The Block Island Times

Snips and Snails and Pond Trolls' Tails

By Martha Ball | Oct 26, 2013

The Pesky Pond Troll (PPT) of Clay Head Swamp was grumpy. (For the uninitiated, or the forgetful, the PPT makes occasional appearances in this space. He is a creature with Hobbit-like feet and a heavy coat of long brown hair, be it a natural color or simply one from years of wallowing in the mud is uncertain. He loves daffodils and had a long-standing truce with the deer to keep them from munching the shoots with their greedy mouths, a pact that now seems to have cracked. He is invisible but for his footprints and he always carries a switch to brush them away and erase all evidence of his passing. The PPT is, basically, a scamp, a scavenger who collects objects of use, food, batteries, whatever the most recent mobile device available is, and fancy things shiny and bright, rather like a magpie. His cave under Clay Head is lined with whatever hikers have thought they lost over the years. He is a lover of holly and Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt,” especially favoring and imagining himself a part of “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” He conducts occasional forays beyond the bounds of the swamp to torment creatures who can sense but not see him, and to sneak the very occasional nip from a poorly tended liquor cabinet. Luckily, he eschews weapons of all kinds, knowing a speedy get-a-way the best defense of all. Once, he did leave a footprint behind when a great golden dog almost caught him — he had been on a holly mission and had heard strains of Peer Gynt and been transfixed.)

October was the month the dark began to descend in earnest; it was rainy — it was usually rainy, not that rain bothered him, but it reduced the already thinning people on the trails to nothing, lessening his daily take of bounty, food, iPods, shoes, all manner of stuff glittery and sometimes even gold.

He didn’t like October, it had stolen his very favorite friend, and he had absolutely no intention of forgiving it. Ever.

He still remembers the sunny May day that fluffy puppy came to live in the house above the pond, the first creature ever to really understand his presence. He had conveniently over time forgotten his initial resistance, his abject horror at the realization the Thing was here to stay; then, as soon as they had settled into a nice routine of you-chase-me-and-I’ll disappear, it was over and done. It was the one time he crept up mindless of being seen, no one was noticing his invisible self moving through the grass, or heard his embarrassingly loud snuffling, they were too focused on putting the body of the big golden dog in a great gaping hole in the earth. He sniffed at the memory and hoped there were no deer listening.

There had been another he had gradually, with great resistance, come to love almost as much and another he never really got to know. There had been visitors as well, black dogs that never stayed long, one so sweet she was no fun to torment and the other... the other had potential but he always left.

This October felt different. The PPT had noticed something in the air the first night of fall, just hours after the equinox in September. He wouldn’t exactly say he’d been fooled before, he was way too smart for that but... suffice it to say he remained cautious.

A month later the presence was growing stronger and stronger, and as the leaves dropped he was seeing flashes of a pale puppy trotting about the yard as if he owned it, but not quite the way he should be and it hit the PPT like a ton of bricks — which he realize was a silly expression, even he with all his magical powers, real and imagined, would be completely buried under a ton of bricks.

This new puppy was not a he.

A girl?! After all this time, all this waiting, he was rewarded with a girl? Whatever was going on, this was simply not an acceptable alternative. What if she turned out to be sweet and compliant like that little lady who used to visit that would be no fun, no fun whatsoever.

Sugar and spice had their place in the PPT’s world — or in his stomach, he had a mighty fine metabolism and had discovered he could scarf down just about any quantity of food and his coat never got any tighter (that it was expandable never crossed his mind, he tended to be a bit delusional). He might even tolerate sugar and spice in a worthy adversary, it was the everything nice that undid him.

He stomped his furry foot a few times — the PPT was often stomping his furry foot over one thing or another, usually the news he read on his complex of media devices, fashioned after all those screens in newsrooms in movies. Dust rose in clouds and he idly thought it hadn’t rained in a long, long time, not a big concern as long as his pond stayed nice and mucky.

He wanted snips and snails and Pond Trolls’ tails and snakes and... sandsharks!

He would just have to wait and see how this played out, for now he had to satisfy himself with creeping up to the house and listening, waiting for the inevitable “no!” and “put that down!” and “where are my shoes?!” and if he was really lucky “bad dog!”

Why anyone thought speaking in exclamation points would make a difference he had no idea, it was all in the tone, and if someone said “bad troll!” to him in that tone of voice he’d just roll over to have his belly scratched, just like that puppy. He would never, never, never do such a thing, it was far too undignified.

Still, winter was coming, this could be a welcome diversion, the deer were dumber and more boring every year. And the puppy had arrived in September, he reminded himself, even if this all worked out well, October was most assuredly not off the hook.

(Special thanks to Curt Milton who offered the unsolicited no-strings-attached photo of Autumn under the windsock by the gallery door last week.)

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