“There’s a stark difference between the words ‘prodigy’ and ‘genius.’ Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has ever previously discovered. Prodigies learn; geniuses do.”
― John Green, An Abundance of Katherines
Though it was only the beginning of August and summer didn’t technically end until September 23rd, the most beloved season of the year in the Western hemisphere seemed like it had gone by in the blink of an eye. Those who tried to justify its inevitable end were the same annoying lummoxes who always said, “There IS something called too much of a good thing!”. You know the type. Everyone knows the type. There’s always that ray of goddamn sunshine with a nauseating “glass half-full” perspective on life.
Arthur Pleasant liked summer, but not for the reasons most people did. Having spent his younger years in Utqiagvik, Alaska, the warmest it ever seemed to reach was the mid-fifties (Fahrenheit, obvs.) and that did not exactly allow him to swim at the neighbor’s pool. Instead, he found himself going to a local arcade to practice what became a lost art while growing up as a kid: pinball.
With pinball making a comeback in the 2010s, Pleasant had meant to track down an establishment in the United States that housed such machines, but this proved to be a more daunting task than one might’ve realized. It took an exceptionally talented artist to maintain a machine with a mile-long stretch of moving parts and blinking lights, and there weren’t many people left in the world who had that kind of patience and self-discipline. When Arthur heard about an entrepreneur making his way around the country, opening a plethora of franchised arcades focusing on pinball and classic arcade games, Arthur knew he absolutely had to seek him out.
His eyes stared up at a neon pink sign that seemed to burn a hole in his retinas the longer he looked directly at it.
METRO’S ENTERTAININ’, CRAZY, CLASSIC ARCADE!
“What a shitty acronym.” Pleasant thought to himself.
The alluring sign stood above a particularly impressive-looking building painted like a 90s windbreaker. An eyesore for some, sure, but the bright pink and blue colors commanded the attention of all pinball enthusiasts looking to flex their flippers and test their skill who passed by the massive brick structure. As his eyes looked upon it from the John L. Brunner Bypass of the Greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area, Arthur knew he had to check it out. He needed to clear his mind and relax rather than hit the weights, run the treadmill, or slay the rowing machine. The upcoming episode of ReVival would demand much more than mere physical preparations.
In fact, preparations for this match would be far more mental than any match he’d had before in PRIME.
Perhaps his middling win/loss record was an indication of that.
Food for thought.
So there was our friendly neighborhood TEETH BOY in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania. One-hundred thirty-five miles east of the West Virginia border and twenty or so miles from inner city Pittsburgh. Knowing he would be attending ReVival 34 in Cleveland, he had found a Holiday Inn Express just past the West Virginia border into Ohio. MECCA©, as fate AKA Google Maps would have it, stood directly in between his hotel and where he would ultimately kick the living shit out of ‘The Machine’s’ blonde protégé.
“So THIS is the great MECCA?! Hmph.” Pleasant scoffed out loud to no one in particular. With his arms folded in marked skepticism, he stood directly in the façade of the tawdrily painted building.
Taking a step inside, his mind checked out as he took a trip down memory lane.
FLASH– ARTHUR: AGE TEN
A young Arthur Pleasant stood in the corner of a colorful Aladdin’s Castle arcade center that bustled with dozens upon dozens of teenagers and adults all shifting from one pinball machine to the next. Bleeps, bloops, and blips of electronic entertainment echoed throughout the venue, giving Arthur a bemused look on his face with all the fun about to be had. His little hand clutched onto a styrofoam cup full of tokens as Pleasant sought out one machine in particular.
Arthur smiled, showing off his once-perfect white teeth as he made his way to the pinball machine. Placing a token into the coin slot, it clinked and clanged until it struck the coin carrier behind the little black door that had been fitted with a round lock. Reaching up with his grubby little hand on the lockdown bar to pull himself up onto a stool, an older kid, whom he did not see, crept up behind him and kicked the stool out from under him.
He fell awkwardly in a forward motion, cracking his chin nastily off a sharp leg bolt on the corner of the cabinet’s underside. Looking at the floor beneath him, he saw blood trickling down onto the carpet, instantly staining it. Laughter from various teenagers and young adolescents alike followed this heinous act, and Arthur simply sat there with his legs bowed and a bleeding chin buried between his crossed elbows.
Son of a bitch! Was that who I think it was?!
FLASH– BACK TO REALITY.
There it was. Funhouse. One of Pat Lawlor’s most magnificent creations. It was just as he remembered it, too! Rudy, the talking head of a ventriloquist dummy, let out a pained “OW!” every time a shot from the silver ball was delivered to his closed mouth. The animatronic head blinked its eyes and mouth creepily while insulting anyone who missed a shot or found their ball traveling down the middle void between the two red and white flippers.
“Damn. This one’s in pretty good shape, too,” remarked Pleasant with a surprised tone to his voice.
Arthur may have been all blood, teeth, wrath, and ruin when it came to business in the ring, but he knew he would always have time to appreciate the fine artwork of something so extraordinary.
Something… so beautiful.
Pleasant rubbed his chin, feeling for the small scar that he would often forget about.
It was, after all, the first scar of many to come.
You never forget your first.
FLASH– ARTHUR: AGE TEN
Young Arthur raised his head from his arms, seething with rage.
You can’t let him get away with that.
Not this time.
You know what you have to do.
Pleasant had an idea who it was that kicked the stool out from under him just by the laughter he heard. It was Griz; a callous bully who got off on torturing him throughout middle school. He’d only ever run into him outside of school a handful of times, but every time he did, Arthur knew he was in for some pain. Both mentally and physically.
Keeping his head on a swivel, Arthur looked all around for him. Suddenly, he saw the men’s room at the far end of the playroom.
Having a little smoke are we, Griz?
Pleasant’s hands were balled up into little fists as he walked closer and closer to the men’s room. On his way there, he could see various machines out of the corner of his eye. However, as much as he wanted to stop and play with them, the urge to get even with this kid possessed him.
Four more steps and he would be at the bathroom door.
This is it, Arthur. There’s no turning back now.
FLASH– BACK TO REALITY.
“Can I help you, bro?” called out a deep voice with a thick Brooklyn accent.
Pleasant snapped out of his reverie and immediately looked at the man who offered assistance.
“Actually, yes. You can help me.” Arthur answered before looking back at the Funhouse machine.
“Okay,” the man said, pausing momentarily, “Whadda ya need help with, then?”
Pleasant smiled wide. His gnarly fangs showed themselves to the man whose head was shaved completely bald. The man’s physique looked shredded as he stood in front of Arthur wearing a Classic Wrestling tank top.
That’s when he realized who he was.
A very tanned ghost from a very dead promotion.
“Vito, I presume?”
“Who wants to fuckin’ know?!” responded a very guarded Vito.
“Nobody. I already know it’s you, Metro. What I do want to know is this: are you up for a little trip?”
Vito crossed his arms.
“Well, I guess that, uh, depends… Artie.” he responded, acknowledging that he knew exactly who Arthur was right in his face, “Where are we goin’ and how would it benefit me?”
Oh good. A fellow businessman.
FLASH– ARTHUR: AGE TEN
The door to the men’s room opened slowly. Arthur’s head peered out as he looked in every direction for anyone with a curious eye. Noticing that nobody was interested in what happened beyond the door he hid behind, Pleasant slipped out from it and back into the playroom.
His jeans were stained in crimson and his chin looked like it had already begun to scab up. Pieces of styrofoam had fluttered down from his empty hand to the floor like a feather torn from a bird’s wing.
With an empty feeling at the pit of his stomach, the young kid realized he wished he hadn’t shoved all of the tokens into Griz’s mouth while he choked him.
Pleasant had thought about hurting someone before, but it was the first time he actually went through with it. The way Griz’s lips turned purple with those tokens obstructing his airway startled Arthur. So much so that he removed his hands from Griz’s big mouth and scrawny neck. Arthur thought about going back into the restroom to pick up some of the tokens that Griz retched up after Arthur released his grip, but the idea of handling the slimy little pieces with his bare hands just sickened him.
Another day, Griz. Another day.
After what he just did, though exhilarating it may have felt, Arthur needed to leave the premises. Immediately.
Arthur felt great satisfaction when he saw the bookings on Prime-Wrestling dot com.
Adam “Golden Boy” Ellis.
It had been more than a minute since he stared across the ring from the young grappling prodigy. Still, the last time he did, he left Orlando with championship gold around his slender waist. Before that? He had taken another championship away from Adam’s mentor during a record-breaking run with the LSD Championship.
This didn’t necessarily make Arthur Pleasant good at winning championships, though. What it did mean was that Arthur Pleasant was an absolute threat and a veritable thorn in the side of anybody associated with the Gold Standard Wrestling Academy.
With that in mind, Pleasant knew precisely what awaited him at ReVival 33.
The level of pure wrestling mechanics would be bountiful come bell time.
He had wanted to utilize the D’Arcy Choke since entering a PRIME ring, but unfortunately, he had not succeeded in doing that. The moment his foot collided with Kohime Mori’s skull, he knew she was out. Not capitalizing on her sudden unconsciousness for the pinfall victory right then and there would’ve been a huge mistake.
Darin Zion, however, was a different story. Though the buzzsaw kick was certainly a move that could end someone in the blink of an eye, it wasn’t a move that he put his pride and joy into innovating. Pleasant needed the masses to witness the most dangerous–and only–jaw-shattering double-knee facebreaker on the planet. So when he scooped Zion across his shoulders, there wasn’t another maneuver in the entire pro-wrestling move catalog that would’ve sufficed as Calamity Pain did.
This time, he needed to do what he planned on doing during his debut match a few months ago.
He needed to choke… his opponent… OUT.
What better way to practice that than getting into the ring with a legend and former Real World’s Champion like Vito Valentino?
Having spent hours tilting and multi-balling his way to a place of mental equanimity, Pleasant convinced the semi-retired wrestler to accompany him on an excursion to West Virginia. It didn’t take much convincing, either. Vito clearly missed the business, as all it took was an empty promise of getting him a tryout for PRIME for the man to be willing to do anything Pleasant wanted.
The Mayor of METROpolis stood an inch taller than him at six-foot-four. Raw muscle bulged from under a tightly fitted white “In Your Haunted House” t-shirt. Arthur knew he had to be extra careful about the assignment he was carrying out for himself. This former cabbie from New York spent two-hundred fifty-two days as the reigning Real World’s Champion; something that eluded Pleasant’s career thus far. In fact, Vito was in rarified air as a guy who had actually beaten Randall Schwartz when he was still a threat to the pro-wrestling industry and not just a salt-and-pepper-looking TIMMAAAH! cosplayer.
Just behave. For now.
“Never thought I’d be steppin’ inna ring again,” said Vito. “Y’know, ‘specially as a trainer. Life’s fuckin’ funny, ain’t it?!” he said as Pleasant’s black Jeep Cherokee ran over all sorts of branches and uneven dirt road through a secluded forest in the mountains of West Virginia.
Pleasant said nothing. Instead, all he could think about was how much he wanted to stab him with something dull. However, he knew he needed Vito for what he wanted to do. Arthur just hoped that he could make it for another hour or so.
An undetermined amount of time and an unbeatable one-sided conversation later, Pleasant slowed the vehicle down as he realized he had found what he was looking for.
Rust covered the metal roller shutter doors of a large brick building. The once-white paint that coated the sides of the building had long turned into a yellowish eyesore in between countless chips and cracks in the structure itself. A light fixture crawled with dozens of spiders and a giant web held fast above a wooden door that presumably led into the building. There were chunks of wood eaten out of the weathered and decaying sections of the door; the wood itself looked so pliable from the rot that one could push their finger into it and create a marble-sized impression.
Curiously enough, something that barely resembled an old Soviet flag was smudged with dirt and tattered with holes on the upper left section of a poorly shingled roof.
Through the uninviting disrepair, it looked like it had been uninhabited for decades. Perhaps inside there was an enclosed site dedicated to body part harvesting for the black market, but that was just Arthur’s wild imagination getting the better of him as nightfall descended upon us. To no one’s surprise, the light fixture did not come on, which suggested it was either broken or had no source of power coursing through it.
“Well this place fuckin’ sucks!” blurted out Vito as he got out of the Jeep Cherokee. He continued, “Just so you know, if you plan on murderin’ me, I don’t go down without a fuckin’ fight and I will probably take you with me. Just sayin’, man.”
“Relax. Nobody’s murdering you.”
You’d have to join PRIME and face Youngblood for that.
Feeling a slight sense of comfort wash over him, Vito grunted and shook his head at the facility’s state.
“You said this Ivan dude gave you permission to use this site? For… what, exactly?” Vito asked cautiously and speculatively.
Pleasant thought about the question for a moment before he ignored it completely.
“Let’s head inside. Hope there’s running electricity,” he said quietly. A large bird cawed from up above in the trees and it startled them both.
“The fuck was that?!” Vito asked while they moved toward the building and his eyes scanned the treeline.
“No idea. But as long as we don’t see a three-prong set of red dots or a SKREE~! In the distance, we’re fine.” Pleasant said, matter-of-factly.
Arthur reached out for the doorknob, gave it a twist, and it broke completely off the door without so much as one-percent of his strength applied to it. Termites and gray pill bugs crawled out from the wood and onto his hand and forearm before he threw it to the tall grassy ground. Another loud cawing bird from above startled them as Arthur did his best to brush off the nasty little creatures. Having enough of the nightmarish feeling that they had experienced up to this point, Vito charged forward with his foot extended and broke through the door by kicking in the weakened wood towards the bottom right corner attached to its hinges.
It was wall-to-wall wrestling rings and workout stations featuring all the usual equipment. They were all rusted and old but no doubt fully functional, too. Free weights. Ellipticals. Stationary bicycles. Bicep curl stations. Etcetera, etcetera.
But it wasn’t the workout stations that Arthur had traveled three and a half hours with a washed-up Brooklynite for.
Vito ran a hand across his completely bald head and said “Well, given the outside look of things, this isn’t at all what I expected!”
He continued looking at all of the equipment while Arthur simply looked up at the copper-colored water damage from a leaky ceiling.
“So what do you need, exactly?”
Arthur put a finger up and wagged it back and forth, drubbing him with what could only be described as a silent upbraiding.
“Full stop. I want you to wrestle me in the middle of one of these rings.” Pleasant stated to his bald counterpart.
“Seriously? You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me, man! We drove all the way out to Tim-Fuck-Tu to hop in a wrestlin’ ring?! We coulda done that in Pittsburgh and grabbed some Primanti’s after!” Vito said incredulously.
Arthur puked a little in his mouth at the thought of a sandwich with soggy wet fries between buns and simply walked toward the apron to the middle of three canvases. Pleasant rubbed his hand along the cool gray mat as Vito followed him to the ring he had chosen.
Arthur turned around exactly when Vito made his way over.
“I am anything BUT kidding you, Vito. You see if I’m going to be stepping into the ring with a technical wrestling prodigy like Adam Ellis and his cute little baby blue shorts, then I want to brush up on a couple of things. There was a time in my life, very early on, when I would’ve simply choked the life out of him with my bare hands, but, call me crazy, I think I’ve grown up a bit.”
“So, you’re sayin’ that you wanna beat ‘im at his own game?” Vito asked before he leaned against the post closest to the entrance to the building.
Pleasant sighed, “Not exactly. I KNOW I’m not half the mat wrestler that Adam is, so trying to match him move for move and outlast him in a game of collar-and-elbows would be ill-fucking-advised.”
Vito looked utterly perplexed, but Pleasant saw this as a cue to explain.
“Put me in a few submission holds and see how long I last, dummy! You know, before I pass out or tap out,” he said before he paused, allowing the statement to sink in.
“Not that I plan to do either in the immediate future, but shit happens. It’s just that I haven’t really had an opponent with that kind of skill set since FLAMBO collected my neck.”
It was clear as day. Vito had no earthly idea who Pleasant was talking about.
“I guess you could say I’m out of practice in the submission game, and I’m not about to allow that to catch me in an Elevated Boston Crab.” he said while clearing his throat from the dusty air, “I’ve seen that move put away countless others before, so I know he’s going for it the first opportunity he can. Sektor always taught him to do what works instead of risking it all with what might work, so he’d be stupid not to follow his mentor’s advice.”
Upon saying this, Pleasant grabbed the bottom rope to the ring directly before him. Dust and grime fell off of the red ropes like snow falling from a powerline. Pleasant pulled himself up onto the apron, having realized how surprisingly taut it was.
Stepping between the ropes, Pleasant motioned for Vito to follow him inside.
“So what do you say we test this threshold of mine before Griz does?”
Arthur realized what he said as soon as he said it.
“Griz?” Vito inquired.
Pleasant ignored Vito’s sudden puzzlement, preferring to leave the Freudian slip unanswered.
Soon thereafter, Vito tortured Arthur in the muggy West Virginia twilight with Scorpion Deathlocks, Camel Clutches, and even a Full Nelson or two.
Wrestling’s Worst Nightmare came mighty close, but he never broke. Not once.
After all, it would all be worth it once he met with Lindsay Troy…
…like Arthur promised.