Gib Finney’s sequel to THE POWER OF UN
Donald’s Heart Wins
19 May 2008, Finney @ 7:32 pm

Back again. Lately I have had some trouble sleeping. I keep thinking about Antarctica, and it’s like a combination of Christmas Eve and going to a new school. We might see whales and penguins and albatrosses. But it might be dark and scary, too. I have been reading this book, Shackleton’s Valiant Voyage, about Ernest Shackleton’s trip to Antarctica a hundred years ago or so. He went to the same place we’re going to — the Weddell Sea. Dude. Even though he loved Antarctica, the ice crushed his ship, and he had a horrendous time before he finally got home again. I mean, not that I think we’re going to get crushed by ice. I’m just saying. Plus, there’s Mom, who is still having a cow about the whole thing. Dude.

But that’s kind of off the track. What I really want to do this time is finish the Donald Frog story, which is taking way too long to tell. I have to finish it up, so I can tell you more about the things that are happening now, instead of stuff that happened months ago. So here’s the short version.

In our last episode, Ash and Rainy and I decided to put Donald back out in the freezing woods, because he wouldn’t eat the crickets we bought for him and we didn’t want him to starve. But when we got to the woods, we found a note from my future self, Old Gib, who has figured out how to travel through time and keeps getting in touch with me in various weird ways. To really understand all this, you will probably have to read The Power of Un. But for now, let’s just say I found out about Old Gib this last year in a pretty traumatic way. His goal in life seems to be to keep me on the right track in a world which, believe me, is full of wrong tracks.

The note said, “Donald is your ticket to the science fair. Don’t lose him. VTY, Gibson Finney.” At this point, we were only thinking about entering the science fair. We didn’t have a project, and we hadn’t been able to figure one out that wasn’t totally stupid. At the time, Ash and I weren’t hot on science fairs, because we thought they were kind of dweeby. But Rainy said we should do it anyway because if I don’t do science, how can I grow up to be Old Gib who invents time travel? And the note from Old Gib pretty well clinched it.

We were on our way back from the woods carrying Donald wrapped up in a ball of brown leaves when Rainy stopped right in the middle of the street and said, “Omigosh. Omigosh.” She was staring right at Donald, who was in my hands.

“What?” said Ash. “What? What?” He was looking at Donald, too, because she was. You know how it goes. “What’s wrong? Is he dead?”

Rainy punched him on the arm. Don’t ever let anybody tell you girls can’t punch hard.

“Ow!” said Ash. “What’d I do?”

“You guys, Old Gib is so totally right! Donald was frozen solid, but he’s still alive. How could that happen? I mean, all we have to do is figure it out, and we’ve got the science fair project of the century.”

Which, of course, was absolutely right.

So we spent the next two weeks basically living like totally deviant hermits instead of kids, rushing home or to the science lab right after school every day, wimping out of basketball practice, leaving Ash’s Wii untouched, not even stopping for Tang or hot chocolate. The first thing we did, of course, was go to the Web and find out everything we could about common wood frogs. We found this guy, Dr. Costanzo, who is an expert in Ranus Sylvatica wood frogs at a university in Ohio, and we emailed him and eventually even talked to him on the phone. He helped us decide how to do our experiment and answered other questions whenever we had them. Hey, Dr. Costanzo, how are you?

And we talked to our science teacher, Mr. Batcabe, otherwise known as The Batcave, what else? For a teacher, he is reasonably cool. Like, you could imagine seeing him at a baseball game, or eating in a restaurant, or someplace else that is not school. The Batcave was totally blown away by our idea for turning Donald into a science fair project.

And it’s a good thing, because he helped us with the hardest part, which was keeping Donald at a constant temperature of -4 degrees Celsius for 72 hours while we took turns watching him to see if his heart beat at all during that time. (BTW, scientists do temperatures in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit like average Americans. I don’t know why. Maybe I’ll find out on the icebreaker. But here’s a very cool thing that converts Celsius degrees into Fahrenheit degrees so you can see how cold we had to keep Donald.)

This involved filling a little Styrofoam cooler with ice and rock salt and setting Donald (in a nest of dry leaves we got from the woods) on the ice with a thermometer to make sure he didn’t get too cold. It turns out even a wood frog can die if it gets too cold. Out in the woods in winter, they stay covered with leaves under the snow, and it actually keeps them pretty warm — around -4 Celsius. Heh heh.

Every now and then, we had to add ice or add salt to keep the temperature right, and we did this for three days and three nights. Also, we had to be careful not to let salt water get on Donald, because salt water is poison to wood frogs. This was murderous. Stressful and boring both at once. As Ash said, he felt like he was sleepwalking, except when he felt like he was going to have a heart attack. Plus, speaking of hearts, once every hour we spent five minutes staring at Donald’s heart, which pushes up his skin a little bit when it beats. At the end of the five minutes, we wrote the results of our observations in a notebook. Which looks like this:

12/11/07 – 11:00-11:05 p.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 12:00-12:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 1:00-1:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 2:00-2:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 3:00-3:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 4:00-4:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
12/11/07 – 5:00-5:05 a.m. – no heartbeat
etc., about a million times

As you can see, we did this 24 hours a day, even at 3:00 in the morning. Not once did we see Donald’s heart beat. Our conclusion: wood frogs can survive for at least three days, freezing cold, without their hearts beating even once. We also did not see him breathe even once. How cool is that? I wish I could do it. I would spend the night lying in the snow looking up at the stars, and if it snowed on top of me, I wouldn’t care.

Dr. Costanzo says that as soon as the temperature gets down to freezing, wood frogs start making this sugary stuff called glucose. Also another thing called urea. Glucose and urea stay wet and liquidy at colder temperatures than water, and the frogs sort of fill themselves with it. So their cells are full of this stuff that protects them from the cold, and they don’t freeze to death. It’s like they are superheroes. Sort of.

To finish the story, we spent days and days getting all of this work together and setting Donald up in his Styrofoam cooler at the science fair. And (fanfare, please) WE WON!! Then we did it again in the regional competition.

After the regionals, a newspaper wrote an article about us. The reporter asked me what I hoped to do in the future. I said I hoped to be a basketball star or a fighter pilot, even though I know that’s not what my future looks like. What was I supposed to say? I hope to become an old guy who looks like a homeless person but invents time travel? Then, just at the end before the reporter hung up the phone and ended the conference call interview, Rainy said what she’d really like is to go to Antarctica someday, because we had found out there were fish down there that could survive in the cold, cold water, a lot like Donald, and she wanted to see them. We all agreed that would be cool beyond cool. (Well, okay, we didn’t really say cool beyond cool. Under the circumstances — it being about Antarctica — that would have been dweeby beyond dweeby.)

The icebreaker team researchers saw the newspaper article, they phoned Rainy’s parents, and there you have it. Did we say yes? No duh. Thank you, Donald. 🙂

P.S. We returned Donald to the woods, smothering him in leaves right near the stump of the yellow Ticonderoga pencil, where, so far, he is living happily ever after.

Sort of, but Not Quite
17 April 2008, Finney @ 4:28 pm

Finally, I have a free afternoon to write some more about Donald the wood frog and how he got us onto the icebreaker.

If you will recall, Donald refused to eat the crickets we got from Mr. Grabowski’s pet store. So after much gnashing of teeth, we decided to put him back in the woods to fend for himself. The problem being that when I stuck my pencil in the ground to mark the spot where we left him, it speared a scrap of soggy paper, or at least I thought it was paper at first. It was folded in eighths and was sort of a boogery beige that looked as if it might have once have been white. As I began to open it up, I realized it didn’t feel quite right to be paper. It was thin enough, but paper that wet should have been falling apart. It was way too strong, and it was slippery.

When I got it unfolded all the way, I looked at it, blinked, and looked again. There was a message on it, written in purple, in a big, hurried scrawl. As Rainy leaned over my shoulder, she gasped. The message said, Donald is your ticket to the science fair. Don’t lose him. VTY, Dr. Gibson Finney.

I took the sheet over to the big flat rock and smoothed it out so we could all see it. The purple writing wasn’t a solid line, as it would be if someone had used a pen. It was made up of tiny dots, almost as if it had come out of a printer, except it wasn’t a font. It looked like handwriting. In a weird, alternate dimension sort of way, it looked like my handwriting. Dr. Gibson Finney. It was a note to us from my future self.

“What does VTY mean?” said Ash in a hushed voice.

I shook my head. “No clue.”

“It means Very Truly Yours,” said Rainy.

Ash’s mouth hung open, one side tilted slightly upward in a crazy cross between shock and a grin. He turned and nailed me with a maniacal look. “Or maybe Very Truly You,” he said.

All I could manage in return was a very sickly smile.

We sat on the rock for a long time, staring at the writing that was like mine, but not quite, written with a purple pen, but not quite, on something like paper, but not quite.

Finally, Rainy said, “Gib, if you made a special trip back in time to deliver this to yourself, it must be very important.”

I frowned, because my brain had been going several hundred miles per hour since the moment I opened the message, and I had already figured out that me making a special trip back in time to deliver the message to myself was just one possibility. “Yeah, or maybe I just left it for myself last time I was here.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Ash. “Either way, it’s important. You went to a lot of trouble to tell yourself not to…” Ash’s eyes went wide. “OMG!” he shouted. “Where is Donald?”

He had a point. In all the excitement, we had somewhat forgotten about the subject of the message. In a flurry, the three of us were down on our hands and knees, searching through the dead leaves at the foot of the rock. Eventually, I was the one who found him, already beginning to refreeze, pretty much exactly where we left him. We decided, given everything that had just happened, our old plan was defunct, and Donald would have to come home with us again. So, still inside his ball of leaves, we wrapped him up in the message and headed back.

First, though, I took out the yellow Ticonderoga pencil again and pushed it into the dirt till only about an inch of it was still above ground. I was pretty sure Old Gib would appreciate a marker, so he would know exactly where to leave the message when the time came, whenever that was.

After that, all we had to do was figure out exactly how Donald was our ticket to the science fair. Oh yeah…and how to keep him from dying of starvation. Next post. 🙂

Message from the Future
25 March 2008, Finney @ 4:14 pm

Of course, as usual, tons of stuff has happened in the past week. Like, I got most of my polar physical exam and filled out about a ton of forms to send to Raytheon Polar Services, which included a form about what size I am. Ash and Rainy had to do it, too. Mom says this is so they (Raytheon) can put together bags of special extreme weather gear for us to wear on the icebreaker. But I’ll talk about that in the next post. Right now, I want to tell some more of the story of how Donald Frog started the whole thing.

So, Donald, who we thought was dead, thawed out and started croaking in my bedroom during the night. This was a huge crisis, because keeping a frog for a pet is hard, especially in the winter. My book said wood frogs (and that was Donald, wood frog, Rana sylvatica) eat “small animals of the forest floor.” Which turned out to mean bugs, slugs, and snails. Which are impossible to find alive in the winter (dead ones wouldn’t be good enough). Therefore, I called a meeting of the Three Musketeers.

Meetings of the Three Musketeers are called by lighting a Musketeer Beacon, which means one of us turning on a flashlight in the window of our house. I got the idea from a book I read about the Great Wall of China, where they used beacon fires to warn of approaching Mongolian hoards. The Musketeer beacon system only works because I live close enough to Ash to see his house, and Ash lives close enough to Rainy to see her house. You can probably guess that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It kind of depends on whether people are looking out of their windows, and sometimes it takes a while. But that morning, Ash was watching TV in the room with the best view of my beacon, and Rainy was working on her computer near the window with the best view of Ash’s beacon. Here’s a picture of the beacon towers on the Great Wall (circled in red), and uh…my beacon.

So within about half an hour, the three of us were sitting at the kitchen table staring at Donald inside the dirt-filled aquarium while Roxy asked dumb questions like, “What’re you gonna do with him, huh?”

Actually, it wasn’t really such a dumb question. As Rainy pointed out, “If we put him back in the freezer, he might die. But if we don’t, he might starve.”

Just then, my mom came in with her eyes half open and started feeling around for the coffee pot. “Mom, what do we have that a frog can eat?” I asked, admittedly feeling desperate.

She bent down close to the aquarium, trying to get her eyes focused. She had left her glasses in the bedroom. “A what?” she said.

“A froggy!” shouted Roxy.

“What will you kids think up next?” said Mom, yawning.

“Mom, this is serious!” I said.

Gazing at Donald with an absent look on her face, she said, “I dunno. Ask Mr. Grabowski.”

“Mrs. Finney, you’re a genius,” said Ash with a huge grin.

“That’s right,” said Mom. “While you’re there, please pick up a bag of food for Doofus.”

So Mom gave us $10, and we got on our bicycles and went to see Mr. Grabowski at the pet store. It was a cold, clear day, and by the time we got there all of us were red-cheeked and blowing on our fingers. Grabowski’s Pet Gallery is one of my favorite places. It is small and dark, except for the lights in the aquariums and the windows up front where the parakeets chirp in their cages. It smells like alfalfa pellets and dog biscuits and some other thing that reminds me of licorice. Best of all, it’s always toasty warm to keep the tropical animals comfy, which we definitely appreciated that day.

Old Mr. Grabowski, who looks like a talking prune, told us to try giving Donald live crickets, which he was happy to sell us for $6.99. This was for 250 crickets, which I figured would take Donald about four gazillion years to eat.

“He’ll eat ’em faster than you think, sonny,” said Mr. Grabowski. He smiled, and I wondered, as I always do when he smiles, whether he ever brushes his teeth, which are brown and mostly gone.

“Hmm,” I said. “How much is a bag of Laughing Pooch Dog Chow?” Laughing Pooch is the brand Mom always buys. She thinks it makes Doofus less rambunctious. Her word, not mine. I think it is all in her imagination. Doofus is the berserker barbarian of dogs, with or without Laughing Pooch.

“$8.50 for five pounds, on sale, get it while it lasts, sonny boy,” said Mr. Grabowski.

Ash and Rainy and I looked at the ten dollar bill, then at each other. $10.00 minus $8.50 left…not enough! “Mr. Grabowski,” said Rainy, “would it be possible for us to buy $1.50 worth of crickets?”

The old man frowned. “I figure that’ll only be…” He stared at the ceiling, as if maybe the answer was floating somewhere near the winking florescent light. “Letsee. $1.50 divided by $6.99…21.4% times 250…that’s only 53 crickets. Waddya gonna do with 53 crickets? It’s hardly a mouthful.”

A mouthful of 53 crickets. It wasn’t a pretty thought. Rainy swallowed, looking queasy. “That’s okay,” she said. “If we need more, we’ll come back.”

“Suite yourself,” said Mr. Grabowski.

It would be nice if I could just say, And he wrapped up 53 crickets and a bag of Laughing Pooch, and we went home. Which would allow me to avoid the embarrassment of describing what actually happened, which was this: Mr. Grabowski said, “The crickets are right over there. Put 53 in this cup.” At which point, the Three Musketeers turned into the Three Stooges.

Let me just say catching crickets is a test of will and eye-hand coordination that makes basketball seem easy. If “Catching Crickets” were a Wii game, nobody would ever win. By the time we got 53 crickets into the cup, there were at least 100 fluttering and hopping around the pet store, and Mr. Grabowski, looking disgusted, said, “You owe me another $1.50, which you can pay next time you come in here, and you’d better not forget.”

So we swore an oath to repay him soon, and left feeling generally overheated and glad to be out in the freezing air again.

When we got home, Ash used the tweezers on his Swiss pen knife to put a cricket into the aquarium with Donald. Since he had practiced in the pet store, this went fairly smoothly. Except Donald wasn’t hungry. He hopped to a far corner and croaked while the cricket fluttered around, trying to escape.

Rainy said, “This is disgusting. We should just put the frog back outside in its natural habitat.”

But this idea made Roxy totally desolate. She started to cry. Loudly. Truth to tell, I didn’t like the idea, either. I mean, if we put Donald back outside…

“He’ll freeze again,” I said. “For all we know, that’ll kill him!”

Donald croaked. Rainy breathed out through her nose and rolled her eyes. “Oh for Pete’s sake,” she said.

So a compromise was reached. We decided to give Donald 24 hours to eat the cricket. If the cricket wasn’t gone by the next day before lunch, Donald would go back into the woods. As luck would have it, Donald refused to eat the cricket, and the next day at lunch time, the three of us were once again staring into the aquarium. To make matters worse, sometime during the night, the cricket had died. Donald was starving, and the cricket was a putrefying corpse.

“All right. It’s over. We’re putting him back in the woods,” said Rainy. “And don’t look at me that way. We made a pact!”

The three of us put on our coats and trudged out into woods. Crusty snow from the last storm covered the ground in places. But we found what looked like a cozy spot in the shelter of my favorite big, flat rock. We covered Donald with leaves. I had a yellow Ticonderoga pencil in my pocket, and I stuck it in the ground right next to him so we’d know where to find him later, assuming he didn’t hop away before he froze again.

As I pushed the pencil into the ground, something crunched. The pencil’s tip had speared a scrap of soggy paper, or at least I thought it was paper at first. It was folded in eighths and was sort of a boogery beige that looked as if it might have once have been white. As I began to open it up, I realized it didn’t feel quite right to be paper. It was thin enough, but paper that wet should have been falling apart. It was way too strong, and it was slippery.

When I got it unfolded all the way, I looked at it, blinked, and looked again. There was a message on it, written in purple, in a big, hurried scrawl. As she leaned over my shoulder, Rainy gasped. The message was a warning from the future!

Rana Sylvatica
24 February 2008, Finney @ 12:56 pm

Things are really starting to heat up now! Ash and Rainy and I are traveling all the way to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California tomorrow for a big meeting of all the Antarctic expedition members. We will get the answers to some of our questions, of which we have about a bzillion. Rainy is anxious to meet the biologists, especially since some of them are girls. Wait. Women. Ash is anxious to meet these two guys who are planning to take pictures of icebergs from the air using remote controlled model airplanes. I am totally not joking.

I want to meet everybody. They all sound way cool. But I especially want to meet the guys who are working on the underwater robots. That’s right. We are going to have robots on the ship, and they are going to go underwater. Maybe we will even get to see them on Tuesday or Wednesday. Plus, we are going to stay at this really great hotel right on the beach. Yessss!

However, getting back to the story of how we got here…

So. The apparently dead frog thawed out during the night and started croaking like the Duck from Planet X and about gave me a heart attack. When morning came, I looked over at the windowsill and saw the frog hopping and stretching in the bug jar. Every now and then, it put its front feet against the glass and said, “Grack,” as if it were totally confused, which I suppose it was. I mean, it went to sleep in the forest on a snowy day, and it woke up on some kid’s windowsill in a bird’s nest.

It was still really early, and nobody else was up. So I got dressed and went out to the garage in search of Roxy’s old aquarium, which had once held a really dumb goldfish that accidentally killed itself by jumping out of the water and landing on the floor, where Doofus ate it. I took the aquarium outside and shoveled in some dirt and leaves from the garden, enough to cover the bottom a couple of inches deep. This I had to do in a big hurry because it had snowed a little in the night, and I was thinking so much about the frog that I forgot to put my shoes and socks on.

Hopping around on one foot and then the other, I brought the aquarium in and set it on the kitchen table. I needed a bowl deep enough to hold some water, but not so deep that the frog could drown in it. One of the weirdest things I know about frogs is that when they are baby tadpoles, they have gills and can breathe underwater. But when they are grown-ups, they stop having gills and start needing to breathe regular air.

Photo © by
James Dowling-Healey,
this guy I know

Now, let me say right here that Mom hates it when I use her kitchen stuff for experiments. Luckily, she is trying to save the planet single-handedly, so she never throws anything away. This includes plastic things which, in the store, hold stuff like salsa, or cheese dip, or olives; but which, in our house, hold stuff like one leftover lamb chop or two spoonfuls of putrid sauerkraut. Which is sort of OT, but does mean there was a stack of not-too-deep plastic containers in the cupboard, one of which I grabbed and filled with warm water for the frog’s new clubhouse. Then I went to my bedroom to get the frog.

By the time I got back, Roxy was peering over the edge of the kitchen table with a puzzled frown.

“Gib. Gib! Why did you put dirt in my quarimum, huh? Why is there a little thing of water in there, huh? What’re you gonna put in there, huh?”

“Look what I’ve got,” I said. I held the jar up for her to see.

“A froggy!” she said, clapping her hands and jumping up and down. A second later, though, her smile disappeared and a shadow crossed her face. “Wait a minute, is that the dead one?”

“Yep,” I said as I opened the lid and dropped the frog into the aquarium.

“Gi-i-i-b, don’t trick me! That’s mean!”

“I’m not tricking you. We thought he was dead, but I guess he wasn’t. He thawed out in the night, and now he’s good as new.”

“Really?” said Roxy, scooting up for a closer look.

“Grack, grack,” said the frog.

Doofus rushed in, skidding across the floor. “Rrrf, rrrf!” he barked.

“Oh!” cried Roxy, jumping up and down again. “I know what to name him! His name is Donald. Donald Duck Frog! Hi, Donald.”

While Roxy was busy naming the frog, I went into Dad’s den and dragged one of his books off the shelf, Palmer & Fowler’s Fieldbook of Natural History. It is huge and old, and Dad says it is sort of outdated now because of the Web. But I still like it because it’s full of pictures of every kind of plant and animal, and it’s still the easiest way to figure out the name of whatever you’re looking at.

I looked up “frog” in the index, and went to the start of the “Phylum Chordata, Class Amphibia” section. There were entries for about a bzillion kinds of toads and frogs from all over the world. There were spadefoots and peepers, bullfrogs and green frogs. The list went on and on. But Donald’s big eye patches and the stripe on his back helped narrow it down. Pretty soon, I had him nailed. Rana sylvatica, the common wood frog. According to the Fieldbook, only the male croaks, so Donald was a reasonable name, sort of. Also, “adults eat small animals of the forest floor.”

Not that I intended to keep him very long. Because when I went and looked up “wood frog” on the Web, I found out that what they mean by “small animals” is stuff like bugs and snails, which are hard to catch even in the summer, and dead ones won’t do. Sure, I had raised frogs before, but mostly while they were still tadpoles and would eat any old thing as long as it was green — pond algae, old lettuce, whatever. I’ve never kept one very long after it turns into an actual frog, because cripes, what do you feed them? We had to set Donald free. But if we did, for sure he would freeze again. So it looked like maybe we were going to kill him whether we wanted to or not. I can not describe how slimy this made me feel.

There was only one thing to do, and that was: call a meeting of the Three Musketeers.

A Grack in the Night
16 February 2008, Finney @ 12:54 pm

But now, back to the mysterious creature quacking in the night.

As you might remember, on the night Doofus brought us the frog, I took it out of the freezer and laid it in the bird’s nest on my windowsill. The moon was high in the sky when a sound like a quacking duck awakened me. In the frosty light that streamed through the window, I saw something moving in the nest.

The longer I lay there listening, the more I wondered how a duck could have gotten into my room and the harder my heart thumped. I strained to hear the sound better. It wasn’t a normal quack. It was more of a grack, like the duck had mushrooms growing in its throat or something. I had a sudden, powerful desire to pull the covers over my head and yell for Dad. Though I did manage to pull the covers up, I couldn’t get any sound to come out of my mouth. I was breathing fast, gasping for air, and there didn’t seem to be enough of it under that blanket. It was either face the thing in the nest or suffocate. I closed my eyes and sat up.

The dreadful, dry rasping still filled my room. And there was still something moving in the nest. The windowsill was a little too high and a little too far away for me to have a good view of what was happening. So, very slowly, I stood up. It was still too dark to see perfectly, but I could tell that whatever was in the nest was small. So if it was a duck it had to be a baby. Then I began to really wake up, and as I did, I felt dumber and dumber. I hadn’t put a duck in the nest. I had put a frog in there. And the sound wasn’t a weird quack; it was a weird croak. I let go of the blanket and walked up for a better look.

There was a frog in the nest. Not the dead shriveled one I had placed there a few hours before. This was a real live frog, small but plump, stretching its legs and croaking its funny, ducky croak for all the world to hear. I reached down and picked it up. Its skin was damp. It was cold but not icy. Its tiny feet tickled my hand. It moved slowly, looking from side-to-side, wobbly as if…well, as if it had recently been frozen solid. Even in that colorless light, it was beautiful. It had a thin white stripe down its back, and dark patches around its eyes that made them look huge and mysterious. It looked up at me, tilted its head, and said, “Grack.”

“Hi,” I said, gently stroking its back, smiling as it stretched in response. “You’re a miracle frog, you know that? You were frozen solid.”

“Grack grack,” said the frog.

I was beginning to think about how to keep it warm and safe through the rest of the night. If I say so myself, I am not exactly an amateur when it comes to taking care of frogs. I have raised a lot — well, maybe three — from tadpole size. I knew the main thing was to give it water, because their skin needs to be wet, and they dry out fast if they can’t keep it that way. I put the frog back in the nest and made a dive for a dark corner of the room where I knew there was a bug jar buried under gazillions of comic books and old toys. I should have turned the light on. It would have been faster. But I did find it eventually. It was glass, and had once contained about a quart of mayonnaise. It had a metal lid, which I had punched full of holes with a big nail.

After I had put a quarter-inch of warm water in the bottom, I dropped the frog in. It croaked happily. “Okay, see you in the morning. Now be quiet, okay? I’m tired.”

Of course it didn’t be quiet. I guess I wouldn’t be quiet either if I had just had a near-death experience and was just plain glad to be alive. It didn’t really bother me all that much, once I knew the gracking wasn’t coming from an alien duck with murder in its heart. In fact, I dreamed about summer, and the creek that runs through the ravine, and tadpoles swimming in the sun. I was as happy as the frog, because I knew that in the morning, I would have a huge mystery to solve, and in my opinion, nothing is better.

8 February 2008, Finney @ 11:07 pm

Back again! Sorry it took so long, but you wouldn’t believe all the stuff that’s happening right now. Today I’ll fill in a little more about how we managed to get ourselves a trip to Antarctica.

So…while sitting around at my house a few months ago, Ash and Rainy convinced me we had to enter the school science fair, because otherwise I might not grow up to be a scientist, might never invent the unner, and might not save my little sister Roxy, who turns out to be important to the world in some way we have not figured out yet. This all sounds very weird and creates a lot of questions. Like, for example, what is the unner? It would take a whole book to really explain that, but the short answer is: a machine that lets you undo things you wish hadn’t happened. Then there’s the question of how I know I grow up to be a scientist. And the question of how I know my little sister is going to do something of earthshaking importance. I know because my future self told me. If I were you, I would be confused right now. That’s okay. Just keep reading, and eventually everything will be clear, I swear on my Antarctic survival suit.

After we decided to enter the science fair, we spent about a week trying to think up the best project of all time. By that Friday night, we were sitting around at my house again feeling gloomy. Our best ideas were: 1) try to find fossils somewhere, and 2) see if drinking too much Tang will turn you orange. Pathetic.

Outside, the ground was spotted with snow. My leg was aching. Just to explain, it got broken by a truck while I was saving Roxy last October. Actually, it’s more accurate to say it got smashed by a truck. And even though it had more-or-less healed by that time, the cold weather still made it ache. So I didn’t feel like doing much, and the mood seemed contagious.

“Let’s make some hot chocolate,” said Ash. Whenever anything goes wrong, Ash makes hot chocolate. I have to admit that although it seems slightly weird, it does usually make him and everybody else feel better.

So we moped out to the kitchen and sat in the chairs watching Ash as he messed around microwaving milk and rifling our cupboards for marshmallows. “There has to be a better idea somewhere,” said Rainy.

“Yeah, like the unner,” I said.

“Which is currently in a million pieces,” said Ash.

Just at that moment, the front door slammed and I heard Roxy’s high-pitched little kid voice yelling, “Feet, Doofus, feet!” This is what we say in order to make our dog, Doofus, stop in the entryway so we can wipe the mud and gunk off his feet before he runs across the carpets.

Three seconds later, Doofus rushed into the kitchen trailing mud and dragging Roxy, who was holding onto his collar for dear life. He made a sound like mrrph kuh, mrrph kuh.

“Roxy, let go! You’re choking him!” I shouted.

“Okay, okay,” she said. She let go of the collar and fell backwards, landing on her bottom with a thud. I started to laugh. I couldn’t help it.

“Ow!” she cried. Tears filled her eyes. “That hurt! You’re so mean. I’m telling.”

“Oh, come on, it’s not that bad,” I said helping her up.

“How do you know?”

Just as things were starting to escalate into full-blown warfare, Rainy said, “Whoa! What’s that?”

We all turned at once. Rainy was pointing at something on the floor. Doofus whined and did a funny little dance of excitement, pushing at the thing with his nose.

picture of Doofus' treasureAt first I thought it was a rock. It was about the size of a small egg. Ash stooped down and poked at it with one finger.

“Eeeeeuuuuw!” said Rainy. “Don’t do that!”

“It looks like doggy pooh,” said Roxy, her hurt bottom forgotten. She was right. It was sort of shriveled, and brownish gray.

“So what?” said Ash, and he picked it up. “Rawrr!” he said, shoving it toward Rainy’s face.

She screamed. It sounded like a horror movie, no kidding.

Ash laughed and got a napkin. He put the thing on the napkin and laid it on the table. Then he went to the sink and washed his hands. “I’ll tell you one thing,” he said. “It’s really cold. It feels like ice.”

We all gathered around it, trying to get a closer look while Doofus barked at us for stealing his treasure.

“It’s not poop,” said Rainy. She must have been pretty sure, because she picked it up and turned it over. Underneath, it was white — with little feet folded neatly around itself! “I think it’s a frog. A poor, dead, frozen little frog.”

Sure enough. When we looked closer, we could see its legs and its mouth and eyes, though they were closed. Somehow, it had curled itself into a little ball and frozen that way, solid as a chunk of ice.

“Oh, poor froggy,” said Roxy. “Let’s bury him.”

“He’s way too excellent to be buried,” I said. “I’m keeping him.”

“Eeeuuuw!” said Rainy again. “That’s gross. He should be put back out in nature where he can decompose in peace.”

“Oh right,” I said. “Like Doofus is going to leave him in peace.”

“Cocoa’s ready,” said Ash. “Come on. Let’s go in the living room.”

So I put the dead frog in a sandwich bag and stuck him in the freezer, which Rainy thought was the grossest thing yet. We went and drank our cocoa and talked about movies we liked for a while. It got late. Dad put Roxy to bed. Ash and Rainy went home. I brushed my teeth and put my pajamas on. Then I remembered the frog in its plastic bag, stuck in the dark, cold freezer. It seemed creepy somehow, to leave it there all alone, dead and mournful.

So I got it out and took it to my bedroom. I looked at my windowsill, which is where I put all of my favorite things, if they’ll fit. There was a bird’s nest there, lined with feathers. It looked soft and warm, and I thought it would be a nice place for the frog to spend one last night before I took him out and tried to find a burial place where Doofus would never bother him. I took him out of the bag, dropped him into the nest, and said good-night. Then I climbed into bed.

The moon was high in the sky when a sound like a quacking duck awakened me. In the frosty light that streamed through the window, I saw something moving in the nest.

The Three Musketeers
1 February 2008, Finney @ 5:27 pm

The Three Musketeers and D'Artagnan I hate to admit it, but the science fair thing was not my idea. I mean, I like experiments, but only when I can do them my own way. To me, a good experiment is like a vacation where you just take off for parts unknown. My dad and I took a vacation like that once, just the two of us.

We stuffed a bunch of clothes, some jerky, and a big bag of peanuts into a duffle, tossed it in the trunk along with two sleeping bags, and got in the car.

“Which way shall we go?” said Dad.

I said, “I dunno. South?” It was gray and chilly out, and I was in the mood for warmer weather, and back then, I still connected “south” with “warm.”

“Sounds good.”

So we went down the driveway and turned south. We didn’t know anything about where we were going except at the end of the day, if the sun was shining, for sure it would be streaking through the right-hand window. It was great. If we saw a sign for something weird, like a limestone cavern, fainting goats, Indian petroglyphs, you name it, we turned off the road and drove till we found it. If it got dark and there weren’t any motels around, we would look for a good place to spread out the sleeping bags. We’d fall asleep looking at the stars, and we’d wake up with our hair sticking out all over the place and nobody said we had to comb it.

That’s what I like — discovering stuff you never dreamed of, and nobody bothering you.

So I was not real hot on the idea when Rainy Frogner started talking about a three-way collaboration for the science fair.

“Come on!” she said one night when she and I and Ash Jensen were hanging out at my house. “It’ll be fun.”

“Are you serious?” said Ash. “Science fairs are for dweebs.”

He said this even though, at that very moment, he was conducting an informal experiment to see how much Tang one glass of water could hold before it turned to paste. He took a sip. “Whoa, intense!” he said when his face got back to normal.

“What about Un for All and All for Un?” said Rainy, who does not give up easily.

Un for All, and All for Un has been our motto ever since last year. It’s from The Three Musketeers, which is a book about three cool guys — well, technically four cool guys — who have a whole bunch of swashbuckling adventures, and save each other from certain death about a million times. Whenever they’re about to risk their lives, they put their swords together and say, “One for all, and all for One.”

A while back, Rainy and Ash and I really did risk our lives. Maybe not a million times, but a few anyway, and we did it together. In a lot of ways, we have felt like The Three Musketeers ever since. The question of why we say “un” instead of “one” is a separate matter, which I will get to eventually. Trust me.

I gave Rainy a meaningful look and said, “Un for All and All for Un doesn’t mean we have to do everything together.”

“But this would be so awesome. We could blow everybody else away, I know we could. I mean, we’ll be the only team with a famous scientist in it.”

“Just hold on a minute. Nobody here is a famous scientist,” I said.

Rainy squeezed her eyes shut and said, “Rrrrrr! Gib Finney, why are you always so stubborn? You’re a famous scientist. You know you are!”

“Whoa, whoa, let’s stop right here,” I said, scooting my chair back, fighting an urge to get up and walk away.

“You have to do this, Gib,” she said. “Think about it. If you don’t, you might never invent the unner.”

I froze.

“It’s possible she’s got a point,” said Ash, scratching under the bill of his baseball cap. “You have to grow up to be a scientist. Otherwise, you’ll never invent the unner, and never be able to give it to yourself. And if you never give it to yourself, Roxy will die.”

So there it was, another one of those moments I’ve dreaded ever since the Power of Un drastically complicated my life. A moment of awful possibilities — this time, either do what Rainy wanted, or let my little sister die. Again.