The Wicked Witch of Troll Cave
by Don Arthur Torgersen

Ravencraven was the notorious witch of Troll Mountain. She lived in a cave with many chambers near the old western town of Tumbleweed. Many years ago, miners and speculators had gone into that cave to search for silver and gold, but never struck it rich. Instead, they brought back stories of fool’s gold and tales of fabulous creatures seen inside the cave. The miners called the cave Trollcoven.
The old miners claimed that trolls, gnomes and spelunkers had entered the cave—never to be seen again. What happened to them was a matter of gossip and endless curiosity. The miners said a paleontologist once entered the cave to search for fossils, but all that was found of him was a skull and a few bones.
Ravencraven was feared and detested in Tumbleweed because of all the mischief she caused. She was as nosy as a pack rat and managed to steal off with many things that did not belong to her. People hated the barbs of her temper and the stings of her tongue. Never satisfied, she was always ranting and raving and craving for more.
Ravencraven was so keen-eyed she had eyes in the back of her head. She sat on a large stone throne inside the cave, plotting ways to feed her greed and get filthy rich from the work of others. A white panther named Potto sat alongside the witch’s throne. The white panther could see in the dark and often hunted for runaway gnomes at night.
Spelunkers climb into caves to explore them. Those who dared to enter Trollcoven did so at their own risk. The passageways held many mysteries. Some of the chambers were the homes of bats and beetles, spiders and salamanders. There was widespread belief that the witch
who had taken over the cave had the uncanny power to cast spells and turn gnomes, trolls and spelunks into stone.
The walls of the cave were shaped from the fossil remains of ancient trolls. Limestone figures hung from the ceiling and others stood in fixed positions on the floor. These grotesque shapes were formed by the curse of slow drippings that seemed endless without time. Geologists call the figures on the ceiling stalactites and those rising from the floor stalagmites. But what do rock hounds know about trolls and gnomes? Stalagmites might have been stalactites had they held tight to the ceiling.
A band of gnomes lived in the hollows of the mountain. They were the guardians of precious stones and metals. The gnomes wore red caps and red boots and worked with small picks and shovels. Many were hundreds of years old and had grown beards. Although small in size, the gnomes were capable of great works and marvelous industry.
The gnomes were not free to come and go. Ravencraven kept them locked up in a chamber that was glittering with gold. She forced them to work the abandoned mine to regain their freedom—and this was done to fatten a witch’s greed. The only entrance to the chamber was a long mine shaft, and it was blocked by a large rock.
Each morning, Ravencraven rolled the rock away from the shaft to see how much work the gnomes had done during the night. She wanted to find out and how many nuggets and pieces of gold were dug out of the walls. If one of the gnomes tried to escape, Potto, the white panther, would chase after him. The panther would track the gnome until he found him, then carry him back to the mine by the scruff of his neck.
Ravencraven had a counting table. She stacked gold coins into piles and counted them over and over again. This gave her countless hours of pleasure. When she was through fingering the gold pieces, she would store her private treasure in a secret hiding place called the witch’s cache.
One day, while the gnomes at work, Ravencraven was sitting on her stone throne, trimming her toenails. Potto was stretched out on the ground alongside the throne, purring and licking his fur.
Ravencraven said, "I’m bored," I think I’ll go outside and kick over dead trees. Maybe we can track down students who play hooky from Tumbleweed School. The kids can hide, but we’ll seek them out. Right, Potto?"
Ravencraven and Potto left the mountain cave and walked down the trail toward town. When she saw a dead tree, she kicked and kicked at it until it fell down. She liked to hear the cracking of the wood and the sound of the crashing tree. She laughed and scolded the crows and jays that scattered out of the branches.
She soon grew tired of kicking over dead trees and scolding the birds. She climbed up into an old, gnarled tree and sat on one of the branches. She told Potto, "I wish I could think of something to do. I’m tired of beating dead wood. I haven’t cast a nasty spell in a raven’s age."