Ride the fire

Ride the fire

Posted on March 21, 2023 at 5:11 pm by Evan Ward

When I Was Young

The happy couple stepped into the house with beaming eyes as they took in the space before them. The entrance hall was spacious yet still felt cosy, with a coat rack attached to the wall on the right above a wooden shoe bench, which had seen quite some use over the years, and a built-in cabinet with sliding doors to the left. The rough mat by the door was set in some rather old looking brownish-red tiles which, after a couple of feet, was replaced with a very nice looking carpet. It was the sort of carpet you would step onto, after having taken your shoes off on the tiles, and just stand there feeling the softness ease the tension in your feet.

Up ahead on the right was a staircase leading up to the first floor, it was one of those fancy floating staircases where the steps extend out of the wall without any support from below. It curved around to the hallway above. A smooth and modern looking bannister wrapped around it to stop anyone falling off as they stumbled up it after a night down the pub. As you walked past the stairs, the hall opened up to the rest of the house on the left.

“As you can see,” the estate agent, or realtor as they might be called over in the States, began as she showed the couple along the hallway. “The house has had some major refurbishment work. While the previous owners tried to keep some semblance of the character of the original building, they pretty much knocked it down and rebuilt it from the ground up.” She was a very serious looking middle aged woman of average height with straight shoulder length blonde hair, all packaged in a professional suit more leaning towards the practical than the stylish. In her hands was a thick binder which was presumably full of notes and information on the property.

“This is incredible, Evan!” Sara Megan Ward exclaimed as she skipped on ahead, passing by her husband and the estate agent. “Look at this kitchen!”

Evan grinned as he strolled through the wide arch after her. The kitchen was very modern, lots of space along the polished granite worktops with plenty of storage in the cupboard beneath them. An island in the middle gave more of the same. It was well appointed but the impressive part wasn’t the kitchen itself, it was the view out the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall concertina glass doors which looked out across the fields and rolling hills of the Welsh countryside, the morning fog could be seen winding through the distant valleys like the smouldering breath of a dragon. It was the sort of view you’d wake up to and just spend some time staring at, enjoying the tranquillity as you sipped your morning coffee regardless of the stresses of the day ahead.

“Wow, that is so awesome!” Evan was clearly taken aback by the fanciness of the place. “It even has a… What’s this?” He pointed across the other side on the kitchen

“It’s the sink.” The agent replied.

“Really? I thought this was the sink?”

“There’s two.”

“Weird… Whatever.” He shrugged and walked over to his wife. He put an arm around the gorgeous goth girl and she reciprocated, pulling in close. Sara was a little under five and a half feet tall and fit right under his armpit. Her darkly elegant lace shawl wrapped around her and flowed down to her ankles, obscuring her moody purple dress beneath.

Evan, in contrast, just wore a drab gray hoodie and a pair of jeans which, judging by the various holes in the knees and rips around the ankles, hadn’t just seen better days, they had signed a DNR and were planning a trip to Luxembourg. “So what’s the layout here?”

“Oi, you told me you’d read the listing on RightMove!” His wife elbowed him in the ribs.

“I looked at the pictures, ok!”

“It’s your fairly standard 4 bed converted farm house.”  The agent said as she flipped through her notes. “Upstairs it has the master bedroom and three others, two rooms have en suites while the others share a bathroom.

“Down here,” she continued with a stride across the room, flicking her pen in the direction she was talking in. “There’s a utility room just off the kitchen there… A living room down there with a built-in home cinema… Across there are two reception rooms, one is kitted out as an office and the other was used as a kids playroom.”

She stopped by the patio doors. “There’s the summer house down at the bottom of the garden and a little annex off the back of the garage which had been used as a guest apartment. The barn over that way is fully wired up and heated, it has been a workshop for but its floor plan is bigger than a lot of houses around here so it could be converted to be a comfortable cottage.”

“Isn’t that great, Evan?” Sara squealed, squeezing Evan’s arm. “We could turn the barn into your gym! Get a ring in there, some training equipment, all that stuff.”

“That’s an awesome idea. I’ll be able to train up here, and it’s close enough to Cardiff that I can still give classes down there. I can’t see much of a downside.”

“Much?!” Sara glared.

“Well it’s not exactly in the lap of civilization is it? It’s, what, 20 minutes to the nearest supermarket?” Ward cast a look at the estate agent, who nodded sideways in the universal expression of saying, yeah, pretty much, give or take. “And don’t get me started on the internet here, I bet it doesn’t even get basic fibre!”

“It gets about one and a half meg on a good day.”

“You see it’s not- wait what?” Both Evan and Sara looked stunned, lost for words at the startling revelation. They would have been more receptive to being told the last 4 owners had all been murdered in ritual sacrifices down in the orchard.

“You mean a hundred and a half meg, right? One fifty?” Sara said, pleading to have misheard the number. “Or ten and a half?”

“Seriously? A meg and a half?” Ward staggered to pull out a chair out from the dining table and sat down, the colour draining from his skin. “Are you shitting me? In this day and age? Dude, it’s 2014, not 2004.”

“Unfortunately the telephone cables up here are very old and the cost of replacing them with a more modern infrastructure is oppressive.” She explained. “As there’s only a few houses out here it would take British Telecom about 60 years to recoup the cost. Fortunately, over there on that hill is a mobile mast, so you can get fairly reliable wireless broadband at a more acceptable sixty to eighty meg connection speed.”

“Ah, fair enough.” Some of the colour returned to Ward’s skin. “Guess that’ll do for Netflix, shame the latency is crap for gaming but I’ll cope. So what do you think?” He stood up and held Sara’s hands.

“It’s everything I could want.” She gushed. “There’s so much space, a beautiful view, it’s our perfect forever-home. Perfect for the three of us.” She brushed her shawl to the side, revealing how very pregnant she was, and rubbed the bump.

“Same.” Ward smiled lovingly as he looked into her eyes. “I can just see us waking up together here for the rest of our lives. I can’t wait, there’s so much to look forward to!”

The estate agent coughed. “So you’re interested?”

“Extremely so! I’ve never been so excited about moving before.” Evan grinned. “Do you take cash or card?”

But now I am older

Evan Ward woke up and rolled over. He stretched out an arm across the other side of the bed but no one was there to embrace. Evan scratched at his stubble as he sat up with a frown. He was starting to get used to waking up alone, it only occasionally reminded him of what he no longer had. The bed was not particularly nice, the mattress was stiff and the frame was creaky, it was cheap and nasty when it was first purchased and the many unknown years had not been kind to it. Evan had thought about replacing it once but, like so many things these days, he just couldn’t be bothered.

The rundown single-room apartment he now considered home was not looking healthy. The mould on the ceiling had grown quite a lot lately around where the water was dripping away, down into the bucket underneath. Piles of dirty dishes filled the grimy sink and half eaten takeaway boxes cluttered the sides. Lately doing the chores just didn’t seem worth the time. As long as Evan had the basics he really didn’t care about the rest.

He stood up and pulled on a pair of grubby looking sweatpants and a curry stained t-shirt and kicked some of the floor clutter out his way as he made his way to the door. The stairs led him down to El Vasquez’ wrestling gym. Once a thriving business, owned by Evan’s late mentor and managed by his assistant Sanjeed, it was now dishevelled and uncared for. The plate glass windows out front were all boarded up and half the equipment had a thick layer of dust. El Vasquez had left the Memphis gym to Evan when he passed and Evan had left it in the hands of Sanjeed to run in his absence. While Ward was busy making a family in the UK the gym was forced to close when Sanjeed returned to India to care for his own family. The gym’s doors were never opened again. After everything which had happened in Evan’s life in recent years, he had taken to squatting in the apartment above and decided to use the facilities as his own personal training grounds.

When he had last been trained here he was still learning the ropes, being shaped by a legendary luchadore of old to become one of the greatest high flying wrestlers of the modern era himself. It was rigorous, some might say near abuseful, training, but he set Evan on the right path, it helped him become a World Champion and go on to train the next generation of kids back home in Wales… At least he used to. Not anymore. He was done with that bullshit. After all the hard work he had put in over the years, all the connections he had built up, the family he had grown, where did it lead him? Back to this shit hole… Back to the ring.

Evan grunted as he slunk into the gym’s kitchen, only mildly less disgusting than the one in the bed-sit upstairs. After rinsing out a mug he turned on the coffee machine and hit the button to make him a coffee. A strong one. While he waited for it to grind up the beans and pump the water through its filter, he checked his phone. Like everything in Evan’s life now, his phone was not well looked after, it had numbers cracks in its screen and a good helping of sticky tape to hold it together. It’s not like money was an issue, his bank account wasn’t on the same hard times as Evan was, slumming it just didn’t bother him.

The phone was screaming with notifications. He chuckled as he skimmed through all his mentions on Twitter, seeing people still raging at him turning to the dark side was amusing. They just couldn’t let it go and he thought it was brilliant. Even funnier were the contingent of Ward faithful who were convinced it was all a work, that Evan was just going undercover to dismantle the Alliance from within or some other convoluted bullshit. What a bunch of fucking idiots, Evan thought as he dropped the phone on the worktop, another chip forming on its screen from the impact. He swilled out a water bottle in the sink and filled it up just as the coffee finished pouring. He took them both through to the main room, placing the mug on a stack of boxes near the ring.

Evan pulled a pot of pills out his pocket, popped the lid off and washed down possibly a couple of too many with a drink from the water bottle. It was enough to dull his headache a bit, but it just didn’t seem to go away. It was at the base of his skull, pulsing away like an annoying fly bouncing off a window it couldn’t see and with just as much buzzing. Evan paid it little mind, it’s not like there was anything he could do about it. He put the pills and water down beside his coffee mug and rolled in the ring to warm up while his coffee cooled down.

These days it felt like all he did was train. No partying, no skating, no gaming, no hanging out with any hangers on, none of that mattered anymore. Just a laser focus on training, if only because that was all he had left. Now he had returned to the ring, his upcoming matches were the only thing he was looking forward to, everything else faded into the background. He needed to be in peak condition. It wasn’t a desire, it wasn’t a would-be-nice, it was a necessity. While he had checked out of doing housework and had all the care for his personal appearance of depressive hobo, he still handled his fitness and physical conditioning with absolute dedication, to the detriment of everything else. Time spent cleaning and tidying and relaxing was time which could be spent training and working towards that mythically unattainable goal of perfect peak performance.

This fire, this drive was something he had never felt in his previous stints under the spotlight. Before, he was dedicated and worked hard, no one could have called him a slacker. But this? This was obsessive. This was unhealthy, from a psychological standpoint. Without anyone around him to anchor him to reality and keep his head in general society, he just recused himself from partaking in the world and trained…

After laying out Conor Fuse at March 2 Glory and laying down his mission statement at Chaos before delivering the beaten young star to Christopher America, gift wrapped with a bow on top, Evan had his eyes fixated on his re-debut match. It wasn’t his goal, it wasn’t the finish line, it was just the starting block. After what Evan had done at the pay-per-view, after the gift he’d given Captain America at his… wedding, and after the precision teamwork the two showed in that glorious beat down to close out Chaos, Lee decided they should team up. The world champion, the true American, teaming up with the high flying innovator, the most awesome acrobat in wrestling, Evan Ward, taking on the LSD Champion and the man slathering over that belt.

It hardly felt fair, he thought as he finished a set of sit-ups, facing Jace and Zion. No, he didn’t think it wasn’t fair because of the challenge. It wasn’t fair because… well, just look at them. Jace, was now a cyclops and got the ever loving shit kicked out of him by Bobbinette Carey in Scottywood drag at March 2 Glory, while Zion struggled to beat that Xander Vuvuzela freak. They were both beaten to hell and back in Manchester, regardless of winning their matches, and then they were sadly beaten to a pulp on Chaos. Poor guys. If only there was some way they could have avoided it

Evan chuckled to himself, amused at the thought and how much he had changed. He barely recognised himself anymore. It felt so good to cut loose for once. He’d never done it before, never just gone on a rampage and just beat the shit out of someone. Sure, he’d been in tons of fights, his wrestling career had been filled with exciting fights inflicting tremendous damage on his opponents… but that was competition. That was, and Modern Evan shuddered at the thought… playing fair. Urgh. If Evan could go back in time and meet Past Evan, boy would he kick that little prick so hard in the nuts. The old Evan Ward would never have let the new Evan Ward smash through the entire roster with the Alliance. He was such a joyless twat, always banging on about doing the right thing and not taking the easy way out. Far too focussed on hanging out with fans, doing his stupid hobbies, partying it up with his hangers on… He never let himself have fun, but Chaos showed that new Evan is all about fun, he thought as he locked himself away and spent his days training in a run-down gym.

But no, it wasn’t fair they were facing the worn out, soul-broken, dysfunctional pair of Jace and Darin. It wasn’t fair on them, having to team up in that state to face the best the Final Alliance had to offer, two amazing wrestlers in their own right who were renowned for their tag team prowess. Yes, yes, both JPD and Zion were well versed in tag wrestling, they both had multiple tag reigns, that’s not in dispute. Their ability to work together, though? Well, that didn’t have any questions either. They can’t. It’s not in their nature. It’s like putting two feral cats in a box and expecting one not to claw the other’s remaining eye out.

America and Ward, on the other hand? Consummate professionals with the innate ability to team up with whoever they get lumped with and instinctively work like they’d been tagging for years. If this was just a random team they would cooperate and vibe of each other’s strategies, but it wasn’t random.  They hadn’t been teammates for particularly long, but Ward and America had an understanding, a common goal of beating on a bunch of nerds. No doubt there would be kinks to work out, they’d need to get used to each other’s timing and moves… which is why it wasn’t fair on JPD and Zion that they were just a practice team for Ward and America’s budding new partnership, to get them tuned up and ready for War Games. With the world’s greatest wrestling mind by his side, Ward felt like winning War Games already was within his grasp, that everything he had done would be worth it in the end.

As for the nerds, Evan considered as he rolled out the ring to grab his drink, the question would haunt them. What if they had been on top form, what if they had worked as a team and put their differences aside. What if Jace still had both eyes? With only one eye he would never see Ward’s Award Winning Knee coming. Literally. While Ward can hit it ambidextrously he’s naturally a southpaw, his left knee would be hitting Jace right in the eyepatch. What if Zion wasn’t such an obnoxious people pleaser? He wastes so much time and energy pandering to the crowd he might as well be wearing a black and white fur suit and sit eating bamboo all day.

People would ask them wherever they went but, deep down, they would know the answer. They would feel it in the pit of their stomach every time they thought of that match, that even on their best day, even if they were able to put up more of a fight, to work cohesively as a united team, the outcome would be the same: an unrelenting beat down from the most awesome wrestlers on the planet. When people tried comforting them with the notion that, on another day, they could have turned the tables, it would just twist the knife that little bit more, knowing they were a sham.

And that wasn’t fair on them at all… But it was something they would have to live with, because no one ever gave a damn about what was fair for anyone else. Evan certainly didn’t, not anymore. When he was younger he did. He used to think fairness was a human right, that something being unfair was a wrong needing to be righted. What a self righteous, entitled prick he used to be.

 Evan sipped at his morning coffee… or was it his afternoon coffee? Some days he lost track of what time he woke up… As he sipped his coffee, Evan contemplated the weight such unwavering belief from so-called supporters put on people. It was a burden Evan knew too well, but a burden he himself had shed. Enlightened by his refusal to play their game, he no longer had to worry about being crushed under the fans’ belief in him to do what they wanted, how they wanted, he was free to do things as he wanted.

Evan put the mug down and grinned to himself. Visions of the upcoming match flashed through his mind and got his adrenaline pumping. “Alexa, time to train!”

“Now playing your super awesome training playlist.” Declared the AI assistant from speakers dotted around the gym. Evan rolled into the ring as Daisuke Ishiwatari’s Ride The Fire blasted into life.

“READY OOOOOORRRRRRR….” The vocals screamed as Evan Ward, the final member of the Final Alliance, War Games captain, set to work.