Bonus 17: The Lonely Troll (novella)

The Lonely Troll
by
Matt Zurbo


Gloomp the Troll was out walking in the misty woods when he found an old Arabian-looking lamp. Gloomp was only young, he still believed in legends.

   “Wow!” he growled.
   Trolls always growled and grumbled, even when they were happy.
   “How exiting!” he moped.
   He rubbed it and a genie popped out.
   “For real!” Gloomp grunted. This was pretty amazing!
   The genie seemed to be half warrior, half owl – super cool. It looked Gloomp up and down.
   “Very big, super ugly…” it commented.
   “Hey!” protested Gloomp.
   “Young, not too bright. I’ve given wishes to worse.”
   “I actually get a wish?” Gloomp grumped.
  “You found the lamp?” the genie asked.
   “Yes.”
   “You freed me?”
   “I guess.”
  “Make a wish.”
   “Far out!” rumbled Gloomp. “Just the one wish? Not three?”
   “One.”
  “Bummer.”
   Gloomp sat down and thought. A minute ago he was content being grumpy.  Now he had to actually decide something. The genie squinted as if peering inside him.
   “Let me guess,” it said. “You’re lonely.”
   Gloomp growled, kicking at the dirt. Of course he was! All trolls were. That’s what made them so grumpy. Everybody knew that!
   “Are you being mean?” he simmered.
   “Hey, hey, hey…” the genie threw defensive hands in the air. “Just saying. I’ve been around a couple of thousand years. I mean, I once gave a dragon wishes. Now that was special! Nobody knows what a dragon’s thinking! But a troll…? They’re predictable!”
   “Okay, so what do I want, then?”
   “Well, you’re sort of like cavemen, so many of you would like to be able to do magic.”
   “Nope,” huffed Gloomp.
   Well, the truth was Gloomp hadn’t thought of that. Wow, magic!
   “Many trolls wish they were giants. But that usually just makes them more lonely.”
   “Nope again,” Gloomp insisted. Gah, he thought. I was going to wish that!
   “I’ve got it,” the genie said. “I bet you wish you were human.”

   “Nope,” Gloomp rumbled.
   He actually did, but he wasn’t going to let a smartybum genie act like it knew him!
   “Are you sure?” the genie insisted. “Trolls don’t play nice with other trolls. Many like the idea of not being one.”
   The genie was starting to annoy Gloomp. Of course he knew that! He’s tried to be nice to other trolls, and they had pounded him without mercy.
   “I don’t want to be a human, I just want to go a while without the desire to eat one,” Gloomp fibbed bitterly.
   “Okay, KAZONK!” called the genie, waving it’s hand.
   Far out, that was quick, thought Gloomp.
   He and the genie were having a chat, Gloomp was just thinking aloud. He didn’t think the genie would actually do it!

***

Gloomp walked through a fady gate to the human world. Normally trolls never did that. They waited for humans to come to their place. Lost humans, dreaming humans, wild at heart humans. Explorers and stray children. It was safer that way. Humans in their world had guns and policemen and stuff and could be really, really nasty!
   But, yeah, if they made it through a fady gate, then trolls would eat them.
   It felt strange to Gloomp, passing house after house, feeling no desire to hide under bridges, or chew on anybody.
   “What a lame wish!” he scolded himself. “I should have asked for wings or something.”
   But there was no time to waste. Gloomp had to get to the playground before any adults saw him.

***

“You would have to be the biggest, ugliest kid I’ve ever seen!” Sally Pepper gasped in wonder, as she looked up at Gloomp, standing in the middle of her favourite playground.
   “Oh, oh, I said that out loud, didn’t I? I’m so sorry!” she added. “It’s just that, oh, I mean, I wasn’t ready for…”
   “What makes you think I’m not a troll?” Gloomp grumbled.
   “Well, if you were, you would have tried to eat me, silly,” Sally said.
   Gloomp liked her, straight away. He liked most humans, he normally just found them so tasty. You chomp on an arm, nibble up a leg… Next thing you knew, all gone! It would always ruin everything.
   “I’m Sally,” said Sally.
   “I’m Gloomp,” said Gloomp.
   “That’s a strange nickname,” Sally told him.
   Far out, thought Gloomp. She thinks I’m human because I don’t want to eat her, that’s like the wish was a two-for-one deal, or something!
   Then, two boys arrived at the playground.

   “Who’s this freak?” shouted Tommy Tuckers.
   “Looks like a troll!” laughed Billy Bunter.
   “GWRAWWW!” roared Gloomp, mouth six feet wide, jagged teeth everywhere.
   Like most trolls, he had a very, very short temper.
   The boys ran. Little Sally Pepper was terrified, but too close to Gloomp to even try escaping. She stood in his shadow, shaking.
   “T-t-t-t trolls are real?” she stuttered.
   “Yes,” rumbled Gloomp.
   “Wh-wh-what are you doing here?” she asked.
   Then, gathering her whits, the little girl scampered away, leaving Gloomp all alone in the middle of the playground.
   “I want to have fun,” he grumbled to no one.

***

Sally came back to the playground the next day, to find Gloomp still standing there.
   “Don’t you have a home to go to?” she asked.
   “I guess not,” Gloomp mumbled. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll eat you?”
   “Nah. You had your chance yesterday,” Sally said. “I’ve never met a troll before. What are you doing here?”
   “I just want to play, but it’s not fun alone,” Gloomp grumbled. “Do you even realise how lucky you are to have playgrounds?”
   “I never thought of it before,” Sally said. “I guess so.”
   She sounded sad to Gloomp.
   “Then what’s up?” the troll grouched.
   “I get bullied a lot. The playground’s my happy place,” she told him, sitting on the swing, rocking herself back and forward.
   Here’s my chance, thought Gloomp, and gave her the smallest push.
   Suddenly, Sally Pepper was spinning in full circles over the bars of the swing, again and again, until she was dizzy.
   “Sorry, sorry…!” Gloomp rumbled, as she finally stopped.
   Sally gave a wobbly smile, then went back to swinging herself.
   “Have you ever met a unicorn?” she asked.
   “Sure, I’ve even eaten a few,” Gloomp growled.
   Sally gasped.
   “Nah, only joking,” Gloomp sneered.
   Of course he hadn’t. They were far too quick for him!
   “I have, however, gone to sleep to the sound of mermaids singing,” he added, unhappily. “And watched fighting dragons fill the sunset with fire.”
   “Wow…” Sally sighed, dreamily. “Hey, don’t mermaids and dragons eat people, too?”
   “And they eat trolls,” Gloomp chortled bitterly. “But they’re so pretty. Life can be confusing.”
   “That’s why I like the swing,” Sally said. “It keeps things simple.”
   “I’ve always been so jealous,” Gloomp farted.
   He nervously stepped up to the swing next to Sally and sat… and broke the whole frame!
   “Sorry, sorry…!” he growled. “Sorry.”
   Sally couldn’t believe it! She loved that swing! She needed it!
   “Don’t worry, let’s try the slide,” she said, trying to stay positive.
   But with just one foot, Gloomp bent it!
   “Gah!” he raged.
   “Wah!” she agreed with him.
   They tried the roundabout. Gloomp crushed it. They seesaw – he snapped it. The climbing rope fell apart under his weight like wet spaghetti.
   Sally ran away, crying.
   As she did, she passed Tommy Tuckers, Billy Bunting, and four of five of the other kids who always teased her. They had seen the lot, but were too scared to get any closer.

***

“Well, that went well,” said the genie.
   “Leave me alone,” Gloomp fumed.
   “Is that a wish?” the genie laughed.
   Gloomp ground his teeth at him.
   It was dark now, some time near midnight. Gloomp hadn’t budged from the middle of the playground. Or, what was left of it.
   “I should have wished to win a fight with a dragon,” he mumbled.
   “Feh, that just would have made the other trolls angry,” said the genie.
Gloomp knew the genie was right. Anything made his fellow trolls angry. If he lost, he was weak, if he won they were jealous. There was just no pleasing them.
   “So how long are you going to stay here sulking?” the genie asked.
   “Until my wish runs out,” Gloomp rumbled.
   “Then you have three more days,” the genie told him.

***

Sally Pepper arrived at the playground extra early the next day feeling horribly guilty. It wasn’t the troll’s fault. It wanted to fit in, and hadn’t even eaten her! That meant anything was possible!
   If trolls were real, and could resist the urge to eat humans, then maybe there were likeable dragons, too, and one could give her a ride to the moon! Maybe her and mermaids could swim the ocean’s depths together! Maybe fairies would teach her how to giggle.
   The thought of it dazzled her. Sally was shy normally, that was why she got picked on. Yet she had judged another.
   Gloomp had wanted a friend and she had run from him.
   Sure enough, when Sally got to the playground, she found the troll sitting there, feeling sorry for himself.
   “Sorry,” they said to each other.
   Gloomp sneered. He was still a troll, he didn’t want pity. Sally Pepper was still frightened of him, and his temper.
   “Tell me about being a troll,” she said, sitting in front of him.
   “GRARGH!” Gloomp let out a roar. “I’m sick of trolls. Tell me about magic,” he insisted.
   How confusing! Sally looked hard at the troll. They mustn’t be too bright, she concluded.
   “Little girls don’t know about magic.”
   “Of course you do,” Goomp hissed. “Kindness, the way you can see wonder, and little things, that sort of stuff. To trolls, that’s magic.”
   “Oh,” said Sally.
   Now this was new! Gloomp probably saw orange and blue and purple fairies rising from misty mountain lakes every night, yet he wanted her to tell him about wonder?
   “Well,” she said, feeling silly, “Once I lay down in the park for no reason, just because it was sunny, and a ladybug landed sorta, right there, on a blade of grass in front of me. Form up close, with everything quiet and still, it seemed so big, so beautiful. A tiny little ladybug! It felt like I knew it, like it was this most wonderful giant. I just watched it for what seemed like forever.”
   “See!?” complained Gloomp. “Magic!”
   A tear rolled down the rough skin of his big cheekbones.
   “You can see those things, too,” Sally insisted, without believing it.
   She knew trolls were trolls. They both did.
   “I just wanted to share something,” Gloomp grumbled.
   Then, there was a shout from the edge of the park.
   “Hey! Hey! Who broke up our playground!” Tommy Tuckers boomed.
   “Did you do this, you big lump!?” raged Billy Bunter.
   “What a farthead!” said Jenny Jitter.
   “Best playground in the neighbourhood!” protested Julie Scree. “Adults never come here!”
   “Dumbskull!” Billy Bunter insisted.
   Five or six kids had gathered. They were furious. Gloomp couldn’t believe he didn’t just eat them!
   “LEAVE ME ALONE!” he thundered, with enough hurt and rage and bad breath and spittle, that they all fled. Even Sally.

***

“This just keeps getting better,” the genie said sarcastically, as it rode in on a pixie. The little creature was carrying the lamp and looked quite confused about things.
   “Go away,” Gloomp moped.
   “No can do,” the genie smiled. “I take pride in following the wishes I grant,” it insisted. “You’re sort of like my responsibility.”
   “Bummer,” Gloomp growled, not in the mood for anyone.
   “Besides, I had been trapped for a few centuries, you did me a real favour.”
   There was an awkward silence between the two, until, finally, Gloomp asked, with a leer; “has anyone ever wished there was two of you?”
   “Ha! I get it. That would mean you get double the wishes. Very clever,” the genie said. “Is that a wish?”
   “Nah, just talking,” griped Gloomp. He really wanted to ask something important, but had no idea how to go about it. Or even what he wanted, exactly. “So what’s the weirdest wish you’ve ever granted?” Gloomp bellyached.
   “Is that a wish?” the genie asked.
   “Huh?”
   “To know the weirdest wish I’ve ever given?”
   “No, it’s a question.”
   “Well, I dunno,” the genie pondered. “A bunyip once wished to be able to do super farts, as a weapon. Said it was sick of violence. That was unusual.”
   “Hmph,” Gloomp grumbled.
   He has only met a bunyip once. They had a mighty battle. In the end they both ate some tucker by the billabong. And a few random bushmen.
   “Why do you ask?” said the genie.
   “I’m a troll. I know I’m simple. But I still want something more,” Gloomp pleaded. “Is that too much to ask? To have fun with kids on a playground.”
   “Why not be a shark and want to skydive?” the genie said.
   “That’s ridiculous!” Gloomp protested.
   “Exactly,” the genie agreed. “A troll is a troll, surely?”
   “No,” fumed Gloomp. “What I am is stubborn.”
   “All trolls are stubborn.”
   “WELL, I’M STUBBORN ABOUT THIS!” Gloomp raged.
   Then he paused. An idea came into his head. Then another. Two in one year, that was unheard of! But two in one moment, wow, almost impossible!
   The first idea was how he could have fun with Sally, even without a playground. It would be dangerous. He might die! But Gloomp, as said, was determined!
   The second idea was all about how he had the first idea.
   “Hey, why do you keep asking me if my questions are wishes?” Gloomp rumbled.
   “Excuse me?” the genie smirked.
   “Well, I only had one wish, and used it. So why do you keep asking me if my questions are more wishes?”
   “Unless…” goaded the genie.
   “I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT!” thundered Gloomp, thrashing his arms, stomping in big troll circles. “I DO HAVE THREE WISHES!”
   “Had three,” said the genie.
   Thinking hurt for a troll. Gloomp stopped, and gave it everything.
   Okay, okay… he troll pondered. Those two ideas in the one year, they must have been the genie’s fault. I mean, they were my ideas, what I want, but I know I’m too dumb to think them.
   “And…?” smirked the genie.

   And, thought Gloomp. And, and and…
   “That mean’s…”

   That means the genie knows what I really want.
   “But…?” smiled the genie.
   It was having a great time! Trolls were so stupid!
   But how did it know what I really want? Gloomp thought. Unless…
   “Yes…?”

   Gloomp pointed a rage-filled finger at the genie.
   “YOU KNOW WHAT I’M THINKING!” he shouted, furiously. “Why didn’t you just tell me I had three wishes?”
   “I take the wishes I give very seriously,” the genie said. “If you had known you probably would have just wasted them on wishing for wings or something.”

***

The genie was very confusing. By dawn Gloomp had forgotten most of what it had told him. Did he have three wishes? How many were left? Had he wished them all? Or was there only one? What was it trying to prove? Genies could be real tricky!
   All he remembered was he had an idea. Him! Gloomp! A good one and everything! How he could have fun with Sally.
   Gloomp tippy-toed through the backstreets of her town without being seen, which, for a troll, was near impossible. Without humans to eat he was hungry, so snacked on a cat or two, just like they snacked on birds and lizards.
   They weren’t nearly enough though, so he also ate two lemon trees.
   I hope no other trolls are watching, Gloomp thought. They’ll all accuse me forever of being a vegetarian!
   A garbage truck passed. Gloomp froze, trying very had to look like a big bin, or a car or statue or something.

   The truck stopped to compact its load. One of the men stepped off the back tray and walked right up to Gloomp, smelling terrible!
   Gloomp tried to be even stiller.
   “What are you doing, mate?”
   “Nothing,” Gloomp moaned. “I’m a tree.”
   These were dangerous times. No troll had been found in the human world for centuries. And for good reason. Humans were experts at killing them! Gloomp shook nervously while the man looked him over.
   “I think he’s a loony,” the garbage man huffed to his workmates.
   “Am not,” Gloomp grumbled. “I’m a tree.”
   “Fair enough, then,” the garbage man shrugged his shoulders and walked back wards the truck. “Thinks his a tree!” he called to his friends, waiting on the back of the truck for him.
   Gloomp was insulted. How dare the man not be scared! How dare he not try to hunt and kill Gloomp! The troll in him took over. He couldn’t eat the man, but he could scare him plenty.
   “Actually, I’m a-“ he started.
   The garbage man span back, straining on tippy-toes to get right in Gloomp’s big gruesome face, and speak through angry, clenched, surprisingly pointy teeth, so no-one else could hear him.
   “It’s obvious you’re a troll,” he spat. “I’m guessing your only about ten in troll years. Just a kid! What the heck are you doing here!? The humans will kill you!”
   Gloomp was confused.
   “Do I know you?” he grumbled.
   “I’m a werewolf, dude!” the garbage man hissed. “I’ve got no idea if we’ve met before. All trolls look alike to me!”
   “That’s a bit rude,” Gloomp griped.
   “Sorry, kid, but if you get caught, it’s mobs and burning torches for both of us!”
   “How do you look so human?” Gloomp festered.
   “I shave 6 times a day! It’s a read drag!” the werewolf whispered.
   “What are you doing on this side of the fady gate anyways?” Gloomp growled.
   The werewolf stayed in close, so its co-workers couldn’t hear it, which made Gloomp remember how much werewolf breath stank! No wonder this one was pretending to be a garbage man! Only the smell of mouldy orange peels and soiled nappies could hide it!
   “What do you eat here?” Gloomp asked, bitterly.
   “Stray cats mostly,” the werewolf rumbled.
   “Me too!” grumpfed Gloomp. “I’m looking for a small girl. Don’t worry, I won’t eat her. I’m using a genie wish! I just want to make up for wrecking her playground.”
   “I… what?” the werewolf fizzled.
   A troll that wasn’t going to eat a kid? A troll with a genie wish? Playgrounds? Someone else eating his food!?
   “Are you bonkers?” the werewolf spat.

   Then, it remembered it was no different.
   “Sorry,” it hissed. “I’m here because I just got sick of hunting and being hunted. All the killing, y’know? Slave to a full moon and all that. I wanted a break for a while. A stupid job, union benefits, weekend rates. Whatever.”
   Gloomp was impressed. The werewolf wasn’t even backed by a genie. He wondered how many other amazing creatures were out here?
   “Come on, Harry!” one of the other workers called, as the truck started to move forward.
   “Yeah, what are you talking to a super ugly tree for anyway?” the other laughed.
   “Bugger!” the werewolf mumbled. “Fully grown trolls are, what, ten feet tall? You’re a kid. Most people won’t think you’re a troll if you just don’t eat anyone! So, yeah, I know you aren’t too bright, but just act normal,” it called, running back to work.
   “Wait!” Gloomp raged. He wanted to know if the werewolf knew where Sally lived!
   But it was too late. He watched the truck go around the corner, only now realising it would be hard to find the little girl’s house when he had no idea what it looked like.
   “GAH!” he exploded. Curse this wish thing! Curse his troll brain! Living under a bridge and fighting white knights was so much easier!
   “What’s wrong?” a voice came from behind him.

Gloomp turned, his jaw dropped. Which was no small thing. Troll jaws were enormous!
   “Sally…?” he sputtered, grumpily.
   “Yes, I thought I’d go down to the playground early, to try and find you before anyone else does,” she told him.

***

Walking with Sally Pepper on his shoulders seemed wonderful to Gloomp, pretty much what he imagined friendship felt like. They strolled along the creek while she told him all about the bullies, which made him angry.
But then she told him about jumping into plies of dead leaves and playing in puddles and racing matchbox boats along gutters and when the sprinklers caught the sunlight making little rainbows and blowing soap bubbles and rolling down hills and other amazing feats of magic.

   “Don’t be silly, that’s just a part of being a kid,” she told him.
   “Magic!” he insisted, unhappily.
   But that was his way, being miserable. His insides almost felt warm. As far as trolls went, that was joyous! And things were about to get better.
   They finally strolled into the broken playground.
   “The Shire is hopeless here. It will take years to fix it,” Sally sighed.
   Gloomp didn’t have years. He only had a few hours, then he’d feel the need to eat people again. The thought of that even scared the butterflies in his stomach!

***

Tommy Tuckers and all the other kids hid behind trees, waiting, as Sally Pepper and Gloomp stood in the middle of the playground.
   “What!?” she shouted at them.
   Billy Bunter nervously poked the top of his head out from behind a stump.
   “We’re waiting to see him eat somebody,” he said, nervously.
   Julie Scree raised her head enough to see from behind a letterbox.
   “Or fight a dragon, or something,” she whispered.
   “Or for the police to come,” Tommy Tuckers admitted.
   ”Ignore them,” Sally insisted, hopefully. “I don’t need a playground,” she lied badly.
   Gloomp, though, was tried of pretending to be human. Sick of not wanting to be a troll. He WAS a troll! A troll! And he had decided it was time to enjoy that!
   “Every little girl should have a playground,” he grouched, then held his long, strong arms to one side, letting them dangle as he locked his fingers together, making them into a bucket.
   “Hop in,” Gloomp grumbled.
   “Huh?” said Sally.
   “It’s a swing, hop in,” he growled.
   Sally sat in the cusp of Gloomp’s two hands, then he swung his arms back, then forward, back, then forward.
   “This is nice,” Sally smiled, the wind blowing in her hair.
   He swung them higher and higher, until she was almost upside down.
   “Weee! Really nice!” she cheered.
   Gloomp felt this pain all over his face, especially around the mouth. Either side of his lips seemed to be bending upwards.
   How unusual, he thought, as Sally jumped off his arm swing, excited.
   Gloomp then placed her on the old brick wall.
   “Here,” he moaned.
   It was high.
   He stood back from it, stiff as a board, raised his arms high, then fell forward, holding the wall’s edge.
   “A slide…?” said Sally, and ran and jumped and rolled down his arms, then back, then legs into the sandpit.
   “Haha! Hilarious!” she cheered. This was most excellent!
   Sally climbed up the wall, then slid down again.
   “Wheeee…!”
   “What the…?” mumbled Tommy.
   “I don’t get it…?” grumbled Julie.
   Next, Gloomp simply threw Sally Pepper high in the air, then caught her.
   “Wow!” she gushed. “I was eye-to-eye with a bird up there!”
   “That actually looks pretty cool,” Billy confessed from his hiding spot.
   Next, Gloomp held both arms out wide.
   “What’s that?” Sally asked, excited.
   “A seesaw,” Gloomp grumbled.
   “But doesn’t that take two?” Sally asked.
   Gloomp just stood there, waiting.
   “Billy? Tommy? Julie?” Sally called. ”Anyone?”
   Sally was normally very nervous, that was why she played on her own. Now, though, she had a troll protecting her!
   “No way!” fretted Billy, then saw Tommy Tuckers walking out there. “What are you doing!?” Billy shouted.
   Tommy said nothing. No way was he going to let a kid he picked on be braver than him! Besides, the troll seesaw looked epic! Everybody was thinking it.
   Sally sat on the back of one hand while Tommy, shaking with fright, climbed onto the back of the other.
   The arm with Tommy on it slowly went down, while the arm with Sally on it went up high. Tommy pushed off the ground with his feet. Tommy went up. Sally went down. See and saw, see and saw. Up and down they went. Sally’s hair was everywhere. She smiled through it at Tommy, who smiled back at her.
   “It’s working!” Julie cheered.
   “Far out!” gasped Billy. “A real, working, troll seesaw!”
   “Me next!”
   “No me next!”
   “No me, me. me!” kids came running.
   That weird sensation on Gloomp’s face just got weirder. Either side of his mouth was now really pointing upwards. His eyes were relaxed for the first time ever, not scowling.
   Was this… happiness?
   “Hey, look!” one of the kids called. “The troll’s smiling!”
   Gloomp felt glad all over. Glad and sad. He knew Sally was already an outsider, and playing with a troll might make it even worse. Especially when he left. For her, this had to be for everyone!
   “Hold one each,” he complained, holding his arms down, then spreading his fingers.
   Sally grabbed a pointer finger on Gloomp’s left hand, Tommy clasped the thumb on his right, a few others joined in, each of them holding a thumb or finger.
   “Stand back, the rest of you,” Gloomp grumbled.
   Then he started spinning. As he did, he raised his hands, and laughed. Just plain laughed as he span and span and span!
   Sally Pepper and the other kids cheered and whooped and grinned as they held on tight, feet dangling as they whirled through the air, aroung and around and around until they were dizzy!
   When Gloomp finally stopped they all let go, wobbling this way and that and laughing and bumping into each other and falling over.
   Gloomp then held his own feet, shaping himself into a circle, and rolled down the hill with the kids in him. Then got five at a time on his back and played bucking bronco.
   Sally half slid off, arms wrapped around Gloomp’s neck to stop from falling.
   “This is the best fun of my life!” she laughed, overflowing with happiness. “I want you to stay here forever!”
   Gloomp pouted.
   First happiness, then, just like that, super, duper sadness! Two new emotions in the one day was a lot for a troll to handle!

***

Eventually, the sun began to wain. One parent after another could be heard calling;
   “Tommy, time for dinner!”
   “Julie, get home!”
   “Bobby, where are you?”
   As each kid left, Gloomp growled;
   “Bye-bye, be nice to Sally, or I’ll eat you.”
   “Gloomp…!” Sally happily rolled her eyes. “How embarrassing…”
   Soon, only her, the troll and Tommy remained. Gloomp could feel his hunger returning.
   When Sally was distracted by her phone, Gloomp bent down low, getting right in Tommy’s face. Up close, the troll’s head was huge, terrifying. His teeth were rotten, his breath terrible!
   “You think you’re tough? It’s your job to rebuild this playground,” Gloomp mumbled, breathing menace all over him.
   “M… My dad and his friends a… a… are builders…” Tommy stuttered, before scampering away.
   Then, there was just Gloomp. And Sally.
   “That was Mum on the phone, I’ve got to go,” she said.
   Gloomp grunted.
   The little girl leapt, wrapping her arms around his neck, in the biggest, happiest hug ever.
   “Thankyouthankyouthankyou!” she whispered. “I was so lonely, you saved me!”
   “No, you saved me,” the troll replied, softly.
   Gloomp could feel his instincts return. It was all he could do to not take a bite out of Sally.
   He stood, watching her merrily skip away.
   “I’ll see you tomorrow!” she called over her shoulder.

***

Gloomp bent the slide straight again, then stood in the middle of the playground, trying to ignore his hunger, until the sun set and darkness covered him.
   “Well, that was stupid,” the genie said from behind him. “Now she’ll be heartbroken.”
   Gloomp turned, furious.
   Trolls normally avoided thinking about tomorrow. Their lives were impossibly hard – ugly, hunted, cold, starving, fighting dragons. They lived in moments.
   “I mean, let’s face it…” the genie started.
   Gloomp cut it off.
   “Her and I will have today forever!” he growled. “FOREVER!”
   “Sheez…!” the genie backed away a little.
   Gloomp looked right at it. The genie was fine, as far as magic things went, a little smug maybe. Very smug, actually.
   “You owe me a wish,” Gloomp grumbled.
  “Excuse me?” the genie said.
   “A wish. I freed you. There were three owed me. One was to not want to eat humans. One was the idea for me to be the playground.”
   “Oh. Well, I don’t have to actually give you three. That’s just, y’know, a bit of a tradition.”
   Gloomp snatched the lamp off a little gnome that was holding it.
   “You know, we really should be getting back to the misty mountains,” the genie said, nervously. “It’s not safe for us here.”
   “THREE!” Gloomp thundered.
   The genie stared hard at him.
   “You’re really not that bright, are you?” it said.
   “No,” Gloomp mumbled.
   “So what would you want? Let me guess,” it stared harder. “Without reading your mind, or anything,” it added. ”To be the girl’s friend? To never be hungry?”
   “No,” Gloomp simmered. “I am a troll. I am what I am. A troll! TROLL!”
   “Okay okay, I get it! You’re a troll!” the genie rolled its eyes. ‘Well, I can’t make you a Troll King of the Misty Mountains, or anything. I’m a genie, not all powerful. We have our limits.”
   Gloomp just glared at it. The troll didn’t want to be a king, either.
   The genie started thinking of all the obvious things a troll might want; its own bridge to live under; a dinosaur to eat; a lady troll to marry?
   Ew. It shuddered at the thought!
   The genie looked right into Gloomp’s big, black eyes.
   “I can’t guess! Gah! You’re too simple!” it concluded. “I must say, though, our chats are most amusing.”
   “I want you to go back in your lamp,” Gloomp grumbled.
   “Wha!?” sputtered the genie.
   “You heard,” Gloomp raged.
   “Why!?”
   “So someone else might have the joy you gave me.”
   The genie looked left, looked right, but there was no way out of it. Three wishes for freedom. That was what genies did. A promise was a promise.
   “Fart city…” the genie moaned, as it began to turn to smoke and return into imprisonment. “I mean, what a troll thing to do!” it whined and groaned, as its voice got smaller and smaller. “No gratitude! None! Well, I never…!”
   Gloomp tucked the lamp into his arm as he walk back towards the fady gate, quickly. All that shouting and arguing, surely people heard. It was just a matter of time before the police came for them.
   He stomped through the trees with amazing ease, wondering; what if he gave the lamp to a bunyip? Or a fairy? All they ever did was giggle. Three wishes to a fairy could be hilarious!
   Even though he knew exactly what he would do with it.
   He would return to the misty mountains and fight this creature, and that legend and be a troll, scavenging for food, roaming a land of mythology. But, one day, if he could – or, rather, one night – he’d sneak back, and leave the lamp in a playground, where a certain little girl might find it.

The End

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