heretofore | sample pages
Wyatt T. Frog had observed many fascinating things in his life but never had he seen a girl falling from the sky—until now. As an artist, Wyatt was a keen observer. Apples, pine cones, branches, even squirrels fell from the sky. Squirrels like Hazel who had fallen from a tree one day to land with a thump in the grass and startle him. She was the cutest rodent he had ever seen. Her chestnut fur had mesmerized him, along with her fluffy tail and her brown eyes rolled backwards, beautiful even when unconscious. On impulse, Wyatt decided he would rescue her. He dragged her by the tail, circumnavigating the tall tufts of crab grass until he reached his beachfront house that overlooked a river, where he continued to pull her by the tail over his decorative path of river rocks, then up and over three steps, landing her on the porch, before tugging her across the threshold, a doorway made from ornamental reeds, next sliding her like a mop over floorboards made of driftwood smoothed by sand-and-surf, finally rolling her body onto his luxurious bed of moss. After covering her with a downy quilt, he started a fire in the hearth. He then sat beside her, keeping her warm, admiring her until she awoke. With a shriek. She clenched the quilt to her chest and slapped his face. He was now madly in love with her. Yes, things fell from the sky. But never little girls.
What Wyatt first saw in the sky had been a flickering speck in his peripheral vision before turning his head to glimpse what he believed to be somebody draped in a flapping red pinafore with long black hair trailing vertically in the air like the tail of a plummeting kite. Whatever he had seen had struck the meadow with an audible thud. Landing only a hop-skip-and-jump away. So Wyatt hopped over to investigate. He now found himself looking down upon this little girl. And little she was—very little. Not only in age, but in size. She was no bigger than a frog. Which Wyatt knew something about, being a frog himself.
The morning had begun so peacefully. A glorious sun wavering upwards on its journey across the sky, its yellow warmth in perfect harmony with a meandering cool blue breeze teasing the long stems of sparkling green grass. Wyatt had come prepared to paint, but was so enthralled by the delightful day he decided not to apply a single brushstroke of color. He returned his instruments of creation back into their wooden box and allowed the canvas to stay raised like a white flag upon its easel, where it remained blank. Surrendering to nature’s beauty. Willingly admitting defeat, he had tamped the grass to cushion the ground upon which he reclined, then gazed languidly into the sky with a rebellious notion to do nothing at all – simply enjoy himself.
Which was what he had been doing before this little girl dropped from the sky to disrupt his quietude.
Wyatt had never been this close to a human before. Discounting, of course, his vivid nightmare of being captured by a gigantic boy who toyed with him mercilessly. Imprisoned inside a cave of pink flesh, a blunt yellow fingernail poking him, and a foul wind blowing in his face, Wyatt had soiled himself. A godlike voice had intervened on his behalf, which prompted his captor to release and drop him. Wyatt’s heart was thumping wildly all over again from the memory. He removed his black beret and fanned his face. He loosened his red cravat and opened the collar of his black velvet jacket for air. He wore these articles of clothing in honor of Delacroix, his idol, the French romantic painter whose dramatic style – artwork depicting moments of extreme passion – had offended the academic hierarchy. Wyatt was on a quest himself to offend and shake up the rigid mores of the established view. He knew enough to know he was on a quest. What that quest entailed he wasn’t sure, only that he was passionate about it. So he painted passionately – well, on most days – to attain success. At least some measure of success. To rise in stature. Yet, despite all his efforts—alas, he remained small. A frog.
Wyatt’s concave forehead creased in thought. He refused to let the mishaps in life or his genetic deficiencies make him bitter and ruin a perfectly good day. Trials and tribulations forced one to make the most of what they had, as Delacroix had. Everyone had flaws. The purpose for existing, Wyatt philosophized, was to rise and shine above this earthly muck – not whine.
Wyatt sucked in air to meditate upon this notion.
He closed the large lids of his red protruding eyes in an attempt to summon the guiding spirit of Delacroix. Who sometimes made guest appearances when it was convenient. Though never certain of this, he sensed it, certainly wishing it were true. Compelled to check, Wyatt peeked but only saw stalks of grass swaying in the wind.
He massaged a spot between his eyes and muttered to himself, “This little girl could be an illusion. A specter of the mind, conjured by spontaneous combustion of disparate parts reassembled anew, as with all works of art.” He touched his thin lips with a nubby fingertip and smiled, liking the construct of his words. His next remark was voiced loudly at his critics who gave him worse than bad reviews – they ignored him. He turned upon the blades of grass to scold and edify them by quoting Delacroix: “I spoil each picture – just a little – in order to perfect it!”
Wyatt composed himself, reinvigorated. He tightened his cravat and picked at flecks of dried oil paint which adorned his jacket and pants, before splaying his red fingers to admire their artistic length and expansive nubs. The crowning touch was his beret. He tilted it rakishly in a proactive manner. First impressions were important. This little girl was liable to wake at any moment. He was prepared to impress her. But her eyes refused to open. Mildly miffed, Wyatt nudged the pink skin of her arm with the toe of his sandaled foot to help determine what it was he was dealing with.
“Humm,” he mused, “she certainly feels real.”
Wondering what he should do, Wyatt sought help from the sky. He noticed how it resembled a watercolor, a beautiful wash of bleu celeste streaked through the middle by a diffused evergreen cloud, as if to foreshadow a hazy elongated apparition – the branch of a tree. Wyatt’s imagination was stirred with the genesis for a new painting. A vision depicting the magical realm and dwelling place of fairies and sprightly little girls who fell from the sky.
His reverie dispersed upon hearing a voice:
“Who are you?”
Wyatt realized the little girl was conscious. She looked stunned, still flat on her back, arms and legs as before, like an artist’s model awkwardly reclined on a divan of crushed moss. Her blue eyes were the color of robin’s eggs and showed the minutest sign of movement. They were squinting. At him. Clearly not in admiration. Wyatt, caught off guard, began to compose himself and answer. But before he could muster a reply she rattled off another question:
“And where am I?”
Wyatt smiled. “Ah, there, you see, I often ask myself that very same question.”
The girl sat up slowly. She stretched her arms and touched her bare knees and white-stockinged legs. She then pinched the frilly red fabric she was wearing.
“And why am I wearing a dress? I hate dresses.”
Her fingers ran over the spongy green stalks she lay upon.
“What is this place? And how did I get here?”
Wyatt raised a knobby finger. “Ah, more excellent questions!”
“Oh—my—god—I’m talking to a frog!”
“Well… I-I,” stammered Wyatt, “I do feel I’ve been influenced by the French. But I’ve never cared for that crass expression. That moniker… frog. The implication, or comparison when—”
“You look like a frog,” she told him bluntly.
Wyatt had no rebuttal. The little girl appeared to be unharmed. Which was rather puzzling, having fallen from the sky. She was busy closing her legs and covering her bare knees with her red dress.
“Appearances,” he told her, “can be deceiving.”
She pointed and fired off a bulleted list of his features:
“Webbed feet. Green and red mottled skin. Knobby fingers. Big protruding eyes—”
“All right! Enough. You’ve made your point.” Wyatt removed his beret and fanned his flustered face. The sun had risen higher and was making the meadow hot. He was measuring his intakes of air, trying to stay cool, to remain calm. He smiled thinly. “I ask you, how many frogs do you know who wear a beret and velvet jacket?”
“One.” She told him. “You.”
“Little girl. And, I assume that is what you are.” Showing he too could be clever, he said, “Pinkish-brown skin. Stringy hair. Tiny nose. White teeth. Pointy fingers. You are a girl are you not?”
“What else could I be?”
“Any number of things,” he replied. “You are extremely small. I consider that an oddity. ”
“Maybe it’s not me but you who are too big.”
Wyatt hadn’t considered that angle. “Do you have a name?
The girl stood. They were the same height.
“Ahh…” It made perfect sense. She was delirious. “You think you are a cat, is that it?”
He was disarmed by her funny little laugh. Released with such abandon. He was enchanted by the pure delight of her sound.
“It’s my nickname,” said Kat.
“Kat. K. A. T. It’s short for Kathlyn.”
Wyatt was confused. “Wait. What? Are you saying you were nicknamed ‘Kat’ because of your diminutive size?”
“No. Are all frogs as silly as you?”
“They are not. I mean,” Wyatt removed his hat to wipe sweat from his face. This was clearly not going the way he had planned. “Now listen. I am not silly.”
“Then why are you wearing those clothes?”
Wyatt stopped fanning himself. “Excuse me? Do you expect me to go hopping around naked?”
“Isn’t that what frogs do?”
Wyatt donned his beret, “I—do not.”
“You’re funny. Your clothes too.”
Wyatt flushed. He felt his high pride plummet to the status of a clown. He defended himself with a feeble, “I’m an artist! Of some esteem around here. Wyatt. Wyatt T. Frog.”
Kat had seen enough. She rubbed her eyes as if they were magic lamps that could grant her a wish to wake from this dream. “I can’t believe I’m talking to a frog. Goodbye.” She yawned as she rubbed the closed lids of her eyes. When she reopened them she saw things had not changed and scrunched her face with disappointment.
“Hello, again.” Wyatt followed her wayward gaze, “I too find it equally puzzling that I am talking to a little girl.”
Kat pretended to ignore this huge frog. But his splayed red toes were protruding from his sandals and tapping the ground. She bent down and touched the green plumes, semi-transparent and spongy, upon which they both stood. She was tempted to ask what it was.
“Moss,” said Wyatt.
She looked into the oblong pupils, before glancing away from his bulging red eyes. She was surrounded by stalks of tall greenery. She rose to the tips of her toes but could not see over the top.
“I’ll wake up eventually, I guess.”
“You did just wake up,” Wyatt stated.
This got her full attention as she stared back at him.
With a cavalier smile, a tip of his head, and a touch to his beret, Wyatt said, “Sweet dreams. Good day.” He departed by hopping over the hedge of grass. “You may follow me – if you wish!”
“Follow you? A frog? I don’t think so.” Kat folded her arms and refused to accept this nonsense. But, quick to comprehend she didn’t have a clue where she was, how she got there, or why she was standing on a mound of enormous moss inside a forest of grass, Kat burst through the curtain of greenery to chase after him.
His trail was erratic since Wyatt tended to leap after a couple of steps, which left only traces of trampled grass as an indication of his route. The tall stalks of grass tickled her nose as she pushed though. Each stem had fibrous hairs as ticklish as eyelashes and as sticky as a spider’s web. She rubbed her face and shouted, “Come back!”
She broke through the forest thicket and came to an open space. A meadow. The day was warm but Kat shivered and hugged herself, pausing to look into the depth of blue sky. She was on the verge of tears. “Mr. Frog? Wyatt, I mean. I’m sorry. About saying those things. About you being silly. I—ahahh!”
She shrieked as something sticky sealed her mouth and grasped her arm. She was pulled into a thicket and pinned to the ground.
“Stay still,” hissed Wyatt.
“Oh, it’s you!” said Kat.
“Shssh.” Wyatt held up a fingertip to his lips.
“What are we doing?” she whispered back.
“Are we playing a game?”
His finger pointed upwards as a shadow passed over them. Kat had the presence of mind to keep her mouth shut but was curious to know why they were hiding and the cause of this darkness. When a horrid noise erupted, causing Kat to cover her ears, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to know what it was. The racket finally faded away. She wasn’t comfortable being face to face with an enormous frog. Who had bulging eyes and whose eyelids were squinting. Indicating he was still leery. She noticed two bumps between his eyes, also holes, and realized they comprised the sum total of his nose. He had skin that was iridescent and stippled. Green above his wide mouth, white below. He pursed his thin lips. After a few seconds, his mouth parted to emit a subdued croak.
Wyatt stood and brushed off his clothes as he emerged from the thicket. Kat did the same. Her face beamed with a smile, pleased with herself with the knowledge she had retained from school.
“I know what you are. You’re a tree frog.”
Wyatt, cautiously peering about, said, “I’m sorry, what?”
“Your classification. Species of amphibian.”
Wyatt grimaced. “Listen carefully. Do you wish to escape from here unharmed, or not?”
“Well of course I do,” said Kat.
“Then stay close, keep quiet, and move quickly. And hide if I tell you to hide.”
“Hide from what?”
“Someone you do not what to meet. Trust me.” Wyatt directed her attention to a standing easel and canvas in the middle of the field. “There, you see. It was not a lie. As I told you, I am an artist. A painter of nature’s wonders.”
“There’s nothing there,” said Kat.
Wyatt was confused. “You can’t see my easel?”
“The canvas is completely blank.”
Wyatt nodded thoughtfully. “It might be my greatest work.”
Realizing he was joking, she giggled, “You are silly.”
“It’s the fate of all true artists. I advise we depart now.”
“What about your easel and paints?”
“I’m afraid they will not be traveling with us.”
“Inanimate objects cannot move about as we do.”
“Ha-ha, very funny.”
Wyatt cautioned her, “If you plan to come along, stay close to me and do not wander off.”
“I’m not some animal or—”
“A silly girl?”
Kat gave him a peevish look. She slapped away stalks of grass as they walked. She said to the back of his paint-stained velvet coat, “I hope you’re not one of those colorful frogs who secretes poison and can kill by touching.”
Wyatt playfully poked her bare arm. “Oh, how I wish.”
Kat pulled away.
Wyatt croaked a laugh. “My dear, fear has no relevance here.”
“What’s that supposed to—hey, wait!”
Kat had to run in spurts to keep up with his long-legged stride. Weaving this way and that, she passed through a maze of tall grass, brushing past curtains of greenery to catch up to him. She found him waiting in a domed clearing, inside a jungle of vibrant growth and bright colors.
“Is this how I get back?” said Kat.
“Back to where?”
“Have you considered this is your home? It’s home to me.”
“Because you’re a frog.”
The lids of his eyes narrowed. “No. Because I am here. As are you. And both of us are here now.”
“But… Where are we?” She became intrigued by the landscape. Above her were gigantic swells of bright color, like the billowing sails from a fleet of ships puffed out by the wind. Flower blossoms, she realized. Buoyantly they swayed above like helium-filled balloons in a holiday parade. Tulips, carnations, roses. The enormous growth reminded Kat of a story her father had read to her about a boy who climbed a beanstalk to discover a gigantic castle in the clouds. But where was she? If in a dream, it felt too real. And how long before her parents realized she was missing?
As they walked past the craggy face of a cliff Kat realized it was not the side of a mountain but the bark of an enormous pine tree.
“A true artist,” said Wyatt, “is devoted to nature.”
“Why?” Kat craned her neck to view a cluster of blue tulips.
“Because it is the totality from which all inspiration comes.”
Sunlight disappeared as they walked under a gigantic mushroom casting a dank shadow.
“Wonderful,” said Kat, treading carefully over the soggy ground. “Like this creepy and gooey humongous umbrella?”
“Mushrooms provide welcome shelter during storms.
Kat pinched her nose. “Augh, it stinks in here.”
“Focus on the positive.” Wyatt pointed. “See those massive gills? That is where its spores reside and reproduction occurs.”
Kat stuck out her tongue. “Gross.”
Wyatt chuckled. “This fringed crumble cap mushroom probably thinks you are equally as gross.”
“Mushrooms can’t think,” said Kat.
“Oh-yes-we-can,” came a grumble like distant thunder.
“Did you hear that?”
“Mushrooms have feelings too,” added Wyatt.
Kat flinched as the mushroom appeared to tilt its massive head. She was glad to escape from its dark shadow into a sparkling tunnel. Through tall ferns the size of palm trees light was streaming down like golden sprinkles of rain.
Wyatt exclaimed, “You see, isn’t nature wonderful?”
“Fantastic,” Kat said rather glumly.
“Show more enthusiasm. You don’t seem very happy.”
“Maybe because I’m stuck here with you?”
“Be delighted you exist.”
“Wow—okay. I’m overjoyed.” Kat produced a saccharin smile for his benefit. “Is that better?”
“The essence of manufactured sweetness.”
Her smile turned sour. “So where are we going?”
Wyatt directed her attention to branches of overhanging foliage. “See those leaves? Power stations. Each one is a sunlight machine. All creations, same as us, thrive from basic elements – light, water, air, minerals. Each one of us is equipped with inventive ways to get what we need.”
“You act like this is a field trip,” said Kat.
Wyatt pointed to the sky. “Behold, incoming examples of this gross byproduct of life.”
Through a hole in the interlacing foliage Kat saw what looked to be space capsules floating to earth.
“Dandelion seeds,” said Wyatt. “They have parachutes. Each seed was once part of a puffy dome, its structure blown to bits by the wind, now adrift on its own. Each is equipped with little wings for them to glide. Nature is amazingly inventive. Ah, and there’s a plant who comes equipped with pods that snap open and shoot their seeds like bullets from a gun.”
“You’re making this up,” said Kat.
“No, that would be the creator. These contraptions are designed for efficient self-propagation. For example, birds find these seeds. The exchange benefits bird and plant. The seeds get swallowed, they take a long ride, and get deposited to the earth elsewhere.”
“As poop,” said Kat. “Again… gross.”
“Gross is a fact of life.” Wyatt brushed at spots of paint dried on his jacket. “Not only is nature clever, it also has a sense of humor. I know this one flower who captures and imprisons beetles.”
Kat scrunched her lips in disbelief.
Wyatt mimed by grasping vertical bars. “These trapped bugs are held captive inside sticky petals. The flower won’t release them until a toll is paid, by giving up a portion of the pollen they have, captured off other flowers. But once the beetles comply, accepting the terms, they get set free, unharmed. A lesson to be learned.”
“Flowers and bugs don’t think.”
“Nor can frogs. Or so you thought.”
“Maybe it’s me, my imagination, that’s letting let you pretend to think that you are thinking.” Kat arched her eyebrows.
Wyatt countered by narrowing his eyelids. “Little girl, you think too highly of yourself. Nature plays no favorites. You are as special to nature – and to me – as an earwig.”
“Now you’re being rude,” said Kat.
“As were you, to me.” Wyatt removed his beret with a flourish, twirled it theatrically. He repositioned it upon his head with a tilt. “Nature exhibits all the many possibilities that exist for us.”
“Yeah,” said Kat, “like getting eaten.”
Wyatt shrugged. “Well, true. The world is a massive swap meet. A bazaar. A grand redistribution. Grossly unpopular at times.”
“It’s very upsetting to be this small.”
“Welcome to my world.” Wyatt stopped to rub his chin and to study her. “I wouldn’t worry. A predator will likely be confounded and reluctant to swallow you wearing that red dress.”
“Or make me a target.”
As they continued along the path Kat detected a faint whirring. Something was approaching fast, becoming louder, like a helicopter churning the air. She was suddenly face to face with an iridescent body hovering in the air with a multitude of eyes. Petrified, gulping the same air, she couldn’t move. Which starkly contrasted the blur of wings and deafening movement this creature was making.
“What do I do?”
“Stay calm,” said Wyatt. “Say hello. You’re a curiosity.”
Kat shrieked as she became engulfed by an airstream of motion, circling her 360 degrees, whizzing uncomfortably close, as if sniffing her, before whatever-it-was flew off down the path.
“What—or who—was that?”
“Darlene,” said Wyatt with a head shake. “She is a—”
“She’s been called worse.”
Wyatt continued to walk. Kat followed beside him.
“I used to be large, you know. Bigger than you. Normal size.”
“Normal?” Wyatt waved the concept away. “What’s the fun in being normal? Be happy you are abnormal.”
Kat huffed. “I feel so much better now. Gee, thanks.”
“What is big one day will be small the next. There is no rhyme nor reason. Comparisons only confuse. I propose we play a game.”
Kat was suspicious. “What sort of game?”
Wyatt bent down, picked up a pine needle and tested its strength. He flipped it in the air, caught it by the thicker end, to be used as a walking stick. “A game that avoids comparisons. Shall we see how far we can get?”
“Not far,” said Kat testily. “That would be a comparison.”
Wyatt stroked the air with a finger. “You earned a point. You’re on your way. Now forget you are small or large, up or down. Good or bad. Ahead or behind.”
“How is anyone supposed to win?”
“They cannot. Which is why this game is so challenging.”
His dry humor caught her by surprise.
Wyatt was charmed by her funny little laugh. “Shall we?”
Kat kicked a pine needle off the path. “Okay, I’ll play. As long as you tell me how long it’s going to take for us to get to wherever it is you said we’re going.”
Delighted by her irritation, Wyatt said, “A wonderful question. Neither a good nor bad one.” He circumnavigated the misty blue sky with a swirl of his pine-needle stick. “Never try to predict the length of time it will take to get anywhere. For you see, it is impossible to calculate the detours and unexpected delays which inevitably occur when traveling from point A to point B. If we try to measure time, we end up wasting it. Treasures of immeasurable pleasure abound, hiding on our path of travel, yet demanding a significant degree of our attention in order to be found.”
“Please,” said Kat, “just tell me where we’re going.”
“That is the universal question.”
“First we look for those treasure-troves.”
“Nature speaks to me of these treasures.”
Kat was baited to ask, “Nature speaks to you?”
“When I listen.” Wyatt raised a finger to silence her. “‘Watch me as I dance,’ whispered the gorgeous maple leaf, ‘fallen from the sky to disperse, back to earth, for another chance.’ I once lost an entire day staring at a funnel cloud as it twisted and turned into the stem of a tulip, twirling madly about, connecting sky and earth to create a dark purple blossom.” Wyatt spun around on his toes looking up. “I was terrified, yet I listened. Do you know what it told me?”
“I can’t imagine.”
Kat shrugged. “Hello… I’m a tornado?”
“More specific. It told me, ‘I am the motion of all things.’”
“You expect me to believe this?”
“Absolutely. We all get screwed up, at times. Whirling about on a destructive path. Exhibiting twisted behavior.”
“I don’t believe a tornado talked to you.”
“You’re right, it was more a tirade.”
“A tirade is a violent long-winded speech. Same thing.”
“Well, he was very passionate.”
“Ah, you caught me! Making comparisons.” Wyatt winked. “I cannot be certain of its gender. Another point for you.”
“This is ridiculous.”
“Little Kat, I was attempting to describe something untimely and in the realm of the abnormal. I was extemporizing.”
“Composing nonsense without preparation. That’s the meaning of extemporizing,” said Kat.
“Hum, you’re smarter than I gave you credit.”
“I’m too smart for my own good.”
Wyatt frowned. “I highly doubt that.”
“My parents think so. They say I’m precocious.”
“Advanced beyond my age.” Kat kicked another pine needle out of her way on the path.
“I know what precocious means,” said Wyatt.
“I guess that makes us even,” Kat teased. “Are frogs smarter than other animals? All loquacious, like you? Meaning—”
“Overly talkative,” said Wyatt. “That would be a comparison.” He stroked the air to give himself a point. “Why did you presume to think that frogs are incapable of thought? And why do your parents think you are precocious? What else do they think you are?”
“Reckless. Fearless. Which I’m not. Not really.”
“Then why would they say such a foolish thing?”
“My parents aren’t foolish!” snapped Kat.
“I’ve touched a nerve. Since your parents have propagated a girl who, as they claim, is too smart for her own good, I suspect not.”
“I don’t always do what they tell me to do. That’s why.”
Wyatt was intrigued. “You do the opposite?”
“Not always. And I’m not as bad as other kids I know.”
Wyatt stroked the air again. “Tsk, tsk. You made a comparison. My point. Please, an example?”
“Of what?” Kat stopped to dig her heels into the mossy ground. She noticed the fronds were getting shorter and no longer tall enough to tickle her bare arms or legs and knees.
“An example of this incomparable behavior of yours.”
“I don’t know. Like refusing to wear dresses.”
“And yet here you are wearing a dress.”
“Shut up. Talking in classes. Cutting school. Climbing trees. Talking to frogs? Is that enough examples for you?”
Wyatt muttered. “Hum. Trees? Interesting.”
“Why is that so interesting?”
“The mystery of your existence. It is becoming less of one.”
“What are you talking about?”
Wyatt surprised Kat by tapping her head with the pine needle stick as if to scold a rather dull student.
“Ouch! That hurt.”
“Did it?” He tapped her head again. “How about now?”
Kat held up her hands. “Hey, stop it!”
“I’m making sure you are not dreaming.”
“I could be. Don’t—I said.” Kat guarded her head. “What path are you talking about? The one we’re on now?”
Kat cowered but Wyatt whacked his own head instead. “No–no– no. Impossible. This path is shrinking – and soon to disappear, to be gone. Become nothing. As you will soon discover.”
Kat sighed, shook her head, and covered her face with her hands. “Please let me wake up from this. I want to go home.”
“Home is not a destination. It’s a state of mind. A journey.”
“Whatever.” Kat peered through her splayed fingers and saw she was still talking to a frog wearing clothes. She told herself she was dreaming but saw that the mossy path was indeed, as the frog said, progressively narrowing. Or so it appeared. Banks of rock and dirt were on both sides of them now, sloping to a height slightly above her head. Together these two banks formed an odd perspective, lines that tapered and vanished into a distant swirling mist. She heard rushing water that was coming from beyond both banks. She also noticed the flowers and plants along the path were smaller. Almost normal in size. This observation caused Kat to turn and see if the frog had shrunk too.
He had not. His enormous eyes blinked at her.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“What is what?”
“The water I’m hearing.”
“Yes, it does sound like water. Because it is. Rivers, two to be precise, traveling on opposite sides and about to merge. Flowing exponentially faster. I assume you know what that word—”
“Progressively faster and faster.”
“Soon to merge and become one raging river.”
“Then if…” said Kat, “where will we go when they meet?”
“Let us cross that bridge when we get there.”
Kat clutched the sides of her dress in frustration.
Wyatt held up four knobby fingers, which required the use of both limbs, since he had but three fingers per hand. “I live by four simple words. Can you guess what they are?”
“Oh—joy. A new game.”
“Love. Being. Here. Now.”
“Auuggh! Stop it. You’re giving me a headache.”
“These words are the key ingredients to finding happiness.”
“You are one weird frog.”
Wyatt drummed his chin with his knobby fingers as he walked on. “Ah, then you know other frogs, do you? So if…”
Kat could barely hear him over the loud surge of water gushing on both sides and generating an atmosphere of mist.
Wyatt raised his voice, “To answer one of your questions, we are nearing the entrance to Evolsdog.”
“Evolsdog? It that where you live?”
Kat wondered if she should be scared. The path led straight into a dense swirling fog. The wall of moisture rose and dispersed into a creamy blue sky. The cool mist intermingled with the sun’s warmth and made her skin tingle. She smelled a sugary fragrance. Suddenly she felt weightless, as if walking on an ascending cloud.
The euphoria vanished when the mossy path abruptly ended and became a desolate pointed ridge. A precipice from which a wooden bridge spanned outward. The arc of its suspension vanished midway into an opaque blurry curtain of upwardly-mobile mist. Kat gasped. She grabbed for Wyatt whose knobby fingers took hold of her arm to steady her. On opposite sides rivers were falling, dropping off and merging to crash and form a terrifying waterfall. She was looking down into water surging and curving in a non-stop fall.
Wyatt guided Kat onto the bridge which felt solid, reassuringly firm with thick planks of wood, yet she clung tightly to the railing made from the trunk of a fallen tree. Kat peered over its edge and was captivated by the force of water falling and curving and falling and curving and falling – like some ferocious beast hypnotizing her to plunge down with it. This constant colliding water was causing the rising mist. Its opaqueness thinned at intervals, allowing Kat a glimpse of waterwheels churning far below. A multitude of spinning wheels like the ones she imagined turning inside her brain. Her head felt dizzy yet she held on long enough to see that the two rivers, after merging and falling, separated once again far below, traveling apart – around what appeared to be an island.
Wyatt was shouting something at her.
As they got further away from the water’s edge, she heard:
“…protective moat! The rivers meet on the other side.”
“You live on an island?”
Kat became more curious than nervous as she ventured along the bridge. Verdant foliage now peeked through the mist on the far end. She saw the yellow heads of poplar trees. And hillsides rising into a mountainous spiral like the swirl of vanilla and chocolate ice cream upon a cone, adorned with autumn sprinkles of carmel and mint, all rising into a blue sky with puffy clouds. At its peak she glimpsed, not a cherry, but a glint of something gold.
A shadow swept over them, darkening their world.
Wyatt shouted to her, “Run!”
Riley Crow was navigating through the morning sky on a routine mission over Evolsdog. Scrutinizing the rivers and surrounding land mass, he was constantly on a search for signs of insurrection and ready to take action. He was flanked by a squadron of crows, three on each side, all following his lead. Without warning, a bright red object shot through the sky to strike the earth. Riley thought it was a meteorite at first. But no trail of smoke was detected. He dove down to investigate the meadow with his squadron in tight formation, swooping over land which appeared unscorched. Animals scurried into hiding, alarmed by his presence. Riley’s objective on these missions was to stir things up and let the lowlanders know they were under surveillance. He took pride in his airborne unit, a disciplined mob, uniformed in black shiny wings as tough as leather but as elegant as flowing capes. Their tapered beaks and booted claws were polished, weapon sharp. They wore helmets to keep themselves hooded and protected against the harsh elements. And to guard against flying debris, their deep-set eyes were goggled. They generated fear like a squadron of spitfires or a motorcycle gang with their raucous squawking as they circled about. Seeing nothing below to entertain them, they flew off, disgruntled.
Riley took rest by landing in the tallest pine tree on the topmost branch. His crew fought and jostled for position on the lower limbs. Their commotion agitated his mind and he let out a nasty squawk. He was trying to ignore the turbulent visions that haunted him 24/7. He found it impossible to sit still long. As hard as he tried, he could not shake the strange notion that he was something other than what he was – a crow. He pecked at his feathers, as if to fix and disguise visible flaws, obsessively inspecting for chinks in his armor. Any sign of weakness could destroy his leadership. He had a phobia of losing power, which he sensed was mentally eroding him like some poison, eating away at his churning gut too. He flinched at the phantom flickers of gunfire and screams coming from nameless faces smeared like blood across the dark interior of his mind – causing him to lurch off the branch.
Taking flight helped dispel these spectors that pestered his mind and blindsided him each time he stopped to rest. He had a nagging suspicion that something wasn’t right in the world, which made him soar off toward the island. His squad, caught off guard dozing and preening, were now struggling with frantic wing-beats to catch up and reassemble behind him.
Riley’s instincts had proven correct. A breach in security was in progress. He spotted Wyatt T. Frog aiding and abetting the enemy – attempting to smuggle a foreign entity dressed in red through the gates of Evolsdog.
Kat was running to keep up with Wyatt who was nearly midway across the bridge when Riley swooped down in front of them. He made his grand entrance theatrically costumed in his flowing cape, as if alighting onto a stage, landing with aplomb to intervene. His cronies clattered behind him onto the bridge’s railing and walkway. With a critical glance at his supporting cast, his chorus of buffoons, Riley tucked his wings behind his back and looked darkly upon the intruders through the mask of his hooded eyes.
“Well—well—well…” Riley squawked.
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Izzy Beaver was seated in a wicker chair on the deck of his grotto lodge which was situated inside a cave, beneath a cliff, and reinforced by an infrastructure of timber. His self-made home had a most unusual view. It faced a sheer wall of cascading water. This constant fall of water created a humid and misty climate, an atmosphere Izzy enjoyed. The roar of white noise complemented the hideaway ambience of his home. His fingers were crooked around a mug of steaming coffee while the sharp nails of his other paw were clasped to a cinnamon biscotti, being gnawed by his protruding incisors.
His sanctuary was abruptly ruptured by a contraption tearing into the sparkling liquid curtain – accompanied by a garbled yelp – which came and went. Both object and sound were obliterated and drowned out by the waterfall.
Izzy spilled his coffee, dropped his biscuit—lurching to his feet.
“Sun of ‘clipse,” he groused, shuffling across the deck to clutch the railing only a short distance from the downpour of water.
“Tart ‘n feathers!” He grasped the railing and tore his claws into the wood. He ground his teeth, griping incoherently while glaring into the wall of liquid. He was exhausted. He had worked through the night installing another hydraulic wheel to the power grid and was in desperate need of some peace – and sleep.
“Dam–‘t–all,” he grumbled, prior to diving into the thundering force of water to rescue whomever it was who had fallen.
After a downward pummeling Izzy regained his equilibrium and maneuvered his way through the rapids. His vision wasn’t the best, but underwater Izzy was adept at swimming around these rock solid obstacles and avoiding collisions. He spotted a whirlpool of light up ahead and surfaced within a relatively calm pocket of shallow water. Which was where he found Angelo Iguana along with the debris of wreckage from some contraption scattered upon an inlet of sand.
Izzy swam up to Angelo whose pale green body was twisted and impelled against a jagged rock. His bright orange jumpsuit was torn, the sleeves shredded. His legs were badly injured and half of his tail was missing. He appeared to be unconscious. Izzy ascertained from the wreckage – spotting fragments of a propeller and segments from what appeared to have once been wings – that it was the result of another failed adventure. To attain flight!
“Rudder sucker,” he cursed. He slapped his tail flat upon the sand, angered by his friend’s reckless disregard for life and limb. The contraption his friend had built was beyond recovery. His breakfast and morning relaxation was also unrecoverable. But ingrained with a commitment to duty and a strong work ethic, Izzy lifted Angelo’s head to apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He cleared the blue tongue from his throat, then placed his whiskered mouth to his friend’s scaly blue lips to blow air into the lungs. Izzy zipped open Angelo’s flight jacket and pumped his chest. He then went back to forcing air into his mouth. Izzy’s efforts after pumping and blowing stimulated a spout of murky water to erupt like a tiny geyser.
Angelo gasped and wheezed. “I’m okay.” He raised a limp arm to wave at the nonexistent crowd of onlookers roaring in a cascade of support for his efforts. “Thank you all for coming.”
“Idiot,” cursed Izzy, “you are not okay.”
Angelo blinked, slowly gaining focus on Izzy’s dripping wet face. “Izzy? Is that you? It worked. I flew!”
Izzy spit into the rocks. “You crashed, ya fool!”
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Hazel Squirrel would have come outside to partake in the excitement had she heard the bell clang in the tower. But she had been underground rooting inside the cellar of her tree shop searching for a specific nut she would eventually locate. But by the time she resurfaced to the showroom, it was empty. Not of trinkets, all were there, polished and shiny, nothing out of place, aligned on shelves and tables as they had been. Only of customers. They had disappeared. Vanished. As if they had been misplaced.
Moments before, her fashionable shop had been bustling with avid shoppers. This sudden departure was quite unsettling to Hazel. So she did the only thing she knew what to do at times of unease to calm herself. She reached for her feather duster and began to dust. This disappearance and abandonment was one more reminder that uncertainty presaged certain disaster.
From her boutique inside the hollow of an ancient redwood tree, she skittered about, dusting this and that, works of art, each item, until making her way over to the entrance. Where she peeked out the door. To an empty street. Another oddity to unsettle her nerves. She extended an arm to dust the engraved letters upon an ornately carved sign. It hung from a pole and extended like the branch of a tree with a four-letter word that defined her boutique:
The interior space was her own design. It had hardwood floors. Its tall circular walls were richly rustic yet lined with row upon row of smooth polished shelving carved from maple. The room sparkled with miniature glass fixtures suspended on fibers at various lengths emerging from the dark ceiling to resemble an evolved community of spiders who, having dropped down, were each equipped with a light. A vertical ladder was attached to tracks running along the floor and ceiling for traveling the circumference of the room, for reaching and dusting.
NUTS was a shrine, an immaculate shop resembling a museum displaying treasured finds. Art cataloged like a repository housing irreplaceably rare books. Hazel was proud of each trifle on display. Thus, the sudden ebb of her clientele – this desertion, evacuation – alarmed her. She stepped out of her high-heeled shoes to climb the rungs of her movable ladder and began dusting the topmost shelf. Positioned to have a better look, an overview of the showroom, she peered about but could not spot a single dust bunny – nor customer– hiding anywhere!
Upon descent, Hazel buffed each rung on the ladder with her fluffy tail. She remounted her shoes and crossed the hardwood floor with her tall heels clicking and her satin dress swishing. Stepping outside, she shook her feather duster, shaking her tail as well. But she stopped in mid-shake. A procession was coming down the street, approaching her doorway. Izzy was in the lead, his ruddy paw gripped to something Hazel had never seen before. Some rarity. A miniature girl. A collectible. Hazel waved her duster as Izzy, who gave a wave back and veered toward her with the little girl in tow.
Izzy squinted. “Hazel!? If you aren’t the prettiest feather if ever there was one. You’re a sight for poor eyes. Looky here what I got.” He released Kat to show her off.
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Harold Hare was hunched over a leather-bound book, holding a magnifying glass to read the fine print as he scanned the pages. It was one of several law books piled upon his massive, solid-burl executive desk. A stylish desk, adorned with gold-leaf classical moldings and antique brass handles. Its cabriole legs were exquisitely carved. Harold was extremely proud of this piece of furniture, though its beauty was rarely witnessed, for it was habitually covered with precarious stacks of books and folders and binders from which an avalanche of paper spewed forth to hang and inevitably fall off its rococo ledges. Harold was hard at work on writing a document, a theory he was in the process of formulating. The gist of his treaty was derived from case studies on marriage and divorce, including his own personal history – which was extensive – on the subject of matrimony and extramarital affairs. Harold was an attorney. He practiced Family Law. Which meant he dealt with the contractual Mr. and Mrs. (an X versus Y) who encountered the inevitable stages of attraction, fixation, attrition and repulsion. A predictable sequence of events that never failed to fail. Therefore, Harold (aka Harry – a moniker he detested yet persistently haunted him like the many close encounters he’d had with the female kind) succinctly summarized the results of his research as such:
Love was messy.
Harold stretched back, reclining in his chair, rubbed his pink eyes and pondered the cavernous ceiling. He treated his floppy ears to a brisk scratch before brushing them back. They fell to opposite sides of his head as he stood and consulted his timepiece, a brass antique pocket watch he had inherited from the generations of Hares. He popped open the cover. Both the short and long hands were attached at the hub, but hung limply, pendulously pointing to 6. No change. Harold had come to believe that with regard to time, it was not the precision nor duration of time that mattered — it was the routine of one’s practices. Clicking his pocket watch shut, he began wondering whether it was too early to resurface for another meal. He guessed it was close to either brunch or lunch. Having plenty of time to squander, Harold indulged himself by wasting as much time as was possible. There were plenty of underlings capable of operating the mechanisms of Hare & Heirs, the family law practice which he had been born into and now over-efficiently run by many offspring from countless couplings.
Admittedly, mathematics left him cold. Nor was he fond of the counting game – keeping track of the number of lovers he had had. Suffice it to say, there had been many. Yet Scarlet was the dominate figure of late. A major player and by far the majority stockholder in his mind. He could think of nothing else. He glanced at his messy desk and had a fleeting thought to straighten it before looking down at the plush red carpet which made him think of Scarlet. He kicked aside fallen papers with his big furry foot to see more of its swirling pattern which stirred his mind to envision more of her. He popped open his watch to shake the hands of time. This anticipation – this longing to see her again – was killing him. He wet the pink pads of his hands, smoothed his scruffy eyebrows, then combed his floppy ears to try and straighten and coax them upwards into proper points. But they refused to stay aloft and fell to his sides. It had become a ritual, trying to commit his ears to remain upright. Also a ritual to abandon the idea in frustration. He was interrupted by a thought – a roving reminder to grab his tiny notebook buried under his pile of papers. He looked down at his large feet and wiggled them. Which made him wistful, mindful of the firm grip he no longer had upon the threshold of love.
Yet with Scarlet’s help he had reclaimed his virility.
On his way to the door he checked himself – padding waistcoat, pants, and bowtie – to make sure he was all there and fully dressed. He appeared to be, yet was wearing the same three-piece grey suit from the day before which he had slept in upon his leather couch.
He ventured out the door to plunge into a stream of energetic bunnies moving frenetically fast with their quick greetings:
“Good morning, Father.”
“A meeting a two, Harold, don’t forget.”
“Another long night, Harry?”
With vacant nods, Harold acknowledged each worker he passed on his journey through the passageways of Hare & Heirs Enterprise. The Rules of Proper Conduct were paramount to Harold. Though broadly-based and debatable, he believed they were something akin to sacred tablets one had to swallow. Metaphorically, that is. Rules mattered. Customs mattered. Good judgement mattered. He knew all this. But Scarlet, she was an entirely different matter. She was an exception to all these rules.
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Wick was a weasel. Everyone knew he was. Yet the inhabitants of Evolsdog accepted his obsequiously-egotistical mannerisms and motives and political ambitions because he was good-natured, always on the move, wringing his hands and shaking other hands, constantly darting his long snout left and right as if on the scent for a new vote. As the Prime Minister he was eager to please, if only for show. He was leery of everyone and viewed his constituents as potential rivals, as challengers who wished to unseat him from his seat of power. Which was pure illusion on his part. He had no real power. And no one wanted his job.
Wick had been sworn into office as Sedwick Esquire Burr III. A name no one recognized. Everyone called him Wick and knew him by that name. Being the Prime Minister made him a popular figure. Which he liked – being popular. Likewise, he disliked being called a weasel. It felt unpopular. Epithetic.
A weasel, by implication, was someone who had a reputation of backing out of situations and commitments in a sneaky or cowardly fashion. So, to dispel this myth, Wick made public appearances to appear just the opposite, presiding at holiday parades, fundraising events, baby showers. He made speeches in parks and town halls, and at graduations, anywhere he could speak into a microphone. He loved hearing the sound of his amplified voice.
He kept his whiskers neatly trimmed. Each article of clothing was impeccable, of the finest quality, tailored to flatter his elongated torso and short legs. His quick smile and dashing wit won hearts and indecisive minds. When The Reverend Darryl Puma, his oldest friend, was recently interviewed by a reporter and asked about the Prime Minister’s tendencies to equivocate on matters of importance, the Reverend laughed augustly and stated, “Ah, yes, well… And I propose, if ever there was a debate on Creation, I can assure you Wick would find a way to suck the yolk out of the topic just like an egg and manage to leave an inert shell with the image of God intact, with everyone pleasantly scratching their heads.”
Wick was tickled by this quote and was squirming pleasurably in the nest of his cotton blankets and silk sheets, unwilling to rise and get dressed. The morning newspaper had arrived tightly rolled upon a tray with his continental breakfast of coffee, fruit and cereal – with the pages now strewn like autumn leaves over the undulating hills of bedding. He was drifting into the warm waters of unconsciousness, submerging into a wet dream, when the commotion outside roused him awake.
Sunshine had filled the room. He scratched sleep from his eyes, sat up, set his feet on the floor and slipped into his slippers. Finding his spectacles on the night stand and attaching them behind his ears, he slowly stood, establishing balance, before shuffling in his pajamas to pull back the curtains and peer out the window.
He was alarmed to see a crowd assembled in town square.
Disturbances of any kind disturbed him.
Next came a rapping at his door which caused his heart to skip to a faster beat – towards panic.
“Yes? Who is it?”
“It’s me, Sir. There is a frog at the front door.”
“What does he want?”
“It’s something urgent, he says.”
“Tell him… I’m away… on diplomatic matters.”
“He knows you are here, Sir.”
“You… well, you hardly ever leave the mansion.”
“Is it that obvious? Then tell him…”
“To wait in the parlor while I get dressed—no!”
“Tell him… I’m at work in my study. I’ll be down soon.”
“And for him to wait in the parlor?”
“What? Yes. Tell him that.”
Wick listened to the footfalls of his personal assistant descending the stairs, leaving him in silence except for the half-muted persistent commotion rising from the streets.
Wick saw his reflection in the window. He too saw a weasel. There were moments when he was so appalled by his own self image he stuck out his tongue in infantile disgust (as he was now) followed by a shrug – accepting the cards the good lord had dealt him.
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