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All the Lovely Creatures: Chapter One; Frogs and Toads

Retired Clinical/Legal Nurse and lifelong creative writer who is a forever believer in the power of words... and the sharing of the same.

Freddy the Frog Meets Mrs. Doolittle

Freddy the Frog lives in the slider

Freddy the Frog lives in the slider

I have to admit that there are just some things that have always made my skin crawl, things that freak me out to the point that bringing my heart rate back to normal seems impossible after any encounter. I’ve also long believed, that somewhere along the way, I had become some sort of an honorary female version of Dr. Doolittle, despite the fact that since I can remember, was never comfortable around animals of any kind, except birds (with the exception of one that attacked and pecked me while playing outside my elementary school one day, but that’s another story). I was never sure how or which insect, rodent, animal, or creature possibly could know about my deep-seeded fear of everything wild, my subsequent reaction to those innately sensitive beings, or both. It was as if they smelled the fear in my sweat that gushed from my pores upon spotting any unexpected and unwanted intruder inside my personal space, or I in theirs. It was an odor that must have been like a flashing sign for them to advance towards me as if the smell triggered the unspoken permission to do so. It was something that I would eventually have to learn to come to terms with, because it seemed I was always on the losing end of that battle anyway. No matter where I was or what I was doing, it seemed there was always some creature seeking me out, messing with my serenity, day or night, regardless if I appeared ready or not. I know, I know, it’s their world too, but I had limits, self-made laws of sorts, that they stay on their turf and I’d stay on mine, never to cross that line of that safe boundary between us least all hell break loose. Don’t threaten me and I won’t threaten you. Don’t attack me and I won’t attack you. Don’t panic and I won’t panic, however, one step in the wrong direction and death was immanent only as a last resort. I feared mine would be jeopardized only if I was outnumbered or could be outrun. The problem was that I was highly allergic to insect bites and have dealt with those ramifications enough to know that I might be sickened beyond treatment. I tried everything not to resort to extremes unless it was time for an alternate plan and couldn’t find one fast enough. If they didn’t bite me, suck my blood, attach themselves to me or cause me endless ear-piercing screaming while making a mad dash for cover, I named them and then let them live. It was my way of connecting with nature, as twisted as that was. It took a long time before I could get to the point where acceptance was possible, and had to come up with a most creative way to do so, hence the naming my fears.

I met Freddy the frog in my Lake Helen, Florida rental I called The Ranch because it was a secluded property that felt as if it was out in the middle of the no man’s land, a small rural community with one red light, a police building, City Hall, a Post Office, gas station, eatery, and a handful of other small specialty businesses in one tiny, tiny strip mall. It was just a town away from the psychic-spiritual wonderland called Cassadaga, which was in… well, Cassadaga. On my property one could be caught off guard by a number of creatures that could step into your world and make themselves right at home in it, and I learned that lesson the hard way. It began to occur so frequently that I wondered if it had anything to do with the spirit world that so many tourists flocked to Cassadaga to investigate, or experience, which at first was a funny notion until the number of occurrences grew into more of a nightmarish concern. I started to look at all the creatures with side eye and tried to avoid stepping out into the night without a flashlight, a big stick, and my cell phone (the reason why I was able to take so many evidence photos on the spot). They all seemed un-phased with being seen, heard, and in some cases, felt, the latter of which was always unplanned on my part. Most of the creatures I co-existed with also had to sense I was just a big sissy.

While frogs and toads in and around my abode seemed to be an ongoing phenomenon, no matter what state I lived or what kind of property it was, be it farmland or more urban settings, it was always a shocking discovery when they did. Freddy would introduce himself in the most peculiar of ways. In this particular house, I was up early and getting ready for what was always a very long workday from Monday through Friday. There were a number of chores to do before I left the ranch, having a greenhouse, a garden, numerous outside potted plants and landscaping that required constant care, and whatever else comes with more than an acre and a half property and a love for spending as much time outdoors as a busy career allows. One morning, my usual routine was interrupted by the sound of croaking, while I was bustling about the kitchen making the necessary caffeinated cup of tea. The sound ricocheted off the stone flooring and echoed throughout the large surrounding rooms which at first sounded like trickery, like when a ventriloquist throws their voice into a dummy. It sounded like it was right there next to me and that thought petrified me, but everywhere I looked, I found nothing. I’ve always had a fear of some wild, crazed creature bursting into my house and surprising me, catching me so off guard, prompting the fight to the death or taking flight to avoid one reaction.

It became a daily morning mystery until I figured out that it had something to do with my rubber-soled shoes (Crocs), notorious for stopping me dead in my tracks when I failed to fully pick up my feet when walking or running across the floor, especially from carpet to bare flooring, but were my house slippers of choice despite that danger. Until now, I was unaware that the sound my rubber shoes sometimes mimicked that of a frog or toad, and with my luck, it would be a mating call of sorts and would attract many more of them. Every time my Crocs squeaked on the bare floor, a return call would follow, like the sound of my shoes had an echo. It was no coincidence either; I experimented with squeaking my shoes long enough to know it couldn’t be anything but a living creature right there inside my kitchen. It was really loud. The first time I heard it my goose bumps got goose bumps, and not in a good way. It is the feeling that crawls up the back of your neck causing your hair to stand on end, because you already know by the sound of things that what will follow is an actual contact confrontation between you and whatever you just heard. I’ve long dreaded finding things inside the house that didn’t belong there, and then that surprise would quickly turn to shock, and then immediately to a fear of being cornered… human entrapment by an animal, a role reversal of sorts (animal revenge).

Every morning I searched for the origin of that now familiar sound, something heard only when I was in the kitchen, which always stumped me because I had searched every nook and cranny of that room on countless mornings. Was this creature room specific or territorial? I figured it had to do with something with the backyard, though the property was fenced in around all four perimeters, so whatever it was, I figured it couldn’t be that big, or that dangerous. I had heard croaking frogs and toads before and hoped that memory served me right and that it wasn’t something more nefarious. Still, despite my morning room searches, the origin remained a mystery for weeks to come.

After finally tiring of the morning fear sessions, I began to find the croaking sound of my unexpected guest a bit comforting, like familiar company; Teatime with Fred. Freddy’s seemingly playful sounds would show up at whatever early hour I did, always hiding, never to be seen, but definitely always heard. He showed up like clockwork, though it took weeks to find out where his secret hiding place had been the entire time. I wondered if frogs had a sense of humor. I only had time on the weekends to look for him, giving him additional time to grow on me. Then one day I found him. Turns out Freddy sat in the small nook at the top of where the sliding doors met the top track. There he sat, in the groove of the top of the slider, the groove that matched the track to open and close the sliding glass door leading to the backyard. I just happened to look up that morning heading through the sliding doors, or his story would have ended right then and there. It would not have been pretty. My first thought was how in the hell had he escaped getting crushed every time I abruptly flung open the sliders to speed out the back, my usual pace when on any outside morning mission before heading out for work.

I loved the serenity of working outside, seeing the horses fenced next door, hearing the resident hawk screech, and watching it fly from one big oak tree to the next, apparently always annoyed by my unexpected and abrupt presence like he owned the place, like nature’s landlord. I developed the habit of bolting in and out of all my homes to minimize the gnats and mosquitoes that awaited my entry into their domain, or theirs inside mine, for the free blood meals in either location. What I hated even more was when I would forget to pick up the bamboo stick I kept outside each door to whack away all the spider webs re-spun after my purging the yard of them the day before. I lost track of how many webs I walked into on that property. Walking unknowingly into any spider web has always been another thing on my long creepy list, but that’s a whole other story too. There were some big ass spiders living in the Florida wild, that’s all I can say. Maybe that’s what frogs and toads eat. I had hoped so.

So Freddy and I got so used to one another that he would even allow me to mist him with fresh spring water when rain hadn’t come for days. Still, I wished he’d have found a different place to perch himself. If he sat too far back into that top track, I’d have only ever known that after it was too late. It was a mystery how Freddy ever got up to that spot in the first place. There were no visible entry points. Creatures must be a derivative of the word creative.

(Story continues below)

On another day, I discovered a really awkward looking toad that hung out just on the other side of those same sliding back doors and wondered if I was renting on some sort of frog or toad sanctuary or holy ground. I named him Tommy after he escaped death from a bad decision to secretly follow me into the garden, lush with assorted colorful vegetables. Surrounded by dirt mixed with compost, he blended right in among the brownish hues of the decomposed yard leaves. Survival met the requirements for being given a name, an identity, a rebirth of sorts. Sometimes I found that Tommy waited on the welcome mat outside those same sliding doors for me. It was the funniest thing to me and I laughed every time I found him there. Maybe he just wanted me for my house, a refuge of sorts for me, and a strange new world for him to explore. Maybe Tommy hated that I had that big house all to myself and felt I needed to share that space. I had never seen anything like that before, though I did have a smaller green frog that liked riding on my straw hat while working among the outside plants. I was a creature magnet without ever trying. I began to wonder if these weren’t reincarnated relatives or something! Why else would they continue to desire my company or maybe hang around to taunt or haunt me?

The hat frog never stayed around long enough to be named, but in Tommy, I had a new species of toad buddy and now had to watch my step outside just to keep him alive; he was a very cool but equally odd toad, bumps and all. Tommy did slow me down in a good way, causing me to more savor the outside moments versus my racing around just to get things done on time. He was respectful to me in that he kept the boundaries without any prompting and I was grateful to his adhering to my inside outside habitat rule. It turned out to be a win-win lesson of sorts; I learned to slow down and recognize all living things around me, while saving myself from anaphylactic shock at the same time. I never touched any frog or toad though, believing in the old wives tale that it would result in warts if I had.

I knew I’d miss Tommy when I moved on in search of another home, as my career took me in the direction of a number of U.S. States, but after nearly four years living at the ranch, Tommy moved on before I did, or I’d like to think he did. I wasn’t sure what the resident hawk, who lived on the property before I arrived and probably long after I left, desired as dietary preferences; it was my hope frog or toad were never on that menu. I knew a lot of other living creatures that were. I saw a feral cat and a raccoon meet their maker via that hawk. It gave me animal dining induced PTSD and heightened state of alertness for the wilderness each time I stepped outside and into it. Maybe that is what happens when we continue to encroach upon the natural habitat of all creatures that exist outside of our own walls. Are they taking our land or are we taking theirs? I tried to remain mindful of that. I really did believe in do no harm, unless I was in serious danger.

Harry the toilet frog made his entrance in my Clearwater, Florida, home, nearly loosing his life for doing so, just like the others before and after him. Off the master bedroom was a master bathroom, which was my very own private sanctuary. Nobody used that bathroom but me as I had another guest bathroom, so it was my relaxing, safe haven where I could do a number of things at whatever hour necessary without first inspecting (or wiping) the throne… because it was all mine. The next door neighbor’s house was on the other side of the bathroom window, and the closest room with a window was their laundry room, so privacy and sound issues were examined and cleared for any real interference. I hated that bodily sounds or odors could emanate from that room, or that I could flush the toilet and my neighbors on that side would know I had just eliminated some kind of body waste. I was grateful the shower wasn’t in that room, too. I don’t like strangers knowing when I’m taking a shower either, for anyone old enough to remember the old black and white thriller, Psycho, those reasons are very clear. If somebody gains entry to my house without my knowledge, please Lord, let it not be when I am naked, wet, and under the assumption that I am all by myself in a shower stall, the smallest room in the house. I suppose the list of things I hate as a single woman is just as long as my list for unwelcome creatures.

So I awoke one early morning and sat on the toilet. In a relaxed and preoccupied state, I suddenly saw an unfamiliar, vivid, green color in the white porcelain commode from the view between my legs. I’m disadvantaged when it comes to vision. I wear glasses and cannot see things farther than my outstretched arm without them. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. That can work to one’s advantage when you find yourself in a large room of people that appear to all be staring at you; it is not good when there is an unknown or unseen predator lurking in the shadows of nonchalance and preoccupation. It had never dawned on me that I needed to put on my glasses just to sit on the toilet. I glanced down into the toilet again still unsure as to why I believed I saw a brilliant green color versus the usual brown color of poop. I thought I had better stand up and look again at a more advantageous angle, as I had only ever seen bright green poop coming from a baby diaper. Upon standing, I flipped the seat up only to hear myself screaming at a bright green tree frog clinging onto the front side of the toilet, four outstretched appendages, frozen in the place where I just peed on him. I thought for sure he was going to spring onto my face and use his suction cupped feet to suck the life out of me, for revenge, like something straight out of an animal horror movie, but he didn’t move. Just clung there and looked at me with his outstretched webbed feet looking like I had already lost the battle by screaming. I impulsively flushed the toilet. Bye-bye frog! It was a brief encounter, or so I’d hoped, hence the no naming of that creature.

I didn’t feel as relieved as I thought I should though. I kept seeing images of those little, tree clinging feet and thought I needed to arm myself in the event the frog would return; I was sure frogs fared better in toilet water far than I would; I was sans the suction cups. I walked into the kitchen, grabbed a large, heavy, wooden cutting board and laid it across the bare rim, placing a heavy object on top for added stability and security. I feared leaving any open crevices least I find that frog in my bed that night if I believed he’d returned to the water pipes when he’d in fact survived the flush, besides, I had no choice and had to go to work. There was no time to play around. I left the house and returned more than ten hours later and headed straight for my bathroom. Slowly lifting up the wooden block board, I could already see glimpses of that familiar vivid green color up under the rim, where the refill water flows back into the toilet, a failed attempt at hiding. I slammed the heavy wooden board back down. Oh shit. Damn. Now I have to kill the frog. No! I can’t! I remembered my dad’s horrid stories of poison Florida tree frog stories with a similar appearance and color markings making it too difficult to disregard those warnings. My father told me they could project a poisonous substance and I was way too close to find out if that was indeed the truth. Then again, I was always leery of the critter stories told by a father who threw garden earthworms at me just to hear me scream, for my immense fear of them, and the hesitancy I always exhibited when expected to hook them as bait during fishing outings as a kid. I look back at those times as desensitization training, though it took fifty years for me to bait my own fishing hooks with earthworms.

After mentally running through the options to avoid ending the toilet frog’s time on earth, because it seemed to pose no immediate threat, I was left with the only sensible option of putting on a pair of rubber dishwashing gloves, sticking my hand in the toilet, and grabbing the frog. My skin was crawling and the goose bumps were mammoth for as long as it took me to get out the nearest door and toss the frog as far from the house as I could throw. It took me the better of six months or so to just sit down on any toilet again without a thorough bowl inspection first. It sparked a real fear of what might happen if a snake ever found its way through the plumbing and up through the toilet, deciding to drop in on the new Mrs. Doolittle only to say hello to her wrinkle free side, the one with the crack down the center. Had that ever occurred, I doubt I’d ever be the same again. But then, snakes are another story. When it comes to creatures, my life was insanely full of them and the countless stories that resulted were the only reason I figured why that was so.

Moral of the story: Be aware of your surroundings inside the house and out!

© 2020 Janet Vincenti

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