When my mother lives in this swamp, humans bring many gifts. Pretty pebbles. Fresh flowers. Rotting meat to lure flies. Humans respect that frog lives at boundaries, squatting in earth and water, one eye watching world and one eye heavens. But when is last time humans bring stinky meat? Only littlest human comes, with little flowers, while big humans dig ditches, drain land, turn lush squatting spots into dry dirt.
They want dry? I give them dry. Open my heaven eye wide and glare at clouds. Make sky blue in day and star-filled black at night. Blue, black, blue, black, blue, black, never grey. Just one tiny rain cloud under ferns, wet spot for my spawn to grow. Is good humans not want me. More time for spawn.
Humans come, led by one with callouses on hands. They say fields too dry, tell me to bring rain. Demand that I bring rain.
No one tells me what to do. I glare back with my world eye, croak like stupid frog. Calloused human raises boot to stomp, but others stop him, say is bad luck to kill frog. Humans argue over whether frog is sacred or stupid. I croak.
Smallest human peers under ferns, coos over wriggling spawn and drops wilted flower in their pool. Other humans not notice, but I decide not to smite with lightning, for sake of smallest. Not yet.
Humans come again next day. Look for other frogs to bully, but this is my place, only me and spawn. Calloused human makes more demands. Much anger. Shouting. Screaming. Waving fists and feet. I croak. They storm away.
Spawn start sprouting legs. Smallest human plays with them. Other humans dig deeper ditches, plant brick tree at edge of swamp with vast white leaves that turn in wind. Brick tree dips hollow root into swamp, slurps up water for fields. Swamp grows dry.
Spawn are still one with water, have not legs enough to cross onto land. As swamp dries, so do they. I watch in horror as their world shrinks. Even rain cloud under ferns is not enough, rain too tiny, land too dry.
Humans want water? I give them water! Open my heaven eye wide and glare at blue sky. Wind rises. Clouds sweep in, thick and dark as mud. Heavens roar and water falls. Rain hammers fields, flattens crops, fills ditches until half of world is sunk. Human homes, their trees not rooted in earth, are swept away. Jagged tongue of light arcs from sky, shatters brick tree. Earth and water, ground and sky, dissolve into one glorious wet blur. I sit on log that bobs on current and I smile wide frog smile.
Humans emerge floundering from maelstrom. Come to where edge of swamp was, to me. They demand and I croak. Demands become shouts, shouts become screams, I time my croak to match thunder, mocking them. They grab at me. I laugh and hop clear as they flop in water, as lightning flashes and rain pounds. But calloused human catches me, squeezes me until I gasp instead of croak, kicking legs in useless twitches, desperate to break free. I am slippery and squirmy, but human is determined, fingers tightening. I look to sky, but human does not flinch as rain bruises his skin. If I call lightning then it will strike us both. Who will care for spawn then?
Smallest human, head barely above water, grabs calloused human’s leg and begs him to stop. He shakes her off, squeezes until my eyes bulge.
Smallest human screams, batters hands against calloused human. He tells her sternly that this is for best, that I am menace to destroy. Fingers crush. World grows blurry, heaven closing in.
Smallest human jerks away, pushes through water. Calloused human shouts alarm as she falls, sinks, reappears, swims to log.
“Look!” Smallest points at my spawn, clustered fearfully against the log, tiny tails and little legs twitching. I weep, knowing I will not be there for them. “Don’t take their mummy away!”
Calloused human’s grip slackens but I am too weak to squirm free. He walks to log and lays me down, gasping. He pulls smallest human to him. Is it rain that runs down his face, or does he cry? Tears are water and they are salt from the earth. As they flow, boundaries dissolve.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “We’ll find another way to feed ourselves.”
Now I understand, and the ache in my chest is left by him, but not by his bruising fingers.
As my spawn gather around, I open my heaven eye and ask a favour from the sky. Rain thins. Clouds part. A sunbeam shines down on smallest human and her father.
Later, once ditches are fixed and fields are replanted, humans bring big slab of meat, so rotten it swarms with flies, enough for whole family. Calloused human and I sit on log, watch our spawn play together in mud of ditch. We talk of what frogs need and what humans need, of water, earth, and sky.
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Ashes of the Ancestors
In a haunted monastery at the heart of a crumbling empire, a lone priest tends the fires for the dead. A servant bound by the bones of her family, Magdalisa is her people’s last link to the wisdom of the past.
But as the land around them dies, new arrivals throw the monastery into turmoil. A dead warlord demanding recognition. Her rival, seizing the scraps of power. Two priests, both claiming to serve the spirits, both with their own agendas.
As ancient shadows struggle for the soul of an empire, Magdalisa must decide how far she will go to keep tradition alive.
A fantasy story about tradition and our relationship with the past, Ashes of the Ancestors is out now:
Luna Press for physical books