The Boy Who Killed His Mother
by Rosemary Hayes
Nobody wanted to play with the boy who killed his mother. Nick Metcalf understood why in the same way he understood why the sun rose and set. Comprehension was simple for six year olds; things just were. So even though he accepted the other kids in his class avoided walking too close to him (in case they caught whatever made him a “bad” boy), or whispered when he walked past, (that’s him, he killed his own mother) that didn’t mean he liked it. He didn’t. Not one little bit.
One time Nick arrived at school to find “killer” written on a sheet of paper and left on his desk, as if whoever left it thought he needed reminding of the day his world collapsed around him. Maybe he did. If by some miracle he forgot his crime he might start to think he was just like everyone else. For endless seconds he stared at that word scrawled with red crayon, knowing (the way the sun rose and set) this was his label for the rest of his life. If he was meant to have a different label before he killed his mother (doctor, lawyer, president) it shattered the way his mother’s skull shattered when the bullet entered her forehead at close range.
Nick knew the kids meant to be mean by leaving that note but it didn’t faze him. I’m not a killer, he thought. With a million pairs of eyes watching him he scrunched up the note and walked to the small garbage bin at the front of the classroom and tossed the paper in. When he turned around, passive and unsmiling, he scanned the silent room but not one of the pairs of eyes met his own. If they thought to get a reaction out of him they were wrong. This was nothing compared to what his older brother did.
Since the day their mother died Zander hated him. His brother, older by four years, made it his job to punish Nick whenever he could for her absence. Nick tried to hide, run, make himself invisible, but it didn’t work. Each time Nick would yell out, “I’m sorry” through tears and pain as Zander punched and kicked him. One time Zander twisted his arm so hard behind his back Nick screamed and waited for the snap of bone. Only the early arrival of their father from work saved Nick’s arm that day.
When Peter Metcalf walked in and saw his boys – red-faced, sweat-sheened, breathing heavily—his half-uttered greeting turned into a ear-drum splitting bellow. First he picked Nick up off the floor, then he stared at them. After a minute, maybe less, he turned away, picked up the remote control for the tv and sunk into his armchair. The air hissed out of the worn cushions, or it could have been a sigh from his father, Nick wasn’t sure which. To him it seemed the once big man had deflated, crumbled, like the cakes their father tried to make from Mom’s faded handwritten recipes.
Nick blamed himself, of course. By killing Mom, he had killed his Dad too.
I didn’t mean to do it, Nick wanted to say. But the words wouldn’t come. Would it be the truth? He hoped he didn’t mean to kill his Mom, but he didn’t remember much about what happened. He was barely three at the time. What he thought of as “real” memories were few and brief, like flicking through tv stations: bright lights, his mother’s face, first smiling then eyes growing wide, mouth dropping open, a cold weight in his hands, an explosive crack. Was he upset or angry with her beforehand? He didn’t know. Most of what had happened that day he knew from conversations overheard, or discussed in front of him. Accident, they said. A man with fat cheeks and bad breath used to try and make him talk about it (his dad drove him to visit the man every week for three years) and when Nick didn’t talk the man gave him paper and crayons. “Draw what happened, Nick.”
Nick drew a stick Mom lying on the ground in their house. He colored her hair with red crayon, even though her hair was black. He colored her face red, and her dress and the floor beneath her. Next to her sat a little stick boy holding the handgun he found in his Mom’s bag.
The smelly man would put a hand on his head and pat him like dog. “Good.”
It wasn’t good. Nick wanted to forget what he did. But no-one would let him.
From six to sixteen the label followed him, even though his father moved them seven times: different suburbs, different schools. Yet every new place his reputation reached the school gates before he did. He always wondered how, but when he arrived home he only had to glimpse Zander’s hostile eyes to know the answer.
“There’s the boy who killed his mother,” teenagers whispered in the halls when he walked by. All he wanted was to be anonymous. To learn and study. To have a friend. To have a different label.
He had been at the latest school three months, pretending being an outsider didn’t matter, when a gangly teenager with blackheads peppered across his nose stepped beside him as he walked home.
“Hi, I’m Jacob. I’ve seen you around.”
Nick glanced at him, quickened his pace. He had seen Jacob around too. Always alone. Or getting picked on. An outsider—like him.
“I’ve heard about you,” said Jacob.
“Let me guess,” Nick’s voice was monotone. “There’s the boy who killed his mother.”
Jacob sniggered. “Yeah. Guess you hear them all bleating about you. Bunch of idiots.”
Nick flicked his long hair from his eyes. Glanced again at the teenager. Lank blonde hair. Pale skin. He was grinning at him. Unexpectedly a grin tugged his own lips wide. “Yeah. Bunch of idiots.”
From that day Nick started spending time at Jacob’s place. Mostly playing computer games or listening to music in the room with a single mattress on the floor and musty blankets covering the cracked windows. He lived with his grandmother who always smelt of sour wine, smoke and lavender, so strong Nick wanted to gag. But he put up with it because he finally found a friend. He turned a blind eye to some things Jacob did too. Like breaking windows of derelict buildings, pulling the legs and wings off live bugs he caught crawling on his mattress, or pinching his Grandmother’s cigarettes. They weren’t always just tobacco either.
“Ever had pot before?” Jacob lit the joint, as fat as Nick’s thumb.
“Nah. Your Gran really smokes that stuff?”
“As often as she can get it.” Jacob sucked in, held his breath for an eternity before pursing his lips to release the smoke directly into Nick’s face. “Don’t knock what you haven’t tried. Go on.” He held out the joint.
Nick took it, inhaled briefly.
Jacob laughed. “Not like that. Breathe deep, hold it.”
Nick tried. Coughed. Waved the smoke from his eyes. “Think I’d rather drink.”
“Yeah? Wait here.”
Nick waited. The game controller beckoned. He killed a hundred aliens before Jacob came back into the room with a curse, holding up an empty wine bottle. “She can’t have it in the house for more than a minute before she has to drink the lot,” he fumed.
Nick shrugged. He didn’t want to drink anyway. He saw what it had done to his Dad over the years. He drank to forget, he drank to remember. When his words slurred and his eyes turned bloodshot he’d find Nick and talk about Mom. Those red eyes would fill with tears, regret, accusation.
I didn’t mean to do it, Nick would think as he helped his stumbling father into bed. I’m not a killer
They smoked the rest of the joint. Jacob mostly. Nick didn’t feel any different and told his friend so.
“You’re not doing it right. Or you don’t want to do it right.”
Nick stayed silent. Massacred more aliens.
“Hey, I know where to get some booze,” Jacob pulled the controller out of Nick’s hands. “Come on.”
“I was only joking before, I don’t want a drink. It’s illegal.”
Jacob’s red eyes peered at him. “So’s smoking pot. So’s killing someone.”
There it was. Again. Nick’s stomach twisted. “Where’s this booze?” he said, standing up.
Moonlight and artificial light illuminated streets leeched of colour. Jacob bounded away like a pup eager to find its first pole to pee on. Nick zipped his jacket and let his hair fall over his eyes, following Jacob along a half dozen blocks crammed with houses tired of standing, until they reached a park that hardly ever heard the squeals of children anymore. Unless it was squeals of pain.
Under an oak tree Jacob approached a pile of rubbish. Boxes, a blanket, dirty clothes. Then the pile moved.
“Hey, old man,” Jacob said merrily as he approached. “You’ve got something of mine.”
The man pressed his most prized possession against his chest. A bottle of whiskey. “Go ’way.”
“Not ‘til we get what’s ours.”
Nick grabbed Jacob’s arm. “Leave him alone.”
With a yank Jacob pulled his arm free. “In a minute.” He walked forward, crouched in front of the shrinking man. “Hand it over.”
When the man didn’t oblige Jacob stood, then swung his leg in a sideways arc. His foot connected with the side of the man’s ribs.
“Don’t say my name, stupid!” Jacob rounded on him. “And what do you care. This thing’s a piece of shit, just like everyone else around here.”
“You don’t know what shit is, until you’ve tasted it.” Something in Nick’s tone, or maybe it was the expression on his face, made Jacob stare warily at him.
“Let’s go.” Nick stepped backwards. “Now.”
The choice spun in Jacob’s eyes like a slow-mo flipping coin. With a sniff, a wipe of his nose with the back of his hand, he turned his back on the foetal-curled man clutching his glass umbilical cord. Jacob had to jog to match Nick’s speed as they crossed the park. “I’m not thirsty anyway,” Jacob said. “But man, I am fuckin’ hungry.”
Back at Jacob’s place they raided the pantry. Chips, Oreos, Twinkies. Jacob ate most of it. They shot aliens. Listened to music. Joked. Laughed. Only later, back in his own bed, staring at a ceiling lost in gloom, did Nick feel the anger swell. Why did Jacob have to do that? Sometimes he could be a real jerk. But, he was his only friend. His own father wasn’t even a father, let alone a friend. His brother, well, he learnt long ago Zander was his enemy. How many bruises, how many cuts, how many times had he thought a bone was about to break, before he realised that? To be honest, it wasn’t the fights that made him face that fact. It was the shit.
The day he turned eleven had been a rare good day. The cake his Dad baked was edible. An Aunt and Uncle had visited and brought candy. They took him to the movies to watch a comedy. Nick didn’t remember ever laughing that much. In fact, he didn’t think he had ever laughed at all up until then. But the best part was when his Dad gave him his present—a ten-speed bike. Brand new. Even Zander didn’t have a ten-speed. That night he went to bed forgetting, for the first time, he was the boy who killed his mother.
Dawn had barely started to sieve through the thin curtains when eleven year old Nick’s consciousness stirred. The first thing that struck him was the smell. Invasive. Repulsive. Instantly recognisable. A split second later he realised his mouth was full of shit. He sat up spitting, gagging. When a slimy piece fell from his mouth onto his blanket with a plop, he vomited. Again and again until his eyes streamed with tears and his stomach brought up nothing but bile. Then he heard the laughter and a form loomed from the corner and stood before him.
“Don’t ever forget,” Zander said. “You’re nothing but a piece of shit.”
Even now, all these years later, Nick could still taste it.
For the next few weeks he continued to go over Jacob’s house after school and at the weekends. Neither of them mentioned that night in the park. They spoke about the latest games, the best weapon to use in an inevitable Zombie Apocalypse, the girls at school.
“Macey Myers is the prettiest girl in school,” Nick said, one warm Saturday afternoon. In other parts of town you might hear lawnmowers humming or hedge trimmers buzzing. Laughter.
“She’s a bitch. So’s that best friend of hers, Amy fat-arse. They look at us like we’re specimens in a pee jar.”
Jacob glared at him. “They don’t even go near you. Just like everyone else. Doesn’t it make you mad? Makes me mad. Everyone thinkin’ they’re better than us.”
“When I leave school I’ll get away from ’em all.”
“Where you plan to go?”
“Probably a big city miles from here. Where nobody knows me. Or will ever know me.”
Gunfire, screams, and dying aliens were the only sounds for ages until Jacob said, “What was it like?”
“What was what like?”
A mass of squirming worms appeared in Nick’s stomach. He could taste shit. “Don’t ask. Ever. ”
“Sure.” Jacob shrugged. “But you know me, I won’t knock something ’til I’ve tried it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jacob leaned back and reached into the gap between the mattress and the wall. When he straightened he held a rifle in his hands.
“Where’d you get that?” Nick’s heartbeat throbbed in his chest, throat, ears. He tossed the controller away and stood.
“Found it under Gran’s bed the other day when she was passed out and I was looking for some cash. Think one of her ex’s must have left it behind when he dumped her.”
“Is it loaded?”
Jacob grinned. “Oh yeah.” He put the butt against his shoulder. Aimed the barrel at the TV. Hooked his finger around the trigger. “So what do you say, Nickie boy? Let’s blow this town after we’ve had some fun.”
“What sort of fun?”
He lowered the rifle onto his lap. Smiled. “Thought I’d open my window. Play a little shooting gallery game. Wanna play?”
“You’re joking, right?”
Jacob stood, crossed the small room, yanked down the blanket covering the window with his free hand. Dust motes swirled in sepia-toned sunlight, turning the room into a giant snow globe. “I thought you’d want to join me. We could have turns. Why do you think I wanted to be your friend?”
“You had this planned all along?”
“I dreamt of it all along. I didn’t think it was possible until I found the gun.”
“You can’t shoot people.”
“Some killer you are.”
“I’m not a killer.”
Jacob smirked at him, then turned to the window, undid the latch. He tried to open it with one hand. It wouldn’t move. He had to lean the rifle against the wall and use both hands. The window screeched a protest. When the gap was wide enough, he poked the muzzle out, leaning the barrel on the sill. Over Jacob’s shoulder Nick saw a mother pushing a pram along an uneven path; a man jogging, earphones trailing over his chest like white worms; a kid, no more than ten, sitting on a front step on the squat house opposite. Jacob aimed at the kid . . . then tracked the jogger with the rifle.
Until the rifle fired the ear-splitting shot, Nick didn’t really think Jacob would do it. The jogger fell, screaming, clutching his leg. “Did you see that? I got him!” Then he lined up the kid again.
Nick moved. One arm around Jacob’s throat, the other around his chest and yanked him backwards, the rifle barrel scraping paint flakes into the room as they fell. Fought. Rolled. Nick ended up with the gun. He stood over Jacob.
“No more,” Nick said.
Jacob shuffled backwards on his bottom until he sat on the mattress, his back resting against the wall. “Not today maybe,” he said. “There’s always tomorrow.”
“The police will be here any minute, you’ll be arrested.”
“You think? Your prints are on the rifle too, man. I witnessed you stealing Gran’s gun, shooting that man. I stopped you. You’ve killed before, who you think they’ll believe?” He sniffed, wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “And when you’re gone . . . told you, there’s always next time.”
Nick heard sirens. Thought about the kid outside; he’d be sitting on the step another day. Maybe the woman with the pram would walk past again too. Or someone else, minding their own business, going about their day. Just like his mother. He saw her face, her wide open eyes, her mouth dropping open. His body shook, his ears rang. The blood. He didn’t remember the blood back then, almost black, but he saw it now, being soaked up by the single mattress on the floor, illuminated by sepia sunlight swirling with dust motes. He saw so much clearly now.
A note in childish scrawl.
About the Author
Rosemary Hayes is an Australian writer who has had over 550 short stories published in magazines around the world including Australia, the UK, America, South Africa, Sweden and Norway. Her first horror/supernatural thriller ebook Evil Lives is available at your favorite booksellers under the byline R.M. Hayes. She loves writing stories of all genres including thriller, crime, mystery and supernatural. Most of these could be classed as ‘tame’ but occasionally stories that are darker and grittier find their way to the page, such as “The Boy Who Killed His Mother.”
About the Narrator
Heath is an actor from far away, who currently finds himself living on an island off the coast of Maine with two cats (one human, one feline), an improbably fluffy dog and six chickens. You can find his narration at audible.com, the Uncanny Magazine podcast, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and elsewhere. For photos of the aforementioned animals & other day-to-day minutiae follow him on Twitter at @veryheathmiller.