I used to hate that pond. I had always liked the swampy atmosphere of the park and then they decided to make it more welcoming. A few years ago West Park was landscaped and several modifications were made that seemed to take forever to complete. One of those modifications was a pond to collect runoff and prevent flooding. After that the swampy field of grass turned into a normal field of grass. At first I thought the pond was nice because someone had planted some pretty flowers and other aquatic plants. Then that damn muskrat moved in and ate them all. On top of that there are stupid ducks that people feed all the time. The ducks walk right up to you waiting for the junk foods humans feed them. I try to teach the ducks that humans aren’t their friends by yelling at them and chasing them away, but then I just get weird looks from people. At least the ducks don’t walk up to me anymore. The pond is now a cesspool. Especially after someone dumped some goldfish in it and now there are hundreds of them.
Anyway I used to hate that pond, but after school started it seemed like all the toads in the world filled up the pond so I couldn’t hate it so much. Then a month or two passed and I could barely walk through the park. Teeny tiny toads blanketed the ground. If you didn’t step carefully you’d squish quite a few and feel like a horrible person. As I danced through the park and sat on the ground taking pictures, trying not to flatten any amphibians, people would just stare at me. Then they would look down and let out a noise of surprise and realize I wasn’t crazy. People have stared at me trying to figure out what I would be doing, offering help as if they think I’ve fallen on the ground and am some kind of damsel in distress. That is usually when I’m taking pictures of all the slugs and snails slowly crossing the asphalt. The black slugs are scared of everything so they aren’t very exciting, but the brown slugs are more outgoing and curious. The snails are on a mission to cross the sidewalk and won’t let anything stop them from completing that mission. They are rather interesting, especially the one that turned into the Toad Queen.
It was the time of year for the itty bitty toads to be sprinkled throughout the park. I was walking home from Community High dodging the little toads left and right. Then I saw a small snail in the midst of the hopping. I stopped in front of it and got down on the ground. I figured that this snail would make a perfect photo subject. After a bit I saw some feet walking towards me and looked up.
“I thought you fell,” a tall slender man said in that way like duh, silly me, you didn’t fall. “What are you taking a picture of?” He smiled with pearly white teeth and fantastic hair. He looked like a college student. He thought I fell? How? I was on the ground for two or three minutes now. Wouldn’t he have expected me to get up by now?
My face turned red. Not because I was embarrassed or anything just because that’s what happens to me when I talk to strangers. This kind of awkward encounter wasn’t too uncommon for me. “Oh, no,” I nervously laughed. “Just a snail.”
“That’s cool.” He didn’t sound very excited about it. Probably thought it was really lame. I didn’t care though because I was having fun all by myself with this snail. Who needs people anyway? I still couldn’t believe that he thought I fell. The man walked away in silence no doubt thinking that I’m such a weirdo. I looked down to continue taking pictures of the snail, but found that it wasn’t there anymore! I knew snails were actually kind of fast but not so fast that they could disappear in under 30 seconds. Then I felt something weird on the back of my hand. I couldn’t quite place the feeling. When I lifted my hand to figure out what was happening I found the snail on my hand.
Its skin was translucent with jagged splotches of brown. Its shell was a smooth, glossy, dark orange, amber color that swirled to a point. The snail’s eyes quizzically moved around as it accessed its environment. I felt an attachment to this snail now so I couldn’t very well just leave it to fend for itself. I decided to take it home to care for it, which wasn’t a very good idea considering that I could barely keep a potted plant alive. Not giving it another thought I walked down the familiar dead end street called Bath to my house.
My cat JJ gave me a silent meow through the warped old glass of the front window. I stepped onto the front porch and meowed back just for the fun of it. I looked to the right where Mr. Millunchick was sitting on his porch. He smiled and waved. I always choose the worst times to do something weird. I smiled back and acted like I didn’t just meow at my cat, but there was no denying that. I pulled my keys, jingling with Disney princesses, out of my backpack and unlocked the door. I walked in and JJ was now in front of me meowing. This time the meow was audible and obnoxious. I walked into the foyer and peeled my shoes from my feet. I entered the dining room and dropped my backpack. I was about to take off my coat when I remembered the snail was still on the back of my hand. I should find a jar or something to put it in. I can’t have it wandering around the house. JJ scuttled around my feet meowing as loud as he could and showed his little fangs to me.
I open the cupboard with all the containers hoping there is a jar in there. I don’t know what I was expecting though because I should know we don’t keep jars in this house unless they have jelly or paintbrushes in them. An upside down cup on some paper will have to do. I lightly pick the snail off my hand. Its translucent body shrinks into its shell hiding from the rest of the world. I gently placed it under the cup. Slowly it unfolds from its shell and slides around its glass cage.
When my mother came home she leaned toward the glass intrigued. “Ooooooh, cool snail,” she said.
Shaking his head my father said in that way why did you think this was a good idea? “Keegan, why did you bring that inside? You should have left it outside. Snails don’t belong in the house.”
“Fine, I’ll put it outside tomorrow.” I was disappointed that I couldn’t keep my new snail friend, but understood that it was true that snails don’t belong in the house. Plus, it would probably live longer out there than with me trying to figure out what snails even eat.
The next day I came home from school ready to give up my snail, but when I went over to the cup there wasn’t a snail. The former soft and slimy snail body had turned to glowing white fibers holding what once was the shell to the top of the cup. The shell had grown and became a golden butterfly chrysalis. The threads flashed bright white and then the chrysalis unfolded. Feathery gold wings unfurled to reveal the tiny curled body of a tiny woman. Her hair looked like black silk and she looked at me with onyx pupils. Her eyes were captivating with gold and black flecked irises. Her skin was brown and bumpy with accents of orange and black on her back just like a toads.
I couldn’t believe what was happening. It seemed like everything around me disappeared and all that was left was me and this toad like fairy. This felt like one of those weird dreams were everything feels so real yet nothing is. A snail that turned into a toad person with wings? That’s not possible and yet there it was right in front of me. I sat and stared at the little toad lady for the longest time. Then my phone began to buzz and snapped me back to reality. The words on my phone said “mom” and I slid the green pick up button. I continued watching the fairy. “Hello,” I was calm answering the phone, but wasn’t exactly sure if I should tell my mother about the discovery I just made.
“Hey, Bunny, what are you doing? Did anything fun happen in school today?” my mother’s voice came through the phone enthusiastic and sweet as always.
“Nothing.” It was an empty answer that usually meant you were doing something that just wasn’t exciting enough to talk about. Most of the time it was true, but this time it was far from it. I wedged the phone between my ear and my shoulder and picked up the cup holding the paper underneath. The little toad lady stood up and braced herself against the glass as I walked to out the back door and down the steps of the porch to the backyard.
“So what did Natalie have to say today?”
“Well, did you talk to any of your other friends today?”
“Yeah.” I set the paper and the cup of the ground.
“How are they doing?”
“Good.” Slowly I slid the paper from beneath the fairy’s feet so she could stand on the ground.
“You really didn’t do anything fun in school today? Come on there had to have been something!”
“No, not really. All we did during physics was talk about how time is relative.” As I watched the fairy I noticed some movement in the grass.
“Hey, can you check if we have any milk in the fridge? If we don’t I’ll get some on my way home.”
“Okay,” I went back in the house to check for milk. I look in the fridge and of course we need milk. “Yeah, we need milk,” I went back out to check on the toad fairy and there were several toads surrounding the cup. That’s when I realized it. “The Toad Queen!” I whispered to myself.
“Mom! I found the Toad Queen! It all makes sense now!” I was basically screaming about this. “She’s the most beautiful toad and rules over the toad kingdom!” At that moment the Toad Queen looked at me and her lips curled into a toothless smile and disappeared.