Story: Alice of the Forest

The sky was dark and the world was gray. The leaves of the forest were whispering quietly. The earth had disguised itself with a facade of peace broken intermittently by the sound of large footsteps. The creature making the offending sound was a troll named Wart Nose, who was out looking for a snack. The aroma of something sweet was hanging in the air and he was determined to find what it was. Surely something that smelled so sweet must taste delicious.

He saw it in a meadow. Reluctantly, he left the cover of the trees to inspect it more closely. Wart Nose was very uncomfortable out in the open, but a troll will follow his stomach where it leads him. Closer and closer he approached the origin of the scent. He tried to move quickly because the grass was terribly soft and he very much hated nice things.

Wart Nose looked down. Bathed in the light of the moon, a small thing appeared to be sleeping. He poked it with a stick to see if he could wake it up. The little thing was very stiff and did not wake. Being a curious troll, he lifted it up for a closer look. The little thing still did not wake. Wart Nose took it back to his cave after being overpowered by the sweet scent. Inspecting the thing and doing all that thinking had given him a terrible headache, and he thought eating something might make him feel better.

It slept comfortably in his hand until he set it down on his dining room table. The troll left the room to start a fire and boil some water. After that, he sat down at the table and stared at the sleeping thing. He said to himself, “It would be more fun if it woke up. Boiled things taste the best when they squirm.” Wart Nose started saying troll rhymes to try to wake this thing that slept like a stone.

Eventually, the tiny thing began to move. It sat up and rubbed it’s eyes. Wart Nose watched hungrily. The thing suddenly looked at him and asked, “Are you a bear?”

The strange question caught the troll off guard and he almost laughed. He told it he wasn’t a bear. “What are you?” Wart Nose asked the creature.

“I’m Alice,” it said. Wart Nose had never heard of an alice before. He wondered what they tasted like. He was about to ask when the alice interrupted him. “Your house is so small! You must be a very poor man!” The alice looked at this unwashed hair, unkempt beard, and worn-out clothes.

“This isn’t a house, it’s a-”

“You look like the old woodcutter who lives in the forest. Are you him?”

Wart Nose thought about this for a little while. His cave was located in a forest, yes, and he did occasionally collect wood for his fireplace. He wasn’t that old – only several centuries had passed since his birth – but he decided he must be the woodcutter the alice was talking about. “Yes,” he said, “I am the woodcutter who lives in the forest.”

“Well you’re taller than I thought you’d be! Hey, why does it smell so bad in here? You should open some windows.” And before Wart Nose could stop her, the alice started running around his cave. He didn’t even have time to feel insulted about how the thing didn’t like the delicious scent of ancient air. Finally, the alice stopped running and said, “Hey, mister woodcutter, it’s really late and I have to go home. Will you come with me and protect me from the wolves and bears?”

“You mean… you want to leave?” he asked. In all the excitement, Wart Nose had forgotten about having a snack and had become quite focused on the little alice running around his cave. He was becoming tired.

“It’s not that I want to leave! My parents will be worried about me! And then once you take me home you can rest.” The troll wanted to rest, so he agreed. He had always been kind of naive for a troll. “Great! Then let me climb on your shoulders and I will give you directions,” it told him.

Wart Nose stooped down so the alice could climb up onto his shoulders. The two set off into the forest and the alice tried her best to give directions. They were clearly going in circles, but Wart Nose didn’t say anything. He eventually became tired and went to the edge of the meadow to rest. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the opportunity because the little alice recognized the place.

It started bouncing up and down on the troll’s shoulders. “This way! This way!” it shouted. “This is the way back to where I live! Get up, mister woodcutter, we have to go before the wolves and bears find us!”

The troll smacked his head on a nearby tree trunk in exhaustion. They left again. They were no longer going in circles and had entered a part of the forest with which the troll was not familiar. The sweetness he had smelled before was still hanging in the air even though the alice no longer smelled so sweet, but the scent told him that they were going in the right direction.

At some point the sweetness began to change into something else. It was not anything a troll would consider to be pleasant, but the alice seemed to like it. “See?” it said. “Dinner’s almost ready. My parents have been waiting for me this whole time and they’re probably getting worried. Go faster, we’re almost there!”

At the mention of dinner, Wart Nose’s stomach started growling. He remembered that he’d been planning on eating the little thing which was now perched on his shoulders. His headache worsened as he formed an idea. If the thing was taking him to it’s family, then he could not only eat the little alice but the whole group of alices along with it! Surely his hunger would then be satisfied.

When they got to the cottage, they saw strange shadows at the windows and heard strange noises inside. The smell of baking bread was in the air, but there was something else as well. The alice jumped off the troll’s shoulders and opened the door for him. She did not see what was inside. Wart Nose took one look and instantly recognized some troublesome goblins that had been bothering him for some time now. A couple of alices, larger than the one he’d already met, were tied up in a corner and gagged. A large pot of water was on the fire. Even a troll, stupid as they are, could see what was going on.

Wart Nose was hungry for revenge and he attacked the goblins. After rushing into the cottage before the alice could enter, he swallowed each goblin in a single gulp. She skipped in after him, having not seen what just happened since the moment had passed so quickly. The alice freed it’s parents and the three embraced. At the other end of the room, Wart Nose was lying on his stomach half asleep after having eaten so much. His tongue had rolled out of his mouth full of giant troll teeth and he was panting like a dog.

The parents noticed him and stared in horror at the troll that had brought their little girl home. The alice explained what had happened and made sure to include that he was the nicest woodcutter it had ever met. Not wanting to offend the troll that saved their lives, the parents decided to pretend they also believed that he was the old woodcutter. They explained to their daughter what had happened: the mother had started baking some bread for dinner and the goblins just “appeared” and attacked them. The alice was very worried after hearing this, but the mother assured it that they were unharmed.

The little alice went over to the troll and tried to thank him for helping all of them, but before she could get all the way through her little appreciative speech, Wart Nose started groaning. He wasn’t in much physical pain – trolls simply hate to be thanked. When the alice asked him what was wrong he told her he had a headache (which was true, but not the truth).

The parents had been whispering to each other in the corner while this had been going on and they finally announced that they had made a decision. To celebrate the safety of the family despite the impossibly perilous events of the recent past, they would throw a party that same night to thank the “woodcutter” and would not allow him to leave until it was finished. The troll groaned again and the little alice started patting his head in an attempt to make him feel better. “There, there,” it said to him, “it’s alright.”

The dinner they had prepared was a humble one, but Wart Nose was already too full to eat anything else and, therefore, did not mind at all. It was already fairly late at night so the little alice was sent off to bed after finishing the meal. Shortly thereafter, one of the parents went to the cellar to get some liquor for the troll. It was then poured into a glass for the troll and the parents bade him drink. He was obligated to do what they asked since they had done something nice for him. Wart Nose was still full of goblin meat, but he drank the liquor anyway. The kindness of his hosts and poison of the alcohol stung him mercilessly until he was in quite a lot of pain.

The parents continued forcing the troll to drink until the sky grew pale. They knew dawn was not far off. It was at about this time that they ran out of the liquor that the troll had been drinking ever so slowly, and they could think of no other way to distract him until sunrise. Regretfully, they announced that the party was over and allowed him to leave the house.

Wart Nose left gratefully, although annoyed at the recent disruptions in his routine, but he didn’t get very far. In fact, he only managed to walk a few steps away from the front door before the sun sent the first beams of morning over the horizon. The troll became stone.

It wasn’t entirely long after this that the little alice woke up. The parents were still asleep after having stayed up all night, and it thought someone had better let the chickens out of their coop before they became too sore to move. The alice quietly snuck out the front door. It noticed a large stone thing standing on the path in front of the cottage and went around the other side to inspect it, after which it mistook the stone troll for a statue of the woodcutter the parents had somehow made overnight to honor the man. The alice let the chickens out of their coop and thought about the statue for a while. When the father woke up, the little alice decided to talk to him about it. The father had hoped the troll would turn to stone. He was glad that it had, but he didn’t mention it. The little alice informed him that statues were supposed to have inscriptions, as she had decided it was a rule. However, there wasn’t any place on the statue that she was okay with an inscription being carved in and she suggested a sign be hung from it’s neck instead, “but it’s only okay to break the rule this one time!”

The father smiled a little and asked what the sign should say. He didn’t mention that he couldn’t think of anything because he didn’t much care for trolls and didn’t have anything nice to say about them. The little alice thought about it for a moment before telling him, “It should say ‘here stands the old woodcutter who protects this cottage still’ because he’s an old woodcutter who protects us and the statue is standing still.” And the father told her it sounded perfect.

The little alice called out to it’s mother when she walked into the room. The mother picked up her little alice and gave her a hug. “Oh, my little Alice,” she said. “We need to give you a bath – you smell like you’ve been in a hunting accident.”

“It must be the smell from the old woodcutter’s house,” it replied with a little smile. “It smelled awful there. I tried to open some windows, but I couldn’t find any!” It thought for a moment and suddenly exclaimed, “The fire! He forgot to put out the fire before we left! Oh, his house probably burned down…” It started mumbling things the parents could barely understand, but the phrase “all my fault” seemed to make up a large portion of the monologue.

The parents said comforting things to their child and assured it that the fire had likely safely burnt out on its own before the father left to go work. Afterwards, the mother sat down with her daughter at the table and had a little talk with her about trolls and other dangerous things that live in the forest.

After that day, the stone troll (which still looked as annoyed as he did when the sunlight touched him) continued standing in front of their cottage. His frightening appearance discouraged bandits and hungry predators from trespassing on their property. Because of this, they remained safe and their property and livestock went unstolen and unharmed. They continued living peacefully for quite some time.

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