Gib Finney’s sequel to THE POWER OF UN
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!