She called the main attraction a grindylow like she called her bared teeth a smile. She went around the line of anxious visitors to check for tickets while the lights in the tent began to brighten into consciousness. Bonhomie conversations attenuated into questions for her: did it live in murky lakes? did it hide in the fog? was it a coldblooded predator? did it really only eat children? They looked at her with the fascinated awe they neglected to give when she had been a girl, an unrealized specimen with a suit of skin over gangly bones. Their noses had turned up at the girl that scraped dried bird corpses and rabbits from dusty trails. Awkward glances inquired as to her trek to and from the woods armed with makeshift fishpoles and nets, a knife at her hip.
Whispers were made of grindylows coming to drown her as a way to get rid of her without doing the job themselves. Children of butchers wanted nothing to do with her, revolted at the idea of saving skeletons and labeling them as though they were trophies in a killer’s basement. Vulture! they cried, and flung slimy chunks of offal in her face, leaving her to scrape guts from her hair while she took her haul home. Many skins were ruined in emulating the techniques of incisions and pulling meat without tearing holes in the delicate skin. Whole carcasses were kidnapped by predators in the night with no ransom but a few tufts of fur. Her collections, road-killed Lepus sylvaticus, one-legged Corvus brachyrhynchos, premature Columba livia, and various labeled bones from specimens long since gone to the dirt, had been excavated from her room and bagged as evidence of her psychosis by parents that had listened to the whispers. Feral child. Wild child.
Now these children were models grown comfortable in their clothes, pretending to have no trace of offal themselves. Why so bitter? her partner in a string of partners once told her, to which she’d replied: Since I was left to die in the woods.
Her parents had given her cookies wrapped in Styrofoam before they left her. She had eaten one waiting, another to choke her cries, and two to soothe her hunger as she walked through wet leaves and trees to the sound of water, the last going to the grindylow that approached her. It went up to her like she called for it, its plantigrade hind-legs longer than the front, which resembled scaly human arms tipped with chubby hands. The long snout was lined with protruding teeth, each as long and thick as her fingers.
She didn’t move because she couldn’t, nor could she breathe. She knew the story of grindylow drowning children that strayed or disobeyed their parents. There wasn’t a happy ending for her, nobody to haul her out of the water. She would sink and sink until the bubbles stopped. None of the stories talked about the reverse, in which she was pushed up instead of down, the bubbles popping around her snot-streaked lips as the grindylow pushed its snout beneath her trembling hands and talked. The terminology came from deep in the throat like a parrot, nonsense to her but warming all the same, the grindylow pushing his snout so that he was between her legs and then she was on his armored back. She wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered grateful rhythmic cries into what she thought was his ear. This eater-of-children, this cautionary tale took her deep into the woods to a series of cabins full of abandoned children and once-abandoned, from three years to thirty, bodies with crooked bones and harelips and sour personalities. Renny’s brought another, they said. Their eyes had glittered huge and black like puppies and their hands had been warm and inviting.
The eyes that looked at her as she stood on the stage with the heavy curtain behind her glittered like prosthetic eyes, their bodies so tense one could hear them hum in the hushed, excited silence. Her empty stomach turned and turned again and she jerked the curtain loose to hide her retch.
Renny grinned at the audience from a room of glass, a meter and a half of bony scales and mossy stubs. He was four meters from snout to tapered tail. His eyes, the color of fresh grass that glittered with demure intelligence, had been replaced with glass that made them appear obscure. A long plastered tongue hung over yellowed teeth, a laughing pose. Clicks went off in a warfare of flashing lights and she was politely ignored.
No one here would ever see how Renny looked while living, a prankster that dug deep into the mud and detritus to resemble a rotten log until you got too close, the shrieks of delight and fright from children woven with his lilting laugh. No one would notice how he’d always have fresh scars that’d scab over the old, of bullets and knives stuck in his scales that she and the others had to treat or risk serious infection. Stories wouldn’t capture his love for them, how she or one of the smallest children would curl into the curve of his tail as he stretched out on their living rooms and read to him as he watched over them with those cool green eyes. As they grew and filled into their awkward bodies, his interests became whatever the children shared from their studies. The adults that drove filled his belly with all kinds of seafood, large salmon and buckets of shrimps.
Years spent gathering Renny’s bones and the wound refused to close, the bones declined to fuse. She closed her eyes and held them shut for a long moment before abruptly opening them. The spotlight now turned on her, dipping Renny in shadow. Now it was time to put some wrongs aright. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is all that remains of the lost branch of an archosaurid,” she said, her words trailing over the script. “The Postosuchus, also known as the grindylow …”
Cristina Vega is the pen name of a gay, American transman living in Sweden. Currently resides in Gothenburg amidst the trees and murky, rainy skies. Has had work published in Hello Horror, Bird’s Thumb, and Chrome Baby amongst others, and had a short story nominated for the Pushcart Prize.