Jinny Greenteeth

Cathy Bryant

Story image for Jinny Greenteeth by

I n Morecambe, we were told that the sands were treacherous and could kill us, and that was true. My friend across the bay, in Grange-over-Sands, was told instead that Jinny Greenteeth would get her if she went near the water.

“See the duckweed? That’s from her teeth,” said my friend’s mother, who was professionally opposed to children ever having a good time, and found ways to make Helen as unhappy as possible.

“Duckweed is edible, isn’t it? It contains valuable vitamins,” I said, with a patronising smile. I viewed Lancashire (which contains Morecambe) as sophisticated in comparison to rural Grange (in Cumbria).

“I read that the legend of Jinny is a metaphor for the weed, which can trap swimmers,” said Helen, which earned her a slap across her cheek.

“You can’t go out tonight,” the mother decided. “You can stay in and do homework.”

I’d got the train from Lancaster across the bay—it’s wonderful, at one point you can see the sea all around the train—to see my friend and go out, and meet the attractive men who hung out in Grange’s two pubs, there being nowhere else except for a respectable tearoom that might as well have been covered in dust and cobwebs.

“Oh dear!” I said. “And break our social engagements? Isn’t that terribly rude? Not all of our friends have phones, and they’ll wonder where we are, and why we’ve let them down.”

Mother From Hell glared at me. This being before the internet—it was actually 1985, if you want to know—she had no way of proving me a liar. No one had mobile ‘cellular’ phones, and there were still people in the country who chose not to have phones at all. One brave village was still holding out on having electricity connected to it.

MFH disappeared upstairs, to do who knew what. We didn’t care as long as she disappeared.

We made our own food. Sausages, potatoes, cabbage and a thin gravy, all in much smaller portions than I was used to, and I had never had to make my own dinner, or tea as it was sometimes called. It didn’t take long in Helen’s capable hands, and after a giggly few minutes with hairbrush and lipstick we were out and heading to the pub, sixteen years old and knowing absolutely everything, except how to escape our families.

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"W e’re freeee!" said Helen, as we headed along the road to the first pub, where someone she wanted would sit and murmur at his friend over a pint. Thrilling.

On the way we passed the pond and the duckweed, and laughed.

“What is she supposed to do, Jinny, if she gets you?”

“Kill you and gobble you up,” said Helen.

I sighed. “How unoriginal. And that’s not all that bad anyway, is it, compared to life?”

“I’m just happy that we got out before Dad got back. We need pints, and soon,” said Helen.

I remembered that Helen had said her Dad was far worse than her Mum, but she would never say why. That made me feel cold and sick. I looked at the pond and wished both Helen’s parents in it and eaten, and mine too.

Let’s not talk about them.

There was a reason that Helen and I had connected.

I walked on, feeling desperate and miserable.

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B ob actually said Hi to us as we opened the squeaky door and walked in, and Helen practically had an orgasm on the spot. The pub was its usual dull and grubby self, which was comforting, and we bought pints of scrumpy—the most alcoholic cider.

When I was trying to be sophisticated, I’d have a Pernod-and-black, a sticky mixture of aniseed liquor and blackcurrant cordial. There was another drink for when I felt dangerous—a pint of scrumpy with a pernod-and-black in it, known locally as a Red Witch. You have to remember that there were none of the modern devices to disappear into back then, and alcohol was a cheap way to fling your psyche away from reality.

So I drank my pint, and grinned at Bob and his dull friend Kev, and they looked at each other and then came over, and Helen was dying of excitement next to me.

“Hey,” said Bob to Helen, and talked to her. I wondered (in my superior way) whether he would ever venture on from monosyllables.

“So yeah,” said Kev to me, which was weird, and I realised that with Bob and Helen connecting, we were going to have a conversation whether we liked it or not.

“Hi,” I said, super-cool, with an upwards nod of acknowledgment.

“So, you’re from Morecambe, right?”


“So, that biker died.”

“Which one?”

“On the sands. He started sinking, and he says to his mates, save the bike, save the bike. And they do, and it only takes a minute, but when they turn to get their mate, he’s sunk without a trace. He’d got off the bike to keep it lighter, so it wouldn’t sink as deep, see?”

“God,” I said. “I heard about the coach and horses in Victorian times. A really big carriage and four horses, and down they sank, just like that.”

(A few decades later we’d have been talking about the cocklers who drowned. They were Chinese, immigrants, and had been made to work for virtually nothing, out cockle-fishing with their toes, just as we did for fun. The difference being that they had no choice, and couldn’t stop if it looked dangerous, and no one had welcomed them or shown them where it was safe to go.

It was our fault, the townspeople felt. If only we’d known, if only we’d done something. We felt as if we were the sands who had killed them from mistreatment.

But that hadn’t happened yet.)

Kev and I both shuddered at the same moment.

“You get gorgeous sunsets in Morecambe, though,” I said, wanting to defend my town.

“Yeah, dead sexy those,” he said with a snigger, and I felt a cold dislike for him.

I glanced at Helen and Bob, and took in their closeness, their intimacy. Words were pouring out of them, and their eyes were locked. As my glance became a long gaze, I saw their hands creep together and hold each other, nestling warm things, and I wanted to cry because I didn’t get that, ever.

“So,” said Kev, “Fancy going outside to see a bit of sunset then?”

It was dark. There was no sunset.

I nodded and got up from the table.

“Back in a bit,” I said to Helen, who smiled at me.

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"S o", as Kev said constantly, I went round the back of the pub and had sex with Kev. I had been brought up to defer to men and to be used sexually. I didn’t know how to say no without being impolite. I liked sex, anyway, another sin for women in those times. With Kev it was OK but not great, like a fairground ride that isn’t running at full speed and needs an overhaul. I’d known the lads on the fairground in Morecambe for decades. The rides were much more exciting when you knew how rickety the rides were, and how stoned the operators were. This one wasn’t. But it was something.

When we went back in, Helen was positively sparkling, like a crystal, like tinsel on the tree, like water in sunshine. Bob looked pretty happy too. And there were murky reddish drinks on the table.

“We got Red Witches all round!” said Bob.

“Cheers mate!”

Even Kev was looking fairly cheerful. After all, he was drinking and he’d got laid. He more or less ignored me now. I was good for a shag, but his eyes were on Helen—thinner and prettier than I was, and with the mystique of supposed innocence that the stupider men love. I sat and despised him and myself and my life, and took a hard pull at my drink. I felt a bright surge of flavour and giddiness, and a lurch in my guts before they settled down and decided to cope.

Bob went to the loo, and Helen leant over to me to whisper.

“He’s asked me to go away with him. On his bike. Tonight. He knows some people in Wales, on a hill by the sea, only you can swim there. It’s really friendly, he says.”

“Do you trust him? You don’t know him that well,” I whispered back, but I knew it was pointless. She was always going to take an escape route, and I couldn’t disapprove.

“I trust him,” she said, her eyes round and shining. “We love each other.”

Tears leaked out of my eyes then, because my friend was going, and anything could happen to her, and I would miss her like an arm, and why would nobody see through all my crap and love me?

“Be happy,” I said. “I’ll miss you.”

And she cried too, and we hugged and hugged. Kev was probably getting off on that, but who cared?

“How are you going to get your stuff from the house?” I asked.

“I’m not. We’re just going, tonight, with nothing. His friends will lend us things until we have jobs.” The sort of plan that sounds great to sixteen-year-olds.


A minute or so later, Bob came back from the loo and he and Helen discussed plans, getting high on their imagined future.

I couldn’t bear any more.

“Right, I’m going,” I said. “I have to catch the last train. Good luck, you two.” I looked at Bob. “Take care of her.”

“I will,” said Bob, as if he meant it.

“I’ll walk you back,” said Kev, because he wasn’t entirely shit.

“No thanks. It’s just a few yards,” I said, and he grunted assent.

Helen hugged me, and then I left, and I was alone.

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T he fresh air was wonderful, with its tang of sea salt. The moon was up.

I had nothing and no one, and maybe that was OK.

I’d missed the last train ages ago, though. I’d have to head back to Helen’s house and ask to kip there.

I stopped by the pond. But if I went back, I’d have to explain where Helen was. And if I did, they might catch her, and keep her. But if I said nothing, they’d call the police.

I closed my eyes for a moment, breathing deeply, and trying not to drown in the doom logic of alcohol.

I heard a swish, and then she was there.

I opened my eyes and saw her: Jinny Greenteeth. She had skin the colour of the moon, and hair the colour of the pond at night. But when she smiled, I saw that her teeth—jagged, pointed teeth, the fangs of a predator—were slime green. Like the weed that draped her body here and there, though not over breasts or genitals.

She was old, and very, very ugly.

Of course I tried to run, but I didn’t have control of my legs.

I managed to say something—something odd: “I always thought you’d be like Helen’s mum.”

She opened her jaws and laughed.

“Come here and take my hand,” she said.

I was shaking now, and tears were rolling down my face. “You’ll kill me.”

“Yes,” she said. “That’s why folk come to me.”

It sounded quite reasonable. That was part of the terror. But I didn’t want to die… or did I?

“I’m not sure,” I said.

“I’ll come to you.” And she began to glide.

I shook harder, and let out a wild sound like a frightened animal. And then she was there, and she smelt exactly the way you’d expect someone to smell if they lived in a pond for centuries.

“Just one thing,” I blurted out, “will you please kill Helen’s parents too? And mine, if you ever get the chance? They’re evil.”

“It will be a pleasure.” She sounded like it would be. “So much has changed, but people who hurt children are still people who hurt children.”

Hearing that, hearing that then, was so much I just fell over. I just lay there, and cried into the earth. “I wanted to be loved. I can love, but nobody loves me.” Pure misery. I wanted her to be a mum to me.

Jinny stroked my hair with cold fingers, tipped with claws. The gentleness was frightening. I was a mouse entertaining a cat. “You will be delicious. Take my hand.”

I took her hand.

We were just like Bob and Helen, except that I was going to die.

Please don’t kill me, I couldn’t say. I’m a dumb teen. I don’t know anything. Maybe there is something out there for me. Anything can happen. Please don’t eat me. Have some bloody chips like everyone else. I couldn’t say any of this. My speaking days were gone. I was a terrified animal being shoved up the ramp at the abattoir.

The water brought me back with its cold shock. We were up to our ankles, then knees, then thighs.

“One thing now,” said Jinny, and she clutched me to her, too tightly for me to breathe. I tried to gasp, and she blew into my mouth. Then she pulled me beneath the surface.

It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to hold my breath, and I sucked in a great gulp of water, and a bit of the green weed. This was my death.

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E xcept—I could breathe. I breathed the water, in, out, in, out, and found myself capable of more shock. My hair waved in front of my eyes, and I pushed it aside. Jinny’s hair waved away to the side, as if it knew its place.

“You!” she said. “You!”

“Me,” I said, and then began to laugh, it was so stupid. I was sitting in a pond with a hag, breathing pondwater.

Jinny slapped me hard across the face, slapped the laughter out of my mouth. But then she smiled again.

“You have come to be the next,” she said. “I will be at peace soon. You will have to kill Helen’s parents yourself. They will taste of lies and pain.”

My mind was trying to process a reality it hadn’t believed in. Slowly the meanings entered me, like Jinny’s breath had. “I don’t understand any of this,” I said, but already it wasn’t true.

“You have taken your place. You will be the next Jinny. I will have a short while to teach you.”

If I’d still been human, I’d have passed out long before. Instead, I felt strong and capable. Empowered.

“Oh sure,” I said.

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J inny did teach me. I could move to other waters if I chose. I could kill and eat anyone I liked who came too near. And I could use my power to find love, if I wished.

“I will kill those who are tired of life, and come to me for release, as you did,” I told Jinny. “And I’ll kill the evil ones. They horrify me still.”

“And you must kill those who are very unlucky,” said Jinny, and I nodded, because that made sense. “The weed is good for you, too. Eat some—it’s full of vitamins.” She was such a weird mixture of ancient and modern.

As her power waned over the weeks and months, mine waxed stronger. Bits of weed settled on her skin and hair. Or maybe bits of her skin and hair turned into weed. It was hard to tell which she was, towards the end. Finally she laid down and began to cover herself in the muck and silt at the bottom of the pond.

“You know what you need to know,” she said. “It’s time for me to go. You’ll know when it’s your turn, when the next one comes. Just breathe into their mouths, and one day one of them will breathe the water. Then you will teach her, and next you’ll become earth and water, as I will, and grow plants and feed animals and be part of everything. Be happy.”

Tears disappear underwater. “Jinny,” I said, “thank you for helping me to escape from my life. I was stuck. I’ll miss you.” A little bit of humanity burst out of me. “You’re so fucking free of bullshit.”

She smiled and was gone, covered or dissolved into the water and murk.

I cried anyway. She deserved my tears.

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I danced from pond to sea to lake, to find Helen and see what had happened to her. I found her alive and living in Wales, still with Bob, but no longer shining as much. They had a flat and a couple of children, both blonde and beautiful. Helen still shined when she looked at them.

Bob came home and kissed her, and asked what was for dinner, and ate it, sat with a can of beer and watched the football. Helen washed up, gazing out of the kitchen window at the hills and the beauty of them.

She was OK. She was no longer being continually hurt. She had choices.

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B ack at Grange, I leapt into the Bay and went back to Morecambe. It was easy enough to find my parents. They tasted of greed and sadism. I spat out their poisonous bones.

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I could find love, I know. I will, when I’m ready. What I really needed wasn’t love (except that we all do, all the time) but validation, and power over my own life. I have those now. I have an identity and work to do. I’m famous: Jinny Greenteeth. My teeth are that weed colour now. I think they’re beautiful.

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T here was one more piece of the past to see to.

I was back at my pond in Grange when they came walking past. It was dusk, and no one else was about. Workers had gone home, and those going out weren’t out yet.

They had shrunk a little, and their clothes looked slightly shabby. For a moment I felt sorry for them. Then I saw their faces, warped with hatred, and far uglier than Jinny had ever been. It’s all a matter of perspective.

“Stupid bitch,” said the father.

“I’d blame that whore friend of hers,” said the mother, “but Helen was always stupid too.”

“Police asking questions all the time, and people bothering us. Don’t know what happened, and can’t say we don’t care. But the world’s better off without them.”

“And people saying they’re sorry for us. I wish they’d just leave us alone. But that ungrateful thing, how dare she go and without so much as a thank you?”


Helen’s parents—more like un-parents—were staring at each other, bound by hate the way many are bound by love, and they didn’t see me emerge from the pond.

I stood right next to them and smiled.

They turned with a fraction of attention, and then they flinched and squealed.

I kept smiling, holding them both easily.

I’m very strong. A few months ago I took a very fit young man who was doing some very unpleasant things to cats. I like cats. Anyway, he was strong by human standards, and I shook him around like a protein shake, laughing as he got angry about being killed by a female.

I held Helen’s parents, and I smiled and smiled. They were shaking and whimpering, as I had once.

“Let’s go for a little walk together,” I said, loving how my teeth really freaked them out.

“It’s you,” hissed the mother. “I thought you were dead.”

“Oh I am,” I said, and pulled them after me into the water.

Then the awful bit, for me.

I held them tightly to me, both at the same time, and when they opened their mouths for one last breath I hissed air into each of them. And what if—what if one of them was to be the next Jinny? What if I wasn’t evil enough or something? Either of them would be the worst nightmare the region had ever known.

With a snarl, I pulled them under the water and watched them start to drown.

Thank God, I thought.

I hadn’t said that word since I’d been in the pub with Helen, Bob and Kev, long ago.

Poor Kev. He was a suspect, of course, and he’d also felt really crap about all three of us, going missing like that. He had actually developed a personality, and some depth. No, I wasn’t going to eat him, unless he became one of my random kills.

We have to have those. Nature is cruel, and people are unlucky, whether they’re good, bad, or somewhere between.

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A s Helen’s parents drowned, I ate bits of their flesh off them, the way certain fish might. Ever since the power station had come to Heysham, next to Morecambe, there had been sharks in the bay. I would throw the bodies in the sea. Suicide due to grief will probably be the official explanation.

So they watched me tear bits off them as they started to lose consciousness, horror in their eyes.

Jinny had been right. They tasted disgusting. I wouldn’t let them pollute my pond.

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P eople, listen to me.

Come outside the house. See the water. Play near the water.

Play in the water.

I might eat you. I might not. But even if I do eat you, there are worse things.

Hold my hand.



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Cathy Bryant

Author image of Cathy Bryant Cathy Bryant is a writer and performer with over 250 poems, stories, and articles published in anthologies and magazines. She has three poetry collections, Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Look at All the Women, and Erratics, as well as the non-fiction book How to Win Writing Competitions. She also runs the writer resource site compsandcalls.com.

© Cathy Bryant 2022 All Rights Reserved

The title picture was created by Micah Hyatt using images generated and recombined using Stable Diffusion and Photoshop.

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