Saturday, 26 October 2013
Blackwater Casefile 'Three' - No. 1: The Toll of the Tumbulgum Troll
Until, around a curve in the road, a pair of headlights peaked through the darkness and slowly approached the bridge. The headlights belonged to a rusty old, black 1982 Cadillac Seville, meandering its way down Terranora Road, peeling through paddocks and pastures. As it came within 20 metres of the bridge, it started to slow down, until just 10 metres away, it came to a stop in the middle of the road and with a clunk of its parking brake, it switched off.
After a moment, the driver's door opened and an old man, who looked to be in his mid-to-late fifties, stepped out of the car. He wore a black, felt sports jacket over a business shirt, despite the fact that it was summertime, as well as a pair of unironed, black business trousers and unpolished leather shoes. His face was dominated by a pair of glasses with small, but thick, circular lenses on a thin wire frame. He also had a salt-and-pepper beard, hiding his lined and weathered face. and on top of his head, his messy, graying hair was kept neat under a small, black bowler hat.
The man glanced at the bridge for a moment before reaching back into his car and retrieving from the passenger's seat, a neatly-folded, black and white umbrella with a hooked, wooden handle. Closing the car door behind him, he approached the bridge, walking the umbrella like a cane.
The man walked onto the first section of the bridge, before it came to the water, and stopped at a seam in the bitumen, where the bridge connected to the road. He placed the metal tip of his umbrella at a gap in the seam and swiftly whipped it across it. As it raced along the seam in the road, the umbrella gave an unnatural flare of bright, orange sparks.
"I thought so . . ." muttered the man, turning around. He returned to his car, but stood just a metre in front of it before he stopped and turned to look at the bridge again. He then held the handle of the umbrella with two hands, pointing down, and struck the ground with it three times.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Upon the third tap, there was the groan of swaying trees off to the side of the road. The man turned towards the source of the sound.
"Yes, you there," says the man, his voice quavering slightly as he called out, "I'm calling on you. Show yourself!"
With a deep growl, More trees swayed and swished then thud! the ground shook with the force of a mighty footstep. Thud! thump! Crack! Something was moving through the forest. As a large silhouette, four storeys tall and vaguely humanoid, came into view, the man managed to stand up tall despite the shaking ground and his panicked heartbeat. A great hand pulled aside a tree, and the creature stepped onto a road with a crunch! The leg looked like a massive tree-trunk, covered in moss and vines, except that it was attached to an even larger tree in the shape of a man with twisted tree knobs and stray twigs, and a hunchback covered in branches and leaves. With another crash! it dropped its other leg onto the road and turned to face the little man. The face of the creature was crooked and gnarly, like a twisted, overgrown log, except for the enormous, prominent wooden nose; bright, yellow eyes and rows of snaggled and jagged teeth that he saw as the creature opened its mouth to speak.
"Who dare disturb my slumber?" demanded the troll, speaking with a rumbling, booming bass, that sounded more like thunder than a voice.
"I am Donald Malcolm Blackwater, Horror Investigator," says the man, sounding confident, despite his shaking knees. "I was hoping to cross your bridge . . ."
The troll raises a small clump of moss over its eye, that was clearly indicative of an eyebrow, and leans down towards Mr Blackwater. It inhaled deep through its nose, rustling the man's hair as it sniffed the air about him.
"You are no magician . . ." growls the monster, "Why did you awaken me?"
"It is true, I don't use magic, myself . . ." says Mr Blackwater, "however, many of the tools of my trade do, and they are very sensitive. I'm afraid that, were I to cross a ley-line such as this major river, it would damage or dispell them."
The troll considers this for a moment, looking down at the little man with curiosity.
"If you wish to cross my bridge, you must pay the toll."
Mr Blackwater sighs heavily.
"I've little to offer you . . . what is the toll?"
"To cross the bridge, you pay the fee; of this I give you options, three." says the troll, raising three twisted fingers in a routine that it had obviously practised.
"Whether coin or brick or Gold; with money, passage may be sold.
If gold is deemed too high a price; I accept one Soul as Sacrifice.
If wisdom high, yet payment little; then answer me a vexing Riddle.
If of these options, none are paid; then leave now or you will be Slayed."
"Alright then." says Blackwater, clearing his throat, "I'm afraid I don't have any money, and I couldn't live with myself if I offered a sacrifice."
"I accept animal sacrifice," offers the troll.
"Yet still, I have none to offer," says Blackwater, "However . . . I am a Horror Investigator. I consider it my duty to find the truth. Ask me any question and, if it has an answer, I will find it."
"Any question?" asks the troll, again raising a mossy eyebrow.
"If it has an answer, yes."
The troll seems to consider this for a moment, looking up at the sky before bending back down to look Mr Blackwater in the eye.
"Donald Malcolm Blackwater," says the troll, pointing an accusing branch, "if you wish to cross my bridge, then you must answer me this one question: Who Took My Head?"
For a moment, Mr Blackwater looks quite taken aback. He clears his throat.
"Excuse me . . . this is not an answer and I apologize if this seems like a foolish question, but isn't that your head?" asks Mr Blackwater, pointing towards the troll's nose with his umbrella. In response, the troll leans down towards him. Blackwater throws up his arms, for fear the creature was about to crush him, but as the troll stopped moving and its leaves stopped rustling, Blackwater again opens his eyes to see what stood before him. Leaning down at this angle, Blackwater could clearly see the creature's right shoulder, from which protruded what looked like a smooth tree-stump with a hollow down the middle, but was actually a neck-stump, perfectly cut and still weeping sap.
"A two-headed troll . . ." mutters Blackwater.
"Yes," barks the troll, the volume of its voice making his insides flutter in such close proximity to its mouth. The troll then stood up straight. "Who is responsible for this?"
Readjusting his jacket, Blackwater stands up tall and taps his umbrella on the ground nervously.
"It's a difficult question . . ." mutters Blackwater, looking around. There was nothing but trees and road around him, with farmland behind. "Well, it's obvious to me that there's no one around on this side of the river to have committed such a crime. They must have fled to the town across the river. Of course, with such an important part of your person which would therefore be inter-twined with your magic, the head itself could be used to force passage across your bridge."
"Who took it?" demands the troll, cutting right to the chase.
"I'm afraid I can't answer your question just yet," says Blackwater.
"Whoever took your head will have crossed the river. The only way I'll be able to find them, and provide you with their identity, is if I were to enter the town," says Mr Blackwater, pointing across the bridge.
The troll shakes his head.
"No . . . you're trying to trick me. You want me to let you through before you pay the toll!"
"Not at all," says Blackwater, "as I said, I am not a magician. I don't need you to stem the flow of the ley-line before I cross. I will cross the bridge alone and return with your answer."
The troll considers this a moment, scratching the bark off its chin with a giant hand.
"How do I know you'll come back?"
"I'll leave my car here," says Mr Blackwater. "In fact, you hold onto it as collateral. If I don't come back, you can keep it, and all of the artefacts and tools within."
The troll nods its head.
"I accept this proposal . . ."
With one mighty hand, the troll leans forward, reaches over Mr Blackwater's head and grasps its fingers around the car. The troll tightens its grip and Blackwater flinches as he hears the back window crack, then the troll lifts the car off the ground and starts to walk towards the forest. Thud! Crunch! The troll pushes its way back through the trees and disappears into the darkness.
"All things considered, that went rather well . . ." Blackwater mutters to himself. Then, using his umbrella like a walking stick, he begins to cross the bridge into the Town of Tumbulgum.
Half an hour later, Mr Blackwater was tapping on the front door with the handle of his umbrella, when it suddenly opened. In the doorway stood an old lady, perhaps in her seventies, with long white hair that flowed down to the small of her back, where it was dark brown at the tips. She was wearing a pale-green dressing gown over a pink nightdress. Her feet were bare, showing off her long toenails.
"Took you bloody long enough," says the woman, pointing an accusing finger with a long, cruel fingernail.
"I'm sorry, Cassandra," says Mr Blackwater, stepping inside, "I was held up by a troll."
"At the bridge?" she asks, leading the way into the kitchen. "Why would he bother you? Cup of tea?"
"Some of my equipment uses magic, I bartered for passage. No, thank you. "
"Well, I just stay this side of the Tweed River," she says, pouring herself a cup from the already boiling kettle, "I don't want to risk facing a troll."
"Right," says Mr Blackwater, leaning his umbrella against the wall as he sits at the kitchen table. "Well, I'm in his debt now. Somebody stole his head, and I have to find out who it is."
Cassandra sits across the table from him and looks him in the eye.
"Why are you looking at me? I didn't take it."
"Could you help me find it?"
"With what? Troll head means Troll magic. I can't pretend to understand how trolleri works, Donnie. Let alone sense it. And I don't know anyone around here that would have stolen it, either. There are no other witches around here, or monsters. If there were, I wouldn't have needed you to come all the way down here, to help me with this problem."
"Ah yes, the problem," says Donald, leaning forward, "your message was somewhat vague. Something about people going missing?"
"Yes," says Cassandra, sipping her tea, "I've never heard of anything like it. Six people have gone missing, although one showed up dead in the river, waterlogged and cut up bad. The only thing left behind are these circles with their blood."
"Circles of blood?"
"Yes, in the fields. I don't know how else to say this, Donnie: I think there are aliens in this town and they've been abducting people . . ."