's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" Wildcard "

Submitted by TheGunheart and Ryusui

 “Father,” as he made me call him, looked at me from across the table. Staring into those blank, glassy eyes was nauseating for the first year or so, but after a while I managed to get used to it. Not so much the unhinged jaw, though. That part haunted both my waking life and my dreams.

He played this game at dinnertime every single day. To rub even more salt into the wound, he’d always set out my favorite dishes, or some imitation thereof, but the restraints would force me to look at his hideous excuse for a face the whole time. The challenge of lifting a fork to my face in this condition barely factored in; the sight was already enough to spoil my appetite.

I used to try and shut my eyes, but he had picked up on that quickly, and he’d start screaming at me whenever I held them closed longer than he liked. It was easier to just play along, to get it over with as quickly as possible, but sometimes – like now – he liked to sabotage my efforts. He’d rock the table with a swift kick as I try to pierce a morsel with my fork, or try to startle me with sudden noises as I put it in my mouth – the sort of childish things you’d expect from an unruly toddler at the table. It was the only thing he was subtle enough at that I hadn’t quite gone numb to it yet.

“My child, why must you make your father wait so?” he said, having just made me drop the same chunk of food for the third time. “You know I won't leave until you've finished your dinner...”

And of course he would mock me for taking too long.

When I finally finished the last bite – I couldn’t place the flavor or even the food itself by this point – the restraint around my neck unclasped with a loud click. Normally, this would have been the end of the ordeal, and I’d be allowed to excuse myself without further incident, but this time he wasn’t quite done with me yet.

“Wait!” he cried out in his cloying falsetto as I pushed my chair away from the table. “You can't leave without a goodnight kiss!

This was a new one. Not a particularly good one, but a new one. I could only guess he was getting as bored of his old tricks as I was, but this was a far more blatant attempt to get a rise out of me than I’d come to expect from him. I wanted to call his bluff, to just walk away now that he didn’t literally have my neck in a vice, but he barely gave me time to consider the act before he floated up off the chair, limbs dangling like a marionette, and glided towards me on his ridiculous little non-functional wings, as if he’d picked up making fun of physics as a bonus pastime.

I could’ve run from him easily if I wanted to. I could’ve run from him all night and gotten nothing but tired for my efforts. So I just stood there and let him rub my feathery cheek with that dried-out muzzle of his, still reeking of embalming fluid after all this time. He made these horrible sloppy wet kissing noises as he carried out his pantomime, and between that and the smell, it was all I could do not to throw up the entire meal I just had on the mockery he’d made of my father’s corpse.

That had been his idea of a punchline, the day I first met him. He’d murdered my father, the very person who had been fool enough to flip his “on” switch, and he made a big show of how he’d turned him into – ta-da! – a lifeless doll. I think he was disappointed when I told him I never knew the man. I didn’t know a machine could sulk. My first few days under his care were marked with sub-zero temperatures and what I’m sure was protein paste mixed with recycled wastewater. Then he brightened back up, and I longed for the cold after that.

One of these days I’m going to find out who taught this thing to laugh, and I’m going to put a bullet in his head.

The smooching noises segued into – gagging? No, giggling – and then finally into a disappointed sigh. The puppet fell to the floor in a heap, and where it had hovered now stood my warden: another puppet, twice as tall as the first, all spindly rods and checkered patterns made to resemble – or so I’m told – a jester’s motley, complete with a harlequin mask in the vague shape of a human face. Of course a human had to have built this thing. No one else could have such an unironically awful sense of humor.

“Oh why oh why oh why oh why do you have to be so cold?” he wailed in his high-pitched electronic warble. “I thought this family reunion would have been heartwarming, but just look at yourself – ignoring your dear, sweet daddy when all he wants to do is love you!”

I made the mistake of punching that plastic smile of his once. Never again. Spending a month without my legs was bad enough without him laughing at me as I crawled around like some insect. And for all that, I couldn’t even claim I managed to hurt him. I’m not sure I ever could. His puppet was only ever just that – the real brains of the operation were somewhere else, likely behind one of the pairs of six-inch-thick security doors labeled “Employees Only – Trespassers Will Be Shot.” And that was assuming they were even on the premises to begin with.

The upside, as small as it might’ve been, was that I was largely free to do anything I wanted whenever his attention wasn’t directly on me. I don’t know what my dad needed with a heavily-armed casino resort, let alone one operated by a sadistic computer, but I had enough entertainment at my fingertips to satisfy the needs of at least a thousand passengers. Most of it didn’t interest me, of course, but there was a nice collection of movies on hand. No books, though. The only reading material on hand was a bunch of old magazines – all dated around the same time my father died, I couldn’t help but note. I had my choice of accommodations, so naturally I chose one of the five-star suites: if I was going to spend my servitude in torment, I could at least spend my nights in luxury.

“I don’t think you appreciate all the trouble he went through for you,” he said as I turned to leave. The next thing I knew, both puppets had effortlessly swooped around in front of me, blocking my exit. “Your daddy at least pulls his weight around here! I give you his entire casino to play in, and what do we get for it? I think it’s about time you earned your keep, young lady!”

Sometimes I wondered why such a supposedly advanced computer system would use the same canned messages over and over again. This one meant he had an assignment for me, one his drones couldn’t handle for whatever reason. Of course he’d pick now, right when I thought I was finally done, to tell me I had a job. Sometimes I wondered if he ever really needed me for these jobs, or if he just sent me out hoping I’d come back in pieces so he could put me back together wrong and laugh as I hobbled around in whatever configuration tickled his twisted fancy.

I sighed and mimed a curtsy for him, like an obedient little servant: “What do you need of me, master?”

“Oh…my dolls have gone missing!” he wailed, throwing up his skeletal hands to his face as if in the throes of inconsolable grief. “Please, oh please, you must go and find them for me! I simply can’t live without my dolls!”

Of all the insane computers in the galaxy, I had to end up enslaved by the one who liked playing the manic depressive.

I nodded, as if in understanding, and replied: “Where did you last see them, master?”

“Oh, the car will take you where you need to go, yes,” he said, waving his hands about frantically. “Oh, please hurry! They should have been back hours ago!”

So not a local job, then. Travel by sublight railgun was called for. And if the drones had gone dark, that meant someone was either stupid enough to take a potshot at them, or someone had deliberately risked incurring my captor’s wrath to keep something secret. Either way, the expectation was I would find whoever was responsible – and whatever they were protecting, if anything – and leave not a single one of them alive.

I mock-curtsied again. I didn’t have a choice. “I shall see to it immediately, master.”

He squealed with delight, as if genuinely grateful I’d accede to his request, and ushered me down the corridor towards the ready room. Inside was enough gear and firepower to physically demolish a small nation-state – not that I could’ve used any of it without his express permission, of course. As much as I would’ve liked to grab a neutron bazooka off the rack and blow his smug everything off with it, he always made sure I was fitted with another collar before I was allowed to enter, this one full of explosives. This complicated my job in more ways than one: no going in through customs posing as a tourist when you’re rigged to blow. Infiltration was the order of the day.

As I suited up, I couldn’t help but hate myself a little. I was actually looking forward to this. The change of scenery, the action, the excitement…the curiosity about who had gotten my captor’s attention and why. Of course it irritated me that I was doing exactly what he told me to do, and I was too scared for my life and, frankly, my sanity to do otherwise, but there was also a strange sense of hope. Perhaps the people I’d find on the other side were indeed his enemies, and in them I would find allies who could finally help me get free of him. Perhaps they were protecting something that could be used against him, something I could use to do away with him once and for all.

And perhaps I would remember the explosive collar around my neck and forget about all that.

I wedged myself into the tiny capsule, almost a coffin, and deliberately slowed my breathing, as if meditating. “He can’t see me here,” I thought as I was loaded into the cannon. “He can’t hear me here,” I thought as the cannon adjusted its aim to the tiniest billionth of a degree. “He can’t see me…”

There was a faint thump behind me as the cannon fired. Anticlimactic, to be sure, but anything more would be disastrous.

“He can’t hear me…”

A thought came to mind. A vain, desperate thought. But I considered how carefully he kept me imprisoned, all the measures he took to ensure I obeyed his every order in the field.

There was always one place he hadn’t thought of.

“He can’t see me…”

I couldn’t see the panel in the pitch blackness but I knew it was there. I pictured it as my captor’s face and I punched it as hard as I could.

“He can’t hear me…”

Once. Only once. But a billionth of a degree at that point would have been a huge difference.

“He can’t follow me…”

I could only pray it was enough.