“‘Appy burthday, boah…”
“Y’don’ reggunize y’r own fambly, d’ya?”
“T’sfine, I s’pose. Jus’ know i’s muh bludd runnin’ through y’r veins, boah.
“Strawng bludd. Black bludd.
“Th’blood of gawldamb CHAMPY’ns.
“Y’r jus’ a pup naow… bu’ wunna dese days, y’r gonna fin’ly reggonahze whut y’are. Whut y’can be.”
“An’ when th’day ‘rrives, boah… y’come lookin’ f’r me.”
“ERIK WHERE THE FUCK IS THE TV REMOTE!? Goddambit, I need a cigare–”
“Hullo, Louise. Good t’see ya.”
“The HELL you doin’ here!?”
“T’see th’ boah awn ‘is burthday, Louise. Ah gawt th’RAAIGHT, ain’t Ah?”
“Take a picture, and ya can see the little snot any time ya want! Otherwise, stay the fuck away from him, stay the fuck away from me, and stay the fuck away from this place! Ya hear?”
“Y’can’t d’annythin’ t’stawp me, Louise. B’saahds, e’s fambly.”
“He ain’t ever gonna be a part of your sick idea of a ‘family’, Bill! Now get outta here, before I call the cops!”
The words escape Erik Black as he is suddenly and violently torn out of the void of sleep and thrust back into the shitty, unforgiving realm of reality.
But speaking of things being shitty…
He finds himself in a small room surrounded by four walls that were once white, but are now chaotic tapestries of marker graffiti and black stickers with illegible band logos. Beyond those walls, he can both hear and feel the dull hum and thump of a punk rock band performing in the next room.
Next to him is a rusty sink. Beneath him is an equally rusty commode. Within that rusty commode is a sight (and smell) of ungodly proportions, that can best be described as–
Two demanding thumps on the latched door save us from any further description.
Black clears his throat and grumbles something unintelligible to pass off as a question as his conscious mind sputters back to life like a disused motor.
“Dude, hurry up in there, will ya?” calls the voice from the other side of the door.
The memory of his dream is still a resounding echo within the deeper, more cavernous reaches of his mind, but one that is slowly fading. He tries to hang onto something, but the voices of his past are slowly drowned out by the thoughts of the present.
“One sec…” he finally responds, then cleans up and expels yet another one of his life’s many mistakes into the realm of non-existence that is the Indianapolis sewage system.
As he exits the music venue’s tiny men’s room and returns to the main room, he finds himself on the receiving end of a reproachful glare from the golden-maned hesher who had been forced to wait. He steps aside to make way for the new occupant, who brushes by and slams the door behind him.
A second later, he hears the muffled cry from beyond the door as the unlucky man traps himself within the stench left in the Goat Bastard’s wake.
“MY GOD, WHAT DO YOU EAT?!”
Erik Black smiles for the first time on his birthday.
Stepping out of one dream and diving into another, he pushes himself into and weaves through the modestly-sized crowd of show-goers on the floor. The place is packed with a crowd of scenesters who were hungry for music that came at them fast and loud.
On the stage, Mr. Clit and the Pink Cigarettes are in the process of finishing their last song. Erik evidently missed half the set thanks in part to his septic-infused snooze.
Though not much of a frequenter of public establishments, Indy’s Black Circle Brewing is one of few joints where he is most comfortable, because he fits right in. The bands there played his kind of music, and the regular crowd that came out to see them were his kind of people.
Clusters scruffy, balding, middle-aged crustpunks and metalheads clad in patch-covered battlevests and leather jackets could be seen in all directions. It’s one of few places where he doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Here, he could be invisible.
After some swaying and squeezing, he finally makes it back to the bar where he left his beverage. His seat is thankfully still open, thanks in part to the individual who naggingly insisted on taking him out for a drink for his birthday.
“Thought you might have died in there,” remarks Rocko Daymon.
Shaking his head, Erik slides back onto his stool. “Nah… if anything, I mighta be reborn.”
He reclaims his now room temperature 8.5% ABV aptly-named “This Will Frog You Up” Belgian-style dubbel and gives it a long swig, doing his best to ignore the look of confusion being cast by the man seated beside him.
“Can I ask ya a personal question, Rock?” Erik begins with a belch. “Ya ever taken a shit so massive, it kinda sorta launched ya up through time and space, to the point where it started resurfacin’ old memories?”
Daymon shakes his head like a man who obviously doesn’t know how to answer that. “I think you need to lay off the chalupas, Erik. Sounds like all that fire sauce is having some adverse effects with all the other… chemicals inside of you.”
“Eh, forget I said anything…” mutters Black in defeat as he takes another drink.
The band finishes their set and begins to break down. Awkward room silence follows, and Erik is again left thinking about what just happened in the tiny men’s room in the back of Black Circle Brewing.
Why was he having these weird flashbacks all of a sudden? And who the fuck is–
“Heads up,” says Rocko, tapping him on the arm and pointing up.
A small, ten inch tube television hung in the corner. Usually, it ran through old horror flicks from the establishment’s modest VHS collection.
Tonight, it was set to live television. And naturally, a commercial for Culture Shock begins to play.
Even without the audio, the presentation clearly puts heavy emphasis on the triple threat main event happening night one. On the screen appear the likenesses of Hayes Hanlon, Ivan Stanislav, and Black himself, with a graphical chain link fence rising up around them to simulate the cell.
Erik pulls the bill of his cap a bit lower, lest anybody there recognize him. Thankfully, the only one who does is seated right next to him, and has no intention of outing the Universal Champion in the one place where he doesn’t want to be seen.
“But while we’re on the topic of questions, here’s one I’ve had for you,” Rocko begins. “Were you seriously planning to walk, after you threw that belt down?”
Erik groans and takes another gulp of his Belgian dubbel. A major reason why he wanted to come to a punk and metal show for this “birthday outing” he had unwittingly been dragged into is the hope of avoiding a conversation with this douchebag.
Five minutes ago, the business with PRIME and the title felt like trivial matters that were a million miles away. But, he supposes, there is to be no getting away from it. Might as well talk to pass the time.
“Man, I don’t know…” he confesses. “I was just gettin’ pissed off, listenin’ to Troy shit on me in there. And, I mean, ya know how I get when I get pissed off.”
Briefly, Daymon gets lost in a thousand yard stare, recalling memories of being chased through Death Valley by a golf cart driven by a very irate Goat Bastard.
“Yeah, I can say that I do…”
“More often than not, I feel I just end up makin’ the situation worse,” Erik went on. “Alotta times, feels like my only option is to just say ‘fuck it’ and bail.”
Rocko thoughtfully sips at his sober-friendly diet cola. “Like with Colton, back at Twenty-Four?”
Erik slowly nods.
“I can look back now and see it was a mistake,” he says. “But fuck, man… if there’s one thing I know about me, it’s that in the heat of the moment, I ain’t really thinkin’ about the consequences to my actions. I figured, if I didn’t walk outta that match right then, dude was gonna get his head kicked in.”
“Removing yourself from a situation before making it worse, I think I can understand,” concurred Daymon. “But the Universal Title?”
Erik thinks about it, and shrugs.
“Ya know, it’s great and all, but I could do without all the ball-bustin’ that comes with bein’ at the top of the mountain. Suits like Van Horn, tellin’ me I’m ruinin’ their business. Or Troy, treatin’ me more as a liability than an asset. Like I’m a piece of fuckin’ property...”
Continuing to grumble to himself, Erik’s attention finds the stage again, where there is some new activity. The next band, a blackened thrash act named Graveripper, is in the process of setting up.
Beside him, Rocko continued to probe.
“Thing this is, though, when you represent the best in the industry–”
“Fuck, I am so tired of hearing that!” Erik swiftly cuts him off. “’Best in the industry’… what the fuck does that even mean? I just like wrestlin’, and I happen to be good at it. Doesn’t mean I care to be the face of any company.”
He turns in his seat and points into his chest.
“The belt is just an object. I am not. And I ain’t innerested in bein’ what others want me to be. I didn’t go to PRIME to fit any molds; I went there to break ’em.”
Daymon studies him for another beat, but opts to remain silent
“Only reason I need that belt is to bring the competition,” declares the Escape Artist. “And hopefully I have it, in Hayes and Ivan.”
The aging veteran wrestler takes another ponderous sip of his drink. “This time, though, you’ll be in the cell,” he points out. “And you must realize, you won’t have the option to walk away.”
Erik nods in acknowledgement.
“Thought never once entered my head,” he says. “They can say what they want about what I do or don’t walk away from, but a battle ain’t one of ’em. Nah, man… I live to face the music.”
As if on cue, the air fills with the crunch of electric guitars as the band on stage strums their opening notes.
Opting to leave Rocko at the bar, Erik grabs his drink, rises to his feet, and moves his way back through the crowd toward the front of the stage.
“Happy fuckin’ birthday to me…”
Three hours in the past and nearly two thousand miles away from Indianapolis, Olvir Arsvinnar, the Viking CPA, steps through the front door of his suburban Las Vegas home.
“Honey, I’m home!” his voice booms through the house.
“I’m in the kitchen,” Becky Arsvinnar calls from further in the house.
Ollie sets removes his horned helmet and places it onto the hat rack next to the door, as per his daily ritual when returning home from work. As he’s setting aside his briefcase, he feels his phone vibrate against his leg.
He pulls it out to find a new text. From Erik, of all people.
bro need a favor. look into somebuddy named ‘bill black’ when ya get the time.
Arsvinnar briefly ponders this request before stuffing the phone back into his pocket and filing the thought away for later. For now, he goes to the kitchen to greet his wife.
“Hey, Becks!” he says enthusiastically as he enters. “What’s for dinner?”
Mrs. Arsvinnar doesn’t answer his question. She’s standing in the corner of the room as though she’d been expecting him. Her face is blank and emotionless, but her eyes pointedly bore in on the Norseman.
It’s the look every husband dreads to come home to. The one that says without saying that he royally fucked up.
Her arm, fully extended in his direction, holds out a phone.
“Ragnar was sent home from school today,” she says coldly. “Because he was showing this to the other children…”
She taps the screen, starting a video that has already been queued to play.
From the phone’s tiny speaker, Ollie’s own boisterous voice still seems to boom large.
“BASK in my MIGHT, wench! Your WOMANLY CHAMBER has been PENETRATED by the GREAT OLVIR! And those bountiful HIND QUARTERS of yours… shall be NEXT!”
Becky Arsvinnar stops the video before it can get any more gratuitous.
“Ollie… is there something you’d care to tell me?”
Olvir Arsvinnar’s blood runs as cold as a frost giant on the highest peak of Niflheim.
“By GREAT ONE-EYED ODIN’S RAVEN!”
It’s late at night, and the Escape Artist has returned home.
At least as close to a “home” as one could be for a nomad of his ilk. The small warehouse on the city’s southside could be more accurately described as a long-term storage space and occasional flophouse.
Much of the floorspace is occupied by a rickety, homemade ring. Surrounding it are scattered heaps of training mats, weights, and assorted pieces of exercise equipment that all look like they’ve been fished from dumpsters behind local gymnasiums.
It’s not the most organized of workout areas, but at least it’s there.
But off in the corner, we see Rezin wandering into a small lounge area composed of a dusty recliner and soiled couch encircling a junk-covered coffee table. He turns on a lamp resting on a sturdy bookcase against the wall, holding what is arguably the only material thing in this world that serves any value to him.
His extensive vinyl collection.
Rezin’s blackened fingers graze the spines until he finds the record he wants.
Cough. Ritual Abuse. Disc one, side B.
He delicately removes and sets the record onto a nearby turntable and drops the needle. A pair of ancient speakers crackle to life for a moment of analog hiss, before swooping into an ominous feedback intro. A moment later, the lumbering dirge of “A Year In Suffering” fills the air.
Losing himself in the doom, Rezin falls into the armchair and props his feet on the table.
“Happy April Fool’s, for those of ya that celebrate.
“Personally, I ain’t one of ’em. Only thing this day means to me is that I’m now officially in the last year of my thirties.”
There’s venom in those words. Rezin sits up in his seat.
“I’ll come clean with ya, gang… I ain’t really thrilles to bein’ thia close to becomin’ a borin’-ass, limp-dicked, midlife-crisisin’ quadragenarian
“Punks don’t age well. This is a known rule of the universe.
“Most people look to settle as they get on in years, but settlin’ ain’t in my nature. It’s practically hardwired in me to always GO.
“So I’ve been goin’… spendin’ years perpetuatin’ a dangerous and reckless existence, never once thinkin’ of what life would be like at old age cause I kinda always expected I’d never get there.
“Cause honestly, what is there for a scum fuck like me to look forward to? I ain’t got a family. I ain’t got any future to speak of. Do I seriously really wanna live long enough to see myself become some demented, pants-pissin’ old bastard, witherin’ away in a gutter?”
Shaking his head, he ashes the joint into a nearby tray that’s overflowing with spent roaches.
“A part of me always hoped I’d break my neck offa botched moonsault or something similar, and take an early but graceful exit from this shit existence. ‘Live fast, die young,’ as a sayin’ goes. Certainly woulda saved errybuddy the stress of havin’ to deal with my endless parade of bullshit.
“But, fate be dambed… here I am.
“Still alive, and burnin’ hotter than ever.
“And with only a year left to say I’m still in my thirties, believe me when I tell ya that plan to savor erry goddamb second of it.”
He reaches off to the side of the recliner and pulls up a very familiar burlap sack.
“Case in point…”
He overturns it, and allows the Universal Championship to fall into his lap.
“This strap… another milestone I never expected I’d get to in my life.”
The bag drops to the floor while he cradles the belt in his grimy hands.
“Some might say that pickin’ up the big belt this late in the game, with my best years behind me, is a sign that much of the potential of my youth was wasted.
“But the way I see it, it took years of blindly gropin’ through the shadows for me to finally figure out how to walk without seein’. And that my ‘wasted youth’ was spent learnin’ to take hits… learnin’ how to fall. So when my time finally came for this…”
He runs his hands across the elliptical belt face.
“…I’d be ready to be the kinda champion that I wanna be.”
He rises up to his feet, and drapes the belt over his shoulder. For the first time since he won it, PRIME is seeing its Universal Champion bear the burden of his claim.
The Goat Bastard, with the greatest prize in professional wrestling.
A living paradox.
“I intend to be the livin’ antithesis to all the tired-ass shit we’ve seen for years on end. The champ I wanna be is a warrior that lives for the glory of the fight, instead of the glory of bein’ seen as superior to the rest.
“I ain’t motivated by fame. Or fortune. Or ego. And I ain’t innerested in livin’ out some boyhood fantasy, or servin’ a corrupt and dying authoritarian nation.
“I got a strap errybuddy wants, but the unquenchable thirst to fuck shit up between the ropes is all I really need.”
He moves over to his practice ring and leans against the apron-less ring edge.
“I know Hayes Hanlon and Ivan Stanislav will fight like hell to take it. But at the end of the day, neither one of them will ever acknowledge me for what I am. To them, I’m just a means to an end.
“Except twice now, we’ve seen the kinda champion Hayes becomes when he puts gold around his waist. And twice, the world was forced to watch me take it from him.
“Turns out, all that fan-friendly, feel-good, ‘reach for your dreams’ bullshit don’t mean a damb thing against one of the most REZILIENT sum’bishes to ever crawl his way into a wrestlin’ ring.
“Now, however, I gotta recognize that the shoe’s on the other cloven hoof.
“He ain’t walkin’ into that cell as the over-confident, hope-inspirin’ champ that he once was. This time, he’s the one fightin’ from under, HUNGRY to prove that this grizzled Goat Bastard ain’t got his number.
“Unless, of course, the belt is all he really cares about… in which case, I guess he could just pull a page from last year’s Culture Shock and just pin Ivan for the easy win.
“And yeah… I ain’t playin’ when I say the seven foot tall Russian killdozer is the ‘easy’ win here. Cause if any of the three of us stands to be royally embarrassed in a big way, it’s Big Red.
“For weeks, whether on Jabber or to my face, all he can say on the subject of this ol’ DOPESMOKER is the usual rap I’ve heard a million times about my personal hygiene and overall repulsive appearance.
“Heard it all my life… but it’s always been by design. A guy like me gives others a false sense of security” and naturally, they lower their guard. Nobody suspects a crustpunk can pull off the shit I do, until they’ve seen me in action.
“But not once, though, has Ivan Stanislav mentioned anything about my skills in the ring. And to me, that’s concerin’.
“I’d chalk it up to him bein’ a bit late to the PUNK ROCK party that’s been goin’ strong as far back as Day One of the PRIME resurrection… but ol’ comrade’s had plenty of time to do his research.
“Trapped in that cell with me, however, he’s gonna have no choice but to confront what he’s been overlookin’ this whole time.
“And when he does, he’s gonna learn what his buddies over in Chernobyl learned all ’em years ago when they decided to fuck around, and subsequently found out.”
He pitches what’s left of the joint and leans forward, eyes as determined as they are bloodshot.
“Since I first arrived in PRIME, I’ve been shatterin’ expectations… and in that rotten cell at Culture Shock Twenty-Three, expectations will be shattered yet again.
“I now know that I don’t need to escape any longer.
“Wherever I go, whoever I face, I bring fuckin’ RUIN.
“And when all is said and done, they’ll be the ones trynna escape ME.”
Fade to VOID.