The Frog Princess
For Peca06 and her winning entry in the 2013 bleachness Ishida’s birthday contest here: http://peca06.deviantart.com/art/Ishihime-fairy-tale-413883878. Based on the Russian folk tale: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Frog_Princess
Once upon a time in Tokyo there lived a young girl who would whistle for hours as she walked sidewalks to nowhere. On school days, vacation days, days when red dragonflies skimmed new ponds of rainwater in the streets, she stepped in time with her wistful song and daydreamed about a boy she liked.
Some days she missed her favorite show because she spent all evening whistling on the streets. Stray cats stared at her. “Someday,” she sang to the pigeons and frogs. “Someday my prince will come.”
She told herself that she was lost, but her feet always returned to a run-down building before dusk. Inside the tiny apartment, she would smear her dinner with sweet jam, brush her teeth, unroll her futon and enter her night dreams.
Night dreams were confusing. Unlike dreams conjured in the light, they could not be controlled. The boy who offered a pink rose in her waking thoughts was a living skeleton at night. A bony hand would emerge from a black sleeve, offering a sake cup—uh-oh! Was the rich liquid blood? “Inoue,” a gruff voice would call.
It was a glowing white skull shrouded in black who spoke. “Inoue, you need to take better care of yourself.” This voice was suspiciously gentle, too kind to be Death. “You must be tired. Have a drink.” No, this voice did not belong to her Death. It had a haughty tone, one chiding even as it seemed to console. “Heal yourself for a change.”
Waking up, she would always be glad to be home. One night, though, she dreamed that she was awake, sitting up on the floor and the skeleton was still there. “Wake up, Inoue,” entreated the voice of the boy. “Wake up, little princess.” The voice was Kurosaki-kun’s but softer, with the mild supercilious inflections of the cloaked skull’s voice—was Kurosaki-kun taunting her? “Wake up,” said the skeleton who was and yet wasn’t the boy she liked. “Wake up and realize you’re never home.”
She woke up. Looking around, she wondered if she was still dreaming. Wasn’t she home now? Wasn’t she home?
The shock of that dream stayed with her the following day. The shock made a soft reverberation under the tune she whistled as she meandered sidewalks after school. She told herself, as she often did while choosing this wrong turn and that dead end and yet another long way back to her apartment, that she was lost, but she soon realized that the dream had spoken the truth: she was exactly where she wanted to be. Her walking about like this was a sort of pretending; it was like sleep-walking but without the fear of the unknown. No skeletons, no worries. She liked feeling as though she was exploring, flung on little adventures across the suburbs, but she was always whistling the same tune and never ending up anyplace new—least of all, a place she could call “home.”
Where did she want to be? With the boy she liked—she was sure of that. Where was the boy?
She stopped and found herself where the sidewalk sloped into the street, the concrete changing color, darkening as it blended into the traffic lane. There was no traffic. There was no boy. She was alone, and the reason the air was so still was because she had stopped whistling her tune.
She was utterly alone, and it was so quiet. She could hear far-off noises of children shouting. No birds or the hum of cars, just a sound-less breeze and that playground somewhere—did she want to be there?
“I want to be with Kurosaki-kun,” she said aloud to herself.
But the daydream didn’t come this time. The boy did not appear and offer her a rose; he did not take her hand and walk her across the street. She moved across the street alone, and although her lips formed a little o, no whistling happened.
After she reached her apartment, she asked herself if she could call this place where she slept “home.” She wondered if daydreams came from her own imagination but dreams at night came from some other source—angels, gods, her future self? She had no answers, and in this state of confusion, a little sad and forgetting to eat dinner, she fell asleep….
“That’s a frog!” The boy’s voice rang in a dark tone of disgust. “That’s a gross frog!”
“Are you—why are you pointing at me?” She who claimed not to be a frog pressed her hand to her chest and looking down there, realized that she was pressing three webbed bulbous fingers to a flat green surface. “Oh no! I am a frog!”
Kurosaki-kun was pointing at her. “The king said you have to marry whoever is standing where your arrow falls.” Kurosaki-kun was talking about marriage? This must be a very strange dream. There stood the boy she liked, wearing tight jeans and a shirt that read NICE HIVES. He turned his head slightly, and oh, he was talking to another boy—a boy dressed all in white, his blue eyes fixed on her with a solemn, disapproving look.
Ishida-kun? Why, Ishida-kun was dressed up in fancy clothes, with silver epaulettes and flashes of armor that suited a prince and perfectly matched his silver glasses. His white cape was tossed over his shoulders—the fabric looked as soft as whipped cream. He held a beautiful bow that was also silver and covered with lace engravings.
“Yes, Kurosaki, she’s an amphibian,” said Ishida in that soft tone of his, that voice he used whenever he was a little angry but trying not to show it. “So I’ll marry this frog and be done with it. I’m a man of my word.”
“Ew.” The boy in the NICE HIVES shirt made a face. “Just take her home already. I’m allergic.”
She didn’t know what stung more—Kurosaki-kun’s rejection, or Ishida-kun’s look of disgust—even if Ishida was willing to marry her. The fact that she was a disgusting frog didn’t seem as awful as how the boys were reacting. Somehow, though, her undesirability and the boys being dressed the way they were made a peculiar kind of sense. Inoue Orihime had already figured out that she was in the land of night dreams where some things were plain and true and where other things were just plain crazy. The part about me being a disgusting frog must be the truth. I have always been a little slimy. I sweat more than most girls.
Ishida held out his palm. For some reason, as she reached for it, the gesture felt disquietingly familiar, as if she had attempted to hold his hand before—no, that wasn’t right. There was no longing in her arm as she extended it. She wanted so much to be with the boy she liked, and the boy she liked had NEVER been Ishida-kun. Her arm wasn’t long enough—it was thin, pale green and was a frog’s arm—but as she held it out, it grew longer. Still, it would not reach her betrothed.
Ishida gave her a stern look.
She hopped forward with her large hind legs. How fun it must be to leap into the sky, she thought, and to swim far into adventures with an amphibian body, but still, she wished very strongly to have her legs back because she was sure that Ishida-kun would prefer them in a bride. Being certain of the power of her wishes, she looked down and instead of a disgusting frog body saw folds and folds of a very luxurious deep green formal gown.
She touched her shoulder and confirmed her human body had returned. With one hand she patted her own hair that ran in bright waves down the bodice of her gown and with the other hand she grasped Ishida’s fingers. “Look,” she said with a chirp of delight. “It’s going to be a fairy-tale wedding.”
The boy holding her hand appeared unimpressed by her transformation.
“Inoue-san,” he said, and the tone of his voice shocked her because she knew where she’d heard it before. The voice of the Death skull. “This is no fairy-tale, and this is no dream. What lies before us now is a very difficult passage.”
Fear. She was as familiar with the sensation as she was with any other—love, hunger, pain, joy. She felt fear in her throat and tears in her eyes. She wished she were still a frog and not a beautiful woman in a long flowing gown.
“What’s the matter, Inoue-san? Don’t you trust me?”
She didn’t know. Why was her friend speaking in the voice of an enemy? Why was Death acting like a lover, and why was everything that was once so familiar now so strange?
“What’s the matter, Inoue-san? Don’t you trust me?”
Hachi-san had told her riddles once about her powers. She had often wondered if she could wish things so. If she could wish things into being, she would’ve have cleared a meadow in her dreams where she and Kurosaki-kun would be standing now. It would be Kurosaki-kun holding that dazzling silver bow, and the sunlight would dapple the forest, and a white horse would be neighing softly while the prince promised a happy ending.
What was the power of her wishing, then, if Ishida-kun was the one holding her trembling fingers while her heart lurched with doubt and fear?
“Tell me, Ishida-kun,” she began with some shyness. “Do you care for me? Or is this a trick? You see…” She let go his hand and smoothed her palm against the folds of her gown. “I’m not sure if you’re Ishida-kun. You might be someone else in another dream of mine? Can you tell me the truth? Who are you?”
The prince’s glasses flashed at those words. There was no sight of his eyes, only white light. “Ah,” he said in that voice that was both kind and haughty. “You should ask yourself that question. Who are you? You are the one who needs to ask it.”
It was at this point that the night dream ended, and she who had been a frog princess woke up in a black room with no sense at all of who she really was.
This dream, too, like the one that had preceded it, the one in which Death had told her she was never home, haunted her for many days. She who had been a frog princess walked straight home from school after this dream without whistling.
She said hello to Ishida-kun here and there; she blushed whenever Kurosaki-kun spoke her name; she didn’t think much of her dream after a while but then there came a day when it was time to leave school and go to Hueco Mundo and prepare for another war and Ishida-kun could not go. And for a moment, only a moment, it flashed through her mind a vision of Ishida-kun as a prince in a cape like whipped cream, a prince who spoke in a stern voice and sounded like the Enemy, like Death, a prince who inspired fear ….
Ha, ha, no, it was only a dream. I trust Ishida-kun completely.
And with those thoughts, Inoue Orihime went to Hueco Mundo and beyond, to find herself and whatever place she could truly call home.