A LINK TO THE PAST (3)
choose your own adventure
“I’m sorry NAC,” I look him over head-to-toe. “You’re creeping me out right now, dude. And in all honesty I like being the good guy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s so easy to be a chicken shit asshole but it takes real courage and charisma to stand across that ring and get what’s coming to you.”
New Age Conor drops his clever smile as reality sets in. “That’s fine, I understand.”
And suddenly he’s not so creepy anymore. Maybe it was just me.
“NAC, I should leave. Believe it or not, you’ve helped me out. I realized when speaking to you, I want to do good. A lot of shit’s been going on recently and I’m right in the thick of things. Since War Games, my World has been flipped upside down by this mad man,” I point to inside the cell, “and a whole bunch of moving parts.”
With that, New Age Conor fades away.
“I’m sure I’ll see you. Come by anytime.”
After he vanishes, I walk as close to the cell glass as I can.
“I hope you heard everything. I’ve got a few things to do and then I’ll say my goodbyes.”
This is when I awaken.
… … … … …
Dearness Living Community – My Room
August 21, 2021
Every match Sutler Reynolds-Kael’s had in High Octane, I have on VHS.
“All here,” I say proudly. Although I’ve wasted three days being miserable, it’s only a year’s worth of material to work through.
Unless he wrestled independently at fifteen-years-old. With SRK, nothing would surprise me.
From defeating Dan Ryan, RAH, Darin Zion, the clips are at my feet. I find myself holding a tape titled “vs. Desmond LeRoux – 04/10/21”.
“Okay, let’s get started…”
I watch Desmond’s entrance and he’s instantly crushed with a steel chair thanks to… well, you know who.
Son of Sin.
DING DING DING
SRK “wins” in five seconds. I feel a shiver go down my spine.
It’s a scary thing when you see the lengths this kid will go to for an opening Refueled contest. Vicious attack, chair shot after chair shot. Relentless approach.
“Okay, so that tape is done-”
Or is it?
Sutler Reynolds-Kael: And when I come back what do I get? The fucking OPENER?! I’m not a curtain jerker anymore! I’ve proven myself and I’ve sacrificed enough at this point that I DESERVE the RESPECT to be given a higher place on the card! I’m Sutler Reynolds-Kael, the SON of SCIONS and I have single handedly turned the Human Resources into a respectable branch of High Octane Management! So let this be a warning.. Especially to that grandstanding newb Conor Fuse.. Look at this piece of shit and remember what happens when I’m not shown the proper respect my name deserves.
Joe Hoffman: Unfortunately so it seems. What is his problem with Conor Fuse?
Benny Newell: He’s a newb, didn’t you hear the President of HR?
These clips are taken out of context. I must have edited the parts together after it happened and forgot.
“You’ve already faced him,” I say to myself, feeling my muscles tense. SRK said he was going to move from the top of the card and he did. He did that and more.
I am in way over my head.
The next scene grabs my attention. It’s me, Zeb, Lindsay and Teddy arriving at the arena in our rental. Our first real trip together, it was a good bonding experience.
The tension in my back gets tighter.
Conor Fuse: SHOTGUN!
Teddy and Zeb give me a questionable look.
Conor Fuse: What? Just calling it for next time, haha! Rules are rules.
Teddy Palmer: Like hell. You can’t call SHOTGUN! early. Rules are rules.
I can barely move my neck as I continue watching the video.
Conor Fuse: Naaa bro, LOL. Those were the old rules… they updated the SHOTGUN! Etiquette a few months ago. Big, big changes. HR is up in arms about the changes they made!
Teddy Palmer: Who the fuck are they?
Surprisingly, I find my hands are clenched into fists.
Conor Fuse: Hey, so, this is fun isn’t it!? Grapplers Loco 360! Loco! Loco! Haha, that’s so much fun to say! So fetch! This co-op is great!
I press STOP on the VCR feed and turn the television off. I’m startled to find New Age Conor standing behind me in the TV reflection. How long has he been there? I spin in my gaming chair to greet him.
“Yes? You’ve returned?”
NAC nods. “Correct. I want to ask you a question. You okay with all this?”
It takes me a moment to collect my thoughts but ultimately I shake my head. “Yeah. It was a five-second match but Sutler cheated. I’m sure I can pick up more insight when I watch his other battles closely.”
NAC shakes his head no. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Uh, is what it is,” is my response regarding the Grapplers Local.
“Teddy. Zeb. Lindsay. Conor. That’s quite the foursome if I do say so. Hey, Conor, what matches do your other three teammates have at Bottomline?”
“They don’t.” I don’t know why I reply to myself. Pretty sure NAC ain’t dumb.
“Bingo. They don’t and you do. Why is that? Is that due to the fact Lindsay got herself fired after War Games, Zeb threw in the towel and Teddy got hammered last weekend? Hmmmm whatever could those reasons be?”
I can see the tension is growing in New Age Conor now, too. He mirrors me with balls of fists but his demeanor is much more unwelcoming with each passing word.
“Sure, that bitch got fired but she also looked TO get herself fired after War Games didn’t go her way. Where were they for YOU, Conor? Where were they for US? They were happy to stand beside you when EVERYONE went to war. That’s because there was an opportunity for each of them. It had nothing to do with you. You were a means to their end. You were the happy-go-lucky kid that would willingly stand beside them. ‘IT’S DANGEROUS TO GO ALONE!’ shouts Conor Fuse as he stands from his gaming chair and walks the backstage hall with his newfound friends. Never to abandon them, never to BE abandoned!”
NAC’s face is red as he bursts from the seams.
“Well where are they now!? You’re left with Zion. Darin Fucking ZION.”
And I’m beginning to get angry. “Nothing wrong with Zion!” I yell.
“No, you’re right,” NAC agrees. “Nothing wrong with Zion. He’s a great friend. And in April you had NINE friends. Arthur Pleasant shit himself when he saw how hard this ‘game’ would be. Ray retired, didn’t wanna do it anymore. Dan Ryan was never honest with you… that he was on his last legs. Literally. Conor, you really wanna know why I’m pissed? The ones that said they were here to stay: Teddy, Zeb, Lindsay. They left you high and dry. They put you out to pasture. They quit the game. Best Alliance vs. Grapplers Local? The fuck outta here. It’s Best Alliance vs. Conor Fuse. Sutler Reynolds-Kael and his unstoppable family entourage? Yeah, vs. Conor Fuse.”
Silence bestills us until NAC pulls it together.
“So after all this, after all I’ve just said… you still wanna be the good guy?”
“Real noble warrior Conor Fuse tucks his tail between his legs and goes out to fight SRK one-on-three, four, five. Awwww, so heartfelt. Such good times! But hey, the crowd is behind you so that’s cool! Go Conor go! !RANK !RANK !BULLSHIT RANK. You call yourself the second player, STUCK in second player syndrome-”
“I said I wasn’t looking for sympathy!” I shout.
“And I’m not giving you any. Only stating facts. Second Player Conor Fuse. Close but never close enough. You don’t have the EDGE. Your ‘friends’ left you because you got better and they became stagnant. But the real catch is you’re ALSO stagnant in your own way. Unwilling to truly step out of your comfort zone. Unwilling to get real angry. I mean REAL. Fucking. Angry. You think it’s been easy for a guy like Sutler? Yeah, he’s coddled but he’s manipulated to become a ruthless wrestling machine. This is your O.N.L.Y. shot before you’re banished to the midcard or… the opener. You can take on Desmond LeRoux instead, if he ever shows his face again. The trendy Conor jab is to bring up Eric Dane’s name. Sektor did it, you’ve done it a few times. Guy walked away from HOW ‘cause you suck. But you don’t have to suck anymore. I’m giving you a vengeful path. And those people who cheer you? They’ll drop you in a second for a dimwitted tit like Lindsay Troy when she eventually strolls her way back into town. She’s a legend, a ‘role model’, she’s-”
“My friend.” I finish NAC’s sentence.
I start pacing the room, trying to take in everything we’ve discussed.
“No. No you can go now, NAC. I’m not going to conform. I stand out in High Octane because I’m different. I believe in something more. If the 214 walk through that door tomorrow, I will welcome them with open arms. It wasn’t Teddy’s fault he was taken out. Lindsay didn’t intend to get herself fired. God damn love that bitch. Zeb has been dealing with personal issues prior to War Games, it’s a rough go for him. Don’t change my narrative. Dan Ryan was no father to me but I was also not one of the 386587674 sons to him.”
“Daughters, he has daugh-”
“Shut up when I’m talking. I used the Murder Daddy to get at Jatt. Dan and I had strictly a business relationship. He didn’t plan to have his knee give out. Man still walked down to that ring and tagged with me until he was taken out for good.”
NAC shrugs. “Have it your way.”
“Yeah, I will. I don’t have to throw the word fuck around 24-7 to get attention. Heaven forbid someone wants to be pure. The fans cheer for me and it has nothing to do with the fact I like video games or I’m a weird dude. They cheer me because I bring it, no matter the opponent, no matter the situation. I may not be willing to take a life, NAC, but I’m damn sure willing to give mine up when I go to that top rope. I came up short at War Games and maybe if I didn’t, GL214 would still be intact.”
NAC snickers. “No they wouldn’t. They’d have left you faster.”
“FINE. There’s the door, let them go. I’ll do it myself. It would be a hell of a story if I pulled this thing off without any help. Conor Fuse vs. SRK, MAXKAELJr., Chloe, Shane Reynolds… can we go back in time and bring Max along? I’m Game. And IF you’re right, if my friends never wanted me to succeed to begin with…”
I see NAC fading away as I speak my last words to him.
“So what?” I ask.
New Age Conor wants to add more but it’s done. My mind is made up. Stay true to yourself. If I wind up falling short once again, it doesn’t matter.
Lindsay Troy: Conor, for the last time, it’s Grapplers Local 214. I get the Loco part, I guess. 360? Not so much.
Conor Fuse: Like X-Box 360.
Lindsay Troy: Video games aren’t really my thing…
I don’t know how it happened but the TV is back on and playing through the end of GL214’s grand entrance into St. Louis’ Enterprise Center.
I pick up the monitor, throw it across my room and scream into the broken screen.
“Attaboy,” I hear NAC in my ear. I guess he hasn’t fled.
“I worked my ass off to get to this spot! I tried to support everybody! Tried to do the right thing. WENT FULL FUCKING BLAST defending your Tag Team Championships, Linds and Ted! I was depressed after I failed you! I poured my heart and soul into the 214!! I said nice things about EVERYONE before I flew to Japan. In return, no one said SHIT ABOUT ME! Conor Fuse, fun guy, let’s call SHOTGUN! and have a good time! There’s enough stress inside that ring, I’m here for support!”
“Where’s your support now, Conor?” NAC questions.
“NOT IN HIGH OCTANE.”
I’m screaming at the top of my lungs. If my fists don’t break something soon, I think they’re gonna explode!
Frothing at the mouth. Teeth chattering. Veins about to burst from my neck.
“Asshole Sektor shows up and says ‘now you’re on my level so I’ll pay attention to you’ like he’s some judge and jury. Yes sir, BLESS YOU Lord Sektor for finally listening to me! I am worthy!!”
“Ohhhh, going after Sektor, are we?” NAC nudges me along.
“John Sektor is a filthy, arrogant shithead who’s not worth MY time! Enjoy your LSD while, ya know, I wrestle in THE MAIN EVENT YOU PIGSHIT MOTHER FUCKER. I killed your best bud JATT. You should be so god damn thankful I don’t rip your man-boobs off that flamboyant body!”
Breathe Conor, breathe.
“Or don’t breathe,” NAC adds.
“And you. Grapplers 214. You bail on me again Lindsay and I’ll rip your saggy nutsack off!”
“Ted, Theodore, THE GUY WHO HAD IT ALL AND PISSED IT AWAY IN AN INSTANT. What the fuck, man? What. The. Actual. Fuck. Seriously. LSD Champion. Could’ve been the longest reigning of all-time. Then you go SOLO, find booze and fall flat on your face. Get your aNxIeTy outta here. You’re not good enough for the land of HOW!”
“Who’s good enough? Who? WHO!?!? TELL MMMMMMMEEEEEEEE!” New Age Conor bellows.
“I’m good enough, NAC. I got to the top. It took me a YEAR to get here. ONE YEAR AND THAT’S IT. Beat Sutler Reynolds-Kael and I’M Sutler Reynolds-Kael! I do it better. I do it louder. I have more tact! Conor Fuse is NO LONGER THE VICTIM! No sad sob story or good guy vomit!”
NAC looks proud as I walk over to my window and put my hand straight through it!
“Marin, you pretentious cunt! I gave you everything and you cast me aside without a SECOND THOUGHT. To hell with you! Die of AIDS.”
I find myself standing in front of SRK’s tape collection.
“Oh, big man. If you think you’re facing regular, good ol’ Conor Fuse, guess again.”
There’s a loud startle from outside my room as Walter enters. Honestly, I’m surprised it took this long. “CONOR!” He shouts. “Is everything okay!?”
Something has taken over me and I find myself in a trance. I don’t speak as I look Walter dead in the eyes.
“What’s going on!?” Walter surveys my room, seeing the TV busted on the floor, my VCR lying upside down and a broken window. “Talk to me!”
“I’m fine, Walt.” I state calmly, trickles of blood dripping from my hand. “For the first time in months, I understand.”
“I understand what I’m supposed to do and how I’m supposed to do it.”
I can see he has no clue what’s happening while I’m attempting to relax.
“It’s okay.” I walk him to my bedroom door and into the hall. “I’m gonna sleep now. See you in the morning.”
And I close the door behind him.
“Good job, Vintage.” New Age Conor rubs my shoulders as he leans in with a toothy smile.
“It’s not Vintage anymore.”
“Oh?” NAC asks playfully. “What is it then?”
My mind races. It’s hard to keep track but deep down, I know.
— — — — —
Once again, I find myself sitting in front of His cell, arms resting on the back of my chair like I never left. However, the tone is very different. No longer am I scared to be here. In fact, it feels as though I belong.
And I’m in control.
“So I’m going a different route. I’m not doing the good guy thing anymore. I don’t have to be this amazing warrior like Link.” I remark. “It’s not going to work against you.”
I take a moment to interpret my surroundings before I stand from the chair and walk closely to the two way mirror.
“But you know what, I’m not gonna be some loud mouth, evil coward, either. From now on, I’m doing things for me and me only. I don’t care what you or anyone else thinks. If I want to join the Best Alliance tomorrow, I will. If I want to leave them the day after, you god damn right I will. Whatever I feel like, whenever I want to. The fans are welcome to come along or they can join my former co-op. FUSE answers to nobody and I don’t care about repercussions.”
I can only see my sixty-year-old reflection in the window and I find it beaming from ear-to-ear.
“Of course, you knew this. That is why we’re talking.”
“I’m ready to go now.” Giving a final look into the cell window before turning away, the guard escorts me from where we originally came.
“I don’t know why you two continue this charade,” he exclaims. “Then again, it’s none of my business.”
The guard answered his own statement so I don’t need to reply until we’re halfway down the hall and come to a stop. The guard attending to this dungeon steps to the side, finds his keys and opens the large steel door to an ominous creak.
“Thanks for letting me play a different role. It’s nice to forget I’m not an inmate at times.” I chuckle, walking into my cell before the original guard approaches.
“No problem, Conor.” He says with a nod. “You’re not as dangerous as the others.”
I cackle under my breath. “Oh you know, time changes everyone.”
The shrieks of the door closing echoes behind. I look at the dull brick wall in front of me.
I wonder what inscriptions I should carve in them.
— — — — —
Sutler, you motherfucking cosplaying Harry Osborn, HELLO again! It’ll be great to see you one-on-many at Bottomline. I’ve come to a few realizations over these past two weeks.
I don’t give a flying fuck about anything anymore. I used to care so, so much. Every match was the biggest match of my career until the next. It’s simple progression when you’re playing a platformer. Final Boss SRK rolls in and it will take all I have to defeat him. Well shit, this game was a lot more fun when I had friends… until I found out they weren’t.
It’s great you’ve got this killer gig. You’re better than me and I know it. However, I’ve rearranged a few goals after having a heart-to-heart with myself.
I don’t care if I become High Octane World Champion. All I’m looking to do is mess you up in the meantime.
I can do that. Don’t believe me? Then why are you always running away when it’s time to face me?
We are doing this forever. Time and time again I will come for you but I’m not gonna look for a victory. I’m looking to tear your insides out. If I happen to pick up a gold strap while doing it, cool. If not, knowing I made you feel absolutely miserable is gonna lift my spirits.
My friends were shit… andddd so is your family.
Your adopted father was a fuckstick schmuck who flew by the seat of his pants, making it up as he went. At least that’s my interpretation. I never did get an authentic view but you have some of him in you, wink wink.
“This isn’t a game Conor, people actually DIE here!” Sutler mouthing off after he laid me out.
No shit, nimrod. That doesn’t mean this ISN’T a Game, though. Games have winners and losers. Games have lost lives and NO continues. Games are what we ultimately play, are they not?
“I’m leaving Detroit!” start of the show SRK announcement.
“Oh LOLZ me so silly I didn’t! Attack The Vintage my stupid brickhouse GAME BOY!”
Fucking Game if I didn’t know what one looked like.
SRK: I am the youngest World Champion ever and I have defeated everyone who’s crossed me. I win. Period.
SRK: But also join me and be my sidekick since I’m too afraid to fight you. It’s the easy way out!
“Step dad’s” dead, huh? I might not be your dad’s murderer but I’ve got a dark side of my own brewing. Continue to misplace ignorance for arrogance. You’ve never had a MAJOR setback in your career before, I get it.
But I guess an impending death is a pretty big setback.
No Continues, Sutler Reynolds-Kael.
I’m not coming for your World Championship anymore, I’m coming for your Life. I will channel this pain that’s built up inside me and take you down to my !level. Which might be the curtain jerker soon, I dunno.
I’ll kick you in the balls because Lindsay got herself fired. I’ll knee you in the temple because Zeb lost his smile. I’ll break your HR typing fingers and not because you don’t care about video games but because Teddy got shitfaced and walked himself into a Clay Byrd beating.
Then I’ll Weapon Get your Sutler Method because you got all cute and adorable, taking my Super Splash 450 and Head Stomp. How pop’n’fresh of you.
I don’t care if Max stole people’s moves first, you developed “time travel” before me or the voices in your head are more clever and sophisticated.
Conor Fuse Curse, Second Player Syndrome be damned. Everyone in HOW can get bent. When I walk into the Best Arena on the main event stage, Calamity Conor is coming. And poor SRK will have nowhere to hide.
Hey, at least your dad’s in a better place now. And you’re gonna fucking join him.
Oh ya and when you get there, tell the old man I said heh.