Private: Garbage Bag Johnny
Nothing–and only nothing–is more comforting, more daunting, and more misunderstood than infinity. There is a beauty in it, a multi-dimensional symmetry. It’s the torture we’d choose for ourselves, most of us, anyway. It’s the sea or the sky until it’s the horizon in every hue–until it’s either itself or not, and it’s all the same either way, except for one thing. You either exist or you don’t.
And all of a sudden, there I was, sitting out on a porch in a big wicker chair. Muriel must have been in the house, watching her shows, and I was just taking it all in. I was retired again, and as far as I knew, this time it was for good. The porch afforded a view of vivid, green leaves and fresh, plump buds–speckled with orange and purple and even white–as far as the eye could see. The sky was a perfect blue. The sun was in just the right spot in the sky.
I held the blunt up to my lips and lit the tip. It tasted deep and piney with a hint of citrus. I exhaled a cloud so thick angels played harps on it, and after a few coughs, it dissipated to reveal the sun glinting off the giant golden faceplate of a belt worn around a man’s waist. He was wearing a pair of aviators to help disguise a face wrinkling a little more by the day. His hair, however, was a thick mane. I got up from my seat and looked the bastard over.
“Nova?” I shielded my eyes from the sun. “Your hair’s back?”
“I got that replacement surgery.” He thrust his arms away from the sides of his body and jokingly spun around to model his new do. “What do you think?”
“Yeah, that’s something, alright.”
Nova climbed the porch steps, and I thought he was reaching for a hug, but he snatched the blunt right out of my hand and took a mighty puff.
“So, what brings you all the way out here?”
“Wowee, that packs a punch.” Nova gripped the wooden railing for support and passed the blunt back to me so he could cover his mouth to cough.
“I know you didn’t come out here just to smoke my weed.” On the horizon, an invisible line separated green from blue.
“Come on, buddy.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “You know why I’m here.”
I knew. He knew I knew. There was no use in dragging it out.
“I’m not coming back, Nova.”
He frowned and nodded. He wasn’t expecting anything different.
“Look at it, man.” I gestured out towards my abundant fields. “I got enough yield from this year’s crop alone to last me decades. I’m growing over twenty different strains. Things are going great with Muriel. I’m happy here.”
Nova smiled, but his eyes betrayed him. It wore on him, every time he came to try and drag me back.
“Johnny, you know that you agree to come back eventually, and I’m getting tired of this old song and dance.”
I heard a scream from inside the house and rushed back in so fast that the rooms blurred into a carousel of wallpaper and finished wood and mismatched furniture.
“Muriel!” She took slow, bowlegged steps towards me while holding her stomach. Over her shoulder, a children’s competitive eating show was on the television screen. “What happened? Are you alright?”
“I think my water broke.”
A rose-colored 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis flies over the curb, taking out a pedestrian walking sign before landing on all fours and continuing down a mostly-empty road leading out of downtown Las Vegas towards the dark of the desert. It’s the night of ReVival 7, and two of a certain wrestling promotion’s newest PRIME-Time Players are exactly where you don’t want men of their age to be…behind the wheel.
“What are you doing?!” Future Nova screams over at Future GBJ, who sits in the driver’s seat, staring at the wheel and console in bewilderment.
“It, it’s not steering itself!” Future GBJ stammers, aghast.
“What do you mean it’s not steering itself, they all steer themselves!!” Future Nova shouts, trying to brace himself against the dash and ceiling felt. “What’s the other option?!”
“I…I don’t know.” Future GBJ stares in horror as they drift across the opposing lane towards a series of concrete pylons.
“Talk to it!” Nova shouts, leaning towards the center console’s…tape deck. “YOU! YOU THERE! STEER!”
“YES! YES, STEER!” Future GBJ joins in. “STEER NOW, PLEASE! AND WELL!”
The concrete pylons approach.
“Well, touch it or something!” Future Nova cries.
Future GBJ nudges the wheel with the tip of a finger as the Grand Marquis’s headlights reflect off the pylons.
Future GBJ wrenches the wheel to the right, sending the Grand Marquis hurtling back across both lines, cutting off another vehicle that only manages a mournful honk as it jerks out of the way headlong into the side of a commercial dumpster.
“TOO HARD!!” Future Nova shouts, shoving the wheel back in the other direction.
The Grand Marquis lurches forward in spurts as Future GBJ haphazardly mashes the pedals at his feet and yanks the wheel cartoonishly from side to side. The Grand Marquis rolls jerkily down the highway, gently drifting between lanes, and for a moment things are mostly calm, in that “Teaching Your Teen Not to Kill Themselves in the Parking Lot of Vo-Tech” kind of way.
Future Nova runs his gnarled hands over his face. “Why did we steal THIS one?”
“It was the only one whose occupant seemed too old and frail to chase after us,” Future GBJ shrugs.
Future Nova grins before raising a leg and slapping at the watery sack of flesh under his thigh. “I guess not every nonagenarian maintains absolute HAMS like these, eh, old boy?”
“Or plasma-propelled orthopedic footwear,” Future GBJ observes.
“Fair point,” Nova agrees, running a hand through the wisps of his scalp. “Well, the adequacy of your operation of this…thing…having stabilized somewhat, onto the next bit of business. We still need what passes in this era for a firearm and some basic digging equipment.”
“Can we materialize them at a kiosk somewhere?” Future GBJ asks.
“I haven’t seen one.” He stares out a window and his eyes light up, his frown turning…well, you know. “Johnny, LOOK!”
Ahead of them on the right is a well-lit warehouse.
BETTER GUNS AND GARDENS
“YES!!” they shout together, slapping a bone-rattling Old Man Five.
“I forgot they still have capitalism here!” Future Nova squeals with delight, “Takes me fucking BACK!! Pull us in, Johnny!
Future GBJ slaps the left side of the wheel several times, mashing the pedals as the Grand Marquis jerks its way into the lot, finally coming to rest in the empty center area about forty yards or so from the actual parking spots. They both get out and begin walking towards the entrance. Future GBJ turns back and points at the Grand Marquis.
“You! Car! Close the doors, and STAY HERE.”
Immediately the Grand Marquis begins rolling backwards towards the road, doors whipping shut from momentum.
“Oh, fuck!” Future Nova groans, “We can’t have that, Johnny! You go after it, and I’ll head in for supplies!”
“What about your ‘absolute HAMS?’” Future GBJ replies, but Future Nova is already headed for the store’s entrance. Future GBJ takes off after the Grand Marquis.
Inside the store, Future Nova stares at a wall of firearms. He turns to the clerk, a man who wears overalls in all seasons and whose favorite color is camouflage.
“I don’t suppose any of these sync to the user’s brainwaves, via cerebral chip or other technology?” he asks.
The clerk reaches into the lower display cabinet, and retrieves a Desert Eagle. He holds it up and smirks. “Feels like this one knows what I’m thinkin’ most of the time.”
Future Nova grins.
He approaches the main checkout counter with the firearm, a box of ammunition, and two shovels. The checkout clerk scans the items, looks Future Nova over once, and then waits.
Future Nova waits.
The checkout clerk stares at him blankly.
Nova stares back.
“I’m waiting on you,” the checkout clerk explains.
“I’m waiting on you,” Future Nova says impatiently.
“How do you want to pay?” the checkout clerk asks, “Cash? Card? Apple Pay?”
“Apple Pay,” Future Nova replies.
“So where is it?” the checkout clerk responds, exasperated.
Future Nova leans forward across the counter, his eyes widening. The clerk recoils. “What the hell are you doing?!”
“BITCH, I SAID APPLE PAY!” Future Nova shouts, his eyes still wide. “Are you going to get off your fat ass and use your retinal scanner or not?! WE HAVE IMPORTANT BUSINESS TO HANDLE TONIGHT!”
Outside, Future GBJ sits in the driver’s seat of the Grand Marquis that he has regained control over and managed to redirect back into the middle of the store’s parking lot.
“You go after it, and I’ll head in for supplies,” he says in a mocking tone, “y’know, for once, I’d like to go in for supplies while you fucking ‘go after it,’ you old fuck.”
Suddenly he looks up to see Future Nova sprinting towards the Grand Marquis with two shovels, the Desert Eagle, and the box of ammo in his arms. Future Nova throws the items through an open rear passenger window and leaps into the front passenger seat.
“They don’t have an Apple Pay Retinal Scanner! Drive, Johnny, DRIVE!!”
Future GBJ stomps down on the pedal that he’s coming to understand directs the vehicle to move forward, and the Grand Marquis peels out of the parking lot as security runs after them. Gunshots ring out, and both duck as the rear windshield shatters.
The Grand Marquis tears off into the desert night.
An hour or so later…
The Grand Marquis shakes and shutters its way to a stop in a space resembling a cove of sorts, tall rocks jagging out of the sand up and around them. Lifetime Learner that he is, Future GBJ now understands that he needs to put this ancient contraption into park before exiting.
So he does.
The Future of Wrestling pile out of the Grand Marquis, Future Nova brushing windshield glass off the shovels and Desert Eagle in the backseat before removing them. Future Nova tosses a shovel over the hood of the car to Future GBJ, and loads ammo into the Desert Eagle.
He figured out how to load it out on the drive, which is why part of the front windshield is also missing.
They make their way around to the back of the vehicle. Future GBJ turns to Future Nova and nods before reaching for the trunk.
“Fuck! I think it’s coming!”
“It’ll be okay, dumplin’.” Muriel laid across the back of Nova’s weird, old sedan, and I reached back to hold her hand from the passenger seat. “Just do your breathing exercises.”
“You better hold that baby in.” Nova was fuming. “I swear, Johnny, if there’s any afterbirth on my upholstery, I’m going to murder you.”
“That’s not going to get us to the hospital any faster, dude. Floor it!”
Muriel screamed in pain.
“I’m going as fast as I can, but that doesn’t seem to matter, does it?”
There wasn’t anything but pot plants outside of every window. The vehicle mowed them over, but the foliage was so lush that the path of flattened crop behind Nova’s car eventually flopped back up into position. All there ever was was just a temporary clearing behind us. We could barely see the sky out of the windshield. The sun looked like it was coming from every direction.
“Just keep going forward!”
It would have been foolish to think the alignment of a car so old was pitch perfect, but as long as Nova wasn’t jerking the wheel around like a madman, I had to believe we’d get out eventually. Unfortunately, the thickness of the growth we were driving through was strong enough that it was able to redirect our trajectory in ways we couldn’t anticipate.
“We’re never getting out of here, Johnny.”
“Keep the car straight!”
“Guys!” It was Muriel this time. “It feels like I’m taking the world’s biggest dump, but from the front this time!”
“Oh, God.” Nova’s cheeks puffed out as he fought back vomit.
“You’re doing great, honey! Keep doing the breathing. We’re almost there.”
“Uhhhhh.” Muriel cried unapologetically. “It’s coming out the back, too. I guess you can’t push from one hole and clench the other.”
“Jesus Christ!” Nova slammed on the breaks. “Stop pushing from either hole!”
“What the fuck, man? My wife’s in labor.”
“I think I can see a head.” Muriel grunted painfully. “He’s a hairy little fucker!”
“Everybody out of the car!” Nova put the Grand Marquis in park, took the key out of the ignition, and exited the vehicle, shuffling past the weed plants to stand in the small clearing directly behind the vehicle. “Now!”
“I’m not getting out!” I slammed on the horn and slid over to the driver’s seat. I looked out Nova’s open door at him. “Give me the keys. I’ll do this myself.”
“No, you won’t.” Nova stood there defiantly. “You’re coming back with me. I’m not asking.”
My former partner had gotten to me. I was so riled up that I forgot, just for a second, that Muriel was in the back seat, half of a baby hanging out of her.
“I’m never coming back.” I stepped out of the car and looked at Nova earnestly. “Stop trying to take this away from me.”
“It’s not real, man.”
“None of this is real. The weed field, your baby, not even my hair.”
Nova tugged at his previously restored locks like a kid disproving a mall store Santa. The golden strands blew away in the wind, and as it carried them to the edge of space, I felt the ground rumbling beneath me.
“Rise and shine!”
The earth quaked below, and a crack appeared in the ground beneath me and started to widen, swallowing the Grand Marquis.
“Muriel!” I reached my hand into the chasm, but it was too late. “NOOOOO!”
“I said, wake the fuck up!”
Next, the weed plants started to whoosh right past us, sucked into the hole in an emerald rush until no color remained, no horizon, just Nova and myself.
“WAKE THE FU…”
“…CK UP, YOU LAZY PIECES OF SHIT!”
Nova’s eyes, still flecked with hotel room drywall, dart open as he feels a fist close around his throat and jerk him out of the Grand Marquis’s trunk. He lands on the sand with a thud, and moments later Garbage Bag Johnny lands next to him, coughing.
“There we go!”
“Hope you motherfuckers had a nice nap.”
They both roll over to stare up at the Future of Wrestling, with shovels in hand and a Desert Eagle pointed in their faces.
“You boys have some graves to dig,” Future GBJ says as Future Nova alternates the barrel of the gun between them. “Best get to it.”
Future Johnny tosses the shovels to the ground and Johnny and Nova look at each other. Without any other choice, they pick up the shovels and break ground. As they start to dig, they try to communicate through head movements, eye twitches, and even telepathy. Neither has a working plan, and thinking gets tougher with each shovelful, the desert heat starting to bear down as daybreak approaches.
A hint of purple creeps up the black sky when Future Nova interrupts their captives’ digging mission. “Alright, take a breather.”
Nova collapses backwards into the pit he’s dug, shovel sunk into the bottom of it, back resting against the sand wall. Garbage Bag Johnny slumps forward, resting his head and arms on the edge of his own work product.
“So…so what now?” Nova manages between heaving breaths. “Now Future Me kills me, Future Johnny kills him, is that it?”
Future Nova snorts. “C’mon, man, that’s so typical. No, Future GBJ kills you and I kill Garbage Bag Johnny.”
Future Nova tosses the Desert Eagle to Future GBJ who walks over and levels it at Nova, still slumped in his sand pit.
“Nova!” GBJ yells, attempting in exhaustion to extricate himself from his own grave, but Future Nova levels him with a swift kick to the side of the head and snatches his shovel away.
Future GBJ sights the pistol down at Nova’s impressive dome…before aiming down at his legs.
“Actually, that’s also a no,” he says. “We didn’t drag you out here to kill you. We all know where that leads, we kill you, the past erases the future, blah, blah, blah. No, we dragged you out here to scare you, and maim you, and then enslave you and take your place.”
“This whole stunt is just going to be a life-long reminder of how bad it can get if you ever try to escape,” Future Nova explains.
“This is life for you guys now,” Future GBJ nods before refocusing the pistol on Nova’s lower extremities, “any last words for your kneecaps? They’ve given you some good moments.”
Tears well up in Nova’s eyes as he looks around at the streaks of pink that are beginning to penetrate the purple in the sky.
“Is this what they did to you?”
GBJ’s hoarse whisper draws Future GBJ and Future Nova’s attention as he claws one arm up the side of his sand pit.
“What did you say?” Future GBJ asks, his eyes narrowing.
GBJ pulls himself up a little further, sand covering his hair and beard as he stares both of his captors down. “Is this what they did to you?”
“What the hell are you-” Future Nova shakes his head. “I changed my mind, I don’t care what happens, kill these two.”
Future GBJ pauses, staring his younger self in the face. GBJ stares back, unrelenting.
“Is this what they did to you?”
Future GBJ’s eyes grow distant.
The subtle intro of “Maggot Brain” gives way to the slap bass assault of “Garbage Bag Johnny Will Win Zero 2 Hero” as Future Nova and Future GBJ huddle in gorilla position. On the other side of the curtain, the Great American Nightmare crowd is roaring. They’re younger, late thirties, early forties, and they’re beaming.
Future Nova: You ready for this, buddy?
Future GBJ: We may not have done too hot in the Almasy Tournament…or the Five Star scrambles, but third time’s a charm, bro! I’m feeling real good about this.
Future Nova: Let’s go out there and bring home those bel-
But before they can, a hand catches the side of Nova’s head and facepalms him into the brick wall. He slides down slowly, a trail of blood following. Future GBJ whips around quickly, but not quickly enough to avoid a second figure grabbing him from behind and slamming him face-first down onto the bench in the center of the room. He collapses to the floor.
Old Man Voice: What the fuck happened to our fuckin’ titles?
Old Man Voice #2: These rubes must’ve screwed up.
Old Man Voice: Good thing we got here in time to fix this.
Past-Future Nova and Past-Future GBJ, the Past-Future of Wrestling, step into the cold fluorescent overhead lights of the changing room, smirking down at the fallen champions.
“Did they actually trap you all this time?”
The Future of Wrestling look over to where Nova has dared to pull himself up a little more in his sand pit.
“All this time?” Nova asks again, pity written across his face.
“I said fuck it, let’s waste these two, I’m fucking ready to disappear,” Future Nova growls. “Come on, Johnny!”
Future GBJ takes a deep breath…and lowers the Desert Eagle.
“No? NO?!” Future Nova screams. “We spent DECADES as hostages, waiting for them to finally die while they stole our careers! And when they did, all we had to show for it were their titles! All that time, though? The relative sanity? We can’t have that back!”
“You can’t have that back,” GBJ agrees, standing upright in his pit, “but you could help us.”
Nova grunts as he, too, climbs to his feet. “Help us win these belts now.”
Future Nova’s shoulders slump. “So much lost time…”
Future GBJ looks over at him. “Let’s help us win them and find some peace. Let’s have the celebration we never got to have.”
Future Nova looks back at him for a moment…and nods. “Alright.”
They both reach down to pull Nova and GBJ out of their would-be graves. Nova dusts himself off and looks up at the full beauty of the morning desert sky.
“Let’s head back to Las Vegas.”
The four walk over towards the Grand Marquis, Future GBJ moving around towards the driver’s side. Garbage Bag Johnny reaches a present hand across his future chest to stop himself.
“I think I’ll drive.”