Don’t Feed The Trolls – Chapter 9
Just when she thought everything was finally settling down, Shelly is once again thrown into the fray. Her friends are stuck on the other side of the Mississippi River, with no weapons, no food, and no chance of survival without her help. Throw in the complete collapse of civilization, extremely limited technology, and hordes of zombies that are becoming more and more sentient every day…
Hey, no one said it was going to be easy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way, and Shelly made sure to update hers just before she left.
Please note: this work contains language and themes that may not be appropriate for young readers.
Oct. 18, 2018
It is way too damn early for this, but I just got my first full night’s sleep in almost a week, and a lot of shit has happened between last time I wrote and now. Gonna try to get out what I can remember.
First off, the kid. Mike wanted to see if there was a settlement further up the mountain, so he went off to check it out. He didn’t find anything, but on his way back, he saw the same group of people he had seen with the kid yesterday. He watched them for a little bit, then came back and got me and Tiny. Said there was something about the group that reminded him of the Pinochs. He wasn’t wrong. At first glance, they look normal. The only thing that gives them away is the way they move. It’s almost robotic. Then the kid showed up and started bossing the pinochs around like she ran the place. Turns out, she kinda does.
She says her name is Luna (I have my doubts), and she’s eleven (“and a half”). The night everything started, she had snuck out of her foster home to try and get back to her mom, but. Well, as she put it, “shit happened.” She hopped from one traveling group to another, but the last one was too “cultish” for her, so she ditched them and found herself in the middle of a hoard of twitchers. According to her, the group of trolls she’s with now chased them off. She says they look out for her the best they can, so she tries to look out for them. She’s “used to taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves” so they’ve been doing alright, but just so you know, as soon as I get back, I am headed to the library and I am reading every single fucking psychology book I can find, cause how the unholy fuck does that not count as Stockholm’s?!
Anyway. Luna said they’ve had to keep moving cause of how hard it is to find supplies for everyone, and the last time she tried approaching a settlement, she almost got shot. They thought she was one of the trolls. She won’t go to a settlement alone, either, in case the people try to keep her there against her will.
We gave her what we could and told her about Jan’s town. Gave her directions, told her how to follow our trail. We offered to take her with us, and drop her off at Jan’s on the way back, but she said she’d rather be on her own. The only reason she’s even thinking of heading for Jan’s is cause of the food. She’s used to being hungry, but that doesn’t mean she likes it. As it is, she tries to keep her supply bags as full as possible. She even scored herself some extra backpacks for the trolls to use. She makes them all carry food in their bags, cause she’s worried that if they get too hungry, they’ll go back to eating people. She’s even been giving them the bigger portions of food just to avoid the possibility. She has six of them though, so it’s been a bit rough. She got a crash course on what’s safe to eat in the wild, and what isn’t. She was excited to find out that dandelions are edible, which makes sense, considering how many I’ve seen along the way. We haven’t had to bother with them, but for her, it might very well be the difference between life and death. I just really hope she makes it to Jan’s. She’s a smart kid.
Which brings me back to the trolls. She taught hers how to talk. She said she was trying to teach them how to pass for humans so she could take them into town. Talking is a big part of that. They’re not great at getting to a bathroom in time, but they can recognize each other and call them by their names. If you ask Harry to get Ron, he goes off and brings Ron back. Ask Hermione where Moony (see why I have my doubts about her name?) is, and she’ll point you in the right direction.
I was honestly a bit scared to bring Poppy near them, I really didn’t feel like another bitefest, but the others were starting to get antsy about us being gone, and it just made sense to have everyone together, so…meh. Considering what happened after that, I think I prefer the biting. I’m not entirely sure yet.
No one got hurt – physically. These trolls just have a very different way of transferring information. Instead of biting…they kiss. I’m not sure where/who they learned that from. Luna swears it wasn’t her, and from the disgust in her voice, I’m inclined to believe her.
At any rate. Poppy talks now. Quite a bit. Way more than Luna’s did. Now they’re all chatterboxes, but they talk weird. Tiny says it’s like they’re talking sign language…but out loud? I dunno, but he was quite excited about it… until he found out how they transferred the info.
He had been out with the wagons getting first aid stuff when Luna was telling us how her trolls share info. He came back in, just in time to see Ron “exchanging info” with Poppy.
He was… mildly unhappy. He was fucking pissed when he found out that we knew Ron was gonna kiss her and still let it happen. He said it was bad enough that these trolls are going around kissing each other, not knowing what it’s all about, but having them kiss Poppy? At least these trolls know each other. Poppy’s never even met them. “If a man walked up to a random woman and started making out with her, he’d be arrested, so why is this okay?”
Full on hissy fit and as much as I hate to admit it, he wasn’t wrong. Obviously, none of us were thinking like that, which, I think, is part of the problem. We were thinking of her as an object, rather than a person, so we weren’t thinking about things like her getting kissed – or worse – and these are things we need to think about. Tiny’s been ahead of the game from the beginning, and boy do I feel like shit about it. As a woman, I know the dangers we face. This world isn’t any safer just cause there’s a lot less people running around, and I started doing the same exact stupid things men do that I used to bitch about for hours to my girlfriends.
Anyway, Tiny was having his (completely justified) soapbox moment, and then we heard, “Tiny, stop.” and…he did. He made a sound like a squeaky toy getting stomped on, but he stopped. Gave us all glares that were damn near lethal, then led Poppy off to do her processing thing in peace. That was, two days ago? I think? We’ve been trying to move fast to make up for the million and one side trips, but it’s been one thing after another. First the road was blocked, then the horses refused to move (rattlesnake. Thought it would be too cold for snakes. Oops?), then we ran into a broken down bridge. We finally gave up getting anywhere and broke out the tents. We were all pretty wiped anyway.
On a side note, I think it’s safe to say I pissed off Vicki. She’s the one who told me earlier that Luna’s attachment doesn’t count as Stockholm’s. I kinda went off on a rant about it, until she congratulated me on somehow learning more about human psychology from Psych-101 than someone who actually has a master’s degree in the subject.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my tent, taking several seats.
Oct. 21, 2018
So. That was fun. Turned out our little run of bad luck was a blessing in disguise. Right after I finished that last letter, I woke up Jean for his shift, and went to bed. Maybe three hours later, he woke me up to tell me we had company.
Luna caught up with us. She left right after we did, but her trolls started snarling about halfway down the road. They’re not good with directions, but they know how to point. She was going to sneak ahead to see how many were there, but she came across someone hauling ass the opposite way.
Apparently, there’s a base somewhat near where we were. Not close enough for the boys to have found it in their scouting, but close enough that the guy thought Luna was one of the kids who just strayed too far and got lost. He pointed her in the right direction and told her to get her ass moving. There was a horde incoming.
She took off, but instead of going to the base, she grabbed her trolls and started our way. She’s not planning on staying with us the whole way, but she trusts us to let her go her own way more than she does “those dickheads.”
So, anyway. Luna had been traveling non-stop since she found the hoard. Well, almost non-stop. She had to give everyone breaks, but each time the wind would shift, the trolls would snarl again. We were camped in a little valley, out of the wind, so Tiny took Poppy up the hill and instantly got “bad cloud. Bad bad cloud. Go. We go.” We’ve been moving since then. Threw as many of the trolls as we could on the horses, and Luna in a wagon, and took off. We had a little trouble with the broken bridge, but the creek wasn’t very deep, so we just hauled ass through it and back up the other side.
It’s been a nightmare run. Either we couldn’t find a good place to hunker down for a long stay, or we couldn’t find a place to restock our supplies. There was no in between. The boys would hunt, we’d have food and supplies…but no shelter. We would find a place that looked solid enough to hole up in…and we’d be low on food again.
We found a couple former settlements. At least, we think that’s what they were. The barricades were all broken down though, and there wasn’t anything left for us to scavenge or patch up the holes in the defenses with.
We had a string of days where it rained the entire time, so we stopped at a hotel long enough to dry off and find new clothes. We left the old clothes behind. We’re hoping that between the rain and the new clothes, the twitchers will be thrown off our trail.
We’re in a house now, kinda set back in the woods. Out of sight from the road. All the windows and doors are as sealed up as we can get them. We have scouts all around, each with a troll and a radio. No snarls or ‘bad cloud’ yet, so fingers crossed.
Luna is keeping her distance from the boys. She’s made it very clear that she’s in charge of herself. She likes Tiny alright, I think he impressed her with his tirade about Poppy and kisses. Jean and BG, though…she told them that if they tried to boss her around, she’d kick them in the nuts. BG looked amused by that. Jean, on the other hand, looked very…disgruntled. I think she reminds him a bit too much of Aubrey.
October 22, 2018
Today wasn’t so bad. Had to take a few detours cause of downed trees and crap, but we made good time, anyway.
Luna didn’t slow us down like I thought she would, which helped a lot. When her legs get tired, she has one of her trolls give her a piggyback ride until she’s ready to walk again. Or she’ll hop up into the wagon and take a nap. She told me today, traveling with us is a lot easier than traveling alone. She’s still iffy about staying with us until we get back to Jan’s, but she’s willing to consider the idea, at least.
In the meantime, she’s been letting us borrow the trolls. We’ve been spreading them out so no matter which way the wind blows, we’ll have some kinda warning. We spent today teaching them how to count. We’re not sure yet if they’ll actually be able to tell us how many twitchers are coming, but it’s worth a shot.
It’s scary how quick they learn. Once they figured out 1-20, all they needed were the words for…what do you even call it? Tens? Thirty, forty, fifty, etc.? I dunno. They learned it though. They got up to a thousand, so they’re good until they reach a million, but frankly, if they get over a thousand, I think it’s safe to say we’re just fucking done.
Oct. 23, 2018
Apparently, it’s called “base ten.” #TheMoreYouKnow
PS. Jay is a nerd.
Oct. 25, 2018
The trolls have mastered base 10. They’ve been counting cars as we pass them. Annoying as fuck, but none of us have the heart to tell them to shut up. Luna is teaching the trolls how to skip. Some of the boys, too. I thought everyone learned how to skip when they were kids? You men are so deprived, I swear.
Anyway. Still no trace of the horde, so we’re pretty sure we’ve lost them. We went ahead and marked the area on the map though, so we remember where to watch out for them on the way back. We’ve had a couple good days of no rain again, but our luck ran out today. It’s been raining off and on since around noon. It wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s also cold, and we have Luna now.
The boys found a hotel and went in to clear it out, but some asshole apparently came through and tore it apart. There was another hotel right next to it in a little better shape, so we went for that one, instead. It kinda sucks, cause the whole reason we wanted the other one was cause it had some of those barbecue grill things. We wanted to be able to have hot food tonight and we didn’t want to have to run the food over in the rain.
Annnd, ignore that. The boys ripped them out of the ground and brought them over. Time to get some food going.
Oct. 26, 2018
It’s still raining. Just a light drizzle, which is somehow making it worse. It’s like the water is getting everywhere. We’ve tried waiting it out. Spent most of the morning looking over the maps and trying to figure out the best way to go after we reach Nashville, but Sam says this could go on all day, and we really don’t have time for that. We’re getting Luna’s trolls rain ready, and then we’re headed out.
Luna’s pissy cause we told her to stay in the wagon where she’ll be dry. Said that if she wanted to be bossed around like a 2 y/o, she’d’ve stayed with the first buncha people she ran into. Fair point, honestly. She’s been letting us split up her trolls to help keep watch, so it’s not like she hasn’t been pulling her own weight, in her own way. I told her she could walk with us if she’d prefer, and I would take her place in the wagon. She’s “thinking about it.”
They’re done. Time to go.
Oct. 26, 2018
Two letters in the same day. Lucky you. Actually, it’s a little after 4 in the morning, so I guess it’s not technically the same day, but who even cares.
We didn’t get very far from the last letter. The drizzle was bad enough, but then the fog rolled in. I said fuck it, and had the boys find somewhere dry. If the rain can hide our scent from the twitchers, who’s to say it can’t hide theirs from our trolls? Getting an extra mile down the road just isn’t worth the risk of running into a horde.
We had to eat a cold dinner tonight, which sucked, but it kinda gave us more time to talk to the trolls, and they were able to give us some insight into the whole troll vs. twitcher thing.
For one thing, our trolls claim that they don’t see us as food. Instead, we are “begin cause” – though what they mean by that, we’re not exactly sure, and they couldn’t figure out a way explain it better, either. They went on to say that “food” is “tasty,” and “begin cause” is not. Therefore “begin cause” is not “food.” When we asked the trolls why the twitchers still try to eat people then, Ron said “broken.”
We managed to narrow that one down. The twitcher’s brains/thoughts are broken. We asked why their brain was “broken” and their faces went…weird. They all do the puppy head tilt thing when they’re confused or don’t understand what we’re asking of them, but this…it was like the question didn’t even compute. Like asking someone what the color nine smells like.
We did find out they call themselves “clouds,” though we don’t know why. They just say that’s what they are. Sam, Jay, and I spent a good hour talking about that, and we have a few theories, but we haven’t been able to figure out how to phrase the questions for the trolls yet.
Luna suggested teaching them to read and maybe giving them a dictionary. It’s an idea, and it might help them be able to explain what they mean better. I mean, it’s what we do with kids, who says it won’t work for them?
Oct. 28, 2018
Luna keeps surprising me with how low maintenance she is. We’ve managed to make up for our little rainy day break, even with her towing along. When I was making my way down from New York with the kids, we had to keep taking breaks. With Luna…I forget she’s even there. She gets hungry, she starts hunting through her bag of snacks. She gets tired, she either hitches a ride with Doug or Kristine, or climbs into a wagon. I love it. Not saying I don’t love Timmy and the others, but…it’s just a relief that we don’t have to slow down for her, you know?
We’re still discussing the idea of teaching the trolls to read. The boys are a little worried about them being targeted by the twitchers. For all we know, the twitchers might be able to tell that the trolls have evolved even more, and try to attack them to get access to it.
I don’t like to admit it, but they’re not wrong? From what we’ve seen, it only takes the tiniest bit of body fluids to start the exchange. A scratch deep enough to draw blood and we’re proper fucked. Our trolls are steadily learning how to speak better, emote better…they could easily pass as humans right now. Weird humans, but still. We don’t need the twitchers having access to that kinda info. Could you imagine if they’re able to fake being human long enough to get into attacking range?
What if they come across a place like Jan’s, where they bring in trolls to take care of? I mean, hopefully the pinochs would be able to tell the difference and give them warning, but what if?
We asked the trolls if that was possible, but none of them know, either.
I don’t like it.
Oct. 29, 2018
Well, that was a moot point. While we were all debating teaching the trolls, Luna went ahead and got started. The boys are a bit pissed, but we had all agreed from the beginning that she makes the rules for her own group, and she was quite happy to remind us of the fact.
Tiny thinks it’ll be okay. He pointed out that we all tend to group up around Poppy and Luna anyway, and Luna’s trolls tend to stay close to her. So, as long as we protect her and Poppy, the twitchers shouldn’t be able to reach any of the trolls, and if they do reach them, then we have much bigger problems than the twitchers stealing any information, cause that means we’re getting our asses kicked.
That was early yesterday morning. BG, Jean, and I had a nice long conversation last night. BG wants Luna to start training. Jean thinks she should only learn ranged weapons, cause if they get close enough for her to need hand-to-hand, as Luna pointed out, there is a huge problem. BG countered that twitchers aren’t the only predators she might come across. Vicki showed up just in time for that that debate, and Jean lost pretty spectacularly. She added first aid lessons with Tiny to the list, and a crash course on the birds and bees with herself.
Adding insult to injury, when they did Rock Paper Scissors this morning to decide what the first lesson was gonna be, Jean lost to BG, Tiny and Vicki. He said some very not nice words.
At least Luna’s excited about it. Every time we stopped today, she practiced. She spent a lot of time in the wagons in between and passed out hard tonight.
Jean got in one more workout with her in before we all ate. After she dragged herself off to bed, he told us she did a lot better than he had expected. He also asked if any of us had talked to her about her life before the troll shit started. BG and I had to leave to take our turn on watch, but I heard Vicki say that she had. I’m not sure what that was about, but based on what I’ve heard about the system, I have a pretty good guess.
Tomorrow is BG’s turn with her. He’s working on a bow for her as I write this. He plans on having it done before our watch is over.
Overall, it’s been a fairly decent day. Let’s just end this on that.