The Wandering Troll
Gaping impolitely at a giggling woman with a young man whispering into her ear, the troll heard a voice over his own shoulder.
The troll flinched, causing bugs and bits of riverbed to shake out of his grizzled hair. The voice came at him again.
"I need your ticket, sir." A smallish person came within the troll's view, hand extended.
"Sir?" The troll was surprised by his own voice, which sounded like gravel rolling underfoot. He'd heard himself roar, and snarl, but never words. He made shapes with his lips to speak them. "What's my ticket?"
The smallish person sniffed, and pushed smallish glasses up a tiny nose.
"If you haven't got a ticket, sir, you'll need to exit at the next stop." And the smallish person went on to ask tickets of the giggling woman and her friend, who showed tickets of shiny white paper.
"I need shiny white paper," the troll grumbled to himself. He got off the train at the next stop without being asked. The smallish person came behind him with a smallish broom and dusted off the seat where the troll had been.
The troll paused mid-platform and looked around. To look around he had to shuffle in a circle - his neck was thick as an old tree stump and wasn't really flexible. Commuters parted and rushed by on each side of him, causing small eddies of people. Occasionally someone would complain about the troll's smell, or bump into him with a hey-buddy-watch-where-you're-going. A fur-covered lady with sunrise-colored hair stopped, opened her purse, and handed him some folded-up money.
The troll looked at the paper in his hand.
"Is this a ticket?" he grumbled.
"Might be, depending. God bless you, sir," twittered the lady. She tipped her head toward a window labeled TICKETS and walked off on stilted feet.
The paper in his hand was not shiny and white. The troll shuffled to the TICKETS window and joined a queue there. He presented his money to the person behind the window.
"I need a ticket," said the troll.
"To where, sir?" asked the window-person.
The troll blinked, and gulped. To where? At the moment he really wanted to be back under the bridge, but before yesterday, before angry men came and beat him out of there.
"Please step aside, sir," the window-person informed the troll, "and let someone up who knows where they're going." The window-person's hand made a shuffling motion, so the troll shuffled aside.
The troll was growing weary. This was all too much: people were everywhere, and they expected things of him which he did not understand. He backed up against the wall next to the TICKETS window and slumped to the ground with money in hand. Dirt squeezed out of his eyes and tumbled down his face. If only there were a bridge, he thought, with nobody else under it. The platform was wood, and the wall brick; they weren't as luxurious as the train's velvet seats, but they felt more under-bridgelike. The troll began to relax again.
People continued to pool and eddy, sometimes dropping money at his feet. Someone came along and scooped the money into a cup, sat that in front of the troll, and walked off. The troll wished someone would set a cup full of water in front of him. He realised he was hungry.
"I'll ask you kindly to move along," said a voice over him. "You can't panhandle here." The troll leaned so he could look upward; there was a person in blue fabric with shiny buttons, and a helmet, and a baton. The men who'd chased him out from under the bridge beat him with sticks. The troll shuddered, causing dead leaves and beetles to emanate from himself. Dirt fell from his eyes again.
"I need water," the troll said, rising to his feet.
"There's a fountain over there," the helmet-person directed. "Go on, take yer cup." He kicked the cup with his foot.
The troll looked sadly at the fountain. This was unfamiliar.
"Small water?" he asked the helmet-person, unsure what people called the need to immerse in mud for rejuvenation. "I need big water." This was just too much humanity, and words continued to be onerous. The troll shuffled in a circle, looking for a way off the platform.
There's a park that way." The helmet-person motioned with the baton, which made the troll flinch, causing the usual problem. the helmet person stepped on a few bugs. "Disgusting. Go get some fish and chips and move along, okay?"
"Fish!" The troll brightened; the helmet person pointed toward an umbrella-covered cart just off the platform. The troll, holding his cup full of money, headed toward the greasy smell. This was not the smell of fish he pulled from the river, but he was hungry.
"Is this fish?" he asked the umbrella-cart vendor. He extended his rough hands forward, offering the cup of money.
"Yeah, fish. You want chips?" grunted the vendor, eyeing the long and twisted fingernails around the cup. "Six and a half bucks, sir." The vendor wrapped the fish and potatoes into a paper bundle.
The troll set his cup of money on the cart's ledge to take the bundle of fish and chips. He looked where the baton had indicated a park. He needed water.
"Can I find big water?" he asked the vendor.
"That'll be two buck--yeah, okay." The vendor held out a bottle of water to the troll, realising the cup full of money was about to be left behind. The troll didn't care about it.
The troll wasn't sure about that plastic bottle. He put the bundle of fish and chips into his mouth, chewed a little, and swallowed what didn't fall out. He took the bottle, inspected it, and ate that also. He burped pleasantly when it burst against his teeth, pouring liquid down his throat. Water.
"Is there big water?" he asked again, and pointed in the same direction the baton had. The vendor squinted.
"Yeah, there's a pond in the park. You're not from around here, are you? Hey, why don't you keep your cup, dude. You look like you might need it later." The troll nodded, but turned away without the money cup. The vendor handed him another bottle of water. "Good luck, sir."
The troll stared at the bottle of water while he walked. Everything was so strange since he'd been chased from his hollow under the bridge. He'd gotten on a beautiful train easy as anything, and then been chased off again. He still didn't know what a ticket was exactly, but he didn't seem to need one any longer. People were generally helpful as long as he agreed to go away. They gave him things he didn't want, but some of the things were useful. With that thought, he chomped down on the bottle of water. It splashed everywhere and that made him laugh: a great roaring, trollish laugh. Somebody screamed.
The troll stopped, and looked around. Bits of him were dried up and crumbling as he moved. With a groan he bent his head downward and saw a small person looking up at him.
"That was noisy. You aren't supposed to be noisy," admonished the small person, who had curly hair the color of afternoon and was holding a string, which held a balloon. "What's your name? I'm Daisy."
The troll thought for a minute. He hadn't needed a ticket until he needed one; he'd never needed a name. He was unsure how to respond.
"Sir," he grumbled, thinking this would make sense to the small person as all the larger persons had called him that.
"That isn't a name; it's politeness. Don't you have a name? Are you a troll?" Daisy stepped back a bit, because residue was falling from the troll. "I'm not supposed to get my dress dirty."
"No. Yes. Troll," said the troll, in response to Daisy's questions. She had too many questions. More than anything, he just wanted to feel safe again. "Where's the big water?"
"Do you want to go to the park? Don't you want a bridge?"
The troll smiled. Bits of plastic and haddock fell from between his large yellow teeth. Finally, somebody understood. He offered what remained of the plastic bottle to Daisy.
"I don't want that. You need to put it in the bin. Here," she showed him a large metal box just beside him. "Put it in there. Good. Now, come with me, and I'll show you the park. But it hasn't got a bridge. There's a bridge nearby with a roadway under it. D'ya think that will do?"
"I want a bridge," the troll said firmly. He was tired, and he wanted to dig a hole and lie in it, even if there was no river. His gnarly hands were strong and could surely dig into a roadway if that's all he could find.
"Okay, so would you like to go to the park first? Big water?"
"Yes," nodded the troll, and things fell out of his hair. Daisy winced and took his hand. "I need water," the troll said.
At the park, the troll stepped over a low wall into the pond and lay down in it, soaking up nearly half the water. He stood again, dripping, and held his hand out to Daisy.
"Water?" he sighed. Daisy took a sidestep and clutched her balloon string tighter.
"No, I don't need water. But please come out of there - we need to get going." She looked away from the pond; the troll followed her gaze and saw people in matching outfits coming toward them, shouting. Trouble seemed imminent.
The troll considered picking up Daisy to carry her, but he remembered she didn't want to get her dress dirty. He held his arms apart in offering.
"No, I'll stay here and be a nuisance so you can get away. But you'd better run - can you run? Go up the street that way - you'll find the bridge. Goodbye, friend," Daisy said, and held out her balloon to the troll. He looked at the people coming toward them; he looked at Daisy. He took the balloon.
"Goodbye, friend," he smiled. Refreshed, his skin wrinkled around his enormous teeth but didn't crumble.
"Go on, now. Go!" Daisy made movements with her hands in the direction of the bridge, then called to the people in matching outfits: "Excuse me! Have you seen my mommy? I don't know where she is..."
Trolls can, when necessary, move very fast. The troll took off in the direction Daisy's hands had pointed, trailing her balloon behind him. Cars honked and lights blinked; sometimes windows would open and people would shout out of them. The buildings were horribly tall, like trees in the woods but not like trees at all. The troll ran faster, never letting go of the string.
At last, there it was - ahead of him he could see a dark, cavernous space under a bridge. There was a car parked under it, beside the roadway, but if he could just push...
The troll let go of the balloon and it floated away. He put his giant hands on the car and heaved it aside, then vigorously dug into the gravel and earth until there was a hole big enough to fit inside, all the way up to his ears. He got in and pulled gravel around him, hoping nobody would notice for some time. He gripped the car by a bumper and pulled it up closer, too.
With a bridge overhead, the strange surroundings felt less threatening. Cars continued to honk and blink, but not at him. The sky settled into dusk; clouds rolled in, and ran began to fall. Water collected in the hold he'd built for himself and he felt more comfortable. People walked along the roadway and paid him no mind as he peered over the car.
"Hey, looks like a troll," one of them said. The others laughed, and they all kept walking.
The troll thought about this for a long time. People saw him but did not attack, like trolls under bridges were normal here. Finally, he slept. When he awoke, it was with a jolt.
He was under a bridge, but not his bridge. There was a road instead of a river, and tall buildings instead of trees. He was still holding the car in one hand. And he'd never told Daisy his name.
"Oh, you're awake." The troll heard a voice, but he could barely move. His joints were still sleepy, and there was that issue with his neck being too thick to turn. A person walked around the car to face him. The person was tall with long hair the color of summer, curled a little on the ends.
"You're my friend?" asked the troll.
"You remember?" grinned Daisy. "I saw the balloon up in the sky and I just hoped you made it safe. I've been waiting for you to wake up. Not the whole time, of course. But stopping by. There's a great sandwich shop on the other side; I go there all the time - here. You hungry?" She held out a sandwich.
"Daisy. I'm hungry," he whispered. He groaned as he stretched a stiff arm.
"Kevin," she laughed, and brought the sandwich closer. She fearlessly stuck it in the troll's mouth.
"Kevin?" the troll asked while bread fell out of his mouth.
"Yeah, I named you," Daisy giggled. "I mean, I could be Kevin; you've been asleep for a long time. No, you're Kevin. Kevin the troll." She giggled again.
"Nice to meet you, Daisy," smiled the troll.