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
    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.

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