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My father and I sat in silence at the kitchen table, his fork clicking against the plate as he ate.

“Where’s your mother tonight?”

I gave him a hard stare from across the table. “Stepmother. Who knows where she’s at.”

Things changed when mom died. The void she left behind had strained my relationship with my father. We didn’t know how to relate to each other without her.

Of course, Aunt Susan hadn’t made things any easier.

My mother’s body was barely cold in the ground when her sister started sniffing around. With one eye on his land and the other on his money, she had charmed her way right into my father’s heart- and his bed. I’d been furious when he’d married her within the year.

He may have been fooled, but I wasn’t. I guess that’s why she didn’t like me. She knew I saw her for what she really was.

But a tiny piece of me grudgingly acknowledged dad had his own reasons for marrying her.

For one thing, Aunt Susan was beautiful. She was younger, thinner, and prettier than Mom had ever been. Mom had been lovely in her own way of course, with an hourglass figure and fire-red hair, but all the hard work on the farm had left her rough around the edges. Aunt Susan was still young, refined, with milk-white skin and baby blue eyes.

But behind all of that, Susan’s beauty hid a sour disposition. She was prone to mood swings and violent jealousy over the simplest of glances. Everywhere they went she was rude and demanding, which embarrassed my father. The attention she received further fueled her vanity.

Eventually, my father realized what a mistake he had made. By then it was too late.

At the farm, Susan barely took notice of me. But when she did, she went out of her way to turn a simple task into a cruel joke.

Just this week she had demanded I slaughter Miss Pickles.

True, we typically slaughtered a pig this time of year, and yes, I had done it before- nothing unusual. The issue was that she specifically picked out Miss Pickles as a way to hurt me.

Miss Pickles wasn’t just any pig- she was my pig. I won first place with her at the county fair in 8th grade. She was a rare, heritage breed that dad had specially ordered for me as a birthday present.

But now I didn’t have any other options. I had to kill her.

The slaughter went about as well as expected. It’s always unpleasant business. I wanted to be as painless as possible, so I knocked her unconscious with the shovel before chaining her up. She was heavier than I thought she would be.

I slit her throat with a razor-sharp kitchen knife. An enormous amount of bright red blood sprayed out, coating my apron and pooling on the floor. The splatter glistened in the straw.

After she bled out I made the initial cuts down the center and across the groin, carefully removing the intestines so they didn’t rupture. I finally relaxed. I had been very nervous about all of this.

On the inside, everything looks the same. She was no different than any of the other hogs we’d slaughtered over the years. I concentrated on making those perfect, precise cuts just like Dad had shown me.

“Are you sure she didn’t say where she was going?” Dad’s question snapped me back to the table.

I thought of all those cuts of meat sitting in the freezer.

“I don’t think she’s coming to dinner tonight Dad.”

Outside, Miss Pickles squealed happily as she rooted in the trough with the other pigs. Their teeth gnashed on the hard gristle leftover from this afternoon’s slaughter.

That’s the thing about pigs- they’ll eat anything. Even Aunt Susan.

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