Stop 4: My Fictional Life circa 1959

Paying the Troll by Ciar Cullen

Decades ago, before visitors to the island crossed the concrete Causeway in indistinguishable SUVs decorated with soccer stickers and cause ribbons, my dad drove us to Aunt Celeste’s house in a hideous green Comet. I’m not sure if kids were smaller in the 50s, but the whole family managed to fit in, with a week’s worth of clothes, pillows, and blankets.
I was twelve in the summer of 1959. The prospect of a week on the beach (and the fantasy we might somehow get stranded there so I wouldn’t have to return to school in September) thrilled me. Never mind that it had to be the hottest summer in a thousand years, that we had no air conditioning, and my parents were already arguing over where we were going to take Aunt Celeste for dinner.
Nothing was more exciting than the clatter of cars on the wooden bridge, which silenced the “are we there yet?” whining. We were there. Well, sort of. We managed to limp across the bridge with a hissing, smoking engine that brought curses from my father the likes of which I’d only heard at baseball practice. Dad pulled to the embankment to let traffic pass. We piled out and watched Dad lift the hood to stare at the engine as if he could mesmerize it into cooling off.
My older sister quickly grew absorbed in her fashion magazine while Mom pretended to search the trunk for a water bottle she already knew we’d left behind. To this day I can picture Mom wearing a broad sun hat and a dress with huge pink polka dots.
Eugene, or Weenie, as I called my little brother, flapped around like a wounded bird—his signal that he needed a rest stop. I was elected to walk him down the embankment towards the shallow lapping tide out of view.
“Don’t go far!” I mouthed the words before Mom even said them.
As I helped Weenie zip up his shorts and pushed him up the sandy hill, a glint caught my eye under the bridge. Well, perhaps glint isn’t quite the right word. I’d never seen anything like the shimmering light dashing about the dank dark space under the wooden beams of the bridge.
Mom called “Kenny” and I yelled back that I was fine, collecting “stuff.” Fear and curiosity fought for supremacy as I ducked under the bridge. The shimmering orb disappeared for a moment, and I thought I’d imagined it. I turned to join my family, whom I could hear arguing above, when I heard him. Or it.
“Pssst,” it hissed.
“Who’s there?” Fear now had the edge.
“You know this is a toll bridge, little man? What do you have for me?”
From behind a supporting pylon emerged a man—no—a thing like a man, but much, much uglier. He looked like something from one of Weenie’s storybooks, with long ragged hair, an enormous nose, a hunched back and huge saucer eyes. And he was no taller than my chest. I opened my mouth to yell to Dad, but the creature waved his hand in a circle, and no sound came from my mouth. My legs turned to stone. Still, from above I heard my family still debating what to do and the clap clap clap of the cars going by.
I shrugged my shoulders to indicate I couldn’t speak, and the wee fellow circled his hand again. My legs tingled and I tested my lips. “Who are you?”
“That will cost you more, little man. Perhaps even your life.”
“My life? My dad’s right up there. He could take you, no problem. Heck, I could take you.”
The creature sat on a rock and looked really forlorn. I kind of felt sorry for the little guy for a minute. He seemed pretty hurt that I didn’t recognize him.
“My name is Kenny. Um, my family is staying on the island for a week. Do you, um, live here?” Gosh, was this a homeless guy? I’d never seen a real homeless guy before—maybe this is what they looked like.
“I’m Brägin, and this is indeed my home. You are trespassing. And for that, you will surely perish.”
“Perish?”
“Well, at the very least, you’ll have to bring me a pretty gold nugget and a warm meal.”
“Or what will you do?”
“You don’t want to know. It will frighten your hair to white and your bones to brittle. It will turn your innards to jelly and…”
He turned away and looked sad again. When he started sniveling a bit, I really felt badly for him. “You don’t have any real powers, do you? You can’t do anything to me.”
He tapped his chest indignantly. “Brägin is the greatest of the bridge trolls, at least in southern parts. Or was. Until the news.”
Golly, now he was just getting annoying.
“What news is that?”
“You know, the news. The bridge—they’re taking it away…they’re taking me away with it.”
“You mean because they’re replacing this bridge with a new one? Why can’t you live under that?”
“Under concrete and iron? Trolls don’t live under concrete and iron, boy. They live with the earth, and things of nature.”
“Trolls? You mean like those nasty looking dolls my sister collects?”
“Trolls, boy. Brought on the ships with the fisherman from the old country. Snuck on the ships, we did, lived in the nooks and crannies. I’m a Sea Troll and must be near the water.”
“Gosh, sorry.” I didn’t believe a word of it, of course, but I wanted to help the crazy little guy.
“Kenny, get up here!” Dad’s call didn’t offer room for argument.
The troll looked even more dejected, but I had to go. If I told my parents about him, they’d…I wasn’t quite sure what they’d do, but I knew it wouldn’t end well for me or Brägin.
“You don’t have any food, do you? No one pays the toll any more. They go too fast for me to stop them. Almost got run over last time I tried.”
“Sorry, I have to go. Bye.” I didn’t dare look back at him as I climbed up the embankment to the car, but I couldn’t shake my meeting with Brägin.
Long after my family went to bed that night, I snuck into Aunt Celeste’s kitchen and made four bologna sandwiches. I put them in a bag with a few cookies and grabbed a bottle of Coke. Even though my uncle had died years earlier, his bike was still in pretty good shape, so I slipped out of the house and rode back to Ship Bottom.
Wondering if I’d imagined the whole thing, I slipped down to Brägin’s home near the smelly bay. It was dark, and more foreboding than in the light of midday with my parents nearby.
I jumped when I heard Brägin’s “Psst! Who goes there?”
“It’s Kenny, with some food.”
Brägin trundled out from behind a pylon, a broad smile making his face slightly more tolerable.
We sat in the dark and ate bologna sandwiches, watching the summer night sky in companionable silence. I continued my visits every night during our stay, learning about Brägin’s odd ways, the story of his kind, and hundreds of years of island history.
On my last night, I hugged him. He thanked me and called me a “good little man.” I rode home crying like a baby, wondering who would feed him when I was gone.
For years I took my own children to the house that once belonged to Aunt Celeste and is now mine. I never stopped on the concrete causeway to see what became of Brägin, but I never stopped wondering.

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3 thoughts on “Stop 4: My Fictional Life circa 1959

  1. Aly says:

    I love the bologna sandwiches. The true mark of a twelve year old mind. ❤ Poor little troll!

  2. ciarcullen says:

    Aw, thanks for stopping by. I felt bad for him, no one reading his story!

  3. anny cook says:

    Oh, what a wonderful story! More, please???

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