”Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place… Nothing outside you can give you any place… In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.”
– Flannery O’Connor
I. THE ROAD HERE
Gasoline fumes wafted over and through the crowd. The urban landscape of Chicago stretched out to either side of this bus stop, with a metal corrugated roof structure protecting the passengers from the elements. The rain pinged the tin roof, creating a drum-like cacophony of sound.
Scott Hunter stood in the middle of the crowd, drawing no attention to himself. His dark gray hoodie was pulled halfway down over his eyes, but he thought that he would barely have been noticed even if he hadn’t tried at all.
Scott sighed and stepped up onto the steps leading into the bus and adjusted the strap of the bag slung over his shoulder. The bus driver, a middle aged gentleman with close cropped salt and pepper hair, nodded with a slight smile at each person as they climbed inside. Scott nodded back and headed down the aisle, finally taking a seat near the back of the bus.
He scooted to the window seat and sifted through the contents of his bag, pulling out some earbuds. Placing them in his ear, he looked down at his phone and clicked over to his playlist, and pressed play.
♫ “Miss Misery” by Elliott Smith ♫
As the music played, he looked out through the window. The bus lurched forward and they accelerated around a circle drive and into traffic. Within a few minutes, the city began to give way to the countryside South of Chicago, on a path leading toward St. Louis.
Scott had never been much of a deep thinker, but the emotions and motivations of a lesser thinking man are no less genuine. Most of the PRIME roster is probably flying in, but Scott wasn’t there yet. He was welcomed into the inner sanctum of Vae Victis at Ultraviolence, but he wasn’t all the way there yet either.
Sometimes the meandering images in a young man’s mind start to form stories of their own volition, not following any recognizable pattern, and for Scott, there was some solace in not knowing yet everything that he someday should. It had begun as a simple life, and getting here is only the beginning of this journey.
But he was here now, and all he could think about was not taking it for granted. He was smart enough to know that all of this, humble though it may be, can be taken away in an instant. He wasn’t a pedigreed talent, he had no bloodline of any import. His upbringing, by all accounts, was troubled to those looking from the outside in. He dropped out of school in ninth grade, but what he lacked in formal education, he made up for in determination and effort. His father wasn’t around, so he spent every day and night, weekday and weekend, working menial labor jobs to earn any buck he could.
There isn’t a punchline here. There is no clever play on words to peel the reality of Scott Hunter back and simply entertain. He was a man who made the choice to keep these things close to him, because the worst thing you can give anyone is pity. So he decided the best thing to do is to give a distraction from the sadness, from the emptiness. There was nothing special about this. It’s the same weight that rests on everyone eventually. And he was determined to overcome it, though he did not know how.
Wrestling became an option by accident. It was a kind gentleman whom he worked with at the shipyard who, seeing his size, suggested he get into fighting. “You may be dumb as a pile of rocks, but you’re a big son of a bitch. As long as you can use those hands of yours, I’m willin’ ta bet you can be trained up to do some damage.”
But he happened upon professional wrestling one night in Miami when he was much younger. It was at a friend’s house that he saw it for the first time. His buddy, a ruddy haired kid down the street named Eric with whom he shared a sixth grade history class, invited him over for a sleepover.
It was November 4, 2007, and Eric was a big wrestling fan. Scott just wanted to eat some pizza rolls and watch some television, and Eric turned on PRIME’s The Great American Nightmare.
He stared at the screen and was immediately mesmerized. He barely said a word all night, despite Eric’s mindless rambling, but he was enthralled, and he spent the next five years dreaming of something. He felt like he knew who he was and who he wanted to be for the first time. And so, when the nice co-worker gave him the number of a local trainer, he jumped at the chance.
It was all he ever wanted.
And suddenly, he was here. He was in the Almasy, one of the biggest tournaments in the entire sport of professional wrestling. He was a nobody, with hardly any accomplishments to his name, and nothing but uncertainty in front of him. But he was here, he was invited in, and he promised himself that finally, he would make his name mean more than a punchline.
He craned his neck to the side and peered up at the sign over the freeway. They were about ten miles from St. Louis.
It was a long bus ride because he couldn’t afford a flight. But he was ten miles away. Ten miles away from his destination.
He pulled the earbuds from his ears and stuffed them back inside his bag. He sighed, looked out the window at the city rising before him, and smiled.
”It takes more energy to give a damn than to not give a damn.”
– John Stack IV
Craig Massey here, everyone.
Here’s the deal, guys. I know how you’re all lookin’ at my boy, Scott. Yeah, he makes a fool of himself an awful lot, and sure, he’s not winnin’ any trivia contests, but there’s something I need you all to know.
That boy cares more about professional wrestling than anything else in the entire world. It’s all he’s ever wanted to be and every single day, he pushes himself upward and onward toward reaching his goal of being the very best in the entire world.
What you’re looking at right now is the genesis of a superstar. You don’t get to be a superstar without being supremely talented, and let me tell you somethin’, he’s got talent oozing out of every pore in his body. He’s got a long way to go, but he ain’t goin’ down without a hell of a fight.
Did you see the beating he took at the hands of Arthur Pleasant a few weeks ago?
He was beaten, bloodied, choked out, and the very next morning he was knocking on my door to train, because all he wants to do is get better. That’s it. He’s a kid where this business is concerned, only twenty-seven years old and only been doin’ this for about two years. And yet, here he is, set to face a member of Vae Victis in the Almasy. This is probably far beyond his wildest dreams to this point, but he’s still dreaming. He’s still pushing, and one thing he’ll never do is climb into that ring and fail to do whatever it takes to get a little bit better every single time.
Kerry Kuroyama, we’ve had a good long talk about you.
Scott was very excited when he came back to the hotel after Ultraviolence was over. He got to spend most of the evening watching a sold out stadium show alongside some of the best around, and the kid was absolutely giddy. He manages to play it cool and hide behind jokes and puns, but trust me, he knows who everybody is. I made sure, after all, that he had a full grasp of the task ahead of him. I made sure he knows that this match will likely be the toughest match of his career so far. We know what a serious man you are, and we know that you take this sport very, very seriously. So do I, and I’ll make sure Scott understands that too.
You’re one of the best, yes, I did say that, but don’t think for one second that Scott is gonna roll over and hand you this match. You want to make a big first impression in a PRIME ring, I think we all get that, but Scott’s got much more to prove than people may realize. He wants to be great, man. He wants it so badly, he can taste it. That’s what I’m here for, to make him great.
So if he wants to be great, if he intends to be great, if he wants to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with professionals like Kerry Kuroyama, Lindsay Troy, Henry Keyes, Oscar Burns and Clay Byrd, he’ll have to stand toe to toe with you and prove his worth. And I warn you, yeah the kid hasn’t done any winnin’ yet, but once he cracks that seal, there’s no tellin’ how good he can be.
He doesn’t even realize how good he can be.
But I’ll make a promise to you. He’s gonna learn. He’s gonna learn, man.
And he won’t be the butt of everyone’s jokes anymore.
”We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”
– May Sarton
Wow Craig, that was certainly a very intense and serious speech you gave just then, but look, I’m Scott Hunter, not you. I didn’t write that speech, you did, and I think I need to get my point across as myself, not as some stuffy old man who thinks he knows more than he really does!
I’m just kidding. I cherish our time together. You’re the best. You are very handsome and bright, and also thank you for letting me use your Netflix password. I’m two episodes away from finishing Wednesday.
I wanna talk about myself, as myself for a minute here, so do me a favor everyone, sit back, relax and let me introduce… myself.
I said myself a lot in that sentence, but it’s okay because that is called ‘emphasis’, which is a word I heard someone use on the train once.
Now, a lot of what Craig said is true. I have been doing nothing but thinking about wrestling since I was in middle school. I still have the first wrestling trunks I ever bought from the pawn shop around the corner from my house. I got the trunks, some knee pads and arm pads, a belt, a sweet ass robe with blue sequins on it and even a mask. Apparently a luchador moved to town, became a fan boat tour operator and sold all of his gear to make ends meet. It’s a very sad story, but it worked out pretty nicely for me, so he can shut up and stop whining, thanks.
What I really want everyone to know about me though is not some sob story about my childhood, and I’m not gonna tell you all the story of when I got pantsed at my eighth grade dance by the head cheerleader just to gain sympathy or something.
You didn’t hear that pants thing.
No, I want to point out and highlight the fact that I have been busting my hump and training seven days a week, twenty five hours a day, and if you are any good at math you know that means I only leave eight hours for sleep each day. That is the recommended amount, according to doctors and my next door neighbor’s niece, who is a smartass. I am sorry for cursing, but that little girl really gets on my nerves.
She’s right about the sleep though, and that’s important.
I do all of this because I need to be a winner. It’s as simple as that. I’ve been mostly losing since I started as a professional in this sport and I’m quite honestly getting very, very tired of it. There’s something holding me back from breaking through that glass ceiling, but I’m going to continue to work harder than anyone else around here until I can do it.
You know why? It’s because this matters to me. It matters. It’s not good enough to simply eek my way through life just surviving. I want to be great. I want to be one of the best. I want to walk into a room and have people think, hey, that’s one of the best there’s ever been, and hey, isn’t that multiple time champion Scott Hunter? And hey, maybe I should offer him a drink and ask for his autograph.
Actually, do that either way. I’m thirsty. I like Yoo-hoo.
That’s what I want. I won’t settle for anything else. The being great thing, not the Yoo-hoo (Just kidding I also want the Yoo-hoo).
There is simply no stone that I will leave unturned in my quest to become the man that I am destined to be. I will turn big stones, I will turn small stones, I will turn medium sized stones… What I’m saying is there will be a lot of stone turning. And then, one day, one day soon, I will turn a stone and underneath will be the key to everything! The key to excellence will be mine, and all because of stones.
Kerry Kuroyama, I want to thank you for your kind welcome into the Vae Victis lair last week. I left my dressing room on a quest for more Combos, and I found myself in the midst of greatness, also that Butch guy. But I just need to be clear right now. When I was there, eating tasty snacks, avoiding citrus fruits because I am allergic, and introducing everyone to that Simon guy, I did not yet know that I would be facing you in the first round of the Almasy. Forgive my language but… HECK!… I didn’t even know I would be invited to take part in the Almasy! I have been so bummed out about my two losses in PRIME so far, my confidence was shot, but now I feel like a new man again!
Fortune is finally smiling upon my gorgeous, naturally bronzed face, and I feel the strings of destiny pulling me ever forward!
You hear me?!
So what you are getting from me this week, Kerrance, is a man reborn, a man renewed! I am ready for my moment in the sun. I will proudly step right into the spotlight, and I will not let that light go out, because I will pay the light bill! You may be mister no nonsense very srs bsness man but I am Scott Hunter, the most promising up and coming star in this sport since somebody else who was a promising up and coming star!
AND I WILL HAVE MY DAY!
”Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.”
– C. Joybell C.
IV. ONLY WANT THE WORLD
Scott Hunter dashes across the ring and hits the ropes hard. His eyes are intensely focused on his sparring partner, and as he bounces back he leaps forward with a flying forearm, then rolls to one side and scurries to his feet. He stalks his opponent as the man tries to pull himself to his feet by the ropes, and locks him in a rear waistlock, then lifts him up and over into a belly to back suplex.
Craig Massey calls out to him. “Now, Scott! The leg! Work the leg!”
Scott looks down at him, a bit confused, then excited.
“Sweep the leg?! YES SENSEI!!”
Scott bows, then takes his sparring partner by the leg and drags him to the ropes. He drapes a leg across the bottom rope, then leaps into the air and comes down in a seated position across the man’s knee. The man clutches at his knee, but Scott pulls him away from the ropes again, raises him to a standing position and lifts him high up in the air and then down into a knee breaker.
Craig pounds his fist on the apron.
“Good!! You’ve got him set up, now finish him off!”
Scott takes a leg, spins, turns and falls back into a textbook figure four leg lock… a textbook which he claims to have written.
His sparring partner flails away, trying to break free, then reaches out in vain toward the ropes. Realizing he has nowhere to go, he looks at Scott and tries to wrench free with every last bit of energy remaining. Scott holds tight, then suddenly, and with great fanfare, he and the man lock eyes. Scott blows air out of the corner of his mouth to push a stray hair away, then suddenly…
At this, the sparring partner looks like he’s been shot. His body goes limp, all fighting back ceases, and lay there limp while Scott Hunter stares a frown through his forehead that would turn the toughest man white from terror. Finally, Scott releases the hold, and the frown.
He jumps to his feet, excited. He looks down at the mass of gelatinous human goo on the mat and smiles to himself, supremely satisfied.
“That went really well,” he said excitedly. “This guy might be dead though. I guess I haven’t learned to control the full power of my frown yet. Maybe I should hold onto that for extra big matches.”
Craig shakes his head, then climbs up into the ring and stands next to his young protege’.
“You’ve got the chain wrestling down, Scott. What I need you to work on and learn is how to use these skills of yours and when. It’s not always about who the most talented person in the ring is. Sometimes, the smarter man wins.
“I guess I’m screwed, then,” Scott said matter of factly.
Craig smiles slightly, but makes sure Scott doesn’t see it.
“Don’t sell yourself short, kid. Sure, you’re a work in progress. But I’m being paid well to make sure you learn, so we’re gonna keep working at it until I say otherwise.”
“That sounds like a good…” Scott says before a thought occurs to him. “Wait, what do you mean being paid? You said that last week at the show in the dressing room, too. Who’s paying you?? And why??”
Craig places a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about that right now. I’m sure you’ll be introduced when the time comes. Please, just trust me. I’m here looking out for your best interests. Do what I say and you’ll be just fine. You just have to want it. I’ll do the rest.”
Scott looks him in the eyes.
“I only want the world, Craig.”
The serious look in Scott’s eyes takes Craig aback a little bit, and he can’t help but smile.
“Alright. I’ll trust you. But don’t make me look bad, or stupid or something. I don’t think my new friends appreciate shenanigans, even when they’re flippin’ hilarious.”
“Enough with the shenanigans, Scott,” Craig says.
Scott holds up a hand in protest.
“Hey, you have to admit that thing in Classic with the guy who wore a bear skin with the bear holding his nipples with his paws was pretty great. He smelled pretty bad, but it’s okay, it was still hilarious.”
Craig sighs. “If you say so.”
Scott places a hand of his own on his teacher’s shoulder, and the two men start walking away from the ring and toward the door.
“I do. Look, Craig I really appreciate what you’re doing for me. I know you say you’re getting paid by some mysterious benefactor or something, but I’m just gonna put that aside for now. As long as you’re here sacrificing your time to help me achieve my dreams, you are officially and irrefutably my friend.”
Craig looks up at him, nonplussed. “Fantastic.”
“I’m hungry,” Scott replies, ignoring the comment. “This is St. Louis, eh? Time to try the local cuisine. Can’t wait to get some of that famous Missouri lobster.”
Craig stops, looks up at Scott, noticing the blank expression on his face, then turns and just pats him on the back as they walk away.