Sample Sunday – Troll Call

Troll Call, the fifth book of the Brittany Meyer Novellas, is about trolls. Trolls are misunderstood in modern society. Some people think they are rather small with wild hair and big feet. Others believe they are lumbering giants who use tree trunks as clubs. Whichever camp you find yourself in, there is one prevailing fact.

Trolls despise humans.

With good reason. Trolls were once known as the Jotnar, a race of giants who were banished from Asgard by the Norse gods. Their existence predates mankind. But instead of treating them with respect and learning from their accumulated knowledge, early humans hunted them down and killed them with spears. Today’s trolls keep to themselves unless provoked. Their numbers are currently on the rise.

There are four main types of trolls.

Mountain Trolls live in, er, the mountains. They are 15-20 feet tall. Their names reflect nature, such as Reed, Moss, Leaf, or Glen. There are also Upper Mountain Trolls who live where it is cold all the time. They are reportedly 80-100 feet tall. Their names reflect the winter, such as Frost, Rime, Sleet, or Hail.

Cave Trolls live in caves because they will turn to stone if touched by sunlight. They are the only trolls known to live in communities. They are 15-20 feet tall and take names that reflect their Norse ancestry.

The trolls we meet in Troll Call are Earth Trolls. They are petite at 10-15 feet tall and use their malodorous stench as a defensive measure. They live mainly in forests. Their names reflect the ground, such as Stone, Slate, Ridge, or Rim. You’ll find them tucked away beneath bridges or viaducts.

Trolls are all around us.

Depending upon where you live, you will encounter one type or another at some point in your life. What? You’ve never seen a troll? That’s because they’re invisible. Or, they can be when it suits them. Do you know how you can get a whiff of a skunk when there can’t be any around? You’re probably smelling a troll.

You can learn more about trolls in my book, Troll Call, which is available in both eBook and audiobook formats. Here’s an excerpt.

CHAPTER ONE

3/11/2009 Loxahatchee Florida

Brittany Meyer tromped through the woods surrounding her house, a basket slung over one arm. Leaves crackled and twigs snapped beneath her feet. In contrast, her companion moved as silently as a ghost. Which made sense. Tusks was the ghost of a demon. He stood about seven feet tall, semi-transparent, reddish with bristly black hair from his waist down. His piglike face held small red eyes and a twitching snout. The remains of two broken tusks jutted from his jaw. She’d freed him from bondage to the tyrant queen a month ago, and more recently, from a demon master in a hell dimension. Since then, he’d attached himself to her like a puppy, happily following her lead—which made her feel responsible for him. Brittany didn’t want to feel responsible for anyone. Even if they were dead.

“I’m just saying,” she continued. “You’re not enslaved anymore. You’re allowed to think for yourself. If you see something you want to do, do it. Exercise free will.”

She stopped walking, waiting for his response, but he avoided her gaze. With a sigh, she pushed damp hair out of her face. It wasn’t hot, not like it would be in May, but the humidity made her sweat.

A bush drew her attention. “There’s something.” She angled toward it, ground cover dragging at her footsteps like she was wading in muck. From her basket, she took out a knife and clipped a twig. “This is a beautyberry bush. You can crush the leaves and mix them with olive oil to make an insect repellant. Works better than DEET.”

In a voice too high-pitched for a creature his size, Tusks asked, “What is DEET?”

She grimaced and repeated, “An insect repellant.”

A grunt escaped him. “Remind me again why you are tasked with gathering such flora.”

“It’s a quest. Aunt Lynette wants to see how many wild plants I can recognize.” She motioned with her basket of samples. “Although now that you mention it, it does seem like wasted effort. I can get all these things on the Internet.”

“Perhaps she fears your zombie apocalypse.”

“Yeah, that might be it.” She gave him a sidelong glance, reminding herself to watch what she told him. He took everything she said as fact. “Let’s go this way.”

She pushed through the brush and came upon a small, green pond. Dragonflies darted across its surface. A willow drooped from the bank, its long, corkscrew branches dipping into the water.

Brittany made her way toward the tree over slime-coated rocks and snipped off the tip of a branch. “Carolina Willow. You chew the stems, and it acts like aspirin. Great if you come down with a fever while hiking.”

“That sounds important.”

“It’s rubbish.” She tossed the branch into her basket with the others. “Any responsible hiker would have a first-aid kit. How much do you want to bet that she throws all this in the trash?”

He scrunched up his piggy snout. “Bet?”

“Bet. Wager.” Brittany sighed and glanced around. The woods continued farther than she cared to explore. Her aunt had inherited acres of land around the house, all of it wild and woody. “I’m done with this. Can you lead me home?”

“Of course, Miss.”

She was using him, and she wasn’t proud of it. But they’d been wandering around the forest for hours, and it would take hours to get back—except Tusks had no concept of time. Within five minutes, they broke through the tree line at the edge of her yard.

She crossed the wide lawn toward the white clapboard house her grandfather had built. Newly planted herbs dotted a garden under the kitchen windows. Her dog, Haff, wriggled out from beneath the porch, wagged his tail a few times, then crawled back under. Haff never went near Tusks the Demon.

Brittany stopped at the kitchen door. “Thanks for keeping me company. And… Thanks for the shortcut home.”

Tusks bowed his semi-transparent head, shimmered, and disappeared.

She went inside and set her basket on the kitchen counter.

Aunt Lynette stepped out of her room. “Howdy. Learned a lot, did you?”

“I found some stuff.” Brittany pulled out a stem with narrow leaves. “This is horsemint. It helps with stomach ailments. And this is from a pinod tree. The fruit is high in vitamin C. And this is wild blackberry.” She lifted a branch, avoiding the thorns. “If you dry the leaves and make a tea… And you’re not really interested.”

“Of course, I am.” Aunt Lynette gave her a one-armed hug. “Glad to see you out and about.”

So, the quest was a trick to get her out of the house. Brittany snorted and pushed the basket away.

“Big plans this evening,” Aunt Lynette said. “We got us an invite to West Palm Beach to celebrate Esbat with Theodora and Zoe.”

Brittany nodded. Both Theodora and Zoe had covens in West Palm. “When are we leaving?”

“Well, let me see. The sun sets at seven-thirty, but the moon won’t rise until eight. Let’s say we leave at seven o’clock to be sure we have plenty of time.”

“All right.”

“There are cold cuts for dinner if you’re interested in making yourself a sandwich.”

“No, thanks. I think I’ll go upstairs and meditate for a while.” Brittany smirked inwardly. Her aunt never bothered her if she thought she was communing with the goddess. She dumped her samples into the trash then headed toward the stairs.

“Don’t forget your ritual bath,” Aunt Lynette called after her.

Brittany sighed. She hated ritual baths. She could never remember the words. Ritual baths purified bad energy and thoughts so the bather could focus on casting a spell. However, although Brittany was taking part in the Esbat Ceremony, she wouldn’t be performing the rite, so it wouldn’t matter if she got the bath wrong.

She went up to her room, grabbed her headphones, and stepped into the bathroom. From the cupboard beneath the sink, she took out a chunky cluster of amethyst and a pink candle. The amethyst would help her relax and get into a meditative state. Pink candles promoted forgiveness and self-love. This was a bath-only candle, and she changed it frequently. Because candles absorbed the energy of where they were lit, bath candles picked up the negative energy she wanted to wash away.

Brittany set the amethyst on the rim of the bathtub and lit the candle. When the tub was filled with hot water, she tossed in a cheesecloth bag filled with rosemary, sage, and sweetgrass. She stepped inside and slowly lowered her body into the fragrant warmth.

She cupped handfuls of water over her shoulders and intoned, “I cleanse myself of critical thought and self-condemnation. I purify myself of selfishness and judgment. I bathe myself in generosity, self-appreciation, and acknowledgment of my power. So mote it be.”

Snapping her headphones over her ears, she leaned back and closed her eyes.

At seven o’clock, Brittany was dressed and smelling like sweetgrass. She skipped downstairs with her white, ceremonial robe draped over her arm. In the kitchen, Aunt Lynette stacked two dozen molasses cupcakes into a box. Powdered sugar speckled their dark tops like a dusting of stars.

“Yum.” Brittany leaned over her shoulder. “That smells phenomenal.” Her stomach growled, and she wished belatedly that she had eaten something for dinner.

Myra, Aunt Lynette’s partner, stepped through the dining room. Like Brittany, she carried a white robe. “Ready to go?”

“All set.” Aunt Lynette closed the lid of the box and led them outside.

The sun was low, and the shadows were long. They approached Aunt Lynette’s car—a Ford Fiesta hatchback with a My Kid’s an Honor Student bumper sticker leftover from the previous owner. Brittany sat in the backseat next to the cupcakes. She slouched, allowing her head to loll as she gazed out the window.

What would it be like to celebrate Esbat with two other covens? Esbat took place during the full moon. The rite was all about personal growth and releasing any emotions that might hinder that growth. She didn’t want to air her secrets before a group of women she barely knew.

West Palm Beach was less than an hour away, but it seemed longer without music to listen to. She stared at the passing shops and streetlamps, then sat upright. “Are we going to the beach?”

Aunt Lynette nodded, keeping her eyes on the road. “Theodora planned an oceanside meeting.”

“Great.” Brittany smiled. Despite living in South Florida, she rarely got out to the ocean.

As they pulled into a parking lot, Brittany gazed out at the water. The other witches were already on the beach, dressed in their white robes. Theodora’s coven had seven members. Zoe’s coven had five. Aunt Lynette headed the three-person coven Brittany and Myra were in, but Brittany knew her aunt wished there were more in their group. She didn’t blame her. Aunt Lynette had studied for years to become a Wiccan priestess, and it seemed her knowledge was being wasted on just the two of them.

Brittany tugged her robe over her shorts and T-shirt then kicked off her shoes. Barefoot, she stepped onto the sandy pavement. Her hem fell around her ankles. Myra got out, her lightweight robe rippling in the salty breeze. Aunt Lynette’s garment barely stirred. Like Theodora and Zoe, she wore a heavy, red cloak and had her athame, a ceremonial knife, tucked in her belt.

They crossed the street onto the beach. Aunt Lynette held the box of cupcakes under one arm and Myra’s thin shoulders under the other. Brittany followed. Sand enveloped her toes as she walked. The surface was day-warmed, although the air was cool. A sea breeze gusted and swirled. Ocean waves struck the shore with a rhythmic roar.

The setting sun underscored the twilight with dark purple clouds. Early stars speckled the sky. The moon was about to rise.

They joined the group of witches. Theodora scurried among them, passing out paper and pens. Even in the growing darkness, Theodora’s mass of curly ginger hair clashed with her scarlet robe.

“Good. You made it.” Theodora approached them with her usual grin. “You remember everyone?”

In truth, Brittany didn’t remember many of their names, but she smiled and nodded at the familiar faces.

Theodora handed Myra and Brittany felt-tip pens and thick pieces of paper torn from a sketch pad. “Write down what you intend to release from your life. What emotions need to be healed and forgiven. Be as eloquent as you like. The more detail, the better. Then sign and date the paper and hold onto it.”

Brittany blew out a pent-up breath. She’d imagined herself standing before everyone and confessing her failings. Writing it down was way better.

Theodora ushered Aunt Lynette to where Zoe waited for them. Zoe wore her hair in a blue buzz cut. She stood next to the altar—an old, wooden lectern decorated with dangling crystals and silver garland. On the altar was a white pillar candle. There were also four smaller candles: a yellow one for air, a red one for fire, blue for water, and green for Earth. On the sand in front was a little iron cauldron. Its belly was perhaps ten inches across.

Aunt Lynette placed the box of cupcakes into the lectern, and the three priestesses put their heads together.

Myra turned to Brittany. “How about I use your back to lean against? Then you can use mine.”

“All right.”

Brittany held still as Myra wrote against her back. She wrote for several minutes, most likely ranting about Queen Imogene. Brittany wouldn’t be surprised if all the witches were releasing residual anger toward the recently deceased witch queen of South Florida. Imogene had been a tyrant who held hostages in an abandoned hospital guarded by ghouls. Aunt Lynette was one of those hostages, and Myra had been terrified that she would never see her again.

But Brittany had a different wound to heal. Cody, her ex-boyfriend, had left her. He said that it was for her own good and that she should go on with her life. Part of her understood why he felt that way. He was on the run from some very bad people, and he wanted to protect her from all that. But when he told her to go home, when he said he didn’t want her with him, he’d hurt her deeper than words could express. She’d been wracked by conflicting emotions since—anger that he would presume to make decisions about her life and confusion because she still loved him.

“Your turn.” Myra stepped away, breaking into her thoughts.

Brittany pressed her paper against Myra’s back. There was barely enough light to see, but she wrote down her resentment, disappointment, and uncertainty about Cody. She needed to let it go.

Aunt Lynette, Theodora, and Zoe stepped away from the group and huddled together at the water’s edge as if deciding who would preside over the Esbat Rite. After a few moments, Aunt Lynette stepped into the waves holding a crystal decanter. She filled the container with seawater then strode back onto the beach. The bottom of her robe was soaked. Damp sand clumped to the hemline.

Zoe and Theodora took their places on either side of the altar.

Aunt Lynette pulled a bag of salt from a shelf inside the lectern, poked a hole in the burlap with her athame, and marked a white circle around the altar. The circle had to be large enough to hold twelve witches. As she drew the circle, she chanted, “This is a place which is not a place, a time which is not a time, halfway between the world of gods and mortals.”

Over the ocean, the moon rose, large and full. Its light shimmered on the water. Brittany stood outside the circle side-by-side with the other women, watching the ceremony. She noticed other people watching as well. Joggers slowed their step. Passersby stopped to gawk. Families with small children hurried them to the street.

Oblivious to her audience, Aunt Lynette took the four smaller candles and set them on the compass points. With a long wooden match, she lit the yellow one. The flame danced with the breeze. “Guardians of the east, guided by air, we ask that you keep watch over our circle tonight.” She lit the red candle. “Guardians of the south, guided by fire, we ask that you keep watch over our circle tonight.” Then the blue. “Guardians of the west, guided by water, we ask that you keep watch over our circle tonight.” Finally, the green. “Guardians of the north, guided by Earth, we ask that you keep watch over our circle tonight.”

She moved behind the altar where Zoe and Theodora still stood and ran her gaze over those in attendance. Raising her voice above the crash of the waves, she said, “Let all who enter this circle do so in love and trust.”

Together, Brittany and the witches intoned, “In light and love of the goddess, we enter this circle.” Lifting her robe so as not to disturb the line of salt, Brittany stepped forward with the others.

Aunt Lynette took a bowl from the shelf and set it on the altar. She poured seawater inside then raised it toward the moon. “The moon is the symbol of the mother who brings the changing tide and the shifting night. Keep your watchful eyes upon us, great mother, and bring us to the next full moon in your light and love.” She set the bowl of water next to the cauldron on the sand. With another long match, she lit the white pillar candle on the altar. The flame flickered but held. Then she stepped to the front. “Tonight, I choose to reflect your light and open myself to radiant clarity. I light this pyre in the name of the moon.”

She lit the cauldron. Its contents caught fire so quickly, Brittany wondered what was in it. She smelled sprigs of dried lavender. Cinnamon sticks. Maybe some thyme leaves. She took a deep breath, breathing in the fragrance.

With Brittany a beat behind the others, they intoned, “Mother Moon shines upon us. We heal under her glow. May we shine ever so bright. Blessed be.”

One by one, the women stepped forward to drop their papers into the little cauldron. When it was Brittany’s turn, she approached self-consciously, aware of many eyes upon her. Carefully, she placed her paper into the flames. The paper blackened and curled. Smoke rose, sending her words to the goddess. She stepped back into line.

When everyone’s papers had burned and the witches had returned to their places in the circle, Aunt Lynette said, “Goddess and Guardians, you have heard our voices. Depart with our thanks and our love. By the power of the Goddess and of the Guardians, this circle is undone but not broken. So mote it be.” She snuffed out the candles.

A small broom made of twigs leaned against the back of the lectern. Theodora used it to scatter the salt over the sand. As she did, she sang, “As I sweep, sweep, sweep the ground, all negativity shall be bound. I banish all that is profane. Only love and blessings shall remain.”

The witches hugged one another. Brittany smiled with a sense of relief as if a great burden had been taken from her.

From inside the lectern, Aunt Lynette withdrew the box of cupcakes. She walked around, offering the cakes and murmuring, “May you never hunger.”

Theodora and Zoe followed, each with a bottle of wine. They murmured, “May you never thirst.”

Brittany ate her cupcake. Sweet nutmeg and ginger burst over her tongue. She washed it down with a swig of red wine.

The flames in the cauldron went out, but the cinnamon sticks continued to smolder, smelling homey and familiar. The waves crashed. Stars twinkled, gathered around the ascending moon. Brittany glanced around the mingled covens, everyone laughing and talking quietly, and for a time it felt like they were all one coven, all one people with a single purpose: growth. Personal growth and the growth of the coven.

Too soon, it was time to leave.

Aunt Lynette poured the moon water from the bowl over the coals in the cauldron. “Who does this cute little cauldron belong to?”

“That’s mine.” Theodora grinned. “I got it at an estate sale. The altar, too.”

“Let me help you carry everything back to the van,” Aunt Lynette said.

“No need. The girls will help. That is if they want a ride home.”

The members of Theodora’s coven laughed.

And just like that, the witches broke apart into three separate groups. Brittany wished she could reunite them, wished that a single coven encompassed all of South Florida with a witch queen holding it together. A queen who was known for love and compassion. Not the power-hungry hag that Queen Imogene had been.

Brittany crossed the street with Aunt Lynette and Myra then got into the car. She pulled off her robe, brushed the sand off her bare feet, and put on her shoes.

“That was nice.” Myra smiled and took Aunt Lynette’s hand. “We should consider oceanside rites more often.”

“Something to think on.” Aunt Lynette started the car. She honked and waved as Zoe’s coven streamed by, then she pulled out into traffic.

Before long, they were back in Loxahatchee. As they drove up the long, dirt road that led to their driveway, an eye-watering stench greeted them. It smelled like a mixture of rotten eggs and ammonia.

“Ooh-wee, what a stink.” Aunt Lynette hurriedly rolled up her window. “We got us a skunk in the area.”

But Brittany recognized the smell as that of a troll. Most people couldn’t see trolls—but Brittany had the Sight. In the light of the full moon, she spotted the troll named Stone standing at the edge of their yard where the forest began. He was at least twelve feet tall with gray, pebbly skin and a knobby, hairless head. According to Aunt Lynette, trolls were violent, vicious creatures. Brittany flashed on images of Stone ripping ghouls’ heads off during the infamous Battle for the Hostages.

Aunt Lynette parked in the carport beside Brittany’s dirt bike and her little VW Bug.

Brittany left her robe on the backseat as she got out of the car. “I’m going to stay outside for a while,” she said. “I want to make sure Haff is all right. We don’t want him tangling with a skunk.”

“Good thinking,” Aunt Lynette said. “That dog is too friendly for his own good.” Arm-in-arm, she and Myra went into the house.

Brittany gulped, straightened her back, and walked toward the troll.

CHAPTER TWO

Brittany crossed the wide yard. Stone watched her, his beetle-black eyes glittering in the starlight. The skunky smell diminished as she approached—a sign that she didn’t make him feel threatened.

“Hello, Stone,” she said. “It’s nice to see you again.”

He sat on his haunches, but even scrunched down, he was taller than she was. “Good evening, Friend Brittany,” he said in a gravelly voice. “It is with a heavy heart that I visit you this night. I request your help.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Rim is missing.”

“Oh, no.” Brittany frowned. Rim was the first troll she met. He had a dry sense of humor. She’d liked him immediately. “Could he have wandered off, gotten lost? Or gone someplace else to live?”

“I know only that he would not have left us voluntarily.”

“Kidnapped? That’s impossible. No one’s strong enough to kidnap a troll.”

“And yet I, myself, was once kidnapped by your witch queen. Held hostage against my will.”

“Yes, but she was using demons.”

As if on cue, she sensed Tusks the Demon materialize behind her. Stone stood and stepped back, looking like he might bolt.

“This is Tusks.” She glanced at the demon. “A friend. He was also held prisoner by the queen. Tusks, this is Stone of the Earth Trolls.”

Tusks inclined his head. Stone’s face relaxed, but he remained standing. Brittany’s neck cricked as she stared up at him.

“Stone, why did Queen Imogene kidnap you?” she asked.

He hesitated. “I lived alone at the time. She sought me out with the intent to recruit me as a guard at her dungeon. No doubt as a forerunner to recruiting more of my brethren. I refused by throwing a rock at her. It was a rather large rock. The next thing I knew, I was a prisoner in the aforementioned dungeon. An ironic twist of events.”

“Yes, that sounds like her.”

“Friend Brittany,” Stone said, “I formally request your assistance in locating Rim.”

Formally? “But what makes you think that I—”

“You are the Queen of the Humans.”

“Me?” she yelped. “Oh, no no no.”

“But you must be. I saw you kill the witch queen. You have no choice but to replace her. That is how it is done.”

“How it is done,” Tusks agreed.

Brittany gave him a you’re-not-helping look. She did not kill the witch queen. Queen Imogene died of a heart attack. But this wasn’t the time to argue that fact. She blew out a breath. “Where did you see Rim last?” she asked Stone.

“At our camp. In his special place.”

Under the viaduct. “All right. Go home. I will meet you there shortly.”

“Thank you, Friend Brittany.” He stepped back into the forest then disappeared under the trees, surprisingly stealthy for such a large being.

Brittany hugged her arms against a sudden chill. Queen of the Humans? Why did people keep thinking she was more than she was? She looked at Tusks. “Are you up for a road trip?”

“Yes, Miss.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

Brittany pulled her dirt bike from the carport and walked it to the road. She didn’t want to start it up too soon and announce she was leaving. It was better to apologize than to ask permission and be told no. When she was away from the house, she strapped on her helmet, hopped onto the bike, and headed into town.

Loxahatchee was a small town known for its horse farms. It also had a drive-through safari zoo and a naturist resort. It was located in the northernmost portion of the Everglades, complete with alligators, panthers—and a secret society of trolls. Normally, trolls were solitary creatures, but after their experience with the witch queen, these had banded together for protection.

Despite that, Rim was missing. Who was capable of kidnapping a troll? Who would want to? Trolls had no worldly possessions. They couldn’t pay a ransom. Besides, trolls were invisible.

She got onto the Beeline Highway and sped toward the preserves. The cold air clothed her bare arms in goosebumps, and she wished she’d worn more than shorts and a T-shirt. Traffic was light, and the road was dark. Sawgrass stretched out on either side. The Beautification Committee had planted occasional rows of palm trees, and they stood like silent sentinels marking the entrance ramps.

She caught a whiff of a skunky smell long before she reached the overpass that the trolls called home. She pulled onto the shoulder of the road then drove carefully through the rough grass. The little engine buzzed like a chainsaw. She saw more trolls than the last time she’d visited. They hid in the shadows thrown by her headlight, peering at her from beneath the bridge.

They made her nervous. Stone had been held hostage by Queen Imogene, a human and a witch. If any of the trolls wanted retaliation, Brittany would be in trouble. Not helpless, exactly. She still had her magic, but she didn’t want to use it against them. That would validate their distrust of humans.

She stopped the bike but kept the engine running, light spearing the darkness. Like magic, Tusks the Demon materialized beside her. He wasn’t as tall as a troll. But he was muscular, like a boar on steroids, and made a good bodyguard.

“Thanks for having my back,” she murmured.

“Are we expecting trouble?”

“I hope not,” she told him, then called, “Stone? Are you here?”

“Yes, Friend Brittany.” The troll stepped toward her.

“How did Rim act the last time you saw him? Was he upset about anything?”

Stone shook his head. “Rim was never upset.”

That was the way she remembered him, too. “Where did you see him last?”

“In his shelter. His special place.”

“Let’s have a look.”

She edged the bike beneath the overpass. The stanchions were massive, great concrete pillars with mounds of gravel at their feet. Behind one, they found Rim’s special place. Brittany remembered seeing him there, his long limbs unfolding as he got to his feet. He’d chuckled at the look on her face, putting her at ease. And now he was missing.

She angled the headlight, lowered the kickstand, then dismounted. The bike lit the area like a floodlight. She scaled the gravel incline, pretending she knew what she was doing, searching for something amiss, but she had no idea what to look for. Where could Rim be? What could have happened to her giant friend? She needed a clue, but there was nothing. Nothing.

Then she noticed an object on the ground. She picked it up. A dart.

Dread and fear coursed through her. She tossed down the dart as if it were a poisonous snake. Someone had shot Rim. A human someone. Someone else could see the trolls.

She backed away, eyes on the ground. The gravel was scattered along one side. And now that she knew what to look for, she saw a depressed track through the grass. Drag marks. She grabbed her bike and followed the tracks to the highway.

And there on the pavement was a smear of blood. And another. How had she missed it?

“Someone hooked Rim to a heavy-duty truck and dragged him out onto the road,” she told Stone. “They took him that way.”

“Who took him?”

“Humans. Evil humans.”

“Like the queen.”

She stared at the blood. “The queen is dead.” But then, who dragged away a thousand-pound troll? Apprehension ran through her. She shook herself then mounted the bike.

Tusks appeared at her side. “What are we doing?”

“We’re going to follow that trail,” she told him. “Stay close to me. It might get ugly.”

With a roar, the bike raced down the highway.

Blood marked the pavement. Then more blood. Then one horrendously long streak that could only mean his skin was being torn away. At the next mile marker, tire tracks left the highway. They led to a stand of broken pine overrun by kudzu.

Brittany pulled off the road. She stopped outside the gathered trees and turned off the engine. Insects chirruped like a scream. The heavy air was thick with the cloying stench of rotting meat. Oh no, oh no.

She dismounted—and realized that Stone and five other trolls had followed her. “Stay back,” she told them.

They pulled together as if propping one another up.

Brittany pushed through the prickly brush. Steeling herself, she forced her way past the curtain of kudzu. The moonlight cut out. She could barely see. Then she trod upon something squishy.

The thicket held a mound of shredded flesh. Four thick chains were attached to stakes.

Brittany swayed. She covered her nose and mouth with her hands. She must have made a sound because the trolls burst in behind her. They cried out, looking around as if horrified.

Stone let out a wail. He fell to his knees, weeping.

She stood beside him. “I will find whoever did this. I promise.”

But Stone didn’t seem to hear her. “My friend. My friend,” he wept.

The trolls pulled Stone to his feet. Two of them tucked their shoulders beneath his beefy arms and walked him out of the trees. The others followed soundlessly.

When they were gone, Brittany circled the blood and gore trying not to step on anything in the darkness. This wasn’t a body. There were no arms. No legs. It might not be Rim. But she knew it was.

Tusks leaned over the pulpy mass. “The bones are missing. Ribs, spine, skull—all gone.”

“Someone took Rim’s bones?” It was too much. Brittany burst out of the thicket and rushed to her bike, gasping, head spinning. The trolls were gone. Even their skunky smell was dissipating, overshadowed by the stench of the corpse.

Tusks appeared beside her.

“Do you know of any reason why a person would do this to a troll?” she asked him.

“No, Miss. I do not.”

“This is terrible. Horrible.” Tears rolled down her cheeks. “And do you know what the worst part is? Whoever it is must be able to see them. They have the Sight. Like me.”

“Another witch?”

“I don’t know.” She groaned, trying to push the image from her mind. “I have to get out of here. Do me a favor and keep an eye on the trolls to see if they are attacked again.”

Tusks didn’t respond. Brittany got on her bike and rode home alone. She snuck into the house then took a long shower, feeling soiled and stained.

That night, she stayed wide awake. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Rim’s shredded remains. Who would do such a thing? How did they overpower a troll? After hours of tossing and turning, she got up, booted her laptop, and cleared a spot for it on her desk. You could find anything on the Internet—you just needed to ask the right questions. But all her questions about trolls and troll bones led her to fairytales. She read until her eyelids grew heavy, and she had to blink to dispel double-vision.

And that concludes this excerpt of Troll Call, the fifth book of the Brittany Meyer series. I hope you will pick up a copy for yourself or for the young adult reader in your family. It’s available at Amazon or other fine retailers.

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