“I wanted to thank you both for coming to church with me.”
Joe Fontaine’s hands are over his heart. It’s bordering on dangerously genuine tender grounds, this moment, as he is flanked by his two best friends in the whole world: Sid Phillips on his right, FLAMBERGE on his left. The spirit of Thanksgiving lingers in his heart as he soaks in this moment in time, three shirtless men wearing their brightest sports coats walking down the streets of Memphis on a seasonably-inappropriate-to-go-shirtless November afternoon.
Sid and FLAMBERGE look at each other over the top of Joe’s head, lock eyes for a moment, and nod. Better to just roll with whatever this is. Joe’s been having a time lately.
Worth noting is that Sid’s eye contact breaks first, if you’re keeping score of these sorts of things.
“The way you went on and on about it, Joe, I can’t wait to see what it’s all about.”
“Oui, Sid’s friend, c’est bon. You said there would be the food?”
Already-perky Joe’s Perk Knobs go up to eleven.
“Only THE BEST CHICKEN IN THE SOUTH, bestie! It’s half the point, from what I hear. We can get some of that Memphis Hot Chicken that I’ve always wanted to try.”
FLAMBO and Joe continue walking down the street. Sid pauses for a second.
“Memphis Hot Chicken?”, he says to himself. “Not Nashville?”
Are we going to talk about it, FLAMBERGE?
Are we going to talk about what happened in Strasbourg? Or are you just going to pout? You’re trying to ignore me – fine, then, just pout.
For the record, I think it’s a crime and also VERY unfair that you don’t let me crack into the vaults about your mother willy-nilly. You’d think I’d have earned your total trust and obedience at this point, right? After everything I’ve done for you?
I mean, kid, it’s the main event of Colossus for the Universal Championship WHEN YOU ARE ALREADY A CHAMPION. How many times did you say this wasn’t ever going to happen? How many times did you whine and complain, “nyehhhhhh, je suis le Win All Le Time, je suis Le Intense Le Champion, I am French and I am sad that they are holding me back, existentialism”?
I became, of course, Hannibal Reborn. I took your hopeless negativism and I molded you into what you’ve wanted to be ever since something tugged at your guts and pulled you into the main event of ReVival 13 when you helped Phil Atken win the very championship for which you now contend.
After over a year of the kind of dominance you only hear about in Brandon Youngblood’s dream journal, you’re on the cusp of the mountaintop of this company. Just like Phil. And unlike Phil, YOU ARE TWENTY-THREE.
You are the embodiment of his vision of professional wrestling in 2023 and beyond. Lindsay Troy is calling you on the phone PERSONALLY because Ivan Stanislav is an impossible bear-man, and if anyone’s going to stop him, it’s going to be a zesty gecko.
Some gratitude would be nice. For starters.
Some appreciation? Maybe a big ol’ scoop of trust?
After all, I took you from a meme about burgers and I turned you into an enigma that no one on the PRIME roster gets, even if you explain yourself to their face.
I took you from that hotheaded guy that got punked by pennies in a vanity car by a little bitch named Nate Colton and I turned you into the cold-blooded goddamn Neck Collector.
I took you from a lazy joke about very delicate eggs and I turned you into the most put-it-in-the-bank and why-even-run-the-match killer in professional wrestling. For that, you should be bending the knee to me and kissing Phil Atken’s unfeeling feet every minute of every day until he says you can go outside to make dookies.
PRIME looks at all 206 pounds of Spicy Lizard that they think you are and by the time they find out the real problem you present, their neck is being harvested and fitted for a special case. We’ve got the guy who grades necks in our contacts, and he NEVER gives out his number.
And instead of giving me full access to this sensitive little area you’re holding onto so tightly, you’re giving me sass.
Fine, you know what? DON’T let me play with the Mom Wires yet. Strasbourg can be whatever, for now. I think it’s cowardly, for the record, and I think if you really let me go for a fun happy movie time in your mind with all the fun childhood edits I’d splice in, it’d go great, but you know, I can give you the benefit of the doubt.
It’s hard to get there when you’re around a goddamn sex yacht like Sid Phillips and the friend who doesn’t get the hint that he should scram for a few minutes because he’s a third wheel…
Now, you might think that being invited to church is a religious experience. Couple of prayers, a holy man preaching a sermon, maybe a choir. That’s certainly the case here, too. Only, the prayers are what you say to the preacher, the preacher is wearing a black visor and manning the register, and the choir is the yammering of a couple of DJs on 104.5 FM on an otherwise innocuous day.
We’re in church, alright.
Church’s Chicken, that is.
And on this holy day, Le Protagoniste and the Protagonistettes are enjoying only the finest of poultry-based cuisine. They’d found the quietest, most out-of-the-way corner in the building. Of course, any hint of subtlety or being low-key goes out the window when you’re in the company of Joe Fontaine.
“Yeah, boy-ee!” Joe exclaims, holding up an indiscernible piece of chicken in the air like he claimed it from a chest in a Zelda dungeon. It’s amazing how excited he is over this. There are children in this world less excited about Christmas than Joe is about going to Church(‘s).
To say that neither Sid nor FLAMBERGE are as thrilled would be an understatement. Sid is turning over the piece of chicken he has with utter confusion. He looks to FLAMBERGE for guidance. “Is this a wing or a thigh?”
FLAMBERGE gives it a faint sniff.
“I will be honest, Sid, it looks like the beak.”
“Maybe it’s a thorax,” Joe offers, “Chickens have those, right?”
“No, the fuck do you think chickens are?” Sid asks.
“Evolved raptors that need to be routinely butchered so that we, as a society, can go about living in peace without being killed to death by their ilk.” Joe suggests.
“Raptors don’t have thoraxes either.”
“How would you know?” Joe asks, pointing at Sid with his piece of Zelda chicken, “All we’ve ever seen are the bones that haven’t been turned into fuel yet. Coward scientists have started filling our classrooms with the lie that raptors had feathers. They don’t know, either. They could have had thoraxes and exoskeletons and internal gerbil cages for all we know. What we need is the good word of an expert on dinosaurs and lizards who can truly cut through the bullshit.”
FLAMBERGE takes another indeterminate Fried Animal Cutlet and dips it into an unnatural gooey slurry they call Purple Pepper Sauce. He extends his teeth beyond his lips, his incisors barely grazing this Decidedly Not Regional, Decidedly Not Special Foodlike Object.
He ponders on the flavor for a moment – could be worse? Could be Chicago’s Burned Tomato Soup Bowl instead?
Joe and Sid watch him do this with great anticipation, though for entirely different reasons.
“I don’t get it. You said this was the special church, and I have not yet been guilted by an old man in a robe and I am instead eating a thorax. Is this an American thing?”
“Yep!” Joe says, “Full-blooded, super American thing. The most American. The Americanest.”
“And this is how your country defeated Russians before? The fried chicken churches?”
FLAMBERGE leans in and lowers his voice a bit.
“Is Colonel Sanders an American hero?”
“Well, he represents a different part of the faith, but yeah!” Joe says, “He fought in all of the wars, including the ones we’re not supposed to know about, and that’s how he gained the powers of all eleven herbs and spices. Even now, his power binds the eldritch and the conspiratorial alike!”
Sid has a different take on this, “Please ignore him.”
FLAMBO observes a hint of steam poking out of the teeny nibble he took out of his Probably A Wing? Cut Of Chicken? (Meat?)…huh. So that’s why they must call it “hot” chicken here. They cook it.
They also cook chicken in France, for the record, so. The Frenchman doesn’t understand why Memphis gets to take credit for any of the temperature components.
“Oui…anything you say, Sid.”
It’s inexplicable, but all three members of Glue Unto Others slowly turn, as one, and face forward. As their thoughts retreat inwards, their expressions match their most natural and unimpeded-by-human-intention state. One collective, harmonious “mlem”.
Joe, doing his very best.
…and then, FLAMBO’s brain lizard’s tummy rumbles.
You want to punch Sid’s friend, don’t you.
Right in his fuckin’ eye.
Dude’s going on and on and on about thoraxes and raptors and meanwhile, there’s a whole-ass romance novel of possibilities sitting next to you.
Hit him. Do it. Ward off the unwanted scavenger getting in the way of your mating rituals. Just a little “bop”, not enough to hurt him and have him run off crying to Cecilworth or something, just, you know. A little “whap” and a “go on, git”.
…you’re not? You’re not gonna hit someone in a restaurant. Well now.
I guess we know where the LiNe is for you.
Why doesn’t Sid just unhinge his jaw and consume the lesser creature whole?
…right. Fair. That’s a lot of Person-Like Wrestler to eat in one go. Plus, those can’t be good calories. You saw how he stocked VENDBERGE for ReVival 38. Lots of fluff. Multiple brands of pork rinds. Maybe that, too, is the Americanest.
Why are we here again?
That’s right – Sid’s friend wanted to take you to “church”. Cool place, Sid’s Friend, we can only kind of smell the burned oil from our seat.
At least he’s not actually trying to talk strategy here. That’s one good thing going for Sid’s friend, I guess, in that he’s not making the same mistake as Mustache. Hayes still thinks there’s a plan involved that he can alter.
To alter a plan, there has to be a plan.
The thing is, the enemy can’t know what we’re doing if Hayes doesn’t know what we’re doing. And there are MANY QUESTION MARKS ABOUT HAYES HANLON, FLAMBO. And I don’t think Hayes wants to smooch away all the answers with you.
You only half know the plan yourself, FLAMBO, did you figure that out yet? (For the record, another reason I’m very cross with you – you think you should take over the wheel of a ship that’s been on course for a very long time. You know what happens around PRIME when people interact with ships. People just burn ‘em willy fucking nilly. Little neurotic pyro boys that could really learn to dispose of lumber in a much more efficient way if Phil liked them enough and showed them how to make wood glue)
(Where was I)
(Maybe the Glueconomy? Mustache. SID’S FRIEND, yes, thank you, take another bite of the purple goo, the syrup boosts my signal)
PUNCH HIS EYEBALLLLLLLLLLL no? You won’t do it, even now?
Huh. Thought I really had the element of surprise there. After all, like I said before – the enemy can’t know what you’re doing if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Ok, fair – I’m not going to go all the way and call Sid’s Friend the “enemy”, or whatever, just…CHRIST, Sid looks good and I can’t DEAL with the plus one.
Do you think Ivan has this problem ever?
We’ve seen Kenny and Randall around now and then…not my type, because I like classically handsome types, but I’m also not an ancient gray bear that has to plug its butt with mud and foliage every winter – to each their own, is what I’m getting at, and it’s not my place to yuck anyone’s yum.
I bet Ivan would’ve punched Randall in the eye if he got in the way of his guttural wirings about Kenny, if it came to that, is all I’m saying. He’d pretend to want to share the good word about someone whose last name ends in “-in” or “-nov” or “-vich”, and he’d give them a book in a language they can’t read, and he’d punch him right in his little eyeball and go about his day, right?
That’s your Universal Champion right there. That’s the guy who’s got a streak almost as long as yours, and even though you’re number one in the company, HE’S the guy that’s taken over as the Czar of the Mountaintop while you had your little “whatever the fuck happened in Strasbourg you won’t let me play with yet” thing with your mama. You bonehead.
There’s parts of you that still care about other people. It continues to present problems for me.
You’re going to have to fight Ivan twice, you know. And if Sid and his chucklehut baby nephew (or whatever) can’t pick up the slack, you might not make it to the second fight.
I feel unjustly maligned by this, and I need specific data points.
Sid’s fine. We know this. It’s the runt we need sorted.
Only one way to find out, FLAMBERGE. You’ve got to send me to him and let me root around in there. Do a little sightseeing, figure out what we’re working with.
If I find a bunch of cotton candy and Pokemon cards, I hope you’ll take my suggestion about the eye punch.
Time to pull the trigger.
FLAMBERGE swallows his bite of chicken and turns to Joe.
“Hey, do you think we should ask them to call us Glue Live Crew for our match? The Blue Live Crew team became Eminence, then they retired the tag team championships, and since there will not be the new PRIME tag team champions ever again they would maybe not care about the old team name anymore? Non?”
If the technology existed, we might see something of a “mlorm” moment when FLAMBO said “Eminence”. The mere mention of the team of Jared Sykes and Justine Calvin, the team that dominated the short-lived PRIME tag division and the team that Joe and Sid could never beat when they were the Winds of Change – it formed a lightning connection from brain to soundwave to ear to the other brain.
The Eminence trigger opened a pathway for the intrusive thoughts we all experience in our minds from time to time. The ones FLAMBO barely fights anymore.
And they begin their gruesome recon.
Alright, let’s take a look around here, beep borp boop, who the fuck are ya…Joe Fontaine! I’ll be honest, I was expecting the panel to come up with your legal name as Sid’s Friend or Sidds Freund or something. Separate identity, allegedly. Cool cool cool, let’s see aaaaaand what the fuck?
Is that a factory?
Testing microphones, beep blap blerp, is anyone picking up on me yet?
Sort of? Some delay on speaker two, understood, I’m on it. Meanwhile, what in the sweet Jesus almighty is coming out of that factory?
It’s like…ten thousand clones of the same chibi cherub man. Look at those matching green sparkly suits! Those emerald green eyes! I’m…wow. This is actually dazzling. It kind of hurts to look at. No, yeah, it very very much hurts to look at all this sparkle, I hate it, thank you Joe Fontaine, let me inside please, good. Part the seas of this munchkin army, gracias.
Wait, hold on. I can almost, like…smell something? It’s so similar to something from the first day I was with FLAMBERGE, some faint aura…a weapon? A knife, maybe? Something metal and rotting and evil, oooooooh there’s an evil sparkle man somewhere in here! That’s the ticket, gotta find the Knifey Joe, that’s how we drive this car.
Follow your senses. What do we see, we see…a conveyor belt. Several Joe Clones working it, none of them are Knifey Joe though. These guys have hard hats. Wait, they’re talking, let’s observe –
Ah, yes, this must be where the rough thoughts start. Doesn’t look like there’s much wiggle room before they’re spat out, is there?
Up ahead, oh cool, they’re drag racing forklifts. I wonder if Joe or Joe will win? Wait, those forklifts are carrying some boxes, what do those stamps say? “IMPORTANT – LIFE LESSONS”? Ah, yeah, those are a real bitch to reproduce, they probably shouldn’t run around with – aaaaand there’s the crash. Good work, Joe.
Ah, one of these Joes has a little taskmaster bullhorn thing. Let’s learn how this brain directs internal conflict…
“REMEMBER, TRUE WISDOM IS KNOWING WHEN NOT TO LEARN!”
Wow, that’s the biggest corkboard I’ve ever seen. Right bang in the middle of the Joe Soup: “BEST BUDDIES” in Comic Sans, incredible. There’s a photo of our FLAMBERGE, of course, and there’s Sid, there’s Cecilworth, there’s Hayes – wow, there’s even Hank, Dirk, that guy in the gold mask, and Phil! Aw, he loves glue.
HA, that’s the tallest red X I’ve ever seen – I guess crossing out Coral Avalon takes extra effort with that sixhead he’s got. Peyton Manning ass. “FRIENDSHIP ENDED WITH CORAL. GLUE IS MY FRIENDS NOW.”
That’s a whole project I could really sink my teeth into if I had – wait. Hold it. The smell again, I can sense it, I can sense your twisted little scoundrelly self, Joe.
TESTING AGAIN, ONE TWO, IS SPEAKER TWO BACK ONLINE? It is, yes, gooooood.
That means I know you can hear me, Joe.
Nice little operation you’ve got running here. There’s something really beautiful about the way you’re automating this chaos. Look, I even see some of those green sparkly pickleballers going over and painting the wreckage of “IMPORTANT – LIFE LESSONS” so it blends in with the rest of the factory! And with tens of thousands of yourselves fragmented, all assigned their one little duty, all completely unaware of how to do any other job than the one they’ve got…someone’s been here before me, haven’t they.
It’s so thought-out. It builds in a lack of self-awareness. Secrets hidden from yourself, by yourself. A truly wild amount of shine to blind anyone who would go looking for it, reflecting outwards in smiles and enthusiasm.
Someone built this ship. Someone put a darkness in you.
All this splitting of yourself just SCREAMS “Drama Kid”, am I onto something there? Ah, yep, good, I’m starting to pick up signals, I’m so very. Very. CLOSE to the source of it. Knifey Joe.
Ahhhhhhhhhhh and HERE he is. Sometimes you have to pull the trigger twice on these younger models.
Let’s latch ourselves in, shall we?
Let’s figure out how Knifey Joe takes control.
Because guess what, Joe? The French kid is right – you will never, EVER, be a tag team champion in PRIME, even as teams like yourselves and the Moscows of the Moscow Moscow bust your ass trying to win over the fans on screen, your tickets to the mountaintop have been revoked.
You know who’s fault it is.
You know what that makes you want to-
-who pushed the emergency butt-
Out of nowhere, Joe blurts “POWERBOMB” – and an unexpected “mlorm” moment happens again, this time from Joe to Sid.
POWERBOMB POWERBOMB POWERBOMB POWERBOMB
POWERBOMB POWERBOMB POWERBOMB POWERBOMB
oh lord this is so loud how do i get out of here
BEAR ALERT, BEAR ALERT, BEAR ALERT, BEAR ALERT
my head is going to erupt, pressing the first button i find, here we go-
Sid turns to FLAMBERGE.
The three men rise out of their seats in an unnatural unison. They exit the Church’s chicken in line formation to conserve energy.
Not a single word is uttered about church, or how Nashville Hot Chicken and Hot Chicken In Memphis are quite different, or even how sexy af Joe feels these three boys are right now.
Every trigger we pull leaves their powder traces, even when we think we’ve closed the hole back again.
Glue Live Crew is displeased with these Russians. Joe and Sid think, perhaps for the first time, about which body part to choose as they start their own Collections.
If they let the moment take over, maybe the Collector reveals the way.