FLASH FICTION: “Feeding Gnarlybone”

Feeding Gnarlybone
By Alexandra Erin

First Publication: September 17th, 2005
Word Count: ~400


“Why do trolls live under bridges?”

“Well, properly speaking, trolls don’t live under bridges,” I said. “They’re highly magical creatures, you see, and they like to live in canyons and river beds, places where there’s a steady flow of energy for them to tap…”

“But then why does everyone act like they do? And what about old Gnarlybone? Is it just him?”

“You didn’t let me finish,” I said. “Trolls live in canyons and river beds, but those things don’t exactly come with roofs, do they? So the troll builds himself a little house out of stone… no one’s cunning with stone the way a troll is, and they anchor it on both sides of the pass, and what does that give you?”

“A bridge!”

“Something very like one, yes,” I said. “Close enough that they might as well do a little extra work to make it into one. Because the places where they like to live are natural channels for natural energy, but there is another kind of energy that’s created when folk travel on the same path in enough numbers for enough time. The flow of ideas, of thoughts, of words, of life… it creates a channel that intersects the one the troll taps.”

“So trolls don’t actually eat travelers?”

“Have you ever heard of old Gnarlybone eating anyone?”


“Have you ever known anyone who got eaten by Gnarlybone?”


“It would be accurate to say that trolls feed on travelers, or on travel, but so do humans and most other folk,” I said. “After all, we’d be in pretty sorry shape if we couldn’t get grain from the flatlands, wouldn’t we? But trolls can survive without that kind of commerce, as long as they can tap a powerful enough natural flow. The way I understand it is that it makes things better for them, like a bit of honey or spice might do. It’s a thing they can live without, but life is better when they have it.”

“So rivers are troll food, but roads are troll candy!”

“Yes,” I said. “I suppose that’s about right.”

“So we should probably go down into town tomorrow.”

“Oh?” I said. “Why do you say that? Are you in the mood for some candy yourself?”

“No! Because then we’ll be feeding Gnarlybone, and he won’t have to eat anyone.”

I laughed.

“I don’t think it works that way,” I said. “Anyway, we don’t need anything from town.”

“But we could buy some candy.”

“I thought you didn’t want any.”

“Yeah, but if it would help us feed Gnarlybone… I’d take some.”


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