This is my retelling of my favorite fairy tale, The Hen Trips in the Mountain.
The Big Rock
The eldest sister went looking for her mother’s hen. She went into the mountain. She lived with her mother and her two sisters in a house against the mountain, and its rock established her idea of the world. The white shape of the mountain was as constructive to her thoughts and her head as was the skull for her eyeballs. Whenever she stirred batter the thought of the mountain occurred to her: while any color screwed into the color of the batter and lost its boundaries and changed the color of the batter, the mountain with sun on it occurred to her. The sun moved against the rock every morning and then blended into it, and the rock and light swam in one shape in hues for the rest of the day until night. Now it was late winter. It was too warm for snow but too cold for plants. The land was sear and pink.
A mountain troll had secreted the hen away in his rooms. The troll lived near the house of women, if you measure distance horizontally, like a prairie person. Really his rooms were very deep in the earth, where there was water; but the troll regularly ascended to a tall fissure near the mountain’s root, and from there he could hear the women singing, and their conversations.
This morning, the hen had made its little squeezing walk among the white stones and the troll observed an opportunity. He took the chicken in his shirt and waited for a human woman to turn up looking.
The eldest sister called the hen’s name. She was lifting her boots to the height of her hips and pushing her head up toward the stair-white sky. She was climbing higher than the hen could go because she wanted a good view of all the spots where the hen might now be slowly careening. She was calling the hen’s name and then the voice of a troll said “Down here.”
“Where?” the eldest sister said. There was a lot of quiet in every direction. She was hot in her fur-lined boots and her fingers were very cold. She was looking down from a little platform onto the tall personable stones which made this space so tedious to climb. The stones were shaped like squashed white tents. She looked at her own legs and feet.
“Down here,” said the troll after a while.
“Where’s that?” she called.
At length the troll rose from the dark ramp inside the mountain and through the fissure, some feet below and before the eldest sister. Of course she knew there was a fissure just there and she had supposed it to be the source of the voice. She didn’t know about the troll’s rooms or how long he had lived there, and she had never seen a troll so close. The troll looked up at her: sheepishly, she thought.
“Will you be my wife?” the troll asked.
“No,” said the eldest sister quickly.
He asked the same question again. When he caught her, he put one big hand over her scalp and face and twisted her head off her neck. It was an extraordinary feeling. She was dumbfounded all the deep way down to the troll’s home, swinging in his two hands, separately. When he reached his rooms the troll opened the cellar door and he threw the eldest sister’s head down into the cellar, where she rolled against the earthen floor. Her ears hit her bright hard braids at great speed. It sounded to her like a musical instrument. Then the troll flung her body down, and she saw it land badly.
In 50 hours the troll opened the cellar door and he threw down her second sister’s body and her second sister’s head. Later, the second sister said “I talked and talked to you but you wouldn’t reply.” In the cellar their heads were not far apart but the second sister’s head faced the wall.
In 200 hours the youngest sister arrived whole and standing at the top of the stairs. In some respects she was the smartest person in the family. From the floor the eldest sister looked at her youngest sister and her youngest sister looked down on her with an expression like late winter.
Altogether the eldest sister spent a week on the floor of the troll’s cellar, but she didn’t experience a wait or any kind of progression, whether away from familiarity or toward rot or in hope of rescue. She was astonished and she encountered astonishment like a phenomenon. Astonishment, and the scent of the damp earth floor and the air which she inhaled seemed to be a road which she rushed over, toward no object. She had no sense of exhaling. She did not feel breathless. Interest like an item held entirely in one hand completely occupied her. It was glossy, black.
In this time her youngest sister had married the troll. Her youngest sister waited and evaluated all of what she saw, which was her way of doing things. After a little while of this she discovered that the troll had a canteen of magic balm. At her first opportunity she went down to the floor of the basement and applied the balm, which was fat like honey, to her eldest sister’s jaw and the neck of her body, and with some difficulty the youngest sister connected her sister’s head and neck together again. It was difficult because the youngest sister was small and the eldest sister was tall and her muscles were heavy.
The red fist of her neck returned to the inside of her throat was warm and tough. For a minute she thought she couldn’t breathe, because the feeling of putting air inside of her had become strange.
The youngest sister had contrived to smuggle her sisters out of the mountain. When this was finished she shot the troll with the hunting rifle. The eldest sister was sitting dizzily on the porch of her house, beside her second sister and against her mother’s legs, when the troll went down on the dry silent yard. The youngest sister shot him three times, in panic. Later the second sister’s lover brought his brothers around and they carried the troll’s body away to be burned.
On Saint John’s in the evening they were sitting out and eating party food. The neighbors were there, and the second sister’s lover and his family. The eldest sister was taking a drink when someone said something funny, and she laughed and she aspirated her drink. Straightaway she stood up. No one minded her as she went away.
She had felt and understood the experience of having her head twisted off. It was like a patting on the base of her throat. The thought overwhelmed her and made her walk. She was blown to the field opposite the house and mountain. When she settled down from the thought and saw the things around her, she found that she was looking at the well. The well was old beyond reckoning. It was soft and low in the grass, which was green in the light of the long and elliptical evening.
The eldest sister watched the side of the well. It occurred to her that there was an egg in the well, an egg whose base was nearly the circumference of the well’s old circle. The egg was taller than a woman. It seemed that the egg was blue like a robin’s, but luminous, like a meteorological event. This seemed to her to be the case although the egg was inside the well, below the open space at the well’s ending, and she could not have seen the egg if it really existed in there.
The eldest sister understood that the egg was moving upward, from the cold water to the air which she could see; and it seemed that the egg arrived into her sight. As it rose out of the well it changed its exterior and flooded the land instead of being an egg. It was very blue and long, like a lake. The eldest sister breathed more easily. She felt better.
juddbagley September 3, 2019
As the story progressed, I wondered what would be the moral of the story. Often with these things one can see where the moral questions come into play, and anticipate how the protagonists’ decisions will be used to teach impressionable children important lessons.
By the end, the best I could come up with was: when given an ultimatum by a troll, save everybody trouble and play along.
Also, keep plenty of magic salve on hand.
I think the lack of a tiny ending and lessoned to learn makes this more suitable to adults than children.
Elizabeth September 3, 2019
Like all the best fairy tales, this has no didactic aim and is purely a recitation of completely true events. Also, please keep in mind that I do not accept ratings in the form of numerals but rather “toaster ovens” and harmonies (eg, “I give this 1 toaster oven out of 1 toaster oven” or alternatively the sound which metal makes in outer space)
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juddbagley September 4, 2019
I rate your reply to my comment the distinctive crunch produced by vertebrae about to fail under excessive torsion.
Also, I meant to mention that I read your story while waiting for my luggage to emerge from carousel Three at Boston Logan airport. It was the perfect length. You should consider making that a selling point: Stories to Read while Waiting for one’s Bag.