This story contains some brief nudity.
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.’
‘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?’
‘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.