The Hopeful Wanderer – The Toll

Old boards creaked beneath my boots as I meandered across a rotting footbridge. In the entrenchment it crossed lay the mere memory of running water in the layer of mud at the bottom. Leaf loam littered the ground beneath wide-spaced trees. I had my gaze upward, regarding the rustling branches above, when a hand grasped my ankle and yanked.

Pain shot through my hip as I slammed into the damp wood. My full length slithered over the edge, beneath the handrail that I couldn’t reach, despite my outstretched hands. Flung forward, the muddy creek bottom rose up to meet me. I landed with a squelch, muck packing into my nose and mouth and eyes as I flew backward.

I vanished beneath the dark overhang.

At my first attempt to sit up, I smacked my head against the spongy underside of the bridge. Feeling around revealed brittle twigs, damp leaves, goopy ground. A bumpy hand holding my ankle.

I sucked in a sharp breath.

At the same time, a voice full of gravel said, “You must pay the price to cross.”

My eyes adjusting to the darkness revealed the outline of a hulking figure. Hair sticking out everywhere. Knobby ears. Stooped posture. Lengthy arms.

My voice shook. “With what?”

A creaking, as of stretching skin. Rancid meat smell wafted over me. “One skill. The ability to forage.”

My jaw clenched. I carried little food with me, surviving on edible plants. So if I gave up this skill now, I could starve.

The grip on my ankle tightened. “That, or I eat you.”

When later I scrambled from beneath the bridge, I found every plant looked the same. While the bridge troll safely chowed down on berries, I would have to pick up a foraging guidebook to relearn all over again.

Thanks for reading!

Summer’s latest:

With Words We Weave 2022: Hope

Featuring an exclusive Hopeful Wanderer short-story!

For over 100 years, Texas High Plains Writers has been a part of great storytelling in Texas and beyond.

This year, our anthology offers a collection of short-stories, memoirs, inspirational essays, and poetry filled with hope.

With 22 talented authors, from best-sellers to the first time in print, there is something for everyone. 

Great heroes of legends past sit side by side in these pages with the unsung citizens showing kindness to strangers. Humor, adventure, and nostalgia combine to remind us all that hope can be found anywhere. 

Buy it now: Amazon

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