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The Mystery of Silas Finklebean: Chapter 1

FRIES DEFINITELY ALIVE

Nine-year-old Freddy Funkhouser and his thirteen-year-old sister, Nancy, were counting up the receipts for the night at their family restaurant, the Burger Castle. As they were finishing, their father, Alfred, walked out from the kitchen, placed a large white bowl on his head, and instantly vanished.

"Omigosh," said Nancy, "Now he's really done it. This is worse than him blowing himself up all the time with one of his screwy inventions."

Suddenly Alfred reappeared, holding the bowl. "My inventions aren't screwy, dear, just sometimes slightly ahead of their time."

"Cool, Dad," said Freddy excitedly. "You made yourself invisible."

"Not exactly. This bowl refracts light particles and gives the appearance that the person wearing it has vanished. Here, try it."

Freddy put the bowl over his head and disappeared.

"Oh, Dad, if you could only make that permanent," said Nancy, looking longingly at the spot where her brother no longer was.

Freddy reappeared holding the bowl and handed it back to his father. "Dad, that is like sooo awesome."

"It certainly has some interesting applications." He whispered to Freddy. "But it certainly doesn't top what you did."

Like his father, Freddy was an inventor. And he had invented something -- or somethings -- super special that had helped his family recently win a parade float competition against their rivals, the Spanker clan, who owned the enormous Patty Cakes Restaurant across the street.

"Where are they, by the way?" his father asked.

"Hey, guys," called out Freddy, "over here."

The five -- or six, if you counted heads -- figures came out from the dining area. They were all super-powered French fries that Freddy had built and brought to life with the help of a billion jiggy-watts lightning bolt. Each was a different color and didn't look anything like a human, so when they weren't working at the Burger Castle, Freddy had to disguise them with regular clothes, wigs and makeup.

Theodore was an incredibly smart blue crinkle-cut Fry; Ziggy was a tiny yellow Fry; Si and Meese were skinny, conjoined red shoestring Fries; Wally was an enormous purple waffle Fry; and Curly was a green curlicue Fry. The Fries were all disguised as guys except for Wally, who wore a polka dot dress, wig and high heels and was known as Wilma in the small town of Pookesville, where the Funkhousers lived.

When they were at the Burger Castle, though, the Fries wore no disguises at all. The customers just assumed that the brightly colored Fries were in costumes because all the Funkhousers wore funny outfits too: Alfred was a tomato, Nancy was a bottle of ketchup and Freddy dressed as a chicken and clucked in greeting to each customer.

"Boy, Mr. F," said a beaming Si, who was always happy. "That rutabaga meat loaf with a reduction sauce made out of pansies and candle wax with just a dash of that thingamastuff you made in your laboratory was a big seller today. What an aroma. Mm-mm."

Meese, who was always sad, scowled at his twin and said, "It smelled like elephant poop and gave me a headache."

Alfred replied, "Well, that strong smell halts runny noses on the spot."

"But we'd sell a lot more of it if you'd just change the name," said Nancy. "The 'Snot Stop Special,' isn't really all that appetizing when you think about it, Dad," she added, rolling her eyes.

"That's nice, dear," said her father absently.

At that instant Howie Kapowie came running into the restaurant waving a piece of paper he was holding. Howie was Freddy's only friend -- well, his only human friend, anyway. He was even smaller than Freddy and had rumpled black hair.

"Hey, Freddy, did you see?"

Freddy took the paper and read it while the Fries and Alfred crowded around.

"Wow," said Freddy. "A science competition."

"With a hundred dollar first prize and your picture in the Pookesville Tatler newspaper," said Howie. He popped three cheese cubes in his mouth and chewed slowly while he fantasized about victory. "Do you realize how many cheese cubes I could buy with a hundred dollars?"

"Howie," said Freddy, "we can work on a project together."

"That's what I was thinking. I mean after all, you're the real scientist, but I make a pretty darn good sidekick."

"Hey," bellowed Wally, forgetting he was supposed to be Wilma. He quickly switched to a girly voice. "I mean, hey, maybe you can invent some food. Not just any food. A mountain of food. No, a whole mountain range of food. No, a whole mountain range of food that keeps growing back even after you eat it."

As he talked, Wally's eyes grew bigger and bigger and his butt and belly stretched wider and wider.

Freddy gave him a poke and whispered, "Ix-nay on the purpulis enormosis thing." Purpulis enormosis was the Latin name that Theodore had christened Wally with because, well, he was purple and enormous. And he, like the other Fries, could morph into virtually anything he wanted to. Nancy watched this spectacle very suspiciously.

While Howie and Alfred already knew what the Fries really were, Nancy was still clueless about their origin. Freddy wanted to keep it that way.

"I hear Adam Spanker's entering the competition," said Howie.

"In a battle of brains, I'm not afraid of Adam Spanker," said Freddy confidently.

Adam Spanker headed up a gang that struck fear into the hearts of children all over Pookesville. His father, Stewie Spanker, was the Pookesville police chief, town mayor, and he owned the Patty Cakes Restaurant. It was hard to say who was meaner, the father or the son.

"You never know, he can be tricky," warned Howie.

"That's good advice," said Alfred Funkhouser. "Okay, we're heading home, Freddy. Do you want to ride with us?"

"We'll walk home, Dad," answered Freddy. "It's sort of a tight fit with Wall- I mean Wilma in the station wagon."

After Nancy and their dad left, Freddy, Howie and the Fries went into a back room where Freddy took off his chicken costume and the Fries put on their human clothes. Curly pulled several baseballs out of his locker and started tossing them in the air. He entertained the customers at the Burger Castle with his juggling skills and liked to practice whenever he could. Wally had put on his high heels and was trying to cram his dress over his head when he stumbled and bumped into Curly.

"Whoops!" said Wally. The collision sent the baseballs Curly had been tossing bouncing down a set of steps leading to the basement. "Sorry, Curly."

"ThanksokayWallyaccidentshappen," mumbled Curly. He strung all his words together because Freddy had made a mistake when constructing the green Fry's voice box and hadn't yet figured out how to fix it.

"I'll go get them." Wally threw his dress on the floor, rushed down the steps and through an open door at the bottom. A second later, they heard a big crash.

"Here we go again," said Freddy wearily. Yet not even Freddy could imagine how much trouble Wally would be getting them into this time.

Updated January 23, 2006