Craig heard the sound of his cell phone vibrating against the counter of the bar bathroom he found himself in. He turned the faucet on, a smooth stream of water exiting it, and he let the water pool into his hands before splashing it on his face.
He wiped the water off with a nearby paper towel. He looked at the mirror, the bloodshot eyes were still there, but he could see the lines and wrinkles, more prevalent than he could ever remember.
Craig glanced at his cell phone, Rose boldly displayed. He debated answering the call but then would have to answer where he was at the current moment. He knew whatever he said would only anger his daughter.
He wasn’t supposed to be in this dingy bathroom in the middle of the day. Instead, he was supposed to be in his granddaughter’s classroom, being the show and tell item for his granddaughter.
He was letting her down, letting Rose down as well.
Craig sighed, turning his phone over. His fist slammed into the counter, and was thankful it didn’t give away.
He closed his eyes, the anxiety rising in his chest as he felt the memories rush back.
* * *
Craig rolled over in his bed and found the spot usually occupied by his significant other to be empty. He slowly opened his eyes and sat up to hear the fan on in the bathroom.
‘Becks?’ he called out. No response. His feet immediately hit the floor of the two-bedroom hotel suite he was in, Rose sleeping in the adjacent room. He walked over and knocked on the door, but there was no response.
He grabbed the bathroom doorknob. It was locked.
‘Becks? You in there? You okay?’
Nothing. Dread filled his chest as he slammed his boot into the door, flying open. Rebeccas was inside, on the bathroom floor, blood pouring out of the side of her head.
‘Love!’ he yelled out, rushing to her, picking her head up, and putting it in his lap. ‘Come on, wake up.’ The panic rose, and he took a deep breath, eager to quell it.
* * *
A man opened the wooden door to the bar. As bright as it was outside, the inside of this bar was the opposite. He looked around and saw the only man inside was the bartender.
He walked up and sat in his usual seat.
Without a word, the bartender grabbed a dirty glass and filled it to the brim with a golden amber liquid, placing it in front of him. The man looked at the drink and lifted it to his lips before taking a long sip while the bartender disappeared.
The man’s eyes closed as he placed the mug back on the counter, memories pushing to the forefront of his brain, memories he was eager to push back. Then, with his eyes closed, he heard the sounds of footsteps.
‘How’s your day going, Bob?’
There was silence, though. Then, instead, he heard the footsteps come closer. Nerves began to race through him as he ran his left hand across the top of his bald head and felt the sweat that’d gathered there.
The bald-headed man felt the presence of a man standing to the right of him, inches from his shoulder.
‘Mike,’ a rumble of a voice crashed over him, a voice Mike recognized and feared hearing.
He looked over and saw the man attached to that voice.
‘C-Craig,’ Mike stuttered as Craig glared at him, anger rising in his chest.
* * *
Craig reached down, his stomach pressed upon the clearly-pregnant belly of his wife, hoping for a sign of something positive there, but nothing.
‘Rose!’ he yelled out. After a few moments, the door to the bedroom opened, and his four-year-old daughter stepped inside. She looked at her mother.
‘Is Mommy okay?’ she inquired, her bottom lip sticking out.
‘She will be. Can you go knock on the door next to your room? Knock as hard as you can, for as long as you can, until the door opens, okay?
She looked confused for a moment but then, matter-of-factly, nodded her head and disappeared. Craig heard his daughter muster up as much strength as her tiny body had and banged on the door. Meanwhile, Craig reached underneath his wife and lifted her off the floor. The pounding continued until the door opened.
‘What the hell is going on?!’ a gruff voice exploded into the room. Craig heard a scream as Rose ran back into the bedroom.
‘Daddy, Daddy,’ she frantically screeched.
‘It’s okay, baby,’ he started. ‘Johnny, in here! Hurry!’
‘What the fu—’ he started before entering the bedroom, seeing Craig cradle Rebecca’s body as he laid her on the bed. Another moment passed before Johnny’s wife, Sam, entered the room.
‘Is everything okay?’ she asked sleepily. Though, when her eyes landed upon an unconscious Rebecca, her eyes shot wide open.
‘Oh shit,’ she muttered before racing to the phone. Johnny raced over to Craig as Craig placed his head against her chest, hearing a shallow heartbeat.
Johnny looked at the wound on Rebecca’s head. ‘She clipped it pretty good.’ He then looked at Craig. ‘Why is their blood all over your shirt and arm?’
Craig looked down; sure enough, he was covered in blood, but the cut from Rebecca’s head wasn’t producing that much blood. Craig looked around, perplexed until he saw a pool of blood in the spot Rebecca’d been lying in.
‘Shit,’ Craig muttered as he quickly scooped his wife back into his arms. Sam looked on in horror as she spoke into the receiver.
Rose stood there, shocked by the proceedings and desperate for it to make sense in her mind. Then, as Craig reached the front door with Rebecca cradled in his arms, Johnny yanked the door open for him.
‘Will you stay with her?’ Craig inquired. Johnny simply nodded before Craig disappeared out the door, desperation taking over his mind.
As the door closed behind him, Johnny looked over at Sam, tears streaming down her face. He then looked at Rose, white as a sheet, and wrapped her in his arms.
‘Come on, sweetheart, let’s go watch television, and we’ll go get you some breakfast. Your Daddy and Mommy will be back before you know it, okay?’
He looked over at Sam, bit his bottom lip, and the trio retreated to their hotel room.
* * *
‘I’ve been waiting for this day for years,’ Mike muttered as Craig continued to stand next to him, his eyes narrow and filled with emotions.
‘Waiting? Or dreading?’
He nodded his head before he took another sip of his beer. Mike looked around, but there was no one else except for Craig.
Craig leaned against the bar, his eyes not moving off of Mike.
‘Can I just start?’ Mike began. ‘By apologizing. By telling you that, I fully blame myself.’
Craig nodded. ‘Oh, well, thanks, Mike. I’m glad you feel like you can take the full blame for what you did. I was starting to wonder because I never got a call from you. Didn’t get a letter or a visit either. Instead, you dropped off the face of the fucking planet.’
‘Yeah,’ Mike groaned. ‘I know. I just couldn’t—‘
‘You couldn’t?’ Craig interrupted. ‘Couldn’t what, Mike? Hate to break it to you, but I don’t have all fucking day to hear you moan and groan.’
‘I couldn’t look myself in the mirror!’
As the words flew out of Mike’s mouth, he felt the seat come from underneath him, and his jaw slammed against the lacquered bar counter before landing on the sticky floor.
Mike groaned as he lay there, the taste of his own blood filling his mouth.
‘Glad you couldn’t look yourself in the fucking mirror, Mike. Really happy for you. Try being in my shoes, dealing with the loss of a wife, and breaking that fucking news to my daughter. You think you couldn’t look yourself in the mirror?! Try living without the most important person in your life!’
‘I know,’ Mike spat out, blood staining the floor underneath him.
‘Oh, you know? Then what the fuck am I doing here?’
Craig reached down, pulled him off the ground by the back of his neck, and threw him into the bar counter. Mike spun around and looked at Craig, who looked at him with pure venom.
‘Of course, I don’t know. That’s not what I meant. It’s just that I… I knew what I had done.’
‘Do you? Or have you heard some version of it, Mike? Through the grapevine over the years. Because I was there, Mike. I was there when the doctors told me everything!’
Craig stepped forward, his hands balled up, ready to put this to bed.
* * *
Hours passed since he’d arrived at the hospital with Rebecca. Of course, hours had passed without an update, but those hours didn’t feel like your typical hours.
Instead, they passed painstakingly slow, as if razor blades were slowly cutting away at every inch of his flesh until nothing was left.
Then, a white lab coat man appeared from a set of doors. Craig had tried many times to go down until a group of security guards was placed there.
This man, with dark brown hair, approached Craig with a somber look on his face. He knew what was about to come out next.
‘Sir, I’m the doctor that’s been treating your wife. Unfortunately—’
Those were the only words he heard before he felt everything crash around him. Later, he would be told the full details of why and how his wife had passed. She had a subdural hematoma from an injury they didn’t have answers for.
Except, Craig knew precisely how the injury occurred.
* * *
‘That day,’ Craig began. ‘The day you thought that you would hit Sarah once again because your pathetic life wasn’t turning out the way you’d hoped and instead hit my wife because she stepped in between you two? The day my wife’s head cracked against the edge of a table because you were too small of a man?’
He paused and looked at Mike. Tears ran down his face as Craig shook his head.
‘That was the day that killed my wife. We thought she just had a superficial cut, but her hitting that table caused her to—‘
Craig couldn’t find the words as he doubled over from the pain. The blow from the table to the corner of her head had caused the bleeding that neither of them knew was happening.
Moments pass between the two, silence enveloping them as it did. Finally, Mike looked over at Craig and reached out to put his hand on his shoulder but thought better of it. Craig eventually stood up, his hands on his hips, and shook his head.
‘I’ve lived with that reality every day, Craig, I promise you,’ Mike finally offered. ‘I wish I could make it all vanish; I really wish I do. I would do anything to take her place. But, truth be told, I’ve been waiting for the day you put me in the ground next to her.’
Craig’s tongue ran over his cracked lips. ‘Trust me, I wanted to. That’s why I didn’t come to find you sooner, why I didn’t hire an investigator to track you down until last week. Because if I’d seen you twenty years ago, I’d have killed you. And then you would’ve taken both of my little girl’s parents away from her, and that was the only thing that stopped me.’
Mike slowly nodded his head. ‘I get it.’
‘No, you fucking don’t.’
Craig turned his back to Mike. ‘It helps though, Mike, seeing you like this. With nothing good in your life. Content on drowning your days out with alcohol until you’re nothing. Because I know that no one, except me, will ever remember you.’
He then looked back at Mike. ‘And that won’t last much longer either.’
Craig began to walk towards the door. As he reached the threshold, he stopped.
‘Whatever happened to Sarah?’ Mike asked.
Craig stood there for a moment. ‘She killed herself a few months after Rebecca died. I got a letter in the mail from her. Said she couldn’t live with herself any longer.’
He then looked back at Mike. ‘Imagine that,’ he offered before he walked out the door and left Mike alone.
* * *
Later That Day
Rose pulled up to her father’s house and saw his truck in front. As she stepped out, fury coursing through her veins, she stormed towards the house’s front door.
As she yanked open the door, she looked around.
‘Dad! Where are you?!’
She stormed through the house but saw no sight of him. Rose ran upstairs, each step angrier than the last, and that anger flowed into her arms as she pushed his bedroom door open, only to see Craig in the room.
‘Dad! Where the fuck have you been?! You totally bailed on Adelin—’
Her words dried out as she saw her father sitting on his bedroom floor, his head buried in his knees. It took Rose a moment to see his body convulsing.
She rushed over to him and wrapped her arms around him as he turned into her, and Rose felt years of tears pour onto her blouse. She pulled her father as tight to her as she could, the weight of him knocking her down, but that didn’t matter as she pulled his sobbing face into her chest.
‘It’s okay, Daddy, it’s okay.’
Rose held him as he just let everything out. Her right cheek rested against the crown of his head as seconds became minutes and minutes became hours, with neither of them moving.
As he quieted down, Rose ran her fingers through his hair.
“Daddy, what happened?’
It took a few moments for Craig to find his strength, but eventually, he told her everything. How her mother died, the months before what happened with Mike and Rebecca, and his encounter with Mike.
Tears flowed down her cheeks as he told her the story, the answers she’d been seeking for years, and finally, one last question she never knew she had.
Silence filled the room again as Craig looked at Rose.
‘There’s one more thing, something you didn’t know.’
Rose looked at him, perplexed, through tear-stained eyes.
‘When your mother… passed. She was pregnant.’
Her mouth dropped as she looked at him.
‘A little boy. He was seven months old. You would talk to her belly every single day. You asked about him a few weeks after your mother’s death, but I knew the memories would eventually fade.’
Rose closed her eyes and shook her head as she wrapped her arms around him.
Tears for the brother she’d forgotten about.
* * *
A Few Days Later
Craig was determined to make up the missed event and promised Adeline he would attend her ‘Meet the Teacher’ event.
This is how Craig found himself in the back of a cafeteria as her teacher, a woman in her mid-twenties, stood up and smiled at Craig.
‘Okay, everyone, we’re in for a treat tonight. This man was supposed to be here for a Show and Tell earlier in the week, but unfortunately, he could not make it. So instead, he offered his time tonight for our special entertainment at Meet the Teacher,’ her bubbly voice filled the room.
‘So, please help me introduce at this time a man the world knows as Dusk, but to our sweet Adeline, he is simply known as Grandpa!’
Craig walked to the front of the cafeteria and sat on a wooden stool as hundreds of people looked at him. In the front were dozens of children, and it didn’t take long for Craig to lock eyes with Adeline.
‘Evening; hope everyone is doing well. Does anyone watch wrestling with your moms or dads?’ Several children nodded, and Craig smiled. ‘Is it exciting when you get to watch wrestling?’
One of the kids excitedly raised their hand. ‘Yes! Though my Dad says you’re overrated.’ Laughter quickly filled the cafeteria as the kid looked slightly embarrassed.
‘It’s okay,’ turning his attention to the child. ‘Your Dad is probably right. A few people in the locker room would certainly agree.’
Another child chimed in. ‘Is Lindsay Troy really as pretty as she looks on TV?’ Craig laughed
‘Not answering that question,’ he responded before looking at the teacher. ‘I’m a tad bit worried this many children have watched wrestling or know who Lindsay Troy is.’
‘Maybe YouTube?’ she softly responded.
Craig nodded before he looked back at the cafeteria.
‘How do you wrestle when you’re so old?’ another child asked.
‘Lots of hard work, honestly,’ he responded. ‘I work out a lot and have to take care of my body.’
‘He makes delicious spaghetti,’ Adeline chimed in, bringing a smile to his face.
‘Thanks, sweetheart.’ She beamed from ear to ear.
‘Does King Blueberry hang out with his mannequin all the time?’
Craig found himself staring not at a child but at one of the fathers in the back. ‘More than is probably normal for a middle-aged man to be hanging out with a mannequin if you ask me.’
Adeline then raised her hand. ‘Who is your favorite wrestler?’
‘That’s a great question, Ade. And it’s a tough one, honestly. If we’re talking about modern-day PRIME, I would say Anna Daniels.’ As her name left his lips, Ade perked up as he knew it was her favorite wrestler she’d seen thus far. ‘If I had to pick someone from all time, I would probably say it’s a guy from when I first started wrestling by the name of Johnny Slick. He was a good guy who knew how to connect with the crowd.’
Craig looked around, knowing his time was running short. ‘What else do you want to know?’
Then another child piped up. ‘Did it hurt when the Glue Factory repeatedly slammed you into the mat?’
His eyes looked over at Adeline, her face sad, and he wished he could hug her. ‘It hurt, yeah. I wasn’t expecting it, and it really left me dazed for a few days.’ Adeline was scared to even approach him in the days afterward because of his demeanor due to his concussion. He felt terrible she’d seen him like that.
‘What are you going to do about it?’ this time, a parent in the back asked.
He pondered this question for a moment as he looked out and landed eyes with his daughter, who softly tapped her heart.
‘It’s time for me to finally be the man I was a long time ago and wrestle from here,’ he responded while tapping at his own heart. ‘I returned to prove to my daughter and granddaughter that I still had it. I think on some level, I’ve done just that, but at the same time, I feel like a ghost of myself is in that ring. I think it’s time for Phil Atken to be reminded of who I really am. He scared my family at Culture Shock with his actions, actions that caused serious damage and pain for them. It’s time for retribution. This one is personal.’
The teacher then stepped forward. ‘Thank you, Mr. Craig, for your time today. We really appreciate your time and efforts,’ she then provided some additional instructions to the parents.
With that, there was a round of applause as Craig stood up, quickly followed up by talk and conversations as everyone went to find their children and their classroom.
Craig moved to the cafeteria side as Rose walked over and smiled at her father.
‘That was nicely done, Dad.’
He smiled at her. ‘What about Adeline?’
‘Brian grabbed her, and they walked to her classroom. I’m going to go, but I know you have to go and catch your flight.’
She then wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into her. ‘I’m so proud of you, Dad no matter what happens Friday evening. But, if you’ve got it in you, knock his fucking head off.’ The two laughed as they broke their embrace, tears streaming down her face.
‘Wrestle from your heart, Dad. Mom would’ve wanted it. That’s all Mom would’ve wanted for you.’
He nodded and smiled at his daughter before she turned away, off to find Adeline and Brian. As Craig turned towards the exit, he felt a vibration in his pant pocket. He pulled out his cell phone and opened it to see he had a text message.
Just thought you would want to know. Mike drank himself to death last night.
Craig read the words a few times before placing the phone back in his pocket and exiting the building, ready for revenge.