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It was a cold day in April when the frog moved in. There had been heavy rains and perhaps that explained it. Ben must have left the window open for it came in whilst he was at work. He returned at seven as usual. Shutting the front door he shook the rain from his coat. The hallway was quite dirty. He made a note to clean it later. It wasn't his turn, but otherwise the job would never get done. As his wages did not permit him to keep up the flat on his own, he had taken lodgers. The role of keeping the place tidy had fallen to him entirely though, which he accepted with good grace. Hanging his coat, he crossed the hallway to his room and opened the door: that was when he first saw the frog.
It was about two metres long, maybe a metre across and filled fully half the room's floorspace. Ben knew very little about frogs, but judged that apart from it's giant size, this was a typical specimen. It's skin was mottled muddy green and brown, and glistened wetly under the light. The frog sat in the position typical of it's kind; powerful back legs curled beneath it, head raised up on it's forelegs. The creature's eyes were almost as large as a saucer. The pupils were vertical black slits set in golden irises. They fixed Ben with a steady gaze. The mouth was a white line. It was impossible to tell what expression the frog was wearing, or what thoughts went on behind it. Ben stood in the doorway and stared at the frog. The frog stared back.
They remained like that for some time. The frog seemed unfazed by Ben. It had not moved since his arrival and only the soft rise and fall of it's cream chest showed it was indeed alive. He stepped into the room. It neither moved away nor made a move to stop him. Ben moved cautiously, judging that it could quite easily overpower him in a struggle. He sat on the bed. The frog shuffled round to watch him, it's movements graceless but confident. He stood up nervously.
"I'll have a cup of tea." he said, not sure if he was speaking to himself or the frog. His voice was weak and almost faltered. The act of speaking made the whole thing feel more real. It was as if until then he might have banished the monster as a vision. By speaking he had confirmed it's existence and accepted it's presence. He left for the kitchen. The frog watched him go.
His lodgers - Gary and Jane - were sat at the kitchen table talking and smoking. They ignored his entrance. He suddenly wondered if they weren't somehow behind the frog's appearance, or at least had moved it into his room. The thought was ridiculous though and he dismissed it. His lodgers never entered his room and the frog would have left tracks if it had been elsewhere in the flat. They probably did not even know the frog was there.
"Would anyone like some tea?" he asked.
"Yeah, why not?" said Gary.
"Sink's a bloody mess again." said Jane.
"Don't look at me," Gary replied, "It's not me as eats humus or cous-cous Jane."
"Oh right so it's all my mess? I expect that's my bacon fat over everything too?"
"That was only today. Your dishes have been there for ages."
Ben handed Gary a mug of tea and left.
It was not easy sleeping with the frog in the room. For a start he felt embarrassed undressing before it, and found it impossible to relax. Also the window was open and the frog blocked access to it. It was a cold night and he shivered inspite of the blankets, but made no move to close the window. Eventually fatigue overcame him and he got a few hours fitful sleep. The frog slept like a log.
The morning brought a new problem. He needed a fresh shirt - his immediate supervisor, Mr. Bailey, was strict about such things. The situation was awkward; the frog was sat directly in front of his wardrobe. He made a tentative step towards it, but the frog emitted a croak of quiet menace and he backed away.
He decided to simply buy a new shirt on the way into work. The diversion made him late and everyone was already at their desks when he arrived at the office.
"Time Mr. Winters." Bailey's rough Scottish voice barked out across the room.
"Sorry Mr. Bailey, I, er, well..."
"Well you know the rules: double after work. How late do you make it?"
"Twenty minutes Mr. Bailey."
"My watch says twenty-five."
"Yes Mr. Bailey."
At lunch he joined Patrick Smith and Ewen MacNeill who worked in the same office.
"Did you catch the Celtics game yesterday?"
"Yeah, great wasn't it? Three - nil, complete annihilation."
"Should shut George up for a bit."
"Did you see it Ben?"
"er, no, no I didn't"
"Ah, shame. The last goal was just spectacular..."
They talked football until the end of lunch. A suitable subject or opportunity to talk about his unwanted guest did not come up and Ben hardly spoke a dozen words.
How it fed and what it fed on was a mystery to him. He presumed it must leave the room to feed when he was at work. He spent a week trying to catch it out by hurrying home in his lunch break. However each time he tried this the frog was there just as before. It's cold wet eyes seemed to have been expecting him. After a week he fancied he could detect a sneer in it's features and abandoned these attempts.
Something bolder was required. He found a large candle designed for gardens that would serve as a torch. Lighting the torch in the kitchen he gingerly went and pushed the bedroom door open. The frog understood his plan in an instant. It's tongue shot out like a whip and struck the torch from his hand. Lying on the floor it's flame seemed pathetic against the giant amphibian. Ben hurried to get some water to put it out. The creature seemed contemptuous rather than angry. There was a note of increased hostility in it's manner though. Ben sensed that further attempts at evicting it would not be dealt with so leniently.
A month of living with the frog took its toll. Ben was perpetually tired and acquired a haggard look. He was putting in long hours at work to put off each day the moment of returning home. However the quality of his work had suffered from the stress and he sensed Mr. Bailey was not pleased with him. Then one day he came home to find a change. The frog had moved from its usual spot and now sat on his bed. The wardrobe door was wide open and Ben could see that it was lined with a slimy clear jelly-like substance. The floor - his floor - was awash with a wriggling seething mass of two foot black tadpoles.
© Daniel Winterstein 1998-2008
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