Livin’ on the road, my friend
Was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron
Your breath’s as hard as kerosene
You weren’t your mama’s only boy
But her favorite one it seems
She began to cry when you said good-bye
And sank into your dreams
Townes Van Zandt, “Pancho and Lefty”
David Fox laid in bed, motionless. The swanky suite at the MGM Grand was a thing of the past, after he and Mushigihara both started getting text messages from PRIME President and CEO Lindsay Troy featuring GIF images of a rather threatening owl, and so he was now lying on his actual bed, in the rented house in New Orleans he and Mushigihara had called home since his return to DEFIANCE Wrestling some time in 2020, with the next year’s expenses paid off as a parting gift of their longtime manager Eddie Dante before he returned home to Philadelphia for what he would only describe as “family concerns.”
ReVival 10 had come and gone, and after he had gotten himself cleaned up from his altercation with the Masters of the Multiverse B-Team, got the coffee stains out of his favorite Mega Man T-shirt, and signed the contract with Mandala Chai Teas and Beverages, the team made their way back home to prepare for the Great American Nightmare. The heat wave gripping the Gulf Coast didn’t feel much better than the one in Vegas, and Albert, the beloved Pembroke Welsh Corgi of both David and his wife Saori, wasn’t doing him any favors nuzzled up to his arm like a child.
David was tired and frustrated. His ninth-grade English teacher Mr. Martell had a favorite word. “Ennui.” He made sure to say it at least once a class, especially when talking about some of the more… stuffy books that were required reading. Ennui; a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.
That seemed about right, David thought to himself as he bent his arm in an unnatural direction so he could skritch behind Albert’s ears. He knew from experience the folly of underestimating opponents in the ring, no matter how they present themselves outside of it; even those Masters of the Multiverse weirdos could, theoretically, pose a threat. But man, did they make it difficult to not just write them off as a joke before stampeding into the Great American Nightmare and kneeing both of their skulls until he could eat his oatmeal out of them.
Besides, today was a rest day, so it’s not like he could take his ennui out on a barbell or a heavy bag. Such is life. But the trainer in him knew that he was getting on up there in years and that he had to not overclock himself. Not if he was going to make his impact in PRIME alongside Mushigihara. And there was still a lot of work to be done. But first, handling these Multiverse guys…
…David closed his eyes in the house’s master bedroom.
He opened them inside that familiar coffin. No Albert. No New Orleans heat. Just the familiar stuffy darkness of the other side.
Well, David thought to himself, time to get to work.
August 18, 2012
Old Bridge, New Jersey
The former sumo known as Mushigihara looked at himself in the mirror for the first time in over a year. The last time he saw himself, he was considerably flabbier, having just left the clay circle of sumo for the squared circle of professional wrestling, and struggling to find his way around training. That was until Ryan Andersen, known professionally as Eddie Dante, took him under his wing as part of a bet with an old friend and partner.
Having dropped over a hundred pounds (a hundred fourteen according to Dante), Mushigihara almost didn’t recognize himself. He’d traded the traditional sumo mawashi for a singlet-and-tights combo of black and gold, but he looked noticeably slimmer, “streamlined,” as Dante put it. About twenty feet away in the main hall of the Knights of Columbus a crowd of all ages was cheering and booing as they watched the action unfold in the wrestling ring they surrounded.
“Alright, big fella,” the smartly-dressed, silver-tongued Dante called out, “let’s try and get you all situated before your match starts. Yes, looking good, my friend.”
Indeed, Mushigihara had to admit he cleaned up pretty nicely. He was actually a shy and modest person who sometimes felt insecure about his looks and his size, though he’d never say it out loud, but Dante-san was right.
“Almost too good, you know? You’re supposed to be big. Mean. Scary, you know?”
“Yeah, the boyish charm’s gonna have to go undercover for a while. Here. Put this on.”
Mushigihara looked inquisitively at the strange mask Dante handed him; it resembled some of the masks he had seen wrestlers in Mexico wear. It was black, but with a gold trim made to resemble some kind of insect; somebody must have tipped off to Dante that “mushi” is Japanese for “insect,” he supposed. After inspecting it, the big man put it on, albeit with a little struggle, before Dante came up from behind and started tightening the laces around his head.
Mushigihara looked once again into the mirror; he didn’t recognize the ominous golden face that looked back at him, but he was impressed at how much he looked… almost gladiatorial. Almost in line with warrior traditions in a way.
Dante whistled in a pleased manner, “very good, Mushi, very powerful-looking.”
Outside the curtain, the ring bell was tolled and the crowd erupted in cheers, as the emcee announced the winner of the previous match.
“Well, looks like we’re up in a few,” Dante said, “head to the curtain, I’ll meet you there in a minute.”
With a timid grunt and a nod, Mushi walked out of the bar that had functioned as a makeshift locker room and stormed to the hall. Eddie Dante himself looked in the mirror, and spoke to it, almost as if addressing a fourth wall.
“I can taste that whisky already.”
With a grin, he departed.
“So I guess this is where we talk about the Great American Nightmare, huh?”
David Fox and Mushigihara stare us dead in the eyes, with the former seated in a backwards-facing chair and the latter standing tall and proud.
David Fox: In just under a week Mushi and I kick things off by stepping in the ring and taking on the Masters of the Multiverse B-Team. Honestly, I should be armed with a whole list of reasons for why we’re going to outmatch them in every possible way, and walk out of the Nightmare triumphant.
David Fox: And to tell you the truth, I DO believe we will win handily next week, and we’ll be moving on up the tag ranks, and getting closer to those Tag Team Championships and whoever’s holding them after that Survivor finale. But you know something?
David shakes his head and facepalms.
David Fox: I can’t muster up much enthusiasm here.
David Fox: (softly, quietly) I can’t.
Mushigihara turns his head to his partner and inquisitively utters…
March 8, 1998
Blackwood, New Jersey
“Wrestling, Davey?” Leanne Troy (nee Fox) looked at her second-born child with the uncertain concern that mothers always give their babies in times like this. “Isn’t that whole thing…”
David Troy, Jr. winced as if he knew what the next words from his mom’s mouth would be, and yet didn’t want to hear them.
“…dangerous? Honey, didn’t they talk about that at work a few years ago?” David Troy, Sr. was a bit of a key player in state politics, and had been in Trenton that day in 1989 when a big name promoter had testified on the violent, intense nature of pro wrestling. Having just sat down on the couch to watch the New Jersey Nets game, the elder Troy simply nodded in his wife’s direction.
“Look,” David Jr. beckoned, “is it really much more dangerous than all the kickboxing stuff I do? You know I’ve been talking about going full-contact when I finish school.”
“Finish school?” Mom was confused. David Jr. was a solid B-and-C student. He figured he’d go into the trades like his dad did, before he got hurt and got into various jobs in government with help from connections he made in organized labor, or something like that, but he hadn’t put a lot of thought into going into college just yet. He wasn’t a star pupil like his older sister Meghan, and he knew he didn’t have a chance to get into Princeton like she did, much less graduate. “Davey, you have your whole life ahead of you. You’ve heard stories about those wrestlers who get into drugs and get hurt so badly, and I don’t want you to…”
David Jr. asserted himself, which his mom noticed he’d been doing more these days, a sign of a young man with a stubborn heart, just like his father.
“I’ll be fine. I talked to a trainer. He said he won’t even let me TOUCH a ring until I finish high school. He even made me promise to stay in school after. College, training, something like that. And I’ve been looking at schools. Maybe I’ll ask dad for advice too. I know what I’m doing.”
“I’m sorry I’m not the ambitious go-getter Meghan is. She’s in medical school now. I’m not cut out for that, mom. Let’s be real.”
She sighed and nodded.
“And if I make it, if I become a star?” David added, “maybe Daniel will be as proud of me as he is of Meg. And if not? I’ll have something to fall back on. I promise.”
Leanne nodded, the hint of tears forming in her eyes. She’d cried similar tears when Meghan moved to Michigan for med school, because she knew that her other kids wouldn’t be far behind her in living their own lives. It was always going to be a bittersweet time, filled with both pride and sadness.
“Trust me, mom.”
David Jr. reached out and hugged his mom, who returned it while stifling her emotions in that moment.
We’re back with the Dangerous Mix, looking through the camera in a makeshift stage for what appears to be a classic wrasslin’ promo.
David Fox: See, here’s the thing. I’ve been in the same spot that Kenny Freeman and Randall Schwartz have been in. I know what it’s like to be written off as a joke. I know how it feels to be dismissed and underappreciated. And I know how it feels to be in that position to make the big upset and surprise the world. And that’s why I know we shouldn’t be taking them lightly. And yet?
David Fox: I can’t help it. Nothing about them makes me see them as a threat. Sure, they’ve got moves in the ring, but in terms of actually being a challenge? All I see is a pair of jokers who don’t even know how to attack someone with coffee.
David takes a long deep breath and a sigh. If he had a cigarette in his hand he’d be blowing a massive cloud of smoke dramatically like he were in a movie.
David Fox: Or maybe that’s part of their strategy.
The God-Beast to the side pats his smaller partner on the shoulder and looks down with a crooked brow, as if to say “maybe?” Fox, meanwhile, begins to rise to his feet.
David Fox: Act like a bunch of buffoons to make us cocky. “Oh, they ain’t shit, they’re gonna be pushovers,” and when we least expect it?
Fox, now standing between the chair and the God-Beast, clasps his hands and grits his teeth.
David Fox: Surprise, motherfucker.
Fox shakes his head and forcefully throws his hands down to his side.
David Fox: No. We will not let that happen. Absolutely not.
David is now visibly becoming more intense.
David Fox: Maybe it’s what they wanted us to do. Or maybe? Maybe they’re just as clueless as they look, and they’re as shared shitless as they seem, and are going to walk into the MGM Grand with all the confidence of two men on their way to the electric chair. But why the hell would we want to leave that to chance?
David Fox: We won’t let our guard down. Not when there is so much on the line. NOT when we have a POINT to prove to EVERYONE on the PRIME roster, AND the PRIMEates. And ESPECIALLY NOT when we have one HELL of a CHIP on our shoulders, since that second round of Survivor.
A deep breath. Fox puts a hand up and starts counting on his fingers. One.
David Fox: Since that three-way match with 2BECOME1.
David Fox: Since we were basically trolled for WEEKS by Freeman and Schwartz.
David Fox: Since we saw various Survivor outcasts leave this company, and see the tag division thin out, making the NEED for the presence of teams like Mushi and myself.
David Fox: SINCE I’VE SEEN THIS WHOLE RIGMAROLE BEFORE.
Fox turns his head to the side, clearly not in a pleasant mood.
David Fox had gone a lot farther than he ever did in his repeated attempts to escape from the grave in his dreams. Like so many times before, he had paced his breathing, found weak spots in the wooden lid, and got a feel of the dirt distribution underground, and was able to collapse everything in a way where the dirt had fallen, loosely, into the coffin. That allowed him to actually start rising up and claw his way up to his feet.
Along the way, he started having visions. Not of his failures, but of his triumphs.
Winning tag team gold with Mushigihara and Eddie Dante.
(He managed to stand on his feet.)
Defeating Mushi after an acrimonious splintering of the team, in a brutal fight.
(He looked up and looked up to the sky, and recognized for the first time the night air on his skin.)
Winning his first King of Lions World’s Heavyweight Championship.
(He grabbed onto the side of the hole and started to claw his way up to the surface.)
Winning that same title two more times.
(Finding a foothold in the dirt, pushing himself up by his feet and feeling the air get cooler.)
Rebuilding his broken relationship with his long-time girlfriend, and eventually marrying her.
(He feels grass in his hand.)
Fighting the demons of insecurity and doubt that lead him down a road of trials, tribulations, and brushes with death.
(With a tight pull upwards, David manages to drag his body to the ground.)
He lied on the cool grass and looked up to the night sky.
He didn’t know if these dreams would finally end. He might find himself back in that box again tomorrow night.
But he finally understood that sometimes, it’s not about complete victory.
It’s about learning. Growing. Progressing.
And he knew it wasn’t always linear. There would always be stumbles and set backs.
He knew the demons would likely never go away forever.
But he had driven them back before. And he would drive them back again, if he had to.
For now, though?
David Troy, Troy Matthews, Reed Sharpe, David Fox… whatever he was calling himself these days, was alive.
He rose to his feet, never breaking his focus on the sky.
He tilted his head back, and let loose a triumphant yell.
David Fox: I’ve seen this before. And it always ends the same way. But not this time.
David stares at us.
David Fox: Who knows? Maybe the Masters of the Multiverse B-Team are hidden diamonds in the rough. Maybe they’ll prove themselves to be rising stars in the eyes of the PRIMEates.
Fox breathes, almost seethes, through his nostrils.
David Fox: But it’s not gonna be at our expense.
David Fox: They’re gonna have to bring their A-game to even stand a CHANCE against the Dangerous Mix. But whether it’s this universe, or the next, or the one after that? It doesn’t matter. We’re going to show them just how dangerous we truly are. LFG, boys. Get ready for the fight of your lives.
Mushigihara grits his teeth, before loosing a roar of an…
David sat in his bed, fresh from an impromptu nap, looking into the eyes of a curious Welsh corgi, and smiling.
He looked over to his mirror, and looked at himself in the mirror, at the man who once was a dead man walking. Who had been brought to the end of the line, and managed to climb himself from oblivion. Who stared into the mouth of hell, and made the devil blink.
David Fox rose from his bed and took a deep breath. The sudden feeling of a hundred tons being pulled from his shoulders overwhelmed him, leaving him shedding a few tears in some combination of ecstasy, pain, and supernatural overloading.
After a few minutes of processing it all, David looked back in the mirror.
“Welp, time to get to work, huh?”
He shifted his glance to the lovable fuzzball now scampering at his feet and panting in excitement.
“Guess we better get your dinner ready first, huh, buddy?”
David Fox walked out of the bedroom, a newfound spring in his step, ready for whatever comes next.