Angry clouds rumble. The faint swirls of the remains drift through the knoll. Smoke fingers break and disperse. Front winds clean up the last of it. Embers of trees sizzle as the brush of drizzle arrives. The work of the lightning quelled by its rainy shadow. Still angry clouds rumble. Unseen hands throw rain bitterly to the fields.
Stephen runs from the woods. His young eyes hope to spy a break in the weather. Instead the weather spits harder. He tucks his head within his jacket. It’s turned collar worthless. Innocence of young eyes glow with a dull sheen. His eight years are enough to know the way but unable to get by the bridge.
“Davey! Davey!” Stephen raises his face to the rain. A voice ripples in fear and wavers hope. “Davey! I know you are here! Come help me!”
Stephen looks left and right. The darkness of evening has married the storm. Scrapes of light imagine trees bending to point the way home. Past a simple bridge. Stonework arches and cobblestones rich for the beat of the hoof. Passage home, a shilling. A pound of gold couldn’t be harder to find. To an eight year old, at least.
A solitary figure haunts the bridge. Two little eyes glow in the distance. He can sense fear. He can sense silver and gold. He has a taste for lost children. His dark face knows no light. It’s twisted pointed nose of ebony hooks toward an uneven mouth. Sharps of teeth wickedly part. A bright red tongue flicks like a snake. Tasting the air. Salivating.
He knows what comes next. His tortured fingers with spiny barbs rub the sharp chin. He stretches out angled thin arms. Impossibly long arms. They match the tree trunk legs. By standing taller than a mortal, he keeps his post. Watching always watching.
Stephen meets eyes with him. Torrent, the troll holds fast. Stephen drawn like candle to flame takes the first step toward the bridge. A zombie walk where steps make links of a chain. Torrent knows the game. For silver they walk. He can only eat one or two a month. Greed of metal or greed of food, same curses inside.
“Sir?! Torrent? I need to be home. My brother and father…. they follow me. Please.” Stephen stats twenty feet distant. His arms pull forward, palms up. His nervous shake has valid reason.
“I taste you from here. Yes, you have family. I’ll eat them too. No metal, no passage. You come to my bridge! I don’t come to you. Yes?” Torrent picks at his teeth with his fingers. “Got a bit of little girl left from breakfast. You children are stringy here. They should feed you better.”
“Sir, my brother and father are much bigger. I’m not enough for you to eat….” Stephens voice fades.
“Save it child! I have been fooled by goats and people. But today, I see you served with fresh straw from the underside of the bridge. My claws will quickly shred your flesh. You won’t be concerned much longer. Finish that walk…. Stephen. Oh yes, I know who you are.” Torrent smiles a teeth grin. His tongue flashes and disappears.
“How? How is that possible? I’ve only seen you once.” Stephens jaw forgets how to close.
“Davey, he told me. Let him go then, his brother and father will be right along. Your father has two boys or metal. Davey went home first, young Stephen. So you are mine now. Simply put. Your brother does speak for his older brother? Right?” Torrent reaches out his hand. “Come boy. Do as your told!”
Stephen looks behind him. “Davey! Father! It can’t be?!”
The rain continues to pelt him. The trees lose the color in the dark. An eight year old walks to the bridge.
“Stephen, I’ll let you pass for the silver. Or well, dinner. Come here little boy!” Torrent sees the eyes of the child are glazed. The bitterness in his soul relaxes as he sees the prize for his learning of the treachery of man.
Torrent grabs Stephen by the throat.
Under the cover of the rain, a faint voice calls “Stephen!”
Davey looks for his younger brother. His father follows behind him. They pieced together a hobbled cart. The bridge is the only way left. They will find the price paid.