“Beat it,” says Reginald, his Buttonville Beanstalks baseball cap pulled tight over his mottled scalp.

“Yeah, get lost,” says Jeremiah.

Lenny, the third pig, doesn’t say much; he’s noisily sucking on a popsicle.

I look up at the treehouse they’re standing in, rosy cheeks and salmon-pink snouts protruding from a square opening on the side.

It’s a warm afternoon and the trees are starting to shed their toffee-colored leaves. Mrs. Woodsman’s backyard is an image of picture book perfection with neatly trimmed hedges and immaculately tended azaleas. Somewhere in the distance a bicycle bell dings.

“Come on, guys—” I say. “Stop messin’ with me—just drop me the ladder already.” The words come out in a sycophantic, ingratiating huff.

The pigs snort. The rope ladder dangles in the breeze.

“Look. I brought everything—” I pull a stack of magazines from the backpack, the covers gleam in the afternoon light. “Pigboy Magazine. Truffler. I got ‘em all—” The open pages hang in the air.

“Don’t need those no more,” says Jeremiah. “Lenny found a pile behind the beer fridge.”

“Go home to yer hairy mom, ya hairy ballsack!” shouts Reginald.

The words sting like a boot to the gut.

“Friends are the cruelest,” Ma once said, “but they don’t mean nothing.” She’d just come home from a late shift and I had heard the weariness in her voice, hidden away soft behind the sympathy. “I’ll bake you some pies to take over. It’ll be okay.”

But I had known Ma’s pies wouldn’t cut it. Even after she’d blinked away sleep and
fawned over those pies, bone-tired by morning.

Because friends are the cruelest.

So when her back had been turned, I’d grabbed the money from her purse.

I needed my friends more—

“Yer mom’s got hairy pits!” yells Reginald, cackling and snorting all at once as juvenile pigs do.

“Ballsack! Ballsack! Ballsack!” chants Jeremiah. “How do you like the name, Ballsack?”

Lenny snorts in the background.

I stalk away quietly, broken, tail between my legs.

The news that evening is a mix of current affairs, talking heads, and the weather report. There is also a short segment, a seemingly random act: arson in the suburbs. A treehouse had burned to the ground. No injuries had been reported, fortunately, but an adolescent grey wolf, clean record, no prior convictions, had been taken into custody for further questioning.

Word spreads.

Jiksun Cheung is a brand strategist and a postcard designer. He and his wife share their home in Hong Kong with two boisterous toddlers and enough playdough to last a lifetime. His work appears in SmokeLong Quarterly and Flash Fiction Magazine, among others. His latest story “Cupola” was a finalist for the SmokeLong Quarterly 2020 Award for Flash Fiction. Find him at @JiksunCheung and

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