1A Storm of Frogs
“You only know some of the things, Don Glö!” said the panther-fur-clad warrior-rebel Nanette through the tinny speakers of Grandma’s TV.
Sheed, sprawled on his belly with his chin cupped in both hands, gasped. His cousin, Otto, rocked to the edge of the couch, as if tugged by an invisible string. Their grandma shook her head and sucked her teeth. “You better tell ’im, girlfriend.”
It was Sunday night in Logan County, and they were tuned in to their favorite fantasy show, The Monarch’s Gambit. A half-eaten bowl of popcorn rested in easy reach of them all, though everyone had lost interest in snacking as the tension of this critical episode ramped up.
The show’s hero, Don Glö, had just been confronted by the Queen of the Warrior Clan. She claimed to have game-changing information about who should be the rightful ruler of the mythical Falcon Steads—giant bird creatures capable of shooting pure light from their beaks. For whoever controlled those beasts controlled the world! But, just as Nanette unfurled the scroll containing the ancient prophecy, there was a scream among her troops. The wealthy and villainous Manticle family picked that very moment to launch an attack.
“No!” Sheed said, rising to his knees in startled surprise. “Not now.”
Thunder grumbled in the distance.
Otto hopped from his seat and trotted to the window. A dark, heavy cloud moved their way, and within it lightning flashed like bad thoughts in an evil brain. In his head, Otto echoed Sheed’s sentiment. No, not now. For different reasons.
“All right,” Grandma said, pushing up from her recliner. “Lightning and thunder. Y’all know what that means.”
Otto did the unthinkable and paused The Monarch’s Gambit—something usually forbidden during their sacred hour on Sunday nights. He sensed much worse coming and hoped for a miracle that would allow them to resume the episode, though the chances were slim. Sheed was on his feet, clearly panicked, his palms thrust forward in a gesture of peaceful reasoning.
“Grandma,” he said—begged! “Please, there’s only, like, twenty-five minutes left. That storm is way, way out.”
Lightning washed the room in a white flare, followed immediately by thunder close enough to rattle the popcorn bowl. Sheed’s shoulders sagged.
Grandma was not without sympathy. “I want to see what happens, too. But you know we don’t watch no TV while the Lord’s doing His work.”
Otto wanted to debate this house rule. Had, in fact, challenged it in the past. Grandma was raised to believe that during storms, using electrical devices could “draw the lightning to you.” Otto, studious in his science classes, knew that wasn’t exactly how lightning worked. Yes, it could follow the path of least resistance through an electrical pole or antenna. Yes, a strike could fry devices with a direct connection to whatever the lightning struck. In Logan County, though, where most of the electrical wiring (including the wiring to their house) was underground, the chance of such a thing actually happening was very low. So low, they should definitely risk getting struck to see the end of The Monarch’s Gambit.
“Octavius Alston, I’m not doing this with you tonight. I know all those things about lightning you’re fixing your mouth to tell me, but there’s something you just can’t argue. This is Logan County. Anything can happen. Now, do as I say—cut that TV off and unplug it from the wall.”
Sheed, who could not dispute the county’s tendency to produce improbable events, still looked like he might hyperventilate. “If we unplug everything, the DVR won’t record the last half of the episode.”
“Creek it later. Like y’all always talking about.”
“Stream it,” Otto corrected, so distraught he didn’t even think twice about the dangers of correcting Grandma. They could stream the episode later, but it usually took a day or so to appear on their streaming service. Which meant even if this were a short storm, they’d have to wait until tomorrow to know what happened. After everybody else at school who wasn’t forced to unplug everything saw. It’d be impossible to avoid spoilers.
Grandma dismissed Otto’s correction with a wave. “Creek. Stream. The only thing I’m concerned with is UN. PLUG. Don’t make me say it again.”
With that, Otto and Sheed approached the TV like two pirates walking a plank. Sheed slid the TV from the wall; Otto grabbed the thick cable of the power strip and yanked it from the outlet. Nanette and Don Glö winked away.
A heavy sheet of rain crashed against the ground, roof, and windows. It became a fast patter with an occasional heavy THUMP that made Otto, Sheed, and Grandma crane their necks.
“Is that hail, Grandma?” Otto asked.
“Can’t rightly say. The weatherman ain’t call for no rain to begin with, so this surprise storm could be a surprise hailstorm, I suppose.”
Those thumps were the heaviest yet, and the house shook. A picture frame leapt off the wall, shattering the glass on the wood floor.
“Oh,” Grandma said, “I don’t like that at all. Let’s get into the closet.”
Otto and Sheed shared a look, both thinking their own version of the same thought. This wasn’t a normal storm.
Grandma left the den and yanked open the closet door beneath the staircase. “Boys, right now.”
They weren’t going to argue, but before he could get his butt in gear, Sheed heard a new sound, a SMACK instead of a THUMP, and traced it to the nearest window. When he saw what caused it . . .
“Grandma, you should probably see this.”
She stomped to him. “This better be important because I am not in the habit of repeating myself, Rasheed Alst—”
Grandma stiffened next to Sheed, so of course Otto needed to know what the fuss was about. He strolled to them, while the whole time the odd hail-like noises outside went rapid-fire.