Frog Heaven, or be careful what you believe

A short story about religious belief within the frog community.

Frog Heaven

A very old wrinkled frog stood in front of a group of tiny frogs as her bulging brown eyes scanned the group. Only two months ago, these youngsters had been no more than black specks in the spawn tanks. Now look at them, sitting there with bright young faces alert. 

“Stop catching flies and pay attention!”

Flies were everywhere, hatching out of the trays of heaving white maggots feasting on chicken carcasses. Hiding in the darkness under a maggot-tray sat Hercules as his eyes swivelled upwards, waiting for delicious creamy snacks to topple over the edges. His shiny green sides already bulged with half-digested maggots, but he crammed even more into his wide mouth. The frog was huge.

“Hercules, come out this instant. What are you doing there?”

He tried to shake his wide head, eyes popping.

“Open your mouth, boy.”

The elderly teacher reached forward with her stick and forced his mouth open. A fat white maggot fell out. There was a shocked intake of breath, then the stick whistled down and Hercules bounded into the class, crouching to make himself a smaller target.  A small brown and yellow frog gazed at him with admiration.

The teacher said, with a touch of sadness, “Today is your final lesson, and you will learn the answer to two great questions. Where have we come from, and where do we go when we leave this world? In the beginning, before our world was created, there was nothing at all. Not even a fly.  Then, the Great One created two angels, one big and one small. Some of you have seen the angels, haven’t you?”

The little frogs agreed that they had.

“The Great One told the angels to make the world, and they made it round and tall, just for us. Then the Great One created the first people. Two spawn were made from the tears of the Great One, and they were laid in a tank of tears. When they were growing, the angels brought them food and they became the first people in the world, and that is where we came from.”

Hercules raised his webbed hand. “Please?”

The old teacher sighed. “Yes?”

“Who made maggots and flies?”

“Anyone?” invited Mrs Wartybottom.

The little frogs chanted the answer. “The Great One.”

“That’s right, because everything was made just for us people, and every one of us, even the naughty ones, will one day go to Frog Heaven.”

There was a great babble of croaks as the frogs took in this amazing thought, until Hercules raised his webbed hand. “Please?”

The old teacher sighed once more. There was always one. “Yes, Hercules.”

“How do we get there? I want to go now.”

“There’s a special doorway. You’ve all seen it, in the grown-ups’ room. Only the strongest and bravest can jump through that doorway. It’s called the Door of Darkness. It opens on the night of the full moon.”

The little frogs cringed at the words. The Door of Darkness.

“Then you must climb the Stairs of Strength. The angels will feed you as you climb. Wonderful worms, marvellous maggots and crunchy crickets. As much as you can eat as long as you climb.”

Hercules raised his webbed hand. “Please?”

The old teacher sighed. “Yes?”

“What happens at the top?”

“Anyone?” invited Mrs Wartybottom.

The other little frogs chanted the answer together. “Frog Heaven.”

“That’s right. At the top, there is the Doorway of Light and on the other side is Frog Heaven, where the world is green and bright, and water and food are everywhere.”

The next full moon, Hercules practised his jumps and they were fantastic. He bunched the huge muscles in his mighty thighs and shot into the air as if fired from a cannon. The other little frogs watched as he sailed overhead.  Hercules left the class and swaggered into the Grown-Ups room to show off. The noise was deafening inside. Huge frogs, some even bigger than Hercules, were leaping and stretching, waiting for the door to open.

The other little frogs followed Mrs Wartybottom to the grown-ups’ room.   Finally, the moment arrived and the little wooden door creaked open. Adult frogs started plopping into the doorway. Hercules leapt high into the air and vanished through the doorway, and the little brown and yellow frog cried.  Before Hercules could jump back down, the door shut and he was in darkness.

It was warm and damp behind the door. Water dripped onto his small head. A cricket chirped and he could hear its rough legs scrape over stone. Other frogs moved past him in the darkness until he was quite alone. Gradually he got used to the dark until he could see faintly. Ahead was a giant step.  Summoning all his strength, Hercules jumped and hung from the edge by his little front legs, but he was not strong enough. He fell back and landed on something squishy. Before it could slither away, he pounced. Hercules had never eaten wonderful worm before. He shoveled it into his huge mouth using his front legs until his head bulged. Down it went.

After a few more tries, Hercules managed to jump up the first step and froze. A long feeler pricked him and he pressed his body down. Chirp. Hercules knew that this was a cricket, but it was so big. Using all his courage and speed, he pounced again, crunching down hard on the cricket’s head. The green goo was the best thing he had ever tasted. By the end of the day and many more crickets, Hercules bounded up to the next step. The more he ate and jumped, the bigger and stronger he became.  He was almost at the top of the stairs when he heard the voice.

“Hello,” it croaked. It was the deepest, saddest sound he had ever heard.

“Hello,” said Hercules. “Can I eat you?”

There was a pause, then a deep chuckle. “You might try,” the voice answered.

Movement. An enormous something was on the step. “Follow me,” it said.

Scared, Hercules followed the shuffling noise, squeezing down a narrow crevice at the edge of the step. He followed and the light grew stronger. Eventually it was so bright that he couldn’t see, and the ground beneath his feet became warm. He narrowed his eyes and gasped. The world went on forever. Above was a ceiling of blue. Cool and delicious air passed over his skin, and in all directions the land was green and brown.

He whispered, “Is this Frog Heaven?

Ancient, wise eyes blinked in amusement. The toad’s skin was as dry and rough as old stone. “Foolish boy. You live in a tower ruled by a man and a woman, not by angels. You’re looking at the real world, the outside. Look down there. That black water used to be my world. That’s where I was born, one hundred and twenty years ago. Humans did that to it. Now, look up.”

Hercules saw he was sitting on a staircase winding its way up the outside of the tower. He had been climbing a similar staircase on the inside, but these steps were much wider, designed for humans and at the top was a wooden door.

“Is that…”

“Please don’t ask me again.” The toad’s dry voice was cross. “Follow me if you dare, and I’ll show you.”

It took them several hours to reach the top, helping each other over the most difficult bits of the climb. Then Hercules peeped around the door. In the gloom stood the vast angel and the tiny angel.  Smoke filled the air and stung his eyes, making him cough.  The small angel was working on a complicated machine, oiling various parts of it, turning a large handle. The vast one was also busy, lifting something limp and green out of a bucket and feeding it into a hole in the side.

“Try it now, Pierre,” she said in her bubbly voice. The man turned the handle again, and then there was a terrible noise. Wheels span and blades flashed.

“Watch, and don’t make a sound, if you value your life,” hissed the toad.

The big angel waddled to the wall and opened a small door. A ramp connected the doorway to the machine. The doorway reminded Hercules of the Doorway of Darkness, then he realised with wonder that he was looking at the Doorway of Light.  Something small and green hopped out of the door and landed on the ramp. More and more frogs came out, hopping eagerly up it. Hercules could hear their exited voices shouting praises to the Great One. When they reached the top of the ramp, they plunged into the gaping mouth of the machine.

Then something dreadful happened and Hercules wanted to scream, but the toad clamped a webbed hand over his mouth. Frogs’ legs rained down into a basket below, whilst the machine spat the remains of the faithful out of the window and they tumbled into the black pool. Their screams faded as they fell, followed by little splashes.

Hercules turned towards the toad, tears in his eyes. He was about to speak when there was a dreadful cry.

“Look at that big fat one. He’s getting away.”

The angel called Pierre seized a gleaming meat-chopper and jumped towards them. The toad grabbed Hercules and they leaped down the steps, but they couldn’t move quickly enough. The two angels were right behind them and getting nearer. Something made Hercules stop – quickly, he pulled the toad up against the side of the step. A massive shape rumbled past and for a moment it went as dark as night. The angels screamed as they plunged from the stairs, tumbling over and over. The little animals watched in astonishment as they hit the black pond headfirst and stuck fast, legs thrashing, before slowly sinking out of sight. A ghastly brown cloud belched into the air and blew away over the countryside.

One year passed, and it was time for Mrs Wartybottom’s new class to leave school.  They were sitting on a log at the edge of the pond. The green waters smelt wonderful and the air was filled with insects of all kinds. Above, the moon hung in the sky like huge round spawn. “Listen carefully, my dears, whilst I tell you about Frog Heaven.”

A large young frog raised its arm. “Please?”

She sighed. “It’s very simple really. Frog Heaven is where we live now, so be kind to each other, eat crunchy crickets and be happy. Life doesn’t get any better than this.”

Somewhere nearby, bathed in moonlight, Hercules sat next to the little brown and yellow frog and the moment was, at last, quite perfect.

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