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The Family You Choose

This is a writing prompt a friend posted from The Ugly Side of Tumblr on Facebook. I ran with it below the image.

Picture

Of course I bring the girl home. I’ve only got one last soft spot in my heart. This job already takes so much from me and I’m determined not to let it have my soul. And it goes well at first. The girl is smart, recognizes danger when she sees it and has good reflexes. And that’s no surprise. She survived long enough to try and hire me after all. But in a few weeks, I discover the unforeseen consequence of my kindness.

Because this girl I’ve adopted is far from the only abused kid trying to escape. And these small survivors are observant. They’re also desperate and bold enough to approach someone like me. Each of them look up, gaze into my soul with their wide, haunted eyes. And from a practical standpoint, I ought to refuse. But how can I?

I don’t. I can’t. I slay their demons, literally, and take them in. Every one.

Within a month, I’ve got three children to train. Within six, a dozen. And they don’t stop coming to me and asking the essential question. Unluckily, the world is a cruel place so I still have plenty of paying adult clients. The fees I charge them feed mouths and clothe bodies.

I can’t go on like this, though. Not in the small flat I’ve rented in the city. So I set up a shell corporation and buy a rambling old house in the middle of nowhere. The children live and train in that yard and sleep under that roof. They work a small garden and feed the cats in the barn.

I leave the first girl, the oldest, in charge when I’m out on a job. Her name is Erin, but she hates it. She follows instructions like lesson plans and recipes she finds on the internet. Erin makes a chore chart and includes my name on it along with the others. I come to understand that I love teaching. The kids all call me Uncle Hart. And every time I return with another orphaned kid, the place feels like home.

One night I’m stalking a drug kingpin. The bastard’s holed up, hiding behind his lieutenants. But I’ve had jobs like this before. More of them than I can count because the children need me. So of course, I dispatch the kingpin’s help easily.

Too easily.

The kingpin’s laughing as I enter the closet-sized space. And I pause. This isn’t typical. The kingpin’s unarmed but that laugh is nastier than the actions of the abusive parents I rescue my children from. The kingpin lifts his foot, revealing an object. Small. Metallic. Deadly.

The explosion knocks me out of the room, into a world of immeasurable pain. I see his dead eyes in his grinning face. Fear grips my heart. My children are losing me. And I lose consciousness.

Vague echoes plague my psyche. Bustling doctors, beeping machines, antiseptic. When I regain all my senses, I’m surrounded by my children. They bring me the rest of the way back from life’s edge. But I’ve lost an arm and half a leg. I can’t continue the jobs that support us. I’m certain we’ll starve. The oldest child, the first one I rescued, changes her name. Eris goes out in my place.

And every week, she brings a new child back with her to join the family.

D.R. Perry lives in Rhode Island and attends Dragon Con each year. She is also a member of the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA).

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