"We're the worlds slimiest nerds," John said.
"Nah," I say, admiring the fake membrane hanging off my arms. "Slimiest artists, more like. We're going to scare the shit outta Baker."
"Anyone can scare Baker, Ryan. Hell, a local news story about a science fair winner can scare Baker. He's so paranoid that he doesn't even have a phone."
"He doesn't own a phone? Jesus, it's a miracle he hasn't up and died yet."
"Maybe he has," John says, wiggling his fake-webbed fingers. "But nah, I'm not interested in scaring Baker. I'm thinking bigger."
"Baker's like, hundreds of pounds. He's the biggest guy in town," I say with a snort. "Any bigger and we'd need to bring a coffin, to deal with the heart attack victim."
"I heard his mom took three urns to carry her," John says. "That's pretty damn big. Bigger than Baker, I'd bet."
"I heard his dad took four," I counter.
"Ah, fuck off. I'm thinking bigger than four urns. I'm thinking about a whole damn graveyard compared to that."
"Hm," I say. "How big?"
"It's going to be the biggest thing in Loveland since Lola Smith was caught banging Mr. Little in the school bathroom."
"God damn, John. You set your standards pretty high."
"Listen, Ryan. We've got the latest iPhone. We've got costumes so good Frogman's mama couldn't tell us apart. In other words, we've got the beginnings of the best Halloween prank in existence."
"D'ya think two Loveland Frogs are too weird? Maybe people'll get suspicious."
"Nah," John says. "You can be the Loveland Frog's beautiful wife." He swoons and makes kissing noises into the air.
"And you can be the inbred cousin," I say, punching him in the shoulder. "Hideously deformed and destined to die alone."
John flips me off, and I smile.
"So," I say, still grinning. "Who're we gonna scare?"
The flashlight traces a drunken path in front of us, a golden patch dancing from sidewalk to sidewalk, flowerbed to flowerbed, minivan to minivan.
All the houses look the same. Red brick and white siding. Navy blue shutters.
The only house that doesn't match is 1313, with shutters as red as blood.
Guy who lives there, Dan Baker, he's a paranoid son-of-a-bitch. Says that red brings good luck. Keeps his shutters locked all the time. Rarely leaves. Real kook.
One Halloween, some kid made the mistake of coming to his house for trick-or-treat.
Baker thought he was some kinda actual monster, shot him in the gut. The gun was loaded with rock salt, so the kid didn't die, but poor Harry hasn't been the same since. Pretty sure he just got outta St. Luke's Hospital after he almost killed a girl.
Baker's loony, and his type of crazy is contagious.
"Little further," John says.
"Hang on," I say. "How do you even know where Julie's party is gonna be? It's only for the best of the best. The strongest of the strong. The cheeriest of the cheer squad. The hottest of the hot. How'd you get it?"
"Ha, ha, very funny. Believe it or not, I got invited."
John holds up a small business card. On it is an address and a date.
"No way," I say. "No goddamn way. Really?"
"No, not really," John snorts. "I might fit the hottest of the hot criteria, but I'm also the gayest of the gay. I don't get invited to things."
"Didn't I invite you to my house?"
"You don't count."
"Ouch. So how'd you get the card?"
"I promised Luke Star that I wouldn't tell good old papa Reverend Star about his tryst with Gina and Carrie. It was purely out of the goodness of my heart. I'm following the 'bro code.' I just... asked for something in exchange."
"You sick bastard."
"See, now you get it. I told you, I'm planning for this to be the most fun this shithole has had in years. I mean, our claim to fame is a police officer who shot a crippled iguana, for God's sake. We need to liven things up around here. Now shut up. We're getting close."
With no small amount of trepidation, I pull the frog mask over my eyes, covering the last bit of exposed skin left on me. Everything, from my toes to my eyes, is covered by the frog suit. It took us all month to make it, and finally, it's done. And done well, I might add.
A few minutes later, the flashlight goes off. No use in revealing ourselves until we're ready.
We've got some popular assholes to scare.
The door, of course, is open. Julie's party is elite. It moves around every year. So she's not too worried about uninvited guests.
Well she's about to get two guests she never invited.
As I sneak towards the sounds of raucous party-goers, I realize that John has vanished, taking my iPhone with him. Preparing to film, I guess.
Bastard. If there's a single crack on that thing, I'm gonna kill him.
When I feel like I'm close enough to the action, I hide. Waiting for John's signal, whatever that may be.
Then the lights go out.
Stupid bastard. You can't film if there's no light. And we can't exactly rely on flash photography, now can we?
Some high pitched, giggly screams come from the room ahead. Ah yes, cheerleaders. Always with the dramatic flair.
Not all cheerleaders. There was this one girl named Tori who was awesome. But she moved away, and only the worst that the cheer squad has to offer get invited here.
Think of any high school movie you've ever seen. Now picture the main antagonist: the Blonde Barbie, leader of the cheer squad and girlfriend to the most popular guy.
Now you've got Julie.
See? Worst of the worst.
"Anyone got a Ouija board?" asks a loud, definitely drunk voice.
There are some nervous giggles, but overall, no answer.
I fiddle around in my suit until I find the little speaker in my pocket. It should be connected to my phone, which should be transmitting a signal, playing music for my frog ears.
Hell yeah. Works like a charm.
I can hear the room getting tenser. More nervous laughter.
"Who is that?"
"Turn it off, you assholes."
"Damn, which one of you thought this would be funny?"
And then, the voice of Julie, filled with false confidence.
"Don't worry guys, my older brother does shit like this every year at Halloween."
There's a relieved silence for a moment, but then I hear another girl speak up.
"Isn't Brayden away at college?"
My smile is invisible under my frog mask. Soon, the panic will set in.
Julie ignores her.
"Dammit, Bray, shut up! My friends are over!"
One step forward. Two steps forwards. A bit farther and they'll be able to see me. Not all of me. In the dark, they might not even be able to tell that I'm the Loveland Frog. But they'll be scared just the same.
Another step. And another.
"Holy shit, Jules," says a boy. "I see something moving over there."
"I'll deal with it, Seth. It's fine. I told you, it's just my brother.
"But Jasmine just said—"
"I said, I'll deal with it!" Julie snaps.
She walks right into me.
Her face tilts up towards me, and her eyes bug out as she observes me in horrified shock.
But then, something goes horribly wrong.
Her eyes keep bulging. They grow and stretch until they look like the eyes of a bug.
Or... the eyes of a frog.
A thick, pink tongue shoots out and back in.
"Jesus Christ, Brayden," she says, her voice taking on a horrendously unnatural lisp. what are you thinking? If they see you like this— If our secret gets out—"
"Julie?" asks the boy named Seth.
"It's fine," she says. "I was right. Don't worry, I'll tell him to piss off."
I can do nothing but stare.
"Hang on," she says, staring at me with an intensity I really don't like. "You're not Brayden."
Yeah, nope. I'm done. I'm out. Who gives a shit about scaring people now? I've seen way too much. I am out of here.
I do the safe thing.
But Julie's faster than I thought. Her little frog legs let her jump and catch up to me, easy.
"Just a costume, hmm?" she says, easily keeping pace with me. "Who's under that mask?"
I stop dead and start sprinting in the opposite direction. Okay. Outrunning her is not an option My little trick bought me a few seconds, at most. What do I do, what do I do...
A loud bang right next to my head makes me fall to the ground in shock.
Ow, dammit, my ears...
I wait for Julie to catch up to me.
I look up and squint into the darkness, trying to find the source of the noise.
"I'll be damned," I say. "John? That you?"
"It is indeed," John says, pulling me up. His hands are 100-percent-costume free. I take my costume off pretty fast, too. As far as I'm concerned, I never want to see another webbed hand in my life.
"What was that?" I ask.
"That," John says, "was the real Loveland Frog. And, with the night mode on your iPhone, we just got it on film."
"You knew?" I ask.
"Course I knew. I know everything. I'm the man, man."
"You sick bastard," I say.
Despite everything, I smile. He's a sick bastard, sure, but he just saved my life.
And I just saw a real life legend. I'd say that's a damn good night.
He'll have some questions to answer later, though.
Right now? I'm just happy to be alive.
"So next," John says. "Next, I'm thinking Bigfoot."
I just laugh and shake my head.
He thinks he's found something here? Footage of a Loveland Frog?
He's got no idea. He's only just found the tip of the iceburg.
But I'll play along.