The men followed the path that led from the forest to the pub. One man carried a long cross-cut saw. The saw bounced on his shoulder as he walked. The men were noisy and could not hear the wampa sound of the saw as it sang and bent with the man’s steps. Other men followed and carried tar-stained axes in their pine-pitch imbrued hands. The men were woodcutters and knew of the pub from the talk of local lumbermen.
A wooden sign hung from two hooks above the front entrance. The sign read, in bold slanted letters, Schooner’s Black Magic Pub. Below those words, in smaller letters were the words, best frog legs in Louisiana. Tiny frog images decorated the sign. The frogs wore whimsical wizard-style hats and grinned at one another in a way that was more sinister than comical.
At the pub door, the men leaned their axes and, out of habit, stomped the dried river mud from their boots. The men went into the empty pub and pulled two of the long tables together. The men sat and ordered wine. A girl brought the wine in carafes and set the carafes on the long-planked tables in front of the men. The men ordered the frog legs and teased the girl obstreperously and made crude comments that made the girl uncomfortable. The girl did not raise her face but only set the wine out for the men. A boy brought cups made of pewter and placed one in front of each man.
The men were large and their conversation was loud. They were heavy and solid men with voices to match. They laughed together the way brothers laugh and they clapped one another on the shoulder. The men ate countless heaps of frog legs and when they finished drinking the wine the men asked for more carafes of the same wine. They did not know the name of the wine, so that is how they called for it – by ordering more of the same wine.
“Girl. Bring more wine.”
“Hey girl, the wine. Bring more wine for my friends.”
The girl left to get the wine. She went through an open door at the rear of the pub. The boy followed the girl through the door-opening. The girl returned carrying two carafes of the wine. The boy carried a third. The girl still did not raise her head, but eyed the boy through her loose hair. When the boy’s eyes met her’s she mouthed to the boy, “don’t do it.”
The boy only grinned at his sister and set the carafe on the long wooden table.
“What’s the problem boy?” A large man asked, “You carrying only one carafe of the wine, the girl carries two.”
“I sell frogs.” the boy said.
The man looked at the boy. The man had one cheek scrunched up so tightly his eye was nearly closed. He tilted his enormous head to one side in order to better attitudinize his puzzlement.
“You do what boy?”
“I sell frogs.”
“Don’t nobody here care that you sell frogs boy.”
“You will,” the boy said.
“Don’t get smart with me boy.” The man said.
“Stop it Tyler,” the girl said, “they don’t mean no harm.”
“Maybe not,” the boy said, “but they did start it – coming in here behaving like brutes.”
“They’re just having some fun,” the girl said.
“So am I,” Tyler said, “so am I.”
“But you always get carried away.” The girl said.
“Look at me boy,” the man’s voice boomed as he stood and towered over the boy, “do I look like I want to buy a frog boy?”
“No sir, I suppose not, but I didn’t ask if you wanted to buy a frog – I said I sell frogs.”
The man slammed his empty cup onto the table.
“That does it boy, I think it’s time I learned you a lesson.”
The other men stopped talking. They stopped eating the frog legs and looked at the boy and at their fuming friend.
“Please Tyler,” the girl pleaded, “we have too many already. Let them have their fun, they will leave soon.”
The boy shrugged in disinterest to both the man’s threat and to his sister’s pleas. The man grabbed the boy’s shirt collar and curled it into his fist. The boy blinked hard and held it. The timbers in the roof rumbled and moaned, the table shook violently across a vibrating floor. The men held tightly to the table and tried desperately to press it still with their massive palms. With their eyes wide and their cheeks quivering over their dropped jaws, the men watched in disbelief as their enormous friend was reduced to a common croaking bullfrog. The boy cupped the frog in his hands and dropped it into the pewter cup from which the man had been drinking. The boy turned to the other men who stood silently around the table. He held the cup above his head as if he were making a toast and said, “I sell frogs.”
The violent shaking started again. Men screamed.
Outside, the sun was setting below the Louisiana pines. Innumerable frogs began to sing a sad repetitive song of loneliness. The wooden sign above the door of Schooner’s Black Magic Pub squeaked as it swung slowly above a pile of fallen woodcutters’ axes.