Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Frog-Viking

This story by Geraldine Borella was placed second in the 2018 Buzz Words Short Story Prize for a story written by an adult for children.

I kissed a green tree frog but it didn’t turn into a prince, it turned into a Viking. I really don’t know why I did it. I’m not the princess type. Not like Nina.
          Nina liked twirling around the schoolyard, pretending to be Elsa from Frozen, zapping annoying people into icebergs, whereas I preferred being two-time world champion netballer, Laura Geitz.
          Actually, I do know why I did it – Nina dared me.
          ‘Go on,’ she said. ‘Kiss it.’
          ‘Yeah, go on,’ urged Ali.
          ‘Ew!’ screeched Larissa, crinkling her nose. ‘Gross!’
          To be honest, I think that’s what swayed me. I enjoyed doing gross things to freak people out.
          ‘She won’t do it,’ said Nina, examining her fingernails. ‘She doesn’t even believe in frog princes.’
          That was true. I didn’t believe in frog princes. Nina knew me so well. But, she also knew that telling me I wouldn’t do something would inevitably push me into doing it.
          So I kissed the tree frog we found in the school bubbler tap tray.
          It morphed into a human, little green digits turning into pink fingers and toes and we screamed. I threw him away, tossing him off the palm of my hand, and he spun in the air cloaked by a cloud of green smoke and glitter until he landed on the ground, a fully formed Viking boy, complete with horned helmet, leather clothes, a bearskin cape and woollen boots. Poor thing! He’d boil in this tropical heat.
          Other kids in the schoolyard were curious as to what was going on, hearing our screeches and squeals, but we created a shield, blocking him from view.
          ‘What’s going on?’ asked Jackson.
          ‘Nothing,’ said Nina, sneering. ‘Just playing a game.’
          ‘Really?’ He drawled and raised an eyebrow. ‘What sort of game?’
          ‘None of your business,’ said Nina, and she raised her hands to turn him into an iceberg.
          Jackson rolled his eyes and hugged himself, pretending to shake and tremble. ‘Ooh, I’m soooo scared,’ he said. His mates smirked. ‘She’s gonna turn me into an icy-cup.’
          Nina shot them an evil glare and they walked off, muttering about how pathetic Frozen is. 
          We spun around to examine the Viking boy. He gazed up at me from the ground, with big blue eyes.
          ‘Hello, my beautiful shield-maiden,’ he said in a weird accent.
          ‘Huh?’
          Nina nudged me. ‘He’s in love with you,’ she whispered. ‘I can see it in his face.’
          ‘I’m not a shield-maiden,’ I said. ‘I’m just a school girl.’
          ‘You shielded me from the other warriors.’
          ‘Well, yeah, but…’
          ‘You are all shield-maidens,’ he said, gesturing to my friends.
          ‘Well, no…,’ I started, and Nina nudged me again, shushing me up.
          ‘How come he can speak English?’ asked Larissa.
          Nina scowled. ‘It’s magic, of course!’ Then she turned to the boy, ‘So, what’s your name?’
          He got to his feet and punched himself hard in the chest, just above the heart. ‘I am Broddi Samsson of Njarevik.’ 
I winced. That had to have hurt!
          ‘I’m Nina Clarke of Freshwater,’ said Nina, repeating the gesture, though punching herself more gently. ‘And this is Ali Tingle of Redlynch, Larissa Weir also of Redlynch, and …’ She pointed to me. ‘Cassie Camden of Caravonica.’
          ‘Cassie Camden of Caravonica,’ whispered Broddi. His eyes seared into mine and I cleared my throat, glancing away. Stop staring, why don’t ya!
           The morning bell rang for class and I looked around at my friends. What will we do with him?
          ‘Come with us,’ said Nina, taking charge. ‘And let me take that cloak. You’ll swelter, otherwise. Oh, and you can ditch the boots and helmet as well. We’ll go get some stuff from the lost property box.’ She glanced over her shoulder. ‘Got your netball sneakers here, Cass?’ she asked.
          I nodded as Broddi allowed Nina to drag him along. Most people allow Nina to organise them, me included.
          ‘Who’s this?’ asked Mrs Tupperton.
          ‘An exchange student Cass has staying with her,’ said Nina, not missing a beat.
          ‘Oh really?’ said Mrs Tupperton, sounding impressed. ‘Where from?’
          ‘Njarevik,’ said Broddi. ‘I am Broddi Samsson from Njarevik.’ He slammed his fist into his chest again and even Jackson winced.
          ‘Hmm,’ said Mrs Tupperton. ‘Where’s that? In Norway?’
          Broddi spat on the carpet. ‘I spit on King Harald and his unification, and I rue the day Arnarson came ashore.’
          ‘Ahh, Broddi, we don’t spit in the classroom, thanks,’ said Mrs Tupperton. She seemed intrigued though. ‘That’s interesting,’ she said, tapping a finger against her lips. ‘I thought King Harald was quite a nice man and very popular, too.’
          Broddi spat again and Jackson, Tian and Ethan sniggered.
          ‘Broddiiiii,’ warned Mrs Tupperton, frowning.
          ‘I’ll make sure he doesn’t do it again, Mrs Tupperton,’ I said, guiding Broddi to a seat and out of danger.
          The morning ticked by slowly as we worked hard to keep Broddi camouflaged and in his seat. He was prone to jumping up and wandering about the room, inspecting things. When Mrs Tupperton began the math lesson, he chimed in, obviously quite handy with numbers. Mrs Tupperton had asked: ‘If you had fifteen goats and seven were stolen, while two died of disease, how many would you have left?’
          Broddi slammed his hands on the desk and said, ‘I would drive my sword through the belly of the thief, get my seven goats back, sacrifice one to the gods and still have twelve left to feast upon.’
          The whole class screamed with laughter and Broddi looked surprised and then pleased with himself.
          ‘Yes, well,’ said Mrs Tupperton. ‘That sounds like quite a feast.’
          Broddi gave a serious nod then stood up and wandered over to the goldfish tank. Mrs Tupperton flashed her eyes at me and I got up to guide him back. He stared at the goldfish, then snatched one out and swallowed it. I gasped. Did he just eat Hazel? Luckily none of the class saw, as Mrs Tupperton had instructed them to flip to a certain page in their texts and they were busily doing so.
          ‘I’m ravenous,’ he said, munching on Hazel.
          ‘Uh…’
          ‘Here.’ He reached in and caught Fred. ‘You must be hungry too.’
          ‘No, no,’ I said, hands up. ‘I’m good.’
          ‘Oh, well, do you mind if I…?’ He nodded at Fred.
          ‘Um…’
          Before I could answer, he tipped his head back and dropped Fred into his opened mouth. My stomach turned. How was I going to explain this?
          ‘We’d better go sit down,’ I said, reaching for his arm. He looked down at my hand on his elbow and took it, spinning me around to stand in front of him.
          ‘Cassie Camden of Caravonica,’ he announced, loud enough for the whole class to hear. ‘I take you as my wife and shield-maiden from this day forth and for ever more.’
          The class erupted with laughter and Mrs Tupperton’s jaw dropped.
          Nina sighed out loud. ‘Oh, so romantic!’
          ‘Show me to the graves of your ancestors,’ he said. ‘So I may retrieve their sword.’
          ‘Um…’ I was pretty sure my great granddad wasn’t buried with a sword. I suppose I could check with Mum though.
          ‘We’ll sacrifice another goat…’ said Broddi.
          ‘That’ll leave only eleven to feast on though,’ Jackson pointed out, laughing.
          ‘Eleven will do fine,’ said Broddi, taking him seriously.
          ‘Right,’ said Mrs Tupperton, trying to gain control of the class. ‘I think that’s enough horseplay for today.’
*
That was almost three years ago and I still have Broddi hanging around. He doesn’t come to school anymore; he lives in the rainforest that backs onto the schoolyard, continually switching between Viking and frog. He said that’ll happen until I agree to marry him; it’s a huge obligation to have resting on my shoulders.
          I visit often, with Ali and Larissa. Broddi roasts a scrub turkey on a spit, offering me (his beloved) the choicest leg. It’s created a terrible split between Nina and I, unfortunately. She’s jealous, I think. But Broddi’s here to stay, and to be honest, it’s nice to have someone who loves me unconditionally.
          I’m off to high school next year and when Mum and Dad floated the idea of me going to St Matthew’s, the private school across town, I quickly laid it to rest.
          ‘But it’s got so much to offer,’ said Mum, her brow creasing. ‘It’s quite expensive, but it’s got an indoor swimming pool, a gym, a music academy, theatre group…’
          ‘I know. But I’d still rather go to Redlynch High.’
          ‘Aren’t your friends going to St Matthew’s?’
          ‘So,’ I shrugged. ‘I’ll make new ones.’
          ‘Hmm...’ Mum pursed her lips, frowning.
          ‘Looks like we’ll get a holiday this year, after all,’ mumbled Dad, burying his head back into his newspaper.
          I smiled. St Matthew’s may have a lot to offer but it doesn’t have everything. It doesn’t have a rain-forest plot with a creek running through it, or a paddock full of goats, and it doesn’t have a frog-Viking called Broddi either.    

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