Rocky de Leon
It doesn’t matter whether you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.
– Dominic Toretto
FREER, Texas – “I took a calculated risk. The odds were exceptionally low of being caught in the moment, and PRIME rarely penalizes for such things after the fact. Generation of drama is good for ratings.” Stu’s conscience was clear, which confused the living daylights out of Rocky. “You needed the win. You got the win.”
“But I didn’t get the win!” Rocky’s exasperation had not leveled off since he left the ring at ReVival 24. “The stupid pink towel got the win.”
“Rocky, it’s no big deal. This is how the industry is run.” Stu pulled up a montage of videos showing famous wrestlers winning by less than conventional means. Rocky was unmoved.
“It is a big deal. This tarnishes my name. It makes me look bad, and it hurts my reputation. Everyone’s going to talk about how I didn’t actually beat TCG.”
“And yet, if we look at your record, you’re undefeated and ranked 12th in all of PRIME, while he is now ranked 32nd. Look, you NEED someone willing to be a little dirty so you can stay clean. That’s my role.”
Rocky was visibly confused. The entire building could see he was frustrated, and Cindy took it upon herself to push him gently into a chair and give him a cup of ice water. “How the hell does that make any sense at all? How can I possibly be viewed as clean when you cheat for me by proxy?”
“Look, Rocky, a completely clean wrestler is going to die. You simply won’t survive. Someone has to watch your back and do what needs to be done on occasion. You know who Paxton Ray is?”
Rocky thanked Cindy for the water and took a drink. “Yeah, I saw the barbed wire match. That was… awful.” The image of the Anglo Luchador’s mauled face was forever burned into Rocky’s memory.
“He would not hesitate for one second to wrap that shit around your throat and have that match end with your demise if you failed to submit. You saw what he did to the Anglo Luchador. He paralyzed Jon Rhine. Are you willing to do that to someone in the ring?” Stu did not blink as he stared Rocky down, waiting for the answer.
Rocky held the gaze as long as he could, but ultimately looked away. “No. No, I couldn’t do that.”
“And this is exactly why you need me to do what I do – so you don’t end up paralyzed yourself, or, worse, a goddamn corpse. So what if you gain the upper hand on someone who would not hesitate to use underhanded tactics on occasion as a result?” Stu broke his stare and turned back to his computer. “Now go study up. You need to be prepared for a fight the likes of which you’ve never experienced, and I’ve got to figure out how to make you look like an all American choir boy while also keeping 39 assholes from murdering you come April.”
LAREDO, Texas – Rocky sat on his couch reviewing tape. Lots of tape. He watched match after match of ReVivals, exhibitions, and even parking garage camera footage of illegal beatdowns (he made a mental note to find out later how Stu got his hands on that). The FDP was convinced he had data on every active wrestler in PRIME… but he still had absolutely no idea how to handle 39 of them at once.
I don’t know what purpose watching all this is going to serve. There’s no way these people all fight the same way against a literal mob of Chads and Stacys.
After his twelfth hour of observing minimally dressed sweaty men and women beating the living hell out of each other, he stood up without stopping the video, grabbed his jacket, and walked out to the garage. Rocky opened the door to his Volvo, turned over the engine, and smoothly and calmly pulled out of his driveway. He held down a button on his steering wheel.
The phone rang through his speakers three times before the line connected.
A deep voice resonated through the Volvo’s speakers. It was calm, clear, and warm.
“Daisy. S’Rocky. I need… I’m not sure exactly what I need. Are you free?”
“As the wind, friend. As the wind.”
“Meet at Camp Huisache?”
“Sure thing, Brother.”
The call disconnected. John Daisy (who had gone by Daisy since their days at the public junior high, and yet, somehow, never been in a fight) was not one to waste words. Daisy was Navajo. Or at least part. His father, for sure. Daddy Daisy had moved from the rez in New Mexico to Laredo because of a job offer. Rocky didn’t really know what Daisy’s dad did for a living; all he knew was Daisy took pride in being Navajo and following Navajo tradition, including the use of peyote, ceremonial or otherwise.
Camp Huisache sat on the East border of Laredo right off Highway 59. The camp was owned by the Boy Scouts of America, and was home and host to a multitude of Boy Scout events. Technically (…legally), Rocky and Daisy shouldn’t have been there, but the advantage to being Camp Counselor Scouts all through your teen years was that people tended to look the other way when you were where you ought not be. Rocky arrived at sunset, parked his car at the guest entrance, and walked toward a tendril of smoke wisping its way into the air.
He found Daisy sitting on a log, a beer in one hand, a long metal stick with a marshmallow on the end in the other. Daisy gently rotated the marshmallow over the fire just close enough to slowly brown the entire exterior without any black bubbling or inflation of the treat.
Daisy was a big man, about 6’4” tall when standing, with straight black hair he kept pulled back in a ponytail. Built like a lumberjack, Daisy was blessed with genetics Rocky envied. Where Rocky had to sweat his ass off to maintain his wrestling physique, Daisy seemed to be able to eat and drink as he pleased while still looking like he belonged on the cover of a historical romance novel.
Rocky waved his hand to decline. “Suit yourself.” Daisy pulled his marshmallow from the fire.
Rocky sat on a nearby log. He ran a hand through his hair and stared at the fire. The pair looked into the flame in silence for several minutes before he opened his mouth. “I’m lost, Daisy.”
“Looks like you found the place easy enough.”
“Dammit, dude, you know that’s not what I meant.”
Daisy chuckled, pulled the marshmallow off the stick into his mouth with his teeth, and with chipmunk cheeks spoke through white goop, “There are many wayth we find meaning. I chooth the path motht humorouth.” He took a pull from his beer to wash down the marshmallow before speaking again. “What’s got your goat, brother?”
Rocky sighed with exasperation, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be doing this. This… wrestling thing.” Daisy swallowed, set down his beer, and trained his eyes calmly on Rocky as Rocky continued, “After mom died and I came home… I thought I should do it for him – become what Dad always said he wanted to be. Become the lion. As quickly as I started, though, it was apparent it wasn’t about him.”
“Your father did not strike me as the type to SKREE.” Daisy opened a bag of beef jerky and popped a piece in his mouth. He held the bag out to Rocky who, again, waved it away.
“No, not so much. And it’s been so much fun, but… I don’t know, I feel like I’m losing myself. I don’t know if I’ve surrounded myself with the right people.” Rocky lowered his voice to a whisper, “I only won my last match because my manager cheated.”
Daisy fought to hold back a grin, “You don’t say?”
“You don’t seem surprised.”
“Rocky, your match was televised.” He chomped on more jerky.
Daisy took a moment to chew his piece of jerky. He swallowed, leaned forward with elbows on his knees and his hands clasped together, and looked Rocky dead in the eyes. “You understand there are cameras pointed at things that are not you, and that you cannot see, right?”
Sudden realization struck Rocky. Oh, God. They know. They all know! All emotion left his face for a moment, before he let his head fall into his hands. “Oh my god, Daisy, what am I doing? Am I a cheater?”
“Technically, Stu is the cheater.” Daisy began fitting a new marshmallow on his poker.
“Yeah, but he works for me, so it’s like I cheated by proxy. Is this what I am now? Win at any cost? What would Dad think?” Rocky’s eyes never left the fire. It seemed as though he felt if he stared long enough, the answers to his questions would be revealed in flame.
“Can’t say for sure what your dad would think, but I say a win’s a win.” Daisy laughed and said, “You know what? Let’s ask him.”
“What do you mean, “Let’s ask him?”
Daisy pulled out a baggie with some off-white, button-shaped plant chunks in it. “I mean let’s pop some fuckin’ mescaline, get high as a kite, and see if the Lion of Laredo comes out to play.”
“MESCA-” Rocky heard himself shout, then hunched over close to Daisy and whispered again, “Mescaline?! What the fuck are you doing with mescaline? We could be arrested!”
“Nah, bro.” Daisy took a pull from his beer. “Religious exemption. Ceremonial use and all that shit.”
“FOR MESCALINE?” Rocky practically spat as he hissed the words.
“Dude, what the fuck do you think peyote is?”
Rocky blinked. The pair stared at each other silently for a brief moment. For the second time that night, Rocky was struck with sudden realization. “YOU GAVE ME MESCALINE IN HIGH SCHOOL?”
Daisy laughed. It was a full belly laugh, the kind you give after hearing a joke with a punchline that hits you just right or watching that video your best friend sent you of a small child getting bamfed in the face with a dodgeball.
He was practically crying from laughing so hard. “Goddamn, Rocky. Yes. Several times. You do know ‘vision quests’ aren’t a thing, right? That this is not how the Navajo church uses peyote? They just use enough to heighten their emotions. We used it to trip balls on the regular. How the hell could you possibly have thought this was legit?”
Rocky crossed his arms and turned red with embarrassment. “I thought you were sharing an intimate part of your culture with me, your best friend.”
Daisy paused for a moment and looked at Rocky. Then the belly laughing resumed. “Oh my God, that’s just adorable.”
Rocky glared daggers at Daisy. “I am so disappointed in you right now.”
Daisy wiped away the tears from his eyes. “Look, man, you want it or not?”
Rocky reached into the bag, took a handful of the peyote seeds, and popped them in his mouth. As he chewed, his face contorted in response to the bitter alkaline taste. It didn’t matter how many times he and Daisy used the cactus seeds, the strength of the flavor always surprised him.
Rocky felt a mild wave of nausea and a brief chill, but both quickly subsided. Then he waited. Daisy took another sip of his beer, and the sky began to change color. Despite the sun having set twenty minutes ago, to his eye the sky was awash with swirls of red and orange. Slowly, the vast darkness of the night was replaced with a technicolor dream.
Camp Huisache faded from existence; the buildings, the vegetation, and the ropes course – all gone. In their place, an endless sea of hard-packed red clay covered with a thin layer of sand remained beneath Rocky’s feet. He felt compelled to remove his shoes.
His bare feet began to curl, turning from tanned flesh to a knurled and knobbly surface the color of dried corn, tipped with jet black talons. He arched his back, stretching his arms far above his head. He ruffled the feathers of his wings as he lowered them back down to his side.
Eagle wasted no time in taking to the air. He glided over the vast expanse, feeling the wind whip his face. Hunger rumbled in his belly, and he began to hunt.
With his overly keen vision, Eagle spied a large silhouette wandering the plains below. Ever cautious, Eagle decided to land 100 yards away from the beast. He knew he had been spotted when it changed course and headed for him.
Eagle waited for what felt like days, but likely was mere minutes for the figure to arrive. The predator stopped about 25 feet away. Eagle began to try to communicate with it when Lion pounced. Eagle was unable to get away, and his body slammed to the clay with the weight of Lion’s paws upon him.
Lion pinned Eagle to the ground and began to viciously claw at Eagle’s wings. Eagle was terrified and desperate to cling to life. He searched for a way out. He struggled, twisted, and contorted his body, managing to get one wing loose. He began to flap that wing and use what strength he had to try to pull the rest of his body away, but Lion was quick and fierce. As Eagle pulled on his other wing, Lion maintained his grip and wrenched the wing off Eagle’s body.
Eagle did not bleed. There was not a void where his wing used to be. Instead, in its place was another wing. A different wing, with a leathery sheet attached to bone covered in skin and scales. He flicked his wrist, the bones snapped into a long gently curved line, and the leather went taught. Eagle realized he was not in any pain. Lion stopped and looked at him, waiting. Eagle nodded as if giving permission, and Lion began to rend and tear the feathers and flesh from Eagle’s body.
The destruction of Eagle took mere moments. Eagle watched as feather by feather all of him was torn and pulled asunder. His torso feathers were replaced by scaly flesh. His knurled legs were now muscular and covered in the same scales.
Suddenly, his head felt as though it might explode from pressure. Moments later, Lion pushed Eagle to the ground, placed Eagle’s head into his mighty jaws, and with surprising gentleness pulled off the back of Eagle’s head. Eagle felt a wave of instant relief. He looked in Lion’s eyes and saw his own reflection in the black pools.
Where once a proud presentation of white feathers sat, in their place a mighty head crest protruded from the back of more scaly skin. With nothing left to hold it in place, Eagle’s beak fell off, replaced by a long gaping maw filled with teeth. The metamorphosis was complete. Lion stepped back from Pterodactyl and sat in the dust, staring until Pterodactyl looked him in the eye.
Then Lion turned and began to run. Pterodactyl stretched his new wings and flew after. He was larger, less nimble than before, but powerful. Every flap of his new wings kept him aloft longer and made him fly faster than before. Pterodactyl followed Lion to the edge of a cliff. Lion stopped and stared into a ravine as Pterodactyl floated down, landing beside him and folding in his wings. His crest went nearly vertical as he angled his head to look down at what Lion saw.
One hundred feet below, down a sheer face of solid rock, creatures the likes of which Pterodactyl had never seen engaged in a deadly skirmish. Each entity clawed, scratched, kicked, and bit anything else within reach. The blood in Pterodactyl pumped faster and adrenaline filled his veins.
Pterodactyl saw three gray rats with white markings on their back. One rat bore a marking in the shape of a heart. On another, lips. They were working in concert, taking it in turns to dash at and attack a golden retriever in a pink tutu.
Toward the opposite side of the ravine, a black bear wielded crude implements. The bear held a hefty blunt rock in one hand and a longer, sharp, curved stone in the other. With every swing of the rock, it seemed the bear was doing impressive damage to anything that came near, but Pterodactyl could tell it was waiting for an opponent to get in range long enough to strike with the makeshift sickle.
Somewhere in the middle, a frog was attempting to choke a quetzalcoatlus. Hilarious as the scene might seem on its face, it was all the more impressive and bizarre for the frog’s apparent success. The frog leapt upon the head of the fallen quetzalcoatlus, croaking victorious.
A rumble began deep in Lion’s throat. Pterodactyl turned and watched as Lion’s lips began to curl with a snarl, and his mouth opened. Lion’s roar vibrated through Pterodactyl’s chest and filled the ravine below. The scramble stopped, with all of the creatures pausing to look in Lion’s direction. Lion turned to Pterodactyl, and Pterodactyl heard a voice in his head.
Do what you must. Survive. Kill them all. FEAST.
Pterodactyl extended his wingtips to the sky, upturned his head to prepare for flight, and felt his blood flow through his engorged member, the evidence of his unbridled excitement. With one downward push of his wings, he vaulted ten feet into the air, then turned and aimed for the middle of the fray. He dove at full speed toward a field of unsuspecting prey. The Lion’s roar, which only moments before had startled them all, was completely eclipsed by the volume and pitch of a most terrifying…
Rocky woke up at home, alone, in his own bed. He looked over at his alarm clock to find a note taped to the display.
Call or text me when you wake up and I’ll bring you to your car.
It was unsigned, but a small flower with white petals lay across the snooze button. He picked up his phone and texted Daisy, “I’m up.” 15 minutes later, a rust colored mid-90s Chevrolet pickup pulled into the driveway. The color was an excellent choice, as it made it impossible to tell from a distance what was rust colored and what was just straight rust.
The door squealed as Rocky opened it, and thunked closed in protest as he yanked it hard behind him. Daisy had driven the same vehicle since high school. It ran and was easily repairable, so he saw no reason to change it.
Neither man spoke to the other, and Daisy drove them to IHOP. The food was never amazing, and the service was never good. On the flip side, the food was never bad, and it was consistent. You knew exactly what you were getting, which Daisy knew was important the day after a “vision quest.”
Rocky downed a plate of chicken fried steak and eggs. Daisy took his time with a couple pancakes and a few slices of bacon, all drenched in syrup. Rocky glared at where he believed Daisy’s abs to be under his white t-shirt. It was seriously unfair.
They drove to Camp Huisache in silence. It wasn’t until he exited the truck and was about to slam his door shut that Rocky quietly said, “Daisy… thank you.” John just nodded, waited to make sure Rocky could get into his car and that the engine turned over, then drove away.
Rocky headed back toward Donny’s Gym. When he arrived, he took his bag out of the trunk, tossed it over his shoulder, and headed directly for the office.
“Stu?” Rocky stood in the doorway of the office. Cindy stared at him and popped her gum. Stu turned in his chair to look at him. Donny paid him absolutely no attention whatsoever, drank his coffee, and continued reading the newspaper.
“Yes?” Stu pushed his glasses up his nose and sat up straight.
“Do what you have to do. I’ve got 39 assholes to put in the ground.”
Cindy was not sure whether what she felt was a little bit of fear, excitement, disturbance, or all three. She watched Rocky and popped her gum again. Stu did not bother to resist the sly grin that crossed his face. “Damn right.”