“And then, BAM! The lights go out. FLAMBERGE ‘n’ co, are still in the ring and music starts playing. Man, I tell ya, the pop! Nobody, and I mean, NOBODY saw this coming… Hessian!”
The voice belongs to Jackson Stevens, the highly-strung presenter of renowned Youtube channel OWN (Online Wrestling News). Stevens was an independent wrestler in the early 2000s and is known to never be shy of giving his opinion, whether you want it or not. We join him mid-broadcast with co-host, Philip McDaniels, long time editor of one of the most prominent “dirt sheet” magazines.
“I mean, he’s been gone for what ten years now?”
“Eleven Phil, eleven long years! But let’s not get things twisted, nobody forgot who he was! The entire Superdome lost their minds. The Murder Show is back!”
“What a way to end the final show of the year. The momentum this alone will carry into twenty twenty-four, wow. We gotta put a rating on this show, for me it’s gotta be an A+ event. What you think JS?”
Smiling, Stevens shakes his head. He almost looks lost for words… almost.
“I honestly think we need to consider adding a new tier Phil. This was PRIME at its best, ten outta ten show. These two-night shows are always a risk. Will the audience stay with you? I don’t think you had anyone changing the channel either night. This show will be talked about for years. Phenomenal matches on both nights, new champions crowned, and then capping things off like that?”
McDaniels’ struggling to contain his enthusiasm, jumps back in to the conversation.
“What direction does the company go in from here? Who steps up to face FLAMBERGE? What does Ivan do now? What plans do they have for Hessian? What about JCH, where does he go now after winning the Almasy?”
Seán O’Neill, sitting comfortably on the armchair in his Albany apartment sighs as he clicks to pause the video. His eyes can’t hide the immense disappointment that’s enveloped him over the last few weeks. Deciding to let some of his frustration out, he bangs his head off the back of the chair before adjusting his posture, arched forward, supporting his head on his upraised right hand. Unbidden, his mind automatically replays the same scene that’s been eating away at him since mid-November. There he is, hurling himself towards the figures of Williams and Mar in the ring, every last ounce of energy spent in the desperate attempt to interrupt the pin. The scene slows to an unbearable snail’s pace as Elvis Nixon’s hand comes down for the three count a split-second too soon. Darkness follows, a faint sound of a bell ringing, and only Vince Howard’s voice to mock him, rubbing salt into the wound.
“The winner of this match… ROB WILLIAMS!”
Something on the laptop’s screen caught his attention. It was the title of one of the related videos Youtube’s algorithm had displayed – “PRIME SIGNS JOBBER SEAN O’NEILL! WTF!”
Every instinct told him not to, but now that he’d seen it, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop wondering. He clicked on the thumbnail, and was presented with the smirking face of Jackson Stevens once more. This time he was wearing an incredulous, almost bewildered look.
“Good morning guys, welcome back to OWN daily here on Youtube and shout-out to those watching live on our official Twitch channel. I’m your host Jackson Stevens, here as always with “Mister Monday Mornings” Mikey Bell.”
It’s a different co-host than before for this video, Mikey Bell. Like Stevens, he was another former independent star, a generation earlier than Stevens. Bell salutes the viewers as Stevens continues his introduction.
“Today is November sixth twenty twenty-three. Yesterday we broke the news that PRIME had signed “The Wild Bu” Mar and “The Legend” Rob Williams. I for one can’t wait to see what they will bring to the table, but it turns out they weren’t the only signings PRIME made yesterday. They also signed, get this… Seán O’Neill!
“SurReal?” injected Bell.
“Not anymore! Well, at least it looks like he’s finally decided to go by his real name again, but for all intents and purposes, yes, PRIME have signed SurReal.”
Bell nods with an impressed if somewhat surprised look on his face. It’s the sort of nod you can imagine someone would give after saying something like ‘Good for him!’ Stevens though is shaking his head in disbelief.
“No, your ears aren’t playing tricks on you folks. PRIME, the number one wrestling company IN. THE. WORLD. have signed ‘SurReal’ Seán O’Neill. This guy hasn’t been seen for what? A decade? More? He sucked then, are we supposed to think he won’t suck now?”
“Now be fair Jackson, SurReal is a hell of a technician, I seem to remember him beating you without breaking sweat several times back in the day.”
“If beating me made anyone a great wrestler then there must be a whole helluva lotta great wrestlers out there. But that’s not the point. This guy has had SO. MANY. CHANCES. to make it in the big leagues. I’m not saying he’s not highly skilled, but the guy has absolutely zero star power. Go outside, take a walk, you see that broken branch on the ground? It has more charisma than Seán O’Neill! Lets run through his record here in the States; HOW – failed to make the grade, DWO – failed to make the grade, WWA – failed to make the grade, rW – failed to…”
“Hey come on now, didn’t he win all but one of his matches in Ringside?”
“It doesn’t matter Mike! GCW – failed to make the grade, and then BAM! He disappears for… let’s check this; THIRTEEN. YEARS. I’d love to know what dirt this guy has on Lindsay Troy to get hired to the most talented roster EVER. ASSEMBLED. after thirteen years, of which, according to all I can see online, he has only worked small shows in the UK since we came out of the pandemic. WHAT. THE. HELL?”
“I think it’s great he’s getting another shot at it Jackson, where is the harm in it? If things don’t work out, they don’t work out. But who knows what he will even be like now, he was a big favourite of the forums back in the day.”
“EXACTLY! Forums full of wrestling nerds! Not crowded arenas. Look I’ve nothing against the guy, but if he was enjoying working those little shows in England, good for him. He should’ve stayed there; those are the only sorts of crowds who’ll give a damn about him, unless he’s had a personality transplant whilst he’s been in exile. What about the injuries as well, let’s not forget, this guy’s body has been falling apart since, what? His mid-twenties?”
He’d seen enough. He slammed the laptop closed and pushed it aside. It’s not like he’d been shocked by what he’d heard, it was almost exactly what he’d expected. But it still stung him nonetheless. This was new to him; social media had existed before his hiatus of course, but it was nothing like the social media of today. Back then you needed to go looking for opinions, now everyone and their dog has an online presence. And the worst part is, now every one of those people feel like their opinion should be broadcast to the whole world. He wasn’t going to let it get to him… was he? Could he stop it? Then it happened, as he’d known it would.
Hey Champ! You’ve been reliving your glorious debut again huh? You really showed ‘em Seán! Seeing how excited everyone is to have you back in the business eh?
Nostril’s flaring; he closed his eyes, as if that would somehow drown out the voice. But how do you escape a voice that’s inside your head?
Welcomed back with open arms? The returning hero, back to right the wrongs of the past! Another shining example to the world, further proof of your excellence to your adoring fans, what a performance eh? They couldn’t wait to book you for ReVival 40 after that… oh never mind, I’m sure they just wanted to give some other folks a chance to try and live up to the ‘great’ Seán O’Neill. You’d definitely get a match at the pay-per-view though, its Colossus after all! THE BIG ONE! Two nights, they wouldn’t book that show without you, they couldn’t! Can you imagine a show of that magnitude without you? Surely not…
Without meaning to, he surrendered to the voice. His phone lay on the arm of the chair; he picked it up and unlocked it. The phone showed what he’d last looked at, the automated SMS he’d looked at half a hundred times already, his booking confirmation for Colossus. His eyes focused on the six words fuelling his foul mood – ‘No match – Not required to travel.’ His face was crimson, his blood boiling as it rushed to his head. A sound like a snarling wolf burst from his throat as he grimaced at the device, before throwing it violently across the room.
There he is! Haven’t I been telling you all this time – Gotta let the monster loose! Ever since you put the boots back on, you’ve went out there acting like you don’t care about the jeering, like you don’t care that they simply don’t care. You’re so determined to act like it doesn’t get to you, but this whole time, all you’ve wanted is their love. You’re a fucking hypocrite O’Neill! They don’t love you, they never will, you need to accept that. They don’t give a shit about all the miles you’ve driven; they aren’t interested in the blood, sweat and tears you’ve shed. Friends, family, all sacrificed for this, and what does it get you? NOTHING! Move on O’Neill!
The tears running from his eyes almost evaporate from the heat of his raging face. Try as he might, he can’t bring his breathing under control. His flailing hands grasp for anything he can use to pull himself from this raging torrent of self-loathing. He screams to the empty room.
“MOVE ON TO WHAT? WHAT ELSE IS THERE? I HAVE NOTHING BUT THIS! I AM NOTHING… but this…”
The last words were a barely audible whisper. And with that, he was swept over the edge of the river of loathing, plunging deep into the dark pool of despair waiting below. His eyes dart towards the kitchen, and he finds his mind already made up. Stumbling in the opposite direction, he makes for where his poor mistreated phone lies face down on the floor, it’s clear from the way he swipes it up, he’s yet to forgive it for the sin of having delivered that message. A quick glace shows another new crack on the screen, as with the others it joins, it’s just another reminder of his temper. With the phone back in his possession, he shoves it into the pocket of his jeans and starts ambling towards the kitchen. As he reaches the living-room’s light switch he initially makes to punch it, thinking better of it he feebly flaps it to the off position.
He made his way to his drawer of medical supplies. Sleeping tablets were what he wanted, but as he reached into the drawer his hand found painkillers instead. Seconds that felt like hours passed as he looked down at the painkillers in his hand.
Yeah, that’s the best thing to do. The whole bottle and go lie down. Painless, perfect for a coward like you…
For a split second, he let his mind question; who would miss him? At that very moment his eye was drawn to the most recent of his tattoos. It was on the middle of the inside of his left forearm, a beautiful orange, red and yellow phoenix with the word “Jay” written above. He let the pain wash over him, it had been just over a year since his friend and mentor had fought this very same battle and lost. One of many tears splashed onto the bottle of painkillers, as if to make the point.
“No… never that.”
His senses restored, he pushed the painkillers back into the drawer and found his quarry. He knew the correct dose, but he checked anyway, as if he didn’t trust himself given where his mind had just gone. He half filled a glass of water, downed the sleeping tablets and the water and then made his way to his bedroom.
He plugged his battered phone into the charger and climbed on to the bed. He didn’t bother undressing or even climbing under the sheets, he just lay back staring at the ceiling. His thoughts were occupied by memories of his friend, gone now, he thought of all the lives that’d been impacted. With an effort he forced himself to remember the good times; he remembered first meeting him as a young wrestler, in awe of the great Jay Phoenix. He remembered so many snippets of great advice, over many years. Slowly sleep overtook him.
His dreams were erratic, short and seemingly unrelated. He bounced from one to the next at a relentless pace. In one, he’d been a Formula 1 racing driver. He was leading, in a scarlet Ferrari, the final corner approaching. He began to drop gears in anticipation. Then he felt the car stop responding to him, he watched on in horror as he darted towards the wall. He’d lost at the final hurdle. Odd that dream, he didn’t have the stomach for high-speed driving, maybe that’s why he’d crashed the car.
In another he’d been a footballer, the life that might’ve been. He was walking out in front of a packed stadium, he couldn’t tell where; he was leading the Northern Irish side out as their captain. He knew, although he didn’t know how, this was a World Cup. He also knew it had been his own performances that had got his tiny nation to the finals. The match kicked off and suddenly he found himself through on the goalkeeper, as he swung his left boot towards the ball, a sound like a gunshot, and he was falling, grabbing his hamstring in agony. As he was stretched off the pitch, he knew the tournament was over for him and his country.
Then his dreams took him to the dark of night, wind battered him as the rain cascaded down. He recognised the place, he’d lived here as a youth. He motioned to open the front door, as he did so, thunder shook and lightning flashed. In that second he saw a reflection in the window of the door. He spun, and there at the front gate, was a shadow, darker than the night itself. It was huge, man shaped. Fear took him, he knew this nightmare, he’d had it many times as a child. He relaxed a little; he knew it went no further than this. No sooner had he remembered that, the figure moved and the gate swung open. No, this isn’t right, he wakes up now, he always wakes up at this point. Panic. He spun, frantically trying to open the door. His cold soaked hand fumbling to turn the key, COME ON! He glanced back; the figure was half way down the garden path now. There was no time to waste; he put everything he had into turning the key. SNAP. His hand came away from the lock, the upper half of the key still between his thumb and forefinger, the rest of it was in the lock. There was no way out, no escape, he saw the flash reflected as a long knife was drawn, he closed his eyes knowing defeat. It was the sound, more than the feeling, of the knife slitting his throat that made him want to scream, he tried to but the only sound was the wind and rain.
The dream shifted. He was standing in a locker-room, a quick look around the room convinced him this was the ISS Dome in Düsseldorf, Germany. He’d wrestled here countless times, this was where his ‘training wheels’ had come off. This place, more than most, held wonderful memories for him. Would he go as far as to say the days spent here were the best of his life? Very possibly! His smile reached from ear to ear as he took in his surroundings. Everything looked just right, well, no… not everything. There was a dark liquid leaking into the room from the corner of the ceiling. This was unusual; the place had always been pristine. He watched on, unable to look away, as the liquid continued to spill in. Was it getting faster? Maybe it was just a trick of the eyes? It wasn’t. Not only was the liquid coming in quicker than before, it was spreading out in both directions from the corner. In a matter of moments, it had gone from a small trickle to a gushing waterfall, already pooling on the floor. He turned and ran out of the room, needing to find someone from the venue’s staff, if he was quick enough perhaps there wouldn’t be much damage. He couldn’t understand this, there was no-one, anywhere, not a soul to be found. It didn’t make sense, all the lights were on, the arena’s sound-system was playing, the building certainly wasn’t closed. He called out but no-one answered. Frustrated he elbowed his way into a maintenance cubby, grabbed a mop and bucket and made his way back. He re-entered the room, the liquid covered two of the four walls now, as well as half the floor. There was a click from behind him; instinctively he knew it had been a lock. He pulled on the door handle, it didn’t budge, he’d been locked in. Another sound made him turn back around; to his horror the liquid rose, taking the shape of a large man. The shade extended it’s arm, pointing directly at him. The ceiling burst in several places at once, torrents of the black liquid rushed in. There was no escape; he fought to keep his head above the rapidly rising liquid to no avail. The suffocation took him as his lungs filled with the black fluid.
He was standing in glorious sunlight, luscious green grass surrounded him. Looking up he saw the Irish Sea. He recognised Belfast Harbour. He realised where he was, was standing at the top of Cave Hill, the place called McArt’s Fort. He had loved coming here in his youth, from here you could look in any direction as far as the eye could see. He walked towards the edge of the cliff, straining his eyes out across the water he tried to make out Scrabo Tower, a landmark in the distance. Wait, why was he walking to the edge? Had he forgotten his Acrophobia? Maybe it didn’t affect him in the dream? A dog barked in the distance behind him, he turned to look for it. And found he was looking at a man. No, not a man, larger, so much larger and there was no definition to the thing, it was entirely black. He looked up, hoping against hope to see a face, but as he’d instinctively known, there was none. Fear took him, as elements of his earlier dreams flooded back. He wanted to back away from this monster, but where could he go, he was already on the edge. At this moment, his Acrophobia decided to crash the party. His mind was torn, half focused on the figure standing before him, terrified of it’s intent. The other half now imagined falling from this height, panic took him, struggling to breath he tried to ask the figure what he wanted, but he couldn’t make himself do it. Without warning the shape darted forward, pushing him off the cliff. This time he could scream, and as he fell he knew death awaited him at the end of the descent.
He jumped awake, sure he had been screaming, not only in his dream, he was drenched in a pool of his own sweat. The sound of his phone buzzing from the nightstand didn’t register, he was still too shaken. Slowly he pulled himself together, he’d just been having some bad dreams, nobody was going to kill him. He let out a small laugh of relief at his foolishness, what age was he to let nightmares get the better of him? He slowly got up and recognised what had woken him; he picked up the phone and unlocked it.
Incoming text message from: PRIME
Event: ReVival 41
Location: Keybank Arena, Buffalo, NY
Buffalo? That’s only a few hours away; surely he was on the card? He closed his eyes and took a long deep breath. Time to find out, he opened his eyes and scrolled down to the bottom of the message…
Match: HESSIAN vs SEÁN O’NEILL