I’ve known Red coming up on a year now. Her first novel, This Brilliant Darkness, is just that. Brilliant. Add it to your TBR list. It’s beautifully written, and from what I’ve read, Troll Or Derby is equally as engaging. The characters are vivid right from the start. See if you agree – Red was kind enough to give us a peek.
Burning Down the House
Meth fires are blue, the hottest kind of flame. I’d heard it before, probably from Derek, but now I was seeing it firsthand. Lucky me.
A sickly smell hung on the air. The remains of chemicals, plastic, and pharmaceutical ingredients brutalized my lungs, but I couldn’t back away. I wouldn’t—no matter what.
The trailer crackled with flame, and Gennifer was inside. Tall, eerie tongues of fire licked the outer walls–ten feet high, at least. I had no idea flames could reach that size.
Plasticine, sticky smoke—brown and thick—engulfed me as I neared the trailer. I didn’t know where to look for my sister, but I was sure she was inside. A moan, then a scream—I could hear her through the thin aluminum walls.
The trailer was melting into sludge and toxic smoke, and it cracked and popped on a warping metal frame. I didn’t know if I should try and run through the fire at the kitchen end of the mess, where a gaping hole belched sickening fire. Maybe I could try to get Gennifer to open or break a window and climb out from the other side. I wondered if she’d have it in her to bleed a little, to save her own life.
The window was way too high for me to reach.
“Open the window, Gennifer! Climb out!”
She was never right when she was doing the drugs Dave gave her—could she even understand what I was saying? Could she hear me?
I thought maybe I could pitch something hard enough into the glass to break her out. I ran to the woods, looking for a log or branch I could ram through the window. Everything was too rotten to be of any use—sticks and limbs crumbled in my shaking hands. Gennifer’s screams were getting louder, higher pitched. Was she on fire? Why wouldn’t she help herself?
If only I had a crowbar.
Then I saw them—tools. The trailer was up on blocks, with no underpinning. Of course Dave would be too cheap to finish out his rustic rural meth lab. I crawled beneath, the leaky septic line christening me as I stooped, groping for the abandoned tools. I hoped the mobile home wouldn’t collapse on top of me before I could crawl back out, but it wasn’t sounding so good.
Dave and his gang of junkie slaves had been working beneath the trailer, and sure enough, they’d been too distracted, dumb, or high to put away a set of screwdrivers, some ratchets, and a really, really heavy wrench.
It’s no crowbar, but it’ll have to do.
Liquid shit dripped on me, but I didn’t have time to care. My sister was screaming her head off in a burning trailer and I was reasonably certain she was out of her mind on drugs.
I flung the wrench at the window, but it didn’t break. I tried again, and again, but only managed to crack the damned glass, and Gennifer still hadn’t appeared at the window to save herself.
There was only one thing to do. I grabbed the wrench and ran to the kitchen end of the trailer. I took a deep breath of fresh air, then I hurled myself through the cloud of fumes. The fire and smoke obscured everything, and I shut my eyes against the sting of chemicals. For a moment, I thought I saw the shapes of blue and orange dancers in the flames.
I braced myself for the heat, but I didn’t feel it. Pops and hisses all around me sounded like whispers or cackles. The fire was eating through the trailer, and I felt the floor giving out with every step. I wouldn’t let it take Gennifer—I wouldn’t let it consume me, either.
The hallway was short, and the door Gennifer was locked behind very thin. Her screams were so loud, there was no point trying to yell to her that I was coming in, especially if it meant inhaling more smoke.
I swung at the handle, holding the wrench like a baseball bat. The brass knob fell to the floor, a chunk of splintered wood still clinging to it. I kicked the bedroom door in, and Gennifer stopped screaming long enough to pass out.
Lovely. Now I’ll have to carry her.
She wore a black bra and jeans, and her skin was burning with fever. I put my hands under her armpits and lugged her over my shoulder. She had at least 75 pounds on me, so I should have crumpled under her, I suppose. Instead, I stumbled into the door frame as I carried her across the spongy floor of the burning trailer.
The heat touched my hair—I could hear it sizzle, could smell it burning, even—but I felt nothing but determination as I carried my sister out of that meth lab.
With Gennifer still on my back, I jumped. She fell hard on top of me, and I was just pushing her off, struggling for breath, when the trailer collapsed onto the ground. The sound of sirens in the distance was no surprise—the smoke was so black and thick that farmers in the vicinity surely could tell this was no typical trash fire. I pulled my sister as far away from the flames as I could and watched for the EMTs to roll up.
Gennifer groaned, and her eyes flickered open for a sec. She met my gaze and frowned. She closed her eyes again and drew a deep breath.
“I’m going to kill that son of a bitch,” I said.
“Dave didn’t do it,” she said. Her words were slurred. She reached up to rub her eyes, lazily, as if waking up from a nap.
“Yeah, right, Gennifer. He’s such a saint, locking you in a burning trailer and all.”
I didn’t see the point of arguing with her, though. I let it drop.
Something sticky and hot dripped too close to my eyes, and I reached to wipe it off. Please don’t let it be crap from the sewer line. I pulled my hand away, and it was covered in blood. Even better. I won’t think of that now—nope, not at all.
The fire truck roared up the gravel driveway. Guys in black rubber suits jumped off the truck–someone put a face mask on Gennifer and asked me if there was anyone still inside.
I shook my head no, and then I fell through trees, air, sky, into the black. I felt my head hitting the hard ground near where my backpack lay, could hear the EMTs shouting, and then—nothing.
I’d Love to Change the World
I want you to understand something. I didn’t rise up out of the ground fully grown, I wasn’t the bastard child of an angry god, and I didn’t become this way because I was cursed. My skin’s not green and I won’t turn to stone in the sunlight.
When I was young, I had a mother, and she was a troll. I had a mother and a father who were both trolls, in fact–and we were a family. Yes, I had a family. Just like you.
Almost everything I know about humans, I’ve learned from their trash. Redbook and Woman’s Day show up at my doorstep more than any other source, I reckon. It may not be a perfect picture of what your life is like, but I’m betting I’ve got a more accurate view of your lifestyle than you have of mine, at least for the time being.
For starters, there’s a shopping mall full of differences between troll family life, and how human families live. Trolls, for instance, do not typically invest a lot of emotion into their own young–often don’t even raise them. They especially don’t socialize with their relatives for special occasions. You won’t see us breaking out the patio umbrellas and the ice chests full of soda for a family barbecue. A special occasion in troll culture is when the villagers rise up and try to corral one of us in a cave, or something like that. At least, that’s how it used to be. That’s what my mom told me. I remember that.
I remember a lot more now than I did, when this adventure started—but I’ll get to that.
Best I can tell, my nuclear family was more like a human family than a troll one. The extended family, as you English would call it, was a mess. A big, illegal, drug-running, slaving mess. But I’ll get to that. This is my part of the story and I want to begin in the beginning. I’m not a storyteller. It’s not my profession. Bear with me while I sort this out, okay?
Sure, you’re going to think what you want about trolls. I mean, you’ve seen movies, you’ve read Rowling and Tolkein. I’m telling you that the real-live working-class trolls of the Midwest are nothing like you’ve been told. We’re capable of great violence, sure, and I’ll concede that our proclivity is largely toward evil, but let’s face it—a lot of that comes down to breeding and culture.
In our world, might most definitely makes right. That’s the fundamental law of troll culture, although most trolls would forego the flowery wording and just express it with a grunt and blow to the head.
Trolls as a species, though, are capable of great love. I know, because I’ve experienced it. You don’t live with something like that and ever forget. If you do, you’re a fool, anyway.
My parents weren’t totally solitary like so many other trolls are. They even had a very close friendship with a fairy family called the Wheelers. If we’d celebrated holidays, the Wheelers were the ones we’d have invited over for a Fourth of July cookout. We didn’t do that a lot, that I can recall. We did raid sinkholes filled with garbage on a few occasions, though. Good times.
The Wheelers were not just fairies, they were Protectors. Fleet of foot and quick of mind, their instincts were so well-tuned as to be mistaken for psychic powers, by most. According to my mother, in the old days humans and fairies alike worshiped or feared the breed of fairy the Wheelers were. Their massive black wings shimmering in air above a crowd of would-be foes were beautiful and awesome—I remember that, too. Sometimes. The memories come and go, unless I’m looking at Deb. Then I can’t forget.
Anyway, these two particular Wheelers, Marnie and Mannox, were so powerful and strong, everyone lived in fear of them. Everyone but my folks, and me, I guess. The Wheelers were my fairy godparents. I don’t remember much about them, but I remember that.
Trying to remember is a full-time job. I’ve visited the library in Bloomington, and even picked through the local bookstore in Bedrock, curious about what the old days used to be like. Maybe there’d be a book there, or something. I read in a muddy copy of Psychology Today once that some therapists use fairy tales to trigger vital memories in their patients—and I used to get these blank spots, this fogginess.
Anyway, my point is, among the children’s stories and the romantic teen fiction, and even in a lot of the comic books, there’s some truth. Mostly fiction, but if you look hard enough, you can see through the tall tales, and find the common thread within. I’ve always been good at that sort of thing. Figuring stuff out.
The one thing I wish I’d figured out sooner was what to do about my uncle Jag.
Why? Well, for starters, my uncle killed my parents, and my fairy godparents. It was immediately after the bonding ceremony between their baby daughter and me. The Wheelers had pledged to protect my parents, and by extension, me. My parents were to protect Deb, and I was, by extension . . .
Well, I jump ahead of myself. I told you I’m not good with stories.
I should start with an introduction, shouldn’t I?
My name is Harlow Saarkenner. I am an American Troll living in rural Indiana, and this is the story of how I met a kick-ass rollergirl, rejoined a rock band, and lived happily ever after.
In a landfill. Did I mention that?
But there’s more. Stay tuned. I’m just going to tell it like it happened, best I can. Deb will fill in the rest.
Yeah. We all want to read more, right? I know I do! Here’s where to find Red and more of Troll Or Derby: