Excerpt for The Fish Fox Boys: Part Two by , available in its entirety at Smashwords












For Rachael,


Thanks for being

the sensible one.

One of us had to do it.









CHAPTER ONE

Oh, Haven't You Heard?


Once upon a time the world ended. The Fish Fox Boys didn’t care too much about that.

Surely you’ve heard of the Fish Fox Boys. No? Their quests for hot meals and their innovative approach to inventing new and exciting ways to blow themselves up have spread wide and far. Not all of their creations were dangerous. In fact, a few of them were rather useful. Perhaps you yourself have used a few of their contraptions. The Poid, for example, the apparatus that allows humans to breathe underwater? That was them (although, unfortunately, they came up with that one well after the events of this book took place. You’ll see what I mean soon enough.). What about the Pogo-A-Go-Go, a missile-based transportation device that launched the user forty feet in the air with the use of a single match? That was Fred’s brainchild (it was invented to get more cherries out of a tree. Anne had said that a simple ladder would have sufficed, but there was no convincing him). How about DirTonic, a treatment for botulism? Well, it was Anne who engineered the medicine (but it was Adam who named it, claiming it tasted like dirt. This poeticism of the title was lost on Adam and, unfortunately, the name stuck).

Or perhaps you’ve heard of the legendary ROTODENTRON, otherwise known as Roto? The Fish Fox Boys reclaimed the last remaining computer from atop a bee infested mountain. They (meaning Adam, and just Adam) lugged Roto along with them for many of their adventures and Roto repaid the favor with endless exposition on the local flora and fauna of the regions they traversed through.

Occasionally, Roto would inquire, “DO-YOU-HAVE-A-QUERY-FOR-ROTO?” and all would laugh and say, no, they did not have a query for Roto.

Not that it mattered. Roto would tell them the genetic history of the Goliath Frog or the evolutionary defense mechanisms of Venus Fly Traps, regardless of inquiry or proximity to such creatures.

Really, Roto just made his friends nervous most of the time. But what can you say to the world’s last computer?

They were a fine bunch, this ragamuffin quartet of adventurers. Sure, they fought and bickered and slept in too late and ate more than their fair portion of food, and broke things, and exploded things, and injured themselves, and vandalized a barn with the word ‘Fart’ once, and… well, it doesn’t matter. The siblings loved each other. They kind of liked Roto.

They were The Fish Fox Boys.









CHAPTER TWO

Teach a Man to Fish


There was a pleasant ocean breeze playing over the beach. Anne was shading herself in the shadow of a dune and sipping on a jar of cucumber lemonade. She read a boring textbook about the life and times of Marie Curie. Roto sat next to her.

“ROTO-IS-CALCULATING,” said Roto.

“Shhh,” said Anne pleasantly. “I’m reading.”

“COMPOSITION-OF-EARTH-IN-THIS-LOCATION-IS-PRIMARILY-QUARTZ-AND-FELDSPAR.”

“Shhh,” she said again. Anne was in a good mood. It was another sleepy day in the coastal settlement of San Gonzo. She day-dreamed what it would be like to hang out with Madame Curie in her lab.

“WEATHERING-OF-THIS-MATERIAL-WOULD-TAKE-AN-AVERAGE-OF-TEN-THOUSAND-YEARS-TO-CREATE-A-SINGLE-INCH-OF-GRANULAR-TOP-SOIL-THAT-IS-OFTEN-REFERRED-TO-AS-SAND-CITATION-NEEDED.”

Day dreaming was hard with Roto around. Still, Anne was happy. The breeze was refreshing, the ocean gently lapped at the shore, the lemonade was fresh and the skies were blue.

“DYNAMITE-IS-MADE-FROM-NITROGLYCERIN-ALTHOUGH-AMATEUR-MINERS-HAVE-BEEN-KNOWN-TO-APPROXIMATE-SIMILAR-COMPOUNDS…”

“Wait,” said Anne. “What was that?”


Fred said, “It stands to reason, dear brother, that the clams that we so desire are located underneath the sand.”

“This I know, Fred,” replied Adam. “I can see the holes in the sand from the air bubbles escaping their shell.”

Fred held up a shovel and said, “Now, if I were to take this shovel and dig, I would find a small number of clams.”

“You would, Fred. You would,” agreed Adam.

“But I don’t want a small number of clams. Do you?”

“I don’t, Fred. I’d prefer a bigger number of clams if such an option were available.”

Fred produced a metal pipe from his satchel. “Do you know what this is?”

“Sure,” Adam said. “That’s the pipe that you filled with a bunch of chemicals you stole from Anne.”

“That’s right, Adam. Do you know what it’s for?”

“If I had to guess, I’d say that you imagine that whatever chemical cocktail you put in there is extremely volatile and could therefore be used as an explosive to unearth the delicious clams that we so desire.”

Fred wasn’t sure if his brother had insulted him or not. He decided to continue.

“That’s… correct. Yes. Thanks to our buddy, Roto, who happened to have an educational module on ‘old-timey’ mining practices, I was able to cobble together a volatile solution using Anne’s chem kit. I used a dry piece of kelp that I dipped in wax for the wick. Pretty neat, huh, Adam?”

Adam looked at the bomb incredulously. “Is it safe, do you think?”

Fred scoffed. “Safe? Of course it isn’t safe. It’s an explosive. Here, allow me to demonstrate.” Fred stuck the pipe in the wet sand, close to a cluster of air bubbles. He used flint and steel to spark the wick, successful after a few failed tries.

“Never works the first couple of times. Got to—there we go!” The wick ignited and Fred stood and stared at it, very proud of himself. Adam was distracted by something on the shore. It kinda looked like his sister waving her arms frantically and yelling at them to stop what they were doing, but he couldn’t be sure.

“STOP,” Adam finally heard. He responded, “STOP WHAT?”

“DON’T BLOW UP THE BEACH,” yelled Anne.

Fred took notice of his frantic sister and called over, “BLOW UP THE BEACH? THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE! JUST A LITTLE BIT OF THE BEACH!”

It was at this point that the wick ignited the stick of dynamite, though, thankfully for the safety of The Brothers Fishfox, the pipe emitted a purple flame at its head and propelled itself deep into the ground. They heard a schlorp sound of wet sand filling the hole that the downward projectile had made.

“That was lucky,” said Adam, becoming cognizant of how close he’d been to losing his ankles. He’d never really considered his ankles before then, but was relieved just the same that they had not exploded.

“Luck?” laughed Fred. “It was supposed to do that.”

Adam rolled his eyes.

They heard a gurgling sound followed by the sound of thunder. Adam and Fred exchanged a look of consternation before the sand came apart underneath their feet. The boys themselves were flung into the air. Fred landed headfirst on dry sand while Adam canon-balled into shallow water. They were pelted with hundreds of clams.

“Quick!” Fred commanded. “Before they sink back into the sand!”

Adam collected himself and helped pick up the bounty, using his shirt as a basket. Begrudgingly, Anne aided the effort as well. They collected a total of 213 clams. They ate 33 on the beach. Fred noted the smokey flavor his rocket had cooked into the shellfish and claimed that was by design. Anne rolled her eyes. Adam felt sick after eating eleven clams.

Roto said, “BIVALVE-MOLLUSKS-OBTAIN-NUTRITION-BY-FILTERING-SEA-WATER-THROUGH-A-SIPHON.”

Fred and Adam placed the remaining 180 clams into the buckets they had brought with them and Anne hefted Roto. They began walking back to the quiet seaside village of Tank. The town got its name from the upturned tanker ship that sat between what used to be a tennis court and a movie theater. The ship had since been turned into an upside-down market place where vendors gathered to sell their wares. Anne was a fierce negotiator and was feared by all who dared to trade with her. The Fish Foxes stopped at the fish monger’s tent.

“Hi there, Scotty!” she said brightly.

“Hello there, bane of my existence,” Scotty replied. He gave them all a wave as Fred and Adam said their hellos. The boys plopped the buckets on Scotty’s counter and then carried Roto outside to find interesting things to hit with sticks.

Anne negotiated a deal—he’d buy their clams for two shells apiece, and since every shell shucked meant a dollar back, he’d get a 25% return on the shells themselves.

“It works out to 405 shells,” lied Anne. “Upfront.”

Scotty the fish monger sighed and lifted his hands in defeat. He said, “400 even.”

“Deal.”

Anne jingled the bag of shells happily on the way back outside. She found her siblings hitting each other with sticks. A turtle watched them on the road next to Roto, looking confused.

“I saw him first! I already named him!” yelled Adam.

“Oh, yeah? Ow! What’d you name him!” yelled Fred.

“Clarence! It’s a classy name for a classy turtle! Ow!”

“That isn’t classy! Ow! Leland is a classy name for a turtle!”

“REPTILIA-TESTUDINATA-IS-A-GOOD-NAME-FOR-A-TURTLE.”

Anne calmly set down the bag of shells, flicked both brothers right between the eyes and took the sticks out of their hands. She then picked up the turtle and set it down, facing the ocean. She gave its tail an encouraging pat to go about its business. The turtle looked back and nodded to Anne thankfully before resuming its agonizingly slow journey down the road. To the boys, Anne said, “Home.”

Their new home, it should be noted, was originally a crab-themed restaurant. Well, it was half of a crab-themed restaurant. It sat atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. The view was amazing.

Fred retired to his quarters—the kitchen area where he stored scrap metal and other such supplies. He sat down and tinkered with a recent stroke of genius: The Go-Go-Oh-No. The Go-Go-Oh-No was essentially a water based jetpack that he’d made from two oxygen tanks and some scuba gear. One tank was filled with water, which was then subjected to a large amount of pressure from the other tank (essentially the same principle behind the ill-fated HydroClippers). The pressurized water was released and the person wearing the device would then be propelled very fast in the direction they were pointing. It was a clever machine save for two flaws:


1) There was no way to stop or slow down once it had been activated…

2) … actually, that’s pretty much the only notable flaw.


The first and second flaws became apparent to Fred only after he’d soared into the air 90 feet. Luckily for Fred, there was an ocean below to break the fall. He adjusted a few switches and examined the pressure regulator.

Meanwhile, Adam sat Roto down on a table, grabbed a book about Astronomy from the big “pile library” in the corner and climbed into a hammock made out of fish netting. He read about gravity’s effect on the solar system, fell asleep, dreamt about the moon eating a chocolate cupcake (“Hee hee,” he giggled in his sleep, “it’s got frosting on its dumb ole face.”), woke up, read about the elemental composition of Jupiter, fell asleep, and snored.

Anne did her best to ignore Roto and watched the sun set into the ocean—a brilliant orange ball with pink petals, sinking below a deep blue horizon.

“What a peaceful evening,” she sighed.









CHAPTER THREE

Big Jelly


Adam slept through the sirens. He was too busy dreaming about the moon eating food. Fred slept though the sirens. He’d stayed up half the night trying to fix the Go-Go-Oh-No and passed out on a food preparation table. Anne slept through the sirens as she’d taken to sleeping with ear muffs on to drown out the noise of Roto’s incessant postulating and explication. Roto, of course, did not sleep and therefore could not sleep through the sirens.

Roto said, “THERE-IS-A-LOUD-NOISE-INDICATING-DANGER.” But everyone slept through Roto’s alarm too. Roto, becoming bored with the noise, decided to focus on classifying the types of crab shells that decorated the restaurant’s walls.

Fred yawned and climbed down from the table. He scratched his belly, stretched, and began gnawing on a stale piece of bread. He turned the motor of the gas-powered coffee machine (which didn’t need to be gas powered. One bored Thursday, Fred just wanted to see if he could combine a lawn mower and a drip coffee machine. The hubris of man!) and sat on the edge of the floor, letting his feet dangle off the cliff and taking in the beautiful vista of the beach. Except something about the beach was different today. Fred rubbed his eyes and looked again. He shook his head. He got up and drank two cups of coffee and then returned to look outside.

“Huh,” he said. “It’s pretty gelatinous out there.”

He was right. There were jelly fish everywhere, covering the entirety of the beach. Huge ones. Bigger-than-your-house-sized jelly fish. Some of them were neon green, others a disgusting pink. Fred ran down the road and looked at the town— Jelly fish overran the roads, were flopped on top of houses, and yes, even covered The Tank.

Fred shook Anne awake.

“JELLIES!” he yelled.

Anne yawned and mumbled, “Yes, delis, that’s fine,” before going back to bed. Fred ran to Adam’s hammock, overhearing Anne mumble in her sleep, “I’ll have a reuben.”

“JELLY THINGS!” yelled Fred, shaking Adam.

Adam opened his eyes and said, “Why, yes Fred, the rings of Saturn are indeed made of jelly, while the planet itself is jam-based. Most don’t know the difference between the two, but that’s why we dedicate ourselves to science.”

“What?” asked Fred.

“Zzzz,” said Adam, falling back into his hammock.

Fred watched a faint blue glow illuminate the walls. He turned to see Roto’s pleasant and simple face of a line and two dots staring at him.

“I-SENSE-THE-NECCESSITY-OF-COMMUNAL-EFFORT-DO-YOU-HAVE-A-QUERY-FOR-ROTO?”

“Yes!” said Fred. “Roto! Come with me!”

“ROTO-LIKES-TO-BE-OF-SERVICE-IT-IS-NICE-HAVING-FRIENDS.”

Fred picked up the computer and lugged him outside to the cliff overlooking the beach.

“Roto! What are these things?”

“THESE-CREATURES-ARE-AURELIA-AURITA-MORE-COMMONLY-KNOWN-AS-JELLY-FISH-BUT-THEY-ARE-NOT-IN-FACT-FISH-AT-ALL-BUT-RATHER-BELL-SHAPED-INVERTABRATES-HA-HA-HA.”

“They’re huge and they’re everywhere!”

“CORRECT-ASSESSMENT-FRED-PERSON-POPULATION-AND-GROWTH-RATES-OF-JELLYFISH-INCREASE-EXPONENTIALLY-IN-AREAS-WITH-MINIMAL-PREDATORY-INFLUENCE.”

“We got to get rid of them! They’re crushing everything!”

Fred ran with Roto down a rocky path to another path leading through dense beachgrass to the dune entrance of the beach. Fred marveled at the mammoth size of the jellyfish, realizing just how big they were up close. Fred sat Roto down softly in the sand and inspected one of the creatures.

“They’re big, all right,” he said. “But they aren’t made of much, are they? They’re clear. Which probably means they’re full of air, like balloons.” Puffing his chest out he added, “I can move this.”

Fred rubbed his hands together and stretched his back, before putting both hands on a tendril laying in the sand.

“EEEEEEEEEE—” screamed Fred, feeling as if his hands were pierced by lightning. He ran to the wet sand and submerged his mitts.

He heard Roto from afar, “THE-TENDRILS-EMIT-A-TOXIN-BEARING-STING-CONTACT-WITH-SKIN-IS-ILL-ADVISED.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that before?!” yelled Fred.

“DANG-IT-ROTO-YOU-ARE-A-DISAPPOINTMENT.”

Fred felt bad at hurting his computer companion’s feelings, if that is indeed what he had hurt.

“Aw, you aren’t a disappointment, Roto,” said Fred reassuringly. “You’re just a simple computer.”

“THANK-YOU-FRED-PERSON-YOUR-WORDS-ARE-POORLY-CHOSEN-BUT-YOUR-SENTIMENT-IS-GENUINE.”

“Haha!” said Fred, glad to have lifted Roto’s spirits, if that was indeed what he had lifted. He looked at the jellyfish. “Well shucks,” he said. “You got any ideas on how to move these guys?”

Roto’s processor whirred.

“DYNAMITE-IS-MADE-FROM-NITROGLYCERIN-ALTHOUGH-AMATEUR-MINERS-HAVE-BEEN-KNOWN-TO-APPROXIMATE—”

“You’re a genius, Roto!”

“HURRAY-FOR-ROTO.”

Fred produced one of the modified iron pipes from his satchel and lit the dried seaweed fuse. He stuck it into the gelatinous mass of the jellyfish and ran over to Roto, hoping they were far enough away from the blast.

The purple flame ignited and shot through the jellyfish. And then through another jellyfish. And another. And another. And another. And then some more, before finally whizzing off into the sea where it exploded relatively harmlessly.

“Huh,” said Fred, disappointed.

“LOOK,” said Roto.

The neon glow of the jellyfishes began pulsing.

“What are they doing?”

“ROTO-IS-THINKING-OKAY-DONE-THE-MESOGLEA-OF-JELLYFISH-ABSORB-AND-DECOMPOSE-OCEAN-DEBRIS-IT-IS-POSSIBLE-DUE-TO-RADIATION-THAT-THE-CELLS-HAVE-BECOME-VOLATILE-OH-HEY-THAT-IS-PROBABLY-WHY-THEY-ARE-GLOWING.”

“What?” asked Fred.

The first jellyfish began rapidly flashing neon and then combusted, raining viscosity all over the beach. The one behind it followed suit. And then another and another until nearly all of them began flashing. Even the jellyfish that hadn’t been pierced by the dynamite rocket began reacting with the same neon pulse, before exploding as well. It looked a lot like popping balloons filled with gelatin, or if fireworks were made of grease.

“Pretty,” said Fred, wiping off jelly from his head, shoulders, arms and legs.

“Isn’t it?” said a voice from behind him.

Fred turned to find a girl and a boy behind him. The girl was wearing cutoff jeans and a big heavy coat. The boy, also wearing cutoff jeans, looked comfortable in a stained shirt. They had green bandanas tied around their heads, holding back the girl’s rainbow-colored hair. They both brandished cutlasses.

“Who are you?” Fred asked, scared witless.

“SILLY-FRED-DO-YOU-NOT-SEE-THAT-THESE-ARE-SPECIMENS-OF-HOMOSAPIEN-THEY-ARE-JUST-LIKE-YOURSELF.”

Fred ignored Roto as the strangers introduced themselves.

“Well, my name is Coral,” said the girl.

“I’m Beck,” said the boy.

“What are you guys doing here?” asked Fred.

“Looting, mostly,” said Beck. “Stealing. Pillaging.”

“You know,” said Coral, “Pirate stuff.”

“Pirates?!” repeated Fred.

“That’s right!” said Beck, slashing his cutlass in the air. “It’s pirate time!”

“This dumb town didn’t have much to offer,” Coral said, eyeing Roto with greed in her eyes. “But that talking box you got looks pricey.”

Oh yeah,” said Beck. “It is a fancy thing, isn’t it?

Fred got between them and Roto.

“You’re not taking Roto!” said Fred boldly. “Not on my watch!”

“Oh, it’s got a name. How rare!” exclaimed Coral.

“How fabulous! It’ll make for fine pirate treasure!”

“Did you hear me?” yelled Fred. “You’re not taking my friend!”

“Yeah?” asked Beck. “You and what army?”

Fred slapped his face a dozen times to get himself pumped up. “I’ve got the strength of one hundred armies!”

It should be noted at this time that neither Beck nor Fred has ever seen an army. They just knew that these were intimidating things to say during a conflict. They must have learned it from books.

Fred, now having promised a show of strength, took out a homemade dynamite stick, lit it and lobbed it at the pirates.

Coral flicked her cutlass at the wick, slicing it in twain, and the ineffectual explosive fell harmlessly to the ground.

She said, “Beck, hold him off, would you?”

“Gladly!” said Beck and began thrusting and parrying with his cutlass in Fred’s general direction, blocking him from Roto as Coral hefted the computer into her arms.

“I-AM-BEING-SEIGED,” said Roto.

Coral scampered over to a rowboat. She put Roto in the boat first and pushed the boat back into the sea. Beck stepped backward, keeping Fred at bay, despite Fred’s stubborn advancing. When Beck’s ankles touched water, he turned and jumped into the waves, swimming to the boat, cutlass between teeth. Coral hoisted her friend aboard and then they were off.

When Fred reached the water, they were already beyond Fred’s capability to swim.

Fred, defeated, lit a stick of dynamite and lobbed it into the water. He sat in the sand and watched the ensuing explosion without much amusement. He made a decision then. A foolish decision, yes, but one that expressed genuine responsibility and love for his siblings.

Fred decided that he was going to get Roto back. Alone.

So he returned to his home and cinched up a bag of supplies: bread, cheese, jars of cucumber lemonade, a bag of granola and his satchel of tools. He scribbled a note to Fred and Anne and took the Go-Go-Oh-No and carried it on his shoulder. With a final salute, he left Camp Fish Fox to follow the path to the beach.

Careful not to step on any poisonous Jellyfish nettles, Fred walked to the edge of the shore. He strapped himself in the Go-Go-Oh-No, set his goggles over his eyes, and hit the necessary switches to activate the device.

“Wait,” said Fred aloud to himself. “Maybe there’s a better—”

And with that he was off, rocketing towards the horizon during an immaculate sunrise.









CHAPTER FOUR

In a Comical Sense


Larry and Clementine Parsons were not enchanted with the idea of asking The Fish Fox Boys for help. They had always told their children to stay away from the weird kids who lived in the old crab restaurant on the cliff and had always followed their own house rule. Yet, they had heard the rumors that inside that restaurant dwelled a multitude of fantastic devices. The Parsons hoped that one such invention could surely help the current predicament.

Larry knocked on the door and waited as the sound of a late sleeper rousted himself out of bed and walked slowly to the door. A cherubic, ink smudged face answered them.

“Hello,” said Adam, staring at the Parsons with bleary, unseeing eyes.

“Hi,” said Clementine. “Sorry to disturb you, but we thought you could help us out of a jam.”

“There’s a big mess on the beach and—”

Adam closed the door and the Parsons exchanged a dubious look.

“How rude!” said Larry.

To their surprise, Adam reappeared a moment later holding an object that resembled both a fishing pole and a rake.

“Will this do?” he asked, nearly yawning.

“Well, uh…” said Larry.

“What is it?” asked Clementine. This brightened Adam’s morning into a state of alacrity. He cherished the opportunity to show off his inventions.

“Examine!” Adam said theatrically, stepping out onto the sand and pointing the teeth of the rake away from his visitors. He struck a button and the head of the rake launched some 20 feet ahead of him, trailed by a length of wire. Positively beaming, he began reeling the toothed missile back towards him, dragging along with it a fine collection of grass and garbage. Once the demonstration was over, he handed the device to Clementine, who accepted it dubiously.

“Thank you,” she said, uncertain of the merit behind her thanks.

No problem. I call it the MegaDuster.”

“How come?” asked Larry.

Adam shrugged.

“Yeah,” said Clementine, examining the object. “The pieces of gelatin should be solid enough to get stuck in this thing.”

“You think so? Well, my boy, we owe you a great big thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” said Adam, loving the attention and accolades. “Say, what are you using it for again?”

Larry’s disposition turned cross and he put his fists on his hips and said sternly, “Some knucklehead used dynamite on a bunch of jellyfish.”

“Heh-rp,” said Adam, containing a chuckle. “Excuse me. What happened?”

“Well, every now and again the tide will bring in scores of giant, dead jelly fish. We ring the alarms so everybody knows to stay away from the beach. Usually, high tide takes them back out to sea by the next day, but apparently, some joker went ahead and detonated the whole lot of them!” Larry sounded exasperated and out of breath. Clementine took over.

“We can usually handle the ones that get stuck inside the town, but the beach is a disaster! All of the gelatin just floats on top of the ocean and won’t leave the shore! It just gets redistributed!”

“Awesome,” said Adam, who coughed and corrected himself. “Awful. That sounds awful.”

Larry and Clementine Parsons were appalled that the sleepy boy could barely contain his glee over this disaster and beat a hasty retreat.

“Thanks again,” called Clementine over her shoulder, already to the path.

“We’ll leave it at your door when we’re finished!” called Larry.

Adam shut the door and shook his head, still chuckling. “Neighbors,” he said. “You don’t live with them, but you still somehow don’t live without them.”

He went to go find Fred and tell him about the hilarious news.

“Fred!” he called. “You won’t believe what happened on the beach!”

But Fred didn’t answer. Adam shrugged. He snapped his fingers.

“I know,” he said. “Roto will be sure to have loads of information about jellyfish. Roto! I have a query!”

But Roto didn’t answer him either.

“Anne?” Adam called. “You want to hear something funny? Well, you might not find it funny, but…”

Anne didn’t reply, either. He looked around the restaurant for his siblings. Stumped, he went into the kitchen and unwrapped a muffin he’d made with beachgrass flour and sand instead of sugar. For all of his genius and love of food, Adam was a terrible baker. He grimaced through his breakfast and drew little designs in the sandy floor with his finger, humming softly.

The door crashed open and there stood Anne, fuming mad.

“Is this some kind of joke?”

Adam thought she was referring to the jellyfish.

“Oh, you heard about it too? A bunch of jellyfish went kablooie!”

“No, you nincompoop,” said Anne, “THIS?”

She held a scrap of paper up to Adam’s face. This would be the note that Fred had scribbled earlier that morning. Fred had drawn a simple jellyfish with a stick of dynamite jammed into it with an arrow leading to a pointy explosion burst with “BOOM” written inside. Next to that he drew a stick figure and a box with Roto’s identifiable face with a speech bubble containing the words “Hahaha.” Underneath this, there were more stick figures with bandanas tied around their heads and holding swords right next to Roto’s square. Their speech bubble said, “WE TAKE,” and Fred’s stick figure was holding his head in his hands. There were several exclamation points. Underneath that, the bandana’d stick figures and the Roto square were in a boat-shaped thing and Fred had taken the time to add waves around it. Fred’s stick figure was running after them, with yet another speech bubble that read, “COME BACK HERE, FIENDS.”

Adam looked at Anne, the paper trembling in his hands.

He said, “FRED BLEW UP THE JELLYFISH AND THEN LAUGHED ABOUT IT AND THEN PIRATES STOLE ROTO AND FRED WENT AFTER THEM TO GET HIM BACK!”

“What?” said Anne. It had not occurred to her to take the comic seriously. “You got all that from this picture?”

“What else could it mean?”

“It could be a prank.”

Despite his anxiety over his best computer friend and brother, Adam let out a small chuckle.

“My dear sister,” he said. “When has Fred ever pulled a prank?”

Of course, there was the time when Fred animated a dragon-like creature using old sheets, some sticks, and a homemade blowtorch. Or the time when Fred rigged their new house with sling-shot-based booby traps (later claiming that it was “a home defense system”). Or the time when Fred replaced everyone’s shoes with live baby crocodiles with laces glued to their snouts. Or the time when, after having studying some rudimentary meteorology, Fred convinced the entire settlement of Tank that he could control the weather— Anne had to personally negotiate with the Mayor, insisting that they shouldn’t burn Fred at the stake.

Anne stared at Adam sternly and decided that this was not the moment to remind her brother of the prior incidents.

She said, “Well, they’re gone, prank or not. I’ve looked all over the beach and asked everyone in town. They haven’t seen either of them.”

“You went on the beach?”

Anne nodded.

“Was it all gross and gooey?”

Anne half-chuckled but stopped herself. “Yeah.”

Adam pointed to the crude drawing of a jellyfish exploding.

“That’s what this means! That was Fred! If the jellyfish part is true, then the rest of it could be, too!”

“Well,” said Anne, thinking this over. “I’m not sure.” She patted Adam on the shoulder. “Listen, I’m going to go back to town and look around some more. You stay here in case he comes back, okay?”

“Okay,” said Adam, deflating a little. Anne gave him a hug.

“We’ll find them,” she said encouragingly. “I always find you idiots, don’t I?”

“Yeah,” said Adam. “I guess you do.”

“That’s right.”

Anne went back outside to look for Fred and Roto. Adam stood there in the quiet crab restaurant, gears slowly turning in his brain. Suddenly! Inspiration struck and Adam opened up Fred’s big box of tools. He pulled out a crowbar. He named the crowbar “Bluntly,” and laughed about it.

“Okay, Bluntly,” he said. “Let’s go introduce your brand of honesty to the kitchen.”

Adam walked to the kitchen and looked at all of the stainless steel. He smiled.

“Time to mine us some materials,” he said to the crowbar.









CHAPTER FIVE

Dun-Dun...


Fred laughed heartily as he flew over the ocean, a water-propelled missile. The cool breeze of morning melted away as the sun beat pleasantly on his back and the misty salt water below him sprayed in his face. He looked down at the glassy mirror of water below him and saw himself having a whale of a time. He traced a finger along the water. On the horizon, he could not see a pirate ship. He could see some very pretty clouds. One looked like a giraffe.

But then there was a problem with The Go-Go-Oh-No that Fred hadn’t quite anticipated— that it will inevitably run out of water. Fred felt his speed drag and the sound of the stream behind him was now punctuated with spurts of air. He gradually dropped another foot closer to the water, the big glassy mirror now inches away from his face, waves lapping salt water into his mouth.

Ptooie,” he spat. “I need to figure out something quick, or I’ll be stranded out here in the ocean for who knows how long?!”

It didn’t immediately occur to him that the key ingredient he needed to recharge his device was in bountiful supply all around him. But he got there. But not until the entire tank emptied itself and left Fred floating in the water. It finally struck him that he could submerge the tank to refill and re-pressurize it, which is exactly what he did, launching himself forward once more at a high velocity. He was facing the horizon, so he didn’t see the great white shark rise and take a bite out of the water where he had previously been floating. No, our hero had flung himself forward, oblivious to the paradigmatic apex predator’s violent agenda— and oblivious to the telltale fin that broke the waves in pursuit of our dear, poor Fred.

Fred hummed a song he made up. It sounded a lot like the score to a movie that everybody recognized many, many years ago. Fred hummed until the water stream waned once again. He let himself fall in the water after it discharged completely before popping the tank open and submerging the tank under water yet again. He giggled at the sound of air escaping the tank in little blurbles.

Something caught his eye across the water. It looked like a rubber wing running perpendicular to the water. Fred wondered what it was.

“I wonder what that is? Could be a rubber bird,” he said to himself, unalarmed. He took pause. “Then again, birds don’t swim in the water.” He thought about this some more. “Maybe rubber birds do,” he concluded, now adjusting the regulator on the air-tank.

The fin was much closer now but Fred paid it no mind, patiently waiting for the water to pressurize. Even when the fin began circling him, he assumed that this was standard birdlike behavior.

“Birds circle in the sky. Makes sense that they would do it underwater. Sideways.”

It’s only when the great white launched at him, exposing its giant, powerful jaws that Fred got a little worried. He hit the switch to jet out of there, flying farther out into the ocean. He mused, “That bird tried to eat me. Come to think of it, that didn’t look like a bird at all. That looked more like…”

The shark was once again gaining on him as the Go-Go-Oh-No’s water depleted. There Fred floated helplessly, the fin quickly gaining speed. He opened the water tank, giggling again at the blurbles despite his fear, and desperately trying to make the tank fill faster. The shark reared its head above water, jaws wide open. Fred turned on the pressure in an attempt to make a speedy getaway, but it was too late.

“AAAAAIEEEEEEE—” screamed Fred.

The shark breached the water in a perfect arc and swallowed Fred.

It wasn’t how Fred pictured getting mauled by a shark. For one, the shark’s teeth, while appearing rather sharp, were quite gentle. Fred might say, even ticklish, as he was passed into the shark’s stomach.

The shark’s stomach was also not how Fred had pictured the intestines of such a creature. There were no intestines. Or bones. Really, there was nothing at all except the stomach walls around him. A close inspection revealed that this was not a great white shark at all, but rather a million tiny dolphins, the biggest of which equal to the size of a common gold fish, tightly knit together forming a greater creature.

Upon this realization, and with a mouth full of water, Fred said, “Excuse me,” and pushed through the interlocking dolphins and soon found himself back in the ocean. He swam back to the surface for some much needed oxygen.

If Roto were present, it would tell you that this behavior is not unlike the organizational efforts of an ant colony—who are known to form bivouacs and floating vessels with their own bodies. It seemed with the comparative genius of dolphins, however, the potential for more creative and complex structural solutions were very much possible.

Fred watched as the great white shark dissolved into its multitudinal smaller parts. The school swarmed around Fred, who was now again floating atop his Go-Go-Oh-No. The school swirled together and reconstituted into a tube shape column and rose out of the water over ten feet high and at least five feet across. It was a writhing, silver and grey replica of human vocal chords.

A chorus of Dolphins spoke in a rather disturbing, but not unkind, squeaky, crackling voice:

PLAAAAY—WIIIIITH—UUUUSSSSSSS—grghllckackack.”

Astounded, Fred shouted, “THAT’S AMAZING.”

Gryrlh—PLAAAY—WIIIITH—USSSSSS,” the dolphin voice said.

Fred said, “Sorry, guys, I totally would but I’m on a bit of a mission here.”

The dolphins sounded hurt. “NOOOFUUUUN—gah-HAUGH-eee-EEEE-eee-eee.”

“Hey, maybe you guys can help me,” Fred said.

The dolphins were all too happy to oblige.

Ack-ack—DOOOYOUUUHAAAVEAAAQUEEERYFOOORDOOOOLPHINS?” they asked.

Fred asked, “Have you guys seen a pirate ship go by?”

“YEEES—ack—HAUGH—eee—EEE,” they said. “AAA—BOOAT—eee—ack—WEEENT—THIIIS—WAAAY—grckle—haugh.”

The dolphins broke apart and formed an arrow pointing southwest.

“Thanks, dolphins!”

Fred expected a response in his own tongue but remembered that they were no longer forming vocal cords. They all made tiny dolphin noises as if to say, “No problem.”

With the water of the Go-Go-Oh-No all pressurized, Fred waved goodbye to his new aquatic friends and tore off with a misty zoom due southwest.

After one more recharge, he could see a dot on the horizon. After yet another, the dot began to take the shape of a rather large vessel. Soon, Fred could see that the ship was wind-propelled by a large sail of stitched canvas, blankets and sleeping bags, hung upon a mast made from an old telephone pole. The hull was cobbled together by various sources of wood, including National State Park Signs, benches, picnic tables, driftwood, floorboards, skate ramps, bookshelves, doors, cupboards and, yes, even a few rare patches of fresh-ish lumber. It was a hulking, angular monstrosity, but it seemed sea-worthy enough.

From where Fred floated, he could have easily swam up to the ship and snuck aboard without stirring suspicion. From there, he could sneak around until he found Roto, and then, after wrapping Roto in some plastic that he hoped to find aboard the ship, he would jettison towards the general direction of land, laughing along the way. He’d be home for a late lunch and commended for his bravery.

Alas, Fred did none of this. For the day’s events had made him lazy and he decided to fill up the Go-Go-Oh-No once more and fly directly to the ship. The device’s primary flaw— that there wasn’t really a way to stop or slow down— did not disappoint, for Fred launched himself directly into the ship, specifically into the surface of an old oak desk. Head first.

Having been knocked out upon impact, Fred fell back into the ocean. He was unaware of the cries overhead on deck (“Man overboard! Man overboard!”), and he was only partially aware of being lifted out of the water by a pirate girl with rainbow colored hair.

Coral dropped him on the deck. Fred’s vision cleared enough to make out several pirate-shaped people looming over him.

“Is he OK?” asked a pirate.

“Give him some room,” said another.

“What if he needs CPR?”

“What’s CPR?”

“Let him breathe,” yelled Coral as she cleared the pirates away before kneeling down to check the pulse of the boy she had hauled overboard. Fred took his goggles off.

“Hell-o,” he said cheerfully.

Coral’s face soured. “Oh,” she said. “It’s you.”









CHAPTER SIX

The Bird That Flies in the Ocean


Anne looked everywhere for Fred. She went down to the market and looked in each and every vendor booth for her brother and asked the merchants if they were absolutely certain they hadn’t seen him.

“I would remember,” said a particularly snide salmon monger.

She knocked on doors and asked kids playing in the park but they all shook their heads. She climbed the tallest tree she could find and scanned the entire area for a Fred-shaped blip on her radar. She hoped to find smoke rising or a group of people shrieking, but alas not a cloud nor a pip. But then, before she was about to climb down, she heard a scream. It was coming from the beach!

Anne clambered down and ran as fast as she could to the beach, topping the dune in record time in order to view the shoreline. She saw Larry and Clementine Parsons in a state of duress: Clementine was struggling to hold onto a rake-like fishing pole contraption, which appeared to have gone out of control— the device would automatically launch the rake head out and then automatically reel itself back in, flinging jelly-like viscera everywhere. Larry seemed to catch the worst. Anne smiled. Fred would have loved to see that.


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