and if she comes

with her head in her hands

just stay hidden

she offers only one gift

A leap to grab the dog’s collar succeeded only in leaving a perfect flour hand print in his dark fur.

"Buttercup?" his mother asks into the air. With no response, she
continued baking, and the dog continued barking. "Buttercup can you come here and give me a hand?!" She stops her work to pull some stray dog hair from her wrists. "BC where've you gone?"

From the cupboard emerges Buttercup all dour eyed and cherubic, pleading, "What are you making?"

"A spontaneous apple creation" she rolls up a ball of cookie dough and taps him on the nose with it, "Run out and see what's got Goldtooth barking."

So, the boy ran to the door and came back crying, "Oh, heaven help me! There's a great big troll lady holding her head in her hand, and a scythe, no a sickle, no I think a scythe. Maybe that's how she cut her head off"

"Hide yourself my love and don't make a sound or stir, no matter what you hear," said his mother.

The boy tucked himself away in the cupboard pausing to ask at his mother's legs, "You want me to grab the sewing kit?"

In came the troll witch, her head balanced on her hip like a fussy toddler. "Good day," she said.

"Ahh yea, just let yourself in, the door knocker's just ornamental." said Buttercup's mother.

"Is your Buttercup at home today?" asked the hag.

"No, he's out playing somewhere in the wood."

"I could have sworn I saw him poke his round little head out the door." said the hag.

"Must have been the cat." said his mother, "Can I offer you an apple cookie."

"Plague take it all," said the hag, "I have such a shiny silver pocket knife I wanted to give him."

"Pip, pip! Here I am!" said Buttercup and out he came.

"I'm so old and stiff in the back," said the hag, "you'll have to get it out of the bag for me."

But when Buttercup was well into the bag the troll hag threw it over her shoulder and strode off. Inside the bag Buttercup traced the crisscross burlap texture until he was too bored to resist playing with the pocketknife, he flicked the knife open cutting his thumb almost immediately. "Are we almost there?" asked Buttercup.

"Where do you think we are headed?" asked the hag.

Buttercup’s thumb bled into the bag, "I'm in the bag I cannot see where we are headed well enough to even guess," with a polite panic he scratched at the growing stain with the knife.

"I guess you'll have to find out when we get there." said the hag, but at this point, she was talking to nothing more than a bloody hole in a sack.

The next day the boy's mom sat and baked again, and just as the day before the dog began to bark.

"Run out, Buttercup, my boy," she said, "and see what Goldtooth is barking at."

"Well, I can't believe it!" cried Buttercup. "That troll is back and she's mended her bag."

"Hide in the cupboard, and stay put this time." said his mother.

"Good day!" said the hag. "Is your Buttercup home today?"

"Nope he's out in the forest with his father chopping wood," said Buttercup’s mom gesturing to the hag's feet with a rolling pin in her hands, "You know we take our shoes off in this house."

What a bore," said the hag, "Here I have the most amazing jawbreaker that I wanted to give him."

Buttercup couldn’t help but steal a peek as the hag made a big show of producing a jawbreaker so polished that it shined like a multicolor sun. She dropped it into her bag, and before his mother could force the cupboard door closed with her shins, Buttercup dived headfirst into the bag.

With Buttercup in the bag, the troll set off as fast as her legs could carry her. When she had gotten to the deepest part of the forest where bird song and creature rustling were all but a distant memory, she stopped for a rest.
Bored again within the ruddy contours of the bag, Buttercup set about admiring his jawbreaker, a sweet so shiny he could swear it shone even in this bag, even in this darkest part of the forest. He considered the treat and decided why not, why shouldn't I try the candy?

A terrifying crunch startled the troll witch so badly that she dropped both her head and the bag. Her body searched the forest floor for its missing head and
while she padded around the fronds looking for herself, she peeked into the bag and found nothing but a broken tooth, and a chipped jawbreaker.

Denied her feast again, the troll witch went home and boiled a thin broth of bloody bag, tooth, and marred candy. The old hag was in a dour mood, and said, "No matter what it takes, no matter what tricks the boy brings, I shall trick him again, I will!"

The third day everything went much the same as it had gone twice before; Buttercup's mother sent him out to check on the barking dog.
He came back crying out, "Heaven save us! It's the old hag again with her head under her arm."

"Quickly! Jump in the cupboard and hide," said his mother.

"Good day!" said the hag as she came through the door. "Is your Buttercup at home today?"

"You're so kind to ask after him," said his mother. "But he's out at the moment, gathering ramps for tonight's stew."

"Well, that's too bad," said the old hag. "I've brought the most amazing lighter for him."

The hag set about flicking open the lighter, striking its flame, and with a single fluid gesture, snapping it closed again; only to repeat this dance of chrome and fire over and over again.

Buttercup saw the glint from a crack in the cupboard door and bruised his mother's shins chasing the lighter into the hag's boiled bag.

The old troll hustled through the woods. In the bag the boy practiced cool lighter tricks, burning his fingers a number of times before accidentally catching the bag aflame. The spot where the hag’s tight grip had squeezed the bag dry burned first and she dropped Buttercup yet again.

This time the hag followed him home.

"What a terrible day!" Buttercup said as he crept through the door. "That old crone followed me home."

He hid in the cupboard without being asked. His mother returned to chopping onions for a stew.
The hag skipped the pleasantries, "Come out boy, claim your gift." "I’m here,"

Buttercup said against all logic of self-preservation. "Splendid come on out then." said the old troll.

"No, you are not here." said his mother dropping onions in the pot.

"Surely, you must know I heard him call out just now?"

"Must I?" the boy's mother asked, and she flashed a warm welcoming smile, "You are a guest in my house, so I'll offer you dinner," she gestured to the table with her vegetable cleaver, bringing it to rest at the hag's head height, "but a touch of warmth and a full belly is all you will take tonight."

After dinner Buttercup’s mom said, "Talk with me while I clean up in the kitchen," and before the hag could answer she stole her head away and placed it high on a shelf, "I am happy to have the company." she said as she set to washing up.

Each day after they settled into a comfortable rhythm. Buttercup's mother fed him cakes and great mugs of milk, and braided scraps of the hag’s charred bag into his hair, weaving a great speckled mane that he trailed out the door as he joined his headless companion in the daily chores, and she and hag's head spent their days in mostly companionable silence, bickering occasionally over what to put in the evening stew.

Chase Allgood, 2023