This story is by Cheyenne Freligh and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The creature curled up in the corner of the cage was the first living human that Ellis had ever seen.
Ellis sat outside the cage, eager to see what humans were like. He knew plenty well what they tasted like, but food was rarely conversational. But finally, after months and months of his begging, his parents had finally kept one of the humans they came across alive for him.
And now, with mother and father off on their hunt, it was the perfect time to try and see if humans really can talk.
He tapped on the bars, just in case it hadn’t noticed him. It was glaring at him but maybe their sight was bad, considering it hadn’t done anything interesting.
“My name is Ellis,” he finally said.
“Do I really seem like I care, Bigfoot Jr.?” the human snapped. It sounded angry, but it had squashed itself as far from Ellis as it could get, its entire body trembling like a leaf.
Ellis tilted his head, “bigfoot? I’m not a bigfoot. I’m a troll.”
“Congratulations, Bigfoot Jr.,” the human sneered, baring its dull teeth. After a moment of silence, disturbed only by the pounding of its heart, it snapped at him again, “Ellis is a stupid name.”
“Ellis isn’t a stupid name.”
Unconvinced, the human fell back into silence, glaring at him as it shifted, trying to move even farther out of reach.
At dinner that night, Ellis couldn’t bring himself to eat. Mother and father had brought home a second human, this one to eat, but Ellis passed on his share of it. This wasn’t unusual, as he’d never really been fond of human, but tonight he couldn’t bring himself to even try to swallow any down.
“Ellis,” mother stabbed a big piece with a long claw and plopped it down in front of him, “eat your dinner.”
Ellis could feel the eyes of the human in the cage burning into him, “I’m not really all that hungry.”
“Ah, you never eat much when we bring human,” his father shook his head, “we got you a living one, didn’t we? So eat this one. We had to chase it halfway up the mountain before we caught it.”
“I’m not hungry, papa, I promise.”
Father huffed, but waved him away, “fine, but don’t be complaining about your empty stomach.”
Ellis nodded and raced from the corner of the cave where they ate over to the human, still glowering out through the bars of its cage.
“Do you have a name?”
“That’s an odd name.”
The human stared at Ellis, not looking overly impressed.
“My name’s Michael. Happy now?”
“Then beat it.”
“Can you tell me about the sun?”
The human turned its dark eyes onto Ellis, “what?”
“Why don’t you go see for yourself, Jr.?”
“I’ll turn to stone.”
“Of course you will,” the human rolled its eyes, “trolls aren’t even supposed to exist, and yet here you are. I don’t care about your turn to stone sunburn, got it? Now go eat some defenseless hiker.”
“I don’t really like eating human.”
Michael shot an angry glare in the direction of mother and father, “maybe if I wasn’t locked in a dog kennel while those two over there were munching down on some poor sap like children chomping down on candy, I’d be more inclined to believe you.”
Much like the winter outside the cave, the human’s icy nature thawed slowly.
Spring had barely managed to settle in when Ellis finally got it to start holding conversations, rather than angry remarks. The human had been in the middle of sorting through the berries Ellis had gotten for it, tossing the ones it didn’t want and examining the ones it did, when it spoke to him.
“The sun’s pretty warm,” it told him, “my father’s kinda rich. I was vacationing in the area, to get away from his hovering around all the time: Michael do this, Michael do that, Michael don’t you think you should be a lawyer like me?”
The human went quiet for a long moment.
“I never thought I’d miss it,” it grumbled; it squished a berry between its fingers and glared at the thing like it was its fault for being squished, “but yeah, I was vacationing. Heard somebody yelling for help, so I ran off into the trees. Now… now I’m trapped here.”
The human scowled before looking up from the berries, expression softening, “there was a sun room in the cabin I stayed in. I liked to sit on the couch, just letting it warm me up.”
“Tell me more about the sun?” Ellis asked the human, “and what’s a lawyer? Or a couch?”
The edge’s of the human’s mouth tipped up. It was the first time Ellis had ever seen Michael smile.
As Michael talked, Ellis decided he wanted to see that smile again. As spring eased itself into place outside, Ellis even managed to work a laugh out of the creature, though laughs were hard earned.
The first time Ellis tried to go outside during the day to see the sun for himself, his father yanked him inside before he even reached the entrance, demanding to know what he had been doing. He hadn’t appreciated the younger troll’s answer of wanting to see the sun that the human told him about.
Ellis knew Michael had been terrified when father reached into the kennel and dragged it out, his claws around its neck. Even terrified, the human snarled and struggled, clawing uselessly at father’s arms. Ellis’s pleading cries were the only thing that kept father from snapping Michael’s neck.
Once they thought Ellis was asleep, his parents brought up the idea of a new human, one who wouldn’t fill Ellis’s head with romanticized ideas of the sun.
That morning, when his parents were asleep, Ellis opened the human’s cage. It didn’t need much urging, staring at him for a long moment before it took off. Weak after so long in the kennel, his parents managed to bring Michael back not long after nightfall.
He waited until they left to find dinner, then pried open the twisted bars that kept Michael trapped.
“There’s not much night left,” Michael said, and for the first time the fire in the human seemed to have gone out, “I appreciate the thought, kid, but I blew the one chance I had.”
“They’re going to eat you,” Ellis told it. This finally got it moving, until it realized Ellis was following it out.
“Beat it, Ellis.”
“You won’t make it if I don’t come, too,” Ellis scowled right back, “next time they catch you, I doubt my parents will bring you back still breathing.”
Michael held his stare for a long moment before finally giving in. Ellis stepped outside, Michael beside him, and stared out into the night for only a single moment before the two started their trek down the mountain.
They had just reached Michael’s empty cabin when the sun made its appearance over the mountain.
Ellis didn’t hear what Michael said, as the young troll turned to look at the sun for the first time. All Ellis knew was that the sun was warm, just like Michael had said it would be.
Years after moving far from any mountain, a man tended to his garden, enjoying the peace of the silence-
Michael turned, already scowling, “hell you doing in my yard?”
The kid didn’t seem put off by being glared at. Instead, the kid just stared at him.
“What’s with the ugly statue?”
Michael’s glare sharpened. The eight year old seemed unimpressed.
“It’s not ugly.”
“Looks like a werewolf that had its muzzle squashed in.”
“Yeah? Well, he’s a troll, not a werewolf, and you look like somebody squashed your nose in, too,” Michael said.
“No I don’t,” the boy grumbled, “why the pretty garden and then the big ugly statue?”
Michael rolled his eyes. Maybe if he humoured the kid, he’d leave him alone.
“Look. Sun rises right over there. This statue’s facing just the right spot to see it every morning. Happy?”
“I like the sun,” the kid said, frown finally lifting.
“I can tell.”
The kid was so tan, Michael wondered if he ever went inside.
“But that don’t explain why the statue’s ugly. Or why you went through all the trouble of moving it here.”
Michael scowled and turned back around.
“My family just moved in down the street.”
“Do I really seem like I care?”
“I dunno. My name’s Ellis.”
Michael looked over his shoulder at the kid before his gaze fell away.
“Don’t you have better things to do than hang out around a grumpy old man, Ellis?”
The kid shrugged, but he left. Michael huffed and reached up to brush a leaf off the statue, his fingers brushing against the sun warmed stone.
“Oh, don’t look so smug,” he told the statue’s unchanging expression, “Ellis is still a stupid name.”