Episode 3 of Brownie Fright Night
To recap the previous two episodes, twenty brownies and their chaperones (mothers) set out on a rainy evening for a weekend campout in Marin County California. On their way the troop gets lost and pulls into a service station for directions where they learn that the place they’re headed to is an abandoned sanitarium. When they finally get there, it is dark. The only phone is in a booth across a now flooded parking lot. They settle in, fix the girls dinner and then assemble for ghost stories.
And now. . . Episode 3:
When Marith volunteered to tell the first ghost story I stifled a ho-hum. I’m afraid I’d formed yet another woefully misguided first impression of someone, this time based on a stereotype which my Norwegian grandmother encapsulated so brilliantly: the frigid, humorless, unimaginative Scandinavian. I was in for quite a surprise.
We’d all gathered around a stone hearth in the common area as the girl scout leader, Sylvana, led the girls in song while Ruthie and I managed to coax a reasonable fire using Sterno logs and old newspapers. Sylvana had tried to convince us to retrieve real wood from the woodshed but we said “not on your life.” Beyond the dim light cast from the asylum the world had fallen into an inky black pool.
“Shall we sing another round of Kookaburra or listen to Mrs. Hansen’s story? Sylvana asked.
Poor Sylvana. If it were up to her, Kookaburra would have stayed in the old gum tree all night long. However she set her guitar against the wall and prepared to relinquish her audience to the stoic Norwegian now walking toward the hearth from the back of the room. Marith sat down on the stone with her back to the flames as the girls moved closer to her on the floor.
“I come from a farm in Norway which is very far away, girls I have come here when I was a young woman …”
“Why?” One of the girls asked.
“Oh, it is for adventure. Then it is for marriage.”
“Do you ever go back?”
I’m certain Marith had been asked that question many times but for some reason she paused, stared across the room blankly and then said, “Sometimes there is nothing to go back to.”
For just a second the room quieted of babbling girl noises. Then an errant wind whistled down the chimney, scattering bits of burning paper over the brownies. We grabbed the iron fire grate and put it in place as the girls stomped to death the fire sprites.
“Let’s let Mrs. H. finish her story and not interrupt her with questions.” Sylvana ordered as the scene of frenzy calmed.
“I could use that wine now,” Ruthie whispered in my ear, as we moved to the back of the room to assume Marith’s abandoned guard position. The usual suspects had already escaped once and, let me tell you, banshees couldn’t shriek as loud as those two.
Because our daughters were friends Ruthie was the only chaperone I really knew. Cate had recently moved to California from New Jersey and Marith worked and thus was rarely seen. “I could use a drink too.”
Marith settled back on the stone. “I once had seven brothers and three sisters and we all sleep in the attic. Even my parents in the winter when the snow is high. Sometimes we just open the window and ski to school from our bedroom. Can you imagine?”
Many “wows” broke out in bubbles in the room. Skiing out your window, how cool is that!
“Between the farm and the town are thick forests like the one we are in now. They are filled with trolls and other wild animals. Do you think there are trolls in Marin County?”
“Do you believe in trolls?”
“Nooooo!” Scattered giggles.
“Norwegian children believe in trolls. That is why we do not go into the forests. We may be eaten.”
“They eat children?”
“That is the thought of many people who live on farms or in small towns. Legend is that trolls were once like humans but after living under rocks and in the mountains for hundreds of years, they changed – some growing quite large while others stayed short.”
“Have you ever seen a troll?”
“Oh yes. Many times. You do not believe me? It is true. Here is my story and we see if you believe or not! Many many years ago, before the time of my great grandmother (whose story this is), a young boy arrived dirty and half-naked on the steps of a church in Akerhus, which is now part of Oslo but was then small. The priest, who was a kind man, took him in, fed him and gave him clothing. But when the townspeople heard, they were not happy. They thought he was a changeling: A human baby who had been kidnapped by trolls. Rumors spread that he had been sent to lure their children into the woods to be captured and eaten. Which is how the trolls used changelings. Their panic grew when they learned the little boy did not like to go out during the day. Then strange rocks began to appear in the town square. (If a troll is hit by a beam of light he turns into a large rock.) So the townspeople thought the trolls had come into the town because they wanted the boy back. They went to the priest and demanded that he return the child to the woods but the priest couldn’t. Instead he took the boy to a farm owned by a older couple whose children had all died. There the boy grew and grew – until he was over ten feet tall! He was ugly and lazy and soon refused to help out around the farm. One day the priest noticed that the older couple hadn’t come to church for a while and he went out to check on them. It was a dark and rainy day like today. As he neared the farmhouse he saw the boy, now a man, watching him from the forest, his eyes growing red and he knew what had happened to the older couple.”
“Great!” Ruthie groaned as the lights flickered. “A slasher story.” After a second more serious flicker, Sylvana sprang to her feet. “Ladies, let’s assemble all the flashlights and lanterns in case we lose power,” she said, meaning the chaperones. “Girls, I’m afraid it’s time for revelry. We’ve got to hit the hay in order to conserve our batteries – we have one more night to live through, ha, ha!” Then, to the moans and groans of disappointed girls (it was only ten o’clock), she began singing: “Day is done, gone the sun.”
“Gone the sun and the power,” Ruthie mumbled as the room went black.
Next Friday: The End.