Fat Charley was a ghost, and Fat Charley was unhappy. He slumped beside the polar bear, the only living creature who could see him. Alive, he’d been a baker, famous for confections shaped like monkeys, wildebeests and capybaras, pangolins and zebras. In the City of the lion and the magician, Fat Charley made the lion’s favorites, cream-filled donuts, dusted with the finest cinnamon.
And then, one day, the lion ate him.
“You should have held your tongue,” the polar bear repeated. “You know he has a temper.” Fat Charley nodded, mournful.
He was struggling with the rule book of the dead. “Do you know I only exhale, and with a breath that stinks of warm Swiss cheese?”
The polar bear turned his doleful eyes upon the baker. “I am aware,” he said.
“And no eating! Can you imagine? I’m a baker! Now I’ve nothing but the falling rain and even then I leak!” The polar bear just sighed.
The last straw fell on Tuesday when his bakery reopened as a curry shop. Fat Charlie hated curry. “That’s it,” he sniped. “I’m a going to haunt that lion.” In a fit of bravery, he grabbed the creature’s tail. His fingers slipped through fur and bone as if they had been butter.
The lion yawned and licked his chops, those rows of gleaming teeth. Fat Charley wet himself. It was a terrible indignation to discover that self-soiling was still possible when food and drink were not. He wept crocodile tears into the polar bear’s thick fur.
“Now, now,” the old bear rumbled. “Cut that out.” He’d seen a host of dead, but Fat Charley drew his pity. The poor man was pathetic. The bear came to a decision.
“If I tell you how to haunt the lion, will you lighten up?”
Fat Charley wiped his eyes with doughy hands and nodded.
The totem was exactly where the bear described it, twenty stories up. It was a lion’s head in stone, the same size as a fritter. Fat Charley tweaked its granite nose. Then he opened up a vial of cayenne pepper and poured it in the lion’s mouth.
Across the wide expanses of the City, the baker heard a roar. He chortled.
“Happy?” the polar bear asked later. Fat Charley nodded with a beatific grin. “You know it only works the once,” the bear admonished. “Once was fine,” Fat Charley said. “I’m going back to baking.”
“I thought you ghosts could only eat the rain.”
“Tis true,” the baker said, still smiling. “But we can sniff just fine, and there’s a market for alluring scents — nutmeg, cloves, vanilla, cardamom, and anise. I’ll make a killing.”
Across the Square, the lion caught the chuckle of a polar bear. He was disgruntled, wretchedly distracted, losing every game of chess with the magician. No matter what he ate or drank, he couldn’t shake the taste of cayenne, the stink of warm Swiss cheese, or the craving for a cream-filled donut dipped in buttered cinnamon.
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