A LINK TO THE PAST (1)
choose your own adventure
“You’ll see not much has changed since your last visit…” The guard’s voice trails off as he walks me through the desolate corridor. Dim lights, some flicker. This place was built years ago and barely renovated since. We approach a highly secure residential wing, I can tell by the fact the guard has to use two keys to open the large metal doors. Security is lined up and down the hall, at least one man outside every cell entrance. The cells have big glass walls to peer inside. I’m not sure if it’s two-way and allows for the inmate to see what’s in front of them, however.
Nameplates and 64-bit renderings of each inmate hang below their doors. I hear shouts of my name as I pass through. Some want to play, others want more. I guess the windows are two ways but I don’t have time for another conversation.
I’m here for Him. And Him only.
There are so many dungeons. How long have I been doing this? Five, ten years? There are enemies I’m familiar with and some names that don’t ring a bell. At least not yet.
“Ah, here we are,” the guard says as we stop in front of the last room at the end of the hallway. There are no lights here, it’s simply relying on the flickering brightness from where we had come. Three guards watch this cell, two at the doorway and one at the glass window, which is much larger than the others. I give an unsure look to the main guard. He insinuates it’s okay for me to approach the glass and get on with things.
The window is thick, there’s no way to penetrate it. I feel like I’m safe and yet a hard chill runs down my spine.
“Hello, my old friend.” With the darkness, it’s impossible to tell who or what’s inside and how he’s arranged his living space but I carry on. “We’ve had quite the battles over the years, haven’t we? And to think it all started because I didn’t like your silly Time Travel Technology (TTT™).”
I ask a guard for his chair. He slides it over as I place the back of the chair towards the glass and sit down on it reversed, resting my arms across the top.
“Of course you don’t. You have better things to do with your time,” I give a faint, awkward laugh. “And me? I don’t have better things to do. That’s why I’m here.”
I kick my feet about.
“I’ve missed our battles. They say you don’t know what you have until it’s lost, do you? I didn’t. You gave me the best years of my career and I would hope I gave you the best years of yours. I’m not much older than you but I was naïve. Remember the Conor Curse? I brushed it off but it was true. Dan Ryan, Teddy Palmer, Ray McAvay… names that failed when they were associated in tag matches with me. Hell, the entire 214 War Games roster bailed pretty quickly, didn’t they?”
I pause, reflecting.
“Maybe they knew you and I would end up doing this forever and there was no place for any of them.”
I turn to the main guard.
“He is in there, right?” I ask uncomfortably.
The guard nods nonchalantly, “he’s there.”
I look back, although I can only see my reflection. My hair is faded gray, I’ve been losing plenty of it recently. My eyes are glazed over and dull, almost as if the Life has been sucked right out of them. My hands tremble, ever-so-slightly.
“It makes gaming a real chore now,” I say out loud, thinking he sees my tremors. “I can barely play. Sometimes I watch YouTube videos instead.”
I squint my eyes and focus solely on one spot. Finally, I’m able to see wall sketches. Not that I didn’t believe the guards, nameplate or 64-bit portrait but seeing the writings bring a weak smile to my face.
“Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m here?” I mention, tilting my head and refocusing my eyes on the glass instead and not through it. “I’d love to see your… ‘place’… and tell you man-to-man but security has told me that won’t be possible. I guess this will have to do. You know what? You’d probably run, anyway.”
I pause once more, trying to find the right words.
“Then again, I might have hidden behind the Elders a little too much, acting obnoxious and silly. Do you recall when I went off on John Sektor? Haha, good times. Annoying, belligerent but hey, I had fun.”
Good times, indeed.
“Sorry, I’m stalling. You’re right. After all these years, I understand. You are the best wrestler, the most talented and you surround yourself with a family that pushed you to succeed. In the end, that’s what matters. YOU succeeded where others failed. Where I failed…”
I feel the walls… the building, trying to fade away but I hold on. I may not possess his mental abilities but I can keep my focus into the future, too.
“You’re the most real person that’s ever been a part of my life. You’ve always told it to me straight. You are the best and I am a fraud. I’m not at your level. Never have been, never will be. Still to this day and that’s alright. It’s okay to be second. It’s okay I can’t quite get there. I had a bad group of friends; I made the wrong choices.”
I wonder if I’m wasting my time.
“I remember Refueled LXXI like it was yesterday. The confidence, the momentum. The belief that I had everything going for me. I didn’t see the World crumble around me. You’ve kicked my ass so many times and put me in my place, you thought I would’ve learned…”
I rise from my chair and peer through the glass once more. Is he standing on the opposite side?
“Thanks for being real. Maybe I should’ve joined you after all.”
The building starts to fade away.
… … … … …
Fiserv Forum Parking Lot
August 14, 2021
Two hours ago I’m high on life. 1-Upped Sutler’s family, took out MAXKAELJr. with my GAME BOY and thought I evened the odds.
Then Teddy decided to drink, stumble into the Fiserv Forum late and meet his ultimate DOOM.
“Jeez, Walt, every damn time I take one step forward, HE takes three! He refs my World Championship match, weasels his way into reffing Dan and I’s last stand as Tag Team Champions. Attacks me in Detroit. Orchestrates the attack on Teddy. Oh he knew. Otherwise, what reason would he have had to bail on our match? He knew Teddy was dummied and would pick up the pin.”
Walter’s on the other end of my call as I pace around profusely. He’s telling me something along the lines of the ‘sheer dumb luck’ Sutler walked himself into. SRK didn’t want to wrestle me so he left because he was scared. Whatever. I doubt that’s the case.
“How’s he doing?” Walter asks after radio silence on my end.
“Yeah. He’s out. Doctor said it’s gonna be a while.”
“You were always walking into Bottomline alone,” Walter reassures. “Teddy was a backup.”
That’s not the point, Walter knows this. He’s trying to calm me down so I won’t attack his comment.
“Wonderful. Some Grapplers Local we’ve become,” I’m sarcastic.
“It’s still in front of you, son,” he reminds me with a low voice.
“Is it? Every big match I’ve had I come close but not close enough. This is an entirely new World, Walter. This isn’t the main event against Cancer Jiles on television. This is a pay-per-view. A bloody LEE BEST PRESENTS pay-per-view. The big stage, the real 8-4. And yeah, I was always gonna go it alone but if Sutler brought his family out to save his ass, Teddy was my ‘phone a friend’. I had his back in LSD and he had mine in the World Championship. If I’m being honest with you, I don’t know if I can do it. I’ve been watching a LOT of SRK wrestling tapes. Guy drives me batshit but the kid is a beast inside the ring. WORLD CHAMPION at his age. That tells you everything. I’m a means to an end, a throwaway fight before someone else steps up and knocks SRK TF down. It’s done, over, no continues, turn the system off and go to bed.”
At first, I wonder if Walter is still on the line until I hear a huff.
“Are you done?” Walt asks. “First, I don’t know what ‘TF’ means. Stop talking in internet lingo, I’m a ninety-five-year-old man. Second, you contradicted yourself so much I don’t know where to begin. You said it yourself, it’s a Lee Best Presents event. He wants the championship off Sutler’s shoulders so he would’ve found another way to put someone else in there if he didn’t think you were good enough. Gone are the days of you being fodder for Cancer Jiles.”
I don’t buy that. Lee doesn’t care about me and rightfully so. I don’t care about him and his bEsT aLLiAnCe.
I try to calm down, it’s not working. Seeing Teddy’s bloody face, knowing he’s out for the foreseeable future. Realizing what I’m truly up against.
“Whatever, Walt. I can’t wait to let Lee down.”
— — — — —
My entire life I have been in second place.
Always close, never close enough. The theme of “The Vintage” Conor Fuse.
I started my career in a tag team with my older brother as the Second Player before I found High Octane on my own. I’d like to think I’ve done decent navigating through a shit storm of Bosses and BOTS collectively. I fought Dan Ryan for the ICON Championship, battled Cancer Jiles for the World, walked into War Games with the 214, as prepared as ever. Ready. To. Go.
But when push came to shove, at the end of the day there was always one person better than me. I didn’t win any of those aforementioned matches. I finished in second at War Games, too.
Now that’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m not asking for pity. People would KILL to be in my position and as I’ve been informed by many within HOW, people have killed before.
No, nothing wrong with second. 8-4 Bosses are rare. Only a select few really possess the skills to BE the game changer.
Am I one of them?
Recent history will tell me otherwise.
At twenty-years-old I lived in my mom’s basement playing Nintendo and SEGA. My problems consisted of what pizza I’d order and how fast I could speed-run Mario. Sutler Reynolds-Kael may get blow jobs in his aunt’s basement but he has the World Heavyweight Championship around his waist while he pops his rocks off accordingly. Not a bad deal.
I’m an impressionable guy. I see High Flyer on TV and I want to be a wrestling daredevil. I see Jatt Starr backstage, I want to move into an old-age home. And I see SRK achieve impressive accolades, with his entire life ahead of him and I wish I was in his shoes. I even find myself drifting off into the future like he claims to.
All of this emulating. Sometimes it makes me ask the question… Who is Conor Fuse? Am I really just a video game guy? Is my personality as shallow as an 8-bit Nintendo cartridge?
Deep down, I consider myself a gamer and not in the context that you may think. I’m typically up for anything and ready to throw in a moment’s notice. I have drive, determination and heart. Things SRK will scoff at. Maybe these are traits that lead me to being Close But Not Close Enough.
Defeat Sutler Reynolds-Kael at Bottomline. High Octane World Champion: Conor Fuse.
It’s not a crime to dream, right? I dream lots already.
But then I’m reminded of second player syndrome. When I watch SRK in action, I don’t think I can beat him. Keep up? Yes, for sure I can keep up. I wouldn’t have made it to the end of this Game if I wasn’t able to keep up. FFS, I surpassed Cancer Jiles and he was once an unstoppable force.
But SRK is not Cancer Jiles. SRK is a hell of a wrestler, despite his shortcomings.
Months ago I had friends. They welcomed me with open arms and then they left. Sure, there are reasons why they aren’t around anymore but the whispers in my ear tell me they put themselves in these positions. Sutler’s family doesn’t abandon him. I’ll rip on the Best Alliance for being the most insincere co-op I’ve ever seen and yet they still serve a purpose.
Not only do I come up a little short, I never choose the right path.
“Stay true to who you are,” this is what Walter keeps telling me.
“I’m trying, I really am,” is typically what I’ll reply with.
But it’s hard when you’ve seen this story play out. And it’s near impossible to stay positive when you know who stands before you.
Second player syndrome. And now I’m all alone, too.
In more ways than one.
… … … … …
Water Tower Place (Foodcourt) – Chicago
August 16, 2021
It’s been a long week but I’ve been looking forward to today. Glancing down at my iPhone, I realize Marin’s running late which is quite unlike her. We decided to meet at the same place where we first bumped into each other more than two months ago. I’ve been seeing her since, on a weekly basis or whenever I’m in Chicago. With Bottomline two week’s away and in the windy city, my life will be consumed with two things, SRK and Marin. Hopefully, I don’t confuse the two.
“Sorry,” she claims as Marin approaches the table and struggles to sit down in front of me. It’s been a terrible few days. I have extreme doubt going into the pay-per-view match- yadda yadda I’ve gone over this. But for the next few hours my thoughts will be elsewhere. I’ll be able to recharge, let High Octane go and watch Sutler tape later tonight.
“No worries,” I reply as she continues to fidget in her chair. “Not like I had anything better to do, hah. So, lunch and then what? Tons of options. Like, we could hit a movie. Have you seen the trailer for FREE GUY yet? Get this: it’s a BOT in a video game who realizes HE’S A BOT. Boom. So fetch! Or we could check out that festival near my place, I hear the reviews were great. Heck, if you wanna just chill, I’m sure the Elders would be thrilled to see you. Many of them will be meeting you for the first time and I swear when Margo asked if you were ‘Britney’, I’ve never brought another girl home. Ever. You’re like girl number one. Anyway, lots, lots, lots we could do. I feel myself getting better alread… … … y.”
Now that my attention is on her 100%, I can immediately tell something is off. She puts down her Louis Vuitton purse and leans forward with a more intense look. It’s a look I’ve never seen before; she’s usually so carefree.
“Conor, there’s no easy way to say this but I think we should stop seeing each other.”
“You’re a nice guy but I’m not feeling it anymore.”
“It was great while it lasted. You’re going to meet someone whom you’ll make very happy.”
“I’m sorry I had to do this. Truth is I haven’t been feeling it for a while.”
“Anyway, take care of yourself and good luck against Lester Moregrimes at March for Glory.”
She pushes her chair back, grabs her purse and walks away.
So that’s it?
I find myself watching her leave as I let out a low key mumble.
… … … … …
Dearness Living Community – My Room
August 21, 2021
“He hasn’t come out of his room in three days!”
“I think it’s seven days!”
“Go in, Tina! He likes you!”
“Talk to him!”
“I shit my pants!”
“Ssshhhh, he can probably hear you!”
“Yes, I can hear!” I shout from my bed. There’s a small gathering of DLC residents outside my door wondering why I haven’t emerged. They were told why but I guess everyone forgot.
My door opens and he enters, closing it behind him while a few DLC heads try to pop through.
“Tough crowd,” he states, gingerly making his way to my gaming chair and collapsing in it. “Feeling any better?”
I don’t speak. Instead, I stare at my ceiling and take the odd deep breath.
“It’ll get better. She was your first serious girlfriend,” Walter reminds me.
“Serious? It was two months. I can’t hold a relationship for two months. The Grapplers lasted longer!”
I can see Walter shaking his head from my peripherals.
“Don’t get started on that again,” he warns.
Thankfully, I’m holding in tears. Walter’s already given me the “crying is not a sign of weakness” talk but I am so sick of his wise words. Try telling that to the land of High Octane. Walk in with a frown and the roster will tear a strip right off you, let alone tears in your eyes.
“It’s going to be alright, C.”
“No it’s not,” I shoot. “I’m three days behind. By now, I was supposed to have an entire game plan mapped out for my match. I haven’t watched tape yet. I’m hours and hours and hours behind.”
Walter’s about to speak but I keep on rambling so he isn’t able to interject. I’m done with wisdom. Screw these Elders.
“Ya know what? Doesn’t matter. Gonna lose anyway. Pat myself on the back, ‘The Vintage’ Conor Fuse came close but was defeated by the next generation who was just a little cooler, just a little tougher and just a little BETTER OFF IN EVERY STEP OF THE WAY!”
I sit up, grab the lamp beside me and hurl it against the closet. It breaks into a million pieces, startling Walter. Did I give him a heart attack?
“Walter, I- I- I’m sorry.”
The look on his face expresses nothing but concern for me.
“I think you need to leave my room, Walt.”
And without saying a word, he sits up and makes his exit as I close my eyes.
— — — — —
“How did you have it figured out?” I ask, finding myself in the chair, sitting across from the tainted dungeon glass. “You used the Best Alliance at War Games. You joined their team and they helped you get to the end. Then, after you sealed the deal and beat me for the World Championship you were offered a spot IN the BA.”
I laugh, shaking my head but it’s because I’m impressed, not disappointed.
“What a selfish thing to do. Spit in the old man’s face after he helped line your pockets with henchmen left, right and center. So selfish.”
I scratch my neck. What a con artist. He robbed Lee blind.
Suddenly, the inmate wing I find myself in doesn’t seem as dark and distraught. Well, by appearance, yes it hasn’t changed but I am feeling more comfortable with each passing moment. My hands are steady, my mind is clear and I can see through the glass better, as well.
“Wish I picked up your mentality sooner, my dearest friend.”
“It’s not too late.”
I hear a voice. The all-too familiar voice of New-Age Conor (me at 45 years-old). I see him in the reflection. He stands behind me, arms folded, looking down at the top of my head.
“Hmm,” I begin, first studying myself in the mirror. I look about sixty and in way rougher shape than NAC ever could be. “Does this mean I’m older than you now?”
NAC shrugs. “No clue. It’s your dream sequence. Probably some multiverse or something.”
“Yeah, guess it doesn’t matter,” I continue to look at NAC in the mirror.
“I told you I’d reappear when the time is right. Well Conor, the time is right. You wanna go to a dark place? You really hope to channel an evil mentality? You’ve lost those who are close to you. Your co-op and your girlfriend. Sure, ‘it has nothing to do with you’ but it does.”
For the first time since meeting him, I start to become uncomfortable with NAC. I can see he smiles behind me. It’s a white, toothy grin and his teeth sparkle in the reflection. His eyes are locked on the back of my head and he speaks more methodically than before.
The longer I take to respond only makes his presence stronger. Is it possible to grow a couple more inches between twenty-eight years of age and forty-five? It feels as if New Age Conor looms over me.
“Come with me,” NAC says.
“You don’t think you can defeat SRK but it’s not too late. The man on the other side of that glass knows you have it in you. That’s why he sneak attacked you.” NAC states. “Follow me. Trust.”
New Age Conor offers his hand, waiting for me to turn around. His mouth is frozen in a wide, mischievous grin. He hasn’t blinked in a while.
“NAC, look, I…”
“Let’s go. Nothing to be scared of. You’ve done the do-gooder thing and it didn’t work out. I will give you the PUSH you need to take the final step.”
I close my eyes, run the past week of events through my head and rise from my chair.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
FOLLOW NAC TO THE DARK SIDE → GO TO A LINK TO THE PAST (2)
DECLINE NAC’S OFFER → GO TO A LINK TO THE PAST (3)