Thunder cracked across the sky as the Honda Civic rolled to a stop, right at the foot of the bridge. Its wipers swacked back and forth in double time, and its two occupants stared wide-eyed at the rest of the bridge, just barely visible through the gloomy midday downpour.
“Holy hell,” Frank the Frog said, his voice an airy whisper. He was still gripping the steering wheel, and his foot kept sinking deeper into the brakes without his even thinking about it.
“Jesus,” Scott the Scorpion said, the word an airless pop. His iPhone fell from his suddenly limp pincer, thudding against the passenger-side rubber mat. He didn’t notice.
“Holy hell,” Frank repeated.
They both watched as the bridge – what was left of it – floated downriver, bobbing up and down with the tumultuous current. It had been one of those old country bridges, nice wood and all, and it had split almost right down the middle when it collapsed.
When it had floated beyond the torrential curtain, Scott said, “I think the bridge is out.”
Frank put the car into park and buried his face in his hands. He let out a rattled breath. “Holy hell. Scotty, we almost died.”
“Yeah,” Scott said. They looked at each other, and then a giddy chuckle rippled through them. Powered by the release of stress, it grew until they were both laughing, and continued until they were gasping for breath.
“Oh my god,” Frank said, when he recovered. He rested his head against his window, which was delightfully cool and uncomfortably hard. “They’re never going to believe this.”
“Yeah,” Scott said, a last giggle escaping him. He leaned back in his seat and looked at the ceiling.
“I guess we’re not getting across here. Um… what do we do? I guess we should, like… call someone?”
“Good idea,” Scott said. He patted his pockets, looking for his cellphone. When his foot hit it he leaned down and picked it up.
“Who you calling? Emergency?”
“Milly.” Scott dialed.
Frank rolled his eyes. Millicent the Millipede. Always, Millicent the Millipede. “Are you friggin’ kidding me?”
“I gotta call her,” Scott said, his face buried in his phone. He tapped it hard with his pincers. “I gotta tell her I’m going to be late.”
“Late? Buddy! The bridge is out! Call the cops or something.”
“Shh.” Scott tapped his phone again.
“The rain wiped out the bridge, Scott. I don’t think we’re getting there. You know, this might be a sign from above that you and Milly aren’t–”
“–Shh! Shut up a moment, man.” Scott raised his phone to the window, moved it around the car. “Damn it. I don’t have any bars. Quick, give me your phone.”
Frank blew a raspberry. “Piss off.”
“C’mon man, don’t be like that.”
Frank huffed, then dug his own phone out. Scott snatched it, started clacking on it. He moved it around the car, trying to angle it to… satellites? Towers? Other cellphones? Whatever it was supposed to connect to anyway. Finally he handed it back with a low hiss.
“Damn it. Yours is dead too.”
“Must be the storm, I guess,” Frank said.
Scott started snapping his pincers open and shut, alternating left and right. He made that scrunched up face that Frank recognized, the one where he was irritated, or worried, or stressed out. The Milly-face, he’d come to call it privately.
“I guess…” Frank said, slowly, testing the waters, “we should probably head back to that town we passed. They might have a phone, right? We can tell someone. And maybe they know another way across the river.”
“Maybe…” Scott said. “Hey, I have an idea. It’s not too far to the city from here. Like six klicks, right?”
“We can swim it!”
Frank didn’t respond. His jaw just moved up and down.
“It’s not that far across,” Scott continued, “and then we can hoof it the rest of the way. C’mon man, Milly’s waiting for me.”
“Are you out of your friggin’ mind? Swim!? You’re a scorpion, Scott! You’ll drown!”
“Yeah, but you’re a frog. You won’t drown. You can swim across just fine, and maybe… maybe I can, like, hitch a ride on your back?”
Frank let out an incredulous chortle. “What? On my back?”
“Yeah, c’mon man, I really need to see her–”
“–out of the question! What a ridiculous idea!”
“C’mon man!” Scott said, voice girded by impotent anger. “Don’t make me beg.”
“Forget it!” Frank shook his head and they turned away from each other. Scott glowered and Frank muttered under his breath. “Oh my god,” he said, realizing something, not speaking at Scott but rather addressing the car, maybe just talking for his own benefit.
“What?” Scott said, a bite to the word.
“This is just like that fable.”
“What the hell are you talking about? What fable? Like, Noah’s Ark?”
“No,” Frank said. “I mean the other one, the one about the frog and the scorpion.”
Scott arched an eyebrow.
“Yeah, you know the one,” Frank said. “A frog and a scorpion. They come to a river, right? And the scorpion wants to get across. Only, he can’t, ’cause he’ll drown. So he asks if he can hitch a ride on the frog’s back. Now, the frog says, But you’re a scorpion, dude. You’ll sting me and I’ll die. And the scorpion says, No way, buddy! If I sting you and you die, then I’ll die too. I promise I won’t sting you. And then the frog goes, Okay. So the scorpion gets on the frog’s back, and the frog starts swimming. Everything is fine at first, but then midway through the scorpion stings him. The frog starts dying and asks Why’d you do it? And the scorpion says, Sorry mate. I didn’t mean it. It’s just my nature. And then they both died.”
Scott was silent for the whole story, and silent for a while after. A long, increasingly uncomfortable while. Finally he raised his chin, unbuckled his seat, and left the car. He slammed the door hard enough the whole thing rocked, and quickly disappeared into a grey blur in the rain.
“Jesus!” Frank hissed. He switched gears and reversed away from the bridge. With the high beams on he could see Scott stalking back down the road to town. Frank pulled up beside him and rolled down the passenger window.
“Scott!” Scott ignored him, staring directly ahead as he marched through the deluge. “Scott! Damn it, what did I say? I’m sorry, whatever it was. Scott! SCOTT! Get in the car man, there’s way too much rain out there! Scott!”
Scott continued marching down a bend in the road and Frank kept pace, little faster than the roll of the engine. Rain was pelting the insides of his Civic but he gritted his teeth through it. The car would dry out eventually, after all.
“Scott! Please! Just – Scott! Listen to me! Look at me! Please, just get in the car. What did I do? What did I do?”
Scott stopped, bunched up his shoulders. Then he wheeled on Frank, pointing directly at him with his pincer. “You’re a real asshole, Frank!”
Frank recoiled, eyes wide. “I’m sorry–”
“That’s a racist story!” Scott leaned through the window, his pincer clicking to accentuate each word. “And you’re a racist asshole!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know–”
“Didn’t know!? How many times have I killed you, Frank? How many times have I murdered you with my stinger? How many times have you ever seen a scorpion kill anyone?”
Frank covered his mouth, his eyes wide. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry Scott. I wasn’t thinking. I swear, I didn’t mean it. Please, I’m so sorry.”
Another silence filled the gap between the two friends, the only sounds their laboured breathing, the drumming of the water, and the rhythmic swishing of the blades. Scott was the first to move. He opened the door, sat back down in the car, and rolled up the window. Above them, another wave of thunder roiled across the sky.
“I’m sorry,” Frank said, very quiet.
“Just drive,” Scott said, just as quiet. Resigned.
Frank drove. “I think it’s getting worse out. I don’t know if we’ll make it to the city…”
“Yeah,” Scott said, staring directly ahead.
“Maybe we should just head back to that town. Hunker down in that motel until this thing passes. I think I saw a bar there.” No reply. “Hey, first round’s on me.”
Scott snapped his attention to Frank and glared.
Frank raised his hands. “All right, all right! All the beer’s on me.”
A smile tugged at Scott’s chelicerae.
Alana the Alligator set down two pints. “Enjoy, boys.” She was the only waitress on shift at the Fiddler’s Green, which was fine since it was a pretty quiet evening. Just Frank, Scott, a handful of other guests staying at Larry’s Motel, and the storm raging outside.
Frank and Scott raised their mugs and started on the first round, right as thunder cracked somewhere far overhead. The rustle of the rain was muted in the bar, drowned out by the radio, but you could still hear it if you tried.
Frank burped, and the lights flickered. “It’s just getting shittier out there.”
“Yeah,” Scott said. He ate a nacho.
Frank looked around, drummed on the table tunelessly. Sighed. “Look, sorry we missed the show.”
Scott took a big gulp of beer, then spun his glass around on the coaster. “Nah, don’t worry about it.”
“Look, I’m not… I’m not stupid. I know it probably wasn’t going to work out with Milly. I was just… you know. I was hoping.”
“Like, I was remembering back when it was good.”
“But it’s not anymore.”
“Yeah, but it used to be. Long ago.”
“Yeah,” Frank said, “but then we all learned she’s a massive bitch and she’s just using you.”
“Right, I know.”
“And every other guy she comes across, like that stupid Aardvark, Aaron. Or that Gorilla, Gordon. Or I even heard that Titmouse intern of hers – what’s her name? Tina?”
“Yeah, I know. I guess… I guess I’ve known for a long time, actually. I just didn’t want to, you know, admit it. To myself.”
They took another drink.
“But you can, now?” Frank said.
“Yeah,” Scott said. He nodded for emphasis. “It wasn’t ever going to work out, was it?”
Scott sighed. Frank clinked his mug and they took another drink. “Well, it’s for the best then,” Scott said.
“That’s right, buddy.”
“Time to move on.”
“You know it.”
“But damn, I am going to miss those legs.”
Frank stifled another burp. “Stop it. You’re going to make me sick.” They laughed.
“Hey, listen,” Scott said. “Thanks for driving me out here.”
“No problem, buddy. What are friends for?”
“No, really. It’s a hell of a road trip.”
“Yeah, well,” Frank said. “You’d have done the same for me. If you had a car and if I had terrible taste in women.”
“Screw you.” They both laughed again.
“And besides,” Frank said, his voice drenched in sarcasm, “I just love pretentious hot cotter fashion shows put on by my friends’ nasty exes.”
“What?” Scott said. He cocked his head. “You mean haute couture?”
“Yeah, that too.”
Scott laughed hard enough to snort, and they downed the rest of their pints. Alana the waitress was already coming by with the next round.
Outside thunder boomed again, and the hiss of the rain suddenly drowned out the radio when the Fiddler’s doors opened. A pair of women ran through, shrieking and giggling. One was a crow, the other an armadillo, and they both held drenched newspapers over their heads. The papers disintegrated from wet, and they hadn’t done much to protect their charges either. The girls found a booth right by Frank and Scott.
Frank nudged Scott with his elbow and wiggled his eyebrows with no trace of tact or subtlety. Then he turned to Alana. “Miss, could you send a round to the ladies?”
Alana winked at him. “You got it.” She went to the bar.
“Future’s already looking brighter, isn’t it?” Frank said.
Before Scott could reply, the radio cut out and a voice came out of the speakers.
“Hey everyone, this is your bartender, Nelson.” Everyone looked to a newt standing on the bar, holding a microphone. “It’s looking like the weather man was right, so in honour of the ‘storm of the century,’ we’re extending happy hour all night long.”
The whole bar cheered.
Nelson chuckled. “If we’re going to get soaked, we might as well enjoy it, right? And hey, what do you guys say to some karaoke?”
Another cheer. Frank and Scott high-fived each other, at the same time the crow and armadillo high-fived each other.
“Yeah, future’s looking bright,” Scott said, smiling as the intro to Sweet Caroline started playing.