Friday, January 12, 2007

Drafts: Frog Haven Chapters 2 &3 1/12/07

Read Chapter 1 (if you haven't already)

Chapter 2: Frog Stew

Sissy held the matches in her hand and thought of all the warnings they had had about “playing with fire.” But it seemed fairly safe, surrounded by water and everything as wet as it was. Sissy hated paper matches. She preferred sturdy wooden kitchen matches. She always managed to burn herself when she had to use paper matches, but she wasn’t going to admit that to Paul LeFevre or anyone else. Marc was smirking to himself—probably aware of her unhappiness. Maybe he had even told Paul. But he had to also know that Sissy was an expert fire builder. She’d had lots of practice on family camping trips, picnics, and lighting the family woodstoves. She was confident she could build a good fire, even in these wet conditions, if she just had wooden matches.

“Let’s get some dry wood,” she said to Bill. His family did a lot of camping too—Sissy had gone camping with them. Sissy was a good tree-climber if the trees had branches, but none of the nearby trees had lower branches. She knew she’d never be able to get up them and would have to go far afield for dry wood.

“Can you shinny up these trees and break off some branches—just the dead ones, and throw them down to me—carefully so they don’t fall in the water and get wet?” Bill always walked in a nervous sort of hangdog hunch. But although he shuffled rather hesitantly over to the first elm, Sissy was surprised to discover that he could shinny quite well.
“Good, Bill, terrific,” Sissy said excitedly as he handed down some dry branches. Bill smiled happily. Hardly anyone ever said anything nice to him. Sissy felt sorry for him and decided to try to be nicer.

The other boys had all disappeared again with their buckets. They were trying to catch frogs, Sissy could tell, from their shouts of, “Oh, I missed it,” and “It slipped right through my fingers,” and “I got one!” Sissy was glad they weren’t hanging around watching her build the fire. First, she cleared the cans out of the fire circle, regretfully throwing them into the bushes where she could see other cans and garbage. If she joined the gang, there would have to be some changes. For one thing, they would have to haul all the garbage home so their parents could take it to the dump. Mama and Papa were very strict about that. When they went camping, they always left the camp cleaner than they found it. When they went hiking, they brought garbage bags to pick up the litter that other people left behind. Sissy wondered why Marc and Michael hadn’t stood up for the environment. Were they afraid of being teased?

Sissy fished out some old tissues from her pocket. Her mom always made her carry them, even though she would rather snuffle up or wipe on her sleeve. The tissues weren’t used but were shredded from being carried in her pocket. Some of them had even gone through the laundry. She put one of the shredded tissues on top of some dry bark she had peeled from Bill’s branches and put some dry grass and a few tiny twigs on that. The first three matches went out. “Dumb wind,” Sissy mumbled to herself.

Bill came over without being asked and helped to shield the fire with his hands and body, blocking most of the wind. The fire started and Sissy carefully laid tiny twigs onto the fragile flames. As it grew bigger and bigger, she laid more and bigger twigs and then sticks on it. When it was going well enough that she could trust Bill to watch and care for it, she said, “I’m going for more wood. Keep it going.”

She headed toward the back of the pond where the boys rarely went, braving the edge of the cut grass to collect fry wood. She returned three times with large armloads while Bill fed the fire. On her forth trip back, she encountered Paul, Marc and Donny with their pails full of frogs and tadpoles, wading into the swamp with their shoes on. Sissy knew her parents would be annoyed with Marc, unless she believed he had really slipped in accidentally. Maybe the first time, he had. Each of the three boys was holding a little strainer and Sissy wondered if Marc had borrowed it from home. What would her parents say? She didn’t think they’d be pleased.

The boys stood in a shallow spot in the swamp that was teaming with small black tadpoles. Paul took his strainer and swizzled it around in the water and pulled it out almost brimful with tiny tadpoles. He poked at them a minute and then discarded them on land. Marc got some and tossed them up on shore so that they were scattered around with no chance of getting back to water. Sissy couldn’t believe it, but she said nothing. She went her way in silence, seething with anger. When she got back to the fire, she said, “I’ve got to rescue some tadpoles, want to help or not?”

“Sure.” Bill replied. They built the fire up with the wood Sissy had brought back. When they got to the scene of the crime, the boys had moved on. A few of the tadpoles had been stepped on and the ones that were not squished looked a little dry and funny. Most had their tails wrapped tightly around their bodies so that they looked like little black beads. Bill and Sissy carefully gathered them up and put them back in the water. Sissy was greatly relieved to see them swim away, apparently not seriously harmed by the drying. They kept finding more and more of them under the leaves, hung from the grass, disguised as little rocks among the pebbles. Finally, they could find no more. Sissy worried that they might have missed some and searched a little longer. Finally, they headed back to the fire each carrying an armload of wood.

Sissy remembered one time when Marc and Michael were burning ants on the back terrace of their house. They had all learned how to start fires with a magnifying glass. Even Sissy thought that was great fun. Someone, maybe Paul, maybe Marc, had discovered that they could aim the beam of light at a passing ant and fry it to death as it walked along. Marc was frying every ant he could find. Michael was frying a few, but not with the same thorough meanness as Marc. Sissy tried it too, once, but when she saw the ant curl up in pain and then shrivel and die, she went back in the house and cried. She never fried another ant. But she was careful not to say too much about it because she didn’t want the boys saying that she was a sissy just because she was a girl. It wasn’t that at all.

She could remember, even longer ago, when Marc used to pull the cat’s tail, and laugh when the cat screamed. Once, he dragged the cat out from behind the couch hissing and squalling by the tail, and once, he picked her right up off the ground by the tail. But still, Sissy didn’t think Marc was bad. She wondered if he felt guilty when he hurt things. But she thought if he played with someone other than Paul, he wouldn’t be so horrible. Was the same thing true of Paul? Sissy thought he was the source of the badness. But sometimes, Marc did bad things when Paul wasn’t even there to show off to. Paul hadn’t even moved in yet when he’d picked the cat up by the tail.

Sissy saw Bill heading back with another load of wood. She stopped daydreaming and quickly gathered some, arriving at the fire about a minute behind him. The boys had all returned to the fort. They had hung a large aluminum pot over the fire with a propped-together tepee-like arrangement of sticks. It was filled with pond water and pond scum and Sissy could see some tadpoles swimming around. She reached in and scooped three of them out and tossed them into the water of the nearby swamp.

“Hey, cut that out!” yelled Paul angrily.

“No!” Sissy yelled back, reaching into the warm water to scoop out the last tadpole. “You can’t kill tadpoles while I’m around. You shouldn’t EVER kill them. They have feelings, too, you know.”

“I told you she was a sissy! A big sissy, just like her name. It fits her perfectly. She’ll never pass the initiation rites.”

Sissy gave Paul a shove and he slipped into the swamp up to his knee. He pulled his foot up out of the mud and kicked toward Sissy, spattering mud all over her clothes. She gave him another shove and he fell backwards into the black muck. Instead of getting angry as Sissy thought he would, he started wallowing around in the mud. He laid in it face first and then fell backwards into it.

“What a show-off,” Sissy whispered to Bill, who looked too worried to respond.
“Paul, you’re going to get it,” Guy said.

“SHE did it,” Paul screamed, pointing at Sissy. He laughed his most sinister laugh. “You all saw her push me in.” Sissy knew Paul would make every attempt to see that she got the blame for it. “Come on in,” Paul yelled. The water’s great!” He stomped stiffly out of the swamp with his clothes stuck to his body. He grabbed Kelvin and gave him a big shove. He turned and shoved Donny in and then moved toward Marc. Marc jumped aside, knowing, as Sissy knew, that their mother would not be pleased. Paul shoved Bill, whose foot went in. Bill managed to leap back onto land. Then Paul, Donny, and Kelvin threw mud at each other and at the other kids.

Paul sloshed back up to shore and peered into the pot. “The water is boiling!” he shouted. The boys gathered around the pot and at a signal from Paul, they each threw a frog into the boiling pot of green scum. The frogs thrashed convulsively for a moment and then their only movement was a slow bobbing with the roll of the bubbles. Sissy felt sick. Bill was turning green. She was sure he was going to throw up, but he didn’t.
Paul handed Bill a pail. “It’s your turn he said. This is the first step of your initiation.”

Bill stared at the pail with a wild look in his eyes. Tears started welling up. He reached in and grabbed a frog but it slipped out of his hand. The second time, he held it tighter. He took it out of the pail and looked at the pot with the dead frogs floating in it. He looked furtively toward the bushes and cocked his arm. Sissy was sure he was going to shoot it into the bushes, but just as he was about to release his grip, Paul’s hand chopped down onto Bill’s, knocking the frog into the boiling water. It screamed and Bill threw up.

“Yuck, clean it up!” said Paul. Bill scraped the side of his sneaker against the puke, shoving most of it down into the water. It floated there pink and lumpy and mixed with mud.

“You passed the first test. The second really, you did a great job with the fire. But wait until you see what’s next.” He seemed to glow with badness. Sissy hated it when he acted like that.

“It’s your turn now Sissy,” said Paul with a sneer. He pronounced her name in such a way that it sounded like a challenge. It sounded like he was saying, Prove that you are not a sissy!

Sissy picked up her frog and before anyone could move, pitched it across the near cutgrass into the far part of Blackfords’ pond where the cutgrass was so thick that the boys ventured there only rarely. The frog plopped cleanly into the water and swam away below the surface. Then, kicking left and right with great fury, Sissy overturned all the buckets so that the remaining frogs escaped.

“You FAIL,” shouted Paul, “You fail, you SISSY!”

Chapter 3: Resolved

Sissy turned and ran away from the fort, ran away through the cattails and reed grass, across the board bridge over Blackfords’ pond, and down along the shore of the pond the culvert that ran under Van Vleck Drive. Tears stung in her eyes. She felt angry and disgusted and at the same time she felt hurt and rejected. She thought of all the mean things she could have said to them. She imaged telling her parents about the whole thing. At least Marc and Michael would get in real trouble. And the other parents might be told and also be upset. And they deserved to get in trouble, she was completely convinced.

More than anything else, Sissy hated being called a sissy. But as she half crawled through the culvert to the little stream on the other side that fed Blackfords’ Pond, she suddenly realized that it was NOT brave to kill a helpless frog. It was brave to stand up against bullies. She was the one who was brave. The rest of them were all cowards. They were yellow-bellied sapsuckers. THEY were the sissies.

Suddenly Sissy felt much better. She wiped her eyes on the muddy hem of her T-shirt and picked up an old bucket that lay on its side in the creek. There was a crack in the bottom, but that didn’t matter to Sissy. Now she had a mission.

She crawled back through the culvert and started catching frogs, quietly and swiftly. She would take them to Dzabel’s pond, where they would be safe from the gang. The gang of Sissies. She’d better raid the fort for a good bucket—one to rescue tadpoles in. The frogs and tadpoles of the world needed someone to protect them, someone who was as brave as Sissy. The sun was warm on the back of her neck and a breeze played around her face. A heron squawked and landed in the swamp off to her left. Sissy smiled and dropped another frog into her bucket.

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