“My brother says you’re a troll, ’cause trolls live under bridges. You’re living under a bridge,” the girl said. “So, are you a troll?”
Yes, he was, but she didn’t know that. In fact, no one was allowed to know that. “No. Not a troll,” he lied.
She smelled tender, savory, juicy.
The girl was intrigued by him, but she hesitated. She was smart enough for that at least.
Skari squeezed his eyes shut and drove his head back against the concrete abutment of the bridge. Again. The pain was like a gunshot through his skull, but at least it drove away the dark thoughts. Sometimes it just got so lonely, and he got so hungry here. He’d been thinking about eating children, tasty children . . . thinking about it altogether too much.
With a crash through the underbrush, a boy came down the embankment. Her brother. He looked about nine, a year or two older than the girl. Both were scrawny, their clothes hand-me-downs but still in much better condition than Skari’s. The children did have a raggedness about them, though, a touch of loss that had not yet grown into desperation. That would come in time, Skari knew, unless he ate them first.
Next to his sister, the boy made a grimace and said with a taunting bravery that only fools and children could manage, “I think you’re a troll. You smell like a troll!”
Skari leaned forward, lurched closer to the edge of the shadow, and the children drew back, but remained close, staring. “Methinks you smell yourself, boy.”
Rather than hearing the threat, the boy giggled. “Methinks? What kind of word is methinks?” He added in a singsong voice, “Methinks ‘methinks’ is a stupid word.”
Skari grumbled, ground his teeth together. His gums were sore. He picked at them with a yellowed fingernail. No wonder witches ate children. It was sounding like a better and better idea to him. His stomach rumbled.
He wanted to lunge out from the gloom, but he knew the nightmare gate was there somewhere behind him, just waiting for him to let down his guard. Skari had been assigned here to stand watch, sentenced to stay here.
For many centuries, evil had bubbled up from the depths of the world, and the nightmare gates through which demons traveled always appeared underneath bridges. Skari couldn’t leave his post, had to stay here and protect against anything that might come out. It made no sense to him why a vulnerable spot might appear under this small county-road bridge in northern Alabama, but it was not for Skari to understand. He hadn’t felt the evil gate in some time, although there was plenty of evil in him.
“How long have you been there, mister?” asked the girl.
“Longer than you’ve been alive.”
A car peeled off the highway and drove along the county road. Its engine was loud and dyspeptic, one tire mostly flat so that as the car crossed the bridge overhead, it made a staccato trip-trap-trip-trap-trip-trap.
“What’s your name?” the boy asked, as if it were his turn to dare.
His name. Yes, he had a name. Other people had called him by name, laughed with him, even a beautiful maiden who had once whispered it in his ear. But not anymore. He had no friends, no home, just what he clung to under this bridge where he stood guard.
But he did have a name. “Skari.”
“Scary Skari!” the boy shouted, and the girl laughed with him.
“Come closer!” He was so hungry for those children, so anxious to emerge into the sunlight again, even though it would cause him pain, make him twist and writhe. Skari grew ill from the very thought. It might be worth the pain, though, just for a bit of freedom . . . or maybe just for a taste of fresh meat.
“Billy! Kenna! Leave the poor man alone.”