A teenage punk-rock drummer and her pesky younger brother
A doomed effort to get a good grade in science class
A world-famous research institute, led by a fearless father and son
A terrible secret behind a beloved fast-food franchise
An intergalactic beauty pageant
A singing cockroach from the moon
An entire planet afraid to go to the mall
A deranged plot to become the world’s biggest pop star
Mix them all together, and you get . . .
A hilarious novel by Quentin Dodd?
Read the first two chapters!
I jumped. Mr. Pinweed was staring at me. So was the rest of the science class.
“Well?” Mr. Pinweed asked.
I had no idea what the question was. I had been thinking about a microphone.
I play drums in a band, and most of our equipment is secondhand, which means that it’s always breaking. Yesterday our microphone had stopped working, and I was wondering what we were going to do if we couldn’t fix it, when Mr. Pinweed called on me.
“Theora, your topic?”
Then I remembered. The science projects. The science projects that were going to be half of our semester grade. Today was the day we were supposed to tell him what our projects would be about. It had completely slipped my mind.
“Umm…” I said.
“Yes?” Mr. Pinweed made a big show of straightening his bow tie. He always does that when he’s waiting for someone to give him an answer.
“My project…” I said, stalling for time.
“I have given you ample warning about this, Miss Theremin. Ample warning.”
“I know, I know.” I tried to think fast, searching my mind for anything that sounded scientific.
“I’m going to do my project,” I said, “on Big Phil.”
Mr. Pinweed raised one eyebrow at me. “Miss Theremin, while it is impossible to prove a negative, which is to say that no one can say with certainty that Big Phil does not exist, it is the opinion of every educated person in this town that Big Phil is a fiction created by our unscrupulous chamber of commerce to serve as a centerpiece for the Phil Phestival.”
The Phil Phestival is our annual summer carnival here at Philodendron Landing. It lasts for a week and has rides, a beauty pageant, a car show, regular festival stuff. The main event is the regatta, where people come down to Lake Philodendron on Friday afternoon and put their boats in the water. Then this huge fleet, which has everything from antique sport sailers to junky old bass boats, sails in big circles around the island in the middle of the lake. The official purpose is to search for Big Phil, the monster that’s supposed to live in Lake Philodendron, but it’s really just an excuse to drink beer and show off your boat.
“Ever since the Indians lived here there have been reports of a giant creature in the lake,” I said.
Mr. Pinweed was not convinced. “It is now commonly believed that the Indians were trying to frighten the settlers into settling someplace else, and made that story up.”
“It’s possible, though, isn’t it? I mean, everyone thought the giant squid was a myth, but then they found those.”
“You have a point.” Mr. Pinweed looked like he’d eaten a bad peanut. “But I’m going to want a serious project from you. I don’t want you sitting by the lake for four weeks and then writing a report that says ‘no monster.’ I want to see a rigorous application of the scientific method.”
“I’d better,” he said, writing in his grade book. “Theora Theremin–the creature of Lake Philodendron.”
When class ended, I was walking down the hall, trying to think of a way to apply the scientific method to a lake monster that may or my not exist, when Mary Beth Montengo and Ginger Norton came up behind me.
“Did you notice?” asked Mary Beth. “Dylan McMasterson looked at me in class! I turned around to pick up my pencil, and there he was, looking at me!”
This was hard to believe. To Dylan McMasterson, Mary Beth was probably no more real than Big Phil.
“I saw it, he looked right at her,” Ginger said. “Well, at least he looked near her.”
I sighed. “He sits in the back row,” I reminded them. “He has to look near you to see the teacher.”
“I know what I saw,” said Mary Beth.
“Okay.” I wasn’t about to get into this for the thousandth time. “Do you mind if we skip practice today? I really ought to get down to the lake and figure out what I’m going to do with this stupid science project.”
Ginger and Mary Beth were the other two members of my band. Ginger played guitar and Mary Beth played bass. All of us took turns singing, depending on who knew the words. We didn’t have a name yet, and it was possible that we never would. I wanted something short, like L7, Ginger wanted something girly, like The Eyeliners, and Mary Beth wanted The Mary Beth Montengo Band. Every time we tried to decide on a name we ended up not speaking to each other for days, so we’ve learned to live without one.
We rehearse in my parents’ garage, when I can get one of them to move the cars. Mary Beth’s and Ginger’s parents don’t tolerate punk rock as much, so they tend to get pale and chase us out when we try to practice at their houses.
I think we’re starting to sound pretty good. Obviously, we’ve got a long way to go, but we can get through most songs without stopping now. We even had our first gig a couple of weeks ago. We played at Cindy Gabriel Rossetti’s birthday party, and almost everyone stayed through the entire set of songs. That’s progress.
“No problem,” said Mary Beth. “It’s going to take me another day to see if I can rewire the mike anyway.” Her dad owns an electronics repair store and she knows all about fixing things. With the kind of equipment we have, this is just as important as her bass playing.
“She’s only saying that so she can stay home by the phone,” said Ginger, pretending to be serious. “Dylan might call.”
Before Mary Beth could respond, a locker door slammed shut in front of us. Behind it was my brother Verb.
“Hi, Theora! Hi, Mary Beth! Hi, Ginger!”
“Get to class,” I said. Verb was a couple of years younger than me, and as far as little brothers go, he’s not terrible, but that isn’t saying much. He’s certainly better than Ginger’s brother, who I suspect was the one who broke our microphone, but Verb’s’s not above poking his nose in where it’s clear he’s not wanted.
“What were you talking about?” he asked.
“Were you talking about Randy McMasterson’s brother?”
“None of your business,” I said.
“Do you know Dylan McMasterson?” asked Mary Beth.
Verb blushed, like he always does when Mary Beth talks to him. “Kind of. Well, a little. I could find out more, if you want me to, Mary Beth.”
“Out of the way, Verb, we’ve got to get to math.” I detoured around him and headed for my next class, still thinking of what to do about Big Phil.
Smersh Memorial Junior High isn’t far from my house, so it usually takes me only fifteen minutes to walk home. Today, I made it in five. I let myself in the back door and rushed upstairs to my room. I started changing clothes, trying to be as fast and as quiet as I could.
I wasn’t quiet enough, because my mom called up from downstairs. “Theora! Is that you?”
“Yes!” I shouted into the air vent. “I’m just leaving! I’ve got to go down to the lake! Science project!” I got out of my school clothes and into the jeans and T-shirt I use for skateboarding. That way, Mom wouldn’t freak out if I came home muddy from sitting on the shore.
“Take your brother with you!”
“Do I have to?”
“It would be nice. He likes to go places with you.”
“But he’s not here yet. If I don’t leave now, I won’t have very much time to, um, do my science things.”
This was exactly why I had hurried home when I saw Verb talking to some friends of his after school. Verb lives to follow me around, and if I could get out of the house before he got home, I would be free of him for the whole afternoon.
I dumped my backpack out on my bed, and threw in my binoculars and an old notebook. I kept my Keith Moon signature drumsticks. I never go anywhere without those.
“Gotta go!” I yelled, running back down the stairs. “See you later.”
“What kind of science project are you doing at the lake?” Mom asked.
“You know, animals and stuff.” I grabbed my old boots from the back hall.
“Well, take your jacket.”
“Okay,” I said, not doing it.
“Be careful. And be home in time for dinner. It’s clam night.”
“You bet.” Then I was out the door, on my bike, and safe.
Lake Philodendron was created by glaciers, and it’s a pretty big lake. You can stand on one side and just barely see all the way across. Dad always says, “It’s not a great lake, but it’s not too bad.” He thinks that’s hysterical. I don’t know why. Part of the shore is a state park. There are a lot of big fancy houses along the northern side, and the Grand Philodendron Hotel sits over by itself on the far edge. This is the part I like best. It takes forever to ride out there, but I don’t mind.
The Grand Philodendron was a really famous hotel back in the 1920s, and they say that Al Capone and a bunch of other gangsters used to come up from Chicago and stay there. Once the gangsters all got sent to jail, the hotel started to go downhill. It’s been abandoned for years and years, but recently someone bought it and has been working on restoring it.
The restorers’ trucks had worn a tracks in the overgrown gravel road that led through the woods to the hotel. I followed the tracks part of the way, then pushed my bike into the bushes and walked to the edge of the water.
I found a spot on a boulder that jutted out into the lake, between a young black alder and a peach-leaved willow tree, and sat down. Mr. Pinweed was big on botany, so I knew the names of all the local plant species. Every week, Mr. Pinweed took us down to the little greenhouse behind the school building and made us work on the cactuses he had growing there while he lectured to us about plants. I always suspected that he wasn’t really interested in teaching us anything, he just wanted the cheap labor. We had to monitor the soil moisture level, record the growth rate, check for fungus, and repot the plants when they got too big. It was hard work. We were pretty sure he liked them more than he liked us.
I took out my notebook and wrote “The Creature of Lake Philodendron” across the top of one page. I knew my project had to use the scientific method. Mr. Pinweed was a nut about it. Almost every other day he would say, “If you aren’t using the scientific method, you’re not doing science. You’re just doing stuff.”
Since he wasn’t wild about my project idea to begin with, my best hope for a decent grade was to be extra scientific. I wrote “Hypothesis” in my notebook. When you’re using the scientific method, you start out with a hypothesis, which is just another name for an idea. I wrote: “A large aquatic animal of some kind, commonly known as Big Phil, lives in Lake Philodendron.”
I chewed on the end of my pen for a while, which is a habit my mom hates, and watched the ripples in the water. Once you had a hypothesis, the next step was to think about how you can prove or disprove it. I wrote: “Step One: Observe the lake and note any occurrences that could indicate the presence of a giant creature.” A fish broke the surface of the lake and disappeared with a splash. Minutes went by. Nothing happened.
I got out the sticks and started to practice my part from ‘Gee Angel,’ my favorite Sugar song. More than anything else, I wanted to be Malcolm Travis. Before that, it was Bill Ward from Black Sabbath, and before that, Mickey Dolenz from the Monkees.
As I played, and watched the water, I started to get a sinking feeling. This was pretty close to what Mr. Pinweed had warned me about. Maybe I could go back tomorrow and change my topic.
I didn’t even need to turn around to know who it was. I kept drumming on the rocks. “Go away, Verb.”
“You’re not supposed to be out here, Theora. Nobody’s allowed out by the old hotel.” Verb pushed his way through the brush to get to where I was sitting. Once again, my brother had found me.
“I saw you riding off when I came home,” he said.
“Does Mom know you’re out here?”
“She said I could.”
“I don’t believe you. Go home, Verb.”
“But I want to stay here,” he whined. He always whines when I tell him to go away.
“I have to work on my science project. You’ll bother me.”
“I can help. I got an A-plus on my solar system test today. I even got the extra credit. Nobody else in class knew what the Oort cloud was.”
“I’m not interested in the solar system.”
“Come on, please?”
I didn’t say anything. I was staring out at the lake. About twenty yards offshore, the water was starting to foam and bubble.
“Mom always says–”
“Shut up, Verb.”
Verb noticed what I watching, and got quiet. Even in normal circumstances, that would have been pretty amazing.
“What is that?” he whispered.
“I don’t know.”
The bubbles got thicker, and then a huge gray shape heaved itself up out of the depths.