The Schoolgirls and the Frog

A frog, yesterday. (Source: Pixabay)

It was one of those tales that remains in a school long after the pupils who originated it have left, grown up and had children of their own — a modern day folk story handed down from year to year with each successive group putting their own spin on it. Some schools have ghosts, or a teacher that never ages, but at Prince’s Secondary School the tales were of the frog.

The stories varied, and each year details were added and removed, the whole thing re-styled to make it sound more modern and relevant, but the tale usually went something like this:

“At the bottom of the playing fields there is a small patch of trees, well there isn’t NOW, they OBVIOUSLY had to move the fence to protect people —the area is… different — magical, haunted. The trees are one of the last few patches of the Old Forest- the enormous forest from the fairy tales that was once home to Big Bad Wolves, Pigs, Princesses and delicious Grandmas — and it still contains some of the magic, spirits or ghosts of those times. One year — a year recent enough to seem real, long ago enough to have no available witnesses, say… seven years before you started? Okay then — a new teacher arrived; he was handsome and young, in fact he looked just like that celebrity you like but he hid a secret-
He was the REAL heir to the Throne. No it doesn’t matter WHICH Throne, that’s not the point here…
He was hiding, on the run from witches or necromancers, or ghosts or vampires- whatever… it was that thing that’s currently popular with the kids who think they’re Wiccan, okay? Can you let me finish? 
So these bad magical or undead people naturally wanted him removed from the equation for the usual reasons, but they couldn’t just kill him… no he was definitely un-killable, I can’t remember why… a clause, or magical protection or something,
stop asking questions. He always stayed away from the trees and never ventured down the field on break duty until one day a girl who was being bullied had her shoes taken and thrown in the woods, and because his desire to help those in need overrode his fear he went in to fetch them. Well I presume she was a student of his and he felt bad for her, look I didn’t just make this up I’m telling you what happened.
The girl followed him in, through the trees to a small pond and as he reached down to pick the shoes up she revealed herself to be a witch or a vampire ghost or whatever
and she threw him into the water where he instantly turned into a frog. He is unable to leave or break the curse, and if you go down there now, and look in, you can see him looking out at you. But don’t because the Witch or whatever she or he was still works in the school and she wants to stop people breaking the curse… actually it was probably her that made them move the fence but she hadn’t been introduced at the point you asked about that. You’re a nightmare, are you this bad at the cinema? ”

Hannah had heard this story and sometimes — though she wouldn’t admit this — she fantasized about it being true, of finding the frog and breaking his curse, of a handsome man being so enamored with her for saving him that he swept her away and made her his Princess. The fact that she had these thoughts made her feel a genuine anger — whenever she caught herself daydreaming, she would tell herself that she was NOT like that, she was very mature for fourteen, a feminist, and that dream of being a princess…Well, that should have been, no that WAS snuffed out when she was four or five. Besides, she would be very distressed by any grown man attempting to make a move on her, so the whole fantasy fell apart.

She also knew that she was not the best looking girl in the school, or even her form. She was taller than most of the boys and very broad shouldered (sometimes people would call her “mandroid” and would accuse her of having “droid rage” if she answered back, but this was rare, as most people were intimidated by her height). She had managed to get through life so far without slipping into any of the normal school social groups — not attractive enough to be popular, not different enough to be bullied… well, not too badly (most bullies were wary of picking on a girl twice their size). She was everybody’s friend, and simultaneously nobody’s. She had been at the school for a good three and a half years before she made any friends at all — if she were honest about it she’d say she was ecstatic when she was befriended by Jayde.

Jayde was a blonde girl from her science class who intimidated Hannah — though they were pretty much equal in the social stakes. Jayde was prettier, but her angular features gave her a strong bitchy resting face that made her appear unapproachable. She was slightly more abrasive than Hannah and quick to put people in their place, seemingly fearless with her words and impervious to threats of violence, she had gained a reputation as somebody not to be messed with despite never having been in a physical altercation. The first time they spoke properly Hannah was adamant that Jayde was going to beat her senseless, but within a few snarky words they found common ground in laughing at dated pop culture references.

If they were boys it would have been referred to as a “whirlwind bromance” — within a month they were inseparable, the best of friends despite their relationship consisting almost entirely of movie quotes, gentle mocking and silly little in-jokes. Just before a three day weekend near the end of May, Jayde invited Hannah to “come and meet the Kerries.” Hannah knew one of them, a girl who spelled Kerri with an i and insisted on the dot over the i always being a circle with a smiley face over it. Although Kerri was one of the more attractive girls in the school, she knew that she was, and had used that to her advantage in the first year. Many a lovestruck boy had been dragged around behind her, carrying bags and books and even running to the shops for her parents, each romantic hopeful had been replaced within weeks. Subsequently, Kerri was thought of as a total bitch — not a wholly undeserved reputation, but three years is a long time when your body is being mangled by puberty and she was a different girl now. The other Kerry turned out to be the girl who sat next to Hannah in geography, a fellow non-person who was actually very quick-witted once you had pierced her shyness, though Hannah always struggled to remember what she looked like even after looking away for a few seconds. She found herself enjoying their company unexpectedly and coming out of her shell.

The four of them spent the summer together, Hannah had a great time even if she couldn’t tell you exactly what she’d been doing. The four of them had become their own little clique, walking around town just…. being with no real intent. The day before school started for her fifth year, Hannah told her dad that it was the first time she could remember actually being excited to go in. He said it was nice seeing her happy, he had worried she would be Hannah no mates forever, then out of nowhere he asked, “Do they still tell that stupid story about the man frog?”

Hannah hadn’t daydreamed about that for a while, but said yes and told it as transcribed above. Her dad seemed pleased that it was still going, and recounted the version he knew in which the frog had been an evil wizard hell bent on destroying the world, and the witch some sort of angel. In her dad’s day the frog man had looked just like David Bowie, and later Joe Strummer or Sid Vicious. They laughed about teenagers being so different each generation, yet so similar, and Hannah went to bed dreaming of handsome, yet evil, wizards.

It was a few weeks before Hannah broached the subject of the frog with her friends, to her delight, both Kerries were surprisingly animated about it. Jayde performed mild sneering, but that was… expected. They discussed the story and it’s variants for an evening, and later — after they had all returned home — Hannah received a text from Kerri:

babe, reckon we shud go find the trees ;p

Hannah replied with a thumbs up emoji, and her heart fluttered somewhat. From then on she thought of little else.

The four of them made it their mission to find a way behind the fence, or to find where the back of the school was in relation to the nearby industrial estate. Kerri and Hannah were the ones driving the thing, and Kerry and Jayde had begun referring to them as the Frog Princesses, though they were still on board with the idea as it was, in the words of teenagers everywhere, “something to do.” It was Kerry that noticed Miss Higgins first.

Miss Higgins was young, impossibly pretty and still putting on a “ditzy blonde” act in her mid to late twenties. She taught French, possibly, or one of the sciences that Hannah didn’t take and she was almost certainly the object of many a teenage boys ill-placed affection. She seemed to have started stalking the girls around school, and Kerry was adamant that she had seen her outside her house one night. Hannah and Kerri joked that she was the witch, come to kill them before they release Him, but as the weeks went by the jokes became tinged with a seriousness — Miss Higgins really did appear to be following them. Every time they reached the bottom of the playing fields, she’d come jogging over, chatting and joking and taking up their time, asking about boys and whether or not they were smoking, or on drugs. Hannah started to seriously worry that the stories were real, but this excited her and spurred her on despite exhausting all avenues.

The industrial area behind the school had been thoroughly investigated and to their dismay (but not really their surprise), the factories just ended at the school fence. It was a no-nonsense sort of fence, built to last out of long, thin panels of wood nailed into thick posts, and it was about nine foot tall. Jayde had joked that maybe the trees were buried, subsequently, a few weeks had been spent mooching about at the end of the field, looking for evidence of old trees—stumps, roots, anything at all. They had become their own little faction and other groups stayed away from “their” area of the playing fields; well, except Miss Higgins who still bothered them but not — as Kerri pointed out — as regularly and with an air of smugness that even Jayde said was apparent. The four of them had seemingly come to terms with the fact that it was nothing more than a school legend, though none of them would say it out loud as if they did, well what would they do with themselves?

It was a Saturday morning in November when the breakthrough happened. Hannah was getting dressed and Jayde burst into her bedroom like a tornado, blathering on about a fence.

“Get the Kerries, babe, you are going to SHIT.”

Within half an hour, the four of them sat on a bus heading towards the industrial estate. Jayde was, for possibly the first time, visibly excited. She refused to disclose her apparent discovery until they arrived. Once there, she led them down the side of an optical manufacturing place, the other three protested that they had been there, seen the back of the school fence and given up. All that was there was a skip full of wood, a few overgrown weeds, and the now familiar fence.

“Watch and learn,” Jayde said, and started rummaging through the skip until she produced an ancient looking step ladder with one side missing. “Han, you’re tallest so you can confirm this.” She leaned the ladder against the fence and gestured towards it. Hannah dutifully, yet warily, clambered onto the old metal ladder, worrying over the creaks it gave as she climbed up. It was only seven steps, but it was enough to get her so she could peek over the fence.

“What am I meant to be looking at? It’s a real neck-stretch to see over this and I can’t see the ground without climbing onto the fence,” she said

“Million dollar question. What is in front of you?” asked Jayde. Hannah looked, the colour drained from her face, and she gasped.

“Fuck,” she exclaimed. “Fuck a doodle DOO Jayde how did you…?”

“Noticed a discrepancy on the map in orienteering, put two and two together last night. Tell the ladies what you see.” She pretended to check her nails, smugly.

“Another fence,” said Hannah. “Girls there are TWO fences, about three metres apart.”

“Can you see anything between them?” asked Kerri, unable to contain the excitement in her voice.

Hannah climbed down, and with a glint in her eyes she whispered, “Treetops.”

Hannah suggested breaking into the school — it was out of character but she could not resist a better look. Within the hour the four of them were at the bottom of the playing field, taking it in turns to stare up to the school in case Miss Higgins really WAS the witch — it all felt a lot more real with the fence revelation — while the others ran their hands along the fence, looking for a weak spot. Kerri found a loose panel in the corner and the four of them descended upon it like ravenous seagulls on a sandwich, pulling and shaking at it until it came loose before moving on to the next. By lunch time they had removed enough wood that Jayde and Kerry could slip through. Once they were on the other side pushing, another panel was down within minutes to allow the other two through. Once in, they could see that there was indeed a small patch of trees, they looked old but had been cut short so they didn’t protrude over the fence. Hannah’s heart was in her mouth.

“Okay I’ll say it, I’m actually scared,” said Kerri.

“I need… I need time to process this,” said Kerry.

Hannah was relieved, and suggested putting the panels back loosely and coming back later. They returned through the gap and were attempting to make it look untouched when Kerri yelped in fright. They turned to see at the top of the field stood Miss Higgins, stock still and staring. She slowly and deliberately began to walk towards them. Jayde gripped Hannah’s arm and said, “It’s now or never, I’ll stall her.” Without thinking, Hannah and the Kerries tore down the fence panels and went through.

The air felt thicker, warmer and sweeter smelling as they slunk across the dead grass and cracked earth toward the small wooded area, the urgency replaced by an intense feeling of anticipation. Peering in through the gnarled, twisted trunks, they could see nothing except dense undergrowth. Hannah swallowed, took a deep breath and pushed into the foliage. She took two steps, the thick branches scratching her face and an unearthly buzzing in her ears before suddenly she was met with a sight that took her breath away. The trees encircled a small pond. The pond, if you could call it that, was about 6-feet across and thick with algae and weeds, yet somehow beautiful, sparkling, magical. The sunlight that inexplicably managed to pour through the dense trees was brighter than the sky outside and sunbeams danced in the warm air. It felt like springtime… no, it WAS springtime and everywhere outside this woods was wrong. Kerri and Kerry pushed in behind her and stopped dead.

“It’s… What the fuck is this,” said Kerry, which wasn’t the most eloquent phrase but was the most apt. Hannah couldn’t hear her though, as her attention had been drawn by the frog.

The frog looked exactly as she had imagined. It was sad, as far as she could tell, and resembled a cartoon more than a real amphibian but… there it was— it was definitely alive, as it had blinked, and Hannah could see it’s chest softly moving as it breathed. It sat in a pool of sunlight, spotlighted like the world’s smallest, most improbable, lounge singer: an olive Sinatra on an emerald stage. It turned it’s head up to them, a doleful look in it’s eyes, and croaked. Hannah stepped towards it, but Kerri pushed past her and scooped it up off of the ground.

Hannah lost it.

Without understanding why, she launched a punch at Kerri’s temple. She’d never punched anyone before and was surprised by how much it hurt, but she delighted in seeing the other girl drop the frog and fall to the ground. There was a rustle of leaves behind her and she knew that the witch was there to stop her. She had no idea how she knew what to do, but she picked the forlorn looking thing up and kissed it right on the mouth. It was not as disgusting as she would have expected, and there was a crackle and a flash as she pulled away, as though her lips had been blasted with a static shock.

The frog fell to the ground, and unfolded.

Piece by piece, the little frog opened up like a blossoming flower, revealing ever larger and more complex parts inside. Hannah could not take her eyes off of it. There was something happening behind her, noises that would have worried her normally, but she couldn’t turn away from the spectacle. The expansion looked more mechanical than magical, each body part flipping apart to expose an improbably larger part beneath, the whole thing whirring open with such simplicity, such beauty, that it could be believed that any object could be concealing something in this manner. Suddenly, it was over, and in place of a frog was a full grown man crouched on the ground. He stood up, and stretched. Hannah couldn’t help but notice his immaculate blue suit — it showed no sign of ever being in water.

“Finally,” said the man. “Thank you my love.” Hannah looked at him, and was smitten instantly (her dad would have been amused to know he looked like a young Paul Anka). Her concerns about his age melted, she yearned for him to take her away, to be his princess. She reached out to touch him but her fingers felt as though they were bound together. A feeling of deathly cold filled her as it suddenly appeared to Hannah that the man was growing taller, becoming in seconds an imposing figure who loomed over her and made her feel like a small child again.

She watched him grow, until somehow she managed to pull her focus away from his face, and in a blind panic she realized that He wasn’t growing; She was shrinking. A fear washed over her, and impossibly quickly she found herself level with the toe of his shoe. He reached down, scooped her up and held her up to his face. He grinned, and it wasn’t the friendly grin she had imagined moments before — it was sinister, his teeth small and sharp. A small jar was produced from his pocket, and he deftly unscrewed the lid with his free hand. Hannah wanted to scream, to run, but her body wasn’t hers any more and she couldn’t get it to do what she wanted.

“Ribbit.” said the man, and laughed. He flicked her up in the air, and as he did she noticed her feet. Her big, green, webbed feet. She tried to shout, to make any sound at all as he caught her in the jar, but all that came out was a sad little croak.

Jayde laughed involuntarily at seeing her lover seal the pathetic frog up, and tapped the glass playfully.

“You took your time,” he said.

“Took a few years to find the right girl. You know how it is.”

He put his arm round her and they turned around. It was then that Hannah saw Kerri and Kerry, or more precisely what remained of them. Jayde took the jar from the frog man, and said,

“Could have been worse, babe,” she pointed at the Kerries, “that could have been you.”

Hannah wanted to cry, but the signals sent by the brain weren’t registering. Jayde looked in on her and said,

“It was nothing personal, you know? Sixty years I have been trying to nudge people towards this. Turns out the subtle approach is what’s needed… you would not BELIEVE how difficult it is to get someone to kiss a frog, I guess you just have to let them want to do it. He’s not heir to the throne, that bit I made up to trick people…”

“I’m not an evil wizard either,” the man interjected,

“…Well, he’s not a wizard,” the two of them laughed, a little too hard. “I liked you, Han, I did. I really am glad it was you because I didn’t want to have to kill you. We’ll keep you well, give you a little vivarium or something I dunno… If you’re wondering about Higgins I… not exactly killed her, She’ll be back in some form, but she tried to protect you from us. Been trying to stop me since she put him in there.”

“Some people,” the man said, “Will do anything to protect the monarchy.”

“She can’t stop us now. Nobody can.” Jayde dropped Hannah into her school bag, and she felt them walk away.