”So, I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me.” – Charles Dickens
A cool spring breeze blows the leaves on the trees high overhead. A large metal warehouse-style facility, some thirty or so feet tall from this side and stretching around fifty or so feet left to right, is here in this clearing. There’s a very temporary sign affixed to the side of an old metal door that says “TEN-X” on it in red lettering.
After a few moments, the sound of gravel crunching underneath rubber tires is heard, and a small converted prison truck rolls into view. Once it comes to a stop, immediately several men in EPU uniforms jump out, two from the passenger side and a third from the driver’s seat. They walk, slowly and purposefully around to the back of the truck and one of them raises a metal sliding door.
Inside, streams of light hit the passenger, Jeffrey James Roberts in the face, and he squints. They gesture for him to exit and he scoots toward them, hands bound in front of him firmly in metal cuffs. Stepping out onto the darkly colored rocks, he smirks slightly at one of the guards, though he can’t identify him with his mask pulled down, this being very much by design.
Roberts turns and looks at the building and smiles as the guards grab his arms, one on each side, and follow the third guard to the door.
Stepping inside there is the musty smell of an old boxing gym. There are men working on renovations, one set by the East wall and another using a bolt cutter to cut through some thick, heavy wire protruding from the ground, possibly the remains of old, tired training equipment. Roberts’ eyes are drawn to the middle of the structure, where there is a nice, obviously new wrestling ring set up. While the rest of the building is dimly lit, there is a brighter white light shining down from the ceiling on this part of the gym.
Being led forward, he keeps his eyes fixed on the ring, not blinking, deeply concentrating on his destination. Stopping right next to the ring, he stops, and a guard pulls keys from his belt. The three of them step back, forming a small circle around him, and with the press of a button on the keychain, his cuffs unlock and fall to the ground. Roberts watches them go, then looks back up, smiling again.
“Just like that, huh?”
“We have our orders,” one of them replies.
The killer nods. “Of course.” He looks back at the ring again. “I’ve never had the opportunity to train in an actual ring, you know. The old man just threw me at the wolves.” And then back at the guard with a smirk. “But there are worse things than wolves.”
He gets no reaction from the three men.
“You have forty-five minutes to do whatever you need to do. When you’re done, we’ll take you back.”
Roberts rolls into the ring, bounces a bit to test the give of the canvas, then sprints against the ropes, then back again, and again, until finally stopping, satisfied, in the middle of the ring. He turns back to the guards. “Not bad. I don’t suppose I can be trusted with a training partner?”
Roberts smiles, knowing the answer already.
“I don’t think so,” the guard nearest him says. “Unless you can convince him to train with you.”
The guard points his thumb to the rear-left of the ring, and Roberts spins around to look. Standing next to the door to a small office built into the side of the building is a hulking man, six-foot-seven, looking around three hundred pounds give or take a few, arms crossed.
Roberts’ eyes go wide and he absent-mindedly walks across the ring in the man’s direction. The man holds a stare with the psychopath before finally, he smirks slightly and turns his back, and heads into the office, pulling the door closed behind him.
Roberts continues to stare at the door, then chuckles to himself and turns around.
“You have Dan Ryan here?” He laughs again, despite himself. “That’s unexpected.”
Without another word, Roberts sprints from one corner to the other, leaping up onto the second turnbuckle each time before hopping back down and running to the next in line. Finally, he runs up the corner closest to the office side and looks at two eyes peering out from behind a set of blinds. Roberts smiles, then executes a twisting somersault backward into the ring, landing on his feet. He stands there in the middle of the ring, then sits, grinning and looking at the office. The blinds close, the man inside having seen enough, and Roberts closes his eyes.
”No matter how long you train someone to do something, you never know if they are ready or not ready until something real happens.” – Veronica Roth
If there is something you should know and you don’t know it, because you were not taught, it is not your fault. But, if there is something you know that you don’t know, and you should know, and you are not doing your best in learning it, then it is your fault. You are the way you are. You are where you are in life.
I know what they say about me. I’ve been listening to it through the filter of my mind since I was a child. They underestimate my will, and I’ve spent my life bending them all to it.
I spent almost an hour testing my limits today. By the time I was finished, nose and cheeks red with cold, hands and feet aching, lungs ready to burst, I was exhausted, but my spirits are somewhat lifted. Even if I should fail, even if I should die, it will not be for lack of effort.
Only an hour.
It’s something that men like our opponents take for granted, the freedom to work on your craft for hours and hours on end. I’ll have to make due with what I’m given, but it’s more than I had been given before. No one has trusted me enough to give me even that small sliver of freedom, and I don’t blame them. But the small amount I’ve been given, I will use to its most efficient end. I am wild, reckless, untamed, yes but inexperienced most of all. They think it must be some kind of trick. Television champion for six months. Surprising. So surprising. And I haven’t even been properly trained.
But training can’t erase this from my mind. No amount of it ever could.
Recognize that wolves which are often hungry for chickens will probably eat the chickens if allowed to carry the keys to the hen’s house. For similar reasons, the senile and the clumsy should probably not be allowed to walk freely around sensitive equipment. The protector of dangerous means such as nuclear weapons or other powerful decisions which may affect thousands, millions, or billions of lives through a simple order or press of a button ought therefore to be screened regularly. Who is regulating these relics of bygone eras, smoking Cuban cigars and waxing poetic about their athletic accomplishments?
They all know we’re one day closer to the end when we wake up in the morning. We just kid ourselves that it’s not happening. Eventually, time passes them by, and that time is rapidly approaching.
They can see me as nothing, see me as no one because that’s what I came from, nothing. At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. It’s somewhere I’m going and never have been before.
While I was wasting away in the dark, and despair took me over, despite everything I tried to remain sane, a strangely comforting thought trickled through me – I had nothing, so I could do anything now. Anything I wanted. I had nothing left to lose.
Everything ends. And that’s what this is. We are an accident waiting to happen, and life’s just a bunch of accidents, connected by one perfect end.
”Whenever a nation or a group of people is devoid of light, catastrophe comes, calamity hits, there is danger everywhere.” – Sunday Adelaja
John Sek-tor. Adam Ell-is.
Johnny John John Sektor and Adam…. Ellis.
Hey guys. I know we’ve had some interactions, and I know you in particular, John, know my friend Arthur. But we never were properly introduced. You see, I’m a great admirer of the two of you. Oh yes, don’t be too surprised. Practitioners of the pure science. And you, John, the greatest ring technician alive. You were already famous even before I went to prison. Yes, I’m such a big fan.
I know how much you loathe anyone or anything that doesn’t specifically pertain to what’s about to happen in that ring this weekend, so I’ll try and keep things focused for you, sweetheart. I myself have always wanted to meet the two of you face to face, so I can look into the eyes of purity. I imagine the reflection is full of arm drags and wristlocks, suplexes and back body drops, perhaps a well-placed back elbow after an Irish Whip. So much skill…
On the other hand, I have no actual skill that I can quantify. I have a measure of athleticism and a complete disregard for the safety of myself and of others. And there’s more, so much more. There’s a bit of magic behind what I do. I can’t explain it to you really, and I think that if I tried it would come off sounding like a cheap parlor trick or a witty con. But it’s real. There are lots of people you can ask if you like, though I doubt you will.
But I have my own tale to tell, and who better to tell it than myself?
Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of tea, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative.
There’s magic in that, too. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words, but you yourself can shape it, boys. Do not forget that. There are many kinds of magic, after all.
I never had any real options. In the beginning, there was nothing more than a bright-eyed child, immune and oblivious of the world he was being born into. I was born and raised in a mundane time, in a mundane town, among mundane people. Oh, most everybody else didn’t realize we lived in that web of magic, connected by silver filaments of chance and circumstance. But I knew it all along. When I was twelve years old, the world was my magic lantern, and by its green spirit glow, I saw the past, the present, and into the future.
You probably did too; you just don’t recall it. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But when we get the sparkle educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because what we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.
I’ve tried to regain what I was before all of this started, but after you go so far away from it, you can’t really get it back. You can have seconds of it. Just seconds of knowing and remembering. When people get weepy at movies, it’s because in that dark theater the golden pool of magic is touched, just briefly. Then they come out into the hard sun of logic and reason again and it dries up, and they’re left feeling a little heart sad and not knowing why.
When a song stirs a memory, when motes of dust turning in a shaft of light take your attention from the world, when you listen to a train passing on a track at night in the distance and wonder where it might be going, you step beyond who you are and where you are. For the briefest of instants, you are back.
That’s what I believe. That is the only thing pure and true in this fucking world. The truth of life is that every year we get farther away from the essence that is born within us. We get shouldered with burdens, some of them good, some of them not so good. Things happen to us. Loved ones die. People get in wrecks and get crippled. People lose their way, for one reason or another. It’s not hard to do in this crazy world of crazy mazes. Life itself does its best to take that memory of magic away from us. You don’t know it’s happening until one day you feel you’ve lost something but you’re not sure what it is. It’s like smiling at a pretty girl and she calls you “sir.” It just happens.
The memories of who I was and where I lived are important to me. They make up a large part of who I’m going to be when my journey winds down. I need the memory of it if I am ever going to feel that surge of belonging again. I need to know and remember, and I want to tell you.
Purity means something to me, although it isn’t a romantic notion about small arenas with rabid professional wrestling fans. It isn’t the ability to counter anything that comes at you. You can do that, and you can have it. We’ll never beat the two of you trading moves. No no no no no. But we are also something you could never possibly understand. The violence you two know would be a lovely stroll in a sunlit park to me. I can’t stress enough and can’t explain enough to make you understand how little you understand.
Arthur has a word he likes to use to explain it. He calls it calamity. It is mired in guilt and shame and anger and fury and calm resolve to make the world feel the same. I detest guilt as a motivating factor for anything, and as for the promises made by ‘professional wrestlers’, well, they are the very blueprint for calamity, a writ of divorce rendered point by point.
Rather than engage with you in a battle of intriguing stories and tales of my past or tales of your ever-growing list of lingering injuries, John, and rather than listen to Adam Ellis tell me word for word what happened on the latest episode of Missouri Valley Wrestling, I will keep my focus right here, on this match, on the two of you, on the High Octane World Tag Team Titles. That fucking kid in the mask took my Television title and didn’t even have the common courtesy to keep it for more than a week. And Arthur took your precious LSD title, and then did the same. His failures, my failures, they are the drive that makes us a force that can’t be contained. We are even more together than we are apart.
I am nothing, but together we are something. We are many, we are not yet fully out of the shadows, but we will conquer after all. We will come in waves, not only this week but in the weeks to come. We’ll affect you slowly as if you were having a picnic in a dream. There will be no ants. It won’t rain.
And then it will all come crashing down. Because that’s the key, isn’t it? I want you to be comfortable. I count on it. You see, your psychopathy is understood, and you will do as you’re told. You are predictable and stale, and we will put an end to this tedium. We will be standing on top of the mountain looking down on the rest of you, and we won’t stop until we do.
Like all magnificent things, it’s very simple.
Persistence wears down resistance.
In the end, nothing was ever really in tune. You face the end just blindly grabbing at whatever there was: communism, healthy foods, zen, surfing, ballet, hypnotism, group encounters, orgies, biking, herbs, Catholicism, weight-lifting, travel, withdrawal, vegetarianism, India, painting, writing, sculpting, composing, conducting, backpacking, yoga, copulating, gambling, drinking, hanging around, frozen yogurt, Beethoven, Bach, Buddha, Christ, T.M., “H”, carrot juice, suicide, handmade suits, jet travel, New York City, and then it all evaporates and falls apart.
I pity both of you. But people have to find things to do while waiting to die.
I guess it’s nice to have a choice.