© Rodney Cox
The early autumn air was still and quiet as a car pulled up to a heavily wooded lot. Sarah sat for a moment in shock. The house looked abandoned. The grass, which was severely over-grown, was choked with weeds. The building itself looked old and withered. The paint was peeling, the gutters were clogged and she could see what looked like a broken window. A car, its tires deflated with disuse, sat seemingly untouched for months.
Ivan, she thought to herself, what happened to you? The cousin Sarah knew would never have let his house get so badly out of shape. Images of her favorite cousin flitted through her mind; laughing, compassionate, devoted to his family and proud of his home. Staring at the domestic desolation before her made Sarah sorry she had volunteered to see why they had not heard anything from Ivan for several months.
The strain of losing one’s whole immediate family would make anyone reclusive. But, even at his worse, Ivan had always returned her calls. Near the end, Ivan had sounded bad. He spoke of the deaths as not being accidents, but would not elaborate. Sarah had assumed his grief had made him temporarily unhinged, but that it would eventually get better. Then she lost all contact with her cousin and she had grown concerned.
“Well, let’s get this show on the road,” Sarah said to no one and turned off the car’s ignition. She got out of the car and approached the front door. For a split second, something flickered at the edge of her sight, but when she turned to look, nothing was seen.
That was odd, she thought. I could have sworn that I saw... Her thought was broken at the sight of the front door, which was hanging ajar. A mixture of fear and dread filled her at the sight of this anomaly. She had unpleasant thoughts about stories of people finding the remains of loved ones days, or weeks, after they had died. Sarah didn’t want to have that experience at all.
She took a deep breath, steeled herself, and went inside. The door had been open for a long time. The carpet inside was damp and mildewy, and Sarah carefully stepped over a few mushrooms that were growing past the threshold. The place was a mess with trash spread around and a heavy layer of dust covered everything. Sarah’s heart felt heavy as she wandered through the empty house with no sign of her cousin. It looked as though he had just given up on living and let everything go to hell. An upwelling of pity filled her. “What happened here?” she wondered.
She tried to recall happier times when they were children. Searching for good memories, she remembered that Ivan was always taking her fishing. She never cared for the sport, but enjoyed her cousin’s company. But happy thoughts could not completely dispel the dark miasma that filled the house. Something bad had happened here, she was sure of that much. But what?
Sarah was glad of one thing. After searching top to bottom, no body was found. But then, where did her cousin go? She continued to look for clues and eventually found a journal. She took it to the living room to read. It was a large, hard-cover book with blank, ruled paper covered with handwriting.
It started out normally, but around the time of the deaths of Ivan’s parents, it started to get weird. Her cousin increasingly started writing about how little green frogs were to blame for the deaths. By the end it had become a rambling diatribe of how the world would be a better place without little green frogs and their horrible laughter. Sarah read the first line to herself, “If I lived in a world devoid of little green frogs, I would live in a paradise of beauty and wonder beyond all imagining.”
She had had no idea that Ivan had gone that far around the bend. Whoever heard of frogs laughing? If the rest of the family had known he was in such a bad mental state, they could have gotten help for him. But that still didn’t answer where Ivan had gone.
Sarah continued reading to the last post. The handwriting was shaky and hard to decipher.
“This will likely be my last entry. I am too weak to go on much longer. The frogs have seen to that. They sap all strength and will from me. I can’t remember when I ate last. I don’t even remember what food tastes like anymore.
“I think they will be coming for me today. At least, I think I remember them telling me that. I’m not sure what day it is today. But I’m sure I was told they were coming. How I hate those little green frogs.
“I saw Anna today. She looked well. She said something about going away together. That would be nice. I could use a vacation. I’m so tired all the time. Tired... wait, I remember... Anna’s gone. Killed by the frogs. Damn them. I wish...” A section was smudged by what Sarah took to be tears and was unreadable. It continued.
“I hear them coming, their laughter is hideous. I want to say goodbye to everyone. Beware the frogs. They’re at the door.”
The journal ended and Sarah sat, clutching the book in disbelief. Despite the fact that her cousin was clearly insane, she felt a touch of fear. It was like something by Lovecraft, so improbable, yet chilling nonetheless.
But where was Ivan? “Frogs couldn’t have killed him,” she heard herself say out loud.
“But we did,” said a small voice in front of her. On the coffee table were two little green frogs. One was larger than the other and sat closer to Sarah. Even though the house was fairly dark, it seemed to be brightly lit.
“It was we who took the life of the big featherless biped,” said the larger frog. Sarah couldn’t believe what she was witnessing.
“Holy shit, a talking frog!”
“It is by the grace of my royal blood that I can speak your language. But let me properly introduce myself. I am King John. This is my son, Prince Jeremiah.”
“Sarah,” she heard herself say. “You killed my cousin, Ivan?”
“Ivan? That was his name? I never knew.”
“Can he talk too?” Sarah asked, indicating the second frog.
“No, only I have delved far enough into the hidden learning. He has the potential and can understand you, but he cannot speak your tongue. When I eventually abdicate, I will teach him all I know so he may carry on the work.”
“Ivan’s really dead?”
“Most assuredly he is. We moved the body to a holy place as a sacrifice to our God. I visit this home from time to time to remember. We were expecting you so I came here alone with my heir to speak with you.”
“To make sure it was understood by other big featherless bipeds what had transpired and to give a warning that we are not to be trifled with.”
“I don’t understand,” said Sarah. “Why kill my cousin and his family.”
“It was retribution for the pain he caused me and mine. It was he that killed my beautiful princess, Marsha on the very day we were to be married.”
“Yes, it was an arranged marriage to unite our two kingdoms. But we loved each other very much. I couldn’t live without her and so sought my revenge on your cousin, Ivan.”
“You did it for revenge?” asked Sarah.
“I see you do not fully understand my motives. Allow me to demonstrate.”
Without warning, Sarah felt herself inhabiting the body of a frog. A voice said, “You are reliving my memories of that most terrible of days.” She saw a beautiful frog princess crushed by a foot of a hated featherless biped, watched in horror as the princess was mercilessly used as bait and felt utter sadness and desolation as she breathed her last.
Sarah found herself back in her own body, tears streaming down her face. She held the journal close as she was wracked by sobs.
“How horrible... how horrible...” was all she could say through her weeping.
“Now you have a small taste of my despair,” said the frog. “Now you have an inkling as to why I did what I did.”
“But why go after the family? They were innocent.”
“No featherless biped is innocent! Your species routinely rape the world for your pleasure without thought of the misery that you leave behind. You take no responsibility for your actions. But I showed Ivan that there were consequences for what he did. Dire consequences.”
“But it was an accident,” Sarah protested.
“It was no accident when he speared her upon that cruel hook for his amusement!”
“But he was fishing. People have used frogs as bait since forever. He didn’t know she was a princess.”
“I shall not accept ignorance as a justification for clemency,” said the frog. “Does the fact that your kind has murdered mine as sport since time immemorial make the act right? Does it make it a proper thing to do?”
“No, it doesn’t,” said Sarah, still in shock over the memory of that terrible day. “But what about birds, and other things that hunt frogs. Why don’t you kill them as well?”
“Because those other beasts know and respect their place in the world. They recognize the role each has to play. Your kind has never respected this boundary, relentlessly driving specie after specie into extinction with no thought of the results.”
“I’ll give you that,” said Sarah. “But not all humans are like that. Some care about the environment and work to protect other species.”
“I see. And are these kind-hearted beings in sufficient quantity to make a difference? Can they change the attitudes of all big featherless bipeds?” asked the frog king.
Sarah remained silent, still clutching her cousin’s journal as though to shield her from the frog’s accusations.
“I thought as much. Your species is intent on dominating the whole world until they are the only beings remaining. This insanity must stop. And I mean to stop it, though it take countless generations of frogs to do it. What you don’t understand, you fear and what you fear, you destroy. Your species is a threat to the world.” There was a grim fire in the eyes of the frog.
“So you’re planning on killing every human?” Sarah asked.
“If that is what it takes.”
“Will you kill me as well?”
The frog shook his head. “No, as I have said already, I would like you to take a message to your people. Change your ways or face my wrath.”
Sarah was silent for a bit. “Forgive me, but it seems hard to believe that a little green frog posses a threat to a human.”
“I will show you,” said the frog. Once again Sarah’s consciousness was ripped away and thrust into a foreign memory. She tried to fight it, but the hold was too strong.
She witnessed in horror, the frog king’s systematic massacre of her cousin’s family. She saw power and skill exhibited by the amphibian on his ruthless path of revenge. The frog was right. He could kill humans, and with seeming ease. Sarah felt afraid of the frog.
When the mental torment ended, she sat in shock.
“I believe you, King John. But I have a question.”
“Ask it then.”
“After you killed my family, did it make you feel better?”
“Did getting revenge take away any of the pain you felt?”
The frog was silent. “No, it did not. Every day I am still filled with pain. I miss my beloved Marsha.”
“But yet you must have found another wife, you have a son. Didn’t you find love again?”
“Sadly, no. After a time, I was forced to take another wife. The royal line must continue. While I did my duty and spawned my heir, Jeremiah, I have to admit that I do not love my queen. All my joy ended with Marsha.”
“You have no other children? I thought frogs laid lots of eggs at a time?” Sarah asked.
“Normally, yes, but not those of noble blood. They lay one egg at a time. Jeremiah is my only child. I’m sorry that I could bear to produce no more,” the frog said sadly.
“So can’t you see the futility of revenge? What did it accomplish? Did it bring back your Marsha?”
“Did it make you feel better?”
“Has it made you into a better frog?”
“No, it has not. I sometimes think that Marsha would not recognize me anymore. I have become so far removed from the frog that I used to be.”
“Then why don’t you stop?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Stop this path of revenge. Yes you have been hurt. Yes, you are powerful and can kill humans easily. But can continuing down this path truly be the way Marsha would want to be remembered? Is it what she would have wanted you to do?”
The frog looked at Sarah. “I have come too far to stop now. The pain is too great.”
“I too have suffered. I don’t speak of it much, but I lost my child awhile back. She was killed by a drunk driver. I thought I would die from the grief. But I found the strength to go on. And I didn’t resort to hunting down and killing the person responsible.”
“I am truly sorry to hear of your loss, good woman.”
Sarah managed a slight smile. “Thank you.”
The frog king made a heavy sigh and said, “I made no other plans for having my revenge be complete. It has consumed my thought and my very existence for so long, it is all I know.”
“You’re a great king,” Sarah told him. “You can be a greater king by finding a peaceful way to make humans stop their torment of your kind. Let it be a tribute to Marsha and the frog she would’ve wanted you to be.”
The frog sat still for a little while, his son shifted nervously beside him. At last he spoke. “You have given me much to think about, dear woman. Perhaps... perhaps, I can find a peaceful way to achieve my objectives. Perhaps the blood shed should stop. I will take your council to heart and look for alternatives to find peace with humans.”
Sarah smiled at him. “Thank you for listening to me.”
“No, I thank you for your wisdom. I feel lighter, as though a burden has been lifted from me. One day, perhaps, when I eventually see my beloved Marsha again, I will once again be the frog she fell in love with.”
“I know you will,” Sarah told the frog. “I think I should leave now. It’s getting late.”
“Of course, of course. You have my permission to withdraw.”
“Thank you, your majesty.”
Sarah stood, and realized belatedly, that she still held her cousin’s journal. She hesitated, and it seemed as if she was in conflict. Then, suddenly, she brought down the book, smashing the two frogs on the coffee table. She hit them several more times to be sure. She looked down upon the carnage and felt... satisfaction.
“For Ivan,” she said. Sarah lowered the journal and gently placed it on the table next to the red remains. She turned and walked out the door, not once looking back.
The early autumn air was still and quiet, as a woman left a lonely house, humming a cheerful tune. She got into her car and drove off, never to return.
And she lived happily ever after, to the end of her days.
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