The Press Project

In a tangible way, this blog leads back to the Press Project, a creative venture of Linda Bricco Salk. I still remember the rush as I read her call out for contributions to her local paper. I had only recently moved to town, and I didn't know anybody. Feeling isolated, I typed that first email. I had an idea, several in fact, but I wanted to do was take photos. Not just any photos. I had a quirky idea. 

Stoughton, Wisconsin is a town with deep Norwegian roots. I have a few rootlets extending back to those same European rocks, and I knew our little city needed something fun for the younger generation. And that's where Oton was born. Although he didn't have a name, and I didn't know much about him, yet. I knew he was friendly, curious, and funny. 

I nervously pitched my idea to Linda at the front window table of a local pub, and there was an instant spark. Linda's expression brightened and she began talking. FAST. She loved my idea, and immediately asked the troll's name. Befuddled, I said, "I thought we could run a contest to get the kids involved." Linda didn't even take a second to breathe. "Oh no. You pick the name and then write an article to introduce him." 

The room narrowed as I realized I was in over my head. I left the meeting with a gut full of doubt, but I began with simple questions. 

  1. How did the troll get here? He came from the old country.
  2. How long has he been here? Since the arrival of the earliest immigrants.
  3. Is he alone? Absolutely not.
  4. Why would he leave Norway? He was running from something.
  5. And what was he running from? 
Here's where it gets interesting. Whatever the trolls were running from, it had to be something a human might suffer. It came in a flash. Blue eyes. 

It was something that couldn't be helped or changed. Thus was born Gaven. Over the next 72 hours I reverse engineered the complete story arc of Blue on the Horizon, but I still didn't know what I was doing. I just started writing. I thought it would be a 10-12 thousand word short story that we could serialize in the paper, but when I blew past 15,000 words, my husband sat me down and gave me the talk. "You're writing a book and you can't just give it away." He was right, but I still had to give Linda something. So I cast myself as a bored reporter working the police blotter. It's so much fun to play the Stoughton Press Creature Feature Reporter, and I hope to continue doing so for some time. Linda gives me free reign to take the articles where ever I want, and she's given me credibility. 

There's two lessons here:

  1. Trust your creative gut. 
  2. Volunteerism expands your horizon. 
Without further ado, I'm gathering the Press Project articles here for your enjoyment. 

Autumn 2012

Troll Sighting in Stoughton, Wisconsin November 2012

The Stoughton Press which launched this project has hit the streets. Thanks to Linda Bricco Schalk for believing in me... & our little friend... This posting is dedicated to the enjoyment of the young at heart everywhere....
 Anonymous reports have surfaced with eerily similar sighting of a creature that can only be described as a troll. “This is no garden variety gnome” one source stated.
Initial reports were written off as a case of one too many brews when the person of interest was found to be taking a smoke break between sets outside the Pour House in downtown Stoughton. However, within days sighting of said troll were reported by a reputable citizen who has never been known to touch a drop of spirits. “I was taking my early morning jog down the south side of Main St when I saw it plain as day shoot out from Division heading north. I was so startled I have to admit I emitted a disturbing high pitch screech. The thing stopped turned and looked me right in the eye and I swear it said ‘Hallo, so very sorry. I should have looked before crossing.’ Scared the daylights out of me, but he did seem to be a polite chap”.
Soon photos from all over the downtown area were coming in as citizens began to report more and more sighting often in the early morning or late evening just before and after businesses closed.

Not believing a word of it this reporter has contacted a zoologist at UW- Whitewater to confirm or deny the existence of trolls in the modern era. “Poppycock! There is no such thing as trolls. Besides the topography of the Stoughton area could not support a village of trolls as there is not a cave system sufficiently large enough to house the creatures. Ahem, I mean no trolls are fairytales told to frighten small children.”
Not satisfied with second hand reports this reporter decided to traverse the area just after sunrise to see for myself. I found nothing. Convinced the troll was a hoax I stopped in for a bismark at Fosdals. After purchasing my delicious treat I was leaving the store and there he was. Sitting right there on the chair. I nearly choked. “What do you want?” I stammered.
“Oh nothing really. We’ve just been neighbors for so long know I’ve decided to introduce myself to the human folk. They call me Oton- rhymes with Stoughton.”
By the time I thought of what to ask I heard a pop and he faded away. It is this reporter’s opinion that Oton is friendly and seems to enjoy the downtown area. Citizens sighting Oton are advised to say Hello.    
My editor has sent me back into the field to track down Oton. I’m not to come back until I get an interview. I spent several pre-dawn hours stalking the downtown area concentrating on the area where I last saw the troll. On the eleventh morning I began to give up hope as I hid in the bushes in front of the McFarland State Bank. Fearing failure and my knees soggy with the cold morning dew, I began to pack up. My stomach growled as I began to notice the sharp tang of coffee and what I could only describe as strawberry jelly. Realizing I was hungry I crawled out to make my way to the Koffee Kup.
“What ya doing,” a gravelly voice said.
I spun around and there he was Oton himself, but somehow smaller this time. Shaking my head to recover my wits I invited him for coffee and a chat.
His eyes glittered like topaz as he replied, “sure, can I have sprinkles too?”
“I don’t know if they have sprinkles,” I stammered.
“Try the bakery.”
Not willing to let this opportunity to get away I dashed away for two cups of steaming black coffee and grabbed a dozen chocolate donuts covered in colorful sprinkles. I raced back with the scrumptious treats, but to my horror he had disappeared. I dropped to the bench spilling hot coffee across my lap.
“Hey, watch it. That’s hot.”
Peeking between my knees there he sat. “Lots of humans today. Meet you at troll beach.”
“But it’s closed for the season,” I said.
“It’s always open for me. See ya there.” And with a pop he vanished just as a pleasant older gentleman paraded by with a puzzled look on his face.
I ran to my car and I have to admit risked a hefty traffic ticket to get my interview. To my great relief there he sat at the top of the blue plastic slide. Yelling through the fence I said “Oton, I have a few questions. The people of Stoughton want to know more about you.”
“Okey-dokey,” he said as he pulled a tiny pair of sunglasses from his grubby overalls. He leapt to the ground and landing lightly on his feet he skipped to the fence.
“Where do you come from?”
“Norway, doesn’t everyone? Where are my sprinkles?”
I shoved the cup through a gap in the fence as he asked, “What’s that?”
“You asked for coffee. It’s dark roast.”
“Yeah, but you have to throw out the water first.”
“Shaking my head I handed him the bag. Sorry humans drink it wet.”
“That’s disgusting,” he said as he licked the frosting from the first donut. “Ooh, chocolate. Yummy.”
“Are you here to harm us?”
“Why would I do that? We’ve been neighbors for years. I think humans are fascinating.”
“How long have you been here?”
“I arrived with the first group. The elders say they never would have made it without me.”
“I find things, useful things,” was all he would say.
He was playing with me, but afraid he would get bored and disappear I forged ahead. “Some people see you and your three feet tall, others say you’re as big as a human, today you are as tiny as a baby squirrel. How is that possible?”
“Magic. It’s kinda my thing. The sorceress accepted me as apprentice long ago when I demonstrated I could make my nose grow, see?”
Faster than Pinocchio his nose shot out several inches. “The hard part is getting all the different pieces to look right. I’m still working on it. Leaf tells me I look different when I’m big.”
Stunned I asked, “How on earth do you do it?”
“That’s a secret for another day,” he said slyly. Shoving the last of the donuts down his gullet he said, “I’m late. The others will start to worry if I don’t get back soon.” POP.
“Damn, I had so many questions, and now I have even more. Like who the heck is Leaf?” I grumbled.
“Next time bring the grounds, used, still warm, squeezed- not strained,” he called from some unseen location.
“No problem,” I stammered as I scanned the park. “When will I see you again?”
Be downtown twenty-nine sunrises from now. I’ll find you.
Dear readers, next time I’ll be ready, I can promise you that.
Spring 2013: we had a great response to the first article, and it was time to bring the public deeper into my world.

Oton from Stoughton: Part Two

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 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 I think you’ll find my experiences—unique.

Summer 2013: Oton comes to town for the world famous 
Sytennde Mai (or May 17th) parade.

Troll Moons Horse
Sytennde Mai—it was an easy assignment or it should have been. My job: cover the Norwegian parade and the downtown area in general. Sounds safe, right? Even Oton wouldn’t be crazy enough to show up with thousands of humans around …
I got there early to soak in the atmosphere surrounding Stoughton’s premier annual event. Hundreds of chairs and blankets already lined the route. Young and old, tattooed and bookish—everyone came out for the colorful parade. I stopped to watch the juggler entertaining the crowd. A short, impish man with a wild head of hair did battle with the stiff breeze blowing out of the southwest. Eventually, he found his rhythm and got his various objects to cooperate. This young man couldn’t wait to be part of the act. Only after reviewing the photos, did I see what you may have already noticed in the background—Oton.

I moved on and did what most other people did that day; I walked in to Fosdals, and waited in the long line for a treat. A yummy, scrumptious bismark for lunch may not be the healthiest choice, but hey, it was a special day. I clutched the small, waxed paper bag to my chest and pushed my way outside.
“Where’s mine?” A familiar voice demanded. I nearly jumped out of my skin, but there he was, crouched behind the weathered, wooden chair at the entrance to the bakery. “Oton, are you nuts? It’s shoulder to shoulder humans out here,” I said when I could catch my breath. It’s funny, but I could only smell bakery, not a whiff of troll, um, aroma could be detected. “Did you take a bath?” He giggled through his pudgy fingers. “We had another diving contest last night. I won,” he beamed. “I pulled off a perfect belly flop.” He lifted his grubby tunic to reveal a blood red belly. “It only hurts when I rub it.” I shook my head and headed back inside for an Oton special. The young girl behind the counter gave me a puzzled look, but I told her some out of town friends had turned up, and I was providing a Stoughton treat. She smirked and stuffed the bag with a dozen sprinkle plastered, chocolate donuts. I paid the tab, lowered my head, and rushed outside. “Come with me,” I snapped. I didn’t have time for this. 

We walked a few blocks, to a location that was devoid of other humans. I was stunned that no one we passed gave us a second look. I was prepared to see gaping expressions or maybe a gasp of horror, but we never even got a double take. Maybe they thought he was one of the many colorful costumed characters making their way to the parade staging area.
I tossed the bag to Oton and tried to eat my own pastry while he gorged. With his face plastered in chocolate and pink sprinkles he said, “Where’s the coffee?” I had reached my limit. “Look, I didn’t’ expect to see you today. What are you doing here anyway? And you’re not invisible. Aren’t you afraid to be seen?” His tongue darted across his lips, lapping up any trace of sprinkle, “you humans don’t look for what you don’t expect to see. Now, where have you been? I’ve been downtown since sunrise.” I was puzzled. Why would I expect to see a troll, in broad daylight, with half of Dane County, dozens of visitors from afar, and don’t get me started on the dogs. Why me? What did I do to deserve this? “If you want me to leave, I will,” he said plunging his hands into his pockets. “I have work to do, but if can stay out of the way—AND you are certain the others won’t see you, I guess you can hang out with me today.” He clapped his hands and did a little jig that I can only describe as a drunken chicken dance. “Let’s go,” he said, taking the lead.
I followed in his wake— me the grumpy human, and Oton the prancing troll. We found a perfect location: the corner of Division and Main, right next to a brightly painted trash can to cover the smell of river that clung to Oton. I pushed all thought of the troll to the back of my mind and started snapping photos. It was sunny, and warm: a wonderful day in May. Finally, the colorful and clever parade started rolling past. 

I was wrapped up in my work and failed to notice when Oton slipped away, but being Oton, he made sure I stayed on pins and needles. Everywhere I looked … TROLL! Nobody reacted. Only this horse seemed to notice, but that was only after he mooned powerful animal. 

I continued to snap photos. If that wacky troll wanted to be found, so be it. I wasn’t his keeper. At times, he totally forgot to maintain his invisibility, but still, no screams indicated he had been seen. “Can that thing get wet?” Oton suddenly said from between my feet. “No, so whatever you’re planning, drop it,” I said without taking my eye from the eyepiece. “Better run then,” he laughed. I lowered the camera, and looked over my shoulder. Angry, dark clouds boiled to the southwest. That got my attention. Just then, my finger slipped and I snapped this one last photo. Oton, get off my camera.

Autumn 2013: I decided to have some real fun with Oton.

A Halloween to Forget

So what would you do if a troll asked you to take him treat or treating? 

It was at one of my now infamous Packer parties where it began. During halftime, Oton pulled me aside and asked, “how do I get the candy?” He had already downed a baker’s dozen of sprinkle-plastered donuts, chocolate of course. “What are you talking about?” A wicked grin snaked across his gaunt cheeks. “You know ... when the little humans put on crazy clothes and demand candy from strangers.”
Little humans? I knew what he meant. It was mid-October, and Oton has spent more than a hundred years observing the people of Stoughton, but there was no way I was taking a troll trick-or-treating, no way, period. Okay, so I’m made of pudding and relented, but only after endless nights of begging. I was afraid he was going to go out there on his own. I had to do something to control the situation, but what. “Fine, but there are rules,” I said as my shoulders slumped. “1. I’m going with you. 2. You need a bath, and 3. No Magic, None. If you so much as sneeze a spell, we are going straight back to Elvsmyr.” He flung his arms in the air, and started sputtering. “Nope, you do this the human way, or not at all.” I should have known better. The next few nights were a blur; Oton was impossible to please. He wanted to wear a costume just like the little humans he saw each year, but have you ever tried to put a Halloween costume on a troll? Let me tell you, it isn’t easy. First, we tried my idea. I figured a cut up sheet and viola, a ghost. “This is not what I had in mind,” he growled from under the delicate pink blooms of the sheet. I guess plain white was the way to go, but I didn’t have one. 

 However, I did have a plan B: Mummy, but I may have wrapped him a little too tightly because he fell over after just a few steps.

 Next, we tried his idea. “I want to be a Viking.” It wasn’t what you think. “You mean like Clay Matthews?” He wiggled, dancing in place, obviously in love with the idea. “Oton, I keep telling you—Clay is a Packer. Not all football players are Vikings.” He furrowed his brow and looked at me from under hooded eyes. “They’re all Vikings.” I gave up. I had introduced the trolls to football last year. Their first game was the Packers vs. Vikings. Something about that blasted Viking horn is stuck in their troll brains and now every game is a great battle of so-called Vikings. It all makes my little green and gold heart cringe, but on the bright side, Oton and the others cheer wildly for the Packers. Anyway, back to the Halloween fiasco. Oton wanted to be a tiny Clay Matthews so I tried to imagine that in my head. Let’s see, a jersey, toss on a blonde wig, and leave his hair spiky on top so it looks like he’s flinging it just like number 52. Yikes.

 It was October 25, and I was getting desperate. If I didn’t think of something, and quick, this thing was going to get out of hand. Then it hit me. Oton is a costume—just slap a mask on his face and he’s a walking ghoulie.

The big night was just hours away, and Oton showed up, as promised, for his bath. Sure, he tried to bargain his way out it, but I held my ground and hosed him off in the backyard then plunged him into a bubble bath. That’s right—clothes and all—I dunked him repeatedly in a tub of frothy bubbles. I may never get that ring out of the tub, and he wasn’t what I would call clean, but at least the stench had been neutralized. Through it all, he smiled. I should have known.
We hit the streets as soon as it got dark. Every time a prancing cluster of kids headed one direction, we went the other. I couldn’t risk an encounter with a curious child. The first several houses opened the door, politely complimented him on his “amazing” costume, and tossed a few treats in his bag. That is until somebody opened the door, shoved a giant bowl of chocolate bars in his face, and said, “you can choose.” Uh-oh. Before I could stop him, he had yanked the bowl from the squealing old man’s arms, dumped the whole thing in his bag, flashed a giant smile of gray teeth, and beaming, said, “thanks.” The look on that man’s face will stay burned in my memory for years to come; it’s the stuff of nightmares. However, Oton was already down the sidewalk and hollering, “we’re burning moonlight.” I mumbled an apology and stomped after the troll. “He meant choose one. That was rude.” Oton was already on his way up the front walk of the next house. “He said choose, and I chose. You humans have funny rules.” 
It was going to be a long night, but he was good for the next few houses. Then a young mother, home with a squalling baby opened the door. Oton dropped his pumpkin of goodies, ripped a pair of mums from the pot near the door, jammed one in each ear, and started flapping his arms. The baby instantly quieted and started to giggle. I just shrugged my shoulders and moved on to the next house. “Why did you do that?” Oton looked puzzled and said, “I didn’t want her to be scared.” I shook my head and trailed behind him as we rounded the corner. Right in front of us, stood a little girl dressed as an adorable purple fairy and what I assume was her brother, posing as Wolverine. They made quite a pair. I wasn’t worried about Wolverine, but the fairy was going to be trouble. You see, trolls and fairies don’t get along. In fact, few humans know this, but Elvsmyr, where Oton lives, was the site of the Great Fairy Battle. I felt the troll take my hand. He was shaking and I whispered, “easy, it’s just a little human. She’s not really a fairy.” However, this particular little girl seemed to be convinced that she really was a fairy because she skipped up to Oton, tapped the troll on the forehead, and said, “a fairy kiss for you.” My stomach bottomed out and Oton began to scream, a horrible rasping scrape of a scream. The girl recoiled and started to scream as well. Her brother flashed his rubber claws and ran bawling into his father’s arms. I escorted Oton in the opposite direction as I waved my arm overhead, “Sorry, it’s a scary night for the little ones,” and then grumbled to Oton, “I knew it, I just knew it. I never should have let you talk me into this.” He was squirming wildly as I drug him up the street, away from the “fearsome fairy” of Stoughton.
I had had enough, and most of the houses had already turned the porch light out, but we were a long way from home. I wanted only to avoid people at all cost, but I wasn’t that lucky. I heard the steady slap of running shoes coming up behind us, and turned to see a young woman jogging with her fuzzy dog. If you’ve been following along, you will already know this meant trouble. This dog, a lovely, floppy dog, knew exactly what lived under that colorful mask. He lunged at Oton, jaws snapping, hackles rigid as the woman held him back. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him. He’s usually so good.” I knew exactly what had gotten into the dog. “Oton,” I snarled under my breath. “Don’t do it…” Too late. I should have known.

I’m not making excuses, but Oton is really—really sorry. He assures me the horns will fall off in a few days.

Are you curious to learn more about my Packer Parties with the trolls? Enter Green Bay Packers in the search box.
Want to learn more about the Great Fairy Battle? Blue on the Horizon reveals the hidden history of trolls. Purchase your copy today at Amazon.

(Fact: That's Winston, my elderly dog. He's super sweet and perhaps the most noble being I've ever known. I call him my Pinocchio Dog. He's almost a real boy.)

Spring 2014: Work was a bitch, and I was up to my hairline in editing. Linda agreed to publish the first two chapters of Cairn. 

The Dragons of Spring

I needed a change of scenery, a respite from the endless winter. The office had grown gloomy— littered with empty coffee cups and donut sprinkles, but I was under a deadline. I packed up my laptop and headed to the library where I spread out under the towering window along Main Street. A few moments later, a tapping, like stick on stone, battered my nerves. I peeked over my screen, and there he was. “Oton, it’s the middle of the day. Are you crazy?” He tapped his toes, and his nails made the grating sound. “I told you before.” He stuck his tongue out at the young woman seated at the next table. “They don’t see what they don’t expect to find.” I rolled my eyes. “If only I were that lucky.” I had to convince him to leave and I knew he would not go without a debate so I raced up the stairs with the troll hot on my heels. At the back of the stacks, I said, “Oton, go home.” He shifted his weight. “But Stump sent me.” My reporter instincts flared. I had long wanted to speak to Stump, and with good reason. Elvsmyr’s resident dragon was a mystery. I rarely saw him, and when I did, he would turn away. “Is he ready to tell his story?” Oton nodded. “He says it’s time, but only if you share what you know like you did with Gaven’s story.” I could feel the adrenaline flooding my veins. “I’ll get my coat.”
Our Norse ancestors believed in dragons because they were an intricate part of the mythology. The Vikings knew dragons lived both underground and at the bottom of the sea where they stirred up storms and generated rogue waves to drown the seafaring people. Dragons were very real to our ancestors. Therefore, it is only natural that dragons play a major role in the Norse trilogy, Legends of the Aurora. What follows is an excerpt from the soon to be published—Cairn: a dragon memoir.

The madness was descending. Troika’s vision had narrowed and his ears felt muffled, but he could smell the hot breath of the crow sleeping in the tree above and the waterlogged feathers of the ducks along the far shore. This time, he would fight it. He was determined to consume only the vegetation, but he feared he would soon be little more than an empty larder with gnashing teeth to speed delivery. Troika inhaled deeply, struggling to quiet the madness before it overwhelmed him. Again, the scent of duck came. Eleven—no, thirteen slumbering waterfowl were very close. The five males and eight females would be lean after the long winter, but meat was meat. He must fight back. He focused on the cattail just beginning to break the water’s surface. He knew the heartbeat the first mouthful of food passed his gullet he would be lost to the madness, but if he could begin with cattail, the animals might have time to flee. Troika stood at the edge of the river that defined the western boundary of Elvsmyr, but he could not feel the mud between his toes. The madness had taken that sense as well. The full moon, reflected in the ripples at the base of the cattail, sent waves of light toward him. Hawksquat. He would have to swim if he wanted to eat cattail tonight.

It was a battle between his needs and his desires. He sensed food on this side of the river, food more appropriate for a dragon, but he had never shaken his passion for cattail. He tried to ignore the tantalizing aroma of carrion floating on the breeze, but his instincts were winning. Troika turned away and slipped in the mud. He toppled into the water with a splash. At least the ducks had taken flight. They would be safe, this time. Troika detested water. Even before his feathers had pushed their way through the crevices in his scaly skin, water had repelled him, but the Fates had chosen the river.

Troika pushed against the current. Still fed from the snow pack lingering in the deep shadows, the river was frigid, the flow, strong. He wasted no time devouring the cattail shoots, and only narrowly resisted the urge to yank their succulent roots from the mud. They would live to be eaten again. With the first intake of solid food in five moon cycles, his digestive system roared to life. Cramps twisted his body; the urge to eat was overwhelming. He barely noticed when his eyesight changed. Colors dissolved, well, most of them. Green jumped out from a gray world, but his instincts sought the motion of prey. The madness was deepening.

He made his way back across the river and stood on the bank, dripping. His partially feathered body, shivered in the wind. Without thinking, he spread his wings and shook them violently. Curtains of water flung from his flight feathers. A heartbeat later, his scaly flesh began to quiver, faster and faster, until it had expelled the water from both scale and feather, but he could still feel drips coming from his crest. Annoying, but he pushed it aside. Hunger propelled him forward. He stumbled on thick, muscular hind legs, his arms reaching out to shove anything edible into his mouth. He dived, face-first, into a bramble of vines. Tender shoots disappeared down his throat. His teeth, designed to rip meat from bone, sliced through the vegetation as if it were nothing. He pushed on, tearing everything green from the earth until the haze of hunger began to lift from his brain.
That was when he remembered the dream.

Hibernation was a necessity for dragons. The deep sleep had come for him as soon as the last tree had surrendered its leaves to the coming snows. Troika had returned to his cozy cave and settled on his nest, already groggy. He did not remember much after that—at least not until tonight. The frost coating his scales had just started to evaporate when it had come. He had dreamed of the nursery and his mother at his side. He remembered her warmth and he could still hear her heartbeat pounding in his ears, but then the voice had intruded.

“Your clan is in danger.” The voice was both heavy with emotion and light as fog.
Troika recalled shifting, dislodging a stone from his nest. “I never knew my clan. What is that to me?”
“And the Guardian is dying.”

Troika had limited awareness of the Guardians, but his scales knew their importance. It was like that so often. His scales were steeped in the knowledge of the dragons, but he had been denied the memories. It was not supposed to work that way, but he had been separated from his clan on the night of his hatching.
 “Yes, Troika you are truly special. Only the Promised One would understand without contact with the clans. You must come home, Troika. Your clan needs you.”

It had been many seasons since a voice had invaded his dreams and the demanding tone had flared his anger. “Who are you?”

The voice took on a melodic quality. “I am known to all, but seen by few.”

The cloaked conversation had grown tedious. “I was sent away, harnessed to a destiny far from my kind. I’ve done what was expected of me. I have nothing left to give.”

“Then all is lost. The world as we know it will be no more.”

His path had always revealed itself in dreams, and Troika knew this message was important, but he had already fulfilled his destiny, hadn’t he? He sighed, as the heavy mantle of duty settled on his shoulders. It seemed the hideous hags of Fate had dipped their bony fingers in the pool, and were stirring his soul from its comfortable existence.

The hags of Fate always won. He would be leaving soon. He had better learn to use his wings for more than warming his twisted tail, but first—the madness was again taking control.

Autumn 2014: Time to wrap my love of football in troll

A Glorious Day for Football

The shorter days and chilly nights had conspired to drop a warm tapestry of garnet, green, and gold over Stoughton. Autumn came quickly this year and it was zooming past at an alarming rate. It was time to work on my next assignment. My editor had given me a good one this time, an article sure to put me back on a professional path: High School Football. When that assignment had landed on my desk, I had breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, a story featuring people had come my way. It had to be perfect so I waited for one of those days of crisp air and spectacular light. As the sun began to ignite the trees with the light that only comes near sundown, I headed to the practice field. With my camera slung across my body and my crinkly, new notebook in my hip pocket, I strolled past the cheer squad as they built a rock solid pyramid. Those young women are fearless, but I had my assignment so I climbed the hill to the tennis courts and found a good vantage point. The team had broken into two squads: one doing a bone crushing tackle drill while the other worked on the snap count.

The wind was wiping my hair across my face so I reached into my pocket for something to tie it back. When I looked up, a tiny dirt devil of leaves and dust raced across the field. Odd, I thought. It wasn’t that windy. I began to get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Then it happened. A mop a bushy, gray hair zipped across the scrimmage line and made a mad dash at the ball. Oton was on the field. I swear I nearly swallowed my tongue in an attempt to stifle the scream rising from my gut, but I was afraid to move for fear of alerting the coaching staff or worse, the players.

Except no one seemed to notice the crazy troll, a mere eleven inches tall, zipping between cleated feet and darting away from falling bodies. I was about to witness my tiny, stinky, annoying friend’s death. I couldn’t let it happen so I did the only thing I could think to do. I ripped pages from my notebook and tossed them to the wind. They sailed onto the field of play and skittered across the grass, one coming to rest again the leg of the coach. I took a deep breath and followed them onto the field just as the center snapped the ball again. “Excuse me,” I mumbled as I peeled the paper from the coach’s shin. “If I lose this, my editor will kill me.” He growled at me, but I kept going, right up to the line of scrimmage where Oton stood beaming, awaiting the next play. I rushed between two burly players with my eyes blazing and locked on the oblivious troll. Little did I know that the coaches had called for the exact same play and they were already downing the ball—in the same place. I lunged at the blank sheet of paper drifting between the feet of young man, and scooped Oton up just as he noticed me. I couldn’t believe they didn’t see him, or at least smell him, but then again, the players had been working hard, and lockers rooms have a well-deserved reputation for a certain sort of funk.

With Oton squirming in my arms and his stench seeping into my new sweater, I hurried to my car where the little deviant and I could have a private conversation. “Oton, what were you doing in the middle of a football game? Don’t you realize they can’t see you? You could have been killed.” He snorted. “That wasn’t football. Football comes out of the bright, shiny box in your garage.” I allowed my head to fall back against the headrest. This was my reward for introducing football to a village of trolls. “Okay, if that wasn’t football, what was it?” After all, Oton had a unique view of the world. “That was Hurl.” He was triumphant, and I had just stumbled upon some weird troll tradition. “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s Hurl?” He sneezed, coating the dashboard with snot, and rubbing the rest on his filthy trousers. “Hurl is a test of bravery. First, you find a rock, the bumpier the better. Then you wrap it in a skin … if you have one.” I was starting to see where he was going. “So you make a ball out of rock and leather­—“ “It’s not a ball, it’s a rock. We call it Bob.” I was being to regret saving him from the player’s cleats. “Why do you call it Bob?” He smirked up at me. “Bob: Battered Or Bruised.” He was laughing hysterically, but I wasn’t amused. “Okay. So you wrap a rock in leather and call it … Bob.” My head fell against the steering wheel with a thud as he began to treat the seat like a trampoline. “Then, and here’s the good part, we take turns hurling it at each other.” I raised my hand. “Let me guess. The last one standing wins.” He tipped his tiny head to the side. “Have you played Hurl before?” I felt like crying. “Just a lucky guess,” I moaned. “Oton, what were you doing out there on the practice field?” He wouldn’t look at me, a bad sign.

I wasn’t innocent in this. Two years ago, I had left Elvsmyr saying I had to get home for the football game. My beloved Packers were playing the Vikings. Little did I know where that remark would lead, I had seen the glint in Oton’s eye as soon as I had said Viking. That led to the infamous troll football party in my garage. It was quite a day, but in the end, the trolls, the entire village of them, had become devoted football fans. Never mind that they couldn’t tell the teams apart. They were all Vikings to the trolls, a point that still stings my Packer Pride, but I never expected Oton would sneak onto the high school practice field. “You didn’t answer my question. What were you doing out there?” He plopped down on the seat and groaned. “We’re outta rocks.” I rubbed the back of my neck as the headache began to take hold. “I find that hard to believe. I’ve been to your village, many times. There are plenty of rocks.” He looked deflated “Hurl hurts.” It was my turn to snort. “l’m sure it does.” It was starting to come into focus. “You’re here to steal a football.” He refused to look at me. A few heartbeats later, he asked, “can we go get sprinkles now?” 

I turned the car on and backed out of the stall. “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll buy you a whole bag of sprinkle donuts if you promise to leave the footballs alone.” I doubt he heard anything I said after sprinkle, but at least he had been distracted from his mission, for now. But Coach, if footballs start to disappear, I’m pretty sure I know where they are. There’s just one thing. You don’t want them back. Troll stench tends to stick to things.

Spring 2015, and the article of which I'm most proud:

The Fairies Have Returned

A strange report crossed this reporter’s desk last month. It seems a string of Christmas lights, long past the holiday season, but still wrapped around a porch at a local residence had been vandalized. The owner reported every colorful bulb was shattered, or rather, pulverized to dust. Stranger still, the columns appeared lightly etched with a definite swirling pattern filled with the multi-hued powder. It’s as if a very tall child had scribbled on the ten-foot column from top to bottom. The colorful marks remain after several washings, and a hastily applied coat of pain. The owner is considering his options.

Then a call came from in a resident living on the outskirts of town. The caller, who asked to remain anonymous, reported hearing strange noises coming from her chicken hut, but when she went to investigate, nothing was amiss. She would have considered it nonsense, except her chickens have begun to lay unusual eggs. Each morning she finds oddly hued eggs—blue, yellow, pink, orange—and sometimes all four swirled together when she reports her hens have never laid in any color other than white.

Things began to get truly bizarre when an unsigned letter addressed to this reporter arrived with the following statement:
The Fairies have returned.

The handwriting was small, precise, and elegant in a way no longer taught in schools. In fact, it was apparent the author had training in calligraphy. No indication of the sender was available on the envelope, as the letter had been found propped against the office door on a Tuesday morning. The paper seemed to be of common stock and no DNA was found. Several days passed without incident.

A week later, after rumors had begun to spread, a frantic caller from the southwest side of town reported three local boys had cornered a tiny, flying woman in a shed, but further inquiry confirmed the trio had mistakenly terrorized a moth. Another young man called to insist he had found the hive only to later appear at the Stoughton Hospital with dozens of hornet stings. Please remember, fairies move about only in daylight, and the rumor of a central hive has never been verified.

Now, in an exclusive to the Stoughton Press, this reporter can confirm the following event, as she was a first-hand witness. A large, tubular birdfeeder hangs outside the window of the Stoughton Press office. Over the years, we have raised several broods of house finches, chickadees, nuthatches, and cardinals, but the creature appearing one day at dawn was something from out of a legend.  The sun had just pierced a ragged hole in the heavy cloud cover, and being less than six feet from the feeder, there is little room for doubt. A tiny, winged creature, radiating a bright white light that seemed to crystallize into a rainbow within a few inches sat upon one of the perches. Her hair tumbled past her shoulders in pale blonde waves, and her ice-blue eyes held mine with a vise-like grip. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. She raised her arm and brought a slender, pink finger to her lips as she contorted her face into a horrific smile full of tiny, pointed teeth. An instant later, she was gone. Just gone. I stared at that feeder all day, but the creature has never returned.

This reporter has inside knowledge of the destructive nature of fairies. You would do well to remember that these are not the fairies of a beloved Disney classic. I fully expect these creatures to bear a strong resemblance to the foul and fickle beasts of the old country. I urge you to ignore any attempt they may make to reach out, as they are renowned as tricksters. They think only of themselves, except, there was that one time, but that is a story for another day.

While we wait for their next move, residents are asked to be wary of friends, neighbors, and even family members randomly dancing an erratic jig or bursting into song as serious cases of fairy fever have been known to lead to skipping while laughing hysterically. The Stoughton Press asks our readership to report suspicious behavior immediately. Contacting the authorities will likely lead to ridicule as city leaders remain unconvinced of the infestation. It is the opinion of this reporter that Stoughton, is indeed, infested with fairies, but I don’t feel there is cause for alarm. In the coming days, keep watch for tiny, colorful displays, as there are sure to be more. And most importantly, DO NOT disturb toadstools. Trust me on this, and stay vigilant, dear reader. 

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