Let me begin again from the start, as I can’t remember now what I have already told you. My name is
Frank. I finished school two years ago. I stay at home most of the time and watch TV. I live with my
mum. I like her a lot. She is very smart and knows about everything. So I don’t see what’s wrong
with saying, “That’s what my mum told me”, but the other kids used to laugh when I said that and
called me a retard, which would make me angry. Now I can’t hang out with them any more; my mum tells
me I have a bad temper and could hurt them.
My only friend is my next door neighbour Mr Stims. I enjoy being with him. I like the brain games
that he is so good at inventing. The game that I particularly like is the one in which he asks me to
guess what he is thinking of at that very moment. It is not an easy game to play at all.
Usually I spend time in his living room, where we drink tea, eat some biscuits and discuss
interesting topics. But that day Mr Stims invited me into his study room, and asked me to sit in a
comfortable chair beside his desk. He himself sat behind the desk, on which lay writing pads and
folders, all neatly organised.
After staring at me in silence with an odd look in his eyes for about a minute, Mr Stims started
talking: “For the past five years, I have been engrossed in a fiendishly difficult task, as you
probably have noticed. I no longer need to be secretive about what I do. But I did want to apologise
for being evasive and unpredictable in the past.”
He was right. He never told me what he did for a living, but it seemed to me that he was spending
much of his time working on some scientific problem. All his rooms were cluttered with books, whose
titles I didn’t understand, and papers that were covered with calculations and formulas. And his
strange ways did confuse me sometimes. I remember once asking him how he would like to be remembered,
and it produced an odd reaction in him. He turned all kinds of colours, first red, then white and
only replied that he had great hopes for the future. Another time I told him that we don’t know much
about the oceans, and that there could be big sea monsters and other curious fishes living in their
depths. For some reason, he got all agitated and started going on about the chemical properties of
water. Then, suddenly, he stopped in mid-sentence and started talking about something completely
different. But I still find him a fascinating person to be with. He knows so many things and can
always answer my questions.
Mr Stims continued: “You might remember from your school days, my friend, what a polar molecule is.
Well, water just happens to be comprised of polar molecules. This fact is the linchpin of my work.”
I did not actually remember anything about those molecules. To tell the truth, I really do not recall
much from my school days. I was always surrounded by people brighter than me, which made me afraid to
speak up and say what I thought, in case I might say something stupid. That is why I like Mr Stims
so much. He has never seen me as a fool and is always happy to listen and explain things to me.
“The fact that it is a polar molecule, does that suggest anything to you, Frank?” he asked. Not
waiting for my reply, as he usually does, he continued: “I will get straight to the point. For your
benefit, I will state it in simplified terms. The water molecule is a charged particle. Charged
particles respond to magnetic fields. By creating a magnetic force of appropriate strength and by
aligning it in the right direction, we can separate the water molecule into its constituent parts! We
can turn liquid water into the gases of hydrogen and oxygen. The theory behind it is of course much
more complicated than that, but what I have just stated is my work in a nutshell.”
He stopped talking for a short while, to give me time to understand what he had just said. But to be
honest with you, I did not really see the point of it all. I thought it would be much better if you
could go the other way and make water out of gases, so that people everywhere would have enough to
He then went on: “The idea sounds simple enough. Let me tell you, putting it into practice was
another kettle of fish. The years that I have spent trying to create functional apparatus, attempting
to discover the right alignment. Failure followed failure. Many a time I was tempted to throw it all
up in the air and just walk away. Only one hope kept me going. I cannot say it was a well-defined
sensation, but it was something like…well, that by achieving my goal, all my past deeds would gain
the meaning they were lacking.”
I looked closely at Mr Stims’ face. Sweat had gathered on his forehead and there was a distant look
in his eyes, but it quickly disappeared.
He then said: “Let me tell you a little of my past, as it will explain to some degree the present. I
was a brilliant university student, majoring in chemistry. I was heading straight for a conventional
academic career. But my personality did not sit well with the scholastic surroundings. The
claustrophobic atmosphere and the daily routine were stifling my natural creativity. The
imperiousness of the professors, the ceaseless competitiveness prevalent amongst the students… Once I
left the university, there was no way back. To this day I remain an outsider to the scientific
community. You, Frank, are the first person in the world to hear of my achievement.”
Although I was flattered, I still thought it would be better if water was made out of the invisible
“But what are we waiting for!” he exclaimed. “Actions speak louder than words. Just one minute and I
will show you how it works.”
While he was gone, I stretched my legs; they had almost gone to sleep. I also had an itch on my back
where a mosquito bit me and I gave it a good scratch. I could not do that while Mr Stims was in the
room. When I am with him, I try to behave properly so that he will respect me. I remembered
dinnertime was coming soon and wondered what my mum had cooked for me. I hoped that it would be fish
fingers with mashed potatoes. That’s my most favourite meal in the whole world.
My friend wasn’t gone for long. When he came back, he was carrying a small, shiny box and a full
glass of water. I thought it was really nice of him to bring me water, because I was really thirsty.
I was about to reach out my hand and say “Thank you Mr Stims, it’s really thoughtful of you”, when he
put that shiny box over the top of the glass. There was a hissing sound and the water disappeared
before my eyes. Well, it didn’t actually disappear straight away. For a second, it looked like the
water was cut in half, like a fresh bread roll with a sharp knife, and then both halves vanished. I
was a bit miffed, as I really did want to drink that water, but still the sight was so amazing I
could not help crying out: “WOW!”
The room filled up with a funny smell, like a cross between rotten eggs and fresh pineapple. Mr Stims
must have noticed me sniffing for he said: “That’s hydrogen, one of water’s components. It is
released by the process. You have to be very careful with hydrogen. It’s a highly flammable gas.”
I knew he expected me to say how impressed I was and I did say so. He didn’t reply for a while and
then he started a long speech. I am sorry, mister policemen, but I can only remember bits of it.
“I have great plans, great plans. Imagine magnifying the strength of this machine a hundredfold, a
thousandfold. Look at the map of the world, Frank! Look at how much space is taken by the oceans. Two
thirds of our planet is water. Two thirds! How much land is wasted because of it! So many regions are
overpopulated. This leads to stress, stress leads to crime. And on top of that, world population is
growing at a faster and faster rate. What use is ocean water? We certainly cannot drink it. And in
any case, many regions that are now ocean used to be land once. We need to reclaim that land. And we
need not stop there. The time has come for the oceans to go! We will make them disappear, just like
the water in this glass. Certainly, this might cause some climate changes, but they will be easily
fixed. And just imagine – land, land, land everywhere! One great continuous continent! No barriers
between countries! The whole world finally united as one, living in peace! Room to plant crops, room
for cattle to roam! Spaciousness that at present mankind doesn’t even dare to dream of! Whole
continents underneath the oceans are just waiting for us to populate them! The potentialities are
breathtaking in their scope! Yes, there will be a price to pay. And that price will be paid by the
ocean inhabitants. But we need not concern ourselves with that. Intelligence arose on land and it is
the land dwellers that will rule this planet. And I will go down in history as the man who made it
all possible, the new saviour of humanity!”
Mr Stims was getting very excited. Whenever he gets excited, he walks from one end of the room to
another and waves his arms around. Well, he was certainly doing that then; his arms swung like the
blades of a windmill and he shouted out: “Liberation from the tyranny of water! The time has come!
The possibilities are endless!”
It was all very interesting but as I was getting rather hungry, I kept thinking more about the fish
fingers with the mashed potatoes. It was then that a terrifying thought startled me so much that I
felt like someone punched me in the stomach. I realised that without oceans there would be no more
fish, and without fish there would be no more fish fingers for me to eat. As I said before, fish
fingers really are my most favourite food.
I said: “Hey, wait a minute Mr Stims. I really like fish fingers. You can’t kill all the fish. Give
me that shiny thing! I don’t want you to destroy the oceans.” “Fish, shmish’’, he replied. “Who
needs them? They don’t sing, you can’t pat them and they smell terrible.”
He refused to give me the box. A scuffle broke out between us, because I was getting a bit angry
about not being able to eat fish fingers any more, all because of his silly invention. I reached out
for the gadget and tried to take it away from him; it was then that I accidentally pressed the round
red button on its top. What happened next was the strangest thing of all. You know when you blow up a
balloon, and then let it go without tying it up and it flies all around the room, letting out air.
Well, something similar happened to Mr Stims. All this vapour started coming out of his eyes,
nostrils and mouth and he was getting thinner and thinner and changing in shape before my very eyes.
Then he just fell to the floor, or rather what was left of him, for by now he looked like a gigantic
“I am sorry about this, Mr Stims”, I said to him, “but I really do like fish fingers.” I then took
the box that was lying on the floor and broke it into small pieces. You both know what happened after
The two detectives looked at each other and one of them said: “Looks like it’s going to be a long
night for all of us, Frank.”
|The Peculiar Story of Frank and His Friend Mr Stims, the Hydrophobe - Boris Glikman
So anyway, like I was saying, I was sitting comfortably in this nice chair
when Mr Stims told me what he wanted to do with his invention. But please don’
t interrupt me again, because I am going to forget what I was saying and
wouldn’t be able to tell you the whole story of what happened that day. And
please, could you turn off that bright lamp? It is making my eyes sore.
The two detectives looked at each other and one of them reached out to switch
off the lamp.