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copyright 1999, Lois June Wickstrom
The Singing Ghost at the Science Fair
by Lois June Wickstrom
``Hey, Racketball,'' shouted Willy, his red hair flying in the breeze as he bounced the glow_in_the_dark green tennis ball he always carried. Thwack. The ball bounced against the sidewalk. ``Wha'cha doin''' Thwack. Ching. The ball bounced off the school yard fence. ``for Halloween?'' Rakelle's big sister Desdemona always threw the best parties and Willy was wangling an invitation.
``I'm doing my science project,'' said Rakelle, twirling her charm bracelet, pretending she didn't know what he meant. She shifted her books to her other hip. Why doesn't Desdemona hurry? School's been out for 3 whole minutes.
``Ohh!'' Thwack! The ball bounced on the sidewalk again. ``Mad scientist stuff!'' Thwack. Thwack. Willy bounced the ball rapidly, spinning his skinny body between bounces. Then he held it while he wiggled his fingers like alien tentacles. The ball crackled as it rolled down his thigh. Willy caught it before hit the pavement. ``Are you going,'' Thwack! He bounced the ball again. ``to put dry ice in the punch?''
Thwack! Thwack! Rakelle found her gaze following the ball. The wind blew her long straight black hair away from her face. The ball bounced. Up. Down. Thwack against the pavement. Thwock against Willy's hand. Up. Down. Was he trying to hypnotize her? It wasn't going to work. ``Mona, Mona, Des_de_mona,'' he
chanted. ``Mona's gonna party.''
``No, really,'' said Rakelle, playing with the cat charm on her bracelet. ``The science fair is on Halloween this year.'' Both she and Willy were in 5th grade, but you'd never know it __ he was so immature.
``Eerie,'' he said and bounced the ball against the side of the school building. ``I'm doing,'' Thwack! ``siphons,'' said Willy. Thwack! Thwack! ``I saw a 6th grader'' Thwack! ``win with them last year.'' He thwacked the ball against his shoe. ``He made water run uphill.'' The ball hit his shoe at an angle and rolled down the sidewalk. Willy chased after it, his thin body moving like a stick figure in a flip book.
``If you can make water run uphill, you can come to my sister's party,'' said Rakelle. She was pretty sure he couldn't. Even if it was scientifically possible (which she doubted) Willy was too much of a klutz to pull it off.
``Better have lots of food,'' said Willy, as he dove for the ball. He paused, twirling the ball in his hand, while Rakelle tried to pretend she hadn't heard that. Then he said ``And what's your'' Thwack! ``science project?''
``I'm going to kill plants,'' said Rakelle. She found herself wondering for the umpteenth time how he could eat so much and still be skinny. She couldn't. The doctor said it was genes that you inherit from your parents. Her dad had died of a heart attack about five years ago __ right after Hector was born. She didn't remember him being fat. All the Guzman children had inherited his thick black Hispanic hair.
``Anybody,'' Thwack! ``can kill plants,'' said Willy bouncing the green ball into the gutter where it rolled toward the grate. He dashed after it.
Klutz, thought Rakelle. I'm glad he won't be coming to the party.
Finally Desdemona arrived, her long curled black hair blowing in the breeze. Her face looked pale. Maybe it's the lipstick, thought Rakelle. Desdemona was in 8th grade, and she was
starting to put on grown_up airs. This would be her last year at Singer Elementary. The make_up and curled hair were her way of saying she was growing up. She was getting a figure, too.
Next year, Rakelle would be allowed to walk home by herself. __ No, she wouldn't. She'd have to wait for their brother Hector. He was in morning kindergarten now and the daycare staff picked him up at noon. Next year he'd be in 1st grade __ way too young to be allowed to walk home alone, and he'd be getting out the same time she did.
``There's a ghost in the science lab,'' said Desdemona, excitedly. Desdemona was wearing a skirt. The fabric whooshed in the wind.
``That was just your skirt,'' said Rakelle. The skirt whooshed again. Desdemona still looked pale.
``I was trying to make an egg float,'' said Desdemona. ``And you know science stuff never works for me.'' She paused. Red and brown leaves rustled down the sidewalk. ``Well, the egg floated. And I didn't even have to add any salt, like the book said.''
``I don't know about you, but my books are heavy,'' said Rakelle. ``Let's start home.''
``You don't believe in my ghost, do you?'' asked Desdemona. ``I thought if anybody would believe me __ you would.'' She hugged her books against her chest as if she were cold.
``Are you feeling weak? Did you take too much insulin?'' asked Rakelle. Desdemona looked truly pale.
``Hector's the one with the imagination,'' said Desdemona. She walked briskly, so Rakelle had to hurry to keep up.
``And I suppose you're the detective?'' said Rakelle, scuffing her shoe on a rock because she wasn't watching where she was going.
``The egg floated. And I heard the ghost singing at the window. She was singing in French.'' Desdemona sounded nervous. ``I recognized some of the words, 'Dites moi pourquoi.' That means, 'Tell me why.'''
``Did we get a new French exchange student?'' asked Rakelle. ``She might have been singing under the window.''
``The window was closed. And I looked out. Nobody was
underneath. And here's the weirdest part. When the singing stopped, the egg sank. After that, no amount of salt that I put in the water would make the egg float again.''
``So, did Mr. Sandos see the egg floating or sinking?'' asked Rakelle.
``Floating. I got my A. And Mr. Sandos said, 'Tell Me Why is a good song for a science lab ghost.'''
``Then she's a good ghost,'' said Rakelle, willing to admit she was just a little interested. ``Can you invite her to our Halloween party?''
Ting. Ting. Ting. Hector had his pudgy hand in the silverware drawer. ``What are you doing?'' asked Rakelle. ``Why aren't you setting the table?''
``I'm doing my science project,'' said Hector in his cutest voice. He was only five but he knew he was supposed to set the table every night, while his sisters made dinner. When he was older, he'd be expected to cook, too. So he planned to stay young and babyish as long as possible.
``You can't fool me with that voice,'' said Rakelle. ``Is your project finding all the ways to get your sister mad at you?''
``I'm testing the spoons to see if they'll stick to my magnet.'' He crashed the magnet into a pile of forks.
``I'll bet mashed potatoes would stick to your magnet,'' said Rakelle, momentarily forgetting that Hector was immune to
sarcasm. It was too late. Hector ran over to the stove and dropped his magnet into the mashed potatoes.
``They're hot!'' he yelled.
Desdemona dropped the carrot she was grating, opened the freezer, grabbed an ice cube, and held it to Hector's fingers. ``What did you tell him to do that for?''
``He was playing in the silverware drawer.'' Rakelle scooped the magnet out of the potatoes with a ladle. Clunk! The magnet stuck to the spoon.
``You found something the magnet sticks to,'' said Hector
happily. ``Give it to me!''
``I'll give you the magnet after you set the table.''
``Give me the spoon. I need for my science fair project.''
``You'll have to ask Mom. I can't let you take her kitchen to school.''
Hector reached into the silverware drawer and grabbed handfuls of spoons and forks. Then he skipped off to the dining room, where he clattered them on the table.
``There are four of us,'' said Rakelle. ``Can't you count four spoons and four forks and carry them to their places?''
``It's easier to see on the table than in the drawer,'' said Hector. He thumped the silverware onto the tablecloth so hard that they jumped and clanged like a cracked bell.
``He gets the table set,'' said Desdemona. ``I can't say you're doing the same for your job.'' She picked up the carrot and began grating again.
``I've got the chicken in the frying pan.'' Rakelle picked up the tongs to flip a leg.
``You said you were going to make molé poblano.'' Mona finished with the carrot and picked up a cucumber.
``I am, but I'm using chocolate chips instead of bitter cocoa.'' Rakelle held up the yellow bag.
``Great __ now you tell me. I'll have to take another insulin shot before I can eat.'' Mona plopped the lettuce into the sink.
``It will be worth it,'' said Rakelle. Actually Rakelle hated shots. She was sure she'd starve to death if she had to have a shot before every meal. Mona didn't seem to mind. She decided to change the subject. ``What's your science project?''
Desdemona shook the freshly washed lettuce leaves at Rakelle. ``I'm building a theremin. I found a diagram of one on the internet. What are you doing?''
``First you tell me __ what's a theremin?''
``Don't you listen to the Beach Boys? A theremin is what makes the whee ooo sound in Good Vibrations. And a theremin made all the spooky noises in The Day the Earth Stood Still, like when the visor went up on the alien space suit.''
``This is your science project? And you expect me to believe you saw a ghost in science lab?'' Rakelle shook chili powder over the frying chicken pieces.
``I didn't see a ghost __ I heard her singing.''
``Did she sound like a theremin?''
``I told you. She sang in French. Now, what's your project?''
``I'm killing plants. That spider plant in the living room must have hundreds of shoots. Mom won't mind if I kill a few dozen.''
``Anybody can kill plants!'' shouted Hector from the dining room. ``I'm done setting the table. Can I have my magnet back now?''
``Come and get it,'' said Desdemona.
Hector skipped into the kitchen, carrying the extra forks and spoon. He dropped them into the silverware drawer where they jangled and rattled against the sides of the drawer.
The magnet was still stuck to the spoon. Hector picked up the curved red magnet. The spoon remained stuck. ``Look! Look!'' he shouted.
``You don't have to talk like a beginning reader,'' said Rakelle.
``I am a beginning reader,'' said Hector. He waved the spoon in front of her.
The front door opened and Mom walked in. She kicked her
high_heeled shoes into the corner under the spider plant, sat on the living room chair and pulled off her stockings.
Hector ran up to her, ``Look! Look!'' He held out the spoon stuck to the magnet.
``That's neat,'' said Mom. ``Are you studying magnets in
``No. I'm studying them at home. They're my science fair project.''
Mom sank deeper into her chair. ``Science Fair Projects are fun. But I'd like to see them have a Sales Fair. I could use some new ideas to bring customers into my dry cleaning shop.''
Willy was juggling, but with only one ball. Up from the left hand, down to the right, across to the left. Whoosh. Tap. Whap. Tap. ``Hey Racketball, kill any plants yet?''
``I'm on my way to the science lab to get my poison. Wanna come?'' Rakelle knew better than to ask if he'd made water run uphill. If that ever happened, Willy wasn't the type to wait for people to ask.
``Sure, what kind of poison?'' The ball reversed direction. Up from the right. Whoosh. Down to the left. Tap to the right.
``Why are you juggling with only one ball?''
``That's what the book says to do __ start with one ball, and add more as you get confidence.'' He pulled another ball out of his backpack. ``Watch.'' He put one ball in each hand.
Simultaneously, he tossed them up in opposite arcs. Thunk. The balls collided, then ricocheted in opposite directions. Rakelle chased one down the hall as Willy dashed up the hall after the other.
``You could try them both in the same direction,'' said Rakelle, bending down to grab the ball.
When she looked up, Mr. Sandos, his grey_streaked eyebrows looking extra bushy, was glaring down at her. ``You know the rule about playing ball inside the building.''
``I was just going to the lab to get the plant poison,'' said Rakelle.
``That's true,'' said Willy joining them. ``And I was just showing off how I'm learning to juggle.''
``Is your science project on the second law of Newtonian
physics?'' asked Mr. Sandos. ``For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.''
``Nope. I'm making a siphon.''
``If you change your mind, I'll be glad to help you with a Newtonian physics project.'' Mr. Sandos looked at his watch. ``I've got to pick my son up from his piano lesson in half an hour, so we'd better get to the lab.''
``What kind of poison do you keep in the lab?'' asked Willy.
``Salt,'' said Mr. Sandos, gruffly.
``Salt's not poison,'' said Willy. ``I eat salt everyday and I'm not dead.'' He bounced the ball against the hallway ceiling.
``Don't do that when you're with me,'' said Mr. Sandos. ``I don't want to waste my time in the Principal's office.''
``Salt is poison to plants,'' explained Rakelle. ``If you'd been reading our history book, you'd know that the Romans put salt on the land of conquered enemies so they couldn't grow their own food. My project is to figure out how much salt they'd need to do that.''
``You don't have to go to the science lab to get salt,'' said Willy. ``Your mom's got some in her kitchen.''
``I need to come to the lab to weigh the salt,'' said Rakelle. ``I have to know exactly how much salt I'm giving the plants.''
``So measure it with a measuring spoon,'' said Willy.
``Rakelle's right,'' said Mr. Sandos. ``But since you don't believe her, you can use a spoon in the lab and measure out salt onto the balance five times. I'll bet you don't get the same mass of salt twice.''
``Will you bet my grade on the next quiz?'' asked Willy.
``Yes,'' said Mr. Sandos. ``If you get the same weight twice, I'll give you an `A' for the next quiz. And if you don't __ no penalty. Fair enough?''
``Fair enough,'' said Willy. He started to bounce his ball, but caught it in mid_air.
Inside the lab, Mr. Sandos placed the canister of NaCl (Sodium Chloride) on the counter between two balances. He gave Willy a spoon, and Rakelle a scooper. Then he said, ``Willy, you know what to do. Just put one spoonful of salt on the balance, measure the mass, throw the salt away and repeat four times.''
``Why not put the salt back in the canister?'' asked Willy. ``Throwing it away is wasting it.''
``You never put chemicals back in their canisters. Once you take them out, you might sneeze on them, or they might get dirt mixed in them, or you might even accidentally put them back in the wrong container. Scientists don't take chances. Salt is cheap. Throw it away after you weigh it.''
``Do you hear singing?'' asked Rakelle.
``No,'' said Willy.
``Neither do I,'' said Rakelle. ``But my sister did yesterday __ over by the window.''
``That's the science lab ghost,'' said Mr. Sandos. ``Whoever hears her gets a good grade.''
Willy had already measured two spoonfuls. Both different. ``You're joking, right? You're a science teacher. Science teachers don't believe in ghosts.''
``I believe in repeatable data. I've taught here too many years not to believe in the ghost. Mona's lab experiments usually make a mess. Yesterday she made an egg float on her first try. And yesterday is when she heard the ghost sing.''
``So what do I do?'' asked Rakelle.
``You need to calculate the mass of one mole of sodium chloride, and then measure out that mass onto the balance. When you get home, you add the salt to...''
``I remember __ 1 liter of distilled water.'' Rakelle unscrewed the lid from the NaCl canister.
``You got it,'' said Mr. Sandos. He looked at his watch again. ``Quickly. What's the mass of one mole of sodium chloride?''
``23 plus 35.5 equals 58.5 grams,'' she said.
``Exactly. Now go for it. I'll time you. Mr. Sandos pressed a button on his watch.''
Willy measured out his fifth spoonful. He moved the masses on the balance. The needle came to a rest and he read the total. ``How did you know I'd get five different answers?'' he asked.
``Because I always do.''
``I'm done,'' said Rakelle, as the needle of the balance came to a rest. She twirled her charm bracelet before putting the lid back on the cannister. This time she paid special attention to the cloud charm. It reminded her of her father.
``Excellent. 95 seconds,'' said Mr. Sandos. ``Now clean up this mess, put the canister back in the storage room, and let me go pick up my son.'' He put the watch back into his pocket.
``Do you really believe there's a singing ghost?'' asked Rakelle.
``Suppose you design an experiment to find out for yourself,'' said Mr. Sandos.
Rakelle broke five spider plant shoots off the hanging planter in the living room and planted them in individual pots of potting soil on the kitchen window sill. She measured out 50 milliliters of her 1 molal salt solution. As she was pouring it over the first plant, she heard a snap and felt something tug at her pants pocket.
``I've got to have your pants for my science project,'' said Hector. ``They stick to my magnet.''
``I write up my experiment in my notebook. Why don't you just write down my pants in yours?''
``I'm only in kindergarten,'' said Hector. ``I can't write yet.'' He held out his pudgy hands as if she could see by looking at them that they couldn't write.
Rakelle snatched the magnet off her pocket. She held it to the front of her leg. ``Look, Hector. Does the magnet stick here?'' She let go and it fell to the floor.
``Did you break my magnet?'' asked Hector.
``Don't laugh at him,'' called Desdemona from the kitchen. ``That's a good question.''
``He supposed to find out what magnets stick to,'' answered Rakelle. ``They don't stick to my pants.''
``They do, too!'' shouted Hector. He clicked the magnet on the rivet of her pocket. It stuck.
``How did you know where to put it?'' asked Desdemona, standing in the doorway, ready to break up a fight.
``It looked like metal.''
``The tableware didn't stick, yesterday,'' said Rakelle. ``And it's metal.''
``Maybe it will today!'' said Hector. He grabbed the magnet and ran off to the kitchen.
Rakelle measured out another 50 ml of salt water for the next plant. ``Do you think Mr. Sandos would let you set a tape recorder on the window sill in the lab to catch that ghost? That could be your science project.''
``That's more of a detective project,'' said Desdemona.
``Besides, I'm building that theremin. I've got most of the transistors and capacitors in place already.''
``Great! Then you can make it sound like your ghost.''
``That would be fun.'' Mona paused. ``I'll need a tape recording of her song.''
``Think Mom will let you borrow her tape recorder for a science project?'' Rakelle could just see her mom's reaction if the recorder got spilled on or scratched.
``I don't want Mom's old thing. I want the sound_activated one Mr. Sandos bought to catch kids talking during tests.'' Mona sounded like a teenager putting on airs again, but this time she was making sense.
``This will be your first case as a detective: The Case of the Singing Ghost.'' Rakelle poured out the last 50 ml portion of salt water onto the final plant.
The doorbell dinged. Hector ran to get it.
``You can't answer the door when Mom's not home!'' yelled Rakelle.
``You can't shout to the world that Mom's not home,'' said Desdemona. Hector followed Mona to the door and stood behind her as she opened it.
``It's just Willy!'' he called. ``Willy with a bucket.'' He pulled his magnet out of his pocket and began tapping Willy and the bucket all over. ``The bucket handle sticks. Your shoes stick. Your belt buckle sticks. Your jacket snaps stick. And your necklace sticks.'' Hector stood back and said, ``I'll need all of them for my science project.''
``You can't have my gold necklace for your science project,'' said Willy.
``It's not gold if it sticks to my magnet,'' said Hector.
``Mystery number two,'' said Rakelle. ``The Mystery of the Magnetic Gold Necklace.''
``That's easy,'' said Mona, turning the necklace over in her hand. ``Somebody cheated him. It's just gold plated.''
``I'll take the necklace back where I bought it and tell the guy it's a fake.''
``You can't!'' wailed Hector. ``I need it for my science fair project.''
``Okay __ I'll take it back after the fair. Don't you lose it!''
``I wouldn't lose gold!'' said Hector happily taking the necklace off to his room.
``I made the siphon work,'' said Willy. He reached into the bucket and pulled out a flexible plastic tube with one end in the bucket and the other in a plastic drinking glass. Water flowed up from the glass through the tube __ into the bucket. He lowered the glass. Water flowed up from the bucket, through the tube and down into the glass. ``Now you have to invite me to your party.''
Desdemona and Willy bumped shoulders as they crowded through the door into Mr. Sandos' lab. Willy's ball got jostled out of his hand and rolled across the room. He didn't seem to notice.
``I made the siphon work!'' said Willy.
``I want to borrow...'' Desdemona started to say.
``Desdemona, you look flushed. Did you forget to take your insulin?'' Mr. Sandos looked concerned.
``I'm fine,'' Mona assured him.
``Then let Willy go first.''
Mona thought about arguing, but realized any time she spent arguing would just mean she would have to wait longer to borrow the recorder.
``I made the siphon work,'' repeated Willy. ``It was too easy. I want a science project that's harder, like the laws of physics you were talking about.''
Mr. Sandos smiled. ``I'm glad to hear that.'' He grabbed a book off the shelf by his desk and handed it to Willy. ``Read the first chapter and then I'll talk to you about a project.'' The thin book was old, faded, ravelled at the edges, obviously loved.
Willy took the book and started to leave.
``Read that book right here,'' said Mr. Sandos, sternly.
Willy sat down in the nearest desk, and opened the book.
``And now, Desdemona, what are you so flushed about?''
``I want to borrow your sound_activated tape recorder to catch the ghost.''
``What will you do with her after you catch her?'' he asked.
Desdemona smiled. ``I don't really want to catch her. I want to record her song. I'm building a theremin and I want to be able to play her song for the science fair. A real ghost's song would be perfect for the eerie sounds a theremin makes!''
Mr. Sandos unlocked his drawer and handed her the recorder. ``You can set it up now, but you'll have to put it away first thing in the morning. I don't want this out during class when somebody might bump it onto the floor.''
``Does she sing at night?'' asked Mona, taking the recorder.
``I don't know : I'm never here at night,'' answered Mr. Sandos.
``Then we might not catch her?''
``You'll never know unless you try.''
Desdemona placed the recorder on the window ledge where she'd heard the ghost's song, plugged it in, and checked that the tape was in position.
``Whee ooo!'' shouted Willy. The recorder turned itself on.
``Hush!'' whispered Desdemona. The recorder continued to spin.
``That recorder's good for half an hour,'' said Mr. Sandos. ``Willy and I won't be busy for that long, and I'll turn it over when we leave.''
``Okay,'' said Mona. She bent down, picked up the green tennis ball and tossed it to Willy. ``Don't forget this when you leave, either.''
``Now about Newton's first law,'' said Mr. Sandos, standing at the chalk board.
``Newton says that things that are moving continue to move, and things that are still, remain still,'' said Willy.
Mona walked out of the lab.
``Where are all the shoots from this spider plant?'' asked Rakelle's mom, looking up from her book.
Rakelle snipped another shoot and put it in her bowl. ``They're in boxes in the garage.''
``Those plants are all dead,'' said her mother. ``I know your project was killing plants. But haven't you killed enough by now?''
``I've killed plants with one_molal salt, and half_molal salt, and quarter_molal salt. I've even killed spider plants with one_tenth_molal salt.''
``When will your project be done?'' asked Mom. ``When all the shoots on this plant are dead?''
``Spider plants are too easy to kill,'' explained Rakelle. ``I want to do something harder. So now I'm going to see how much salt I can put on a plant without killing it.''
``What ever happened to __ `I want an easy project'?'' asked Mom. ``I want some quiet around here. Weekends are the only time I get to read, because that's when I have help in the shop.''
``That was before the singing ghost,'' said Desdemona, coming into the room. She carried a tape cassette. ``I've got it!''
Hector ran toward her with his magnet. Desdemona held the cassette above her head. ``Go stick your magnet to a blank tape,'' she said. ``You're not ruining this. I've got the ghost's song.''
``How can my magnet ruin your tape?'' asked Hector. ``Magnets don't ruin things.''
Desdemona glanced exasperatedly toward Rakelle. ``With little kids, a little bit of knowledge is dangerous'' she said.
Then she squatted down beside Hector, holding the tape behind her. ``Tape recordings and computer disks work because their information is magnetically coded onto them. There are electromagnets in tape recorders and floppy drives that can read and write the codes. If you get your magnet near the tape, it will write a different message and ruin the one I want.'' She paused and held Hector's gaze. ``Now do you understand why I won't let you touch my tape with your magnet?''
``Because you don't want me to,'' said Hector. Then he picked up a blank tape. ``It sticks! It sticks!'' he shouted. ``I'm taking this tape to school for the science fair.''
``Pretty soon you'll be taking the whole house to school for that fair,'' said Mom. ``Maybe then I'll get to finish this book.''
``You've got to hear this,'' said Desdemona. ``When you hear the ghost sing, your science project works.''
Desdemona put her cassette into the tape player and pressed the on button. A sweet voice filled the room, first humming, then words.
``Dites moi pourquoi
La vie est belle
Dites moi pourquoi
La vie est gai
Dites moi pourquoi, chere mademoiselle
est_ce_que parce que vous m'aimez?''
``Isn't that French?'' asked Mom. ``Do you have a French
exchange student this semester?''
``Oh Mom,'' said Desdemona in her teenager's voice. ``We don't have a French exchange student. And nobody is in the lab at night, except the ghost, and maybe Mr. Sandos. You know this isn't his voice.''
``Whoever she is, she's got a nice voice,'' said Mom. ``But you can't blame me for being skeptical.''
``Mr. Sandos says there's a ghost,'' said Rakelle, surprised to find herself defending her sister.
``I'm not trying to start an argument,'' said Mom. ``Just tell me how the ghost's song fits into any of your science fair projects.''
``I've built a theremin,'' said Mona. ``Theremins sound spooky to begin with. So, I thought I'd learn to play the ghost's song.''
``I don't know about sounding spooky. But something strange is going on around here when all my children are working extra hard on their science projects.'' Mom sat down in her chair. Hector ran up to her with his magnet. ``Your earring sticks. Your necklace doesn't...''
``My necklace is gold. Real gold.''
Hector brought the magnet toward her watch. Mom raised her arm in the air. ``Not this watch!''
``If it sticks, I want it for my project!'' insisted Hector.
``If it sticks, it will never tell time again,'' said Mom. ``Go get some paper clips and I'll show you why.''
Hector ran off to get paper clips. Desdemona went to her room to get the theremin. ``I'll never get to finish this book,'' Mom complained.
Rakelle made up 250 ml of 1/100th molal salt solution, and poured it on her plants. ``Maybe these plants will live,'' she said.
The doorbell rang.
Rakelle looked out the peephole. ``It's Willy,'' she said.
``Oh, goody!'' said Hector. ``Maybe he's got something else for my project!''
Rakelle opened the door. No sooner was Willy in the living room than Hector began tapping him from head to foot with his magnet.
``Nothing doing this time, squirt,'' said Willy. ``This time I'm ready for you.''
Hector tapped Willy's zipper. ``Nylon, squirt.''
Hector tapped Willy's pockets. Tap_tap. The tapping sound of metal on metal. ``Empty your pockets,'' demanded Hector.
Willy obliged. ``Keys, a washer, a bus token, some money. It's all metal, but none of it is magnetic.''
``Don't you have enough stuff for your project yet?'' asked Mom. ``And where are those paper clips?''
Hector abandoned Willy and ran to his mother. He pulled a whole box of paper clips out of his pocket.
``I didn't mean for you to bring every paper clip in the house,'' she began.
Hector stuck his magnet into the box. The soft sound of
clattering clips made Hector jump. ``Is something alive in there?'' He pulled the magnet out of the box, covered with paper clips.
``Now watch,'' said Mom. She pulled clips off the edge of the magnet one at a time and placed them end to end at the bottom of the magnet, so they looked like a glued chain. But she didn't use any glue, and didn't interlock the clips. When the paper clip chain was eight clips long, she pulled the top clip off the magnet. The clips remained in a chain.
``Cool,'' said Willy. ``Is that a magic trick?''
Mom handed him the chain. One clip fell off the bottom.
``Give it to me!'' shouted Hector. ``It's my science fair project!'' He grabbed at the clips in Willy's hand. Three of them came off in his grasp. ``They're little magnets!'' he cried happily.
``That's right,'' said Mom. ``That's why I didn't want you to touch my watch with your magnet. The gears in my watch would have become little magnets like these paper clips. Then my watch would never tell time again.''
``What about my LCD watch?'' asked Willy.
``Your watch is fine,'' said Mom. ``You did a great job of magnet-proof dressing today. I'm going to do the same until this fair is over.''
``I'm taking these paper clips to school!'' announced Hector.
``Ooo weee oooo'' wailed the eerie sound from across the room.
``That sounds eerie!'' said Willy. He looked at Desdemona, who was holding a wooden box with antennas sticking out of both sides.
Hector ran towards her. ``Weee oooooo!'' screamed the box. Hector jumped back.
``It works!'' said Desdemona placing the box on the dining table. She moved one hand along the right antenna. The wail grew louder. She moved her other hand away, and the pitch changed. ``Now I've just got to learn the ghost's song, and my project is done.''
Mona set her theremin up by the door of the science lab so it wailed whenever anyone entered or left the room. Hector ran in and out so many times weee_ooooo, oooo_wheee, weee_ooooo he was actually tired when it was his turn to demonstrate his science project.
Suddenly, he couldn't remember which things had stuck to the magnet and which things hadn't. The judge said, ``You figure it out. I'll come back later.''
Next to Hector, another boy had tried to make yeast rise at different temperatures. He put a plastic glass of yeast dough in the lab oven to demonstrate how yeast rises better when it's warm. The judge said, ``That plastic glass would melt if your oven were working. I'll come back later.''
Next to him, a girl showed two rows of miniature sunflowers. She had a strong light bulb turned toward the flowers, but the flowers were ignoring it __ facing every which way. The judge said, ``You figure out what those flowers are looking at. I'll be back later.''
Next to the flowers, a set of home_made compasses were pointing every direction but north. The student who had made them ran out the door when the judge approached.
Willy tried to demonstrate how Newton's second law of motion applies to a dropped ball. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. His chart showed how his dropped ball bounced back lower and lower, and finally stopped. But when he dropped his green tennis ball for the judge, it didn't bounce at all. It just rested on the floor where it had landed.
The judge spoke to Mr. Sandos. ``Nothing seems to be working. I've never seen anything like it.''
``The theremin is working,'' said Mr. Sandos. ``Go judge that project for now.''
The judge walked over to Desdemona. ``Weee_oooo_wheee'' wailed the theremin.
``I didn't see you touch it,'' said the judge. ``How did you make it do that?''
``I didn't,'' said Desdemona. ``You did. The theremin makes sounds when your body's electric field breaks its magnetic field.''
``It certainly works very well,'' said the judge. ``Where did you learn how to make it?''
``I downloaded the instructions from the internet,'' said
Desdemona. ``Then I bought the parts at Radio Shack.''
``Everybody starts with instructions,'' said the judge. ``But what's the original part of your project __ the part you thought up by yourself?'' He put his pencil to his notepad.
Desdemona moved her hand at both antennas making the theremin sing the tune of Dites Moi Pourquoi, ``That's the ghost's song,'' she said. She stood by her theremin and moved her arms along the antennas.
``That's a French song from the movie South Pacific,'' said the judge. ``Where did you learn it?''
``From the science lab ghost,'' said Desdemona. ``I set a sound_activated tape recorder to catch her song, and then I learned to play it.''
From around the room, students cried out, ``It's not working.'' ``My project quit!''
Desdemona continued. ``When the ghost sings, all the projects work.''
``Right now, yours seems to be the only project working,'' said the judge. ``Can you explain that?''
``I can do an experiment,'' said Desdemona. She unplugged the theremin.
From across the room, Hector cried, ``Now it works. Now I've got a paper clip chain!''
The boy next to him shouted, ``Quickly, come look at my yeast dough! It's rising.''
And the little girl with the plants said, ``Look, the sunflowers have turned toward the lamp now.'' And sure enough, all the flower heads were turned toward the glowing bulb.
Even the compasses lined up pointing north.
And Willy's ball bounced exactly the way he'd marked it on his chart.
The judge walked across the room with his judging pad in his arm, ready to begin again.
Mr. Sandos asked Desdemona, ``What do you think happened?''
``I think the ghost was jealous. When I played her song, she ruined all the science projects. So, when I stopped, she made them work again. Listen.''
Very softly, barely audible for all the din of excited children, they heard the song, ``Dites moi pourquoi...''
``I think you have the makings of a good detective,'' said Mr. Sandos.
Willy ran up, ``Can I play your theremin at the party tonight?''
``Sure,'' said Desdemona. ``If you promise to keep Hector from tapping everyone with his magnet.''
As they hung fake spider webs across the living room, Rakelle said to Mona, ``I'm sorry the judge didn't believe you about the ghost. Then you'd have won. I think your theremin is great!''
``You worked hard killing all those plants. You deserved first place.'' said Mona. ``What I don't understand is Willy coming in second just for bouncing balls. He does that all the time. I think he does it to be irritating.''
Rakelle stretched a piece of twisted crepe paper across the doorway. ``Mr. Sandos says you can study anything __ including how a ball bounces, or a ghost sings.''
Mona pulled the cut_glass punch bowl out from the buffet cabinet and put it on the serving table. ``Maybe next year I should study why boys pick such irritating projects. Between Willy's ball bouncing and Hector tapping everybody with his magnet, this science fair has been crazy.''
As Rakelle poured a carton of orange juice into the punch bowl, the doorbell rang.
``I'll get it!'' yelled Hector, still holding his magnet.
``The fair's over!'' said Rakelle.
``I've got to do something weird,'' said Hector. ``It's
``Go set up your spider trick,'' said Desdemona.
``I want to do something weird now!'' insisted Hector.
``Okay. Plug in the theremin by the door. And @i(then) answer it.''
As Hector was plugging it in, the doorbell rang again. Then Willy's voice shouted, ``I know you're in there! Watch out __ I've got my siphon.''
``The party doesn't start for half an hour yet,'' Rakelle shouted through the door.
Hector opened the door. ``Weee__oooooo'' wailed the theremin as Willy walked into the living room. He bounced his green tennis ball. The theremin didn't react.
``It's not a motion detector, silly,'' said Rakelle.
``My name's not Silly. It's Willy.'' Willy did his one_ball juggle.
``Whatever,'' said Mona. ``You can make yourself useful. Mix up the punch while Rakelle helps me finish the decorations.''
``Can I serve the punch with my siphon?''
``Cool,'' said Hector. ``And I'll set up my swimming spider trick inside the punch bowl, so everybody will think there's real spiders in there.''
``Everybody knows about your magnets,'' said Rakelle.
``Let him,'' said Mona. ``It will keep him busy.''
``Aren't you going to put dry ice in the punch?'' asked Willy, still juggling his green tennis ball.
``Mom's bringing that home,'' said Rakelle. ``Hector can make his spiders crawl up the side of the punch bowl until she gets here.''
``Look,'' said Willy. ``I really do think your theremin is great, and you should have won. That judge was dumb not to believe in your ghost.''
``Maybe the judge only believes in what he can see,'' said Mona. She paused, looking thoughtful. ``I do wish I could see her, myself.''
``You're the detective,'' said Rakelle.
Hector made the spiders zoom across the punch bowl by dragging his magnet under the table. ``Some things are pretty neat just because you can't see them. Like magnetism.''
``Hector's right,'' said Willy. ``Magnetism is what makes your theremin work.''
``And ghosts wouldn't be half as interesting if you could see them all the time,'' said Rakelle. ``Then there'd be no
``Then I'll declare the Mystery of the Singing Ghost solved,'' said Mona.
Willy siphoned them each a glass of punch. ``To our next
mystery,'' he said.
``Our next mystery,'' they all said together.