BUDDY by Konstantine Paradias 

“We’re not stopping,” I said, even as Debbie began to swerve the car to the side of the road toward the little burning creature. A halo of steam blossomed around it as it sat hunched in the pouring rain.

“Rob,” Debbie said, in her moaning little sing song voice, stopping the car by the ditch “just look at the poor thing. It’s probably lost.”

“It’s on fire,” I said, but Debbie was already out the door, rushing through the pouring rain toward the hunched creature. I watched as it unfurled its frills, letting out a low, rumbling noise at her.

“Okay, little buddy, it’s okay…” Debbie said, one hand rifling through her pocket. She let out a handful of gravel that our grandson had stuffed there during dinner and laid it down in front of the creature. Slowly, the little burning creature began to sift through them, popping them in its mouth, its flame dimming slightly.

“Debbie, you know how these things are: they don’t just… get left on the side of the road,” I began, even as Debbie began to back toward the car, laying down a trail of gravel along the way “we don’t know where it’s been. For God’s sake, Debbie, what if it escaped from some lab?”

“Get the blanket,” Debbie said, as she opened the back door and I pulled the old worn fiberglass blanket that Chip used to sleep on, back when he’d still be growing his razor-wings so he wouldn’t ruin the leather. I laid it down, just as the burning creature hopped onto the backseat of the car, an armload of gravel nested in its hand. Its flames had reduced to a bare simmer that made the scales on its body glint like a light off an oil spill.

“I told you not to get the damn thing in the car…” I began, but Debbie just shushed me, as she began to swerve the car back on the road.

“Shelter is going to be open on Friday,” Debbie said, as she eased the car back into the fast lane “you won’t even know he’s there.”

“Friday?” I said, glancing back at the creature. One of its eyes, the colour of aged saffron, opened wide to look at me.

“I can do Friday.”

“Don’t you dare,” I said. Debbie stopped halfway through filling Chip’s old feeding dish with bits of granite. Outside, the creature purred as it raked its claws across the reinforced door. Friday had been two weeks ago and Debbie hadn’t made the time to take it back to the shelter.

“For Pete’s sake, it’s just temporary,” Debbie said, letting the bag drop to the kitchen floor with a thunk “how else I am supposed to feed Buddy?”

“I told you not to name it. And you can pour it out on the porch,” I said and turned to my phone, pretending to read something but I’d caught Debbie’s I love you but you’re pushing it look, the kind that made me feel like I was half an inch tall without saying a word. She lingered for a while, making sure I was good and stared down, then began to drag the bag outside. Reflected on the phone, I could see the creature’s burning halo rise in intensity as it peered into the kitchen.

I turned to look, my eyes locking with its own, taking in the way the colour shifted in the orbs. They turned from waxy yellow to burnt orange and I watched in fascination until Debbie finally screamed:

“For Pete’s sake, just get off your sorry ass and help me with the bag!” 

Behind me, I could swear the thing cackled.

“You’re leaving me here. With that,” I said, as I loaded Debbie’s suitcase in the trunk. It had been two months since Debbie hadn’t bothered to check with the shelter.

“I’m just visiting my mother for a couple of weeks, you drama queen,” Debbie said, as she climbed into the car. She struggled with the seatbelt, laying it across the memory foam cast wrapped around her chest, huffing and panting before she clipped it on.

“Your back’s messed up. You’re in no condition to drive,” I said and Debbie rolled her eyes.

“I’ll put on auto as soon as I’m on the interstate,” Debbie said, motioning for me to lean in for a kiss “besides, Doctor Broder said the change of scenery will do me good.”

“Debbie, that thing hates me,” I said, gritting my teeth “I swear, the way it looks at me…”

“I’m sure you’ll survive,” Debbie said, as she turned the key in the ignition “you managed Chip, didn’t you?” 

“Chip was an angel,” I said, my voice high-pitched and hurt.

“Chip was a six-foot long flying lizard that sucked in air and breathed out chlorine gas. I’m sure you can manage Buddy,” Debbie said, before slamming the door into my face and pulling out of the driveway “love you pookey-boo!”

“Love you too, sunshine,” I groaned. On the porch, the creature yipped between spitting tongues of fire at a panicking cockroach. I thought of Chip and his mountain of cat bones we’d had to hide in the backyard the first summer he’d been home, to keep the Home Owners Association off our backs.

“Maybe you’re not so bad, huh?” I said.

“It’s bad, Debbie, it’s all bad. God help me, it’s like this thing was just made to torment me!” I said into the phone. Debbie’s voice came back, masked by a very obvious crumpling tinfoil crackle.

“I’m... baby, breaking up—” Debbie said, pausing between words as if the connection was failing. Even after twenty years of marriage, she still pulled the same nonsense.

“I know you’re just crumpling tinfoil and stuttering, Debbie. I love you,” I said and ended the call. Stepping into the back porch, I saw that the creature was digging like mad, its forelimbs a blur as it tore through the grass, building a warren for itself out by the half-finished gazebo. Debbie had been gone for three days and things were already coming apart at the seams.

“It’s nesting, you know,” Wendel said, peeking over the fence, his arctic blue eyes regarding me in their usual condescending manner “you got it spayed yet?”

“Debbie was going to give it to a shelter. Never got around to it,” I said, catching his grin, his pearly whites almost blinding against the spray-on bronze of his skin.

“Women, right? Bet she picked the little runt off the road. My Colby’s a pure bred,” Wendel said and whistled shrilly. A lithe creature with cobalt-blue fur and an ant-eater like snout stood to attention next to him, its perfectly manicured claws laid across my side of the fence.

“Must be nice,” I said, desperately wishing that Wendel would just go back to lying comatose beside his stupid kidney-shaped pool. A wad of dirt whizzed through the air and slapped against my chest and I shouted: “Buddy!”

“You can’t handle that thing, can you? I could help you discipline it,” Wendel said, a glint in his eye.

“There’s no need to—”

“Heck, my Colby can have Buddy knocked out in five seconds flat. Helps them build character,” Wendel said and maybe it was that look that he gave me or the tone of his voice or the way his bronze ended at the base of his neck, making him look like a discount Halloween mannequin that made me say:

“You know what? Okay.”

“That’s what I’m talking about!” Wendel said, whistling a couple of short, shrill notes at Colby. It leapt over the fence with a hiss, its ant-eater snout retracting to reveal an impossibly large pair of jaws with two rows of sharp teeth, a blue-black forked tongue snaking out of it. Tiny rows of razor-sharp quills sprouted along Colby’s back, as it whooshed its way into my yard.

“Buddy, watch your six!” I called out, my voice lost in the rumble of his digging. I called out to him again and he turned, but by then, Colby had grabbed him in his teeth, whipping him in the air before slamming him against the soft, freshly dug earth. A cloud of dust rose up as Colby picked Buddy up again by his tail, spun him into the air and finally smashed him against the railing of my porch. 

“Whoo-ee! Look at that!” Wendel whooped, then composed himself “I mean uh, sorry, neighbour.”

I looked down at Buddy, my heart sinking as I watched his chest heave, his frills shivering and ran my hands across his body, looking for any obvious injuries. Colby had got in a few licks, but he hadn’t gone through Buddy’s scales or broken any bones. In fact, once I’d got rid of the sawdust and the porch railing bits that clung to him, it seemed that Buddy barely had a scratch on him.

“Hey, Buddy,” I said, leaning into his ear “what’d you say you cut the theatrics?”

Both pairs of Buddy’s eyes shot open, the burnt orange turning into an atomic tangerine. He growled, as his fiery aura flared around him, shooting up on his four legs.

“Buddy, bust this chump,” I said and Buddy charged through my ruined back yard, moving so fast his silvery scales were a blur. Colby snapped at him with his jaws as Buddy swerved around him, turning his body into a ball and slamming into his flank once, twice, three times. Colby pivoted on his hind legs and launched a dozen quills from his back, but Buddy unfurled his frills and screeched, the blast of air from his lungs sending the quills off course. They smashed through the windows of Wendel’s loft. 

“Colby, bad boy!” Wendel shouted, breaking Colby’s concentration as it was about to launch another salvo as Buddy. A blast of flame, shot out from Buddy’s mouth, hit Colby square in the chest and launched him across my backyard, through my fence and into Wendel’s stupid kidney-shaped pool.

“Foul! Foul! Illegal move!” Wendel shouted at me, while trying to fish Colby out with his pool skimmer. When he finally pulled the poor thing out, it looked like it had been stuffed into a washer and then pushed down two flights of stairs.

“Ah, take it up with the alderman,” I said, as I went inside for a beer. In the backyard, Buddy got right back to digging.

“Anyway, turns out, Wendel did take it up with the alderman and the town’s got a tournament code and I uh,” I said, looking for the right words “I might have put it back into action so…”

“...great, sweetie, I love y—” Debbie said, her voice cutting off for real this time, trying her best not to make it sound like she hasn’t heard a word I just said. It had been barely two days since Buddy had sent Colby packing.

“I love you too, honey-boo,” I said, as Debbie’s call tone began to hum from the other end of the receiver. At my feet, Buddy looked up at me and chittered, eager to get going. “All right then, Buddy, let’s get this done.”

Outside, the half-dozen representatives from the Home Owners’ Association had gathered at the curb, their own creatures by their side: Jamie Lynn had shown up with a wizened old platypus covered in shards of quartz; Donnie Cho had brought his lightning mastiff, rainbow spittle dripping from its jaws; Earl Horowitz had shown up with his Siamese cat-twins, both creatures held aloft by the psychic field that radiated from their bald heads; Stan Coleman had brought his living whirlwind and Sheila Berry and Reis, her husband, brought their paired water yetis, a steady flow of water pooling down their bodies, mudding up my begonias.

“Couldn’t wait to get your butts kicked, could you?” I said, hooking my thumbs into my belt, an old reflex from my duelling days. Buddy pushed himself back on his hind legs too, flaring his frills.

“Rhett Huntington,” Stan said, taking a step forward, hands on his hips, raring to go “according to County law, article 5, paragraph 6, we are under tournament rule. You are to be challenged by every creature owner within the county, obligated to fight their creature until knockout for the next two weeks…”

“Unless I can beat the Five,” I said, grinning “then the rest of you have to call it quits.”

“You ain’t getting to the Five, Rhett,” Donnie said, falling back to his old Texan drawl “hell, you ain’t getting out of your yard.”

“Big talk, little man. You wanna go?” I said, feeling a shiver run down my spine as the old garbage-slinging from my college days started rising to the surface. From across the street, a group of kids that had stopped to record the whole thing on their phones went ‘ooooo’.

“Doobie, sic ‘im!” Donnie said, releasing his mastiff. It snarled and charged, leaving a trail of quickly-fading afterimages as it raced across my perfectly tidy front yard, toward Buddy.

“Flame on, boy,” I said and Buddy enveloped himself in a mantle of green flame. Doobie yowled, his front paw singed by the flames halfway through his swipe. The mastiff tried to speed away again, but by that time Buddy had got him with a headbutt once, twice, three times, then finished him off by channelling the fire around him in a tightly controlled explosion that only took out half of Debbie’s herb garden.

“Come on, come on, I ain’t got all day!” I said as Donnie’s mastiff landed at his owner’s feet, whimpering. Jamie was next, her platypus burrowing into the pavement and through the yard. It leapt into the air in an explosion of dirt and loose stones, one forelimb getting Buddy square in the jaw in a fearsome uppercut. Buddy was launched into the air and landed smack dab among the rose bushes, then exploded back into action, wreathed in rings of flame. 

“Mister Sticks! Burrow again, get the freak!” Jamie snarled and her platypus leaped back into the earth. I saw the dirt around it ripple like water, almost too subtly to notice.

“Buddy! It’s liquefying the dirt,” I said, getting back nothing but Buddy’s four-fold blank stare “shoot through it when I give the signal!”

Buddy nodded, huffing and puffing as he began to gather sparks between his fingers, weaving a ball of blue flame together. He growled and yowled at the thing, as if bullying it to grow bigger with every passing second. I watched as the dirt around Mister Sticks sagged, trailing his progress through Debbie’s oregano plants, under the paved little path to the patio, until… 

“Go low!” I said and Buddy leapt into the air, driving his ball of blue flame into the liquefying earth. The dirt sagged, then swallowed the attack with an anticlimactic poof. Two seconds later, Mister Sticks was launched out of the ground, propelled on a tiny blue fire cloud. He landed in front of Jamie’s feet, out for the count.

“Next!” I said and Buddy snarled next to me, shooting twin jets of flame from his back. A trickle of lava poured from his scales, causing the fence paint to flake and fall off.

The Berries came up next with their water yetis, bringing their fists together to douse Buddy with a jet of water. Buddy shot a jet of flame, the fire causing most of it to turn to steam.

“Kikki, ease up!” Sheila said, followed by Reis, calling out “Pooki, chill!” 

The stream of water dropped in pressure, momentarily letting Buddy take the upper hand, before Pooki raised its arms and grasped the vented steam, rapidly cooling it to form a miniature hailstorm that he brought down on Buddy, pelting his body with ice water. It sizzled as it struck him, dousing his flame. Behind the glare of his firebreath, I could see him shiver.

“Never mind the jet, get to cover,” I said and Buddy leaped out of the way, just as Kikki’s water stream smashed through my kitchen window. Something crashed inside and I grit my teeth “Not cool, Sheila.”

“Sorry, Rhett,” the Berries said in their usual eerie echo, before sending their Yetis to pile up on Buddy. He whimpered, skittering back, leaving a trail of swiftly cooling magma in his wake.

“Make a shield!” I called out and Buddy nodded, shuddering as he began to pour out more molten flamed from under its scales. Whipping his forearms and limbs, he splashed it around him in a superhot cocoon, just as the Yetis piled on him. They ran, yipping and patting away at the flames on their pelts. Buddy rolled right behind them inside his cocoon, trampling them into the earth and uprooting our prize cherry tree in the process. Stan, Earl and the rest watched as it tore down my front yard’s fence, before bursting into flame.

Right on cue, Buddy exploded out of his cocoon, his own tiny body having grown. He rippled with new musculature, a brawnier tail, a mane made from what had to be living flame. 

“Well, come on then, if you got the stones,” I said and Earl’s cat twins hit Buddy with a brain blast that made every skull in the neighbourhood ring like they’d been strapped to the bells of Notre Dame, while Stan’s living whirlwind picked him up and flung him up into the air, making Buddy topple through the roof. They made a noise like World War 3 in miniature as they burst through the attic, smashed up the guest room, tore their way across the living room, before Stan’s whirlwind came running out the front door, whooshing away into the distance. Buddy roared, his frills flaring like solar sails, as Earl’s twins hit him again. This time, however, Buddy put his frills together, creating a funnel, which he used to blast the psychic shot right back at Earl. The man dropped down to the ground, squealing like a schoolgirl.

“Jesus wept, Rhett,” Donnie said, cradling his mastiff, “what the heck kind of creature is Buddy, anyway?”

“I don’t damn well know,” I said, hands still hooked onto my belt, Buddy stomping right behind me, “but he’s mine. Now get outta my sight.”

Creature wrangling had been Debbie’s idea, back when we were in college, just a pair of dopey freshmen with barely a clue. It had been five years since the Ρο’calypse and the world was crawling with creatures. No one could make anything of them, it seemed: they were too unpredictable to tame, too smart to corral and no one dared to try and see if they were edible.

“They do love to tussle though,” Debbie had said. So we caught our first one (some tiny dragon thing made from a flightless bird-thing that blew out razor-sharp gusts of wind) and we got to picking fights with others and climbing our way through made up leagues and there was money and glory and fame and magazine cover shoots but then Debbie was pregnant so we got ourselves a home and we dropped the critter fighting and we got jobs and we let the world wiz right by until we were both two old farts that looked down on everything because the kids were out of the house and we didn’t think we were allowed to do anything fun anymore.

Until we found Chip, still an egg, stashed away on some hill during a hike and we cared for him until he was out the egg and he got big and I fought the urge to take him to a fight, God how I fought it down, but this had been a good neighbourhood and we couldn’t afford to raise a stink, not when we had to sell the old house. But by the time we did, Chip had already left the nest, all big and grown, off to have his own brood and the chance had been gone and Debbie said:

“Maybe it’s for the best,” but she knew it wasn’t so I grew into a grumpy old fart and nothing felt right...

Until now. 

“End of the line, old man,” the little kid in the swirly neon t-shirt and the outrageous haircut said, looking down at me from the steps of city hall “you ain’t taking another—”

“You’re Sammy, aren’t you? The Warwick kid?” I asked, taking in his creature: it looked like a lime-green crab thing with no eyes and claws for legs. Behind me, Buddy snarled, baring a brand new set of fangs he’d grown to replace the old ones, busted in the battle royale that took place on Main street. A crown of greek fire burned on the top of his head almost constantly now.

“I’m Samuel of the Five,” the Warwick kid said, blushing, then pointed at his crab creature “and this is Melkor. He’s going to…”

“Your Dad never did pay me back after you drove your jalopy through my fence,” I say, taking a step toward him.

“What the heck does your stupid little fence have to do with—”

“That’s why your Dad gave me all that crap when I tried to build that gazebo. It’s why he called the cops on our family get-together after my daughter’s graduation.”

“Look man, this uh,” Sammy says, grasping for the right words, not realizing I’d been halfway up the steps already “this sounds real personal and I ain’t about that, you get me?”

“That’s real cool of you, Sammy,” I said, my voice getting lost in the rising rumble of Buddy’s snarl, his shadow falling like a shroud over the kid and his ridiculous little critter “but I am.”

Maud Berger and Levi Herzog shot up from their benches as Melkor’s gigantic form smashed through the library. Somewhere in the distance, they heard Sammy’s wailing fade into nonsense as he ran back home crying.

“You didn’t have to go that hard on the boy, Rhett,” Levi said, tapping his pipe, letting out a plume of rainbow smoke that blossomed outward, revealing his prismatic serpent. Its scales crackled with purple streaks of lightning.

“Now you’ve gone and established a precedent, see,” Maud said, her shadow cat slipping down from her shoulders, expanding into pure darkness. I watched as the creatures began to fill the room, Levi’s prismatic serpent slowly ascending to the top, Maud’s shadow cat seeping into the floorboards below, probably preparing some pincer movement.

“We’re going to have to go extra hard on you and your critter. Teach people it don’t pay to mess with the Five,” Maud said, grinning evilly.

“Don’t you worry though, son,” Levi said, snapping his fingers, filling the room with the smell of ozone “it’s going to be… electric.”

“Buddy, hit the sprinklers,” I said and he let out a tongue of flame that melted the nearest nub. The entire room filled up with water. Too late, Levi and Maud tried to pull the creatures back, as I scrambled up the nearest bookshelf. Levi’s rainbow serpent unleashed a bolt of lightning that struck where Buddy had just been, its charge releasing through the entire room. Maud’s shadow cat yowled in agony; Levi and Maud did a cartoonish little jig as the current got them. The rainbow serpent, lost and directionless, didn’t see Buddy until he was on top of it. In the blink of an eye, Buddy had tied the creature into a knot and chucked it through a window and onto a parked station wagon outside.

“I’ll tell Hank you did your best,” I said, making my way across the empty city hall, past the archives and hall of records, up the old Victorian staircase. Buddy chittered with excitement, his tail leaving a tiny scorched trail in his wake. Finally, we stopped in front of the frosted glass door leading into the mayor’s office. I stopped to admire the gilded lettering:


I rapped the door, waiting for a response. When none came, I turned to Buddy. I’d barely had time to tell him to turn that thing into a pile of matchsticks, when Hank’s growling old drill sergeant voice came from the ground floor.

“Huntington! Don’t you dare touch that damn door,” he said, hands on his hips, the look on his face that of a Dickensian schoolmarm. 

“I thought you were…” I began but Hank cut me off.

“You thought I was going to fight you in my office? So you could trash the place?” Hank said “we have a gym, dumbass.”

“Where’s uh… where’s Raffi?” I said, desperate to save face as I made my way down the stairs to the ground floor.

“Raffi retired last week. We didn’t think anyone would reset the town tournament, so we hadn’t replaced him just yet,” Hank said, looking me over. Even at his age, the man looked like he could snap a grown man’s neck like a twig.

“So it’s just you now?” I asked, finally clearing the landing. Buddy slithered down the stairs behind me.

“I was gonna tag team your sorry behind with Sam Warwick but he had to go and be stupid about it. I saw it through CCTV. That was brutal.”

“Kid put up a good fight,” I lied.

“Listen, Rhett, We can call this off,” Hank said, “all you have to do is step down, take the silver and the tournament will be over. Hell, we’ll waive the property damage costs.”

“Just like that?” I asked. Buddy knelt beside me, stretching his chin for a scratch. His hind leg thumped on the hardwood floor, making the windows rattle.

“Just like that,” Hank said, flashing his gleaming used car salesman grin.

“But then I just get second place, right?” I asked. Hank’s grin began to fade “The silver and a pat on the back?”

“Don’t do it, Rhett…” Hank growled.

“I think I’ll go for the gold, Hank,” I said. Hank pursed his lips, letting out a deep, animal growl. He rubbed his temples and finally said:



“Sure Rhett,” Hank said “but if you lose, the damages are coming out of your pocket.”

“Who said I’ll lose?” I said. Hank just shrugged.

Hank’s creature was a featureless thing, like a hole cut in the air in the rough shape of a gorilla. It made no noise, except for the faintest rustle of its limbs as it fidgeted on the reinforced tatami.

“This is Clive,” Hank said.

“Nice. Did he crawl out of a meteor or something?” I said, trying to disguise my unease with sarcasm.

“Don’t be mean. Clive’s a rescue,” Hank said and there was the faintest noise of paper tearing somewhere far away. It took me a minute before I realized that Clive was laughing.

“You good, Buddy?” I asked and Buddy just nodded, raising his bristles. He made a low, chittering sound as he began to rap his feet across the floor. He tried a few lunges and growls. Clive didn’t seem to react, only shifting in place, pivoting to face Buddy. Finally, Buddy slashed at the air, releasing a shower of sparks that took Clive by surprise, forcing him a couple of steps back. Right on cue, Buddy pounced… 

… and thunked against the ground, flattened by some invisible force. Clive hadn’t moved a muscle.

“Buddy, back!” I called out. Buddy moved his legs, claws clattering on the tatami for purchase, but he didn’t move. There was a sense of heaviness in the air, the distinct sensation of everything slowing down. On the floor, Buddy began to growl, pushing against whatever was holding him in place, his muscles tense with sheer effort as he pushed himself up.

“Just stand down, Rhett. No one’s got to get hurt,” Hank said and I could hear the malice in his voice. I could feel it almost seething in my gut. On the tatami, Buddy had somehow managed to get up on his hind legs, when the crushing force came back down, making him kneel.

“Go for the legs,” I said and Buddy let out a stream of flame through pursed lips, making the fire spread across the floor toward Clive’s legs. Hanks’ creature whooped, its concentration broken and Buddy slammed into it, both of them careening across the gym floor, toward the wall. Without warming, they changed direction, tumbling up into the ceiling, a ball of fist and jaws and claws, before finally slamming right back in the middle of the tatami, the floor cracking under their weight.

“Pin him down, Buddy. Don’t let him…” I began.

“Punch his light out,” Hank said. Clive raised its fist, the crushing sensation falling. A distortion hung in the air around its fist, before it swung at Buddy. Buddy flew through the wall, faster than a speeding bullet, smashed through brick like it was tissue paper, tore through the municipal archives building and the gardener’s shack before an explosive landing into the middle of the duck pond, half a mile away.

“Clive’s barokinetic,” Hank said, running his hand over the absence where Clive’s head should have been. Clive purred like an old car engine. He was probably about to explain what that meant, but I had already leapt through the hole in the wall and after Buddy by then.

By the time I’d got there, Buddy was white hot and livid and looking worse for wear. Half the pond had already boiled away around him.

“Buddy, you gotta calm down boy. Listen, Clive is… he’s… he can put you down without touching you but he can’t do it if he’s distracted. We have to…” I began.

“You can still give up, Rhett,” Hank said from above us. Clive and he had floated all the way here, probably just to gloat. Hank could be a real pain in the ass like that “we can see right through your little…”

“Buddy, spray that dingus,” I said and Buddy spat a mouthful of boiling water at Hank and Clive, the spray hissing as it struck them. They tumbled onto the ground, defenceless. By then, Buddy had charged Clive, pulling him up into the air and slamming him into the earth. When Clive began to pull him off the ground, Buddy dunked him into the hot pond water, then slammed him into dry land again, driving him deeper into the ground. It took a good half minute of pounding before it was just Clive’s feet sticking out of the ground.

“Buddy, stop,” I said, before turning to Hank. Buddy snarled, a ball of flame already coalesced in his balled fist “call it off, Hank.”

“Huntington, you piece of crap, I’m going to take this up to the governor, you hear? I’m going to drag your sorry behind to the State Tournament Committee,” Hank snarled “you’re going to wish you’d never picked your little runt off the side of the road, you hear me?”

“Sure. But say ‘uncle’ first,” I said. Buddy grinned, fist still raised.

“Uncle,” Hank groaned.

“Listen, sunshine, I’m telling you this is all going to be—” I began, trying to get a word in over Debbie, screaming her head off at me from the other end of the line “-no, tournament code’s got us covered. They’ll be footing the bill for the repairs…”

“Mister Huntington,” the plucky little brunette with the clipboard said, her voice barely heard over the roar of the crowd waiting in the stadium outside “you’re up next.”

“Listen, honey, state Tournament is going to be done in a couple of days, I’ll be back with Buddy and Chelsea by Friday…” I paused, waiting for Debbie to scream herself out “Chelsea’s this little rescue Buddy and I found, you’re just gonna love her, I swear.”

Debbie hung up on me, just as the announcer began to call out our names. Out by the red corner, giants seethed eager for the fight.

Aaaand in the blue corner, hailing from Nowhere town USA, iiiittssss Rhheeeettt!

“Well, come on guys,” I said “let’s make momma Debbie proud.”

We stepped out into the blinding lights and the screaming crowds and the rolling cameras. And for a while, everything felt right, even if it didn’t really last.


Konstantine Paradias is a writer by choice. He writes for videogames, among other things, with his work appearing in the games RAFT, SCRAP MECHANIC and VANE. People tell him he’s got a writing problem but he can like, quit whenever he wants, man. His short story collection, Sorry Wrong Country, is published by Rooster Republic Press.

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