By Hannah Christensen
Roars shook the circus tent.
Billy wiggled forward. “I think he has spots,” he whispered.
“Only baby lions have spots, dummy,” said his older brother, Jim.
Billy continued to stare at a corner of the opposite bleachers. He slid closer to the edge of his seat.
Ed, Billy’s friend, gasped and pointed at the act. “Look!” he cried.
“It’s a male, but it isn’t croaking,” said Billy. “I think Mrs. Mud is his sweetheart, and he misses her. That’s why he isn’t croaking.” He leaned forward.
“Stop worrying about your old frogs and watch the circus,” snapped Mack. “Look, you’ve already missed the lions. They’re leaving.”
Ed sighed as they left, but Billy kept his eyes on the frog. “I bet Mrs. Mud misses him, too.”
Ed disagreed, but Mack was too busy admiring the oncoming acrobats to pay any more attention to such talk.
Billy slipped down from his seat.
“We’re not supposed to leave the big boys,” Ed whispered, glancing nervously at Jim and his two friends.
“I’ll be right back,” Billy assured him. “They won’t even notice.”
A few people grumbled as he passed, but no one stopped Billy. Even on the dusty ground, he only got a few frowns as he scurried past the audience. One popcorn salesman started to reach for him as too close to the ring, but he ducked between the stands and the salesman let him go.
The frog was hopping now.
Billy crept slowly, placing each hand and foot with care. “It’s okay, Mr. Mud. I know where your sweetheart is. Just come along with me and you can be together again. She’s fine.”
The bullfrog, almost as big as Billy’s doubled up fist, ignored the boy’s patter and hopped away. Billy followed, still trying to sweet talk it.
“I know where a lot of flies are, but if you come with me, you can have things to eat even better than flies.”
The frog pushed its way beneath a tent flap.
Billy followed, whispering.
“Mrs. Mud really likes the tuna I give her. It’s almost like minnows, but better.”
They trailed along in the dim evening light, and went under another flap. Billy almost lost the frog for a moment as he waited for his eyes to readjust. He got his sight barely in time to see the frog hop away through a tunnel entrance. He almost hopped himself to follow, and caught up some of the difference.
The frog stopped and filled his throat. The start of a croak leaked out.
“She’ll love it,” said Billy, easing closer. He held out his palm. The frog cocked himself, but Billy carefully adjusted his hand to stay in the aim of any jumps.
A lady in sequins suddenly came through the tunnel’s ceiling. The frog hurtled itself forward and landed in her wild curls.
The lady made a sound somewhere between a gasp and a gargled scream.
The frog tried to kick free of the curls.
Billy used the opportunity to snatch the frog up.
Little whimpers came from the lady through hard breathing.
“Don’t worry,” Billy assured her. “It’s only Mr. Mud.” He thrust the frog around and into view.
For a moment, the lady and the frog stared at each other, nose to nose, eyes bulging. Then the lady moaned and crumpled back.
“Do you need a doctor?” Billy asked.
The lady didn’t say anything.
Billy rested his head against his squirming frog to think. He hadn’t seen any doctors at the circus. But he might have been at the wrong parts. In front, he thought he heard voices. Maybe there would be a doctor there.
He crawled forward, and into a dead end. Puzzled, he sat back—and noticed the tunnel now led upwards. Standing, he tried to climb. Scrabbling was made harder than normal from holding a frog, and he was just wondering if he should try going back after all when he knocked against a lever and the floor began to rise.
Higher and higher Billy went until his head popped open the flaps sealing off the top of the tunnel. Blinking at the lights and noise, it took him a few moments before he realized where he was. Across an expanse of sawdust circled a range of crammed stands. Just to his side, shimmering in a swathe of spotlights, a gentleman with a top hat almost as impressive as the ringmaster’s stared at him.
“Do we—” Billy cleared his throat and tried again, louder. “Do we have a doctor?”
The man shook himself slightly. “I can see how you might fear we may need one. A beautiful assitant turned into a little boy? How could even the Great Malgache change her back?” He was half turned back to his audience now.
Billy opened his mouth to try again.
“But I do have one question.” The Great Malgache interrupted before Billy had a chance to say anything. He poked the frog with his wand. “What did you do to my rabbit?”
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