Fiction Sad Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Adrian’s fork clinks against his plate as he sets it down to pick up his spoon. It’s the first sound any of us have heard since the beginning—the Big Bang of this family dinner.

Heh. Calling it a “family dinner” as if it’s just like any other…

I meet Mari’s eyes, but they dart away, focusing on some pattern in the tablecloth. It is a nice tablecloth—been in the family for generations. Long enough for all of us to know all of its intricate designs without even having to look, which means Mari is faking.

We all are.

All Mom and Dad can do is wait. They have no part in this, and they know it. They did their time. Now we siblings have to do ours.

Claire’s fidgeting like she needs to pee. It’s not like she can’t get up and go, but she won’t. I know, because I’ve had to pee myself for the past twenty minutes. I’m just better at controlling my reaction. Always have been.

Can’t say I’m as refined as Jayna, though. She’s sitting there like a stone. Stone eyes. Stone face. Stone body. She might’ve even turned her chair to stone. Guess I take the silver medal on stoicism—but I take gold on age. As the oldest sibling, it’s my right—my privilege—to start. I’m perfectly okay with the unfair advantage. Who wouldn’t be? I know Jayna’s jealous. She told me so to my face last night before we went to bed. Her jealousy is only natural; stones envy those who can move of their own free will, not having to wait for the pull of gravity or the boot of random passerby.

Not gonna start just yet, though.

“Pass the salt?” I ask. It’s between Adrian and Claire, but Mari or Mom could reach it if they wanted to.

Adrian moves, but Claire’s faster. Must be that pent-up gotta-go energy.

She’s too fast, though. Knocks over the salt and somehow knocks off the cap, painting the tablecloth we all know so well with a granular white splash.

That gets Mari’s attention. Were she the oldest, she would’ve attacked right then and there. But the oldest she ain’t, and the youngest she ain’t. She’s smack in the middle. It’s me, then Adrian, then Mari, then Jayna, then Claire. There’s technically a rule that says the youngest can get the party started with the eldest’s express permission, but that’s not gonna happen.

Slowly, Mom gets up to clean the salt. She doesn’t say anything, doesn’t look at anyone, but Claire takes it as her opportunity to go piss. Wish I could start while she’s away.

The rules have holes. What if she stuffs something sharp in her pocket while she’s gone? What if she uses it to kill herself?

Ah, I guess any of those things could’ve happened by now; I’m pretty sure Adrian’s got his pocketknife on deck. So stupid. There are knives on the table. And forks. And don’t count out spoons. Brett told me he scooped out his sister’s eye and flung it at his brother.

Even though he’s my best friend, I can never speak or think of his siblings’ names again, but that’s how it goes. That’s how it’ll go tonight with my siblings, too.

A sound from the bathroom. Retching.

So that’s why she’s in there. Spilling out her guts so they can’t be spilled later on. Smart.

I should’ve done the same.

Believe me, I don’t want to do what I have to do. I just have to do it. I have to survive. I have to carry on the family name. Now that everyone’s of age, there’s no other choice.

Some siblings don’t wait. Dad told me his brother—his twin—tried killing him in his sleep two years before they were of age. Well, Dad killed him right back. What else was he supposed to do—die? It caused some complications, but self-defense is alright. It’s simply a matter of proving it is self-defense, not murder. Guess I don’t know for sure what really happened, but I trust Dad.

He trusts me, too, but right now, he wants nothing to do with me. He’s watching Mom clean up the salt—which is taking much longer than it should—like he’s watching his favorite movie. That slight smirk on his face… he’ll be fine when this is all over, but it still hasn’t even started.

The thought makes me laugh for some reason, unnerving Mari even further. God, that girl couldn’t fake composure if her life depended on it. And it does.

More retching. Claire hasn’t flushed yet. Hope she doesn’t clog the damn toilet. I still have to pee.

Adrian clinks his fork again. Such a klutz. Don’t know how he handles that pocketknife as well as he does. Don’t know why he has it, to be honest. Could be in a gang. Could be for show. Could be to impress a girl. Whatever. We were never that close, anyway. Never bonded over being two brothers outnumbered by three sisters or any other stupid kid stuff like that.

Claire’s the only one I ever really cared about—the only one I like. She’s the main reason I don’t want to do what I have to do. If she does clog the toilet, I won’t be that mad. I’m used to cleaning up her messes.

Not Mari’s, though. She drops two potatoes on her lap. Adrian might be the family klutz, but Mari’s our own little disaster. Insecure as a safe with the lock blown off.

Mom sits back down with a paper towel, as if she’d anticipated the mess. Mari takes it without looking and wipes the grease off her pants.

“… Pass the salt?” I ask again now that Mom’s done cleaning.

Mari doesn’t move, thankfully. Neither does Adrian. Claire’s still in the bathroom. Dad and Jayna are too far away. So it’s Mom who hands me the saltshaker, after all that work she just did. It’s a selfish action on her part, though. She explicitly caresses my fingers as she passes the salt my way. Just in case.

Just in case.

Guess I can’t blame her. After all, I have a plan, but that’s at odds with the four other plans I’m dealing with.

Well, three. Claire won’t have a plan.

Speak of the devil, here she comes now. She’s pale, shaking. Practically trips into her seat.

I can feel the “You okay?” on everyone’s lips, but no one has the audacity to ask it. I—

“You okay?” Jayna asks.

Wow. Unexpected. But Claire’s not gonna—

“Yeah.” She sniffles, wiping a stray bit of vomit on her sleeve. “Sorry.”

Jayna shakes her head, and silence takes its rightful place once again.

I should’ve said it. I should’ve asked. I don’t feel guilty, but I do feel shitty. That’s preferable, because there’s no room for guilt tonight. Not unless I have a death wish.

If I knew with absolute certainty that Claire would come out on top, I would have a death wish. But she won’t. And we all have a duty to our family to try our hardest to win, which means no helping each other or letting someone else win.

Not allowed.

Suddenly remembering I have it, I use the saltshaker. Potatoes are kind of flavorless. Pork’s good, though. Even the green beans are passable. Mom really went all out for our Last Supper.

Dad poured the water. None of us have touched our glasses yet, but now that Claire’s back from the bathroom…

Yep. There she goes. Holding her cup in two hands like always, parching her throat like she’s in Death Valley.

Not far from the truth.

I take my second bite of pork. Mm. Needs salt after all. I go to sprinkle some on and—

The damn cap pops off.

Jayna shakes her head again, and Mari looks away.

Okay. Gonna move up the timetable.

I set down the saltshaker and push my plate away. Should I drink some water before the games begin? Nah. Still have to pee as it is.

Y’know what? Lemme do that before anything else. Don’t have to move the timetable up, down, or sideways.

I get up, and as soon as I’m fully out of the kitchen, something swishes through the air, and someone screams.

Goddamn it. Adrian invoked the Right of the Eldest in the Room. Bastard. Never expected him to pull a stunt like that.

That pocketknife was a good idea after all. There it is, sticking out of Mari’s throat like a diving board. She grasps at it, blood squirting, pooling around her, but it’s too late. She drops, and just like that, I can never use her name again.

Mom and Dad leave, as they must now that the ball’s rolling. Dad shoves past me, slamming me into the doorframe by accident, but he’s big, and it hurts.

I dash back in the room, nabbing a kitchen knife from the counter as Adrian, Jayna, and Claire back up, knocking their seats over. This usually happens, or so I’ve heard: the first sibling bites the dust, and the others take a moment to size one another up. As if we haven’t been sizing one another up all of our lives.

A fork in hand, Adrian moves again, ignoring Claire—who isn’t holding any sort of weapon—and going for Jayna. Adrian’s stronger, but Jayna’s got more than a few inches on him; she’s the tallest of us all. They swipe at each other for a bit until Adrian lunges in. Surprisingly, Jayna swerves around him and pushes him away, going for Claire.

That’s when I jump in.

There isn’t as much of a reach differential between us as there is between her and Adrian, but I’ve got the bigger knife. And with my plan in shambles, I have to improvise.

I slash at her, nicking her stomach as she nicks my arm. I step back, repositioning myself, and hear Adrian coming up from behind. He isn’t subtle.

Now I step to the side so that I’m not caught between them. The last thing I want is—

What the? Adrian tripped?

No. My sister—she’s still alive. Mari’s still alive.

She pulls on Adrian’s leg and he stumbles to the ground, fork clattering against the tile. Jayna takes the opportunity to stab him in the back, shoving her knife straight through him.

He doesn’t move, and Mar—my sister’s grip goes slack.

Rather than turn to me, Jayna swivels toward Claire again, who’s now backed up against the counter, right next to the rest of the kitchen knives. She doesn’t go for them as Jayna slinks ever closer, grabbing a new knife from the table.

So I throw my own knife at Jayna. I have no idea how to properly throw a knife, so it spins uselessly to her left. It’s enough to get her attention, though—by which time I’m already throwing just about everything else on the dinner table at her. Plates. Cups. Bowls. Things much easier to aim than knives.

I do grab a knife in my off hand, though, knowing I won’t be able to finish the job with this platter of potatoes.

In the confusion wrought by flying potatoes, I charge in, nearly running Jayna through. Except she swerves around me, just like she swerved around our brother. Where did she pick that up? I don’t remember her taking martial arts. She’s never been one to talk about her life, though. Yet even stones can break, given the right tools.

There. To my left. If I can just—


That was more than a nick. My arm is bleeding. Bad.

Jayna stands over me as I slump onto the counter. “I never liked you.”

My retort is sliced away by the pain, just as I’m about to be sliced away by her. She raises the knife and—


Mom had considered mashed potatoes, but decided against it because she never managed to cook them right, and she just wanted to get the Last Supper over with. So, she’d left the hammer-like masher on the counter.

And Claire just used it to kill our sister. She trembles as the corpse collapses onto the floor.

Now, it’s just her and me.

And I have to do it.

I have to.

I… have…

“Damn it!” I scream, clenching my arm, which is only beginning to hurt more. My sister got me good, I’ll give her that.

Maybe it means Claire will win… without me having interfered… not directly, at least… I think…

Oof. Getting hard to think. Losing… so much blood…

Screw this.

“Claire. You can… wait until I’ve f-fainted. Can’t… stand up much longer with this…”

I can’t look at her. Not with those… tears on her face… but… I can’t do anything… about hearing her speak.

“I can’t. I can’t!”

“Yes you can,” I say, letting go of the counter and… plopping down… next to my dead siblings. “Yes you can. Just… like you did to…”

“I had to kill Jayna. She was gonna—”

Don’t… say her name, Claire. She’s… gone.”

Claire kneels down and locks eyes with me. No… I can’t look at her now… I—

Baby blue eyes. Baby blue eyes on my baby sister.

“Claire… you have to…”

Her breath catches. She claws at her throat as if… suffocating…

“No, Claire!” I cough. “No! What’s… what’s wrong? You have to… outlive… out…”

Everything goes black.


I come to in the living room, dressed in a fresh set of clothes. There’s a pillow under my head and a glass of water on the coffee table in front of me.

I sit up. My arm throbs, and I remember the cut. Except now, it’s wrapped up. Cleaned. Sterilized.

Mom and Dad are sitting across from me in the armchairs on either side of the fireplace, which crackles with a gentle flame. Where are the others? Where are…?


Oh, no. Not her. Anyone but her.

“Where is Claire?”

Dad stands abruptly, muscular legs knocking his chair back an inch or two. “That name doesn’t exist anymore. That person doesn’t exist anymore. You phrase that question differently and maybe I’ll answer it.”

I stand up myself, ignoring the pain, meeting his gaze. I almost say Claire again, but Dad will make good on his unspoken threat if I give him leeway. I can’t take that risk. I’m to have the honor of representing the family now, which means I have to live.

But Dad can’t invade my mind. There, Claire will always be Claire.

“Where… is… my sister?”

No fork clinking against my brother’s—Adrian’s—plate breaks the silence this time. Thankfully, though, it doesn’t last long, and Dad sits down. I follow suit, glancing at Mom. She’s doing a poor job of hiding her tears.

“She is dead,” Dad says, “like all the rest. Congratulations, son. You have earned your place as this family’s sole heir.”

Such a stupid, stupid, stupid tradition. What the hell is this, medieval times? I can’t believe—

No. Calm. Don’t provoke him. Don’t provoke yourself. Just… find out what happened.

“How did she die? I don’t remember—”

“Thank your father,” Mom says, speaking for the first time today. “Shaky” doesn’t even begin to describe her voice. “He’s just bestowed you with a great honor.”

“It’s alright, Petra.” Dad’s icy cold glare says otherwise. “I didn’t bestow anything on him. Like I said, he earned it.”

Mom nods, silent once again. That hand over her stomach means she wants nothing more than to run to the bathroom and retch. Just like Claire.

I shake my head. “As I was saying, I don’t remember anyone stabbing or striking her. So… what happened?”

“I invoked the Right of Parental Contingency, of course. As your father, I have that Right, so long as your mother agrees with me.”

“Which I did,” Mom whispers.

What? What is…?

The water. The water.

“Not all siblings get along,” Dad continues, “so many parents don’t have to bother. Even those with children that do get along often ignore that option. But you and your youngest sister… you had something special. I knew you two would be the last ones standing, and I knew you wouldn’t kill her. So I invoked the Right. When I poured—”

“You poisoned her! You poisoned Claire!”

“Do not use that—”

“I’ll use whatever the hell I want!”

This can’t be real. This can’t be real, man. Claire—she was—and Dad—he—

My vision blurs with tears, but I can still see Dad standing up from the chair again. He starts rounding the coffee table, but Mom breaks out of her stupor and grabs him, begging. They’re screaming, arguing, but I can’t hear. I can’t understand.

I… I can’t…

Claire should be here on this couch, not me. Anyone but me.




… Claire.

I’m sorry.


It’s illegal to have any less than two children, and it’s encouraged to have at least three. It’s also illegal to name your children after anyone in your family.

Don’t care. I’m gonna have an only child, a baby girl, and I’m gonna name her Clair. Different spelling, so I’m not incarcerated or worse.

Then I’m gonna run. I’m gonna run and I’m not gonna stop running even when I reach the ends of the earth. And when I finally find a place where I can stop running, I’m gonna tell Clair about Claire. Her baby blue eyes. Her smiles. The goodness in her heart. How she saved me from Jayna.

Yes, I’m gonna tell Clair about Jayna, too. And Mari and Adrian. Because those were their names. Because they were real people that existed in the real world. Because I’ll never forget our Last Supper together.

Because I’m going to forge new traditions with Clair. Good traditions. Happy dinners.

An actual future.

September 15, 2022 17:45

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21:39 Sep 19, 2022

A good dystopian story. What a messed up tradition this is. Well done, the anticipation was built up masterfully, I liked the constant spilling of salts as that's seen as a bad omen.


Benny Regalbuto
01:38 Sep 20, 2022

Yep. I prefer pepper myself, but so far as I know, spilling it doesn't portend doom. Thanks for the read!


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17:08 Sep 18, 2022

Wow, this is a cleverly shocking story. It reminded me a little of Shirley Jackson’ s “The Lottery “ but on a family level. You kept me guessing throughout. I knew something sinister was going to happen but didn’t know what.


Benny Regalbuto
13:57 Sep 19, 2022

Oh wow, I didn't even think of "The Lottery," but I totally see what you mean! Glad you liked it, Kimberly.


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Charlie Murphy
16:40 Sep 17, 2022

Great story! I loved the tension throughout it. Also, great drama and dialogue! What time period and country is this story set in? Is it the future?


Benny Regalbuto
13:56 Sep 19, 2022

Much obliged, Charlie! I didn't have a specific time period or country in mind when writing. Stories like this, I think, can apply to MANY times and places, so–unless I decided to expand upon it—leaving the setting somewhat nebulous adds to the broad appeal as well as the sense of mystery. It was definitely strange for me, though, because I tend to focus quite heavily on setting!


Charlie Murphy
16:28 Sep 19, 2022

Well, you had me wonder when/where it took place. Great job! Can you read mine, Beth's Diaper Adventure?


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Brendan Sanders
09:22 Sep 17, 2022

Fascinating! It’s quite the read, the entire time I was trying to figure out what was going on! Then it hit me, this is an unfortunate truth that lingers in a not too distant future. Very fun read! 😁


Benny Regalbuto
13:53 Sep 19, 2022

Thanks, Brendan! Happy to have a happy reader despite the unhappy story.


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08:02 Sep 17, 2022

Wow. That went from so happy to, whatever that was. Scary family tradition. I loved Claire and the MC's relationship, but it sure was sad when it ended that way. The description was used well, and I could almost feel my arm hurting when the MC got injured. The ending was very sweet and persistent. How did you come up with this? I would love some tips for my stories. Amazing story! You deserve the win. - C.S 😌


Benny Regalbuto
13:51 Sep 19, 2022

Your kind words are appreciated. Glad you enjoyed my story. As for how I came up with this... it was a mix of random ideas and thinking about my life. I have four siblings just as the MC does, and though I (thankfully) don't want to kill any of them, my relationships with all four have affected me profoundly, so I tend to write about siblings in fiction a lot. Drawing from life is one of our greatest tools as writers–so long as we're careful about it, because writing characters who are JUST LIKE people we know can be a slippery slope. It's ...


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J.M. De Jong
06:32 Sep 17, 2022

Well, that entire thing sure took a turn I was not ready for... Sheesh. Brutal, and quite shocking to be honest but I appreciated your skill in description and the well-placed similies. Particularly this- "Insecure as a safe with the lock blown off" The relationship between the eldest and Claire was real touching and how it ended was gut-wrenching :( I like the brother's determination to name his daughter after her and his mission to give her a better life.


Benny Regalbuto
13:45 Sep 19, 2022

Thanks for reading! Yes, I do love me a well-placed simile. Similes and metaphors are super fun to come up with, and if placed well can be more effective than entire paragraphs. As someone with four siblings, I'm always interested in exploring these kinds of relationships in fiction. Luckily, I don't have to fight to the death with mine :)


J.M. De Jong
15:56 Sep 19, 2022

Sure thing! And I agree, still working on perfecting the well-placed similes in my own writing. And haha, thank the Lord for that! Are the characters in this based off your siblings then? That makes it so much more meaningful if so! I am so blessed to have 3 siblings myself who bring so much joy into my life :) Family is priceless.


Benny Regalbuto
16:20 Sep 19, 2022

Good to know you get along with your siblings as I do mine. Not all of us are so lucky! I wouldn't say any of the characters are directly based on my siblings, but they share certain qualities that I cherrypicked. That's usually the route I go; it keeps me coming up with new characters rather than inserting fictional replicas of my siblings into every story I write. The real challenge is writing stories WITHOUT siblings!


J.M. De Jong
16:47 Sep 19, 2022

Oh yes, we are all each other's best friends:) It's such a tradegy to see how a lot of siblings are as strangers to each other... And ahh, Gotchu. That makes a lot of sense, and is clever. I do that myself more than I think I realize, honestly. Building up a character without anything to base them off of can be a struggle for me, but it's always fun either way. And haha, I understand that! I don't see any fault in that though, it shows how much you care, and how your brothers/sisters are with you always in heart! I love that. Makes me cur...


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Julius Juryit
11:53 Sep 22, 2022

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