Ryan’s Story – The Troll
After getting home from school, the first thing that Ryan did was take a much-needed shower. As Trey had put it, he stank from spending the night there, sleeping in his clothes. Later that morning, after a proper breakfast, Ryan was sitting in his room trying to decide between doing his homework and reading his comics when there was a knock on the front door downstairs. He heard Sue answer the door and a few moments later, her voice called to him up the stairs. “Ryan, it’s for you.” He put down the comic and went to the top of the stairs. Ben was standing at the front door.
“Come on up,” Ryan said.
Ryan led Ben up the stairs to his bedroom. The younger boy stepped into the room, taking in its contents. Posters covered the walls on both sides of the room. The ones by Trey’s bed were mainly for various bands while the posters on Ryan’s side of the room were a collection of skateboarding and snowboarding posters. Underneath one of the posters were three brackets made out of coat hooks that Ryan used to hold his skateboard. Particularly surprising to Ben, especially given his friend’s supposedly poor academic skills, was the shelf above the bed filled with neatly stacked textbooks. Some of which were of an advanced level. Ryan began clearing the comics away as Ben sat down on the bed. The younger boy picked up one of the comics and leafed through its pages. “What’s this one, I don’t think I’ve seen this one before”
Ryan took the comic off Ben and looked at the cover. “It’s the ‘Defenders’, it’s about this kid that lives in Liberty City in northern California. His dad was the superhero Defender. Only he doesn’t find out till after his dad dies in action. He finds a prototype set of powered body armour his dad built in a secret part of the junkyard where he now lives with his grandpa. Even though his grandpa is worried that he’ll get himself killed like his dad, he decides to put it on and take his dad’s place as the city’s resident hero. It’s really cool ‘cos the main character doesn’t have any superpowers at all. He’s not super strong or super smart; he’s just a regular kid. The suit lets him fight on the same level as the other supers but he doesn’t need it to be a hero. But as well as being a superhero, he’s still got to do the whole high school thing ‘cos no one can find out that the city’s biggest hero is just a regular inner-city fifteen-year-old kid.”
Ben laughed, “I can see why you like it. I knew you were into comics, but I didn’t know you were such a fan.”
“Everyone’s gotta have a hobby, mine’s comics,” Ryan said. “What about you.”
“I’m more into Dungeons and Dragons than comics.”
Ryan turned and looked at Ben, a little surprised. “Wow, a jock and a geek in the same body, is that even possible?”
Ben looked around the room. “I guess it makes sense now.”
“Never mind, a bunch of us are going down to the beach and I was wondering if you’d like to come.”
Ryan looked at him in surprise. “After what happened last night, I thought the beach would be the last place you’d want to be.”
“Hey, with Kung-Fu Ryan around, no scaly creature of the sea is gonna dare mess with us. But seriously, I want you to come. It’s about time you started hanging out,” held up another one of Ryan’s comics, “and besides, even superheroes get time off with their friends.”
Ryan shrugged smiling. “Alright, I guess I can spare a couple of hours to play bodyguard at the beach.”
“Cool, let’s go,” Ben said getting up.
Sue looked up as Ben and Ryan came down the stairs. “Going somewhere?” She asked as she saw Ryan putting on his hoodie.
“Going down to the beach for a couple of hours with some friends from school.”
“Ok,” she said, “be back for tea.” She watched the boys disappear out the front door. “Finally,” she thought to herself smiling, “some friends.”
Jason and Tommy sat on a wooden bench overlooking the beach waiting for the others. Tommy had his headphones on, listening to music and writing down notes in his notepad while his cousin texted on his mobile. Jason, the older of the two cousins by just a month, had shoulder length black hair. Although the younger cousin, Tommy was the larger of the two being almost two inches taller than Jason. Tommy had dark red dyed spiky hair, almost burgundy in colour. His rather unconventional appearance was completed by a lip ring piercing his bottom lip. Both boys wore a dark red symbol on a piece of clothing. The symbol, which Jason had found on the internet last year, was the logo of the band that they had formed with two other boys from school. Jason wore it on the back of a black baseball cap while Tommy wore it on a pair of black wristbands.
At the same time, they both saw Ben and Ryan approaching from the cliff path.
“What about Indy, he’s an ass-kicking ARCHAEOLOGIST! If that’s not a geek-jock then I don’t know what is,” Ben said.
“Just knowing stuff doesn’t make you a geek,” Ryan argued, “if it did that would make Lara Croft a geek and there is no way that a girl with a rack like that could be a geek.”
Jason waved to the two boys as they walked over. “What are you two arguing about?”
Ben and Ryan looked at each other for a second and then burst out laughing as they released how absurd their conversation must have sounded. “Nothing,” Ben said, “hey, anyone seen Celeste?”
“I’m right here,” a voice said from behind Ben. The boy jumped at Celeste’s unexpected appearance.
“Crap, how the hell do you keep doing that?”
Celeste merely smiled sweetly. “Practice.”
“Great, now that we’re all here, what’s the plan?” Jason asked.
“Yeah, we didn’t skip band practice just to hang with dumbass and fish bait,” Tommy said grinning. His grin vanished as his cousin punched him in the arm. “Ow, I was kidding. Anyone who can come up with a story like the one Ryan did this morning is way too imaginative to be ‘tard.”
“That’s better,” Jason said cracking his knuckles.
“But,” Tommy said pointing at Ben, “you’re still fish bait.”
“Since the weather’s pretty fine,” Ben said scowling at Tommy, “I thought we’d hit the beach for a couple of hours, maybe mess around in the arcade and stuff. You know, just hang around town.”
“Considering you ‘aint got that much town to hang around in … sounds good,” Ryan said.
The gang spent the next few hours messing around on the beach. Cliffport may have become a tourist trap, but right now, it was that magical time of the year where the weather was good enough for the locals to enjoy the beach without being swamped by out-of-towners. As it was, there were only a few tourists, mostly taking holiday snaps.
Alternating between kicking around a football and throwing a Frisbee, none of the group strayed near the water, despite how tantalisingly cool it may have appeared. After a few hours, a hot and sweaty Ryan glanced over at the ice cream van parked over by the sea wall. “If you ask me, this is the perfect weather for some cheap ice cream.”
“Yeah, ‘cos I ‘aint got the pocket money for the good kind,” Tommy said as they jogged towards the van.
Five minutes later, they were all sitting on the sea wall, each enjoying a cone of soft scoop ice cream.
“So Ben,” Jason said, “how did you get on the school rugby team with your sucky throwing and catching?” Ben had seemed incapable of throwing the Frisbee on target or catching it all afternoon.
“I’ll have you know that the aerodynamics of a Frisbee are significantly different from that of a rugby ball,” Ben said defensively.
Jason laughed, “That’s your excuse and you’re sticking to it eh?” Ben just grunted in response as the others laughed around him.
Ryan had noticed Ben’s poor performance with the Frisbee as well. He suspected that there was more to it than just the differences between a rugby ball and a Frisbee. Ben had stayed close to Celeste all afternoon and had seemed distracted by her presence. It was obvious to him, even if it wasn’t to the others, that Ben had a crush on Celeste. As tempting as it was to tease him about it, he decided to be kind and keep it to himself. For the time being at least.
After cooling down with the ice cream, Jason dragged them all to the local arcade. However, after just ten minutes, they were thrown out by the manager after Jason began hurling a stream of insults at one of the machines.
“Calm down cuz,” Tommy said, his arm around Jason’s shoulders and guiding the irate boy away from the arcade, “it’s just a dumb game. Nothing to get so worked up about.”
Jason shrugged off Tommy’s arm. “It’s NOT a dumb game. I used to be the best person in town at DDR, but in the last month or so I’ve been knock off the top spot.”
“Is that all?” Ben asked incredulously.
“Is That All? This bastard’s grabbed the top seven spots on the high score table. What’s worse is all I got to go on is the guys handle RYEBREAD. It’s doing my head in trying to work out who it is.” At the back of the group, Ryan sniggered. At the sound of his amusement, Jason span round, confronting him. “What’s so funny?”
Ryan held his hands out defensively. “Chill, it’s just a game. I’m sure you’ll find a way to beat him. Eventually.”
By four o’clock, they had exhausted all the entertainment options that a bunch of teenagers could legally enjoy in the small town. They ended up hanging out at the end of the breakwater, laughing and joking as they watched the ships out in the shimmering waters of the English Channel.
They weren’t there long before Jake and Spud pulled up on a pair of BMX bikes. “Hey Ryan,” Jake said, “Your foster mum said you’d be near here.”
“Hi Jake, Spud, what’s up?”
“Me and Jake are heading over to the bike track, you wanna come?” Asked Spud.
“Cliffport’s got a bike track?”
“Yeah, it’s about a mile past the Burial Mound in some fields. You in?” Jake asked, “You can borrow my bike,” he added when he remembered that Ryan didn’t own a bike.
“Kinda got a prior engagement,” Ryan said nodding back towards his other friends, “besides I prefer tarmac and concrete. You can’t skate on dirt.”
“Fair enough. Hey, what was up with principal Winters? He seemed really pissed at you lot this morning. Did you guys get into trouble last night or something?” Jake asked.
Ryan became aware that the conversation behind him had died. “Er, it’s a long story. I’ll tell you at school on Monday.”
“Cool,” Jake said remounting his bike. He turned and waved at Ben. “Hey Ben, see you at the game tomorrow.” He and Spud cycled off towards the Burial Mound as Ryan turned back to the others. Ben, Tommy, Jason and Celeste were looking at him.
“Don’t worry,” he said trying to reassure them, “I’ll make something up. It’s not like he’d believe me if I told him what really happened.” The alarm on Ryan’s watch started beeping and he looked down, seeing the time. “Crap, I gotta go, dinner’ll be ready soon.”
“Do you have to?” Ben asked.
“Yeah, Sue’s making chilli today. Her beef chilli is frickin’ awesome. That and I’ve technically still got a curfew.”
“That sucks,” said Ben, “see you later then.”
Ryan rushed home, getting through the front door just as Sue yelled “Dinner” from the kitchen. He sat down at the table opposite Trey, savouring the smell wafting in from the kitchen.
The next morning, Ryan was awoken by the sound of a lawnmower in the back garden. Across the bedroom, Trey stirred, growling at the unwanted noise and attempting to bury his head under his pillow. Ryan pulled on a pair of old jogging bottoms and shuffled down the stairs to the kitchen. Anthony was in the garden and waved to him through the window as Ryan leaned against the kitchen counter with a glass of orange juice fresh from the fridge. There was cool breeze from the open back door and the smell of freshly cut grass smelt nice, and after his day yesterday, it only helped increase his already good mood. He pulled out several rashes of bacon and four eggs and set about preparing a fried breakfast.
Susan came into the kitchen and saw Ryan standing at the electric stove, whistling. She ruffled the boy’s hair, which earned a half-hearted protest, as she reached for the fridge door. “My, someone’s in a good mood this morning.” She looked over to the contents of the frying pan. “You’re not cooking breakfast are you?”
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“I know,” Ryan said cheerily, “but I wanted to.”
“You must want something then,” Susan said, accusing him in jest. Ryan laughed in response.
Anthony and Susan had already eaten breakfast that morning but they both gratefully took a bacon balm. This left an extra egg for him and Trey. As he dished the bacon and eggs out, Susan called up the stairs to Trey and a few minutes later, the twelve-year-old stumbled down the stairs into the kitchen. He looked at Ryan suspiciously for a few seconds before hungrily tucking onto the breakfast, gobbling it down like a gannet. Ryan leaned back on his chair and turned on the small TV, tuning it to one of the cartoon channels.
“Stick it on 707,” Trey said with a mouthful of bacon, “I wanna watch Yu-Gi-Oh.”
“I’m watching Avatar, not that Japanese card gaming crap.”
“But…” Trey whined in protest.
Ryan leaned forward with an evil grin on his face. “Either I get to watch Avatar,” he said in a quiet voice, “or I tell Anthony that you still haven’t done the homework that was due in on Friday afternoon.” Backed into a corner, Trey relented and grumpily ate his breakfast while Ryan watched his cartoons.
The phone started ringing and Susan answered it in the living room. She came into the kitchen a few minutes later holding the handset. “Jake’s father’s on the phone,” she said to Ryan, “he wants to know if you saw Jake yesterday?”
Ryan looked away from the TV. “Yeah, we talked for a bit at the breakwater.”
“When was that?”
“About half four,” Ryan said thinking back. It had been just before he started back home. “Why?”
“Jake didn’t come home last night. Do you know where he might have gone?”
“No, he said he and Spud were going up to the bike track but that was the last I saw of him. Maybe he stayed over at Spud’s?” He said hopefully.
“No, he’s already checked with Stewart’s parents. He didn’t come home last night either.” Susan took the phone back into the other room, relaying to Jake’s father what Ryan had told her. As she left, Ryan began to get a bad feeling. His friend often stayed out late, something which caused friction between Jake and his dad. Sometimes he would spend the night at one of his friends but he would always let his father know where he was. Spud on the other, was always home on time. His mother kept him on a tight leash. Worried, he wolfed down the remains of his breakfast. “Tell you what squirt,” he said to Trey, “since I’m in such a good mood today, I’m gonna let you watch Yugi.”
Trey again looked at him suspiciously. “I know you’re up to something, I just don’t know what.”
Ryan cleared his plate away, putting it in the dishwasher and went upstairs. He hurriedly got dressed before grabbing his skateboard and rucksack and running out the front door. He closed the garden gate behind him and looked up at the fluffy clouds, realising that he had no idea what he was supposed to do. Ryan thought for a second, the last place he knew that Jake and Spud were heading to was the bike track. That would be the best place to start looking.
He skated across town, taking advantage of every shortcut that he had discovered in the three months he’d lived in Cliffport. Crossing the river at the footbridge, the wheels of the skateboard clattered rhythmically as they rode over the wooden planks. Sunday was always a slow day in Cliffport, especially before the tourist season kicked in and there was only a few people about. It didn’t take him long to reach the Burial Mound where he was forced to dismount, strapping the skateboard to his rucksack. A dirt path led away from the mound, presumably in the direction of the bike track.
Ryan knelt down next to the path, examining the dirt. There were a number of fresh ruts in the mud, two of which were narrow and could have been left by Jake and Spud’s BMXs. The others were wider and deeper, possibly left by dirt bikes. According to what Jake had said yesterday, the bike track was only a mile past the round. He started walking down the path and soon enough he began to hear the sound of dirt bikes.
Cresting the hill, Ryan could see the bike track. It was a collection of sculpted hills and dips surrounded by a low drystone wall. As he approached, he saw a group of older teenagers hanging around the entrance as a pair of dirt bikes tore round the track. Ryan didn’t know most of them but he grimaced when he recognised the youngest amongst them. Clustered together, they were a bunch of year 10 and 11 pupils from his school who all had a ‘reputation’. Cliffport’s resident hoodie-wearing delinquents, the gang seemed to collect ASBOs like Boy Scouts collected merit badges. The gang of five was led by a 16-year-old spider plant haired youth nicknamed Boris. One of the gang noticed him approaching and pointed him out to Boris who was trying to start a probably stolen dirt bike. Seeing this, Ryan took a deep breath and walked over to the wall, hoping that a physical barrier between them would offer some protection. Boris’s anger had a hair-trigger and on more than one occasion already, Ryan had been on the receiving end of it.
“What do you want,” Boris sneered at him as he sat astride the dirt bike, his ‘minions’ gathered around him.
“Were you here at around four or five yesterday?” Ryan asked.
Boris got off the bike and as he did so, his jacket briefly flapped open revealing the grip of a black pistol tucked into the front of his pants. Ryan stiffened for a second before he realised that real guns were probably not made from cheap plastic. He smiled inwardly, it was just Boris’s style to try and “big himself up” with a cheap two quid springer. Boris swaggered over to the wall, glaring at Ryan. “So what if I was?”
“Did Jake or Spud come by?”
“Who the fuck is Spud?” Boris asked in confusion.
“He means Stuart Masterson,” Abigail, one of the two girls in Boris’s gang explained.
“Oh yeah,” Boris said laughing, “They came round on their little push bikes thinking they could play with the big boys.”
“And.” Ryan prompted.
“And I told ‘em to piss off.”
“Did you see which way they went?” Ryan said curtly, getting a little impatient.
“Why the fuck…” Boris began before he was interrupted by Abigail.
“They went off that way,” she said pointing further down the path, “towards the old bridge.”
“Thanks for your help,” he said to Abigail, pointedly ignoring Boris as he turned to leave. He only got a few steps before Boris issued his parting shot.
“Fucking homo’s missing his boyfriend,” Boris said to his friends causing them to laugh.
He stopped, his fists balled as Boris and his gang laughed behind him. He turned and slowly walked back to the wall, his eyes narrowed. “What did you just say,” he said quietly.
The teenagers behind Boris tensed, expecting trouble. “You heard me,” the older boy taunted, “you emo homo fuck.”
Ryan’s face flushed with anger, his heart starting to race. He was on the verge of leaping over the wall and thumping Boris in the face. A rather rash action considering he would be outnumbered at least five to one. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and tried to calm himself down as the gang made jibes at his expense about him “taking it up the back door.” He wouldn’t let them get to him, he couldn’t. No matter how much he wanted to smash Boris’s arrogant, acne-scarred face in.
“You know what,” Ryan said opening his eyes, “I haven’t time for this.”
“Why, you gotta go find a corner to cry in and cut yourself or something.” Boris said.
“No, Jake and Spud didn’t come home last night. When my friends are in trouble, I care enough about them to try to help because I know if it was the other way round; they’d do the same for me.” Ryan was nearly yelling as he spoke, his tone cutting through the gang’s laughter and silencing it. “How many of YOUR friends could say the same about you eh?” He turned to walk away but quickly span back around as his anger peaked. “God knows I’ve got problems. I’ve not got issues, I’ve got frigging volumes but that’s nothing compared to you ‘Boris’. You think you’re the big man around town, tearing up the streets on stolen bikes, running around with a cheap and nasty air gun pretending it’s the real thing and vandalising bus shelters. But you know what, you’re not threatening, you’re pathetic. This is Cornwall, not fucking South Central LA. That bad boy ‘gangsta’ shit just makes you a joke round here.”
There was an uncomfortable silence after Ryan finished speaking. He saw the stunned faces of Boris’s gang and he suddenly realised that he had gone too far. Even the older dirt biking teenagers had stopped to watch the scene.
Boris was shaking with barely suppressed rage, there was no way that he was going to some punk-ass kid speak to him like that. He took a step towards the wall, intending to beat the smaller boy to a pulp for what he had said but he was stopped when Abigail grabbed his arm. “Let him go,” she said, “he ‘aint worth it.” Ryan took that as his cue and ran, following the path in the direction that Abigail had pointed. Boris pulled his arm out of Abigail’s grip and vaulted over the wall, intending to give chase but Ryan was too fast for him. In frustration, he pulled the air pistol, pumped the spring mechanism and pointed it at Ryan’s fleeing back.
He heard the clack of the air pistol’s mechanism followed by a thwack as a plastic pellet smacked into the skateboard strapped to his rucksack. Before Boris could fire again, Ryan ducked out of sight into a copse of trees. “Yeah, you better keep running Henderson,” Boris yelled, “I know where you live.”
After a couple of minutes, Ryan stopped to catch his breath against a tree. Even though he knew that he’d probably made one of the biggest mistakes of his life, he couldn’t help but laugh. “I’ve not got issues, I’ve got volumes,” he said in imitation of himself. “Well done Ryan, you mouthed off to the biggest bully in school and made a complete idiot of yourself in the same afternoon.”
Rested, he continued along the path following the wheel ruts left in the soft mud. The path ran alongside a small fenced in field next to a small farm. A solitary goat munched on the grass, blissfully oblivious to the world around it. Eventually, it dipped into a steep-sided, boulder-strewn, valley and crossed over a small river on an old stone arch bridge. The ground was ripped and torn, huge rends in the turf were gouged across the hillside. “What the hell happened here?” Ryan asked himself.
A glint of reflected sunlight from under the bridge attracted his attention. He ran down the path to the bridge and ducked underneath its stone arch. The light was reflecting off the silver frame of a BMX bike, identical to the one that Spud had been riding. The Just a few feet away, he saw Jake’s black BMX lying next to a granite boulder twice the size of Ryan. Looking around, he saw an opening at the base of the bridge’s arch on one side. The opening was partially concealed by a pile of rocks leaving only an opening small enough to look through and nothing more. There were drag marks leading towards it, the kind left behind by a body being dragged. Fearing the worst, Ryan ran over to the pile of rocks and peered through the small opening.
The opening led into a small cave. Jake was lying inside, he looked uninjured but he wasn’t moving and didn’t respond when Ryan called out his name. In the darkness at the back, he could see Spud who appeared to be in the same condition as Jake. Carefully, Ryan began to push the rocks away from the opening until it was big enough for him to crawl through. The roof was low and Ryan had to shrug off his rucksack in order to move around inside.
To Ryan’s relief, Jake was breathing and in fact appeared to be nothing more than fast asleep. However, despite his best efforts, Ryan was unable to wake either of them. As he shook Jake, gripping the boy’s shoulders, his hand tingled slightly. Holding his hand up to his face, he saw something on the skin glistening in the light from the opening. Fine grains of green dust like silica sand coated the palm of his hand. Looking across at his two friends, he could see that their faces and upper part of their bodies were similar coated in the green dust. Cautiously, he sniffed his palm and immediately, he felt light-headed and tired. There was a buzzing in his ear and grey static began to encroach on his vision as if he had stood up suddenly after lying down. He could feel himself beginning to fall asleep so he stumbled out the opening towards the river. Splashing himself with the cold water, he washed the powder of his hand, and for good measure, dunked his head under the water to wake himself up. “At least I know now why I can’t wake them,” he said to himself as he pulled his hoodie up over his mouth and nose forming a makeshift mask.
Ryan climbed back into the alcove and slowly dragged Jack and Spud through the opening into the open air, taking extra care to make sure that he didn’t knock their heads on the rocks on the way out. He carefully brushed the dust off Jake and Spud using the sleeve of his hoodie ensuring that he didn’t breathe the dust in or let any of it settle on him. Finally, he took the half-empty bottle of water clipped to a belt loop and upended its contents over Jake and Spud.
Spud spluttered and coughed as he awoke. Jake’s eyes fluttered and he groaned. “Why am I all wet?” He asked squinting up at Ryan. “Please tell me I’m not naked again.”
Ryan was taken aback by Jake’s question. “Okay, the fact that you just asked me that is creepy enough that I don’t want to know what happened the last time you woke up wet and naked.”
“Ryan?” Spud asked sitting up and looking around in confusion. “I thought you weren’t coming?”
“Erm, guys, its Sunday.”
“What!” Jake said bolting upright.
“It’s just gone half eleven on Sunday morning. Your dad and your mum,” he said pointing to Jake and Spud in turn, “are going up the wall since you didn’t come home last night.”
“Christ,” Spud muttered as Ryan helped him up, “my mum’s gonna kill me.”
“Never mind that,” Jake suddenly said, “we gotta be at the sports ground by twelve fifteen or we’ll miss the game.”
Ryan rolled his eyes as he walked the pair over to their bikes, eager to get them both out of here. Nothing about this situation seemed right and he could sense that something was very wrong. Jake and Spud mounted their bikes. Jake looked back at Ryan who was hanging behind.
“Hey, hop on. I’ll give you a backsie back into town,” Jake offered.
“Erm thanks, but I kinda gotta take the coastal path home,” Ryan explained, grinning with embarrassment, “I met Boris at the bike track and I kinda pissed him off something chronic.”
Jake slapped his forehead, “Jeeze Ryan, can’t you go five minutes without picking a fight.”
“Jake c’mon,” Spud said, “If we’re late for the game, coach’ll kill us.”
Ryan waved as Jake and Spud rode off while he set off towards the path that ran along the coastline. He only got a few steps before he realised that he had left his rucksack back in the cave. Cursing himself, he ran back to the cave and retrieved it. Standing at the opening, slipping on the shoulder straps and fastening the chest buckle, he looked around the valley and slowly became aware that something wasn’t quite right. It took him a few seconds as he slowly walked away from the bridge before he realised what it was. The granite boulder that Jake’s bike had lain next to was gone. “What the fuck, that rock must have weighed two or three tons easy,” he said in alarm. “There’s no way a rock that size just upped and walked away.”
“Unless,” a deep and rumbling voice said from behind him, “it’s got legs and it’s not a rock.” Ryan slowly turned around, his heart racing. Standing on the bridge and towering over the boy was a huge creature, nine foot tall with grey skin. Its rubbery hide had a mottled texture that even up close resembled granite. Long, ungainly arms ended in huge clawed hands. The creature used one of its claws to pick at its teeth as its piercing grey eyes stared at Ryan hungrily. Ryan began to slowly back away, gulping in fear as the creature licked its lips.
“So, um, I’m gonna, er, just get going, ok?” Ryan stammered.
The creature leapt off the bridge, sailing over Ryan’s head hitting the ground behind him with a thump and causing it to shake. Blocking the path, it bent down and looked at the boy who stumbled back in surprise. “Oh I think it’s too late for that, you let my dinner escape.” It looked at Ryan like a butcher appraising an animal being lead to slaughter. “You’re a bit scrawny, not much meat on them bones, but you’ll have to do.”
Ryan’s heart seemed to stop as heard the creature’s words. “Yeah, I had a feeling you were going to say something like that.” Without waiting for a response, the boy turned and ran, his legs and arms pumping furiously. He scooted under the bridge, passed the opening and emerged from under the other side still running. Behind him, he heard the creature grunt followed by a strange whistling noise. A boulder, six feet across, slammed into the ground in front of Ryan, narrowly missing him. Unable to stop in time, Ryan collided with the boulder and fell to the floor winded. Thundering footsteps accompanied the creatures approach as it leapt over the bridge and strode towards the boy. It suddenly inhaled sharply and breathed out a cloud of green mist. Realising that this was probably the source of the green dust that had made Jake and Spud fall asleep, Ryan scrambled out of its path as the cloud dissipated.
“Stop running,” the creature growled, “all this exertion and stress is going to spoil the taste of the meat.”
“I’m not a cheeseburger with legs,” Ryan yelled darting around the boulder. The creature lashed out with its huge fist but Ryan saw it coming. He ducked under the swing and the fist smashed into the boulder, shattering it. Fragments of stone showered Ryan, the shards cutting the skin on the side of his face. Clutching the side of his face, Ryan snarled and leapt at the creature, landing on its outstretched arm and running up it towards the head. He was poised to strike, ready to deal a vicious kick to the face, when the creature shook its arm, throwing him off. Lying on his back, Ryan thought to himself “yeah, like the same trick ever works twice.” He looked up to see the creature standing over him. It raised its foot to stamp down on his face but he rolled to the side at the last minute and the foot stamped into the earth just a few inches from his head. Seizing the opportunity, Ryan twisted around and kicked at the creature’s legs. With its feet swept out from under it, the creature crumpled to the floor. Realising that there was no way that he could fight the creature; Ryan sprang to his feet in an attempt to run. As he got up, the creature’s arm reached out and slammed him in the chest. He was sent flying through the air, landing roughly on his back just in front of the bridge. As he landed, he heard something break and he silently prayed that whatever it was, that it wasn’t part of him. Quickly, he got back up and started running clutching his chest. He was heading for the coastal path, hoping that it would be too narrow and steep for the creature. Boulders and rocks rained down on either side of him, many of them shattering on impact and showering him with fragments. Soon, he was out of the valley and running along the coastal path to safety.
After several minutes of running, he stumbled to the floor panting heavily. He lifted up the front of his hoodie and looked at the red mark across his chest. “It’s a wonder I’ve got any intact ribs left,” he muttered. Groaning slightly, he picked himself up off the floor and began to walk slowly back to town.
Susan looked up from the magazine as the front door opened and Ryan limped in, closing the front door behind him. She gasped as she saw the state the boy was in, “Ryan, what happened? You’re filthy and your face is bleeding.”
Ryan wiped the side of his face with the back of his hand. Some of the cuts were still leaking a small amount of blood. He held up his skateboard showing Susan the broken front wheel. “My board hit a rut in the pavement and I took a spill,” he explained, hoping that Susan would believe him.
“How many times have I asked you,” she said dragging him into the kitchen, “to wear pads or protective equipment.” Susan pushed him into a kitchen chair and took a first aid kit from one of the cupboards. “I swear, one of these days you’re going to fall and break your neck.”
“Honestly, it’s not as bad as it looks. There’s no need to make a fuss,” he said getting out of the chair. Susan pushed him back down onto the chair.
“Hold still and let me clean the dirt out of those cuts.” She took an antiseptic wipe from the first aid kit and started cleaning the cuts on his face. Ryan hissed as the cuts stung under the assault of the antiseptic solution. “Stop fidgeting,” she said as she held on to the squirming boy, faintly amused at his obvious discomfort. Finally, she applied a plaster to the side of his cheek, covering the cuts. “There, now get upstairs young man and get out of those filthy clothes.” Ryan muttered under his breath as he walked up the stairs. His foster mother had enjoyed that a little too much. On the other hand, it was nice to be fussed over occasionally.
Once in his room, he quickly swapped the dirty clothes for fresh ones, dumping the dirty clothes in the wash basket. After a quick wash, he snuck a sly glance down the stairs. Anthony was still puttering around in the garden, Susan was in the kitchen and Trey was nowhere to be seen. He retreated to his bedroom and retrieved the leather bound book from its hiding place. A handful of handwritten notes were stuffed between the pages; translations of a number of important sections and a rudimentary index. “Let’s see,” Ryan said to himself as he flicked through his notes, “big, mean, very ugly, lives near an old bridge and likes to eat children? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you’re a troll.” Finding the reference in his notes that he was looking for, he opened the book to the right page and starting reading the Latin text. There wasn’t much information in the book on trolls, what information it did contain was vague at best. It only took a few minutes to read the section and he was none the wiser. The only thing he learned was that trolls appeared to have a weakness against goats. Exactly what that meant wasn’t clear. Did it mean they were scared of them, allergic to their fur or that they simply couldn’t resist eating them?
Ryan spent most of the day trying to come up with a plan. He couldn’t just forget about what had happened. Wherever that troll had come from, it was here now and as long as it was around, it would continue to be a threat. The next person who encounters it might not be so lucky. He was so preoccupied that he barely acknowledged anyone at dinner that evening, grunting only the most basic of answers to any questions. At some point while pushing peas around on his plate, he made a decision. Trolls were weak against goats. That much was certain as far as the book was concerned. The only to find out what that meant was by experimentation, and Ryan had always been very good at science.
Making sure the spare pillows were convincingly stuffed under the blankets, Ryan couldn’t help but smile at the juvenile nature of the act. He knew that it would only pass a cursory inspection but he was only going planning to be gone for a few hours. Still, he paused as he thought about what he was about to do. The plan was deceptively simple. Wait until nightfall, sneak out of the house and make his way to the farm by the bridge, “borrow” the goat from the field and see what happens when he points it at the troll. Simple, but illegal. If he was caught with the goat, he’d not only be in trouble with the police, but he could imagine what the jokes would be like at school.
In preparation for his nighttime excursion, he had dug out all his all-black clothes had dressed head-to-toe in black “urban ninja” gear. He had even raided Anthony’s shed for a pair of bolt cutters and some rope, putting them in his rucksack along with his skate helmet and pads. After the earlier encounter with the troll, he decided that the little extra protection provided by the pads and helmet was probably worth it.
He picked up the now-fixed skateboard, pulled on his gloves and opened the window. As he climbed onto the desk, he was stopped as Trey rolled over and looked at him. “Where are you going?” He asked sleepily, the moonlight coming in through the window reflecting off his eyes. Ryan turned, still crouching on the desk, and looked across the room at him.
“I’ve er, got some stuff I need to do,” he tried to explain.
“You’re coming back, right?” Trey asked sitting up slightly.
“Of course I am,” he said quietly, “I’m only gonna be a couple of hours.”
The answer seemed to satisfy Trey who lay back down and fell asleep again. Breathing a sigh of relief, Ryan shouldered his rucksack and climbed through the window.
The night air was cold and still. It had just gone midnight as he quickly made his way across the town. There were only a few people out at this time of night, but even so, Ryan kept to the shadows and back streets for as much as possible. The fewer people that saw him, the less chance there would be that he might find himself having to answer awkward questions later.
Eventually he found himself standing on top of the burial mound, the lights of the town behind him and only the darkness of the countryside in front. He looked up at the night sky. Out here, away from the streetlights, he was surprised by just how bright the stars were. “Enough sight-seeing,” he said to himself, “you’ve gotta job to do.”
It didn’t take him long to jog down the dark path, passing the empty bike track, and arriving at the gate to the farm. It was a back entrance, hidden from the main farm buildings by a large shed and locked with a padlock and chain. Ryan carefully approached the gate. He could see the goat lying down and tethered to a post in the farmyard. There were no lights on in the farmhouse but one of the upper windows was open. From its size and position, Ryan guessed that it was a bedroom window. To avoid waking the farmer, who knowing Ryan’s luck would be the type to own a shotgun, he’d have to be quick and quiet. Taking the bolt cutters out his bag, he cut through the chain and slowly opened the gate. Luck was on his side as the hinges were well oiled and the gate didn’t creak as he opened it.
He approached the goat cautiously, not wanting to spook the creature. The goat lifted its head and watched him warily. “Easy there girl,” he said softly, hoping that the goat was a female, “I’m not gonna hurt you, I just want to use you for a science experiment.” He took a carrot from his pocket and offered it to the goat in an attempt to gain its trust. As the goat munched on the carrot, he quickly took the flick knife from another pocket and cut through the rope. The gloat bleated loudly as he started to lead it towards the back gate. “Shush,” Ryan whispered, “here, have another carrot.”
Ryan led the goat through the gate and on down the path. Shortly, the path began to dip down into the valley with the old bridge and the troll. Here, the stillness and silence of the night unnerved Ryan. The scattered boulders were like shattered sentries forlornly guarding some ancient den. Bleating nervously, the goat seemed to agree with him.
Gathering his courage, Ryan strode down into the valley leading the goat by the rope. “Alright stinky,” he yelled loudly, “come on out. I got a present for you.” There was no answer. “What’s the matter? You’re not scared of a kid are ya?”
There was a rumbling to his left like a deep-throated growl. One of the boulders began to shudder and as Ryan watched; shallow bumps and ridges become more defined as they morphed into limbs and a head. Within seconds, what had appeared to be a perfectly normal lump of rock became a nine-foot tall troll. “Scared, of a foolish little boy that did not have the sense to not return?” It roared angrily, emphasising the word little. “I would have thought that after our first meeting boy, you would have run home to mother thankful that all you received was…” It never got a chance to finish its sentence as the goat rushed forward, tearing the rope from Ryan’s hands. The goat reared up on its hind legs, bleating aggressively at the troll. Despite its greater size and its more ferocious appearance, the troll reeled back in terror, its hands in front of it as if warding off some great evil. Stumbling backwards, the troll didn’t notice the boulder as he back into it and fell over. The goat leapt at the flailing troll, landing on its chest. Almost as soon as its hooves had touched the troll’s skin, the troll began to shake and quiver. Screaming, the troll’s flesh began to crack apart and dissolve into gravel. Ryan winced and turned away as the troll writhed and screamed in obvious agony. In just fifteen seconds, it was all over. The goat was left standing, looking slightly confused, in a pile of granite gravel. Scratching his head, he approached the goat and picked up the rope.
“Okay, I guess when it said weakness, it meant as in kryptonite.”
Ryan quickly returned the goat to the farm, leaving the goat tied to the back gate. He patted the goat on the head. “Good job girl, but let’s keep this between the two of us, agreed?” The goat bleated.
He headed back to town, acutely conscious of the fact that morning was rapidly approaching. In a little over 8 hours, he was supposed to be at school. If he didn’t get any sleep, he’d probably end up falling asleep during English again. It was with this in mind that he rushed through the deserted streets. As he jogged down the narrow, hedge-lined alley that ran between the main road and Candlewick Close, he was startled when a gang of masked youths charged into the alley ahead of him. Yelling obscenities, they barged past him, shoving him into the hedge before disappearing around the corner. Just moments later, a police officer ran around the corner into the alley, apparently chasing the youths. He slowed down as he approached Ryan, studying the boy trying to determine if was with the youths he was chasing. Luckily, for Ryan, the officer decided otherwise.
“You alright son?” He said running past.
“I’m alright.” Ryan pulled himself out of the hedge and dusted himself off. “It was Boris,” he said having recognised one of the voices, “he and the others went left.”
“Thanks,” the officer said as he reached the end of the alley and spoke into his radio directing another officer to the scene. “You should get home, it’s a school night.”