Chapter 1: Smelling the Roses
"Hey, Ernie, watcha lookin at? Smellin the roses?"
The voice belonged to Ernie's friend Heather, who lived just around the corner from his house on Finister Street. Finister Street in 'good ol' Pine Valley, PEI', as Ernie's Dad was often heard to say, laughing. Their families had lived here since before they were born, so Heather and Ernie had known each other since they could remember. They often met this way while going to school.
"Huh!?" was Ernie's reply - he had been very absorbed in what he was doing - which, of course, was what Heather was curious about - and hadn't heard all of her question; "Oh, it's you, Heather - did you say something?" asked Ernie distractedly, looking back to the object of his interest.
Ernie was on his hands and knees on the sidewalk, with his head poked halfways under a bush at the edge of the McCallum's yard. He had on his usual warm-weather clothes of patched blue jeans, faded t-shirt, sneakers; his Blue Jays baseball cap was in one hand which was resting on the grass by his leg. Heather dropped to her knees beside him.
"Yeh, Ernie, I said something," Heather answered; "I said, watcha doin? Lemme see, willya?" and she dropped to her hands and knees and stuck her head down beside Ernie's, taking a quick glance at his freckled face and brown eyes to see if he was just teasing or was really looking at something. All she could see was the unruly brown horsetail sticking out from the back of his head.
For a long minute there was nothing from under the bush but the f sound of breathing, and nothing to see from outside but two little behinds stuck in the air. Suddenly there was a cry.
"HEY!?!" - closely followed by, "LOOKOUT!!" - and almost as one the observers under the bush pulled their heads quickly out, scrambled to their feet and ran off down the street as far as the corner, where they stopped and looked behind them.
"Geez, Heather," panted Ernie, looking at his companion and shaking his head, "I thought you knew better than to go poking your finger at bees while they're crawling around flowers!"
Heather looked at Ernie and giggled - she had an impish look about her, as usual, with her short pigtails on either side of her head, and turned up corners giving her mouth a permanent look of mischief. Cute, of course, with blond hair and hazel eyes and summer tanned face and arms - but definitely a look of mischief.
"I was just doing it for your own good, Ernie," she looked at him wide-eyed; "School's about to start, and we're still here and not there!"
"What!?" answered Ernie, looking down the maple-lined street to where they could see the other kids in a crowd around the front door of the Pine Valley Elementary School, "Holy cow! I forgot all about the time! C'mon - let's go!"
And he grabbed Heather's hand and started running just as the bell rang to signal the one-minute warning. A few seconds later they slowed down as they entered the school gate. It was an old school, one-story, faded orange-colored bricks and grey corners, with four classrooms and a gym (old, at any rate, to Ernie and Heather and the rest of the students who had not been born when it was built - not quite so old, perhaps, to their parents, who had). It had a large, well-used play area to the side and behind it, with a ball diamond, swing and slides, monkey bars, and a hill at the side which was just right for sleigh-riding in the winter.
"Whew," panted Heather, catching her breath.
"Yeh," panted Ernie, "Likewise, I'm sure."
"Hey, I was gonna ask you," said Heather, as she caught her breath, "Did you get your science homework done?"
“Science homework?" answered Ernie, stopping and looking over to Heather with widened eyes, "What science homework?"
"You know - science - life cycle of the frog!"
"Life cycle of the - oh no!" moaned Ernie, clapping his hand to his forehead, "I forgot all about it! We got playing ball after school yesterday right up until suppertime - and then Mom had me practicing piano after supper - and then there was a ball game on TV I kind of got to watching - oh no, what am I gonna tell Mr. Basnoozer this time?!?"
Heather looked at Ernie sceptically as they walked through the large front door of the school and down the hall to the Grade 5 and 6 classroom.
"Yeh sure," she said, just before they entered the tall blue door, "I betcha forgot all about it! Mr. Basnoozer wasn't too impressed the last time when you didn't do the assignment about trees, was he?" she finished, laughing.
There was no time left for further conversation - as they passed through the classroom door, all of the other students were almost seated, and Heather walked along the front row of desks to her seat by the window as Ernie turned down by the wall towards the back of the room. To get to his seat he had to pass the science display shelves along the wall, and he slowed for a look, as usual. Ernie may not have been the most studious of students, but he had a considerable interest in the workings of the world, and Mr. Basnoozer had an enthusiasm for his science classes that he managed to impart to many of the students. Ernie included, forgotten homework notwithstanding - baseball was pretty interesting, too.
Today there were two large glassed-in boxes in which were quite a lot of small green frogs, some of them sitting around, others stretching up on long back legs along the glass sides or hopping clumsily over one another. The wall behind the boxes was filled with colorful pictures and diagrams of frogs and frog stuff, with a large one in the middle of a frog on its back with its chest cavity exposed, and arrows pointing to the internal parts of its anatomy. Ernie was tempted to stop for a look, but most of the other students were already seated and he could feel Mr. Basnoozer's eyes on his back as he waited for Ernie to find his seat.
Just past the frogs was second long shelf with a number of things on it from past displays and assignments - some pine seedlings and a poster of a huge pine tree; a chart that told about how human beings evolved from apes or something (Ernie hadn't quite got that one figured out yet - he still remembered the raised eyebrows of Mr. Basnoozer when Ernie said, concerning evolution, "From monkeys!?! Gimme a break!"); a bunch of small balls hanging from the ceiling which was supposed to be either the solar system or an atom; a plaster bust of Albert Einstein's head and shoulders; and other things Ernie didn't have time to stop and look at as he quickly hurried the last few steps and slid into his seat, the second from the end. He made a point of not looking up at Mr. Basnoozer, but immediately lifted the top of his desk and reached in to get his notebook and pencil.
"WAUGHAA!" he cried, and half jumped from his seat, dropping the lid which banged back down. There was a chorus of giggles and muffled laughter from the back of the room as heads in the front rows turned to look at him.
"Quiet, class!" came the deep voice of Mr. Basnoozer from the front of the room; "What seems to be the trouble, young man?" the voice continued.
Ernie looked up. Mr. Basnoozer was looking at him, over the top of his glasses as he liked to do when he was trying to look stern.
"I - ah - that is," said Ernie, "Well - there's a frog in my desk!"
Another chorus of snickers from the back of the room. Ernie looked around, and could tell right away that someone had put the frog there for just this very purpose - to startle him and get him in trouble with Mr. Basnoozer. Probably Peter, who sat one row over from Ernie, and was the class practical joker. Peter liked to pretend he was an Air Force Fighter pilot, and could frequently be seen at recess running at top speed around the yard crying, "Look out for the Mad Bomber! Look out for the Mad Bomber!" Ernie was thinking that the Mad Bomber had better be looking out for him, come recess this morning. But he didn't have time for Peter now. He had to explain his life to Mr. Basnoozer again.
Mr. Basnoozer crossed his arms and waited for silence. He looked over the top of his glasses again, with his eyebrows raised.
"A frog?" he asked - needlessly, it seemed to Ernie - hadn't he just said so? He knew better than to point this out to Mr. Basnoozer, however.
"Yes, sir," he said; "A frog."
Ernie was standing beside his desk, now, and carefully lifted the top. He reached in and grabbed the small frog, and lifted it out.
"See?" he said, holding out his hand and looking up at Mr. Basnoozer.
Mr. Basnoozer, fortunately for Ernie, was a patient man. Also a good teacher and well familiar with the ways of ten year old children in the spring (which season it was). So he just smiled at Ernie and blinked a couple of times over the tops of his glasses.
"I see," he said; "Well, then, if you just put it in with the other frogs, perhaps we can get on with the lesson, ok? And please, boys and girls," he added, looking around the classroom, "I know it's spring and young hearts turn to flights of fancy, but we do give you a lengthy recess in which to exercise your bodies and minds and youthful exuberance, so no more frogs in desks while we're working with them, ok? Thank you."
While Mr. Basnoozer was speaking, Ernie was making his away back around the rear of the row of desks and along the science display to the frog boxes. Beside the first box was a large glass jar which Ernie noticed for the first time. It was filled with little cotton balls. Ernie's curiosity took over, and as he sneaked a look out of the corner of his eye he saw that Mr. Basnoozer had turned to the blackboard to get a piece of chalk.
Ernie leaned over for a closer look at the jar. Hmmmm - he detected a strange smell coming from it. He sniffed at the top - yep, that was where the smell came from. He looked once again at Mr. Basnoozer, who was now sorting through some papers on his desk. Ernie reached for the jar, steadying it with the hand with the frog still in it while quickly unscrewing the lid with the other. He lifted the edge of the jar top and bent his head over once again.
00000HHH! A strangely sweet, dangerously pleasant, and very strong odor surrounded his head. Meaning only to take a small sniff, the smell was so strange that he had taken a deep breath of it before he could stop himself. He straightened up, knocking the jar top right off and onto the shelf beside the bottle, rocking back on his heels. The jar was still in front of him, but it seemed to be getting hazy, like it was surrounded by a cloud, and moving farther away from him all by itself. He was quickly starting to feel a little dizzy, and a little sleepy. The frog moved in his hand, trying to jump away, and he looked down at it. It seemed to be looking back at him, and its round frog eyes starting growing larger and larger as it pushed at his hand with its front legs. From the front of the room he heard a voice, but as if from a distance.
"Ernie! Ernie! What are you doing? I. .."
Ernie knew it was Mr. Basnoozer speaking to him, but he didn't really seem to care - which he knew was strange, but he didn't care about that, either. He looked back at the frog, and giggled as the frog's eyes grew larger and larger and its mouth opened and closed like a fish. The cloud over the jar seemed to be flowing away like a river down the side of the room, and as Ernie looked at it and moved his head closer for another whiff of the strange smell, he noticed through the haze the poster behind the jar. It was a drawing of a blue river, flowing off like the cloud from the jar.
Ernie's eyes were starting to close, and he was getting very, very tired. He would just like to float off down that river, he thought ... there were lots of frogs in the river and he could let this one go there ... he looked at the frog in his hand, and it seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. He opened his hand, and the frog half jumped, half fell onto the shelf beside the jar with all those pretty white cotton balls in it.
He laid his arms on the shelf, and slowly lowered his head to rest on his arms, looking dreamily at the frog. He giggled as he felt his legs giving out from under him. The last thing he remembered was the big green frog beside his nose, hopping slowly away, and voices in the background, now seeming very far off, saying "Ernie!! Ernie!!"
Ernie took one more big breath, and got another big noseful of that strange but pleasant smell, closed his eyes, and everything went black around him.
And then! - Ernie wakes up to find his world has changed - but he has a guide, a big old friendly frog called Rana, who gives Ernie a science tour. They get attacked by a giant bee, however, and things get pretty wild before Ernie gets back to Mr. Basnoozer and Pine Valley.
Ernie Does Science: © 1991, 2003, 2016 by Dave Patterson; approx. length 26,000 wds, all rights negotiable
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