“Jean,” a voice half-whispered, “Jean, wake up!”
My eyes tried their best to focus, fighting the throbbing on the back of my head. I felt really hot on the right side of my body, then realized the huge fire that would warm around 10 people just fine.
“Jean! Oh, thank goodness!”
I turned my head to the voice calling from in front of me, and found my friend, Dev. Hang on… weren’t we at camp before? Of course! It’s our last night here at Camp Wharton and we were on duty of washing the dishes on the river just nearby. The counselors are putting the other kids to bed after dinner, and we were supposed to join them soon after we are done with it. We were both pretty scared about being in the dark without supervision, so we were just talking if we are returning next year, recalling the best bits of the events. I thought it helped a bit, but then I remember a smack on my head, and… now I’m here, tied up in a knot on a slab of stone quite far from Dev, who was also caught motionless in a rope.
“D-dev? You okay?” was the first thing I can muster.
“Y-yeah, I guess,” he answered, “but we need to get out of here quickly, they are coming back!”
“What are you saying? Who’s coming back?” I asked, suddenly alerted.
“Shh,” he tried to keep my voice down, “cave trolls. They were hiding behind the cave behind the waterfall. One hit you with a rock, the other shoved me on a dark, stinky bag I hope wasn’t his stale underwear or something. I passed out because of the stench, but I managed to feign sleeping when they were discussing how to cook us…”
“Cook us!?” I jumped on my seat, but quickly remembered to lower down my voice to tell him, “look, Dev, I got a Swiss knife on my pocket…”
Dev was teary-eyed when he said, “Bless you for being an obstinate friend…”
“Shush,” I cut him, “now, once I’m free from this rope, I’ll slip the knife to you. Try to be as discreet as possible.” I was about to start cutting when we heard two voices arguing nearby. As if on cue, both of us pretended to be unconscious. I cursed under my breath since Plan A won’t work.
“I told you, Kevin, the best way to eat this little humans is to stew them!”
Apparently, they have not decided yet. That’s good enough.
“No, Don, my grandmama said we should deep-fry, and dip them with sauce!”
It was no easy feat hearing how you are going to be served for somebody’s dinner. I retracted my desire to even gulp in despair.
“Yeah right, and what did she die from? Heart attack? What a stupid way for a troll to die from! A greasy heart… urgh,” mocked the one called Don.
“But it was delicious enough to get by when there are no food around us,” replied Kevin. I can sense Dev was trying his best not to vomit at the idea that these trolls eat their own grandmother’s heart.
“Shut up! I wouldn’t want to imagine my heart being eaten by anyone, especially my own relatives!” Don argued.
“They have long been dead, and we’ve been hiding in the caves too long… scavenging for nothing but worms, spiders… or bats if we’re lucky,” said Kevin sadly, and most urgently he added, “that’s why we must make sure we cook these little things right! We might not have them for another century!”
“I am telling you for the last time! My Great Aunt Marge’s stew recipe is our best bet! Besides, we can save it for tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch!” Don insisted.
“All right,” Kevin obliged, “since we cannot just waste the meat… but now we need to pick up the pot, and you hid it somewhere deep within the cave for some bloody reason!”
Don grunted, “only for special occasion like this can you use my pot! It’s been in my family for generations! I won’t let you use it to cook those nasty insect soup of yours! Now, if you’d excuse me, I’m going to fetch it. You stay here and watch for the little humans. They might be awake soon. We need to cook them before dawn, or else…”
“Or else we’ll harden to rocks instead,” continued Kevin, “got it.”
With four huge steps, Don went back to search for the special pot in the cave. A distinct foul smell came from somewhere near the fire, and I immediately worked out that’s Kevin the troll. I was hesitating if we should remain in our cover, but then Dev beat me up to the idea. Now, I guess, we improvise.
“Hullo,” he greeted the troll, “d-down here!”
The troll looked somewhat surprised, “Little humans do talk! I thought they were just like bats without wings.”
I took a peep and saw the troll was edging closer to Dev. I took the chance to cut myself loose. Slowly, I eased the knife to the rope, praying hard that the troll won’t pick up any noise. Dev picked up his voice.
“I didn’t mean to pry, Mr. Troll,” he began, “but I seem to hear you and your friend debating how to best cook humans.”
“And very polite, too,” Kevin bellowed, “that is true, little human. Do you suppose you know better?”
“Oh, well,” Dev sighed as if he was truly disappointed, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Mr. Troll. But you can’t eat humans.”
At this, the troll snorted in disbelief and began to laugh out loud, “What do you mean? Trolls eat humans all the time!”
Dev inquired, “But how do you know that?”
The troll stopped laughing. To my disbelief, he wondered, “Well, at least from what I heard from the other trolls…”
“But have you ever tasted any of us?” Dev boldly asked. I managed to cut myself loose halfway.
“Well, no…,” Kevin hesitated, “but it’s a tradition! And so it must be kept! Trolls eat humans when they can find one.”
“Traditions change, Mr. Troll. Humans no longer hunt for trolls,” Dev continued, “Also, we don’t taste good, if anyone hasn’t told you that.”
“But of course you do!” the troll insisted.
“Again, how do you know?” Dev repeated his question.
The troll cleared his throat and replied, “well, yeah… at least that’s what I heard from my folks… I can’t be sure…”
Dev chuckled more assuredly, “We don’t taste good! Or else, why would we not eat each other? You guys do it all the time! We don’t because we taste bad! Simply repulsive to the tongue.”
The troll fell silent. Then he said, “Well, you’ve got a point…”
At this very moment, I really cannot thank God more for Dev’s sharp wit and gift of gab. But then I manage to release myself from the ropes. I bit back my urge to shout out praises and watchfully crawl to the nearby bushes to get to Dev on the other side.
“… but trolls don’t taste that good either,” Kevin rambled, “we just don’t have anything else to eat, and we can save up the food up to two weeks.”
“Then why don’t you just eat another troll?” Dev asked.
“You mean Don?” Kevin shuddered, “I couldn’t possibly! We only eat dying trolls as a rule. Such a waste to let the flesh rot… Speaking of which, what took him so long? I better…”
As the troll just about to get up and search for his friend, Dev blurted, “He’s probably trying to get the special cookbook too! Nasty little thing got stuck in between shelves sometimes.”
Silence fell. Really, Dev? After that whole us not being cannibals thing, really? I thought as I paused from crawling, looking pointedly at the troll.
“You’re probably right,” Kevin sat back, “tough luck with finding that one.”
As both Dev and I both sighed in relief, also hoping we don’t jinx the luck that has been with us so far, I hurried to his side and cut Dev’s binds from behind the bushes. Dev chatted up to the troll again.
“I must say, your friend Don probably had found the book. He’s probably out looking for hares now since he knew humans are unappetizing.”
Kevin gasped, “Nooo! He would not just leave me here!”
“But you said you were just hungry,” Dev added, “I bet he knew now humans are disgusting and went on the other side to catch as much hares as he can find. There’s a lot in the other side of the cave. We ate them, too. They’re delicious!”
“Really?” the troll said, unsure.
“Yeah, us kids need to have at least one to fill our tiny stomachs, ” Dev egged on, “you, Sir, must need at least five!”
Kevin the troll was considering all of this, then he turned to Dev and smugly said, “So, you’re suggesting me to help him?”
“Well, a good friend will always help, right?” Dev nervously chirped, sensing the troll’s suspicion. I was desperately loosening a few more loops.
“I am helping Don by keeping watch over you so we can eat you before sunlight!” he bellowed, “and also this other little one!”
As he was busy looking for me only to find nothing but ropes, I managed to cut Dev’s and pulled him to the bushes, and ran for our lives. We can hear the troll shriek and stomped its ways towards us, calling out to his friend that their dinner had escaped.
“I told you for the zillionth time, Kevin: do not play with your food!”
“I was just talking to it!”
“Even worse! Dinners shouldn’t be able to talk!”
“I know! That is why I can’t help it…”
We can still hear them arguing as we try our best to find our way back to camp, which we no longer know if that would help with anything. I’m not sure that the counselors are even equipped enough to face trolls, of all other things living in the woods. We might be leading them to a feast instead!
As the trolls were a good distance behind us, I decided to change courses, away from the camp entrance. Dev was too tired to protest, so I led on and told him we won’t be held responsible for giving the trolls a banquet. He agreed as we circled the woods a few rounds more. Our only hope is that dawn would come soon enough.
And so it did. The trolls were already running back to their cave by the river, but it was too late. Their bodies harden to solid rocks right before our eyes; it’s almost excruciating to watch something whom you talked to not a few hours ago, actually turn to stone. When we recalled it would be our bones left beside the river instead, a shiver ran down our spine, and we were then undoubtedly filled with gratitude.
Yet we did have a moment of silence for the trolls. Hopefully their spirits will rest peacefully, but mostly so that we will also be free of guilt for causing them the inconvenience of refusing to be their meal–their last supper, unexpectedly almost.
Dev and I are quite sure we’re not signing up to any camps next year.