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* Editor's note: A ragtag group of...


* Editor's note: A ragtag group of explorers discovers the truth behind the myth of a mysterious beast is nothing to sneeze at.

Whispered legends tell of a race of razor-horned, slobbery-fanged beasts more ferocious than the others. Stories also say that a few of these brutes survived those terrible times. They say that just beyond our backyards, deep within the forest gloom, the very last one of them is still hiding, snarling, eating grizzly bears whole and waiting to be discovered. They call him the Last Basselope.

Nobody read these basselope stories more closely than a Great and Famous Discoverer named Opus.

Opus found his best friends, Bill the Housecat, Milquetoast the Housebug and Ronald-Ann the Housekid, watching TV in his living room. Opus flung open the front door and pointed out into the sunshine.

"The Great Basselope Expedition is forming outside!" he announced. "Ferocious things are still out there! Undiscovered things! Wonderful things!"

Ronald-Ann pointed out that there was a commercial for Tidy-Nose allergy spray on TV, which seemed wonderful enough, thank you.

"Volunteers, please. Form an orderly line outside. No pushing," ordered the Expedition Leader.

They walked deep into the gloom of the ancient forest for many, many miles. Then, at their feet, they suddenly noticed an endless glowing carpet of dandelion puffs stretching in all directions. Stranger still, a mysterious path had been cut through this miniature white forest. Opus bent down for a closer look.

"The dandelion tops," he whispered, "have been whacked clean off!"

"Whacked!?" shrieked Ronald-Ann, horrified.

"Clean off," repeated Opus.

"By razor-sharp horns," guessed Milquetoast.

"The basselope has been through here," said the Expedition Leader nervously.

They followed the dandelion path into the distance.

A single shaft of morning sun pierced the thick forest canopy and fell square upon a shining grassy meadow.

In the middle stood the fierce, the terrible, the Last Basselope.

Opus did not see any slobbery fangs, nor did he see any razor horns. In fact, the beast seemed to be humming. And he certainly wasn't eating grizzly bears whole. He was nibbling off the tops of dandelions.

"Nibbling?" Opus sputtered. "This isn't what I call ferocious!"

The basselope looked up. His nose began to quiver. Both lips curled up into a horrible snarl revealing rows of dripping teeth.

The monster began to lumber toward them.

"Uh-oh," said the Great but Not Especially Brave Discoverer. "Retreat! Fall back! Backpedal!" commanded Opus. The entire Basselope Expeditionary Force went into full-throttle, no brakes, darn-the-torpedoes reverse!

The jaws gaped! The monster drew in his lungs for a final, dandelion-filled breath, and then he sneezed.

Oh, not a normal sneeze, not a run-of-the-mill, namby-pamby, plain-Jane, everyday reverse sniffle like yours or mine. No, this was a 10 megaton bull moose nasal explosion, propelling the creature backward in a graceful arc through the sky. With a plop, the basselope landed neatly on his bottom, very much as though he'd had some practice at all of this.

"Dandelions always do dat to basselopes," he said. "We really shouldn't eat dem. But we do love dem so."

The Great Basselope Expeditionary Force cautiously walked over to the sniffling creature.

"The Last Basselope, I presume?" asked Opus, as formally as he could. The beast lifted his right ear and held it out to shake.

"Personal acquaintances call me Rosebud," he said. "At least dey would if I had any," the creature added with a sigh. "We basselopes hab been trying to make some for, oh, 200 million years, but we'b neber been bery good at it." Then Rosebud grasped a dandelion stalk with an ear and inhaled the wisps with a snort. Again his lips began to curl and his nose wrinkled into a ferocious sneer. Opus shrank back in horror. Bill covered his eyes.

But Ronald-Ann pulled out a small spray bottle from her pocket. She squirted the stuff into the basselope's twitching snarling honker, which immediately unsnarled. The bottle read: TIDY-NOSE ALLERGY SPRAY.

"Maybe personal acquaintances will be easier to make now," said Ronald-Ann, smiling. "You can start with us."

And to celebrate, they spent the rest of the day collecting huge numbers of dandelions for a grand feast. Actually, only Rosebud did the eating. The others jumped into the pile.

Excerpt from THE LAST BASSELOPE: ONE FEROCIOUS STORY by Berkeley Breathed. Copyright c 1992 by Berkeley Breathed. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company (Inc.). All rights reserved.

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