I’ll tell you a story, a true tragic tale
No heroes, all villains, no hope.
Of Cecilworth Farthington, whom we regale
Who’s slid to the end of his rope.
I’ve been going to the same club almost every night for the past two weeks. I’m literally a regular at this point. Some of the bartenders will serve me, just over half (that I’ve seen) will card me and I’ll be relegated to club soda with a lime all night.
It’s all good. They’ve had a blues quartet in here five nights a week. When they’re off I usually hang for a minute, enjoy the ambiance, and leave.
When they’re on, I usually close the place.
Yeah, I love the blues. Is that surprising? I never existed in the twentieth century, common knowledge says I should enjoy shitty grime, or dubstep, or pop music. Fuck all that noise.
Literally. Noise. I may be a disaster in some areas of life but my parents taught me what good music is.
Tonight is a good night, though. I have two fingers of single malt scotch in front of me, and there’s a five piece playing what sounds like Grant Green.
High Octane Wrestling has been the furthest thing from my mind.
A week ago I lost an opening – show match to Bobby Dean, which sort of destroyed me, mentally. No disrespect to Bobo, but I’ve been able to bullshit myself this year with all of the losses and setbacks I’ve taken by telling myself that I’ve been facing off – not just with the best High Octane has to offer – but with some of the best wrestlers in the industry, bar none.
Jack Harmen. Dan Ryan. Lindsay Troy. Mike Best. Andy Murray.
You’d be hard pressed to find a tougher run’a opponents. And at the end’a the day, I teamed with Jack, I removed Lindz from War Games.
I didn’t get to exact revenge on Dan Ryan but his fifth place exit was sweet to see.
Andy Murray and me? There’s respect, even if there isn’t an unqualified trust. And Mike got a foot on the ropes during War Games, but he couldn’t kick out.
Mainly, the point is that I’ve lost a lotta matches this year, and they were all unqualified clean. But they all had a Part Two to ‘em where you can say ‘Yeah, but–’
Except Bobby. No, there was no silver lining anywhere to be seen for me with Bobby.
So I ran.
That’s a lie. I didn’t run. But I switched off.
For the best, really. I’ve become someone I can’t stand. Took me long enough to join the club, huh? A year in this company and all I’ve got to show for it is a reluctant respect with Andy Murray, where I’m pretty sure he won’t pearl harbor me for no real reason, and I’m pretty sure he’d have my back if I was jumped and he was in the general vicinity. Depending on who did the jumping.
Hey, I said to the bartender. Can I buy a round for the band? Whatever they’re drinking.
“Sure, hun,” he says with a smile. “You want me to tell ‘em who, or is this an anonymous gift?”
I looked around the place. It’s two in the morning and the handful of people other than me aren’t even pretending to pay attention to them. He catches my eyes.
My phone buzzes, and I take a look.
The ‘No Remorse LSD Title Match’ is happening. Not at No Remorse, though.
“‘Scuse me, sweetie.”
I turn around and see the drummer standing next to me, drink in hand.
“We wanted to thank you for the kind gesture.”
Over his shoulder, the other four raise their glasses in a toast. Apparently they’re all fans of brown liquor. Bourbon? Cognac? Scotch Whiskey? Who can say.
Ain’t a thing, sir, I reply, tapping the edge of mine with his. Really enjoying the set tonight.
As a reply, I get a bright, welcoming, toothy smile. “Well listen, we’re playing our next set in about twenty minutes, would you like to join us?”
My eyes linger on my phone’s notification screen.
You know what, sir? I’d be delighted.
I used to have a full, fulfilling life. I was an athlete, sure – but I also immersed myself in music and in art. I had an active social life and friends who didn’t give a shit that I was ever on television.
And I gave it all up… for this?
Always stressed. Always anxious. Always teetering on the brink.
Always coming up short.
And except for a very brief window around War Games, I’ve been quiet.
Sure, I’ve done my promo work, and I’ve made my dates. But I used to match the rest of this place shot for shot, witticism for witticism. On the level I still can, but my record in the ring doesn’t back it up.
Better to just stay out of it than get into a pissin’ contest that’s begun and ended with being asked ‘And who have you beaten this year?’
Major or otherwise, I’ve always been a player in the promotions I’ve worked for. Even in High Octane, there was a short period of time around last year’s War Games that I was someone that moved the needle.
Seems like a hundred years ago.
I’m glad to see Jack getting some wins – beating Kostoff was no small feat. He seems like he’s all right with whatever his role is here, and that’s good on him. But he’s also written his legend a long time ago. Before anyone else in that company even had the thought to step into the ring.
Except Dan Ryan, of course. But he’s agefluid, so he’s a tough one to get in front of.
I’m also happy to see Eric back. He’s got unfinished business with the Group of Death and I hope he can collect.
At the same time, I have a hard time getting invested in any of it. I don’t want to be an anchor around anyone’s neck. I don’t want to be a target for anyone’s opponents to zero in on, and that makes it tough to watch from the inside perspective. I wish ‘em both well, and would make sure to catch ‘em any time they’re on television if I’m able.
This sounds like a goodbye note. Maybe it is. Failing to reach the proverbial brass ring has been beating me down week by week since Iconic, and my old life hangs like a dream, just out of reach, but just an ambien away. I feel like the only way to find any sort of peace in my life is to just walk away from it all.
Which is the catch-22 to end all catch-22s, because I know I would be looking over my shoulder, saying to myself ‘if you had just one more chance, you could make a difference.’ I could put a pin in it, throw it away, and never look back, sure.
But would I be able to rest.
He held a gold belt, you see, up in the air.
The Champion of all he’d survey.
Challenge him for it, you’d just find despair
A predator, he. We, the prey.
No names were exchanged, and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by not knowing what to call these guys. As we sat together on what passes for a stage in this club, the band in their groove, vamping and improvising notes on top of notes and me, with a backup rhythm guitar and somehow managing to hang on with them? Bliss. The saxophonist looks at me and winks, and I can’t help but smile.
I’ve never been someone who can improvise on a guitar. I can play anything, but I tried to write a song once. It didn’t turn out all that well. I can play, but I can’t create. Until this very moment.
But it doesn’t feel like I’m creating anything. I’m just reading these guys. The rhythm section changes tempo or riff, and I’m playing off the electric guitarist. I don’t have to take lead here – I just need to exist in the space between the low end of the bass and the guitar licks.
This is the way music should be played live.
Strangely enough, it also makes me think about how a team in professional wrestling needs to exist in the same space – that area between the low and high ends, as long as they can intuit each other.
“So what’chu doing here in Chicago, sweetie?”
Work, actually, I said. I’m a professional wrestler.
They gave a good natured laugh to that one, like they couldn’t quite believe it.
“Smart, pretty girl like you? Why you wasting your time punching fools and getting punched back?”
I laughed. It’s what I’m good at right now, I replied.
Wow. We’re locked into a groove but there was just a minor timing change and I kept up with it, even while my mind was wandering. That’s a good sign.
This right here, this is the eMpire. This was never the Industry. We didn’t work well together. We never worked well together. The only duo that had any modicum of success as a duo was Troy and Ryan, and that’s got less to do with the Industry than it does their fifteen years shared history.
I don’t think any other pairing in that quintet had more than one win in a row, up to and including the MJFly experiment. Ain’t no shame in it, all of us were always more solo acts than team players. I couldn’t read music with them.
I couldn’t exist in the space between with them. And they couldn’t with me.
Nowhere near what Mike, Max, and Cecil could do – and could still do.
“I don’t buy that, I bet you’re good at plenty. Lookit here, you’re good at listening to a top quality saxophone player, heard that!”
“And she’s got the patience to hear you too!”
More laughter from the rest of the table. Good-natured. The natural ribbing of a band of brothers that’ve been on the road for more years and more miles than they’ve spent with their own families. Assuming they even have families.
Man, I said, sipping the drink that the bassist bought for me when it was his round, I play a decent enough guitar in the real world, but there’s something about a saxophone that I just can’t get enough of.
And my man across the table sits up a little taller while the other four continue laughing.
“Your daddy must’ve taught you right from the start.”
My mom, actually, I said. She’s the real music lover in the family. Far back as I can remember, though, she’d have something playing in the background all the time.
“Sounds like a fine lady. Who she particular towards?”
Oh, I haven’t thought about this in forever. Maybe that’s why these guys have been on my mind the past few weeks – they’re conjuring memories of home.
She’d listen to anything, I said. But my all time favorite has to be Sonny.
Recognition, along with mutterings of Sonny Rollins’ greatness hit all five of them like a wave.
Loved Bird, loved Duke, I said, continuing. Never a huge fan of the great singers – they weren’t bad, I just love the music.
“Well, Miss Loves-The-Music,” said the guitar player, “it’s about time for us to play one more set. You said you play the guitar?”
Yes, sir, I replied.
“Well I just so happen to have my backup guitar all tuned and ready. You and your manners feel like sitting in with a bunch of old bluesmen tonight?”
I finished my drink and let a smile spread on my face.
Sir, I said. That sounds like exactly what I need.
Which brings us to the here and now. When I wasn’t paying attention we somehow shifted into a riff on ‘My Favorite Things,’ which I’ve actually been playing for probably twelve years now. But I’m still watching my man because the arrangement is so loose I don’t want to step on anyone.
I really can’t remember the last time I felt this good about anything. We’re a team up here tonight. We’re a unit. And I didn’t have to explain anything, apologize for anything, continue to do penance for anything, or take anything that I didn’t want to take.
I bought a round of drinks, and I’m a blues fan. That’s all the explanation they needed.
As the set comes to a close, hands are shook, one last round of drinks are drank, and an offer is placed in front of me.
They’ve got a St. Louis gig next week – four straight days, then they’ll be back. Do I want to sit in with them again when they come back?
I do. Jesus fucking christ I really do.
The problem is, if High Octane Wrestling is finished with me, I don’t have any other reason to stick close to Chicago. And if I stuck close to jam with these guys I know for a fact I’d let myself get pulled back in.
Let’s see how it goes, I said. But I will definitely see you gentlemen again.
I know the song.
I know every verse, every breakdown, every improvised extended cut, and every cover that’s ever been done of the song.
I’m selfish. I broke up the Industry. I was the catalyst for the Group of Death. I don’t belong here. No friends. No allies. No trust. The whole cheesed – up and overproduced music video.
What else you got?
Seriously. What else?
It’s old hat, Cecilworth. It’s played out. It’s older than yesterday’s news.
It’s fucking boring, and the way you just phoned that in? I’m embarrassed on your behalf.
The thing is, every single thing that’s been said about me since at least Iconic has validity to it, but if you took an informal poll of everyone supposedly wounded by my selfish and self – centered behavior, not a single one of ‘em would trade places with me. So clearly, I didn’t benefit from my reign of terror, yet you’re driving home the same talking points that – literally – everyone else has so far.
Dude. It gets to a point that punching down just becomes bullying. I assumed you were above that sort of thing. I hope you are, at least – it would be a tragic downward spiral if the creative mind behind War Games 2019’s ‘As the Farthington Turns’ or whatever the hell it was called was now on par with the Ghostbusters 2 big bad.
“I, Cecilworth, the scourge of Farthingtonia…”
“Yes, the scourge. I’ve heard all of this, you’ve said this before.”
But that’s cool, man. That’s where y’all feel comfortable. Status Quo is GoD. Except I don’t really believe the Group of Death exists. There’s the eMpire of Mike Best, Cecilworth Farthington, and Max Kael, and there’s the continued drama of the Ryan-Troy family. You all just happen to be wearing the same colored shirts.
Sorry, my bad – Max isn’t part of the family right now, is he? The Minister is doing all sorts of sinister things.
Right. Well, less than five years ago, Lindsay Troy and Dan Ryan were beating the shit outta each other elsewhere, and I’d say the odds of them doing the same less than five years from now – and of Mike, Cecilworth, and Max being reunited, here or elsewhere, as the eMpire?
I’d say that’s better odds than Cecilworth Farthington leaving Refueled with the LSD Title. And those are pretty good fucking odds.
Until he was touched by the War, it’s no joke
His sovereignty stopped by the Best.
No problems, no ill will, no hatred provoked
He’d simply dispose of the rest.
Ain’t nothing like a New York balcony on a clear, sunny morning to enjoy a cup of coffee before you start your day. Except, ya know – I’m in Chicago, I’m on the fire escape, and I’ve got a cup of green tea as a nightcap before I inevitably sleep all day.
Really needed tonight. First night I’ve felt normal in months, not counting the weekend of War Games. And it’s kind of a scary thought that I’ve needed to see some news about my next High Octane match and actively ignore it to feel normal.
Doesn’t bode well for the future, but it is what it is.
It’s kind of funny – two weeks ago, some people called Bobo’s win over me an upset when it clearly wasn’t. Literally nobody is going to be calling Cecilworth’s victory over me anything but. I’mma work my ass off just like I have all year, but when the dust settles, anyone that tells me they were surprised that Cecil retained his title, I’m cutting them outta my life forever because they’re clearly a bald-faced liar.
And yet. Could I really stay away, if I decided to walk away.
The sport, the physicality… it’s like a virus. Once you’re infected, it’s over. Even my dad, who walked away after his last match seven years ago with apparently no regrets and no desire to go back to it, it was like his fifth retirement match.
The only thing that will tell the tale of Mariella Jade is time. If I get engaged, can I stay engaged. If I walk away, can I stay away.
It’s scary. Whatever you’re doing, if you’re not doing it at a hundred percent – if you’re not fully invested in it? That’s when the mistakes happen. That’s when the kick you didn’t dodge or the punch you didn’t see can really do some damage.
And if I’m out, I’m out on my terms. Not because there was a situation out of my control.
I finish my tea and climb back in the window, closing the blinds behind me and plunging the room into darkness.
Cecilworth looms large, but my immediate future is somewhat closer to home.
Tomorrow’s another night.
With apologies to Mike Best and Eric Dane, but at least as far as High Octane is concerned, they’re both wrong.
Cecilworth Farthington is the End Boss. Sorry, not sorry.
You have literally been the most consistent, and most difficult to defeat athlete in the entirety of the Refueled Era, Cecil. You’ve held all three singles titles and you’ve technically never lost a match for any of them.
Bit of a weasel-wording on that, but I’m willing to give it to you.
You’re so dominant that Lee’s taken my guaranteed LSD Title shot at No Remorse and booked it early. I guess, so he’s got time to find you a proper opponent for the pay-per-view. Couldn’t say, Lee and I don’t really speak.
Why would he? I’m just a very little person trying to make it in the big bad world of High Octane, and doing a piss poor job of it. It’s a foregone conclusion that you’re going to win this title defense; I’m sure at least half the fans will head home early to beat the traffic.
And you can blame me for the drop in the ratings, man. Obviously your Loyalty and Sacrifice to High Octane Wrestling demands you have numbers that support a man of your stature, so anything less than The Greatest Numbers Ever are clearly my burden to bear.
It is what it is. Congratulations, Cecilworth – you won professional wrestling.
Don’t misunderstand me – I’ll be in the ring. And I’ll be prepared to fight as hard as I can for your LSD Championship; it’s literally the only opportunity I’ve wanted since Rumble at the Rock.
Because that’s what heroes do. And apparently also disingenuous snakes in the grass that wander around getting handed things for no real reason.
About that… I really need to ask.
The fuck do you know about my loyalty and my sacrifice? I mean, ya got it wrong with High Flyer at the very least. Wrestling in a tag team, and then not wrestling in that tag team doesn’t have to mean anything. And you’re kind of small minded to think that it does.
You know what’s disloyal? Calling me out in front of a live arena audience, verbally dressing me down under the guise of airing grievances, then hitting me from behind, illustrating that they already considered the partnership over. You’ve tried your damnedest to paint Dan and Lindsay as completely innocent in the Industry’s destruction, but if that was true, why did High Flyer get caught up in it as well? One thing we’ve all always agreed on is that he was blameless. Total innocent bystander.
But you knew that already. You’re not stupid, no matter how much you’ve previously enjoyed playing the fool.
I’ve sacrificed more for this sport than you can imagine, Cecilworth. But I really need to know, what’s your definition of sacrifice?
Forego personal relationships? Put blinders on and tunnel – vision towards in-ring success, ignoring any and all distraction that might come up around your peripheral?
Or is it ‘do something in the wrestling business that benefits a friend at your own expense in a place where Cecilworth Farthington can see you do it?’
On a professional level, Cecilworth? I said it before – you are the END BOSS and the best that High Octane has to offer.
Personally? You don’t matter enough to me to justify my actions.
Because when it comes right down to it, you made up your mind about me over a year ago. It’s a waste of time to try and change it.
Instead, I’ll make you a promise. The odds of me winning this match might be one in fourteen million, six hundred and five… But.
You’re gonna have to earn it.
So now that the Farthington holds LSD
Secured with an iron-clad fist
You know that he’s trying to keep it from me
But I promise you: I will persist.