Frogs of Windham
Retold by S.E. Schlosser
Excerpted from Spooky New England
Lawyer Elderkin stood on the porch looking up at the night sky. Clouds were rolling in, obscuring the stars, but for a few moments the moon still shone on the sleepy town of Windham, Connecticut. Elderkin fervently hoped that the clouds meant rain. There was a severe drought in the county, and if it didn't rain soon, the farmers would be in trouble. He drew in a deep breath, enjoying the smell of the honeysuckle growing on the trellis.
"Mister Elderkin," called his wife from the doorway, "it is time for good folk to be in bed. It's always late you are," she added teasingly, her Irish lilt becoming stronger as she came out onto the porch and tucked her hand into his arm. "If you're not careful, you'll be late for the last trump! Now come to bed."
Lawyer Elderkin smiled down at his still-beautiful wife. In the last gleams of moonlight, she looked as young as a girl, not like a woman expecting her first grandchild. The clouds encompassed the moon, and the light faded from the porch. "By all means, Mistress Elderkin. Let us go to bed." He raised his eyebrows at her and she giggled. The Elderkins repaired to their room and to their well deserved slumbers. Outside, a light wind stirred the trees and knocked lightly against the windows of the town. The town quieted down as the weary townsfolk snuggled into their beds and sank into peaceful repose while the east wind danced through the dark clouds and whistled in the meadow outside town.
It was just after midnight when the silence was broken by a terrible noise coming from the sky overhead. The screaming, screeching, roaring sound was like none ever heard by the townsfolk. They came tumbling out of their beds in fright. "Injuns!" shouted Mister Smith, the owner of the local shop, to his cowering wife.
"It's got to be Injuns. Get the children and go down to the cellar." He grabbed his gun and ran down to the street, still in his nightclothes. He joined a growing crowd of people, most of them still in their nightclothes, a few wearing nothing but the covers from their beds. Some of the men were searching each building in town, trying to find the cause of the terrible noise that still roared overhead. A few carried guns, and these men banded together with Mister Smith to search for Indians.
"It's the Last Judgment!" a woman screamed, and her words were echoed throughout the crowd. Children were crying and shouting, women were wringing their hands, and the minister was praying loudly over a devoted knot of folk who were on their knees. The Elderkins joined the terrified crowd, holding hands tightly so as not to be separated. Above them the terrible screeching and roaring intensified. And in it, they could hear a name. Colonel Dyer. Colonel Dyer. Lawyer Elderkin gasped. That was the name of his rival, the only other lawyer in town. And then He heard it. His own name came through the roaring, screeching sky. Elderkin. Elderkin. Colonel Dyer. Colonel Dyer. The peope nearest the Elderkins backed away.
"The Devil has Come for them," a little boy screamed and ran for his mother.
"Nonsense," shouted Colonel Dyer, shoving his way through The crowd to the Elderkins and pulling his frightened wife behind him. Mistresses Dyer and Elderkin, who usually Treated each other with a marked coolness of manner, clung to one another like sisters.
"We are God-fearing people. Even if the Devil wanted to claim us, the Lord would save us!" shouted Lawyer Elderkin. Above the town, the roaring continued. Colonel Dyer. Elderkin. Elderkin. Colonel Dyer. And then a terrible screeching made everyone cover their ears.
"It's Injuns, not the Devil," shouted Mister Smith, thrusting his way through the crowd, waving his gun. "Come on, men. Let's get 'em before they attack!" He led his band of Indian hunters toward the hills outside the town limits. Many of the townsfolk, hearing his words, ran back into their homes and barred their doors. But the Elderkins and the Dyers hurried over to the minister, more frightened than they would admit by the continuing repetition of their names from the roaring sky. The minister prayed over them, asking God to keep them safe from whatever devilry was seeking them by name.
Atop the hill outside of town, the Indian hunters quickly realized that the sounds were coming from the east rather than the sky. Seeing no Indians, the men beat a hasty retreat from the terrible roaring, not wanting to be involved in whatever devilry was taking place. Gradually, the sound lessened. The repetition of the names Colonel Dyer and Elderkin faded away into a continuous, dull roaring. After hearing Mister Smith's report on the source of the sound, the minister walked to the eastern boundary of town and prayed for the protection of the people. This prayer, coupled with the gradual lessening of the sound, reduced the panic, and most people went back to their own homes. The Elderkins sat on their front porch with the Dyers, waiting for the terrible sounds to fade away completely. Toward dawn all was again silent but for the wind blowing in the trees.
At dawn Colonel Dyer and Lawyer Elderkin, along with Mister Smith, the minister, and a few other bold folk, set off eastward in search of the source of the terrible disturbance. About three-quarters of a mile outside town, they came to the millpond. They stopped and looked down upon the source of the terrible roaring sound. The pond was nearly dry except for a deep ditch that ran through it. And surrounding the ditch were the bodies of thousands of bullfrogs, which had waged a terrible and prolonged battle during the night for possession of the remaining water in the pond. Even now a few stubborn frogs on the north side of the ditch were crawling toward their enemies, croaking a battle cry that sounded remarkably like Colonel Dyer, while the ones to the south responded with a cry of Elderkin too, Elderkin too. The atmospheric conditions of the night before had magnified the sound so that it seemed to be coming from the sky above the town.
After a moment's stunned silence, the men laughed until the tears rolled down their cheeks and Colonel Dyer had to be picked up off the road. Dyer and Elderkin each claimed one of the remaining belligerent frogs to offer as proof of the source of the sound. And ever after, the lawyers delighted in producing their strange pets and telling the story of the fighting frogs of Windham.
You can read more Connecticut folklore in Spooky New England.