Story by Douglas A. Anderson-Jordet
Illustration by Brianna Anderson-Jordet
When I was very young and spending workdays at my grandmother's house, I became fixated with her chicken coop. Actually it might have been my aunt's coop, I'm not sure, but it was a fantastical and mysterious place to me, and I could not stop thinking about it.
Somehow I picked up the notion that a troll lived in the chicken coop. Maybe some older person planted this seed in my fertile young soil, or perhaps Billy Goats Gruff was to blame; regardless, I was convinced that a troll lived in the chicken coop.
I never shared this belief with anyone. Even at such a young age, I knew that I would be singled out for ridicule if such a thing were publicly known, so I kept my dark secret to myself. I went about the business of being a seven-year-old as if nothing was at all out of the ordinary, all the while knowing that a two-foot-tall man with long, grey hair and a pointy red hat sat in the corner of the chicken coop, waiting for me.
With a mixture of terror and sublime fascination, I would lift my bare feet over the raw lumber doorjamb into the pungent funk of mud and straw inside the chicken coop. I would inch around the tin feeders, certain that today would be the day that I would meet the hairy-eared little gremlin, at last.
Of course, I would always lose my nerve and retreat before reaching the far west corner, where I believed the troll to be keeping his patient vigil.
The trolls I saw illustrated in books were not very frightening to me; the trolls of my imagination, on the other hand, were terrifying. They were pint-sized, leering gargoyles with wide lapels and conspicuously buckled shoes. I sensed that the troll in the chicken coop had something he wanted to tell me and I knew that I was not ready to hear it.
The greatest honor that my grandmother could bestow on her grandchildren was the privilege of picking eggs. Picking eggs was like going on an Easter egg hunt in the middle of July. Sometimes the eggs were fat and brown, like the color of a clay pot one might plant a miniature cactus in. Other times they were bone white, or lightly speckled like a robin's egg. Sometimes there were no eggs to pick and we would drink our root beer floats with a bitter taste in our mouths and a sour look on our faces.
Once when I was picking eggs, a huge gardener snake slithered out from the hen cages, and for a split second I thought I was about to meet my elfin friend, but it was not to be.
Eventually, my days became a procession of new adventures and experiences and I forgot all about the troll in the chicken coop. I could move easily about the chicken coop without fear, even to the dreaded far west corner where I had previously believed the troll to have lived. I encountered nothing but crabby hens and the occasional gardener snake or tree frog; no legendary creatures come to life to scare the pants off of me. Egg picking became much less stressful and I would languish around the henhouse casually, checking on the progress of this hen or that, as relaxed as a Dane at a fish market.
Then I saw the footprints.
I dropped to one knee to investigate. Much to my horror, I could not make out any distinct paw pad imprints, such as a fox or weasel would make. The tracks resembled tiny shoe prints.
I bolted from the coop, leaving a trail of broken eggs behind me.
"What in the world are you doing, Dougie?" my Aunt Gertrude asked. I spun around and dropped the homemade butterfly net I had nearly finished constructing.
"Nothing..." I lied.
"Goin' after butterflies?" she asked. That seemed like a good cover story, so I nodded timidly.
"Don't tease the dog," she said, and moved along, a laundry basket under her arm.
Naturally, I wouldn't have dreamed of teasing the dog. "The Dog" was 125 pounds of surly St. Bernard named Prince, with a nasty penchant for stripping shirts from my body.* I had other plans for my crude butterfly net; I was on the hunt and my quarry was indigenous North American Troll.
I waited at the entrance of the chicken coop on my belly with my makeshift net poised over my head. No sisters or cousins in sight.
Night fell and a chill blew through my body like a virus, leaving me unsettled and ready to abandon my post. I clutched the garden spade handle with a basketball net nailed to it like a truncheon, ready to strike at the first sight of any movement.
We all know that trolls do not exist. Neither do unicorns, fairies or Bigfoot, but none of these anomalies have been disproved officially, so who knows? Many prominent English nobles have claimed to see fairies and woodland spirits. However, these claims may well stem from a stagnant British tourist trade or illegal Scottish whiskey; either way, there are indeed some things in Heaven and Earth that are definitely not dreamt of in any of our philosophies. The Silverback Mountain Gorilla was considered a myth until the early nineteenth century, after all.
I saw nothing.
After a week or two, I decided that my imagination had made a fool of me and that it was better to abandon my mad plans of troll entrapment. I had begun to suspect that someone might have made the footprints with a doll to have a little fun with me, perhaps even the same person who had told me the tall troll tale to begin with.
Then the miniature cogs in my brain began to turn.
Why not trick the tricksters? Heaven knows my cousins were always having a good laugh at my expense, so why not turn the tables?
I quickly retrieved a doll with shoes from my Aunt's ample toy box and headed for the chicken coop. My plan was simple; lay down a good patch of miniature footprints heading from the chicken coop and tell my cousins that I had seen a troll running from the coop and into the cornfield. For once, the joke would be on them.
I figured the footprints should begin at the far west corner, the most logical place for a troll to live, in my opinion. I entered the chicken coop with the doll tucked under my shirt, looking shifty and sly.
I stopped cold.
Standing still as a statue in the far west corner was a miniature human being in ragged, old-fashioned clothes, his cold black eyes piercing holes in my soul. His beard was yellowed with snuff juice and I could smell a faint trace of sulfur in the air. He gestured with his stubby arm for me to come closer.
As if mesmerized, I moved closer to the freakish little man, unable to break away and run, as I desperately wanted to. He motioned with his filthy little hand to come closer, and I obeyed, as if drawn by an invisible net. He stepped onto a three-legged stool and leaned in toward my face, a devilish grin spreading across his face. My heart was pounding in my chest and I felt as if I might faint. I could smell his vile breath as he cupped his hand over my ear and whispered in a faint and cracking voice:
"Do you really think people read your stories all the way to the end? You lost 'em pages ago. Egg-picking! Who cares?"
He jumped off of the stool and waddled to the coop entrance, pausing as he did to turn around and add:
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot. April fools."
Having said this, the beastly little man let out a wicked little cackle and disappeared into the cornfield, never to be seen or heard from again.
* See Chapter eight, The Prince and the Tree House.