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 breakfast.”

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 real.

“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 touch.

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 you up?”

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 walked in.

“Jeeze,” said a high, gruff voice, “this is the spot?”

His first dropped. “Fuck me.”

“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 gym?”

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.”

“You retired?”

He nodded.

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 down.”

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, what happened?”

Slowly, he inhaled. “That was it.”

Her jowls dropped. “It?”

“I retired. After that fight.”

“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.”

Kaleb swallowed a sob. “Not that night.”

“Show me a war won on the first battle, kid, and I’ll show you—”

“A page-full of lies.”

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 fired another.

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.”

“Nothing special about being addicted to smut. You have to cut this out of if you’re going to—”

“Enough! She’s my girlfriend!”

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.”

“You’re talking 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 far.”

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. Are you?”

She shook her long, rich ponytail back and forth like a black flame.

He sighed. “So I guess this is it, huh?

She bobbed.

Heartbeats thumped, 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!”

They ran.

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 free.


# # #

The Dragon of Endsville by Jason Ridler
originally published May 3, 2010



Jason Ridler
has published over 30 short stories in venues such as Brain Harvest, Not One of Us, Crossed Genres, Chilling Tales, Tesseracts Thirteen, as well as Big Pulp and many other venues. His non-fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Dark Scribe, and the Internet Review of Science Fiction. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. Visit him at his writing blog, Ridlerville, Facebook, and on Twitter.

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