Have you ever read a story that was just so freaking clever a notion that you felt something close to a burning jealousy for never having had the idea yourself in the first place? Well, allow me to introduce you to Matthew Bright’s “Croak Toad,” a short story that turns The Wind in the Willows into a kind of noir crime thriller and, yes, you read that right and I know, burning freaking jealousy.
Mole is in trouble and has been called upon to do something awful, Rat knows the only way out is a clever plan (if only he had one) and Badger is just the kind of muscle they’ll need to make it possible for them all to get out of there in one piece (assuming they can come up with a plan before they’re killed).
I don’t know that I can explain just how freaking wonderful this story is, how it takes the characters and twists them just-so, how the language is so artfully crafted to put that noir patina over the almost-puns of the country lore, or the sheer burning jealousy joy of realizing the anthropomorphized characters were discussing the human equivalent to furries at one point (what would you even call those, skinnies? Fleshies?) at a dirty club.
I’ve loved everything about Stories to Sing in the Dark—side-note: it just became a finalist for this year’s Lammies—but I won’t lie: “Croak Toad” was the moment I leaned back in my seat and realized just how freaking warped and amazing Matthew Bright’s debut collection is, and… Well, burning jealousy. As I said. Because he’s such a wonderful guy, I got over my burning jealousy and asked him just how he’d come up with this story, so without further ado:
From the Author:
Croak Toad started with the name – a pun I was so pleased with I knew I had to write the story to go with it. I tried three attempts at it – each for various dimly-fitting submission calls that I thought deadline panic would see me to, but it wasn’t until I got even stricter with myself that it came together: every section of the story is exactly the same number of words long. Restriction (and a handy dictionary of hard-boiled slang!) breeds invention.
You can find Matthew Bright online at his website.