enny, my seven-year-old sister, wrinkled her tiny nose. "That wasn't part of the deal," she said.

"Master," I said.

"That wasn't part of the deal, master!"

"Was too," I said.

I pointed at the basket of magazines on the far side of Mom and Dad's off-limits bedroom.

"Get me one," I said, "or you'll never see Pickleton again."

We could hear Mom chopping onions downstairs. Walter Cronkite's voice drifted up from the family room, where Dad was watching the news and rubbing his feet - or at least that's where he had been a few minutes earlier.

Jenny nudged the bedroom door open a few more inches. She looked into the room, then at me.

"What are they doing?" she asked. Her finger pointed at a painting on the wall. It showed a brown-skinned man and woman in exotic clothes, having sex while the man drew an arrow in a bow to shoot a nearby deer.

"I don't know," I whispered. "Just don't look at it."

She shook her head and went to the top of the stairs to peek down.

"That's it, then," I said. "Pickleton dies a mysterious death. Mom and Dad will never believe it was me after you left Fruit Loops in his cage."

"It was an accident," she said, and her eyes started to tear.

I folded my arms. "Some accident."

She whimpered. "I didn't mean to hurt him."

I peeked around the corner, down the stairs. No one was coming. I went to the bedroom door and pointed into the room. "Get one."

"Yes, master," she said.

She marched through the door and halfway across the room, then froze.

"What?" I whispered.

She looked back and whispered, "Watch the stairs."

I did.

A few seconds later, Jenny shut the bedroom door and handed me a Playboy.

"You're sick," she said.

Mom shouted from the kitchen, "Do you mind instant mashed potatoes, hon?"

Dad shouted back from the family room, "Instant's fine!"

I touched the picture of the woman on the cover.

Jenny said, "Anything else, master?"

"No," I said. "Pickleton's cage is in the attic. I set you free."

She ran to the stairs at the far end of the hall and climbed into the darkness. I could hear Jenny talking to Pickleton, squealing with glee, cooing to her little rodent, until I shut my bedroom door and hid the new slaves, glossy and airbrushed, at the bottom of my desk drawer.

Copyright Eric Bosse 2003. Title graphic: "Southern Gate" Copyright The Summerset Review 2003.