I read this for the first time about a year ago and it creeped me out from the start. One of my professors loved it, however, so I ended up reading it several times for several classes. It never grew on me.
The Frog King
He had a long, fleshy mouth and eyes too large for his face. She and her sisters called him The Frog between themselves. They were supposed to call him Uncle – though he wasn’t really, just a friend of their father’s – but children can be cruel and so he was forever The Frog to them.
As the years passed, she grew to be quite beautiful; at twelve she was already the loveliest of three lovely sisters. Her father spoiled her for she was his youngest and his favourite. He gave her all sorts of pretty things: toys and clothes and jewels. Of all these gifts, her favourite was a golden ball he had given her when she was very young. She would spend hours wandering the gardens behind the house playing with that golden ball. She liked to throw it up as high as she could into the sky, following its ascent until the sun blinded her. Then, when it fell back out of the blue sky, it seemed to her sun-spotted eyes that the sun itself was coming down to meet her.
One day in autumn she was playing this game along the gully that ran through the woods behind the house and, as she threw the ball, she tripped over a root and fell. Lying among the fallen leaves she watched the ball rise and rise, until she could no longer see it between the barren branches of the trees. When it finally came back to earth, she reached her arms up to catch it but, half-blind from the sun, she missed it. It fell past her outstretched fingers and skipped and rolled down into the dark gully below.
She swore loudly. Behind her someone laughed.
“Your father would be shocked to hear such language coming out of your pretty mouth,” said The Frog, coming out of the trees.
“What are you doing here?” she asked indignantly, hurriedly getting to her feet. “You scared me.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. I’ve come to fetch you for dinner.” He crossed the distance between them.
“Oh,” she said, taking a step back. “Well, I can’t go yet, I’ve lost my ball in the gully. I’ve got to find it first.”
“I’ll get it for you, if you like. You’ll catch your lovely dress on all those branches.”
“Thank you,” she said, trying to sound grateful. “That’s very kind of you.”
“Perhaps,” he said, his bulbous eyes glittering wetly. “How about we make a deal? I’ll get your ball if you promise to play with me too, one day.”
“It’s not a very interesting game,” she said, “but alright, if you like.” She was sure he’d have forgotten all about it by tomorrow.
“I would,” he said and smiled.
As she watched, he scrambled down to the bottom of the gully, slipping a little on the crinkling, golden leaves. Among the dead brush and the rocks, he found her golden ball.
“Catch!” he said, and threw it up to her. Her toy once more safe in her hands, she felt much more charitable towards The Frog and waited for him to climb back out again. Together they walked home for dinner.
As they ate – the girl, her father, her sisters and The Frog – she began to notice something strange about him.
“Would you like to try an oyster? You really ought to, they’re delicious.” He offered her one from his own plate, the wet, grey shell nearly lost in his meaty palm. She didn’t like oysters.
“Go on, darling,” said her father. “It’s time to start expanding your horizons. Take the oyster!”
She took it, swallowing quickly; but she could feel the raw, slimy bulb’s entire slippery descent to her stomach. She tried not to make a face. Her father and The Frog laughed.
When dessert came The Frog offered her some of his torte. He scooped up a mouthful on his spoon and held it out to her. “Try it, it’s perfection,” he said, smiling.
She could see her reflection in his bulbous eyes, her pale face and golden hair curling around his irises as though trapped behind them. He pressed the spoon to her lips and she opened her mouth. The dark chocolate melted on her tongue like heaven but it left a bitter after-taste.
“Here,” said The Frog, “wash it down with this.” He offered her his glass of port. She loved her father’s port, though she was almost never allowed to drink it. But her father didn’t say a word. She took the glass and gulped too much at once, trying to wash away the taste of the chocolate.
The Frog laughed at her haste. “Don’t be greedy,” he said, waving a finger at her. She said nothing in her defence.
When dessert was finished, the last of the port drunk, and the coffee service come and gone, The Frog said, “Why don’t we go and play with your little golden ball?”
“Now?” she asked. “But I’m tired.”
“You promised,” said The Frog, smiling the way adults do with precocious children.
Her father laughed, jolly with wine and rich food, “You have to keep your promises, Little Lady!” he told her. “Your good Uncle rescued your precious ball!”
“Come on,” wheedled The Frog, “we’ll play in your room; that way you can go straight to sleep after.”
“Alright,” said the girl.
But when they got to her room, The Frog didn’t want to play anymore.
“Why don’t we just lie down on your bed for a minute,” he said. “I’m a little tired too.”
“I don’t want to,” said the girl. “I’m wide awake now.”
But The Frog lay down anyway and patted the space next to him. “Come on,” he said again, “be a good girl.”
“I’m not tired,” she repeated.
“I’ll tell your father you broke your promise,” he said, his voice suddenly hard.
“I don’t want to,” she whispered. But already she was climbing up next to him.
He laid his hands on her arms, stroking gently. It made her shiver. Before she could move away, he shifted his weight. His body was heavy. The blankets swelled around her like water rising, suffocating her. His breath was warm and wet against her cheek. She longed to hit him, to throw him off her, to throw him against the wall and burst his stupid frog face. But she didn’t have the strength. He began to move above her and she looked away, towards the wall, imagining that he was a prince with handsome, friendly eyes.
By the time she turned back to him, he had already fallen asleep beside her.
Written by A. Pohl
Edited by P. Thorpe