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Boy Meets Hulder

Manuel flickered the flashlight beam among the trees. The stump had moved from its customary spot. That’s where Manuel let the light beam rest.

He stamped his cold feet, and they crunched in the snow. “Don’t worry,” he said softly. “It’s just me. No one else will come out of the house this time. Did you need something?”

The stump unfolded itself. At first it was a stump, and then it was the nut brown hulder bundled into itself like a barrel. It unfolded arms, legs, and untucked a broad head on a short neck. The wild bright eyes, like an owl’s, blinked in the light, and it put up its stubby hands to block it.

Manuel lowered the flashlight at the ground. “Do you speak Spanish?” Manuel asked. He really didn’t know what a nahuale looked like, and abuela saw Mexican spirits, so he thought it should cover his bets.

The little creature scratched its flossy cloud of hair. “Spanish?” it repeated, its broad lips and flat teeth forming carefully around the word. “Spanish?”

“What I speak,” said Manuel. “I mean, right now, we’re speaking English, but I speak Spanish.”

“English,” said the hulder. “I speak what I speak, and they understand me. You understand me. Maybe I speak Spanish?”

Manuel tried a different tactic. “I’m Manuel. I’ve brought you some puerquitos. They’re like cookies.” He held out a hand with the bread. The troll inched forward cautiously, and reached up its hand. It brushed Manuel’s as it took the treat, and Manuel was surprised that its skin was soft and downy.

Crumbs fell from the hulder’s mouth as he smacked the gingerbread noisily. “Fank oo,” he said. “I like this.”

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Mirrored from Writer Tamago.

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