“The road is long, with many winding turns that leads us to who knows where, who knows where, but I’m strong. Strong enough to carry him, he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” – The Hollies
Max had been listening to the sound of that clock in the sky for what had seemed like at least a thousand years. Time moved strangely in his own head.
The bells counting down the final hours until he would be allowed to speak to Mike had cracked and cried at irregular intervals Max felt. There were just two more left by his count but there didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to how long there were between the hours.
This vast, nearly empty landscape had been torturous to be stuck adrift on. At least the cell had added some kind of structure to his existence, this endless wasteland seemed to taunt him with it’s nothingness.
He had trudged across the horizon for what seemed like days though according to the clock in the sky it had only been a few hours. He was grateful that his body didn’t seem to tire nor did he hunger or thirst for anything. He felt.. Nothing here. Maybe the discomfort would have at least filled the void with something.
“Only a few more hours left, buddy.”
The voice of the Minister cut through the ticking noise of the burning clock high up in the purple sky. Max looked down at his feet as he paused, rolling back on the heels of his feet..
“I hope you’re enjoying your last few moments out there before Mike finally puts an end to us..” Max muttered to himself, closing his eyes as he tried to shut out the Minister.
“You still think he is going to beat us, do you?” the Minister’s voice sounded amused as a hateful red eye opened up in the dirt at Max’s feet staring up at him.
“Michael aways beats us, he HAS to be us.” Max once again reaffirmed, his eyes opening slowly to stare down at the mechanical eye at his feet. “And then all of this will go away. We’ll finally get some peace and quiet, finally get rid of you.”
Max thrust his hands up at the sky where the clock continued to count out the arbitrary clock that burned high above. A cruel laugh filled the air around Max as the sands trembled and shifted before the Minister seemed to materialize out of it, his pale white suit flashing brightly with unearned purity.
“He might, he might not. Doesn’t matter really, Max, because I’ve already won even if you won’t accept it.” the Minister said coyly, his smile widening as thousands of shark teeth rattled and jockeyed for position between his cracked and bloodied lips. “.. this was never about Mike, not really.”
Max looked up toward the Minister, a frown pulled down over his face.
“..you remember the day you set this all into motion don’t you? Everything terrible that has ever happened to you, Max, has been your own fault, you simpering idiot. I was the won who always saved us, I was the one who created the plans and the plots, you were just my meat tuxedo, the unfortunate brain that I got saddled with. Wilhelm Kael had such great designs for me but you.. YOU ruined it all with this fucking dream to be a wrestler..”
The skies darkened as the Minister’s voice took on a deeper, more demonic tone. Max wilted, his confidence and strength drained as the Minister grew larger and more menacing.
“And now he gets his revent and I complete my task. It’s been a long road but Wilhelm Kael’s wisdom afforded me the weapons necessary to see out his vision, his cunning gave me the skill to manipulate others to those ends. And now here we are.. At the end of the game, one last match, one last act, one last.. Death.”
“No. He won’t.”
“You’ve got a call, Max.”
A pair of curious brown eyes looked up at the door of his room where a guard wearing a white uniform slipped in, waving toward the threshold with a terse look on his face. Max uncurled from his small cot, his slender frame bent forward slightly while a tussle of greasy black hair fell across his pale face. He might have looked handsome if he wasn’t so sickly and unkept, his eyes were shy but curious. 2005 had been a bad year.
“A call for me?” Max whimpered to himself, his fingers clawing at his chest as he slipped past the guard in a sheepish manner.
“Don’t know, don’t care. You’ve got five minutes then back into your quarters.” As Max moved out the door the guard quickly closed and locked it behind him. The two then proceeded down a long hallway that was marked with several doors that mirrored the door of his own room. He stumbled forward, uneasy and uncertain about his surroundings, deep purple lines running beneath his eyes hinted at several sleepless nights.
This place was a tomb he had been hidden away in for three years by his family, placed here to rot or until he “grew” out of his desire to wrestle.
They reached another door which the guard unlocked before shoving Max forward. Losing his balance Max collapsed into a sprawling mess on the ground, flipping over onto his back and scrambling toward the corner of the room. Beatings were not uncommon here and Max had experienced his fair share since arriving at this so-called hospital.
Instead of beating Max the guard sighed, pointing his baton at a phone that hung on the wall before he shut the door, locking the quivering patient in. Max carefully uncoiled, his brown eyes staring at the door through strands of curly black hair, fear and distrust written across his face as though he was expecting the guard to bust in and begin attacking him at any moment.
The phone rang and it shocked him, snapping him out of his concentrated gaze as he yelped in surprise. His blood shot eyes turned to the phone as he scrambled up to his feet, approaching it with caution as it let another screamed at him again. Boney fingers reached out and pulled the receiver away from the wall, a stiff metal cord connecting it to the wall. He lifted it to his ear and narrowed his eyes unsure what might be waiting for him on the other end.
“Hello? This is Max?”
He muttered into the phone as he stared at the plain wall in front of him. His eyes searched the plain tan wall for any oddities or strangeness, his mind always looking for faces where there were none. It was a game he liked to play, especially in this place. Find a face, give it a personality, a story, it’s one voice. Kept it from feeling so lonely in this hospital.
“Yes, yes I did send you a resume!”
Max’s face lit up as whoever was on the other end had made mention of his resume. In truth he had worked out a deal with one of the guards, he’d share his antipsychotics if the guard would record a quick promo and mail it out to roughkut network. While his family had tried to cut him off from his dreams Max had been a willful black sheep, he would find a way to live his dream, even if it killed him.
“How did I find out about you guys? Oh it’s hard to say really..” he lied, he had instructed the guard to just send it out to anyone who might be hiring. He had never heard of the federation that was calling but given his situation, anywhere was better than this place. Anyone was better than Wilhelm Kael. “..you know, the internet?”
Clearing his throat Max tried to put the words together. His story was strange, the conditions of his release would be unusual. He hoped the man on the other end of the line would understand.
“I’d love to come work for you but I’m in a little bit of a dilemma. See I’m in a hospital right now, nothing wrong with me physically it’s just my family think I’m mentally ill. I’m not! I just want to be a professional wrestler and my family thinks that’s crazy. Right? So they have me locked up here until I can prove that I can achieve gainful employment and get a sponsor to make sure I don’t like.. Have a mental breakdown or something. What I do know is that this is a big ask.”
Max knew it was a long shot, the guy on the other end of the line was probably wondering what the fuck he had gotten himself into calling a mental patient in a hospital. Then an unexpected answer.
“Pack my shit you’ll be here in three hours? T..thank you!” Max’s face brightened up as his back slowly uncurled. “Thank you.. What was your name again? Well I’ll tell you something, you come and get me out of this fucking place?..”
A smile stretched across Max’s face, the first smile he had managed to muster in three years.
“I’ll work for you till the day I die, Lee Best.”
The sterile concrete room that made up the guards watch tower on the north side of Alcatraz had been emptied save for one table and three chairs as per the Minister’s request. Now only a few days away from Rumble at the Rock and a few last items had to be taken care of, for legal reasons.
Seated in the two tables opposite of the chair where the Minister was seated were Max’s two personal lawyers, the corpulent Shitemoore and his spindly partner, Fartharder. Over the last six months the obvious change in Maximillian’s attitude and demeanor had been noticed, particularly his sudden lack of hygiene.
Now their client was going to be in a Death Match.
“Mr. Kael, please, listen to some reason, there are no laws that allow for a Death Match.” Fartharder pleaded with his client, several large stacks of paper representing the titanic number of forms needed to even host the match at Alcatraz.
“Murdering another person is, in short, always a crime unless you can prove it was self-defense.” the rotund Shitemoore croaked, his pudgy fingers interwoven at his waist line. “Given that you and your brother have agreed to kill each other in a wrestling match I don’t think that covers self-defense. There is motive, incentive and a means, if you actually kill Mike Best it won’t be difficult to prove you intended to kill him.”
“That’s Murder One, in California that can earn you a life time in prison. And it’s all going to be recorded and broadcast live so there will likely be dozens, possibly almost a hundred witnesses.” the birdlike Fartharder continued to plead his case as best he could.
The Minister listened to both men carefully, his glowing red eye moving between the two as he quietly thought about their words.
Obviously their arguments weren’t going to change his mind and that they were attempting to reason with Maximillian Kael and not with the Minister was only hurting their case. He couldn’t blame them for the mistake though, after all it was to his benefit that the average person just thought of him as a gimmick, as just another name layed over Max Kael.
“Gentlemen I hear you, I understand you and I promise you right here and right now that name Death Match is just a publicity stunt.” the Minister lied through clenched metal teeth. “It just sells a few extra tickets cause people want to see if Mike and I actually murder each other. And the match will be brutal, don’t get me wrong shit more and fart harder, Lee Best will get his money, the fans will get their match and we’ll all walk away all the happier for it.”
“Fartharder and Shitemoore.” the round toad of a quickly corrected the Minister, his jowls roiling in anger.
“So you won’t attempt to kill Mike Best?” the thinner of the two quickly tried to push the topic back on the more important subject.
“Now I can’t promise that Mike won’t die, I can’t speak to his current health, shit happens right? But I promise I won’t, I don’t know, pull a gun out of my sock and blow a hole through that perfectly unblemished chest of his, or I won’t use a board sword to separate his head from his neck or anything like that.”
The two lawyers peered at each other with an uncertain expression before they began pulling the stacks of papers down, examining them carefully.
“If you can promise that you will not actually commit murder then we can begin the process of filing out all these waivers and legal documents.” Shitemoore burbled as he pulled a silver pen from his pocket.
“This might take a few hours so I’d get comfortable.” Fartharder added, retrieving his own gold pen from his pocket, clicking it open as he peered at the Minister.
Reaching into his own pocket the Minister retrieved a rather plain looking metal pen, the kind of pen that was infamous in High Octane Wrestling. A strange brown discoloration stained the end of the pen, the tell tale sign that this was one of Lee Best’s Bottomline pens.
“This pen was used to take my eye all the way back in 2009 after I failed Lee Best. It was my first Bottomline I’d ever receive, the first of three eyes I’d lose during my time in High Octane Wrestling. Lee took two.. Mike took one. Heh-heh.”
The Minister tapped the end of the pen over his glowing metal eye, his smile stretching tight across his face.
“So let me be clear. I promise not to try and kill Mike Best, I promise I will not murder another human being at Rumble at the Rock.” he hissed, winking as he grabbed one of the waivers sitting on the stack of papers.
“..Cross my heart, hope to die, stick this pen up in my eye.”
“What do you mean he isn’t there?”
The harsh voice of Wilhelm Kael snapped at the cellphone he held up against his withered ear. Five years into the new Millenium and it seemed these small cell phone devices were all the rage, trading out beepers with the capacity to speak to anyone from anywhere that had a single.
“I’m sorry, Father, I stopped by the hospital to collect him and Max was already gone.”
Elenore Kael’s voice could be heard on the other end, serious, cold, professional. Wilhelm’s face seemed to contort into a familiar frown as he leaned back in the chair of his office, his keen blue eyes staring at the grandfather clock across his office.
“What do you mean he was gone? He couldn’t leave the hospital without someone signing him out, you assured me that was the case.” Wilhelm’s voice had a ting of annoyance in it. The elder Kael had weathered Maximillian’s disgraced attempts at becoming a professional athlete, some lowbrow, common spectacle. The Kael’s were destined to stand above the rabble, to rule over the peasants. His son would rot in that hospital cell until he understood that.. Or at least he was supposed to.
“He managed to bribe a guard to allow him to send out a few.. I don’t know, interview tapes? Apparently someone answered earlier this afternoon, out of Chicago. Lee Best representing High Octane Wrestling.” Elenore spoke briskly, the sound of her heels on pavement, likely leaving the hospital at that very moment. “He was by the hospital a few hours later and bribed the shift lead. My guess is they’re headed back to Chicago.”
There was a pause as Wilhelm listened to his daughter rattle off the name.
[“Lee Best. What kind of fucking name is Lee Best?”] The venerable Kael’s voice took on a sharp, angry tone as he spoke native German. You could feel Elenore flinch on the other side of the phone though her voice remained remarkably emotionless.
“Local native, he runs a wrestling promotion out of the city. Small but with an rabid fan base, it wasn’t hard to find them with a quick search. It seems they have a penchant for ultraviolence though the company financial records are.. dodgy. Suspected connections to underworld affications and foriegn agents and finally a well documented gambling habit.”
[“Trash. An American cockroach.”] Wilhelm let out a wheezing breath as he narrowed his blue eyes at the grandfather clock. [“So he wants to take Max from me? Fine. I’ll take something from him then.”]
“I have a note here, it might prove useful,” Elenore offered, a slight hesitation, the briefest tremble of uncertainty before pressing on. “He might have a son, nothing confirmed. There have been at least two independent investigations into allegations that a young man by the name of Michael P****y is Lee Best’s son.”
[“Of course he has a fucking bastard son, and a Polish filth no less. Find out if this boy is his son.”]
The old man didn’t wait for Elenore to acknowledge, hanging up and setting the phone down on the armrest of his chair. Rotten teeth clenched together as the ancient patriarch of the Kael family stewed at the loss of Maximillian, his heir and the inheritor of the Kael Family Estate.
Now this.. Lee Best had his claws in him. Wilhelm would not suffer that indignity. If this Michael did turn out to be Lee’s son then he too would learn what it was like to have that son taken from him. Revenge ran through his mind as he began to plan with only one goal in mind.
[‘Fuck. Lee. Best.”]
The final seconds were counting down on the clock in the sky, the twelve hours finally coming to their end. The heavy metal click of the unseen gears tolled out ever closer and closer to it’s finale.
Max’s eyes hadn’t moved from the living shadow that rippled in the dry air in front of him, the burning red eye at the center of it’s shifting belonging to the Minister. It starred back into him, it’s flames of red twisting in strange ways, unconstrained by the laws of physics as they danced in the shroud of darkness.
At last the hands of the clock collapsed in on eachother, all pointed upward. The gears came to a halt, the gears ceased their endless ticking and silence settled over Max’s mind save for the rasping of the dry wind. Max stood up, dusting away the dirt on his pants, his face hardened and serious.
The shadow before him shifted and stepped back, the eye growing larger as it peered at Max with a sinister malevolence. The shadow bent in on itself and took a hardened shape, the black mass becoming like man made out of pitch, the red eye settling into sock of a face that formed from the roiling blackness. Sharp metal teeth poked free of the dark ooze as the monstrous thing peered down at Max.
“One last game to play.”
The Minister’s voice was harsh, boiling up from the miasma of darkness that stood like a pillar before Max. The head lowered so that it stared into Max’s face, red eye to blue. He could smell it’s wretched breath, the scent of death and decay.
“No more games, you said I could speak to Michael one last time, you set me in this wasteland while your goddamn clock ticked away in the sky and now it’s done and over! No more games, no more conversations, I want to speak to my brother NOW!” Max shouted at the face in front of him, spittle flying from his lips. He wasn’t afraid of the thing in front of him, he wasn’t going to be cowed or bullied anymore.
The strange thing watched him for a moment before taking a step back.
“Just one last game.” it burbled at Max, the red eye glittering with excitement.
Folding his arms over his chest Max frowned. He didn’t really have a choice but to play along for the moment.
“..Two truths, one lie.. Heh-heh..”
Max’s eyes narrowed as the Minister spoke to him, some kind of treachery obviously a foot. Still, he had no choice but to play along.
“You tell me three things and I guess which two are true and which is fake, right? That’s the game?”
Shaking his head, the HOW Hall of Famer lets out another sigh, shifting his weight as he impatiently shrugged toward the Minister.
The smile on the face stretched wider, the black tar like skin peeling away as two more red eye shadows formed on either side of the Minister, both perfect reflections of the central figure. The leftmost figure stepped forward.
“I am merely an illusion caused by a massive tumor in the center of your brain. Over the last few months I’ve been responsible for a number of hallucinations that resulted in the ruination of your relationship with Cecilworth Farthington and Mike Best.” the first Minister said, the metal teeth in his face slipping free of the mouth and slowly running down his chin, like the toppings of an ice cream melting in the sun. He stepped back and the rightmost Minister stepped forward.
“I am a program designed by ex-nazi scientists and installed into your head as a child with the intention of turning you into weapon for your father, Wilhelm Kael. Since joining High Octane Wrestling my mission has been to ruin Lee Best and cost him his own son just as he stole you from your father, a mission that is finally realized at Rumble at the Rock.” the red eyed fiend chortles, his bubbling skin releasing a cloud of green fumes that smell of rot and ruin. He slips back as the center most Minister takes his place.
“I’m going to allow you to speak to your brother one last time because I have honor.” the final Minister said, his smile filled with rows of rotten teeth that fell out and were replaced just as quickly.
Max stared into its face as he tried to work his way through the three things he had just heard.
“..wait, you’re what?” Max’s eyes widened and a dawning realization came over him.
“Not terribly honorable I’m afraid.. Heh-heh.”
Before he could react the three Minister’s turned into a wall of darkness as Max fell into a void of nothingness, a place of no sound or taste or sight.
So quiet and absolved, this place of feeling death.
The stained walls of the old Alcatraz Island infirmary had seen their fair share of violence, both during the prison’s years of activity and the near two decades of bloodshed HOW has piled on. For a room that was designed to bring mercy and health it’s purpose had long ago been corrupted. This room had only seen pain, it’s floors carried the weight of agony.
And there was at least one more death to burden this place come Saturday. The dark silhouette of the Minister stood looking out the window Max Kael was dropped out of after he lost his eye to the very same man he would face this Saturday. His strange blue eye seemed distant, lost somewhere in thought while the red eye burned more fiercely than it had ever seemed.
“Mike Best had a revelation. He finally realized he was a piece of shit, just like the last couple of times that Mike woke up for a few moments; Always seems to happen when the matches are against people he’s unsure if he can beat. Perfect beat and pitch, this time the humanity in Mike is truly realized. Everybody loves the story of an asshole’s redemption, don’t they?” he sneered the words with a palpable contempt.
“Except that, just like everything else you do, this is just another lie. Just another coverup to try and get a few hearts won over before you march into Rumble at the Rock. Always trying to make yourself into the good guy, like a Catholic dumping all their sins on the Priest just so they can go right out the next night and wrack a few more up. Maybe other people swoon to see you do it but for me it’s old hat. Boo-hoo, your mother died. Good, she was a bitch and she deserved it, this isn’t a sad story, it’s a great story. Bad people die and their shitty children suffer.” Minister turns away from the window, his upper lip pulled back into a vicious sneer.
He moves to the center of the room where a brown splotch stands out against the gray concrete. He kneels, his right hand reaching as his fingertips brush the surface of the floor.
“You want to know what someone who has truly grown to understand the value of his brother would do? Die for them. They’d sacrifice for them, selflessly, happily, with pride on their face. You know what Max Kael would do?” he muttered with a sense of disgust. He then stood, his arms folding across his chest as he leered toward the camera with that hateful red eye.
“Max Kael has spent the last few weeks doing everything he can to stop me. He’s done everything he can to convince me that you’ll beat me, he’s at peace with his own death and do you know why? Because Max Kael is a real brother, Max Kael would die for you. He doesn’t care about the High Octane Wrestling Championship, he doesn’t want his brother to die. You know you were the only person that he never believed manipulated him? Max Kael respected you more than any other person on this planet and all he ever wanted, all he ever wished for was for your appreciation. What a fucking idiot.”
That red eye intensified, the red light casting strange shadows across his twisted, scarred visage.
“Max wore every scar you put on his body with a badge of pride because every loss to you was proof that he was still good enough to survive the greatest wrestler to ever lace up the boots in High Octane Wrestling. You scrubbed away every trace of Max Kael from your body, every reminder you had lasered, cut or burnt off. And now, even as Max Kael fights to sacrifice his own body to save you, you’re getting weepy about what you’re gonna have to do to survive this and if you don’t, don’t fucking cry for me Argentina. You are like your mother, Mike, nobody should miss you when you’re gone but none of these idiots understand what kind of parasitic abuser you are, they’re all just so used to the abuse. Pathetic and disgusting. At least I’m open about my contempt and at least in his last moments Max didn’t want people to miss him. Max wanted to save somebody! Hah-hah!”
His words were filled with scorn, his lip pulled into an unrelenting snarl, the laugh at the end hardly humorous or amused instead mocking and cruel. He straightened the #97red tie that still born the ruination of 5 Time Academy on it.
“My purpose has always been to take a son from Lee Best. From the moment Max Kael joined High Octane Wrestling my entire purpose has been to steal a son away from Lee Best the same as he stole a son from Wilhelm Kael. Maybe I’m a tumor. Maybe I’m an insidious experiment whispering in the back of Max’s head. It’s been a long, long fifteen years, Mike, but bless your heart, you did almost all of the heavy lifting for me..and in case you are starting to get cold feet let me spell out for you, one last time, what it is you have on the line.”
Reaching into his pocket the Minister retrieved a piece of paper, carefully unfolding it as his sneer slowly stretched into a smile.
“When I kill you I will once again dash any hopes of having a meaningful final title reign. I will rob Lee Best of his son by blood, ending his biological legacy. I will be single handedly responsible for the destruction of the eMpire and, while yes of course, Max Kael will survive.. Imagine the world you are leaving behind for him? He’s fucked, how do you think Lee is going to take all of this? Heh-heh.. Of course when you kill Max Kael.. oh sure you’ll put an end to me but Max Kael will be dead, Lee Best will have lost a son, the eMpire will have been irreparably destroyed, you get to set another World Title record and you can go right back to slapping around the half-wits that makes up High Octane Wrestling. Hell, after your poured your heart and soul out I’m sure everyone is eager to give you big hugs and cheer you on, fucking sheep. Those are the people you pander too, all the more examples of how you haven’t grown, you’re just desperate to put seats around your grave. Wow, what a guy, you’d think his mother was a needy whore who, in her last desperate moments, probably wanted nothing more than the love of her son. How did that work out for her, anyway?”
Turning, the Minister spat a vat of foul looking yellow spit onto the ground, his smile flexing back into a silver toothed snarl.
“So go on Mike, do the predictable thing. Win. Save your pathetic life, kill Max Kael, end my reign of terror. Then you can live long enough for drugs to become interesting enough to be mistaken as a character trait again and play this all out with the next schmuck who decides to accept one of your petty attention grabbing match stipulations. Cause if you don’t..”
The Minister winked, his burning eye offering no sense of joy or mirth. Despite being metal and glass it seemed to stare out at the world with an endless hatred.
“..I’ll kill you. I won’t hesitate. I’ll rip your fucking threat out. Then I’ll make your brother watch and it will destroy him. Are you really going to make him live with that? Shameful really, Mike. of course there is one last out for you..”
He shrugged, his eye rolling in his head as he did so.
“You never show up to the match, you never show up to Alcatraz. You forfeit the High Octane Wrestling Championship to me and you walk away from High Octane Wrestling FOREVER. You buy yourself a ticket to some far away tropical island and you live out the rest of your life in obscurity. You do that and I will release Max Kael, I will disappear and never come back. Nobody dies, Mike. It’s that easy. It’s what a boy who has grown into a man would do, not a child who has swelled into a monster.”
He retrieved a pocket watch from his tattered white suit, snapping it open as the pearl backed watch face reflected the ambient red light the Minister’s eye cast.
“..but you’ll want to figure that out quickly. Tick-tock, Mike, tick-tock.”
Snapping the pocket watch closed we are cast into darkness.
“It’s a long, long road from which there is no return. While we’re on the way to there, why not share. And the load doesn’t weigh me down at all, he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”
You’re never heavy Michael.