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Saturday, September 2, 2023

Free short story: "Frog Kiss" from The Funny Business by Kevin J. Anderson

These twenty stories cover a range of slapstick, subtle, short-short, and groaner humor. The Funny Business also includes for the very first time the scripts of the hilarious comic miniseries Grumpy Old Monsters, never before published.

The Funny Business
by Kevin J. Anderson
270 pages
Genre: science fiction, steampunk, humorous
These twenty stories cover a range of slapstick, subtle, short-short, and groaner humor. The Funny Business also includes for the very first time the scripts of the hilarious comic miniseries Grumpy Old Monsters, never before published.

Sometimes you just want to be silly…

What happens when—

A wimpy, henpecked man finds an enchanted loincloth that turns him into a real jungle Ape Man? A stranded alien uses his advanced technology to fool audiences as a stage magician?

A frustrated monster-movie actor uses a gypsy witch’s special makeup to turn into a real werewolf when the cameras start to roll? A group of heavy-metal fans finds a spell on the internet to raise their favorite dead rock star from the grave for a final encore?

A vampire, just minding his own business, wakes from his coffin to find he’s being stalked through his own castle by an over-enthusiastic vampire hunter? A futuristic law firm uses time travel as a legal loophole to win their client’s case? Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. takes on the Boogeyman for a client, or is hired out to save a sacrificial Aztec Christmas turkey?

Beware—silliness ahead. Open the book, and prepare to snicker!


The Last Laugh (and the First Laugh)

In my career I’ve written plenty of tragic stories, killed a lot of characters … some in particularly unpleasant ways (and a lot of them didn’t deserve it!). I’ve started wars, destroyed planets, even (no kidding) tried to unravel the fabric of the universe itself.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not a funny guy. I do have a lighter side.

I’ve written plenty of stories that are clever, witty, subtly amusing … or twisted, dumb, and slapstick.

I gathered the best of them here in this book, covering a range of humorous science fiction, goofy fantasy, twisted horror.

Some of them turn classic tropes on their heads. You’ll read about dragon slayers and virgin sacrifices, just trying to make the best of it. You’ll see vampires in peril (one idea that I thought was so good, I wrote two different versions of it).

Some are short and sweet with surprise endings that’ll make you snort, or at least blink in surprise. Because humor is often best when it’s fast and punchy, I added selections of flash fiction, exploring just how short a story can be and still evoke a situation and a punchline. (The shortest one I could manage was “Letter of Resignation” at 13 words, not including the title.)

There are classic time-travel twists, the darker side of a rock comeback tour (co-written with Grammy Award-winning legend Janis Ian). I’ve got a riff on Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, a story about an alien magician stranded on Earth (which was commissioned by David Copperfield himself).

You’ll read the very first vignette I ever published, “Memorial,” when I was a Junior in high school, and “Short Straws,” a revision of the very first story I ever sold for pay ($12.50), which is the inspiration for my fantasy caper series The Dragon Business. I added two representative stories from my popular Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series, one of which has never before been collected. There are even two Christmas stories.

As a special treat, we close out the book with the complete original scripts from our hilarious four-issue comic series for IDW, Grumpy Old Monsters, coauthored with my wife Rebecca Moesta. We adore those loveable monster characters and their wild adventures. These have never before been published, and the comics themselves are long out of print, but you can still visualize see the story in your mind.

So let’s get down to The Funny Business. You’ll laugh, you’ll groan, you’ll feel guilty, but deep down inside you’ll admit you were amused.

Frog Kiss
He had gotten used to it by now. The frog tasted cold and slimy against his lips, with a taste like brackish water, mud, and old compost. But Keric gave it a dutiful smack on its mouth, hoping that it wouldn’t suddenly turn into the fat old king, who had also been enchanted, along with several more desirable members of the royal family.

But the frog just looked at him, squirmed, and then urinated on Keric’s palm. Nothing. Again. He took a dab of red pigment from his pouch, smeared it on the frog’s head, and then tossed the creature through the trees and marsh grass. He listened to it plop in another pool. Another one tried and failed.

Around him, the sounds of thousands of frogs croaked in the dense swamp, loud enough to drown out the whine of mosquitoes, the constant dripping of water, and the occasional belch of a crocodile.

Sweat and dirty water ran in streaks from his brown hair, down his cheeks, and avoided the frog slime around his mouth. He had caught and tested more than three dozen frogs already, but it would be years before he could find them all—and that was only if any members of the frog-cursed royal family remained alive in the deep swamps. A crocodile splashed somewhere out in the network of cypress roots and branches. Somehow Keric couldn’t imagine the brittle old Queen Mother deigning to eat flies, not even if they were served to her by someone else.

When the evil wizard Cosimor had taken over the kingdom less than a year before, he had followed the traditional path of sorcerous usurpers by capturing the entire royal family and transforming them into frogs and then turning them loose in the sprawling, infected swamps of Dermith.

Cosimor had intended to tax the kingdom to its death, drive the subjects into slavery, and generally keep himself amused. But less than three weeks later the wizard had died choking on a fish bone—no vengeful curse, that; simply poor cooking. Now the kingdom had been left without any rulers, not even the incompetent but somehow endearing royal family.

Keric, who lived in a hut on the fringes of the Dermith swamps, trapping muskrats and selling the fur in the noisy walled town, had decided to try to find the royal family in its exile, free at least one of them with a kiss, and then count on his reward. A palace of his own, perhaps? Gold coins stacked as high as an oak tree? Fine clothes. He pulled at his dripping, mud-soaked rags. Yes, fine clothes first. And then perhaps the hand of one of the princesses in marriage?

He spat drying slime away from his lips. But first he had to catch the right frog—and they all looked alike!

He slumped down on a rotting log covered with Spanish moss, then looked across at the piled undergrowth to see a bloated old bullfrog sitting under a drooping fern. Plainly visible on the frog’s back were three equally spaced dark blotches, just like the supposed birthmark carried by every member of the royal family! Was this the old king, then? The fat duchess, the king’s sister? It didn’t matter to Keric—the frog sat right in front of his eyes. It had always taken him too long to see what was right in front of his face.

He didn’t want to hesitate too long. Keric shifted his body forward and then lunged, splaying out his mud-caked fingers. He skidded through a spiderweb, needle-thin fronds, and dead leaves, but the bullfrog squirted away from him. He scrambled and grabbed again.

He didn’t see the girl until she leapt out from the bushes in front of the bullfrog, opened up the mouth of a large squirming sack, and swept the frog inside. The bullfrog made a croak of alarm, but then the girl spun the sack shut. “Got him!” she said, giggling. Then she sprinted away through the underbrush, leaving only disturbed willow branches dangling behind her.

“Hey!” Keric shouted and jumped to his feet. He ran after her, flinging branches out of the way. He splashed through puddles of standing water, squished on sodden grass islands, and ducked his head in buzzing clouds of mosquitoes. All around, the other frogs continued their songs. “That one was mine!”

“Not anymore!” He heard her voice from the side, in a different direction from where she had disappeared. He looked in time to see her running barefoot down a path only she could see. Barefoot!

Keric ran after her. He found himself panting and sweating. He had grown up in and around these swamps. He considered himself an exceptional woodsman in even the deepest parts of the morass. He could outrun and out-hunt anyone he had ever known. But this girl kept going at a pace he could not hope to match. He stumbled, he missed solid footing, he splashed scummy water all over himself.

“Wait!” he shouted. He heard only the crocodiles growling.

“If you’d look over here, you’d have a better chance of seeing me!” She laughed again.

He whirled to see her across a mucky pool, not twenty feet from him. Without thinking—since he was wet and filthy anyway—he left the path and charged across the way. “Give me my frog!”

Keric tried to run with both feet, but each step became more difficult as the ooze sucked at his boots. He had to get the bullfrog with the three spots. He knew it was somebody from the royal family. The girl probably didn’t know what she had. Maybe she wanted to eat it!

He sloshed onward, but before he had gone halfway across the pool, he felt the muck dragging him down. He sank to his waist and found he could not take another step. He continued to submerge in the ooze. “Oh no!”

From the spreading cypress tree over his head, he heard the girl’s voice. “You should be more careful out here in the swamps. Plenty of dangerous things out here. Crocodiles, water moccasin snakes, milt spiders bigger than your hand, poison plants.” Keric looked up to see her sitting on one of the branches, holding onto the frog sack with one hand and munching on a dripping fruit in the other. “But you really have to watch out for that quicksand. That’s especially bad.”

“Would you help me out of this?” He looked at her. He had sunk up to his armpits and felt the cold muck seeping into his pores. The mud crept to the tops of his shoulders. Keric had to lift his head to keep his chin out of the ooze. “Um, please?”

“I don’t know. You were chasing me.” She finished her fruit and tossed the pit down. It splashed beside him.

“I’ll tell you what you’ve got in that sack of yours.”

“It’s frogs.”

“No, if you’ll just let me kiss one of them I’ll show you something magic!” He had to talk rapidly now. The quicksand had reached his lips.

“Oh, you mean that! Sure, I’ve got the whole royal family here.” She reached in and pulled out another frog, this one sleek and small. It also had the three identical splotches. “You don’t think you were the only one to get the idea for finding the frogs in the swamp, do you?”

Actually, Keric had thought he was the only one to think of that. Once again, the obvious was staring him in the face.

“But you were going about it all wrong,” the girl continued. “You kept trying to kiss them out here in the swamp. Now tell me, just what would you have done if the frail and arthritic Queen Mother had appeared? Or one of the dainty princesses who would squeal at the sight of a beetle? How would you get them back? Makes more sense to me just to carry the frogs in a sack, go back to town, and then change them all back. Reward would still be the same, maybe more for saving them the journey.”

Keric had to lean his head back to keep his nose and mouth above the surface. “Will you please help me now and give me advice later!”

She shrugged. “You haven’t asked me the right question yet.”

“What is the question?”

“Ask me what my name is! I’m not going to risk my life to rescue a total stranger.”

“What’s your name? Tell me quick!”

“I am Raffin. Pleased to meet you.” She paused. “And what’s your name?”

“I’m Keric! Help!”

She tossed a vine down that struck near his face. Keric grabbed at it, clawing at the slick surface of the vine with his mucky hands. But he managed to haul himself forward, toward the near edge of the pool of quicksand. He heaved himself out onto the soggy ground and shivered. He had lost his left boot, but he had no intention of going back to get it.

When he looked up at the tree, Raffin was gone.


After dark, when Keric remained cold and clammy but unable to light a fire, he saw an orange light flickering through the tangled branches. He followed it to Raffin’s fire, then crept close to where he could see.

She sat humming to herself and holding four sticks splayed in the flames. Little strips of meat had been skewered on the wood and sizzled in the light. The bound bundle of royal frogs sat beside her. “Come closer and sit down, Keric. You’re making enough noise at being quiet.”

Angry, Keric came out of his hiding place and strode with confidence into her firelight. Finally, he sighed and shook his head. “I thought I was good in the swamps, moving silently, always knowing my way. I can’t believe I am being so clumsy around you.”

Raffin shrugged. “You are good. The best I’ve seen. But I’m better.”

Her long pale hair must once have been blond but now had taken on the color of fallen leaves and dry grass. Her eyes looked startlingly blue within the camouflage of her appearance. Raffin had washed most of the grime from her face, arms, and hands before preparing her food.

Keric didn’t want to imagine what he looked like himself.

Raffin took one of the sticks out of the fire and blew on the sizzling strips of meat. “Frog legs, filleted.” At his shocked expression, she laughed. “No, just normal frogs. Don’t worry. Would you like some?”

Keric swallowed. “I haven’t eaten anything all day.”

“Say please.”

“Please. Uh, I mean, Raffin, may I please have some?”

“Of course. You’re my guest. I saved your life. Do you think I’d refuse a simple request like that?”

He took the stick she offered and ate the crispy meat right off the bark so he wouldn’t have to touch it with his dirty fingers. “What are you doing out here all alone in the swamps?”

“I live out here. Don’t worry, I can take care of myself.”

Keric could believe that. He guessed she was only a couple years older than himself.

“But I don’t mind company once in a while.” Suddenly, Raffin appeared shy to him. “Just listen to those night sounds, the frogs and the humming insects. Why would anyone want to live in the town?”

Keric frowned and ate the last piece of meat. “Then why are you trying so hard to get the royal frogs?”

“Because you are. I’ve been watching you for days. It’s been fun. Besides, I have dreams of getting a prince of my own.”

They talked for much longer after that, but Keric could get no better explanation from her. He felt the weariness from the day sapping his strength, making him drowsy. He interrupted what she was saying. “Raffin, I am going to sleep.”

He saw her smile as he let his eyes drift shut. “Make yourself at home.”

When Keric cracked his eyes open again an hour later, his body screamed at him just to keep sleeping. But he couldn’t. He had something much more important to do.

Raffin had stayed beside the fire, which now burned low and smoky, still driving the mosquitoes away. She lay curled up on the ground, her cheek pillowed on her scrawny arms. She looked very peaceful and vulnerable. Keric frowned, but then thought of palaces and princesses and fine clothes.

The fire popped as two logs sagged, and Keric used the noise to cover his own movements as he crept to his feet. She had left the sack containing the royal family sitting unguarded on the other side of the camp. He shook his head, wondering why she had made it so easy for him.

He picked up the sack and slipped out of the firelight, starting to run as soon as he got out under the moonlit trees.

“Keric!” she shouted behind him.

He stopped trying to be silent. The marsh grass whipped around him as he picked up speed. Willow branches snapped at his eyes. He kept splashing in puddles or flailing his hands at large, flapping night insects.

“Keric, come back!”

He didn’t answer her but started to chuckle. He could make it out of the swamp to his hut. He would go immediately into the walled town and kiss all the frogs, even the old Queen Mother, and bring them back before Raffin could find him.

He used all his forest skills to weave his path. He couldn’t hear her following, but then he doubted if he would. She was too good for that.

Keric looked behind him as he ran, seeking some sign. Raffin did impress him with her knowledge of the swamps. She could teach him many things. He decided he would share his treasure with her anyway, once he got it, but for now he wanted to succeed on his own, to impress her that his own survival abilities weren’t so trivial either.

He tripped on the tail of the first crocodile and could not stop himself until he had stumbled into a cluster of the beasts. Once again, he had been looking in the wrong place and missed what was right in front of him.

The crocodiles hissed and belched at him. Keric cried out. He could count at least seven of them, startled out of their torpor and suddenly confronted with something worth eating. An old bull scuttled toward him, looking as large as a warship. It opened its mouth so wide that Keric felt he could have walked inside without ducking his head.

He turned and searched for a way out. Hissing and snapping their enormous jaws, the crocodiles moved in. The old bull lunged. Keric leaped back, caught his heel on the long body of one of the smaller reptiles, and sprawled backward. Even the smaller crocodile chomped at him. Keric dropped his sack of royal frogs.

He scrambled to his hands and knees, looking for an escape. The moonlight made everything dim and confusing. He thought he saw a flashing orange light behind a sketchy web of cypress roots, but he concentrated only on the nightmare of wide, fang-filled jaws.

Raffin appeared and struck the snout of the nearest crocodile with her roaring torch. “Get away from him!” The beast hissed and grunted as it lurched backward. Keric blinked in amazement. In her other hand, Raffin held a pointed stick that she jabbed at the remaining crocodiles.

The beasts backed away. The enormous bull stood his ground and let out a deep growl from somewhere at the bottom of his abdomen.

Keric crawled to his feet, too stunned and frightened to be much help.

Raffin faced the bull’s charge and shoved her torch at her attacker. The crocodile hissed and snapped at her, but she was quick with the end of her torch, touching the burning end to the soft tissue inside the reptilian mouth. Keric heard the sizzle of burning meat.

With a defeated roar, the bull backed away and then, in a final gesture of frustration and spite, he lashed out with his long snout and snapped up the tied sack of royal frogs. The frogs made a combined sound like someone stepping on a goose. The giant crocodile crunched down with his jaws, chomped again, then swallowed. After a satisfied grunt, the crocodile crawled out of the clearing and splashed into the water.

“I told you to be careful out in the swamps,” Raffin scolded Keric. “Do I have to watch out for you all the time?”

Keric sat stunned. “They’re all gone! In one gulp, the whole royal family!” He shook his head. “I never meant for that to happen.”

Raffin took hold of his hand and pulled him to his feet. “The kingdom will do fine without them. They weren’t particularly worth rescuing.” She stared at him, but he continued to sulk. “Hey, it was fun while it lasted.”

“No, I meant my reward. The gold, the fine clothes, the palace—”

“And what would you do with all that stuff?” She looked at him, then tugged at his old, mud-caked tunic. “Fine clothes? Are you seeking what you really want, or just what you think you’re supposed to want? What other people tell you to want isn’t always right for you.”

Keric lowered his head, sighed deeply. He looked at himself and realized she was right. “If I had a palace, I suppose I’d just track mud in it all the time.”

Raffin giggled. “It’s not so bad out here, you know.”

“But what about my princess?”

Raffin flicked her hair behind her shoulders and looked angry for a moment, then spoke in a very shy voice. “You could stay in the swamps.” She paused. “With me.”

Keric looked up at her and listened to the frogs and the night insects. One of these days he was going to learn to notice the things right in front of him.

About the Author:
Kevin J. Anderson has published more than 175 books, 58 of which have been national or international bestsellers. He has written numerous novels in the Star Wars, X-Files, and Dune universes, as well as a unique steampunk fantasy trilogy beginning with Clockwork Angels, written with legendary rock drummer Neil Peart. His original works include the Saga of Seven Suns series, the Wake the Dragon and Terra Incognita fantasy trilogies, the Saga of Shadows trilogy, and his humorous horror series featuring Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. He has edited numerous anthologies, written comics and games, and the lyrics to two rock CDs. Anderson is the director of the graduate program in Publishing at Western Colorado University. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta are the publishers of WordFire Press. His most recent novels are Clockwork Destiny, Gods and Dragons, Dune: The Lady of Caladan (with Brian Herbert), and Slushpile Memories: How NOT to Get Rejected.

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