Jamie’s mother said he could have a frog, but only if he could catch one.
“You have until sunset,” she told him. “Frogs have many natural predators. After dark, you’ll have competition you really won’t want.”
He was already eight, and faster than his friends, so he confidently agreed and shook his mother’s hand. Out back he went, to the drainage ditch nestled between their backyard and the cluster of dense wild shrubbery that went on forever. It was this ever-filled ditch that taunted him day and night with its chaotic chorus of croaking. With an old pool skimmer head in one hand and a sun-bleached pink plastic pail in the other, he was ready for battle. He knelt in the cool grass and plunged the skimmer head into the murky brown of the water before him.
The frogs were not to be underestimated, something he realized too late. Jamie was faster than his friends, but apparently not faster than a frog. Every time he managed to pull one up with the skimmer, it would leap back into the muddy water with an infuriating plunk. Their croaking was beginning to sound suspiciously more like laughter with every failed attempt. Jamie was eight, but he was a proud eight; he would not be mocked by an amphibian.
The frogs, on the other hand, would probably disagree. Even the few times Jamie managed to wrap his small hand around their smaller necks, he could never seem to keep a proper grip on them, and they’d slip away in the same instant. Plunk! Back into the ditch they’d go.
The sun was going down now, but stubborn and frustrated, Jamie continued his plight. He could hardly see through the brown water even in the daylight, but now, with the day’s last rays slipping away as quickly as the frog in his hands, he was practically blind. The world around him faded from dusk to dark, and he now sat in the cooling night, elbows deep in equally dark water.
It was still his backyard, and yet, in the cover of night, it seemed a place entirely unfamiliar to him. Darkness can do that to a person. Everything you know so well in the light becomes a whole new world when that light is gone. The shadows between the trees seemed darker, the sounds of the night sudden and startling in the settled-in silence. This was his home, and yet he barely recognized it.
He was growing uneasy in this place he ought to know, but this task was now a matter of pride. When finally, at last, he pulled a frog from the murky water with the skimmer and had blindly fumbled for the creature with his free hand until he miraculously closed his grip around it, he could’ve cried with relief.
Then something cold and slimy, not unlike the skin of the quiet frog clutched in his hand, brushed his knuckles.
It was dark—too dark, now. Jamie could see nothing, not this far from the porch lights of the house. But he could see darkness. It was the darkness of a form—a very large form. It too crouched over the ditch, but on the tree line side across from him. It was definitely crouching; even so, it towered twice as high over him.
The frogs had gone eerily silent, the way they had when he’d first approached the ditch, before they realized he was no threat. That clammy wetness he’d felt was now wrapped around his hand. He could make out individual fingers now, through the contact with his skin, but they seemed to bend in all the wrong places. It was no longer just a sensation or a feeling; there was a solid grip on his wrist now. Jamie collected his wits enough to pull away. He tried to anyway, but the grip tightened, bordering on painful.
In the silence of the night, every sound rings out clear and true. This was the case when the cry of the frogs started up again. Except the sound was all wrong, deeper and singular, edging on a growl rather than a croak. There was only one creature making this noise. And then the noise garbled into a word.
Jamie, who had frozen in fear, had enough sense to allow the creature to slowly uncurl his fingers from the frog, one at a time. First the pinky, then the ring finger, followed by the middle one… The captive frog made no sound, but its small heart beat wildly against Jamie’s palm. Then there was a crunch, and the beating stopped.
Jamie wasn’t sure if the remainder of the frog had been snatched from his open hand, or if he’d tossed it away. He was screaming too loud and running too hard to remember. His feet only stopped once he was safely indoors, running into his mother’s office.
His mother smiled when he came in, then sighed at the mud he’d tracked, pulling out her headphones to ask him, “Did you catch your frog?”
Jamie looked at her with a calm indifference that can only be born of trauma and told her that he did not.
What Jamie did not tell her, and never would tell her, is that a frog had almost caught him.
About the author:
Cydney Goodwin is a tea-dependent graduate student at Lindenwood University, pursuing her MFA in Writing. She currently teaches English in Tokyo, Japan, where she has happily called home for the past six years. Her other work has been accepted by Dark Fire Fiction, Black Hare Press, and Tales from the Moonlit Path.