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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Fanged Frog - Chapter 1



Jack was old enough to know the difference between dreams and reality, and he did, yet it wasn’t something he’d ever examined before.  Mr. Moore, his 4th grade math teacher, liked to use that word:  examine.  “Examine the problem,” he’d say.  “Take it apart and look at the pieces,” he’d say.  Jack wondered what he’d say about this problem.


To put it simply, Jack was thirsty.  One of those two-tiered water fountains--the kind with one fountain low enough for little kids and another, higher fountain for bigger kids like Jack--was only 30 feet away, down at the end of a little passage leading off the street.  Jack understood that the obvious solution was to walk down the passage and take a drink.  In fact, a girl his age was doing that right now.  And that was the problem.


The girl was clearly walking toward the fountain, but strangely she wasn’t getting any closer to it.  While Jack watched, he saw her gradually increase her speed until she was madly running toward it, and still she didn’t get any closer.  He didn’t know what to make of it.


“Problem, kid?”


Jack turned, startled by the voice.  He looked one way then the other, but the foggy street was empty.


“Up here, kid.”


This time Jack followed the voice to the top of a nearby lamp post.  There Jack saw the most stunningly colorful parrot he’d ever seen in his life.  Though the fog softened the light cast by the lamp, it seemed somehow to enhance the bird’s reds, greens, and blues:  they seemed almost to glow.


“Excuse me?” said Jack.


“Excuse me,” said the parrot.  “You looked confused.”


“Confused,” Jack thought, was certainly the word for it.  The last thing he remembered before showing up here, in this strange world, was saying goodnight to his mother.  It had been a long day and he was tired.  Tired, but happy:  it was his birthday and he’d had a whole day of F’s:  fun, food, friends, and freebies.  Usually, after getting into bed, Jack read a little, but tonight he didn’t even bother to pick up a book.  When the light went out, so did he.


And then--this.


At first, Jack thought he had dreamed himself into one of those old mystery books his Dad had given him the year before.  The dark, foggy cobblestone street; the old-fashioned street lamps that burned oil; even the fancy lettering on the shop window in front of him:  they all looked like pictures he had seen of city life over a hundred years ago.  But if he was dreaming, he thought, would he be so thirsty?  And it was true:  his throat was so dry that when he tried to swallow, it clicked.


Then he saw the words on the shop window instead of just the lettering:  Cooper’s All Night Drug Store and Fountain.  It sounded to Jack like a good place to get a drink.  The lights were off, but the name encouraged Jack to try the door handle.  It was locked.  That was when Jack went off in search of a water fountain and how he now found himself talking to a parrot.


“I guess I am confused,” Jack said.  “What is this place?”


“Just woke up, huh?” said the parrot.


Jack started to ask what that meant when the girl from the passageway burst onto the sidewalk in front of him.  She bent over with her hands on her knees, breathing heavily from her mad dash to nowhere.


“Are you okay?” Jack asked.


“Thirsty,” the girl said between breaths.  “I was thirsty.”


“Yeah, me, too,” Jack said.


“It’s very simple,” the parrot said.  “You think you have to walk to the fountain to drink, but that’ll never work.  Drink first.”


“That’s not possible.”


“Suit yourself,” the parrot said, and flapped its wings.


The girl took a last deep breath and straightened up.  She looked both ways along the street, then turned to Jack.


“Who are you talking to?” she asked.


Jack pointed to the parrot.  The girl looked up.


“Who are you?” the girl asked.


“Maximus,” the parrot replied.  “And you are?”


“Brenda.  But some people call me Rabbit.”


“Do they?” Maximus said.  “Very interesting.  Then you,” he said, “must be Jack.”


“How did you know?” Jack asked, astonished.


Maximus made a clicking sound with his tongue that Jack thought was laughter.


“What’s so funny?”


“Nothing at all,” Maximus replied.  “Jackrabbit.  I like it.”


Jack frowned.  “Is this a dream?”


“If it is, it’s mine.”


“What does that mean?” Brenda asked.


“What it means, kid, is that this isn’t any dream.  You couldn’t possibly imagine me.”


“Well, if it isn’t a dream,” Jack said, “then what is this place?”


“What it is,” said Maximus, “is very late.”  He swept each of his eyes over the two children and stretched his wings.  “Goodbye, Jackrabbit,” he said.  And with that, he launched himself into the air and was quickly swallowed by the fog.


“Weird parrot,” Brenda said.  She smiled at Jack, who was looking at her strangely.  “What?” she asked.


“You don’t look like a rabbit,” Jack said.  Her skin was brown, her eyes a bit narrower than his own and, unlike his mental image of a cuddly passive rabbit, she looked quite strong (even if she was an inch or two shorter than he), and something about her jaw made her look very determined.  Jack didn’t like to admit it—he wasn’t sure he liked sharing a nickname—but she really looked more like a jackrabbit.


“Oh, that,” she said, laughing.  ““It’s cause of my nose.  My mother says when I get excited, it twitches.”


“Oh, I see,” Jack said.  He was pleased that he hadn’t missed any rabbit-like details.


“What do we do now?” he wondered.


“I don’t know,” Brenda said, “but I sure am thirsty.”