Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bigfoot’s Big Lie

One morning in 1988, Bigfoot walked down to the river to wash the toe-jam out of his toes. Just because he was a homeless subhuman nomad didn’t mean he had to suffer from bad foot hygiene. He enjoyed a nice footbath just like anyone else. While he was there, he thought he might also get a refreshing slurp of water. Even better, he might find a discarded cup and take some water to go.

When he got there, Bigfoot saw a raccoon trying to open a plastic cooler. It must have been left behind by some campers or fishermen. He trotted over. Scratchy-scritch-scratch went the raccoon’s claws on the cooler, but she had not yet figured out how to get it open. Bigfoot thought about all the good stuff that might be inside. Bologna…  Doritos… marshmallows… bread… earthworms… baked beans… apples… maybe even a butter container full of some glop. Oh man, he had to have that cooler!

He ran up to the cooler, hoping the raccoon would be intimidated by his big feet and just run away, but she smelled something really tasty inside and refused to give it up. Raccoons were tough and could bite with savage force—Bigfoot could easily lose a fingernail or a small toe if he fought the raccoon. Plus, he liked raccoons. He didn’t want to fight. Instead he would lie to her. He would say that the cooler was his, he was just now coming back for it after taking a privacy break.

The raccoon looked up at him suspiciously, keeping her little hands on the cooler. A good grip and sharp teeth were nine-tenths of the law with raccoons. Bigfoot pointed at the cooler with both hands, then at his own chest. He did a little mime of himself carrying the cooler here and setting it down. He acted out how he would eat an invisible sandwich from the cooler. It was all very civilized, and obviously normal Bigfoot behavior. He reached out to take the prize, beginning to believe his own bogus narrative.  But the raccoon was having none of it. She pawed her way up to stand on  top of the lid, then bared her teeth. Her fur puffed up so she looked much larger, like a furry anger-ball.

“Maybe,” thought Bigfoot, “I should get a big raccoon-poking stick,” but he didn’t see any good sticks lying around. Instead, he just booted the cooler out from under the raccoon. No way could she hold on to that slick plastic top. The cooler shot neatly clear of her, straight sideways for six feet before going into a tumble over the gravelly bank and stopping in some sticky mud.

The infuriated raccoon was left clinging, unfortunately, to Bigfoot’s leg. She was not happy. Claws digging into his hairy calf, she bit his kneecap in frustration. She had been working on that cooler for ten minutes. By sense of smell alone, she knew it was not his. She couldn’t believe he would lie to her like that. Did he think raccoons were gullible?

Bigfoot stumbled halfway to the cooler before he realized the raccoon was now gnawing on his knee. No joke, it was starting to hurt. Maybe the cooler would contain some ice he could put on his knee. He lumbered forward, opened the cooler, and dumped out the contents. Whatever it was, it was bundled up in a checkered picnic blanket. He then stuffed his raccoon-accosted knee into the empty cooler, using its lid as a raccoon spatula so his fingers would not be bitten. He pressed the lid down to trap the angry critter inside.

Bigfoot was so relieved to get the raccoon off his knee, he didn't even notice that whatever was inside the picnic bundle was moving. He grabbed it with one hand, picked up the cooler between his arms, and moved to the edge of the water so he could get his footbath going. Sitting on the cooler to keep it closed, he began unwrapping the bundle. Oh, this was the closest thing to a Christmas present he’d had in a very long time! He decided to unwrap it slowly, to prolong the excitement. He imagined good things spilling out: burgers, catfish, pie… even when he realized it was alive, he remained optimistic. “Maybe it will be a cute squirrel with a peanut, and he will share it with me… most peanuts have two halves—perfect for sharing!”

Much to Bigfoot’s dismay, the bundle contained another raccoon, somewhat smaller than the first one, but just as ornery. It had just finished off some string cheese, judging by some shreds of plastic around its paws. Now it was frantically trying to open a little pumpkin-colored bottle full of rattly things. Seeing Bigfoot, it bared its teeth and gripped the bottle all the tighter.

“AAAAAAAuuuuuuuuuuuuuooo,” he moaned, which is Sasquatchawan for, “Aw, man!” He shook the corners of the picnic blanket to check for hidden treats. Nothing! Not even a shred of string cheese or an after-dinner mint. The smaller raccoon had the only treat in the box, and now Bigfoot wanted it. It was candy, right?

Or was it medicine? The bottle had a label, but Bigfoot could not read. He had seen a surprising amount of TV by watching it through people's windows at night. He liked commercials best. They were short, so he didn't have to commit much time to watching them, and they tended to be louder than the other stuff, so sometimes he could even hear them outside. His favorite commercial was one where an old lady who was angry at a sandwich said, “Where’s the beef?” He also knew from commercials that there were a lot of pills to make people feel better, but he also knew that eating too many pills could make someone sick, crazy, or dead. Come to think of it, it would probably be really bad for a raccoon to eat any pills at all without seeing a doctor first.

Bigfoot put his fingers on the bottle. He tried to turn it, so he could see the label. Maybe he could figure out something, or just see the pills better. He might recognize them from TV. The moment he touched it—OUCH!—the raccoon bit his finger! And it wouldn’t let go!

Thinking quickly, he dunked his whole hand into the river. Success! Once under the water, the raccoon had to let go so it could swim instead of drown. The bottle of pills bobbed to the surface. Now Bigfoot had control of all of the pills, as well as all of his own digits. His finger now hurt worse than his knee, but he lowered both into the cool river water. Ahhh, it was very soothing. He watched the smaller raccoon swim to the water’s edge, looking like a mad cat. Then it scrambled out and shook itself off, kind of like a wet dog. There was a noise as the cooler tipped over and the mother raccoon sprang out, now that no one was holding the lid closed. Bigfoot did what any sensible person would do when faced with two angry raccoons. He took the pills and ran.

Running was hard. His knee burned! His finger throbbed! He looked at it—it was still bleeding. Now he really needed the medicine, assuming it was the medicine he needed. He thought about cracking the whole bottle open and eating every pill. That might really help his finger feel better… but wait, there are so many kinds of pills, who knows what might happen. His teeth might fall out, or he might get severe diarrhea, or his legs could go bald. They might even be old lady pills, and he could end up with all kinds of weird problems.  

Not far ahead, Bigfoot knew there was a school. He decided to run there, then learn how to read so he could understand medicine labels. No, that would take too long! By the time he learned to read, it would be too late. If he could only ask a doctor… or a school nurse! But he didn’t want to be seen. There must be a way to be seen by a school nurse, but keep it a secret. Maybe, he thought, I can borrow some coveralls from a janitor’s supply room, and a hat….

Well, Bigfoot wasn’t paying attention to where he was running. He had come over a hill and was already crossing the playground. No one was at recess, so all was quiet outside. Looking at his sore finger, he ran right into one of the swings and broke it off the swing set, chains and all. He tripped and fell, tangled up in the chains. The pill bottle went flying. Bigfoot just laid there for a minute, stunned and hurting. Then he thought, “I have to get out of here! Someone might see me!”

Unfortunately, someone had already seen him. Doug Packerman witnessed the whole thing from a window in Mrs. Puddle’s art class. Mrs. Puddle had just left the room to get a fresh shawl. Doug was getting up to smear some vaseline in her chair when he spotted the intruder on the playground.
“Hey!” cried Doug, “Some skanky gorilla is stealing one of our swings!” Bigfoot was starting to crawl away, and also looking around for the medicine bottle.

“Looks like a hairy alien!” said Barry Kobbler.

“No, it’s an overweight wolfman!” said Olga Orinoco, who, like her skinny sisters, was obsessed with bodyweight. Now everyone was up, looking out the windows.

“Let’s get him!” cried Doug. Normally, Doug saved his meanness for classmates or teachers, but he was quick to target any living thing with his menacing ways, even if it meant pretending to care about the playground equipment. He ran to the supply closet and grabbed a small bucket full of scissors. “He can’t have our swing! Somebody’s mom saved like 5,000 Campbell’s Soup labels for that!”

So most of the children grabbed scissors and ran outside to attack Bigfoot, wearing their smocks spattered with tempera paint so they looked like a bunch of half-grown butchers who just slaughtered a herd of Teletubbies. Doug knew Mrs. Puddle was coming back any minute, so he energetically spilled her box of Campbell’s Soup labels all over the hallway to slow her down. He turned to run down the hall with scissors, and was immediately stopped by Vice Principal Mann, a beefy ex-weightlifter.

Mr. Mann was fed up with paperwork and wanted nothing more than to bodyslam a student like Doug Packerman. Instead, he said, “Doug, if I have to deal with a crying Mrs. Puddle again, I’ll see that you become her personal kleenex. Do you mind telling me where you’re going with those scissors?” Doug could almost see Mr. Mann’s muscles pumping up.

“Uh, I was just… going to clean up Mrs. Puddle’s soup labels. Some of them have rough edges.” Doug sat down and started snipping torn edges off the labels, placing the neatly trimmed ones back in the box.

“Very noble of you, Doug.” They were both so engrossed in their battle of wills, they had no clue that the rest of the class was outside rushing toward Bigfoot with scissors.

Outside, Bigfoot looked up to see about 20 children running out of the building. Still wet from the river, he resembled some sort of bogbeast. Muddy feet, feathers on his chin from a pigeon wing he ate earlier, he had twigs and cherry blossoms stuck all over his fur from falling down under a cherry tree.

Some of the kids forgot what they were doing and ran to play on the jungle gym, but most of them were still running toward him. Surprisingly, five of them were named Melissa. He hadn’t seen so many crazy children since he hid in some bushes to grab gutter candy at the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“I guess this is how it ends for old Bigfoot, can’t get away now,” thought Bigfoot. The swing chains tangled around his leg made it impossible to run. “Why did I ever lie to that raccoon? That’s where everything went wrong… who knows what these people will do to me… probably make me into dog food or school lunches.” Some of the children became scared and retreated when they got close enough to see Bigfoot’s miserable face, but most of them had seen Scooby Doo cartoons or whatever—enough to think this creature had to be some clown in a costume. Finally he threw the pill bottle at them, put his hands over his face, and cried.

“Wow, he stinks!” said Timmy Redenbacher, who ran away. Indeed, there was a powerful skunky smell coming from Bigfoot’s armpits, because he was so nervous, plus he never washed with soap.
“P.U.! B.O.!” cried Nathan Smotherkid, who also ran off.

All of the Melissas ran inside to tell the teacher that a large hairy man on the playground tried to give them pills. The only child left was little Frannie Colostrum, who preferred not to use scissors for evil purposes. It only took her a few seconds to see that Bigfoot was hurt.

“Were you really stealing our swing?” she asked. Bigfoot shook his head No, pointing at where the chains were hooked in his leg hair. Frannie used her scissors to cut him free.

“Why ah you sad but full of cherry blossoms?” she asked. Frannie had a speech impediment and Bigfoot’s English wasn’t actually that great. He thought she said, “You owe me a sack full of baby possums.” He grunted agreeably, straightened his leg, and ran like the wind.

Frannie enjoyed a hero’s welcome as she returned the swing to the proper authorities. Bigfoot swore to never lie to a raccoon again, and he never did. Every time he found an empty sack in the woods, he wondered if he should fill it with baby possums for Frannie, but he was scared to go back to the school. He would just have to owe her.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Halloween for St. Patrick's Day

Just read this one to Mrs Gray's 4th grade class in Willard, MO for Read Across America. They approved!

The Skeleton’s Pajamas

Back in 1994, there lived a skeleton in a hollow tree at the end of Chigger Road. He was only about two feet tall. You might think he was a little boy’s bones, but he was actually the skeleton of an Arkansas leprechaun. Because he was 95% dead, he didn’t have loads of energy. Most of the time, he slept all day, woke up after the school bus went by,  and chewed on an acorn or a pine cone for breakfast. When he felt full, he let the food fall down through his ribcage. He could do a little dance to make an acorn roll ‘round and ‘round in his pelvis before it plopped onto the ground. Then he would pick it up, yell “POOP!” and throw it as far as he could. He didn’t need much to eat, being 95% dead.
    Some evenings, the skeleton sat in his tree trying to remember his name. His brain was pretty much gone, so his memory was poor. He had to do most of his thinking aloud.
    “I think it started with “C”… Charlie… Curtis… Calvin….”
    “What are you doing?” asked a woodchuck.
    “Trying to remember my name,” said the skeleton.
    “Oh,” said the woodchuck. “You’re dumb, Charlie Curtis Calvin.”
    “Well, you are fat,” said Charlie Curtis Calvin, but the woodchuck was already squeezing into a hole in the dirt.
    The skeleton was bored, but the moon was full, which gave him more energy. Walking up Chigger Road, he looked for something to do. Hanging over a barbed-wire fence, a row of catfish heads was singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Even though they looked like stinky beef jerky puke-buckets, they made a cheerful sound.
    “Hi!” said Charlie, “Hi, heads!” The catfish heads looked at him, but kept singing. So the skeleton started singing along. Then the catfish heads stopped singing.
    “Hey,” said the largest head, “you’re messing up our song.”
    “Aren’t we just singing for fun?”
    “No, this is our job,” said the smallest catfish head with astonishing pride.
    “Really? Wow, how do you get this job?”
    “Well, for starters, you have to be a catfish head.”
    “Gross,” said Charlie.
Further up the road, he saw the gate to Rose Hill Cemetery. He knew they wouldn’t let him in, because it was only for people who bought tombstones or made reservations. But he picked up a stick and began tapping on the gate. Nothing happened. He poked his head through the bars. He could see some ghosts and a rather fresh corpse-lady talking way in the back.
    “Hey, what’s going on in there?” shouted Charlie.
    “Go away,” said a tall skeleton in a tuxedo. “Members only.”
    “Why can I not be a member?”
    “You are not fully dead, not formerly human, you do not own a casket or a tombstone… you are riff-raff.”
    “I’m 95% dead, and I own this stick,” Charlie said, tapping the gate so it went PING DING DING. “Just let me in. You can say that I won the raffle or something. Riff-raff raffle!”
    “The answer is NO. Run along.”
    “Then just tell what’s happening in there.”
    “It is private, so sorry.”
    “Snob,” said Charlie Curtis Calvin. He walked away. A bunch of walnuts lay along the road and in the ditch. He picked one up and ate it, turning back to face the cemetery gate. The walnut bounced off his ribs and pelvis, where he caught it, then threw it very hard. “Big poop!” he yelled. The walnut hit the tall skeleton in the back, but was ignored.
    So Charlie went on until he saw some cattle, and an iron sign that read Asher Creek Ranch.
    “This is a rodeo place!” Charlie crept through the tall grass until he was close enough to touch a cow’s tail. “These cows are too big.” Then he saw a calf that was only one month old. “Hey, that one is just my size!”
    Charlie jumped on the calf, and the ride began immediately. The calf ran up a hill, under a tree, and over a log, but Charlie held on. The calf splashed through a creek, then over to the fence, and back toward the herd. Gripping and pinching the calf’s hide to hang on, Charlie laughed. But being pinched made the calf bug her eyes out. She kicked and bucked even harder. One of Charlie’s leg bones popped off.
    “Ow!” said Charlie. “Slow down!” His leg bone dragged the grass, but was still hanging on by a ligament. Looking for a way to get off, he tried to steer the calf by pulling her ears, but she went the wrong way—straight toward an old farmhouse. The calf bawled, which started two dogs barking. The mother cow was chasing them, and an old farmer came out of the house with a shotgun.
    “Get offa that calf, ya creep!” He shot his gun into the air because he felt like the situation called for shooting, but he preferred not to shoot his own cattle.
    “This rodeo stuff is rough!” Charlie said as his leg bone broke loose and flipped into the grass. The calf ran around the house and under a clothesline. Charlie grabbed the line and watched the calf scamper away. Now the dogs, the cow, and the farmer were closing in on him. He scooted down the clothesline into a pair of pajamas, just his size, that said “#1 BABY.” Then he dropped down into a laundry basket left out by the farmer’s daughter. He wanted to pull more laundry down over his head and hide in the basket, but the cow was already about to trample him to get to her calf. Ducking under the cow’s belly, Charlie saw the two hungry dogs and the angry farmer in hot pursuit. “Hey, get me out of here!” He hooked his toe bones in the laundry basket, grabbed the cow’s tail, and skidded away.
    “Get outta them pajamas, you thievin’ bone-booger!” the farmer yelled, waving his gun.
    “Don’t shoot,” Charlie cried, “I’m similar to a little boy!” But the dogs found his leg bone just then. The farmer tripped over them and fired his gun, blasting his last shot into the sky. The cow ran faster, but Charlie held on.
    “Dang it, I’m old,” said the farmer. He went to get his tractor, but it would not start, so he went back to bed.
    The cow chased her calf all the way back to the herd. Once all the cows were back together, the dogs settled down to fight over Charlie’s leg bone. The calf, thirsty from running, started nursing. Charlie climbed on top of the laundry basket, pointed to his pajamas, and yelled at the retreating dogs, “I’m #1, BABY!” Unfortunately, he was still right behind the cow. She wasted no time in kicking him over the fence.
    Charlie landed hard on the pavement, knocking more bones loose. He just lay there for a minute, laughing and crying at the same time.
    “Ow, cow!” Charlie cried. “This rodeo is no joke… how can cowboys stand it? I know they have more cartilage than me, but come on!” He unzipped his pajamas and checked his bones. Two ribs had to be hooked back on, one kneecap was chipped, and the one fibula was gone. “I’ll bet those dogs are gnawing on it right now. I s’pose that makes me 96% dead.”
    Charlie limped down the road. He rolled into the ditch to avoid a truck. Climbing out, he found a bendy straw and an Altoids tin.
    “Man, people throw away nice stuff!” He fitted the bendy straw into his leg to replace the missing bone, then clamped the mint tin around his knee. “Guess I’m a cyborg now—WEEP WOOP WEEP!”
    Now the moon was going down and it was getting very dark. Charlie had to walk all the way back down Chigger Road. He walked past the cemetery, where all was still amongst the graves. He walked past the catfish heads, now snoring on the fence. He paused at the woodchuck’s hole to toss an acorn in.
    “Hey woodchuck, you’re fat!” he said into the hole, but nothing happened. “Well, good night, then.”
    At last Charlie made it home. Just outside his hollow tree, he stumbled over some pine cones. “Oh yeah, my cones!” He piled them back up. “I still need some string so I can make a squirrel trapeze.”
    He went inside, checked for creeping possums, then lay down, resting his head on an old plastic brontosaurus. “Man, what a day! I sang in a band, and did my first rodeo! Plus, I stole these great footsie pajamas. I haven’t felt this cozy since I had flesh.”
    But then Charlie felt bad when he realized there must be a baby back at the rodeo place who was missing the pajamas. “What if that baby is cold right now? No… I saw some more pajamas on that clothesline. And that baby will outgrow these clothes soon… I know! I will raise money so I can buy bigger pajamas for that baby. I will pick up walnuts and sell them for $8.00 per 100 pounds! Then I’ll put the money in their mailbox in an envelope that says “#1 BABY!”
    Charlie’s plan to set things right made him happy again. He read six Bazooka Joe comics by the light of a fox-fire fungus, then fell asleep and forgot his name again.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Unfinished Tales from Uncle Knuckle's Secret Folder of Future Triumphs

The Frog and the Unstoppable Cupcake

A frog named Gob was in a terrible accident, and lost the use of his back legs. This made him grumpy and depressed, because he did so love jumping. His mother made him a cupcake with a fly on top. This lifted his spirits for a bit, but once he ate the fly, he just threw the rest away, yelling, I hate this cupcake! He thumbed through a new frog magazine but it was all about exercises he could not do, and the season’s most sought-after insects, which he could probably never catch now. But he did tear out a scented coupon for new Frog Burp deodorant, mostly for the little picture of spokesmodel Tyra Banks, before throwing the magazine into a puddle: I really hate this magazine!

Later, Gob fell asleep on the porch. When he woke up, there was the same cupcake he’d thrown away, with the exact same blue frosting and juicy fly. He turned it around, studying it from every side. I still hate this cupcake! He held it in his lap and wheeled to the edge of the porch, then threw it over the rail. It careened stickily down the hill and into the road where a truck ran over it. HA! said the frog. Good riddance!

Gob watched the cupcake get flatter and flatter under the passing traffic, until it was just a long smear of frosting and dough on the pavement. It seemed to make the shape of a flat ghost, looking right at him. He ate the fly, which he had plucked off before he tossed the cake, and it was pretty good. Upon going back inside, he colored seven pages of his therapy coloring book solid black, then stared in the mirror until he fell asleep with his face in the sink.

Gob’s mother found him and put him to bed with care. Cadaverously he slumbered for hours on his moist sponge. He woke up in the middle of the night, wondering how he got there. Where am I? said the frog. He didn’t know what to do.

The Curse of Dewey Groder

Dewey Groder was a mean kid, with one big eyebrow and yellow, horsey teeth. He looked like he may have had a bit of goblin blood, or a Norwegian troll for a grandmother. His family lived in a house, and Dewey lived in the garage, because his parents were frightened of being very close to him. He had already punched everyone in his family hard in the stomach, including his mother, twice—once when she was pregnant! But even a mean kid has to love some things. He loved popsicles, root beer, dirt clods, pills (the kind that turn into foam animals when dropped in water), video games, and ninja stuff.

    One day Dewey was over in the neighbor’s yard, hitting their dog with their cat. They just went limp; they were used to it. The dog actually liked it, at least much better than the cat did.
    Then Dewey spotted a grasshopper on his favorite corduroy pants. He wasn’t wearing the pants—they were hanging out on the clothesline to dry in the breeze. He was in his underwear, which had two holes burned in them right where Superman’s eyes used to be. Yes, Dewey is the one responsible for the holes. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with Superman’s heat-ray vision.
    “Aha!” he said to the grasshopper, keeping a grip on the cat’s tail. “Now I will feed you to this cat!” Dewey grabbed the twitching insect. “Then I will grind everyone’s bones for my bread!” He was pointing all around, to the whole neighborhood. His troll heritage was coming out stronger than ever.
    The grasshopper was actually a witch, out sunning herself on a warm day. The problem with turning into a creature for recreational purposes is that you can become very relaxed, and begin to actually TURN INTO the creature. In this case, the witch had been corduroy-lounging for hours in the soothing warmth of the sun, after drinking sweet beads of dew off clover leaves all morning. It’s enough to make anyone go soft and stupefied, like when you eat too many Cheetos and forget how to stand up.
    “Wait!” cried the grasshopper. “Please don’t let the cat eat me! Their teeth are so pointy and their tongues are like sandpaper!” Was Dewey surprised at a talking grasshopper? Maybe a little, but he wouldn’t be coaxed out of his fun. In fact, finding a grasshopper with a shrieking little intelligent voice made this even better for him.
    “Shut up, victim!” he said. “I don’t negotiate with the terrorized. Although, you do give me an idea….” Dewey, with the cat dangling from the tail, was naturally considering feeding the bug through the cat BACKWARDS.
    The witch was beginning to come to her senses, but still had a ways to go before she could muster anything but threats.
    “This will be tricky,” he said, “I only have two hands.” Maybe if he sat on the cat, he could pull the grasshopper’s legs off. The witch could see the look on Dewey’s face, and it was bad news.
    “Let me go, and I will grant you one wish!” She was no genie, so this was a lie—she had no power to grant wishes. 
    “If you could really grant wishes, you should be giving more than one. How about one for each leg you don’t want me to pull off?” He went ahead and pulled one of the grasshopper’s legs off. “That should leave me one-two-three-four-FIVE wishes, right?”
    “OW! You horrible beast!” The witch was now quite alert, and changing her strategy. “Don’t you DARE pluck my legs, or I will curse you to the rue-point, and BEYOND!”
    “What’s the “rue-point” again?”
    “The point where you really regret it! I will curse you, mean creature!” Now, the witch was quite handy with curses, so this was no empty threat, unlike the thing with the wishes.
    “I think curses are funny, so go ahead,” said Dewey. “Bad words from a tiny bug? So-o-o-o-o-o-o SCARY!” And he ripped off another bug leg!
    “GAHH! You punk!” Now the witch was getting warmed up and ready to go. She remembered her name was Znshindapi, and then she recalled one of her favorite spells. She clicked two of her remaining feet together and said, “Butterfingers!” She was not one of the top-rated witches in North America (she wouldn’t have even made the big leagues in Europe or Asia), but she had more than enough juju to scuttle a screwball like Dewey Groder, no matter how much stinky troll blood he had in his circulatory system. She slipped from his fingers, which had become greasier than a doorknob at a potato-chip factory.
    “Butterfingers? How weak! I’ve heard worse curses on Sesame Street.”
    But Znshindapi squeezed through a chain-link fence as she swelled to the size of a hot dog bun and her regular human face came back, saying, “We shall see, young creep-o. ‘Butterfingers’ is actually one of my more loathsome incantations, and you deserve it, picking on little animals this way! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some body parts to regrow… I’ll have to spend a lot of time as a newt or something.” She flapped off as a football-sized grasshopper with a doll-sized woman’s head. Then her hair got tangled in her wings, so she crashed into a garage, said non-magical curses, and ended up stealing some kid’s bicycle to get away—no easy trick without arms, but she was still a witch.
    The cat ran for cover as it slipped from Dewey’s grasp. He was beginning to see the problem with having hands that ooze butter. He wiped his hands on the grass, but they instantly beaded up with slick, yellow butter.
    “I’ll kill you, butter-bug-lady!” Dewey screamed.
    “No, you won’t!” the witch yelled back from a long way off.
In the days that followed, Dewey learned just how miserable it can be having actual butterfingers. He spilled his root beer and dropped his popsicles in the dirt. His clothes were greasy, and he saturated his bedsheets with melted butter. If he picked his nose, he sneezed a spray of grease. He had to hold down the button on the drinking fountain with his elbow. He got pimples wherever he touched his face. All his comic books and magazines were translucent and stuck together.
    Worst of all, his favorite video games were impossible to play—the controller shot right out of his greasy fingers every few moves, and after a while, all the dripping butter ruined the device completely. He would never set another high score on Dr. Shotgun 3, or Powermad Munchkinauts, or Devil’s Dogcatcher 2, or Harshest Ninja. And forget about ever being a ninja in real life—he couldn’t even manage a zipper, much less deadly combat skills.
    But every problem has a bright side. Dewey soon found that the neighbor’s cat and dog were very excited to lick his fingers, and they became his most dedicated buddies. He could get them to perform tricks and funny sounds, in exchange for a few finger licks.
    At school, Dewey was less popular than ever, and his grades went from lousy to embarrassing, because now he could barely hold a pencil. But he learned to entertain himself in new ways. He could go down the slide faster than ever by sitting on his hands, then watch all the other kids butter their butts. He could throw dirt-clods that became greasy shirt destroyers—but his aim was terrible, for obvious reasons.
    He also enjoyed making and eating buttered toast. If his mother opened the bag of bread for him, he could insert the bread in the toaster, push the lever down with a wooden spoon, then handle the toast and eat it. He found it rather delicious. He said, “Here is something I like,” chomping the toast. Even the crust was buttery, thanks to his disgusting digits. His mother moved the toaster out into the garage so he could toast without limit.
    “Dewey, you have a phone call,” said his mom. She held up the phone to his face so he wouldn’t have to grab it and drop it.
    “Weird, no one ever calls me,” he said. “They’re all too scared. Buncha wussies.”
    “I think you’re enjoying that toast too much, LARDfingers,” said the witch through the phone. “No, wait—VASELINEfingers—now with vinegar!” Then she hung up. Dewey’s toast popped out of the toaster. For the first time in his life, he began to cry.

Frumpty Lumpty

You may have heard of Humpty Dumpty, that grand old character of Eggsville, who had a great fall and was never the same again. But you probably never heard of Humpty’s nephew, Frumpty Lumpty. Frumpty was an egg-man just like his uncle, but smaller and a little more raw. When he saw what happened to his uncle, he decided to stay indoors on a bed of soft cushions. He carefully sanded the corners off all of his furniture and glued pieces of foam on the edges of everything. 
    “Nothing will take me by surprise,” claimed Frumpty Lumpty. “Just because I am an egg does not mean I will be easy to crack.”

So our man Frumpty Lumpty set out to live a life that is the precise opposite of adventurous. He swore to systematically eliminate all hazards from his environment. But  he found that staying constantly on a heap of cushions is not as easy—nor as rewarding—as it sounds. Even egg-men have needs. He had to get up to eat, drink, and go to the bathroom. It was important to get a little exercise, or his yolk could settle and stick to his inner shell, or his white could coagulate and clot, which could lead to Seinkirkenrumper’s Syndrome.

He swept the floor very clean so he would not trip on tidbits of grit, or puncture his toe on a wayward staple. He changed all the batteries in his smoke alarms. After seeing a commercial for Life Alert, he ordered one alarm for every room of his house. That’s only five alarms, but you must realize, Frumpty was on a fixed income, having quit his job to become “Disabled” by his anxiety.

Soon he developed a habit of ordering useless things from television infomercials and mail-order catalogs because he was bored with his shut-in lifestyle. To get his deliveries, he had to walk to his mailbox—just down the sidewalk and under a tree where a woodpecker lived. Every time he went to his mailbox, the woodpecker stared at him. “Stop looking at me, woodpecker!” Sometimes the woodpecker moved its beak as if to say, “I will punch holes in you like a whiffle ball.” Frumpty toddled, just as rapidly as he could, back inside. He wiped his forehead with a tissue, and fainted onto his soft recliner.

Frumpty ordered a bunch of Snoogies—all different colors, one for each day of the week. He ordered an 8-hour video of a yule log burning in a fireplace. He ordered little blocks of freeze-dried ice cream like astronauts eat in outer space. He ordered a stack of edible dinner plates that tasted horrible. He ordered shoes shaped like penguins holding little snow shovels. The catalog guaranteed that they would shovel your sidewalk snow for you*. Frumpty ordered a lot of things just to get free shipping, and then forgot what he ordered so that when those things arrived, they surprised him. “Oh, what a treat! Some kind of slippers for cat feet,” he said when he opened a box. “Now if they would just send me a cat,” and he started looking through catalogs. “Maybe one with no claws.”   

Although it strained his budget, he’d joined the Toilet Seat of the Month Club, and was waiting for this month’s toilet seat to arrive: the Wonderplush Microfuzz Rumpcradle, so comfortable it will make you forget you’re on the toilet. Frumpty was a tad bit worried about forgetting too soon that he was on the toilet, but he was also painfully aware that last month’s toilet seat, the May Flowers Garden of Rich Delights, was already in the red-hot crosshairs of toilet seat fashionistas across America, and he would soon be noticeably outcommoded. “What if someone finds out I’m still using last month’s toilet seat four days into June?” That’s when he decided against letting anyone into his house. No more repairmen or surprise visitors. Even friends could be a big risk. He would keep the curtains closed so no one could see him watching TV or sitting on his outdated toilet seat.

One Saturday, Frumpty Lumpty needed to go out to get the mail. He was expecting a 9-volt Hot Dog Dicer with free Hot Dog Peeler, making hot dogs easier to eat without choking, but he was really scared to go outside. It was rainy, so he was worried about slip-and-fall situations because he had seen a number of commercials for Tad Morlan, Injury Lawyer. Finally he put on three layers of Snoogies and a hardhat, plus some grippy shoes. He also used a walker like some grandmas use. He made it to the mailbox safe and sound.
    “Darn,” he said, “No Hot Dog Dicer.” He got some new catalogs from the mailbox and looked up to see the woodpecker landing on his shoulder. His yolk ran cold. His eyes stretched maximally open and he cried a little dribble of egg white. “Oh noooooo,” he whispered to himself as the woodpecker—or was it a sapsucker?—leaned over and examined his cheek. It drank his jiggling tear right off his face!
    Frumpty panicked. He flailed his arms, flapping his catalogs noisily around his face as he scuttled back in the house. The woodpecker disappeared in the ruckus, leaving our desperate egg gasping for breath on the safe side of his door.
    Frumpty counted to ten, and his breathing returned to normal. “Oh dear,” he said, I really did a number on these catalogs. They are no longer collectable.” He began to smooth the rumpled pages of his new Lilian Vernor. His grandfather clock began to chime. When he looked to see what time it was, he gasped—the woodpecker was sitting there staring at him. He tiptoed to the phone, called animal control, covered his face in catalogs, and promptly passed out.
    The woman from animal control woke him up. She had the woodpecker in a net. “This little guy won’t be drilling any more holes in your grandfather clock, sir.” She drove away with the bird after she promised to relocate it to a forest very far away.
    “Germany?” asked Frumpty.
    “Oh no,” said the woman. “Somewhere just outside of town.”
    “Outside of THIS town? Oh dear.”
    So Frumpty sat alone in his heap of cushions, staring at the woodpecker hole in his clock. He tried to look through his new catalogs, but he couldn’t stop looking at the hole. First he stuffed a tissue in it, to cover the sharp edges. Then he taped a calendar page over it, hiding it from sight. But he knew it was there, and stared at it until his eyes dried up.
    “That does it!” he screamed. “Unsafe! UNSAFE!”
First he cut a mail slot in his door so he wouldn’t have to go outside anymore. He sat peering out the slot until he saw the mailman, then yelled out to tell him about the new slot. Then he got into an argument with the mailman, who said the slot was not in a delivery location approved by the postmaster.
    “I will have to keep delivering your mail to your box, until you get the slot approved,” he insisted.
    “Well, WAFFLE-DIMPLES!” Frumpty screamed through the opening.
    “Being rude won’t win you any points here, Mr. Grumpty,” said the mailman as he departed.
    “I won’t risk my life any longer!”
    So Frumpty called the local armorer. If he had to go outside to get his mail, he would need a fine suit of armor, like a knight of old.
    “I need to measure you,” said the armorer. “When can you come in?”
    “I can’t come in! My life is in danger! That’s why I need armor!”
    “Okay, stay cool, dude. I can come over to measure you at home. Just keep in mind, I look like I’m in a heavy metal band. When I get there, I’ll have my rock ’n’ roll hair and tattoos, so don’t get scared. I’ll be looking like a total rip-snortin’ master of destruction, but I’ll measure your crazy body real gentleman-like, and then I’ll go back to the forge and beat some plate mail over the flames of Hades, throw in some air guitar, and soon you’ll be like a metal-clad warhorse, my man!”
    “Well, noodlewads…. all right, I guess.”
    So the armorer came over and measured Frumpty Lumpty’s ovoid body.
    “Name’s Rad Jones,” he said, shaking Frumpty’s hand. He wore a demonstration suit made of various armors: one leg made of tough leather, the other of jointed steel plates, while his shirt was chain mail and his arms were two different petterns of metal scales. He pointed to his body here and there to explain the choices.
    “If you don’t plan on jousting or facing archers, I like the chain mail for good all-around performance—protection from edged weapons, but good mobility. It’s heavy, but not as bad as some. But you still might need to pump up your legs a bit.” He pointed to Frumpty’s spindly legs with pitying eyes.
    “I can do some leg exercises while waiting for you to finish my armor,” said Frumpty.
    “Good man! So, the more I look at you, the more I think you need protection from crushing blows, like anything that would crack your shell, right?”
    “Right! Especially woodpeckers. And furniture. And tornado debris. And thrown bottles. And spoons. And—”
    “Oh-kay, I get it! I WAS thinking you’d look cool in a nice lamellar,” he pointed to the pattern of laced-together scales covering his left arm, “‘cuz then I could make you look like a Mongol! A savage Mongol egg! But you don’t have much flexibility anyway, and you don’t have to wreak havoc on horseback… so I guess it’s gotta be full plate, head to toe. It’s heavy and uncomfortable, but once we get your helm on, not even a woodpecker can get you.”
    “I was wondering about that,” ventured Frumpty Lumpty, “the helmet part. Since I have no neck, where does the helmet fit?”
    “Good question, Master Egg.” Rad Jones stepped back to consider Frumpty’s alarming lack of helmet-ability. His eyes lit up and he did a little air guitar. “Dude, we could make you up like GWAR! I can make you a big false helmet so if somebody tries to knock your block off, POW, there goes the helmet, but your head’s not even in there! We could even fill it with a big blood pack so it looks like you hemorrhaged with apocalyptic gusto!”
    The more Frumpty heard about GWAR, the less he wanted to do with it. He told Rad Jones that he would rather keep the armor simple, with maximum safety features.
    “Oh yeah man, heavy on the safety!” Jones handed him an estimate sheet, which required that Frumpty mail in half the payment before the armor was finished. Then he sped away in his noisy van with the Grim Reaper airbrushed on the side. Frumpty shivered, went inside, sat down to study the estimate, and was dismayed to find a sentence in the fine print that said, “Even quality armor cannot defend against enchantments, dragon breath, or gas attacks. Limited effectiveness against crossbows, catapults, and magic missiles.” Frumpty decided to stay in and order a gas mask
via amazon.com.
    Making custom armor is not like making hamburgers. Frumpy's armor would take many days to make. All month long, while he waited, he read books about knights of the olden days. He did some squatting exercises for his spindly legs until he developed a knee pain, then switched to eating vitamins.
    Rad Jones delivered the armor right on schedule. He helped Frumpty put it on. He even helped by making a makeshift gas-mask attachment.
    "Majestic, my ancient brother! Clip on the gas mask for a Gamma World effect! In this suit, you can outlast the siege and still have enough juice to pummel a slew of mutant kobolds."
    "I’ve no idea what you're talking about," stated Frumpty.
    "You'll see. Now adventure will come to you. Call me if you need any adjustments." Jones rumbled away in his van.
    “Oh dear,” said Frumpty as he staggered inside in his armor.

Now it was July, and very hot outside. The TV news called it a heat wave. Everyone in town huddled inside, near their air conditioners, including Frumpty Lumpty. He was already getting used to staying in his armor all the time.  
    “Only a fool would take off this armor,” he said to himself. “Anything could happen… some ruffian could throw a brick through my window, or I could fall down some stairs.” Then he remembered, there were no stairs in his house. “Well, someone could break in here and build some stairs, and then I might fall down them. It could happen at any time.” He was drinking baby food through a straw because he had given up food that had to be chewed. Chewing seemed quite dangerous, what with all the things that one might crack a tooth on. Plus, he could poke the straw right through a slot in his armor, without opening himself up to attack.
    Out the window, he saw the mailman walk by, carrying his mail. He had been waiting all week for an exciting delivery, special leg-strengthening gummy bears. He tried to get to the door so he could call to the mailman, but he moved very slowly in his armor. By the time he got the door open, the mailman was way down the street, walking at a speed that Frumpty found excessive and almost offensive.
    “Okay, Speedy Gonzales,” he muttered, “walk like a freak of nature, crazy legs.” Across the road, he could see something in his mailbox. He looked around for woodpeckers, but didn’t see or hear any birds. “Well, this is why I bought a suit of armor,” he told himself as he set out to cross the street.
    “Wow, is it hot!” He could already feel the sun heating up his armor plates. He opened his mailbox. Unfortunately, his leg-power gummy bears had not arrived. He grabbed the bundle of junk mail and turned back toward his house. In his armor, he could only see straight ahead, but he turned carefully to look both ways twice before crossing. No cars in sight! But for some reason, there was a marble in the street. Frumpty stepped on it and down he went, face to the pavement, jarring his whole body. He caught his breath, thinking the worst. But he did not crack! He felt very good about his armor for a moment, until he realized he could not get up, and the hot street was cooking him quite rapidly, with the help of his steel suit.
    “Oh dear,” he said. “HELP! HELP!” But his voice only rang in his ears, inside the boiling hot armor. He pushed his mail over so he could peek at it through his visor. He wasn’t thinking very clearly now. He said, “Please let there be something helpful in today’s mail.” But it was only a handful of coupons and flyers. One of them showed a man grilling hamburgers, wearing very large oven mitts. Below the picture were the words, “Because you can never be too careful.”

*but in very small words it also said “only up to one centimeter of snow”

Moon Base Alfalfa/Operation Lunar Petting Zoo

In the early days of NASA, long before they landed rovers on Mars and Venus, long before the discovery of sleeping Transfumblers on the Moon, NASA had to compete with the Soviets. It was a “space race.” The Soviets (Russians with frowns) not only had a beeping metal ball named Sputnik in orbit, they also launched a dog into space. Her name was Laika.
    Never known for their social grace, the Soviets sent Laika into space, but gave her no way to come home. After a while, she ran out of food and air, so she pooped out in a fatal way. She would have whimpered, but she couldn’t breathe. At least she died a hero, but she would much rather have eaten some savory leftovers in an oxygen-rich environment.
    Most people would be embarrassed to do that to a dog, but not the Soviets. They took a picture of her in space and mailed it to the President of the USA, saying, “Top this, Yankee swine. Also, Happy Holidays!” (This was the Soviets’ idea of a Christmas card.) You could even see Sputnik shooting by in the background, even though that never happened—it was just pasted in, to upset the President.
    It worked! The President stared at the card every day until his eyes cried. Finally he slammed it down on his desk, called Dave at NASA on his red telephone, and gusted, “I bought you guys Cape Canaveral and now the Soviets have a space dog! What happened? How did we get so far behind?”
    “Well, sir, we have the weather balloon turtle, AND a supersonic guinea pig—remember, he went around the Earth secretly in John Glenn’s fanny pack!”
    “Grrr!” uttered the President, “Why didn’t we get that on television? Now it’s too late—that looks silly next to a cosmonaut dog!”
    “Be patient, sir, we—” said NASA Dave.
    “Shut up! No more waiting patiently! I want astro-pups and low-orbit marsupials! Give me big results, Dave! By next Christmas, I’d better have a ding-dong PETTING ZOO on the Moon, with little American flags all over that stuff!” The President hung up the phone, forgetting that NASA Dave was a very literal-minded sort of fellow.
    “Well, it’s only January, and the moon IS the closest heavenly body,” stated Dave. He called together his best engineers. First, they needed a petting zoo worthy of landing on the Moon.
    “What animals belong in a petting zoo again? Is it limited to barnyard mammals?”
    “Negative,” said NASA Yuri. “Ducks and chickens can be included in that scenario.”
    “Right. So, domesticated mammals, AND fowl.” Dave began sketching a simulation.
    “Wait,” announced Yuri, scratching out an equation, “exclude roosters, ganders, and peacocks.” Yuri scribbled in his Big Chief algorithm pad. “Their behaviors fall outside petting zoo parameters.” Yuri had a mathematical talent, all right.
    “That’s right,” said NASA Bob, “Those boy-birds will peck and flog a child to ribbons quicker’n you can say Jiminy Christmas!” Bob left the math to Yuri (he flew by the seat of his pants, which were blue jeans).
    So, by week’s end, they had assembled America’s elite new team of Animals Amenable to Repeated Petting (AARP): a duck (Mallard), a goat (Nubian), a sheep (Merino), a calf (Holstein), a small pony (Shetland), a rabbit, two hens (Leghorns), and a sheepdog sworn to protect them all. Why two hens? “Redundancy,” said Yuri. His calculations showed a statistically significant chance that the dog would choose hunger over duty. The dog resented the implication; he, in turn, smelled Soviet spy all over Yuri.

All the animals were given code-names, to help keep the mission a secret from Soviet spies.

Their team of Astropets assembled, the engineers set up a rigorous training program. You can’t just go into space unprepared. You need space suits, special food, and bags to poop in. You need to develop quick reflexes, solid bones, and the ability to do flips in zero-g environments. If you are part of a petting zoo, you must learn to eat grain pellets from a tube, or dog food from a funnel, and to survive relentless petting under harsh conditions.    
    “Are there any children on the moon to pet us?” asked the goat, code-named Little Smokie. “Will they feed us cheese?”
    “The number of children on the lunar surface is very low,” said NASA Dave, “and there may not be as much cheese as you think.”
    “Will I really need to jump over the moon?” asked the calf, code-named Fiddle Faddle. The only picture she had seen of the moon showed a cow jumping over it.
    “No,” said NASA Dave. “Yuri is working on the orbital trajectories now. He said you’ll never make it by jumping. Not enough velocity.” Fiddle Faddle ran around the place jumping over buckets. He also jumped over some moon boots and the chickens, Drumstick and Tenders. One stood atop the other, to make the training more extreme.

    You might assume Bob was less intelligent than Yuri or Dave, or even Peggy in accounting, but he could improvise like a MacGyver, and he was the only man at NASA who could shoe a horse. He even knew the difference between a fetlock and a pastern. While Yuri ran equations, Bob cobbled together a crude analog for rigorous petting in low gravity. Mechanical hands in gloves of rubber, flannel, and velvet protruded from the walls of a long hallway. They rotated in hypnotic stroking motions, sometimes gripping, patting, or poking. The hallway grew smaller and smaller as the hands grew more numerous. Finally, at the end of the passageway, a mysterious black door awaited.
    “What is behind the door?” asked Sirius, the dog. The whole Astropet squad stared down the hall at the door.
    “The unknown,” said Dave. “On every mission, we must plan for a worst-case scenario.”
    “So, the worst thing is in there?” asked Sirius, the hair on his neck standing up.
    “Or nothing at all. You will have to go in and find out,” said Dave. “Outer space is full of unknowns. You must learn to face dangers, variables, and surprises.”
    “I’ll go in,” said the duck, code-named Wigglesworth. “I like surprises.”
    “Don’t go,” said the rabbit, Edgar. Edgar was his real name as well as his code name. “It’s too much work.” He wasn’t frightened, just lazy.
    Wigglesworth dashed down the passageway without hesitation. He evaded most of the robo-hands, then stopped under one just to show that he could take some petting.  The mechanical fingers clenched and swiveled like crazy.
    “Ow,” said Wigglesworth. “Too hard.” He scrambled past, then stood at the base of the door. “Now, how do I open this door? I can’t reach the controls.”
    “See?” said Dave. “Training for a space mission is very tough. Now we know that ducks can’t open doors.” Dave made a note on his little pad.
    All the Astropets looked to Sirius for a plan, but just then, he fell through a trap door. Oh, that Bob was tricky!
    “Oh, good one! Now THAT was unexpected,” quacked Wigglesworth. He really did enjoy surprises.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bonus Drawings!

George Washington wrestles two bears to win access to his meat stores!
 A baboon enjoying his truck book, in the comfort of his chair.

The Vengeful Egg... not a good egg, sir.

Golden Brown knows the taste of dead Happy Meals.
Bigfoot's dog was a little bit stupid.

The robot, as seen before attending Mardi Gras.