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Franken-Frog

By CL Bledsoe

Inside the frog was dark. Two little red sacks hung down below a whitish bulge. Maybe they were lungs, maybe they were kidneys, I didn't know. I hunkered down a little closer to see. The white thing was probably a stomach. The frog struggled, its legs pinned to the ground with needles. Its splotched cream-colored belly was folded out and held down by more needles.

"It's still alive," I said.

"Yeah," Tony laughed. "C'mon."

He led me back to the ditch on the other side of the road. Tony had a net from an aquarium his parents had given him for Christmas. The fish were long since dead. Tony scaled down the rocky walls to the water, carrying the net, and prowled the edge of the ditch with manic enthusiasm.

"Here, froggy, froggy, froggy," he said. He circled the water. I slid down to the bottom of the ditch, watching him.

"Be quiet, you'll scare it," Tony said. He whipped the net out and scooped something out of the water. He grabbed it, whatever it was, and scrambled back up out of the ditch. I climbed back up and reentered Tony's yard but Tony had disappeared inside the house. I glanced back at the road, in between the ditch and his yard, and thought about just walking off and going home.

Tony lived across from my grandmother in a big, white house. I saw him sometimes, when I visited her. He was usually outside. He'd been mowing their lawn when he saw me and flagged me over.

Sometimes, Tony could be really nice. He had a trampoline and lots of toys and things I didn't have. Other kids from the neighborhood came over and we all jumped on the trampoline or played elaborate games of hide and seek. His parents were never around so we could do whatever we wanted. Then, it was fun. But when it was just me and Tony, sometimes he got weird.

I heard the door slam as Tony emerged with an aluminum bowl, which he placed on the ground, covering whatever he'd captured in the ditch.

"Don't you fucking tell anybody I know how to do this," Tony said, bending over the dissected frog.

"Okay," I answered.

Tony pulled the needles out of the frog's stomach, and I watched in silence as he produced thread and began to sew the frog's stomach up. I was relieved to think that he might let the thing go, until he produced a larger bullfrog from underneath the aluminum bowl, and proceeded to cut it open and remove all of its insides.

"Catch," he said, tossing something that might've been a heart at me.

"Hey, watch it." I dodged the missile, and edged away.

When Tony was done, he took the smaller frog and sewed it up, struggling, inside the big one. I imagined what that would be like. Wet. Musty. Dark.

"What're you doing?" I asked.

"Science project, remember?" Tony said, not looking up.

Tony took the dead bullfrog back to the ditch and threw it in.

I stared at the water, then back at him. He was grinning. "Why did you do that?" I asked.

"I told you, for a science project. When you get into higher grades, you have to do stuff like that," Tony said.

"My sister's in a higher grade than you, and she never did that," I said.

"It's different for boys," Tony said. "Now, are you gonna help me with my project or not?"

I didn't answer. Tony studied the water, and then dashed to the bank so suddenly it made me flinch.

"He got out!" He said.

I edged over. The small frog was struggling in Tony's hands, the dark thread in its belly unraveling into a long, wet line.

"Smart little fucker. Help me find the big one."

I hesitated. "No, I don't want to," I said.

"Help me find it," Tony said, his voice insistent.

"You should just let it go," I said.

"Look," Tony said, "I can't afford to get a bad grade on this. My Mom's on my ass about my grades, and I need to get at least a B."

"What?"

"On my science project," he said, looking along the rocky edge of the water.

"What's this project about, anyway?" I asked.

"Frogs," Tony said.

He stuck the smaller frog into his pocket and waded into the water, barely paying any attention to me.

"What're you supposed to do?" I asked.

"Just what we've been doing. Dissecting frogs."

He was scanning from side to side. He took a couple steps forward. The water was murky and smelled bad. He didn't seem to notice, though.

"But you're not...that's not what you're doing. I mean..."

The water was up to his knees.

"That's why I need to find the big one," he said, over his shoulder.

"Why? You did it already."

"No, I need a really good grade. Or I'll fail. So I've got to practice. Like we've been doing."

I shook my head.

"Help me," Tony repeated. "All the times I've let you jump on my trampoline and play with my friends, and you can't even help me with my science project?"

I didn't answer.

"If you won't help me, then why should I let you play with my friends? Or use my trampoline?" He said, digging through the water with his net. I halfheartedly scanned the water, trying to see the bullfrog's form in the shimmering mass.

"Never mind," Tony said. "I got it." He darted a couple feet forward and scooped the body out. Tony waded back to the shore and showed me the bullfrog. My stomach dropped. I nodded and followed him as he climbed up the side of the ditch.

Back in his yard, he huddled over the two frogs, trying to repeat his last experiment. I came up behind him.

"I don't wanna do this anymore," I said.

"Sure you do," he said, not looking up.

"I need to get home," I said.

"What, are you scared? You gonna throw up?" Tony glared up at me.

"No, it's just...my Mom's gonna be mad. And besides, you shouldn't do it. It's bad."

"Tell my teacher. You want me to get an F?" Tony shook his head.

"No," I said, defensively.

"You said you'd help me. I can't do it by myself."

"I'm sorry. I've got to go. Get your mom to help."

Tony laughed. "She doesn't care."

I was silent for a moment. "I gotta go," I repeated.

"Chicken."

"Sorry." I turned to walk off.

"If you leave, then don't come back here, cry baby. You can just stay home."

I turned back to Tony and glared at him. He had a sulky look on his face, like he was about to start crying. I reached down and grabbed the Frankenstein frog.

"What are you doing?" He said.

I took off. In the moment before Tony reacted and gave chase, I crossed the edge of his yard and headed for the ditch.

"Hey," Tony yelled. I heard the thud of his footsteps behind me. I reached the edge of the ditch and slid down to the water. Rocks and dust dribbled down on top of me. The water smelled stale and rotten. Tony didn't follow me into the ditch. He stood at the top and watched. I set the barely-moving frog in a shallow part. It swam a little way into the water and I lost sight of it. I looked up at Tony. He was grinning. I thought, maybe he wouldn't be mad, maybe he was just playing. He did that, sometimes. You couldn't tell what was going on with him. He let me climb up to the top and stand up, then he punched me hard in the arm.

"Why'd you do that?" I said, shoving at him. He'd never hit me before.

He shoved me back, knocking me flat on my back. "Because you ruined my project," he said, standing over me.

I crawled away from the edge, stood up, and started walking away.

"Where you going, baby? It's just gonna die," Tony said, following me.

I didn't answer.

"Now I'm gonna get an F, ‘cause of you." He pushed me from behind, making me stumble. But I kept walking.

Tony circled in front of me. "Fine," he said. "We can do something else, chicken. What do you wanna do?"

"I don't wanna do nothing," I said, sidestepping around him .

"You wanna ride my bike?" Tony asked, pacing me. This almost stopped me. Tony never let anyone touch his bike. He talked about it all the time. He had built it up so much, I couldn't imagine him actually riding it. I had only seen it once. But I knew he was lying, he'd never have let me ride it.

"Got my own bike," I muttered.

"Yeah, but it's a crappy little kid's bike."

I didn't answer.

"All your stuff's crappy. Only reason I let you hang around is I feel sorry for you."

I kept walking.

"I said all your stuff's crappy," Tony said. He stepped in front of me again and pushed me. I swung at him, catching him on the shoulder. He was on top of me in a second, flailing at me with his fists. I tried to fight back but Tony was too furious. I lay on the ground, squirming away from the pain as best I could.

When he quit, I crawled away from him again and rose to shaky feet. He was laughing behind me.

"If I catch you walking by my house, or in my ditch," Tony yelled, "I'm gonna beat your ass."

I started walking.

"Or if I see you at your gramma's house. I'll come over to her house and beat your ass," he said.

I kept walking. He caught up to me and walked beside me for a second.

"Hey, I was just kidding," he said. "I'll let you jump on my trampoline. Even though you ruined my science project and I'm going to get a bad grade."

I didn't answer.

He kept pace with me quietly.

"So, what, you're just going home? Like a little baby?" He said.

I didn't answer.

"You're boring," he said, stopping. "You're going to come back tomorrow and expect me to play with you, but I'm going to say I have to go home, just like you did."

Ahead, I could see the turn onto Killough Street, which led up to my house. I was afraid to look back, but I could feel his eyes on me, full of that weird hate that he could turn on and off. He was wrong, I knew that. No matter how much stuff he had, he was wrong.

I turned right, up the hill, and glanced back. Tony was walking toward his house.

I climbed the hill, past all the lawns and parked cars, my arm and stomach still hurting. Some kids were playing somewhere nearby, I could hear them shouting, but I didn't try to seek them out or join in. I kept climbing until the road crested the top of the hill and curved down and around, past the big houses with the nice cars, down to the smaller houses and empty lots, over to where I lived. It was easier walking, then. I slowed, enjoying it. It was early, yet. I had plenty of time to get home.

 

CL Bledsoe has work in Thieves Jargon, Margie, The Arkansas Review and other places. He is an editor for Ghoti Magazine

 

Photo courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.

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