One dark, overcast evening, while heat lightning haunted the sky with eerie flashes, the frogs were, as usual, gathered about the lily pads. The air was heavy and unnaturally hot, filled with the sharp, biting odor of drying plant life.
Old Boggle took advantage of the strangeness of the evening by telling a story of Odum and the Death Toad, while all the frogs trembled and nervously cleared their throats as they listened to the frightening tale.
While all this was going on at Whiskers' Pond,
something quite different was happening a distance away. A dark, massive shape that had been motionless throughout the hot afternoon suddenly moved, heaving itself forward.
Anyone watching would have seen that even though this creature was slow and clumsy, it was also immensely powerful, with strong legs that plowed up the forest floor every time it moved. Anyone watching would have also wondered what this fearsome thing was and what it was doing here.
But no one was watching. And so no one saw the creature proceed relentlessly, as if by plan, in the direction of Whiskers' Pond.
Hours later, after all the frogs had ended their storytelling and gone to bed, the creature was still dragging its great body toward the pond.
Finally, during the blackest, most silent part of the night, when almost everyone was fast asleep, the shadowy shape reached the pond, surveyed it with cold, yellow eyes, and then soundlessly lowered itself into the deepest, darkest part. And there it waited.
At the same time, in another part of the pond, Mort slept fitfully. He murmured and twitched all night. Then, right before dawn, he had his dream again, the dream of something awful taking over the pond.
The dream was more dreadful than it had ever been before. As usual, in the dream Mort was sent out to discover what ailed the pond. Just as he was about to see what the menace was, he awoke with a start and cried out, "It's here!"
Mort quickly arose and glanced nervously about. Nothing was out of place. Everything looked the same as it had on a hundred different mornings. Yet, deep inside, he felt that something horrible, unthinkable, had happened to the pond during the night.
He knew that he had to do something. But what? Should he warn everyone? What if he were wrong? Besides, what would he tell them? He didn't even know what had frightened him.
And suddenly it occurred to him. He knew what he must do. He had to tell Grumpeter.
He swam off immediately. The sun was just coming out and it cast bright streaks of light through the surface of the pond. Soon, though, Mort was too deep for the sun to penetrate, down where the murk was so thick and the silt so dense that it was impossible to see anything but shadows. And on down he went to Grumpeter's den.
As before, Mort had trouble finding the entrance to the cave. But after a few moments of searching, he was inside and carefully making his way back to Grumpeter's chamber.
He was nervous about stealing in unannounced, especially if Grumpeter happened to be hungry. But the old catfish had told him to come back when he had something to say, and he surely did have something to say.
Halfway down the long corridor, Mort gave a kick to hurry himself and called out, "Sir? It's me, Mort. I have to talk to you."
Only his echo answered him.
He tried again. "Hello?"
The cave was silent. No one was there.
Mort was frantic. He had to find the old catfish. What if something had happened to him? As he tried to think of what to do next, a deep voice came out of the corridor behind him: "So-o-o-o." The voice came so unexpectedly that Mort kicked out with both legs and was propelled into the ceiling of the chamber.
He turned to face the voice.
"So-o-o-o," it came again. "The little frog with nothing to say. And right in the middle of breakfast."
The reference to breakfast made Mort uncomfortable and Grumpeter seemed to sense it. "Don't worry, Mort the frog. Catfish only like certain kinds of frogs."
"What kinds?" Mort asked with a quaver in his voice.
"Careless ones," the catfish said, and he laughed a long, hollow laugh: "Ho-o-o-o. Ho-o-o-o. Ho-o-o-o."
Mort interrupted Grumpeter's deep-throated chuckle, "Sir, there's something wrong with the pond."
Grumpeter was quiet for some time. When he finally answered, he spoke softly, almost to himself, "Yes. There is something wrong, isn't there? I could feel it this morning. Something odd and --" he seemed to search for the right word "--alien." He turned his attention back to Mort. "Tell me about it."
Mort cleared his throat. He stared across the blackness of the cave and replied, "I've been having dreams. In my dreams, an evil comes to the pond and this morning, when I awoke, I knew it had arrived. It's here. Now!"
"Where?" Grumpeter asked.
"I think it's in the deepest part of the pond."
"Ahhh-just on the other side. That makes sense. The area under the ledge is almost a natural fortress."
Grumpeter was so close that Mort could feel the water stir when he spoke: "Do you know what it is?"
Mort felt ashamed. "No," he admitted. "I can't tell. All I know is that it's big and it's terrible. I'm sorry. I ..."
"There, now. It's not your fault. You did well to come here." Grumpeter lapsed into another long silence. Mort fidgeted, not sure of what to say or do.
At last the old catfish continued, "Odum said the pond would one day be in mortal danger. He didn't know what the danger was either. He only knew it could destroy us."
This time Grumpeter was quiet for so long Mort wondered if he was still there. Mort peered as closely as he could in the direction from which the catfish's voice had come, but it was impossible to see anything in the lightless cavern.
Finally the catfish addressed him, "You must go on a journey, Mort the frog. You must visit the crows. Our world here in the pond is a small one, but the crows have traveled all far and wide. Find the crows. Ask them if they've ever heard of a pond being destroyed. Ask them what could do such a thing."
Then, as if he suddenly realized the great task he'd given the young frog, he said in a gentler voice, "Don't you see, little frog? It must be you. If you truly have the gift--the gift of knowing the future--you'll be safer than anyone else. You'll have a better chance."
Mort swallowed hard and then spoke up as bravely as he could, "Should I take anyone with me, sir?"
"Take whomever you like. But hurry, Mort the frog. Hurry. The danger, whatever it is, may have already begun. It may already be too late."
Even as Grumpeter spoke, an adventurous little perch named Kirk was exploring the depths of the pond. Suddenly, violently, the dark water swirled and Kirk disappeared forever.