The day the troll overslept
fiction by Greg Beatty
** Please note that this story contains violence and may not be appropriate for children.
Am I too late?
“No, no. We’ve still got a lot of pancakes, one, no, two slices of kringlas, and I can see if we still have any saus—”
“No! Not for the pancake breakfast. For the community ballet performance.” Jeff bunched and twisted the oversized paper bag he carried.
“Oh. Oh yes, I’m afraid so.”
Jeff’s shoulders slumped. He turned to leave, then stopped. “Well, what did they do without a troll?”
The older woman’s face lit up. “Why, the troll was the best part of the performance! The little girls were dancing, over here, near where we were serving, and over there, where those papier-mâché trees are. They’re supposed to be a forest, you know? And every time they got near the forest, the troll would pop out and chase them!”
“There was a troll.” Jeff’s voice was flat, caught somewhere between doubt and challenge.
“I said so, didn’t I?” The woman’s voice turned a little sharp. “He’d spring out and chase them, waving his ridiculously long claws, and how they’d squeal! I think the littlest girls, the four and five year olds, really were afraid. I don’t know if it was the size of his teeth, or if they’d just been forced to listen to too many Scandinavian myths in the name of cultural heritage. Then they’d remember that in this dance, the little girls are supposed to win. They’d gather their little white skirts in their hands and dance at him, their little faces all fierce, and he’d run away, all dumb and scared.”
She smiled then, and her face softened with the memory. Then she went on. “And then he’d stumble and slip, and fall right on his behind, like he wasn’t used to walking on linoleum. All of us in the Norwegian Women’s Auxiliary would laugh. Becka was snorting so hard I thought she’d drop the whole tray of lingonberries. He was so male, you know. So threatening. So clumsy. So stupid.”
Jeff was sorry he’d crossed her. “And then?” he prompted.
“And then they finished the dance, and then those tiny, lovely ballerinas curtseyed, and everyone applauded. Really, you should have been here.”
“Yes, I sure should have been here. And the troll?”
“Well, if you must know, the troll let out another one of his wonderful maniacal laughs. He picked up Mimmi Barnhard with one hand, and flung her over his shoulder, and sort of capered out of the room, through that door there leading to the basement where the Sons of Norway keeps their costumes. With his free hand he was slapping her on the rump the whole time.” The woman’s hair was white, but the lust in her voice was as full and naked as any Jeff had ever heard.
As if she knew how fully she’d exposed herself, she counterattacked. “Listen, who are you anyway? And why are you so concerned about the darn troll?”
“I overslept,” Jeff said. He opened the paper bag, exposing a pair of oversized fake eyebrows, plastic fangs, and a makeup kit that would turn his face blue. “I’m Jeff Baker. I was supposed to be the troll.”
“Ruthie Hansen,” the woman said. Her hand extended itself automatically to shake his, then pulled back. “If you were supposed to play the troll…”
Turning away from the tray of cooling pancakes, Ruthie walked briskly to the door to which she’d gestured earlier.
She opened it—and recoiled. Even though he was halfway across the room, Jeff could smell the coppery reek of freshly spilled blood. A laugh floated up the stairs, mixing with frantic sobbing and the moist snapping sound of meat being pulled from the bone. Maniacal was no longer harsh enough to describe the laughter, Jeff’s actor mind noted.
Ruthie’s hand went to her throat. “Mimmi’s little granddaughter went down to check on her after the dance. I’d thought…”
Jeff felt rather than heard something slam into one of the basement walls, and one of the papier-mâché trees fell with a final, hesitant thump. Jeff and Ruthie didn’t start to scream until they heard the sound of the oversized claws on the steps, and by then it was too late. Far, far too late.
Greg Beatty lives with his wife and dog in Bellingham, Washington, where he tries, unsuccessfully to stay dry. He writes everything from children’s books to essays about his cooking debacles. For more on Greg’s writing, visit www.greg-beatty.com.
This article originally appeared in the June 17, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.