The Three Billy Goats’ Grief

by Michael Yaworsky

   A long time ago, in a pleasant valley dotted with lush green hillsides and bounded by steep rocky gorges, there lived three billy goats, who lived happily on one of the hillsides and spent their days contentedly munching on the tasty grass that grew on its picturesque slopes. Overall, they were happy.

   One day, however, they found to their dismay that they had munched  the grass on their hillside all the way down to the ground. Search as they might, they couldn’t find any more of the tasty stuff, all that was left were little brown nubbins, and who can live on little brown nubbins? Could you? I couldn’t. And neither, it turns out, could they. So they started trying to think of ways to get to the other side of the valley where they could forage until their own grass had time to grow back to its original lush condition.

   Now to get to the other side the goats would have to cross a very steep and very rocky gorge. In fact it was so steep, and so rocky, that not even billy goats, who are famous for being able to climb up and down steep, rocky gorges, could get across it. No, to get to the other side they would have to cross a bridge. Fortunately for them, there was a bridge. Unfortunately, under it lived a very mean, very disagreeable, and very stubborn troll whose sole purpose in life seemed to be to prevent any creature, great or small, from crossing it. He would stand in front of it in a mean way, with his mean arms crossed over his mean chest, casting mean looks and thinking mean thoughts, preventing anyone who even hinted that they wanted to get across it from doing so. Just to be mean. It looked like the goats would have to find a way around him.

   So that’s what they set out to do.

~                  ~                  ~

   The first thing they tried was the friendly approach. They strolled up to the bridge the next morning, stopped politely at the entrance, and waited to see what the troll would do.

   “Who’s that trying to cross my bridge?!” the troll bellowed as soon as he saw them, in his loudest and meanest voice.      

   Now the goats had suspected the troll would try to prevent them from crossing the bridge, because that’s what trolls do, but they didn’t know exactly how  he would do it and as a result they didn’t have anything prepared by way of a response. They could only reply meekly in their timid billy goat voices, “It is we, three billy goats, who would like to cross the bridge to get to the other side.”                           

   Well when he heard that the troll laughed his loudest and meanest laugh. He was big and strong to begin with and the meekness of the goats’ voices made him feel even more powerful, which just made him more mean and nasty.

   “Oh you would, would you?” he thundered. “Well I’m the defender of this here bridge and if you know what’s good for you you’ll take your sorry selves back to your little hillside as fast as you can!” The scowl on his face, the snarl in his voice, and the overall meanness of – well, every part of him – showed that he meant business; there was no way he was going to let the goats cross that bridge. So they trudged meekly back to their side of the gorge and spent the rest of the day nibbling what little brown nubbins of grass they could find, and went to bed hungry.

~             ~                  ~

   The next morning the three goats again went to the bridge and again found the troll blocking their way. But this time the oldest goat was at least a little bit prepared. He had stayed up all night thinking and he reckoned that if he and his brothers did what they’d done before, the troll would do what he’d done before, and the result would be what it had been before: that the goats would be blocked from crossing the bridge. And he was determined not to let that happen. So he gathered up his courage and when the troll questioned who was trying to cross the bridge he proclaimed in his loudest and most determined voice, “I am crossing this bridge!”

   The troll was a little taken aback by that; he had never been stood up to that way before. Who did this goat think he was, anyway? But being a troll, he put on his meanest scowl and his gruffest voice – because, again, that’s what trolls do – and bellowed, “And just who might you be?” (Although just between you and me, this bellow wasn’t quite as gruff as his earlier one had been.)

   “I,” answered the goat, emboldened by his own audacity, “am a billy goat; or, as expressed by my taxonomic designation, a cleft-footed, quadrupedal, even-toed ungulate – Capra Aegagrus Hircus for short – a mammal of the order Artiodactylia, family Bovidae. And in the future I would appreciate it if you would address me as such!”

   Well this stopped the troll dead in his tracks, leaving him momentarily speechless.

   “And I fully intend,” the goat continued, “to traverse this here span in pursuit of sustenance on yonder slope, and woe betide the miscreant attempting to interdict my undertaking!”

   Well these fancy words stymied the troll even more than the earlier ones had. In fact, they stymied him so completely that all he could do was mumble “Huh?” and stand like a statue mired in a monosyllabic stupor while the goat scampered across the bridge right under his nose.

   How do you like that?!

   When he finally got over his astonishment, the troll scurried down to his lair and went straight to his dictionary (which, I am bound to say, had not gotten a lot of use before this) to look up all the big words the goat had used. When he was done he scurried back up just in time to prevent the second goat (who’d seen his older brother’s success and intended to copy his tactics) from crossing; just as he was striding toward the bridge voicing the same grandiloquent words his brother had uttered, the troll pulled out some fancy verbalisms of his own:

   “Au contraire, Capra Aegagrus Hircus; verily, you shall be debarred from such endeavor, nor shall you be suffered to traverse this here span, on forfeit of your bodily integrity.”                                           

   Well wasn’t that a stunner! That was more than the second goat could stomach, and goats are able to stomach some pretty undigestable things! So there was nothing for him to do but remain with his younger brother on their side of the gorge, where they spent the rest of the day nibbling little brown nubbins and waiting for their older brother to rejoin them, which he did at the end of the day.

~           ~                  ~

   On the morning of the third day the goats again tramped up to the bridge. When they arrived the troll was already standing resolutely in their way.      

   “What, have you forgotten your lesson so soon?” he bellowed in his most mocking tone. “Verily,” he said, savoring the feel of the fancy new words in his mouth, “verily, once again shall you be debarred from such endeavor, nor suffered to traverse this here span, upon forfeit of your bodily integrity!” 

   But not to be outfoxed – if a goat can be said to be outfoxed by a troll – the first goat reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a pretty slick one of his own. “Je m’en fiche,” he said, drawing on his high school French, “je vais traverser ce pont!” Which basically means, “Sez you; I will cross this here bridge.” And once again this had the effect of stopping the troll dead in his tracks, giving the goat an opportunity to scamper across the bridge while the troll stood mired in a monosyllabic stupor.

   Well this is insupportable! thought the troll. But determined not to be totally outdone, he quickly scuttled down to his lair to consult his reference library again, this time pulling out his own FrenchEnglish dictionary to look up the words the goat had used, and while he was at it look up a few of his own.

   Now the other two goats had been watching their brother and once again they decided to copy his tactic and use it themselves; after all, they thought, if it had worked for him, why shouldn’t it work for them? So they trundled toward the bridge and when the troll challenged them the first one declared that they too “intended to traverse this here span in pursuance of sustenance on yonder slope!” while the other one added “Je m’en fiche; je vais traverser ce pont” just for good measure. Having delivered this double dollop of fancy continental elocution, the pair began to trot confidently across the bridge.

   But to their great surprise the troll whipped out some Francaise of his own. “Au diable votre opinion,” he said in fairly passable (although poorly accented) French, “vous passerez quand les poules auront des dents!” Which basically means, “The heck you will; you’ll cross this puppy when chickens have teeth!”

   Well weren’t the goats astonished to hear that! Ne sevais pas vous? (Wouldn’t you be?) Je voudrais! (I would.) In fact they were so astonished that all they could do was mumble “Huh?” and stand like statues mired in a monosyllabic stupor, until they could muster up the energy to scurry back to their side of the valley and have a good sulk. In fact they sulked all that day and into the evening, when they were reunited with their brother, who joined them in their sulk just as a show of support, before they all settled down and went to sleep.

   Well wasn’t that quite a day!

~             ~                  ~

   On the fourth day the goats, as you have probably guessed, tried once again to cross the bridge, and once again, as you will have deduced from the formulaic structure of this fable, the troll stood steadfastly in their way. However this time when the troll issued his customary challenge, the first goat, who was beginning to form an idea of the usefulness of the element of surprise, simply said, “I don’t have to answer that!” and raced past the troll all the way to the other side of the bridge!

   Well what do you think of that! Can you imagine? I should say! I can tell you what the troll thought of that: he didn’t like it. He didn’t like it at all. “Why do I always do that?” he muttered to himself (scootching a few feet away first so the goats wouldn’t overhear him; that would be embarrassing). “Why do I always let that goat’s increasingly unorthodox, yet frustratingly ingenious, tactics get the better of me? I always end up stopping dead in my tracks and standing like a statue mired in a monosyllabic stupor, while he scampers merrily past me like I wasn’t even there! It’s embarrassing, I tell you, it’s downright humiliating!”

   Now the whole time the troll was carrying out this little monologue the second goat, who once again figured that his older brother’s tricks should work just as well for him, decided that he too would cross the bridge without answering the troll’s challenge, simply tromping across it without saying a word. But to his great surprise – and somewhat to the troll’s as well – the troll had a response ready for him:

   “Au contraire, my quadrupedal cleft-footed friend,” he said, “you will find that a verbal response is indeed obligatory, for I shall not countenance the consummation of your intention absent a verbal rejoinder, rather I shall again debar you, bodily if necessary, from said intended excursion!” And with that he stood steadfastly in front of the bridge, with his very mean arms crossed over his very mean chest. In a very mean way. Just to be mean.

   Poor goat number two! He’d tried so hard! But try as he might, he kept coming up short. So once again all he could do was shuffle back to his side of the valley and join his younger brother in feeling sorry for themselves, while the troll went back to his lair beaming in triumph. He beamed all that day and into the night. In fact when everyone had returned to their respective homes, or lairs as the case may be, the troll was still beaming. It was only with great difficulty that anyone was able to get any sleep that night for all the beaming.

~             ~                  ~

   On the morning of the fifth day it was theyoungest goat who had the brainstorm. He decided he would try to cross the bridge first for a change. Now he wasn’t a particularly bright goat – not that many goats are – but he couldn’t help noticing that when his older brother, who was always the first to attempt to cross the bridge,  succeeded, it was by virtue of having surprise on his side, whereas by the time the two younger goats attempted to replicate his strategy the troll had figured it out and come up with a way to thwart them. So the youngest goat decided to go first this time; after all, there was no rule saying he couldn’t, was there!

   So he approached the bridge, where the troll met him with tightly crossed arms and an angry scowl, just as the goat expected. But this time before the troll could even issue his customary challenge, the young goat rushed past him, all the way to the other side! He didn’t even wait for the troll to finish his challenge!! After all, he figured, there was no rule saying he had to, was there!

   Pretty slick, huh?

   Well this changed everything! Or at least the goats thought so. Seeing their younger brother’s success, the two older goats quickly decided to try the same thing.

   But they weren’t quite quick enough, because the troll, although generally slow on the uptake, was finally getting the hang of this learn-from-your-mistakes thing and when the two older goats approached the bridge he was already standing there blocking their way. And, just as the goat who had bested him had done, he too was doing it without saying a word! After all, there was no rule saying he had to either, was there!

    Well this really did change everything. According to custom, not to mention the literature and all the supporting documentation, there was supposed to be a snarled challenge, a clever retort, and an episodic dénouement. The goats assumed that was a rule. I always thought so too; didn’t you?

   Anyway, seeing their way blocked by a determined – but silent – troll, the two frustrated quadrupedal ungulates (Capra Aegagrus Hircus) could only trudge back to their side of the valley and mope (apparently they were tired of sulking and thought they’d try moping for a change). They moped for most of the rest of the day before finally going to bed hungry. They had just finished moping and were dropping off to sleep when their younger brother returned home glowing with triumph and a belly full of grass. When he woke them up to gloat, he first had to listen to them mope for a while, so he moped along with them a little bit just out of sympathy, after which they all fell asleep until morning.

~             ~                  ~

   The morning of the sixth day found the goats in a high-stakes confab. The way things had been proceeding – one goat crossing the bridge, the troll figuring out how he’d been tricked and then preventing the other two from replicating the feat – was proving tiresome, not to mention unsatisfactory. The troll was turning out to be more adaptable than they had expected, and they were running out of tricks.

   “Maybe,” one of the goats ventured, “maybe our problem is that we always try to cross one at a time. I know we’re only goats, and not all that smart, but still, there are three of us and only one of him. I bet if we all rushed him at the same time we could get across.”

   The other two goats were astounded. “That’s a great idea!” they agreed, slapping their foreheads for emphasis (carefully so as not to dent their skulls with their hooves). “How could we not have thought of that before? Let’s try it!”

   So they did. When they approached the by-now-familiar bridge on the morning of the sixth day, as usual, they found the troll blocking the way, as usual, waiting to be confronted by one of the goats, as usual. But to the troll’s great surprise all three goats suddenly rushed him at once!

   The troll hadn’t been ready for that! Oh no, he hadn’t been ready at all! As a result he ended up flat on his back watching helplessly as all three goats scampered to the other side of the bridge to munch merrily on the lush green grass, while he lay there feeling sorry for himself.

   When he finally picked himself up and dusted himself off, he began to sulk. Wouldn’t you if that had happened to you? I would. However, instead of sulking all day like he normally would, he knocked off early and then went to work on a plan. So it was that at the end of that day when the goats returned to their side of the valley they passed an assortment of lumber and stone and bricks and tools stacked neatly near the entrance to the bridge. Being goats, and simple-minded ones at that, they paid it no mind; if they had, they might have had an inkling of what would be in store for them the following day.

~           ~                  ~

   On the morning of the seventh day the goats approached the bridge, breezily confident that they would be on the other side of it in no time flat. “There are three of us and only one of him,” they reminded themselves, “so this should be a snap. We just have to remember to stick to the plan. Easy as pie!”

   Imagine their surprise then when they reached the bridge and found an impenetrable barrier blocking their way. For the troll had stayed up all night and used the lumber and stone and bricks and tools to build an impressively large, insurmountably high, and stupendously strong wall that completely blocked the way across the bridge. The only way through it was through a staggeringly large, astonishingly thick, and impressively secure gate held fast with a stupefyingly strong, preposterously bulky, and super-de-duperly massive lock, which could only be opened with a freakishly complicated, mind-bogglingly unreplicable, and you’ve-got-to-be-kiddingly unshatterable key which the troll grasped tightly in his big, ugly, malodorous paw.

   The goats, realizing that their chances of overpowering anything with that many adjectives in front of it were slim to nil, had no choice but to turn around and content themselves with one more day of eating little brown nubbins, while the troll watched triumphantly for a change.

~                  ~                  ~


    The next morning the goats woke up extra early and thought extra hard, putting their heads together until they came up with what they thought was a brilliant new plan. Do you know what it was? See if you can guess!

    When they approached the bridge this time the goats brought with them nothing less than a hot air balloon. Did you guess? I bet you didn’t! They got into the balloon, fired up the burner, filled the domed canopy with hot air, and began ascending into the sky. From his spot at the barricade the troll could only watch in astonishment as the gloating trio ascended higher and higher over the valley.

    But then another astonishing thing happened. Tired of always being a hapless victim, the troll responded with a clever tactic of his own. He disappeared only for a moment before returning with his favorite pea-shooter, which he used to shoot a pebble at the balloon, which pierced the balloon and let all the air out, causing the balloon to drift down toward the ground.

   The goats, however, were not so easily deterred. They each popped a stick of gum into their mouths, chewed it vigorously – chewing is another thing goats are very good at – and used the sticky stuff to plug the hole in the balloon. 

   How astounded do you think they were, then, when the troll unpocketed a slingshot and sent a stone flying toward the balloon, bursting it again, this time with an even bigger hole, again sending them plummeting towards the earth?

   Well the goats weren’t about to give up just like that. One of them immediately tore off his shirt, and his brothers’ shirts, and tied them together to make a replacement canopy. Directing the flame under the canopy, the goats floated the balloon back up high enough to clear the gorge and began gliding once more toward the far side of the valley.

   Well don’t you know that troll pulled out a squirt gun from his other pocket and splashed the fire out, sending the balloon once again careening towards the ground.

   Quick as a flash the goats took out some flint and steel and tinder and struck them together to produce a spark, which got the fire going again, propelling the balloon back into the sky.

   Not to be outdone, the troll pulled out a bellows and pumped it with all his might, blowing the goats’ balloon back to their own side of the valley. 

   Well by this time it was already evening and getting too dark to see, so the goats had to content themselves with letting the balloon float down on their side of the valley, where they climbed out and went home for the night, totally tuckered out.

   As for the troll, he went back to his lair under the bridge and went to bed as well. He too was utterly exhausted.

   It had been quite a day for everyone.

~           ~                  ~

   On the ninth day the goats got up extra early again. But the troll was up even earlier, determined to be ready for whatever the goats had up their sleeves.

   Sure enough, the goats were already on their way to the bridge and this time they had three balloons. They each climbed into one and lit their fires and their little airborne convoy began to ascend over the gorge toward the far side of the valley.

   But they weren’t the only ones who had come prepared. This time the troll responded with three pea shooters, with which he popped holes in all three balloons simultaneously.

   The goats, however, were also prepared: they had three sticks of gum – already chewed! – which they used to repair the holes.

   But the wily old troll, not to be outdone, produced three slingshots, and quick as a flash he shot all three balloons down again all at the same time.

   That didn’t bother the goats; this time they each had ready some extra shirts to tie into backup canopies to get the balloons floating back up again.

   But don’t you know that crafty old troll doused all three of their fires, with not one, not two, but three squirt guns.

   Not to be bested, the goats relit the fires with three sets of flint and steel and tinder. 

   The troll answered back with an industrialstrength batterypowered highintensity variable speed double reduction portable electric air blower, which he used to blow the goats’ balloons three times farther back into their side of the valley than where they’d started from. 

   Well by the time all this hubbub and todo had taken place it was already evening, so the goats again had to be content with floating back down on their own side of the valley, where they got ready for bed, just as the troll went back under the bridge to his lair and got himself ready for bed, for he too was exhausted from the day’s events.

   And once again they slept soundly, one and all.

~                  ~                  ~

   On the morning of the tenth day the troll woke up extra extra early, determined to foil any tricks or contrivances the goats might bring his way. But getting up that morning had not been easy. Oh no, it had not been easy at all. The troll had been laboring all day every day for more than a week to keep the goats from crossing the bridge. He’d been getting up extra early and staying up extra late thinking up his challenges and setting his traps and assembling the equipment and paraphernalia he needed to thwart their plans. The goats had been just as busy in their quest to get across the bridge, and they too were exhausted. So this morning the stage was set for something unusual to occur.

   This time when the goats approached the bridge, the first goat surprised everyone, including even himself, by blurting out, “Troll, this is ridiculous. Look at us: we’re hungry, we’re exhausted, we haven’t eaten indays. All we have left on this side of the gorge is little brown nubbins. We just want to get across the bridge to eat some nice green grass. Is that so unreasonable? Is that so wrong? And while we’re on the subject, I can’t imagine this has been a picnic for you either.” 

   “Tell me about it,” said the troll. “You think you’re exhausted? I can hardly keep my eyes open. With all the time I’ve spent thwarting your rather unorthodox, increasingly outlandish, frustratingly ingenious, yet at the same time endearingly quirky schemes, I haven’t had a moment’s rest in ten days. Every day it’s the same thing: thwart, thwart, thwart. You’ve no idea how tiring it is to thwart schemes all day long.”

   The goats were surprised to hear this. They’d never considered that the troll might have a vulnerable side. The only emotionally expressive thing they’d ever seen him do was cross his very mean arms over his very mean chest. In a very mean way. Just to be mean.

   So they huddled together to digest what the troll had said (and goats are very good at digesting). When they emerged the first goat turned to the troll and said, “Well, troll, why don’t we go to breakfast then?”

   The troll, surprised by the question, but priding himself on being an open-minded new age kind of troll, responded, “What, all of us? Together?”

   The first goat said, “Sure, why not?”

   The second goat said, “Yeah, all of us. Together.”

   The third goat said, “I could eat.”

   Now the goats were in for another surprise. Because instead of disagreeing angrily and bellowing and thundering and being mean and doing all manner of other trolllike things, as they had expected, the troll simply said, “That would be nice.”

   Well this was nothing short of astonishing! For a few moments all four of them stood around feeling foolish, mumbling “huh” and “hmmph” and making other sounds indicative of being mired in a monosyllabic stupor, none of them seeming to know quite how to proceed.

   But slowly, inexplicably, they all found themselves shuffling gingerly off in the direction of the diner, almost as if they were being drawn there by some unseen force. And before you know it they were at the diner. When they got there they went in and sat down next to each other in a cozy little booth in a nook by the window, and ordered a nice breakfast of hotcakes, cocoa, and muffins.

   And do you know, with no one to be disagreeable or mean, they all had a delightful time.

~ The end ~

Michael Yaworsky is a retired attorney and legal editor. He and his family live in Rochester’s 19th Ward neighborhood.