* Author : Aimee Ogden
* Narrator : Elizabeth Green
* Host : Setsu Uzume
* Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh
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Previously published in the Hidden Menagerie Vol. 2 anthology and reprinted in The Dark.
Content warning: domestic violence, violence against a child, gore
A Cruelty That Cut Both Ways
By Aimee Ogden
The thunderbird had left two carcasses by the barn overnight.
Ezra refused to call in the hands to help. It was Sunday, after all, and their God-given day off, whatever the devil’s own bird might have done. It was only divine providence that the rest of the cattle hadn’t escaped when the bird ransacked the Greens’ barn — the blank-eyed creatures stood and stared from where they’d crowded at the back when Ezra cleared the wreckage of the door and let in the morning’s light. He and Sarah cleaned the two dead cattle while Liza read the Bible to herself in the kitchen and prepared the Sunday meal. Sarah had assigned her daughter the story of Ruth and Boaz for today, and she could hear her daughter’s voice drifting out through the open windows in between the rap of the knife on the wooden counter. She struggled over certain words — Moabite and guardian and foreigner — but her voice was clear and true as she sounded out the story of faith and patience rewarded. Sarah hoped she took the tale to heart.
Not much flesh to salvage from the dead cattle. The blood had run out to make dark mud of the dusty ground, and the hides had been shredded by the thunderbird’s talons. But the livers and the tongues were still fresh and mostly intact, and Sarah used her best kitchen knife to cut them clean of the beasts. There would be gelatin from the bones too. Sarah said as much to Ezra, and he spat into the soil. Spittle clung to the dark whiskers on his chin, and his blue eyes glittered like ice chips in his face. “So we’ll eat for a day or two, and I’m meant to smile about that?” When he stood, his knees creaked. But she pressed her lips tightly closed against a retort, and he didn’t come any closer. Finally he shuffled himself back down into the dirt, muttering curses as he sawed at the cartilage in the steer’s hind leg.
Sarah peeled a slimy shred of muscle away from her steer’s shoulderblade and added the bone to her pile. She hadn’t changed out of her best Sunday dress — the only one of the three she owned made of store-bought cloth and not patched-up flour sacks — and she was brown to the elbows and knees. Well, it would wash, and so would she. She wiped the damp hair from her forehead with the back of one wrist and said, “You reckon it’s brooding season?”
This time Ezra shot to his feet despite his crackling joints. He crossed the space between them in three steps and cuffed her across the cheek. “I look like I’ve sprouted feathers to you, woman?” he shouted. “How the hell should I know when a creature like that sees fit to drop an egg? I raise cattle, not goddamn demon birds!”
She murmured her apologies, but he didn’t return to stripping the other dead steer. He put his head down and stormed across the corral, muttering, hands clenched at his sides. She put her head down too. There was still work to be done, however many pairs of hands were set to it,