Cooper Series Short Stories

Cooper and The Lost Gold

The trees stood tall and dense and their foliage appeared, as always, to be keeping out much of the day’s brightness. A thick sheet of grass covered the land and crept over the feet of the trees that stood in its way. In the midst of this thicket flowed a stream that rose from a distant waterfall, whose loud rumble was an omnipresent music in these surroundings. A few feet away from this stream, a little golden coloured shape leapt up and ahead on its way, and behind it followed another, a slightly larger golden shape. Both the frogs moved confidently in the same direction as if drifting through a familiar territory. They also seemed joyful in their movement, as if heading home after a long day’s toil.

The smaller frog, Buck, reached the stream first and waited for the other frog, Rosie. Both of them leapt into the water and onto the bottom which was only a few centimetres under the surface of the water. In front of them rested a little bubble like shape that contained a thick dot, a blend of gold and black colour at its centre. The larva came into the world just the day before, and in the next few days, their son would be seeing the world. But as their child was in the process of attaining life out of the water, one thing that hovered in the minds of Buck and Rosie was the question about the future of their kind, or rather the shortness of it.

A few days later, Buck and Rosie were leaping into the thicket of the forest and in the middle jumped Loco, the tiny golden figure, full of joy and vigour. The three frogs made their way into the thicket for a long time. Loco, who was only a week old, was slowing down with each leap, and finally paused and breathed heavily. Buck jumped near him and lifted his forearm towards Loco. Loco made a sound without lifting his arms. Buck put his arm down and stood for a moment. Then he came around his son, showing him his back. Loco mounted onto his father’s back and gripped him tightly. Buck looked at Rosie, waved his arm and leapt forward. All the three frogs moved through the forest for a few hours. They were now able to hear a loud croaking in a distance. Buck and Rosie moved swiftly in the direction of the sound, and soon they could see various golden dots shallowly spread along the ground. Buck and Rose looked at each other as if exchanging the same thoughts. The number of gathered frogs was far less than they both had expected this year. This would mean only one thing: their kinship is declining at a far more severe rate than they feared before.

They both reached the gathering of the frogs, and upon seeing their leader’s family approach, there was a loud and continuous croaking and hand waving from one frog to another. Buck and Rosie, along with their son, Loco, joined the crowd. A while later all the male frogs and female ones separated into two smaller groups. Buck leapt forward and turned to face the two gatherings, and Rosie stood in front of the females. Loco and all the other younger frogs stayed with their mothers. Buck turned his glance from left to right, as if scanning the bleak stretch of the crowd. From up close, the gathering looked even more sparse, and the worrisome thoughts came back to him. He lifted his both forearms and waved them at the crowd and croaked loudly. And slowly drew the arms closer to each other and gave another croak, a quiet one this time. The gathering was silent for a moment, and then one frog responded with a short croak and another one followed, and then another. This continued with an occasional waving of their arms, once at the gathering and then at Buck. They were all immersed in communicating the reasons of their numbers falling short year after year at the gathering.

Buck was looking at them and listening to what they’re saying. The frogs waved their arms all over their skin and let out a series of loud croaks. They all confirmed their fears to their leader, unanimously agreeing upon the major cause of their crises: the thick-skin disease is what has been killing them off. The regions from which these frogs had come were the only regions where the disease was not completely at large. Some of these frogs had witnessed the deaths of their friends in their shelters just days ago. That was when they realized the claws of evil to be upon them. They all immediately left their places and arrived here, to warn their leader and others of the plight.

After listening to this, both Buck and Rosie waved their arms at the entire crowd, as if assuring them not to worry. Rosie came forward and voiced at Buck telling him that it could be dangerous for the gathered frogs to return to their homes. Buck waved at her in agreement. He came forward and voiced a series of little croaks, speaking what was on his mind out to the comrades. He suggested they all stay back here and settle down in this region and not return to their home regions as the disease might soon kill them there. He kindled a new hope in their hearts that it is safe here and that they all can stay close together and try to protect one another from the fatal misfortune happening elsewhere.

To any living being in the face of death, an assurance of life is a form of elixir to quench its thirst and a torch to scare-off the beast. All the frogs that have travelled this far from their homes to caution their kind were offered that very elixir by their leader. They all croaked in applause as if thanking him for his deed. Buck and Rosie looked at one another and croaked happily at everyone.

*

As many seasons passed, Loco and other younger frogs grew up into the young age, and their parents older and more fearful towards the future.

Loco leapt away from the neighbourhood croaking joyfully at Ruby, a young female from the colony, who was pacing in front of Loco. Ruby turned and croaked at him as if urging him to catch up in the race into the forest. They both moved playfully ahead into the streams of water. Ruby was in the water and Loco leapt onto her back. The water that always drowned them both in this naughty feat of theirs this time had only barely reached Loco’s feet. He was surprised by this. He got down from Ruby’s back and stood in the flowing water. His feet were immersed in the sand at the bottom while more than half his body was still out of the water. He felt the cool breeze pass over him. Loco realized that the stream was a lot less deep than it was a season ago. Another thing that surprised Loco about the water was its colour. It’s not clear and transparent anymore but was smeared in a dull grey colour.

Loco and Ruby returned to their respective shelters, and all along his mind was preoccupied with the thought of informing his dad about what he saw in the stream. He went into their burrow and found Buck there. Upon hearing his son return home, Buck voiced a cheerful croak at him but was surprised to come across a concerned look on his face. Buck waved his arm at Loco. And Loco took a step forward and gave a low and long croak. He waved his arm at his feet and then at the ground, touching the floor. Buck looked at his son with an interesting glance. Then Loco waved his arms twice in front of his eyes and then once again at the ground, this time without touching it. And Loco continued the communication in shorter croaks. Realizing what his son had found out about the stream in the forest, Buck slowly took a step back and stayed quiet. He didn’t utter any sound. Loco was surprised by this and came forward. He sat beside his father and tenderly touched him with his forearm.

Buck looked at Loco with a clear sadness in his eyes. He then began to croak quietly at his son, telling him that he knew it was going to happen. He and the others could feel that the flow of water has been reducing for some time now and also the noise of the waterfall had diminished over the seasons. Clearly, something on was going on around the forest that was causing this. They didn’t know what but something was slowly changing the face of the forest as they knew it. This had been colony’s one of the biggest concerns recently. They thought they were all safe here, but new problems kept coming up every year. The reduction of water in the stream or its changing colour would make it unfit for the families to grow their new larva in it. This is the biggest threat to them, for even if they all survive against any disease if they can’t breed and create new life, that would be the end of their species.

Loco listened to his dad and the weight of reality started to loom on his shoulders for the first time in his life. Observing the expression of concern on his face, Buck stood and waved at his son to not worry. He told him that the colony would stay together and do everything they can for the survival of their species.

Ever since this encounter with his son, Buck had been thinking of ways to make the situation of the colony better. A few days later, when Rosie entered the burrow, Buck came to her and exerted a conversational croak at her, informing her that he wants to go into the forest in search of other water bodies that would support the breeding of the new larva. He and a party of other men were going on the expedition. He then called onto Loco and suggested to him that he and his young friends took care of the gathering of the food for the colony.

Loco and Buck embraced each other outside their house as did many other parents and children in the colony. They were going in search of a better place, a better future, and possibly, a better and sustaining life somewhere else. All the frogs in the colony were very concerned for the larva. The water stream had turned almost unsustainable for any new life. It was time they found a new place to bring up their progeny. But nobody in the colony knew if their efforts to save themselves would bear fruit. With such hope in their hearts, they all cheered the explorers and wished them success.

*

Days had become weeks, and weeks a season, but no news came from the forest. Buck and his expedition party did not return. Now, it had started to worry the colony. Loco, along with some of his peers, had decided to go in search of their elders.

The forest regions that were away from their colony felt warmer than usual to Loco and his friends. They had never travelled this far from their homes before, and hence they didn’t know if the warmth was usual in this region. Loco couldn’t remember a time when elders mentioned other regions being warmer than their own. Now, with the unknown threat that was facing their kind, everything around them felt unnatural to him. He didn’t know what to trust in this forest anymore. Everything arose more questions to him. Why was the stream going weak, why was its colour changing, why did his father and others with him not return home even after an entire season, why was it very warm here… all of these questions bothered him more than anything.

And some of the answers were about to be encountered by them.

They continued for a few more days and nights in the forest. After travelling thus far did Loco and others come across the first skeleton. It was one of their elders. Looking at it, the hearts of the young comrades were at once stuck with despair and they all croaked in agony at the skeleton, and in the chaotic gloom, at one another. They all leapt ahead to the skeleton and stared at in an utter convulsion of their spirits. The next thought everyone had in their minds was what fate had fallen upon the rest of the party in the expedition, for they had their families in it. Loco and other frogs started to leap in different directions of the region, and they came across another skeleton, and then another, and then another. One thing that was prevalent around was the stench of the rotting of those who went in search of a better future for the entire colony.

Once the reality of the horror they encountered had settled in their desolate hearts, Loco suggested that they all return to their homes and take care of their remaining families.

Loco and party began their return to home, but all was not well with them. One frog in the party was turning weaker with each passing day. It was having trouble breathing. The frog was unable to leap ahead on its own at the usual pace. Other frogs helped it, and this caused the party to move more slowly towards their homes.

After many days of struggling voyage, the frogs had reached their colony. Looking at their children coming back alone and not finding a glimpse of Buck and his people behind them, all the frogs in the colony were disheartened and hurried towards the group. When asked about what happened, Loco croaked sorrowfully and waved his forearm at the party and then pointed it at different directions, describing what they had encountered and how they discovered the remains of their elders.

The news was a blow to the colony who were waiting for Buck and his people to return home with a new place that would sustain them. But now, with reducing water stream in the region and no other place to inhabit, the whole colony was caught by the fear of future.

In the middle of the night, the ill frog’s struggle to breathe had worsened inside its shelter. It couldn’t even utter a croak to alert the other frogs of its agony. It kept struggling for some time, and then rolled over and fell dead. Next day, In the early morning the frog was discovered, and all the colony had gathered at the body. Loco uttered a croak and waved his forearm and pointed it towards the dead frog’s body, describing the breathing problem it had been having since they left the other region where they found the skeletons of their elders. Being unable to breathe was very unusual for their kind. Most of the frogs in the colony never knew of such a problem before. Rosie leapt towards the dead body in the middle of the gathering. She moved closer and touched it, and rested her forearm on its belly. She pressed her arm there for a moment and felt the touch of it. And then she moved her arm towards the side of the belly and pressed there, and then towards another side, too. Her heart started to beat faster as she did so, and distant memories arose in the depths of her mind. What she came to realize made Rosie croak in utter terror at the whole gathering, telling them that the frog had died of thick-skin.

*

Seasons passed and the entire colony had collapsed into a doom. The thick-skin disease had made its way into the region and soon most of the frogs fell victim to it. Almost all the elders in the colony had yielded to the disease and only a handful of the young frogs survived, of which Loco and Ruby were a part of. The young ones were also soon losing the hope of their survival. There was no way to breed new larva in the region, which means no more new life of their kind. Beyond this stagnation of life stood the imminent threat of the thick-skin disease.

Loco struggled within his mind to do something about it. The turn of events had changed him immensely. He told himself that his father had given up his life in search of a better future for their kind. As his son, Loco felt it as his duty to do whatever he can to the best of his efforts for saving the colony. One day he leapt towards the stream, rather what was left of it, and kept looking at it. He was angry at it for not sustaining the life of the larva anymore, for making Buck and other elders, to go far away in search of other waters, and for everything else that followed. His heart was beating fast, but the grey water appeared indifferent – towards all that was happening to the colony. He looked into his own reflection on the surface of the water and felt the stream to be mocking him. He was overcome with despair and looked up and let out a long croaked at the top of his voice. And then, there began a rustling noise all, and he felt the drops of rain fall on him.

Loco gathered the remaining frogs in the colony to communicate the only seeming way to sustain the life of their kind. He stood in front of the crowd and lifted his forearm in the direction of the water stream and croaked. He then pointed his arm skywards and then at the ground, and continued to utter short croaks, suggesting they store the water falling from above by digging burrows outside their shelters to hold the gathering water. Once the burrow gets filled with water, it could support the growth of their larva. Listening to his idea, some frogs croaked in agreement and some did not. But the colony had accepted to give it a try. No idea is a bad idea in the face of death, and the colony was aware of what their fate might be if they can’t bring new larva to life. So, they all croaked in agreement to Loco’s idea.

All the young frogs dug into the ground with their arms and pulled the clay aside. They made wider burrows rather than deeper ones to get hold of the raindrops. Everyone in the colony assisted one another in this feat with a hope to save themselves and their progeny. This continued for days and the burrows were ready. The frogs were full of hope to see the results and waited for the elixir to fall upon them.  

But the rain never came.  

Despair had overshadowed the colony. Every effort they had put in to save themselves had resulted in misfortune. None of the frogs could endure what was happening to them. To make things worse, a few days later, two frogs in the colony began to have trouble breathing. This had worsened the fears of the colony. Every time the thick-skin disease touched them, it wiped out a generation. And now, there were no more generations to die but the last.

In a matter of days, each frog, one after another, began to give in to the disease. Frogs stopped coming out of their own burrows. They all knew what was going to happen to them, and they wanted to face it in the peace of their homes. The odour of the rotting bodies only elevated their helplessness.

Loco and Ruby were the only last ones in the colony. Loco stood beside Ruby as her skin got thicker and she struggled to take in the air. He knew that it was all over for them.

Ruby too succumbed to the disease, and Loco was left all by himself in the region. The colony was gone, and with it, all his loved ones.

When the entire region was wrapped in a ghostly quietness, there came a loud rustle in the surroundings of the region. Loco was waiting for his turn to die when the noise reached him. He realized that the rain had come to them now, not to fill their burrows and prosper new life, but to wash out all of their skeletons. Anger surged at once inside of him. He leapt outside of his burrow croaking loudly, with all his life’s anger and all of its grief. But there was no rain. And yet, he was able to hear the noise all around him. In a moment, the noise grew louder as if it was closing in on him.

Loco turned around to see what was causing the noise and noticed a large creature approaching towards him. Loco stared in astonishment at the movement of the giant shape. It now stood largely in front of him. And a short moment later, it began to descend at Loco, stretching out what looked like an arm at him.

A hand covered in yellow coloured synthetic glove moved towards Loco and caught him tenderly. Another yellow-gloved hand joined the process and placed Loco in a transparent cylindrical canister. Once Loco fell to the bottom, a lid with little pores at its centre was tightly pressed upon the mouth of the canister.

*

All the students had assembled in the lab and quickly took their seats for the lecture on the crises of amphibian extinction. And soon, the lecturer took the podium and began.

“What you’re looking at here,” said the professor, pointing at the large screen behind him, “could possibly be the last Panamanian Golden Frog on the planet.” The screen displayed a video feed of the camera pointed at the large rectangular glass box placed on the table at the centre of the stage. Inside it was a miniature recreation of a rainforest environment to sustain the golden frog that was leaping around in the glass box. “Our team of biologists,” the professor continued, “have traversed through various forests in the region and finally succeeded in finding this precious life form that has almost gone out of existence. It is now believed that Panama Golden Frogs are extinct in wild.

“There were many reasons that contributed to the endangerment of the Panama Golden Frog,” explained the professor, “the major one being the chytrid fungus. It began killing a large part of the amphibian species over the decades. But the situation has worsened due to the increasing heat on the surface of our planet due to human activity, which is to say, Global Warming. The spread of the fungus had massively increased due to rising surface temperatures in the environment. The frogs that were infected by the chytrid fungus suffered an increase in the thickness of their skin. This was fatal to the poor creatures because they breathe and drink water through the pores of their skin. So, as the skin thickened, it became difficult for them to breath in the air. But, to be honest, apart from the existence of such a deadly fungus, there are also other factors, such as, deforestation and water pollution which made the regions lack good and sustaining water which is necessary to develop the larva of the frogs.

“So, really, it is us who ought to be blamed for the death of these beautiful little beings,” said the professor, looking at the glass box. “Anyways, let’s now take a look at the survival cycle of this species by considering this little frog here as our specimen in the discussion. And for ease of use, I would like to give this frog a name.

“Let’s call him ‘Cooper.”

 ****