Halloween night found the sky as dark as a stack of black cats. My dad flipped on the yard light, illuminating the stock pens. What a night to be butchering hogs. But to my family, Halloween was just like any other night. We were way off the beaten track for city kids to be out trick-or-treating, and nothing stopped farm work from needing to be done.
The air felt as brisk as a honey crisp apple. I yanked my hood up and tied it snug. I pulled the hose from the well house and filled the huge metal barrel while other family members gathered wood to heat the water.
Soon the fire blazed, and steam rose off the boiling water like dancing witches. The tractor roared in the background. Dad checked his rifle and picked up the long knife. Time to shoot the first hog and then slit the throat to drain the blood.
Dad straddled the tractor seat and headed down into the stock yard. The rifle fired. The hog squealed. Into the beam of light, I watched as the carcass came swinging on a chain tied to its hoof from the bucket of the rambling tractor. The bucket went high into the air, carrying the hog with it. Dad moved the tractor forward until he reached the barrel of boiling water. The snot of the hog barely cleared the barrel, and then it went down, down, down into the water, scalding the stiff, bristle hair of the hog. Water sloshed over the sides and sizzled in the fire.
A stench hung in the air like burning flesh from a branding iron. The tractor bucket rose up until the hog cleared the rim, and then Dad lowered the carcass so we could reach it. Each of us grabbing a special tool called a bell, we frantically scraped as much hair from the hide before it cooled from the frigid air. The dipping and scraping repeated until the shape resembled a naked zombie.
My dad picked up the knife used to cut down the belly of the hog and remove the innards. He plunged the knife in and cut down the soft belly. My brother reached for the bowels as they burst out of the carcass like an exploding pumpkin. The knife slipped and dropped to the ground. Blood spurted from my dad’s left hand. He’d severed his thumb almost off.
Three high-pitched screams came from the edge of the lighted yard. I turned to see three small kids dressed as a ghost, a witch and a princess, clutching their trick-or-treat sacks and running in place. They tripped over each other as they raced away down our dirt road.
“Get your mother,” Dad said, wincing.
I rushed to the house yelling for Mom, but she was already on her way with towels. She quickly wrapped his hand and pulled the car keys from her purse.
Dad picked up the knife and handed it to my brother. “Be careful, son,” he said, his eyes wild from the dancing fire. “It was like someone took the knife and cut me.”
We helped him into the old, blue Lincoln and Mom headed toward the hospital. Except for the crackle of the fire, the night had become eerily quiet. My brother’s wide-eyed gaze shifted slowly to each of us.
Then he smiled. “You think Dad was pulling our leg? Ya know, Halloween and all.”
Everyone let out a sigh of relief. That had to be the answer. My brother picked up the knife and slowly placed it where Dad had left off.
He gasped and dropped the knife.
Blood sprayed from a severed artery. I stared in horror as his thumb lay splayed away from the rest of his hand—identical to my dad’s cut.
Other family members must have rushed to the house for towels and keys, and then we all piled into the old pickup truck and headed into town. I’ll never forget my parents’ frightened expressions as we walked into the emergency room.
My brother, looking white as a ghost, stared straight at Dad. “It was like someone took the knife and cut me.”
We never butchered hogs on Halloween night ever again. Spooky!
Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Humor, Suspense…and Dogs!
Fly into a good romance at: http://www.dragonflyromance.comCopyright: Cole123RF / 123RF Stock Photo