It's about an intelligent camel named Sopwith, a carefully-bred, nearly albino racing camel who one night looks up at the moon from some dunes near the Mediterranean. Because of the "aeroplanar half of his ancestry", Sopwith also has great snowy wings, and so he flies up into sky to escape to the moon, which is not quite as NASA would have us believe:
The camel strolled across the pale plain, sniffing the fragrant lunar atmosphere. Soon he found himself in a garden. Tall trees grew on all sides, their trunks rising toward the ball of earth far above. Bushes grew with flowers in dazzling colors. Bunches of berries hung temptingly. High overhead in the vines the camel could hear the songs of tree octopi and the scuttle of feathered airworms.
After Sopwith samples some berries a beautiful woman appears. She introduces herself as Selena, Queen of the Moon, before kissing Sopwith and transforming into "the most beautiful little racing she-camel he had ever seen." They go off together to explore the garden, eventually reaching the secret city of the moon, which is populated with people from all times and places.
There, they meet the emperor of the secret city, who wears a St. Louis Browns baseball cap. He asks why Sopwith came to the moon. Sopwith replies that he came "for fantasy": "The earth is too full of all manner of ugliness and evil. The moon is full of beauty and of whimsy."
The emperor retorts that ugliness and evil are the real fantasy and that beauty and whimsy are the real real. He takes Sopwith and Selena to the Temple of Beings, where the minds of people from many worlds are "united through a web of a sentient electronic matrix from the heart of the sun".
They enter and whispers in the electric communion tell Sopwith to return to Earth, that "they need you there". Selena tells him they're right, but Sopwith protests that everything on the moon is beautiful and whimsical while on Earth things are mean and depressing. "Yes, that's why they need you on the earth, camel," she says.
Then this happens:
Suddenly she gave him another kiss, and turned into a small granite pyramid with a single glowing eye near its apex and the mystic word MDCCXXVI at its base. The eye winked once and disappeared.
After some fatherly nonsense words from the emperor, Sopwith flies off back to earth, and "that's why things are so much better lately." The end.
I found this story while looking for tree octopus references on Archive.org, where they have a scan. Obviously that last appearance of Selena puts this doubly within my bailiwick, so I thought I'd blog it instead of just burying it on the Tree Octopus Media page.
I previously blogged about a tree octopus reference in Harlan Ellison's "The Hour That Stretches". Short recap: it's a fictionalized account of Ellison taking calls on a late-night radio show soliciting synopses for stories when Mayer Alan Brenner pitches one about the "famous Chesapeake Tree-Climbing Octopus", which infuriates Ellison. That radio show was Hour 25, a real show that originated from KPFK in North Hollywood, CA, but also played on fellow Pacifica Radio station KPFA, who published Lupoff's story.
Given all the obviously insidey references in Ellison's story -- it features appearances from many of his contemporary sci-fi writers -- I had always wondered if there was a reason Ellison was so upset by Brenner's tree-climbing octopus, but have never found any leads, until maybe now.
There's no mention of Lupoff in "The Hour", but he and Ellison were friends, as well as collaborating and moving in the same professional circles. "The Hour" also has a pitch by Jeff Rubenstein involving racing camels. Could Lupoff's earlier tree-octopi name-drop and camel protagonist be part of some wider behind-the-scenes in-joke?