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Frog Pond (Short Story)

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has made a long and successful career out of writing modern supernatural fiction. She has worked in a wide variety of genres, from science fiction to westerns, from young adult adventure to historical horror. This is an adapted version of her apocalyptic short story "Frog Pond."

Frosk (Rana temporaria)

"Frog Pond" is one of many examples of what we call “post-apocalyptic literature” – stories dealing with life after nuclear war, plague or some other general disaster has destroyed the world we know. Post-apocalyptic fiction is set in a world or civilization after such a disaster. One of the common themes or ideas running through this literature is the question of how people can survive, and create a new life from the ruins of the old one.

In "Frog Pond" a young girl, Thorny, has been warned not to go to catch frogs in the creek. Still, she disobeys and goes there. The reader thinks that her parents are simply anxious that she might drown. However, little by little we notice details that let us understand that things are far from normal. (Here you can read more about the author and the story: Frog Pond - Introduction)

Listen to the story. You might have to listen more than once or do close reading to discover the secrets.

Frog Pond - audio

Plain text

Mr Thompson: You have a big mouth, Thorny. Too big.
Thorny: Yes, Mr Thompson. Sorry.
Mr Thompson: So, what have you got to learn? (She doesn't answer) Thorny...?
Thorny: I gotta learn to keep my mouth shut.
Mr Thompson: (Prompting) When strangers are around.
Thorny: Right, not in front of strangers.
Mr Thompson: There's too much to lose here, Thorny. What your Dad and I have achieved. And you... you're so special to us. The first, in every way.
Thorny: Sorry, I really will try.
Mr Thompson: The more things get better here, the more people will come and try to take it from us. You understand that, don't you?
Thorny: Sure, I really do. I've got the message, Mr Thompson. I've got a big mouth and I have to learn to keep it shut when strangers are around. Can I go now? It's a really nice day.
Mr Thompson: Sure, Thorny. Go and play. And Thorny, you're not to go down to the creek any more. Understand?
Thorny: Aw...
Mr Thompson: We've all told you. It's too dangerous.
Thorny: It ain't dangerous. You just have to stay away from the pink water spots.
Mr Thompson: That's not the point. You're bright, Thorny. Later on, you might carry on your Pop's work. We can't afford to have anything happen to you.
Thorny: Yeah, but Mom is sure grateful when I catch fish in the creek.
Mr Thompson: The answer is no. In any case, you have to go past the Baxter place, and something's wrong there.
Thorny: I know, Pop says maybe some sick people moved onto their property. But I know a long way round. I don't go near the Baxter's, not by miles.
Mr Thompson: Thorny, the creek is a no-go area. Got that?
Thorny: Sure. I'm going to play.

Thorny: (Internal) Rotten Log Hollow. My very own creek. It's not dangerous. No fish though. None as I can see. Aw, but there'll be frogs. There's always frogs going.

(Putting on waders)

Thorny: And you pull your waders right up, Thorny. You mustn't let your legs get wet. Ain't done that in years, Pop. Heck, a little water can't kill me. Not even that pink water. Now... Okay, frogs. Don't take no notice of little ole Thorny. I might look big and frightening, but I aint. No sir, I just want something nice and easy for my supper. Ooh, you're a nice fat one. Just stay there with your boyfriend while Thorny comes over to say hi. Gently... (Scared) What's that?!

(Crashing of undergrowth. Rocks and grass rolling down bank into water)

Stan: (Distant. Losing his balance on the steep bank) AAAaaaaaghhh!
Thorny: Oh shoot!

(Stan hits outfall pipe)

Stan: (Blowing out water, and generally half drowning)
Thorny: Hey mister, don't do that!
Stan: (Scared out of his wits) Wha - Who's that. No, no-ooo!
Thorny: The way he's going on, anyone'd think I was the Civil Defence or something.
It's just me, mister, down in the creek.
Stan: (Gasping, but calming down) You - you on your own...?
Thorny: You're scaring the frogs, mister.
Stan: Scaring the frogs?
Thorny: Yeah, I'm trying to catch some. Can you just sit there a minute and not move?
Stan: {Pondering the strange situation. He's worn out with fear) Sit? For a minute? Sure . . .
Thorny: A city guy... There's three frogs over there, and if I don't catch them, it'll be your fault, mister. - Got you! One... -Two and three! Hey, there's a fourth –
Stan: Listen, where am I?

(Water plop as frog jumps)

Thorny: (Exasperated) Aww! (To Stan) Rotten Log Hollow. An' you just lost me a frog.
Stan: Where's Rotten Log Hollow?
Thorny: Mister, if you wanna talk, you come along the bank, closer to me.
Stan: If you say so.
Thorny: (To herself) I do say so.
Stan: Is it dangerous here?
Thorny: (To Stan) You just gotta keep your voice down.
Stan: (Approaches) Right. You don't want anyone to hear us?
Thorny: I don't want to scare the frogs!
Stan: Right. Uh...
Thorny: Hi.
Stan: Hi... Uh, what's your name?
Thorny: (Internal) Do I tell him? He seems friendly enough. (Dad voice) There ain't no such thing as a friendly stranger, Thorny. (Ordinary voice) No, Dad. Hell, I can handle this guy. (Politely, to Stan) My name is Althea. But mostly my friends call me Thorny. Who are you?
Stan: (obviously lying) Uh... Stan! Yeah, Stan. Just call me Stan.
Thorny: (Internal) Stan, right! (To Stan) Hi Stan.
Stan: You like this place?
Thorny: Yeah, I come here lots of times.
Stan: You live around here, then?
Thorny: (Internal) Dumb question! (To Stan) This is the country, mister. No subways, no transport. So I can't live noplace else. (Internal) Uh-oh, shouldn't have said, that, Pop, should I? (To Stan, covering up) I mean... Look, I live at the Baxter place.
Stan: (Fear starting again) Is that near here?
Thorny: Bout a mile. That way.
Stan: (Part relieved) A mile... Do a lot of people live there at the Baxter place?
Thorny: About six or seven. Why, you planning on moving in, mister?
Stan: (Nervous, almost hysterical, laugh)
Thorny: (Internal) It wasn't that funny, what I said! Hey, this guy is deep-down scared! Uh-oh, so he should be, he's standing in the green stuff! (To Stan) Hey mister, you better get away from there.
Stan: (Panicky, moving sideways fast) Where? Why?
Thorny: That green stuff coming out the pipe is bad for you. Gives you burns if you're not used to it. Well, burns some people.
Stan: What is it?
Thorny: Just stuff comes out the pipe, ever since the Santa Rosa pumping station got blown up. You know, couple of years ago? Ever since then, the pipe drips green gunk all the time.
Stan: (Jumpy) Oh, right...
Thorny: It won't hurt you if you don't touch it.
Stan: (More nervous) Oh, cool.
Thorny: (Touch of pride) Never burns me. Not even the first time I came here.
Stan: Right.
Thorny: Selective adaptations, that's what Mr Thompson says. Adapting to the new demands of the environment.
Stan: Adaptations!
Thorny: He's a geneticist, Mr Thompson. (Internal) Uh-oh. My big mouth. (Change the subject, to Stan) I bet you're from Santa Rosa, right?
Stan: What makes you say that?
Thorny: Nothing. Santa Rosa's the first big city south of here. I just figured you probably had to come from there. Or maybe Sonoma or Napa, but those aren't too likely.
Stan: Why not?
Thorny: Simple. The big highway north is still open, but not the one between Sonoma and Napa.
Stan: Yes, yes of course. That would be why. Sorry, Thorny, I guess I'm jumpier than I thought.
Thorny: That's okay.
Stan: Say, is there anyone needing some help on their farms around here? Anyone you know of?
Thorny: No. No more people are needed round here.
Stan: Maybe a school, somewhere that needs a teacher? You kids probably don't have too many good teachers.
Thorny: Huh! (Internal) That's a spooky thing to say! What can a guy from Santa Rosa teach us! (To Stan) We don't need teachers. But my Pop teaches at the high school. Maybe he could help you find work.
Stan: Were you born round here?
Thorny: Nope. Over at Davis.
Stan: On a farm?
Thorny: Sort of...
Stan: I've always wanted to live in the country. Maybe now I can.
Thorny: I wouldn't sit there, mister. There's snakes.
Stan: (Jumping up) Snakes?!
Thorny: They only bite if you hurt 'em or scare 'em.
Stan: Oh, right. Is any place safe on this bank.
Thorny: Oh, it's all safe enough. But just keep an eye out for the snakes. You'll recognize them easy. About two feet long and sort of red. The colour of the pine needles.
Stan: Dear God, how long have the pine needles been that colour?
Thorny: Five or six years. The smog does it.
Stan: Smog? There's no smog out here.
Thorny: Can't see it or even smell it. Mr Thompson says there's too much smog everywhere, so we don't notice it anymore. But the trees know it. And turn red.
Stan: They'll die.
Thorny: Maybe. Maybe not. They've changed.
Stan: Changed ?
Thorny: Sure. These pines haven't died yet, and maybe they aren't going to.
Stan: What's so special about them?
Thorny: Well, see - (About to explain, stops. Then internal) My big mouth again. (To Stan) Oh, we learn all about this in school. It's no big deal. Mr Thompson tells us in Biology class.
Stan: Biology? At your age?
Thorny: Look, mister, I know I'm small, but heck, so are lots of kids these days. I'm thirteen, and that's plenty old enough to know about Biology. Just because this is a long way from Santa Rosa, don't think kids here can't read, okay?
Stan: Hey, cool it! I was just surprised you have such good schools here.
Thorny: Yeah, and you think there's a MacDonald's the other side of the creek.
Stan: Hey, don't give me such a hard time.
Thorny: So what do they teach where you come from?
Stan: Oh, history, language, art... Nothing about survival. You know, last semester, a group of students requested courses on useful things, like forestry, basket-weaving, animal breeding, that kind of thing, and what happened? The administration called in the Civil Defence. There was a riot. But we got those guys, in an ambush. Hung a couple up from lamp-posts. That showed 'em. You see, Thorny, if you want a chance, you gotta learn to beat the System. And that means knowing how the System works, right?
Thorny: (Getting nervous herself) Right. Maybe. I don't know.
Stan: The System's doing terrible things. Soldiers everywhere, martial law, searches without warrants, confiscations, people disappearing. And then there's the gangs -robbing and killing. And the murder clubs. They kill people just for fun - for doing nothing!
Thorny: Sure, we know all about that. (Internal) How do I get rid of this guy?
Stan: How are things North of here?
Thorny: (Here's a chance to get rid of him) North of here? Oh, not too bad. Not too bad at all. In fact Humboldt County is doing pretty good.
Stan: Thorny. Do you think you could tell me how to get to Humboldt County.
Thorny: (Internal) This guy is so dumb. He only has to keep going up the old Highway 101! Or else he's trying to trap me, to find out who he can steal food from. But I ain't so easy to trap. (To Stan) You can keep going up the main highway...
Stan: That'd be cool.
Thorny: Of course there might be Civil Defense guarding it.
Stan: Oh.
Thorny: No, I'd cut over to the coast road, and just follow it up. That'd be safer.
Stan: Yes, yes, that would work. Thanks, Thorny.
Thorny: Hold on, there's a couple of frogs down there. Good, fat ones... (Takes breath)

(Swirl of water as Thorny dips under, then splashier swirl as she emerges)

Thorny: Two big'uns, right?
Stan: This is such a waste. You should be learning about society. About all that's wrong with it. You should learn about the People's rights, and their right to attack the System when it's against their freedom.
Thorny: I learn all I need to know from Mr Leventhal in school.
Stan: But you could learn so much more. Before it's too late. You should be in school right this minute, Thorny.
Thorny: I should not. We have school two whole days a week. This is my free time.
Stan: And you're spending it catching frogs!
Thorny: Sure I'm catching frogs.
Stan: Eucchh! You're skewering them on that stick!
Thorny: It's my collecting stick. This way they stay fresh till I get home and Mom cuts 'em up.
Stan: You mean you eat them?
Thorny: Of course we eat them. They're meat, ain't they?
Stan: But frogs! How can you eat frogs?
Thorny: They taste real good. Mom fixes 'em up with batter and fries "em.
Stan: You've gotta be hungry to eat frogs. And how do you catch them in that muddy water?
Thorny: Easy. You saw me.
Stan: Yeah, but I've sworn in water like that. You can't see a thing.
Thorny: You can't maybe. I can.
Stan: How's that?
Thorny: I been adapted.
Stan: Adapted?
Thorny: Sure. Look in my eyes, mister. Membranes, see? I got membranes come up over my eyes like eyelids. But see-through ! I was engineered for water.
Stan: (Growing horror) Engineered! You're a mutant!
Thorny: (Indignant) I ain't no mutant! That's just science fiction. I've been genetically modified.
Stan: Oh no! AAAaaaggghhh! This is too much. I gotta get outta here –

(Receding crashes through the undergrowth as Stan rushes away; slipping and stumbling)

Thorny: Well, thank you, Stan. All the frogs'll have swum upstate by now. No point in staying here.


Mr Thompson: (Angry) Thorny, where you been?
Thorny: (Internal) Uh-oh. Trouble.
Mr Thompson: You've been to Rotten Log Hollow, haven't you? There's no place else you could have caught those kind of frogs.
Thorny: Sorry.
Mr Thompson: We've told you how dangerous it is over there. Besides, strangers might see you.
Thorny: Uh.
Mr Thompson: Did any stranger come by?
Thorny: An older guy. Bout twenty-five. Only the one.
Mr Thompson: One is all it needs. We've got to keep what we have here a secret. So we can survive.
Thorny: Sorry.
Mr Thompson: You didn't show him anything, did you?
Thorny: (Starts sobbing)
Mr Thompson: You didn't, did you?
Thorny: I only showed him my membranes, that's all.
Mr Thompson: That's all! Thorny, once people know you've got the membranes,
they'll guess straightaway what we're doing. They'll take it all away. And take you too, most likely.
Thorny: (Breaking, it's all been too much) Shut up, shut up, shut up! I can't listen to
any more.
Thorny: (Internal. It's a bit later and she's calmer) He's always going on, Mr Thompson. Him and Pop. Jeepers. It's only one little flap of skin they've bred into me. To hear them carry on, you'd think they'd changed the whole world!

Tasks and Activities

After reading and listening to the story, you may try these activities Frog Pond - Tasks

or this interactive task Frog Pond

Sist faglig oppdatert 14.11.2018
Rettighetshaver: NRK


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