Thursday, October 22, 2009

Halloween Short: Mad Lib #2

(This Mad Lib was cobbled together by the wonderful input of Julie who chose the location of a haunted forest, Libby who chose a short hairy troll, and Devin who chose an illegal immigrant. From these three elements, today’s short was born. Thanks so much you three for your contributions.)

“No Man’s Land”

A strong believer that every bad thing has a good outcome in the end, Jose Delgado moved on to the next shop along the strip mall. A man who never seemed to suit his place, his name, or his situation, he remained remarkably optimistic in the land of plenty, the United States. Eventually, he knew he would find his purpose, so he drove himself forward, even knowing that like the other businesses, this one would probably have no jobs.

He swung the door open on the Laundromat. He knew what it was by the spinning machines and the racks behind the man at the desk. He’d done a fine job of speaking and understanding English, but his time working in the fields of California when he first arrived kept him from learning to read it.

Now, he was in the cold strange state of Minnesota having followed a stupid venture with a friend who boasted jobs in Minnesota but led to being stranded and alone. He was used to ending up in a place he did not belong. He would take it one step at a time to survive and then master what he could of the customs and language. So far, this state was not too used to his kind. In California people looked through him, but in Minnesota they stared openly at him.

“Do you have a job, sir?” He asked.

The man behind the desk squinted at him as if summing up his strength. He was short and muscular and could lift and carry all that was necessary. That might not be so when he hit his 40s, but for now he could do manual labor.

“Your name?” The man asked, speaking as if not certain of his comprehension.

“Jose Delgado, sir.”

“New here?” He asked.

He nodded.

“Just from the border?” The older man raised a brow.

He shook his head. “I have worked here four years.”

“Not here, here?” The man pointed to the table top. “You’re saying you’ve been working in the US for four years but somewhere else, right?”

He nodded. “California.”

“You scared of much Jose?” The man asked.

“I can work with machines.” He assured the man.

The man looked over his shoulder at the younger worker who had stopped to gawk at him. The man came around the desk and gestured to a small side office. In nearly two weeks of trying to find employment and autumn’s frosty nights approaching and no way to get back to California, Jose realized this was a blessing. He looked for any small comfort, kindness, or hope he could find. That hope for tomorrow had gotten him through a desert crossing for which he still held scars. He never dreamed or planned for the future. He simply tried to focus on that day, the next meal, the next drink of water, the next place to sleep.

The man gestured to the chair and sat down across from Jose. He looked him over again and poured him some water. He was thankful for the touch of humanity. Many times when laboring, people in their homes didn’t think to give him the simplest aid.

“I don’t have a job here, Jose. Do you understand English well?”

Jose nodded. “You have no job.”

“Not here.” The man shifted. “You see, I have a home in the woods about five miles from here. Cinco?” He clarified.

“Yes, five miles. Do you need help at your home?”

The man chuckled. “And then some.” He sighed. “Jose, you know this state was settled mostly by the Scandinavians?”

He nodded. He knew that word. It was the place where the Vikings had come from, where it was even colder than this place.

“I’ve got woods all around my property. They go on for miles and miles. No one builds in them. No one walks through them. They’re considered haunted. Do you know what haunted is, Jose?”

“Spirits?” He frowned.

The man is insane.

“You see, there’s these people in the woods. Little people. Same height as you, I’d guess.” He nodded. “They make barrels of this brew. It’s tasty stuff. I stole some once and everyone wanted more. They’re willing to pay big money for it. It’s the drink of the Vikings, we call it. I could make a fortune selling it. Problem is the little trolls are angry little bastards. Bastardos.” The man explained.


The man pulled open his drawer and laid a book on the table, flipping it open and pointing at a picture. Jose studied the hairy, short, angry looking creature. Did such a thing truly exist?

“I need someone who isn’t scared to go in there. I need you to go in there and try to talk to them. Make a deal with them. I’ll share the profit with you half and half.”

“Half and half?” Jose knew that term. He’d done some deals that involved this arrangement to his profit.

“You had to learn a new language. Surely you came across the desert. This is something you are good at. Going places you don’t know. Talking to people you’ve never met.” The man boasted.

Jose had to agree on that point. He wasn’t scared of forests. He wasn’t scared of strange languages and customs. He wasn’t scared of being a misfit.

And, I have nothing to lose.

The man studied him once more. “Jose, I have a guest house. You can live in there. I’ll give you your food and if you need a doctor, I’ll pay for it. You go into the woods and you make a deal with these trolls. We’ll have a business.”

Jose nodded. He had no other choices. Even if these trolls didn’t truly exist, he’d have a place to stay for a time.

“Thank you.” The man shook his hand.

Jose was clothed warmly, well fed, well rested when he struck out on his first trip into the haunted forest. Autumn was arriving and the trees were changing to beautiful colors. He had never seen so much beauty and so much darkness. Within the woods it was very dark. He had a backpack Mr. Thorsen had filled for him with all he might need including things he could bargain with.

Used to the silence in his mind, Jose took note of the blessings for this day. He had awakened to a hot breakfast. Mr. Thorsen and his family seemed quite pleased to have him there. He found out they had tried many men to do the job and none had been able to strike a deal. Jose wasn’t sure he could be any better, but he knew that nothing was done until it was done. He could not live for what might happen, but for what was happening. He would take it one moment at a time and see how it unfolded.

Slowing down near the fallen tree bridge that crossed a stream, he studied the dark dense hillsides. The ferns grew huge. The ground was stained with bright leaves. Mr. Thorsen said this was the place. He waited breathlessly.

A shuffling under the log alerted him and Jose stepped back cautiously. Three scrambling little men came out from the stream area and rushed up to him all at once. They looked eye-to-eye nearly, but for the first time in his life, Jose was slightly taller. The little men had crooked noses and beady eyes and shaggy hair. Their clothing looked like human clothes adjusted to fit their bodies. He tried hard not to make assumptions about them. He offered the Americans the same courtesy when he arrived. They were all looking to protect their territory and possessions. He understood why the Americans felt the way they did and he understood why the trolls did too. He looked them back, refusing to show a submissive stance.

One of them poked at him. The others circled him studying him closely. He knew they were curious. He let them investigate. Surely they hadn’t seen a human like him before. He hoped his size kept them from being intimidated. They had dark eyes like his. He prayed those similarities kept them from being too suspicious or scared.

They jabbered and tugged at his backpack, but he pulled it back up over his shoulder. They stumbled back and spoke in strange squirrel-sounding voices. Jose tried to figure out their language. It was a jumbled mess. Even worse than English.

They turned and scrambled down a path. He watched them stop as one and turn back as if they wanted him to follow. Jose followed them a long way down the creek side until they came to a cave. Inside he felt the crackling fire nearby and several more of their type came forward. They gestured him over and he sat down upon a rock where they chattered some more before the one elder came forward.

“You are not Scandinavian?” The white-haired troll said in a tiny voice, speaking crisp clean English.

He shook his head.

“We do not frighten you?”

Jose shook his head.

He laughed. The others laughed too. “They have sent many Norsemen here and all have run in fear. Why do they come here?” The elder asked.

“They want your brew.”

He nodded briskly. “What do they offer us?”

Jose slipped the backpack eagerly from his shoulder and opened it up. He tried first the bag of candy.

The other trolls tore it open and tested the contents, spitting it out.

He pulled out the cigarette lighter and displayed how to use it. The elder’s eyes widened and he held out his hand. Jose showed him how to use it with his knobby fingers. The elder smiled.

“This is good. What else?” He asked.

Jose pulled out the last item, hoping this would turn the tides. He handed the elder the flute. The elder studied it.

“This is not strong enough to cut down a tree.” He hit it against the stone wall of the cave.

“No!” Jose took it and blew through it. The trolls stopped and listened in enchantment as he blew a few quivering notes. He handed it to the elder. “Blow.” He told him.

The elder did as he instructed and smiled broadly.

“These will do for now. We will give you two barrels. We will give you more barrels if you agree to my request.”

“What is that?” Jose hoped it was something Mr. Thorsen could provide.

“We will only deal with you.” The man told him. “We will not do dealings with anyone but you. We do not trust the Norsemen. We want someone who as foreign as we are. Someone who understands why we must hide here in the woodlands. Someone who does not judge us for our looks. The other men, they screamed and ran. You looked us in the eye and did not flinch. You are like one of us.”

That made Jose smile. He hadn’t had his own people in a long time.

“We will welcome you here any time you wish to bring us things. We will give you barrels of our brew. If you need more, we will make more. As much as the Norsemen fear us, they also do like our drink. So long as we do not have to deal with them, we will profit from each other.”

“Thank you.” Jose told the elder. He gathered up his empty backpack and the trolls marched him back to the bridge. As he went up the ridge and looked back down at them scrambling back towards the cave, he felt a strange giddiness.

He lived between the worlds. No man’s land. It used to seem a curse to belong nowhere, and now Jose realized in his wonderfully optimistic way that because of this, he was the perfect man for the job. As he always said, something good was always the outcome of something bad.


  1. autumnforest, such a GOOD job!! it's funny, i was thinking of the kids story of the troll under the bridge too, when i suggested 'troll'!

  2. Trolls are one of my favorites, but I'm half Norwegian/half Scottish, so I think all kinds of woodland characters are in my blood. The hardest part was putting Devin's illegal alien in. I was like-magic forest/troll...illegal alien? He gave me a twist, but I figured what does this guy have to offer a story of trolls and woods? Hmm... That was fun! Thanks for the input!

  3. This was also a beautiful story Autumnforest!! I had considered logging off somewhat early tonight -as I am very tired today and didn't get online til late-now I am so glad I remembered the Halloweeen short!! I was glad you could use the illegal immigrant -what fascinates me also is that there is some residual "psychic" type knowing (a theory:-) the immigrant I had based my thoughts on actually has two relatives in of all places -you guessed it -Minnesota! I am enjoying these enormously Autumnforest-thanks for putting them up!! haha and a cute WV for comment =gring -all it woulda needed is an o at the end to fit with this story! best to you as always!!

  4. I also meant to say-and I think Anadae would back me up if he stopped by. The exchange of things seems to be a very common type of report in these sightings-you worked it into the story beautifully!!

  5. Dev;
    You really got me with the illegal alien. I tapped into your character but then backed off. I didn't want to use your idea, but I also couldn't resist Minnesota as a location for a magical forest and with Norwegians up there and trolls being their thing...But, why was this guy there? So I had to think about the travel he's done and the foreigners he's had to deal with. This guy is adaptable. I have to admit that as an Arizona resident I've always cringed at the idea of random people crossing the border without knowing their backgrounds. My father came through Ellis Island and had to get a physical and have a representative here to vouch for him and such. You let the bad in with the good so it's scary. You made me have to really get into an illegal alien's head and that was really humbling. I appreciate that. Everything in life is serendipitous if you live in the magic of it all. Thanks!

  6. Very Good! As Libby said, it does have hints of a children's story.