Story

King of the Pond

I slip by the goldfish and rise to the murky surface. The muddy grass squelches beneath my webbed toes as I lurch forward. Mother Moon graces me with her silver light as I raise my chin. Closing my eyes, I rub my smooth belly. It’s a good clear night for hunting moths.

I inhale the scent of cedar and pine. My neck balloons and stretches tight, before releasing my voice with a booming call. “Grrrruuuummmpft.”

Sharp peeps around the shoreline answer me. The melodic cadence weaves with the buzz and hum of the crickets and katydids. Thus begins the choral evensong. I wish I could linger, but my stomach pangs to remind me moths don’t hunt themselves. The rustling of tall grass interrupts my musings, and I open my eyes to greet the approaching small ones.

“Evening, Grompft,” says Mogut with a bow.

I nod to Mogut. Such a polite little one with a sweet chirping voice. It’s a shame the poor thing got himself messed up with the likes of my son. I frown at the ruffian as he stands over Mogut. Four times as big as the little ones, my son has no trouble getting his way. Except with me.

“Oh look, it’s the mighty fat one,” says Rebud, crossing his arms. “All hail the king of the pond.”

“What is it you want, Rebud?”

“Nothing,” he says, plucking a fluffy white dandelion. “Just messing about. Checking on the ladies.”

A snort squeezes out of me. “The ladies? There’s more to life than that.”

“Watch it, old man.” He smacks my nose with the dandelion, spraying the air with its seeds. “Someday I’ll be king.”

“So you say, but what makes you think you’re worthy of being king?” I rub my forehead against the ire lurking behind my words.

“You’re getting too fat and old to impress the ladies,” Rebud prances in front of me. “I’m younger, faster, and stronger than you.”

Knocking Rebud down, I pin him with my foot. “Careful now, I can swallow you whole if I wish.” I snap in his face then jab his chin with my finger. “One does not become as big as a trout by being stupid.”

I pull my foot off Rebud and watch him crawl to Mogut.

“We’ll see about that,” Rebud says, flicking mud and grass off himself.

Mogut lends a helping hand to Rebud. “We’re sorry, aren’t we?”

“I’m not.” Rebud glares at me.

I stomp my foot and shake a finger at him. “That’s not the way of a king.”

“‘Way of the king’ this and ‘Way of the king’ that,” Rebud says, wiggling his hands next to his face. “That’s all I ever hear from you. One day I’ll get the better of you. You’ll see.”

We scowl at each other. Mogut tugs his arm. Rebud twists away from me with a grimace.

“Go. Play with the females if that’s what you want.” I wave them away from me. “Hunt ladybugs in the morning, and if you’re lucky, the farmer’s son won’t find you while you’re at it and drop you in a jar.”

My quarrelsome child marches past the lily pads. The little one pauses with eyes wide and full of questions.

“What is it, Mogut?”

“What is the way of the king?”

“Keeping your wits about you.” Patting his head, I smile at him. “Do better than my son.”

“That’s all?”

“Mother Moon has graced you with gifts,” I say. “Use them.”

“I will. Thank you.” Mogut’s face brightens and hurries to follow Rebud.

Watching the pair hop along the water’s edge toward the trees, I stroke my throat. My stomach rumbles while I ponder my options. I will not follow those two. There are too many of the chorus by the tree line tonight, and thus there will be nothing but scraps to fight over. If I can sneak my way there, I may find something of interest in the ditch by the roadside. Hunching down, I trudge through the reeds and cattails. Shrouded in darkness, I approach a granite boulder twice my size, offering an overview of the pond. With ease, I hop up to the top and squat down.

Squaring my shoulders, I survey my domain. The nearby smaller amphibious critters dip beneath the water at the sight of me. Unseen fish nip mosquitoes. The ripples in their wake distort the reflective surface, rocking the water lilies. Beyond the shore rustles the leaves of the trees as their branches entwine in a waltz. To my right the alfalfa crests and waves like a jade sea. Soon the farmer will harvest this crop and roll it into large bales to age for winter. I examine the darkened windows of the faded farmhouse behind me. There will be no trouble from the farmer’s son tonight. On my left is the roadside ditch, choked out by the spotted orange swamp lilies. The farmer’s wife transplanted them there earlier this spring. All that’s left between me and that floral jungle is the patch of lawn the farmer mows each week.

On hushed pale green wings, gliding on the breeze, she catches my eye. My breath shallows while I watch her flutter to stay afloat in the air. Gleaming the moonlight, her slender body recovers balance and drifts towards the lilies. Heart thrumming, blood pulsing, I reel to witness this lady traveler of eventide. She alights upon a delicate petal, her red feet dancing on its matching spots. Folding and unfolding the wings behind her, she reveals the lidded eye pattern to the sky above her. Her feathered amber antennae quiver when she kisses the nectar covered stamens. I puff with pride in finding such a prize.

Squinting, I slide off the boulder and creep toward the lilies. The fresh cut grass tickles my belly while I track her flirtation with the blooms. I reach the edge of the flowered jungle and crane my neck for a sign of her. Curses push against my lips as I tip-toe through the tall stems. I scan each fiery blossom down the line for the creamy cabbage color I desire.

“Fancy meeting you here, fat one,” says Rebud, hopping from behind a clump of lily stems.

“Out of my way, small one.”

He steps closer to me. “I wonder what it is you hunt in here each night.”

“That is my business,” I say, shoving him away and stepping back.

“I will not be feasting on ladybugs in the morning,” he says and chucks a sharp pebble in my direction.

Ducking, I shield my eyes. The tiny rock bounces behind me. “You’ll have to do better than that.”

Leaping forward, I slap his face which stings the palm of my hand and waters my eyes. Why must it be my son that brings out the worst in me? He rams his shoulder into my chest.

“Rrrruuummfffpt.” It hurts, but I don’t budge as he keeps pushing against me. “Try harder, brat.”

Shoving him off me, I kick him and send him tumbling toward the ditch. He wipes his lip and glowers at me. The shift in his feet warns me before he jumps and I plunge to the side. My weight crushes the flowers as I roll and a cloud of petals, leaves, and pollen billow around us.

“Grrrrraauunmmpt. That’s no way to treat an old one,” I say, getting up and brushing off.

Rebud points to the sky and says, “So that’s what you hunt at night.”

My beautiful prize flitters over me, scattering the light in broken shadows. Rebud’s mouth widens into a grin as he meets my gaze. I gasp and twist about to dash through the flora. Rebud is behind me and takes the path toward the tree line. He’s quick, but he doesn’t know the pond as I do. I turn the other way and race across the grass to follow her. She sails in the mellow breeze and dips behind the granite boulder.

Leaping around the boulder, I glimpse the wings crossing the pebbled mud of the shore. I must get to her before Rebud. My lips set into a firm line as I bound along the water’s edge. Mogut watches from a nearby lily pad. When she rests upon a cattail, I curb my pace to crouch and wait for her to settle. My eyes glance at Rebud skidding around the bend of the pond behind her.

A grumble rolls between my ribs and stomach. My tongue flicks out. I miss her as Mogut snatches her with his sticky tongue, snapping her into his mouth. Her wings crumple against his lips. Dusty scales powder his cheeks as he sucks in the rest of her. Wiping his face with the back of his hand, Mogut grins at us.

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