Ashamed

Ashamed

Posted on April 9, 2024 at 10:47 am by Christopher America

When I close my eyes, I feel like I’m watching television but nothing good is on. I see things flash through my mind too quickly from me to ultimately process. Colors. Shapes. Sizes. All set against a black backdrop and noises of screams and unintelligible language. I reach out to grab it. To grab colors. To grab noises. And as I reach out, I feel it. I feel it’s weight. But the moment that I begin to curl my fingers around it. To grasp it. To hold on to it. It slips away.

And I’m left with nothing.

The only thing I have now is this job.

And, it’s weird, too.

This man, my employer, my boss… I don’t know him. I don’t know anybody. But he knows me. And I feel like he trusts me. But I don’t know why.

After pulling me from whatever dark place I was in, I had no choice but to work for him. No money. No means of even getting back on my feet. No memory or knowledge of who I am.

Regardless of who I’ve asked, people seem to be resistant to tell me who I am. Some are due to skepticism. They look at me, disturbed and dismissive, as if I am playing some game. Others are silent, looking at me with neither contempt or bemusement. And still others… I can only assume refuse to tell me because of what the truth may reveal. It makes me question whether I was even a good person if people aren’t forthcoming.

Did I hurt people?

Or worse… did I kill people?

Was that why I was gone?

Was I in jail?

Maybe that’s why he wants me to be near him. To protect him from that man on the television. That man with the weird hair and the gold belt. But if I was a killer, I’m not that person now. I… I don’t know how I could’ve been. Just thinking about the violence, it causes me to see visions. To hear the screams of faceless beings. To feel something… metallic… pressed against my face.

It never seems to end.

And I am ashamed.

*******

Christopher America no longer inhabited the muscular six foot four, 255 pound frame he once did. The definition in his extremities had withered away. His skin had loosened and become more malleable. The rounded edges of his body gave way to straight lines. He was thinner, less bulky, gaunt. His face looked weathered, haggard, and shaggy.

He awoke with a start from his slumber and his eyes quickly attempted to focus on the window in front of him, as if he were looking for a means of escape. An unfortunate habit that had seemingly been ingrained in him from what he was now dubbing as “The Lost Year.”

He expelled air hard from his nose. The foul stench from the second-hand, severely stained couch was, in that moment, overwhelming. He sat up slowly, holding his head before transitioning to rubbing his arms. He looked to his window and, despite it being closed, the cracks and holes in the window frame let in drafts of the cold, not-yet-end-of-winter-not-yet-beginning-of-spring air.

He finally threw his legs over the side of the couch and came face to face with a man in a skull mask glaring at him. America’s whole body jumped with a start. The eyes behind the mask simply stared ahead, looking at America, and seemingly looking through America. It took a moment for America to register that the man in the mask was meant to be there.

As the man continued to stare directly at America, America finally averted his eyes and looked down at his legs sheepishly. He took a deep breath and quietly got up and moved to the bathroom. America splashed water on his face and neck. He washed his hands and began to dry his face off. He used the towel to pull at his face.

Suddenly…

An image flashed in America’s mind. As if experiencing something out of body, America watched as he saw himself, bulkier, more fit, in a hotel room, staring at a mirror, pulling at his face. America blinked rapidly and shook the image from his mind.

Another piece to the puzzle – a puzzle where all the pieces were turned upside down and the picture was a mystery.

CREEEEEEEAAAAAAAK!

America shook from the startling noise. He peaked his head out and saw that the man in the skull mask had merely shifted in his seat. Instead of reclining, he was now leaning forward, still staring at America with those cold, soulless eyes.

Slowly, America pulled himself back into the bathroom and finished freshening up – as much as he could do with very little to his name. A roll of deodorant, a splash of water, the same unwashed towel from a week ago. Still no shampoo. Still no fresh change of clothes. And yet, despite all this, America felt calmer than he had before.

America took a final deep breath before exiting the bathroom. He kept his eyes low, stealing glances at the man in the mask periodically. America grabbed the HOW jacket off the back of his door. About a size too big and clearly ripped from a pile of jackets used to sell as merchandise to wrestling fans across the country. It didn’t matter. America was grateful for it.

He pulled open the door and made his way outside his rundown apartment where a black car was waiting. The man in the skull mask followed behind him. As America approached the car, he saw the man in the skull mask walk around the other side of the car. America got in and the car drove off towards a warehouse on the outskirts of Chicago.

The drive wasn’t far but the black car clearly stood out in stark contrast to the surroundings. Heads turned as they drove past people on their way to work, people walking to the nearest store, or homeless people pushing shopping carts with bags filled with miscellaneous items. America wondered if that’s what he was. Was he a vagrant before this? He bore a closer resemblance to them than the muscular figure that Lee Best mentioned. As America turned to look out the other window, he again stole another glance at the man in the skull mask who continued to stare back at him. America forced himself to look out the window and watched as grass and trees gave way to concrete walls, rusted barbed wire, and run down buildings.

The car slowed as it approached the warehouse. Other men in skull masks waited outside for the car to arrive. When the car finally stopped, America stepped out, and was quickly ushered inside.

*******

Voice: Go!

Christopher America: Jus—just read it?

Voice: Just say what you see.

Christopher America: But why? Like these are hurtful things! Horrible things. This kid’s father is dead and you want me to talk about it?

The man behind the voice struggled to contain his frustration.

Voice: Yes. This is part of the job. This is part of your responsibility.

Christopher America: But won’t that make him… like… pissed off?

Voice: Hopefully. If we’re lucky.

America stared in disbelief. He glanced over his shoulder for help from the man in the skull mask. But he just stared at him intently. Not moving in the slightest or showing any emotion, the man simply stared. America swallowed and nodded to himself before turning back to the camera.

Christopher America: Zach Kostoff. You’re dad’s dead. He was a weak man. He—

Voice: Can we do it with more emotion? You’re not reading a fucking eulogy.

America swallowed and nodded.

Christopher America: Zach Kostoff… you’re dad… is dead. He… was a weak man. He–

America glanced over his shoulder to the man in the skull mask and then quickly back to the camera.

Christopher America: He was not a good wrestler. He was not a legend. He was a man past his prime who was put out to pasture for his sins.

America tilted his head and looked at the man holding the cue cards.

Christopher America: Who did this? Who killed his father?

Voice: Can you JUST. READ. FROM. THE CARDS? PLEASE!

America could hear how exasperated he was, but he pressed on.

Christopher America: Was it me?

The man holding the cue cards said nothing, simply pointing to the cards.

Christopher America: Did I kill this kid’s father?

The man looked around frustrated before shaking his head in disbelief at this situation.

Voice: JUST READ!

The man neither confirmed or denied it, leaving America to mull it over in his head. America, pressed on, but reverted back to his dry reading.

Christopher America: I’m in your domain, Zach. The same thing you and your dad always did. Some boring gym. Some boring warehouse. Some boring empty street ripped from a… 1930s film noir?

America took a breath, closed his eyes in regret, and pressed on.

Christopher America: Your father may be gone but everyone sees so much of him in you. You truly are your father’s son. A disappointment. A failure. Just like your old man. Not washed up. Not washed out. Just… just washed.

The Best Family knows that you couldn’t hack it. If your father was a tree, then you are the rotten fruit born from his branches. A smelly, molding mass of unrealized, untapped potential to be picked over and mutilated by the vultures that circle the sky.

America hung his head. It all felt wrong.

Christopher America: When you and I face each other, you will find out why Christopher America is the single greatest War Games competitor of all time. Why Christopher America was the longest reigning World Champion in history. But most importantly… you’ll realize why…

America exhaled in disgust, tears beginning to form in the corners of his yes.

Christopher America: You’ll realize why your father really died…

Because he was ashamed of you.

Because death was the only escape from you.

But as a final “Fuck you” to Chris Kostoff, I’m going to put his son in a body bag, and give him the family reunion he never wanted.

Voice: Smile now.

America sheepishly looked at barely curled the sides of his lips.

Voice: Wider. I want to see teeth.

The smile was there. But the essence of it was lost.

Voice: Great, now tilt your head down, I want to see some shadows over your face.

America complied.

Voice: Excellent.

America breathed out a labored breath. His chest felt heavy and he slumped in his seat in disgust with himself.

Voice: Great job. Let’s wrap it up! We’ll edit it in post!

The man held a finger in the air and spun it in a circle. Upon his signal, the rest of the men began shutting things down, packing things away, and cleaning up the warehouse.

America, with head buried in his hands, rubbed his eyes, wiping away the tears. When his eyes re-focused, the man in the skull mask looked down on him with those same cold, emotionless eyes.

Christopher America: Was that okay to you? Was that acceptable? Did that need to be said?

If… if I am what that cue card said I am… that’s not how a World Champion acts. That’s not how a great competitor acts. Confidence is one thing. But outright disrespect? I… I felt like I was dancing on that man’s grave!

Does… does Lee know this? Does he know what you made me say?

The man in the skull mask continued to stare and America averted his gaze once more.

America again wiped away tears from the corners of his eyes. He could feel a sense of righteousness well up inside him – a sense of justice. But it disappeared with the gaze of the skull-faced man. He knew there was a reason he was being asked to say those things. A good reason too. He just needed to hear it from Lee Best himself.

And then everything would be alright again.

It had to be.

And with that slight push from his mind, that slight push to try to reason what had happened… America stood up, wiped his hands on his dirty pants and began to walk out of the warehouse.