It’s party time! Square dancing is introduced for the intrepid, the inexperienced, and the deranged, and nobody gets hurt. Sylvia’s kids discover the kitchen and the joys of Jello. Finally, they load into Newt and take the refurbished amphibious vehicle for a test run.
Now that there is kind of a plot, you might need to backtrack a bit. Here’s a link if you decide to start reading at the beginning. There’s a helpful chart below to give you a chance to sort out the rodents. Recommended snack: Jello, especially those fancy molded kinds with random foodstuffs trapped inside. Soundtrack: Old Time Square Dance Music. Switch to Truckin‘ (Grateful Dead) once they start driving around.
He ran into Bond first and dispatched the little budgie to fetch the hens and have them herd Sylvia’s kids over to the makeshift ballroom in time for the first dance. Then he wandered toward the glow in the workshop windows where the sulky millwright and his crew of naked mole rats worked away on the zeppelin.
“We have plenty of time to finish this. You guys ate, right? And then came back down to work again? Take the night off, listen to some music, have some dessert. I won’t even bug you about dancing. Newt’s ready to drive, and that’s good enough for tomorrow. Come on and take a break.”
Rodney scowled at Dobby but nodded toward his workers and they put down their tools and scampered toward the rowdy ballroom. Dobby stood on tiptoes and tried to peer into the windows of the amphibious vehicle and frowned. He opened the door and looked up at the driver’s seat. Rodney cleared his throat, stepped forward and pulled out a little step from the undercarriage. Dobby smiled and stepped up into Newt, and sat in the driver’s seat. Rodney shut the door and Dobby looked behind him into the Salon. The carpets, couches, curtains, and chandeliers were exactly like his sketches. He turned back to Rodney, who now seemed to be standing way down below him, and clutched the steering wheel to stave off a little dizzy spell.
“I saw that,” said Rodney. “If you’re woozy about this height, well, what are you going to do when the airship lifts off the ground?”
“I’m fine. It just surprised me for a minute. Annabelle is going to be driving, or piloting, or whatever. I plan to ride in the back. I’m going to lay on a couch and let Conchita feed me grapes.”
“What do you think Sylvia will say about that?”
“Oh, Conchita can feed her grapes, too!”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Okay, come on down from there. Let’s go to the dance. Are the desserts served yet?”
“Of course not, but there’s still some fruit and a couple willow branches left.”
They trudged back up the hill to the ballroom. Three small squirrels screamed past them, a trio of hens huffing and puffing not far behind. The goose was approaching the microphone as they entered the fray.
“That tune was Who Hit Nelly with a Stovepipe. Now, who’s ready to dance? We’re going to need four couples to a square. Looks like we can easily come up with four squares tonight. Can you please give it a bit of thought and choose couples who aren’t ten times as big as you are? That’s okay for some of the circle dances, but it’s kinda dangerous for this one, okay? I’m talking to you, down there. Yes, you. Can you please switch out with that couple in the square next to you? Yeah, that’s going to be better. Okay, how are we doing, now? Need one more couple in this square up front. Prince D! What are you doing? Where’s your partner, get up here!”
Dobby looked around for Sylvia and spotted her in a square near the back, partnered up with Kipling. She shrugged and smiled at him from across the room. Dobby looked around for a partner, grabbed the surprised millwright and pulled him forward into the front square.
“All right,” said the goose. “Rodney’s gonna dance tonight! I’m Silly Goose, and I’m gonna be calling the dances tonight, so pay attention! Couple one is closest to me, couple two is on their right, and on around to four. Make a note of it. Each couple has a raven and a lark: raven on the right, lark on the left.”
There was a lot of talking in the squares, each group determining the couple numbers. Then the raven lark controversy, with a lot of switching around due to some bird preferences, and even some couples changing when someone refused to be a raven. These shenanigans persisted until the caller tapped the mic.
“Quiet up, y’all! We’re going to start with an allemande left with your corner. Ignore your partner for the moment, reach out with your left paw toward the nearest fool, shake paws and turn right around, return to face your partner. Okay, so far so good. Now we’re going to learn a right and left grand, and I sure darned hope at least a few of you know it already.”
She reached down for a sip of water before she continued. The crowd was attentive but unruly, polite but pushy, and they finally made it through the last instruction before they forgot the first one.
“Okay, the band’s gonna play Dogs in the Dishes for us. Everybody ready?
With your corner left allemande,
Back to your partner for a right left grand,
Hand over hand around that ring,
Meet your own for a big fat swing,
Swing your partner round and round,
Any old way but upside down,
Couple one, rip and snort,
Down the center and cut em off short,
Raven go gee and the lark go haw,
Now all back home where you belong!”
Silly Goose called half a dozen dances and after each dance, everybody chose new partners. After the first dance ended, Dobby made a beeline for Sylvia, nearly knocking over the millwright. He was happy to be abandoned until Bianca cornered him and he ended up being ensnared for every dance because the ladies were so excited to see him joining the fun. Sylvia seemed to be enjoying herself, and Dobby only stepped on her toes twice, a new personal best for a night of dancing. Dessert was served, the band kept playing until the final tune, The Snouts and Ears of America.
“Did they get dessert?”
Sylvia snorted and shifted Tix back up onto her shoulder. Dobby had Cu and Sali in a backpack his decorator had made up from leftover curtain fabric.
“I guess you didn’t hear. I don’t know if I want to tell you but the rabbits are going to tell you anyway. The hens were supposed to bring them up to the ballroom, but they were so tuckered out that these little monsters got ahead of them, took a wrong turn and ended up in the kitchen. Fortunately, they had never seen petits fours before and didn’t know they were food. They went straight for the Jello molds. They’d never seen those, either, and decided they were perfect for jumping. Mind you, it’s all rumors, I wasn’t there, and you shouldn’t be mad at your hens, either. Mission impossible, right?”
Dobby laughed. “I heard. I’m glad we were able to give you a break. Jello is easy to fix, magic, you know. It would have been trickier to create new cakes, but Jello? That was easy. The rabbits weren’t angry, just a bit excited.”
“But my kids shouldn’t be getting away with being naughty like that. It doesn’t help when we get home, you know.”
“I guess you didn’t hear all of it. The hens got there right away, wouldn’t let your kids have any dessert until everybody else had eaten. I hear it nearly killed them. They thought there would be nothing left.”
Sylvia laughed. “Well let’s cram them into bed and call it a day!”
After a disaster free brunch, Dobby led Sylvia and her three musketeers (complete with hats) down to the workshop. Rodney was attaching nautical bumpers to Newt’s sides as the Peahen in charge of decorating selected the colors.
“Are you kids ready for a ride? Hop on and check it out. I need to load on the snacks and then we can go.”
“Snacks?” said Sylvia. “We just finished brunch!”
“You never know how long you’ll be away. Best to be prepared.”
Sylvia narrowed her eyes, but perked up when she climbed up into the shiny amphibious vehicle. The little squirrels bounded past her, each one claiming a sumptuous sofa. A rabbit followed with trays, boxes, and bags of snacks to be stowed in the small kitchenette. Dobby walked around to the passenger entrance where Rodney stood ready to load him in.
“I want Sylvia to drive Newt, but I’m coming along to take notes or make adjustments,” said Rodney, as he placed his shoulder in position to nudge our Prince up into the vehicle. “I’ll add a small step on this side, too.”
“Oof,” and Dobby was in. He worked his way back, noting that each tiny squirrel had commandeered a plush couch, leaving him only a selection of smaller club chairs. Sylvia was already in the driver’s seat, and she looked back to check on her smaller charges.
“What are you guys doing? You’ve taken all the best seats so The Prince is stuck with the little chairs! One of you had better give up your seat, pronto!”
“It’s fine,” said Dobby. “I’m already buckled in back here. We’re just driving around, it’s not a test flight, or anything.”
The rabbit grabbed some empty boxes and hopped out the passenger side. Rodney stepped up into the vehicle’s salon, checked everyone’s seatbelts, strapped himself into the co-pilot’s seat, and they were off.
“It’s a standard gearshift, maybe a bit touchy at the clutch—“ said Rodney.
Sylvia shot him a withering glance, and drove Newt smoothly up the slope to the main driveway.
“How about you navigate. Can you talk me through a test course with a variety of terrain? Some slopes, some bumps, some deep water?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Rodney. “Turn left here, and we’ll go off-road in a jiffy. We can take the scenic route past the final resting place of the walking palace, and go down into the river. Come up at the fields, cut across on a farm road, and head back. There’s a small road just beyond a gazebo on the right. Here it is, turn right here.”
Sylvia expertly turned off the paved road onto a glorified deer trail through the brush. Branches scratched the sides of the vehicle and randomly poked the open windows. Sylvia looked at Rodney, who was busy peering ahead, oblivious to the forest trying to claw its way into the plush salon.
“The exterior has a fused silicon coating,” he said. “Nothing can scratch, puncture, or gouge this thing. I promise.”
Sylvia alternately bumped and galloped the responsive Newt over the uneven path, slowing to cross over small logs and large boulders. She turned to grin at Rodney.
“This is fun! I’m going to be sad when it’s off the ground, dangling from the airship. I’m glad Annabelle is taking over when the motocross driving becomes boring piloting. Do you know when that test flight is? Any idea?”
“Friday afternoon. We’re going to wait until you get here. You are coming Friday, aren’t you?”
“That’s the plan. The party is Saturday, right? Are you going to that? I don’t quite understand the concept, but I think we are all going by zeppelin.” She glanced back at the prince, who was snoozing in an awkward position in his club chair. “But we haven’t been invited to the actual party. Does he expect us to hang out in the parking lot until the party is over?”
“Nobody wants to go to the party, not even the Prince. He wants to make a dramatic entrance, eat some cake, and leave. He wants us all there, waiting as emergency back-up, and an excuse to leave early. It should be fun, and he’s planned a big bash next Sunday for all of us. The rabbits have already submitted menus three times, and he keeps adding courses. There will be a band and dancing, of course, but he’s also asked for crafts tables and games. Oops! We passed the turn for the river. Can you back up? We need to go back to that clump of macadamia trees. Did you see the path on the right? That goes down to the river past the rusting heap that was the walking palace. Someday I’ll haul it out of there and strip it for parts.”
Newt trundled down the path and as the broken no-longer-walking palace came into view, there was a flurry of furry activity in the back. When Sylvia turned around, all three little squirrels were standing on one couch, leaning out the open window and chattering about the rusted magnificence of the ruined palace.
“All three of you! Sit back down, seat belts on! I don’t want to see you out of your seats again! You understand?”
The wailing started, waking the snoozing prince.
“The windows are too high! We can’t see out,” said Sali. She turned to the Prince. “Can you make us some really really really tall couches?”
The Prince considered this request. “No,” he said. “Sit down, buckle up. Right now. Then I will consider some hanging chairs, maybe those woven bamboo ones. They will have to be on tracks so you can move from one side to the other without unbuckling. I’ll have to think it through, and then, of course I will have to run it past my decorator. Will you need headphone jacks so you can listen to music? Bookshelves? Coat hooks, hat racks, built-in storage, cup holders?”
Cu gave him a sidelong glance. “That’s ridiculous.”
Dobby gave him a wide-eyed look. “What? You don’t want the cup holders?”
“Yes, we do!” said Tix. “But I think magazine racks and a tray table would be better than bookshelves. I don’t think we’ll have time to read a whole book, but I am going to bring my comic books if we have a magazine rack. They’re not going to fly out the window are they?”
Dobby considered this seriously. “I think it will work if it is an enclosed box with a lid. What do you think? You have some good ideas. Is there anything else Newt needs? That’s the purpose of a test drive: to work out the bugs, fine tune the accoutrements, spiff it up a bit. Think about it and let me know.”
Cu stared at him. “We need snacks.”
Dobby stared back. “Not until we are on the river. It’s too bumpy here.”
“Is everything okay back there?” Sylvia took her eyes off the road long enough to catch the stare down.
“Everything is just dandy back here. When we get into the river, it’s kind of boring. Why don’t you hand over the controls to Rodney at that point, join us back here for snacks?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Soon, they were driving down the soft bank of the river. The wheels spun a bit, trying to get purchase, a rooster tail of sand following their dubious progress. Rodney took a pencil from behind his ear and made a note on his clipboard.
“I’ll weld on a winch onto the back.”
“Not a sky hook?”
Rodney looked at her to see if she was serious. She was smiling, but right at that moment, her eyes opened wide and her mouth formed an O. Newt slid sideways and there was a gurgling sound as they plunged into the river. Rodney made another note on his clipboard.
Newt bobbed about for a few seconds and then leveled out, spinning slowly to face downstream. They drifted slowly with the current.
To be continued . . .
The stunning Cast of Characters:
This story needs a lot more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about jello?), draw a picture of it, and send me an email. I’ll reply so that you can attach a digital copy of your masterpiece to it. I’ll add it to the story!
Or, if you’d rather help with the glossary, send me the list of words you had to look up (or should have looked up, but didn’t!). Someday, I will start putting together the glossary. Do know what an amphibian is?