B.O.S.S. — Game of Life, Harriet — Origin Side Story

game of life

Sometimes all you can do is spin and pray.

One of the flaw I have in my B.O.S.S. stories is the lack of attention to individual characters.  It’s a sort of by the seat of the pants writing that doesn’t leave much room for fleshing out specific details.   I aim to change that.

One of the things I do when I go back to revise stories (Like Ambrosia) is finding a way to introduce the  character from all perspectives while keeping the reader from being drowned in an ocean of back story.   Here’s a short story referencing to the Game of Life’s Heroine:  Harriet.

Game of Life — Harriet.

Sorry, I just don’t see this going anywhere.

Harriet rolled the message up and down across the screen of her smartphone.   She considered a barrage of snappy comebacks— after all she saw this coming a mile away.  In fact, if she saw it any sooner she would have called NASA in on it.

Ok.  Two letters ended up being the best she could do.  It just wasn’t in her nature.

“You all right there, dear?” Mom said in her thick Minnesota accent.  “You’re got quite the long face.”

Harriet shook her head.  “It’s nothing, ma.  Just gotta take out the trash.”

“It’s Justin isn’t it?  That boy is no good you’re my freckle-faced little girl.”

“First off, I’m twenty two.  Second, you won’t need to worry about him anymore.”  She held out the phone to prove her point.  “He’s good as gone.”

“First, you’ll always be my little girl.  Second, good riddance.”  She pulled Harriet into a one armed hug.  “What kind of monster dumps a girl on Christmas Eve?”

Not surprised, he already got his present.  Harriet squirmed free and forced a smile.  “Nothing a ‘Christmas Story’ Marathon can’t fix.”

She kissed her mom on the cheek and grabbed a carton of nog from the fridge.  Mom spared Harriet the nagging– an early Christmas gift or an act of pity.  Judging from the smell, the Turkey had a way to go.  After four years of college, it was more of a refueling station than home.  The familiar walls and the creak of the floor under her footsteps didn’t trigger memories of nostalgia, instead they drummed up darker times.  Home felt foreign now.

Harriet peeked up the green-carpeted stairs, spotting the same ugly painting up top.  No matter how many times she ‘accidently’ knocked it down, Mom reframed it.  The railing felt loose, probably at its last legs from her sliding down it for ten years.

With a parting pat on the knob and turned into the living room.  Her father glanced back, wearing his usual blank expression.  He knitted his brows, now bushier than the thin strands of orange hair on top of his head, no doubt struggling to come up with something nice to say.  “You look you lost weight.”

“A little.  Must be that college diet.”

“You know, if you ever need money for food just ask,” he said turning back to the T.V.  “You never ask me for anything.”

Fuck you too, Dad.  Any time she asked for anything as a kid, she got a black eye.

“If she doesn’t want it, I’ll take it,” Iona said from the couch.

“Business as usual from you,” Dad said, smirking.

Iona, her little sister at the tender age of twelve, got whatever she damn well pleased.  She’d get a full ride to any college she wanted, if she even went.  Dad would fork out with a smile.   After all, it meant less chance for him to get his last strike.

Harriet flounced on the couch and took a sip from her eggnog.  Iona was a good kid, spoiled or not.

“You know,” Iona said, in her coy little way.  “Daddy was just being nice.  You’re just as fat as ever.”

“Sitting next to Princess Pole, I bet I look like Jabba the Hutt,” Harriet said.  They shared a laugh.

“Um… who’s Jabba the Butt?”

Harriet gave her look of disbelief.  “Seriously?   We need to get some culture in you.”

A loud bang pierced the air.  Everyone turned to the source.  Dad muted the T.V. and stood, Six Feet of Irish thunder.  “What the hell was that?”

“Language,” Mom said from the kitchen.

He cleared his throat.  “What the heck was that?”

“Probably just a car backfiring,” Harriet said.  “Really was loud though.”

The atmosphere of the house shifted to an icy chill, quite the accomplishment considering they kept the heat at a toasty sixty-five.  A loud knock at the front door broke the silence.

Harriet exchanged a look with her dad, who set aside the remote.

“Hold on.  It’s Christmas Eve.  Who would—“

“Stuff it Harriet.”  Dad moved to the hall in time with a second, more urgent, knock.

Harriet followed him into the hall, taking a moment to wave Iona down.  “It’s fine, we’ll be right back.

“H-help ,  please, open the door.”  A muffled cry said.

Dad unlocked the deadbolt and the chain and flung it open.  A man, bloody at the shoulder stood there, with a wild look in his eyes.  A discarded pistol lay on the ground behind him but the wound was not from gunshot.  Ragged edges torn from his clothing told tale of an animal bite.

The man stumbled forward and fell unconscious; Dad caught him with a single arm.  “Elsa, call nine-one-one!”

Mother peeked out from the kitchen, and gasped.  She disappeared back through the door..

Harriet peeked outside, past the gun a man lay on the curb lawn.  She hurried outside, swallowing back the lump in her throat.  He was dead, shot through the head.  Something was wrong about him though.  His skin was too pale to be healthy, like he had been there for days.

“Dad,” Harriet said.  “This guy’s been shot.”

She hurried back to the gun, gentle smoke from the head heat rolled from the barrel.  Freshly fired.

“The phone’s dead,” Mother said from the house.

Dad growled.  “What do you mean it’s dead?”

“Mom?   Dad?” Iona said from the living room. “The T.V. just blinked out.”

Harriet pulled her phone from her pocket and woke it up.  No signal.  No Wifi.  No T.V.  But the powers still on in the house.  Why does this situation seem so familiar? 

It hit her all at once.  This looks like something out of a Zombie movie.

She ran into the house, slammed the door and locked it.  “Dad, there’s something weird about the dead guy in the street.  We need to wake that guy up before–”  No, dad’d never buy that.  I’m letting my imagination get the best of me.  “Just wake him up, we need answers from him.”

Dad slid him to the floor pointing at his wound.  “Answers?  The guy’s lucky to be alive.”

Iona watched from the hallway doorframe, like the wide-eyed doe she was.

“Check your phone, Iona,” Harriet said.  “We need an ambulance.  Mine isn’t working.”

She nodded and hurried upstairs.

“Dad, stay away from him.  If he stops breathing you need to get away from him.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Language!” Mother said.

“Elsa, for fuck sake, we have a bleeding man here.   He doesn’t give a flying fuck if I swear.”

“Well I care.  Swearing is a gateway to worse things, and I’m not going to put up with your rage issues again.  Count.”

Dad scowled back at her, closed his eyes and counted aloud.  “One, Two, Th—“

The wounded man’s eyes shot open and pounced at Dad, sinking his teeth into his shoulder.   Dad howled in pain, wrenching the guy away like a rag doll.  “You bit me?  You fucking lunatic!   I’ll kill you!”

Harriet backpedaled, the color drained from her cheeks.  “No, I think he’s already dead.”

“Then he won’t mind if I beat his ass.”

“Stop it,” Mother hurried over and grabbed him at the shoulder.  “I won’t—“

Dad slapped her across the face, sending her sprawling.  A spray of blood erupted from her cheek and she crumpled to the floor.

Dad went back to pummeling his assailant.  Flecks of spittle flew from his mouth, each pucnh releasing pent up rage like an overfilled balloon.  His rage had new potency, fueled by something much worse than anything Harriet had seen before.

Harriet crouched next to her mother, checking her ragged breathing.  She was out like a light and her jaw was busted.  “Dad, stop it!   Mom needs help!”

He didn’t answer.  He just kept punching.  I don’t have much time.  She ran into the living room, tearing the cushion from the couch and snatched a key taped underneath.  Smashing thuds echoed through the hallway.  Harriet used the key to open the gun cabinet, revealing a row of rifles.  He’s bought three more since I’ve been here last.

A splashing squish followed the last thud.  Harriet pulled out a rifle, grabbed a bullet and worked to load it with shaking fingers.

“Dad?” Iona’s voice sent a shiver down Harriet’s spine.

Iona’s voice gave him the jolt he needed.  “I… I can explain,” he said.

“You killed him?   Mom?  What did you do to Mom?”

“No.”  His voice trembled.  “It wasn’t me, I didn’t.”

“Iona, stay away from him,” Harriet said. His divided attention made her fumble the shell.  She reached for a new bullet.

“None of you understand.”  Dad said.  “None of you do.  You won’t listen so I have to beat sense into you!”

Heavy footsteps climbed the stairs and Iona screamed.

Harriet got the bullet in place, cocked the bolt and broke in pursuit.  A misstep on the third stair pitched her forward.   The stock of the rifle knocked the wind from her.  She tried to call out, but only a choked gasp came free.

The sounds of her childhood filled her ears, piteous sobbing and the sound of fists against flesh.   It was happening all over again.

Harriet steadied herself and worked her way up the rest of the stairs.  Her heart pounded high in her chest and she lined up the rifle.   Her father glared at her.  Blood splattered cross his face.  His teeth were clenched.  His jaw set in silent fury.  “You were always out to get me.  Always.”

The heavy panting of her father gone feral filled the air, but no sign of life from Iona.  “Not always, just now.”

Harriet squeezed the trigger, punching a hole through her father’s skull.

She lowered the rifle, wincing at the throb at her shoulder.  It slipped from her fingers and clattered to the ground.  Dad’s body slumped, giving a glimpse of the blood ruin of Iona’s face.  Her nose was completely broken and he’d knocked out several of her teeth.

In a daze, Harriet staggered closer.  She placed hand near her sister’s mouth, confirming what she already knew.  She was dead.

Harriet fell to her knees and let out a dry sob.  The bastard finally did it, and it wasn’t even his fault.

Her phone beeped in her pocket.  She pulled it free and glanced at the adorable mascot of the cellphone company.  Apologies for the lapse in service, everything is Foxy now!

The screen flipped over automatically to the main screen.  There, a blinking envelope signaled recent received messages— all thirty eight thousand of them.

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