Panting, Billy watched the dust lift and float as he tried to control his breathing.
‘BILLY. BIL…LLY… MAGGOT.’ His stepfather’s voice reached under the porch, turning his stomach to water, he struggled not to pee himself. His stepfather Josh only called him “maggot” when furious. He kept a bowl of sweets on the counter. His sweets. Billy couldn’t resist stealing just one. He never thought it would be missed, but the bastard counted them and now he would get it. He rested his head in the dust praying that his mother would be home early. The heat lulled him into sleep.
Crunching tyres woke him. Lifting his head, he knocked it on the wood before remembering where he was. The sneeze escaped before he could clap his hand over his mouth in terror.
‘Maggot? Is that you, you little turd.’ Dirty fingers fished around for him and he shrunk into the shadows.
‘Whatcha doin?’ his mother’s gravelly voice asked. Josh’s head appeared over the edge of the porch, freezing Billy’s blood.
‘Hey Maggot, that’s where you are. So you didn’t hear me calling you?’ His eyebrows crawled together as his face contorted in anger.
‘Come ‘ere.’ His hands were fists and Billy knew what that meant.
‘Leave the boy Josh.’ His mother sidled up rubbing his back. Her huge breasts quickly got his attention and his breathing changed. Billy’s relief was short lived as Josh stuck his head under again, ‘See YOU later. I’m just gonna take care of your ma.’ Billy didn’t know what was worse, him getting a good beating or his ma having to screw the bastard so he wouldn’t get into trouble. His mother’s look of fear as she walked away with Josh tore at his heart. Billy wondered how they had ever gotten into this situation and missed his father every day.
The bedroom door slammed and Billy crept out slowly, wiping the dust off his hands, he went straight to the kitchen to sooth his dry throat. He looked longingly at the cold drink but no-one dared drink Josh’s stuff. He sat in the chair listening to the grunts coming from the bedroom. He was starving but too terrified to eat, he knew his stepfather would keep his word.
That night nursing a bruised cheek and burning ass, Billy knew he had to get over his fear and do something. But what? He noticed his mother wince when he hugged her goodnight, his face still wet with tears of pain and humiliation. He hated his stepfather hurting her and wished he was older and bigger.
‘One day it’ll be just you and me Billy. I swear.’ Glancing in the mirror his red-rimmed eyes shone with hate and he prayed for the day.
Billy was a clever kid and lost himself in schoolwork and books to escape his terrible home. He loved school and dawdled home every day hoping that Josh had passed out by the time he got there. Today he was in luck. His feet picked up on hearing resonating snores coming from the porch. Josh sat shirtless and dirty, several beer bottles surrounded his chair. Billy carefully stepped around them.
He pulled his books out onto the kitchen table and started his homework. He had to work through it all alone, there was no-one to help but he didn’t mind. In Natural Science they started on plants and poisons and he was enthralled.
Question 1 was: Name the 7 most poisonous plants on earth. He did.
Question 2: where are they found?
Taking his textbooks he started to copy the info down. Halfway through he stopped, reading ahead with growing excitement.
Encyclopaedia Britannica read:
Water hemlock, (genus Cicuta), genus of four species of poisonous plants in the parsley family (Apiaceae), common throughout the north temperate zone. Water hemlocks typically grow in wet, marshy places and are often confused with non-poisonous members of the family, such as wild carrots or parsnips. The plants contain cicutoxin, which rapidly acts on the central nervous system; the roots are especially toxic, though ingestion of any part of the plants can be lethal for humans and cattle.
Staring at the picture Billy recognised the plant. Dropping the pencil, he hauled ass down to the stream, stopping suddenly.
‘That’s water hemlock. I’m sure of it.’ He stared wondering if he had the balls to do what was forming in his mind. There were several large bushes of the pretty white flowers which must have bulbous roots. His mind whirred with ideas, interlaced with pure terror if Josh caught him.
That night Josh and his mother got into it. Billy pulled the pillow over his ears but could still hear the shouting, until one sharp slap ended it. He fell asleep listening to his mother’s soft crying.
Tuesday’s were stew night. Josh loved stew and took most of the food for himself usually, leaving a meagre amount for Josh and his mom to share. Billy resented this so much, his mother earned the money, why should they go to bed hungry? His biggest problem was ensuring that him and his mom didn’t get any of the poison, he pondered how to get around this.
Tuesday came and his plan was airtight. He went down to the stream after school, started a small fire and harvested the plants. He had packets on his hands to avoid touching them, he didn’t know if this made a difference but it helped his peace of mind. Carefully peeling and cutting the bulbs, he could understand why someone would think this was radish. Boiling the water, he added salt, the hemlock and stirred. He sat there for ages, stirring and testing until they came out soft.
Placing them in a dish he had brought, he put the fire out and headed home.
As they sat to eat he wondered how a man could pray before eating and still treat his family like dirt. As his mother dished up Billy shouted, ‘Mom the raccoons are in the dustbin again, I just saw one.’ Josh jumped up, he hated the ‘coons and enjoyed inflicting pain on anything. Grabbing the broom he bolted out followed by Billy’s mom. He pulled the bowl out slowly from inside the cupboard. He didn’t want to put it in the fridge as Josh hated cold food. Stirring in all the bulbs, he sat back at the table just as the adults walked back in. Terrified his flushed face would betray his fear, he stared at his food.
‘Didn’t see no ‘coons.’
Josh reached out and slapped Billy on the side of his head. ‘What’s with the stupid grin Maggot?’ The smile disappeared instantly, Billy got up to help his mom with the food. Josh spoke throughout the meal, bits of food flying from his lips. It grossed Billy and his mom out but they dared not comment. Josh burped, rubbed his stomach and stood up to get a beer. Heaven forbid he would think to offer anyone else something to drink or wash a plate. Billy’s resentment simmered.
Billy helped his mom clean up, giving her a quick hug as they finished. She sighed hearing Josh drop his beer bottle then cocked her head to listen.
‘Stupid bastard’s drunk already.’ She started heading towards the moaning-growl that Josh was making.
‘Mom? Can you quickly help me with this sum?’
‘Sure just gimme a second.’
‘I’m really stuck and it’s a hard one.’ Pausing she looked worried, maths not being her strong subject, but it worked and she sat next to him. They read through the sums one by one and together managed to get them done. Billy could do them all but wanted to keep his mother away from Josh.
He kept listening for Josh but it was dead quiet.
‘I’m going to bed. Night Josh’ she called over her shoulder, he didn’t answer.
‘Probably passed out.’
Billy crept to the porch. Josh’s terrified eyes followed him. He was paralysed and dribbling. Several tics in his face pulled it into a hideous mask.
‘Bssshhh. Bisssshhhh.’ He mumbled unable to form the words.
‘How ya doing Joshy?’ Billy leaned forward into his face, knowing how much he hated being called “Joshy”.
‘How was supper you PIG. Did you enjoy the water hemlock I mixed in with your stew?’ Billy was white with anger, hate coming off him in waves.
Hate shone back at him and he spat at Billy trying to get the words to form. Feebly he lifted his hand into a fist and tried to punch, but there was no force in it.
‘Arrgghhh..’ a feeble attempt to scream was no more than a whisper.
Billy took his middle finger and pressed it onto Josh’s forehead. ‘Die you pig-bastard. Tell the devil I say “hi”. With that Billy spat in Josh’s face, flipped him off and walked away, whistling.
Billy went to bed that night and slept better than he had in years.