..The twisting, endless parade of unnamable shapes swam just on the edges of the impossible horizon; where the sky crashed into the ground and both were swallowed by a compromise in santy..
This is where our story begins…
“Fuck me.. sigh.. Here we go.” – Lee Best.. probably.
Yum yum yum.
“So a death match, huh?”
Max’s blue eye dimmed slightly, his voice weak as he stirred in the small prison chamber the Minister had kept him in since stealing control of his body several months prior. He looked tired, beaten and broken, his skin pale, his face gaunt, his hair having grown long and grey.
“Yes, I didn’t even have to convince him. He made an open challenge…heh-heh..”
The voice of the Minister hissed from the darkness of the world beyond the cell’s bars, a burning red eye glaring out from the nothingness, eager, jubilant even; the cruel voice dripping with malicious contentment. Max sighed, his diminished frame shuddered as he sat on the prison cot that occupied a corner of his cell.
“That does sound like Michael, he tends to get a pretty big head when he doesn’t lose for a while.” Max admitted with a nod. They had talked about it in OCW, back when Mike was cleaning up over there looking for decent High Octane Wrestling prospects. Of course they wouldn’t allow for a literal death match so Mike never got his wish but in High Octane Wrestling? “He probably was hoping Zion or Stevens would jump on that grenade.”
A chiding chuckle stabbed out from the shadows as the eye grew closer, the red light cast from it bathing Max in a crimson glow. The Minister slithered out of the shadows like an eel swimming through dark waters. He was massive, unnaturally so, his face taking up nearly the entirety of the entrance to Max’s cell.
“He has Steven’s son now, you know?” The Minister’s face stretched into a horrendous mockery of joy. “Beat the dog piss out of that glorified records keeper and took his boy.. Remind you of anyone?”
The blue eye turned toward the face of his captor straining stare into that horrid face.
“..w..Why would he fucking do that?” the estranged brother of Mike Best sputtered out but in truth, he already knew the answer. He understood now why the Minister had decided, after weeks, to come visit and clearly the Minister recognized Max’s own realization.
“As the kiddos say these days Yaaaaaas.” with a gleeful crack the Minister swept away the cell, the concrete and steel brushed away as if they were made of dried crackers. The cot rotted away and Max thrashed wildly as his body crumbled to the cold cement floor of his cell, the only thing beyond Max that remained in this dark place. “But I.. I really want to hear you say it..”
The massive Minister shifted forward, his accusing red eye glaring down at Max, his smile stretching beyond the borders of his terrible face, thousand and thousands of rows of metal teeth scrambling over each in their rush to fill the ever expanding maw. The ground beneath Max cracked as the shadows rumbled excitedly, a million unseen, wriggling things slapping against each other excitedly as the Minister’s exuberance grew.
Max stared at the ground for a moment as he tried to gather his thoughts in the face of his seething madness. His lips pulled tight as he gathered his strength, his eye turning up toward the red sun that was the Minister’s eye beating down on him.
“Mike’s going to kill us.”
If he had spit in his mouth he would have spat it at the Minister but instead all he had was his words. He threw them with all the defiance he felt in his chest, a spark of disobedience flickering even in front of this seemingly unbeatable foe.
“No, kill you maybe..” the monster before him growled, his face melting away as a quivering pool of moldering black worms was revealed. They held the Minister’s expression for a moment before it washed like a wave over it’s horrified prisoner. “..but me? No. And you know why.. And you will say it..”
The taunting voice of his tormentor called out from the darkness around him as Max tumbled and twisted through a viscous wave of slimy worms before he felt the scrap of dirt against the skin of his face. His body joined the rest of him as he tumbled into a heap, red dust kicking up around him. The Minister’s laughter echoed on a warm, sickly breath of wind that washed Max a fresh wave of nausea over the Ultra-Hall of Famer.
Gagging on a mouth full of worms, the World Champion crawled up to his hands and knees, his blue eye scanning the strange world around him. Red and green sands stretched out in all directions while dead, dried plants dotted the blasted landscape. A single red Sun hung high above holding dominion over everything it’s light touched. Max felt like it was watching him though he could not say rightly why.
Before he could finish Max felt the back of his mouth swell as a mass shifted from his stomach to his throat. Lurching forward Max’s jaw felt as though it would snap as bile and black worms poured out of his mouth, landing with a squelching splat on the red earth. The worms curled and played in the fetid yellow bile as the scent of rot and decay washed over Max. As he gasped for breath he saw the face of the Minister coelencing within his convulsing discharge.
“Shh.. you don’t have to say it yet..Maximillian.. Heh-heh.. I’ll let you thick about it for what few days you have left, let you collect your thoughts. Then one last mercy from me, Max, just one last parting gift.” the words bubbled up from the writhing pile of worms, his voice a sickly whisper. There was a distant gong, like that of a grandfather clock that thundered in the sky above Max. Turning to look up he saw that the red Sun had become a clock face which was set at 12:00 AM.
“In twelve hours I will give you one last opportunity to address your brother. A chance to say your.. Mm.. goodbyes..”
The voice melted away on the warm breeze, carried toward that far distant horizon like dead leaves. The mess of vomit seemed to dry in the wind, the moisture absorbed by the red sands until only a brittle tangled nest of worm corpses remained behind.
Another distant crashing noise as the clock seems to chime out the hour, each strike a thunder that roars across the sky reminding Max that it was there. The sound split his skull and sent his shiver of pain down his spine. His fingers clutched his ears as he squeezed his eyes closed in a desperate attempt to shut it all out..
But the droning of the bell continued and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
His eyes fluttered open as he stared at the clock across the room from him. It was old, at least a hundred, built by the master clock builders of the Schwarzwald deep in the south of Germany. He had paid a fortune to have it smuggled out of the Fatherland after the War and considered it a prized possession, a relic of his family’s history he could see, feel and touch.
From within it’s glass cabinet doors the massive brass pendulum swung back and forth, steady, even, orderly. Each pass was punctuated by a heavy click as the brass gears turned, it’s thousands of tiny mechanisms working in harmony with each other as it counted out the seconds with German precision. With each perfect tick the clock affirms the existence of time, the heavy fall of every tock a reminder of the ever encroaching march of entropy.
It had been designed and crafted by Master Hanz Keinhapt, part of the famed Keinhapt lineage of Clock Makers. This had been an immaculate example of his work for which there were few equals. A mirror polish shimmered over an intricately carved case with representations of trees, woodland animals, waterfalls, rocks and even a small village. These carvings were incredible in their detail, testimony to the work of the master who whittled them from oak and cherry over the course of years. Originally the wood had been lighter in tone but with age the patina gained warmth and richness, spirals of blonde and crimson entangled with veins of a thousand different shades of brown.
Each piece of this beautiful grandfather clock was itself a work of art representing hours of labour and decades of experience. Taken as one single piece this was a masterwork whose true value could not be calculated with something as mundane as money. A perfect combination of form and function, of appearance and purpose that took years to complete.
Just as existence should be.
Wilhelm’s admiration was broken, his grey eyes turning toward the sound of his assistance voice.
[“What is it, Manfred?”] the old man wheezed in German between his puckered lips. Age had not been kind to Wilhelm, his body having degenerated to needing constant medical assistance to function. His mind, however, remained as sharp and focused as his grey eyes. Manfred lowered his head slightly as he stepped forward.
[“Your flight for Washington DC leaves soon, Herr Kael,”] Manfred retrieved a ticket from his pocket while presenting it to Wilhelm. [“The arrangements have been made as you have insisted. Your daughter will be on hand when you arrive as well it has been confirmed that Maximillian Kael will also be in town. As are.. The Best Family.”]
Wilhelm’s face contorts for a moment, his eyes narrowing as his lips part into a sneer. Rotten teeth, blacked and sour, jut out from yellow stained gums.
[“Yes I know that dog shit family will be there, Manfred! This is all by design, you fucking worthless shit! DO NOT SAY THEIR NA-kaff-KAFF!”] the old man begins to cough violently, his pale skin growing tighter as purple veins bulge across his face. His claw like hand grasp an oxygen mask at his side, pulling it over his nose and mouth as he begins to suck the breaths in. Still, even as his body trembles pathetically his eyes burn with hatred. A Best hatred that bore into the direction of the luckless servant.
[“I am sorry, Herr Kael, I didn’t mean to upset you.”] the assistant offered, clearly used to these outbursts. [“I will not speak of them again.”]
The sack of hate and human waste that contained Wilhelm Kael sucked in several gulps of oxygen as the eyes flickered back toward the clock, the very sight of it immediately appearing to calm him. He would have thought that by the year 2012 they would have found a cure to immortality. No matter.
[“It.. it won’t matter in a few days Manfred. I’ll be dead.. I wager you’ll be pleased with that. A lot of people will be..”] the wretched old man snarls from beneath the mask accentuated by the hissing of the oxygen. [“..but I’ll get what I want in the end, Manfred. It won’t matter who’s pleased with my death. Years from now they may not know to curse my name..Hah..mm..heh.. I don’t care if they do though..”]
Pulling the oxygen mask down, a smile crept over the old man’s face, spittle running down his chin as his grey eyes watched the second hand slowly racing it’s endless race around the face. His breathing fell back to his original, shallow sips as he counted down his last moments in this world. Manfred offered a blow and quietly slipped out, eager to be out of the presence of the twisted old man.
[“Only one thing matters..”]
Wilhelm spoke to himself, voice guttering like an ember under Death’s cold breath. Lifting the oxygen mask back to his face the old man took a deep breath filling his black lungs with life giving air. As he expelled the breath he uttered the only thing that mattered to the hateful Patriarch of the Kael Family.
[“Fuck Lee Best.”]
His fist struck the leather, his calloused, boney knuckles driving themselve into the weathered, tanned hide.
Again, he drove his fist forward into the leather, his knuckles striking the same point, four divots remaining when he withdrew his hand, the lasting effects of his repeated strikes.
Like a clock he struck the target, felt the leather soften, felt his knuckles push deeper. Another retreat as he kept his eye on the prize.
With each blow he counted down the seconds, another moment closer to Rumble at the Rock, another precious breath of life burned.
There were many ways to kill a man. You could strangle him, wrap your fingers around his neck and squeeze until the blood vessels in his face pop and his eyes roll back.
You could take a knife or any sharp object and jam it into his eye, push it past the orbital socket and into the brain. Messy but the kind of killing that tells you there was real passion involved.
You could pick up a gun, push the barrel into his mouth, make him choke on it until you pull the trigger and feel the warm splatter of blood across your face. Sudden and provoking..
But the Minister was looking for something a little more practical. Oh sure, fantasies of murdering Mike Best by shoving a jar of broken screws down his throat before punching him in the esophagus were always going to bring the Minister joy but this wasn’t a date night, this was a Death Match.
“Alright, alright, ‘nuff for now, boy..”
The raspy English voice of an EPU veteran, “Captain” Cuthbert Price, called out to the Minister as he approached from across the empty dojo floor. Despite being in his sixties Price was in amazing shape, his silver hair combed neatly while he wore a vintage 2009 EPU shirt and a pair of cargo pants that were tucked into generic looking black boots.
The Minister didn’t turn to look at Price but rather kept his eyes on the mannequin that had been set up in front of him. A noticeable dent in the leather appeared over the heart where the Minister had been focusing punch after punishing punch.
“I can continue.” the Minister growled as he took in his handiwork with his murderous red eye.
Price scratched the thick, lush silver beard that covered his granite chin, a bemused glimmer filling his eyes.
“Oh, no doubt, you fook’in lunatic.. But punchin’ dead skin ain’t like live flesh and bone. Don’t fight back. Don’t dodge.” Price lamented as he peered at the combat dummy the Minister had been practicing his Heart Punches on. “Don’t feel. Ain’t afraid of dyin.”
A snort escaped the Minister’s nose as he turned to regard Price with a look of disgust and, perhaps, just a little contempt.
“Well you wouldn’t let me pay those homeless bums down the street to let me punch them in the heart so that’s why we’re using this stupid cow hide, Price.” the hostile nature of the Minister’s words were notable, an almost feral quality to him. Cuthbert had been with High Octane Wrestling for over a decade before he retired, he had known Max since he joined the company, he could weather the abuse but.. He had never remembered him as being this callous.
“Easy, mate, easy. You’ll get your chance to test the Heart Punch Technique plenty before you head to Rumble at the Rock to face ol’Mikey for that shiny High Octane Wrestling Championship.”
“Yes, yes, keep the conversation relevant, I’m sure this is all very helpful.” the Minister spat toward Price as he skulked away from the training mannequin, his red mechanical eye looking down at his fist as he flexed his fingers, like a butcher examining his favorite knife. “Match relevancy and a Championship mention, Price you’re worth the considerable money I’m flushing down over this turd of a gym.”
The gnarly old warrior followed after the Minister, retrieving an unlit cigar from his pocket which finds its way between his lips.
“I haven’t a fookin’ clue what you’re talking about Max but you did pay me to teach you how to kill a man with a single hit, I promise I’ll make good on that before you leave here.”
Spinning around on his heel the twisted shadow of Max Kael shoved an accusing finger into Price’s unimpressive jib.
“My name is NOT Max.”
A long and tense silence stretches between the two of them as their eyes lock. Price, either due to his age, attitude or lack of personal concern, did not wither or shirt from the Minister’s baleful gaze but rather locked with his own, steady and even.
“Fine, mate, for what you’re paying I’ll call you Queen Bess if you want.” Cuthbert said in a measured tone, rolling the cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other. “But you are going to have to trust my method, right? Listen and accept my help and instruction or otherwise, fook off, right? ‘Cause I don’t need your fookin’ money, I don’t need your fookin’ attitude. You came to me, remember?”
Another tense moment seems to be drawn out between the two and now it was the Minister’s chance to re-evaluate the situation. Of course the immediate reaction is to reach out and shove his thumbs into the man’s eye sockets, to rip off his jaw and kick his tongue back down into his entrails. All that ultraviolet kind of stuff messy sad bois like to dream of doing to the boyfriends of all their crushes.
The Minister relents, his snarl relaxing into a painfully forced smile. His shoulders relax as he offers Cuthbert an exaggerated bow. As he rose, the Minister held his arms out at either side in a submissive manner while dropping to his knees in a dramatic display.
“I put my trust into your most excellent tutelage… heh-heh..”
Cuthbert stared at the Minister for a moment with an amused look on his face before he offered a shake of his head.
“Go fook yerself.”
“Did you hear me, Mr. Kael?”
He blinked as he stared into the face of Doctor Galt. He had heard the man, the words registered in his head but for some reason nothing came out of his mouth. His mind was having trouble processing all that he had heard, a strange numbness washing over his mind.
“Mr. Kael? Are you alright, Max?”
The voice of Galt became more insistent as the middle aged man with slick black hair and horn rimmed glasses leaned forward from behind his desk.
“Yes, sorry, uh.. Sorry, I just wasn’t.. I’m sure how to address that.”
The rare look of compassion passed over Galt’s face as he nodded his head in sympathy.
“No, take your time, Max. These kinds of things, they aren’t easy to hear. You should start thinking about arrangements.. Letting your loved ones know.” Galt spoke clinically, his hands folded over each other on his desk. He looked like every dignified doctor from the 1940ies explaining to a woman why a woman’s hysteria renders her incapable of managing other human beings beyond children.
Max sighed as he turned his eye toward the plain white clock on the wall. It had been only three minutes since he had found out about the tumor in his brain. 2015 was turning out to be a pretty shitty year.
“I don’t really have any family or loved ones..”
Max had always, in his own depressed way, knew in his heart that he had no real loved ones, that he had no real family but saying it out loud? It hurt him more then he was expecting and his voice cracked beneath the weight of the truth.
“That is.. Most.. unfortunate, Mr. Kael.” Galt offered sympathetically before inclining his head to the side. “..but the silver lining there being that at least you won’t have to worry about telling anyone. You’re one step closer to having no further cares in the world, that’s envious compared to others.”
The words were meant to bring levity but they only further crushed Max’s spirit. His eye, burning with the tears he knew were coming, stayed locked on the clock on the wall as the second hand seemed to move twice as fast as it had three minutes before. More time he would never get back, more seconds sacrificed to meaningless words..
“Yeah. Big plus. I hate.. I hate telling people things about myself anyway. So. You know. Great.”
He blinked as he felt a single hot tear run down his cheek. He hated himself for crying in front of Galt, he hated his body for betraying him. He hated God for ruining his life. He hated Galt as he sat across the desk from him, healthy, his head not filled with a fatal, cancerous tumor.
He muttered to himself as he finally let the emotions wash over him, his face falling into his lap as a great, pathetic sob exploded from his lips. Self pity and anguish filled each breather he sucked into his lungs and it made him hate himself even more. The rage that swelled inside of him felt so pointless, everything he had ever achieved seemed so hollow and empty.
In the midst of these poisonous thoughts another realization was made.
No one in High Octane Wrestling could know about this. No one could ever find out how unhealthy he really was or Lee would never allow him to wrestle. The Sports Commission would pull the licenses on any matches he participated in fear that he might legitimately die.
High Octane Wrestling was the only real thing he had, it was the only stable force he had ever truly known. Without wrestling, with the World of High Octane Wrestling, Max had nothing. In a moment of clarity, through ugly crying, Max understood that the wrestlers of High Octane Wrestling were his family. Every member of the crew, every cook in catering, every fan that lined the seats of the vast High Octane network of arenas..
They were his reason.
Through the tears and rage Max made himself another promise.
He would wrestle until he died and if he managed that?
Max would die content.
That thought brought a touch of relief and as that rare, rare feeling washed over Max he caught himself smiling. Learning of the end he never thought he’d find comfort but now that he stood on the edge of the Last Great Adventure? Brushing the tears from his eye he looked back up at the clock, his sobs fading as he embraced this new sensation. He didn’t even mean for the words to slip out, it just happened.. natural as death.
…too be continued.