The next few days were a blur, and just when I had convinced myself it was all an elaborate Halloween hoax, my editor walked into my office and asked if I was ready for the big day. In a panic, I glanced down at my calendar where I had scrawled in red ink: OTON – 5 a.m. I closed my laptop, told her I was heading home to get some sleep before the insanely early meeting, and bolted out the door.
Safe, in my living room, I pulled the drapes and sought council from the only source I could think of. I Googled “troll real or fake” and took a deep breath. As I expected the internet was full of references to the modern usages of the word troll: a fishing technique or those lonely souls who spend hours on the internet making outrageous comments on nearly every subject. I kept clicking; I didn’t know what else to do.
Eventually I started focusing on Wikipedia and that led me to Monstropedia.org. The throbbing in my head eased as I started reading what these self-proclaimed experts had to say. A troll is a fearsome member of a mythical anthropomorph race from Scandinavia. Their role ranges from fiendish giants – similar to the ogres of England – to a devious, dwarf-like folk of the wilderness, living underground in hills, caves or mounds. I felt better just knowing there were others out there who took this stuff seriously. I drank in the words as they formed on my screen. Maybe it wasn’t so strange after all, but nothing I read could completely explain Oton’s jumbled shape shifting or his love of used coffee grounds. Monstropedia spoke of two traditions. In Northern Norway, trolls are described as large, brutish, and ugly with tusks or cyclopic eyes, while southern Scandinavia told of human-like trolls with hidden tails. Both interesting, but neither described Oton.
I closed the laptop and my eyes. I would just have to show up on that bench the following morning and prove I had dreamed the whole thing, but just in case I started brewing coffee, pot after pot until I had used up all the beans in my cupboard. I left the filters, still clogged with grounds, on the counter to cool and I grabbed a pencil. I needed to jot down a few questions … just in case.
There I was twenty-nine sunrises later, sitting on a bench in downtown Stoughton, Wisconsin with a gallon size baggie stuffed full of used coffee grounds on my lap and a dozen donuts slathered in chocolate frosting, and triple dipped in sprinkles. It was cold and miserable— it was 5 am in November! What was I thinking? I had to be losing my mind.
It was starting to get light when I checked the time, 6:18—it was all a joke. Relieved, I relaxed, letting my head fall backward when an odor, which I can only describe as a marathoner’s sock after mile 26, walloped me in face, “Oh no, not again.”
“Hello, human” a voice like crunching potato chips said.
I heard a pop and there he was staring down into my face, not more than a few inches from the tip of my nose. Before I knew what was happening I screamed like a schoolgirl.
“Hey, it’s just me, ooh, are those coffee grounds?” He said ogling the baggie.
I nodded my head and handed him the soggy mess. My heart had returned to a normal rhythm, allowing me to sit up. Keeping tabs on Oton, I scanned the street hoping someone would be out walking. In the distance, I saw a man with his dog. They were on the other side of the street, but heading toward us. I had to keep the troll’s attention on me. I turned back to Oton and patted the seat.
“Why don’t you sit down? I have donuts with extra sprinkles.”
This time he was huge, but his nose was different. Rather than long, it was smashed into his face and covering the territory from ear to ear. He looked thin, and bendy, and his arms were freakishly short. I handed him the donuts and said, “Where have you been? It’s freezing out here.”
He looked upset, and started to shrink until he was about two feet tall. I felt bad, but at least his proportions had returned to normal. Normal, like any of this was normal. I pasted a smile on my face and said. “I have a lot of questions for you. Like where do you live? How long have you been here, and who is Leaf?”
“That’s a lot of questions before I’ve had my sprinkles,” he said hopping up beside me. I handed him the box. I had to keep him talking, and apparently, that meant stuffing him full of caffeine and sugar. Watching Oton eat requires a strong stomach, one that can withstand the plentiful releases of gas and finger licking, but at least it was quick. “Now, what did you want to know?” he said wiping his hands on his filthy trousers.
I glanced toward the dog walker and cursed under my breath. It seemed the dog was stopping to sniff every snowflake. “Okay, let’s take this one step at a time. Where do you live? I mean, do you live right here on Main Street, or someplace else?”
Through chocolate-covered lips he said, “don’t be silly. This is a human village. I live at Elvsmyr.” His back to the man and dog, he waited for the next question.
“Elvsmyr, it that near here?”
“Not far … well, not if you know the way.”
His cryptic response was drawing the reporter out of me. I wanted to press for more, but I couldn’t risk upsetting him. “So, how long have you lived at Elvsmyr?” I asked, estimating him to be a teenager.
“Well, let’s see. I was born the winter of the avalanche so that would be …. Uhm… I never was very good with the number thing.” He tapped his fingers on his legs and wiggled his bare toes. “I think its 1,871 moons—no, 1,874 moons.”
“Moons, Is that how you measure time?” I said doing a quick search of my memory. Wasn’t the moon cycle 29 days? Ugh, where is Google when I needed it?
“It’s one of the ways. There’s also heartbeats and seasons.”
Suddenly, the quiet morning was destroyed by barking. The dog walker! I lifted my head to see the previously calm animal lunging at the end of his leash. The man struggled to control the medium sized dog; he didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary, but the dog sure did.
“It’s not always like that, you know. Some dogs love trolls. I’ve seen it, and it can get pretty sticky.”
“Can he see you?” I asked jutting my chin at the man.
“It depends. The elders tell us that some humans can see us, but others have lost their connection to the world that surrounds them. It’s just sad.”
“But the dog can see you?” I said except there was no need for him to respond. Even as the man pulled the dog away, its eyes were locked on Oton. This was starting to make sense. “Oton,” I said pulling out a pack of jerky to keep him focused on his bottomless belly. “Who is Leaf?”
“Nope, not that … you’re not ready for that. She wouldn’t be happy if I told you about— hey, no ask something else,” he said twisting his head back and forth on his stubby neck.
“Okay, so how many trolls live at Elvsmyr?”
He started tapping his fingers again. His face was bunched up in a pained expression, but I didn’t want to disturb him. When he was finally still he said, “a whole bunch.”
Rats. He was playing with me, again. I had to try something different. “Oton, could I visit Elvsmyr? I could bring donuts and coffee grounds for everybody.” Did those words really just come out of my mouth?
He jumped to his feet, stuck his pock-marked little face in mine, and said, “Have your eyes always been that color?”
My stomach flopped over, “you mean blue? Well … yeah.” I choked out not merely because of his close proximity.
“That could be a problem.”
I jotted a mental note about his own golden eyes that allowed only a sliver of white along the edges.
“I could … wear dark glasses if that would help.”
He hopped to the ground and said, “I’ll speak to the elders, but don’t bring the food, they don’t like it when I eat junk food.” Pop.
He did it again. Just like that, he was gone. Taking a chance he was still out there, I said, “twenty-nine sunrises?”
“Now you’re getting it,” his voice drifted through the still air. “But make it sunset next time. We’ll need all night.”
I trudged to the office. I needed to company of humans while I plotted my next move. No sooner had I opened the laptop than my editor was back at my desk. Steaming cup of coffee in hand, she said, “so, how’d it go?” I let my head fall heavily on the desk, and she said, “You’re just tired, here a strong cup of coffee will do you wonders.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever drink coffee again,” I groaned, but she wasn’t going anywhere. I sat up and blurted out the details of my morning. I promised to make my next appointment, but inside I was dreading the prospect. I spent the next few minutes doing some calculations after finding an interesting website that calculated the number of days, weeks, months, and years between two dates. I fiddled around until I found what I was looking for. If Oton was telling the truth, he was born sometime around May 13, 1864!
Now I consider myself a lucid person. I’ve never suffered from hallucinations, at least I didn't think I did, but how would I know? There was only one way to find out. The sun sets early in December. I dressed in layers and put toe warmers in my boots and hot packs in my gloves. Sighing, I left the laptop behind and headed to our bench. Main Street twinkled with holiday lights, and shoppers carrying brightly colored packages rushed to their cars. Where was he? The wind shifted and a familiar odor slipped up my nose. “Oton, is that you?”
“Over here,” he said as a woman with a toddler pranced past. I waved to the child, and waited until they found their way into their car. I had no idea what would happen if the little boy got a peek at a real, live troll. I found Oton behind the shrubbery, but to my surprise, he wasn’t alone.
“Hello, human. What is your proper name?”
“Rebecca,” I said my tongue suddenly glued to the roof of my mouth.
“This is Uredd, he’s … an elder,” Oton said studying his toes.
Uredd’s dark eyes were reflecting the holiday lights making them seem much less festive. “There are rules,” he said.
“Okay,” I looked around, making sure I had an escape route. “First, you‘ll be blindfolded. The elders don’t want you knowing the way. Second, your nose will have to be plugged; we can’t risk you back tracking the scent trail. Third, you must keep your freaky blue eyes low, and one more thing, no questions. If someone wants to speak to you, they will initiate conversation. Beyond that you are to stay silent.”
My head was spinning—back track a scent trail, as if, but before I could back out, Oton shape-shifted to my size, plugged my nose with wadded up moss, and blindfolded me. He took my hand and we started walking. It felt like miles before we finally stopped. My feet were wet and the wind was slicing through my parka. Oton removed the blindfold, and I blew the moss from my nose. I was standing somewhere near a river. The area was covered with dormant cattail and half-frozen puddles.
“We’re here,” Oton said, a lop-sided grin on his face.
I was standing next to a large stone, probably an erratic left by the ancient glaciers. A few feet away a fire burned low, smoke swirled in the shifting wind. I could hear giggling and the aroma was defiantly that of troll.
Uredd, leaning heavily on a twisted staff said, “the human Rebecca has agreed to our terms. Feel free to interact with her or keep your distance; the choice is yours.”
My knees were knocking and not just because of the cold. Eyes glittered from behind fallen trees and clumps of frozen vegetation. “Hello,” I said waving.” I’m just here to observe. I’ll be sitting right here if you want to ask me anything,” I said through chattering teeth. I was careful to keep my eyes averted, but I could hear footsteps crunching through the snow as a shadow approached my position.
“She’s not very attractive,” a female voice said, “poor thing, I hope she’s not an outcast.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and said, “no, not an outcast, just a reporter, a curious human with honorable intentions.” I risked a glance at the shadowy figure. She was ankle high, stooped, with long, frizzy, gray hair. Moving slowly, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my sunglasses. My eyes covered, I looked closer. She was draped in drab clothing yet her feet like Oton’s were bare. However, that is not what drew my attention. A long tail with a pom-pom of hair at the tip swung lazily along the ground, etching bizarre angel wings in the soft snow. More twitters from the shadows snaked through the night, making my heart pump faster.
“Now, Sila, no need to be rude to our human friend; you are our friend, right?” A new voice rumbled from behind my back. Rounding the boulder a male strolled, his own tail arched high over his head.
I was confused. Oton certainly never displayed a tail like these two. A thousand questions ricocheted through my brain, but I trapped them before they could vibrate my vocal cords. More trolls, male and female, young and old gathered around my feet. The variety was endless. For some reason I expected them to all be pretty much the same, but that was certainly not the case.
Much more happened that night, and long before I was ready, Oton handed me the blindfold. “We have to go, the sun is coming.” I did as he asked, but not before breaking one of the rules, “can I come back another time?”
Oton glanced over his shoulder at Uredd who nodded, and off we trekked.
So that’s my report. A lot has happened in the weeks since that first night at Elvsmyr. I’ve gained their trust, and even their friendship. If you’d like to read about my adventures, like what happens when you invite a pack of trolls over to watch a football game, visit my blog at trolltails.blogspot.com. I think you’ll find my experiences—unique.
[Previous posts contain the troll football parties and other adventures.]