The future was so bright
Life had been good, or at least as good as it could be. Since Evan had silently left the industry he used to love, he had retired to his countryside home with his wife, son and, a few months later, baby daughter. He had continued training young prospects and moonlighters a few times a week down in Cardiff to bring in enough money to live on while being able to spend most of his days with his family, looking after his kids and enjoying Sara’s company. Life had been good… but, as the saying goes, nothing lasts forever.
Evan walked in the house, kicked his trainers off and dragged himself through the hallway into the large open-plan central room of the house, which acted as a hub of activity, had the kitchen at one end, a dining area in the middle and sofas either side of it with a large TV attached to one wall. The fading light of the evening could be seen painting a beautiful picture out the glass doors at the end of the room.
“Bloody hell.” Evan exclaimed as he stood on an opportunistically placed carpet of lego pieces in the doorway. “Aiden, you need to tidy up your toys.”
“Urgh, why don’t you do it?” Moaned the teenager from across the room, busily tapping away at a noisy game on his tablet. Sorry, not he wasn’t a teenager, he was actually 5. He just acted like a teenager.
“Because I asked you to and they’re your toys. Come on, dude, be good.” Evan carefully tiptoed over boobytraps.
“But I don’t want to!” Yelled the child.
“Be nice to your father, Aid.” Sara said from the sofa in the dining area, rocking little baby Rowan while she slept. It was late 2020 and the baby girl was now a few months old, her personality starting to show but she was still just a little dot. “Go tidy your things, it’ll be dinner time soon.”
“But muuuuuuum!” Aiden whinged.
“No buts, butts are for kicking.” Sara said in the least threatening tone possible. “Hop to it.”
Their son grumbled to himself as he stomped past Evan, who was on his way over to collapse in a heap on the sofa.
“Tough day?” Sara asked.
“Just a bit.” Evan rubbed his weary eyes. “You know how I said I might need to start doing more classes at the gym because there were too many wanting to join? Yeah, well that’s not a problem now.”
Sara frowned. “Okay… that doesn’t sound ominous at all and like there’s a totally different problem instead.”
“Oh, it’s totally fine, yeah,” Evan reassured her. “Unless you count all the guys who are dropping out next term as a problem.”
“Oh dear. How many?” Sara asked.
“Uhh, off the top of my head like three or four of them…” Evan teased the answer from his brain.
“Well that’s not too bad, is it?” Sara tried to act enthusiastic, to look on the bright side because it could be worse.
“Are staying on.” Evan finished his sentence. “The rest are done.”
“Oh.” Sara was lost for words.
“Oh indeed.” Evan agreed. “Seems they’re all getting worried about the cost. Since Brexit threw the economy down the shitter, most of the parents see it as an unnecessary expense in these uncertain times to give their kids wrestling lessons while the older lads are starting to get antsy about their meagre incomes being able to support it. Meanwhile all the guys from the mainland are deciding to head back home before the government kicks them out of the country because they don’t have settled status. It’s just a mess right now.”
Evan caught the concerned look on Sara’s face before she even said anything. He could tell this worried her. “It’ll be okay, things will pick up, I’m sure.” He tried to reassure her.
“But what if they don’t?” Sara said with a slight shake in her voice. “A half dozen kids isn’t enough to cover the cost of renting out the gym space from Tony down in Cardiff, let alone give us a wage to live on. We spent so much of our savings renovating the barn into your personal gym and fixing up the rest of this place… And you’ve got El Vasquez’ gym over in America which you need to find someone to run, that’ll cost more money too.”
Evan held her tight. “It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine. Don’t worry about America, I’ll just shut that place down. It’s a shame Sanjeed couldn’t keep running it but El Vasquez wouldn’t have wanted that place hanging around my neck like an albatross… And if I don’t have enough students to keep giving lessons then I’ll stop that too.”
“But how will we afford everything, Evan?” Sara was sounding even more anxious despite Evan’s efforts. “Aiden needs his stuff for school and soon we’ll need to look into childcare for Rowan and-”
“Hey, hey, hey,” Evan shushed her softly and wiped away a forming tear from her eye. “We’re fine. We’re not broke and we’ve got no debts. We’re fine. So what if we need to cut back on things? Less takeaways would do us good. We don’t need to go flying off on holiday, we’ve got adventures in our backyard! We’re fine, Sara.”
“You think so?” She looked him in his eyes, trying to find the slightest bit of wavering doubt there but found none.
“I know so.” Evan said firmly with a smile. “As long as we have each other, our family, we’ll be fine no matter what life throws at us. We’ll just take things as they come and deal with it. We have a long future to look forward together, there’s no point in sweating the small stuff.”
“A long future?” Sara said as a faint smile slowly returned to her face.
“Soooooo loooooooooooooooong!” Evan chuckled. “You’re stuck with me, girl, I’m not going anywhere.”
“You’re so soppy.” She said as she shoved their daughter into his arms and stood up. “Have a baby, I need to cook.”
“Wasn’t it my turn?” Evan raised an eyebrow.
“Too late, I’m doing it now.” She marged towards the cooker, her outlook in life brighter once again.
“I love you so much.” Evan slumped back on the sofa cushions, closing his eyes for a moment to organise his thoughts and shut out the light. He’d had this strange headache all day…
I look ahead and only see the dark
“Evan?” A voice yelled quietly in the distance, right into his ear. “Evan?! Can you hear me?”
Evan’s eyes opened slowly and the world came into blurred focus as they adjusted to the light. After waking up from getting knocked out in a surprise beating it was a generally accepted thing that you have no idea what happened, you try to sit up suddenly and get told to lay back down by whatever dipshit is around you, so you don’t pass out again. You ask where you are, what happened… who did it?
Evan did none of that. He was slumped against the wall and could feel random detritus digging uncomfortably in his spine. He didn’t try getting up and he didn’t ask the EMT’s, who were desperately checking on his condition, or the loitering EPU members what had happened to him. He just laid there, a small chuckle building up in his throat, growing into a full-blown cackling laugh, which turned into a hacking cough as blood got caught in his throat. He groggily shoved the EMTs away and rolled onto his knees, bracing a hand against the wall as he spat out a mouthful of blood.
The hall of famer crawled up the wall to stand up, his legs uncertain beneath him like a newborn giraffe with a tranquilliser in its ass. He looked at the bloody imprint of his face on the wall where Byrd had thrown him and the delirious laughter rose up again. “Ahahahaha.” Evan leant his weight against the wall and rubbed the comedy-induced tears from his eyes. “Fucking hell, I missed this place.”
“Evan, are you okay?” One of the EMTs put a steadying hand on his shoulder and stood him up to be face-to-face. “You were att-”
“Fuck off, I know exactly what happened.” Evan gurgled. Half his face had swollen up from being bludgeoned with the night stick, his lip had been busted open and more blood was seeping out from inside his mouth. Evan wasn’t sure if he’d bitten off a chunk of tongue or the inside of his cheek or maybe lost a tooth. Could have been any combination of the above, the pain he was feeling just blurred together into one indiscernible mass. He stood up straight and felt an extra twang of pain in his ribs. Probably just bruised, hopefully not broken. Didn’t really matter either way.
To say Evan Ward looked like a mess would be an apt description, but it didn’t tell the whole story and would be an insult to other messes, such as Scott Stevens, so Evan was happy to just be called a mess. To be more accurate, he looked like a complete and utter, dogshit smeared fucking mess. Oh wait, it wasn’t dogshit, it was just the massive gobbin Byrd had spat on his chest.
“You really shouldn’t be moving around.” The EMT stood in Evan’s way as his took a step forward
“I said fuck off.” Evan wiped the blood from his chin and shoved the EMT out the way, leaving a bloody handprint on their face. Evan stumbled past the useless EPU guards as they just stood and watched. The Ward Games captain looked like he could barely stand, no doubt concussed and still shaking off the daze of being knocked out but he carried on walking none the less, only stopping to fall into a rack of equipment which, sadly, wasn’t braced against anything. He pulled himself out of the mess on the floor and carried on down the hall.
He felt he was being watched by some sly, unseen force lurking in the shadows. He looked around but there was no one of any interest around… he guessed it was probably just the people at home. It was an odd thought, after all they weren’t here so I had no reason to think they were spying on him. It did make him wonder, though, so he asked the cameraman.
“Why are you following me?” Ward asked angrily as the camera backed away slightly. “Are you here to finish the job? Spy on my super secret training regime? Buy me a Special Curry Of Death Taco from the Townsend Taco franchise truck in the parking lot? Huh?! ANSWER ME!”
“No, no, no, I’m just doing my j-” The cameraman began. “Wait, buy you a what?”
“Shut up!” Evan snapped. “You’re a cameraman, you’re not meant to talk! You’re meant to…” Evan waved his hand vaguely to stir the words around in his mushy brain. “Camera… stuff.”
“But you-” He tried to respond.
“Shush!” Ward stopped him.
“Nananananana, I can’t hear you because you’re a cameraman and aren’t really a person.” Evan, acting very childish, shook his head at the cameraman and stuck his fingers in his ears.
“What the fuck?!” The cameraman recoiled. “Get your fingers out of my ears!”
“I said shut up! Shut up shut up shut up, you’re too loud!” Evan turned away. “Fuck off, go away.”
The camera backed away slowly, thankful to be dismissed from the punch drunk superstar before things got out of hand.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait.” Too late. Evan beckoned him back. “Where’re you going? Huh? I’ve got something to say, come here.”
The camera moved tentatively towards Evan, who stepped up to it and looked straight into the lens, grabbing hold of it with both hands to pull it in for a close up. The cameraman barely steadied himself under the sudden movement.
“I know you’re watching…” Evan said into the camera, his head turned slightly off angle so his half-swollen-shut left eye was in plain view. Off in the distance, the cheers and boos and gasps of the crowd out in the arena could be heard as the main event turned up a notch. “Everyone else is watching my best buddy, Christopher America, defend my- defend ou- defend HIS World Championship belt, but I know you’ll be watching this.”
Evan smiled and blood seeped out of his mouth, teeth stained red. “I know, because I’m so far under your skin the doctors would need to flay you alive to get me out. You think this attack tonight was meant to tell me something, to send me a message?” Evan began to mod. “Yes, yes, yes, it did, it did, but I think maybe not the message you wanted. The message I got told me that I, Evan Ward, the most important captain at Ward Games, have your complete and total, undivided attention… Clyd.”
Evan stumbled backwards, momentarily losing balance but saving it by pivoting around into a pensive stride. “I have your attention, Clyd, just like I have everyone else’s. The moment I returned to HOW was the moment I grabbed the attention of the entire federation, every single motherfucker on the roster and all the shitty fans.” He teetered to the side and spun around with his arms wide. Some would say it was a grand gesture to all of his subjects, but the more cynical would suggest he was trying to keep his balance.
“And that’s the problem, isn’t it, Clyd? That’s why you’re so, so, so, sooooo pissed off with me that you come down here and interrupt my super secret scheming for Ward Games and stomp on my flowers. THEY WERE MY FLOWERS, CLYD! HOW COULD YOU?!” Evan breathed deep to compose himself. Then wretched and coughed as he breathed a bit deeper. He cleared his throat and spat some goopy blood on the floor. “You, Mr. Wrestler Of The Year, Twenty Twenty Two in a tutu, saw me turn up and, just like that, steal all the attention you worked so hard to earn last year. It made you a sad panda, didn’t it, Clyd? I’m sure it made you curl up in your bed at night and longingly stroke a picture of your fragile little manhood, which I’m sure had run off to play Brokeback with Scott Stevens because of the absolute shame it felt being associated with you.”
By this point, Evan had completely lost the plot. His impromptu, concussion driven, possibly brain damage riddled, promo had now become the trash talk equivalent of a drunk-dial to an ex-girlfriend after a dozen bottles of gin and a handful of psychotropics.
“And then… and then, Clyd, it happened. It happened and you couldn’t take it anymore. I pinned you, in front of thousands, live on TV. Evan Ward pinned Clyd The Beard.” Evan looked off into the distance with a grin, either reminiscing on moment or momentarily blacking out on his feet, it was hard to tell. “It was so awesome. That match was exhilarating. You and Fuse, props to you, guys, you’re good. Fighting you two was almost nostalgic, like going back in time to when I had to go all out to win my matches as a rookie. You’re good, but not good enough. Not good enough to beat America. Not good enough to beat me. That really eats you up, doesn’t it, Clyd? That’s why you did this, tonight, to get revenge because you knew, didn’t you? You knew this was the only possible way you could get the satisfaction of leaving me in a bloody heap because, admit it. You know you won’t be able to do it at Ward Games so you did this heinous, HEINOUS, unforgivable, evil attack, you bad, naughty man! Go to your room!”
Ward shuffled closer to the camera again and pointed to his swollen face. “You did this, Clyd, and for what, huh? For what? I mean, obviously apart from trying to scrape back the tiniest bit of dignity you had left before our match… But did you think it would scare me? Did you think it would shock me into thinking, oh no, what am I doing here? I’m so out of my depth! I gotta get out of here! Save me from the cowboy with a dildo in his pants!” Evan mockingly overacted his feigned terror and then burst into more delirious laughter. “Get a grip, dude, this is High Octane Wrestling. This isn’t some midwest shithole where everyone hugs and kisses and sticks their fingers up each other’s butts on a job well done. This is High Octane fucking Wrestling! I grew up here, this is my home. You think I didn’t expect something like this to happen?” He waved his hands in front of his mangled face. “Bloody hell, man, I’ve been going around pissing people off for weeks, I’m just shocked it’s taken this long for someone to jump me like this. Sure, there was Fuse’s half-assed attempt, but that wasn’t half the beating you just gave me. Well done, you!”
Ward clapped emphatically, giving Byrd a condescending standing ovation. “I was starting to think the HOW roster had gone soft, but you proved me wrong, Clyd, well done! I’m glad, because this, Clyd,” He manically stabbed a finger at his swollen eyelid, causing blood to spurt out of the cut. “This is why I came back. This is the HOW I missed, Clyd, it’s the HOW I’ve been looking for. You showed me it’s still here! You’re right, I could have stayed at home, I could have just sat there safe and sound, waiting for the future to roll on by… But why, Clyd, why would I do that? I’d miss out on all of this! Really, that sounds like the sort of boring shit you’d aspire to. I bet you’ve got your future planned all out, retiring down on your ranch where you can spend your days yelling YEEHAW, HOWDY PARDNER at the horses while you watch them riding each other round the prairie.”
Evan calmed himself down, regaining the slightest bit of composure. “No, Clyd, there is no future outside the HOW ring. There is no future beyond Ward Games. Not for you, not for me, not for anyone. If this is a taste of Ward Games, Clyd, I’m sending it back to the chef. It’s drab, flavourless. I want spice, Clyd, Ward Games is meant to be an exotic meal to stimulate the taste buds, not the lifeless roasted possum like you eat up in Plainview. At Ward Games I’ll serve up a feast none of you will ever forget, a last supper for every person in that match… I’m sure it’ll be a meal you’ll enjoy, if you can even survive long enough to taste it.”
Evan stopped and raised a finger, a thought suddenly surfacing to the front of his foggy mind. “Wait, wait, but wait. I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I Clyd? As you’re fond of a taste test, I’ll tell you what… Next week, down in Dallas, in front of all your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles in your home-state, I’ll give you a sampling. Just you and me, in that ring. You’ve shown me what I’m in for… I mean, you tried your best, didn’t you? It’s only fair I pay you back. Bring that big black dildo of yours down to the ring with you, Clyd, and I’ll shove it so far up your rectum you’ll need an eyepatch, the first recipient of a true BOTTOM line.”
The Hall Of Famer cackled at his awful joke, grinning crazily into the camera… For far too long. He just stood there, grinning at it. The cameraman started feeling very awkward. He thought he should say something but felt it would be like poking at a hornets nest balanced atop a sleeping grizzly bear. Was he going to say any more? Did he fall asleep with his eyes open, standing there? Maybe he had died. The cameraman certainly thought the wrestler had lost an obscene amount of blood over the last ten minutes.
“Uhh…. are you finished?” The cameraman finally ventured to ask. “Can I go now?”
Evan snapped back to reality. “No! You can’t! Come with me! It’s time to record a training montage! MOOOOONTAAAAAGE!” He took one big, purposeful step forward and completely missed the floor. Luckily, he very quickly found it again with his face.
The cameraman looked down on the unmoving wrestler. “Uhhh… I think we’re going to need some help over here.”