Your recommended auditory companion: SANDRIDER
You’re a European settler in mid-1800’s America.
Like many settlers of the time, you’re headed out west to California.
And like many settlers of the time, you understand that time is of the essence.
Precious metal is hidden out there beneath the earth, and despite the vastness of the untamed American West, it won’t be long before that land is claimed by other endeavorous go-getters.
But you and your crew believe you’ve found a “shortcut” through a nondescript valley in the Mojave Desert. A straight shot to the Sierra Nevada, and the hope of riches beyond.
Logic would dictate that crossing through unexplored territory would be an uncalculated, foolish risk.
But gold does funny things to the mind, and you’re no different.
Everybody longs for that “eureka” moment. That figurative “gold rush” of endorphins upon discovering that your sojourn for wealth has reached its end. That realization that all your long days of labor and sacrifice have paid off.
So into the desert you go, dauntless and hopeful along with your fellow prospectors and a train of a hundred covered wagons. The first white men to set foot an arid, inhospitable stretch of dirt and sand.
And wouldn’t you know it? Shit goes awry.
The terrain is more treacherous than anticipated. Many wagons get stuck trying to traverse the sands. The party finds itself waylaid in the middle of a hot and desolate wasteland with dwindling resources.
Wagons are burned. Oxen are consumed.
Doom creeps in.
You do what you gotta do in order to survive.
And somehow, you and several others barely scrape your way through to the other side.
And those that end up surviving the ordeal christen this forsaken land as “Death Valley”, as it is still known to this day.
It’s here where we find our dear Five Star Champion of PRIME, the dopesmoking daredevil born under the government-mandated name of “Erik Black”, but better known to the professional wrestling world as Rezin.
In this moment, he knows exactly why this place was given the name it was given.
On his hands and knees, gasping for air, limbs shaking, every muscle convulsing in agony, Death is what he begs for.
I know what you’re thinking…
You’re thinking, “Gee whiz, what’s this asshole gotten up to THIS time?”
Fair to think that, given who we’re dealing with.
But would you be surprised if I told you it was training?
“The fuck kind of training is this?” is the next thought that pops into your mind.
Rezin would be thinking the same thing, if his mind weren’t preoccupied with hallucinations of an Angel of Death coming to him in the form of Kat Dennings.
Chances are though, given his historically sordid luck with the ladies, even She would swipe left.
Nope. No cool, soothing embrace of Hot Grim Reaper. No welcome descent into everlasting Void.
Just more existence… and the everyday pain in the ass of having to deal with it.
Sounds bring him back to reality: The purr of an electric motor. The crunching of rocks beneath wheels. The light squealing of brakes as a vehicle comes to a stop beside the Escape Artist.
And the voice of the asshole that put him here.
“You made it,” says Rocko Daymon, from behind the wheel of a side-by-side UTV. “Fifteen miles this time.”
His throat parched from the run, Rezin still manages to get out three words that convey everything he’s feeling in this moment.
“I… hate… you…”
It’s a rare sight when Rocko smiles, and this is one of those moments.
“Good,” he replies, throwing him the canteen. “Then we are finally making progress.”
“Tell me again, what the fuck is the point of all this runnin’?”
The UTV leisurely rolls eastward across the dunes, back to civilization. Rezin is riding shotgun, chugging away at the canteen, because he’s beginning to respect this newfangled concept of “hydration” now that his body desperately needs it.
“I mean, it’s not like I’m gonna beat people by runnin’ away from ‘em…”
“Is that not what you do, though?” proliferates Rocko from the driver’s seat beside him. “Is that not why you bear the moniker of Escape Artist? You have been running from things your entire life, Erik. But those days are behind you. As a champion, you cannot run from the challenge; you must run toward it.”
“Bro, let’s dial back a bit on the esoteric bullshit, cause I ain’t in any mood to talk in fuckin’ riddles,” rebuts Rezin with another swig of water. “I get it develops cardio and conditionin’ and all that shit, but don’t ya think doin’ it through a desert is kinda on the extraneous side? Like, I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to make human beings do this sorta thing.”
“Ahh, so would you like to speak to the authorities, being the law-abiding citizen that you are?”
A groan escapes the Escape Artist.
When he agreed to Daymon’s offer for help, he imagined something more formal and straightforward. Like frequenting the gym. Hitting the ring. Working on holds. Studying tapes. Basic wrestling shit.
But outside of the weekly trip to Timo’s for a few hours of weight training, most of what the veteran wrestler had put him through was this weird-ass Bear Grylls shit out in the middle of nowhere. Grueling survivalist exercises, with a lot of focus on meditation.
Thing is, it can get a tad tricky to get your mental state of mind balanced when it’s over a hundred fucking degrees.
“I’m just sayin’, they got these things called ‘treadmills’ now.”
The cart climbs another dune. A quick mile and a half ahead of them, their destination comes into view: the village of Shoshone, California. Rezin can’t wait to get back to the motel. The AC in his room was laughably rotten, but it will be a welcome feeling compared to the unforgiving desert heat.
“The climate here is adequate for what we are set on accomplishing,” Daymon finally answers. “It is one thing to train and condition the body, but tempering the mind and spirit cannot be done in any workout center.”
Rocko extends an arm out the open side of the UTV and waves it across the horizon.
“For now, you see oppressive desolation. And that is natural. Mankind was not built to thrive in this territory. But in time, you will come to appreciate it for the solace and isolation. Exactly what you need, if you intend to retake control of your negative compulsions.”
Rezin darkens at the mere mention of “negative compulsions”. A spiteful reminder of his nagging impulse control disorder. The very compulsions that always seem to lead to a lot of unnecessary hassle down the road.
And so, here he is. Running himself into dehydration to make up for years of lost time wasted on a life of reckless abandon. The concept of “live fast, die young” sure sounds great, up until the point you realize you’re old, slow, and still not dead.
“Choose not to view the run as a burden,” Daymon continues. “Adopt it as a ritual. A way to cleanse the soul. Years ago, I used to run through the Cascades every morning. I would be running there still, were it not for this broken hip.”
To Rezin, it sounds like overcompensating bullshit that wrestlers did back in the early 2000’s to project some sense of spiritual strength.
He can’t deny that he’s seeing some results.
He’s looking leaner than ever. And not that usual “tweaker” lean he’d get on those weeks where he’d forget to eat, but actually kinda ripped. Abs, even.
His skin has also been bronzed from many days under the sun. No more uncomfortably pale chest. Still disgustingly hairy, though.
His respiratory functions have reached astounding levels. Not only can he go longer without losing his breath, but lately he’s been taking in some superhuman bong hits with absolutely no choking.
He feels faster. More limber. Reflexes, sharper than ever. Thoughts, less hazier than one would expect from years of burning away brain cells. From horns to hoof, this Goat Bastard is feeling like a well-oiled machine.
Hash oil. Obviously.
And given he has a slew of important matches coming up, the timing couldn’t be better.
Maybe the middle of nowhere, with its lack of distractions and noise, was just the thing he needed to get himself focused on this championship run.
And maybe–juuuust maybe–this loquacious half-assed David Carradine wannabe piece of shit could be onto something.
“In my school, I had three words painted on the wall,” Rocko continues, like a man who likes to hear himself talk. “‘Practice. Patience. Perseverance.’ A simple reminder to my students that in the quest for personal development, it is often better to walk one step at a time rather than run for the finish line.”
“Yeah, well, I think maybe you forgot a ‘P’ word to go with ‘em,” Rezin quips back as he pulls out a spliff big enough to be E.T.’s finger and sticks it in his mouth.
Daymon looks at him with an arched eyebrow. “And what is that?”
Rezin finds his lighter and sparks up.
Shoshone is the epitome of a one stoplight town, nestled an hour west of Vegas just inside the state border to California.
It has the typical installments one might find in a slowly dying desert oasis: a gas station, a bar and grill, a trailer park, a post office, and a cheap motel that had served as their second home in the weeks that followed Great American Nightmare.
Solace and isolation, Rocko had said. And he meant it.
The parking lot to the Shoshone Inn has been categorically empty for years, save Daymon’s Oldsmobile and desert-roving side-by-side for these past couple months. But as the veteran’s UTV rolls in, Rezin spies a familiar Prius among the lanes.
Standing beside the car is an even more familiar tall, grinning Norseman with a Viking helmet, waving them down.
And in his hands, he is holding an equally familiar looking metal briefcase.
One that Rezin had thought he’d seen the last of when he entrusted it to him right before he embarked on this desert sabbatical.
“What the fuck?” he croaks to himself. In a flash, he’s out of the still-moving cart and crossing the lot.
The Viking approaches to meet him halfway.
“Hey, Erik! Looks like I got here just in time!”
Rezin doesn’t return the warmth. His joint, burnt down to a roach, gets pitched aside. So much for having a moment to mellow out. He nods to the briefcase.
“Ollie, I don’t know what the fuck you’re doin’ here, but that better be empty.”
The Viking’s smile awkwardly melts away.
Safe bet that it is not.
“I thought I told ya to put the money in the bank,” says Rezin, now fuming.
“Well now, Erik, technically speaking, you only asked that I put it somewhere safe.”
For a long beat, the Goat Bastard gives him that “are you that fucking stupid?” stare.
“By ‘somewhere safe’, I meant as far from me as fuckin’ possible. So why the hell would you bring it here?”
“Because I summoned it,” proclaims Daymon from the now parked side-by-side.
Rezin feels his teeth grind. He’s already hot and dehydrated, and now angry to go with it. It’s one thing to make him run fifteen miles through the desert, but to be going behind his back and making decisions on what could very well have been his last hope at getting his house back is not something he cannot stand by and tolerate.
Taking up his cane, Daymon carefully steps out of the vehicle and hobbles over. “We have matters to converse upon.”
Rezin nods. “Yeah… let’s converse.”
“We spoke, and we came to an agreement.”
They’re in Rocko’s room. Daymon and Arsvinnar stand beside one another, hands on their hips. Rezin faces them, arms indignantly folded over his chest.
The briefcase of two-hundred grand in cash sits on the bed between them.
“Funny how I wasn’t included in this super important decision making process,” says Rezin pointedly.
Even with Ollie standing there looking sad and apologetic, it’s hard for him not to feel betrayed.
Rocko pushes on. “For the time being, I shall be holding onto the money for safe-keeping.”
Rezin shakes his head.
“That ain’t gonna fly by me, Rock-head. My childhood home is in that briefcase. And no offense, but I don’t trust you enough to be hangin’ onto it.”
Daymon’s eyes narrow into slits.
“I understand why you don’t trust me, Erik. But can you honestly say you trust yourself any more?”
Rezin grunts. He knows the answer to that, but would rather not give this fucker the satisfaction of hearing him admit it.
“That was the whole point of gettin’ it away from me…”
Ollie clears his throat and pipes in. “Erik, believe me, I understand why you’re worried. But hear me out, brother… maybe this can be seen as an exercise in self control?”
“Indeed,” Daymon concurs with a nod. “As I said to you earlier, a champion cannot succeed by running away from the challenge. You must run toward it. Additionally, in order to maintain yourself as a high-level athlete, you will need to learn how to finance your daily activities.”
Rezin shrugs. “Fuck, when have I ever needed ‘funding’ to do what I do? Last I checked, nobody was chargin’ a cover for flippin’ off the top rope.”
“Our lodging in this place, however, is not complimentary.”
Point. The heat in the storage unit would have been atrocious at this time of year.
“Neither are the bus tickets for your weekly commutes between the two promotions you are actively working for.”
Another point. Hitching rides for weed had been a somewhat unreliable and super sketchy process in the years since the legalization movement.
“Nor are overnight deliveries of filets of fresh salmon.”
Yet another point… although, c’mon man, cut the dude some slack for trying to do something good for once.
“There is also the matter of the fine that must be paid in full by UltraViolence.”
Rezin’s hands instinctively clench at the mental image of Lindsay Troy’s self-righteous smirk.
“Oh, she’ll be gettin’ payment, believe me…”
The head of Daymon’s cane rapping against the lid of the briefcase snaps him back to attention.
“This is not a time for you to be losing sight of your path, Erik,” says the veteran. “You have a series of important contests in the coming weeks. The stakes have never been greater than they are now.”
Rezin realizes he’s right. He knows he doesn’t have the time, let alone the capacity, to be stressing himself over financial matters. The faces floating through his mind belong not on banknotes, but in the ring.
“You need this time and focus dedicated to more important tasks. Training. Meditation. Elevating yourself to your fullest potential. But to balance all that, you need someone to manage your affairs. And necessary investments are to be expected to be made along the way.”
Beside him, Arsvinnar nods. “I ran the numbers. Trust me, buddy, there will still be plenty of cash left over to get the house back by UltraViolence.”
The Escape Artist’s surrenders to a silence that rings louder than any tap-out.
He thinks about all those would-be prospectors that came through here a hundred years ago. Searching for that great golden motherload. Did they ever suspect for a moment that they’d be saddled with the issue of having to haul away more than they could possibly carry?
“Do what you gotta do,” says the Goat Bastard, as he turns to walk out the door.
“Gold never felt so heavy, until it ended up in my hands.”
Hell’s Favorite Hoosier is in his motel room, sitting at the end of the bed. Even with the AC on full blast, his body shows a layer of sweat.
“I’ve been liftin’.”
In his lap is the only thing left in this world he can rightfully call his own: the Five Star Championship of PRIME.
“But the burden of this belt ain’t anything compared to the burden it puts on my mind.
“The burden of guilt.”
The room’s TV is on. He’s replaying his previous matches. Studying his every movement.
Highlighting his every mistake.
“Knowin’ what I’ve done to get to this level.”
On the screen, we see the replay of his standing sitout shiranui on Hayes Hanlon at Great American Nightmare, ending the fiery reign of a young fan favorite for a new one helmed by an aging, over-the-hill product of outlaw mudshow wrestling.
“Knowin’ what I’ll inevitably need to do to stay here.”
On the screen, we see the replay of the low blow given to GREAT SCOTT at ReVival 12, cutting short the impressive win streak of another young talent.
“Knowin’ I had to ruin dreams, just to realize my own.
“But that’s the nature of the beast, so they say.”
He lights a J and gives us his undivided attention.
“What’s your dream, FLAMBERGE? Your list of five names?
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get my shit together in time to be one of ‘em.
“But I ain’t sleepin’ on ya, kid…
“And hopefully, you ain’t sleepin’ on this opportunity to take down a reigning champion.
“I’d be sorely disappointed if you were.
He picks the belt up from his lap and looks it over.
“I should apologize that you’ve been denied a proper chance to compete for this title… but apparently, there’s a lot of money invested in this crazy idea of GREAT SCOTT becoming PWA’s big belt collector.
“And as we all know well by now, the Queen has pledged her fealty to the all-consuming, ever-growing Firebird.
“Prospectors… searchin’ for gold…”
He snorts, sending twin nebulae of smoke shooting through his nostrils and dissipating into the air.
“But this belt ain’t a stone for that Infinity Gauntlet.
“And my fight with SCOTT ain’t what’s on my mind right now.
“You are, FLAMBO.
“Along with your whole mission within the Glue Factory.
“Cause I ain’t stupid to the whole conflict in the PRIME locker room right now. The battles between young and old. Those trynna get there, and those who have been there and back.
“Given what I’ve done to beat out rising stars like Hayes and SCOTT, I suppose I’ve earned a place HIGH up there on that list of geezers.
“But here’s the thing, kid…”
He repositions the belt onto his shoulder.
“I’m pretty much livin’ proof that your generation ain’t cut for the spotlight right now.
“That’s not to say you ain’t got the heart and the hunger. But those’ll only get ya so far in infancy.
“Take it from me… a warrior born to lose, then reforged to win
“Before you can rise to the heavens, ya gotta know how to deal with the heat of the sun.”
Something on the screen gets his attention.
A commercial for PWA.
The Goat Bastard smirks as he takes another long draw off his ridiculously large spliff.
“How else ya gonna pick yourself up when you crash and burn?”
Ridiculously large, because it is apparently rolled from a eight-and-a-half by eleven sheet of paper.
We can almost briefly see the words “PWA Talent Contract” printed there, before they turn to ash in the orange glow of the burning cherry.
“How else ya gonna rise from the ashes?”
Fade to VOID.