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brianmartin

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 3

She Who Wore an Ankh

 

Jack looked at Brenda who was looking at him.  If this were a cartoon, Jack thought, there’d be a bunch of question marks hanging over their heads.  Miranda, meanwhile, had returned her attention to the girl on the cobblestones.

 

“Ummm…”

 

“Not now,” Miranda said.  “Brenda--check the alley for intruders.  Jack--see if you can find any evidence of what happened here.  This girl is in shock.”

 

Brenda darted forward and immediately began scanning the area.  Jack wondered if she’d even noticed that Miranda, who had met them only moments before, already knew their names.  He wanted badly to ask Miranda what was going on, but he could see she was busy trying to revive the girl; and anyway, he thought, he was supposed to be doing something, wasn’t he?  Looking for…?  Evidence!  He remembered now.

 

Not that remembering helped very much.  He still had no idea what he was supposed to find.  Still, he wandered out into the alley and looked around.  He did a double-take when his eyes slid past a patch of tall grass that looked as though it had been disturbed recently.

 

That’s when it happened, Jack realized later--just at the moment his head shot back toward that patch of grass.  As to what exactly happened, he was never quite sure, but he knew that he was somehow different, as though he had suddenly discovered the answer to that question his father kept asking him, What do you want to be when you grow up?  He couldn’t ever remember a time when his thoughts seemed so clear and distinct.

 

The grassy verge was about four feet wide and bounded by the alley cobblestones on one side and a tall wooden fence on the other.  Now that he looked more closely, Jack could make out details he would never have thought he could just moments before.  He could see that the grass had been bent over and pushed down in several places.  Judging by the shape of the indentations--they were several inches long, narrow, and deeper at the end nearer the fence--Jack guessed that they were the footprints of someone who had backed into the grass from the alley.  Because they were fresh, Jack decided that it must have been the unconscious girl by Miranda.  A large, roundish indentation to the left of the footprints suggested that she had dropped a bag, though Jack didn’t see any bag nearby or near the girl.

 

Robbery, Jack thought, trying to reconstruct what must have happened in his mind.  The girl had met someone in the alley who had wanted whatever it was she was carrying.  The girl had backed away, off the alley, into the grass, but finding her way blocked by the fence, she had finally dropped the bag.  The intruder grabbed it and ran away, escaping before Miranda arrived.  It was simple, Jack thought; elementary, even.

 

He was about to turn away and tell Miranda what he had discovered when a bright spot in the taller grass by one of the footprints caught his eye.  He bent down for a closer look, and when he poked at it his finger came up with a slender gold chain at the end of which was a funny-looking cross-shaped pendant.  While he was examining it, he sensed Brenda passing behind him, walking back toward the intersection.

 

“We’re alone,” she reported.

 

“Good,” Miranda said.  “Jack?”

 

Jack took another look at the necklace and turned around, saying, “I think I’ve found something.”

 

“Excellent.  Now, come here, you two, I think she’s coming around.”

 

It was true.  The girl’s hands twitched, then her legs, and her eyes fluttered for a moment then stayed open.

 

“Who…who are you?” she asked.

 

“My name is Miranda.  This is Brenda and this is Jack.  What is your name?”

 

“Umm…Alison,” the girl said.  “I’m Alison.”

 

Miranda helped the girl to her feet; Alison rubbed her neck.

 

“What happened?” Brenda asked.  “Why did you scream?”

 

“It was horrible,” Alison said, and her eyes grew wide.  “I was walking home, but I was late so I decided to take a shortcut through the alley.  It was very quiet.  And then…when I got here…”

 

“I know,” Jack said.  Everyone turned to look at Jack.  “When you got here, you found someone waiting for you.  Someone who wanted to rob you.”

 

Alison blinked.

 

“It’s all very simple,” Jack continued.  “You see, I found--”

 

“No, no,” Alison said, “that’s not it at all.  When I got here I saw something.  I thought it was a rock, and I bent down to pick it up--to move it out of the way, you know?  But it wasn’t--it wasn’t a rock.”

 

“What was it?” Jack asked, bewildered.

 

Alison started to shake.  “It was…a frog!”

 

 

 

 

Brenda laughed.  Miranda shot her an impatient look that stopped the laughter in her throat.

 

“No, you don’t understand,” Alison went on hurriedly.  “It wasn’t an ordinary frog at all.  Look.”

 

Alison tilted her head to the left.  Everyone crowded close to see.  A thin red gash marred the otherwise smooth skin of Alison’s neck.  Jack noticed that there was very little blood below the gash--or anywhere else.

 

“Wow,” said Brenda.

 

“What is it?” asked Jack.

 

“You’re very lucky,” said Miranda, solemnly.

 

“It was lucky,” Alison said.  “The frog was backing me against the fence and I put up a hand to protect my neck.  My fingers touched my necklace and when the frog jumped I guess I tore it off.  Anyway, when I tried to pull the frog off me, I happened to press my pendant against his back.  He croaked very loudly and then fell to the ground and went away.  I think I must have hurt him.”

 

“May I see the necklace?” Miranda asked.

 

“I lost it.”

 

Jack held out his hand with the necklace pooled in his palm, and nestled on top was the pendant that looked like a cross, except that the top part above the crossbar was turned into a tilting loop.

 

“Oh, thank you!” Alison said.  “Yes, this is it.”  She held it out to Miranda, who nodded as if it were exactly what she’d expected to see.

 

“I’ve seen that before,” Jack said.  “It’s an…an…”  Jack couldn’t remember the name.

 

“An ankh,” Miranda said.

 

“But if the frog was a vampire,” said Brenda, “shouldn’t it be a regular cross?  And that gash isn’t right, either.”

 

“It’s getting late,” Miranda said.  “Let’s walk Alison home.”

 

 

 

Duval, the Fanged Frog, the most feared creature in all of Europe crawled weakly to the edge of his hole.  With a final leg push, he dropped heavily into his coffin.  It was a mistake:  he should have eased in, he thought, as the jolt shot bolts of pain along his back.

 

Flies and crickets, he cursed to himself.  Weren’t these New Worlders supposed to be ignorant of the Old Ways?  But that girl…

 

Duval lay still, trying to concentrate on blocking the pain from his mind.  The wound was large, but shallow.  It hurt, yes, but in an odd way, he almost welcomed the pain now:  it kept him from thinking about an even deeper wound, the one to his pride.

 

Duval had been foolish, and he knew it.  Over-confident and arrogant.  Dragging himself back to his coffin, he’d reminded himself over and over:  attack first, play later.

 

Duval settled into his coffin to rest and to heal.  He and his kind healed quickly.  Soon, he thought, I'll be well again.  And I won't make the same mistake twice.