Authors: Frank Tuttle
Trolls really, really shouldn’t smile at people they like.
I woke up. That surprised me so much I sat up and opened my eyes.
Home sweet home, my tiny room behind a room. Someone had shoved the bedding back in my mattress and sewed it back up. The door to the office was upside down, but back on its hinges, and closed.
I swung my legs around, snarled when I rediscovered my broken left arm and spent a few minutes scratching under the splint.
Mama Hog’s short fat shadow slid under the door. “You awake, boy?” she barked.
“No. Go away,” I said.
She opened the door and shut it quickly behind her. In her hands she held a steaming bowl of soup and half a loaf of fresh baked bread and she’ll never ever look that good again.
“Brought you some food,” she said. “Don’t you go puking it up, you hear?”
“I hear.” I sat on the edge of the bed. I was wearing my other pants and I wondered if I’d been dressed by Trolls or fortunetellers.
“The Misters?” I said, grabbing a spoon.
Mama Hog’s warty face split in a grin. “They’re Trolls, boy,” she said. “Took twenty-seven half-dead and mashed them flat. Twenty-seven!”
Mama Hog rattled on. “Mister Smith, he came marchin’ back here with you in one hand and his cousin’s head in the other. You’ve never seen the like, boy—and the other two, they were singing some Troll battle song, all thunder and bellowing. Woke up half the city and scared the Watch near to death. Pissin’ their pants, boy! You shoulda seen ’em run!”
I shoved bread in the soup, sopped it up, made it disappear.
“Don’t choke, boy, don’t choke,” said Mama Hog. She lost her grin. “They’re gone,” she said. “Gone back East. Got to do some heavy purification rituals. They touched the undead, walked our sewers, handled our money.”
I swallowed hard. “When did they—”
“Yesterday,” said Mama. “Noon. After the Watch came sniffing around. Mister Smith gave them that gold around his neck to pay for the damages they did. Then he warned them to keep off your back, and they took off for Troll country.” She smiled. Not a grin, but a smile, and for an instant some of the ugly vanished. “He told me to watch after you, Markhat. Said you were clanless no more.”
I put down the soup. “He said that?”
“He did,” said Mama Hog. “Left you something, too. Here.” She held out an egg-sized chunk of smooth white river rock. “Take it. Tell it to speak.”
I took it. It was heavy and cold. “Tell it to what?”
Mama Hog rolled her eyes. “Tell it to speak. Say ‘Rock, speak to me.’”
“Rock,” I said, “Speak to me.”
Troll grumbles filled the air. “Greetings, my brother,” said Mister Smith. “Forgive our hasty departure. It was necessary, but unhappily so. Mister Chin, Mister Jones and I would have shared with you one last meal of the catfish, had circumstances permitted.”
“We will honor your memory,” said Mister Chin.
“You are welcome among us,” said Mister Jones.
“I have warned your Watch, and the half-dead Houses,” said Mister Smith. “You fought by our side. You fought for the soul of one of our own, one who could no longer fight for himself. You walked with us, through darkness, and when you looked upon the yellow metal you turned away.”
I remembered that, and winced.
“I name you Markhat of Clan—” the translator stopped using Kingdom and choked out a long, wet Troll word. “In all things, we are brothers, now and forever. May your shadow fall tall and your soul grow to meet it.”
“Goodbye, my brother,” chorused the Misters, unseen. “Walk brave, in beauty.”
Silence. Mama Hog took the empty bowl and the dirty spoon from me. “You don’t look much like a Troll,” she said. “But I reckon looks can be misleading. Can’t they?”
I put the stone down. I was tired, and my arm was broken, and the lump on the back of my head started throbbing, but I felt good—better than I’d felt since the War.
Memories stirred. “What was in that bracelet you gave me, Mama?” I asked. “Looked like a bug. Scared old man Haverlock so bad he got himself killed.”
Mama Hog grinned with both her wide front teeth. “Fooled you both, didn’t I? Bracelet wasn’t worth squat. Some flash, some heat—bet he tore it off hisself, before he saw the worm.”
“He did.” I shuddered at the recollection. “He acted like I had snakes in my pockets.”
“We call ’em corpse worms where I come from,” said Mama Hog. “Just one of ’em gets in a half-dead, and pretty soon he’s so full of worms he’ll bust wide open. We don’t have no vampire troubles in Pot Lockney, boy,” she said.
I grunted. Mama Hog stopped, half-through the door. “Them Trolls left you something else,” she said. “When you get your legs back come and see. Took two Trolls to haul it across town. Took me two hours to wipe off the mess.”
I didn’t need to go look. I had seen past Mama when she’d barged in—the Haverlock’s fancy ironwood desk sat in my office.
It’s a fine big desk. I keep Mister Smith’s talking rock in the top right-hand drawer and a keg of Keshian ale in the big cabinet to the left.
And when people ask me how much the desk cost, I just smile and tell them a dear old friend left it to me when he passed away.
It isn’t the truth, exactly, but it’ll do.
About the Author
Frank Tuttle discovered writing at an early age. Later, when Frank figured out that writing did not in fact involve mixing seahorses with caustic lye compounds, he began to enjoy writing. And when Frank was first paid to write about things that never happened to people that never existed, he knew he’d found a vocation to take the place of professional carnival weight-guessing.
Frank is a hairy, nine-foot tall hominid weighing nearly six hundred pounds who makes his home in the heavily-forested wilderness of the American Pacific Northwest. And he wishes all you people would stop trying to film him, and that business of making plaster casts of his footprints is really beginning to cheese him off.
Look for these titles by Frank Tuttle
Dead Man’s Rain
Can a haunted man help the dead find peace?
Dead Man’s Rain
© 2008 Frank Tuttle
Markhat is a Finder, charged with the post-war task of tracking down sons and fathers gone suddenly missing when an outbreak of peace left the army abandoned where they stood. But now it’s ten years on after the war, and about all he’s finding is trouble.
This time, trouble comes in the form of a rich widow with a problem. Her dearly departed husband, Ebed Merlat, keeps ambling back from the grave for nocturnal visits. Markhat saw a lot of during the war, but he’s never seen anyone, rich or poor, rise from the grave and go tromping around the landscape. But for the right price, he’s willing to look into it.
As a storm gathers and night falls, Markhat finds darker things than even murder lurk amid the shadows of House Merlat.
Enjoy the following excerpt for
Dead Man’s Rain:
Curfew in Rannit falls with the sun. The night belongs to the half-dead, the Watch and anybody crazy enough to risk running afoul of the former or tripping over the recumbent, snoring forms of the latter.
Curfew fell, and the big old bells on the Square clanged nine times. Before the last notes had faded Mama Hog herself was yelling “Boy, wake up,” and banging on my door.
I swung my feet off my desk, put my sandwich down on a plate and hurried to the door.
Mama Hog looked up and grinned. “The Widow Merlat found you,” she said, not asking but reporting.
“She did indeed,” I said, opening the door. “What a chucklesome old dear. She’s coming by later for tea and a séance.”
Mama cackled and trundled inside. “The Widow Merlat’s got the fear, boy,” she said. “Got it bad.” Mama plopped down into my client’s chair and started eyeing my sandwich.
“You make that?”
“It’s from Eddie’s,” I said. “Tear off a hunk.”
She tore, bit, chewed.
“You sent me a lunatic, Mama,” I said, shaking my finger. “Shame on you.”
Bite, chew, swallow. Then Mama wiped her lips on her sleeve and grinned. “She ain’t crazy, boy,” Mama said. “She’s ec-cen-tric. Ain’t that the word for rich folks?”
“She thinks her dead husband spends his evening knock-knock-knocking at her door,” I said. “Eccentric doesn’t cover that, Mama, and you know it.”
Mama shrugged and chewed.
“I have no love for the idle rich,” I said. “But I’ve got no desire to fleece sad old widow women, either.” I went behind my desk, pulled back my chair and sat. “Why not send her to a doctor or a priest, Mama?” I said. “Why me? Why a finder?”
My sandwich—melted Lowridge cheese on smoked Pinford ham—was vanishing fast. I grabbed a hunk when Mama paused to speak.
“The widow ain’t crazy, boy,” she said. “Could be she ain’t seeing things, either.”
I shook my head and swallowed. “Your cards tell you that?”
Mama Hog nodded. “Cards say she’s got a hard rain coming, boy,” she said. “Turned up the Dead Man, and the Storm, and the Last Dancer, all in the same hand. Dead Man’s Rain. That ain’t good.” Mama grabbed another morsel of sandwich, guffawed around it. “But I don’t need cards to see the sun. The Widow Merlat is headed for a bad time. She knows it. I know it. You’d best know it, too.”
“Dead is dead, Mama,” I said. “That’s what I know.”
Mama grinned. “There’s other things you need to know, boy. Things about the ones that come back.”
“First thing being that they don’t,” I said.
Mama pretended not to hear.
“Rev’nants only walk at night,” she said. “It’s got to be pitch dark.”
“You can’t catch ’em coming out of the ground,” said Mama. “It’s no good trying. They’re like haunts, that way. Solid as rock one minute, thin as fog the next.”
“Sounds handy,” I said. “Do their underbritches get all misty and ethereal too, or is that one of the things man was not meant to know?”
“Don’t look in his eyes, boy. Don’t look in his eyes, or breathe air he’s breathed.”
“I won’t even ask about borrowing his toothbrush,” I said.
Mama slapped my desktop with both her hands.
“You listen,” she hissed. “Believe or not, but you listen.”
“I’ve got all night.”
“His mouth will be open,” said Mama. “Wide open. He’s been saving a scream, all that time in the ground. Saving up a scream for the one that put him there.” Mama lifted a stubby finger and shook it in my face. “Don’t you listen when he screams. You put your hands over your ears and you yell loud as you can, but don’t you listen. Cause if you do, you’ll hear that scream for the rest of your days, and there ain’t nothing nobody nowhere can do for you then.”
Silence fell. Only after Curfew do we get any silence, in my neighborhood. I let it linger for a moment.
I leaned forward, put my eyes down even with Mama’s, motioned her closer, spoke.
Mama glared. “Don’t get in his way, boy,” she said. “He didn’t come back for you. But that won’t mean nothing if you get in the way.”
“Dead is dead, Mama,” I said.
Mama sighed. “Dead is dead,” she agreed. “Sometimes, though, good and dead ain’t dead enough.”
In the search for home, sometimes you find more than you bargained for.
© 2008 J. H. Wear
Awakening to find himself deposited like a zoo animal on an alien world, all Carl wants is to find a way back to Earth. But he’s stuck on a peninsula, hemmed in a small paradise by sea monsters and an impassable desert.
His fellow villagers, also specimens plucked from Earth, live in primitive conditions, paralyzed by superstitions that keep them from venturing beyond the peninsula. To complicate matters, Carl has fallen for Tanya, the witchdoctor’s enchanting daughter. If she would just stop refusing his advances, he might almost—almost—be content with his new life.
But Carl arrived with something the rest of them lack—memories of home. And a growing suspicion that the “desert ghoul” the villagers fear could be his ticket back to Earth.
Enjoy the following excerpt for
They found Carl looking at some of the bones lying around. He picked up the skull of a raptor, turning it over in his hands.