It was a new town. Adam despised it.
He begged his mom to take them back to Slip River, but she said it was 'a impassability': they had their own trailer now, a silver double wide in a park tucked in the shadow of a colossal water tower. "You'll have to get used to it here."
Adam went off alone to kill frogs.
They were in the drainage ditch, hiding in the saw grass, using litter—clumps of paper towel, plastic bottles, stray and often shredded orange Food Universe bags as additional cover. Slowly and deliberately, the boy collected the frogs in a large white pail that he'd snagged from behind Fried Paradise, which still reeked of chicken guts.
As he bent, searching, the saw-tooth grass scratched the pale belly that hung out of his striped green and yellow 'too-tight' shirt. His jeans were muddy and torn, his sneakers had holes near the toes. He breathed heavily from his mouth, counting the frogs again, letting snot fall down onto them in the bucket.
Adam wanted one more frog to make it an even ten, so he kept searching, pretending the Cladium was the jungles of Vietnam and he was there, trying to link up and help Rambo win the war.
The next frog he caught was mutated. Adam said, "Whoa mamma!"
It glowed; bioluminescent, a purple, then green, then pink 'cold light' pulsing across its strange iridescent skin.
Adam chucked it into the pail, there was a heavy clunk as if it was solid cast iron. Bewildered, he climbed out of the drainage ditch army-style, on all fours, further muddying his knees, elbows and belly as he dragged the lidded bucket up the slope.
The water tower appeared over the strip mall, looming like an ominous jellyfish, waiting to descend and paralyze everything with its venom.
Adam had zero friends, not that he'd any in Slip River either, but at least they'd talked like him there. When he opened his mouth here, people just laughed.
Worse, the kids in Abbington were stuck-up preppies who kept to themselves, staying indoors playing videogames in an impenetrable clique.
He was from the trailer park. He was a mouth breather. Those kids lived in large air-conditioned houses on paved streets. They had swimming pools, electric guitars hanging on bedroom walls, they took vacations. They had straight white teeth. It was only a matter of time before Adam was not a stranger to them; his beatings would continue then, same as the last town. He was a perfect outcast wherever he went, and was finding himself on the verge of not only not caring, but embracing it.
Abbington Elementary was out of session for the summer, but he went there to play with the bucket of frogs because of its excellent brick wall. Setting the pail down, peering in, he raised the question, "Ok ... Which one of you wants to go first?"
The frogs flopped around, but none croaked. He frowned, randomly sticking his hand in and pulling a fat one out by its foot. Gross: green and still slick with pond sludge.
Adam stood in pitching position, standing on the mound in Yankee Stadium. The wall was a wide catcher's mitt hovering over home plate. He wound up, kicking his chubby leg into the air, windmilling his arm around—smashing the frog against the bricks.
There was a wet slap.
The boy glanced at the dead frog, twitching in the dust. Then, he looked all around, hoping some other kids would show up, maybe impressed, maybe giving him glorious high-fives.
He reached for another frog. This time, he caught the bioluminescent one. What a strange glow, he thought as he jerked into pitching stance, shaking off two imaginary signs before winding up again to deliver a 100 mph fast ball. His leg kicked, his arm shot back …
The frog left his hand and smacked into the wall with an instant explosion, shards of brick blasting at Adam. Debris raked his eyes as he was blown back 10 feet, covered in dust.
When he sat up, coughing, he was amazed to see the brick wall with a massive pit in it. The bricks were cracked, shattered, smashed inward substantially.
The translucent frog sat very still on the ground, unharmed, for a moment. A crow started screaming and it hopped away through the rubble towards the tree line.
Adam watched in fear as the frog fled, until he realized the error of letting the thing escape. He chased it down, bumbling, but was able to scoop it up on the uneven ground of the basketball court; back into the pail it went.
For a long time, he stared down at it in there, noting with each breath it drew, a spark of lightning seemed to pulse inside its tiny body. He watched this lightshow with unwavering fascination, smiling wide.
Adam stood in the parking lot for the bus depot, lamenting that his slingshot had been taken away by Neil, because, "You're too angry for this kinda toy." Adam didn't care so much anymore about the slingshot. He had something better. The pail hung from the handlebars of his BMX, the only frog he'd kept was the lightshow mutant.
A long blue van with MATTRESS MAYHEM airbrushed above a cartoon stack of fluffy mattresses was parked at the end of the aisle. One of his favorite things to do, back in Slip River, had been to shoot rocks at parked cars with his slingshot. Now, he wondered what would happen with his new toy.
He threw the frog as hard as he could against the side of the van. It tore through the sheet metal; the windshields exploded, the tires popped—ten car alarms rang out in a chorus.
Adam scrambled to the other side of the van. There was a hole in that side of the van too. The maroon car was now windowless, blue-green safety glass strewn everywhere, tires flattened, rims and sheet-metal panels bent violently.
He caught the frog hopping away wildly under other cars. He put it back in the bucket and rode his BMX away from the commuter lot, laughing and in total fear simultaneously.
It was his secret. He didn't tell anyone. Not that there was anyone to tell. His mother and Neil both worked two shifts at the aerosol spray can factory.
At night he caught lightning bugs in a mason jar, happily feeding them to his frog.
In the daylight, he busted street signs, parked cars, trees, fences, a section of the railway …
In Slip River he used to catch sunnies off the abandoned trestle bridge. In Slip River he'd built a tree fort with junk lumber he'd smuggled out of Craven's dump. In Slip River he'd buried all his pets. Who was there to visit Penny or Wild One or Douglas Furball?
"I want to go back," he told Neil, whose face was awash with the blue light of the television set, as he sipped from his true love, the beer can.
"Entertain yourself," Neil said, without even looking at him. The boy was always ignored. He might as well be a ghost to Neil. Once in the town before Slip River, Adam had set Neil's dirty magazine collection on fire. That hadn't even warranted a response. What would?
Adam found that his only entertainment was taking the frog around to destroy things. And Adam found that the frog, after a time, and perhaps beginning to like Adam's company or at least his lightning bugs, would even return on its own, hopping back into his cupped hand.
It wasn't long before Adam believed that the frog had been sent to help him get back at this shit town.
Abington deserved to be leveled.
When no one was looking, he smashed the houses of the spoiled kids, their basketball nets, their stupid clubhouses and forts, their above ground swimming pools—but none of that brought him the satisfaction he thought he deserved.
One night, Adam found his old slingshot buried in Neil's weird sock drawer. He went up on the roof of Fried Paradise, and looked in wonder at the water tower looming above the small town. His trailer park, Pine Manor, was directly below.
Adam patted the lightshow frog’s head before loading it into the slingshot, He pulled the thick rubber band very far back, holding it there, with tension—steadying his shaky arm.
The tower burst into a wall of descending water that crashed down onto his trailer below with an apocalyptic whoosh. As he watched the gravel streets of Pine Manor flood instantly, and his own mailbox rush away in the swirling vortex of rapids, Adam laughed with total satisfaction and total relief.
Adam wondered if the frog would be swept away forever, or if it would find him again.
BIO: Bud Smith grew up in New Jersey, and currently lives in Washington Heights, NYC with a metric ton of vinyl records that he bought at Englishtown flea market for a dollar. He is the author of the short story collection Or Something Like That (2012), and Lightning Box (Kleft Jaw Press, 2013); he hosts the interview program The Unknown Show; edits at Jmww and Red Fez; works heavy construction in power plants and refineries. Currently, he's probably watching My Cousin Vinny. www.budsmithwrites.com