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The trolls in the forest. A story about an unhappy lonely child.
The trolls in the forest
When John went for that walk in the woods he was not prepared for what he was going to find there. He had been warned often enough not to venture into the dark forest that skirted the edge of the field at the bottom of the hill. “There be trolls there” old Edgar had told him on many an occasion. Edgar had worked for John’s family for over sixty years, and knew all the old stories. The lone tree in the centre of the field was a fairy tree, and unless you left beer and cake out there every week for the fairies to eat, they would come and steal the little kittens and chickens, that always seemed to be running round the farmyard in those summer days when John was just a little boy. He would dutifully leave the required offering under the glowering branches of the big tree, and it would always be taken by the morning. One night he stayed up to watch for the fairies. But the elusive creatures did not make an appearance. He was treated, instead, to the sight of Edgar singing staggeringly in the garden, and the moonlight did show that there were wet cake crumbs dribbling down the side of his chin. “He must be guarding the house” young John thought. He was an honest, but naïve boy, who had an unfailing faith in the rectitude of his elders.
The lonely child
John was an only child. In those far off days, when almost all houses were filled by throngs of playing children, our little hero played alone. He didn’t even go to the school in the village, because his mother, who had been a teacher before getting married, wanted to teach her only child herself.
“I don’t want him to pick up any coarse habits from those village brats” she said to her husband.
The problem with his mother was that, even though she loved her son, she was too rigid in her thinking, and she lacked the imagination that would have allowed her to do what was really good for him, instead of her very subscribed idea of what was. John’s father was a good farmer, but he had not progressed very far in school, and was consequently in great awe of the accomplishments of his wife. He deferred to her more than he often really should. The result was that, when all the other children were playing in the school playground, John was sitting at the kitchen table being bombarded by facts, by his well-meaning, but really rather, cruel mother.
Sometimes his mother/teacher would give him a break from the drudgery of domestic education by saying “I need to lie down now. Educating a child can give one such a headache”. Then she would retire to lie in a darkened room for a few hours. John would wander round the farmyard, or just sit and look at the farm kittens chasing each other, or the lambs gambolling in the fields.
“I wish I were a lamb or a kitten” he often thought.
Then old Edgar would be sought out. But the old man was a somewhat moody playmate. On a good day they could sit on a hay bale for hours and the little boy would be transported to a different world, full of the exploits of goblins and fairies, with the occasional ghost story thrown in. On a bad day, (often following the evening when the beer and cakes had been left out for the fairies), he would be told to “Shoo off. I can’t be bothered with silly boys now”.
On the whole though, the boy looked forward to spending time with his elderly friend. Once Edgar told him that he had a little brother himself many years ago. Terry was his name. But he had got a sickness and he was now “with God”. John cried a bit after hearing this, but it made him feel closer to the old man. That was nice.
The lonely child loses his friend
One day when John was studying, while his mother/teacher sat at the other end of the table, keeping an eye in case he slacked, he suddenly asked her a question.
“Why do I not see the fairies when I look out at the lone tree at night?”
“What fairies? There are no such things” his mother said testily. She had been planning a maths exam, and did not appreciate an interruption at this point.
“Edgar says there are fairies in the tree, and trolls and goblins in the woods” her irritating offspring persisted.
“Don’t listen to that old fool” she said. “He talks only nonsense”.
That night as he laid in his bed upstairs, John could hear snatches of his mother’s voice as she berated his father.
She was saying something like “talks rubbish to the boy” and “drinks as well”. “Must be got rid of now” was also shouted.
John was worried. But he was also a small boy and he was tired. So he fell asleep. The next time he went to find Edgar, there was no sign of him. John knew what the argument had been about then. He cried. But he didn’t let his mother see him.
The long days of lessons and exams, and sitting at the kitchen table, while the farm animals enjoyed the sunshine, seemed to stretch forever. The dedication of the teacher/mother seemed to get even more rigid. Even the breaks that John used to get, when a blessed headache would cause his taskmistress to lie down, were no longer assured. There would be pre-set work for him to complete, and it always would be checked. He missed Edgar, but there was not much he could do about it.
John thinks he saw the trolls
There was no help to be got from his father either. He was out working on the farm all day. John was in bed when he got home. If he did think that his wife was a bit severe with his son, the almost superstitious reverence that he felt for the mysteries of education would prevent him from speaking up. There were times when John was alone in his room in the summer evenings before it got dark. He would gaze at the lone tree and wish with all his heart that he could see the fairies. He even left some more beer and cake there in hopes to attract them. It wasn’t taken. When he realised that it was really Edgar that had been consuming the goodies he wept silent tears. On other occasions, and sometimes at the same time, his eyes would dwell on the glowering forest that bordered their farm. Sometimes the trees seemed to be reaching their branches towards him. Other times, when the winds blew, the waving boughs seemed to be beckoning to him to enter their inviting mysteriousness. There were times when he thought he could see huge faces looking back at him from behind the gnarled tree trunks. One evening he felt sure that he saw a large grey figure standing in the field in front of the trees. The long grass moved as if there was a smaller creature playing, hidden there. He blinked and there was nothing more to be seen.
“I wonder if they were trolls” he thought. Then, more wistfully, “have they got children to play with”?
The lonely child goes to visit the trolls
One year, when spring came to the farm and the lambs were playing together and a hen was fussily directing her fluffy family outside, in the dark kitchen John sat with his teacher/mother. It was his tenth birthday. On other birthdays there had been presents, usually just books though, and he always got something a bit more exciting from Edgar. One year the old man gave him a wind-up lamb. It jumped in a very lamb-like way when the key was turned. John used to play with it in the bedroom. Such uneducational toys were never allowed downstairs. He had been presented with a book of Algebra that morning. That was his sole present. No trivial toys were to be allowed to distract him from the “delights” of Mathematics. That afternoon John looked up from pretending to study his birthday present. The teacher/mother sat at the other side of the wide kitchen table. She wasn’t looking at her pupil/son. She was gazing vacantly into the air. Suddenly she just sighed deeply. The young boy knew then that he was not the only unhappy one in the house. But he did not slip silently round to the other side of the room, to wrap his young arms around his sorrowing mother’s neck. He was too conscious of his own misery to feel anything really. John prayed silently for a headache to afflict his teacher/mother. She would go for a lie down then and he had a plan.
His heart started to race when she reached into the drawer that was on the side of the table. This was where she kept the prepared lessons. If she was going to give him one now, it was certain that her darkened bedroom beckoned her. She did give him the dreaded, but now welcome, papers. John smiled inwardly as the mother/teacher slipped silently from the room.
Once the sound of teachery snoring could be heard from the bedroom, it was time for the boy to put his plans into action. His father was gone to the sheep market and was not expected back for a few hours yet. He might not even realise that his son was missing for quite a time after that, as John was normally in his room before the end of the farmer’s working day.
This is what our young hero intended to do. This is why he had being praying for the blessed headache. He was going to leave home. He had no intention of coming back. He had never been beaten by either of his parents. There were no bruises hidden beneath his clothes. He had always been well, if a little too sensibly, fed. But he still hated living there, and the misery inflicted on him by his teacher/mother’s dutiful, but soulless, love had put ice into his heart. The beckoning forest would be his new home. He had seen the trolls watching and waiting for him and they did have troll children for him to play with.
The sun was descending behind the trees as John made his way happily through the meadow that preceded the trees. He waved goodbye to the dancing lambs as he passed them. He even did a little dance himself, so happy did he feel. No more endless lessons, no more kitchen table, and no more rotten boring books as Christmas or birthday presents. In the distance he could just make out the large grey figure standing watching him from the front of the forest. The long grass waved in two places. “There are two little children for me to play with” he thought joyously. Then with a glance at him that seemed to say” come with us, the grey figure and the two little shapes in the grass, went back into the forest.
“Wait for me trolls” he was shouting as he sprinted for the forest and for freedom.
The reality of the trolls
Of course there were no trolls in the forest. Trolls are mythical creatures. They have no reality. Only superstitious old men and impressionable kids believe in them.
There was, however, a female grey bear and her two hungry cubs, waiting for John as he ran into the woods. It took around ten minutes to eat him. In this case, he really should have listened to the old man’s advice. The only bit he got wrong was about the trolls. He should have said
“there be bears there”.
When eventually John’s father realised that his son was missing, a search party was put together. The searchers noticed the tracks going across the long grass of the meadow, and into the forest. Just inside the treeline they found the little rucksack that was identified as John’s. There was some blood on the grass, and spattered on some of the tree trunks. But of the boy there was never any more trace found. The mother/teacher sat at the kitchen table for years. Her mind was quite gone. If anyone tried to get her to leave the room, or go to bed, she would just say
“No! I have to keep watching the boy. He must not ever slacken at his lessons”.
Sometimes, when the lambs are playing in the fields and the spring evenings are drawing into night, if you take a walk towards the edge of the forest, you may hear the sound of joyful children’s playing. There is never anything to be seen. But listen carefully. I have and I am certain that I heard the shaking of the grass, like there was something playing there and a ten year old voice was laughingly shouting
“oh how brilliant it is to be able to play here with the trolls. I hate Algebra. This is so much better than what was”.
It may have just been my imagination. Sensible people say that there is no such thing as trolls, or ghosts. But these are the people who say, that it is better for a child to study hard at dull things, than run and play with his/her fellows under the shining sun.