Imagine the moon. Imagine her soft, pale light reaching down from the heavens, chasing away the darkness of the night, and outdoing even the stars in terms of beauty and brilliance. The cloudless sky greets the traveller with thousands of small, blinking specs of light. The air is warm, with a slight summer breeze. There's no need for a fire, nor does the traveller wish to make one. Its light would cover some of the night sky's beauty, and he doesn't wish to spoil his view.
As the traveller lifts his camera to snap another picture of the moon, his attention is drawn by a sudden rustling in a bush nearby. Not in the least concerned about the possibility of it being a snake, coyote, or bear, the man calmly gets up from the patch of soft grass and dirt he's been lying on, and walks towards the bush. He doesn't make a sound. As he carefully pushes some branches aside, a pair of large eyes appears. In the light of the moon, the traveller can see that they are brown. The small creature the eyes belong to has a large nose and short hair. It doesn't look surprised to see the human looking at him. The creature has probably been watching the man for a little while, before deciding that he was not a threat.
The creature ̶ probably a troll ̶ blinks once, twice, and then goes back to what he was doing ̶ picking berries off the branches of the bush. The man chuckles, and then turns around to walk back to the patch of grass he occupied earlier, leaving the diligent little troll in the bushes.
The next morning finds the traveller in the woods, snapping pictures of trees, flowers, and small waterfalls. The countless birds make a lot of noise, but it is the kind of noise that puts a man at ease. Noise is good, as long as it is far away from human civilization. A quiet wood is dead. And so the traveller enjoys the sound of the birds in the trees, and finds himself wondering where the little troll from the night before went. Not that he's worried of course, but it doesn't happen often anymore that the creatures of old ̶ trolls, fairies, nymphs and the like ̶ show themselves to humans. That, and most people simply don't believe in their existence anymore. It's surprisingly difficult to see something you don't believe in. But he believes, luckily.
He takes a break to eat lunch, sitting down on a large rock near the bottom of a waterfall. He takes a cheese sandwich out of his bag and lets out a contented sigh. Do you know that feeling, when it seems like your life is exactly what it is supposed to be? Like you are where you are supposed to be? That's the feeling our traveller has at times like this. Simply enjoying the wonders of nature, blissfully alone, and far away from anything that could change that. The only company he needs on such days are his camera, and whatever is lurking in the woods, the mountains, or wherever else he is.
He vaguely takes note of rustling leaves in a nearby bush, but doesn't get up to investigate. Two large, brown eyes are peeking at him, but this he doesn't notice.
The next day the man travels into the hills. The forest is dense here, and the path is narrow. He's following a brook upstream, hoping it will lead him to another waterfall to take pictures of. There are so many things to see along the way ̶ flowers, trees, even a few deer ̶ that he doesn't make a lot of progress. Not that he's in a hurry, but his vacation only lasts another four days, and there are so many wonders in these hills and woods that he has not seen yet.
He picks up the pace a little after lunch, and he's very happy that he is as fit as he is, because the hill is quite steep. He also feels lucky that it hasn't rained for the past few days, or the path would be very slippery. But as it is, he has little difficulty getting up the hill. He reaches the top in little more than an hour, and decides to take a break to catch his breath and admire the view. The top of the hill consists of more rock than soil, so that there are almost no trees to block the view. The valley is lush, and green, with a river meandering through the landscape. The man sits down on a large rock, never taking his eyes off that river, and shrugs off his backpack.
With the wind so gentle, the sun so warm, and an inviting surface to lie on, it is no wonder that our traveller decides to lay down for just a little while. It's also no surprise that he drifts off and falls asleep, never noticing the two brown eyes that are peeking around a rock nearby. A few minutes after the man has fallen asleep, the little troll from before carefully leaves his hiding place and slowly approaches the man. When he is sure that the man hasn't noticed him, the troll walks over to the discarded backpack. He has little trouble figuring out how to open it, since he's been spying on its owner for two days, and sticks his head in to snoop around and see what's in it. The things he sees are unfamiliar, and stink a little. The troll takes his head out of the backpack, glances over at the sleeping man, and then carefully empties the backpack on the rock. What comes out is mostly clothing, something the troll is not familiar with. Holding up a pair of boxershorts, the troll cocks his head in confusion, before carefully putting it on his head. Not liking his new headgear, he carelessly flings the garment aside and turns his attention towards a small pan. It didn't make any noise when it came out of the backpack because it landed on the clothes. As he picks it up, the troll notices he can see his own reflection in the metal. Excited about this find, he puts the pan aside. Its actual owner is too far into dreamland to notice the sound of metal on rock.
Suddenly the troll smells something nice. He sniffs a few times before grabbing the source of the smell: a bread roll with berry jam, wrapped in aluminium foil. Recognizing the smell of berries, but unfamiliar with the shiny wrapping, the troll carefully examines the package before taking a bite of the foil. His eyes immediately grow even larger before he spits out the foil. It's only then that he notices the bread through the hole he made. Now that he can smell the berries much better, the troll rips the remaining foil from the bread and lifts the top half to reveal the dark purple jam. The troll takes a small bite ̶ he is more careful after tasting the nasty aluminium ̶ and his face lights up. He drops the top half of the bread roll as he starts scavenging the rest of the backpack in search for more food, taking a large bite of the bread he's still holding and not caring about getting the backpack and its contents dirty. By the time the whole bread roll is gone ̶ and half of the jam smeared all over the travellers clothes and other possessions ̶ the troll has reached the bottom of the backpack, where he smells something he likes. It's not bread this time, but a small, resealable, and half-empty jar of chocolate biscuits. He takes the lid off the jar and puts a cookie in his mouth. Loving the taste of it, he eats another one. He doesn't notice that the chocolate melts and gets all over his fingers and the human man's possessions. Luckily for the man, his camera is safe inside its own little bag.
The man in question awakes from his nap to the sound of chewing and the rustling of fabric. Opening his eyes and turning his head towards the sound, the first thing to catch his eye is a large shred of aluminium foil right in front of his face. He frowns, picks it up, and then his jaw drops in astonishment as he sees the havoc in front of him. His backpack is emptied of pretty much all its contents; his clothes are all over the rock; there are shreds of aluminium foil everywhere; a small box with matches in it lies opened and upside down on the rock; his food supplies are all over the place; a map of the area is all but ripped in half; and in the middle of it all he sees the culprit: a small troll, examining a t-shirt, his hand in an almost empty jar, and his mouth stuffed with cookies. For a moment, the poor traveller is simply too flabbergasted to do anything but gape at the scene. Noticing the man's shadow, the troll looks up, halts his chewing, and stares back at him. Then the creature jumps up, grabs the last cookie and the pan he put aside earlier, and runs away.
The man looks at the troll's retreating form, still stunned, but then he, too, jumps to his feet and starts running after the mischievous little thief. The fact that all the aluminium foil that is now lying around is bad for the environment doesn't even cross the traveller's mind. For now, he only wants to catch the troll and give him a good, big piece of his mind.
He can't see the troll anymore, thanks to the bushes, but he can see the movement of branches and leaves that the creature has to move in order to keep running. Apparently, the troll has no idea that if he just stops moving, the man will no longer be able to follow him.
The troll rushes out of the bushes, jumps behind a huge rock, and disappears from sight. The man follows him, and stops dead in his tracks at what he sees. He has entered some sort of clearing, surrounded by huge, natural walls of stone. The soil is covered with leaves. What is so odd, however, if that the thick, even layer of leaves is brown, red, and yellow, even though it is early summer. Noticing a familiar sound, the traveller looks up to look at a high waterfall. The water pours from the top of the rocky walls into a seemingly deep stream that leaves the surrounded clearing through a hole in the rocks. Behind the waterfall, the man can vaguely spot another hole. A cave, perhaps. Without seeing any other places for the troll to hide ̶ and the creature is no longer in sight ̶ the traveller decides to take a look behind that waterfall. As he cautiously walks towards it, he starts to wonder whether he should really continue the chase. After all, the troll knows these woods better than he does, and it isn't as if that one small pan is of that much importance to him. All that the creature did was make a mess of his backpack, which is still lying around on that rock. Having reached the waterfall, the man decides to take one look, and then turn back if he doesn't see anything.
There is indeed a high, but narrow gap in the rock behind the waterfall, but it's not a cave. Some twenty meters ahead, the man can see daylight. From where he stands it looks like another clearing, with grass, flowers, and butterflies. The walls inside the tunnel are smooth, without any holes in it, so the troll should be on the other side of the tunnel, the man reasons. Going any further doesn't seem to be worth the effort, since the troll should be long gone, but there is something about that other clearing that seems to lure the man towards it. Slowly, carefully, he enters the tunnel and walks to the other side. The clearing he enters is surrounded by thick, old oaks, and the light seems a bit unusual, almost as if it is too bright. The sounds are also different from what he is used to. They are softer. He is sure he hears the singing of birds, but the sounds are like whispers to his ears.
There are flowers wherever he looks, and the butterflies and bumblebees are big and bright and numerous. There is something about them, though, that doesn't sit well with the traveller. He can't quite put his finger on it, but there is something going on, something he has not yet realized. The only thing he can be sure about is that the troll is, indeed, gone. Without a trace, nowhere in sight, unlikely to ever be seen again by him. But instead of returning to where he came from, the man walks on. There's a path on the other side of the clearing, going into the woods, and he decides to see where it leads. As he enters the forest, there is something else that bugs him. The forest he is in now has an entirely different feel to it compared to the forest through which he chased the troll earlier, yet they should be one and the same. The opening in the stone wall that led him into the clearing with the waterfall should only be some two hundred meters away, at most, yet the atmosphere in these woods makes him feel like he just entered an entirely different world. There are still flowers, everywhere he looks, and those same big butterflies and other insects as he saw at the clearing just now. It's a bit unsettling in the traveller's opinion.
Then, suddenly, he hears a sound he hasn't heard before. It's far away, and he can't quite tell what it is, but it reminds him of... bells? No, he doesn't think it's the sound of bells, not in a forest, but if not that, then what does he hear? He picks up the pace and soon another clearing appears in front of him. Even from this distance it's clear that this is the largest clearing yet. As he gets closer he manages to identify the sound: it's laughter. Laughter of the purest, clearest kind, and yet it sends shivers up and down his spine. It's unlike any sound to have ever reached his ears before. As the man finally reaches the clearing, his eyes grow incredibly big.
Small creatures, from the size of a bee to the size of a rabbit, are dancing all over the place, laughing and singing and cheering each other on. They look human, in a way. But he can see that their ears are pointy, some of them have tiny fangs, and almost all of them have wings, in all shapes and sizes and colours. Their hair is long, wavy, and just as colourful. And then he realizes it: these are fairies. That also explains the different atmosphere. He is no longer in the Human world, but in the Other world, where fairies and other fantastical creatures live. The traveller has never seen a fairy before, but knows from stories that he has heard or read what they are capable of. And although he knows very well that you shouldn't just believe every story you are told, all stories tend to have some truth in them, somewhere.
Then he notices that a few fairies are looking at him with curiosity. They don't seem to be scared of him, even though he is many times taller than even the tallest among them. Then again, since he's alone and there are hundreds of them, just their sheer number gives them a reason to feel safe. Slowly but surely, the singing, laughing and dancing stops as more and more fairies notice and look at the intruder. They don't appear to take offense, though. Then a fairy with blue hair and wings flies towards him. The man can't tell if the tiny creature, which is about the same size as his forefinger, is male or female, that's how much the fairies look alike. The blue fairy halts in front of his face and studies him with large, bright eyes. The creature then turns upside down, studies him from that angle for a while, and then flies away again. Nothing moves or makes a sound, and the traveller then decides that it is time to leave. He slowly turns around to go back to the Human world, but comes immediately face to face with more fairies. And then he realizes why those butterflies and bumblebees looked so big: they weren't butterflies and bumblebees at all. They were fairies, all along. And now a good one hundred of them were flying in front of him, blocking his path.
A low, buzzing sound, coming from behind him, draws the traveller's attention. As he looks over his shoulder, he sees how hundreds of fairies fly up into the sky and form a massive, colourful cloud. The man's breathing speeds up as he realizes that they won't simply let him leave. Not knowing what will happen when he touches the fairies but not seeing any other way out, he runs into the forest, through the mass of fairies trying to stop him, and in the direction of the other clearing. The buzzing behind him immediately intensifies and the atmosphere changes. It's much more grim now, like the fairies are angry. Well, he can sympathize with them. If a giant ran into him, he would be angry too.
To his horror, the path seems unending. It's much longer than the first time he walked over it. It has to be fairy magic, he thinks. They must have cast some kind of spell so that it seems that he is looking for the way out in vain. As this unsettling thought occurs to him, the traveller notices that the previously so bright forest has become darker, and that there are less and less flowers. That's when he realizes that he is lost in the Other world. And hunted by angry fairies, no less.
As he runs around a few huge boulders the man sees that he's running along the edge of a shallow ravine. He can see there's another path at the bottom, and lots of bushes and ferns on both sides of it. Without thinking, and before the fairies can see him do it, the man jumps into the ravine, hoping that the plants and bushes below will break his fall ̶ or at least make sure that he doesn't break his legs. But as his luck will have it, his bones stay intact as he hits the ground. He rolls on the ground to minimize the damage and then stays as still as possible. He can hear the fairies' angry buzzing above him, but from the sound of it, they are moving away from him. When it's completely quiet again, he carefully gets up. He has some bruises, but nothing serious. The man slowly steps onto the path and looks both ways. Much to his dismay, there is no way to tell which way will lead him back to the Human world. To the left, the path follows the edge of the ravine, and it's also the way the fairies went, so he decides to go right. We walks as fast as he can without actually running. This way, if any danger presents itself, he will hopefully have the energy to run away from it.
The path leads deeper into the dark forest. It's completely quiet, and the traveller feels like he's being watched, even though he can't see anything other than trees and the plants in between. He becomes afraid to even breathe, let alone move. The sound of his breathing, and of his footsteps on the soft dirt path is so loud to his own ears that he feels like every creature within a five hundred yards radius should be able to hear him. A distressing thought, that. Especially with all those fairies around who apparently mean to break every bone in his body. The little creatures are a lot more sensitive than he ever imagined them to be.
The scenery doesn't change. The path looks the same, the trees look the same, no matter where he looks. The only way he can tell he ever even moved away from that ravine in the first place is because the edge he jumped off is no longer in sight. Then, in the distance, the man hears something. And the noise is getting louder with every second. As his eyes widen in horror, the traveller recognizes the angry buzzing of countless fairies that are still looking for him. Not knowing what else he can do, he starts to run. And even though he is afraid of what will happen to him if the fairies ever get to him ̶ and from the sound of it, that won't take long ̶ there's still this faint feeling like there's something else out there, among the trees, something he can't see but which can see him, something that's following his every move, waiting for a moment to...
His very breath is being knocked out of him as something small hits him from the side and throws him off the path and on the ground between some large, dark ferns. A small, dirty hand is clasped over his mouth as big brown eyes look down on him, wordlessly telling him to stay where he is and to not make a sound. It's the troll. The same little troll that ate his food, stole his pan, made a mess of his belongings, and is now seemingly trying to save his life.
Before the man can react to the troll's actions, the fairies arrive. But they don't come any closer. Is it the troll? Are they scared of the little creature? No, that can't be it, the man thinks. If those fairies aren't scared of him, then there's no way they would be scared of a creature as small as the troll. Unless the troll has some magical powers that he hasn't shown the human traveller yet, but this the man finds hard to believe for some reason.
What's more odd than the fairies staying where they are, though, is that they seem to be looking for him. And yet he's right there, less than five feet away from them! And they can't see him?
Then it hits him: what the troll knew, and he didn't, is that apparently, the fairies can only see him when he's on the path. But now that he has left the path, he's invisible to them. That might explain why they didn't see him lying in the bushes on the bottom of the ravine earlier: it's because he was lying next to the path, rather than on it. The fairies must somehow have noticed that he was no longer on the path they were following, and so they turned around.
The man's thoughts are interrupted when the troll gets up and starts pulling on his arm to get him to get up. The small creature looks around at the cloud of fairies every few seconds with an anxious look on its face. So they might still be in danger, even though the fairies can't see them at the moment. The man gets up and the troll runs away into the woods, away from the path. The traveller follows him, hoping that the troll knows a way back to the Human world. After all, the troll went there before, so there must be a way. The fairies aren't following them and are still hovering over the path, buzzing angrily.
In no time at all, it seems, they have left the fairies far behind them. The woods still don't seem to change in the man's opinion, but the troll looks like he knows where he's going. Then a sound reaches the man's ears, and it's not the angry buzzing he fears, but the familiar sound of flowing water. And indeed, they soon reach a shallow stream. The troll jumps in ̶ the water reaches the creature's waist ̶ and starts wading downstream. The man gets into the water as well ̶ the water doesn't even reach his knees ̶ and follows. Because the troll can't run like this they make little progress and the man grows anxious. He'd rather move faster. The slow pace makes him feel less secure, more vulnerable. So he leans forward, picks up the troll, and lifts the yelping creature until it's sitting on his shoulders. Although startled, the troll quickly understands the traveller's intentions. It gently fists the man's hair so it won't fall, and the man picks up the pace. The splashing noises are loud, but since the troll doesn't make any objections, the man figures it's okay. It isn't long until the ground starts to rise on both sides of the stream, until they are all but trapped between two huge walls of rock and stone.
After a while ̶ he doesn't know how long and keeping track of time is impossible in this world ̶ they reach a point where the stream crosses a path and the man stops. He'll have to take a big step to get to the other side of the path without touching it, and if he makes even one mistake they'll have those fairies coming after them again. So he takes a few steps back, runs as fast as the waters allows him, and jumps over the path. But as his feet reach the other side he slips, falls backward, and hits solid ground. The troll shrieks. Luckily, the water is deep enough to have broken their fall a little, but the horrible fact is that the traveller is now sitting on the path. He quickly gets up, puts the troll back on his shoulders, and makes a run for it. It's a rather awkward way of running, considering the fact that the stream is getting deeper and he's now in up to his knees, but with the troll pulling his hair in near panic, he wants to move as quickly as possible.
The stream has also increased its speed and the water has turned from gently rippling into an all-out rapid. It's becoming increasingly difficult for the man to keep his feet on the rocky stream bed. The further he walks, the more rocks there are, the faster the water runs, but also the shallower the water becomes. But the rocks are slippery, and he still has to be very careful.
Suddenly the troll shrieks again and unexpectedly pulls the traveller's hair until they're both looking up. High up on the rock walls he can see the now almost familiar cloud of fairies. And judging from the noise they are making they are still angry with him and they still want to catch him. But luckily for the man and the troll, they seem hesitant about simply diving into the ravine, even though they have wings. Making good use of their pursuers' hesitation the man looks in front of him again and increases his speed as much as he dares. But then the stream ̶ now almost the size of a river ̶ becomes a lot deeper and he is having a hard time not losing his footing. Since the water is deep enough now that he can swim, he leans forward and does just that. The troll, not expecting this, quickly lets go of his hair and climbs onto his back.
The water is very cold, and it's a challenge for the man to keep going in a straight line when the current is pulling him down, to the left, or to the right. But he manages it. Then it's once again his ears that are warning him of danger. Two kinds of danger, no less. First, he notices a buzzing noise, looks behind him, and sees that more and more fairies are getting over their hesitation and are now plunging themselves into the ravine. Second, he notices a roaring sound up ahead and for once he does not like what it reminds him of: a waterfall. And not the gentle, small kind of waterfall that he's been taking pictures of over the past few days, but the kind that reminds him of the Niagara. And indeed, he can see it up ahead. And the troll makes no move to stop him from going there. The water is too strong now, and the man can't get to the side of the river. So instead he decides to trust the troll ̶ the little imp saved him from the fairies before, after all ̶ and starts swimming towards the waterfall.
Just before the first fairies reach them, and just before they reach the waterfall, the troll gets off the traveller's back, grabs the man's head, and dives, pulling the man's head underwater in the process. The next second, they fall.
When he regains consciousness, the man is lying on his back, on what he thinks are dry leaves, and he can hear a waterfall nearby. It takes him a moment to remember what happened before he blacked out, and then his eyes snap open. He is looking at a sea of green leaves, listening to the gentle singing of birds, and a soft summer breeze is caressing his skin. There's not a single fairy in sight.
He sits up, looks around, and he recognizes the place. It's the clearing where he found the way into the Other world. He sees the waterfall and even the gap behind it, and on the other side of the clearing is the gap in the rocks that leads into the forest. At that very moment, the troll enters the clearing through that gap, holding the pan he stole, which appears to be filled to the brim with berries. The creature squeals happily when he notices that his human companion is awake and rushes over to him to offer him the berries. The man thanks the troll before he digs in. It's been a while since he ate anything, and the whole adventure has made him hungry.
He looks back at the waterfall as he remembers their escape. The waterfall in the Other world must have been a gateway into the Human world. And since the troll pulled him underwater, he concludes that that must be a condition for coming back: the gate won't open unless your head is underwater. He sighs, and looks back at the troll.
"Thanks," he says. "I don't know what those fairies would have done to me if they had caught me, but I have a feeling that I don't want to know."
The troll merely looks up at him with kind, curious eyes. The traveller isn't even sure that the creature knows what he's talking about. He decides it does not matter. After they are done eating, the troll leads him all the way back to the rock where he left his belongings. Some of his clothes are gone, probably takes by animals, or other trolls, or by whatever else roams these woods. The traveller doesn't even mind all that much anymore. The troll helps him to get everything back into the backpack, and then they fall asleep side by side. The man wakes up to another pan full of berries, at which point he decides to let the troll keep it. It's the least the little imp deserves for saving his hide. Twice.
The troll refuses to leave his side on his journey back to civilization. It's only on the very edge of the forest that they say goodbye.
"I'll come back here, very soon," the man promises his new friend. "And I'll be sure to take bread rolls with berry jam with me."
Over the past few days, the troll never gave a hint of understanding human language, and this time is no different, but that's okay. The man has a hunch that the troll will know it when he's back. It'll find him. And with that thought he turns around and walks away, into the sunlight.
Imagine the moon. Imagine her soft, pale light reaching down from the heavens, chasing away the darkness of the night, and outdoing even the stars in terms of beauty and brilliance. The cloudless sky greets the troll with thousands of small, blinking specs of light. The air is warm, with a slight summer breeze. There's no need for a fire. Its light would cover some of the night sky's beauty, and the troll doesn't wish to spoil his view. He looks up at the sky, and knows that somewhere, his human friend is watching it as well.