My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish
By Mo O'Hara, Marek Jagucki
Macmillan Copyright © 2013 Mo O'Hara
All rights reserved.
THE EVIL SCIENTIST
* * *
Yesterday my big brother, Mark, turned into a real-life actual EVIL SCIENTIST. I mean, he always was mostly evil anyway—you know, knocking me down things or over things, locking me in things or out of things, squashing me under things or between things, that kind of mostly evil stuff. But lately he's slid up the evil scale from "mostly evil" to "nearly totally evil." It started with the way he talked.
"Hey! Tom!" he shouted. "Remote! Now!"
Mark spoke in short words, like his brain had shrunk or something. He grabbed the remote and kicked my foot away. "Moron," he mumbled.
My best friend, Pradeep, who lives next door, says that "moron" is a big-brother word for little brothers. His brother, Sanj, who's also mostly evil, calls him that too. Luckily Sanj is away at boarding school though, so he can only be mostly evil to Pradeep during school vacations.
I told my mom about Mark going more evil, but Mom said it's just that Mark is "home-moanal." Which I think is why he's moaning at home a lot. She said he can't help acting evil (well, she didn't say evil exactly, but she should have). She said it's because he has lots of "home-moans" racing around his body.
Just when I thought Mark couldn't get worse, Granny and Grandad got him a chemistry set for his birthday. It came in a huge box with big official writing on the front that read:
WARNING! Only for use by children over twelve years old. To be used solely under the supervision of adults.
While I was reading the box, Mark thwacked my head from behind.
"Don't touch this—got it?" he said.
I walked away rubbing my head. Mostly because it hurt, but also to get my head out of the way in case he decided to thwack me again.
He took out a white scientist coat and looked at all the stuff inside the box. There were bottles and test tubes and cups and little stirring things, all made of glass. Real breakable glass! Mom looked at the chemistry set and leaned over to me.
"Maybe you shouldn't touch it, dear. It looks like an accident waiting to happen," she said.
Mark put on the coat and turned around. He folded up the collar, shoved his hands in the pockets and let a creepy smile spread over his face. And you know that squirmy, prickly feeling you get when you let a millipede crawl on your arm? I had that feeling, but in my stomach.
Mark had turned into an EVIL SCIENTIST. But I didn't know how evil he could be until he came home the next day with the goldfish.
A FISH IN A BAG
* * *
Now, we'd had goldfish before. We won them at a church fair by throwing ping-pong balls into the little bowls they were swimming in. They didn't live very long though. Mom said it was because the fish all had concussions from being hit on the head with the ping-pong balls.
I had a concussion once when I was four, after I accidentally ran into the front door that Mark accidentally slammed shut just as he accidentally yelled, "Run, Tom, run." That was back when he was just mostly evil.
I remember the doctor shining a tiny flashlight into my eyes and then asking me if I could name all the Teletubbies. I told her that Teletubbies were lame and then threw up on her shoes. Not to be evil, just because I had to, you know. She said I had a concussion and needed to stay in the hospital overnight so they could keep an eye on me.
So, the day after Mark got the chemistry set he came home after school with a goldfish in a little plastic bag and headed straight upstairs. Mom and I followed.
"Did you go to a fair?" I asked.
"Moron." He shot me a look as he pulled his earphones out of his ears. "It's from the pet shop. For school. Science week."
"Why do you need ...?" Mom started to ask, when Mark shoved a letter from his bag into her hand.
She read aloud: "Class 7M will be doing experiments on the effects of pollution on marine populations. Students will show photos of their experiments to the class tomorrow." She looked at Mark. "OK, if it's homework," she said as she headed down the stairs. "At least you're doing something green."
Mark put on his white scientist coat and took out his chemistry set. As he unpacked the box, I got that crawly-millipede feeling in my stomach again. Mark should have done one of those "Mwahaha!" EVIL SCIENTIST laughs at that point, but I guess he was still learning the ropes.
Mom shouted up from downstairs, "Mark, look after your brother while I run to the store. I'll be back soon." I heard the door close and looked over at Mark.
Normally, as soon as Mom left, Mark would start acting mostly evil to me. Like when he caught me reading his mint-condition Return of the Attack of the Undead Zombie comic. He wrapped me in beach towels and wedged me in the dog flap till the neighbors complained about my shouting and Mom had to come home from work to un-wedge me. Oh, the good old mostly evil days. But now that he was an actual EVIL SCIENTIST, he was too busy to think of things to squeeze me into or trap me under. There was definitely less torture, but more shouting.
"Touch nothing, moron," Mark growled at me as he went out to the hall closet.
He came back with the old goldfish bowl, filled it in the bathroom sink, and dumped the fish inside. I pressed my face up against the glass. This goldfish was fatter than the ones from the fair. It had big bulging eyes and a long wavy tail with three fins. It kind of looked like a really ugly bug-eyed mermaid, if you squinted enough. Then, as I squinted at the fish, it squinted back. Mark was too busy reading the back of a jar from his chemistry set to notice. The fish swam up to the side of the bowl and peered at me through the glass, its little mouth opening and closing. I know it sounds crazy, but I swear it looked like the fish was saying, "Help me."
Mark unscrewed the lid of the jar. My millipede feeling got worse. He took out some test tubes and mixed up a bottle of a truly evil-looking green mixture.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Polluting," he grunted, and tipped some of the green stuff into the water with the fish.
"Stop! It could hurt the fish!" I shouted, and tried to grab the bottle.
Mark shoved me back on the carpet with one hand while he added some brown powder and gray flakes to the fishbowl. I tried to get up, but he held me firm by pushing his size-7 sneakers down on my chest. He grabbed his phone and snapped a picture of the fish swimming around in the gunky water.
"What will ... it do to ... the fish?" I gasped with the last bit of air left in my lungs.
"Dunno," he said. "That's the experiment." He laughed an absolutely perfect EVIL SCIENTIST laugh. Man, he was a fast learner. Then he put his phone back in his pocket. "I'll come back later to take another picture, and then I can flush it." Mark lifted his foot off my shirt and I sucked in a lungful of air.
"Flush what?" I spluttered.
"Duh, the fish." He put his earphones in again and headed back down the stairs, shouting back, "Remember, touch nothing, moron. Got it?"
"Got it," I said. But I totally didn't get it. I stood up and tried to rub off the footprint Mark had left on my T-shirt. Then I glanced over at the fishbowl. It didn't look good. The fish was squirming in the bowl and sucking in gulps of mucky water. Then it swam up to the glass again.
I stared through the cloudy green water, right into the fish's big bulging eyes, and did the most dangerous thing I've ever done in my short life.
I touched it.
* * *
I did more than touch it. I reached into the bowl and scooped it up with my fingers and ran to the bathroom.
"Come on, fish. Hang on. You'll be OK now," I muttered as I ran.
The fish was covered in the green gunk and it was flipping about in my hands. At least it was still moving, but it wouldn't last long, all gunked up like this. I tried to hold it in one hand while I turned on the tap and tried to wash it, but I could feel it wriggling through my fingers.
Then, slurp! It flipped out of my hand and landed in the toilet.
I dropped down next to the bowl. The fish kind of bobbed around and swished its tail, but then it went still and leaned over. Our other goldfish all did that leaning thing too, just before they went belly up and died.
I raced to my bedroom and got my walkie-talkie. "Tom to Pradeep. Come in, Pradeep. Over," I said.
"Roger," Pradeep answered. "I mean Roger, Tom—or Tom, Roger. Anyway, I'm here. Over."
"Pradeep, it's a Code Red!" I shouted. "Over. Quick!"
We have this code of important stuff we both agreed on when we were back in first grade.
Yellow is stuff like: Girls are nearby.
Blue is stuff like: There's a dog digging up the gross food from our lunchboxes that we buried.
Orange is stuff like: There's a teacher/parent coming.
Red is the most important stuff you can imagine, like: Aliens are invading the neighborhood. Or escaped elephants are trampling the playground. Or somebody is murdering a goldfish.
If you're trying to figure out the system, it's not like traffic lights or anything. It's the color of jelly beans from least good to best.
"I'll be there on the double," Pradeep said and hung up.
I was still staring at the leaning fish in the toilet when Pradeep ran up the stairs. "In here," I called.
"What's up?" he asked.
I pointed to the fish.
Pradeep bent down and looked closely at it. "Did you go to a fair?" he asked.
"No, it's Mark's," I said. "Part of his EVIL SCIENTIST plan to murder a goldfish with green EVIL SCIENTIST stuff."
We leaned over the toilet bowl and stared at the fish again.
"Did you learn anything on your Cub Scout first-aid day that could help him?" I asked hopefully.
"We didn't do goldfish," he said.
The fish tilted to one side, then the other, then onto his back.
"Oh no, he's going belly up!" I shouted. I reached into the toilet and turned the fish right side up, but he just floated upside down again when I let go. "Pradeep, we need to do something! Quick! I told him he'd be OK. He's counting on me."
"It needs CPR," Pradeep said. "On a person you would press on their chest and count or you would shock them with those battery packs attached to paddles that they have in hospitals. I saw it on TV."
"We have batteries," I said. I ran into my room and took the battery out of my alarm clock. Then I raced back to see Pradeep laying the fish on the shelf by the sink. I put the openish end of the battery on him and FLIP! The fish jerked. I looked at Pradeep and I did it again. FLIP, FLOP! This time the fish started wriggling like it did when I first grabbed it out of the bowl. We quickly filled up the sink and dropped the fish in.
And it started swimming around!
"We did it!" I said. Pradeep and I did our secret celebration high five. Two slaps up, two down, elbow bumps, knees, fist bumps, left, right, left, right, then "We rock!" said at the same time as we bumped fists in the middle.
"You shocked him back to life," said Pradeep. "Like Frankenstein in that movie. Hey, let's call him Frankie—after the monster."
"Hello, Frankie," I said, tapping the side of the sink. He stopped swimming and slowly turned around. And that's when I swear he looked me right in the eye and winked.
* * *
"Did you see that?" I turned to Pradeep.
"What?" Pradeep was drying his hands on the bathroom towel.
"The way Frankie looked at me? He winked!" I stared down at the goldfish, but now he was looking around in the normal way that goldfish do. You know, where one of their eyes is looking at the wall and the other eye is looking up your left nostril at the same time.
"Never mind," I said, shaking my head. "We've gotta get Frankie back in his bowl before Mark notices he's gone. Or else—"
"You're dead meat." Pradeep finished my words.
We ran back into Mark's room to grab the bowl of gloopy green water.
"You can't put him back in the bowl. The gunge will kill him," Pradeep said.
"We can't put him in clean water. Mark will notice and kill me," I said. "And then he'll kill Frankie!"
We ran back to the bathroom, sat on the radiator and stared at Frankie swimming around in the sink.
Then I had an idea. "Hey, what if we make it green with safe stuff. Remember that green food coloring stuff your mom used last St. Patrick's Day? I mean, if it's OK for people to eat, it's gotta be OK for a fish to swim in, right?"
Pradeep thought for a sec. "It'll have to be."
Pradeep's mom isn't Irish, she just gets really into holidays. You can pretty much name a holiday and Pradeep's mom has had a party for it. When we went over there for her St. Patrick's Day party, she had dyed everything green. We even had green finger sandwiches.
Which, it turns out, don't even have real fingers in them. Total false advertising.
And she had green milkshakes and green cupcakes with green icing. It was cool except that when you eat seventeen green cupcakes in a row, it means you throw up in green.
"We have to get some of the green food coloring from your kitchen," I said.
"I can't go home," Pradeep said. "My mom will make me stay for the Earth Day Polar Bear Pajama Party that she's having."
I looked at Pradeep with a face that said, I can't even ask why she would do that. He answered my face.
"She says the North Pole has really long nights and the polar bears sleep a lot, so they'd want a pajama party." He paused. "I told her it didn't work."
"Never mind. OK, I'll go and get the food coloring." I said. As I started for the stairs I could hear the thump, thump, thump of Mark's music coming through his headphones. He must be on the couch just by the steps. There was no way I could sneak past. "OK, I'm taking Escape Route 5." Pradeep and I had planned sixteen different escape routes from both our houses, just in case of a Code Red. Route 5 was out of my bathroom window. "Pradeep, it's up to you to stop Mark from coming upstairs before I get back."
"You can count on me," Pradeep said. "I'll think of something to keep him occupied."
He gave me a thumbs-up, then took a deep breath and headed downstairs to the TV room, where Mark was slumped over the couch.
"Can I say, that's a really cool white scientist coat you're wearing," Pradeep said. I heard him start to tell Mark about the nature special on the National Geographic channel that shows you what's really in a crocodile's stomach.
Time for Escape Route 5. I opened the window of the bathroom and stood on the toilet lid to climb out onto the garage roof. Suddenly it looked a lot farther down to the roof than it did in the drawing we'd done in Pradeep's notebook. No going back now though. I edged out the window. Then I heard a splash and a thwap. Before I even turned around I knew what that sound was. It was the sound of a wet goldfish hitting a tiled floor.
THAT'S NO ORDINARY GOLDFISH
* * *
"No, Frankie!" I said as I jumped off the toilet and scooped him up.
He wriggled in my hands as I dropped him back into the sink. He swam twice in a circle and then up to the surface, where he stared at me, his eyes glowing a bit green.
"You stay here. I'll be back." I climbed back onto the toilet seat and turned and pushed the window again, wide enough for me to crawl through. That was when I heard the next splash and then a whoosh!
Green and gold flashed past my right ear as Frankie leaped out of the window. I stuck my head out in time to see him land in a puddle of rainwater on the garage roof. Jumping down, I quickly dug the plastic bag he'd arrived in out of the trash. This was too weird. Frankie really wanted to go outside. None of the ping-pong-ball fish ever did anything like this.
Once I'd filled up the bag with water I scrambled out onto the roof.
"I guess you're coming with me then," I said as I scooped up Frankie from the puddle and plopped him in the bag. I tied a knot in the top and held the bag in my teeth as I climbed down the side of the garage. My feet felt for the top of the compost bin. Got it! From there I jumped down onto the lawn. Escape Route 5 was a success (even carrying a fish). Result!
I ran around to the front of the house and peeked through the window. I could see Pradeep's back. He was sitting in a chair and Mark was standing in front of him showing him his chemistry set. If Pradeep could just keep Mark downstairs for a bit longer, then Frankie and I would be back before he noticed. In seconds I was at Pradeep's back door, inching it open.
His mom was inside making popcorn. Popcorn kernels popped and banged so loudly, she didn't hear the door open. She rolled some popcorn pieces in green marshmallow fluff and rolled some others in blue marshmallow fluff and then squished them into little round globes. Then she poured melted white chocolate over the top of each of the little earths. It took me a second, but then I got it. Melting polar ice caps. Cool. (Continues...)
Excerpted from My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O'Hara, Marek Jagucki. Copyright © 2013 Mo O'Hara. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
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