O, how that crowd did cheer.
Sing the song of violence then watch how the crowd sways and nods like reeds in the wind, wanton and wanting for the taste of blood on their lips, on their tongues, between their teeth, dribbling down their chins, congregating into a great flood that will surely swallow house and home, family and friend, everything and all and all and evermore.
See this boy. He’s sprawled out in defeat, the mat beneath him dyed red, red, red. Kaz Troy, a prince left for the guillotine.
Because that’s what these people really want. Violence for the sake of violence, bloodshed for the sake of bloodshed. From Rome’s Colosseum all the way to the KFC Yum! Center. We’d like to think we’ve evolved, we’ve advanced, we’ve changed, but let’s not shit ourselves. Just listen to those cheers, that mindless fervor, that decadent joy. With each kick, each punch, each tooth, each nail, a whoop and a holler and another t-shirt sold.
Rejoice! Rejoice in knowing that you, the fans, are living vicariously through those wrestlers in the ring. Rejoice in knowing that they’re a reflection of your most base instincts, the things you’d want to do to your fellow man if only you had the chance or the strength or the balls. Rejoice in knowing that you get to go home when the show is over, back to your job and your family and all the other pointless little meanderings that make up your every day. Rejoice because you’ve been entertained, your bloodlust sated, and you don’t have to live with the consequences, the pain, the memory of your actions.
See this man. He stands victorious, a mind full of hornets and his fists still trembling, the ringing in his ears tremendous. Daytona, Daytona; a cutthroat, a butcher, a murderer.
Sure, he’s happy. The Heir slain, his spot in round two secure, and Larry Lawson appeased… but look again. Buried deep beneath that apparent happiness and cocksure pride, as he leans back against the ring ropes, battered and bruised and surrounded by a chorus of boos, there’s something else, another emotion trying to bubble itself to the surface. Regret? Remorse? Just a pang, hardly perceivable and barely acknowledged. Even so, as his music plays and he makes his way up the ramp, it’s there, tunneling a hole through his brain, a single question catching flame and igniting all of his other thoughts on fire:
Well? Was it worth it?
Daytona Diamonds wasn’t feeling like himself.
He hadn’t felt like himself in days, truth be told. Weeks, if we’re really keeping count. Sitting in a greasy diner on the outskirts of Vegas, all he’d done for five minutes straight was stare into his cup of coffee; an inky black void, a caffeinated purgatory, fresh ground oblivion. Outside, the sun baked the desert while vultures flew overhead, circling the diner as if they knew Death himself had stopped in for a bite to eat.
“Daytona… ?” Larry asked from across the table. “Hello? Did you hear what I said?”
“Huh? Oh. Sorry,” Daytona said. “I was just daydreamin’ is all.”
“Well, cut it out. This is a business meeting, not an excuse for you to drift off to lala land,” Larry said. “I was talking about your match last week. That was quite the spectacle. Exactly what I asked for; a star making performance! The way you fought that boy… I didn’t think you had it in you.”
“Yep,” Daytona nodded with a forced smile. “I reckon it was pretty good.”
“Well, you’ll be happy to know that the payout for the bets I made were more than just ‘pretty good’,” Larry said. “I usually wouldn’t do this, but… given your current situation with those pesky fines, I’d feel repulsed with myself if I didn’t give you something for your troubles. Consider this an olive branch, Daytona. The start of something new, yes?”
Larry sat an envelope on the table and pushed it across. Daytona sighed as he reached for the envelope and looked inside; five hundred dollar bills, a stone-faced Benjamin Franklin staring back at him.
“Thanks,” Daytona muttered, tucking the envelope into his jacket. “Glad to be of service.”
“I thought you’d be happier,” Larry said. “I know that look. That’s the same look your father used to get when he was mad about my booking. Something bothering you? Go ahead. Let’s hear it.”
“With all due respect, the hell do you care for?” Daytona sneered. “We ain’t buddies, Larry. You’re my goddang loan shark. Let’s not get chummy.”
“Well, be that as it may, it’s in my best interest as your agent to know when you’re feeling blue, my boy,” Larry said. “I can’t have my prized pony getting depressed, now can I? Not when he has a derby to win. So, let’s hear it.”
Funny thing about thoughts versus words: you can think whatever you want and nobody ever has to know… but saying those thoughts out loud? Well, that’s not easy. Daytona didn’t like the idea of baring his soul. He shook his head, biting at his lower lip as he stared down at the table, at his coffee, at the sugar caddy, at the napkin dispenser, at anything other than Larry fucking Lawson.
“I guess I just… started thinkin’ ’bout that match with Kaz,” Daytona said.
“What’s there to think about?” Larry asked. “You won!”
“I know, it’s just…” Daytona paused. “I keep on thinkin’ ’bout the look on that boy’s face. I keep on thinkin’ ’bout how far I went. I could-a… killed him, y’know? Cold fuckin’ blood, right there in that ring. Would-a done it without a second thought. Hell, I even chased his goddang sister ’round with a fuckin’ woodsplitter! Didn’t even think nothin’ of it. Just did it, all over a fuckin’ hat. That… that ain’t normal, huh? So, I started thinkin’… aw hell, am I a bad person?”
For a moment, silence. No words. Just the incessant noise of dishes clattering in the kitchen and cigarette-voiced waitresses barking out orders and Jimmy Buffett crooning from a suffering jukebox… and then, Larry laughing. Throwing his head back, slapping his knee, wiping the tears from his eyes.
“Oh Christ, Daytona. Of course you’re a bad person!” Larry managed to say between giggling fits. “That’s the point! You’re an outlaw! For every hero, there’s gotta be a villain, and that’s you, pal!”
Larry kept laughing and Daytona only sighed, hanging his head.
“Stop being such a sad sap,” Larry said. “This is your moment, Daytona. Your big break. Who cares if you’re not a good? Instead of thinking about all the things you’re not, you should be thinking about all the things you are, all the things you’re destined to be. A superstar! The biggest name not only in PRIME, but in all of wrestling! So what if you have to break a few eggs? That’s just going to make a mighty fine omelet.”
“Yeah,” Daytona said with a half-hearted nod. “I guess you’re right…”
“Chin up, my boy. Onwards and upwards, yes?” Larry said. “You’ve made it to the second round of the Almasy. Now that all that messy business with the Troy clan is over, you’re knocking on Tsonda’s door. This’ll be another win for you, I trust. The bets are already made. The odds have you as the underdog, but that just adds more gravy to our little train, doesn’t it?”
“I ain’t worried ’bout Tsonda,” Daytona muttered. “Ain’t gotta fight him like I fought Kaz. Oughta jus’ be a regular ol’ wrasslin’ match. Best man wins.”
“There’s our cowboy,” Larry said. “I’ve already spoken with the producers over at PRIME. They want you to do a promo for a match, something they can post on the website to get people excited. I told them you’d be at the studio first thing in the morning.”
“Aw hell, Larry,” Daytona muttered. “I ain’t… I ain’t feelin’ up for no shit talkin’ right now.”
“Shit talk comes with the job, my boy,” Larry said with a shrug, already standing to leave. “You’ll figure it out.”
And just like that, Larry left with a grin and a wink. Daytona stayed in the booth, a heavy feeling in his chest and an ache in his head, mind wandering through tangled synapses.
When he finally took a sip of coffee, it tasted like dirt and battery acid.
“Alright, Daytona. You ready to do this thing?”
“Great. You’re on in three, two, one… action!”
The studio was a studio like any other studio; shitty little room, heavy duty stage lights, a green screen draped across the back wall. The type of place that pulls back the curtain on how the magic happens. Daytona stood against the green screen, a backdrop that would eventually be turned into a saloon or a desert or maybe even a ghost town. For once, he couldn’t think of anything to say.
“…you okay, Daytona?.”
“…yeah, I, uh… Chandler! Chandler Tsonda! It’s lookin’ like me and you’re fixin’ to tango! Well, how ’bout it? How… how we gonna… ah shit. Let’s do another one.”
“Alright, cut! Rolling in three, two, one… action!”
“Tsonda! I reckon we ain’t really met. Don’t worry, I know you even if’n you don’t know me, Chandy. You and me, we’re ’bout to go to war. We’re ’bout to get in that ring and… just beat the ever lovin’ shit outta each other, huh…? Just gonna… gonna… goddangit!”
“…okay, cut. Let’s try again, Daytona. Three, two, one… action!”
“Y’know, I gotta lotta respect for you, Chandler. You’ve had a helluva career, ain’tcha? Second longest Universal Title reign, 2007 Jewel in the Crown Winner; hell, you’re in the goddang Hall of Fame! The list goes on! But… here’s the thing, compadre. I ain’t the type to focus on the past, you get me? I’m lookin’ at the future and, buddy, that ain’t you. Your sun’s a-settin’. You’re runnin’ on fumes! I think me and you both know you’re just restin’ on them laurels, huh? That rinky-dink little title ’round your waist just goes to show you’re too dang fiddleheaded to know your time’s ’bout up. You might be a stubborn ol’ mule, but y’see, I’m a stallion. I’m a bronco. I’m a… I’m a… dangit, lost it again…”
“Cut! You want to take a break and try this again in ten, Daytona? I don’t min–”
“I don’t need no fuckin’ break! I’m just… tryna get it right. Get that camera rollin’. We’ll get it this time.”
“Alright… three, two, one… action!”
“Well, well. You done went and stepped in it this time, Tsonda. You coulda been sittin’ pretty, that belt of yours draped ‘cross your shoulder, not a worry in the world. Hell, old as you are, maybe you could start thinkin’ ’bout ridin’ off into the sunset, that pretty face of yours still intact. Instead… welp, looks like you gotta deal with me, pardner.
“Chandy, I know what you’re thinkin’ right ’bout now. You’re thinkin’ you ain’t got a dang thing to worry about. Hell, you’re a legend, after all. Way I figure it, though… legends, y’all ain’t got much left to prove. You ain’t hungry. Me? I’m downright starvin’, bucko. You might be a legend, but lemme ask you, what’s a legend compared to the best thing to come to PRIME in who knows when? What’s a Viet Viper to a Rhinestone Rattlesnake? What’s a Sultan of Style to the King of the Rodeo? What’s a fadin’ star to a risin’ one? Buncha bupkis, that’s what.
“You’re fixin’ to getta ass whoopin’ for the ages, Tsonda. Hell, you saw what I did to ol’ Kaz Troy last week, didn’t ya? That’s the boss’s son and just look at the sorta beatin’ I treated him to. If I put that boy through the wringer, what makes you think I’m gonna treat you any better? I… I broke that boy. Drove my knees right into the back of his head. I… I could-a killed him, Chandler. I could-a… I could-a…”
Silence. Daytona stared at the camera, biting at his lower lip, fists clenching and unclenching. At first, a sigh… and then anger.
“God fuckin’ dammit!”
Just like that, something snapped and Daytona went on a rampage. In the course of sixty seconds, the green screen had been torn down from the wall, the stage lights all turned over with glass shattered across the floor. The camera followed after him as he overturned tables and threw chairs across the room, screaming and shouting and cursing as the stage crew ran for cover. When it was all said and done, the studio looked like it had been hit by a hurricane.
Daytona stood amongst the wreckage, breathing heavy and gritting his teeth… and then he left, slamming the door behind him.
Down in that green hell where vines devoured trees and the sun poured red wine between the limbs, where heathen gods were still worshiped in hushed prayers and the sky was all hidden by the canopies, where the animals all laughed from the vacant wilderness and all men whether meek or mighty wept in Nature’s embrace, Daytona wondered if there was anyone around who could bum him a cigarette.
How long had he been in that jungle? Hours? Days? Weeks, months, years? This was a clockless place outside of time’s jurisdiction. With a machete in hand, Daytona had traversed that vast and inhospitable expanse with no direction, no destination, no goal. His feet ached; each step excruciating. His tongue was swollen with thirst, skin all a-shiny with glistening sweat, speckled by dirt and mud.
He hacked through briars like barbed wire and underbrush so thick it threatened to swallow him whole. In the distance, he could swear he heard steel drums and congas summoning up a ceaseless rhythm. He went on like that until his muscles screamed in protest, until his vision blurred to see a kaleidoscopic world, until he was on the very verge of collapse…
…and then he emerged from the jungle, out onto a small beach cove flanked on either side by two towering cliffs.
It was peaceful. Serene, even. A hammock was strung up between two palms. The ocean tide lazily lapping at the shore. The silhouette of two Adirondack chairs, side by side, sat resplendent against the setting sun, and in one of those chairs, a gray-haired man sat with his back turned, a margarita in hand. Daytona approached on uneasy feet. Cautious, careful, his machete still gripped tight… only to realize he recognized this man. In fact, most people would.
Daytona stared in disbelief.
“Hey there, Daytona!” Jimmy said, holding up his margarita in greeting. “Man alive, you look like you just marched through Hell.”
“I… what… wait,” Daytona stammered. “Ain’t you dead?”
“I guess I sorta am!” Jimmy said. “But hey, don’t get all existential and weird. You’re not. You’re just dreaming, pal! What a relief, huh? How about you put that machete away and take a load off? You look like you could use it.”
Slowly, still unsure, Daytona sat down in the other chair. “…alright, I’ll bite,” he said. “Why the hell am I dreamin’ ’bout you?”
“Dreams are weird like that, right? I always liked to think a dream is just your brain’s way of sorting through its recycling,” Jimmy said. “Kind’ve a… half-assed way of helping you figure things out. In that way, I guess you could call me a spiritual guide, huh? Here to impart wisdom and make you feel just a little bit better about life’s whims and woes. You’ve got woes, don’t you Daytona?”
“I… well, yeah. I gotta couple of ’em,” Daytona admitted. “Ain’t been… thinkin’ right lately.”
“We’ve all got troubles every once in a while,” Jimmy said. “Lemme guess. Your loan shark’s got you bent over a barrel and he’s holding your brother captive, your boss hates you so you beat the hell out of her son and now you’re feeling bad about it, you’ve got a match next week with a certified legend that you don’t know if you can win, and to top it all off, you love coke like a kid loves Christmas. How close am I?”
“…goddang,” Daytona said. “I think you just ‘bout hit all the marks, Jimmy. Am I that obvious?”
“I just know people,” Jimmy said, a twinkle in his eyes. “Listen, Daytona. I’m gonna shoot straight with you. Those problems of yours? They’re your own damn fault. You know that, right?”
“Well, yeah, I know all that,” Daytona said. “But… that don’t help too much, y’know? And I ain’t got no idea how to fix none of it.”
“Daytona, let me let you in on a little secret,” Jimmy said, scooting his chair closer. “This whole life thing? It’s hard, man. Hard as hell. That don’t mean you get to sit around moping. That’s not you, is it? You’re the damned Rhinestone Cowboy! You get back on that horse and you ride! Life, you’ve got to endure it, you’ve got to wrangle it, you’ve got to make it your own… and through all that, you can’t be too hard on yourself. That’s how you end up where you are now.”
“Alright, let’s say you’re right,” Daytona said. “I get back on that horse and I get to ridin’. What then? That don’t fix nothin’, Jimmy.”
“Kick back, have a drink, and give it a good, hard think,” Jimmy said. “Larry Lawson? You figure out a way to outsmart him; get creative. Frankie? You figure out Larry and that falls into place. Chandler Tsonda? Well, hell, you just do the best you can; win or lose, you just fight like hell. And the coke…? Well, far be it from me to judge a man’s vices, but maybe just scale it back a bit there, buddy. Try a margarita instead, huh?”
“What about Kaz…?” Daytona asked.
“Well, that’s one’s easy,” Jimmy said. “Have you thought about apologizing…?”
Daytona went silent, staring out at the sea stretching into infinity. The tide came in and the tide went out; endless, endless, endless. When he looked back, Jimmy Buffett was gone; the chair empty, the margarita sitting undisturbed in the sand. As Daytona stood up, he heard a rumbling in the distance, some growing cacophony. He held up his hand to block out the sun, looking once more towards the horizon. A tidal wave the size of a skyscraper loomed in the distance, casting its shadow on the world below. Daytona stared wide-eyed and gobsmacked, turning to run, but it was already too late. The waves nipped at his heels and then they swallowed him to the waist and then it all crashed down over top of him, seafoam and darkness, dragging him down to fathomless depths. He tried to scream and the water poured in.
Daytona snapped awake with a gasp, fingers digging into his economy seat’s armrests. Through the plane’s window, he saw blue skies and a sea of clouds. He was somewhere over the Midwest, bound for Greensboro and ReVival 38. With his heart still pounding, Daytona took a deep breath and tried to settle back into his seat.
He didn’t close his eyes again until the plane landed.
SUBJECT: whats up man
how you doin man? i kno this is kinda outtta the blue but i guess i kinda wanted to reach out to you… i been thinkin alot and i thought maybe the next time your around we could grab a drink or somethin…. guess we can call it an olive branch right?… lol… i dunno ive just been thinkin bout that match of ours and the chain thing and all that and i think maybe i went to far… this aint a trick or nothin… i guess i was just hopin maybe we could talk things out… what do you think?
ps dont tell youre mom i sent this
Daytona sat out on the balcony of his lonely hotel room somewhere in Greensboro, smoke from his cigarette tracing a ladder to heaven while he stared at his phone screen and the message he’d just wrote. His thumb had been hovering over the screen for the better part of a half hour, thoughts swinging like a pendulum between whether or not to press send.
He ashed his cigarette.
He let out a long sigh.
He closed his Mail app and, somewhere deep inside, a tiny voice said fuck it.
Back in his hotel room, another line of coke was already laid out on the work desk right where he left it, the envelope of money Larry had given him laying beside it, a couple hundred dollars less full.
One quick snort and, just like that, all of Daytona’s guilt and good intentions went fluttering off into the ether.