One froggy evening, there was a bit of a to-do … (Originally written for and published over at Ricochet.com):
Ripples spread out across the surface of the lagoon, sparkling in the starlight, as the girl surfaced from under the water. Trailing behind her, there bobbed up a coloured glass lantern, sealed around the edges with a grey, clayey substance. Well, this dress has probably seen its last dance, she thought as she swam for the shore. The lantern came floating along with her.
In the distance, coloured lights glowed and strange music played out across the night. The dance goes on, as they say. Carefully, she lifted the lantern out of the water and hauled herself up onto the rocks. There was a kind of dull tap on the glass. A frog peered out at her. It was a bit hard to see through the coloured glass, but something about its eyes and the way it looked at her was somehow … human. She scraped away some of the clay with her nails and twisted. ‘Alright, buddy,’ she said, her voice coming out as a hoarse whisper, ‘you want to explain what’s going on?’
Ribb-et, said the frog, peering up out of the open lantern.
‘Very funny …’ she wheezed. ‘This is … serious. Why am I’ – she coughed – ‘losing my voice?’
The jar started shaking. Something was happening to the frog. It hopped in one great leap past her and— Poof!
As the smoke cleared, it left a young man in a torn suit, with bruises running up and down his face and showing through various rips and tears. There was a nasty gouge near one eye. He looked kind of dazed and confused, one hop short of a leap, so to speak. What happened to you, she thought. She watched as his eyes slid into focus again.
‘I … don’t know— I was … there was this … and a drink … with a little umbrella in it.’
‘I had to run for my life, and ruin my best dress,’ — she found herself coughing, tears running down her cheeks, blending in with the seawater – ‘for that! Because you … got soused? How come— … how come you’re a frog?’
‘But I don’t … I don’t drink—’
‘Then how come you’re a frog … !’ Stupid coughing fit. She must have swallowed some seawater or something. And her voice was getting fainter and fainter. And she was shivering. Crimity, but she was cold. Tears streaming down her face. She was aware of something being placed around her shoulders. She opened her eyes again. A torn jacket. The boy who had been a frog was kind of staring at his bare feet sheepishly, as if he didn’t know where to look.
She actually felt grateful for the jacket. At least it was dry, somehow. She blinked through her tears and rested a hand on his shoulder for a moment. He jerked up with a haunted look and—
—suddenly they weren’t there on the rocks anymore. She wasn’t sure where she was. She looked down at her hands. Except they weren’t her hands. They were his. There was firelight nearby, and drums and tropical music, and strange, fuming smoke that got into your nostrils and— What was going on here?
There was … a mask. A huge, carved mask, moving through the smoke in strange dancing motions. Her – his – limbs and whole body ached as though someone had been using him for a punching bag. And there was blood pouring down over his face. It felt like he— Arms grabbed him from behind. The feel of ropes tying him to a post. A strange song rising up over the night. The mask got nearer. Witch doctor – no, witch doctress. You couldn’t see much past the mask, but the way she moved it was clear she was smirking. Snake-like and sinuous and— a coconut shell was being pushed to his lips. It was sloshing. Sure enough, there was a little paper umbrella in it, with a bright red candied cherry on the end, she noticed light-headedly — a burning sensation in his throat — then the world went funny. She – he – was falling. Shrinking. Down, down, down … Riiiibb-ettt …—
—riiibbettt! He’d turned back into a frog again. And he was … kind of dancing up and down on the rock like it was too hot. It almost looked comical. You put your left hand in, you put your right hand out, dance the hokey-croaky and— Salt, she thought in a panic, and scooped him up as gently as she could and slid him quickly into a jacket pocket so as not to touch him too much with saltwater hands. The salt would mess with even an enchanted frog, surely? Wasn’t it supposed to be dangerous to them?
She had best conserve her voice, but … ‘You all right in there?’ she whispered. A faint croak answered. She felt a sudden overwhelming sense of relief. Her own head was kind of hazy, now she thought about it. That was odd. She tried to think back. What had she been doing when she – concentrate now, this is ridiculous … She patted the strangely reassuring presence in the jacket pocket, almost as if just to make sure he was still there. What had she gotten herself into this time …