The Girl Who Tricked the Troll
by Don Arthur Torgersen

There was no bigger pest in the rich farming country of central Illinois than the troll who took over Farmer McDavidsen,s barn last summer.
Farmer David McDavidsen was a soil and hoof farmer. His land ran between Kickapoo Creek and the Sangamon River in the heart of the Illinois farmbelt. The land was well planned. He planted a hundred acres of mustard in one field and a hundred hectares of horseradish in another. Corn and soybeans grew in larger fields on the neighboring farms.
Dairy cows grazed in the east meadow, and a herd of buffalo ranged on the prairie to the west. The farm had a chicken coop, a blue silo, a family house with a garden, and a big red barn. Due north of the farm stood a large wooded area called Moraine Forest. The moraine was formed when glaciers crept across the vast Illinois prairies during the Ice Ages.
Farmer McDavidsen and his wife Ingrid had two children named Karin and Erik and a dog named Karl. Whenever there were no chores to do, Karin and Erik liked to explore the woods to dig for flint arrowheads and hunt for mushrooms and wild strawberries. Karl tagged along.
On Saturday morning, Farmer McDavidsen told his children, "There,s talk in town that a troll was seen running across Tanglewood Trail in Moraine Forest. You don,t want to cross paths with an angry troll. Trolls have made trouble for many a farm from Norway to Nebraska."
"A troll?" said Karin. "That,s funny. The last time we heard about a troll was when Uncle Hans told us about the troll who lived under a bridge and tried to eat the three goats that clip-clopped over the bridge."
"Oh, yeah!" said Erik. "The three billy goats. The biggest billy goat had long horns for butting, and he sure gave that troll a gruff time."
That afternoon, Karin and Erik followed a branch of Salt Creek and hiked out to the woods. They tramped through a stand of oak trees and disturbed a white-tailed deer that ran off like a shot. Two red squirrels scampered right across their feet. Karl barked at the squirrels and chased them up a black walnut tree.
They walked along the creek until they reached a clearing at the bend. Erik said, "Look! There,s a patch of strawberries. But somebody put up a sign up that said: KEEP OUT PRIVATE PROPERTY.
Karin said, "I don,t like that sign. Nobody should own a forest. But somebody,s been working this patch. Look at the stick that was used for digging. Karl,s sniffing at it. I wonder if it,s risky to be here?"
"Well, I don,t care. The strawberries are ripe. Let,s pick them," said Erik.
They soon picked the patch clean and put the strawberries in a pail to take home. Erik noticed a large bush with bright red berries that was growing near a black walnut tree and said, "What,s that bush?"
Karin said, "I think that,s a trollberry bush. You had better stay away from it. I don,t know if it,s good or bad."
Erik walked over to the bush. The berries were plump and juicy. He reached into the bush to pick one, but jerked back his arm. "Ouch! The bush is full of thorns."
Then he carefully slipped his hand into the bush and picked a nice plump trollberry from a branch. He put it in his mouth. When he bit into it, he spit it out fast. "Agh! That,s the sourest thing I,ve ever tasted. I,d rather eat lemon peels."
Karin gathered the pail filled with wild strawberries. She and Erik started to follow the creek to go home. Karl wagged his tail and tagged after them. Somehow, the three hikers didn,t see the troll with squinty eyes who was hedged against a cypress tree, watching every move they made.
Karen told her dad about the sign that said KEEP OUT PRIVATE PROPERTY. Farmer McDavidsen said, "There,s no private property in the forest. It,s common land shared by everybody. It,s a refuge for wildlife."
On Monday morning, when Karen was feeding the chickens, she heard her father shout, "What the heck,s going on?"
Karen ran out to see what had happened. Her dad was standing alongside his tractor. He took off his cap, scratched his head, and said, "I don,t know? I was driving the tractor when I lost control and couldn,t steer it. It seemed to have a mind of its own, and I nearly drove it into a ditch. The motor started to sound like the wicked laughter of a troll. Something,s broken."
The next day, more trouble came to the farm. The cows would not give milk. The chickens would not lay eggs. The mustard flowers and the horseradish plants began to wilt. Even the buffalo pawed the earth and were skittish.
Farmer McDavidsen looked over the fields. "If I didn,t know better, I,d say the farm has been raided by trolls."
That evening, while their parents had gone to the Farmers Co-op to plan the fall harvest powwow and the children had gone to bed, the weather changed. The wind rushed across the sky and thunder struck the clouds. The wind blew so hard through the windows that it blew the covers off Karin,s bed, and she woke up, startled. Karl was barking at the thunder and the lightning..
Karen ran over to shut the window. She thought she heard the crowing of a rooster in the wind. She looked out across the field saw something strange. She called to Erik and told him to go to the window.
In the distance, a weird-looking creature was riding a black horse. The black horse was galloping across the field at great speed while the strange creature held on to its mane.
Karin, somewhat frightened, said, "The black horse is running right toward the barn!"
As the horse came closer, they got a better look at the rider. What they saw was an ugsome troll hanging on to the horse,s mane. The troll carried a rooster under his arm. The black horse ran right into the big red barn. A raspy voice said, "Whoa! Nightmare. Whoa!"
"Now I know why dad,s having trouble with the farm," said Karin. "We,ve got to go out to the barn and drive that awful thing away."
"That,s scary," said Erik. "What if he tries to hurt us?"
"Don,t worry, Erik. We,ll carry big sticks and sic Karl at him."
The children were brave. They walked through the house and out toward the barn door. Karin held a lantern in one hand and a big stick in the other. Erik couldn,t find a stick, so he carried a ski pole.
They entered the barn with great caution. Karin held the lantern near one of the stalls. There stood the black horse with a long silky mane and a long black tail. He was breathing heavily and snorting.
Then they heard a noise in the next stall. As soon as Karin held the lantern in the next stall, she heard "Boo!" and was startled. A squat, ugsome troll was sitting on a stool, milking a cow. There was a pile of eggs on the floor next to his feet.
The troll had a long nose and a bristling tail. He was wearing bib overalls and a large, gold earring in his ear. When Karl barked, the troll was surprised, so he jumped up on a beam under the rafters and said, "What are you kids doing in my barn.".
Karin looked up and held out her stick. "It,s not your barn, it,s our barn. Are you a troll, a warthog, or a donkey?"
"I,m a troll. I,m not a warthog or a donkey, I,m a troll! Donkeys can,t talk and hogs can,t fly."
"Well, you better get out of our barn or I,ll hit you with this stick."
"Ha! Ha! Hah! Ho! Ho! Hoh!, the troll laughed wickedly. "You can,t even reach me with that stick."
Erik said, "What are you doing in our barn?"
"Don,t you know? You didn,t keep out of my private strawberry patch. You picked all the strawberries in my garden, so I thought I,d pester the farm and take over the barn."
"You don,t own those strawberries," said Karen.
"Yes, I do," replied the troll.
"Did you plant them?
"Wh-what?" he stuttered. "Yes, I did."
"No you didn,t. You,re a liar. Those strawberries grew wild."
"I don,t care. They,re mine. You can,t have them. Besides, I like it here in the barn. It,s my barn. And there,s plenty of hay for my horse Nightmare."
"I,m gonna get tell my dad," said Erik. "He,ll fix you."
The troll thought a bit. "I,ll tell you what. I,m going to give you some troll,s gold to pay for my room and board, but don,t let your dog bite me. He might break his teeth."
The troll jumped down from the beam. He took two gold pieces from his pocket and gave them to Karin and Erik. That pleased them.
Erik said, "Boy, this gold piece is nifty. I,ll bet it,s worth a lot."
"Well," said Karin to the troll. "Maybe you can stay another day."
"Don,t worry," said the troll. "There,s plenty more where that came from."
Karen, Erik and Karl walked back to the house. Erik fingered the gold piece and looked at it with curious eyes. It was much larger than a silver dollar. It looked like an ancient leaf from a fossil plant, but formed from gold.
The next day, Ingrid,s brother, Uncle Hans, came to visit the family. He had spent many years as a ship,s captain and sailed all around the world. He was an explorer. He had tracked trolls in the mountains and had many wonderful stories to tell.
Karin and Erik told their parents and their uncle about the troll in the barn. They showed them the two gold pieces the troll had given them. Uncle Hans examined the pieces and laughed. "Troll,s gold? Hah! That,s fool,s gold. It looks like gold, but it,s just a worthless piece of mineral found in the coal fields. It can,t buy anything but a fool,s ransom."
Farmer Davidsen said, "Listen, Hans, we,ve been having some problems on the farm. At first, I thought it was caused by a change in the weather, but now I think that the troll in the barn might be the culprit."
Uncle Hans said, "Some trolls don,t have the wits of a cow, but others are pretty clever. They say trolls can tie knots in the tail of the wind to make it howl. They can make the weather change in the blink of an eye. I heard of a troll who was so ugly that he scared the bees away from their beehive. Then he ate the honeycomb."
"Trolls will steal anything they can get their hands on—milk, eggs, pies and pails. They,ve been known to build tunnels in the earth to steal potatoes, onions, carrots, and eat the roots of plants. I wouldn,t be surprised to find a troll at the root of your troubles.
"I,ve spent a few years in the mountains and fjords of Norway, where your mother and I were born and raised. In Norway, the woods are full of trolls, and they,re always trying to raid the farms. The Norwegian farmers told me that you have to trick a troll to get rid of it. You have to put a troll in a predicament he can,t get out of. You have to trap him in his own pickle."
"I,d sure like to put that troll in a pretty pickle," said Karin. "But how?"
"If a troll is clever, then he,s often too vain for his own good. He thinks he knows everything. Make a deal with him. Ask him a question he can,t answer. If he can,t, then he,s got to skidoo, scram, and skedaddle."
Farmer Dave, Uncle Hans, and Ingrid sat down with Karen and Erik and prepared a list of questions that would trick the troll. Farmer Dave said, "Go out in the barn tonight and see if you can outwit the troll."
"And try guessing his name," said Ingrid with a chuckle. "That might cause him to stub his nose and throw a craze in the haystacks."
Karin and Erik heard the rooster crowing in the barn, so they went out to the barn to outwit a troll. Karen held the lantern and walked through the door of the big red barn, while Erik and Karl marched alongside.
Karin saw the troll sitting on the wooden beam under the roof. "Hey, Mr. Troll, my uncle says that troll,s gold isn,t worth three cents. It,s just a piece of coal."
"Your uncle doesn,t know what he,s talking about. Troll,s gold is the richest treasure-trove in the world—it buys good luck."
Karin said, "I,d like to make you a deal. If I guess your name, will you leave the barn?"
The troll threw his head back and laughed. "Sure, but you,ll never guess my name."
"Oh yeah? Your name, Sir, is Rumpelstiltskin!"
"Ha-ha-hah! No! But Rumpy comes from a long line of my distant cousins. He was one of the ugly ones. My name is Rumpel, Crumple, RumpelCrumpleSkin."
"Are you a smart troll?" asked Karin.
"Yep, I,m as smart as a whip," and he snapped his tail.
"If I can trip you with a question you can,t answer, will you please clear out of the barn right now and get off our farm?"
"It,s useless to try to trick me, little girl, I,m too clever. I like this nice cozy barn. There,s plenty to eat, and the roof keeps the rain from getting my nose and tail wet. Besides, you can,t think of any question I can,t answer."
"If you,re so smart, Rumpelcrumpleskin," said Karin, "tell me what & 145;popillol, means."
"That,s a stupid question." The troll snapped his fingers. "Popillol is poppycock. It doesn,t mean anything. But popillol spelled backwards is lollipop. What do you think of that answer, Miss Pollypop?"
Then Erik said, "Do you know astronomy?"
"Astronomy, astrology—it makes no difference to me."
"What star is closest to the earth?" asked Erik.
The troll pretended to be stumped. "Hmm, let,s see. The North Star? The Dog Star? That big red guy called Betelgeuse? No, I don,t think so—too many light years away.
"What,s the name of that bright star that,s only about 93,000,000 miles from this farm? It,s the star that makes so much light you can see it during the day."
The troll snapped his fingers once, twice, thrice." Yes, that,s the one—the sun. It,s the sun that,s the closest star. How does that answer rise and set in your mind, Squire Erik Whippersnapper? It looks like I,m going to be ruling this barn for the rest of your life."
The troll jumped down from the beam, stood on a stool, and tossed a dozen eggs in his mouth.
"Hey! Those are our eggs," yelled Karin. "You stole them from our chicken coop."
"Too bad," said the troll. "They,re mine now."
Karen got angry. "All right, Rumpelcrumplegrumpleskin, what,s the largest animal that ever lived?"
"That,s a good one—a real knotty brain teaser. A hippo? No. An elephant? No. A giant squid? How about those ancient dinosaurs? Brontosaur? Titanosaur? No, not nearly big enough.
"There is one animal that grows over 100 feet in length. And, yes, Miss Quizcompoop, twelve elephants holding tails with their trunks could stand in a line on its back.
The troll laughed out loud, snapped his fingers, and quickly recited a rhyme in his raspy voice:

Try, little girl, you can,t trick me.
The largest animal lives in the sea.
It dives very deep, it slaps it tail.
The name of the animal is
-- the great blue whale!

"Well, shake a leg and crown me king. I,m so smart I could kiss my elbow." The troll began to laugh louder and louder. The raucous laughter shook the rafters and nearly raised the roof of the barn. Karl barked and ran outside to get away.
Karin and Erik went back to the house and complained. Erik said, "That smart-aleck troll knew all the answers. He thinks he,s king of the barn. What are we going to do now?"
Uncle Hans said, "I,m going to tell you a story from my life,s adventures. "When I was a young explorer, I sailed across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Siberia. Then I made a great trek to the mountains in south central Siberia. I climbed trails through taiga evergreen forests. I caught fish with my bare hands. I explored caves. I tracked bears, lynx, and Siberian tigers, and sometimes they tracked me.
"After many months, I discovered the lake that Mongol tribes called the place of the fathomless water. It,s the largest freshwater lake in the world.
"A Russian scientist who measured its depth said the lake was 25 million years old and more than a mile deep. You could put all the rivers in the world together, and it would take them a whole year to fill up the lake. The water is so clear you can see fish swimming two hundred feet below the surface.
"There are hundreds of rare animal species in that lake not found anywhere else in the world. I saw freshwater seals called nerpas, and I even saw a worm that eats fish. Imagine that—a worm that eats fish.
A Navaho scholar who traced the history of his people told me that the ancestors of several Indian tribes that migrated to North America twenty or thirty thousand years ago once lived near that lake.
As Indians do today, so did they do in the days of the old ones. The people planned ceremonies to honor the spirit of the Great Eagle Father. It was their belief that a great eagle soared over the lake to protect them from sickness, hunger, and hard times. That,s why the eagle feather is so sacred to Indian tribes. An eagle feather can never be bought or sold; it can only be given. It is a gift from the Great Eagle Father.
"I met a Mongol tribesman in Siberia who said that a race of strange creatures with rumpled skin, long tails, and bad tempers came from the north in the ancient days. They took over the caves along the shores of that great lake and forced many people living there to move away. "
Thereafter, for thousands of years, people began to cross over the land bridge that connected Siberia to Alyeska—that,s Russian for Alaska. Some stayed in Alaska, ate walrus and seals, and became Inuits and Eskimos. But others traveled south into the continent and settled in other parts of North America where they hunted buffalo and beaver or planted corn and squash.
"It,s my hunch, my theory that a race of trolls made the long trek to Siberia with the reindeer during the Ice Ages. They came from the mountains of Norway, Sweden, and Finland and survived by fishing in the fathomless lake for grayling, sig, and sturgeon, and hunting for seals. So you can be sure that trolls are old, old creatures—perhaps as old as the rocks."
Erik asked, "I don,t believe it. Is it true? If it,s true, what,s the name of that lake?"
"It,s as true as true can be. The Russians call it Lake Baikal. Maybe I,ll take you to Siberia some day to see the lake. You can drink the purest water in the world— it,s good for your health."
Then Uncle Hans leaned over and whispered something into Karin,s ear, and her eyes grew as wide as lotus flowers. "If you just ask him that, I think it will be the end of the troll."
"What did he say?" asked Erik.
"Never mind, it,s a secret," said Karin. "I,m not going to say anything until the right time."
Uncle Hans said, "Karin, you must take time by the forelocks and seize the moment."
"And that,s right now," said Karin in a sharp voice. "Come on, Erik, I,m going to get rid of that stupid troll once and for all."
Karin, Erik, and Karl hurried out to the barn. When they got there, the troll was sitting on the beam, polishing his golden earring with a rag.
"All right, Mr. Troll-in-the-Barn," I have one last question," said Karin.
"You,re beginning to bore me, little girl. What is it this time?"
"Trolls have lived for ages and ages—if they haven,t already turned to stone. Tell me, tell me true how old you are."
The troll sneezed. He slapped his head and snapped his tail. "How old am I? How old am I? I,m older than this . . . and older than that. I,m…I,m…I,m…I,m discombobulated."
The troll jumped off the beam and ran around the barn in a craze and knocked over the haystacks. Karl chased after him and snapped at the seat of his pants.
"You tricked me! You tricked me! I don,t know how old I am. That,s something no trolls know and no troll knows."
The troll was as mad as a hatter and madder than a wet hen. He jumped up and down and stomped his feet into the ground. He stomped and stomped so hard that he drove himself into a hole right up to his nose.
Then he climbed out of the hole, grabbed his rooster, sneezed again, and shouted "Giddyap! Nightmare! Giddyap!"
The black horse whinnied and reared up on his legs. As he dashed out of the barn, the troll caught hold of his long black tail and hung on for dear life. For one fleeting moment, Nightmare was a horse with two tails.
The black horse galloped across the west range with the troll hanging on to his tail, and that started the buffalo herd to thunder and stampede. The shaggy buffalo were so riled up that they raced around in a circle, whipped the wind with their tails, and chased the black horse all the way back to the woods.
A few days later, the weather changed, and conditions on the farm improved. The cows gave milk again, the hens laid eggs, and the crops perked up to get ready for the fall harvest.
Farmer McDavidsen held the annual fall powwow on his land. Many teepees stood on the grounds. Indian drummers chanted and beat their drums: TOH-ma! TOH-ma! TOH-ma! TOH-ma!
Ojibwa, Winnebago, Potowatami, Kickapoo, Shawnee, Illini, Sauk-Fox, Lakota--men, women and children from many tribes and nations came to the powwow. They wore fringed skirts, kilts, beads, moccasins, hawk bells and headfeathers. Some painted their faces and shook rattles.
The Native American dancers danced in a great circle to the pounding of the drums and the chanting of the drummers.
An elder held up an eagle feather and invited townspeople, farm families, and veterans who served the nation to dance with them in a great ring of friendship.
Farmer McDavidsen built a maze from a hundred bales of hay. Children who were running around on the powwow grounds had to find their way through a network of "hayways" from one corner of the maze to the other. Some of them threw buffalo chips in barrels to win prizes.
There was a platform made from hay bales for country singers and guitar players. Farmer McDavidsen and his wife Ingrid wore cowboy hats and boots. They twanged their guitars, yodeled, and sang bluegrass country songs with a young cowgirl from town. Two country pickers with five-stringed banjos played Dueling Banjos and knocked ‘em dead that day.
Buffalo robes, Indian jewelry, beaver skulls, arrowheads, and Indian blankets were sold and traded. People ate buffalo burgers, buffalo stew, and fry bread steeped with honey. That,s what happened at the big powwow during the fall harvest in central Illinois.
But what do you think happened to the troll?
Some trolls sit and think, and some just sit. If you ever go hunting for flint arrowheads or wild strawberries in the moraine woods north of Farmer McDavidsen,s land, you may see a large rock sitting against an old, twisted cypress tree.
Weeds are growing around the rock. Moss and lichens are climbing up its face. Look closely at the features of that rock.
It,s really an old wizened troll with a puzzled look on his face. He,s sitting and thinking while ages and ages grow over him. He,s trying to figure out how old he is, but he just doesn,t know. And when the wind blows through the woods, you can hear the wind howl:
How old is a troll?...How old is a troll? ...How old?...How old? . . . .