List of my irrational but incredibly paralyzing fears: water.
Location of my new home: in Rana’s County, five thousand square miles of trees with one thousand lakes and maybe ten people total.
It took fifteen minutes of my boyfriend begging and coaxing to get me out of the car.
First came logic: “It’s a free house since I inherited it from Gramps. You know it would have taken us years to be able to afford our own. Our house isn’t even that close to a lake.”
Then guilt: “This place was my childhood home. You know it means everything to me to live here. It’s my dream.”
Finally, he caved in with a compromise. “Just one week, babe. One week. That’s all I’m asking. If it’s still too much for you, I’ll sell it and we’ll use the money to buy a place somewhere dry, okay? Give it a try, that’s all I’m asking. Please.”
I raised an eyebrow. “One week? Can I get that in writing?”
He smirked. “Anything, babe. So, will you finally get out of the car and go see the place?” My boyfriend pleaded through the slim opening in my passenger’s side window.
When I stepped out of the car, the ground squashed beneath me. My whole body cringed. He laughed and took my hand. “Come on, it’s this way.”
He led me to a small, yellow, one story house on stilts. “My uncle came out here last summer while Gramps still lived out here and did some repairs. Everything’s in tip top shape.” As my boyfriend began to climb up the ladder, it creaked under his weight and swayed a little. Considering the fact that his short body weighed less than mine… it concerned me to say the least.
Once I did get up, he led me to a tiny room in the back that I would have mistaken for a broom closet on my own. “This is my old room from when I lived with Gramps. He must have turned it into an office since then.” His eyes shifted over the room slowly, trying to find anything that used to be his before they perked up. “Wait, maybe some of my old stuff is still in my old treehouse.” My boyfriend gave me a quick peck on the cheek, bolted out the door and into the great, unknown forest.
Alone, I decided to cool off on the terrace. As far as I could see, two hundred foot pines stretched into the sky. Soft dark brown soiled plotted them, holding them to the earth. I narrowed my eyes. Somewhere in that forest were lakes upon lakes upon rivers up lakes of water. Ugh, I hate it. He knew I would hate it here too. Dr. Mandiaz—my therapist—told him not to try and force me to live here when he picked me up from my last meeting.
It was silent. No human sounds like from my former city life, but also no animal noises. At least until a quiet ribbit came from my left. A white frog, about half the size of my fist, sat its fat little body on the terrace’s railing without a care in the world. Ribbit. “What do you want?”
They didn’t answer.
Unease twisted in my stomach. Frogs mean water. And probably closer than my boyfriend had promised. Great. I can’t wait for this week to be over. While I went back inside, I daydreamed about how much we could get for this place.
My boyfriend didn’t come back home until the moon had begun to set. Covered in mud, sticks, and what I swear was a lotus flower bud stuffed in his back pocket, he showed up standing at the bedroom door with a crazy grin on his face. “It’s so fun out there,” he cheered with pupils dilated so much it looked like he had done a line of crack.
He tried to snuggle into bed with me, but I was already getting up for my morning coffee. With a frown, my boyfriend asked, “How come you’re getting out of bed?”
I sighed and headed to the kitchen.
My boyfriend slept for about four hours before leaping out of bed and declaring, “I’m going back out.” He kissed me on the forehead. “Don’t wait up.”
“Oh I won’t,” I muttered to myself as I sat down alone at the kitchen table with a black coffee almost as bitter as me. What was he even doing out there?
A white-green frog along with the white frog from yesterday croaked out from the terrace, sitting by the screen door. Both of them stared at me with beady black eyes. Yikes. I closed the blinds and retreated to my bedroom to get some work done.
I wish I could say that was the last time my boyfriend decided to ditch me for a day, but it wasn’t. The final time was the eleventh time, which happened over a week after we arrived.
I held my spotted suitcase at my side with a firm frown on my face. “Alright. It’s been nine days. I hate it here. Still. Let’s go.”
He stopped on his way out the door to leave. “What? What are you talking about? We can’t leave now.” His pupils were dilated again.
“Jesus, are you doing coke or something? You’ve been acting really strange lately and your pupils are all weird and dilated. What’s been going on with you? Seriously, did you find a coke stash in the woods?”
“Why—Why would you say that?” His words sprayed out a mile a minute. He was obviously hyped over something.
“Your pupils are really dilated.”
“That’s normal.” He waved it off. “Besides, it’s so fun here. You should try going outside sometime soon. I found this great lake—you could some with me. Let’s go. Now. Together!”
Pursing my lips and crossing my arms, I snapped, “I’d rather we keep to the original agreement.”
“I don’t want to do that. Even if you’re not gonna go, I am.” And he did.
That was the last time I saw him.
After three days, I had had enough. I laced up his biggest pair of hiking boots—since I didn’t have any—and headed out the door. If he wanted to act like a child, fine. Then I would have to treat him like a lost child and bring his sorry butt home. He doesn’t get to hide out in the woods for days on end, making me worry, just because we had a fight.
Unfortunately for me, I had no idea how to find or track him. I tried to google ‘how to track your boyfriend through the woods’, but no signal. I groaned, picked a random direction on my compass, and left.
After three hours of searching, I got nowhere. Well, I did find a kid’s old tree house—assumably his—but the floor inside was covered in a thick layer of dust. Great. If he wasn’t here, then where?
I climbed down from the treehouse and was met by the white frog, the white-green striped frog, and their trail of friends. Like a literal straight line of frogs that led deeper into the forest. They all stared at me with beady black eyes.
No thank you.
As I turned away from them, they croaked louder. When I ran away, they followed. “Just leave me alone,” I cried as I sprinted into the deeper, denser part of the forest.
Their thin line soon caved into an actual mob. Soft, safe soil turned into thick mud that ate my boots every step. Sharp, low branches scratched at my skin and clothes, trying to grab and slow me. Panic rose in my chest, tightening it as hot tears rose in my eyes. Frogs mean water. Frogs mean water. Water.
I stopped as the trees did, in a short clearing before a lake’s shore. It was more of a fresh-water ocean than a lake. It stretched out so long I couldn’t see the trees on the other side. Lily pads with intricate veins large enough to hold up humans covered it with white and pink lotus flowers dotting the lake. Algae tinted the clear water a slight green. Frogs of every size and every hue of white to yellow to green hopped from lily pad to lily pad. And in the center of it all… was the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.
She looked to be about my age. With rosy cheeks and rosy lips. A puffy, light green ball gown scrunched together as she knelt on the biggest lily pad of them all. Her golden crown glinted in the sunlight like an angel’s halo. As she glanced at me, the dozen baby frogs in her arms leapt on and into the lake.
“Who… who are you?” I breathed, memorized by her.
“I am the Frog Princess,” she said with a voice as sweet and alluring as sugar. “And this is my domain.”
The frogs that used to chase me, hopped around me and into the lake. “And these are my frogs. Apologizes if they gave you any trouble.”
“It’s fine,” I said with a slight blush.
Stop it, self! I lectured myself. You’re in a committed relationship.
Am I, though? He’s missing. Does this qualify as a break up? After meeting the Frog Princess, part of me hoped so.
“You should join me,” she said. “Come on the lily pad.” One drifted out towards the shore at her command.
My right foot took one step forward before my brain remembered the water it was heading towards and snapped back. “I—I’m actually afraid of water…”
She frowned and my stomach twinged in guilt. “Sorry,” I muttered.
“You shouldn’t be afraid. Come to the water.”
“I really can't.”
“Why are you afraid?”
The words slipped out of my mouth. “When I was ten, I fell off a boat while fishing with my uncle and almost drowned.” In surprise, I covered my mouth. It took over a month to open up to my therapist about that. And I literally pay them to let me open up.
I couldn’t understand it, but since the moment I met her, I trusted her the way a newborn baby trusted its mother. It was natural. It was made to be. Maybe soulmates are real after all...
“Oh,” she said, sadness dripping her voice. My heart lurched. “Well, maybe one day you can join me.”
Above, the sun had switched with the moon. How long had I been out here? “I should get back,” I said, even as it tore my heart apart.
“You’ll come back, won’t you?”
I smiled. “Of course.”
I made it back in time for the sun to rise. My boyfriend was still nowhere to be found. Shrugging it off because I finally found someone else who at least seemed to have an interest in me, I went to wash up. Trudging through that stupid mud had ruined my jeans.
As I undressed for a shower, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Gently, I touched my cheek. They were rosy pink and my eyes were slightly dilated, but not much.
Ha. I’ve read something like this on the internet. When you look at something you love, your eyes dilate. It’s normal. I smiled to myself. It felt good to feel love again after the whole boyfriend-abandons-me thing. After all, who said I needed him to reach my happy ending?
Around noon, I headed back out to see the Frog Princess with a new spring on my step. I skipped and whistled until I saw the line of croaking frogs again. This time, I followed them up until I reached her lake. “Good afternoon, Frog Princess~” I said in a sing-songy tone. I stopped right at the same spot as last time—the literal edge of my comfort zone.
A small frown flickered on her lips. “You are so far away. You should move closer.”
“I don’t know… maybe you could move closer to me.”
She shook her head. “I cannot leave my domain. The only way for us to be close…” the Frog Princess looked at me with begging eyes. “Is for you to join me.”
“Maybe… baby steps.” I walked a few steps forward before the fear caught up with me and I stopped.
She turned to the side, disappointment written across her face. “I suppose that’s okay.”
Her words yanked on my heart. Biting my lip, I tried to cheer her up, “Maybe one day, okay?”
Probably not. “The future is unknown so who knows.” I gesture-shrugged vaguely like I forgot what arms are and didn’t know what to do with them.
What the hell is that? I guess I’m officially a vague physic or something. God, why do you always talk so weirdly around girls you like?
Embarrassment crept into a flared blush on my ears. “Well, I should go. It’s getting late.” Actually, according to the low, but rising sun. It was very early—the next day. Man, I lose track of time around her. What a wonderful feeling it is to be with someone like that.
It took around two weeks of baby steps, but I reached the point where the lake’s lapping waves could almost touch my toes. I shuffled my feet in the wet dirt as I clenched and unclenched my hands. The Frog Princess smiled at me. “You’re doing wonderfully.” She waved her hand and a lily pad drifted over. “All you have to do is get on the lily pad and you can join me.”
I can join her… I can join her… I can join her…
“Step on the lily pad.”
The lily pad floated inches from my toes. It was right there. Swallowing my fear, I raised my right foot and held it above it. I glanced at my reflection, maybe for one of those mirror-peep talks I used to give myself in middle school before my PDD set in.
It didn’t give me any encouragement. All I saw was mud with some face and eyes behind it. My eyes were almost all pupils at this point. Maybe that’s a sign of how much I love the Frog Princess. I had to push past this. For her.
“It’s waiting for you,” she cooed.
It’s waiting for me. The perfect, sleek, intricately webbed lily pad was waiting for me. I never noticed its beautiful pattern before. It almost looked like a face. A human face. My boyfriend’s screaming face.
“Jesus!” I leapt back, tripping on the dirt. Something in my back pocket slammed against my body after I fell. “Boyfriend? What boyfriend?”
I pulled out a compass from my back pocket. Inside, a picture of me and some guy was glued to the top. Oh, I remember him. We were gonna move somewhere. What happened to him?
I closed the compass and stared into my crummy reflection in its stainless steel. Only a dot of white remained in my beady, black eyes. I—I didn’t think they’re supposed to be that dilated.
“You should step on the lily pad,” The Frog Princess said. “You should join me."
“No.” I kept eye contact with my reflection. “I don’t want to.” My pupils shrank a little. I held up my open compass. “What happened to this guy?”
“What guy?” She asked innocently.
“My boyfriend. He went missing a couple of days ago… I think?” I rubbed my temples. It was like a thick fog had blocked out my brain and was only lifting now.
“Step on the lily pad and I’ll tell you,” she promised.
“No. Tell me now.”
She sighed and stood, brushing off her dress. “I must provide lily pads for my frogs. Human bodies provide the most sufficient food for them.” The Frog Princess smiled and my gut twisted at it. “But don’t worry. Once your body is gone, your soul is reincarnated as one of my frogs and you can join me.”
Before she finished, I bolted. Some of her frogs jumped after me, but by now, I knew the woods better. I outran them by skipping on all the muddy parts and made it back to the house with time to spare. I threw everything I owned into a suitcase, threw that suitcase in my car and sped off.
Online, I bought a shotgun and a gravestone. With it loaded and the car fully gassed up, I visited my boyfriend’s Gramps’ old house. Keeping the shotgun on me at all times, I planted the gravestone in front of the house. “I hope that you truly loved this place, because it’s your home for forever.”
This time I left, I never looked back.
List of my irrational by incredibly paralyzing fears: water and frogs.
Location of my new home: Arizona, baby. I got a succulent.