Your garden variety white stuff. Odorless, harmless, and hardly flammable. Honestly, ya’d probably get more fucked up by puttin’ a bag over your head and cuttin’ off your oxygen supply for a few seconds.
* * *
Eight months since his last hit.
But even after all that time, the memory of that day back in the motel last summer is still fresh in Rocko Daymon’s mind.
He can still feel the dry Death Valley heat on his skin. Still see the sight of the slowly cycling ceiling fan above him.
The prick, the rush, the drift…
The sensation of being hit in the chest with a wave, and letting it drag him out to sea.
He still wonders where he’d be now, had Erik Black not unexpectedly walked into his room the next day in the middle of a deal and blown the lid off the entire thing.
Could he have gotten away with it?
Would he still be adrift in that rotten ocean?
How long did he really think he could go before he finally sank to the bottom?
He constantly has to remind himself that dwelling upon the hypotheticals won’t help anything. All that matters is that can call himself eight months sober.
Not necessarily happy… but sober.
Improving, let’s say.
Though from time to time, he still gets that familiar tickle. Usually closer to sunset, when the air assumes that strange, amberish tint. Somehow, it always gave him the feeling of fading hours.
Another day coming to an end, and more time lost with it.
When the clinic released him months ago, he was in a strange place. The school was gone. His own family had become strangers. No idea where to go, and no idea how long he’d last, until the next inevitable fall.
Surprisingly, it was Black, of all people, who was there to catch him.
He didn’t know what to think after the Goat Bastard put him up in his childhood home in Indiana. The town of Lebanon, a strange buffer between the temptation-filled urban sprawl of the state capital and the tweaker-infested countryside of the Hoosier state, offered little in the way of activities to keep his mind off things.
Fortunately, he would quickly come to find that the dilapidated state of the house had no shortage of longstanding maintenance issues to keep himself busy.
A sense of solace came along with the labor. Fixing the place up became his new purpose, under the belief that as long as he could maintain his environment, he could maintain himself. What began with tidying the place up in the first few days eventually grew into weekly projects like reshingling the roof and repairing the busted floor joists. Within months, the house looked radically different.
And though Black would never openly admit it, Daymon could tell his benefactor was impressed whenever he randomly dropped in to check on things.
The house was gradually being transformed into something that surpassed even his earliest memories of what the place used to look like, and he could scarcely hide from his face the expression of astonishment as he took in the gradual progress.
Then one day, out of the blue, Black arrived to propose a “new project”.
Now, they stand together in his privately-owned warehouse in Indianapolis.
Given its owner, Daymon is not surprised to see that like the house he was delivered to months ago, the building is equally neglected and in disrepair.
“Did they shoot Reservoir Dogs here?” he quips, nose curdling at the smell of sewage and mildew.
Still, there’s probably a fifty-fifty chance that at some point in this place’s history, a cop was tied to a chair and had his ear sliced off.
“Yeah, I know it ain’t much to look at,” Black grumbles. “Sorry it ain’t Buckingham Palace, but I ain’t ever been picky when it comes to personal comforts. Seriously, though, can ya whip this place into shape?”
Daymon groans unenthusiastically. He can already see that the undertaking is going to be much more time and labor intensive than flipping a house. But, he supposes, he has only time and labor to give right now.
“Let’s see the ring,” he says, nodding to the tarped-over posts looking like a deflated tent against the far end of the building.
Black leads the way, weaving a path through a dusty graveyard of salvaged junk and discarded pieces of exercise equipment. A collection of commodities that were at one time intended to be repurposed, only to be abandoned.
Daymon can’t help but think of it all as a testament to the Goat Bastard’s notoriously short attention span.
“Here’s the ol’ girl,” says Black with a twinge of pride as he pulls the tarp aside and reveals the carcass of a wrestling ring beneath. “Made her myself! Ain’t she a beaut?”
We’re probably a vowel off there. It’s beat, if anything.
Another groan escapes Daymon as he scans over the yellowed, eroded canvas and frayed ropes that droop off the four wooden stake ring posts. His host seemingly left out the detail that when he built this wrestling ring, Saddam was still in power and Ugg boots were trendy.
“I think there’s a hole in the boards in the one corner over there, so I just kinda stay away from it,” observes Black, matter-of-factly. “Wanna hop in and give it a spin?”
“No, I’m good,” Rocko declines without hesitation. There’s no way in hell he’s getting into this deathtrap.
Most would agree that the man known to the mainstream world as “the Escape Artist” Rezin is hardly the sharpest professional athlete alive, but he’s not so stupid that he can’t see the look of hesitation on the face of the veteran wrestler.
“So whaddya need to get this fucker up to standard issue?”
Daymon shrugs, and suggests the first thing that comes to mind. “Take it out back, kill it with fire?”
Black throws him an annoyed glare. Rocko sighs as he gives the ring another look-over.
“We’ll definitely have to make a few modifications, but I think we can do it,” he surmises, tugging on one of the cables to test its slack. “It’s going to be pricey, though…”
Black’s wry and categorically impish smirk occupies his face.
“Price ain’t an object,” he says with a shake of his head. “Not with the new contract I worked out.”
Said contract was worked out and inked a little over a month ago, and while supposedly quite lucrative, Black remained tight-lipped on the details.
Daymon can’t help but find some of this odd. Based on his familiarity with Lindsay Troy, which included working under her for close to a year in Empire Pro when she briefly filled in for an out-of-action Dan Ryan, he hardly suspects someone like the Queen of the Ring would concede a larger payout to someone so high on her personal shitlist.
Not without certain compromises.
“So what’s the catch?” he inquires. Because there has to be one.
Erik’s smarmy grin melts into Rezin’s vexed scowl.
“Ain’t important,” he growls. “All that matters is that I got the money to turn this place into what we need it to be, and to pay ya for what I got planned next.”
Rocko blinks, both at the mention of payment, and the implication that there’s more to come. Deep down, he hopes that Erik doesn’t also own a nearly crumbling apartment building that he also expects him to refurbish.
“Planned next?” he echoes. “What are we talking about here, Erik?”
Black seats himself on the edge of the ring, generating a very audible creak from the rusted trusses that are barely holding up the boards.
“I’ll cut to brass tacks here, Rock,” he begins. “I want ya to work for me again. As personal trainer and sparrin’ partner. And, ya know, general fixer-upper, since you appear to be good with that.”
Daymon felt the air leave him. The building renovations he expected, but this was coming out of left field.
“Prolly against my better judgment…” Black pointedly admits, obviously referring to Daymon’s attempted grifting of his money eight months back. “But fuck it, I guess I’m just a sucker for second chances, and I’m willin’ to bet you could use one right about now. Just so happens I’m in a position where I can finally help someone in need.”
He nods to Rocko, silently stating the obvious.
“Maybe less of the philosophical bullshit and more of just the basics this time around,” he continues. “Maybe not your preferred way of doin’ it, but hey, it’s better that scroungin’ around that house until you run outta shit to do.”
Black extends his hand. His palm is surprisingly clean of filth. His eyes are likewise serious and earnest.
“So, whaddya say? Innerested?”
Rocko looks at the hand, thinking back over the past year since he had lost everything left in his life.
The school. His students. His friends.
For months, all he could do was try and ignore the void left behind by keeping his mind off of it. Now, in the unlikeliest of places, and from the unlikeliest of people, he’s being handed a golden thread of salvation to pull himself up from the pit of despair he put himself into.
A chance to rebuild. A chance to make amends.
Time could never be lost.
“I’m your man,” he says at last, and shakes the hand.
A step up, but still tame compared to the heavy duty shit. Still, a good lungful of fumes will get ya to a nice pants-pissin’ state of euphoria. The trade-off is that it barely burns, I guess as a compromise to all the carpenters out there workin’ with wood.
* * *
Eight weeks since he last spoke to her.
For the recently separated Olvir Arsvinnar, it was eight weeks condemned in Nástrǫnd.
A living nightmare that felt almost willed into reality from years of distilled dread.
Countless attempts were made by the Norseman over the past two months to reach his estranged wife, Becky. Woefully, his efforts were only rewarded with a wall of silence.
It still boggles his mind how over the course of a single moment one afternoon after returning home from work, he went from being a happily married husband and father, living the best life a viking accountant could ask for, into a broken, confused man questioning his own sanity and wondering if that life ever really existed.
Now, it seems like he’s ceaselessly being barraged by reminders of his other life.
The life of the Butt-Dominator.
The one that got him into this pickle.
“The number you have dialed is not in service,” reports the inoffensive robotic voice from the phone pressed against his ear.
Grimacing, he hangs up and returns it to his pocket. Turning around, there before him suddenly is the ASHEN FACE OF DEATH–
No, not quite.
Regardless, the abrupt and uncomfortably close appearance of his new and not-so-lovely “secretary” nearly causes the berzerker to bounce out of his loafers.
“By Heimdall’s receding hairline, Suzie! Please don’t sneak up on me like that!”
Suzie takes a drag off her Pall Mall and suggestively pops her eyebrows.
“Sorry, stud,” she responds in her characteristically deep, grating voice. “I was feelin’ thirsty…”
At first, he’s unsure of what she’s implying…
Then he realizes that he’s standing between her and the newly installed water cooler, and quickly shuffles off to the side, incoherently blubbering an apology.
Smiling seductively, Suzie’s shoulders sway as she inches her way in and bends over for a paper cup, legs and back forming a perfect angle–
Olvir clenches his eyes and shakes his head, suppressing the viking urges within him.
“I know what youse is goin’ through, by the way,” she raspily comments while the spigot pours. “Been through three husbands of my own.”
She rises up and shrugs indifferently.
“Ya get it used to it…” she says numbly, bringing the cup to her lips for a light sip–
“I think I need some air!” Arsvinnar says hastily before scrambling out of the cramped office partition that serves as their shared workspace, and entering into the greater warehouse space.
Daymon and Black are there, the former replanking the room’s wrestling ring while the latter serves as foreman while flipping through what appears to be a magazine.
“Erik, I appreciate the extra help and all,” Arsvinnar begins as he approaches. “But does my position really require a full-time assistant?”
Truth be told, the job Erik was paying him to do was barely a job to begin with. A week’s worth of work could be wrapped up in a matter of hours.
Which meant most days were spent in the tiny office space with the woman he accidentally hooked up with on a week-long cross-country weed bender, awkwardly avoiding conversation and trying not to make eye contact.
In all his years of marriage and devotion to Becky, Olvir had never once been–or even imagined being–unfaithful.
That was until Erik brought him along for a wild, memory-erasing week of partying and debauchery that began in Vegas and ended in NOLA.
The more time passes, trace memories of the horrible act poke their way into the Norseman’s mind.
Sweaty, saggy flesh.
The taste of menthol on cracked lips.
Raspy moans of pleasure… occasional giving way to a fit of coughing.
Veiny, albeit shapely legs, leading to up to an ample peach of a–
“HO!! LAY WASTE TO THE HEATHEN BUTTOCKS!!
“FOR THE GLORY OF ODIN!!”
“BY THE BLOODY STUMP OF TYR!!”
Now in full panic mode, the berserker clutches his head and runs screaming out of the warehouse.
Black doesn’t even bother looking up from his reading material. The print on the cover just so happens to read: The Glue Factory: Product Catalog – 2023 Edition.
“These fuckin’ amateurs,” mutters the Goat Bastard.
They call this shit “crazy”, and they ain’t far off. Sniffin’ a tube of this will knock ya on your ass for a good few hours. Give it a little fire, and ya got yourself a lil incendiary projectile to throw at the nearest pig or authority figure.
* * *
Eight days since his last match.
And Rezin is already jonesing for the next.
“I’ll give ya this, Cec…
“For over-privileged, ass-pampered scumlord, ya sure go hard in the ring.”
The Escape Artist stands before the camera.
Music is playing in the background. A Stealer’s Wheel classic, as made famous by that one movie.
It has the word “stuck” in the title. Clever, right?
“Not every day I see someone who’s prolly been handed errything they could ever need or want actually work for his gains.
“On the other hand, I can’t tell ya how many self-important fucks I’ve suffered through the years that all had a unique way of callin’ themselves ‘the best’.
“As far as I can tell, the only quality that really sets ya apart is your ability to hire on erry young buck on the roster with daddy issues.”
Hank might be the exception to that.
Dude definitely has “weaned off too late” kinda vibes.
“I ain’t gonna waste time makin’ any similar sorta claim, but I can at least say in full confidence that when I say I’m the real deal in that ring, the people know it ain’t bullshit.
“After all, there’s a year of video evidence to back up the claim.
“And just as recently as last week, I proved that even with bein’ less involved in the title racket these days, I ain’t any less of the PUNK ROCK muthafugger between the ropes than I was for the better part of the last half year.
“If anything, I’m more.
“And, while ya may be currently fast-trackin’ your way to the Goat Bastard’s sloppy seconds, it stands to reason that championship gold here in PRIME ain’t got shit on the sludge-soaked schemes of this ol’ Dopesmoker.”
He clears a heavy lump of phlegm from his throat. A quick reminder of the time-honored legacy the Lord Farthington is following.
“Not that I have any interest in disrupting whatever ‘plan’ ya may have in the works for the current crop of champs.
“Ain’t my business. And rest assured, however this goes down, ya can get back to pursuin’ your ‘Finish Line’, or whatever the fuck that entails.”
His expression sours upon speaking the word. Something about it doesn’t sit right with him.
It sounds limited. Finite.
Like there isn’t a life beyond.
“What is my business, is bringin’ to that ring the wrestlin’ equivalent of nuclear hellfire.
“Call it the number one product of ‘The Rezin Factory’.
“A much more natural adhesive, and one that doesn’t represent execution and finality, but instead offers up a second life.
“I’m livin’ that second life right now, with the Universal Title in my rearview mirror, and nothin’ but heads to kick along the road ahead of me.”
The Goat Bastard loads up a joint, lights, and puffs.
“I won’t sugarcoat this, Farthy…
“I’m gonna be comin’ at ya hard in this match.
“I’m gonna be comin’ in ways I can’t realistically describe, except maybe through obscure references ya couldn’t possibly pick up on.”
But I’ll do my best to keep you all up to speed.
“I’m comin’ at ya like Oppenheimer.”
Twenty-five kilotons of fire and death.
“I’m comin’ at ya like a Nails album.”
Pretty brutal shit. Put it on, if you need to clear out the room.
“I’m comin’ at ya like Part 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return.”
Yeah, um… if you know, you know. Pretty much those last two, but combined.
Fused together, if you will.
“Ya came here to push glue.
“A notoriously flammable product.
“And as luck would have it, ya now have to deal with PRIME’s number one firestarter.
“The guy that literally dropped in here with shit in his pants, and climbed his way from the bottom of the pile to the top.
“The guy who emptied the whole locker room and turned ReVival into mass anarchy with a single swing of his fist.
“The guy that went through the ceiling of the cell, and came back the next day wantin’ more.
“The guy who handed the scariest sum’bish in this company his first real loss.”
Another drag, and a Cheshire smile to go with it.
“So, Mr. Financier, I sincerely hope you’re insured.
“Cause I’d hate to see your ambitions tragically go up in SMOKE.
“Either way… I’ll be there to breathe it in.”
Fade to VOID.
The Dom Perignon of adhesive fumes. Put a dab of this at the bottom of an empty coffee can, light it up, put your face over it, and breathe deep. Wake up sometime else, somewhere else, as someone else. Last time I huffed, I woke up as the Aramean King of Damascus somewhere in the eighth century B.C.
* * *
Eight seconds since he wanted to punch somebody in the face.
Even the thought of stepping outside of his cage for the first time in thirty-six years brings little joy to the blind beast.
The front gate of the Jefferson City Correctional Center slides to the side, and he crosses the threshold.
No longer Inmate Number 1277526.
Once again officially recognized by his Christian name.
William Luther Black.
Leaving the prison behind, he blindly marches straight into the parking lot.
He doesn’t need to see what’s ahead of him to know where he’s going. All he needs to do is follow the sound of the running motor to a Harley Davidson, finding a man on a bike with a sidecar waiting.
“Name’s Venom,” the biker introduces himself. “The Club sent me. Honored to meet you, sir.”
He’d offer his hand, if only his passenger could see it. Instead, the blind ex-con grunts indifferently, reaching into the sidecar and fumbling for something that should be there waiting.
He finds it… and pulls out his vest.
He puts it on for the first time in over three decades as he slides into the seat of the sidecar, preparing for the long ride ahead. The biker offers him cranial protection.
A heavy swipe of a skillet-sized hand knocks it aside into the dirt, thoroughly rebuffing the offer.
“Do ah look lahk sum sortuh PUHSSY T’YA?!”
“Okay, man, my bad…” his ride swiftly apologizes, not wanting to offend the senior member.
“SHUDDUHFUGGUHPP,” barks the blind man, successfully mashing four separate words into a single grunted expression.
He points ahead. Intentionally, it’s meant to mark their destination down the road, but because the bike is turned in the other direction, he instead points into an open field.
“Wuh’rre headded tuh INJEE-ANNA,” he says in a voice that rumbles like a rockslide. “Naow DRAAHV!”
The engine revs, and the bike peels away, kicking up a cloud of dust.