Mortimer the Frog
At first glance, Mortimer the frog looked like every other frog that lived in a Florida pond with tall grasses and other plants around. Small, round and green with a tongue that could snatch insects, he swam in the water, hopped on the bank and basked in the sun, just like his friends and relatives who inhabited the pond. Together. they chorused at night, warily watched for the wading birds and alligators, kept clear of people whose homes ringed the pond and evaded the cats and dogs that like to chase them. He also could say “ribbit” with the same enthusiasm as the other frogs. Nevertheless, Mortimer was different.
Most frogs like to sit and wait for some unsuspecting insect to wander within reach. Then they flick out their tongues and snare the prey. Mortimer did that, too, on occasion. However, he liked to be creative. He may have been the first creative frog in history.
After spotting a fly or dragonfly that was too far away, Mortimer would try to think of a clever trick to close the distance. Sometimes, he took a leaf and placed it on his head. Then he would flatten himself and creep forward. The insect would only see the leaf until it was too late.
On another occasion, Mortimer found a twig and held it in his mouth, extending out. Then, he sat very still. A juicy fly landed on the twig, thinking it was a place to safely rest. Mortimer simply dropped the twig and sprung his tongue at the same time. The fly never had a chance.
He even used disguises. On one special situation, Mortimer found himself in serious trouble. He was sitting by the edge of a pond, carefully eying a damselfly and considering how to get it, when he realized that a large white heron was watching him. Those birds like to eat frogs. They are so quiet and willing to stand still for a very long time. As a result, frogs often don’t see them until it’s too late. To escape, Mortimer could slip into the pond and move into deeper water. Herons wade in shallow water and can’t follow.
However, Mortimer quickly realized that Barkley the alligator was floating only a few feet away. It seemed hungry. Mortimer knew that alligators also ate frogs. Normally, he would jump onto dry land, knowing Barkley would not chase him there. However, he couldn’t because of the heron.
Mortimer thought. He couldn’t outswim Barkley. He couldn’t move faster that the heron. Worse, being so clever, he ate more than the other frogs and was now bigger. That made him even more appetizing to the alligator and the heron. He also couldn’t move as fast as a smaller, thinner frog.
After a moment to consider what to do, he began to meow like a cat. The people who lived on the pond owned several cats, so Mortimer knew what they sounded like. He also knew that cats enjoyed capturing birds, so the heron might be scared and fly off. The alligator wouldn’t care. It ate everything, including cats. Yet, Mortimer realized that if he could erase one danger, he could escape.
The heron heard the “meow” and looked around. Barkley slid closer. Mortimer could see its long snout and some very dangerous looking teeth. “Meow,” Mortimer cried. It didn’t sound a lot like a cat, but definitely did not sound like a frog’s “ribbit.”
Mortimer then began move forward toward the heron, like a small cat getting ready to pounce. The heron hesitated. “Meow!” Mortimer shouted. “Meow!” The heron flew away rather than stay around to face a cat.
Quickly, Mortimer hopped up the bank away from the alligator.
“You are not a cat,” Barkley told him.
“No,” Mortimer admitted. “I am also not dinner.”
With that, he found some shelter in the tall grass and waited until the alligator got tired of watching. As the Barkley sank beneath the water and went back to its home, Mortimer relaxed. He decided to work on his cat calls and add a dog’s bark. That way, he would have more weapons when something threatened him.
After a while, he became very good at disguising his voice. He would sneak up on other frogs and bark and meow at them, and then laugh as they hopped away in fright. Soon, he stopped croaking all together and would imitate a dog or cat. He felt so confident. He stopped hiding from birds. Instead, he would bold march toward them and let loose a fearsome bark or loud meow. They were always startled and flew away.
He felt invincible.
On the other hand, other frogs started avoiding him. They would see him coming and hop away quickly. They knew he wasn’t a cat or a dog. They just thought he was strange.
Mortimer enjoyed making noises for a while. Then, he started to miss the other frogs. They weren’t as clever as he was, but they were his friends and family. The pond was small, so all the frogs knew each other. Most were related. Mortimer felt increasingly lonely.
He offered to teach other frogs how to make noises like a dog or cat. No one was interested. He said he would show other frogs how to disguise themselves or use sticks. That didn’t draw an enthusiastic response either. The other frogs didn’t want to be clever or smart; they didn’t want to be different. Edison, the oldest and wisest of the frogs counseled the other frogs to stay away from Mortimer. They listened.
After a while, Mortimer began to think about his lifestyle. He did capture more insects with clever tactics; he scared off birds with his meows and barks. Yet, he was increasingly alone. Some frogs admired his creativity, but they kept their distance. When the nightly chorus started, Mortimer tried to join in, but he always seemed to be a beat off, a solitary ribbit in the gaps between the choruses.
Finally, unhappy, he sat by himself on a lilypad and thought about his situation. His creativity had cost him his friends. He knew other frogs made nasty comments about him when they thought he couldn’t hear them. His former companions shunned him. Edison didn’t hesitate to scold him about tradition and the way other frogs lived.
Still, Mortimer couldn’t stop being creative. The ideas continually formed in his mind. He knew they were good ideas. While frogs usually didn’t meow or bark, he did. Making such noises was part of his nature. He liked doing it, and he had become very good at mimicry. He also couldn’t help being creative and trying out new ideas. He climbed a tree and leaped out, catching a dragonfly and landing safely in the pond. He created a small nest and covered himself with leaves. There, he safely captured beetles and other insects that wandered by without seeing any danger.
Mortimer was happy and sad at the same time. He was fat, the sign that frogs recognized meant success. In fact, he stretched his skin so much that his color changed from green to gray. Yet, he was alone. No one would even nod hello or send a friendly ribbit his way. As a result, he ate more and more, trying to smother his loneliness with food.
After growing extremely large, Mortimer decided he was bigger and stronger than any other frog. So, he could force them to accept him. He hopped to a nearby lilypad where several frogs had gathered, including Edison. He glared at them. They looked away.
“If you don’t say hello,” Mortimer told them, “I will hit you.” He made a mean and angry face.
The other frogs looked at each other. Edison laughed with a nasty ribbit and simply hopped into the pond. The others followed. Mortimer was now too big and too slow to catch them. In fact, by trying to control the other frogs, he only caused them to like him less than before.
One day, sitting a usual by himself on the side of the pond, Mortimer noticed Barkley the alligator gliding slowly through the water toward a large group of unsuspecting frogs, including Edison. Mortimer immediately sound a ribbit as a warning. Unfortunately, the frogs ignored him. He could see the alligator was silently closing in on the frogs, who were discussing Mortimer and his strange behavior, and not paying the least bit of attention to any danger.
At first, Mortimer was not going to do anything. If the alligator ate Edison, then Mortimer would not have a single frog willing to stand up to him. On the other hand, he didn’t want to see frogs eaten. The other frogs may have not been friendly, but they were still frogs. He grabbed a stick and began to swim toward the alligator, which was fixated on the frogs in front of it.
After a few moments, Barkley stopped just a foot or two away from the frogs. It waited to act, making sure nothing could interfere. Alligators hunt that way. Mortimer knew that and realized he had just enough time to reach the alligator. Barkley’s long tail swished slowly back and forth. Mortimer used it to climb onto the alligator’s back. He shifted the stick to his right hand.
“Meow,” he yelled and swatted Barkley’s back with his stick. Barkley has such thick skin that the stick did no damage. However, Barkley was surprised to hear the sound of a cat and feel the stick. “Meow, Meow,” Mortimer yelled.
The sound startled the other frogs. They glanced around.
“Meow,” Mortimer yelled and continued swinging his stick.
“It’s just Mortimer,” Edison said in disgust. “He’s playing a stupid game.” They ignored the sound and did not see the alligator, which kept most of its body underwater and hidden.
After a moment to recover, the alligator quickly pretended Mortimer wasn’t really on its back and began to close the gap with the frogs.
Mortimer didn’t know what to do. Be clever, he told himself. He put the stick back into his mouth. It wasn’t a big stick or a particularly strong one, but it was all he had. He swam alongside Barkley, realizing that the alligator was very long.
Barkley now was inches from the frogs. It opened its very large mouth, ready to eat Edison and his companions, who still hadn’t seen the danger.
Exhausted by swimming very hard and very fast, Mortimer managed to reach the front of the alligator. As the alligator readied itself to bite down on the frogs, Mortimer shoved the stick inside Barkley’s mouth as it bit down. The stick snapped loudly, startling the frogs. They jumped into the pond to safety.
Barkley spat out the stick. It turned and saw Mortimer, who was too tired to swim away. “You did this,” Barkley snarled.
Mortimer could see the alligator’s eyes staring at him and feel its breath. He shuddered. He was too tired to move. He was now so heavy that he could not swim away easily. He kicked his tired legs and headed for the shore, but it seemed so far away.
The alligator opened its mouth. Mortimer could see all the way down its throat. He could see the large tongue, those sharp teeth. He felt himself be sucked back. He desperately tried to swim away.
Then, Edison stuck a stick in Barkley’s mouth. Another frog climbed on the alligator’s back and put leaves over its eyes. A third frog hit Barkley with a small stick. Another grabbed its tail.
Angry, Barkley swung its tail and twisted its head. The twig snapped in its mouth. The leaves fell off. The frog on its tail was flung aside. However, Mortimer had time to swim slowly toward the bank.
Gasping for breath., he crawled to safety. He could see the heron not that far away. “Meow!” Mortimer said weakly.
“Meow,” other frogs repeated.
Startled, the heron thought it was surrounded by cats and flew away.
Mortimer managed to sit up. The other frogs crept closer.
“Are you all right?” Edison asked.
Mortimer nodded. “Thank you for saving my life,” he said.
“You saved ours,” Edison replied.
“Ribbit,” the other frogs chorused.
“We are all in this together,” Edison said. “Even if you are different. Sometimes, different isn’t a bad thing.”
After that, the other frogs welcomed Mortimer back into their group. He happily sang in the evening choir and also taught some of the young frogs how to make animal sounds. Soon, the pond rang with meows and barks along with ribbits. Mortimer listened with great satisfaction. He would always be different, but that didn’t mean he was not a frog.
William Paul Lazarus
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