Once upon a time, there was a stone frog that sat on the edge of a beautiful stone water fountain. The fountain was in the center of a lovely little park, with carved stone benches and packed gravel paths, and lots of trees and wide open green space perfect for all sorts of shenanigans. Here and there, beautiful stone statues kept watch over the park, though no one knew quite where they came from.
The fountain was wide and deep, with two majestic tiers for the water to fill and flow over into the main basin, and stone fish on metal rods attached to the bottom so they appeared to be swimming through the clear current. There were no coins in the fountain, though occasionally someone would toss a penny or dime in. Legend had it that the fish came to life at night and ate the coins for food, though no one had ever actually seen it happen.
Of course everyone in town (and some from far away) had heard the legend of the frog prince. Which meant that even though they didn’t really believe the stone frog would transform into a live prince, everyone still wanted to take a ‘selfie” of themselves kissing the frog, who was eventually given the amusing yet apt name of ‘Blarney’. Unfortunately, people of a certain age tended to disappear shortly after kissing Blarney. Not the kind of disappearance where you just sort of fade away, but the kind where you find yourself somewhere completely different than where you just were.
And no one else can find you at all.
Of course Gretchen Shoemaker found herself in that very position when she failed to read the sign, even though it was positioned in such a way that she had to touch it in order to get to the frog. One minute she was holding up her phone with one hand while pressing her lips to the cold frog-shaped stone, the next she was paralyzed.
Her vision was blurry at first, and she felt strange. Water flowed around her body, but she could still breathe, and as her eyes adjusted, she could see shapes that resolved into fish in front of her. All on metal rods, all stuck in one place. It reminded her of the fish in the fountain just under where she’d kissed the frog…
She heard a plink, and a coin sank through the water in front of her. A little later on, a plunk, and another coin sank further ahead. Gretchen struggled to move, but no matter how hard she tried, she was stuck, like the fish on the rods in front of her.
The light faded, and soon, the lights at the bottom of the fountain came on. Coins glinted up at her, twinkling like little stars as the water moved over them. She thought she saw one of the fish ahead of her twitch its tail, but that couldn’t be. They were stone, after all. Weren’t they?
Another fish twitched – she was sure of it this time. There was a low rumble all around, and she watched in disbelief as the metal rods holding the fish in place retracted, and suddenly all the stone fish around her were dipping down to the bottom to slurp up coins as fast as they could.
Gretchen felt herself falling, and then she could move! Only side to side, but it was something. She glided through the fountain, watching the fish eat coins as fast as they could. She wondered what they tasted like – she was kind of hungry. She dove for a penny, and was promptly bumped to the side as a fish came in and slurped it up before she could get to it. When it turned, Gretchen caught its eye.
A human eye.
Gretchen turned away, her mind not accepting what it had seen. Three more fish were feasting just ahead of her all with human-like eyes, and before she could move toward them, two disappeared. They were there one second, and just…gone the next.
She willed herself to wake up from what was clearly the worst dream she’d ever had. As she glided through the water touring the fountain, she watched the fish devour coins, and every so often, one would just disappear in front of her eyes. It was the oddest thing she’d ever seen.
Soon there were no more coins, and there was a low rumble again as metal rods came up under all of the remaining fish, fixing them in place. Once more Gretchen couldn’t move, and she wanted to cry as the fountain lights went out and she still couldn’t wake up from this horrible nightmare.
For three days, it was the same. Somehow she was a stone fish, fixed in place by a metal rod, only allowed to move at night where she had to fight with the other fish for coins dropped in the fountain. The coins weren’t especially good – they didn’t taste like anything, to be honest. But they made her feel happy, and on the third day, she slurped up a shiny quarter and suddenly the fountain and all of her stone fish companions just dissolved into…a dry, black nothingness.
Again, her vision was blurry, but she didn’t feel the water any longer, just a cool breeze. Gradually she could see stars and trees and bushes, and the dark outline of those neat gravel paths that surround the fountain in the park. But once again, she couldn’t move a muscle. Across the path she saw one of the lovely statues that everyone walked by on their way to and from the fountain, staring back at her with big, blue, frightened eyes, and suddenly she knew where they came from.
Where she had disappeared to.
But if there was a way to escape the fountain, surely there must be a way to be freed from being a statue. She had only to find it.
Night turned to day, day to night, and night to day again. People strolled by on their way to the fountain, they had picnics, they laughed, they took pictures. Gretchen watched, wishing she knew how to escape this unyielding existence. Wishing she’d never kissed that stone frog on the fountain. Wishing she could warn others not to do the same.
One day, a bunch of silly teen girls came cavorting down the path, cell phones in hand, taking pictures and laughing and being silly teen girls. One of them stood next to the statue across from Gretchen, and held up her camera to take a photo with the stone woman.
The camera flashed and the girls went on their way, pointing toward the fountain and daring each other to kiss the frog. As soon as they were out of sight, the stone statue across the path crumbled, leaving a flesh and blood woman crumpled on the ground in its place.
Gretchen wondered if she was dead – she lay there for a long time, until the park was empty and the light was low and dusky. Slowly, the woman stretched and opened her eyes as if waking from a deep slumber. She sat up and looked around, confusion lining her face. Surely she’d realize what happened any moment. Surely she’d run home, get her camera and set the rest of them free…
The woman rose on unsteady feet, and took a few tentative steps in the direction of the fountain. She stopped abruptly, putting a hand to her head, and turned around, practically running away from the park.
She never returned.
Night fell, day came, and night fell again. Gretchen waited and watched, a silent sentinel, wishing someone would take her picture and free her from her stone prison.
She waits there still.
Thanks for reading! Check back on Monday for the next weekly writing prompt.