By Dea Parkin
"Ill Wind" was selected as the finalist of the 2022 Byte Shorts Showcase.
The wind keened across the Trojan plain. Huddled in the camp, shivering in a thin fur, Lysander stared at his stepfather’s back. The man sprawled near the fire, drinking and roistering with the other soldiers, his arm heavy around Lysander’s mother. The woman shrugged it off slightly and turned.
‘Come sit by the fire, Lysander.’
The boy shook his head. It would mean sitting with him. He preferred to be cold.
A year now since Lysander’s father died in battle. His mother had been entitled, wise even to take another husband. But why this man with his brusque voice and cold eyes?
A movement in the rocks caught Lysander’s attention. A small brown snake. Deadly poison, he knew.
As the viper rasped across the stones, Lysander had an idea. If his stepfather died too, maybe he and his mother could go back at last to their sun-drenched island home. Lysander edged away from the noise of the camp and slipped into their goatskin tent. He grabbed a full amphora that awaited his stepfather’s thirst by the heap of furs where he slept with Lysander’s mother.
Out in the unrelenting, gusting cold he poured out the wine and used a forked stick as his father had once taught him to pin down the little brown snake. Deftly, carefully, he thrust the reptile inside the jar and inserted the stopper. Got him! He held the jar aloft in silent victory. Back in the tent he replaced the jug beside the great pile of furs, before lying himself down on his own poor bed. Waiting.
It wasn’t long before the boy’s stepfather strode in and reached for the amphora. He picked it up, then stilled. He held it to his ear and shook it. A soft hiss. Lysander’s breath caught in his throat and the soldier glanced towards the boy. Too late, Lysander feigned sleep.
‘Not good enough,’ the man murmured. ‘And just as your life would be paradise without me, so mine will be brighter without you,’ and in one rapid stroke he unstoppered the jug and flung it at Lysander.
The bite came before he could escape, and the venom worked swiftly. He staggered from his bed, collapsing on the rough stones beyond the tent. The last thing he heard was his stepfather’s laughter, rivalling the howl of the wind.
Dea is Editor-in-chief at Fiction Feedback editorial consultancy (est. 2008) and Secretary of the Crime Writers’ Association. She has had several short stories placed in competitions and is published in the CWA’s latest anthology; Music of the Night. She is working on several novels. She's on Twitter @deawriter.