Astropup and the Seven Mountains of Genius - Part Two
Story by Bertie.
Read by Richard.
Proofed & audio edited by Jana.
Illustrated by Marni.
Dedicated to Brenna and Kieran
Marlow pulled the goggles over my eyes. And Wow! Finally, I understood why the Mountains game was all the rage. I was no longer cooped up in a spaceship. I was in the foothills of a snow-capped mountain, among green pastures, sparkling springs, daisies, cornflowers, and butterflies. There were two ways up the mountain. I could either take a narrow winding path or I could hitch a lift on a ski lift. Even a dumb dog like me could work out that the ski lift was the way to go. But at each station of the ski lift, I had to cook a meal for the ticket collector.
At the first station, the ticket collector was a German Shepherd Dog. This was an easy challenge. I went to the virtual shop and bought some dog biscuits and a cube to make rabbit flavoured gravy. I mixed it all together with water from the samovar in the virtual coffee shop and ….. HMMM! What an aroma! The only difficult part was not eating it all myself.
At the second station, the ticket collector was a rabbit. Clearly I would have to think of a different menu to take the next leg of the journey up the mountain. We dogs are not into rabbit food, but we know that it is our job to chase them out of the vegetable garden. I’ve also seen them gnawing on sticks. In this case, my role was reversed. I had to feed the rabbit. I accomplished this task by crawling under a fence into a farmer’s garden and digging up lettuce. This is a very unusual task for a dog. I ran away with the lettuce in my mouth, just in time, because I heard a farm dog wake up and start barking.
I added some grass and a few sticks to the lettuce and presented my concoction to the rabbit ticket collector. Very pleased he was too. He happily let me sail up to the third station.
Here a nasty trick had been set for me. The task was to feed a cat. Cat’s food, as you know, is as disgusting as cats themselves. PAAAAWWW ! It pongs something awful! But since no cat tins were available, I had to catch something. Well I wasn’t going to catch a mouse, was I? I’m a proud dog and could not sink so low. So there was nothing for it. I had to catch a fish for the cat. Fish are slippery little blighters, and don’t like getting caught. I stood for a long time in the stream, until my toes were almost frozen, until, at last, a silvery fish jumped right up out of the water and into my mouth. I hurried over to the cat, and presented it to him, with my tail wagging.
In the whole history of the universe, this was probably the first time that a dog presented a cat with a fish for dinner.
“Meeow!” he said, “What’s the catch?”
“Here’s the catch,” I said, opening my mouth as I spoke and letting the fish drop onto the cat’s plate.
The cat pressed a paw against a button to open the door of the ski lift, and I sailed to the next station.
Here I looked around for the ticket collector. “Hello!” I called out. “Anyone here? Can I buy a ticket please?”
“Can’t you see? You’re looking right at me,” said a fluttering little voice. It was only then that I realised that a butterfly was settled on a flower, the pattern on her wings perfectly matching the petals.
“What would you like to eat?” I asked.
“Nectar,” she replied.
“Right-oh,” I said. And I shot off to sniff as many summer flowers as I could and to collect nectar on my nose. If I say so myself, I put together a lovely collection of sweetness that smelt even better than pee on a lamp-post. The butterfly must have thought so too because she let me on board to rise up to the next station.
By now the views from the mountain were getting pretty good. I could see valleys and fields and lakes. The ground beneath my feet was stony, and the air was distinctly cool. Here the ticket collector was a goat, and I had to go off and nibble some grass leaves, and a few bits of rubbish and bring them back to the goat all in one tasty dish. He loved it, and gladly sent me off on my way with an “NAAAAAAAA!” sound.
The next station was very rocky and rather chilly. Here the tickets were being sold by a bald-headed eagle.
“And what would you like to eat today?” I asked him.
“Beefburger,” he replied. “With fries.”
“Right-oh,” I said. “Where’s the nearest fast food joint?”
“About 10,000 light-years away,” said the Eagle. “Your job is to cook, not send out for a take-out.”
This had me seriously stumped. How in the known-universe was I supposed to cook a hamburger on top of a mountain?” The only clues that the Eagle would give me were, “Go and search, use your eyes.”
We dogs are more used to following our noses than our eyes, so that’s what I did. I sniffed the air and I did detect a faint wispy smell of fried beef burger. I had to climb over rocks, duck under overhangs, and tip-toe along narrow ledges - like one of those heroic mountaineering adventure dogs. At last, after a long, scary, climb, the source of the aroma came into view. I saw two giant arches under which a couple of kangaroos were flipping burgers.
“Two-quarter pounders, no onions,” I said.
“That will be four space coins,” said one of the Kangas.
I beamed some virtual money from my collar ring, but wooh! I only had two virtual coins left.
“Can I buy one and get one free?” I asked hopefully because my tummy was rumbling and I wanted a burger for myself.
“Sorry mate, we only do BOGOF on Tuesdays,” said the Kanga.
So I could only buy one burger for the bald eagle. There was nothing virtual about my empty tummy feeling, as I took the lift up into the clouds.
Wow! I reached the top of the seventh and final Mountain of Genius!
I jumped out of the lift into a huge snowdrift. I shook myself and crystals of snow and ice scattered here and there.
“Woof!” I said. We dogs love snow! The air is so crispy clean that you can smell everything from miles around! And the virtual reality machine was so good that I could feel the cold bracing air and the snow between my toes. I would have run and jumped for joy. The only problem was that everything was so white that it was hard to tell what was snow and what was clouds! I did not want to go leaping into a fluffy cloud. It was a LOOOOOONG way down off that mountain! But where was the ticket collector? I needed to find him to get down off the mountain in the ski lift. “ALOOOOOOOOO!” I called.
“Alo, alo,” said a voice.
And a man dressed as a waiter with a little bow tie and a curly mustache stepped forth out of the cloud.
“The guests are waiting,” he said. “They are expecting their meal. Is the food ready?”
“Ready?” I said, “I just got here. I came as fast as I could, but some Kangaroos took their time flipping burgers.”
“Well here’s the order,” said the waiter. “You must cook something extraordinary. Follow me. I will show you to the kitchen.”
He led me into a cave that was equipped with everything I needed to cook a meal. There were mixing bowls and saucepans and every type of ingredient I could want.
“So,” he said, “What is it? Beef bourguignon?
This was my moment. So far, I have done little more than buy burgers or collect nectar. But at last, they were asking me to tap into my creative genius. How often have I dreamed of fantastic recipes? But oh, you know how it is with dreams. When you want to remember them, they slip away like wispy clouds.
“GRRRRRR” I said, “I can’t remember.”
“Well that is too bad,” said the waiter, “because you will stay here for all eternity unless you create a dish that is formidable.”
“All eternity? That’s a long time, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes, they say that eternity feels longer than a double geography lesson on a Friday afternoon,” said the waiter.
“Eternity is a drag,” I agreed. “I know … I know, I shall cook Postman’s leg with horsepoo, blue Stinking Bishop cheese, and fried chicken liver. Oh, and we must eat our greens, so we shall have some long meadow grass that’s been peed on by cows as a salad for a starter.”
That was one of my best ever recipes. If it tasted half as good as it did in my dream, it would truly be formidable.
“Very good,” said the waiter. “You shall find everything you need in the fridge and the pantry.”
I set to work, mixing all the ingredients together into a lovely mushy gooey mix. I threw in a few slugs just to give it a little extra something. The waiter helped me put my creation in the oven. My personal preference is to eat my food raw, but for guests, it’s polite to make it medium-rare. After 12 minutes in the oven, I declared that it must be ready because I couldn’t wait any longer to see what it was like. Hmmm it smelt fantastic. The horse poo was a stroke of genius if I do say so myself! I tasted my concoction and it was DE-LIICIOUS! Even better than in my dreams.
The waiter placed the food nicely into three bowls with the salad on a side plate and took it to the guests. I paced up and down. Would they like it, wouldn’t they like it? I forgot to ask if any of them were vegan or vegetarians or had any special dietary needs like an allergy to horse poo or cow pee. Now I know why those chefs on TV back on earth were always such nervous types. Even though they have the best job in the world making delicious food, you never know if the customers are going to heap praise or complain.
I waited an age, which is a little less time than eternity. Finally the waiter returned.
“Well, well, well?” I panted.
“The guests send their compliments to the chef,” he replied, adding, “congratulations, Astropup, you are the first contestant in history to climb the Seven Mountains of Genius and to complete the final test to the satisfaction of our guests. You are the winner of a brand new worm phone which I am now delighted to present to you.
As he clipped the phone to my collar, I heard the sound of applause and cheering. I looked up and saw that the sky was full of faces - human type faces - animal type faces - birds, insects, lizards - and all of them were making a tremendous noise. It was so loud I put my tail between my legs and ran off to hide behind a rock to whimper. It was so, so, so terrifying.
Until at last I heard a soft voice that I knew well: “Astropup, Astropup, open your eyes, you’re back in reality. Congratulations! We won the prize!”
I slowly opened my eyes and looked up into the face of my space comrades, Marlow and the parrot.
“AROOOOOO!” I said. “It was horrible. I couldn’t stand all that applause. It was so loud!”
“It’s ok, Astropup,” said Marlow soothingly. “It’s all over. You’ve done well. In fact, you’ve done brilliantly!”
“Amazingly!”squawked the parrot. “For once Astropup, you have surprised me in a good way.”
“Right-oh!” I said. “Let’s call Jenny, my owner, on the new phone. Unclip it from my collar, Marlow.”
But when Marlow examined my collar, there was nothing there. Not even a teeny-weeny nano-phone. “They cheated us!” I exclaimed. “No,” said the parrot. “The phone they gave you was a part of the virtual world, an illusion, like the mountains of wisdom. Now we have to claim the real phone, and for that, we have to travel all the way to a distant planet to pick it up. They’ve just beamed over the space coordinates. Marlow - punch them into the navigator please.”
And that was Astropup and the Seven Mountains of Genius.