Jenniferís Tale: Jennifer and the Beastly Toad
By Emma Redmer
Cannon: between the 3rd and 4th seasons (epilogue)
Characters: Jennifer, Mary Anne, Balki, Larry, Lydia, Harriette, Susan, Mr. Gorpley
Rating: G
Synopsis: Two young women free a prince and his cousin from a wizardís spell.
Disclaimer: Lorimar Productions, Miller-Boyett Productions, and Warner Bros. Television own Perfect Strangers.
Notes: This is the second in a series of four classic fairy tales featuring the Perfect Strangers characters

Once upon a time, in a distant land, two young women named Jennifer and Mary Anne were picking berries when they were caught in a thunderstorm. They took shelter in the first building they could find, a dark, quiet castle.

Jennifer gathered her cloak around her. The old, crumbling palace was spooky, cold, and damp.

"Jen, Iím scared," Mary Anne admitted. "I donít like this place. Itís freezing here, and so dreary!"

A door suddenly slammed. The two women nearly jumped ten miles. Jennifer thought she heard footsteps in the hall and a thousand soft voices whispering all around them. "Mary Anne, did you hear that?"

Mary Anne lifted her head. "I think somebodyís crying." The smaller blonde shivered. "Maybe itís a ghost."

"Mary Anne, thereís no such thing as ghosts."

"Then whoís in the room with us?"

"Well," Jennifer started, "whomever they are, I wish I knew where they were. They sound like theyíre really upset. Someone must have broken their heart to make them sob like that."

That was when the door opened. Mary Anne and Jennifer leaped into each otherís arms. At first, all they could see was a candle flickering in the blackness, and the outline of a tall, slender man. "Hello," he said, in a deep, gentle Mediterranean accent. "My name is Lord Balki Bartokomos of Mypos." He gestured to the door. "My cousin asked me to make you feel at home here."

Jennifer nearly screamed when Balki beckoned them. What should have been a human hand was a sheepís hoof. "Jennifer," Mary Anne asked when her friend turned pasty white, "whatís wrong? Did you see a ghost?"

"No," Balki explained sadly, "she saw me."

Jennifer stepped back. "Youíre a...youíre a...but you canít be...thatís not possible..."

"But I am." A flash of lightning briefly illuminated the room. Balki had the facial features, dark hair, long limbs, and toothy smile of a human being, but there were hooves where his hands and feet should have been, and his long face was black and fuzzy, like a sheepís muzzle. His ears were longer than a humanís and covered with silky black fur. Jennifer had the feeling that the sheepskin vest he wore wasnít merely a vest. "Do not be scared. I no hurt you."

Jennifer steeled her nerve. "My name is Jennifer, and this is Mary Anne. Iím sorry for intruding. We got lost picking berries and needed a place to get out of the storm. We thought this castle was empty."

"That is ok," the tall sheep-human assured them. "My cousin say give you a room for the night. No one should be out in that storm, getting all wet and messy. You will catch your breath of cold!" Balki led them up the steep, winding stairs.

Mary Anne nodded at the young nobleman. "How come you look like a sheep? Not that you arenít cute," she quickly added. "I like your hooves. Theyíre different."

Balki drew in a breath. "I canít tell that," he finally explained. "You may not break the spell and fall in love with Cousin Laurence if I do." Balki gasped and clamped his hoof over his mouth.

Jennifer exchanged curious looks with her friend. "What spell?" Jennifer asked. "Is that why you look like a sheep? And whoís Cousin Laurence?"

Mary Anne pulled at his sheepskin vest. "And where did you get such a nice vest? It looks great on you. It fits you like a second skin."

"Itís my first skin!" Balki exclaimed, pushing her hand away with his hoof. "It only looks like vest. It is my wool. It doesnít come off unless I need shearing." He turned away from Jennifer, trying to hide his sadness. "I shouldnít have said what I said. Cousin Laurence will be very angry. He thinks you only pity him if you know about spell, not love him." Balki shook his head. "I will say no more."

Balki was true to his word. He ignored the girlsí questions, even when Jennifer heard the strange crying again. She asked him about it, but he only shrugged. He brought them to a heavy wooden door at the end of the landing.

The room was beautiful, with two large, soft beds, a wooden hutch filled with dresses, a heavy bookcase lined with volumes, two chairs surrounding a table covered with food, and a thick, plushy carpet. Jenniferís eyes, though, were on the creature that fluffed the pillows on one of the beds. She had human facial features and fluffy red hair, but her feet and hands were copper-furred paws, her nose was furry and sharp, and a long red tail stuck out under her dress.

"Susan," Balki said as the fox-woman joined them, "these are Mary Anne and Jennifer, our guests for the night. They are to have all of our hospital-ality."

"Sure, Balki," Susan agreed. "Iíll see you tomorrow." Balki left, and Susan turned to the two chilly, frightened women. "Itís nice to meet you ladies." She smiled and took the two womenís sodden capes. "Iím Susan, the housemaid. I was told to attend to any needs you may have."

"Can we eat?" Mary Anne asked. "Iím so hungry, I could eat this whole castle and have our berries for dessert!"

Susan laughed. "Youíre more than welcome to eat anything you want. We havenít had guests in years."

Susan moved to leave, but Jennifer stopped her. "There is something I want, Susan," she told the fox-woman. "I want you to answer a question for me. Whatís going on around here? Mary Anne and I arenít stupid. Itís obvious that something has happened to you and to Lord Bartokomos and whomever ĎCousin Laurenceí is."

"Donít forget the crying," Mary Anne added between mouthfuls of jam sandwich. "We keep hearing someone crying, and he sounds so sad, like his pet goldfish just died."

Susan shook her head. "Iím not permitted to talk about it, by orders of the head of the castle." She hurried out of the room.

Jennifer spent the night tossing and turning in her fluffy bed and ruffled nightgown, trying to sleep, wondering about the spell and the strange sounds. She kept having vague nightmares about half-animal, half human creatures chasing her through the castle, led by a tall man in a long cape who carried a staff. The storm pounded at the windows, matching the beat of Jenniferís heart. And all the while, sobs and shrieks of pain echoed through the corridors.

Jennifer shot out of bed screaming. The last nightmare was so real! The man with the staff was so close to her, she could almost feel his breath. The castle was filled with strange noises, creaking and groaning. She looked over at Mary Anne. Her best friend slept peacefully, without a care in the world. Her delicate face wore a dreamy smile. The sun streamed through the windows, glancing off of the polished furniture.

Jennifer sighed. Unlike Mary Anne, she wasnít going to be able to sleep until she got some answers. She went to the hutch and chose a simple but well-made pink gown. She wandered downstairs, but the castle seemed uninhabited. Even so, she couldnít shake the feeling that she was being watched. She thought she saw a small, shadowy figure by the main hall, but it vanished when she took a closer look.

She found her way outside and into the most beautiful garden sheíd ever seen. Bright flowers and fat vegetables surrounded a pool of water that glistened like diamonds. Jennifer leaned over a rose and picked it, making sure to keep her fingers away from the long thorns. She never saw such a perfect rose. It was deep pink-red, with a scent that was nearly intoxicating.

She was about to pick another rose when she heard the sobbing again. It was the same crying she heard last night, but louder and closer now, punctuated by sniffles and whines. She followed the noise until she came to a clearing between two rose bushes by the pool. A figure sat on a bench, sobbing into its oddly webbed hands. She couldnít see his face from where she stood.

Jenniferís heart went out to the creature. She unthinkingly sat on the bench next to the creature and put her arms around it. "Are you ok?" she asked tentatively.

The creature let out another sob. "No, Iím not," he moaned. "Iím miserable!"

He looked into Jenniferís eyes, and she gasped. Tangled, coarse brown curls framed a leather-skinned face and round cheeks covered with warts. He had bulging, wild hazel eyes and a thin, lipless mouth. "You...youíre..." she stammered, trying to think of something nice to say, "...a frog."

"A...actually," the creature stammered, "Iím a toad. You can say it. I know I look hideous."

Jennifer was thankful when she heard a bell. The toad-human got up, a sad smile on his thin lips. "Would you like to go to breakfast with an ugly and stupid toad? Iíd understand if you wouldnít."

Jennifer took his webbed hand. "Iíd love to," she said with a sincere smile. She gave him the rose. "Maybe this will make you feel a little better."

The toad-human took the rose as if it were the most fragile thing on Earth. "Thank you. The roses are pretty, but I have a hard time picking them with my flippers."

Lord Balki and Mary Anne chatted over scrambled eggs and French toast as Jennifer arrived with her amphibian friend. Lord Balki stood and bowed. "Cousin Laurence, I thought you said you doín want to come to breakfast. You told me you lose your appetite."

Jennifer frowned at the smiling toad-human as the two sat down on one end of the long table across from Lord Balki and Mary Anne. "I found it in the garden. I told you that place works wonders, Balki."

The taller woman glared at him. "So, youíre the mysterious ĎCousin Laurenceí who refuses to let anyone mention that heís enchanted." She shrugged. "Why not? You donít seem like such a bad person, for a toad."

Mary Anne giggled and took Lord Balkiís hooves. "And youíre cute, with or without wool. You come with your own sweater."

"I think youíre cute, too," Lord Balki said as Mary Anne climbed into his lap, "my little mint jelly jar."

"Am I interrupting anything repeatable in public?" Jennifer wasnít surprised to see a shapely woman with black hair, black fur, and the paws and tail of a large dog enter with a platter full of sausages. She nodded at Balki and Mary Anne. "Baby, I know you said you had company, but this is taking hospitality just a bit too far."

Mary Anne immediately returned to her seat. Her cheeks were bright crimson, and even Lord Balki seemed to be blushing under his fur. The dog-woman put the platter down and wiped her paws on her apron. "By the way, Iím Harriette, head cook and co-head of the kitchen. The other head should be around with the drinks in just a minute."

"MEEEEOOWWW!!" A small, redheaded woman stumbled into the room, carrying a plateful of glasses. "Thatís the third time today the kitchen boy tried to make bodily contact with my rear end!" She sported catís ears and a long, luxurious ginger-furred tail. Whiskers bobbed on her cheeks.

Harriette leaned behind her. "I donít blame him. Thereís plenty to grab." Harriette shrugged and pointed a paw at the fuming cat-woman. "Ladies, meet Lydia, head housekeeper and co-head of the kitchen."

Lydia made a face at Harriette and turned to the four at the table. "I trust your rooms are satisfactory, ladies? Susan is my most competent housemaid. We didnít have much time to set up the room. If you donít like it, we can find another one, possibly closer to the white rose gardens..."

Laurence nearly choked on his eggs at the mention of the gardens. Jennifer slapped him hard on his leathery ridged back. She shook her head at the cat-woman and the dog-woman. "No thank you, Lydia, weíre fine."

"Oh, the white rose gardens!" Lord Balki beamed. "Thatís where Cousin Laurence and I go to meet..."

"And weíll be leaving now," Laurence said quickly. He grabbed his cousin by his silky-furred ear and dragged the taller sheep-man out of the dining room

"Gee whiz, whatís with him?" Mary Anne wondered. "Other than his being a frog."

Harriette shook her head. "Honey, he hasnít taken this spell business well." She put her paws on her hips. "And heís a toad. He has warts and he hates the water. He swims like a rock."

"What is this Ďspell businessí?" Jennifer asked. "And whatís with the white rose gardens? I met Laurence out there earlier, and he didnít seem to have a problem with it then."

Lydia and Harriette exchanged worried looks. "Weíre not really supposed to discuss it," Lydia began.

"So weíve been told," Jennifer grumbled. "Mary Anne and I canít help you unless we know whatís going on."

Harriette sighed and shook her head. "We canít, honey. Itís part of the conditions." Lydia elbowed her, and she coughed. "Are you girls gonna want anything else?"

"No," Jennifer said before Mary Anne could ask for third helpings of everything, "weíre full."

The two women later learned that the road between the berry forest and their village had washed out, and they would have to remain at the castle for some time. The strange creatures that dwelled in the castle did their best to make Mary Anne and Jennifer feel at home. Lord Bartokomos became Mary Anneís constant companion, making beautiful blankets from his wool for her and picnicking in the pastures near the garden where the gentle Myposian nobleman grazed.

Jennifer, for her part, was impressed with Laurenceís kindness to her and Mary Anne, despite his insistence that he was ugly and stupid. Jennifer knew many men who werenít as sweet or good-natured as the toad-like youth. They spent a great deal of time in the garden, tending to the roses, talking, and listening to Jennifer read stories and books of pictures of faraway places. He evaded her attempts to ask him about the spell, though. Mary Anne said that Balki also refused to discuss whatever it was that transformed him and his cousin.

They also spent time as a foursome, playing the piano and singing along. Every morning without fail, they ate breakfast together. They talked about the dayís events and listened to Harriette and Lydia tease and insult each other (in jest, of course, for the two were best friends).

Jennifer became so accustomed to these breakfast rituals that she and Mary Anne were quite surprised when they arrived at the dining room about a month after their arrival to find the two noblemen absent. Harriette and Lydia set up the food, as always, but there was no laughing and joking between them, and Lydia dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. The air seemed oddly heavy.

As usual, Mary Anne put her concerns in words first. "Gee, it feels like theyíre holding a funeral in here."

"Might as well be," sobbed Lydia. Harriette rolled her eyes but said nothing, which Jennifer knew was strange. Harriette always had some kind of biting response to Lydiaís love of melodrama.

"Where are Laurence and Balki?" Mary Anne asked as the girls sat down in their usual places. "I was going to ask Balki to teach me how to graze today." Jennifer gave her a strange look. "Well, he does it all the time!"

"Mary Anne, heís a sheep. Humans donít graze."

"Oh, riiiiight!"

"The boys are a bit busy today," Harriette said quickly. "Theyíre entertaining a very important guest in the garden, and they canít be disturbed."

"Theyíre talking shop," Lydia said through her sniffles. "Very dull stuff, nothing that would interest you girls."

Jennifer chewed thoughtfully in silence. Mary Anne ate three slices of ham and four bowls of fruit. "I wonder," she asked between bites, "who the big guest the guys have in the garden is? He must be some kind of merchant, since Lydia said they were going to talk about shops."

"Or maybe," Jennifer said hopefully, "theyíre someone who can answer a few questions." She pushed her plate of half-eaten ham aside. "Come on, Mary Anne," she said. "Weíre going to the white rose garden to get the full story on whatever transformed Laurence, Balki, and everyone in the castle."

"You poor things!" Lydia wailed. "You donít know what youíre going up against! That awful wizard will make mincemeat out of both of you!"

Harriette put one large paw around Lydia and pointed the other toward the main hall. "You girls go rescue the boys you love. Iíll knock some sense into her."

Jennifer and Mary Anne ran as fast as they could along the cobblestone paths winding through the bushes, trees, and flower beds. The day was cloudy and dreary, and the garden was dark and spooky. The two women did their best not to scream at each shadow and strange noise.

As they neared the lake, Jennifer heard a familiar sob, followed by shrieks of pain. "Mary Anne, listen! Itís Laurence!" The shrieks were replaced by the bellow of a toad and a sheepís angry bleating. "Weíve got to hurry! They could be in real trouble!"

"The sobbing is coming this way!" Mary Anne pointed at a jagged knot of bramble bushes growing in a heap near the rose beds where Jennifer met Laurence.

"The wizard Lydia mentioned must be the one who enchanted the castle," Jennifer admitted as she tugged her now-torn blue morning gown away from a bush. "Why, though? What does he gain by transforming all of the people who live here into animals?"

Mary Anne shrugged. "His own zoo?"

Jennifer shook her head but said nothing. She almost literally stumbled into the very same clearing where she encountered Laurence more than a month before, but it was a very different place. The roses were gone, and the bench was empty.

Jennifer couldnít help it. She screamed. The person in front of her was the man from the dream she had on their first night at the castle. She was certain of it. He looked exactly the same, cape, staff, and all. "Itís you! Youíre the one in my nightmare!"

The man sneered at them. He held his heavy staff over the cousins. Lord Balki gasped, and Laurence sobbed even harder. "Girls, you arrived a little too late. In five seconds, your precious monsters and everyone in the castle will be completely animal, with no human emotions or traits left in them."

"This is all my fault!" Laurence whined. "I shouldnít have told Wizard Gorpley he was nothing more than a two-bit stage magician who couldnít even get a card trick right."

"He tried to join Cousin Laurenceís court," Lord Balki explained, "but Cousin Laurence wouldnít let him."

"Two-bit magician?" Gorpley snorted. "You should have believed me when I told you I was the greatest wizard in the world, you pathetic, dimwitted mushroom-squatter." He tried to move in on the cousins, but Jennifer and Mary Anne huddled close to them. "Ok, girls, youíre going to have to get out of the way in order for me to do my part of the conditions and turn them into national park rejects."

"Weíre not moving until you lift the spell and leave us and them alone," Jennifer insisted.

Wizard Gorpley started menacingly toward the foursome. "Iíll turn all four of you into zoo leftovers if I have to! You ladies would make adorable birds. You already have bird brains."

"No!" Laurence jumped as far as his webbed feet would allow him, grasping Wizard Gorpleyís raised staff. "I may be pathetic, and I may be a dimwit, but I wonít let you hurt Jennifer!"

Jennifer screamed as the man and the toad-human pushed each other to the outer reaches of the lake. "Watch out!" she cried. "Youíre getting too close to the water! Youíll fall in!"

"Too late," Mary Anne said as the wizard and the toad plunged into the waters of the river. The storm that was brewing since breakfast finally broke, turning the calm waters of the river into raging torrents. "I hope theyíre ok. Harriette said Laurence doesnít swim well."

"Oh, my God!" Jennifer wailed. "Laurence canít swim! Heíll drown! Iíve got to save him!" Jennifer dove into the murky, choppy river before Balki or Mary Anne could protest.

The young woman pushed as hard as she could through the dark, murky water, searching for Laurence and Wizard Gorpley. She vaguely heard voices behind her. Lord Balki and Mary Anne must have decided to join her. She finally couldnít hold her breath any longer and emerged on the surface. The storm was in full force, hitting her face in sheets. She saw two heads above the water, one silvery-gold, one brown and leathery.

Wizard Gorpley held Laurence by his thick neck just above the water, waving the staff above his face. She could see the small toad-human struggle weakly. "No! Heís going to turn him into a real toad!" She looked over her shoulder. Mary Anneís straggling curls and Balkiís jet-colored hair and ears were vaguely visible through the torrential downpour. "Come on, weíve got to save him!"

Wizard Gorpley saw her, too. He gripped Laurenceís neck more tightly. "Ah, sweetheart, youíre just in time. You get to watch me turn this repulsive excuse for a half-human into a repulsive excuse for a whole toad." He put more pressure on the amphibianís neck. Laurence lapsed into unconsciousness.

"LAURENCE!" Jennifer attacked the tall wizard. He tried to block her with his staff, but she grabbed hold of it and wouldnít let go. Balki bit into the Wizardís cape and tugged at that with all his might. Mary Anne supported Laurence, whose head was barely above water.

"Girl, what are you doing?" Gorpley demanded.

"I love Laurence, and Mary Anne loves Balki, and we wonít let you hurt them or the people in this castle!" She and the taller man thrashed in the pool while the storm raged around them. "I want to be Laurenceís companion and dearest friend. I want him to like me as much as I like him!"

Balki pulled so hard at Gorpleyís cape that he finally pulled him over. The Wizard tumbled into the waves, letting go of the staff. Jennifer took Laurence in one arm and the staff under the other and somehow managed to pull both to the shore. She gently placed the still-lifeless toad-human on the soft sand as the others emerged, Balki carrying Mary Anne in his hooves.

Jennifer thrust the staff under the legs of the heavy concrete bench as Gorpley dragged himself out of the river. "Girl, what are you doing?" Wizard Gorpley hissed. "The staff is the root of all my power. If that thingís broken, my magic is history!"

Jennifer glared at him. "Thatís the idea." Balki and Mary Anne joined her, and the three of them pulled at the staff as hard as they could, until Jennifer felt it give way. It snapped in two with a resounding CRACK!

"No!" wailed Wizard Gorpley. "I need this thing! Thereís got to be some way of gluing this back together!" He sat on the bench and tried to fix his lost staff.

Jennifer knelt on the sand, next to Laurence. Balki was already in tears. "My poor cousin!" he sobbed. "He gave his life to save us! He knows he canít swim, and he went in the water anyway!"

Jennifer, however, saw Laurenceís chest move. "No, Balki, heís alive!" She stroked his sandpapery curls. "Thank goodness! Please, donít ever dive into the water like that again!"

Laurence coughed, a stream of water flowing out of his mouth. "Trust me, I wonít." He sighed and coughed again. "I wanted to keep Gorpley from doing to you girls what he did to us," the toad-human admitted weakly. "Jennifer, I like you. You donít deserve to be a bird. You didnít do something stupid, like I did." He closed his eyes. "I shouldnít have believed that you could love something as disgusting as me."

Jennifer cradled the whimpering, hacking toad-human in her arms. "Laurence, I donít care if youíre not the most handsome or most clever amphibian in the kingdom. Youíre kind and good-hearted and funny, and thatís what matters to me, not what you look like on the outside."

"Balki," Mary Anne added, "I like you, too. Youíre such a nice guy, and I love watching you graze. I even like your wool." She grabbed him and gave him one of the most passionate kisses Jennifer ever saw.

Jennifer decided to follow suit. "Laurence, I love you, and I want you to be my companion and stay with me forever." She gently kissed his thin lips. The rain ended as quickly as it began, and the sun emerged from the breaking clouds.

Jennifer was surprised at Laurenceís lips. They were soft and warm, not harsh and slime-crusted, like she expected. The curls were softer, too, and longer. Her lips brushed against skin that was silky rather than leathery.

"Wow!" Jennifer looked over her shoulder. Mary Anne leaned over a tall, familiar young man with long black hair and a smile that covered half his face. "That really knocked the breeze out of my motor!"

"Balki?" Mary Anne squealed. "Youíre not a sheep anymore! Youíve got hands!"

It was true. Balki had long, slender human hands and normal human ears and feet. The fur was gone from his long face, and his vest was colorful printed satin instead of sheepskin. "You met the conditions, my little bowl of goat bladder pudding." Mary Anne swung him back on his feet. "Look, Cousin Laurence is a human now, too!"

Jennifer turned her attention to Laurence. She now held a young man with pale, smooth skin and thick, dark eyelashes and eyebrows. She could no longer feel ridges on his back or extra skin on his small, plump fingers. A crown of pure gold and emeralds sat amid his heavy tresses.

He sat up, groaning and still spitting water. She stood, too, moving away from him. "Who are you? How did you get here? Whereís Laurence?"

The young man waved his hands across his face, staring at them in wonder with his large, sparkling hazel eyes. He bowed before her. "My name is Prince Laurence, heir to the Kingdom of Appletonia." He nodded at Balki, who also bowed. "Lord Balki really is my distant cousin and my closest friend, and we canít thank both of you ladies enough for saving us and all of the people who work and live in this castle." He sighed. "I was the one you heard crying in the night, and I watched you when you were walking in the hall the morning after your arrival. I didnít think I had a chance with someone as smart and beautiful as you."

Jennifer took his hands. "Youíre a prince?"

"I wasnít allowed to tell you before," Prince Laurence explained. "It was part of the conditions Gorpley placed on me after I insulted him. The only way the spell over my people and me could be broken was if a woman fell in love with me for myself, not my looks or my position or my brains. I couldnít show my intelligence or tell you I was a prince, or I would remain a hideous toad forever."

"I never thought you were hideous," Jennifer claimed. The young prince raised his eyebrows. "Well, maybe a little."

"We werenít allowed to tell anyone, either," Lord Balki added. "The woman who fell in love with Cousin Laurence wasnít to know about the conditions until after she met them." He frowned. "Today was the last day of the spell. If no woman fell in love with Cousin Laurence by today, the Wizard Gorpley would turn all of us into real animals who couldnít think or feel like humans. He always met us in the garden, where Laurence loved to go."

Prince Laurence smiled. "Jennifer, did you really mean what you said about being my companion?"

"Of course, I did. I could never leave you." Jennifer gently took the prince in her arms and kissed him again.

"I want to stay with you, too, Balki," Mary Anne told the taller young man. "Can we still graze together?"

"Of course we can, my cute little water trough," Balki murmured as Mary Anne, too, kissed him.

And so, the two young women were made Princess of Appletonia and Lady of Mypos. Lydia hired Gorpley as her new kitchen boy, as he no longer had any magic. Everyone in the castle returned to their human state, including Prince Laurenceís parents, who gave the two couples free reign of the garden. They had a castle of their own built there, and lived there happily together, picnicking on the pasture and reading amid the roses.

******************************************************************************************************************************

"Oh, Jennifer, that was a very romantic story!" Mary Anne sighed.

"A toad?" Larry grumbled. "You made me a toad? Couldnít I have been a frog, or a rabbit, or something that didnít sound so....toad-like?"

"But cousin," Balki pointed out, "you do look like a toad sometimes. When you get sad or angry or scared, your eyes get all big, and your mouth drops, and you croak."

"I do not croak!" Larry protested.

Mary Anne handed her flashlight to Jennifer. "I want to go next! Put the spotlight on me!" Jennifer obliged her friend. "My story is about a girl who is very small, but very nice and very smart. She lived in a nut-shell in a little house with the woman who raised her...."