Of Frogs and Lovers by Kathryn White

frogsOf Frogs and Lovers …

By Kathryn White

Copyright © Kathryn White 2015

Front Cover Image: Fotolia

 

Inside the City South Post Office a man had just turned in to a frog.

Our story does not really start there, though. Our story begins with a young man named Sid Sharp. Although he lived in an over-populated city, Sid was very lonely. He had no friends, no family, no pets and his home was in the basement of an ugly apartment building that was known to the locals as ‘The Rock’ because of its stark grey walls. While most apartment blocks are friendly looking places with big windows for people to look out of and lovely, big balconies where the neighbours can sit and chat to one another, The Rock did not have any balconies and the windows on each of the apartments were so small and so filthy that no one could see out of them. The Rock was the perfect place to live for someone who enjoyed being miserable. And, at the moment, Sid Sharp was as lonely and as miserable as could be.

The greatest source of Sid’s misery was his feelings for Miss Emma Lavender, the young lady who worked at the post office that was just around the corner from The Rock. Emma was tall, plain, and had curly, mousy brown hair that she always kept swept back in a neat, no-nonsense ponytail. She spoke with a soft, gentle voice. Most people did not take a lot of notice of Emma, but to Sid she was the most wonderful woman in the whole world. Sid wanted to marry Emma, but there was only one obstacle in his way. Sid and Emma had never even spoken.

Every time that Sid went to the post office, he would see Emma standing behind the counter, smiling as she helped the customers post their letters and parcels, and to pay their bills. As he stood and waited in line, he would think of all the wonderful and funny things that he could say that might catch Emma’s attention. He wondered what she would like to talk about. Sid had once overheard Emma telling one of her post office colleagues about how she was going to a quiz night, so maybe, he thought, she enjoyed general knowledge and trivia.

‘Lovely weather today,’ Sid imagined himself saying, as he strolled oh-so-casually up to the post office counter. ‘Did you know that the smallest country in the world is Vatican City? Most people think that the smallest country in the world is Monaco but it is really Vatican City. And what about railways? Did you know that when Australia was first settled that all of the colonies used different gauged railway lines and that when Australia became one single country instead of several colonies that they had to come up with a singular, standard gauge comprised of four feet and eight and half inches.’

Sid was certain that Emma would be impressed. The only problem (aside from the fact that Sid had experienced several near sleepless nights as he researched geography and the history of Australian railways,) was that every time he walked inside the post office, something would happen that would prevent him from sharing his knowledge with Emma. Often, as he waited in line, he would feel his entire body start to tremble and shake as soon as he saw Emma. If her eyes so much as glanced in his direction, surveying the post office from over the top of her glasses, Sid would immediately turn his head downward and stare at his sneakers.

‘Next customer please,’ Emma would call. Although her voice was soft and many customers could barely hear her at all, to Sid, her voice was the most important one in the whole world and, consequently, he could hear every word that she said, even when he was the last person in a queue that was fifteen people deep and Emma was muttering something under her breath about how her date stamp needed some more ink. (It was fortunately then, that Sid thought that everything that Emma said was important and interesting.)

‘Next customer please,’ Emma repeated. Sid stared at her from his place in the queue. He was three deep in the queue now, and there were four counters open. As he watched the customer approached Emma, he tried to work out the probability that, today, Emma would serve him. A man and his two children took up the whole of counter one. They were all applying for passports, so it was likely that they would take some time yet. At counter two, an older lady was posting a rug off to a relative in Afghanistan and seemed to be almost finished, so it was likely that the customer who was now at the front of the queue would be served from that counter. Sid watched as the older lady stuffed a receipt into her handbag and ambled away. The next customer was called up, meaning that there were now only two people ahead of him in the queue.

At counter three, an old man was buying some stamps to go with his stamp collection, and seemed to be taking his time, examining each stamp carefully before committing to a purchase.

Emma staffed the fourth, and final, counter. From the corner of his eye Sid watched as she placed some stamps on a parcel and exchanged pleasantries with her customer. ‘Really?’ Emma smiled at her customer, ‘You used to work for Greenpeace? I always admire people who fight to protect the environment.’

Pulling a pen from his briefcase, Sid made note on the back of his hand that he should do more to help the environment, instead of just merely separating his rubbish and recyclables into two separate bins each week and then mentally patting himself on the back for his efforts at saving the planet. It was then, as he finished scribbling on his hand that he noticed something odd. His skin, which was normally quite pale, had a bit of pale green in it. Sid wondered if it was just the lighting, if perhaps he was coming down with an illness, or if it was because he was feeling nervous because he was so close to Emma. Nerves could do funny things like that. Once, when Sid was a child and had to go to visit his rich old Aunt who he had never met before, he had broken out from head to toe in a sweat and then his entire body had started to turn an odd shade. His mother, who had been quite a kind lady, had joked that he looked a little bit green about the gills. Horrified, Sid had stared at his mother. He didn’t have gills … Did he?

Sid’s mother had laughed and explained that all she meant was that Sid looked rather nervous. She said that he would be all right soon. And she was right. As it all turned out, Aunt Sharp, had been a funny, eccentric old lady who was short, hunched over and looked a little bit like a frog. (Rumour had it that old Aunt Sharp could turn herself into a frog at will, though Sid had never seen any evidence of this.) Aunt Sharp enjoyed smoking cigars by the fire at night and after Sid’s parents died in a car accident, she had adopted Sid and they had lived together in her run down old mansion until Sid had grown up and moved to the city to go to university. When Sid was in his first year of university, he had received a telephone call to say that Aunt Sharp had passed away quite suddenly, meaning that Sid was now alone in the world without any family at all. It had also turned out that Aunt Sharp’s house had been completely infested with termites and it had to be demolished, meaning that after Sid had graduated from university that he was forced to stay on at his shabby digs at The Rock. He worked three days a week at Lone Shark Accountants, a somewhat dodgy concern that had a small office that was located just near the railway station and was owned by a man who was rumoured to be a direct descendant of none other than Ebenezer Scrooge. Lone Shark Accountants was a horrible place to work that seemed to thrive on ripping their clients off and the reason that Sid spent so much time in the post office was that he was always mailing off copies of his resume to different companies in the hope of getting a new and better job.

Inside Sid’s briefcase were thirty resumes, all sealed inside crisp yellow envelopes, along with a short letter introducing himself. The letters were addressed to every accountant in the city. Clutching his briefcase, as though the letters were all sealed inside solid gold, rather than a yellow paper envelope. Sid watched as the next two customers were called to counters two and four. This meant that it would be his turn next, and there was a very good chance that he might be served by Emma, as she seemed to be finishing up. Sid’s heart began to flutter. He cleared his throat, as something seemed to be stuck there. He hoped that his voice would not croak too much. Aunt Sharp always used to tease him about that. ‘Sid has a frog in his throat,’ she used to say, in that funny old nasally voice of hers.

Sid cleared his throat again. Usually, after he had said three or four words, his throat would clear and his voice would sound all right again. His skin on the other hand, was starting to turn that peculiar shade of green again. What a time to have a frog in his throat and to feel green about the gills.

‘Lovely weather today,’ Sid mumbled, hoping that his voice was not quite loud enough for anyone to hear.

‘No it isn’t,’ a voice called behind him. Turning, Sid found a thin, little old lady standing behind him. ‘It’s been overcast and raining and miserable all morning. I haven’t even been able to get all of my washing done.’

‘Oh,’ Sid muttered. His voice remained low and croaky. ‘Sorry.’

‘You ought to be sorry,’ the old woman said. ‘Making those silly remarks about the weather and staring at me with your big, bulging eyes. You look just like a frog, you do.’

‘Well, I think you look very nice.’

A soft and feminine voice spoke from the counter. Turning, Sid found himself staring straight at Emma. ‘And I think that the weather is just lovely,’ Emma said. ‘All morning, I have been looking out the window and across at the park. All the ducks are having a lovely time there, waddling about in the rain, and swimming in the pond.’

‘Phooey!’ The old woman snorted. ‘Who could possibly love a duck, with its funny webbed feet?’

‘I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one,’ Emma said. ‘I think webbed feet are beautiful. Now, Sid Sharp, isn’t it? You’re next.’

Sid felt his heart flutter. Emma knew his name. ‘Don’t look so surprised,’ Emma said. ‘I know you. We used to go to the same school. Then your parents died and you moved away.’

Sid stared at Emma in amazement.

‘You wouldn’t remember me,’ Emma said. ‘I was always very plain and unmemorable.’

How was it possible, Sid wondered, for someone as lovely as Emma to think that they were unmemorable? He could remember her quite well, the only other kid in his class who could name all of the actors who had played the part of The Doctor on Doctor Who. And even back then, Sid could never quite get up the nerve to talk to her.

Sid walked toward the counter. This took a while, as his feet were feeling a bit heavier than usual and rather uncomfortable inside his sneakers. When he got to the counter, Sid began to fumble with the lock on his briefcase. This took a while, as his hands felt somewhat slippery.

‘Is everything all right, Sid?’ Emma asked.

‘Yes,’ Sid croaked, even though, clearly, he was not all right.

‘Are you sure? You seem to be looking a bit green around the gills …’

Emma’s voice trailed off. Both she and the counter seemed to be growing much larger in size. It was either that, Sid realised, or that he was shrinking. Behind him, from the queue, the old lady let out a shriek.

‘What on earth is that ugly thing? It’s a frog. No, it’s far too ugly to be a frog. It’s a toad, for sure.’

‘Don’t be horrible,’ Emma said, as she walked around from the counter. Gently, she cupped Sid in her hands. ‘Just look at you Sid, you poor thing.’

‘Poor thing!’ The old lady snorted. ‘That thing is disgusting.’

‘Oh, shut up.’ Emma rolled her eyes. ‘I think we’ve heard just about enough from you. Now, what about you Sid? How are we going to fix … Excuse me!’ For once, Emma’s voice became loud enough for the entire post office to hear. ‘Does anyone know how to cure a man who has just been turned into a frog?’

‘I do.’ A short man with a moustache pushed his way forward. ‘I’m a veterinarian and I’ve seen a few cases of this in my time. What this man, or frog as he is now I suppose, needs is a kiss.’

‘A kiss?’

The old lady snorted. ‘Who’d want to kiss that horrible thing?’

‘I thought I told you to shut up,’ Emma said. ‘Now, you think that a kiss would cure poor Sid here?’

‘Yes.’ The veterinarian nodded. His expression was quite thoughtful and serious as he twiddled with his moustache. ‘But that kiss can only come from his true love.’

‘Well, that settles that then.’ The old lady snorted again. ‘Someone as ugly as all that is never going to have a true love.’

‘And it’s a pity that some people can’t take a hint.’ Emma fixed her eyes firmly on the old lady for a moment or two, before turning back to the veterinarian. ‘How are we going to find Sid’s true love, though?’

‘You could kiss him.’ The old lady said. ‘Go on. Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is, you silly little thing.’

‘And that,’ Emma sighed, ‘Is the first sensible thing that you’ve said all morning, you horrid old wench. I’ll kiss Sid.’

Emma raised Sid toward her mouth. She puckered her pink stained lips and pressed them to his smooth green skin. There was a strange popping sound and, startled, everyone in the post office watched as the frog vanished and Sid appeared once again. (After all, it wasn’t every day that a man turned himself into a frog inside the post office and was then turned back again. Although, that said, a week ago someone else had turned into a chicken, but that is another story …)

‘Emma.’

‘Sid.’

Both Emma and Sid stared at one another. Each felt slightly astonished at the recent turn of events.

‘You kissed me,’ Sid said.

‘I know,’ Emma said.

‘Does this mean …’ Sid stared at Emma, his face filled with hope.

‘I suppose so,’ Emma said.

‘Well,’ Sid said.

‘Well,’ Emma said.

‘This is strange,’ Sid said. ‘For the first time in my life … well, I mean for the first time since my aunt died, I feel happy.’

‘This is strange,’ Emma said. ‘For the first time in my life … I feel beautiful.’

‘But … you always were beautiful.’

Sid stared at Emma in astonishment.

‘Oh, give me a break.’ The old woman snorted. ‘Just listen to the two of you, getting all soppy with each other. Makes me sick, it does.’

‘Shut up!’

Both Sid and Emma glared at the old woman.

Standing beside the old woman, the veterinarian began to laugh. ‘There is only one catch to all of this,’ he said. ‘For the kiss to work, and for Sid not to turn into a frog again, the two of you must get married.’

‘Oh, of course!’ Emma said, while Sid simply smiled. For even if he was to turn into a frog again, he knew that the rest of his life would be a happy one, for he had been kissed by his true love, Emma.

 

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The Water Seer by HMC

WSCover_Final_eBookChapter One

Saturdays in Burleigh: fresh coffee brewing on James Street, blue skies and golden sand, sand so hot you danced on it, Sadie calling out orders for fish and chips – yes this early in the morning, too – and the sea-salty air obliterating any aggravation from the work week.

Those were my favourite mornings, a time where I could forget death and just surf instead. Surfing was my temporary distraction, a way to calm my mind. It was my creative outlet. An artist painted, a writer wrote, and a surfer surfed. There’s the thrill of waiting for the lump, gauging the size and direction of the wave, readying my body – apprehension and adrenaline combined – and the wave lifting my feet. I block out the world. It’s just me and the wave. The board catches, the world falls away, and I stand. Gravity takes me. The wave knows what to do. It has a mighty energy of its own. For a moment, we dance. I don’t thrash and slash the water, I move with it. It’s the purest form of surfing, soul surfing, riding the rail with my longboard. It’s important to treat the wave with respect.

The other surfers stick their middle finger up if you drop in, but for some reason, I cop it more than most. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a girl, because I ride a long board, or both. Maybe it’s because I surf better than they do. But no one owns the waves. They own you. Continue reading

Raven’s Breath by Ellen Mae Franklin

“Do you hear the Gods my love? Thor and Hod are riding the sky tonight driving the long winter days before them, pushing the frost and chill across the lands.” Toothless old Agritha stopped her knitting. Needles poised in mid clack, her pale eyes took on a faraway look and Tarmen knew she would stay that way, transfixed by days long gone, lost in memories until she was pressed to continue the story.

ravenTarmen listened to the tale, although half an ear had lent itself to the torrential downpour and the intermittent claps of thunder. He sat at the crone’s feet and leant against blue veined legs, wrapped in the pelts of wolf skins on the edge of the fire pit. Flames spun shapes of the gods who walked the earth before men were born and the shadows they threw out rose into monsters. But he wasn’t a child anymore, he had bragged as much to his father, so the grasping fingers of shadowed things didn’t scare him. Agritha’s eyes, cloudy as they were, watched the yellow dancing gods.

The young boy wondered if it was raining where his father was. ‘Wait another season. Wait a little longer, then you can raid with us.’ He had heard the words before and yet, despite his anger at being stuck with old Agritha and the slave his father had stolen from across the sea, Tarmen’s envy matched the weather outside.

“Agritha?” Tarmen’s voice drew her away from the dreaming.

“It will snow, mark my words.” The clacking began again, a familiar sound to the raging tempest screaming its fury around Skarken.

“Will the gods protect my father?” A small voice beside Agritha asked.

Agritha worked her tongue into the space where two teeth used to be. It was a habit of hers when she took to thinking. Tarmen looked up, straining his neck backwards. Old skin, wrinkled and loose, wobbled as she spoke. Continue reading

Shopping and Lies by Kathryn White

shopping&liesthumb

Monday February 9, 2009

 

Underpants.

Right now, my biggest problem is underpants. This is despite the fact that just a week ago, I eloped with fiancée of five years and no one, except for Samuel (who is now, of course, my husband,) and my dad (who funded the whole thing,) knows about it and they all think that our real wedding is going to be this huge, elaborate ceremony that my mother-in-law (who thinks that she is my soon-to-be mother-in-law,) is organising and will take place on Saturday, which is not only Valentine’s Day, but it will be my birthday as well. Anyway, despite the obvious problem of having to either a, reveal that Samuel and I went and got married without her knowing about it and causing Ursula considerable hurt and upset, or b, go through with an elaborate ceremony that neither of us asked for or wanted, right here and now, my biggest problem is underpants.

Or, to be a bit more specific about it, my biggest problem is underpants that are completely the wrong style, not to mention the wrong size.

This morning, I was feeling a bit lousy, which I suppose is normal when you’re not only a liar, but you’re a liar who has just told the whopper of the year to the majority of your family and most of your friends (no, no, I’m not already married, I’m not getting married until next week,) and you also happen to be pregnant and have just gone for your billionth fitting for the maternity wedding dress of the year that your mother-in-law is buying for you and not only do you not want it, but you’ve just discovered that it does not fit and it will have to be altered again, and so I decided to treat myself to a brand new bra and a matching pair of knickers. I found the perfect pair almost straight away and was secretly feeling rather triumphant that I found them all on my own and that the bra was a perfect fit, meaning that I didn’t have to worry about any kind of interference from that rather smug looking woman who works behind the counter at L’duds, who always reminds me of Mrs Slocombe from TVs Are You Being Served. Her name, at least according the little piece of gold plated plastic that she has pinned to her apron is Florence but I bet that her name is really Shirl, Marj or Beryl. (I don’t think that there is anything wrong with those names by the way. I just think that it is silly for people to be embarrassed about them and to want to call themselves something else, as if pretending to be named Florence magically makes them a better person.)

Continue reading

GLB46 by HMC

 

hmc glb46 I knew the GLB46 Program was wrong. But I had a choice, be wrong, or lose my mind.

 

Nessy dragged me to the car. I couldn’t quite remember why I was angry at her, so I pulled in the opposite direction toward our waterside mansion where I’d rather be in front of my big-screen TV. Almost bowled her backward at one stage. Poor old girl. I was stubborn as an old nail, and I wasn’t coming out for her. Not today. My shows were on. She was making me miss my shows. San Tracey Murdock was about to shoot the bad guy, and he’d been aiming all season. Damned if I’d miss it. Damned woman!

‘Get in the car, you buggar!’ She pulled my arm. Strong grasp this one. I taught her that. Was all right to be a strong girl. Nothin’ wrong with being able to beat up the fellas. She pushed me toward the silver Mercedes. My fault she could handle me like Raggedy Andy. Some strange guy came over to us and helped Nessy put me into the passenger seat.

‘Who are you?’ I demanded.

‘I’m your driver. Harry. Harry Carmichael.’ He had a familiar face.

‘Harry’s been driving us for five years, Bill,’ said Nessy as she climbed in the other passenger-side door.

‘Where the hell’s Reggie?’ I demanded.

‘Shush! Have some respect,’ Nessy whispered harshly. ‘He died. And Harry’s his son, so be quiet and have some compassion.’

‘Oh,’ I said. Shame that was, Reggie being dead. Good guy he was. That’s why Harry was so familiar – looked like his dad. Didn’t matter he’d been driving me for five years. Some days I didn’t even recognise my own face, let alone my bloody driver.

Nessy strapped herself in. ‘Now, Bill, you need to be on your best behaviour. Do you hear me?’

‘Stop treating me like I’m seven, Nessy! I’m bloody-well 66 years old. You treat me with some respect, woman!’

‘You’re 74, Bill Bins. Keep your voice down.’ She was calmer than usual, believe you me. Nessy wasn’t called Nessy for nothin’. It came from her name Vanessa, but it also came from her brothers when she was knee-high, and she stomped around like the Lochness Monster.

‘What’s going on?’ I studied her close. ‘You takin’ me to a doctor?’

‘I’ve already told you, and if you can’t remember, then shuddupaya face and read the paper.’ She threw the Sydney Herald at me, and glanced out the window, as we pulled out the front gates. The paper said April 8th, 2015. Geez, time flies. Continue reading

Warrior’s Reward by Wayne Hills.

“Grass—dime bags—loose joints.”

“Smack. Blow.”

Although well after lunchtime for most of the city’s residents, it was ‘up at the crack of noon, first-thing in the morning’ for the pushers in Washington Square Park.

The buyers and sellers did a brisk business during the final year of John Lindsey’s tenure as New York City’s Mayor. Their dealings were tolerated as long as everyone got a taste. The mobs, dealers, and beat cops all got a piece of the pie.

The park’s residents, bums as they were known in those pre-PC days, who couldn’t afford anywhere else to live, spent their days around the circle of the long-dry fountain. Martha Mumbles talked to herself and the pigeons. Nate the pharmacist held court by the public restrooms. And Vietnam veterans, Mick the tunnel rat, and Felix the sniper, moved as the sun did; shifting their locations to stay in the shade. Always keeping their backs against a wall or fence to, ‘cover their asses’, in case of attack.

They all lived below the line that society set for the lower class. Way below it. These were the cast-offs, the losers in life’s game between the haves and the wish-they-hads. Wish they had a home, had a dry bed, had a warm meal. Their days spent squirrel-like, storing up supplies to get them through the nights.

The sun shed light on the hiding places of the monsters, human and imagined, that would soon be hunting for provisions of their own when darkness shrouded the park.

The vets were sitting in the shadow of the triumphal Washington Arch studying the sidewalk scenery.

Without turning, Mick said to Felix, “Let’s jump on the subway and crash at the old World’s Fair site in Queens, I met a guy who’s got a still like we had back in the Delta.”

Both men had volunteered to fight the Viet Cong. Mick, believing the rhetoric about the domino effect of communism, joined to fight for democracy. Felix chose the war over going to prison for stealing a car in order to run away from his abusive father. The friends met during a tour in the Mekong Delta, where they had learned to survive on C-rations and whatever mind-altering concoctions they could find.

Mick thought Felix’d had it easy when they were in-country.

Continue reading

Jim Baker’s Blue-jay Yarn – Mark Twain

JJim Baker’s Blue-jay Yarn
by Mark Twain
(about 1100 words)

As a story written by Mark Twain, Jim Baker’s Blue-jay Yarn is full of all the charm that one expects from one of the world’s most renowned authors. Originally relayed by a friend of his while prospecting together, Twain later retold the story in his own style and it has since become one of his more famous shorter works.

As the title suggests, Jim Baker’s Blue-jay Yarn is about a blue-jay–several hundred blue-jays later on, but initially only one.  It reads like a fable, in which the story-teller can understand the language of all birds and beasts and in this instance, the private monologue of one blue-jay as it struggles to fill a hole in the roof of an abandoned house. The bird’s frustration grows as, no matter now many acorns he tosses down the hole, he can’t seem to fill it. Eventually he calls over all the blue-jays from all over the United States to help him solve this mystery and while they joke and cuss and puzzle it out, ‘two tons’ of acorns lay strewn over the abandoned floor.

Mark TwainSamuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) was born on November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri. His pre-writing life follows the same pattern as many other writers we’ve already talked about: he lost many siblings and his father at a young age, and he worked in the print industry before moving up to write articles for newspapers. He spent some time in California unsuccessfully attempting mining, and also worked for a time on a steamboat, where he foresaw the death of his brother in a dream which sparked his interest in parapsychology. While he made a lot of money off of his later writings and fame, he lost it in unsound investments and later had to file for bankruptcy. To pay off his creditors, Twain embarked on a world tour, making appearances and speeches in Europe, the Americas and Asia before returning back to the US. He died on April 21, 1910. He had this to say before his death:

I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together’.

He died of a heart attack the day after the comet’s closest pass to Earth.