Backstage, moments after Arthur Pleasant Vs Rob Williams
“Fuck this FUCKING bullshit,” Arthur Pleasant screamed as he made it to the backstage area, minutes after his losing effort against “The Legend” Rob Williams. The mounting frustration of losing matches was ever-so apparent as he kicked and threw everything in sight.
A black hard rubber trash can? Never stood a chance with Arthur Pleasant in this state of reckless abandon. Grabbing the trash can, he chucked it hard against a series of metal production cases, sending a few of them onto their sides and the trash can itself into a broken mess on the floor.
Next was a tripod set up for some random photoshoot he wasn’t aware of.
It never stood a chance.
Yeah, I got your cover for the next bullshit magazine right fucking here!
Seething far beyond the realm of anger, he lifted the tripod by its legs. Pleasant then raised his arms up and with a primal yell heard throughout Buffalo, he brought his arms down and SMASHED it hard against the arena floor. So hard, in fact, that pieces of the tripod flew into his own hair without him even realizing it.
Not sure where to go from there, Pleasant headbutted the shit out of the concrete wall with three consecutive shots, leaving behind a smear of blood from his suddenly busted-up forehead.
Realizing how everyone in the general vicinity was watching his epic meltdown, Pleasant pointed at them all with murderous intent.
“I suppose this makes all of you sheep so very fucking happy, doesn’t it?” he blurted out to watching eyes from a safe distance.
“Arthur, the piece of shit teeth boy that no one likes, starts 2024 off exactly how nearly all of 2023 went. With another… fucking… LOSS. Good! He deserved it! Aligning with the TRA! Commie fucking bastard! It’s not like he trained hard for yet another match that he couldn’t find a way to win! AHHHHHHHH!! MOTHER-FUCKING-FUCKER!!” he continued with his obscenity-laced tirade.
Dropping to his knees, Pleasant laughed. More maniacally than we’ve ever seen him.
I failed you.
I failed ALL of you.
I am sorry, Ivan.
My… comrade. My… friend.
Burying his head into his legs, the laughs turned to disturbing growls and teeth-clenched rage. He began to pound the floor with both fists, bloodying them badly.
“FUCK. YOU. FUCK. YOU. FUCK. YOU. FUCK. YOU. FUCK. YOU. FUCK. YOU. FUCK. YOU. FUCK. YOUUUUUUUU!” he kept screaming while busting his knuckles against the unforgiving cement floor.
All of a sudden, Pleasant stopped. Tears filled his eyes as the droplets soon fell to the floor. It was almost like someone hit the pause button on him. Looking around at everyone staring at him for his behavior, Pleasant’s angry and much-exasperated face turned to a cold, half-smirk. His lips curled and quivered with unadulterated hatred, bearing his teeth for all to see.
“Do you think I am a joke?” he asked everyone watching.
He stood with his arm pointed outward, slowly turning three-hundred and sixty degrees, “Am I just a broken piece of shit to all of you? Hm? AM I?!” he continued to ask.
Standing up straight, he bowed to everyone watching the scene unfold.
“Well, congratulations, PRIME,” Arthur said, pausing to catch his own breath while everyone around him looked on with concerned looks plastered onto their faces. Each of them simply waited with anticipation of what was about to come out of his mouth next.
“No more Mr. Nice Arthur,” he said, standing up straight, wiping, and then throwing the blood from his hand th
January 20, 2024
The Next Morning
He buried his hands into a bathtub full of ice, moaning out in agony for the trauma he induced upon his extremities the night before at ReVival 41. Looking into the ice cubes, Arthur thought about Rob managing to get his arm over him before he could get his arm over Rob.
That was the difference between a win and a loss last night. Lifting an arm to place it on the other guy, who was just as beaten and exhausted as he was. But he couldn’t get his arm up before his opponent. He was rocked too hard and felt too exhausted. Thus the man who called his shot at the Intense, Five-Star, Alias, and Uni was pinned square in the middle of the ring.
Was it worth it, Arthur?
“Yes, it was. The pain I feel in my hands right now pales in comparison to the pain I felt in my heart.”
Are you sure?
I don’t think you are. That temper tantrum was beneath you. Unbecoming, even.
You are better than that.
It’s why you are in the Red Army, after all.
It’s why you were chosen to be a participant in WAR GAMES for Culture Shock.
The Almasy winner didn’t randomly pick you. You are a comrade to the cause and someone Ivan trusts very much to invite you to his inner circle in PRIME.
“I’m sure that was just by proxy. I’m the ugly brown Fruit of the Loom hoodie in a coat room full of Ralph Lauren blazers.”
Stop this. At once.
You do not get to put on a pity party just because your win/loss record has been less than stellar.
There’s a reason why you are consistently put against tough competitors out there.
It’s true. You can’t deny it.
Exactly. Now pick yourself up, pour yourself a drink, and get the fuck over it.
You are not a quitter like so many others have proved themselves to be over time.
It is all about timing. You will become a champion.
Your future is lauded in silver and gold.
“If this wasn’t coming from my own psyche, I’d believe it.”
It doesn’t matter who or where it’s coming from.
You need to hear it, one way or another.
Pleasant began to make himself a 7-and-7 with Seagram’s Seven-Crown, Jack Daniels whiskey, and, of course, 7-up, when his phone rang.
Answer it. I have a good feeling about this.
“Just let me enjoy my—”
He looked down and saw who was calling.
“Holy shit,” he said out loud, taking a big gulp of his mixed drink.
Later That Morning/Early Afternoon
Ivan Stanislav stuck out like a sore thumb almost anywhere he went. Being nearly a quarter ton and standing over seven feet tall will do that to someone. Wearing a red military uniform didn’t do him any favors while he climbed out of the large black van and stared up at the looming tenement building. The tinted passenger’s window rolled down from the van, and Alexei leaned his head out. “This makes two times we’ve come to Vegas after a PRIME event. Let us not make it three.”
Ivan looked over at Alexei. “This is worth it, Alexei.”
“I beg to differ!” Ruslan barked back.
“Roll up your window,” Ivan snapped in response. Ruslan grudgingly obliged.
Despite the dregs of society who loitered around the building, a man of Ivan’s dimensions still commanded pause. Any lesser individual might have been interrupted by their requests or demands for personal items, but no one was about to bother The Russian Bear.
He stomped into the building and slowly ascended a wooden staircase. At one point, his heavy boot crushed through a stair and nearly broke his leg, but he managed to climb up the rest of the stairs unscathed. The smell of urine and worse assaulted his nostrils while he walked down a long, poorly lit hallway, and upon reaching the door in question, he raised his hand and knocked loudly upon the door.
“Arthur Pleasant!” He boomed. Dust fell from the ceiling above.
Pleasant nearly spilled the rest of his 7-and-7 as the knock nearly brought the door off its hinges.
You better answer that.
“Greeeaaat, I’m about to be removed from the Red Army. Fuck. Could this week get ANY worse?!”
Before another knock shattered the wooden door, Arthur set his drink down on a dirty coffee table in front of a couch that had been gradually falling apart over the years.
“YEAH, IT’S OPEN! COME ON IN!”
There were certain behaviors that a man like Ivan Stanislav expected, whether warranted or not, due to his own status. One was that you answered the door for him. As his hackles rose on the back of his neck, he pushed the door open and accidentally tore the top portion of the rickety door off its hinge. He frowned inwardly and then outwardly as he looked about the room in front of him.
The small kitchen was a disaster. From the dripping faucet and the piles of unwashed dishes to cups and bottles strewn about here and there. The smell that assaulted The Bear’s nostrils made his eyes water, and the rampant filth caused him to grit his teeth.
Not to mention the vermin.
For a man with his organizational and militaristic sensibilities, it took everything inside of him not to turn around, walk out, and be done with all of this. And yet, he took one step, and then another, into the dwelling. He stepped over a box and a bottle as he made his way through the haphazard living space, ducking through the kitchen and entering what was presumably the dining area where Arthur Pleasant sat with a bag of ice resting on his right hand.
Russians don’t like to show their emotions and for Ivan Stanislav, there was a time and place to let his emotion show through. As he stared at Pleasant and his current state, his frown spoke volumes. This wasn’t a neutral, Russian frown. This frown had a purpose. Standing amidst the filth in his immaculate uniform, completely with a red tie and hat upon his head, he stood out even more strangely than outside. He ducked slightly, his full height threatening to rub the top of his head against the stained ceiling.
“You know, it is customary to answer your door when a guest arrives.” He growled, knowing Pleasant could have easily gotten up from his wooden chair to meet him when he knocked on the door.
“Apologies, Ivan,” he said, realizing immediately he should have correctly addressed him by his military rank. “Err, Starshy Praporshchik. I, uh, I wasn’t thinking too clearly. Then again, I suppose I haven’t been as of late, huh?”
The Bear placed his hands on his hips and gazed about the room, his upper lip curling with disgust. Nonetheless, the question may have had a certain degree of anger and frustration between the words, but there was also… concern? “Arthur. What are you doing here?” Despite being vaccinated for all manner of tetanus and the like, he looked around for a place to sit and then decided it best to stand.
“Oh, this,” he said matter-of-factly, looking all throughout his sprawling shit hole of an apartment. “Yeah, I guess I haven’t dusted in a while. I can’t remember what I did last, actually… dusted this fucking place or won a fucking match.”
Ivan let out a deep, rumbling sigh.
“What is this I hear about you losing your mind after ReVival 41?” He tilted his head to the side and placed his hands on his hips. Still, there was no smile coming from The Russian Bear. He fought every urge to look around the rest of the dilapidated dwelling and instead let his eyes drill into Arthur Pleasant.
Pleasant shrugged his shoulders and switched the ice pack onto his left hand. Looking at the swelling of his hands and the busted skin around his bruised knuckles, Arthur chuckled out of exasperation. “I dunno, man. I… just don’t know. Losing to that fucking asshole? A guy who has to wear a shirt to remind people he’s some sort of fucking legend? It did something to me. I just can’t shake it.”
Pleasant’s free hand shook with rage.
“But it wasn’t just him,” he continued. “That was the straw, man. The one that broke the camel’s back. I haven’t won a goddamn match since September.”
Pleasant slammed his hand into the diner table—which was, in all actuality, his dining room table— and laughed loudly.
“Listen to me, crying like a bitch that I can’t win a match. This isn’t me, Ivan. I’m better than this. I’m better than what my record reflects. I’m fucking BETTER than all of THIS,” he lifted his hand, palm to ceiling, waving it at the entirety of his disaster of a dwelling, “I’m honestly sick of coming up short. Maybe I’m not meant to do this anymore. Maybe I’m-“
Despite his size, Ivan could move quickly when he wished. The frying pan-sized palm crashed across Arthur’s face with a sudden THWACK. “That is enough!” He barkled
After a stunned moment, Pleasant opened his mouth only to be paintbrushed again with his other massive palm. Pleasant, still seated, nearly fell out of his chair as his head whipped to one side, and a molar flew from his mouth and bounced across the table. Stanislav seemed unfazed by the fact that he just knocked his tooth out, let alone his pain and discomfort.
“I did not come across this country to listen to some moaning washer-woman, Arthur!”
Though Pleasant remained in his chair, his eyes went to the fresh blood that spattered the tabletop and tasted the iron on his lips. The silence between the two of them almost made his ears ring. The older Russian nodded his head slowly.
What do you want, Arthur Pleasant? Do you want me to coddle you? To convince you not to quit? To serve as a shoulder to cry upon?” Arthur opened his mouth once more, but Stanislav jerked, and he shut his mouth quickly. This question was not meant to be answered.
Ivan pointed a massive finger down at him and roared. “You never show enemy your true feelings, unless it is meant to intimidate or confuse them.” He stared at Arthur and nodded. “You do not come into professional wrestling if you believe you will win all of the time. You have been around enough that you know this. So stop wallowing in your own self-pity and doubt.”
Stanislav spread his arms wide and shrugged. “Hey, I lose too, and it hurts. When I lose after Colossus? I sit in room and I weep.” No shame appeared on the grizzled bear’s face. “I, a grown man, wept. For I had let down my country. My people. My self. My army!” He spread a wide arm over Pleasant’s head. “I revealed, perhaps, my own limitations due to age.” He shook his finger. “But I never, ever give those bastards satisfaction of seeing this. And neither do you!”
He stomped around the small table and stared at the opposite wall, seeing how some old wallpaper was peeling and beneath it, water damage had begun to seep through and stain the paper itself. He shook his head as his shoulders rose and stretched his uniform. “Arthur,” he said as he slowly turned to look at him once more, seeing how his cheeks had reddened from his slaps, “no one cares about your losses but you.” He said with a frown. “No one talks about them but you. Do you know why, son?”
Son. Son? Son…
Arthur had clearly been listening to everything Ivan had said. Nodding, he rolled his tongue around inside his mouth to feel for the empty space where his deteriorated molar had previously been. Pleasant spit out some blood onto a nearby paper towel and rolled it into a ball.
“I never once thought I would win every match when I signed on the dotted line with Lindsay Bitchface. I simply did not expect to lose to the likes of a religious zealot and a masked coward like our mutual scab in the pudding, Anglo Lootchydore. I find it nauseating,” he said, pausing in his words long enough to where Ivan thought he could interject, but Arthur actually continued, unintentionally cutting off the former PRIME Universal Champion.
“But I understand what you’re saying,” he assured his colossal counterpart briefly, “Losing my shit in front of everyone backstage is akin to posting a map of our mission on some Reddit post. I… I am sorry, Ivan. I disappointed you, and I would cut off my own fucking hand before ever intentionally disappointing you. Please understand this. PLEASE.”
Ivan nodded and scanned the room. None of the furniture looked stable, really, but as he walked into the adjoining living room (if anyone would ever really want to live in there, that is), he carried a ramshackle footrest back into the dining area and set it down. With a grunt, he lowered himself down upon it, sitting actually lower than Arthur, and yet he still sat taller than him. He reached into the breast of his uniform, pulled out a folded set of stapled papers, and placed them on the table in front of Arthur.
His psyche report.
“I assume you know what that is?” He said slowly, not once turning his eyes away from Arthur’s face.
Pleasant sneered at the folder and the papers poking out of it. His eyes met Ivan’s much like Virgil Sollozzo’s met Tom Hagen’s, “Tell Alexei that I send my compliments. That man sure knows how to get intel. I’ll be sure to send Arliss my own compliments firsthand.”
Stanislav stared at Pleasant for a moment and blinked his eyes slowly. “Alexei is good at his job, Arthur. But he got that because I told him to.” He said softly and lifted one of his brows.
At this point, Pleasant stood up from the diner table and just began pacing. Ivan continued, not missing a beat.
“Because I need to know who I am dealing with.” He pointed at the folder. “What I originally got before I asked you to join The Red Army was not as detailed as that. But most of it was there.” He narrowed his eyes. “And I still wanted you, Arthur.” He chose to sit, watching Arthur carefully.
“That’s still not all of it,” he said firmly. “There’s a lot of things Alexei missed, in fact. Though, I suppose he could’ve simply glossed over his own report to you. Or, maybe he was so disturbed by it that he was afraid others would find out too. This isn’t a threat, either, No, no. On the contrary, Starshy Praporshchik. It’s just me letting you know, there’s more to my, um, file than the stuff that happened in Barrow that put me in Western State.”
He has no fucking idea, does he?
Arthur stopped pacing and looked directly at Ivan; the Provocateur’s demeanor shifted instantaneously.
“If you want full transparency, I can give it to you myself,” he paused, taking a moment to let the words marinate, “but I warn you, it might change things in this friendship of ours. In my… relationship… to the T-R-A.”
The concept that Alexei may have either missed something or, worse, withheld something certainly piqued his interest. “Hmmm?” Ivan grumbled.
“Mhm,” Arthur said, unsure if the Russian Bear actually wanted to know or if he was blindsided that Alexei had not found all the information he thought he had.
“Well, if you really want to know,” Pleasant paused, adding a light chuckle, “then I suppose there’s no further keeping it from you. Or anyone, for that matter. You see, there’s a reason I wasn’t kept at Western State past the age of sixteen.
He crossed his arms over his barrel chest and straightened his back. The Russian Bear waved one hand for Arthur to continue.
After all, how bad could it be?
Later That Evening…
Their conversation had lasted more than a few hours. With it, Pleasant felt a bit of a renewed outlook. Not just with PRIME, but with life itself. They understood each other more than Arthur anticipated, and Ivan knew everything about Arthur.
You almost had it all, Alexei. Oops. Better luck next time, friend.
Pleasant strolled down South University Center Drive, wearing a plain black throw-over hoodie, a gray beanie, and the same black jeans he had worn for the past month or so when not in his ring gear.
In fact, there were still blood stains on them from a non-PRIME wrestling event he had been obligated to honor through the threats of litigation. You know, the fun shit behind the curtains that nobody likes to talk about.
He remembered not even bothering to bring his wrestling gear and just suited up with clothes like he was booked for a street fight. Smashed some kid’s face off his knee and voila— blood everywhere. Including Arthur’s pants.
With the late afternoon sun going down, his mouth frothed with thirst, and his stomach rumbled with hunger. He hadn’t eaten in days, he remembered. Not that he was practicing a hunger strike or anything, but with the rollercoaster of emotions weighing him down like an Arctic storm on a fishing vessel, he just didn’t feel like eating or drinking.
But after that talk, he had with Starshy Praporshchik Stanislav, he was ready to fill his scarred body with delicious fats, carbs, and the synthetic deliciousness of Red Dye 40.
It was then that Arthur felt something, like a cold finger running down the back of his neck. Pleasant felt eyes on him, studying him, ẇ̸͙́͜atching his movements. He was being watched by an unseen preda̷͙̓tor likely waiting for̶̙͑̾ a chance to pounce.
“Hello?” he said, looking up from the sidewalk.
The fuck? Someone’s… out there?
Stopping in his tracks, Pleasant looked ahead and down the next several blocks. Red and green lights could be seen as far as the eye could see, but Arthur did not see anybody who stood out. Looking across the street, he saw no one there either.
“Whatever.” Pleasant muttered under his breath.
Arriving at “Ted’s Hot Dogs”, Arthur saw the same Middle Eastern vendor that he saw every night when he was in town, far away from a tour date that required his presence inside the ring.
‘Ted’ my ass.
“Okay, Theodore,” Arthur blurted out sarcastically. “Give me two. Extra onions, Mustard. Annnnd fries.”
Moments later, he received two hot dogs with extra onions and mustard. With goddamn French fries on top of them.
“What is THIS shit?!” Arthur yelled ferociously. “Who puts fries on top of ANYTHING?!”
That g̷̛̙͆rating feeling returned to Arthur. The unpleasä̷͈͍́nt sensation that he was being watched. No, not just watched. Stalked. It was accompanied by that m̶̭̪̀alignant dread you felt when you sat near a darke̵̞͐̽ned window feeling that hungry shadow s̶͈̾͘͠taring back at you.
Yeah, that good-good fear.
Trying his best to ignore that hair-raising feeling, Arthur scraped off the soggy French fries ‘Ted’ mistakenly put on his hot dog into the nearby trash receptacle. Once the fries were properly disposed of, Arthur took a big bite of his hot dog, slurping the onions up into his jagged maw.
His beard stained with mustard, Pleasant turned around to the bench he always sat on while he enjoyed his afternoon lunch.
That’s when he saw him.
It was Unquestionably HIM.
“You know, it is customary to answer your door when a guest arrives.. heh-heh,” Max Kael giggled through clenched teeth. “I tried you at home but, alas, you weren’t there!”
What in the-
The Lord of Kaelsalvia was sprawled out across a nearby table. He was in his normal black three-piece suit, red tie, and matching red socks. At first glance, he might have looked immaculately dressed, but careful attention to the details told a different story. Small stains were starting to appear, the cuffs were weather beaten and the seams had started to fray in places.
“Thankfully, you have a particular scent. Probably something to do with all those noodles you’ve been imbibing in, darling.” He continued, his tongue gliding over his lips before he allowed himself a languid yawn. “The Herald would usually announce me, but you can call me Max. Nice to meet you, Arthur. Please, don’t let me stop you from enjoying your recreational treat!”
He smiled a dangerous, toothy grin. If he had been trying to look kind or friendly, it didn’t work. Parts of his face were still wrapped in the bandages he received following the main event of ReVival 41. What was once virgin white cloth had stained sour colors, a palate of Max’s sweat, blood, and infectious pus.
Pleasant slurped up some more onions and took another large bite of the hot dog. Walking over to him slowly—with cautious curiosity— the Worst Nightmare of PRIME met within inches of Maximillian Wilhelm Kael.
The sun had long since faded into darkness as a sliver of light from above shone down upon them. In the eerie moonlit ambiance, it almost looked like they were mirror images of each other.
“At last,” Arthur simply said, swallowing the hot dog and mess of onions.
Pleasant grinned back at Max.
It was surreal. Uncanny. Insert adjective here. It was all of that and then some.
Though a smidge distorted, like there was a rift in their shared universe and something was desperately trying to claw its way out, they looked nearly identical to one another.
One might’ve even confused them as brothers had Arthur’s beard not apportioned both of their identities to their nebulous shapes on what was sure to be the blackest of nights.
Squinting just one of his eyes as if he caught some sawdust, he slowly opened it back up. Nodding, Arthur accepted that what he saw was one hundred percent real.
“Clearly, you sought me out for something. A talk, perhaps? Would the great Max Kael dane to call upon the lowly Arthur Pleasant? Or, more importantly… why?” Pleasant asked, chuckling as he wiped mustard from his beard with a napkin he had swiped from the vendor’s stand.
The Intense Champion uncoiled from the table he was lying on, oozing to the ground to stand opposite Arthur Pleasant. He gazed at Arthur with that malignant grin still stretched across his damaged visage.
“Friend! Arthur! War Games Partner! Game recognizes game and partner, and to call yourself low is to call me low. No, Arthur, my wonderful mad lad, you’re.. You’re a flower trying desperately to reach the light while being choked in a smothering darkness.”
As he spoke, Max slithered around Arthur like a great black serpent. His long spider-like fingers c̶̥͖̣̪͚̖̻̓̋rawled up Pleasant’s arms before they perch̴̪̖̩͈͐̂̚ed on his shoulders. If the scent or general unpleasantness of PRIME’s Wő̴̧̻̝̥̹̻rst Nightmare bothered the Prime Minister of Maxopotamia, he didn’t let it s̴͍̯̯̽͐̈̎͝how.
“..Did you ever hear the tragedy of Maximillian the Wise?.. heh̶-h̶̘͠ë̴̝̗̝́h̵̨̛̰̹̪̼̦͖̝̖͒͗̑͑͋̽̊̈́͠..”
This should be fucking good.