Introduction: Top-o-the day to you all. It is almost Spring in the Northern half of the world and below the equator the nip of Fall is starting to be felt. The transition between seasons has always been both spectacular and a bit magical. It is very apropos that one of the first days celebrated in many parts of the world is St. Patrick’s Day when for a few moments many of us become a ‘wee bit’ Irish. It will come as no surprise to most of you that Trolls are very much aware of the ‘little people’ we call Leprechauns as they are all magical and magic using creatures everywhere. What is not known is that sometimes these creatures meet and when they do the fun usually begins. Such is the case in our most recent story by Master Trollologist, Martin Calderwood which is set in the early 1970s at a small High School in the U.S.A. known as Tannersville High (the home of the Fighting Trolls). I hope you will enjoy this St. Patrick’s Day Troll Tale and if you happen to know anybody who is even a little Irish send them this story and brighten their day. I am happy to introduce “A ‘Wee’ Bit o Troll Luck.”
A ‘Wee’ Bit o Troll Luck
Even as a High School Junior Benjamin Norse could barely keep his eyes from wondering up to the clock as math and the early Spring afternoon crept slowly toward its end.
“Twenty minutes.” He thought morosely as he turned and glanced out the window at the bright blue sky flecked here and there with high fluffy clouds. For several seconds Ben studied these downy white specks which lulled seemingly immune to the gentle breeze that stirred around them. He let his imagination make images out of these clouds most of which gradually shifted to geometric shapes with a variety of x and y variables that needed to be measured.
Below the clouds, triangular shaped Spruce trees waved invitingly just beyond the stream that cut across the school yards edge 200 yards away. The trees, many of which were decades old, formed the edge of a sprawling forest that came down and touched the small town of Tannersville on it’s Eastern edge next to the school. Ben caught his mind drifting into those trees estimating heights and internal angles as another ‘eternal’ five minutes ticked off the classroom clock.
Gradually his eyes begin to close as his boredom grew.
“And the answer to number twenty-two, Mr Norse?”
Ben started and several of the class snickered at his being caught daydreaming. He looked down at the paper which stared back at him blank and fresh. Embarrassed, his mind focused briefly on the problem on the blackboard, a quadratic equation solving for ‘x’ when ‘y’ equaled 1/4 x times three.
“Ummmm,” he said as his mind raced. “‘x’ equals twenty-four.”
“Correct. Keep your eyes on your book. Class will be over soon enough.”
Ben grinned sheepishly and his eyes flashed around the room before glancing once again up at the clock.
“Eleven minutes.” He sighed inwardly.
Three more questions were answered and Ben’s mind was beginning to drift back into the woods when the teacher gave the assignment adding, “Did you get that Mr. Norse?”
Ben looked perplexed.
The teacher sighed. “Ask your partner in crime.” she paused nodding at a nearby girl sitting in a wheel chair. “I am sure she will give it to you.”
Ben looked at the slender but attractive face which smiled back at him as she adjusted her glasses. Behind her a freckle faced red head pulled a face and grinned broadly as he held up two fingers which became one then none as the fist made a dropping move.
As if on cue the bell sounded and the students erupted into the hall in hopes the rapid departure would somehow magically extend the weekend before them. Even the teacher was quickly packing her books as if she feared one of the students might come up with a question that would delay her retreat from the hallowed halls of education.
She need not have feared for within seconds the only three remaining people in the room were a very unlikely trio to which she had referred when she had chided Benjamin moments before.
“Goodnight you three.” she said as she walked out the door.
The three muttered a farewell but continued their slightly animated discussion uninterrupted.
Of the three only Ben turned toward her as she slipped out the door. He was an honors student to whom math came easily. If he continued on his current path he would easily be in the running for Valedictorian for the Class of 1972. With him was his ever present shadow and best friend, Peter O’Day who’s neat sandy red hair was a sharp contrast to Ben’s long almost flyaway blond locks. The third person was Karen Harrison who was also in the running for Class Valedictorian. Her frail body, which was mostly confined to a wheelchair held a brilliant and somewhat devious mind. The competition between her and Ben had somehow drawn them together rather than the opposite and they would often help each other in their various assignments. Of course the real beneficiary of this friendship was Peter who’s grades had soared immensely when he started hanging around the two competitors during their sophomore year. It was almost as if he’d been drawn to them when he’d moved to the small town from Ireland. Coincidently, they had somehow gravitated to him as well. It was if the pair somehow understood why Peter’s father had decided to flee the violence still prevalent in their native country while Peter struggled with the idea. Benjamin had helped Peter to understand that it was his father’s deepest hope that the small town values of Tannersville, USA would allow the O’Day family to keep the traditions and hopes of his beloved homeland alive.
For his part, Peter, had contributed a mischievous streak that had activated something dormant in the other two and though it was not generally known, anything unusual or somewhat pranksterish could, in all likelihood, be traced back to this ensemble. Naturally, no one had ever proven a thing and if they were ever confronted the trio modestly blamed the school Troll.
Gerta, the Sack Troll was reputed to be a squat, ugly two foot tall troll who haunted the school doing all kinds of mischief. Over the past twenty-seven years since the school had been built she had been blamed for every clanking pipe, unexpected malfunction and spilled container in a locked room. Legend had it that Gerta once lived under a bridge that crossed a stream which had meandered through the land now occupied by the school. When the workers re-channeled the stream’s course and demolished the old bridge the very upset Troll was said to have moved into the school as soon as the cellar and basement were finished. Cost overruns and damaged equipment were all eventually blamed on the Troll by the contractor who was said to have invented her to cover his own carelessness. It was also said that he got the idea from Ben’s father Olaf, a sixteen year old ditch digger at the time an idea Mr. Norse now tried to keep suppressed as much as possible.
After the school was dedicated, Gerta was quiet for several years until one afternoon in the teachers lounge a toilet exploded saturating the clothing and personage of a very unpopular vice principal. Since no culprit was ever found, Gerta got the blame. Ben recalled hearing the story from his Uncle John, the youngest in his father’s family, who had been a senior at the time. Uncle John’s visual retelling of the story had made Ben laugh so hard his sides ached much to the disapproval of Ben’s more practical father.
No one could remember where the Troll got her name or a gender but it was suggested that someone heard her whispering her name in the dark and empty halls after one particularly smelly prank had cleared the school for the afternoon.
When Ben was old enough to write, he started to collect the stories and legends of incidents attributed to the feisty troll. This natural curiosity was fueled, in part, by his uncle and aunt, who thought it fun to help him understand the old county and it’s myths through the efforts of ‘their Troll’. Neither one could explain how a Norwegian Troll had found its way to America but they were sure that it had. At age eleven Ben could not get enough of the idea and he wrote stories and reports over the next few years for his classes. Some of these efforts he sent to relatives still living in Norway.
Ben’s second favorite story was of the one and only time Gerta had been spotted by an adult. It happened just six years after the school had been open. One of the science teachers had gone down to the cellar store room under the gym to retrieve some of the grain stored there for the various critters who often occupied the labs or animal husbandry class. Just as he entered, he saw Gerta’s head coming out of the largest grain sack. The man was so startled that he fell backwards and dropped his kerosene lamp. The resultant fire destroyed the gym and part of the cafeteria. When the new gym was completed, it included a weight room and other things never dreamed of by the original contractor. It even had showers and flushing toilets! After that time most people referred to Gerta as the ‘Sack Troll’. A picture of her, done by a student in 1960, was hung in the library above the check-out desk until 1970 when it was replaced by a poster of Neil Armstrong on the moon. As for the science teacher, he retired the next year and denied to his dying day that he had really gone down to the cellar to retrieve a bottle of fine whiskey he had stashed for ‘medicinal purposes’ as many people speculated. He never did deny seeing the ‘Sack Troll’ whom he blamed for the fire.
Over the years Ben’s interest waned but he still held a love for most things involving Trolls and Trolldom. Now and then he would write a Troll story but most of these he kept to himself and his family. Once in a while he would turn one in for credit. One short story even won a prize his Sophomore year for “Outstanding Mythological Story of the Year”.
It was only natural that, at his suggestion, Benjamin and his friends chose to stick steadfastly to the ‘troll defense’ anytime they caused anything unusual to happen. To their good luck or good planning none of them ever received a minutes worth of detention for any of their activities though Mr. Middleton, the vice principal, always suspected Ben and Peter of everything. A new act of what he termed vandalism, however, seemed to have made it his new life’s work to prove the three were responsible.
The repainting of the spiked club carried by the school mascot, a fierce looking, red bearded Troll in Viking armor named ‘Rocky the Red’, to look like a bouquet of flowers, bedecked with peace signs was the ‘final straw’. The fact that each ‘sign’ bore the inscription “Make trolls, not war!” added to the flame. Mr. Middleton was determined to demonstrate that Ben and his friends were somehow responsible for it even if they did not do it themselves. Anything else the vice-principal accomplished in the process would be icing on the cake.
His simple declarative during morning announcements that he would not let the Mascot of the “Fighting Trolls of Tannersville High’ be besmirched by a bunch of “unpatriotic, do nothing, disloyal, oddball, long haired students” had raised virtually everyone’s hackles and sent a chill of dread through the school’s 465 students. When he added that he would give homework passes to the student or students who turned in the perpetrator(s) most every mouth in the school clamped shut.
It was this announcement that the three were discussing as the class vanished to the weekend.
Peter, who was a fine artist, grinned broadly after doing his impersonation of the vice principal giving the announcement. “It tis really good artwork don’t ya think?”
Karen looked at him dubiously. “Are your surrrrre neither of you were involved even on the suggestion level? Half the student body thinks you did.”
Both boys shook their heads. “Not me.” they said as one.
Ben looked at his watch. “We had better hurry, your mother will be here any minute.”
Karen raised her eyebrows but instead of commenting further she gladly accepted Ben’s help in hanging her backpack from the handles of her chair. She then waited patiently and silently for her friends to finish packing their briefcases before starting to talk as Ben pushed the chair with Peter carrying both cases down the hall beside them.
In her conversation she named the only other pair of possible suspects, Tom Jarmain and Dana Maystrem, both of whom were known to be part of a small group of students who put out a small underground newspaper called “The Orc’s Voice” which openly protested the Vietnam War and urged everyone to resist the draft. She concluded that they could not discount Gerta either.
Both boys agreed with a wink and a smile.
Finally changing the subject she continued to talk nonstop. “You know, you guys should get back packs instead of those heavy briefcases. They’d be a whole lot easier to carry and your hands would be free to do other things.”
“Like talk?” joked Ben watching Karen’s hands gesture on their own accord as she spoke.
“No, like eating.” she replied as Ben stuffed a cookie into his mouth. “But I think someday every student will carry a back pack and only suits and a few hold out geeks like you two will have briefcases.”
“Yea, but then every kid’ll have a bad back and teachers will think it’s so easy they will assign more homework to fill ‘em up.” suggested Peter. “No thank ye, I’ll stick with letting me arms stretch so my knuckles can drag the floor.” He concluded by imitating an ape.
“You won’t have far to go on the evolutionary scale.” said Karen with a grin.
“Ouch!” yelled Ben clutching his heart as he let go of the chair which rolled forward several feet.
“I’ve been shishkabobbed!” exclaimed Peter in feigned agony.
Karen laughed as the two boys stood up still ‘staggering’. “Push on slaves!” she said pointing forward. “I’d walk but my legs are only good for about 10 or so minutes.” She paused and looked at her unusually weak legs. For a moment she seemed to struggle with her frustration and emotions the with a brief sigh brightened. “Push on!”
They traveled easily laughing and enjoying each other’s company. They only paused in their chatter to catch their breath keeping the conversation steady until they turned the corner toward the office where Karen’s mom would be waiting, as usual, to pick her up.
Mrs. Harrison was standing, as always, next to the eight-foot tall ‘life size’ portrait of Rocky, which hung opposite the main office doors. Rocky’s right hand was extended in a welcoming gesture while pointing to a sign that read “Welcome to Tannersville High, Home of the Fighting Trolls!” Today, his left hand clutched a beautiful bouquet of Spring flowers. Interestingly the spike in the top of the club had been over painted to resemble a thorny stem of a rose. On the end of this stem was a single beautiful red rose. Ben noted that each thorn resembled the original spike. Someone had taken a great bit of planning to prepare this prank.
The conversation faded until Karen greeted her mother who hugged her gently as if her fragile daughter would break while the boys admired the new addition to the painting.
Karen’s mother, Judy, turned to the boys and for the first time noticed the bouquet. “When did that happen?” she exclaimed looking dubiously at her daughter’s friends.
Yesterday or last night.” replied Karen then she quickly added “we had nothing to do with it.”
Her mother sighed in relief but still looked doubtfully at the two boys. “Okay, I guess we’d better get going.”
“See you later.” said Karen accepting her mother’s purse.
Ben nodded. “I’ll call later.”
Karen turned and smiled then glanced up at the portrait of Rocky. Suddenly she gasped letting out a short squeak.
Ben and Thomas turned “What?” the asked before her mother could speak.
Karen glanced at the picture wondering if it really had winked at her. “Nothing,” she said finally. “I... I thought I saw a spider crawling on the picture.”
Ben winked at Thomas. “Okay, Miss Muffet, get off your tuffet and go home. And don’t forget we still have a lot of planning to do so as soon as I have finished my curds and whey I’ll give you a call. Good night Mrs. Harrison.”
Peter snickered as Karen shot a scowl at him.
The two boys watched as Karen’s mom pushed their friend out of sight.
“Do you think Gerta did this?” asked Ben half seriously.
“Either her or a Leprechaun.” joked Peter. “My money is on the Leprechaun. I don’t think trolls can paint.”
“Yea, like one of your little people would travel all the way to Tannersville to make a war protest?” grinned Ben. “Pages 321 and 322 1 through 26 except 20 for Math, right?”
Peter nodded, unsurprised, then took on a mock solemnity to his face. “Never underestimate the little people for it twould be to your utter peril.” He laughed then added in is his best Irish brogue; “Top o da evenin’ to ye, laddie.”
Ben bowed sweepingly. “And to ye. Keep the wee people ‘appy and vee Norvegeons vill keep da Trolls happy too. And vee shall all be bless-ed.”
“Am I glad you called!” said Karen without so much as a ‘hello, how are you.’ “I must be losing my mind!”
“And I am fine, how are you doing. Oh just ducky, Yea, couldn’t be better. Thanks for asking.” joked Ben.
“Well I am not. I did not freak because of a stupid spider earlier. Promise you won’t laugh? I thought I saw Rocky wink at me! I was so freaked I couldn’t eat. Mom had to give me one of those yucky shots and I lay in my bed and wondered what I had seen and I went over and over and over it in my mind and I know what I think I saw and if the picture winked then I am going nuts and who would believe me if I told anyone and...”
“Slow down.” exclaimed Ben interrupting her in a loud voice. “Take a breath. If you keep talking that fast your tongue will fall out. Now there is an easy explanation. It was probably just a watch flash from the sun or a shadow. Your angle was not all that good and who knows it could have even been a spider that crawled past the eye at that moment.”
Karen took a slow breath. “I thought of all that and even a few others based on what kinds of medication I am taking. I still think Rocky winked at me!”
There were several seconds of silence on the other end of the phone but Karen could tell that Ben was trying hard to compose himself so he did not laugh. Finally after what seemed like an eternity Ben could not hold back a fleeting snicker.
“You don’t believe me!” she said trying to keep herself from snickering too.
“No, you may have thought you did. I guess if any person took what you do they’d see a lot more than pictures winking.” he said trying to sound as concerned as he felt.
“I thought of that. I really did and I even thought I was going nuts but I saw him wink! I haven’t told anyone until now and I only told you because I thought you would not laugh.” she finally said feeling a more frustrated than angry.
Ben laughed, this time a little uncomfortably. “Okay, okay. Suppose it is true. Why would a recently vandalized picture of a school mascot choose to wink at you.”
“It does sound kind of silly. Perhaps you are right and I did just misinterpret what my eyes saw. After all, if I were a troll with so many pretty girls to choose from I would not wink at a crip in wheelchair.”
“That is not what I meant!” Ben protested.
“I know but it is a logical conclusion. Maybe I should have just chalked it up to an unexplained illusion and said nothing. Still you are sweet to listen. How are the dance plans going?”
“Great.” exclaimed Ben grateful for the change of topic
They talked for several minutes about an upcoming Stomp (dance) they were helping to plan. Ben mentioned that some of the special-ed kids wanted to go, especially Allen Salvatore and he was wondering if any of Karen’s friends would be willing to dance with him. Karen was doubtful but said she would ask without making it too obvious or hard to say no. She also wondered if anyone would even ask her to dance being a ‘crip and all’ who just happened to help plan the stomp. Ben did not know how to answer because even to him the idea of dancing with her had never occurred to him. Peter was taking a girl named Madeline Nottnilf but Ben had yet to ask anybody thinking he would just go stag and see what happened. He tried to say something but before he could Karen returned to her primary concern.
“I just hope Middleton doesn’t catch whoever repainted Rocky. I think it’s kind of cute. I hate this stupid war anyway. I’d be crushed if you or Peter were drafted and had to go to Nam.”
On the other end of the line Ben smiled a bit uncomfortably. “If it happens it happens. As for Middleton, he will find nothing, not if Peter and I have anything to say about it. Besides this time we are innocent.” There was a brief pause. “Hey I gotta go. Don’t go winking at any strange pictures!”
Karen smiled in spite of herself. “Grrrrrrrrrrrr.” she growled and gently hung up the phone.
Monday morning Allen Salvatore came running up to Peter and Ben as they entered the school. Allen was a big hulking boy who played lineman for the school football team. His simple, nine year old mind, could follow the most basic of plays and he enjoyed some notoriety because he could break through most lines and make tackles more often than others. Still he was also the brunt of several jokes and pretty much ignored after the football season ended. Allen’s only help in school was a few younger students assigned to help him maintain his grades so he could play football. To him the upcoming dance meant a chance to dance with a real girl, a dream he had even though most girls were embarrassed to even be near him. Even his sister, whom he loved dearly and who helped out a lot, avoided him in public particularly since he started claiming that he had seen Gerta last year and actually talked with her! Despite her public cold shoulder Allen often boasted of her talents and skills telling everyone how she had an ‘A’ average in school and how she was one of only two sophomores to have ever made the Varsity Tennis Team.
Allen had gravitated toward Ben after ‘forcing’ his mother to read Ben’s troll story over and over shortly after it was published in the school ‘English Lit’ magazine. Neither Ben nor Peter were bothered by the attention and if fact they found it kind of fun to share ‘their troll secrets’ with the overgrown child. Allen’s mother was actually relieved that her son had at least two ‘normal’ friends and she went out of her way to have cookies or other treats available anytime the boys had to bring Allen home after some incident or the other occurred at school.
Knowing he was probably being ignored by those around him Allen got behind the duo and spoke somewhat quietly for him. “Hey guys, I gots to show ya somethin’.” He said his big hands pushing each boy forward. “Gerta showed me the other night. I forgot my gym bag an’ came back an’ Gerta was standin’ right thar just around the corner from the mural. She wiggled her finger at me and I followed an’ she showed me this.”
With a childlike fanfare Allen opened the door of the broom closet and reached through and pushed on the back wall which swung open. Inside was a narrow hall about 15 feet long and six or seven feet wide that could have been used to store partitions and perhaps the wheeled blackboards once used in the school.
“Meet me here after school an’ bring Karen.” he said without further explanation before turning around blocking any further study of the room by his friends.
Allen quickly closed the door and headed for class. Peter and Ben watched him until he rounded the corner, shrugged and walked to class.
During the last half of the day when some of the ‘jocks’ heard of the plans being made by Allen to go to the dance several had teased and all but mocked him about his dream. To their frustration he seemed somehow oblivious to their intentions until they started asking him if he’d asked Gerta to be his date yet. When one of them called him a Troll lover Allen had gotten flustered and in his efforts to escape his tormentors accidently hit the popular basketball player blackening his eye. Everyone present had sided with the injured player saying Allen had started it.
As punishment Allen received two weeks of detention and had to talk to the counselor for the rest of the semester. When he was asked why by Mr. Middleton, Allen asked for Ben and Peter before shutting his mouth like a pouting child. The vice principal had reluctantly called them to the office.
The moment Peter entered the office Allen blurted out that he had seen a little bearded man dancing at the edge of the nearby forest with a rainbow shining around him. Allen glanced over at Peter certain that at least this one of his two ‘best friends’ would believe him. His pleading tear filled eyes suggested he wanted to talk to Peter alone but he knew that this would be impossible. After some hesitation Allen glanced nervously at the adult V.P. and pinched his lips shut.
Mr. Middleton looked skyward and turned to Peter who shrugged and looked at the door. “Wait till Ben gets here.” he finally said softly more to Allen than to the V.P.
When Ben arrived moments later the lineman- sized child ran up and gave him a hug and in a deep, slow bass voice told him the story of his encounter with the little man with the bright red hair and fuzzy red beard before he sat down on the desk.
When Allen finally finished Peter looked at Ben and raised an eyebrow. “So you saw a Leprechaun, did ye?”
Allen nodded then looked at the counselor and boldly proclaimed “I saw a Leprechaun.” It was apparent that all thoughts of the fight were gone to Mr. Middleton’s exasperation. Finally he simply reiterated the punishment and told Ben that he and Peter would have to stay and see that Allen got home okay. He then left the room chuckling as Allen began to talk excitedly to his friends.
The story Allen spun was disjointed and fanciful but it came down to the fact that when the jocks had started teasing him he had been thinking about the rainbow and was trying to think of a way to tell them so they would be his friends too. He had not wanted to get mad but when they told him that he and Gerta should have babies and the ugly ones would look like Allen he had gotten mad and hit their leader a brash bully named Bart Carpenter.
To counter Allen’s enthusiasm Peter suggested to him that if he wanted Ben would write down the story so Allen could give it to his English teacher. She could then share it with the class if she wanted. Allen was sure that she would and he readily agreed to this thought. He also agreed not to say anything else until the story was done so that everyone would be surprised at the ending. When they left the office at the end of sixth period Allen whispered a reminder to them about their planned ‘meetin’. Both boys half-heartedly agreed to come and to try to get Karen there too.
Neither Peter nor Ben knew what to think of Allen, his story and his recent behavior. On their way back to their class after dropping off their charge they discussed the coincidence of just having discussed ‘the wee little people’ last week. They agreed that the story was very imaginative and neither thought Allen had overheard their conversation though the big boy could appear almost magically when least expected in spite of his size. They finally concluded that there was nothing they could do until after school and returned to class.
As it turned out Karen could not make it that evening as she had a doctor’s appointment. Peter and Ben met Allen by the detention room door and watched him look around to make sure that no one else was watching. After several minutes they opened the closet door and walked in looking around.
Enthusiastically Allen shouldered his way past the boys and pushed through the concealed door moving awkwardly until he stood in the middle of the hidden room. With a flourish he moved a small stool that sat in one corner over to the middle of the outer wall and climbed up. They watched in amazement as he reached up and seemed to move something aside. “It’s Rocky’s eye. I can look through and see the hall!”
Both boys crowded in and examined the evidence. The peephole was covered by a small patch that when moved aside allowed them to peer into the main hall. After several minutes of exploration they replaced the cover.
“I wonder if they have one of these near the girls locker room?” questioned Peter softly.
“This explains a lot.” muttered Ben as Peter looked at him curiously.
“Gerta says she watches us sometimes when we are in school.”
Ben looked at Peter and shook his head glancing at Allen who was moving the stool back into position.
“You been spying on us?” asked Peter.
Allen looked abashed. “No. It was Gerta.” he insisted after a moment’s pause.
For a moment both Ben and Peter tried to press Allen for details about the Troll and the Leprechaun but all Allen did was smile and giggle like a child with a secret. Finally he simply restated that he HAD seen a Leprechaun and that Gerta REALLY wanted to meet them.
Finally Ben sighed in exasperation and clapped the big lad on his shoulder. “Yea okay, Allen, it sounds kind of wild but we believe you. We would love to meet the old Sack Troll so you tell Gerta to meet us here tomorrow evening after Chess Club and we’ll know you’re not joshing us. We’ll even try to get Karen to join us. Right now we have to hurry, we have lab notes to go over.”
Peter looked at his friend dubiously and mouthed the words “You’re crazy.” as Ben exited the former storage area.
Allen smiled and turned to follow. “Knew I could tell ya. Told her I did. I tell her.”
“And tell her to bring her Leprechaun friend.” added Peter non-mockingly as he moved through the hidden door and hurried after his friend. “See you later Big Guy.” he added over his shoulder. Both boys knew that for all his problems Allen would have no problem getting home on his own but they decided to give his mother a call just in case.
Behind them Allen beamed, waved and headed for the gym to lift weights.
Several minutes later when the two boys were walking toward the main exit Ben felt as if they were being watched. As they passed the mural of Rocky Ben looked up at the eye which immediately winked at him. With a gasp Ben raced back to the closet door and pushed through only to find the hidden room empty. The stool, however, was positioned right below the peephole.
The next day a local artist came and cleaned up Rocky’s picture and restored it to all its ‘Traditional Glory”. No-one had come forward with any new information and for a moment it looked as though things would return to normal as the day passed without incident. That evening when they met as planned Allen told Ben and Peter that Gerta mysteriously let him know that she had plans and that they needed to wait until next week to meet her.
Wednesday morning before any other announcements were made Ben, Peter, Allen and a handful of others who had been in detention of had remained after school for a variety of reasons were called to the office by a very angry sounding Vice Principal. When they arrived at the office Ben immediately noticed that overnight someone had repainted the repainted mural of Rocky. This time not only the club had been altered. Rocky’s toenails were now painted bright green and he wore a green ‘Peace Sign Flag’ on the pocket of his American Flag stripped shirt. In addition the rocky ground around him had been strewn with clovers many of which had four leafs.
As expected nobody knew anything about the changes and those who had seen it earlier had not reported it because they did not want to get into trouble. One by one the students were let go until only Peter and Ben remained. Middleton told them that he was absolutely convinced that they were behind this and that if they did not confess or find the real culprit the Stomp at the end of the week would be canceled as would all outside activities until the perpetrator or perpetrators were caught.
Ben was incredulous as he stalked, muttering angrily about how unfair the vice principal was to threaten the entire school for something one or two people did. Peter, on the other hand, was silent as he walked with his fists clinched tight by his side. Neither boy spoke as they took their books from their locker and stalked toward their first class which was just about over. When they had to pass the office again they paused briefly to admire the artwork that had gotten them into so much trouble. Without comment they started down the hall. Rocky promptly winked as they turned to leave. They were fifty feet away when what they had just seen sunk in. Both boys froze in stride and looked at each other.
“See the picture wink?”
“No. Did you?”
“Not this time I didn’t.”
“Neither did I.. What do you mean, ‘this time’?”
Ben shook his head. “Nothing. I’ll tell you later.”
By morning everyone knew that the Stomp scheduled for the next day would be canceled if someone did not rat out the vandal who had defaced Rocky or someone did not confess. Half the class was still certain that Ben and/or Peter had been involved. A few suspected Karen as being the brains behind the incident but no one had any proof about anything or anyone so it was a big surprise when Allen came forward and confessed to the entire incident telling everyone that while he was supposed to be in detention the second time he had slipped out and repainted the picture. He said he had stayed after school the first time hiding in his hidden room until the school was empty. When he showed Mr. Middleton the ‘secret door’ the proof was enough to have the boy arrested for vandalism and taken to DT until his mother came for him later that night. He was also given a months worth of detention and forbidden from being on any other sports team this year or next.
That afternoon Mr. Middleton announced that the dance would go ahead as scheduled and that the culprit and those who were supposed to watch him would be properly punished. Everyone was relieved that the episode was over and that the dance was back on except Ben and Peter who were given a weeks worth of detention for not staying and watching him as they had been assigned. They were also forbidden to go to the dance they had helped plan and their parents had been called and informed of the action.
That afternoon the painting was once again restored and someone was assigned to watch it for the next two days until after the stomp was over. No one wanted to take the chance that someone might try to protest what had happened. Mr. Middleton seemed to be in a very jolly mood the rest of the day.
It took Ben most of the evening to convince his parents that neither he nor Peter had anything to do with what they were accused. He was forced to go over each and every detail several times and each time he was careful to admit that perhaps he should have been watching Allen closer. He was also careful to explain that he did not think that Allen had the ability to plan out the prank much less be stealthy enough to accomplish such a covert act. Ben told his parents he could not understand why Allen would confess to something he didn’t do. In turn they told him that he was grounded for the weekend and that he was to stay away from people like Allen and others that were ‘different’. Not wanting to argue Ben had stomped up to his room where he dragged the phone inside and called Karen. Her line was busy and so was Peter’s so he sat on his bed and fumed for several minutes about his parent’s attitude and lack of trust. He then decided on a course that if he were caught he would loose that trust forever. With only a moments hesitation he stuffed a pillow and some clothes under had blanket, turned out the light and slipped out his window into the night.
Peter was surprised when Ben showed up at his door at 10 PM. He had fared much better and had only received a brief reprimand from his dad. His father had listened patiently to all the details including the inclusion of the fact that Allen had claimed to have seen a Leprechaun. It was his father that had suggested that perhaps someone in the school had picked on Allen and leaned on him to confess to the ‘crime’. Perhaps, the individual involved had even threatened someone or something Allen cared for. Peter had not wanted to believe that American High School Students were capable of the same things that the Irish Republican Army was but was forced to admit that there were certain members of the football team that could have done just what his father had suggested. He had been trying to figure out something to do with Karen when Ben had knocked on the door.
As they walked toward Karen’s place Peter wished fervently that they really had a Leprechaun they could ask for help. The ‘wee people’ were tricky and often could be mean spirited but Peter knew that they had a strong sense of justice and that if they took your side for whatever reason strange things could happen. Like most fairy folk Leprechauns had a fondness for those unable to fend for themselves and Peter had concluded that if they had Gerta and the Leprechaun they would be unstoppable. Together they dreamed up all kinds of things they would want done to those responsible but in the end the idea of having them painted the school colors before making them streak around the school was the most humerus and least lethal combination they could come up with. Both boys were laughing when they arrived at Karen’s door.
To their surprise Allen came running up just as Karen’s mother answered the door. It was obvious that he had been crying so Mrs. Harrison let him in and sent the trio up to Karen’s room where they found her still doing her homework. Before they could say anything Allen blurted out that he had run away and that he had gone to Ben’s house first and found him gone. He then had gone to Peter’s house and then hurried to Karen’s after he had been told that the boys had just left. When Ben explained that he was out without permission Karen realized at once that if Allen could find them his parents could locate him as well. Without hesitation she called her mother in to her room and asked if they could borrow her Father’s field walkie talkies he had left behind for emergencies when he had left for his second tour of Vietnam. Without a question her mother retrieved the bulky units and escorted the boys to the back door where they vanished into the night just as the phone rang.
The three boys headed to the park where Ben had once stood on the peak of the climbing tower and recited Shakespeare at the top of his lungs to a very amused Karen just as the clock tower nearby struck midnight. The boys figured that Ben’s parents would think that this was the first place they would go and so it would be the last place they would search.
Finding the darkest shade they sat down at one of the picnic tables and took turns telling Karen their ideas and concerns. They concluded that they had to set things right by the start of school the next day even if it meant a life long grounding for Ben.
Their first order of business was to confront Allen and find out why he had confessed. The big lineman fought back tears of frustration and anger telling them over and over again that he promised them that he would not tell on them and that if he did they would hurt his sister. With those suspicions confirmed tried to learn who it was but Allen kept very quiet. Both boys tried every trick and even Karen tried to persuade him but nothing could get him to name his tormentors. Peter was beginning to get angry while Ben walked off with the walkie talkie to talk to Karen.
“Ye shant get far with the man child by gettin’ yer dander up laddie.” came a soft voice from the dark.
“Who’s there?” demanded Peter loud enough so that Ben turned around nervously.
“Now that be a fine howdy do. Here I be a breakin’ me own rules fer talkin’ to a big folk and yer gets all uppity. Maybe I’ll jus’ go fine another place ta sleep, one that yer big voices won’t be able ta find and disturb.”
Peter was dumbstruck but Allen spoke up excitedly.
“No, please don’ go Mr. Leprechaun. Come out of the shadows so they can see ya!”
“Never could resist the eyes of a child.” said the Leprechaun softly.
Into the light stepped a red bearded man less than half a meter tall. He was dressed in a green set of tights with a brown shawl wrapped around his shoulder. His boots were garish with pointed toes and lots of silver adornments and he was capped with a bright green bowler type hat with a shamrock tucked neatly in the soft brown band. He wore a black belt with what appeared to be a solid gold buckle.
Peter began to rise knowing the good fortune that would befall them if he caught the little man. Allen immediately shoved him back down.
Off to the left Ben blurted out to Karen that he wished she was here to see this. Almost instantly Karen was beside them in sitting position , wearing her pajamas and holding her communication link. For a moment she seemed to teeter precariously as her eyes flew wide in dismay. Ben dropped the walkie talkie and dove to catch her but instead only hit the ground as she floated gently down.
“Good on ye lad.” said the Leprechaun. “I thinks I judged rightly. Now come along with me.”
With a snap of his fingers the four young people blinked as one and when their eyes opened they were in a dark area on what felt like a cement floor.
“Little light in here.” said the wee man.
No magic happened, the dim light bulb above them simply went on followed by a soft scuttling sound that retreated into a dark corner.
“Come on out lassie. We kanna have ye keepin’ our guests awaitin’”
For a moment the shadows seemed to spin as a creature emerged from them. As she shuffled awkwardly into the light everyone inhaled at once. Her clothes were covered with what looked like a mossy greenish soot and it appeared her deep brown hair had not been washed or combed in ages. Her black beady eyes shown bright and Ben recognized the slightly almond like shape to be like the one he had seen peeping out from Rocky’s eye. She was carrying a heavy burlap bag that was clutched in a large four fingered hand that reached almost to the ground. Her other hand was being used to shade her eyes from the light above.
“Gerta?!” Peter, Ben and Karen gasped as one.
“I tried to get them to meet you but.....” said Allen somewhat sadly as his voice trailed off into happy silence.
The Troll shook her heavy roundish head and looked at each of the others in turn.
“Trust?” she inquired glancing at the other myth in the room.
The little man nodded and smiled. Gerta relaxed visibly.
As if a spell had been broken all three new comers began to talk at once.
“Did you paint the Troll?“How did you get here?”“Can you help us?”“What’s your name?”“Why did you do it?”“Where did you come from.”“Faith, ‘tis all true.”
The words tumbled in a mass of confusion as they overlapped and overran each other as the spilled from the mouths of the popeyed and dumbfounded young people. Only Allen seemed to be taking all this in stride his childlike faith never having been put to doubt by growing older.
Finally Allen spoke. “I want to go to the dance!”
“Then that, laddie, will take a li’l work.”
“Work.” agreed Gerta. “Now!”
Ben finally found his voice. “And first we have to find out which of the football players bullied you.”
Allen looked surprised. “Not football. They friends. Tennis players, Jill and Blain. Say they keep sis off team. Say they hit her, mash her through racket like jello.”
Karen giggled a little uncomfortably. “I should have known. Those two can’t keep their hands and lips off each other. Any chance to be out late together is a good excuse to go out and make out later. If the dance had been canceled they loose their chance. Anymore surprises?”
For a moment all was silent.
“Then let’s get to work.” said Peter. “ The first thing we have to do is keep Ben from being grounded for life.......”
As it turned out the Leprechaun had been responsible for the alterations to Rocky. He had left Ireland because he was afraid and ashamed of the black cloud that was covering the land as two ‘worlds’ clashed in the name of god and country. He conceded that he’d stowed away with the O’Days and had been enjoying his new found freedom since he arrived. He had even managed to start adding to his pot of gold that he assured them he kept well hidden.
After a few months he began to grow bored and thus started to look for ways to ‘stir up a bit o mischief’. One night a couple of months ago he had been out watching a group of students whom he followed to the school. Once inside he decided that this was the perfect place to have some fun so he had moved in about two weeks ago.
He reported he’d spent the first week just exploring and planning his first big prank. He did not explain why he had not encountered Gerta or any evidence of her presence. Perhaps, he suggested, it was because he had a tendency to stay in the attic and rafters and she hid in the basement and sub-structure of the school.
When he had used magic to change the picture he had attracted Gerta’s attention. The old Troll had done little the last few years because she was bored and in these modern times nobody really believed in her anyway so why bother. When she had seen the ‘art’ she had at first been mad and had threatened the little man with everything she could think of. The two had argued that first night only to end up agreeing the next dawn that it would be a ‘wee bit o’ fun’ for her to watch the humans react to the change. She had spent the entire day trading places with the Leprechaun so they could watch the reactions.
When the pair had seen Ben and Peter walking with Karen, Gerta recalled how her new friend, Allen, had talked about how nice they were to him. Gerta explained that she had always made certain that someone at the school knew that she was real and she remembered Ben’s father as the one who had suggested to a friend that he wished Gerta could make the toilet explode or something to punish a troublesome vice principal. Gerta explained in broken English that she had helped her human friend at the time, a girl named Nancy, to accomplish the deed by showing her where to unscrew a hidden cap in order to drop a cherry bomb into an overflow pipe just as their victim sat down. Only one person ever suspected the small shy young women of such an ‘nefarious’ act and that was John Norse, Ben’s Uncle. It was he who suggested the ‘Gerta defense’ to his fellow student taking up where his brother had left off years ago.. For her part Gerta was happy to take the blame particularly as she watched the chaos she had created from her hidden vantage point behind the newly created mural. Eventually John and Nancy had married and they now live in Denver from which John continues to reports regular sitings of Trolls deep inside the Rocky Mountains. Ben was surprised that ‘the sack troll’ remembered the couple so many years later.
By 1 AM the four youth and two myths had a plan but the first step was perhaps the trickiest. When Ben arrived home after two his parents were livid and he had to endure the lecture of a lifetime. He tried to explain his actions and why he had met Peter and Karen in the park. He even argued that neither of his friends parents were having the same kind of problem they were having but that did not go over well. He finally yelled that if he had explained things by telling them Peter had a problem or Karen was sick they would have believed him. But, he continued, because he had included the truth that a Leprechaun and a Troll had been involved they had not believed him and thus had all but destroyed the trust he had worked so hard to build.
It was at that moment that there was a knock on the door. To everyone’s shock and surprise the moment the door opened a little man dressed in green walked in with a tip of his hat and sat on the couch. The next morning as Ben left for school his parents were still staring at the spot where the Leprechaun had sat smiling at them.
Karen looked up from the library book she was reading as Peter and Ben walked in. She glanced at her watch are realized they only had twenty-five minutes to get the task done or all their plans would be for nothing. She had not seen the two tennis players but she knew that they always came in together about this time. She worried that this time they might choose a different route or that one would be sick. Her mind raced through a million chances of failure as her two friends moved up beside her.
“So far, so good.” muttered Peter by way of greeting.
Karen nodded and strained to see their quarry from her lower vantage point.
“There they are.” whispered Ben. “And there’s Allen, right on cue.”
“Do you think he will remember his lines? He can barely say the alphabet without getting confused.” said Peter showing his nerves.
“That’s why you are here.” reminded Ben. “After all our little green friend did say that even though the one most hurt can use this curse best someone else who is directly affected can say it.”
“Yea, with a mixed bag of results.” concluded Peter. “I hope Allen can do it.”
“He will. Now get as close as you can just in case.” reassured Karen unconvincingly as Peter moved off toward his pre-planned ‘post’. “You have got it memorized?” she questioned nervously.
Peter waved back at her as he moved through the mingling and moving students.
On the other side of the hall Allen moved up slowly. Ben could tell by his wide eyed appearance that he was as scared as any child would be approaching two adults who could get him grounded or worse.
Jjjill, Bbblain.” he blurted out uncomfortably loud.
The two tennis players turned an faced the hulking form approaching them. If either felt any concern they did not show it.
“Well if it isn’t the sneak artist. Come to repaint old Rocky again?” smirked Blain with a wink.
“Yea Allen. You can use my lipstick since your mommy took your finger paints away.” added Jill as those around her laughed.
Allen seemed to not hear them as he pressed forward. “The..the truth twill serve as that is one way. Ttto the world ttellll all fer yer price ta pay.” He then awkwardly handed each of them a shamrock and stepped back.
Nearby Peter looked skyward and said a silent prayer to Saint Patrick.
A few yards away Ben and Karen looked at each other. Neither was certain but for a moment it felt as if the air around them froze filling the school with a foreboding silence.
Peter spoke. “Hey, Blain, why’d ya set up Allen?”
“Because he’s a big stupid oaf and the laughing stock of the school sports programs. You should hear what the other schools say about him. Getting him off the team was the best thing we ever did.” The handsome athlete’s eyes seemed to bulge out of his head as he clapped his hand over his mouth.
By now most of the students around them had fallen silent except for a wave of hushed whispers that rolled down the hall as Karen rolled up to the scene.
“And I suppose Jill, that you approved of all this so you and your boyfriend could go to the dance?”
A smug look crept across Jill’s face. “Well of course and all we had to do was threaten to keep his precious little sister of the team this Spring and he melted like the baby he is.”
“Did you repaint Rocky then?” asked someone nearby.
“No.” the both chorused.
“We had nothing to do with that.” continued Jill her eyes looking about wildly as Blain covered his eyes in embarrassment. “We just wanted the dance to go forward. We are planning to tell our parents that we are going to the dance and then instead we’re going to sneak off to ‘the flats’ to make out.”
By now everyone was looking at the two students. Someone laughed while another snorted her disapproval.
As if he were in a stage production Mr. Middleton burst out of the office area his face red with anger. Word had filtered to him that Blain and Jill were confessing to forcing Allen to do something and he was not at all happy with the prospect of having to change his mind. Without preamble he escorted the two offenders into his office.
With the show over and only five minutes until class the students dispersed rapidly including Ben, Peter and Karen who hoped they had heard the last of the problem. Ben was not sure but when he glimpsed upward he thought he saw Rocky wink.
It was rumored that after Blain and Jill were escorted into the office they spilled their guts about setting up Allen and forcing him to confess to a crime he had not committed. By second period Allen was off detention as were Ben and Peter. During third period they were called to the office again where both were given a harsh warning about responsibility and follow through but since Allen had not done the deed Middleton had no choice but to reverse his decision. He had, however, had time to think about something else and he told the boys that he believed that they were somehow responsible for the entire disruptive series of events. He added that if they were not directly involved they certainly knew who was and he vowed that he would get to the bottom of it all even if for now they were off the hook.
“Still,” he had cackled gleefully, “we should cancel the dance until we find the culprit who did do the vandalism.”
As he hoped he noted both boys fidget uncomfortably. Pressing his advantage he told the pair that he would give them a moment to think about it and talk it over in private. If they ‘told the truth’ he added, he would let the dance go forward and only the guilty would be punished. He then left the room pulling the door closed behind him.
“What do we do now?” asked Peter after several long moments of silence.. “They will never believe us if we tell the truth.”
Ben shook his head. He was about to speak when there was a loud ‘Whomp” that exploded out of the teacher’s lounge.
Forgetting everything else the boys rushed out just as Mr. Middleton emerged from the men’s room. He was soaked from head to toe with the smelly back up from the toilet.
“Gerta.” whispered one of the secretaries who had been there for years.
Middleton glared at the boys knowing they had been in his office. “I don’t know how you two...”
It was then the Principal, Mr. Howard Johnson spoke. “Give it a rest Harry. These two could no more have done that then me. Now go home, get changed and take the rest of the day off. Heaven knows you have earned it.
Scowling the vice Principal nodded and walked dripping down the hall toward the exit.
“Miss. Whitcom?.” Said Principal Johnson scratching his sandy red hair. “Would you call the custodian to come and clean up this mess, starting with the hall. You boys had better get back to class. And will someone open a window until they are finished?”
Ben and Peter looked at each other in stunned silence then watched as Mr. Johnson opened his door slightly and slipped into his room. Neither boy was certain but both thought they saw a glimpse of green and gold sitting on the edge of the Principal’s desk. Smiling they rushed out of the office and headed to class. This time both of them winked at Rocky who promptly winked back as they passed.
Ben arrived early at the school to inspect the final details for the stomp. The theme the students had decided upon was “A Visit to the Planet of Teenage Dreams”. The somewhat vague alien theme gave the decoration committee the go ahead to hang large painted cardboard stars and brightly decorated Styrofoam planets from the gym rafters. In the midst of these orbs hung a Disco Ball that spun lazily throwing small circles of light around the room like a stream of swarming bees. One group among the planners had taken great pains to cover the entire East wall with a paper-mache bedecked moonscape full of all kinds of alien pictures each seemingly focused on the central picture of an astronaut planting the school colors on the surface. To no-one’s surprise the face of the hero was none other than Rocky himself. The only unforeseen part of the mural was on the far end of the mural a large rock rose high toward the ceiling. Hidden in the rocks were a variety of ‘critters’ as planned but sitting atop the great outcropping was the figure of a ‘little green man’ only the clothing was green and not the skin. The red hair and beard seemed to glow in the black lights that hung over the picture. The Leprechaun sat serenely, his legs crossed at mid leg. He was holding the bowl of a long stemmed wooden pipe which disappeared into his beard hiding his mouth from view. Cotton candy like smoke seemed to curl out of it’s end giving the portrait a surreal appearance in the alien landscape.
Ben followed the being’s gaze and it seemed to fall directly on a figure a bit more hidden than the others. Gerta’s visage was peeking out of a crater with only her hair, eyes and nose visible. Ben was certain she was smiling below the surface as she gazed out over the dance floor which was, at that moment, being sprinkled with sawdust to protect the surface.
Stifling a yawn he shuffled over and checked out the punch making certain that nothing illegal had been slipped in. He nodded to the chaperon who was going to stand guard over the table and shook his head knowing that there were likely two or three students who would still be foolish enough to try to ruin the dance for everybody only to ruin things for themselves for weeks to come. He hoped that this would not be the case but he was not going to hold his breath.
Ben watched as the students began to arrive at 7 pm. The slow trickle grew steadily for several minutes until by 7:11 pm there were dozens of couples milling around as the band began its final tune up. Peter and his date, Madeline Notnilf arrived holding hands and moved directly to where Ben was standing then after a brief greeting he moved to the dance floor just as the first cord was struck on their version of The Monkey’s “I’m a Believer”.
Ben had chosen to come to the dance stag. He’d decided earlier that day he really did not have time for a ‘steady’ girlfriend. Besides, he thought, this might be a good opportunity to add to his ‘dating pool’. He had always made it a habit to avoid commitment to a specific girl because he was scared of being hurt and he really was busy. Still he did enjoy the occasional date and he was rarely turned down so he figured this dance would be no different. He began to survey the floor for a prospect or two.
“Hello slave.” came a familiar voice behind him.
Ben started a little. “Hello my lady.” he said recovering quickly. “I didn’t hear you come up.”
“This chair rolls nice and quite. Has Allen showed up yet?”
“Haven’t seen him.” replied Ben. “Peter and Mad are over there.” He added pointing.
Karen nodded as the band moved into an arrangement of a popular tune played originally by the group America.
“There’s Allen and look who is with him.”
“And look what he is wearing.” said Karen with a whistle.
Allen wore a baby blue tuxedo with a maroon cummerbund. His long hair was tied back with a matching maroon ribbon. Beside him stood a girl named Penny Preston a sophomore girl who Karen knew had a slight lisp. Penny, who was taking some remedial classes, was beaming proudly as she held Allen’s hand. For his part Allen could not have looked happier. He saw Ben and Karen and waved wildly before leading his date onto the dance floor just as a slow Chicago melody began to play.
“Girl’s choice.” Announced the lead singer over the PA.
A few couples drifted off the floor as others took their place.
“Care to dance?” asked Karen quietly.
Ben looked down at his friend and smiled. “Love to.” he said sincerely.
With a gallant gesture Ben wheeled the chair over to the corner below the picture of the Leprechaun. Gently he moved the foot supports and locked the wheels before taking her hand. With some effort she stood up and gratefully draped her arms around Ben while he put his arms around her waist to help provide support and to draw her close. He wanted to provide her with as much support as possible hoping that it would help prevent her legs from tiring so fast and cramping as they would when she tried to move around too much at home. As he took his first hesitant steps he recalled how he had seen her legs go into spasms after she pushed herself too hard one evening a couple of weeks ago.
The simple bear hug dance step allowed the two to talk and laugh. The particularly focused on the events of the last few days especially what had happened to Mr. Middleton. Ben reported he’d learned earlier that there was nothing to indicate why the toilet had exploded soaking the vice-principal with waste. There was no way anyone could have placed a black cat or cherry bomb in the pipes because the new system did not have such access. Besides no one could have known he was going in the stall at that particular moment. During the investigation one of the students suggested Gerta was responsible and everyone had laughed. No one was sure if he would be back or not. Karen laughed musically as Ben mentioned that he would not be disappointed at all if the ‘old man’ never darkened their path again.
They continued to dance to a gentle rock number done originally by the Carpenters as they discussed an upcoming science project. When the band started a number by Bread, Ben started to walk Karen back toward her chair.
They were a few feet away when she stopped. ”Let’s dance this one too.” she insisted moving in front of him again.
They danced that one and the next one and the next one. Slow and fast they danced. Karen seemed to gain strength as the evening past. Each time Ben suggested she take it easy Karen would simply state that she was doing fine. Finally he just drew her close and let her set the pace while around them the magic of the evening filled the room.
Finally Peter noticed the couple dancing near the wheel chair and with a few simple moves he and Madeline were dancing beside them.
“What’s up?” he asked as the music faded between songs.
“We’re just dancing.” replied Ben gently giving Karen a squeeze.
Peter looked at them curiously but before he could speak the bands guitar player hit a sour cord and suddenly the gym fell silent as a ripple of whispers that crossed the room and vanished into the walls. Astonished and disbelieving eyes turned toward the platform like stage where a lone figure could be seen moving up the two steps from the equipment storage room. The image they saw did not correlate with any common form impressed on any of their minds. Gasps and mutters of disbelief began to erupt as a squat, large nose figure with short legs and long arms shuffled across to center stage. Her hair resembled an Afro haircut gone very wrong and her eyes seemed to sparkle even in the dim light catching the flickers of the disco ball that spun slowly from the center of the rafters.
“Dance!” she said loudly in a raspy high voice. “Dance now!”
She turned and faced the band with a broad grin revealing a mouth full of oddly spaced teeth. With a flourish she raised her arms and began to wave them as if she were a mad conductor or trying to fly.
Ben immediately looked at Karen who smiled and nodded. Taking her hand the two walked deliberately to the middle of the gym where they took up a fancy dancing pose. Peter was only a few steps behind them as a new wave of astonished whispers rippled across the floor.
At that moment the band leader seemed to wake from a trance and as Gerta’s arms came down for a third time he struck up the opening guitar rift from a song by the Rolling Stones. Gerta jumped with pleasure and began to shake and stomp as on the floor the two couples began their dance.
Slowly other couples began to dance and soon the gym was filled with music and noise as the spell of surprise was broken. Around the sides of the room adults stood mouths agape as the troll jerked, did handstands and clapped wildly at the musical scene. The students were soon back into the dance as if having a Troll alternately conducting the band and dancing wildly on stage was a normal everyday occurrence.
Three or four songs passed. Peter and Ben were each holding their partners close during a slow song when Karen froze in mid step.
“Did you hear that?” she asked tugging at Peter to get his attention too.
“Hear what?” asked Ben loud enough for all four to pick up.
A brief lilting and merry chortle seemed to fill the air around them.
“That?” She said softly.
The four looked as one at the paper rock that seemed to overlook the gym. The high point was empty.
Outside in the hallway the portrait of Rocky the Troll sparkled briefly. When the flash was gone Rocky stood steadfastly as usual only he was wearing an Irish Green sports suit including a wide brimmed black banded green hat with a bright green shamrock tucked inside. Emblazoned on the band in silver toned letters were the words “I Love Leprechauns!”
His spiked club was once again changed only this time it was a bouquet of a dozen green roses. Draped down the stems and onto the arm was a soft green banner upon which was printed in bright almost glowing letters the simple message, “Believe!”
At that moment had anybody been in the hall they would have heard the bubbling chortle of self-appreciation that only a happy mythical creature can make. Laughter, that if you truly listen even today, you can still hear echoing in the quiet corners of Tannersville High.
Final thoughts: Trolls in America? Now there is a little food for thought. My Great, great, great, great, great Grandfather Bernt spoke of a tunnel from Norway to America that was started back in his day. I wonder if it is still being used. I will have to ask Old Maas. In the meantime all the best and I will leave you with this Irish Blessing:
May the road rise to meet you
may the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
the wind fall soft upon your fields.
And if on life’s path a Troll you meet,
Then God hath made your life more sweat!