Things were not going according to plan. James cursed his luck and pulled the collar of his coat tighter around his neck, trying in vain to hide from the biting wind. He tried to look around, but his eyes kept filling up with tears. The landscape was a dreary grey and snow was falling. He did not recognize where he was at, but anything was better than out here in the cold. How he managed to get so lost was beyond him. He only went outside for a walk, and that had to be thirty minutes ago. Everyone at the party must be worried by now. Somehow, James doubted that last thought. And so he kept walking forward into the anonymity of the snow.
It was really coming down hard now, almost to the point of blocking his vision entirely. His feet were so cold and his face felt like it had frozen. Ok, so now what, he thought. His shoes were wet from the slosh and his hands hurt. He had to find someplace soon to get out of the cold.
Ahead, there was a bridge. James thought that he must have walked into Central Park, it couldn’t be anyplace else. There were dense stands of trees around and some meandering water below the bridge. It was a curious bridge, the kind that you read about in fairy tales. It was made of blocks of stone and it had a curious hump to it. On the ends were small lanterns giving off a fuzzy light against the swirling snow. The wind kicked up snowdrifts around the bridge’s edge. The bridge itself spanned a small, craggy creek. There had to be some refuge under there, thought James.
As he made his way down, he suddenly slipped and fell down the steep bank and would have fell in the creek had he not have grabbed a hold of a rope that was stretched across the bottom. How curious that a rope should be down here, thought James. He pulled himself up to the source of the rope, which was somewhere under the bridge. As he came closer, he thought that he could hear the sound of children screaming, except the sound was distant somehow, as if underground. “Must have been the wind”, he thought, and pulled himself up the bank to where the bridge merged with the underbank. Here there were many ferns and other leafy plants. Strange that there would be ferns here in the dead of winter. James also noticed that he was no longer cold. As a matter of fact, he had grown hot and had to take off his coat. “How very strange,” he thought, “must be an underground steam pipe here somewhere.”
And so James was sitting there, his coat off, his shirt unbuttoned, thinking of the guest at the party that he had left behind. He had arranged a party in celebration of his recent promotion at the corporation. He had heard through the grapevine that he was “it” and he couldn’t wait to celebrate. But as luck would have it, he received a telephone call during the party. It was Mark Molowski, the VP of sales. Mark told him that he was being cut, something about downsizing and all that bull. James couldn’t face his guest and went out for some fresh air. Somehow, it lead him to this strange bridge. He hoped he could find his way back, but he was thinking if he really wanted to go back.
“Well, you could jump into the water.” A low, grunting voice said from behind him said. It took him by surprise and he almost did jump into the water.
“Who are you…where are you at?” James said, thinking the worst…that a bum was underneath the bridge and was willing to kill him for his shoes.
“Oh now, I don’t like shoes and yours are not in my size. Besides, I have enough to eat that I don’t have to kill you.” The voice said. The low raspy quality only unnerved James. He felt the old childhood fear of the dark creep into his heart and old tales of the troll beneath the bridge flooded his mind. His grandfather used to tell him such stories to make him behave.
“Aaaahhhh…you remember me after all.” The voice said, “and I thought that I was all but forgotten.”
“Who are you…” James said, his confidence gone.
Then a huge, dark figure came creeping out of the shadows. Its form was hideous. Large, hooked hands with wicked claws, yellow blotched skin, and a gaping maw with black teeth. His long, matted black hair topped its wretched head. A disfigured hump-back it was bent forward as it stood close to James and grinned an evil and mischievous grin, its breath the smell of a sewer.
James was speechless… this was a shock… he felt the small boy again as he choked down the fear remembered from nights of hiding under his blanket in bed. The thing just grinned at him and fingered an itch on its leg, occasionally licking a toothless gap with his tongue. Its stench was nauseating and James was aware of nothing else but his fear before the monster.
“What are you?” James asked. He didn’t want an answer… he wanted out of there but the thing was between him and the rope leading up the bank.
“You know me James… I’ve been with you your whole life. Don’t you remember the nights you cried in the dark until your mother would come into your room and rock you to sleep?”
This was too strange for James. He swooned a bit and with lighting fast movements the thing gripped him to keep him from falling backward into the water below. Its strength was readily apparent. James knew that a physical contest was out of the question.
“You’re not real. You can’t be that… that… whatever it is… that thing in the dark. Kids are just afraid of the dark for no reason. They’re just kids. Besides, I never saw you… you were… not you… it was the shadows that frightened me!” James retorted.
“Ah James… do you think that I needed to show myself? You were frightened weren’t you? Why do more? I didn’t want to kill you… just shake you up.”
“Why? What good is that!” James was angry now.
“Who said I have to be good? Have you ever heard of a good Troll? We eat children in all the stories that you know.”
“So why didn’t you eat me”
“Maybe I wanted you to grow bigger. More of you to eat!” The creature grinned. James felt sick. “Relax a bit… I will not eat you… yet.”
“You can’t be real. This is stress about missing the promotion. Perhaps the cold did me in and I’m lying somewhere in the park… unconscious.