Abigail’s short story ‘Trolls’ was selected as the overall winner of the 2018 Noirwich flash fiction competition.
Alice put the last brick in place and began replacing the pots containing her seedlings. They were doing well. It had been a warm month and they were likely to be snapped up by visitors this weekend.
The Plantation Garden was her passion. She’d been volunteering here since it opened and now it filled most of her daylight hours. Evenings, however, (and quite often far too late into the night) her green fingers found themselves at her keyboard instead.
Alice admitted she was hooked. Still, there could be worse things she could be doing than cultivating the beautiful Gothic garden and tapping her way through cyberspace.
She heaved herself up and ambled off to wait for Dilys, who was due to arrive in half an hour. Dilys, like all the volunteers was a good soul. True, she complained about children climbing up on to the mossy fountain walls, but she didn’t have one ounce of malice in her. Not one.
Alice couldn’t bear the slightest unkindness. Working as a girl in the chocolate factory she saw her fair share of how humans could behave towards one another when times were hard.
But today’s unkindness was different. There was a new strain out there. A culture of bullying. A nastiness which was permissible because it was faceless. People hiding behind screens sending out spite simply because they could.
Alice stepped into the hut and reached for the kettle. Trolls were once monsters, lurking in the depths beneath walkways, but they did emerge to pounce on anything that came trip-trapping past. These days nothing meant what it used to: trolling, surfing, hacking.
She was surprised at how easy it was to hack. And to hunt trolls for that matter, especially if they popped up on local forums. She’d become accomplished at breaching systems and finding out who people were.
Then it was simply a question of tempting them over. An email explaining they’d been selected as a mystery shopper was enough: £1,000, cash in hand, to visit one location. It had to be incognito, starting from St John’s Cathedral. Tell no-one and arrive on foot early to get a good start. They always came. It was local, so it had to be genuine.
Today’s troll had been simple to despatch. She’d rewarded him for his vicious words about two teenage girls with a swift swipe to the side of the head. The clover-shaped masonry had slotted neatly back into its wall.
Then, it was simply a case of rolling him on to the plant trolley and wheeling it down the tunnel. Chalk mines ran like veins beneath this part of the city. Back in 1988 a double-decker bus even sank into one on Earlham Road.
The door into the tunnel was bricked up for safety and now the plant corner stood in front. It hadn’t taken much to loosen the bricks and shoulder it open again.
So far, Alice had tipped 17 trolls to their rest in the tunnel and, so far, no-one had come looking for them here.
Perhaps one day they might be found in a bony heap but that was a matter for another day. For now, she just had to open her laptop, hack in to delete the email, and make herself a nice cup of tea.