THE VALLEY OF UNREST
Nothing quite compares to the majesty of a Seattle sunset in late October.
One would think it unlikely, given the city’s notoriety for seemingly endless overcast.
But under the right conditions, the view of the horizon becomes positively Monetesque. A stripe of golden fire, peeking out between the blackened earth and bands of violet, marbled clouds.
Vista of the Gods.
That evening, from the balcony of his palatial mountainside cabin, Kerry Kuroyama basked in that waning amber light. Only instead of the sky, his eyes fixated on the sun’s rays passing through the swirling nebula of liquid bronze confined to his whisky tumbler.
The mind was somewhere else.
“You’re missing your own party.”
The soft, familiar lilt of a woman’s voice brought it back to reality. Its owner soon joined him on the patio.
Elena Valentine was fifty-three years young, and aged as gracefully as the likes of Aniston and Blanchett. The light of the golden hour brought a glow to her flowing blonde hair.
The aforementioned party continued beyond the windowed double-doors that led into his populated living room, emitting a steady din of interpersonal conversation and light bossa nova music playing through the house speakers.
“I’ll only be a minute,” Kerry responded, waving the lit Luxury Black clenched within his knuckles.
He brought the cigarette up for another drag, only to have it swiftly plucked from his lips and sent over the rail by his present company.
Deflated, he watched helplessly as the orange ember disappeared into the dark of the wooded area below.
“Thought I raised you better than that,” she scolded, albeit with a mother’s warmth and softness.
Vengefully, Kerry raised his tumbler.
“Oh, you did…”
He threw her a mischievous, trolling smirk. One that she’d become all too familiar with since his days of rebellious childhood.
“I just got worse.”
He gave the glass a shake…
…and took a sip, while the woman who brought Seattle’s BEAST into this world proffered an endearingly bemused smile to draw attention away from the slight look of pain in her eyes.
“Lovely evening, by the way,” said Elena, changing the subject to the happenings indoors. “I’m happy you went with something classy like this, as opposed to just going out on the town with your friends.”
No, Kerry wasn’t going to spend the night of his birthday getting wild and debaucherous with the boys.
That was for after midnight. Strawbviously.
Still, he couldn’t help but feel a tinge of pride for what he’d put together to celebrate his thirty-one years existence. He kept it to a small, select group of friends and family, both old and new. A cozy, business-casual mixer, with an autumnal vibe.
Classy. Tasteful. Adult contemporary.
Light jazz. Sweaters with blazers. Tumblers and wine glasses. Charcuterie boards.
Maybe one or two jack-o-lanterns to keep things festive and provide some soft light, but nothing outright garish. This wasn’t some costume party bullshit, after all.
God, he hated masks.
“Guess we all have to grow up at some point.”
Elena nodded in silent agreement as she thoughtfully took a sip of the cabernet sauvignon from the goblet in her hand.
“Although, if I had to be honest, it does somewhat feel like a gathering of Bond villains.”
While he was happy to see most of the other members of Vae Victis make the trip up to Seattle for the weekend, he also anticipated the unique interactions that would be created with their inevitable introduction to his mother.
But aside from a long and extended one-mom-to-another conversation with Lindsay, Elena Valentine mainly kept her distance from the group.
Which, Kerry had to admit, was probably for the better.
Sonny was a Seattle local, but had no filter when he spoke.
Oscar had a natural Kiwi charm when it came to conversation, but still couldn’t go five minutes without talking about his thrice-damned shovel or referring to someone as a “GC”.
And then there was Butch, who evidently didn’t get the memo on what kind of party it was, and showed up dressed up as a fucking mummy. He was swiftly tasked with drink duty, leaving him to spend the evening behind the bar, being spoken to by no one.
Henry, at least, had enough of a mind to fashionably (and somewhat thankfully) run a couple hours late.
“Yeah, my friends give off that vibe,” Kuroyama explained, almost matter-of-factly. “Not your cup of tea, I take it?”
Elena looked to her son, and found his eyes.
“Honestly, dear… are they yours?”
THE MASQUE OF THE GREEN DEATH
“I guess, given the season, it’s only appropriate that we tell a spooky story.”
Kerry Kuroyama, the Emerald Apex of PRIME, lounges upon a black Italian leather sofa in his luxurious mountainside home.
“Well, tell me if you’ve heard this one before…”
The only sources of light in the room come from the crackling fireplace and the glow of a nearby carved pumpkin. Through the large windows of his lodge, torrential rain is pouring down in buckets.
It is, as the adage goes, a decidedly dark and stormy night.
“Once, long ago, in some far off place, there was a plague that ravaged an entire countryside.
“Bad shit. Painful sores and bleeding eyes. Countless lives taken by pestilence and disease.”
Kerry takes a sip from the tumbler in his hand, smacking his lips as he savors the taste of whisky.
“So the prince of this land, being the great and fearless leader that he is, does exactly what one might expect of someone in his position: he shutters himself inside his castle, along with a bunch of his friends to wait it out.
“And to pass the time, as well as congratulate himself for escaping death, he throws his friends a big, opulent ball.”
Kuroyama picks something up off the coffee table before him.
A plague doctor’s mask. Emerald green.
“A masquerade, to be specific.”
For a brief moment, he holds it over his face, peering out through its eye holes.
“As one could imagine, within those isolated halls, everything is at first just fun and fabulous. The food is plentiful. The wine flows freely. Everywhere you look, there’s joy and merriment and indulgence.
“You’d scarcely believe that beyond those walls, scores of commoners were slowly and painfully dying off.”
Kuroyama’s nose briefly wrinkles as he imagines the scenario, and is soon replaced with an ominous smirk.
“But then, right as the clock strikes midnight… a stranger appears.
“An unknown figure, seemingly conjured up from the darkest corner of the keep. Clad in a funeral shroud, with a mask bearing the likeness of the very face of death.
“Slowly and silently, the uninvited guest makes their way through the scenes of revelry. Their very presence unsettles the other guests, as though he were something not of this world.
“Making a scene. By doing absolutely nothing other than being there.”
Outside, thunder softly rumbles in the distance.
“It doesn’t take long for the prince to become aware of the situation. And, as one might imagine, he’s not exactly pleased to discover that his party is being crashed in upon. So, enraged as he is, he rises off his throne to confront this brazen interloper.”
Kerry leans forward closer to us, eyes gradually growing larger with every spoken word. The deep, velvety timbre of his voice diminishes to something barely above a whisper.
“One chamber after the next, he pursues this mysterious, robed figure. Obsessed with discovering their identity and intentions.
“Finally, in a room painted as black as the night, he has them cornered. And without hesitation, he tears the mask from the stranger’s face…”
His hand claws the air, acting it out for dramatic effect.
“What he sees beyond that mask is so startling… so terrifying…”
Chuckling lightly, he draws his thumb across his neck.
“He drops dead on the spot.”
A flash of lighting from the outside briefly fills the room with white light, punctuated by the crack of thunder.
“Because beyond that mask, what he sees…”
Smiling a viper’s smile, the Emerald Apex takes another sip and settles back into the sofa.
“Makes you wonder… how could something as harmless and insubstantial as nothing be such a horrible sight that it strikes a man dead?”
“Maybe there was something within that void that his mind couldn’t handle. Maybe, in that emptiness, he found a reflection of himself.”
He looks ponderously over the mask in his hand.
“And by removing that uninvited stranger’s mask, what he really did was reveal everything he truly was behind his own.”
Kuroyama sets the mask back onto the table.
“I don’t feel our boy Edgar Allan could have better described a scene to coincide with my own arrival to PRIME.
“Here I am… this company’s own Masque of Green Death. An outsider and interloper, ominously carving a path through to a masquerade of a different kind.
“Less of a masquerade, and more of an indulgent circle jerk. Among so-called ‘athletes’, who see professional wrestling as an avenue to become some sort of weird, outlandish personality.
“So-called ‘competitors’, that pander themselves to a growing cancer of fans that insists on intoxicating this sport with stupid, contrived high spots and annoying attempts at trying to be comical.
“So-called ‘warriors’, that come out and occupy the ring along with a bunch of furniture during a live Pay Per View broadcast, so they can screech incoherently at the thousands in attendance and the millions more watching at home who paid good money in the hopes that they could view a good wrestling event.
“Clowns… like our own Rocky de Leon.
“A survivor, I assume, from the lost Pedantic period of the Mesozoic Age.”
Within the house, Kerry’s privately purchased grandfather clock tolled six times to mark the hour.
It filled the silence that followed his mother’s last question.
But a response was hardly needed. Now that he’d heard it, he wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it.
“Talk to me, Ker,” said Elena.
It’s a widely accepted fact that all moms are wizards. Through some unknown witchcraft, they always seem to know things about their children that even they don’t know.
Elena Valentine was no different. Something had changed in her son over the course of the past year. For better or for worse, it wasn’t quite yet clear.
Kerry sighed and looked across the mountain valley sprawled below them.
To the west, the light was now swiftly fading. The golden moment was drawing to a close, and nightfall was fast approaching.
To the south, an accumulation of clouds was quietly advancing. Though he could see flashes of lightning, it wasn’t yet close enough for him to hear the thunder.
But he knew he would be hearing it soon.
“I’m just stressed, mom,” he finally confessed. “Got a lot riding on this tournament.”
Was it fair to feel he was beneath a metaphorical sword of Damocles?
He came into PRIME talking a big game and boasting big connections. A personality who wasn’t about to pull punches, in the ring or on the mic. A contender motivated by a singular desire to make a statement: to declare himself as deserving a seat at the table in the conversation of one of the best in the sport.
The Almasy Tournament was his ladder into that conversation. Because, in this sport, one only gets so many opportunities to make a first impression.
But there was still the matter of living up to his claims.
The first step had been a resounding success, but gave him more trouble than expected. He still winced internally whenever he recalled the sting of Scott Hunter’s hip tosses.
He was also keenly aware that it wasn’t going to be any easier from here on out. Which meant there was no margin of error against the dinosaur. No room for mistakes. Falling flat on his face now would make him a laughingstock before his peers. The ultimate offense to his own standard.
“I can’t fuck this up,” said Kerry, quivering. “I can’t let them see me fuck up.”
His head tilted in the direction of the ongoing party, which now felt miles away.
“And I think I’m beginning to realize that it’s all mine to fuck up.”
Like a self-imposed trigger to the senses, down went another gulp of Suntory Hibiki.
Aged twenty-one years. A birthday present to himself.
He was really beginning to miss that cigarette.
Elena’s hand covered her son’s. Kerry found her face, and she smiled.
It was the kind of smile that never failed to radiate warmth and affection. Arguably the only one that could soften her son’s notoriously stony heart.
“There’s more to who you are than the sport, Ker,” she said. “I want you to remember that. If your father were still with us, you know he’d say the same.”
Kuroyama opened his mouth to say something…
…until a voice from within called his name.
In his living room, he spied a loud, Hawaiian-patterned abomination of clothing weaving its way through the palette of subdued earth tones worn by the other party-goers.
So much for keeping it classy.
“Scott,” said Kerry, firmly greeting the man with a fashion sense tragically bound to the eighties as he scurried out onto his balcony. “I’m busy here. Aren’t you supposed to be on valet duty?”
One cannot quite imagine the great pains Kerry went through having to educate his Vae Victis subordinate in the duties and functions of a professional valet. It seemed like madness to assign someone like Scott Hunter to the job, but it was a risk Kerry was willing to take, so long as it kept the moron out of sight from his other guests.
The only alternative was the more tenured lackey, Butcher Victorious, who was quickly ruled out on the basis of “Butch Vic can’t drive a stick”.
Meanwhile, insistently nodded to the aggravated host..
“Yeah, but see, there’s a problem, cause I only kinda know how to park cars. I’m not sure what to do about this big flying boat thingie that just landed.”
Big flying boat thingie?
“KER-RYYYY!!” boomed a voice from further in the house. “LET THE MAFFICKING BEGIN, MY BOY!!”
All heads turned toward the front door, as “The Kraken” Henry Keyes made his vaunted entrance to Kerry’s home.
“More friends, I take it?” inquired Elena.
From the south, thunder echoed, as the coming storm finally let its voice be heard.
THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO
“Seriously, Rocky… it staggers me knowing how close we are in age, yet how completely different we are in levels of maturity.
“I grew out of my dinosaur pajamas phase many years ago. Right around the time I learned not to wet the bed, in fact.
“So what the fuck is your excuse?
“What made you think that professional wrestling was the perfect place to fulfill your childhood dream of dressing up as a dinosaur?
“Are the circuses no longer hiring?
“Is your obsession with being a manchild so important that you have to besmirch the sport that generations of my family made a living off of?”
Kerry shakes his head, the features of his face tensing into his patented sour-milk expression.
“By now, Rocky, it should be plainly obvious that I don’t really like you.”
Shocker of the century.
“The reason why is because, honestly, I think cosplay kids like you give this sport a bad image. And sadly, we’re living in an age where this industry has no shortage of enablers. There to pat you on the back at your low points. But I have no reason to validate anyone’s ass-backwards belief that what you do is a form of ‘art’.
“As I’ve said plenty of times by now, I didn’t come to PRIME to be well-liked by everyone in the back; I came here to win.
“I’m here to tango with the Youngbloods. The Farthingtons. The Hanlons. The Sykes. The Coltons. The real greats of this company.
“Because I want to be someone who actually resonates with this sport.
“Look into your heart, Rocky.
“Can you honestly say the same?”
THE NARRATIVE OF ARTHUR GORDON PYM OF NANTUCKET
“Glad you could make it, Henry,” said Kerry, greeting the airship pirate in his living room.
“Many blessings on your birthday, ol’ chuckaboo!” crowed Keyes in his characteristically triumphant yodel. “And now, my gift to you!”
The one-eyed captain of the skies snapped his fingers. A black chest appeared before Kuroyama, delivered by two of the airship mute pirate’s plague doctors.
The other guests were beginning to stare.
Kerry was quietly contemplating how he could implement “The Kraken’s” bizarre obsession with pancakes and wild cat ownership into the evening’s theme. But before he could put enough thought into it, the lid to the chest came off by way of the plague doctors that brought it in.
“This present is a double-decker,” began Keyes, reaching into the ancient receptacle. “First up, something to quaff your insatiable thirst!”
Out came a bottle, which he promptly handed over. Kerry took a moment to look over the label.
Violet Crown Emerald Absinthe. Very nice.
A hand-written note was attached to the backside that simply read two words: “For victories.”
“As for the second part of my gift…”
Henry beamed ear to ear as he pulled out a plague doctor’s mask. The very same worn by his servants.
Only this one was bejeweled in a lustrous emerald green.
Keyes nodded assertively.
“And a merry All Hallow’s Eve to you!” declared the airship pirate. “Something you could wear on your next trip down the ring!”
That wasn’t happening.
But Henry still had more to sell to him.
“Imagine what they’d call you, Kerry! ‘The Emerald Plague!’”
There was no fucking way he was going with ‘Emerald Plague’.
How in the hell was he a plague?! If anything, he saw himself as the cure to the disease of shitty wrestling.
What kind of fucking idiot would think ‘Emerald Plague’ was a good nickname?
“I bloody love it!” said Oscar Burns at that moment.
Kerry forced a smile onto his face.
A tense, eye-twitching, Homelander-style smile.
“Cool idea. I’ll definitely think about it.”
Goddamnit, he hated masks.
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM
“Seems to me, Rocky, from where I’m standing, that your time in this company over the past year was spent only in the service of establishing yourself as a middling talent with a dumb, goofy catchphrase that the fans can easily remember and repeat.
Kerry snorts contemptuously.
“And lately, rather than furthering yourself, it would seem as though you’ve been more preoccupied with antagonizing Arthur Pleasant. The greatest bottom-feeder currently known to this sport.”
“I suppose that if that’s how you choose to utilize your time in this sport, then by all means, Rocky… knock yourself out. Somehow, I feel that the two of you were practically made for each other.
“Right now, though, I can safely say that you are the only one on my mind. Because my disgust for your kind in this sport leads me to do more than simply beat you.
“No, Rocky… I want to fucking embarrass you.
“I want to send you limping back up that rampway to the back with serious doubts on your mind.
“I want to leave you asking yourself if you’re seriously cut out for this sport.
“Because unlike you, right now, I am living for this tournament.
“I am working tirelessly every day to be at my best. To be better. To use my time productively, in the hopes of busting brackets and making a resounding statement that puts everyone involved in this sport on notice.
“And I’m not about to let those ambitions be interrupted by PRIME’s resident Jurassic jack-off.
“Come ReVival, I intend to remind all the screeching fans out there you’ve somehow managed to win over just what sets the real wrestlers of this industry apart from those stuck with the mentality of eight-year-olds.
“So grab your toys, Rocky. And get ready to be put down for the night…”
The grandfather clock tolls twelve times.
“Cause it’s midnight, motherfucker.”
EVERYTHING FINDS ITS PLACE
As taken from the Suntory website:
“Hibiki is the paragon of harmony—launched in 1989 to commemorate Suntory’s philosophy of living in harmony with people and nature. The name Hibiki means “resonance” in Japanese. Suntory Whisky Hibiki resonates with the subtleties of nature infused by the 24 seasons of Japan’s traditional calendar and reflected in the 24 facets of its bottle’s design. Hibiki is a noble blend of innumerous malt and grain whiskies from Suntory’s acclaimed distilleries, and is embraced as an icon of Japanese luxury from the award-winning House of Suntory Whisky.”