In my culture we have something called “Stallo.” Basically he is a large, troll like entity living in the forest, kidnapping children and eating them. In the stories about him, he is also prone to being dumb, which is why so many of them end with the protagonist tricking the monster into letting them go.
When I was a child, I was always warned to come home before dark, else Stallo would catch me, put me in a sack and make me into stew. It may sound like a pretty horrific thing for a parent to say to their child, but it worked and I was always on my way home before the last rays of sunlight disappeared behind the mountains.
And I still get chills when I remember the one, and only, time I didn't.
I was seven years old, and proud of it, too, if you asked me. That morning I had woken up with a huge smile on my face, knowing that I had the whole day to play outside in the snow.
That Christmas I had gotten a brand new, red sleigh and I was dying to try it out in the many hills that surrounded our house. Jumping out of bed, I very nearly ran out the door in my pajamas before my mother could catch up and drag me back to the kitchen to have my breakfast.
After I had inhaled my food and my mother had pushed me down in suiting clothes for the biting cold that awaited me outside, I was ready to go. I ran out the door, tightly holding the string that was attached to my sleigh.
I was ready to have some fun!
Since our family lived on the mountains, we were basically secluded from the rest of the world. The nearest store was twenty kilometers from where we lived. Suffice to say, I didn't have any other children my age to play with, and my sister at the time was only eight months old.
That was okay though, it didn't stop me from enjoying myself. I was pulling my sleigh to the very top of the steep slopes, jumping on and riding all the way to the bottom. Then doing it again. And again, and again.
As a child, time is just a word used to describe something you have to wait for, and it was because of this fact, I was startled when I realized that in my fun, I had neglected to notice the creeping darkness of wintertime. I had had so much fun, in fact, that I hadn't even been paying attention to where I was going, so when I looked around, nothing seemed familiar. And I stood there in the deep snow alone, wet and very much afraid with only my sleigh to keep me company.
I remember I thought it odd not to recognize any of the nearby trees, as I had grown up in these mountains and could easily have navigated myself beck home. That, I soon realized, was a skill that only worked at daytime. After I had tried to call out for my parents, and then realizing that I was too far away for them to hear me, I sat down on my sleigh and waited.
After all I knew that my parents surely would come to find me when the noticed that I wasn’t coming home by myself. Sitting there in the cold, unforgiving darkness you only find in snowy mountains, I started thinking about the stories about Stallo that my parents had told me. How he would sneak up on unsuspecting children and stuff them in his large sack. I shivered.
Suddenly I jumped. I had heard something snap behind me. With my heart nearly beating out of my chest, and my eyes quickly welling up with tears, I slowly turned around to stare into the darkness.
“H-hello?” My voice sounded strange and unfamiliar in the silent air, and I almost jumped from that, too. Using one mitten covered hand I dried my eyes as I looked around for the source of the sound.
“Is anyone there?” My eyes widened and I almost screamed as something white came flying and screeching out from behind the trees. I fell off my sleigh in an attempt to get away from the thing. And then I realized what is was. I could have laughed out loud right there and then from the relief I felt.
It was just a ptarmigan. Just a silly old ptarmigan. (For those who don't know, a ptarmigan is a variety of bird.)
I let myself fall back in the snow, laughing at my own idiocy. Of course there wasn't anything to be afraid of. I was seven years old, after all, and way too old to be afraid of Stallo.
As I lay there, staring up at the northern lights dancing over the night sky, I remember faintly wondering if Father would find me soon, and if Mother would cook something good for me when he did. The thought made me smile and my tummy rumble.
I think I would have fallen asleep, right there in the snow, had it not been for the faint breathing coming from my left.
Again, my body was on full alert. I held my breath, just to be sure it wasn't me who was breathing, even though I was certain it wasn't. The breathing got heavier and louder.
I jumped to my feet and spun around, but I couldn't see anything through the inky darkness. I wasn't taking any chances, though, so I grabbed the string of the sleigh and began running. As I ran, I could hear the heavy breathing behind me coming closer, and loud thuds as something heavy began running after me in the snow.
Please let it be one of Father’s reindeer, oh please let it be a reindeer!
But as I heard the thumping footsteps growing ever closer, I knew that it wasn't. Curiosity has always been one of my flaws, and as I struggled thought the thick snow I turned my head and looked behind me. What I saw that night still chills me to the bone and gives me nightmares to this day.
The thing that was chasing me was definitely not a reindeer. He was large, and fat. His big, dark beard was covered in moss and twigs and his eyes glowed white as the moon over us. He was dressed in ragged, old clothing, with a leather belt around his waist and a large knife hanging from the side of it.
He was running after me, his arms outstretched towards me. And he was smiling. I think it was that sinister, crazy smile that made me sprint even faster. I could feel my heart thumping against my chest as I struggled not to fall in the slippery snow.
I knew, just knew, that if I slowed down just one bit, he would catch up and get me. In a strangled voice I managed to scream for my father, and as I did so, I could hear him laughing behind me.
There was no doubt in my mind who this monstrosity of a man really was. It was Stallo. And he was going to eat me. I ran as fast as my little legs could carry me, and I cried and screamed and sweated though my snow covered Gákti (reindeer herding garment). Just as I thought my legs would give out from under me, and I could feel the cold breath of Stallo in my neck, I saw a faint light through the trees.
“HELP!” I screamed, crying and struggling to breathe all the while, “Help me! Stallo’s gonna eat me! HELP!”
“Antè? Is that you?” The sound of my father’s deep voice calling my name made me sprint even faster towards him.
He caught me in his arms and lifted me up. I cried into his shoulder and held on for dear life. "Father,” I cried, “we have to go, Stallo is…” I turned around in his arms to look behind me, but the darkness held no sign of the monster that had been chasing me.
He was gone.
I lost my sleigh that day. After my father had carried me home, and I had explained to my parents what had happened, I remembered my new sleigh. As I was just happy to be alive, I didn't really care about what had happened to it, but my father and I went out into the mountains the next day to look for it.
We didn't find it, but we did find a set of tracks in the snow, identical to the ones my sleigh used to make, leading into the trees and disappearing into nothing.