As Sinatra crooned “Fly
me to the Moon”, and the gang bang on Devil Chicks In Heat
III silently raged and rippled from the corner screens
of Guilty Pleasures DVD Shop, Kaleb snickered at the
headline. “So, the rest of the world is catching on to what
we already know, huh, babe?”
The iridescent Becky
Styles roamed the aisles, naughty teacher outfit moving with
the liquid grace of her figure. “What’s that, Butterfly?”
“That ghosts are
real. Phantoms are showing up everywhere now. All across the
world. But, get this. These ones are solid and getting hit
by trucks and stuff. They’re not all Caspers like you.” He
adjusted his fedora, an old trick to keep him from touching
the rosacea splotches that filled his cheeks like rusty wings. “Any
chance you’ll be solid soon?”
She adjusted her
glasses. “You’ll be the first one to know. Now finish your
Kaleb shoved in
two small powdery donut, dusty sugar filling the cracks and
crevasse of his callused hands. “Glad to hear it,” he mumbled.
Bells rang. Kaleb
slapped his hands to rid him of the dust. “Welcome to Guilty
Pleasures,” he said with frost puffing over each word. He swallowed
hard, stood to greet the customers, but his eyes narrowed.
These were no trench coat types, or overweight four-eyes, or
fetish freaks. Three teenagers in sneakers, jeans, and bangs
over their eyes, strolled in with big, toothless grins, staring
at their shoes. “Hey,” he said, stern. “ID, junior. Now.”
“Of course,” said
the blond one in front with the red windbreaker. “Show him
your ID, boys!” They yanked out camera phones from their front
pockets. “Hey, burn face, smile!”
Kaleb leapt over
the desk and they screamed “whoa” before darting out the door
like bullets. A million combos ran through Kaleb’s head for
tearing them ass from limb, but he got to the door winded.
Outside, the little shits were already across the street, getting
smaller and smaller. “Bastards!” was all he could growl before
huffing air, his gut bulging above his belt and a cramp eating
his ribs. Outside, strip mall walkers stared at him, the blotches
below his eyes like a magnetic Rorschach test they were trying
to decode. “Take a picture, ladies. Everyone else is.” He shut
the door, wondering how long it would take before his mug was
on YouTube, the famous Porno Den Monster.
“Fuck me.” He sat
back on his stool, snatched his hat from the floor, and reached
for the paper. Maybe there was some more news on ghosts becoming
“Ignore them, Butterfly,” Becky
said, sitting on the far window sill in a cocktail dress, crossing
her legs. “Sticks and stones.”
“Might feel good
to break their bones. I should get back into the gym. Work
off all this donut muscle. Maybe…even learn to throw a punch
again.” He placed his hat back and picked up the paper.
“But, you’re perfect
just the way you are.” She slid off the sill and his eyes would
not leave her as she strutted to his desk. “You work so hard
here. Do you remember how tired you were? Those terrible early
mornings? How it made everything so much harder. How it kept
you away. Do you really want to leave me here alone with all
those others?” Her ghost hand caressed his face with a nowhere
He put down the
paper. “No, babe. Never want to leave you alone.”
“You’ll always be
my hero, Butterfly. Let’s watch one of my movies, ok? Cheer
Thin warmth ran
through his sluggy form. “Sure. Why not.” He got up to hunt
the aisle for a favourite, maybe Cherry Invader. It
was soothing. Knew every scene, every moan, every eye flashed
at the camera as if it was just him, and only him, that she
did this for.
Bells rang, and
this time his fists were ready. Becky walked away, as allergic
to customers as always. Donuts gurgled in his stomach as someone
“Jeeze,” said a
high, gruff voice, “this is the spot?”
His first dropped. “Fuck
“Kid. Is that you?” Barely
five-foot tall, bleach blond curly hair less than a centimetre
tall, her boxcar frame was enclosed in a thick and fuzzy powder-blue
jogging suit that was almost as wrinkly as her face, jowls
like a walrus but eyes steely as a wolf. And the peppery smell
of Old Spice…
“Coach Watson?” A
hollow pain pierced his heart.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m
dead,” she said. “Beats living with the Alzheimer. All the
scrubs running out when I went space cadets. Little bastards.
All but you, Kid.” She smiled, then her beady eyes narrowed. “Jeez,
you look as flabby as me! Now come on, let me see if your ass
is as big as your chest. When was the last time you hit the
Kaleb took a stance
out of reflex to the commanding sound of Battle Ax Watson’s
voice. “Before my last bout.”
“When was that?”
“Before I retired.”
She slapped her
jowls. “Mother of Mercy, why!”
“Because he needed
to recover!” Becky said, hugging her breasts in prim business
suit and skirt combo. “Why are you yelling at him?”
“Kid?” Coach Watson
said, one fake eyebrow raised, “Who are you staring at?”
“Becky? She one
of the dolls on these skin flick covers?”
Kaleb looked at
Becky. “Can you see her?”
“Yes, all three
hundred rotten pounds of her.”
“Be nice,” he said.
Coach Watson walked
closer and waved her arthritic hand in front of his face. “Houston,
we have a problem. I am right here, kid, and I do not have
much time before they shove me back on the bus to wherever
the hell I’ve been. Hope it wasn’t the last place. Boring as
hell without the fireworks.”
Becky could see
Coach Watson, but not the other way around. There had been
nothing in the paper about ghosts not seeing each other. “This
is insane,” Kaleb said.
Hands on her hips,
Coach Watson nodded. “No, my protégé retiring before your brain
is mashed potatoes, that is loony tunes. But you still look
young, if rotten. Ok, Kid. Explain yourself. I know I missed
that first bout. So what happened? You lose?”
He took off his
hat to run his hair back, then straddled it down. “No. I won.
Destroyed him, in fact. Iron right hook stretched his neck
by a country mile. I had to win, Coach. I couldn’t let you
Coach Watson snapped
her fingers louder than a firecracker. “I knew it! See? I knew
you could take that pretty thing with the bad boy tattoos!
All prancing and no punch, I bet.” Kaleb smiled with a huff. “So,
Slowly, he inhaled. “That
Her jowls dropped. “It?”
“I retired. After
“What a minute.
You won, you beat the guy your first time between the goddamn
ropes, and you retired?”
He crossed his oxblood
loafers. “See, I thought it would be magic, like it would wipe
away the stains of my life or something, and it didn’t matter.
Everyone still hated me. So much. The ref didn’t even want
to touch my hand, thought I was some diseased freak. My skin
was a candy counter of spit gum, flicked cigarettes and sharpened
coins by the time I got back to the locker room. And you weren’t
there. No one was.” His skin itched. “I won it for you, Coach.
To do you justice, but there was no one in my corner, no in
the audience, no one in the locker room. Just hate. Air blue
with it. And it didn’t seem to mean anything.” He raised his
head as Sinatra started in to “Mack the Knife.”
“As Frank said.
Loner is just another word for loser.” He smiled.
Watson slapped so
hard his teeth shook.
“Don’t touch him!” Becky
screamed, grabbing her mane of hair.
“Old blue eyes would
never be proud of a real winner acting like a crumb and a fink,
a dragon hiding in Endsville instead of cracking victory with
both hands. He always said the best revenge was massive success.
What the hell do you call this place?” Coach Watson cracked
her savagely big arthritic knuckles. “I can’t believe this.
We worked so hard. You worked so damn hard. You were a dragon
in there kid, a bloody dragon that ate armour and could have
had any princess he wanted.”
a sob. “Not that night.”
“Show me a war won
on the first battle, kid, and I’ll show you—”
“A page-full of
Coach Watson huffed
and he prepared himself for another shot. “I don’t doubt it
was rough, Kid. I didn’t want to leave you but they don’t allow
for time outs when the big one hits.”
“I know, I know.”
She looked around. “So.
You went back to working here instead of the gym?”
“It’s his home,
you wretched cow!” Becky shouted.
“Easy!” Kaleb said.
She stamped her heel, turned, and strutted away. “You know
the deal,” he said to Watson. “Mug like mine, not a lot of
options. The pay’s good.”
“And the view is
breathtaking,” Watson did a three sixty. “Christ, I bet you’ve
probably got no more juice left in the tank, thanks to this
wank factory. Your burns are blushing, Kid.”
Kaleb shrugged. “Why
are you here?”
She marched to a
DVD shelf. “No idea now. I got here too late. You already gave
up.” She threw a DVD at him and it bounced off his gut. “You’re
the one piece of unfinished business I had left on this spinning
rock. There used to be one hell of a dragon in you, Kaleb.
But I think its fire has been jerked dry. You look worse than
the mopes in the bleachers pining for the ring sluts in the
front row. You couldn’t go the distance with glass jaw palookas.” She
He blocked, and
blocked and blocked. “Knock it off!”
She stood back with
another armful and tossed them. “Try and jab your way out of
this instead of talk! Knock this shit out of your system.”
“Cut it out!” He
shot out his fists, lungs aching. But they connected, one,
two, three. “No!” He caught it. Cherry Invader. And
three more bounced off his hide.
“You have the concentration
of a hummingbird.”
He stepped forward,
fist primed. “Stop it! Now!”
“Hey,” Watson said, “smells
like brimstone is brewing.”
She held the DVD
in her hand.
“Not those.” He
looked, but Becky was out of sight. “Those are special.”
about being addicted to smut. You have to cut this out of if
you’re going to—”
“Enough! She’s my
Watson’s eyes bulged
before her face cringed. “Kid, I don’t like that look in your
eye. Make this goddamn quick, I can hear the bus coming back.”
Kaleb held the DVD’s,
a distorted reflection of his face behind the picture of Becky
at her prime. “It’s weird.”
to a dead woman. Chop-chop.”
“Becky’s dead, too.” Watson
scrutinized him as he spoke. “I was… watching one of her movies
when I found out she’d died. She showed up, not long after.
And, Coach, if I split, if I pick up the gloves and lace up
again, I’d lose her.”
Watson stared around
the store. “Lose her? Kid, you can’t lose what you don’t have.
Is she here? Is that who you were talking too? Then bring her
out so I can have a word with Princess Smut.”
“You can’t see her.
She’s a ghost.”
“You keep up on
current events, Kid? Everyone sees ghosts. What they can’t
see are imaginary friends dragging them down.” A honk blasted
from outside, and Coach Watson’s grunted, punching her palm. “Alright,
time’s up. I’m out of here. Maybe that was the kick in the
face you needed, maybe not. But, Kid, this was not who you
were meant to be. Don’t let the dragon sleep to long or he’ll
die. And don’t think I won’t be watching, even if I’m too far
for you to hear my voice.”
“That’s pretty damn
She laughed, then
patted his face. “Good luck, Kaleb.”
Bells rang and she
was gone, just a dusty stale smell of Old Spice remained.
Kaleb walked the
aisles until he found Becky with her back to him, dressed in
her school girl outfit, heart-shaped ass just barely covered. “Becky?”
She raised a hand. “Don’t.”
“You’re not a ghost.
She shook her long,
rich ponytail back and forth like a black flame.
He sighed. “So I
guess this is it, huh?
and it was hard to swallow. He rubbed his face where Coach
had slapped and patted him.
Bells rang, followed
by snickers. Kaleb turned.
“Encore, fat ass!
See you on YouTube!”
He followed, with
one glance back. She faced him now in all her lusty splendour. “Knock
them out, Butterfly.”
He ran, and the
bells rang behind him as he chased them into the night, closing,
their voices filled with horror as they got bigger, and bigger.
Kaleb made two fists, ran like a bullet, and let the dragon
# # #
The Dragon of Endsville by
published May 3, 2010