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!”

At the Base of the Ceiba

Today’s post is a little different. It’s a work of flash fiction, created in response to the the challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. The idea was to take two randomly generated literary genres, smash them together, and create a story of about 1000 words from the mess that resulted. My two genres were Southern Gothic and Superhero — neither of which I’ve ever had much experience with. The “superhero” in my story isn’t traditional… so sue me. Hope you guys enjoy! Feedback is always welcome.

 

At the Base of the Ceiba

 

Kinah kept her eyes down as she skirted the outside of the big house, the hem of her faded blue dress kicking up small clouds of dust. The midday sun was particularly brutal for this late in the year, but she didn’t dare stop to wipe at the beads of sweat tickling the back of her neck. Someone would be missing her in the crowded kitchen, and it wouldn’t do to get Misses’ ire up again.

 

She found Ben kneeling on the hard packed dirt under the Kapok tree. Ceiba, they called it back home. At least that’s what she’d been told. Home to Kinah was the plantation where she’d been born. But Ben clung stubbornly to the stories of the place he’d last seen as a child – and his back and arms bore the scars of his willfulness. Above his head, two fat bumblebees traced lazy circles in the dappled shade.

 

“The ceiba is sacred to Chango.” Ben spoke without looking up.

 

Kinah sighed heavily as she stepped closer to him, her bare feet relishing the change in temperature as she approached the spot where he knelt. In front of him, a small candle burned at the base of the tree.

 

“I know. You’ve told me a million times.” Crouching low, she took a moment to rest her head against his broad shoulder.

 

“What are you doing out of the kitchen, Kinah? The overseer won’t much care that your hands are soft and your hair smells like cinnamon if he catches you out here.”

Despite his admonishment, Ben turned and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pressing a kiss to her forehead as he held her tight. Had he not been so close, he wouldn’t have seen her wince. He was on his feet in a breath, pulling her up with him.

 

“Let me see.”

 

There was really no point in playing dumb. Carefully, she pulled the collar of her dress bodice down, revealing a fresh set of bruises around her neck and shoulders. Ben ran a calloused hand gingerly along the raised welts, his dark eyes clouding over with fury as he hissed a slow stream of air out from between clenched teeth.

 

There wasn’t a soul on the plantation that didn’t know better than to try to talk down an incensed Ben. But then again, Kinah’s head was easily as strong as her brother’s. Quietly, she slipped her hand into the tattered pocket on the front of her dress and pulled out the small red apple.

 

“I brought a gift for Chango,” she smiled and placed the stolen fruit on the ground by the lump of candle. The sun glinted off the apple, blurring her vision. Or maybe it was unshed tears in her eyes. Deep in her throat, a lump burned.

 

Kinah had long since given up any hopes that the gods of her homeland would somehow make her life any better. Resigned, she simply spent her days in the kitchen and her nights waiting for Mister to come for her. But she knew how much Ben’s faith meant to him. It was all he had. So she played along, and let him believe that she prayed as hard as he did.

 

“I better get back before –“

 

“Before someone notices your gone? I’m afraid it’s too late for that, girl.”

 

Spinning around, they came face to face with Tobi. Mister’s favorite overseer was crueler than anyone had a right to be; his fingers petting the frayed edges of the whip with a reverence usually reserved for lovers.

 

Everything seemed to spill forward in muddled slow motion. Tobi reaching for the handle on his whip, Ben pushing her aside and rushing forward towards the overseer.

 

Stumbling against the Kapok tree, Kinah felt the spine slice into her palm before scrambling back up towards her older brother.

 

At first she thought the rumbling and cracking was coming from Tobi’s whip. But even as he raised his hand again, the sky darkened to the color of spilled ink, a hot wind picking up dust and pebbles until Kinah had no choice but to shield her face and turn her head back towards the tree, where her blood dripped, thick and slow, over the apple.

 

The thunder roared louder, seemingly rolling across the fields to mix with the screaming wind and the shrill cries that she hadn’t even noticed were escaping from her. And then, as suddenly as it began, the wind died. Still trembling, Kinah looked up at Ben, only to find his gaze fixed back at her. Or rather, just behind her.

 

Spinning around, it took her eyes a moment to adjust to the light erupting all around the tree. Flames licked at the hem of her skirt, and before she could scream again, a man stepped from the center of the fire. Only, “man” seemed too light a word for the figure. Easily towering over even Ben, he seemed a mix of royalty and unadulterated power. Even as her mind refused to acknowledge it, Kinah knew she was looking at the orisha of justice and war himself.

 

“Chango…” Ben’s harsh whisper echoed her thoughts.

 

Behind them, Tobi spewed venom and grabbed for his whip again. A single wordless look from Chango had him dropping the bundle of leather, the telltale hiss of skin and smoldering flesh letting everyone know what had happened. In the blink of an eye he ran off, gripping his burned hand as he called blindly for help.

 

It was then that the rumble of thunder began to blend with the distant pounding of a drum beat.

 

Ben fell to his knees in front of the deity, and Kinah watched in wonder as the raw slices of flesh that had been sliced open by Tobi’s merciless hand sealed themselves. Behind Chango, the fire died down, and a doorway appeared at the base of the tree. Feeling her brother’s hand wrapped around her own, Kinah felt the warm embrace of hope for the first time in her young life. Together, they walked towards the door.

 

Towards uncertainty and, for the first time, a future.