When cats fall, they instinctively twist their bodies to land on their feet. Francesca wasn’t a cat; she was a frog. Francesca landed on the ground back-first with a thud.
Freddie followed a moment later, landing on his feet, but in a prickly bush – the kind where landing on your feet doesn’t help anything.
“Ughhh,” Francesca moaned.
“Owww!” she heard Freddie call from inside the prickly bush.
“Are you kidding me?!” she heard Roger the Raccoon say quietly from the branch of a maple tree a short distance away.
Montgomery the Moose had just attempted to follow Tommy, Jerry, and Montgomery the Mouse into a tall clump of grass by running headlong at it with his eyes closed. It was obviously ridiculous – he was a moose, after all, so Francesca was sure she would look over and see him in a heap on the ground, making his own moaning noises. But when she got up and hopped closer where she could get a better view, he was nowhere to be seen, and it was eerily quiet.
“Montgomery?” she asked, not really expecting a response.
Roger climbed down from the maple tree. She didn’t seem to hear Francesca, and was focused on the clump of grass, walking towards it curiously.
“Roger?” Francesca asked. This time she did expect a response. But she didn’t get one. Roger kept moving towards the clump of grass cautiously, crouching lower to the ground as she did so.
“Owww!” Freddie said again from behind Francesca. She wanted to help her friend, but she knew Roger could probably be more helpful, with her hands and her raccoon-sized body.
“Roger?” she asked again, louder this time. “Roger, Freddie needs help.”
Again, though, Roger didn’t respond. Francesca watched as she continued to be drawn to the clump of grass. Roger stuck her nose between the long blades of grass, and then something happened which Francesca didn’t understand at all. Roger appeared to be pulled into the clump of grass while simultaneously shrinking. Half a second later, Francesca couldn’t see the raccoon anymore.
What is going on?! she thought.
Francesca hopped towards the clump of grass. She wanted to investigate. The closer she got, the more she felt drawn to it herself. Her mind started to get a little fuzzy, and she hopped closer. Maybe I should go through there too, she thought.
“I SAID OWWWWW!” Freddie’s shout came like an arrow, popping the fuzziness in her mind, and shaking her back to being herself.
“Freddie!” she responded. “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry.” She hopped away from the clump of grass, and back to the prickly bush where her friend was stuck.
“Finally!” the voice from inside the bush said. “I thought I was gonna be stuck here forever.”
“I’m sorry, Freddie,” Francesca replied. “Weird stuff is happening here. Really… weird… stuff. I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Well, maybe think about how to explain it while you get me out of here,” Freddie grumped.
“Umm,” Francesca looked at the bush’s prickles and had no ideas. “I don’t know what I can do. Hold on…” She hopped around the bush to see if there were any suggestions she could make, or tools she could pass in to him. There wasn’t anything that she could see would be helpful. Not that she could pass in, at least.
“Could I be of sssome asssissstance?” a grass snake asked from a few feet away.
“Ahh!” Francesca screamed and hopped up out of the way in fear. The problem with hopping up, though, is that she always came back down. She thought quickly, and landed with the fiercest look she could muster. She tried to hiss at the snake, but it came out as a croak.
“Oh, pleassse…” the snake replied with a giggle, not remotely intimidated. “Look, I can help. And I don’t eat frogs.”
Francesca eyed the snake. It was true that the snake wasn’t big enough to eat either of them, but trusting a snake was hard for any frog to do. She squinted at the snake, and thought about how to respond.
“Still an owww in here, in case anyone’s wondering,” Freddie’s voice called out from inside the bush.
“Uh, okay,” Francesca said cautiously.
“Okay, let’sss get to it,” the grass snake said, and slithered towards the bush as Francesca hopped back slightly, still ready to attack at any moment. “My name’sss Slither, by the way, in case you want to thank me later,” the snake said, rolling its eyes at Francesca.
“I’m Freddie,” said Freddie from inside the bush.
“Okay, Freddie, let’sss sssee what we can do.” Slither stuck her head into the bush at ground level, and looked up. “Well well well, you’re quick ssstuck in there, aren’t you?” She backed out of the bush and lifted the front half of her body up, using her back half for balance. “Okay,” she said, “let’sss try it thisss way.” She stuck her head into the bush again halfway up, closer to where he was.
“AARRGGHH!” Freddie shouted. “There’s a snake in here! Help! Help!”
Francesca watched the bush rustle for the next few seconds, and Freddie jumped out of the top, hopping down next to her with a few thorns in his skin, and panic in his eyes.
“There was a snake in there!” he shouted at her, missing her smile. “A snake!”
Slither backed out of the bush and let out a laugh of satisfaction.
“Snake!” Freddie shouted, in case Francesca had missed that fact.
“Uh huh,” she replied.
“You’re welcome,” Slither the Snake added.
“For what?” Freddie asked incredulously. “For being a snake?”
“Freddie, if not for that snake, you’d still be in there,” Francesca added.
“Oh yeah, that reminds me – owww! Everything still hurts. So thanks for that, snake.”
“Yeah, you’re welcome,” Slither added, shaking her head and rolling her eyes again. Francesca decided that if Freddie couldn’t bring himself to show some appreciation, she would need to do it herself.
“Thank you, Slith-” but she was cut off by some loud cracking sounds as some nearby trees bent out of the way to make way for a large round metal object coming down with a lot of force like it had fallen from high in the sky.
Freddie, Francesca and Slither all huddled under the prickly bush, but kept an eye on what was happening above them.
They heard some noises, like a compartment opening on the metal object, and then two creatures were in the clearing just a few feet from them, where they had all been moments ago. Both of the creatures looked somewhat like humans – one more than the other, though. The unusual one was green, with three eyes, the height of a four-year-old child, but round in almost every way, like if it fell over it would roll easily down a hill. The more human one looked like a human hipster male, with long hair, a long beard and mustache, glasses, and a long white lab coat.
“She never learns,” the small green one said, exasperated. “I mean, I love that she’s so friendly and talks so much, but how can she run out of power every time? And why are we still flying anyway? You can teleport us.”
“Bobby, you know I can’t. My power is weak now. It took all I had to show you that this was real. But if we can find the moose and the mouse…” the human hipster male’s voice trailed off, but Francesca and Freddie looked at each other at the mention of a moose and a mouse. Francesca made a move to speak to the visitors, but Freddie held her back. He whispered that they didn’t know anything about these people, and how could they be sure they were trustworthy.
“Oh, please,” Francesca said sarcastically. “Didn’t you just learn your lesson with Slither here?”
She hopped out. The two creatures turned. The green creature looked at her a little suspiciously, but then announced to the human with pride, “Ah, I know this one. This one is called a frog.” The green creature then gave a slight bounce on his heels, proud of an identification job well done, but Francesca interpreted it as imitating the hop of a frog also. The human hipster male was about to speak to Francesca when the green creature spoke again, this time looking to impress his partner. “There is a similar creature known as a toad, you know, but their skin is more bumpy. There might be some other differences too, but I think they’re otherwise identical. Rest assured, frogs and toads are completely harmless.”
This last comment seemed led to the human hipster male smiling a little and looking at the green creature in rather a patronizing way. “Well, you clearly haven’t met some of the frogs I’ve met over the centuries…” he said, more to himself than to anyone else.
The human turned his gaze towards Francesca.
“Please,” he offered with his hand outstretched, inviting her to speak.
“You understand me?” she asked, confused.
“I do,” the human replied.
“But how?” she asked. “Other creatures have never understood me until recently.”
“Ah, yes,” the human replied. “I keep forgetting that that’s not normal here. This is – how you say? – Magic!”
“Magic?” Francesca replied. “Must be a lot of that going around. Ever since that horse brought us here from New York -”
“Horse?” the human interrupted with great interest. “A horse brought you here?”
“Yes,” she answered, and Freddie came out from the bush too. He wasn’t sure if he was there to add to the conversation or just to stand with Francesca, but either way he was feeling a little braver.
“How did the horse bring you here? Did you ride on its back?”
“Not exactly. It’s like one moment we were there, and the next moment we were here.”
“The horse said we were supposed to be here, whatever that means,” Freddie added.
The human and the green creature exchanged glances, before turning back to the frogs.
“Is the horse still here?” the human asked.
“No,” Francesca continued. “He suddenly disappeared. Seemed like he had a lot of other things to do.”
“Hmm…” the human pondered.
“What’s happened since you’ve been here?” the green creature asked.
“Well, Freddie almost got eaten by a moose” – the creatures’ faces perked up – “but then we saved his friends from drowning, and now they just disappeared right over there by that clump of grass,” she gestured to it.
“This moose… disappeared?” the human asked. “Is one of the moose’s friends a mouse, by any chance?”
“Oh, you know them?” Freddie asked. “Yeah. Montgomery and Montgomery.”
The human and the green creature exchanged glances once again.
“Tell me… exactly what happened to them,” the human prompted, with focused interest.
“Well, Montgomery the Mouse went into that clump of grass, along with two small people friends of theirs, Jerry and Tommy,” Freddie said, as the creatures seemed to be making mental notes, “and then Montgomery the Moose ran at the same place, but we were on his back and fell off, along with a raccoon. I didn’t see what happened next.”
“They went where exactly? There?” the human asked, pointing at the clump of grass.
“Yeah, there, right by that pool of chocolate – wait, that’s weird,” Francesca said, taken aback. “Why is there chocolate there? That wasn’t there before.”
Suddenly and without warning the human grew and changed shape completely, becoming an enormous scaly orange dragon.
“Holy cow!” Francesca shouted.
“Quesadilla?!” Freddie added.
“Quick, get back,” the dragon directed as it faced the chocolate. “Bobby, help them.” The green creature – Bobby – ushered Francesca and Freddie back behind him. They didn’t understand the panic caused by the chocolate, but they certainly understood their own panic caused by an enormous scaly orange dragon, and they couldn’t wait to get away.
Slither, meanwhile, panicked in her own way, and slithered away on the other side of the prickly bush as fast as her muscles could take her. Without realizing it, she slithered directly towards the chocolate, which seemed to be growing and expanding. Rather than rolling outward like liquid, though, everything touched by the chocolate was simply turning to chocolate itself – the leaves, the bushes, and soon, even Slither, who became frozen in place, in chocolate form.
The dragon ushered everyone back further, and waited, as if something was about to happen.
And happen it did.
Moments later, Montgomery the Moose appeared facing them in front of the clump of grass. He opened his mouth, and Montgomery the Mouse climbed out, as Montgomery the Moose’s eyes adjusted to the light.
“Ugh, smells gross in there,” Montgomery the Mouse said, panting for fresh air after holding his breath in the moose’s mouth for so long, “but I get why you did it. Thank you.”
They looked around at the chocolate surrounding them.
“Montgomery the Moose, and Montgomery the Mouse, I presume,” the orange dragon called out. “You must come with me now. If you don’t, the chocolate invasion will take over your world.”
To be continued…