky grin and those sparkling blue eyes, locked in a daze of great fascination, as he would often recall the events of their journey. Satisfaction at its finest: “Loyalty,” that’s what he would say, “by God, the greatest thing about you is loyalty. You’re loyal!” he would say with glee. Then, thinking to himself, he would always smile his charming smile, revealing those exquisite dimples, and say, “I think I can get by with you,” before hugging her firm neck. In sickness and in health, they would get through this, no matter the cost. Inseparable like the sun and the moon, Ronald and Penelope would always be together. Always, now, and forever, Ronald and his partner, Penelope.

Coming up from the base of the beautiful canyon, Ronald and Penelope reached the apical point that overlooked the brightly colored valley beneath them. On the delicate thin strip of sandy rock, reaching into his finely handcrafted leather bag, 22-year-old Ronald took out the blue colored glass that the old hermit had given them, and shined it on the drawn map that laid on the dry wall opposite of them, just as he said. As he glanced down the cliff, Ronald took off his cream-white cowboy hat and scratched his head of curly henna-colored hair. This is what the lean man would do when he had to think.

After letting out an exasperated sigh, he nudged his partner, “C’mon Penelope,” he says, to which at first, she shakes her head in fear. “Hey, hey,” he says. Trying to reassure her that she was safe with him, “Nothing’s gonna happen to you, Okay.” Then stilling her worries, he says, “We’ll just take it slow, one step at a time.” Then remembering her fear of heights, “and don’t look down. Just keep looking at me. I’ll direct your stepping,” he says.

On the steep trail down the shale rock, the fearless Ronald swept past Penelope. Noticing how unstable the path is, he shouts, “Now, I’m gonna give you directions, one at a time, you follow, okay?” She acknowledges, giving a sound of approval. “And remember, don’t, look, down,” he reminds her, using caution as he was not her and if she freaked out, both she and he could fall.

Penelope takes baby steps along the shale rock while listening to Ronald’s steady words. She was being vigilant in her stepping, only relying on the feel of the ground, as her eyes face forward, she can’t help but peek down. As she does, she is struck with a jolting, paralyzing fear. Ronald sees this and realizes that she has already made it half way and decides to help her. His thought is averted when Penelope responds to a noise arising from far reaches of the vast canyon gorge. Just then Penelope was up off her feet, sprinting toward Ronald as though she is in a race. Her legs move her along as the path around her crackled with intensity, splits wide open, and falls apart. Making it through that, the toughest part is over. Now they would have to head back to the cave where the old cave hermit lived.

Once they made it back to the secluded cave up north, in the deep backway of the Canyon by the water pool, Ronald thinks he might have to have a word with the stinky man, who probably hadn’t showered in years. Insinuating himself into the light of the cave, where the crazy hermit has settled, he notices the scattered drawings on the floor in the hermit’s “so-called” living room. A hanging lamp had been dashed, probably due to the breeze that seeped through the small openings of the cave covered in limestone from the water pool outside, but there is still a fire being made from whatever coal the hermit had in his stash. Then, from the echoes of a rolling stone, the back entrance closes and the muscular hunchback of a man in crinkly greyish garbs and a worn-out top hat wobbles in, dragging a healthy cactus by its root. As the old man eyes up the lad sitting by the fire with his lazy green eye, he chucks the bountiful food by his feet. Then, aggravated by the man’s presence, “Well, what do you want?” he questions, already not happy with the fact that he has been discovered.

“You almost got my precious Penny killed,” exclaims the young man bitterly.

Appalled, yet feeling spiteful, the haggard hermit responds to Ronald’s complaint with a tone of mockery. “Augh, was I the one who took her up to the canyon’s crest?”

Feeling ever more combative, “No, but you told me that to find the wizard, I would have to go up there anyway. You said to angle the blue glass over the drawing on the dry wall, and it would show the location of your ruse,” says Ronald implicitly.

“Anything else?” questions the hermit.

“Yes there -”

“I told you a lot of things,” says the old man cutting Ronald off. “But I did not tell you to take that fare up with you. She could have stayed here. I would’ve taken care of her,” he says smacking his crusty lips.

“Don’t you dare speak about my Penny that way,” warns Ronald very sternly.

Before Ronald continued his tantrum, the hermit looks at Ronald as if he were some delusional lunatic, then choosing to appeal to the boy’s logic, he persisted with the idea that the wizard was real. Ronald replies with agitation, telling him that the point had shone off the map. The old man rolls his eyes, tired of the conversation already. “In which direction?” asks the hermit.

“Off the map,” shouts Ronald.

“Which direction?” says the old man again.

Ronald, struggles to remember, but then says, “South.”

The hermit just shrugs off the comment, but still hears the direction Ronald told him. “Then that’s where you go,” he says. He suggests that Ronald and Penelope head to Flagstaff. “That’s probably where the wizard is. That be my guess,” exclaimed the old bugger. “Now, go away,” he says, eager to get him out.

Ronald is about to hand him back his blue glass piece, when suddenly the hermit, puts his hand up in refusal. “Keep it. I have many others,” he says. Ronald thanks him and apologizes to him for the way he acted. “Just go, and never come back,” he says.

As soon as Ronald and Penelope leave the cranky bugger at his caved domain, Ronald fills up his canteen by the water pool, takes a drink from the pool itself, and walks next to Penelope. They must go miles to reach the bottom of the massive landmark and further still on the blistering temperate sand of the desert before they reach Flagstaff. Above all, he is happy that he and Penelope are one step closer to finding the cure and spending the rest of their lives together.

At sunset, they near the south end of the Grand Canyon, but it is getting dark and they would freeze if they pressed any further. As Ronald was looking down at his compass, a raindrop hit its surface. Ronald and Penelope look up: Lightning. They look around, glancing this way and back. A forceful wind leaves Penelope’s legs almost shattered as she falls forward. “Penny!” screams Ronald. The wind carries some rocks along the coarse ground at blazing speed, smashing against Ronald’s chest. Falling over, he aches with pain, but gets back up so he can get them both to safety. Suddenly, hail strikes down from the heavens. “You gotta be kidding me,” Ronald says. Though his body aches, he does the best he can to cover Penelope as he takes her to a smaller cave. They could stay the night here and remain sheltered from the horrific storm. Ronald takes off his red checkered shirt and lays it on Penelope’s back so she will not feel cold. It’s raining hard now. With each step they take, the sand turns to mud, slowing their pace. More hail crashes against Ronald’s back, leaving slight gashes in his skin. A few steps later, lightning strikes a cactus near them and blocks their path. Ronald eases up and moves it, staying on course. However, this action does not go without consequence. Though his hands were bloody now, they finally made it. Ronald falls asleep after losing much blood, but Penelope, who cares for her companion, stays awake for the night.

The next morning, Ronald and Penelope set off on their long journey to Flagstaff and find the wizard. Out on the burning sand and the scorching sun with nothing but desert flat as far as the eye could see, there is an occasional figure lingering off in the distance. Maybe that was just the illusions Ronald had been seeing all his life, like before. Maybe it was the result of heat stroke, but either way they had to find water and food soon. They trot through an ocean of fire unsuccessfully by their second day. The water in his canteen is almost gone and he is out of tomatoes. Penelope could still go another day, but Ronald is suffering, becoming weaker and weaker as each moment passes. The white hat he wears has reduced the effects of the heat to his head, but it isn’t enough. He spies a couple of sand beetles and decides to eat them, giving one to Penelope. Only a few more miles and their task will be complete.

Time passes: Ronald and Penelope are frantic for a drink of water, until they see it. They have reached the town of Flagstaff. Ronald, who is now sunburnt and covered with peeling skin, trots into town with his Penny, who looks desperate herself. The residents realize that they are in dire need of medical attention. The sheriff of Flagstaff has them escorted to the doctor’s quarters.

The following morning in Flagstaff, the sheriff has a word with the town doctor, telling him his concerns for the newcomers.

“He is notoriously delusional,” pleads the sheriff.

“How so?” questions the good-for-the-time doctor. After all, it is 1865.

“The kooky man claims that his companion, Penelope could once talk,” he says with complete and utter solemnity. Then going on with his seemingly circuitous monologue, he tells the doctor what Ronald has told him. “He said that his Penny could once talk, but for some reason cannot anymore because of some curse or something. And then he asked if this was Flagstaff, to which I said, “Aye.” Then he said, “they made it.” And get this: he asked to see the wizard.”

“Wizard?” asks the doctor precautiously. “Are you sure?” questions the doctor in almost disbelief.

“Do I look like the type that would make this crap up?” Asks the sheriff sternly, giving a scowl.

Looking up at the burly man, the doctor says, “no you do not.” Then he mutters, “poor man.” Then out of curiosity, he asks, “Who does he think the wizard is?”

The sheriff sighs and eyes up the doctor with his stingy right eye and tells him “All he said was that the wizard had a cure for Penelope’s sickness. And from what I can gather, you’re the only one with any medication stash around here; my guess, it be you.”

“Where is the patient now?” asks the doctor.

“On the porch,” says the sheriff. “But he says that he won’t leave his Penny.”

“That’s fine; they can both come in,” says the doctor. After putting away some of his paperwork, he tells the sheriff to bring them in.

Appalled by the response, “I don’t think Penelope will fit through the door,” says the sheriff reluctantly.

“Why not?” the doctor asks.

As the sheriff is leaving, he turns and tells the compassionate doctor, “Because Penelope is his donkey.”

The Student News Site of Penn State Lehigh Valley
Ronald and Penelope