Near the bottom of the hill, Sten comes to an abrupt stop against the trunk of a white birch. Every bit of air bolts from his lungs, and he feels something give in his back, swears there’s an actual, audible crunch A bouquet’s worth of foliage showers down on impact, burying Sten in the red, orange, and yellow confetti of the season. Regardless of the struggle to encourage oxygen back into his lungs, the wailing torrents of pain spreading from the epicenter of impact in his back, Sten can’t afford a moment’s rest. He traces the path he’d taken in his fall and tumble back up the hill, and spots the mob of forest trolls who’ve been hounding him all morning already rushing down the slope toward him, with far more aplomb than his ass-over-teakettle approach.
He gets to his feet, but his head goes dizzy when he’s fully upright, and the world spins. Sten goes to a knee, loses his breakfast. As he wipes a hand across his mouth, he’s already up and staggering toward the lakeshore, and the boat he’d beached there earlier.
When he hits the sand, Sten almost goes down again, but he manages to say upright and reaches his boat, as the first of the trolls finds his white birch. White phosphorous heat blooms in his spine, as he works to get his craft spun around, and Sten does his best to ignore it. He launches himself into the boat and begins to row. The trolls reach the beach, and the sand flings in all directions as they sprint toward the water. Sten’s not sure if the trolls can swim, but he’s hoping they’re terrified.
When he’s fifty yards from the shore, Sten stops rowing, and watches, waits.
At the water’s edge, the trolls pull up short, digging their claws into any purchase they can find. The boldest and bravest of the collective tests the water with a toe, then quickly pulls it back with a bellow. All the other trolls take up the lamentation, raise it toward the sky.
Sten allows himself a smile, unplugs the thermos from his bag, pours a cup, and raises it to the fury on the beach.
“Inte idag din håriga jävel.”