Meltdown XXV and Fallout 025 || Promo Thread

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Jimmy King

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The deadlines for both shows is:

Sunday 8th January, 2023 at 23:59 Pacific Time.
Monday 9th January, 2023 at 03:00(am) Eastern.
Monday 9th January, 2023 at 08:00(am) UK.
Monday 9th January, 2023 at 11:00(am) Turkey.
Monday 9th January, 2023 at 19:00 Melbourne.

There will be no extensions. Good luckl!​
 

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December 22nd, 2022
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Budapest, Hungary

0-3

Dreams of making it to the second round of the F1 Climaxxx Tournament-

Crushed.

Beyond the curtains, the FWA Television Champion is leaning on an official who is taking great care helping her to the back. Her championship is being carried by another official. Vampyra’s gear has a rare red and green trim, trying to show a little bit of holiday spirit. One arm of her’s leans over the shoulder of the referee helping her. The other has a bag of ice which she holds on her neck. With a combination of a Tiger Driver ‘98 and a Psycho Driver from the current tag team champion on her, she might be feeling some discomfort in her neck for the next few days. But most notably, the knee. The knee which was targeted heavily by Phillip A. Jackson, further attacked by Shawn Summers with a bat and Michelle, wisely, targeted it again. She did her best to work around it, not like the strategy hasn’t been used against her before, but she fell short. Now, no chance of her making the F1 Semi-finals.

Heading to an area which appears to be a somewhat makeshift interview area, rather than the usual set up, given the venue they are in, it is a black backdrop with repeating logos including the Meltdown Logo, the FWA logo, and several sponsors. Todd Salum is standing there in his best charcoal suit, microphone in hand. The officials take her to him, helping her gently get her foot down. Even with a mask, we can visibly see the FWA Television Champion wince. Todd moves Vampyra’s left so that an official, off-screen, can be leaned on so she can keep some weight off her injured leg. Her left hand holds her championship belt. The FWA interviewer keeps things professional and Todd keeps a somewhat subdued tone, being considerate to the emotions running through Vampyra’s head right now.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am Todd Salum here with a social media exclusive interview, my guest at this time is the FWA Television Champion, Vampyra. First of all, Vampyra, admirable performances throughout the F1 Climaxxx tournament, especially for someone still new to this company, and despite a monumental victory, winning the FWA Television Championship at Fallout 23, has not translated to the tournament. An 0-3 record despite great efforts and gaining some support from the FWA fans, even fighting through potential injury.”

Vampyra visibly moves her eyes away from Todd Salum.

“Now, I know a lot is going through your head right now. Mathematically eliminated from the tournament, still feeling the effects of the heinous attack from Shawn Summers. So I just want to know ‘What are your thoughts right now?’ Just about anything.”

He moves the microphone closer to Vampyra and we can hear some heavy breathing from the champion. It takes time for her to find the will to say anything to the interviewer. But, she mutters something fast in Japanese.

“This is frustrating…”

Todd politely responds. “Mind translating that for our audience?”

Vampyra pulls the microphone closer to her face and snaps a touch. “I am frustrated!”

Todd Salum blinks, taken back a touch by the response from the FWA Television Champion. He keeps the microphone close to her, expecting a follow up. So, she just responds plainly, saying slowly.

“F-Fuck Summers… Fuck Michelle. Fuck…” And she lets out a discontented grunt and Todd’s surprised by the vulgar language. Realising she should probably avoid saying something she will regret, she says one more thing in Japanese.

“I can't do this interview, sorry…” Then turns away and, even with a visible limp, walks away.

Todd Salum keeps his composure and turns to the camera. “As you can see, emotions are running high for the new FWA Television Champion after her elimination. We will keep tabs on the rest of the F1 Climaxxx tournament and the fallout from it-”

Going towards the locker rooms, Vampyra carries her championship head down, her knee is in great pain but just from pure anger, she is gutting it through. An official follows her, trying to encourage her to visit the trainer’s room to check it over, but she gently keeps him away. Getting close to a part of the tent where her “locker room” is for the outdoor venue, the official finally catches up to her. He helps Vampyra from falling to the ground, but she grabs onto his shirt.

“Vampyra, please. You need to have someone check out that knee. Just out of precaution.” He politely asks her.

-Later…” Vampyra mutters. “P-promise,” and grabs onto his shirt, trying to keep herself up. The promise is enough for him to accept and he helps her towards her tent. There is a flap which is kept closed with velcro. It is unzipped and Vampyra enters and is left alone.

It isn’t much of a set-up. Grass is visible on the ground. A bench is placed on the ground, giving her a place to sit, in front is her bag. A clothing rod rack is next to it so she could hang her gear up. Several folding metal folding chairs are placed around. A light is in the corner so the area is fully lit. It is somewhat small. As a way to keep her identity private, FWA allows her to change separately to other wrestlers. It is a small gesture, but one which goes a long way.

Not even making it to the bench, Vampyra lies on the ground, looking up at the pitch of the tent. Blinking, she breathes heavily. Tired, upset, anxious. She put so much pressure on herself for this match and she cracked. Then, the slit of her tent opens slowly for two familiar friends. Cali Hayama and Kimmy make their way in. Kimmy has a red sweater, green vest, and a beanie with the logo of Cali and Vampyra’s stable on it, MAYHEM. Cali’s silver locks are visible with her wearing a light gray jacket and jeans. Around both their necks are lanyards with the FWA logo on them reading “Visitor.”

“Vamp, I’m so so-” Kimmy is about to say something, but Cali puts her hand up and tap her shoulder. She whispers to her long-time friend.

“No. Just, not now. Trust me.” She looks Kimmy in the eyes, showing she’s genuine. Cali walks over and lends a hand to Vampyra helping her up off the ground. She lets her masked friend lean on her to keep weight off her leg. Getting to the bench, Vampyra sits down.

“Hey Kay, mind grabbing a chair for her?” Cali looks at Kimmy and she grabs one of the steel folding chairs. She opens it and Cali moves it so that Vampyra can raise her leg. She grimaces as her leg is raised, but she rests it on the chair. Kimmy places the FWA Television Championship on the bench and both of them sit on either side of Vampyra.

Cali, with her experience in wrestling and also being known as someone who heavily dislikes losing, empathises with her friend and tag partner. Doing well so fast, and yet having the result be just to smash against a glass ceiling faster than normal, is agonising. She pats her friend on the back, not needing to say anything. Vampyra glances up and Cali gives a small grin.

“Take all the time you need.” Cali then repeats something from their mentor. “Remember, the worst time to talk about this stuff is right after it when emotions are running high, that's what Saori tells us. There’s better ways to express it, right, Kay?” She winks at Kimmy who nods.

She stresses. “Take it easy. We’re here for you. Always. Remember that.”

And she pats her on the back again. Vampyra doesn’t say anything back. She doesn’t need to. Though a lot of emotions still boil inside her. Anger, dread, stress, fear, and more, a mixture of absurdity, those reminders are enough to slowly start the process of cooling off.

Vampyra Presents…

A Cyber-Kay Production


SecondLife.png


A grey crosses over the sky like a blanket. The air is still. In the middle of a city, a graveyard plants itself in the middle. Cut off from the metropolis with stone-brick walls and metal gates, it remains isolated as the final resting place for many. A small crowd of people in all black stand near a casket and open grave. Open, the casket reveals a woman in a familiar mask, an all black look. Small horns peak out near the ears, fangs near the mouth, and a “V” on the forehead. Matching her mask, the young woman who has met an early end has a black dress on. Her arms are crossed on her chest, eyes closed, appearing at peace, an end of suffering. Flowers are placed in the casket with her, black roses mostly. Speaking in front of the small crowd is a priest with a signature white collar. Wearing a wrestling mask, it is predominantly white with a black trim. The few people who have gathered near-by, also wear a collection of wrestling masks, each of them holding a flower. He opens a book, clearing his throat and speaks.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to celebrate the life of a young lady who was taken too soon. Her life was short and to many was a mystery. We do not know of her next of kin. But yet, the lives she did touch left an impression which will remain for all eternity. Venturing to new lands, she pursued her dreams. But, in her pursuit of it all, she went beyond her bounds, peaking early, and we leave her here today in her final resting place.”

The priest turns to the casket. “She was a woman who lived a life of privacy, only opening her doors to a select few. For those few, they found her a true and genuine friend, far from a monster as some may see. Someone with a genuine heart. Battling her fair share of personal demons, she taught us all a lesson in courage, to face challenges head on, even if you succumb to them. And should that be what we remember someone by?”

His hand gently touches the end of the casket

“Think of the memories, however many, which create moments. Those moments can be just a glimpse into the future, be gone in a moment, or some may last a life-time. So, join with me as we have a moment of silence in prayer…”

The priest and the group of mourners gather in a circle and hold hands together. They close their eyes and the Priest begins a prayer which is almost silenced as the feed zooms in closer on the casket. The woman’s masked face appears lifeless as the top half of the lid is shut.

“Now, for those here, we request that you place a flower as a last token of respect to this young lady taken from us too soon.”

One by one, each person places a flower on top of the grave. The emotions of each person ranges from sadness to doing their best to keep a strong face. Truth is, with loss, each person handles it differently. After all the flowers are placed, the pallbearers lift the casket and gently lower it into its final resting place. A shovel is grabbed and slowly, Earth is piled onto the casket. Slowly, the flowers and the coffin are covered entirely in soil. A golden wrestling belt is placed on top of the tombstone, resting. We get a glimpse of the text of the gravestone.

Rest in Peace

Vampyra

2001-2022


Time passes.

The sun begins to set with the clouds beginning to clear, showing some orange from the setting sun.

Crunch.

Crunch.

Footsteps are heard in the dirt. Heading to the grave, the camera is low, only focused on the tombstone as we get a glimpse of the feet of the visitor. Tan coloured suit pants and proper dress shoes, shined. The voice of the visitor is rather egotistical and condescending, a male’s voice.

“I’m genuinely proud of you, darling…” The speech echoes what was said by Shawn Summers on social media following Vampyra’s television win, then we get a snide laugh. “HA! Not!”

He spits on the grave before continuing. “To think, this was the person chosen to fill my shoes? A woman no-less? Pathetic. Everything was going right until the world was against me then you, like a vulture, scavenged the trash left from me. You’re a phony. A fake. A mask-wearing freak. You got what’s coming to you. So enjoy it. Go rot in your grave… And I will take what’s mine.”

His hand clutches the championship belt on the grave. He tugs it… But for some reason, it doesn’t budge. “What the-”

The visitor pulls harder by the belt, by some unknown force, and stays attached to the gravestone. Eventually, he gives up. “Out of your cold dead hands then? Ha. Whatever. Keep it. Just by my words I can find myself something else, better. Bye-bye, forever.”

Turning, he walks away, his footsteps crunching as he leaves.

More time goes by. Night begins to creep its way over the horizon as the graveyard slowly begins to be taken over by the shadows. Then-

More footsteps.

A woman’s legs appear, heading to the freshly dug grave. She paces around it, getting a long look at it. The perpetrator always returns to the scene of the crime. She has a Dutch accent. “Well, wasn’t it fun to crush your dreams?”

She has a cold laugh. “It’s great to see someone six feet under, someone trying to take my dreams. Of course, my dreams are all that matter. Which is why I will never go away. Which is why I will never be beaten. It does not matter how talented you are, or how much you really need it or want it, all that matters is what I do. That especially goes for a masked freak like you.You had no friends. You have nobody to care about you, not like me. Now you met your end with everything turning into your own nightmare.”

Her foot kicks some dirt on the grave.

“Enjoy your eternity alone…”

And the visitor walks away.

Now night has fallen.

The sky is covered in black. A faint amount of stars appear in the sky as the light pollution of the city has shut out the majority. The moon is full with a silver glow. All is quiet in the graveyard, one of the few parts of the city which remains void of nightlife. It is a place for the rest of the souls long gone.Then-

The scream of a woman. She is in panic and in worry.

“H-help me! Please! Anyone!?” The voice screams but soon enough, silence once again as her screams go into the air and life escapes from it.

Footsteps soon make their way back in the graveyard. Frantic panting from a gentleman is heard. Even with the darkness, we see a faint look of the legs of someone making their way through the graveyard. Ripped and faded jeans with Chuck Taylors, the shoe and not a person. Red splotches are on his pants and shoes. Blood. Taking a break from running, he leans on a near-by tree, breathing heavily.

“I- I can’t believe I did it.”
His voice shakes. “I put her out of her misery. I knew things wouldn’t last but I couldn’t walk away. I should have faced reality when the other two passed. She needed it. I didn’t have a choice, yet why do I feel bad?”

His breath is still slow and heavy. He stumbles near the grave and a light shine appears from an object in his hand. A knife. Blood drips, some of it touching the soil.

“-But on second thought…” His voice goes cold. “It is in my nature. I-I’m a snake.” And a cold laugh appears, revealing his true self. “I can’t change who I am and I needed to do what I did. Maybe I couldn’t last in the shadow of her? Maybe I needed to use others as my platform. Bring a concept from the dead to kill it myself… And now I’m free.”

He laughs, “I’m free of her. I’m free from her and others. And maybe it was nice seeing the life drain from her. Maybe the agony I had was a rush… An attempt to kill the remorse that I had. I don’t need to worry now, I won’t fail them, I won’t fail anymore. I’m a hurt man, but I’m free. The money, the power, the fame, I can can redefine it-”

Red and blue lights appear over the horizon as sirens blare. The killer, panicking, turns and rushes, but from the darkness, he trips over the gravestone! Falling face first into the dirt, he drops his knife. Dragging himself off the ground after eating dirt, he turns to face the gravestone.
“Fucking…” And in a fit of rage, he kicks it. The Tombstone doesn’t budge, and he holds his foot.

“Damn you! I don’t care who you are, she’s going to be buried next to you…” And the killer turns around and runs, forgetting his knife.

Blood slides off the steel of the knife and is absorbed by the freshly dug dirt. The sirens nearby stop their screeching, and a light red and blue glow is all that is left. The ground near the knife.

Suddenly begins to shift. At first it is slight movement. Before a hand reaches its way out of the dirt and grabs the handle of the knife. Slowly, crawling out of the grave is the woman who passed. Still covered in dirt, her skin appears pale. She has her mask on, the black dress is in tatters. She’s on all fours, gasping for air. Speaking Japanese, she mutters.

“Who w-woke me up from my sleep?” She gasps for a few more breaths.”

Looking down, she notices the knife her hand rests on and takes a long look at it, the details. Carved into the handle we see… “Executive Execution…” in an intricate design. Soon, her eyes go to the blade and between the spots of blood, she sees her reflection. Her eyes appear tired, lifeless.

“Just look at me…” She blinks. “I met a terrible fate. . . To have everything taken from me so soon. To have my hopes die. My life suffered from it. I thought everything would be different. But the more and more I fought, the more I left myself weak. Fight…”

Her mouth is dry. Her eyes are glazed over. “Fight a quick yet grueling war. Why did anyone believe in me. . . believe in me to be a worthy idol to live through? I pity myself. I feel ashamed for what I have done. I thought that was left in the past, left long ago. And yet where did that leave me? An afterthought. Someone who soon will rot into the Earth. I was stupid…”

Looking closely at the knife, she examines it.

“I got involved in something I should not have. People didn’t care about me or my story. I was thrown to a pack of beasts. No heart, just pure hate. Why? Why did I do that? For power? Fame? Wealth? Ambition? Or maybe I wanted to just belong…”

Slowly, her head glances down towards the grave. “And now, I seem to be alone. I’ll be forgotten in the grand scheme of things and why would they remember me? I am a freak in the mask. I am not worthy enough to dream. I collapsed under pressure. Nothing I said would happen came to reality. Just failure at every turn…”

Her eyes go up to her tombstone to see the belt dangling above it. “I’m not even sure if I truly deserve to have that. Why would someone want someone like me to carry on that legacy or create a new one? I deserve my fate. I deserve everything to come my way…”

Footsteps are heard again. Looking up, she sees a young lady walking to the grave. Of Asian descent, she has silver locks visible under the hood of her jacket. Her friend. Blinking slowly, the masked woman is shocked as if she is the one who’s seen a ghost. Yet, for some unknown reason, her friend doesn’t see her. She walks past and kneels in front of the gravesite. Her tone is sombre and she talks to the grave.

“This was completely unexpected.” She speaks Japanese, though her cadence is slow, perhaps having it as more of a secondary language. “The end comes a lot sooner than some expect. Bad things can happen to good people. I hurt for you. The void left by you may never be filled. I will miss you. I truly will…”

Realising she is unseen, the masked woman stands behind and watches, dragging her light leg as she moves.

“But I do not consider this a goodbye. I am not one who believes in much of an after-life, but I always think your spirit will be with me. It will live on. It will be through my memories and how you left a positive impression on my life. I remember how when I was scared and needed somebody that you reached out to me. You guided me. You accepted me. As I went on new journeys you were the one who supported me.”

Her hand gently touches the dirt. “And I know you are always a private person. You put on a mask and put on a performance for people and yet you let me see beyond it. I saw you for you and that means a lot and maybe I could not return the favour to you in kind.”

The girl mourning her lost friend has a catch in her throat, “But at a distance, I think I always was behind you in some way. And I’m proud of you. Others are proud of you. We still are. You faced unlikely odds and still powered through. Even through pain. Even through mental struggle. You have done amazing things. You did fail, but that happens. Real failure is you never trying at all. It took bravery, beauty, and strength to do what you have done.”

She is having a hard time containing her emotions. A tear rolls down her cheek. Seeing her friend, mourning her like this, the masked woman moves closer and gently puts her hand on her shoulder. Her friend might not see it, but a small grin appears on her face, as if she knows.

“I- I am always your friend.” She wipes the tears from her face. “And I know there are people that will relish in your end, but those people are going to get what they deserve in time. Some way and somehow. Those who relish in the end of others or cause it will get what comes to them.I know it will. If all was right, you would get a second life. You deserve it…”

Reaching into the sleeve of her jacket, she pulls out a red rose, holding it in her hands.

“This is just a long way to say thank you. Thank you for everything, my friend.” Gently, she places the rose on the grave and gets up. Unable to see her masked friend, she walks past, leaving the graveyard.

Looking long in the direction where her friend went, the masked woman takes some time to understand what she just watched. A slight grin appears on her face.

“So long, friend…” She does her best not to cry as well, covering her eyes with her hands.


“Why was I so blind? Why did I forget that? Maybe if I would have remembered, things would be different.” She sighs. “But I should not be weighed down by my mistakes. Then they would win. Those who take joy in my dreams dying a painful death will not win. Revenge will come in some way. It is just a matter of using it as a fire to ignite my spirit. Maybe I will begin a second life? One where I learn my lessons and seek guidance from those who do care. In the new life, I can tune out the noise… and be calm again. Then I will accomplish something I always wish to be- better.”

Sirens blare out again from the commotion near-by as the red and blue lights flash brighter. Going to see the commotion, the masked woman moves towards it. Her right leg drags behind her, weak. On the side of the road, vibrant police tape is used to mark out a crime scene. A chalk outline is on the ground as police place numbered cards around different pieces of evidence. Near-by is a police car, firetruck, and ambulance. The medics are putting a body in a white body bag. Before the victim is zipped up, we get a glimpse of her. She has a revealing leather outfit, blood near her ribs and throat. Long golden locks are seen and she has vibrant red lipstick. Under the cut on her throat is a golden necklace. This woman lived a lavish life-style. The paramedics talk.

“Poor woman. She was stabbed everywhere. Back, abdomen, neck.” He zips her up. “Whoever did this was out for blood.”

“Seemed to me she was also pretty stinking rich.
His buddy responds. “And yet whoever did this didn’t take anything. Probably it wasn't a robbery.” One of the officers turns to them.

“Leave the crime solving to us and forensics.” He quips, likely used to gruesome scenes like this. “Just get them to do an autopsy and identify the body. We’ll put the pieces together in no time.”

The body is loaded into the ambulance as the masked woman looks on, still unseen by anyone. Looking down in her hand, she gets a glimpse of the knife. The murder weapon. She thinks to the voice of the third person who walked over his grave. Eyes open wide. She knows who did this.

“I do not know you, but I feel sorrow for you.” She talks to herself. “Betrayed by someone you trusted. I have nothing left to lose. It would be wrong of me to let him walk by with nothing to pay for. Too many times, people are rewarded for misdeeds. I am not someone to give into her sin, not anymore at least-”

She tightens her grip on the knife, “But maybe it is time for me to show some wrath… What will it matter? My first life is already over…”

Turning the knife around, she goes the other direction, “Might as well take someone deserving down with me…”

Dragging her leg, she heads the other direction like a zombie possessed. Not looking any other way, she has a target and will not stop until she gets him.

Time passes.

The killer, not yet found by police, moves in the street late at night. His jeans and shoes still have blood on them, but he’s keeping out of the streetlights, trying to be unseen. Just a little further to go before he can maybe wash away the blood. In the bushes, the masked girl gets a glimpse of him before she quietly approaches, keeping behind him. There is still a hint of distance between them as the right leg of the masked woman continues to drag behind.

Stopping, the killer gets the feeling of being watched. The masked girl is under a street lamp light. He turns around-

And sees nothing as the light flickers off.

He has a double take, blinking. He swore he saw someone. Uncertain of what is to come, he goes into a near-by alley and hides behind a trash can, looking up. The girl is gone. She isn’t there. Finally,

A hand grabs him!

Throwing the killer to the ground, the masked woman stands over him with the very knife he previously used. The head of the killer hits a dumpster, leaving him in a daze. As he comes to, finally, he notices the girl. Looking to her hand, he recognises the knife.

“N-No!” The man is nervous. “D-Don’t do this to me. Please…! I have money, I have anything I can give you. I don’t need any of it anymore. It’s all yours! Please…”

The woman has a cold scowl on her face. She leans down, speaking Japanese. “Silly reaction. This might be fun…”

“I-I don’t understand…”
He moves slightly to the side, trying to get away, but with the fall he took, he can’t escape as the knife-wielding woman keeps close. “I-Is this for what I did to her? Please, I didn’t have a choice, you see. I couldn’t-”

“You had a choice… You made it… So there are consequences”
She says in English for the first time, but then quickly switches back to her native tongue. “I did not care for that woman. But I know a thing about loyalty. Destroying it is a cowardly act. I do not buy your words. You are a sinner. You are a snake. If all is right in the world, you will have hell to pay, so why wait? I have nothing left to lose, so why not? How about I cut the head off this snake now-?”

In a desperate act to save himself, the killer jumps forward but he finds himself gasping for air. The knife cuts deep into his gut and he shakes. The very knife he used against his former friend is used against him.

“What's wrong, snake?” The masked woman asks in Japanese. “Don’t like it when someone does it to you?”

Blood appears near the killer’s mouth. “I-I am s-” He coughs up blood. “S-Sorry…” and the masked woman shakes her head in response.

“I’ll tell you what is going to happen in your language… So you understand.” She speaks in English. “You are but an appetiser to a renewed life. My after-life. I’m going to develop a taste for blood and I will seek the blood of all who wish to defile me. It only helps that you deserve this fate. You will join her in the afterlife and realise you can’t go back. You could have saved yourself, but you went too far.”

Reaching up, the killer’s hand weakly holds onto her mask. Colour is fading from his skin. He can’t even say a word.

“In my death, I will become stronger and yours will just fuel me for my long journey ahead…” And she licks her lips…

Sirens blare. The police are hot on the trail. From the alley, a pool of blood forms a small stream going to the street and that is enough indication for them to stop. They got their man. Stepping out of the car, both officers hold out their guns. The lights shine to create a red and blue light as they approach the alleyway…

And only see one body. The body of the killer lies on the ground. The same knife he previously used, is jabbed into his stomach. His neck appears as if it has a chunk bitten out of it and red covers the ground. One of the officers gets on his radio.

“This is Officer Barkley, we have found the body of the suspect. Yes, the body. Alley off of Main, suspect is deceased. Knife visible in his abdomen, lots of blood, neck has fatal wounds like he got attacked by an animal. I request backup immediately and forensics to split their team into two. Something tells me.”

HIs partner looks at the pool of blood and sees a trail leading to the ground towards the end of the alley. “Hey, Barkley, check this.”

He takes out a flashlight and leads him down further. The trail of blood stops at Japanese writing signed on the ground…



Across the street, in the darkness, the masked woman stands, unflinching. Her black dress has splotches of red and her face has a stain of blood on it. Looking with her cold, dead eyes, she watches her handiwork as the video cuts to static.
 
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Chris Peacock in…

THE ITCH

December 22, 2022 - Budapest, Hungary

“FUUUUUUUUUUUUCCKKK!”


The loud scream caused a moment of panic to those in a close radius to its source, which was the mouth of Chris Peacock.

The exclamation was instantaneous as his feet touched the ground after disembarking from the small vessel that carried Chris for the short journey from Óbudai-sziget across the Danube back to the main city of Budapest. He had changed into a casual dress shirt and smart trousers after showering off and carried his bag and Golden Opportunity briefcase in his hands as he touched ground and swore at the top of his voice.

Ignoring the looks of confusion and panic caused by his outburst, Chris put his head down and stomped in the direction of his hotel. He had no idea how long the walk would take, given he did not pay attention to how long the taxi drive from the hotel to the show venue was earlier in the day.

The reason for his frustration was of course the second successive defeat he had suffered; this one being at the hands of Lizzie Rose. Why this loss caused so much anger was obvious, too. In true Chris Peacock fashion, he was on the verge of throwing away his chances of advancing in the F1 Climaxxx. He looked down at his briefcase as he thought of the repercussions of his latest defeat and tossed aside any notion of needing to rely on it. He didn’t want to.

Allen Price being responsible for his loss once again was another contributing factor to his outburst. Chris thought that by laying Allen out on the previous Fallout would have been enough to send a message. But the incessant phone calls and the attempts to make things up to Chris ultimately costing him his match against Lizzie Rose really did piss on the small flame representing the faint hope of reconciliation between the two. He had secured an upgrade anyway, as he and Alyster Black had put their heads together and decided to team up, with their competitive debut together coming on Fallout the coming Saturday.

The focus for Chris though was himself as he meandered through the streets of Budapest. His career, singularly, and how he could get it back on track. With a bit of time before his next match with Phillip A. Jackson and his qualification from Pool B relying on the misfortunes of others, he decided pretty quickly that he could afford himself a night off from the grind and worrying about what was going to happen next.

One night wasn’t going to hurt.

8=======>

It took Chris some time to order himself a pornstar martini due to the language barrier, and he did personify the stereotypical American tourist when attempting to request the drink from the uninterested bartender. When he did receive the drink, he looked down his nose at it and groaned. “Where’s the passion fruit?”

The Hungarian barman shrugged and turned his attention away to another patron further down the bar and Chris shook his head due to the lack of passion fruit. He didn’t ever eat or interact with the fruit commonly placed in a pornstar martini, but that wasn’t the point. The option should be there.

Chris opted not to pursue the passion fruit that he didn’t actually want and instead turned his attention to the fruit that he was there for; one of the myriad of women that were currently in the bar. His eyes scanned the room but the dimly-lit setting made it difficult for him to locate his ideal companion for the night. He bobbed his head to the generic trance music that boomed around the venue and decided that he would take himself towards the dance floor in the hopes that something a bit more his pace would enter the mix.

The sight of Chris Peacock swaying aimlessly on a dancefloor was very uncommon; usually he would be commanding the attention of everyone in the vicinity with the way that he could move his body. His hand clutched his drink close to his face as his body rhythmically rocked from side to side, as if he was guarding himself from something. For the first time, his recent actions towards his friends had dawned on him. He would usually be accompanied by Sonny and Rick on the dancefloor, with the two Diamond Dogs ensuring that Chris had the space that he needed to operate. Allen would even be there too, propping up the bar after cornering an unfortunate stranger and troubling them with his problems.

Things just didn’t feel right. Chris made sure to eye a few women as they walked past him but they took little notice and some even seemed offended by the suggestive eyes that he offered them. Who wouldn’t be creeped out by the guy standing in the corner of the dancefloor staring at you like a psycho? A particularly attractive woman in a purple dress seemed to even laugh with her friend after Chris flashed her a smile.

What Chris needed was a change of pace so he could have the opportunity to show what he can do. This music just wasn’t cutting it. Chris navigated his way through the crowd on the dancefloor towards the DJ booth on the opposite end, exchanging another look with the woman in the purple dress as he did so. The booth had a set of steps leading up to where the DJ was standing and Chris did not care that he probably advanced past where he was allowed to stand and he wrapped his knuckles on the perspex wall of the booth. “Put something good on!”

The DJ gave Chris a single look and turned his head back to the decks in front of him, where he blended the generic trance song into another generic trance song. Chris made contact with the wall of the booth again, this time with a balled fist as he banged on it loudly, attracting the attention of some of the people on the dancefloor who quickly went back to minding their own business shortly after.

“Hey, asshole! Put some good fucking music on!”

Again, Chris did not receive a response from the DJ. He motioned to the large headphones on his head and indicated that he could not hear Chris. Taking a deep breath and considering his next move carefully, Chris thought that it was time to take things into his own hands. He reached over the top of the wall and grabbed the cable attaching the DJ’s headphones to the decks and pulled it towards the door, causing the young man’s head to bounce off of the door and he crumpled down to the floor of the booth.

Chris took a cursory look around to see whether anyone had witnessed the assault, but no one seemingly did. He forced the door open against the dead weight of the man on the floor but did manage to gain entry into the booth. Unfortunately for him, the screens on the decks and the instructions on the buttons and knobs were all in Hungarian. However, he seemed to be able to locate the track listing on one of the screens. He typed in the search bar and his illuminated face formed into a grin when he found something. “Now we’re talking.”

He pressed the Hungarian word for ‘Enter’ key and quickly left the booth with his drink in his hand and he resumed his place on the dancefloor, but this time in the middle of the crowd. It was only going to be a matter of time before the legacy dross that was playing would switch over to something a little more his speed.

“AH, PUSH IT!”

Just like that, Chris felt like he had been transported back in time. Before the FWA had turned him into a battle-hardened warrior used to living in disappointment and nearlies. He felt like he was where he belonged for the first time in a while. The music flowed through his body and allowed him to move like no one in the venue had seen before and before long a circle had formed around him to give him enough space to show off what he does the best.

Chris threw his drink over his shoulder, not caring who or what it the glass landed on, and this allowed him to move even more freely. Before long the congregation around him was cheering and encouraging him along, which only buoyed Chris even further. He was the main attraction for all of these people at the moment and it felt… amazing.

“BOY, YOU REALLY GOT ME GOING.
YOU GOT ME SO, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING.”


One of the people unable to take their eyes off of Chris like it was one night in a disco on the outskirts of Frisco was the woman in the purple dress. This time when Chris flashed her a smile she responded with an enticing one of her own.

The only place that the purple dress looked better than on the woman in the club was on the floor of Chris’s hotel room not even an hour later. With the sounds and beat of Salt ‘n’ Pepa still ringing through his head, Chris pushed it again and again and again with the woman who was wearing the purple dress. As if symptomatic of his FWA career, those around him were rewarded time and time again and despite how hard he was working, it just wasn’t working out for just him.

All Chris could think about was the Climaxxx. The owner of the purple dress had three Climaxxxes of her own that night before Chris finally got himself in the game. Or more accurately, all over the bed sheets.

He fell back onto the bed next to her and both were breathing heavily for a few moments and the Hungarian woman found that her hands were still shaking. “That… was… amazing. You really, really know how to please a woman, dancer.”

“Well…”
Chris sighed as he sat up on the side of the bed in preparation to go and clean up so he was no longer facing his companion for the night. “I guess you could say that I’m using to coming second.”

8=======>

January 10, 2023 - Odessa, Ukraine

“FUUUUUUUUUUUUCCKKK!”


What started as a regular trip to the bathroom quickly turned into one of the most painful experiences of Chris Peacock’s life. Considering what he does for a living and some of the things that he has endured because of that, that’s saying something. Chris - “Whatthefuckwhatthefuckwhatthefuck OW! OW! OW!”

Whilst still using the toilet, Chris reached back and pulled on the light cord to the en suite adjoined to his hotel room in Odessa. The light didn’t turn on immediately, and he pulled the cord several more times. In his haste to see what the cause of his agony was he ended up urinating down his own leg and onto the tiled floor. The light finally flickered on and Chris turned back towards the toilet but slipped on the wet floor. Chris didn’t care that he was covered in piss and that the amount of urine was increasing until he finally finished going a few seconds later.

The pain and the severe itching sensation caused Chris to breath heavily on the soaked floor and he winced just thinking about looking at what was going on down there. “You can do this. Probably just cut it on the zipper or something, its no big deal. We’ll clean up and sort this out. It can’t be that bad- OH SHIT!”

Chris screamed at the top of his voice when he saw the condition of his favourite appendage. He backed away from the toilet and used the edge of the bath to pull himself up to his feet where he stood in front of the mirror above the sink to get a different angle. Just touching it so he could see better caused him immense pain once again. He whimpered as he removed his clothes and dropped them on the piss-soaked floor and walked back into the room. The room itself was not as classy as the ones that the FWA had put him up in over the Christmas period, and it unfortunately had thin walls so those around him would have heard his reactions to the current state of his junk.

He opened his suitcase and tossed some new clothes out of it and hastily pulled them on as he glanced at the television. Prior to his use of the bathroom, he was watching a Phillip A. Jackson marathon in preparation for his upcoming match against ‘The Cleanser’. He was currently on PAJ’s match against Shawn Summers at Lights Out, having planned to watch Jackson’s entire run since his return in the Carnal Contendership. However, that would have to wait, because if he could not sort his current issue out, he would not be able to wrestle anyone, let alone someone with the rap sheet that PAJ possesses..

8=======>

Sat in a crowded emergency department waiting room of a Ukrainian hospital was not the ideal place to be ahead of one of the most important singles matches of Chris’s career. However, this is where Chris found himself and it is where he needed to be if he had any hope of being in any fit state to compete against PAJ. Despite it being a busy night in Odessa for minor injuries and illnesses and the waiting area being packed as a result, Chris still commanded a wide berth due to the strong smell of urine exuding from him despite the change of clothes before leaving his hotel room.

The space was appreciated by Chris, though. It gave him a chance to think about Jackson again. Something to take the mind of the pain and itchiness he was feeling whilst he waited. Chris found PAJ to be an interesting prospect. On the one hand, he was clearly an accomplished competitor and was definitely one of the greats of the FWA, owning a legacy that Chris himself aspired to have one day. On the other, Chris found that he was just like some of the other ‘legends’ that he has faced before. Ryan Rondo, Cyrus Truth, Gabrielle… those names are supposed to intimidate opponents, causing them to lose the match before it even started. Chris beat all of them when the time came.

There was no reason that Jackson was going to be any different. The complication came from the fact that his destiny was not even in his hands anymore. He had to rely on Bryan Baxter and a fucking Nephew to win their matches in order for him to be able to advance and if he did it was Alyster that was waiting for him. Chris wasn’t actually sure what was worse; the pain in his penis at the moment or the fact that he needed Gerald Grayson to do him a favour against Lizzie Rose. None of that would matter though if he didn’t beat PAJ and he wasn’t going to beat PAJ if he couldn’t wrestle because of how much his dick hurt.

He sat for hours in the waiting room as countless Ukrainians were seen before him, tutting each time someone that was not him was called by one of the nurses or doctors. His exasperation was tenfold when someone who arrived after him was called before and he found himself judging those around him and diagnosing some of their injuries himself before determining that a good proportion of the people present did not require emergency assistance. The final straw came when an obviously drunk homeless man was beckoned through when Chris saw that he did not even check in with the receptionist upon arrival.

“No. NO!” Chris shouted and stood up from his seat quickly, but the feeling of his underwear and tight trousers rubbing on his crotch caused him to groan. “I’ve been waiting here for five hours… it is my turn now.”

The homeless man did not object due to the fact that he had no idea where or probably even who he was given his state of over refreshment. The nurse that called the man forward sighed and shook her head as Chris brushed past her, not realising that she covered her nose as he did due to how bad he smelt. Chris then followed the female nurse through a corridor and she opened a blue curtain for him and asked him to take a seat, then informing him that the doctor would be with him shortly.

Chris laid back on the bed and looked up at the light shining down into his face. He took the chance to think about PAJ some more. It did worry him that he knew just what Jackson was capable of back in the day and almost certainly still is now. Just because things haven’t been going his way for the most part since his return doesn’t mean that he’s all of a sudden lost all of his abilities. Chris was soundly beaten by both Bryan Baxter and Lizzie Rose, there was no reason why Jackson couldn’t do the same and extinguish his hopes for advancement in the Climaxxx. The way things were for him at that moment in time really did make him think that he was doomed to fail in the Climaxxx. Maybe the Golden Opportunity was his only chance to become the champion of the world. With all eyes on him, would he choke again?

He didn’t realise it, but Chris was verbally going on these tangents as he laid on the bed and he failed to notice that the doctor had walked into the room. The male doctor was probably around forty years old and the greying patches on the sides of his head were indicators that his job did bring him a great deal of stress at times. He cleared his throat and Chris jolted up into a sitting position on the bed, smacking his forehead into the light fitting above the bed. The doctor rushed over. “Ouch… no cut. You’ll be okay, I do not think you hit it that hard anyway.” He spoke in very good English, with a very mild Eastern-European twang.

“Thanks, Doc.” Chris said as he held one hand to his face and the other he used to move the light away from him.

“At least you didn’t break the light! Anyway, my name is Dr. Shevchenko, and before you ask, there is no relation!” The doctor seemed amused by this comment but Chris stared at him blankly, not understanding. “So, want to tell me what the problem is? I looked at your notes and it seems there is something wrong with your penis. Would you mind if I took a look?”

It took Chris a moment to process the request, but within a few seconds his trousers and underwear found themselves around his ankles on the bed and Chris leant back on the bed, wincing as he did so. “You didn’t have to pull them all the way down, just under your genitals would have been fine. Anyway, let’s see here… yes… swelling… redness… pain and itching sensation… mhmm… have you had any unprotected sex at any time in the last few weeks, Mr. Peacock?”

“Umm…”
Chris thought for a moment, with nothing immediately springing to mind. Then he remembered. The woman in the purple dress. It turns out one night can hurt. “Shit… yes, I have.”

“I thought so. You have chlamydia. It is a sexually transmitted disease and to be honest, it is a bad case. I’d run tests, but I can already tell.”
As Chris hung his head in shame and frustration, the doctor stood up and nudged the blue curtain open with his forearm to avoid his gloves becoming contaminated. He beckoned with his head and hand before returning to Chris. “We actually have a group of interns with us at the moment, would you mind if they had a look?”

“What-”
Before Chris could object, he and Dr. Shevchenko were joined in the room by a huddle of medical students who all stood around the bed with their eyes fixated on Chris’s crotch. Chris sat awkwardly and avoided eye contact as the doctor spoke in his native tongue to the students, who all listened intently. He happened to glance at one of the students, a young woman, who seemed quite disgusted by what she was looking at.

The doctor finished what he was saying and the students began to file out of the consultation room, with the last one drawing the curtain behind them to leave Chris alone with the doctor once again. “What the fuck, man? That wasn’t cool!”

The doctor snorted in derision. “It is just a penis! Anyway, treatment. I can prescribe you with some antibiotics and-”

“Woah, woah, woah. Antibiotics? That’ll take days or weeks for this to clear up… I’ve got something that I need to do in two days. I-I-I need this gone by then.”
Chris, as if in a rush all of a sudden, pulled up his trousers and turned on the bed, with his legs hanging off the side. “This thing I’ve got to do, I can’t fuck it up. There’s too much riding on this… there’s got to be something that you can do about this. Come on, Doc. You just made me get my dick out in front of a bunch of strangers… you owe me here.”

Dr. Shevchenko thought for a moment and then sighed deeply. He removed his gloves and turned to the small desk in the consultation room. After pulling out a small pad of paper, he searched for a pen and began writing something down. “I have a former… colleague… that runs a private practice not too far from Odessa. He’ll be able to help you, but I think this one will have to be off the books, do you understand?”

“He does some work around Europe though and I know he is not here at the moment, but he will be back tomorrow. You should visit him then. That way he can help you before your commitment on Thursday.”
The doctor finished writing the address down and then handed it to Chris, who slid it into his pocket. The doctor stood up and tossed his gloves in the medical waste bin. “Good luck, Chris Peacock.”

Chris and the doctor shared a nod and the doctor started to leave the room before he turned around, laughing under his breath. “It is funny that you have an STD because your name… it sounds like crisp-”

“Don’t you fucking dare.”

8=======>

January 11, 2023 - Dachne, Ukraine


Chris paid the taxi driver as he departed from the vehicle once they arrived at the address that Dr. Shevchenko had provided Chris with the day before. Dachne was around half an hour away from Odessa, although Chris suspected that the driver may have taken the scenic route in order to run up the Taximeter a little bit. He shook his head thinking about the lost hryvnia but the itching in his crotch swiftly took his mind off of the deception and reminded him of why he was at this address in the first place.

Strangely, he had not been referred to a doctor’s office or a clinic. It was just a residential address and he wondered whether Dr. Shevchenko had provided him with incorrect information but he seemed to know what he was talking about the rest of the time so Chris had little reason to doubt him. He opened the gate and then walked up the garden path before looking around the side of the house and not noticing anything inconspicuous. Chris returned to the door and knocked on it several times, before hearing some shuffling from inside before the door swung open.

“Khto ty?” Asked a short, older man, probably around seventy years of age. Chris did not answer, having not understood the question. “What do you want?”

Now understanding the man, Chris cleared his throat before speaking. “Oh, hi. I was given your address by Dr. Shevchenko in Odessa. I’ve got a problem and he said you’d be able to help me?”

“He told me you’d be coming. You’re in the right place.”
The old man nodded and opened the door wider. “Come in.”

Chris entered the building and turned as he watched the old man close the door, locking three locks after it. “I’m Dr. Yarmolenko - no relation - and you must be Chris Peacock with the… you know.” Despite not understanding the ‘no relation’ comment again, Chris nodded with a sigh as he did know what Yarmolenko was referring to after that. The old doctor grinned. “Well, I can help you with that. Let’s go down to the basement.”

The doctor waddled past Chris and opened a door revealing a staircase leading down to the lower level of the house. Chris took one step at a time as he heard Yarmolenko following him, and he again closed and locked the door behind him. Chris saw clippings from various medical journals on the walls along the staircase, showing a man he assumed was Yarmkolenko in his younger days.

“I was at the top of my field… then my methods were no longer appropriate, so I decided to leave and start my own private practice. I now travel around Europe helping people like you. I just got back from Bucharest and I am off to Hungary next week…”

Chris did not pay much attention to the doctor as he got closer to the bottom of the staircase, becoming more invested in his surroundings. He reached the bottom and saw that the basement had been converted into a treatment room, not too dissimilar from the consultation room in the hospital. The lighting down here wasn’t as vibrant as it was in the hospital, with Yarmolenko favouring a series of lamps that one would use in their living room. There was even a similar blue curtain partially obscuring a bed along the back wall.

“I need to see what I’m dealing with here, so please go behind the curtain over there and change into this gown.” Yarmkolenko thrust a gown he retrieved from a drawer in the desk into Chris’s chest and Peacock walked through the room and closed the curtain behind him.

“So, what can you do about this, then?” Chris called as he removed his clothes. He folded them up and placed them on the chair next to the bed and just as he was about to put the gown on he noticed the doctor standing behind him. “Do you mind, dude?”

The doctor had a crazed look in his eye and Chris felt a jabbing sensation in his hand and looked down to see that the doctor had plunged a syringe into him and he pushed down on the plunger. Chris grabbed Yarmolenko’s shirt, but quickly felt his head becoming light… he felt himself hit the floor before things faded to black…













Chris groaned as he saw the dim lights enter his vision that was still blurry. He flickered his eyes open and closed several times until his sight corrected itself and he saw that he was still in the same room as he was prior to his lapse.

He realised that he was standing up, but his feet were not on the floor. He tried to walk forwards, but couldn’t… he looked either side of his head and realised that his wrists were fastened down. His ankles had suffered the same fate, too. Chris recognised that he was strapped to the bed he had seen in the basement of Yarmkolenko’s house. He tried to force his way out of the restraints, but they were applied too tightly from him to escape from. It was at this moment he also revealed that he was naked.

Hearing a door close and a lock follow, Chris quickly realised that Yarmolenko was coming back and this was confirmed by the sound of slow, plodding footsteps coming down the stairs. He thought fast and allowed his head to slump down and pretended to still be under the influence of whatever it was that the doctor had injected him with.

He heard a laboured groan as the doctor stepped closer to him after setting what sounded like a metallic object down on the metal desk. The footsteps grew closer and Chris felt like he could feel the doctor’s breath on his face… so he summoned enough neck strength as he could and reared forward with a headbutt that he felt connect with the doctor’s face, and he then heard Yarmolenko fall to the floor.

“How do you like that, asshole?” Chris said as he opened his eyes and saw that Yarmolenko was on the floor holding his nose. As the doctor moved his hands away, Chris realised that he had probably broken it. “Now, I’m in no fucking mood to do this, I’ve got more important shit to deal with. Let me go and I’ll leave it there. I’m not someone you want to do this with.”

Despite the threat, Chris was left slightly confused as the doctor started laughing whilst slowly picking himself up from the floor. “You’re all the same, aren’t you? You fucking Americans think you can just go anywhere and take over. This… is my country. This is my house! You do not get to tell me what to do!”

“They told me that I was out of touch and that I couldn’t do this anymore…”
Yarmolenko said as he pulled himself up. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. What I do works. It stands the test of time and I’m not the one that needs to change!”

“What is it exactly that you do?”


Ignoring his broken nose, Yarmolenko returned to his desk and that is when Chris saw the cleaver and he quickly put two and two together. He started trying to escape his restraints once more and without making it obvious, marvelled that the cable around his right wrist was starting to loosen from the bed. The doctor stepped closer to him and held the cleaver up against his face, slicing some of Chris’s moustache hairs.

“What I do… is cleanse the world of people like you. Going around, infecting everyone with your diseases and germs… wasting the resources of our healthcare systems. Back in my day, things were done properly. Now with all of the perversions and filth in the world, it is no wonder why nothing makes sense anymore!” The doctor then trained the cleaver gently down Chris’s body, not cutting him, but it allowed Chris to feel the cold metal against his skin. He then winced as he felt the doctor’s cold hand grab him in an area he did not want to be grabbed. “There can’t be any diseases if there are no COCKS!”

Just as the doctor raised the cleaver, Chris slid his right hand out of the restraint and punched Yarmolenko in his already-broken nose, knocking him to the floor again and causing him to drop the cleaver. Chris then used his free hand to remove the rest of the things that were attaching him to the upright bed. He stood over the doctor and bent down… picking up the cleaver himself.

“Yeah, well cleanse this, motherfucker.”













Chris, now fully dressed, forcefully opened the last of the locks on the front door of the house and then walked outside to see that it was still daytime. He took a deep breath and then adjusted his collar before walking back down the path and closing the gate behind him. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a cigarette.

As he lit it, and took a deep inhale, he thought about Jackson once again. He knew now that he was not in the right state to beat PAJ physically; he could probably fight with a sore dick but that didn’t matter. What was important was what he knew at that moment in time and that was that he was ready to be the one to put the final nail in the coffin for ‘The Cleanser’. PAJ’s time was in the past and Chris Peacock was definitely the future of the FWA. He was the FWA World Champion in waiting, one way or another. Whether it was through the Climaxxx or not, Chris knew that he was going to do it because he was willing to adapt. He could change if he needed to so there was no point dwelling in maybes and what could have been.

Chris knew that this match against Jackson could ultimately be for nothing, but that isn’t what was important. What was important was teaching a stubborn old dog some new tricks and what better time to do it than the beginning of a new year. Chris resolved that the year could bring ups and it could bring downs, but he was going to ride through whatever happened. He knew with Alyster backing him up that he’d be able to take on any challenge, even against Alyster himself and that was likely going to be happening soon one way or another. When it did, he’d be ready.

This was the year.

This was a motivated Chris Peacock.

He had the itch back.

8=======>

January 20, 2023 - Budapest, Hungary


Trance music blasted through the club and all of the occupants were clearly enjoying themselves. A woman in a purple dress approached the bar and began attempting to get the barman’s attention. She sighed loudly given how busy it was and how long it would take to get herself and her friends a drink.

The man next to her was a lot older than her, but it did not stop him from assessing her looks and checking her out up and down. He leant in close, taking her by surprise. “Can I get you a drink?”

The woman nodded, and the man smirked to himself and spoke to himself under his breath. “You’ve still got it… YOU! TWO DRINKS OVER HERE!”

The man held up two fingers towards the bartender but his eyes widened when he looked at his hand in front of his face and remembered that he was missing an index finger…


 
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The ScapeDubb

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REYES RESIDENCE
CARY, NORTH CAROLINA


John Reyes had a secret.

John Reyes was a liar.

Inside his upper-middle-class suburban home, he watched as his wife Dana removed a batch of cookies from the oven, placing them down on the marble counter of their kitchen island. She leans over and takes in a big whiff of the chocolatey aroma of the chocolate chip goodness. She looked over, giving her husband a smile.

Sitting at the dining room table, John returned the smile to his wife. He still loved her but he had to admit that fifteen years of marriage and two kids had certainly changed some of the ways he viewed her. She was still a sight to behold but she certainly wasn’t the twenty-three-year-old from when they were married. Between work, the kids and their school and extracurricular activities, neither really had as much time for one another anymore.

Life had become monotonous. Perhaps, even boring, for John.

“What time will they be here?” Dana asked as she placed the cookies on a cooling rack.

“Should be any minute now, I believe,” John replied as he checked his watch which showed it was 7:55. He didn’t really have to look because he knew quite well what time it was. He had been counting down the minutes all day. All week really.

“Awesome!” Dana said with cheer. “I can’t wait to meet them. What game should we play?” She walked from the kitchen over to a hallway closet, opening the door in the process. Inside the closet were stacks of board games. “Pictionary? Clue? Trivial Pursuit? No…” she second-guessed herself, nervous about meeting people from John’s work for the first time. “How about one of these party games… but not the ones that can get too inappropriate or uncomfortable…”

John took a look at his watch again. “Don’t worry about it hunny, Samantha mentioned that Alex had picked up a couple games and they would bring them.”

“Oh, okay then,”
Dana let out a sigh of relief as she shut the door.

Ding Dong.

7:59. They were right on time. Well, maybe a minute early but who was counting. Besides John anyway.

“I got it!” John said with unfiltered excitement as he jogged over to the front door. He turned the knob and swung the door open. “Hey guys! Welcome! Welcome! Come on in!”

John welcomed Samantha and Alex Skinner with a hug and a handshake respectively. Samantha and Alex both worked with John and the Law Offices of Doggett & Foxx. John had served as a mentor to both of them as a Junior Partner while both were paralegals starting out at the firm.

Blonde-haired and perky, Samantha was known for lighting up any room she entered. No slouch in the looks department either, Alex quickly hit it off with Samantha and they began dating shortly after they had joined the law firm. Fast forward to four years later, the pair were fresh off their honeymoon and suddenly being invited to the Reyes household. The couple first found it unusual, as John had never been one to mix his professional and personal life before now, but they always enjoy a good game night so why not.

Alex Skinner carried into the house two different games under his arm. After some small talk and introductions to Dana, the foursome made their way to the kitchen table where Dana’s plate of cookies now sat in the middle on a tray.

“Let’s get this party started!” John said. “Should we get some drinks? Perhaps some Wine? We also have wine coolers, Sam.”

“We do?”
Dana said with some obvious confusion while getting out the wine glasses. “Since when?”

John chuckled nervously, “well, I picked some up. Figured our guests might want some.”

Samantha smiled innocently, “Sure, I’ll take one.”

Opening the refrigerator, John grabbed a Seagrams. He popped the cap off and handed it to Samantha who was already sitting at the kitchen table beside her husband. John took a seat at the table sitting directly across from Samantha while Dana poured the wine into three glasses and placed them on the table.

“So what do we have here,” Dana said as she looked at the two games that Alex had brought. One was the classic Scattergories but one was a game neither John nor Dana was familiar with.

The game was called The Truth Is Out There.

“What’s this one?” Dana asked with curiosity as she observed the cover. The box was rather simple, all black with just the words of the title in white. The box looked like it had been rather roughly handled in the past with some dents and tears along with a fair amount of dust.

“Interesting, right?” Alex said with enthusiasm. “The guy at the bookstore highly recommended it when I was there yesterday. Told him I was looking for something more unusual and obscure to play for tonight. I mean we can play Scattergories but why not try something really different.”

“Different is good,”
John interrupted, almost with a slight smile while sharing a glance with Samantha.

“Yeah, sure,” Dana nodded as she put the game back down on the table. “How do we play?”

Alex began to open the box up. “So it’s basically a lie detector game. There’s a device in here that we all hook up to and it reads our heart rate and can detect if we’re lying or not. We’ll take turns asking each other questions and if anyone lies, the machine will let us know. Whoever tells the most truths will win. And it should be a good way for us to get to know each other better.”

John could feel some sweat of guilt starting to form on the back of his neck. Only briefly though. He reassured himself that this is a game he was meant for. As a lawyer, he has learned how to stretch the truth and remain calm under pressure. This should be easy for him.

Inside the box was a black orb with several wires running out from the base. The rules instructed each player to attach the end of the wire to their wrist using the accompanying clasp. The four each did just that. Alex then pulled a tray of cards out from the box and sat them down on the table. These were the questions.

“Okay, I’ll start,” Alex said as he pulled up the first question card. “Dana… what do you do for a living.”

Dana smiled, “Starting off with a softball question, huh? Haha okay, I’m a florist.”

They looked at the orb. It remained silent.

“Yep,” John confirmed, “no lies told there.”

“Ok, that means you can go now, Dana.”

“So I just draw a card and can ask anyone?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, great,”
Dana reached over and grabbed the top card off the deck. “Okay, Samantha… what was the name of your first crush.”

Samantha chuckled and slightly blushed. “Oh gosh… his name was Jimmy Stevens.”

The orb remained silent.

Alex shared a look with his wife and joked, “Should I be worried about this Jimmy?”

Samantha laughed, “I mean it was like third grade… I think you’re safe. You don’t have to worry about anyone, Alex…haaa..whaaaaaaaaaa….fuck!”

The orb had suddenly sent a slight shock up to Samantha’s wife, giving her the slightest of jolts.

“What the fuck! It shocked me!”

“Is that supposed to happen?”
John questioned Alex.

“Maybe…I’m not sure, to be honest. Maybe that’s how it alerts you of a lie?”

“It’s okay…”
Samantha said, recomposing herself. “It didn’t really hurt anyway. Just took me by surprise.”

Alex continued to stare at his wife, now realizing what that shock had insinuated. “So…there IS someone I should be worrying about.”

Nervously Samantha looked down at the wire on her hand, “Oh yeah…” she chuckled, “you know how much I’m into Harry Styles… so if he ever shows up at our doorstep, you’re in trouble, mister.”

Samantha had successfully cut the tension in the room as all four laughed at her response. It being her turn now, she reached over and took the top card. “John…oh gosh… this is kinda… uhh… broad I guess? Are you… hiding anything from anyone in this room?”

All eyes turned to John who could once again feel the sweat forming. “Uhm… hiding anything? Of course not.”

ZAP.

“Waahh woah! God… that does catch you by surprise.”

Dana turned to her husband, smiling with her hands on her hips. “And just what are you hiding from us, John Reyes!”

“It’s nothing really! I uh… have your birthday present and can’t tell you about it.”


ZAP!

“SHIT! I’m pretty sure that was stronger that time.”

“So it’s not my birthday present, huh?”
The hands came off the hips as the joking tone began to fade. “Then, what is it?”

John nervously chuckled again, “hey, that’s not fair. These aren’t official game questions so they don’t count. And the rules didn’t say we have to reveal the truth if we get caught in a lie. Right?”

“He’s right,”
Alex confirmed.

“Okay, well…” John said, trying to ignore the glare coming from his wife in the seat next to him. He grabbed the next card. “Alex… really, this isn’t even fair. Alex, where was your last vacation?”

“Easy. Just got back from our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic.”


With no response from the orb, Alex took his next turn. He picked up the card but without even reading it he put it down on the table.

“John, are you fucking my wife?”

Samantha’s jaw dropped while Dana was suddenly completely white as a ghost.

“What - no, of course not why would you….AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH FFFFFUUUCCCKKK!”

ZAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAP.

The intensity of the shocks were continuing to grow with each lie.

“JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! This thing is fucking broken. Get this off of me.” John tugged at the clasp on his wrist, but it wasn’t budging. “Get this thing off me. This game is over.”

Tears were rolling down Dana’s face as she saw the guilt on her husband’s face as he tried to escape the confines of the game. “So… it’s true then.” She looked over to Samantha.

“No, no, it’s not tr… AHHHHH!”

The shock sent Samantha backwards in her chair.

“What the fuck is going on,” John demanded as he looked towards Alex. “That’s not even a question is it?”

“No,”
Alex answered honestly, “I just wanted to know the truth. I’ve had my suspicions… and if it wasn’t true you son of a bitch.”

Dana leaned over the table in tears.

“Fine…” John couldn’t take seeing the hurt he was causing his wife in the moment but realized it was time for the truth. “Yes… we did. We had sex.”

“Just once?”

“No…..”

“Alex…I’m so sorry… I…”
Samantha tried to plead with his husband but he wasn’t listening.

“I’ll deal with you later. I want this bastard to get what’s coming to him.”

John reached over to his wife and put his hand on her back. “I’m sorry, Dana. I really am.”

Dana brought her head up from the table. She looked up at the orb through her tears. It was silent.

“See… I really am. And… it was just sex you know… it… it… it… didn’t mean anything…”

ZAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAP

This one was a doozy. John began convulsing as he fall back into his chair as Samantha cried out in a mixture of fear and agony as she watched her lover being punished for his actions and his lies.

John could barely feel his legs or his arms. His head rested on the back of the chair. His wife leaned over, holding her husband’s head.

“John… I’m sorry… but I got to know… do you… do you… love her?”

John was struggling to find the words while both Alex and Samantha were watching. Tears rolled down her face, she was worried about what his answer would be. For more than one reason. Meanwhile, Alex was nervous himself. He wanted to find out the truth but things seemed to have gone further than he had intended.

“Well… DO YOU? ANSWER ME!”

“I….”


“D….”

“D…”

“D…”

“DON’T.”


ZZZZZZZAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAP

“UUUUUUURRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAA”

The power of the electricity flowed through John’s entire body as his body convulsed out of control. Saliva flowed out of his mouth like a river as Dana dropped to the floor, inconsolable.

“SOMEBODY HELP HIM! IT’S KILLING HIM!” Samantha pleaded, but none of them could free themselves from the clasps.

John continued to convulse as the room filled with screams and cries. He convulsed… and convulsed… until… he didn’t anymore.

John’s body was still. Still and lifeless.

And from outside the window, a shadowy figure watched on.

“The Truth will set you free.”


= X = X = X = X = X =


BRYAN BAXTER

in

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THE (CLIMAXX)X-FILES


FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON, D.C.


Agent Bryan Baxter propped his feet up on his desk as he glanced over case files. It was never a dull moment in his division of the FBI. You see, Bryan was not just a normal FBI agent. He didn’t work on your typical cases.

In 1946, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover established a brand new department that focused on unsolved cases that seemed to have an unexplained… perhaps even a paranormal or supernatural element to them. These cases were labeled as X-Files by the FBI and were sent to the basement which is where the agents were assigned.

Many within the FBI considered being assigned to the X-Files as a punishment. Exiled to the basement to work on mostly wild goose chases.

Bryan Baxter certainly felt that way about it. He had developed a bit of a reputation in the Bureau as… let’s just say he was a bit hard to work with. He was brash. Rude. Selfish. And just an overall unpleasant demeanor. As a result, he failed at keeping a partner longer than a few months at a time. Not to mention some of his aggressive tendencies with suspects, though Baxter would just tell you he was unconventional.

But as a result, Baxter was assigned to the X-Files.

A natural scenic, Baxter didn’t believe in the paranormal or the supernatural. He believed that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for each case and remained in denial even despite what he had seen with his own eyes.

Baxter’s partner, Jeremy Best, was the exact opposite. He was what many refer to as a “true believer.” Baxter just considered him gullible and naïve. But Jeremy was always excited to take on a new case. Always excited to dive into exactly what alien or demonic force was behind each crime.

Like the case of the Cult of the Nephews. Bryan pulled up the case file on his desk. Jeremy thought it was some octopus-headed monster that was brainwashing the members of a town but it turned out it was just some guy leading a cult.

Then there was the Disco Killer. Jeremy thought there was a guy who had the power to kill people if they listened to Disco music. But no, it was just some guy who looked like he was straight out of a 70’s porno who tortured people with Disco music until they had no choice but to kill themselves.

But despite their differences…somehow…their partnership worked.

Or at least it did.

Despite his inability to keep a partner, Jeremy had been Bryan’s partner for multiple years now and they had somehow become the most successful pairing in X-Files history. A department that would go years without a case being solved was suddenly having case after case solved by the team of Jeremy and Bryan.

But it was only a matter of time before Bryan did what he always did.

And that’s fuck things up.

Credit to Jeremy for lasting as long as he did. It’s more a testament to him than to Baxter. But eventually, Jeremy just had enough of Bryan’s skepticism. Of his inability to believe the truth right before him.

But the truth was not something that ever necessarily came easy for Bryan.

So now, the desk next to him was once again empty. Jeremy had requested a leave of absence from the FBI.

“Well, well, well, I gotta good one for ya…”

Deputy Director William Scorpane entered the office holding a new case file, tossing it down onto Baxter’s desk. Baxter picked it up and began flipping through the file.

“Murder… at a game night no less. This reminds me of the Disco Killer all over again. Surely the guy just killed himself to get out of it. That’s what I would do anyway.”

“Not that simple this time, Baxter. It’s quite the story, actually. So according to the report… two couples get together for a game night… and during the game, they find out that the husband of one couple was sneakin’ around with the wife of the other couple!”

“So… a crime of passion then? Either the other husband or wife must’ve done it.”

“Well.. if you believe the witnesses… the board game did it.”

“I’m sorry… what?”

“And that, Baxter, is why it’s been assigned to you,”
Scorpane said with a laugh as he began to leave.

“Wait!” Baxter shouted out, “when you given’ me another partner?”

“You? Hahahahaha!”
Scorpane couldn’t contain himself, “I think your well of partners has run dry, boy! Don’t nobody want anything to do with you! You’ve run the only guy willing to team with you straight out of the FBI! You’re going solo from now on!”

Baxter felt the sting of that one a little bit but it wasn’t unexpected. He collected the file… he could do this. He could pretend to be the “true believer” while still at his heart being the skeptic that is really needed to solve these X-Files.

But first, thing’s first. He had to talk to the witnesses.


= X = X = X = X = X =



FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION


Date of transcription: 1/11/2023

Dana Reyes was interviewed at 295 Northwood Ct, Cary, North Carolina. After being advised of the identities of the interviewing agent and the nature of the interview, Dana provided the following information:

On the evening of January 3, 2023, Sarah was at her residence along with her husband, the victim, John Reyes. The couple was hosting a game night with two of John’s co-workers from the Law firm of Doggett & Foxx. Around 8:00 p.m., Alex Skinner and Samantha Skinner arrived with the games they would be playing that evening. The group decided on playing a game called The Truth is Out There though none of them had heard of it before. The rules of the game required them to have a wire that connected their wrist to a black orb from the game. The game would detect when any of them told a lie and provide a shock if someone told a lie.

No one had been aware that there would be an electric component to the game as it did not require being plugged up but Dana assumed it must’ve been powered by a battery. During the course of the game, it was revealed that her husband John Reyes had been having an affair with Samantha Skinner.

According to Dana Reyes, the game continued to shock her husband until his heart went into cardiac arrest. This fact has been confirmed by the Coroner in the autopsy. When questioned about why they didn’t stop playing the game or disconnect from the wires, Dana Reyes stated that the clasps would not release during the game. It wasn’t until after John’s heart had stopped beating did the clasps come free, allowing them to contact the police.

Dana Reyes attested that she had no reason to believe her husband had been unfaithful before that evening. He had always been a loving husband and father, if not a bit of a workaholic at times. Dana stated that she was upset to find out the truth but she wouldn’t want to see her husband harmed in any way.

Investigation on 1/8/23 at Cary, North Carolina.
File: X-10354
Completed by: Special Agent BRYAN J. BAXTER


= X = X = X = X = X =

FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION


Date of transcription: 1/11/2023

Samantha Skinner was interviewed at 413 Unit-C Trailwood Ln, Raleigh, North Carolina. After being advised of the identities of the interviewing agent and the nature of the interview, Samantha provided the following information:

Samantha Skinner has known the victim, John Reyes, for about four years. They have worked together at the Law Offices of Doggett & Foxx during this time. Samantha met her husband Alex Skinner when they both started as paralegals for the law firm. However, during this time she also began to develop a relationship with John Reyes, despite knowing that he was married and she had entered a relationship with Alex Skinner. Samantha and John’s relationship became sexual with multiple encounters, the first one that Samantha could remember was on the evening of September 22, 2021, in John Reyes’s office.

On the evening of January 3, 2023, Samantha and Alex brought a board game called The Truth is Out There to the Reyes residence for a game night. The game had been provided by Alex who he had told her that it had come recommended to him. Samantha had never heard of it but they are always trying out new and unique games so she thought nothing of it.

During the course of the game, Alex began to ask John questions about his relationship with Samantha. The game began to electrocute both John and Samantha, but it would not stop electrocuting John until he had passed away.

Samantha was not sure how Alex had become suspicious of her activities with John. She has not seen or talked to John since January 3. She believes he is staying with his sister, Melissa.

Investigation on 1/7/23 at Raleigh, North Carolina.
File: X-10354
Completed by: Special Agent BRYAN J. BAXTER


= X = X = X = X = X =


FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION

Date of transcription: 1/11/2023

Alex Skinner was interviewed at 833 Lead Mine Road, Raleigh, North Carolina. After being advised of the identities of the interviewing agent and the nature of the interview, Alex provided the following information:

Alex has known the victim, John Reyes, for about four years. They have worked together at the Law Offices of Doggett & Foxx during this time. Here he also met his future wife Samantha and he talks about how for him it was love at first sight. He noted her beauty meant he was constantly having to fend off guy’s trying to buy her beers at the bar or hitting on her at all times. He had gotten used to it and she had never given attention to any other man. At least most of the time. Besides him, the only man she ever gave any attention to was their co-worker and mentor, John Reyes from the law firm.

A few months ago, Alex became suspicious that something might be going on between them. Samantha started being assigned cases that required her to work after hours while Alex never got any cases like that. She spent a lot more time in his office than he felt was normal. Certainly more than any of the other junior lawyers. Alex decided he was just being paranoid and jealous so he went through with the planned marriage which took place on December 21, 2022. Following their honeymoon, the couple was invited by John Reyes to his residence for a game night.

Alex described himself as a game enthusiast and wanted to be the one to provide the games for the night. He also wanted to try out something new so he went down to Tooms Books & More. It wasn’t until the worker there, whom Alex believed his name was Cyrus, suggested that he play a game called The Truth is Out There, that Alex realized if the game truly was a lie detector test, he could finally find out the truth about John and Samantha.

Alex wasn’t sure how things would play out but during the course of the game, he was able to get John to admit to his affair with Samantha. But Alex had no idea the game would malfunction the way it did. He wanted to find out the truth. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

Investigation on 1/7/23 at Raleigh, North Carolina.
File: X-10354
Completed by: Special Agent BRYAN J. BAXTER


= X = X = X = X = X =

FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON, D.C.


Bryan had met with all three witnesses and taken their statements. He continued to read through the reports. It seemed pretty cut and dry to him but he wanted to do Jeremy justice. He wanted to think like him.

“So what do you think?” Deputy Director Scorpane walked in, noticing Baxter going through the reports.

“I… am not sure, yet,” Baxter said, doubting his own gut.

“Really? I figured you’d be chalking this up to a simple case of a malfunctioning board game. They’re a couple of lawyers… probably can get themselves a nice little settlement from the manufacturer for this.”

That’s exactly where Baxter was going with HIS thoughts. But with Jeremy’s voice in his head, he wanted to look at it further. “Maybe… but I’m not ready to jump to that conclusion yet. Did you get the game for me?”

“Oh yeah, that…”
Scorpane walked out of the room briefly before turning with the black game box and tossing it over to Bryan’s desk.

“Easy! This is evidence!”

“Since when are you so worried about following rules?”

“Hey, can’t a guy try to do his job?”

“What’s gotten into you, Baxter?”

“Guess Agent Best may have actually taught me a thing or two.”


Scorpane winced, “Ugh… I don’t like that at all. I like the Agent Baxter that rushes in and gets shit done. Look, don’t drag this out any longer than it needs to… wrap it up.”

Agent Baxter nodded as he grabbed the top of the black box and lifted it up.

“Uhh….Director…”

Scorpane stopped in his tracks as he was leaving the room. “What is it now?”

“Something’s not right here.”

“What are you talking about, Baxter?”


Deputy Director Scorpane walked over to Baxter’s desk and looked down at the contents of the box.

There was no black orb. There were no wires.

Just some cards. Some papers. And some short pencils.

“Scattergories!” They both said in unison, with a wince.

Baxter flung the contents of the box across the room in frustration. “Unbelievable! Someone switched out the box!”

“But why?”

“I’ll tell you why. Because SOMEONE has SOMETHING to hide! SOMEONE isn’t being completely honest with me… and I think I know who.”


= X = X = X = X = X =

TOOMS BOOKS & MORE
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA


Walter Miles pushed his thick-rim glasses back up from the bottom of his nose back up to the top. He looked through the game section of the bookstore. So many good options… he was struggling with making a decision.

“Perhaps I could be of some assistance?”

Walter was taken by surprise as the worker approached him from behind. Walter noticed his name tag, “Cyrus.” Walter especially took note that the man felt like someone you wouldn’t expect to be working at a bookstore. Usually, bookstore employees weren’t quite so… intimidating.

Uh... I’m just kind of browsing around,” Walter responded. The introvert in him hoped to be left alone to make the decision himself.

“Looks like you’re looking for a game?”

“Well, yes. Me and a few buddies want something new to play besides Dungeon and Dragons.”

“So, what you’re telling me is… you are looking for something a bit more new and exciting. Maybe something unique.”

“I guess so, yeah. That’d be good.”

“Then you don’t want any of these games… I have the perfect thing for you… here follow me.”


= X = X = X = X = X =


SKINNER RESIDENCE
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA


Knock. Knock. Knock.

Samantha Skinner opened the door of the Skinner’s apartment and was surprised to find Agent Bryan Baxter standing at her door.

“Agent Baxter? What are you doing here? Haven’t we given enough statements?”

Baxter walked right in, not waiting for an invite.

“So, I hear you guys are trying to work things out.”

“Trying is the right word, sure.”

“Good. Great. Where is he?”

“Who? Alex?”

“Yes. I have some questions for your husband.”

“Look, we all just want to move on… please… haven’t we been through enough?”

“It’s okay, Sam…”
Alex had heard the commotion and walked out of a bedroom. “And besides... I know what he wants.” Alex walked into the living room and slumped down into the recliner. “I knew it was only a matter of time.”

“What’s going on, Alex?”

“Yeah, Alex. Please… tell us,”
Agent Baxter said with a hint of frustration.

“They found out I switched out the games.”

“You did WHAT?”

“I panicked okay. I don’t know what I was thinking. But like… I was the one who brought the game. Then the whole thing with you and John… I was worried about what it would look like… I had the motive to want him dead, y’know.”

“So you thought the move to make you look LESS GUILTY was to HIDE THE EVIDENCE? What the fuck, Alex. You’re a goddamn lawyer!”


Baxter almost laughed but held it in. “Apparently not a very good one.”

“I know. I know. I told you… I wasn’t thinking. Just panicking. Then I just hoped that maybe… it’d just sit in evidence forever and no one would actually find out. But I had NO idea the game was going to malfunction like that.”


Baxter was tempted to arrest him right then and there… but he felt like there was more digging to do. Jeremy would want to find out more about this game. He had to see the game. “Where’s the game now? Where are you hiding it?”

“It’s not here.”

“Then WHERE is it?!”

“I returned it. It’s back at the bookstore.”


A frustrated Agent Baxter brought both of his hands up to his face. “Look, I’m going down to the bookstore so I can get my hands on this game… but you’re not out of the water yet.”


= X = X = X = X = X =

TOOMS BOOKS & MORE
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA


Seeking answers, Bryan Baxter barged into the store but came up short once again. He had asked to speak with the “Cyrus” that sold the game to Alex Skinner, but according to the Manager of the store… no one at the store went by that name.

And there was no record on their inventory of a game called The Truth is Out There.

And then a check of the surveillance footage found that their equipment was malfunctioning both during the times that Alex Skinner had made his purchase and earlier this afternoon.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

Baxter grabbed his phone from his pocket and saw it was his boss Deputy Director Scorpane calling him. He swiped it open to answer.

“Baxter.”

“Hope you’re enjoying yourself. Find the game yet?”

“No. Another dead end. Turns out the bookstore has never heard of the game or the guy who sold it to him.”

“Of course not! Haha… you know Agent Best would’ve been eatin’ this shit up!”

“I’m guessin’ you weren’t just callin’ to bust my balls. Tell me you got some good news.”


Scorpane paused. “Well… I guess if you want to call it good news or not is going to be subjective. But… I know where the game is.”

“What? How? That is great news!”


“It wasn’t great news for the people playing it. It happened again.”

“What? No! Goddamnit! ….Alright, I’m on it. Send me the address.”

= X = X = X = X = X =



FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION

Date of transcription: 1/16/2023

Margaret Fitzgerald was interviewed at 1268-A Baileywick Road, Raleigh, North Carolina. After being advised of the identity of the interviewing agent and the nature of the interview, Margaret provided the following information:

On the afternoon of January 11, 2023, Margaret responded to the sounds of screaming coming from the basement of the connecting duplex that she sublets to Walter Miles. After knocking on the door and getting no response, Margaret used her key to open the door and enter the residence. By the time she had entered the residence, the screaming had stopped and everything was quiet.

When entering the basement, Margaret discovered four deceased bodies. The bodies belonged to Walter Miles, Melvin Crump, Richard Spender, and Maggie Byers. Each was sitting around a black orb. Each had a wire connected from the orb to their wrist.

Margaret recognized the other three victims as friends of her tenant. Walter didn’t go out much and didn’t talk to her much but was always pleasant with her. The friends often were over playing Dungeons and Dragons together.

Agent Bryan Baxter retrieved the game as evidence.


Investigation on 1/11/23 at Raleigh, North Carolina.
File: X-10354
Completed by: Special Agent BRYAN J. BAXTER



= X = X = X = X = X =

FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON, D.C.


Bryan returned to FBI Headquarters with the game in hand, though he didn’t dare strap it on. But getting the game back didn’t really answer any questions. There were no markings on the orb or the wires that indicated any manufacturer or any other identifying information. No serial numbers. No barcodes. Absolutely nothing.

Did Alex Skinner know the game would malfunction and kill John Reyes when he started lying? There’s no way he would've known it would actually happen if it did play out that way. And what if someone else started lying and they were killed instead? What if it had been his wife? Or would that have been punishment for her too?

But then there’s the mysterious bookstore non-employee. The man who went by Cyrus. He’s the one who sold the game to both victims.

Baxter knew if he was going to get to the bottom of the mystery… he needed to find this Cyrus.

But the question was how.

He was going to need some help on this one.

He didn’t look forward to what he had to do.

But he knew who he needed.


= X = X = X = X = X =

AGENT BEST’S APARTMENT
WASHINGTON, D.C.

Agent Baxter stood outside the apartment of his former partner and a man he likes to say is his friend, Agent Jeremy Best. He stood there while holding the game in one hand for what felt like hours but in reality was just minutes. He knew Jeremy wasn’t going to be happy to see him.

Bryan lifted his arm to knock…

Maybe this is a mistake.

He could probably figure this out on his own. He’d done pretty well so far in the case thinking as Jeremy would…

But before Bryan could decide to withdraw his hand and not knock, the door opened anyway.

“Hiya Bryan,” Jeremy greeted his partner with a friendly smile.

“Hi…Jeremy…how’d you know…I was here?”

“I heard someone talking to themselves outside my door. You do a lot of talking to yourself when you’re thinking. Oh, and I have a peephole. I’ve been watching you for like three minutes!”

“Oh…well... I’m sure you aren’t thrilled to see me…”

“Don’t be silly!”
Jeremy came in and hugged his former partner. “Come on in!”

Baxter obliged, following Jeremy into the apartment. As they walked by the kitchen, Bryan sat the game down on the table.

“I didn’t want to come to you about this…”

“Why not? You know I’m always happy to see a friend!”

“Well… I just assumed…”


As Bryan was trying to explain himself, Jeremy started to examine the Truth is Out There Game, observing the orb. “What’s this? Oh my gosh, Bryan… did you finally come here to play board games! I’ve been inviting you for how long! Oh, this is great!”

“Jeremy, no… wait…”


The excited Jeremy grabbed one of the wires and clasped it to his wrist before Bryan could stop him.

“No! Jeremy! Don’t!”

It was too late. Jeremy was strapped into the game. “What’s wrong? You didn’t come here to play?”

“No, dammit, Jeremy! I came here about a case I’m working on. I need your help.”

“Oh,”
Jeremy said with some disappointment. “But… why the game?”

“The game IS the case. It’s been KILLING people.”

“This game?”

“Yeah, it’s called The Truth is Out There and anyone who tells a lie while wearing it eventually dies.”


Jeremy looked down at the little black orb once again and examines the wires. “Well, that seems silly. So… just don’t lie, right? That’s easy enough.”

Bryan sighed, “maybe for you, Jeremy. But for some people… the truth can be scary. I would know.”

Jeremy took a seat at the kitchen table. “Not me. I don’t know what’s so scary about it. Just tell the truth. It’s really not that hard. So, what can I help you with?”

“Well, the guy who’s been giving this game out to people and responsible for their deaths… I want to find him. And all I know about him is a name that may or may not even be real. Cyrus.”


“Cyrus Truth.”

“Wait what? You know him?”

“Yeah, I have a whole file on him. I’ve been tracking him for some time now.”

“Wait, are you still working for the FBI?”

“Technically, yes. The folder’s over there on the counter.”


Confused, Bryan walked over to Jeremy’s counter where there were several files. He saw one for the Disco Killer, Chris Peacock. The Adrenaline Junky Gerald Grayson. The Deceptively Nice Elizabeth Rose. “The Cleanser” Philip A. Jackson. All previous cases. But then there was the one for Cyrus Truth. Also at the table, he saw people he wasn’t familiar with. A Cowboy. A Vampire. A Black Masked Demon-looking fucker. A mysterious woman holding a tulip.

“....Who are all these people?”

“Just some future problems you’ll probably be dealing with. Some other people I’ve been keeping tabs on.”

“So all this time… you’re been continuing to keep an eye on things?”

“Of course! I want you to succeed Bryan. I still have your back.”


Baxter was surprised how at much work Best had continued to do despite not being his partner anymore. He had assumed he had offended his friend to the point where the partnership was over forever. Bryan picked up the file for Cyrus.

“So…what’s this guy’s deal?”

“He’s obsessed with exposing people’s truth. He believes everyone has some deep dark secret and it’s his mission to expose and then punish them.”

“How do we find him?”

Well, you have his game. So, most likely he’s gonna find us.”

“Come again?”

“He’s always watching. He watches his victims… finds out what they are hiding. If we want him… this is exactly what we need to find him. But you’re gonna have to play the game with me.”

“Are you crazy!? Five people are dead in the past week from playing that. No fuckin’ way I’m putting that thing on.”

“I get it… but this is how we catch him. We beat him at his own game. He’s watching and waiting… I believe in you Bryan… all we gotta do is tell the truth and we’ll be okay.”


Jeremy lifted one of the wires, extending it out to Bryan as an offer to join him. “Ah… fuck it… but you’re gonna feel real bad when I end up dead!” Bryan walked over and took a seat at the table across from Jeremy, attaching the clasp around his wrist. “Okay. What now?”

“I think we’re supposed to ask each other these questions,” Jeremy revealed as he pulled the question cards over to the center of the table."

“Or… we just sit here and talk to each other and no one gets electrocuted. That sounds good to me.”

“NO!”
The lights in the apartment began to flicker as the door swung open. A hooded figure walked into the room. “You have accepted the rules of the game. You play or you both will die!” The figure tossed his hood back revealing the man from Jeremy’s files… Cyrus Truth.

“Jesus dude, don’t you knock?” Bryan said, clutching his chest.

“So nice of you to join us, Cyrus,” Jeremy waved, “I figured you’d be watching us.”

“What the fuck is going on?”

“I figured he’d know I had been tracking him. He’s an observer. Not only does he look to expose the truth but he has been watching… each victim along the way… he’s been watching.”

“Well, this is perfect… Cyrus Truth… you are under arrest for…”
Bryan reached to his belt to grab his handcuffs, but the wire prevented him. “Godammit, get this thing off me.” Bryan tried to release the clasp, but it was locked on tight. Cyrus laughed.

“There is only one way out! The Truth. Or Death!”

“It’s ok Bryan. He doesn’t think you can do it. He thinks you’re afraid of the truth. He thinks you don’t have it in you but I believe in you. I think you can win. Let’s do this.”


Nervously, Baxter nodded his head as Jeremy grabbed the first card. Cyrus smiled and rubbed his hands together menacingly as he watched.

“Ok… Bryan, what did you have for breakfast?”

Baxter couldn’t help but laugh, “Really? That’s the question. Wow.. haha… okay. Steak and eggs.”

Cyrus grinned and leaned forward, “And?”

...And hashbrowns. Toast.”

“That’s it?”

“Grits. And a frosted donut.”

“Anything else?”
Cyrus cackled.

Bryan paused… “That’s it.”

ZAP.

“Fuck! Ow! That kinda hurt…”

“Really Bryan? You can’t even tell us the truth about what you had for breakfast today?”

“Fine, I also had a slice of cold pizza and three cups of coffee. Okay?”


Cyrus bent over laughing. “So pathetic! You liars are all the same. You live your life in shame and can’t face the truth.”

“Laugh it up! I get it. There’s nothing anyone can say to me that I don’t know. I’m fat. I get it,”
Baxter grabbed the next card. “Okay, Jeremy… what… how are these cards so specific? Why did you walk away from being my partner.” A confused Baxter glanced over to Cyrus who just continued to watch with a grin.

“Well,”
Jeremy paused briefly.

“We already know the answer to this question. You had enough of me. Who can blame you? I’m not exactly a pleasant person.” Bryan paused, looking at the orb. “No shock on that one, huh? Yeah… there’s a truth for ya, Cyrus. I’m a piece of shit. Agent Best is one of the, no pun intended, best people not only the FBI has ever seen but the world has ever seen. So, yeah, he put up with my shit for so long that even he couldn’t take it anymore. This isn’t a secret.”

“Actually...”
Jeremy interrupted, “that’s not exactly true.”

“What?”

“Was it frustrating at times working with you? I can’t lie. It was. You just wouldn’t believe. Despite everything you saw. Despite everything we went through together. But I also knew you were good at what you did. And you can possibly be even better without me. And maybe… just maybe… you could excel even more without me. And you have. And I can tell… you’re starting to believe. You’re starting to see the things I knew all along.”


Bryan was at a loss for words. Even in leaving their partnership, Agent Best had Bryan’s best interest in mind. He couldn’t believe it. Meanwhile, Cyrus didn’t seem pleased by these developments. “That’s it?! That’s your deep dark secret? That you CARE about someone who’s been nothing but a dick?”

“Not a secret, dude. But Jeremy… man… look at me, I’m coming to you to figure this thing out… I’m still better with you by my side.”

“I’m always here for you, my friend. I’ll always have your back,”
Jeremy smiled as he grabbed the next card. “Oh boy… uhm, so the next one for you… have you ever… cut corners on a case?”

Bryan grimaced. “Cut corners? Like what?”

Cyrus cackled, “you know exactly what that means!”

Bryan looked down, he didn’t want to disappoint Jeremy but he also didn’t want to die. Funny thing that is. “Yes.” Bryan looked over to his former partner’s face and was surprised to not find a looking of disappointment. Instead, Jeremy was smiling just as he usually is. “I know most people think I ended up assigned to the X-Files because I… uh, don’t work well with others… but the real reason… I got caught planting evidence. I knew the fucker was guilty but I just couldn’t nail him… so… I did what I had to do. The ends justified the means.”

“Ahhhhh haha - the corrupt hand of the law strikes again! Surprise. Surprise.”

“It’s okay, Bryan,”
Jeremy said calmly, “I’m proud of you for facing the truth. I think you’ve become a better person since we’ve been partners and I believe you know how to do the right thing now.”

Cyrus looked at the orb, “that should’ve been a shock because that is DEFINITELY A LIE! But in this case… you may believe it to be true, but Baxter is a liar. He is a cheat. He can pretend to be something different all he wants but it doesn’t change who he REALLY is.”

“Don’t you want to be a better person, Bryan?”


Baxter looked down at the wire and the orb before looking back up at Bryan. “Yes. Of course I do.”

Everyone anxiously waited… but there was no shock. Bryan was telling the truth, much to the disdain of Cyrus.

“See, Cyrus - you may want to see the worst in people - but people are not inherently bad. Or liars. There’s good in everyone, you just have to bring it out of them… not try and expose the bad.”

“No! Unacceptable!”

“So that’s it. We won right? The truth has come out… we’re both still alive,”
Bryan reached down and tried to remove the wire but it was still locked on. “Come on! Unlock these things.”

“No! You lied! I know it! Something is wrong.” An upset Cyrus rushed over to the table and started messing with the orb. But with Cyrus now within his range, Bryan jumped up from his chair and immediately wrapped the wire from the game around the throat of Cyrus Truth!

“Arrrghhh,” Cyrus struggled as Baxter choked him with the wire.

“If you want let us go, I’ll take you with us!” Baxter said as he applied more pressure.

Jeremy got up from the table with concern, “Bryan… no!”

“He’s not letting us go, Jeremy! We can’t just stay stuck to this game forever!”
Baxter continued to tighten the wire around his throat. Cyrus was struggling more and more, consciousness starting to fade.

But a smile was on his face… “Yes… show us… the… truth…”

“You see! He wants this! He wants to prove that you’re still the one who believes that… that the ends justify the means… but you are a better person. I know it! I know THAT’S the truth!”


Was it? Maybe Baxter was just so good at lying he lied to himself and believed that he had changed. Because right now… right now… he wanted nothing more than reach over and yank back… snapping the neck of Cyrus Truth. End this once and for all.

Cyrus Truth’s eyes rolled back in his head as his body began to go limp…

But Bryan let him go.

Cyrus dropped to the floor. Jeremy knelt down and checked on him. He had passed out from the choke but he was still breathing. Jeremy himself let out a sigh of relief.

“I wanted to…”

“But you didn’t,” Jeremy said as he stood up. “You didn’t. And that’s why I’m proud to have been your partner.”

Click. Click.

The sound of both clasps releasing from around their wrists. They were free.

Agent Baxter retrieved his handcuffs before reaching down and cuffing them around the hands of the unconscious Cyrus. He stood up and held out his hand to Jeremy, “I couldn’t have done this without you.”

Jeremy took Bryan’s arm but pulled him in for the hug. “You did this. Not me. But I’m always here for you like I said.”

The two broke their embrace as Baxter packaged up the game. “I’ll call in some backup to take him in… but I gotta dispose of this. Make sure it doesn’t kill anyone else.”

Jeremy nodded. The two friends and former partners parted ways once again but not for the last time.


= X = X = X = X = X =

UNDISCLOSED TRASH CAN
WASHINGTON, D.C.


“Hey! What is this? Hey! Matt, take a look at this!” US Congressman Byron Donalds called out to his fellow Congressman, Matt Gaetz as he noticed something peculiar in the trash can.

“What is it?” Gaetz asked as he came over.

“Looks like… some type of board game?”

“Oh, we should take it with us! The gang has been looking for something to pass the time!”

“Good idea!”

Byron grabbed the black box out of the trash can and the two headed off, excited to reveal the new game to their co-workers.
 

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A WITCH AND A LUMBERJACK WALK INTO A BAR...



It’s Sunday, January 1st, 2023, and Jackson Fenix is woken up by someone knocking loudly at his hotel room door. Groggily, Fenix rummages around for his phone to check the time.

8:02 am

Fenix reads the time and sighs before laying face-first down on the soft pillow again, but he doesn’t get a chance to rest because there’s another loud knock on the door. Fenix sits in bed, swings his feet over to the side, and throws on his pair of boxer briefs to cover up his manhood. His face is itchy for some reason, and as he’s scratching the source of the itch, he realizes he’s still wearing the Santa Clause beard he found after Bryan Baxter disposed of it.

Fenix rips off the beard and tosses it aside before getting to his feet and slowly making his way to the door. Another knock gets cut off as he opens the door to find a middle-aged woman in a uniform and a cart of cleaning supplies.

“Housekeeping?”

Fenix, still groggy, gives the woman a look and slams the door in front of her. She takes the hint because he can hear the door dragging her cleaning cart down the hall to the next room. Fenix uses the restroom afterward and begins to wipe the cold out of his eyes as he makes his way back over to the bed. He sits on the bed and glances to find a note on the nightstand.

“Happy New Year, Jackson!

Thank you again for last night; that is one New Year’s Eve I won’t forget anytime soon! Anyway, I had to head out early; sorry about that! Call me later, though, and we can meet for coffee or lunch!

XOXO
Hazel

P.S. Sorry about making you wear that Santa Beard, but you did look sexy with it! You should consider growing a beard someday!”

Fenix reads the note and smirks as he reads the last bit.

Jackson Fenix: “Damn right, I looked good, but I think I’ll pass on the beard. Besides, that’s Nate’s thing, and I don’t want to take that away from him.”

Jackson is talking out loud. He spent last week with Hazel in Los Angeles. Nate had gone back home to spend the holidays with his family, so Jackson hadn’t seen Nate since Fallout after their unsuccessful attempt at winning the tag team titles in Mile High Massacre. Jackson had forgotten about that, but now, he’s annoyed.

Jackson Fenix: “Fuck that match!”

Jackson says that out loud again, and his annoyance evaporates as it’s replaced with another smirk. That smirk is also there because he remembered that he’s in a triple threat match at the subsequent Fallout against one of The Lumberjacks and Celestia Ravenwood, and the winner earns a title shot for their team.

What happens when a lumberjack and a witch walk into the ring at Meltdown XXV? They both get a superkick!

Jackson thinks this to himself and smiles even more comprehensively than before. Jackson then gets off the bed and heads to the bathroom for a shower.




It’s a little after 10 am, and Jackson is all cleaned up and ready to head out. He’s dressed casually in his usual Britney Spears t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. He looks over at the unkempt bed and sees the remnants of the night before, from the handcuffs to the Santa Beard; it must’ve been some night that he can’t remember. He shakes his head before heading out the door.

He walks down the street to find the coffee shop where he will meet Hazel when he hears a faint humming. He’s unsure of the source of the humming, but the tune that’s being hummed sounds familiar to him. He begins to follow the humming as it gets louder until he reaches a forest-looking area on the outskirts of town. He begins to reconsider going any further, but then that familiar tune hits his eardrums, and it’s the tune of his beloved pop princess’ hit song “Baby One More Time.” He can’t resist the temptation, especially when it’s Britney, so he continues to follow the tune as it grows louder and louder. As the sound stops, Jackson eventually stops in the woods and looks around.

Jackson Fenix: “Great, now I’m lost!”

He was a fool to have followed that tune. Was there even a tune, or was he just hearing things? Was his mind playing tricks on him?

Jackson Fenix: “I’m lost before my big match, man; Nate is going to be so pissed at me!”

Suddenly he hears the sounds of a woman in distress. It’s somewhere off in the distance as he looks around.

Jackson Fenix: “Hello? Who’s there?

The woman’s voice grows louder, and it sounds familiar.

“Help me, Jackson, help me!”

Jackson Fenix: “It can’t be, can it?”


The voice sounds like his beloved pop princess, or does it? It could be his mind playing tricks on him as he had initially thought.

” Jackson, please!”

Jackson Fenix: “Screw it, I’m coming!”


Heh, that’s what she said.

Jackson begins his way through the woods until he reaches a suspicious-looking cabin. Well, it's suspicious-looking to the average person, but to Jackson Fenix, it’s just an ordinary cabin where his beloved pop princess may or may not be. He was hoping for the latter because he’d love nothing more than to be the one responsible for rescuing her. He begins to imagine the headlines now as he stands outside the cabin.

Jackson Fenix rescues pop princess Britney Spears after she was held captive in the middle of woods in a log cabin!

Fenix then would go on to defeat a witch and lumberjack in Ukraine.

Then, along with his best friend and tag team partner, Nate Savage, he would reclaim the FWA Tag Team Championships after defeating The Connection.


Fenix smiles as he imagines those headlines, but his happy thoughts are cut short after a bag is thrown over his head.

Jackson Fenix: “Not again, come on, Big Bird, we did what you wanted!”

It was not Big Bird, mortal enemy of Jackson Fenix, who had placed the bag over his head, and before he could say anything else, he was hit on the head and knocked out.




Some time has passed, and Jackson Fenix has woken up to find himself tied to a wooden chair inside the cabin that he was standing outside of earlier. Fenix starts to wiggle around to break free, but it’s no use.

I’m afraid your feeble attempt at escaping will be a fruitless endeavor.”

The voice Fenix hears belongs to a young-looking woman. She begins to approach him slowly and leans close to him.

“Besides, if you were to escape, you’d miss out on all the fun I have for you.”

Jackson Fenix: “Uh, okay, can I set a few things straight? For instance, have you ever heard of personal space? Or a breath mint? Another thing, has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like Taylor Swift?”


The woman backs away and chuckles at the man she has tied up.

” You make these demands as if they have any value, foolish mortal. Also, to answer your second question, I don’t know who this Taylor Swift is, but you’re not the first person to tell me that.”

” Sister, back off; he’s mine!”


Another young-looking woman appears, and she pushes her sister away from Fenix.

” I captured him, so I claimed him.”

” I was the one that lured him here with my humming and the imitation of that musician he’s fascinated with, but sure, he’s all yours, little sister.”


Fenix can’t help but smirk at the two sisters' bickering, and he can only think of one reason why he’s in this mess.

Jackson Fenix: “Ladies, ladies, I get it now. You’re two obsessed fans that want to party with me; I get it. You’ve heard the rumors, and let me tell you right now that they’re true; it is as big as they say it is. There’s no need to fight; there’s plenty of me to go around!”

" Sister, what is he babbling about?”

” I could be mistaken, but I believe he thinks we want to have sexual relations with him. Is that correct?”

Jackson Fenix: “That’s pretty much the gist of it, yeah.”


The two sisters look at each other and laugh before turning their attention back to Fenix. The younger sister approaches him and points at him with her long fingernail.

” Foolish men…”

She slowly runs her fingernail down his chest until she reaches his crotch.

” Always thinking with the wrong head!”

She jabs her fingernail there, and Fenix jumps back in his chair.

Jackson Fenix: “Hey, watch where you point that thing!”

He jumps back again, and the chair starts to wobble until it falls on the floor and breaks beneath his weight. Fenix winces in pain from the fall, but soon he realizes that the fall has broken him free.

” Look what you did, sister! Leah will not be pleased!”

Jackson Fenix: “Hey, look, uh, as much as I’d love to stay and chat, I have a witch and lumberjack to beat in Ukraine, so if you don’t mind…”


Before he can leave, though, the younger sister, presumably the younger witch, grabs him by the shoulder, but he shoves her away, and that shoves sends her stumbling backward into the fireplace. Before she falls inside the flames, though, she vanishes with a cloud of smoke, and the older witch has also disappeared.

Fenix doesn’t think twice and runs out of the cabin and makes his way through the forest. Once again, he realizes that he’s still lost.

Jackson Fenix: “Oh yeah, I’m lost…”

Off in the distance, he hears the sound of wood being chopped. He begins to follow that sound until he finds a tall man with a long red beard and typical lumberjack garb.

Jackson Fenix: “Hey, bro, do you think you can help me find my way out of here?”

The lumberjack turns to look at Fenix when Fenix is tackled from behind by another lumberjack. The second lumberjack tackles him to the ground, drags him over to the tree, and he ties up Fenix.

Jackson Fenix: “Hey, what’s with me getting tied up?! On second thought, what is the deal with this forest?! First, I get abducted by creepy witch sisters, and now some weird twin lumberjacks; what is going on?!”

” Shut up!”

Jackson Fenix: “Don’t tell me what to do! All I did was ask for directions from this hellhole, and you’re tying me up to this tree!”

” I’m Dim, and that’s my brother, Dum.”

Jackson Fenix: “I didn’t ask for your life stories; I asked for a way out of here!”

” Shut up! The only way out of here is by my brother’s ax!”

Jackson Fenix: “What?! No way! This has to be some kind of nightmare; I must be dreaming!”


Dum readies his ax and Fenix closes his eyes, but after a few seconds he realizes he’s still alive and not chopped in half. The rope was so thin that the knot wasn’t tight enough so the ropes fell off of him. Fenix doesn’t think twice and runs away before the brothers can cause him any more harm.

”We really need better rope, that’s the third one to escape us today!"

Fenix runs through the forest until he finally finds a way out. He sees where he had entered the forest and quickly makes an exit. He runs down the street until he finds the coffee shop where he agreed to meet with Hazel, and he runs inside to find Hazel waiting for him.

Hazel: “Where have you been? Why are you out of breath?”

Jackson Fenix: “You won’t believe the morning I’ve had!”
 
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Who Lives in an Apartment not far from New Orleans?



Colour Key
- Bellatrix Bordeaux
- Bret Bordeaux


28th December 2022
Baton Rouge, Louisiana




The video begins, and after a few seconds of complete darkness, what looks to be a living room slowly fades into view. It’s not the biggest living space you’re likely to see, nor is it the most well-decorated, with only a black two-seater sofa, a small wooden table situated about two-foot in-front of the sofa, and on the wall, a 55-inch flat-screen TV, which looks to be the only expensive thing in the room. The floor is blanketed in a plain black carpet that looks like it hasn’t been vacuumed in a while, and the room is lit by a low-powered light bulb hanging from the ceiling, with no lampshade. Most of the colourful items in the room are situated on the table, as a variety of candy wrappers, soda cans and fast food packaging clutters the surface of the light brown table top.

There is one other piece of decoration that has yet to be mentioned, as about 3-foot from the wall that holds the TV, a familiar-looking, pretty young blonde woman who looks to be in her early twenties, sits cross-legged on the floor, looking up at the screen with wide-eyes that are surrounded by a faded, blotchy layer of black mascara, as a yellow sponge with a face attempts to catch some jellyfish with a pink starfish. She’s wearing a black t-shirt that reads “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” along with a family photo-styled image of a spaceman, a couple of potatoes, a cowboy and various other animated characters, and also a pair of grey and black plaid pyjama shorts. As she looks up at the screen unblinkingly, the rustling of keys can be heard and moments later, the sound of a door opening and almost immediately closing, which would at least warrant a head turn in the direction of the intrudance for any normal person, but not this young woman, who’s eyes remain unflinching and transfixed on the TV as if she hadn’t heard a thing.


“Trixie, I’m home!” echoes through the apartment in a masculine voice. Maybe the recognition of who the voice belongs to will stir a reaction from the dotty young lady?


The answer?

…No.

“Hey Trix, you’ll never guess what…” the masculine voice says excitedly, to which he receives no response whatsoever, “I know who you’re gonna be fighting in your first FWA match!”

As the young woman, presumably named Trixie, doesn’t respond or even blink, we get our first glimpse at the source of the masculine voice, as an athletic-looking man in his mid-to-late twenties walks into the frame. Wearing a plain black unzipped hoodie, a plain white t-shirt, black Nike sweatpants and a pair of plain black sneakers, his bland fashion sense would lead one to believe that he was the person who chose the decorations for the living room he currently stands in.

“Trixie? You alright?” the man says, a hint of concern in his voice.

Trixie, for her part, remains as still as a gargoyle. As she continues to stare up at the TV with a vacant look in her wide eyes, the man walks over and kneels down next to her.


“Trixie…you in there?” the man says, with a playful tone in his voice as he begins to wave his hand in front of her face, to which Trixie shows no signs of noticing.

Letting off a little chuckle as he realises what’s happening, the man puts his hand on Trixie’s shoulder and lightly shakes her, trying to bring her back to reality.
“Trixie, come on out. I need to have a word with you.”

Despite the man’s pestering, Trixie’s eyes remain transfixed on the magical box and the underwater creatures that live inside it.

“Trixie, seriously now, time to snap out of it,” the man says, shaking Trixie slightly harder, but to no avail, “I’ve got something important I need to speak to you about. C'mon, wake your ass up!”

As the man’s voice begins to show signs of frustration at Trixie’s apparent refusal to even acknowledge his presence, he stops shaking her and lifts himself back to his feet. “Alright, fine.” he says, an annoyed tone in his voice, before storming out of view of the camera and leaving her alone with the animated crabs and squids.

After a few moments of inactivity, the camera slowly begins to zoom into Trixie’s face, getting ever closer to her wide, blue-green eyes and eventually, the scene begins to fade into that of a different sort…


SPARKLE SOUND || Edit Sound Effects

The scene that we’ve been warped into is, to say the least, quite peculiar. We find ourselves staring into the distance as flower-shaped…things, hover above like clouds. The sky, if you can call it that, glistens as the sun reflects off it, almost as though it’s made of water. We see long strands of grass dancing in unnatural ways, as though they are being held up and controlled by some invisible force…not invisible, actually, as we see several clusters of what looks to be bubbles being formed out of thin…something, as strange-looking creatures go about their day. These creatures, looking like some weird amalgamation of sea creature and human, can be seen walking, talking, playing…driving, through the streets of what can only be described as a vibrant city. A city made up of strangely shaped metal structures, boats and ships, anchors, buckets, glass domes, and…fruit. The image pans, following the movements of a small flock of jellyfish-looking creatures, as they fly? Float? Swim past the outskirts of the city, past a Pineapple with windows, and into a bustling field, which looks to be home or a meeting place for jellyfish, judging by the sheer amount of jellyfish present there, and also the big wooden sign that reads “Jellyfish Fields”.


There seems to be quite the commotion in “Jellyfish Fields”, as a group of humanoid fish-people with nets in hand…or fin, give chase, throwing themselves into pockets of jellyfish in an attempt to catch one. This motley crew, which consists of a tall, athletic-looking male with curly brown hair and a full beard, and three females. The smallest of the three female fish-people, a woman whose face is concealed by a purple mask with green and black patterns, black lipstick, and sharp fangs protruding from her mouth, looks to be the most aggressive of the jellyfishers as she dives into clusters of them without any hesitation. She, and the most colourful of the three fish-people, a woman with shoulder-length silver hair and a fiery personality, looks to be a cohesive unit as the silver-haired fish-woman attempts to lure the jellyfish into the path of her aggressive vampire friend. Their plan may have worked, if not for the tunnel vision of the tallest of the three females. This fish-girl, who has long blonde hair, big, wonder-filled eyes that are surrounded by a layer of black mascara and a huge, toothy grin on her face, gives chase to a single jellyfish, swinging her net frantically towards the fleeing creature and missing consistently. As she charges after her lone target, she is led into the path of her two female friends and their flock of jellyfish and, after leaping off of the floor with her net high and missing wildly before crashing face-first to the floor, the flock dissipates, with not a single jellyfish caught.

Seeing her and her silver-haired fish friend’s plan foiled, the vampire fish-persons fins slump to her sides as she mutters something in a language that is not English, all the while looking down at the cartoonishly mangled body of the blonde fish-girl with an annoyed expression.

“Oh, poop-nuggets! Trixie, are you alright?!” the male fish-person asks in a panicked voice as he charges towards the scene of the accident. Reaching Trixie’s body, he rolls her over and to his surprise, the blonde fish-girl bursts into hysterical laughter and, seeing that she is indeed alright, he, the vampire and the silver-haired fish-people join in, sharing a hearty laugh between them as true friends do…before-

SPLASH!

…and just like that, we are yanked away from the fun-loving fish-friends and the vibrant underwater world, and we return back to the same blandly decorated living room we had not too long ago left.


-----------------------------------------------------------------


Still seated on the floor, directly underneath the TV that’s now screening The Fairly OddParents, Trixie’s face is one of utter shock as she turns her head, looks up and sees a man standing about 3-feet away, with an empty bucket in one hand and a towel in another.


“BRET!?” Trixie yells in anger and disbelief as she looks down to see her pyjamas, along with the rest of her, drenched in water.

“Oh, hello Trix! I didn’t think you were in there!” Bret says, his face one of amusement.

Trixie, apparently, isn’t impressed, as a sound that can only be described as
“RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!” escapes the rage-fueled young woman, as mascara begins to drip down her face, and that, coupled with her hate-filled expression, makes for an evil looking image.

Bret, not bothered in the slightest at Trixie’s rage, tosses the towel at the infuriated young woman.
“We need to talk.” he says, as he nonchalantly walks over to and sits on the couch.

The towel ends up draping over Trixie’s soaked head, momentarily covering the look of outrage plastered on her face, before she yanks the towel off her head, climbs frantically to her feet and charges towards Bret. Bret, for his part, doesn’t flinch in the slightest at the sight of a psychotic-looking bundle of rage storming towards him, as he just sits there, watching the TV. As Trixie reaches her brother, she balls up her fists and looks to be about to swing a mean right hand…before she stops, her fist only a couple of inches from Bret’s unflinching face.

After a brief moment, Trixie lowers her fist, unable to strike out at her brother, before letting out one more quick, fury-riddled
“AAAAAAAH!” straight into his face, before storming off in a huff.

“And where do you think you’re going?” Bret says, quizzically.

Trixie, still fuming, stops in her tracks and turns to face him, staring a hole through the back of his head with wide, glaring eyes, looking as though she wished she had laser eyes.

Bret, seemingly aware that Trixie has halted her exit plans despite not even looking at her, continues in a calm voice,
“C’mere, I’ve got some news I think you’d like to hear.”

Trixie doesn’t move initially, seemingly wanting nothing to do with her brother right now, but unfortunately, her curiosity gets the better of her as she asks begrudgingly, “What?” before slowly making her way back towards the couch.

“Have a seat,” he says, before realising that his sister’s drenched and adding, “and make sure you sit on the towel, I ain’t having you soaking the fuck outta the couch.”

Trixie, ignoring Bret’s demand in an act of defiance, just plonks her wet ass on the couch and slumps back in a sulk.

Bret, glances over at his sister momentarily and chuckles, before turning back towards the TV.
“I know who your first fight’s gonna be in FWA.” he says, taking another glance at her to see if she’s listening. To his mild surprise, Trixie meets his gaze, the rage in her eyes slowly being replaced with a look of wonder, and a tinge of apprehension as Bret continues, “His name is Shawn Summers.”

“Uh, I-is he a nice person?” Trixie asks nervously, seemingly hoping for a positive answer.

Bret smirks, before responding,
“Unfortunately, no…they call him ‘Der Basterd’, so I imagine he’s, ya know…”

“Born outta wedlock?” Trixie asks, puzzled.

Bret chuckles, amused at Trixie’s unbridled innocence, before responding,
“I mean, I don’t actually know if his parents were married, but that’s not why they call him ‘Der Basterd’, Trix….”

“Then why do they call him a…B-word?”

“Look, Trix. The man you’re gonna be fighting…he’s good. Considering your lack of experience and all, the FWA’s really throwing you to the wolves here.” Bret says, a great deal of concern in his voice as he comes to the realisation of what his sister’s up against, “Let’s ignore for a second the fact that they’re holding a show in a fucking active warzone, which is at the top of the list of the stupidest decisions I’ve ever fucking heard. But on top of that, they’re taking someone who’s only had two matches EVER, and both of those were Tag Matches, and they’re pitting her against someone with the reputation of Shawn Summers?!”

As Bret explains the situation, all the while getting worked up at the thought of his sister having to fly to Ukraine of all places in 2023, to take on one of the best professional wrestlers on the planet, Trixie’s face turns from a mild concern to full-blown terror as she watches her usually composed brother slowly descend into a panic. “Like, fucking seriously?! The motherfucker’s a former champion for Christ's sake! AND, on top of that, he’s a ruthless son of a bitch! Like, only a couple of weeks ago he attacked Vampyra with a fucking baseball bat!-”

Before Bret could continue his outburst, Trixie interjects, her face a mix of fear, confusion and recognition, “W-wait, Vampyra? He beat up Vampyra?!” she asks, her face slowly regaining the fury she not too long ago screamed out of herself.

“Uh, yeah, he took a bat to her knee a couple of weeks back,” he says, a puzzled look breaking through his overwhelming feelings of concern momentarily, “why? What’s she to you?”

“She’s my friend!” Trixie responds passionately.

“Since when?” Bret asks confused, before a light bulb goes off in his mind, “wait, oh yeah, I remember! She’s one of Cali X’s friends from Japan, right? You guys are Twitter friends…”

“Cali and Vampyra are my bestest friends!” Trixie exclaims proudly, “And Shawn Summers hurt one of them?!”

As Trixie’s rage bubbles at the thought of someone hurting one of her “bestest friends”, Bret looks on, and after thinking for a moment and realising that his sister’s gonna need all the fire she can possibly muster in order to even survive her upcoming match with “Der Basterd”, he decides to add fuel to the fire. “Yeah, he did!” he says, in an overexaggerated, outraged voice, before continuing, “You should’ve seen it, Trix... there she was, having just won the TV Title in a fair, hard-fought match, and from outta nowhere, Shawn Summers rushes into the ring with a baseball bat and attacks her! And oh my god, he didn’t stop, Trix. He just kept hitting her in the leg, time after time after time until she could no longer stand…it was sickening.”

While listening intently to Bret’s slightly over-dramatised version of events, Trixie’s face switches from horror at the thought of someone committing such a heinous assault on one of her friends, to downright evil. “I-...”

As his sister attempts to process his version of events, Bret asks,
“Well, that’s pretty much what happened…what’re you gonna do about it?” with a look that says that he knows full well what she is capable of when given the proper motivation, and as he gazes into the fire raging in his sister’s eyes, most of his concerns begin to slip away as he thinks to himself…(”You got this, Trix)


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The Golden One

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The date is November 22, 2022. It has been a little more than four weeks since the Golden Opportunity match at FWA Lights Out – and the same amount of time since I woke up expecting to be herefor good.

The hospital feels cramped. The walls feel like they’re getting a little too familiar with my memory and senses – chipped paint marks, smudges from chairs, a creaky door that doesn’t close flush. I've noticed that I don't notice these characteristics anymore. That's a sign of being too comfortable with the setting.

I’m ready to get out of here, but the doctors wanted me to stick around for a few weeks. They wanted to make sure I’m mentally stable and healthy enough. It’s understandable. I get it. But I have cabin fever. I want out.

The good news is today’s the day: November 22, 2022. Do they still do Thanksgiving in the real world? If so, I should be just in time. If not, then it's fine. Today's the day. I can't stay in this place. I got to an ending point -- albeit in an anticlimactic fashion -- and emotionally am ready to move on, mostly because I think I know everything there is to know. I think I get it.

I want to see my family. I want to see my friends. I wonder if they even remember me. It has been more than 14 years since I’ve seen anyone in the real world since I went into a coma. Have they all moved on? I know my family is waiting to talk with me. They talked with me a year ago when I first woke up.

The anxiousness is knowing what else is out there. What is this world? What is the world like? I’ve only known the FWA for the past 14 years. I know what that place entails. I’m comfortable there.

But this? The real world? What is it?

“Devin?”

I’m sitting in my chair in an otherwise-vacant room that has only the chair I’m sitting in, an uncomfortable bed with the same white sheets and white pillow it always has had, a small wall-attached flat-screen TV, and a pulse and vitals monitoring machine.

The door swung open without me realizing – lost in thought about what’s to come here, in a place that feels like a whole new world, a rebirth of sorts being dragged out.

Standing in front of me is my doctor, the same doctor who greeted me months ago when I woke up and learned that the other place – the FWA – is not my created world but a world created by many.

“You’re getting out today," he says. "Your family is coming now. When they get here, you’ll be ready to go.”

“It’s a good day,”
I say in reply, grinning as I look down to the cheap tile floor.

Nothing about his appearance, posture or tone is alarming … until …

“I won’t see you again after this. So … I have to tell you something.

Remember when you asked me about a guy named ‘Sauce Man’ and to check on him?”


Yeah? Yeah, I remember that. What about it? And wh…

“Well … I lied. He was never here. I never heard of him.”

My face jolts up right when he says this. I was listening intently. His tone was alarming, for sure, but I never expected something like this.

“Why … did you lie?”

“I … I wanted you to focus on the BIGGER picture. That you’re not the only one going through all of this! That you’re not alone in there! That there are others in there with you! And that you don’t need to stay there. I know you’ve stayed there for this long because you felt it was entirely your world and your creation. It’s not … not entirely. So I wanted you to know … that you could leave it behind you and come back here … to the real world … to your family.”

“Yeah, doc, I don’t think that would’ve been lost on me! You still didn’t have to lie about the Sauce guy thing!”

“Sauce Man.”

“Whatever! I told people in there that he was fine and made it out! I told them he was alive and safe!”


My mind immediately goes to Pac-Man Bert, Frank, and Wild Jerry – the trio that asked me to ask about their friend, Sauce Man, who they say has been missing for months. They felt comfort when I told them Sauce Man was sure enough alive and made it out of his coma. Now?

What now?

And who even are those guys?

“I don’t … I don’t know.”

“So you’re telling me no one named Sauce Man was ever here? Ever?”


He shakes his head and I’m now searching for answers. All I can do is ask about someone else – anyone else. A name comes to mind.

“Alyster Black? Danny Toner? Chris Peacock?”

“Yes, yes, and yes. All of them are here.”

“Great. A foundation.”


A pause.

“XYZ?”

The doctor gives me a curious glance.

“I’d know that name if he was here, and he ain’t. Let me double-cheeeeeeeck … and no.”

What the hell is going on?!

“What the hell is going on?!”

Rather than keep that thought to myself, I let it known that I do not know anymore what the hell is going on.

“Here’s the list of people in there with you. I can go down the list if you want.”

I shake my head. There’s no need. It’ll all feel jumbled and like a thousand-piece puzzle with some of the pieces missing.

“Krash?”

“Yep.”

“Randy Ramon?”

“Yep.”

“Ryan Rondo?”

“Yep.”

“Okay. And we know Alyster Black and Danny Toner are in there.”


Another pause.

“What the hell is going on?” I say to myself yet again.



“I have to go back.”

“What?! ... No, Devin. No. You cannot keep doing this. Today is THE day. You’re going home. Your family is minutes away! What are we going to tell them?”


I look at the doctor with a knowing, vulnerable stare. Then I look beyond him, as if I’m going to see my mom and dad turning the corner and entering the room.

“I thought … I was done. But now I have to know. I have to know what’s going on. I have to know who Sauce Man is.”

“Why? Why do you have to go back? Why can’t you just … let … go? For once? Just … let it go. Live your life! Be with your family! Give them the joy that you tried to take from them fourteen years ago!”

“I have to know what’s going on. I can’t explain it, doc, but something … something in the back of my mind was making me believe all that time … that I made that place. I believed it was all my creation. And there was something pushing me to believe that. You’re right, too. I stayed and kept going back for so long because I thought that place needed me there to survive. Call it self-absorbed or whatever you want, but I thought that. And even if it’s NOT that, I can still sense my fingerprints on that place. I still think I kept it alive.


But now … there’s another crack. It’s like once I think I’ve figured it out, there’s a crack in it. And I have to figure out what that crack is. I have to know, because if there is something more to it … something about me specifically … I want to know. Wouldn’t you?”

A long pause.

“I can’t keep doing this.”

Another pause.

“Do you even know where you’re going? To get your answers?”

“Yeah. … I do. I know exactly where I need to go, surprisingly.


And I’m just going back one more time. The last time. This is it. No more.”

I think about when I first learned this was all a shared comatose experience. I remember seeing all the beds filled with people like me. I have no idea where they are now, but I know they’re somewhere, all back in the FWA. I don’t know what has happened in the last four weeks, but I immediately think back to two beds in particular – filled by the comatose bodies of Alyster Black and Danny Toner.

“Plus … it’s standard in wrestling …”

My stern expression I’ve held through this conversation changes to a devilish grin, as if I’ve channeled my “character” in there instead of being who I am out here.

“... to have a last match.”




I Mean It When I Say 'Siempre'


I thought I’d never have to do this again. I thought I was done with this months ago, when I firmly told the person I needed to tell that I was not going to do this ever again.

But here I am, on the night of November 23, 2022, standing in the cold outside of the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. Here I am, standing on the sidewalk right outside the chain-link fence and waiting for a black Toyota Camry to slowly come to a stop right in front of me.

Should I give a recap to the significance of this specific location?

It was after Mile High 2021 – the night Golden Rock were revealed as the men behind the Osos Locos masks – when I stood in this exact spot. Mile High 2021 was held at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. Mile High was the night I took Alyster Black’s “Ride the Bomb to Hell” and had my cobwebs banged up a bit.

Mile High was the night when I took one of the strangest car rides ever – from this spot to a hotel in Colorado Springs. It was that car ride when I fell asleep numerous times – or woke up, coming to consciousness back in the real world.

So over the course of a few months, I returned to this spot and entered the same black Toyota Camry with the same driver, my subconscious, to learn more about just what the hell this place is and why I’m here.

But my subconscious was selfish and controlling. I broke away from his vagueness and secrecy.

Yet, here I am. I’m back. I have more questions, and I cannot leave until I have all the answers.

The temperature tonight is reminiscent of that night after Mile High – cold, windy, and uncomfortable. The sky is similarly cloudy, with a hint of grey serving as an ineffective mask over the black sky and an effective cover to the sparkling stars and moon.

It’s the closing of a circle that kick-started in earnest one year ago, at Meltdown X.

Like clockwork – or better yet, like the result of one’s consciousness and subconsciousness in symmetry – a black Toyota Camry turns the corner from the left of my standing and slowly comes to a stop right in front of me. The passenger-side doors are half a step off the sidewalk curb.

I’m 3 feet from the place I thought I’d never have to return to again.

The front passenger-side window lowers, and sitting in the driver seat is the same driver – my subconscious – smiling widely.

“I thought we were done.”

“Weeeeeell … I haaaave ... queeeeeestioooooons.”

“I know you do. I'm your subconscious, remember? And I have ya' answers," he says, his accent and slang coming and going sentence to sentence.


He moves his left hand and lowers the back passenger-side window. The first face I see staring back at me is … Sauce Man, the guy I was hoping to learn about. He wears a green T-shirt with a massive red tomato on the front.

He doesn’t seem to know what’s going on.

The back passenger-side door opens, welcoming me to sit on the black leather-cushion seats. I hesitate for a few seconds.

“Should I do this?” I think to myself.

“Don't waste time. We all know ya' getting in the car again,” my subconscious barks, acknowledging in a cheeky way that he knows exactly what I’m thinking. Sauce Man slides over to the driver’s side of the back seat, offering me the room I need.

So I take two steps, crouch down to fit under the roof of the Camry, and slide into the seat before closing the door behind me.








ftfMoFQfvz0NBchbcjQKnrIr3MfU6lAHrACttUCThLSIRWxnDph9VQuyQee4Jix0HSGhoigsVRgxLlEaomABo1RaGTQQo4TyKuumepelmUWfJmvVaOYjMn4kVRYpBAG4CqskFKaWaWSwYsE6jCVvma0re-aAdPNQ5P9tl-F54LXpGcN4n7Rld4xX_ndrMQ

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“You tooooold meeeee ... I was in controoool. ... Weeee were in controoooooool”

“I thought we were.”

“Did you? Reeeeeally?”

“Well …”

“Exaaaactly.”

“I thought you could be in control. I thought the power of knowing this was a dream could grant you control. I didn’t know the true extent of this place. I didn’t know the limitations – funny enough, that’s the appropriate word – of this dreamworld considering all the possibilities of shared experience.”

“You saaaay it as if it’s a baaaaad thing.”

“Didn’t you want to be what you thought you could be? Didn’t you want to rule this place forever and ever?”

“Not foreeeever and eeeever. I aaaaalways wanted to go ... hoooome.”


I turn to look at Sauce Man sitting next to me. He hasn’t said a word the entire time. All he has done is rustled uncomfortably a bit in the seat. He’s a frail-looking ‘fella, skinny as a tree limb and an oversized T-shirt to amplify his petite figure.

“Let’s taaaalk about the eeeeelephant in the room, yeah?”

“Yeah? What about it?”

“Why is Saaaaauce Guy here?”

“Sauce Man. But you know his name and are saying it wrong on purpose. You haven’t figured this part out, have ya’?”

“No. Not at all.”

“Well … Sauce Man is … you. And me.”


I shake my head once in response to what I heard.

“I am?” Sauce Man says, the first words he has said this entire time.

“You are. You are … a character … created by the comatose mind of Devin Golden. You are a creation of his. And of me, I guess.”

“I am?”
he says.

“Yeah.”

It’s time for me to interject.

“And … whyyyyy did I maaaaake him?”

I figure this is a more relevant question than questioning the validity of what I’m hearing. I’m in a shared comatose dreamworld where people from the real world have gone to escape their troubles and all compete and co-exist in a wrestling universe that only exists in the abstract, in memories and neurons.

Point being, anything can be possible. Even this.

“You made him because … well … you were in a state of restlessness, I suppose. Sometimes you get silly.”

“Hmmm …”


I turn to Sauce Man.

“Your frieeeeeends have been aaaaasking about you.”

“Friends? I got friends askin’ on me?”

“Yeah. The big black guy, the Mexican guy, and the guy with glasses who plays the PacMan ga…”


My subconscious answered there for me.

“Ahhhh … Frank, Wild Jerry, and PacMan Bert! I miss ‘em. Glad they’re aite. I haven’t seen ‘em since … well, shoot … I dunno when the last time I seen them was.”

“How’d youuuuu get here? What happened when you leeeeeft them?”

“Shoot, I dunno, man. All I remember was we were time travelin’ one day and the next, I was sittin’ in this car. Couldn’t tell ya’ what happened between then ‘n now. Probably another coma or sumthin’ … like before. They said I got in a car crash way back when and went into a coma for like 20 years or sumthin’. Hell if I know. I stopped worryin’ ‘bout it.”

“A coma.”


A car crash. It’s fitting together seamlessly.

“So this reeeeeeally ... is ... my creaaaaaation?” I ask, turning back to the subconscious.

“Yeeeap.”

“Are there ooooothers I ... maaaade?”

“Ya’ know I ain’t gonna tell ya’ that. Can’t give ya’ all the information at once.”

“Then whyyyy ... did you briiiiing him ... to me?”
I ask, pointing at Sauce Man to my left.

“Because you were lookin’ for him. That’s the rules,” my subconscious says in that inconsistently used country accent that still feels just as familiar as the first time we talked, although I still can’t quite place where I know it from.

“Well, I’m looking for the others, too!” I say loudly, almost a yell.

“Ain’t work like that. Sorry.”

I sit back and take a deep breath, turning my attention to the nameless streets of what I assume still is downtown Denver, Colorado. So there’s my answer – some of this place is my creation, and most is not. I just won’t ever know what – or who – is and what isn’t.

A frustrated glance back to the driver lasts only a moment, but in that moment, I catch a sight I wasn’t expecting. I double-take back to the driver and see the same person he’s always been, big-frame glasses and curly black hair.

But I’m sure of what I just saw – a long blonde-haired woman with pale skin, a silver nose ring, tattoo sleeves on both arms, and flowing hair down past her shoulders. Just a momentary glance caught all of that.

And she was looking right at me with the most devilish, all-knowing smirk. I’ve seen her before – most recently, as the Voodoo Queen who helped me bring Randy Ramon back from the gates of heaven to be Osos Locos.

I don’t know her name, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her before.

And I’m pretty sure I know why I saw her just now. The accent and slang finally makes sense.

“Thaaaaaank ... yooooou,” I say to my subconscious

He doesn't say anything, simply nodding his head to acknowledge I picked up what he put down.

Then a silence of a few seconds.

“Thanks for what?” Sauce Man chimes in.

I don't need to respond.

“So why did ya’ come back? What’re ya’ gonna do?”

“I’m gonna ... chaaaaaaallenge Alyster Black and Danny Toner ... to one moooooore match. For the World Championship. If I lo…”

“Gotta interrupt ya’. Danny ain’t ‘round right now. Just Alyster Black.”


A head nod with an expression to share my disappointment.

“Ya’ll find out more soon, I imagine.”

“Just Aaaaaalyster. He’s deserving, and it’s more ... iiiiiiiintimate.”


The disappointment of not getting to face Toner in my last match fades quickly. Plus, a plan forms in silence in my head – for how to gain my wanted closure with the unavailable.

“So I’ll face Alyster oooooone ... mooooooore ... time. If I lose, then I’ll wake up forever – and never look back. If I win …”

A pause.

“Then I’ll ride it out until I lose.”

“I guess we better say everything we have left to say then.”


I nod my head while sitting in the back seat. Then I turn to my subconscious and before even getting the question out of my mouth, his right hand is outstretched back to me and holding a notebook full of lined paper, plus a pen.

"Ha-HAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"










_khx-x6J38GJwzh_Hcuk-6gaOJzKhpcpaOft2DLEMrAQ5Yjg5KvlLocGoisi1oweSnjVOKAJJknB-VlYHivNBj4SnUm-YkmFQrhSCYqbLBr-lI-M-8HDFfaVBoUNjIphMr4BhEs2c7_L0rsVevMJlW3yqpqNbH8Opmwny_I29x3sFybclSlnNhY6V1gRlQ

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“What about ... hiiiiiiim?”

“Who?”

“Sauce Man.”

“Oh.”


I turn to Sauce Man, who perks up now that he’s been mentioned. The conversation has happened up until now as if he wasn't sitting right next to me in the back of the black Toyota Camry.

“Do you want to staaaay here ... or dooooo you waaaant ... to come with?”

“Ummm … stay? Comin’ with when I dunno where I’m goin’ … sounds kinda scary, ya’ know?”

“Alright.”


A pause.

“You’re coming. You weren’t meeeeeant ... to be seeeeerious ... in the first place.”

“Umm … alright, I guess.”

“Ya’ do know what him comin’ with you means, right?”
my subconscious asks.

“It meeeeans ..."

A pause, and my elongated speech takes a park for a second.

"... he’s just a memory.”

“Right. Just makin’ sure ya’ know.”


I begin to think about everyone else here – all who I’m sure are characters I’ve created. Sierra. Our kid. My labrador-beagle mix. Then I think about how I literally don’t have any memories of them outside of … the FWA itself.

Nothing about my home.

Nothing of travel.

Nothing of a family.

Nothing about my wife, Sierra.

Nothing about my dog.

Nothing of the world.

It’s all darkness.

And I’ve never thought about it until now.

“Do ya' remember anything about ya' life?”

A pointed question.

“Ya' real life, not your life here.”

“I remember how I got here – and why I got here. I figure it’s the same as everyone.”

“Why’d you come here?”
Sauce Man asks, trying to be part of the conversation.

“I came here because I needed an escape. Isn’t that the same for everyone?”

“Yeah, for most.”

“Seems like this place gives a lot of people an outlet and an escape from the challenge of the real world. Maybe they can live out a dream that’ll never be a reality there. Or maybe it’s just a way to run temporarily – or for 14 years – from issues that feel like skyscrapers.


Or maybe they stumbled here by accident – by luck, good or bad. Everyone has a story, I’m sure, for how they got here. My story doesn’t matter any more than anyone else’s.”








“What about us?”

Here I am, back on Fallout on Christmas Eve 2022, just weeks from the Winter Wasteland tapei death triple cage match against Alyster Black for the FWA World Championship. I’m fully prepared for Winter Wasteland to be my closing song, my curtain call.

Yet, I am here on Fallout because a few people still need my help. Standing backstage in the Rajko Mitic Stadium in Belgrade, Serbia, I am faced with the distraught frowns of PacMan Bert, Wild Jerry, Frank, and Sierra. PacMan is looking up every so often from his handheld PacMan video game. Frank stands in the back – a nondescript black man wearing a black T-shirt – but he spoke those words. Wild Jerry is front and center, wearing a soccer jersey of green and red colors, a show of support for the Mexico national football team.

Those three are Sauce Man’s friends. After revealing to them that Sauce Man did not make it out but would be leaving soon – along with me – it led to a follow-up question that I dreaded: What about us?

“What do we do? If you’re going to leave, what do we do?”

Sierra holds our “daughter” in her right arm, with our now-17-month-old daughter’s arms gently and loosely wrapped around Sierra’s neck. In her left hand, Sierra tightly holds a black leash that on the other end is clipped to the collar of our lab-beagle mix, who is antsy with excitement seeing her dad-owner for the first time in weeks.

Two sectors of FWA life have joined together into one.

Off in the distance, I hear two other voices in conversation.


Katie Baxter: “Well … yeah … Reagan Cole is real. So am I. So is everyone here.”

XYZ: “Yeah … you would say that.”



It’s quite the eclectic group of six, all people on the periphery, all characters in a dream world created by the mind of someone else. All characters left behind, or about to be left behind, and in search of purpose.

Again, those way-off voices catch my attention.


XYZ: “I’m lost. I don’t know what’s real and what’s just … my creation. I’ve never felt more alone, and I feel stuck.”

Katie Baxter: “I think you just need to be grounded. Find the ground.”


XYZ: “I can’t find the ground, because I don’t even know if the ground is real.”


“You need someone who needs you.”

I look over at XYZ, who walks away from Katie Baxter. There’s no doubt that Big Al was a mental reincarnation of XYZ’s precious childhood best friend, a black labrador who was loyal until his death from cancer. Hopefully, XYZ recognizes how Big Al was simply the result of his own subconscious recreating the positive qualities – and devastating passing – of his companion from years ago.

Or maybe he has not come around to it quite yet. It’s difficult to grasp this truth. I would know firsthand. It required a whole car ride from Denver to Colorado Springs just for me to understand, and then weeks more to finally believe it fully.

Regardless, XYZ is hurting. He is alone. His subconscious has placed him in abandonment. It’s the least Golden can do.

And … there’s just something about XYZ that draws Golden towards him.

“You need him.”

“Him? That wack gringo?”

“Wh … can’t we come with you?”
Sierra asks.

“Because this is where you exist. You don’t exist out there.”

A pause.

“And he … he needs you.”

Sierra seems quite hesitant. So does Sauce Man’s eclectic trio. But what more can be said or done?

"No. I'll figure it out on my own."


Sierra looks once more at me and then turns away, walking towards XYZ. No hug. No goodbye words. Not even a wave or a smile. All the memories and emotions of when I first learned Sierra and I were having a child flood back. The memory of being stuck in that “Groundhog Day” loop with Ramon and receiving the call floods back.

What more can I do? Nothing. This person I created will do whatever they must do in here to survive. Then the memories of walking our dog in the foothill mountains of northern Georgia – and the conversation I had with his dog prior to his rubber match with Zachary Kazadi. Suddenly, there's a sincere hope that she changes her mind, if only so the others can have purpose.

Then there is the trio of Frank, Wild Jerry, and PacMan Bert. Frank nods his head, and Wild Jerry sighs.

"Aye ... these crazy gringos, man. They always up to somethin'. Fine. We'll do it."









“Will you ever come back?”

As I'm scribbling down more words on the lined sheet of paper -- in near-perfect script penmanship, I might add -- my subconscious ruins the momentum with a worthy question, albeit an annoying one. I glance outside for curiosity sake and notice we are circling the same three downtown Denver blocks, now passing in front of the Ball Arena. I wonder if Sauce Man -- who has fallen asleep next to me, and never will wake up -- noticed.

“I don’t know, subconscious. Will I?”

My cheeky response comes with a smirk.

“I’ll never come back after this.”

“That’s kind of sad, isn't it?”

“Yeah, it is, but I’ll dream again.”

“Not like this, though.


Never like this.”

Another left-hand turn at a traffic-light intersection.

"Will he wake up before ... I get out?"

"No."

"So I won't be able to say goodbye?"

"Do you think it's important for you to say goodbye to him?"

"No."

"Well then ..."

"Yeah, but, it's just sad. I'm saying goodbye to other people. Kind of puts you in a mood."

"Have you finished all the letters?"

"I've finished the ones to people. I just have the one to everyone left to finish up."


Another left-hand turn. One of the last ones we'll make.










8ELfCmY8BzgbOpGapgCRdQgNqy9SxEz1rPGJbQBuSDpP1DMzvF7159Pu5iZVDc1LtgBJeJ-uYTRzXTNyVnzDWKj9ksxsdocUCfdqOR-gUpiW2mXfe8DIuje6CAwgcJoeQqUcRoxzE8iBuRX9UB0XcgznfVjApfjFf5MrBfx1TDTgPk_Gti0qiTctlleiDA
7Cm69wqBTJBKDOoLpBptC1f5vwNk7o64bixoTDriaa-jsXsb4YtQOACWOOK7zAss4XQm_ynGVMEoh8cgujq67XYp_G0Fy9GpI3Iu3QSKFFLZ-KN7mvjFHOwOiorL7yqozFgYyqWLmXevvyT4z3iwvGB3hhjvyx8LsKHV_H9q5x3SpSW4YT5dxWZHwUdsTg
AN1jHmI4IfmEp1MzjQlfCEd6hQfUQdA4pSsZSQ6dEoL6pG4hlGykiUCxdDED1lNURplahDGygzy1bFsthN4_2cWzLLxgypbPS6-7AD07I0y2dn8-rzPZzL4LR6_sF3MoFrufwFOQEk-CGyKJ2TD3HipI3x3wuTA3QBowBbPU6gRq0l9h-bYdNSEcGWtMlA
moZHvv9_OcVqHxRqOESFfqr8UBO0KNipI6NIOu8cdLbIgWuS5DqsQYx402JX4HitrSQn3QD4vuVI4YFKW56iwpAxMJLJwrFraZYSvXZZ-n6BZEFhVSsMPw-S5YUiDUbwDFhRKTZeJNwRhW5a_rKiU9aMlekfaW554gdynKgOhzMpdjKqRmGuMzHhHUB2JA








The last mention of passing the Ball Arena was coincidentally the last time the car would fully pass the venue. The next time we spot it -- making a left-hand turn from Speer Boulevard onto Chopper Circle -- the car begins to slow down and veer off to the right-hand curb. I see the same security gate and parking lot where I exited from after Mile High 2021. I see the exact spot on the sidewalk where I have been picked up all those times.

“Can I ask you … one more question?”

“Sure.”

“Were you always in control? Like … when I broke away and stopped coming to you for these talks, was that also you pushing me to do that? Did you always have your hand on the wheel?”


My subconscious looks back to me – his right hand comfortably holding the wheel of the black Toyota Camry – and smiles warmly.

“I mean … I am the writer.”

A pause.

“Alright. One more question. Are XYZ and Shannon coming, too?"

"They don't have to. They can stay or come with. They're you, in a way. Us. So … our call."

"Its not siempre if no one is still here, right?"

"Just what I was thinking."


A long pause.

"So thiiiis ... is it.”

The car comes to a complete stop right next to the curb.

“You’re noooot ... gonna stoooop ... me? Not gonna keeeeep me here ... or bring me back?”

“No. It’s time to let you go.”

“One mooooore question."

“As many as you need.”

“Do you think ... we did ... goood?"

“I think we did pretty damn good.”

“And ...


Caaaan I ... beeeeat ... Alyster?"

"Of course you ... we ... can. I don't know if we will, but we've had magic bullets before. I think we have one more."


Another pause. The door opens -- almost like someone else is opening it, even though my hand is the one pushing it ajar.

"One more ... queeestion."

And again, I put my elongated speech on break.


"You’ll be with me until the very last second, though, right? When I'm out there.”

“Until the very last word.”
 

Tommy Bedlam

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Tommy Bedlam
in:
Tommy Bedlam: Choose Your Own Adventure

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Prologue:
It has been reported that the average adult makes up to 35,000 conscious decisions each day. 35,000 times a day, we make choices that can impact our lives in both the short-term and the long-term. Many of those decisions come with no great pressure, but others leave us feeling anxious and wondering if we’ve made the right call, or if we have set ourselves up for failure.

Today, you get to make the decisions for someone else. That someone is Tommy Bedlam, who has become one of the hottest names in the FWA. Tommy’s life has been a series of decisions. Some of them were not his to make. However, there were others that were fully his. With those types of decisions behind him, it’s safe to assume that there are plenty of choices in his future. For one day only, you get to take over the life of Tommy Bedlam and make the decisions on his behalf.

Make the right decision, and Tommy will be on his way to the top of the wrestling world. Make the wrong call, and Tommy runs the risk of falling into obscurity with the likes of other names from the wrestling world. The choices are yours.

Chapter 1
"A Fork in the Road"

At the age of 16, Tommy was no stranger to adversity. He had grown up in a home without a father, and at that point, he wasn’t even sure who his biological father was. His mother had never talked much about the man, and whenever Tommy asked, she typically became angry. The closest things he had to fathers were his two uncles, Jimmy and Timmy, and his high school football coach, Coach Flatt.

Additionally, Tommy grew up on a struggling ranch. Struggling ranches weren’t uncommon in Texas during Tommy’s teen years. Conglomerates had taken over the ranching industry, much like they had done in every other walk of life. Tommy’s mother had inherited her father’s ranch upon his death, primarily because she was the only person that he trusted enough to run it.

Uncle Jimmy helped out occasionally on the ranch, but he was off living his rodeo dream. He spent at least 8 months of the year traveling across the United States in the pursuit of belt buckles that he would never wear.

Timmy, on the other hand, stayed home. Unfortunately, he never had the desire to go out and forge his own path in life. Instead, he was quite content with being a ranch hand on the Bennett Family Ranch. He didn’t want to own the ranch, as he had no interest in balancing books, fulfilling beef contracts, and doing all the other administrative duties that must be completed every day. He wanted to ride his horse, brand cattle, and live in the bunk house with the other hands. While he had worked his way up to ranch foreman, that was the extent of his life goals.

Tommy spent his days at school doing just enough to keep his grades high enough to be allowed to play football. He was a good athlete, and quickly caught the attention of Coach Flatt, one of the most respect names in the world of Texas high school football. Coach Flatt had asked Tommy about playing quarterback before his junior year, but Tommy repeatedly told his coach that he had no interest in playing offense. Tommy liked defense. Tommy liked hitting wide receivers who came across the middle, and he loved meeting a running back on the other side of the line.

Tommy was never going to make it to the highest end of the college football ranks, but Coach Flatt was convinced that he could help Tommy get a scholarship to play at a Division II college. The University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech were never going to come calling, but there were other options both instate and in the states that bordered Texas. Texas was a hotbed of college football talent, and Coach Flatt had already been in contact with coaches at The University of North Texas, East Texas Tech, and a few other DII programs.

All of that changed one fateful day in September. Tommy was half-asleep in geometry when one of the school’s guidance counselors stepped into the room. The attractive woman motioned for the teacher who stepped over to the door. The two shared some whispers, and Tommy immediately noticed the guidance counselor looking at him over his teacher’s shoulder. She motioned for Tommy to step into the hallway with her. She silently led him down the hall to the principal’s office where his mother was waiting. She had obviously been crying.

“Mom, what’s going on?”

“Tommy, it’s your uncle Timmy. He was in an accident this morning on his way back from Tulsa.”

“OK…”

“He didn’t make it.”


The words hung heavy in the air. Uncle Timmy had been killed in the early morning hours on his way back from Tulsa. An 18-wheeler, piloted by a driver who had been on the road for too long that night crossed into the southbound lane of the interstate and struck his truck head on. Paramedics who went to the scene found Timmy’s lifeless body in the truck and pronounced him dead on the scene.

Tommy saw the weight on his mother’s shoulders. He knew that she was grieving the loss of her brother, but she was also worried about what was going to happen to the ranch. She had to be. Timmy, while not exactly ambitious, was the only person that she could trust to manage the ranch hands who were a wild bunch in their own rights.

“I’ll go let Coach Flatt know that I won’t be at practice this evening. I’ll meet you at home.”

Tommy walked out of the principal’s office in a bit of a haze, barely noticing anything as he made his way outside to the athletic complex. As he walked in, he saw Coach Flatt’s door open and made his way inside. While he had told his mother that he was going to tell Coach Flatt that he was skipping practice that day, he was considering something much more significant. Quitting school to go home and help his mother on the ranch was the only right answer in Tommy’s young mind.

WHAT DOES TOMMY DO?

If Tommy tells Coach Flatt that he’s leaving the football team and intends to drop out of school, proceed to Chapter 2.

If Tommy tells Coach Flatt that he will be missing practice but does not mention quitting school, proceed to Chapter 3.

By the early 2000s, family-owned cattle ranches were largely a thing of the past. Contrary to what many believe, there isn’t a great deal of wealth to be earned through ranching. Outside of the value of the property itself, ranching didn’t generate a lot of income. In fact, most ranchers lived year-to-year, hoping to earn enough money each month to pay their annual bills, take care of their ranch hands, and perhaps tuck something back for themselves. Unfortunately, the last goal rarely happened. The Bennett Family Farm was no different.

Nearly four years had elapsed since Tommy had quit high school to help his mother with the ranch. At only 16 years of age, Tommy wasn’t quite old enough to be taken seriously as the ranch foreman. The men who came and went through the bunk house simply didn’t respect him enough to let a child tell them what to do. All of that changed when he was 19. The ranch hands had grown progressively less productive as they had no consistent leader. Tommy’s mother didn’t want to put him in charge, but she found herself with no other option.

The day after his 19th birthday, Tommy moved into the bunkhouse. He was the youngest man in the bunkhouse, but he was also one of the largest. His broad shoulders and towering frame commanded a certain amount of respect. Admittedly, bearing the last name “Bennett” didn’t hurt, either.

It had been roughly a year since Tommy had found out who his father was and tracked him down. After lying about where he was going, Tommy had driven to a small town in North Georgia to meet the infamous Sammy Bedlam. He introduced himself to the wrestling legend and was quickly let down by the uncaring response that he received.

“You a wrestler, boy?”

“No, I work on my family’s ranch in Sweetwater.”

“Then you ain’t mine. Everyone of my kids are wrestlers.”


Tommy left the meeting dejected, although he had told himself not to get his hopes up. He drove through the night back to Sweetwater, and didn’t tell his mother where he had been for months. She was angry, but by that point, she was so desperate for a steady source of help with the ranch that she didn’t want to run the risk of alienating him.

He put the meeting behind him and worked hard as a ranch hand. All of that came crashing down after two years of being the ranch foreman. He had put together that money was growing tighter. Many of the restaurants in Texas that used to get their beef from the Bennett Ranch had found better deals from national beef brands. In a time when the economy had suffered a major downturn, even the biggest restaurant brands in the world were looking for opportunities to save some money.

Tommy hadn’t received a paycheck in several weeks. Well, he had received them, but he hadn’t cashed any of them. The other ranch hands were cashing their checks, and they were certainly entitled to do so. Tommy had planned on eventually cashing a check, but he just never got around to it.

Late one evening, his mother came out to the bunkhouse wearing the same haggard look on her face that she had on the day that she told him about Timmy’s death. For a moment, he assumed that Jimmy was dead. She motioned for him to step outside, and there, under a full moon hung beautifully in the Texas sky, she delivered the news that he had been dreading.

“Tommy, I’m going to have to sell the ranch.”

“Mom, no. This was Grandpa’s dream. Hell, it was his grandpa’s dream.”

“I know all that. But listen, we’ve not turned a profit in four years. I’m pulling money out of my savings account just to keep the lights on in the house. Plus, I got a really good offer on it.”

“Wait, you’ve already got an offer? What the hell, Mom?!”

“Stop it, Tommy. You don’t know what it’s like to have to wake up every day and wonder if there’s going to be enough money to have electricity. You may sleep out here with the ranch hands, and you may handle the cattle brandings, but you don’t know what it takes to keep this place running. Dammit, nobody knows what it takes.”

“So, what do I do? Go in here and tell all these guys that they’re out of work?”

“No. The company that is buying the ranch is willing to keep everyone, including you. Tommy, this could be great for you. You can finally start cashing your paychecks again. I know you haven’t cashed one in over a month.”


Of course, she knew. She balanced the books.

“Who’s buying it?”

“Newman Hill. They have beef contracts with Olive Garden, Texas Roadhouse, Outback, and a bunch of barbecue places in Louisiana and Missouri.”

“How much?”

“$2 million.”

“Holy shit. So…we’re rich?”

“No, we’re not rich. Basically, I can pay off all the outstanding debts that I’ve run up trying to keep this place open and replace the money that I’ve taken out of my savings. It’ll leave me enough money to buy a place so I won’t have to worry about a mortgage with whatever kind of job I can get. You really don’t know how bad things have been, Tommy.”

“So, the house goes too?”

“Yea. They’re buying everything.”

“What happens to me?”

“They’re willing to keep you on as the ranch foreman. They know you’re young, but they use a lot of technology to manage their herds. They like the fact that you’re young because they figure you’ll be able to train you easier. They’re going to offer you a contract. It would require you to stay on for 5 years at $80,000 a year for the first two years, and then they would evaluate you for a raise. The choice is yours.”



WHAT DOES TOMMY DO?

If Tommy accepts the Newman Hill offer to stay on as ranch foreman, proceed to Chapter 4.

If Tommy declines the offer and leaves the ranch, proceed to Chapter 5.


Tommy’s junior football season was one of the most difficult that he had ever endured. Uncle Timmy’s presence at his games was always obvious. Primarily because Timmy was the kind of rabid high school football fan that Texas is known for. He treated every play as if it were the final seconds of the Super Bowl.

Moreover, Tommy’s mother was no longer able to attend his games since her responsibilities at the ranch had increased so much. She was never as vocal as her younger brother, but it always provided Tommy with a certain amount of comfort to look int the stands and see his mother there.

He didn’t really have any familiar faces in the stands during his junior season, but that proved to be alright. In fact, he put up some of the best numbers that he had ever put up during that year. His team, the Sweetwater High School Stallions were 10-0 going into the playoffs. They made it through the quarterfinal round with a victory over their crosstown rival, Monroe Central. Unfortunately, they ran into the buzzsaw known as the Teeter Central Torpedoes in the state semifinals. Tommy played well in the semifinal game, but it just wasn’t enough. Teeter Central had more weapons than Sweetwater could handle. By the end of the game, Tommy and his teammates walked off the field carrying the shame of a 35-10 beatdown. It was the most points Tommy and his defense had given up all year.

They used the fuel from the Teeter Central fiasco (as it came to be known) to propel them to new heights the following season. They mowed through the teams in their district, once again entering the playoffs with a perfect 10-win record. During the season, the star tight end suffered a nasty knee injury which left the Stallions without one of their top playmakers. Coach Flatt approached Tommy about the situation, and reluctantly, Tommy agreed to be a two-way player.

As good as Tommy was at linebacker, he was even better as a tight end. After spending the last six games of the season playing both offense and defense, he led the team in both tackles and receiving yards, and was second in total touchdowns scored. Colleges were starting to take note.

Admittedly, Tommy was never going to get the opportunity to play for his beloved Texas Longhorns. They recruited the best athletes in the nation, and Tommy, while talented, was never going to reach that level. However, he started to receive recruiting letters from other schools. By the time the Texas State Semifinals rolled around, Tommy had received interest from North Texas, University of Louisiana Lafayette, Arkansas State, and Tulane. He was going to have options that he had never dreamt of.

In the absence of a parental figure who had time to help Tommy navigate these waters, Coach Flatt stepped in. He had put multiple student athletes in every level of collegiate athletics over the years. Tommy brought him every recruiting letter, and Coach Flatt took the lead from there.

Sweetwater High School won the state semifinal game Tommy’s senior year and found themselves pitted against Teeter Central and the Torpedoes who had eliminated them the year before. Coach Flatt had promised to be honest with Tommy about the recruiting information, so before the game started, he pulled him to the side.

“You need to know something, son. There’s three scouts here tonight, and all of them are from schools that have reached out to you. Tulane sent their defensive coordinator, Arkansas State has their tight end coach, and Louisiana Lafayette sent their linebackers’ coach. They’re not only here to see you, but they are watching.”

Initially, Tommy’s stomach went into knots. He had liked when he and Coach Flatt were sending in game film of his highlights. They had control over what the college coaches saw. This was different. There would be no editing out his lowlights and focusing on his good plays tonight.

“Just go play football kid. It’s just a game, and you’ve been playing it your whole damn life.”

That was all Tommy needed to hear. He led his teammates onto the field and proceeded to play the game of his life. As time was winding down in the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 13. Both defenses had been stout, which left both offenses looking for answers. After a 46-yard run, Sweetwater had the ball on Teeter Central’s 13-yard line. There was 2:37 seconds to go in the game, and Coach Flatt called in the play.

It was a tight end seam play that they had tried to run twice already. The first attempt ended in an interception, and the second try resulted in a sack. Tommy nodded at the quarterback in the huddle and knew that he needed to make sure he was open.

Before the ball was snapped, Tommy found himself one-on-one with the safety from Teeter Central. There had been talk that several big-time college programs were scouting him. Tommy refused to show fear. He gave the defender a wink before the snap and then proceeded to run through him when the ball was snapped. Since they were so close to the line, there was no penalty, and Tommy found himself streaking towards the end zone uncovered. The ball went into the air, and it felt like the whole world slowed down.

For what seemed like minutes, Tommy watched the ball float towards him. From the corner of his eye, he saw a defender running towards him to break up the play. He leapt into the air, high-pointed the ball, and brought it down. Sweetwater was up 19-13 with 2:00 to play.

After an extra point made it 20-13, Teeter Central had the ball. Their running back was an All-State senior who had already verbally committed to Texas Christian University. They moved the ball to the Sweetwater side of midfield as there was 13 seconds left on the clock.

Everyone in the stadium knew that Teeter Central’s running back was going to get the ball. They needed 44 yards to score, and he was the most explosive player on the field. The coach called in the defensive play that he wanted to run, and Tommy wound up in coverage against Teeter Central’s back. The ball was snapped, and the back shot out of the backfield and sprinted up the field. Tommy turned and settled into coverage. They ran for what felt like forever.

Tommy watched the running back’s eyes, so he knew the ball was in the air. The throw was perfect. It landed in the waiting arms of its target, through Tommy’s outstretched hand. As soon as the ball hit its target, Tommy grabbed onto the running back turned receiver and rode him to the ground. It wasn’t until he stood up that he realized he had made the stop at the two-yard line. The game was over, and Sweetwater had held onto win by two yards.

The crowd and the team rushed the field in celebration. Coach Flatt motioned for Tommy to join him along the fence line that separated the field from the bleachers. He was standing there with two men who were obviously from colleges that had scouted the game. One was wearing a Louisiana Lafayette hat and polo while the other proudly wore the colors of the North Texas Mean Green.

As Tommy made his way over to the fence, he shook their hands. Each were prepared to make him an offer to play collegiate football.

WHAT DOES TOMMY DO?

If Tommy chooses Louisiana Lafayette, proceed to Chapter 6.

If Tommy Chooses North Texas, Proceed to Chapter 7.



Life as the ranch foreman for Newman Hill was much different than it was when Tommy worked for his mom. As the ranch foreman for the Bennett Family Ranch, Tommy spent most of his days on his horse, Jack, riding the pastures, working on damaged fence lines, and interacting with the ranch hands. Every year, one or two of them would quit or retire, and someone would recommend a friend of theirs who would be ideal for the job. While Tommy had a couple guys that he was close to, the Bennett Family Farm did experience a lot of turnover. This was primarily because his family wasn’t able to pay ranch hands that much.

All of that changed when Newman Hill took over. They did offer everyone who worked for the Bennett Family a raise and a position. Most of the men took it. Those who turned it down were older ranch hands who had already planned on retiring soon.

However, life for Tommy was never really the same when the takeover was complete. Initially, he still spent a lot of time on Jack, riding the pastures and caring for the herd. Eventually, that changed, and Tommy found himself spending hours every day sitting behind a computer screen. Newman Hill was meticulous about their herds. Unlike family-owned ranches, which were also meticulous about their livestock, Newman Hill’s level of corporate care meant that every cow had to be marked with a tracker. These trackers fed data to the computer, and Tommy was responsible for monitoring much of what went on.

Additionally, he became a human resources coordinator, a job that he certainly never envisioned for himself. When the Bennetts owned the farm, ranch hands handled their issues with a quick fight in the dirt. Newman Hill required any issues to be logged into the database, and Tommy had a book that guided him through defusing any tense situations.

Decades passed, and Tommy never again felt the love that he used to have for his job. He wasn’t an office guy, but the pay that Newman Hill offered made it impossible to turn down. By the time Tommy was in his 40s, he was making more than $150,000 per year between his salary and the bonuses that he earned. Additionally, the company’s owners had no interest in living in the home that Tommy grew up in in Sweetwater, so he got to live there while only being responsible for utilities.

Tommy had a hard time considering himself a cowboy by the time his foreman career drew to an end. He was lucky if he rode a horse five times a month. Instead, he focused on paperwork, beef contracts, and transporting cattle to the local slaughterhouse so those contracts could be fulfilled. It certainly wasn’t the life that he had envisioned for himself, but Newman Hill had proven to be a dependable place to work. Additionally, it provided a good life for his wife, Ashley, and their two children, Jimmy and Jake.

At the age of 62, Tommy retired from ranching. He and Ashley were able to travel the world and spent plenty of time with their kids and grandkids. The world may have never known the name Tommy Bedlam, but he was loved by his family, respected by his peers, and was widely considered a success by the company that he worked for.

You have reached the end of Tommy Bedlam’s story in this scenario. The decision to stay with Newman Hill relegated Tommy to a life in an office where he never got to truly do what he loved.


After making the decision to turn down the Newman Hill offer, Tommy found himself looking for work. As a high school dropout, his options were limited. Fortunately, Tommy’s family had a longstanding relationship with Larry Hanover, the owner of Larry’s Longhorn Bar and Grill. It was rare, but there were occasionally skirmishes that would break out at the bar. Typically, this happened on Saturdays when the Longhorns were playing and tensions boiled over, or when the Dallas Cowboys were not living up to expectations. OK, perhaps the second issue happened more than “occasionally.”

Larry was growing too old to deal with the skirmishes himself, so he approached Tommy about working security for him. It was a little odd to have a 19-year-old bouncer in a bar, but in a town as small as Sweetwater, no one was going to say much of anything. Tommy wasn’t legally allowed to buy beer, but there was nothing stopping him from providing some muscle when things got out of control.

Unfortunately, working three days a week didn’t provide a lot of income. Tommy knew he needed a second source of income, which made the offer from Jerry Jenkins even more attractive. Jerry owned Longhorn Championship Wrestling, a local wrestling company that put on shows a couple nights a week. Tommy hadn’t seen him in years, and when he came by Larry’s for a drink one night, he was immediately drawn to just how large Tommy was. He didn’t have anyone in the company who looked like Tommy, so the opportunity was there.

Tommy was as green as cow shit when he started wrestling for LCW, but immediately made a name for himself. His sheer physical stature made him a draw, and he quickly worked his way up the ranks. Before long, he was the Longhorn Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Champion. A title that he was honored to carry. As the champion, he got a larger percentage of the gate at each show, and as news spread about the newcomer, the gates grew larger and larger.

In the back of Tommy’s mind, the opportunity to prove to his absentee father that he was a wrestler after their first meeting was always there. He knew the odds of Sammy ever finding out about the champion of a federation who wrestled at the local VFW hall was small, but it was always there, gnawing at the back of his mind.

All of that changed one fateful night in early August of 2022. Tommy knew he was defending the title that night, but Jerry wouldn’t tell him who his challenger was. None of the other guys on the roster had any idea, so Tommy assumed Jerry was bringing in a new talent.

Tommy nearly puked when he looked up and saw Sammy Bedlam walking in the front door of the Sweetwater VFW. Was his dad finally coming to see him perform? He had told Jerry who his biological father was, but he assumed that he had kept it in confidence. He assumed wrong. Tommy’s nervousness quickly turned to rage when he realized that Jerry hadn’t only contacted Sammy, but he had done so in an effort to bring in Tommy’s challenger for the evening: Jason Bedlam. One of the sons that Sammy claimed.

What took place over the rest of the evening became the stuff of legend. Tommy main evented the evening’s show against Jason, and he damn near killed the kid. Jason was used to a style of wrestling that Tommy didn’t care for. In wrestling industry terms, he was a “spot monkey.” He tried his signature “flippy shit,” and Tommy absolutely brutalized him. After the match, Tommy spit in Jerry’s face, took his title belt and left, but not before he told Jerry exactly what he thought of him backstage.

Tommy’s life changed forever a couple days later when Rocco Sullivan called him from the FWA Regional Offices in New York City, New York. He sent a plane to Texas, flew Tommy back to New York and offered him a contract. Someone at the show had filmed the beat down of Jason Bedlam and the video had gone viral. Rocco had free reign to acquire talent, and he was ready to make an offer to Tommy Bedlam.

A guy with so little experience in the wrestling industry signing with a company as large as the Fantasy Wrestling Alliance wasn’t common. Yet, on a humid August afternoon, Rocco Sullivan slid a contract across his desk towards Tommy Bedlam. Tommy had no agent, no legal representation, nothing. It was just him and Rocco.

The decision that Tommy would need to make could either make him the biggest name in Sweetwater, or it could result in him running home with his tail tucked between his legs. He could probably go back to work for the bar and even for Longhorn Championship Wrestling. He had cursed at Jerry and spit in his face, but Jerry believed that “controversy creates cash,” so they could probably work it out. But this was an opportunity to see the world and work for one of the most reputable wrestling companies on the planet.

WHAT DOES TOMMY DO?

If Tommy accepts the FWA contract, proceed to Chapter 8.

If Tommy declines the contract and returns home to Sweetwater, proceed to Chapter 9.


Playing college football at the University of Louisiana Lafayette wasn’t exactly what Tommy had pictured. This was largely because he had gone from being one of the best players on his high school team to a guy who was struggling for playing time in college. It wasn’t that he had gotten worse at football. Quite the opposite actually. He had gotten better through the improved coaching, access to better gyms, and other benefits of collegiate athletics. The issue was that everyone else was also really good, including the opposition.

He barely saw the field as a freshman. He spent most of his first season as a glorified crash-test dummy. As large as he was, the juniors and seniors were bigger. He took his lumps as a freshman, and eventually became a pretty consistent special team player his sophomore year.

By his junior season, Tommy had earned the starting tight end position. It wasn’t what he had envisioned, as he always preferred playing defense. Unfortunately, Coach Napier had recruited some top-notch linebackers during his time at ULL, and the Rajun’ Cajuns linebacker room was a crowded one. Tommy was offered an opportunity to play tight end, and in the name of finally doing something other than punt coverage, he jumped on it.

Things were going reasonably well. Tommy was second in the Sun Belt Conference in receptions among tight ends, and for a couple weeks, he led the conference in touchdown receptions. By the time the week 6 matchup against the Marshall Thundering Herd rolled around, he had fallen out of first place, but was still putting together a respectable season.

His life would change forever on a fateful Saturday afternoon in Huntington, West Virginia. The offensive coordinator sent in a play that required Tommy to go across the middle of the field. Once he got past the outside linebacker, the ball should be waiting for him in the small window between himself and the waiting middle linebacker.

When the ball was snapped, Tommy ran his route toward the middle of the field. The outside linebacker dropped into coverage to pick up the running back, and Tommy broke free to the middle of the field. The ball went into the air, slightly higher than it needed to be. Thanks to Tommy’s large frame, he was able to leap into the air, corral the pass, and was on his way to the ground in the end zone. Louisiana Lafayette was going to take an early lead.

When the middle linebacker realized what was happening, he lunged at Tommy, and his helmet crashed into Tommy’s left kneecap. Tommy heard a loud crack and felt a searing pain shoot from his knee into his hip. It was broken. He knew it was broken.

Somehow, he held onto the ball and landed in the endzone. The linebacker who hit him was briefly knocked out cold and had to leave the game due to concussion like symptoms. His college football career would rebound, Tommy’s would not.

As they loaded him onto the cart to drive him from the field, he knew his playing days were over. The pain was unbearable. He spent the better part of the next few weeks seeing doctors, and after a second surgery to clean up an infection that was caused by one of the metal plates that had to be put in his leg, he got the news that he knew was coming. His football career was over.

The broken patella had also resulted in ligament and nerve damage. If Tommy tried to play football again, he ran the risk of doing so much damage to his leg that it could result in amputation. He accepted his fate and decided that he might as well try to get a quality education.

Tommy had chosen communications as his major when he enrolled at Louisiana Lafayette. The classes weren’t all that hard, which is why several of the guys on the team went this route. Some of the players who were more likely to end up playing professionally one day felt like a communications degree would help them land a job in broadcasting once their playing days were over. For Tommy, that day came sooner than anyone could have expected.

He got his communications degree a year and a half after the injury and wound up landing a job calling Louisiana Lafayette Rajun’ Cajun games for a local radio station. Tommy made a nice life for himself in the area, and happily spent the rest of his life covering the game that he loved. Although, he never did get rid of that nasty limp.

You have reached the end of Tommy’s story in this scenario. The decision to go to ULL resulted in him breaking his leg and spending the rest of his life talking about football.


Playing football at the University of North Texas was a nightmare. There was no other way to say it. The coaches were largely uninterested in a program that had historically never gone anywhere. The players picked up on the general apathy of the coaching staff, and the team struggled to win. After Tommy’s sophomore year, in which he played linebacker, the team’s two-year record was 2-20. The coach who recruited Tommy was fired for his lack of success.

To make matters worse, the new coach who took over was fully prepared to bring his own players with him. He was an NFL Hall of Fame member who had gotten his start in coaching at a HBCU. His name allowed him to recruit talents who were once “too good” to play at that level of college football, and in three seasons, he had only lost three games. Two of those losses came in his first season.

North Texas was certainly not a football powerhouse, but it was a steppingstone for this once great NFL player. The same charm and charisma that had led to endorsement deals and recruiting success led to many of his blue-chip recruits following him to North Texas. One of them was a linebacker who was much more highly regarded than Tommy coming out of high school.

At the beginning of his junior year, Tommy found out the news that he already knew deep down. He wasn’t going to be the starting linebacker going into the season. If there was an injury, he’d have a chance to earn some playing time, but outside of that, he would be lucky to get on the field for some special teams plays.

After two years in college, Tommy had managed to accomplish nothing. He didn’t get an Associate’s Degree, failing to take advantage of the free education that North Texas had provided for him. Now, with playing time snatched away from him, he made the decision to quit.

Tommy dropped out of school and moved back to Sweetwater. The ranch had been sold, and Tommy couldn’t get himself to apply for a job as a ranch hand on one of those “corporate ranches.” With his hat in his hand, he walked into Larry’s Longhorn Bar. After a brief conversation, the two of them agreed that Tommy could work a couple nights a week as security.

Soon, Larry realized that he was getting too old to effectively run the place, so he made the decision to hire a cook and a bartender so he and his wife could travel like they had always planned on. Tommy, with no formal training, became the bartender. He sure as hell was never cut out to be a cook.

Tommy wound up not being as miserable as he always thought he would be without football. He made enough money to live on, and eventually met a nice woman…or two. Never married, but always able to score the company of an attractive female, Tommy spent the rest of his working days in Sweetwater, and eventually retired to a lovely community in southern Oklahoma.

You have reached the end of Tommy’s story in this scenario. The decision to go to North Texas resulted in Tommy being a college dropout and spending the rest of his days as a bartender in Sweetwater.


Tommy certainly knew nothing about contracts. He had never signed one in his life. Yet, there was a contract on the desk in front of him that could change his life forever. Should he contact a lawyer to go over it? Hell, outside of a shady workers’ compensation lawyer who helped some guys in Sweetwater screw over the government, Tommy didn’t know any lawyers. Should he tell Rocco Sullivan that he was going to have his lawyer review it before he signed it? Surely the old man would be able to see right through that. No, no bullshit on this one. Tommy was signing the contract.

He put his name on the dotted line and entered into the world of professional wrestling. The next few months were a roller coaster. After debuting on an episode of Meltdown in a Battle Royal in which he was eliminated by Chris Peacock, Tommy had caught enough eyes to earn himself a shot at the FWA Gauntlet Championship.

In only his second match, which was scheduled for the next week on Meltdown, Tommy faced El Demente in a highly contested match. The rookie did what had never been done before. He won an FWA Championship in only his second appearance. Truly, the sky was the limit for Tommy Bedlam.

One of the best parts about being the FWA Gauntlet Champion was that five successful defenses earned you a shot at a more prestigious title. The following week, Tommy successfully defended his title. One defense down, and four more to go. The next week, Tommy succeeded in another title defense. Suddenly, he was on a winning streak, and three more wins put him in the main event scene. Then, it happened.

In a three-way match against El Demente and Stu Grimes, Tommy was knocked unconscious and thrown out of the ring by the former Gauntlet Champion. He had already laid Grimes out, and Demente, ever the opportunist, tossed Tommy to the side, and reaped the fruit of Tommy’s hard work. He pinned Grimes and became a two-time Gauntlet champion. The streak was over, the title was gone, and Tommy was left to figure out which direction to take next.

Rocco pulled some strings and got Tommy booked in a tag team match for the following week. He would be teaming with Reagan Cole against Legends Evolved, the father-son duo of Logan Darwin and Johnny Johnson. Wow, a father and son who could stand one another. That must be nice.

The afternoon of the match, there was a knock at Tommy’s dressing room door. Rocco opened it up, and in stepped a man who would change Tommy’s life forever: Jon Russnow.

“Hello, gentlemen. I’d like to talk about a business proposition with the two of you.”

Rocco knew who Russnow was, and from behind him, gave Tommy a look that indicated that he shouldn’t even entertain the offer.

“Go ahead, Mr. Russnow.”

“Please, call me Jon. Tommy, you’ve certainly been impressive since your debut. I’m putting something together that I think would be perfect for you. I’m assembling a group of FWA newcomers who can turn this company on its head, and really shake up the powers that be.”

“I like where this is going, Jon.”

“Listen, I think it’s a fucking shame that they continued to give that El Demente guy shots at the title that you beat him for. But those decisions were made higher up than I. I’ve already got a couple people on board. Ironically, it’s the men who you will be facing tonight, Darwin and Johnson.”

“Isn’t that gonna cause some issues then? I mean, you want me to fight these guys and then team with them?”

“I do. They know that I’m talking to you. They don’t expect you to throw the match. Logan and Johnny are both fighters, and they know what it means to be competitive. You go out there and have your match, do your best to win, and then you can make your decision. However, I do need to know by the end of the night if you want to be a part of my new…initiative. Sound fair?”

“Absolutely.”


Tommy shook Jon Russnow’s hand as the businessman made his way out of the dressing room. Shortly after he left, it was time for Bedlam and Cole to take on Legends Evolved. The match was a great one, and Tommy and Reagan, who had never teamed together (or even met) somehow won. Tommy spent the entire match wondering what he was going to do. Take the offer or reject it.

As Logan and Johnson made their way up the ramp, Tommy knew that he would have to make his decision and make it quick.


What does Tommy do?

If Tommy kicks Reagan Cole in the face and joins Deathswitch Initiative, proceed to Chapter 10.

If Tommy turns down Jon Russnow’s offer and chooses to pursue other routes within the FWA, proceed to Chapter 11.


Turning down an offer to wrestler for the Fantasy Wrestling Alliance was one of the hardest things that Tommy had ever done. They say that regrets aren’t based on things that you do, but on things that you wish you had done, but Tommy just couldn’t get himself to sign the contract.

It wasn’t because he was afraid of losing on a big stage. He simply didn’t like the idea of living his life out of a suitcase, waking up in random hotel rooms, having media obligations, and going through life with any level of celebrity. He was a small-town guy, and Sweetwater was most definitely a small town.

Not to mention, he was the biggest fish in an admittedly small pond in Longhorn Championship Wrestling. He had won the World Championship several months earlier, and had already defended it 5 times. The most recent victory over Jason Bedlam was one of the highlights of Tommy’s young career, and it seemed like the sky was the limit.

When Tommy arrived back in Sweetwater, he called Jerry Jenkins to let him know that he would be staying. Rocco’s detective work in tracking down Tommy Bedlam had involved getting his number from Jerry. The relief in Jerry’s voice was quickly evident when he found out that his newest star was staying put.

“Listen, Jerry. I’m sorry for flying off the handle that other night. I shouldn’t have spit on you.”

“Tommy, people are talking about LCW all over the internet. People are comparing you to some guy who did the same thing to one of the big promoters at a show up in Canada. Don’t let it happen again, but you and me are good. Controversy creates cash, kid!”


Longhorn Championship Wrestling started growing in popularity, too. While Jerry didn’t own a nationally branded wrestling federation, he certainly knew how to sell people on what he had. As 2023 got started, Jerry informed the roster that they were going to start traveling to other cities twice a month.

Soon, those twice a month trips turned into four trips a month, then six. By the end of 2023, Tommy and the rest of the roster from Longhorn Championship Wrestling were making more money than they had ever made wrestling. In fact, Tommy, as the World Champion was still getting so much of the gate that he was able to completely leave the security job at Larry’s Longhorn Bar and Grill.

He had turned down the international celebrity status that he would have received had he signed with FWA, but Tommy quickly made quite the name for himself on the independent circuit. As the years passed, the accolades continued to roll in.

At one point during his illustrious career, Tommy Bedlam held the World Championships from three different independent wrestling companies. That travel schedule was hectic to say the least, but Tommy defended each of the titles no less than once a month for an entire year. He came to an agreement with one of the promoters who was based in Kansas City, Missouri that he would forfeit the title so they could have a tournament to name his replacement. Eventually, he lost the other two titles.

Months turned into years, and years turned into decades as the wrestling career of Tommy Bedlam became the stuff of internet legend. Bigger companies often contacted him about coming on board, but he was happy doing what he was doing. The only company who never contacted him was the one that he had turned down on that fateful Thursday in 2022. It was also the one company that he always secretly hoped would give him another show: Fantasy Wrestling Alliance.

Regret truly is about the things you don’t do more than the things that you do. Tommy often dreamt of what it would have been like if he had taken Rocco’s contract offer. Hell, at one point, when he was at the top of the independent wrestling scene, he really assumed another offer would come. It never did.

On the day that Rocco had flown Tommy to New York City, Tommy was in his early 30s and just getting his start in the wrestling industry. Wrestling is a “young man’s game,” and Tommy knew that. As those years turned to decades and he entered his 40s, and then his 50s, he finally accepted the fact that there would be no second offer from the FWA.

When Tommy was 57, he finally made the decision to retire from wrestling. He was quickly inducted into the Southwestern Wrestling Hall of Fame, which held an annual banquet in Austin, Texas. His speech was brief, as was to be expected and went something like this.

“First of all, I’d like to thank the man who injected his sperm into my mother, Sammy Bedlam. If it hadn’t been for my desire to show that deadbeat piece of shit that I was worthy of carrying his name, I’m not sure I would have ever done this. If you look around the room, you won’t see him. I didn’t invite him. Fuck you, pops.

Secondly, I’d like to thank my mother, who did the best she could to raise a son. She played both roles in my home. She is here tonight, and if you all would, I’d like for you to applaud her. If she hadn’t sold our family ranch, I’m not sure I ever would have found professional wrestling.


Finally, I’d like to offer some advice to those of you in this room who are just getting your start in this industry. Don’t miss out on the chance to take your career to the next level like me. In 2022, a man offered me a job with one of the biggest wrestling companies on the planet, and I turned it down. While I’ve enjoyed my career, I’ve always wondered what might have been. Now, I’m an old man, and every day, I wake up and wonder what might have been. Since I’m headlining this class, a lot of you are talking about how great it must be to be Tommy Bedlam. It’s not that great, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a life filled with regrets and questions. Thank you.”

Tommy walked off the stage to a largely silent room of stunned audience members. He spent the rest of his life attending wrestling conventions, signing autographs, and making guest appearances at some random shows across the southwest.

You have reached the end of Tommy’s story in this scenario. By turning down Rocco’s offer, he damned himself to spend the rest of his career on the independent circuit, a decision he would always regret to some degree.


As Tommy watched Legends Evolved walk up the ramp, he tried to play to the adoring crowd, but inside, he was wondering what he was going to do. Jon Russnow wanted a decision before the end of the show, so Tommy had to make his move quickly. It almost felt like an out of body experience when he made his decision.

As Reagan Cole stepped to the middle of the ring to shake his new tag team partner’s hand, Tommy made his decision. Tommy landed a Buckshot super kick square across Cole’s jaw that dropped him in the middle of the ring. As the crowd reacted, Johnson and Darwin turned around to see what had happened. The father-son duo hastily made their way back to the ring where a 3-on-1 assault ensued. Tommy had taken the offer, and was now part of a group that would terrorize the FWA for months.

Shortly after Tommy aligned with the group, it was revealed that there were more members. James Douglas, a giant of a man who had recently signed with FWA quickly came on board. Perhaps the biggest feather in Jon Russnow’s hat was the addition of “The Showman” Chris Crowe.

The meteoric rise to fame proved to be more than Tommy could properly handle. Sammy Bedlam, the absentee father that he never needed, quickly latched onto his son’s success. Tommy did something that he would regret until the day he died when he brutally assaulted Rocco Sullivan after his chief advisor had given him an ultimatum in which Tommy would have to choose between Rocco and Sammy.

Deathswitch Initiative went on a tear through the FWA roster. They brutally attacked Jason Randall, and they ended the career of Captain Fantasy. No one was safe from their wrath.

Chris Crowe won the North American Championship, and Russnow quickly pulled the trigger on putting Bedlam and Douglas together. Their styles weren’t all that different, but the idea behind the scenes was that they could simply bludgeon their way to the top of the tag team division. The Tag Warz tournament didn’t go quite the way they had planned. Bedlam and Douglas simply never found their groove as a team.

In fact, near the end of the tournament, Tommy’s life was changed forever. Ironically, he found himself in a tag match against Reagan Cole and Jason Randall. Cole was the first victim of DSI, and Randall had been brutally attacked by the group before. Perhaps that’s why Jason Randall was unable to control himself when he started wielding a steel chair around the ring like a madman.​

The assault that he levied against Bedlam and Douglas thrilled the crowd. Chair shot after chair shot rang out over the screams of the fanatical FWA crowd. Deathswitch Initiative was being destroyed. In fact, James Douglas wasn’t seen again on FWA television after the beatdown. Tommy appeared the next week for an X-Rules match against Joe Burr, but it was evident that something wasn’t right.

After the match with Burr, Tommy required medical attention. The doctors backstage quickly sent him to the hospital for scans on his back. Bones were broken and disks were herniated. For more than 4 months, Tommy wasn’t seen on TV. The remaining members of DSI eventually went their own ways and the group dissolved into the annals of wrestling history like so many before it.

Tommy slipped into a pain-riddled depression when he was put on the shelf. While the doctors gave him pain medication following his surgeries, he quickly found that the prescribed amount just wasn’t enough. He was dangerously teetering on the edge of his life, even if he didn’t know it, when Rocco Sullivan showed up at his apartment.

He made an offer to Tommy. He was willing to put the past behind them and go back to being Tommy’s advisor if Tommy would straighten himself out, get sober, and come back to work. Once again, Tommy had a decision to make.


What does Tommy do?
If Tommy turns down Rocco’s offer to return to the FWA, proceed to Chapter 12.

If Tommy accepts Rocco’s offer and returns to work, proceed to Chapter 13.


As Tommy watched Legends Evolved walk up the ramp, he tried to play to the adoring crowd, but inside, he was wondering what he was going to do. Jon Russnow wanted a decision before the end of the show, so Tommy had to make his move quickly. It almost felt like an out of body experience when he made his decision.

As Reagan Cole stepped to the middle of the ring to shake his new tag team partner’s hand, Tommy made his decision. He looked Cole in the eye, extended his hand, and the crowd went wild. The Cowboy and The British Apprentice were an unlikely duo to say the least, but the pair had just accomplished something that very few expected them to do. Legends Evolved was an established team in the FWA, and very few expected them to fall to Cole and Bedlam.

Their unlikely victory landed them a spot in Tag Warz. In the first match, they wound up facing James Douglas and Johnny Johnson of Deathswitch Initiative, the group that Tommy had rejected an offer from. The match went on for 18 minutes before Reagan Cole finally managed to pin Johnny Johnson. While the match was ending, Bedlam and Douglas, who Jon Russnow had envisioned as a pairing, were battling on the outside.

Tommy actually missed the end of the match due to the battle on the outside with Douglas. As the ref’s hand fell to the mat for the third time, Tommy picked up the massive James Douglas and drove him through the announce table. The crowd went wild as “The British and the Brawler” (as they came to be known) moved to 1-0 in the tournament.

Unfortunately, that would be the pair’s last victory. In the second round of the tournament, The Briti and the Brawler were matched up against The Stocke Market. Roughly 10 minutes into the match, Tommy did something he didn’t usually do. He went to the top rope. Tommy was a lot of things, a luchador was not one of them.

No, he didn’t do anything overly dramatic from the top rope. He simply went for a jumping lariat as Stocke was struggling to get back to his feet, Tommy poised himself above the ring and he jumped. While he connected with the move, he heard a loud pop. The burning pain that started in his ankle quickly spread to the rest of his leg. To make matters even worse, he was on the wrong side of town, much closer to the Stocke Market’s corner than to his own.

Unable to stand to his feet, Tommy was the proverbial sitting duck. Stocke delivered a series of blows to the head, and Tommy was rendered useless. He couldn’t stand, he couldn’t defend himself. He had severed his Achilles tendon. Barely conscious, Tommy was pinned.

1…
2…
3…

Not only had The British and the Brawler lost the match, but Tommy was going to be out of action for a while. The doctors told him it would be at least a 12-month recovery, but they proved to be overly optimistic.

While Tommy committed himself to physical rehab following his surgery, there was simply too much damage. In addition to damaging the tendon, there was also nerve damage. Tommy Bedlam’s career was cut short, all because he made the decision to climb to the top rope.

Tommy did manage to land an office gig, similar to the one that Rocco had when he found Tommy after his wrestling career was over. He moved to New York City, New York where he worked in the FWA’s regional office in the northeast.

You have reached the end of Tommy’s story in this scenario. The injury ended his career, and he spent the rest of his life as a corporate paper pusher.


FWA Wrestler Dies
Shake Meltzer

Tommy Bedlam, who is primarily known for his early success in the FWA and his run with Deathswitch Initiative was found dead this morning. Sweetwater, Texas police were dispatched to his apartment after other tenants reported a strong odor emanating from the unit. Upon entry, Bedlam was found on his sofa, reportedly surrounded by a “sea of empty whiskey bottles and prescription pill vials.”

Fans may remember Bedlam for his seemingly fast ascent in FWA. He won the now-defunct Gauntlet Championship in only his second match in the FWA. While Bedlam lost the title in his third defense, thus depriving himself of a shot at the North American Championship, he quickly found his footing with Deathswitch Initiative. The group ran rough shot through the FWA, leaving behind them a wake of destruction.

A local official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that while an autopsy had yet to be performed, it was expected to prove that Bedlam died after ingesting a large amount of opioids and alcohol.

Bedlam had been out with a back injury suffered at the hands of Jason Randall. He had undergone two back surgeries, but there had been speculation that he was plotting a return to action. Tommy Bedlam was 33 at the time of his passing. He is survived by his mother, Tammie, and a host of friends in the Sweetwater community.

You have reached the end of Tommy’s journey. The refusal to take Rocco’s offer to return to work led to Tommy dying of drug and alcohol abuse.


Tommy’s return to the FWA had been considered one of the best returns of the year. Upon his return, he went on a winning streak. He had knocked off Jackson Fenix, and then found himself in a match with a former two-time FWA World Champion, Phillip A. Jackson. The battle between an FWA legend and a relative newcomer who had been out with injury went Tommy’s way. He knocked off PAJ, and found himself in an X-Rules match at Lights Out against Jason, Randall, the man who had sidelined him for a large part of 2022.

Tommy called the match against Randall the most important match of his “revenge tour.” He knew that if he knocked off Randall, he would exercise the demons of his past and set himself up for a legitimate run in the FWA. He did it. Battered, bruised, and bloodied, Tommy stood victorious over Jason Randall at Lights Out.

He was immediately faced with another decision when he received an invitation to participate in the F1 Climaxxx tournament. Unlike some of the other crossroads in Tommy’s life, this one didn’t require a lot of thought. The opportunity to take part in one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world of professional wrestling didn’t require a lot of thought. Rocco encouraged Tommy to jump on the offer, and that’s exactly what he did.

He won his first match against Vampyra, a newcomer to the FWA who was already making a name for herself. She was named as a last-minute replacement for Danny Toner, who had forfeited his FWA World Championship and taken himself out of the tournament. That was just the beginning of the madness that would impact Pool A.

Approximately 48 hours before his match against Caesar, Tommy found out that Caesar was also pulling out of the tournament. With so little notice, no replacement would be named, and Tommy would not be able to have a match that week. The Caesar announcement would also impact Michelle von Horrowitz, which would prove to be an important part of the equation.

After back-to-back losses to Gabrielle and Alyster Black, Tommy’s match against MvH would dictate who advanced to the next round of the tournament. Michelle had more points than Tommy going into the match, but a win would create a tie, and Tommy would have the tiebreaker based on a victory.

Michelle was one of the most recognizable names in the history of the FWA, and Tommy knew he was the underdog going in. As the bell rang, the crowd almost fell into a hush, waiting to see who would strike first.

Michelle immediately went on the attack, hitting Tommy with a series of knee kicks. He had the size advantage, and she knew that. Michelle was as intelligent as she was aggressive. For the first several minutes of the match, she had all the control. She wore Tommy down with multiple strikes to his lower body and then started applying various submission holds. Eight minutes into the match, “The Dreamer” had all the momentum.

As she stalked her opponent, Tommy suddenly threw one of his large legs out and caught her with a leg sweep. He was on her as soon as she tumbled to the ground, and mounted over her, throwing a series of punches and elbows into her head and face. The crowd seemed to be firmly behind “The Cowboy,” as his momentum grew.

He picked Michelle up, threw her into the ropes and caught her with a vicious spinebuster. He began raining down stomps into her body, weakening his smaller opponent. For a few minutes, Tommy had the advantage.

As he reached down to pick her up from the mat after a fallaway slam, Michelle caught him with a poke to the eyes. The ref didn’t see it, and Tommy was staggered. Once again, MvH went on the offensive. She took Tommy’s knee out and he fell hard on the mat. Vision blurred, he was in a dangerous position. Tommy was sprawled out in the middle of the ring, and Michelle bounced off the ropes before landing a lionsault. She climbed up to the top rope and connected with a mighty frog splash. She rolled onto Tommy for the pin.

1…
2…
NO!

Tommy kicked out. Michelle quickly applied a cross-face chicken wing, and Tommy appeared to be fading. Seconds felt like minutes as he saw the lights in the arena start growing dim. He was fading. The ref picked his arm up once, and it fell to the ground. A second raise of the arm, and another thud as it hit the mat. The ref picked his arm up one more time. Just before it hit the mat, Tommy was inundated with a strength that he had never felt before. His title hopes were on the line, and he refused to go out like that.

The larger Bedlam stood up with Michelle still firmly attached to his back. He staggered backwards and drove her into the nearside turnbuckle. Somehow, she held on. Tommy, with a bit more force, drover her into the other nearside turnbuckle. Her grip loosened, but she still managed to hold on. Finally, with a mighty run backwards, Tommy drove “The Dreamer” into another corner, and her grip released. She staggered out of the corner, and Tommy saw his opportunity. He kicked her in the stomach and threw her head under his arm. He hooked both of her arms behind her, lifted her up in the air, and connected with “The Bullseye.”

He rolled onto the opponent.

1…
2…
3…

Tommy Bedlam had done it! He had conquered Michelle von Horowitz for the opportunity to move onto the next round of the F1 Climaxxx Tournament! The crowd went into a frenzy as Tommy rolled from MvH’s fallen body. He slowly got to his feet, and the referee raised his hand.

What was next for Tommy? A match against the winner of Pool B. After that? The sky was truly the limit.

You have successfully reached the end of Tommy’s journey, at least to this point. Your decisions to culminate the story with this chapter led to the best-case scenario for Tommy's life and career


Epilogue
"Meanwhile, Back in Sweetwater"

“Goddammit, Tommy. I’m trying to tell you that I’m pregnant.”

“Pregnant?”

“Yes. I’m pregnant. Yes, it’s yours. That wasn’t something I thought I should text to you while you were on the other side of the world, but I’m sorry if you losing a fucking wrestling match didn’t seem quite as important as the fact that I’m having your baby.”

“How?”

“What do you mean, ‘how,’ dumbass? We had sex. I got pregnant."

“Ok. Listen, I know I didn’t really have a father, but I swear to you, I’m gonna be the best fucking dad to this-“

“No. I don’t want you to make a decision right now. You have a big match against Michelle von Horowitz coming up, and you need to focus on that. I’ve got another eight or so months of this, and you don’t have to make a decision right now.”

“What do you mean I don’t have to make a decision? I’ve already made the decision.”

“I’m not letting you make the decision right now. This isn’t something that you need to decide in the heat of the moment. Get through this match, take some time, and then let me know what you wanna do. I’m going to have this baby, but you get to decide how involved you’re going to be.”

35,000 decisions a day, and none of them were as important as this one.
 

SupineSnake

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"In bull-fighting they speak of the terrain of the bull and the terrain of the bull-fighter. As long as a bull-fighter stays in his own terrain he is comparatively safe. Each time he enters into the terrain of the bull he is in great danger. Belmonte, in his best days, worked always in the terrain of the bull. This way he gave the sensation of coming tragedy."
- ‘The Sun Also Rises’, Ernest Hemingway.​

January 1st, 2013.
Mexico City, Mexico.

On her twenty third birthday, as she hesitantly placed her right boot on the penultimate rung of a teetering ladder, Michelle couldn’t help but think about the steady stream of new experiences that had imposed themselves upon her throughout the preceding twenty three years of existence. Love and death. Isolation and suffocating, overwhelming contact. Violence and tedium. Life flitted between the unexpected and the banal, throwing her around in an uncomfortable saddle upon its back. A passive and often pathetic plaything for its unpredictable, sudden whims. Little still surprised her, even at this young, tender age. But none of that really prepared her for her first ladder match.

Blood trickled from a fresh cut above her left eye, blinding her as it pooled around the socket. Her body was a patchwork of fresh and tender bruises. The aches made each step of the climb - which seemed to take an eternity, the ladder essentially a mountain with her body in this dilapidated state - a torturous ordeal, her body's fragilities betraying her mind’s resolve. She wondered how many breaks and fractures the adrenaline concealed. But she was here: at the top of the ladder, her fingertips brushing against the cold, smooth plating of the golden belt. Amidst the whirlwind of boos that surrounded her, she caught herself smiling.

Not for long. Never for long.

The ladder began to teeter more vigorously and more ominously than ever before, prompting Michelle to release the belt and grip the top of it with both hands. Not that this helped. The instability was stemming from the base of the ladder, where a familiar, smiling face greeted her frantic, helpless gaze. Anzu huffed and puffed, and eventually the ladder began to fall. During the ensuing plummet, Michelle's ankle caught the top rope and the velocity of the rest of her dramatically increased. Her face was the first of many parts of her that crashed through a pair of tables set up on the outside.

Her eyes remained open for only a second or two, and all that she could see was the wooden debris that she was buried beneath. Then, all was black, but the sounds of the cheering crowd still filled her ears.

torero-title2.jpg


"One can afford to be ostentatious every once in a while," Anzu declared, as she placed her drink - a bottle of Mexican lager with a lime shoved ungracefully through the neck - down on the table. She nestled the bottle between a dozen or so discarded, empty tequila glasses and, more noticeably (or ostentatiously, as Anzu had put it), her PAW Continental Championship. Dreamer had suggested that the act of displaying it upon their table, hidden away though it was in the corner of the bar, was a provocative one. Anzu concluded this surmation was born out of envy. Barely a pair of hours had passed since the champion had toppled the ladder the challenger was climbing. "You'd agree, if you had a championship to parade."

“I have a championship,” Michelle contested, with a sideways glance at the rucksack beneath their table. Anzu was well aware of this, but she scoffed nonetheless.

“That thing from Europe?” she said, whilst draining her drink and signalling to the camarera that a fresh one was needed. Michelle was struggling to keep up. Her head still throbbed, and her two lower ribs on the left side - or what was left of them - nagged at her regardless of the position she assumed. Anzu reached for Dreamer’s rucksack and lifted it from the ground, implying its insignificant weight. “Is it even metal?”

“It’s metal,” Michelle assured her, with a small smile beginning to impose upon her lips. Anzu’s devious and playful nature was overcoming the tapestry of needling bruises that tortured her body. “Just not precious metal.”

“Well, you’ll get there one day, I’m sure,” Anzu went on, as a fresh beer and another pair of tequilas were placed next to her belt. The champion flashed a thumbs up and a broad smile at the responsible waitress before pushing one of the shots towards Michelle. Dreamer instinctively glugged hers and placed the empty next to the others, Anzu a little slower in accomplishing the same but enthusiastic none-the-less. “It’s staying there that’s the problem.”

“Don’t worry, I’m leaving before you’ll be made to defend it again,” Michelle responded, whilst returning her divided, unfocused attention to her beer. With idle hands she removed the citrus fruit from its neck and threw it into a nearby ashtray, which reminded her to light a cigarette.

“I’m not talking about myself,” Anzu said, suggestively. Dreamer cocked an eyebrow, which acted as a silent request for elaboration. “How many championships have you held now? European ones, not proper ones.”

“Four,” Michelle answered. “This is my fourth.”

“And how long did the previous three last?” Anzu asked. She sat back in her seat and took another deep pull from her bottle, suggesting triumph. Dreamer narrowed her eyes in response.

“Not as long as I’d have hoped,” she said, finally.

“And why exactly is that?” Anzu continued, assuming the role of an unqualified and ill-informed therapist. But before her counterpart could answer, the champion continued, with an air of authority on account of the championship belt that lay between them. "Because the moment you get your hands on a little strap of leather, you end up challenging half the roster in a vain, futile attempt to prove yourself. You call it ambitious. I’d prefer overzealous. But what you haven't realised yet, Michelle, is that the championship is the proof."

Michelle disagreed. A long reign did not mean an historic one. Overzealous, perhaps, but to Dreamer the pursuit of her ideals was an important thing. It made the failures worthwhile. She didn't say anything in response, but eventually tore her gaze away from the other woman, beginning to idly scan the bar instead. She needed to loosen up. Her next match wasn't for weeks, and a long, tedious voyage across the water still loomed between now and then. Michelle didn’t want to think about any of it. Yet, with the other woman's idle chatter and the multitude of war wounds that hummed through her body, she found it difficult to consider much else.

"Can we talk about something other than wrestling?" Michelle asked, whilst observing a large, burly American who’d surrounded himself with an entourage of enthusiastic locals. They seemed to be hanging on his every word, which were spoken loud enough for the whole bar to hear.

“Am I reminding you of your loss?” Anzu said. Michelle stubbed her cigarette end into the ashtray, her distaste clear on her countenance. “You should look on the bright side. You’re lucky they didn’t let you defend your common metal championship here. You’d have probably put it on the line at La Marquesada. Half of Guanajuato, chasing after you and your title.”

“Don’t remind me,” Dreamer replied, her mind drawn back to the frantic scenes in the city of Salvatierra, where a half-dozen enraged bulls had been worked up enough to chase the citizenry through the streets. Still, even that gruesome ordeal was preferable to the wicked bullfights that Anzu insisted on attending across the entire tour.

“No bullfighting, no wrestling,” commented Anzu, with a rueful shake of her head. “Would you rather we sit here in silence? We’re meant to be celebrating, Michelle! I’m still a champion, and it is your birthday.”

“I need to stop telling people when my birthday is,” Michelle replied.

“Balderdash!” Anzu declared, whilst nodding at a tall, thin man who was drinking alone at the bar. “You see this guy?”

“You know him?” Michelle asked, as she scanned his lithe frame and handsomely drastic features. His angular, pronounced cheekbones sat high upon his face, and a dark pencil moustache framed his thin, pursed lips. His black hair was tied into a tight ponytail that ran down between his hulking shoulder blades. He was reading a book, and would occasionally break his focus to mutter a few, quiet words to the barman, who obeyed him silently.

“I know of him,” Anzu answered. “And so would you, if you’d come with me to the bulls last night. I imagine everyone in this place knows who he is, but don’t dare approach him. Strange power.”

“So he’s a matador?” Dreamer concluded.

“It’s easy to tell, yes?” the other answered. “You can see from his frame. Agility and a sudden, quiet power. You should’ve watched him last night, Dreamer. You could only see his eyes through a slit between his black and green bandido’s mask and his wide-brimmed hat, though the steel in them was visible from the very back of the arena. Cold and calculated, moving around the floor as if he was engaged in a dance with the beast.”

“Dances don’t usually end with the unsheathing of a blade,” Dreamer said, obtusely.

“Not usually,” Anzu answered, with a shrug. “It depends where you are dancing, and who you’re dancing with. You are unimpressed by the matador?”

Michelle took one last look at the tall, thin man as he finished his drink and bade the bartender to fill up his glass. He reached into his pocket to collect a case of long cigarillos before walking out of the bar with one perched between his lips. He left his possessions - his hat, a heavy, black coat, and a long, curved estoc hidden in a sheath, hanging from the side of his chair - behind unattended, confident that his reputation would ensure they were left untouched.

“He is impressive enough,” Dreamer allowed, after the man had left and she could re-apply her focus to her drink and the conversation. “Though the blood on his hands doesn’t excite me.”

“It repulses you?” Anzu asked, suppressing a roll of her eyes.

“No,” she answered. “Not that, either. I pity him as I pity the bull."

"I doubt he wants your pity," Anzu replied, with a knowing smile that suggested she'd identified the other's superiority complex and was amused by it. "How about the other one? The American. He was in the show, too. Though it doesn't look like they came here together."

The older woman now nodded towards the brash, loud foreigner from north of the border, who was still engaged in regaling his entourage with bawdy tales from a life well-lived. Michelle came to the same conclusion as Anzu: the American couldn't have been further from the matador in both his looks and his demeanour. Whilst the bullfighter was quiet and reserved, with only hints of his skill and his strength apparent to a trained and curious eye, the other puffed out his barrel-like chest in place of the shaking of tail feathers. He constantly pulled his sleeves back up over his thick, tattooed arms, wearing his power more obviously by a clear and tactless design.

"I didn't know there were American bullfighters," Michelle said, eventually.

"No, he doesn’t fight the bulls," said Anzu. "He rides them. Well, the same one… but lots of times. He was quite good, if you’re into that sort of thing. He rode from the pen and into the ring over and over again, attempting to master a bull that had escaped the sword. But his fights were, by their nature, deliberately temporary. Everybody wanted the cowboy to put up a fight, but nobody expected him to actually win. Eventually, when the bull tired of having him on his back he would buck hard enough to throw him into the sand."

"Doesn't sound as impressive."

"Well, I guess you have to see it," Anzu responded. The cowboy was rolling around a thick cigar between his fingers, and - although he was busy sharing some sordid anecdote with a young local girl on his arm - Michelle fancied she noticed him eyeing her or Anzu or both of them from across the room. "It lacks the elegance of the matador, but he has no sword on his belt. And brute strength is an adequate substitute for silent elegance. He tames the bulls, if only for a time, with nothing but his bare hands. That is remarkable in itself."

The matador had returned to his seat at the bar and was beginning to sip on the tall glass of tequila that waited for him. The cowboy removed himself from his group and made for the bathroom, reaching into his pockets and sniffing expectantly on the way.

"So, which one?" Michelle asked.

"Well, preferably both," Anzu answered. "One each. I don't want to share. But you can choose your favourite."

"I'll choose later," Michelle said.

*****​

[... LAST NIGHT - (I) ]

“He okay?”
Bob asked, as he watched the bullfighter being carried through the holding area. Two of the other toreadors that he’d gone out there with - to perform some strange dance with an angry bull that made little sense to the cowboy - had a grip around each of his wrists, and as they dragged him towards the medical tent he left a red, bloody trail in the sand.

Perdió un cuerno, vaquero, one of the other fighters said, his voice full of scorn. Typically, Bob didn’t understand a word of it, but comprehended enough from the other’s expression and tone. Ellos tendrán que traer un nuevo toro.

The bullfighter spat on the floor, right between the cowboy’s boots, and then followed the others. A nearby stableboy, who up until then had been engaged in calming a horse in heavy, steel armour, allowed himself a thin, high-pitched laugh.

“What did he say?” Bob asked. “¿En Inglés?

”He says the bull broke its horn,” the stableboy said, after stifling his chuckles. “They’ll bring a new one.”

“I meant is the boy okay?” Bob clarified. El torero.”

“He’ll be fine,” the stableboy said, with an apathetic shrug. Es normal. Are you ready?”

“Always, partner,” the cowboy replied. The stableboy continued to prepare the armoured horse. His amusement at the frantic and bloody scene they’d just witnessed continued, too. Bob left him to his business and went to the bullpen, where a half-dozen strong, young men were wrestling with thick ropes. These bonds were attached to the inner cage of the pen, the men conspiring to keep a restless bull in a position the cowboy could mount. Nobody seemed particularly comfortable with the situation, least of all the animal.

Bob looked at the beast for the first time since he’d arrived in Mexico City, but he got the sense that he’d seen the old bull before. Ridden him, probably. Here, his act was seen as little more than a sideshow. Something to keep the crowd enthused whilst they prepared the next fight, and each one of those (save the last) but mere preludes for the eventual main event. They were here for the matador and his red cape. Everything that came before his entrance was just padding.

Sometimes, you’d get a good crowd, or a good run would win a bad one over to your side. Mostly, though, you could expect lots of repetition and a fair bit of pain, too. Occasionally, the promoter would have you ride different bulls, or even change costume and go out under a new name, to present the idea of variation. Not here, though. The man who’d put together the new year’s eve fights was fully aware of and open about the cowboy’s secondary role in the day’s proceedings. He was to go out between each of the fights, on the same bull and in the same clothes, destined to be bucked from the beast’s back and land face-first in the sand.

He climbed onto the bull, the animal’s powerful muscles already beginning to shift beneath him. He felt it was expressing its discontent. He patted the bull's head dismissively and collected the reins. The bullpen gate opened and, a pair of cattle prods urging it from behind, the animal charged forward into the ring. Bob closed his eyes and accepted his passivity.​

*****​

[... ANOCHE - (II) ]

This is what they had all come for. He was what they had all come for. Forty thousand people, crammed into La Monumental, and now - after a long day-turned-evening in hot, humid, and generally quite uncomfortable conditions - the long-awaited conclusion of the show was finally upon them.

Alejandro Negredo was the main event, and he walked out into the centre of the ring as if he was fully aware of this fact. His back was straight, extending his tall, slender frame to its greatest length, his silhouette made more angular still by his pronounced shoulder blades. He stood in the shadow cast by his wide-brimmed hat, and beneath it the bandido's mask - black as night but for a delicate green silk embroidery - reduced him to a pair of cold, hard eyes. His red muleta remained furled at his side.

The bull was already tired. It had been a long day for the audience, but a longer one still for the animal that stood before him. Negredo had watched the poor beast's formulaic toil unfold from outside the ring, through the gaps in the slats put there to keep the audience safe. The toreadors, whose job was to fight the bull only and to leave the killing blow for the evening's climax, had gone out in groups to engage in preliminary scuffles. First, a dozen bullfighters in white suits walked towards a bull in a line, hoping that it would charge them in this domino arrangement until there was enough muscle behind the pack to bring it down without weapons. That was the idea, anyway. They tried three times, and on the third they came close, but the toreador at the head of the pack lost his footing and was trampled beneath the bull's frantic hooves.

In the ensuing frenzy, the panicked animal charged head-first into the steel wall around the ring and broke one of its horns. The bull was incomplete, and no longer worthy of a glorious end on Negredo's blade. They would change it before the next fight for a new and unfamiliar animal. One he hadn’t made it his business to get to know in the days leading up to the fight. The new bull seemed ill-tempered and aggressive, and almost knocked a mounted toreador from his horse in a particularly savage interlude. The armoured steed stood firm, though, and the bullfighter plunged a long spear into a fleshy spot below the bull’s right shoulder. The beast was staggering from there, allowing a toreador to approach it with two short swords and no muleta. When the beast began to charge, the fighter skilfully evaded by leaping to his left and thrust his blades into its back. The bull wheeled around in pain and darted away from the fighter, who would go on to repeat the dance three times. He was mostly successful and, when he was finished, a total of five blades protruded from the bull’s back for macabre decoration before the grand finale.

In-between the fights, light entertainment would be given by the rodeo clown. It was one that they’d shipped in from north of the border before, and each time - after the young, aggressive beast that was destined to die was chased back into his pen to make room for the novelty - the American would ride an old and timid bull into the middle of the ring and try to stay on top of it for as long as he could. Negredo had little interest in the sideshow, and used these brief moments to get to know the replacement beast that he’d stand across the ring from later in the night.

That moment had now come. The stadium’s floodlights were fighting off the darkness that loomed outside the arena, and Negredo stared into the eyes of the beast without the metal railings of the bullpen between them for the first time. They were close. Only a few metres apart. There was no need for a long chase. His reputation superseded the requirement for such theatrics. He allowed only three passes of the bull beneath his muleta, the red colour of which signified his fatal task. On the first pass, the bull’s left horn brushed his abdomen as he evaded the charge, ripping open his shirt before it passed beneath the cape. On the second, his estoc now in position, he swiftly drew the blade beneath the animal’s neck, the sand beneath it stained by a gushing red spray. The third lunge was slower, owing to this sudden loss of blood, and Negredo found the sweet spot between its shoulder blades with poise and ease.

The crowd cheered, the death suitably graphic and swift. It’s what they had come to see. He had played his role magnificently, as had the bull, which now lay dying amidst the audience’s adulation.​

*****

She left the cubicle with a smile on her face and the cowboy’s wallet stuffed into her back pocket. She’d heard a lot about Mexican coke and was happy for the newish experience, the aches and pains of her evening’s work becoming duller and more distant thanks to the home remedy. Upon returning to the bar, she found her booth empty, Anzu and their new companions having left and, it seemed, taken her rucksack and her smokes with them. But she had the cowboy’s wallet, so concluded that they couldn’t have gone far.

She found them outside. They were mostly huddled in the same group, except for the matador, who remained aloof and abstracted whilst smoking a vanilla-scented cigarillo. Some of the locals that had attached themselves to the cowboy had drifted off, but a pair of young women were still clinging on to his star despite his diminishing focus. The cowboy himself was hanging on to Anzu’s conversational thread, the veteran treating him to a story of her own, which seemed to centre on the championship belt that she now wore on her shoulder.

“The rodeo clowns love stories,” said the matador, who’d reluctantly introduced himself as Alejandro Negredo when Anzu had descended on him and punctured his quiet sanctuary. His facial expression was only a few marks short of scornful, and in-between drags from his vanilla cigarillo he glanced over at the cowboy with reproachful disdain. It was clear that, despite them earning their living with the same animals and - at least for this tour - in the very same show, there was no love lost between the pair. “Especially this one.”

“You don’t like stories?” Michelle asked, as Anzu reached the end of her narrative. It was an old one that Dreamer had heard before, surrounding a twelve-person cage match in Yokohama back in 2007. She’d been out for far too many drinks than she should’ve the night before, and ended up emptying the contents of her stomach on the ringmat towards the final moments of the contest. Highly non-traditional, of course, but the act had inadvertently caused half the field to climb out of the cage in disgust, clearing the way for Anzu to get the win.

In actuality, she’d lost that match, but this detail had been lost amongst half a hundred retellings.

“Not ones with so many words,” the matador replied, as the American engaged in a series of increasingly lowed guffaws in recognition of the unexpected turn in Anzu’s story. The local girls that were gathered around him joined in with the amusement, though it was unclear how much of Anzu’s rambled speech they’d followed.

“Not bad, not bad at all,” the cowboy - whose name was predictably Bob and who predictably came from Texas - said, as he puffed on his thick cigar. “Reminds me of a night in Aguascalientes. I don’t remember the year, but I remember the bulls. Seven of the fuckers, and I rode all of them. These Mexican promoters get their money’s worth.”

Until now, the cowboy had conversed primarily with Anzu and his followers, and a little with Dreamer when she’d enquired after his cocaine. Although the matador had reluctantly joined the group following Michelle’s polite request, it was obvious that he didn’t quite relish the thought of an evening with the American. As his sullen, despondent, and often antagonistic nature became clearer to her, her interest in him grew accordingly. Now, though, with the cowboy’s assertion that he’d rode seven bulls in a single night - a statement the American clearly thought worthy of the group’s respect - the matador allowed himself a sudden, derisive snort. The meaning of this would’ve been left unclarified without the subsequent prompt. It was initially left to each person’s imagination whether the matador thought this accomplishment meagre and unnoteworthy, or if he doubted it happened altogether.

“Problem, torero?” the cowboy asked, whilst blowing a thick column of smoke into the matador’s face. The Mexican continued to smile and his grin suggested mockery.

“To ride seven bulls is to eat the sand seven times,” Alejandro replied, casually and in a thick accent. He’d finished his cigarillo but was still clouded by a thick smog from the cowboy’s cigar. “Brave men don’t ride the bulls. They fight them.”

The cowboy didn't reply for a moment, but slowly narrowed his eyes in the direction of the matador as he considered the insult. His hands were now stuffed into the front pockets of his thick jacket, his cigar flapping around in the side of his mouth between tightly pursed lips. Eventually, the silence a little too silent to be comfortable for the others in the party, the cowboy turned away from the matador and towards Anzu. The tension broke when his facial expression and body language relaxed.

“You see what an outsider has to put up with here?” he said, before flicking the chewed end of his cigar into a nearby drain. “Riding five, six, seven bulls a night, and then to face the matador’s elitism. And there is none worse for it than the great Alejandro Negredo. I don’t know why I come back.”

“Finish your drink,” Anzu instructed the cowboy, who acquiesced meekly and drained the half-litre of thick, cloudy beer that still remained in his pitcher.

Eres un animal,” one of the local girls said, with the cold fire of passion in her hazel eyes. The other one bit her lip.

“Where are we going?” the cowboy asked. “Another bar?”

“Where would the guest like to go?” the matador queried, whilst diverting his own attention away from the American, where it had still been directed even after the cowboy’s dismissal. He turned to face Dreamer, who was busy lighting a cigarette and wondering why they’d come outside to smoke when there were ashtrays on the table inside. She thought about the open-ended question during the first, long drag, and framed it within the context of the impromptu company that had settled on her, rather than the other way around.

“I want to see a bull,” she said, finally.

*****

The party arrived at the ranch and, after the matador had paid off a couple of stablehands who were employed to patrol the premises at night, they made their way towards a series of buildings that dotted the landscape in the distance. They were a long way from the stadium, which at first surprised Michelle, but she soon noted that the pig doesn’t live inside the abattoir. The bull wouldn’t see the sword until it was too late.

¿Lo montarás? one of the locals asked, whilst kicking at the sand through which the group trudged.

“I don’t speak Spanish, chica,” the American answered. He’d stopped the cab that had brought them here in order to buy a bottle of whiskey, which he pulled from deeply before offering it to each of his guests. “I told you already.”

“She wants to know if you’ll ride it,” Anzu translated, as she took the bottle from the cowboy and helped herself to a lengthy swig.

“In this light?” the cowboy said, whilst pulling a face that implied - to Dreamer, at least - that he didn’t intend to ride it. “A bull I’ve never seen before? Tonight’s my night off. Gotta pick your battles, chica.”

“You sound scared, vaquero,” the matador mused, antagonistically, from a few paces ahead.

“Sensible,” the cowboy said. “Not scared.”

“There’s little difference,” came the matador’s reply.

“You’ve got your sword,” responded the American. “Perhaps you should fight it. Or maybe you aren’t so confident without a small army to weaken her up before you take the stage.”

Her?” the matador said, with another derisive laugh. “Bulls are male, vaquero. You can tell by the cuevos. Do you know what they look like?”

The American didn’t immediately respond. Michelle fumbled around for her packet of cigarettes whilst she listened to the six sets of footsteps marching through the sand.

Torero.”

The single word, spoken in a thick, unbecoming accent and at the end of a tense period of silence, prompted the matador to stop and turn around. When he did, the cowboy, who’d bent down to collect a fistful of it from the ground, blinded him with a projectile of sand. The matador clawed at his eyes and pulled down his bandido’s mask to allow himself to breathe, but before he could contemplate what had just happened the American tackled him to the ground and knocked his wide-brimmed hat from his head.

Dreamer joined the others - Anzu and the two local girls - in watching the scuffle for a brief moment whilst passing the whiskey between them. The cowboy rained down a trio of blows - two lefts and a right - before the matador could throw up a hasty guard. The larger man attempted to prise the other’s arms apart, but when he did the tall, thin Mexican threw a headbutt up at him to turn the tables. She sucked at her cigarette as the matador rolled the cowboy onto his back and mounted him in turn, but decided that she’d seen enough and turned away.

She stuffed her hands into the front pocket of her hoody as she walked alone between two rows of stables, horses whinnying either side of her from behind a screen of darkness. The only light illuminating the scene was the end of her cigarette, which glowed amber with each of her long inhalations. The night was warm, but a cold shiver ran through her regardless.

The bullpen waited at the end of the path through the stables, and from within she could hear the restless moans of a helpless, caged animal. She paused for a moment at the gate, peering through the gaps in the bars and into the pen. The darkness was pervasive, and - if it wasn’t for the low groans of the invisible beast, along with the stirring in her kindred heart - she would have assumed it empty. She climbed over the gate and entered the pen.

Inside, the bull emerged from the shadow. Padded at the ground with its cloven hooves. Lowered its head and brandished its horns.

Slowly walked towards her.

She stared into the animal’s expressive, green eyes. They were sharper even than his horns.

The bull grunted at her. She grunted back.

Eventually, after observing the interloper in his pen for what felt to Michelle - in her role as that interloper - like a very long time, the bull lay down, and placed his head upon the ground. His eyes remained open and directed at Dreamer.

She sat down, cross-legged, a metre away from the bull. The animal was calm. She smoked her cigarette in silence, the unspoken bond soothing her own heart and warming her through.​
 
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Jimmy King

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Jason Randall in…
Podcast

”Another podcast promo, huh?”

“Huh? What do you mean?

”You don’t remember doing one of these last year? It was your girlfriend Penny’s podcast. Do you have any recollection of that?”

”Oh, well yeah, I remember that…”

”You sort of trailed off there, so you don’t remember? It’s okay if you don’t know, but that is your girlfriend, and you forgetting that probably makes you a terrible boyfriend”

”Kiss my ass!”

”What’s that? I’m just being informed by my producer, Quiet, that we’ve been recording.”

Quiet: “......”

”It’s okay Quiet; I’m not mad, but please let me know next time.”

”Wait, does he really not speak?”

”Of course, why else would his name be Quiet? Did you think it was just some silly gimmick? We’re above that kind of thing in the Nephews, thank you very much.”

”I was just asking an honest question; sensitive much?”

Thomas West: “I would do the introduction, but by now, the listeners are well aware of what they’re listening to, or why else would they have chosen to listen to this?”

“Anyway, as you all know by now, my name is Thomas West. Podcast host and former FWA World Champion, something my guest here would know nothing about. Although, he is no stranger to championship gold, being a former 1x FWA X Champion. My guest on today’s podcast is the man that calls him a Wildcard; he is Jason Randall”


Jason Randall: ”Thank you for having me, I guess?”

Thomas West: “First things first, we might as well address the elephant in the room.”

Jason Randall: “What are you talking about?”

Thomas West: “I understand you forgetting, you probably chose to block it out, but you don’t remember me beating you in that deathmatch?”

Jason Randall: “Oh, that, yeah, the match where you beat me in my hometown.”

Thomas West: “That’s the one! I mean, I beat the brakes off this man in front of his friends and family. Do you remember Quiet?”

Quiet: “..........”

Thomas West: “How could I forget? Dear Frodo lost his life in that match. He wasn’t long for this world, but at least he died doing what he loved.

Jason Randall: “Oh, now you care about him?”

Thomas West: “That doesn’t matter, we’re getting off track, and we only have so much time to fill. As I was going to ask, are there any hard feelings about that match? About how I beat your ass in your hometown?”

Jason Randall: “Is this where you want me to say that I hold no ill will toward you?”

Thomas West: “It would be the professional thing to do.”

Jason Randall: “Well, clearly, you haven’t done your research because I’m anything but professional.”

Thomas West: “Oh, you see, that’s where you’re wrong, my friend. I have done my research on you, and what I found was interesting. I wasn’t going to do much at first, but then as I dug deeper, I couldn’t help myself.”

“Take, for instance, in my research; I learned you were a former world champion in two promotions that are no longer active, am I correct?”


Jason Randall: “Yeah, you’re correct, but I don’t see what that has to do with this interview. I thought we would speak about my upcoming match with Darius Wright on Fallout 025.”

Thomas West: “We will get to that, but let’s return to your history, shall we? You are a former world champion in two promotions that are no longer active. The first time it seemed you were a transitional champion because you lost the title on the next show. It looks your winning wasn’t in the plans, but something came up, so they threw it on you and ripped it away.

Then, after you won your second world title in another promotion, that promotion folder shortly thereafter. I don’t know about you, but that seems like an odd coincidence. I can see the look on your face as you’re getting upset. Am I upsetting you? I bet your blood is boiling. I want you to beat the brakes off me.


Jason Randall: “I’d be lying if I said the thought hadn’t crossed my mind.”

Thomas West: “That’s good, but save that anger and frustration for Darius Wright. Channel it in your match with him and use it to your advantage, and maybe you’ll score that W over him. Unfortunately, you didn’t channel it when you faced Shawn Summers, but that man sure put a beatdown on you. I hate to be rude, but you’re looking worse for wear.”

Jason Randall: “Yeah, Summers beat me, so what? I still gave him a fight that he won’t forget. Every time he looks in the mirror now, he’ll see the scars and bruises I left on him. I plan on invoking the same type of violence when I stand toe to toe with Darius Wright at Fallout 025.”

Thomas West: “That’s admirable, but have you seen Darius Wright in action? Did you see what he did to The Boulder at Fallout 024, or were you too busy licking your wounds after your match with Shawn Summers?”

Jason Randall: “I saw what he did, and while it was a respectable effort, I don’t see how him beating The Boulder makes him so impressive.”

Thomas West: “Who are you to doubt The Boulder?!”

Jason Randall: “I’m not doubting The Boulder, and I’m certainly not doubting Darius Wright. I’ll give him credit, he has potential, but it will take a lot more than what he’s done so far to impress me.”

Thomas West: “I mean, it certainly sounds like you have your doubts about him; sure, he’s not beaten the names that I have, and to be honest, neither have you. I mean, you rag on him beating The Boulder, but your last win was over a clown; I think you’re hypocritical.”

Jason Randall: “As much as it pains me to admit, you’re probably right. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m going to beat him and give him a real fight. If he thinks he has what it takes to hang in the FWA, he’ll have to get through me and let me tell you right now, that won’t be so simple.”

Thomas West: “Well, after Darius Wright, if you get through him, then what’s next on the agenda for you? I saw you eyeing up Vamprya and that TV title she has, is there any chance you go after that next?”

Jason Randall: “I don’t know just yet, but I do know that it’s been too damn long since I’ve held some gold around here. It certainly didn’t help that I was sitting around being content with being the nice guy that tried to please everyone, only to receive nothing in return. No more of that, now I'm just going to take what I want, whenever I want, and that may or may not include the TV title.”

Thomas West: “Well, I think that about wraps things up…”

Quiet: “..........”

Thomas West: “Quiet just informed me that Micah McClain, you know, the brother of your friend, Marcus McClain?”

Jason Randall: “Right, what about him?”

Thomas West: “Quiet says that Micah owes him some money after a bet they had made, but Micah hasn’t been seen or heard from in some time, so if you could pass along that message to Marcus that would be splendid.”

Jason Randall: “Uh, sure thing, I guess”

Thomas West: “With that, I bid you good luck at Fallout 025 in Turkey, and I’d like to say a thank you to my producer, Quiet and Quiet only; thank you for listening!”
 

Oz

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|Luna Piper|
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Intercept from Luna Piper's interview to Billboard Türkiye ahead of her Fallout 025 match against Jin-ho in Istanbul:

1673223612754.png


"Müzisyenlerin karşılaşması, müziklerin karşılaşması. Jin-ho ile olan maçıma bu ismi takmışlar bile, ağızlarından gezdirmiyorlar. Görüyorum, özellikle CONpro hayranları Twitter'da bu maçı kendi sözde müziklerinin tanıtımı olarak görüyor. Neden? Çünkü Türkiye'nin ilişkilerinin en iyi olduğu ülkelerden biri Güney Kore. Neden, çünkü K-Pop küresel bir fenomen, adamım. Kim sevmez ki şirin Koreli kızların dar elbiselerde şarkı söyleyip dans edip rap yapmasını, ya da şirin Koreli erkeklerin de aynısını yapması işte, çok bir fark yok. Bu konuda ne düşünüyorum biliyor musunuz? Oldukça homojen, inanılmaz derecede mide bulandırıcı. Aga bak şimdi, açıyorsun rastgele bir tane Red Velvet midir EXO mudur ney anasının amıdır artık, hepsi aynı amına koyayım ya. Böyle bir müzik olur mu lan? En şaşalı, en gösterişli, en görkemli, en herbokolog olucaz diye müzik denilen kavramın anasını sikmişler, tebrik ediyorum kendilerini. Bu adamların tek günde aldığı izlenmeyi ve etkileşimi alıcaz diye kaç yıl yerlerde sürtüyoruz ama bizi takdir eden yok. Bu adil değil, dostum! Bu adil değil! Ama diyeceksiniz bana, ben biliyorum sizi, ciğerinizi biliyorum, 'Luna, K-Pop'ta bir sürü çeşitlilik var! Sadece iki üç grup dinleyip onları yargılayamazsın!' İlk olarak bana Twitter'da böyle bir şey yazarsanız direk sizi bloklarım, isterseniz milyon tane hesap açın milyon kere bloklarım. İkinci olarak ... olm siz geri zekalı mısınız lan? Olay burada oldukça homojen bir topluma sahte çeşitlilik satmak. Aç bak rastgele bir K-Pop grubu, 80 tane dansçı, 50 tane vokal, 25 tane de rapçileri var. Ama hepsinin yaptığı şey aynı, hepsinin yaptığı müzik aynı. Bütün modern popüler tarzların hepsinin katıldığı, sanki bütün butonlara basıp bölüm geçmeye çalışyormuş gibi bir araya getirildiği, tarihleri boyunca Çin ve Japonya tarafından ezilmiş Güney Kore milleti o ülkelerden en azından bir konuda üstün hissetsin diye allandırıp pullandırıldığı bir müzik türüne ben niye saygı duyayım? Ben neden benim müziğimle onun müziğini karşılaştırmak isteyeyim? Chris Kennedy kendisini Josh Drake ile karşılaştırıyor mu? Eee amına koyayım, o zaman ne bu dalavere? Neyse. Jin-ho, evet. Garip zevkleri var, müziği berbat, gelip karşıma İstanbul'da kafa tutacak. Şükrü Saraçoğlu'nda! Galatasaray taze çaktıktan sonra Fenerli piçlerin önünde çıkıp Jin-ho'ya ben çakacağım. Fenerlilerin ağladığı gibi ben de türbanlı Sümeyye'leri ağlatacağım. Bu kadar basit."​
 

Cyrus Truth

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Exile Chronicles (Volume 5)
Chapter 13: Collecting Debts

“I’m Scott Samson, and I approve this message.”

Our scene begins with the preceding message and opens with the image of a broad-shoulder, brown-eyed man with well-coiffed black hair and dressed in a perfectly tailored black suit with a blue tie.

This is Scott Samson, the incumbent representative from Ohio’s 5th District. He’s been this district’s representative in Congress for three terms now, having worked his way up from local politics and various other philanthropic endeavors to becoming one of the fastest rising stars of the Republican party.

There are, of course, a multitude of reasons for that. One can point to the gerrymandering of districts by several Republican majorities or the Democratic Party’s inability to create resounding messages that appeal to the more rural populace of the state’s counties. Regardless, Scott Samson’s message of providing a voice for the lower-to-middle classes in Congress and working alongside rivals for bipartisan compromises has resonated with the voters in that district to the point where he’s won his past two elections with near landslides. And even amongst his rivals, it’s hard to find anything too negative to say about him. He’s even managed to avoid falling into the abyss of the more insane and extremist wing of the GOP.

Of course, tribal politics that have become all the norm too lately still have their unfortunate place, and Scott isn’t completely immune to that. Still, as far as politicians go? As far as anyone can see, he’s certainly not the one who’s been beating that proverbial drum.

However, the election is done and over, with Scott securing his fourth term in the House of Representatives. And after being sworn in, Scott finds himself rewatching one of his political ads, a wistful look on his middle-aged face at how well things have gone for him.

Things would get busy again, for sure…but for now, Scott simply leans back in his office chair, taking a sip of some bourbon he has stashed in spite of House rules, pondering his political future as he looks out his window towards D.C. at night.

*Knock, knock*

Scott finishes up his bourbon and stores the glass and bottle away in his desk before calling out:


“Come on in!”

The door opens as a thin, spindly woman in a similar-looking suit to what Scott is wearing enters. She’s older than he is, her greying black hair indicative of that fact. However, she shows no signs of the rigors of her age, and her eyes are sharp and hawkish as she closes the door behind her and has a seat across the desk from the representative.

“I’m surprised you’re still here, Scott. I would have thought that you’d have headed out to the caucus meet-up to celebrate.”

“Wilma, you know I hate those sorts of gatherings. Besides, there’s a mountain of calls and emails from the constituents and donors I have to get through now that the new Congress is finally in session.”

“Hmm. So just being the dutiful representative, then? Or perhaps you’re here because you’re thinking the same thing as me.”

“And what’s that?”

“The Senate seat that’s up for grabs in 2024, of course. Or perhaps something more…executive?”


Scott leans forward just a bit as Wilma cracks the smallest, slyest grin, rapping her bony fingers on the desk. Scott doesn’t look…upset with that suggestion his chief of staff made, but he certainly is a bit less at ease.

“Isn’t it a bit early to be discussing another election so soon after we just won our last one?”

“Perhaps, but that’s the nature of politics these days. And you can’t sit there and tell me that the prospect of becoming ‘Senator’ Scott Samson doesn’t appeal to you. Lest we also forget that a lot of heavy hitters and power players of the party are going to try and seek the nomination for President after the mess that the last few years have been. I don’t know if I can safely say we’re in the best of positions to claim it ourselves, but even if we can’t, it can only boost your profile. And we might even get a nod towards a VP position…”

“Enough, enough! I get it. Look, I’m not going to lie and say that I haven’t thought about it, Wilma. Ever since I was a kid, and my father served in the Ohio House, I always wanted to serve as he had. Not that I made things easier for myself when I was a younger man…”

“That’s all behind you, Scott.”

“Yeah, sure…either way, I want to make a difference. Prove that I can be the kind of leader worth respecting.”

“And you will, Scott. You know that. And you also know that I’ll be there to make sure that you get there.”


Scott sighs, but shares a smile with Wilma and nods. Ever since Scott began his political career, Wilma has always been there to provide her advice and savvy. She’s always been seen on Capitol Hill as a ruthlessly pragmatic person, but it’s been hard for Scott to argue with the results of her fundraising and political messaging.

Sure, she’s rubbed some of Scott’s friends and family the wrong way…but not everybody can get along right?

*Knock, knock*

The sudden, forceful knocking on Scott’s office door startles both the representative and his chief of staff. Both slowly stand up as Wilma looks over to her boss.


“Scott…were you expecting someone else this evening?”

“No. Not at all. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really expecting you.”

*Knock, knock*

The knocking becomes more forceful. Two quick raps in succession, then silence.

Before either Scott or Wilma can say anything or decide anything, there’s a loud thump…and then the sound of little metal tools rasping against a lock. Scott, somewhat nervously, reaches for his phone…but finds there’s no dial tone. Wilma pulls out her cell phone, but realizes there’s no signal.

As the two of them ponder how any of this is possible within one of the most secure buildings in the country, the door to Scott’s office opens.

Standing in the doorway is a man, dressed in a long coat to presumably keep out the winter cold outside…and of course, to hide who he is, as made evident by the drawn-up hood. All we see of this figure is the chin, small stubble accenting a clenched jaw line.

This man has his hands in his coat pockets, but does not seem to be in an aggressive stance. He’s just standing there, eyes forward and shoulders stiff.

Getting over the initial concern, Representative Samson walks up next to his chief of staff and squares up, falling back to his time as a defensive lineman for the Ohio State Buckeyes.


“Who the hell are you? How did you get past the Capitol Police?”

The shrouded man sighs, as if the question was so mind-numbingly stupid that it’s almost painful to even try and answer it. And thus, no answer comes.

“Hey! I’m talking to you! I asked you a question, and I’m…”

“...in no position to threaten me, pull rank on me, or do anything other than shut up and listen.”


That tone, colder than any blizzard, is enough to take any fire that the representative had and snuff it out. The figure, not even batting an eye, simply strolls into the office and closes the door behind him, leaving just the three of them alone with no means of communicating to the outside.

“I have at least a dozen different things I’d rather be doing than spending time in this cesspool of posturing and broken dreams and promises, so let’s get to the point. I want what’s owed. And if you’re going to waste my time further and get in my way of getting it…well, it’s not as if this place will ever be short on crooked politicians.”

Scott looks perplexed, and then angry by the man’s insinuations. This man, this politician doesn’t get angry at much, but any claim that he’s anything other than an honest man is one thing that definitely raises his ire. Without thinking, he steps out in front of Wilma and points a finger in the intruder’s shrouded face.

“Who the hell are you? And how dare you accuse me of being crooked? I don’t owe you or anybody besides my constituents a damn thing!”

The intruder scoffs as he, without even a moment’s hesitation, gets right up in Scott Samson’s face. The shadows still hide the man’s face, but it’s clear by his posture and tone that this whole situation is almost comical in a tragic sort of way.

“‘Who am I?’ What a stupid fucking question. What, do you think asking the same question multiple times will get you an answer? If I wanted you to know who I was, you think I’d be hiding my face? But you are right…somewhat, anyway. You don’t owe me. But someone here does.”

What?! What the hell are you…”

Almost on reflex, Scott looks over his shoulder…and is unnerved by what he sees.

Wilma, standing behind him, face contorted in a mixture of fear and acknowledgement. Scott has known this woman for almost a decade, and in all that time? He’s never seen her as anything other than composed, collected, and calculating. And what strikes him the hardest is that Wilma’s face is telling.

She knows who this intruder is.

And what he’s here to collect.


“Wilma…”

“Scott, don’t say or do anything. I…I will take care of this.”

“‘Take care of this?’ Take care of what? Wilma, what is going on?”


Ignoring Scott’s question, Wilma instead finally turns her gaze to the intruder. The nervousness, the fear is still there…fear of what this man would do to her? Or fear of what he could do to Scott Samson?

“Truth…please. There’s no need to get the representative involved in this business.”

The intruder cocks his head at that…and then laughs uproariously. The man, The Exile, Cyrus Truth, face still hidden in shadow, simply shakes his head disbelievingly.

“Are you serious? You mean to tell me that you embezzled all that money and filtered it through shadow accounts, had any number of potential political rivals discredited through doxxing campaigns and false scandals, and this idiot didn’t know ANYTHING about it?”

“It’s true! Representative Samson is completely innocent and has nothing to do with what you’re here for. So please…”

“Wait, wait, wait…Wilma, what are you saying? What this man just said…that can’t be true, can it?”


The Exile simply shakes his head and laughs as he backs off from the pair, arms crossed behind him.

“Afraid it is, Scott. Wilma here has been doing an awful lot of unpleasant things in order to make sure you had the money and clout to get to where you are. Personally, I find such things distasteful, but you can take heart in the fact that you’re certainly not the first or last politician that’s done scummy things to get ahead. Either way, whether you’re a crook or not is the least of my concerns at the moment. My business partners are rather tired of waiting for payment for the assistance they provided you, Wilma. So either you pay up or your precious representative will.”

Wilma’s fear is replaced with genuine concern, knowing full well that Truth’s connections in the world of shadows could sink any political career, whether they were involved in shadow business or not.

Scott, after getting over the initial shock of this revelation, quickly goes back into an aggressive stance and looks this stranger dead on. He points his finger at Truth who hasn’t budged an inch.


“Now, hang on a second! What are you saying? You honestly think you can just waltz in here, talking this nonsense about what my chief of staff did or didn’t do, and demand anything? What, are you some kind of crime boss? Some sort of consigliere for some big shot? I’m not afraid of some two-bit punk, you know.”

“Then you’ll watch everything you’ve built burn down around you with more courage than most.”

“Go to hell!”


Scott goes to swing for The Exile’s head. Cyrus, arms still crossed behind him, ducks to avoid the haymaker and twists, grabbing the representative’s outstretched arm and contorting it. Scott winches in pain as Cyrus uses his own momentum to slam him against the wall of his office, shaking the hanging pictures of various photo opportunities with other representatives, senators, and foreign and domestic dignitaries.

Wilma, seeing this, immediately shouts out in a panic.


“Truth, stop! Please, just stop. You don’t have to do this. Yes, I stole, lied, and cheated to help Scott get elected. But I told you…he didn’t know about any of it! He’s not a crooked politician…he’s a good man! And you’re supposed to be a good man, too…”

“Says who?”


The absolute sharpness by which Truth asks that question. It cuts to the bone like a knife of icy steel. Truth releases his grip on the representative, who falls to the floor on his ass while holding his arm in pain. There’s some bruising that’s starting to form on his forehead, but at this moment, he’s not relevant. Not to Truth.

Truth looks at Wilma and gets in her face. We can’t see his eyes, as they are still shrouded by the hood. But it’s clear to Wilma that she is being seen through by Cyrus’s trademark hawkish gaze.


“‘I’m a good man?’ No. I’m not. And I’m tired of having to explain this to you and everybody else I deal with. I’m not a good person. I’m not kind, or patient, or anything of the sort. What I am is a man of principle. I have RULES. And I hold fast to those rules. You know why? Because a man has to have rules; otherwise, what makes him any different than some kind of beast that just gorges himself on anything it can sink its fangs into?

“You don’t have that, Wilma. And neither does your precious representative.”


“I told you, he didn’t…”

“‘He didn’t know,’ yeah…I heard you the first time. Well, tell me, Mr. Samson…”

Truth turns his gaze over to Scott, who’s looking at him with an absolute baleful glare.

“Have you ever, once, asked dear Wilma here WHERE she was getting all the money for your campaigns? Did it never strike you as odd that so much dirt was being dug up on your primary opponents? If you can sit there and tell me honestly that you’ve never spared a thought for those questions, I’ll call you a liar and be 100% confident in that. Well…go ahead. Tell me I’m wrong.”

Scott wants to say something. More than anything, he wants to get back on his feet and throttle this interloper.

However…he doesn’t stand up. He doesn’t say anything. The only thing he does is look at Wilma with this slightly mournful look…and a look of admittance that what Cyrus is saying isn’t false.


“Ignorance is no excuse. To ignore how you got to this point is absolutely inexcusable. And turning a blind eye to it is the same as accepting the methods. And the two of you can tell me all you want about how you’re really sorry, or that you know what you did was wrong and how you’re going to be better in the future. Well, guess what? I DON’T CARE. Because if it was important enough for you to atone for the misdeeds that brought you power, fame, glory, or whatever you call this shit? You would’ve already done it. If you hadn’t committed great sins, or if you had reconciled them honestly…I wouldn’t have to be here, would I?”

Cyrus walks past Wilma over to where Scott is slumped on the floor. Wilma’s fear is evident, but she doesn’t move. She’s not built for this sort of direct confrontation, especially against someone like Cyrus Truth, The Exile who’s lost everything in the world of shadows and came back stronger for it.

Truth kneels down to where he’s face-to-face with the representative, and grabs his face to force him to look at The Exile directly.


“You think your status grants you power. You want me to respect your successes. And you’re hoping that appealing to my better angels will grant you some amnesty. But ultimately, do you know what you are to me? You’re simply a task. An objective I have to tick off a checklist in order to get what I want. You might be a saint in a den of sinners whose only crime was having blinders on to what built your power base, but that still is a crime. And that’s something you have to pay for. Both of you.

“I am so close, you know. So close to achieving so much. And people like you, Representative Samson? The ‘good men’ who are either ignorant to your sins or simply choosing to ignore them on your rise to prominence? If you think I’m going to lose any sleep putting your sorry asses into the ground, one way or another…well, you clearly haven’t got a clue just who you’re fucking with.

“You can hide behind a mask of virtue and altruism. But words are wind. Actions mean more. And debts have to be paid whether you took them out in your name, or someone took them out on your behalf. Me? I’m the man who collects on those debts. And there’s a GREAT many debts out there that are long overdue.”

As Cyrus delivers this statement, this sermon of sorts to this politician…Scott Samson finds that all of his bluster has faded.

Part of that is fear, concern formed from the absolute irrespective and dismissive callousness that Truth speaks with.

But more than anything, there’s this creeping sense that The Exile is right in his assessment.

Before he can say anything in response, Truth stands up and turns towards the office entrance. He pauses in the doorway, speaking without looking behind him.


“You have three days to figure out how to make things right. On day four, everything single back alley shadow deal that Wilma made on your behalf will be made public. There will be no surviving this. You won’t just get to ignore this like so many other politicians when their dirty laundry gets aired. I will make sure that your career, your legacy, and everything that you hold dear is burned down and left as ashes. What good will you have built in your time in politics will be snuffed out, and nothing you do past that point will EVER wash away the black mark that I will leave.

“Three days. Your time starts now. I suggest you make your choices quickly.”


Cyrus leaves. His footsteps don’t even make a sound as they hit the marble floors of the House of Representatives. There’s no security that comes, no other souls that interject. Just Scott Samson and Wilma, standing alone in a slightly ruffled office, looking at one another.

Knowing that certain sins have been committed.

Knowing that one’s actions and one’s ignorance of those actions have led to ruin.

And knowing what they have to do in order to avoid the worst outcome…


*******

Two days after Congress had been sworn in, a surprise press conference was announced by Representative Scott Samson, who declared that, for personal and professional reasons, he had decided that it was unfair to the people who elected him to remain in office when he would most certainly be unable to perform the duties to the best of abilities.

He announced his resignation. And though he never said it out loud? It was also his resignation from politics.

From his hotel room in Odessa, Cyrus watches this all unfold. There’s not any satisfaction in his expression at this turn of events. As he said in the man’s office nights before…this was simply an objective that needed to be completed as part of his continued efforts to build and maintain his standing in the world of shadows.

But on Meltdown? Cyrus Truth would face another sinner. One who claims to have regrets, but has yet to make strides to atone.

Bryan Baxter and his crony Bill Scorpiane have ridden high on success of late, remaining undefeated in the Climaxxx and scoping up the North American title in the process.

With chicanery and brass knuckles, lest we forget. And despite his efforts to mend fences with Jeremy Best with words, he has yet to do so with actions. Has yet to reprimand and free himself from the leech that has brought him down the road of sin and disgrace.

Unlike Scott Samson? Cyrus can’t help but feel himself anticipating this match against Baxter.

Because this match could bring him back to where he wants to be. To the prize that’s eluded him for years, being fumbled around by a bunch of children with grabby, yet slippery fingers.

On Meltdown, Bryan Baxter will pay for his sins.

And Cyrus Truth will use his big ass corpse to climb out of the abyss, and march forward to the end of the F1 Climaxxx.

To the end of the Long and Winding Road…back to the World Heavyweight Championship…
 

Death Walker

Better Known As King Of Armageddon | Trapped In Darkness
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Broken (Part 2)

With a close up on Darius Wright’s face, the scene opens upside down in a 4:3 aspect ratio view with pillar boxing. And then it slowly does a clockwise 180 degree flip as it widens out to a 16:9 full screen. The new, volatile dark being stands there, staring straight into the camera lens and takes these calm deep breaths through his nose. A muffled voice can be heard but the words can't be made out. A few seconds as our ears and certainly Darius’s ears seem to clear up to hear a distinctive voice…

The Dark Guardian: “Darius?! HEY!!!... Hey my dark traveler… you keep blanking out on me. I don't know if that's a good thing or something to be concerned about. But for now if it helps in your quest for dominance, I don't think we’ll have anything to worry about… So I was saying that I wanted to be one of the first to congratulate you on your first true display of dominance in a wrestling ring. Now The Boulder… yet big as hell and I'm sure just as strong, he was just an appetizer. You'll have more challenging competitors to face in your quest. So I was thinking about-”

And once again, Darius stands there in a white sunlit room as a black hooded dark guardian continues to gab about strategy and plans. His eyes blink only a few times in the minutes of him staring blankly. Then we hear some disturbing cracking… as if something is being broken. A flash of an arm in a kimura lock by another set of arms is shown -and then it is snapped with the sounds of a few additional broken bones trailing.






Then we're brought back to a closer shot of Darius’s face, still staring madly into the souls of whoever is looking back at him. Another flashback pops up but this time we can get a glimpse of Darius from some years back. He’s grappling with another mat fighter when DW locks in a tight kneebar. Within seconds of the opponent tapping, Darius still holds it in as both the competitor and referee is shown (not heard) screaming at him. Then we hear once again the trails of bones being broken…






Again brought back to Darius but now just his eyes, the bridge of his nose and the subtle hisses from his breathing combined with the sound of broken bones.






Another flashback appears but with a medley of limbs and body parts receiving bone fractures, all courtesy of our dark traveler. It instantly fades to an image of 4 year old Darius staring at an electrical outlet. The young boy in an oversized t-shirt and shorts, is hugging a small stuffed elephant under his right arm and caressing an outlet with his left hand. On the boy’s face… is a smirk, an evil smirk… the one joined with joy in his eyes and happiness expressed over the rest of his little face. In the background, a male voice and a female voice (undoubtedly his parents) that echoed no’s in several sentiments…

Fading to the next memory, we appear to be led back to the night that Darius lost the Liberty or Death Wrestling World Heavyweight Championship. A brief moment of cracking sounds are heard while The Dark Traveler walks through the curtains to the backstage area.






He doesn't seem to be in the best of moods obviously due to losing his first wrestling title in a matter of weeks… in his second defense. And with his head hung low and a slight frown, you can definitely tell that he’s trying to accept this level of defeat without releasing any type of anger. Darius makes his way to the locker room, takes a shower and remains calm yet quiet the whole time. After a relaxing shower, he dries off and gets dressed in his all black outfit. He heads out the locker room and to the private parking garage with the only title that couldn't be taken from him this night, The Belt of Bones. Darius unlocks his black F-450 truck before hopping up into it. Pulling out, he takes off down the empty road and drives in silence as he is soon joined by a visitor.

TDG:
“Don't worry… don't even worry about- Darius, don't worry about losing that title. It was meant to be a temporary title reign for a reason.”

Not responding back to The Dark Guardian seated on the opposite side in the back, Darius just jams on the accelerator. The hood of the advisor faces our Dark Traveler as they continue to their destination. The Dark Guardian goes back to talking…

TDG: “You did more than enough in that match and you didn't give up. You stayed strong and imposing the whole time… even up to the end.”

Darius Wright: “DAMN IT!!!”

Darius’s frustration takes over and he punches the dashboard one time with all his might. He then revs the engine while speeding down the highway. Not uttering another word, he scowls and huffs at the memory of losing the championship just hours ago.





TDG: “Darius… it's time for your next journey to begin. A dark road to evil and madness, a demonic route to Armageddon and HELL. You’ll become your strongest, fastest and most unpredictable that you’ve ever been.”

Homeward bound the two go, heading to Los Angeles.

*********************************************************

Fade to black momentarily as there's still audio from the squeaky hinges of old steel doors followed up with the rattling of chains. We're brought into darkness that Darius faced as he had entered his personal tunnel to HELL that same night.





DW: “This right here… this is… without a doubt… the most… outrageously… stupid shit I have ever gotten myself into. “Come on, Darius. Make your own tunnel in your basement. You've got the money, it'll take you to The Devil himself.” HA! It's been a couple of minutes and already I’ve had enough. But it's time that I face the music… time that I get what's coming to me. Time to be reborn.”

While in darkness, we hear the silence mixed with some shuffling of dirt as Darius walks. Lots of shuffling in fact as he's got a long way to go. As Darius goes deeper into his tunnel, things get more peculiar as he can hear sounds. The sounds of other things living beneath the Earth… hisses… incoherent screams… howls… heavy breaths and panting… and their shufflings. Darius stays quiet as he keeps a calm head and prepares to fight whatever that comes for him. That's when he feels a sharp pain coming from his abdomen and then some strong teeth digging into the flesh of one of his arms that he's using for defense.

DW: “AAAAAAHHHH HHHHHHHAAAAAA!!! So you think you can stop me. No one can stop me, this was my destiny.”

The Dark Traveler lays waste to whatever monsters, goblins or beasts targeting him as a tasty morsel. Swinging wild powerful packed punches as well as kicks, he’s able to clear off most if not all of the unseen creatures. He continues to walk… and eventually climb through tight gaps… wading through what hopefully is water. He spends hour after hour, working his way through darkness and using his other 4 senses to lead the way. Many hours later, the traveler has to end his journey early for the evening to rest. Darius makes due with the solid ground that he’s on and lays down on it. A bit nervous but capable of defending himself in just about any scenario, he sleeps for some hours. Peacefully resting, he is awakened by some type of animal dragging him by the hood attached to his t-shirt. This leads to a tug of war match between the two or few of them.

DW: “GIVE ME MY DAMN HOOD, YOU DUMB SHIT!!!”

He goes into throwing a few random hook shots before making contact with the thing in the dark. Darius hops back on his feet and continues to deliver strikes in every direction adjacent to him. Once he feels like he's secure for now, he stops and waits while controlling his breath again. Suddenly something slimy reaches out and slices as well as burns over one of his arms.

DW: “WHAT THE HELL?!? Oh. The irony… ANYWAYS!!! WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?? KEEP YOUR ASS AWAY FROM ME! YOU MUTHAFUCKIN JACKASS!”

He goes to step back and he notices that the thing got ahold of that arm of his. Darius pulls at like a tentacle wrapped around his arm but as soon as he grabs the vine or tentacle it begins to slightly burn the palm of his hands so he lets it go and tries to unwrap it without touching it. Luckily it was as simple as extending the arm and twirling it in a circular motion until it releases. Darius takes off running in the opposite direction, using his ears and hands to get through the rest of the tunnel. His journey went on for what felt like several days to a week but as he would later discover, he had been traveling for several months until he arrived in HELL.

********************************************************

And then fading back into full color and brightness is another flashback. A bloodied up and bruised Darius is catching his breath while standing over a somewhat human body… which appears to be wearing a goat mask. Only the mask doesn't look to be able to be removed in any way. And then another goat-faced freak charges right at our dark hero and Darius just waits for the incoming attack. He sidesteps with disturbing ease, using his foot to trip up this strange demon and pulls off a Half Nelson Suplex. This puts down yet another one of these creatures and rips the soul from its lifeless body as it is slammed with a lot of volition and conviction. And a powerful Darius stands in triumph once again in this red fiery underworld surrounded by molten lava and floating rock formations. The breaking of bones replays in his mind…






And just when you’d think there would finally be a moment to breathe, there's a deafening holler from a horde in the far distance opposite of where The Dark Traveler is positioned. Then, more of the strange creatures present themselves before charging all at once towards Darius. He stays where he is and waits again while keeping his head on a swivel. Throwing a barrage of punches to heads while being tackled by several goat men. He falls back in slow motion as his adversaries attempt to put him to the ground. Upon hitting the ground, he latches onto the neck of one of the enemies putting in a guillotine chokehold. Darius is now dogpiled as he clenches his teeth and the camera zooms in only on his straining expression. And then the camera cuts away to a pair of enormous red glowing eyes hovering over Darius but they remain in the distance behind thick clouds of smoke. Going back to a zoomed in shot of Darius’s eyes, there's sounds of snarls… grunts… punches to flesh… and then one final… cracking of bones… possibly from the guillotine chokehold that Darius had locked on to one of the creatures.




That's when a voice gets through to Darius, amplifying in volume…

TDG: “Darius? Darius?!! DARK TRAVELER???”

Darius shakes off whatever cobwebs that he had and gives a perplexed look to The Dark Guardian. The Dark Guardian continues with his somewhat one sided conversation as they are walking along an empty corridor at an airport.

TDG: “Next stop is… the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium…”

In which, Darius sighs and still gives The Dark Guardian a confused look as if he doesn't understand what he just said.

TDG: “I SAID… THE… wait, what is it again?! Did I say it wrong? Hold up.”

The Dark Guardian pulls out a sheet of paper with information printed on it and reads it.

TDG: “It's the Sukru… Sukru Sara… Saraco- Look, the point is that we're headed to a stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. And your next opponent goes by The Wildcard and he’s the real deal. A true rebel in every way with quite the impressive background. He kind of reminds me of how you were going to be except with less wrestling honors than he has earned… I mean your plans got detoured, having to battle with our Savior and Lord of Evil… Umm anyways… This man can be reckless, destructive and relentless but that's where the new malicious Darius Wright, THE DARK TRAVELER comes through. Having him play in the palm of his hand and right when he thinks he's figured out the ending to this story of his… you’ll crush him into pieces. BREAKING HIM INTO PIECES, LIMB FROM LIMB, BIT BY BIT. This is your time to feed into the evil, become The Dark Traveler. You don't need to worry about the feeling of defeat… you no longer have to worry about the lifestyle of Darius Wright, my dark prodigy. Just give into the darkness… the pain… the evil… the anger… the rage.”

Another moment of broken bones ring in Darius’s head and he tries to fight with his body losing control to something he's never known existed within him. Gripping himself all over as he contorts and trembles viciously upon feeling madness disrupt the tamed Darius Wright that he had returned with. Or so he thought. He raises his head from looking at the floor in anguish and gut wrenching pain. Darius (or whomever inside his body) stares off into a trance with the right corner of his lips lifted to form his infamous and devious smirk. He changed the way he walks although it resembles usual, this walk is more confident with each step deliberate in its placement. Standing at 6 foot 1, both himself and others feel the essence that emits off of this refined and able-bodied black man as it made him seem much taller and even more powerful than could be imagined. He strolls along straight at the camera aimed directly in front of him until his body… or aura darkens the entire view. A few more words are spoken from The Dark Traveler's mouthpiece…

TDG: “I’m working on your new look and entrance but it is not quite time to present it to the world. However, it WILL BE ready by the time FWA has it's next pay per view event. For now focus on Jason Randall, he’s got this devastating Knee Trembler and a hard hitting Double Arm DDT. So with that said... I think the time has been long, long overdue... to um, shake things up...









My Lord.”
 

Comeback Kid

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The sounds of bullets ricocheting off walls intertwined with the shrieks of panic throughout the city. Between the shrieking was the sound of glass breaking upon impact. The man adjusted his cap to cover his blond hair as he ascended from the steps flanked by two others. As windows shattered, sending fire and glass bustling out into the cobbled streets, the blond-haired man continued his slow walk towards a waiting caravan of cars - three in total. The unfamiliar sound of the emergency sirens wailed throughout the town, but the inhabitants stood frozen in fear and disbelief. This area, the neutral zone, was agreed upon by both sides as the one place that the World’s War would not breach. They had no drills to prepare them for this because this was never supposed to happen.

The rules of war had been turned upside down, and he enjoyed it. How can you expect someone to fight fair when it is a fight to the death? He thought to himself as he entered the backseat of the front car. The two men took their places in the car with him - one on the opposite of the backseat and the other in the passenger seat. The caravan lurched forward blowing smoke into the air. The once white snowflakes that fell upon their arrival had turned an ashen grey. He placed his hand out the window and waved forward, catching a snowflake in the process. “We often speak of the physical casualties of war that impact man but hardly ever speak of the environmental impacts that it has. "
Why is that?” he wondered as the once war-deprived area slowly turned into exactly what they were once shielded from.



Shawn Summers in
WAR ZONE

“Why do you want to go to war,” she softly said as she scrubbed the remnants of food off the plate.

“I want to be a hero,” he answered back with trepidation. She scoffed at his answer and turned off the water, patting her hands dry on her apron. She didn’t understand, but how could she understand what it meant to fight in a war? War is for boys to become men and men to become legends. There had been peace for more than a hundred years on the continent. This could be his only chance to cement his legacy as a hero.

“Who would you be a hero to Shawn? Would you be a hero to the families who will lose their sons, fathers, and brothers at your hands? Will you be a hero to the people that have their way of life turned upside, hmm?” she questions while forcefully putting dishes in the cupboard. “You want to become a hero at the expense of the world all because a bunch of Victoria’s children couldn’t get along.”

She was thinking too emotionally. Women almost always thought with their emotions. That’s why they would never be suited for war. In war, you have to think strategically and have your next move planned before you execute your current.

“I would be a hero to everyone here,” he said with shaky confidence. “I would be a hero to my country.”

“You’re a child,”
she said as she rolled her eyes and continued to put away dishes.

“I’m a man,” he pounded his fist on the table and shouted. “I’m a man and the man of this house now. I’m going to war to protect you from those men who want to take the lives of sons, fathers, and brothers. I’m going to war to protect you from those men who want to come and turn your world upside down. I’m going to war to protect you from the world created by Victoria’s children,” he says with a sternness she had never experienced from her son. It had been hard to see him as anything but the little boy that would run from his brothers and seek protection from her. In her eyes, he was still her baby but in his, he was a man willing to do whatever and experience whatever to become the hero that not only she needed but the people of the fatherland needed too.

A prolonged silence filled the room as the two sat with the thoughts. He shakily grabbed the bag that sat at his feet and rose from the table. His mother’s eyes glistened as she attempted to hold back tears. This was the fourth time she would be saying goodbye to a loved one - unsure if he would make it back. He embraced her with a prolonged hugged and wiped her tears away before planting a kiss on her forehead. He quickly turned around a wiped his own tears - he couldn’t show her that he was sad too or else she’d never him leave.

The sun was bright and the temperature was high as he exited his home. Two men, about the same age as him, signaled for him to come over. He acknowledged both men with quick hugs and signaled for them to start walking.


“This is it, boys,” said one of the men with a grin from ear to ear. “We’re going to be fucking heroes after this. They’re going to worship us when we come back.”

“The line between worship and mourning is pretty thin,” says the other man. Although much hadn’t been said, the conversation was a perfect characterization of them. Trevor, the first man to speak, was filled with blind optimism about life and was headstrong to a fault when he believed in what he was doing. Noah, the other man to speak, was more realistic about things and careful with his view of the world. Their reasons for going to war were different and yet the same as Shawn’s.

As they approached the check-in station for military deployment they were astonished to see how large of a crowd enlistment had drawn. It seemed like there were men from all over the fatherland ready to put their bodies on the line. One by one they were brought into lines to check in for physical examination.


“Summers! Shawn Summers” called a booming voice. Shawn raised his hand and the burly man dressed in his finest military regalia waved for him to follow. Shawn looked back at his two friends as he was led behind a curtain where a small cot lay and a nurse waited in preparation for his examination. As the inspection began Shawn began to feel less and less sure about his decision to join the war. As they commanded him to turn, lift his arm, cough, breath in, breath out, and spread his legs he started to realize that once he was deemed fit and acceptable, his body would no longer be his. Upon enlisting his autonomy wouldn’t be his anymore it would be the Fatherlands. Was this what he really wanted? Was his individuality something that he was willing to give up just to become a hero?

“Well, he is quite the specimen,” said the burly man to the nurse as they finished his exam. “He’s exactly what we’re looking for. He looks almost like he was built to do this. To be in combat. To be a warrior.”

The nurse nodded her head in agreement as they continued to make marks on his chart. Shawn continued to look around nervously until he was addressed by the officer.

“Tell me, boy. Why do you want to enlist?”


Shawn takes a moment to answer before clearing his throat, standing up tall, and answering. “I want to enlist to become a hero to the fatherland and his people. I want to enlist to be the protector of all things that are right and just in this world and stop the spread of the immorality and unholy ideals that our enemies bring. I want to be immortalized, sir,” Shawn says with enough confidence and passion that even he believes it. The nurse smiles and pats him on the shoulder as the officer nods his head in approval.

“Immortalized you will be, son. Head to line five where you will receive your uniform, and identification. The frontlines will make a hero out of you, my boy.”
he says with sarcasm in his voice that Shawn was unable to catch at the time.

After receiving his uniform and identification, Shawn looks around the crowded auditorium for his friends. He jumps as he feels someone wrap their arm around him -startling him in the process.
“Shit, Trevor, you scared the hell out of me,” he says to the young man from earlier.

Trevor was excited as he stood with his uniform, bag of clothes, and identification. He was tall - about as tall as Shawn but had slightly more mass on him. He had blue eyes and brown hair that was cut low on the sides but allowed some length on the top. He and Shawn had been friends for a while - bonding over their love for history and the stories of great triumphs and conquests of the war heroes from the past.

The other man from earlier approached with his belongings and smirked at the other two. Noah was his name. He’d been friends with Shawn for the same amount of time as Trevor but it was sometimes hard to understand his friendship with the two. He was so different from them and that may have been why they were drawn to him. When they had their heads in the clouds about ideas and theories he would bring them back to reality. He kept them grounded and they opened his mind to possibilities he had never considered.


“We’re going to the frontlines, boys,” Trevor says with excitement in his voice. “We’re going to see combat firsthand. How many people get to say that they stopped our lands from being invaded by outsiders? How many people can say that when it was man versus man they were the ones that came out on top? This is a big fucking deal, gentleman,” he said eliciting a smile from Shawn and a head nod from Noah.

The three found a corner of the room to get dressed in their uniform and exited into the sunny warmth outside. Noah handed each man cigarette and lit it for them.


“Enjoy that cigarette. It’ll be the last one we have for a while.”

“They don’t allow us to smoke,” Shawn asked with genuine surprise. Surely the military wouldn’t tell them they couldn’t do something to relieve the stress and pressure that comes with war, right?

“The light from the end of the cigarette would give away your position at night and make you an easy target to aim for. Mix that in with you having a lit cigarette around a bunch of explosives and I think they have a pretty good reason for not wanting us to smoke while in combat.”

Noah had some insight into the war and the frontlines due to his brother’s involvement in the effort. He had two years before and would write home when he could and Noah would share the ones that his mom said he could with Shawn and Trevor.

The three smoked in silence. Their last moments of autonomy were dwindling down. At the drop of the cigarette but they would be hopping onto the caravan and making their way through Luxemburg and Germany before arriving in France where they would finally get the chance to be the heroes they wanted to be.

Of the thousands of men and boys that would enlist today more than 90% of them wouldn’t make it past their first week of combat. Too often men enter a war with the thought of victory and become overwhelmed with the intelligence, strategy, and hope that the opposing force slips up before they do. The vast majority of the enlistees know how to fire a gun, and if they don’t they will learn quickly. However, there is no way to learn how to kill someone. It’s something that you do or don’t do. In a fight to the death, what societal rule are you willing to break in order to keep your life?



ONE YEAR LATER

A lot can happen in a year's time and a lot can stay the same. While the men who signed up for the war had either changed or died in this time period, the action at the front line had relatively stayed the same. Neither army had advanced much since but the number of men that had perished steadily increased as the days went on. It was almost pointless to make new friends during the downtimes because it was almost certain that either you or them would be dead the next time around.

Shawn, Noah, and Trevor had managed to survive and stay in the same company as one another throughout it all. Noah and Trevor worked well as a duo - predicting the moves of one another, having each other's back during moments of despair, and racking up a kill count that had impressed the members of the senior command. Although it had been reported that Shawn had killed many men in combat he in fact had killed none. He couldn’t bring himself to take the life of another who was simply trying to survive in a war that meant nothing to either of them but everything to the people furthest away from danger. He was always with Noah and Trevor so many had assumed and noted that his kill count was within the same area as theirs.

It had been months since Shawn had had a decent sleep. Every time he closed his eyes he could envision the dismembered bodies of men he rode into battle with splattered around him. When his mind wasn’t thinking of the mutilated bodies his ears were picking up the sounds of rats scurrying about, nibbling at the bodies of those abandoned in the trenches. Other officers had told him that eventually, his mind would tune the sounds out but it never came for him.

Unable to sleep, Shawn exited the makeshift barrack within the trench and made his way for Noah and Trevor who were on guard duty. Noah turned and smiled at Shawn as he approached while Trevor simply gave him a head nod.


“Couldn’t sleep?”

“Naw, man. Can’t keep my head clear long enough to pass out. How’re things going out there,” Shawn says motioning to the fields just over the trenches. Noah yawned and shrugged before answering.

“You know how it is. Once nightfall hits this place gets pretty quiet. Kind of like an unofficial pact between the two sides.”

“That’s never made sense to me. We should be attacking them right now. Imagine how much ground we could make if we gassed them from above and below at night.”


“It’s terrible to hear you talk like that, Shawn,” Trevor said in a hushed tone. The war had completely changed Trevor and Noah, flipping their personalities. Noah seemed to thrive and genuinely enjoy this environment and all that it brought while Trevor drifted further and further away from seeing himself as the hero that he once read books about.

Noah gently taps Shawn on the arm and shakes his head.
“Don’t listen to him, Shawn. He always gets like this when he gets a chance to reflect, but when the sun comes up and the bullets start flying all that talk goes out the window.”

“It’s because I’m fighting for me life,” Trevor snaps at Shawn and Noah. "It’s because we’re all fighting for our lives and I don’t want to have my life ended in a trench where the commanding officers will leave my body to be eaten by a bunch of fucking rats. I don’t want that for any of us so I fight and then have to be haunted by the things I did at night.”

“No one said being a hero would be easy,” Noah responds with a smirk.

He was right though. They both were. Being a war hero wasn’t easy. It was never going to be. The weight of killing someone who is so similar to you but came from somewhere else weighs on your mind heavily. They don’t tell you that when they give you your physical. No, they just make sure you’ll be able to die for them and sacrifice your mind for them




As their unit moved about the trenches and tried to capture ground in other areas of France the troops found themselves in a small village in the countryside. It looked to have been all but abandoned except for some stray dogs and cats. Shawn was tasked with checking out the main building along with a group of men he wasn’t particularly familiar with except for one. He knew him from school, he was a year or two above him. Phillip was his name and he had commanded a lot of respect during their time. He was great at soccer and had brought them home championship gold. If it weren’t for the war he would have certainly gone on to play professionally.

Phillip acted as the leader of the group as they entered the building, carefully checking each room in case of an ambush. It was two stories tall with a basement according to the map left at the entrance. This may have been the city hall before the war but now it was just a semi-demolished building that would be their housing for the night.


“Alright, everything looks good on the main floor and upstairs. I’m thinking there may be some previsions or something we can use in the basement,” Phillip said as Shawn and the other three men returned from checking around. They opened the door to the basement and were met with darkness. Phillip instructed one of the men, Brock was his name, to go forward with the lantern he brought. Brock obliged and began to lead the team down the stairs, carefully marching down every other step as to not make too much noise and get down quicker. The next one to walk down the steps was Brock’s cousin Dave. Those two were inseparable. They had joined the army in Austria and believed in the fight. That was rare but seen as admirable by the officers of the fatherland.

Shawn stayed in the back watching closely as Brock entered the basement and waved down the rest of the crew once he had met the bottom. The light from the windows of the building shined into the room and Shawn noticed a glistening spider web at foot level as you entered the basement door frame. Brock had missed it when he entered tip-toeing to the next step but Dave wouldn’t miss it. Shawn immediately knew what it was and grabbed the backpacks of Phillip and the other recruit, Zed, pulling them back as Dave’s body exploded and the foundation around him crumbled trapping Brock within. Shawn, Zed, and Phillip managed to get back to their feet as the building began to collapse around them.


“They fucking left a trip grenade here,” Phillip yelled as he scurried to his feet and began running toward the entrance. Shawn and Zed followed close behind as the building that they once thought would be their shelter around them crumbled into the grave that would be Brock and Dave’s.

The members of their unit checked them over as the building crumbled down around them. Shawn looked at Phillip and could see that he had splashes of blood on his face and uniform. He immediately felt his mouth begin to become filled with thick, mucus-like saliva before moving away from the group to vomit.


“Hey, hey, knock that shit off. You stop that shit right now,”
Noah says bringing Shawn up from a hunched-over position. Noah has that serious look in his eye that he used to have before they joined. Shawn tried to contain his stomach and wiped the remnants from his face.

“What the hell happened in there? Did you encounter the enemy troops? Is that what made the building come down” Noah asked with a gleam of excitement in his eyes. Shawn pushed Noah away and went to check on Zed and Phillip as their commanding officer directed them to keep moving. The commotion of the building coming down would surely bring the opposing forces to their location and they needed to keep moving.

Noah knew that Shawn needed a minute and respected it. While he got excitement out of the thrill of battle, Shawn still hadn’t adjusted to it. Death impacted him more than they realized. Seeing Brock and Dave die right in front of him and saving Zed and Phillip from the same fate would stick with Shawn for a long time.




As they marched onward toward their goal, the number of people deserting the army started to increase. They were cowards to some but geniuses to others. Cowards for giving up on the war effort and protecting our peace and geniuses to realize that for them there were only two ways out of here - a body bag or by desertion. Noah hated them but Shawn understood their decision. When they would ask Trevor about it he seemed indifferent at first but his responses started to drift more towards him understanding and encouraging the decision - even though he wouldn’t and couldn’t do it.

It was hard to get a good meal during these times so it wasn’t lost on the troops when the commanding officers were able to hunt a deer lost from its herd or shoot down a bird attempting to escape the war-torn land. For lunch today they would have the final remnants of a doe they had killed a while back and wine they had found left behind in one of the many villages they had passed through.

Shawn, Noah, and Trevor each filled their bowls with the stew made from the vegetables and the meat of the doe and made their way to the makeshift pallet they had made in the snow to eat. Trevor had secured them their own bottle of wine that they passed around. It was moments like this that took Shawn back to their days of hanging out during free periods at school.


“When this things over, I think I’m gonna go travel for a little bit and then come back and become a teacher,” Trevor says between slurps of his stew. Noah and Shawn laugh at Trevor’s idea, pushing him playfully as the bottle of wine gets passed around.

“You want to travel,” Noah says quizically. He stands up and motions his hands around before beginning again. “That’s what the military is for. You get to travel around the world all the time. This is the furthest any of us have been from home and we can thank the military for that,” he says in a matter-of-fact manner.

“So, it’s safe to say that you’ll be staying in the military after all of this is done.”

“Absolutely. I used to laugh at you all when you would talk about how being in the military would be fun and fighting in wars and battles would make you a hero. I thought all that shit was naive and dumb until I experienced it. The adrenaline rush of you versus them. Your life or theirs. The feeling that any moment could be your last and seeing the person that was trying to kill you take their last breath, there’s nothing like it.

Trevor shakes his head in disappointment at Noah’s answer and Shawn continues eating. Though Noah wouldn’t say it out loud it was obvious to everyone that he enjoyed the killing aspect of fighting in a war. Seeing his opponents in agony, scared for their life because of him and what he could do gave him immense pleasure. It was frightening to see him transform into this person. Shawn often thought to himself that maybe this was who Noah truly was and it made him happy that Noah was on their side and cared about them. To be on the other side of the battlefield and see him charging with glee at you is enough to destroy your psyche.

“What about you, Shawn?” Noah asks bringing him back to reality. “What’re you gonna do after this is all over?”

The sound of gunshots in the distance cuts Shawn off before he can respond and gains the attention of everyone in the regiment. On the horizon, they can see opposing troops shooting and arranging blockades with the leftover debris in the area. The three immediately drop their plates and regroup with the troops. As Shawn scrambles to rejoin the team his pants leg is yanked by something below. He instinctively kicks it away and realizes that it was Phillip. He was holding his neck - his hand covered in blood that continued to pour out of the hole the bullet had left. Phillip tried to speak but nothing but blood came out. Shawn watched in horror as he lay dying beneath him. There was nothing he could he had to keep moving toward cover and his riffle. As he turned to run he could feel his entire body shift to the side and fall into the snow from a tackle by a member of the opposing force.

He had caught Shawn off guard and was taking advantage of the moment as his troops began to close in on the unit. Shawn tried his best to block his punches but found himself eating rights and lefts to the face. The soldier stopped his punches and gripped Shawn’s neck choking him with more force than he had ever felt before. His arms were pinned down under the knees of the soldier making it almost impossible for him to move them around.

This was it. He could feel himself getting further and further away as the soldier's grip intensified around his neck. Shawn’s eyes began to feel heavy and the pain around his neck started to subdue. He was dying. At that moment, he had accepted that this was the end. When you go to war you have two options when it comes to death - you can die a hero or you can die a coward. Shawn would die a coward. Afraid to do what was necessary to stay alive. Only ever managing to get lucky that he wasn’t killed sooner. No one would write about him because there was nothing to write about. He was as forgettable as the other men that died during this war. This pointless war.

He heard a loud bang and the loosening of the man's grip around his neck. The man's body had fallen atop him and Shawn gasped for air now that he could breathe. There was a mixture of gunshots and explosions all around him as he held his neck and caught his breath. He somehow managed to push the soldier's body off of his and is forcefully brought to his feet by Trevor who is being guarded against enemy fire by Noah.


“What the fuck is wrong with you, Shawn,” Trevor shouted at him as they began to run from the gunfire. “This is what you wanted. All of this is what you wanted! You wanted to come to war and become a fucking hero. They saw you as a perfect recruit, but all you’ve been since we’ve got here is a fucking disappointing coward,” Trevor says as he shoves Shawn from behind causing him to almost fall forward. “I should’ve left you back there to die. That’s what you want anyways.”

“NO, IT’S NOT,”
Shawn shouts at him as they approach a hiding spot. “I don’t want to die, but I can’t take a life. I can’t be like you and Noah. I can’t be a hero.”

“Then you’ll die a coward”,
Noah interjects. “Stay back here while we go and clear this out. Can’t be preoccupied with saving you if you won't save yourself.”

Noah rushes back into combat as Trevor looks over the disheveled Shawn. He shakes his head and joins Noah as Shawn, breathing heavily, takes in both of their words.

The battle seemed like it lasted for hours but in reality, had only lasted for fifteen minutes. They managed to drive back the enemy forces but suffered quite a few casualties. One of the running medics, a soft, beautiful young, caramel-skinned woman who had joined them on their journeys had perished. She was one of the first death in the ambush. Each death weighed heavy on Shawn as they trekked to their next destination. Maybe one person could have been saved if he didn’t freeze when the moment called for him to step up.



There was rumbling that the war would be over soon, but no one took that talk seriously. It had been weeks since the last encounter with the enemy and the regiment was grateful for the moment of reprieve. Shawn had attempted to pretend like what happened between himself, Noah, and Trevor on the battlefield hadn’t happened but it was too hard to forget for any of them. Noah viewed Shawn as a liability and couldn’t hide his disdain for his cowardice. Trevor attempted to keep up appearances because of their history but knew that Noah’s view was right. Shawn would get them killed and they couldn’t risk that for someone who didn’t want to save themself.

“Stocke, Ocean, it’s your turn to get food,” ordered one of the officers. “We passed by a ranch a little while back that I’m sure you could probably get some eggs and maybe some sliced meats from. See what you can get and bring it back to us.” You can take Summers with you if you want. Maybe use him as a bartering token with the farmers,” he said with a laugh that was reciprocated by the others in the unit.

The three walked almost the entire way in silence. They didn’t have much to talk about anymore. The war had changed them - Noah and Trevor had become men thanks to the war but Shawn remained a boy.

They approached the farm and Noah put his arm in front of Shawn stopping him from advancing.
Why don’t you stay out here while I and Trevor go and get what we need,” he suggested. Shawn wanted to protest but knew it would be in vain. He was a liability that Trevor and Noah didn’t want to depend on. The two walked up to the drive leading to the farm and carefully snuck into the barn. Shawn analyzed his surroundings while waiting. Everything was quiet. The sounds of anything moving in the distance caught everything’s attention. He studied the sign in front of the barn - it was a french name. He tried to sound it out to himself.

“Bor-dex? Bor-duh?” he said to himself unsure how to pronounce Bordeaux. He looked up the drive up at the house and noticed a young woman, she couldn’t have been older than 14, staring at him from one of the windows. He waved in an attempt to not alarm her but she quickly disappeared. “Fuck,” he muttered to himself. He needed to get to Noah and Trevor and get them out of there. He walked onto the property towards the barn but was quickly alerted to the sound of a door bursting open. A young man in his mid-twenties had emerged from the house followed by the young girl. As he charges toward the barn with his shotgun, Shawn charges towards him with enough force to take him to the ground.

The young man drops the gun upon being tackled and immediately attempts to get Shawn off of him but to no avail. Shawn struggles to hold the man down as he grabs up at him and trashes around madly to get free. The young woman rushes for the barn and locks the door, trapping Noah and Trevor in there. She rushes to her brother's aide, jumping on Shawn’s back and clawing at his face. Shawn immediately hops to his feet and attempts to rustle her off of his back. He manages to grab hold of her arm and flips her over his front crashing into the ground.

The scratches from her sting as the cold air whisps against Shawn’s face. He notices the brother crawling for the shotgun and he immediately rushes and punts kicks him in the gut. The young girl is right behind Shawn after he punts her brother and she punches and kicks at him. He forcefully pushes her away.


“Stop,” the young man yells at the young girl as she tries to get back up. “Do what we talked about. I’ll take care of him,” he says as he gets to his feet and approaches Shawn. Shawn attempts to run toward the shotgun but is caught in a chokehold by the man. He has the chokehold locked in tight despite Shawn’s best attempts at flailing around to cause him to lose his grip. Shawn was fading again as he squeezed tighter and tighter around Shawn’s kneck. Shawn looked at the barn and could see it slowly catching fire from the base.

The farmers in the countryside had been told by the French government to light their crops and livestock on fire if they were ambushed or about to be robbed by the opposing forces. There was no way for Noah and Trevor to escape the barn so they would burn alive and he would die here - a coward attempting to play the role of hero for the first and last time
.

“Just fucking die,” the man said as he squeezed tighter on the chokehold. In one last ditch effort, Shawn moved his hands over his body reaching for something. He had finally gotten what he needed and the sound of two loud bangs occurred simultaneously causing the birds to fly from the trees, and the forest animals to retreat into hiding at the familiar sound. Slowly the young man's chokehold weakened around until he had fully released Shawn. He fell to the ground in disbelief as blood began to pour from his side all around him. Shawn gasped for air and shot into the air with his pistol on accident.

The young woman shrieked in horror as she observed her brother lying on the ground with blood coming from him. She attempted to run towards his body but Shawn shot towards her, stopping her advance. He breathed heavily as he picked up the shotgun and emptied the shells that were in the chamber. The barn was beginning to burn faster and faster as the animals inside shrieked for help. Shawn took notice of this and started his approach. As he walked past the young man's body he unloaded two more shots into him - ensuring that he was dead. Shawn walked past the young girl who rushed to be at her brother's side as Shawn shot the lock on the barn door, opening it and freeing Noah and Trevor.

Shawn turns his attention to the young girl who glares at him with hatred and vengeance in her eyes. He slowly approaches and kneels down in front of her. She greets him with a forceful slap, then another, and another until Shawn grabs her wrist.


“BASTARD! DER BASTARD!,” she screams at him between sobs. “This war has taken everything from my family! And for what?!?! For WHAT?!?! Answer me, you bastard!”

Shawn palms her face and pushes her backward before rising to his feet.

“You talk about this war as if you’ve actually experienced it. As if you’ve been in the trenches and seen bodies all around you. This war took nothing from you except for people and things that can and will be replaced. This war took something from me that can never be returned something that could have had if you just stayed in that fucking house,” he says with agony in his voice. “This war took my innocence. It took my dreams. It took my everything!”

He motions for Trevor and Noah to follow him as the barn burns in the background. The sound of the young woman screaming bastard at Shawn can be heard over the sounds of the flames dancing in the wood of the barn. He turns around and fires one final shot at the young woman catching her in the chest - he had aimed for the head. Shawn looks at Noah and Trevor. Noah smiles at Shawn while Trevor can’t look him in the eye - not anymore at least.

“Bastard. I quite like that name. Der Basterd,” he says with a chuckle as the trio walks away.



The war would come to an end a few weeks later on November 11 -
ending the first world war and setting the groundwork for the eventual predecessor, World War II.
World War II. The war where we met our hero, Der Basterd.
 

Jam

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Birthday
by Gerald Grayson

Anytime the Mile High Massacre match occurs, those involved in the match are never the same by the end of it. Being a part of the most recent Mile High Massacre match, I can attest to the previous statement. I had just retrieved the tag titles climbing over a giant lumberjack while Michelle took a nasty fall. As soon as the match ended, I aided the FWA medical team in putting Michelle, Uncle, and Harry on stretchers to get them to the back for medical attention. Everyone was responsive thankfully. Harry, loving the attention he was getting, threw a thumbs up for the crowd that garnered a few cheers, but more boos.

Fast forward to January 1st; it’s been a week since Fallout 24 where Michelle and I survived the Mile High Massacre match against four other teams and it’s only now that I got a call from the FWA doctor that everyone was stable enough to have visitors. I was lucky enough to come out of the match with a few bruises and no major injuries, but the same couldn’t be said for Michelle, Uncle, and Harry. I didn’t know exactly what their injuries were but after what went down during the match, I’d be shocked if they didn’t have any.

“I’m sorry sir. We don’t have a patient named Uncle at this hospital,” the nurse informed me, checking her computer again before responding.

“What do you mean he’s not a patient at this hospital?!” I questioned loudly enough for those around to look our way to see what the commotion was about. I turned my back to the nurse, letting out a few deep breaths before turning back to her.

I scratched my head profusely with my right hand as my left hand carried a bouquet of flowers in them. I sighed heavily before changing my demeanor to a happier tone.

“Excuse me, I’m sorry for yelling earlier,” I paused, smiling at the nurse. “I just want to see how my friends are doing. Can you please check if there is a patient named Harry the Sane Wizard?”

The nurse rolled her eyes, not believing the act I’m putting on.

“Let’s see, Sane… Wizard,” she began typing on her computer. “He’s in room J12,”

“One last one, if I may. Where can I find Michelle von Horrowitz’s room?” I asked, forcing a smile, knowing the nurse has had enough of me. She looked at her computer and typed profusely in an annoyed manner.

“Ms. von Horrowitz is in the room next to Mr. Sane Wizard in J13,” the nurse informed me, looking back down at her computer to attend to the work she was doing before I bothered her.

“Thank you very much,” I said, performing a slight bow before leaving the front desk area and proceeding to the patient rooms.

As I walked down the white, wide halls of the Serbian hospital, I began to think of all the possibilities of why Uncle wouldn’t be at this particular hospital. They brought Michelle and Harry here, so why isn’t he here? Maybe he needs more medical attention than we thought. Maybe he needs a special kind of medical treatment. The most logical response I came up with is that he refused medical treatment and went to his own medical institution. After that fall, I don’t blame him. He’s probably going to be out for a while unless a miracle happens. Wouldn’t surprise me if he availed of medicine not from Earth. Whatever it is, I hope he’s alright.

Finally, I arrived at J12, Harry’s room. I don’t know why I felt nervous all of sudden. Sweat began to form on my forehead and my heart started racing. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, clinging to the flowers I had in hand a little too tight, causing a few petals to fall. My mind went back to the hospital Jay and I were in. I knew if I continued down this path, I’d find myself needing medical attention. Instead, I shifted my thoughts elsewhere while continuing those breathing exercises. A few moments later, I opened my eyes and thankfully, my nervousness went away. I looked around me, hoping no one saw the panic episode I just had. I let out one more deep breath before turning the knob on the door.

It was quiet, a little too quiet. It was also really cold. So much so, that I could feel the hairs on my forearms standing. I put the flowers for Michelle on the nearby table and looked around the room. It looked like any other hospital room and smelled like it too, clean but smelled of an aroma that was artificial. I didn’t spot Harry right away as I noticed a table to the side housing a bunch of snacks like chips and cookies and a big, brown teddy bear. I looked at the card placed at the forefront and it had Thomas and Quiet’s names on there. Well fuck. They’ve outdone me again. Oh well, I’m sure Harry will appreciate the flowers I got for him.

I laid down the bouquet of red roses I got for Harry next to the big, brown teddy bear before turning towards Harry. I wasn’t even sure if it was him because his whole body was wrapped in a cast. His left leg and right arm had to be suspended upwards by a support stand. I could only see his eyes and his mouth as they weren’t taped up.

This is Harry’s condition after a week? I thought he’d be in better shape than this. Anger started building up inside of me as I remember Dan LuPone putting Harry through a ladder. Poor guy. Despite his antics, Harry was a good kid. I’ve drawn nearer to him with each adventure the Nephews went on. I hated to see him in this condition.

“I’m sorry Harry,” I said in a low, sorrowful tone.

I took a seat next to him, looking down at the floor. My mind started racing through a million scenarios, thinking of ways I could’ve prevented this. At that time, I hit a Moonsault onto Savage that took a lot out of me surprisingly. When I got up from that, I was dizzy, so I felt for anything to hold onto and what was near me was a ladder. I decided to get rid of it so no one could use it. After that, I remember blanking out for a few minutes on the outside. This is probably something I should’ve told the FWA doctors but when they checked me out after the match, I was good to go immediately. Even so, I was frustrated with myself that I couldn’t save Harry.

I needed to re-focus because up next in the F1 tournament, I’m booked against Lizzie Rose. Choosing to look forward to what’s next brought a calmness over me. Much like Harry in his current condition, Lizzie is sweet and innocent. However, much like Harry when he’s back to his normal self, Lizzie is not one to just gloss over. She has won titles, proving she belongs in this business. She’s been underestimated even now and that’s something I can relate to. I expect her to go at me right from the get go because she’ll want to prove herself yet again. If I’m not ready for that, then I’ve already lost.

Suddenly, I heard grunting coming from Harry. I didn’t want to be around when he was awake because knowing Harry, he’d try to get out of the cast and pretend like nothing happened. Harry was a proud man. He didn’t like it when people felt sorry for him. Before he could open his eyes, I bolted out of the room as quietly as I could.

Just a few steps to my right was J13, Michelle’s room. I looked at the upper portion of the door that held Michelle’s chart. Obviously, no one but the doctor should be looking at it, but curiosity got the best of me. I looked around several times before taking hold of Michelle’s medical chart. The first page had her general info. I scanned the papers quickly, probably missing a ton of important info.

“Wait, January 1st is Michelle’s birthday?!” I said audibly, but in a hushed tone.

I felt so bad that I didn’t know. I’m the worst tag team partner ever. All I had for her were flowers. Not even a cake. It’s not a birthday without a cake! I went back to flipping through the pages of her chart. It was full of language that I didn’t understand. Sweat started to form on my forehead as I arrived on the last page. The x-rays show Michelle has a minor fracture in her left rib and a sprained right ankle. Ouch. Suddenly, I heard movement inside Michelle’s room. I put her chart back and listened intently. Yeah, I definitely hear something going on inside.

I barged in - and there she was. Michelle was doing jumping jacks, raising only her right hand, probably unable to raise her left arm too much due to the rib fracture. She noticed the light coming into the room and turned around. She looked well-rested, about as good as you can be after what happened to her. She was dressed in a hospital gown with her right ankle taped up.

“Flowers for me?” she said nonchalantly. “You shouldn’t have,”

She continued doing jumping jacks as if she didn’t just fall 20 feet onto a table just a week ago.

“I don’t think you should be doing that, Michelle,” I said, taking a seat.

“There’s a lot of things I shouldn’t be doing, Gerald,” she said, continuing her exercise.

“I really don’t think you should be doing jumping jacks right now, Michelle,” I repeated, looking at her sternly.

“I’m fine, Gerald, you worry too much,” she said, continuing to do jumping jacks.

“You don’t worry enough!” I retorted argumentatively. She stopped her exercise and took a seat on a nearby chair.

I laid down the bouquet of white tulips I brought on the side table next to where she was sitting. She picked them up and took in the aroma a few times.

“What’s the occasion?” she asked, putting the flowers back on the table.

“Well, apparently it's your birthday. Happy birthday!” I exclaimed in a celebratory manner. Michelle’s eyes widened as she stared at me as if I let out a big secret.

“How did you know?” she questioned, irritation prevalent in her tone.

“Well, your chart says -”

“You read my chart?”
she interrupted. I could hear the anger building in her voice.

“Yeah, well,” I said, holding the back of my neck, shrugging at what to say next.

She massaged her temple for a few seconds before letting out a sigh.

“As long as the other Nephews don’t know,” she said, looking at me for confirmation that this was true.

I shook my head to let her know they didn't. She let out another sigh - this time of relief because she knew if the rest of the Nephews knew it was her birthday, they’d set up some type of party or some type of shenanigans and Michelle could not be bothered with that, especially now.

“So how are you? Like really?” I asked, looking her straight in the eyes.

“How do you think I feel falling 30 feet onto a table?”

“Not good I'd imagine,”
I shrugged.

“You’ve answered your own question, Gerald. Congratulations,” she clapped sarcastically.

“So you do bleed huh?” I chuckled, which surprisingly garnered a chuckle from Michelle as well.

“You would too if a giant lumberjack kicks you in the face causing you to fall from the height I did,” Michelle said, shaking her head.

I winced in response.

“Since you’re all about this whole birthday nonsense. There is a gift you can give me, Gerald,” she paused, looking at me with a serious look.

“What’s that?” I asked, leaning on the front of her hospital bed.

“Beat Lizzie Rose,” she said in a serious tone.

“Wait, how’d you know she was my next opponent?” I asked, looking at her sideways.

“I just know,” she said, not wanting to reveal her secrets.

“I always do my best when I go out there, Michelle. You know this,” I responded a little too defensively.

“I do know this. I’m reminding you because I know you can lose focus and when that happens, you convince yourself that you’re not good at this,” she said, looking at me straight in the eyes, knowing this is a bad habit of mine.

“Lizzie’s going to be a tough opponent. She’s held titles and has proven herself on many occassions. When she first came in, she was underestimated by literally everybody. That had to have pissed her off,”

“Blah blah blah. I don’t care about all that. All I’m hearing from you are excuses,”
Michelle said, waving me off from speaking further.

“What do you mean?”


“I need you to engrave this in your brain, Gerald. You’re good at this wrestling thing. You’ve proven yourself more times than Lizzie. You’ve won titles. You’re a current title holder. You’re faster. You’re more aggressive. You know when to switch it up. Give yourself some fucking credit,” Michelle said angrily. She winced, grabbing her left rib as they began to hurt after the scolding she gave me.

She was right. No matter whether a match ended with a win or a loss, I always thought to myself to be the loser of the next one. It helps to humble myself, but sometimes, it does more harm than good.

“But -”

“No buts, Gerald. We’re tag team champions for a reason. Because we’re that damn good,” she paused. “We’re so damn good that they needed to throw multiple teams at us in a Mile High Massacre match - and we still won!”

I looked at her and nodded, acknowledging the feat we accomplished.

“I took the fall of a lifetime and now I’m in the hospital trying to recover as fast as I can. Then you come in here with your excuses? Give me a break, Gerald. Stop feeling fucking sorry for yourself and believe in yourself and your abilities for once,”

“You’re right,”
was all I could offer in response.

“You’re damn right, I’m right. You’re damn good, Gerald, exceptional actually. I wish you could see what I see. What the entire FWA universe sees,” she paused once more, grimacing from the rib injury. “This tag team wouldn’t work without you - and that’s the honest truth,”

Silence fell upon us. Honestly, it felt good hearing this from Michelle as she’s not one to talk about our team too much. But now that she’s stepped up to tell me all this, I needed to step up and take it all in. When I looked at her, she was already looking at me for a response. I nodded my head as we shared a fist bump. It was a subtle acknowledgement but that’s all we needed to understand one another.

“Now go get me a birthday cake, it’s my birthday after all!” she said in a playful tone. I stood up from my seat and headed for the door. Before I made my exit, I looked back at Michelle as we shared a nod once again.