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A Hungry Monster Haunts a Young Boy in Neil Gaiman's "Troll Bridge"

Read an excerpt from the short story below, part of the gripping fairy tale anthology Snow White, Blood Red

Snow White, Blood Red is a collection of retold fairy tales that put a modern spin on some of our most enduring stories. These adult retellings present childhood favorites—from Snow White to Little Red Riding Hood—through a new lens, fully revealing their inherent horror. Featuring stories from acclaimed fantasy and horror writers like Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Gahan Wilson, and more, these unforgettable tales will transport you to another realm...but a happy ending isn't guaranteed. 

This provocative collection comes from award-winning editing duo Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, also known for acclaimed anthologies like Black Heart, Ivory Bones and the World Fantasy Award-winning Silver Birch, Blood Moon. In an introduction to the anthology, Windling writes that fairy tales were never “intended for nursery duty” because they were meant to touch the darker side of human nature. Ellen Datlow agrees with Windling, adding “Many adults dismiss fairy tales as being too childish, too sweet and innocent, but fairy tales are far from that. The ones that touch us most deeply are often blunt about the darker side of human nature, filled with violence and atrocities.” 

RELATED: 12 Enchanting Fairy Tales for Adults 

The excerpt below fully displays that dark side of human nature. In "Troll Bridge," American Gods author Neil Gaiman puts a very creepy spin on fairy tales like Three Billy Goats Gruff. In the following passage, a seven-year-old boy meets a hungry troll while exploring in his hometown. The troll's threats plague him for years...and reveal the boy's own appetites. 

Read an excerpt from Snow White, Blood Red below, then download the book!

Snow White, Blood Red

By Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

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Snow White, Blood Red

By Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

I climbed the stone steps and went through the gate.

I was nowhere.

The top of the bridge was paved with mud. On each side of it was a meadow. The meadow on my side was a wheat field; the other was just grass. There were caked imprints of huge tractor wheels in the dried mud. I walked across the bridge to be sure: no trip-trap, my bare feet were soundless.

Nothing for miles; just fields and wheat and trees.

I picked a stalk of wheat, and pulled out the sweet grains, peeling them between my fingers, chewing them meditatively.

I realized then that I was getting hungry, and went back down the stairs to the abandoned railway track. It was time to go home. I was not lost; all I needed to do was follow my path home once more.

There was a troll waiting for me, under the bridge.

“I’m a troll,” he said. Then he paused and added, more or less as an afterthought, “Fol rol de ol rol.”

RELATED: 7 Fairy Tale Retellings That Will Make You Question Your Childhood 

snow white blood red
  • Photo Credit: Antonio Ron / Unsplash

He was huge: his head brushed the top of the brick arch. He was more or less translucent: I could see the bricks and trees behind him, dimmed but not lost. He was all my nightmares given flesh. He had huge, strong teeth, and rending claws, and strong hairy hands. His hair was long, like one of my sister’s little plastic gonks, and his eyes bulged. He was naked, and his penis hung from the bush of gonk hair between his legs.

“I heard you, Jack,” he whispered, in a voice like the wind. “I heard you trip-trapping over my bridge. And now I’m going to eat your life.”

I was only seven, but it was daylight, and I do not remember being scared. It is good for children to find themselves facing the elements of a fairy tale—they are well-equipped to deal with these.

“Don’t eat me,” I said to the troll. I was wearing a striped brown T-shirt and brown corduroy trousers. My hair also was brown, and I was missing a front tooth. I was learning to whistle between my teeth, but wasn’t there yet.

“I’m going to eat your life, Jack,” said the troll.

RELATED: 13 Sci-Fi Short Stories You Can Read Over Your Lunch Break 

I stared the troll in the face. “My big sister is going to be coming down the path soon,” I lied, “and she’s far tastier than me. Eat her instead.”

The troll sniffed the air and smiled. “You’re all alone,” he said. “There’s nothing else on the path. Nothing at all.” Then he leaned down and ran his fingers over me: it felt like butterflies were brushing my face—like the touch of a blind person. Then he snuffled his fingers and shook his huge head. “You don’t have a big sister. You’ve only a younger sister, and she’s at her friend’s today.”

“Can you tell all that from smell?” I asked, amazed.

“Trolls can smell rainbows, trolls can smell the stars,” it whispered sadly. “Trolls can smell the dreams you dreamed before you were ever born. Come close to me and I’ll eat your life.”

“I’ve got precious stones in my pocket,” I told the troll. “Take them, not me. Look." I showed him the lava jewel rocks I had found earlier.

“Clinker,” said the troll. “The discarded refuse of steam trains. Of no value to me.”

RELATED: What Fairy Tales and Horror Movies Have in Common 

He opened his mouth wide. Sharp teeth. Breath that smelled of leaf mould and the underneath of things. “Eat. Now.”

He became more and more solid to me, more and more real; and the world outside became flatter, began to fade.

“Wait.” I dug my feet into the damp earth beneath the bridge, wiggled my toes, held on tightly to the real world. I stared into his big eyes. “You don’t want to eat my life. Not yet. I—I’m only seven. I haven’t lived at all yet. There are books I haven’t read yet. I’ve never been on an aeroplane. I can’t whistle yet—not really. Why don’t you let me go? When I’m older and bigger and more of a meal I’ll come back to you.”

The troll stared at me with eyes like headlamps.

Then it nodded.

“When you come back, then,” it said. And it smiled.

I turned around and walked back down the silent, straight path where the railway lines had once been.

After a while I began to run.

[...]

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  • Photo Credit: Vedant Choudhary / Unsplash

It was eight years before I returned to the old railway line, and when I did, I was not alone.

I was fifteen; I’d changed schools twice in that time. Her name was Louise, and she was my first love.

I loved her gray eyes, and her fine, light brown hair, and her gawky way of walking (like a fawn just learning to walk which sounds really dumb, for which I apologize). I saw her chewing gum, when I was thirteen, and I fell for her like a suicide from a bridge.

The main trouble with being in love with Louise was that we were best friends, and we were both going out with other people.

I’d never told her I loved her, or even that I fancied her. We were buddies.

I’d been at her house that evening: we sat in her room and played Rattus Norvegicus, the first Stranglers LP. It was the beginning of punk, and everything seemed so exciting: the possibilities, in music as in everything else, were endless. Eventually it was time for me to go home, and she decided to accompany me. We held hands, innocently, just pals, and we strolled the ten-minute walk to my house.

The moon was bright, and the world was visible and colorless, and the night was warm.

RELATED: 10 Enchanting Beauty and the Beast Retellings 

We got to my house. Saw the lights inside, and stood in the driveway, and talked about the band I was starting. We didn’t go in.

Then it was decided that I’d walk her home. So we walked back to her house.

She told me about the battles she was having with her younger sister, who was stealing her make up and perfume. Louise suspected that her sister was having sex with boys. Louise was a virgin. We both were.

We stood in the road outside her house, under the sodium yellow streetlight, and we stared at each other’s black lips and pale yellow faces.

We grinned at each other.

Then we just walked, picking quiet roads and empty paths. In one of the new housing estates a path led us into the woodland, and we followed it.

The path was straight and dark; but the lights of distant houses shone like stars on the ground, and the moon gave us enough light to see. Once we were scared, when something snuffled and snorted in front of us. We pressed close, saw it was a badger, laughed and hugged and kept on walking.

RELATED: 16 Must-Read Neil Gaiman Books 

We talked quiet nonsense about what we dreamed and wanted and thought.

And all the time I wanted to kiss her and feel her breasts, and maybe put my hand between her legs.

Finally I saw my chance. There was an old brick bridge over the path, and we stopped beneath it. I pressed up against her. Her mouth opened against mine.

Then she went cold and stiff, and stopped moving.

“Hello,” said the troll.

I let go of Louise. It was dark beneath the bridge, but the shape of the troll filled the darkness.

“I froze her,” said the troll, “so we can talk. Now: I’m going to eat your life.”

Want to keep reading? Download Snow White, Blood Red today. 

Snow White, Blood Red

By Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

This post is sponsored by Open Road Media. Thank you for supporting our partners, who make it possible for The Portalist to continue publishing the sci-fi stories you love.

This post is sponsored by Open Road Media. Thank you for supporting our partners, who make it possible for The Portalist to continue publishing the sci-fi and fantasy stories you love.

Featured photo: Florian Olivo / Unsplash 

Published on 13 Mar 2019

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