by Nathaniel Lee
They said they'd driven her out of the village and into the woods, and that wasn't a lie. But she found that she preferred the woods. Things were easier out there. A curse means less when you're alone. And her toads could roam where they liked. Not that they often did. Toads don't ask for much, and they know how to appreciate a good place to sit.
At first, she still spoke several toads a day, in shock or boredom or just to hear the sound of her voice. But speaking turned out to be a kind of habit, and as time wore on and she had no one but other toads to talk to, she spoke them less and less. Which was just as well, since the forest was hardly limitless and could not have tolerated an unending deluge of invasive toad-words.
She didn't blame the villagers anymore. Not more than they deserved, at any rate. Nor did she blame her mother, though she could have. She knew she'd made her own share of the trouble, and with enough time and enough bitter toads, she'd accepted that. The toads didn't care, either way.
She kept house in a rickety wood shack, mostly built herself. (Some of the village men had come out later to help her shore it up and show her how to keep it. They told her they were sorry and wanted to help if they could, and she spat snakes at them until they left. She had regrets, but the men had fled and the snakes had crawled into the brush and none of them, to her knowledge, had ever come back.) Her shack was in the thin part of the woods, near the wetlands, for the toads' sake, and also because it was furthest away from the village. The ground was soft and the wind smelled of rotten fish and moldering plants, but there was a nearly inexhaustible supply of midges and mosquitoes and flies and roaches. It was not especially pleasant if you were not a toad, and certainly less pleasant than wherever it was her sister was living now. At first it galled her, then it infuriated her, then it smothered her, then it soothed her, and now it was just where she lived. She gathered mushrooms and herbs. She eventually gained a nanny goat that watched her with its alien eyes and never came when it was called. The toads stayed out of its way.