This is a story written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, Round 1.
It has to be 1000 words or less and my prompts were:
Location: Boxing Gym
Item: Neon sign
Genre: Ghost story
“I don't want to be here! I've been sent here!”
This is new. Something happening.
The guy is built like a wardrobe, but he's hiding his size, hunching his shoulders. From my neon sign, I can see his t-shirt stretch as his muscles strain in unnatural positions.
Joe is taping him, but he's fighting that.
Fighting at the wrong time, my friend, save it for the ring.
He pulls his other hand away as Joe reaches for it – nearly socking Joe a belter. But Old Joe grabs it as if it is a dandelion seed he has plucked out of thin air.
Old Joe is not 'Joe'. He is Stuart. But we call him Joe, to his face and behind his back. Sounds return to the gym and it carries on as ever.
My neon sign has been, 'We are the hampions' for as long as I can remember. That sums up this place: No-one has ever fixed that 'C', and it is true, the joint is full of 'hampions' – also-rans, 'could 'a beens'. The sign is where I live, mostly. It is my haunt.
This is an old-style gym. But it is all I have known, so who am I to say? I don't remember much. I measure the length of my time here by the smells. What? You thought a ghost has no sense of smell? Ectoplasm is not all we deal in. Yucktoplasm, has nothing on the smells that used to hang around. Like the leather, seasoned and pounded. Once, to make a leather punch bag, and then forever buffeted and belted. Biffed until all the life was gone and then punched until even the ghost of the bag gave up its creaking protests. Like me. The fresh blood and old sweat are the same since Victorian times. My times.
But now there's more smells: Sometimes there is a woman. Even when boxing, she brings the aroma of flowers. Even some of the men smell like flowers now, sometimes.
Old Joe used to box. I know he is blind in his right eye. It is a scar wrought from battle: His sparring partner. That man was tiny. He barely came up to Joe's chest, and Joe is not big. But he fought like a strong little rat. Sneaky, looking for the chance to get one in. I still remember that crack of canvas as Joe hit the floor, and then the spray of sweat around him like so much holy rain.
We never saw him again. Can't even remember his name, but he took Joe's eye.
The new guy has been sparring for a month. I'm not sure he loves the smell of the ring like I do. He's scared of the ropes, scared of the middle. He cowers like a new born kitten if anyone comes near him, shiny with sweat. When they get shiny like that, they're slippery. If you dodge at the right time, the punch loses its impact. Come on Ben! That's common sense. There was another guy here for the first couple of weeks. Dark. You could tell he wanted to be ignored. Big, black coat he never took off. Kept a keen eye on Ben.
He reminded me of my Master back when this was a proper house; same eagle stare. That fly-ring followed Ben around for two weeks and never left till he was done training.Then one day, he stopped coming. But I'm glad Ben came back.
They call him Bendy Ben. Everyone gets a nickname if they hang around long enough. Behind his back, they call him Wendy. I wonder what they would call me, if they could see me?
Benjamin Fry. Its a proper, name.
A solid name for a soft little giant. He cowers. He's only just learned to hold his gloves up to protect his gurning gob. And he holds them as if he is the stooge in a circus knife show. But, the poor sod forgets to punch. He forgets to move. He gets hit so much, targets have formed on his chest and his sides. But its the bit when he closes his eyes – just before he gets hit, that tickles me. First time I saw it, I nearly fell out of my sign! I had to dangle on the 'C' till I remembered I could float. So I floated over to the ring.
George was his sparring partner that day. George was going for it, because George is in the semi-finals of the Nationals. He needs to practice and he's good, (still a hampion).
Poor George wanted to get it over with. Two men, closely matched for age, size, reach, power, and one of them standing, hiding behind his gloves with his eyes closed.
I saw George shrug! Then his steely eyes got a dead square look: He had to practice, and all he had was Bendy Ben. He jabbed, then I saw him pouring all his power into that right hook. Ben had no chance.
In that moment between one breath and the next, I remember.
My dress was too long. I said I di'n't want it. But the Master's daughter was getting a new one and I should have this pretty one. And it killed me.
I fell down the attic stairs carrying a tray for Sarah. I heard her yell my name: “Mabel!”.
The punch lands. George's right hook: full of rocks. It would have hit Ben's gloves, but for the first time in his life, he dodges. The punch hits him square between the eyes and I hear a crack like a whip and then a sickening squelch.
* * *
They're shaking me. I open my eyes. Old Joe's pockmarked nose is so near my face that he looks like an old, inquisitive anteater.
Joe looks away. “He's all right, get some water. Someone call an ambulance.”
My ears are pounding...
I raise my hand.