Brynn dreaded the hike to the devil’s bridge, though she dreaded the full moon even more.
Its light bathed the path through the bracken-covered hillside that led to the ravine. Every few yards, Meg jabbed her walking stick into Brynn’s back, goading the ten-year-old forward, while Meg’s old wolfhound, Mister Grimm, followed alongside. Mister Grimm was as mean as sin, and Meg had threatened to feed Brynn to the dog more times than the girl could recall. Although tonight, Brynn feared the moon and the bridge more than the wolfhound. Yet she wondered if he could smell the hunk of day-old bacon hidden in her fist.
“Keep moving,” Meg hissed. “Of all the orphans the village has brought me, you be the slowest.”
The old woman’s eyes simmered in their sockets, amid a face creased like an autumn leaf. Some said Meg was once the most beautiful woman in the village, but now she was so old that Brynn’s Nana was just a child when Meg was in her prime. Nana believed witchery preserved Meg’s beauty, but even witchery could not defeat the haul of time.
Ahead loomed the bridge, a crude arch of stone that spanned the ravine where the river plunged three hundred feet in a rushing fall. On the far side, moonlight kissed the headstone of the ancient dolmen encrusted with moss. Nana once told Brynn that dolmens were the tombs of giants, but some believed they were gateways to the Otherworld, where dark faeries lured their prey.
A chill washed through Brynn’s gut. “Why do we have to come here tonight?”
“Because it’s Samhain,” Meg replied. “The curtain between the living and the dead is like mist, and the mandrake growing near the dolmen is at its peak. ‘Tis powerful magic in them roots tonight, so time to harvest.”
“But Nana warned about that bridge.”
“’Tis just a bridge.”
“Nana said that when you were young, you tricked the devil into building it.”
Meg’s eyes narrowed. “Your Nana told you that?”
“She said he built it for you for the price of the first soul to cross it. But instead of going first, you pushed your servant across, a sickly girl, blind in one eye. Cheated, the devil howled and screamed. Now, Nana said, at every full moon he takes the life of the first to cross the bridge.”
“Your Nana died a fool!” Meg snapped. “There’s no truth in them myths. Now come on child, there’s harvesting to do.”
From a pouch on her waist, Meg drew a rusty gardening spade and handed it to Brynn. “Now go and get me some mandrake root.”
Brynn’s stomach hardened. “Alone?”
Meg held up her fingers, bent like a spider’s legs and tipped with jagged nails. “My hands are old, too feeble to grip a spade. Now do as you’re told.”
“But Nana said—”
Meg grabbed Brynn by the hair and jerked her head back. “I don’t care what your Nana said,” Meg said through clenched teeth. “Go dig up some mandrake root, lest I turn you into a toad and feed you to Mister Grimm!”
Brynn froze, scared to even breath. When Meg let go, Brynn backed toward the bridge, nearly stumbling due to the weakness in her knees. Her whole body shook as she turned at the bridge’s threshold. The spray of the falls kissed her face. Hundreds of feet below the bridge, the rushing waters seethed into a cauldron-like gorge.
Brynn’s heart felt as if it would beat through her chest. She stopped and looked back.
“Go!” Meg shrieked.
Brynn shook her head, a thought pounding in her mind. She cheated the devil . . .
“Get on, or I’ll beat you bloody with this stick!”
Brynn sucked in a breath and shook her head again, mouthing her reply. “No.”
Meg grimaced. “Grimm, make her go.”
The wolfhound stood as tall as Brynn, with a massive head and teeth as long as her thumbs. His eyes gleaming in the moonlight, he padded toward her like a hound closing on a wounded hare.
Brynn struggled to hold back a cry. Summoning all the courage she could muster, she opened her palm, revealing the hunk of old bacon in her hand. Mister Grimm stopped and cocked his head, smelling the cured meat. The wolfhound opened his jaws, just as Brynn whipped her arm and hurled the meat toward the dolmen.
“No!” Meg screamed as the wolfhound tore across the bridge.
Mister Grimm lunged for his prize. Then Brynn gasped.
A torrent of water blasted from the falls. Arms stretched from the spray amid a ghost-like shape with burning red eyes. As it fell on the wolfhound, the ghostly demon roared like the wind, drowning out the dog’s cries. Water pummeled the stone bridge, and when the torrent ceased, the demon and the wolfhound were gone.
Brynn exhaled—right before Meg eclipsed her view. The old woman’s eyes fumed with rage. With a fierce cry, she cracked her stick upside Brynn’s head. And the girl’s whole world began to spin.
* * *
On the dirt floor of Meg’s hovel, Brynn woke in darkness to a sound at the old wooden door. The scent of stewed mandrake clung to the air as Brynn rubbed the side of her head, swollen like a gourd. She heard the sound again. Something scratched at the door. A chill rushed up Brynn’s limbs as she got up and walked to the doorway. Hesitating for a moment, she opened the door. At its threshold stood Mister Grimm. The hound’s eyes burned like hot coals.
Brynn staggered back. Those eyes, like the demon’s from the falls!
She feared she might faint, but the beast brushed past her and padded toward Meg, asleep in her bed. As it lunged and Meg screamed, a faint smile crept across Brynn’s lips. For there was one more thing Nana used to say.
“Remember child, always give the devil his due.”
“Remember child, always give the devil his due.”