Frogmalion

This story contains some brief nudity.


wanda

Many would say the life of a frog is an idyllic one. You spend your days sitting by a rippling lake, looking up at the sun shining through the green leaves, catching all the flies you can with your special tongue.

So many frogs would say that. Yet so many frogs also talk about becoming human.

Not just any human either; just about every frog believes, or has believed at some point, that they are secretly a human prince or princess, and a kiss will return them to their true form. Then they would leave the pond and the nearby woods and live the rest of their lives in a sparkling castle where they would be waited on hand and foot and feast on meals larger than a simple fly or two.

I was one of those frogs. When I was a tadpole, I heard many stories about a frog finding a princess’ golden ball, or a frog catching a prince’s arrow, and being given human form after a kiss. After I formed my arms and legs, I set about looking for my prince, attempting to obtain any kisses I could. As soon as the right person kisses me, I said to myself, there would be a huge puff of smoke and glitter and where Wanda the frog stood would be Wanda the Princess, wearing a gold tiara and a shimmering dress.

Mum constantly told me that they were just stories. No matter how many people kissed me, I would remain a frog. There was no such thing as magic, no such thing as transformations.

After I got so many people to kiss me, and no puff of smoke manifested, I had to admit she was right.

Even when I was an adult, I did still do it on occasion. Plenty of frogs still did it even after realising it was all just fantasy, just as a lark, just for fun. I let people searching for a princess kiss me even after I realised Mum was right, just to see the look on their faces…yet I still felt a small pang of disappointment at no transformation.

You’re a grown frog, I scolded myself, don’t be so childish.

Then one drizzly evening, after I had caught my fourth fly of the day, I hopped off my lilypad, looking for something to do as the rain dribbled off my warty back. Just as I was going to look for some of my friends, I found myself at the feet of a man in a raincoat, looking down at me. When he saw me, he picked me up, cupping his hands as he did so.

‘Are you going to kiss me?’ I said with a chuckle, even though I knew he couldn’t understand what I was saying. I puckered up, and sure enough, he did kiss me on the lips.

My whole body stung.

I fell to the ground, landing in mud, as I writhed and attempted to scream. It felt like my blood had turned to flame, that something was growing within my body and was attempting to force my skin to rip open. In fact, it felt like several little things were forcing their way out of their body, almost as if my lunch was trying to escape my stomach through my skin. I tightly closed my eyes, clenched my teeth…

I forced my eyes open to make sure what I thought was happening was happening. I looked up and saw what looked like the trees closing in around me. I looked down and saw my feet trembling and changing shape. My toes thickened as the webs between them sank into nothingness.

I winced again as the nails forced their way out.

Finally, I was able to scream. I screamed as loud as I could, making my throat sting as much as my veins did. I screamed as I stood on two legs, raising my arms to the sky as if that was how I welcomed my new form.

The pain subsided in seconds, and after I opened my eyes, I saw my frog friends and family looking up at me in awe, crowded around my feet which were as large as I was two minutes prior. Feet with five toes, each of them having a large nail and no webs between them. I trembled and bit my lip, looking at my arms and my hands. Slender fingers with nails, and thumbs as well.

I balled my hands into fists, taking deep breath after deep breath, forcing myself to look at my reflection in the pond.

Red hair that fell to my shoulders. Round ears stuck out on the sides of my head. My tongue was fat and short. My yellow eyes had become bright blue.

Wanda the frog had become Wanda the Princess…had she?

There was not only no puff of smoke, I wasn’t wearing a tiara or a beautiful ballgown. In fact, I wasn’t wearing anything at all, and out in the rain too. I held myself tightly for warmth and for modesty, before the man took off his raincoat and draped it around my shoulders.

‘Thank you,’ I said to him, shoving my arms into the coat’s arms; human clothing wasn’t hard to figure out. In fact, something about it seemed familiar. ‘Can you understand me?’

The man looked at me with wide eyes, as if he was attempting to comprehend this situation like I was. After a moment of silence, he replied, ‘Yes…’

I kneeled to take a closer look at the frogs gathered around me. All I could hear were croaks and ribbits and sounds I could not describe. My heart sank. I couldn’t stay with them now; humans can’t hop on lilypads or live near a pond. It was time for me to go to that sparkling castle I had dreamed about ever since I was young, but I would never see my friends again. I would never see my Mum again.

My Mum was among the frogs gazing at my humanity. Even though I couldn’t understand her, I could still tell what she was feeling.

The man, who introduced himself as Mark, led me away from my home, the place where I had spent so many years, towards his car, parked near a road I was warned never to cross. In my fantasies, it was a bright white coach pulled by noble horses that would bring me to my new home, and while the car wasn’t as extravagant, its seats were comfortable enough to soothe myself, but only for a moment.

I thought about my friends. I thought about Mary and how we would never again have a race across the lily pads. I thought about Tammy and how we would never again chat to each other. I thought of Mum and how I would never again hear the comforting sound of her voice. In an attempt to quiet these bellowing thoughts, I stroked my new hair, rubbed my new nose, pinched my new ears, attempting to get used to my new body.

Or was it new? As I plucked out one of my hairs, I suddenly remembered being in a car before. I remembered driving a car before. I remembered driving down the road on a peaceful summer’s day, watching the world go by….

Mark turned off the radio. ‘We’re going home,’ he said to me, ‘if only just to get you some clothes. You know, I never thought it’d really work.’

I again looked at my webless feet and my newly-formed thumbs. ‘I know. You know, I got lots of people to kiss me when I was a frog, but…’

‘How did it happen?’

‘Well, you kissed me and…’

‘I mean, who turned you into a frog?’

‘Well, I was always a frog…well, until now….’

‘Well, isn’t the way the story works is that you start off as a human princess, then someone curses you into a frog and only true love’s kiss can turn you back?’

‘That’s what I heard. I knew several frogs who I knew were born tadpoles but they liked to pretend they were princes and princesses and they also got humans to kiss them and…you can understand me.’

‘Yes.’

‘I don’t think I’ll get over that.’ I bit my lip again. ‘And I guess that means you’re my true love too.’

‘Maybe I am.’

As soon as we said that, we arrived at my new castle. No glittering spires, no fields of roses, it was a one-storey house among almost-identical one-story houses. My new home.

Mark led me inside, where he had a pond of his own. It wasn’t like my pond; it was in a big white basin and it had to be filled up with water. There, he rinsed the mud off my skin, before bringing me a t-shirt, sweatpants and socks to wear. E

After turning on the lights and playing some music, he welcomed me into his living room, with its bright yellow walls reminding me of sunlight shining through the trees, and the sofa reminding me of a log I used to climb…

…but it also reminded me of a living room I once had. Suddenly into my mind, there came the image of a flat I owned where I lived by myself, and had a good view of the rest of the city. I slept by the window so I could awake to the beams of sunshine pouring through, and on weekends, I would go for walks in the wood by the pond…

No, I said to myself, I was always a frog, wasn’t I? I was certain I was a tadpole…

…I remembered looking down in the water at the tadpoles, imagining myself smaller and swimming in the pond…

I collapsed onto the sofa, holding my head as if that would stop the swirling thoughts and memories. Mark turned off the music and told me I could sleep on the sofa before he left. For the rest of the night, I lay, pondering if those memories were really mine, before drifting off into an empty sleep.

I awoke feeling like I was going to vomit.

More memories slunk into my head, memories of Wanda the human woman taking a weekend walk in the woods, going towards the pond to see some frogs.

Out of the water rose a bizarre hybrid of amphibian and human, a woman with slimy green skin and strands of black hair slithering down her head. Her teeth resembled pickets of a rotted wooden fence and her eyes glowed with an orange light.

She looked at me and snapped her bony fingers.

My whole body stung.

My hair and nails sucked themselves into my body before I shrunk into the form of a frog, before I hopped out of my oversized clothes, before the pond-witch picked me up.

‘You will not just be a frog in body,’ she said, her voice sounding like the squeak of rusty hinges, ‘but in mind as well.’

I fell onto the floor, clasping the sides of my head as if that would remove the hideous creature from my brain. The room spun as I attempted to walk, and I was sure I even saw a frog hop down the hall.

I was never a tadpole. Who I thought was my mother wasn’t. That life hopping and eating flies wasn’t supposed to be for me.

No, I yelled inwardly, no, I’m a frog.

No, came a harsher, louder voice, ‘no, you’re not, you’re who you’re meant to be.’

I was a woman. My human life was cut short by…whatever that thing was supposed to be. It was over now. She had been defeated.

When I tore my hands away from my eyes, I saw Mark looking over me, a plastic bag in one hand. ‘What’s happened?’ he asked, ‘Are you okay?’

When I got to my feet, I hugged him tightly. ‘Thank you. Thank you for freeing me…that hideous…’

‘You remembered, did you? How you…’

‘Yes. That pond where I lived, there was this…she…’ I couldn’t even bring myself to complete the sentence, lest her hideous face enter my mind again.

Mark had brought something for me – clothes I could call my very own. Another step towards reclaiming my human life. The day was brighter and warmer than yesterday, so Mark brought me sandals, a straw hat and a light blue dress. They fit perfectly, as if they were made for me…

…and I was certain I had worn something like them before.

Yes, I wanted to cheer as loud as I could about regaining my form. Wanda the frog was no more, and Wanda the human had returned.

We stepped out together, a little outing to celebrate my return to humanity. Mark also had let me borrow his MP3 player, a device attached to these wires that brought music to my ears. He thought that would help me remember my past life, and as we went into town, more and more memories awoke. As soon as we entered an ice-cream shop, I remembered holding a cone as I sat on a bench. When we watched the cars go by, I again remembered driving them. I barely paid attention to the music being transmitted to my ears, yet something about it seemed to enhance the experience.

I remembered my flat, I remembered having human friends, yet I still didn’t know where the flat was or where the friends would be found. Mark told me that maybe if we went back home, watched some television and relaxed, then more memories would return then. Sure enough, as we walked back home, I remembered walking back to my flat…

…until I heard a loud croak in my ear.

So focussed had I been on Mark and attempting to re-remember my human life, I didn’t notice the frog crawl up my body and yank one of my earphones out.

It wasn’t just any frog either. It was Mum.

It was then I fully paid attention to the music I was listening to. It wasn’t music at all; it was a voice describing to me a woman’s life. The life I had. The life I supposedly had.

Memories awoke once again. Memories of being a frog. Memories of hopping on lilypads, eating flies, relaxing near the pond. My real life.

There was no Wanda the human. No pond-witch. It all came down like a thick tree falling on my head.

‘My dear,’ said Mark, ‘what’s wrong?’

Mum hopped off my shoulder and towards Mark’s house. I ran after her, with Mark following me, yelling, ‘What’s wrong?’

As soon as I reached the front door, I held up the MP3 player and yelled, ‘What is this?’

‘You must still be delirious after your transformation, you must…’

‘Mark,’ I growled after looking at Mum gesture towards the front door, ‘tell me.’

‘Tell you what?’

I grabbed him by the shoulders and forced him to look in my eyes. ‘I was never a human, was I? What did you do?’

‘My d…’

What did you do?’

Mark unlocked the door and Mum hopped inside, gesturing towards another door. With another stare from me, Mark unlocked that door, which led to his basement. A basement filled with beakers, multi-coloured liquids and Bunsen burners. Even that pond-witch was there, laying dead and dissected on a table. ‘A failed first attempt’, Mark called her.

Mark explained how many people were looking for a prince or princess to call their own, and would often turn to kissing frogs out of desperation. So, inspired by the work of someone called “Gwen Wickiton”, he worked to create a potion that would turn frogs human, one that could be used as lipstick. Once the transformation from frog to human was complete, he would then use audio-hypnosis to create false memories to make them think they were previously human.

‘But think about it! I’ve made you more than what you were! You can do more things than just hop around and shoot out your tongue! You’re bigger, you’ll live longer and…’

‘Change me back. Change me back now.’

‘But didn’t you like the ice cream? Didn’t you like the…’

‘I’m not going to live a lie.’

‘But everyone wants to have their frog prince or princess! If I sell this, I’ll be rich, we’ll be rich, and you can have so much more than your pond…’

Mum climbed up Mark and hopped onto his shoulder, just so she could add her glare to mine.

‘Very well then.’ He handed me a flask and I splashed it on my skin. Again I felt that sting, but it was much softer than before, as if when I shrunk, all my strife did as well.

‘Wanda!’ cried Mum, for I could understand her again. After climbing out of my now-oversized dress, I hopped towards my Mum and hugged her. I hugged her before we hopped on the tables, knocking over all the flasks and watching them shatter, making sure to avoid the spillage as we left.

When I had become human and gone off with Mark, Mum had followed me to his home, where she hid as she figured out how it happened. Once she found out the truth, she had to let me know. When I returned to the pond, I let my fellow frogs know what happened to me, and soon we all had a new fairy tale to tell our children: a cautionary tale.


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Do You Like My Pumpkin Head?

headlesshorseman

It’s quite a beauty, isn’t it? Looks just like a typical jack-o-lantern you see on Hallowe’en, but it never rots, the fire never goes out, and I can even change the expressions. I can make it smile, make it frown, and of course, make it snarl. Ever since I obtained it, people have been more terrified of my appearance than ever and my entrances have been more dramatic.

I did have to make a pretty big sacrifice to gain this head though.

No, I’m not talking about the cannonball thing.

It began when I was as headless as my moniker says I am; though that night was one of the few nights I was without my horse. Even ghosts need a break every now and then, so I gave Bluebell the night off and decided to take a walk through the woods, actually taking in the scenery and the evening air. I thought I wouldn’t be recognised without my horse and the fact that it seemed too dark to notice I was headless.

I had no eyes yet I could see the falling leaves and the scurrying rodents. I had no nose yet I could catch a whiff of nearby fires, of wheat and barley. I had no ears yet I could hear the hooting of the owls, the scratching of claws and even a faint laugh.

It was that last one which got my attention.

I crept on over to the source of the laughter, and peering from behind a tree, I saw a horse not too dissimilar to my own, illuminated only by a jack-o-lantern. It would be an exact duplicate of Bluebell if it wasn’t a living, breathing horse. The laughter came not, of course, from this steed, but its rider, who muttered to himself about someone called “Katrina” before he placed a coat, far too large for him, over his head. As he buttoned up the coat, I realised what was going on.

An imposter!

I was all ready to leap out and rip off his coat before ripping his head off his shoulders, but I suddenly froze when I saw him pick up the jack-o-lantern and place it on the top of his head. It wasn’t often I found inspiration strike, but that sight made me run away from that imposter – he wasn’t the first imposter, I thought, and he wouldn’t be the last, and he would most likely be exposed – and towards the closest pumpkin patch I could find. By that I mean the closest pumpkin patch that was as far away from that church bridge as possible. I didn’t even care if anyone saw me; in fact, if what I thought would happen happened, I wanted as many people to see me as possible.

After what seemed like hours of searching, I finally found a pumpkin that felt worthy of me. It had no face – at that moment – but it was the fattest, plumpest, proudest pumpkin in the patch.

As soon as I placed it on my neck, it became my head.

Roots seemed to spring from the bottom of the pumpkin, digging deep into my neckstump and crawling through my bloodstream. The pumpkin carved itself, with two eyes, two nostrils and a mouth full of fangs materialising. All the pumpkin’s innards evaporated into nothing, replaced by a fiery light though there was no candle.

I chuckled to myself as I thought about what would have happened if I had placed an apple on my neck instead.

When I looked at my reflection in the puddle, making all sorts of faces with my new eyes and mouth, I asked myself why I hadn’t done this sooner. Something about this plump pumpkin seemed more…me than a simple headless stump.

I couldn’t wait to test it.

Even though this was supposed to be my night off, I ran about with my fiery glowing pumpkin head, seeking out innocents to terrify. Jack-o-lanterns were supposed to frighten evil spirits, yet with one as my new head, it was the humans that fled and screamed in terror. I needed not Bluebell that night, for Sleepy Hollow had a new ghostly legend roaming about. As I continued my reign of terror, I thought about the imposter and laughed at how he thought he could even have half of my fearful majesty.

Can you believe that imposter is the one who’s remembered?

All the frights, all the horror I committed that night has been forgotten by history, but the imposter’s trickery that same night, when he frightened a repugnant school teacher, is still being talked about today.

Can you believe that imposter even claimed he raced me? As if I would give him a bowl of punch!

The pumpkin head still rests on my neck. It still smiles when I smile, it grimaces when I grimace. I still terrify people with it, galloping down the path with Bluebell, illuminating the way with my fiery grin. Yet when people see me, they remember me for something I didn’t do to someone I’ve never met.

I wanted infamy, but I wanted infamy for something I actually did.


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The Canal Creatures

For my birthday, I wanted a nice trip down the canal with my family; sitting back, looking out of the window, watching the sunlit forest scroll by. I sat quietly, my husband Ralph sat quietly, but my little son Morris constantly raised his arm in the air, showing off an invisible sword. He was on a boat, so he was a pirate.

Though I told him to be quiet, his little pirate games made me smile inwardly, for I had recently been reading up about the Golden Age of Piracy and had been finding it interesting. Finally, there was something I had in common with my son.

‘So you fancy yourself a pirate, do you?’ I asked Morris, and he raised his arm again, speaking of ships and parrots and buried treasure. ‘Okay, but calm down. Some people here get scared of pirates.’ Once he lowered his arm, I said, ‘You know, pirates actually didn’t look for treasure that often. It’s in this book I’ve been reading. They actually stole food more than they did treasure, but don’t you go nicking anyone’s lunch here.’

Morris laughed. ‘Can I read your book?’

‘It’s not really for kids,’ I replied.

Ralph rolled his eyes. ‘Oh great, we’re about to have two bookworms in the family.’

‘Not my fault you don’t r…’

A tentacle slapped against the window. What looked like a fat green faceless snake pressed against the glass.

Ralph and I froze. Morris actually laughed.

The boat stopped and then I saw what the tentacle was attached to. It was the right arm –if it can be called an arm – of a green, three-eyed creature, who also had tentacles where a human would have a nose and mouth, wearing a faded brown coat and waistcoat. Another creature, looking exactly the same, pressed itself against another window, then another, then every window had a three-eyed monstrosity looking in.

Another came. It slithered into the boat, while I and everyone else there could only sit in silence. I grabbed Morris and held him close.

It looked exactly like the others – tentacles where there should have been arms, legs and a mouth, but it wore a hat on its head, one of its three eyes was covered by an eyepatch, and it wielded a cutlass.

piratesquid

It waved that cutlass near my face. Morris wailed and I held him tighter. ‘Mummy’s here…’

‘Landlubbers!’ barked the monster, its face-tentacles wobbling. ‘Give me yer money and no-one gets hurt!’ Still I couldn’t bring myself to move, at least until the monster yelled, ‘Now!’

What else could I do but dig into my pockets and dish out some loose change? If a human criminal threatened me with a sword near my son and demanded money, I would give it to him, so when a demon did the same…

I gave the monster my money. It took the coins only, pushing away the notes. Everyone else on the boat did as I did, spilling coins all over the tables, with the monster pocketing them all. Well, not them all.

He held up a coin at the end of his left tentacle-arm, before one of his face-tentacles became a tube which sucked up the coin like a vacuum cleaner.

‘This should keep me crew full for the next week. Thank’ee.’

The other monsters dove back into the canal, their visages no longer filling the windows. I almost laughed, I almost sighed in relief.

‘It’s good that ye’re so generous,’ said the “captain”, ‘Good for us, I mean; people of the last boat gave us indigestion.’


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Gina and the Demons

This story follows on from my previous poem The Tragedy of Gina the Jolly Fawn and also features Patty the Demon and The Mad Hatter; you can see the stories they’ve previously been featured in at the Recurring Character Index.

This story also contains some death, violence and references to alcohol.


‘I’m a Fawn!’ it cried out in a voice of delight, ‘and, dear me! you’re a human child!’ A sudden look of alarm came into its beautiful brown eyes, and in another moment it had darted away at full speed.

-Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll


The first time I was happy in ages, and it was because I remembered something that doesn’t exist anymore.

That was my first thought of the day. That was what ran through my brain as I crawled out of bed towards the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Though I tried to shut it out, it kept repeating, louder and louder, until I took my first sip of the morning. Then it was replaced by another thought:

What am I?

ginafawn

I was supposed to be Gina the Jolly Fawn. That was how I was known for so many years. A carefree little sprite, running and laughing and playing through the forest. I sighed, shaking my head before I went to take a shower, even hoping such a thing would wash these problems away.

What am I? came the little voice in my head again. Who am I? I’m not Gina the Jolly Fawn, I inwardly said to myself, because I’m an adult doe. I’m not Gina the Jolly Fawn because I’m rarely jolly these days.

So I thought, am I just Gina then? Gina the deer? No, I’m not. Gina the deer hated humans. Gina hated how they hunted her, how they took away her home and parents, how they ruined her idyllic life.

I looked up at the shower head and couldn’t help but stare at it. A human thing. I hated humans yet I loved human things. I took showers like a human, drank coffee like a human, lived in a flat and held a job like a human.

I lived like a human back when I was Gina the Jolly Fawn. Then, I spoke like a human, played human games and heard human nursery rhymes.

So, I asked myself, was I still Gina the Jolly Fawn then, or at least Gina the Jolly Deer? Especially since I had made a human friend?

ginadoe

As I got out of my shower, got dressed and made my way towards my work, I then remembered that my human lifestyle was because of someone who wasn’t human at all. Not one of the other forest animals; they were too busy trying to help themselves to try and help me.

It was the Devil.

That was what I thought when I saw her at first. All I could do when I saw that figure with horns and a forked tail approach me was cover my face with my hooves, fall into the dirt and just cry. First the world takes away my home, I thought, then has people trying to turn me into veal, then sends Satan after me.

I only looked up when the demon put her hand on my shoulder.

When I looked up, she explained she wasn’t the Devil, just a devil, as if that would make it any better. The only reason I paid her any attention was because she said, ‘I want to help’ and I hadn’t heard anyone say that phrase to me in years.

‘Look,’ she said to me, ‘you don’t deserve to live like this. I watched your cartoon when I was young, in fact, still do from time to time.’ When I asked her what she meant about “cartoon”, she explained that my world sprung from the creation of an animated television show, and when the show ended, it, in her words, ‘began to rot’. That was apparently why most of my forest was torn down, that was why I lost my home and my parents, that was why I spent years hiding from humanity.

The demon, whose name was Patty, then told me she knew of a place where I could be safe, where talking animals could live a peaceful life. ‘I mean, look at me,’ she said, ‘I work in this supermarket, right, but no-one cares I’m a demon. I remember this one time I got into an argument with a customer; she said “You’re being very rude”, I said “Well, I am a demon” and she said “I don’t care if you’re the Archangel Gabriel, I want to see the manager!”’

When she said that, I felt a chill run down my spine. I remembered my friends, none of whom I had seen for so long. They would never talk about another person like that; whenever someone was sad or angry, they’d try to cheer up that someone with a song or a game. They wouldn’t argue.

Nonetheless, I accepted Patty’s offer; I suppose only because I had had enough of the alternative. Through her, I found a flat to live in, and she even helped me get a job at the supermarket she worked at. The people who shopped there never noticed me, which I admitted was a mercy.

That was the way it was on the day I remembered how I got there. I stocked the shelves quietly, no-one talking to me or acknowledging that there was a cartoon character in the place where they shopped.

Except for one person. Rachel, the woman I met at the pub. Who let me come to her own flat so I could relive the good old days. The only human who ever really spoke to me or asked about my feelings.

‘Hey, Gina,’ she said, waving as she came in.

‘Do you come here often?’ I asked, for I could think of nothing else to say.

‘Well, no, actually,’ she said in a quieter voice, before gesturing to Patty, organising the Sale items.

‘Yeah,’ I replied, ‘she can be a bit of a meanie.’ Once again, I used the first word that came into my mind. I swore I then heard ‘Well, screw you too.’

Rachel chuckled. ‘Now there’s the Gina I saw on telly!’

‘Yeah,’ I replied, forcing a laugh, ‘that’s me! You know…’ I swallowed. ‘We should hang out again some time. Like I don’t know…maybe see a movie.’

‘You know,’ Rachel replied, ‘there is a movie currently showing that I think you’ll love. Squirrelly Sally in Acorn Acres. I don’t mind going to a kids’ movie.’

‘Okay, we’ll go this Friday then.’

‘I’ll let you get on with your work then,’ she said before walking away, ‘See you.’

‘Hey!’ Patty walked away from her shelf towards me – well, walk wasn’t exactly the right word. It seemed more like gliding. ‘Don’t I get to come too?’ she asked, ‘I mean, I did bring you here.’

‘I don’t know…’ Before Patty could retort, I instantly answered, ‘Okay!’ and I felt like I only did it because Patty would send me back to my ruined world or something worse if I refused.

All throughout my shift, my brain debated with itself as to whether or not it was a good idea to invite Patty, and whether or not to tell Rachel I invited her. Rachel didn’t know it was Patty that brought me here, and I doubted that she wanted someone who drove her away from the supermarket sitting near her, especially when it was a literal demon. Even I inwardly called myself “a silly-willy billy” for accepting a demon’s proposal.

After my shift was finished, I walked by the local cinema, which proudly displayed a poster of Squirrelly Sally, smiling with her mouth wide open while holding an acorn. As I looked at that poster, I felt my stomach sink. What if Sally was real in another world as well? I looked at that warm, sunlit forest in the background, and imagined what it might look like if it “rotted” like my world did. Those lush, green trees, gone. Her idyll infected with buildings and hunters.

For a second, I swore I saw the poster change to a picture of Sally’s corpse.

I shuddered, and not just because of the sudden cold breeze. As I held myself, I looked around and found that I was all alone. I took a peek into the cinema, letting the stench of popcorn waft into my nostrils, and didn’t even see an employee.

‘Neither Rachel nor Patty can bring your happy little world back.’

A sentence I seemed to think and hear at the same time.

As I pulled my head away from the cinema’s interior, I saw a man that looked like he had been transported from Victorian London. A formal suit with a cravat and pinstriped trousers, as well as a large top hat.

The top hat had a price tag: In This Style 10/6.

The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, one of my favourite books.

He lifted up his head, revealing that he had no face except for a pair of yellow eyes, and the rest of his head looked like a gigantic parsnip made of flesh.

‘How could you? Have you forgotten who you are?’ He scowled at me, or at least what looked like scowling.

‘Leave me alone!’ I cried.

‘No!’ snapped the Mad Hatter, ‘You’re supposed to be a bastion of morality! You’re supposed to teach children manners and politeness! Yet you befriend a woman who drinks alcohol and a demon! What would the children who viewed your programme think of you now?’

‘Rachel watched my show,’ I said, forcing myself to turn to him, ‘and she…’

‘Forget her,’ snarled the Hatter, ‘Forget Patty too! I’ve been trying so hard to bring happiness to the downtrodden, and all she does is foil my plans! She’s sadistic! Why else would she bring you to this hell-hole?’

‘And…’ I bit my lip tightly. ‘What are you going to do?’

‘Why, I’m going to change your world back to the way it was.’

I could only stare in silence.

‘Wouldn’t you like that?’

I attempted to think of how to respond to that, but my mind was a complete blank.

‘Just imagine if all those pesky motorways and construction vanished and you had your pretty little forest back. Imagine if you woke up, found your way back to your childhood home and your mother and father were there waiting for you with open arms instead of their heads being decorations on some human’s wall.’

I closed my eyes and heard the voice of my mother. I felt the warmth of her hugs and a kiss on my forehead. I heard my father sing me a lullaby like he did when he tucked me into bed. I again felt a chill, but one less harsh than the others.

‘I’m certain they’ll be very proud of you if you kill what killed them.’

I swallowed. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I think you know very well what I mean. You’ve become friends with the enemy. You’ve become friends with a human.’

‘You mean…’

The Mad Hatter nodded.

At that moment, I wanted to scream. I wanted to run back to my flat and lie there until I died. All I did, however, was stand there. Stand there and continually replay the happy memories of Mum and Dad in my head.

‘Do away with Rachel,’ continued the Mad Hatter, ‘or any other human. Then your world will return to how it should be.’

He seemed to vanish in the blink of an eye. As soon as he vanished, the world’s population reappeared. Humans walking to the cinema, leaving the cinema, carrying shopping….

Just kill one of them and everything would be alright.

In my mind’s eye, I saw myself leaping towards one of the passers-by and wrapping my hooves around their neck. I saw myself grinning widely as they fell to the ground, dead.

That was when I ran. That was when I screamed.

I didn’t get any sleep that night. My brain was engaged in another fierce debate with itself, this time pounding against my skull, and I was sure that any minute it would burst right out of my forehead. I lay in bed all night, attempting to soothe myself by turning my bedside lamp on and reading a few books, but no matter how hard I tried, the image of Rachel’s carcass refused to leave my mind.

When the sun rose, I considered phoning up the supermarket and telling them I couldn’t come in that day. I did have a splitting headache, and I felt like I was going to vomit. Yet I went through my morning routine. Coffee, shower, clothes, breakfast, walk to store…

where Rachel might be.

I arrived at the store before it opened, and so had Patty, leaning on the wall near the staff entrance, scowling at me.

As soon as she saw me, she walked up and slapped me across the face.

‘You’re seriously considering it, aren’t you?’

‘Considering what?’ I spat as I rubbed my face.

‘The Mad Hatter. He told you to kill Rachel or some other human, and you’re going to do it!’

‘How…’

‘My Dad’s been keeping a close…’

‘At least you have a Dad!’ I yelled, certain I was almost going to slap her myself.

‘Do you know why I brought you here?’ growled Patty, slowly pushing my face away from hers, ‘It was out of the goodness of my heart. I couldn’t bear to see someone whose cartoon I liked suffer. I didn’t ask for you to kill anyone, I didn’t ask you to sacrifice a goat or help bring about the apocalypse. I did it because I like you.

‘The Mad Hatter is a sadist. He offers people things not to help them, but so he could laugh and laugh at good people doing his evil bidding.’

‘You’re one to talk about evil!’

‘But I’m not a cute…’ Patty sighed. ‘You know, my parents really didn’t like me watching your show. They said I needed to focus my mind towards the dark and macabre. I like dark and macabre, but not all the time. Your show was just the thing I needed after learning how to slowly roast a damned soul over ever-burning fire pits.

‘It gave me reassurance that not everyone’s going to end up in Hell.

‘I’m a demon. I’m a monster. I’m messed-up and I can’t do anything to change that. You’re not like that. You’ve entertained and educated children. Don’t become a monster, don’t become a demon. Be Gina the Jolly Fawn or Doe or whatever.’

With that, she gave me a hug. A hug as warm and soothing as those Mum used to give me.

Another thought entered my mind. If demons exist, Hell exists. If Hell exists, Heaven exists.

Mum and Dad are still out there.

As I hugged Patty, I saw them in my mind’s eye again, but this time I knew I wasn’t just imaging. Mum whispered, ‘We are proud of you, my little fawn.’

‘You know,’ said Patty as she released me from her grasp, ‘I’ve been binging on slasher flicks all week. Squirrelly Sally will make a nice change of pace.’

Next time I see Rachel, I said to myself, I would tell her about the Mad Hatter and what he said to me. I’ll also, I added, tell her that I invited Patty.

She may be a torturous monster from Hell, but at least she’s honest.


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The Adventures of the Rancid Rocking Rodents

This story follows on from Animal SuperheroesCollector’s ItemThe Mad Scientist’s Daughter and Revenge of the Mad Scientist’s Daughter so it is advisable you read those first. 

This story also contains some scenes of bloody violence.


rancidrockingrodents

After another successful battle against the malicious Dr. Croak, the Rancid Rocking Rodents took their Rat-Rocket back to their underground Rat-Hole, all three of them looking forward to an evening of video games and cheese wheels.

‘I can’t believe he used a giant robot again,’ laughed Cheddar as he and his teammates stood in their secret elevator, ‘I think that’s like the fifth time this month!’

Gouda chuckled. ‘You’d think the so-called “Frog of Fear” would be a bit more creative.’

‘Yeah,’ replied Cheddar, ‘maybe he should think of hiring you. You could give him a few pointers.’

‘Oh, come on,’ said Munster as he scratched his bulging belly, ‘to give him credit, this robot had an extendable tongue. Never seen a robot do that before.’

Gouda sighed and rolled her eyes. ‘Yes, Munster.’

The elevator doors slid open, revealing the Rat-Hole in all its glory. Arcade machines in one corner, a kitchen with a gigantic cheese-clogged refrigerator in another. A laboratory, stocked with mechanical parts and sprockets and gizmos so Gouda could invent new gadgets for her team. What dominated the space, however, was the Cheese Computer, with a screen almost as large as their Rat-Rocket, which always informed them of when the city was in danger so they could sort out the problem.

That’s what they did. The Rancid Rocking Rodents, a trio of human-sized rats in jumpsuits that battled the forces of evil with rockets, jetpacks and various other gadgets. Cheddar, the leader. Gouda, the inventor. Munster, the most spirited.

‘Gangway!’ roared Munster as he shoved past his teammates towards the kitchen, ‘There’s a cheese wheel with my name on it!’

‘Who needs a frog robot that eats everything when you’ve got him?’ laughed Gouda, shrugging, ‘Hey, Cheddar, up for a game of…’

Before she could finish her sentence, the room was suddenly bathed in a bright white light, an event that made even Munster drop his cheese wheel. A swirling monochrome portal materialised in the middle of the room, resembling the gaping mouth of a spectre.

‘Rancid Rocking Rodents,’ the portal whispered, ‘Help us, help us.’

‘Just when I was looking forward to a quiet evening,’ sighed Munster.

‘Well, a rodent’s work is never done,’ said Cheddar, ‘Rodents, let’s rock!’

All three of them dived into the portal; they had done so many times after all. So many alien worlds they had visited, and Munster even said, ‘You seen one bizarre alternate dimension, you’ve seen them all.’

When they dived into the portal, each of them expected to come out into a world with twisted trees with eyeballs on the branches and twirling mountains under a green sky. Instead, they found themselves standing in a room as large as their headquarters, but much emptier and darker. Water dripped from the ceiling and the stench of faeces and rotting flesh dominated the air. Gouda turned around to see what looked like a laboratory like hers – tables sporting test tubes, machinery, and severed human limbs with claws sprouting from the fingers.

Munster pointed towards writing on the walls – not only were there plenty of “Help”s and “Save Me”s, but “Did he who made the lamb make me?”, “Look on my works, ye mighty and despair?” and “Into the Valley of Death”. ‘See those?’ he asked his teammates, ‘That’s William Blake and Percy Shelley and Alfred Lord Tennyson!’

Cheddar and Gouda could only stare at Munster.

‘What? You think I’ve never read poetry?’

Just as Gouda opened her mouth to respond, a chuckle echoed throughout the room.

The portal vanished.

The Rancid Rocking Rodents turned to see where the laugh was coming from, but suddenly found themselves unable to move. Looking down, they saw that they were suddenly now shackled to balls and chains.

‘Impressive, isn’t it?’ hissed a voice, coming from a figure stepping out of the shadows. ‘Shelley made those, you know, to stop her prey from escaping. She was a far better inventor than you were.’

‘Hey!’ snapped Gouda.

The figure came into the light. A tall, gangly hare with grey fur and a dark grey business suit, the only spots of colour on him coming from his yellow eyes and teeth.

‘Who are you?’ asked Cheddar.

‘This is not about who I am,’ the hare said, sounding like he had a large phlegm build-up, ‘but who you are. You are nothing more than mere copies of the greatest superheroes ever created!’

‘Buddy,’ said Munster, ‘you must be mistaken. We are the greatest…’

‘Shut up,’ Cheddar said through clenched teeth.

‘This is the universe of The Slithering Super Snakes.’ From his pocket, the hare took out a comic book, depicting four snarling snakes – well, three snarling snakes and an adder with a wide grin on his face. The others were a cobra who slithered proudly in front, a bulky viper and a constrictor with mechanical arms attached to her body.

‘They don’t look too friendly,’ remarked Munster.

‘You should know of them,’ continued the hare, ‘They had a successful comic book and that led to an even more successful cartoon, and then some other company went and made your cartoon just to cash in on the Super Snakes’ success!’

‘We aren’t a cartoon!’ cried Cheddar, trying to grab the hare before he hopped backwards.

‘One thing I’ve recently learned,’ said the hare, ‘is that when you write a story or create a TV show and people watch or read it, it lives on in their mind and then becomes real in another dimension…I haven’t fully grasped it, but that means your world owes its very existence to people wanting money.’

The rats could only laugh.

‘Are you serious?’ said Gouda, wiping a tear from her eye, ‘You’re pathetic!’

‘Oh, am I?’ The hare smiled, revealing his jagged teeth. ‘You’re the pale imitations.’ He opened the comic, pointing at the pictures. ‘See them? See how much better they are than you?’

The rats leaned closer to look at the pictures. It showed a warehouse – the same warehouse the rats now stood in – where the snakes from the cover brought in a gang of criminals, each of them with balls and chains of their own. The adder – Whitman– had an axe at the end of his tail and used it to chop off both the legs of one criminal, then watched him crawl on the ground before decapitating him. ‘Don’t lose your head!’ giggled Whitman. The constrictor – Shelley – wrapped herself around another criminal’s neck and made his head explode into a bloody mess.

‘We’re nothing like this!’ barked Cheddar.

‘Exactly!’ sneered the hare, ‘You’re completely inferior! You’d never have the guts to do something like that! Your jokes aren’t as funny as the ones Whitman tells and none of you are as clever as Shelley! It was she who made the device that brought you here!’

‘So where are these Super Snakes now?’ Gouda asked, raising an eyebrow.

‘Well…’

Before he could fully answer, footsteps echoed throughout the warehouse. Another figure emerged from the shadows. A human this time; a tall woman with coke-bottle glasses and a lab coat.

‘I see you got my invitation,’ the hare said to the woman before turning back to the rats, ‘Now let’s see what a real villain is like! Dr. Jane Hartem! She’s much better than all your ridiculous rogues’ gallery combined!’

Jane, not even acknowledging the hare’s compliment, looked at the rats. ‘Who are these?’

‘The Rancid Rocking Rodents! Mere imitations of the superior Super Snakes! Even as a kid I knew the show was stupid! Yet my grandma would still buy me their action figures for Christmas!’

Jane sighed.

‘So, there you go. I’m just like you; you want revenge, I want revenge! In fact, I know how much you like killing heroes, so why don’t you kill them?’

‘Send them back. I’m not here for them.’

‘Oh,’ cackled the hare, ‘think you can be the hero now? I was just telling them what a great villain you…’

Jane decked the hare across the face, sending him collapsing to the floor. ‘You’re going to jail.’

The hare hopped right back up onto his feet. ‘So you’re not going to kill me then?’ he snarled before leaping towards her with claws outstretched.

Jane laughed angrily. ‘Isn’t this what you wanted?’

It was. He came into our world to get pummelled. He came so we could fight him, so he could become his favourite character and battle his favourite superheroes.

The fight between him and Jane was one of the many things I – and my brothers and my sister and my father – see in the afterlife.

Every murder we committed, ever criminal we killed, every death caused by me and Shelley and Whitman and Blake, plays back before us. Each replay is like a knife through my brain, which stings worse with the knowledge that there’s another world where we’re adored and treated as heroes. Where we inspired the creation of other heroes.

But the people of that world don’t like us. They like what we could have been.

The Snakes in the cartoon wanted to help people. The Rancid Rocking Rodents wanted to help people – and they had no malicious, murderous counterparts either.

We could have fought crime and caught criminals because we wanted to make the world better instead of slaughtering to validate our existence….no, that’s not why we did it. It was all for our own sadistic pleasure.

That’s why our father did what he did. That’s what we owed our existence to.

Our father, Dr. Hartem, is going through the same hell as me and my siblings. He sits with us as we see the visions. Frequently, he turns and smirks at us. Shelley, Whitman and Blake only give me cold stares.

We saw Jane battle Bad Bunny fiercely before she held him against a wall, pulled out a syringe and shoved it into his flesh, reverting him back to human form. With the device she inspired the creation of, she sent him back to his world and the Rancid Rocking Rodents back to theirs.

After that, she left the warehouse, but only for a moment.

She returned with a canister of petrol and a box of matches.

For the first time since my creation, I felt at peace.

THE END


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A Cow Remembers Cakes

This is a follow-up to The Cow’s Cake.


helenlooksup

I shouldn’t have quit. That’s what went through my head as I lay awake on the field, munching down on the grass around me. Food. Food like I used to make. Well, not really.

Food. I am food, or at least one day I will be. Even at my age, I find myself constantly thinking about the fact that one day part of me will be on a human’s plate. That cows like me are treated well only so our meat will taste better. Because we’re nothing but food.

Food. I used to make food. I used to make cakes. Birthday cakes, cupcakes, cream cakes, all made utilising the milk from my udder. All of them pretty good for someone without fingers.

As I looked up at the sky, the stars reminding me of the little sprinkles I put upon that large cupcake, I remembered the smiling people who came to the farm to see my work, I remembered the farmer jumping for joy at the increase in business.

‘I shouldn’t have quit,’ I said out loud.

Then I remembered that One Request.

Why would people want to eat cakes shaped like hamburgers? Hamburgers had to taste different from cakes – I wouldn’t know because I’m not a cannibal – so why would you want to be reminded of one taste before partaking of another? Then again, why would you want to eat cakes shaped like your favourite heroes? Certainly if you like them so much you wouldn’t want to eat them.

Humans confused me. Humans frightened me.

Seconds after I said I shouldn’t have quit, I told myself I had every right to quit. Why should I have helped the farmer? He just saw me as future food and profit. Why should I make food for humans? They didn’t care about me. All they cared about was what I brought to their stomachs.

As I thought those things, I swore I saw a worm crawl across the field as if in response to my musings. When humans die, they are eaten too. When all things die, they are eaten. That’s what I was told when I was a calf by my mother, that’s what us cows say to each other all the time.

I wouldn’t make a cake for worms though, I thought. I wouldn’t make cakes for what was waiting for me to die.

Again I thought of the humans that came to the farm to sample my wares. How impressed they were that such tasty treats could be made by a bovine. How I overheard a couple of them talk about how difficult they found baking. Baking was difficult for humans, even though they invented it. I wasn’t human, yet I did it with ease.

They saw me as something more than livestock. They saw me as something more than an animal. They saw me as something more than food.

When I stopped, I just became another cow.

If they see me as something more than a cow, I thought, they’d do the same for other cows. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself back in the baking business and the humans throwing their steaks and burgers onto the streets.

I remembered where the farmer kept a spare key; under a plant pot near the door. If I could hold a spoon and a whisk with my hooves, I could hold a key. I had to keep as quiet as possible, but I also had to be quick; farmers always make sure to wake up early.

Keeping quiet is easier said than done when you’re a bovine walking through a tiny farmhouse, and as I walked towards the kitchen, I saw vases wobble but thankfully not fall.

I entered the kitchen, and it was like meeting an old friend. In an instant, it felt like I was doing it for the first time all over again; I picked up a book from the shelf, then the flour, and then a pan which I filled up with my udder. Last time, I had assistance from the chickens for the eggs, but since they were asleep, I had to get them out of the fridge along with the butter. Unsalted, said the recipe. Jam too; can’t have Victoria sponge without it.

The jam was in the fridge too. Not too far from the steaks.

I closed my eyes and imagined the farmer going downstairs to work and seeing a Victoria sponge waiting for him and the look of surprise in his face….

He plans on killing me and serving me as dinner.

‘Forget it,’ I whispered to myself. Before I could reopen the fridge to put everything away, I saw a shadow in the door.

‘Oh, you’re baking again!’

Maggie, the farmer’s wife.

‘Do you need some help? I’ve really missed your baking. You’re definitely better at it than Henry…don’t tell him I said that.’ I couldn’t; the humans couldn’t understand me.

Just after I was ready to give up, I felt I had no other choice but to continue. I mixed the eggs and the flour and the butter and my milk, poured the mixture into two tins and tossed it into the oven, with Maggie watching all the while. Maggie offered to whip the cream for me, but I did it myself, the whirring and shaking soothing me. There was one way Maggie helped; pulling down a selection of ready-to-roll icing from the shelf. Icing I had used several times before, sculpting the likenesses of superheroes and cartoon characters.

This time, however, after the Victoria sponge was assembled and cooled, we covered it with yellow icing and added two eyes and a big smile with edible pen. A reminder for Henry to start the day with a smile.

After that, I returned to my field and slept more soundly until I was awoken by the farmer, with his wife beside him.

‘That was a lovely cake,’ he said as he patted my head, ‘What would I do without you?’

‘She’s more than just a cow,’ laughed Maggie, ‘she’s a miracle worker.’

 

Clown Free Zone

That’s what the website for Partford Parties proudly proclaimed on their homepage, right under a picture of a smiling clown behind a big red circle with a thick line through it.

No child wants a clown for their parties anymore. That was the philosophy of Partford Parties, which offered princesses, superheroes and pirates to perform at children’s parties, but nothing with ghostly-white makeup, frizzy hair or a big red nose.

It was through them that I ended up playing more superheroes than most Hollywood actors have. Mine were hardly the most well-known or original, including “Superbman”, “Metallic Man” and “Battsman”, but at least these characters made children happy. They showed their happiness through ear-stinging screeches and tugging at your cape, but it was happiness nonetheless.

It was also through Partford Parties that I met Edith, when we played The Mad Hatter and Alice for a “Wonderland Tea Party” package. Well, we called it a tea party, yet all the drinks served were fizzy, sugar-packed beverages that had all the children hopping in their seats. Edith knew how to calm them down, and after the party I asked her what magic powers she had if she could make the children stay quiet long enough to explain how to play “Pin the Watch on the Rabbit”.

‘Well, we are always saying children hate clowns,’ Edith replied, ‘and you’re as clown-like as we’ll allow.’ I took off my gigantic hat and had to admit to myself that, combined with the massive bowtie, I did resemble a clown somewhat. None of the children feared me, thankfully.

‘They don’t listen to me when I’m a superhero,’ I told Edith, ‘and kids are supposed to like superheroes.’

‘Well, maybe I do have magical powers then,’ Edith laughed, ‘no wonder I play so many princesses.’

We talked for quite a while, and agreed to meet up again that night in the local pub. I discussed coming there in the costumes we wore at the party, but Edith talked me out of it, using the same powers she used on the children, I presumed.

Frequently we went out for drinks after a party performance, ones we either did together or separately. One night, however, after I went to one party as “Captain USA” and Edith went to another party as “Wondrous Woman”, we both decided to go back to Edith’s house and have a couple of drinks there. No, we weren’t planning on going there in full costume.

We went into the living room and were greeted by clowns.

The walls were plastered with old, yellow circus posters, each of them sporting a grinning clown face. Resting on the sofa was a large clown doll, its arm drooping over the side. A large plastic clown head sat in the middle of a table, its mouth open in silent laughter.

I almost laughed myself, thinking this was some joke about the policy of the company we worked for, only for Edith to tightly clutch my hand and run towards the front door.

Not only was it locked, it had transformed into a round red door, and the walls turned yellow with purple spots almost instantly.

Edith grabbed the nearby telephone. Water shot out of the receiver.

‘Now isn’t this much more entertaining?’

My heart hammered against my stomach when I heard that slurping voice, and it stopped when I saw what that voice came from. A gigantic green blob with three eyes and fangs poking out of a frog-like mouth. A gigantic green blob dressed as a circus ringmaster.

Edith ripped the phone off of its cord and threw it at the creature. Though she threw it straight at his head, he only chortled.

‘Hello,’ he said, ‘You can call me the Ringmonster. Now what’s this I hear about your party company not allowing clowns?’

I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t move my lips or any muscle in my body. When the Ringmonster touched my mouth, however, my lips moved of their own accord and I involuntarily said, ‘But clowns are scary!’

‘Exactly!’ As he laughed, Edith and I suddenly found ourselves in new outfits. Both of us wore baggy trousers with spots, big floppy bowties like I wore when I was the Mad Hatter, white makeup splattered all over our faces and large plastic red noses. ‘There you go, you look much better. Are not humans clowns already? Why not embrace it?’

Edith threw her nose right at the Ringmonster’s face. This time he flinched.

‘I’m not a clown,’ she snarled, ‘We don’t allow clowns.’

‘But,’ replied the Ringmonster, seemingly shrinking at the sound of her voice, ‘you can’t have a circus…’

‘Get out.’

‘But…’

Out.’

In seconds, the Ringmonster vanished, as did his circus paraphernalia and our clown costumes. As soon as they did, we held each other tightly before kissing.

You can see why they hired her.