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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 7

The Toad From Transylvania

 

“Jack!”

 

The croaking had stopped and everything was quiet again.  Miranda’s whisper knifed through the silence, but neither of the vampires seemed to notice, so intently were they watching each other.

 

“Jack--are you all right?”

 

When Jack didn’t respond, Miranda looked helplessly at Brenda.  Brenda thought she understood why Jack wasn’t saying anything.  Though the frog seemed to be ignoring Miranda, she figured that was probably because she was several feet behind it and posed no immediate threat.  With the frog on his back, Jack would be taking a much greater risk if he were to make any sound.  He could have signaled them with his hands, but they were pinned between his chest and the alley pavement.  But there was another option.

 

“Jack,” Brenda whispered.  “If you’re okay, tap your foot once.”

 

They watched as Jack raised one sneakered foot and tapped it once against the pavement.

 

Brenda and Miranda sighed in relief.  “Okay, stay there,” Miranda responded.  (If the circumstances had been different, Jack would have laughed at that:  he couldn’t go anywhere even if he wanted to.)

 

The problem now was how to help Jack.  Brenda reached in a pocket and drew out her ankh, but Miranda shook her head.

 

“Too dangerous with two of them,” Miranda whispered.

 

“We’ve got to do something,” Brenda said.

 

“I know.  Listen…”

 

Jack couldn’t make out the words being whispered behind him, but he thought he had a pretty good idea what was being said just the same.  No doubt Brenda and Miranda were formulating a plan of attack--and that was the last thing Jack wanted right now.  Ever since the croaking stopped, Jack had felt something on his back.  The frog, of course, but something else:  a sensation of hardening, tightening.  It could mean only one thing:  the frog was constricting its muscles, preparing to jump.  If it was still waiting, Jack thought, it was only because it hadn’t yet found the right opportunity.

 

He couldn’t see the frog’s eyes, but he’d been able to watch the toad’s, and they hadn’t wavered in all this time.  It was a standoff:   if either one blinked or shifted its eyes, the other would leap.

 

Jack cringed when he heard the sound of shuffling feet behind him.  Brenda and Miranda were on the move, though very slowly.  He knew how dangerous this maneuver was, and he suddenly felt doubly trapped:  pinned by the frog and unable to communicate with his friends.

 

The problem was simple enough.  The toad was directly in front of Jack; he could see everyone:  Jack, the frog, and Brenda and Miranda.  The frog, however, was at a disadvantage since, with his back to the girls, he couldn’t see what they were doing.  It wouldn’t take much, Jack knew, for Brenda and Miranda to distract the frog, and that would give the toad the opportunity he needed to leap first.  Worse, it would put Jack right in the middle of two warring vampires.

 

If only the solution was as simple, Jack thought.  Somehow he had to make the toad blink first so that the frog would jump and he, Jack, would be free.

 

He knew if he could just tell Brenda and Miranda what he was thinking, they could find a way to distract the toad.  But all he could do was tap his feet, and that wasn’t going to help.  He couldn’t even make much noise, not with sneakers.  And that, Jack thought, was why they called them sneakers.  This had never occurred to him before, but now it made perfect sense.  It just didn’t help. 

 

And that’s when it hit him, an idea that might work--an idea that had to work.  He heard Brenda and Miranda moving again, and this time he felt an answering movement from the frog:  just a twitch in its muscles, but enough to let him know that the frog was no longer ignoring the girls.  Jack thought the toad detected it, too; anyway, when he looked at its face, he thought its smile had gotten a bit wider.

 

The toad could only see the upper half of Jack’s body; his legs were hidden behind the body of the frog.  Carefully, Jack put his left foot above his right, toe to heel, and began to push.  The heel of his right shoe slid slowly off his foot until his heel was free.  Jack wiggled his right foot until his toes were about in the middle of the shoe, which by now was so loose it was starting to tilt from side to side.  Jack quickly bunched his toes as tightly as he could, gripping the sneaker from the inside.

 

This is it, he thought.  Staring at the toad’s eyes, Jack jerked his right leg up at the knee, unbunching his toes when his leg was perpendicular to the alley.  His shoe sailed off his foot, heading straight up.  Instinctively the toad lifted its to follow the shoe.  It realized its mistake almost immediately, but by then, Jack was sure, all it could see was the great green mass of the frog as it rocketed through the air on a collision course.

 

The force of the frog’s leap pushed the air out of Jack’s lungs.  He stood up, coughing and gasping for air.  Brenda and Miranda each simultaneously grabbed one of his arms and dragged him backward, asking him if he was really okay.

 

“I’m all right, I’m okay,” Jack said, still breathing heavily.  “What do we do?”

 

It was a good question, but Jack wasn’t certain that anyone had heard it--not over the huge splat! that came from further down the alley.  The frog had leaped again and this time the toad had been ready:  the two met in mid-air.  Jack saw them tumble back to the pavement and back away from each other as if preparing for another jump.

 

Instead, the toad croaked again, the sound low and menacing.  It was the strangest sound Jack had ever heard:  toad-like, yes, but the way it rose and fell reminded Jack of something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.  After a couple of moments of silence, the frog also began to croak.

 

“What are they doing?” Brenda asked.

 

“They’re talking to each other,” Miranda replied.

 

Yes, Jack thought, that was it.  He remembered lying in bed at night in the Waking world, on the verge on falling to sleep, listening to his parents in the next room talking.  He couldn’t make out any words, but the way the sounds rose and fell was just like this.  Except that these sounds, unlike the soothing words of his parents, were coarse and grating and not at all comforting.

 

“Give me your hands,” Miranda said.

 

Jack and Brenda each held out a hand for Miranda.

 

“They must really hate each other,” Brenda said.

 

As if in reply, the toad stopped croaking and launched itself at the frog.  The frog ducked, sending the toad bouncing across the pavement.

 

“Let’s get out of here!” Miranda yelled.  She swung the children around behind her and started running, but the rolling body of the toad clipped one of her heels and tripped her up.  Brenda and Jack each took an arm and hauled her back to her feet.

 

Brenda took the lead then, taking them back out to Gaston Avenue.  It wasn’t far, but they arrived completely exhausted.

 

“Now there’re two of them.  What do we do?”

 

“That’s easy,” Jack said.  “Listen.”

 

Loud croaks and the sounds of battle split the otherwise peaceful night.

 

“We let them fight.  Only one of them is going to survive that.  And it will be so beat up we won’t have any trouble capturing it.”