THE SAMPLING: The Memory Thief
Leoni Agnew is back with a magical new title, The Memory Thief, following the unexpectedly heartwarming friendship between Seth, lonely troll, and Stella, a young girl going through a hard time. Enjoy this excerpt from chapter one of the book, describing the beginning of their unlikely alliance.
Traditions vary; trolls may appear hideous or like ordinary humans. They live in remote areas, either alone or in pairs. Creatures of Scandinavian mythology by origin, their weaknesses include iron and sunlight — the latter turns them to stone. Ravenous by nature, they feed on humans.
‘I’m from Scandinavia. It doesn’t get that cold here, trust me.’
Stella flicks back her hair. ‘Are you serious? One time I went to sleep with a glass of water by my bed. When I woke up, the surface was frozen. I had to break it with a teaspoon.’
And . . . oh, no.
Her words float towards me, falling, sinking into my skin. Light bursts through my head, carrying colours and shapes. Swelling, my mind fills with the circular curve of glass, the splinter of ice against metal. A tiny corner of my hollow darkness fills. My appetite drops but I’m still hungry. I couldn’t help it, I didn’t mean to take anything. I just wanted to talk and I hear myself saying, ‘No, that’s enough.’
‘Sorry? Enough what?’
I swallow again. There’s a small pain inside my chest, like I’ve eaten a pebble with a strange aftertaste. Deeper now, it’s digging into my ribs, but I’m trying to act normal, saying, ‘You’re right, I guess. If a glass of water freezes it must get pretty cold.’
‘I didn’t say anything about ice.’ She starts frowning and one foot moves back, edging away from the gate.
Light bursts through my head, carrying colours and shapes. Swelling, my mind fills with the circular curve of glass, the splinter of ice against metal.
Pushing back against the hunger, I try to clear a space in my mind. Of course, she can’t remember, I’ve swallowed her memory. What’s wrong with me? Trolls eat people, well not the bones and skin, just their memories . . . but we mustn’t hang out and talk, just because we’re feeling . . . what? Lonely? I can’t talk to anyone, not even for five minutes, without feeding. What did I think I was doing?
She glances back at her house. ‘Look, it’s really early, I should go . . .’
‘Wait . . .’ And just like that, my pebble grows larger, pressing sharp edges into my chest. What’s going on? Shaking my head, my fingers grasp the fence . . .
Iron burns my fingers as I pull back, clutching my hand. My fingers start blistering and I hide them behind my back, hoping the marks won’t last long. Stella freezes, her eyes wide. ‘What’s wrong? Are you okay?’
‘Nothing — um, a bee sting.’ But my knees drop into a crouch and I’m holding my hand, gasping for breath. My bones feel like they’re on fire. But that’s nothing compared to the cold river of pain swimming through my chest. What’s going on? What kind of words did I take?
‘Jeez. Are you allergic or something?’
She’s looking at me wide-eyed, no idea what’s happening. Everything inside me aches again, and I’m growling, ‘No. I’m fine.’
‘But . . .’
‘I said, I’m fine.’ The words come out too fast, too strong. But I’m hurting, I can’t help it. I must look like a total freak.
She steps back again, slipping away from the gate. ‘Okay. Well, like I said, it’s early. Mum will be wondering where I am. I’ve gotta go.’
She turns and walks fast, gone in a second.
Trolls eat people, well not the bones and skin, just their memories .
‘Well that worked out great,’ I mutter at the lily bushes, shaking my head.
Turning back towards the path, I reach out and grab the nearest tree, my fingers digging into the bark. Waves of pain keep fading, until they vanish into nothing. Fantastic, I’m not dying. So what just happened?
No one’s ever hurt me on the inside before, have they? It’s possible I forgot, my own memory isn’t great. When I’m hungry my stomach swallows everything whole; thoughts, feelings, the sound of hard rain cracking against concrete footpaths. Sometimes the entire public garden seems to be collapsing, folding in towards my stomach.
And I’m always hungry.
What was I thinking? Trolls eat human memories, end of story. Making friends? That’s not an option. Deep down, I knew I was going to take her memory, I couldn’t help it. And yet, I didn’t want to . . . and I’ve no idea why it hurt.
When I’m hungry my stomach swallows everything whole; thoughts, feelings, the sound of hard rain cracking against concrete footpaths.
Stella’s right about me. Talk about weird.
Looking back across the park, I glance towards the winding walkway, leading up though the elm trees towards the aviary and higher, into the ancient magnolia gardens on the park’s highest hill. Celeste lives there. She’s the only other troll I know, bet she could figure out the mystery behind these painful memories, but she doesn’t like visitors. Not before dawn.
Speaking of which, I’d better get going.
Forcing myself not to run, I head in the opposite direction from the walkway, wandering past the playground towards the weeping willows on the far side. I can’t run. The girl might be looking from an upstairs window. What was her name? Something to do with stars?
Extracted with permission from The Memory Thief by Leonie Agnew, published by Puffin - Penguin Random House NZ. Text © Leonie Agnew, 2021. Illustrations © Kieran Rynhart, 2021.
The Memory Thief
by Leoni Agnew
Published by Penguin NZ