Me, Billy and the Troll

Raymond J. Harding

 

 

ME, BILLY, AND THE TROLL

 

 

 

This all happened a long time ago, back when Billy and I were kids.  Bill’s gone now, and I just feel that it’s time to tell the story to somebody, even though I doubt anyone’s going to believe it.  Leastways not the way I believed it.

We lived on the farm then, a heap of rocks, forty Jersey cows, and ten acres of corn, all located about six miles out of Berlin, New Hampshire.  After our parents had died, and Billy had gone off to be a doctor, and I had gone down to Durham to teach and to be a writer, and all those other things I’ve been, we sold the farm and went our separate ways.  When we did get together for Christmas, Thanksgiving, that kind of thing, Billy and I could usually find a few moments to have a few leisurely glasses of bourbon while we reminisced about the old days.   Only once did I ever try to bring up the subject of the day that we played hooky, to have Billy dismiss it saying, “Oh, yes,” while he twirled the drink in his hand and gazed deep into it, “you mean the day we found the old wino.”

I guess life doesn’t leave much room for magic when you’re a physician, probing the practical and too often tragic problems of the world.  Doctors can sometimes afford to be dreamers, but they can never allow themselves to be thought of as fools.

 

We were just kids.  Billy was thirteen, finishing the seventh grade, and I was twelve, struggling through all the trials of the sixth.  We were both looking forward to the years we’d be spending in the new high school in Berlin.  That was something to look forward to:  sports–teams with real uniforms–labs with great equipment for doing stuff, and, of course, girls.  I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the “girls” part of it, but Billy said it was going to be great, and that’s what it was going to be.  As far as I was concerned there was nowhere that Billy could lead that I wouldn’t try to follow, and that’s how it all started.

It was June.  The streams were all still pretty full, charging down the mountains with a wild yearning to join the Androscoggin and find the sea.  I also remember that it was a Thursday, the one day of the week during the spring when Dad would take over our afternoon chores so that Billy and I could get in a few hours of fishing at Carlson’s Brook on our way home from school.  On this particular day, however, Billy wasn’t going to be satisfied with just an hour or two, he wanted the whole day, and he had a plan to get it.

We ordinarily weren’t what you would call “bad” kids.  We took our farm work and our school work seriously.  However, it was June, and the three weeks between us and summer vacation seemed interminably long.  This was our first, and as it turned out, our last dalliance with truancy.  It seemed like a fool-proof plan at the time.  At least I let Billy convince me that it was, although something inside me tried to tell me that we were heading for disaster.

“Look,” said Billy with his infinite wisdom, “the note is perfect.  Friday morning I give it to Miss Thompson; she checks me off and then gives it to Miss Burlingame, and you’re in the clear.”  We were huddled together Wednesday night in the room we shared.  Billy had his flashlight, and we were examining the note that he had laboriously copied–forged-from a note that Dad had given us a month before when we had missed a day from school because of illness.

“Boy, if we get caught. . .”  I shuddered as I let the dire expectations hang ominously in mid-air.

“We’re not going to get caught,” Billy proclaimed.  There was a surety in his voice that brooked no argument.  Billy was so caught up in his plan that he had become inured to persuasion, logic or threat.

The plan was that we were to start off for school as usual on Thursday morning with lunches, fishing rods, and books.  A mile down the road where the old logging road crossed ours, we would stash our books and head up the mountain toward Carlson’s Brook.  By seven we could be far enough upstream to start working some of the pools what we usually never had time to try.  It was a tempting plan even though I kept thinking of all the possible loop-holes.

What’s Dad going to say when we come back with forty or fifty trout?”  I asked.

“We’ll tell him we got lucky.”

“Sure,” I said, but I was thinking to myself later, just before I fell asleep, that we’d be lucky to get away with just a hiding.

 

The following morning as we set out down the road, I received our first sinister warning, when I examined our lunches.  This was a doomed expedition!  Ma had packed twice as many sandwiches as usual, and she had included apples and an unheard of piece of cake for each of us.  She knew!  We were dead.

My final decision was based on fatalism.  I decided to put the consequences aside and to enjoy the day.  There wasn’t much else that I could do.  I couldn’t go to school and leave Billy on his own, and I certainly couldn’t go home.  No, victim of circumstances that I was, there was nothing to do except to try to have fun.

As the day went on, I lost my sense of foreboding and began to enjoy the forbidden adventure. It was clear, warm, and just a trifle muggy.  The black flies of May had disappeared, and the mosquitoes had not yet reached the numbers, nor the ferocity that they would attain by mid-summer.  Here and there patches of mountain laurel decorated the hillside in snowdrifts of blossoms.  We explored further up the brook than we ever had before, and by the time we were ready for lunch, we had caught twelve trout between us.

 

We–Billy–decided that we should start back downstream about three in the afternoon.  By four o’clock we should be at the old Gorham to Essex Road.  From there we should be able to hike to the logging road and make it back home by our usual arrival time, somewhere between five and five-thirty.  By three I was ready to leave.  We had added six more large trout to our creel, but the air had turned heavy with the threat of an imminent thunderstorm.  By the time we reached the road, the clouds were piling up, tall, dark-based cumulus soaring over Wilkins’ Mountain like battleships.  We hurried down the road as fast as we could, encumbered with poles, lunch pails and our creel full of trout.

The old Gorham to Essex  Road had not been in use for at least ten years before that day we hustled down it.  The state had invented much better routes by then.  No one in his right mind would consider taking a car or even a truck down those deep ruts or across the many washouts, and no one in Gorham would try walking it to Essex or vice versa.

About half way along this journey from the brook to the logging road there was a granite bridge over a small stream, running down the mountain in a series of narrow runs and trickles that would have tempted us to try a line if it hadn’t been for the opulent proximity of Carlson’s Brook.  The bridge itself was a marvel of antiquated engineering, a fact that neither Billy nor I appreciated back in those days.  Those giant blocks of granite had been quarried, hauled, and set in place by men who had been long dead the day Billy and I used it for shelter from a summer thunderstorm.

We were within yards of the bridge when Billy began to walk faster.  I had to trot just to keep up.  “Slow down, Billy,”  I called, “We’re going to get wet whether we walk, run, or fly!”

Billy didn’t answer.  He had a mortal fear of lightning, and from the feel of the air and by the look of the sky, we were going to get a humdinger.  When I say the feel of the air, I mean that literally.  It was more than just sultry now, it was thick and oppressively still.   There was a tense feeling of electricity hovering nearby.  I could feel it, and I knew that Billy could.

It hit just as we reached the bridge.  First, a gust of wind almost blew me off the road, and it sent Billy’s L.L.Bean, mail-order hat sailing back along the road towards Gorham.  Billy didn’t even make a swipe with his arm to save it.  Then there was a wall of water racing toward us like something out of the Bible, and as it engulfed us, there was a crack of lightning, a vivid, white flash not more than fifty yards away to our right.  Two things happened together in that instant:  first, a deafening noise, an explosion as the tall pine that had been struck vanished in fire, smoke and splinters; second a feet-first plunge down the embankment that I really hadn’t intended to take.  If it had been up to me, I probably would have stood there in the road, frozen in wonder until Dad came to fetch us home.  It was Billy who somehow managed to propel both of us over the edge, down the embankment, and into the culvert.  He had me by the hand, and I could feel how violently he was shaking.  Our rods and the rest of our things were up there somewhere on the side of the road. The thunder from that strike hadn’t quite finished bouncing from hill to hill, and there we were, tucked away under that ancient bridge.

Billy couldn’t stop shaking.  “B-b-boy,”  he chattered, “are we ever gonna get it now!  Ma and Dad are sure gonna be mad.”  Maybe it was guilt, maybe it was fear, perhaps a combination of the two, but Billy just seemed to deflate.  Maybe the pressures of being the big brother were just too much for him at that point; I don’t know, but I had the feeling, suddenly, that I was the one in charge.

“Why don’t we move a little further in under the bridge, Billy?”  I asked, trying to show concern, to coax him out of this sudden mood of defeatism.  “This kind of storm won’t last long, and Ma and Dad will know we’ll be late.  They won’t worry about us–much.”

So we crawled a bit deeper into the culvert to wait out the rain.  After a few minutes my eyes adjusted to the dim light, and I could make out the granite blocks that formed the inner shell of the bridge, dark hulks of grey and black.  At our feet the small stream splashed and murmured in complete unconcern.

We settled down side by side on a flat-topped boulder about ten feet in from the entrance.  Twenty feet farther along the stream, I could make out the dim light at the other end of the shaft.  Next to me I could still feel Billy shivering.  Suddenly he jumped as another bolt struck close by and sent a flickering white light into the darkness of our refuge.  I suppose if it hadn’t been for that particular flash, and for the fact that I was looking in the right direction just as it came, Billy and I might have led different lives–well, maybe not.  But anyway, that flash just lasted long enough to light up the meanest pair of eyes I have ever seen.  They were large, close-set eyes, with dark pupils, rimmed with what seemed, in that darkness, a hellish, red glow.  He was tucked deep into a recess between two giant shafts of granite, not ten feet from where we sat.  It was my turn to begin shivering.

“Billy,” I whispered, “we gotta get out of here.  There’s someone in here with us.”

“I don’t care if old Satan himself is sitting between us,” Billy said through chattering teeth, “I-I-I damn well ain’t goin’ up there.  We’ll get fried for sure.  I know we will.”

“I am not Satan!”  the voice said in a tone that could freeze blood.  I felt Billy stiffen beside me.  My own heart stopped long enough for brain damage to set in.  The voice was deep and coarse, heavy with an accent that I had never heard, and it held enough threatening overtones to make me feel that Satan might have been better company.

Billy’s reply was about an octave higher than he usually talked, but I have to give him credit;  he tried to bluff it out.  “Hi,” he squeaked, “I’m Billy Crowder, and this is my brother, David.  We’re from–”

“Who cares!”  the voice growled.  Then there was a third flash as lightning struck again nearby.  In the light of this flash, for one instant, I caught a glimpse of his face.  It was dominated by a broad, almost simian nose, and a wide crocodilian mouth with one snag tooth projecting down like a single vampire fang.  Above the eyes was a mass of curling, dark hair matted over brows that I can only describe now with a word I didn’t know then.  Neanderthal.  Billy had seen it too.  “I guess we’ll be going now,”  he said quietly.  That face had been enough to cure Billy’s fear of lightning, at least temporarily.

“Oh, no, you don’t!”  came the instant response.  “You come tumbling under my bridge without my leave, then you’re going to stay put until I say you can go!”  In the darkness he was invisible, but the whole cavern reverberated with the sound of his  voice.

Now, this was a challenge that Billy could meet.  It took his mind off the thunderstorm.  Lightning was one thing, but the ravings of a demented midget (I say midget because the space which that fearsome countenance occupied could not have supported a full-sized person) this was something Billy could cope with.  He was always better than I was with interpersonal relationships.  I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

Billy returned the belligerence with belligerence, head to head so to speak.  “What do you mean, your bridge?  This is still a free country isn’t it?”  His words were rapid and run together as he pushed on nervously.  “This bridge belongs to the state of New Hampshire, and since we’re citizens, I guess we got just as much right as you do to sit under it.  Who do you think you are, anyway?”  This was a pretty long speech for Billy, and he ended it with a growing sense of conviction and justice.  His voice regained some of the bravado that I had come to expect from him.

From the darkness came the reply, “My name is Grothgar (Or something that sounded like that).  I am a Troll, and this is my bridge.  I own it.  Yes.”

There was a long silence while Billy thought this over.

Finally, I broke the silence.  “What’s a Troll?”  I asked.

“Something out of Hans Christian Anderson or the Grimm Brothers,”  Billy said.  Then he addressed our invisible host, “Who are you really, Mister?”

That question triggered even more animosity in the voice as he roared, “I’m a Troll, you impudent bumpkin, a Troll, Troll, TROLL!”

“Sure,”   Billy replied when the “L’s”  finished echoing.  To me he whispered, “We’re packed in here with a Looney or a wino, kid.  I think maybe the storm’s let up enough, and frankly, I don’t care.  Let’s make a run for it.”  Just then lightning hit again, and Billy’s resolve faded.  He had made a move toward the opening, but when the flash came, he collapsed back onto the rock.

“Scared?”  the voice mocked, and then continued sarcastically, “Where I come from the children run out and play in storms like this.”

“Oh, yeah,” Billy choked out the words, his voice now almost a scream, “Then why aren’t you back where you came from, wherever that is?”

There was another pause.  I could hear the noise of the water, and I could feel time slipping away while we waited for the voice to continue. I could still sense Billy’s nervousness, and I could tell he was still shivering.

When the voice did continue, it was in a different tone, deeper, slower, almost sad as he said, “Because it was all over.  We were all over.  Ended and finished.  I was the last, you know, the last one.”

“The last Troll?”  I asked.  I felt I had to say something.

“Scandinavia?”  Billy asked.  He was being sarcastic.  “Sweden?  Norway?  Denmark?  The Black Forest?  The Hartz Mountains?”  He didn’t wait for an answer, but pushed on, “How does a Troll get from there to here?  We’re Americans;  we read about Trolls, we don’t have them!”

In spite of Billy’s attack, there was no menace in the voice now as he continued quietly in the darkness, “I come from a mountain overlooking a fjord, near a place called Geiranger, in Norway.  I came here on a Norwegian trawler.  That’s how I got here, hidden away in the forecastle (He said foc’sle) of a Norwegian fishing boat.  I kept hidden for the whole voyage.  Did you know that a fisherman dies if he so much as sees a sea Troll?”

“Yeah?  Then how come we’re not dead, Mr. Troll?”  Billy challenged.  “We’re fishermen.”

Instantly the cave filled with demoniac laughter that echoed to the background of rumbling thunder, and for a moment it was hard to tell which was which.  “Those are trout!  You call yourselves fishermen with a little bag filled with your puny fishless?  I’m talking about fish, boy, fish!  Flounder big enough to sink a dory, seven-foot codfish, sea bass as long as a full-grown man, and whales:  great whales, blue whales, and hump-backs!”  Then he added almost as an afterthought, “I always wanted to be a sea Troll.”

“Then why didn’t you,” I asked.

“Because, son,” he went on quietly, “I tried it for a while, and I found that I couldn’t stand it.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I loved the sea, the tang of the salt air, the sound of the bell on the channel buoy, the cry of the gulls. . . What I couldn’t stand was the constant stream of polluting people:  thoughtless tourists, greedy salesmen, scatter-brained secretaries, not one of them with enough imagination to acknowledge my existence.  And the other thing–”

I could almost feel him shudder across the intervening, darkness, and in that briefest of moments I felt a kinship and a rapport with that disembodied voice.  “What,” I asked, “was it?”

“The cursed flatness,” he replied.  “A flat ocean bordering a flat marsh, followed by flat lowlands, flat, flat, flat!  Either you’re born to it or you’re not.”  He paused then, and when he continued, his voice took on the sad quality of an old man’s reminiscences.  “My family were always mountain Trolls, and there was nothing I could do but to find my way up here into the hills.  But that’s another story that no one really wants to hear.   Here I am.

“So, how long have you been here?”  Billy asked, with the skepticism and the sarcasm still in his voice.

“Since before your father’s memory,” the Troll snapped.  I took it that he was very much aware of the disbelief in Billy’s voice.

“Sure,”  Billy went on, “but if you’re really a Troll, how come we haven’t heard stories about you?  Aren’t you supposed to attack people and eat livestock and stuff like that?”

There was a long silence.  The light outside had shifted from deep gray to a rose flush.  There were still deep-throated rumbles of thunder, but the brunt of the storm was over and moving off to the east.  In the silence I felt that I could almost hear the Troll working his way back through his memories, searching for an example of deviltry that would impress us with its ghoulishness.

“Tom Ganley’s cows!”  he shouted, and the word cows, cows, cows bounced from wall to wall in the darkness like some weird,  Viking war cry.  In my mind I had a fleeting picture of axe-waving, horn-helmeted Norsemen storming an English beach screaming, “COWS!”  at the top of their lungs.

“What about Tom Ganley’s cows?”  Billy asked quietly, and I knew what he was thinking.  Ed Ganley’s farm, if you could call it that, was next to ours.  Ed was Dad’s age.  He sold Farm machinery and bootleg whiskey that we heard came in from the Maritimes.  Ed had a daughter, Elizabeth, whom Billy later married.  Ed’s father’s name was Calvin.  Old Calvin was still puttering around the house back then, senile and drooling.  He had never worked the land either.  He had made a bare living selling fertilizer and grain.  Tom Ganley was old Calvin’s father, and Tom Ganley went back further than I liked to think about.  Ma had told us all about the Ganley’s run of bad luck.  She said it was a curse.

The Troll went on as if excited by a favorite memory.  “Old fool drove a herd of top-rated milk cows all the way down from Gorham.  When he crossed my bridge, I tried to collect a few coins for my due. Well, then, he booted me arse over tea kettle down the slope.  For that I put a curse, one of my best, on Tom Ganley and his cows.  They never gave an ounce of milk from the time they clopped over my bridge until he sold them for beef. And even that turned out tough!”

Something cold came over me as the Troll told his story.  I did a little three-generation arithmetic and put Tom Ganley’s cattle drive into the mid-1800’s.  This was not a very comfortable thought, sitting there, tired, wet, and scared under a bridge deep in the mountains of New Hampshire with the day ending, and Ma and Dad a long way off.  “Let’s go home, Billy,”  I pleaded and I plucked at his sleeve.

Then the voice turned mean.  “Give me your fish;  I’m hungry,”  he demanded.  In the dying light I imagined that I could see the flash of those angry eyes.

“Not on your life,”  Billy said as he scrambled down from the rock and headed for the entrance.  “Come on, Davey, let’s get out of here.”

“But I’m hungry!”  the Troll cried.  There was something so primal and pathetic in that cry that for a moment I stopped, wanting very much to give him our fish, but I lost the chance when Billy yelled back over his shoulder, “Go catch your own fish!”

We grabbed our equipment as we scrambled up the embankment.  Billy’s rod had a slight bend at one of the ferrules, and my favorite fly had disappeared from my line.  As we started across the bridge, I could hear — and I know Billy heard too– the Troll’s muttered words, “Then live with your own foul luck, fools!”

The hair at the back of my neck began to rise, and the feeling that we had not done the right thing accompanied me all through the rest of the journey home.

Our hard luck began the moment that we got back to the farm.  A classmate of my brother’s, Jud Thompson, had decided to pay a call, “Just to see how the Crowder boys were feeling, since they weren’t in school today.”  Billy wanted very much to kill him, but part of the punishment was that neither of us was to extract any revenge on Jud Thompson.  Dad knew what he was doing;  that hurt more than all the other conditions put together.  And the bad luck continued.  On Friday we went to school as usual with our usual lunch this time, and, of course, we had to face the music without our forged note.  Billy got three detention days, while I got only two–don’t ask me why.

Billy was on the school’s chess team, and he was a sight more than just pretty good.  He once beat Mr. Murphy, the team coach, three out of four matches, and he had also wiped out all the local competition throughout the school year.  There was no one who could touch him in the state of New Hampshire–Until that week that is.  In the course of one week, in the matches leading to the state finals, he was beaten by two fifth-graders, a cross-eyed kid from his own class who could hardly play checkers, and (Horror of horrors) a girl from Vermont who put him down in nine moves!

I had my own run of bad luck that week.  I got stung by an angry horde of yellow-jackets, kicked by a cow, lost my best Barlow jack-knife, and flunked in rapid succession:  English, math, geography, and history tests.

By the end of the week, I had decided that Billy and I should have a talk, but this time Billy was way ahead of me.  In our room that night he announced, “We’re going back.”

“O.K., I agreed, “back where?”

“You know damn well where!”

I couldn’t resist giving him some of his own skepticism.  “What for?  To check on some long-gone vagrant, some dumb escapee from the county detention center?”

At Billy’s insistence, one of the first things that we had done after our adventure, was to comb through the local newspapers for items about anyone thoughtless enough to wander away from the state or county prison farms in order to take up hiding under bridges and disguising themselves as a two-hundred year old Grimm brothers troll.  Nobody fitting that description was missing from anywhere.  Billy then dismissed him as a wino or a hobo with a vivid imagination.  That explanation, however, did not account for our sudden run of mutual misfortune.

 

“We’re going back,” he said, and I knew that he meant it.

So we went back.  It was Saturday, nine days after our original encounter.  With things back to normal around the house, our time was our own after chores until supper at six.  We arrived at the bridge by two o’clock on a warm June afternoon with no threat of a storm.

We stood for a long time on the side of the road, looking down the embankment at the miniature stream which had diminished considerably since our last visit.  Now, it was a slow, tired trickle, working its way laboriously between the granite boulders.  Already the wild mint at the side of the stream was beginning to choke up the flat spot where the water swirled around the roots of an old canoe birch.

Billy pointed down the slope at the entrance.  “Do you think he’s still down there?”  I nodded.  “Well, then,” he went on, “let’s go see him.”

I followed a little reluctantly.  I could still feel the lumps where those yellow jackets had danced on my head.

I caught up with him just as he started into the culvert, armed with his new Boy Scouts of America flashlight with fresh batteries.  The beam stabbed into the crevice where the Troll had been on our first visit–nothing.  Then Billy swung the light from side to side along the walls until the beam finally caught our friend, further back, almost to the center of the culvert, backed into another small crevice.  All we could make out were those cold eyes as they bored into us.  “Put out that light!”  he commanded, and the flashlight dropped from Billy’s hand and blinked out.  We never did get it working again.

“What are you doing back here?”  he asked, and then he chuckled softly and added, “Come to complain to me about your run of bad luck?”

“Well,” said Billy so softly that I could just about hear him, “that’s a fact.”

“Speak up, boy!”  he roared, and I jumped as I had at the thunder of our first visit.

Billy’s reply was a high-pitched squeak, but it was loud enough for Ma and Dad to have heard back at the house.  “We didn’t do anything to you!  How come you laid a curse on us or whatever it was that you did?  How come?

“Yeah!”  I added bravely to show Billy that I was with him, backing him up all the way. I really wanted to be somewhere in downtown Berlin with lots of people around.  Better still, I would have liked to have been safe at home hiding under my bed.

“Why did I do it?”  The troll repeated the question quietly.  I almost didn’t make out the words.  “Well, for one thing, I’m bored. I haven’t seen very many people in a long time.  You don’t get too much company when you live under a bridge.  You two were entertainment.  Also, I was hungry.  You ever been hungry?  Real hungry, when your belt buckle scratches your backbone?  Never mind, you probably have never even missed a meal.

Then he shifted the subject.  “Forget it; there’s no curse on you.  You start believing in curses, you’re going to open up your mind to all kinds of crazy ideas like magic and good being rewarded and evil punished.  Things don’t work like that in the real world.”

He stopped talking, and in the silence that followed, I felt a growing sense of relief.  Now I didn’t have to look forward to a life filled with bee stings, cow kicks, and whatever other multiple-injury causing traumas that this undersized Scandinavian goblin might have had in store for me.

Billy broke the silence with his next question, one we probably shouldn’t have asked.  I’ve always felt that some part of our lives was controlled by what we did that day. “Why don’t you get your own food?”  Billy asked, “What are you doing sitting around in here for, anyway?”

Again there was a long silence, heightened by the sound of the water flowing through the culvert on its eternal journey.  When the Troll finally answered, it was with one flat, emotionless word, “Dying.”

More silence and the sound of water. . . I could think of nothing to say.

Billy started to move for the entrance, “We’ll get help,”  he said.  “Come on, Davie!”

“No!”  The urgency in the Troll’s voice stopped us both in our scramble.  “You will not get help.  I don’t need any help. I don’t want any help.  What do you think dying is, anyway, a public performance?  It’s a very private thing. This is the way I want it.  I’ve always known that it would come like this for me, alone in a strange country with no faith, no belief.  What do you expect me to do?  Go back to Norway?  I’d be just as alone there as here.  You think anyone there believes?  Besides,” he finished, “I think I’ve forgotten how to speak the language.”

I tugged on Billy’s sleeve, “Hey, Billy,” I asked, “what do Trolls eat, anyhow?”

“Kids,” Billy replied.

My stomach lurched. “Kids?  Like us?”

“No, dummy, don’t you ever read anything?  Kids — little goats!”

“Lamb chops?”  I asked.

“I suppose,”  Billy replied.

“Let’s go, Billy,”  I said as I began backing out of the culvert, pulling Billy by the arm.  “We’ll be right back, Mr. Troll,” I called.

“You bring anyone with you, and you’ll never find me!” he shouted after us.

We ran the entire way back to the house.  Billy stopped once, breathing hard, and called after me as I continued trotting down the road toward home, “What are we doing, Davie?”

“Lamb chops,” I called back over my shoulder and continued puffing along.

When we burst into the kitchen with me in the lead, Ma was taking a pie from the oven.  I think she was shocked by our sudden appearance, but I didn’t give her a chance to start questioning us.  I poured everything out in a torrent of words, “. . .so, Ma, can we have the lamb chops you bought for Sunday?  He’s gonna starve, and he needs food, and I think we need to give him those lamb chops–” I stopped when I ran out of words and breath together.

Ma stared at me for a long time without speaking, then she turned, walked to our new ice box, withdrew a small packet and handed it to me.  It was an act of faith.

When we got back to the bridge, there was no one there.  We poked into every corner of the culvert, using a book of forbidden matches, finding nothing.  We left the packet of chops at the entrance, finally, and left.  There was nothing else to do.

When we returned the next day, we found only a few scraps of butcher’s paper.

“Raccoons,” was all that Billy said.

Dad had a long talk with both of us.  This was depression time.  There were a lot of men on the road, some of them brilliant men: teachers, professors, perhaps even a professor of Scandinavian literature who might just have sought temporary shelter under the Gorham to Essex Road bridge.

What happened from then to now was a lot of time, a lot of life, families, World War II, and miscellaneous other things.  Some of them hurt.  I guess that Billy had to close his mind to the possibility of magic in order to grasp the hard realities of medicine.  I suppose that I closed my mind to the realities of life in order to dream of the possibility of magic.

I don’t care. He wasn’t a professor turned vagrant, or some down-and-out hobo, or an escapee from the county house of correction–

He was a Troll.

 

 

The End

 

 

 

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