The First Powder Test
“I’M DOCTOR PROCTOR,” the professor said at last. His accent was guttural, making his voice sound like a badly oiled lawnmower. “I’m a crazy professor. Well, almost, anyway.” He laughed a hearty, snorting sort of laugh and started watering his unmowed lawn with a green watering can.
Nilly, who was never one to say no to an interesting conversation, set down his trumpet, ran down his front steps and over to the fence, and asked, “And just what makes you so sure that you’re almost crazy, Mr. Proctor?”
“Doctor Proctor. Did you ever hear of a professor trying to invent a powder to prevent hay fever but ending up inventing a farting powder instead? No, I didn’t think so. Quite a failure … and pretty outrageous, isn’t it?”
“Well, it depends,” Nilly said, hopping up to sit on the fence. “What does your farting powder do? Does it keep people from farting?”
The professor laughed even louder. “Ah, if only it did. I could probably have found someone to buy my powder, then,” he said. Suddenly he stopped watering the grass and stroked his chin, lost in thought. “You’re on to something there, Nilly. If I’d made the powder so it kept people from farting, then people could take it before going to parties or funerals. After all, there are lots of occasions when farting is inappropriate. I hadn’t thought of that.” He dropped the watering can in the grass and hurried off toward his little blue house. “Interesting,” he mumbled. “Maybe I can just reverse the formula and create a non-fart powder.”
“Wait!” Nilly yelled. “Wait, Doctor Proctor.”
Nilly jumped down from the fence, tumbling into the tall grass, and when he got up again, he couldn’t see the professor—just his blue house and a side staircase that led down to an open cellar door. Nilly ran to the door as fast as his short legs could carry him. It was dark inside, but he could hear clattering and banging. Nilly knocked hard on the door frame.
“Come in!” the professor yelled from inside.
Nilly walked into the dimly lit cellar. He could vaguely make out an old, dismantled motorcycle with a sidecar by one wall. And a shelf with various Mickey Mouse figurines and a mason jar full of a light green powder, with a label in big letters that read DR. PROCTOR’S LIGHT GREEN POWDER! And underneath, in slightly smaller letters: “A bright idea that may make the world a little more fun.”
“Is this the fart powder?” Nilly asked.
“No, it’s just a phosphorescent powder that makes you glow,” said Doctor Proctor from somewhere in the darkness. “A rather unsuccessful invention.”
Then the professor emerged from the darkness with a lit flashlight in one hand and a snorkel mask in the other. “Wear this for safety during the experiment. I’ve reversed the process so that everything goes backward. Shut the door and watch out. Everything is connected to the light switch.”
Nilly put on the face mask and pulled the door shut.
“Thanks,” the professor said, flipping the light switch. The light came on, and a bunch of iron pipes that ran back and forth between a bunch of barrels, tanks, tubing, funnels, test tubes, and glass containers started trembling and groaning and rumbling and sputtering.
“Remember to duck if you hear a bang!” Doctor Proctor shouted over the noise. The glass containers had started simmering and boiling and smoking.
“Okay!” Nilly yelled, and right then there was a bang.
The bang was so loud that Nilly felt like earwax was being pressed into his head while at the same time his eyes were being pressed out. The light went off and it was pitch-black. And totally silent. Nilly found the flashlight on the floor and shone it on the professor, who was lying on his stomach with his hands over his head. Nilly tried to say something, but when he couldn’t hear his own voice, he realized he had gone deaf. He stuck his right index finger into his left ear and twisted it around. Then he tried talking again. Now he could just barely hear something far away, as if there were a layer of elephant snail slime covering his eardrum.
“That was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard!” he screamed.
“Eureka!” Doctor Proctor yelled, leaping up, brushing off his coat, and pulling off the glasses that Nilly now realized weren’t swim goggles but motorcycle goggles. The professor’s whole face was coated in blackish gray powder except for two white rings where his goggles had been. Then he dashed over to one of the test tubes and poured the contents into a glass container with a strainer on top.
“Look!” Doctor Proctor exclaimed.
Nilly saw that there was a fine, light blue powder left in the strainer. The professor stuck a teaspoon into the powder and then into his mouth. “Mmm,” he said. “No change in the flavor.” Then he gritted his teeth and closed his eyes. Nilly could see the professor’s face slowly turning red underneath the black soot.
“What are you doing?” Nilly asked.
“I’m trying to fart,” the professor hissed through his clenched teeth. “And it’s not working. Isn’t it great?”
He smiled as he tried one more time. But as we all know, it’s very hard to smile and fart at the same time, so Doctor Proctor gave up.
“Finally I’ve invented something that can be used for something,” he said, smiling. “An anti-fart powder.”
“Can I try?” Nilly asked, nodding toward the strainer.
“You?” the professor asked, looking at Nilly. The professor raised one bushy eyebrow and lowered the other bushy eyebrow so that Nilly could tell he didn’t like the idea.
“I’ve tested anti-fart powder before,” Nilly quickly added.
“Oh really?” the professor asked. “Where?”
“In Prague,” Nilly said.
“Really? How did it go?” the professor asked.
“Fine,” Nilly replied, “but I farted.”
“Good,” the professor said.
“What’s good?” Nilly asked.
“That you farted. That means there isn’t anything that prevents farting yet.” He passed the spoon to Nilly. “Go ahead. Take it.”
Nilly filled the spoon and swallowed a mouthful.
“Well?” the professor asked.
“Just a minute,” Nilly mumbled with his mouth full of powder. “It sure is dry.”
“Try this,” the professor said, holding out a bottle.
Nilly put the bottle to his lips and washed the powder down.
“Whoa, that’s good,” Nilly said, looking in vain for a label on the bottle. “What is this?”
“Doctor Proctor’s pear soda,” the professor said. “Mostly water and sugar with a little dash of wormwood, elephant snail slime, and carbonation…. Is something wrong?”
The professor looked worriedly at Nilly, who had suddenly started coughing violently.
“No, no,” said Nilly, his eyes tearing up. “It’s just that I didn’t think elephant snails really existed …”
Nilly looked up, frightened. The bang wasn’t as loud as the first one that made him deaf for a minute, but this time Nilly had felt a strong tug on the seat of his pants and the cellar door had blown open.
“Oh no!” Doctor Proctor said, hiding his face in his hands.
“What was that?” Nilly asked.
“You farrrrrrted!” the professor yelled.
“That was a fart?” Nilly whispered. “If it was, that’s the loudest fart I’ve ever heard.”
“It must be the pear soda,” the professor said. “I should have known the mixture could be explosive.”
Nilly started filling the spoon with more powder, but Doctor Proctor stopped him.
“I’m sorry, this isn’t appropriate for children,” he said.
“Sure it is,” Nilly said. “All kids like to fart.”
“That’s absurd,” Doctor Proctor said. “Farts smell bad.”
“But these farts don’t smell,” Nilly said.
The professor sniffed loudly. “Mmm,” he said. “Interesting, they don’t smell.”
“Do you know what this invention could be used for?” Nilly asked.
“No,” Doctor Proctor said, which was the truth. “Do you?”
“Yes,” Nilly said triumphantly. He crossed his arms and looked up at Doctor Proctor. “I do.”
And that was the beginning of what would become Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder.
But now Nilly’s mother was standing on the steps, yelling that he had to hurry because this was his first day at his new school. And that’s what the next chapter is about.
© 2007 H. Aschehoug