Tropical Leaves

The River

I lie comfortably in my crate as the current pulls me downriver. The pleasant gurgling lulls me into a dreamy stupor, and I am not at all concerned about waterfalls.

Of course, there are waterfalls. Already I believe I have passed over a good number of these, but they have been minor, and insufficient to really give me trouble. Even from the depths of my tangerine languor I am aware that the Big Drop is on its way. I know this because I was briefed extensively by the frogkin regarding the journey I would be undertaking.

In these briefings I was shown countless maps, which I largely ignored, since I don't speak froggic, and so even if I had a question about the maps it would do me no good, for the frog assigned as my translator had fallen into a wayward vortex the night prior, under highly suspicious circumstances I might add, and we were unable to find him, though his squeals could occasionally be heard coming from everywhere at once.

Even so, I saw the maps, however briefly, and I saw the Big Drop, the only part of the maps that had been colored in. This had been done using toadkin blood, a vibrant ink distilled from the vital fluids of the toadmen, who had been at war with the frogmen since time immemorial. As an aside, I must note that the frogmen's meticulousness in rendering this ink was rivaled only by their hopeless ineptitude in all matters artistic, and on each map I was shown, the Big Drop was characterized by a mad hodgepodge of violent strokes and splatters. Very likely I would have no conception of the Big Drop at all, were it not for the startling savagery of these depictions, which conveyed such an energy of fear and loathing that even my most obtuse alternate self could hardly dismiss them.

Did the river just pick up speed? It may be only my paranoid imagination, but I am almost certain the current just now quickened, almost imperceptibly, yet discernible to my schizophrenic senses. Only moments later, though, and I have relaxed again, convinced that the whole thing was nothing more than a flight of fancy. Yet caged away in the dank cellars of my psyche is the disquieting notion that acceleration alone would be perceptible to me, as I would become accustomed to my increased speed in mere moments, and it would then feel no different from my former, lesser velocity.

The only way I could possibly validate or disprove my suspicions would be to look at the riverbank and gauge how quickly it rushes past, and yet I cannot do this. There is my soporific state to consider, yes, but also I am forbidden to so much as raise a whisker above the gunwale of my crate.

This proscription, as I understand it, is due to the fact that my river route cuts directly through the realms of the toadmen, who not only leap (literally) at any opportunity to thwart the frogkins' designs, but would also delight in gobbling up a furry morsel such as myself. All this I gleaned via sign language and a fair amount of guesswork, for as I said my translator was compromised at the time, and likely remains so. As such, I may be on the wrong track, but either way the idea of peering over the edge, however briefly, fills me with dread.

There! Okay, this time the river has definitely picked up speed. I know because its gurgling is almost certainly louder than before, and increasing still.

Well alright then, I accept this. So the river is speeding up. What could this mean? Surely it could mean any number of things, and not exclusively that one thing which I can hardly bear to ponder, namely that the Big Drop is nigh.

Truth be told, I can hardly believe I got into this silly crate in the first place, for didn't the maps make it plain enough that all roads lead to the Big Drop? Yes, even my disinterested eye had comprehended this fact. The maps had been shuffled before my eyes at an astonishing pace, as a frogman colonel belched into my ears, and the noon bells clanged ferociously, yet still the overarching thesis of the maps had been clear as day.

I am of a mind that the frogmen did their best to obscure this truth from me, under the guise of readying me for my journey. I believe this was done to conceal from me the true nature of my little maritime exodus, namely that I am being executed for "Grande Conspiracy to Commite High Treason". No frog amongst them wields the requisite stones to behead me properly, and so here I am, bobbing towards the largest waterfall ever conceived of, with the exact moment of my demise concealed from me by the planks of my humble crate.

Am I guilty?

I hardly see the point in asking, or answering, such questions at this stage, but if you must know, I am as innocent as the angelic dormouse ensnared in the hawk's vice. Next question.

The frogmen see it differently, of course. To them, my manifesto alone was cause for alarm, and perhaps even for panic. In no way did I intend to cause distress when I penned the thing, and yet so often our creations assume a life of their own, and lead to our unceremonious execution, do they not?

The river's warbling has become a dull roar. Up until now I have heard nothing like this; the earlier falls managed only a meager fraction of this tremendous cacophony. I accept that my doom is presently at hand.

It has been a good old life. I regret nothing, and I see now with preternatural clarity how each circumstance was absolutely indispensable to my arrival at this precise point in time and space, which I suddenly recognize as my moment of supreme triumph!

Grappling hooks, I presume these belong to the toadkin, whizz above me, but fail to find purchase on my little craft. No doubt the toadies would like nothing better than to ransom me back to the frogmen at a premium, but my fate has already been ordained, with little chance of appeal.

Something heavy thumps onto the floor near my feet. With a tremendous effort I raise my head.

It is a hardbound copy of my manifesto, all seven-thousand pages of it. It has flopped open to page 1,444, and I can see clearly that the thing has been heavily annotated, with countless little edits, revisions, even entire paragraphs have been deleted, and replaced in the margins by new sections written in a childlike scrawl.

Truly, these toadmen are devious. No doubt they seek to lure me out, to persuade me to catch a rope and come ashore, but for what? So that I might sit before a panel of their chief literati as they dismantle my magnum opus?

No, the toads have miscalculated on this front, and revealed to me the depths of their desperation. I let out a hearty belly-laugh, and hope the toads can hear it.

I have far larger fish to fry, namely the infinite glory I feel myself stepping into as the Big Drop looms. I suppose if I were to have one regret, and this is not an actual regret, merely a hypothetical regret, it would be that my manifesto was not better understood. If only the Tsar of the Frogkin had seen that it was not at all a refutation of him, but in fact the opposite!

Oh well. Even as this final thought dribbles over my skull like cold milk, I feel my crate slip over the edge of the Big Drop, the inevitable.

To my immense surprise, I do not fall at all, but instead rise higher and higher, becoming lighter, finer. My body, my entire being is transmuted into a sparkling diamond lattice. I find myself laughing with sheer joy as I am suffused with bliss beyond words.

Suddenly I know that there can be no Big Drop, for there is no lower to go. I had already tumbled down a 'big drop' just to arrive to this reality of frogs and toads and manifestos, and all that's left is to go back home.

My friends are here.