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Toads

Mari Ness lives in central Florida. Her fiction and poetry have appeared at Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons and multiple other print and online publications. For a longer list or to keep up with her future work, visit her official blog at marikness.wordpress.com, or follow her on Twitter @mari_ness.
"Stop speaking," he tells his wife.
"I'm sorry," she says, flinching. Another glittering diamond and a gleaming pearl drop from her mouth; she grabs a fine napkin, pressing it against her bleeding mouth.
He looks away.
He should not have been so harsh, he knows.
And yet.
Five rooms now filled to bursting with gems. The hungry kingdoms on his border, now eyeing his wife--and the five rooms filled to bursting with gems. Infuriated bankers claiming that his jewels have made all other currency worthless, which has done nothing to drive away the crouching armies.
And the blood, dear god, the blood.
He had known this when they wed, even kissed away the blood from her mouth where the diamonds had once again cut her. It still astonished him--and puzzled the doctors that he had summoned--that her lips had never become scarred or hardened, that almost every diamond cut her mouth.
Which meant the pearls, too, came out stained with blood.
He turns back to her and hands her another fine napkin, as if in apology. She opens her mouth. His lips set in a thin line, and this time, they both look away.
Unbidden, another face, less lovely, pockmarked, uneven, comes to mind.
He will not think of her, he tells himself.
Instead, he thinks of toads.
The toads, which had, in the period of a few months, cleaned that ugly girl's garden of every malicious insect. The toads whose skin, it seemed, could cure minor ills. The toads which could and did, unlike diamonds and pearls, hop away. The toads which, by some means unknown, had even cleaned up the wells in the village and turned the nearby streams into sparkling water.
The toads.
The way the girl, his wife's sister--no, stepsister, they both insisted on that, diamonds and toads slamming into the ground as they did so--had smiled at him and whispered, "I thought you were the sort who set high stock in appearances." The way his feet had been covered in toads after this, the way he had fled, her laughter ringing in his ears. The way he now, every time he looks at his vast gardens, searches desperately for toads.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, February 20th, 2014


"Diamonds and Toads" was always one of my favorite fairy tales when I was a kid, largely because I fell in love with the image of frogs jumping out of someone's mouth. As I grew older, I started to wonder about the consequences of spending the rest of your life always spitting out either jewels or toads every time you spoke. This is the result.

- Mari Ness

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