As Baxter left the family pad for his morning hop through the dew, he never thought his life would change so drastically that very morning. He could feel the cool drops under his webbed feet as he zig zagged throughout the vast yard of clean cut grass. He was always aware to watch out for the usual dangers: hawks, the young human living in the huge pad with walls in Baxter’s family’s yard and the unruly gang of frogs living in a nearby yard who refer to themselves as The Ribbitt Posse. None of these typical hazards threatened Baxter’s calm and delightful morning.
Just as Baxter was finishing his last jaunt through the grass, he saw an image which stopped him in his webbed little tracks. He had to rub his eyes as his long tongue and jaw fell to the ground. He could not believe what was appearing before his eyes. In the large window, which sometimes opened when the humans came outdoors, he saw who he was certain was none other than George the Frog King.
George the Frog King was a legend in the frog community for many, many years. The story was passed down from frog to tadpole and all knew of the great feats and fearless quests of George the Frog King. Of course, they had never seen him and sometimes, when the elder frogs were not in ear shot, they young frogs would joke about his existing at all. It was always told that George the Frog King would one day return to reward his most loyal subjects. The rewards were far beyond the hopes of any neighborhood frog; endless flies, no lawn mowers as far as the eye can see and huge rhubarb leaves to protect from the circling hawks and heavy rains. Could this all really be true? And could Baxter really be the first one to meet this legendary idol?
Baxter hopped slowly and carefully closer to the window. He was hesitant but excited. Oh the stories he could tell his little brothers and tadpole sister. And certainly, if he were the one to first impress The Frog King, he and his family would be sure to be granted the rewards he has dreamed about since he can remember. As he leaped closer and closer, he could see the thick tussled exterior and saucer like eyes adorning the massive body of George the Frog King. The green was like no other. It was bright yet camouflaging and had hues of mustard yellow. The King’s expression did not change the entire time Baxter stared – a sheepish, all knowing grin.
Afraid to approach The Frog King quite yet, Baxter decided to quickly jump back to the family pad and ask his parents for advice. Roscoe, Baxter’s father, at first blew off the astounding story – assuming it was another one of Baxter’s tall tales. But Lucy, his mom, knew differently. Somehow, ever since her first tadpole was born, she had gained the ability to always know when one of her children were being less than honest.
“Roscoe,” Lucy said under her breath, “I really think he is telling the truth this time…he isn’t doing that thing with his tongue like he always does when he fibs.” Lucy was as almost as excited as Baxter was at his first moment of his great discovery of George the Frog King. Unsure, but willing to appease his wife, Roscoe announced that the family would be taking a jump to the huge human pad before noon, when the summer heat is far too dangerous. They had to hurry if they were to make it there on time.
After finally getting the boys and the tadpole ready, they all hopped to the window of which Baxter spoke. As they were about to draw near, they were horrified at what took them a moment to notice. The Ribbit Posse had beaten them to the window. Right there. In Baxter’s spot. They too were staring in amazement. With his parents with him, Baxter felt no fear from these misguided frogs. He hopped right up behind them and sternly informed them that he had already discovered George the Frog King and that HE was to reap the rewards of which they all heard about countless times before.
As all five members of the frog gang turned around to see who dare even approach them, Baxter suddenly realized he may have made a mistake. Starting to shake and looking behind him for the support of his stern father, he retreated a few hops.
“George the Frog King has already told us that we are his most loyal subjects and the five of us will be the only ones to go with The King to the perfect yard. Now, back up Baxter and go to your pad…you do not belong here.” the leader of the gang protested.
Stuttering, Baxter replied in almost a whine, “But, but…I was just here…before I…I…I brought my family. I saw him first.”
“I don’t care what you saw! Did The King speak to you? Did he tell you that you were chosen?”
Now, Baxter knew very well that the Frog King did not speak with him in anyway. Nor did he try to speak to The King. But he knew that he could not allow these bandit frogs to be rewarded when they obviously did not deserve to go to the perfect yard.
“Umm…yea! He did speak to me!! He told me to bring my family to him and that is what I have done. So, we are the chosen ones!!” Baxter exclaimed as his confidence rose.
“Welllll….” said one of the other gang members, “He told us that he will be choosing only the strongest frogs and only the frogs which show him their devotion. I’d like to see you do that, wimp.”
Baxter’s mother, being held back by her two younger boys, gasped in fury. Roscoe calmly approached the frogs and basically accepted their challenge.
“Our family has been in this yard for decades. This is our home and if you want to see how strong we can be, then continue to trespass and we shall show you who is indeed the strongest and most devoted.”
With that, Roscoe nudged Baxter with his nose and motioned to the rest of family to leap away. Headed back to their family pad, Baxter’s family would spend the night formulating a plan to gain the highest respect of George the Frog King.
The very next morning Roscoe left before the sunrise in order to make his way to the ravine on the other side of the road. That is where the most flies and mosquitoes gather. He would try to get there, catch as many tasty treats as he could and head back to the pad before the noon day sun. Going to the ravine was always risky and the boys were never allowed to venture there. Crossing the road was particularly difficult as the large moving human shelters would speed by quickly. Lucy was very nervous as Roscoe left the pad.
“Be so careful dear. If you were not to return, no rewards or perfect yard could ever fill my heart.” She kissed the top of his head and quickly hopped away so he would not see her worried tears.
That day they waited and waited for the return of their father. With knots in their tummies, they paced constantly around the family pad. They could see the sun rising higher into the sky and with each glance upward their worry would grow. After hours slowly dragged by, Lucy began to realize it was already a bit past noon. Her worry grew into panic, though she could not let the children see her feeling this way. Instead she tried to distract them with a ladybug she found the day before.
As the sun began to lower into the western horizon, Baxter knew his father was much too late and something terrible may have happened to him. If only he hadn’t lied about speaking to The Frog King. If only he had never told his family about his earlier discovery. If only…But the fact is he did. And now all he could do is hope and hope and hope.
With a loud flop a big maple leaf tied up and filled with bugs of all sorts landed at the edge of the pad. The younger frog boys and the baby tadpole were asleep feet away. Lucy even finally had fallen asleep while anxiously starring into the direction of the ravine. Baxter, now he was not able to sleep at all, not even if he had tried. His guilt was immense and his fear was overwhelming. What fly could be so large to make it worth losing his father? What reward could be so great?? None, he decided.
When Baxter realized his father had finally made it home, he leaped to him with strides longer than ever. He had never felt such relief.
“Dad!! You’re home!!!”
And with that the rest of the family had woken up and greeted Roscoe with hugs, tears and gratitude. He told the family of the adventure he experience and showed them the injuries he had received throughout the day. He was pretty scraped up and his skin was far too dry…but after some care, he would be just fine.
“That maple leaf is filled with delicious treasures which Baxter will present to George the Frog King tomorrow at daybreak. If that doesn’t impress him, I just do not know what will.” And with that, Roscoe settled in his favorite spot and shut his eyes for some much needed rest.
“Mom, I do not want to bring this to The Frog King. If it weren’t for him, dad would have never had to go to the ravine where he could have died. It just doesn’t feel right.” Baxter confided with his head down.
“Baxter. You father chooses to do everything he does. You did not make him go. Nor did The Frog King. The guilt is not yours my son.”
With eyes floating in unreleased tears he replied, “But mom, you don’t understand. I lied about talking to The Frog King. He never spoke to me and I never spoke to him. I was too afraid. Mom, it IS my fault because I lied.”
“Darling. Both your father and I knew you were not being honest when you said that to the Ribbitt Posse. You always do that thing with your tongue, remember? Your father wanted to collect those bugs so that you could astonish not only The Frog King but also those naughty boys. It was wrong for you to lie, Baxter, but that is not why your dad was in danger.” Lucy lovingly explained.
“Do you like it here? Where we live, I mean?”
“Of course I do dear, this is our home and was the home of my parents and the parents before them. They chose this spot because of how plentiful and lovely it is. Yes, I like it here very much.”
“I do not want to go to the perfect yard. I want to stay here where we live. I want to stay here at our family pad.” And Baxter started to weep.
“Oh now…stop that,” Lucy said as she tried to comfort her exhausted son, “we do not have to leave. I want YOU to do what YOU feel is right. You are becoming a full grown frog and soon you will have a family of your own. You can make the right decision, Baxter. Now, I need to rest, this day has been the longest in my life.”
In the wee hours of morning as the dew settled on the blades of grass and the birds were just waking from their slumber, Baxter was headed away from the family pad with that bug filled maple leaf in tow. His hops were light and short as the lead was quite heavy through the damp yard. As he came upon the human pad he turned. He remembered that the Ribbitt Posse usually hung out under a walnut tree on the other side of the fence. He squeezed himself under the fence, leaving the maple leaf just on the other side. And that is when he saw them. Their eyes starred blankly and their mouths turned down. Baxter had never seen these ordinarily tough, bully frogs looking so weak – or weak at all for that matter.
“Rough night? Are you okay?” Baxter asked with genuine concern.
“Rough night. I guess you win, Baxter…now get out of here…leave us alone.”
Baxter took a moment to look at each Ribbitt Posse member. One had a broken front leg. Another had a gash under his left eye. And the seemingly worse injury appeared to be a missing webbed foot on the gang’s leader. Baxter had not seem such wounds before. And he felt sad for the frogs that they did not have moms like Lucy to help mend them. They didn’t have anywhere to go at all…or anyone besides each other to care for one another. What Baxter didn’t know is that the Ribbitt Posse spent the entire night attempting to steal bugs and lily pads from the homes of other frogs. An endeavor which clearly did not yield in the accomplishments they had hoped.
“Alright. I will leave now. I left something for you just on the other side of the fence.” and Baxter leaped away back towards his family pad.
The Ribbitt Posse, though in pain and so tired, just had to see what Baxter could have left which they could possibly even want. One by one they each squeezed under the fence. They gathered around the enormous maple leaf and the leader of the gang opened it. They all just looked at one another as though they were in a dream.
“You know what this means, don’t you?”
“Yes!! It means we will have plenty of food for the rest of the summer!!” replied one of the members.
“NO!! You nimrod!! This is what we can offer The King so we can get those rewards after all!! It wasn’t all for nothin’ guys…we will conquer!!” the leader proclaimed.
“Do you really want to give up all of this food? What if there is no perfect yard? What if George the Frog King is already gone? We wouldn’t have to hunt for months!!”
“Quiet! We are going. No whimpering…let’s go!!”
And they slowly ambled off towards the big window dragging the maple leaf behind them. The trip felt like hours and by the time they arrived, the could barely go one step further. PLOP! The leader proudly dropped the leaf in front of George the Frog King who was indeed still in the window of the big human family pad. The leader opened the leaf and smiled quite smugly.
“For you, King! As you can see, we are most loyal and deserve the rewards we’ve all heard about!”
Just then, a loud high pitched trembling echoed through the air. They recognized that sound. It was the human tadpole and it was screaming. Suddenly the frogs jumped back as they could see the young human standing right behind the Frog King in the window.
“Now, do it right now, missy!! I will not tell you again!!” a loud feminine voice sounded from inside the window.
“Fine!!!!” again the young human screamed.
Just then, right before their eyes the Ribbitt Posse witnessed something which will forever be remembered in the frog community. Some would probably embellish the story. But all that really happened was actually quite simple.
The young human tadpole leaned down at the base of the window and reached under the curtains. She grabbed George the Frog King by the face and threw him into her pink mesh toy carrier. As the Ribbitt Posse watched The Frog King tumble and fly without blinking an eye – they soon realized that he wasn’t a real frog at all. He was – all this time – a toy. A stuffed cotton and plastic doll in the shape of a frog. Embarrassed, astonished and most of all, disappointed…the Ribbitt Posse peered through the window.
The leader of the posse looked up a bit for just a moment and his eyes locked with the human tadpoles. He knew right then, this couldn’t be good. Again the young human screamed and pounced to open the door.
They hopped away as fast as their tattered bodies would allow. I do hope they made it.