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art by Eleanor Bennett

The Troll (A Tale Told Collectively)

Marissa Lingen lives in the Minneapolis suburbs with two large men and one small dog. She makes a mean torta.
Find her other stories for Daily Science Fiction by using the search function on the website.
One year at Midsummer there was--
Oh, I beg your pardon. There is word from my great-aunt Margit that this was not just once, but every year at Midsummer. My apologies.
Every year at Midsummer there was a troll.
Great-Grandma wishes it known that only stupid people like her brother Clarence think there are trolls. And also superstitious people from Skånsen.
(Nobody points out that Cousin Berta's husband Ole is from Skånsen. Nobody has to.)
Go on, says Great-Grandpa. The troll.
So every year at Midsummer, there was a troll, which only stupid people and Skånseners believe in, but nevertheless there it was. It would come up and watch my grandfather cook the crawdads and the aunties lay out the picnic for awhile. And then it would say, "Who is cooking my crawdads?"
Apparently, Aunt Margit says, not only do trolls have bridges of their own, but also they feel they own the crawdads that live under those bridges, and since you can't really keep crawdads from crawling around under the bridge and out from under, it's pretty much impossible to keep track of which ones are the troll's. So the troll claims them all and calls it good. Succulent. Tasty.
But you can't have Midsummer without cooking crawdads.
So the troll would come out and say, "Who is cooking my crawdads?"
And every year Great-Grandpa would offer him some of the crawdads and Aunt Margit would cut him a slice of the torta and we would all sit down to have our dinner feast with the troll. They all say this. My grandfather is not here to say if it is true. But I think it is.
Maybe it was not a troll at all, says Uncle Adalbart too loudly. Maybe it was just one of those ugly Lapplanders, eh? Eh?
Aunt Klara, Uncle Lars's bride who is from the Saamemaa, which is the polite word for Lappland, does not say anything, but she twitches her fingers on that drum of hers, and then Uncle Adalbart cannot sit still. He rushes off to the outhouse.
And Uncle Clarence says don't be a fool, the Lapplan--uh, the Saami came later. And he looks at Aunt Klara's drum, but it is still.
But one year, says Aunt Margit. Because Aunt Margit knows that the stories must be told. One year the troll came, and he asked the question, and--it is at this point that Uncle Adalbart returns from the outhouse, and everyone is talking at once.
And it is at this point that nobody can agree on what exactly my grandfather said to the troll. My grandfather is not around to give his side. I have never seen my grandfather. Uncle Clarence says that he insulted the troll's looks, Uncle Adalbart his ancestors. Aunt Margit says that it was only that he wouldn't share our Midsummer luncheon with the troll.
He told him to go back under his bridge, says Aunt Margit clearly into the space that everybody leaves in the conversation, because when Aunt Margit talks, somehow there is space. He knew there would be trouble, she says, and he said it anyway.
Your brother Sven would never! says Great-Grandma.
Mother, he did, says Aunt Margit.
This is not a very nice story. Sven wouldn't want you to tell this story. Why don't you tell her a nice story? Why don't you tell her about the time Peter fell in the lake? That one is funny.
It is, Aunt Margit agrees. It's one of the best stories we've got. It's a very good story. Nobody gets eaten.
Where is Peter? I ask.
He liked it in the lake, says Great-Grandpa. He could hear himself think.
A silence follows. Everyone can hear Great-Grandma think, and everyone can hear what she's thinking, and we are not sure Great-Grandpa is not going to follow Peter into the lake.
Do you want some coffee, Gramma? says my mother in a rush.
I want Margit to tell a nice story, says Great-Grandma with her chin so far out you could rest her coffee cup on it. If my Sven was here, he would tell a nice story. I want her to tell the young ones how it really was with my Sven who was a good boy and his mother loved him. Even if none of the rest of you did.
Mother, that is not fair, says Aunt Margit.
Great-Grandma looks away. Where are those cookies Matilda makes? she says loudly. She always used to make such nice cookies.
Sven would not share with the troll, says Aunt Margit.
Insulted him, says Uncle Clarence.
Trolls are touchy, says Aunt Klara. You don't want to put them in a mood, especially not on Midsummer when it's taking all they've got to be out in the sunshine and not turned to stone.
The troll reached for your mother with one hand and Peter with the other, says Uncle Lars.
He reached for the children, agrees Uncle Adalbart.
Who's for another piece of torta? says my mother.
Nobody would have let him take the children, says Great-Grandma.
He had the children, says Uncle Clarence.
When you shared your feast, we were friends, roars Uncle Lars in the troll voice I remember him putting on when I was a child. It sent a delicious thrill through me then. Now it is not so delicious. Uncle Lars roars on: now that you have refused to share your hearth with me, we are no longer friends, and I will take my meal... where I may.
He meant with our Nissa and Peter, says Aunt Margit, daring Great-Grandma to contradict her.
No one knows what trolls mean, says Great-Grandma, who has entirely forgotten that trolls do not exist. And no one could expect that anyone would mean a thing like that. It's not thinkable. No one would think it.
I was thinking it, says Uncle Lars. Great-Grandpa nods in his slow, slow way.
The Saami and the troll were in league, says Uncle Adalbart. They planned it.
The Saami saved our Nissa, says Aunt Margit, looking hard from Uncle Adalbart to my mother.
I don't remember any Saami, says Great-Grandma. I think you're telling this story wrong.
There's still some of that nice thin-sliced rye bread, Gramma, says my mother. Plenty of butter left.
The Saami, says Aunt Klara suddenly, was my friend. I know this story.
You weren't there, says everybody all at once.
But I know this story. The other Saami told me, the one you met. She pauses and looks around, looks in everybody's eye before she tells them: we talk. Your Sven, he was caught inhospitable with a troll taking his children, and he didn't know what to do.
No one would have known what to do, says Great-Grandpa softly.
I knew what to do, says Aunt Margit, and no one contradicts her.
What did you do? I ask, my heart in my throat.
I called out for help, says Aunt Margit. I showed you how. You remember. And help came when your grandfather would have let the trolls--
I am a very fragile old woman! shouts Great-Grandma. I will not hear this. My health is not up to it, and anyway it's all lies.
It's a good thing there was a Saami wizard near, says Aunt Margit.
Grandma, do you need some air? says my mother. Who does not want to hear this either. Who does not want to say her part at all. Who looks at Aunt Margit pleadingly.
But who will not say Aunt Margit is lying.
Where is my grandfather? I do not say. What happened to my grandfather? What did the Saami wizard get the troll to take instead of my mother and Peter? And where is the troll now?
I do not say these things. Because Aunt Margit's blue eyes are fixed on me very firmly, and I hear Aunt Klara's drum along with the rushing of the stream under the bridge, the lapping of the waters along the shore. She only taps it very lightly. But I hear.
I won't hear another word, Great-Grandma repeats.
Very well.
One year at Midsummer we had a picnic, and it was very nice, and nobody traded anybody or got eaten, but we have never been able to make Aunt Matilda's cookie recipe that Great-Grandma taught her come out like that since, what a shame. The end.
How I love to gather together at holidays and hear the old family stories.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, May 14th, 2013


I find myself fascinated by which stories get told in people's families and which parts get left out, so I thought I'd do a story around it: what we feel we must tell, what we feel we can't tell. Trolls make all that more fraught. Most families have at least one troll.

- Marissa Lingen

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