Serenity House short story
While we wait for the FINAL book in the Serenity House series… I wrote a wee short story for Wattpad. The theme was Spring and fairytales. I thought I would go for a peek into the head of one of the undead :)
The Zombie Frog
By AW Exley
This story is a twist on The Frog Prince by the Grimm Brothers.
With each passing day the tendrils of sunlight became stronger and more insistent. They burrowed deeper into the frigid ground and repelled the cold. Day by day the earth warmed and winter relinquished her grip. Trees and plants that had hibernated for months shook off the dirt and reached for the sunlight. Shoots and tender leaves in a riot of greens appeared in the countryside.
Perhaps it was the lure of the new season bursting with life that awoke me. Or it might have been the voice in my head insisting that I rouse and find her. I didn’t know who she was, only that she summoned me and I must obey. I stirred deep in the earth like a dormant bulb as parts of my mind tried to remember before. I had escaped recruitment for the Great War only to succumb to the Influenza Pandemic.
Even though spring spread above me, I was surrounded by the dark. I scratched at my face to pull away the linen covering my mouth. Earth pressed upon me and my fingers scrambled to loosen the soil. My brain said I was dead and I should be resting for eternity, so what drove my body to dig itself free of my grave?
As I pulled at clumps of dirt pressing on my body, clods fell into my mouth yet I did not choke, for no breath passed my lips. I continued to dig, working upward to where the sun warmed the grass. Roots clustered together as I neared the surface and finally, one hand cracked the surface and touched the air above.
I renewed my struggles and soon I emerged from the earth’s embrace like a cicada shedding its old skin. The shroud slid from my body as I hauled myself up onto the mown grass. By kicking my legs, I shook off the last of the soil and soon I lay out in the sun. My face toward the plain white cross that marked my grave.
Confusion still clouded my mind but the quiet voice continued to whisper; come to me. I shook my head. I didn’t want to. Images coloured the quiet words. Rows and rows of us marching with slow steps. We were her soldiers. But I didn’t want to fight. I hid during the Great War, unwilling to give my life on a foreign battlefield. Now she called for me to spend my death fighting at home.
I tried to resist but she pulled my strings and made my limbs straighten and stand. My head swung too and fro before my body decided on a direction. East. I must walk east. That was where I would find her, my dead body to swell the ranks of her unnatural army. Each step was laboured and irregular, as though I had drunk too much ale and I tried to walk home in the dark and heavy fog. One foot in front of the other, I trudged through the countryside.
I kept away from the dirt roads and stuck to fields. I saw no one except grazing sheep and birds. With no mirror or reflection to stare back at me, I wondered what I had become. I held out a hand; my flesh was grey and started to pull away from the bone. Through my wrist I saw cream bone twist and rotate as I wiggled my fingers. How long had I slept in my shroud? The pandemic took me in September of 1918. Spring this far along meant March, perhaps. Seven months my body had mouldered before forces greater than me activated my decaying flesh to obey an unseen command.
Day turned into afternoon and soon the sun began to dip below the horizon. Birds chatted as they flew to treetops for the evening. Still my body was like a toy on a string, pulled continuously east. The gurgle of nearby water drew me and overrode the impulse. I crashed through the trees, pushing branches away from my ruined face until I broke through to a clearing.
A large, deep pond was fed by a tumble of water over rocks. It gurgled as plunged into the impenetrable water. Ripples spread over the surface and lapped against the grassy edge. Then it left on the other side where a narrow stream snaked through the trees.
My body dropped onto mossy ground. Neither hunger nor exhaustion bothered me, but I simply wanted to sit and contemplate the surroundings. A few lily pads were dotted across the water. Insects buzzed in the low light before they too would retire for the night. Even the voice urging me on, quietened. I rested my head on the moss, sighed and watched night creep over the pond and swallow the trees from my vision.
I didn’t sleep. Like a machine turned off, I simply waited to be reactivated.
The next morning, movement on the water drew my eye. A fat green frog leapt from lily pad to lily pad. A long thin tongue snaked out and caught a dragonfly that had been skimming the water. The insect was rolled into the frog’s mouth and it munched on wings.
I waited for the voice to force me to stand up and continue my journey, but today it was reduced to the buzzing of a gnat. Annoying, but I could ignore it. Another voice caught my attention. This one was light and feminine as she sung a song.
I retreated into the branches of a tree, not wanting to scare whomever it was away with my appearance. I hunched down over my knees, covering up where cream bone showed through my trousers. A pale yellow shape flickered between the trees on the opposite side of the pond. Then she emerged, a young woman in a flowing yellow dress. She tossed a ball into the air as she walked. Light refracted and sent rainbows spinning around the glade, as though the object contained a mirror or something that reflected any stray shaft of sun that touched it.
A gentle chime emitted from the ball on each toss and created music with the tinkle of the water. The woman sat by the water and tucked her feet under the long dress. Golden hair hung down her back. Her face was heart shaped but I could not tell the colour of her eyes from my hidden position.
This was no queen like the voice urged me to find, but surely a princess.
Bite her so she might join us, the voice whispered.
My gaze concentrated on her pale, slender neck. What would it feel like to lick her skin before my teeth tore into her flesh? I imagined how she would taste and drool pooled on my tongue and dripped onto my hands. I pressed my hands to my ears. My fingers dug into my scalp trying to find the source of the voice and remove it from my head. No. I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t want to. I wanted to sit and watch the beautiful creature with her magical musical ball.
Both her form and her sheer enjoyment in the toy mesmerised me. Up and down the crystal ball was tossed sending shafts of brightly coloured light around the glade and lighting up the trees. Then she threw it higher. Up and up it flew as the chime became faster. Then down it plummeted with ringing and… plop.
The ball landed in the water and floated for a few seconds before it weight pulled it below the surface. The bright orb vanished from view as it sank. The woman cried out in disappointment. She jumped to her feet and paced back and forth. Then she picked up a stick and prodded at the pond but she couldn’t reach far enough to where the ball disappeared.
She couldn’t fetch the toy without ruining her dress. But I was already ruined.
I rose from my crouch and stepped through the trees. She turned and her hand went to her mouth as a startled scream cut through the air.
I held up my hands and stayed put. Then I pointed at the water then at myself. I tried to tell her I would retrieve the ball, but the words wouldn’t form in my mouth. Her green eyes were wide and she stepped back. Would she run?
To make my intentions clear, I walked into the water. The bottom fell away quickly and soon most of my body disappeared. One more step and my head, much like the ball, vanished beneath the surface.
Water flowed into my mouth and down my throat in an odd sensation, like filling a bottle. Once the pond claimed every part of me inside I found it easier to walk over the rocky bottom. Small teeth and mouths bit and tugged at my flesh and tore away tiny pieces as the fish fed on me. I swiped a hand up my arm and scared some away.
I peered through the gloom. Unless there was a much larger fish hiding down here, the ball should be easy to find. The nagging voice fell silent, as though she could not reach me through the water. I was almost at peace in the embrace of the water. Almost. For the silence created an awareness of the ache deep inside me. Something vital was missing. If I burrowed my fingers into my chest they would find nothing, the seat of my soul was gone. That was why she could control my limbs, she held a piece of me.
An insistent fish tugged on my fingers and I shook it away. I could stay under the surface of the pond and beyond the reach of the queen. Except the way the fish were nibbling I might not last long.
A flash of light drew my eye. There! The ball. I bent down and picked it up. It glowed in the murk, a faint radiance spun from its surface and left tendrils of colour in the water. Clutching the treasure I walked back to the shallows.
My head emerged first and water streamed through my hair and down my back. The princess stood on the edge, her pale pink mouth making a perfect o of surprise. I held up the ball and she smiled and clapped her hands in delight.
I stepped onto the grass, keeping a safe distance between us. She held out a hand.
“My ball, thank you,” her voice melodious like the chime within the ball.
My fingers tightened around the orb. I turned my face and touched my cheek.
“Kiss,” I managed to lisp with far too many s’s on the end.
She swallowed and glanced from ball to me. Then a moment of bravery washed over her and she took a tiny step toward me. “Very well, since you have rescued my ball.”
Her hand reached for the ball and at the same time she lightly placed her lips against my grey cheek. In the instant that we touched, light exploded from the orb and washed over the glade.
My princess cried out and jumped back, clutching the ball to her chest. I staggered backwards as the rainbows formed into arrows that drove into my body.
“I’m sorry,” she said and then ran, her yellow dress mingling with the light and dissolving amongst the trees.
I swatted at my body as the rainbows broke me apart. Then I fell to the grass and could only watch as the world around me grew to gigantic size. The trees soared toward the sky as though they would bump against the sun. Blades of grass loomed before me like green limbs waving with a gentle breeze. The pond stretched into an ocean. Skimming dragonflies became the size of flying cats.
I tried to push off my hands to stand but found I couldn’t. I shook my head and stared at my hands but they were no longer my hands. Webbed fingers of mottled sage and brown were pressed against the ground. I tried to cry out, but only a croak emerged from my throat.
With effort, I crawled to the edge of the ocean and peered into the water. A squat, broad face with bulbous eyes stared back at me. I opened my mouth and an incredibly long pink tongue unfurled and dropped to the water.
Now I understood. The world hadn’t grown. I had shrunk. Either the kiss or the orb had transformed me into a frog.
Was I still dead? I wasn’t aware of breath filling my new form, but death could be worse. The voice had gone from my head, the ache in my chest had vanished and the sun warmed my flesh. With a croak, I jumped onto a lily pad.
I would rule the pond, king of my own domain.