The Test

The boy was fat. His chins melted into his body like a snowman in the sun, and his piggy eyes continuously slithered about in their hunt for food. He was going to die today.

Knowing I didn’t have to endure his presence for long filled me with an uncharacteristic sense of generosity.

“Howie,” I yelled, “want some Cheezels?”

Of course he did. His lips were already orange, and he pounded across the sand.

“Thanks, Auntie Robyn!”

I could see his sisters watching. Ella, crouched by the fire, and Claire, scoping out the cliff edge, the surf below, and the trees behind.

They both thought they were going to do it, and neither knew they had the same instructions.

“If you’re joining the business,” I’d said to each in confidence, “I need commitment. We’ve got a dead weight in this family—that fat brother of yours. I’ll set it up. I’ll tell your mum we’re going to a bonfire on the beach. I know somewhere isolated. Only three of us will return.”

And both of them narrowed their black dead eyes and agreed—desperate to be a part of things. I’d left the details up to them.

The fire was hot, and I shifted my chair back. My mojito was cold, and I took a long drink, before closing my eyes and feigning sleep—the signal to proceed. Shame I couldn’t watch. I’d  have loved to see their faces when they realised they were both trying to do the same thing.

I must have fallen asleep for real, as the sun had dipped when I was woken by Claire shaking my arm. I wrinkled my nose. She smelled of barbeque food.

“Auntie, I’ve done it!” she hissed.

“Good girl,” I said. “Tell me how.” I glanced around. “No loose ends?”

“None.” She folded her arms. “I asked him to come for a walk in the woods, and then I bashed his head with a rock.” She wiped at a smear of something red on her shirt. “He went straight down. I threw his body down to the creek. It’ll look like an accident.”

“You’ll have to show me the body,” I said.

“Auntie!” Ella ran over, kicking up sand into my drink. “I did it! He’s dead!”

“What did you say?” Claire’s eyes were round.

“Family business stuff,” Ella winked at me. “I’ll tell you later.”

“You said you killed Howie?” Claire shook her head. “You can’t have, because I did! Auntie gave me the mission.”

“She gave me the mission!” Ella protested.

“Wait.” I raised a hand. “Ella, how did you do it?”

“I found him wandering in the woods,” she said. “He looked a bit dazed, so I said I would take him back to the campsite. We walked near the edge of the cliff, and then I just gave him a shove. His body’s on the rocks. I can show you.”

“You’re lying!” Claire pushed her. “I’ll give you a shove! His body is in the creek.”

I stood.

“Ella, show me the body.”

She led us to the edge of the cliff, and pointed down. The surf was crashing over the rocks, and anyone who fell would have been washed away instantly. Two sets of footprints led to the edge, and one headed away.

“You’re full of it.” Claire said. “Told you she didn’t do it.”

“There! Look!” Ella pointed, and I could just make out one of Howie’s white shoes, bobbing on the water.

“Let me show you his body for real!” Claire pulled at my arm, and dragged us both toward the trees. I looked at the footprints in the sandy dirt. Two going in, one going out.

“There!” she pointed, with a somewhat unnecessary flourish, down at the creek, where we could see something small and rectangular on a rock.

“What is that?” I craned.

“It’s Howie’s stupid fake ID. Must have fallen out of his pocket.” She caught my look. “I’ll hike down and get it. No loose ends.”

“So you bashed his head in and threw him down there?” I said, and Claire nodded. I turned to Ella. “And you threw him off a cliff?” She nodded.

I pursed my lips and walked back up to our bonfire, and poured myself a fresh drink from the shaker.

“So, do you believe me, Auntie?” Claire knelt by my chair.

“No,” I said flatly. “You’re both lying. Claire, you led him to the creek but you couldn’t do it. The stain on your shirt is ketchup. Howie begged for his life, and suggested you pretend to kill him. He threw his ID over the edge and told you he’d disappear forever. You let him go, then waited a while, before following him out of the trees—being careful to step inside his footprints. You forgot how big his feet were. Those footprints could never have been yours.

He met Ella, and told her what happened, and she made him agree to the same deal. He threw a shoe over the edge, and climbed down the rocks, before making his escape. Neither of you killed Howie.”

The girls stared at each other and then me. Claire sniffed her shirt.

“He’s our brother—” Ella started. “We thought it would be people we didn’t know.”

“Get out of here, girls.”

I waved them away and took a long swig of my drink to numb the disappointment. Not only was that fat boy still alive, but he proved himself more capable than either of his sisters. I was going to have to find him, and offer him a role in the business.

“Hope you like your drink, Auntie.” Howie was smiling down at me. I gasped and spat into the sand.

“Bit late for that,” he said. “You did well, but we had some dead weight in the business, and I had to take care of it.”

As the world began to fade, the last damn thing I saw was that fat boy’s smug face.


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