Free Fiction
By Jennifer Brozek

Originally published in Slices of Flesh anthology, March 2012

The Bastard Called Hope

I knew it was going to be a tough night when teddy’s head rolled across the tiled floor. He’d always been one of my allies. Good to watch your back and a master at the stuffing garrote. I was still shaking my head at a whack from the truck. Fucker packs a mean wallop. Fortunately for me, while it was intent on smashing my glassy eyes in, the Slinky snuck up and turned him turtle. No more truck.

Of course that meant I had to take out ol’Slinky before it turned its coils on me. I grabbed a Tinker Toy log and proceeded to beat the holy hell out of it, ending Slinky’s chances, using that log as a tourniquet brace on its ass end. Tangled him up something fierce.

While I was basking in the glow of my win, a heavy paw landed on my shoulder. It was the monkey. Why is it always between me and the god damned monkey? I swear someone out there has a hard one for a blonde in a gorilla paw. Speaking of which, said monkey was slamming the back of my favorite head against the floor.

While this made what was left of my right eye rattle in my skull, it also gave me the perfect shot at his nether regions. Pro-tip: never stand over a blonde in heels. You will regret it whether you have balls of not. I smiled when he made that sound that told me my very pointed toe connected with his squeaker.

Of course, he crumpled on the top of me. Smelly brute. By the time I climbed out, the only toy left was that oh-so-vicious wind-up dog. He ran away when I menaced him with my own right arm. I suppose I would, too.

The first battle won, I dragged my half broken carcass over to the ringmaster of it all, that bastard Hope. It lounged in perfect comfort on a pile of stuffed toys who dare not complain. I was made from sterner stuff than that—figuratively and literally. You couldn’t see Its face, that would give away too much. Hope gave away just enough to keep you hooked.

“Well?” It said.

Warmth laced with barbed wire. I swallowed hard, feeling a shard of my eyeball behind my lips. “I’ve won tonight’s fight.”

“I see that,” It purred at me and shifted forward.

It was all I could do to not run away. I couldn’t run away. Not yet. My child needed me. “I have come to claim the prize.”

It stood tall and shining, suddenly blazing with possibility. “Which child is yours?”

“She’s in Ward 3a, my lord.” I could afford to be humble. The son of a bitch has no idea what’s coming.

“Lead the way…”

I did as I was told, a ragged glass-eyed doll with a cracked and chipped eyeball carrying her own arm. I was one fucked-up version of a Grand Marshall leading a parade of broken toys from the playroom to pediatrics. Amidst the herky-jerky steps of those who could join us, Hope glided in silent splendor. Always there but barely seen.

At last we arrived at the foot of my child’s bed. Suzy; leukemia. I clambered to her side and whispered words of love to her. “I’ve come Suzy-Q. I told you’d I’d make it all better.” Suzy squeezed me as tight as she could—a touch I almost couldn’t feel.

“This is the child I am to bless with my gift?” Hope asked.

I could hear the mocking laughter in Its voice. “No,” I said, raising my head and my voice. “My choice is for you to remove your gift from her entirely.”

Everyone stopped. Not a toy squeaked, stirred, or whirred.

Hope tilted Its head. “You do understand what that means, don’t you?”

It means she’ll stop suffering for your pleasure, you bastard, I thought. “Yes, my lord. I do.”

It looked at me for a long time and then nodded. “So be it. There is no more hope for this child.” It turned Its back on the girl and walked away. After a moment, the rest of the toys followed, leaving me alone with Suzy.

I leaned in close and laid my cheek against hers. “I promised I’d make the pain go away, little girl.”

“I know. Thank you,” Suzy whispered.

She took two more breaths and then stopped. I was tossed to the side as the doctors and nurses rushed in. I didn’t even care when one of them crushed my good arm. I had saved my child from the hell known as Hope.

This story was written the week after I had to put my first cat, Esme, to sleep. I did not realize it at the time of writing that I was processing my rage and grief at the lost of my beloved pet as well as the guilt for both making the decision to put her to sleep and for waiting "so long" to do so because I had hoped she would get better.

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