“Hi, Jacob. We ain’t met. I’m Paxton Ray, and you’re supposed to be my punishment for what I did at UltraViolence. But what ya should be askin’ is what ya did to deserve bein’ punished yourself.”
September 12, 2022
Foster Nackedy stared at the man sitting in his living room, the man who had knocked at his door at 11:30PM on a warm September night, the man who just told him his plans of destruction in the coming weeks at the expense of Jonathan Rhine, Foster’s first and most well known student. Foster stared at Paxton Ray, took a slow sip of his glass, and nodded.
Paxton snarled at him. “What the fuck does that mean?”
Foster raised his eyebrows, a small grin forming. “I know you’re from Lafayette so you’re not too smart, but okay is pretty much the easiest word in the English language.”
Paxton stood up, every inch of his frame looming over the NWC stalwart, his chest heaving. “Ya know what the fuck I mean. I tell ya that I’m gonna hurt your prized student, maybe even kill ‘im, and ya jus’ say okay?”
Foster Nackedy had faced some of the most vicious men in the wrestling world over his ten year career. Even in his declining age, he still proudly touted that he feared no men. This mindset led him to smirk at The Lafayette Bruiser, though his feet shuffled backwards a few inches. “Well you knew I wouldn’t tell you not to do it, or you wouldn’t have come here to tell me. And you knew I wouldn’t rat you out, or you would have a weapon on you to intimidate me.”
Paxton laughed. “I don’t need a weapon.”
“So you had to come for some reason, and in the middle of your speech I realized what that reason is. You wanted to tell me because you want to know how it feels to hurt someone so bad they’ll never walk again. Because even though you feel committed, and ready, you don’t know what to expect. And you’re afraid you can’t handle it.”
“I ain’t scared a’shit,” Paxton said, raising a hand to scratch his neck.
“Of course not. I must have misspoke,” Foster said, chuckling. “But that’s still the reason, isn’t it? You want me to tell you how it feels. And to that I say…okay.”
Paxton looked down on Foster Nackedy, observing the muscles that, while still toned, were smaller than the posters that hung in the living room. After a few moments, Paxton sat back down and nodded. “Okay.”
“I know exactly what Lindsay Troy did once she decided t’ reinstate me. She looked up an’ down the roster, tryin’ t’find the biggest, meanest fuck there is, because that woman does not admit defeat. She needs the last word, needs t’feel like she has complete control despite all the flames dancin’ around the MGM every other week.
“So she picks ya, Jacob Mephisto, so she can say to me, ‘Okay, Pax, maybe I let ya back in my company, but you’re gonna pay for it by facin’ off against a mountain of a man who likes t’hurt people for fun. This is your punishment.’
“And it’ll prob’ly work. You’ll hurt me for sure. But I don’t know if she realized somethin’ about me when she cooked up this plan.
“Gettin’ to fight guys like you ain’t punishment to me. It’s like Christmas fuckin’ mornin’.”
Foster took a long, deliberate sip of his bourbon, long enough for Paxton to shuffle his feet and look at the clock on the wall. Following his eyes, Foster stopped long enough to say, “That clock’s been broken for years,” and then took another sip.
Finally, he put the glass down and smiled at Paxton. “I’ll tell you what you want to know. But I do want something from you when this is done.”
“We’ll get to it. But let’s talk about what’s going to happen when you finally do it.” Foster raised an eyebrow. “When are you planning to execute this?”
“Dunno yet. Prob’ly some day after practice. When he’s workin’ late or somethin’.” Paxton looked up to find Foster’s expression unchanged. “What?”
“So you’re just going to, what, paralyze him in his own gym?” Foster put the glass down and leaned forward. “Tell me. Why are you going to do this to Jon?”
Paxton shifted in his chair. “Not ready to tell ya.”
“That’s fine. Regardless, I think another reason you came to me about this is you think I will help you. And you’re right. So first thing I’ll say is if you’re going to do this, you have to do this big. Do you want to stay in PRIME after it’s done?”
Paxton smiled. “More’n anythin’ in the world.”
“Then you have to do it there. Wrestling rings are weird things. They shield the police. There’s some sort of entertainment clause, and really good health insurance, so when people do awful things in a ring, it’s not assault; it’s entertainment. So if you want to make this splash and you want to keep your job, you have to make sure you do it at an event.” Paxton only nodded. “You take him out in his gym, you’re a psycho, a criminal, a coward. You take him out in front of the whole world? Well, you can be anything you want to be.”
“I watched ya at UltraViolence, Jacob. I was backstage, bundle’a nerves, ready to do…well, ya know. And I saw ya fight Anna Daniels in one of the most gruesome matches I’d seen in a ring. It reminded me of the mud pits. Two people who hate each other, trying to make sure the other stops moving. As I got ready to make my mark in this fed, I was impressed.
“You’re a big mean fuck, Jacob. As a fella big mean fuck, I respect it. I also respect that ya have things ya care about, like your Family. Family is important to me, too, as ya can prob’ly guess.
“But somethin’ stuck out to me about that match. Not jus’ the match itself, but what ya told Anna before it. That ya don’t jus’ beat people, but ya change them.
“It’s gonna be interestin’ to see if that’s true when ya face me at 19, because I ain’t stopped changin’ since I got here.”
“So you want to know how it will feel,” Foster continued. “And in my experience, what you will feel is two types of change. Change in yourself, and change in the way others see you.” Foster fixed Paxton with an appraising look.
In response, Paxton waved his hand quickly. “I know you’re tryin’ to do the dramatic effect stuff, but assume I said ‘whaddaya mean’ and keep goin’.”
“Sure,” Foster said, chuckling. “Here’s an example.”
Paxton waited for Foster to keep talking, but instead Foster looked down at his glass of bourbon. Paxton followed Foster’s gaze and saw that the fingers in Foster’s hand were going white. Paxton looked up again at Foster’s face and saw the wrinkles form on his forehead and his mouth straighten into a line.
By the time Paxton looked at the glass again, it had shattered into several pieces, sending bourbon flying into the air. “What the fuck?” Paxton asked, drawing back and wiping bourbon off of his shirt.
Foster didn’t answer, just continued to look down at his hand, where a stream of blood started to spill. After a few seconds, Paxton stood up. “Want me t’get a towel or somethin’?”
Foster shook his head. “The change in the person you attack is clear; they’re broken. But you also change; you can’t damage anyone that severely without catching some of the blowback yourself. If you’re lucky, it’s a little change, something manageable, something that can heal. But if it hits you in the wrong place, you might not be able to ever fix it.”
Paxton continued to stare at the blood, which was starting to drip onto the floor. “Finally, the change is in your perception too. I used to be a gold star trainer. Gray’s Wrestling Academy was the beacon of the southeast. Even when my star pupil retired, I had the respect of my peers. But then…” Foster gestured to his cut arm. “Then I hurt a teenager. And I became a drunk, a maniac, a former gym owner.”
Foster finally stood up and walked to the kitchen, blood dripping into the carpet as he walked. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his hand, then returned to the chair. “You can’t control the change in outside perception of you. But you can control how you change. Will you heal? Will what you did just stay something you did? Or will it become a part of who you are?”
“Paxton Ray was jus’ a dad when Jonathan Rhine found him. I came in and became a tag partner. Nobody knew who I was. Jus’ a tall kid who punched people.
But then I started talkin’, and we survived a tag team gauntlet. Now I wasn’t jus’ some kid. Now I was a title contender. We came up short, and then I scared GREAT SCOTT so bad he had an identity crisis he ain’t ever recovered from. Then I became a young threat.
“Then I decided to make my move, and that changed me again. What they call me…the Bayou Butcher? I like that name. Started usin’ it myself. Every step of the way I’ve had to be a different person to keep goin’. So I’m used t’ change. But that’s not what ya mean, is it?
“When ya say ya change people, ya mean an involuntary process. They walk in with ya, and they walk out as someone different. Well I hate t’ tell ya, Jacob, but ya can’t break what’s already broken. The world of pain and hurt I been through? The amount a’ people I beat to a pulp in the mud in New Orleans? I think I can make it through a wrestling match with ya without too much lastin’ damage.
“And don’t forget, I know ‘bout changin’ people too. I changed Jon Rhine into a fuckin’ paraplegic.”
The silence settled in as Paxton and Foster sat, the former looking at his hands and the latter sipping a new drink from an identical cup. Finally, Paxton looked up. “Ya missed one part.”
Paxton pointed to the shards of glass by Foster’s feet. “The change in the person you attack.”
“I told you. They’re broken.”
Paxton shook his head. “Nah, I mean deeper than that. How they change emotionally.”
A smile crept across Foster’s face. “Do you care?”
“No,” Paxton said quickly. Then, after a moment: “I still wanna know.”
“I get it.” Foster stood up again and walked to the dresser. Several pictures adorned it: pictures of Connor, his son; of Magen, his ex-wife; a multitude of NWC colleagues over the years. Foster shuffled through the picture frames and found a loose picture, then walked back over to Paxton and handed it to him.
Paxton looked at the picture, then looked back up. “Who’s this?”
“His name is Anton Dufresne. He was an NWC World Champion. And he’s the first person I paralyzed.”
The picture fell from Paxton’s hands. “What?”
“You didn’t mean to, but you really did come to the right place,” Foster said as he bent over to pick up the picture, looking at it. “And don’t think I’m some sort of psychopath who gets off on crippling people. They were two completely different situations.” He walked back to his chair, looking at the picture. “As I’m sure Jon told you, the Dustin incident was a complete accident. What I did to Dufresne, much like you’re about to do to Jon, was intentional.”
“One night, at an NWC PPV event, I was going for the big title. And I wanted my entire family to see, including Connor, who was under a year at the time. It was going to be the best night of my life.” Foster turned his back to Paxton quickly. “But Anton Dufresne came into my locker room, grabbed my baby boy, and started choking him until his face went blue.”
“Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” Paxton murmured.
“Someone stopped him. To this day I can’t remember who. I don’t remember anything from that night. But I do remember two weeks later when I found Anton Dufresne and drove a pipe into the back of his neck until he stopped moving. I remember everything about that.”
Paxton leaned back in his chair, his breath exiting in a low whistle. “How did he…how did Anton change?”
“I don’t know if he did, honestly. He was already a sick fuck, broken in ways that I could never understand. He literally had the word WRATH carved into his back by an opponent, and it became part of him. Nowadays you can only see the word if someone helps him out of his wheelchair.”
Foster turned around. “Anton knew I was coming and when I got there, he was standing with his back to me. He told me to do it. And he was the one who told me how I would change. From being a hero to a villain.”
“Was he right?”
Foster laughed. “We’re conspiring to paralyze a former friend. What do you think?”
Paxton shook his head, then looked down. “What about Dustin?”
“What about him?”
“Did he change?”
“I don’t know,” Foster said, shrugging. “I’ve never talked to him. His family won’t let me. Hell, my family won’t let me.” Foster’s lip curled in a sneer as he let himself collapse in his chair. “I paralyze a monster for choking my baby boy and this is how he thanks me. If I’d known…” he didn’t complete the thought, but Paxton didn’t need him to.
“I wish I could ask him,” Paxton said in a near-whisper.
“So do it,” Foster answered without looking up. “He’s Gray’s, you’re Gray’s. He loves Connor, he loves Jon. Of course. Everyone loves Jon.” Foster looked up and grinned. “Well, not everyone.”
“Not everyone,” Paxton said, then stood up. “Well…thanks, I guess.”
“Wait,” Foster said with a sudden sharpness that made Paxton turn around. “You owe me.”
“What do you want?”
Foster stood up. “Once you do this, a few weeks later I’ll show up at Gray’s. And I want your support. And in return you’ll have mine whenever you need it. Deal?” Foster unwrapped his bloody hand and offered it to Paxton. A few stray drops fell to the floor.
Paxton stared at the hand for a few seconds before grabbing it. “Deal.”
“So you’re my first match as the new, changed Paxton Ray. I can’t tell ya that I am stronger than I was, or that I suddenly learned some moves that’ll make me unbeatable in the ring. But I will tell ya this.
“For the past few months I’ve had a muzzle on. I wasn’t actin’ like myself, like how I wanted to. I was bitin’, but I was holdin’ myself back. I showed it a little, a’course. GREAT SCOTT was a little surprised that I wasn’t some good ol’ boy fightin’ for respect or whatever. But I was still a loyal tag partner, a good soldier, a Fighter for Nora.
“But now? Now the muzzle’s off. I can be jus’ as angry as I wanna be, as violent as I wanna be, as dangerous as I wanna be. And this ain’t some empty threat, or a promise of what’s t’come: I already showed it in the MGM Grand.
“While ya were gettin’ ready to come up short in the Intense title match, I was takin’ down Enemigos like they were cardboard cutouts. I showed Mark exactly how much I’m capable of. And if it weren’t for a few hundred volts from the boss, Wade Elliott would be lookin’ for a new job, ‘cause you definitely need your limbs workin’ to run security.
“So yeah, Jacob. You’re a big mean fuck. Ya beat Anna Daniels in a dog collar match. Ya came close to winnin’ the Intense Title. And you’re my punishment for hurtin’ Jon.
“But I’m finally Paxton Ray. The real Paxton Ray. And I’m gonna punish anyone who steps in that ring with me, startin’ with ya.”
September 16, 2022
Paxton Ray sat in the locker room of Gray’s Academy, his hands shaking as he looked at a piece of paper. He raised his phone to his ear, breathing heavily in time with the ringing.
After a few moments, he heard a click and a voice on the other end stammer, “H-hello?”
“Hi,” Paxton said. “Is this Dustin?”
“Yes. Who’s this?”
“My name’s Paxton. I gotta couple things I wanted to ask ya.”
“Sure. Are you…are you Jon’s tag partner?”
Paxton closed his eyes. “That’s me.”
“Oh, wow. It’s nice to talk to you. You’re awesome, man. I’ve been watching all of your matches.”
“Really. Ya still watch?”
“Absolutely,” Dustin said on the other end, his voice breaking. “Wrestling is the greatest sport in the world.” After a pause, Dustin said, “So, why did you call?”
Paxton leaned back against a locker and sighed. “Well, I was gonna explain who I was and what’s goin’ on with me, but I don’t think I hafta. So you know ‘bout my daughter and all that.”
“Yep. I’m so happy to hear she’s in remission! Congratulations.”
“Thanks. Listen…I’m callin’ to ask…how are ya? With…everythin’?”
Paxton waited for thirty seconds before Dustin started speaking. “I’m fine. I’ve had a lot of time to process what happened to me. To get used to my wheelchair…to adjust to everything. I’ve learned that people adapt to things pretty well if you give them time…I did, at least.”
“But still, you’re eighteen. That’s so young to be…done.”
“I don’t really consider myself done. I’m a freshman at Tulane right now, and honestly it feels like life is just starting. I won’t be wrestling, but I’ll be doing something else. And I’ll be fine.”
“Well that’s a great attitude t’have, Dustin. That sounds great.” Paxton looked down at the box he found months ago, the one with the old Fighting For Dustin memorabilia. “I gotta ask about Jon. How did ya feel ‘bout the whole Fightin’ for Dustin thing?”
“Well the name is cheesy.”
Paxton let out a big laugh. “Well yeah, but besides that. Did ya ever feel like Jon was…usin’ ya?”
Another long pause settled in. “Yeah, a little. No one does anything out of the goodness of their heart. And I knew that Jon wanted to be the head trainer. But can I tell you something, Mr. Ray?”
“Pax is fine.”
“Okay, Pax. I don’t really care why he did it. My life is better because he did. I understand that feeling, because when life deals you a hand like ours did, it feels like everyone wants to use you for something. And maybe I did feel that way at first.”
“Then what changed?” Paxton asked.
“Well, Jon never stopped taking care of me.”
“How do you think I can afford Tulane?”
Paxton shook his head and leaned forward, not answering. After a few moments, Dustin continued. “My dad felt the same way you did, Pax. He didn’t really trust Jon. But he’s just a helpful guy. And if you let him, he will help for as long as he’s able to.”
“Well…thanks, Dustin. That actually helped a lot. I’m glad we talked.”
“Me too, Paxton. Keep fighting for Nora.”
Paxton closed his eyes again. “I always will.” He hung up the phone, then stood up. He walked over to the mirror and looked at himself.
“He paid for the kid’s college. Why am I even doin’ this? I don’t know anymore.”
He looked down for a moment, and when his gaze returned to the mirror, it was intense. “Yes. Yes ya do.”
Walking away from the mirror, he looked at his phone again, then dialed a number. He waited for the click, then said, “Hey. Yeah, it’s happening at the super show. I’m ready now.”