Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Magic Frog

Stewart Sloan

Simon was meandering home from work. It’d been a long day, the transportation was packed and he was in no rush to get home so he could listen to his Mother-in-Law telling him about how her other sons, Sons and Daughters -in-Law were earning so much more than he was and living in much bigger, better apartments. Her name was Leung and she was mother to three daughters and two sons.

He stopped off at a convenience store and bought himself two cans of beer. Taking them into a nearby park, found a secluded spot, well away from prying eyes where he could enjoy them in relative peace before going home.

Simon Leung worked as a senior accountant in a marketing firm and the work was mundane, unchallenging and to be honest, down right boring. However, it paid the mortgage and put food on the table and his wife, Lily, didn’t share his Mother-in-Law’s feelings. She was happy with their lot and felt bad about her mother’s constant nagging. She made it up to him for putting up with her mother by being a loving and attentive wife.

Simon relaxed, resting his back against a tree and sipping on the first of his cold, cool beers. His shirt would show signs of where he had been but at this point in time he didn’t care. He finished the first one and set the empty tin down, opened up the second and it was then he noticed the old lady standing in front of him. She was obviously poor, judging at least by the state of her clothes and hair. She was looking down at him intently and Simon felt in his pockets for lose change. She was obviously going to beg for some money.

Simon rose to his feet, his beer can in his hand and reached into his pocket for some coins. When he looked up the old lady was smiling at him.

“Hello, Simon.” She said. Simon peered at her face, searching for a memory. She obviously knew him, but he couldn’t remember having seen her before.

“Of course you don’t remember me,” she said.”But I remember you!”

“Who are you?” Simon asked politely, still wracking his brains as to who this person might be.

“Never mind.” She said. “The important thing is that I know who you are and I know what you need!”

Before he could think of anything to say, the old lady stretched our her hand and offered him something. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to take it, but, if it got rid of her then what was the harm? He took the item in his left hand without looking at it. The old lady smiled, and turned to go.

“Wait!” Said Simon. “Who are you and how do you know my name?”

But she was gone, walking quickly for such an old lady, and was soon out of sight amongst the trees.

Simon looked down at the object in his hand and saw that it was a rubber frog. Why on Earth would anyone give him a rubber frog. He wondered if it would croaked if he squeezed it, so he tried. There was no sound, nothing. He tossed it into the bushes and finished his beer and decided that it was time to face his Mother-in-Law. He threw both of the empties in the nearest bin and set off. He suddenly remembered that his wife had asked him to buy some lemons for her mother. To forget them would be to incur more derision than necessary so he headed in the direction of the wet market.

After a few moments he came to the shopping centre, under which the wet market was located. It was then that he saw a neighbour. It was a gentleman by the name of Chan who lived a few doors down from him. They had been known to spend a happy hour sitting in the park with a can of beer or two.

“Chan!” Simon called out, expecting a greeting in reply. It was entirely possible that they might end up have a beer together. Mr. Chan heard the greeting and looked about himself. He looked in Simon’s direction and Simon waved to catch his eye. Strangely, there was no look of recognition on Chan’s face. It was as if he was looking straight through Simon without seeing him.

How strange, thought Simon. Perhaps his eyes are getting bad. Chan was usually such a friendly guy. Simon shrugged it off and carried on. The matter of Chan’s eyesight reminded him, he needed a new prescription himself. The constant use of computer screens to create spreadsheets was tiring his eyes as well.

He stopped outside his favourite optical shop and it was there that it all started. There were two other shoppers, one on either side of him, and he could see them clearly, reflected in the shop window. But, where was he? He was standing slightly behind the man on his right and moved forward so that his elbow brushed against his. The man looked down, but didn’t say anything.
He brushed his arm as if to get rid of a fly. Simon made sure there was no one behind him and stepped back. No. He had no reflection in the shop window. He could see everything else, people walking past, but he could not see himself!

A thought crashed into his mind. The frog! He had to find the frog! In a panic he rushed back to the park and the tree he had been sitting under when the old woman approached him. He scrabbled through the bushes and, thank the gods! There was the frog!

He clutched it to his chest as if it were made of gold and peered down at it. He looked around to see if anyone was walking in his direction. There was a couple but they were some distance away. Tentatively, he pressed the frog. He didn’t feel anything happen. Standing there he waited until the couple were closer and as they walked passed he said, “Good evening.” They turned to look at him and nodded, unsure of who he was and why he would greet them. He was visible again.

Simon held the frog in his hand and a combination of fear and excitement rose in his chest.

. . . .

Simon rushed home. He was so excited it wasn’t until he was turning the key in the door that he realised he had forgotten the lemons for his Mother-in-Law. He was also 45 minutes later than usual.

He knew his wife wasn’t going to question him but her mother was another matter. There was the usual diatribe about how much better her other family members treated her. None of them would forget to buy fresh lemons for an old lady. Simon bore the rebuke in silence, as did his wife. The thought occurred to him, as it had many times in the past as to, if her other sons treat her so much better, why she didn’t live with one of them. Simon knew the answer. They wouldn’t have her.

Simon retrieved part of a truce by going to a supermarket after dinner and buying the lemons. She was quick to point out that they were not as fresh as the ones from the wet market but then, Simon knew that if he had gone out to a farm and picked them straight from a tree they still wouldn’t be good enough.

. . . .

Over the next few days Simon didn’t use the frog. It never left his side but, as tempted as he was to experiment, he bided his time. Then one day, the frog in his pocket, he went into the gents, made sure that no one else was there, and standing in front of the mirror squeezed the frog. His image in the mirror vanished. Immediately he squeezed it again and he was back. A plan was forming in his mind but he had to test it thoroughly.

That evening when all the other staff had left he tried an experiment. Going back to the toilet he took his desk stapler and placed it on the sink below the mirror. He squeezed the frog and his image disappeared from the mirror. Then he picked up the stapler and saw it suspended in the air before him in the mirror. Then he placed it in his shirt pocket and saw it disappear. Any object that was part of him, his clothes, a bag he was carrying, would become invisible. A thousand possibilities opened up before him and he squeezed the frog, bringing back his reflection in the mirror. He studied his face in that reflection and wondered if he was really capable of the evil he was contemplating.

. . . .

Over the next few days simon spent some time looking in novelty shops around Tsim Sha Tsui. The vast majority of them sold sex toys and while some of the items were certainly interesting they were not what he was looking for. The problem was, he was not absolutely sure what exactly he was looking for. He would recognise it when he saw it, of that he was sure.

Simon was not in a rush. He was still preparing his plan, the ultimate crime, and, as it is said, revenge is a dish best eaten cold. Once he was ready he would act, but it wouldn’t be in the heat of passion. His revenge would be cold, premeditated and precise.

He wasn’t sure how many shops he had been to. He eventually found what he was looking for in a novelty shop in Mong Kok in a centre that was mostly electronics on the ground floor, fashion on the second and sex toys on the third. It was a face mask resembling that of a mutated zombie. There was even blood and gore around the creature’s mouth. It was made of soft latex and rolled up neatly into a pouch. He could put it on and remove it in seconds. The first part of his plan was complete.

Over the next few weeks he asked his wife about her shopping trips. What time did she normally go, what did she buy. He told her he was concerned about how much she had to carry home, especially when her mother made no effort to help her. At the same time Simon was careful to be kind and attentive to the old woman. She responded, slowly, and for the present it looked as if a truce had been declared. She actually became solicitous about his lunch and asked her daughter to start preparing suitable lunch boxes so that he didn’t have to eat the unhealthy rubbish from the fast food shops.

Simon had moments of doubt. Could he really go through with what he was planning? The frog never left his side. On one occasion he was tempted to throw it away where it could never be found. He also wondered who the old lady was, how she had known his name and why she had chosen him to give the frog to.

Then one night his Mother-in Law had been particularly vitriolic. She had spent the day with one of her other daughters who treated her to dim sum. Simon had never done that for her. She went on and on about how beautiful their house was and how respectful that side of the family was. Why, she wanted to know, wasn't Simon as caring and respectful as they were. It was at that point that Simon made up his mind to proceed with the plan. He’d had enough of the hateful old woman's attitude. The sudden change in her mother’s behaviour badly upset Simon's wife and that night, in the privacy of their bedroom, Lily wept silently in his arms. His wife's distress made Simon all the more determined to go through with his plan.

. . . .

Simon chose the day carefully. He found out that Lily had to visit her doctor for a regular check up. Her mother would be at home by herself. It would be perfect. But he had to make an excuse to get out of his office for a few hours. Of course, he had leave accrued and it was easy for him to tell his boss that he wanted to accompany his wife to the doctor. What he wouldn’t
tell his boss was that he had to make a quick visit home first.

After the staff had left and the office was quiet, Simon practiced with the mask and the frog. He stood in front of the toilet mirror wearing the mask, went invisible and then pressed the frog. The image he presented would be terrifying to anyone that wasn’t expecting it, especially an old woman.

He then spent several days in self examination. Could he really do the crime he was contemplating? Could he live with himself and how could he live with Lily, knowing that he was responsible for killing her mother?

Then a window of opportunity presented itself. The entire office was invited for a seminar and it would be easy for Simon to sneak out for an hour without being noticed. These seminars were incredibly boring and everyone took advantage of them to take care of some personal business. Even if he was missed it would be assumed that he was just taking care of something. The important thing was to be there at the beginning and the end.

It was a Wednesday, Lily would go out to do her shopping at half past ten, Simon, invisible, would be waiting outside the apartment when she left.

The day came……..

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