From the dome of St. Peter’s one can see every notable object in Rome…He can see a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe.
I can’t dispute the Father of American Literature, and I haven’t even made it to the Basilica. I have barely made it a foot into the Eternal City when something in my barbarian blood runs cold. I wasn’t coming as a tourist. I was supposed to be a captive Lee Best paraded on a Triumph back to the heart of the city, jeered and put to insult, injury, and then death in the Colosseum. I’d rather fancy myself a Goth come to pick the bones of the waning power, or better still, the Scourge of God reincarnated, hitting up the ruling, offering to take their lives, or their wealth. Oh how great and terrible Khan was to the eMpire.
With each ‘clack’ my heels made on the cobblestone, it was History itself speaking out to me. He was confused, and told me stories of Julius Caesar taking a sword to the throat of Mussolini, Nero getting the fiddle broken over his head by Commodus. And generation after generation of people whose names History never bothered to remember, but the people that lived in the machine, and was its lifeblood. The lost souls who made it so some pro-wrestler millenia later would wonder at Roman greatness and scandal. Let’s see History try to forget Red & Ted after Saturday..
I was sure of this, but not sure of myself. If I was going to taste fame and glory, I’d need to trust my General. Nikolas “Sock” Suchocki, my plus one on this European excursion. Sock was a legion all his own. If anyone could martial me into form, it was this modern day gladiator. No hyperbole needed, he was just as infamous any Spartacus, Crixus or Flamma ever were, and just as tough. He enjoyed the rewards of lonely and thirsty patricians’ wives and daughters just the same. I’ll have to be sure Boss Man never gets a look at him, or he’d be tossing as many zeroes as it took to get that look, that beef, those tats signed.
Aventine Hill, Rome, Italy
March 26, 2020
“Come on, that was only four miles!”
I’m in the middle of a desperate struggle to get oxygen in, and it finally hits me, how Spring was in command here in the Mediterrainian, the cold not biting at my lungs as they heaved. Mars himself told me I was a long way from Ontario, or La Belle Province. “Easy to… Easy to say on that scooter.”
Sock looked all too European, little helmet over his bald head, pant cuffs pulled high to show the sockless loafers, mountain of muscle piled atop that Vespa. ”What? You’re ass is the one that needs to get ready to fight in two days. You’ll have all of Saturday to rest up before you get going that night.”
“Yeah, but if I’m dead before I hit the Colosseum?” trips out of my mouth, trying to find where exactly the line was going to be for this, and if I hadn’t took a wrong turn back in Teutoburg, that black forest.
A childish delight at flicking the bell on the handle accompanied with cries of, “Andale! Vamos!” had Sock responding, confusing tongues of former global powers. The Vespa took a short lead, and my short break was over.
“And, that’s ten,” Nic slammed the breaks, us back at the Giardino degli Aranci
Myself, I take to the shade of the nearest orange tree and let myself take a back bump. The whole run was beautiful, inspiring, but nothing looked as good as the blue sky peaking through the flat green leaves right now.
“How you feeling?” Sock walks over to kick the toe of my shoe, just to check that I hadn’t dropped dead.
“I feel like Bobby Dean after he’s chased down the ice cream truck,” which was to say tired and accomplished. It was only sad to think those drivers did it on purpose. Probably on Best’s payroll.
“Who?” I forgot how Sock doesn’t really pay attention to anything in our world unless I came calling for help. But now remembering, I thought it best to leave it alone, the guy was only a cheerleader this weekend.
And a minute passes until I sit up and brace against the trunk. “I think I could get used to it in a place like this.”
“I know what you mean, but I can’t have you thinking like that. You’re here on business, not pleasure.”
I can’t hold back the short laugh, revelation punching me in the gut. “You’re right, you’re right. You come across guys like these before?” I ask, knowing that I bugged him to look over a little of Deacon, Kostoff and Kael on the long flight over.
“Three different guys,” he wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know. “That big fuck, which one was he?”
Kostoff? Oh, nah, he probably meant tall, “Deacon.”
“Yeah, that’s him. If this was an escape match, you’d be fucked. Seriously, two steps and he’s over and out. Mind you, the bearded one?”
“Yeah, he’ll try to throw you through the cage. Mean looking bitch, that one.” A few inches taller and a few tats less, but still in the mold of Sock himself, I could have guessed he’d think the most about him.
“I can deal with them. Ted did it. I’ve got them. But, Kael. What’s your play there?”
“Mystery Science Theatre 3000? Same play for all three of them: eyes, throat, nuts, and knees,” and I can’t help but smile. “Look, it ain’t pretty, but you aren’t going in there to be pretty now, are you? There’s a payday waiting at the end of that fight, and your’s is going to be a whole lot heavier if you’re slinging that strap over your shoulder.” It’s amazing to see this guy so calmly talk about maiming, and just how calm he was in general. Any further south and La Cosa might have hunted him over old scores in MTL.
There it was, the reason I pulled the emergency cord, and flew out this fighter a third of a world away: my goals changed as I got nearer to takeoff. Where everyday after Refueled XX had been about surviving this cage match to be there for Ted when he reached the mountain top, it was becoming clear that just surviving that cage match wasn’t a viable play. Either I win, and share the good times, or I lose, and wonder how much of my life I’d just given to have my ass handed to me. For the third fucking time out. In. A. Row.
“But, enough of that. Watching you sweat like a hog made me hungry. Late lunch?”
“Man,” I just hold out my arms to show the pit stains. “I need a shower before I do anything else.”
“Can do you one better: Heard of this place over in the next neighbourhood where they do this thing where they strip you naked, pour oil over your body and scrape all the shit off,” I couldn’t even hope to talk him out of it, Sock already darting to hail down a cabby. That, and I don’t want to have him explain how this would lead to romance novel levels of fucking to follow.
Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem
No, this isn’t the Vatican. This isn’t the church built over the bones of St. Peter. I never really thought I’d ever get there, and I know that I won’t get the privilege this trip out. But, I won’t leave it to Deacon to tell you, it didn’t matter how fancy the marble, how much gold glittered in the gothic architecture, it’s the same Eucharist sitting in every Tabernacle.
And this ain’t where the pontiff sits, but this is still a Basilica in Rome. It’s soaked in history, adorned in masterpieces, columns shooting to the heavens to hold up sky-like rooves. Mass would start at five, and some people had begun to filter in, but I was betting they’d be taking confessions, and to my luck, they were.
In a change from the marble and granite, I stepped into a mahogany box, the construction of which didn’t really vary from it’s North American counterparts: wire mesh screen between confessant and confessor, tanned leather bound kneeler to bring my posture to match my intentions. The padre on the other end either wasn’t ready, or was bracing himself, whatever, gave me time to get a headstart on the Hail Mary’s.
“Ci sei, bambina?” finally came through.
“Aye Padre. I come to you seeking repentance. It has been three months since my last confession.”
“Ah,” was an acknowledgement of me, and my tongue. “What is it you have to bring to the Father seeking His forgiveness?” came in a heavy accent, but with better grammar than most native speakers.
“Padre, I’ve had avarice in my heart. I’ve been jealous of the success of my friends, my peers.”
“Hmmm…” came from the old (?) veteran that sat on the other side, knowing that I probably would have more to offer if given the time.
“And Padre, I have malice in my soul, for what I must do in the future still. I have responded to the call to be a Holy Scourge, before I even stopped to reflect on whose voice it was calling me to task,” my head dips, and subconsciously, that grin crawls out onto the left side of my mouth.
“You must take heart, brother. You are a man of God, a follower of Christ. God has chosen to show you your weaknesses not that you may wallow in them, but be better than them, for His glory. Know that you can be jealous and better guard yourself from that evil,” was sage advice, but too quick in coming that made me think he probably used this one every day.
My mouth goes dry as he reflects on the latter.
“These men you’ve been called to be a Holy Avenger and smite, do you know what would call you to want to visit violence upon them?”
“It’s the job, mostly. But it’s wanting to believe deeper in His Word, and use my talents to gain Him wins. It’s what I’m good at.”
“But you haven’t done it yet?”
This round, it was still to come, so, “Yes, Padre.”
“Then pray on it, sit with the Lord and listen. Know that the Lord forgives you. Pray twenty to Sainte Maria. Go forward and sin no more.”
March 27, 2020
Tonight was the first time laying eyes on the wonder, even though I hear HOW had secured privileges since Monday. This the world’s most famous arena, with all apologies to Madison and her garden squared. It was just as beautiful to see it against the navy darkness, its outer shell lit up by dozens of spotlights. It’s a shame I was fourteen hundred years late to see the Colossus that lent its name to Flavian’s Amphitheatre. It’s almost like how Kael’s been able to take the LSD and scrub Lee’s name off of his title of Lord Supreme Dictator. L’il Super Dick, for short.
The security guard looks too much like that EPU ass that tased me at XX to say more of than that he let me in, and pointed me where I wanted to go.
Everyone else was worried about what the ringside looked like. How grand their entrance was going to be. What it’s going to look like from Lee’s Emperor’s box.
I was crawling around the belly of the thing, flashlight in hand and doing my best Indy impression. I came across a scurry of rats, countless webs of spiders and braved eerie howling to push further until I came to the ten by twenty stone carved room.
This is where the gladiators dressed. This is where the slaves of rich men talked and joked among themselves, knowing they might not have the chance to tomorrow. Here is where they would wait, hearing the terrible, bloodthirsty crowd baying for a display.
I stoop to a knee and pull a fist full of dirt into my hand, and I finally understand it. I have my answer. I know the why of what I must do. But rather than ignite my blood, loose the butterflies, I had a calm come over me.
How awful that must sound to everybody else.
Posted: March 28, 2020 @ 1:00 PM
The image on the left is of a set of weathered wooden doors, with sunlight piercing it’s silvers. The dirt floor has a track of where those doors swung back and open. This is the gladiator’s locker room in the daylight.
Tonight’s the night.
No more words, just fists, and flesh, and steel, and blood.
And one man left standing at the end. In particular,