I figure Byron could use a good laugh, if not today then in a week or so. This one should bring back memories.
The Peach Popskull Caper
Once upon a time a retired sailor named Boats lived in an old Airstream trailer with a rat named Ferox, a cat named Thurgood -- but referred to as TCat -- and a camel named Camel. There was also a strange character who didn't exactly have a name. The other Airstream residents called him Dark Helmet, for the huge helmet he wore whenever he made an appearance and uttered one of his incomprehensible phrases.
Note: Dark Helmet's sex is unknown. In fact, his exact species is the subject of much debate. DH is designated herein as "he" merely for convenience -- I mean, no one wants to look under the helmet -- not even Camel.
DH was tolerated around the old Airstream because once a month a UPS truck would pull up and deliver several cases of C-rations along with a couple bales of hay for the camel. All addressed to one Dark Helmet, Esq.
Since none of the other residents had an income it behooved them to tolerate a fair amount of strangeness on behalf of DH. It must be said that Boats had a Navy retirement, but it was split five ways -- one part to him and four parts to as many ex-wives. One part of very little will not go far in supporting a sailor, a rat, a cat and a camel. DH required no food, as near as anyone could tell. He never ate, nor did he excrete anything other than daft phrases. Exactly why parties unknown were sending food each month was not something to be investigated. Looking too closely at a goose laying golden eggs -- or even a C-ration producing one -- is an exercise fraught with danger.
Thus the Boats household.
One dreary weekend Boats decided it was time to brew up some popskull, a novel yet descriptive name for a type of homebrew intoxicant popular with sailors everywhere -- when actual, bottled-in-bond booze isn't available for geographic or economic reasons.
"We have lots of C-ration peaches saved up," he explained. "Also sugar and a couple other secret ingredients. We need a large, clean barrel, preferably food grade plastic or something of that nature so the peach popskull isn't rife with leached poisons." He was proud of the word "rife" and for the next few days he repeated the phrase "rife with leached poisons" until the others were darn sick of hearing it.
He had to stop there and explain to the rat and the cat and the camel exactly what "leaching" and "poison" meant. Ferox also had to be convinced that the words "food grade" weren't meaningless bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo.
"If it don't eat me first, it's food," he stated in positive terms. Coming from the only animal in the Airstream who would eat C-ration ham and beans with evident delight, his words carried the weight of truth -- at least for rats.
"So," said Boats, "who will help me find a food grade container?"
"Not I," said the rat.
"Not I," said the cat.
"Not me," said Camel.
Dark Helmet entered the tiny kitchen from -- another dimension? There was no door in that wall. He stood quiet for a moment, dripping water on the floor. "I find your lack of faith disturbing."
No one said anything. DH turned and walked? wobbled? rolled? toward the back of the trailer.
"Well," said Boats, "then I shall go and get the food grade container myself."
And he did.
"Next up," he said, upon returning with a clean food grade container, "is to open all these cans of peaches and dump them into the clean food grade container. Who will help me with all that opening and emptying?"
"I won't," said Ferox. "I have a hot date waiting down under the dock."
"I won't," said TCat. "I can't work an opener with paws."
"I'd help," said Camel, "except" -- he brandished an oversize hoof -- "you know. Cloven hooves."
"Then I guess I'll have to do it myself," said Boats. So he did.
Some hours later, he called the residents together. Ferox was not present.
"Now we must open all these little packages of sugar and dump them into the clean food grade container along with the C-ration peaches. Who will help me with all that tearing and dumping?"
"Not I," said TCat. "It's time for my nap."
"Not me," said Camel. "Cloven hooves. Remember?"
"Okay," replied Boats. "I'll do it. I'll do it. Where is Ferox?"
"Making meals for me," said the cat.
"Humping his brains out," added the camel. "I wish I was."
Dark Helmet swooped in from Orion or wherever. "Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them."
"Motivate a rat?" cried TCat, forgetting for a moment that DH never listened to argument or advice. "What would motivate a rat more than a female in heat?"
"Or me," sniffed Camel.
Dark Helmet faded away.
"What now?" asked Boats. It was a rhetorical question. He knew what to do next. "It's time for the secret ingredients. I'll take care of that." And he did.
A month later, right after the next C-ration and hay bale delivery, Boats called the Airstream residents together again.
"The popskull is ready. Who will help me strain the good booze from the bits and pieces and moldy things floating in the not so clean food grade container?"
"Not me," said Ferox. "I might fall in."
"Not I," said the cat. "I'll help with the tasting though."
"Not me," said Camel. "I have an appointment with a bale of hay."
"Then I shall do it myself," said Boats, who was beginning to get damned tired of all the do-it-myself crap.
Dark Helmet came in via the front (and only) door for a change. "You don't know the power of the Dark Side!" He vanished with a wet pop.
Boats went ahead and strained the good booze from the bits and pieces and moldy things floating in the not so clean food grade container. Then he washed the food grade container until it was clean
again and poured the finished popskull back into it. Now it was ready for taste testing.
TCat was standing ready, cup in hand -- er -- cup in paw.
Boats eyed the cat and the cup. "How'd you do that?"
"How come you couldn't open cans of peaches or rip sugar packets open?"
"I didn't practice with openers or sugar packets."
Who can argue with logic like that? Boats poured a liberal dose of popskull in TCat's cup. "Have at it. You want something to mix with it? Coke? Lemonade?"
TCat paused. "Do we have any coke or lemonade?"
"No. All we have is this half-empty bottle of furniture polish."
"Thanks, no. I'll just take it straight up."
"Okay. It's your funeral."
Now, Boats was no prophet, but they did hold a short funeral for TCat on the following morning.
Boats recited the Lord's Prayer, that being the only prayer he knew. After the weighted bag holding TCat's mortal remains sank from sight, the survivors returned to the Airstream. "I shoulda cut it with something," mourned Boats. "Maybe some fruit juice or -- I don't know -- something."
"Soak my drink in straw," said Camel. "That might make it less lethal."
But it didn't.
Camel was too large for any bag they had, so his rigid body went into the bay on the outgoing tide. Boats wanted to dump the peach popskull at the same time.
"No way!" cried Ferox. "I'll take it down to the dock tonight. Us rats will figure out a way to drink your popskull. It smells so peachy and alcoholic. There must be a safe way to get hammered on the stuff without becoming dead. Leave it to me."
"Okay," said Boats. "Have at it." He even helped Ferox roll the food grade container down to the rat conclave that evening.
Dark Helmet met them at the end of the dock. "Don't fail me again, Admiral." He rose straight up into the dark sky.
"He couldn't have been talking to me," said Boats. "I was never an Admiral."
"Me neither," said Ferox. "See you in the morning."
Alas, he did not see Boats or anyone else the next day. Ferox the rat and ten thousand of his relatives clogged the inner harbor until the next tide. The dead rodents were observed to have broad smiles frozen on their little faces. And the whole harbor smelled of peaches.
Boats walked to the end of Lighthouse Point and watched the dead rats washing out to sea. Dark Helmet wandered out of the water and stopped in front of the old sailor. "Obi-wan has taught you well."
Startled, afraid he'd been caught out, Boats stammered, "Obi-who?"
Dark Helmet didn't vanish straight away, but hesitated for several seconds. Finally, and with a sad note in his voice, said, "Obi-who? Obi-when? Now I've forgotten my . . ." He sagged to the sand and disappeared, helmet and all.
For half a heartbeat, Boats heard soft, tittering laughter. Then it was gone.