Rocky de Leon
January 29, 2023
“Holy shit, it was so AWESOME.” Rocky vibrated as he told the staff back at Donny’s Gym about his match at ReVival 21. “I took down Mike McGee so hard.”
“Well, no,” Stu Weiler, who was sitting in a folding metal chair, pushed his glasses further up on his nose and crossed his arms. “Ms. Mori took down Mike McGee. She was awarded the win.”
“Sure, but that’s because we worked together and targeted him! I helped! I mean, except when I didn’t. I did get her pretty good with a Flying Squirrel.” Rocky’s positive vibes were undeterred. He responded to Stu’s correction without a hint of defensiveness. Stu remained unimpressed.
“She threw you out of the ring.”
“Which was AWESOME! Also, what the shit? What are they feeding kids in Japan? A teenage girl threw me out of the ring. That’s insane. It was INSANE.”
Rocky’s positive vibes were briefly derailed by minor confusion. “What?”
“Kohime’s 21. Not a girl. Woman. A 21-year-old woman threw you out of the ring.”
Positive vibes re-engaged. “Fine, a 21-year-old woman threw me out of the ring. INSANE!” An outsider might guess Rocky’s coffee intake at approximately 2 pots within the preceding hour.
“You’re very energetic and seemingly happy for someone who didn’t win.”
“I also didn’t lose.”
“Perhaps most importantly, I didn’t lose. And it was fun. So much fun. It felt right. It felt like I belonged there. It felt like I would have been making mi papi proud – even if I did get tossed like a sack of potatoes by a young woman.”
“Not even a particularly heavy sack of potatoes.”
“Not even a particularly heavy sack of potatoes.” Rocky agreed, and swung his leg over the back of a metal folding chair in a perfect execution of the Riker maneuver before he sat.
“Well, Sugar, it’s a darn good thing you enjoyed it, because I suspect you’ll have many more opportunities to get tossed like a bunch o’ russets.” Cindy took an opportunity to chime in. Rocky and Stu had practically forgotten she was there, which was impressive given the dayglo orange tracksuit with white pinstripe accents she was wearing. She stood from the chair she’d been watching and listening from, and she began to walk back to the office. “I better not see you get thrown out of the ring again in your next match, though.”
“Oh yeah?” Rocky grinned, “What’s gonna happen if you do?”
She stopped next to Rocky and put a hand on his shoulder. She turned and batted her big brown eyes as she stared seemingly all the way into Rocky’s soul.
“Ah’ll tell Daddy you wolf-whistled at me on mah way back from lunch.”
“Oh, now that’s just mean.” Rocky’s shoulders fell as the reality of his situation became abundantly clear.
“It does seem an rather unreasonable escalation, Miss Walker,” Stu sided with his protégé.
“Them’s the breaks. Win or don’t come back, darlin’.” She winked and popped her gum as she sashayed off.
— Two weeks later —
Rocky slapped his towel over the ropes as he hopped out of the ring for a water break.
“Your roundhouse kick is sloppy. You’re 3 degrees off of optimal, and your rotational velocity is too low. Snap your hips more as you go into it.” Stu recited in a near monotone as he stared at his laptop. He almost seemed… distracted.
“What are you looking at, Stu?” Rocky could tell Stu wasn’t totally present at the moment, but Stu wasn’t the type to let something non-wrestling invade his training sessions.
Stu turned the laptop around. Rocky’s excitement quickly grew as he saw the ReVival 23 match card. He’d been given a breather for ReVival 22, but he was almost desperate to get back in the ring.
He instinctively scanned the card starting with the headliner matches and working his way down. He found his name at the very bottom. That’s fine – I’m new. It’s gonna take time to climb the ladder. Then his gaze drifted to the right…
“…McGee? Again?” Rocky was puzzled and almost in disbelief at what he saw.
“McGee. Again.” Stu was not.
“But I already beat him.”
“As we ascertained previously, no. You did not. Mori beat McGee. You beat the ramp, I think. I suppose there wasn’t a formal three count, so… hard to give you that one either.”
Rocky winced as he recalled the sensation brought about by mimicking the end of the flight path of a sack of potatoes. He sighed.
“I get it. I’m 0-0-1. Still gotta prove I can do it without the help of a magical girl anime lead, I guess. Shouldn’t be too bad.”
“I agree. To help you prepare, I’ve brought you an artificial intelligence powered training dummy which is designed to perfectly emulate the technical level of McGee’s abilities.”
Rocky looked into the ring and saw what was propped vertically against the opposite corner. “Stu, that’s a mop.”
“Yes. A very bendy mop, though.” Stu attempted to hide his grin.
“Come on, man, I have to at least pretend to take this guy seriously.” Rocky pulled the mop out of the ring and set it back in its bucket against the gym wall before heading over to the speed bag. Stu followed, and responded as Rocky began to get into a rhythm with the bag.
“Oh, you definitely have to take him seriously. He’s insane.” whappity whappity whap
“What, does he use some crazy moves or tactics one on one?” whappity whappity whap
“No, I mean he’s legitimately certifiably insane.” Stu opened his laptop, opened Jabber, and turned the machine to show Rocky. whappity whappity whappity WHUD
Rocky looked briefly away from the speed bag which earned him a bag to the face. He huffed out a frustrated breath, grabbed the bag to stop its pendulous swing, and focused on the screen. He saw message after message of McGeeHR spouting off about a “monster.”
“Man, Stu, why are you wasting my time on this shit? He’s just playing around in a chat room.” whappity whappity whappity
“Oh, I’m not wasting your time. You should read deeper. One second…” whappity whappity whappity
Stu quickly used keyboard shortcuts to extract all of McGee’s posts from the past three weeks. “There, you see?” whappitywhappitywhappitywhappitywapwapwapwapwapwapwa-
“See what?” Rocky turned, but caught the bag this time. “He wants to be a monster in the ring? He wants people to think he’s aggressive. Ooooooo scary. Insanity oooooooo.”
“No, Rocky. He doesn’t want people to think he’s a monster in the ring. He legitimately thinks he’s a monster. He does not believe he is human.”
Rocky disengaged from the bag, narrowed his eyes, and focused on Stu. “You cannot be serious.”
“Oh, I’m quite serious. I’ve been monitoring his progression for some time. The language patterns he uses aren’t just changing in the way of a person who just wants to be perceived differently. When someone does that, they still have their own voice – they sound like themselves. McGee… McGee is legitimately changing, and not for the better. I don’t pretend to have a psych degree, but I would not rule out schizophrenia as a legitimate concern. ”
“Ok, so he’s insane. So… what now?”
“Oh, nothing. Train like you have been, wipe the floor with him. If you’re lucky, he dissociates in the ring and you can knock him out in the second or two that his brain goes to Krypton or wherever.”
“Krypton exploded, Stu.”
“All the more reason you should hope his mind tries to go there.”
It was nearly midnight when Rocky returned to Laredo from Donny’s Gym. He parked in the garage; the light from the garage door opener turned off before he made it to the door to the house. He moved slowly from physical exhaustion. McGee may be a lower ranked opponent, but that didn’t stop Rocky from training for the next one, which was guaranteed to be a bigger challenge.
He sluggishly trudged his way through the halls, but he bypassed his bedroom. He turned down a hallway and reached up to grasp a thin white cord with a small brass ball on the end. He pulled gently and a hidden ladder descended from the ceiling leading into the attic. He climbed up, flicking the light switch located just at the threshold between hallway ceiling and attic, and dragged his legs up into the musty space.
He located a box which was unlabeled, but which he clearly recognized. The only marking on it was a drawing of a lion. It was crude, but clean – drawn to *look* like a young child had done it without actually being drawn by a child. Rocky opened the lid and pulled out a mahogany box with brass hinges. A placard rested in the center of the lid with scripted engraving reading Sgt. de Leon. He lifted the lid revealing a purple heart with accompanying ribbon pinned to a velvet covered cushion. Rocky ran his fingers over the ribbon before picking up a news clipping from the Laredo Morning Times.
April 17, 2003
LAREDO, Texas: Laredo native and lifetime resident Sergeant Mateo de Leon of the United States Army was awarded the purple heart this week upon his return from participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom. De Leon was severely wounded in an effort to save two of his subordinates who had taken fire from insurgents near Baghdad. During his attempt to drag the wounded soldiers to safety, an RPG struck a nearby vehicle. De Leon was struck in both legs by a large piece of shrapnel. His subordinates did not survive the blast. Field medics managed to safely remove De Leon from the combat zone, but he lost both legs as a result of his injuries. He was honorably discharged, and is set to return home to Laredo on Saturday…
He closed the case and picked up a white envelope, opening it to examine the contents. He flipped through a thick stack of photographs. The vast majority showed Mateo before the accident, vibrant and full of life. Rocky paused on a picture of Mateo holding a young boy high in the air. Mateo was dressed in urban camouflage. Even through the BDUs, you could tell he was in amazing shape, somehow. The little boy was chubby with a smile ten miles wide. He wore cotton shorts with a drawstring on the outside, no shoes, and a white shirt with a stylized cartoon lucha mask.
Another photo shows Mateo with a boy between the ages of eight and ten. The glossy tableau depicted Mateo flailing in “pain” from an arm bar performed by the boy, still chubby and smiling. Mateo had donned a clearly homemade lucha mask styled after a lion for the event. Rocky smiled, and a drop of liquid hit the photograph. He did not worry about the moisture – all of the photographs had been digitally scanned and preserved. He was not sure why, but he always preferred to look at the physical versions.
Several pictures later, the boy was an awkward teen. Having stretched vertically didn’t seem to remove terribly much of his baby fat. He wasn’t smiling anymore, but Mateo smiled for him from his wheelchair. The smile wasn’t the same. The lips were curled, but the laugh lines were gone. It was forced. He was putting on a show, but the boy was having none of it.
A half an hour later, Rocky reached the last photograph. Mateo had lost weight, mostly muscle mass. He was lying in a bed, eyes closed, his head resting on the shoulder of a woman of similar age. Clear plastic tubes led from Mateo’s nose and wrist to various bits of machinery. Her legs extended the length of the bed as she sat up, using the headboard like the back of a chair. She curled her left arm around Mateo’s shoulders, and her right curled under his chin and back up so she could pet his hair and provide comfort. A tear track ran down the woman’s right cheek, though she displayed no visual sign of sobbing.
Rocky replaced the photographs and pulled out a worn vinyl and cloth mask. It had a fake fur ruffle around the edges. The white of the fangs had worn off, but their shape remained. He turned the mask inside out and passed over the signature Mateo de Leon with his fingers. Unlike the woman in the photograph, he did not maintain composure. Rocky clutched the mask tightly in his fists and held it to his chest as he sobbed until he had no energy left to sob, no fluid left for tears, and no ability to deny the sandman another nightly victim.
“I’m going to destroy him.” Rocky burst through the door of Donny’s gym and headed to the office with total disregard for any person or item in his path. Several folding chairs collapsed to the ground in his wake. One janitor’s job was made harder when Rocky stomped over his mopping. Rocky realized what had happened when his boot slipped a bit on the floor. In a brief moment of abject horror, he rushed to the janitor, apologized, took the mop, and remopped the area upon which he had trudged. He then resumed his determined march until he reached the door to the office. He opened it with determination, if not undue force. The top hinge to the office door protested at being made to do its job quite so rapidly, but otherwise the oak panel felt reasonably well respected.
“I’m going to destroy him, Stu.” Rocky repeated, resolute. “I’m going to take his weak, pasty, pathetic office worker back, bend it over my knee until it breaks in twain, and throw him to the ground.”
“Breaks in twain?” Cindy mouthed incredulously at Stu who had stopped typing and was simply staring expressionless at Rocky.
“I’m going to throw him into the corner and remind him he’s good for nothing but telling people not to make racist jokes or make out in the break room. Then I’m going to pick him up and hurl him from the ring.”
“Seems like a solid plan.” Stu risked interrupting.
“And if that dude has even one neuron that considers getting back up, I’m going to Flying Squirrel his ass from the top rope in such a way that he can’t and SKREE in his face until my throat is raw. McGee is going to regret showing up. PRIME is going to know my name, and know it wasn’t Mori that beat McGee, just that she pinned McGee. And if he can still work up the energy to move after it’s all done, maybe, just maybe, I’ll tell him good game and buy him a coffee that he can drink through his IV.”
“Did it, uh… is it gettin’ a little warm in here?” Cindy blushes a little and fans herself with a paper copy of the ReVival 23 card.
“My estimate is that Rocky’s energy expenditures since entering the room raised the ambient temperature by perhaps 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps a bit more the smaller the locus around his body. After saying that out loud, however, I have also come to suspect that may not have been your true inquiry.” Stu bashfully looks back at his laptop screen.
“Gosh darnit, Stu, sometimes Ah swear…” Cindy mutters under her breath and takes a drink of water.
“At any rate, Rocky, I was prepared to go over various movesets, probabilities, and energy planning with you, but… I think that’s unnecessary.” Stu closes the laptop.
“Unnecessary? Didn’t you hear me just now? I need to wipe the floor with this weasel. This match needs to be perfect.”
“Yes, but there are times when models and math get in the way.”
Cindy gasped in mock shock.
“I know, I can hardly believe it myself. Nonetheless… I think it would be best to let you take this one on instinct.”
“Fine. Fine by me. McGee may not have managed to personally land a punch or even a verbal attack on me, but I cannot abide that man. I disagree with everything he stands for. He wants to come in here and talk about how he created the HR department at Ann Taylor Lofts from the ground up? What about the policies that mandate overtime during the holidays, huh? What about making underpaid common folk like us work nights and weekends away from their families that they can barely afford to eat and never see?”
Cindy and Stu’s expressions changed from relaxed and playful as they focused on Rocky, both paying rapt attention to their wrestler as his eyes displayed a focus and determination they’d not seen before. Something was happening, but they weren’t completely sure what. Cindy looked into Rocky’s eyes and held her drink in her lap, her fingers interlocked around the front of her water bottle with one thumb rubbing the other nervously behind. Stu stared straight forward, his body and face betraying no emotion. Rocky continued, unphased and undeterred.
“My father fought for the people. He fought, sweated, and bled so that the very people McGee claims to provide benefit to could have the freedom to elevate themselves to a better life. All the while, McGee sits in his office knowing full well that Human Resources is a department designed to, guess what, consider human beings resources instead of individuals with dignity and deserving of respect.”
Cindy gripped her cup tighter and took a sip from her straw. Stu pushed his glasses up and allowed a faint hint of a smile to hit the left corner of his mouth. The air was practically vibrating with the energy emanating from Rocky.
“HR isn’t for the people – it’s for the corporation. Its purpose is ensuring the wallets of the investors stay safe, that the that the steel worker goes home with enough money in his pocket for a six pack of beer or a doll for his daughter but never enough for both, even though the owner of the mill drives a Porsche. That the rancher wakes up every morning believing he is just one more season away from retiring to his sprawling acres… I’m talking the American dream here, guys. A dream that the corporations sell people while paying juuuuust enough to keep them alive and promising the world. McGee knows it’s a false bill of goods, and he does not deserve to live in the country Mateo de Leon gave his legs and life for.”
By this time, all of the other wrestlers and trainers in the gym had gathered around the door to the office. They milled about pretending not to be eavesdropping, but it’s hard to claim you’re not an audience when four of you try to mop or sweep the same spot at the same time. The janitor was taking a much needed break on a folding chair by the wall, happy to let pretenders do his work for him. Stu and Cindy were on the edge of their seats.
“He thinks the people are afraid of him? Afraid of a “monster?” They’re not afraid of him. They see him for what he is – a corporate shill. A willing cog in the massive machine that’s held down the working man with wage stagnation and a growing class divide for the last 60 years. They aren’t afraid of him and his Kia Tomato – they’re ready to stand up against him and every disgusting thing he stands for, and I’m their champion. He’s about to come face to face with a Fully. Dicked. Pterodactyl. SKREE.” At this, Rocky jumped on a desk and adopted a spread eagle stance as though he had, in fact, become the pterodactyl.
“Oh. My.” Cindy’s eyes were wide as she looked at and perhaps really saw Rocky for the first time.
“You may wanna buy some longer shorts there, kid,” Donny burped as he walked through the office, taking a beer with him through a door in the back Rocky never noticed before. Rocky blushed and quickly stepped down from the desk.
“Hold up, I’m sorry, ‘Fully Dicked Pterodactyl?’” Stu adopted a look of rarely displayed confusion.
“I’m still workshopping it.”
“Maybe keep going.”
Cindy smirked. “Dunno, Ah think Ah kinda like it.”
Stu rubs at his temples. The gang hears a toilet flush behind them and Donny comes out the door of what is, apparently, his private bathroom. As he does up his belt, he looks over toward Rocky, “You mean all that shit that just flew outcher mouth, boy?”
“You’re damned right I do, sir.”
Donny took a sip of his beer and burped quietly. “Heh. You just might have a shot in the business after all.”