The sunlight was quickly fading overhead as my girlfriend, Tiffany, and I made our way back through the forest that covered more than half of my family’s 300-acre property. My parents and I, along with my two younger brothers, had just moved here a few weeks ago and this was my first true exploration of the new surroundings. Tiffany thought it was exciting to be out in the wilderness as the shadows began to grow, but I couldn’t help but feel anxious about getting back to the house before dark.
Throughout my adolescence I had always struggled with nightmares and ‘things that go bump in the night’. Even though I had just turned 17, I was still experiencing recurring night terrors, the most recent one featuring the forest Tiffany and I were now trudging through. In this dream, there were three beautiful women that lived in the forest by day, but then transformed into horrible trolls after dusk. The three trolls would wait for my brothers and me to foolishly camp out in the forest at night, and would then capture and eat us.
I estimated that Tiffany and I still had another couple of miles to walk on the barely forged trail when suddenly I heard a branch snap behind us. I looked around, but all I saw was a fat, brown squirrel scurrying up an old fir tree with a nut clenched in its jaws. To this point I had been allowing Tiffany to lead as she was the one with the flashlight on her phone, but her pace wasn’t meeting my need for urgency. I began walking faster and tried to pass her when she stopped abruptly.
“I’ve gotta pee,” Tiffany said. She jumped off the trail and started heading into the mass of trees that hugged our path.
“Jesus, Tiffany, I’ve seen you naked.” Thoughts of our sexual escapade earlier that afternoon rushed into my head as I pictured her on top of me. “Don’t wander too far off the trail.”
“A girl needs her privacy,” she laughed. “Turn around!”
“For crying out loud.” I turned toward the opposite direction though I could barely see the blonde hair on the top of her head as it was. I was now feeling extremely nervous as I heard another branch snap in the distance. I’m sure it was just a deer or a raccoon, but I regretted not having brought a flashlight.
“Tiffany, hurry up!” I shouted, all too aware that the sunlight was now completely gone, the summer moon barely yielding enough light that I could just make out the trail I was standing on.
“Tiffany?” I called out. “Tiffany? I realize you probably think it’d be really funny to scare a guy in his own forest, but…”
“Run, Jake!” Tiffany screamed.
“Tiffany!” I cried out. I frantically turned in the direction of her voice, but I couldn’t make out anything in the darkness. I began crashing through the foliage, making my way toward the last spot I had seen her, when suddenly I heard what sounded like a pig snorting.
“Jake, Go!” Tiffany shouted, though this time it was from a much further distance.
I ran toward her as best I could, my body taking abuse from every tree branch and stump along the way. After a few minutes I stopped to catch my breath and listen for any movement that could guide me in Tiffany’s direction. There were no signs of her, but the snorting sounds I heard earlier seemed to be getting louder. I searched the ground nearby and armed myself with a medium sized branch.
“Run, Jake, Run!” The words echoed in the forest, only this time, they weren’t Tiffany’s. Instead it was a horrible, gnarled dialect that appeared to be mocking my girlfriend’s warnings.
“Tiffany!” I called out. Thoughts of my ‘troll nightmare’ flooded my mind and caused me to abandon my common sense. Could there really be trolls living in the forest?
“Run Jake Run.” A voice from the shadows croaked.
“Keep going, Jake,” mocked another, which I recognized as a statement Tiffany had made earlier while we were having sex.
“Don’t stop, Jake” the first voice growled in jest, again referencing Tiffany’s and my lovemaking session.
I realized whatever it was that was making its way toward me had been following Tiffany and I for the majority of our time in the woods. I grew incredibly frustrated with myself as I began backing up toward the trail. I wanted to believe that I was the ‘hero’ type, but in reality, I was a coward. I continued to make my way back to the trail, convincing myself that Tiffany was most likely beyond my ability to rescue, and that the best thing I could do was to go get help and bring back the authorities to search the woods for her.
The pace of the mysterious creatures in the woods picked up as they made their way toward me. I couldn’t take it anymore. As soon as my feet hit the packed dirt of the trail I turned in the direction of the forest’s entrance and bolted. I could only run so fast as the trail was half-covered with debris and overgrown trees, but the sting of branches hitting my face and limbs didn’t deter me. My lungs heaved, grasping for deeper breaths from the night’s cool air to aid in my escape. I was only a few hundred feet away from the entrance when I heard the creatures close in behind me.
“Run Jake Run,” they taunted.
I didn’t dare look back. It would only slow me down, and I had no desire to see what kind of terrible things were chasing me.
“Come here lover boy!”
This time the creature’s voice was only a few inches away from my ear, and I could smell the stench of its rotten breath. My heart sank knowing that my efforts to run away had been futile. I felt a sharp pain on the side of my head and then everything went dark.
I slowly opened my eyes to dim candlelight, my head throbbing from where I had been struck. I was inside of a cage in the middle of a musty smelling room with no windows, though I was fairly certain I could make out a door several feet from where I was…hanging! My eyes moved upward and I could see that my arms were chained above me from the ceiling, which was only a few inches taller than I could stand. I also noticed, to my dismay, that I had been stripped of all my clothing.
I rolled my head to the left and my stomach turned as I witnessed the sight of Tiffany, naked, hanging next to me.
“Tiffany,” I whispered. She just hung there, motionless. A good amount of blood was seeping from her forehead into her long, blonde hair, and I feared that she might already be dead.
“He’s awake, he’s awake!”
My head shot up in the direction of a dark corner of the room from which three hideous looking monsters came. They appeared the same in real life as they had in my dreams. Scraggly black hair covered the tops of their green heads with small horns poking out a few inches above their ears. I guessed their height to be less than five feet, but their bodies looked strong and powerful, like wart-covered tree trunks.
“Hello lover boy,” one said to me as it moved toward the cage.
“What do you want,” I said, surprised that the words came out as calmly as they did. I was absolutely terrified.
“We wants you to serve us,” it replied.
“Yes, yes, serve us…tasties,” another one added with a twisted grin that exposed her rotting teeth.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I shouted at them. Even though I was tied up and naked, the cage in between my captors and I was granting me inexplicable courage to raise my voice to them.
“Ladies,” the tallest of the three said as she moved past the other two and placed her face within a few inches of the cage. “Humans are stupid. You must explain things to them slowly and clearly.”
The creature’s hallow black eyes gazed into mine and I froze in terror. I gathered she was the leader by the way the other two acknowledged her authority and became quiet.
“We’ve been watching you, Jake,” she said in a less-gnarled, eerie tone. “We wants you to be our new servant. The humans who dwell in the house below our forest are always to be our servants.”
Suddenly the circumstances surrounding my parent’s acquisition of our new home made complete and horrible sense. The previous owners of the house had abandoned it, leaving it to the banks to repossess and auction, my parents having successfully submitted the winning bid. I now feared that I knew what happened to the last residents.
“Did you kill them?” I asked.
“Ay,” she affirmed. “Looks like this one isn’t as stupid as most,” she said to the other two.
“Listen here, Romeo.” She reached out with a key and unlocked the cage. I shook with trepidation as she walked up next to me, her eyes remaining fixed upon mine. “You will deliver a human to us every week that the moon is at its fullest.”
“Can we makes requests?” interrupted one of the others. She was the slightest built of the three and appeared to have a third nostril.
“I likes the young ones,” added the other.
“Silence!” the lead beast commanded. She leaned into me and placed her fat, index finger from her right hand upon my waist line. I almost threw up.
“It doesn’t matter how old, or the gender, or any of that. Just know, should you fail us, we will force you to watch as we devour your entire family. Then,” she slid her finger from my waist down my inner thigh, “we’ll eat you bit by bit while your heart still beats.”
She went to exit the cage when I heard myself ask her one more question. I was so overcome with fear that the sound of my own voice at this point startled me.
“What are you?”
“Heh, it wants to know about our curse, it does,” cackled the one with three nostrils.
“Nymphs by day, trolls by night!” the other hollered.
The banter from the two creatures outside the cage subsided as soon as their leader answered.
“Looking for answers are we?” She took one step back toward me and any charm that she had been attempting to use on me vanished. “It doesn’t matter what we are or how we came to be. We own this land and everything that lives on it. Serve us or be served!”
She quickly turned toward her fellow ‘trolls’ and exited the cage. “Let him go!” she barked.
I wanted to be strong as they loosened the rope so that my feet could touch the dirt floor. I even thought about standing up to them, maybe even trying to fight the beasts and save Tiffany. Instead, I just went through the motions of putting my clothes back on and walking through the door from their hut into the forest. I wasn’t sure that Tiffany was even still alive, but it really didn’t matter. I knew what the trolls had planned for her.
As I walked back home under the fully risen moon, the shock wore off, and I was faced with the daunting task of saving my family. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to watch my brothers or parents being eaten by those monsters. Slowly, my mind gave into the darkness of the evil task that had been forced upon me, and I began creating a mental checklist of those whom I could invite for a walk in the forest.
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