By Dianne Majzoub
Mrs. Smininin latched her three-digit, sucker fingers onto her son Daub’s palpus and pulled him to a chair in the corner of the room. “How many times have I told you to stay away from poor old Mr. Crank’s lawn? Just yesterday he got you with his stick, and you and your friends are back at it today.” She turned the chair to face the wall and told him to sit there and think about disobeying her.
“Aw, come on, Blat,” Mr. Smininin said to his mate. “Totters’ been playing Push-Crank for as long as the Cranks have owned that property. It’s a great game. Push your friends onto old Crank’s lawn until he comes out with his stick and tries to get you. Last one off the lawn is a dronhole!” He waved his palpi and snorted. “You have to admit it’s hilarious when old Crank hobbles out with his stick mumbling about getting himself a ‘varmint.’”
“I admit I played a game or two of Push-Crank as a totter, but I always felt guilty afterward. Mr. Crank has a right to live in peace without being tormented by totters.”
“The old man begs for it. He’s the only human left in town, and he keeps his lawn perfect. Besides, it’s tradition. Great granner Looden said the human kids—that’s what they call their totters—played that game on an old Crank long before the neighborhood switched over. As long as there’s an old Crank with a perfect lawn and totters, there will be Push-Crank.”
Mrs. Smininin crossed her palpi.
Ignoring her, Mr. Smininin continued: “And landing on his lawn was an experience, do you remember that, Blat? Once you hit his grass, something happened to you. You could hardly move. You had to pull yourself up and struggle to get back to the walkway.” He scratched his center. “I remember pushing Rubring really far onto Crank’s lawn. He just sat there looking stupid until old Crank whacked him and made a grab for him. Rubring wet himself.” Mr. Smininin laughed so hard slather dripped from his yaw.
“Well, Mr. Crank caught your son this morning and gave it to him with that stick of his. His friends said Crank dragged our Daub inside his place and beat him. Look at the marks.” She yanked Daub off the chair and hauled him to his father.
“Oof. He even smells a bit like musty, rotten, old Crank. His house must reek.” Mr. Smininin rubbed his bulb.
Mrs. Smininin released Daub. “He has no right taking our totters into his place or hitting them.” Her palpi twitched and she blew out a bubble. “But honestly, I can’t say I blame him. He must work endlessly to keep his lawn so perfect, only to have totters tramp all over it. I’d turn into an absolute monster.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Blat. There’s no point to the game without the risk of a whack or two. What was it like inside his place, Daub?” Mr. Smininin’s six compound eyes glowed with curiosity.
“Don’t encourage him. Dothard’s mom just called and said Crank got him, too; so the neighborhood moms are meeting later to put a stop to Push-Crank. We’ve even arranged for the patrol to meet with us. We’ll be demanding they put a special detail on Crank’s place. It pains us all to see that poor old human tormented, and we don’t like him catching and hitting our totters, either. Mark my words: we *will* end Push-Crank!” She bobbed her affirmation.
“You’re wasting your time, Blat. Push-Crank is a rite of passage.” Mr. Smininin glared at his wife and then turned back to Daub, his eyes gleaming once more. “Go on, Daub, tell me what it was like inside his place,” he gurgled.
Daub made a funny little squeak then deepened his voice. “It was dark and a little scary.” His eyes widened. “And it smelled like mold and ditch water. But I only went in as far as the first room. I think old Crank called it the ‘foyer.’ When he raised his stick to whack me, I pushed the old dronbulb away and bolted.”
“That’s my Daub!” Mr. Smininin said, then added, “go on and play, now, but no Push-Crank ‘til your mom settles down.”
Daub bounded off the chair and hopped out the door before Mrs. Smininin could so much as blow a bubble.
Making sure no one saw him, Daub entered Mr. Crank’s place through a back window secluded by trees. He strode to the parlor where Dothard’s terrified eyes peeped at him from the corner. Strands of luminous fibers bound his small frame so tightly to the wall he could barely breathe let alone speak.
“Damn Moms!” Daub snarled. “Always feeling sorry for poor old Mr. Crank and trying to put a stop to Push-Crank.” With a crackle and pop, Daub transformed into Mr. Crank. He grabbed his stick and waved it over his head. “I always put on a good show shouting, fussing, and swinging at you, don’t I? Why, outrunning my stick is the most excitement you electronic screen-addicted varmints will get in your lifetimes. But what? The batty moms have to feel sorry for poor, old Mr. Crank.” He hobbled to Dothard and whacked him with his stick. “Poor, old Mr. Crank!” Spit sprayed from his mouth. “And the human moms were even worse. They succeeded for a month or two in getting their varmints to leave old Mr. Crank alone.” He spat. “If these idiot moms really wanted to help *poor, old Mr. Crank*, they’d encourage their varmints to play. Why, without Push-Crank, I’d starve.”
With a crackle and pop, eight hairy legs burst from Mr. Crank and he transformed into a huge, multi-eyed creature clicking its dripping mandibles. When nothing was left of Dothard, the creature transformed into him and headed for his home.