PC016: Magnificent Pigs

By Cat Rambo
Read by Matthew Wayne Selznick
First appeared in Strange Horizons (full text at link)

The spring before it happened, I went upstairs and found my ten-year-old sister Jilly crying. Charlotte’s Web, which we’d been reading together at bedtime all that week, lay splayed broken-backed on the floor where she’d thrown it.

“What’s wrong?” I said, hovering in the doorway. As Jilly kept getting sicker, I tried to offer her the illusion of her own space, but remained ready.

“I was reading ahead because I liked it so much—and Charlotte dies!” she managed to gasp between sobs.

The big brass bed creaked in protest as I sat down beside her. Gathering her into my arms, I rocked her back and forth. It was well past sunset and the full-faced moon washed into the room, spilling across the blue rag rug like milk, and gleaming on the bed knobs so that they looked like balls of icy light, brighter than the dim glow of Jilly’s bedside lamp.

“It’s a book, Jilly, just a book,” I said.

She shook her head, cheeks blotched red and wet with tears. “But, Aaron, Charlotte’s dead!” she choked out again.

I retrieved the book from the middle of the room and set it in front of her. “Look,” I said. “If we open the book up again at the beginning, Charlotte’s alive. She’ll always be alive in the book.”

The sobs quieted to hiccups and she reached for the book, looking dubious. When she opened it to the first chapter, I began to read. “‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. ‘Out to the hoghouse,’ replied Mrs. Arable. ‘Some pigs were born last night.'”

Curling against me, she let me read the first two chapters. After she slipped away to sleep, I tucked the blanket around her then went downstairs to cry my own tears.

Rated PG. Contains child mortality. Those sensitive to these themes are advised to take caution.

Please visit the thread on this story in our forums.

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17 Responses so far

  1. 1

    Katherine Sparrow said,

    July 15, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

    I love this story. I love this story. I love it.

  2. 2

    Yicheng said,

    July 15, 2008 @ 5:27 pm

    Very haunting. Great reading. I enjoyed it very much.

    The grumpy curmudgeon in me, however, wants to gripe that this was a little too linear, too predictable, and too reliant on the child factor to keep us drawn in. The story dances right at the edge between Heart-wrenching and Manipulative, like the narrative equivalent of wrapping yourself in the American Flag and kissing babies. I’m not sure exactly which side it falls on.

  3. 3

    Bookman 12pt said,

    July 15, 2008 @ 6:00 pm


    The more Cat Rambo I read–or listen to, the more I admire her storytelling.

    This is a wondrous tale. Well Done.

  4. 4

    Nvisible said,

    July 16, 2008 @ 5:22 pm

    This is the best yet. Just perfect. Perfect story. Perfect narrator. MWS’s style and voice was made for this story.

    Thanks very much!

  5. 5

    scatterbrain said,

    July 16, 2008 @ 8:49 pm

    Excellent easy listening fiction.

  6. 6

    pudmuddles said,

    July 17, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

    I’m not alone in saying that this episode was the best yet! Thank you! I can’t wait to experience more of Cat Rambo’s work…

  7. 7

    Ryan B said,

    July 18, 2008 @ 3:27 pm

    Beautiful little tale. I’m not sure how it qualifies as fantasy (were the pigs actually flying, carrying the girl off to heaven? I’d say that was a dreamlike hallucination / symbolic storytelling element. Don’t look at me like that; I think the story works better if the pigs weren’t actually flying), but I’m not a stickler for genre boundaries.

    I loved it. It might merit a re-listen, which I’ve not yet done to any *pod story.

  8. 8

    Ryan B said,

    July 18, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

    P.S. Pig offal is among the most offensive odors on the planet. If you’ve never smelt a pig farm, you owe it to yourself to keep it that way.

  9. 9

    RandyNose said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 2:48 am

    Great Tale.

  10. 10

    Bernie B said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 1:49 am

    Wonderful. Absolutely Wonderful. Who cares if it was a tad predictable. Sometimes it’s just about the ride. I hope the mean nurse chokes on a ham sandwhich.

  11. 11

    Eric said,

    July 27, 2008 @ 2:52 am

    Loved it. Cried
    Don’t tell anyone.

  12. 12

    Spork said,

    July 27, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

    Reasonably predictable and, as stated before, emotionally manipulative. But, enjoyable all the same. Excellent reading and audio quality.

  13. 13

    Ogion The Ski-napper said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 4:15 am

    Why would a pig-farm smell of offal? However having tried pigs’ kidneys on one occasion I have to admit they do smell “offally” like wee-wee.

    As for the story – well it _almost_ broke through my crusty exterior to find the warm, sensitive, sentimental soul within. I think the blocking factor was my complete ignorance of the book on which this story is intended as a commentary. I’ve never even heard of “Charlotte’s Web”, far less read it. Sorry for my ignorance.

  14. 14

    V said,

    August 25, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

    More like this! Yes, my comment is overdue for this old story, but I’m bad about remembering to mention which eps I like the best.

  15. 15

    Ben said,

    September 10, 2008 @ 8:34 pm

    It’s real! Check it out!


  16. 16

    Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Review of Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight by Cat Rambo (Paper Golem Press, 2009) said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

    […] 2005 and have been a devoted fan of her work ever since. I’ve published her work on PodCastle – Magnificent Pigs; Dead Girl’s Wedding March; “I’ll Gnaw Your Bones,” the Manticore Said; Foam on the Water; […]

  17. 17

    Lessons Learned | Nicolette Jinks said,

    November 16, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    […] story; Black Ribbon, a tale of a baby reared into being a poison-laced assassin; Magnificent Pigs, a tale of child mortality mingled with key elements from Charolette’s Web in a heartbreaking […]

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