May 29th, 2021
Futagoyama Sumo Stable – Day 9
Do you know how they say time slows down in that moment your life hangs in the balance? They say it so often it’s almost some trope, it can’t really happen that way.
Physically speaking, of course that is inherently false, but as is the case with most things, you reach a certain point where perception becomes reality. Your mind shifts its attention to memories. It begins to function solely on recollection. The event itself seems to last longer. The surroundings become more vivid. The finer details enhance in richness.
And in some instances, elements that didn’t exist embed themselves.
As I fall with my back facing the ocean, I desperately claw at the air out of instinct. I know there is nothing to grasp onto, no saving grace from my descent, but it doesn’t stop my limbs from searching. My eyes scan the exterior of the ship, water cascading down the steel panels, the only protrusions being the rusted heads of bolts. Looking up, the culprit behind my dive stares down at me.
Perched on all fours, his fingers curl over the edge of the USS Octane. The moon reflects off the crown of his bald head, casting a shadow over his face. Through that darkness, his eyes beam with exhilaration. His smile is devious, and his cowardly act gives him a perverse satisfaction.
This isn’t the first time he’s gotten the better of me.
Lightning rips through the sky, turning The Miracle Man into an imposing silhouette. The clouds are backdropped by a menacing purple hue, the thunder rides the ocean waves into the unknown. As the energy force dissipates and my pupils readjust, I notice it’s no longer the man who bent cold steel around my torso peering over the edge. He’s been replaced with a man I haven’t seen in over a year.
I blink as if the mirage will disappear, but he is real. His presence is tangible, but more importantly, unwelcome. His face remains emotionless as I plummet closer to my watery grave. A rush of childhood memories come back, only to be stifled by my hatred for what he did. He shakes his head, and with complete disregard for my well-being, turns to walk away. With his back facing me, he lets out a primitive roar.
“I QUIT,” he screams to the sky.
It isn’t the first time he’s turned his back on me.
“Where do they all go, Ted?” he taunts through a whisper.
How can I possibly hear him?
“Everybody quits on you, don’t they? Zoey left you for your dad. I ditched your overachieving ass for greener pastures. And once you take care of HIM? Well that’s when you’ll no longer serve a purpose to THEM.” His words inject like poison before disappearing onto the flight deck.
As I spin to face the water, Clay Byrd is looking up as he wades in the rugged tides. He is struggling to stay afloat, barely remaining above the surface. Panic has set in and he can’t hide it from his face, just as I’m sure I can’t either. I follow through with my rotation as lightning once again dances through the sky, a gentle mist raining down on me.
Shock crosses my face as to what I see next.
Lindsay Troy. Zeb Martin. Conor Fuse.
All three members of The Two One Four stare down. My back begins to bleed, burning from betrayal. My chest tightens with contempt, my heart pounding against my sternum. Their hands are extended, but it’s far too late.
Is their gesture genuine?
Or are they trying to save face?
“Where the fuck were you?” I ask.
“Ugh,” I gasp, my heels scraping across the dirt of the ring.
Placing my hand over my left pec, my heart thumps as if it’s trying to burst through the layers of bone and muscle separating it and my palm. My other hand clutches the dirt underneath it in an attempt to ground myself. The sensation of falling that struck as I drifted off has me breathing rapidly, my eyes darting around the training center at the Sumo Stable as I begin to collect my bearings.
“Jesus Christ,” I mumble.
Digging both sets of knuckles into the dirt, I lift my ass and scoot back towards the cypress panelled wall, having slumped down during my literal dirtnap. Sunlight has begun to filter through the windows, adding natural light to the dingy room that hours earlier was only illuminated by the screen of my laptop. Sliding my finger across the touchpad of the keyboard, the screen lights up to reveal a ‘play again’ icon, the video being my match with Clay.
Clicking the exit tab of the media player, a file folder is revealed containing a vast library of videos of all members of The Best Alliance. My HOFC loss to Harrison. Zeb and my losing effort against Sektor and Starr. Sutler eliminating me from the Battle Royal he won at ICONIC.
Losing is the theme of this collection.
And it’s not just littered with my losses. All Two One Four losses are included.
It’s imperative that they are.
I made the early mistake of rewatching what could best be described as our collective highlight reel, stroking off to every moment of success I or one of my teammates experienced. My confidence grew exponentially, and the more consideration I gave to any one of my nine opponents, I found I was beginning to dismiss their potential as a threat. I directed my focus on their shortcomings and failures, and refused to acknowledge their success.
And The Best Alliance has a lot of fuckin’ success behind it.
They have former Lee Best Invitational Winners and War Games Survivors. They share a combined ten World Championship reigns. They have four Hall of Famers representing them, and a fifth who you could argue is a shoe in. Clay Byrd and Sutler Kael have been deemed by many to be their most dangerous members, and they don’t fall in ANY of the prior categories mentioned.
GOD has a vision, and it’s fuckin’ scary.
Rolling the cursor icon around the screen, I scroll through the various matches I’ve compiled. As of recently, I’ve spent a lot of time watching Sektor and Starr, simply because logic dictates it makes the most sense. I defeat Clay, and I move onto the cringeworthy duo with Conor and Dan. It’s the silver lining of being announced as the first participant: structure. Sure, my journey will be more physically arduous than anyone else’s, that’s a given. But I’ve been unintentionally handed the mental edge in this War.
There are no surprises coming my way.
“Two minutes and thirty nine seconds,” I grunt, rubbing my eyes.
That’s how long it was from the moment Steve Harrison interfered in my LSD Championship defense until he wrapped that steel chair across my back, sending me overboard. That’s how long I fought two men, by myself, while trying to retain my Championship. That’s how long I waited for any member of the Two One Four to come to my aid.
Conveniently, they arrived after I walked the plank. I wasn’t expecting Dan. Ray was at home recovering from his burns. Arthur, Xander and Zion hadn’t been named members of our lineup yet. Lindsay, Zeb and Conor let me down. It was the one time I needed them, and they were nowhere to be found.
Has my success driven them to be resentful?
It’s a road I’ve travelled down before…
Looking to my right, an unfolded napkin lays on the ground beside my cell phone. It serves as the physical reminder of the promise I made to myself, and the cost of success in this cutthroat business: the last communicated words between myself and Red. It was scribbled on the night he walked out on this company and more importantly, our lifelong friendship. It’s the same night I tore my bicep and fell to my absolute lowest. I could have never imagined my LBI victory being the beginning of the end for us. I thought our bond was strong enough to endure one of us being thrust into the spotlight.
I was wrong.
“I Quit,” I read off the napkin I’ve kept for over a year now.
If the man I thought of as my brother could turn his back on me, it’s not unreasonable to think the trio I’ve formed a bond with over the past four months could do the same.
Am I overthinking this?
Has isolation begun to breed paranoia?
The chirping from my iPhone halts my trance, alerting me to an incoming message. Picking the device up, I wipe my hand on the side of my shirt before unlocking it. Tapping on the messages icon, the text is from Conor.
Conor: Long time no talk! Lunch?
Me: Can’t. Training.
Conor: Cool. Dinner it is. It’s super important, although not as important as breakfast because that’s most importantest! I’ll pick you up. I know where you are, I added you to my phone tracking app. LOL!
I guess avoiding everyone until War Games is off the table…
“Fuck me,” I toss the phone to the ground.
“Language!” Masato barks as he enters the training center, startling me.
“Stop doing that!” I whine, having half climbed up the wall.
“Clean up your belongings,” he waves his hand in the direction of my mess. “Training starts in fifteen minutes.”
May 29th, 2021
Two Dogs Taproom
Conor and I had discussed numerous options for dinner before settling on Two Dogs Taproom: an American inspired bar and restaurant that’s known for its California style pizza. The industrial themed interior screams working class watering hole, but the english speaking staff are much more welcoming than the cold decor would suggest. Upon entering, the flashing neon signs in the front window had the two of us reacting like a pair of phototactic moths, hypnotically attracted by the glowing glass tubes. We were quick to abandon the large crowd by the entrance, securing the sturdy maple table in the far front corner, nestled nicely underneath the dancing rainbow of colors.
“Where was I?” Conor clicks his tongue, audibly thinking. “Right! Lady D! She’s like this nine foot…”
“No!” I interrupt with wide eyes and an extended index finger stretched across our table. “Just. No. The entire fuckin’ car ride. No. This restaurant right here? Video Game free zone. Capeesh?”
“Well that’s no fun,” he mutters.
I keep that pointer extended to convey my seriousness as I begin to pat down the pockets of my coffee toned leather jacket with my free hand. I find the bulge I’m in search of, unzipping the left breast pocket and reaching in to pull out an orange prescription bottle. The rattle of pills inside the container perk Conor’s ears, and his curious eyes peer at me and my medication.
“What are those for? Are they a power-up of some kind?” he asks.
“They help me resist the urge to crossdress,” I reply sarcastically, without hesitation.
“Yeah, that makes sense,” he replies instinctively, before cocking his head and looking quizzically from across the table. “Wait, what?”
“Sektor? Crossdressing?” I reply as I fumble with the childproof bottle before looking up at Conor. “Our resident Buffalo Bill?”
“I don’t follow.”
“Would you fu…nevermind ” I abandon the reference, knowing it will fall on deaf ears.
Successfully unscrewing the white cap, I fish out one of the tiny yellow pills. Placing it on the inner portion of my bottom lip, I use my top front teeth to rake it into the small pool of saliva underneath my tongue. As I press down tightly, it takes very little time for the pill to dissolve, only the slightest bit of chalky residue left behind.
“Clonazepam,” I grunt, popping the cap back on the container. “It’s an anti-anxiety medication.”
“Oh, that’s cool, yeah. I bet there’s gonna be lots of anxiety coming up for the both of us over the next week. Maybe I’ll borrow some later?” he awkwardly replies, tapping on his left temple. “Gotta look after your memory chip.”
“You can have as many as you want,” I gleefully reply, imagining a medicated Conor.
“Awesome Possum!” he reaches across the table, extending his fist to be bumped.
I debate leaving him high and dry.
I’m a dick, but not a monster, so I don’t.
A slender framed brunette approaches our table with a pen and flip pad in hand. The name badge pinned to her white button up reads ‘Aiya’, and she greets us with a soft smile and friendly eyes. As her lips begin to part, Conor is quick to jump in, not giving her the chance to introduce herself, nor open with the customary inquiry regarding beverages.
“Aiya, love the name. We will both have water,” he winks at me. “My friend here is a recovering alcoholic.”
“What the fuck?” I jutt my hands out to the side.
“And we’ll share a Large Roasted Chicken Pizza,” he gives me a thumbs up. “Double cheese.”
“Okay then,” she snickers at Conor’s excitable demeanor.
She reaches down in front of me, snatching the menu I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to explore. Conor hands his to Aiya, and she pins the pair between her arm and torso, offering a slight nod before departing with ‘our’ order. I bite on the inside of my cheek while staring at Conor, who is clearly oblivious to my irritation.
“So,” he plants his elbows on the wooden tabletop, folding his arms over top of one another. “Where were you last week?”
Where the fuck were you on the USS Octane?
I close my eyes for the briefest of seconds, trying to convince myself now is neither the time nor place to get into it. I take a deep breath in, exhale slowly, and open my eyes.
“You okay there, Ted?” Conor asks. “You lagged out for a second.”
“I’ve been acclimating myself at the Sumo Stable,” I reply calmly, not necessarily lying. “Burying myself in training. Preparing for War Games.”
“What’s up with that BTW?” he leans in to interrogate. “I mean, why Sumo Wrestling?”
“Why not?” I fire back defensively.
“Well is that type of training beneficial?”
“You need to understand that War Games is like nothing else you or I will ever experience. It’s gonna challenge every fiber of your being: physically and mentally. Hell, even spiritually, if that’s your kinda thing.”
“Okay?” he ponders, before asking once again. “Beneficial? Yay or nay?”
“Your fuckin’ right it is. You don’t prepare for the type of challenge standing infront of us by doing the same fuckin’ routine. You gotta throw yourself behind the eight ball. You stack the deck against yourself. You push yourself to the point of breaking. You stand on the edge of failure and stare down into that dark chasm.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“It’s fuckin’ simple: This. Is. War. And War requires you to go places you’re not comfortable going. It requires pushing yourself to the limit. You gotta reach that breaking point. You have to taste the bitterness of failure,” I too rest my elbows on the table, leaning forward. “And by doing that you’ll learn you a fuck tonne more about yourself than you ever will through the safety of monotony.”
Conor purses his lips and looks skyward, contemplating what I’ve said. He runs his hand through his hair, humming ‘mmhmm’ repeatedly.
“So you could almost compare it to how Video Games have difficulty settings.”
“What did I just say?” My molars grind together.
“I know, I know. But…” his face twitches as he’s unable to contain himself. ”I think I get what you’re saying. I myself always play on Expert Difficulty.”
“All of three minutes,” I groan.
“You know, they say your gaming skills decline in your twenties, but honestly, if you keep mentally sharp enough, you can probably last until your thirties.”
“You’ll be lucky to reach your thirties,” I say in all seriousness, to which Conor chuckles. I rub the sides of my head vigorously, trying to force my irritation into submission. “Listen. No more. Big boy time now, cool?”
“What is so important that we had to get together tonight?”
“Right!” he taps his forehead as if he’d forgotten he summoned me. “We gotta gameplan for the Tag Team Championship.”
“Uh, what?” I scratch my scalp. “Shouldn’t you be talking with Dan about that?”
After a brief moment of silence, the two of us share a hearty laugh over my suggestion that ends up being an unintentional joke.
“Talk to Dan after losing to Sektor?” he looks down his nose. “It took everything in me to talk to him ONCE, Ted, ONCE. Almost pissed myself. Actually. And I’m not saying that to be funny. I’ll take a hard pass on speaking to him after the recent loss.”
“That’s probably for the best,” I agree.
“Besides, if you beat Clay, you’re just as much a part of the Tag Match as the two of us.”
“When,” I’m quick to correct him. “And I don’t think we gotta worry about a gameplan.”
“That loss to Sektor is gonna be a blessing in disguise.”
“How do you figure?”
“Let me ask you this: would you want to be locked in a cage opposite Dan Ryan after you just fucked him over?” I shake my head no, mouthing the word as well. “I’d be willing to bet my left nut that Dan Ryan walks into War Games in full Murder Daddy Mode.”
“You’d bet what?!”
“My left nut. Keep up,” before pointing down at my nether region. “And as far as you go? I know you haven’t forgotten Rumble At The Rock. I see that fire burning in your eyes. This is your opportunity to right a wrong, and Geriatric Jatt doesn’t stand a fuckin’ chance.”
As I’m talking, Aiya makes her return with a glass of water gripped in each hand. She gently places them down, beads of condensation rolling down towards the surface of the table. Nodding thank you, I remove the lemon wedge pressed into the rim of the glass, discarding it on a nearby napkin. Taking a sip, I swish the cool water around my mouth, washing up any leftover remnants from the pill that had been clinging to my gums.
“And that’s not even taking into account Judas Sektor,” I add, matter of factly.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re telling me you can’t hear the sound of Sek’s knife pressed against the grindstone?” I ask, picking up the serrated knife from my place setting, opting to provide Conor with a visual representation. “It sure as hell ain’t subtle, that’s for sure. And Jatt actually thinks we’re his biggest threat. The poor bastard’s too ignorant to realize his ‘best friend’ shed his loyalty along with his bitch tits.”
“You really think Sektor would do that?”
“In a heartbeat,” I spew confidently, thrusting the knife forward and twisting as I pull back. “Sektor’s a fuckin’ snake. His greed will fuck The Best Alliance over and send us into the World Title portion of War Games with a three to one advantage.”
“So he’s the Leeroy Jenkins of the group? I always thought it would be Jiles,” he says to himself before turning his attention back to me. “Either way, it’s hard to imagine us losing if that’s the case.”
Leave it alone, Ted…
“Sure…so long as everyone stays in their lane,” I reply, glancing at the knife in my hand.
“Wait…are you implying…” Conor starts to trail off.
“That we have our own snake in the grass?” I shrug. “It wouldn’t shock me.”
An uncomfortable silence falls between the two of us. We exchange looks with one another, but quickly find our eyes occupied elsewhere. The knife cradled in my hand suddenly feels like I’m carrying the weight of the world. I tried resisting the urge to travel down this path, but the perceived wounds in my back have been burning.
“Call it a gut feeling,” I softly kill the silence. “But I’m predicting the temptation of the World Championship will prove to be too much for some to handle.”
“I know there are a few wildcards joining our Co-Op, but I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt.”
“I’m not just talking about them,” I pause, recalling the loneliness I felt in the Pacific Ocean. “Who’s to say that greed doesn’t find its way within the walls of the Two One Four?”
“Nope, that won’t happen,” Conor bluntly replies with an animated headshake. “You’re wrong Ted.”
Am I wrong?
“I hope so,” I offer with sincerity. “But I think we’d be wise to keep our heads on a swivel. Everyone’s true color comes out eventually. War Games seems like the perfect place for that, wouldn’t you think?”
Has he even given that night a second thought?
“Well…save me the anticipation…” Conor pauses for a brief second, shifting in his seat. “What’s the background color of your avatar, Ted?”
Is he fuckin’ serious?
I don’t hide my disdain, glaring at Conor and what I deem to be a smug demeanor. Given the direction I steered our conversation, his question is certainly justified, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t piss me off. Pressing my tongue into my cheek, I slowly roll it along the interior of my bottom lip to the other cheek, nodding rhythmically. With a deep breath in, I pull my arm up before thrusting downward, plunging the tip of my knife into the weathered maple. Slamming down with both hands as if I were trying to put them through the table, I creep forward slightly.
“Theres my fuckin’ knife,” my voice remains low but deep. “Where’s yours Conor?”
Upon impact, the base of my thumb had slid down the serrated edge. The cut is a minor one, but big enough to have left my blood streaked down the blade. The Gamer doesn’t so much as flinch, looking down at the knife before lifting his stare back up at me.
“I don’t have one.” he replies without batting an eye.
“I’m not afraid to admit I want that World Championship,” I spit through gritted teeth. “But I ain’t gonna stab anyone in the fuckin’ back to get it.”
“And what makes you think I will? Or that Zeb or Ray are capable of it?” He tosses his hands up in confusion. “Lindsay? Seriously, come on.”
Let it go, Ted.
It’s too close to War Games.
Slowly slipping my hands off the edge of the table, I sit up straight. Softening my facial expression, I cup my nonbleeding hand over my face, slowly pulling downwards, combing my fingers through my beard. An audible sigh exits my mouth, and my lips dryly smack together.
“Fuck. I…I don’t,” I exhale. “Maybe…I’m just overthinking things.”
Then again, maybe I’m not.
“You think?” Conor leans back. “What’s gotten into you?”
“I’m just tired. My mind’s been wandering.”
Maybe it’s lost at sea.
“Well stop it,” he says before pointing at my pill bottle. “Take more of those or something. Now’s not the time to go out to lunch.”
“I’ll be fine,” I say, waving him off. “Honestly, just forget it. Been reliving the final days of Red and Ted. It’s been messing with me a bit.”
“Grapplers Loco 360 is stronger than that ‘Two Man Stable’ ever was.” Conor reassures me.
“I know,” I nod. “And…uh…sorry about the knife.”
“It’s cool,” his nonchalant tone is unexpected. “I’m pretty desensitized. Been playing Mature Rated games well before I turned seventeen.”
“Good to know,” I snort. “How about we ditch the War Games talk? I need a mental break. Some time to unwind. Have a little fun.”
“Okay, now we’re talking.”
“The ‘No Wrestling’ policy is officially in effect.”
“Are Video Games back on the table?” he raises a single brow.
“…tell me about that Vampire Lady,” I reluctantly smile.
“Oh boy,” he rubs his hands together. “For starters, she’s not really a vampire, she just has vampire-like qualities…”
As Conor forges on with his character synopsis, I slump down into my chair. A colourful glint hits my eyes causing me to squint, and I’m prompted to look in it’s direction. The flashing neon lights from above reflect off the face of the stainless steel knife stuck in the table, a colorful spotlight cast down upon the six inch blade. My blood rolls down each serrated groove, the wooden slab below it’s destination.
I can’t help but stare.
My smile slowly begins to fade.
Conor’s voice starts to muffle in the background, and words from not too long ago begin to echo within my head.
No matter how long it takes.
No matter the price you gotta pay.
No matter the sacrifices you gotta make.
You will be the fuckin’ guy.
“No matter what,” I mumble.