I lay in the river. The water is cold and harsh, but somehow soothing.

Considering the circumstances.

My hands clutch the wound in my stomach, desperately trying to keep my insides in place. Slowly but surely, I'm loosing that battle.

The freezing water numbs my body from the pain. I hope it's the chill that numbs me. The voice in the back of my brain tells me otherwise.

All because of the Goats.

I remember when they first arrived here, three weeks ago. I was worried then. Apparently I was right to be worried. Look at me now.

There are three of them. When they first wandered into the valley, I visited. I made my presence known. I paid them a courtesy visit, offering collected fruit and vegetables from the meadow.

They laughed at me. They laughed at my tattered clothes. They laughed at my home. They laughed at my weathered skin. They called me ugly. They called me "Troll". They laughed until I fled.

I left the food and escaped to my place under the bridge.

I felt rejection for the first time in my life. It stung. It tugged at my gut like the hooks on the end of my fishing line. The hook pulled me back into my hole under the bridge.

It didn't take long before the presence of the goats became an issue in the meadow.

For the twenty years that I lived under the bridge, the surrounding meadow had been a peaceful, serene place. Miles and miles of long, luscious grass. Beautiful green trees, full of delicious fruits. This was my home. A home I shared with the birds and ground animals. My life was simple and I was happy.

They came from the west, over the hills. They ate everything in site like a cancer. Who would have thought that three goats could cause so much damage. In only a week they consumed almost all of the west side of the meadow.

The animals of the meadow called a meeting. The birds, the squirrels, the woodchucks, the deer. They all gathered on the east side of my bridge, where the grass was still full, and the trees were still bountiful.

Everyone agreed that the Goats could not be allowed into the east side of the meadow. I agreed.

Unfortunately though, the animals of the meadow nominated ME the guardian of the east meadow. It seemed the natural choice, because of my size, but this was not a task I felt ready to tackle. I may be large, but I am no fighter. I've spent my entire life living peacefully under the bridge, fishing and gathering fruits to eat and share. I've never had to defend anything in my life.

The job was placed in my hands regardless. I accepted the responsibility, regretfully. I had no choice. While I was no fighter, there were too many reasons for me to be the protector of the east meadow. The squirrels and deer certainly couldn't do it. And my bridge is the only way to the east side.

So I sat and waited. I listened as the grating sound of the goat's braying and laughing and the ever present sound of chewing drew slowly closer. I found myself leaving my home less frequently, for fear of running into the goats. I was terrified of them. I was terrified of the inevitable confrontation, and I was afraid of more taunting and laughs.

I left only once. I waded up the stream and found a large piece of drift wood lodged between two rocks. The wood was just the right size for my hand, and would serve nicely as a club, if the need for one ever came up.

This was the first weapon ever lifted in the meadow.

The fateful day came a week ago. I lay under the bridge, my blanket wrapped around my body. The nights had been cold, and I was ill-prepared for winter. My fear of the goats had kept me from going out and collecting my winter food.

At first I thought it was a dream. The noise of hooves on the bridge. Trip trap, trip trap. I stirred awake and told my brain that it was a young deer. But I knew better. No deer in the meadow walked with such clumsiness… such a complete lack of grace.

I knew exactly who it was. It was the smallest goat.  I closed my eyes tight and tried to force legs to take me to the surface of the bridge. After some resistance, I finally picked up my makeshift club and ambled my way up the side and onto the bridge. The smallest goat stopped walking and looked up at me, waiting for me to speak.

My mouth wouldn't work. My brain was screaming at me, reminding me of the goat's taunts and teases. Then my heart reminded me of the other animals in the meadow, and how they were counting on me to protect them and their food.

I adjusted my posture and tried to appear intimidating. I am a great deal larger than the smallest goat, and I used this to my advantage as best as I could. I found myself extremely thankful that I was dealing with only the littlest goat, rather than his larger brothers.

"You have to go back to your side of the meadow." I said. The small goat looked up at me, his eyes twinkling in the dark.

"Or what?" the smallest goat asked me, without fear or hesitation.

"Or... or I'll eat you up!" I said. I don't even know why I said that. I've never killed anything larger than a fish in my life. I guess I figured that if they were going to call me a troll, I should play the troll.

I lifted the club over my head in a pathetic attempt to threaten the goat.

The little goat laughed at me. That laugh cut me like no rock or branch ever had. I fought the tears.  I couldn't move. I watched as he walked around me and over the bridge. My arms would not bring the stick down on him. My legs would not follow. My mouth would not speak. I only stood and watched him take everything from me.

He disappeared into the darkness. I stood on the bridge for a long, long time.

I felt self hatred for the first time in my life. It hit me in the stomach like a bolder and knocked the wind out of me. I sat in the stream under the bridge and let the water run over my body. It did little to wash away the pain.

I didn't sleep that night.

The next morning the animals of the meadow called another meeting. I knew what they were going to say. The littlest goat had already done a lot damage. Bushes were uprooted and the grass was disappearing fast.

The animals didn't say anything. They didn't have to. I knew I had let them down. I knew they were disappointed in me.

I started to explain myself, but I couldn't. how do you tell the ones who count on you to protect them that you couldn't stop a goat a third of your size. How you explain that? How do you explain that the little goat's laughter was a greater weapon than your club? It's impossible. I told them that I would stop the other two goats. They left without speaking. I sulked back to my home under the bridge.

The next night I heard the sound I'd been dreading.

Trip trap, trip trap.

Louder and heavier. I gathered my club and swung at the air, trying to prepare myself. I climbed the bridge and stood in front of the second goat.

"You can't cross to the east meadow." I said, gripping the club tightly in front of me.

The second goat looked up me and asked "What are you going to do about it?" he asked.

"I'll bash you with this!" I said, shaking the club. The second goat looked at me a while longer.

"I'd like to see you try it!" he said with a smirk.

I forced my arms down. But they moved slowly and stupidly. It didn't matter because I was blind with pain and anger.

I felt real anger for the first time. It clawed at my body like a wild beast. I took my club and beat my home until it was little more than pile of broken sticks floating away in the stream. I took my blanket and curled up under the bridge.

Again sleep alluded me.

The next morning I crawled out from under the bridge. The sight of the eastern meadow hit me hard. My heart cried out at the devastation already delivered on the land. The grass was ravaged. The trees had been stripped of their leaves and bark. The meadow had been torn apart and raped.

Furious, I crawled back under the bridge.

The animals of the meadow called another meeting. I didn't attend. I couldn't look them in the eye. I couldn't take their disappointment. I couldn't explain myself, and I couldn't offer any apologies.

I spent the day collecting rocks. Large rocks. I broke my club in half and sharpened the end to a point on the side of the bridge. I stacked my rocks on the bridge and I wait. I waited on the bridge for the oldest goat. I focused my anger on the confrontation that was sure to happen that night. I waited for hours, planning. I went over ever possible scenario in my mind. I pictured myself standing up to the third goat. I pictured him laughing at me and I pictured myself attacking. I pictured the sharpened stick piercing his body. I pictured him at my feet, bleeding. I pictured myself kicking and stabbing the goat, punishing him for what he'd done to the meadow, and punishing him for being what he is. I pictured myself avenging the meadow and avenging my broken heart. The more I pictured this, the more I wanted it.

Finally, the third goat walked to the edge of the bridge. The trip trap, trip trap of his hooves reminded me of the pain the first two goats had delivered on me. With every step he took, anger welled up in me.

"You're not crossing this bridge!" I yelled at him, the anger already physically manifesting. The goat stepped back, startled.

"That's right! Go back! Go back where you came from!" I screamed, feeling confident. The Goat looked up at me.

"Step aside." The third goat said, without fear. The pain and fear swelled up in me like it had with his brothers, but I pushed it down and replaced it with anger.

"No. You're not crossing. I won't let you." I said, confidently stepping towards him.

"Or what?" he asked, laughing.

The anger exploded in me. I was blinded with rage again, but this time my body moved without my telling it to. I charged at the goat, swinging and stabbing.

The goat lowered his head as I ran at him. My body slammed into him and I heard a loud, wet tear. I couldn't move, though not because of emotion, but because the goat held me in place. The horns on his head were buried in my stomach.

I stepped back, slowly, the wooden stick falling from my hand. My body slipped off his horns and I felt my stomach start to slide. I clutched my middle and stammered backwards. The goat laughed at me, blood soaking his white fur. He walked past me and crossed the bridge into the east meadow. I stumbled backwards.

My foot struck something hard and I fell, knocking over my pile of rocks. Blindly, I rolled off the side of the bridge and hit the water.

Now, I lay still as a stone. The cold water washes blood from my body, taking away my precious blood. I lay in the stream and pray that the water will cleanse me. There is no more anger. There is only the cold, clean water. I feel fish swim over my stomach. I feel them exploring the wound. I feel my body getting numb, and I welcome it. The sound of the laughing goats is distant and muffled. I no longer care about the goats. I no longer care about the fish or the rocks or the animals in the meadow or even my disappearing belly. All I care about is the clean, pure water, washing the pain away.

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