The Fire-Breathing Jumbo Dragon

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
A socially maladjusted bus driver deals with anger issues.

Submitted: September 03, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 03, 2016



Edwin rolled the bus to a halt below a yellow light and wondered what it would be like to have his head crushed between Bowser’s thighs. Like cracking a walnut, or maybe an egg. Hopefully, Bowser would be kind enough to drag it out a bit. Time enough for him to smother his face against Bowser’s pelvis, grip along his dual-spiked tail, graze his tensed hamstrings, dip behind his knees, consider his concrete calves, and prick his menacing silver claws. Just before he suffocates, Bowser would buckle his knees and his head would cave and his skull would spill. The thought of Bowser’s henchmen scrubbing his brain slosh off the cold, cobblestone dungeon made Edwin clench the steering wheel and his knuckles wash white. There is no dissuading the beast. He is a monster and a half, that Bowser.

Downtown Conway was busier than usual. Must be a Friday. Edwin inched behind a rather indecisive Corolla, whose right turn signal winked at him as of four blocks ago. Then, he narrowed on the pavilion and cranked open the door, taking note of the Safeway and adjoining Starbucks. This signified the quarter-way checkpoint of his route. He threw the bus in park and let its apparatus quake against his spine while a shawled, middle-aged woman shuffled together her belongings.

Looming over Skagit County is a defunct stratovolcano, a spinal column along the Northern Cascades whose snowcapped peak glinted like a teardrop in the blue and barren sky. Mount Tufts had not roared hellfire since the glaciers roamed the valley. The mountain’s most recent temper tantrum occurred the first week of autumn in nineteen seventy-four, during which it puffed out methane and carbon dioxide from its crater. A team of volcanologists rerouted a satellite to monitor the mountain for deformation, and in the decades since discovered it had inflated a paltry three-and-a-half centimeters on the northern flank.

Edwin watched a jet plane draw an exhaust trail behind the peak. Just as he took to the road, a two-seat convertible that barely reached over his tires came honking out from his blind spot. How easy it would be to squash it under his tire, Edwin dreamed, to fold it up and slip it in his wallet. He pushed the image away by the time he rolled onto his next checkpoint: an inflatable fellow quartered at the driveway of a Honda dealership.

Some of his commuters burrowed in the big metal bus for the eighty-two second ride between the Lanchester and Hudson stops, because the intersection lacked a working “walk” signal. There in the front row of seats slumped an annoying young man, no older than nineteen, who played country music through his phone speakers. Dangled around his neck was a pair of neglected, green earbuds. While Edwin was required to have the radio on at all times, he kept it lower than the engine hum and tuned to the local college station, which idled tastefully on jazz piano. But this man made noise. Edwin hoped when he found his stop, his earbuds would snag him on the railing by the neck and squeeze his eyeballs out his skull.

Edwin reached his third checkpoint, pulled over and rolled the door open – a pavilion which previously hung an ad for a real estate company. Or maybe it was a law firm. Either way, it was blank now. The man with the earbuds got up and stumbled a bit on the stairs. Edwin sneered. He pulled off and coasted under his next checkpoint, a Mario Party billboard mounted above a Citibank. He held the graphic in his mind – Bowser’s brawny arms outspread over a children’s board game – and attempted to count Bowser’s scales. He lost count a few minutes later when, all of a sudden, an elderly man coughed and Edwin worried he could read minds.



At the Safeway entrance, a man offered Edwin a sample cup of sorbet. He wore a belt that snapped the tray of sorbet to his chest, so he couldn’t maneuver himself very much or else the sorbet would teeter off and splatter on his shoes. Edwin found the Safeway less overwhelming than the supermarket around the corner of his complex, mostly on account of the self-checkout system. He didn’t mind the extra walk, nor did he mind how those plastic shopping bags cut his fingers and swelled his fingertips purple like an overfed water balloon.

When he got home, he cooked himself chili and ate at the kitchen counter. He scooped it straight from the pot with the wooden stirring spoon. On the other end of his flat, a stack of second-hand Nintendo consoles sat hunkered around a cathode ray tube television. He no longer needed them to fill silence when he could just open a window. The most attention they received took the form of a biannual ritual in which Edwin gathered all of his Nintendo things, his consoles and cartridges and the cardboard boxes in which they came, and hauled them down to the dumpster for immediate disposal. He performed it to little success. It was usually around the point he spotted the yellow Donkey Kong cartridge among the wreck that his second judgment started nagging him. It would contemplate: what if fate struck you with an evening to kill, and your window glued itself shut? Surely there’s no harm keeping the junk around for such an occasion?

He stored his leftovers in the fridge, found his laptop under a fold-out chair and opened up one of his dating profiles. According to the record, Edwin turned thirty years old last January, and his hobbies include hard cider and modest evenings. He noticed his profile picture depicted him with a full head of hair and decided to update it. (In the summers, he wore a buzzcut.) Upon careful deliberation, he replaced the picture with one he asked his landlord to snap of him in front of his complex, way back when he first moved in, the same one he held off uploading because his nose cast a stubby, unflattering shadow on his upper lip.

A new batch of messages awaited Edwin. First, a curly haired woman whose “howdy” hung limp in the messenger like a passed-upon handshake. Her photos took place mostly inside corporate expos and career fairs, where they rent out hotel conference rooms and install aluminum coffee tanks. She wore beady necklaces, always posed with a coworker, and smiled with both rows of glazed teeth and overbrushed gums. She was hardly the oldest person there, or even past the median age, but she hunched over the same way as the seniors. According to her autobiography, she used to be a cattle driver. Edwin pictured her rodeoing into her next clientele meeting with a spinning lasso and swinging leather canteen.

“Howdy.” Edwin had three other unread messages. One by one, he followed them back to their profiles: first, a short, freckled Jewish lady who went windsurfing in Cape Cod last summer, then a recent divorcee who collected wine glasses, and finally a classics major who fashioned googly-eyed puppets from worn handbags. Sometimes, he found that two unrelated and inconsequential tidbits could tell a story just as well as an actual date, like the stewardess who included ‘no roller coasters’ under General Interests.

As always, he shut his laptop without sending a reply, sunk into bed, and let the weight of his chili ease him to sleep.



Edwin awoke on the deck of a wooden battleship coasting adrift a sea of sun-sheared cotton bells. He sprung to his feet and ventured through row after row of flanking cannons poised in just about any direction imaginable. One of them aimed straight down the base of the mast, which itself supported a quartet of cannons. Only a madman would guide such self-destructive disarray to fruition. Up the stairs he spotted the wheel – Edwin couldn’t quite remember the name of the wheel, the spot where the captain stood and hollered. The helm, of course. He climbed up the stairs and relaxed his hand on the helm.

The ship picked up a thin, frigid breeze. Beads of condensation tickled Edwin’s skin like static shock. He peeked over the railing, saw nothing, squinted, and saw blurrier nothing. He watched until the fog bank dissipated and microscopic Downtown Conway revealed itself. He spotted the corner where a trio of middle schoolers boarded last week, bringing along the stench of garlic knots. Edwin failed to catch the name of the providing pizza parlor and attempted to narrow it down from a list of suspects – there was Eddy’s Pizzeria, which opened around the time Edwin relocated to Skagit County; Luca’s, which served superior breadsticks and decent pizza; Old Stone, whose owner embroiled himself in a stiff rivalry with a neighboring Italian enterprise called Mario’s Delicatessen; and another Luca’s, which Edwin would be perfectly willing to try if only they delivered.

A cabin door unlatched and the deck groaned under someone’s grumpy tonnage. It hounded for the stairs – was it just his eyes, or did the mast keel over? First, his horns came into view, then his fiery comet mane, then his brushed eyebrows. Registering Edwin at the helm, the beast wrung his brawny claws and took off. He drilled his claws into Edwin’s shoulders and craned him off his feet until their eyes shot into one another. Edwin hung in his hydraulic grip while steam whistled out his snot. It smelled of soot. He wrapped his hand around one of Bowser’s searing canines.

The brute loomed a stocky ten feet and bore a green, bullish head crowned by ivory cuckolds and bolted atop broad shoulders by a spiked collar. His eyes smoldered beneath gruff, ropy eyebrows. A pair of canines protruded a rasping, bulbous snout. When he walks, he storms, with his fists clenched and peddling and a dual-spiked lizard tail in tow. His roundish torso heaved like a furnace. His biceps were encircled by iron armlets, an accessory Edwin always found a bit tacky, but wouldn’t dare think so as he hung face-to-face. And finally, the brute hunched himself inside a massive, daggered turtle shell.

Sometimes Bowser would tower over him. Sometimes they stood at eye level. Sometimes Bowser flicked his tail, sometimes he flashed his silver jaws. Sometimes his ropy eyebrows would boil into rage and he would shoot steam daggers out his snout. Bowser had quite the temper. Maybe that’s why he built his lair on a lava lake and set all his stuff on fire. It must be scorching in there. Unlivable. Bowser, always pleased with himself, reins over an empire and an army. He didn’t stumble into his life. He built it. Bowser can build anything and he can do anything.

Edwin liked Bowser’s stinking coal breath. He liked his acrylic corneas. He liked his sculpted horns and he liked his steely grip. He liked when Bowser bobbed his snout against his, close enough to cross his vision. He liked how Bowser’s eyes drifted and melted together. Edwin buried his face in the cusp of Bowser’s neck and breathed his yellow scales. He ran his hand along the cuff of Bowser’s shoulder and tricep and squeezed, with as much force as he could muster with his torn shoulder until he rudely awoke.



On Saturdays, Edwin took the evening shift. With the events of the airship fleeing from his memory, he lingered on his mattress and hoped any suggestion on how to kill an afternoon would magically scrawl itself on the ceiling.

Last Saturday, a seventy-year-old woman named Bernice overheard him shoving his trash in the dumpster. She assumed this commotion could preface none other than the homecoming of her vagrant cat, Kibble. Dismayed at the sight of a human, she asked Edwin to accompany her around the block while she called for Kibble, as if envisioning her ceremonious return increased its likelihood to occur later on. She promised him rice tea and cheese sandwiches afterwards. Grilled cheese.

They arrived at her condominium, forty-five minutes later and catless. She lit ginger pine candles and showed him her collection of tea infusers, then her embroidery machine, then all her different kinds of brushes she employed to unmat Kibble’s hair in the bathroom sink. She said Kibble used to chase away her nightmares and, one night, she caught onto the trail of a nightmare so bone-chilling she chased it past the edge of the county and continues to chase it still. Edwin remembered having to pee through most of her spiel, and struggling to remember if he shut the dumpster. He didn’t know how to leave, so he just stood there with his grilled cheese, unable to accomplish anything.

Today, he avoided the dumpsters and embarked for the park. He wore a white, blue-gridded button down shirt, black shoes, and a pair of pressed khaki shorts with a ring of keys tied around the belt loop on a lanyard. Depending on what sort of hat he wore, he could pass as a bus driver, a security guard, or even a mailman. As he reached the park, he caught the scent of barbecue.

A flock of toddlers chased a roving soccer ball. The soccer ball had the nasty habit of rolling under the more precarious spots – the smoking grill, a patch of poison ivy, the picnic tables. The picnic was reserved in a clearing specked with dandelions and centered around a granite sculpture of what Edwin understood to commemorate a deceased mayor’s dog. One of the adults, probably a parent, whined how much better it would be if they hosted these things in his backyard.

Bowser seems like a raw steak kind of guy. Or, maybe he prefers giant legs of lamb, like those Vikings. His horns resembled their helmets, so it makes sense. Although, Edwin never pinned him as the hunter, trapper type. What if he took in the steaks raw and cooked them in his jaws? Imagine: somewhere, filed away in that wrecking ball skull, lies a wealth of meat-handling techniques.

A sheeted picnic table supported a multi-course buffet: corn chips and salsa, potato salad, grilled chicken and other meats, plastic dinnerware, and paper napkins. Edwin ladled some punch and grabbed a hot dog. He liked it when people hosted their barbecues in public places – no one ever questioned how they knew each other. Edwin’s face looked just as familiar as anyone else’s. The soccer ball thudded against his foot, which he traced back to the pack of frenzied toddlers. He nudged it back and, in spite of no one offering their gratitude, nodded an emphatic “you’re welcome.” Then he licked the ketchup off his fingers and went about his way towards a dusty footpath.

Sometimes when Bowser stomped about his kingdom, his claws would rake a trail. Today, Edwin followed the raking trail down the footpath, which retreated into a thicket and eventually connected to a bailey and drawbridge. The bridge hung off rusty, brass chain links the size of bus tires. Over it loomed a concentric castle. Black cumulonimbuses jetted over the motte. It smelled of coal. Pointed flags rattled on their hinges, brandishing his emblem: the cackling horned beast himself. The gatehouse and barracks looked dead, their parapets unmanned. There seemed to be only one window, one towering stained glass window on the main body, barred over and glowing hell red.  Not a single living thing presided over the bridge to stop him getting in, so in he went.

The iron-studded front doors cranked open to reveal an entry hall, where some million torches smoked up the walls with sticky soot. A gold-fringed carpet stretched towards a door, which opened to another carpet and another door, and then another. The rooms were the same, but not exactly the same. Scorching hot. Unlivable. He realized he wasn’t wearing shoes. The walls growled. He noticed something had carved a trail along the walls. Edwin recalled that sometimes, when Bowser lumbered about his castle, he would drag one of his claws licking along the stone. Edwin traced the trough with two fingers as he went, hall after hall and up a flight of stairs.

He reached the throne room. Bowser’s red velvet chair, empty now, bred narrow golden spikes off high arches. Gems of garnet and sapphire winged the splats and cresting rail. Here is where Bowser sat and brooded, where his torches painted his loathsome shadow. Edwin shivered. He narrowed on the chair, sank to his knees, and pressed his cheek to the cushion. Bowser would undoubtedly unleash horror upon anyone who grappled with his belongings. Edwin shut his eyes and prayed he wouldn’t get away with it.



As a child, Edwin’s mother never liked him going outside. Rarely did he venture past his backyard, a farmhouse which stood some little ways off the fringes of the Arizonian suburbs. Every time Edwin stepped out the front door, his mother tied a surgical mask around his head so the roving plumes of dust wouldn’t choke his asthma into frenzy. She let him loose today as a special favor for his ninth birthday, spying on him from the porch and ready to pounce with his inhaler at the first sign of trouble.

His father worked as the head accountant for a company that mailed health surveys to senior citizens. Edwin recalled a couple details from his office: first, his school portraits were pinned up on the bulletin board next to a calendar, which had just about every date scribbled over with reminders, including Saturdays. Second, his father’s office lacked band-aids, so when he pricked a thumb tack through his elbow wrinkle he had to clean himself with wet paper towels. And third, not to tell his mother about the second thing, nor the menthol cigarettes he uncovered from the empty box of band-aids in his father’s desk.

Edwin’s father used to smoke cigarettes on top of a skyscraper. Two months ago, after a hair-pulling exchange concerning an overworked intern’s obvious deficit of Microsoft Excel training, he disappeared to the rooftop for some alone time. He drew a Camel from his stash, lit up, and sucked the flame down to its filter until his nerves slackened and red faded from his cheeks. With the argument largely forgotten, he flicked the stub away and started back towards the stairs. He would have made it if only that stubby filter hadn’t caught onto a sharp and sneaky air current, one that needled erratically through Phoenix’s skyline, cut back onto the roof where Edwin’s father stood and slapped the stubby filter down Edwin’s father’s throat. His intern discovered him a few hours later, his face blue and his hand clung to the door handle.

Edwin’s mother led him inside and fed him chocolate mousse cake, then retrieved his present: a Super Nintendo starter kit packaged with two controllers and a copy of Super Mario World. Moments later, Edwin found himself dashing through dense rainforests, navigating stone dungeons, and gliding through sky metropoles. He marooned on deserted islands and surfed lava lakes. From that day forth, at three p.m., Edwin’s mother dismissed her son from homeschool, heated a plate of leftovers, settled on the couch with a glass of iced tea, and followed the pixelated adventures with great interest.

In Mario World, Bowser is a cartoon, blurry and indefinite like a figure in the distance. The shading and physics are only somewhat there, yet Edwin would never forget the first time he stormed in and roared his contentious cackle, how it trembled the living room and rattled the ice in his mother’s drink. His stomach froze and his palms perspired. He believed he’d been vexed into some sort of nightmare. His mother never found the beast particularly scary, maybe even a bit silly, but admired the titan all the same.

One night, when he was thirteen, Edwin snuck into the den, flicked on the television, and dialed the volume to a whisper. He fired up the Nintendo 64 and booted the first three-dimensional Mario platforming adventure. As always, he dove into the painting of the fire sea. It didn’t take long for him to overcome the hazards and hop onto Bowser’s platform. He did this just about every night. This time would be different.

Edwin didn’t participate much in boss fights. He sidestepped the projectiles and generally faffed about. The rendering clipped Bowser’s elbows in crystal polygons and sharpened the edges of his green prism head. Steam puffed out his triangular snout in little cotton smudges. The approximation sufficed. He stood before the terrible lizard and pressed his nose against the television. Bowser’s pupils mutated to fit their environment, the same way water expands and contracts when it is heated. His eyes glittered and flittered and grew, boiled up and receded beneath sheets of snakeskin. They shivered like portals to a kingdom of chaos, one you could melt into like those rippling paintings. Before he could make any decision on the matter, Edwin plunged in. An inky chill swished between his bare toes, creeped past his ankles, enveloped his waist, absorbed his neck and numbed his cranium. His leg hairs tingled and his blood froze. He no longer had command over his limbs, now that Bowser had taken over them. He could only watch as his shackled body snaked its hand through the fly of his pajamas, drew out his penis, and jerked off.



By the time Edwin turned fourteen, his asthma had all but completely eradicated. Two years later, he dumped his old inhalers in the trash. When he was twenty-one, right when he turned twenty-one, his mother died. An iron, Arizonian wind tore her lungs asunder one scorching afternoon, right in the spot where she used to watch her son. The officers found her iced tea shattered on the ground, and mostly evaporated. As soon as Edwin heard, he boxed up all his Nintendo things, chucked them in the dumpster, and sat on his mattress for three hours before jogging down the stairs to retrieve them.



At Joe’s shooting range, Edwin retrieved a stainless steel, .686 Smith and Wesson from his locker and set it on a workbench, then he went back for his cleaning supplies: a flathead screwdriver, a worn rag, a bottle of Hoppe’s, an inkwell, a squeeze bottle of oil, a packet of rust and lead remover swipes, a handful of swabs, a couple patches, a nylon toothbrush, a brass needlebrush, a canister of compressed air, and a carbon fiber cleaning rod. He laid them out and went to work.

First he poured some Hoppe’s into the inkwell. Then, gently, he removed the screw which held the cylinder and crane in place, tucked the screw in his breastpocket for safekeeping, removed the cylinder and crane and put them aside on the bench. Then he attached the swab to the end of the carbon fiber cleaning rod, swam it in Hoppe’s, massaged down the barrel and stabbed through the gages of the cylinder where discolored crud and residue clung to the stainless steel. After letting the revolver soak for ten minutes, he removed the swab from the cleaning rod, attached the brass needle brush, and needled it down the barrel and bores, careful not to scratch the steel. He unscrewed the plunger and treated it, too. Next, he swapped out the needlebrush for the patch holder, threaded a patch and snaked it down the barrel to dry. Then he swapped out the patch for a clean one and performed the same for the cylinder gages. He let the revolver dry another ten minutes, then worked out the stains with rust and lead remover swatches. He hissed the cylinder and crane with dust remover, drizzled oil over the crane and cylinder, re-assembled the cylinder and cranked it in the frame. He reproduced the screw from his breastpocket and screwed it back in place, careful not to slip the screwdriver. Finally, he squeezed some oil over the plunger and worked it up and down.

Once he applied the waxing polish, he sat in the locker room and watched his shadow roll over the barrel. It took bullets about the size of his thumb. Moreso than the means to achieve any practical purpose, the revolver resembled something of a practical joke.

Back when he first bought the gun, he let Joe talk him into using fingerless gloves. As Joe said, most newcomers stumble out of their first session with their hands swollen and “pulped out.” He explained it wistfully, as if his advice dragged along the weight of every time it went ignored. Edwin committed to Joe’s idea, and also the plastic clamshell earguards and nylon-strap plastic goggles. When he walked past the other shooters, he felt his eye drawn to their faded callouses. Now, he stared down the range itself, barreled in his shooting lane by wooden panels. The LEDs buzzed bluish-white on the concrete without casting any distinct shadows. Up ahead there hung his target, a six-foot silhouette he named Adam, who shivered in a directionless breeze. He set down a fresh box of .38 hollow points. One, two, three, four, five, six. He nudged six shiny mortars in the cylinder and cranked it shut. It clicked like a beetle. He fastened his grip and attempted to aim the beast – the barrel looked like it’d grown a foot. Adam the Shadow Man tensed and gulped.

He fired, and missed. The gun backflipped. He still hadn’t gotten the hang of leaning into the kick, as Joe frequently reminded him to do, but he tried his best to reciprocate the revolver’s eager handshake with clenched and clammy palms.

He fired again, and missed again. The gun performed another acrobatic. With the noise protection, it sounded as if he and his lane were entrenched in a submarine canyon. As he listened past the swashing of spinal fluid in his skull, he picked up the sounds of a key wrenching in its slot, the wheeze of pressure-sealed doors, intrusions of snipping static, four rumbling, rickety brakes. He saw a red light dangling between him and a neverending stretch of barren pavement flanked by sushi joints, pizza parlors, thrift stores and laundromats, empty pavilions and bony streetlamps. He saw himself throwing the gear shift. The tires screamed bloody murder and the platform rocked. The bus rocketed down the runway, the shops zipped up in a blur and the windshield blotted out with a clap of lightning. Down, down, down he flew, past Lanchester Avenue and King Street and Stewart Boulevard, pancaked to his leather seat. He sensed the wheels sputtering off the asphalt and lifting into frictionless air. The bus narrowed on a flock of pigeons. Edwin couldn’t help but gape in horror as the pigeons, who widened their eyes and unhinged their beaks and kicked out their talons, got shredded against the windshield. Although, it did serve them right, those vermin, those cowardly cretins, how they descended upon his trash every morning to peck forgotten chili scraps, how they scattered upon his approach. He twisted a dial connected to a rubber hose coiled underneath the windshield wipers. The hose spritzed soap water and the wipers squeaked the window clean. A snowy peak revealed itself, the very same that trembled over Conway. He saw its ice carapace hatched up in dark crevasses and dissolving down gravelly ridges, plumes of steam whittling out the central dome. Edwin noticed something inscrutable and probably invisible nestled in its andesitic bay, a beastly shadow stirring toward its waking hours.

Edwin drew his index along the revolver’s chrome central nerve. He fired again. Adam’s shoulder confetti’d, a couple flecks of posterboard disintegrated against his goggles. He now felt slightly less silly wearing them. Edwin’s knuckles drained of blood and shined like white coals. He nestled his fingers in the ridges of the grip and wondered how much effort it would take the beast to crumble away a lava dome and emerge above the clouds, to row back its shoulders and punish the skies with its liberated howls, for the ensuing pyroclastic flows to mummify him where he stood.

The Shadow Man croaked. He fired again, the hammer coughed back and the barrel sniffed silver steam. A misguided hollow point swam past the Shadow Man and embedded in a pallid cinder block. Suddenly, the floor buzzed and quaked, and a hairline fracture bifurcated along the lane. Dust and paint chips rattled off the ceiling, slabs of concrete faulted off one another. A lightbulb burst. All transpired in liquid silence. The other shooters had long made a run for it, presumably dragging along their leathery callouses, but Edwin sensed something big and sinister poised to take their place.

He fired again. Adam’s torso burst and oozed. His wrists creaked, his veins ran black with motor oil, his heart chugged and smoked. Lava pulped out the crumbling concrete and singed the walls. One single, massive forearm buckled around Edwin’s belly, and a lumpy chin plopped upon his head like a sack of boulders. One sole, razor claw grazed his neck. The beast pulled him close, until his heart pounded against his spine. He plucked a vein and a slash of lukewarm came trickling out. The only part Edwin could move, the only appendage Bowser cared to see him flex, was wrapped around the revolver’s chrome nerve.

He fired again. Adam’s shadowy skull collapsed and sprouted a crimson vortex, like astral debris sucked along a nebular disk. He hung on the hook by a single fiber, like a prisoner of the gallows. Edwin felt the ends of Bowser’s chin curling up, as if to smile. Edwin smiled, too. Bowser hooked beneath the flesh and grappled a cluster of tautened tendons. Heat gushed from torn flesh, soaking Edwin’s shirt and puddling up his shoes. Color fled from his skin like air from a wilting party balloon. His light head pulled him off his feet by his heels and left him dangling in mid-air, dragging his toes along the concrete as it crumbled into the olivine-speckled lava. Finally, Bowser ventured his wicked claw to the other flank of Edwin’s neck and opened a second, gaping mouth, capable of guttural ululations but incapable of civilized speech. Edwin cackled, not with his familiar grin but with his new one, bigger and wider and prouder than before. Bowser cackled, too, and together they melted into the boiling abyss. Edwin would remember every moment of his doom as he passed his quarter-way checkpoint later that evening, the way his cells dissolved in the deathly vat and intermingled with the beast’s, how they would fuse together in molten earth and how they would break apart time and time again, as long as eternity cared to play its interminable waltz. Most of all, he would remember the moment just preceding it, the last moment they shared knowledge of their finality: the last moment, when the beast was proud.

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