For nearly 120 years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart; and Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion.
To those of you who have remained faithful to it in return…
And to the Young in Heart…
I dedicate this story.
Having made their way to the Allstate Arena in time enough that no fear of reprisal or admonishment would land on them, Grady Patrick and Alexander Redding were free to enjoy their time before the house lights went dark and the spotlights shone bright. The cubicle you see on screen was still in the process of getting set up, so the two fit themselves into a coach’s office that’d work as their own personal dressing room for the evening.
“How do I do it?” I’m sure we’ve all had cause to wonder from time to time, but in particular, Redding was referring to, “How do I go out there and give enough to topple Ted, but still have enough to come back at the end of the night and expect to dispatch Cyclops or the Wicked Bitch of the Bests?”
The answer was as profound as it was simple, “You don’t do it on your own. Whichever of you boys gets his hand raised in that match tonight, you need to leave the other guy whole enough that we can stick together out there in the end.”
“Still,” still the hesitation hung around his neck, a truly ugly albatross, “if it isn’t enough to have to compete twice in a night, you just know the main event is going to be slanted. I wish it was a simpler thing, but maybe it is simple; the Boss has laid his money on Kael. Suppose the Tin Man wasn’t enough to worry about, or this Group of Daisies, now I’m about to go to war with the man signing the paychecks.”
Grady had been upset all day, but the very idea troubled him so. “You ought not,” his breath failed him. He tried to pull in a lung full, but it only sent him to a fit.
“You feeling okay, Grady? You’re looking a little green around the gills,” Redding backed a safe distance to tell him.
Something from the lunch disagreed with him. “I might just lay down here for a while.”
“You do that,” his client knew it for best.
“Just for an hour, don’t let me sleep for longer than that,” he finished with his eyes already heavy.
And so, on perhaps the most important night of Red & Ted’s time in High Octane Wrestling, the third man, the schemer of schemes, passed his time in the land somewhere over the rainbow.
“Red? Red? Is that you?” Grady winked the sleep from his eyes, and strained in the wind and the light turned green.
Struggling to grasp the poker table, Alex gives a welcoming grin. “This weather’s a beast.”
“But, where? Where, oh where are we?” he clung to the chair, the waking, and quaking Grady.
Peering off his right, the man they call a colour, Red explains, “Wherever we will be, I’m certain we’ll be there soon. Brace for impact!”
And at once the cubicle came to a clattering crash. Dirt and debris kicked and cluttered the air and it all was a moment before each had the reason to feel around to see if they had made it. When Grady has the thought, and the courage, to look about himself, he found himself still himself. In a spry leap, he’s out the opening and standing in the blistering pastels of a place far, far from Kansas.
“Any landing you can walk away from,” the toothy grin of Redding shrugged off the sudden stop, and shook the dust from his clothing.
“Say, weren’t you dressed much differently? When was it you got dressed for the fight?” Grady was unable to put his finger on it.
“Me dress funny? Why, I wouldn’t look funny at me, I ain’t the one in that skirt and ruby pumps,” his growl a chuckle.
“What in the,” the profanity he sought to say sidewinded into something sweeter, “gumdrop halibut, what is this funny business?”
“Look! Look!” a cheerful noise came out of the marshmallow topped reeds. “Dorothy has come back! She’s back!”
“Who said that?” Grady meant to only think.
Taking in a deep breath, his companion compared scents against sense, “Smells like unwashed, ungrown manchildren.”
“But they look like child actors,” Grady could see now, for not being afraid of the sudden commotion, the whole town came to life, and came out to the street.
“Why ain’t they singing?” Red was right to wonder. Their colourful garb, the signs they held above their heads, blocking the one behind, it seemed right at least some drunken soccer chant should start.
With puffed chest, and quivering knees, the self-elected mayor walked as direct as he could to his Dorothy, which is to say, in circles and circles, until he was quite out of breath, doubled over.
“Well then, you do have words, don’t you?” Grady begged, to be surprised when our representative used the hem of his skirt to wipe the tears from his eyes.
“It’s just, I,” a hairball would be less disgusting, the colour bled into the loogies. “Sorry, it’s that this place hasn’t been the same since you left. But, we are all really glad that you are back. You, too, strange man!”
“Marks,” Red breathed behind Grady, and low enough so only he could hear.
“Your coming has saved us from many a terrible monster. See even now, the toe poking through his boot, that long yellow nail, under your home. That’s all that’s left of the Aussie arse who went by Yates.”
Wouldn’t you know it, in landing themselves, they made a grave for others. This poor Yates now nothing but a thing to be remembered.
“You still have the ruby slippers! Oh, my! Oh, my! Say my fellows, Dorothy is here to save us all!” he gave his brothers the okay to think highly of anything.
The cheering and bellowing was a call to the vile things who only cared for quashed dreams. The coming bubble danced fancy through the air, but popped when it touched the ground. Now before them stood a tall lady in flowing bejewelled gown, on her head the crown of the Queen.
“Hush! Hush!” the marks all hid. When safely behind their computer screens, they hissed and boo’d.
“Who thinks they can come into the land of HOW and give these peons cause to cheer?”
“I don’t know. Who’s the bitch that thinks she’s royalty?” Red showed his teeth.
Grady isn’t ready for it, but when he tries to shoot a glance to the glowing green eyes of Red, he has to snap back to the bubble-rider.
“I am GLindz, the good witch of the north.”
“Oh GLindz, please tell me how I get out of this terrible place!” Grady saw in her some secret knowledge.
“The only way through this place is along that yellow brick road, but I will warn you from treading there,” her head bowed forward, not in deference, but intimidation.
“Or what? We go like the other three witches?” Red scourged and scored with that remark.
“Tell your beast to hold his tongue.”
“Not a chance,” those corners of his mouth stretch apart. “Ever wonder what happened to those other pillars, those witches that ruled in this business? Your K-Wolfs, the Aimzes and the Desades. Only you left standing, no one else risen up to take their place.”
GLindz clenches her first, and whispers into a ring, but looks the look that could kill.
“Truth is, you ain’t the paragon you want to think yourself. You ain’t no nurturing mother. You’ve long since been the guiding light for other women, you’ve become the barrier to them.”
Through a soft laugh, the soft tone, “I told you to restrain your beast, but if you refuse to, you leave me no other means but to do it myself.”
“Oh, no, please don’t! I know he’s quick to yap, but he doesn’t mean any harm by it, honest. He might chase you around, but he can’t ever catch you,” those short heels made short work of the confidence those shiny slippers should demand.
“Quit with the water works, can’t you see there ain’t no reasoning with a tyrant?” Red’s voice grew deeper as his chest grew larger. His fist relaxed, but those fingers showed with claws.
“What? What are you becoming, Red?”
“What I should have been from the moment we landed in this place,” haunted through the changing form.
“The Big Bad Wolf has come to fight with me?” GLindz curled a cruel taunt of a smile.
“Get somewhere safe, the Bitch of the Bests is mine.”
At that, the Lycanthrope Red lounged and caught GLindz’s striking hand in his teeth. She recoiled and saw her own blood. It sparked in her a true sense of fight and rebounded with all haste. She is lucky enough to land a few strikes to the thick fur, but Red stays with her long enough to trip her to the ground.
“You think you’re the Witch of the North? I think you’d know my father then, the North Wind,” Red blew hot air, and then a hurricane current. GLindz couldn’t stand against it, and took to the air against her will.
She would have gone to the edges of the land if it wasn’t for the Captain of the Flying Monkeys catching her in his arms. He returns her to the ground, and gives her a spell to rest, taking her place in the fight.
“Tell me, Ryan, what’s it that has you tied to the bitch, besides the fact your both assholes?”
Yes, the Captain never really had a name, so Red saw it fit to name him Ryan. He seemed to respond to it, “That ring. The golden ring is what binds me to her will.”
The swaggering wolf, 7’6” on its hind legs made steps, understanding what was inevitable, “But that’s not it, is it? You’ll just be a dick of a different colour if you didn’t have that attachment. No, I have to end you, and I hope you can find peace in retirement.”
The gauntlet thrown and picked up, the two danced and danced. A fist here, a slash there. It went like this, until Red was able to sink his teeth into a wing and sent Ryan to tears in the pain, until the wing became a phantom limb.
“Give my regards to the Old Folks’ Home.”
Again, the Big Bad Wolf huffed, and he puffed, and he blew both enemies away, GLindz all red and upset, and Ryan all green and an upset stomach, to twirl on the one wing left.
“That wasn’t good of you. I mean, what will they do now?” Grady reappeared when it was safe, and the Marks, too.
“Hooray! Huzzah!” the little Marks cheered at the spectacle of violence and blood they just saw.
“Seems they liked it,” Red, now more wolf than man, claimed his territory.
“Yes, they would like it, wouldn’t they?” Grady found the greasy outstretched hands a thing to be avoided. “We must get out of this place. But where?”
“Well,” Red followed his nose, “She didn’t want us walking this golden path, did she?” gets a nod from Grady. “Then that’s where we’re going.”
As the two started on their decided way, again one brave little Mark rushed forward with warning, “Thank you, oh, thank you. You have saved us from that wicked witch and her flying rainbow butt monkey. Now you are going on the yellow brick road?”
“Is that what the dirt sheets tell you?”
“The map you mean? You might do well to heed it on your way. Those weren’t the only tyrants in HOW. You see, after you killed the Witch of the West, and the Wizard flew away on his balloon – landed somewhere in Utah, I believe. Poor man is at an Applebees as we speak – well, the ones left to rule over the land all went mad with power. If you want to walk the yellow brick road to your promised land, you will need to know what lies ahead on the road.”
“Well?” wolves were creatures with great patience, but this one wasn’t blessed so, “Out with it, Mark.”
“Yes, ah, yes sir! Well, along that route, you’ll find that the Tin Woodsman now rules the people of the northwest, the Winkies, from the witch’s old castle.”
The Big Bad Wolf foamed at the mouth, thinking about round two with the Woodsman. This time he wouldn’t be out foxed. He’d be sharper than any axe in any land.
“But that’s not even the half of the problem. The Wizard left his idiot in charge of the Emerald City. The Scarecrow thinks he’s the son of a god, the hayseed hick. That’s in the middle there. And the most fearsome creature of all of the land-”
“You’re looking at him,” the Wolf called his shot.
“Yes, but, uhm,” stammered the Mark, “The champion of champions, you know, the Cowardly Lion? Well, he’s taken up in the forest and made it a terrible place for anyone to go.”
“Thanks for the heads up, pipsqueak. You don’t need to worry, I’ll take these pricks out one at a time. And no, do not thank me. I am not doing this for you. For any of you. Got it?”
The multitude all nodded, and now backed back to where they went when they were afraid, for it seems the conquering hero was just another tyrant in the making.
“Now, let’s see about playing Dr. Whily to that Korean knock-off Megaman.” This was hard mode.
And they started off. Not five minutes into their walk, the shoes seemed to take over, and Grady danced a shuffle, to and fro instead of straight ahead. The Wolf stopped his tracks and shook his head.
“None of that. No dancing, no singing. We aren’t going to see no Great or Wonderful Wizard. You heard the Mark, he’s left his seat of power to the Son of a Bitch Scarecrow. No reason to hit up the Emerald City unless it is to make him hurt, and make his Daddy sore. I can’t have that just yet.”
Grady tried his best to straighten up, but a song was in his heart.
“If we cut right we go into the forest and find the Cowardly Lion. That pussy cat would call a’ hollering for help the second he sees us. We need to make sure there ain’t no help coming. So, we march left, westward, and find that rusted bucket of scrap metal.”
The colourful and wonderful world was at odds with the purposeful Wolf for the entire day, but due west they made their way, coming to the land of Winkies.
“Hold up here, you see that?” the Wolf smelled it before either ever spotted it.
“Yeah, what is that?”
“Soldiers, on patrol. They look funny, don’t they?”
“Red, you can’t say that!” Grady knew was the sort of thing that’d see them stuck in the undercard Hell without escape.
“I only mean the way they dress, and the way they march.”
“Oh,” like calling them out on culture rather than appearance was leagues better. Tapping his ruby covered toes, Grady thought, “Should we grab them by surprise? We could take their clothing and just walk right inside.”
“But, why?” It seemed a perfectly reasonable way to go about business, but this wasn’t the place to rely on reasonable plans.
“Because I’m going to get him to come out of that castle. I’m going to make these people watch as I tear the circuits from their Astro Boy.”
So, waiting for the patrol to pass, the two ducked and dodged behind boulders and between glutches. They stayed concealed until they were close enough to spit on the castle.
And how odd it looked. Though the rest of the world had colour, this place was distorted. Red was Blue, Blue was Yellow, and Grey was Green, but nothing shone with much colour, really. Nothing would change without outside force, and, well, there was really no better time than the present.
“Get on out here, Maximilian Robo Von Fuckstick! It’s round two, bitch. It doesn’t matter that you’ve gone and digitized your soul and metaled the part of you that I bit away before, I’m here to hear you cry with your own voice.”
The Winkies stopped their marching, and all formed around the Wolf. They didn’t get close, impressed by the odd thing, and the bold words.
“Get on out here so I can spank you and show your Leader that you are really nothing better than the pilot of that next short-ranged rocket launched into the sea. You’re in my way on this path of gold, and you know we both can’t stay on it.”
The cutting words cut down the gate, and soon the Tin Woodsman came to cast his single blue eye with as much expression as he could muster upon the Big Bad Wolf. He looked like a perverse creation, an affront to God and decency, haven taken decaying human flesh and slapped it over his metal bits. It was sloppy and drew flies.
“Wolf, you remember how our first fight went! Why do you come?”
“Because, Woody, this time it’s just you and me. No gRANNY to toss their eGGS, no Little Red Riding Hood. Hell, look around you! You see any of your Group coming to save you? Now, let’s see what happens when I rip all that metal off your rotting corpse.”
The single blue eye flashes red, and the Tin Man flashes at Red. The Winkies keep their distance, and let the two monsters do the mash. They’re evenly matched, more than Grady would hope, or Red would admit. Tin fists meet fur, and bone claws scratch and rip at metal and flesh indiscriminately. The battle is fierce, and dents are made, fur is lost, and neither side relents.
“Surely these two would have earned the respect of the other, by now,” Grady looked on, but didn’t understand how it was impossible to find grounds to build upon when you were so like the other person, and the person you hated most was yourself.
When the human parts left of the Woodsman began to tire, that’s when the Wolf saw an opening. Wrapping its jagged jaw around the throat, he bit in and tore out, such that the tube stuffed down from his mask, and gruesomely, the mask itself, came through the newly crafted airway.
“I…” stammered and spat the Woodsman, “You…”
“I win. You lose. Now die and go off to the cloud; not some Heaven, just be relegated to some basement bank of computers in North Carolina. Please don’t mind that I don’t bury you, I need your twisted remains to be my Scarecrow.”
The Woodsman expired on the courtyard of the castle. The WInkies were confused for a moment, but showed they never did care much for the leader of North Kaelea, starting with their chants of “Oreo! E-O! Oreo! E-O!” like the drones their government had made them.
Grady was at a loss for words when the Big Bad Wolf collected him and started back to the yellow brick road.
“You sure fight all too swell. Still, the same and with no offence, maybe we shouldn’t be rushing just yet?” The Wolf was banged up a bit. “We don’t need to go nowhere ‘til you take some time to heal.”
“I’ll heal as we walk,” a wounded animal and spite-filled man mixed into the most determined creature on either side of the rainbow.
“Well, where are we going now? To Emerald City?”
“Nope. Into the Forest. I’ll be damned if a Cowardly Lion thinks he’s the king of any forest I’m in.”
“But, there’s still the Scarecrow,” Grady mumbled and whined in his sleep.
“Grady, wake up,” Redding, his client, shoke him gently back to the land of the living.
“Hrrhmmm.. Wha?” Grady spoke before he had his faculties.
“It’s been two hours. It’s almost time to head out there.” Indeed, Red was dressed for battle.
“I was having this crazy dream, and you were in it.”
“I am sure, now come on; time to steal the fucking show,” Red pulled Grady up by his lazily extend arm. “Tonight’s the night Red & Ted win the crowd. Tonight’s the night Red & Ted win the LBI.”