You Should Never Have a Favorite Child

Submitted into Contest #169 in response to: Write a murder story where the murder weapon is the knife used to carve a pumpkin.... view prompt


Thriller Horror Suspense

This story contains sensitive content

Trigger Warning: Suicide, violence, gore

You Should Never Have a Favorite Child

It was raining.

Well, not real rain, not the soak you to your bones, ice cold New England downpour Ellie and her family had left behind nearly 5 years ago. That was a very specific rain she felt she could go her whole life without encountering again. This rain was still cool, but not freezing. This rain wasn’t the kind that overflowed the gutters, sending dirt and plant debris down the sides of the road in fat, fast rivers. This was more of a drizzle, presented to the residents of this small Oregon town by Mother Nature, as a casual introduction to the fall season. It pitter-pattered on the awning below Ellie’s second story window, where she imagined it pooling, making little lakes in the sun-bleached green vinyl. She could imagine the early morning sun glinting on the edges of the little puddles as it flirted behind the grey clouds in the sky, teasing to make an appearance.

Ellen Sullivan opened her eyes on October 30th and swung her legs over the edge of her bed, bare feet hitting the cold hardwood, making her wish she was one of those psychopaths that could sleep in socks. She could hear her mother downstairs, singing off key to a Temptations song, and she could smell bacon. Her stomach growled, as if she needed the encouragement to head down and see what was cookin’, good lookin’. Sliding on her moccasin slippers, Ellen flung open her bedroom door and threw herself down the stairs, following her nose.


Ellie nearly knocked Chaz over in her haste in her journey to sustenance. She was close to a run (but not running, that wasn’t allowed in the house), grabbing the end of the shiny wooden banister as her foot left the last step, she used her momentum to slingshot herself down the narrow hall towards the saloon doors of the kitchen. And promptly slammed into her brother’s boney shoulder, crushing her nose and stopping her in her tracks.

“Watch it, clutz” Chaz barely looked up from his screen for only a second, long enough to glare at Ellie out of the corner of his eye.

“Sorry,” an eye roll from Ellie to answer the glare, "What's mom makin’?”

Chaz was already gone, back into his online world and walking towards the living room. Ellie knew he was on that horrible forum, he always was. She had sneaked into his room and looked through his browsing history on his laptop one day when he was in the shower and read the things he had been discussing on that website. He had been talking to other guys, presumably like him, about how horrible women were. How they always go for the guys who are going to treat them badly, and “good guys” like them get left behind. Ellie was scared of the things she had read in those secret moments, she didn’t understand all of it, but she knew enough to get the idea that this wasn’t a healthy place for a 17-year-old to be spending his time.

Rubbing her sore nose, Ellie walked through the swinging doors and into the kitchen where her mother was beginning to plate their breakfast; pancakes, bacon, and fried potatoes. Ellie’s mouth watered and her stomach growled at her again. Food. The unpleasant thoughts of her brother and his online activities were gone from her mind as she hurried over to the table and took her usual seat, grinning.   “What’s cookin’, good lookin’?” One of her dad’s signature breakfast-time phrases.

Lauren Sullivan hummed the closing rhythm of “My Girl” as she swept from the kitchen to the table, a plate in each hand, tipped Ellie a wink, putting the plates down; one in her spot and one in Chaz’s. She turned for Ellie’s plate on the counter and simultaneously yelled for Chaz to join the family for breakfast. Once Ellie’s plate was in front of her, she decided it wasn’t worth waiting for her brother to join the family, her food had an important meeting with her mouth, and this morning it was not going to be late.

Lauren freshened her coffee from the pot and took her seat across from Ellie, beginning to eat. She knew as well as her daughter that Chaz would join them when he felt like it, if he felt like it, and this food would only get cold in the meantime. Her auburn hair was in a loose bun on top of her head, thrown up for cooking. She looked up from her plate to take a sip of her coffee, her eyes meeting Ellie’s, a reflection of her own hazel looking back at her. “How’s the grub?”

Ellie’s mouth was full, so she just nodded enthusiastically (talking with your mouth full wasn’t allowed, either, and Ellie was a rule follower), shaking her fork at the pancakes and making a sound of approval. Once her mouth was empty, Ellie pointed her fork at the pancakes again, now almost half gone “Ya really stuck ya big toe in this one, Lauren! Deee-lish!”. Another dad phrase, she was on a roll today. She shoveled a fork full of potatoes into her mouth, chewing with appreciation.

Lauren smiled softly. There was so much of Arthur in Ellie it hurt her heart sometimes- most times. Ellie had his personality, his mannerisms, his charm. Chaz had his unfortunate red hair and fair skin, looking so much like Arthur and so little like Lauren that she sometimes joked about wanting a maternity test, as if she hadn’t pushed him from her own body. The fiery hair and the pale, almost translucent, skin is where the similarity stopped, however. The person that Chaz was; detached, uncaring, and downright cruel sometimes was so far from the people that had created him, that the joke sometimes wasn’t, and Lauren wondered if they’d brought home the right child. She imagined herself sometimes, a star of her very own TLC special where she was reunited with the son she had actually birthed 17 years ago, and the stranger she had raised rejoined his own, cold family.

Instead, Chandler Sullivan shuffled in, as if one of the clouds from the grey sky outside of the kitchen window had snuck in where Lauren had left it cracked for the fresh morning air to accompany her while she cooked. His head was still down, enveloped in the latest post on r/mensrights, headphones blaring some outdated angry rock music that may be tolerable, if listened to at a reasonable level, instead of squeezing out from between Chaz’s head and the foam ear pieces, a distorted and ugly noise.

Ellie and Lauren looked at each other, not saying a word, but not needing to either. They were silently bracing themselves for whatever could happen next, would Chaz sit with them and pleasantly eat the food Lauren had prepared? Not likely. Would there be an outburst, both he and his mother (Chaz sometimes dreamed a similar dream where his real family suddenly showed up to take him home to the mansion and fortune he was actually born to, leaving behind the incessantly nagging bitch pretending to be his mother, and the annoying whore masquerading as his sister) yelling until they were red in the face and the day was ruined? Likely.

He grabbed a mug from the dish rack and filled it halfway with coffee, the other half with sugar and a splash of cream. He turned towards the table, Ellie with her eyes fixed firmly on the remaining strip of bacon on her plate, Lauren looking at him with a grin on her face. Here we go, get ready for the fireworks, folks! Chaz pulled his headphones down to rest around his neck, still blaring, “What are you smilin’ about?” His not quite Boston accent turned that last word into abat.

Lauren’s smile faltered a bit, but she didn’t drop her eyes, and the grin bounced back. Maybe even a bit wider than before. “We are gonna carve pumpkins. As a family! Doesn’t that sound nice? You can do whateva you want, we can even print patterns from this website I found! What do you think, Chaz?” Ellie was looking at her mom, mouth agape. They hadn’t done that in 5 years, not since dad...

“Don’t call me that, I’ve already told you not to. My name is Chandler.” His dark eyes narrowed, making them look beadier than ever, “and why would we do that?”.

“Ok, Chandler then. I forgot. I don’t get to make costumes anymore now that you’re both too old for trick-or-treating, but we can still cut up some squash! I already got the pumpkins, and once we’re done eatin’, I can lay out the newspaper so there’s not a huge mess after. Don’t be a party poopuh, what do you say?” Lauren was fighting to maintain eye contact, her son’s were so unnerving.

Ellie was looking at her brother now, uneasy. She didn’t like the idea of being in the same room with him when there were sharp objects involved. He had never actually hurt her (well except that one time, about 6 months ago, but that was an accident, she was pretty sure), but the idea still made her stomach threaten to return her breakfast to her plate. She looked back to her mom, who was still smiling, waiting for Chandler to say something.

“I don’t like Chaz because it sounds too much like Chad. I'm not a Chad. Do you even understand what I’m saying?” He was tense, always on the defense with his mother, but suddenly, he relaxed. “Never mind, you wouldn’t understand, whatever. I’ll carve a stupid pumpkin if it shuts you up”.

Lauren finally broke away, looking at Ellie again, and clapping her hands together in excitement, “Ok, hurry up and finish ya food so we can get started!” Stahted


The newspaper was laid out on the table, the pumpkins were gutted, and Ellie was focused on the face she’d picked from the old book her mom had. It was barely more than a basic Jack-O-Lantern face, but she wanted it to be perfect. Chandler was carving something violent they had printed off the internet, Ellie wasn’t interested enough to find out. Lauren was carving a cat, back arched and hissing, a classic.

Lauren had the music up loud, at the moment, Crazy Train was playing, which is something Chaz (no, Chandler now, he was too old for nicknames, remember mom?) actually liked. She looked up from her handy work, looking across the table, “Ellie, I forgot the tealights in the garage, could you go grab them for us, please?”. She flashed a sheepish smile.

“Yeah, mom, I’ll be right back.”

Ellie walked down the narrow hallway towards the front door, the garage man-door was about 5 feet to the right of the big oak front door. She unlocked the deadbolt and stepped down into the garage, flicking on the light. The door closed behind her with a click. She made her way over to the spot where the pumpkins had been before the three of them brought them into the house, scanning the workbench for a package of tealights. She saw them leaning up against the wall at the back of the bench. Bingo! Ellie turned to make her way back into the house, imagining her perfect carving glowing on the front step and smiling. Click. That sounded like the deadbolt, but her brother and mother both knew she was in here, so why would they lock the door?

Ellie moved quickly to the door, tried to open it. Locked. It had to be Chaz; he was such a jerk. She banged on the door, yelling for them to open it, this wasn’t funny. There was no answer, but Ellie heard a muffled thump somewhere deeper in the house, was it in the kitchen?

Ellie’s breath caught in her chest. What if this wasn’t a prank? What if her brother was separating them, so that he could... What, Ellie? Kill you and mom? Get real. Ellie shook her head to clear the thoughts from her brain. She had to get into the house. Was there a key in here? There had to be. She frantically looked around, heard another thump and what sounded like a yell from inside the house. Her heart began pounding, palms sweating. Where would a key even be?

Ellie was moving things around, tossing things off shelves, when it dawned on her. She was in the garage. She almost smacked herself in the forehead, if she were watching this scene in a thriller movie, she would have been yelling at the stupid girl on the screen to do the obvious thing, stop wasting time! She walked back over to the door and pushed the glowing button mounted next to the frame. The outside door hummed open loudly, and Ellie stepped out onto the driveway.

She opened the front door and stepped into the house. Ozzy wasn’t playing anymore, now it was Monster Mash, and it was louder than ever. Ellie left the door open, the cool breeze wafting in with her, the smell of moist leaves strong but barely noticeable to the teenager as she crept down the hallway toward those saloon doors, terrified for them to swing open and reveal what was hidden behind.

Reaching the doors, Ellie pushed the right-side door open with her fingertips, holding her breath, eyes wide and searching into the kitchen.

There was blood. So much blood, everywhere. The curtains, the table, even her own pumpkin was splattered, the drops running down to pool on the newspaper. Where is mom? How bad is she hurt?  Ellie’s heart was thumping in her chest, threatening to break open her chest and make a break for the front door. She stepped forward through the doors, noticing that the kitchen door to the backyard was open. She took a few more steps into the kitchen, looking out into the yard, there was blood leading to the shed.

The kitchen was in disarray, the coffee pot was shattered on the floor, and Chandler’s pumpkin was on the ground, smashed as if stomped on. Evidence of a tantrum, she was sure. But this time it got out of control. Maybe Ellie was just being paranoid, maybe mom had a bloody nose and for some reason went out to the shed and nothing bad happened here. Then she noticed. The butcher knife Lauren had been using to cut out the big swatch of moon behind her cat’s arched back was gone. Ellie looked around to be sure, and soon was. It wasn’t in the kitchen. She knew where she had to go next.


As Ellie approached the shed, she could see the shadows of someone’s feet, walk from one side to the other, back again halfway, stopping right in front of the closed door. Her heart was still pounding fiercely, and she was afraid Chaz would hear it from inside the shed.

She had grabbed a meat cleaver from the kitchen, she wanted the biggest, sharpest thing she could find, and that seemed perfect. She didn’t know what she was going to do once she got to the shed, but she wanted that cleaver. She took a step closer to the shed, reaching out a trembling hand to grasp the handle. She pulled, raising the meat cleaver above her head- and dropped her arm as her jaw dropped simultaneously. The scene was so much worse than she’d expected.

“You killed him. You expected us to all believe he fell from the roof, but I know better. The ladder was pulled, you pulled it, and he fell and broke his neck. That makes you a murderer, and you’ve never even been sorry. So, I guess now I’m not sorry, either.”

Ellie’s eyes filled with tears, “Mom” she squeaked out.

Lauren turned, knife still in her hand, and met those hazel eyes that may as well have come from her own face, “He killed your dad. I have to finish this. I love you, honey” turning back to Chandler, hanging by his wrists from the one roof support in the tiny shed, she plunged the large knife into his neck. Blood sprayed as she pulled the knife from his flesh. He jerked, eyes wide and wild with pain and fear, and she stabbed him again, in the chest.  More blood. His head slumped forward as blood flowed onto the dirt floor of the shed. She turned back to Ellie, brushing some of the hair that had come loose from her bun off her forehead, leaving a streak of blood behind.

They locked eyes again, Ellie was frozen in place, though she wanted to run. She’s going to kill me now, it’s my turn. And then what, bury us behind the shed, with the animals Chaz had been caught killing for fun, the ones that made her decide we shouldn’t have pets? Or will she call the police and claim insanity at her trial? But Lauren would do none of these things.

“Keep ya chin up, kid, and ya eyes forward. Ya don’t want to miss what’s right in front of ya face” A dad phrase, this time from Lauren. Her eyes were filling with tears as she looked at her daughter, who was so much of her dad it hurt your heart.

She raised the knife and laid her own throat open before Ellie could stop her.

Ellie fell to her knees in the grass, staring at her mother and brother in the shed, eyes still wide, though her heart was starting to slow now. Her throat hurt, and there were tears in her eyes now. She blinked and they fell into the already glistening grass.

It was raining.

October 23, 2022 18:09

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Delbert Griffith
09:15 Oct 31, 2022

I hate it. I love it! I never want to read this again. I want to read more like this! The ambivalence is artificial, I assure you. The subject matter made me cringe a little, but it was so well-written. Your tale flowed well, and the characters were well-developed; each one evoked either sympathy or disgust. You are no aspiring author; you are a bona fide, actual, real-deal author. This is an excellent tale and you will sadden me if you don't write at least one story a week for me and others to read on Reedsy. Great job!


Renee Atherton
04:09 Nov 04, 2022

Thank you so much!! You are too kind. I am typing with a huge smile, I have re-read this story over and over in the last week, and thought of things I should have changed or included, taken out or explained better. It is so rewarding to hear that you enjoyed it! Thank you again!


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Renee Atherton
19:09 Oct 23, 2022

Please leave feedback, this is the first submission that I have posted here, and would love to hear from you! Thank you!


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