Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This week’s story is by Laurence Sullivan, in which a young woman uses a dating app only to discover that her prince charming isn't all he's cracked up to be. Or is he?
The Tube's calming undulations were usually the perfect time for Juliet to rest her eyes after work, not today though. A sort of mania had gripped the young woman as she gazed into her phone screen as if it were a crystal ball. After only a few minutes of staring, her finger began dashing faster and faster across the screen as though she were conducting the world's most frenzied orchestra. Then she found it — the treasure she had been searching for.
There he was — the man of her dreams. This was her moment, this was clearly meant to be. Everything in his profile picture was perfection personified, the winning smile, the tousled blonde hair, and the toned physique. Better still, he was in Whitechapel, only a couple of stations away.
Juliet had planned on going home early to relax and binge-watch all her favourite shows back-to-back. Now that would have to wait — love conquers all, after all.
'Who says dating apps are a waste of time?' she thought, as she furiously began to type her first message to her future husband.
Moments later she got the response she had been praying for: Henry Cavendish wanted to meet up, ASAP.
Juliet suggested there was no better time than the present.
The moment the train pulled into Whitechapel station, Juliet leaped off it with total abandon. After almost losing her footing, she steadied herself against the station wall before glancing back down at her phone. The little flashing dot on her map let her know that Henry would be close, all she needed to do was exit the station and get some better signal in order to find him.
As soon as Juliet reached the top of the station stairs, a biting wind greeted her. Without a second thought, she lifted her little red hood over her head and began her journey to find her handsome prince.
Only moments after her adventure began, Juliet was already losing her bearings of her beloved city. One winding street followed another until it seemed as if she were leaving civilisation far behind her. Eventually, Juliet's GPS led her down a secluded pathway amidst Whitechapel’s urban forest. She had never realised that London could fall so quiet, the monotonous drone of traffic now seemed a distant memory, the cacophonous chatter of passers-by had all but vanished. There was nothing at the end of the brick pathway, save for a drainpipe and a lone frog beneath it.
"Thanks for nothing, Cavendish," Juliet spat, before turning to return home.
"Oi, love, what did I do to deserve that kind of treatment?"
"Who's there?!" Juliet shouted back at the disembodied voice. For a moment she tensed up, before slowly turning around and expecting to be face-to-face with a complete stranger.
"I am," the voice replied.
Juliet's eyes darted quickly to the floor, where the voice seemed to be emanating from. "This is a joke, right? You're some nasty kid who's left a speaker in a drainpipe," Juliet said as she moved over to the gutter to test her theory.
As she bent down on her knees to get a good look inside the pipe, the voice suddenly returned from elsewhere, "Nah, love. I'm the frog."
There was utter silence as Juliet stared into the beady eyes of Henry Cavendish, the seemingly speaking frog.
"Oh, I see. I was wrong before. You really are very clever, aren't you? A little animatronic toy, you had me fooled then," Juliet said into the frog's back, presuming that was where the speaker would be.
"No. I'm an actual frog. What will it take to prove it to ya? Do ya want me to do a little tap-dance? Maybe some vocal scales? Seriously, love, what's so difficult to accept about this?" the frog replied, his little voice rising with indignation.
"You can't be serious?" Juliet said, flatly.
"I am," Henry replied, equally flatly.
"You have a six pack in your photo," Juliet said as she dived into her bag to acquire her supporting evidence. "You're also human..."
"Doesn't everyone lie on their profile?"
"They don't usually pretend to be a different species!"
"They're aren't any dating apps for frogs, and most frogs don't speak English, so it's not like I had much choice," Henry retorted, sounding more than just a little exasperated. "Would you really have come if I'd put my actual picture on there?"
"No...I guess not."
"So, you're actually a charming prince, right?" Juliet suddenly stood up, her voice taking on a pleading quality, "All I have to do is kiss you and then you'll turn human?"
"No, I'm actually a frog who just happens to be able to speak."
Another moment of silence reigned over the pair. The little frog's eyes shifted from left to right, seemingly waiting for his beloved to say something, anything at all. Juliet simply stood motionless, staring down at Henry with a look of utter bewilderment.
Henry sighed audibly before going on to say, "I can make you a princess."
Juliet's face suddenly lit up. "How? You're just a frog."
"Exactly. A speaking frog."
"And?" Juliet said while moving her hand in a circular motion, as if to suggest Henry should be a little more forthcoming with his explanation.
"Have you seen the internet these days, love? There's this cat on there that just looks a bit moody, and she's made millions! Movie deals, lunch boxes, guest appearances — they're all hers — just for looking a bit peevish. Whereas I speak, for crying out loud!"
Just then, Juliet smiled from ear to ear as she came to understand the little amphibian's plan. "You're going to make me a millionaire?"
"I'm gonna make us the power couple of the century, we're gonna take London by storm!"
With that, the little frog leapt into the palm of Juliet's hand and the couple shared their first kiss.
"We're gonna be bigger than the Beckhams, baby!"
We’re still after your stories, which you should send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Previously in this series
- Mud Man: A quietly heartbreaking tale from the canal.
- The Fingernail Fairy: Do you believe in her?
- The Last Train: A fairy godmother on the tube.
- Waterloo Sunrise: A dawn encounter on Waterloo Bridge.
For children/by children
- The Lion: Something’s up in Trafalgar Square.
- Lyndon The Greatest Thief in London: A light fingered robber meets the Queen.
- Beyond the Central Line: Notting Hill Gate looks different today…
- The Makings of a Killer: A dark encounter in Southwark.
- Places to Hide a T-Rex in London: About time someone tackled this one.
- The Modern Fire of London: A sneezing dragon is a dangerous thing.
- The Let Down Competition: A mango has a fight with a pig.
General London fiction
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
- The Guardian of Travellers: Victoria Coach Station passengers take the advice of a sage.
- Graphic Novels: A celebrated novelist finds inspiration in Shoreditch Library.
- Not Enough: A family struggles to get by.
London at Night
- The Soho Nocturnes: Sebastian Groes tries to shatter the concrete dream that is London.
- The Station Clock: Peter Watson takes a slow walk to Euston.
- Asparagus and Syrian Gold: A guy on a blind date takes a risk… but will it pay off?
- The Race: Susanna James races against the dying of the light.
- Sirens of the Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
Christmas in London
- The Ghost of Christmas Replete: David Croser shares a Christmas tale set in the bleak midwinter.
- Keep the Change: Lee Hamblin takes a sneaky taxi ride.
- Night Bus Dreams: Michelle Surtees-Myers is picked up by an enchanted night bus.
- The Patient Banker: Tom Dean has a visitor call in at a houseboat.
- An Afternoon Some Time Ago: Nathan Good takes a nostalgic ride on the London Eye.
- Easy Pickings: Kay Seeley is being vigilant on the South Bank.
- Stepping Stones: Alison Chandler goes on a night walk.
- One Summer in London: Angela M. Rodriguez steals a very personal item and then wears it at Notting Hill Carnival.
- Blackout on Fen Street: Seth Insua wishes away the city.
- The Man From BEER: Which bits of London would you delete? By David Ritchie.
- London Falls: Liz Hedgecock unleashes a digital wipeout on the city.
- They Walked: Adam MacLean ponders what would happen if London’s building just got up and left.
- The Wallbuilder: A great wall was built around London, not everyone was happy, by Jonathon Dean.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Glen Delaney retreats inside London’s oldest fortress.
- The Conqueror: Rebecca Sams filches a legendary London object.
- The Busker Ascends: Darren Lee brings plague to Leicester Square.
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- The Sender of Second Chances: Anthea Morrison records a chance encounter on a bus.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- Sirens Of The Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Routine: The importance of the day-to-day, by Clare Kane.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
- NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor (Part 2): Our debauched hero tussles with mannequins.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.
- Direction: Kevin Acott goes on a time-shifting pub crawl.
- RTA: Ryan Cartwright is involved in a traffic accident where all is not what it seems.
- Vegan Pigeon Eater: Rae Chambers sees a south London cafe get an unwelcome visitor.