Just a Frog

            It wasn’t my fault the boy got lost in the forest. I am just a frog. I’m no keeper of the roads.

            Many people came through the forest, which is why the muddy trails formed in the first place. Before the village arose from wildflowers and tall grass, before stone sat on heavy stone in settlements called shelter, before chittering came from mouths in addition to beaks, the forest was my home alone. It had been nice. I had never gotten lost, even without the foot-stomped pathways. I am a frog. The forest has always been my home.

            Then, the people began to trickle in and my home became theirs, too. Feet loomed above me in the naked grounds where puddles collected and the sun sprinkled through bitten leaves. My nights, once full of soft-spoken wind, became raucous as great waves of laughter and toil flooded the air between trees. There wasn’t anything I could do to stop the assault of human presence. 

            I simply continued to exist. 

            And then the boy appeared on those trails, blurred and mushy from days of heavy rain. My skin had been feeling moist and refreshed, my legs thumped in happiness. The rain always kept the humans away. But then there was the boy. 

            He was young, but old enough to know one did not wander the forests alone, especially on days following sheaths of rain. He was old enough not to get lost. It wasn’t my fault. I do not own these roads.

            He looked startled when he first stumbled upon my slimy form. His eyes were wide, his mouth open the same. His pants were splattered with splashes of various browns, his hands shaking slightly from the late autumn chill.

            “Hello, Mr. Frog,” the boy said. He crouched down to get closer to me. I wanted to hop away, but stayed in the muddy divet I had begun to bury myself in.

            “You wouldn’t happen to know the way back to the village, would you?” He had rather good manners, as far as humans come. Though, his hands, red and cracked, came far too close to my face than I would have preferred. 

            Now, I must reiterate that I am just a frog. The next sequence of events cannot be blamed on me. I cannot explain why the boy thought I’d lead him back home. I gave no indication that I had answered his question positively. At least, no indication of which I was aware. 

            So, wanting to get away from those hands that seemed quite antsy to pat my head or scoop me up, I merely backed away from the boy. I cannot recall exactly how I backed away, if I was truly moving backwards or if I moved to the side, or if I moved diagonally. I cannot recall how far I leapt, if the movement was a mere rustle of leaves or a sizable jump to the otherside of the small clearing.

            All I know is that when I did move, the boy moved, too.

            “Thank you, Mr. Frog,” he said cheerfully. The look of panic began to withdraw from his features, replaced by a tentative smile. The sun was blazing on the horizon, threatening to seep the world into swaths of twilight blues. 

            The boy continued his way, in the direction that I jumped. He walked away from the village.

            I couldn’t stop him or redirect him. I am just a frog.

            I have no control over these trails. 

            When the search parties come to look for him, which have grown less and less as the days grow harsher and rain fades into snow, I cannot do anything.

            I am just a frog.

            The boy wasn’t my fault. 

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KARA ANDERSON

is from Binghamton, New York and is studying English and Spanish at the University at Buffalo. She has always had an affinity for writing since composing faux movie scripts at the age of five and one page “novels” in elementary school. Now, she primarily channels her writing in the form of essays and assignments. 

Jane and Eric

            There was something underneath the sheets. It had been there a while now, hiding and creeping and never quite actually existing. She could feel it though, could feel it pressing deep into her skin, between her shoulder blades, burrowing like a maggot in an apple. Her hands searched frantically for it, this phantom lump.

            I’m right here, Jane, just below the blanket. Jane, you can find me so easily, just overturn the mattress. Find me Jane, and come to rest.  

            A taunt. A horrible, horrible taunt. 

            A shiver ran across her body, a body aching in exhaustion. 

            It had been several weeks since Jane slept. 

            Jane had not initially married Eric out of love. When she was twenty-two, she had not believed in love. She believed in practicality. Jane eked out a Bachelor’s degree in business management, took up a job in a particularly gray office, began saving for retirement upon her first paycheck, and said “yes” to Eric’s proposal following a year of dating. 

            Eric was slightly less than handsome, but when he styled his hair just right, he was rather likeable. He held a steady job, had a well-founded plan for his future, and could tell a few charming jokes with a glass of wine or two. 

            And he had been so kind to Jane. Was so kind to Jane. He wasn’t a romantic by any means, but he took her to the theater, remembered her favorite tv shows, and always let her decide where to go for takeout. 

            It was a week after they moved into their house together when Jane first felt the lump. Eric was sweaty next to her in their bed, labored breath beginning to dissipate. She could feel his sweat clinging to her own naked body, his cum sticking to the inside of her thighs.  

            “You’re amazing, babe.” He rolled over slightly, pressing a moist kiss to her collarbone. She twitched. There was still something tight in her, unreleased; there usually was when her and Eric had sex.

            She was lying there, those sticky fluids seeping into her pores, when something round and hard pushed into the small of her back.

            She sat up, lifted the comforter, ruffled the pillows, felt her hands across the bed. Nothing, there was nothing there.

            “What are you doing?” Eric had not moved, but pressed a hand to Jane’s outer thigh, his fingers rubbing softly, carefully avoiding the mess in her lap.

            “I thought I felt something.”

            Jane laid back down. The lump had not moved.

            Jane went to bed. She laid down. The lump lodged into her back, pushing into muscle, into tendon, into bone. Jane sat up. She searched and searched and searched. Jane found nothing. Jane laid down. 

            Eric snored.

            The lump burrowed further. 

            Jane’s hands trembled around the mug of coffee. It had gone cold, its heat slowly siphoning off as the milky clouds of dawn gave way to bright, clear sunshine.

            Eric was coming down the stairs, feet heavy on the wooden planks.

            Jane slept on the couch last night. She needed to get away from that lump in her bed. She had not actually slept, however, afraid the lump would follow her somehow. Afraid there was a lump in the couch, too. 

            “No breakfast, I see.” Eric had made his way into the kitchen. 

            Jane did not respond, could not respond.

            A deep sigh met her ears. Her hands clamped around the mug. 

            “So, I’m the one working and yet, I don’t get breakfast. It’s a good thing that I love you, Jane.”

            Jane had quit her job a week ago. Or, in her supervisor’s terms, had been strongly encouraged to take a leave of absence; the permanency was only implied. 

            She was teetering somewhere, on an increasingly thin crevice. She was losing her footing. Her feet were slipping. 

            The lump consumed her thoughts.

            Two weeks ago she had begged Eric to buy a new mattress, to buy new sheets, to buy new everything. He refused, of course. He had done so much for Jane already, buying the house, taking her to dinner every week, even indulging her sometimes in her quest for this lump. She shouldn’t have asked for more. She shouldn’t have needed more. 

            But the lump. The lump didn’t stop pressing into her back. She swore she should have a scar by now, a great red indent that oozed and scabbed and reopened and grew deeper each night as that mystery ball pushed further and further in. 

            There was nothing. 

            “Jane?” Eric sounded a little worried. Jane wished she could appreciate it. 

            “Jane?” No, not worried, annoyed. Jane could understand that. 

            “Jesus Jane, I can’t stand here all day playing these games. I’ll see you after work.”

            The door shut heavy and hard. Jane shuddered, releasing the mug where her knuckles had grown white around. 

            She pushed away from the table she was sitting at, and, moving mechanically, made her way back to the living room. Her eyes were pulsing, her lashes being pulled down individually, begging for the lid to close. She needed to sleep.

            She laid down on the couch. 

            There was something underneath the cushions. 

Yes, Yes I Do

            The love of my life moved into my house 133 years after my death. She opened the creaky oak door with an ancient skeleton key, one that had been archaic even in my lifetime. She stepped forth into the foyer with a pointed shoe, exposing her slender foot up until her ankle where a pair of jeans covered her legs tightly and without modesty. 

            And, oh, when I saw her face, I was struck with such beauty, I thought her the original Aphrodite. A blooming sensation filled my chest and for a moment, I thought God had resurrected me. If fairness could breathe life, she would be surrounded by a legion of bygone souls. 

            Perfection was the only name for her.

            But perfection, this scenario did not grant, for coming in behind her was a man, and on his finger was a ring that matched the shimmer of gold on her. 

            Oh, the despair I felt; could one die twice? Yes, once in body and another in hope. And yet, though I was but a mere tendril of a spirit, and she was a married woman, and hope vacated my soul, I still could not keep myself from imagining a life with her. 

            I had never imagined a life with anyone before. I had always sat in this house alone- I had neither family nor friends to occupy its vast space when my heart still fluttered and my flesh did not yet know the hunger of worms. Where laughter and conversation should have echoed off these walls, only the moaning of the house’s bones crept through the air. I was but an empty creature inside an empty cage- only the necessary sounds of life (my trembling breath and the house’s achy creaks) indicated any existence at all. 

            Yet, seeing her, the hollowness of that mere existence began to fill with an undue ardor and verged on something like living.

            If only such fervor for life had possessed me before I took mine; if only I had witnessed such grace before condemning myself to this eternal purgatory; if only I had known that I could feel such passion that was not directed towards sorrow.

            But then if I had known, I would not have known her. 

            So now, all I can do is sit, observe, and imagine.

            I watch her as she conducts her life. 

            She seldom leaves home. I am blessed by this boundary. 

            Her husband goes most days, and though she must oblige him with a kiss goodbye, once he is gone it is just her and I.

            And we spend our days together, and though she may think herself alone, loneliness does not plague her as it had once plagued me.

            She holds that strange device to her ear and chitters merrily, the song of a canary free in the woods flowing from her tongue. She watches that box of flickering colors, moving her mouth in splendid little ohs and ahs as something delights or surprises her. She sifts through page after page of a book, marking her favorite lines with a blazing yellow hue. 

            So equal in beauty and kindness is she to put love into mundanity. 

            And, oh! The generosity of such a woman. She cleans and cooks and cooks and cleans and keeps the house so, so tidy so that her husband might be pleased when he comes home, so that he can smile at her the way I wish she would smile at me. 

            She lights the stove, she boils the water, she cuts the vegetables. And in this cutting she cuts herself and with a mutter of curses that sound almost saintly, she drips ruby jewels onto the food and board below. 

            She sucks her finger, runs it under water until the brazen crimson becomes soft rust and there is the sound of dripping, dripping, dripping. It reminds me of my own dripping when an iron scent wafted through the air as a result of my own hand, my own villainous hand that took that sheath of silver and brought it against too soft flesh. 

            I wonder- does she too feel that nest of scorpions grow between slits of flesh, stinging and stinging relentlessly? Does she know that thin line of fire, lapping hotly at the skin? Or does such pain not exist in wounds inflicted on oneself for someone else? I only ever gave wounds to myself for myself. 

            Does pain hurt differently when it is in act of service? 

            I cannot tell the difference between my agony now and my agony then; the pain in my soul for loving another soul and the pain in my flesh for having no one in the flesh seem all too congruent. 

            For as much as she gives others, she does not give this answer to me.

            For as much life as she gives me, I can still taste fresh my death on the lines of my memory. 

            If only I could erase that death; if only she could see me before her and give life to new memories, that generous woman she’s wont to be.

            I can imagine it now, just as I always do, that life I never longed to live during life. 

            I can imagine her seeing me, finally seeing me. I can imagine her hearing me, finally hearing me. I can imagine her touching me, finally touching me. I can imagine her… well I dare not say it, but I can imagine it. And so, I do.

            I would materialize before her, and she would not be surprised at my ghostliness because my presence would feel so familiar. I’d draw closer and closer to her, and she would stand, waiting. 

            This is how I imagine it.

            I would cup her chin so gently, and her skin would be softer than even the finest of silks. I would whisper to her, so delicate, like a melody carried by the wind, “Do you hear me?”

            She would try to place her loving hand against mine, try to brush the black hair from my eyes, but would find nothing but cold air. It would not deter her. Her honey gaze, filled with that warmth found only on languid summer days, would hold my own, and she would say back, in the tenderest of voices, “Yes, yes I do.”

            I’d gasp not in surprise, but in complete and utter happiness, and I would feel myself become corporal. I would stroke my thumb against those rosy lips, and they would be slightly chapped, but I would not care. 

            “Do you feel me?”

            “Yes, yes I do.”

            And she would want to kiss me, just as I want to kiss her. She’d imagine it in her mind, just as I imagine it now. She would feel the shiver down her spine as our bodies locked into one, as skin pressed against skin, as lips whispered silent prayers of a language spoken only through touch. 

            But she would not kiss, because she is far too good. She would tell me that she has a husband, that she is a devoted wife, that she loves him so, so much. And I would not care; for all her gentle beauty I would not be able to stop myself from corrupting her, from asking her to give me what I could only ask for in death. 

            I would beg for her love, for her sweet caresses, for her being; and she would resist a little while more, but with less heart and more obligation. Eventually, she would realize she could not deny her love for me, a love more powerful than the one she had for her husband, and she would beg for me too.

            This is how I imagine it. 

            This is how it would go, but it does not. 

            I imagine nothing, nothing that is real. For right now, she lays in bed with her husband, and he holds her dearly. She sleeps without disturbance and her face is so at peace. I watch over her, night and day, but she will never watch over me. 

            She will never imagine me. 

            And I love her. I love her. I love her.

            And she will never love me.

            Oh, why can’t she love me? Oh, why can’t she feel me? Oh, why can’t she hear me?

            Why can I not be loved? Why can I not be felt? Why can I not be heard?

            Why can I not be imagined? This life I see so vividly must exist somewhere.

            Please, she is the only one who can give this to me; she is the only one who denies me such, this married living woman. How dare she give me such feelings of life without giving me life herself! How dare she sleep so peacefully with her beloved when I shall never know peace nor sleep nor be beloved.

            How dare she make me remember without sharing these memories with me! How dare she make me remember without creating new memories with me! How dare she make me remember while creating memories with someone that is not me!

            She has broken into my purgatory and at once made it Heaven and Hell. She has cursed my imagination with wicked images of a life unattainable. She bestows her fairness and her mirth, but she leaves within me such fire. I love her so I cannot hate her, but I would hate her if I did not love her. 

            She lays in bed with her husband, so she cannot hear my desperate pleas, so she cannot want my desperate pleas. She lays there silently, no whisper on her tongue of those four words that have consumed my mind. She lays there peacefully, unaware of the plight she has caused in her ignorance and in her quietness and in her marriage. 

            Could one die twice? Yes, one could die a thousand times- once in body, once in hope, once in love, once in imagination- I have died them all.

            The love of my life moved into my house 133 years after I died, but so did the bane of my death.

The Banana

            I couldn’t help but wonder if I was next. It was all I thought about; even my dreams were littered with the horrors of my new home. There was no escape from the agonizing sounds of skin being ripped away from flesh as those cruel giants mutilated my siblings. There was no escape from the sight of ivory boulders pulverizing the soft bodies of my friends. There was no escape from the memory of that sleek silver thing; that sheet of mottled reflection with such a sharp bite that it offered no hesitation in slicing apart all whom I loved. 

            So few of us remained now. 

            Lying right in front of me was the carcass of my sibling, their tender skin split open, thrown disgracefully across the counter. They bore their naked flesh for all to see, so pale and so devoid of life. If I could tremble, I would.

            Life had not always been like this, not in our old home. 

            I remember, it was just a few days ago when sounds of liveliness filled my being, when swathes of color flooded my senses, when so little made me afraid. 

            Yes, there were unpleasant times back at the old home, like when the giants would touch you, pick you up, turn you around until you were dizzy. But so often, they’d put you right back in your spot, and you would be among your friends and family again, those fleeting moments of discomfort forgotten as quick as they came. 

            The best part, back at the old home, was when the lights would turn off and the giants wouldn’t return for hours at a time. It would just be my brethren and I, alone and happy, undisturbed by those noisy creatures. 

            There wasn’t much we could do; we couldn’t sing, we couldn’t dance, we couldn’t tell lavish tales of far off adventure. But we could sit with each other, take in one another’s presence, gaze upon the different mottlings of color and different shapes of curves we all came in. We didn’t need nor desire any tangible sense to bring us together, all we needed was to know that we sat in the same place, experienced the same things, and liked so much when the giants were gone. 

            I remember the first time a friend of mine was taken from the old home. It was frightening. The giant didn’t put them back down after spinning and spinning them around; no, the giant deposited my friend in this strange metal crate, with no ceremony and no compassion. That was the moment I first knew dread. 

            Still, like so many moments at the old home, the feelings of dread were soon forgotten. We were all too comforted by one another. 

            Now, since the cold metal bars of that crate burrowed into my skin, I have not ceased anticipating the worst, that once ephemeral dread now a stowaway in the veins of my flesh. I sit here, idle, on this strange surface, in this strange home. I sit here in fear and can do nothing. I watch the terrible ritual those giants have, and become an unwilling participant in their savagery.

            They take the pieces of my sibling’s flesh and lay them on a strange bed, an open coffin of crumbs and stickiness. There, the relics of my sibling, soft and pale, rest, soon to be consumed by that vacuous hole the giants call a mouth.

            Will I be next?