Mechanism: Part Two

Amon awoke late.


He stared at the dim, grey shapes in his bedroom and sighed. Rather than face his family, and their good-natured teasing, he rose and crept to the other side of the room. Pushing aside one of the many wooden boxes he’d crafted revealed a narrow tunnel entrance. After nearly six months of work, the passage finally opened in exactly the spot he’d planned, between the two thickest roots of Monastery Oak. To veil this secret exit, Amon fashioned a round, wooden lid and covered it with thick moss. It concealed his work flawlessly.

The life of a leopard frog was divided into seven distinct phases: early childhood, childhood, early adolescence, adolescence, early adult, adult and elder. Amon had just entered early adolescence, which, as everyone knew, was the worst. You went from being completely taken care of to having to fend for yourself. No one could help you, either, Amon thought miserably. He could still live with his family, but food, water and every other important element of life was left up to him for two whole months.

These rules and restrictions were set into place long ago by two frogs known only as Newt and Marie, the original Elders. As legend went, they settled Cottonwood Lake at a time when no frogs existed. How this was possible, Amon could not figure out. Frogs didn’t just appear out of nowhere.

And so, listening to the early morning chatter only a few rooms away, he knelt and entered the tunnel, pulling the box back to obscure the opening. In less than five minutes, he was standing beneath the grand tree known as Monastery Oak. It grew upon the highest hill in StellaFax, the only place where one could view Cottonwood Lake in its entirety.

The only food Amon could easily catch was the wax worm, but finding them was a challenge. He was about to set out on when a familiar voice caused him to jump.

“You spend far too much time hunting those things. Just look for wax moths and follow them, it’ll cut your time in half. Anyway, they aren’t good for you. You need crickets if you want to put on muscle.”

Amon turned to find his brother, Amyntas, crouched on an upturned root. The shock apparent on Amon’s face caused his brother to laugh out loud. “What? You didn’t think they’d send someone to keep an eye on you?”

“Do they know?” Amon asked, sputtering, “About…”

“Your secret tunnel?” his brother said, smiling. “No. I haven’t told them about your little project.”

Amyntas hopped down and strode toward his youngest sibling. “I have to admit I’m surprised you had it in you. You dug this tunnel all by yourself?”

Straightening his back and holding out his chest, Amon said, “Of course I did it myself.”

He then held out both hands, displaying well-worn skin and a collection of dry calluses.

“Impressive, little brother,” Amyntas added. Still smiling, he reached up and over his left shoulder to pull his spear from its sheath.

Amon’s eyes grew wide as his brother held the spear out to him. He had only just reached childhood when Amyntas (passing into adolescence) had worked tirelessly on this amazing weapon. Elder Panos had declared, during the Autumn Chill ceremony, that it was the most well made and righteous spear he had ever seen.

“One day, Amon,” his brother said solemnly, “You will make your own.”

Holding the spear, Amon felt a warm buzz race through his body. Still, he knew that he was not destined to be a SpearFrog and protector of StellaFax. Handing it back to Amyntas, Amon said, “You are the one who protects us, my brother.”

Amyntas accepted it and knelt. “What am I protecting us from, though? We know we’re the only intelligent beings on this world. Aside from the threat of bad weather, there is little use for me.”

Amon looked down at his thin, mottled green feet. He wished there was something he could say. He had never heard his brother speak this way before.

Amon took Amyntas’ hand in his own and said, “You protect me.”

Chuckling, Amyntas said, “The only thing I protect you from is yourself.”

At this, they both laughed, but Amon’s stomach growled angrily and before long, he was on his own again in search of wax worms. He knew that Amyntas was right. These moth larvae were nothing more than fatty treats and gave him little sustenance. He did enjoy crickets, especially the way his mother prepared them, but he just wasn’t any good at catching them. He’d starve before hunting enough to make a meal.

By noon, he found himself on a distant piece of rocky shoreline. The main beach was far too busy this time of day for his taste. Many new early adolescents were now learning to snare dragonfly. Amon had attempted these advanced techniques, but was met again and again with failure.

Feeling unworthy and inept, he leaned down and brought a cupped handful of water to his lips. Though frogs absorbed water naturally through their skin, he loved to drink in the coolness. Many did. As he knelt for another sip, he nearly tumbled into the lake as a cricket bounced unceremoniously off the back of his head. Angry, Amon lunged for it, but the tiny, black creature hopped away in a seemingly random pattern.

Furious, Amon attempted the same haphazard leaping and tracked the cricket from Cottonwood Lake to the tall grass and then northeast into the forest. Sliding on a carpet of fallen leaves, he nearly nabbed the cricket, but lost balance and tumbled head first over a shallow grade. When the dizziness wore off, Amon stood and nearly shouted when he saw a frog sitting only a foot before him.

Elder Panos knelt silently, staring up at a tree nearly as wide as Monastery Oak. This tree, however, was a cedar and Amon breathed deeply of its spicy aroma. The oldest frog in StellaFax was staring up at a collection of strange symbols that had long ago been carved into the tree bark.

“Good morning, Amon,” Elder Panos said calmly, not turning around. “Can you read what it says?”

Amon stared at the tree a moment, then started to make out what appeared to be letters. The bark had grown thick and scabby around the cuts, but he soon decoded it.

“It says Lupanex,” Amon offered. “I think. And there are numbers beneath it. 736, or maybe 735.”

Still staring at the cryptic information on the cedar, the old frog asked, “Have you ever wondered where we came from, Amon? Who Newt and Marie really were and where they themselves were from? Why our land here is known as StellaFax?”

Amon’s eyes widened. These questions were at the core of the great mystery of what it meant to be a leopard frog.

“Would it surprise you to learn that I know the answer to these, and other, questions and will one day pass them on to you?”

“What?” Amon breathed.

Elder Panos turned, a sardonic smile on his lips. “Normally, you would have been told of your appointment as future Elder upon adulthood, young one. I was told early, quite by accident, by my own Elder, Silas. I kept the secret. Can you?”

“Yes,” Amon whispered. “Of course.”

“You cannot tell even your parents that you have been chosen. Everyone will know when the time is right.”

“But what can I do? To prepare?”

Elder Panos laughed, though without the energy and verve of Amyntas. “Amon, you are preparing as we speak. You are growing and learning. You are a curious and kind soul. Just trust in your heart and everything will be fine. Before long, we will meet in private and I will pass on to you the message Marie left us, scrawled upon thin scraps of bark. I have lived long with this knowledge and it will be good to pass it on.”

A cricket leapt between them and, without thinking on it, Amon’s tongue lashed out and snared the insect. He took it between both hands and stared at the wriggling thing in awe.

“Do not be so shocked, Amon. You underestimate yourself. We will speak more of this another day.”

And so, Elder Panos turned, knelt and continued his communion with the cipher on the tree.

Munching on what was probably the best tasting cricket he had ever eaten, Amon traced his way carefully back to Monastery Oak. The feeling building within him was almost too much to contain. He felt like shouting, dancing. Yet underneath it all, there was an itch… an impossible irritation that wouldn’t let up. He knew he had to find out, and there was no way he could wait until adulthood. Right now, there was only one question to tackle: how he was going to get his hands on that mysterious message left by Marie?

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