“Hey bro, wanted to check on ya. Didn’t see you backstage after the show, and you weren’t at your suite. So, gimme a call, text, whatever. Hope you’re alright.”
Remember how it took me so long to leave the arena after Culture Shock?
Take a wild guess how long I stuck around after Great American Nightmare.
Here’s a hint: I found out Youngblood kept the big strap three days later.
Save your opinions. I’m not interested. I’m allowed to be a little pissed. It was a shitty night. I lost the strap and I couldn’t stick around. I didn’t wanna see Youngblood defend his title. I didn’t wanna see Johnny and Nova finally get to actually wrestle for their shot. I didn’t wanna see any new champions crowned.
And I live for that shit.
Man, I didn’t even wanna call Paul.
I was loaded before I even left the Arena. I needed to be literally anywhere else. Mentally or physically.
Lucky for me, there’s a lot of bright lights just outside the doors that can take you wherever you wanna go.
And anywhere else would do.
After the Nightmare
It’s so loud in here.
Deep thuds in my chest. Zips and zaps in my ears. Streams of light flashing from every direction. Muffled words and yelling I can’t understand. A swarm of bodies and blank faces churning, threatening to drag me in. It’s smothering. It’s terrible.
A pill pushed against my tongue, and a presence in front of me.
“Where are we?”
“Exactly where we need to be.”
“I don’t need to be anywhere.”
“Just here, and then the next place.”
“The next place?”
“We’ll show you.”
In a stall now. The bass and zips and zaps are further. Three bodies stuffed between these metal panels. Shifting. brushing against me. It’s a wonderful feeling. Finger in the bag and against my gums. It tastes like dirt and piss. And bitter. More for the other side of my mouth.
“We really like you.”
“I really like you, too.”
“Are you ready for the next place?”
“I…I don’t think so.”
“We think you are.”
“But…I can’t. I’m stuck. I fell.”
“We didn’t see you fall.”
“I did. I fell.
“You’re standing now.”
Outside. Warm air drying my eyes out. It’s perfect but I wish it was cold. Someone’s coming to get us. My new friends are dancing on the sidewalk. I don’t dance but I like that they do. They’re so beautiful in the lights.
“Hayes, it’s Paul. C’mon, man. Give me something. Call me.”
“Main Event Horizon”
I saw that on a sign somewhere in the crowd. Fun while it lasted. Back to the drawing board, I guess.
I hate that Rezin beat me, and man I wish there was an excuse. It stung hard. I wanted to hold onto that title a little longer. Even just a little longer. At least through Great American Nightmare.
I felt like a flash in the pan. That I’d already had my time in the sun and I just…gave it away? It’s a sickening feeling.
But after all that, why did I eventually feel a little…relieved?
I know I disappointed a lot of people, but disappointment I can handle. That’s pretty much a constant. The pressure, though? Maybe I can’t. Maybe losing the belt felt kinda good. Like flying that flag wasn’t my job anymore. Maybe it was a chance to take an easier path.
Maybe I wish I’d never won it in the first place.
Maybe going back to the drawing board isn’t so bad.
These patterns are incredible.
Feeling my forearms stick to the leather from sweat, ignoring the pinch in my neck while it’s craned. The ceiling is like a maze. Or like one of those books where you have to stare really hard to see the image. Purples and whites, and textures!
I think we’re in a lobby. My pretty friends found more pretty friends. They’re having such a great time. Some are staring at the ceiling with me. Some have really great ideas about government. Some are dancing. I don’t think the receptionist likes it. She should join us. I know she’d like my new friends.
“Is it cool if we stay here a while?”
“A while. But not too long.”
“I could stay here a long time.”
“Why do you want to do that?”
“I dunno, it just feels nice. And easy.”
“We’ll need to go to the next place soon. Didn’t we say you were ready?”
“Yeah…but, it feels good here.”
Excited now, enough to pull away from the gorgeous ceiling.
“Or! Maybe we can go back! To the street! Or the…”
“You can’t go backwards. It’s impossible.”
“I think it is. And it feels good there!”
“You can’t. Not even if you tried.”
“I can show you!”
Standing. Searching for balance.
I try to step backwards. Literally place my shoe on the soft carpet behind me. A pause. A knot in my throat.
My black shoes are stuck. Trying again. It’s just one backwards step! It’s not a big deal…
“We told you.”
Why can’t I do it? Sweating more.
“Why can’t I do it?”
“Because. There is only the next place.”
“You don’t understand.” I keep fighting for that backwards step. “I can’t! I fell!”
“You’re standing now. Remember?”
“I…I know, but…I fell! And…and I look just like him…”
“You know who we think you look like?”
“Who?” Please. Tell me.
“Come on. It’s time.”
“Time for what?
“For the next place. There is only the next place.”
“Starting to scare me, man. Seriously. Don’t make me call the cops. Give me something so I know you’re not dead in a ditch.”
Well. Whatta ya know. Cancer Jiles. Hayes Hanlon. ReVival 11.
“Main Event Horizon” after all.
That was unexpected.
And while I’m not sure why I was given that nod, what was more unexpected was learning that Jiles has, somehow, punched himself another ticket for a shot at the Universal Title at UltraViolence. After getting twice battered by The Tower of Babel. After going to a draw at Great American Nightmare.
And that kiiinda pissed me off.
I can’t stand draws. At least I had the decency to lose to Bathory.
But here’s the thing; I get the feeling that Jiles has options. He’s done this gig in other places. If PRIME doesn’t work out, he can crawl his way to the main event scene somewhere else. Or go hide in his tower.
I don’t have those options.
Because I decided a looong time ago that this world didn’t have much to offer me outside of the ring. If this job wasn’t an option, I would’ve put enough shit up my nose to put the lights out by now. And when PRIME came back, it became the ONLY option.
And I’m not ready to go.
So if Cancer fucking Jiles is going to get another chance, then I guess I don’t have a choice but to kick off his road to UltraViolence with another big fat “L.” And when he gets there, and stares down Julian Bathory and Brandon Youngblood one more time, maybe he’ll wish I had taken his place.
Maybe I think so, too.
The scrape of a toenail was a rude introduction to a hangover.
More than a hangover. The comedown.
It’s real. You can only stay high for so long. Eventually it must come to an end. And when it does, the comedown puts body and mind in a dark place of fatigue. Everything is exhausting. Everything is unimportant and depressing. The only available urge is to get out. Find home. Crawl into the void for a while.
Being anywhere else is exactly where you don’t want to be.
A body on his left shifted, rolling onto their side: slender, shapely, face hidden behind a mess of long, red hair.
Clearly the last few days resulted in a good night.
Imagine his surprise when his elbow caught the shoulder of a body to his right. Lean, muscled, short blonde hair resting on a pillow.
Oh, that kind of night.
He sat up within the chaos of white sheets, rubbing glassy eyes with his thumb and forefinger. A quick glance revealed unfamiliar surroundings. Some hotel, probably not the MGM Grand.
With a groan and a shove, he pushed his chiseled, naked body forward and to the edge of the bed. Heavy, unsteady feet found the carpet. The bed’s occupants stirred while Hayes thumped his way to the kitchenette, clumsily opening a cabinet to find a glass.
“Morning, big guy.”
Hayes rolled his eyes while filling his glass from the sink. He wasn’t ready for this conversation. The last few days were a total blur. These spirit guides no longer took that form. He chugged the water quickly, glancing over his shoulder to see the young man with bleach-blonde hair propped up on his elbow in bed. He was a good lookin’ guy. Clean shaven. A few tattoos.
Hayes set the glass down before spotting his clothes on a chair across the room.
“Morning,” he replied absently, stepping into his boxer-briefs.
“In a rush?” the young man cooed, leaning on an elbow.
“Um, something like that,” he said, shaking out the legs of his black dress pants. His phone and wallet were still in his pockets. Thank Hoyt.
“Well, breakfast first?” the young man asked, hopeful. “We kinda dug deep the last few days…maybe we should get some coffee? Talk about it?”
Hayes sighed through his frazzled mustache. “Listen…uh…what was your name again?”
“Matthew,” he replied, disappointed. “Matthew and Jen.” Names for his drug-fueled spirit guides.
“Right. Matthew.” Hayes pulled his black button-down over his head, then took a seat on the edge of the bed, pulling his wallet from his back pocket. “Thank you for this…journey. I appreciate it. Really…”
Hayes leaned in, kissing Matthew on the forehead, simultaneously retrieving a hundred dollar bill and leaving it bedside.
“…but the journey’s over for now. You and Jen can go get breakfast wherever you want.”
Hayes stood, making moves toward the door. Matthew frowned, shifting from his elbow to sit upright and call after the hurried Hanlon.
“Well, can we at least call you sometime?”
Hayes swung the door open without pause.
Paul swiped up on his phone. Another call to Hayes.
He leaned forward on the beige sofa in his brother’s MGM suite, muttering and squeezing his temples between thumb and forefinger, holding his phone out in front while it rang.\
“C’mon man, don’t make me do it. Pick up. Pick UP.”
“Hey, this is Hayes, sorry I missed ya! Leave me a message or, you know, text me like a normal person. Byyyeee!”
“Dude, now you’re starting to piss me off.” Paul stood from the couch abruptly, hand in his shaggy black hair. “This isn’t cool, bro. I get it. You lost. I’d wanna get fucked up, too. But man, just fucking text me so I know you’re not fucking dead! A fucking thumbs up emoji would be fine! God DAMNIT! Bro, if I don’t hear from you before tonight I’m calling the cops, and I don’t wanna hear anything about…”
A couple beeps and the sound of the door unlocking. Paul stopped mid sentence, lowering his phone but not ending the call. The husk of his younger brother walked in; eyelids barely hanging on and hair sticking to his forehead. Older Brother bit his tongue as long as possible, allowing the younger to at least kick off his shoes.
“You’re a real mother fucker, you know that?” Paul hissed, using his still-recording phone to drive his message home while Hayes approached. “Seriously? Not one damn phone call? Not one damn text? What the FUCK IS YOUR PROBL..”
Hayes replied with a massive hug, pulling Paul in close. Paul, fighting every effort to yell and swear and scold, relaxed with enormous relief, gripping his brother close.
“You’re a fucking asshole,” he muttered before pulling back and holding the younger Hanlon’s shoulders at length. “You alright? Everything good?”
“I’m good,” Hayes confirmed, his appearance betraying him. “Sorry I didn’t call. I was in a weird place. But I am going to pass out for two days.”
“I’m sorry about the match, man.”
“I’m not,” Hayes contradicted, giving Paul a clap on the shoulder and shifting toward his bedroom. “It’s a good thing. We’re moving on.”
Paul squinted quizzically as Hayes opened the door. Unsatisfied, he called after his brother before he could hibernate.
“Moving on where?”
Hayes paused at the entrance, his ragged mustache lifting with a gentle grin.
“To the next place.”
You’re expecting me to walk into our match broken. Defeated. The Five Star Stud without his Five Star Title.
That’s fine. All I expect from you is to pronounce my name funny and make some crack about eggs.
Oh. My bad. That’s your thing.
Don’t worry. I didn’t buy any of Youngblood’s t-shirts. I’m not gonna make any jabs about how “un-COOL” you are. And I don’t even eat eggs. They give me the shits.
All I’m gonna do is show you that Brandon Youngblood isn’t the only dude you need to worry about anymore.
You’re hoping I show up uncertain. Second guessing myself.
So I guess that’s your question for me: Is it back to the drawing board?
Read my mustache.
FUCK the drawing board.