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art by Alan Bao

Not a Prince

Three teenage girls crowded round the terrarium on the desk in Annabel's room. It sat amid an avalanche of fingernail polish bottles and schoolbooks. In one back corner of the terrarium, a frog cowered.
"Kiss it!" Lacey said to Annabel, fanning her freshly pink nails.
"Yeah." Kenzie's blonde ponytail bobbed. "Maybe it'll turn into a prince."
"It's not a prince," Annabel said, but she opened the lid. The frog scurried under a plastic log in its attempt to get away, but her hands were quick, and she scooped it up. The frog squirmed, its tiny eyes bulging, its speckled sides pulsing with effort.
She grinned and kissed the frog.
"Drat, it's just a frog." Kenzie kicked off her flats and flopped down on Annabel's unmade bed. Her brown hair fanned out across the sheets.
"Your mom's so cool." Lacey poked the frog's smooth head. In return, the frog let out an indignant croak. "My mom won't even let me get a fish."
"Does it do any spells?" Kenzie asked. "Is it your familiar?" She stretched the word out, elongating the vowels and emphasizing the L.
"As if." Annabel dropped the frog back into the terrarium. It scrabbled up, trying to jump out, but she snapped the lid back on and piled her Biology and English textbooks on top. The frog sank into the back corner with a mournful croak.
"Can you do a spell?" Kenzie sat up on the bed. "Please."
"Yes!" Lacey said. "Please, please."
Annabel tucked her black hair behind her ears. The left seemed made up of more silver studs than skin. "I'm not supposed to..."
"We won't tell anyone," Kenzie said. "Promise."
"Cross my heart," Lacey added.
Annabel glanced into the hallway. Her mom was supposed to be working on the computer in the kitchen. "Well, okay."
"All right!" Kenzie yanked the curtains over the window, while Annabel shut her bedroom door and stuffed sweatshirts into the crack underneath. After pushing bookbags and clothes out of the way, the three girls sat in a circle on the pewter-colored carpet, their knees barely touching.
"I'm only supposed to do little spells now," Annabel said.
Kenzie clapped. "Anything."
Annabel chewed her lip. "Okay. Give me your necklace." She took Kenzie's heart locket and put it in the center of their circle. "We have to hold hands."
They sat in silence for a moment, Annabel with her eyes closed, Kenzie and Lacey staring at the locket. It started to glow. Kenzie gasped. The locket grew brighter and brighter, until there was a pop and a puff of smoke that smelled of scalded metal. A tiny birdcage stood on the carpet, its single swing rocking under a toy canary.
"That's so cute," Lacey said.
"I wish my aunt was a witch." Kenzie picked up the cage. "Will it stay like this?"
"Until I turn it back." Annabel wiped sweat from her upper lip. Her hand shook, making the charms around her wrist tinkle. "Give me a day or two."
Kenzie and Lacey exchanged glances.
"Are you feeling okay?" Kenzie asked.
"Your face is so white," Lacey said.
Annabel shrugged. She scooted back to lean against her bed. "I haven't been sleeping very well."
"The police aren't still bothering you, are they?" Kenzie asked.
Annabel shook her head.
"I can't believe they still think you had something to do with it." Lacey pounded her knee with her fist. "As if you'd have gone anywhere near that jerk-off after what he did to you."
The frog gave a loud rippit.
Ignoring it, Kenzie leaned close to Annabel. "Are you going to the vigil tomorrow night?"
"Not if The Slut's going to be there."
"Oh, you bet she'll be there." Lacey rolled her eyes. "You should have seen her today in class with Mr. Traynor: 'But I couldn't write my report. I can't concentrate. All I can think about is Jackson.'" She snorted.
Kenzie laughed. When Annabel didn't join in, she stopped. She chewed the end of her ponytail. "You don't... you don't still love him, do you?"
Now Annabel laughed. "I can't wait for him to feel what it's like to have someone rip his heart out and stomp on it."
There was a pause. Lacey and Kenzie shifted on the carpet, looking anywhere but at Annabel. The room still smelled of scorched metal. Then Lacey said, "Do you think he's still alive?"
The frog croaked long and hard, but Annabel didn't say anything.
"I hope some perv picked him up and is making him do horrible things," Kenzie said. "That would teach him, wouldn't it?"
Annabel smiled, small and tight. The frog stayed quiet.
From inside the pile of bookbags, "The Ride of the Valkyries" played. "Drat, that's my mom." Kenzie pawed through her bag then flipped open her phone. "I'm on my way."
Lacey swung her own bag over her shoulder. "Are you going to be in Biology tomorrow?" she asked Annabel.
Still on the floor, Annabel shook her head. "Mom got me another waiver."
"I wish my mom would let me do a computer simulation. But she still thinks I have to actually cut things open to do well on the test."
"Oh, I think I'll get enough practice," Annabel said.
In the terrarium, the frog quivered.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Author Comments

I wrote this story while at the Odyssey Writing Workshop. I'd been despairing over another story based on the same basic idea. No matter what rewrites I tried, the original story remained disjointed and flat. Then--in a Muse-descending-from-on-high moment--the idea for this one came to me. I guess working through the journal entries and writing exercises that Odyssey director Jeanne Cavelos assigned paid off!

- Kathryn Yelinek
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