I love contests! So often, they are the key to meeting other authors and occasionally, even publication. This one found me via Facebook, and I couldn’t resist. I apologize in advance for the decidedly unholidaylike theme, but I was on a deadline, and try as I might I couldn’t fit Christmas into the Horror category that I had decided to write under. Well, you’ll see – I’m including the links as well as the story. My contribution fits under number seven in the Horror section - not really horror at all, but lots of fun. Hope you enjoy!
Nicola’s affinity with frogs had long been established, even before she found The Whopper in the fire station on the day of the drowning - her childhood summers spent largely on the shores of Blue Goose Lake with spotlight and gig in hand, blonde curls caught back with haphazard butterfly clips. Bikinis Tap paid a flat ten dollars per pound for the unfortunate’s hindquarters, and Nicola had purchased books with the proceeds – Steinbeck and Burke and later Sookie Stackhouse.
But she had never seen a frog the size of The Whopper. He emerged from beneath the gear rack while she was removing her helmet - nudged her boots crosswise and leaped past her, enormous legs trailing.
“Good Lord.” Burwell passed a gloved hand over his bald head and left a sooty smear just above his eyebrows. “There’s a whopper, kiddo.”
Nicola had already captured her prey - gray-green and greasy-wet, its warble more like death rales than anything else.
“Look at that mouth,” Burwell bent close to peer into the pop-eyed visage. “Opens a little wider, he’ll eat you right up.”
“I’ll put him in my car for now,” Nic twisted away from her coworker with the monstrosity clutched to her chest. “Take him home and turn him loose in the lake.”
Nicola’s half-sister Benny called at lunchtime, when the EMS crew was still hashing the details of the drowning – her voice so agitated, Nic could practically see her finger- combing her cornrows and rolling her eyes.
“That thing I did last night, remember? With the frog eggs and the poppet?”
Nonsensical magic, Benny’s forte; Nicola closed her eyes against a wash of real fear. She would not reply....
“It was a fertility spell for you.” Benny rode past the umbrage. “Because I know how you and Johnny have been trying and I wanted to help.”
Nicola rubbed a thumb at her temple; she could feel her cheeks heating at the memory of her husband’s early morning ardor.
“Benny!” she snapped. “What are you saying?”
“I think it went bad!” The words hurried and blurred together. “Maybe I had the wrong spell and this is the toad plague; there’s frogs in the toilet and the kitchen sink is full and I accidentally boiled tadpoles in my travel mug.”
The voices of the men at the table reached her as though from a great distance.
“Didn’t so much drown,” Quiller was saying. “More like choked on frogs; his mouth was full of ’em. Never seen anything like it.”
“Fix it,” Nicola hissed into her cell phone.
“I can reverse it, but I need the queen.”
* * *
Nicola left town with The Whopper flopping in the back seat, scattering muddy, palm-sized prints on the back window. She only stopped once, at the drugstore, and then she stepped on three frogs while crossing the parking lot; their bodies gave like water balloons beneath her boots.
The sky washed over to a color like old moss while Nicola rode the outer curves in her headlong rush for home. Her scanner was alive with hectic chatter, exclamations and pleas for help - frogs in an infant’s crib, frogs choking the sewer lines, on counters, in ovens, under pillows.
The road was slick with them, and Nicola skidded into her driveway on a glut of legs and bellies.
“This is her!” She heaved The Whopper at her sister from the kitchen doorway, catching Benny with a wet, sidelong smack to the head.
Benny shrieked and fell backwards, braids bouncing.
“Do something.” Nicola patted her body in a frantic search for cigarettes, lifted a croaker from her pocket by its back leg and flung it into the squirming green pool at her feet. Voices rose in deafening song, drowning even the panicked pulse in her ears.
The Whopper watched unblinking from the top of the refrigerator.
Benny lunged and slid, going down hard. She lay on back with her eyes closed and her mouth open.
She hiked up on her elbows, spit out a frog.
Nicola’s gig was in the gun case. She shuffled, kicking bodies aside on her way down the hall. Took a deep and calming breath before she dove at The Whopper.
* * *
“What’s for supper?” Johnny knocked on the bathroom door, cracked it so that a cloud of rich, oily fragrance engulfed Nicola – real butter and fried egg batter. “Chicken?”
The house was silent, blessedly free of slime and song and all things amphibian.
“I’ll be right out!” Nicola squeaked.
She tossed the pink stick into the wastebasket and scrubbed her hands beneath the rush of hot tap water.
“Hey baby,” Johnny called from the kitchen. “These tadpoles in the sun tea jar - they here for a reason?”