He felt it in the tips of his fingers at first. Both hands, good sign. Felt like electricity without the sting when he tapped them together. His head filled with the fleshy sucking sound of his tongue lolling in his dry mouth, he worked up some saliva and felt that same numb twinge on the tip of his nose. He muttered something in the direction of the dining room before realizing he’d been asked a question. The air had a weight to it, soft as a laser, as he strode down the wide hall with all the urgency of a taxiing Airbus.
The west wing complimented the resplendence of the giant’s castle manor with a medieval flair; heavy natural oak doors studded with iron set into concrete-arched alcoves between walls of sandstone. Fat red candles burned brightly inside glass bowls held in bronze sconces, wicks popping and hissing occasionally, illuminating oil paintings and display cabinets and the massive relief carving that dominated the wall where he had just now come to a halt.
It was a single solid segment of sequoia a whole foot taller than him and lacquered to a gleam, and five feet in excess of his eighty-six-and-a-half inch reach. An apocalyptic scene of biblical proportions had been painstakingly hewn into the ancient canvas featuring fourteen life-size busts sculpted into the bottom right corner, with twenty-eight malnourished and warped limbs clamouring out towards him. Broken fingernails, smashed teeth, bulging eyes and exposed bone all whittled down with startling finesse.
Spreading out into the middle of the relief beyond those were hundreds and then thousands more ghoulish faces, gradually decreasing in size while maintaining a consistent quality grade. Agony scored the grain of every visage and they were all angled wrong, writhing like burst worms splattered all over one another. Some were depicted crushed beneath the weight of flesh, others beneath the weight of whole cities. In the top left corner hung an ominous and expressionless face three times larger than that of any in the bottom right, nestled in a thundercloud that frothed out from the frame. A huge open hand protruded from the cloud just below the face, poised ready to summon another lightning bolt in place of the ones that had already exploded into the throngs of splintered bodies.
The house name for it was the de Goya sequoia, but the title chiselled crudely in amongst the wooden flesh of the damned was THE VENGEFUL.
Von Kelsig extended both arms fully, reaching out with the left hand to clasp that of the deity while grabbing the face of one of the fourteen with the right, sliding his index and middle fingers into its empty eye sockets and his thumb inside its gaping mouth. As he rotated both extremities ninety degrees he stretched his right foot out towards to a skull poking out at the very bottom of the sculpture and when he heard the click he pressed it with his toe pushing it into a hollow where it held fast. The giant adjusted his stance and effortlessly slid the entire relief carving four feet to the right as though it were weightless.
The gap that appeared in the wall filled with light after only a second. Whiter and harsher than the candles in the hall, it revealed a doorway to a space beyond. The numb sensation started to creep up his fingers then, and like an unsettled bull he huffed from his nostrils an anxious sigh that couldn’t be contained and shuffled towards the light. It didn’t matter if anyone saw him enter, nobody could match the physical parameters required to simultaneously manipulate the imperceptible door locks and catch.
A huge bookcase affixed to the interior wall rolled into place at his back at the same moment The Vengeful closed over on a time-release. The bookcase was easily the same size as the sculpture and packed with books, VHS cassettes, DVD cases, stacks of CDs, a few hard drives and several plaques and awards. Covering the walls either side all the way around the room were pictures from as far back as twenty-two years, and a couple of display cases full of championship belts and a plethora of wicked props.
A worn copy of La Cosa Nostra sat on a glass swivel table in front of the bookcase, flanked by a couple of worn Chesterfield recliners. In the middle of the room there was a tall executive chair on wheels, its exaggerated backrest rising up behind a sarcophagus-like desk sitting before it. Carved from Kingswood, dark and broad. At the back of the room next to a Fort Knox vault, a bank of monitors showing crisp 4K images from all over the property hung over cabinets of humming consoles. It was the little blinking button on the old red dial phone on his desk, however, that had his attention. Another anxious pang whirled up from Von Kelsig’s gut into his chest as he settled into the high-back chair and scooted forward, picking up the receiver and pressing the blinking button.
The conversation felt like it had happened in an instant and his heart was thumping hard. He glanced back at the monitor bank and checked the timestamp on-screen. Quarter to nine. How long had they been talking? Five minutes? Thirty? An hour?
He recounted the last four hours since he’d awoken; sank a box of oatmeal, refilled the flamethrowers, gassed up the soccer buggies, graded the bike track then hauled four new sixty-six inch tyres across the valley to the truck garage. Came back, parked up the tractor, was about to jump on the bus to head into town and that’s when he was called back to the house. How many songs had played between the news and that Barbie one when he stepped out of the Valtra? The daze had set in when he found out who was calling, opting to take it in the office. He’d made for the east wing and its ornately-patterned carpets but a scolding bark from Terri sent him doubling back to the easy-wipe stone floors of the west wing where all the hosting and entertaining was conducted. The housekeeper wasn’t having any muck on her carpets even if his boots were dry.
No, couldn’t have been more than ten minutes. He was rattled.
“Am I gonna get the return of the Murder Show in twenty twenty four?” Lindsay Troy had asked plainly, the third time now in as many years.
Thirteen years had passed since he’d competed in the ring. Hessian was minding his own business, surfing the astral seas of the stratosphere on the strap, when the Universe stopped turning. The colossal impact of crashing back down to earth from such heights was enough to take the wind out of the giant for a decade.
He’d never been the champion of a promotion before. The Global and Elite titles were fine trophies but they were once-in-a-lifetime, unattainable. Uni was always around, and Uni meant he was number one by definition every day of every week. With it gone for good he’d simply lost all heart and drifted into limbo. The wilderness had claimed his spirit wholly since then, evident in the steadfast refusals returned on the first two recruitment attempts.
“Can confirm.” Von Kelsig answered the third time with a dour gravitas, taking down the date info. Then with the receiver still to his ear he disconnected the line and immediately began dialling out.
The earpiece trilled three times and a droll voice recording was cut short by the frustrated clatter of the receiver upon the phone once more as Von Kelsig slumped into the leather. It was beginning to feel like that councilman was ducking him.
Scraping a hand down his face he wrapped his fingers around his thick beard and pulled it taut, squeezing and drawing out all the tension when the phone let out a long shrill ring. The initial shock sent a jolt of hope through him that was quickly dashed.
“Bus is packed and waiting out front sir,” came the dry Yorkshire twang as Von Kelsig tapped the little red button marked ‘Speaker’.
“Some man, Seth. Be right out.”
He collected himself and made his way back over to the bookcase, tipping a false cover until it clicked and rolling the bookcase aside with his fingertips pressed against its side. The secret doorway yawned open once again and he paced back through the house and out into the waiting Conquest Knight XV, head low as if trying to avoid the skyline. He had two months to figure something out before there was nowhere left to look away and no escape from the encroaching horde. Then he might not have to turn up at Colossus.
Bundled up in an overcoat in the backseat of the Lincoln, Cecil asked his brother if he was okay as the squat figure trundled in out of the rain while the driver held both the door open and an umbrella out. Cyril deflected with a polite smile and a nod, “not bad, considering..”
“I tried to tell you,” Cecil stated eagerly, tacking “just a shame you had to see it for yourself.” on at the end as Cyril made that ‘don’t you start’ expression, then gazed at the floor in defeat, brows drooped sorrowfully.
Cecil let the silence hang in the air for ten minutes, staring into the middle distance as he said “you know I can make use of you if you need more time to figure things out.”
“I might take you up on that,” Cyril answered all of twenty minutes later, by which time they had completed the drive from the airport to the apartment building and were now alone in the elevator.
“I mean I could use the work. Like you said, if I’m going to do this I need to be able to do it myself. Fuck getting stuck out there like that again.”
Cecil’s eyes lit up, not for being taken aback. “Finally seen sense! Well, you’re welcome to stay as l-”
“-but I have a few favours to ask.” Cyril butted in.
His brother gave him a scolding glance for being interrupted, tapping his cane on the floor twice then nodding steadily as the elevator shunted to a halt and they stepped out into the penthouse lobby. A gorilla of a man wearing a black suit and an earpiece sat at a desk on the opposite side of the room with his eyes fixed on surveillance monitors as Cecil led his brother through a marbled arch into a long corridor, passing two doors and stopping at the third and final on the floor.
A plaque of frosted glass and black embossed letters at the side of each door read ‘Haggerty’, ‘Haggerty’ and ‘Salazar’ respectively.
The manila envelope Doug Tim had given him in New Orleans sat on the bedside table, partially tucked underneath a digital alarm clock which itself was enveloped beneath the still paw of the sleeping giant. Von Kelsig woke with a start, lifting his hand suddenly and gazing blearily at the display until it came into focus. He’d slept in by more than an hour again, and it felt like it as he absent-mindedly scratched a little arrow-shaped depression in his palm.
Festivities aside, there had been no rush to get up for anything other than meals, workouts and drills for the last month anyway. He had filled his right hand man in on the details during a firework run last Halloween, but Seth Swithins was more thrown by the admission that the giant was getting back into professional wrestling at the age of fifty-two than the idea of running of the business for him in his absence. The Englishman was nearly thirty years his junior but had helped turn the giant’s ‘Parts Unknown’ project from vision to reality in his years away from the ring.
Von Kelsig kept himself to the same timetable, spending the time he usually dedicated to grafting on re-learning the basics and fundamentals of the sport. He watched footage of his last run, practising footwork and sequences around a static punching bag. In his heyday his arsenal consisted of more bombs, drivers, slams and submissions than any other talent, the only one who even came close was The Hardcore-Isosceles-Trapezoid in PCW. He could recall the motions even now but carrying them out was a slog, his body felt like it had morphed from a whole in to a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. He knew every piece intimately still, but the time it took to place them correctly meant that by the time he made his return debut someone was going to get severely injured in the ring, most likely him. So he wiped the slate clean.
Skulls and spines were never out of fashion so he held on to the three old signatures he was most fond of and spent more time than he would have liked dragging the dead weight of the punching bag around the ring and propping it up in various positions to try out new ideas. Some were too pompous, others were impossible without having a working opponent there to gauge risk and reward. He settled on four devastating new manoeuvres that ticked all the boxes and gave them names befitting their wrath.
If he was going to do this it was going to have to look good, with his calls to the county still falling on deaf ears he couldn’t afford to be lazy or sloppy. Parts Unknown was his whole world now and if the bottom fell out of that then wrestling was the only thing he had to fall back on. Another decade to claw up from the bottom of, fantastic.
Von Kelsig reached for the envelope at the side of the Alaskan king bed and pulled from it a shiny new smartphone that actually fit pretty comfortably in his hand. The device had been pre-loaded with every contact number, email address and URL he would need, and Doug had even taken the time to set him up with an ACE subscription and his own profile on social media.
“All you need is your fingerprint and you’re in,” he’d been told. “It’s a work phone remember, not for personal use, so post and ghost.”
The giant had pored over the contents of the envelope every day since Colossus. The contract made sense and the obligations were generous compared to the grind of the golden era. The talent handbook didn’t contain anything he wasn’t already aware of, but the sections pertaining to safe systems of work and accountability were very wordy indeed. His return had been such a well kept secret that he never got the chance to speak to anyone other than Doug, so his only exposure to his co-workers and competition was to be found in the apps locked to the home screen of the phone until the nineteenth of January.
Something strained in his swollen gut, or as Seth was wont to say, “yer arse’s collapsin’, lad”.
The hardest adjustment had been the diet, all that energy just wasn’t going where it was supposed to for some reason. At his peak he was pushing three-hundred-and-fifty pounds, and in retirement had dropped another twenty and hovered around there since. The goal was to break four-hundred for obvious reasons but it was taking too long to get there, and while the plumbing at the house was great, everything had its limits and the best he could manage was thirty pounds over his last billed weight.
Nature and time had reduced something in him, but with hindsight and enough sweat and blood he could ink a letter to them that read; ‘dear mother, dear father, you’ve fallen behind.‘
It had been a long half-hour since he’d gotten out of bed with the phone in hand and hurried to the bathroom on the balls of his feet. Seth’s wife Terri made a classic English steak pie every New Year’s, rich to the palate but spry through the guts. He stared at the screen for so long that when he glanced out the window at the hundreds of turbine blades spinning ominously just over the valley spine, he could make out the image of the X profile layout burned into his retina hovering in the middle distance.
He felt the very real weight of everything on his shoulders as he began to type; opinions and expectations coming from all directions, every word and action under scrutiny. There were no laurels left to rest on now, just indicators for fresh eyes to gauge the gnarly stranger, or spectre, depending on the demographic. Whatever Hessian was had become legend, and now thanks to some asshole with a hard-on for clean energy he had to consider the continuation of a legacy that had ended perfectly over ten years ago. .
Every beat had to matter, including this simple tweet. He was told to be in ring shape in time for ReVival 41, nothing else. Anyone could be waiting for him, giant killers needed giants after all. There was no one for him to call out and no point staking any claims until he felt comfortable between the ropes again. Fifteen minutes of backspacing had him thinking back to the lessons he used to teach in promo class at the PWA twenty years ago.
‘…Taunts and truths are interchangeable; everyone is or has gone through the same shit as you. if you can’t think of something to say about someone, think of something someone would say about you…‘
Von Kelsig took what felt like one last look out the window at the view of Parts Unknown that it afforded; the edge of the roof of the detached studio peeking out directly below, Seth and Terri’s place across the courtyard and the barn adjacent. Beyond that the property sprawled out into open fields where just before the treeline at the foot of the hills he could make out the edge of a huge byre of the same dull grey design as the warehouse. Thousands of dollars worth of assets and more in revenue sat in buildings like it across the valley; terrain-tearing, gas-guzzling, air-blasting machines and contraptions that the environmentalists had surrounded like antibodies, ready to burst his bubble like a pimple.
He winced begrudgingly and hit send.
Von Kelsig paced into the office, grasping the executive chair in one hand and hauling it over to the monitor bank. Dropping it down with a clatter he forced his weight into the seat with a hefty whump! and snatched the wireless mouse on the desk, shaking it violently like a dog with a chew toy to wake up the one sleeping screen amongst the displays.
The videographer had been and gone two days prior and left tickled after seeing the place in person. “It’s like Disneyland meets Mad Max out here!” he’d remarked.
Between the Colossus appearance, the post on social media and the ad spot that was going to run on ACE in the lead-up to ReVival 41, his return was generating a healthy buzz. They recorded vignette-style smash-cuts of him in his gym, running the ropes and shadowing moves and bumps that would be spliced with old highlights in the edit to give the audience a little taste of his power and cadence.
He felt comfortable moving around the ring but the vulnerability of being filmed for the first time in forever had sown a seed of doubt in him. He sought out privacy in the office to preview the collated sequence that had been sent by email. Muttering a silent prayer to himself he opened the file attachment.
Narrator: …then, can ‘Surreal’ Sean O’Neill bounce back from his loss at ReVival 39 with a win when he takes on the returning Hessian?
The clip began with the top rope German superplex delivered by O’Neill in the triple threat match against Mar and Rob Williams followed by his exit and subsequent dive back in to break up the pin, falling short by an inch. Then the transition; a restless giant and flashes of golden era mayhem overdubbed with a gruff, foreboding tone.
Hessian: O’Neill was dealt a bad hand out the gate and played it well. Let’s see how well he does when the deck is stacked against him because The Murder Show is back…
It actually looked believable, sounded even better. It was just a portion of an advertisement several seconds long but it resonated like a Hall of Fame montage to him in that moment. Which was handy, because a court order had arrived that morning informing Angelus Von Kelsig that as the owner and operator of the Parts Unknown entertainment and leisure facility, he was to honour any outstanding bookings and cease operations in the next ninety days. He couldn’t afford to fail now.