Short Story Contest #184 Theme: "Hope" courtesy of @edamame And the winner is @Blighters with Hope – A Girls Best Friend An emotionally painful story, beautifully written. _________________________________________________ Hope – A Girls Best Friend [3241 Words] Have you ever had a friend so close and loyal they’d literally give up their life for you? No? I did. * I first met Hope when I was ten years old. ‘Met’ is a polite word for our first collision. She was quite literally thrown into my arms. My Mum and Dad had got divorced when I was just five, not that I can really remember that. I guess I was the stereotypical ‘lets make this marriage work’ baby. It didn’t work. Mum isn’t a bad person, she just doesn’t understand why people got so hung up on monogamy. Eventually Dad got tired of the constant lies and half-arsed excuses, packing up his things and leaving one evening never to be seen again. It didn’t take Mum long to find someone new. She always had a couple men on the spin at any one time. Within three weeks of Dad moving out Gregg had moved in, supplanting my father and making our home his castle. I hated him! Gregg was a vile human being. Skinny as a blade of grass with hateful little eyes and disgustingly wiry hair. He had a spitefully cruel streak mum thought was ‘exciting’. He was selfish as well, one of those people who’d decided life owed them more and hence felt constantly cheated. On top of that he was about as faithful as Mum, sleeping with anything with a pulse and enough booze in them not to protest too much. All in all a grotesque and disgusting example of human kind. From day one Gregg despised me. I was a nuisance, merely something that prevented him screwing Mum on every square inch of our tiny little house whenever he was in the mood. If I cried I’d get told to ‘shut up’ or thrown into the garden to ‘entertain the neighbors with your howling’. If I spoke back I’d get a slap around the head that’d leave me ears ringing for hours afterwards. I learnt pretty quickly to stay out of his way as much as possible rather than bear the brunt of his abuse Even that wasn’t enough for when I behaved he’d still pick up on everything I did, criticizing it for his own amusement, steadily eroding away my self confidence like a sea-ravaged cliff face. Hope changed all of that. When I was ten Gregg bought a four year old bull terrier bitch called Lacey from a guy he met in a pub. It was his latest ‘big’ money making scheme after discovering bull terrier puppies could sell for up to a grand to the right buyer. And by right buyers he meant dog fighters. Within weeks of Lacey’s installation in our house Gregg had successfully bred her with a ‘prize fighter‘ and two months later she’d given birth to seven puppies: four large dogs, two large bitches and a runt. On discovering the runt Gregg immediately ripped her from Lacey’s teat, narrow eyes flashing dangerously. “More milk for the ones worth keeping,” he’d said, throwing Hope towards me with a cruel grin. “Here, Lauren! I’ve got you a puppy! She’s called ‘Hope’. ‘No Fucking Hope!” He guffawed loudly at his own joke, Hope landing hard on the wooden floor; skidding, squealing and crying in pain. She could barely move, young as she was and still blind, so merely lay there in a crumpled lump making a high pitched screech. I shamefully just watched her, too terrified to move. “Get that thing out of here!” barked Gregg angrily, quickly loosing interest in his own comedic brilliance and getting irritated at Hope’s yowling. So Hope became mine, although I dropped the ‘No’ and the ‘Fucking’. I’m sure Gregg expected Hope to die within days, probably looking forward to watching how devastated that would make me. Hell, I think I expected her to die. But we’d both hugely underestimated my determination. Or perhaps my need for a friend. Any friend. I reared Hope by hand, a task that in reality is so much harder then it sounds. First I built a nest in my own bed, a warm haven for her to sleep in and stay warm. She’d soil it regularly, requiring me to gently pick her up and clean around her. I slept in that same soiled bed night after night. Feeding Hope was the hardest part. I couldn’t sneak her down to Lacey, Gregg would have killed her on sight. So I had to feed her in my bedroom. In the end I stole a yellow washing up glove and pricked holes in one of the fingers. Then I filled it with milk from out the fridge, only ever if Gregg wasn’t in the kitchen, before tying the open end closed with one of my hairbands. My perfect feeding teat and Hope’s lifeline! The first three months were exhausting. Hope wanted feeding every couple of hours and would squeal until she was. I’d alternate between feeding and cleaning her, catching half hour naps wherever possible But it was worth it for I had a friend. A real friend who loved me! Hope got stronger and stronger, my efforts being transformed into muscle and weight. And she was all mine! We quickly grew inseparable, Hope instantly becoming both my best friend and closest confidant. I became a hermit, hours spent n my bedroom with Hope, whispering about the future, about Dad, about Gregg, about just about anything. I was a different person with Hope, the timid scared little created I’d become replaced with a laughing, confident clone. I couldn’t keep Hope hidden in my bedroom forever though, especially a she got bigger and bigger and needed more and more exercise. I’d try to only allow her around the house and into the garden when Gregg wasn’t around but it was only a matter of time until I failed and he came face to face with her. “What the fuck’s this?” he snarled, having walked in the front door to be greeted enthusiastically by a naive Hope bounding towards him, tale wagging with excitement. We’d just let ourselves back in from a garden play session. “That’s Hope,” I replied quiet but defensive, body motionless in terrified apprehension. “The runt?” he sneered, as Hope pawed up his leg playfully. “Yes” His foot lashed out quickly, catching Hope square in the midriff and sending her flying into the opposite wall. She hit it with a loud thud and a huge squeal, before sliding down it and crashing into the floor with a further yelp. My heart snapped, eyes wide in shock and anger. I was desperate to run to her yet my body remained perfectly rigid in trained fear. “Keep her the fuck away from me,” Gregg growled, pushing past me to the fridge and retrieving a can of larger before returning to his usual throne in front of the TV. From that moment Gregg and Hope were mortal enemies. He’d lash out at her whenever he got the chance, his feet quick and bony to inflict the maximum amount of pain. Hope, like me, soon learnt to keep out of Gregg’s way at any cost, her normally buoyant personality deserting her if he ever entered the room as she’d cower behind my legs. But at least I didn’t have to hide her anymore! Hope and I grew up together, closer then then atoms that make up a molecule and with a far stronger bond. She was the sister I’d never realised I wanted. As we grew older we spent more and more time out the house together; walking, running, exploring and generally getting up to no good. I was the freak at school with no one but a dog for a friend. But I didn’t care. Hope never seemed to stop growing, turning from that tiny little runt into a solid ball of pure muscle. Soon even Gregg started to look at her with a twinkle of caution. Yet despite her size and strength, she had the mildest temperament of any dog I’ve ever met. She was as gentle as she was huge; a quietly calm behemoth in my otherwise turbulent life, never once requiring a lead as she hardly ever strayed more than a few feet from me. She was an eternally happy dog, mouth often open wide and tongue falling out in one of those huge doggy smiles. The only person she never warmed to was Gregg. She did however slowly shed her fear of his as her she grew in size. She’d watch him intently if they were every in the same room, her bright blue eyes latched onto his thin cruel ones as her head rested on her paws. I was happy for the first time in my life. I should have known something would happen. Gregg’s demeanor towards me started to change when I was fifteen. He started staring at me intently for long periods, an ugly twisted expression on his gaunt face. At the same time he started behaving strangely to me. Sickly sweet one minute and then a raging inferno the next, all his switches flipping at the slightest provocation. At first I was confused. Then I was terrified. Gregg was unstable enough already, a new unknown was not at all welcome. I finally figured it out one evening, sat on the sofa with Hope lying on the floor next to my feet. Gregg suddenly got up from his ‘throne’, inexplicably moving to sit next to Mum on the two seater sofa directly opposite me. He swung a wiry arm around her as if all he wanted was a cuddle. My suspicions were instantly raised however, I’d never seen him sit anywhere else other than his armchair. Ever. Hope was of the same impression, every hair on the back of her neck raised as she eyeballed him intently. I noticed he kept glancing over at me fleetingly, stealing glances at me whenever Mum’s eyes were glued to the box. And then it all slotted together. It had been a hot day. So I’d worn a short summer dress knowing I’d be outside all day with Hope. His new seat was directly opposite me. He was looking straight up my dress. It all suddenly made sense. Gregg no longer saw me as a child. He saw me as something he...desired. The thought sickened me to the very depths of my soul. I never wore a dress in the house again. Things deteriorated quickly. Gregg would come busting into the bathroom when I was showering, pretending he hadn’t realized someone was in there. Or he’d fling my bedroom door open at strange times to have a ‘quick chat’, hoping to catch me changing. He’d engineer situations where I had to squeeze past him, forced to try and slip my body past his with the minimal contact. It was disgusting. I grew to be constantly on edge, never sure of when Gregg might suddenly appear. My nerves became completely shot. As pressure mounted I started to crumble, spending more and more time out of the house, getting into trouble, acting up at school... the works. Mum put it down as my ‘rebellious’ stage. My only comfort was Hope. She was always there. My giant friend-come-bodyguard. And a gentle growl at the back of her throat was normally enough warning to send Gregg scampering. Finally, things came to a head on the night before my sixteenth birthday. I was woken in the early morning by the crash of the front door and the sound of someone falling in. Gregg returning home after seemingly spending the entire evening getting shit-faced in the pub. Mum was still out, or possibly had found another mans bed to crash in for the evening. It hardly mattered to me anymore. I rolled over, keen to get back to sleep. I could hear Gregg tumbling around downstairs, opening cupboards, switching lights on and generally making a racket. I heard him climbing the stairs, the sounds irregular and unsteady. And then silence. Total, sinister silence. My ears strained, desperate to hear the sound of his bedroom door, but all that carried was the thump of my own heartbeat steadily increasing. M breathing slowed as my pulse quickened, fear of the unknown completely paralysing. Finally, the silence was broken. Not by the welcome slam of a bedroom door but by a soft menacing growl coming from the foot of my bed. I looked down towards my feet and could just make out Hope in the darkness. Her entire body was alert and she was staring at the door intensely, jaw cracked the merest fraction open to allow a growl to escape. She stood up suddenly, her hind muscles bunched in anticipation, her body held completely taut. She knew someone was there. She could probably smell his excitement. The door swung open slowly to reveal Gregg, framed in the moonlight like something out of an old horror movie. He stared at me for a long second, eyes clouded and unfocused and yet maintaining their dangerous tint. “Yerra tease…” he slurred, almost incomprehensible. “A tease anna slut. Just like yer mum!” Hope barked loudly, her unexpected roar ricocheting around my small room like a tornado. Her head was turned slightly in an angle I’d never seen before, spit flying from her mouth as she barked ferociously. Her eyes were wide and wild, claws retracted and legs primed ready to pounce. For the first time in six years I realized why people thought bull terriers could be dangerous. “Get out Gregg!” I screamed over Hope, sitting up and pulling my duvet around me like a shield. “Not gonna anywhere…” he drawled, stumbling into the room. I thought he was limping at first. Then I realized he was just dragging something loosely in his hand. “..til I get whatta want!” He appeared out of the shadow of the doorway, the moonlight now revealing him entirely. It was a baseball bat he was dragging. Gregg had came prepared. I screamed. Louder than I’ve ever screamed before, the force of the noise exploding from my throat and searing red hot welts of pain down my throat. Hope’s barking intensified, matching my scream in its furor. “Yer a whore! A whore anna slut anna tease!” Gregg was paralytic. But that didn’t make him any less dangerous. “But yer don’t getta tease me! Men like me teach whore’s like you a lesson! Just like I taught yer filthy mother!” He took another step toward the bed, dragging the bat low by his side. I scrambled backwards, cowering the in the corner of my bed as I tried to put as much distance between myself and the vile creature in my bedroom. My screams pitched up to a new note. Suddenly Hope sprang. She bound off the bed in a single fluid move, beside Gregg before he’d even realised she’d moved. She leapt up at him, eyes riveted on his throat. But Gregg was tall and despite Hope’s considerable size, she was nowhere near big enough, instead settling for sinking her huge teeth straight into his thigh. I watched it all as if it were happening in slow motion. As her teeth punctured the cable-like muscle of his thigh Gregg let out a bellow like a wounded buffalo. Howling in pain, he tried to shake her off, throwing his leg around like a mad man, only resulting in Hope holding on harder and tearing out a greater chunks of his leg. In desperation and with a speed that shouldn’t have been possible considering his state, Gregg swung the bat clenched in his right fist. The bat caught Grace on the shoulder. Hard. She yelped, pain flaring harshly in her blue eyes. Still she refused to let go so he swung again, this time catching her on the back legs and forcing the most horrible of squeals out the corner of her mouth. Finally he swung again, this time catching her on the side of the head and finally dislodging her as she howled in pain. My heart splintered into a million pieces. “You fucking bitch!” spat Gregg, as Hope stumbled away from him disorientated and in obvious agony. He raised the bat up again, bringing it down on her back with a sickening crunch. Hope let loose a noise I hope I never hear again, a squeal so complete and full of torment that it took the fragments of my heart and shattered them into even tinier pieces. “Stop!” I screamed, anguish for Hope overcoming my fear of Gregg. Hope had collapsed to the floor, but that didn’t stop Gregg. The bat rained down again and again, inflicting untold pain unto my only friend and tearing the most horrible noises from her mouth. Finally, the only sound of the blows was hard wood meeting soft flesh. Tears streamed down my face and my body trembled with a furious cocktail of fear and aguish. A loud sob refocused Gregg’s attention on me, eyes narrowing. “Your turn bitch...”, he dribbled, a evil twist curling around the corners of his mouth and letting the bat drop to the ground beside him. I scrambled backwards against the wall, terror coursing through me. Before I could even scream again he’d thrown himself onto the bed with me, filling all my senses with his officious stench. His hands found my wrists as my fingers desperately tried to claw his eyes, pinning them to the bed with ease. His knees smacked into my legs, forcing them open as he positioned himself between them. I fought like a cornered lion, but for a thin man Gregg was uncommonly strong. “That’s right...”, he drawled, tongue burying itself horrifically in my ear. “Fight me! I love that...” His tongue left my ear but slid down my cheek and neck, leaving a slick trail of filth as it headed towards my breasts. Still I struggled and fought, finally finding my voice again and attempting to knock down walls with my screams. Suddenly, my screams were met with Gregg's own and the weight on top of my suddenly disappeared. I strained confusedly to see through the tears that covered my eyes as Gregg rolled off me hollering horribly. What had happened? Hope had. Miraculously Hope wasn’t dead. Even more miraculously she had managed to drag her battered body off the floor, somehow finding the strength to drag her body up onto the bed. The bed which Gregg had been lying on, head held low so that he could slither his tongue down my face. His throat finally on a level which Hope could reach, even when she could barely move. Hope had launched one final time, using every reserve of strength to wrap her entire jaw around his neck, teeth exploding through the tissue of his throat. She never let go. I lost both my best friend and my would-be abuser that night. Gregg died in agony; howling and screaming, fingers scrabbling at the vice wrapped around his neck, cutting themselves to ribbons in an attempt to dislodge the teeth sunk so deeply into him. And Hope died gazing at me, a smile in her huge beautiful blue eyes.