“I was there…”
Honda Center. Anaheim. PWA-1.
“I mean it like it is. Like it sounds. I was THERE…
“In that state of mind where it feels like my flesh on fire and the air I’m breathin’ is gasoline.”
The surrounding world moves in slow motion, trapped in bullet time. A frozen sea of agape and wide-eyed wrestling fans surrounds a twenty square foot patch of black canvas.
“I suppose some would call it ‘bein’ in the zone’, or whatever.”
Smack dab in the middle of the ring is some unfortunate soul by the handle of Trey Willett, lying flat on his back and looking up at the lights, as do the damned gazing up into heaven from their pit in hell.
“But when I’m THERE, I’m beyond zones…”
Someone who is obviously in the running for the ugliest referee in the world stands off to the side, absolutely awestruck as he gazes up at a vision of inconceivable and mind-breaking grandeur.
“When I’m THERE, that ring is all that exists.
“Just me, with all this fury and wretched chaos. And whatever poor bastard that had to be there to receive it.
“A pure, singular existence… where all that fuckin’ matters is rage and ecstasy and survival.
“Livin’ in a fuckin’ moment, with not a phone in sight.”
Suspended some feet over the ring, the body of the Escape Artist slowly and smoothly glides through the air in a manner that defies the known laws of physics. His body contorts in itself into gyroscoping motions, making him look like some filth-encrusted biblically-accurate angel.
Be not afraid. Just amazed.
“I am lightyears through the cosmos…
“Screamin’ with the stars…
“Smilin’ like a devil in the face of the everlastin’ void.”
He hypnotically continues to turn through the air. Eyes popping. Teeth bared.
“I’m lookin’ straight into the bright and shining center of the universe, takin’ note of that faint but undeniably nascent flicker…
“Like the cough that heralds an eventual cancer prognosis.”
The expression molded onto his face suggests he has become less than human. Something primitive and bestial.
“When I am there, I am fully and finally FREE…
“Free from pain. Desire. Doubt. Conscience.
“Free from the nagging, everlasting awareness of my own mortality.
“The one, true ESCAPE.”
The levitating human lava lamp continues to drift over the ring in a downward arc, making a slow, liquid descent toward Willett’s centralized position on the mat.
“As somethin’ of a connoisseur of euphoric rushes, I can comfortably tell ya that there is absolutely no high, chemical or otherwise, that compares to the feelin’.
“That’s my true poison. The real monkey on my back. Smokin’ dope ain’t anything more than a copin’ mechanism to tide me over between matches. A stable, easy high to get me to the REAL high.
“In the heat of battle, when I’m suddenly ten feet tall and bulletproof and there ain’t a force in the whole of the Universe that can stop me.
“It’s the high that ya have to fight for, and there’s no greater feelin’ than that.”
All at once, time returns to normal.
Gravity comes back with a vengeance.
“That night in Anaheim, I was THERE.”
Torn back into corporeal reality, Rezin blurs into a perfect lateral press onto Willett’s chest. The impact is catastrophic.
He hooks the leg, barely aware of the three thumps on the mat that follow. To him, the count may as well go up to a million.
“Completely blind to what I was walkin’ into, but that didn’t stop me from up and smokin’ that normie in around eight minutes.
“Hall of famer? More like a ham-and-egger.”
The piercing toll of the ring bell pulls him back into reality. He’s no longer the animal anymore.
Now, he’s the winner.
“They chalked it up as a win for PRIME, but I’ll be DAMBED if I was representin’ anything other than myself.
“There didn’t need to be a title on the line, or any grudge to be settled. There didn’t need to be any stakes whatsoever.
“All that was in it for me was the opportunity to once again show the world that I am indisputably the baddest motherfugger on the planet to ever burn up a wrestlin’ ring.
“Which is all I need, just to get myself… THERE.”
The Goat Bastard is grinning ear to ear as he rises to his feet and holds his arms out wide for the whole world to see.
Victorious, but just as voracious as ever.
“I can promise ya this, Hayes…
“At ReVival 22, when ya put your Universal Title on the line, I’m gonna fight my way THERE yet again.”
“Here we are…”
With the business out west done and dealt with, Rezin has returned to his house in Lebanon, Indiana.
Only he’s not alone.
“I’d apologize for the mess,” he mutters on the pathway up to the front door. “But this ain’t any charity case. Just happened to be a happy coincidence ya checked out before I left Cali.”
His guest, to whom he’s speaking, walks close behind.
“I understand,” says Rocko Daymon, speaking in a low tone of solemn deference. “Again, I appreciate you putting me up like this. It’s just until I get my legs back under me.”
Rezin scoffs. “Sure, sure… that shit’s always easier to say than to actually show. Got a ways to go still before we can rebuild that trust, Rock.”
He pulls out the key to the door as the two reach the front stoop.
“But the last thing I need in my life right now is your dumbass poppin’ up unexpectedly, beggin’ for cash at the worst possible time. Stickin’ ya here is the most practical way I can think of keepin’ tabs on ya while I’m out there doin’ PUNK ROCK shit.”
Daymon remains silent. Rezin slides the key into the knob and twists…
“Anyway, brace yourself…” he says before opening the door and letting himself in.
Rocko Daymon lingers in the threshold for a moment and surveys the scene. A beleaguered sigh escapes retired veteran wrestler.
“Well, at least you managed to keep the lights on,” he says in an effort to find some urine-colored golden lining in this cloud of shit before him.
The housekeeping is expectedly in line with a man like Rezin, whose opinions of hygiene and personal maintenance could be described as liberal at best.
Discarded pizza boxes, beer cans, and food wrappings litter the floor and every surface in sight. All corners hold random heaps and piles of dirty laundry and unassorted junk.
The coffee table is covered in enough bongs, bowls, grinders, and overturned ashtrays that it may as well be a miniaturized sunken city R’lyeh.
Everywhere, there are signs of neglect and structural decay. Spills on the carpet. Holes in the wall.
Many, many spots where it was clear a small fire had broken out at some point.
The house was arguably better off sitting empty, as the Goat Bastard’s rezidence here has seemingly sped up its deterioration.
This is just what Rocko’s eyes can see. The story coming from his nose is something else.
He had first come to notice the unique, grainy odor that lingered over the small Indiana town when the two of them drove in. But now in this house, his senses are assaulted by an incorrigible bouquet of strange stenches that could be coming from any number of things.
“Should also prolly let ya know the shitter’s a bit wonky,” Rezin grunts as he kicks on a space heater. “I get that it ain’t whatever swanky digs ya had at the rehab clinic, but it still beats that shitty motel ya had me in out in Death Valley over the summer.”
He disappears down a hallway. Rocko shudders slightly when a breeze kicks up behind him, reminding him of the presence of the infamous Midwestern winter. He comes in the rest of the way and shuts the door behind him, incapable of instinctively comparing the feeling to a cell door slamming shut.
A part of him longs for the warm, amenable lodgings of the clinic and the good weather of California. But he also reminds himself that those comforts were always intended to be temporary. He always knew that sooner or later, he would have to face the harsh adjustment of returning to real living.
And freeloading off a former student is about as real as it gets.
“I’d give ya the grand tour, but I’m just in and out,” Rezin’s voice calls from a room in the back over the sounds of his rummaging around. “It’s your basic house. Not too hard to figure out, right? Den, kitchen, commode, bomb lab, garage, grow room, what have ya…”
“I’ll manage,” Rocko calls back as he scrapes a layer of detritus clear from a sofa cushion and takes a seat. “How long have you been staying here, out of curiosity?”
“I don’t,” Rezin corrects, reemerging from the back with a duffel bag in hand and wearing a fresh black hoodie with an indecipherable band name scrawled across the front. “At least, not anymore.”
As he talks, he begins hastily packing things into his bag to prepare for his long travels on the road.
“Tried for a few weeks, thinkin’ I could get me some of those ‘comin’ back to my humble beginnings’ vibes in order to refresh my headspace, or whatever. But I dunno… it just ain’t home anymore.”
He goes into the kitchen. Around the wall partition, Rocko can barely spy wallpaper scorched black by way of some ill-fated stovetop experiment. Even though they’re well into winter, he still somehow hears the buzzing of flies.
“So lately I’ve been crashin’ at a place I got in Indy. I just come up here erry now and again to get some work done.”
“Yes, I can see you’ve been busy,” says Rocko, mindfully observing half a wall painted from dusty beige to an ugly, ruinous black, and portions of the carpet that have been pulled up and left abandoned. Clearly, being busy doesn’t necessarily mean being productive.
“Kinda pisses me off, that I put all the work into gettin’ this place back, and now I can’t stand to be in it,” Rezin continues to grumble from the other room. “Feels like a waste of time. Story of my life, huh?”
Rezin comes back into the living room, bag now filled with what we can presume are essentials for the voyage. Including any manner of riot, revolution, or violent uprising that may come with it.
“Anyway, I guess there’s some clown named Florida Man out there coppin’ my style, so I gotta be gettin’ down to Orlando to put that gator-fucker on notice. Know what I’m sayin’?”
“If you’re referring to your Universal Title match, then yes,” says Rocko, before clearing his throat and not-so-subtly coming around to tacking on a suggestion. “You know, I could–”
Rezin’s hand flashes up, immediately shutting him down. “Smooth, Rock, but no, you’re not comin’ with. I think the both of us know that the best thing for ya right now is to just stay put and straighten your shit out.”
Rocko deflates, but comes around to slowly nodding in agreement.
“And no offense, but I don’t need the help. Ever since that match at Anaheim and that comeback in New York, I’ve been feelin’ damb good about myself.”
The Escape Artist catches his reflection daringly staring back at him in a broken mirror hanging on the wall. There’s fire in those eyes again, bringing a dastardly grin to his face.
“Like the engine’s finally firin’ on all cylinders.”
Daymon can plainly see the confidence brimming within him. An astounding feeling, when he remembers the wrestler Erik Black was years ago in a wrestling empire long since forgotten. As someone who always so readily accepted a position of mediocrity, he was for once looking like a real contender.
“I’m happy to hear that,” says Rocko. “Should be a great moment, if you win. Personally, I’ve always thought it a bit strange that you never managed to win ‘the big one’ for yourself.”
Rezin, already heading in the direction of the door, freezes on that last comment.
“Strange, huh?” he replies in a tone dripping with sarcasm. “And here I thought the reason was simply never bein’ good enough. Or just never bein’ in the right place at the right time. Who fuckin’ cares, does any of it matter now?”
From his seat on the couch, Rocko shrugs. “Perhaps not. But I’d argue there were at least a few times in your twenty years in this sport where you were in position to take the next step. And from a certain perspective, it would almost seem like you willingly held yourself back all those years.”
“Okay, Randall…” says Rezin with a hard eyeroll. The bag of gear hits the floor as he turns away from the door and gives the grizzled vet his undivided attention. “Just what are ya gettin’ at?”
Rocko’s line of questioning has brought a reproachful snarl to the face of the Goat Bastard. Daymon, knowing he has him hooked, cocks his head to the side and narrows his eyes.
“I want to know something, Erik, and I want you to be honest with yourself when you answer,” he begins. “Do you even really want to be the Universal Champion?”
“I was prolly your age, Hayes, when I was first told by a promoter that I was ready for the main event.
“Unfortunately, said promoter’s name happened to be Dan Ryan.
“Ya can guess how that went…
“But aside from the ordinary easy outs of ‘backstage politics’ and ‘glass ceilings’, I couldn’t tell ya why I’ve never won a ‘big’ title in my gratuitously long and eventful career.
“But maybe it’s just cause now the Uni strap is on the line that I really stop and think about such things.
“Could it be that a part of me really was reluctant to face the challenge? Unsure if I could shoulder the weight of the responsibility that comes with bein’ at the top of the mountain?
“But truth is, I was never all that innerested in the dick-measuring and ego-stroking over pointless shit like bein’ ‘bEsT iN tHe WoRlD’ and ‘gReAtEsT oF aLl TiMe’. Ain’t ever been my scene.
“I was always content with just bein’ another one of the bottom-feeders in the undercard. Away from all those sanctimonious pricks who were deluding themselves into thinkin’ they were doin’ the ‘real’ work. Free to do whatever the fuck I pleased without havin’ to answer to anyone.
“But all that changed when I took the Five Star Title from you, Hayes.
“Takin’ that strap had nothin’ to do with bein’ a part of PRIME’s ‘prestige’ or ‘legacy’. As ya so accurately pointed out, I never gave a shit about any of that, and I ain’t sorry that I still don’t.
“For me, it was always just a means to an end.
“Thing is though, carryin’ that strap also showed me what I’ve been truly missin’ out on all these years.
“Stayin’ hidden in the undercard is playin’ it safe.
“And such unknown pleasures await me in wars that will be waged against the very best this industry can throw in the ring with me.
“So here we are, Hayes.
“With arguably the greatest prize in the industry right now on the line.
“One that I’m willin’ to fight like hell for, solely because I know it will take me to where I really want to be.
“And I want to be THERE, Hayes…”
Here he is now, unsure of how to answer the question that’s been asked of him.
“I’m not sure that I want much of anything at all, Rock,” Rezin finally admits. “Cause any time I get what I think I want, I never feel satisfied.”
He motions to the cracked and stained walls of his childhood home, sneering in contempt.
“I though I wanted this house, but all it’s done for me is drudge up bad memories I’d rather have left forgotten.”
His blackened fists beat savagely into his chest.
“I thought I wanted validation! To be seen not just as some stupid stoner jackass, but a legit wrestler who could fuck shit up in that ring! And I thought I had it, when I won the Five Star Championship! But now, I just feel like I was the flavor of last week! A steppin’ stone for Nate Colton…”
From his chest, his fists go over his head and shake with anger, cursing the heavens above.
“I WANT to want something, Rock. Anything! I WANT there to be some fuckin’ SATISFACTION for all the shit I hadda put up with! I want something to fuckin’ SHOW FOR IT! But goddambit, I just can’t seem to find ANY feelin’, let alone the one I want, and frankly, that PISSES ME OFF!”
He leans in over Daymon, still unflinching on the couch.
“So tell me, Rock, just what the FUCK is that Universal Title gonna do for me that literally NOTHIN’ ELSE can?!”
There is no answer from the continuously stonewalling Daymon. Nothing more really needs to be said from his end.
“If I’m bein’ honest with myself, the only thing I really want in my life right now is to just be in a place where I don’t want anything at all,” says Rezin, retaking his bag and again heading for the door again. “Just so happens it’s in the ring, kickin’ the shit outta people. So whatever ya think I’ve done in the past, trust me… I won’t be holdin’ anything back against Hanlon.”
Rocko gives the Goat Bastard a reverent nod as he makes his departure. “Be well, Erik. And good luck.”
“Yeah, whatever,” says Rezin, hand on the knob. “There’s a week’s worth of food in the fridge. Just don’t let the place burn down.”
The door swings open…
“Enjoy sobriety, dickhead.”
…and the Escape Artist disappears into the winter, slamming the door behind him.
“That boyhood dream just keeps gettin’ dreamier, don’t it, Hayes?”
A greyhound bus. Southbound.
Rezin is seated, staring out the window while the outside world blurs by in time-lapsed motion.
“Ya know, I didn’t plan on gettin’ this match. Sure as hell didn’t ask for it.
“But that’s the strange way the Universe works. Also explains why we keep comin’ together like this. All part of the great cosmic plan.
“Kinda like fate.
“Something that began billions of years ago with the Big Bang, when all of time, space, and matter violently exploded into existence.
“Since then, I figure, all events have been set into motion.”
Gray clouds part and midday skies appear. The countryside gives way to the hills of Appalachia.
“Ya crunch the numbers hard enough, ya can prolly measure the trajectory of any galaxy. Any star. Any world.
“Any life, for that matter.
“Take me, for example. Consider all that I’ve endured. All that I’ve suffered…
“Bein’ here, a year and two months away from forty, with nothing to my name except some pants, some boots, a few shitty tattoos, and a handful of pathetic wastes of space that pass off for ‘friends’ crashin’ on a DOPESMOKER’s couch…
“It’s all part of the Universe’s grand design. It’s all events set into motion.
“And lookin’ at the trajectory of my life, I can see the message the Universe is sendin’ my way.
“And that message is this:
“Existence fuckin’ sucks.
“And this worthless world would be better of left to burn.”
Blue skies fade to orange. The mountains taper out. In the waning light, the groves of the American south pass by.
“I’m so tired of livin’ with this victim mentality.
“I just wanna feel strong.
“But now I’m realizin’ that the only way I can be strong in this universe… is when I destroy.
“I’ve come to embrace this fate. This plan the Universe has set me to. Becoming the great ruiner of PRIME. Of all professional wrestling.”
“The man who again kills your fresh new reign while it’s still in the crib. The man who spoils the great Hanlon versus Stanislav showdown the world’s been clamorin’ to see.
“To become Universal ANTI-Champion of the Apocalypse. The PUNK ROCK INDUCED MASS EXTINCTION that the wrestling industry sorely needs.
“Take me THERE, Hayes.
“It ain’t just what I want…
“It’s everything I NEED.”
Nightfall sets in. The horizon disappears. The constellations of the cosmos above allow themselves to be seen by the plebian mortals below.
“‘Event Horizon’ truly suits ya.
“I can’t think of a more appropriate image than that of a black hole.
“A star that has risen in so much mass… it inevitably collapses on itself…
“And disappears from view.”
Fade to VOID.