It was an icy Friday evening at the beginning of February. Sheila stood by Dan’s side as he read the incomplete manuscript of Abe And Lily Visit Mazgua City to teens with cancer at the same hospital where they had lost Ryan. Dan meant to finish the book that week, but the emotional gravity that hung above him had warped his sleep schedule. It tranquilized him during the day and radiated paranoia as he lay in bed. His daily meal of fast food and cheap rum and cola didn’t help his condition either.
Kids from grades seven through twelve sat on the floor sharing candy hearts and giggling between fits of coughing. The air tasted like sugar and sickness. Dan was ready to burst into tears, but he wrestled the weakness from his eyes. He needed to maintain a sunny disposition for the sake of the kids.
“After searching the library for hours,” he read, “Lily finally found the ivory flute. Turns out, a mouse had swiped it from the lock box and was carrying it around in its teeth. Lily cornered the mouse, snatched the flute and played Yankee Doodle. At the other end of the stacks, Abe reached to grab a book on frog anatomy. But before he could get his claws on it, the shelf retreated into the wall and slid sideways.
“‘Dag nabbit.’ He clacked his claws in frustration. ‘Just when I found something Mom wouldn’t let me read. Hey, Lily.’ He shouted as loud as his crustacean vocal cords would let him. ‘The entrance to the lab is over here.’
“‘Coming.’ She hopped from book pile to book pile, toppling them in the process.”
The kids seemed to enjoy the book. Their eyes were wider than any that Sheila had ever seen; except for maybe frog eyes.
What would Ryan have thought of his father’s stories had he lived? Were there any instances of Frogbabies surviving birth? Even living to adulthood?
She’d never seen a full-grown Frogperson, so she assumed it wasn’t possible for them to live outside the womb.
I kept him alive though…at least for a little bit. While he was in my womb, he absorbed nutrients from what I ate and drank. He was safe, warm, and well-fed despite being unconscious. Is consciousness really all that great of a thing? If you’re snug, secure, and alive, why ask for anything more? I didn’t choose to be born conscious. Look what this awareness has brought me: a cloud of misery that trails behind me like a fart everywhere I go. Who’s to say that consciousness is what makes human beings special? Frogbabies could probably live fulfilling lives if we could find a way of keeping them alive.
Sheila’s colleague Mary was out on maternity leave. Last Sheila had heard, Mary was having contractions and was due to start pushing any day.
I wonder if she’s had her baby by now.
She took out her phone and logged into Facebook. She dug through her notifications but couldn’t find anything. She browsed Mary’s news feed, but found no new information since her husband had posted about her going into contractions that morning.
Something glinted in her peripheral vision. One of the kids stared at her through thick glasses: a boy around age thirteen. He looked like he wanted attention. Her mothering instinct kicked in, and she padded along the outskirts of the circle of children to him. His eyes were like signed baseballs in a glass case.
“Is everything okay?” Sheila touched his shoulder with the pads of her fingers.
The boy held up his hands, which were cupped around something.
“What is it? Let me see.” Sheila smiled.
The boy lifted his fingers a teeny bit.
A dingy green blob sprang from his hands and landed on the linoleum.
A group of girls shrieked, and Dan stopped reading.
“It’s okay.” Sheila made sure to keep a smile plastered on her face. “It’s just a frog. I’ll get it.”
As soon as she went to scoop up the amphibian, it leapt onto the shoulder of a girl in a pink bandana. The girl flinched, and the frog bounced out of the room and ten feet down the hall.
“Sorry about that, guys.” Sheila’s face hurt from faking cheeriness. “Keep reading, Dan, it’s just this boy’s pet. I’ll rescue it.”
Everyone laughed except for the boy, who looked like he was about to cry.
“Anyway,” Dan said. “The stairway leading to the lab was completely dark…”
Sheila scanned the hallway but couldn’t find the frog. She was about to give up when something made her freeze in place.
Two men clad in head-to-toe protective gear carted a metal box into an elevator marked AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. Before the doors could shut, the frog jumped in with them.
A few seconds later, the doors reopened. The men had killed the frog and one of them held it by its hind leg.
“The sterility of elevator B has been compromised,” the other one said into a walkie-talkie. “We’re gonna need a scrub team in here before we can proceed.”
“Copy that,” said the voice on the other end. The men left for some other part of the building, leaving the elevator wide open.
A beast sleeping deep inside of Sheila stirred. There’s something important down there.Wherever that elevator goes, I need to go. And that box. Something’s odd about the size of that box.
A gust of February wind tore at her heart even though there were no windows nearby. It blew harder and harder until it lifted her off the ground and pushed her into the elevator.
What the hell am I doing?
She mashed the ‘door close’ button.
Brett Petersen is a writer, musician and artist from Albany, New York, whose high-functioning autism only enhances his creativity. He earned his B.A. in English from the College of Saint Rose in 2011 and since then, his prose has appeared in more than a dozen print and online journals. He is currently working on compiling his published works into his first book titled Welcome to the Squid Universe. Aside from his career in publishing, he is a drummer, guitarist, singer/songwriter, cartoonist and Tarot reader.