Never before in my life has the simple count of three been more devastating. Yes, I’ve been here and I will be here again, many times in the future. Perhaps a part of me expected to lose because despite the last level gold around my waist, I am nowhere near the final player I intend to be.
I entered the match with such confidence, truly believing in myself. A mistake, no doubt, many have made prior. Now it is a mistake I have made, too.
I can hear the referee’s hand hit the canvas. Oh, he pumped my fucking skull alright, he pumped it good.
I am, however, still conscious.
There’s just not a damn thing I can do about it.
A bell sounds, the new champion rolls away, likely onto bigger and better things. It’s a blur but I can see his hands raise to the sky in a celebratory pose. I hope he knows this could ruin me. I hope God knows I have no intention of hitting Continue.
Because I am done. Mike wins. And this is a level I am not cut out for. I may see a blur but my future is crystal clear.
This statement is overused to the point it has lost its impact within many circles. Nevertheless, in my world, this statement means everything…
Game Over, Conor.
Game. Fucking. Over.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
ibis Hotel – Edinburgh City Centre – Lobby
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
November 4, 2021 – 14:00
Rain hammers down outside the Royal Mile. In the typical vibrant core of the city, November is a month where Edinburgh doesn’t see too many tourists. The woman working reception is tall and thin, blonde hair, warm demeanor. While she’s not busy, she occupies her time anyway by organizing a file drawer that really doesn’t need to be refiled to begin with.
Outside, locals who pass hold umbrellas to shield themselves from the fierce downpour, the rain showing no signs of letting up anytime soon. However, there is a man who remains without an umbrella as he tries to work through the crowd. He has a black hood over his head but it is soaked straight through. The outfit he wears is not water-resistant, it has absorbed every raindrop possible.
The figure in black wanders to the front of the ibis Hotel. Sticking out his arm, he struggles mightily to pull the front door handle. Although his face is not clearly visible, the man’s body language suggests the act of grabbing the doorknob is beyond his capabilities. Hands wrapped in white bandages, the rain doesn’t help, either. It makes the man’s grip too slippery. It softens the bandages around his palms.
Finally, the receptionist raises her head, seeing the man unable to enter. She scurries over but soon enough, the man is able to pull the door handle across and slip inside without help. Soaking wet, he drips profusely with his head to the ground. The receptionist adjusts her name tag reading ‘Gemma’, in the hopes it can be visible.
“Hello there,” she greets warmly, “I’ll get you a towel to dry off.”
Gemma has already made her way behind reception and into a side door. She pulls out a couple of towels and quickly walks back over to the man. Holding them out, she’s unsure if he can see what she’s offering because his head is so low. Yet, the man in black reaches out and takes the towels, offering a mumbled “thank you” under his breath.
Gemma can tell the man is struggling, either physically, mentally or both. She offers him a complimentary tea from the bar as they both approach the table. The man simply follows without saying a word. His body language drags along with his clothes, weighted down by the threshold of rain he’s soaked up.
“Here you are,” she hands him a tea and he drinks it down immediately. “Are you- were you checking in today?”
Her tone is light and soft, questioning her words as she says them. Thoroughly looking at the person in front of her, Gemma notices he’s only carrying a small backpack so he may not be checking in at all. Although the Royal Mile doesn’t typically have a homeless population, she can tell there is something wrong. After a brief pause, the man nods his head in agreement.
“Yes,” he mumbles afterwards, “checking in.”
Gemma smiles and slowly walks to the receptionist table.
“Oh excellent. I’m so sorry you got caught in the rain. It’s been like this all week.” She decides to continue chatting, hoping to make the man feel more welcome. He follows politely behind her as they arrive at the desk. Gemma signs herself into a computer and types away.
“Great. I’ll need a name and your ID please,” she asks. The man doesn’t speak. Instead, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his ID and a credit card, handing it over. Gemma smiles again, for what has to be the tenth time and takes the ID. Looking the card over, she slightly peers underneath the individual’s hood to make sure the face matches the driver’s license given.
“Conor, is it? Conor Fuse?”
The man nods again.
“And you’ll be staying with us for the next three days?”
Another slight, low energy nod.
“Great,” she continues to be chipper, turning to the computer, signing Conor in as she takes a swipe key and programs it. The lobby is whisper quiet as The Video Game Kid doesn’t move an inch.
“What brings you here, work or pleasure?” She decides to ask but Conor doesn’t speak up immediately.
“Uh,” he mumbles, “not sure to be honest.”
Perhaps Gemma would be concerned with the comment but she can tell there’s a lot going on. She notices the bandages around Conor’s hands. She sees his hands shaking. He has to be freezing. She works quickly so Conor can get into his room and have a shower.
“Here you go, Mr. Fuse,” she replies, offering Conor his ID and Visa. “And this is your room card. Wifi password is on the back, room 214.”
Fuse shifts forward with low energy.
“T- thank you,” He stutters.
“You’re very welcome,” she says with a reassuring smile before Conor puts the cards in his pocket. “Hope you get a warm shower, change of clothes and have a better rest of your day.”
Ensuring his backpack is on, Conor aimlessly wanders to the elevator.
Gemma watches as Fuse leaves. Feeling the negative energy off him has left the receptionist truly hoping her words chime true.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
ibis Hotel – Edinburgh City Centre – Lobby
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
November 7, 2021 – 08:00
Gemma tries to keep herself occupied during another slow morning by organizing a filing cabinet. Rain continues falling outside as she takes the odd glance through the window, watching people pass. Soon after, a figure apprehensively approaches the front desk.
“Hello, I’ll be right with you-” she looks up, seeing Conor Fuse standing in place. This immediately grabs her attention. The Ultimate Gamer is dressed in all black, although coming from inside the building he is not soaked from head to toe.
“Oh, Mr. Fuse, right?” She greets while questioning if she got his name correct. Conor nods in reply. “You’re checking out?”
The Vintage’s head is to the ground, although he raises it with the same apprehensive behaviours as he did approaching the front desk.
“Well…” his voice trails, unsure of himself. Conor looks outside, witnessing the rain hammering down like it did three days ago, upon his arrival. Fuse raises an unsteady hand to his head and reaches inside his hood, scratching the back of his neck. Gemma views the bandages around Conor’s hands, wrapped tightly.
“I was wondering…” The former champion’s voice trails for a second time. The receptionist can tell the wrestler is trying to find the encouragement to speak so she remains idle.
“I could… perhaps…” Conor’s voice gets even lower. “Extend my stay for another week?”
Gemma leans forward. “Of course, let me check the system but we definitely have availability.”
Conor lowers his hand. His eyes dart around, right to left, as if he instantly regrets what he said but also won’t speak up to fix it.
“Enjoying yourself in the city, are we?” Gemma’s attempt at small talk isn’t meant to invoke a reply from the man in front of her, merely meant as a warm statement.
“I actually… haven’t seen too much of Edinburgh,” Conor does reply in a faint tone, although Gemma can barely pick up the words as she types. “I was in Aberdeen the other day…”
The receptionist hears the last part of Conor’s sentence. “Aberdeen is nice,” she ensures, “what brought you over there?”
“I, uh, meant to say goodbye to somebody…” Conor’s thoughts overtake his words for a moment, “but I think eight more days should bring the closure I need…”
Gemma’s finished entering the information. She takes The Vintage’s hotel card from him and reprograms it.
“There you go,” she says, handing it back to Fuse. “Your credit card is on file and I’ll charge the additional week to it right now, same daily rate.”
Conor’s face twitches in pain as he takes the hotel card back. Trying to wrap his fingers around the plastic is a difficult task.
“Thank you…” he says, turning to the lobby entrance. Despite the rain, The Vintage simply ensures his hoodie is over his head before slipping outside and walking into the mist. Gemma gives a weak smile, watching Conor disappear into the crowd of people.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
ibis Hotel – Edinburgh City Centre – Lobby
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
November 15, 2021 – 08:00
A typical Edinburgh November morning continues with rain, as Gemma works away at the receptionist table when Conor Fuse approaches. He’s dressed in a similar black outfit as the day before and the day before that. Every morning Gemma greets her guests in the lobby with a smile and a wave. Each day, she eventually sees The Video Game Kid emerge from the elevator and greets him the same, too. But with every passing day she can’t help but notice a little more energy in Conor’s movements. Yes, he’s always dressed in black and yes, he’s certainly struggling but she notices a small, extremely minor changes in Conor’s demeanor.
As Fuse approaches the front desk this morning, Gemma welcomes him.
“Check out day, is it?” She asks. “I hope you enjoyed your extra week-”
Fuse takes a deep breath and raises his head.
“Is there any chance I can extend my stay?” He asks.
Gemma knows the hotel isn’t at capacity, given the time of the year. Although she will look over the system to make sure, she confirms it would be likely.
“You must be enjoying yourself,” Gemma begins with relief. “I’m happy to book you.”
The receptionist notices the bandages around Conor’s hands remain, although it’s much easier for The Ultimate Gamer to pass over his room card this time around.
“Can you make it five more days?” Conor asks and Gemma nods as she types. “My plan was to check back in here again on the twenty-third of November, too. Going to Belfast for the weekend, then I’ll be back.”
Conor’s voice, while soft spoken, speaks with conviction, like he knows exactly what he intends to do with his time.
“Sure, not a problem,” The woman in her mid twenties replies, going through the booking process. She looks up and sees a hint of fire in Conor’s eyes as he speaks, only for it to fade into uncertainty after. Whatever he’s working through, she thinks, he’s slowly picking up the pieces.
“You’re all set,” the receptionist hands the former champion his room key. “Have you explored a lot of Edinburgh yet?”
Conor tucks the key into his pocket with ease as he roams to the front door. Taking an umbrella out from his backpack, he steps outside and opens it but not before answering Gemma’s question.
“Explored Glasgow. It was okay. As for Edinburgh? We’ll see…”
And Fuse ventures off into the rain.
— — — — —
Dear Conor Fuse,
You are so much more than one loss. When you started wrestling on a professional level, you couldn’t go alone. Needing your older brother by your side, he was your protector in a world seeing insurmountable odds. An angry, sociopathic sibling to hide behind, it was an easy role for you, the childish, loud mouth OCD kid to play. Over time it became clear you had something… more. Would it be enough? Could this something be sustained or would Conor Fuse be a flash in the pan?
When you ventured on your own campaign, at first, I was apprehensive. Let’s be honest, you had no clue what you were doing. Enter HOW, summer 2020: sipping lime green Kool-Aid out of a thermos, with a 330 pound muscular luchador henchman standing behind you, the first words you spoke on a High Octane broadcast were nonsense. You conveyed confidence, arrogance and ignorance but this was not a true representation of who you are.
As the weeks progressed, you found your voice. It took time… eventually the real Conor Fuse shone brightly. There were minor setbacks but hey, it happens. Then you walked into a steel cage with seventeen others and out lasted everyone except for your sworn enemy.
That was the night things changed.
Despite coming up short, it was the shot in the arm I needed when I considered your abilities.
You had It.
Do you remember the prelude to War Games? Okay, Silent Witness had you at nice odds but nowhere near a Dan Ryan, Lindsay Troy or John Sektor. The world slept on The Vintage and yet, nose to the grindstone, you worked away regardless. Call it stupidity or something else entirely but you studied tape, hit the gym and endlessly racked your brain, composing a strategy helping you survive even the most reckless and daunting events you have ever been a part of.
Suddenly, it was now expected of you to be a somebody.
Was it too soon? Again, I had my doubts. Pitted against Sutler Reynolds-Kael in the main event of a Lee Best presents pay-per-view, this was no throwaway. Screw this match up and you’d be living in Lee’s dog house for the rest of your career. A special event named with you on its headline, a mere pipe dream from the Kool-Aid drinking weirdo I knew you as fourteen months beforehand.
Similar to War Games, you doubled down, wrestled with your heart on your sleeve and walked out with 97 shades of red.
Then the resurrection of Christ transpired. He came back because of you, or at least that’s what he said publicly.
Again, significant doubts. I know you had them, too. You told everyone in your gaming discord channel the loss was inevitable. Alcatraz, let alone Mike Best IN Alcatraz, where he murdered his rival/friend a year prior, all in the spirit of pride amidst an historic legacy. If only there was a way to define the intensity of my concern, it was at a paramount.
I know you didn’t overcome him but you made the man sweat. Taking Mike to a third and final fall, eating two knees and losing the World Championship, he never even tried to pin you after one knee. You did something right.
…Although this loss crippled you.
“Should Conor Fuse go on!?” shouts fans from the first row to the top of the arena. Onlookers chimed in with their thoughts on why you lost, how you screwed up and the joke of a wrestler you have become.
Like they could do any better.
When the smoke cleared and Mike was the victor, you were still able to walk away under your own strength. He did not physically break you. The Video Game Kid remains alive to tell of the trials and tribulations in his journey. For a man as dangerous as Mike Best is, he certainly wrestled with a lot of desperation. As he should, you are no fucking push over.
Ah, but he mentally broke you. He crushed your spirit. Sometimes the mental game can be more traumatic than the physical. A man can heal from a broken back… but can he truly heal from understanding The Year of The Vintage was a mirage? Can a man understand nothing he can do, no matter how he would have done it… no game plan too strong, no skills on the level… would be able to deny the greatest and most powerful legacy in the world their right at #10.
At first thought Conor, I’m not sure you understand this. The loss, while as much on you as it is on Mike’s abilities, was the needed outcome. You are a flawed hero and that is what makes you a hero. Walking into an environment where you were unsuccessful the year prior… in a situation calling for you to be at your absolute best… while you aren’t quite on the platform.
Tell me there was a different answer.
You would be wrong to think there is.
Nevertheless, falling short does not mean failure. In life, or in gaming as you like to relate, the truth is never black and white. A person can both love and hate their spouse. An employee can clock into their 9-5 job, wanting nothing to do with it and still be fully committed out of nobility. You can lose to Mike and be The Vintage. You can lose to Mike and be an accomplished wrestler.
You can lose to Mike and be the here and now.
Want proof? Listen to the crowd every time you appear in front of them. The whispers, they remain. You are a pure warrior; the people like you. You are a reflection of the everyman, albeit in the strange and twisted way you live your life, consumed by video games, comic books and the attention span of a child. You are not a murderer, not a cheat code, not a perfect combatant.
And yet nobody is asking you to be those things.
There is more than enough room for a couple of cornerstones. While not champion by definition, you can prescribe to be something even greater.
And awfully heroic.
A champion cannot sit on his throne without company to his left and right. For one who does sit by themselves will end up entertaining their conscience with stupid rules, amidst dumb consequences.
“Hey! Let me cut your hair off if I beat you…”
“I want to literally murder you, not retire you, in the center of the ring…”
But when a man pulls no bullshit and doesn’t get cute with their stipulations it tells me everything I need to know about the perceived threat that’s in front of him.
Mike wanted you in a wrestling match. No haircut, no death threats, a simple let’s see who’s better.
There are a million ways to define a legacy. But Conor, this was never your goal in High Octane. Correct me if I’m wrong but the reason you joined HOW was to see if you had the potential to win on this level.
No one doubts this now.
A match vs. Conor Fuse means your opponent will have to work. They know you will give it every possible ounce of ability in order to pull out the victory.
While your name is not Mike Best, Cecilworth Farthington or Jeffrey James Roberts, I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be them, either. Combatants have come and gone trying to be something they aren’t. For every 1,000 wannabes there might be 1 who stands out. For every Facebook, Instagram or TiKToK there’s an Orkut, Friendster or Meerkat. Seldom few make it, even less achieve the heights you’ve already reached..
The fans don’t cheer !RANK for the hell of it. Half of them don’t know what a discord channel is.
I’m not sure what the future holds but I know you are hurting. Mike’s knees have left you directionless and alone, unwilling to see light remain in a cloud of rain, unable to fathom the notion there is more to your story.
Winning the highest achievement can often be confusing because after it’s over does it mean the journey ends? In your case I feel like you are only in the early chapters.
Alone, though, you most certainly are.
Fled from the Elders, 214 good riddance. No big brother to fight on little brother’s behalf.
Perhaps one day, you’ll make new friends. Ones who won’t bail on you during tough times. Ones who will actually care about you and not about themselves. In the end, however, High Octane is a cutthroat environment. Deep down inside, you know this.
To the boy who entered HOW in the summer of 2020, to the man who ends 2021 with a World Championship to his name, know I am proud of you. Because when you do return to full force, and you most certainly will, your path will be unsurmountable. War Games will look like a joke compared to the future. Squid Games may be a realistic interpretation.
Mike will slander you, Farthington overtake you, Roberts might put you in the ICU. But you will be able to handle them because you already achieved a !rank you were never supposed to. A silly gaming manchild, a castaway, a comedic video game loser, who’s meant to provide comic relief…
Can also have heart, determination and get plenty serious when he wants to be.
Six of the best wrestlers in the world wait on the other side of this self pity tour. They will fight to the death, on the greatest stage possible and you damn right you can join them. The pain you feel is temporary, there are many more chapters to be written.
You belong in this battle, Conor. The year you went through proves it. Become the ICON you are destined to be.
The best always stumble and fall. To be down and out for a short period of time only emphasizes how much you really wanted it to begin with. You will rebound heroically because you are that kind of person. One who never quits and always tries to push himself further. Nobody has the passion and determination The Vintage possesses.
There are better days ahead, Conor. Eventually you will stand at the top of the High Octane podium again, backed by legions of supporters as the true warrior, the ultimate gamer.
The World Heavyweight Champion.
There will be no match too big, no opponent too bloodthirsty. No stipulation you can’t handle, no height you can’t reach.
You will rise when you fall, faster and faster each time.
Because you are not born of the weak. Because you are not a silly manchild.
You are flawed, you are vulnerable, you are human. You are the Player One of High Octane; “The Vintage” Conor Fuse.
And you are, by GOD, the hope these fans need right now.
How do I know all of this?
Because I am you, after all.