Gib Finney’s sequel to THE POWER OF UN
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.

Polar Teeth
11 February 2008, Finney @ 7:58 pm

Just a quick one tonight, because Ms. Shripnol (also known as Ol’ Shrapnel) gave us a ton of homework and I haven’t finished mine yet.

Today I had to go to the dentist to get my Polar Dental Examination. There’s a whole list of stuff we have to do before they’ll “clear us for deployment.” They being the company the U.S. government has hired to organize all the little details of the trip, such as making sure everybody’s teeth are good to go. They don’t want us to get out there in the middle of the ocean and then get a terrible toothache. At first I thought, well, what’s the big deal. There must be a dentist down there somewhere. But then I realized it is a big deal, because we’re going to be thousands of miles away from the nearest dentist. It would be totally lame to turn the ship around and go home because somebody got a toothache.

So I had to sit in the chair and hold still while my dentist took x-rays and looked around in my mouth and made little notes on the form from the Polar Services company. When he was done, he said my teeth are so good I could bite a chunk off an iceberg, but not to try it. I’m ahead of Rainy and Ash. Rainy has a cavity and she has to get it filled before she can go. And Ash hasn’t had his appointment yet. He’s worried that they’ll make a big stink because he has braces, but I looked on the instruction sheet and it says braces are cool as long as he has a note from his orthodontist.

Okay, now I’m doing my homework before Mom catches me on the computer.

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.