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    Volume 5, Issue 4 November 30, 2010
    Message from the Editors
 Johnny and Babushka by RJ Astruc
 The New Arrival by Miranda Suri
 Kids by Grey Freeman
 Endless Summer by Jude-Marie Green
 Sandcastles by Josh Pearce
 Special Feature: Author Interview with Richard Kadrey
 Column: Spec Fic in Flix by Marty Mapes



Grey Freeman

         I remember when these were fields and grass. I had been all hair, muscle and fang back then. The stream had been clean, its taste sharp.
         The bridge had been simple, grey stone and the only people who had gone trip-trip-trapping across it had been the couples off courting from the nearby village and, of course, the children.
         The children. Sometimes, when I close my eyes and think right hard, I can still taste their fear.
         I can still picture them crouching on summer days by the banks in little shifts of cloth, idly examining the wonderful variety of rounded stones, delighting in those with holes through the middle. Their lips would purse in little pouts of concentration, young minds thinking big thoughts.
         And I would start to growl, starting so low that, at first, even their young ears would be unable to hear it. I would watch them shift uncomfortably as my growl grew as slow as the dawn and when it passed the threshold of hearing, their eyes would snap towards the bridge, afraid but curious too.
         I would emerge, tall and rangy, muscles taut, hair sleek, fangs and tusks sharp and clean, something to truly be afraid of.
         Like a sapling growing into a mighty oak, I would begin to unfold, impossibly.
         I ate well in those days, the fear from one child back then had kept me fed for a week.
         We would stand there fixed while I fed on their terror. Me, towering above both child and bridge, looking far too large to have ever fit underneath it. The child on the bank, eyes wide, cheeks pale, hands at chest trembling.
         And once I'd had my fill, I'd roar. Oh, what a roar! It would echo for miles and the children would cup their hands over their ears and bolt, running as fast fast fast as their little legs could carry them back home to their mothers in sobs and hysterics.
         And do you know what made it even better?
         The parents believed them!
         They would nod and agree (many of them I had scared myself twenty, thirty years gone) and would regale their offspring with fanciful stories of me, of how I ate the bones of naughty children, of how I caused the bad winters and the poor rains, of how I was responsible for the sickness among the cattle not two years past.
         Sometimes, I'd creep into the village and feed a little more, out by their bedroom window, as a midnight snack. For I knew the child I had scared that day would be awake in bed, mind rattling and teeth chattering from the incident, the fear made all the sweeter by the elders' stories.
         In the dark, against the canvas of their mighty imaginations, I was taller, my tusks sharper, my breath more foul.
         Sometimes, the adults would come hunting for me, armed with torches and tools, and I would be forced to hide. I didn't begrudge them it. They would always peer under the low bridge and find nothing, and the next day, the bridge would ring once again with the trip-trip-trapping of little shoes.
         Times changed, as times are wont to do. That wild curiosity, that little pout of concentration, that fascination for the world around them, born from rounded stones with holes in the middle, becomes tempered with experience. Children grow into adults and they change the world; they discover and they invent and they make it something different. And then they have children.
         I watched it all from under my bridge, as the days and years slid past. I noted how the clothes and hairstyles of my little snacklings changed, cuffs, sleeves and trousers shrinking and expanding, sprouting lace or growing buttons, as new fashions were conceived.
         The weapons the adults brought to flush me out changed too, torches becoming lanterns, forks becoming muskets and rifles.
         Sometimes, even the bridge would change. Every few hundred years an enterprising young man would stand at the foot of it, hands on hips, and declare it too old and too shabby for this day and age and would have it rebuilt, sturdier, higher and more ornate than the last.
         I loved each and every one of them.
         But then the river began to dirty. The water fouled with chemicals from the cloud-belching factories upstream. The village began to bloat.
         Their waste began to float past me. Crisp and sweet packets, empty cans, soggy bits of cardboard, they began to collect beneath my bridge, growing and rotting in a cacophony of design and ideas.
         With the houses so close, it has now become harder and harder for me to catch a child by itself and those I do seem bitter and unwholesome. Their dreams, their vision, their curiosity seem somehow quashed, filled with absurdities about wealth or fame without merit.
         They sustain me less and less and I make fewer journeys amongst the houses. The parents no longer tell the stories of me. They dismiss them outright as the imaginings of their children.
         They no longer come hunting for me.
         The children no longer sit up in bed, heads full of imaginings. Now, in the dark, they remember my rotting teeth and thinning, straggly hair. I am no longer fearsome.
         A new bridge was constructed not forty years ago, ugly, false manmade stone and unpolished steel, constructed without pomp or ceremony and left to rot. I hate it. There is no love or pride in its construction, no sense of entrepreneurial or philanthropic endeavour. It is simply a means to get from one set of horrible red brick houses to the other. The village has swallowed my stream and my home. Both sides look so similar now and my eyes have become so rheumy that I get confused and turned around and I forget which bank is which. The rounded stones are long gone, replaced by bleak, stained concrete ledges.
         So I just sit beneath my bridge, wasted, distended belly growling from hunger, and all that escapes my maw is a sigh as the supervised children trip-trip-trap above without the slightest interest in the stream below them.
         A few intrepid ones cross beneath, rushing by so close I could reach out and touch them but there are always friends or elders nearby, no easy pickings to be had there.
         The only real visitors are the courting couples, which no longer cross the bridge to pursue their desires in the fields beyond. Now, I am treated to their rutting and gasping. I watch forlornly as they grunt and sweat, clothing only half undone. My spirits sink as their faces contort in climax and I wince as the male snaps off the used rubber and throws it white-tipped into my stream.
         Crouching amongst their waste, I have begun to consider leaving.
         Tonight, there is some event on some distance away, with fireworks and loud speakers. I hid beneath my bridge earlier, startled and cowed by the sheer weight of trippings and trappings above as almost half the village crossed.
         So many people, so many children all giddy with excitement, my stomach had squeezed to nearly half its already shrunken size, a gnawing in my gut so bad that I couldn't help but moan and whimper.
         Why this boy did not go with them, I do not know. But here he is.
         I heard his approach from afar, smelled his emotions, and reared my head.
         He's so wasted as to be almost nothing, barely a morsel. His head is not filled with stories. His elders have extinguished them, derided them. They have decided that there are other things more worth knowing, maths, computing, biology, chemistry; useful subjects when mixed with imagination, but imagination's seeds must be sown in the curiosity of rounded stones and the fear of monsters like me lurking in the dark.
         But I'm hungry, and even this spiritually withered thing will be good enough for me.
         He's kicking an empty drinks can, head full of mundane fantasies about being the best at kicking a ball into a net. Not a stalwart explorer, esteemed knight or great inventor, I despair, but to be the best at playing a game, useless to all and sundry.
         But a meal is a meal and so I pull myself up onto my haunches, tense my muscles.
         As he reaches my bridge, he slows.
         The can clatters to a stop on the crest of the slope.
         I try to contain my growing excitement.
         His feet slip a little as he slides down the muddy incline to the concrete bank. I watch as he paces, kicking at the trash and staring into the dark, polluted waters.
         He crouches.
         The sight, truly one for my sore old eyes, makes me moan so loud he almost hears, looking up into the dark of my arch and forcing me to slip further into the shadows.
         He picks something from amongst the rubbish by his feet, a wire coat hanger, and begins to prod at one of the condoms floating on the surface.
         I begin to growl. It's the best I've done in years. My voice almost cracks with the effort but it works, the boy springs to his feet as the sound registers and I emerge.
         But I'm wasted and weak.
         I'm barely taller than he is. There are no muscles to speak of, my hair has fallen out in clumps and red / pink rashes have sprung up all over my skin. Half my teeth are rotted to black stumps and a plastic ring from a six-pack has caught around one of my tusks.
         But I have him, for a moment I have him, and though his fear is thin it is delicious.
         We stand there as I feed, feeling myself grow stronger, the strongest in months, years.
         And then he runs. Before I have finished, stomach only half sated, he bolts, clambering up the bank and away flashing beneath the streetlamps.
         Frustrated, I slip back down away to my nest, mind working, ravenous. No doubt he will tell his parents on their return, and they will denounce his tale as useless imaginings.
         But tonight, for a little while at least, he will be afraid. I'll follow his scent, find his house, climb up to his bedroom window and feed a little more. Just like old times.
         But these are not old times, and it's not long before he returns with friends, armed with electric torches and switchblades.
         For the first time I am afraid of them. I hide in the deepest shadows, heart quick in my chest, wishing that children could not see me. This isn't the somber hunt of their ancestors. They come with malice in their hearts.
         Their bright beams find me out and I am overpowered with embarrassing ease.
         I snivel and cry as they bind me with plastic strips that cut into my bony wrists.
         They take turns punching and kicking me, shaking life back into their bruising knuckles as they step away, leaving me bleeding and broken on the cold concrete bank.
         I've never seen my own blood before and it terrifies me.
         They shout and cackle and bray, egging one another on to do worse and worse.
         They call me a 'peado' and a 'child molester' and the words sicken me, to hear them come from the mouths of children. I cry not only for myself, but for my dwindling food supply.
         They have yet to use their knives. They only wave them around, the blades gleaming sickly in the piss-coloured streetlights, darting and flashing.
         If I survive, I promise myself, I'll leave. There must be other places I can go, somewhere else I can find children like the kind I remember.
         One of them pulls a box of matches out from his pocket. The stick scratches and puffs to life, illuminating the underside of his cap and his little leer.
         The pain is excruciating and the underbridge fills with the smell of burning hair and flesh.
         And the children watch with wide eyes and pouts of concentration, some of them crouching.
         And I know they won't let me live. This might be the only day of true discovery in their entire lives.
         I burble and plead, mouth slick with blood, sweat, tears and snot, but they do not listen.

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