Who's the cute liitle baby...?
Shake, Rattle and Troll
by Zoe Zygmunt
A frantic call about an hour ago summoned me from my office. The park ranger said something about Elvis, and Mike's strong dislike of him. It was no use trying to decipher it, his panicked voice was enough to convey the meaning "we need you here, now."
I spotted my client sitting on the grassy river bank. The troll was about seven feet from ears to toes, a typical young male. I usually visited this troll two or three times a month. He was friendly, established and doing well, or, at least he had been.
This afternoon Mike was naked. We’d talked about clothing and how the humans would prefer he threw on some pants. Mike didn’t care much for human sensibilities when he was being, well, a troll.
Something crunched under my feet. Small tassels and rhinestones were sprinkled on the ground. No one could have predicted the agitation Mike would experience surrounded by thirty similarly dressed men. All Mike’s experiences with men dressed the same had involved law enforcement or park security. No wonder he had freaked during an Elvis impersonator picnic.
“Hey, Mike.” I called. He didn’t turn around. I stopped next to him, just out of his reach. If the smashed picnic tables weren’t an indication of his mood, his skin was. Happy trolls were always damp. Mike’s skin was gray and flaky. Even his normal coating of mud had dried to dust.
He was found last year on a logging road in Oregon after being displaced from his territory by an older troll. Often trolls were chased away by humans, but this troll had run into a crew that appreciated his strength. They gave him a job and allowed him to stay.
It was a small town and the story of a troll on the lumber crew spread quickly. He was first in the paper, and then on the news. The story went national and within a week the Saundustee National Forrest offered to take him in, no logging required.
A swarm of flies buzzed around his head, some landed on his long hairy ears. A particularly unpleasant smell was clinging in the air.
“No pants today?” I asked, ready to sprint if he wasn’t in a talking mood.
“I brought yogurt.” I sang to him.
He shook his big mound of a head to displace the flies. His black eyes slid to me.
“Banana?” he asked in his ultra-baritone voice.
“Yep,” I showed him the plastic grocery bag as I walked to the edge of the water, “come get them.”
He frowned, one bottom tooth jutting out over his upper lip.
“Mike can not. Mike no pants today.” He said with absolute seriousness. It was a good effort, but I saw the glimmer of mischief in his eyes. When I didn’t respond he frowned again.
The Federal Supernatural Creature Residency Act (FSCRA) required he have a non-government custodian, someone to advocate on his behalf, make sure he was happy and being taken care of. The park approached me and I was going to decline until I read the newspaper article. It had full color photo of Mike and the loggers. Something about him tugged at me, I thought I’d seen him before. I was one of only a few psychologists who dealt with supernatural creatures, I told myself. I never had any direct contact with a forest troll, had to give it a try, right?
I toed off my shoes and waded in.
“Hey!” he complained, rising to full height. I was glad his big belly drooped almost to his knees. Mike wasn’t shy, but I was raised in a house where clothing wasn’t optional. I averted my eyes and stopped when the water was knee level.
“Mike no like you,” he growled.
“I don’t like you much either, now get your stinky ass in the water.”
I did need a change from gargoyles afraid of heights, vegetarian werewolves and newly turned vampires who fainted at the sight of blood. Enter me, Dr. Anna Greenwood, monster therapist.
The troll scratched at his sweaty head, and then looked over his shoulder, sniffed.
“Mike ass not stinky.”
“Yes it is. Come on.” I encouraged him by shaking the bag.
Mike muttered to himself and lumbered forward. I backed up until I was almost chest deep. Cold water soaked into my clothing, making the fabric stiff against my skin. Mike plowed ahead until he was inches from me. He looked at me with his right eye, then his left. Water was soaking into his skin, turning it almost black. Satisfied, I looped the bag handle over his outstretched fingers.
“Mike not fooled next time.” He turned towards the bridge with his treasure.
While Mike ate, I sat on the bridge above him and dangled my legs over the side. Each time he licked a yogurt container clean he tossed the trash up to me. I had to teach him not to use his trash as decorations, although I did praise him for his creative use of color on the now infamous "candy wrapper" tree.
"So, the rangers said you smashed the picnic tables?" I asked casually. The carnage had extended to the water's edge. Some large splintered chunks of wood were floating trapped in tall grass and milkweeds.
He burped in response.
I sighed. I hoped this wasn't going to be another one of his games where he pretended to ignore me. Maybe I shouldn't have given him the entire yogurt supply upfront.
To my surprise Mike only ignored me for about five minutes. Then he said, "Not Mike fault, singing men." I assumed he meant the Elvis impersonators.
"Oh, did they scare you?" I teased him.
"Men not scare Mike. They give Mike hotdogs."
"So how is it their fault?" I asked leaning forward trying to see where he was under the bridge.
I heard rocks shifting, and then the top of Mike's head and eyes appeared next to my knee. Fresh mud was smeared on his face, with a little banana yogurt for color.
"They take Mike away." He moved over slightly until his leathery cheek touched the damp fabric of my jeans. One ear stretched across my knees. I pulled at some bits of nature he had tangled in his soft tuffs of hair.
"They wanted you to go with them?" I had heard of humans trying to capture trolls and exhibit them for profit. Perhaps some of the picnic guests thought Mike would be a good candidate since he was relatively small and friendly.
"Mike stay," he said pressing his head on my leg. I guessed it was a sign of affection when he tried to coat me with his mud. I always kept extra clothes in my car when visiting Mike.
"Why didn't you use the big button?" I asked. Mike's escape route was to simply walk upstream into the woods until whoever was harassing him left him alone. There was a button strapped to a tree about two hundred feet in, nine feet up. If Mike needed one of the rangers he pushed the button and they all got a text message.
"Emergency only," he said like it was an apology.
I smiled. Yes, Mike had to learn what was considered an emergency. The rangers didn't like being called because he was itchy or hungry.
"Okay, so what happened?
Mike disappeared back under the bridge.
"Anna stop asking," his voice was farther away, moving to the opposite bank.
I walked across the bridge and slid down the incline to meet him. He threw himself down and turned away from me. Great, troll tantrum.
I waited patiently, turning my face to the sun and closing my eyes. If I went under the bridge uninvited he would be offended. No matter how friendly Mike was I still had to respect the bridge was his home. I certainly wouldn't want Mike to walk into my home without knocking.
"Anna?" Mike's voice told me he was still facing away from me.
"You mean hungry?"
"No," he said.
I opened my eyes. Was Mike lonely?
He turned and looked at me over his shoulder, then using his feet he pushed himself around to face me. He was holding something in his hand.
"Anna sit." He said uncurling his fingers to show me several small river stones.
A large flat rock became my chair. Mike slid over to me, offered the stones. I selected a nice fat round one. From what I learned about troll behavior this meant Mike was apologizing. As far as he was concerned the bridge, river and rocks were his. It was a great honor among trolls to share their "home".
"Mike break tables so Anna comes," he admitted, eyes directed at his feet. I bit my lower lip hard. I couldn't let him know that sometimes he said things that broke my heart. I was his therapist after all; it wasn't professional to go all mushy.
"Anna have bridge?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
"No." Was he asking to move in with me? "What's wrong with this bridge?" I added.
"Anna live here?" he asked.
"You know I can't live here. What about the others who live here now?" There were two annoying forest gnomes I'd love to introduce to Mike.
Mike dropped the remaining rocks back into the water. I watched him stare at the ripples they made. I knew he preferred humans much more than his supernatural cousins. Where was I going to someone willing to befriend and visit a seven hundred pound troll everyday?
If Mike had been one of my human clients I would suggest he join a group or class that interested him to meet new people. I doubted trolls were allowed in the local community center for square dancing.
My cell phone rang, startling me. I'd forgotten it was in my pocket and surprised it still worked after my little swim. Mike started humming the song that was my ringer. Where the heck had Mike heard "Rock you Like a Hurricane"?
I pulled it out of my pocket and flipped it open. Caller I.D. read "Greenwood Orchard". I answered it only because Mike had made it clear I should "talk to the plastic when it sang".
"Anna, he's doing it again, your granddad," my grandmother didn't even let me say hello.
"Did he get arrested again?" Granddad was a bit of a trouble maker.
"No, he just fired all the seasonal help, for no reason. You've got to help me."
I sighed. Just because I was a therapist didn't mean I wanted to give therapy to my family. As my grandfather aged, he seemed to be more cranky and random. He wouldn’t retire or let someone else operate the farm. Now he was firing the labor one month before the major harvest? If he wasn’t careful my grandmother was going to kick him out. Or kill him.
“Okay, okay. I’ll come out tomorrow; I’m with a client so I’ve got to go.” I hung up before she could say anything else. Yes it was rude, I’d apologize later.
The breeze lifted the ends of my hair and I caught something out of the corner of my eye. One of the cement abutments had something drawn on it, several pictographs of the bridge, a picnic table, some trees, and a ranger with a very large hat or a very bad haircut.
“Mike, did you draw that?” I asked. Mike saw what I was looking at.
“Mike use black rocks from hot place,” he said. The leftover charcoal from the picnic grills had become his medium.
My troll was a budding artist. I praised him on his stylistic interpretation. Mike turned back around and pulled a lump of charcoal off a hidden ledge. He proceeded to write M-I-K-E, A-N-N-A, and B-O-O-B-I-E.
“Mike spell more bad words?” he asked.
“Uh, no, that’s ok,” I said wondering who had taught him those bad words, probably the loggers. I watched as Mike drew a series of trees with dots on them.
“Apple trees,” he proclaimed when he had finished. I stood up suddenly, and idea forming in my head. Mike watched me pace back and forth between the bank and the river several times. Then I stopped and turned to face him.
“Mike, I have someone I’d like to bring by to meet you.”
No one seemed to like my brilliant idea except me. My grandfather complained the entire trip to the park from his home. For an old guy who claimed all sorts of aliments he sure could rant, complete with hand gestures.
I nodded and agreed with everything he said rather than fight with him. My mother always said you can’t argue with children and crazy people. When we finally arrived, I slammed the car into park and wrenched the keys out of the ignition.
My grandfather clucked at me. “You should do some of that anger management.”
I turned my head slowly, gave him what I hoped was an effective evil eye. He made a rude noise at me.
“Look, you came with me so you must at least be curious.”
“I came because your grandmother made me,” he said.
“Good,” I said opening the car door, “let’s go before I call her and tell her how agreeable you are being.
It was mid-morning and I was hoping Mike would be awake. I was relieved to see his head sticking out of the water. I walked to the edge and motioned my grandfather to move closer.
"Mike!" I shouted.
My grandfather stopped beside me, "He doesn't look that big."
I waived his comment away.
Mike remained motionless, like a big black rock jutting out of the water.
"Mike!" Now I was getting annoyed. Mike knew I was coming today and he knew why. He promised he'd at least meet my grandfather.
"Come on Anna, this thing doesn't want to talk to you."
I ignored granddad and walked into the water.
"Anna, what are you doing?" my grandfather yelled from behind.
When the water was chin level, I started to struggle. The current wasn't strong, it was just really cold. Mike, who had been watching me unmoved, finally headed in my direction.
"What Anna doing?" Mike said as he wrapped his thick fingers around my arm.
"Coming to talk to you since you won't come talk to me." My teeth were starting to chatter.
Mike growled and dragged me toward the bank.
I introduced Mike to my grandfather, "Mike, Eli, Eli, Mike."
They both crossed their arms and looked away. I flopped down on the grass, stretching out like a lizard on a rock, attempting to absorb some sun after my swim in the water.
And I was mad at both of them. I took a page from Mike's book of how to win friends. I ignored them.
"Alright Anna, explain your proposal to us again," my grandfather said finally. I checked my watch; they had been silent for a whole four minutes. Maybe Mike was on to something?
I sat up and moved so the sun would be on my back. I was just outside the dimness under the bridge, my grandfather on the guest rock and Mike in the mud. I coughed to hide a smile. "Boobie" was still written on the abutment. I tried not to look at it while I spoke.
"Mike, I explained to you that my grandfather has a big fruit orchard. You remember?"
"Apple trees," he said.
"Right, and granddad, you were complaining you didn't have decent help for the fall harvest, remember?" I didn't mention he'd fired them all.
"I'm old, I'm not senile," he snapped.
"What senile?" Mike asked.
"Granddad," I warned. Mike didn't need a crotchety old man teaching him new words.
"It's when everyone thinks you've lost your mind because you're old." He griped.
I ignored him. No need to reward bad behavior.
"You need a consistent human companion," I said to Mike, "And you," I turned to the old man on the rock, "need someone to help you at the orchard."
Neither of them said anything.
"Let Mike come to the orchard, he can live under the covered bridge and he can do the work of ten men. He can carry more than twice his weight."
"How do I know this fellow isn't going to go all nuts and destroy stuff, or hurt someone?" my grandfather squinted up at Mike.
It was a valid question, one I had often been asked during those first few months. Mike had proven himself over and over; to me, to the rangers, to the general public. I had no doubt Mike was safe.
"He's lived here in this park for over a year and he's never hurt anyone. The park wouldn't let him be here if he was dangerous would they?"
"Mike good," he insisted. What was this? The troll was coming over to my side of thinking?
"What if it doesn't work out?" my grandfather asked.
"The park has agreed to allow him back at anytime." Mike was free to leave the park if he wanted, but I had to be sure he could come back. Luckily, the picnic table incident wasn't counted against him.
"Mike think Eli good," Mike said looking at my grandfather.
"What’dya say?" I asked my grandfather, hoping for an equally positive response.
"Well, I dunno."
I had convinced the troll but not my grandfather. What kind of therapist did that make me?
"Mike wear pants," he said snapping his waist band. I hadn't noticed before. Mike had dressed up.
"How's he gonna get to the farm?"
"I have a truck that can take him."
"Mike go for ride?" Mike's eyes widened and he gave me his toothy smile. Would he want to stick his head out the side and let his tongue flap like a dog? Better find an enclosed truck, no need to be a road hazard.
"It's only an hour," I said hoping to discourage any mischievous plans that were swirling in his head.
Mike and my grandfather exchanged a long look.
"Mike and I need to talk," my granddad said, "man to troll."
"Sure." I turned away and started back up the embankment. "Let me know if you need me." I added, feeling a bit put out. Could they negotiate without me? The pavilion was empty so I decided to wait there. If I couldn't hear them I wouldn't be tempted to interfere.
Mike's first week didn't go as well I'd hoped. I was just curling up with a new paperback on my couch when I received a frantic phone call was from Mike. Well, Mike shouting indecipherably at the phone as my grandmother held it in his general direction. My grandmother, Ruth, was upset too, but at least I could understand her.
“Anna, please, just come here right now and fix this,” she pleaded.
I grabbed my keys and silently cursed. Granddad strikes again.
I used the one hour drive to put a moving truck on standby in case I had to take Mike back.
Anxiety burned in my stomach. Had I made a huge mistake? This would be worse than any therapeutic misjudgment, this was my family. And it was Mike. I’d developed a real fondness for the big guy. All I wanted was everyone to be happy and I might have made the situation worse. Plus it was embarrassing as hell. I'd never live this down.
My grandmother gave me a quick briefing and told me where Mike was hiding in one of the large storage barns. To sum up; Granddad wasn't allowing Mike to do anything. Mike had spent a week following granddad around, only allowed to watch. Mike wasn't dumb, he didn't need a week to be shown how to load an apple cart.
I slid the heavy barn door open and was stopped in my tracks. It looked like someone had talked Mike into wearing a big toga, which I recognized as an old boat sail, complete with rope belt. I shook my head. I'd deal with that later.
The scene broke my heart, tears as big as my head were falling on the concrete floor. I'd never seen a troll cry, and I never wanted to again.
Crates were stacked high enough that I could sit on them and be eye level with Mike, so I climbed up and tried to give him a reassuring smile. He was wiping his face with a bright yellow beach towel.
"Eli mean to Mike," he blurted out, "Eli not let Mike help."
"I'm sorry," I said.
Mike's eyes were glassy and unfocused; he was absently chewing the edge of the towel.
"Eli is stubborn. He…" he what? Was a grouchy old man, a pain in the butt? I'd known the man my entire life, and was a professional psychologist, and I still didn't know how to deal with him.
Mike stuffed more of the towel into his mouth.
"It's not your fault," was all I could think to say. It was my fault. Mine. I had created this situation and I had no idea how to fix it.
"Anna take Mike back?" he asked, his voice partly muffled by the towel. I didn't want to take him back, I wanted this to work. I knew it could.
"What do you want to do?" I asked him. I wouldn't make him stay.
"Make Eli let Mike help," he mumbled.
I nodded but knew I couldn't make my grandfather do anything. He had to come to it only his own, believe that Mike was the answer to his problems. I swung my legs, kicking the crate absently with my heels. Think Anna, think. How did I fix this? If my grandfather would just let Mike do something. Then he'd see and he'd want Mike to stay.
I looked up and saw Mike was very still, staring at me.
"Anna fix?" he asked, eyebrows tilted up in inquiry. Mike must have seen it on my face. Amazing he could pick up such a small detail on a human. The subtle change that said yes, I had an idea and I was going to fix it.
"You came to work in the orchard and that's what we're going to do. You see that wagon there?" I pointed to one of the custom carts built to fit down the narrow rows, "you pull it out and we'll go pick some apples."
Mike looked at the cart, and then looked at me. If I had to stay here and harvest this entire damn orchard myself I would. After granddad saw what Mike was capable of there was no way he could deny him.
Mike spit the towel out and clapped his hands.
Gentleman, we have a winner.
One month later I visited Greenwood Orchard. The market stand and gift shop parking lot was packed so I pulled up to the house. I was family after all; I deserved a good parking spot.
The apple trees started fifty feet from the house and went back for what seemed like miles. Fall was when I missed this place the most. I inhaled deeply catching the familiar earthy scents of leaves and apples. I climbed up on a weathered bench and surveyed the orchard. Disturbed leaves floating into the sky above the trees marked my destination.
A short ten minute walk later and I found them. My grandfather was sitting in a large wooden cart watching Mike shake a tree gently to dislodge apples. The sight of them working together made me smile, but what really warmed my heart was what I heard. They were singing.
Not only were they singing loudly, and with feeling, it was in German. I had no idea if Mike had been taught the song by my grandfather or already knew it. On the ride to the farm he treated me to his vast song repertoire, but it had all been in English.
I ducked down and watched them. My granddad was standing in the back of a wooden cart, arms spread wide, swaying with the beat of the song. Mike was gently shaking a tree and catching the apples in his big hand. I noticed the tractor was missing. Mike must have pulled the cart out here for him.
I waited for them to finish. My grandfather laughed and patted Mike on the shoulder. I jumped up and started forward before they saw me spying. I called out and Mike turned, his eyes wide looking for me. I jogged up to him and he patted me gently on the head. He was wearing enormous denim overalls with his name embroidered on the pocket. He even smelled pretty good.
“Look at you, Mike,” I smiled and pulled on the front of his new uniform. I winked and slid several chocolate bars into his pocket.
I glanced at my grandfather who was now busy moving apple bushels around in the cart, ignoring my arrival. He was back to his normal brooding and scowling.
“Ruth make Mike pants.” He said proudly. My grandmother was a wizard with the sewing machine.
“Cost a fortune in denim,” my grandfather complained.
“Yes, and I’m sure that expense was nothing compared to what it would have cost you in labor and gas last month.”
I ignored the muttering that followed.
“Eli need break,” Mike said, “Anna comes.”
I stared walking down the row back toward the house when I realized Mike wasn’t behind me. A glance back told me why. He was giving my grandfather one of the chocolate bars.
If a troll could dance I'd have to say that's what Mike was doing all the way down the path to his bridge. As a child I used to come down here to escape my siblings or to read in peace. If I was a troll, I would definitely think I'd scored the penthouse.
On the approach to the stream I saw his former "toga" was neatly draped over a long clothesline between two trees.
"Blanket," He explained when he saw me looking at it.
Two plastic Adirondack chairs were on the bank, I assumed for guests. My grandmother told me she had been reading fairy tales to him. I hoped she was skipping the one about the goat-eating troll. No need to give him ideas.
I let Mike show me all the interesting nooks and crannies he had discovered along with the things he had acquired. Several large pine cones, bits of twine and a jar of industrial sized peanut butter. He took them out, showed me, and then put them away.
I had never seen him like this. He was . . . giddy.
Mike twirled around a few times and then collapsed onto his back in the mud. I sat down next to him on a patch of weeds and leaned up against his massive shoulder.
“So, Mike,” I began, “things are going ok with Eli?”
“Eli teach Mike more songs,” he said.
“I overheard. Eli is happy when he sings?” If that’s all it took to make the old guy smile I would have sung him any song he wanted.
“Shhhh,” Mike sat up dislodging me, “Eli comes. Anna hide.”
“What? Why?” Mike was pushing me up under the bridge supports before I had a chance to figure out what was going on.
“Anna see Eli being nice.”
He pushed me back onto a dark shelf of dirt and then resumed his position in the mud. I was gonna kick his troll butt if this was some kind of joke.
“Mike?” It was my granddad. I scooted back a bit further to ensure he wouldn’t see me. The old farmer appeared with a large canvas sack in his hand.
“I brought you more pine cones,” he announced presenting Mike with the bag. Mike sat up, grabbed the bag and slid himself into the water, floating the sack behind him as he crossed to the opposite bank.
Had Mike assumed my grandfather was nice only when he thought no one would see it? Well, there was a flaw in Mike’s theory. I’d been alone with him lots of times and he’d never been particularly nice to me, at least not since I was a child.
My grandfather was humming as he sat down on a large boulder and took out his pipe. Humming? Who was this man?
“I know you’re here girl, so you can stop spying on me.”
I dislodged myself from the apparently not so secret spot and half fell, half slid down to the bank.
“How did you know?” I asked brushing the dirt off my arm.
“Mike tried to shove Ruth up there to spy on me, but she gave him the business, told him old ladies didn’t belong in the dirt. Guess he figures you’re age appropriate.”
I joined him on the rock; let the smell of pipe smoke fill my lungs. Memories washed over me. Every summer until I was headed for college my parents let me stay here. I remembered my granddad letting me ride on the tractor, him pretending to let me drive it when I was little, and then him teaching me to drive it when I was older. All those summers and I had never told him how much it meant to me.
“I wanted to thank you,” he said quietly.
“For what?” I asked, thinking I should be thanking him for working it out with Mike.
“Well, you probably have noticed I’m not the most pleasant person.”
“And I’ve been this way for so long now; I don’t know any other way to be.”
“Got a reputation to maintain?” I asked trying to suppress a smile.
“Exactly, so, just saying, you know, thanks for putting up with me.”
I looked at Mike across the stream. He was lining up the pine cones by size. Occasionally he’d pick two up and compare them, then adjust their position based on his conclusion.
“What brought this on?” I asked. I had a pretty good idea it had something to do with the big troll across the way.
“I fought you the entire way on that troll, but you didn’t give up. You were right, and you knew it.”
“Really?” I made no effort to hide my sarcasm.
“Don’t sass me Anna. We’re having a moment here.”
I bit the inside of my cheek hard. If I couldn’t control my smile he might not finish.
“Sorry,” I said, my eyes appropriately downcast.
“So,” he shifted uncomfortably on the rock, “thanks.”
“And don’t think I’m gonna start being all nicey nicey now. Moment’s over. Don’t you have someone’s head to go shrink?” Ah, there was the man I knew and loved.
Now I did smile, “no, I think I’m done for today.”