Chapter 8 Page 36
Posted August 31, 2023 at 05:00 pm

We all love and remember the previously-unnamed karate ghost Crush, don't we everybody. And Grandpa too



        Ed had a lot on their mind. It could be a busy place even in less turbulent times; the world hid weird bugs and silly-looking spirits everywhere, not to mention rocks and sticks, and when they weren’t caught up parsing those, they still had old cartoons and Chun-Li frame data to think about. Adding in a doomsday prophecy and confusing drama at home and at school had thrown their head’s clutter all about—and they preferred the mess up there the way they’d made it

        Luckily, Ed did some of their best brain-sorting while trapped inside a headlock.

        “Ha ha! You better tap out, little man!” laughed Crush, who must not have known that little men were called boys. “Three-two-one!” the buff ghost counted, then again: “ThreetwoONE hut hut HIKE!”

        Crush must not have known how wrestling worked either, because he never let go once he’d pinned Ed when they sparred, and he would score every subsequent three count and tap out as its own separate victory, without ever releasing them. Today Ed lost ninety to zilch, a gap that was still growing every second (since Crush could fit three seconds into one—he must not have known how to tell time either).

        Ed stared over meaty muscle hillocks, past the other students training all around them, to the much worse fight unfolding on the far side of the porch. There were no fists involved in this one, which only made it all the more intimidating.

        “I shouldn’t have told you anything!” Isabel was shouting, streaming swirls of blazing red. “I should have saved the town myself, and TAKEN Flipflop’s friend back without asking... but NO! I thought you’d care, even just a little. I thought for ONCE you’d take me seriously!”

        Grandpa Guerra stared off past her, sitting rooted with one fist against the ground. “I am taking what you’ve told me seriously, and my men and I will handle it with the composure it deserves. As you cannot, it seems, young lady.”

        Ed grimaced. They’d been fighting off and on like this since Isabel got home. Ed could always tell when she’d been dropped off by her dad instead of Miss Chen, because she’d cut through the field up the hill rather than suddenly appear upon the porch—Mister Guerra never drove close enough to make eye contact with Master Guerra, whom he’d been feuding with for years. Tonight, though, her expression alone had been plenty proof that she’d just left the father frying pan and fallen straight into the grandfather fire.

        “I’m not—” Isabel sputtered. “It’s not about me—”

        “No it is not. And yet you’ve made it so.” Grandpa Guerra shook his head, tactically calm. “What did you expect that I’ve denied you? That I would hear your prophecy and share your panic? That I would free a spirit that attacked my home, not only at the behest of its accomplice, but at once, without sparing a thought for sense or safety?” He sighed. “If you want a show of care, then by all means, ask your father. I will do what’s best for you, and weather your scorn if I must.”

        “What’s best for me?” Isabel asked, her voice trembling. “How can being miserable be what’s best for me?! Why’s what’s best never what I want? Why’s it always what YOU want?!”

        “Because I’ve seen the world you haven’t,” the old ghost answered, unmoving and unfazed. “When you are older, stronger, wiser, what we want will be the same. Until then...” Master Guerra held Flipflop’s vessel aloft, clutching the confiscated umbrella firmly in his fist, “I will allow no further whispers in your ear. You’ve failed this test. Assess yourself in solitude, and ready for the next one.”

        Isabel roared in frustration, kicked the porch, fighting back tears, and spun to storm inside.

        “Izzy!” Ed called out after her, squeaking free from Crush’s sweaty muscles.

        “I’m fine,” she shot back.

        Ed wilted. That was code for “don’t follow me,” even if she really wasn’t. They watched as Isabel slipped out of sight.

        “Tough break, little man.” Crush had reapplied his headlock. “Little lady said get lost!” It seemed he didn’t know what girls were either. Ed thought that was tragic, or maybe ideal, or maybe neither of those things—they’d been lost on that front too since their strange conversation with RJ and Johnny the other day

        Crush laughed. “Looks like the only shoulder gettin’ cried on tonight is my elbow! Ha ha ha!”

        Ed considered this kind offer, but wasn’t really feeling tearful. They felt more like a wet match or a sock that didn’t have one. Useless—no, that wasn’t it. Inadequate? Ed felt present but purposeless, like a bystander to an accident, like a human in a Transformers movie. That WAS what Isabel had asked of them, for Ed to just stand by her side... but they couldn't help but wonder if that’s just the most she thought that they could offer.

        The bespectacled spectral sighed into Crush’s bicep, as best its mighty girth allowed his lungs. Isabel was almost like a sister to Ed, in large part because she legally literally was. Ed never called her that, though, or called Miss Chen their mom. Everyone in Ed’s family—and Mr. Spender, too—knew Ed’s real parents. They were spectral scientists, or something, and had been spirited away in a strange incident that occurred when Ed was only just a baby. Everybody still seemed very sad about it, though, and seemed to think Ed should be too... and so they called old photos mom and dad, and always kept a little distance from the only home they’d ever known.

        A real sibling would know how to help Isabel, Ed thought to themself. Or someone smarter. Eightfold, Dimitri, Mr. Spender, they always knew the right words... when they stuck around to say them. Ed’s parents were supposed to be brilliant—why couldn’t they have at least left Ed some genius genes behind? Heck, Spender had told Ed that the Burgers were strong, too, that they’d chase grudges like storm chasers would chase storms, if storm chasers sometimes had to beat up tornados. If only Ed could be that fearless...

        A long sigh wafted out their lips in wisps of green. More than anything right now, Ed wished that they could be somebody else