from A Grandpa's Notebook, Meyer Moldeven

Our friends, Stobey and Slutter, Suzanne and Roger and, of course, Chug-a-lug, the Hooten-Nanny are all walking side-by-side across the spaceship parking block. They are close to the entrance to the Midway. The gate is just ahead. Lights are flashing. Children and grown-ups, of many sizes and shapes, are moving in all directions.

'Halt! Halt, I say. Stay right where you are!'

The order bursts up at them from right under their feet. Stobey jumps aside. Slutter leaps straight up. Suzanne and Roger stand still, shocked. Chug doesn't move, and says nothing. He looks down and points.

A hole forms in the ground where they were standing a moment before. At first they don't see the hole because it's as small as a pinhead. It spreads quickly until it's as big as the hole in the center of a doughnut. That's when they see it. The hole grows to the size of a basketball. It stops expanding for a couple of seconds as if to catch its breath; then with a shiver and a shake it's as big as a bulldozer tire. That's when it stops.

A clatter and a rumble wells up like hooves pounding hard-packed earth. The clatter grows louder and closer. The ground shakes. By this time Stobey and Slutter are holding on to each other. Suzanne and Roger stand close by, confused by what's happening. They feel themselves to be strangers, and don't know what to expect. And Chug? Well, he just stands there.

A cloud of dust suddenly puffs up out from the hole. It forms into a cloud and drifts away. Another cloud of dust rises in which floats a long smooth shaft. The shaft is smooth and rises up out of the hole. The other end is attached to a head. The head is that of a small white animal that looks like a horse.

Another cloud of dust. The animal leaps up out from the hole. It's a unicorn, and on its back is a saddle, and in the saddle is a knight in pure white armor, and in the knight's grip is a lance pointing straight at where our friends are standing.

The front of the knight's helmet is open. In the middle of his face is a pudgy nose, above the nose are fierce eyes, and under the nose a long, bristly, handlebar mustache that ends with three twirling loops on each side.

'Who are you?' he roars. 'What do you want here?'

Stobey steps forward until she is right under the unicorn's head. Looking up, she shakes her finger at the knight.

'Before we go any further,' she says, 'you point that lance somewhere else.'

The knight in white armor stares at Stobey for a five seconds. 'Umm.. ah...,' he says as he lowers the lance until it points at the ground. 'OK. Is that better?'

'Yes, that's better,' Stobey says. 'Now, I'm Stobey and...' pointing... 'this is my friend Slutter, and these are our new friends from Planet Earth, Suzanne and Roger.'

She points up at Chug. 'Do you know Chug-a-lug?'

'Um.. ah...,' the knight mumbles. 'I know Chug. We're old friends.'

'Ah, so,' Stobey said, 'and who are you?'

'Um ah me? Ah, yes. I'm Sir Lumpalot. This is my unicorn Kick-Pow.'

Kick-Pow nods and paws at the ground. He is pleased to be introduced.

'And where are you from, Sir Lumpalot?' asked Slutter.

Sir Lumpalot looks at Slutter and straightens in his saddle. 'I'm Sir Lumpalot, and I come from the Land of Lumps, of course,' he says. 'Where else would I be from?'

'And what do you do in the Land of the Lumps?' Stobey asks.

The knight turns fierce eyes to glare at Stobey.

'I am a knight,' he says, 'and I have a very responsible job. I keep order among all the Bumps, Clumps, Stumps, Grumps, and especially Chumps, that live in the Land of Lumps. That's why I'm named Sir Lumpalot.'

'What else do you do?' Stobey asks.

'Well, I also guard the Palace of the King,' Sir Lumpalot drew himself up proudly and harrumphed his mustache into another curl.

'And where would that be?' Slutter cut into the harrumphing.

'Where? Why, in the Royal Square, that's where.' Another harrumph.

'Tell them how you guard it,' Chug says.

'Well, twice a day I circle the Square.'

Stobey giggles, and so does Slutter. Suzanne and Roger are politely silent.

'I see. You circle the Square. Well, what do you do if you see someone who doesn't belong?' Stobey asks.

'Chase them around the nearest corner away from there, of course.'

'Isn't it strange for a grown knight and a unicorn to spend their time circling a Square?' Roger is polite with his question.

'That's my job,' says Sir Lumpalot.

'Well, if that's your job,' says Slutter, 'what are you doing here?'

'Oh, I got a message that all of you were heading this way,' Sir Lumpalot replies with a grin so wide it adds two more loops in his mustache and they curl up so tight that the tips disappear back into the helmet. 'Kick-Pow and I just thought we'd startle you, just for the fun of it. It worked, didn't it?'

Sir Lumpalot laughs and pats Kick-Pow's silky smooth neck. Kick-Pow snorts and paws the ground.

'Hmph. OK, Sir Lumpalot,' says Stobey, 'now that you're here, would you and Kick-Pow like to join us in our visit to the Midway?'

Sir Lumpalot gives a whoop. Kick-Pow bucks. A short one, so as not to jolt his rider.

'We sure would.'

'Then let's go!'

Through the gate they all troop.

The Midway is spread out before them. Bright and blinking lights, twisting and colored streamers, rainbow colored balls, all flashing, floating and bouncing hither and yon. Slutter dashes to a little stall and picks up three darts. One at a time, he aims them carefully at a red balloon on the far wall. He throws the darts. The third dart strikes and breaks the balloon. A robot pops up from behind the counter and hands Slutter a tiny toy space ship.

'What's this,' Slutter laughs. 'I don't need a toy spaceship. I have a real one, all my own.'

He puts the toy spaceship into his pocket for his baby brother, and joins his friends again. On they go.

They try different games of skill and take rides in models of pilot's seats on space racers. Time passes quickly.

As they turn a corner out of the gate from one ride, they hear a hollow booming sound followed immediately by a piercing screech. The sounds fill the air. Sir Lumpalot, who is in the lead, reins in Kick-Pow and halts. He raises his hand in warning. Everyone stops where they are. They stare ahead.

They see nothing but flashing lights, bouncing balls, and waving ribbons.

The booming gets louder.

'There, over there,' Sir Lumpalot shouts, pointing ahead.

'Where?' Chug-a-lug stares in the direction Sir Lumpalot is pointing.

'The strange sounds are coming from that house,' the knight replies.

They see a dark, gray, gloomy-looking house. It has many windows, all dark except for one, and that one shows green and blue lights flashing off and on. The heavy booming sound is coming from inside.

'What's in that house?' Stobey asks.

'I don't know,' says Chug. This time he isn't being sly. He really doesn't know.

'Do you, Sir Lumpalot?'

'No, I don't.' Sir Lumpalot's voice lowers to a whisper, a loud whisper so that they can all hear him. 'Neither does anyone else. It's the Strangers House.'

'Let's explore it,' says Stobey.

'Yes, let's do that now,' Slutter adds.

'Oh, no, not that house.' Chug waves his long arms about.

'Yes,' says Stobey, 'that house.'

'And what's more,' says Slutter, 'right now.'

'Stobey,' Suzanne says, 'You know we do have to be back at our space liner soon. Do you think we should explore the Stranger's House, too. Will there be time?'

'We can't disappoint our uncle on Europa,' says Roger. 'We mustn't delay departure of the space liner.'

'Slutter and I must also leave for our homes soon,' says Stobey. 'Let's do a fast exploration and then head back to the spaceship parking block.'

Stobey points to Sir Lumpalot, then to Chug-a-lug.

'We'll form a line,' she says. 'Sir Lumpalot, you lead the way. I'll follow. Suzanne and Roger, you walk behind me, and Slutter, you watch over our friends from Planet Earth. Chug, you bring up the rear. We must all stay together.'

A shadow crosses one of the windows. A creaking sound comes from the house, like that of rusty hinges, followed by still another boom and a screech. A thin wisp of smoke goes down, I mean 'down' the chimney. The exploration of the Stranger's House is starting out mysteriously indeed.

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