Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.
See also: http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart
My name: Brian Martin
Jack was miserable. Brenda knew that because he had told her so the night before, and tonight was no different. He had told her on the way back to Miranda’s house, and if nothing happened pretty soon, she was sure he’d tell her again on the way home tonight.
Brenda could understand why: it was chilly, the fog dampened their clothes and hair, and crouching in doorways all night made their knees ache. Understanding it, though, didn’t mean she shared his feelings. In fact, she was quite happy. The cold was a little uncomfortable, but that aching feeling in her knees was wonderful.
It had been a week now since she’d first found herself out in front of Cooper’s Drug Store and Fountain. In that week, she had already begun to forget things about her life in the Waking world. Little things, mostly--like what her favorite TV shows had been and the smell of her mother’s hair. One thing she had definitely not forgotten was her room. Her room was her world--ever since the accident that had paralyzed her legs. Until finding herself in Mozaic, she hadn’t walked on her own in five years. What were a few aches and pains next to that? she wondered.
A low-pitched warble sounded not far off, and Brenda smiled. Miranda had taught them both how to signal each other by whistling like a local bird called a windsnap. Brenda practiced hard, making the call over and over until she’d perfected it. Jack had given up after a couple of days. Listening to his call now, Brenda thought it sounded a bit like the poor bird was drowning.
Anyway, she knew it meant that Jack, in his position a few doors down and on the other side of the street, had seen nothing. Brenda inched out of the doorway to peer both ways down the fog-bound avenue. Seeing nothing herself, she whistled back. Another half hour, she thought, and they’d have to give up for the night.
Jack heard Brenda’s whistle and frowned. Nothing, he thought. That makes four nights of the same thing--nothing. He felt bad because this was his plan, his trap, and so far it was a complete failure.
Jack heard a familiar sound of footsteps approaching and peeked around the corner. Miranda, in gloves and an ankle-length coat, walked slowly closer down the middle of the street, keeping her eyes forward and showing no sign at all that she knew Jack was there. This was exactly what she was supposed to do, but Jack had begun to wonder anyway if perhaps she was avoiding looking at him because she was resentful about having to walk back and forth all night long, the bait in a trap that simply wasn’t working.
Jack looked up as Miranda passed the midpoint between Brenda and himself. Looking like a ghost in the fog, a thick sheet of white canvas hung suspended in midair. Jack could just make out the ropes that held it there, one end of which was hanging loosely near his right hand. He gave the rope a slight tug, and the canvas rippled.
It really did resemble a ghost, Jack thought. He wondered if, in addition to all the other strange things he’d seen in Mozaic, this world had ghosts, too. Then he remembered that no one actually died here, they just went to sleep. That didn’t sound like a world in which restless spirits wandered. And if they did, he thought, they’d be sleepy ghosts, and that didn’t sound so frightening.
This one seemed pretty restless, though. Instead of settling back down again after Jack’s tug, the canvas had started rippling more energetically; now it was fairly flapping in the fog. Jack’s hand on the rope was bobbing up and down like mad. A thought that maybe the breeze had picked up was instantly replaced by a new realization: this was the signal that something was happening. Jack tugged hard on the rope to let Brenda know he’d received her signal, then he crept slowly forward and peered around the edge of the stone doorway.
He’d chosen this stretch of road because it went straight for a hundred feet in both directions, allowing him a clear view. That strategy paid off now: Jack could see everything. Miranda, almost even with Brenda now, backed slowly down the street in his direction. He couldn’t see the expression on her face, but he could tell that her hands were up, palms out, as if to ward off an imminent attack. Twenty feet further down the street and almost lost in the fog swirling sluggishly over the cobblestones, Jack saw a large dark lump creeping forward. Suddenly it bounded into the air and sailed ten feet forward; it hit the street again with a wet slap.
Jack’s first thought was that the thing was huge. He remembered seeing frogs in the creek near his house--he knew the whole frog cycle, in fact, having watched them from tadpoles to full-grown adults--but he’d never seen any frog that came close to the size of this thing. It was nearly as big around as the steering wheel in his parents’ car. Stretched out, as it had been in flight, it was easily three feet long, half of that, of course, being its legs.
Miranda let out a little yelp when the frog cut the distance between them by half with its single leap. Jack had told her to act frightened so as to lure the frog under the canvas, but he didn’t think she was acting anymore. Even from this distance, Jack could see gleaming points of white poking out of the front of the frog’s mouth. To Miranda, those fangs must have looked enormous.
The frog leaped again just as Miranda passed the doorway concealing Brenda. It was only five feet from her now; one more jump, Jack knew, and it’d be on her. Jack checked the canvas. It was ready to go, but if Brenda gave the signal to drop it now, the only one they would catch would be Miranda. And if they waited…?
Brenda was asking herself the very same thing. Jack’s trap had worked, but it would be all for nothing if they sprang it too soon. On the other hand, if they waited too long, Miranda would get the same thing Alison had and maybe worse. By now, the frog was probably both very hungry and very angry, having been foiled in its last attempt to get a bite to eat. In that condition, it might not be so easily frightened off after she and Jack made their presence known. It just might keep feeding while the two of them tried to get close enough to press their ankhs against its skin.
Brenda sensed that the frog was about to jump. Those half-distance leaps had been carefully orchestrated to maneuver the frog into perfect attack position. Now only five feet away from Miranda, Brenda judged that the frog had succeeded. Yet only Miranda was beneath the canvas. Brenda knew she had only one choice.
Timing, she thought. It’s all about timing. Unhooking her end of the rope, she whistled the signal to Jack to drop the canvas. The instant she saw his end drop she let go of hers, as well. Then she stepped out into the street.
It all happened very fast after that. Brenda yelled out to Miranda to run just as the frog started to jump. As Brenda had hoped, the unexpected sound of her voice startled the frog. She may as well have crept up behind it and said, “Boo!” Instead of launching itself straight at Miranda, the surprise sent it shooting upward. This not only bought Miranda enough time to escape the falling canvas, but also sent the frog straight into it. It came down with a muffled thump. Brenda, Jack, and Miranda rushed to the edges of the canvas and stepped on them, trapping the frog underneath.
“We did it! We did it!” Brenda yelled. “Great plan, Jack!”
“You did it,” Jack said, a huge smile on his face. He laughed and added, “I almost didn’t drop the canvas because I was sure we’d catch Miranda. I should have known better.”
“Yes, very good work, both of you,” Miranda said, “but we aren’t done yet. Can you reach the ropes? We’ve got to tie him off.”
Jack and Brenda both dropped to their hands and knees to keep as much weight on the canvas as possible while reaching for the ropes, which had fallen free to the pavement when the trap was sprung. Brenda fished hers in quickly enough and stood up again; Jack was in mid-stretch when a deafening croak sounded from beneath the canvas. Jack dove for the rope, snagged it with his right hand, and scrambled back to his feet.
Until now, the frog had been quiet and quite still, a great lump in the center of the white canvas. All that changed with that first bellowing croak. The canvas started shaking from the center, sending waves of thick fabric crashing at the feet of the three captors. Worse still, they all three heard scraping and tearing sounds. “Look!” Brenda cried: two gleaming fangs tore through the canvas like it was paper, opening a large hole.
The frog forced its way through the hole, took one malevolent look at the three of them, then bounded high over Miranda’s head.