Ever since I was a child, I've been told stories about evil Trolls lurking in the mountains and forests come nightfall. The scariest of all is that these stories are true and reflect our history.
The Trolls have always brought much destruction to the outlying villages. It is why most choose to live in the inner cities—for safety.
These things are large in height, with sinewy muscles and jutting tusks like teeth. Their entire demeanor is terrifying. They have been known to eat us, the humans, if we are out and about during the twenty-four hours that our night lasts here. So, most of us hide away and seek shelter.
The fatter we are, the higher are our chances of getting eaten. That is what everyone in the village says. So, I better watch out and not linger outside so close to sundown. Because it is said that the Trolls have a preference for young girls like me, tender and not lacking any meat on the bones.
The villagers, for once, are right in that aspect—I can't deny it any longer. I used to lie to myself about my size and assure my mind that I was 'normal' or just 'big-boned,' all the while trying to hide my belly by wearing tight corsets—that was until all the corsets broke a few years back.
But the truth is, since I was a little girl, I've been bigger in size than the other children due to my love for food. Even now, I'm larger than most of the adults. It is sad and probably the only reason why I haven't found a husband yet, as most men are deterred from loving me by my size and stay away.
That or perhaps I'm just ugly. Maybe both.
I stare at my reflection in the pond water and pull at my braids, annoyed with my appearance—more so today—wanting to look like a ‘normal’ woman like Everly or Anna. Or at least what my village decides is ‘normal.’ This need increases with each passing day.
I want to be desired and held by a man at least once. It has always been a secret wish of mine. All my friends are now wives, and I want to be like them. But none of the village men would accept me even if I were the last woman alive. They’re somehow frightened of me as if I’m some sort of Night Dweller.
I sigh heavily and turn around when I hear the village bells ring in the distance. It means night is approaching fast, and it is time to get inside. I can see the shadows getting longer as darkness begins to encroach on the space around me. I can see the forest getting shrouded in darkness, and the daylight is almost gone, barring a few streaks. The late afternoon skies are getting dimmer by the second, giving way to the inky black night.
I think I can almost hear a screech echoing from the already darkened forests. I think I best hurry since the village is still far away, and I have quite a distance to travel. I start to move faster, pulling the cart behind me, something that would have normally been Grandfather’s job, but these days he is getting too ill and weak to even move out of bed. Now this job falls to me.
I hate to think such morbid thoughts, but once he is gone, I will have no one to talk to. It will really be lonely without him. Every morning and night, we share a meal together and talk about our day. But soon all those will be memories.
He is all I have.
The only one I have known since childhood. I didn't know my mother or father. The information I have about them is whatever little Grandfather has told me. He said they were good people and very good parents. And they were killed and eaten by Trolls, and their belongings were found scattered throughout the Northeast Gorge but not their bodies. My parents’ graves are empty.
It makes me sad and angry at these things that have taken so much from me, but thankfully enough, I have never encountered them so far. If it weren’t for them, I would still have my parents around me, and I wouldn't have been so lonely. I would have grown up normally, without being picked on by the other village children for being an orphan.
Which Troll tribe was responsible for my parents’ deaths is unknown. There are many of them scattered throughout the forest and the twin mountains together called the Troll Valley. If only I knew which tribe did it, I would gladly attempt to hunt every single one of them down—that is if I could.
It is suspected it was either the Snowfire tribe, which can be found on the peaks of Lasher Mountain, or the Vonkill tribe found at the base of that mountain.
Regardless, neither tribe is to be messed with. They are highly territorial, meaning they are very dangerous and do not take kindly to trespassers. Rumors from those brave enough to go out at night, despite multiple warnings in every village, say the Trolls fight and even kill each other.
These valiant yet dumb people are always at risk of ending up like my parents. Maybe my parents too were not so intelligent to roam in the forest at night, and that is why they were killed in the first place. I won't ever know. Grandfather wants to keep the reason a secret. He will probably take it to his grave.
It is a bittersweet reminder of what Trolls can do, and it makes me move faster along the beaten-down path. Sweat glistens on my forehead and makes the strands of hair that have long since escaped from my braids stick to my skin. Wiping this sweat, I realize I am filthy and probably stink too.
I can’t wait to go home and bathe, eat a warm meal, and get some rest. It sounds like a dream, especially to someone who has been out all day in this horrible summer heat. I am not exactly used to this much of exercise either, so I feel more tired than usual. I hope I am not coming down with something, or it could just be the weight I have put on.
I hear a squeak from somewhere behind me, but I ignore it. I just want to go home, so I hurry forward. I hear it again, this time louder. It is a recurring screech coming from the right wheel at the back, and it grows worse with every bump on the road as my cart traverses the uneven surface. I try my best to ignore it as I pull faster, hoping it will go away or just wait until I reach home, but one large bump in the road causes the wheel to loosen just enough for it to fall off.
The stuff in my cart lurches to one side, and the corner from where the wheel is missing collides harshly with the ground. A loud crack then resonates in the still air. The runaway wheel spins and tumbles down a steep hill. It gains momentum, its speed increasing as it rolls out of control. I let go of my cart, my eyes widening as the wheel finally disappears from my view.
I look back at my cart and see the crack in the old wooden body. It is just a small one and will not affect the goods it carries. However, looking at the axel, I realize I will be unable to pull the cart back to the village without it.
I pinch my lips tightly as I think of the solutions to the problem, but none of them are good.
I can’t abandon all my grandfather’s things here. I need that wheel in order to continue further… but it will be dark soon. I don’t want to encounter any Trolls and invite the possibility of getting killed or, much worse, eaten.
"Shit," I curse out loud as I lean my hand on the rough bark of the tree and peer down to where the wheel has disappeared.
If I'm fast enough at retrieving the wheel and getting it back on the cart, I can save both myself and all of Grandfather's stuff.
I can do this. I think of words of encouragement in my mind as I lift my skirt and slip and carefully make my way down the hill. Each tree I find, I hold on to it for dear life, fearing I would fall and, much like the wheel, end up somewhere at the bottom hurt.
I don't have anyone to save me either if things get bad. Grandfather will notice me gone if I don’t return, but he is too frail and will not be able to rouse a search party until daybreak. It is almost dark, and I'm all by myself. A bad combination.
I really should lose some weight and find a husband, so I will always have a backup if things go badly, but these are just wishes. Not real. Besides, I'm not changing anytime soon, so that means I have to find a man who loves me for who I am. Not possible from my village.
The bark of the frail tree crumbles away under my grip, making me almost fall forward. I suck in my breath and grasp the tree in one quick, single motion before I can fall.
When my balance is stabilized, I sigh deeply.
I really should be holding on to the entire tree instead of its bark.
I continue forward, reaching more than halfway until eventually, I find it hard to stand on the slope, the incline too sharp. I decide it will be easier to slide down carefully. I sit carefully down and dig my nails into the soft earth. Very slowly, I nudge closer to the bottom of the hill with each slide.
I use the roots sticking out to keep myself from skidding forward quickly. The dirt I sink my fingers in will not catch me. It gives away easily. I must be careful. One bad move and I will twist my ankle or worse. I continue to search for the wheel, praying it has been snagged by the bushes or roots or anything at all.
Though I suppose it must have rolled all the way to the bottom. I do not see it, but it is dark here. It must be hiding in the bushes at the bottom.
Almost there… Come on.
A couple more scoots down and I finally reach the bottom of the hill. The first thing I do is search the bushes frantically. I finally find it and grab one cog of the wheel, pulling it out of the bushes. I am relieved to finally have it back in my grasp.
Judging from the way the wheel isn’t broken, I guess it was just loose, which is an extremely good thing. I would have had no choice but to leave most of Grandfather’s stuff behind. I might have been able to save a couple of things by making a sling out of my skirt and carrying them in it, but it still would have been a major loss. If I had to tell my Grandfather I had abandoned most of the things from the shop midway on the road just because of a broken wheel that I couldn’t figure out how to repair, he would have definitely been upset with me, if not angry.
Good, now the trouble is over. I just need to find my way back up.That, I believe, will be more difficult than getting down, especially with this wheel in tow.
Holding firm to the tree roots, I begin to pull myself up one foothold at a time. My eyes stay focused on the next footing with each climb up. Nothing else matters right now more than getting myself to my cart and fixing this wheel.
But that is easier said than done. I pant heavily, and my throat feels parched. Wetting my lips, I motivate myself to think that with each steep step up the hill, I am closer to going home. That is my only mantra.
By the time I can see the top of the hill, I am drenched in sweat, and my clothes are dirty, as if I have spent the day rolling in mud. It is much darker too, the sun almost gone from my view. It seems I have spent more time than I realize in retrieving the wheel. I still have to fix it too before I can drag my cart home. I grasp at the long grass and start to lift myself up to stable ground. It is just the last couple of meters. But suddenly, the root on which I had placed my entire weight breaks, and I begin to fall backward.
Even when I slide down, I still hold on tightly to the wheel and try my best to grab onto anything that might stop the fall. My palm is scratched, and blood oozes from the cuts. But I don’t give up. I latch onto a root, but the force of my fall and the gravity rips it from the earth. It becomes a rope that swings me to the left. I can’t hold on any longer, and it slips from my fingers. There is nothing I can do. The other trees and their branches are too far away. And I keep sliding down, tossed like a leaf in the wind.
My heart clenches, expecting pain from the brutal fall. I roll back, and much like the wheel when it got detached from the cart, I too tumble down the hill, increasingly gaining speed, until I don’t even know where I am and how far I am away from my cart.
The world around me is spinning, and every stone or bump on the hill, even the roots, bruises my body until everything hurts, and my tight grip on the wheel loosens, and it too is lost in the darkness.
On my way to the bottom of this valley, a large rock hits my head sharply. And spots begin to dance in front of my eyes along with flashes of light intermittently, blurring the colors, until I finally succumb to complete and utter darkness.
Journee is a young woman from a small village and unexpectedly and most unfortunately she finds herself outside past curfew. Frightened and scared she knows time is against her. The sun won't be back for another 24 hours and it is already dusk.
Though the dark isn't what scares her, it is what comes with it. Trolls and other beastly creatures called Night Dwellers. They are just beginning to wake up and prowl. And they are hungry, it has been a long while since they had a human female like her, plump and soft.
She attempts to escape their claws and teeth but she ends up prey for a Troll from the Snowfire Tribe and it is his people who murdered her parents.
Will she be eaten, killed, or spared by the mysterious and bad-tempered Troll? And if he spares her what else does he want from her?