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.
Copyright © 2015 David C. Hughes