The Murphy’s came round yesterday. I could have killed Draco then, but I didn’t. I refrained for a number of reasons: the first being that Charlotte, the mother, was there and I didn’t want to butcher her son in front of her, like her son had done to mine. I was better than that. But also because I didn’t have a plan yesterday. I have one now.
Draco is currently nine years old. When he killed my son, he was eight. Eight! What kind of child kills someone at eight? And what kind of mother forgives her son for murder? Then again, what kind of mother seeks revenge on a nine year old boy?
An age old maxim says age is just a number, and that is true. We measure our life in numbers and call them “years.” What a waste of time! I was nineteen when I lost my virginity; twenty when I got my first job; thirty when I got married; thirty two when I lost my husband to cancer; thirty three when I lost my son. Thirty three — the holy age, the time for divine intervention. My son will remain eight forever in the void, his life isn’t measured anymore, its constant. I’m the same in a way, thirty four and dead inside.
Time is a strange thing. Originally, I almost — ALMOST — forgave Draco for killing my son — what kind of Mother am I? — but as a whole year passed in cold seconds, I grew bitter. Draco had taken my son from me, the only precious thing I had left. He’s nine years old, but he’s left me living inside a coffin of depression. I want revenge. I thirst for it. Age is just a number. There is no holy age. Not anymore.
And I will get revenge. I can promise you that. If it is the last thing I ever do. I will kill Draco. I will avenge my son.
Conflict tears me apart, however. In a way, I desire to kill the boy, but then again, I don’t. He looks just like my son. Same ash-brown hair, same acorn eyes, same smile slit deep into his flesh. He even sticks his tongue out when smiling, like my son used to, mocking me. Do I really want to take him from this world? Am I really that far gone?
Hell yes! My son was better. This child is an imposter.
I can’t stand the way Draco’s mother, Charlotte, panders to me, comforting me with corpse cold hands — hands of death — when she forgave a murderer. I want to kill her as well, but I won’t. Just her son. My boy didn’t die to forgive Draco’s sins. He wasn’t a saint. Neither am I. Obviously.
The revolver is cocked and resting on the back seat of my car. I’m driving to school. Charlotte is letting me pick Draco up. She says it will be good for me — boy, don’t she know!
Just driving to school, like any other parent.
The fragrance of November fire seasoned the air as heavy metal clouds forged over the sinking sun, and there was a certain redness about the world, as if blood had tinged the atmosphere. As if time had paused for that moment like a bloodthirsty predator. The earth demanded blood.
Sitting uncomfortably on a rock, Damien buried his feet into the crimson-shaded soil, flexing his toes like small worms. He was a small boy — angelic in looks — the sort of child any mother would want, for a certain time, at least. He wore a red tee shirt far too big for him, stretching down to his kneecaps and obscuring his khaki shorts. His exposed lower legs were fish-white.
His mother had always told him he inherited his looks from his father, but after two years dead, Damien had forgotten him. The man was just a visage in the back of his mind — a ghost. Eyes as small and brown as acorns, waiting to sprout into experienced oak trees, a mouth like a rippling river, ash-brown hair the colour of bark, and fingers like twigs; he was a nymph-like boy. A son of nature, just like his father.
“Hey, Damien,” a soft voice called.
Damien turned and there was his shadow, dressed in a similar red shirt, smaller than Damien’s, and longer Khaki shorts that stretched down to his ankles. His doppleganger.
“Where were you, Draco?” he called. And then, nervously, “And where are our parents? Where is my mum?”
“They’re setting up the tent over there,” Draco pointed yonder. Those same twig-like fingers. “Aren’t you excited for camping?”
He shook his head. “Not really. I’d prefer to be on my own.”
Damien shifted on the rock as Draco sat down next to him. Together they watched the sun fall like a dropped blood orange, splattering into the horizon.
“It looks like a storm,” Draco said, pointing toward the iron-hued clouds. “I hope we don’t get wet.”
“We will,” Damien said morosely. He looked deep into the sun and his eyes became red, like they too were fading. Bleeding.
Draco shifted uncomfortably on the rock. “I found this pinecone over by the trees.”
Damien inspected it and nodded pensively. “You’d normally find pinecones by the trees.”
Draco audibly swallowed his pride and threw the pinecone into the red earth. “Are you okay?” he asked with faltering breath.
“I don’t want to get dirty,” Damien dreamed. His eyes were locked onto the gathering storm clouds, and he was pouting. “Last time I got dirty, my mum hit me.”
He nodded. “She always does it. She will do it again if I get dirty.” He looked down at his bare feet with horror. “And now I’m dirty.”
“Only on your feet. You can dust them off.”
Damien nodded again and lifted his feet delicately out of the earth and rubbed them together. Specks of soil flicked through the air like embers from a fire. Once his feet were clean again, he nestled them into green sandals and stood up.
“I hope she won’t be angry,” he said. “She’s always angry now.” He ruminated for a moment and then said, “let’s go back.”
Draco got up and smiled. “Sure. It’s getting dark. Mum bought sausages for dinner.”
Damien perked up like a puzzled dog. “Your mum? Or my mum?”
Damien sighed. “I wish I had your mum. She’s nice.”
“I know, but so is your mum. Remember that time your mum bought us sweets after school?”
They walked away from the rock, towards Aspen trees dancing in the wind — a rippling rainbow of gold, red, orange and light pink.
“Oh, well I do.”
They continued in silence. Draco glanced over at his friend — in some ways, his alter ego — and saw a sad child, storms clouding his mind. As if, in his soul, it was always a rainy January. He didn’t look happy. For a moment, Draco wanted to hold his hand and tell him everything would be alright.
Adult voices were on the other side of the Aspen copse. Two women were laughing over the sizzling of sausages and the crackling of a fire. Draco took Damien’s arm and led him through the twisting trunks and over the snaking roots.
Damien’s foot connected with a thick root and he fell out of Draco’s hold and onto the dirty ground with a moan.
“Damien!” Draco urged quietly, so that the adult voices did not hear. He put a hand on his friend’s shoulder and helped him up. Thankfully, he was not hurt.
But he was dirty. His oversized red shirt was stained with mud as black as oil. Damien was dirty.
“Oh god!” he whimpered. Draco had never heard him so scared. “Oh god. I’m dirty. Mum doesn’t like it when I’m dirty.” Damien looked up at Draco, and his eyes pierced deep into Draco’s skin, tugging on his heartstrings.
“Wait,” Draco ordered, “I can help.”
They shuffled in the darkness, snapping the branches beneath. Around them, the leaves whispered in ghostly voices. By the time they returned, their mothers were serving the food. They admired their sons competitively.
“There you guys are! We were wondering if you had got lost,” Charlotte said as the two boys emerged from the trees. “Damien, look how muddy you are. Come and sit down, we’re just about to eat.” With deft movement of the fork, she flicked the sausages from the pot crackling over the fire onto a plate.
The boys sat on canvas chairs next to the adults and ate dinner beneath a canopy of glowing stars. It would have been poetic.
Had someone not died.
Damien’s mother leaned over to him after she finished her sausages. There was a hiss to her tone and a forked tongue to her words: “Why are you dirty, Damien?”
Her nose flared. “Yes you are. I told you I don’t like it when you get dirty. You’re coming with me later, I’m going to have to teach you a lesson once and for all. Now, go and play with Draco, leave me and Charlotte to talk.”
He finished his sausages and left with Draco to go and find something to do. In the middle of nowhere, surrounded by strange red soil and fiery Aspens, there was scare entertainment.
“Hey, why don’t we play with this?” Damien said with a wink. “We can play catch.” He lifted a heavy rock from the ground.
Draco cupped his hands and caught the heavy rock with a groan as it winded him. Coughing, he launched the rock back to Damien. Only, it wasn’t heading for Damien’s hands. His coughs turned to chokes as he tried to call out. But it was too late.
There was a crack as the rock collided with Damien’s skull. His head sagged and he tumbled backward, crashing onto the ground, mud still stained on his blood-red oversized shirt.
Draco looked at his lifeless friend. Damien’s eyes were hollow and his hair was coagulated with thick clumps of blood. His rippling river lips shrivelled to thin lines.
He screamed out. The clouds thundered. Adults flocked to the dead boy like scavenging vultures.
Draco didn’t even expect me to pick him up, which is fun because it adds to the surprise. Before I stood in the playground, I polished the revolver one last time and stored it in the glove compartment.
The playground was densely populated; brats of all ages swarming around me like flies. The gates opened and after what seemed like forever, Draco appeared in his fustian school uniform. He looked adorable. I took him into my arms and gave him a chocolate bar.
“I’m taking you home today,” I said.
He didn’t seem to mind, too busy scoffing down the chocolate. Hell, I doubt he even cared who picked him up, so long as he got something to eat out of it. He was disgusting like that. He didn’t even speak as I led him back to the car.
Sliding into the backseat, I made sure he buckled his seatbelt before we set off. Sweat coated my fingers and I slipped on the gearstick. I’ve driven a lot in my life, but that time was the worst. All the way, I was torn between going through with my plan, or forsaking the whole thing and taking Draco going home — the whole thing just a mid-life crisis.
“Do you know what is for dinner?” he asked.
Always concerned with food, I thought; it was a wonder how he wasn’t as big as a boulder. “Not a clue,” I responded, “I’m sure your mother will tell you. What is your favourite food?”
I shifted in my seat and said no more, kept my eyes on the road. Cars whizzed past us — people flying past in their numbers. Not us, we were constant.
“Where are we going?” Draco asked as I shifted gear and pulled into a wayward road. “This isn’t the way home.”
Wishing that I had gagged him, I said “Wait and see.” He looked terrified, shrinking into his seat, the seatbelt swallowing him like a noose. It made me smile.
The road eroded into a flowing golden field, turreted by tall towers of wheat. They stretched across the ground, gold as far as the eye could see, swaying placidly in the wind. I stopped the car and turned round in my seat. “We’re here.”
He fidgeted in his seat, trying to escape inside the leather.
I found the gun and waved it at him. He was sweating, eyes trailing the gun through the air. His teeth chattered. “Get out,” I said slowly. He did as I asked. Like a good boy.
I cocked the gun and followed him out. The boy bounced on the spot with fear and urgency. His eyes never left the revolver. He may only be nine but he knew what the weapon was. And why shouldn’t he? He was a murderer after all.
Briefly, I spun round and shut the car doors, but I wasn’t quick enough; when I turned around, Draco was gone.
He was running through the field, the wheat clawing at his neck, running away from me. Gun in hand, I followed. I’m sure there was a crazy smile on my face, because I was crazy with happiness. I was finally going to avenge my son, and probably save many more children from this monster in the guise of a nine year old boy.
“Come back,” I screamed, half laughing. This was too much fun. “Come back here, Draco. You can’t get away. I used to beat Damien, you know! I’ll beat the shit outta you too!”
He let out a tribal cry and threw a few straws of wheat at me. I fired the revolver in the sky and Draco dived for cover in the wheat. In an instant, I was over him like a jaguar to its prey. I had won the chase.
“Please don’t kill me,” he sobbed, tears crawling from his eyes and nose and trailing into his open mouth.
“Did god mock me by making you and Damien so similar!” I screamed to be heard over his cries. “Every time I look at you I remember what you did to my little boy.”
“You don’t….don’t…don’t u-u-u-u”
“Understand what?” I aimed the revolver in his face.
“What about the shirts?” My hand was shaking, the barrel of the gun swaying like the stalks of wheat. I asked him what he meant, but I think I knew. Deep down, I think I knew all along.
He looked up at me, eyes as brown as acorns and as old as oak trees, and whispered the words softly, “Mum.”
I pulled the trigger in shock. His head burst like a balloon, spraying red blood over the wheat. The bullet caught him in the centre of the skull, and rendered him unrecognisable — just a pulpy mess of brains and blood. His words rang in my head like church chimes. My son.
The red shirts.
They switched the shirts.
On that night, Draco and Damien switched their shirts around…so…so I wouldn’t hurt Damien. That night, Damien had killed Draco. Damien had been Draco all along, right under my nose.
And I’d just killed my son.
I looked from the slick black revolver to my dead son. I noticed that his blood was on my shoe and wiped it away with a shaky thumb. I gave my son one last look, dropped the gun and walked back to the car.
I didn’t even weep. All I thought was, at least Charlotte and I are equal now.
Like I said, I’m no saint.
BIO: James Tatam is a budding writer from the United Kingdom. He uses writing as a sort of catharsis and a way to manage the stress of life. His work has appeared in a number of online journals, including Aphelion and The Young Writers Literary Journal.