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DINNER AND THE TROLL
Jonah’s mind was a maelstrom of thoughts that evening as he replayed his time with Stuart in his head. What was the beast in the puddle with him? Why had Stuart come to visit Jonah? What was going to happen next?
When his mother called him to dinner, Jonah shuffled to the table like a zombie extra in some “Grade-C” made-for-TV movie. Which was somewhat fitting since his consciousness was busy partaking in grand adventures somewhere far, far away. His mom and dad were already sitting, waiting for him as mildly peevish expressions tightened their jaws. Overall it was a fairly average night for the Hutchins family.
Mechanically Jonah pulled out his chair from the table, sat down and folded his hands.
“Bless this food to our bodies, Lord, and we give you the praise,” Jonah’s father, Wayland, said. “Amen.”
“Amen,” Jonah and his mother, Jacqueline, echoed.
“I’m sorry about dinner,” Jacqueline said. “I was running late and only had time to heat up some leftovers.”
“Nonsense,” Wayland replied. “It was delicious the first time, and I’m sure it will be just as good the second go-round.”
“Well,” said Wayland, taking a slice of reheated roast. “How was your day, dear?”
“Oh, fine,” Jacqueline said. “Uneventful enough, I suppose. And yours?”
“Nothing too out of the ordinary,” Wayland replied. “There was a little hiccup from marketing for the new launch, but that didn’t take long to iron out. That traffic, though! Abysmal stuff! I sat on the freeway for half an hour before I was able to make it to my exit! You’d think people hadn’t seen a little bit of rain before –”
“I made a new friend today,” Jonah said, looking up from his broccoli.
Stunned silence fell on the table like a two-ton anvil. Wayland’s eyes ballooned. Jacqueline’s jaw plummeted toward her dinner plate.
“You. . . you did?” Jacqueline said finally.
“His name’s Stuart,” Jonah said.
“Well that’s wonderful, son!” Wayland said. “What does he like? Where did you meet? Does he play baseball?”
“Well, he seems to like swimming an awful lot,” Jonah said. “And we met in the backyard. And I don’t think he plays much baseball.”
“. . .Stuart isn’t human, is he?” Jacqueline said.
“No, he’s a salmon,” Jonah said. “He showed up in one of those puddles left by the rainstorm this morning. He seems like a cool guy. Very polite. I think you’d like him, Dad –”
“Jonah, do you come up with these delusions just to torment us?” Wayland asked, pinching the bridge of his nose with two fingers. “Is that why you do it? Because frankly, son, I’m at my wit’s end. I. . . I just can’t take this anymore.”
“No, but you don’t understand. He needs our help! There’s something evil in the puddle with him –”
“NO MORE!” Wayland roared. “I don’t want to hear any more talk of salmon in puddles or trolls in the basement or harpies in the trees! They don’t exist, Jonah! Do you not understand that? These things don’t EXIST! It’s time you got your head out of fantasy and into reality! Do you understand me, Jonah? No MORE! Now go to your room!”
“But I –”
A dark look settled on Jonah’s face. Jumping up from the table, he stormed from the room and down the hallway, thunder booming from his footfalls. On the first stair up to his bedroom, though, Jonah slowed. Then he stopped. He knew his parents were saying stuff about him. Why not figure out what? Turning around, he crept quietly back to the kitchen door. Flattening himself against the wall by the doorframe, he breathed as shallowly as he could and listened to the conversation his parents were carrying on without him.
“You didn’t need to be so hard on him,” his mom said.
“I. . . I know,” his dad said. “It’s just, I worry about him. He doesn’t even want to meet other kids. He just lives with his made-up friends in his imaginary world, and he’s content. It’s not normal. And it’s not healthy.”
“I know, dear,” Jacqueline said. “I know.”
Jonah felt his cheeks light aflame. Turning, he crept guiltily up to his room.
. . .
The house was finally asleep, as was everyone in it. Well, almost everyone. Jonah crept out of his room, tiptoed down the stairs, and then walked over to the door to the basement. Carefully, slowly, he eased the door open, grimacing as the hinges groaned reproachfully at being woken so late at night. Closing the door behind him, Jonah clicked on the light and tromped solemnly down his house’s second staircase.
“Humphrey?” Jonah called. “Are you awake?”
“Is that you, Jonah?” a deep, gravelly voice rumbled.
“Yeah, it’s me,” Jonah said.
The monstrous beast unfolded from the shadows, its mottled green, brown and black flesh littered with jagged scales. Its yellowed tusks jutted out on either side of its bottom lip, the cracked tips almost reaching to the folds of its lower eyelids. Speaking of which, its eyes were a virulent green with orange pupils as sharp as a cat’s.
The monster reached out one thick, meaty hand toward Jonah, the vicious nails on its fingers raking the air. It found Jonah’s head, and proceeded to ruffle his hair.
“I got what you wanted,” Jonah said.
Jonah reached under his pajama shirt, and pulled out a big red and white striped bowtie attached to a bungee cord. “They don’t make them in your size, so I had to rig this so it would fit. But it should work now.”
“Oh, thank you, Jonah, thank you!” the troll said, gingerly plucking the bowtie from Jonah’s hands. “It’s just. . . perfect.”
“You’re welcome, Humphrey,” Jonah said.
“You’re up late,” Humphrey said, fastening the bowtie around his neck, stretching the bungee cord so it would reach. “Care to pick at your thoughts?”
Jonah sighed. “It’s my parents. They’re worried about me. And they’re tired of me talking to my imaginary friends.”
“Oh,” Humphrey said. “Does that include me?”
“They say you’re not real,” Jonah replied.
“But I feel real,” Humphrey said. “I think I’m real. Who can say I’m not?”
Jonah shrugged. “I dunno. I don’t think you’re fake either. But they say you are.”
Humphrey nodded slowly.
“I met another friend, too,” Jonah said. “His name’s Stuart. He’s a salmon who showed up in a puddle out in the back yard. He says there’s something bad out in the puddle with him. I haven’t seen it yet, though. I think we need to help him, but now my parents don’t want me to talk to him again.”
“That’s a tough one, Jonah,” Humphrey said. “It’s important to listen to your parents. But it’s also important to help others who need it.”
“What should I do, Humphrey?”
Humphrey cleared his throat. “I don’t rightly know. I think you’ll have to figure this one out for yourself.”
“I was afraid you’d say that.” Jonah paused. Then he added, “I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to come hang out with you before they make me ‘grow up.’”
“It would make me very sad if we couldn’t talk anymore, Jonah,” Humphrey said. “Very sad indeed.”
“Well, I suppose I should get back to bed,” Jonah said. “Bye, Humphrey.”
“Bye, Jonah,” Humphrey said. “Thank you for my new bowtie.” Humphrey wrapped his arms around the little human, being careful not to smother him. Or crush his bones to powder. Jonah in turn wrapped his arms as far around the troll as he could. Then he headed back up the stairs.
“I love you, Jonah,” Humphrey called when he was halfway up the staircase.
“I love you too, Humphrey,” Jonah said. Then he turned out the light and was gone.
Chapter three coming soon! Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a chapter, and share this one with all your friends!