By Andrew Jensen
Illustrated by Mark Zingarelli
The wheel popped off my toy car. That's how I met Sid.
It wasn't one of those fancy cars that fall apart on purpose when you crash them. When the wheel popped off, I knew I was in trouble.
Not that anyone would shout at me. They wouldn't care. No one would get me another car, or fix this one either. My car was broken. I was on my own.
The wheel rolled under my bed. I scrambled down fast and tried to grab it before it rolled too far into the dark.
Then I saw the eyes. They were glowing.
I backed out as fast as I could. Whatever was under there could have the wheel. I couldn't make up my mind about running away. As long as I was sitting on the floor with my back to the wall, I could see what was coming. If I got up and ran away, it might jump me from behind.
Then it spoke. “Is this your wheel?”
“Yes, but you can have it.” I really didn't want any trouble. But I couldn't help asking: “Are you a monster?”
“What do you mean, 'monster?'”
I knew that tone of voice. It was what you hear just before someone gets really angry. But I'd already said the m-word, so it was too late. “Like, a bogeyman?”
I heard a funny sort of laugh. “No way. Bogeymen aren't real. Can I really keep the wheel?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Thanks,” said the not-monster. “I gotta go. My mom can be really mean if I'm late for supper.”
I was hungry. “What's for supper?”
“Fish. It's always fish. See you around.” The glowing eyes blinked out. There was no one under the bed anymore.
It wasn't until later that I found out he was Sid.
I was a couple of years older, and I was alone in the woods. I wasn't supposed to be, but my bike had a flat tire, and I wasn't going to walk all the way around when I could take a short cut.
The woods weren't scary like the fairy-tale kind. There were no big bad wolves. I just had to worry about the poison ivy and the piles of rusted metal everywhere.
There were older kids, too. They had BMX trails with jumps over big rocks and jagged pieces of trash. They were scary. You didn't want to mess with them.
So when I heard a bunch of them coming, I dragged my bike behind some thorn bushes and sat right down on the ground, out of sight. I sat there for ages, even after it sounded like they'd gone. You never can tell with those guys.
Then I saw someone. He was amazingly ugly. His skin was green-colored and rough looking, sort of like he had scabs all over. His hair was long and stringy and filthy. His arms and legs were long and skinny, but his feet and hands were extra big. His body was small, and sort of lumpy in the middle. His clothes were like rags, which didn't make any sense. You could get better clothes than that out of the garbage at Goodwill. I know. I'd found a really good Batman shirt there once, with only a couple of holes in it.
Then I saw his face. His nose was lumpy, and his ears didn't match. His teeth were all crooked, like mine, only worse. But it was his eyes that really got me. They glowed.
I sat still, hoping he wouldn't notice me. It didn't work.
“Don't you know it's rude to stare?” he said.
“Sorry. I was hiding from those big kids, and I wanted to make sure you weren't with them.” I tried to make it sound convincing.
“Those jerks? Nah. They don't deserve to have a troll in their gang. Hey, do I know you from somewhere?”
“Were you under my bed a couple of years ago? I gave you a wheel off a car.”
“Right! I remember that! It was my favorite wheel, until I lost it.”
I had to wonder what kind of a kid was so poor he could have a favorite wheel. Maybe Mom was right: there are people worse off than me.
“So, what are you doing here? I've never seen you in my woods before.”
“These are your woods?” I asked.
He looked embarrassed. “Kind of. We rent over that way, and the woods are part of the property.”
I looked where he was pointing. “There's no house over there, just the swamp.”
He shrugged. “We can't afford a pond, or a river. But it's warm. And no one bothers us.”
“What about mosquitoes?”
He grinned. “I've got thick skin. They can't bug me. Neither can insults. I don't care what anyone says. You gotta have thick skin.”
“Wow,” I said. I wished I could be like that.
“You never said what you're doing here.”
“I got a flat tire on my bike. I was trying to get home.”
“Geez, you have bad luck with wheels! I can walk with you to the end of the woods.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I'm Adam. What's your name?”
We walked in silence for a bit. Then I got up the nerve to ask the question that had been bothering me. “Sid, remember when you told me there's no such things as bogeymen?”
“Yep. They're stories for scaring little kids.”
“Well, my mom says that trolls are just stories too.”
He looked at me. “Who are you gonna believe, your mom or your eyes?”
Good point.
I felt better walking with Sid the Troll beside me. I wasn't so worried about the other kids. I wanted to thank him somehow, so I told him about the Goodwill dumpster. We said good-bye at the edge of the woods.
I didn't see Sid again for a long time. It was my mom's fault. When I got home, she was so angry about the flat tire that she threw her beer bottle at me. It hit me in the head, and I bled all over the floor, and then I had to get stitches. We told the doctor that I'd hit my head when I fell off my bike.
She stayed mad at me after that, and I was grounded forever. When I finally got outside again, my bike was gone.
I kind of hoped Sid had taken it.
He hadn’t. I found that out when I went back to the woods to see him.
I was nervous. It’s hard to look for someone when you’re trying hard not to be seen yourself. I guess I got myself pretty worked up. That’s why I jumped so high when Sid crept up from behind.
“Sid!” I shouted at him. He was killing himself laughing.
“You should have seen your face. Priceless!”
I started laughing too. “Yeah, I know. Like, ‘lions and tigers and bears . . .’” I waited for him to finish the line.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“You’re supposed to say ‘oh my’ right then. Like in the movie.”
“The what?”
“Haven’t you ever seen the Wizard of Oz?”
Sid shook his head. “Nope. My mom’s told me about wizards. They sound dangerous.”
“Dangerous, yeah. That’s what I was talking about. Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man were going into these creepy woods, and they were scared of the dangerous animals. Lions and tigers and bears. Get it?”
“My mom’s taught me about bears. There aren’t any here. What are lions and tigers?”
I was stunned. Who didn’t know about those animals?
“Haven’t you seen any movies? Or read about them in books?”
“I had a book once. It didn’t last too well in the swamp. I did learn some letters, though, before it fell apart. ‘A is for Apple.’” He said it proudly.
I finally understood. “You’re being home-schooled, aren’t you?”
I didn't see Sid again for a long time. It was my mom's fault. When I got home, she was so angry about the flat tire that she threw her beer bottle at me. It hit me in the head, and I bled all over the floor, and then I had to get stitches. We told the doctor that I'd hit my head when I fell off my bike.
Sid shrugged. “I guess. My mom’s the only one who teaches me anything.”
I’d heard of kids who were home-schooled. It made sense in Sid’s case: he was so ugly that everyone would bully him. Still, I felt sorry for him. I’d hate it if my mother was my teacher too.
“Well, if you come over late some time, I can show you the movie. We can’t afford cable anymore, but we have a copy on DVD. It’s my favorite movie. The winged monkeys scare the crap out of me every time.”
“What’s a movie?”
How do you explain something like that? “It’s a story with pictures. It’s on the TV. Haven’t you ever seen TV?”
“I saw a broken one near one of the bike ramps. I never knew what it was for. When can I come over?”
“Late tonight, after my mom’s asleep. Once she’s sleeping, nothing can wake her up.”
Sid had all kinds of questions. I tried to answer them all. He knew about cats, so the idea of lions and tigers was easy. The monkeys were harder. I did my best. I couldn’t wait to see Sid react when they showed up in the movie!
“You people can think of so many crazy stories,” he said. “Trolls can’t do that. We can’t make things up. We can only tell what happened. All my mother’s stories are like that: things that happened a long time ago. It’s boring. I wish I could make things up.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. I’d looked up trolls at the library once I stopped being grounded. “Trolls sound really cool. Aren’t you guys like super-strong or something? I heard you could tear off somebody’s arm!”
Sid looked unhappy. “I know that story. It was a man who ripped off a troll’s arm, not the other way around.”
“Really?” That didn’t sound so cool. “Was he a super hero? That doesn’t sound like something a normal person could do.”
“You don’t need bears or giant cats. People are the most dangerous things in the woods.”
“No way. There are worse things than people.”
“Let me show you something.” Sid led me deeper into the woods, following a bike trail.
We came to a space where a pit had been dug, and a dirt mound was set up at the edge. It looked like a ramp for the BMX bikers to make a jump over the pit. Sid started sniffing at the mound.
“Yeah, this is it.” He started digging with his bare hands.
I couldn’t believe it. His hands were large, and his nails stuck out even further. He dug into the hard-packed mound like it was nothing.
After a short time, something showed up under the dirt. It was lighter in color, and sort of smooth. Too smooth to be a rock.
“Is that a skull?” I asked, horrified.
“Yeah. Some little kid got into the woods, and those bike kids found her. What they did to her was awful. I heard some of it. They buried her here. They laughed about the idea of jumping their bikes over her body.”
I felt cold all over. I knew those kids were mean, but I couldn’t believe they’d murder someone. Or maybe they could. I knew I never wanted to be caught by them.
I looked at Sid’s powerful hands and long nails scraping the dirt off of the bones. Hands strong enough to rip a man’s arm off.
I threw up. I couldn’t help myself.
Then I felt Sid’s hand on my back. It was too much. I started yelling, and then ran like crazy until I was back at the road. 
Sid was silent for a long time. “You told them about me? They’re looking for me?”
“I told them, but they don’t believe me. And they’re looking for a crazy guy, not you. A ‘transient,’ they said. They don’t want to believe that the bike kids did it, either.
Two nights later, Sid woke me up.
“Adam,” he whispered. “Are you awake?”
I woke up completely. I was scared. “Sid! What are you doing here?”
“I came to see the movie. You said I could, remember? Except that last night, there were all these police cars here and in the woods.”
“Of course there were!” I whispered. “That was a dead body you showed me. I had to tell someone! And they questioned me all night! I was afraid they’d say I did it. And when I told them about you, they thought I was crazy. Now they’re looking for the kids with the bikes and for a crazy guy who says he’s a troll.”
Sid was silent for a long time. “You told them about me? They’re looking for me?”
“I told them, but they don’t believe me. And they’re looking for a crazy guy, not you. A ‘transient,’ they said. They don’t want to believe that the bike kids did it, either.”
“’They don’t want to believe it either,’” he said slowly. “So you don’t think I was telling the truth? Do you think I killed her?”
I shook my head fast. I couldn’t talk.
“You’re afraid of me.” His voice sounded strangely flat. “You know, I don’t feel like watching a movie anymore. I’m going to go, now.”
My room was quiet, and I couldn’t see Sid’s eyes anymore. I thought he was gone. Then he spoke again.
“I told you, we can’t make things up. My mom says we’re not creative. We borrow things, and use them, but we can’t make stuff. Not even stories. Not even lies. I didn’t kill that girl. And I’d never hurt you. You’re my friend.”
There was silence again. Then: “I thought you were my friend.”
After that, the silence didn’t end.
The tire on my car blew out.
Okay, it wasn't technically my car. But someone had left the keys in their old beater, and I needed to get moving quickly after the liquor store clerk saw me leave without paying. Those guys have no sense of humor.
Anyway, blowing a front tire on a back road is a bad thing. I ended up rolling the car into a deep ditch. There was a lot of water in it, so I crawled out the shattered windshield as fast as I could. I did manage to hang on to one of the bottles of vodka, though. Hooray for plastic bottles.
I needed it. My head hurt. Those airbags are supposed to keep you safe, so why did I feel so bad?
I knew I couldn't stick around the car. The police were bound to find it. And if I stuck to the road, they'd find me too.
So I followed the ditch. At first it stayed by the road, but soon the road turned and the ditch kept going straight between farmer's fields. I figured it had to go somewhere, so I kept following it.
It led to the river. There was no good cover there, but I could see a bridge a few hundred yards to the left. I figured I'd wait there until daylight.
The bridge was a new one. I remembered hearing about it when they were building it last summer. An election was coming, and the government gave money for “infrastructure enhancement,” and stuck a bridge in the middle of a gravel road in the country.
They wouldn't hire me to work on it. I had the fake ID to say I was old enough. I guess I didn't have the right relatives.
Anyway, it would do for now. I was already wet from the ditch, and my head was hurting. It was starting to rain, and I knew it would be dry under the bridge.
Looked like it was already occupied, though. A wino, curled up in an over-sized old coat, was snoring away. Oh well, at least I had the kind of rent he'd accept. Unless I drank all the vodka before he woke up. I'd have to remember to save him some.
“Adam? Is that really you?”
No one should talk to you when your head hurts that much. Especially first thing in the morning under a bridge when you're freezing cold.
“Geez, Adam, you're looking pretty rough. Here, put this on, and try to warm up.” It wasn't a wino, it was Sid. He wrapped me in his coat.
I felt kind of awkward. I hadn't seen the guy in years. I'd sort of stopped believing in him, and here he was, helping me out again. So what do you do when you're feeling terrible, and embarrassed, and kind of scared? You make a joke, of course!
“Hey, Sid, how come you're under a bridge? Isn't that like racial stereotyping or something?”
“Ha, ha, ha.” Sid wasn't smiling. He wasn't looking angry, either. Was he looking worried? What's a troll got to worry about? “Seriously, Adam, you've been bleeding. Were you in an accident?”
I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't really think Sid would turn me in, but you can't be too careful when the police might get involved. I had to distract him somehow.
“I thought you lived in the swamp, or something. What are you doing under here? I mean, thanks for the coat and everything, but you looked like a wino.”
“Actually, I hate bridges.”
“What? Why? All my teachers used to say that building bridges between people was a good thing. It’s all about diversity.” Okay, it was a lame joke, but it worked. It distracted Sid.
“Oh yeah? And what happens when you try it for real? I was living in the river, and then these guys came and dug everything up. They ruined the ecology. And the people who drive over are total pigs. They throw all kinds of crap out their windows. And look at the drainage system: pipes sticking out from the edge of the bridge and dripping into the water. Someone goes by with an oil leak, and where does it go? Splash, into my home. Not to mention the salt in the winter. It's disgusting. So now I have to sleep under this horrible bridge until the water is clean enough to move back in.”
I hadn't expected a rant like that. I was impressed. Sid was really passionate about this environmental stuff.
“So why don't you move?”
“My lease on this stretch of the river isn't up for another eighteen months. I can't afford to break it. Troll land-lords are nasty when you cross them. Mine tried to raise the rent when the bridge went in: claimed it was an upgrade. Besides, Mom's getting older, and I don't want to move too far away.”
I moved away from my mother as soon as I could. Besides, didn't he say his mom was mean?
“So you're going to look after her when she gets old?” I asked.
“Not exactly. She's a hundred and twenty, which isn't very old. But it looks like she's got early-onset Alzheimer's. I may have to look after everyone around her. When people start going missing around the swamp, I'll know I have to start keeping tabs on her.”
My head still hurt, and this conversation wasn't helping. I took a drink. Then I offered the bottle to Sid.
“No thanks,” he said. “I've got to work.”
With that, he sat down and pulled a tablet out of the scruffy shoulder bag he'd been using as a pillow. I watched for a while, as he scrolled through different pages, reading some carefully, and sometimes typing madly. Then he stopped and started swearing.
“What's the matter?” I asked.
“Stupid bridge! The connectivity sucks under these big steel beams.”
“What happens when your battery runs out?”
“I have a solar charger. I have to be on-line, but I can still be off the grid.” Sid grinned.
I drank some more. My head was starting to hurt less. My thoughts were coming into focus. Then it struck me.
“You're an Internet Troll? Like a real, honest-to-goodness Internet Troll?” I couldn't help laughing out loud. It was too hilarious.
“You know, Adam, you're being kind of a jerk.” Sid looked unhappy.
“Sorry dude. I guess I've had a bit too much to drink.”
“Yeah, well, we all have our excuses. If you must know, I do cause trouble for certain people.”
“Really? Do you send those evil rants at Feminazis, or politicians, or whatever?”
“I have a lot of respect for feminists, actually,” he answered. “I should introduce you to Mom sometime. Politicians are fair game, though. You should see what I did to Trump last week.”
“What could you do? All kinds of people say mean things about him already.”
“Insults aren't my style. I hacked into his Twitter account, so everything he typed came out as flower Wing-Dings. I like flowers.”
I started laughing again. “I bet he hated that.”
“Yeah. He blamed China. Someone said that they moved the Pacific fleet closer the same day.”
“Dude, that's amazing! You can change the world! I can't believe that someone I know is so awesome!”
Sid shook his head. “No. It's easy to wreck stuff. It's much harder to fix things. And what about making new things? Being creative? That's awesome. That's what I want to do. But I can't. I'm a troll.”
All of a sudden I felt awful. I thought about how I kept wrecking everything in my life. I'd quit school. The closest thing I had to a friend was a troll who I almost never saw, and everyone said was imaginary. I'd stolen a car. I'd wrecked my stolen car. Couldn't I do anything right? 
My head was hurting again, even worse than before. I started to get dizzy, and I was shivering like crazy. I tried to drink, but my hands were shaking too badly. I felt like I was going to throw up.
I don't remember what happened next.
“Adam!” Sid's familiar voice was a loud whisper.
I wasn't in a very good mood. I pretended I was asleep.
“Adam!” he tried again.
“What do you want?” I said. “Are you under my bed again? Aren't you a bit old for that?”
“No way! Do you know what kinds of germs are under these hospital beds? I'm hiding in the can.”
“Really, Sid? You think a washroom is cleaner than under the bed?”
He came out into the room. “I read about it on the Internet. It's disgusting. Besides, those beds don't have much to hide under.”
He was right. The blankets weren't even enough to cover my skimpy hospital gown.
“What do you want?” Like I said, I was in a bad mood.
“I just wanted to see if you were okay. You were pretty sick there, under the bridge.”
“You called 911!” It's hard to whisper a shout, but I tried.
All of a sudden I felt awful. I thought about how I kept wrecking everything in my life. I'd quit school. The closest thing I had to a friend was a troll who I almost never saw, and everyone said was imaginary. I'd stolen a car. I'd wrecked my stolen car. Couldn't I do anything right? 
“I thought you were going to die! You people are so easy to break.”
Later I would wonder what he meant by that. Right at the moment, though, I was just mad.
I said, “the police came with the ambulance guys. I'm under arrest, and they're going to put me in a group home and make me go back to school. I'm just lucky they won't make me go back to my mother's.”
“Why is that lucky?”
“My mother hates me. She won't let them send me back.”
“So, you're all alone? What about your father?”
“He disappeared when I was a baby. Good riddance.”
“Troll fathers are like that too.”
That was the last straw. I didn't care anymore if the nurses heard what I was saying. They already thought I was crazy, with all my talk about a troll under the bridge.
“I don't want your sympathy! And I don't need anyone. I'm better off alone. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be in this mess.”
Sid looked angry. He was kind of scary-looking. “No. You'd be dead.”
“I'd be better off dead.”
“You don't mean that.”
“Yes, I do. Go away. I never want to see you again.”
The room went quiet after that. Then a nurse stuck her head in. I threw my tray at her, and she brought in a couple of big guys to hold me down while they gave me a shot.
I've never figured out how Sid could slip away so quietly. That would be a trick worth learning. 
I was alone in the small garage at the salvage yard. It was the Saturday shift, which is usually pretty quiet. The guys with car hobbies come by for parts, but the professionals usually have the day off.
This particular day was really quiet. That gave me a chance to work on my next project. It's amazing what you can weld together out of old junk. I've made some really funky statues.
The boss is okay with it. In fact, he got me to do a couple to stand just outside the gates of the yard. He's a Dutchman, and he doesn't care what anyone else thinks. It's his business, and he has fun with it. He makes a pile of money, too, so I guess it all works out.
So that's where I was when Sid showed up again. I hadn't started welding yet, which is a good thing. With the visor down, I wouldn't have seen a green-skinned troll in the shadows of the garage.
I was surprised to see him. Glad too, and a bit worried. I felt pretty bad about the way I'd thrown him out of my hospital room a few years past.
“Sid,” I said. “Good to see you. How's it going?”
He came out of the shadows. “Hi Adam. Good to see you too. Things are pretty good.”
“How's your mom?”
“She ate someone's prize poodle the other day. I'm going to have to put her into a home. When it was just cattle, people blamed wolves. But people get all touchy about their dogs. You'd think they were children or something.”
“I've heard the nursing home over on St. Claire Street is pretty good. The boss has his father there.”
“I don't think that'd work so well. She'd end up eating someone, and then there'd be a fuss. She needs to be in a Troll home. There's a good one just outside of Detroit.”
“Detroit? Isn't that the place where the river caught on fire?”
Sid nodded. “Yeah, but that was long ago. They've been cleaning it up ever since.”
“Does that mean you're moving there?”
“Probably. I have to take care of my mother.” 
That was awkward. My mother wanted nothing to do with me, and the feeling was mutual. How does a troll get to have a better family than me? Sid's mother was a holy terror, so how could he be so loyal?
Like I said: awkward. So, I changed the topic.
“Hey, Sid, I have something I want to show you.” I led him over to the corner where I kept my finished creations: my scrap-iron statues.
I pulled out a particular one. It was my attempt to make a statue of Sid. I had used old bits of bicycle frame for the arms and legs: they had the right sense of skinny strength. As I compared the statue to Sid himself, I was pretty proud.
I handed it to him. “For you,” I said.
He grinned hugely. I'd never seen a grin that big before. Troll grins are a bit scary.
“I've even painted it with rust-proof paint, in case you want to put it on a shelf underwater.”
I think I saw his eyes moisten up. Just for a second.
“You've made me my very own Tin Man,” he said, quietly.
“You finally saw the movie!?”
“I downloaded it.”
“You were right. Those flying monkeys scared the crap out of me.”
We both cracked up. A laughing troll is scary too, but I didn't care.
“Anyway, Adam, I wanted to say good-bye before I left. I was hoping we could still be friends, you know, after everything.”
“Sure Sid. I was just angry when I said all that stuff. I'm sorry. I wish we could've hung out together more.”
“Well, we have been, sort of. I've been watching out for you. In the background, you know. You've done really well. You even won a prize in your welding class.”
“You mean, you've been, like, a stalker?” I pretended to be shocked.
“Hey, I'm a troll. You go with your strengths.” Sid grinned some more. Maybe he looked a bit nervous this time.
“It's okay. I've been thinking about you, too.” I paused, trying to figure out the right words. “You know that stuff you said about breaking things, and fixing things, and making new things?”
Sid nodded.
“And you said that trolls are no good at the fixing and making part?”
Sid nodded again, sadly.
“Well, look at your Tin Man statue. I created him, but first I had to take a bunch of old, wrecked stuff, and cut it up. I had to destroy something that was already wrecked, to make something new out of it.”
“Okay. So?”
“Well, I went looking for you once. I went down to the bridge, but you weren't there.”
“I had to move back into the swamp with Mom.”
“But the thing I noticed, was that the water was looking pretty clean there. I found a bunch of trash you hauled out and stuck off to one side. There was even a grocery cart there!”
“I know! What's a grocery cart doing out in the middle of nowhere?”
“The important thing is, you fixed something broken. You fixed the water under the bridge.”
Sid shook his head. “Anyone could have done that.”
“But no one else did. You did it. You even planted flowers there, didn't you?”
“I hate bridges,” said Sid, thoughtfully.
“I know,” I said.
“Bridges are bad for the life underneath. It gets ignored, or wrecked.”
“I know.”
Sid was silent for a while.
Now he was looking embarrassed. I wondered how someone with skin that green could blush, but he was sure trying.
I couldn't stop there. I had to keep going. 
“And you did the same thing with me.”
Sid looked up. “What are you talking about?”
“When you called for help. I could have died there, under the bridge. But you wouldn't let me. And then those people you called, the ones I was so mad about, they made me stop and figure out what I could do. I love welding things, but I never had the chance to find that out before. Because of you, I got that chance. So, I made you something else.”
I reached behind a large statue, and I pulled out my shiniest creation.
“It's a suspension bridge,” said Sid, uncertainly. “It looks like it was made from a grocery cart.”
“It's amazing what new things you can make out of old trash.”
“I hate bridges,” said Sid, thoughtfully.
“I know,” I said.
“Bridges are bad for the life underneath. It gets ignored, or wrecked.”
“I know.”
Sid was silent for a while.
“But this isn't a real bridge, is it? It's a symbolic bridge.”
“With real details. I was very careful about that.”
“Symbolic bridges I can live with. Thanks.”
Sid held out his huge, clawed hand. We shook.
“Besides, Mom always wanted a bridge of her own. She'll love it.”
Sid vanished after that. Off to Detroit, I guess.
The news reports of missing pets stopped about the same time. He was serious about looking after his mother.
I miss him. The idea of having a troll watching over your shoulder is kind of comforting, when it isn't creepy. But the people at the salvage yard are cool, and I'm starting to make some money selling my statues. 
One day, when I'm rich and famous, I'll go for a visit in the Detroit River. 
Sid can't get rid of me that easy.