Alas, the poor child's mother was an atheist.
Now, some time along the way, it became apparent that Earnest's mother was appallingly sick and would not last till the end of the week. Normal people came to the house, pouring sympathy on to Earnest till he was dripping with it from every pore. They told him, "Earnest darling, don't be sad. Your mother is going to go to Heaven, and one day, you'll be able to see her again." And they sobbed and they wept and they prayed for the child.
Earnest, having been raised by an atheist and (heavens!!) a single mother, didn't have the slightest clue what the visitors were talking about. "Where is Heaven?" he asked himself. His little forehead made wiggly lines as he tried to recall whatever little he knew about the geography of the world. He pulled out the "Bobby's World Atlas for Kids - Politically Correct at the Time of Printing", a ridiculously large volume that mapped out the globe and at the point of publishing had the correct number of countries and war zones and what-nots.
He couldn't find Heaven.
Frustrated at the ineptitude of the "Bobby's World Atlas for Kids - Politically Correct at the Time of Printing", Earnest climbed onto his mother's bed to complain. Ms Child, hazy and slightly deranged what with her impending death and all, threw up in the bucket by her bed, wiped her mouth and sat up a little to talk to her son.
"I can't find Heaven in the Atlas, Mama. Where is it?", asked Earnest earnestly. His mother, puzzled by her son's sudden interest in mythical places governed by deities, choked on a bit of bloody phlegm. She spat with the grace of a sickly young woman who has been kept in bed for two months and a day with barely enough strength to wipe her nose. "Why in Science's name do you want to know where Heaven is? Do you know what Heaven is, darling? I don't.", she rasped.
"But those people who came and poured sympathy on me in never ending buckets, those people told me that you were going to Heaven and that one day I will see you again. I thought you are going to die, Mama. Are you really actually planning to go on a holiday?"
Ms Child would have sighed only if it didn't hurt her chest so. All she wanted was to raise her darling boy free of strange, confused, misinterpreted ideas of religion and the many many deities out there until he was old enough to read and interpret in his own way any which one of the hundreds of religions out there that he so fancied to make his own. Considering her impending death, that would now be rather impossible unless she threw him into the jungle to be raised by wolves with the help of a bear and a panther and then later on, fight a very large tiger.
"Now, listen Earnest, I am going to die. If you really must believe that I am going someplace else after I die, instead of decomposing peacefully in a coffin buried in the garden, then here's my plan of what I'm going to do after I die. I'm going to be a fish. And I'm going to swim the oceans and meet mermaids and Johnny Depp and after which, I'm going to live at the bottom of the ocean observing the peace and quiet of nothingness. How about that, darling?"
"What sort of fish, Mama?"
"I'll be a sturgeon."
Now, Earnest, being very young, very naive and unaccustomed to sarcasm, took his mother's word for the whole and complete truth. His mother never lied to him. And so, when his mother died, he wept a little. Then he began reading on fish, their anatomy and their habits.
You see, Earnest really really missed his mother and he too wanted to see mermaids. So he thought and thought for a really long while. How could he be a fish too, specifically a sturgeon? He knew he had two options (1) to die like his Mama and then decide to become a fish, or (2) somehow become a fish without dying. Now, Earnest was a bright little boy and a practical one too. He was quite aware that he could not eat any more ice-cream if he died, because if he was dead he could not buy one, and therefore, he chose option 2.
There were two very important parts that made a fish a fish, thought Earnest. The scales and the gills. One of the books he read did mention that "fish scales, like hair, are made from waste materials that are not required by the body, but cleverly processed and repackaged into hard, protective armour for the fish! Oh, what ingenious creatures they are, these fish."* Earnest knew what he had to do to get scales.
He would not poop.
Logic being, that if he would not poop, his waste materials would have no where to go, forcing his body to cleverly process and repackage it into hard, protective armour for him! And so he refused to poop. He grew bloated, and grumpy and his skin turned a strange shade of green. But the scales were taking a long while to appear. Eventually Earnest realised that it is far easier to refrain from pooping when he didn't drink much water and promptly limited his water intake to 2 careful sips a day. His skin grew dark grey, and it became hard and scaly.
Success! thought Earnest. He had finally grown scales! And now, he had to learn how to breathe underwater. "Gilled little boys are made, not born.", mused the scaly Earnest, as he filled the bathtub with water. When the tub was full and the water was warm, Earnest took a large breath of air and dunked his head into the tub. At first, he kept very very still as he watched little bubbles of air that escape his nose float up and disappear, flinching every once in awhile as the water seeped into the cracks in his lips and between his scales. Every metamorphosis he ever read about was always described as painful, which meant he was on the right track, thought the underwater Earnest. Happily, he tried to push the spent air in his lungs out of the sides of his neck. He pushed and he pushed. And he pushed for 3 minutes.
And finally, suddenly, with a startling "pop", his gills sprouted and the air rushed out! And as his body filled with water, as a fish's body does, Earnest felt, no, he knew he was the happiest boy in the whole wide world.
*excerpt from The Complete Guide to Acceptable Animals for Young Children written by Dr. Spock.