One of the stories from my short fiction collection, Once Upon a Dark and Eerie...
The Case of the Missing Frog Prince
I’m Detective Piper of the Fairyland Metro Police, and I’ve been called in to investigate the incident of the missing frog prince…
I was standing in the Starlight Ballroom, surrounded by the remnants of the Spring Charity Ball, and dozens of shaken witnesses. The party’s host, Princess Cinderella, was standing in front of me, ready for her interview.
“I know you’re upset Highness, but can you tell me what happened here.”
“It was awful! The Snow Queen crashed the party! I mean, who does she think she is, just storming in here all cold and wind. She wasn’t even invited!”
“What did she do, after she entered the ballroom?”
“She was screaming and ranting, pushing her way through the crowd looking for Prince Ivan. It was so crass, Detective. She was carrying on about some grievance over the Prince’s engagement party. She confronted him and they had an argument, over an unpaid catering fee! She accused him of not paying her for the ice sculptures! I knew she was having money problems, but I had no idea she had been forced to sell her talents as menial labour. How very tacky.”
Considering her former status, I thought that remark a bit hypocritical.
“She was just so upset, livid. She disrupted the entire party shouting, threatening, and then…” The Princess stopped, a sob cutting off her words.
“It’s all right, Highness, take your time.”
She sniffled before continuing. “The whole situation just got out of hand, with nasty words said by both. Then, well, the Snow Queen ended it. She turned Prince Ivan into a frog! A frog, Detective, a frog!”
“Yes, that was rather spiteful. Now, how exactly did the frog, uh, Prince Ivan go missing?”
“Well… as you might imagine the atmosphere was a bit chaotic, guests screaming and running. Everyone was frightened, you see. I’m afraid Prince Ivan simply hopped away unnoticed in the mayhem.”
Her story squared with the other witness I’d interviewed; Princess Briar Rose, Lady Rapunzel, Princess Belle, and Hansel and Gretel all said much the same. That left me to track down the frog from the land of the missing. At least the Snow Queen had been apprehended, but she was swearing she had nothing to do with the disappearance. Now I had to get down to business...
Morning had dawned, but I was no closer to locating the missing Prince Ivan.
Last night had been a busy one. The Prince’s fiancée, Princess Vassilissa, had been questioned, but told me little, spending most of the time weeping into her lace. The Snow Queen had been booked and I’d put out an All Fairies Bulletin on the frog. At first light, I had sent out search teams to comb the swamp, but nothing had turned up so far.
“Detective Piper, I might have something!” Officer Simon waved from across the room; standing beside him was Jack Nimble. I motioned them both over.
“Detective, Jack says he might have seen our missing frog.” Officer Simon turned to Nimble. “Tell him, Jack.”
“Well, I was out on the Evergreen Forest Road, doing my night watchman rounds, just me and my candle. It was dawn, just before I finish up, when I see this shadow. Well, I got my duty, so I go to investigate and I see this frog, jumping along the Enchanted Glade path. I don’t think nothing about it at the time; it ain’t unusual to see a frog headed that way. But later, when I heard about what happened, I figured I’d better come in and report it.”
“You did the right thing, Jack. That could very well be our missing frog.” I nodded at Officer Simon, dismissing them both.
So, the prince might be headed into the Evergreen Forest. It could be he’s on his way to the widow Rose Red, to get the spell removed. Smart frog, Rose was the best sorceress in Fairyland...
I rode out to the forest edge, and then took the path to Enchanted Pine Glade; Rose Red’s cottage was smack in the middle of the clearing. I knew something was off the minute I got to the cottage; the front door was open and Rose never leaves it open. I found Rose inside trying to reassemble her home from a jumbled mess. I’d say there had been quite a fight.
“Hey, Rose. Looks like you had trouble.”
She looked up at me. “Should’ve known you’d show up.”
“What happened? Had to do with a Frog Prince, didn’t it?”
“Oh, yes. He shows on the doorstep, wanting a potion to undo the spell. I say, sure, and in he hops, tracking enchanted frog slime all over my clean floor. Next thing I know I have dwarves busting in my front door, and kidnapping my client!”
Rose stamped her foot. “They thought they could just waltz in here and do what they pleased! The nerve! Well, I sent them running for their mothers! I just wish I could have rescued the frog, though. Stupid goons snuck him out during the melee.”
Rose tilted her head, in that endearing manner she had, and gave me a look. “What did that frog do, he’s so popular?”
“Got the Snow Queen mad at him, for starters.”
“Well, that explains the Frost Elves.”
“Yeah, a couple of them were driving the getaway carriage.”
I frowned. “That means the Snow Queen is still pulling the strings in this mess.”
Rose gave me a sympathetic smile. “They’re probably headed to the Winter Palace.”
I nodded, knowing she was right. I’d better get my parka and some backup. This investigation had turned into a rescue mission.
“Thanks, Rose. Sorry you got caught in the middle of this mess.”
“Not your fault.”
I said good-bye, and headed back to the station to get things organized...
I was standing outside the Winter Palace, bullhorn in hand, backed-up by the Fairyland SWAT team. Inside were the Frost Elves and the frog.
“The Palace is surrounded, give up the frog peacefully!”
The front door creaked open and a Frost Elf popped his head out.
“Not going to happen! You’ll never take the Palace!”
So much for peaceful negotiation. I signaled the team and they let the enchanted swamp gas fly.
The canisters crashed through the stained glass windows and engulfed the interior. I signalled again and the team stormed the Palace. It was all over in minutes and the Frost Elves were in custody.
I marched to the head Elf. “Where’s the frog?”
He flashed me a triumphant look. “You’re too late! The frog was sent to the Kitchen!”
I got a bad feeling and beat a quick path to the Palace kitchen. The smell of cooking meat greeted my arrival. The cook looked up and smiled.
“Just in time, Detective.” He picked up a plate. “Care for some frog’s legs?”
Oh, there was going to be a lot of paperwork to explain this fiasco...
Minute particles of silvery, gray ash floated in the cool evening breeze and trailed in the dimming sunlight. They called out softly to me. They bid me a hesitant farewell and continued to float on the breeze just out of my reach. Part of her final wishes had been fulfilled; I left part of her in a place she had come to love.
Tears blurred my eyes and I felt very alone once again as, finally, reluctantly, vestiges of my life seemingly drifted away into the wake left by the ship. The lights of Juneau blinked in the distance and the ship’s wake rushed away into the darkness signaling that everything must move on. Lights behind me shone from the decks above where couples laughed and closely held to each other as they too watched the distant lights fade. Peering into the darkening mist, I felt the emptiness of her touch next to me. I reached out to wrap my arm around her even as I knew that she was gone.
No, she wasn’t gone. She was there whenever I wanted. I could see her in the smiles, gestures, and innate mannerisms of my children. I could recall my laughter at the goofy little dance she performed each time a favorite song with an upbeat tempo played on the radio. Neither of us danced well, but who cared? In her classroom the young students laughed gleefully as she danced and sang out of tune with them. She made us all laugh and there were many times of much happiness.
Memories of happy times of discovery and the joy of sharing our life filled my thoughts and peacefulness overcame me. I felt reassured that all would be fine and that love keeps memories alive. Shared laughter over mutual pleasures and private jokes brought a small smile to my face as they floated to the surface of my thoughts and washed over the sadness that had seized me a moment ago. The joys that we shared with our children through the years added to the happy memories and reminded me that there were still memories to be made. Each of our children possessed traits of their mother that would keep her memory alive.
The scenery on this voyage was as magnificent as our earlier visit to Alaska. Yes, I missed her spontaneous laughter and childlike pleasure in our wondrous visual discoveries along the way as we cruised the wilderness shoreline overflowing with surprises every mile. She had delighted in pointing out the harbor seals basking in the warming sunlight and the bald eagles that soared in abundance above the fir trees and icy waters. The familiar seals and eagles as well as the other wildlife were still there, but they seemed just a little less playful, a little quieter this trip.
Upon departing the picturesque town of Ketchikan and cruising along the wild coastline, I glimpsed a group of harbor seals lazily enjoying the energizing sunlight among the grey rocks scattered along the shore. Surrounded by her pups and perched atop a large rock, a large mother seal’s melancholic bark seemed to say, “I know your pain. Keep your family around you”.
Graceful bald eagles glided and soared above the cold waves. Perhaps they too sensed and shared my loss. The overwhelming beauty of this wilderness caused me to realize that there will always be beauty in this world. Happiness would return and cheerful memories would fill the emptiness.
I know that there will always be an ache inside that will occasionally surface unexpectedly. Love lost does that. But just as surely that ache will be followed by a smile as I recall the happiness and good times that filled our life together. Our family would keep those memories alive and love would continue to bind us together. Love remembered does that.
What is consciousness, really? Can we – as some have suggested – create our own reality? This is a "Flash Fiction" piece (a story in less than 1000 words) about one man's strange encounter with an enigmatic younger man in a quiet neighborhood park. To paraphrase the great Rod Serling: "You're moving into a dimension of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You're about to cross over THE FINE LINE into... the Twilight Zone.
As the man strolled into the park, a few children were playing. Other than that it was a very quiet afternoon. Peaceful. The autumn breeze was barely enough to rustle the leaves. Then something caught the man’s eye. What was that young fellow doing over there? Curious now, the man moved a little closer. The boy looked to be a bit older than the man had first guessed. Late teens, maybe twenty. A sudden gust of wind rustled the leaves in the trees and whipped the boy's long blond hair about wildly. Then, just as suddenly, all was calm.
The boy was standing absolutely still among the towering evergreens and maples that lined the park. The man could see the young fellow's eyes. They were gazing upward, staring, unblinking. The fellow was smiling. No. No, he wasn't. Or was he? Yes, maybe he was. But a strange smile. Barely noticeable. At the corner of his mouth there was a quirk of evidence.
The man moved even closer.
Then, quite unexpectedly, the boy spread his arms wide and shouted into the air, "How fine the line between illusion and reality!"
A bird fluttered in a nearby tree. A child playfully screamed somewhere off in the distance.
The man ventured closer. Now, within arm's reach, the man cleared his throat. "Hello there," the man said.
The boy remained silent.
"I say, are you alright?"
The man raised his hand to place it on the boy's shoulder.
The boy snapped his head toward the man, his eyes glaring. "Don't touch me!"
A cold chill rattled down the man's spine. "But I was just..."
"I'm a tree!" the boy shouted, his face breaking an odd smile, his eyes filling with tears.
"I'm afraid I don't..." the man tried for words.
"I'm a tree! I'm a tree! Can't you understand? I'm... a... tree! Look at me! I'm one with all! Look! I'm love!" Tears streamed down the young man's face and the sap bled from the trees.
Again the man raised his hand toward the boy.
Again the boy shouted, "Don't touch me!" This time it wasn't a threat. It was a plea. His soul screamed for mercy.
The man's hand gently touched the boy's arm and, instantly, hundreds of birds screeched and scattered from every tree in the park.
Startled by the commotion, the man ducked. He looked up to see the sudden flurry of confusion. It was over in mere moments but the branches of the trees were left quivering in the wake of the explosion. Then he turned to the boy but the boy was gone.
The man looked around, perplexed by the boy's sudden disappearance. There was no sign of him anywhere. His attention, however, was briefly captured by the sight of a certain large tree. He didn't know trees very well but a vague awareness crossed his mind that it was different from the other trees. His eyes continued to search in vain for the boy.
The long shadows of late afternoon were beginning to creep across the park grounds. A chill was in the air. The man stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and looked down at his feet. He nudged a fallen leaf with the toe of his shoe. A large bird scolded and flapped its wings high in the tree above the man's head. The man looked up and squinted against the brittle cold.
"Where'd he go?" the man called to the bird before making one last quick survey of the park.
Hunching his shoulders, and turning his collar up to protect the back of his neck from the afternoon chill, the man shoved his hands deeper into his coat pockets and continued on his way. At the edge of the park he stopped and turned around to look once more.
The afternoon sun was behind the trees now. A few thin shafts of light filtered through the deepening blue shadows. The man turned back toward the street and paused a moment to light a cigarette, cupping the match against the breeze. He exhaled the smoke and watched it wisp swiftly away into the air.
"How fine the line between illusion and reality, indeed," he muttered to himself, shaking his head as he strolled out of the park. "How fine, indeed."
Back in the park a small girl hugged her doll and stared at the one tree that seemed different from all the rest. "Mommy!" she called to her mother. "Look at this tree! It's smiling!"
"Don't be silly," her mother said.
"But mommy! Come look!"
The girl's mother approached and lolled her head to one side, then the other, examining what was, indeed, an unusual formation in the grain of the bark on the trunk of the tree. "Oh, it's just a trick," she said.
The girl looked puzzled. "A trick?"
"Yes, dear. It's just a trick of light and shadow. That's all it is." Then, with an affectionate grin, she added, "And, of course, your wild imagination." She spoke with a tone of assurance and wisdom––the kind that adults acquire from their years of experience in a world where illusions can often fool even the most skeptical observer. "Come on, now. It's getting late. We have to go."
As they walked away, hand in hand, the little girl glanced back over her shoulder for one last look at the tree. It was nearly dusk and the lighting had changed but she could still see a smile on the face of the tree. She smiled back and cuddled her doll up close to her cheek. "Adults don't know everything," she whispered. The doll grinned. Or so it seemed.