This story is by Jonathan Chung- Young and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
From the darkness Prince Leo’s bright yellow eyelids smacked open fighting through a dry crust of dirt. His irises adjusted to the dimly lit alien environment. He moistened his amphibious skin with a few blinks while his long tongue cleaned his face.
A familiar high pitched voice jolted Prince Leo from his daze. It was Reo, his youngest brother, looking frightened.
“How did we fall? What are we doing down here!”
“Fall –What? …how long have I been out?” asked Leo
“I’m not too sure –just woke up a few seconds ago myself.”
They cautiously stood up to scout their surroundings, the air smelled musty, the earth felt damp and warm, a haunting silence filled their ears. Leo’s eyes vigorously scanned the horizon.
“We’re in the Treegrounds,” he whispered.
Reo cowered behind his oldest brother, slight tingles of fear spread sharply down his back. He gathered their belongings and hoisted a bow and quiver handing it over to Leo while harnessing a backpack and a few satchels onto his yellow speckled body. Leo contemplated their possessions and relived the images of the days before. A tension in his chest grew and he quickly weakened, slowly slumping down to the ground, recollecting himself while muttering. Reo braced Leo’s movement down in assistance
“We went hunting… do you remember?” asked Leo. “How did we become… hunted?
–Something got us, I can’t remember, it went all black so soon.”
“… But we’re alive!,” assured Reo. Then his voice broke…”wait, then where’s Keo?”
The two Treetop Frog brothers turned their heads back and forth searching for their middle brother.
“He can’t be far,” Leo hoped.
Reo stepped out in search of Keo, Leo held him back. He gestured to the mud covered floor and scooped a portion with two fingers.
“Cover your yellow skln, we’ll stick out like glowing lights here.” Reo nodded in obedience.
Nearby, a speck of saturated yellow stood out among the umber flora. Keo lay still. He was not as big as Leo but not smaller than Reo, he was just the size he had to be. They huddled around their yellow skinned brother, he was breathing deep and slow, his eyes closed. Leo abruptly sloshed his cold dirty hand over Keo’s face, awakening him in a fright. Keo gasped and let out a loud croak, sending echoes shattering the utter silence. Keo glanced at his brothers in confusion, after a brief moment, Keo finally spoke.
“…Did we fall?”
Leo and Reo both nodded
Keo’s breath became shallower as he realized where they all were.
“We don’t remember” responded Reo.
“If you can walk… we should get moving” commanded Leo
“–Moving? Where are we going?” Keo remarked in a haze.
“We’re going back home, to the Treetops.” Leo said sternly.
“How!” scoffed Keo, “Do you have a map?”
“We just go up Keo, home is up.”
Reo hopped closer to Keo and covered his arms with mud.
“I want to get back now, we shouldn’t be down here, it’s too quiet.”
“–Why such a rush!… it has to be at least a few days travel, plus the elders love to scare the young ones with these tales, they’re not even real, exaggerated!” exclaimed Keo
“They still gave me nightmares.”
Keo rolled his eyes and shook his head. “We should be looking for food first, that’s what, I’m starving, it must be days since we haven’t eaten.”
Leo was reluctant to agree, but his own stomach was grumbling.
Keo smirked and chuckled. “What was that Leo?”
“If you’re thinking with your stomach then you can move, lets go!”
Keo plucked a damaged bow off his back, the quiver and his leaf harp survived the crash.
“Where’s your hunting gear satchel?” asked Leo.
“Must’ve lost it in the fall, hey at least we’ll have some music.”
Keo strummed the leaf harp. The note sent echoes up and across the Treegrounds. Leo reprimanded Keo to keep quiet. He was about to take Keo’s leaf harp from him, when a sound from just ahead captured their attention. A reddish grey grasshopper came into light chirping a note back, it looked bigger, juicer compared to the ones they have at the Treetops.
“As quiet as possible…”
Leo signaled with two fingers in the air. Drawing an arrow from his quiver, notching the back on the rope of tension, razor clear focus, his form was excellent. Keo mimicked, with a damaged bow he had to pull on it harder, flexing his tense back shoulders. Reo moved forward removing a curved knife from his backpack placing it at the end of his long tongue, launching himself forward his tongue whipped ahead and stretched further with the knife at the end. The grasshopper was quick, leaping upwards dodging the knife, its salvation quickly ended just as two arrows pierced it’s crunchy exterior, one coming over the front legs and the other perfectly timed through the neck area. The brothers claimed their hunt as they took shelter behind large rocks. Keo prepared a small fire while setting up a rotisserie contraption. Leo and Reo tackled the hopper cleaning the insect and removing the legs to roast first. Leo poured opened their spices, as usual adding too much pepper, causing them to sneeze. They laughed, and filled those bellies to delight.
Keo, quietly plucked his harp playing a soothing melody. Leo and Reo lounged and listened. Until Keo halted his strumming. Looking up, realizing how far away he was from the nocturnal music that livened the Treetops.
“–I miss our home.” responded Keo.
Then a low squishing sound of sorts in the distance gradually became louder. All three Tree Frogs sprang up, guarded stances. Keo held his bow and drew an arrow back. The splashing was accompanied with a deep gentle growl then a voice spoke.
“You fellas mighty loud. Not from around here huh, most us keep quiet when–”
Out plopped a huge dark green Toad. He was twice the size of Leo and probably heavier than all them combined. He had bumpy rough skin with frightening eyes. None of them had seen a Toad before, only heard stories from the elders.
“I’m in no bad intentions, yet you’re gonna get some of us killed with all this upheaval.” spoke the Toad.
“You can aim that arrow somewhere else now, —scavenger, Treetop dweller, what are you guys?” investigated the Toad.
Leo disarmed Keo’s aim on the bow with his hand.
“We’re… scavengers.” answered Leo.
“Scavengers? don’t look like it? –you look like Treetop dwellers.” The Toad added, “but there are none here, the few that fall… well are usually already dead.”
The younger brothers looked at Leo, awaiting his lead. Leo stood frozen.
“Enough about us, who are you?” Keo cracked back.
“Call me Pique, –you guys?” asked the Toad.
Leo surveyed the Toad for suspicious gestures while introducing themselves. Something about this Toad didn’t feel right.
“Well Leo, Keo, and Reo you familiar with a Hog Rat?” asked Pique
“Yes, heard the stories, slender muscular bodies, blind, hunting with their nose, sharp teeth and tusks that pierce and grind flesh.” answered Reo.
“Stories?” snickered Pique.
“They always get what they hunt, nothing survives, so we keep quiet, and now thanks to you Frogs, one is approaching as we speak. But today is your lucky day, I’m a secret weapon, Hog Rats don’t eat Toads.”
Pique pulsated secreting a clear viscous fluid from his arms and back.
“Spread this on yourselves, and the Hog Rat won’t sniff you out.”
The brothers were doubtful however the incoming scratching sounds of the advancing Hog Rat grew louder by the second. The ground shook and rumbled beneath them. Reo panicked immediately started lathering himself with the Toad’s musk. His yellow skin was revealed when the mud rubbed off from the gel.
“No!” Leo grabbed his hand except most of the scent was already covering Reo. The creature arose from the depths, towering over them, snarling, sending out an ear-piercing screech. They stood still as the beast paced around them, it’s breath hitting their bodies like gusts of wind, their hearts pounding. It snapped at Keo, he quickly sprung up hanging onto a vine over head. The monster turned for Leo and chased, he dodged the attack juking its sharp teeth. Reo tackled his oldest brother covering his body. The Hog Rat snuffed around then turned back for Keo chomping in the air, the clenching of its teeth sounding like breaking glass. Pique lobbed a ball of his pheromones to Keo, spreading it on his body. The behemoth pounded the ground a few times and then disappeard. Reo wasn’t moving, Leo shook his motionless body. Above Keo dropped to the floor lifeless. Leo gripped his bow targeting the Toad with an arrow, his vision was foggy, losing his balance and collapsing. Still conscious a blurred round green silhouette approached him.
“So you’re a Yellowskin.”
Leo’s tranquilized body tensed at Pique’s voice, a darkness crushed his vision.