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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
We stand there as I feed, feeling myself grow stronger, the strongest in
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
Their bright beams find me out and I am overpowered with embarrassing
I snivel and cry as they bind me with plastic strips that cut into my
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
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
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.