The Arena, and What Happened There

It is after the apocalypse. Gasoline is hard to come by. People wear funny clothes. Everyone is dangerous. Shrieking bandits jump onto the windshield of Max’s truck.

“Wait!” cries Max as they pound at his windshield.

The bandits pause. They listen to what Max has to say. An armed society is a polite society.

Max holds up a frog. “This is the jumpingest frog that you ever saw. I bet he could outjump any frog you have.”

“Gyaa!” screams a bandit. He pounds on the windshield with the butt of a rifle. “Your frog cannot compete with the celebrated frogs of the Thunder Bandits!”

“Then maybe we should settle our differences with a little wager,” says Max. He slows his truck. He stops his truck. The bandits hesitate. They’re suspicious, but eager to wager.

Max gets out. He sets his frog down on the ground.

“Just a little demonstration,” says Max. “To whet your appetite.”

He points at the frog. “Jump!” he says.

The frog looks at him. It croaks inquisitively.

“Well,” says Max, “about six feet, for now.”

The frog looks out across the blasted desert wasteland. It tilts its head to one side, then the next. A dandelion, blown from a distant child’s grave, floats by. The frog jumps over the dandelion. It’s a long, low jump, six feet in length. It lands.

“Gyaa!” exclaim various Thunder Bandits. They draw back in consternation. “That frog is not natural!”

“It’s mutated,” says Max. “By the apocalypse. It happens to a lot of frogs.”

The frog hangs its head. Brrrrp, it croaks sadly.

“I’m sorry,” says the Thunder Bandit chieftain to the frog.

The bandits gather together. They whisper among themselves. Then they say, “We will take your challenge. We will pit our frog against yours, with your life and the gasoline in your truck as the stakes. Also, we will offer a decorative cup. But you shall not prevail!”

“Come,” snaps Max. The frog jumps into his arms and cuddles there. He turns his attention to the bandits. “Lead on.”

The Thunder Bandits take him to their home. It is a dome. Their children live there. Also, their elderly and their frogs.

“We will hold this contest in the morning,” says the chieftain. “Please leave your frog in the holding pen.”

“Of course,” says Max. He puts his frog in the frog pens. He goes and has a good night’s sleep. In the middle of the night, the Thunder Bandits sneak to the frog pen. They feed Max’s frog pellets of depleted uranium. Soon Max’s frog is large and bulgy. It attempts to hop. It is sluggish. Its stomach clanks. It sits down uncomfortably and begins a furious process of digestion.

Dawn rises over the blasted cliffs. A butterfly, born from its cocoon on the day of the apocalypse, flutters down to rest on a nearby leaf. Max’s frog eats it. Thwip!

“The rules are simple,” says the bandit chieftain. He gestures to an arena hastily assembled from chicken wire. “Two frogs enter. One frog leaves!”

The other Thunder Bandits chant. “TWO FROGS ENTER. ONE FROG LEAPS!”

“The frog that leaves,” clarifies the bandit chieftain, “shall be the one that jumps farthest.”

“That’s fair,” says Max.

“TWO FROGS ENTER! ONE FROG LEAPS!”

Max picks up his frog. It takes him several tries. He frowns. “Hey, have you been gaining weight?”

Brrrrp, the frog answers. Its tone is apologetic.

Max puts his frog in the arena. The Thunder Bandits do the same with theirs. They snicker behind their hands, then go back to chanting.

“TWO FROGS ENTER! ONE FROG LEAPS!”

The Thunder Bandit’s frog jumps. It’s a pretty good jump.

“Jump,” says Max. “About . . . eighteen feet.”

The frog’s stomach pulses. It’s thinking about it. It’s considering the matter. Then it jumps.

There’s a terrible silence, and a terrible light.

There’s a croak, and then a pause.

The Thunder Bandit chieftain throws his hat onto the ground. He stomps on it. “A pox,” he cries, “on all uranium-powered frogs!”

“The radiation never comes out of the carpet,” Max agrees.

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