February 19, 2022
Marble Falls, TX
Craig squats, a fifty-pound chain in his left hand and the same in his right, as his arms continue to move up and down. The chains ripple like waves, moving in sync with his arms. Sweat pours from his forehead as his muscles strain against his body, ready to burst through from the pressure he is putting upon them.
With each movement of his arms, his mind is focused while rage flows through his body. As the chains crash into the ground, he continues to replay his match against John Kennedy in his mind. Craig focuses upon the mistakes he made, the outcome, and how he let his goal slip through his fingers.
As that happens, the adrenaline courses through his veins until he slams both chains onto the ground. An echo fills the training room with a loud crash.
He stands there for a moment, hands-on-hips, as the sweat runs down the length of his body and pools underneath him, hands balled into fists. He slowly shakes his head before he looks over at the heavy bag and walks over to it, chest rapidly moving up and down as his body craves oxygen.
As Craig stands in front of the bag, his eyes close and feel as if he is transported into the match as John Kennedy lifts him and slams him down to the mat; as he can hear the crashing fist of the referee colliding into the mat.
His right fist slams into the punching bag as hard as it can, the bag offering minimal resistance from the intensity of the strike. He slams his left fist into the bag just as hard, if not harder, and finds a rhythm as he throws body blow after body blows into the bag with no sign of slowing down.
His brow furrows as he feels the emotions rise in his chest and unleashes the frustration he feels towards himself into the bag, wanting to break it, wanting to let everything he is feeling out.
One job, win the match. Move through the tournament. Win the Universal Championship.
He feels the pain in his knuckles with each successive shot but ignores it. Pain isn’t important right now.
You came up short. You failed. You let yourself down, much less everyone else.
‘AHHHHH!’ He roars into the air as he throws one final punch, the bag still attached as it was when he started. Craig looks around and sees himself in a full-length mirror and shakes his head once again. Without warning, he scoops down and grabs a metal weight before he chucks it five feet into the mirror.
He stands there as he watches the shards of glass fall onto the concrete floor. His hands return to his hips, his chest still heaving.
What was the point if you were just going to stumble after the first turn?
‘GAAAAAAAAAAH!’ He yells out once again, frustration taking over him.
* * *
May 17, 1995
‘You’re a fucking ASSHOLE, that’s why James!’
The vitriol explodes from her lips before she even realized it was happening. Her hazel eyes are intense, almost fire-like, as she stands in the middle of the crowded bar. She slides her hands into her jeans and can feel her adrenaline starting to wane slightly. She doesn’t want James to see her shaking, so she grabs a drink off the table, and proceeds to take a long sip from it.
Across from her, James, with his long brown hair tied in a ponytail, looks at her with confusion on her face. ‘Look, just tell me his name then.’
‘Oh, is that what you think it is? That I don’t want to date you anymore because I have another guy in my life. You’re such a piece of shit.’
James chuckles. ‘Come on, you came over to my place and made out with me. You will have to excuse me for calling out mixed signals.’
‘Mixed signals,’ she begins to feel the anger in her arms once again. ‘You’re a fucking joke. I know you have to keep face for your boys, but the reality is that YOU kissed me and I had no interest in it going further than that. Then you decided to call me a ‘bitch’ simply because I wouldn’t suck your needle nose dick.’
A few guys that are in the vicinity begin to laugh as he looks around at them, bewildered. ‘Now you’re just changing history—‘’
‘And you’re trying to gaslight me. Thus, asshole. Double asshole if you ask me.’
James tries to move closer to her, but she puts her hand up and places it on his chest. ‘Please, keep back. Your two-dollar cologne makes me gag and I’m oddly proud of my lack of a gag reflex.’
He throws his hands up. ‘So, you don’t want to go out on a date with me because of my cologne? That seems pretty superficial.’
At that moment, the door to the bar opens and a man walks through the threshold. Her eyes land upon him as he makes his way to the bar, looking confident yet quiet all at the same time. She then looks back at James.
‘No, James. There’s a laundry list of reasons why I don’t want to date you. The cheap cologne is only item sixty-four on the list.’
He chuckles. ‘We all know you. You can’t go more than one day without a guy on your arm. So let’s meet this guy that has won your heart.’
She shakes her head and then stops, her eyes locked upon James. ‘Well, you’re in luck then. He just came in.’
With that, she turns on her heel and makes her way over to the bar. The man she saw just seconds ago is making his way to a table with a beer bottle in his hand. As he reaches the table, she reaches him and smiles. Before he knows what is happening, she closes the distance between them, wraps her arm around his neck, and stretches on her toes before locking her lips against his.
Moments pass between them, as they fall deeper into the kiss. When the two break their embrace, they look at one another, with the man looking rather shocked.
‘Hi, my name is Rebecca,’ she whispers. The man slowly nods his head while placing his beer on the table. ‘Your name? Quickly please.’
The man clears his throat, as she runs her fingers through his short brown hair.
‘Craig,’ he finally manages to get out, his confusion plastered across his face.
‘Nice to meet you, Craig. I know this is rather sudden, but there’s a guy behind me that is an asshole and I need some distance.’ She then smiles at him as she takes another long look at him. ‘Though, if you play your cards right, it might be your last first kiss.’ A smile appears on Craig’s face as he takes her in and doesn’t dispute her statement.
* * *
March 11, 2022
Marble Falls, TX
Craig watches, curiously, at his granddaughter as she shoves a bite of spaghetti into her mouth. A bit of tomato sauce is on her cheek after the bite and she looks up at her grandfather with a smile on her face.
‘Delicious! You did it right this time!’ she excitedly remarks.
‘Well, I didn’t think that a hint of cinnamon was the game-changer, but I guess I was wrong’ he responds. He then reaches over with a napkin and wipes away the spot of sauce on her face as she dives in for another bite.
He leans back in his chair and watches, taking a sip of water in the process, and then looks out the window to see a large truck driving down the dirt road to his house. He stands up and makes his way over to the refrigerator.
‘Looks like your Dad is here,’ he tells Adeline.
Craig shakes his head. ‘I guess not.’ He reaches in and grabs two bottles of beer before closing the door. He looks over at his granddaughter.
‘You finish your food. I’ll go talk to your Dad.’
He sees her nod her head as she takes a bite of garlic bread and then he makes his way to the front door. As he opens it, the door to the truck slams shut and Craig sees Brian emerge as he comes around the back of the truck.
‘Evening,’ Craig says as he makes his way over to his wooden rocking chair and sits down. Brian looks over and smiles.
‘Hey, sir.’ His tone sounds sullen, a bit shaken. Craig takes one of the beer bottles and pops off the top of one of them and takes a swig from it.
‘Want a beer?’
Brian simply nods his head and Craig pops the top of another beer bottle and hands it over to Brian who sits on the stairs that lead to the house. He watches as Brian takes a long swig from his drink before he places it on the wooden deck.
‘No Rose tonight?’ Craig inquires and Brian takes a moment before he shakes his head.
‘Rough day at work, I suppose. Needed a night to just—‘
‘Go sit in the bar and drink like her old man?’
He chuckles. ‘Said it better than I could.’
Craig takes another drink of his beer and leans back in his chair, the soft chill of the mid-Texas weather settling itself on his arms.
‘You disappeared on us after the last ReVival show,’ Brian gingerly says.
‘Yeah, sorry about that. I just needed to get home and deal with some shit.’
‘You looked better if it’s any consolation.’
It isn’t, but he doesn’t say that. The sting of the loss is still fresh to him and getting back in the ring is the only thing that would make it any better. Instead of competing for a Universal Championship at Culture Shock, he is left vying for a shot at the Five-Star Championship.
‘Thanks,’ he begins. ‘At least I still got a chance at the Five-Star Championship. Still, need to make sure I bring it. Hopefully, a few weeks off will help. I don’t feel the soreness at least.’
‘You think you’ve got a decent shot this week?’
Craig chuckles before taking another drink. ‘That remains to be seen.’
‘You’ve got who again?’
Craig leans back and takes another sip of beer. ‘Hayes Hanlon. Garbage Bag Johnny. Nicholas Pfefferman. It’s going to be brutal. I don’t think I’m coming out of that match. If I put my money on it, it would be GBJ.’
His son-in-law shakes his head. ‘I don’t know why you do this.’
‘Doubt yourself. Cast yourself as the loser before you’ve even stepped foot into the ring. You’re a legend in there, the only one who can hold a candle to you on paper is GBJ.’
Craig chuckles. ‘That’s nice, I just know my limitations, and Hanlon and Pfefferman are nothing to sneeze at.’
‘My point is,’ Brian starts. ‘You have more than just a chance in the ring. I remember everyone talking about your match with Wade Elliott back in… 2008? Elliott was the odds on favorite to pull that match off. And who walked out of it, still the champ?’
A smile appears on his face, a slight one. ‘Fine, fine. I won’t doubt myself.’
‘Just remember who you are in that ring. You’re a veteran. That doesn’t mean your invincible, but it sure as shit means that you’ve got more than a fighting chance each week you walk out there. That’s more than many people can say.’
‘Yeah,’ he starts. ‘I just know I’ve got to bring me A game, once again. If I want a chance at that 5-Star Championship, I’ve gotta be at the top of my game.’
‘And so do Hanlon, Johnny, and Pfefferman. You didn’t get to where you are just by coasting. You got there through hard work, perseverance, attitude. They’ve got to do the same thing and you’ve got the experience in your corner to help you get there when the deck is stacked against you.’
There’s a long silence between the two men as Craig watches the stars as they slowly appear to the naked eye. His mind is focused intensely on the next show.
‘I think Rose has booked our airline tickets for the next show,’ Brian cuts through the silence.
‘Stay home this week,’ he sighs. ‘It’s okay. Stay home this week and come out for the big show at the end of the month.’
Brian finishes off his drink. ‘You know, she gets bad this time of the year.’
Craig looks over at him. ‘What are you trying to say?’
He shakes his head as he stands up. ‘Nothing just wanted to let you know. This time of the year is particularly tough for her.’
‘I imagine so,’ Craig responds softly before he polishes off his beer.
‘Yeah, I imagine it’s tough on both of you,’ he responds as he makes his way to the front door. ‘I’ll go get Adeline.’
Craig nods. ‘She was finishing some spaghetti. If you want some extras to take home for you and Rose, there’s some on the stove. No rush either if you want to sit down and eat. I know there’s not much to rush home to right now.’
‘Yeah,’ he sighs before he opens the door and enters the house.
Craig looks out as he thinks about Rose, sitting alone in a bar, drinking her feelings away and the tension builds in his right arm. He nearly throws the glass bottle at the ground but thinks twice about it. His right-hand grips the glass hard though and it’s a miracle he has enough restraint to not shatter the glass.
‘Fuck,’ he breathes softly.
* * *
March 1, 1996
‘I don’t know, I’ve seen his work in the past. He’s okay, but I don’t think I have a spot here for him.’
Rebecca shakes her head.
‘Tim, Tim, you’re thinking rather short-sighted here’
He leans back in his chair, his gut protruding quite a bit as he grabs a cigarette from the box that is in his shirt pocket. He quickly lights it up and takes a drag off the cigarette.
‘Am I though? He’s been doing this for about four years now. He’s got a ceiling on him the way that I see it.’
‘What? He’s twenty-four years old. He’s got a ton of potential ahead of him. Don’t let pride or loyalty to your boys stop you from bringing him in. Let him come in and work three or four matches. You’ll see it. He’s all in on doing this.’
The promoter takes another drag from the cigarette and lets the smoke out. Rebecca silently wants to rip this guy’s throat out and feed it back to him for the action, the disrespect, but she manages to swallow her feelings.
‘Did you see his match against Dragon? That match was next level!’
Tim slowly nods his head. ‘You’re right. That was some good stuff.’
‘That wasn’t just Dragon. That was both of them. He’s learning, he’s figuring it out, but he’s dedicated. He’s got charisma, he’s got the ring awareness. He’s bringing a new style of wrestling.’
‘The Lucha high-flying stuff? I mean, that can be seen down in Mexico.’
Rebeccas shakes her head. ‘You know it’s coming here. Do you want to be at the forefront or let your competitors show you up?’
He takes his cigarette and flicks the ashes off into the trash can next to his desk. Rebecca watches as his eyes land upon her face, move down to her breasts, and then to her legs before returning to her face. She wants to throw up on his face but is certain he is into that kind of thing.
‘What about you? Are you going to show up with him on the show? I could see the fans just eating you up.’
She smiles. ‘I appreciate the sweet thoughts, but I’m not a performer like that. I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of gal. I’ll help keep your boys in line. I’ll make sure Craig gets here each show and is ready to help out with building the ring.’
Tim sighs. ‘Fine, fine. Except, he needs a ring name. A real ring name. None of this first name shit.’
Rebeccas shrugs her shoulders. ‘Alright, we’ll figure something out. Do we have a deal?’
Tim nods his head, extending his hand. She accepts it and has to bite her tongue when he pulls her into him. ‘You got a knack for negotiating. Next time though, I’ll set the terms, understand me?’ She swallows hard as her face steels slightly.
‘Sure, let’s see what your terms are next time.’
He smiles and releases her hand as she smiles back at him before exiting the office, hating the business, but loving her fiancee just enough to put up with the disgusting behaviors of assholes just like Tim.
As she exits the building and finds Craig sitting on the hood of the 1980s Ford Pinto that is somehow still running, she walks over to him before kissing him on the cheek.
‘Well?’ he begins.
‘You’ve got a short contract with them. We need to find a name for you though.’
He nods his head. ‘Alright, let’s start brainstorming.’ She then smiles at him, taking his hand, and sitting on the hood of the car with him.
* * *
March 12, 2022
The Ford truck of Craig’s pulls into a parking spot and he steps out, holding a bouquet in his right hand. He stands there in the nearly empty parking lot, the brightness of the moon illuminating the area around him.
He takes a few steps and looks around, attempting to get his bearings before he walks right and finds the path he is looking for. As he walks down the path, he feels his phone vibrating. He pauses and pulls his phone out, looking at it to see a text message on his Home Screen.
Rose: I’m good Dad. Thanks for checking on me.
Craig shakes his head as he returns his phone to his front pocket and continues walking down the vacant path, his footsteps creating a slight echo. As he looks around, he spots what he is looking for and walks over to it, pausing as he stands in front of it. He reaches down and picks up a decayed bouquet and tosses them behind him before he places the new set of flowers in the same spot.
He stands there and looks at the gravestone, his demeanor growing darker by the second as he looks at it.
April 10, 1969 – March 30, 2001
A wife, a mother, a best friend. You will be missed, but not forgotten.
‘Love, I wish you were here right now,’ he manages through gritted teeth. ‘I wish you could see the woman that Rose has grown up to be, but she needs you now more than ever. I just don’t know what to do. I don’t how to help her anymore.’
He stands there before he sits down, his back resting upon the gravestone. He pulls his knees up and he closes his eyes, thinking about his wife and how much he misses her.