To his fellow workers, Mark Lucas was a dull and dreary man they tolerated because of his mild manners and discrete intervention to get them out of a fix. Mark worked as the senior IT technician in a busy office for a large advertising company and spent his days resetting the ‘stupid bloody computer’ that failed to deliver its assigned tasks because of inadvertent human error of its operators. Outwardly, Mark was an unassuming man, in his early fifties and sported lightweight spectacles on his small button nose, which paled into insignificance when compared to the springy greying ginger moustache that he nurtured to add machismo to his pale and rounded baby face. Inwardly, Mark maintained a secret, he kept it to himself that he was a troll hunter extraordinaire.

It was one of those long hot summer days, which occurred every day in the summer memories of older people; a day Mark relived every day of his life; the day he met a troll. His mother and father woke him early, to tell him that he, his two older brothers and his younger sister were going out for the day in the new family car. He was only six years old and had never been on a picnic before. He remembered how he slid on the new and shiny leather backseat of the car, how his brothers pushed him into his sister every time his father tested the road holding abilities of his new motor and, he remembered how the day ended. They drove out into the countryside and stopped in a layby near a smooth green field bordered on three sides by a dark and spooky wood. Through the day they placed football and cricket, ran around screaming playing tag and after a late tea of jam and fish paste sandwiches, they played hide-and-seek.

It was his older brother, Jason, who suggested he hide deeper in the woods. “If you go in a long way, no one will find you and you’ll win the game,” whispered Jason in his ear, as the rest of the family clutched their hands over their eyes.

He ventured into the woods, sneaked between the gnarled trunks, crawled under prickly holly pushes and found a little dip in the ground. He waited and he waited, but no one came. His first feeling of panic arose, when he realised he could see the pinpricks of stars appearing through the gaps in the overhead canopy.

“Mum, Dad, where are you?” he called out, but there was no reply.

He climbed out of the hollow and looked to see which way he had come, but everything looked the same with shades of black replacing the earlier shades of green. He thought he recognised some trees he had walked through earlier and headed in that direction, only to find a small stream he had no memory of seeing before. Something squealed to his right and he broke into a blind run. He lost track of how long he ran for, but suddenly, he was in an open area lit by the pale silvers of the overhead moon. Ahead, he saw a small hut with wisps of dark grey smoke curling from a cone topped chimney. He swallowed, took a deep breath and walked up to the door.

“Hello, is anybody there? I’m lost,” he squeaked.

The door creaked open and huge figure emerged. “Who are you, what you doing out here?” growled a deep voice.

“Please help me, I’m lost.”

“Little boys shouldn’t be out here alone, the trolls will catch you and roast you on their fire, before they eat you and suck on your bones.”

“You’re not a troll are you?”

“I might be, I might not be. The only way to tell is to wait for sunrise. If I’m a troll, I’ll turn to stone the moment the sun’s rays fall on me.”

The creature stepped forward and Mark remembered how he ran and ran. He ran back through the woods, tripping and falling several times, as twisting tree roots caught his ankles and forced him to dive into the soft leaf littered ground. It seemed to him the woods continued forever, until he saw a bright yellow light in the distance. He aimed for the comforting warmth of the yellow glow and as he found the courage to yell out again, he heard the familiar, but distressed voice of his mother.

After completing the ten minute walk from his place of work to his modest, but respectable three-bedroom semi-detached house, Mark felt his heart racing with excitement as it did at this this time every day. Mark lived alone, he’d always lived alone, he did not have the time, or inclination, to foster relationships or a family, but his house was full. Since that time he met the troll, Mark started his collection of everything troll. Two of the bedrooms, he filled with books, statues, toys, neatly ordered and filled posters, models and drawings of trolls. The contents of his bedrooms were not on his mind now though, as soon as he pushed open his front door, he turned into his front reception room and pushed the small illuminated blue button that brought his screens to life. Mark stood in front of the stacks of hardware that had searched the internet since he left the house that morning. He imagined the hundreds of million trawls his equipment had made today and that was the beauty of his system, as all he needed to do now was look through todays filtered results.

There were eighteen results listed on the screen, fourteen outlined in passive green, which meant they were unlikely to contain anything new, two in ‘getting warm’ amber, which might hold some promise of a new revelation, but two ‘very hot’ red, which meant there was potentially something new and relevant. Mark walked out of the front room and through his small hallway into the kitchen. He twisted the oval brushed-steel knob on the fan-oven to 180 and tuned to face his freezer door. He opened the door and hesitated, trying to remember which day of the week it was, in the excitement of receiving two red alerts, his mind was in a temporary turmoil. He calmed himself, remembering that yesterday he had opened the drawer labelled Tuesday. He pulled open the next drawer down, labelled Wednesday, and peered at the two boxes of frozen ready-meals for one. There was a choice of vegetable lasagne or chicken dinner with gravy, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and garden peas. He opted for the lasagne, as he felt safer eating this in front of his computer system. He reached into the top pocket of his misshapen tweed jacket and removed his spectacles. After positioning the delicate frames on his snub nose, he peered down at the box to read the cooking instructions. Through the fuzzy haze of the blurred outcrop of his moustache, he noted the dish required a full forty minutes in the oven.

With the ritual of preparing his evening meal underway, Mark opened the alerts. He started with the greens, just to make sure that his system had not missed anything of potential, it had not. The two ambers were disappointing, but the two reds alerts were linked together. He sat down and read the two news items from a small provincial newspaper. The first item covered a story about three local teenagers who encountered a giant creature in their local woods during a night walk.

  “It was just after midnight and we’d just crossed over the old railway bridge when we saw it. At first we thought it was a man, but then we realised it was more than nine feet tall. It saw us and grunted and then it ran towards us. When we saw it waving a big club, we ran away as fast as we could. It followed us for ages but eventually we lost it.”

Mark read the editorial part of the news item, which stated that two local policemen scoured the area over the next day but found nothing suspicious.

The next item, dated a week later, was about the mysterious disappearance of several sheep from fields in the same area.

“I’ve now lost six lambs and one ewe in the past eight weeks. We thought it must be rustlers, so for the last two weeks, I’ve had at least one of my employees posted day and night on the only road leading to my fields. During that time, nothing has come in or out, but two more of my sheep have gone in that time. At first, we thought it might be foxes or a pack of dogs, but the other night, one of my farmhands thought he saw something that looked like a huge ape disappearing into the woods with a lamb slung over its shoulder. We searched some of the woods, but they are part of the old forest and cover an area of around thirty square miles. My son says we’ve got a ‘bigfoot’ living in the woods, but I reckon it’s a lone thief with a partiality for lamb.”

Mark read the editorial coverage of the news item and as with the first one, the local police had searched the area but found nothing. The location of the incidents was in a rural part of Northumbria near to the Scottish border. Without hesitating, Mark clicked away on one his keyboard, booking a week off work and a bed and breakfast in the nearest village to the two sightings.

Early on Saturday morning, Mark set off two hours before dawn and began his long drive up to the little village of Alwington. In the early evening, as the dusk rapidly grew, he was grateful for the smooth and friendly voice of his satnav system, as it guided him the last few miles along a road that appeared to be a foot narrower than his car was. Oakley Cottage turned out to a new-build semi, similar to his own house, but located in a more picturesque setting. The landlady, Mrs Kirkpatrick, was pleasant, but a bit stiff, which suited Mark as he felt uncomfortable disclosing the real reason he was here.

“I’ll show you to your room and explain a few of the simple house rules when we get there; mostly health and safety in case we have a fire. Regulations, that’s all we have these days Mr Lucas. Are you up here for the walking? There’re lots of places to walk around here if you like that sort of thing.”

“Err no. I’m here to do some birdwatching.”

 “What sort of birds?”

“Err, owls.”

“Can’t say I’ve seen many owls around here.”

“Night time, they come out in the night,” replied Mark, unsure if owls were nocturnal creatures or just hooted in the night in horror stories and films.

Mark unpacked his bags and took a shower. He intended to take a walk around the village, but as he finished combing his moustache, he heard the large drops of rain crash against his window and decided he would have an early night. Tomorrow morning he would rise early and reconnoitre the layout of the land.

As he came in for breakfast, Mark felt pleased that he had easily found the field the sheep were disappearing from and it was only twenty-minute’s walking distance by footpath from his accommodation. He spent the day sorting out his equipment, night goggles, infrared camera, sound recording system, flask and sandwiches. The day passed slowly and Mark strolled back and forth through the length of the village several times in the hour before sunset. Finally, as the sky darkened to black, he stole his way along the footpath and entered the field where the sheep were mysteriously disappearing. He crept to the edge of the woods and crouched under a small tree, before unpacking his night-vision goggles and ham sandwiches.

Over the next hour, Mark counted the sheep through his night-vision goggles, five ewes and seven nearly grown lambs, the ewes munching contentedly on the springy grass while the lambs slept. A gentle breeze started to blow from the north and Mark pulled his quilted walking jacket tighter around his body, before reaching for his flask of warm and sweet tea. As he took his first sip of the insipid brew and then pushed up his lower lip, to help him draw out the tea his moustache had absorbed, he heard a rustling sound coming from behind him. He turned to look back into the forest, but everything at ground level was inky black. A loud hiss broke the eerie silence of the night and Mark felt relief as he saw the treetops swaying in the increasing wind. He was thinking of calling it a night, the warm bed at Oakley Cottage subliminally calling him into its soft warmth was beginning to distract his concentration.

As he stood up to stretch his legs, Mark caught the first hint of a smell. A septic odour was hanging in the air, a stink like nothing he quite smelled before, a rank and putrid essence clawing and stinging the inside of his nose. There must be something dead lying in the woods behind me, he thought, as his vision turned black.

As Mark’s world opened again, he sensed several things at once. The back of his head felt as if it was split open and the deep surges of throbbing pain, seemed to keep time with his body’s bobbing. Every wisp of air he inhaled was saturated with a nauseous stench and he had to swallow deeply to prevent the bubbling bile of vomit coursing at the back of his throat from rising into his mouth. He gradually realised he was being carried, slung face down over the shoulder of something large and smelly, a troll? The thought that a real live troll had captured him brought him to his senses. He checked his wrists and discovered they were bound together. He tried to kick his legs apart but his ankles were also bound together. He tried to speak and the words poured out of his mouth.

“Who are you? Are you a troll?” There was no reply, but Mark felt a change in the rhythm of the strides his captor was making, they were climbing up a rocky slope.

Suddenly Mark felt his body tipping backwards and he fell onto his back onto soft grassy ground. With an effort, he pulled himself into an upright sitting position and looked around. There was a half-moon poking through the veil of fast moving translucent clouds, offering enough light for him to make out he was sitting on a grassy slope that rose from the surrounding forest. Behind him was a rocky scar and crouching in a hollowed out section of the rock, was the creature that had bludgeoned and captured him. The shadows were too deep for him to make any sense of the shadowy outline of the creature, but he could plainly see it was too large to be a normal person. He watched as the crouched figure fiddled with something on the ground before raising one of its arms and driving it down to make a loud clunking noise. The figure repeated this movement several times and with each clack, Mark noticed fiery sparks flew and spiralled away from its hand. A dull orange glow appeared on the ground and the creature bent lower, blowing hard into the feeble radiance until it erupted into a flickering and dancing yellow flame.

The figure stood up and retreated from its small stone cavern, stooping to pick up scattered branches and dried ferns, which it threw onto the small fire before walking over to Mark.

“Can you understand what I’m saying?” asked Mark.

“Yes, I talk,” answered the creature in a disarmingly deep voice.

“Who are you? What are you?”

“I’m Luke. I live here.”

“Are you a troll?”

“Don’t know. What’s a troll?”

Mark suddenly realised that a real troll, would not know that people like him, called them trolls. “Can you come closer so I can look at you?”

“I was about to do that. Need to see how much meat and fat you have.”

“Why?”

“Need to know how big a fire I make to cook you.”

Mark felt his excitement rise, I found a real troll, I’ll be famous. All I have to do is keep him talking until sunrise and he’ll turn to stone. “Can I have a closer look at you?”

“You look while I prod if you want,” said the creature called Luke.

Mark wished he could put his glasses on to see the troll’s face more clearly, but as it ambled closer, he felt relieved that his image was slightly blurred. The troll was about eight feet tall, and as it crouched in front of Mark to cut open his jacket with a piece of sharp stone, he took in his first view of what it looked like. The troll’s head was enormous, twice the size of a normal person. Mark became more convinced this was a genuine troll, as he saw one side of its head bulged out with bony granular nodules under stretched and veined skin. Its eyes were small for the size of its head, but its nose, mouth and jaw were huge and the massive flat slabs of its teeth, reminded Mark of square beer stained coasters lined up along the bar of a dingy public house.

“Good amount of meat, too much fat. Need bigger fire. You take a lot of cooking.”

“Are you really going to cook and eat me?” Mark asked curiously.

“Yes. Why else I start fire?”

“Do you eat many people?”

“Only one, too skinny, meat dry and burnt. Mummy told me off and hit me with big stick”

“What do you usually eat?”

“Sheep, sick of sheep. I smell like sheep. Look at all the sheep bones,” said the troll, pointing to a large of heap of bones further down the rocky scar.

“Have you always lived here?” Mark asked, curious to know how old the troll was.

“No, when I was little I lived with Mummy and Daddy, but Mummy used to hit me with her stick a lot. One day I grew up and kept growing, got too big for the house, so Mummy made me live here. Can’t waste time, I need more wood for the fire so I can make your fat turn nice and crisp,” said the troll, as he walked in long slow strides down the hill into the forest.

Mark pulled his bound wrists up in front of his face and looked at the bindings. He couldn’t tell what they were made from, but they were tight and very smelly. He tried to check the time on his watch, but the dark strands circling his wrist obscured the dial. He looked up to check the position of the moon and reasoned dawn could not be more than hour away. He heard the troll returning and saw he carried a large bundle of branches on its back.

The troll threw the branches to the ground near the entrance of the small cave and lumbered over to Mark. “I’m feeling hungry so I am going to start cooking you. Please don’t scream too much, I don’t want Mummy to hear you.”

“Can I ask you one thing before you cook me?”

“I suppose so, don’t see why not?”

“Will you wait until the sun rises? I would like to see one more sunrise before I die.”

“I don’t know. I’m really hungry. Oh I suppose so, I have to get you ready to cook and by the time I’m done the sun will have come up.”

Mark breathed a sigh of relief. The troll was obviously very stupid and he’d outsmarted him. He wondered if the stone statue would fit in his spare bedroom, it might if he cut a hole in the ceiling.

The troll waddled back to the cave and picked up a few stones and a long piece of wood, before returning to Mark. “Don’t try to wriggle, I might cut you and all your fat will pour out onto the fire and make it burn my breakfast,” said the troll, as he began to use a sharpened stone to cut away Mark’s clothing.

“T don’t think you realise how expensive those clothes were,” exclaimed Mark, sensing shock that all of his clothes were cut into pieces and strewn across the ground.

“They no use to you now. I like the feel of them. They will be good to wipe my bottom with, better than dry leaves. Look the sun is coming, I sit you up so you can have last look before I cook you.”

Mark watched as a brilliant crescent of fiery orange broke over the treetops of the forest below. He felt the massive hands of the troll resting on his shoulders and hoped that when he turned to stone, the hands would not clamp him to the stone statue.

“It’s all up, time to cook you,” said Luke.

“You’ve not turned to stone, you should have turned to stone,” said Mark, sensing for the first time he might be in danger.

“Don’t be silly, how can light turn you to stone. Now lie down and don’t scream, I don’t want Mummy to hear you.

Mark felt the heavy hands push him down onto his back and then the troll moved over him and picked up a long stone. Mark briefly closed his eyes, expecting the troll to bring the stone down on his head and finish him off, but without warning, his belly erupted in a cascade of burning fire. Before he could open his eyes, Mark felt an agonising wave of pure pain rise up from his groin to his throat. He flicked his eyes open to see the troll standing over him, holding a bloody and tangled mess of offal in its hands.

“You good, you not scream. Have to take out nasty tubes, they taste bitter, not good to eat, but make good twine when dried in the sun. I use the ones from sheep to tie you. Now get you ready to go on the fire.”

Mark prayed for death, for instant release, but his consciousness remained. He watched the troll pick up the long stick, which had a sharp point on the end.

“Just got to push this through you. Not want you to fall into fire and burn your meat.”

Mark felt the troll pulling his legs open and then a searing fire ploughed up through him as he felt the point of the stick tear through his rear passage. The troll carefully guided the pole through Mark’s open abdomen and deftly pulled the pointed end up to just under Mark’s chin. At this point, Mark screamed, he screeched, wailed and howled with every desperate breath in his body.

“Told you not scream, Mummy will hear you,” said Luke, as he pushed the wooden spike through the soft flesh and palette of Mark’s lower jaw, before easing the point out of the mouth he pulled wide open with his fingers. With one last push, Luke eased the stick up through the hairy undergrowth above Mark’s upper lip and over his button nose. Mark felt new waves of pain, as he realised he was being lifted on the spit that impaled him. At last he felt his consciousness ebbing and as he allowed himself to sink into a darkening release, a new flare of pain assaulted every part of his body. His last sensation was to inhale the acrid smell of his burning moustache.

***

“It’s your turn to see the boy. He’s been up to no good. Did you hear all that shrieking early this morning? That was no sheep. He’s caught something he shouldn’t ‘ve caught.”

“I’ve been down to see him the last two times, it’s your turn you lazy old sow. It’s you what made him like this, beatin him around the head with your stick when he was but a three year old nipper.”

“I ‘ad to discipline him, you do nothin, just lie around moaning about everything all day.”

“You’re his mother and you’re the one what smashed the side of his head in and made him go funny.”

“His being funny, big and ugly comes from your side of the family. I’ll go, but if he’s been a bad boy then Mummy is going to thrash him,” said the old woman, getting up from her chair and picking up a long black ebony cane.

“What have you done? You’re a bad, bad boy.”

“I found him, he came to me. He’s mine, he tastes good. Do you want to try? Have a chew on his leg.”

“Luke, kneel down before me, Mummy has to teach you a lesson.”

***

On a Friday afternoon, in a busy office in southern England, Geoff was reading one of the tabloid papers during his lunchbreak. “Hey guys, listen to this, I think they found out what happen to Mark, well sort of.”

“What do you mean, have they found his body?”

“I’ll read out the story, it’s really weird.”

Here is the story Geoff read to his colleagues.

Man-eating giant found in Northumbrian cave.

The grisly remains discovered by two hikers in a small cave in Northumberland National Park last week, have been identified as the remains of a missing man, Mark Lucas, and a local man known as Luke Sowerby.

Two hikers, who wish to remain anonymous, discovered the remains of a partly mummified giant, along with the charred and partially dismembered remains of an unknown individual two weeks ago. Police and forensic experts have now identified the charred remains as belonging to a missing IT consultant from Weybridge in Surrey. Mr Lucas disappeared while on a hiking holiday in the area more than two years earlier.

The mystery of the other remains are now partly resolved. After extensive post-mortem examinations, it has been established that the body of the Giant is a local man who was born in a nearby isolated farmhouse. It appears that Luke Sowerby was a victim of brutal abuse from his parents and suffered extensive head injuries as an infant. Senior Consultant, Mr James Morrison, stated that it was likely injuries to Luke’s brain resulted in damage to the pituitary gland and led to Luke suffering from a condition known as acromegaly or gigantism. It is estimated that Luke stood over eight feet in height and suffered from serious psychological trauma. It appears he fended for himself in the National Park and survived on a diet of sheep he was rustling from nearby fields. In a bizarre twist, evidence points to him having eaten some of Mark Lucas’ body shortly before his death. Police are currently question a couple in their sixties, whom they suspect of being the parents of this unfortunate creature.

On a rather macabre note, through the freak effects of a slow burning fire, the body of the giant dried out shortly after his death and after two exceptionally dry years, his body appeared to have turned to stone.


My Other Half.

 

How this has happened, I don’t know. The senior paramedic has just informed me that I will remain alive for several hours if the bus is not moved, but I will die in a few minutes if the wheel is lifted off me.

This morning I had no care in the world, my life was moving ahead as planned and everything seemed perfect. After working as a reporter for a small newspaper for several years, my big break arrived. Today was my first day as a frontline BBC journalist. Not one of those dressed in a suit and plastered in greasy makeup reading the latest stale news off an autocue, but a gatherer. My task was to trawl the internet, to filter through millions of tweets and posts, to discover what was breaking and assemble the unfolding disasters and scandals of the world into short, sharp and attention grabbing breaking news. The day had gone well.

I left the BBC offices and strolled through the intense heat and humidity of the late summer day, aiming for the bustle of Oxford Street and the subterranean ride home. My phone buzzed, the harsh tone informing me of breaking news. I flipped open the cover, pressed and scrolled, read the short flash about a mass walkout by the London tube drivers and detoured to the nearest bus-stop.

As I queued patiently, I thought about Anita, my beautiful wife, and my three adoring children. How lucky could a man be, married to gorgeous and passionate woman, father of three amazing children, who had all inherited their mother’s looks and working for one of the world’s best news corporations. I leaned out to see if there was any sign of the bus that would take me north to my humble three bedroom home, ignoring the screaming and ranting coming from behind me. I didn’t know it at the time, but the screaming was coming from a woman as she struggled to hold onto her handbag, the ranting was coming from the thief, as a couple of passing gym lads grabbed hold of him. My first realization of the fracas came as I caught sight of the approaching bus and simultaneously, felt the weight of a falling body crash into the back of my legs. I felt my legs rising into the air and then I crashed down on my back.

I didn’t feel any pain, just a brief sensation of losing all feeling in the lower half of my body. I was vaguely aware of movement and a lot of noise, brakes being applied, a chorus of screams and then an eerie silence. I tried to sit up, but my body refused to move. I stretched my arms forward and felt something hot and hard. As I explored with my fingertips I identified the raised studs and hexagonal nuts of a large wheel. Using my elbows, I propped myself up a little and stared into the red painted wheel positioned where my waist ended.