“If I was your age, man, I tell you…”
I couldn’t stand to look at myself. It wasn’t like looking in the mirror. I didn’t see him and recognize myself. When our eyes met, I felt no connection to him, to myself. He was empty like anyone else could’ve been empty.
“I wouldn’t be worried about anything but getting my dick wet. All day long, man.”
He slumped forward over the bar and raised his hand, but he lacked the strength to keep his arm aloft. The decrepit fart was too drunk to recognize himself. He only recognized me as if I were him, and maybe he was, once, but, even if I ever would be, I was not yet him, and thus, not him at all.
His hand hovered shakily over the bar as he barked at the hardy middle-aged lady who looked like chewing tobacco personified and stuffed into an outfit to shape her into something more discernibly humanoid that perhaps she used to be.
“That’s all that matters in the end, brother. You gotta drain those balls. Everything else is just there to distract you from how fuckin’ horny you are.” His hand slammed down accidentally on the bar, and with a burst of energy from some reserve he was surprised he had, he cocked up. “Barkeep!”
She took her time getting over to us, drying off a glass as she approached. We weren’t in Vegas anymore. Future Me insisted we go somewhere away from it all. He insisted that it was best to keep Future Nova at a distance after deserting him like that in the last Survivor challenge, so he had me drive him an hour out to some small, dusty box of a place called the Red Rooster out in Moapa Valley. It was really just a row of uncomfortable wooden chairs in front of a bar with a video slot machine at one end. The only other patron in the bar was playing it. He looked like he could’ve been empty, too; a program programmed to play a program.
“What d’ya want?” Her voice was decades of menthols, smoked end to end until there was no beauty left. I didn’t know whether to feel bad for her or not, but Future Me tried to ease the decision. He opened his mouth to try and say something, but instead of words, he started coughing up some kind of mucus. It wasn’t a full throttle vomit, no, just strings of yellowish spittle.
The bartender looked down at the bar, and without skipping a beat, she used the rag she had to mop up future Johnny’s mess. She returned to drying the glass with the opposite side of the rag, still awaiting a response.
“Grand Mariner. Two more fingers.”
“You sure you got the stomach for it?” The bartender put the glass down and looked him cold in the eye. “Don’t want to have to mess up both sides of this here rag.”
“For the road then?”
I draped my hand over his shoulder, like some lesser reaper, and tried to gently pull him to indicate that it was time. He jerked and swatted at me and in doing so, fell off his stool. He pushed me away when I reached down to try and help him to his feet. With great tribulation, he was able to make it relatively upright, and I walked behind him as he huffed and swayed and stumbled his way past each stool on the way to the exit.
I could feel eyes on us as we left, and I’m sure there’d been eyes on me like this before when I was too far numb to know. The bartender was watching and even the guy playing video poker was watching–although aside from that, I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about him. None of it felt good.
He was slow and disoriented, and I was frustrated just walking behind him. I kept reminding myself that I’d been there, that I usually was there, and that there’d been plenty of folks I’d put in the spot I was in currently. It was sobering, but looking at Future Me, it must not have ever been too sobering. I couldn’t figure whether or not to feel bad for myself, now, then, or anytime in between. I had a little easier of a time deciding whether or not to feel bad about myself.
Eventually, we made it outside without further incident. A street lamp illuminated a small dome outside the Red Rooster. Beyond that, the sky was but one shade lighter than the shadowy mesas that built the horizon. I pressed the button on the key fob, and my rental’s headlights flashed.
“Don’t take me back, kid.” He was too weak to push back as I stuffed him into the passenger’s seat. “You really want to go back there?”
There was nothing out there. On either side of the road, it was pure, unending darkness, and if it wasn’t for object permanence, I would’ve sworn that there wasn’t going to be light again anywhere. It was so desolate out there, I couldn’t tell how fast I was going. It all looked the same, the lone and level sands, and that was its own special kind of persistent darkness, even at the sunniest scorching noon, even once we got back to civilization with its eternity of warring neon.
“You really want to go back and wrestle?”
I wanted to get back to the hotel and sleep for as long as my body would let me.
“Come on, kid. Wrestling? Nova? Muriel? It’s all a waste of time.” He started coughing, and it sounded like he was hacking up something that the rental agency would charge me to clean. “Picture this: me and you out on some island in the middle of the ocean where there ain’t no income tax and the natives just let them titties swing out. We’d be kings, kid. Wouldn’t have to worry about a damn thing…not the pressure of having to win those titles, nobody ripping your heart out…none of that.”
I looked over for a moment, but quickly refocused on the road, following the yellow dashes home.
“She leaves you, kid.” The dashes started to blur into a solid line as my foot grew heavier. “Muriel. You know she’s going to leave you eventually, right?”
Time was flying by. The gaps between our words were minutes if not years long. At times, he was fast asleep in the passenger’s seat. Then I’d hear him adjust, or he’d cough himself awake. I started to notice other traffic, and the glow of the city poked at the edge of the darkness.
“You want to know what happened that last decade? Before you found yourself back in PRIME?”
The tires squealed against the pavement and the car swerved and skidded to a top, perpendicular from how the road ran.
“What the fuck did you just say?”
He was out cold. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He was a miserable looking old fuck. He was gross and selfish and grossly and selfishly human. His snoring sounded wet. I wondered how long he’d been out, if he’d said anything at all.
Headlights approached from afar. I steered the car to the shoulder and waited for a clearing to merge back on the highway. Vegas wasn’t far.
I dragged Future Me to the elevator and dumped him in the corner as I watched the floors change until the display read 28 and the doors opened. I dragged myself further down the hallway, only pausing to produce my key card and open the suite door.
I decided to feel bad for myself, and I scooped him up and planted him on the bed. He was an atrophied sack full of bone and loose fluid. He sloshed as I handled him. His snoring got louder, and its rhythm became more erratic. His mouth was open wide, and I could see pustules on his gums and dirty, jagged teeth.
I clutched a pillow. It would have been a merciful act.
“We are going to have ourselves a NIGHT!”
Double doors to the casino floor burst open, clearing aside members of the waitstaff, and the Novas stride through, Future Nova’s shriveled forearm draped over his younger self. Nova looks back at one of the servers, who attempts to stand before crumpling back to the tacky red carpet holding her ankle. She appears to be pregnant.
“Yeah, man,” Nova says, scratching his head, “glad we, uh, glad we’re doing this.”
“You wanna smoke? You can smoke in here,” Future Nova says, pulling two packs of cigarettes out of his suit coat’s interior pocket.
“I can honestly wait, it’s not a big de-” Nova replies as Future Nova shuffles cigarettes out of a pack, jamming two in the Risen Star’s mouth and another in his left nostril.
“Yeah you fuckin’ do, you chimney, you,” Future Nova grins. “You fuckin’ smokestack. Let’s grab a table.”
Nova coughs, spitting out the cigarettes in his mouth and removing one he didn’t realize was in his right ear. Future Nova corrals him over to a craps table, face-palming a man out of his chair and taking a seat.
“This is great!” Future Nova exclaims, clapping Nova on the back, “I love us. This is how it should be, y’know? And that’s the thing about Future Johnny, he doesn’t get it. He’s not driven like we are. He’s not chasing it like we are. It’s always been that way with him.”
“I dunno,” Nova shrugs, “seems like you guys have a nice vibe.”
“Oh, do I have some stories for you,” Future Nova snorts as he grabs dice off the table mid-game and flings them into the face of the dealer. “I carried that motherfucker for decades.”
Nova cocks an eyebrow. “I thought y’all said you were trapped by the Past-Future of Wrestling and held hostage the whole time.”
“Oh, I mean, we were,” Future Nova says, scooping a mound of the other players’ chips into a pile in front of him, “but, like, we still lived what we saw.”
He puts a hand on Nova’s forehead.
“What are you-” Nova starts before his eyes cloud over and his head slumps back.
Great Post-American Nightmare, 2032
Future GBJ rips Dusk out of his wheelchair and plants him on the mat with a Tragically Hip-Buster. He makes the pin as Future Nova sprints across the apron, clobbering Dusk’s NPC tag partner with a double ax-handle. No one is actually in the arena, but fans watching via Zoom pump their fists as the arena pipes in a cacophony of generic crowd noise.
“ONE!! TWO!!! THREE!!!!”
Nova comes to, in the passenger seat of yet another rose-colored 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis, roaring down the desert highway. He looks over at Future Nova, who is dutifully gripping the wheel at 10 and 2 as the air blasts his wispy horseshoe of old man hair away from his face.
“I thought y’all didn’t know how to drive?”
“And that’s ANOTHER thing about that fuckin’ guy!” Future Nova yells over the noise of the engine. “This shit is so easy! Like, how he managed to wipe his ass and pull up his shorts before walking down to the ring with me all those years looks like a fucking Christmas Miracle in hindsight!”
Future Nova pours a mound of white powder out of a baggie onto his right hand and snorts some, shaking his head as his eyes go wide. He extends his hand to Nova, who shakes his head.
“I don’t want any coke.”
“Good!” Future Nova shouts, “this is Ketamine!”
He blows the powder into Nova’s face. Nova coughs, and as he leans back he feels his spine growing roots into his seat. As the roots expand, he feels Future Nova place a hand on his forehead and his eyes cloud over again.
Colossus XXXVIII, 2042
Future GBJ launches himself off the top rope and lands the Dumpster Dive From the Moon on top of Dusk, whose amputated nubs wriggle in agony. As he makes the pin, Future Nova yanks Dusk’s NPC tag partner off their side of the ropes, his head bouncing off the ring apron as he collapses in a heap.
“ONE!! TWO!!! THREE!!!!”
Nova comes to, on the back of a giant shark swimming rapidly across the surface of the ocean. He looks over to his right and Future Nova is riding a giant shark as well.
“What is happening?!”
“We’re riding sharks!” Future Nova explains.
A gunshot rings out and the water next to Nova’s shark explodes. Nova whips his head around in terror and sees a boat following them. Someone on board is holding a sniper rifle.
“And we’re being chased by the guy with a sniper rifle!” Future Nova elaborates.
“Why are we doing this?!” Nova shouts.
“Because SPORTS, baby!” Future Nova pumps a fist.
“My shark is scaring me!” Nova wails as he tries to keep his hands away from rows of giant teeth.
Another gunshot rings out and blood spurts from the side of Future Nova’s shark.
“Fuck!!” he shouts as his shark slows and begins to roll.
He flings him from his shark onto the back of Nova’s and wraps his arms around Nova’s waist.
“We need to talk about something!” Future Nova shouts into Nova’s ear.
“I’m inclined to agree with that!” Nova replies as another gunshot pocks the water next to them.
“No, not about shark-back sniping!” Future Nova says, “it’s about the Johnnys!”
“I don’t understand what your problem is!” Nova shouts.
“How can you not see it?!” Future Nova yells at him before reaching an arm around placing his hand over Nova’s forehead.
Nova’s eyes cloud over and the sound of a gunshot grows faint.
ReViVal 1203, 2052
Future GBJ hits the Legendary Depants Combo on Dusk, who at this point is just a large jar of water containing a brain and nervous system. From the corner, Nova fires a multiverse cannon which opens a vortex behind Dusk’s NPC tag team partner and sucks him away into oblivion. Future GBJ goes for the pin.
“ONE!! TWO!!! THREE!!!!”
Nova comes to, and he and Future Nova are floating around the exterior of a space station making minor repairs.
“There’s only option that makes sense!” Future Nova yells over. “We ditch the Johnnys and do this thing ourselves!”
Future Nova hits a button that opens an air hatch. They both are drawn into it, the airlock sealing behind them as the station’s gravity sets in.
“They already ditched us,” Future Nova says as he removes his helmet, “look at what happened. They left us high and dry to go lock Muriel into a Chinese finger-trap.”
Nova winces. “A, I’m not sure we still get to use that term, and B, there are a number of reasons why that was the wrong decision, so I hear you, but I still don’t understand where all this is coming from.”
“What’s not to understand?” Future Nova holds up his arms. “I showed you the memories!”
Nova stares at him blankly.
Future Nova blinks. “Didn’t I?”
“Those were just clips of y’all beating Dusk and his NPC tag partner over the years, I didn’t understand any of that,” Nova says, shaking his head.
“Boy, those were some wars,” Future Nova grins fondly, “the brain-jar version I thought was the toughest, not physically intimidating, really, but just kinda wily, y’know?”
He snaps out of it. “But wait, there’s more! I promise, you’ll see what I mean! Why you and I are stronger than you and he will ever be! Just let me…find…the right ones…”
He reaches a hand towards Nova’s forehead but Nova grabs his wrist.
Nova plants a hand on Future Nova’s forehead and Future Nova’s eyes gloss over.
They’re back at the craps table on the casino floor. Before Future Nova can reorient himself, Nova rips him out of his chair and onto the carpeted floor, sending drinks and chips flying. Nova leans down close to Future Nova’s face.
“Listen to me,” he says through gritted teeth, “I. Choose. Johnny.”
“You’re making a mistake,” Future Nova coughs, “and it’s going to cost you. Which means it’s going to cost us.”
Nova releases his grip on the collar of Future Nova’s jacket and lets him up. Future Nova dusts himself off.
“I think this is why I’m actually supposed to be here,” he says, “we messed something up by coming back. And now I feel like this is the only way to fix it. They left us hanging before, they’ll do it again. We have to forge ahead ourselves. If we don’t…I think we’re sunk.”
Nova realizes there’s still a cigarette in his nose. He takes it out and lights it.
“That’s just a chance I’m gonna have to take,” he says. “That’s what being a team is. And if at the end of the day I’m left navigating a braille maze alone while Johnny is balls-deep in his girl…then so be it.”
He turns to walk away and gestures for Future Nova to follow. “Now c’mon…you’re coming with me back to room, you’re gonna shut the fuck up about your little mutiny, and you’re gonna help us figure out how to bring this thing home.”
I didn’t sleep much. The floor was comfortable enough, and I’d definitely slept in rougher conditions, but I couldn’t stop thinking about who I turned out to be. I wondered if it was all written in stone somewhere, and if it was, was there any point in trying to change it? Was it written in stone that I would try to change and fail? It was a hall of mental mirrors, the kind where they face each other slightly askew so you look like you go on forever.
He was right though. I didn’t want to wrestle. I used to, and for a while, it was the only thing I was ever really good at doing. Sure, I was having a good time with this Survivor business, but that wasn’t exactly wrestling. I always thought that maybe I could be good at doing something else. Some of the guys jumped over to Hollywood. I don’t think I could remember lines, but I could be a stuntman or something. If he was right about Muriel, maybe I could find myself a nice stunt double for some big deal actress.
First thing was first, though. Every journey starts with a single step. Sometimes that step just happens to be towards your own hotel room bed to wake up an old version of yourself from the future.
“Ah, fuck.” I held my nose. “You better not have taken a shit where I think you took a shit.”
Future Me neither confirmed nor denied the accusation. He didn’t respond at all.
“I’m in, man. Let’s bail.” I shook him. “Get up before I change my mind.”
I peeled back the blanket. He wasn’t breathing. His face was gray.
“Fuck. Ah, fuck, man. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Nova watches the numbers tick away as the elevator in the MGM Grand Hotel rises toward the 28th floor.
“Y’know, you’re probably right,” Future Nova says, “and I didn’t really mean that shit I said about Future Johnny.”
He looks out the glass at Vegas, a smile coming over his face. “He’s my best friend. We’ve been through a lot together over the years. Over a lifetime.”
Nova feels his phone buzzing and looks down.
“This one time,” Future Nova says, giggling, “he loaded a quarter-pound of weed into the air circulation system of an AirBnB we stayed at…and when we lit it up…the smoke came through the vents like poison gas from an old spy movie…”
Nova looks down at his phone and sees a text.
G-B-Jizzle: pick up your fucking phone
we’re right outside
“I’m actually looking forward to seeing the droopy, drunken old fuck,” Future Nova says cheerfully, “it’s weird, I don’t recall the last time we were apart for more than, like, the length of one of his interminably long shits.”
Nova takes his keycard from his pocket and inserts it into the reader. An LED turns from red to green as a mechanism clicks open the lock.