Billy felt the sting of the slap just before his head rocked back, making him cry out in pain.
‘Boys don’t cry’ his father shouted into his face, spittle flecked across his cheek but he dared not wipe it away.
‘Are you a girl?’ Billy shook his head, pinching himself to stop the tears that threatened to fall.
His father sneered at him, ‘Now get your ass to the shop and bring my tobacco. Don’t dawdle and make sure it’s the right one.’
Billy ran out the door clutching the money to his chest. One tear escaped, making a trail down his dirty cheek and he slapped it away with the back of his hand. Running towards the bridge, his anger grew.
He was completely powerless against his father. Arden Tibbs had had it rough. A mean father too, poverty and abuse his only siblings. Now Billy was going through the same thing. If only the cancer hadn’t taken his mother, she was a buffer, a barrier between him and his father. Arden liked to smack her around too which meant less slaps for him.
Kicking a stone, he watched it sink into the swampy water below the bridge. The wild, peaceful setting did little to ease his anger. Coming around the bend he noticed something lying in the sun in the middle of the boards. It was a baby crocodile, all alone, tiny and sweet.
Creeping closer he watched for the mother, but he was alone, basking in the sun. Billy shot forward, standing on its head, to keep the jaw shut. It squirmed and squeaked. Billy’s anger overflowed. How dare this evil creature sleep on his bridge? How dare it?
Gripping the squeaking baby by its neck he squeezed while it struggled pitifully. He wasn’t strong enough to strangle it. Carefully he took it by the tail and swung it hard towards the bridges wooden post. A sickening crunch told him he hit his mark. He swung again and again until the squeaking stopped and a bloody mess remained.
Whooping in delight, he threw the crocodile into the reeds, lay down on the bridge and washed his hands. Red and green painted a sick picture in the murky water and he lay for a while enjoying the adrenalin still trickling through his body.
A rustle in the reeds brought him back to reality and he stood quickly. A guttural hiss-growl came from the direction of the dead baby. He never moved, wanting to see but scared to stay. A flash of croc skin showed in the reeds. The growling stopped then started again, louder and angry.
Billy took off running down the bridge keeping an eye behind him. He made it out and onto the bank on the far side. Stopping, he put his hands on his knees, caught his breath and laughed out loud. ‘Take that bitch!’ pulling a sign he turned away. The reeds rustled in his direction and he took off running again, still laughing. The mother crocs head stuck out briefly, her black eyes emotionless. Eventually she moved back out of sight and waited. She was patient.
Years passed and Billy moved away as soon as he was old enough to shave. He grew into his father. Mean and selfish he struggled to keep a job, marriage and family. A fall at work, badly broke his left leg, forcing him to walk with a limp and a cane. He blamed the company of course and was put off with a small handshake. His wife left, taking their daughter Amber. Alcohol became his friend and they visited every day. Passing out by early evening he would sleep it off, only to wake to whisky and eggs for breakfast.
Lucky for Billy, his father died, leaving a meagre income and the house, his handshake was gone and his wife wouldn’t support him. Bitch! He moved back to the swamp, happy to live his “golden” years drunk and jobless. Each day blended into the next as his alcoholism and emphysema progressed. He didn’t care. His ass made a hollow on the outside chair and he was quite content.
Sundays were the loneliest for him and he always walked into town to fill up on booze, tobacco and food. The locals were usually in church so he didn’t have to put up with their judgement. Not that he cared, he had his whisky and could sit on the porch all day long socializing with it.
Billy swiped his hand across his face to clean it, grabbed his wallet and stick and headed off rather unsteadily towards town. Rounding the bend on the bridge, he stopped dead. There lay the biggest crocodile he had ever seen. For a moment, he admired it, huge claws hung over each side of the walkway and its eyes were closed against the light.
If Billy had been sober, he would possibly have used good judgment, walked back and gone around on the road. Lazy and drunk are a bad combination. He stood for a while, then decided stuff it. This was his bridge and the bitch would just have to move. Picking up a rock, he lobbed it at the croc. One eye opened and stared, no emotion, no movement. Billy waited for what seemed like ages, but only because he had run out of whisky and wanted, no needed more.
Running his tongue over dry lips, he stepped forward. The croc lay still. He lobbed another rock, shouting ‘hiiii-hiiiii move”. She didn’t, in fact, her eye closed and she went back to sleep. Now in Billy’s whisky-addled brain, this was more of an insult than anything else and he took several steps towards her. Her eye opened and he stopped. They stared at each other and Billy’s anger rose.
‘Move you stupid pair of shoes, this is my bridge.’ He banged his stick and took another threatening step towards her. All noise disappeared as they focused on each other. One arrogant and hot, the other stone cold.
Suddenly she leapt towards him, closing the gap in a split second. He stepped back quickly managing to miss being bitten on the foot, he turned to run but had no chance. His bad leg slipped out under him and landed with a crunch as it broke. His scream was piercing. He turned and she was meters away, he could see his reflection in her black eyes.
Slowly she advanced, he scooted back on his bum, screaming. He waved his stick at her, it was as effective as a toothpick. Either no-one heard or no-one cared, cause no-one came. Leisurely she picked him up by the leg, dragging him down the bridge, to the same place he had found and killed the baby all those years ago.
Swinging him by the leg, he hit the now-weathered post with his ribs, they split like twigs. He screamed and peed himself. She lifted him again, this time his forehead burst like a squashed strawberry, blood fountained out.
Letting go of his leg, she stepped back, Billy absurdly thought to himself that he would never dance again. He looked into her face, her black eyes watching the life running out of him.
‘Come on. Come onnnnn… What are you waiting for? Finish me.’
But she waited while Billy’s pain level intensified, his head throbbed, his ribs sang in pain and his leg stung. She waited.
It took him 15 minutes to die, painfully. Excruciatingly painfully. She watched the whole thing, then took what was left of Billy home for dinner. Many years she had lain on that bridge waiting for him. Her wait was over.
No-one would ever know what became of Billy Tibbs and no-one cared.