Together we’re blazing
Together we’ll go all the way.”
- Together, The Pet Shop Boys
The HOW World Championship was never what it seemed. From its appearance to its influence, it was a femme fatale disguised as something prettier and more innocent.
It was a lie.
To most wrestlers, the strap was made of leather and colored to a deep #97Red. But in truth, the strap was made from the body of Lee Best. Over the years, the strap has taken bits of the bodies from the champions that have worn her.
The coloring was not dye.
Rather, it was blood, born from the gallons that have been spilled for her from champions seeking her and champions defending her.
Her golden metallic face plate wasn’t metal at all. It was ground up bones. Bits and pieces of the arms, legs, fingers, toes, ribs, wrists, necks, and skulls of those that came before, stained yellow with the sweat and breath of those who have given their all.
The gems were not precious stones to make the championship more ornate. Rather, they were souls. Representations of those that came before. And when the time came that the World Championship deemed it, Christopher America would add his soul once more, for the third time, to her collection.
Even the words were a ruse. Many read HOW WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP as an honorary title or trophy bestowed upon the victor. But really, those three simple words were a cautionary tale of triumph and heartache spread over nearly fifteen years. Grecian epics, Roman mythology, and Christian parables offered less twists and turns, cunning and intrigue as the stories that defined the HOW World Championship.
And during his time in HOW, Christopher America held the World Championship for a collective time of nearly half a year, he still didn’t see her for what she truly was.
She exerted an influence on him like none other.
Just being in proximity to her, America felt a kinship.
Like that she belonged to him.
Mike Best held her ten times for a total collective time of nearly two years and yet it was America that felt a greater need to hold the title. Even Tyler Best, someone so young and promising passed on the World Championship to hold the ICON Championship. As if the ICON title was a scarlet letter. As a way to stick it to the people and his father.
No one would be able to catch Mike in number of reigns, but America could hold it longer. Longer than Jace, or Cecilworth, or Mike. It would take a concerted effort.
Effort not from America alone.
Effort from Andrew’s continued training.
From Bill’s encouragement.
From America’s dedication.
All of them.
***August 10th, 2022***
Over the last several days, training had gone exceptionally well. America’s body had regained the muscle memory it had lost. Andrew’s teaching and Bill’s drive to keep America on a strict schedule had gone well also. America had now re-added several submissions back into his arsenal. He had worked diligently with Andrew to work towards those submissions and escape a variety of submissions in ways he couldn’t even begin to fathom. Andrew’s strict regimen had America almost instinctually twisting, turning, pulling, pushing, and shifting weight to get out of holds.
After showering and getting changed, America retired to his room for the evening and laid his head down. Sleep quickly took him.
The doors to the saloon swung open with a loud squeak. The spurs on the boots jingled with each heavy footstep that walked across the wooden floor. The tinkling music of the piano stopped. Nearly everyone in the saloon stopped talking and all looked up. The stranger entered. He didn’t move his head an inch. While chewing on the toothpick in his mouth, his eyes slowly moved left to right.
Slowly, everyone resumed what they were originally doing.
The room was filled with a wide variety of men. In the corner, a group of gamblers were eyeing each other suspiciously. Near the stairs, a woman in a low cut top and hoop skirt was being fawned over by a drunken man. She batted her eyes flirtatiously as she worked to part the drunk from his money. At the bar, a group of men nursed drinks and ordered new ones. No conversation was had. Upstairs, giggling was heard as footsteps ran and doors slammed.
The stranger did not look like anyone else.
White skin, blue eyes, dirty blond hair, muscular. He wore pants colored Old Glory blue. His boots and shirt were white. His duster and hat were red, but not Old Glory red.
Something darker, something sinister.
His pants were held up by a belt made of the darker red. An elaborate, ornate, and large gold plated buckle with jewels on either side.
The stranger made his way slowly to the bar. His hand fell heavily onto the table as he brought attention to himself. The bartender shuffled over and nodded.
Bartender: What’ll ya have?
The Stranger: Where is he?
The bartender’s eyes flash with fear.
The Stranger: Look, my… time… is valuable. I’ve already taken care of “The Monster” and “The Ordinary Man”. I’ve been told the Miracle Kid ain’t here. So that just leaves Slick Steve, don’t it? Word has it, he was here yesterday. You wouldn’t… happen to know about that, would ya?
The stranger’s hand peeled back his duster slowly, flashing the handle of a gun. The bartender’s mouth dropped as he looked nervously from the gun back to the stranger’s eyes. He closed his mouth and swallowed.
Bartender: Look, I—I don’t want no trouble. If you wait over at that table, I’ll have someone get in touch.
The stranger’s eyes flickered for a moment, as if analyzing whether he was being told the truth. With no other leads at this point, he figured why not. The stranger nodded and walked over to the table. Two knives were embedded into the table and a series of deep grooves spread out. The stranger ran his fingers over the grooves and then noticed the red stains on the table.
After a few moments, a pair of heavy footsteps grew closer. A large hand pulled back the chair opposite the stranger. The stranger kept his head still and moved his eyes from the red stains on the table to the man sitting opposite him.
Man: You lookin’ for Slick Steve, I hear.
The Stranger: What’s it to you?
Man: I know where he’s at.
The man stared at the stranger.
The Stranger: You gonna tell me or you going to keep starin’ into my eyes hopin’ I falls in love with you?
The man’s upper lip quivered slightly as if he were almost going to let out a snarl.
Man: No. But I got a message fer ya.
Slick Steve says you ain’t never goin’ to find him. And when you least expect it, he’s goin’ to kill you. And when he’s done killin’ you, he’s goin’ to find who you are, find yer family, and kill them too.
The man smiled and then licked his lips.
The stranger nodded slightly and chuckled lightly.
Man: What’s so funny?
The stranger looked into hard into the man’s eyes.
The Stranger: That yer boss sent you here to die in his place. And you… you’re too stupid to see that. But if you want me off your boss’ back, why don’t we make a little wager?
Man: What kind of wager?
The Stranger: A game. Five Finger Fillet. Fella that goes the longest without cutting themselves wins. If I win, you tell me where your boss is.
Man: And if I win?
The Stranger: Name it.
Man: You leave town and I get that fancy buckle you got ‘round yer waist.
The Stranger: Deal. And seein’ as I’m a sportin’ man, I’ll give you the first go.
The man pulled the knife from the table with relative ease. He opened his hand and placed it on the table. He spread out his dirty, oversized fingers and began. He thrust the knife down and pulled up quickly, moving with relative ease between his fingers.
For the first two rounds, he didn’t look down at his hand or the knife. He deftly moved the knife through each open space, stabbing into the table.
He was sending a message to the stranger.
Faster and faster he moved.
Picking up speed with each new round. He had clearly done this many times before.
The tick-tick-tick sound of the knife began to seemingly grow louder.
The faster it moved, the more it drew the attention of the other patrons of the saloon.
The man stopped and flicked the knife into the air. The blade landed back into the table next to his hand. The man then held his hand up for the stranger to inspect it.
The Stranger: Impressive. You know. Any man can do one knife. Ever tried two?
The stranger reached across the table and pulled out the man’s knife and then pulled out his own. The stranger spread his hand out on the table and carefully positioned the knives in the empty space between his fingers, measuring carefully.
Man: Ain’t no way in hell.
The stranger hesitated for a moment, almost as if he was second guessing his game.
Quick as a flash the stranger shifted one knife to his empty hand, raised both in the air and stabbed them hard into the man’s hands on the table. Blood began to flow as the man cried out in pain. He started to slide from his chair but the knives in his hand kept him from falling completely under the table. The stranger then moved around the table, grabbed the man’s head and began to bash it into the table.
The saloon grew quiet again as the man had been knocked out.
The stranger straightened himself up.
The Stranger: I don’t care which one of ya do it. But someone better find Slick Steve and tell him to meet me here tomorra’ at noon. Tell him, The Statesman is lookin’ for him… and he better return what was taken from me.
The saloon patrons began to murmur under their breath as The Statesman walked slowly out of the saloon.
Morning came and the day grew hotter once more. In the middle of town, a tumbleweed blew on by as the residents scrambled out of sight.
Along the road, The Statesman came walking in, his duster blowing in the wind. When he got to the center of town, the doors to the saloon flew open with a bang as they smacked against the building. The large man from last night came out. His hands were bandaged and he scowled at the sight of The Statesman. No sooner did he appear than he was shoved aside. A muscular man wearing the unmistakable grey coat of a confederate soldier, adorned with medals, pushed his way to the front.
The Statesman turned and looked at the man.
Slick Steve: Well, well. If it ain’t The Statesman. Heard you were lookin’ fer me.
Slick Steve smiled a devious smile as he walked down the steps out into the road.
The Statesman: I’m here to get what’s mine. And then make sure you don’t take anything of mine… ever again.
Slick Steve: Oh really? And what do you think I have of yours?
The Statesman: My animal.
Slick Steve nods.
Slick Steve: You know. I took him because I wanted to get your attention. After what you did to my compatriots. To me. And now that you’re here… well… me and my boys are gonna take that belt a yours. And I’m gonna wear it to show everyone that I’m the one that took out The Statesman.
I’m gonna be a legend.
The Statesman: How you wanna do this?
Slick Steve: You know me. I’m a simple man. One bullet. Ten paces. Oh and, uh, here’s the thing. You kill me? My boys are gonna put a few rounds into you…each. Sound fair?
The Statesman gnawed on the toothpick in his mouth for a few moments before taking it out. He threw it to the side and looked hard at Slick Steve.
The Statesman: No.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Instinctually, Slick Steve ducked and raised his hand to cover his face as the sounds of gunshots rang out. Slick Steve’s men fell one by one, including the large man with the knife wounds.
The Statesman: See, the way I reckon it, you was going to have yer boys shoot me either way. And I don’t like that notion. Here’s what’s gonna really happen. Right now, you got a dribble a piss runnin’ down yer leg. Yer lookin’ for the quickest way to protect yourself and get the hell outta this town.
What I’m gonna do is beat you. Not with my pistol. Not with my knife. But with my bare hands.
And then I’m gonna drag your carcass through this town and every other town for the next five miles.
You highwaymen are gonna learn real quick. You don’t run nothin’ anymore.
My friends and I? We run this show. Together.
Now. Stand there and get ready to take yer beatin’ like a man.
The Statesman cracked his knuckles as he moved in on Slick Steve.
***August 11, 2022***
Morning came and America awoke feeling better than he had in a long time. He was refreshed, clear headed, and looked to be in even better shape than when he came back for War Games. His arsenal was finely honed.
He was ready.
After he got up, he made his way out into the hall where Bill was seated in a chair. Upon seeing America, Bill stood up and walked over.
Bill: This morning, we got another workout with Andrew, followed by…
Bill stood there. Frozen. Arms dangling at his side. His tablet barely hanging on in his hand.
He was trapped.
He was in shock.
He was… being hugged.
Christopher America’s massive arms wrapped themselves around Bill for about a second before being released but to Bill, it felt like he had been standing there slack-jawed for an hour.
Christopher America: I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done. It wasn’t easy on you and I appreciate your work and your effort. I’ve been doing this a long time. Wrestling doesn’t afford people many friends. We learn to be cautious and wary about everyone that we meet and everyone that we allow into our lives.
You’re… one of the good ones.
Bill still stood there, trying as quickly as his great intellect could to process everything that was just said. He swallowed hard and looked up at America.
Bill: Thank you… sir.
Christopher America: Sorry for interrupting, what were you saying?
Bill blinked several times before finally looking down into his tablet.
Bill: Another workout with Andrew for submissions, we have our flight to Tombstone, then we have strength conditioning, and…
Christopher America: Make some time for…me… to address him. Don’t skip the workouts. But find me the time. And the space.
Bill: Yes, sir.
***August 12, 2022***
The buildings of Tombstone, Arizona look like they have been preserved for all of time. Wooden exteriors, weather worn from dusty winds and harsh sunlight, still stand as monolithic as they were back in the 1800s. Christopher America walked the roads and stopped to look at each of the buildings. The Steinmeier Mining Company, Jacksons Hotel, Del’s Bakery, Barney and Sons’ Saloon, the Bank – it was all there and looked incredible. A true testament to America.
As America continued walking, he turned his attention from the buildings to the camera walking with him.
Christopher America: I want to peel back the curtain a little bit and let you know that these past few weeks have been difficult. Losing George, getting beaten up, having to re-learn things I should’ve known. It’s been pretty daunting. It’s been difficult because sometimes as World Champion, I surround myself with lies that reassure me. Lies that tell myself that things are going to be okay. And sometimes those lies pile so high that I am forced to confront them. And the crumbling walls of lies becomes like a shedding of the skin. I grow tougher, stronger, and better for it. And sure, new lies will take their place eventually. But I’ll confront them too and grow better for it.
But you, Steve Solex, you don’t have that benefit.
The truth is that you tell yourself lies upon lies that they don’t rise up like walls, the wrap themselves around you like a cocoon. And instead of transforming you into something greater or something better, it does nothing but leave you as you are.
You’re not a fucking butterfly. You’re a still birth.
You lie to yourself that your family life is okay. That your wife loves you. That little Scotty looks up to you. That you are somehow, someway, the model of a family man.
The truth is that your family life is in shambles. It has to be. Look at how fucking miserable you are. I’m betting that you barely spend any time at home visiting your family. All you know is the fight. All you know is the war. Home takes you away from that. Home is the unwanted peace. Home is the unnerving quiet. Home allows you to reflect on everything you’ve done, everything you’ve become.
Do you think your wife truly loves you for the man that you are?
No. She fears you.
She fears you because you aren’t the man she fell in love with. You haven’t been for a long time now. She’s merely an outlet for you. Whether that’s an outlet for violence, for sexual relief, she’s nothing but a tool for you now. She wants to leave you but doesn’t know how or when is the best time.
Scotty, he doesn’t look up to you. He sees you as a toxic, abusive father. He listens to you to escape another beating. Secretly, he plots to kill you when he’s old enough.
And I know all this because of how you are, of how you treat yourself, how you treat me, how you treat the fans. And you do all of this, Steve, because you have no other outlet, do you? How many legitimate matches have you been in, here in HOW? Of those, how many have you won? Of those, how many have you won because of YOUR effort and not someone else intervening? Of those, how many have resulted in championship glory?
See, the truth of the matter is that HOW is an addiction for you. Because you claim to be a real man, a man’s man, but the only time you see a real man is when you’re standing across the ring from someone like me, someone like Mike or Tyler, someone like Stronk, someone like Jace. You pretend to be on our level because deep down, you know you aren’t there. If you were, you’d already have been World Champion.
You’re a failure as a man. And so you take it out on those weaker than you. Your wife, your son, the fans.
You’re a coward.
America continues on, moving towards the ring. He runs his hand across the canvas as he walks around the mat. He stops and tugs on the bottom rope, testing the strength and resistance.
Christopher America: You lie to yourself that everything that’s been happening with you is due to the brain cancer.
But it isn’t.
In fact, Steve, I don’t think you actually have brain cancer. See, I know about brain cancer. I’ve seen the horrors of what it can actually do.
At least some of the symptoms had to have shown in order for you to have been tested and eventually diagnosed.
For example, one of the sure fire signs are headaches, but you don’t get those. You haven’t shown those. Not to me, not to anyone that I’ve checked with. Oh, I’m sure now that I mention it, miraculously the other symptoms will start showing up like Alex Jones suddenly finding his cough when he testified about his Sandy Hook lies. And if you have had them, then you’ve been wrapping yourself in more lies as you lied to HOW’s medical staff.
Had any seizures? Any speech problems?
Because it’s not there.
It’s another lie you’ve told yourself. It’s an excuse so that when you lose at Dead or Alive, you can say that it was the brain cancer that caused you to lose. The spirit was willing but the body wasn’t. That sort of thing.
Another thing about brain cancer, is that it makes people usually evaluate their lives, their place in the world. But for you, it has put you on a different path. It almost seems like it has given you a death wish. And you hope that a death wish will give you the advantage you’ve needed for so long. An advantage that will do you no good when you face me.
You hope that such an advantage will put off your opponent. That somehow, they’ll think twice about taking you out.
But that’s not me.
You see, I’ve been hardened against that. I’ve killed things tangible and intangible, making me akin to a god. I’ve helped kill men inside and outside of this ring. I’ve killed memories and hope, joy and expectations. Taking you out, and blaming your “cancer” is real easy for me to do.
It’s something I’ll relish.
America moves around the ring towards some more of the buildings.
Christopher America: And then you lie to yourself that you’re a killer. How many times do we have to be subjected to you threatening to kill someone and fuck it up? So you killed a couple enemy combatants? Congratulations. Want a medal? Here, have a shit ton of them.
But, this is your fucking battlefield now, soldier. The enemy combatants are all around you. The medals? Those are the championships we hold. And you, soldier, haven’t been pulling your weight.
You should’ve killed me at War Games.
You should’ve killed me inside the HOFC cage.
You should’ve killed me when you kidnapped me.
You could’ve dumped my body and then won the World Championship by default. Oh, and don’t tell me you’re better than that. You’re not. Just another lie to wrap yourself in. A man who calls on eagles to fight his battles, beats down men when they’re tied up? Just proves you aren’t better than that.
Oh and it isn’t about satisfaction either. So quit lying to yourself about that, too.
If it was, you’d have kept me detained when you kidnapped me. You would’ve found me week after week after week from our HOFC battle and beat the ever-loving shit out of me. But you didn’t. Coward.
At Dead or Alive, I’m going to do what you should’ve already done. I’m going to crack the cocoon. And what I’m going to find at the center is a scared little boy. A little boy who ran off to play soldier to get tougher. A little boy who thought pro wrestling would make him even tougher. A little boy that lashes out when confronted and hides when he’s put in his place.
I’ve refocused myself for this fight, Steve, because I’m not fucking playing around anymore.
No more mind games.
No more stealing of eagles. In fact, at Dead or Alive, I’m giving Valor back to you. Unharmed. In exchange for George.
I’m here to fuck you up. I’m going to use your skull like a wrecking ball and demolish every single building that is still standing when it comes time for the main event. If I have to use horseshoes, knives, pistols, a leftover bullrope from Byrd’s match, or run you over with a god damn stage coach, I’m going to fucking do it.
I’m here to beat you down and either pin or submit you. And if I have to kill you to do it, then so be it. I’d rather go to jail as World Champion than allow you to win and take this title off of me. I would rather Lee Best himself, fresh off his victory of burying that walking neanderthal Kostoff, strip me of the HOW World Championship than surrender it to you.
Before our HOFC match, you promised the world “The Summer of Dad.”
At Dead or Alive, I’m going to give the world “The Fall of Dad.”
I’m not doing this solely for me.
I’m doing this because I owe it to my agent.
To pay off the training from Andrew.
To spare the fans of seeing you as World Champion.
To apologize to the Board.
To reward Lee Best’s faith in me.
Together, they will provide me what I need to put you down for good.
And together, we will witness the end of a Highwayman.
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