Once off the bus, Josephine’s anxiety had dissipated completely. Saturn was a gorgeous planet, full of magnificent mountains and strange floating upside down palm trees with glow in the dark coconuts. Even better, there were little shops full of wind-up toys, exotic looking desserts and sparkling dresses. But best of all were the rings.
The rings of Saturn were solid, smooth and looked like tons of fun. Crowds of people were riding bicycles, skateboards, scooters and roller skates around and around the planet. Josephine knew she had to get out there and join in the fun. She searched for some sort of bridge to the rings, but there didn’t appear to be anything. Maybe they floated out there?
Daphne’s anxiety had not dissipated so much as it had increased. What were they doing on Saturn? How were they going to get to Mount Rushmore, and more importantly, home? Then she began panicking about the farm again. The bright lights and high-pitched whizzes from the shops did little to assuage her freak out. Then Josie grabbed her hand and pulled her toward a strange-looking kiosk that was completely dark, but had a neon sign rainbowed above it with blinking lights that spelled out, ‘C-O-M-E-H-E-R-E-!-!-!’ “Hello?” Josephine shouted.
“Josie, what are you doing? This is dangerous! We don’t know…”
Before Daphne could finish her thought, a deep, echoey, lispy voice rang out. “What has grey skin, a trunk and comes out of nowhere?” Josie looked a bit frightened, but delighted. Daphne just looked frightened. A cloud of smoke erupted between them. The voice returned, answering its own question with, “The Elephant of Surprise!” It was indeed an elephant, in a porkpie hat and brown tweed jacket, leaning on a cane with a skull on top. Josie began applauding, while Daphne tried not to faint.
“Land sakes! You about gave me a heart attack.”
“A trazillion apologies, my good tortoise. However, I cannot help but show off my tremendous abilities, especially to two ladies of discerning tastes such as yourselves.” The elephant took Daphne’s hand in his and lightly kissed it.
“Do it again! Do it again!” Josie squealed. He laughed.
“Name’s Quirk, Artie Quirk. Master of illusion, grand poet of romance, and certified balloon pilot.” He handed Josie his card.
“You are too much, Mr. Quirk. My name is Josephine, and this is my best friend Daphne. We’re here on vacation.”
“Not by choice. We meant to go to Mount Rushmore and boarded the wrong bus, and now we’re stuck here, so.”
“Ah, but what better place to be stuck! Have you tried our famous Space kebab? Or danced at the Saturn Anti-Gravity Ballroom? Or rode the rings?”
At this, Josephine’s eyes lit up. “We want to ride the rings! How do we ride the rings?”
Daphne looked at her, aghast. “No we don’t! It looks dangerous and crazy.” But Artie had already disappeared behind his kiosk and quickly returned wearing a scarf and holding two more.
“You’ll want these, it gets cold out there.”
Artie Quirk had taken them to a bridge on the other side of the planet that led to the rings. Daphne had ultimately decided she may as well accept the fact that they were where they were, and perhaps it would be best to just relax and have fun. They were on vacation, after all. Artie Quirk had loaned her a scooter and he was riding a unicycle across the bridge. The bridge felt like a naturally occurring kind of linoleum, and was just a little bit slippery. Daphne couldn’t help but look down into the vastness of space below them, and she felt her stomach doing somersaults. “I don’t know about this, guys. Maybe I’ll just wait on the other side.”
“Nonsense, Daphne, dovey, you’ve got to try it. Come on, we’re on vacation, let’s have an adventure!” Josephine was on cloud nine, and had to fight to stay back with her friend and the elephant. Artie was excited as well, but sympathetic to Daphne’s condition.
“It’s not as terrifying once we’re out upon the rings,” he assured her. And it turned out he was right. Daphne was skeptical at first, but once they were there, and Artie shouted, “Look up, Tortoise! Look up!” She adjusted her horn rims and peered up at the sky as the three of them began speeding around Saturn.
The stars had never looked so amazing. They were like a cross between a pinwheel and fireworks, spinning and glowing and leaving trails of light. Josie thought they looked like giant dandelions of light and she wished she could float up and skate in and around them. Though they didn’t actually move, it appeared as though they were dancing, like they were waltzing around the sky. Daphne was so transfixed, she didn’t even notice how fast she was going, and looked back down just in time to avoid crashing into Artie Quirk on his unicycle.
Josie was humming a tune to herself, and strumming her ukulele. And before they knew it, they had traveled the circumference of the planet three times. Josie wanted to continue, but both Artie and Daphne were getting tired and dizzy, so they rolled across the bridge back to the planet’s surface. “Wow, that was the top greatest experience of my life! I just wish I could get close enough to touch the stars.” Josie was bursting with excitement, skating in circles around Artie and Daphne.
“You know, I could take you up there in my balloon, if you like,” Artie said. Daphne looked nauseas.
“All the way up there? In just a balloon?”
“My good tortoise, I am a certified balloon pilot, and one of the best balloon pilots on all of Saturn. Why, it says so on my business card. Besides, I was planning on taking a trip to the Sun, anyhow, if you two would like to tag along.”
“Ooh, could we? We could make our way back to Mount Rushmore and see the sights of the Solar System at the same time. Oh, Daphne, it’ll be such grand fun!”
Daphne was not so sure about the fun part, but Artie Quirk seemed like a friendly and reliable fellow, and she did want to get back to Mount Rushmore. She sighed. “Can I borrow a parachute?” Josie gave her one of her patented bear hugs and squealed with delight.
“Of course you may, I’ve got a lovely tweed parachute that would go perfectly with your horn rims. And just you wait..” he said with a wink. “You’re going to love my balloon.”