Grendel is a troll who comes up from the world below to find love. But the passage is hard, and it’s only with the aid of a human named Ken that Grendel survives. Ken, a successful, thirty-ish software engineer, lives peacefully in the suburbs with his dog Jake. Though six feet tall, Ken has always secretly dreamed of meeting a man bigger than himself. In Grendel he finds this desire met in spectacular fashion.
Grendel is attracted to Ken too, but before the pair have time to explore their feelings, an agent from the Federal Bureau of Geostasis arrives. He tells Ken the FBG have detected Grendel’s passage, which is a breach of security. They want to take Grendel into custody and send him to work in the mines. Ken defies the agent even though he knows it will lead to trouble. If Ken and Grendel are to have any possibility of staying together, they must find some way to elude these government forces.
A whole new world is opening up for Ken, who always viewed himself as a law-abiding person. He feels helpless, but Grendel has some ideas about how to elude the FBG and stay together.
At that point, Jake, who had been out in the back yard, wormed his way past Grendel and started barking at the G-man.
“Jake!” I said sharply. “Stop that!”
Jake looked at me, whined, and came to stand beside me. From there, he stared at the G-man and growled quietly. Good enough, I decided. I didn’t want to chastise my dog for doing what I wanted to do myself.
The G-man and I sat across each other at my kitchen table, which looked out over the back yard. Grendel remained more or less where he was, though now he was leaning on one elbow, his midriff in the doorway -- and looking bigger and more incongruous than ever. As well as, I thought, more beautiful.
I sat in the chair closest to Grendel, facing partly away from him. The G-man faced me, and therefore Grendel. I watched the man take a number of papers from his briefcase and lay these on the table between us. Extracting a pen from inside his jacket, he clicked this several times as he riffled through the papers. I said nothing, but sat with my arms crossed, leaving the next move up to him.
From time to time, as he sorted his papers, he glanced up at me and gave me a perfunctory smile as if to say, “bear with me, please.” He also looked out the window several times, around the kitchen, and down at Jake. Jake was lying on the floor next to my chair, eyes glued to the G-man, the barest growl still coming from his throat.
Something about the man’s behavior bothered me. It was only after watching him for several minutes that I realized what this was. The man never looked directly at Grendel! This I found very disturbing. It wasn’t, I thought, fear; rather, simply aversion. But was that because Grendel, as a non-human was viewed by this man as sub-human and therefore of no account? This was the only explanation I could come up with. The problem was it didn’t feel quite like that. What it did feel like, I had no answer. Despite this, I still felt offended on behalf of my friend, somehow.
At last, the man tapped the top paper with his pen and gave a small sigh. He looked at me and said, “I am sorry.”
I blinked, not understanding, but refrained from asking him why he was sorry. I didn’t want to make this easy for him.
He looked at me expectantly, shrugged and cleared his throat. When he spoke, his voice was just a little forced, possibly because of the hostility directed at him.
“As you might know, your, uh, guest’s --” here the man’s eyes flicked briefly towards Grendel before returning to me “-- coming up to the overworld --”
He paused, and I was given a moment to note how strange it was to hear this new word coming so matter-of-factly from a government official.
“Well,” he continued. “It is, in fact, highly -- problematic.”
“Problematic?” I said before I could stop myself. I had never liked the word and, at the moment I found it quite objectionable. Why didn’t the guy just say things outright?
“It’s illegal,” he elaborated. “It’s against the law.”
I said nothing, unsure of what I could say. Something in me wanted to tell him that it was no law I had ever heard about. But I knew, from a lawyer friend, that: ignorance of the law is no excuse. And then there was the effect of Grendel’s enormous presence. He made that sort of disavowal seem irrelevant.
So much for that!
The G-man, after looking pointedly at me for several seconds, shook his head.
This set me off. Glaring at him, I half-snarled, “Why?”
The man regarded me with the thinnest of smiles. “You are probably ignorant,” he said, speaking quietly and in reasonable tones, “of the facts.” He carefully shifted one of the papers on the table, then sighed and returned his gaze to me. “It’s a modern phenomenon.”