Trolls In The Hamptons

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Trolls In The Hamptons


Never underestimate the power of imagination. Never overestimate it, either. Take me, for instance, Willow Tate. Iím thirty-four and I can almost support myself and my familyís Manhattan apartment by writing and  illustratTrolls In The Hamptonsing graphic novels for young adults. Iím good; they sell. I sign them with the non-gender specific Willy Tate, but they are all my work, my inspiration, my ideas. Sometimes I write not so good poems, too. And Iíve made candles, painted murals, built birdhouses, and strung beaded necklaces for friends. But thatís creativity, not Creation.

Think about it. The screen writer can create an entire new world and make it come to life in a movie, so real you think you are there on the desert or the mountain or some other planet. The artist can paint flowers you can almost smell. A romance writer can tell a love story so touching you weep into your hot chocolate. They all come out of thin air and active minds.

But neither imagination, creativity, nor great art can make something actual and alive. Fantasy simply does not translate into reality, no matter how lovely. You cannot move into air castles or subsist on pie-in-the-sky. Otherwise Iíd have conjured up my own perfect hero long ago. He wouldnít need to be cover-model gorgeous, but heíd definitely be as noble, honorableó and hotó as the heroes of my action-adventure books. Maybe his only superpower would be making my heart beat faster, but that and a good sense of humor would be enough. And a steady job.

Instead of pulling a Romeo out of my hat, I am single, to my motherís horror, and the only man who gets my pulse thumping these days is Lou the Lout, the super of the brownstone building across from mine, and thatís adrenaline, not lust I feel. The man terrifies me. Heís never been aggressive or nasty, but he stares, even when heís sweeping the sidewalk, shoveling snow, or picking up from the slobs who donít clean after their dogs. From my third floor ó no elevator, no doorman, but a great location on the East Sideó apartment I can see him looking up, into my window. Thatís what he does when heís not sweeping or shoveling or bagging garbage: he stares up from his place under the entry stairs of his building, or from the barred window of the subfloor where I suppose he lives.

My parents both tell me to close the blinds, which is about the only thing they agree on. Itís easy for them to say, when Mom lives a block from the beach out on Long Island and has a garden in the back yard, and Dad has nothing but another high rise senior citizen condo in his view.

Why should I block the sunlight and the scenery outside the walls of my apartment? I was raised in these same rooms, which is how I have an affordable rent-controlled unit. Mom got the summer house in the divorce. Dad got the Florida condo. I got the City apartment. It works for all of us, except for Lou.

I spend most of my hours right here, working, sleeping, reading, or stringing those beads. I will not give up my view of the street, the pedestrians, the pigeons. I need that open space in the City. Besides, I refuse to let any rude slob steal my freedom. Okay, I wonít walk on his side of East Thirty-Eighth Street, but that doesnít mean heís winning his war of intimidation.

The tenants of Louís building donít seem to find him threatening, but to me heís like the monster under the bridge, waiting for unwary travelers. Heís no cute gnomish old man, either, just a large and lumbering and middle aged troll.

. . . A troll.

Now thereís an idea for a new series of books. No one does trolls. Vampires and werewolves are a dime a dozen. Dragons, witches and psychics are done to death. But trolls?

I picked up my penó red with a fine pointóand a lined yellow pad I always keep on the round table by the window thatís my office. (And dining room if company, or my mother, comes.) The íputer and its drawing tablet are for later, once I know what I want. I took a sip of my green tea and thought yeah, a troll. I switched to a marker and started sketching. Heíd be big, rock-like, craggy-faced, with red skin. Green was overdone, and Lou was always flushed and angry looking, chapped in winter, sunburned in the summer. Even on a nice spring day like this one, I bet he dripped with sweat and smelled, but I never got close enough to tell.

I forgot all about him as I sketched and made notes for possible story lines. Should a troll wear clothes or not? Was he hero or villain, victim or avenger? He needed a name. Or was he a she? Girls bought my books too. They might like a rough and ready female character. Or not. Trolls with boobs? Trolls in love? Iíd have to run it by my editor after the weekend. For now my character was Fafhrd, after the Fritz Lieber classic science fiction hero, a gentle giant of a warrior, and best friend of the Grey Mouser.

Ah, to be in the same realm as Fritz Lieber. Right now I was flying on the wind of imagination. This was what I lived for, what made it all worthwhile, the bad reviews, the minuscule royalty advance payments, the low print runs and lack of publicity. To hell with all that, this was the fun part: the rush, the brain stimulation, the euphoria of a great, new idea that a few brush strokes, a couple of lines, could make into something. Thatís the creative high, the confidence, the glow, the near post-coital satisfaction. No, this was more like the start of a new relationship, fresh, exciting, full of tingly possibilities. Who knew how it would turn out, but this might be The One.

I stopped to look at my sketches, my pages of plot, conflict, character. Damn, Iím good.

The tea was gone, along with a dusty chocolate kiss, a stick of sugarless gum that lied about whitening teeth at the same time, and most of the afternoon. Lined yellow pages and pink sticky notes and drawings covered the table; new files and folders appeared on the computer. I could have gone on for hours, I was on such a roll. . . .

Which reminded me I missed lunch and my afternoon snack. Maybe I deserved Ben and Jerryís instead of a banana. And Iíd burn some of the calories by walking to the deli around the corner to get it. Iíd been sitting so long my neck was stiff and I could feel my rear end spreading. I looked out the window to see if I needed a sweatshirt, by checking what everyone on the street was wearing, but they were running and screaming. Then I heard the cars slamming into each other, horns blaring, alarms going off. Bikes lay smashed on the sidewalk as flat as tortillas; the pavement glistened with shards of glass from doors and storefronts and windows, between new piles of bricks and rubble. What the hell? An earthquake in Manhattan? A terrorist attack? The UN wasnít all that far away.

I looked down the block to see if I could figure out what happened, if I should flee the building or hide under the bed.

It was a good thing the mug was empty or tea would have been all over my carpet, I grabbed the table edge so hard. Then again, it was a good thing the table was there or I would have fallen over.

I shook my head to clear it. Iíd been working too hard, that was all. And I was light-headed from hunger. No way could a troll, a red granite giant, be swinging his fists and other proportionately massive appendages as he ó definitely a heó slogged down my narrow street. Parking meters bent so coins went flying; stair railings twisted into wrought iron spaghetti; the floor beneath my feet shook.

I squeezed my eyes shut, then opened them, figuring the daytime nightmare would disappear. It did not. Holy shit, that was a trolló my troll, Fafhrdó smashing the fire hydrant on the corner as if it were a plastic cup. Water fountained out and up, making rainbows in the sun, and floods in the gutters. The troll stood under the streaming geyser, gazing at the colors, splashing his size twenty-five feet and catching handfuls of water, acting like a child at the beach, or a kid with a bottle of soap bubbles. And then, and I swear this is true, he looked up at my window and grinned at me before disappearing around the corner.

My fingers were numb from clutching the table. I had to pry them off to reach for the phone.

"911? This is Willow Tate." I gave my address, but stuttered over my phone number. They had it on caller ID anyway.

"Just relax, maíam. Take a deep breath and tell me what the problem is."

I took a deep breath, which did not calm me in the least. I tried to kept my voice from shaking, or screeching. "Thereís been"óa what?ó "some kind of catastrophe on my block. An accident. Cars, buildings damaged, windows broken." On the second stories!

"Are you injured?"

"No, I am on the third floor. I cannot tell if anyone else is hurt. People are all standing around, some are crying. I donít see anyone on the ground." Crowds were racing toward the street from other blocks, jumping out of cars and rushing out of buildings.

"Yes, we are getting other calls."

I could see cell phones in everyoneís hands. Iíd guess the lines would be flooded. No, those were the streets.

"A fire hydrant is broken."

"We are dispatching ambulances and fire trucks. Iíll notify the water authority. Can you tell me what happened?"

"A tró A tró"

"Calm down, maíam. Help is on the way. Was it a truck?"

That sounded plausible. "Red."

"A red truck. Anything else?"

I could hear sirens already. "Big."

"Yes, thank you. I have your name and address. I am certain an officer will want to speak to you later. Please try to recall as much as you can. You might jot down some notes, so you donít forget any details."

Details? They were all over my computer, my drawing pad, my table. I couldnít help myself. I grabbed for a pen as soon as I hung up the phone. Despite my shaking hands, I draped a scarf around Fafhrdís hips to cover his privates. Then I had to laugh. Ok, the laughter might be hysteria, but I had to smile at my own hubris, thinking for one second that I had anything to do with whatever had just happened. My burst of mental creativity had not given birth to a physical menace. Could not, should not, would not. So there.

I am good.

I am not that good.