The New York Times reports that a resurgence in demand for the hallucinogenic secretions of a North American toad is threatening it with extinction. The substance in the secretions of the Sonoran Desert Toad is illegal in the United States, but people are nonetheless are charging large sums for retreats and “venom ceremonies”. A synthetic version is available, but many users will not switch, saying it lacks the intensity of the “toad medicine” experience…
They came at once. That’s what friends do.
Toad stood in welcome on the steps of Toad Hall as Rat, Mole and Badger walked up the drive. He led them in past his latest Rolls Royce and into the library. There the four sat in comfortable, high-backed armchairs, sipping at huge balloons of brandy. Eventually Badger spoke.
“So,” he said. “You sounded worried on the telephone.”
“I am worried,” said Toad. “I think toads are going to become extinct.”
“Why would you think that?” asked Badger.
“Well,” said Toad, “there’s something you don’t know about us. We produce an, er, secretion that causes hallucinations.”
“Why?” asked Mole.
“To keep predators away,” said Toad. “And for years it worked,”
“How?” asked Badger.
“Simple,” said Toad. “We got princesses to kiss us.”
“I thought that was frogs,” said Rat.
Toad snorted. “Only because humans can’t tell us apart,” he sneered. “I mean, the idea is ridiculous. Nobody would kiss a frog.”
The others sat in silence, feeling that there was no diplomatic response that they could give to this.
“Anyway, the princesses thought we were princes,” said Toad. “We were given kingdoms, wealth, loads of soldiers. Best protection you could ask for.”
“So what went wrong?” asked Rat.
“Democracy,” said Toad bitterly. “Leading to a serious princess shortage. So we turned to using the venom on the predators themselves. A coyote becomes very easy to manage if it thinks you’re a dragon. So does a raccoon once you’ve persuaded it that it’s a budgie.”
“Sounds great,” said Badger. “So what’s the problem?”
“New predator,” said Toad. “Humans.”
“Really?” said Mole. “I can’t imagine that toad hunting would be very exciting. The hounds would walk faster than you could hop.”
“They don’t want to hunt us,” said Toad. “They want to lick us.”
“Um, I obviously misheard that,” said Badger, “because it sounded like you said -”
“Yes, I did,” sighed Toad. “Some hippy moron discovered that licking a toad gave him a high, and instead of being embarrassed at what he’d done he told the world on Instagram. And instead of the world going ‘yuck’ and mocking him they tried it too. Now they have retreats where they all do it. They’re killing us off and they don’t care.”
“Honestly,” said Mole, “humans are never happy. I mean, what’s wrong with alcohol? Why not just get, er -”
“Rat-arsed?” said Rat icily.
“Sorry,” muttered Mole.
“In fairness,” said Toad. “Alcohol just doesn’t compare.The hallucinations are amazing.”
“How amazing?” asked Badger.
Toad had been dreading this question. He blushed, going the red-green of a ripening apple. “Um, well,” he said, “has it ever occurred to you all how strange it is that I live in a great hall, driving human cars at great speed?”
The others stared at him. “It is odd, I suppose,” said Badger, “but that’s just the way it is.”
Toad sighed. “At this moment,” he said, “we’re sitting on a riverbank beside an old supermarket trolley, and -” he looked to one side, apparently at a lamp-stand – “being stared at by a duck.”
In the stunned silence that followed, Mole shifted experimentally in his chair. He could feel the leather upholstery against his back, could feel the carpet beneath his uncrossed foot. He took a sip of his brandy, and felt the fire in his throat, the warmth in his veins. “It’s astonishing,” he breathed.
“Never mind that,” said Badger furiously. He glared at Toad. “You’ve been tricking us all this time. I thought we were your friends.”
“I didn’t mean to do it,” said Toad. “Just being with me for so long has set it off in you. You’ve basically inhaled the fumes. All I could do was make the hallucination as pleasant as possible.”
Badger frowned. Then he too took a sip of brandy, and was instantly mellowed by its mellowness. “Well, when you put it that way,” he said grudgingly.
“Anyway,” said Toad despairingly. “The humans have a huge retreat this weekend. They’re going to need hundreds of toads.”
His friends gazed at him in helpless concern. Then Rat spoke. “I have an idea,” he said. He went to a desk in the corner of the library, and turned.
“If we’re living the dream, so to speak,” he said, “we might as well use it. I need access to Google.”
Toad nodded. Rat turned back to the desk, which now had a laptop on it. He typed for a few seconds, then looked at Toad.
“So you’re saying,” he asked, “that you can control the hallucinations that users get?”
“He could make a princess kiss him,” said Mole, “so I’m taking that as a yes.”
“So you could get into the minds of these gobshites before they start collecting the toads?”
“I suppose I could,” said Toad. “Once they come near enough it will start to affect their minds.”
“Well it says here,” said Rat, “that humans can also get high from all sorts of surprising things. Coke. Or hash.” He smiled at Toad. “Or skunk.”
Toad’s eyes widened, something the others would not have thought possible. Then he grinned.
“Gotcha,” he said. “Let them lick skunks.”