This Is Your Problem, Right Here
by David Steffen
“This is your problem, right here.” The plumber’s deep voice resounded from beneath the maintenance hatch by the main pool at Cascade Reef water park. “You’ve only got one troll left. For a pool this big, you need fifty minimum, seventy-five if you want everything to run smoothly.”
“Pardon?” shouted Anita Westegard, the owner. “I only have one of what left?”
The plumber appeared beneath her. His arms were covered to the elbows with green slime. “Trolls. See?” He held one grimy hand up toward her holding a tiny skull. It was almost human in shape, with two thick tusks and curved ram’s horns. “Poor things must have been starved to turn on each other like that.”
“Trolls?” Anita said. “As in monsters that live under bridges and eat goats?”
The plumber tossed the skull aside onto the concrete where it landed with a clatter. “You’re going to have trouble finding new trolls the way it is. If the Troll Council hears that you’ve been making racist comments, you’ll have no chance at all. You’d have to shut this place down.”
“I’ve done nothing wrong!”
“Did you leave them down there all winter without any food after you shut down last year? I thought so. Trolls are tough, but that’s too much even for them. You’re lucky even one of them survived. How long have you owned the place?”
“Less than a year. I purchased it last July.”
“And the previous owner didn’t tell you anything about this.”
Anita took several deep breaths before speaking as calmly as she could. “I am not stupid, Mr….”
“Wilson, but you can call me Reggie.”
“I am not stupid, Mr. Wilson.” She pointed at the skull. “You can take your prop and your tools and find someone else to pull your shenanigans on. I have several other contractors coming today.”
“All right,” he said. “Let me just get that last troll out for you.” He disappeared into the darkness before she could respond, and moments later he lifted a tiny figure up out of the hatch and set it by the hatch.
The thing looked like a tiny man, anatomically correct except for the tusks and horns, and the tough green skin. Anita jumped when the little thing twitched an arm weakly. “Oh,” Anita said without meaning to. She felt torn between revulsion for the grotesque little creature and sympathy for its emaciated state, both felt faintly as though she were in shock. “This is really a troll?”
“Yep, a troll.” The plumber pulled a nail clipper from his pocket and trimmed off a thumbnail, black with slime. “You really didn’t know about trolls?”
She shook her head vehemently.
The plumber opened the little troll’s mouth with one hand and dropped in the thumbnail. “If he keeps that down, make sure he gets more food. A lot more.”
The troll rose unsteadily to a sitting position. “I am alive?” it asked in a gravelly voice, surprisingly deep for its size.
“You’ll be fine,” said the plumber. “I’m sorry about your family.”
“Do not be. It is only a pity they tasted as unpleasant as they acted.”
“If you don’t need me for anything further,” the plumber said, “I’m going to head to my next appointment. It’s not my job to clean up dead trolls. I’ll send the bill for the visit with the number for the Troll Council.”
She nodded, and the plumber packed up his things and left.
“So,” said the troll, eyeing her up and down. “You have food for me? I am quite famished.”
“What do you like to eat?”
“Bathwater or toenail clippings, skin shavings or hair.”
She couldn’t help but shudder. “You actually eat those things?”
The troll shook his head. “How far we have fallen in just a few hundred years. Once I held a wagon bridge over a major river. Succulent fresh meat whenever I wanted, and tribute.”
“You want meat? I could bring you meat. What do you like? Hamburger? Chicken?”
The troll made retching noises deep in its throat. “Excrement! The meat I crave is not from cow or fowl. Such things are poison to my kind.” He eyed her shrewdly. “You wish to make amends?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Give me a finger.”
“A toe? The smallest are of little use to you.”
He sighed. “We cannot afford to break the Pact in any case. I should never have suggested it.”
“Trolls ruled the world once, and humans were like cattle to us. We protected you too well and your population overtook ours, and so you became the hunters. The great Council of Trolls spoke to human rulers of that age and made the Pact. Trolls will live if we never harm humans or eat human meat.”
“So what are you doing here?”
“I am employed as a pool filter. Humans soak in the water, and make a weak soup of skin and sweat. This is enough to sustain me without breaking the Pact, and I return clean water to the pool.”
“So what can I do? Is there any way you can put in a good word for me with the Troll Council?”
“Hire fertile females, and I will start my own brood. Buy Wiccan Soup for the Troll. This will help me attract mates. Serve only greasy food at your concession stand. The grease comes out in sweat, makes everything taste better. Can you do that?”
“I’m afraid the fryers aren’t working at the moment but I have another contractor coming to look into that. Thank you for all your hard work. Oh, speak of the devil.” A man approached from the direction of the entrance. He was slender and young, with blue coveralls.
“Anita Westegard?” he asked.
“I’m here to help you with your broken fryers? First, an easy question. I know it’s a dumb one, but I’ve gotta ask everybody. You did let your phoenix loose for the winter so he could migrate, right?”
About the Author
David Steffen is a writer, editor, and software engineer. He edits Diabolical Plots, which began publishing original fiction in 2015. He runs the Submission Grinder, a tool for writers to find markets for their work. In December 2015 he published The Long List Anthology, which is a collection of 21 stories from the longer Hugo Award nomination list last year. His own stories have been published in many nice places, including the other three Escape Artists podcasts, Drabblecast, and Daily Science Fiction. You can follow him on Twitter.
About the Narrator
Graeme Dunlop is a Software Solution Architect. Despite his somewhat mixed accent, he was born in Australia. He loves the spoken word and believes it has the ability to lift the printed word above and beyond cold words on a page. He and Barry J. Northern founded Cast of Wonders in 2011 and can be found narrating or hosting the occasional episode, or working on projects behind the scenes. He has read stories for all of Escape Artists podcasts. Graeme lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Amanda, and crazy boy dog, Jake. Follow him on Twitter.
About the Artist
Barry is a game developer based in Bournemouth, England making freemium games for clients such LEGO and the BBC. His latest game is breaking all records on iOS, not surprising with a title like L”. It’s for younger kids, but if you fancy blasting alien brains check out LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack.
All this game developing has meant that Barry hasn’t been as active in the podcasting and fiction world as he used to be. He still does the occasional narration for other shows, such as The Drabblecast, and appears on Cast of Wonders from time to time.