(Whale image by Ciaran Duffy: used with permission)

Having recently returned from a sabbatical in the marvellous and the awe inspiring London's Natural History Museum, I've decided to call upon my inner sciencegeek to concoct a tale of high adventure for young readers.

In short, why not a story that attempts to be fantastical, but does so by relying only on the wonderful, strange, and (sometimes) frightening things that envelope this thing we call "science." Better yet, why not imagine a place where fantasy and magic is mistaken for reality, because this "science" is kept secret (both in practice and knowledge), and controlled by only a few and only those interested in power. And what would happen if two clever children, from our world, enter that place?

So, please do join Lizzie and Hobbes, the Popperfonts, as they embark on an adventure where synchrotrons are disguised as massive whales; where alternate realities may shed light on the mystery of their missing parents; where concepts like thermodynamics are powerful weapons; and where brave siblings attempt to bring back the scientific method in a world where the scientific method has long been forgotten.


Dave Ng

* * *


* * *


It was made out of five thousand paper clips and it was also as large as Hobbes. Inside, there was one red marble, buried in metallic lines, and it was slowly rolling on paperclip tracks twisting and turning and exploring.

Hobbes gave Lizzie a gentle shake. “Wake up sleepy head. It’s already ten in the morning. I want to show you something.”

Lizzie stirred slightly. She was actually still very sleepy, and for the briefest of moments, she wasn’t even sure where she was.

Hobbes shook her again, “Are you getting up or what?” Lizzie murmured into her pillow, and then half nodded. Slowly, she opened both of her eyes.

What she saw was a sparse room with two beds, and a huge wooden desk. The desk was unusual looking because the drawers were many and in a variety of different shapes and sizes, from one large enough to sleep in, to countless others that were tiny - perhaps no bigger than a pencil or two. On the walls, which were a drab sort of cream, there hung many pictures of pressed faded plants, some with flowers and some without, but all lovingly framed and mounted. Lizzie also saw massive wooden beams crisscrossing the ceiling, like something out of a medieval storybook.

England, she remembered, That’s right, I’m in England now.

“You’ve got to check this out!” Hobbes was speaking very fast. “I think flying here has completely messed up my sleeping. I was awake all night, and I found a whole bunch of stuff in these drawers. It’s crazy but this big one... it was just completely full of paperclips!”

Lizzie rubbed her eyes, gave Hobbes a squint, and stiffly pulled herself out of bed.

“Anyway,” Hobbes continued wide eye, “I couldn’t sleep so I just figured I should... make something.”

Lizzie then noticed the curious contraption of wire.

“See all the paper clips it’s made from! There are exactly five thousand! And see the marble?” Hobbes pointed at the marble that was still rolling inside. “It takes exactly eight minutes and thirty seven seconds for it to go from top to bottom!”

Lizzie found that she couldn’t help but watch the marble intently. There was a nice calmness to doing this. It was being guided confidently by tracks of paperclip wire, and it was tracing a path that appeared to visit every possible nook and cranny.

“Er...Lovely?” said Lizzie who was now a bit confused, “What exactly is it for?”

“Oh nothing really...” Hobbes replied quietly, “It’s just that I... I just couldn’t sleep...”

As Lizzie watched the marble, she soon found her thoughts drifting away. In her mind, she imagined floating high above and seeing herself, sitting there on the bed, looking slightly mesmerized. There was Lizzie Popperfont, the eleven year old big sister. Next to her was Hobbes Popperfont, her nine year old little brother. And being siblings, their faces shared a certain look: they had dark brown eyes that appeared almost Asian; a mouth and lips that looked prone to a nice sort of smiling; and noses of average built. Overall, Lizzie thought that they looked quite unspectacular, a little bit on the skinny side, and maybe just enough of something to consider themselves a little handsome. This, of course, didn’t include Hobbes’ hairstyle, which, as usual, was fashioned in a glorious form of “bedhead.”

“Is Aunt Charlie awake?” queried Lizzie, her attention coming back.

The marble finally reached the bottom of the contraption and clanked into a resting spot.

“Yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to say. She’s waiting for you to get up. She says she going to make us full English breakfasts for our first morning here.”

Hobbes picked up the marble, and put it in his pocket. “I’ll go tell her you’re finally awake.”

Once Hobbes had disappeared downstairs, Lizzie rummaged underneath her pillow and carefully pulled out a small and slightly frayed journal. She opened the journal, and flipped assuredly to one particular page. She stared at this page. Lizzie knew the entry well: It was dated February 13th.

It’s Valentines Day tomorrow! So looking forward to it! Hopefully, Lizzie and Hobbes will be amazed.

It was an unbearably short entry, but since it was written with the lush and flowing pen strokes of her mother’s hand, Lizzie couldn’t help but smile a little. She very much missed her parents. Then she paused, brushed the hair from her eyes, and then turned the page over. The new page in front of Lizzie was now blank. This seemed oddly fitting to her. It was literally the end, but it also felt like a new beginning.

Yesterday, she was far away, and now, after a very long and tiring flight, and a restless sleep, she was in London, England. She realized that the events on Valentine’s Day had led to this, and that with the summer holidays beginning, they were brought to these new surroundings, to start a new life.

She took a deep breath, grabbed her pen, and went over to the bedroom window. Opening the latch, she gazed down at the street, busy with the movement of cars and people. She then wrote in steady capital letters, “JULY 5TH.” Thinking a moment, she also wrote underneath, “BE BRAVE.”

Lizzie thought that the streets of London had an air of excitement. She also noticed something very strange: Everyone, everyone, was walking in the same direction. In fact, not a single person was walking in the opposite way. It was one of those things that was easily missed, but when you saw it, it looked very odd indeed. Lizzie happened to be good at catching these sorts of things, and puzzled by this observation, she wrote down in her journal:

Why is everyone is walking in the same direction?

Then she put her pen to her lips, and gave this strange observation a bit of thought. It actually reminded her of the marble that was rolling through the paperclip machine. She thought it was similar to how time always committed to a single direction. She thought how lovely it would be if it could go backwards.

Closing the window, Lizzie put the journal back under her pillow, and headed down the stairs.

* * *

Aunt Charlie was clearly in full breakfast mode. She was shuffling bacon, sausages, and eggs in a large iron frying pan, all the while pulling down the appropriate levers on an assortment of toasters, can openers, and kettles. "Almost ready!" she exclaimed, as she scooped out baked beans.

"Do you need a timer for any of this?” asked Hobbes hopefully, “Maybe something that take exactly eight minutes and thirty seven seconds?"

"No need," said Aunt Charlie, "My head seems to keep time alright." She tapped her temple as if to further make this point.

Aunt Charlie was already dressed for the day. She had her gray hair tied back in a neat bun and she had on her favorite pink dress. It was not too bright, a bit faded actually, but still quite pretty. Because she was a full figured lady, Lizzie thought that if you blurred your eyes just enough, you might think that Aunt Charlie looked like a piece of anatomy from some massive creature - like the heart of a whale for instance.

Anyway, a heart would be fitting, because even though the children hadn’t known their Aunt for very long, they both liked her very much. She was friendly and warm, and always with a jovial look on her face. It also didn’t hurt that she always had something interesting to say.

Toast suddenly popped up. "Breakfast is now ready!" proclaimed Aunt Charlie, "Grab your plates and come here and get your grub!"

The children shuffled over to the stove, and on each plate, Auntie Charlie plonked a slice of toast with an egg on top. “Now go get your meat,” instructed Aunt Charlie.

Hobbes forked two sausages, and arranged them side by side (with the egg in between them). He then placed a single large slice of bacon over the sausages, so that it looked a little like a bridge. He scooped some beans, lined them on top of the bacon, and then declared, "The beans are the people!"

Lizzie, on the other hand, simply grabbed one sausage, a small slice of bacon, and piled them both haphazardly on top of her egg. She then sat down, and with her knife and fork, she cut her sausage into several uneven pieces. She also broke her yolk.

“Your plate looks like my bridge after a hurricane,” laughed Hobbes.

“Yes, I suppose,” replied Lizzie. “It’s a bit like entropy actually.”

“Umm... O.K...” said Hobbes. He was quite used to Lizzie talking in this manner. She had a habit of using fancy words that were either far too complicated to say or far too complicated to explain.

"What are you two nattering about?" interjected Aunt Charlie as she sat herself down. On her plate, she had made herself a face: two eggs for eyes, a sausage for a nose, and a smile made from a curved slice of bacon. "Hobbes, you seem to be a builder of sorts, and Lizzie, just turned eleven, and - did I hear that right – did you used the word entropy?" She ate one of her eggs in one bite. “That would be very impressive you know – takes a smart person to know what entropy is all about.”

“Well...” Lizzie fidgeted, “I just... sort of... like reading about these things... Sorry. I’ll try to stop doing it...“ Lizzie didn’t like to draw attention to herself. She was more the quiet thinker type.

“You’ll do nothing of the sort!” chirped Aunt Charlie. “Always a sign of excellence for someone young like yourself to think a little bit about how the world and universe works! A little scientific mumbo jumbo never does anyone harm, does it now?” Auntie Charlie was clearly very animated by this discussion. “In fact, I think you’ll both like where we’re going to visit today.”
Both children looked up from their food. “And where would that be?” asked Hobbes.

“We’re going to the Natural History Museum. It’s where I work, you know.” Aunt Charlie then ate her other egg, again with a single bite. “So come on - hurry up with your breakfast, and get yourself dressed. We’ll leave as soon as you’re ready.”


It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that London’s Natural History Museum is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Like a grand palace with formidable church towers inserted at its doorstep, it is certainly a majestic sight to see. Indeed, Lizzie thought it looked magical, as if she was actually about to enter a home for wizards and witches.

It wasn’t any less impressive when they were inside. Lizzie, Hobbes and Aunt Charlie were soon in the center of the Grand Central Hall, where a striking dinosaur skeleton stood. There, they paused for a moment and like the other tourists around them, they took in their surroundings.

The Grand Central Hall was a huge room. It was marked by terra cotta walls, which gave it a warm and cozy feel, with colours similar to that of sand. Lizzie and Hobbes also saw that the walls were rich with detail. They were peppered with countless sculptures of animals and plants, so many that it forced their eyes to meander and explore. Suffice to say, both children in that instance, thought that the space was very grand indeed.

“I believe Diplodocus was one of the longest dinosaurs ever, and if I recall, even the tail was something in the neighbourhood of 50 feet long.” Aunt Charlie was talking about the huge skeleton, seemingly oblivious to the stunned silence of the children, who were now looking straight up.

What Lizzie and Hobbes saw was a ceiling, as high as the sky, and apparently made from a gallery of plant paintings. These canvases were arranged in neat squares, where each was a glorious work of art, accompanied with the plant’s name in ornate letters. Lizzie thought that they were incredibly beautiful, and especially loved the way the different shades of green and cream blended with lines of gold. As well, here and there, flower petals gave out the odd hint of vibrant colour. Overall, she thought that the whole ceiling looked like a brilliant quilt of flowers.

“You see those words up there?” Aunt Charlie was noticing the children’s upward gaze. “Those are the scientific names for the plants. For instance, over there is Cornus Capitata, which is what normal folk might call a kind of Dogwood Tree. Matter of fact, all of those plants up there, see, they were all important to England at some point in our history.”

Aunt Charlie had a great big grin on her face. It was evident that the ceiling was of special interest to her. “Some were used because you could eat the plant, or drink the plant, or maybe just because the plant looked pretty or smelt nice in their homes. I’m glad you noticed the ceiling, since well... Plants are my favourite!” She then took a deep breath, “Truth be told, I study plants.”

For the rest of the morning, Aunt Charlie took the children around the sights of the museum. Highlights included the precious rocks, the dinosaurs, and the mammal hall. Lizzie especially liked the area that depicted the history of the planet Earth, and Hobbes was most intrigued by the people who congregated around a white marble statue of a bearded man named Darwin.
Eventually, the children found themselves on a large balcony, high above the Grand Central Hall and high enough to bring them tantalizingly closer to the quilted ceiling. Here, they were also standing in front of a very large tree trunk slab mounted on the wall. It was so huge, that it had thousands upon thousands of tree rings.

“This came from a Giant Sequoia,” explained Aunt Charlie. “No doubt, a very big tree when it was still standing.” Hobbes was trying his best to count the narrow tree rings, but to no avail.

“A bit sad really that they chopped down the poor thing all those years ago. It must’ve been a remarkable sight.” Aunt Charlie’s voice was hushed, and Lizzie sensed an air of sadness in her manner. “Anyway... No time to dilly dally. This way now.”

Aunt Charlie walked towards an old wooden door. It had a sign that made it perfectly clear that this was the way to areas that were NOT FOR PUBLIC ACCESS.

From her purse, she pulled out a stringed necklace that was attached to a plastic card with her picture on it. “See this card here… This will get you in most every room of this museum.”

She then placed the card in front of a black box next to the door handle, which, in turn, answered back with beep and a click. She then gave the children a wink, as if she had just showed them a wonderful secret. Then, she slowly pushed the door open.

Inside, Lizzie and Hobbes very soon lost their bearings. Aunt Charlie was walking quickly, and led them through many hallways and many doors. And after what seemed like an eternity of walking, Aunt Charlie finally stopped in front of an old oak door. This door also had a sign on it. It said, “PLANT LOVERS ONLY. ALL OTHERS CAN MAKE LIKE A PLANT AND LEAF!”

“It’s only half serious,” grinned Aunt Charlie, “although it does seem to work.” She unlocked her door and pushed it open. “I usually like to be left alone when I’m working with my plants.”

Aunt Charlie’s office was definitely a sight to see. It was small, with a strong but pleasant earthy smell. It was also stuffed from top to bottom with hundreds of plants, which were growing in pots, in coffee cups, and even in odd places like pencil cases and lunch bags. There were also plants carefully hung on lines that crisscrossed the ceiling. The greenery was so overwhelming that Lizzie and Hobbes briefly thought that they were stuck in a section of lush forest.

Another curious thing about Aunt Charlie’s office was that there were books everywhere. Lizzie, in particular, loved this. She had never seen so many books in one room in her entire life. It was as if the forest had decided to open a library right there in the wildness.

Sunshine was happily streaming into the room through a large dusty skylight. This only made the room look more wild, but it also highlighted a large desk in the center. Here, Aunt Charlie sat herself down, and put her purse in the drawer. On the desk was an antique microscope, made out of nicely polished brass, which gleamed in the sunlight.

“Right!” said Aunt Charlie, “I have work to do. So, it’s time for you children to, in a manner of speaking, leaf me alone!” She took out her card key, and extended her hand. “Here Lizzie, you get to look after this.”

Lizzie took the card and with a slightly uncomfortable expression on her face, inquired, “But where exactly should we go?”

Aunt Charlie seemed not to hear this question. Instead, she grabbed a small glass jar from a shelf and opened it up. The jar was filled with a clear liquid and contained a specimen of some sort of plant. Using a pair of tweezers, she carefully placed it under her microscope. “Just go explore!” she said quite suddenly, “That card key you got there, will get you into pretty much any room in this building. Fact is, this museum is big and has many secret spots. There are many parts of the museum that even I haven’t seen - and I’ve been here for decades!”

She got up from her desk, “How about I see you at 5pm?”

She then nudged them towards the door, herded them through, waved a polite goodbye, and (to the children’s shock) gently closed the door in their faces.

Standing in the hallway, Lizzie looked to the left and to the right. She was a bit taken aback by what had just happened, but she also very quickly realized that they were lost. She had no idea where they were, or for that matter, how to get back to the Sequoia tree or the Grand Central Hall. However, they didn’t want to disturb their Aunt and as a result, it was soon decided that they would take Aunt Charlie’s instructions to heart. They would simply go explore.

* * *

For the rest of the afternoon, the children wandered happily through the non-public areas of the museum. Lizzie had her journal with her, and did her best to make map-like notes as they navigated their way around. They shuffled through endless passageways, went up and down steps, and entered rooms. Sometimes, these rooms had people working in them, but mostly they were vacant, such that the building felt a little deserted, and the children could easily pretend that they were archaeologists looking for hidden treasures.

Often, the room was home to papers and files, usually stacked haphazardly on wooden tables. These papers were mostly handwritten notes, or drawings, usually of some sort of animal or plant.

A few times, they stumbled upon rooms that seemed to house only shelves with thousands of tiny boxes. Both Lizzie and Hobbes would peek inside these little boxes and saw that they contained seeds, rocks, or small bones. A rare few would contain pinned down insects or spiders.

As five o’clock approached, they eventually came across a strange sign. It read, “This way to the Giraffe Corner.” Curious, they decided to follow the sign even though they weren’t sure what a “Giraffe Corner” might be. And although, they didn’t find a giraffe, they soon found themselves standing in front of an unremarkable set of double doors. The children might have missed these double doors entirely, if it were not for the smart looking wooden plaque bolted on one of them, which had the words (in large and formal letters, like that of a typewriter but obviously hand painted): “ZOO STORE ONE.”

“That sounds kind of important, doesn’t it?” asked Hobbes. He touched the plaque, “I wonder what a zoo store is?”

“Don’t know, actually.” Lizzie was looking at her watch, “but it’s getting late. I think we should be trying to head back soon. Might take us a while to find our way back to Aunt Charlie’s office.”

“How can we not check out something called a zoo store? And who knows if we’ll ever find this part of the building again,” said Hobbes.

Lizzie looked at her watch again. She thought that Hobbes made good sense with this argument. “O.K. then, one last room...”

Zoo Store One was quite large, about as big as a school gymnasium, and although it didn’t have basketball nets or ropes, the light walls and dark concrete floors did give it a gym-like feel. However, unlike a gym, the space was not open. Instead, it contained rows of large cabinets and shelves. These were arranged to separate the room into many lanes, much like a supermarket. Most of these cabinets and shelves were also very tall, and therefore they created the illusion of walls. In fact, many of the cabinets were obviously built for exhibiting things, with large glass doors that reminded Hobbes of waterless aquariums.

Coincidentally, a few of the cabinets did contain fish, or at least dead stuffed fish. Their bodies were mounted on small wooden stands, displayed in a row so as to look like ghost schools floating on dusty shelves. But fish were only a small part of all the different creatures that were on hand. As Lizzie and Hobbes explored the room, they saw hundreds of different beasts, all dead and stuffed in poses that Lizzie could only assume were meant to look “natural.” Some were small like a large shelf with beetles, cleverly arranged in concentric circles around a large pile of pins. Some were very large: for example, a few animals with antlers, at least two giraffe heads, and the strangest looking shark the children had ever seen.

“What’s with all these dead animals?” asked Hobbes.

“It’s called taxidermy.” Lizzie could always be counted on for knowing the proper word for something. “All of these animals... they were alive once. It’s kind of creepy if you think about it.”

Hobbes nodded, but didn’t say anything. He was keeping an eye out just to make sure that all the animals remained motionless.

Then, all of a sudden, something very strange happened. The entire room shifted. In fact, it groaned.

Although Lizzie would later think that there was probably a much better way to describe this, perhaps with long and fancy words, the truth was that this was exactly what happened: the room... groaned. The sound was as if the cabinets, the shelves, and even the walls, were reluctantly being moved.

And it wasn’t even just the sound that was odd: the children also thought it felt odd too. The whole room seemed to tilt, even if only slightly, and for a moment, it felt like being on board a boat that listed gently to one side.

As well, seemingly from nowhere and at the same instant, a phone rang. Except that this wasn’t your usual ring. It was a very weak and slow sounding ring.

Lizzie and Hobbes looked at each other, and immediately felt the keen collective glare from all of the stuffed animals around them. It was as if the animals were waiting to see what the children would do next.

“Did you feel that?” whispered Lizzie.

“Umm...yes.” Hobbes said in a slightly shaky voice. He didn’t know why, but the hair on the back of his neck was standing on end.

“And you heard the groan, right?”


“And the ring?”


Lizzie paused. “Good.” she said. “Then I wasn’t imagining it.”

The children quickly looked around the room. It was then that Hobbes saw the phone, which was sitting on a small table next to one of the cabinets. It was also a very old phone, with bits of broken wire coming out of it, and a round yellowish sticker (where the numbers would have normally been) written with the following message: “PLEASE REPLACE TELEPHONE ONLY WHEN FINISHED.”

Lizzie and Hobbes stared at this for a moment, both wondering what that message might mean.

“It’s weird that it even rang,” said Hobbes. “It looks ancient, and it’s not even attached to anything.” Hobbes was holding the broken wire and noting that the phone was far too old to be of the cordless variety. Hobbes then carefully picked up the receiver. “Hello?” he said, but there was no sound on the line.

Lizzie scanned the room some more, and then exclaimed, “Those pins!” She went over to the beetle area and stared at the pile of pins.

The pins were still lying there with the beetles, but now they were all lined up perfectly - all pointing in the same direction. It was very odd indeed.

“Are you sure they were all messed up before?” said Hobbes.

“Definitely...” said Lizzie hesitantly. She opened the cabinet door, and touched one of the pins, so as to nudge it slightly. To the children’s amazement, they saw the pin quickly move back so that it was once again pointing in its original direction.

Hobbes looked at Lizzie. He did not look happy. “Lizzie... I think that maybe we should leave now...”


“Wait!” Lizzie said. “Not yet! This doesn’t make sense!” Lizzie didn’t like it when things didn’t make sense. She was one of those people who hated it when there wasn’t a rational explanation involved. “Just give me a minute to think this through...”

She took out her journal and opened it up to the entry she wrote that morning. “... There is always a rational explanation,” she continued. “For instance, I know why everyone was walking in the same direction.”

“Umm... What are you talking about?” Hobbes had a confused look on his face.

“I said I know why everyone was walking the same direction this morning!” Lizzie pressed on, “It was because they were all going to the same place. There’s an underground train station and it’s only at one end of the street. That’s why everyone was going the same way!”

“I’m still not following...”

“What I mean to say is that even if something looks strange, there is always a sensible reason behind it.”

Lizzie took out a pen and started to scribble in her book. “The room groaned,” she was reading out loud. “The room bended. A broken disconnected phone rang.” Then she wrote, “Pins behaved mysteriously.”

She looked up and asked Hobbes, “O.K. first, the groan... What did it remind you of?”

Hobbes thought for a second. “Well, it sounded a little like the noise that metal might make when it bends. Kind of like the sound effects you hear in movies when a giant steel bridge gets twisted because of something like an earthquake.”

“Exactly,” replied Lizzie. “And those pins: also made from metal. Or rather steel, a mixture of iron and cadmium with some nickel thrown in...”

Hobbes again had that disinterested look on his face.

“... Point is, can we think of anything that can make metal move seemingly like magic?”

“Oh!” said Hobbes excitedly, “I know! I know! A magnet?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Lizzie. She opened her journal and wrote down in big capital letters, “HYPOTHESIS!” Underneath that, she then added the word “magnet” and underlined it twice.

“Er… What’s a hypothesis?” asked Hobbes.

Lizzie paused and thought for a moment. “It’s a scientific word. It means an idea that you think gives you the best possible explanation. As well, this idea should be something that you can test, so that you can see if you’re right or wrong. “For instance, in our case, the hypothesis would be that the groaning, the weird bending sensation, the phone, the pins – all of these can be explained by the presence of a very large magnetic force.”

“You mean like a giant magnet?”

“Yes. exactly like a giant magnet.”

“Hmmm… I understand most of what you’re saying, but how does a magnet make a phone ring?”

“Good question,” said Lizzie. She then continued, “We can explain the phone ring quite easily.” She then went on to describe (using very large words) how this was possible. Hobbes, unfortunately, was only able to follow some of it, but still managed to get the central message: that is, that magnets and electricity are closely intertwined.

”If you take a magnet and move it around in the presence of electrical wire, you can generate electricity.” Lizzie was on a roll, launching into a short lecture about power generators, and how such power plants essentially use some form of energy like coal or a waterfall, to move magnets, which in turn generate electrical power.

Hobbes, in a last ditch effort to silence Lizzie, then interjected, “So what you’re saying, is that a magnet can produce electricity which is what might probably powered the phone to ring?”

“Yes, more or less.”

“And that at the end of the day, you hypothesize that Zoo Store One can be explained by the presence of some sort of giant magnet?”

“Again, yes.”

“And can I ask you how exactly would we test for that?”

Lizzie smiled at Hobbes, “Well, that’s easy… We just have to find the magnet.”

* * *

Not knowing what the next step might be, the two of them decided to gather around the pile of pins. Lizzie was busy making notes in her journal, noting the time, sketching the room, and recording the direction of the pins. “I need to think…” she muttered.

Meanwhile, the stuffed animals in Zoo Store One continued to look ominous. The glints of light reflecting off of their glass eyes led Hobbes to think that they were still watching the children intently. The eyes also had the curious effect of always appearing as if they were staring directly at him – as if they were following his every move. This made him nervous, but it also reminded him of something.

“Lizzie, what do you have in your pockets?”


“Pockets,” he repeated. “What do you have in your pockets?”

Lizzie rummaged through her pockets and pulled out a few coins, a stick of gum, and a bit of thread. She also had an old cellular phone that was given to her by Aunt Charlie in case of an emergency.

“Perfect,” said Hobbes, scanning the loot. “I can use that thread.”

“What?” replied Lizzie once more, looking bemused.

“Give me your thread. I’m going to use it with some of these paperclips in my pocket and one of those mysterious pins there, I’m going to make us a three dimensional magnet detector!”

“Really?” Lizzie was watching Hobbes deftly twist the paperclips into various shapes, linking them together. “A three dimensional magnet detector? That sounds pretty fancy.”

“Well, actually, it’s more of a compass type thingamajig.”

Hobbes was fiddling with the thread and tying it to various places on a small paperclip frame. Then, with a careful knot, right in the center of his creation, he attached one of the mysterious pins. Overall, with all the thread going back and forth in the metal frame, it looked a little like a science fiction version of cat’s cradle.

Immediately, the pin oriented itself and was pointing assuredly in a single direction: towards the door and also a bit upwards.

“That’s brilliant!” exclaimed Lizzie. Excitedly, they carefully carried the magnet detector out of Zoo Store One, and walked slowly all the while staring intently at the pin. When they walked from one end of the hallway to the other, they noticed that the pin was moving, changing its direction slightly, so that it was always pointing towards this imaginary spot in the ceiling.

“It must be close by,” whispered Lizzie, “probably in the museum.”

For the next couple of minutes, the children walked in staggered footsteps. Every now and then, they would stop, and then shift their direction. Sometimes, they would meet a wall, which meant that they would have to work out where the other side of the wall would be. They definitely felt that they were zoning in on a very specific area of the museum, and Hobbes smiled at the thought that they were being guided by the whims of a very bizarre pin.

Then, at one point, the noticed that the pin was doing something very unexpected: It was pointing straight up. When this happened, both children gazed upwards.

“It must be up there,” said Hobbes. “Whatever it is we’re looking for, it must be right above us.”

“Let’s take the stairs then,” said Lizzie, and very soon, the children found themselves on the next floor. This was one of the public areas of the museum, specifically a large hallway lined with many skeletons and models of various mammals. It was past five o’clock now, and with the museum being now closed to the public, the hallway was empty. The children crept along, while the mammal specimens stood silently.

At the end of the hall, Lizzie stopped. “The pin wants us to go in there,” she said as she noted the sign on the wall. It read: LARGE MAMMAL HALL.

Upon entering, Lizzie and Hobbes’ senses were immediately hit by a safari of delights. This room was very different from Zoo Store One, which was more about storage and packing up. This mammal hall was definitely all about display. A few steps in, and already, in front of them, there was an elephant, a giraffe, and a rhinoceros. They were also stuffed, and just standing quietly like three soldiers on a vigil. Like most when presented with such a sight, the children were astonished at how impressively large these creatures were in real life.

Despite this wonderful sight, and such is the wonder of the Large Mammal Hall, any thoughts that the children might of had were quickly replaced by another – a “What is that?” This was because their gaze had settled upon something truly massive that was hanging silently from the ceiling, usurping all views of the hall. This sight was perhaps best described by the words “whale” and “blue,” which was only fitting since it was actually a full scale model of a blue whale, the largest animal on the planet.

“Whoa,” said Hobbes. “That’s huge!” It was huge. Easily, the same length as two large buses.

“And look! The pin is pointing right at the whale,” said Lizzie. This was true. The pin was pointing straight at the whale: straight as an arrow in fact. It would seem that the children had found their giant magnet, unlikely though it would seem.

The children inched closer, with each step causing the pin to react as if it was straining to escape. The children stopped in front of a railing, obviously placed to prevent the adventurous from crawling under the whale.

“It’s definitely the whale that is our magnet,” said Lizzie. She was pleased with herself because her hypothesis was correct. There was indeed a giant magnet involved. However, it also occurred to her that it didn’t necessarily explain anything. For instance, why would a giant life size model of a blue whale be magnetized?

By this time, Hobbes had already crossed the railing and was walking directly under the whale. The force of attraction to the pin, was so strong here that the pin had ripped itself from the thread and was now stuck on the whale itself.

“Lizzie!” Hobbes waved her over, “It’s warm!”

Lizzie quickly joined her brother, and tentatively placed her palms on the whale.

“You’re right. It is warm.”

Hobbes then pressed one of his ears against the whale, “It’s kind of humming too. What do you think is inside?”

Lizzie looked at Hobbes for a moment and considered his question. Her mind was abuzz with trying to compose a new hypothesis to test. Something along the lines of, “The whale is a giant magnet because…” Unfortunately, no matter how hard she tried, she could not think of a reasonable end to that sentence.

Hobbes began knocking the surface of the whale with his knuckles, trying to search for any clue that might provide some information on the situation. As he did this, Lizzie happened to notice a small area of the underbelly that had the faintest of dents. She tried to trace the dent with her fingertips (as they were much easier to feel than to see), and when she did this, she realized that the dent could be drawn like a big rectangle.

“There’s something here,” she said to Hobbes. “Something square… maybe a door or something.”

Hobbes started to push upwards at the spot that Lizzie was talking about, which looked quite funny, since from afar it would probably look like he was trying to “lift” the humungous animal.

Then, without warning, the children heard the sound of air escaping. A trapdoor in the underbelly of the beast had just revealed itself.

The children glanced at each other with a look that said, well I don't know, and proceeded to cautiously climb up the ladder. As they did this, the door slowly shutted behind them. They were now inside the whale.

Although the children were not exactly sure what to expect, they were nevertheless surprised at what they saw. The space looked very much like a scene from some space movie, like a room you might imagine being used to steer a spaceship. This “belly” room was understandably large, not surprising given the size of a blue whale: Lizzie even reminded herself of the time she had read that the creature was so large that even the heart of a blue whale was as big as a small car.

The room also had a bridge-like walkway that spanned the length of the whale, and positioned in such a way so that occupants couldn’t walk on the floor. This was because the floor was covered with thick wire, which was also coiled up along one side, then over the ceiling, back down the other side, and finally onto the floor again. In fact, the wire was coiled hundreds (possibly thousands) of times, in such a way as to create a spiral tunnel that span the whole surface of the belly. This also meant that there were two “openings” in the wire tunnel, one of which was in the direction of the tail and the other being the head. The trapdoor had opened up toward the head side, and when Lizzie examined this area more closely, she could make out an open slit that presumably followed the lines of the whale’s mouth. Looking through the thin slit, she could see a partial view of the outside world.

Hobbes walked over the bridge to the tail side and waved Lizzie over. This end had two chairs and a few items of equipment that reminded the children of what you might find in a space control center. There were blinking lights and buttons everywhere, a keyboard, and several computer screens. All of the screens were blank except for one. This screen was faint, but it was definitely on. The background was black, but dim green letters were on display: “02 WHALES LEFT TO CHARGE.”

"What do you suppose that means?" asked Hobbes. But before Lizzie could answer, the screen flickered for an instance, and then revealed the following: "01 WHALE LEFT TO CHARGE."

"Did you see that?" said Hobbes, and then the screen changed once more. "ALL FIVE WHALES CHARGED AND READY. PRESS SPACE BAR TO CONTINUE."

"That's why it's magnetic!" blurted Lizzie suddenly. "A coil of wire pumped with electricity can behave like a magnet! And giant whale sized tunnel of wire pumped with electricity will obviously behave like a giant whale sized magnet! This blue whale is one massive electromagnetic engine! That's why the room groaned, the phone rang, and the pins moved. All because of this whale!" Then she stopped herself, and added, "But why would someone build it and who turned it on earlier?"

Hobbes began to look worried. The excitement of the past hour suddenly drained from him, because now he had an awful thought in his head.

"Lizzie, Do you think it's even safe to be here?"

Lizzie paused to think a moment. Although she had done quite a lot of reading about the principles of electro-magnets, the books never did talk about the dangers of standing inside one. Still, Lizzie was always cautious, and so in this respect, she would have probably decided to leave the belly right then and there, if it were not for what she saw next.

Stuck on one of the corners of the control panel, there was a small piece of ripped paper. The paper was of a colour that looked familiar, and upon closer inspection, it even had handwriting that looked familiar. Then, Lizzie experienced a wave of shock: It was her mother's handwriting.

Hurriedly, she pried the piece of paper off the wires. It had only two words: collider whale. It was also dated February 14th.


“We have to press the space bar,” said Lizzie. “We have to find out what happened.”

Hobbes looked at Lizzie but couldn’t say anything. He was visibly upset, and his eyes were a little bit teary. He signaled his agreement by nodding. The two of them then moved over to the computer and stared at the space bar.

“But is it safe...?” Hobbes asked in a whisper.

Lizzie lightly touched the space bar, but did not press it. Her mind was racing furiously. It was telling her that the smart thing to do would be to re-examine the blue whale more carefully, take notes, pictures even, and then try to figure out exactly what it was all about. She also thought that it might be a good idea to tell a grown up: somebody like their Aunt Charlie for instance. However, whilst her head was carefully planning these “best things to do”, her heart was telling her the opposite, telling her to just press the space bar. Press the space bar and you might find out what happened to your parents. Press the space bar and you might see your parents again.

Hobbes touched Lizzie’s shoulders. “You know you’re speaking out loud?” he said. Lizzie looked surprised, “Really?”

After a pause, Hobbes said, “I think you know what we need to do. It’s simple really. I want to find out about Mom and Dad. Don’t you?”

Lizzie took a slow deep breath, held out her hand, “Let’s hold hands then. We’ll press the space bar together...”

As soon as the button was pressed, the lights began to dim, and very quickly, the belly of the whale went completely black. The children couldn’t see anything. As well, the air within the belly seemed to change so that it “felt” heavy. Not hot or humid, but somehow thick, such that Lizzie and Hobbes thought that their senses were muffled as if they were cloaked in some sort of heavy but invisible fabric. Then, slowly - so slowly in fact, that at first it was almost unnoticeable - dim lights came on along the ground. They reminded Lizzie of an airplane runway, and they were pulsing as if to entice the children to walk in a certain direction. In fact, after a few seconds, they saw that the lights led over the walkway, towards the very center of the whale, and precisely over the middle of the giant wire tunnel.

Then, a soft but strangely emotionless female voice began talking: “The Collider Whale has been activated. Please ensure that you make your way to the walkway. The coil is now being warmed up.”

The children, still holding hands, followed the lights and made their way onto the walkway.

As soon as they reached the middle, the voice sounded again, “Countdown will now begin. Coil activation will commence in T minus 60 seconds. Please ensure that your senses are isolated from others, so that superposition effects can proceed normally.”

“Super what?” whispered Hobbes to Lizzie. His voice was slightly muffled but still comprehensible.

Superposition,” replied Lizzie. “More science stuff. It’s actually something I’ve read about before, but to be honest, I didn’t really get it. It was about things that are very very very small, and how at that size, strange and wonderful things can happen. Superposition had something to do with being in two places at once, but only if no-one is looking.” She then shrugged her shoulders for emphasis, having realized that her explanation was hardly satisfying.

“Anyway,” she continued, “I think it’s important that we don’t hold hands anymore. Also, we shouldn’t talk to one another as the countdown finishes. We have to act as if we’re standing here in isolation.”

“Um o.k.” said Hobbes and then hesitated, “Is that why, my head feels fuzzy, and for that matter, the rest of my body...” He seemed to be whispering now and he felt very light.

“Yessss...” said an equally light headed Lizzie. Her voice was starting to sound ethereal.

“T minus 30 seconds.”

“I caaann’tt ffeeelll mmyy hhhaannnnddss aannd ffeeeetttt…” Hobbes waved his arms up and down, and looking on, saw that they blurred when he did this.

Lizzie spoke but her mouth didn’t quite match her words. “Sssttoopp ttaallkkiinngg…”

They heard in the distance, the female voice uttering final instructions. “T minus 10 seconds… Please close all eyes, do not move, and suspend all senses as best as you can for maximum chance of success…”

There was a pause that probably lasted about five seconds, even though it felt much much longer. Then, quite unremarkably, everything went white.

* * *

It was eight o’clock in the evening, and by now, everyone was frantic. There were people pacing the living room, some in uniform, and others speaking into a variety of different cell phones. The atmosphere felt anxious.

The whole of Valentine’s Day had passed, and still no-one had seen or heard from Lizzie and Hobbes’ parents. It was as if they had just abruptly ceased to exist. It was only the night before that they were all together, laughing and hinting at the wonderful surprise that was being planned for Valentine’s Day. Lizzie and Hobbes had kissed them goodnight as they had always done before going to bed, but when they woke up, something was immediately different. Still, the children went to the kitchen like always, made themselves their breakfast like always, and watched a little television like always. It took a little time before the strange feeling took effect, hinted at by the lack of coffee aroma in the kitchen, and a morning that seemed too quiet. There were no questions about homework, about school, about what to pack for lunch, and no voices of authority telling them to hurry up or to get dressed. Next came a flurry of activity: the children running throughout the house, running to their neighbours, telephone calls being made.

Now, the children were huddled together in shock. They were confused and frightened, as words and conversation bounced around the room. “When was the last time you saw Mr. and Mrs. Popperfont? Was there any indication of why Mr. and Mrs. Popperfont might not be around today? Do you have any information that could help us with our investigation?”
It didn’t feel real. Both Lizzie and Hobbes felt like the day had passed as a blur, and in their minds, they had a single thunderous thought: Where were their parents?

Then, quite unremarkably like before, everything went black.