Authors: Richard Laymon
Tags: #Fiction - Horror
His name is Harrison Bentley. His friends call him Bents. Others among us call him a troll.
A few nights ago he was beaten, stripped of his clothes, and bound with ropes to the steep downhill tracks of Funland’s Hurricane roller coaster. A calling card was taped to his forehead. It read, “Greetings from Great Big Billy Goat Gruff.”
No, the roller coaster did not race down and crush the life out of Harrison Bentley. No, it was not derailed by the impact and thrown off its tracks, hurtling its luckless riders to their doom. Harrison was discovered in time to prevent such tragedies.
Near death from hypothermia, he was rushed to the hospital emergency room. He had multiple bruises and abrasions. A dislocated shoulder. Two cracked ribs. A broken nose.
The damage to his body will heal, in time. But time is unlikely to mend the deeper wounds—the agony and humiliation of being stripped and brutalized, the terror of being lashed to the Hurricane tracks at a dizzying height above the boardwalk and left there through the long dark hours of the night, knowing that dawn would bring not only the welcome warmth of sunlight but also the roar of the descending Hurricane.
Such wounds may never heal.
Harrison Bentley has been scarred for life.
We know why, good folks of Boleta Bay. We all know why.
He committed a crime, and he was duly punished for it.
What heinous crime did this man commit?
We all know the answer to that one too.
He was guilty of being homeless.
He was a “troll.” And he met rough justice from Great Big Billy Goat Gruff.
He isn’t the first victim of the thugs who roam our town, especially our beach and boardwalk, “trolling,” visiting mayhem on the downtrodden of our society. He is only the most recent.
Our local authorities have knowledge of at least twenty incidents in which indigents have been beset by roaming bands of teenage vigilantes. The earliest attacks, beginning last summer, were mild in comparison to the brutality apparent in the torture of Harrison Bentley. The victims, then, were bound and gagged and driven out of town. They were left miles away, terrified but unharmed. They were left with warnings never to return to Boleta Bay.
Soon, however, the “bum’s rush” ceased to satiate the appetite of the adolescent mob. Instead of a swift ride out of town, transients were beaten senseless and left where they fell—in alleys, on the beach, in the darkness beneath the boardwalk, in the shadows among the rides and game booths of the “fun zone.” Always with a calling card proclaiming him—or her—to be yet another victim of Great Big Billy Goat Gruff.
But even beatings, as vicious as they were, proved too tame for the pleasures of the brutes who roam our nights. Though the beatings continued, new and perverse elements have now been added to the repertoire.
Four weeks ago an early-morning jogger found an indigent known only as “Mad Mary” handcuffed to the railing of the boardwalk. Like those before her, Mary had been thrashed. Unlike the others, she had been stripped naked. Every inch of her body had been sprayed with green paint.
Biff, the next victim, was painted with red and yellow stripes.
Lucy’s buttocks were glued to a boardwalk bench. The plastic bowl she used for collecting a few paltry coins from passersby was glued to her face.
James was placed on a carousel horse, hands tied behind his back, a hangman’s noose around his neck. Had he fallen during the night or early-morning hours…
Harrison was tied to the Hurricane’s tracks.
It won’t stop with him. Our own local band of barbarians will strike again, commit more atrocities, fall with ever-increasing cruelty and ferocity on the homeless of our town.
And we are to blame.
We are their accomplices.
We fear the “bums, winos, and crazies,” who seem to be everywhere, always with a hand out, begging for change. We treat them like carriers of a dread disease, spreading contagion by their mere presence.
They do spread a disease.
The disease they spread, my friends, is guilt.
We have homes, families, food, clothes, and countless luxuries. They do not.
We hate them for reminding us of that fact.
And we want them gone.
The trollers want them gone too. The trollers, our children, react to the “bums” as the adults do—with fear and loathing. They have seen the revulsion on our faces. They have heard our muttered curses, or derisive laughter. And some of them, perhaps only a handful, chose to do us all the favor of cleaning up the town, getting rid of these hated nuisances. They invented the sport of “trolling.”
From the beginning, of course, our authorities denounced their activities.
But so many of us were pleased.
At last something was being done about our “bum problem.” Stickers began to appear on car bumpers and store windows: “Troll Buster” stickers; others that read, “One Troll Can Ruin Your Whole Day” and “Billy Goat Gruff for President.” Jokes abounded. “What bait do you use for trolling in Boleta Bay?…Cat food.” And, “How can you tell if a troll’s dead?…He doesn’t ask for two bits when you step on him.”
We did not condemn the acts of violence perpetrated against the “trolls,” we made sport of them. We applauded them. And with our cynical attitudes, with our approval, we acted as a local booster club for Great Big Billy Goat Gruff.
Will we celebrate, I wonder, when an indigent lies dead on the boardwalk, murdered by our children?
I doubt it.
We’ll have the opportunity, though. Tomorrow, next week, or next month, they
The moment is rushing toward us with the momentum of the Hurricane thundering down its tracks.
A troll will die.
A bum, a wino, a crazy. A beggar who talks gibberish, dresses in rags, and smells of garbage. And some of us may think that the world is a better place with that troll dead.
But the murderers will be you and me.
And the victim, let us not kid ourselves, will not be a troll.
Not a troll, but a human being—a man or a woman who ran out of luck somewhere along the way, who was condemned from birth by a cosmic roll of the dice, or who was trampled beneath the merciless boots of substance addiction. A person, not a troll.
A person. A child, once, who was loved by a mother and father. A child who fought to stay awake on Christmas Eve in hopes of spying Santa Claus. A girl who skipped rope and sped along on roller skates. A boy who beamed when he was given his first bicycle, who cried when his balloon popped, who popped bubble gum and ate ice-cream cones.
A child who would’ve loved Funland with its hot dogs and cotton candy, with its arcades and game booths and thrilling rides.
This is our troll.
This is our victim.
This is who will die on the moonlit boardwalk, one night soon, with a card taped to his body: “Greetings from Great Big Billy Goat Gruff.”
Let me suggest a revision in the card’s message.
Let it read: “Greetings from Great Big Billy Goat Gruff and the Citizens of Boleta Bay.”
Dave folded the
and tossed it onto the coffee table. He lifted his beer mug. He took a drink.
“So, what do you think?” Gloria asked. She was sitting beside him on the sofa, one leg tucked beneath her, an arm resting on the back cushion. She looked at Dave with one eyebrow cocked high, daring him to strike out at her editorial, eager to defend it.
“Nice job,” he said.
“You don’t mean that.”
“It sure ought to stir things up.”
“That was the idea. It’s a disgrace, what’s happening in this town. Something has to be done about it.”
“I agree.” Dave finished his beer and set the mug down. “Why don’t we head on over to the Wharf Rat?”
“You’re trying to change the subject.”
“I’m getting hungry.”
“What do you really think about my article?”
Dave sighed. Why not go ahead and get it over with? Tell her what she’s waiting so eagerly to hear. “Wouldn’t you rather fight on a full stomach?” he asked.
With kids waiting for Santa Claus, roller-skating, and popping gum so fresh in his mind, Dave thought that Gloria looked like one who’d just felt a tug on her fishing line.
“I knew it,” she said. “You’re pissed off.”
“Do you have to use that kind of language?”
Now she looked
pleased. “Oh? And Joan doesn’t?”
“In what way?”
“I thought you wanted to argue about bums.”
“We’ll get back to them. Tell me, why is Joan permitted to use that kind of language, and I’m not? This ought to be good. Is it because she’s ‘one of the guys’? She obviously is not one of the guys. Or hadn’t you noticed?”
“You’re certainly feeling your oats tonight. Or your bamboo shoots.”
“Joan was talking like a sailor at the barbecue last week. You never once said boo about that.”
“I don’t criticize my guests.”
“But it’s all right for her to talk that way.”
“Doesn’t bother me.”
“But I’m not allowed to say ‘pissed off’?”
“Coming from you, it sounds incredibly phony and childish. You sound like a second-grader trying to shock her parents.”
Her face went red. Her mouth dropped open.
“You bastard,” she muttered.
Dave knew that he’d gone too far. She had been spoiling for a fight—for a chance to pit her superior social conscience against the cynical cop—but she hadn’t expected it to get up close and personal. She hadn’t counted on being humiliated.
“I’m sorry,” Dave said. He put his hand on her arm.
She jerked it away from him.
“You asked,” he pointed out.
“Go to hell. Oh, pardon me. Phony, childish me.” She pushed herself off the couch and walked toward the front door.
She opened the door.
“Come on, let’s forget about it and go to the Wharf Rat.”
She looked back at him.
Her eyes were red.
“Hey,” he said, “I didn’t mean anything.”
“No. Of course not. Enjoy your dinner.” She left and shut the door hard.
Joan slid the zipper up the front of her white denim dress and checked herself in the bedroom mirror. A lot of leg showed. This was her first new dress since minis had come back into fashion. She supposed it would take some getting used to.
“Neat outfit,” Debbie said from the doorway.
Joan looked at her sister. “Do you think it’s too short?”
“Looks great,” Debbie said, wandering into the room. “Can I borrow it sometime?”
“Sure, I guess so.” The girl lacked Joan’s height and figure, but the dress would probably fit her. Hard to believe that she had grown so much recently. And a little sad.
“I don’t want any of your boyfriends drooling on it.”
“Your boyfriends don’t drool?”
“You ought to know. You see as much of them as I do.”
“Somebody has to watch out for you.”
“Somebody ought to watch out
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Are you going out with
again?” Debbie’s upper lip lifted slightly as she spoke.
“He’ll be here any minute.”
“It’s your life.”
“That’s right, it is. There’s nothing wrong with Harold.”
“No. Huh-uh. He’s perfect. Why don’t you marry him?”
“He hasn’t asked,” Joan said.
Debbie’s eyes widened. “You wouldn’t, would you? I mean, if he asked, you’d tell him to screw off, right?”
“I think I’d be more diplomatic about it.”
“But you wouldn’t marry him?”
“I doubt it.”
“Well, at least you’re not totally bonkers.”
“’Cause he’s sure no prize. If you ask me, I don’t know why you go out with him at all.”
“Did you hear me ask?”
“What do you see in him, anyway?”
“Harold’s a nice guy.”
“You could do a lot better.”
“Yeah? Who appointed you Mother?”
The smug smile fell off Debbie’s face.
“I’m sorry,” Joan said.
The girl shrugged, but her face had gone pale and for just a moment her eyes looked frantic. She quickly turned her head away. “Where’s Mr. Wonderful taking you?”
“A movie. You know, that Summer Film Festival at the university.”
“What a thrill.”
“We might go someplace afterward. I’ll be home by midnight, or I’ll call.”
“Don’t tear yourself away from him on my account.”
Still regretting the “Mother” comment, Joan said, “How would you like to come with us?”
“Oh, that’d be rich.”
“I’m sure Harold wouldn’t mind.”
“And I could pick up a few pointers on erogenous zones.”
“I doubt that very much,” Joan said.
“Yeah, he might wilt in front of a spectator.”
“You kidding? He keeps his hands to himself. Spectators or not.”
“Bullshit.” She stared at Joan, eyes narrow. “He’s putting it to you.”
“That’s news to me.”
“Right. I’m a world-class liar.”
“But that’s…too weird. You don’t let him, or what?”
“Is this any of your business?”
“I’m just curious, that’s all. I mean, you’ve been going with this guy for a month. What’s the story?”
“I don’t know.” She felt herself starting to blush.
“So it’s him, huh? Is he a homo or something?”
Joan shrugged. “Let’s just drop it, okay? I don’t know what’s wrong, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Why the hell do you go out with him?”
“I told you, he’s a nice guy. So, do you want to come with us or not?”
“What do you do when you’re out with him? Nothing?”
“Come along and find out.”
“Not a chance. Jeez. I knew something was wrong with that guy.”
The doorbell rang.
“See you later,” Joan said. “Midnight.”
“Yeah. Have a ball.”
Joan grabbed her handbag off the bed and hurried down the hall. She opened the front door. Harold stood on the porch, a few strides back. He glanced at her face as if to confirm who she was, then focused on her chest, as usual. Not that he found her chest special. He just seemed unable to look at her face for any period of time. “How’s my favorite copper?”