Bill woke up to the mother of all headaches, which was just one symptom of the mother of all hangovers. He cautiously opened one eye and, from the slim ray of light that was edging its way through the blinds, he estimated that it was somewhere between 10am and noon. Thank God it was Sunday morning and he didn’t have to do anything except suffer.
He was vaguely aware of a naked body spooning against his, but he had no idea whom it belonged to. It was definitely female, at least, and he was reasonably sure that whoever it belonged to was quite attractive. He must have had a good time last night – an incredible time, in fact. He closed his eyes and tried to remember.
Most of it was a blur, but he did recall going to a Halloween party in some bar on Thayer Street. He’d dressed up as a mad scientist. Halloween fell on a Monday this year, so all of the best parties had been on Saturday night. He’d been anxious and depressed and lonely – par for the course – and so had obviously drank way too much. Somehow, though, he’d managed to pick up a woman and take her back to his apartment.
He reached his hand back and touched what felt to be a very attractive hip. The parts of her body that were touching his felt soft and squishy in all the right places, and if it hadn’t been for the misery of this hangover, he would have become immediately excited. Her left hand was wrapped around him, and he took a moment to look at it: long, slender fingers with painted nails, light pink, which he liked, and no wedding or engagement ring. A sweet, soothing, melodic voice said “good morning,” and then she squeezed him close to her with both arms.
Yes, indeed, he must have had a very good night this Halloween. You’d think that a board-certified plastic surgeon would have the ladies lined up at his door. With his thinning hair, squeaky voice and belly that was going to pot no matter how much he tried to diet. He spent most of his nights and weekends alone, dreaming and wishing for something better.
“Good morning,” he responded. And for the first time in a long time, it was, headache and hangover be damned. He struggled to recall the woman’s name and came up empty. He did remember something about there being a karaoke machine and a woman with a voice that would have stunned the judges on any reality TV singing show, but the rest was just a blur.
The woman patted him gently and untangled herself from their embrace.
“I have to use the bathroom,” she said.
He watched as she walked past the foot of the bed and padded away toward the bathroom. Yes, the silhouette of her body looked like something out of a men’s magazine, slender yet soft in all the right places. He couldn’t have sculpted it better himself. Her black hair flowed down over her shoulders, hiding most of her face until she stopped and turned slightly towards him.
“Do you have coffee?” she asked, in that angelic voice that made his knees weak.
But when the dim light caught her face, he suddenly shuddered, and then he realized that she had forgotten to remove the mask or make-up or whatever it was she’d been wearing to the costume party. Her face was block-like, with a very low forehead and thick eyebrows that made her look like a troll. Her nose looked like it had been chiseled from a granite slab, and the stonecutter had stopped his chipping much too soon.
“Ah, yeah,” he said. “I’ll make some.”
She nodded, stepped into the bathroom and closed the door.
God, how drunk was I to have sex with her before she even took off that hideous make-up, he thought. But now she’d take off the make-up and they would get to know one another on a different level.
“Hey, what did you say your name was, again?” she asked from behind the bathroom door. Her voice was really exquisite. “Somehow, I forgot.”
“It’s Bill. And yours? I forgot, too.”
She giggled. “It’s Anna,” she replied, and he heard the sound of the shower being turned on. “I sure had a great time last night. Even if I didn’t win the best costume prize.”
Then she began to sing “Caledonia” in the shower, an old Celtic ballad that was one of his favorites.
Yes, now he seemed to remember. The karaoke singer had been dressed as a troll.
The bathroom door opened just as he was pouring the coffee, and she stepped out, wearing his white terrycloth bathrobe and with her hair tied up and back. That’s when he realized that she hadn’t been wearing either make-up or a mask. Her face really was that of a troll.
He dropped the coffee cup on the floor, almost scalding himself in the process.
“You’re a… you’re a troll!” He couldn’t help it. He just blurted it out.
She furrowed her already thick brows and looked at him hard.
“I knew it,” she said. “I knew you’d be a dick. Yeah, I’m a troll. I told you that last night. But that didn’t bother you when you took me to bed.”
“I… I didn’t know.”
“I told you everything. Full disclosure. You just laughed it off and took me to bed. Carried me in, as I recall. As a matter of fact, the only reason I didn’t eat you was because you were so sweet. Though I’m rather hungry now and may reconsider.”
She bared her rather formidable teeth.
“No, No! Don’t eat me.” He backed away, trying to keep from slipping on the coffee he’d spilled. “Have… have some coffee and let’s talk this through.”
She laughed, and now it was a calming, soothing laugh. It made him almost want to forget about the hideous face that was staring at him as if he were a prey animal.
“I’m not going to eat you,” she said. “At least not until I get my morning caffeine fix.”
Bill couldn’t exactly tell if she were joking or being serious. He poured her a cup of coffee.
“How do you take it?”
“So… you really are a troll? I think I might have been too drunk to understand last night.”
She swallowed a huge gulp of coffee and then looked at him for a moment. Her eyes were very pretty. Deep and black with gold flecks.
“All right. I’ll go over it again. Full disclosure, like I said. Then I’ll drink my coffee, get dressed and leave. I should have known better than to come here…”
“I’m sorry. Please. Just tell me again.”
“Yeah. I’m a troll. Not full-blooded, though. Half human. I guess the human part is from the neck down.”
She shrugged but didn’t laugh.
“Don’t trolls live under bridges?”
“My family used to live under the old Red Bridge until they tore it down. Now there’s a highway where it used to be. It’s too noisy to live under so we moved to the old railroad bridge, but they tore that down, too. The bridge over the interstate was moved, but
that one’s way too crowded and congested anyway. There must be a hundred trolls living under that thing now, and being half human, I’m not really welcome.”
“So where did you go? Where do you stay?”
“Most of the city bridges have been taken over by the homeless guys. Some of them are pretty scary so I mostly live in alleys now. I tend to sleep in the day and cruise the bars at night, especially the ones where the light’s not so good.”
Her voice really was beautiful. Enchanting, even. The more he looked at her, the more he realized that she wasn’t even homely. Plain, perhaps. Just kind of average. But with an eyebrow trim, and a little taken off the nose, she might even be attractive. Maybe he
could do some reconstruction on her forehead. Move her hairline back just a little. Hell, he’d done some work on one young lady who had been shot in the face, and she’d become a model.
“So, you don’t really eat people, do you? I mean, that’s just a myth, right?”
“I only eat people who annoy me or insult me,” she said, and he didn’t think she was kidding this time. “I prefer raw chicken. I like the gizzards best.”
“You know,” he said, “I like you. With a little work, I think I could make you beautiful.”
“What do you mean?”
Her eyes were narrowing again, but he didn’t really notice.
“I’m a cosmetic surgeon. A damned good one, too, if I do say so myself.”
“I don’t understand. What is a cosmetic surgeon?”
“You wouldn’t believe the things we can do these days. I could turn you from a troll into a woman. I’d start with that nose of yours….”
She leaped across the table with the speed of a jaguar and before he could say another word her delicate hands with the pink painted fingernails were around his throat, pressing and squeezing with a strength he would never had imagined. He tried to speak but could only gag and choke.
“So, I’m an ugly troll, am I? A grotesque, hideous monster that you want to fix. Last night when you took me home I thought you were interested in me, for me, and not for how I looked. I told you everything and you just laughed and gave me this line about beauty being only skin deep, and how real beauty came from the inside. And I believed you. For the first time, I thought I’d finally found someone who would care about me. But that was all a lie. All you care about is how I look.”
He tried to speak, tried to tell her how he really did like her, how he really was lonely and needed someone, and he really was trying to help. But she was choking him so hard that nothing would come out.
“I told you, I only eat people who annoy me or insult me. And you have done both. So now I’ll have you for breakfast, my Billy goat gruff.”
Even as she screamed at him, her voice was stunning. What a shame, he thought as he felt her formidable teeth crunch into his biceps. She’s model material. With a few touch ups, a nick here and a tuck there, she could be on the runway. And with her voice… he could see a Grammy in her future, once he’d fixed her up.
He closed his eyes for the last time, dizzy and enchanted by her exquisite voice as she bit off a chunky piece of his arm and drooled his blood down her pockmarked chin.
James Arthur Anderson teaches writing and literature at Johnson & Wales University’s North Miami Campus. His annual Halloween story has been an East Side Monthly tradition for as long as he can remember. His latest book, Stephen King’s Truth Within the Lie: a Critical Study of America’s Favorite Boogeyman, has been accepted for publication by MacFarland Press.