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
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
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.
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.
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.
surprised,” it said.
Surprised? “Just a bit,”
“You didn’t see the
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.
repeated the ugly creature. “My apologies, madam, it is supposed to say
.” He rolled his eyes, all
three of them, in a kind of “you just can’t get the staff” way.
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.
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
“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
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.
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
“Thank you,” I
said, surprised to feel a lump in my throat.
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
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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