from A Grandpa's Notebook, Meyer Moldeven

As our friends approach the house, they hear more creaking noises from inside. The weird screech is heard again. The wisp of smoke that went down the chimney shoots up out again with a whoosh. The smoke twists into a spiral above the house, straightens, darts away and disappears over a low hill.

'What's going on,' Stobey demands, looking at Chug-a-lug.

'I don't know, Stobey,' Chug replies.

'Well,' Slutter says, 'we're here and we may as well check this place out. I think we should go ahead.' He turns to Suzanne and Roger. 'What do you think?' he asks.

Suzanne shrugs. Roger nods.

'OK with us,' Suzanne says, 'we're game. Let's go, as long as we get back to our spaceship in time.'

Stobey opens the door leading into the house, pokes her head in and looks about. She sees a large room with lots of heavy furniture scattered about. The furniture is covered with white sheets, and the floor and corners of the room are filled with space dust.

Chug leans in over Stobey and his head swivels in all directions, examining the dusty room.

'Kind of weird looking, isn't it?' he says.

The words are hardly out of his mouth when the spine-chilling screech cuts across the room.

Chug jumps with alarm. 'What's that,' he shrieks. He leaps so high his head strikes the top of the doorway and he let out another howl. Rubbing the top of his spaghetti-thin head he scowls and glowers at the top of the doorway.

'What's happening? What's happening?' Sir Lumpalot yells from behind. Slutter, Suzanne and Roger crowd forward to see better.

'I can't tell yet,' Stobey calls back over her shoulder, pointing. 'The sound came from that corner. Let's see what's there.'

Stobey steps carefully over the sill, and is followed close behind by Chug and the others. They tighten into a knot and, peering in all directions, tiptoe toward the middle of the huge, shadowy dust-laden room.

Without warning, another screech. Our friends grab each other. They look around, then quickly up and down. They can't see anything that might be causing the strange noise.

Slutter points. There, in the floor, near one of the walls, is a trap door.

'There's a cellar under this house,' he says, 'and that's where the booming and the screeching must be coming from. Do you think we should go down?'

Stobey thinks for a moment. 'Well,' she answers, 'it's the only way to find out who, or what, is making that noise. Also, what about the shadows that crossed the window, and what about that crazy smoke that went down and back up out of the chimney, and then twisted and curled and raced away? I'd like to find out what's going on.'

Slutter walks to the trap door and lifts it. A staircase stretches down into darkness. Stobey stands beside Slutter and looks; nothing but darkness.

'Let's go,' Stobey starts down the narrow stairway.

Slutter is close behind her, followed by Chug, Suzanne and Roger, and at the end Sir Lumpalot on Kick-Pow. Being a unicorn, Kick-Pow has no trouble at all going up and down stairways. He does have to be careful, though, so that his horn doesn't scrape the walls or bump into the overhead.

The stairway takes one turn and then another. The turns explain why Stobey and Slutter couldn't see much from the top. At the bottom is a small square space lighted by a tiny lamp. Leading off from the space is an opening to a narrow passageway.

Stobey doesn't wait. She enters the narrow passageway, followed by the others. They advance only a short distance and, again, the weird screech bursts out, this time from up ahead and much louder. A booming, rasping noise follows the screech. It sounds like heavy chains being dragged across rocks.

'Be careful,' Slutter warns from behind Stobey.

'Yes,' Chug says, 'let's all be careful.'

'Light up ahead,' Stobey announces.

The light is far off, but as they get close it brightens. The passageway by now is well lit. Up ahead the passageway bends.

They turn the bend. They're in a large cavern. The floor is covered with dust and stones, and in the center is what appears to be an enormous black boulder.

Suddenly, from above, erupts the same screech they heard before, wild and shrill. Our friends leap back away as their eyes dart up.

There, standing on top of the rock, looking down at them is an eye, round and staring. Around the eye are spikes, long and sharp, and directly above the eye is a mouth, wide and open, and from out of the mouth, bursts another screech. And another screech. The screeches become words that hiss and whistle and puff and roar.

'Who are you? What are you doing here? What do you want?' The screeching fills the room with echoes that bounce from one wall to another and back again.

Stobey, leaning her head back to look at the enormous eye. She places her hands on her hips and says, 'Now, look here, whatever and whoever you are, you just quit that screeching, hissing, whistling, puffing and roaring and talk to us properly and politely, and we'll do the same. We're visitors here, and I'll introduce myself and my friends. Then you tell us who you are and we'll have a nice chat. OK?'

'Well, OK.' The eye blinks a couple of times and speaks in a gentle hiss; the whistle, puff and roar are gone.

Stobey introduces herself and her friends. 'Now it's your turn,' she says.

'My name is Bingbang Babbaloo,' the eye says, 'and I am the guardian of this Great Rock.'

'We saw strange-looking smoke go down and then come back up the chimney,' says Slutter. 'What was that all about?'

'Oh, that's my robo-assistant, Bizz Bazz. He goes on errands for me and uses the chimney as his way in and out of the house. I sent him for a couple of hamburgers a little while ago. I hope he doesn't forget the French Fries and the catsup. I love French Fries and catsup, don't you?'

'Oh, I love French Fries and catsup, too.' Chug grins.

'Me, too,' from Sir Lumpalot. Kick-Pow paws the ground and tosses his head in agreement. It's close to his mealtime.

'Let's get back to my questions, Bingbang Babbaloo,' says Stobey. 'What is this Great Rock and why do you guard it?

'What is this Great Rock?' Bingbang voice is almost back to a screech. 'Why do I guard it? The Great Rock holds the treasure.'

'What treasure? I don't see treasure.'

'Of course you don't, the treasure is inside. Would you like to see it?

'Yes, I would,' says Stobey and everyone with her nods.

Bingbang blinks three times. The huge rock shakes violently and the cavern fills with the sound of heavy dragging chains. A crack appears in the rock. The crack widens, lengthens, and curves along the top and forms into a door. The door opens and they look into a lighted vault.

On the floor, in the center of the vault is an enormous chest, and filling the chest and hanging over its edges are hundreds of loops of bracelets and pearls. Alongside the chest and scattered about are casks and buckets of brilliant diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Along the walls are rows of gold and silver bars and mounds of gold nuggets, and still more boxes overflowing with precious stones.

'My goodness, Bingbang Babbaloo,' exclaims Stobey, 'Where did you get all of this treasure?'

'Would you really like to know?' Bingbang blinks.

Everyone nods again.

'Good. Sit, and I will tell you of my adventure on a strange planet that circles a distant star.'

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