Trollveggen Pareidolia (Image modified by Adam Myers)
Trollveggen Pareidolia (Image modified by Adam Myers)

The Troll’s Child

In this vivid vignette of identity and power, the shock of loss drives a supernatural being from despair to terrifying renewal.

Her scarf sits loose around her neck as she walks the last six blocks to her apartment, cashmere wedged between her skin and the upturned collar of her coat. A knit cap with a white puffball perched at the top covers the tips of her ears. Rhythmic clicks of her stiletto boots against the concrete are in sync with the offbeat chorus of city noises, as though she is a repeated note in this evening song. 

Every few centuries, one like her is born. An inversion of their nature, able to smile at the sun without turning to stone like her grandfathers’ grandfathers, now known as the Trollveggen Mountains. 

Her own stature is slight in comparison. She did not inherit the face of her kin — mottled gray cheeks, mossy teeth and tangled-bramble hair. Her appearance mimics what these fragile humans call beauty, allowing her to walk among them as though she, too, has tendons spun like gossamers and dried leaf skin, drained of pigment and easily pierced, little hearts that hold only seven or eight fleeting decades of beats.

But it is only her visage that matches their weakness. Her grandmother lined the deepest fjords with sand made from boulders she ground between her teeth, and her mother tore whole pine trees into kindling with her bare hands to feed their hearth’s fires.

Their strength stayed with her, a loving burn beneath her skin.

The man ahead of her holds the lobby door open. He has done this for her before, she recalls vaguely, always with the same grin that is too wide for his face. She folds her lips ever so slightly in response, and this crumb is enough for him to presume a feast. 

Good evening, he greets her. Terrible weather tonight, don’t you think? 

She doesn’t reply. Humans are always fretting over the tiniest bit of rain or wind or snow, eager to keep their trembling bodies from being touched by anything other than the choicest moments of clear sky and breeze. 

Do you have plans this evening, he asks, or are you in for the night?

Who can say, she replies, bemused as always by humans’ adherence to invented schedules. What does the moon care who howls beneath her? Humans can roam freely without fear of being turned to stone, and they have so few breaths to enjoy, yet they categorize each one so solemnly.

Like humans, she is embraced by the sun. Yet she naps at its peak and strolls down deserted roads in the sharpest point of its absence.

Too late, she realizes the man’s attempt at small talk has unfurled into something larger. He rests a hand on her arm, a touch light enough for politeness, but he digs his fingers into the fabric of her coat. 

I have a bottle of chardonnay in my fridge, he says. You’re welcome to join me for a glass.

He attempts to pin her in place with a charming smile. Her human face, slipper shell ears and sharp chin and pink pebble nose, let her pass for something less than what she is. If she was his equal in frailty, he might succeed in bending her to his will. She isn’t and he won’t, but it irritates her all the same.

She swings his hand away from her body in one swift move, sliding her thumb over the eight little nubs of bone that make up his wrist. She could press a fraction firmer and make all eight of them crumble like clumps of dirt.

No, she says, the word falling like a hammer against his chest. His cheeks go pale as he meets her eyes. She widens them a hairsbreadth, mirrored surfaces that disguise their depths until the person mesmerized by their shine has leaned over too far to stop from tumbling in to drown. 

It’s a risk. After the eyes, he might spot the grace that floods her too-long stride, the way her hip curves in line with the earth, the moonbeams that peek out sleepily from her nailbeds. Mythic traits hung in a human frame. She is a magician, not a god; able to change perception but not nature. 

No matter. Her thumb still strums his pulse. She can have him kneeling in a puddle of his own pain in half a second and disappear into some other brick and mortar city before he gasps for help from other humans in crisp little uniforms with their blustering questions and notepads filled with loopy runes. Her charm could convince them to excuse her, but why bother fighting to stay? There is nothing here she would miss. This apartment is not home; she hoards no treasures here.

She is always poised to start over, to outrun her last mistake. 

But the man is averting his gaze and tremoring beneath her grip, which pity loosens, allowing him to step back to fade into the night. She walks through the empty lobby and up thirty flights of stairs to the top floor.

The climb does not wind her. As a child running alongside her larger cousins, she could scale six different mountains before breakfast, cartwheel a border of handprints along the jagged arctic coastline three times over before the breeze had time to whistle the grit smooth again.

Go, her family had urged her, go out and see the world. We are bound by the sun, you are not. Your face will not be a target for japes and wounds the way ours are. We want better for you, my dear. Assimilate into the human world and learn their ways. Dance over the thinned forest edges that pin us back and see what curious things they spend their scant years doing, then come home and tell us all you’ve learned.

And so she had left her family’s stone crevice to slip into mortal tents. Gold runs freer than water for her kind, tucked under the bark of spruce trunks and sunk into the silt of riverbeds, always enough to take her around the globe via nomadic trek and splintered wagon and wooden ship.

She saw twig fingers weave sails wide enough to black out the stars, wrinkled babes quieted by forehead kisses rimmed in beard bristle, new lovers bound and last pleas exhaled, coals sparked and throats slit. After she’d bathed in the midnight sun at both ends of the Earth, she returned home with her mind stuffed full of stories she would pull out and share bites of at the dinner table. 

When she arrived at her family’s mountain, the entrance rock was soaked in sunrays, hot to the touch. Ash trees that once shaded the cave’s mouth were filed down to stumps. The light had crept through the doorway and seeped its way across the floor.

She passed upturned bowls and knocked-over chairs; dead monuments to panic. Porridge spilled from the bowls had long been eaten away by mice, and the chairs were draped in dust. Sunlight penetrated the deepest parts of the dwelling, and the farthest back wall was now Trollveggen in miniature. Crouched figures shading stone faces, stuck to the wall they’d been herded against.

Her scream shook the walls and ruptured a crack through the ear of her favorite aunt.

Outside, a forgotten ax head was buried in one stump. She unsheathed it and hurled it into the sun. It melted into metal rain that pelted the settlement at the mountain’s base. She clawed the mountain to rubble and sent it hurtling down in a landslide of curses to bury the ash-wood longhouses built from her family’s defenses. Humans would pay, she swore, for all they’d taken from her.

But rage was not quick enough to claim her. Grief stomped it out, leaving her numb, and she withdrew to what remained of her forests. She searched for other trolls and found only mountains doubling as gravestones.

So she stopped looking. 

Her pain is dulled enough that she can spend her time in the human world. These concrete rivers are not her home, but neither are the mountains, with her roots torn out and scattered. Her feet never stay planted for long, always drifting. 

Sometimes she sits in the sun at high noon, eyes closed as she shuts out every sound except her heartbeat and waits for it to stop. She won’t turn to stone, she knows. What was once a privilege is now a penance that reminds her of how dissimilar she always was, and always will be. She will never reunite with her family. Whatever sort of death she eventually has, it will be solitary. Even if some future day brings a sun that burns strong enough to petrify her, she will be a foothill at best, not a mountain.

She reaches the corridor at the top of the stairs. Her apartment is in the northeast corner. She lets herself in and locks the door behind her, shedding her coat and scarf and boots and puffball hat as she shakes out her hair. She prepares tea, spiked with sugar and dark wine.

Curled up on the sofa, she takes a sip and imagines it echoes the skald mead brewed with blood and honey she drank as a child, though her tongue’s memory is too weak to remember.

On the television, a news anchor with stiff hair and a stiff smile reports on a new construction site that broke ground today. A forest razed flat to accommodate another concrete brick filled with flitting human duties. She thinks nothing of it, until the camera pans out.

A rock sits at the edge of the dead dirt, soft curves tilted up towards the sky in surprise. A troll, she identifies immediately. The thinned tree line must not have been enough to shield them from being petrified when the sun rose.

She hadn’t been alone, after all.

That troll is no mountain, but a boulder only a few hands higher than herself. The construction site is located just a few miles to the west. Before the forest died, she might have walked through it on a whim one evening and spotted this unknown relation. She might have called out a greeting and embraced this long-lost cousin, brought them home for supper and swapped stories.

But she never did.

The empty mug lolls in the crease between the sofa cushions as she stands up. The mirror by the front door snags the corner of her gaze, and she bats her reflection out of her eye. She will hate what she sees, her mother’s sad eyes trapped in a monstrous face. Human stories paint her kind as simple, easily fooled, but brutality is no trick. There is no ignorance in dying when your heart has been gouged out. It was not cleverness that allowed humans to strip away the lives of others.

They throw knives with clumsy hands; only chance has kept their aim true.

She peels off her clothes, flimsy slivers of cotton that flutter around her feet like dead leaves at the base of a tree. Naked, she rolls her shoulders and arches backwards, loosens her limbs and uncoils her tail, her lone familial feature. She lets it sway, a whip prepared to crack and draw blood with its tip that she will lick clean, bruising her lips with a mineral tang.

She swore to defend her hereditary honor. What happened? Maybe her human appearance soaked into her core, tainted her courage so she could see apathy as a virtue. 

Humans have no reverence for their world. They cannot grasp the fantastic parts of what is real. Even displaced, she holds these truths, whispered to her by her ancestors. She inhaled each word and they stitched themselves into the base of her throat. She breathes them back out now as she opens her window and crouches on the frozen edge.

Her toes melt the ice and she gouges the brick with her fingernails. She leaps into the sleet, welcomed by the wind between her window and the sidewalk that will crack apart when she lands, unharmed. 

She will not let any more pieces of herself be destroyed. She will find others like her, broken and lost. Together they will wield the past against those that battered it. 

She will slice open a vein of the earth and pull out a handful of iron, heat it with her screams, forge the steel to a sharp edge and cool it with her tears, slice it through their threadbare bodies and then bend it, careless, into a knot, close her fist around the snarled blade and crush it into dust.

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Sam Corradetti

Sam Corradetti

Sam Corradetti writes in southern New Jersey. Their work has been featured in vulnerary magazine, Scribes Valley, Anansi Archive, and others. Sam was a 2022 recipient of the Rin Kelly Scholarship for Speculative Fiction. Currently they are pursuing an MFA at Temple University in Philadelphia where they are an editorial assistant for Tinge Magazine.

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