Chapter 1: Tentacular Takedown 1 TENTACULAR TAKEDOWN
Winnie Coyle’s heart pounded with excitement as she made her way down the crowded street. And just like the blood pumping through her veins, the townspeople of Stoker flowed through the streets, eagerly moving toward the heart of their city, the Jimbo Coyle Stadium.
“Hey, Fred!” Winnie said as she moved past the diner.
The burly man wiped his hands on his short apron. He looked up and smiled. “Hey, Winnie!”
Winnie pointed over his head. “The new tentacle sign looks good!”
“Thanks!” Fred replied, proudly gazing back at the neon tentacle stretching across the roof of the diner. The tentacle’s tip curled around the handle of a neon coffee cup. “It’s for Tentacular,” he added. “Pretty clever, huh?”
Winnie giggled. “I love it!”
Fred pumped a fist in the air. “Stoker! Stoker! Stoker!”
Winnie joined him in the chant before moving back into the flow of foot traffic. “See you up there, Fred!”
“I hope we win!” he shouted before flipping over his OPEN sign to reveal the other side. It read: GONE WRESTLIN’! WHY AREN’T YOU?
The entire town was excited too. It had been nine long years since Stoker hosted an official World Monster Wrestling match as big as this one. It was a Big Belt night—a fight for the championship!
Winnie bopped along cheerfully, her pink hair, pulled up in two buns, bouncing as she walked. Although she was only sixteen, she knew everything there was to know about monster wrestling. And she was confident that Stoker’s new monster had what it takes to be champion. Tentacular was going to win; she just knew it!
Of course, it didn’t take a monster wrestling wiz like Winnie to have confidence in Tentacular. As she neared the stadium, ten shirtless boys marched past her, each with a letter of the monster’s name painted on his stomach.
“Ten-tac-u-lar!” they chanted. “Ten-tac-u-lar!”
Just ahead, the stadium loomed before her. The river of fans flowed between towering granite columns and streamed toward the gleaming arched entrance. However, each of them slowed to touch the foot of a bronze statue as they entered. The statue was of a man reaching triumphantly toward the sky. It was Winnie’s father, Jimbo Coyle.
Winnie paused by the figure and placed a hand on its right foot. The statue’s foot was warm and shined brightly, polished by the hundreds of fans before her.
“Bring us luck today, Dad,” Winnie said, gazing up at the statue.
Winnie pushed through the turnstile and ran through the stadium’s large entryway. Most of the fans headed toward their seats, but a long line of them stretched toward the gift shop.
“Hey, Winnie!” someone shouted. She spun around to see Hoppy, the hot dog vendor, gliding by. “Pineapple-slaw dog with extra ketchup coming at ya!” he shouted as he tossed a wrapped hot dog her way.
“Yes!” Winnie said as she caught the foil-wrapped snack with one hand. “Thank you, Hoppy.”
She marched by the line of waiting customers and past the Jimbo Coyle Museum. It was a large alcove displaying a collection of her father’s monster wrestling memorabilia, including his yellow and white hoverbike. Framed photographs showed her father riding the bike, hovering near the head of Stoker’s former championship monster—Rayburn Sr. The orange, striped monster had two sharp horns, a long, whiplike tail, and a body rippling with muscles.
When Winnie reached the gift shop, she spotted a woman with short brown hair behind the register. The lady coolly checked out customers as they madly purchased Tentacular bobbleheads, T-shirts, mugs, posters, and every kind of product big enough to sport the monster’s grinning face.
“Heads up, Mom!” Winnie shouted as she tossed the hot dog at the woman behind the counter.
Her mother, Maggie Coyle, didn’t skip a beat as she caught the hot dog with one hand, her other hand still working the cash register. “Thanks, Win,” she replied. “I haven’t eaten all day.”
Winnie waved as she walked away. “See you in a bit!”
After a couple of turns, she entered the stadium and made her way down the steps toward her seat. Fred was already there, cheering along with the rest of the town.
Music thumped through the stadium speakers, while giant shafts of light crisscrossed in the night sky. Other spotlights washed over the enormous wrestling ring in the center of the arena.
The circle of giant view screens suspended above the ring sprang to life as the announcer’s voice boomed through the speakers. “World Monster Wrestling presents the Smackdown in Stoker!”
On the screens, the WMW logo was replaced with a closeup of the ringside commentator, a goateed man in a sharp blue suit. “Live from Stoker on Avon,” said the man. “I’m Marc Remy, welcoming you at home to the biggest night of monster wrestling in years. Right here in the house that Rayburn and Jimbo built.”
The camera widened to show a huge monster sitting behind the desk next to Marc. He was green with orange spots, with a small glowing orb dangling from a stalk on top of his head.
“And I’m Lights Out McGinty,” the monster said, his oversize mouth stretching into a wide grin. “And I could not be more excited.” McGinty pounded the desk, making Marc fly up from his seat. “But with that excitement comes some sadness, Marc. I can’t believe it’s been nine years since we tragically lost Rayburn and Jimbo.”
“Nobody was greater,” Marc agreed. “We all miss them.”
Winnie felt a lump form in the back of her throat at the mention of her father’s name. She glanced up at the huge banners hanging from the stadium’s upper level. One showed a closeup of Rayburn; the other showed her father. Her lower lip began to tremble. She missed him so much. But then her chest swelled with pride when she realized that she wasn’t the only one.
“Jimbo! Rayburn!” the crowd chanted. “Jimbo! Rayburn!”
“Listen to this crowd,” Marc said. “Boy, this is special!”
“But now we are moments away from seeing if Tentacular can bring the glory days back to Stoker,” added McGinty.
Suddenly the stadium darkened. The spotlights died, and the music faded. Even the audience grew silent.
“Welcome, monster wrestling fans from every corner of the globe,” thundered the announcer’s voice. “Tonight we wrestle for the Big Belt.”
Suddenly the entire stadium shook as something thudded in a slow rhythm. The noise grew louder and the ground vibrated harder as something huge stepped closer and closer.
Winnie craned her neck to see an enormous figure approach through the contestant entryway. Smoke poured out of the opening, and a laser show danced across electronic panels so only the creature’s silhouette could be seen. The monster had beefy arms, broad shoulders, and a shark fin atop his head.
“And now,” said the announcer. “From Stoker on Avon… the hometown hero… the challenger…”
It seemed as if the entire audience held their breath along with Winnie.
“Tennnnnn-tacular!” shouted the announcer.
“Yeah!” Tentacular shouted as a spotlight lit him up. He spread his arms wide, splitting them into three blue tentacles on each side. “Come get some of this!” he yelled as pyrotechnics exploded around him. Fireworks blasted into the sky as columns of flames, smoke, and sparks erupted on all sides.
The audience cheered as the immense monster strutted toward the ring.
“The pride of Stoker is in the house,” said Lights Out McGinty. “He is ready! Look at him go!”
“Wooo!” Winnie shouted. “Do it for Stoker, T!”
“Ah, just listen to that passion!” added Marc.
“Yeah! Tentacular!” shouted a pudgy man a few rows in front of Winnie. He ripped off his shirt and pointed to his chest. “I’ve got your whole life story tattooed on my body!”
Tentacular looked down and grinned at the man. His rows of sharp shark teeth seemed to go on forever. “I hope you saved room for the win I’m going to have tonight!” the monster said.
When Tentacular got to the ring, he reached up and wrapped his tentacles around the top rope. Then he hoisted himself into the air, spinning in a perfect pirouette as he sailed over the ropes. When he hit the mat, the stadium lights went completely dark.
“Let’s light ’em up!” the monster shouted as his entire body glowed with bioluminescent spots. The roar from the crowd was deafening as the glowing beast struck several poses.
When the stadium lights came on again, Tentacular glanced up and saw the blimp hovering above the stadium. A closeup of the monster’s face played on the blimp’s video screen.
Tentacular stretched a tentacle around the blimp and pulled it closer. “Who wants a selfie?” the monster asked, posing for the camera on the blimp. “I do! I’m so pretty!”
“Look at those muscles,” said Lights Out McGinty. “The guy’s traps are busting out of his neck.”
“Yeah, T!” Winnie shouted. “Pop! Those! Pecs!” she chanted along with the rest of the crowd. “Pop! Those! Pecs!”
Tentacular released the blimp and struck another bodybuilder’s pose. “Here I am!” he shouted as his chest muscles danced up and down, delighting the crowd.
Just then the lights went down again. This time, instead of Tentacular’s light show being the center of attention, the air was filled with the sound of trumpets. The royal fanfare played as spotlights appeared on the opposite contestant entrance.
“And now, here comes the King,” boomed the announcer. “Sixty-two feet of pure pain! The Slimy Limey, the No-Bull British Bulldog… Kiiiiiiiing Gorge!”
A giant bulldog stepped out into the light and sauntered toward the ring. King Gorge had broad shoulders and sharp horns that would look more at home on a giant steer. He wore a small crown and a flowing royal cape as he looked down his nose at the crowd.
The audience met him with a barrage of taunts and boos.
“Boo!” Winnie joined in.
“Bad dog!” Fred added. “Bad dog!”
King Gorge sneered and waved a dismissive paw toward the audience. “Bow to your king,” he said.
“You’re going down, Gorge!” Winnie shouted up at him.
King Gorge climbed into the ring and removed his crown and cape. He raised his stocky arms and gazed out at the jeering crowd. The monster grabbed the top rope and roared. Streams of slobber covered the first two rows, better known as the slime zone.
“Ladies and gentlemen and monsters,” boomed the announcer’s voice. “Let’s get ready to rumblllllllle!”
“I’m so ready to rumble!” Winnie’s mother said as she edged toward her seat. She held an armload of Tentacular stress balls. “Who needs a stress ball?” she asked the surrounding fans. She passed a few out before sitting down next to Winnie.
Winnie hardly noticed her mother arrive. Instead, she leaned forward in her seat, concentrating on the two fighters.
The bell rang, and the monsters faced off, snarling as they slowly circled each other.
“And this championship match is officially under way,” said Marc.
Suddenly Tentacular charged and swung at King Gorge with a splay of long tentacles. The giant bulldog easily ducked beneath the blow, coming up behind Tentacular. King Gorge reached a beefy arm around Tentacular’s neck, putting him in a headlock. Tentacular’s eyes bulged as the Slimy Limey squeezed.
“This is awesome! Spectacular! Electrifying!” said Marc. “Whatever word you want to come up with!”
Fred hid his eyes behind a tub of popcorn. “Okay. Breathe, Fred,” he told himself. “Breathe…”
As Tentacular escaped the hold, Winnie squinted her eyes, concentrating on each monster’s classic wrestling moves. “Ooh, there it is! The Inverted Cloverleaf! That was Andre’s move.” Keeping her eyes on the ring, she nudged Fred with her elbow. “He might have this, Fred!”
“Come on. I’m not watching,” Fred replied, nervously peeking out from behind his popcorn. “I’m watching, but I’m not watching.”
King Gorge jabbed at the side of Tentacular’s neck, and Winnie sprang to her feet. “Oh, come on, Ref. That’s a gill-gouge!”
All through the first round, Winnie’s eyes darted back and forth from the ring to the giant video screen above it. Staring at the ring, she could identify each and every classic monster wrestling move, which she had memorized long ago. On the video screen, she watched close-ups of the monster’s faces. Unfortunately, Tentacular’s face showed worry and concern, while King Gorge oozed confidence and a general smugness.
“Tentacular came into this match the hot favorite,” said McGinty. “But this wily old champ has other ideas.”
As the second round began, Tentacular continued to take a beating. Even though he had the reach, King Gorge had the experience. Every time Tentacular would get his tentacles around the bulldog, Gorge confidently licked his nose before whipping the younger monster to the matt.
Winnie shook her head. “Gorge is doing the Irish whip into the flying left hook lariat every time.” She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Come on, T!” she shouted. “Watch that elbow smash!”
Tentacular didn’t. Winnie cringed and the crowd moaned as the blue monster took an elbow to the face. Fred ducked back behind his popcorn.
Winnie cocked her head. There was something about King Gorge’s fighting style that stuck out to her. She recognized all the classic monster wrestling moves; there was nothing new there. No, there was something else that she couldn’t quite place.
Once again, Tentacular wrapped his long tentacles around the giant bulldog. He squared his feet and raised his tail, preparing to flip his opponent. And, once again, King Gorge smugly licked his nose before twisting out of Tentacular’s grasp. He snatched up the younger monster and slammed him to the mat.
Winnie sprang back to her feet. “Did you see that?” she asked. “He licked his nose again! You saw it, right? Just before he hooks left!”
She studied Gorge’s face on the large video screen. She watched as the bulldog licked his nose immediately before slamming a fist into Tentacular’s jaw.
Winnie pointed at the screen. “There! He did it again!”
“Did what!?” Fred asked, peeking around his popcorn. “I’m not watching!”
Winnie shook her head and smiled. “It’s so obvious.” King Gorge had a tell—a small unconscious gesture that signaled he was about to strike. The giant bulldog licked his nose before every attack.
Winnie climbed over the people seated in front of her. “Whoops,” she said. “Heads up.”
“Where are you going?” Fred asked.
Winnie didn’t answer. She scrambled over another row of fans before making it to the aisle. She sprinted down the stairs, accidentally spilling drinks and popcorn.
“Oops, sorry,” she shouted back at them, but she didn’t slow down. She had to make it to the ring.
Winnie didn’t even stop when the stairs ahead of her were blocked by cheering fans. Instead, she jumped to the side and slid down the long metal railing. “Coming through!”
As Winnie slid, she glanced up at the action in the ring. Things still looked bad for Tentacular. No matter what the tentacled monster did, King Gorge gained the upper hand.
“Oh!” Marc Remy shouted. “Gorge has got him in the chicken-wing-over-the-shoulder-drop-face!”
“Tentacular is in real trouble early in this match,” McGinty added. “I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we’re in for another coronation of King Gorge.”
Winnie reached the bottom of the railing and kicked off. She flew over more audience members before latching on to a cotton candy vendor’s tall pole. Bags of spun sugar flew everywhere as Winnie rode the pole down over the rest of the crowd. Her feet hit the field, and she darted toward the giant wrestling ring. She just reached Tentacular’s corner when the bell ended the second round.
“There goes that round!” Marc Remy announced.
Winnie climbed the tall turnbuckle in Tentacular’s corner. She scaled the metal struts and reached the top as Tentacular returned to his corner. Now that she was level with the monster’s head, she could see how woozy and winded he was. He was almost as out of breath as she was.
Tentacular’s coach, Siggy, zipped up on his hoverbike. He hovered just beside the monster’s haggard face. “What are you doing?” the short, older man asked. “This is your chance! Focus, T. Remember the game plan? Get him up on his hind legs, then wrap him up with your tentacles.”
Still doubled over, catching her breath, Winnie raised a hand. “Wait… a second.”
“What!?” Siggy jumped in surprise. “Winnie?”
“Wait,” Winnie repeated between gasps. “He’s got…” She took one more breath. “He’s got a tell!”
Siggy scowled. “How many times do I have to tell you, ringside’s no place for no little girl.”
“He licks his nose every time,” Winnie finally got out.
“What are you talking about?” asked the coach.
She pointed across the enormous ring. “He licks before he strikes.”
Tentacular dabbed at his forehead with a giant towel. “Is Winnie right, Sig?”
All three of them turned to King Gorge. The humongous bulldog casually sipped from a water bottle while his coach scratched behind one of his ears with both hands.
“You’re a good boy, aren’t ya?” asked the coach. “Yes you are. Who’s a good boy, then?” One of the monster’s stubby hind legs kicked as the coach scratched.
Tentacular turned back to Winnie and Siggy. A wide, shark-toothed grin stretched across his face.
Siggy smiled at him and nodded. “Pull up your socks and take this guy out.”
Tentacular tossed away the towel and gave Winnie a wink. “Good call, Winnie. Thanks!”
The bell rang, and both wrestlers moved toward the center of the ring. Now Winnie had the best seat in the house as the two monsters circled each other, looking for an opening.
Then, just as she predicted, King Gorge licked his nose and lunged for Tentacular with lightning speed. This time Tentacular was ready. He dodged the attack and spread his tentacles wide. He grabbed King Gorge by the horns and jerked him off his feet. He swung the bulldog around twice before flinging him into the air.
“Yes!” Winnie shouted.
The stadium erupted in cheers as Tentacular caught King Gorge and raised him over his head. Tentacular let out a deafening roar.
“Yeah, T!” Winnie yelled. “Finish him!”
Tentacular slammed King Gorge to the mat. The vibration nearly shook Winnie off the top of the turnbuckle. The giant horned bulldog didn’t get up; he was out cold.
Tentacular roared in triumph as the referee raced in for the count. “… eight, nine, ten,” the referee finished. “He’s out!”
“We did it!” Winnie shouted as the stadium erupted in cheers.
“Oh, yeah, Stoker!” Tentacular shouted as he proudly hoisted the championship belt high above his head. “I’m going to an unnamed theme park!”
Winnie continued to enjoy her special seating as a large crane extended into the ring. Marc Remy stood in its basket as it pushed in toward Tentacular.
“T!” shouted Marc. “Get over here, big guy! You did it. You are the champion. You got the job done. Can you tell us what this means to you?” He stretched out of the basket, pointing his microphone toward the giant monster’s mouth.
“Marc, let me tell you,” the monster said, leaning forward. “This means so much to Tentacular! But first, I have to thank Stoker.”
“I love you, Tentacular!” yelled a fan.
The monster aimed a tentacle at the fan and winked. “Ooh, this town,” he continued. “You have given Tentacular everything Tentacular needed to realize Tentacular’s dream.” He kissed another tentacle and pointed at the crowd. “I love you, Stoker!”
“Awwww!” Winnie said, right along with the rest of the crowd.
Tentacular nodded. “So thank you, Stoker. You will always have a special place in my heart as the place that Tentacular left to go somewhere”—a grin stretched across his face—“much, much better.”
“What?” asked Winnie, her jaw dropping with disbelief. The entire audience gasped as one.
“Are you serious?” asked Marc. “You’re leaving Stoker?”
“Of course, Marc,” Tentacular replied with a shrug. “I’m about to make history, my own history. Can’t do that in Stoker. Too much history here already.” He pointed a tentacle at the giant Jimbo and Rayburn banners hanging from the stadium roof. “That’s why I’m taking my talents to Slitherpoole!”
Winnie dropped to her knees. “No!”
Tentacular motioned to someone outside the ring. “Jimothy, come here!” A young man on a hoverbike floated toward the ring. Tentacular nodded at the man. “This is my ticket to bigger and brighter things, Marc.”
The man had a thin beard and was dressed from head to toe in Slitherpoole gear. He held up a finger on one hand while he tapped on his phone with the other. “Let me finish this killer… tweet,” Jimothy said.
When he was done, he flew down and snatched the microphone from Marc’s hand. “That is right, Marc,” he said. “Now the big guy can actually win somewhere that really matters.” He raised a triumphant hand. “I’m talking about Slitherpoole!”
The audience booed and yelled as Jimothy hovered back up to Tentacular. One of the monster’s tentacles took the tiny microphone and held it close to his mouth.
“So thank you again, Stoker,” Tentacular shouted above the boos. “Much love! T out!” The monster released the microphone, letting it drop several stories to the mat below.
Winnie fell back, plopping down atop the turnbuckle. She watched in shock as Tentacular vaulted over the ropes and swaggered toward the locker rooms. He passed under an electronic sign flashing: HOME OF RAYBURN AND JIMBO. The monster balled up his tentacles and smashed the sign as he strolled beneath it. He disappeared down the corridor amid a shower of sparks.