Surrounded by the ones I loved
San Francisco was a brilliant place for a holiday, so many exciting landmarks to visit, from the Golden Gate bridge and China Town to the many museums and Alcatraz prison. All fun places to take your family on days out… well, unless you’re a HOW wrestler in the autumn. It’s still very exciting, even more so than normal, but not somewhere to take the family.
It certainly wasn’t somewhere Evan Ward wanted to take his wife and child. Rumble at the Rock was dangerous and at that time, in 2019, it was especially dangerous for anyone wearing Ground Zero colours. They had made a lot of enemies in the federation with their zealous and militant belief in following the rules and dominating the federation through sportsmanship and fairplay. At that moment in time, he was particularly hated by the other competitors for coming in and sweeping through the roster relatively uncontested… At least until his last match.
Evan sat in his hotel room looking dejected, being comforted by Sara while Aiden played with his HOW action figures on the floor. Sara’s belly was just starting to show the bump of their second child brewing inside. She laid her head on his shoulder and rubbed his back idly with one hand while her other clutched his tightly.
“It’s not that bad…” Sara said rather unconvincingly.
“I got flattened by a big boot and lost a match seconds after the bell rang.” Evan raised an eyebrow at her. “It’s really that bad. It was a complete and utter embarrassment.”
“Everyone has off days, you can’t blame yourself.”
Evan shrugged Sara’s hand off his shoulder and stood up, slouching away with a flippant reply. “I can blame myself. There’s no one else to blame. I was the one who just charged in, I was the one not paying attention at all to what my opponent was doing. He didn’t cheat, he didn’t take a cheapshot, it wasn’t some special, exotic, insta-kill move. He just threw a normal kick like I’ve avoided literally a million times and I just… didn’t. I ran straight into it.”
“It’s only one match, Evan. You can just win the next one.”
“It’s not that simple.” Evan shakes his head. “The next match was meant to be Rumble At The Rock. I’m going to have to do some major arse kissing and grovelling to Lee if I want to be on the show… And that would definitely come at a hell of a price, even just for a throw-away opening match. Any thoughts of going after a title are out the window, I’m going to have to work my way back up from the bottom.”
Sara looked up at her husband, trying to find the words to comfort him and set his mind at ease. It was difficult because words really wouldn’t make a difference. No words could change what happened in that match or set his career back on the trajectory he had been on before it, so she didn’t try to do either. “Do you even want that?”
Evan was taken aback by the question. “Huh..?” Was all he could manage
“Do you want to wrestle at the Rock?” She asked. “I mean, even before that match against High Flyer, things weren’t exactly going how you thought they would. Are you sure you want to carry on at all?”
Evan’s initial impulse was to protest and declare how that was the only thing he wanted, that he has to prove himself and right the wrongs and so many other reasons why the could never walk away from the company, the business, the career… but that would have been a lie. That simple question was like a reset switch to his brain. Did he even want to return to the ring? He hadn’t even thought about it. Up until that moment going back to the ring was the only option, but since that question had been asked it needed an answer…
“I don’t know.” He sat back down on the bed. They sat in silence for moments which felt like hours. “And I guess that’s the answer… If it’s not a straight, emphatic yes then it’s probably a no, isn’t it?” Evan huffed in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Maybe the thought had been at the back of his mind for weeks, just quietly whispering quietly away. Saying it out loud, admitting it to himself that his heart wasn’t entirely into it was like a weight had been lifted, like a moment of clarity.
“I came back to HOW for Ground Zero. I wanted to wrestle alongside my friends again and have a good time. This was never meant to be a return to my career, was it? It was just a reunion. Rhys and Witness convinced me to come back and team them and now they’ve disappeared, leaving me to hold the baton on my own. Why am I even still here, Sara? Why was I going to risk my life at Alcatraz when I don’t even want to be there?”
Sara snuggled up closer and held him tight. “Where do you want to be, Evan?” She asked softly.
“I just want to be with you and Aiden.” He put his hand on Sara’s belly. “And whoever this might be. You’re all that I care about, nothing else matters. Not the Rumble at the Rock, not Ground Zero, not HOW, they can all go to hell for all I care… I don’t want to risk crippling myself and hurting our family just to wrestle a show. It’s not worth it. I don’t want to miss Aiden and his brother or sister growing up and I don’t want to lose any time with you.”
“I love you, Evan. Let’s just go home.” Sara said, looking passionately into his eyes. “Let’s go home.”
Standing alone in my own company
“Oh, yeah, now that’s what I’m talking about!” Evan exclaimed loudly, a giant shit-eating grin stretching across his face. The television studio he walked into was all sorts of fancy and modern, by which we meant it was sparse and empty with a lot of matte green on the walls and QR code style markers dotted around the place. No doubt there would be various fancy Unreal Engine powered augmented reality effects and graphs and other nonsense in the show which was to be filmed here. Evan had no idea what show it was and really couldn’t care less. He was here to promote Ward Games and, in doing so, talk about how great he was and how shit everyone else was.
Other than the Marvel Cinematic Uterus virtual production bullshit, the main features were a massive War Games banner stretching floor to ceiling behind a stylish and rather long designer sofa. The banner showed Team Ward standing side by side below the War Games logo, with a life sized Ward and America in the centre flanked by Aceldama and de Lacy. “That banner is bloody awesome!”
A woman who, for some reason which Evan couldn’t comprehend, looked like an interviewer stood up from the sofa and walked over to the HOW Hall of Famer. “Evan, glad you could make it!” She proclaimed, offering out a hand for her guest to shake. “I’m Erin.” She noticed Evan’s complete absence of recognition. “Erin Chord?” She suggested, but still got nothing back. “I’ll be interviewing you today.”
“Oohhh!” Evan said, feigning realistion. “That Erin Chord. Of course!” He took her hand and pulled her in for a manly hug with a slap on her back. He put her down haphazardly and she nearly fell over. “Nice to meet you! Your name is a bit weird, though.”
“I know, right?” The young lady laughed, she must have been in her mid 20s. “What are the odds I’d be interviewing you when our names are so similar?”
“They are?” Evan raised an eyebrow. “I don’t see it, I just think it’s a dumb name. Anyway, I love that banner you’ve got there, but you made a mistake, you got the name of the show wrong.”
“What? No it’s right.” She was slightly confused. “That logo is from the federation’s official press kit for the show.”
“No, it’s wrong but don’t worry, I’ll fix it for you.” Ward looked around the studio and spotted a lighting tech up a ladder. “Aha!” He walked over and picked the ladder up to take over to the banner. He completely ignored the poor bloke left dangling above his head. Evan climbed up, pulled a can of #97Red spray paint from his hoody pocket and drew a massive D on the end of War. “Much better!”
Erin’s jaw dropped, staring at the banner in disbelief. She could not believe this famous wrestler just vandalised it. “That is a fifty thousand dollar smart display.” She said through gritted teeth.
“Oh.” Evan said as he hopped down from the ladder. “Well, nevermind. I’m sure it’ll wash off.” It wouldn’t. If he had read the label then the tin’s many warnings would have told him it was next to impossible to get off anything and was slightly corrosive so don’t get it on your skin, eyes or TV screens.
A stagehand jogged over to Erin and whispered into her ear as a faint yell and crash was heard from across the studio. It was short whisper but looked important and urgent. She turned to Evan as the random person who didn’t even deserve a name, much less a description, ran off somewhere else. His name was Tony, by the way. “We’re starting soon. You’re up first so there’s not much point going to the green room. You can just go through that arch there and round the corner to wait for your cue.”
“Cool, cool, cool.” Evan said and left the slightly infuriated interviewer and her studio behind as he slipped backstage. Compared to the swish, high-tech, super clean stage area, the backstage area was all dark and cluttered and full of scaffolding and ductwork. Evan thought it was like, and this should be a reference Connor Fuse would appreciate, when you escape to the maintenance areas of the Aperture Sciences Enrichment Centre in hunt for cake.
Evan looked around but he was the only one there, no one could see him. He breathed in deep and slumped back against a stack of boxes, relaxing. Fuck. What was he doing? All of this was bullshit. He pulled out his pot of pills with a shaking hand and snacked on them like candy, wincing through the pain pulsing behind his eyeballs. It had been worse since the beating he’d received from Fuse after Chaos. Not surprising. In some ways he was looking forward to all this being over. Not too long left, he guessed. He could faintly hear Erin running through his introduction in the distance. He breathed in deep again and stood up straight. Game face on.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Evan Ward!” Evan heard Erin announce. He headed out on stage, returning with his self-assured, cocky grin across his face, soaking in the pretend applause from the non-existent virtual audience. He walked up to the sofa and jumped onto the back of it, posing in front of his Ward Games banner doppelganger. Just to show off, he did a twisting backflip to sit down on the seat. It was a good thing the sofa was bolted to the stage or he’d have faceplanted. “Wow, what an entrance.” Erin said, doing her best to be professional in front of the obnoxious twat she was interviewing.
“I know, I know, it’s awesome.” Evan humbly agreed.
“Well, it’s great to have you with us, Evan.” Erin ignored him. “I’m sure you’re just as excited about the War Games-”
“Ward Games” Evan corrected her.
“As our fans are.” She still ignored him. “As a captain I’m sure you have plenty of thoughts about the recent draft and the shock announcement of a fourth team captained by none other than the ten time World Champion, Mike Best.”
“Oh, I’ve got thoughts, Erin, many thoughts.” Evan nodded in agreement. “Some might say I’ve got the best thoughts. Particularly about, if I might swear-”
“You may not.” Erin said firmly.
“That fuck faced coward, Mike Best.” He ignored her. “I mean, what the hell’s he doing? You can’t be a Ward Games captain and not be in the actual match. That chickenshit bastard. You know why he’s doing this, right? He’s jealous seeing me come back to once again captain a winning team at Ward Games, but is also scared out of his frilly little knickers about losing to me again. Dude might be Lee’s son but if he’s at ringside for the match, god damn it, I’ll drag him into that cage and make him eat a knee for each of his World Championship reigns.”
“So his involvement doesn’t worry you?” Erin asked pointedly.
“Why would it? He ain’t doing jack in this match, he’s just being a glory hog hoping his hand picked circle jerk of nerds will somehow win. What can any of them do? Scott Dweebens? Jace Parker Nerdison? Scottynerd? Bunch of pussies. Like, Stevens cheated me out of a tag win last week, took a cheap shot while my back was turned. We should have won by disqualification for that alone! But he got what was coming to him, in a fair fight, head on with me he couldn’t do anything but crumple over and cry like a bitch.”
“A fair fight? You had Jatt Star and Dan Ryan help triple-team him after a gruelling cage match while the ring was surrounded by EPU enforcers.” Erin said scathingly.
“Yeah, totally fair. He knew we were coming. He could have had his friends help… Oh wait, no he couldn’t, he’s got no friends because he’s a fucking nerd.” Evan raised a hand to receive a high-five but was left hanging by Erin, who just shook her head. “No? Okay.”
“So what do you think about your team?” Erin moved the conversation on before it could get further derailed. “Surely the World Champion, Christopher America, won’t like being on a team of foreigners.
“Dude, don’t be racist.” Evan looked disapprovingly at the interviewer. “Just because we weren’t born in America, don’t really live over here, don’t pay taxes over here and don’t have an ounce of American blood in our veins doesn’t mean we’re not American.”
“Uh, yes it does.”
“My best buddy, my good friend and all around amazingly great guy, Christopher America… He knows this. He knows I’m all about the American way of beating the shit out of everyone who looks at me oddly even if they don’t deserve it because, let’s face it, they all deserve it, right?” Evan chuckled while Erin glared. “Aceldama, he’s German, which means he’s descended from Nazis and I hear the Reich are very popular over here at the moment, so that basically makes him an honorary American for sure. And that poncy Charlie de Lucy. Sure, he was raised in a shithole too far south to be considered the North and too far north to be the south, but he’s totally American! He’s a social elite who loves to get pissed up drunk on his parents’ money. That’s sooooo American!”
“That’s quite a stretch, don’t you think?”
“Not at al!” Evan proclaimed. “Under my awesome leadership, our team’s victory at Ward Games is totally without question! The show is named after me for a reason, isn’t it?”
“It isn’t. How about the other teams?” Erin raised a pointed question. “There’s two Final Alliance members in each, is that going to cause friction between the stable?”
“Urgh, will everyone stop asking me that? We at the Final Alliance are consummate professionals. Professionals!” Evan said as he picked his nose and flicked a massive, gooey booger over his shoulder at the banner. It landed on de Lacie’s mouth. “And it’s not like we’re Ground fucking Zero here, all hippy dippy with emotions and attachment issues. Jatt and Dan are on one team, Solex and STRonk are on another, America and Aceldama are on mine. We’re all plenty capable of compartmentalising our manly relationships and wrestling with the sole goal of making sure there’s one single winner, just like Lee has planned.”
“You mean it is rigged for the Final Alliance to come on top?”
“The fuck are you talking about?” Evan looked at her like she was stupid. “I’m talking about me, Erin, me! I’m the one single winner everyone will be working together to ensure. God, were you dropped on your fucking head as a baby?”
Just looking at her, you could see Erin Chord was getting pissed off with Evan Ward. Her eye was twitching from the effort of stopping herself from slapping him silly. But she held it together for the sake of the interview. “I don’t think that’s what Lee has in mind, Evan. You can’t honestly trust the rest of the Alliance to help you”
“Of course it is. Why else would he bring me in as a captain? I trust them all as far as I could throw them, which I’ll have you know it’s pretty damn far.” Evan boasted. “All the way across the ring.”
Erin visibly rolled her eyes in a moment of uncontrollable unprofessional behaviour. “Anyway, you’ve got a match this week against fellow captain Clyd Byrd and the man you put out of action in a heinous, unprovoked attack a few weeks ago, Connor Fuse.”
“Wait, wait, wait. Unprovoked?!” Evan sounded extremely insulted. “It was totally provoked! The kid… If I can even call him a kid, he’s only a couple of years younger than me.. That dirty rotten brat has such a massive Evan Ward fetish its fucking disgusting. He provoked me just by being there.
“I mean, on the one hand I’m honoured I’ve got such a massive fanboy that he modelled his whole damn career after me, but it’s a bit much, you know?” Evan shrugs. “He practically blew his load when I dived into the ring at March 2 Glory, thinking there I was, his idol, coming to save him from the big bad American fisting his face. If you watch the tape back, you can see the exact moment his heart shattered when he realised my knee had rearranged his nose round the other side of his face.”
“I don’t think he…” Erin began but quickly realised her suggestions that any similarity between the two wrestlers was purely coincidence would be met with deaf ears. “Fuse had some harsh words to say about you recently, and I have to admit he made some great points. You’ve been out of the game for years and are a lot older than when you were in your prime. Are you sure you know what you’ve got yourself into with this?”
“Erin, Erin, Evan, Erin…” Evan replied, ignoring the fact he said his name there. “Do I look out of shape? Do I look like I’ve passed my prime?” Evan pulled off his top and posed egotistically. Erin opened her mouth to answer but Evan cut her off. “Hell no, dude, I’ve not even peaked yet. Connor has the wrong idea. 10 years ago I was a rookie, just a total fucking nerd… But I was competing at the top level when I was a kid, and the quality of the competition back then totally blows today’s roster out the water. Sorry, but it’s true. Connor Fuse, the self admitted Ward wannabe he is, would have struggled to get out of the midcard.”
“But can you stick it out?” Erin hurried the conversation on before Evan could continue to ramble about the good old days. “Your last run, not too long before Fuse joined the federation, ended with you jobbing a match against an unknown guy with a generic name and then disappeared. Are you just going to quit this time too?”
“Don’t you worry your pretty little head, Erin.” Evan said condescendingly. “Wrestling is the only thing I care about, nothing else matters anymore. I’ve got no distractions or manipulators whispering in my ear. I’m here to wrestle and prove exactly how awesome I am until the day I die. No exaggeration. I’ll literally die in that fucking ring before I walk out again. Connor is so desperate to face me, the guy he hopes he can one day be compared favourably to, one on one at the main event of the biggest show in professional wrestling, I don’t blame him for being scared I’ll abandon him.
“Well, Connor,” Evan turns to look at the camera. “If you want that you’re gonna have to earn it. You prove to me at Chaos, with your buddy Byrd the Nerd with the Beard…” Evan butchered the word to force beard to rhyme with nerd. “Take the beating you fucking deserve without running out like a fucking coward, without hiding behind your team mates like your so-called captain at Ward Games will be doing, and then I might keep you in consideration for a shot at my World Championship.”
“Your World Championship? Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself here, Evan?” Erin frowned. “Christopher America covets that belt like a lover, he’s not going to be happy about setting your eyes on it.”
“Oh, we’re cool, we’re cool, I would never steal her off him, that’s totally against the bro code.” Evan protested. “No, but when he fa- IF, I mean if he falls in battle at Ward Games, then as his friend I would have no choice but to look after her for him. He knows I would take very good care of the World Championship, she would be in good hands. It’s just what friends do. I’m sure he’ll thank me for it too, it would stop any of those disgusting nerds getting their grubby hands on her.”
“Well, that’s all the time we have for the interview.” Erin said. The producer standing behind the cameras frantically shook his head and gestured to carry on. Erin surreptitiously mouthed “fuck off Brad” through a smile. “Thank you for the interview, Evan, and good luck at War Games-“
“Ward Games.” Evan corrected her again. He couldn’t understand why she kept getting it wrong.
“I am sure you’ll need it.” Erin offered out a hand for the wrestler to shake.
“My pleasure, Erin, I can’t wait for our next interview.” Evan ignored the hand, stood up and walked off stage, waving to the camera as if he was super popular. He was rather pleased with how that went, he felt it put him in good stead for Chaos, though most viewers would probably argue he came off as a bit of a dick.
“God I hope not.” Erin muttered under her breath, possibly a bit too loudly. She smiled at the camera. “Coming up next, ladies and gentlemen, we have an interview with a child psychologist about their new book to help parents get their kids to sleep at night: How To Get Your Child To Just Lie In Their Beds. But first a word from our sponsor.” The Ward Games banner changed to a banner about the book… Unfortunately Evan’s spray painted D was still there, inappropriately covering the L.