by Jeff Baker
(A Bllly Gonzalez story.)
All Arnie Jorgenson told me was that he’d found a place with some good grass. Me, I wasn’t into that, but he told me to meet him behind the old Power Company Building that afternoon and he’d explain.
Arnie and I had known each other since grade school over in Maize and now we both lived in Wichita. I got over to the place just West of downtown and parked in the old Power Company lot which is where Arnie ran up to me. He was six-foot two, blonde and muscular. Yeah, I noticed. But that was all.
“It’s cool, Billy. It’s great. I’ll get it at a bargain price. ‘Cause the city doesn’t own it!”
He was babbling. Maybe he was on grass.
We went around the back of the big brick building with the old glass windows and Arnie pointed to a small rise covered in thick green grass.
“We’re going to set up the lab right there,” Arnie said. “This spot hasn’t been touched in centuries. We have the pictures and the deeds. And the four families that own it are going in on it with me.”
Arnie had been working with some ecology, environment group. I didn’t expect him to do it downtown or close to it.
“My family is one of the ones that owns this, or part of it,” Arnie said. “We just found out about it recently.”
I’d known Arnie’s family had some money. But I wondered why he’d gotten me out here unless it was to offer me a job. Or something else.
“Look over here, Billy,” he said pointing at a grate at the back of the building. “And watch your step.”
I stepped over the part of the grate and looked down. A chalky, lumpy face with squinty eyes looked up at me. There was one thin arm reaching up towards the grate. I jumped back and fell on the grass.
Arnie laughed, helping me to my feet. “Hey, ‘Bro! He’s harmless! Take a look.”
I stared again. It was a statue under the grate. Of a troll.
“Yeah, I read about this,” I said. “Like the story about the three billy goats. They would use that name.”
“You’re nothing like a goat, Billy,” Arnie said. “Now come over here and be careful. I’ve got a little problem.”
Oboy, I thought. My friends didn’t call me because they had an ordinary problem.
“My Great-Great-Grandparents bought this land around 1890 with some other people. They were going to build houses, but…”
“Who dares intrude?” The voice growled from nowhere, deep, guttural, menacing.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
“Well, we think…”
The voice growled again.
“You have the scent of the ancestral lands and waters. But you do not belong here. Begone!”
There was a rush of wind and clumps of dirt and rock began hurling at us. From out of nowhere.
We ran to the other side of the building.
“What the hell was that?!” I asked again.
“I think it was a troll,” Arnie said with a sigh. “A real one.”
“A what?” I said. I shouldn’t have been surprised. William H. Gonzalez (as my driver’s license called me) had a knack for this sort of thing. I also shouldn’t have walked over to where the voice had come from. All that experience with weird stuff had made me a little careless.
“Look,” I said. “Maybe there’s some kind of un-weird explanation for this…”
There wasn’t. The next instant the ground erupted again. I was glad that my other experience included the High School and College track teams. In other words, a lot of running.
When Arnie and I were catching our breath across the street, I pulled out my cellphone and scrolled and searched for information about trolls.
“Only thing it says here is that trolls stick to the shadows. Sunlight is about the only thing that can fight them.”
“Swell.” Arnie said. “We start digging the ground to get the Troll some sunlight, how long before that thing throws us into the building?”
“We probably wouldn’t get to the building,” I said. It could toss whole slabs of ground at us and still stay in the shade.”
I held up a hand: “What kind of equipment do you folks have?” I asked. “Like for green houses and such?”
Arnie shrugged. “Lights. Thermometers. Some heavy-duty stuff.”
“Can I see it?” I asked.
I was glad Arnie’s headquarters was not too far away. While we were going through the equipment, Arnie told me how his family had emigrated from Norway over a hundred years ago and he thought his ancestors may have accidentally brought the Troll with them and it had settled into their land. I joked that if this was an online troll Arnie could just unfriend him.
Yeah, that went over well. Fortunately, right about then we found what I was looking for. Then it was just a matter of waiting until dark.
Going after an angry nocturnal troll after the sun sets. I must be living well, I thought.
We pulled up as quietly as we could by the old Power Company building and carefully made our way in the dim light from the streetlights to the back and the mound of earth and grass. We were carrying a pair of big portable lamps that reminded me of a lantern we’d had when my folks and I went camping. I could hear the thing in the ground grumbling. It sensed us coming, or maybe it just sensed Arnie I wondered. It had mentioned his family earlier. The ground rumbled and the Troll emerged.
I was expecting a little man with thick arms and a beard wearing a red cap. Instead it was tall, bulky and looked like it was made of deep shadow. It had limbs and a vaguely human shape. It hurt my eyes to look at it closely.
The thing towered over us.
“Okay…NOW!” Arnie said shouted when the thing was out of the ground.
We turned the lights on and aimed them at the thing. The reddish beams hit the thing which let out a roar and dissolved.
I shone the light in my face and grinned. “Nothing like a little ultraviolet and infrared light to fake a little sunlight!”
We high fived each other but then there was a growl and the ground shook again. Then we heard a metallic clanking behind us. I had an awful feeling and went over and looked at the sculpted troll under the grate.
It was moving. Banging its fists against the grate and snarling. But the grating held; I guess the sculpture wasn’t made of anything sturdier than the grate.
It looked up and glared when Arnie looked in.
“You,” it growled. “You no stop me from finding way home. I can inhabit all things of the deep Earth.”
“Hey, wait,” I said. “You mean, you want to leave?”
“Need to be there. The mountains, the fjords, the rivers. My land,” the Troll said. “This not my land.”
Arnie and I looked at each other. If the Troll could really inhabit things like metal and rock…
It took some doing, and the toughest part was translating the note into Norwegian. But we shipped a carefully-wrapped stone in a large package with a letter explaining that this was a Norwegian mineral that we felt belonged in its own country. We figured the stone would be there long enough for the Troll to emerge and go where he wanted to be.
So we shipped the rock to a major Norwegian university. Arnie being part owner of a research and ecology company did help but it still cost us a bundle to ship.
And I guess Arnie did okay researching a chunk of Kansas grass in the middle of the city. I was just as glad I wasn’t working with him. I didn’t want to find out that there was some other unearthly thing there under the earth that didn’t belong.