I should have seen it coming.
It’s all I could think about, as I lay trapped beneath the weighted girth of a steel chair, struggling to breathe beneath the might of the last man I’d ever expected it to be. As I lay there bleeding out on the canvas, I could hear him talking. Preaching. Proselytizing. And yet from the moment that he opened his mouth to speak, all I could think about were the same words, over and over and over again.
“I should have fucking known.”
I’ve watched it back a thousand times, like somehow I’m going to learn something I didn’t already know. Like I’m going to pick up on the secret that will fix all of this, and make it go away. I’ve heard him say those words over and over again, praying that somehow they’re going to give me the answer, but I don’t have any more words now than I had then. Even if I could have screamed, I don’t know that any sound could have escaped— I was horrified. Humiliated. Completely and totally stunned.
But I shouldn’t have been.
I fucking shouldn’t have been.
It’s not like the signs weren’t there– even Lindsay had noticed that something was going on with Max, and she didn’t have the slightest fucking idea what was lurking behind that beady, mechanical eye. She wasn’t here back then. Neither were Dan and Cecilworth. I should have warned them. I should have known better. I should have noticed that Everything about him had changed, but as usual, I was so caught up in my own bullshit that I didn’t see it coming. That the apocalypse had arrived, and it had slept on my fucking couch two nights last week.
He’s my fucking brother.
How didn’t I notice?
I was so focused on everything else… taking shitty jabs at Andy Murray, and trying to get my ducks in a row for War Games. Going on another pathetic suicide mission with the ICON Championship, trying to cement a legacy that I’ve never been satisfied with. Struggling with all this bullshit that doesn’t mean anything in the end, because in the process, I let my brother down and I let him fall. I let him disappear. I let him get taken over from the inside by a fucking monster, and it’s MY FUCKING FAULT.
How did I not see it happening?
I should have known it from the moment that he asked me for a shot at the ICON Championship. I should have noticed the hostility. I should have noticed that something wasn’t clicking. That the Group of Death was being sabotaged from the inside. He started acting differently. Talking differently. Disappearing, and forgetting things. The Twitter tirades. The backstage arguing. For a fucking year… a YEAR… Max was the one who championed the idea that the eMpire didn’t fight. He’d been the beacon of our entire idealogy– we made every decision together, we never disagreed, and we never FUCKING WRESTLED EACH OTHER. Max Kael wouldn’t have wanted to take the ICON Championship from his own brother. Max Kael wouldn’t have wanted to hurt Lindsay Troy. Max Kael wouldn’t have just accepted being drafted by Lee Best.
But The Minister would.
It’s been over a week, and I can still feel the fucking staples in the back of my head, keeping my brains from leaking out all over the carpet. The wound feels as fresh as the memory. As the humiliation. As the burned-in image of that glowing, horrifying crimson eye staring down at me in the middle of the ring.
Max Kael is gone.
That person… that thing… that attacked me… is wearing his skin, but it isn’t Max. It isn’t my friend. It isn’t my partner. It isn’t my ally, and it sure as fuck isn’t my brother. And as we all head into War Games with our own private chips on our shoulder, I have to remind myself of the one thing above all else that The Minister is not.
He isn’t a wrestler.
Max Kael is a wrestler, and there’s a formula to that. Punch, punch, kick, headbutt, pin, whatever. You fight from bell to bell, and no matter how much you hate a motherfucker, it’s over when they raise someone’s hand. Live to fight another day. The Minister doesn’t care about pins. He doesn’t care about wins, or losses, or fucking standings. To him, that belt around his waist is a useless distraction, and War Games isn’t a wrestling match… it’s an actual War Zone. Because The Minister isn’t a wrestler… he’s a murderer.
And he’s very, very good at what he does.
A killer. A monument to a time when losing a match didn’t mean getting made fun of on Twitter, or being stuck wrestling in the opener. There was a time in High Octane Wrestling when you were fighting for your life in the middle of that ring, every single week, and a LOT of fucking people lost that fight to The Minister. I have lost colleagues, acquantainces, friends, and fucking family to the whims of the man that wears Max Kael’s skin.
This has to be my fight now.
I know that War Games is important. I know that it’s all about the World Title, and it’s suicide to walk into that match thinking anything otherwise. But for the first time in my entire career, I think I might have found something that is more important to me than bragging rights, or titles, or what the fuck the world thinks about me. Every single person I know and love is in very, very real danger as long as The Minister holds my brother hostage. To the Group of Death… I know I’ve been AWOL. I know I’m not answering texts. I know I’m not picking up the phone. And I need you guys to trust me, at a time that I know it’s very hard to trust one of our own. But you have to let me do this. You have to let me handle this.
You have to stay the fuck away from The Minister.
You have to leave this one for me, because it’s my mess. Because I should have known better. Because deep down, my brother is somewhere inside of that homicidal fucking creep, and I will never be able to look myself in the mirror again if I don’t reach into there and save him myself. Do not approach him. Do not engage him. Do. Not. Fight. Him. Because he does not feel, he does not hesitate, and he DOES. NOT. STOP. Not until he gets what he wants.
….and I know what he wants.
Because this is all my fucking fault.
Because this has been eight years in the making.
Because I’m the one who owes it to him.
The Future Home of SixTime Academy
Somewhere in Chicago, Illinois
Thursday, September 11, 2012. 9:23am
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”
His own voice feels heavy as the words fall out of his mouth, his knees scraping against the cold, hallowed stone beneath them. Perhaps they’ve been weighed down by his own apprehension to say them in the first place– he clears his throat, trying to loosen up the dry mucus of apology from his vocal chords. It takes thick and rancid, like the tar from an unfiltered cigarette.
The Son of God had never been one for apologies.
Then again, he’d never been one to believe in God in the first place– at least not the kind that live on fluffy white clouds, stroking their fluffy white beards and casting the gays into the abyss. When he wasn’t busy deifying himself, Michael had always feverishly avoided the kind of God who would forbid you to eat bacon and write a bunch of bullshit rules on stone tablets.
But then, desperate times did call for desperate measures.
Atop a rundown altar, the dilapidated remains of a soaring, sixteen-foot Jesus Christ towers over the kneeling frame of Michael Lee Best– it isn’t lost on him that idolatry was one of the rules carved into those giant rocks.
“I’ve sinned a lot, probably.” he stifles a smirk, realizing it’s not the time. “Look, dude. I don’t really know you, and you don’t really know me, and I’m gonna be real honest with you, I feel pretty stupid even being here. But I need help. And if you’re real, and if you’re listening, and if you’re really all about forgiveness and love and all that shit, then maybe you can help me.”
Michael couldn’t remember having ever been inside of a real church before– he’d seen pictures of his own Christening, like he was some kind of a fucking boat or something, but most of what he knew about these places was some leftover shit he’d seen on television. He stares intently at the worn eyes of a ramshackle Jesus, unsure if he’s supposed to wait for some kind of answer from the LORD.
For now, there is no reply.
Maybe he’s just listening.
“I don’t know if you have pro wrestling in Heaven.” he furrows his brows, realizing this may be hard to explain. “I mean, it doesn’t seem like something you’d be down with. It’s mostly a lot of face punching and sometimes people die. Not a lot of harps. But if you’re all… omniscient… and shit, and you have a plan, or whatever, you have to at least know what it is, right?”
He briefly unclasps his hands, wiping the sweat from his forehead into the loose fabric at the bottom of his t-shirt. He glances at the shitty, faux-vintage CHRISTPLOW logo staring back at him from the front of it, and realizes his faux-pas. If it wasn’t bad enough that he was taking his first meet-and-greet with the LORD as an opportunity to ask for a favor, it certainly wasn’t going to help that he was wearing actual blasphemy on his chest.
He can feel the sweat in his eyes.
“Anyway, I have this belt.” Michael swallows hard, trying to get his shit back together. “I’ve held it more times than anyone else ever has. FIVE TIMES, God. Like, this is some really impressive shit in my industry. Like when you made sheep and stuff? That was awesome. This is like, on that level. I’m even thinking about opening up like, a food truck or something. FIVETIME FAJITAS, or something. Or maybe that’s stupid. Maybe a wrestling school? FIVETIME SCHOOL FOR GIFTED YOUNGSTERS. Look, I’m still working it out.”
His mouth is the fucking desert.
If only he had some aqua.
“The point is,” the self-proclaimed Son of God mutters, to the actual Son of God. “This belt is… everything to me. All that stuff you supposedly said, about how you loved the world so much that you gave your only son, or whatever? That’s how I feel about this belt. And I’m really, really close to setting this record for the longest reign ever. I’m like, one of Kirsta’s cunthairs away from being the longest running champion, with the largest number of reigns, and the most number of defenses. But my Father is trying really hard to stop that from happening.”
His knees are throbbing. Maybe not enough to cut seventeen promos about it, but they hurt nonetheless– now that he’s becoming a bit more acquainted with the LORD, Michael Lee Best pulls his knees up, sitting flat on the cold stone tile beneath him. Crossing his legs in front of him, the Son of God decides to keep things a little more casual from now on.
After all, he’s bonding with Yahweh. They’re friends now.
“He keeps sending people after me, God.” Mike whines, letting out a long sigh. “Nobody wants me to set this record. It’s just match, after match, after match, and I’m so fucking close. It’s like they’re trying to take my fucking kid away. Can you imagine if they’d MURDERED your son? How would you have felt?”
“I dunno.” he shrugs, his shoulders falling forward in a slump. “I guess you wouldn’t get it. I know I’ve never asked you for anything before. When my Aunt got cancer, I didn’t bother you. When all those kids were trapped in that school bus downtown, and it caught on fire? You didn’t hear from me, man. I kept it low key. So you kind of like, owe me one, right? I’ve been fighting the good fight, week after week, and I’m just… struggling. I’ve faced Max Kael, and Silent Witness, and David Black, and… shit man, I just keep fighting.”
He stares up at the statue before him, but all that hangs in the air is silence.
It was stupid of him to come here– even if God was listening, Michael Best knew in his heart that he wouldn’t have anything to do with the man who had spent the last three years defiling his name. A man who once snorted a line of cocaine off of an actual wooden crucifix. A man who once opened up an abortion clinic in the name of Christ– yeah, that actually happened.
He can feel it welling up in him. Shame. Embarrassment. Anger.
“He isn’t going to stop, Lord.” the volume rises in his throat. “Every week, he’s making me fight. EVERY FUCKING WEEK! He’s not going to quit until I’m dead or someone else is wearing this belt. This week, I’m facing Max Kael again. AGAIN! Fucking razor wire ropes, dude. RAZOR WIRE. HELP ME! FUCK, JUST HELP ME! I will literally give you my kidney. Just like, murder Max in his sleep. Like, just get one of those big fucking cloud pillows and shove it over his stupid face until he stops breathing, and I will LITERALLY GIVE YOU MY KIDNEY. Not even my business what you do with it. Just… help me.”
He slumps forward, clinching his eyes tightly in the desperate hope that he can keep the sting of tears off his cheeks. For three years, Michael Best had made a career out of being the HOW ICON Champion– as outlandish as it might seem, the desperation is real. A career made out of failed title defenses and missed opportunities. This time could be different. This time could change him, and turn his legacy into something real. This time could get him the one thing he’s been after for three fucking years.
The HOW Hall of Fame.
And yet somehow, even in the House of God, he feels nothing but alone– not a friend at his side, a brother at his back, or a single ally in the fucking world. He should have known that some stupid trip to a dilapitated church wasn’t going to make a difference. He should just pick himself up, drag himself out of this shithole, and never tell another human being that he–
“WHAT THE FUCK?!” Michael abruptly yanks his body sideways, as a single hand reaches out and rests upon his shoulder.
His heart nearly leaps out of his chest, as he thrusts himself to his feet and throws his eyes open, ready for a fight. For a moment, he almost expects to see an actual animated ghost of Jesus Christ standing in front of him… but it isn’t the Lamb of God that is staring back into the portals to his soul.
The eyes are colder.
“You ask, and do not receive.” the voice rings out, echoing in the darkness. “Because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. John, four three.”
The eyes that stare back at him are those of Max Kael’s, but not really. Like a man wearing Max’s skin, only tighter, and more rigid. His gnarled, rotten teeth curl into a rancid grin, as he steps out of the shadows and into the light.
In his right hand, a single apple, which he tosses back and forth between his fingers.
“God will not answer your selfish prayers, dear brother.” Max continues, the sneer curling over his lips, and spreading across his face. “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”
From his pocket, The Minister draws a small blade– Michael swallows hard, taking a step backward and nearly stumbling over his own feet. The body of his brother steps forward in kind, bringing even more of his face into the light.
“Matthew, sixteen twenty six. Heh-heh.” The Minister chuckles, under his breath. “So tell me then, Michael– if you’re willing to give a kidney to God for the sake of that adorable little trinket around your waist… what then do you offer me? What price will you pay? Because God’s heart may be hard to your prayers, dear brother, but us?… heh heh…
With one swift slice, The Minister sweeps the blade across the apple in his hands, cutting a chunk of it away. He stuffs it greedily into his mouth, as the juice dribbles sloppily down the front of his greasy, scarred chin.
“Our heart is open.”