Monroe Correctional Complex, Monroe, WA
COVID Isolation Unit
Monday, January 4, 2022
Nova leans back against the concrete wall behind his bunk and looks across the cell at the man occupying the opposing bunk, curled up in a fetal position under covers. A wet, tremulous cough emanates from the blankets.
“Yo,” Nova calls out, “that cough is getting worse, Len. It’s been days, you should be on the mend by now.”
The figure rolls over to face Nova and the balding, bedraggled head of his cellmate emerges from the bedsheets. Len takes several shallow breaths.
“You…seem t’be doin’ alright,” he rasps.
“I’m asymptomatic this go ‘round,” Nova replies, “but still testing positive, which is why they got me in here keepin’ your ass company.”
“Your…companionship…as always, is first-class,” Len manages with a smirk, “what round are you on?”
“Third time,” Nova says flatly.
“Second,” Len replies, “worse now, though…”
Nova looks around the walls of the cell, shaking his head. “How did we think we’d ever manage to avoid it in this fucking place?”
Len covers his mouth with his sheet and coughs into it several more times, pausing after as he chest heaves for a moment before settling.
“I…never thought that.”
Len meets Nova’s eyes. “I knew…we were the Walking Dead, the moment they…stuck us in our boxes and…stopped answering questions.”
“Len, I’m gonna go out on a limb here, at the risk of painting with too broad a brush,” Nova says, scratching his scalp, “but you didn’t get the vaccine when they offered it, did you?”
Len shuffles out of the blankets and pushes himself up against the wall behind his bunk, wiping his sweaty face with his sleeve. “Nov, I’ve spent…my entire life…,” he does air-quotes with his fingers, “…‘in the custody of the Commissioner of Corrections’…”
He pauses for a raspy breath. “…I’ve been poked, and prodded…tested…researched…”
He shakes his head and offers a mirthless grin.
“If they wanna poke and prod me anymore…they’ll have to wait…till I’m gone. Then…they can mount my liver…in the Smithsonian.”
Nova can’t help but laugh, and Len joins him with a wheezy chuckle. Like most jokes in prison that manage a decent reception, eventually the laughter dies and there’s quiet. After a moment, Nova turns to his cellmate.
“I think they’re transferring me out of here.”
Len arches an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” Nova continues, “my caseworker hasn’t said anything, but I heard some CO’s talking about it.”
“Where?” Len asks, “WCC? Cedar Creek? You…haven’t gotten in any trouble.”
A bemused expression spreads over Nova’s face.
“They mentioned Las Vegas.”
There’s a moment of silence, then Len begins to chuckle, a fist pressed against his mouth, trying his best to stifle it. It’s Nova’s turn to arch an eyebrow.
“I’m glad you see the humor in this,” he says, “but for my part, I’m confused as shit right now.”
Len manages it down to a wry grin and clears his throat.
“They want you to wrestle, Nova.”
“What?” Nova replies, craning his neck back and waving dismissively, “no, they do not ‘want me to wrestle,’ Len.”
He points towards the cell door. “Listen, these fuckin’ numbskull guards can put a little extra on my commissary for an autograph or whatever, but let’s not get it twisted, okay? No one. Gives. A shit. It’s been ten years. I’m just another convict up here doin’ time among the pines like anyone else. So you can stop with that shit right now.”
The grin hasn’t left Len’s face, and he points a trembling finger at Nova. “They want you to wrestle. You’re…going home, kid.”
Len is racked by a sudden coughing fit that drives him back against the wall behind his pillow. As it continues, he slides back down into his bed, clutching at his covers as his body shakes.
“They have more treatments now,” Nova says helplessly, “I’ve seen other guys get them. Or what about a ventilator, have you asked medical about that? It may be time, Len, I’m just saying…”
Len waves him off.
“Nov…,” he manages, “I’m not…a wise investment…of resources. I have CO…PD. I won’t…make parole…for years.”
Another cough, gentler this time. “Taxpayers…may just owe COVID a…debt of gratitude, for speeding up the process.”
There’s a loud knock at the cell door, then it opens. Three guards enter and motion for Nova to get out of his bunk.
“Vega,” one of them says, “come on, let’s go.”
Nova looks over to Len, who winks at him.
“They want you to wrestle, Nova,” Len repeats, “go home, kid.”
Another violent coughing fit sends him practically into convulsions. The lead guard takes a step forward and reaches for Nova.
“Vega! Let’s go!” he barks.
Nova climbs out of his bunk and the guard grabs him by the arm to guide him out.
“He’s in really bad shape,” Nova pleads, looking back at the shape of Len in his bedcovers, still coughing. “Please send someone to check on him.”
“Keep it moving, Vega,” the guard replies, pushing him through the cell doorframe.
“You’ll send someone to check on him, right?” Nova begs.
“Take him down for transport,” the lead guard says to the other two, and they step forward, each taking one of Nova’s arms.
Nova cranes his neck towards the entrance to his cell, but he can’t see Len anymore.
“You’ll check on him, right?!” he shouts.
MGM Grand, Las Vegas
ReVival 18 (Main Event, Universal Championship: Cancer Jiles (c) v. Nova)
Friday, November 4, 2022
“They want you to wrestle, Nova. Go home, kid.”
The words suddenly echo in the Risen Star’s head as he stares down at his reflection in the golden faceplate of the Universal Title in his gloved hands.
“NO-VA! NO-VA! NO-VA! NO-VA!”
His gaze breaks from the spell of the championship belt and he looks up and around at the capacity crowd surrounding the ring, cheering him on.
What a year it’s been.
What a fucking journey.
“HEY ASSHOLE! THAT’S MINE!”
Nova turns around.
Nova’s Hotel Suite
Saturday, November 19, 2022
The Risen Star opens one of the sliding glass doors of his hotel suite and steps out onto the balcony, his eyes taking in the dawn over the desert.
He’s heard they’re leaving Las Vegas for the road, and he will miss the mountain morning greeting every day. This has become home, in a weird way.
A lot of shit has gone down here.
Nova reaches down to his left ankle and rubs the place where the ankle bracelet used to chafe his skin. He can still feel the imprint of the strap in his skin, but it’s growing fainter all the time.
He settles into one of the fold-out lounge chairs on the balcony and reaches over to the end-table to his right, fingers searching the surface…and finding nothing.
“Looking for something?”
Nova’s head whips around and his eyes settle on the Former Chairman of PRIME, Sonny Silver, clad in a crimson tracksuit and matching headband, leaning against the doorframe behind him.
“Sonny!” Nova exclaims, “what are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here?” Silver repeats incredulously, “I’VE ALWAYS BEEN HERE. When the first steel beams of this monument to depravity sprung out of the sand like a fifth-grade boner, I WAS HERE. When the…”
“Got it, got it,” Nova interjects, rubbing his temple. “Sonny…did you take the joint I left on this end-table?”
“Oh, what’s the matter there, Jim Breuer?” Silver mocks (Nova mouths Jim Breuer? to himself), “Tryin’ to roast a coner with Mr. Sun, are we?”
Nova nods emphatically.
“Lookin’ to hoover a doobie with El Chupacabra?” Silver asks.
“Yes, yes I am,” Nova confirms.
“WELL, TOO BAD!” Silver shouts. “When I told you I was gonna force you to step your game up, I didn’t mean bring a fresh set of undies to the arena, guy.”
“Sonny,” Nova says slowly, “it’s been more than six years since I was able to take a shit without running it by the government first – I just want to smoke a joint and watch the sun come up.”
“Hi, my name is Nova and I want stuff,” Silver sneers, “well, *I* want you to stop making a goddamn mockery of the PRIME Hall of Fame by coughing up a three-count to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who manages to yank on your tights while Timo chases butterflies in the ring. So I guess neither of us is very happy at the moment, are we?”
“Fine,” Nova says with a grunt as he pulls himself upright and climbs out of his chair.
He brushes past Silver and walks inside the suite.
“Don’t even need that joint,” Nova grumbles to himself as he opens his fridge, “I’ll just skip ahead to breakfast bev-”
He scans the fridge’s interior before turning back to Silver. “Are you fucking serious?”
“Looking for a blood-orange mimosa?” Silver asks innocently before his eyebrows curl into a scowl. “Well I’m looking for BLOOD ON THE MAT, DAWG. Gonna be hard to drop dudes on their heads with a belly full of bubbles, so I’m afraid breakfast bevvies GOT 2 GO.”
“Dude,” Nova sighs, shoulders slumping, “I was really looking forward to…”
“CAN’T HEAR YA, CHIEF! SORRY!” Silver shouts as he lowers a protective facemask and hefts a fully-lit, operational flamethrower in his arms and aims it towards the ceiling.
“Holy shit, what are you doing?!” Nova shouts, eyes wide.
Silver’s flamethrower belches a fireball into the air that sets off the overhead sprinkler system. Nova stares at his former colleague, rivulets of water running down his face and dripping off his beard.
“Really?” he asks dully, “this is what we’re doing now?”
Silver flips up the visor of his facemask. “No, this is what you’re doing now…and by ‘this,’ I mean getting the FUCK out of this hotel suite in the next ten seconds before the overhead sprinklers set off that Volkswagen-sized bathbomb in the corner.”
He gestures over to the corner of the living room, where a salmon-colored boulder sits next to the TV under one of the active sprinklers, foam starting to gently gather on its surface.
Somehow Nova hadn’t noticed it before.
“What the fuck, Sonny!” he exclaims.
“Your boots are by the door,” Sonny points over to the front foyer, “but seriously, Nov, you need to beat feet. I’ve done this before, and you do NOT want to be here when that thing…I guess ‘detonates’ is probably the word I’d use…”
Nova scrambles for the door and crams his feet into his boots.
“Don’t forget to double-lace those bad boys!” Silver calls after him.
Nova rips open the door to the suite and stumbles out into the hallway, slamming it shut behind him. He runs to the opposing wall and braces himself against it with one arm, catching his breath.
After a moment, Nova slides down the wall to a seated position on the carpeted floor and begins laughing to himself.
“Alright,” he chuckles, “Sonny, you got me this ti-”
The building shakes from the impact of an explosion, and pink foam begins seeping through the edges of the door to Nova’s hotel suite. He recoils in shock.
“OH MY GOD…SONNY!” he cries, “are…are you…”
Before he can finish his thought, a walkie-talkie clipped to his waist chirps.
“Hall of Fame to Loser Island…Hall of Fame to Loser Island…Loser Island, do you copy?”
Nova unclips the walkie-talkie and raises it to his mouth. “Sonny, is that you? Are you okay? What the hell just…”
“Hall of Fame to Loser Island, Loser Island, do you copy?”
“This is Loser Island, go ahead, Hall of Fame.”
“Yeah, you’re probably wondering why there are Delmonico steaks fastened to the bottoms of your boots with wood screws, Loser Island. Over.”
Nova stares down at his feet.
“Ohhhhh, I was definitely not wondering that at all,” he moans.
“Didn’t pick that up, Loser Island, please repeat. Over.”
“I WAS DEFINITELY NOT WONDERING THAT AT ALL, HALL OF FAME!” Nova barks, “OVER!!”
“Copy that, Loser Island. In a moment the door to another suite on your hallway will open, and I’m guessing the pack of Belgian Malanois that have been hanging out inside will poke their heads out, becaaaaaaause…I have not fed them in several days. Over.”
The color drains from Nova’s face and his head whips around at the creak of a door opening at the end of the hallway. As soon as he sees a snout poke through the doorframe, he launches from a seated position into a full sprint the opposite direction, the tender, deliciously marbled Delmonico’s under his feet slapping against the floor carpeting.
Squish–squish, squish–squish, squish–squish, squish–squish, squish–squish
His walkie-talkie chirps again.
“Head to the elevator, Loser Island. The doors should still be open. Over.”
Nova hears barking behind him and attempts to pick up the pace.
He rounds a corner and sees open elevator doors.
They begin to close and Nova launches himself headlong through the opening, hitting the floor of the elevator and rolling to a stop against the wall. The Malinois round the corner behind him as the doors click shut, their paws scraping against the metal of the doors’ exterior on the hallway side.
“Jesus-fucking-Christ,” Nova gasps, leaning his head back against the wall.
“Loser Island, this is Hall of Fame, over.”
Nova takes several more shallow breaths.
“Loser Island, this is…”
Nova grabs the walkie. “Go ahead, Hall of Fame.”
“Don’t mean to rush you along, Loser Island, but you’re gonna wanna hit ‘9’ on the keypad there as soon as you can, over.”
“Why ‘9,’ Hall of Fame?” Nova winces, knowing he will absolutely hate the answer.
“Loser Island, I calculated approximately how long a single elevator cable would support the weight of the unit plus 240 human pounds, after I cut away all the others, and it’s about how long it would take for the unit to travel from where you are on the 15th floor to the elevator stop on the 9th floor. Over.”
Nova puts his head in his hands.
“What I’m saying is you’re gonna wanna hit that button probably now, Loser Island. Over.”
Nova looks down at his waist. “I think I’ve gained some weight.”
“Definitely hit that button now, over.”
Nova rolls to his knees and reaches out, slapping the ‘9’ on the elevator’s keypad. The elevator jerks, and begins to move.
“Now is not the time for calisthenics, Loser Island. You should remain as still as possible, over.”
Nova looks around at the walls. Several creaking noises echo unnervingly in the elevator shaft.
“No dawdling at the launch pad, Loser Island. You need to exit safely…but quickly.”
The doors open and Nova springs through them.
Behind him the elevator cable snaps apart and whips around the walls of the shaft as the unit plummets into darkness. Eventually a distant crashing sound echoes up and out of the shaft as the doors to the entrance close with a DING!
Nova lays back against the carpet, breathing heavily.
When he opens his eyes, an elderly woman peers over him, bent against a cane, a concerned look spread over her face.
“Oh, thank god,” Nova gasps, rolling over and grabbing at one of her stockinged ankles. “Lady, am I happy to see you, but we may not want to stick around here just in case some-”
Without warning the woman spins her cane into the air and unsheathes a katana from its husk. She raises it overhead to strike, and Nova shuts his eyes tight, burying his face in the carpet.
“I missed the final E-Street tour,” he whispers to himself.
Nova cracks one eye. The woman is still standing over him, katana raised in the air, but she’s looking back now at the Former Chairman of PRIME standing behind her in the hallway.
“Ruthie,” Silver says in a warning tone, “you’re all set, you can go.”
The woman doesn’t move.
“You’re still getting the full commission,” Silver says, rolling his eyes, “I swear, these people…”
She sheathes the katana and scampers off down the hallway. Silver walks up to Nova and takes a knee, holding up his walkie to his mouth.
“Nice work, Loser Island, over,” he says with a grin.
“Fuck you, Sonny,” Nova replies, running his hands over his scalp.
“I originally wanted an actual ninja, or maybe a pirate,” Silver goes on, “but I tell you, these demented old folks who work solo off Craigslist…you cannot beat that pricepoint.”
“I need a cigarette,” Nova mutters.
Silver slaps him on the chest and pulls him to his feet.
“C’mon,” he says, “I bitched about all the soap in our room and they switched us to a different suite.”
Silver begins walking down the hallway, spinning back around with a flourish and devilish grin.
“You may not be ready for me, Nov…but I think you’re ready for Dusk.”
Nova sighs and follows him.
Squish-squish, squish-squish, squish-squish, squish-squish, squish-squish…
Later that evening
Nova and Sonny’s New Suite
Nova stretches out across a lounge chair on the balcony of the new suite, clad in his wrestling tights, gear, and a white terry cloth bathrobe. Inside, Sonny putters around the kitchen, a white apron adorned with “This Bitch Can Cook” pulled over his jet-black suit and blood-red button-up. He alternates between tending a tea kettle and chopping vegetables.
Nova lights a cigarette and looks out at the sunset.
He ashes into the tray next to his chair.
“Even though the amount of time it’s taking you to retire would make KISS blush, it’s a big deal and I’m happy for you.”
He takes another drag.
“I remember when you showed up back in the day. You were older than me, but in this business age is determined by seniority, not biology, so you’ve always felt younger.”
Nova pauses, grinning as he eyes dart over the horizon.
“You were ready to superkick anything in sight. You just…wanted it, so bad. So bad. And while you never found ‘It,’ if we define that word as the Mountaintop of professional success…you did find your place, and a home, and I think by now you understand that’s probably more important than the other shit.”
He takes a drag and spares a glance towards the kitchen, where Sonny is listening to “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross and mincing garlic.
Nova refocuses. “You showed up back then, looking to make your own way, and I was cruising. Focused. I knew the path I wanted to walk, and I ultimately knew what it was going to take to get there.”
He leans over to ash again, brushing a few flakes off the edge of his robe.
“So it’s funny where we find ourselves now, isn’t it? You’re embarking on your retirement tour, getting your flowers, structuring this very organized way out on your own terms…and I have no fucking idea what I’m doing, or where I’m going. You’ve carefully painted the contours of your own sunset…”
“…and I don’t know what this new dawn is going to look like for me. But I know I don’t have the luxury of calling it a day.”
Nova holds out his arms and offers a dark grin.
“Where else would I go?”
He takes a last drag and snuffs out the butt.
“So enjoy your sunset, Dusk, and I’ll enjoy my dawn.”
Nova’s eyes scan the horizon again as the last bits of color fade from the desert sky.
“For a landscape that’s painted so many pretty pictures for us over the last year, I think we’re well-positioned to offer a fitting tribute on December 2nd. See you there.”