“Y’ain’t cut out f’r this, Louise.”
“Fuck you, Bill.”
“Y’don’ knaw th’ furst damb thang ‘bout raisin’ a pup, wumman.”
“Like you do?”
“Better’n ya, Ah kin say ‘n full cawnfudence. The roawd’ll make ‘m hard. Make ‘im strawng. Make ‘im wan ‘f us. I’s in ‘is bludd, affer awll.”
“Last thing this world needs, Bill, is any more of ‘us’. Why do you think I had this little shit in the first place? ‘Doin’ your part’, you called it. Offerin’ me up to the whole locker room for twenty bucks a pump.”
“Y’re barrly warth ten, y’damb whoore. I’s haw we dun biznuss, an’ staid aflowt all thum yurrs.”
“Easy for you to say, asshole. I don’t want this kid on my hands any more’n you do, but so long as–ERIK GET THAT FUCKIN’ FORK OUTTA THE OUTLET, YOU DUMBASS–so long as it gets me far the fuck away from the likes of you and the other boys, then I could give a damb how he turns out.”
“…s’be it, Louise. Jus’ don’ come craawlin’ back whunnit awll b’comes too mush fur ya t’handull.”
“Get outta my house, Bill. And go fuck yourself on the way out.”
A soft fade in from black precludes the appearance of Simon Tillier, pensively looking into the camera.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” he greets in earnest. “Simon Tillier here, on assignment in…”
He trails off and surveys his surroundings.
The junior reporter is seated within a room seemingly from another world. The walls are obscured behind vibrant red curtains, and the floor is a mesmerizing black and white chevron pattern. Aside from a few chairs, a few lamps, and a replica Venus de Medici statue standing vigilant in the background, there are scant furnishings or features.
“In what I’m assuming is a reference I don’t get…” Simon says, finishing his sentence. “But perhaps to shed some light on that, joining me here tonight is the one known to the PRIME Faithful as ‘the Escape Artist’, Rezin.”
Seated nearby in a black chair of his own, Rezin intently stares back at the interviewer.
Tonight, he’s looking uncharacteristically formal in a sanguine red suit. His skullet is combed back, and his beard is for once looking well-groomed.
He almost looks like an ordinary, well-adjusted human being.
“Well, Rezin, I suppose we should begin by talking about the past year,” says Simon. “For PRIME Wrestling, it marked the first chapter of the ‘Revival Era’. And for you, a remarkable first year with the company. That being said, what are your thoughts on all that’s happened over the past twelve months?”
Again, Rezin maintains his silence and continues to stare.
Something feels off. There’s no maniacal glint in his eye. No sporadic twitching in his face and limbs. It’s arguably the most stoic and sober he’s appeared yet in PRIME… which, along with the liminal space of this strange room, makes this encounter all the more unsettling.
Rezin is typically a dumpster fire of unstable, edgy energy. But the person currently seated across from the junior reporter has all the calmness–and lurking danger–of unexploded ordnance.
After a beat, he tilts his head to the side.
“This year has been a helluva ride, eh, Simon?” he says dreamily, as if coming off the longest delayed response in the history of stonerdom. “For the both of us.”
Simon ruefully nods in agreement. “Thanks to you, I’m inclined to agree.”
A grin forms on Rezin’s face, as a bit of his dastardly nature resurfaces from his subdued calmness.
“Seems like only yesterday, I was gettin’ thrown out of a van like yesterday’s trash,” reminisces the Goat Bastard. “Only to land at the feet of a young, naive, fresh-faced normie with a mic in his hand and confusion on his face. But look at ya now… practically born again hard. Fearlessly flyin’ all the way out here to Indiana just to interview the man that’s tormented ya these past few months.”
The Escape Artist gives the bespectacled correspondent a nod of respect.
“Pretty damb PUNK ROCK of ya, Simon, I’ll give you that.”
Simon nods in gratitude. “I… thank you for saying that, Rezin,” says the interviewer, not quite as “junior” as before. “I still remember that first interview you mentioned. Quite the introduction, to say the least. And I must admit, I had my doubts about the possibility of your success here in PRIME back then. But, color me impressed. Against all expectations, you’ve established yourself as one of the company’s top stars.”
“I don’t blame ya for thinkin’ that way back then,” says the dopesmoking daredevil. “Truth be told, I didn’t think much of myself either. But maybe my work this year was less about provin’ the doubters wrong, so much as it was about provin’ to myself that I always had it in me.”
He leans forward and begins rubbing his palms together, intensely focusing on something lightyears away from this current point in time and space.
“I coulda just as easily been another Miles Lucky. Or Solomon Richards. Or Tapioca Puddings. Or Alexander Redding. Or Mikey Unlikely. Or Cecilia Ryan. Or Pete Whealdon. Or Buster Gloves. I coulda easily fizzled out and faded away like any of those forgotten ones… but somehow, this fire kept burnin’. Unsatiated. Uncompromisin’. Never acceptin’ satisfaction, and always hungry.”
He sits back in his seat, eyes finding the interviewer again, magnetic grin finding his face.
“And so, here I am. Wiser? Stronger? Maybe, maybe not. But certainly changed. Evolved.”
“Which brings us to now,” says Simon. “One week away from Colossus, where you are set to face what is indisputably the greatest challenge yet. Four corners for the Five Star Champion, against the likes of the rising star Nate Colton, the legendary Brandon Youngblood, and the man who took the title from you, FLAMBERGE.”
Rezin looks up, as though listening to soundless music floating through the air.
Ever the committed journalist, Tillier clears his throat and presses forward. “So now I’m compelled to ask, what’s going through your mind right now? How are you preparing yourself for this battle?”
The Escape Artist remains silent for a moment as he formulates an answer, drawing in an elongated deep breath and slowly letting it out.
Finally, he looks back to the interviewer…
“The only way I know how, Simon,” he says. “By bein’ the best of what I am.”
Tillier blinks in confusion as Rezin abruptly rises to his feet.
“Elaborate on that,” he says, trying to stay on topic.
Rezin stares at him blankly.
Rezin begins walking, gesturing for Simon to follow. The reporter is noticeably hesitant, as it isn’t readily apparent where Rezin is going, considering this “room” has no entrance or exit in the conventional sense.
Not to mention, following the Goat Bastard anywhere is an act many would consider fit for a fool.
But whether it be the call of professionalism, or just general curiosity, Simon Tillier comes to his feet and elects to follow the madman deeper down this rabbit hole.
Rezin arrives at the red curtains at the perimeter of the room… and with a sudden flutter, they suddenly rise out of view, revealing an endless sea of darkness surrounding the two as far as the eye can see.
Into the void, Rezin wanders. Tepidly, Simon wanders after him. The two men leave behind an illuminated island of zig-zagging flooring, embarking further into the ocean of black abyss that surrounds them.
Around them, the light fades. A flash of orange light briefly reveals the Goat Bastard’s twisted face, as he ceremoniously lights one up.
“Where are we going?” asks Simon, like any normal, rational-minded human being would.
Rezin, being anything but, answers in the only way he knows how.
“I never quite know,” he says. “Which is why I stopped asking that question long, long ago.”
The interview continues, although the venue has changed.
Simon Tillier looks around the room in genuine bewilderment. “Wait a sec, where are we? How did we get here?”
He finds himself sitting at a round wooden table somewhere in the back of what appears to be a creaky roadhouse bar. It’s a spacious joint, suited for local flavor, equipped with a standard bar, dance floor, and a stage, which currently harbors a dream pop band filling the air with strange and hypnotic music.
The other tables are all occupied by local patrons who quietly watch the band on stage in eerie, transfixed silence. There is no standard conversational din that one would hear in a crowded dive bar.
“Try not to think too much about it, Simon,” says Rezin from the seat beside the interviewer. “All ya need to know is that you’re in the passenger seat, and I’m behind the wheel. Just enjoy the ride.”
Tillier’s face fills with skepticism. “You being ‘behind the wheel’, as you put it, isn’t very reassuring…”
Rezin shrugs indifferently. His face carries the same calm, knowing expression it’s had since the camera began rolling.
“If I were you, I’d just focus on the questions ya came to ask.”
Simon nods, knowing he still has a job to do. “Right, well… perhaps you’d like to discuss your opponents at Colossus?”
The hiss of a match being struck fills the air. Rezin lights the end of a spliff and indulges himself with a long, savory drag of dopesmoke.
“What needs to be discussed that hasn’t already been said, Simon?” he says with a shrug. “FLAMBO and I have done the dance twice at this point. We split the diff on the wins. I’d say we know each other between those ropes pretty well by now, and my opinion hasn’t really changed.
“Whether the rest of PRIME choose to love him or hate him, nobody can deny that the kid can bring it. He wouldn’t be champ now if that weren’t the case.
“But now he’s in the exact same position I found myself in right after the honeymoon following Great American Nightmare came to an end. Now he’s the one to beat.
“And it just so happens that in his first defense, he’s steppin’ in the ring with three dudes with every reason to want to kick his ass.
“Maybe the kid can step up and stun the world again. Either way, he’s gonna learn the hard way that provin’ ya can take a belt ain’t anything like provin’ ya can carry it.
“As for Youngblood…”
Rezin’s eyes widen slightly, the only break thus far in his otherwise placid demeanor. He takes another long drag off the joint to collect himself.
“Kinda common knowledge by this point that the dude is a fuggin’ beast, ain’t it? He ain’t called the Diamond of PRIME for nothing. I can safely say that Cocaine Bear ain’t got SHIT on Brandon Youngblood.
“And let’s be honest, neither do I, regardless of what some might think about me.
“Nine out of ten times, barrin’ some sort of fluke, he’d probably plant me head-first into that canvas and bury me up to my knees, lickity split.”
“So… what about the tenth time?” Simon asks, daringly.
A wry smile creeps across the face of the Goat Bastard.
“One on one is one thing,” he says ominously. “But with four guys in the ring, anything can happen. So the real question is, how long can he go through all that without turnin’ his back to me? All I need to do is stay the hell out of the way and wait for the moment to strike. Then sit back, and watch the Tower crumble…”
Rezin inhales again, savoring the smoke by letting it flow through his nostrils. Simon nods and continues.
“Finally, rounding out this match, we have the eager rising star,” he says. “The young Nate Colton.”
Rezin’s smile fades. His eyes leave the stage and go to the floor as he gets lost in thought.
“The two of you have crossed paths quite a few times in recent weeks, haven’t you?” needles the junior reporter. “I’d almost go as far to say that there’s been some unspoken tension between you two fellow Hoosiers. So tell us, what exactly is going on between you and Nate?”
Rezin remains silent. Simon is about to inquire again…
…until he becomes aware of a noise filling the air. An ethereal ringing, increasing in volume.
Tillier, already on edge in this unfamiliar environment, scans the room. The other patrons continue to obliviously watch the stage. Only the junior reporter seems to be aware of the swelling drone.
The ringing grows louder. The music fades. The band fades with it.
In their place stands a towering giant of man, ensconced within the halo of a bright spotlight.
He also happens to be wearing a horned helmet.
From across the room, Olvir Arsvinnar the Viking Accountant stares at the confused junior reporter.
“It’s happening again,” says the Norseman, who has doubtlessly been coerced to do this bit role in his friend’s asinine tribute to a thirty-year-old cult television show.
Simon, dumbfounded, scoffs.
And that’s when the spotlight suddenly cuts.
The interview finds itself displaced into yet another location.
Simon Tillier and Rezin are sitting across from one another on either side of a plain square table.
“Okay, where the heck are we now?” the incredulous interviewer demands of his guest.
They’re in a scummy, dilapidated room. Other figures are lined against the back wall, silently watching their palaver. Thick-bearded woodsmen. An old woman. A creepy kid in a pastel white mask.
“Above a convenience store,” Rezin cryptically answers without answering, and begins running his hands across the marbled surface between them with a strange sense of importance. “This is a formica table. Green is its color.”
Simon Tillier has reached DEFCON 5 in what-the-fuckery.
“Seriously, Rezin, this is getting a little too weird. Like, what’s the significant of this? And I mean, how many people in PRIME do you think have actually SEEN Twin Peaks? Cause I know I haven’t. And I’m just saying, you might be alienating some of the core audience by going this far into the weeds with–”
“I HAVE THE FURY OF MY OWN MOMENTUM!!” booms the Goat Bastard to cut him off.
Simon groans with exasperation when he comes to the grim realization that he’s not going to get a satisfactory answer.
“You asked me about Nate Colton?”
Simon recomposes himself and nods, not outright saying anything lest he provoke another outburst in absurdity.
Rezin’s creeping grin spreads wide as he leans back in his seat.
“The Five Star Championship is what’s at stake here… but I’d be lyin’ to ya if I said it was my sole focus in this match. What I’m really lookin’ forward to is this old goat lockin’ horns with the young buck. I wanna slap that dambable smile off his young, endearing face. To me, that’s a reward greater than any title.”
Simon inquisitively arches his brow. “But why? You still haven’t revealed your beef with him.”
Rezin smacks his lips and shrugs.
“It’s strange, Simon… but you’re absolutely. I don’t have a single good reason to justify the way I feel about him.
“He ain’t a bad kid. He’s kind. Wholesome. Honest.”
Rezin gazes into his own filth-caked palms.
He looks back to Simon.
“The kinda guy who hands the belt over back to his rival, because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do.
“Ain’t any real logic in having any beef with someone like that.
“So maybe I’m just jealous of the kid, as petty as that may sound. Cause I didn’t have a daddy to raise me ‘right’ and teach me how to wrestle.”
Simon’s attention is drawn to an electrical buzzing emanating from the wall, like the circuits have gone haywire. Meanwhile, Rezin continues his soliloquy.
“Maybe it’s because he’s from that part of Indiana that gives the Midwest its warm, wholesome image, and I’m from the part of Indiana that’s made up of mobile homes and meth labs.”
The buzzing gets louder. A surge of energy causes the lights in the room to brighten unnaturally.
“Or maybe it’s cause I see a kindred warrior spirit deep within him. Buried beneath that easy life of having everything handed to him without anything or anyone there to challenge his principles.”
More buzzing. Sirens. Screeching. The shrill noise is coming from everywhere. And yet, all but Simon are deaf to the cacophony.
“Maybe the fighter in me just wants to scrape that part out of him in all its glory, to see where the kid’s heart really is.”
One by one, the surge causes the lights to overload and fizzle out…
“Cause if he ain’t got the fire in him…”
…until the room goes dark.
“I’ll be happy to lend him some of my own.”
The interview location hops yet again.
The green glow of dashboard instruments lights the faces of Rezin and Tillier. Headlights cut just a few feet out in front of the rolling vehicle, revealing a small patch of black asphalt and yellow stripes sweeping by.
All else is pitch.
“If you’re wondering where we’re going…” begins Rezin from behind the wheel, sparking up a fat blunt off his Zippo lighter.
“Don’t worry, I won’t ask,” Simon responds. “By now, I figure that not knowing is the whole point.”
“Took a whole goddamb year, but I finally got something across to you,” he pontificates. “Nobody ever really knows where they’re goin’. Especially me. So I don’t waste time thinkin’ about it. I just GO.”
His eyes remain staring out beyond the windshield, even though he can’t see more than ten feet in front of the car, silently making its way through the pall of night, destination unknown.
“I didn’t plan on winnin’ the Five Star Championship any more than I planned on losin’ it. And honestly, a part of me was prepared to move on from all this championship tomfoolery, gettin’ my happy ass back to some good ol’ fashioned carnage and chaos.
“But I guess I’m just too damb PUNK ROCK to be anything one of this company’s toughest motherfuggers to blaze up that ring, so yet again, here I am in the runnin’.
“Didn’t ask for it, or want it really… but I ain’t inclined to walk away from it either. All that matters is it gives me another chance to be the best of what I am.”
Simon turns his attention from the road to his interview guest. “But… what IS being the best of what you are?”
Rezin gestures to the dark world around them.
“Ain’t this it?
“Jumpin’ on my greater impulses? Doin’ whatever I please, regardless of who I face or what’s at stake?
“Flyin’ you all the way out here to drag you through a series of elaborate Twin Peaks references, just for the fuck of it?
“Like I said, it’s been a helluva ride this year, Simon. A real rollercoaster. I’m just keepin’ that ride rollin’ along. Cause reflectin’ on all this triumph and failure has got this ol’ dopesmoker finally realizin’ what his best self is.
“It’s bein’ FREE…
“Free from the shackles of self-control. Free from the burden of constantly wondering if what I’m doin’ is actually enough. Free from worryin’ about the merit or meaning of the words I speak.
“No plans. No reservations. Just GOING. Just bein’ PUNK ROCK.
“Cause now I finally understand, that come what may…”
Rezin looks to Simon… and the dastardly grin appears on his face as his hand touches the knob controlling the lights.
“I will always ESCAPE.”
Simon opens his mouth in protest, but Rezin flicks his fingers…
And everything fades to VOID.
Like black water seeping into a sponge, lucid consciousness returns to Erik Black.
Where am I?
A question he’s all too familiar with asking of himself.
Then the fog begins to clear.
He’s standing before the commode in the small bathroom of 4266 Morningside Lane, plunger in hand.
The walls and floor are caked in human excrement.
HE is caked in human excrement.
Recent memories up to the moment he blacked out begin to trickle back into his mind. He remembers something of a battle of epic proportions worthy of a Melville novel taking place in this tiny room. He remembers the vigorous, violent, and absurdly messy act of plunging.
He remembers plunging the toilet so damn hard in the attempt to slay the Brown Whale to his Ahab that it sent him beyond time and space and into a part of his memory so buried and forgotten that he can’t immediately tell if it was something out of his childhood or just another acid flashback.
“…who the fuck is Bill?” he says aloud to himself.
But of course, the only one who could answer that has been dead for years.