The T(r)oll Bridge  

by Julie Hancock



For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid of flying (and frogs, escalators, sharks, and that bloke who presents the news – pompous, dubious taste in ties, you know the one).  My fears had never really bothered me because I hadn’t had to face them.  I could use lifts, I avoided amphibians and I could turn off the TV at the first “bong” of the evening news or the start of a David Attenborough deep-sea documentary.   Flying, though, was the biggest fear of all and one that I suddenly found myself having to confront.

My brother sent me an invitation to his fortieth birthday party and I burst into tears.  It’s not that I don’t love my brother or that I wanted to be a party pooper, but he lives in Madrid , and Madrid meant only one thing – flying.

Since he moved out there last year, I’ve managed to avoid going to visit (yes, I’m so ashamed of my stupid phobia that even my own family don’t know) by making up important football tournaments that my son simply couldn’t miss, pressures of work, and once I even told him I couldn’t go because there was nobody to look after the new puppy.  We don’t have a new puppy - I find dogs quite scary actually, although they’re not up there with dodgy-tied newsreaders and escalators.

So what could I do?  How could I tell my own brother I would have to miss his special birthday celebration?  I was pondering this as I walked home from work one day and I was so lost in my thoughts and fears that I hardly noticed I’d taken a wrong turn and had ended up on the old canal towpath.   

Looking around, I could see nobody in either direction.  The canal was still and stagnant and I couldn’t even hear the usual hum of the motorway traffic in the distance.   I could feel my pulse quickening and I shivered.  I was completely alone and yet I could sense someone, something, watching me.  I started to jog, thinking that at any moment, a hoodie – or worse still, several hoodies – would jump out and attack me.

I made for the bridge, my laboured breathing and the crunch of the gravel under my shoes horribly magnified in the suffocating silence.   Then I screamed – well, tried to scream but no sound came out as I stared in horror at the thing before me.   Not a hoodie, not several hoodies (believe me, they would have been preferable) but a troll – short, fat, green (yes, really) - straight out of that fairytale about the goats with attitude who dared to cross the bridge.

Before I had time to make any sense of things, the troll spoke.

“Good afternoon,” it said politely, its voice melodious and almost aristocratic.  I giggled.  Isn’t a fight-or-flight response supposed to kick in when one is faced with such a situation?  Well mine didn’t. Too scared and confused to either attack or run, I just stood there like an idiot and laughed.

“Good afternoon,” it said again, a little impatiently this time.

“Good afternoon,” I mumbled, glancing over my shoulder. (Oh, where were some hoodies when you needed them?)

The troll shuffled towards me and I stepped back instinctively. 

“You look surprised,” it said.

Surprised?  “Just a bit,” I replied.

“You didn’t see the sign then?”

I shook my head dumbly.  The troll pointed towards a little wooden sign poking out of the undergrowth at the edge of the canal.

“Toll bridge,” I read out loud.  I hadn’t even noticed it as I’d run past just a few seconds earlier.

“Toll bridge?” repeated the ugly creature.  “My apologies, madam, it is supposed to say Troll Bridge .”  He rolled his eyes, all three of them, in a kind of “you just can’t get the staff” way.  

I smiled feebly.  At that moment, I would have welcomed with open arms the arrival of a pompous newsreader or a whole gang of sharks, (well do you know the collective noun for sharks?) I would have happily kissed a frog.  I had never been so afraid in my life and yet it couldn’t be real, could it?  I kept thinking Ant & Dec would appear out of the bushes with a TV crew, but they didn’t, and the troll was edging closer to me.

“Aren’t you supposed to tell me off for clip-clopping over your bridge?” I said with a smile, hoping that humour might help me out of this situation.

“Clip-clopping?” repeated the troll, looking puzzled for a moment. “Oh, I know what you mean, and no, that was only for those wretched goats.”

“So, can I pass?” I asked tentatively.

“I thought we might have a little chat first,” it replied, scratching its filthy black hair.

I opened my mouth but it carried on: “I know you’re frightened, Annie, and I want to help.”

It knows my name? This was now getting seriously weird and a new wave of apprehension washed over me.

“Your fear of flying,” the troll prompted. “I can help you.”

Great, a troll with healing hands.  ”But how, I mean, why...” I began helplessly.

The troll sat down on the edge of the bridge, dangling his squat little legs over the side.  He beckoned me to sit next to him, and, trance-like, I did.

“How do you know so much about me?” I asked, curiosity beginning to get the better of me.  “And aren’t you supposed to scare people, not help them?”

The troll made a dismissive gesture with one gnarled hand.  “This is the twenty-first century, Annie! I like to think of myself as more of a fairy godmother figure.”

At that, I’m afraid I burst into uncontrollable laughter.  The whole situation was just so completely bizarre – I was sitting on a bridge over the canal next to a New Age troll who wanted to give me counselling!  I stood up decisively.  “Thank you so much,” I said as I made to leave.  “You’ve been a very realistic dream but now it’s time for me to wake up. Goodbye.”

I strode across the bridge to the other side of the canal, glancing back to make sure the troll had gone.  But he hadn’t.  He was waving at me and calling across the water.  “Search your past, Annie!  It will help you!”

I quickened my pace, breaking into a run and didn’t stop until I’d reached the road.  At last – people, cars, normality.  But my relief was short-lived.  I didn’t wake up, I was still awake. I hadn’t dreamed it.  Shivering in spite of the warm evening sun, I made my way home.


Later that evening, I was still going over and over in my head the extraordinary events of the day.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep, and the troll’s last words were bothering me.  Grabbing a torch, I headed up into the attic and began delving into dusty cardboard boxes containing old books and toys from my childhood.

I didn’t really know what I was looking for until I found it – right at the bottom of a box, under a pile of musty smelling picture story books, there it was.  The story of the goats who tried to cross the troll bridge.  I realised that I was shaking as I turned the pages and my heart almost stopped as I came to the picture of the troll, leering out from under the bridge as the baby goat gambolled across.

In an instant, a flood of childhood memories, long-since buried, came rushing to the surface and I was a frightened six-year-old again, traumatised by that horrible little creature, checking under my bed before I went to sleep in case the troll was there.  Waking, screaming, in the night, because I’d dreamt that the repulsive beast was about to kill me.

Lying in bed later that night, I began to wonder how I’d got over my fear of the story book troll.  At thirty-five, it’s easy to laugh at your childhood fears and foibles but I could remember being really disturbed by that book.  Yet at some point, I must have simply grown up and realised it was only a story.  After that, it must have been consigned to my childhood and forgotten, until now.  Exhausted, and still not really understanding, I fell into a (thankfully dreamless) sleep.


By the time I left for work the next morning, I’d nearly managed to convince myself that the previous day hadn’t really happened at all, it was all in my head, until I felt in my pocket and found my brother’s invitation.  I’d almost forgotten about it, but now, as I began my walk to the office, I felt the old familiar dread wash over me.

I was despairing of finding a good enough excuse to miss the party when I suddenly became aware of an ominous and familiar silence surrounding me.  I closed my eyes.  I wanted to run, but part of me knew what was about to happen.  Sure enough, when I looked up, I was at the canal bridge, and there was the troll.  For some reason, I noticed that he had corrected his little sign – it now read “tRoll briDge in proud, if slightly wobbly, letters.

“Annie!” He beamed. “I hoped you’d come back.”

“It wasn’t a dream then,” I said dully, “you’re real.”

“Of course I am,” he said, looking slightly hurt.

“Sorry, it’s just that this is all so…so…strange.

“It is,“ the troll agreed.  He watched me in silence for several moments, two eyes fixed on my face, the third apparently looking for someone behind me. 

“Look,” I said a little impatiently, “I have to go. I’ll be late for work.”

“Did you search your past?” he asked.

I realised that I was becoming more than a little irritated by this psychoanalysing troll and his mind games.

“Go away, “I said firmly, pushing past him.  “This isn’t real.”

“Real or not, you’re not afraid of me any more, are you, Annie?”

I swung round. “No! You’re getting on my nerves, leave me alone!”

“Then you’re no longer afraid of flying either.  Well done, Annie!”

I stared at him, bemused, and he looked at me pityingly.

“What was your greatest fear as a child, Annie?” he asked.

“You,” I breathed.  I felt as if a heavy fog were gradually lifting.

“Exactly!” The troll grinned. “And are you afraid of me now?”

“No,” I whispered, realising in disbelief that it was true.

The troll clapped his hands, like a teacher who has finally got through to a particularly stupid child.  “You faced me, Annie.  Me - your greatest fear. You faced me, even got a little angry with me, and now I don’t scare you at all.”

For a bewildering moment, I wanted to hug him.  Luckily, I stopped myself in time – I didn’t really want troll slime on my work suit.  But I understood – at last, I understood.  All my irrational fears as an adult stemmed from that one childhood horror.  Now I had tackled that fear, head on, and it had been surprisingly easy.  I wanted to rush straight to the travel agents and buy my ticket to Madrid .

“Thank you,” I said, surprised to feel a lump in my throat.

The troll smiled.  “It was a pleasure, Annie. Now, ‘clip-clop’ over the bridge and away with you!”  


Two months later, and a few days after the most wonderful week in Spain , I was out shopping for a birthday present for my son.  Hopping on to the escalator in the new mall, I headed for the big toyshop and saw straight away a huge rubber shark “with real swimming action”, which I knew he’d love.  All the way home, I couldn’t resist pressing the button on its back and giggling as its fins flapped backwards and forwards.

I feel so happy and so liberated – I’ve even dug out my old storybook nemesis and I keep it on my bookshelf to remind myself of how brave I am.  Now, if I could just conquer my fear of pompous newsreaders…   

©2008 Julie Hancock

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