The sound of a car door shutting stole her attention from the book in her hand.
She stood from the table in their breakfast nook, cautiously. Placing a bookmark carefully before stepping to the window.
A white sedan in the driveway.
A broad young man stepping out from the back seat, collecting a backpack.
A sharp, unexpected inhale through her nose.
She collected herself, and opened the front door, stepping onto the deck that served as their home’s entry. Careful steps brought her to the walkway, though her piercing blue eyes stayed trained on the driveway.
As the sedan drove off, a pair of deep browns turned to meet her, and a dark mustache lifted into a meek smile.
Fuck these lights.
The Former Champ. At a table in front of the swarm; cell phones flashing from all angles, collecting photos and videos for third-party blogs and Instagram posts. His eyes barely move, holding true to a thousand mile stare through the throngs. Through the screens. Through the noise. And into the void.
I know I look like shit. I can barely keep my eyes open. Hair’s a mess. ‘Stache is mangled. Trying my best to keep my posture, even though I’d rather just curl up into a ball and…
Anything but a press conference. Anything.
I just want to sleep it off, this throbbing pain pulsing through…everywhere. To stall my mind from spiraling and collapsing in on itself. To skip the part where I lay in bed, my chest heaving to the ceiling. The short, hard breaths coming so quickly that I’m not sure if I should call an ambulance, or see what happens when a heart explodes.
Questions drone forth, and answers drone in kind: “Yes, I’m disappointed. No, I’m not gonna let it stop me. Yes, I’m looking forward to another shot. No, this isn’t what I expected.”
But I don’t get that option. First I have to face the music. In the form of cameras. And microphones.
A flash forcing him to squint, lips pursing together.
And these fucking lights.
The answers are almost robotic. Unaware he’d missed a button in his black dress shirt. The internet will have a field day with that.
All these reporters, and journalists, are just…melding together. Even Mills and Brookes.
A forced sip from a nearby water bottle. Enough of a reset to soldier on through the waves.
It’s just so much…noise. And it doesn’t care about how fast my heart is racing, or that my vision is closing in.
Insincere answers follow, enough to appease the masses. Enough to save a little face.
Just a few words. Just a few more words from PRIME’s Transitional-Ass Champion. Enough for a few tweets. That’ll make for good engagement. Everyone loves to see the hero fall. They’re always expecting another flash in the pan.
Well, they sure got it.
Standing from the table, forcing a thankful smile.
And the bright lights move on to the next guy.
“No more questions.:
While I get to collapse, and disappear from view. Just like you said, Erik.
Fuck these lights.
“C’mon. Put it on the ground. Easy out.”
Hayes whispered to himself, shifting from foot to foot at first base, tilting his ball cap to block out the bright stadium lights illuminating West Linn’s home field. The Lions didn’t play a lot of night games, but the playoffs were certainly cause to turn them on. Matty Rutherford, standout relief pitcher for the Lions, nodded to his catcher, pulling his glove in close and placing a foot on the rubber.
Hayes ignored a bead of sweat rolling down his temple, and took a ready stance as Matty fired one home.
“BALL!” called the ump.
The Young Hanlon relaxed a moment as Matty shook his head, snapping the throw from his catcher out of the air. Hayes flicked his dark eyes to the scoreboard, like he did after every pitch, as if he expected it to change.
West Linn up three to two. Top of the ninth. Two outs, bases loaded for Lake Oswego. Three balls. Two strikes.
A cliche, maybe. But it didn’t change the fact that Matty had to throw a strike. And if he did, the batter had to swing.
“CLOSEST BASE, BOYS!” hollered Teddy Waters, their stocky catcher behind the plate.
A nod from Matty, and the wind up, with a hush from the bleachers filled with students and parents supporting the Green and White.
The pitch. A swing. And the ping of a metal bat.
A chopped dribbler, right out in front of home plate.
The noise came rushing back to the field, the spectators leaping and roaring for their boys to make a play. The runners leapt off their bags, the batter digging into the dirt with everything he had. Teddy threw his mask into the air, charging for the ball.
Play to first.
Hayes pushed off the dirt to get back to his base, planting a foot on the bag and extending toward his catcher. Teddy scooped the ball from the ground and shot him a laser.
Hayes felt it strike his palm, low in the glove.
And his heart sank into his guts when the ball popped out onto the dirt.
He didn’t hear the audible gasp from the bleachers, and instinct forced him to reach down quickly to pick it up.
“SAFE!!! THAT’S GAME!!!”
Hayes could hear the groans from the bleachers clearly. He could taste their pity. Their disappointment. His mouth hung open, eyes darting for some answer. Some mistake.
For a second chance.
But the scoreboard, along with his teammates slowly walking off the field, told the truth. Lake Oswega Lakers – 4. West Linn Lions – 3.
Hayes collapsed into a defeated squat, dropping his glove before grabbing the brim of his ball cap and pulling it over his eyes.
He wouldn’t let the stadium lights expose his tears.
“Okay. So now you’re up against two grown men, one who calls themself a goat, and the other calls themself a bear?”
He nearly spat his coffee out all over the white living room carpet, catching his mouth with his free hand. Sofia smiled, confused as she was. Listening to her son’s retellings of losing his title and the challenges since was a tall order, considering she had watched, thus far, a grand total of about an hour of his profession. That hour, of course, being her youngest child’s crowning moment.
She regretted missing every tumble and fall along the way.
“Something like that,” said Hayes, cleaning drops of coffee from his mustache and setting his cup on the glass coffee table. “It’s just kinda their nicknames.”
“And you call yourself the…what is it they were saying…the Event Horror?”
“Event Horizon,” he corrected.
“That’s right. And… what does that mean, exactly?”
Hayes perked up at the edge of the couch.
“Oh, it’s this thing in space where…”
He caught himself, opting for another sip of coffee instead.
“…it’s nothing. Just a nickname.”
Sofia offered a nod with her sharp chin, giving her tea a stir. A long silence followed, their gazes drifting to the gray sky outside where a light rain was falling.
“I’m sorry,” she said, breaking the silence. “I’m trying my best. I just wasn’t expecting this…visit. From you. I’m sure you’d rather be talking to your brother, or your father about everything…”
“No, it’s okay,” he assured. “Dad isn’t any better about this stuff, and I haven’t seen much of Paul lately. It just…”
A pause, before stuffing his hands in the pockets of his hoodie.
“…I don’t know. It just felt like the right time to come see you.”
She didn’t know how to respond. Of all people, Hayes had chosen to come see her. After losing the greatest prize in this sport he loved so much, he came to talk to the woman who shunned it for so long. The guilt was growing in her chest, like a black balloon.
She didn’t know how to respond, and she didn’t know how to help.
“I’m glad,” she managed to say quietly, hiding behind her tea cup.
Another quiet moment, the rain tapping lightly on the roof.
“Mom,” Hayes started, both hands wrapping around his coffee mug. She waited patiently while his lips curled in, head tilting a touch, looking for the words.
“…I know you’re trying. After the letter you sent last September, I feel like you want to fix this. Whatever it is. But there’s a lot. So…let’s start with this…”
He shifted toward her, and she fixed her posture, holding her cup in her lap. Ready for whatever shower of frustration her youngest wanted to unleash. She would deserve it, after all.
“Why did you hate me so much for trying to live this life?”
Sofia visibly softened, her shoulders relaxing. Hayes kept his eyes trained on his mother’s body language, and held back any sort of surprise or contempt when she offered another light smile, setting her tea cup on the table.
“Oh, Hayes. I never hated you for that.”
She placed a hand on his shoulder, while his eyebrows lifted with surprise.
“I hated you, because you left me behind.”
“He is unstoppable!!
He is unbeatable!!
He is indefatigable!!
He is Praporshchik Ivan Stanislav!”
Big Russian prick.
A backstage monitor showcasing the finish to the latest Russian propaganda, hosted by Alexei Ruslan, all too happy to expose Rezin’s bathing habits, and the extracurricular activities of the Hanlon brothers.
Dropping your ass at UltraViolence wasn’t enough to send you back to the Motherland. Was it, Ivan?
He snarls at the screen, collecting his gear and stuffing it into a duffel bag.
No, you had to take it out on me. On the big stage. And cost me my title. And further still, you had to bring Paul into this.
He slings it over his shoulder, glaring at the image of Alexei Ruslan throwing the microphone, and to the sound of their anthem.
I’ll never forget that.
He shoves a thumb against the power button, killing the screen before marching out of the locker room.
But I’ll be the first to admit that you, even on the wrong side of sixty, are proving to be the most unstoppable force in PRIME. Maybe in all of wrestling.
Turning the corner, a pause, his eye catching a poster showcasing the upcoming war between the Bear, the Goat, and the Event Horizon.
Onward, and into the parking lot.
But I want you to know that while a lot of this roster may piss their pants at the thought of squaring up with the Russian Bear, it’s brought me back to life. Its let me show my teeth.
Striding over the asphalt, a smile creeps underneath his mustache.
Because I’ve got you pegged, man. You can destroy every arena. Throw me and Erik through every wall. Hell, maybe you never lose another match in your career. But it won’t change the fact that in your loss column? It still says “1.”
Arriving at a rental car he hops in, turning the key drive off, leaving the Toyota Center behind.
And that’s ME. I’ll always be the Little Bastard that beat the Bear.
And it’s really gonna piss you off when I do it again.
The team’s assistant coach always kept a spare bucket of balls and a bat tucked away in the dugout. Just in case Hayes wanted to swing a few into the backstop between classes.
Under the stadium lights, Hayes carried that bat and bucket onto the field.
He wasn’t sure why the lights were still on. Probably for maintenance or something. Or maybe they were on some kind of timer. It didn’t matter. He pulled a beat-up baseball from the bucketm and gripped his bat, giving the lights one last glare before tossing the ball up and swinging hard.
The ball shot toward the collection of bulbs, but sailed over the top and into the night. With a grunt, he grabbed another.
Another rocket, missing low. He could hear it crash through branches of the trees behind and tumble to the ground.
Near miss. Another.
High right. Another.
The ball hammered into the metal casing, the cacophony of struck metal echoing through the dark. It forced him to freeze, expecting someone to catch him in the act. Maybe a janitor, but no one came.
“Feel better yet?”
He pinched his eyes shut, hunched over the ball bucket, the voice painfully familiar. Olivia, Big Sister, stood leaning against the dugout wall, a fresh joint burning in her fingertips and a cloud of smoke drifting from her lips.
“Shouldn’t you be at college or whatever?” he asked with annoyed sarcasm, standing up and taking another swing for the lights. Another miss.
“It’s a laundry weekend,” she chided, stepping onto the infield.
He snorted. She smirked.
“How long before you hit your target?” she asked, glancing at the collection of intact bulbs.
“What do you want, ‘Liv?” he asked through a sigh.
“I dunno,” she shrugged, flipping a mane of auburn hair over her shoulder. “I saw that last play. Figured I’d find you here. And thought you could use a puff.”
Olivia extended her arm, and he took a moment to study, eyeing the joint in her hand and the smirk on her face before plucking it away.
“You were watching?” he asked sincerely, the cherry on the end of the joint glowing as he inhaled.
“Yeah. I mean…”
She deflected, hands pushing into the pockets of her jacket.
“…I mean, some of the girls were in town. We were gonna watch the first couple of innings then head to Sarah’s for a party, but I couldn’t catch a ride so, whatever. I watched the rest.”
He laughed through his nose, incredulous as he handed the joint back.
“Or maybe I just missed my baby brother.”
“We know that’s not true.”
“Ass.” She punched him in the arm. He didn’t react.
They stood a while, sharing a few more tokes. She noticed that Hayes couldn’t help but keep looking at the stadium lights, and the defeat in his eyes had never let up.
“You know, no one’s gonna remember that game in five years,” she offered. “And no one cares about a stupid banner in the gymnasium.”
“I will. And it’s not a stupid banner. It’s…”
“I dunno,” he said, kicking at the dirt. “Something to remind everyone that I was here? Leave a legacy or something…”
An awkward grin crept across her face, her reddening eyes growing as she did her damndest to hold back a burst of laughter, but it escaped in short bursts through pressed lips.
“Shut the fuck up!” he shot back, fighting back a snicker himself.
“Legacy!?” she gawked. “At West Linn?”
He looked away to hide a smile, flipping her off, but fully realizing how stupid he sounded.
“Seriously, no one gives a shit,” she continued, regaining her composure. “You’ll see when you get to college. You forget all about high school bullshit. Besides…”
He looked back to his sister, lifting a cautious eyebrow.
“…I think you’re going to leave your ‘legacy’ somewhere a lot bigger than this.”
Another amused breath through his nose, eyes dropping toward the ground.
“Oh yeah? And what do I do ‘til then?”
She shrugged without an answer, until her hazel eyes flicked upward toward the lights one more time.
“Well…I guess you just keep on swinging.”
She flicked the remnants of the roach away, offering her younger brother a sincere smile before walking off. He watched her leave the field, her words tumbling in the front of his mind.
He looked back to the lights, and grabbed another ball.
Direct hit to a bulb on the left edge of the row. It burst and flickered out quickly, glass tinkling to the ground. A loud buzz of electricity followed, and the rest of the bulbs brightened and dimmed erratically.
He gave those lights a victorious smirk before running off, lest he be caught.
They had moved to the kitchen, pouring fresh cups of coffee and tea. His mother sighed, searching for the right words before leaning against the black marble countertop, breathing gently over her cup. Hayes allowed his coffee to cool, dark eyes intent on the explanation to come.
“It was…hard…when Paul left for school,” she stated. “I think it’s hard for any mother to see their first born head out into the world. It was even more difficult when your sister followed.”
She took a sip, and he waited patiently.
“So then it was just us,” she continued. “And your father. Olivia was my only little girl in a house full of men, and your brother was always the glue in this home. He felt like it was his job to keep your father and I away from each other’s throat, and he did a good job of keeping you out of too much trouble.”
Hayes couldn’t help but chuckle, allowing him to take the first sip from his mug. Her usual cold, blue stare fell warm toward her youngest.
“The first year you left for school was the hardest,” she said, turning back to her cup. “My relationship with your father took a turn. Paul and Olivia came home less and less. And…GOD, Hayes…I was so. Fucking. Lonely.”
A glisten fell over her eyes. Hayes had so many things to say, but managed to hold them back.
“And then you dropped out of college, and I thought that if you’d come home for a while, then maybe…maybe we could get closer. Maybe I could pull myself out the fucking hole I was living in. Maybe it would lead to your father and I getting…”
She stopped, reaching for a Kleenex on the counter, dabbing her eyes while the tremble in her voice settled.
“But you were gone again. Wrestling. I suppose that’s when I decided to take everything out on you. And your career. That was when I decided to hate you.”
After another dab of the tissue, she turned back to her son, the tears welling up as quickly as she’d wiped them out.
“And I’m sorry, Hayes.”
He couldn’t respond to that. Not yet. But he wanted to. He he fought every urge to wrap his mother up in a big, comforting hug. Instead, a pregnant pause. It provided enough time for her to settle her shaking heart, and for the sniffles to subside.
“Paul told me about Grandpa,” he managed, breaking the silence. “And what he did to you…”
She braced at the mention, and forced back memories long since reconciled. And otherwise.
“And that…that I look just like him?”
She clenched her jaw at the question, but provided a stoic answer.
“The spitting image.”
His lips curled in, and he exhaled deep and long.
“But that has nothing to do with you, Hayes. You have to trust me on that. He was a fucking bastard of a father, and you are already a greater young man that he could have ever hoped to be.”
A slow nod from her son. She allowed him to process the information, however little it was.
“There’s more to talk about,” he stated. “About Grandpa, about Dad. About the affair.”
She replied with a quick, and hopeful, nod of her own.
“I’ll be ready,” she replied. “Soon.”
And then, a strong hug between mother and son. Long overdue.
It all comes back to you, doesn’t it Erik?
Astrid Fihlguud and her team work through the long night after ReVival 25. Her various assistants tending to the battered and beaten. She, however, tends to her favorite eGG Beater, who grins wide despite the bruises and cuts.
Of every asshole on this roster, you’ve been the constant in my story. All the way back to Culture Shock last year. And we’ve written quite a story together, haven’t we?
The ‘Stache, and the Trash.
A swab above the eyebrow, where he’d caught an elbow.
We know the headline by now; Twice you’ve taken gold off my shoulder. And I’ll admit, both times put me in some dark places. Where I just wanted to hide away from the light.
Thin strips of medical tape pressed over the cut.
But that’s the thing about the void, isn’t it? You can’t escape it, so why try? Just like the cage we’ll find ourselves in.
An icepack cracking in her hand and pressed to his throbbing shoulder, thanks to the wall.
The lights turned to you and Ivan the night you took the Big Strap from me. But I need you to remember…
A wicked grin under the mustache…
…I’m the Event Horizon. And beyond, is the Black Hole.
…and a glint in his dark eye.
And I’ll swallow up every last shimmer of light that you and Ivan stole from me.
Fuck your lights.