David C. Hughes, Writer

Twelve Tantalizingly Twisted Tales featured on Lone Star Book Blog Tour, starting Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Archive for the month “March, 2015”

Princess Hannah and the Pink Frog (Part 2 of 2)

“She played the game well,” called a familiar voice.

Princess Hannah opened her eyes a crack and the pink glow of the frog illuminated a monstrous ogre as tall as a grizzly bear and just as thick, dressed in tattered rags. The hideous creature towered over the cage, appraising her with one large, filmy eye. Drool overflowed his cracked lips and slopped onto the front of his torn shirt.

The frog hopped to the cage door, and this time there was no mistaking it—he did, indeed, smile. “Yes, she played the game quite well,” the amphibian repeated, staring at her with unblinking amber eyes. “And now she gets to be ‘it’ again.”

Another guttural laugh emanated from the hideous ogre, who reached into the pocket of his ragged trousers and pulled out a long, rusty key. “Come with me, my princess,” growled the ogre. “The frog says you played the game well, so now I have a special place for you. My pretty little decoration. My pretty little bird. My helpless little bird. No longer free. No longer free at all.” The ugly beast swung open the door, reached into the cage and grabbed her arms with rough fingers. “Yes, a very special place for you. Yes, indeed. Indeed.”

Princess Hannah swooned, and the ogre jerked her out of the cage as easily as if she was a ragdoll. He carried her through a door toward a massive fireplace on the far side of the adjoining room. Flames roared in the firebox and cast undulating shadows on the walls. The beast lifted Princess Hannah over his head and shoved her into a cramped cage hanging to the right side of the fireplace. He snapped the door shut. The tight enclosure reminded her of a birdcage her oldest brother had built to keep a mangy raven he had captured. The raven had died of starvation, to the delight of her brother. Princess Hannah turned round and round, searching for a way out of the cage. She found none.

“There, my dear,” the ogre gurgled. “From now on you will be my bird. My bird in a cage.” He turned his attention to the fire, stoking it with a long, rusted poker and drafting it with his leather bellow. The room glowed brighter. After a short time, he dragged a stewpot the size of the castle’s bathtub to the hearth and mounted it on a hook. He filled it with water poured from jugs so large Hannah could hide in one. After he swung the pot over the flames, the ogre turned and thundered out of the room. “Must go hunting, now,” the ogre growled. “Fresh meat for a fresh bird. Hmm.” As he left, Princess Hannah heard the monster laugh again. She curled into a tight ball on the cage floor, sobbing.

***

She awoke to the sound of the birdcage’s latch unlocking, and when she opened her eyes the room glowed pink as well as orange. Thick smoke filled the chamber, and the sound of boiling water bubbled from the colossal, black cauldron. Princess Hannah coughed. Her throat burned. The pink frog clung to the front of the cage near the lock, the ogre’s rusty key firmly clamped in its mouth. The princess grabbed the key and slipped it into a pouch tied around her waist.

“Come along,” the frog said, hopping out of the cage, “and keep quiet. He’s fallen into a stupor from his ale, but we mustn’t take any chances and rouse him.” The frog nodded toward the far end of the room where the hideous beast slumped in a chair, head lolled to one side. A deer carcass lay sprawled at his feet. A stein the size of a chamber pot lay in a puddle on the floor beside him. “We must leave the house quickly,” urged the frog. The amphibian vaulted off the cage and plopped onto the hearth. “I’ll stay here and distract him should he awaken while you make haste into the woods.”

Princess Hannah didn’t question the frog. She quietly slid out of the cage, lowering herself as far as she could, until she was hanging by her fingertips.

“Let go!” the frog commanded. “And run!” She did as the frog said. As she hit the floor she rolled, stood and bolted for the front door. She ran as fast as her legs could carry her, and, with all her might, she thrust open the door and tumbled into a patch of soft grass glowing silver in the brilliant light of a full moon. As Princess Hannah scrambled up, she heard the ogre roar from inside the house. She froze.

“What happened to my little bird?!” he thundered. “Where has she gone?”

“Sir,” she heard the frog yell. “She managed to free the cage door. I tried to stop her, but she fell into the cook pot and I fear she is now dead. Come quickly and see for yourself.”

The ogre grunted.

Princess Hannah heard him trudge across the floor. Moments later, a loud splash erupted from the house, followed by a dreadful shriek.

Her trance broken, she darted into the woods. She didn’t look back until she knew she was safely away.

She hid in a thicket, trembling, until daylight filtered through the trees. Princess Hannah crawled out from the cover of the bushes, brushed herself off and listened closely to the sound of the forest. Hearing nothing threatening, she made her way east toward the rising sun and, she hoped, home. By and by she stepped onto a familiar path winding through the trees, and she knew then that she was safe at last.

“Hello again,” called a familiar voice. Princess Hannah spun around and spied the pink frog hopping up the trail behind her. “May I come along?”

The princess dropped her hands onto her hips, cocked her head and glared at the frog. “After what you did to me?” she hissed. “Of course not! Run along now before I snatch you up and hand you over to my brothers. You wouldn’t like that. Not one bit.”

The frog looked at her, his amber eyes flecked with gold, imploring forgiveness.

“But, Your Majesty,” begged the frog. “I rescued you.”

Princess Hannah’s scowl deepened. “You rescued me after luring me into the ogre’s house, knowing he would enslave me, possibly even eat me! Why should I listen to you, you fat blob of amphibious jelly?” She crossed her arms tightly. “Explain yourself, else I’ll catch you and serve you in a nice barley soup.”

“I freed you,” said the frog, his rosy glow softening, “because I found myself enjoying your company immensely.” He lowered his head. “By the time I realized how much fun we were having, the cage door had already closed. Knowing I could help you escape when the ogre fell asleep, I bided my time, playing his game until then. Will you ever forgive me?”

“Hmm,” Princess Hannah snarled, a sound unbefitting of a princess. “On one condition.”

“Anything, Your Majesty the Princess,” the frog said, bowing deeply.

“That you come home with me and become my pet.”

“Why, I would be delighted!” The frog hopped up and down, dancing a little jig.

“So what happened to the ogre?” Hannah asked.

“Oh, him?” said the frog, grinning. “He took a bath. A hot one.”

Princess Hannah snickered, then giggled, then laughed, and soon the frog laughed along with her. The beautiful princess and the uncommon frog made their way to the castle, where they found dinner, warmth and hours and hours of Hide and Seek and other imaginative games whilst evading five bratty brothers who stunk like a heap of rotting socks.

 

—THE END—

 

Copyright © 2015 David C. Hughes

 

Princess Hannah and the Pink Frog (Part 1 of 2)

Once upon a time there lived a beautiful princess named Hannah. Princess Hannah grew up in a magnificent castle set in the thick forests of the Kingdom of Northern Barberry, where she lived with her father the King, her mother the Queen and five rambunctious younger brothers who were nothing but trouble and stunk like a heap of rotting socks.

Because she enjoyed the silence of the wilderness over the echoing din of her five rollicking siblings, Hannah often played by herself in the woods surrounding the castle. The tall oaks and dense firs provided a habitat perfect for imaginative adventures like catching fairies in snare traps and boiling witches—along with Hannah’s brothers—in large, black pots of smoking oil.

One fine summer day, the princess fancied herself as a daring maiden hunting the wild, one-eyed, big toe monster of Northern Barberry. As she followed a set of deer tracks deep into the woods, she came upon a frog as wide as a dinner plate and as tall as a cow pie crouched upon the path. But this was no ordinary frog—its skin radiated a blinding shade of pink, forcing Hannah to shade her eyes until they could adjust to the amphibian’s brilliant complexion.

After her eyes had adapted to the bright light, she bent to peruse this most uncommon animal. The flamboyant amphibian hopped toward her, appearing not to mind the intrusion. Gazing up at her with bulging, amber eyes flecked with gold, the frog asked Hannah if she’d like to play a rousing game of Hide and Seek.

“Why, yes, of course!” cried Princess Hannah. She jumped and clapped and spun around in wide circles, then froze as she realized the frog had just spoken to her. “How can you talk?” she demanded, crossing her arms. “Frogs only talk in uninspired fairy tales and in my imagination. Tell me, frog, are you in a fairy tale or in my imagination? Or are you real?”

The odd-looking creature cleared his throat with a hearty burp. “Your Majesty the Princess, I am quite real.” The frog then swept one splayed foot under his chin and bowed reverently, eyes closed. “And as a subject of the Kingdom of Northern Barberry,” he continued, “I humbly offer you my services.”

Princess Hannah knelt on the pine needles, cocked her head and leaned toward the frog. Other than its size, color and ability to hold a conversation better than her brothers, the animal resembled any other frog, with thick legs, a fat belly and bulbous eyes. The princess thought the frog’s pink hue made it look perfectly pleasant and harmless. “Thank you, then, my friend,” Hannah said, nodding in appreciation. “I shall take you up on your most generous proposal.”

The frog opened his eyes. “Excellent!” he croaked, clapping his palms together. “Hide and Seek, then?”

Hannah stood and tapped a finger against her lips. “Yes,” she replied. “I would be most thrilled to join you in a game of Hide and Seek.”

“Then follow me to my modest hut,” said the frog. He hopped off the path and into the thick underbrush.

Delighted, the princess forgot about hunting the wild, one-eyed, big toe monster of Northern Barberry, and she joined the frog as he leapt deeper into the forest.

Before long the sun hid behind the clouds and the woods fell into a deepening murkiness. The princess soon found she was quite lost. After what seemed like hours, they came upon another path, this one unkempt and overgrown with brambles that swiped at her skirt as she walked past. The trail led not to a modest hut but to a tumbledown house next to a roaring stream. Hannah noticed the structure was almost as large as her father’s hunting lodge, its windows hidden with rough-cut boards, its sunken roof blanketed with a dense layer of moss. The front door stood open, hanging by a single rusted hinge.

Without hesitation, the frog hopped across the threshold, spun around and commanded, “You count first and I’ll hide. In here.”

Leaning against a scratchy tree trunk she designated as “base,” the princess began to count as the frog hopped into the shadows of the looming structure. Princess Hannah hid her eyes so as to give the frog a fair start, and when she reached 50 she began to search.

Finding the frog was easy. Even though he hid in a very dark corner near the back of the great room, his skin shone like a beacon, illuminating the cobweb-strewn chamber filled with oversized furniture covered with torn, filthy canvas. She stood, awed by the sheer bulk of the massive chairs, seats constructed for someone much larger than even her father’s burly guards. Princess Hannah shuddered.

“Found me,” the frog called. “But now you have to catch me!” The radiant frog leapt deeper into the gloom, his soft belly slapping the worn floorboards. Without warning, the amphibian’s light snuffed out.

Princess Hannah stumbled in the darkness, attempting to track the frog by the green impression he’d left on her eyes. She moved further into the blackness, stirring up ancient dust which swirled into her nose. She sneezed once, twice. As frustration and a hint of fear wrestled with her enjoyment of the game, the frog’s light snapped back on like a humungous firefly on a warm summer’s eve.

“Found you!” the princess squealed. Suddenly, a heavy metal door clanked shut behind her, sealing her and the frog inside a rusting cage that smelled like her father’s dungeon. The frog hopped to the bars and slipped through, leaving the princess locked up alone. He belched an evil laugh, and then hopped away. The princess thought she saw a smile ply across his face as his glow faded into the recesses of the house.

With tears rolling down her cheek, she shook the bars. They would not give. Hannah then ran her hands over the floor and across the cold metal plate above her head, searching for an escape. Nothing yielded except her will. She slumped into a corner and released a soft, pitiful cry.

By and by she heard a rattle, then the shriek of a tired door hinge as something heavy tromped into the room, shaking the walls with each footfall. A foul odor twenty times more pungent than her brothers after a meal of pork knuckles and boiled cabbage assaulted her delicate nose. She gagged. The footsteps pounded the floor, edging closer to the cage. Princess Hannah groped around the enclosure and pressed herself into a corner to evade whatever creature emitted such dreadful smells. Sitting there, with knees drawn to her chest, she closed her eyes and whimpered. Hot breath rolled over the back of her neck, like a wave of swamp gas.  A deep, rumbling laugh shook the cage and her with it, and she closed her eyes even tighter, wishing to awaken from the nightmare.

(continued)

Copyright © 2015 David C. Hughes

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