At the bottom of Frankie’s garden there was a small pond, almost hidden by a clump of dense bushes and shaded by an ancient oak tree. This was Frankie’s secret spot. He loved to take a blanket and a book and a bar of chocolate and settle himself there amongst the ferns and discarded flower pots.
When he wasn’t reading, he watched the frogs and toads clamber up onto the small rocks, push themselves off with their extremely long legs and fling their fully stretched bodies back into the water. Sometimes they would snuggle themselves under the gentle flow of the tiny waterfall his dad had created and peep out at Frankie, their bulging eyes like jewels caught in the sparkle of the water. Frankie never tired of watching the frogs; he talked to them, read to them, he even gave them all names. It was his very own little magical hideaway.
Frankie particularly loved the pond in autumn, just before the frogs buried themselves into crevices for their winter hibernation, when golden leaves lay scattered on the ground and white mushrooms with red spotted hoods appeared in mystical circles.
It was on one of these autumn days, when the sun was shining brightly through the almost bare branches of the oak tree, that Frankie was lying on his side on the blanket, wondering if those mushrooms were poisonous.
Deciding to take the risk, he stripped a thin thread from the hood of one of them and lay back lazily, sheltering his eyes from the sun with one hand and contemplating the foolishness of what he was about to do.
‘You wouldn’t be that stupid, surely? Throw that away. Now!’ a booming voice demanded.
Frankie was so startled that he threw the sliver onto the grass and jumped up. There was no-one there.
‘Hey, watch where you put those clumsy feet!’ shouted the voice.
Frankie looked down and stumbled backwards into the bush when he saw Freddie, the largest of the frogs, staring angrily up at him.
‘No way!’ he stuttered in disbelief.
‘And why not?’
Freddie’s voice was loud and deep and his throat swelled like bellows as he spoke.
‘No way!’ Frankie repeated.
‘Sit down; you’re making my neck ache. ’
Frankie cautiously stepped onto the blanket and crouched down nervously.
‘Right, now touch my head. ’
Frankie stretched out his arm and placed the tip of his finger very lightly on top of the frog’s head. Freddie’s head was cold and smooth, not slimy as Frankie had expected, but it was definitely real.
‘Now, when you’re ready, follow me. ’
Freddie hopped off and sat on one of the rocks above the waterfall, leaving Frankie totally confused.
‘I can’t come over there, I’m too heavy. ’
The frog ignored him and just sat waiting, patiently. Then Frankie’s view of the pond changed. He found himself at eyelevel with the waterfall. Then everything went black.
‘Help! Help!’ he screamed. ‘I’ve gone blind. ’
‘Don’t be such a girl! Just jump. ’
‘But I . . ,’ Frankie began. Then there was a pause.
‘Oh, right,’ he laughed.
In one leap, Frankie sprang out of the smelly blackness of his right shoe and landed with a plop in the middle of the pond. ‘Hey, this is great,’ he chuckled as he clambered up onto the rock beside Freddie.
Eye to eye, the two frogs grinned, winked at each other and dived into the pond like synchronized swimmers. When they surfaced, Frankie saw all the other frogs and one particularly ugly toad he had named Toothless perched around the pond croaking, ‘Bravo, Bravo. ’
Frankie and Freddie bowed to their public and raced each other back up the rock. This time, instead of diving straight in, Frankie leapt high into the air, double somersaulted then stretched out his long green limbs quickly before hugging himself in a ball and bombing bum first into the pond.
‘Beat that!’ he shouted. Freddie did. His triple somersault, ending in a star-shaped belly flop, thoroughly deserved the round of applause it received.
Toothless, who didn’t like water, slowly manoeuvred his lumpy body around the pond and waited for Frankie beside the upturned flower pots.
The old toad looked upset.
‘Hi, Toothless, something wrong?’ Frankie asked.
‘Yes. I don’t like being called Toothless. You gave all the others proper names: Frankfurter, Fishhook, Philip, and what do you call me? Toothless. ’
The corners of his mouth drooped.
‘Gee, I’m sorry Tooth … Sorry. What would you like me to call you?’
‘But that’s a girl’s name. ’
‘Girls can be ugly too, you know,’ the toad said sadly.
‘But . . . ’
‘Come on, I want to show you something. ’
Frankie followed Tabitha behind the flower pots and passed an old watering-can half buried in the ground. It took a long time because Tabitha moved so very slowly.
‘Where are we going?’ asked Frankie impatiently.
‘Don’t be in such a hurry. We’ll get there. ’
They continued their journey around some old stumps of wood and finally arrived at their destination, the small cave behind the waterfall.
‘Wow. Brilliant. ’ Frankie could hardly believe his eyes.
‘I like it here,’ Tabitha said. ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’
It was damp and musty smelling, but the way the sun played on the gentle flow of water sent shafts of different colours dancing around the cave. It was like finding a treasure chest.
Freddie popped his head through the water curtain.
‘You coming back to play?’
Frankie jumped through the curtain then, remembering his manners, jumped back into the cave.
‘Thanks, Tabitha. ’
‘You’re welcome,’ and Tabitha began her journey back around the obstacles to the pond. By the time she got there, Frankie and Freddie had finished playing and were sunning themselves on the top rock.
‘Oh look, dinner. ’ Frankie took aim, shot out his tongue and successfully caught his first fly. ‘Mmm, tastier that I thought. ’
‘Frankie!’ his mother called from the house. ‘Dinner’s ready. ’
‘Well, looks as if I have to go. This has been great. Can we do it again sometime?’
A couple of frogs looked at each other furtively.
‘We can do this any time you like, Frankie,’ Freddie said seriously. ‘Any time you like. ’
Frankie hopped over to the blanket.
‘See you soon, then, Freddie. ’
‘Oh yes. Maybe sooner than you think. ’
‘What?’ asked Frankie as he sprang inside his right shoe.
‘You’ll see,’ the frog replied quietly.
‘Ok, I’m ready. ’ Nothing happened.
‘Freddie!’ Frankie shouted. ‘I said I’m ready to change back now. ’
Still nothing happened, so Frankie jumped back out of the shoe. Freddie had disappeared. Frankie began to panic.
‘Frankie! Where are you?’ His mother’s voice was getting closer. Suddenly her head appeared through the bushes.
‘Oh, there you are, you lazy toad. Frankie! Wake up!’
Frankie rubbed his eyes and stretched.
‘Oh, Mum. You won’t believe it; I had such a great dream. ’
‘Well tell me about it at the table. Hurry up, dinner’s getting cold. ’
Frankie sat at the table and, all ready to tuck into sausage and mash, he tried to pick up his knife and fork but they fell from his grasp.
‘Stop messing about,’ his dad demanded.
He tried again, but again the knife and fork fell from his hands.
‘What is the matter with you, boy? Eat your dinner!’
Then suddenly his mum screamed, flapped her arms and fell off her chair.
While his dad bent down to help her up, Frankie quickly hid his webbed fingers under the table, aimed at the insect buzzing around his plate, uncurled his long tongue and successfully caught his second fly of the day.
Rosalyn, half Rose-half Daffodil, lives amongst the Tulips where she has raised three children, held an exhibition of her oil paintings, taught EFL and Business English, and freelanced in Language and Translation. Her hobbies include redesigning her garden every two weeks and talking to frogs. Thanks to LSS she has been a published writer since June 2004 (grovel, grovel). Contact Rosalyn.