“What do you think, Wendy?” Laura asked as she twirled her pencil eraser in her mouth and wrinkled her forehead. “‘Rots slow’ and its got seven letters.”
Wendy rubbed against the entryway before lifting her leg and licking her butt. Coffee burst from the tiny nozzle, and the smell of fresh caffeine filled the air. The telephone rang. And Laura ignored its chime.
“Yeah, you’re right.” Laura tossed the newspaper and dropped five spoonfuls of sugar into her mid-morning coffee. “It’s probably something stupid, anyway. Like bananas or animals or—now don’t give me that look!”
Wendy stretched with slanted eyes before strutting out of sight.
“Shit,” Laura sighed. “I didn’t mean it like that, and you know it.”
She held her cup to her lips and felt the steam opening her pores. She wondered how many blackheads she had and if this counted as a facial. She took a sip and heard a bubbling croak. Laura searched the kitchen table, pushing past piles of newspapers and looking in half-empty coffee mugs.
“Hello there,” Laura said, lifting a cup with webbed fingers gripping its edge. “Let me guess, a fluffy dame kidnapped you, didn’t she?”
The frog croaked.
“Thought so. Well, don’t you worry. I’ve got an escape route right here.” She opened the kitchen window, setting him on the ledge. “Now, if I were you, I wouldn’t come around here anymore. Reptiles, amphibians, rodents—you all just don’t last. Not around here anyway. You get what I’m saying?”
The frog’s black eyes watched her for a moment, then he leapt away, vanishing in green blades. Laura heard knocks on the front door. She just knew it was her neighbor—Faye—who was unquestionably the culprit of the ten o’clock phone call. Laura turned on the kitchen faucet, pretending not to hear, washing the frog’s cup one, two, and three times. Still, the knocking grew louder.
“Excuse me,” Faye yelled. “Ms. Villers, your cat did it again!”
Laura turned off the water.
“What did she do, Faye?” Laura called.
“You know what she did, and if she does it again, I’ll have the Association take care of it.”
“Will you?” Laura walked to the door and held her hand on the knob. “What would they do, do you think? Like they have any competency to begin with.” She could feel Faye twisting the copper handle.
“I – I don’t want to call them,” Faye said, the knob twisting faster as she spoke. “But I will. Carcasses on doorsteps? There are children in this neighborhood. What if one of them saw? What would their parents think? What would the schools think? Do you know what kind of neighborhood this could turn us into?”
“Carcass!” Laura opened the door, and Faye nearly fell inside.
“What?” Faye stumbled back, and she straightened her Sunday hat. A large, frilly thing. Laura never went to church. But if she did, she knew she’d find Faye sitting in the front row, obstructing followers from some sort of salvation.
“Don’t be. I think you just solved fifty-four down.” Faye gawked at Laura for a few very long moments, then finally, she shook her head.
“Look at what your cat did.” Faye violently pointed down. Laura followed: a frog lying belly up, bled out on her cement step.
“My vet says it’s a present,” Laura said, lifting the frog—by what she figured was its toe—and held the green body between them. “I’m not so sure, though. We’ve hit a bit of a rough patch, spats, and such. You understand, I’m sure.”
“I always knew there was something wrong with you—but this! I mean, do you think this is funny?” Faye asked, her thin lips pressed together until they reddened. “Dead things out where everyone can see them?”
“Oh, of course not.” Laura smiled and tossed the frog into the yard.
“Oh my God,” Faye said, mouth gaping. With protruding eyes, she watched the grass where the ‘dead thing’s’ leg poked out.
“Don’t worry,” Laura continued before her neighbor could collect herself. “The kids will probably think it’s a blade of grass, and by next week I’ll have the yard cut! It’ll be gone—in a way—by then.”
Nearly breaking her neck, Faye snapped back, and with a little wave, Laura shut the door.
The next morning Laura stirred her coffee and scribbled on her notepad, marking out old words and writing down new possibilities as she continued her crossword puzzle. Right as thirty-nine across tip-toed in her mind, several thuds came from her front door.
“Oh, Wendy! What did you do this time?” Laura said, her concentration broken. “Just a moment, Faye!”
The house became silent. Laura scratched her brow, her eraser now gone, and squinted her eyes at the newspaper. “A way to say goodbye,” she pondered aloud. “Seven again.”
The front door thumped.
“One more second!” Several loud thuds followed, and Laura threw her pencil. “I said wait,” she yelled as she wrenched open the door.
No one was there. Well, not no one, not quite. Countless frogs hopped across her lawn and crowded around the green body, which lay rotting in the grass.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” a croak came from below her. Laura peeled her eyes away from the commotion and looked down. A toad stood on its hind legs, holding a tiny golden badge in her direction. “I’m Agent Fowler, from the Bureau of Investigations. We’re sorry to bother you this morning, but there seems to have been a terrible incident.” The toad’s arm gestured towards the dried blood on the stoop.
“Now, I’m certain you had nothing to do with this,” Agent Fowler said.
Laura felt the toad didn’t look so certain.
“But I felt it was my responsibility to ask, considering the situation.”
“Situation?” Laura said.
“Yes, ma’am. There has been a string of homicides these past few months. Have you not heard?” Agent Fowler seemed stunned in disbelief.
“I might have,” she began but trailed off at the sight of fluffy hair sticking out of Faye’s azalea bushes just across the street. “My neighbor mentioned something yesterday, but I haven’t seen a thing.”
“Well,” the toad continued. “I’m glad to see someone is keeping you informed. However, it seems that murder has reached your front door, and I must ask—” cries wailed from behind him.
“What’s happening over there,” Laura asked, as she peered in the direction of the dead frog. A small group of frogs dabbed their eyes as another shoveled dirt. Agent Fowler’s mouth dropped, and his long tongue rolled out in shock. “I mean – I mean, will they be okay?”
“They’re burying a loved one.” The toad’s words came in slurs as he grabbed his tongue and rolled it back up into his mouth.
“Funeral.” Laura grinned, realizing the answer to number thirty-nine across.
“Yes,” Agent Fowler nodded uneasily; his beady black eyes watched her with intent. Laura could have sworn she heard a hint of accusation in his tone. “Well, I was hoping you could tell me if you saw anything unusual.”
“Oh,” Laura knew she had to choose her words carefully. “Not at all. Of course, if I do, I’ll let you know. We wouldn’t want our neighborhood to be a dangerous place for kids to grow up. What would happen to the schools? Oh no – what would happen to our community?”
The toad croaked happily and gave a kind “ah-ha!” and “right you are” at that. As he did, Laura watched Wendy sprint across the road and jump through the cracked living room window. Still, the felines reptilian diet had left her less agile in recent days. The window slammed shut just as tabby colored fur vanished.
“What was that?” The agent asked. His long legs sent him flying through the air. “It nearly sounded like a gun-shot!”
“No guns here,” said Laura. “Just a faulty window.”
“Ah, well, you might want to have that looked at,” the toad eyed her again, cleared his throat, and continued. “Is there a mister of the house?”
“Oh, no.” Laura watched as the group of frogs lined up one-by-one in front of a tiny casket. A ribbiting eulogy began. “No men needed here.”
“Let me take a look at it for you,” he perused. “And for payment, we could further discuss neighborhood safety over din—”
“To tell you the truth,” Laura interrupted. “Something about the case just popped into my mind. There’s a Labrador who lives down the road, in a cul-de-sac, I believe. He’s keen on retrieving turtles. God only knows what he does with them. Although, I’ve seen several brown patches in the owner’s yard.”
“Brown patches?” Asked the agent, scribbling down notes as he listened.
“Yes, brown patches. The kind you see when the ground has been dug up, you know?”
“I know the very kind,” the toad croaked. “I’ve seen pictures during training but never thought I’d come across them in the field. But why would a retriever leave his prey out in the open? I’ve never heard of a canine leaving behind his victims.”
“I wish I could be of more help to you,” Laura said. “I’m not a dog person myself.”
“Well, thank you for your time,” he said, flicking his notebook shut. “I’ll have to follow this lead, so we will have to take a raincheck on dinner.”
“Such a shame.”
“I hope the Bureau can catch the killer before they strike again. For the safety of the neighborhood,” he said, turning towards the crying group of frogs as the undertaker buried the casket two-feet down. “And for the families of the victims.”
Laura gave a nod in reply; she wondered if it was time for another cup of coffee.
“Well, it’s been a pleasure. I only wish we could have met under different circumstances, Ms—”
“Villers,” Laura answered with a smile. “I wish you the best of luck with your investigation and take your time with the funeral.” Laura shut the door with this and found Wendy lying on the couch, her tail flicking in the sun. “Now,” Laura began. “What am I going to do with you? Are baths called for in matters of murder?”
The telephone rang.
“You’d better answer that,” Wendy replied.
Laura held the phone, imagining her neighbor—dressed in a nightgown, twirling a long seafoam-green telephone cord between her fingers. The image was always the same.
“Faye,” Laura said, picking up the receiver, glad to have had the first word.
“I told you so!”
Lena Kinder is a writer, recently graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi. She hails from the suburban wilderness of Eagle River, Alaska, discovering her craft under the midnight sun. She is an enthusiast of the strange and meets her characters in the oddest of places. Her other works can be found in Prometheus Dreaming and Quest Log. Forthcoming tales will appear in the Sucarnochee Review.
photo by Thomas Oxford (via unsplash)