Johnny Feldspar woke up one February morning feeling slightly different. He couldn't put his finger on exactly what it was, but it bothered him nonetheless. He got out of bed, walked over to his aquarium, and pulled out his pet frog, Jumper.
"And how are you feeling today?" Johnny asked his frog, gingerly stroking the cool, damp skin.
"Ribbit," said Jumper noncommittally.
Johnny held the frog up to his face. "You look kinda hungry. I'll stop by the pet store after school and get some food for you. Okay?"
"Ribbit," Jumper repeated.
Johnny put his frog back in its little home, locked the lid, got dressed, and went downstairs for breakfast. His mother was pouring milk into a bowl of cereal when Johnny sat down at the kitchen table. She placed the cereal bowl and a spoon in front of him.
"And how are we feeling today, Johnny?" she asked.
He took a mouthful of cereal and said between chews, "I feel kinda funny, Mom--"
"Don't speak with your mouth full," his mother said. "It's impolite." She reached over and tousled his hair. "How many times have I told you that?"
Johnny grinned sheepishly and swallowed. "Sorry, Mom."
"That's okay. Now what were you going to say?"
"I feel kinda funny."
"Are you sick?" She sat down next to him and put her hand on his forehead. "You're not running a temperature." She looked at her watch and scowled. "Damn. I've got an important meeting at nine, so I don't have time to take you to a doctor..." She drummed her fingers on the formica table-top.
"I'm not sick, Mom. I just feel kinda funny." He frowned. "I'm not sick."
Johnny's mother crossed her arms and looked at him. Then she smiled. "I know what it is," she said. "You're just nervous because it's Valentine's Day and you're afraid you won't get any valentines, right?"
Johnny looked at his hands. Valentine's Day. The words came crashing down on his ears like panes of glass, shattering. How could he have forgotten? He'd spent the last three nights churning out valentines for all the girls in his class, as per his mother's stern instructions. If it had been up to him, in everybody's Valentine's Day mailbox, which they had all made out of cardboard the previous week as an art lesson, he would have put frogs.
Palm up, fingers stretching out to infinity, Johnny's right hand had slowly gained his complete attention. He clenched his hand into a fist, turned it over, and squinted.
"Johnny?" his mother asked, concerned.
He looked up, blinked. "Uh, yeah, Mom. That's probably it." He smiled weakly. "I guess I just must be nervous."
Johnny stopped in mid-chew, turned his hand inward to protect the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he held.
"That's right. I'm talking to you, snot-face. Or should I say lover-boy?"
Johnny turned around and stared at Fat Matt.
"I saw you stuffing all those mushy love cards into the girls' boxes." Fat Matt laughed, the small rolls of fat bunching up about his face. His beady eyes glanced down at Johnny's lunch, in which several pieces of heart-shaped candy bearing messages such as "Will U B Mine?" and "I Luv U" were strewn. "I see you also got your own share of valentines, didn't you, lover-boy? You know, I didn't get any valentines, or valentine candy."
Johnny felt his face flush. He knew what was going to happen.
"It seems to me, lover-boy, that, since you got so many candies and I didn't get any, that it would only be fair if you shared some of yours with me." He moved forward and grabbed up the candies.
"Thanks, snot-face," Fat Matt said with a laugh. "Oh, that doesn't leave you with any candy, does it?" He picked out a heart from his sweaty grasp and licked it. "Well, here you go, snot-face," Fat Matt said, dropping it into Johnny's pint of milk.
At that moment, Rebecca Moyet, the prettiest girl in school, and Quinn, her little brother, walked by. Quinn laughed, pointed at Johnny, and said, "There you go, snot-face!" He laughed some more.
Fat Matt popped a few hearts into his mouth and looked once again at Johnny's lunch. "Hey, snot-face, what else you got there?"
Quinn laughed once again, and Rebecca looked down at him sternly.
Johnny looked around at the crowd that had suddenly gathered around the four of them. Dozens of eager faces shifted left and right, vying for a clear view of whatever further ridicule Johnny might soon suffer. He felt nauseous, and his hand began to tingle...
A shout erupted from the crowd as Johnny's half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich fell, hit the pint of milk, knocked it off the bench and onto the asphalt. The initial spray of milk spattered the blacktop with white spots; the rest puddled around the fallen carton.
Johnny's outstretched hand, raised toward Fat Matt, burned with an increasingly painful pulsing. Sweat ran down, dripped off Johnny's forehead, his nose, his chin. His lips twitched. "Frog," he said gutturally, and slouched, exhaling, cooling, feeling spent.
Johnny hadn't expected there to be any noise; he hadn't expected anything, really. He certainly hadn't expected, when he looked up, to see Fat Matt screaming, to see his body spasm violently. He hadn't expected his hair to shrivel acridly and to come out in tufts as his hands clawed at his face, his head, his throat. He hadn't expected his skin to turn green, to bubble, to drip off in clumps and sizzle away on the asphalt into foul vapor.
The nausea that Johnny had felt only moments earlier gripped his stomach fiercely. The shriek continued, stabbing progressively deeper into Johnny's ears.
Fat Matt wobbled, what was left of his legs buckled, and he collapsed to the ground with a crash of shattering bone. On impact, a noxious cloud of green and red steam erupted from his body, obscuring the view.
The vapors made Johnny's eyes water, and he grabbed the bench to steady himself from vomiting.
The cloud dissipated, and all that remained of Fat Matt was a pile of stained clothes and, sitting in the middle of them, a frog.
The crowd gasped, stared in disbelief.
Quinn's laughter sliced through the heavy aura of astonishment. He pointed down at the newly created amphibian. "Frog!" he cried out, and laughed harder.
Johnny felt ill. He wiped his forehead, his trembling upper lip. His skin felt cold.
The frog tried to hop away, but slipped on the slick clothing and landed on its side, making the rest of the children laugh loudly. Johnny saw Rebecca try to hide the nervous smile on her face. The frog stopped, then tried to bury itself under the clothes.
Quinn rushed forward and grabbed the frog. "Gotcha!" he said, hefting it.
"Hey! Put it down!" Johnny said. "Can't you see it's scared?"
The frog squirmed in Quinn's grip.
"Put it down?" Quinn smiled wickedly. "Okay. I'll put it down." He lifted the frog above his head and then, with the help from a little jump, he hurled it to the ground. It hit the asphalt with a wet splat and lay there awkwardly, legs twitching slightly. Quinn laughed. "Want me to scare it some more?"
"No!" Johnny cried, as Quinn swung his arms and launched himself into the air, feet held together to ensure that his landing would strike true. At the last moment, though, just before Johnny was about to cover his eyes, Quinn jerked his feet apart and ended up barely straddling the injured frog.
The crowd let out a sigh.
Glancing around, Quinn laughed, lifted up his right leg, and forcefully brought it down on the frog.
The crowd let out a sound of disgust, and Johnny jumped to his feet, enraged.
Quinn stepped away from the dead frog and looked down at his blood-stained Reeboks. He frowned and poked his shoes into Fat Matt's soiled clothes, in an attempt to wipe them clean.
Hatred coursed through Johnny's veins. "Quinn! You... You..." The air seemed to thicken, grow hot and humid, as he struggled to express his anger. "You..." Each breath he took became more difficult than the one before. He strenuously dragged each mouthful of air down into his lungs, only to have it slip through his throat and rush back out into the world. And all the while he stared at the grinning Quinn, who was now busy entertaining the crowd with theatrical attempts at cleaning his shoes.
Johnny's vision blurred, the air coagulating into a sickly grey soup, as if the day were hazardously smoggy or he were looking through a grimy pane of glass. He squinted and saw Quinn kick the dead frog toward the crowd, which immediately widened with shrieks of amusement.
Johnny violently snapped his arm forward, his elbow joint popping, and pointed at Quinn. One word, dripping acid, burned through his lips: "Frog."
Quinn jerked his head around, a surprised look on his face, and looked at Johnny before he screamed. His small body shuddered with convulsions as the hideous transformation began.
The crowd, frightened and confused, screamed in macabre accompaniment to Quinn.
"That's my brother!" Rebecca yelled, running up to Johnny. Her face was flushed, violent. Tears were forming around her widened eyes. "That's my brother!" She slapped him across the face. "That's my brother!" She kicked him in the leg. "Make it stop! Make it stop!" As she raised her hand to strike again, chorused with screams from Quinn, the crowd, and herself, Johnny pointed at her and said meekly, "Frog."
In horror, Johnny watched Rebecca's face contort monstrously as she shrieked and as her hair, crackling, shrivelled and burst into dark, acrid smoke.
Johnny reeled back, tripped over the bench, and tumbled to the ground. He stared up at Rebecca, who was still screaming, though Quinn had by then stopped, and saw her skin begin to dissolve.
The crowd swarmed into his view, rushing up from behind Rebecca and from the sides, surrounding him. Every face was twisted with desperate fear, every pair of eyes burned wildly, and every hand was clenched into a fist.
The sudden closeness of the bodies of all his schoolmates made the air so stifling that Johnny was not able to breathe. He raised his hand in an attempt to defend himself, but could not utter a single sound.
Robert Hurvitz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime InterText contributor and UC Berkeley graduate who, at last report, lived in Seattle.
InterText stories written by Robert Hurvitz: "The American Dream" (v1n2), "Experience Required" (v1n4), "Frog Boy" (v2n2), "Roadkill" (v2n3), "Dogbreath" (v3n1), "Wine And Cheese" (v4n3).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 2, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1992 Robert Hurvitz.