Contest #220 shortlist ⭐️


Fiction Fantasy

Everybody knew that trolls had been hunted to extinction years ago. It was just common knowledge that they had gone the way of the way of the common European dragon, the garden gnomes and, of course, the great auk. That is a tragedy, of course, but it had also been long accepted as just one of those things that people did, hunting innocent species to extinction, so that people wouldn’t feel quite as bad about their misdeeds for as long as they were able to justify them away as human nature. 

Now, with that said, Elliot could not quite find a way of explaining the flash of gold that he saw as anything other than eyes, even if he would have rather liked to think it to be the reflection of some far off gaslamps flickering in the puddle that had collected under the bridge. Bridge trolls had been the first to go, teeth sold at ludicrous prices to the sort of people who could justify ignoring price tags in favour of collecting whatever might have been upsold as some highly sort after commodity by those who cut as many corners as they wanted in order to secure their product. This is why the bridges often fell to disrepair nowadays, so they say, having lost their caretakers in a space where there was nothing to fill in the gaps that their absence caused.

But as he stood there in his partial shelter, the rain blurring out the world around him in such a way that left the oddest impression that all that there really was to the world was what lay beneath the mossy stone of the bridge that offered him its much needed shelter, he wanted to hope. He wanted to hope that he had really seen something, to hope that somehow a troll had escaped its untimely death, to hope that there was a possibility that humans were not quite as awful as he had known them to be. It was the last of these points that he held the least sincere hope for. 

But hoping had never given him anything more substantial than an ache in his heart that never quite went away no matter how much he tried to ignore it.

To try and chase away any undue and unwanted glimmers of hope that had threatened to make itself known, he made the point to check his watch. Twirling the chain between his fingers, he briefly wondered whether his sister had managed to get home before the rain had hit, though he could not help but find the thought of her trudging home with the hair she had spent just a little too long that morning trying to make perfect in a state of total disarray to be at least a little bit funny. The thought of this had almost been successful in chasing away the thought of creatures that were supposed to be far too busy all being dead to go po

king around in the area. 

Almost, only for the moment he had clicked his watch shut again, he heard the unmistakable sound of something scampering, then briefly scurrying before resuming its scamper. 

It was probably just a rat. A rat that was far too heavy and sounded as if it were bipedal. You know, like a rat absolutely and definitely was. 

Okay, it was a poor attempt to try and explain away the noise even to himself and he knew that. 

Rationally he knew there was no way that there would be a troll lurking about under the bridge with him, and functionally he knew that following the sound meant he was going to have to go out and into the rain he had attempted to flee from, which he just really did not want to do. But, much to his own displeasure more than anyone else’s, he was perpetually curious and so, despite justifying the whole idea away as being ridiculous, he decided to follow the sound. 

Not without drawing his coat tight around his body, collar preemptively raised to minimize the amount of rain that actually could reach him. He was already going to do something stupid, he didn’t want to do something stupid and cold. That just sounded silly. 

He had only seen the creature in a flash, which was not quite long enough to decide something was a troll or not, but nonetheless he gritted his teeth before ducking out of the relative dry of the tunnel and out into the downpour once again. The most natural path he assumed the creature had gone was to head towards the thicket of trees that had managed to survive the so-called improvement of urban development, and hardly warranted the term ‘nature park’ that somebody had stuck on it to try and make themselves feel better after destroying the area. If he had been trying to avoid being seen he would have gone to hide somewhere he could actually, well, hide and he assumed if a troll had survived that long then it would have to have been rational enough to know how to hide better than a mere person would have been. People, for all their pomp and self-praise, really were nowhere near as capable as they claimed to be. 

So, into the trees he went. Maybe he felt a little bit silly about it, but there was something about the area, something just a little older about it all when compared to the world around it, that made it feel genuinely possible that things that were thought to be long dead could find their home among the trees. 

There was a rustle in the underbrush, something heavier than a rabbit or cat straying too far from its home passing through the sodden leaves in the search for somewhere a little drier. Or somewhere a little more private and away from the prying gaze of the young man. He would like to have thought it was the first option only because the second implied that the creature had come to the assumption that he was a threat, and he was not particularly fond of that idea. He did not mean it any harm, truly, he just wanted to know if he really had seen something or not. To satisfy the most basic of human curiosities then be off on his merry way. 

The second rustle was closer this time. Close enough for him to see the plants sway as they treacherously gave away the location of the creature. He had only followed it on a whim, and yet with his answer so close at hand, he found his breath snagging in his throat in a way he wasn’t entirely fond of.

Was he really about to see a living troll?

Was he about to see something he was not supposed to see?

Would it hurt him?

Would it think he wanted to hurt it?

Why did it feel so wrong all of a sudden?

Why was it him of all people who had the chance to see the unseen?

Far too many thoughts buzzed in his head all at once. An angry hornet’s nest of ideas all fighting at once for dominance in such a way that it was made impossible to actually hear any one specific one above the others. It was verging alarmingly close to dizzying, and he did not like it one bit. 

He knew he needed to act now and be done with it. To find his answer and carry on his day with the weight of whatever finding he may have upon him. If he was wrong, it was something to laugh about, falling victim to his overactive imagination, if he was right, it was something far more, an opening of a dialogue that had been forgotten to time. 

No longer quite so concerned about the poor weather, the man sunk down to his knees by the inhabited bush. Slowly, he parted the plants with his hands – briefly wishing he had the foresight to bring gloves – as he tried to keep his breathing as steady and non-threatening as he possibly could.

Golden eyes stared back out at him, meeting the darkness of his own. There was such a fear in the oversized, glassy orbs that tugged at his heart. A fear that was mirrored upon a pair of far smaller eyes that looked up at him with a little less clarity than the larger. A moment of understanding seemed to cross between the two of them, and understanding he was not entirely sure he could have comprehended had he not experienced it for himself.

Against all the odds drawn against it, the troll was a parent.

Elliot stood up at once, letting the bush fall back into place. He did not see anything at all in the bush and he had been silly to think otherwise. He walked stiffly away from the park, not looking back to risk shaking the lie he told himself as he tksed at his own foolishness. 

Of course there wouldn’t be a family of trolls living under the bridge, that was a frankly foolish notion, thank you very much, and he would rather like it if people did not press the notion further. Because it made them seem silly, not because he knew the truth to a lie he knew he had to keep. 

After all, everybody knew that trolls had been hunted to extinction years ago.

October 19, 2023 01:46

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Jonathan Page
21:02 Oct 29, 2023

Great story Eddie! Loved the fact the troll was more scared of the human.


Audrey Knox
17:29 Nov 01, 2023

Agreed! We never really see trolls represented this way. They're always framed as dangerous, but of course any creature is scared and worthy of our sympathy when they've been hunted to near-extinction like this. I'm glad the narrator took on the role of being complicit in protecting them.


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Amanda Fox
13:12 Oct 23, 2023

This is just delightful. I love the tone, and the ending was spot-on.


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Jared Stine
03:52 May 29, 2024

This feels like a good start to a fantasy story. This does raise some questions like where did these trolls come from? Is Elliot ever going to see them again? What would happen if he exposed them? Were there any trolls at all or did he imagine them? (Of course, you don't have to answer all of them) It was a little foggy with the descriptions, but it was still a good read.


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Audrey Knox
17:28 Nov 01, 2023

This was such a challenging and interesting prompt. Kudos to you for taking it on, and I loved what you did with it! My only suggestion would be that the emotional arc of the narrator would be even stronger if we got a deeper, more specific sense of his personal perspective and how it changed over the course of meeting the troll. But overall, I really love the subtle and specific world-building that makes up this story.


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Philip Ebuluofor
16:11 Oct 30, 2023

Congrats, never seen one. I don't it exists in this part of the world. If it did, it would be hunted too. We are good at doing that.


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