“AGAIN! AGAIN! AND FINALLY DAVE GIBSON GOES DOWN!”
“Come on, Dave! At least put up a fight!”
Hayes sat transfixed, cross-legged on his living room floor as the iconic voices of Nick Stuart and Richard Parker hollered through the television. His glimmering brown eyes bulged as “The K-Wolf” Karina Wolfenden flashed across the screen, narrowly missing “Old School” Dave Gibson with a moonsault known as “The Goodnight Moon,” leaving her shaken on the mat.
“I told you Wolfenden sucks!” barbed his brother from behind, stretched out on their leather couch.
“Shut up, Paulie! No she doesn’t!”
“Yeah she does! She can’t do anything!”
Hayes shot his older brother a glare before turning back to the match, just in time to watch Gibson catch Karina with a drop toe hold.
“See?” Paul confirmed, returning to his Nintendo DS.
Hayes huffed, resting his chin into the palms of his hands.
“She’s still gonna win,” he mumbled.
“Boys! TV off!”
The brothers jumped at the sound of their mother, a pair of heels clicking on the steps as she descended the staircase while placing an earring to cap off a black pencil dress. Paul closed his Nintendo quickly. Hayes turned his head to protest.
“Just a little longer! It’s the last match, and K-Wolf is about to…”
“Off. Now.” Sofia commanded with a tongue as sharp as her features. “I have a visitor coming over for a meeting before I pick up your sister from field hockey. I don’t need that junk in the background.”
Before Hayes could counter, Paul hopped off the couch to tug at his sleeve.
“C’mon, Hayes. Let’s go outside. We have it recorded on TiVo anyway.”
Moments later they met the cool October air with their hoodies on. Paul ran onto their lush green lawn, retrieving a wiffle ball bat. Hayes shuffled behind, hands in his pockets.
“You really think K-Wolf sucks?” he asked, dispirited.
“No, she’s alright,” Paul replied, twirling the bat around like a lightsaber. “But it doesn’t matter, it’s all fake anyway.”
“NO IT’S NOT!” hollered Hayes, picking up the wiffle ball to match the bat and throwing it at his brother, missing wide right. “PRIME is real!”
“No it’s not!” Paul teased.
“Yes it IS! You’re just…”
The sound of an approaching vehicle interrupted their exchange, a white SUV rolling into the driveway. Hayes craned his neck as the driver’s side door opened, the emerging figure closing it behind before approaching and disappearing through the entrance of their elegant, white-washed home.
He couldn’t get a good look.
His heart jumped and skipped multiple beats, anything but rhythmic. The air felt thin in his lungs as he shambled down the hall, sweat still dripping off his tired frame. It took all the focus he could muster to lift his chin and smile to backstage assistants, or simply say “thanks” as they offered congratulations. He buried his face in a towel to clear the sweat, then held it to his sternum as he rounded a corner. He was able to manage full breath as he reached his locker room door, urgently shutting it behind him.
Nova was there to greet him with a smile. “Atta kid!” he said.
Hayes replied by gripping The Risen Star’s shoulder, a steadying tactic as much as anything else. “Thanks, gimme a sec.”
He pulled away, feet almost numb underneath his heavy body. Instinct and habit forced him to collect his phone from a bench before ducking into the bathroom.
He fell forward, barely catching the edges of the sink to keep himself upright. He tried his best to quiet his shuddering breath, pinching his eyes shut and drawing in through his nose. He glanced at his phone.
One missed call. Five missed texts.
All from Paul.
Friday, Mar 18 – 8:32 PM
YOU DID IT!!
CULTURE SHOCK BABYYY!!
Call me when the show is done
We’re going BIG tonight!!
He forced an awkward, incredulous chuckle before setting the phone to the side. His breath finally captured, Hayes stared himself in the face through the bathroom mirror, dark mustache shifting over a curled lip.
“Culture Shock,” he whispered to himself.
Then his eyes bulged. He clambered to the nearby toilet, gripped the seat, and puked his guts up.
It took me a while to leave the arena that night for a few reasons.
I don’t think I was ready to let that feeling go. It was like winning the opening match at the first ReVival, only so much better. Pinning Pfefferman punched my ticket to Culture Shock. PRIME’s first pay-per-view in ten years, and a shot at the Five Star Title to boot. Almost makes losing in the Almasy Tournament worth it.
That night I got to walk out the winner, but after Culture Shock…
…what if I’m not?
Maybe that’s why I didn’t want to leave.
And then there’s mom and dad.
As soon as they rang the bell I felt the need to grab my phone, run outside, and call them to let them know I was headed to the big stage. To rub their noses in it. To scream and yell and beat my chest some more. To tell them both know that Baby-Boy Hanlon was gonna be just. FUCKING. FINE.
And that scared me.
The arena felt safe for all those reasons.
But once the adrenaline wears off it’s time for the next rush, and for the first time since I drove away from West Linn, I felt like I had permission to celebrate.
It took a minute, but that night I was ready to let the bright lights take me wherever they wanted to go. Just me, Paul, our old friend “Molly,” and anyone else up for the trip.
After all, didn’t I deserve it?
He felt his cheek stick to leather as he came to. Face-down on his beige sofa, immediately feeling a hellish fatigue throughout his entire being. His guts turned over and over, unsure if he wanted to puke or shit himself. Mouth dry as the desert, head thumping like a drum. Awake all of ten seconds and all he wanted to do was crawl in a hole and die.
A gurgling sound from the floor.
He opened his eyes wide before slamming them shut again, peeling his face from the cushion. He swung himself to a sitting position, his mustache bristled and haggard. He rubbed his eye sockets with the palms of his hands, feeling like he could tip forward and collapse at any second.
A cough, and a sputter.
Hayes lifted a heavy head, eyesight finally restored. He panned the room, his suite. Absolutely thrashed. Multiple unconscious bodies in all sorts of strange sleeping positions littering the living space. Some awful Top Forty song still playing through someone’s bluetooth speaker.
A wet, muffled groan.
His eyes finally fell to the floor. Paul, flat on his back. Khaki slacks and blue dress shirt stained with who knows what. Shaggy black hair stuck to his forehead.
Air bubbles pushing through the vomit filling his mouth.
Oxygen shot through Hayes’ nostrils and into his brain like a bullet as he leapt from the couch, his heavy frame diving to the floor and clambering to his older brother.
“Paul!” he called, shaking him by the shoulders. The whites of Paul’s eyes were only just showing under his eyelids.
“PAUL!!” he hollered again, slapping him in the face. More air bubbles.
Hayes threw his brother’s lanky frame over and onto his stomach, then pulled him back by the hips, hinging his waist in an awkward yoga pose.
“C’mon you fucking asshole,” Hayes growled under his breath, thumping the heel of his palm into Paul’s back. More gurgling and choking. He struck him again, and again, and again.
Hayes wrapped his big arms around Paul’s stomach from behind, pulling a fist into his abdomen aggressively. Once.
Three times, and the release. Paul expelled everything from his gut, vomiting violently onto the white carpeted floor. Hayes held his older brother’s frame in place as he heaved what seemed like an impossible amount of puke, snot and tears pouring from his face.
Finally, when the vomiting transitioned to heavy coughing and breathing, Hayes fell back and sat on the floor, bringing his brother with him, awkwardly cradling him against his chest.
“You son of a bitch,” Hayes exhaled, exhausted. “You mother fucker.”
“Hayes?” heaved Paul, his clothes drenched in sweat, eyes fluttering, barely clinging to consciousness.
“I got you, Paulie. I got you…”
“What the…what the fuck, man…”
“You’re alright, bro. Just breathe, dude.”
Paul clung to his brother’s arm, barely coherent, dark eyes flashing around the room in confusion as he caught his breath.
“Is that…” Paul started, confused and barely coherent, pointing a heavy finger across the room. A man donning a brown bathrobe and fingerless gloves sat gracelessly in a chair, head tilted back and cradling a bottle of blue curacao, the sugary blue liquid staining his mouth and long, heavy beard.
“…is that Garbage Bag Johnny?”
Hayes looked up at the disheveled mess that was The Dirtiest Dude in PRIME, snorting through his nose and shaking his head
“Yeah,” Hayes replied with a short chuckle. “Yeah, that’s him.”
Voicemail from – MOM – on – SUNDAY, MARCH 20 – at – FIVE FIFTY-ONE, AM
“Hayes, pick up the god-damn phone RIGHT. NOW.
“How dare you. How DARE you! You WILL call me as soon as you wake up from whatever stupor you’re in. I will NOT be ignored after getting a call that my SON is in the HOSPITAL in Las FUCKING VEGAS!
“If you want to chase this ridiculous wrestling dream and spend your nights doing god-knows-what, that’s your business, but you will NOT drag Paul into this. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!
“YOU. WILL. NOT!!”
End of message. To erase this message, press seve…
Hayes peered upward to the second floor of their white tudor, his eyes landing on a bedroom window. Mom and dad’s bedroom.
He stood on their trampoline, but wasn’t bouncing. He squinted hard, looking past the flowing tan curtains in the window. He couldn’t see much, but could just make out one of the posts to his parent’s bed frame.
It started shifting a little. Back and forth.
Then faster, rocking further.
And faster. And further
Some strange noises, a man yelling…
“Hayes,” came Paul’s earnest voice, abruptly and urgently spinning his younger brother around by the shoulders, redirecting his attention. “Look at me. Let’s play ‘PRIME.’
The younger brother took a moment, his mind elsewhere. He tried to look back at the window…
“You can be Nova,” said Paul, pulling him back. “I’ll be Tchu.”
Hayes surrendered a grin and gave his older brother a nod. He jumped to the side, circling the and hopping happily. Paul scooped Hayes up by the legs before dropping him to the elastic mesh with a playful and bouncy sidewalk slam, their laughter carrying into the October wind.
Before Culture Shock.
“Are you on the MGM roof?
“Ah…yes. Yes I am.”
“PRIME production value has jumped a tax bracket, huh?”
Hayes shifted in his chair to look over his shoulder, a team of producers and assistants putting the finishing touches on camera placements and a massive green-screen behind him. He turned back to the video of Paul on his phone with a shrug.
“Maybe a little?”
“Promo?” asked Paul.
“Yeah, for Culture Shock,” Hayes replied.
“Awesome. You’re gonna crush it.”
Hayes smiled. The sun was moments from disappearing over the horizon, the lights of Vegas taking over with each passing moment.
“Hey…uh, sorry about that voicemail from mom,” said Paul through the screen. “I’m guessing I had her listed as an emergency contact. They probably gave her an update after you dropped me off at the hospital.”
Hayes winced at the thought, pushing a hand through his black hair.
“I’m sorry, bro. I knew you were probably fine but…had to be sure, ya know? I didn’t know what you took, and wasn’t sure if…”
“It’s all good, I don’t blame you,’ Paul interrupted. “I would’ve done the same. And don’t stress about mom, I’ll call her and let her know you had nothing to do with it.”
Hayes paused with a nod. An audio technician swung by to clip a small microphone inside the collar of his black dress shirt. He dragged a hand over his mustache.
“Scared me, man,” he forced through his throat.
“I know, and I’m sorry. Went a little too hard. I’m glad you were there, Hayes.”
Hayes scrunched his nose, fending off any tears.
“You gonna be at Culture Shock?” he asked.
“Wouldn’t miss it. Maybe we take the celebration a little easier, though.”
They shared a laugh.
“Go crush that promo,” Paul insisted. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Hayes offered a weak smile.
“I’m gonna win that belt, Paul,” he proclaimed quietly.
“I know. Can’t wait to see it. Just like Youngblood. Just like Nova.”
Hayes flashed his older brother the “hang loose” sign with his hand, then killed the call.
“Quite a sight, isn’t it?”
The sky burns with the neon lights of Las Vegas. The drunken white noise of The Strip lifts to the roof of the MGM Grand, where “Event Horizon” Hayes Hanlon leans an arm over a railing, gazing over the city’s maelstrom.
“I wonder…,” Hayes ponders. “…if any of you have a real sense of what the Five Star Title is all about.”
He pushes away from the railing, the dancing lights of the city giving way to the splendor of the cosmos. Hayes, and the building, seem to travel forward steadily. Through an asteroid belt, and past Saturn.
“I wonder if any of you know that Tyler Rayne held that belt longer than anyone in PRIME history. Or that Brandon Youngblood won that thing three times. More than anyone.”
We gradually pick up speed, whipping by Neptune, and Pluto, and into the darkness.
“You might, Cecilia,” he states, glancing at the camera. “I’ll bet you hear alllll the stories when you visit Auntie Troy for Thanksgiving, or when big mean Murder Daddy tucks you in at night. Even still, I doubt it. You were sucking your thumb when Nova became the first ever two-time champ.”
The Event Horizon smirks, black mustache lifting to one side of his mouth. He turns around as the rooftop soars through a stunning nebula full of pinks, yellow, and blues.
“Nova,” he reiterates before looking over his shoulder.
“Does that name make you nervous, Rezin? It should, but I think you already know that you snuck your way into this match. Caesar Vega’s got a few more years on him and a little rust to kick, but give him time. He’s just getting started. And make NO mistake. That dude’s a killer.”
A star explodes in the distance, a magnificent horror illuminating the black with white light. Planets and stars vibrate as Hayes and the rooftop hurtle by.
“To all of you, that belt probably seems mid-tier. Silver medal. Best of the worst, but let’s be clear…”
Hayes squares up with the camera. A dark, round object looms in the distance, haloed and surrounded with a disc of shimmering light.
“…the legacy of the Five Star Title doesn’t give a shit about what you think, and it doesn’t have time for your love story, JC. Don’t worry, though. Vegas is ALL about love stories, and pretty easy to find someone to film it if you and Vickie need a little extra cash. I mean…I’d watch.”
He flashes a bright smile. The building shudders under his feet as it careens by dying stars and crumbling planets. A piece of concrete breaks away, launching toward the approaching light-drenched blackness.
“It’s fitting, though…”
Hanlon opens his palm, spreading his fingers.
“…five stars, five opponents…”
He curls them in, all but his index finger, and gently places it against his chest.
“…and only one to hold them all. But hey, some of us were meant to be champions, and some of us were meant to be bloggers. Right, Warstein?”
Hayes winks, sliding both hands into the pockets of his black dress pants. He turns around to take in the view. The object is becoming clear. A gargantuan black sphere, undeniable as it pulls the galaxy apart. Absorbing comets, bending light itself. Hayes closes his eyes with a small grin, drawing a deep breath through his nose before exhaling with satisfaction, brown eyes twinkling.
“Do you know why they call me ‘Event Horizon?’”
The metal railing bends and contorts, breaking free of the building and flying off, gone in an instant.
“Pfefferman can check my work, but with every black hole, there’s a sort of… threshold.”
It’s almost impossible to see around it, or even into it. A disc of light swirls around the blackness at unfathomable speed, the frame violently shaking.
“A limit, where nothing, not even light can escape. Especially none of your lights.”
The building is all but torn apart, the black hole engulfing and swallowing everything around it. Hayes remains calm, standing on a small remaining platform of concrete.
“It’s the point of no return. The Event Horizon.”
He turns to the camera one more time, his face barely recognizable as the camera shudders and vibrates wildly.
“And that’s where you’ll. Find. ME.”
And then, silence.
You’ll be pleased to hear that I did, in fact, lose in the tournament.
But your baby boy still has a shot to hold a belt up high.
I HAVE reevaluated my decisions.
And I’ve decided to be a fucking champion.
Sorry I didn’t make it further in your tournament.
Thanks for all the feuds all those years ago.