The life of a professional wrestler was often one of wanderlust.
You packed up, drove to a town, wrestled in front of a crowd that you hoped gave a shit and wasn’t in the double digits. Then you got paid, and went to the next town. It was a hard life, one that required passion and sacrifice to succeed.
For much of his career, Coral was doing this on a worldwide scale.
He’d been one of the lucky ones.
He didn’t have the biggest name in professional wrestling, but he did have a name. He cultivated one outside of the periphery of the big promotions.
Coral’s name could sell out buildings, though they were the small ones.
Yet, he was still one of the lucky ones.
Wrestling was an unfair, cruel business, its roads paved with nobodies, also-rans, and historical footnotes. Coral knew this from the day he completed his training that those expecting an easy lunch would be sorely disappointed. And also, starving. And maybe, just maybe, willing to resort into a tiny bit of cannibalism.
After all, more than forty people had attempted to train under Joey Malone, a man that Coral himself called “the Charles Darwin of Professional Wrestling”. Only three men could ever say they succeeded. Only two still wrestled today.
Only one could ever say they were Joey Malone’s protégé.
“Lucky” for Coral.
“You’re gonna be fiiine,” Joey Malone said to a nervous Coral Avalon in a tone that conveyed no possible reassurance.
“Easy for you to say,” Coral managed to say without stepping over his words.
Twenty years ago, Coral Avalon was a teenaged rookie about to make his debut with Action! Wrestling, the play toy of a coke-addled rich kid in Reed Young.
Joey Malone was, at this time, in possession of the Bantam championship as its inaugural champion. Before you ask, no, Joey was most certainly not a “bantamweight”. The reason it was called a “Bantam” championship was because they wanted a “B” name for the secondary championship of the promotion to go with the Action, Carnage, and Dyad championships, and that’s what Mr. Young came up with.
Remember, he was high on the coke. Allegedly.
That championship straddled the broad shoulder of Malone.
A few hours from now, he would collect the Carnage championship from a wrestler named Simon Seaman, who was one of his best friends. Yes, that was his name. We’re already talking about a guy named “Coral Avalon”, so we’re well past the point where we should be questioning names.
In any case, the situation Coral found himself in was ridiculous.
This wasn’t some random weekly television program that he was debuting on, this was a pay-per-view.
The butterflies were on the loose, and were quickly amassing five stars in the GTA of his stomach. The National Guard would need to be called before everything there started catching butterfire.
“How did you do this the first time?” Coral asked.
“Huh? Uh, well, I sure as shit didn’t debut on a pay-per-view for my fourth match ever, if that’s what you’re askin’.” Joey said, nonchalantly.
Joey’s career trajectory was the exact opposite of Coral’s. He achieved all of his glories in the last three years of his career. By this time, he was already in the IWO Hall of Fame. Months from now, he’d end up in the “Ring of Gold”, which was the Action! equivalent. Before the IWO, Joey spent almost a decade grinding it out on the indies, trying to make ends meet alongside Daniel Phillips. He was known to be very close to quitting wrestling altogether when he got signed with the IWO’s developmental league.
“I mean, what did you do for your first pay-per-view?”
“Huh, well, that takes me back,” Joey laughed, looking up at the ceiling as he reminisced, “Danny and I were challenging for the IWO Intercontinental Tag Titles, I think. Can’t really remember all that well, and don’t even know why they had two tag titles, to be honest. Think we just killed our nerves with booze before we went out there.”
“Yeah, that’s, uh… that’s not an option.” Coral said.
Oh no, it’s up to four stars now. Crap, crap, crap.
“Look, kid,” Joey said, setting the Bantam championship down on the box he was leaning against and grasping Coral by the shoulders, “God willing, this won’t be the last time you do this. Straighten yourself up.”
“Alright. Just remember what I taught you,” Joey said, nodding sagely.
Coral blinked. Flashes of Spartan-style torture under the guise of wrestling training entered his mind. What did he learn in that school?
Joey grinned, “Yep!”
Years later, Coral would decidedly not heed that advice.
Joey released his grip on Coral’s shoulders and nodded towards the curtain. An Our Lady Peace song that he used to use played obnoxiously to announce his arrival to the grand stage.
Coral felt a slap on his back from Joey as he turned to face the music.
“Knock ‘em dead, kid!”
Coral Avalon returned home from Tampa Bay to a house almost colder than the outside.
His wife had warned him as he was on his flight home that the heat had gone out the previous night. Annabelle had a ranked list of things she didn’t like. She liked to update it every now and then and inform her husband about it. The Annabelle List had “the cold” ranked third, below “spiders” and “extremely tall men” but above “pickles” and “that thing stores do where they shuffle all the items around for no reason”.
Coral dragged his luggage behind him with his good arm. Coral frowned and let out a breath. When he saw that breath billowing from his mouth in a white cloud, he knew that she’d spoken the truth.
Neither Avalon liked the cold, after all.
Annabelle greeted him wearing her winter clothes and wrapped herself in a thick blanket.
“Did you call the heat and air folk?” Coral asked.
Among Coral’s many life skills that he’d acquired in the twenty years of living on his own, repairing heat and air wasn’t one of them. That’s why God made repairmen, he’d decided.
“Yeah. They said it wouldn’t be a couple of days until they could get someone out here.” Annabelle said, “That was after I used all of my charm and adorability, too.”
“So, you threatened them, then?”
Annabelle only smiled vaguely in response.
She definitely did.
Coral shoved his luggage out of the way and sat down at the couch. Annabelle curled up next to him, much as a cat would when it’s looking for extra warmth. Speaking of cats, Mordred joined them, clearly still seeking a way to bring Coral down. Coral rubbed his ears. Mordred decided not to destroy Coral today. But oh yes, his day will come soon. Just you wait.
Annabelle shared her collection of blankets with Coral as they tried to get warm and comfortable together. Coral didn’t wrestle at ReVival, but he still felt tired from the trip. Jet lag, probably, though he wondered how much the recent tour for Bang! actually took out from him even without what happened to his arm.
“Guess I shouldn’t ask how things have been while I was out of town,” Coral said.
“It’s been miserable, thanks for not asking,” Annabelle said with chattering teeth, “It’s hard to play guitar or shamisen when your hands are shaking from the cold. I tried wearing gloves, but that didn’t feel right, either. Ugh. Such bad timing.”
“Well, I know you’re tired of the hotels, but do you want to stay in one while we get this sorted out?”
Annabelle frowned, but she acquiesced, “Can’t get anything done that way, but sure.”
Even if they booked a hotel that’s doubtlessly warmer than this ice box, Annabelle couldn’t do her job in a hotel room. Not only would she not have any of the soundproofing she used in her makeshift studio, but there would be neighbors that wouldn’t appreciate any of the aggressive shamisen noises.
Still, it was way too cold to be hanging around here.
“We’ll get it fixed.” Coral said, “When’s your deadline?”
“Close enough to have me worried I’ll be pulling some all-nighters once it’s warm in here again.” Annabelle said, “Sorry in advance.”
“Doesn’t bother me.”
“Sure it doesn’t.”
Annabelle stretched her arms, letting out a cold breath as she did, “How’s the arm?”
Coral gave a test flex of his left arm, “They told me to put it in a sling when I got to the building just in case someone started something – it’s PRIME, people always want to start something – but I think it’s getting better. I should be good to go against Lunchbox Larry.”
“That’s an excellent question that I don’t have an answer for, unfortunately.” Coral said.
Coral Avalon had wrestled everywhere in the world. He’s wrestled on six continents. He had ideas pitched to him about doing the seventh, but how the hell would that even work? He’d never wrestled in a full parka before. Wrestling in Antarctica sounded like a terrible idea pitched at people like Coral who would definitely brag about wrestling in all seven continents if he had the opportunity.
The point was that Coral had been everywhere.
But he still didn’t know who Lunchbox Larry was.
“Maybe he does the big wrestle with a lunchbox for a head?” Annabelle suggested.
“That’s ridiculous. How do you do a headbutt on a guy like that?” Coral asked.
That might not be the first concern you or I would raise about wrestling with a lunchbox on your head, but neither of us were Coral Avalon.
“I don’t know, maybe don’t?” Annabelle asked, shrugging, “I’ve done a headbutt before, and I’m not a fan. They don’t mix too well with jizake.”
“To be fair, Junpei had it coming.”
“He did, the fucker.”
Coral grinned, an expression that carried relief that she’s on his side. Annabelle was scary when she wanted to be. As her personal designated driver, he’d seen her get wild on the rare days when she wanted to drink socially. She might be able to almost supernaturally hold her liquor, but that didn’t stop her from drunken shenanigans. Headbutts were only the tip of the iceberg.
“So, maybe he’s just super into collecting lunchboxes.” Annabelle suggested. “Oh, or he’s just hypervigilant about how one goes about eating lunch. Oh! Wait. Maybe we should focus on the Larry part. Like, who names a kid Larry these days, anyway?”
Coral gave his wife a look.
You know the kind.
Annabelle laughed in response to it, the sound of which was melodious, “You’ll figure it out! You’re you, after all. I figure as long as you’re doing things the way you usually do, you’ll be okay.”
He breathed out another cloud and looked up at the ceiling.
“I’m me, yes.”
Coral was successful in his debut match, though he felt a little wobbly after nearly getting kicked to death by Angelica Dawson. The match was a sprint to get the crowd going, and Coral looked very good for someone who’d only been wrestling for a few months at this point. He’d managed to win by hitting Kent Anthason’s “Double Helix”, a phoenix splash.
Joey slapped him on the back when Coral returned to the Argyle Position.
“Thanks,” Coral breathed, and then he flopped onto the nearest chair-like object he could find.
Coral had always been in good shape, but the sheer number of butterflies doing crimes within his stomach the entire time made him feel ten times more exhausted than he otherwise should have been. Coral wasn’t simply glad he won. He was relieved he’d finished the match at all, much less having been the one with his hand raised at the end.
“You’re gonna have to work on your conditioning, kid.” Joey smiled.
If Joey had a crystal ball and he could foresee the future of his protégé in the next three months, then he’d know that this was an understatement. There was a match on Coral’s horizon that would test the very limits of his natural talent and his conditioning, one against a man who called himself “the Original”. He also had the Belmont Classic to worry about later that year.
“Don’t reckon I taught you half the shit you did out there, though.”
Coral wheezed out his words, “I took from other wrestlers.”
Was it always this tough to get air through the mouth-hole? Was this a new and exciting aspect of the human body that he was unaware of before he chose the profession where he’s thrown to the ground all the time? This wasn’t even his first match, yet it felt worse than that one.
“Sure. Saw a bit of that. Saw that weird DDT that Kellen Kincade uses. Saw the Helix. You even threw in a spear, that’s ‘ol Roland’s.” Joey said, “Only question I got is… why?”
Coral let his arms rise and drop as a shrug.
“Worked, didn’t it?”
Joey gave Coral a look.
You know the kind.
“Sure, it worked now, but it’s like a diet of junk food. Sooner or later, folks are gonna catch on that you’re stitching your shit together from patchwork, and you’re gonna be too bloated from all that pro wrestling Taco Bell to do anything about it.” Joey said.
“But it worked, though.” Coral said.
“Didn’t you listen to a word I said, kid?” Joey asked. “It’s got a ceiling. Sooner or later, you’re gonna run into it. With your face.”
As the two talked, a man walked by the two of them. He wore a light brown business suit, his short hair was messy with some sort of blonde with dark roots. His eyes had a faraway look to them, possibly because his brain was currently orbiting Jupiter at this very moment and needed to radio back to his living human body every once in a while to make sure things were okay.
Reed Young gave Coral two big thumbs up, and said in a volume that was extremely impolite to use indoors, “Keep doing what you’re doing!”
He then walked right on by as though Joey wasn’t even there.
Coral watched the owner of the company go, and gave Joey an exhausted, shit-eating smile.
Joey ran his hand down his face, “Jesus fucking Christ, Reed…”
Unfortunately for the both of them, Coral’s style of wrestling caught on with fans, just as it did with Reed.
The Kleptomaniac was truly born on that night, he kept doing what worked for the time until the day he realized it wasn’t working.
It would take Coral Avalon a decade to finally heed Joey’s advice.
Coral still had no idea who Lunchbox Larry was even into the next day.
He found it frustrating to have an opponent that he had no information about going into a match.
After he and his wife booked a hotel room so they had somewhere warm to sleep, Coral visited the Gates of Avalon Wrestling School and its media room.
Franco was there with the new class. Twenty-four people, eighteen men and six women. Coral spoke briefly before the new recruits, even though he knew deep down that he’d be lucky to see a fourth of them remaining after the first month.
Coral put that thought out of his mind as he looked through his library.
Why did he not know this name?
He thought he had a lead looking into a tournament he participated in at Rapier: Battle Arts many years ago in the United Kingdom. It wasn’t. That was “Dinner Plate” Gavin Yum, a man whose skills were far above his silly name. Just like Coral.
He found other food-themed wrestlers he’d worked with or knew about over the years. Obviously, there was King Blueberry and Reina Raspberry. Neither of them were Larry, for sure. He only recently met “Hot Buttered” Leroy Scrumptious, and he definitely wasn’t a Larry.
He was interrupted from his thoughts when Franco knocked on the door to media room. The noise startled Coral, who dropped a DVD from a food-themed wrestling show he did in Spain years ago. That was a show he headlined as Baron von Blackberry against the equally nefarious Duke Damon Delicious.
“Jesus!” Coral barked in surprise.
“Nah. That was a past life.” Franco quipped, “Something on your mind?”
“I was looking into a wrestler I’m supposed to meet at Rev 22 named Lunchbox Larry. I can’t find anything about him.”
“Didn’t you wrestle him in Portugal?” Franco asked.
“No, that was Sir Juan Fernando de Butterscotch. The Third.” Coral said.
“Oh, that guy. With his cookie minions. His legally distinct cookie monsters. Hm. What about the one guy you wrestled in Norway?”
“That was Bjørnar Frankenbeans the Destroyer. He destroyed buttholes,” Coral said, before he quickly made a few panicked hand gestures, “Not mine! Mine was left pristine after that encounter!”
Franco stared at him, convinced that the denial was too specific to be true, and simply said, “Sure.”
Then he shrugged his shoulders, and came up with the next suggestion, “The guy in Luxemburg?”
“That was…” Coral let out a defeated breath as he recited the name, “Eggs Benedict Arnold.”
Franco groaned at the name. “Seriously?”
Franco looked up to the ceiling in thought, and then he asked, “Didn’t we have a tag match in Ireland against some guys like this?”
“The Pirates of Dark Tuber,” Coral said, gravely, as though speaking of a most fiendish and terrible enemy, “Spud Wellington and Potato Pete, along with their valet, Black-Eye Shetland Black.”
“How did we even survive?” Coral asked.
There was a pregnant pause between the two of them. They looked around uncomfortably, seemingly afraid that the walls would grow eyes. The Pirates of Dark Tuber were said to be able to see everything, after all. Their victims were often found lying unconscious in the ring covered in carrots and thick, juicy meats. The clear victims of boiling, mashing, and being stuck in a stew.
“Anyway,” Franco said, “Shouldn’t matter if you don’t know him. Just keep doing what you’re doing, Avy. Show this Tupperware Tom our creed.”
“I don’t give a shit.”
Coral laughed at Franco’s impatience.
“Okay. Seriously, though. What should I do?” Coral asked, “Besides beat him, I mean. How do I go from the Lunchbox Larries of the world to fighting, say, a Hayes Hanlon?”
Franco shrugged his big shoulders and leaned against the door frame.
“The man that I know you are would not be asking. He would simply do it.” Franco said, “Keep doing what you’ve been doing. Make everyone you meet regret stepping in the ring with you. Friend or foe. It doesn’t matter.”
Coral nodded, picking up the DVD of the match with “Dinner Plate” and putting it back on its shelf.
“Keep doing what I’m doing, huh?”
“Yeah. Sometimes, you just forget you’re one of the best in the world, and you do extra shit that don’t help you, when you should just kick this man’s face off and claim his arms as your own. Ain’t none of this is rocket science, Avy. You know that better than anyone.”
“Yeah, but have I ever told you about the rocket scientist I wrestled in Houston? ‘Big Launch’ Rudy Rockets?”
Franco’s face slowly tilted forward, an owl-like expression of disapproval on his face.
“Okay, you made that one up.”
Coral reacted as though he’d been shot in the chest, stepping backwards and holding a hand near his heart. Franco impatiently rolled his eyes at the entire display.
“Damn. You got me.”
Franco didn’t say anything else.
Instead, he turned and walked out of the media room.
Coral watched him go with half of a smile.
“Keep doing what I’m doing, huh?”
He sat down on the nearby couch.
He thought about the myriad ways he could end a match. He thought about the many ways he knew he could turn the human body into a non-Euclidian shape. He thought about how he could apply both of those things to Larry.
His smile became full.
“Maybe that’s more than Larry can handle.”
Coral managed to convince someone to come repair the heat in his house sooner than they told Annabelle. Perhaps he warned them of the sheer velocity of an Annabelle Avalon headbutt.
He’s unlikely to say.
Like that, it was back to doing what the two of them did best: Coral solved puzzles in his head about how to be the best wrestler he can be, and Annabelle made music.
It was bliss.
Truly, Coral Avalon would be happy with things remaining exactly as they were.
Yet, he had one goal he wanted to accomplish before he could embrace this bliss without worry.
He couldn’t keep doing what he’s doing.
Not if he wanted his crown.