“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds!”
“I don’t care,” Doctor Thorn commanded, with the confidence of a man on the verge of a breakthrough. “Open it.”
The guard exhaled a lengthy sigh as he forced himself to his feet. His baton and gun rattling in their holsters on respective hips. Doctor Thorn was sure he saw sweat beading on his bald head from this effort alone. The guard sighed again as he took out his keys and unlocked each bolt, pulling them open just as noisily. He then bitterly held the doctor’s gaze as he pulled the door open.
“Thank you,” Doctor Thorn said, insincerely
The guard smiled in return – but mostly because he knew he hadn’t checked on the status of Shane like he should have. Instead, the image of Shane lunging and biting the doctor’s throat out danced though his mind. Thorn gripped the cart that had been behind him. Slowly he wheeled it into the padded cell, a television perched on top of it. He was barely inside when the guard slammed the door shut. Immediately, Thorn heard the bolts once again being slotted back into place. He couldn’t care less, even if he probably should.
“Good morning, Mr. Reynolds.”
The doctor positioned the television set in Shane’s unflinching eyeline.
“I know we haven’t had much success in recent weeks,” Doctor Thorn continued, “but I’ve been able to look into you. It was difficult but I think I’ve finally discovered what lies at the heart of you.”
Doctor moved to the side, so that he was able to see both Shane and the television screen with respective sideways glances. In his hand, he held a remote control, which he promptly rose and switched on the television. The screen flickered and was immediately filled with the image of a High Octane Wrestling ring. Shane’s eyes didn’t so much as twitch. However, an ember somewhere in the back of his mind suddenly received fresh oxygen. High Octane Wrestling was back?
“I was surprised to learn that you were a professional wrestler,” The Doctor rambled on unabated.
Had Shane not been catatonic and capable of conscious thought, he would’ve pointed out just how reductive that term was. Nobody in High Octane Wrestling were really wrestlers. They were soldiers and warriors. And that squared circle and the surrounding environments were more akin to war zones. Shane Reynolds’ own face was a testament to that.
“Is that how you got your injuries?” Doctor Thorn enquired. “They seem pretty extreme. I always assumed that professional wrestling was fake. Though, admittedly, I had not heard of this H…O…W!
He glanced more towards the screen as music suddenly filled whatever arena this footage was taking place within. It equally echoed off the padded walls of Shane’s cell – the only home he had known for nearly ten years. It was ‘Darkside’ by Neoni and the ember in the dark recesses of Shane’s mind both brightened and heated up. He had no idea the name of the song or the artist…but he had a vague recollection of whom it belonged too.
That was when she appeared.
Bobbinette Carey – or Nettie, as Shane would eventually learn – made her entrance with the utmost smugness and arrogance. The shadows clouding Shane’s mind started to recede as, with a spark, the ember roared into a livelier fire. From there it continued to blaze, spreading as unrelentingly as a forest fire through his mind. It was at that moment that Shane’s remaining eye twitched.
“Aha! YES!” Doctor Thorn exclaimed, having been studying his patient’s face carefully. “I think we can call that a resounding success—”
He barely got the words out before Shane roared to life as fiercely as the metaphorical fire within. He lunged straight at the doctor and delivered a swift chop to the throat. His eyes wide with panic, Thorn backed away, choking on his own saliva and words that wouldn’t come. He found no sanctuary, only a padded wall pressing against his back. As Shane stalked towards him, the doctor suddenly recalled how nobody went near Shane since a mysterious incident. He silently cursed his own hubris.
“It was a guard,” Shane muttered, as though reading his mind. “What happened before…”
Shane’s hands rushed up with lightning speed and gripped the doctor on both sides of his head. He smiled a toothy smile that was somehow even more eerie than his sneer.
“His name was Bob.”
With that, Shane suddenly threw himself back, taking the doctor with him. He span around, so the doctor span. Where Shane suddenly stopped, however, Doctor Thorn was propelled onwards, beyond him, and driven headfirst into the television. The impact fortuitously coincided with Bobbinette Carey having her arm raised in victory against an unknown opponent. The glass shattered, cutting at the flesh of the doctor’s face.
He received more still when Shane pulled his now unconscious body from the wreckage. He let Thorn slump to the ground, before running his hand over his face. With his hand coated in the doctor’s blood, Shane smeared it over his face, producing a red, handprint-shaped mask. Shane closed his eyes and tilted his head towards the ceiling. He took a deep breath in and then exhaled, before suddenly looking towards the cell door.
On the other side, the guard heard the rhythmic knocking and, with a familiar groan, he lifted himself back out of his chair. He strolled leisurely to the hatch, taking absolutely no hurry to get there. When he did, he unlocked the hatch and slid it open. He was suddenly gripped with terror – first by the bloodied face staring wide-eyed at him from the other side. And then by the hand that speedily shot out, gripped him by the shirt collar, and pulled him hard against the door.
“I need to have another meeting with your boss,” Shane commanded with that same eerie smile. “And the building owner.”
In the present day, Shane’s focus was glued to another TV screen. On it was the familiar figure of Blaire Moise as she interviewed fans about his match with Nettie Carey. With each person that expressed solidarity for his rival, Shane did a quick rep of the weights he was lifting. Driven by rage at their audacity to not only think Nettie was going to win, but to actually cheer it, Shane briefly didn’t even notice the pain wracking every nerve in his arms and back. It was worse than the fans cheering Jatt Starr last week, but he was determined to at least use it.
“Ugh!” Shane groaned after a dozen or so more lifts, eventually having to relent and letting the weights crash to the ground with a sound akin to the clapping of thunder.
He had the urge to break another television, albeit with his unlaced black boot rather than a psychologist’s head. But he refrained, letting the footage loop back and play over again. As stated, the irritating sound of the fans’ voices were fuelling him. And that fuel was going to help bring about a rude awakening as savage as the one he would deliver upon Bobbinette Carey. The thoughts of fuel and fire made him wonder if he could get away with lightning the cage on fire. The only thing better than draining Bobbinette’s blood would be to scar her – permanently, irrevocably. He was still smirking when he heard the sound of a large steel door scraping open.
“I need more morphine,” Shane said, without even looking back to double check that it was Riley.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea, it’s only been a few hours,” she informed him alongside the sound of metal on concrete as she dragged the door closed again.
Shane turned to her now, simultaneously surveying the abandoned warehouse they were currently occupying. It really had been a rough few days since they’d left the hospital. No matter where they went or what precautions they took, the protestors somehow managed to track them. After that thrown brick, they were relentless in making themselves known and heard. They didn’t break anymore windows but they made sure to chant within earshot or knock incessantly on hotel room doors. All the while keeping Shane from being able to sleep.
Equally, they created such a nuisance at whatever gym Shane tried to train within that he couldn’t focus. Or, worse still, he was driven out by other frustrated gym users. It was maddening, until Riley had managed to peel off and find the warehouse. They’d been here for a day now – with only three remaining until 97 Red – but they’d thankfully remained undisturbed. The fact that it also felt like home back in America was also a bonus. Shane preferred the simplicity and grounded atmosphere over the luxury he had discovered Nettie had retreated to.
“I’ll say when I’ve had enough,” Shane countered, ignoring all the warnings going off inside his own head.
“Yes, sir,” Riley complied, heading over to place her bag atop one of the workout benches they’d managed to secure and move into the warehouse.
She pulled out a kit that contained both syringes and vials of the liquid medicine her master had come to rely upon. At the hospital, he had blurted out the request without thinking – with no thought that he’d been keeping his usage a secret. Fortunately, Riley hadn’t taken it as a sign of weakness. Instead, she thought it a natural course of action following Nettie’s attack. As such, she remained oblivious to all the pre-existing injuries and just how deep into the morphine hole Shane had actually fallen. He intended to keep it that way.
“Here,” she said, carefully holding out an already-prepared needle.
Shane rolled up his sleeve and took hold of it. As Riley packed the kit back up and then stored it away again, Shane tapped at his arm. Not that he really needed to, even with all the scars and fresh cuts, Shane’s pale skin allowed him to find a vein easily. Riley sat on the bench and watched as Shane injected himself. He immediately closed his eyes and sighed with bliss. As he pulled the needle back out, Riley leapt back to her feel. Shane nodded his permission and held out his arm. Riley kneeled down reverentially and tendering ran her tongue over the injection spot. Blood mixed with a little morphine residue coursed over her tongue – giving her a blissful moment of her own.
“Did you deliver the package?” Shane asked of her, as she pulled herself out of her excitement and applied the band-aid she had to hand.
“I did,” Riley replied, getting back to her feet.
“And how did she react?”
“Like an uncouth shrew desperate to look tough.”
Shane sneered as his buzz faded enough for him to sit back upright. He then pushed through, standing up and walking over to where a pull-up station had been arranged.
“Sounds about right,” Shane said, as he hopped up to grab the overhead bar. Still facing back towards Riley, who had assumed his placed on the chair and was still licking her lips. “But I want specifics.”
“Well,” Riley began, “it essentially boiled down to this!”
She immediately raised both her middle fingers.
“Charming,” Shane commentated between lowering and then pulling himself back up. “Very original!”
“Then she burned everything in the package.”
Shane acted out stifling a yawn as he continued lifting himself up and down measuredly. “Well, she’s definitely no Mike Best.”
Riley tilted her head, emphasising that she clearly didn’t understand the reference nor connection.
“He’s the king of trash ta—” Shane began before shrugging away the thought, not wanting to get side-tracked. “Never mind. Did she do anything else while you were watching?”
“She trained a little but clearly lacked focus,” Riley answered. “I think you were right—”
“I usually am,” Shane interrupted, the morphine clearly affecting his ego as well as his various injuries. He was a little more breathless this time and sweat had begun to bead on his forehead and coat his scarred body.
“—about not doing anything to Terrance,” Riley continued without missing a beat, not even acknowledging Shane’s intrusion of her report. “For somebody so committed to supporting her, he’s a hell of a distraction.”
“How so?” Shane finally dropped to the ground following a final pull-up, having lost count of how many he did. In the zone, he considered switching straight over to the salmon ladder, but figured he should work on his legs next. He had a feeling that speed could be a deciding factor in the upcoming match. Trying to get back to his previous levels would be a lesson in futility, but he knew he could at least make sure he was faster than Bobbinette.
“Besides the vomit-inducing kind, he took her to the opera.”
“Pathetic!” Shane scowled, towelling himself off before stretching out his legs. “People mock me for taking things too seriously, of being too emo, and getting obsessed. But obsession and emotions are what get shit done around here. It’s how I became LSD, ICON, and World Champion. It’s how I won multiple War Games. It’s how I got into the Hall of Fame. It’s how I returned, on the verge of middle-age, and immediately captured a new title. It’s how I rushed straight into the Top 5 in the rankings, with an undefeated streak that rivals the current World Champion and only surpassed by the son of god himself.”
Riley once again flashed an expression of confusion.
“Don’t even ask,” Shane commanded, before she could even think to actually do so. He then quickly returned to his previous train of though as he sat down and immediately began doing leg presses. “And being an obsessive emo is why I’m going to win at 97 Red. My emotions and the obsession I have carefully tended for a decade and a half are going to be why I break Bobbinette Carey inside that cage, wholly and completely, once and for all.”
“You don’t need to convince me,” Riley insisted. “I have nothing but complete faith, and I can’t wait to watch the horror fill her eyes when she’s forced to finally accept that fact.”
“And see all the spilled blood,” Shane added, glancing at Riley out the corner of his eyes and he pushed away the 125lb weight and then slowly guided them back to the start position.
Riley said nothing in response to that, but merely licked her lips once again.
Shane pushed on the weight again, and frustratingly felt a twinge of pain in his knees. He groaned, though made sure to keep it imperceptible to Riley. He wondered whether the morphine she’d acquired wasn’t quite as effective as the samples he’d tried before. They were in Australia after all, and, in true American fashion, even Shane believed that nothing compared to United States production.
At the same time, Riley’s words about not needing convincing suddenly echoed back through his mind. Shane was suddenly troubled. He indeed knew how unwavering she was in her belief of his skills and her cause. So, who was he trying to convince? Himself? If so, that would mean that, somewhere deep inside, he thought there was actually a chance Bobbinette could defeat him.
He would have to ponder and investigate that further. Because, if there was any doubt regarding his chances of victory, he needed to erase it. No, not just erase it. He needed to squash such doubts like a snail under his boot. He needed to kill them dead and leave no trace that they ever existed. And that meant he needed to work even harder of these final few days. Not waste even a second of soft and pointless outings like the fucking opera.
“Can I ask you a personal question?” Riley suddenly said, cutting through Shane’s introspective thoughts. He silently sighed within, glad of that distraction – even if experience told him that no good ever tended to come from that question.”
“Do you have a kid?” She hesitantly asked. “A son?”
Shane knew immediately what she was referring to. Since he returned, there had been whispers of a boy bearing his surname – and not the Reynolds pretender known as Raziel. However, Shane had vigorously ignored and avoided the topic. For that reason, he never even investigated further by watching the years of High Octane Wrestling that took place in his absence. It was all irrelevant. The only thing that truly mattered was ending Bobbinette’s career and blowing up her world. Everything else was white noise. And, again, while some may scorn such selfish, single-minded, obsessive tendencies, it was why Shane Reynolds would end this final run of his career as a bonafide legend.
“No,” Shane eventually answered. “I don’t. And even if I do…I still don’t! You understand?”
Riley could only nod.
“The only child that I have, that I will ever acknowledge, is the HOTV championship,” Shane raged on. “And like some fucking outback dingo, Nettie Carey fucking stole it. She talks of animals but she’s the worst kind. The mangey, disease-spreading vermin that needs to be taken to the outhouse like Old fucking Yeller. Well, that cage is going to be my outhouse, and, come the pay-per-view, I’m going to put her down and everybody associated with HOW out of their collective misery. And unlike Meryl Streep, I’m getting my damn baby back!”
“Yes, sir” Riley concurred, with a smirk denoting twisted pride forming on her full, red lips.
The psychotic moment between the two bonded weirdos was short-lived, however. At that moment, a series of thuds and smashes suddenly rang out from seemingly every wall. Riley and Shane both turned to look at separate ones, just in time to see them go up in flames.
“What the fuck?” Riley exclaimed.
Shane, meanwhile, was suddenly overcome with a familiar and consuming anger. “She’s here!”
That question didn’t matter, as far as Shane was concerned. The only one of any importance was how to get the hell out. Shane rushed towards the door but found it locked from the outside. Riley tried the only other one to the same level of success.
“The window,” Shane said, pointing towards it as flames finished engulfing the walls and starting to cut a path across the ceiling. In its wake, smoke started to fill the space, slowly but surely obscuring their view.
Riley covered her mouth and nodded, coughing also in agreement. They both rushed to that side of the building and, instinctively, worked together to tilt the salmon ladder back against the wall. Shane didn’t hesitate to jump onto it first, using it like a traditional ladder and scaling it towards the window. Thankfully it wasn’t locked like the doors. He pushed it open and jumped out.
The fall was only a few feet, but the impact still wracked Shane’s knees. They instantly buckled and he fell onto all fours. Within a few moments, Riley was crouched down beside him. They both coughed relentlessly and tried to gasp in the fresh air. The sound was soon overshadowed by another, however. The sound of a slow, almost-sarcastic clap. Shane’s furious gaze rocketed up, expecting to see Nettie Carey but instead looking upon a man he didn’t recognize.
“I am so glad you managed to make it out,” the mystery man said. “I do so hope that you don’t subsequently have any breathing troubles that cost you your match on Sunday.”
“You work for Bobbinette?” Shane said, his words hovering somewhere between a question and a statement.
“Unfortunately, no,” the man clarified. “But we do have a vested interest in seeing her beat the hell out of you.”
Shane was about to ask why that was, but thought of a more pressing ‘W’ question. “We?”
“I represent DASH,” the man informed them, as though that meant anything. “The Disabled Against Shane.”
Shane winced with embarrassment.
“Yeah, it’s not the best name but it’s the only acronym we could think of right now. Regardless, as you’ve probably noticed, our methods are much more serious. And we aren’t going to rest until we’ve weakened you just enough for Bobbinette to cripple you for what you did to Evan Ward.”
“Why do you even care?” Shane bellowed. “You aren’t even disabled.”
The man merely shrugged.
“I’m not going to lose to her,” Shane spat defiantly. “I refuse.”
“Well, if that turns out to be true,” the man countered, “the rest of 2023 is going to be a lot of fun. For us, at least. Either way, we’ll be seeing you.”
Shane stared out from above his scowl as the man walked away. Burning a hole into the man’s back, Shane’s thoughts returned to Bobbinette – with a fresh new color and fury. He was suddenly more determined – even more positive – of his upcoming victory. If, now, just to gleefully spite even more people than ever before. Bobbinette, Terrance, DASH, the fans. They were all in for a bitter and painful awakening.