Hey! Hey kid! Can you hear me? Stomp one real loud if you can hear me. Yeah? Good. Look, it’s real important for you to hear me but I can’t be too loud. You never know who is listening. You can’t tell who might hear. Like you, for instance! You’re lucky I got your attention just now. The way you came down that road all loud and laughing? If you’da hit my bridge like that, you’d have been heard for miles!
What? I said “my bridge”? Huh. Must have been a slip of the tongue. Maybe you heard wrong or something, eh? It happens. Don’t you worry. I’m not talking real loud, remember? Wicked things live in the dark places around here. Wicked tricky things hide here and you don’t want to be too loud and catch their attention. Trust me on that. Yeah…trust me.
Yeah, you’re there. Good. I need your help. There’s a coin in your pocket, a little silver coin. No, no! Don’t try to tell me there isn’t! I know. I can smell it. It’s kind of a special thing I can do but it’s also part of my problem.
See, I gotta curse on me — a real tough, twisty one. I used to be real bad. Stole a lot with my quick hands. You should see sometime how quick! Always silver, too. Not gold or gems. Nah. Only always delicious, bright, silver, clean silver. sigh One day, I tried to steal the last silver coin from the pocket of an old woman right here on this bridge, almost where you’re standing! Not exactly, though. She was closer to that rock, see the one? That climbs up out of the water almost like it’s reaching for you? Ha ha! It isn’t, though. That would be cheating! Cheating isn’t fun.
Anyhow, this old lady had a sassy black cat on her shoulder and walked real slow but real loud on her gnarled cane. What’s that? I heard you laugh a little. Yeah, you guessed she was a witch, didn’t you? Of course. I’d have guessed that too except for that coin in her pocket. It smelled so wonderful and clean! I just had to have it. So, I didn’t even notice she was a witch until her cat heard me and hissed and caught her attention. I tried to hide but it was no good. There was nowhere then to hide. She had already begun her curse?
What was it? Oh, sweet child, it was horrible! She twisted me all up, made me dark and hard, and forced me into the dark. She trapped me here at this bridge until something happened to me that had never happened before! Do you think you know? Tell me, child who is smart, but don’t say it too loud. Remember the wicked things in the dark. Ready? Okay. Tell me. I’m listening.
Oh! You are close! You probably heard some story about the troll who collects tolls? The one with the goats? Yeah, well, like most stories that go around, only part of it is true. See, I don’t collect tolls. Toll-collectors work for someone else and I only work for me! I’m free, you see…well, except for that curse. But that’s the thing! You can cross my brid–heh. What do you know? There I go again. After a few years and a few years you just kind of think differently, don’t you? Anyhow, anyone can cross here. No problem, eh? I may relieve them of their precious money before they go, but that’s not a toll. That’s robbery!
I did say I was a thief, right? You gotta listen!
Oh, yeah. I also ate the goats.
No, wait! Don’t run away! Come on come on come on whoa whoa. Here’s the time when you can help me, so please stay just a minute longer, won’t you, sweet kid? It’s important. It has to do with my curse and that thing that had never happened to me before? Just…stick with me for just a couple more minutes. Okay? Will you?
Good. Now, here’s the thing.
I want that silver coin. Will you give me your last silver coin? Think carefully. I’m serious! The old witch said the only way to remove this curse is if someone gives me their last silver coin. On their own. I can’t make them. Can’t force them. Can’t scare them or trick them. They have to give it to me straight-up and all I can do is ask.
So…will you? All I need is for you to say yes. Really. I’ll reach up right here by that big rock. See my hand? I know it looks bad, all gnarled and hard and dark and…well…that curse really did a lot to me. But…trust me. Just come over here and put the lovely coin into my hand.
You will! Yes? Great! You did it good, my good child! Come close now. Closer.
Oh, the silver smells wonderful. Can you reach me? Hurry! Hurr–GOT IT! And got you!
Ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, thank you! No, no. Don’t struggle. Don’t fight. It won’t help. No more curse, hey? But I’m still a troll, lovely child. Always have been and always will be. You know the thing about trolls? We are hungry an awful lot.
Oh, stop crying! I didn’t trick you! Oh, no, sweet tasty child, I didn’t. I warned you. You didn’t listen. Remember how I told you about the wicked, dangerous things that live in the dark?
Well, it is very dark under this bridge.
This, the fourth of the five Monsterlogues takes us back to the dark, almost literally! I do feel a little bit bad for the boy in this story, but he was warned, wasn’t he? The thing about an honest monster is it will warn you that it is a monster before it does monstrous things. In that way, monster stories set us up for the rest of our lives. See, monstrous human beings will also very often warn us before they do monstrous things. A serial killer will practice on small animals. A crooked politician will engage in petty corruption before he cashes those big checks from shady energy companies and Chinese tyrants.
A monster story is a good way to identify the demons who exist in the real world and pin them to the screen like an insect collector pins a strange and poisonous beetle. Look at this, the collector tells us. See it clearly and remember for when you see another one like it.
In a way, I believe what I do with my stories is trap bad things and pin them down in a story so you can see them clearly and safely. I show you a dragon so you will recognize it when you see it in the wild. I show you a wicked thing that lurks in the dark so when you hear that odd snuffle from around that shrouded corner, you aren’t terribly surprised.
On the other hand, I also have fun doing all that in the hopes you’ll have fun too. The world is dour enough. No sense in us carrying that gloom around with us all the time. We are happy warriors, every one. We can punch evil in the snoot and laugh as we do it, right?
Okay. Two quick things. First, don’t forget to thank Rachael for her cool illustration. Second, I’m starting a newsletter next month. You’ll want to get in on this before it gets really big? Why? I don’t know. Seemed like the thing to say. Truly, the only one who really cares if you get in on Thursday! is me. I’d really like to send my first edition out to a bunch of people and I’d like you to be one of that bunch. What do you say?