COLD OPEN AT BERNIE’S
The MGM Grand sits eerily empty. Working crews have prepared all the light shows and pyrotechnics. Music is queued, microphone connections double and triple checked. Buffet lines are stocked for the night, with extra for Bobby Dean’s belly and Rezin’s trash bag. The PRIME*View is ready. The ropes are ready. The MGM Grand Garden Arena is ready.
It will soon belong to 16,000 strong, but right now, in this quiet moment before the storm, it belongs to Hayes Hanlon.
The young Five Star Champion ambles his way slowly down the entrance ramp, his belt slung over shoulder. The Garden is dark, save a few dimmed overhead lights to provide enough glow to see. Hanlon’s steps echo through the arena as he approaches the ring, climbing the steps and through the ropes. He takes a slow lap, meeting all corners, peering out into empty seats before walking to center ring and lying down on his back, lacing his fingers across his chest and closing his eyes with a deep breath.
Hayes enjoys a few moments of quiet, but his meditations are quickly interrupted by the duo of Garbage Bag Johnny and Nova, who burst into the arena from opposite entrances and sprint to meet each other at ringside. Hayes lurches at the explosion of motion, bracing himself more upright on his elbows.
GBJ: Where’s Future You?
Nova: He’s going up to the hotel room to check on Future You. You moved him, right?
GBJ: Yeah. Got him right here.
Garbage Bag Johnny lifts up the apron and pulls out the still clothed corpse of Future GBJ.
Hayes Hanlon: You know, I used to watch you guys do some pretty weird shit when I was a kid, but this is…concerning.
Nova and Johnny breathe a sigh of relief when they see that while their conversation wasn’t as private as they thought, it’s Hayes, and not Future Nova or the cops.
GBJ: Look, man. I don’t know what happened. I woke up and found him like this, and nobody knows but Nova, me, and well, now you.
Nova: Future Nova almost found out when we came back to the room, but Johnny shouted something out about tag teaming Muriel, and that was enough to get us to backtrack. So he doesn’t know yet, but he’s getting suspicious, and if he finds out, we don’t know what’s going to happen.
Hayes Hanlon: I have so many questions…
Hayes sits up further, leaning back on his hands, and taking stock of The Risen Star, The Bag Man, and the dead doppelganger in front of him.
Hayes Hanlon: Nevermind. No I don’t.
GBJ: Anyway, how’s your sex life?
Hayes Hanlon: Clearly not as good as yours.
Hayes trails off, leaving the three in the silence of the dark arena.
Nova: What are you doing out here, kid?
Hayes Hanlon: Just…hiding for a minute.
Hanlon breathes deep into his chest.
Hayes Hanlon: How’d you guys do it?
GBJ and Nova exchange a confused glance.
GBJ: How’d we do what?
Hayes Hanlon: (turning his chin toward his belt) This, man. Holding it, defending it. The whole thing. It all hit me pretty fast.
Nova: Oh. THAT.
The Risen Star rolls into the ring, taking a seat on the mat across from The Event Horizon.
Nova: Well, first thing’s first. You’re going to lose that belt eventually. The longer it takes to accept that, the faster that time will come. If you’re wrestling any harder to keep the belt than you would wrestle a normal match, you’re going to lose it to someone who’d wrestle you as hard as they can, title or not. You can keep growing as a wrestler, but the belt’s going to stay the same.
Hayes nods, considering Nova’s deep advice. Johnny slides Future GBJ under the bottom rope, and then climbs into the ring, taking a seat of his own, the three creating a three-pointed star in the middle of the ring (editor’s note: sometimes referred to as a triangle) with Future Johnny’s corpse off to the side.
GBJ: When I won my first title, I was like, “Oh great. I’m going to need much bigger belt loops.” But you can’t just go to Kohl’s and get pants with big enough belt loops, so I had a bunch of new pairs of trousers commissioned with the huge ass belt loops. And then when I lost the title, I had all these pants that looked really stupid with normal belts, and none of the resale shops would even take them back. They’ve just been sitting in the back of my closet.
Johnny sizes up Hanlon’s measurements.
GBJ: If Nova and I don’t win the tag straps, you want them? You look like you could fit into a 36 waist.
Hayes Hanlon: (laughing softly) I’ll keep that in mind.
A bit of silence. Johnny sparks up a joint pulled from his robe, taking a rip before handing it over to Nova. Hayes looks up from his belt to the two veterans.
Hayes Hanlon: It’s just a lot, y’know?
Nova: (exhaling a cloud of smoke) And if you wanna stay in that race, it always will be.
GBJ: You’re doing great, though, kid. You’ve already held that strap longer than I did, so you won’t go down as the worst Five Star Champion in PRIME history.
Hayes Hanlon: Thanks, but don’t sell yourself short. There’s more than a handful that dropped it quicker than you.
GBJ: I find that hard to believe.
Hayes Hanlon: (counting on his fingers) Jason Snow, 24 days. Jonathan Winters, 18 days. Killean Sirrajin, 31 days. Tony Gamble, 16 days. Brandon Youngblood, 24 days…
At the sound of Youngblood’s name, GBJ starts sweating and focuses on Future GBJ’s corpse. Perhaps it’s daunting to be in the ring with an aged, deceased version of yourself, but Garbage Bag Johnny’s look portrays something deeper…like the ghost of dead GBJ is communicating to him. “You had the belt for twice as long as Youngblood! They never let you use your Golden Ticket!” Johnny shakes his head and refocuses on the conversation, noting that Hanlon has finally wrapped up his list.
Hayes Hanlon: …Mark Blaze, 48 days. Aaannndd….Zyfloi. 46 days.
Nova: Okay, nerd, we get the point.
Hayes Hanlon: Sorry.
GBJ: And if I held the title longer than all those guys, then so have you! Look at what all those guys have gone on to do since then.
Hayes Hanlon: That’s what’s in my head more than the number of days or whatever. I know these things don’t last forever, but if I drop the belt tonight, or even at Great American Nightmare, what if that’s it? I don’t wanna be a flash in the pan.
The Dirtiest Dude in PRIME tilts his head over toward the Starchild.
GBJ: Take a look at that guy.
Nova shrugs with a small smile, a humble gesture from the man who would eventually become Universal Champion after his first Five Star title reign. Hayes nods with a grin behind his mustache.
Hayes Hanlon: Yeah, that’s fair.
Nova: The belt is just a belt, kid. But you’re the Event Horizon. That shouldn’t change, no matter what title you’re holding.
Hayes Hanlon: Thanks, guys.
“AH! THERE YOU GUYS ARE!”
GBJ and Nova immediately react to the voice of Future Nova as he appears at the top of the ramp. Luckily, he’s old and slow, which gives Johnny time to toss Future GBJ’s body over to Hayes Hanlon. Hayes catches him out of surprise and it takes a second for him to realize what he’s holding.
Hayes Hanlon: What…what the FUCK!
GBJ: (whispering) Ssssh! Think fast, champ. Remember that Future Nova thinks everything’s fine!
Future Nova continues to hobble down the ramp.
Future Nova: What the heck are you guys doing down in the ring?
GBJ: Oh, uh, Future Me was just showing me some moves I guess I came up with later in my career. Isn’t that right?
As regular Nova tries to keep his cool, GBJ gestures encouragingly towards Hanlon, who is still holding Future GBJ in front of him as to not be seen. He clears his throat.
GBJ: Isn’t. That. Right?
Hayes, barely holding it together, digs deep within himself to keep his cool. After a frantic moment, he grabs Future GBJ’s stiff, dead hand and manipulates the fingers into a “thumbs up” position, then lifts the hand into the air while he hides behind the corpse. Future Nova grins widely and offers a thumbs up right back.
Future Nova: That sounds swell. Say Nova, how about you put your learning cap on, and we’ll show you two some tag maneuvers you’ll eventually invent?
Nova: I, uh, don’t want to…
Future Nova: Nonsense, it’ll be fun.
Future Nova rolls his old ass into the ring and uses the ropes to lift himself up back to his feet.
Future Nova: We call this one the Ultimate Depants Combo. Now…Future GBJ and I will face each other from across the ring like so. Nova, you come grapple with me, and GBJ, you grapple with Future GBJ. We’ll both duck under the grapples, pants you from the front, and when you bend over to pick your pants up, Future GBJ and I will grab you by the heads and spin you clockwise so you knock heads in the middle of the ring. Let’s give it a shot.
Nova: I don’t think that’s a good idea. We’re going to need these noggins for the Survivor maze tonight.
Nova steps in front of Future Nova and turns him slightly away from Future Johnny’s eyeline. Hayes shifts behind Future GBJ’s limp body, gritting his teeth and holding his breath.
Nova: In fact, shouldn’t we go back to the room and practice being blindfolded and reading braille a little more before that Final Four party we have this invite for?
Nova pulls the invite out of his pocket, thus successfully setting up precedent for a later segment.
Future Nova: I guess that’s a good point. Especially with all these cataracts.
With that, Nova ushers Future Nova out of the ring and back up towards the ramp.
GBJ: We’re right behind you. We’ll catch up. I just want to learn one more move.
GBJ starts waving from within the ring before nudging Hayes in the side, prompting Hayes to wave Future GBJ’s arm. Once the pair of Novas exits the arena, GBJ nods a thank you to Hayes Hanlon as he takes Future GBJ back.
GBJ: I owe you one, kid. And go show ‘em why you’re the champ and they’re just challengers tonight.
Hayes Hanlon: Yeah, uh…anytime.
He shakes his hands and fingertips uncomfortably in an attempt to rid himself of dead-guy gunk before turning a sincere smile to The Bag Man.
Hays Hanlon: And thanks.
Johnny then clambers out of the ring with his future version’s corpse, taking the reigns behind to Bernie-it up the ramp at a safe distance behind the Novas. Hayes watches them leave, then lies back down on the mat with a heavy exhale.
Hayes Hanlon: (to himself) This place is so fucking weird…