This is the first part to a writing exercise I learned in a fiction workshop. The point of this exercise is to find some object of personal meaning or value to you, write out all of your personal attachment to this object (how you came by it, why it’s important to you, etc), and then write another story about the same object that has nothing to do with your personal relationship with it. Not only is this then a great exercise for creating a story, but it also helps writers to detach themselves from their work.
This is the fiction portion. Enjoy!
Magenta the frog hopped into her room the night Ali’s father left. Ali had heard the door creak open, felt Magenta’s light thumps across the floor, before the frog landed in Ali’s bed, just next to the pillow. Magenta had whispered to her—in that deep, soothing voice like a secret—that everything would be okay.
The morning after, Ali’s mother had tried to throw Magenta away. Mom said Magenta was just a carnie-piece-of-shit-doll (when she thought Ali wasn’t listening). That’s when Ali had to guard the frog, which was as big as a teddy-bear. The little girl wouldn’t let Magenta out of her sight, and wouldn’t let anyone but herself even touch Magenta. Ali wouldn’t even share Magenta with the neighborhood kids, for fear that her mother would bribe them one of them for the frog. Ali got punished for not sharing, and was forced to sit in the corner, but even then she did not slack in her vigilance. When Granma told her that she couldn’t have any toys in time out, Ali attached a bell around Magenta’s neck. That way, if anyone tried to carry the frog off from the toy chest, Ali could hear and rescue her. During those weeks which followed the absence of Ali’s father, Ali could see her mother wanted to just snatch Magenta away and kill her. But, instead of Magenta, it was this desire that eventually died in Mom. When Ali saw it was gone, she knew Magenta could sleep by her pillow, instead of tight in her arms.
Magenta was a pretty frog: her skin was fuzzy, and the top of her was the color of her namesake. Her underside was the same tone as Ali’s light skin. Magenta’s eyes were black, watery, and flat—unlike the bubble-eyes of Ali’s other animals.
One night, after Ali’s vigilance had defeated the will of Mom, the frog crept close to Ali’s ear while the girl was sleeping. Magenta whispered that Ali had done well in her first task, which was to protect Magenta from the vengeance of Ali’s family. The second task would be harder than the first, and the third task harder than the second. But, Magenta also said that, should Ali complete all three tasks, Magenta would be traded back for Ali’s father. At this point, Ali had woken up enough to ask “Where is my Daddy?”
“In the kingdom of the frogs,” said Magenta, “which is my homeland. I am a princess there.”
“Where’s your crown?” said Ali.
“I lost it when I ran-away. Without it, I cannot return to my kingdom. Not without your help, Ali.”
“Why is Daddy in the kingdom of the frogs?”
“He found my crown by accident, and when he picked it up, he was magically transported there. Unfortunately, my father the king believes your daddy abducted me. So, they are holding him prisoner, until I’m safely returned.”
Ali was frightened by this. She saw on the T.V. once that prisoners got stuff put in their veins that killed them. Before she could cry, though, Magenta spoke: “Don’t worry, Ali. We frogs are far more civilized than humans. We treat our prisoners with the utmost kindness. Everyday your daddy feasts on green beans and mashed potatoes, and he gets as much ice-cream as he wants. Though he’s locked in my father’s inescapable tower, he has large windows that are always open when the weather’s nice, so his room doesn’t smell moldy.” This reassured Ali, who then drifted off to sleep.
The second task was much harder. Ali had to take Magenta to school for show-and-tell, and Ali had to tell the truth about Magenta’s origins. More than this, Ali wasn’t allowed to keep Magenta in her backpack (like she’d done when protecting Magenta from Mommy and Granma). Ali had to carry Magenta all the way to school and all the way back, and protect the princess from the bullies both ways. And Ali had to keep Magenta by her desk all day—she couldn’t stick the frog in her cubby.
Ali really wanted to see her daddy again, even if he was in a place that didn’t smell like mold. The next day of show-and-tell, Ali brought Magenta to school under her arm. It was a hassle even getting Mommy to agree to it: “Don’t you have nicer stuff, Ali? Why do you want to take that darn thing?”
“Shush,” Granma had said. “She can take her frog if she wants to.”
“It’s cheap and lousy.”
“But she likes it.” Thanks to Granma, Mom finally consented.
For the first two blocks, everything went fine because Ali ran into no other kids. But then there were some fifth graders. Fifth graders were the worst, because at their age they’d killed most of their animals, so they thought everyone else should, too. They laughed at Ali, called her a baby and kept trying to snatch Magenta away, so that Ali was obliged to clutch the frog with both arms to her chest. Fortunately, school wasn’t too far off at that point.
The clock seemed to speed-by, and soon Ali was standing in front of the class, with Magenta seated on the table before her. The teacher calmed the class’ normal chatter by turning the lights on-and-off, and then he said “Okay, Ali. Tell us about your frog doll.”
Ali took a deep breath. “She’s not a doll.” When the class did not immediately laugh, Ali continued. “She’s Magenta. And she’s not a normal frog. She . . . she’s a princess.”
At this, the class did laugh, so that the teacher had to rapidly flick the lights. “That’s enough, everyone. Let Ali finish her story. You all like stories, remember? Go on, Ali.”
“. . . M . . . Magenta is a princess in the kingdom of the frogs. She’s the youngest daughter of the King. The Kingdom of the Frogs is a wonderful place. The frogs there are far more . . . civilized?” The teacher nodded. “The frogs are more civilized than people.”
“Do they have spaceships?” said a boy who was always nice to Ali.
“No. They could if they wanted to, but they don’t want to hurt the environment.”
“It Magenta’s not a doll,” said a girl prettier than Ali, “how come you have her? Why isn’t she in her kingdom?”
“She ran-away, but she can’t go back without her crown. She lost it. So I have to protect her until she can go home.”
“Because . . .” Ali took a deep breath. “Because her dad impris’med my dad when he accidentally found the crown. So I have to help save him.”
“That’s not what my mom said,” said the pretty girl. “My mom said that your dad ran o—”
“Thank-you,” said the teacher. “Are there anymore questions for Ali?” He made it clear by his tone that there had better not be. “Good. Thank you, Ali. You and Magenta can take a seat now.”
Only the nice boy offered Ali a weak smile when she walked back to her desk. No one looked at her for the rest of the day. She wanted to believe it was because they thought she was weird for being friends with a frog, but Ali felt most of the avoidance stemmed from pity; pity, and shame for knowing what happened with their fathers.
A couple of fifth-graders followed her home from school. They didn’t start on Ali until they were all well past the crossing guards. It started off with name calling; Ali knew what some of the words meant, like “freak” and “stupid,” but then they called her a little “ho.” She didn’t know what a “ho” was, except that it wasn’t probably wasn’t anything good. Still, Ali did what Mom and Granma told her to do in these situations, which was to ignore the name calling. The fifth-graders didn’t like being ignored. They began throwing pinecones and clumps of mowed grass at Ali. The grass mostly missed her; only a few stray strands caught unto the back of her pink cardigan and her hair. The pinecones bounced off her backpack and shoulders. Ali just continued to ignore the ridicule, and clutched Magenta with both arms. She wished the frog would say some words of comfort in her deep, soothing voice—but Magenta stayed silent. “Ho,” said one of the fifth-graders. “You’re a little ho, and your dad couldn’t stand having a ho for a daughter.” Ali stopped walking. Seeing a reaction, the fifth-grader continued on, and began to circle in front of her. “He didn’t want a slut for a daughter.”
“Yeah, you’re a little slut,” said the other. “That’s why he left.”
“Gave you that cheap-ass frog instead of a real present.”
“’Cause you’re a little cheap-ass ho.”
Ali decided, instead of ignoring the fifth-graders, she would instead ignore the advice of Mom and Granma. She screeched and dropping everything—including Magenta—lunged at the face of the fifth grader who first talked bad about her daddy. Daddy had always said if someone was picking on her, and that someone went too far, to go for the eyes. That’s what she did. She didn’t think she was going to get there. She was never very fast, or very strong. No matter how hard she tried, she usually just got beat up. But this time she made it. She touched the fifth-grader’s eyeball. She poked it hard. Ali had always supposed that eyeballs would feel like Jell-O—something squishy. The eyeball felt squishy, but it was firmer than expected. Like a tongue—squishy and firm.
The fifth-grader screamed, called her a bitch, and pushed her down. “Shit, is it bleeding? Am I bleeding?” There was a little blood, but Ali thought it was probably from her fingernail that dug into the skin just under the his eye.
“A little,” said the uninjured fifth-grader. “C’mon, man, let’s get out of here . . .” He wanted nothing more to do with Ali. He was already pulling his friend away. Still, before they left, the injured one yelled “slut!” and kicked Ali once. Her side hurt from that, so she lied on the ground until they were well out of site. When she did get up, she realized she had to find Magenta.
But—much to Ali’s surprise—Magenta was quite unharmed, and even pleased. She sat smiling just next to Ali’s backpack, which the frog had considerately pulled away from the scuffle. Ali realized she’d completed the second task, and smiled back. She let Magenta ride on top of her shoulders the rest of the way home. Magenta seemed to enjoy the regal treatment.
Throughout dinner that night, Ali was nervous Mom would receive a phone call about Ali’s fight. But the phone stayed silent, even after everyone had gone to bed, and Ali and Magenta lay awake in the dark. “Why didn’t they tattle?” said Ali in a whisper.
“Because, as the aggressors, they would’ve met with far more punishment than you.”
“Oh.” Ali stayed silent for awhile. When she was sure Magenta had not fallen asleep, she said “How come I had to do all that stuff?”
“To prepare you. The first task was to teach you righteousness, and endurance for the sake of righteousness. The second was to learn bravery, and how to walk the path of the warrior. You are now ready for your third and final task.”
“What’s the third one?”
“Tomorrow, you shall skip school, even though it’s breaking the rules. But it’s all right to do that this one time.”
“Because tomorrow, we journey for the Kingdom of the Frogs, where you shall free your father and return me to my rightful place as princess.”
The next day, Ali managed to sneak a box of Cheerios in her backpack along with a packed lunch. She even filled her Sleeping Beauty thermos with water, for her and Magenta to share.
Ali walked like she was going to school at first, in case Mom or Granma were spying. She was a block from home when Magenta told her to head left instead of right. To the left was a field where houses were going to be built. Ali had to carry Magenta over the bulgy ground and tall, sharp, dead grass. “Over this field, you’ll find a stream. Walk along this stream with the sun at your back. The water will guide you to the kingdom of the frogs.”
At the end of the field was a line of trees, clustered around a little stream, as Magenta had said. On the other side of the stream was a trailer park, which reminded Ali of the one she’d lived in before she, Mom and Daddy moved in with Granma. It had smelled like mold in their trailer. Ali didn’t like the glass bottles, or the barking dogs from her trailer park. The trailer park on the other side of the stream didn’t have any barking dogs, but there were a few bottles around the water.
Ali turned so the climbing sun was on her shoulders. She stepped carefully, so she didn’t trip on a root or rock, or step on glass. Magenta asked to be carried for just a little longer, to make sure they were clear of any dangerous litter. The frog didn’t have shoes, after all.
The sun rose higher. First it had warmed Ali’s shoulders, then it burned. Ali had cleared the trailer park, and any other residences. They were in the country, now. They stayed in the cover of the trees, with farms and fields stretching out on either side of the stream. When she got too hot, Ali sat down in the shade and ate her peanut butter and jelly sandwich while Magenta splashed around in the stream. Water droplets stuck to the frog’s skin, and she seemed to come alive away from other people and the town.
Ali didn’t really like the peanut butter and jelly her mom made for her these days. Back when they were in the trailer park, Ali had really wanted to have the peanut butter with the grape jelly already mixed in with it, but they couldn’t afford it. After they moved in with Granma, Mom had bought the mixed peanut butter just for Ali, and even let Ali try it right after grocery shopping. It had tasted bad, but not so bad that Ali had to spit it out. She’d looked at her mom, who was smiling. “How does it taste?” her mom had said.
“Wonderful,” Ali had said. “It tastes wonderful.”
Her memories were just as bitter as the sandwich, so Ali left it on the rock next to her for some squirrels to eat. Ali ate Cheerios until she wasn’t hungry anymore. Then she and Magenta shared a drink, and continued on their way.
The journey was easier after lunch. The sun was lower, which made longer tree shadows so it wasn’t so hot. Plus, Magenta was hopping in the stream, so Ali didn’t have to carry her. It was getting close to dinner time when the stream ended, and disappeared down a culvert. Magenta had a burst of energy when she saw it, and splashed towards it. “We’re here! We’re here!” Magenta turned to Ali, who was considering the culvert. It was a tight fit for her. It looked dark, and long. “We’ve done it, Ali! We’ve finally arrived home! Come, let us continue!”
“You mean, you’ve arrived home.”
Magenta hesitated. “Of course. What did I say?”
“You said ‘we.’”
“Of course, of course. I meant to say, we’ve arrived at our destination, the entrance to the Kingdom of the frogs. Let’s continue.” Magenta started hopping forward, but stopped when Ali didn’t move. “Whatever is the matter?”
“Um . . . do you think . . . maybe you could just go down? And I could wait up here for my daddy?” Magenta stayed quiet. This was the gravest Ali had ever seen her. “Are you mad at me, Magenta?”
“No . . . but I fear you will be, with me.” Magenta hopped over to Ali, and the girl squatted to be on level with the frog. “I’m afraid I’ve misused you, Ali.”
“What do you mean?”
“I . . . I intended to trick you into entering the kingdom. You would have magically been turned into a frog the moment you set foot in the kingdom. I was hoping you would then become my handmaiden, and personal bodyguard.”
“Does that mean my daddy’s a frog, too, now?”
“No, Ali. I’m afraid not.”
“But you said—”
“I lied, Ali. But you mustn’t think I lied about everything. I am a princess, and you are my friend. That’s why I wanted to be with you forever. I said your father was there, so you’d come and be turned into a frog. Please . . . I didn’t intend to hurt your feelings.”
“So, he’s not there . . .”
“Come with me, anyway. You’ll be much happier with me than you could ever be as a human. Humans are meant to suffer; frogs are beyond that. Please, Ali. You’re much too sweet for this world.”
The sound of crickets rose as the light grew dimmer. Ali bit her lip. “Maybe . . . Maybe after I say goodbye to Mom and Granma I could . . .”
But Magenta was already shaking her head. “Once I enter, this gateway will be closed forever to the human world. You must come now, or be separated forever.”
Ali wanted to be with Magenta, who’d been the only real friend she’d ever had. But Ali had the horrible vision of her daddy returning home, and being unable to find her. He would think Ali didn’t love him; he would think she’d abandoned him.
“I’m sorry, Magenta . . . I’m sorry, but, I can’t.” Ali wiped her nose. “I just can’t.”
“Very well. I hope you’ve chosen wisely.” Magenta turned away and began to hop down the culvert. Before she disappeared completely into the darkness, she stopped. Without turning around she said “You’ll always be my friend, Ali. Even though you’ve gravely misplaced your loyalty, know that you will still, always, be my friend.” Magenta took one final hop, and was gone forever.
Ali sat by the entrance and began to cry. She couldn’t stop, even after the sun set and the moon rose and the mosquitoes buzzed around her and bit her skin. Ali sat in the dark, as just another scared and lonely child in the world—all the magic forever gone from her life.