That about sums it up.
Those damned mosquitoes. I rolled over to my other side. Urgh, another rash. Pain. Kept my eyes closed, struggling to hold on to the last flakes of deep, almost comatose sleep that leaves you more tired than you were before you lay your head to rest… but they are inevitably falling away – not unlike those large tufts of moss and fungus caking off the inside wall of my bridge.
Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeebzp. Meeeeeeep. Bzp.
I felt the insect crawling on me, searching for a place to settle and feed on. Slapping it away, I finally cracked open my eyes – only to withdraw further back into the wet hole that I call home. The sight of sunlight outside… Even seen from the darkest shade, it sliced painfully into my cataract-clouded eyes.
My stomach rumbled in sync with the susurrus of running water. How many days went by since I had last eaten? I did not know. I burrowed deeper into the dirt and cradled myself in my own long, bony, scaly arms. Sigh. Just like my mother used to do, and although memories of her have long since had been veiled by a plant-like, solitary existence, echoes of past warmth set in a hint of a smile. A sneer, what it would have seemed like to anybody looking.
My murky, soiled grayish limb extended to touch the mold on the nearby wall. Mother… this is all had left of her. Home. And I, fading away like a ripple on my stream when it seeps into the ground.
Trip, trap, trip, trap, trip, trap
I jerk awake from a hazy slumber and listen intently to the unfamiliar sound. Could it really be that something, or somebody was finally approaching this desolate place? My mouth watered, deteriorating muscles tensed.
Trip, trap, trip, trap, trip, trap
It was getting closer. I sucked in a deep breath.
“Who’s that tripping over my bridge?” I roared hoarsely.
The sound stopped.
I could hear the creature shuffling. It was now right above me. I could smell the warmth of its milky skin, teasing my nostrils with the promise of food – and delicious food at that – finally, after countless days of crippling hunger. The creature squeaked a reply in a tiny, but surprisingly calm voice. Its voice was so thin I could not hear it. Frankly, I did not give a damn.
“Now I’m coming to gobble you up,” I growled, heaving myself up with more difficulty than I’d like to admit to.
However, the creature’s words halted me to a stop.
“Oh, no! Pray don’t take me. I’m too little, that I am. Wait a bit till the second Billy Goat Gruff comes. He’s much bigger.”
I breathed heavily, anticipation clouding my mind, peeking through the cracks in the bridge at the animal. It was, in fact, quite skinny and unappealing. Skin and bones… No matter how much I craved to dig my teeth into its little neck, I stopped myself. Pray don’t take me… I withdrew back into the shadows.
“Very well… be off with you, little one.”
There was no need to take a life just yet. Better to have a chicken tomorrow than an egg now, like my mother used to say. Patience is key; and boy, if anything builds it, it’s living in a hole under a bridge without seeing the light of day for many years. I was prepared to wait.
Before long, another set of hooves was approaching from a distance. At this point, my mouth was salivating like never before. The sounds were definitely more solid, I could hear the substance of this one in its steps. I crept out of my hole and peeked through the cracks again. It was to the likes of the first one - white, stringy hair, though slightly bigger horns and some meat on its bones. This is it, just right for my meal. I got ready to spring. As the clacks reached me right overhead, I called out to the thing.
….Trip, trap, trip, trap, trip, trap
What just happened? I was utterly confounded. Why did I trust these strange animals?
My stomach protested violently to my reserve. This is it. Enough of waiting for the better meal. Greed is going to be the death of me. Whatever comes next, will not pass.
And then, the sounds came.
This was not purely trippity trappiting anymore. These steps echoed with authority, these clacks held a power unfamiliar to me. I felt a chilling ripple of fear roll through my body. Nevertheless, I called out – for what I strangely knew was going to be the last time.
“Who’s that tramping over my bridge?”
“It is I! The Billy Goat Gruff,” the creature called out in a raspy, guttural voice. I snarled quietly from my shadows. I could sense that my greed had brought me to my end. Regardless… I mustered up the remnants of my once-petrifying roar.
“Now, I am coming to gobble you up!”
No more waiting, no more darkness. No more hunger. I leaped onto the bridge, and it creaked and groaned under the weight of our two bodies. This animal was something. It had rich, thick white fur, huge curled horns, a long snout and a devilish beard, sharp hooves that left severe markings on the weakening wood, red glowing eyes. Its body was huge, strong, taut, with ripples of muscle and fat rolling under thick skin. We faced each other for a fraction of a moment, though it seemed like a longer time than all my lonely nights under the creaking bridge combined.
It cried out in a singsong voice, making it all the more terrifying. I closed my eyes. In my gut, I knew I wasn’t going to eat anybody today. Or ever again, really.
"Well, come along! I’ve got two spears,
And I’ll poke your eyeballs out at your ears;
I’ve got besides two curling-stones,
And I’ll crush you to bits, body and bones."
…And then, it came. It kicked me into the ground, foaming at its mouth. I did not feel its hooves shredding and crushing my tendons. I did not feel its teeth ripping and chewing on my already ruptured skin. I did not feel it gutting me with its horns, its eyes wild as they seeped my pain, its ears twitching with satanic joy as they bathed in my last cries. I did not feel it stabbing out my eyes, but as I last saw the last of the sun, crying blood, I thought of my mother and my home that I have failed to protect.
No doubt, fade out…
Snip, snap, snout.
The tale’s told out.
Image: I couldn't find an out-of-copyright image to go with this tale, a surprise since it is so well-known. So here is picture by Richard Doyle, where the goats are having a lovely time! KW