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The Ghastly Thing
by Kevin McNeil
Listen to the audio version
The ghastly thing too dreadful to gaze upon lived under a stone footbridge in the
swampiest part of the Land of Rain.
The ghastly thing preferred under the bridge to on top of the bridge. The darkness
suited it. A creek gurgled along, containing an abundance of swamp-fish and
scaly critters, so the ghastly thing never went hungry. A thick arch provided
shelter from the constant rainfall, so its possessions -- clothing and trinkets taken
from unfortunate travelers, hides and bones taken from unfortunate swamp-beasts
-- remained dry.
Few travelers crossed the bridge anymore. Dangerous creatures lived in the
swamp. None more dangerous than the ghastly thing, of course. To gaze upon it
meant instant death.
The ghastly thing knew the girl stood on the bridge because it could smell her -- a
sweet, fresh scent not of the swamp. It thought she would be quite tasty.
When the girl began to sing, the ghastly thing sat on the boulder it used for a seat,
comfortably worn to the shape of its rump, and it listened.
Her singing was horrendous, more painful than if the ghastly thing passed a
swamp-fish spine directly through one ear and out the other.
Her tone was off-key.
She bungled most of the words.
She sang loudly, as if desperate for every raindrop to hear what she had to say.
After a while, the girl stopped. She heaved great breaths in and out. A little after
that, she returned the way she had come.
The ghastly thing let her go.
The girl returned the following day and repeated her performance.
Her singing had not improved.
The ghastly thing lounged in the darkness under the bridge and bounced one hoof
in an attempt to find the rhythm.
Then the singing stopped.
"Is there something under the bridge?" the girl asked in a soft voice.
The ghastly thing held its breath. It listened to the girl's footsteps as she
approached the edge of the bridge to peer into the darkness below.
"I heard something tapping," she said.
The ghastly thing didn't speak. It just listened to the splash of puddles as the girl
Soon, it smelled nothing but swamp.