If I win, it’s just another match. Nothing special. Can’t get too wrapped up in it.
You sure? I know you. You’re going to be all over the place. Let’s at least do some things to keep you occupied since you’re staying in Vegas.
Trust me. I’ll be fine.
Just so you know…not to add any pressure, Melissa was texting me earlier. Cody wants to go to Culture Shock if you win.
Brandon…my last text come through? It’s been a while since I heard back from you.
Anyways…good luck with Impulse. Don’t worry too much about CS. Love you.
Instinct carried Youngblood forward through his disorientation. A jarring blow and impact to the MGM Grand arena floor rattled the fillings in his teeth, yet still, there was spatial awareness. Impulse, his back shredded from a barrage of belly-to-belly suplexes, loaded up into stance, launching himself forward as best as he could. Sudden Impact. The target ducked under the super kick, stumbling to the ropes.
The Rolo Bracket had come down to this. Someone needed to stop the madness that was the eGG Bandits, stop the catastrophe of PRIME’s standard being Cancer Jiles. Either Impulse or Youngblood would play the gallant hero, be the one who pushed T-Shade Humpty Dumpty off his cryochamber wall and piss on the yolk and egg shell remains as his goons tried to put him back together again.
Clarity shined through for Brandon, but not before Impulse grabbed hold of his waist, looking for a german suplex. He could hear grunts as he felt himself deadlifted. Kicking with all his might, he stopped the progress, and once he did, he reversed, arms wrapping around the Marathon Man’s midsection. The grip wasn’t tight; Brandon wanted to segue to a half nelson and put an end to this. A tactical mistake. Randall Knox was a savant in the ring, elite and always aware. This was his night. This is the match he wanted the moment he saw the Almasy Invitational Bracket. Small joint manipulation cut through a grip soon left wanting, and with a standing switch of his own, he once again wrapped his arms around Youngblood’s waist. No hesitation. Every bit of strength was needed. German suplex. High angle. The Last Diamond folded.
Come to the City of Angels to follow your dream, only to watch it die. Universal Champion Hoyt Williams. A lifetime ago. The new breed see what he saw then; a charlatan and embarrassment. They can’t feel his strength or the pressure he brings to the fight. They don’t know the way he gets inside the mind and turns even the most even keeled insane. Out with the trash. The new era cometh.
A chairshot and a scramble. Duke Williams knew how to swing with the best of them. This isn’t some heroic last stand. They were both bastards, their hostility transcendent in PRIME lore. Irish whip and spinebuster. Pieces and parts of the picture. Hoyt instantly rose only to collapse again. This was his chance. Brandon draped the arm. The Universal Championship would be his.
Hoyt Williams claimed to be the Son of God. When his shoulder rose from the canvas, he was the Whore of Babylon. Brandon hated him. Hated him with every fiber of his being. Hoyt had played him like a fiddle unlike anyone else ever had or would. He grabbed him by the hair and lifted him, locking in a front chancery until, with the strength of Moses, the Champion pushed him off. A blind charge into an irish whip. Hoyt scooped him up on the rebound.
Roll you son of a bitch.
Lifted and cradled like a child. Lactic acid locks every joint so he can’t fight free. Youngblood had done everything he could to stake his claim as the true Diamond of PRIME’s 2005. He’d gone through Karina Wolfenden, Nova, Amy Campbell, even Angelo Deville. He’d nearly won the Dual Halo. Destroy the paper champion. Become what you were meant to become. Such life affirming soliloquies mean nothing when a mountain of muscle smashes your back into the turnbuckle and powerslams you through the canvas.
Bright lights blinding and emptied lungs. Crucified And Saved. Karma. The confetti falling from the rafters of Staples Center is for Hoyt. It’s how it should be; after all, Brandon had spent the lead up thinking only of the afterparty, hitting up his dealer for some halcions and then hit Boardner’s with his fancy noir suit and the Universal Championship belt in tow. Amy told him she had a silk cocktail dress that would do Ava Gardner proud. Duke and Hoyt Williams howled over him in absolute triumph. Until the end of time, this night would be an affirmation for Hoyt Williams.
A roll. A simple roll. Once Head Official Timo Bolamba’s counted the three, inertia carried Brandon to his back. The sudden stillness enveloping the MGM Grand was a moment of respite if nothing else. He looked over at Impulse as he scooted to his knees, his eyes focused to the screen up above. The color had drained from his cheeks. Randall Knox’s stare told Brandon everything he needed to know. That he’d won. That he was moving on to the Almasy Invitational Finals. That the Universal Championship was once again within his grasp.
Ring Announcer Vince Howard drew the announcement out, a cruel ending to what had transpired. When Youngblood’s name was announced, the crowd exploded in cheers. Small unimportant moments were followed by the pair in the center of the ring, Randall’s hand extended.
“Man, I’m glad that was the three, cause I had nothing left.” Youngblood confided, still jarred by the german he’d suffered. He wasn’t happy with the manner of the result, but regardless, Impulse deserved his roses. Who knew what would have happened if the two of them had five more minutes? This wasn’t over.
Knox could only laugh. “You’ve got a championship to win, sir. Because I’ll find a way to earn another shot, and when that day comes I only want to face the best.”
To get this vote of confidence and respect warmed Brandon to his core. He gave his opponent a clap on the shoulder. “You got it…” he affirmed, but Impulse had left the ring without hearing him, giving him the chance to celebrate. Outside a few fist pumps, there wasn’t much to be done. He’d been here before. There was no comfort in having to wait for the horizon. Every time he’d wrestled for the Universal Championship, he’d lost.
The past occupied his mind as he made his way up the ramp to the locker room. Production staff and Michelle Johnson, head of corporate marketing, swarmed, a cacophony of questions, the lens of the camera hounding him. “We’d like to have a meeting about the campaign leading up to Culture Shock”, he heard her say, “around nine in the morning if you could.” He nodded, sweat pouring from him as he pulled at the straps of his singlet, letting them fall to his sides. With the crush of people, he found it hard to breathe. A heavy heartbeat and his palms skimming his scalp, all he knew was that April 8th better get here fast.
We meet again, Old Friend.
Paths crossed transitory. Different approaches each. At first, obsession, greed, sensed superiority and the coming cradle assumed as birthright, the final hurdle taken completely for granted. Our second was different; it was an expectation, the date circled over half a year in advance, everything moving as though by providence, a tarnished image and the punchline of their barbs polished clean a Jewel, stabbing and silencing them all, the summit of our Everest mere inches away before collapse in the death throes of hypoxia. An uncomfortable hello. The late goodbye.
So, what is this time? A mandate? The redemption story? Old conquering the new? Good versus Evil? Such easy templates to cloak myself in. Cancer Jiles is clay, malformed as he is, and I can force him to fit whatever schema necessary. Smile confident and cool, above it all, convenient in caring or uncaring whenever it suits, burn it all down, burn everything down for the edge, the silence and the ‘Company Man’ and jokes upon jokes at the expense of people bullied into roles as glorified hangers-on. It’s the last one, then? All inclinations focused here because the more I think, the more it feels natural?
Oh, you’ve always been a tricky one, haven’t you? Almost got me there. Pretty as you are, this time is going to be different.
We’re not going to play their game.
“—and so, we think it would be amazing, can’t you see it now? A celebration of the career of Brandon Youngblood, the journey, the redemption story, all of it, on full display. All culminating in this one Universal Championship match…” Tom Steps had been on the periphery of Randall Knox and Cally from the jump of the PRIME revival, and as such, Brandon wasn’t used to his boisterousness, unfiltered and unwanted opinions.
Michelle Johnson, hand resting against her cheek, merely sat there, letting Tom take the lead. It wasn’t like she had a choice; Tom couldn’t help himself. Melvin Beauregard was busy fighting with his third pack of Reese’s Peanut Buttercups, trying to get them open. In truth, it was only his second; Brandon had helped himself to one of them after Melvin had gotten it open.
“…I mean, we make it all about you. This amazing crescendo—”
Youngblood could take no more. “And what are you going to do for Jiles? Rockettes in egg costumes with spatulas for flats? Raising Bobby Dean out of a bundt cake and some mirror trick of Doozer being invisible like a vampire while Cancer Jiles walks down the steps of some cotton candy Coolympus?”
Tom didn’t skip a beat. “Oh he’s going to get the Coronation of Cool—”
“Geez, you’d think they kid-proofed these buttercups. I mean, hell, they sell them to kids, you know what I mean? And I ain’t no kid!” Melvin’s huffing and puffing was quite disconcerting, but not as much as the laughter belching from his chocolate laced maw.
Michelle’s eyes met Brandon’s, shaking her head in silent apology.
“Tom…” Brandon stared down Steps. “Why do you want to go to this big production for me? I mean, I have all these tattoos.” The full sleeves featured prominent on his forearms thanks to his henley.
The train came to a full stop for Tom. He stammered. “Wha…wha…”
This was fun. Brandon opened his hand, a pair of peanut buttercup wrappers unfurling in a manner Anton Chigurh would appreciate. “‘We got to do something about the tattoos and the purple hair.’ Paraphrasing. I think that’s what Cally—”
“Cally?!” His eyes widened. “How did you—”
“She told me. Something about representing the company.” Brandon rose from his seat, walking behind and giving Tom a hearty slap to the shoulder. “I’m just messing with you. But no. We’re not doing all that.”
He’d begun walking to the door, Michelle rising from her seat to try and gain back control of the meeting. “It doesn’t have to be something so involved. Perhaps a few subtle nods to the past. Help tell the story. Perhaps bring in some members of your family—”
Reaching for the door, he stopped cold, gathering his thoughts. He knew how he was going to approach this potential final opportunity to become PRIME Universal Champion. Flashing her a smile, he waved her off. “That’s not necessary. No need to fuss, really.”
“But Brandon…” Melvin had finally joined the meeting. “I don’t think Lindsay would be happy if one of her potential standard bearers wasn’t willing to give us the showmanship we need…”
The sincerity in the remark caused him to burst out in laughter. “Guess you don’t know her as well as I do.” He stepped through the door, leaving the three of them with a final note.
“Leave the bullshit to Jiles. Piece of trash like that, it’s the only thing he’s good for.” Some mental note saying boom roasted, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. He was on his way back to his room the moment he said it.
She tries to smile. Tries to play everything off as though it’s fine. A single strap of silk over the left shoulder of her dress. An ornate silver Venetian mask, emeralds encrusting its perimeter, spectacular against the backdrop of her deep red locks. Manicured and pedicured. Tonight was to be their night.
Brandon was drowning in a haze of vodka and whatever pills he’d gotten his hands on to mix with it. He could barely pick himself from the loveseat, his head drooping. She was busy trying to console herself. She’d been there when Brandon had lost to Hoyt, doing everything she could to build him back up. But where was he when the shoe was on the other foot? She’d made it to the Jewel in the Crown Finals, had beaten Jon Kano, Kyle Lamen, Juan Santos, and Danny Ferguson to get there.
And then she met the Inhuman Being.
Then she met Tchu.
It would be a long time her neck stopped clicking thanks to his repeated sleeper suplexes. So close. So very close. She couldn’t bring herself to enjoy the evening, not the drinks or the party favors, the live music, the throng of people. She needed someone to tell it was okay, that she’d done her best and she’d come back stronger for it.
That person was utterly ambivalent to her needs. She looked him up and down, at the stains on his dress shirt and the fact that he couldn’t manage to zip up his pants. He began to slur. “You…you don’t…”
Don’t understand. She fought back tears and chuckled because if she didn’t, she’d start bawling. The deeper he fell, the harder it was to pull him out. If he didn’t stop, he’d burrow so deep she wouldn’t be able to reach him. In this moment, she didn’t care. She stood up, slinging her purse over her naked shoulder. He reached from her as she stomped away.
Let him find his own way home.
There would be a time where things came full circle. She’d risen past it, come back to PRIME as the Unconquerable from Sin City, beating Universal Champion Chandler Tsonda in the midst of his historic reign with the same effort it took to dust her shoulder off.
Failure can forge the strongest of diamonds.
The box was white with blue trim, and how it got onto the bed of his suite, he wasn’t sure. He grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen and cut through layers of tape. His eyes scanned over to see who had sent it, and he couldn’t help but sigh. Why couldn’t she listen?
Because she means well, you idiot.
What was inside the box, though, nearly brought tears to his eyes. This was cool. First was the singlet. It was different than his others, tailored custom, the white replaced with platinum. Along the spine were a collection of emblazoned red roman numerals, starting with four and running through ten, then ten dash two, then an eleven.
The same numerals that had covered the chest of Seymour Almasy in the early 2000s.
Cancer Jiles may have been fighting in an Invitational in the man’s honor, but the dipshit couldn’t manage the courtesy of figuring out how to properly pronounce his name. Another joke in a long line of them. Stevenspedia tracks better with the troglodyte crowd, after all. Being the champion of a rest stop bathroom in the intervening years of PRIME’s closure and reemergence carries with it a kind of clout salient to the rest of the methheads in the trailer park.
Jason Seymour Wilson. They weren’t friends, far from it. To him, he was big game, a skull to be added to a growing skull throne. They’d faced multiple times, Brandon winning all but once. The hunt became respect. Jason was a runt, nowhere near six feet all. While fit and toned, his build was stark compared to the horsemeat fueled behemoths he fought against in Primetime Central. What he lacked in size, he made up for with skill and an uncanny charisma and showmanship. Jason transformed himself into The Final Fantasy, his entrances a symphony of eastern grandeur, adorning himself in armor fitting a bushido. His hair reflected his shifts in goals and alignment. He was the original bounty to be sought, winning the PTC Cruiserweight and Primetime Invitational Tournaments, becoming a three-time PTC Global Champion, and in PRIME, one of its final Intense Champions.
Brandon pulled a purple padded compression sleeve from the box. Colored after Seymour’s hair when he’d begun wrestling at the grand stage. Spanning over its back was a long katana with an ornate hilt. The Divine Blade Imperial. Almasy used to swing it with a refined grace in his promos and entrances.
It was Amy who’d told him he’d passed, calling him as he was driving the back roads to avoid the tolls on his way to Philadelphia. It was so sudden. Seymour had shifted from wrestling to new journeys in his life, to a growing family and an enriching career he was just beginning. All these things were kept private, known only by a select few who had shared the same battlegrounds as he. Youngblood chain-smoked menthol cigarettes for over an hour on a park bench he’d found during the drive, unable to fathom someone so young being taken so tragically.
He opened a folded note, a paper stapled behind it.
Been working on these for quite a while. Had to keep them a secret whenever you came home. I always had faith you’d make it here. Not because of your ability. You don’t see it all the time, but you’ve changed. You’ve grown so much as a man and I am so proud of you. We’re all proud of you. And you’ve stayed on your path. Shown everyone just how big your heart truly is.
You’ll see the itinerary attached for Cody, Melissa, and Travis. Travis said he was going to make some big sign for you to repay you for helping fix their grill a few months back.
I know you said it’s just another match, but it isn’t. This is a celebration of you. We all want you to succeed. I’ll be watching from home. Don’t want the wrestling press or your bosses to make a fuss. Do what you do. Kick his ass. We’ll go to Boardner’s after. The dress still fits.
PS…was tinkering in the lab with some audio. Think this would make a great tune to come out to. Let me know what you think.
He looked at the itinerary, seeing that their Southwest flight would touch down early the next day. He was grateful. Sitting around a suite for days on end messing about would only make him anxious. The gameplan had been to try and be cautious, not just of the Bandits, but of anything that may give Jiles an opportunity to slither his way to victory. The slivers had cost him against Jason Snow the last time he’d vied for the Universal Championship.
And if that happened again, what would Seymour say? Despite his penchant for pageantry, he was always about the wrestling. Cancer Jiles wrestled, but he wasn’t a wrestler. He was a hack. A cheat. An edgelord and a bully. He stood in disrespect to so many, his takedowns the embodiment of hypocrisy, like how he vacillated between how unimportant all this was given his collection of the bounty from Nova and how beneath him some ex-con was, yet at the same time droning on about the erection he got from beating the PRIME legend and silencing the crowd. Having that honor Seymour? The Final Fantasy would haunt his dreams if he let that come to pass.
The last piece inside the box was an old mp3 player with a set of earbuds. Sentimental. She’d gotten it for him when they’d found each other in Sapporo years before. A story for another time. He powered it on, put in the earbuds, and began to play the track she’d produced for him.
Rising tension. A full-on blast of nostalgia washed through him. The down turn. And then, a battle cry that made him want to punch through the walls and suplex Jiles until he was nothing more than a puddle of piss on the canvas.
No time for caution. Shock and awe. He climbed to the top of Coolympus? Whatever. Wonder how big a splatter an egg makes when it’s thrown from the Tower of Babel.
Brandon pulled the earbuds out and picked up his phone, cycling through his contacts. After the third ring, he received an answer. “Hey, Michelle. So…I was thinking…maybe that Steps fellow was on to something…”