Once upon a time, many years ago when I was but a mere slip of a lad, my dear old Grandma lived in her cosy little cottage deep in the heart of the dark forest. She was a wonderful lady, with a twinkle in her eye and her face alive with a smile even on the rare occasions when she had to chide me. She had seen much in her life and was full of the wise profundity that only comes from a warm soul and eyes that truly see. I loved her with the completeness that only a child can feel. I can look back with a smile now, but must confess that I had the same mercenary streak that every child has, and so I knew only too well that whenever I went to see her there would be a delicious cake or some scrumptious tarts fresh baked from the little wood stove in the corner awaiting me. Oh how I loved my Gran!
So when I set off to visit her it was always with a skip in my step as I entered the sunny outer edges of the dark forest, where the trees waved cheerily in the breeze and the birds sang with laughter and joy. However, the further I ventured down the narrow trail the taller and closer the trees became, towering dark and stern and eventually closing overhead blocking out all but the smallest glimpses of blue sky above. The bushes jostled in, brushing my arm and making me jump as I passed, and sometimes as I slowly walked along I could hear a rustling in the undergrowth. As I stopped, it stopped, then started again as I carried on, my pace ever quickening.
The further I got the darker and gloomier it got and I’m sure at times I caught a glint of yellowed malevolent eyes tracking me as I got closer and closer to the thick dank heart of the dark forest. Under my breath I would mutter “Be brave, be brave” but soon enough my courage would flee like an untethered balloon in a gale and I would run as fast as I could. Not long after, with heart pounding, I would reach the clearing, and with it the comforting sight of the white picket fence and the friendly curl of woodsmoke drifting slowly upwards from the red brick chimney poking through the thatched roof of Gran’s cottage.
Once inside, those terrors, whether real or imagined were soon forgotten as I bathed secure in the warm feminine radiance of my Gran’s boundless love and hungrily tucked in to the delicious repast.
One day, as I brushed the crumbs from my lips we sat in a comfortable silence watching the sprites leap and flicker in the grate. It was a simple blissfully happy moment, one of many that were such a wonderful part of my childhood.
Suddenly, the atmosphere, so snug and warm, changed. I was still staring at the fire but could feel a ripple of coldness in the air around me. I looked up at Gran and her face, usually so soft and rounded had changed. It was tighter, sharper, gentle curves replaced with taut lines. Her eyes, normally bright and smiling were weary and concerned. She lifted her head and fixed me with them, and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Time seemed to stop, the world around us receded and even the gentle crackle in the grate fell quiet as a sombre stillness engulfed us.
Eventually she spoke. “Grandson” she said and paused, her voice thin and troubled but with a steely conviction.
“Grandson, I want you to promise me something.”
“Of course grandma” I tremulously replied.
She paused again, breathed in deeply, and leant closer to me and I felt her worried eyes boring deep into my inner being. Eventually she said “No matter what they do, no matter what they say, I want you to promise me that you will never, ever, feed the trolls.”
“I promise Gran” I replied.
Of course that was all a long time ago. Dear old Gran is no longer with us, nor her cottage nor indeed the dark forest which is now a Tesco’s hypermarket on the industrial estate just off the new bypass, but to this day I have never forgotten my promise. Never, ever feed the trolls. I promise Gran.