I was put into foster care when I was about seven years old. My mom failed her drug test for the last time and losing me was the price she had to pay.
It’s not something I talk about often, mostly because until I was adopted by a really great person three years later, my life was in constant upheaval. I’d go week to week wondering when that dark blue van would pull back up into the driveway and it’d be time for me to go to someone else’s house. What would that next house be like? Would I be loved, would I go to sleep with a full stomach without a care in the world? Or would I find myself staring at the ceiling until the sun came up, fearing what the next day would bring?
The Anderson house was the latter. It was one of those houses, the kind that took in all the kids they could for the cash. Momma Anderson was a spending addict, she’d go shopping almost every day and bring home something frivolous and expensive. Daddy Anderson… well, I’d learned quickly that those requests for any of us tiny kiddos to sit on his lap weren’t from a fatherly point of view, if you get my drift.
But that’s where I met Benjamin.
Benjamin was almost eight, but looked closer to ten or eleven just going off his size. He was a big kid, and by big I mean both in height and heft- he could probably crush me if I pissed him off. He wouldn’t though… I can’t explain it, but he took to me.
I was his favorite of the other kids there, and he taught me tricks that helped me through the rest of my foster experience. Example- Momma and Daddy were always in bed by ten but they weren’t really asleep for another hour or so. Wait until just after midnight to sneak to the kitchen to get some snacks, Momma was a horrible cook and if you didn’t like what she made, you’d go hungry. Don’t take any juice, it was too hard to hide, but fill up small baggies of cereal and crackers.
Benjamin never did this, he found food in other ways, but I’ll get to that.
Benjamin didn’t talk with much of anyone. At school he was a loner, at home he’d spend hours in our room. I wondered what he’d get up to but it wasn’t much. I typically found him staring listlessly at the ceiling or sometimes flipping through an encyclopedia. I’m not sure if he was actually reading it or not, but that’s what he did with his time.
But I think the main reason Benjamin really didn’t talk with anyone was because most people didn’t want to talk to Benjamin. You see, Benjamin stunk. Like. Legitly stunk. I’m sure he showered, we all had to at least once a week before church, but he just smelled terrible. Like rotten fruit and body odor all blended together in an eyewatering nightmare. I knew for sure he never brushed his teeth, I think he threw his toothbrush away sometime before I got there. His teeth had turned a deep green mottled with brown and his breath… good god it could kill a man.
I tolerated it because Benjamin stuck up for me. We shared a room with the other two boys, but I was the only one Benjamin would made sure had enough to eat, would make doubly sure I was never alone with Daddy for more than a couple seconds at a time. I wondered at the time if Benjamin made sure he stank so badly so Daddy wouldn’t get too touchy with him. All Benjamin had to do was casually walk past and Daddy would be bent over coughing. The last thing on his mind would be the little boys walking around.
I guess the paycheck for Benjamin was good enough that they never sent him away. They ignored his bad smell, the fact he barely spoke a few words to me and never talked to them, they just accepted the money and made sure to spray a fuckton of Febreeze when they had guests.
I was working up the guts to tell Benjamin that he really needed to do something about the stench when I caught him catching mice.
The Anderson’s had a basement used for storage, the place was full of clothes from decades past and Christmas decorations. That was the only other place to find Benjamin than his bedroom. I didn’t quite get what he was doing down there until one day I went to go find him for dinner.
Benjamin was crouched near a few of the boxes. When I opened my mouth to tell him it was time to eat when he raised his hand. “Shhh!” Benjamin was laser focused on his prey, and in a blur his hand shot forward and when it returned it was wrapped around a decently sized mouse.
I nearly screamed, I thought mice were scary back then, but Benjamin looked so pleased. He stroked the little mouse’s head as it squeaked and bit at his hands. I saw drops of blood on the floor before Benjamin snapped the poor thing’s back. I heard the crack of bone and the mouse went limp.
Humming softly, Benjamin turned the thing around a few times before settling with the head. He opened his mouth and took a bite, snapped the head clean off. He chewed a few times before swallowing, his lips and rotting teeth stained red. “… I’ll skip dinner tonight, okay? I got my own food!” He lifted up the decapitated mouse and waved it about.
I nodded dumbly and headed back up the stairs to tell Momma that. She was too focused on her argument with Daddy to care, just pointed me to the chair where I could choke down some undercooked lasagna.
That’s how Benjamin got food. He ate mice. More than just mice, once I paid attention I saw that he was stashing ‘leftovers’ under his bed. Mice. Rats. Toads. I think I found a rabbit skull under there once, covered in teeth marks. I’d wondered why he didn’t mind taking the lower bunk.
One late night Benjamin snuck out and came back with a shirt soaked in blood. He tossed it under the bed with the rest of his ‘treasures and looked up at me. “… I need to eat,” He said, as if that explained everything.
“What did you eat?” I asked quietly.
Benjamin chewed his bottom lip. “One of next door lady’s cats. She has like fifty, so she won’t miss one, right?” He changed into his PJs and crawled into bed. “Thanks for not telling.”
I don’t know why I didn’t tell. I knew by then that what Benjamin wasn’t normal, not healthy. You can’t just eat raw meat.
The only time I came close to cracking is when Jack went missing.
Jack was one of our brothers, the youngest actually. He was a wild child, constantly running in the house and trampling through Momma’s garden. That pissed her off to no end. But then one morning I woke up and his bunk was empty. I woke up Benjamin and asked where Jack was.
He shrugged, not all that concerned. “Maybe they sent him back,” He said.
I knew that was bullshit right then. The Andersons hadn’t sent away a paycheck yet. Why would they send Jack away?
I mean, that’s what they told us. But I saw how Momma looked at Benjamin as she shoveled us more burnt pancakes and told us to hurry up or we’d miss the bus. Benjamin pushed away the plate and said he wasn’t hungry.
After breakfast I snuck away to our bedroom and checked under Benjamin’s bed.
There wasn’t any bones, I guess he knew those would be too big, but I saw Jack’s stuffed hippo. That hippo never left his side, it was the last thing his father gave him before going to jail. He never went anywhere without that thing, no matter how much our schoolmates mocked him.
It was the worst secret I ever kept. I almost told the teacher twice over the next week but something stopped me. Whether it was how much I cared for Benjamin or fear that I wouldn’t be believed I can’t say for sure, but I knew that Benjamin had eaten Jack.
I needed proof first.
I waited for Benjamin to sneak out at night before I followed him. Thankfully Benjamin wasn’t the most aware of kids, so he didn’t notice me as he went into the shed in the backyard. I peered in the door to see Benjamin getting into the big fridge they kept out there. He rummaged around for a bit before he slowly pulled out Jack’s head.
It was all purple and blue but I knew that it was Jack. His eyes were shut and covered in a thick layer of frost. I nearly threw up right there. Benjamin brushed aside Jack’s frozen hair before placing a kiss to his forehead.
“I’m very sorry, little brother,” He whispered before placing it back in the fridge and pulling out a slice of meat that was probably from a thigh or ribs. He casually munched away like it was your average late night snack. I just stood there, watching Benjamin eat until it was all gone. He sucked off his fingers before turning to me. His eyes went wide and I realized I’d been caught.
“… I didn’t kill him.”
Benjamin trotted forward and set his monstrously sized hands on my shoulders. I was shaking so badly I thought I might faint. He gently brushed my hair from my forehead.
“It was Daddy. Momma knows I am a growing boy who needs lots to eat, so she let me have him. But he’s all gone, except his head, and I don’t want to eat that. I need you to do me a favor, Franklin. Can you do me a favor?”
I nodded dumbly.
“Good.” Benjamin smiled. “I knew I could count on you.”
I followed Benjamin’s directions to the letter. I tiptoed into Daddy’s bedroom and shook him awake. Told him I had a nightmare and would like me to tuck him in. I did my best not to flinch when he ruffled my hair and smiled, telling me of course.
I led him to my bedroom, Isaiah wasn’t in the room so I assume Benjamin had told him to go somewhere else. I sat on his bed and remained still as Daddy continued to stroke my hair.
Benjamin explained it like he was fishing- I was the wiggly, wiggly worm… and he was the hook.
Benjamin was much faster than his mass would suggest, diving out from the top bunk and tackling Daddy to the ground. Daddy didn’t even get to scream before Benjamin’s teeth ripped out his throat. Blood sprayed like a geyser, splattering onto the ceiling and all over me and Benjamin.
I never saw Benjamin look so happy when Daddy exhaled for the last time.
I left after that, started wandering down the street. This was also Benjamin’s instructions. Sooner or later he knew someone would find me, and as luck would have it, it was a police cruiser. I imagine that poor guy had not been expecting to see a blood soaked child while on his beat that night. I told him where I lived and that Daddy was dead.
When I got there, Benjamin was all cleaned up. His eyes filled with tears as he told the police officer exactly what happened. Our foster father had come in to tuck me in after a nightmare and suddenly Momma burst in, screaming at him and calling him a cheater before she stabbed him in the throat with a knife from the kitchen. Then she’d gone back to her room and he’d heard a loud bang. Benjamin went to go see what happened after telling me to go get help. Momma had stuck a gun in her mouth and blown her head off, sitting right in bed.
I mean, that’s probably not at all what happened to Momma, but all I did was nod along to Benjamin’s tear filled story. The house was swarmed with police and they found Jack’s head in the freezer. I heard words like ‘fetish’ and ‘souvenir’ thrown around.
Benjamin was given a bright blanket to wrap himself in as he told his story again to other police. One of the women gave him a tight squeeze and told him that he was very brave. She didn’t even mind he stunk.
I never saw Benjamin after that night. We were sent to different homes. I never even got a goodbye, but that was life back then. It took a few more years but I was put into a loving home with a great single mom. I don’t call her Momma, I call her Angela. We bake together and I can tell her anything.
But the one thing I can’t tell her about is Benjamin. I wonder if he found his forever home… or if he had something to do with Daddy Anderson’s body disappearing from the funeral home.