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      ‘It is an uncomfortable fact that Red Bridge is not so named for its colour, at least not the colour it is painted. The official position is that the local council painted it red in 1931 in order to make it visible to bushwalkers attracted to the area by the picturesque bushland.
      Prior to 1931, the bridge had been variously coloured; natural, a dark wood-stain, green, black, even cyan. Officially, the decision to settle on red was not informed by any urban legends. On record, the choice was purely to make the bridge viewable from a clearing approachable from the designated walking track. At this clearing, the walking track forks – one path winds towards Red Bridge, the other toward a long disused quarry. The idea was for the bridge to be clearly visible, which would then lead the walker to choose the correct fork, instead of ending up two miles in the opposite direction.
      There is no official mention of how – or why – the bridge came to be called Red Bridge, even before the official naming, when it was painted many colours that were patently not red.’
Stanthorpe: Pioneers to Pickers – A History, Welsh, J.R (1994)

      James sat splay-legged on the grass, idly scratching his calf behind the ears. The calf snuffled. A fly buzzed around her ears and James swatted at it half-heartedly, then resumed his scratching. He smiled, his vaguely crooked teeth jutting a little from his lip-line.
      ‘Awww Moomoo wike dat. Yesh she duz,’ he cooed.
      Moomoo twisted her head to lick James’s hand. He giggled, and wrapped his arms around her neck, embracing her with a child’s love; genuine, and unreserved. James knew few finer comforts than the warm sun, the fresh scent of the paddock, and the uncomplicated comfort of his calf. He was a simple boy. ‘Simple’ was his entire world, ‘simple’ was all he knew, and he was content.
      They gamboled about for a while, James paying no mind to the thickening clouds gathering from the west until thick droplets began to fall. It took him a moment to register what was happening, by which time it was raining heavily. James raised his head to the sky, closing his eyes to shield them from the rain. Moomoo nudged his side urgently. He knew she wanted to get under cover – she always sat patiently in the tool-shed when it rained – but he was blissful. The warmth of the day, the rain massaging his face, his calf by his side; he couldn’t imagine anything better.
      Moomoo nudged his side again, more firmly this time. She was beginning to stamp the muddy ground impatiently. Her thick, chestnut-brown fur was slick with water now, and her discomfort was palpable.
      James bent to wrap his arms around her neck, the rain still pelting them both. He took off his shirt as he stood, and held it above Moomoo’s head, spreading it out like a canvas. James figured that if the rain wasn’t getting in Moomoo’s face, she probably wouldn’t mind it so much. She was funny like that, he thought.
      They trudged back to the tool-shed, James’s enormous feet squelching, Moomoo’s hooves sinking into the sodden earth. It was not far – they reached the small, tin station in a few minutes, even with their slow pace – but they were soaked to the core by the time they reached it.
James removed a rusted pair of shears from a bed of hay in the corner, and his calf promptly trotted over to it, knelt down, then flopped gracelessly onto it.
      ‘Haha Moomoo siwwy. Siwwy Moomoo,’ James chortled.
      The rain made a terrific racket on the shed’s flimsy, tin roof, but after a while it became almost comforting, like a complicated snare-drum pattern resolving at the coda.
James stepped outside the shed, looked up at the sky, decided that the rain would pass soon enough, and that they were in no danger of being flooded in. He could already see a rainbow, faintly, off to the west. He took a minute or two to scoop some rainwater into his mouth; it always tasted sweeter to him. Stepping back into the shed, he walked over to his calf. James rested his head against her damp, matted flank. The rain had eased a little, into a soothing thrum on the roof.
      Within a few seconds, they were both asleep.

      Audrey Hawker looked out through her kitchen window, if it could rightly be called so. The kitchen was little more than a stone basin in an alcove; a cold box; a wooden bench covered in blade scores; a slim, deep pantry with shelves either side; and a potbelly stove with a cooktop that was easily the largest feature. The walls showed her husband’s skill – the joins were smooth – a testament to his lifelong interest in carpentry, despite not being in the trade himself.
      ‘He’s out there again, Bill. Look,’ she said.
      Bill Hawker joined his wife at the window, and between them they occupied almost all of the available space in the kitchen. They watched James walk back up to the farm-house, Moomoo in tow. Now that the rain had ceased, they were back to frolicking playfully as they walked.
      ‘Hmmm. It doesn’t do. It doesn’t do at all, Aud. He’s near seventeen now. Christ knows he’s sturdier built than me, and all he does is muck about with that bloody calf,’ Bill said, placing his arm around his wife’s waist.
      ‘Bill, you know he’s not the full quid. He migh-’
      ‘Bloody hell, Aud. You think I don’t know? How could I not? I love the boy, but he’s got to know the way of the world, sooner or not. That calf’s near ready for the block. We can’t afford not to, not after the winter we’ve had, Aud. You know, well as I do.’
      ‘I know, Bill. I know. Couldn’t we-’
      ‘What? You know damn well, Aud. Well as I do. We just don’t have the bloody coin for it. We can’t afford to knock over the bull now. Not now that Wally’s gone. Those bloody dogs, I’ve never seen ‘em go after a full grown bull before. They must know somethin’ we don’t. No. We need the breeders, and we need Barry. We all knew that runty calf was gonna be first for the block, even when we still had Wal. I told ya once, I told ya fifty bloody times, Aud. Don’t let-’
      ‘-him get attached, I know. Of course I know.’
      ‘Well then, it’s settled. Two weeks, she’ll be as big as she’s gonna get. We’ve got enough in the cold box to get through ‘til then, but that’s it. She’s gotta go, Aud. You know that. Well as I do, you know that.’
      Audrey sighed. She knew he was right; they couldn’t survive much longer on the little food they had without knocking over James’s calf. The winter had indeed been hard, she couldn’t recall a winter where they had lost so many cattle. By the time September rolled around they were down to only the one bull, Barry, and a dozen good, fertile cows. If those cows didn’t drop strong calves … well. Bill never said it, but Audrey knew it would mean losing the lot.
      Still, she was uneasy. James could be intractable when the mood took him, which was usually when he was forced to part with something he didn’t want to, which, generally, was anything. Just last month, they had discovered a rabbit with kits living underneath the old shed. James was entranced with them, but they couldn’t be allowed to live and breed; rabbits are destructive little blighters. When Bill inevitably did away with them, James’s mood turned bluer than a drowned kit. It took him a full week before he would so much as look at his Da. Even forcing him to relinquish a spoon he took a liking to would be met with staunch opposition, and a sulking tantrum lasting anywhere from an hour, to a day.
      ‘Fine, Bill. Two weeks,’ she said, resigned to the consequences. Lord help us when James finds out, she thought. Lord help us.

      The morning of the kill was clear, Audrey’s conscience was not. Sleep eluded her the night previous, and when, finally, she did drift off, her sleep was fitful.
      When she was a child, Audrey was plagued by the recurrence of a nightmare in which she was running, but every step splashed her legs with blood. She was always sprinting, her stomach cold with dread, but the source of that deep, rotting fear was unknown. By the time she had taken fifty steps, her legs were blood-soaked. After a hundred steps she always lurched, stumbled, then fell. Blood cascaded all around her, covering every inch of her body, causing her to scream in sheer, abject horror. At this point, she would wake with a start. When she inevitably eased back into sleep, the whole dream would replay over again. This sometimes persisted all night. The night previous was one of those nights.
      Bill and Audrey had decided that the best way to proceed was to lead the calf down to the bridge before James was awake. The bridge spanned the distance between two rock beds – it was no more than thirty feet long and perhaps five feet wide – with a light stream that flowed between. After putting two slugs in the beast’s skull, Bill would cut the throat and bleed it out. The moderate incline allowed the blood to flow down the stream, and over a miniature waterfall into Quart Pot Creek below it.
      James often slept in the shed that the calf called home; she was always restless in the barn, and she would low relentlessly if left out in the paddock. When Bill and Audrey walked into the little tin tool-shed, sure enough, there he was, curled up, his head on Moomoo’s flank. Even their light footfalls on the packed earth was enough to cause him to stir, so there was nothing for it but to bring him along.
      Bill presently realised it was going to be damn near impossible to separate James from his calf. It’s going to break his heart, worried Audrey.
      ‘James, my sweet boy,’ Audrey prodded him gently. He woke, his face breaking into a wide grin as it always did when his mother woke him of a morning. He had been dreaming of the rain, and Moomoo, and it was bliss. He was still a little groggy; James wasn’t a swift waker.
      ‘Mummy. Moomoo sweepy?’
      ‘Yes, darling. Moomoo is still sleeping.’
The calf was snoring. Bill cursed his luck that he couldn’t just knock the calf over in its sleep. It would certainly make things a hell of a lot easier. He stepped out of the shed; it was always better to let Audrey handle the boy, she was much more delicate.
      ‘James, sweetheart. We need to take Moomoo down to the bridge today,’ said Audrey. She stroked his hair as she told him, trying to keep him as calm as possible. She had a sudden flash of clarity. Maybe I can convince him to stay here, she thought. Or at the very least stay at the house while we do what we have to.
      ‘Uh huh. I wake her up. Moomoo! Wake up!’ James nudged the calf.
      ‘Darling …we need to take her alone,’ Audrey placed her hand on his shoulder.
      ‘Wha? No I wanna come wif you. Moomoo wake up siwwy!’
      The calf’s eyes opened, she lifted her big, brown head, and snuffed at the air. She nuzzled James’s nape, and stood up.
      ‘James, we need to take her alone, and you need to stay up at the house for a while, my sweet. It’s important that you stay there, you understand, darling? Can you do that for mummy? Mummy has the fire on and she needs you to watch it, alright, my sweet? Can you be my big brave boy? Can you do that for me, my darling?’
      James beamed. He could be her big brave boy, he would watch that fire really close so that nothing bad happened, he thought.
      ‘Yes mummy,’ he said. The light of pride in his eyes damn near ripped Audrey’s heart in half. With that settled, they left the shed – James, Audrey, Bill and Moomoo.

      James sat cross-legged in front of the fire, his tongue poked out a little. He wiggled his tongue, then zipped it back into his mouth like a lizard. He giggled. His parents had been gone maybe five minutes when the fire abruptly went out. One moment it was crackling gently, the next it was out, a soft sizzling sound all that remained. James shot up like a snake rearing to strike, and without hesitation, bolted straight out the door.

      Bill held his rifle in his left hand, the calf’s reins in his right. His slaughtering knife hung from a knot on his belt; long, wickedly curved, and razor sharp. Leading the calf to the bridge had not been difficult. He took no pleasure in this aspect of his life – slaughtering always made him feel uneasy – but it was his lot as the head of the family. It should have been that he taught his son how to slaughter and prepare a beast, but that would never be, not with James having the mind of a child.
      Audrey stood at the far edge of the clearing, her face knitted with concern. How am I ever going to explain to James what’s happened, let alone get him to eat the meat we harvest from the calf? she worried. She thought she could hear rapid, heavy footfalls coming from beyond the opposite side of the clearing, from which they had approached the bridge. She looked past Bill as he raised his rifle, and let out a terrified shriek.
      Bill was blindsided, but he heard Audrey scream. His finger depressed the trigger gently, almost tenderly, even as he pulled to the left to see his wife’s face contorted in fear. The rifle roared as a bullet ripped into the calf’s shoulder, or was the roar from behind him?
      ‘Oh bloody hell, Aud what the hell’s wrong with you? Look what you’ve made me do,’ he spat, turning to face his wife. Then he heard it, the now thundering footfalls, and a primal screech, almost inhuman in timbre. His stomach dropped cold as he turned away from the calf. She had backed away down the narrow bridge, trailing blood from the wound in her shoulder, her harness red with gore. ‘Shit!’ he swore, his eyes widening in sheer terror.

      James knew where the bridge was, but he had never been allowed to go near it. ‘It’s not a place for sweet boys, and you’re a very sweet boy, darling,’ his mother had told him. He figured he would be allowed this once, though. Mummy needed him to look after the fire, and it had gone out, and that’s bad, and Mummy needs to know right away, he was thinking as he pelted down the trail towards the bridge.
      It wasn’t far; he reached it in two minutes flat. As his bare feet pounded over the compacted dirt, gum trees flanking the trail either side, he could see the bridge and there was Moomoo! She was kneeling down on the bridge, just like he’d taught her. Moomoo’s such a good girl, he thought proudly. But what is Da doing with the rifle? Why is he pointing it at Moomoo! He’s going to shoot her, he realised, his teeth clenching into a snarl.
      It would be the last clear memory he would have of that day.

James’s closed fist collided with his father’s temple, an unearthly howl wrenching itself from the bowels of his fury. Falling to the ground unconscious, Bill’s head cracked loudly on the bridge.
Blood flowed from his split head, but James could not stop. He pummeled his father’s face with his fists, screaming in anguish, tears streaming down his face, mixing with spattered blood. After a few moments, Bill’s face was a bloody mess, only vaguely resembling anything that could have been considered an actual human face.
      Audrey stood transfixed in horror, unable to believe what she was seeing. In moments of extreme fear, the brain commonly defaults to either fight, or flight. Often, that response is overridden by an even stronger impulse – don’t move.
      James’s frenzy led him to remove the slaughter knife from his father’s belt. With a fervour beyond the reserves of human vigour, he hacked, stabbed, and slashed repeatedly at his father’s corpse, howling in agony all the while. His vision was red-tinged haze, but out of the corner of his vision he presently became aware of his mother standing, totally inert, at the edge of the clearing.
      He sprung from a crouch, leaping off the bridge with the litheness of a jungle cat, and within a few paces he reached his mother’s stoic figure, still not moving, her breaths coming as shallow as the moon’s low tide.
      ‘Muhh,’ he grunted as he slowed to a walk, through lips splattered with his father’s sticky, hot blood.
      Audrey’s eyes remained open, even as the knife pierced her throat, spraying blood seemingly to the four corners of Hell and back. James’s hands were a blur as he thrust the wooden-handled blade wildly, his mother’s betrayal fuelling his bloodlust.

      James regained his presence of mind some hours later, when he awoke with a jolt to Moomoo licking his face. He had fallen asleep on her flank, all matted and bloody. Her harness had left an indent behind his bloodied ear.
      He looked up at the sky, and smiled. The warm sun on his face, his calf licking his face, the sweet smell of spring in the air.
      He leant over the edge of the bridge, to the shallow stream underneath, and cupped a mouthful of coppery, sweet water into his mouth. The reflection of the bridge was a deep red.
            He walked over to his mother’s mangled corpse, cuddled up to her lifeless body, closed his eyes and wept.