I. Nose Candy
It was 12:16 PM and Daytona Diamonds was throwing a hissy fit.
He paced back and forth across his motel room floor, fistfighting furniture and coked out of his mind. Frank sat at the spare table in the corner of the room, watching the scene unfold with the same exasperated expression on his face that he’d had for what seemed like his entire life.
In the few brief weeks Daytona lived there, the motel room at the Desert Dream had become a den of iniquity; cigarette butts spilled out from overflowing ashtrays while half-drank bottles of liquor piled themselves up and rolled dollar bills covered in the faintest hint of white powder littered the room. The television was still on, but it lay strung out on the floor. The mattress was half sideways on its boxspring. The whole place was reeked of despair and there was Daytona in the middle of it all, thriving.
“I’ve got Larry fuckin’ Lawson and his yellow-bellied scumsuckers tryna break my kneecaps, PRIME ain’t doin’ nothin’ to help, and now my own fuckin’ brother is tryna bust my god dang balls!” Daytona roared, grinding his teeth as his whole body vibrated with nervous energy. “Sons of bitches! Every last one of you!”
“Daytona, look,” Frank said, throwing up his hands. “All I’m saying is… maybe you should talk to dad…? He still asks about you. A phone call wouldn’t hurt. Maybe he could get Larry off your back, at least…”
“Oh, I bet he fuckin’ does!” Daytona shouted, stopping dead in his tracks and pointing a single finger towards Frank. “You tell that good-for-nothin’ the only thing he needs to be askin’ about me is whether or not I’m still plannin’ to waltz on his grave! I ain’t callin’ that sonuvabitch for jack-shit!”
Frank pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger as he felt a migraine coming on strong. “Okay, okay. That’s a sore spot, I know, but that’s not why I came over. I got a call from PRIME this morning about your next match and… something else.”
The look on his face changed in an instant from anger to paranoia. He stared at Frank with wide, bloodshot eyes, teeth still grinding. “Yeah…? And…?”
“…and they said they’re putting you in the opening match again,” Frank said, as calmly as he could. “You’re up against Logan James. At least it’s a singles match this time, right? And… uh… well, they said they were fining you over that little incident with the film crew last week.”
For a moment, there was silence. Blissful, temporary silence. It was short-lived, the resting point between anticipation and outrage… and when that outrage finally came? Well, it went like this: one fist punched a hole in the drywall while the other clamped itself around the neck of a whiskey bottle, hurling it across the room. Daytona let out a long, coke-fueled scream that sounded something like an emergency siren mixed with a screeching pterodactyl. His head twisted and turned in violent disarray as obscenities and insults came pouring out of his mouth like Niagara Falls.
“Another fuckin’ openin’ match?! And they’re finin’ me?! For defendin’ myself ‘gainst those two warblin’ needledicks?!” Daytona shouted. “Lindsay Troy can guzzle shit and go off whistlin’ Dixie for all I care! Who the fuck does she think I am?! Don’t she know she’s got the best damn thing to ever step foot in a ring workin’ for her?! That demands a certain degree of respect, god dangit!”
“Daytona, I understand, but it’s only your second match with PRIME and you did punch those tw–”
“And Logan James?! I saw his match last week! That boy looked as green as baby’s shit! That ain’t what the people wanna see! I’m a god dang star, Frankie! And on top of all that, his name is just two first names put together! Two fuckin’ first names!”
“Well, I mean, that’s not his faul–”
“You don’t go through life with two first names and come out the other side a well-adjusted member of society!” Daytona said, but the volume of his voice was lowering as his pacing slowed. “You… you gotta feel like something’s missin’, right? Like you got gypped, far as namin’ conventions are concerned. Just imagine how much he must’ve been picked on, goin’ through life with that albatross ‘round his neck. You can’t just… be alright after that? Why… you’d have to end up a god dang psychopath, wouldn’tcha…?
And there it was: a quicker comedown than usual. Daytona stood there with his hands on his hips as he stared vacantly at the hole he’d punched in the wall, both eyes twitching and jaw slightly agape. He looked like he’d just had a profound revelation because… well, he had, but the thing they don’t tell you about cocaine-induced epiphanies is that they’re very rarely right and, on the off chance that they are, you’re very rarely going to find something coherent and/or useful to do with your newfound knowledge. The cogs that were turning in Daytona’s head were shooting sparks and electricity, but what they weren’t shooting was good ideas.
“Daytona…? You okay?”
“…it’s a set up, Frankie,” Daytona finally said. “Think about it. This Logan James dicknose, what do we know about him? Got his ass kicked last week by a walkin’, talkin’ energy drink and he has two first names. Right?”
“Well, and he was born the day after you. Y’know… as far as fun facts go.”
“See?! That’s bad juju, Frankie! You don’t put two pisces in the ring together! That’s like two betta fish in the same tank! They’re tryna put one over on ol’ Daytona, but nuh-uh! I ain’t gonna let ‘em!”
“What are you talking about?” Frankie asked. “Who set you up?”
“Lindsay Troy and whoever else booked this crock of shit!” Daytona shouted once again. “Lost his first match? Check! Came a hair from stealin’ my birthday? Check! Two first names?! That’s a big ol’ fuckin’ checkright there! This boy’s gonna be comin’ out thirstin’ for blood and he’s gonna try to draw it from these rhinestone veins! They’re tryna send me to the god dang slaughter! They underestimated me and didn’t get the job done my first time in the ring, so they’re makin’ sure they pull it off this time! That’s what’s happenin’ here, Frankie! The game is rigged!”
“I… really think you might be jumping to conclusions again,” Frank said. “Maybe take your foot off the gas a little bit? I don’t thin–”
“I ain’t takin’ this foot off nothin’! Not the gas and sure as shit not off that sonuvabitch’s neck when he gets in the ring with me… but I might need some extra help on this one. We got ourselves a wild card. This ain’t no joke!”
“Well, alright, ” Frank said, exasperated. “What were you thinking? More time at the gym? More protein? I saw this diet plan that I thought you migh–”
“Naw, naw. Ain’t no gym that’s got what we’re needin’,” Daytona said. “What we need… is to see The Shaman.”
There was a long moment of silence, Frank staring across the room at his brother as he grinned like a madman, a new sort of determination spreading across his face like he’d just discovered the answer to each and every one of his problems. That silence begged for explanation, some inkling of understanding, but none was offered; a Mexican standoff between reason, insanity, and outright stupidity.
“…who or what the hell is The Shaman?” Frank asked.
“Well,” Daytona began. “I was at the casino the other night. Not gamblin’, pinky promise, I was just there for the atmosphere. So, I’m saddled up there at the bar and I see this showgirl who really seems like she’s got it together, y’know? God dang gorgeous, obviously, but it was more than that. I’m sayin’ this fine piece of ass was emanatin’ the sort of wherewithal you just don’t see nowadays. So, I decided I wanted to give her the ol’ rhinestone bangaroo.”
Frank nearly groaned.
“We get to talkin’ and she’s the real deal, right?” Daytona continued. “Ain’t nothin’ fake about her. So, I finally says, ‘Hey Bambi! How’d you get to be the way you are?’ And then she tells me about The Shaman. Says there’s this guy livin’ down in the tunnels under The Strip, weavin’ miracles out of thin air. She went and seen him with alcoholism, a couple overdue parking tickets, and a bad case of eczema. He spritzed her with a little magic water then lo and behold! Her whole life turned around the next day.”
“That…” Frank hesitated, choosing his words as carefully as he could. “…doesn’t sound true.”
“Are you calling Bambi a liar, Frankie?” Daytona asked. “She’s gone through a shit ton, man. Have a heart. If we can’t trust our showgirls, who can we trust?”
“So, let me try to get this straight,” Frank said. “You… want to go into the tunnels underneath the Las Vegas Strip, which are almost definitely filled with all kinds of bad shit, so that you can… meet with a shaman who will give you his… blessing? To win a wrestling match? Against a guy who, with very little actual evidence, you think might be a psychopath? And he might possibly fix your other problems too? Is that right?”
“Yep, Daytona said. “That just about sums it up.”
Frank was speechless. Daytona was grinning. After a full minute, Frank sighed, bowed his head, and nodded.
“Alright,” Frank said. “I didn’t have any plans tonight anyway.”
II. Drink Full and Descend
They left the motel in those first few godless hours right as dusk gave way to night, the poisoned sky the same color as a calico cat with a dead moon in its jaws. They wound up parked in a gravel lot alongside one of the city’s many culverts; that was where they were going, down into those cold, damp tunnels. Daytona had snuck another line of coke while Frank wasn’t looking. He felt so full of fire he thought he could fight God and win.
“Alright,” Daytona said. “You ready to do this, Frankie?”
“Not really,” Frank said. “Can’t I just… stay in the car?”
“Hell no!” Daytona said. “I need you in there, buddy! For emotional support!”
‘Emotional support’ sounded a lot like ‘a human shield’ in Frank’s head. They climbed out from the car and made their way through a gap in the chain link fence before half-stumbling down the canal’s slope. There were dozens of other people there in the low light, all dressed in ragged regalia with black-soot skin and faces full of jagged lines. Piles of trash littered the ground in every direction. A fire burned in a nearby barrel. It looked like the apocalypse; while the CEOs and stockbrokers all orbited the Earth in a space station made of solid gold, everyone else would live in what was left behind, clawing and killing for scraps of meat.
All eyes were on Daytona and Frank and those eyes were not kind. A man with pockmark scars across his tattooed face approached with his hands balled into two fists, his upper lip snarling. “This tunnel’s full,” he said, his voice as harsh as chemical rain. “Fuck off. Go. You don’t belong here.”
Frank stood wide-eyed and gulped down a lump in his throat, but Daytona was as cool as a cucumber, all smiles as he crossed his arms over his chest. “No can do, compadre. We’re here to see The Shaman.”
The pockmarked man stared, but his expression softened. A simple nod of his head was all that he gave in response, signaling for the other derelicts to stand down before he turned back towards the tunnels. “Follow me. I’ll take you to him.”
They walked in a single-file line. The second they passed beneath the threshold of the culvert, it was like they’d stepped into another world. The tunnel was no more than ten-feet wide, the walls covered in graffiti while water dripped down from the ceiling, echoing through those labyrinthine halls like the tapping of stiletto heels on a marble floor. The wind blew through the tunnels as ghostly as a glockenspiel and they walked and walked, passing by little huts and dirty mattresses where people ‘lived’, if it could have been called living at all.
Their guide didn’t speak. In the distance, a dog howled and a woman screamed, the smell of shit and death and rot so thick that it nearly made Frank gag. Daytona didn’t seem to mind. Instead, he walked along with a spring in his step and a smile on his face, tipping his hat to everyone they passed even as everyone they passed glared daggers in his direction.
After walking for what felt like miles, they came to a bulkhead door that looked like it was better suited for a submarine. The concrete walls that surrounded it were drawn with runes and sigils that were both archaic and familiar, stolen from a dream or a memory or a fleeting glimpse. The pockmarked man looked over his shoulder at the brothers before he knocked on the door in four quick raps.
At first, silence… and then the sound of movement from within. The door opened with metal scraping against metal. Light poured out from the doorway, blinding and ethereal like the gates of heaven swinging wide. Along with the light, the smell of burning incense and the sound of dirge-like music. As Daytona’s eyes adjusted to the light, he saw the figure of a tall, slender man standing in the doorway. Long dreadlocks hung from his head, each one laced with bones and gemstones. He was painted with ash, his body naked save for a breechcloth. Gossamer skin, so thin he looked like a skeleton dipped in candle wax, but he stared with two glassy eyes, his mouth slightly open to reveal the rotting teeth within.
“Welcome,” he spoke with an indistinguishable accent. “Please. Join me, won’t you?”
Daytona showed no signs of caution, but Frank lingered in the doorway until their guide pushed the door closed. Inside, the room felt more akin to a daydream; those same runes carved into the concrete walls, shelves stacked with books of esoteric origin, vials of potions placed at random and dried herbs strung from the ceiling, a profound sense that even though The Strip was just above their heads, they were miles away from anywhere they’d ever been before.
The Shaman watched Daytona with focused eyes, smacking his lips and crinkling his nose. “Your life is one of wasted energy. One of vice and squander.”
“Well shit,” Daytona said. “That’s a bit harsh, ain’t it?
“The truth is often harsh,” The Shaman said. “But that does not make it any less true. Tell me, what do you wish to achieve by visiting me?”
“Well, I got this wrasslin’ match comin’ up that I really need to win,” Daytona said. “But… that ain’t the half of it, if we’re bein’ honest. I got to thinkin’, y’know, I got some problems. Big ones, small ones. Money, mostly, I guess. I was hopin’ you might be able to help. ”
“Yes,” The Shaman hissed, lifting one hand and waving it around Daytona’s face. “I can see your problems from here, each and every one. Your past nips at your heels while your future bears its teeth. I can help. I can make those problems go away.”
The Shaman gave a rotten grin and steepled his spiderlike fingers together. Frank stood tongue-tied and nervous near the doorway, a quick cough in his hand as an unspoken signal to Daytona that they should leave… but Daytona didn’t leave. He swallowed his doubt and nodded his head, reaching for his back pocket, “How much you chagrin’, compadre?”
“There is always a price to be paid,” The Shaman said. “But it is not monetary and you cannot know the cost until the ritual is complete. Do you understand?”
“Well, yeah, I guess,” Daytona said. “Long as I ain’t losin’ out on any more money. What say we get down to business?”
The Shaman nodded and turned on a heel, disappearing between his rows of books and medicines. Quickly as he could, Frank ran up to Daytona and spoke in a raspy whisper, “Daytona, this sounds like a real bad idea. This guy doesn’t seem right. We should get out of here.”
“Would you stop?” Daytona scoffed. “It’s fine. This guy’s a god dang shaman. He was bound to be a little bit eccentric.
“Eccentric?!” Frank said, just above a whisper. “This guy is crazy! We need to g–”
Before Frank could finish his sentence, The Shaman reappeared with a vial of silvery liquid in his hands. He cradled it as if it were sacred, walking in slow, measured steps as he approached. A hooded shawl was now draped across his shoulders, eyes peering out from the darkness of the hood. He offered the vial to Daytona with proffered hands as Frank balked, taking two steps back.
“Here,” The Shaman said. “Please.”
“What’s it gonna do to me?” Daytona asked, but he was already holding the vial.
“So much and more,” The Shaman said. “No more questions. We’ve already begun.”
For the first time, Daytona showed hesitancy as he stared down at the silvery liquid, swirling and shimmering. With one deep breath and a quick nod, he downed the concoction in full.
“Oh dang, it tastes like licoric–”
Whoosh. All at once, everything changed. For a split second, Daytona felt like he was floating, but then he felt like he was sinking. The walls began to bend and breathe, the runes all shifting and drifting and swirling. Daytona looked down at his feet and saw his boots sinking into the concrete, disappearing before his eyes. He felt panic building in his chest, his breath turned ragged, but he couldn’t speak and it didn’t stop. It only took a few brief moments before the ground swallowed him whole.
Daytona was floating in an ink black void. He looked up and saw a hole from where he came, The Shaman and Frank peering over the edge, growing further and further away. Soon enough, the hole was gone and Daytona was alone, careening through nothingness. It felt like eternity. It felt like death.
Most of all, it felt like peace.
In the distance, Daytona saw a wrestling ring hovering in that pitch black nothing. In that ring, he saw himself standing with his arms up over his head, sweat pouring as his opponent lay at his feet in a bloody, ruined mass of bone and sinew. Larry Lawson was at ringside, clapping his hands, and money rained down from up above. Daytona was smiling wide even as a chorus of boos began to echo from somewhere unseen, growing louder until it was a cacophony, louder than thunder, louder than bombs…
…and then it was gone.
III. The Blues
Daytona woke up a full day later back in his motel room, his bedsheets soaked in sweat and no recollection of how he got there. He found his phone plugged in and fully charged on his bedside table; no missed calls, no text messages, nothing. He tried to call Frank, but it just went to voicemail.
He spent most the morning with a headache threatening to split his skull in two, retracing his memories and trying to patch together some idea of what happened in those missing hours, but it was all a blurry miasma of hallucinations and half-truths. He didn’t feel any stronger or better than he had before he saw The Shaman. When noon came and he still hadn’t heard back from Frank, Daytona started to get worried.
He started at the AirBNB where Frank had been staying. The owners met him in the lawn; they hadn’t seen him in days, they said. They figured he might have skipped town, but he’d left all his stuff behind. A hundred voicemails later, Daytona even went back to the tunnels and asked around, but Frank wasn’t there and neither was The Shaman. If anybody had seen them, nobody was talking.
Back at the motel, Daytona sat on the edge of his bed with his phone in his hand, thumb hovering over the call button as he bit at his lower lip, nerves gone shot and eyes straining at the screen. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to do this…
But he pressed the call button.
The phone began to ring.
A voice answered on the other end.
There was a moment of hesitation, some wayward urge to hang up and never call again… but Daytona sighed and spoke into the receiver.
“Uh… hey… hey dad,” Daytona said. “I… I think something bad’s happened to Frankie.”