This short story was written in a strange mood during a time where I played a lot of chess. Not sure what else to say about it, really. It’s one of my favourites (in the sense that I loathe it less than most of the others) probably because of the mixture of humour and tragedy that sometimes comes together not entirely unsuccessfully.

Chessplaying Trolls In the Back Yard

There were trolls outside my window. Large, dirty trolls making an unbelievable
racket – they had been at it all night. The police refused to come and remove them which made me wonder what my taxes went to if not that. I tried sticking my head out the window and yelling at them; tried to scare them off, you see. That just made my neighbour stick his head out the window and yell at me to shut up or else he would call the police on me. I mumbled that it was fine with me as long as they would also remove the trolls. But I didn’t persist.

I knew that the trolls were only in my head and that my neighbour probably couldn’t see them. I knew that, I just failed to see how it helped me. You try having trolls outside your window and see if it helps you to know that only you can see them. You would be calling the police pretty soon as well, I promise. And you wouldn’t believe the noise and smell of trolls; if you haven’t ever seen one of course. The noise and smell didn’t surprise me though, not as much as the incessant playing of chess. Yes, that is what they were doing down there below my window – playing one game of chess after the other. Yelling about it like hysterical monkeys when one of them took a piece from one of the others.

Fortunately, trolls are afraid of sunlight and by dawn I had silence again. But they would be back, surely. I don’t mind telling you that it wasn’t an easy day at all. My wife came by to pick up the last of her things, but I couldn’t be sure that she was really there. If she was only in my head like the trolls. She kept looking at me, she tried to smile. The familiar lines of her mouth drawn with such sadness as if she was waiting for me to say something, but I couldn’t think straight. I hadn’t slept at all during the night and I wasn’t sure she was really there. I think I was supposed to say something – maybe I had told her that I would tell her something, I don’t know. I avoided her eyes and looked away until she was gone. I couldn’t handle looking at her if she wasn’t real. I had to get rid of the trolls first.

Luckily, I had a plan. Trolls fear fire as well, you see. So I went out and bought a can of gasoline and then I sat down and waited for sunset. When it finally came, I splashed the ground in the yard with gasoline and waited for them to return. While I waited the phone rang. It was a friend of my wife from her work. She was saying something about my wife forgetting to take her wedding dress with her but I couldn’t make it out. For at that same moment the trolls had returned and were making even more of an unbelievable racket than the night before. I remember standing with my wife’s wedding dress in my other hand trying to make out what the voice in the phone was saying to me, but I had no chance. They were making such noise and anger just got the better of me, I guess.

I remember how I ran down the backstairs and out into the yard with my lighter in my hand. They hardly noticed me as I stormed out and interrupted the game. I remember flicking the lighter several times before I saw a flame and then bending down to the ground and igniting it. The flames spread quickly to the trolls and they started screaming loudly in their monkey-like fashion, running around in panic. Soon, flames were everywhere around me and I remember the trolls burning and running around – setting fire to other things, like animated torches. Only one of them kept sitting calmly at the chess board. It looked at me and just pointed to the wedding dress in my hands as it had caught fire.

That dress was all she would have left, and I just couldn’t handle seeing it burn. I always knew, that no matter what else, I had given her that day. She was happy that day. We were, I guess. It burned quickly, melting in my hands and I threw myself down on it to stop the fire, but it wouldn’t go out. It hurt. It hurt so much that I started crying and I never cry. It was all so blurry from there on. I wanted to stop the dress from burning – thinking that perhaps I could still wash it and get it pretty again. And I tried to yell to the trolls to stop running around like that, they were setting fire to all manner of things. But they wouldn’t hear me and the blaze was getting too strong. All I could see was the last troll still sitting by the chess-board, looking at me with big, sad eyes. It was asking me if I would play the game through with it, and I wondered why it was still there. Fire had gotten a hold of the hairs on its back and was searing through its skin, exposing the spine. And still it just sat there by the board. What was it waiting for? Why didn’t it do anything? The game was obviously over. And then I just remember pain and darkness.

The pain is still there, the darkness is gone. They tell me that I tried to kill myself, that I couldn’t handle my wife leaving me. I try to tell them that it wasn’t that; that it was the trolls. That if it hadn’t been for them I would have managed quite well- that I knew she would be happier without me and that was fine. But I couldn’t handle that constant noise. How was I supposed to handle anything with trolls in my back yard? Yesterday night a nurse told me that an elderly woman hadn’t made it out of the building when it caught fire but I wasn’t sure what building she meant. She said that perhaps it would be better if I didn’t survive my burns, she looked so angry. Perhaps it would have been better. Perhaps then the trolls would have left me alone and forgiven me for ruining their chess game.

By Jeppe Grünberger