The Amazing Wilmer Dooley CHAPTER ONE
You’re almost a seventh grader now! The new school year starts in only two weeks. Oh, son—you’re growing up so fast! Did you know a blue whale baby gains almost two hundred pounds a day? You’re not growing THAT fast, thankfully. We wouldn’t have enough fish in the house to feed you. Your mother and I know you’ll have a great time at the science fair this weekend. Remember, winning isn’t everything. What’s important is that you learn lots of science. So relax. Have fun. And, most of all, observe!
Wilmer jammed an extra pair of underwear into his canvas overnight bag, and a spare pair of science goggles. Scientists should never be without enough
underwear or goggles, even for a short weekend trip. “Do you think four pairs of underwear is enough?” Wilmer asked.
His best friend, Ernie, sat on Wilmer’s bed. Ernie’s black hair stood straight up, but the rest of him seemed slightly sleepy. He yawned. “We’re going to be away for two days. Are you expecting some sort of underwear emergency?”
Wilmer shot Ernie a dirty look. Still, he packed a fifth pair, just in case. A scientist needed to be ready for anything.
Wilmer wanted to haul even more scientific equipment along for the weekend. But his precious beakers and vials could break, and his magnifying glass didn’t magnify very much. The best scientists in the state would be attending the science fair. Wilmer didn’t want to carry around second-class equipment.
Besides, he had to lug all the materials for his exhibit in a large box, which was already bulky and heavy.
“The Forty-Fifth Annual State Science Fair and Consortium!” Wilmer shot Ernie a big grin. “Aren’t you excited?”
Ernie didn’t answer.
“I said, aren’t you excited?” Wilmer repeated louder.
Ernie cradled an iNoise, his thumbs flicking. He looked up, annoyed. “Ah, c’mon! You made me mess up my game.”
“Don’t you get sick of that thing? You’re on it all the time.”
“Do you get sick of your nose? It’s on your face all the time.”
“Of course not.”
“Exactly. And my iNoise is way cooler than your nose, believe me.” Ernie grinned and turned his attention once again to his small handheld device.
The iNoise played games and music, took pictures and video, had a built-in GPS and voice-activated instant messaging, and, if you put it on bread, made toast. It was the hottest must-have electronic gadget of the summer.
But Wilmer didn’t need or want an iNoise—he had the power of observation! That was all any scientist really needed.
Still, Wilmer may have been the only incoming seventh grader in his entire school without one.
Wilmer zipped his bag and folded the top of his cardboard box shut. He was bringing a slide-show projector, elaborate retractable fiberglass stands with detailed bacteria facts printed on them, a ten-minute video on the history of germs, six jars of glowing foods and one filled with leeches, and a bunch of other disease-based show-and-tells.
Wilmer was especially proud of the leeches—slimy worms used by medieval doctors. They had been difficult to find. Wilmer would put them on his arm and demonstrate how they sucked out blood.
Or maybe not. Thinking of those oozing creatures on his skin made Wilmer squeamish. But he would do just about anything to win first place, even if it meant tolerating slimy blood-slurping.
“I can’t believe you put so much work into your exhibit,” said Ernie, shaking his head.
“You can’t win first place unless you try your hardest. What’s your project?”
“I hooked a potato up with some wires. The
energy from the potato turns on a lightbulb.” Ernie held up a shoe box. “I found directions online.”
“That’s not going to win first place.”
“Yeah, but it only took me an hour,” said Ernie, “which meant more time to play games on my iNoise.”
Wilmer sighed. He knew that the other competitors wouldn’t take the contest so lightly. The Annual State Science Fair and Consortium was legendary. You had to be the best of the best to participate. It was by invitation only: a teacher needed to officially nominate you.
Biology teacher Mrs. Padgett had nominated Wilmer. That had been a surprise. Valveeta Padgett, the chair of the school Science Department (co-chair of the school Detention Program, and co-co-chair of the school Chair Cleaning Committee) didn’t seem to like him very much.
The feeling was mutual.
But maybe she had changed for the better. After all, Mrs. Padgett wasn’t just a teacher anymore—she was now a star, appearing in her own weekend television morning show, Padgett!,
which mixed biology and online mah-jongg.
It was an odd combination, but somehow, it worked.
“The science fair is in a brand-new location this year,” said Wilmer. He held his official nomination letter. “Don’t you think the place sounds fancy? Ernie? Ernie?”
Ernie looked up from his iNoise. “Oh, come on! You made me lose again!”
“Your brain’s going to turn to mush if you play that too much,” warned Wilmer.
“Cool,” said Ernie. “I like mush.” He kept playing.
“I heard Roxie is go-glighh,” said Wilmer. He meant to say “going,” but the last word caught in his throat and came out as a gurgle. Just thinking of Roxie turned his brain into mush. Roxie had long flowing blond hair, twinkling blue eyes (Wilmer preferred to think of them as low-melanin-pigmented eyes), and white teeth that sparkled like a Bunsen burner. He hadn’t seen her since school ended.
“Did you call Roxie this summer?” asked Ernie.
“No. I was too busy with my science project.”
“Too wimpy, you mean.”
Wilmer didn’t argue.
“Claudius is going to the fair too,” said Wilmer, trying to clear his mind of Roxie. It did the trick: if Roxie made Wilmer think of tulips and rosebuds, Claudius stirred up images of dark, stormy clouds and fungus.
Wilmer and Claudius had worked together to cure the awful contagious colors that had swept through Mumpley Middle School last year. But that didn’t make them friends—far from it.
“I heard two other Mumpley kids are going,” said Ernie, putting his iNoise in his pocket. “A sixth grader and a new transfer student.”
“I just hope we learn lots of science,” said Wilmer. His father always told him that learning was more important than winning.
“That sounds horrible,” groaned Ernie. “I just want to jump on the beds, stay up late eating snacks, and play with my iNoise.”
Wilmer rolled his eyes. “This is a weekend for science, not goofing off.”
“For you, maybe,” said Ernie. “I’m all about the goofing. I don’t even know why Mrs. Padgett nominated me,” he added with a frown.
Wilmer gave his best friend a harmless shoulder punch. “You were nominated because you deserve to go. You helped solve the Mumpley malady last year. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“I guess,” said Ernie. “But—”
“No ‘buts,’ ” interrupted Wilmer. “We’ll hang out together all weekend. I’ll make sure you have a good time.”
Ernie threw Wilmer a thankful grin and the two exchanged their secret best friend thumbshake: two pumps followed by a thumbs-up.
“Are you two ready?” called Mrs. Dooley from downstairs. “Your father is waiting!”
“Coming!” yelled Wilmer. He grabbed his overnight bag and inched his unwieldy box toward the door. “Can you give me a hand?” he asked Ernie.
Ernie smiled. “Electronic potatoes,” he said, tossing his shoe box lightly in the air and catching it. “Who’s laughing now?”
Wilmer nudged his box a few centimeters farther.
A weekend of science! It would be magnificent.
So why couldn’t he remove the sneaking suspicion that something was going to go horribly wrong? And that that something wrong had a name: Claudius Dill.