Mr. Nilsson’s Kjempehytte

Kjempehytte

Illustration: Inkshark

fiction by Michael Dolan

Before I saw the backhoe, I never would have imagined such a level of destruction. The 14,000-pound piece of machinery had been pulverized—as little as two feet tall in some spots. It looked like a series of trees had crushed it, but there was no sign of them, or even broken stumps nearby. Even more bizarre, there was no sign of any other destruction in the area. Just an inexplicably crushed backhoe that hopefully had some good insurance.

“What’s your opinion, detective?” asked Mr. Nilsson, renter of the backhoe and owner of the property.

I looked at him. “Never seen anything like it. You sure that used to be a backhoe?”

He nodded. “I have the rental contract to prove it.” He looked back. “Think some teenagers took it for a joyride?”

I stifled a laugh. “Mr. Nilsson, if they did, I have never seen a joyride turn south so thoroughly.”

“This will push plans back considerably.”

“Can you remind me what it was for?”

“A cabin. I recently bought this land and wanted to build a getaway for my family.”

“Got it. Thank you. I’m going to talk with some of the neighbors, see if they saw anything.”

“Thank you, detective.”

Out in the mountains, “neighbors” was a generous term, taking me fifteen minutes to drive to the nearest residence. It was the home of an older couple with a pair of dogs and knickknacks that stretched from floor to ceiling. They were familiar with Mr. Nilsson’s development, but hadn’t heard anything.

“Should we be concerned?” the wife asked, glancing at the dogs.

“I don’t think so, madam, but I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”

It was the same with other neighbors. None had heard anything, and all wanted to know if there was anything they needed to do. Those with kids asked them, and also made sure they stayed away from the area due to the construction. One family even asked their teenage sons if they had anything to do with it—getting a believable “no” in response.

Just as I was leaving, their youngest daughter tugged on her mom’s dress. She cupped her hand around her mouth and whispered loudly, “Mommy. I have something to tell the policeman.”

“Go ahead, Berit.” answered her mom.

Berit looked up, and I crouched down. “I heard something last night. I couldn’t see it, but when I went out to look, I saw trolls around Mr. Nilsson’s place. They were saying they didn’t want the machine to hurt the land.”

“Okay, honey. What Mr. Nilsson does with his property isn’t our business.”

“I’m not saying it. The trolls said it.”

“Whatever you say, dear. Is there anything else you’d like to tell the detective?”

She looked back at me. “You don’t have to be afraid. I play with their kids sometimes. They just don’t like big metal things.”

I chuckled and looked at the mom. She sighed and said, “There aren’t many kids her age nearby.” I thanked her for her time before returning to my car.

I visited a few more houses, but again, no one had heard anything. Whenever I wasn’t interviewing, Berit’s comments wormed their way into my mind. I had grown up in town, but my morfar had spent his whole life in the mountains. Whenever we visited, he always sparked my imagination with tales of trolls, dwarves, and giants. Sometimes they interacted with humans, but usually they just wanted to be left alone.

I drove back to the property for another look, though I was pretty confident I had gathered any relevant clues during my first visit. It was all but abandoned now. Just a flattened backhoe sitting in the middle of the mountains.

With daylight getting longer every day, I decided to expand my search up the mountainside. Like before, I didn’t see any markings or signs of disturbance.

But—and this was a crazy thought—I remembered my morfar saying that trolls were creatures of the earth. Sure, they could be big and brutish, but they were also the mountains’ caretakers.

That’s when I noticed what wasn’t around. Litter. Not a scrap. Sometimes people were good about cleaning up after themselves. But especially at construction sites or similar high-trafficked places, there was always some trash getting missed or blown away. But here, I didn’t even see scat.

I thought back to my morfar’s stories. He said trolls avoided the sun because it would turn them into stone, so they slept in caves during daytime.

I started looking for caves. There weren’t supposed to be bears around, but I wondered whether they would be preferable to what I had in mind. After nearly two hours of wandering, I stumbled on a passage leading into a squat rock wall.

Pulling out my flashlight, I stepped into the cave. The air grew mustier as I followed the passage, and there was another smell that I couldn’t quite place. The tunnel drove deeper and deeper into the earth, but gave no sign of having been disturbed by human or animal. In all the time I lived in Åmot, I never would’ve imagined the mountains hiding such a tunnel complex.

Just as I started to think about returning outside, something small flew through the beam of my flashlight. It hit the wall and fell with an echoing clatter.

I spun around, my light settling on the pebble—as well as three large, club-shaped stones leaning against the cave wall. Stones that could reduce a backhoe to a pile of scrap metal. I froze. My heart pounded. I couldn’t tell if it was my imagination, or if I was really hearing the muffled sound of heavy breathing just behind me in the dark.

That moment, I decided I didn’t want to know. I retraced my steps through the tunnel and didn’t stop until I reached the backhoe’s resting place.

Tomorrow, I would advise Mr. Nilsson to build a slightly more modest cabin.

Michael Dolan is a writer from Seattle whose stories have appeared in Splickety and Havok. When he’s not writing marketing materials for a global nonprofit, he can be found hiking, reading, gaming, or writing some more. Learn more about his work at dolanwrites.com.

This article originally appeared in the July 13, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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