From the author: Frog loves nothing more than to sing, and his friends love nothing more than to listen. But when he accidentally swallows the moon, Frog must make a choice: Should he let the night skies remain unlit or give up his beautiful voice forever?
In the earliest days, Frog had a beautiful voice. All through the long summer twilights, he sang sweetly among the reeds while fireflies blinked lazily and the earth settled itself into evening. Around that first pond, the other creatures always gathered to listen.
"Such a lovely voice," Salamander said.
"Just marvelous," Turtle added.
"So sweet and clear," Mallard said with a sigh. "How do you do it?"
Frog always looked embarrassed and gave the only answer he could think of, which was also the truth. "I don't know. I just love singing."
One night, having sung a particularly long tune about how beautiful the moon was and how sweet the summer breeze and how wonderful it was simply to be alive, Frog drew a bucket of water from the pond to soothe his dry throat. The full moon shone like a silver coin on the surface of the water, and Frog gulped the whole bucketful down.
The night went black around him, like a candle blown out.
Frog swallowed hard, hiccuped, burped, and swallowed again. It felt like a stone had settled in his belly. "Oh, dear," he said--and every time he opened his mouth, moonlight burst out. "Oh, dear."
Everyone had gone home after Frog's last song, and being all alone made things even scarier. Keeping his mouth slightly open so he could see the way, Frog hopped to Salamander's home among the damp stones and dead leaves at the edge of the pond.
Salamander listened to Frog's story, shielding his eyes with one hand against the flashes of light that came with every word.
"What does it feel like?" Salamander asked.
"Sort of cold and fizzy," Frog said miserably. "What should I do?"
"We'll go see Turtle. He's older than any of us. He'll know what to do."
When they reached Turtle's mossy log, they had to knock on his shell several times before he emerged, blinking sleepily, to ask what was the matter.
"Frog's swallowed the moon," Salamander said.
"Dreams and nonsense. Go back to sleep."
"But it's true." Salamander nudged Frog, and Frog opened his mouth. Blue-white light flooded the log.
Turtle squinted at them. "Hm. Thought it was a little darker than usual tonight. What'd you ever do such a silly thing for, anyway?"
"I didn't mean to. It just happened."
Turtle sighed a deep, slow, heavy sigh, as if this sort of thing had happened a dozen times before and he was heartily sick of dealing with it. "Well, there's only one creature in this pond who can help you, and it isn't me. You'll have to go see the Sister of the Moon."
"Who's she?" Salamander asked.
"She lives in the center-of-the-center of the pond. You'll have to take the moonpath to get there."
"But there's no--" Frog's moonlight blinded them all again when he spoke, so he tried to move his mouth as little as possible. "There's no path out there. I've been all over the pond since I was a tadpole. And the only thing in the center is some mud and marsh-reeds."
"Didn't take the moonpath, though, did you?"
"Then it wasn't the center-of-the-center, was it?"
Frog looked at Salamander. Salamander shrugged.
"I guess not," Frog said.
"Of course it wasn't. Only full moonlight shows the path, and then you have to be looking for it. So go on with you and look." With that, Turtle pulled back into his shell, muttering about lost sleep and unexpected company and how you could certainly bring a bit of fish or at least a nice worm or two if you were going to wake someone up in the middle of the night for such a silly problem as swallowing the moon.
Salamander followed Frog back to the edge of the pond. The water lay dark and still, and stars shone on the surface like white speckles on a black egg. Frog opened his mouth, and the beam of moonlight speared the blackness, skipping over the surface of the water. Then a soft glow appeared, and another, and another, each following the last, until a path of pale stones shone in the moonlight, leading out into the water.
"The moonpath," Frog whispered.
"Do you want me to go with you?" Salamander was whispering too, and he sounded like he hoped the answer was no.
Frog swallowed. The moon in his belly felt colder and heavier. "I guess I'd better go alone."
From the edge of the pond, the stones looked hardly large enough to hop onto, but they were dry and just rough enough to keep Frog's webbed feet from slipping. He glanced back at Salamander, who waved and tried to smile. Frog was about to smile back when he saw that the stones behind him had already disappeared. He swallowed again, faced forward, and went on.
It didn't seem to be the pond he'd known as a tadpole. In the stark light of his moonbeam, the pale stones led him across an expanse of water larger than he'd ever seen before. Soon there were no more marsh-reeds or cattails at the edges of his sight. There was only darkness and the moonpath, and when Frog dared to look up, even the stars had disappeared. He didn't look up again after that, keeping his light and his eyes focused on the stones just ahead.
In time, although Frog could not have said how long, there was a glimmer of silver light ahead. At first he wasn't sure if his eyes were playing tricks on him, but as he got closer to it, the light became a shape, then a structure, and at last he saw a little temple of pale stone, barely more than a roof over thin columns. The stone was veined with silver, and this was the light he'd seen. It glowed brighter as he approached.
The temple lay on a small island, just big enough to give Frog something to scramble onto as the last stone sank from underneath his feet. He rested beneath the roof, watching the veins pulse and glow like ripples on water. He had no reason to, but he felt safe.
There was no sign of anyone else, though. Where was the Sister of the Moon? And more importantly, what was she? He had no idea what sort of creature to look for. Whatever she was, he hoped she didn't eat frogs. He hummed a little to himself as he waited, bits of the song he'd last sung. The silver light pulsed in time with the rhythm, and he cocked his head and watched it. Light moved along the veins, drawing his gaze toward the center of the roof, where a silver bell hung. The light played over its surface until the bell seemed made of white light instead of metal.
Frog reached up and tapped it.
A clear, brilliant note sounded. It became part of the stone, part of the light, part of Frog himself. Its perfect tone ached within him, and he knew that anything beautiful he heard from now on would be compared to it.
Beyond the temple, the dark water stirred. A white shape moved beneath it, turning in slow arcs. It rose closer to the surface, and finally Frog saw a white fish, bigger than any he'd ever seen, far bigger than he was, with scales that glittered white and silver. Her fins trailed out behind, translucent and delicate as frost. Silent as fog on the water she came closer, until Frog could see every scale, every ridge of her fins, and the flat, sharp disc of her eye.
"Sister of the Moon," Frog whispered.
(So I have been. So I am. So I shall be.)
Her voice sent ripples through his mind. It didn't hurt, but it felt strange, almost ticklish. (You carry my sister.)
"It was an accident."
(It must have taken great power to pull her from the sky.)
"Not really," Frog mumbled. "I just sort of swallowed it. Her. By accident," he repeated, wanting to make that part of it clear, at least.
(Ah.) Her fins rippled as she turned slowly in the water, eyeing him. (Moon and water are tricksters. So they have been, so they shall be. Better than you, master Frog, have been snared.)
He felt a little better after that. She was odd, but at least she didn't seem angry with him. In fact, she almost seemed a little amused, though it was hard to read a fish's expression. So he told her what had happened, and then she did laugh, in a mist of bubbles.
(I could have chosen a far worse guardian for my sister's light. Will you carry her always, so that I call you brother, or shall we return her?)
"I'd much rather put her back, ma'am. Er--your majesty?"
She waved his concern away with a slow fan of her tail. (There is a price, of course.)
Frog nodded. He knew enough strange old tales to know that much.
(Pondflesh can only bear so much of my sister's power. I can call her from your body, but your voice, I am afraid, will not be as it was.)
Frog stared at her. "Will I still be able to sing?"
(After a fashion, yes. But your voice will be a rough echo of what it is now. You have had the sweet; this will be bitter. You have had the light; this will be shadow.)
Frog thought of the warm summer nights, his friends gathered around to listen. He thought of the joy of hitting each note, of adding something beautiful to the stillness around him, until his voice seemed like an extension of the night itself. Then he looked up into the dark sky, and thought of it staying dark.
"It really isn't much of a choice, is it," he said quietly.
(There are always choices. There are not always pleasant ones.)
The sympathy in her voice gave him courage. "All right." He stood up as straight as a frog could. "What do I do?"
(Only sing, and that will be my gift to you.)
He remembered the song he'd sung earlier that evening--if it was still the same night, which he was no longer sure of. A song about the beauty of the moon, and the wonder of being alive. The opening notes floated into his memory, and he sang.
It was the same song, but bigger, richer, sweeter. It was the moon and everything it looked upon. There was the same joy, the same beauty, but there was an edge of sorrow, a rim of shadow like the moon held just as it began to wane from full. It was his same voice, but the way he might have sounded after singing all his life, deeper, purer. There was no effort, no thought, only song pouring out in utter perfection. Somewhere he began to weep, and yet he sang on, in a song that became all his longings and strivings and dreams given voice. And then he felt it ebb, felt the light slipping away from him, drawn out of his body. Part of him wanted to clutch at it, pull it back. The rest of him merely watched it go.
The last note died away. Frog took a ragged breath and looked up. The sky was scattered with stars, and among them the moon hung full. He swallowed. The heaviness was gone, and his throat was sore. He felt cold, and empty, and tired.
The first word he tried to say came out so rough it was barely a sound.
"I'll... never sing again, will I. Not like before."
Sudden anger closed his throat. "Why did you call that a gift? Why give me that, to remember, when I can never--"
Her sadness washed over him. (What is the memory of joy but a gift?)
Frog gave a shuddering sigh and blinked away hot tears. "Well. At least it's all right again." He looked up at the moon again, trying to feel satisfied, trying to feel pleased. "I guess I'd better get home, before they start worrying."
The Sister of the Moon stirred her fins. (Farewell, then, brother Frog. May you find a voice again, and remember joy.) Then she dropped deeper into the water, her faint light moving away, and in the ripples of her wake, the stones rose up one by one to lead him home.
No one saw Frog around the pond the next day. Salamander took him licorice tea with honey for his throat. Frog said he was fine, though he knew he didn't sound fine, but he didn't tell Salamander what had happened, and Salamander didn't ask. That was why they were friends, and Frog was grateful. Besides, everyone had seen the moon come back to the sky, and that was all that mattered--or so Frog told himself.
As evening came on, Frog huddled in the corner of his reed house. If this were any other night, he thought, he would have been out by the water, greeting his friends, thinking of what songs he might sing. Instead, he felt like going as far away as he could from the pond and never coming back.
He wondered if they were still out there, Turtle and Mallard and Salamander and all the others, waiting for him.
Reeds rustled. "It's me," Salamander said. "How's your throat?"
They sat in silence for a moment.
"Are they out there?" Frog asked finally.
"They'd like to see you. They've been worried."
"I don't know."
Salamander nodded. "I'll tell them you're all right."
"Maybe tomorrow night," Frog said.
Salamander nodded again. "Because--I mean--you're more than just your voice, you know." He hesitated, then slipped through the reeds.
Late that night, when everyone else was asleep, Frog sat by the black water, gazing at the moon.
After a fashion, he thought, remembering the Sister's words.
No one would hear.
He had to try sometime.
He drew a breath and opened his mouth. It sounded more like a belch than a note.
He went home.
"Why bother?" he told Salamander several nights later. "It's not even singing, really, anymore."
"But you love it."
Frog sipped his licorice tea. "I used to. Not now."
It was a lie, of course, and they both knew it, but neither pointed it out. That was why they were friends.
Frog told the others it hurt too much to sing now. That wasn't a lie, though it was a pain that no amount of licorice or honey could ever ease.
And yet, he did miss it. Not just the summer twilights and the expectant hush of the audience and the praise that came after. He missed the feeling of it, the way a song rose in him and demanded to be sung. But every time he tried, all he could remember was the brilliance of that moon-song, the Sister's cursed gift, that perfection he could never even strive for anymore. And so night passed into night, and except for the crickets, the nights were silent.
"If I could forget how it was before," Frog told Salamander, "maybe I could be happy."
Salamander sipped his tea. "Maybe you could forget just for a little while. You know. Pretend to forget."
"Mm," Frog said.
In the end, it was the full moon, again, that was Frog's undoing. One warm, clear, windless night, the beauty of it all tugged at him, and a new song welled up, and without thinking he gave it voice. The sound still disappointed him, but he was getting used to it, and this time he tried singing higher and lower, drawing the notes out, then clipping them short. It wasn't anything like the voice he'd had before--and it still hurt that it never would be--but maybe... Maybe...
So he pretended to forget, for a little while. He set aside the perfect beauty of a silver bell and a white moon and listened instead to the mud and the reeds of Frog, to what it was and to what it might be.
The sound of his new voice didn't surprise him anymore. But the happiness--the crazy, rough-edged, imperfect happiness--did.
He thought of new songs and practiced them far from the pond, where no one else could hear. At last, when he felt at least half ready, he told Salamander, and Salamander told the others, and once again the creatures of the pond gathered to listen. He sang quick and low, earthy and bold, a song about the strangeness of the moonpath and a sky dark of stars. It was rough, but there was life in it. There was joy in it.
When the last note died away, heart pounding, he waited.
The silence hung like cold fog. He watched one look to the other. No one seemed to know what to say.
"That's very... innovative," Turtle managed. "Quite clever of you."
"I've never heard anything like it," Mallard said brightly.
One by one they drifted away, their polite comments hitting him like raindrops. Some rolled off. Some soaked in. Salamander was the last to remain.
"Give them time," he said softly. "They'll learn to love it."
Frog swallowed. "Maybe sometimes I am just a voice."
"Maybe," Salamander said. "But not to everyone."
And that was why they were friends.
In these later days, Frog has a beautiful voice. No crowds gather at that first pond now, to praise his songs' sweetness and clamor for more. But there are some who still count his voice as rare and precious as before--perhaps even more so--and so he sings for them. He sings for the beauty of the world and the joy of being alive. He sings for himself, for the memories of joy and for the joy that dwells in the singing of a single, present note. And over it all the moon hangs bright and full, its light gleaming on the mirrored pond like the sound of a silver bell, its echoes rippling on and on, into the summer night.
This story originally appeared in Spark: A Creative Anthology.
Frog loves nothing more than to sing, and his friends love nothing more than to listen. But when he accidentally swallows the moon, Frog must make a choice: Should he let the night skies remain unlit or give up his beautiful voice forever? (Audio version of the story, available from Amazon/Audible.)
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