In 1999 I co-wrote with Michael Jan Friedman Wishbone Mysteries #16: The Sirian Conspiracy, an original novel for Big Red Chair Books starring Soccer, aka the Jack Russell Terrier from the PBS TV kids series known as Wishbone (1995 - 1998). Each episode set up a situation for the Wishbone and his human co-stars roughly paralleling a classic work of literature which the dog would retell (in a condensed half-hour way), with Wishbone cast in the leading roll alongside human actors. It was a good show that offered kids a fun, interesting way into the great books.
The show was popular enough that it spawned a healthy publishing program, including Wishbone Classics (adaptations of the books used on the series), The Adventures of Wishbone, The Super Adventures of Wishbone, Wishbone: The Early Years, The Super Wishbone Mysteries, and The Wishbone Mysteries, the series for which I wrote my half a book (the first half, in case you're interested).
I'd hoped to use the crack in the door opened by co-writing this book with Mike to land a solo writing assignment on the Classics series... why let all those classics I had to read as an English lit major go to waste? An editor sent me a list of titles available to work on from which I selected Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to write my sample chapters, but when Wishbone Classics: Frankenstein was published, it wasn't written by me. But that's the way it goes in publishing. It's a dog eat dog world.
Wishbone Classics: Frankenbone Sample Chapters
Wishbone lowered his nose to the ground and took a long, careful sniff. Hmmm, he thought as he took in the variety of smells that met his snuffling snout. No, not here. A step forward, another sniff. Nope, this isn’t it either. He turned his head to the left and inhaled yet again. Not quite right, but definitely in the right neighborhood! Stretching his neck, he started taking small, padding steps forward, his sensitive nose vacuuming up the odors, sorting through the rich, natural smell of freshly turned soil, the sweet aromas of flowers, and the after smell of all the people and creatures who had recently passed this way.
But none of this was what Wishbone was looking for. I know I smelled it around here somewhere! he thought. And as everybody knows, a canine never forgets! Or is that an elephant? Oh well, whatever. Can’t let myself be distracted while there’s important work to be done!
Suddenly, there it was—the smell he had been searching for, coming from deep beneath the surface where he stood, nose burrowed into the earth, his ears perking up and his tail wagging with happiness. Eureka! I may not have a memory like one, but I challenge any elephant to a sniffing contest! Well, now that the tough part of the job is done, it’s time to get serious! So...
Hello and welcome to Science Dog! On today’s show, we’ll be conducting important scientific research for my friend, Joe Talbot. And we’ll be using a time honored method of investigation. That method is... digging!
With a joyous bark, Wishbone attacked the spot where he had located the scent of what he had been searching for, his front paws gouging into the soft, cool earth. The dirt flew wildly all around the digging dog. Little matter that the dirt in question was located in the front yard of his next-door neighbor here in Oakdale, Wanda Gilmore, or that it was home to the flower beds that she so tenderly and diligently looked after—almost obsessively, Wishbone thought, considering that those flowers only got in the way of a prime digging area. Of course, Wanda probably didn’t realize that she was wasting her time. She was, after all, just a human and therefore didn’t know that the earth was meant for digging holes in and burying bones in those holes before refilling them until such time as the bones were needed.
But even if he had shared Wanda’s peculiar need to cover the ground with flowers, today Wishbone was on a mission. Joe Talbot, the boy Wishbone lived with, as well as his very best friend in the world, needed him and, as always, when Wishbone’s friends needed something, anything, he was one Jack Russell terrier who knew how to come through. Or, in this case, dig in, his front paws a blur as he continued shoveling the dirt out of the way of the prize that waited for him at the bottom of the hole.
At then, at last, almost two feet under the surface of what had been, mere moments before, a flourishing bed of tulips, Wishbone hit pay dirt. Or rather the pay under the dirt! With a satisfied growl he snapped up that prize in his jaws, and after a shake of his trim little body that began at his head and ended at the tip of his tail to rid himself of the excess dirt that clung to him from his labors, trotted off back home. A good afternoon’s work... and one that probably deserves a reward! And what would be more rewarding than a treat? It’s only fair, considering the appetite I worked up getting this for Joe!
It was a short walk across Wanda’s lawn to the Gilmore house, and with thoughts of dog treats dancing in his head, Wishbone made the trip in record time. He let himself into the kitchen through the doggie-door in the back door, still clutching his precious find in his mouth. “Helllooo,” he called out, pushing his way through the flap in the door. “Science Dog’s back from a grueling day digging in the fields with exciting scientific discoveries. Anybody home?”
“Darn it!” Wishbone heard the familiar and always welcome voice of his friend Joe, accompanied by the rattle and clatter of what sounded like a pile of bones falling in a heap. Raising one ear in the direction of the voice, Wishbone turned to see Joe sitting at the kitchen table, staring dejectedly at a pile of bones. “Darn it,” Joe said again and sighed, putting his chin in his hands.
“What’s the problem, Joe?” Wishbone asked. But Joe didn’t answer, just sat there with chin in hands, staring at the tumble of bones.
Joe’s mother, Ellen, poked her head through the kitchen door. “Did you say something, honey?”
Joe sighed yet again. “It’s my project for the school Science Fair,” he said. “It’s a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.” He picked up a rib bone and looked at it as though he had never seen anything quite like it before in his entire twelve years of life. “I mean, I’ve built plenty of models before, so I figured building a dinosaur skeleton wouldn’t be that much harder than putting together a model airplane. Boy, was I wrong!”
Ellen came into the room and stood beside her distraught son. “What’s the problem, Joe?”
“Exactly what I wanted to know,” Wishbone said.
“Well, for one thing, I can’t find a glue that works on these bones. It keeps falling apart,” he said, pointing to the bone pile in front of him on the table. “And I also can’t find the right jawbone to fit even if the stupid glue did work.”
“And that,” Wishbone declared as he leapt onto the kitchen chair next to Joe’s at the table, “is where Science Dog comes to the rescue!” The little dog put his front paws up on the table and opened his jaws, releasing his hold on the prize he had dug up in Wanda’s yard. It was a bone.
“Hey, a jawbone!” Joe exclaimed excitedly as he picked it up. “And it looks like it’s just about the right size for my dinosaur model! Thanks, boy.”
Wishbone panted happily as Joe began to furiously scratch him behind his ears. “Really, no thanks are necessary. Although I wouldn’t say no to a reward of some sort. Perhaps in the form of, oh, I don’t know, a snack?”
Ellen laughed and patted Wishbone on the head. “Well, that’s one problem solved.”
“Yes, but the whole snack issue is still up in the air,” Wishbone said, fixing Ellen with his best “feed me” look.
Joe was already bent over the table, to see how Wishbone’s contribution worked on his model. To his astonishment, it fit almost perfectly. “Yeah. Now if only I could find a glue that kept things glued, I’d be all set.”
“Well, don’t look at me,” Wishbone sniffed and jumped to the floor. “I’ve done my part for science. Glue’s not my department.”
“I’ll tell you what, Joe,” Ellen said. “After dinner, we can drive down to the hobby shop and see if Mr. Landis has something that will do the job for you.”
“Thanks, mom,” Joe said.
“Glad that’s settled,” Wishbone added, sitting on his haunches and looking up at Joe. “Now, about that reward snack we were talking about...?”
But before Joe could respond to Wishbone’s inquiring look, a knock came at the kitchen door. Joe looked over and broke out in a broad grin at who he saw through the door. It was his best friend—of the two legged variety, that is—David Barnes. “Hiya, David,” Joe called. “Come on in.”
“Hi, Joe,” David said, coming into the kitchen. “Hello, Mrs. Talbot.” He bent down and stroked Wishbone’s head. “Hi to you too, Wishbone.” Standing, David pointed to the pile of bones in front of Joe. “Am I interrupting your dinner?” he grinned.
“No, this’s my project for the Science Fair,” Joe said. “It’s supposed to be a model of a dinosaur, but it’s not going too good right now. Hey, I never asked, are you doing a project?”
David smiled mysteriously. “I’m working on something. But it’s a secret.”
Joe shook his head and made a face as he surveyed the mess that was supposed to be his entry. “Great. If you’re entering, why should I even bother? You’ll win!”
“You don’t enter to win, Joe. You enter to...” David shrugged, at a loss for words. “... I don’t know, to enter. You know, to do a project and learn something by doing it.”
“Then why’s yours such a big secret?” Joe wanted to know.
David looked uncomfortable as he said, “It’s not that. It’s... well, mine’s a little different and I don’t want anyone to see it until I’m ready. In case it doesn’t work or something.”
“Yeah, right,” Joe laughed. “You’re the smartest kid in science class, David. You can build just about anything.”
But David would only shake his head. “Sorry, Joe, but my lips are sealed. You’re going to have to wait until the unveiling at the Science Fair like everybody else.”
Wishbone’s ears perked up. Hmmm, a secret scientific experiment! Boy, that would be a great story for a book! Wait a minute... it already is a book! With a clatter of his nails on the kitchen’s linoleum floor, Wishbone took off like a shot for the den, his mind racing. Now what was that book called? Oh, right, how could I forget?
Wishbone charged into the den, and, with a single mighty leap, landed on the seat of the big comfortable chair that Ellen and Joe used when they sat in the room reading. Beside the chair was a table on which a pile of books rested. And, true to the little dog’s memory, there it was, the book which would open to him one of the strangest adventures of all times. Get ready for goosebumps because it doesn’t get any spookier than this...! Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley in 1816! It’s one of the greatest monster books ever, and the scariest, the spinetinglingiest, the flat out spookiest...
Oops, excuse me. I’m rambling...
After circling around three times on the chair cushion, Wishbone settled himself down and let his mind wander, imagining himself in the place of Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant young dog with a great hunger for knowledge. Victor had grown up in Geneva, Switzerland in the late 18th Century, the oldest son of a wealthy and loving family. All his life, Wishbone knew from Mary Shelley’s classic novel of gothic terror, Victor had been fascinated by the science of chemistry, by the mysteries of nature, especially of the awesome power of electricity, as well as the ancient and all but forgotten craft of alchemy, the fabled art of transforming plain metals into gold...
... And of creating life out of that which was not alive!
Of course, Victor Frankenstein kept the last part of his fascination a secret. Most people believed there were things that mankind was not meant to know, and certainly the secret of creating life was one such thing. If anyone were to learn of his obsession, they would surely think him a madman. Still, he knew that when the day came for him to go off to a great university to study chemistry and medicine, he would take with him his secret interest and seek out its answers there.
And that day was fast approaching. Indeed, as Victor sat out in a pasture not far from his home, his nose buried deep in a chemistry textbook while his family picnicked nearby, he was but a day away from taking his leave. Of course, the thought of leaving his father and brothers and cousin Elizabeth was painful to him, but Victor had always felt he was a dog born to fulfill some great destiny, and the excitement of starting the journey down the road to that destiny was almost enough to take the sting from his impending departure.
Even as he studied the book before him, he heard his beautiful young cousin Elizabeth gently scolding his youngest brother. “You mustn’t pull on your locket, dearest Willie, or it will break, and it contains such a lovely picture of your mother.”
Willie looked down at the gold locket on a chain around his neck, open to the tiny, delicate painting of a beautiful, golden hair woman inside it. “But I like playing with it, Elizabeth. And anyway, aren’t you my mother?” Willie, hardly more than a baby, asked.
Victor’s father reached over and gently patted Willie’s shoulder. The boy was too young to understand that his mother had died years before, right after Willie’s birth, leaving the grieving elder Frankenstein to raise his three sons alone. “I’ve explained this to you before, Willie. Elizabeth is your cousin. She came to live with us after your mother...went away,” he said sadly. “She has been a great help and comfort to us and we are most happy she is with us.”
Willie laughed. “She makes me very happy,” he said. “Elizabeth knows how to play all my favorite games.” The little boy began skipping around the picnic blanket and then took off in a dash to where Victor sat studying his book under a nearby tree. “Not like Victor! All he ever does is read, read, read! Don’t you like to play, Victor?”
Victor looked up at his baby brother and smiled indulgently. “I used to play all the time, Willie,” he said. “But now that I am grown up, I no longer have time for games. There is so much I have to learn... and many, many secrets I have to discover.”
Willie shook his head sadly, his golden curls bouncing, a pout on his lips. “That doesn’t sound like so much fun,” Willie said seriously. “You should always have time to play.”
“Perhaps someday,” Victor said wistfully. “When my work is done.”
“Well, I know what I’m going to do,” Willie said solemnly.
“What’s that, Willie dear?” Elizabeth asked, coming to stand over Victor and taking the younger boy’s hand in her own.
“I’m just never going to grow up!” Willie squealed happily and ran off, pulling Elizabeth with him. But before she turned to go, her eyes locked with Victor’s. He could see the sadness in those eyes and knew that his own were no happier. How he wished he could be like his brother, so happy and carefree, deciding to never grow up and be burdened with responsibilities! But even if that were possible, Victor Frankenstein knew that could never have been his fate. He had a destiny to fulfill and promises to keep.
Victor stared blankly down at the pages of his book and thought of the promises he had made to his mother on that awful day many years ago when she had died. The first was the one he had made out loud to her, holding her hand, looking into her once lovely and shining blue eyes, now grown dull and weak by the ordeal that was slowly draining her of life. The doctors had told Victor and his father that there was nothing they could do to save her, that the end was only hours away. All they could hope to do was make her comfortable and Victor sat by her bedside through the night, trying to do just that. Finally, as the morning sun began to peek over the mountains outside the window, she opened her eyes and, seeing her oldest child, smiled weakly. “Dearest Victor,” she said, her voice hardly more than a whisper. “Soon... I must leave you...”
“No, mother,” Victor said, squeezing her hand and trying to put on a brave face. “You’ll get better, I know you will!”
But his mother merely shook her head and said, “We both know that’s not to be. You are such a good son, a fine, sensitive boy. Promise me something, Victor!”
“Anything, mother,” he said.
“Your cousin Elizabeth... I love her as though she were my own daughter. It was always my hope that one day, when you were both old enough, that you would marry her. She is such a wonderful girl... and she loves you so very much. You two would be perfect together. Promise me, Victor! Promise me you and Elizabeth will make my dream come true...”
Victor nodded, tears welling up in his eyes. “Yes, mother. I too love Elizabeth. I will do as you ask, gladly.”
His mother smiled and nodded her head. “That is good, Victor. It makes me happy to know you will have someone to love you always.”
And then there was the second vow Victor Frankenstein had made that morning, one he swore to himself. The vow that still drove him, all these years later, to dedicate his life to his books and his studies. As he watched her draw her last breathes, he swore that he would one day be the man to conquer death so that neither he nor anyone else would ever have to feel the pain he and his family were suffering at the loss of his mother. Let all the doctors and all the scientists of all the world say it was impossible; Victor Frankenstein would find the way!
He was now closer than ever to making that vow a reality. Certainly, there was much more he needed to know, knowledge both common and forbidden he needed to acquire. But the university would provide him with the opportunity to do that and he was anxious to begin, even if it meant leaving his family and dedicating his every waking hour to study and experimentation.
A drop of water hit the page of his book under his down turned face and for a moment, Victor thought he was crying at the memory of his mother. Then a second drop hit, and a third, and he realized that it was beginning to rain. He looked up to see Elizabeth and the others quickly gathering up the remains of their picnic lunch. “Oh dear,” Elizabeth was saying. “Our lovely outing is ruined. Hurry, everyone. And, oh, those dark clouds... it looks as though this is to be a terrible storm!”
Victor’s father chuckled as he folded the blanket on which they had been sitting. “This doesn’t spoil anything for Victor, does it, son? You love a good storm!”
Victor got to his feet and turned his face to the sky, letting the rain wash over his snout. “Yes, father. The rain is warm this time of year. You all go ahead and don’t worry about me. I’ll join you shortly.”
While the rest of his family rushed away to the safety of home, Victor remained in the pasture, the rain soaking through his fine clothing until he could feel its wet warmth down to his fur. But he hardly noticed this, his eyes fixed on the dark clouds high overhead rolling towards him, bringing with them the distant rumble of thunder. And then the lightning! Brilliant flashes of white light that made the storm gloomy afternoon suddenly and momentarily as bright as the sunniest noon.
Lightning! How well Victor remembered his father explaining to him the elements of electricity when he was still just a child. So powerful, so destructive that a single bolt could destroy the largest, mightiest oak tree or set aflame even the sturdiest structure. He knew a man could be struck by lightning and die instantly... or rise after the striking and walk away, utterly unharmed.
Lightning! There were secrets to it that mankind had yet to uncover, but its greatest secret, Victor believed, was that of life itself! One day, he would learn what that secret was and only then would he be able to keep the unspoken vow made at his mother’s side.
That evening, after dinner, while the storm still raged outside the walls of the Frankenstein estate, Victor and his father sat warming themselves before the fireplace. The elder Frankenstein slowly lit his pipe and fixed his gaze on his son. Clearly, he was saddened by Victor’s coming departure the next morning, but he also had great concerns about the younger man’s single-minded devotion to his studies over everything else in life.
“Son,” he said, puffing out a cloud of smoke from his pipe. “I know how much your studies mean to you, and I’ve always been proud of your accomplishments as a scholar. But, Victor, do you think it’s healthy to have nothing else in your life? Certainly, the wonders of science and electricity has its place, but a man of your age should be thinking of a wife as well.”
Victor knew how his father felt. This was not the first time he had been chided for his obsessive nature, and he had had such thoughts on his own. But he knew what his father did not, about the promise he had to keep before he could allow other matters to distract him. “Yes, Elizabeth. One day she will become my wife,” he nodded, staring into the fire as he warmed his paws with its heat. “But until I satisfy my thirst for knowledge in science and chemistry, I shall feel unworthy of her. I... I’m sure she understands this.”
His father shook his head. “I know she does, but how fair is it to make her wait so long?”
“How fair,” Victor retorted sadly, looking into his father’s eyes, “for her to marry a man who doesn’t yet deserve one such as her?”
“Ahh, Victor, you are too hard on yourself. You’re as fine a young man as ever lived in Geneva. Elizabeth would have you whatever your accomplishments!”
“I’ve sworn to marry her, father,” Victor said, drawing himself up straight and proud. “And marry her I will, happily and with all the love in my heart. But it can’t happen before I’m ready, before I have done with my life what I must!”
“Then go to university, son,” his father said, smiling gently. “Go and learn all you can as fast as you can.” He glanced at the large grandfather clock across the room. “Come, you’d best get yourself to bed. It’s a long way to Ingolstadt and the university and you’ll want to be well rested for the journey.”
The morning dawned bright and clear, the air scrubbed fresh and sweet by the previous night’s storm. Even before the sun had cleared the Alpine mountains, the stable boy had hitched a horse to a wagon upon which the servants had loaded Victor’s trunks, packed with his clothing and books. Victor took his place at the reins and looked down at his family, all of whom had gathered to bid him farewell. He couldn’t help but be flooded by the happy memories of his years here, the love and warmth of the family he was leaving behind. But he blinked back tears, afraid that if his emotions were to let loose, he would never be able to bring himself to leave this place, no matter what vows he had made.
“Bless you, my son,” his father called to him. “Do not forget us. We’ll all await your letters!”
“Yes,” Willie cried. “Write us every day, Victor, please!”
“Don’t be silly,” Ernest, Victor’s other brother, chided the youngster. “Victor will be too busy becoming a great scientist to do that.”
Elizabeth reached up to touch the sleeve of Victor’s coat and looked at him with tears in her eyes. “I... I’ll miss you so, Victor,” she said.
“And I you, dearest Elizabeth. Try and be happy here, with my family who love you so well. I’ll be back one day, sooner than you expect.” He looked at his father. “Do take care of her for me, father.”
The elder Frankenstein put a fatherly arm around Elizabeth’s shoulder and tried to comfort her. “Of course, Victor. Why, I’ve even a surprise for her. I have employed the services of young Justine Moritz to live with us and help you care for Willie and Ernest. This will allow you more free time... perhaps to write oftener to Victor,” he said with a chuckle.
“Thank you, dear uncle. I have always loved Justine.”
“Then it’s settled,” Victor said and smiled, looking braver than he felt. “You are all in good hands here, so I will take my leave. Farewell, father, Elizabeth, my little brothers. I love you all!”
And with a wave of his top hat, Victor Frankenstein flicked the reins and set his horse off down the road to the university.
And to meet his destiny!