Susan sits alone in her TCU dorm room cramming for a final exam.
by Sean Johnston
A cone of yellow light shone down from the desk lamp in the otherwise dark dorm room, casting a rectangular glare on a jar where the frog sat blinking at Susan from behind the glass. Next to the jar was an open biology book. The frog's eyes shifted to the picture on the first page of chapter thirteen then back to the girl. Susan threw her head back, washing down more Excedrin with what was left of her third Mountain Dew of the night. The chair creaked as she leaned forward, placing the empty soda bottle next to a grease-stained pizza box that sat on the back of the desk, below a dog-eared Green Day poster. She let loose a gaping yawn, bending her fingers backwards and cracking her knuckles in front of her, then raising her laced fingers palms-up to the ceiling in an extra long stretch. Susan peered across the desk into the small vanity mirror that hung on the wall next to Billy Joe Armstrong and the rest of the band. She frowned in the mirror then brushed crumbs from the TCU logo on the front of her tee-shirt. A strand of hair had escaped its scrunchy and it hung over her left eye in a blond corkscrew. She shot a burst of air from one side of her mouth sending the rogue tress waving above her forehead before settling back down over her eye again.
"Susan, you look like hammered dog shit," she said to the girl in the mirror.
She had been studying for hours, cramming for the final exam that would come first thing in the morning. Governor's daughter or not, she needed a spectacular grade to avoid being placed on academic probation. The frog's neck expanded and contracted with each breath as
Susan looked at the book. At the top of the page, under bold, red letters, were the words FINAL EXAM: FROG DISSECTION LAB. Beneath that was a picture marked Figure 1. The full-color photograph showed a frog belly-up on a piece of parchment paper. Its light green stomach had been sliced open and the flaps of skin pinned back to each side revealing the green cadaver's inner workings. Susan's eyes trailed back to the glass container where the frog sat motionless behind the glare. She reached across the desk, grabbing the jar with both hands then lifting the glass up to her face so that she was nose-to-nose with the amphibian. On the top of its head, the frog's eyes shifted once more to the open book then back to the girl. It blinked at her again and Susan furrowed her eyebrows at the little monster
"Don't look at me like that," she said, tapping a red fingernail on the glass. "It's not like I have any choice in the matter. Besides, you don't want me to fail do you?"
She set the jar on the desk, holding it still with one hand as she spun the vented lid open with the other. A dank, swampy smell filled her nose and Susan jerked her head away. Reaching into the jar, she wrapped her hand around the frog's fat body. Something about the weight of the thing--the cold, clammy feeling of its skin on her palm--sent goose bumps cropping up on her arms. She held the frog up to her face, its green neck bulging over the web of skin between her thumb and index finger as its legs hung fully extended toward the floor.
"If only you were a prince." she said. "Then we could both be free."
She closed her eyes and kissed the creature on the top of its head, between its bulging eyes, leaving a coppery taste on her lips. She opened her eyes again, holding the frog at arm’s length, as if inspecting it for any sudden changes.
"You see?” she said to the frog. “ Nothing!"
Susan laughed out loud, shaking her head at the absurdity of what she had just done. She wiped her mouth with her shoulder and placed the star of tomorrow's exam on the open biology book, on top of Figure 1. It was three O'clock in the morning and she was surprised by a sudden onset of hunger. Ravenous, she looked at the pizza box then let her eyes drift back to the mirror.
"You've had enough for one night." she said to her reflection.
She leaned forward, looking into the mirror at a small blemish that had materialized above her lip.
"Look at yourself, Susan. You're already breaking out," she said, rubbing at the bump with the tip of her finger.
Hunger persuaded her eyes to look again at the box. Maybe just one more piece, she thought, and her stomach growled its approval. She reached over the frog and thumbed open the cardboard box top that read Carmine's. There were three pieces left and she thought to reach for one. But rather than her hand, it was her tongue that reached out for the pizza, shooting from her mouth at incredible speed. It stretched three feet across the desk and landed with a wet splat on one of the slices. The giant pink tongue retracted just as quickly, pulling the piece of thin-crust pepperoni toward her face. It landed with a smack across Susan's mouth. Wide eyes stared over a triangle of crust. She peeled the slice of pizza from her lips, holding it at arm’s length, the way she had held the frog moments earlier. She looked into the mirror, her mind a swirling torrent of confusion. Folds of loose skin hung down beneath her chin. Susan dropped the slice of pizza and stared wide-eyed into the mirror. The curl of hair that hung over her eye had turned a dark green color. Mouth agape, Susan tugged at the ringlet of hair, pulling the curls out of it as she stretched it to the tip of her nose. Her eyes crossed as she looked at the lock of green hair, doing her level best to convince herself that the new color was simply a trick of the light. As she pulled at the length of hair, it tore free from her scalp leaving her holding small clumps of green skin hanging from strands of even greener hair like a handful of freshly pulled weeds.
Susan sucked in a frantic breath and tried to scream. Instead of the ear-splitting alarm she had intended on sounding, her breath got caught, collecting somewhere between her lungs and her lips. Her throat swelled, expanding to the size of a basketball before slowly deflating, sending the pent-up air vibrating across her vocal chords in a rusty sounding ROOAAAARK! Frantic, she reached behind her head, pulling free the hair tie that held her pony tail in place and tossing it on the desk. She ran her fingers through her hair and looked at her hands. Tangled wads of hair hung from her fingers like green corn silk. She stood in the light of the desk lamp, looking into the mirror at the nearly bald, green dome above her eyebrows. With wide, round eyes Susan turned to look at the frog. It sat on her open text book, staring at her, blinking. On the top of it’s head, where she had kissed it, was a tuft of blond hair.
She watched in horror as a small green bump appeared between the frog's nostrils, growing before her eyes into a tiny human nose. Susan looked back into the mirror. Her face had turned the color of asparagus, her nose nothing more than two dark holes. A gargled Oh! escaped her throat as her hand frantically explored the flat part of her face, where her nose should be but wasn't. She pulled off her tee-shirt as if it were fully engulfed in flames and tossed it on the floor. She adjusted the desk lamp, spotlighting herself for a better look at her reflection. The skin on her neck and torso had turned a light green color, her breasts had gone flat and her nipples had vanished. Susan tried to push out another scream, resulting in another neck-bloating croak--this one slightly louder than before but just as ineffective. She turned her green head, looking across the dorm room toward the cordless phone that sat on a small end-table next to her bed. She had her father's
emergency number programmed into a speed-dial button that connected her directly to the Governor's Mansion. She shot from her chair, managing to land three good steps before her left foot got caught on her right ankle, sending her smashing face-first into the floor in a bone-rattling THWACK!. Susan moaned as she rolled over onto her back. Legs sprawled out, her head swimming, dizzy, she pushed herself up, resting on her elbows like a woman in the throngs labor and looked at her feet. Her toes had grown long and webs of green skin hung between them.
She looked up at the desk. Two human legs hung over the side, swinging back and forth like a child at the edge of a pool. She rolled onto her stomach and tucked her right knee under her chest. Pushing herself up with her arms, Susan locked her elbows, struggling to lift herself onto her new feet. She forced the bend out of her right knee, lifting herself off of the floor so that she looked like a runner waiting for the pop of a starter pistol. She pulled her other leg up. She was on all-fours, staring with determined eyes at the phone that was still eight feet from where she half-stood on shaking green legs. She concentrated, focusing on getting to the phone, willing herself forward. She felt her legs move in a series of twitches. There was a pop somewhere deep within her hips. The pop was followed by what felt like a jolt of electricity that caused her legs to kick out behind her, sending her flying across the room like a clown from a circus cannon.
Susan smashed head-first into the wall above the end-table, crashing to the ground, upending the small table and knocking the cordless phone free from its base. It landed on the floor next to her, spinning between her and the frog-thing like the bottle in the kissing game that she used to play when she was a kid--before her dad's first term as governor had plucked her from normalcy. Susan lay on her back, belly-up like the frog in the textbook and stared at the white ceiling of the dorm room. She let her head roll to one side where she spotted the phone lying on the floor just two feet away. She gazed past it, focusing her eyes toward the light on the other side of the room. The creature sat naked on the edge of Susan's desk. It had grown, transformed into a smaller version of herself. The impostor's light green skin was fading rapidly to pink, narrowing the contrast between its blond hair and its half-human face. The frog-girl looked at Susan from the edge of the desk
and smiled, her feet now resting on the chair where Susan had sat earlier that night, eating pizza, drinking Mountain Dew, cramming for a biology exam.
Susan's eyes refocused on the phone and she reached out for it. As her hand entered her field of vision, she gasped in what amounted to an inward croak. Her thumb had all but disappeared, leaving no more than a small nub on the side of her hand. The four digits that remained had fanned out and grown long, webs of skin stretched between them. She clawed with worthless fingers, trying to grasp the telephone which somehow seemed too big to be right. She felt herself shrinking and watched as the telephone appeared to double in size. She tried to roll onto her stomach but couldn't. She flailed her arms, her new hands flapping back and forth as she struggled to right herself. Susan's legs kicked wildly, her green toes slipping on the wood flooring before finally finding purchase, flipping her onto her stomach.
She crawled out from beneath the tarp that had served as her favorite shorts when she had put them on a day earlier. She tried to turn her head but her neck wouldn't bend. Instead, her eyes shifted in their sockets, somehow providing a wide-angle view of the room. She no longer needed to focus her eyes. She could see everything at once--and in sharp, vivid colors. The girl on the desk hopped down, her feet landing with a thud that shook the floor where Susan sat terrified, her neck expanding and contracting with each breath. The giant girl walked across the dorm room, each step like a clap of thunder in Susan's ears. She stepped into the abandoned shorts and pulled them over her thighs. Susan looked up at the girl then tried to run. The effort yielded only a small hop toward a phone that she couldn't use--a phone that was now the size of an SUV.
The girl reached down, wrapping her hot fingers around Susan's body. The room spun as the girl lifted her off the ground and walked her toward the desk. She felt herself being lowered into the jar and Susan watched from behind the glass as the girl leaned over, picking up a tee-shirt with a TCU logo then sliding it over her head. The impostor snapped up a scrunchy from the edge of the desk and wound it around a blond pony tail, missing a curl of hair that sprung forward and hung down over her left eye. The girl leaned in so that she was eye-to-eye with her inmate. Susan looked at the girl from behind the glass, the eyes on the top of her head darted to the biology book then back to the girl in the tee-shirt. She wanted to plead to the girl, to beg her for help. But the muscles that Susan had always relied on for expressing herself were gone. She could only shift her eyes and blink, as the girl who looked like the governor's daughter peered into the jar with furrowed eyebrows.
"Don't look at me like that," the girl said, tapping a red fingernail on the glass.
"It's not like I have any choice in the matter. Besides... you don't want me to fail do you?"