Night Gamble

This story was my entry into The Molotov Cocktail’s “Flash Beast” contest. The contest required an animal of some sort. If you’re not familiar with the publication, they lean off-beat and dabble in the surreal, often with a horror vibe and like to net the word count under 1,000 words, although prefer it around 750.

I did not make the cut, so I figured I’d share my story here. However, I recommend reading the winning entries. The winning entry, “Cocoon,” intrigued me a lot for allegorical reasons. Anyhow.

Kid could rage, get that steely look in her eyes that belied her age and puny stature. About a water bottle. The label was wrong; she wanted the yellow one, see? Not the purple one. Damn buttons were right next to each other. All it took was pressing the other one to avoid 30 minutes of hearing, “Bad dad,” on the way home.

But as I crept into her room near midnight after she cried herself to sleep hours earlier, too tired even to hear another rousing reading of, The Rainbow Fish, I knew she was right.

Good dads didn’t steal from their kids’ owl bank, even if it was technically their money in the first place. Okay, the owl bank had come from her grandmother (wife’s side) and the first ten dollar bill came from her, too, but the kid spent it on four of those slow-rising squishies that looked like bunnies.

Cute, I guess, but the kid liked to rip them open with scissors to see their innards. Saw it on YouTube. One of them may have survived by getting lost under her bed, shielded by dust and a container of hardened Play-Doh.

The point was, that fucking owl had forty dollars in its oversized belly now.

And I needed it. Bad. The race was tomorrow and if I could just get that forty on Night Gamble, then I can get me and the kid out of this trailer surrounded by heroin-pushers and users, like hot springs, just waiting to burst through our vinyl paneling at any moment.

I tiptoed past the Elsa nightlight and approached her dresser where the owl was. The owl was surrounded by a landfill of tiny gems, color pencils, hair braids and dozens of white papers of her drawings. Usually drawings of me, mommy she doesn’t see anymore, and our dog Casper, a fluffy Pomeranian snoring in the other room.

Just as I was about to try to stick my greasy, getting fatter and arthritic fingers through the tiny opening at the bottom of the Owl, something snipped at my Achilles heel.

I almost let out a, “Goddammit,” and held it in, as the kid rolled over in her sleep, underneath her pink canopy.

Next to my ankle was the gelatinous and smudgy black squishy bunny. The one that had survived the scissors. It now had dark red around its mouth. Near its body was a trickle of the dark red, trailing over where Casper had peed earlier in the day.

Before I could process the dark red, a skinny, hairy black arm was around my neck and squeezing tight. Then something heavy rolled into my back leg actually knocking me down to one knee. I looked up toward the plastic kitchen set and saw the gigantic shape of a teddy bear falling toward me. Its head collided with my nose, busting it, causing blood to trickle down my grey shirt.

What the fuck, I managed to mutter in a whisper, before flinging the monkey that had been strangling me off of my back and getting back to a standing position. I grabbed the kid’s dirty Batgirl pants and used them to plug my nose.

The owl bank was now in the closet, perched next to old, worn-out shoes and a puzzle box with missing pieces. From the closet, I heard a whooshing noise and two plush American Goldfinches flew at me, pecking at my neck, making just enough of an incision to draw blood. I swatted at them, but they were already gone.

This wasn’t real. This wasn’t real. This wasn’t real.

But as I thought that, from the hanging yellow toy cubby, a green snake slithered out and coiled itself around my chest. I again dropped to a knee, breathless. Luckily for me, the kid had long ago ripped out the snake’s sharp front teeth.

I grabbed a naked Barbie doll on the ground and smashed it against the snake, which did the trick, freeing me. I crab-walked out of the room and into the bathroom and pulled myself to a sitting position on the toilet.

Behind the green duck shower curtain, I heard a splash. That was it. I got up from the toilet, grabbed a towel for my nose and neck and collapsed into my bed.

The next morning, it looked like I had been mugged by some junkies in the woods behind our trailer. As the kid and I sat for breakfast, she didn’t notice the tissues I had scrunched up into my nose or the My Little Pony bandage on my neck.

Without looking at me, after taking a bite of sugary cereal, she muttered, “I wanted the yellow label.”

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