Every Grumpling knows that the Everpresent Moon is made of delicious, delicious cheese.
Every Grumpling also knows that this delicious cheese moon is very, very far away.
A good Grumpling spends his days toiling in his garden of sensible, accessible Grumpling crops: turnips, rutabagas and yellow onions. After a time, he develops a slump in his shoulders known as the Grumpling Stoop, the sign of a good Grumpling. What a good Grumpling does not do is stare at the Everpresent Moon, wondering such frivolities as “Is it Provolone, Gouda or Swiss?” or “Is it a soft cheese or should one bring a grater?” or “How many Grumplings, stacked on each other’s shoulders, would it take to reach the Everpresent Moon?”
Nilby was not a good Grumpling.
“Nilby!” his family yelled. Father pointed to the unplanted turnip seeds. Mother gestured to the ripe rutabagas. Sister Jelhop signaled to the thirsty yellow onions.
Grandmum sat in the corner of the garden and munched on a turnip.
Nilby peeled his eyes from the Everpresent Moon and grimaced. He watered the unplanted turnip seeds, buried the ripe rutabagas in dirt and harvested the thirsty yellow onions, all the while thinking about cheese.
“Nilby!” shouted Father, shaking his head and stroking his long beard.
Nilby harvested the unplanted turnip seeds, watered the ripe rutabagas and buried the thirsty yellow onions in dirt.
“Nilby,” lamented Mother, shaking her head and stroking her long beard.
Nilby planted the unplanted turnip seeds, harvested the ripe rutabagas and watered the thirsty yellow onions, but by this time his section of the garden was a disaster. The turnip seeds were scattered, the rutabagas soggy and the yellow onions had turned to dust.
The family let out a collective sigh as they walked past the catastrophe.
Sister Jelhop twirled her long beard around her finger. “Hopeless.”
Nilby stayed in the garden long past sunset to remedy his handiwork. He planted and gathered and sopped up with towels and when he finally finished, he flung himself onto the grass and gazed at the Everpresent Moon.
It was a warm night and a gooey string dangled from the Moon, then dropped. Nilby opened his mouth to catch it but the droplet sizzled away long before it reached the ground.
The air smelled faintly of grilled cheese.
Nilby turned to find Grandmum behind him, chomping on a yellow onion as big as her head.
He sighed. “I know I can’t reach the Everpresent Moon. Every Grumpling knows that.”
"But Grandmum, has anyone ever tried?”
Grandmum picked a piece of yellow onion from her long beard and popped it in her mouth.
“I know, I know. Why would anyone try when we know we can’t.”
Grandmum swallowed and wandered back towards the cottage.
Nilby stared at the Everpresent Moon. “Why would anyone try… when we know we can’t…” Nilby frowned. He tilted his head to the right. He tilted it to the left. He stood on the very tips of his toes and reached upwards. He stretched and stretched and wobbled and fell. Then he grinned. “Why would anyone try…”
The next morning, the family was greeted by a peculiar sight on the front lawn.
Father scratched his long beard. “Nilby, what are you doing?”
The pogo stick boinged. “I’m trying… to jump… to the Moon!” Nilby called before boinging himself into the well.
“Nilby, you’re hopeless,” Jelhop said as Mother and Father hoisted a sodden Nilby up in a bucket. Grandmum nibbled at a turnip quiche.
At lunchtime, the family was forced to eat their rutabaga soup while standing because all the chairs in the cottage had been commandeered for a tower three stories high.
“Nilby!” Mother tugged on her long beard. “Is this really necessary?”
Nilby was scaling the swaying tower. “I’m trying to build to the Mo-”
The vertical tower became horizontal in a spectacular crash.
“Hopeless,” Jelhop groaned as Mother and Father pulled Nilby’s flailing legs out from the pile of wooden ones. Grandmum spilled rutabaga soup on her feet.
That evening, as the family said their “Good Night, Sleep Tights” to the vegetables in the garden, Nilby stood in the far corner and whirled a rope around his head.
“I’m not even going to ask,” said Jelhop.
“I’m trying to lasso the Moon!” Nilby called as he flung the rope skyward.
The loop missed the Everpresent Moon but settled around Father’s ample belly.
“Sorry!” Nilby tugged and the loop tightened, forcing a puff of gas out of Father.
“Enough!” Father roared, red faced. “Nilby, come here!”
Nilby slunk forwards. Mother and Jelhop struggled to free Father from the rope.
Grandmum picked yellow onion out of her teeth.
“Nilby.” Father glared. “Enough is enough. This behavior is unacceptable. Every Grumpling knows the Everpresent Moon is simply too far away!”
Mother and Jelhop tugged at the rope that encircled Father. He batted them. “Stop, stop! Give me some space!” He sucked in his belly and wriggled loose. “Blasted thing,” he grumbled, kicking the rope to away. He turned back to Nilby. “Where was I…”
Nilby was staring at the Everpresent Moon with big eyes. “Space… blasted…”
“Oh no,” Father warned. “No, no, no. To whatever you are thinking, no.”
Nilby’s smile stretched from one ear to the other. “I have an idea.”
“No!” Father yelled. “No more ideas!”
“This one’ll work. I’m sure of it!”
Father put his head in his hands. Mother patted his shoulder.
“You’re sure this one will work?” Jelhop sneered.
Nilby nodded enthusiastically.
“So sure that you’ll make a deal?”
Nilby nodded, less enthusiastically.
Jelhop’s smiled surpassed Nilby’s in width. “Alright. You try this idea. We’ll all come watch you before breakfast tomorrow. If it works, I’ll do all your garden duties for the next month. If it doesn’t, you have to stop with the Everpresent Moon. For. Good. Deal?”
Nilby nodded, rather unenthusiastically. “Deal.”
That night, the yard was full of loud, banging-clanging sounds. Father put his hands over his ears; Mother put a pillow over hers. Jelhop buried her head under the cat.
Grandmum couldn’t hear anything over the crunching of her midnight turnip-rutabaga-yellow-onion shish kabob.
The following morning, the family came outside, bleary eyed and irritable.
Nilby stood in the center of the yard, his hands on his hips. Behind him, constructed of a wheelbarrow and paper plates and all manner of odds and ends, and being held together by tape and luck, was a rocket ship. A long, orange extension cord ran between the ship and the cottage.
Nilby waved his hands in the air. “Ta da!”
The family stared, jaws hanging open. A piece of turnip tumbled from Grandmum’s mouth.
“Ta da!” he repeated.
No one moved.
Nilby shrugged and climbed into the cockpit. He looked at the Everpresent Moon through the window and took a deep breath. He flipped several switches and pushed several buttons. The rocket rumbled and shook. It shuddered and quaked. It groaned and protested and complained. Then it lifted.
Mother was the first to unfreeze. “Go, Nilby, go!”
“Go, Nilby!” added Father.
Even Jelhop joined in. “Nilby! Not completely hopeless!”
The family pumped their fists in the air and leapt and twirled. “Go, Nilby!”
The orange extension cord uncoiled as the ship flew higher and higher.
Inside the rocket, Nilby clutched the steering wheel. The Everpresent Moon grew larger. Nilby squinted at it. Mozzarella? American? Brie? He took a deep whiff. Was that a hint of Cheddar? His toes tapped and his shoulders shimmied and he grinned so widely his cheeks hurt. The Everpresent Moon grew larger still.
Suddenly, the rocket shuddered to a stop and wouldn't rise more. Nilby hit the dashboard and rocked back and forth in his seat until the rocket lifted and-
All the lights went out. The rocket was silent. Nilby squeezed his eyes shut. “Uh-oh.”
The rocket hung suspended in the air.
On the ground, Jelhop picked up one end of the orange extension cord from the grass by her feet. “Wasn’t this plugged into something?”
The rocket plummeted. It landed in the center of the garden and skidded down the rows, sending missiles of turnip, rutabaga and yellow onion careening every which direction. Mother dove behind the pile of chairs. Father jumped in the well. Jelhop wielded the pogo stick like a spear, whacking vegetables from the air.
Grandmum got buried under falling produce.
The rocket slid to a halt in the front yard. There was a long pause.
Mother and Father emerged from their shelters. Jelhop knocked on the side of the rocket with the pogo stick.
Nilby’s head crept up through a porthole. “Yes?”
“Hopeless,” said Jelhop.
His head sunk and disappeared.
The family dug through the pyramid of turnips, rutabagas and yellow onions. They found Grandmum at the center, eating her way out. They all went inside the cottage, leaving Nilby alone in rocket.
He stayed there for the rest of the day and the night. The next morning, he exited through the porthole, pulled on his gardening overalls and toiled in the field. He completed his chores, and Jelhop’s, then got a jumpstart on the next day’s duties. Not once did he look towards the sky.
Father nodded with approval. Mother sighed with relief. Jelhop twirled her long beard.
The days trudged on and Nilby toiled and tended, weeded and watered, planted and picked. He kept his eyes on the ground. Soon his Grumpling Stoop was the most prominent in the family, perhaps even the whole village.
The family gathered on the edge of the garden and watched Nilby.
“He looks good,” said Father.
“Productive,” added Mother.
Grandmum wandered over. She slurped on a turnip popsicle. She lifted it over her head to catch the drippings and some got in her eye. She rubbed it.
“Grandmum’s right,” said Jelhop. “He’s sad.”
The family looked at Nilby and his slumped shoulders. They looked at Grandmum rubbing her eye. They looked at the pogo stick leaning against the well, the chairs littering the grass, the rope lying in the dirt. They looked at the rocket entrenched in the yard.
“I have an idea,” said Jelhop.
That night the yard was full of loud, banging-clanging noises. Nilby slept through them, exhausted from his day’s work.
The next morning, Nilby witnessed a very strange scene.
Mother was hopping down a row of dirt, dropping turnip seeds into the impressions made by the pogo stick. Father was lassoing ripe rutabagas, harvesting them in record time. There was a rumbling noise from above. Nilby looked up and saw Jelhop in the rocket ship, a hose taped to the bottom. The orange extension cord was just long enough for the rocket to fly from one end of the garden to the other, watering multiple rows of yellow onions at once.
There was a line of chairs on the edge of the garden. Grandmum sat in one, eating a yellow onion pie. She patted the chair next to her. Nilby sat in it and watched his family.
At lunchtime, Mother, Father and Jelhop sat in the empty chairs by Nilby. He blinked at them.
“So, Nilby,” said Jelhop. “What’s your next idea?”
“For trying to get to the moon?”
Nilby frowned at Jelhop. “I don’t… but I thought…”
Jelhop rolled her eyes. “Gosh, Nilby, you really are hopeless. Keep up. With all your new inventions, gardening takes half the time. Now we have the whole afternoon to try to get to the moon.”
“But it’s so far away.”
Mother patted Nilby’s shoulder. “I used to look up at the Everpresent Moon.”
“Me too,” said Father and Jelhop.
Mother nodded. “Every Grumpling dreams of tasting its delicious, delicious cheese. But we realize it's too far away and we turn our eyes to the ground. You kept looking.”
Nilby bit his lip. “I failed. And I messed up the garden.”
Father shrugged. “Gardens cans be replanted.”
“It’s too far away,” Nilby muttered. He rubbed his eyes.
Jelhop snorted and tossed her long beard behind her shoulder. “But you got closer. No Grumpling’s ever gotten closer before. So maybe, with our help, because you’re still hopeless, maybe we can reach it.”
Mother smiled. “At least we can try.”
"I want cheese, Nilby," said Jelhop. The family joined in her chant of "cheese, cheese, cheese."
“So, what do you say?” Father clapped him on the back. “Got any ideas?”
Nilby looked at Mother and Father. He looked at Jelhop. He looked at Grandmum, her face covered in yellow onion pie. Then he looked at the Everpresent Moon. He tilted his head to the right, then to the left. He rolled back his shoulders and straightened his Stoop. Then he smiled.
“I have a few we could try.”