Gulliver

So this week’s flash fiction prompt over at TerribleMinds is simply about “bad parents,” which reminded me of a story I wrote a while back and hadn’t shared with anyone yet. So, I bring to you today, Gulliver.

 

Gulliver

 

The bear is starting to show his age. Faded, worn, his stuffing mostly gone now—spilling out from a tear in his left side. He’s missing one of his shiny, coal button eyes. The bottom of his dangling paw still has her name clumsily scrawled on it in black marker from that time last year when she’d had the flu and spent three whole days gloriously banished to her room with a box of crackers and a thermos full of juice. She loves him all the more fiercely for his bumps and bruises.

Gulliver wears his scars proudly. Unlike her own scrapes and cuts, so carefully hidden beneath long sleeves and her good school jeans. The few times she’d woken up to a face punctuated with welts and bruises, ripe as a summer plum, there had been a day off school. Makeup. Hugs. The only hugs she can recall.

She reads on the bedroom floor. Beneath a lean-to fort of her comforter and desk chair. Here is where she and Gulliver escape. Smiling to her best friend, she relates tales of adventure and happily ever afters to her tattered bear, content and quiet.

Until His frame blocks the light cascading from the bedside lamp. She flinches, hoping He doesn’t notice. The last time He was in here, she’d done a terrible job of putting her clothes away—Neatly, damn it is that so hard?!I—andHe’d had to take a hammer to the collection of delicate angel figurines on her dresser. Over and over until there was nothing left but a glittering pile of glass dust for her to clean and a tiny shard of crystal wing embedded in her lip for mom to remove.

She stiffens her body to keep the shaking she feels inside from escaping as He scans the room for some violation. And his eyes settled on Gulliver.

“This piece of shit is going in the trash.”

She has no choice but to watch on in abject horror as he scoops her bear up in his massive hand and leaves the room. She trails behind, unwilling to accept this latest discipline.

“But… why?” She knows better than to question him, to squeak the words past the lump in her throat. But they escape anyway, pain and grief tearing through her as he shoves Gulliver into the sloppy mess of old coffee filters and leftover dog food in the kitchen trash can.

He doesn’t answer (she’d known he wouldn’t) and instead leaves her there in a heap on the dingy linoleum floor, lost.

“Where’s your teddy bear?” he asks, hours later. She recognizes the mocking tone. The light in his eyes. Gulliver is gone. He threw him away. The scene played over and over in her mind as she wanders the house, an empty ship with a broken anchor.

She makes a run for her room before the first tear leaves her shimmering eyes. She still doesn’t know all the rules to his game, but she knows enough to recognize that He likes it when she cries. Normally it was a good way to make Him stop. Let Him see the pain, he won, and it was almost over. Today, she can’t bring herself to give Him the pleasure.

Instead, she crawls into bed, waits for the release of sleep.

He doesn’t let her forget. All week, He teases. Picks at her scabs. Rips the wound open with His mocking question.

“Where’s your teddy bear?”

Friday afternoon, she walks up the driveway, dragging her feet against the imaginary and insistent pull of home. Despite the lack of homework, her pink hand-me-down backpack feels heavy. Filled not with books or toys but with the heavy weight of loss and grief.

The horizon has long since gobbled up the last of the winter sun when she sits down to dinner. She’s not hungry. There’s a lead weight in her gut that refuses to go away. She forces herself to eat anyway, before He has a chance to force her Himself.

When He pushes his chair away from the table, she shoves another, bigger, bite into her mouth—gagging, desperately trying to prove she isn’t being difficult or obstinate or picky.

“Come on,” He says, motioning with his head as he walks past the kitchen and into the garage.

She follows, trying not to fidget as the icy December floor seeps through her bare feet. Streetlights burn through the inky sky, creating a dingy yellow halo that drips down over the house and spills onto the drive.

“Trash man came today. Thought you’d want to say one last goodbye.” He tips the largest can towards her, shows off its hollow bowels.

The icy air  freezes her tears as they spill out of her eyes in a rush.

“I loved you, Gulliver” is all she manages to say before her legs give out. He catches her before she hits the sidewalk, and she’s too sad, too tired, to care what her display of emotions will cost her later.

He lays her on the couch, and she curls into a ball. Her body shakes with a chill that has little to do with the fluttering snowflakes outside the big picture window. She hears Him leave the room and vaguely registers a wish in the back of her mind that He won’t come back with the belt.

Instead, when He returns a moment later, a familiar softness brushes against her cheek. She’s too terrified to hope.

But hope won out—it always wins in the end—and she sits up. He’s holding Gulliver out towards her, his fur freshly washed and the hole in his side stitched neatly. He has a new button eye.

She sits, cradling her best friend, with a splotchy face and the last of the tears drying on her cheeks. Forgetting the half-healed split in her lip, her mouth gapes into a smile as she hurls herself at him and encases his thick frame in her arms.

“Thank you so much, daddy! You’re the best!”

Penance

 

And now, for something a little different.

 

Today’s post is another piece of flash fiction, in response to a challenge on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. Basically, the assignment was to take a line created to be the last line of a story, and flip that idea on its pretty little head – making it the opening line of a roughly 1000 word story. So to see which line I chose, and to indulge in the rest of my creativity run amok, read on:

 

Penance

 

Truth be told, I’m not sure any of them are actually dead. It all looks so much easier in the movies, where the baddie is always a big, snarling monster and the good guys never run out of bullets. No one ever tells you that real monsters look remarkably similar to sweet, blue haired old ladies. Or that demons make a hell of a mess when you blow them up.

 

Damn it. I loved those shoes.

 

Sinking down into the massive wingback chair by the floor to ceiling windows, I slipped off my red patent leather heels and reached for a towel. Demon blood – thick, black and sulfurous – dripped down off of my pony tail and all over the snug designer jeans and black v-neck I’d thrown on earlier. I’d no sooner started to wipe copious amounts of viscous unholy innards from my favorite Louboutins than the knock came.

 

Great. Not even time to clean up first. Oh well, might as well get it over with.

 

“Door’s open.”

 

If I hadn’t been so damn tired, the look on the Council member’s faces would have elicited a chuckle from me. Then again, it’s not every day that you walk in on a well-dressed woman covered in coagulating demon guts in the middle of a high end Las Vegas hotel room. Still, you’d figure that the head of the world’s foremost paranormal council would at least try to hide his obvious disgust. Apparently it’s easier to pay for demon hunting services when you don’t have to come face to face with the evidence of it.

 

“We… we were looking for Nick?”

 

For one of the most powerful men in the country, Alex Ballard sure looked confused. His tiny blue eyes shifted nervously from one corner of the room to the other, obviously at a loss. Considering his standing in the magic community, I opted against my first inclination, which was to let loose a smartass answer. Instead I set down my ruined shoe with an exhausted sigh before leveling him with as serious a look as I could muster.

 

“I’m Nic. And here – “I fished the small silk bag out of my pocket and tossed it in his direction “ – is what’s left of your demon problem.”

 

Alex stared down at the tiny black parcel in his hands as if expecting it to burn a hole through his palm. He cleared his throat twice before addressing me again, tiny eyes still glued to the bag.

 

“You’re sure that they’re d-dead? Gone?”

 

Ok, now I was getting irritated. I wanted a hot shower and a rare steak. I wanted Alex Ballard to cough up my fee and then get the hell out of my room. I wanted to quit the demon hunting business once and for all and find a nice quiet office job that wouldn’t give me migraines and nightmares. Instead, I eased myself out of the chair and ambled over to the mini bar.

 

Ballard’s assistant – who, if it was possible, had even shiftier beady eyes than his boss – took two steps back and paled visibly as I walked by. Can’t say it didn’t sting my pride a bit. Sure, I was dripping with leftover demonic parts and probably smelled a little like brimstone. But come on, no girl wants to be the cause of a man’s obvious revulsion.

 

Pouring a hefty shot of bourbon for myself, I gestured at the two men with the bottle.

 

“No thank you, Miss –er – Nic. Now, about the demons. If you could explain exactly how you know –“

 

“I don’t. There’s no way of knowing that they won’t come back. Can’t even be sure that they’re all really dead at all.”

 

The heat from the liquor blossomed in my chest. It was a welcome, numbing sensation.

 

“The fact is, Mr. Ballard, that this kind of demon doesn’t belong on this plane. Someone, someone a hell of a lot more powerful than your average basement Satanist, summoned those demons with the intention of doing a fuckload of harm to the people of your city. I’d say they consumed three or four souls before I got to it. Teenagers, probably. Runaways or homeless folks. Anyway, I’d say your problem is bigger than the demons themselves. You’re going to want to figure out who did this, sooner, rather than later.”

 

“I don’t understand. How did you manage this? No one else has been able to locate the monsters, much less identify and vanquish them…”

 

I grinned at him over the rim of the glass before knocking back the last of the bourbon.

 

“I’m damn good at my job. Now, if we could arrange for payment, I’m sure you’ll understand that I’m a wee bit tired…”

 

That seemed to snap him out of his dumbfounded state.

 

“Of course. We’ll be out of your way shortly.”

 

Slipping the pouch into his suit jacket pocket, he nodded curtly at the beady-eyed assistant, who scrambled out of the room, hopefully to go get my hefty fee. Hey, fighting the undead is a dangerous job; what would be the point of risking my ass if it didn’t pay well enough to keep me in the lifestyle to which I’d always wanted to become accustomed?

 

I was halfway through my second drink when I noticed a subtle shift in the room’s atmosphere. Call it intuition, or instinct, or just a keen sixth sense developed over years of dealing with paranormal bad guys, but I knew something was about to go down.

 

Dropping the glass, I reached into the back waistband of my jeans and ducked low seconds before the screeching started. There’s really no mistaking the high pitched whine of a demon shaking off its human form. Son of a bitch, I should have known something was wrong the second Ballard entered the room. If I hadn’t been so damn tired…

 

Alex Ballard’s doughy face split down the middle, blood and sinew erupting in a lava-like flow as the grizzled demon that had obviously been inhabiting his body for some time revealed itself. Still screeching, it raised one of Alex’s hands in my direction. The stench of sulfur made my eyes tear as chunks of flesh melted away from the body that had, until quite recently, belonged to the chairman of the American Paranormal Council.

 

The demon charged then, its oily black skin melding with what was left of Ballard to leave a trail of soot, blood and slime on the pristine hotel carpet. There was no mistaking the look in his eyes – this demon wanted me dead.

 

“Not today, you bastard.”

 

Raising the retrofitted Walther PPK, I locked onto the demon’s snarling head and pulled the trigger just as it was rounding the side of the wingback chair.

 

A whole new layer of sludge rained down over me as I bent to gather the tiny black silk pouch from the bubbling pond of ooze that used to be Ballard’s suit jacket. I might not ever get my hair clean again.

 

The knock at the door from Ballard’s assistant came as I was looking around for something to wipe my face with. Apparently, this night was just not getting any easier. Raising the Walther, I called out as sweetly as I could.

 

“Come on in…”