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I woke lying on my back and shivering. I saw
rays of sunlight and patches of blue through pine boughs weighed down by snow. Though
I was cold and stiff, I felt better than I had in days.
Why am I outside? I
remembered and my heart sank. It’s only a dream, I tried to convince
myself. Yet that morning something seemed clearer, more real than the
jumble of hallucinations and doubtful memories of the previous six days.
Focus, Mark, I told myself, focus
on today. The past will sort itself out soon enough.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Lying there, I heard the sounds of my older
brother stirring. At least we’re together, I thought. My mind
reeled as I again failed to sort out the foggy memories of the day before I’d
Without warning, my mind latched onto a more recent memory. I lay
back on a bed of pine needles and let my mind sink into the dream I’d had just
before waking. I saw it so clearly, and yet I fought its sense of reality.
My brother David shook me gently, holding a cold hand over my
mouth. I sputtered before I realized he meant to keep me quiet.
“Shhhh,” he whispered, removing his hand. “More trolls—they’re
coming toward us.”
My mind staggered as I fought growing panic. I held my breath and crawled on my
knees to peer through prickly branches, trying not to disturb the snow weighing
them down. I saw a nightmare’s collection of ghouls marching toward us—monsters
too horrible to consider real, and yet too fearsome to ignore. They were eerily
familiar, as if I recognized them from a dream. My breath caught in my chest as
None of them were shorter than a man, and some were much taller. Where
their skin showed, I saw some were covered in splotches of green, and the
others had skin in tones of mud and sand. They were shaped like men, but short,
squattish men who had no business being so tall. Their jaws seemed to project
from their skulls, and they gave me the unlikely impression their teeth were
trying to escape from their lips. I could imagine them capable of nothing but
My panic didn’t last long. Before they took a
dozen steps, they veered left and headed downhill, away from us. Still and
breathless, my mind shouted silent wishes after them. Don’t hear me
breathing. Don’t turn around. “That was the second group,” David
whispered. “I think they’re on patrol.”
Chris M. Hibbard was born in the suburbs of
New Jersey, the second of three brothers. His family soon moved to Alaska,
where he grew up scrambling over the mountains and beaches of a remote village
wedged between thickly wooded peaks and deep fjords. His childhood shaped in
him an early love for family and the outdoors, and inspired such hobbies as
wildlife photography, grafting fruit trees, and other horticulture.
His first novel began as a collection of stories
he invented to entertain his children. He, his wife and four children make
their home in the Piney Woods of South Texas.