The little toad glowed and gulped and was pleasantly stinky. No bigger than an acorn, it wedged itself between the bakery and launderette. There, it crouched in dank shade, croaking a ribbiting, musical sound. Not the busy office commuters, or burly dust-bin men, not the lollypop lady or the singing schoolchildren noticed.
Flowers and plants and all verdant things had long been outlawed. It was The Rule. A butterfly, its wings linen-white, nosed round rubbish bags, searching for a single grain of pollen. Eyeball to eyeball, the butterfly and the toad exchanged a wordless conversation, complete with paragraphs, footnotes and addendum. With zig-zagging momentum, the toad burst forward, avoiding tramping lines of government-issued army boots. By luck, or good planning, the toad arrived at the town’s lone railway station. Panting, it skidded onto a child’s deflated blue balloon, puddled under the signal box. Wide-set, exhausted toad eyes considered the oily, indigo balloon.
The toad began puffing toad-air into it. The belly of the balloon gradually blew outward. When it reached full-size, the toad climbed aboard as if a giant lily pad, gripping its rubbery slick surface. Catching a gust of wind, the balloon and toad moved in a swaying, stuttering, semi-circular motion, up, up. Soon, they joined the first butterfly who’d searched for pollen. That butterfly was met by a companion, then another, and another, until the toad was carried upward into a cool, linen-white cloud, refreshing as a sea breeze. In time, air became thinner, less dense. Without oxygen, the butterflies who’d so far been faithful escorts began tailing away, dropping like white confetti to the earth’s surface. Drifting, the toad turned unblinking, cool toad eyes to the moon’s face, which resembled a rabbit.
“You’re back,” said the moon, twitching a rabbity nose and showing buck teeth. “Ah, well. What did you see?”
“This and that,” croaked the golden toad. From its belly folds it removed a nugget of carrot, just about edible.
“Thank you.” Stars nearby began to tremble and shiver with the moon’s munching.
“And I agree. You’re quite right. Those townspeople notice nothing,” piped the toad.
“Well,” replied the rabbit-faced moon, comfortably, “I resemble a rabbit, when they do keep insisting I’m a man. You’re in time. Chai pot’s still warm.”
The blue balloon was beginning to wilt its way towards earth. The toad hopped onto the rabbity-looking moon’s lunar surface, following the nutty scent of cloves and cardamom.
Rebecca Swirsky is a London-based writer holding an MA (Distinction) in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University, for which she was awarded the A.M. Heath Literary Agency Prize. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and Fish Short Fiction Prize, and awarded third prize in Ilkley’s Literature Festival. She has been published in journals including Matter and her work will be forthcoming in the September 2013 issue of The View From Here, the October 2013 issue of Ambit, Stories for Homes Anthology in aid of Shelter, and Ink Sweat & Tears. Rebecca is currently working on her short fiction collection, Just Something, Just Nothing. Follow her on Twitter @rebexswirsky.
Lead image: “Moon Frog” (via Flickr user EmesiS_)