Fall was always Freddie’s favorite time of year in Central Park. As the weather cooled, so did the activity. Not so many boats out on the pond, not so many noisy people with loud dogs. And the leaves turned from bright green to amber, yellow, and a deep auburn that was his favorite, signaling that it was almost time to dig deep into the mud and rest for the winter.
But this fall had been very mild, and today was a beautiful day in Central Park. Every time Freddie poked his head out of the water, a boat came close. He was surprised to find, though, that he actually didn’t mind it – in fact, he enjoyed it.
“It’s like Summer missed being here and wanted to come back to say hi,” he told his friend Francesca.
“Yeah,” she replied, less sure of the situation as she dodged an oar that was swinging through the air close to them. “It’s like it wanted to come back and hit you in the head.”
Freddie and Francesca could spend all day in the lake, and often did, but they would often climb up the banks and make their way through the undergrowth to climb up The Ramble, and take a relaxing dip in Azalea Pond. They knew Central Park – well, this part of Central Park – very well, having lived here their whole lives. They were six years old now, and loved the rhythms of life here. They would sometimes look at The Dakota or some of the other tall buildings along the West side and wonder what it must be like for the ducks and birds they saw every day to be able to fly up there and perch on a ledge, seeing a whole different view of the world. Freddie had once asked a friendly sparrow to take him up there, and she was happy to try it, but after several attempts at takeoff with Freddie riding on her back, they couldn’t make if more than a few feet up in the air, and they said goodbye to each other. Later, he asked a blue jay, but the only response was a screech that made Freddie think the blue jay wanted him for a meal instead.
“Hey, Freddie.” Francesca wanted his attention, as they swam under the bridge where, as 3-year-olds, they and a group of friends had dared each other to jump off before seeing quite how high it was.
“Quesadilla?” he replied, only half paying attention.
Freddie prided himself on having learned some Spanish recently, and was glad when he thought he figured out the Spanish phrase for what’s the deal? He used it all the time. Francesca didn’t have the heart to tell him that quesadilla was actually a grilled tortilla filled with cheese.
She returned to the matter at hand.
“You think we could ride in one of those boats?”
“Sure. I mean, why not? We see them all the time. Can’t be that hard, right?”
Freddie and Francesca said hi to the group of turtles sunning themselves in their usual spot – a rock sticking out of the lake a few feet from the water’s edge. The turtles didn’t respond, and kept their noses up, aloof to it all.
The frogs continued their leisurely swim, and as they approached the boathouse, they could hear some commotion taking place close by, near Bethesda Fountain. They couldn’t tell what was happening, but they could hear excited voices, and a lot of people were gathering around. Francesca noticed that the boat attendant had left his spot to see what was going on.
“Perfect timing,” Francesca announced. “Let’s go!”
The two frogs climbed out of the water and hopped up onto the sloped dock, and into the closest boat – a green metal rowboat large enough to hold three or four people, or, Freddie guessed, 200 or more frogs.
Freddie quickly realized the flaw in their plans. The boat was untied from the dock, so that wasn’t a problem, but it was resting in a divot in the sloped dock – how could they push away, and how were two frogs going to be able to row?!
“If only Puddlegulp was here,” Freddie sighed, remembering a particularly strong frog friend they hadn’t seen for a while.
Just then, the commotion by Bethesda Fountain grew louder, and something bulky and loud came running towards them. They ducked down quickly under the seat as whatever it was crashed itself into the boat, forcing it away from the shore instantly.
Freddie and Francesca stayed still, hoping to avoid being noticed.
“Yes!” shouted the thing, which they now identified as an animal of some kind. “I always knew horses would make good rowers.”
Horses? This thing was a horse?
“What do we do?” Freddie whispered to Francesca. He’d learned over the years that anytime he didn’t know what to do, she had a plan.
“I have a plan,” she replied confidently.
He instantly felt more relaxed.
Francesca decided she’d better figure out what the plan was before saying any more. She looked up to see so much horse hair that she couldn’t even tell what part of the horse she was looking at.
The horse seemed to be readjusting, though, trying to sit down like a human to use its front hoofs to pull the oars. The whole boat shook so much that Freddie and Francesca got toppled around. When the boat stopped, they were shaken up, but glad not to have been stepped on.
But the horse kept readjusting, and despite all the noise on the boat, the frogs could hear a lot of laughter from the edge of the lake.
“So,” Freddie prompted, “what’s the plan?”
“Well,” Francesca improvised, “we wait until this horse gets off, and then we get off.”
“That’s not much of a plan,” he replied, and tumbled over backwards.
“Nope,” she confirmed, “but do you have a better one?”
Freddie did. He decided to confront the horse. But the problem was, the horse was now dangling his rear legs off the back and using them to kick the boat along while his front half rested inside the boat. The whole time he was whinnying and snorting, and Freddie felt sure he was trying to imitate a motor.
The boat was now tipped up quite significantly, but Freddie decided it was time to take a stand. He climbed to the front of the boat, and puffed himself up as big as he could as he stood directly in front of the enormous beast.
“HEY!” he shouted. “Horse!”
The horse stopped whinnying and his legs relaxed in the water.
“What are you doing?” he continued. “You can’t be in here. Horses can’t ride boats. Isn’t that obvious? So quesadilla?”
The horses eyes widened like they had a new spark of life.
“Quesadilla?” he replied.
“Yeah,” Freddie continued, happy to be heard. “Quesa-big-dilla?”
“Freddie?” the horse ventured quietly. “Is that you?”
Freddie was taken aback. How did this horse know him?
“Uh, yeah,” he replied. “Who are you?”
The horse’s mind seemed to go wild, and he thought out loud as he tried to get himself untangled from the boat. “It is you… but how are you here?… Don’t you remember me?… No, of course not, we haven’t met yet… Oh, but is this how it happens? Should I bring you with me? Oh man, this is so exciting!”
“I don’t get it,” Freddie wondered aloud, feeling completely lost.
“Neither do I,” Francesca added, clambering out from under the seat.
“Well who are you?” the horse asked politely.
“Well quesa-big-dilla to you, Francesca. And burrito too,” the horse offered with a polite smile and his eyes closed.
“Um… thank you?”
“But wait, who are you?” Freddie demanded.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the horse began. “How rude of me.” He stood in the shallow water momentarily on his back legs, as if he was trying to remove an invisible hat from his head with his front hoofs to bow for introductions. With the sense that his next statement was surely going to impress them, he finally announced, “I’m Unpredictable Horse!”
Freddie and Francesca looked at each other, each wondering if that name meant something to the other. But no.
“And I believe it is my most humble duty, Freddie, to take you now to Maine.”
“Maine?” Freddie replied. “Never heard of it. Is that one of those buildings?” He gestured to the buildings poking out above the trees.
“Uh, no,” Unpredictable Horse answered.
“Hmm, well that’s too bad… I’ve always wanted to see what it’s like up there,” Freddie grumbled.
“Oh. Well… I could take you there too,” Unpredictable Horse smiled.
“Can I come too?” Francesca asked excitedly.
They hopped over to climb on his back. The moment they touched him, though, everything was different. Suddenly they were colder, it was windier, and the sunlight was brighter. They turned to see what had happened. And then they noticed they weren’t in the pond anymore. They were on a balcony high up above, looking down at the pond.
“What…?” Freddie blurted.
“Yeah…” Francesca added. “Quesadilla?”
Unpredictable Horse laughed.
Together they took in the sights and sounds. Freddie and Francesca spent so long looking at where they lived, noticing how odd and small it all looked from up here, that it was a while before they looked around and saw the countless tall towers in every direction.
“I’d…” Francesca started.
“Yeah, same here,” added Freddie.
“I’d always thought the towers were just on this side. But they’re all around.” She wasn’t sure if she was impressed, or just shocked.
“You’ve never been out of Central Park?” Unpredictable Horse asked.
“No,” they replied in unison.
“Never been past The Ramble, really,” Freddie added.
“Well, I think you’re supposed to be in Maine, Freddie.”
“What about me?” Francesca asked.
“I don’t know your story,” the horse said. “I only know his. But if you want to come, I’d be happy to bring you.”
“Yes, please.” She looked at Freddie. He smiled at her.
A well-dressed elderly woman opened the glass doors onto the balcony from the room inside. She stood in stunned silence as she saw what was outside, but it didn’t take long for her to pick up a vase from inside the door and shake it around threateningly.
“Again?! Get off my balcony, horse! Get off my balcony!”
“Time to go,” Unpredictable Horse told the frogs, and they held on.
“What about our home?” Francesca asked.
“Oh, we’ll be back here next year, don’t you worry.” They started to feel themselves slipping away to the next place. “There’s a whole thing… all the mice in the world… eh, never mind. You’ll find out.”
And with that, they were gone.
The woman put down her vase, and said to no one in particular, “oh no, don’t mind me. Why is it magical horses always want to be on my balcony?”