JOSEPHINE & DAPHNE’S SUMMER VACATION: PART 3

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.”

JOSEPHINE & DAPHNE’S SUMMER VACATION: PART 2

“All right, one last time,” Daphne said, adjusting her horn rims. She examined her list of chores from a clipboard, pencil in hand. “What’s the first thing you do in the morning?”
“Wake up,” said Bendix Owl.
“No, no, the first thing you do on the farm,” Daphne clarified.
“Oh! Feed the MerCows.”
“And where are the fish?”
“In the bucket.”
“Uh-huh. And where is the bucket?” Daphne asked.
“Where the fish are,” Bendix replied. Most people think of owls as wise and all-knowing creatures. Bendix did little to perpetuate that stereotype.
“No, Bendix, the bucket is in the deep freeze, in the kitchen. Now, what do you do after feeding the MerCows?” Daphne’s tone was even, although her nerves were on edge.
“I milk them.” Bendix’s tone was even, because he was simpleminded.
“Great. And then?”
“Uh… look at the list?” Daphne’s nerves were danger of breaking, and she was clearly having second thoughts about taking the trip. Josie knew she had to do something quick.
“Right, Bendix, dear, you’ll have this list to consult if you ever forget what to do. Daphne has written up all the chores very clearly and not at all overly detailed.” Josie had her arm around Daphne and was pulling her away.
“But it’s important to know the list inside and out in case…”
“Daphne, darling, we’re going to be late, and I know how important punctuality is to you. Bendix is very trustworthy; we have nothing to worry about. Right, Bendix?”
“Really? Trustworthy? Nobody’s called me trustworthy before. I’m not sure I even know what it means, but it sounds important. All those T’s and that W!”
Josie laughed nervously and continued pulling Daphne away, who was becoming more and more rooted to the ground. “Don’t be silly, of course we can trust you.”
Daphne whispered, “Are you sure? He did cause that fire.”
“It was a restaurant; anyone could’ve started a fire at a restaurant.”
“At the salad bar?” Daphne was eyeing Bendix nervously, who was trying to pet the DeerHens with little success.
“You trust me, don’t you? And I trust Bendix. Besides, I let you choose Mount Rushmore as our vacation spot, and the deal was that I find someone to tend to the farm. Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” Josephine’s eyes were pleading, as if imploring Daphne not to back out on their plans.
“Fine, I’ll let it go. You’re right, so.” Daphne sighed.
“Keen! Let’s get moving. And don’t worry; I’m ninety-five percent certain the farm will be in one piece when we get back.”

********************
They were running (and running late) by the time they reached the bus station. Josie was ecstatic, acting as if they had already reached their destination, roller skating through the bus terminal strumming her ukulele and singing. “Oh, we’re in a rushmore to get to Mount Rushmore. We’ll shove and we’ll pushmore to get to Mount Rushmore.”
Daphne was flustered and panicking, trying desperately to keep up with Josie. “Slow down, Josie, and please be quiet,” she panted.
“Daphne says hush-hushmore; we’re going to Mount Rushmore. Which way is the busmore, to take us to Mount Rushmore?” Josie inquired in song to the very distracted looking bus station employee. Without making eye contact, he ushered the panda and tortoise to the furthest bus on the left. The station was a mass of bodies all moving every which way, shoving Josie and Daphne hither and thither. “This is bus station is so busy, it should be called a bustle station,” Josie said, giggling.
Daphne grumbled. She didn’t understand how Josie could remain so chipper in such a loud and stressful environment. They were packed like peanuts in a candy bar, there was a nauseating stench of exhaust and the din of engines and chatter made normal conversation nearly impossible. Daphne was getting a headache from all the noise and stress, and Josephine seemed to be having the time of her life, smiling to everyone she passed, even though they never returned her smile.
Finally, breaking through the current of streaming passengers, they reached their bus, just as the doors slapped shut in their faces. Daphne immediately shrieked and began banging on the doors, yelling, “Let us in! Let us in!”
“Please don’t cause a fussmore, we’re getting on the bus to Mount Rushmore,” Josie sang as the doors squealed open. The bus driver, a man in mirrored sunglasses and a blue uniform, turned to them and spoke. For some reason, he spoke through the bus’s PA system, and everything he said came out garbled. Josie didn’t try to translate it; she just grabbed her friend’s hand and ran up the steps onto the bus. They found a pair of seats near the back and plunked down. Josie smiled and waved at everyone, who steadfastly refused to pay attention to her. Daphne, finally relaxed, promptly fell asleep as the bus lurched forward.
In her dream, Daphne was looking up at Mount Rushmore, and taking several snapshots, as Josie sang her Mount Rushmore song in the background. She was just about to put away her camera, when the stone head of George Washington turned to her and said, “What was the next chore on the list?” Washington sounded suspiciously like Bendix Owl and when Daphne looked over at him, she was suddenly transported to the farm, which was a shambles. Bits of Invisible Barn were scattered across the lawn, and the DeerHens were running wild, butting into each other and trampling through the Spaghetti Patch. Worse, the Umbrella Tree was shriveled and dying, and Bendix was nowhere to be found. The MerCows were crying out to her, the dread began sinking deeply in. Her home and her livelihood had been destroyed. Meanwhile, she could still hear Josephine singing the infernal Mount Rushmore song. She rubbed her eyes and looked again, but nothing changed.
Daphne awoke with a start, and looked around, relief flooding her senses. It was all a dream, and the farm was most likely just fine. She turned to Josie to tell her about her nightmare, and was surprised to find the panda looking away from her, guilty and nervous. “Land sakes! Did I sleep the whole way?”
Josie smiled nervously. “Not to worry, Daphne, sweetie, I entertained myself.”
Daphne patted her on the back. “Don’t worry, Josie, it isn’t like you. I had a nightmare about the farm, too, but I’m sure everything’s fine. Besides, I’m the one who’s supposed to be worried about it. We’re on vacation, just like you wanted!”
Josie was on the verge of tears. “I know, but…” She was interrupted by the bus driver, who spoke in indecipherable gibberish once again. This time, though, Daphne thought she recognized a word. And then she looked out the window, and realized she had recognized the word. And she knew why Josie was so nervous. They hadn’t boarded the bus to Mount Rushmore.
They had boarded the bus to Saturn.

JOSEPHINE & DAPHNE’S SUMMER VACATION: PART 1

It was another perfect day on the farm. The sun was shining bright and yellow; there were just a handful of puffy white clouds in the sky and the mere hint of a breeze shushing through the blades of grass. It was the kind of weather that made Josephine Panda restless. Living on a farm meant you were constantly doing chores, whether it was milking the MerCows (which required an antiquated diving apparatus), fending off the antlered and easily spooked DeerHens to get to their eggs (whose shells are covered in sharp thorns), picking noodles and meatballs from the Spaghetti Patch (which was dirty and sometimes overly spicy work) or remembering just exactly where the Invisible Barn was to mix the rainwater solution that was then fed to the towering and shady Umbrella Tree. Josephine, or Josie as she preferred to be called, would rather be roller-skating or picking dandelions or singing songs and playing her ukulele.
“Earth to Josie, come in Josie, this is Ground Control to Major Josie,” called out Daphne Tortoise. Daphne ran the farm with Josie, and unlike the panda, didn’t get easily distracted by perfect weather. She was only distracted by a good mystery or adventure book, or the occasional romance if it wasn’t too sappy. Daphne would certainly prefer getting lost in the pages of her favorite book under the Umbrella Tree (her favorite pastime) but she couldn’t shirk the responsibilities of the farm, and wouldn’t be able to relax if she did. “Come on, Josie, help me put on the diving suit.”
“Sorry, Daphne, dear, I was just daydreaming. Wouldn’t this be a perfect day to roller skate out to the Nehi Sea-hi and skip rocks, maybe have a picnic and sing songs, or something fun like that?” Josie’s eyes still had a dazed, faraway look in them. Daphne sighed.
“Yes, I suppose, but we have lots to do, starting with the MerCows. Can you, for the second time, help me with this diving suit?”
Josie laughed. “That thing makes you look like an old-timey robot.” She imitated what an old-timey robot would look like, stiffening her torso and stretching her arms out, while shuffling her feet in a Charlie Chaplin-esque manner. “Twenty-three skidoo, razzmatazz, you’re the cat’s meow, Lucky Lindy, let’s do the Robot Jitterbug,” she intoned in a robotic monotone. Daphne laughed in spite of herself.
“Sure, it looks silly, but there’s no other underwater gear, so.”
Josie stopped and placed a paw on Daphne’s shell. “Daphne, darling, you do know you’re a tortoise. An amphibian! And in case you weren’t aware,” she looked both ways and leaned in, whispering into Daphne’s ear, “you can breathe underwater.”
“Well, you can never be too safe, is what I say.”
Josie let out a sudden, mournful sigh and flailed her arms as if she’d just been jolted by lightning. “Daphne, can’t we just take some time off? This farm’s driving me batty!” Her dour expression just as suddenly flipped to one of exuberance. “I have it! Why don’t we take a vacation? Yes, that would be perfect, just what the doctor ordered. An exciting getaway full of fun and adventure.”
“We can’t take a vacation, Josie. There’s far too much to do around the farm. The Spaghetti Patch is already in full bloom, the DeerHens have just laid several dozen eggs, plus we need to relocate the Invisible Barn or the poor Umbrella Tree will starve, so.” Daphne’s gestures became more and more frantic as she pointed out all the chores they needed to complete that day alone.
“Daphne, darling, don’t work yourself thin. You’ll collapse under the weight of all that stress. Besides, when was the last time we went on vacation? When’s the last time we even left the farm?”
Daphne pondered this, scratching her head. “What about the County Fair? We were gone for a whole weekend.”
“That doesn’t count, that was work. We had to enter the MerCows into competition, and we spent the whole time tending to them. Plus, Bessiegill got loose and we had to recapture her. It was more stressful than the farm!”
Daphne strained her brain cells trying to recollect the last vacation they had taken. She came up with nothing. Nada. Zilcho. Maybe Josephine had a point. The poor panda certainly looked worn out, her purple overalls caked in dirt and red sauce from the Spaghetti Patch, her fur punctuated with DeerHen egg thorns. Daphne’s own red flannel shirt and blue jeans were stained and torn as well.
But if they left, who would take care of the farm? And could she relax, not knowing if all the chores had been done in her absence? For Daphne it was a Catch-22, she needed a vacation to relax, but she couldn’t imagine being able to relax while on vacation.
For Josephine, there was no quandary. She needed to get away and quick. Josie didn’t much care who took care of the farm while they were off having an adventure, as long as the adventure was exciting and took her mind off the farm for just a little while. She imagined the two of them swinging from vines in the jungle or defeating vicious varmints in an Old West shootout. These were the kinds of situations Daphne loved to read about, but would never want to find herself in.
If we go on vacation, and I stress that ‘if’,” Daphne said, finally. “It will be under two conditions: One- we find someone reliable to look after the farm.”
“Of course, Daphne, sweetie, you leave that to me, I will find just the right person to take care of the farm. You won’t need to worry about a thing.” Josie was practically bursting with anticipation, the thought of an actual vacation, real time away from the farm made her want to break out into spontaneous cartwheels.
“Two- I get to choose where we go.” Josie nodded, slightly apprehensive at this condition, but too ecstatic to care.
“Oh, Daphne, you’re a peach! Let’s go plan it right now!” Josie began running for the house, her legs moving almost as fast as her head.
“Not so fast, Josie,” said Daphne. “First, you have to help me on with this old-timey robot outfit.”