The Curse (AKA The Point Of No Return)

The Curse (AKA The Point Of No Return)

Posted on December 2, 2023 at 3:56 pm by Shane Reynolds

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Everybody knows that quote, even if people can’t always agree on who said it. Maybe it was the Chinese philosopher, Confucius. Maybe it wasn’t. Whatever the case, whomever they were, they were a damn schmuck. After all, what happens when that love inevitably fades. What the fuck do you do when the passion fades and your heart is no longer in it? In that moment, fuck every day, every minute feels like work.

That feeling had crept up on Shane Reynolds slowly but surely across several weeks. And then all at once, suddenly and without warning, it had consumed him. He’d like to say that it had started with the defeat suffered at the hands of Charles De Lacy, but the truth was that it started before that. Furthermore, it had actually started with a victory. It had started with Bobbinette Carey. Even though delivered a savage beating that had been 15 years in the making…even though he had closed that chapter of his life and career…she was still tarnishing both.

After achieving his goal, Shane had found himself floundering. He wanted to use this post-Bobbinette era to solidify his legacy. And yet, he just couldn’t seem to muster the will and drive necessary to secure such a fate. People like to scoff that Michael Best is a product of nepotism, that every one of his accomplishments are colored by that lens. But it’s bullshit, every word of it. Everything he’s achieved by an unrelenting passion and consistency. He’s mastered what it takes to win and thrive within High Octane Wrestling. That’s why he has 0 defeats and Shane has…well…

Despite being on an undefeated streak for a good chunk of his run towards battling Bobbinette, it all fell apart soon after. They say that hate is a negative emotion, one that yields nothing worthwhile. But that’s also bullshit of equal measure. Hate, as it turned out, was a powerful motivator. Hate is what fuelled his passion for destroying Bobbinette. And hate is what was missing when he lost to John Sektor. Heck, it was even missing when he squared off with Charles De Lacy. He did not like the man, by any stretch of the imagination. But the negativity he felt towards him hadn’t quite metastasized into outright hatred. Not yet at least.

Similarly, the match over number one contendership for the World Championship had been borne of greed rather than hatred. All three losses had merged together in Shane’s mind and snowballed as though down the side of a mountain, becoming an avalanche. Ironically, it was an avalanche of hate – but one directed at himself rather than anybody else from the HOW roster. Such feelings and psychological battering eventually took their toll. First came the black outs. At first minutes seem to flash by in a blink. Then hours. Then whole days. They came and went, with Shane’s mind not recalling a single moment of them.

Thankfully, Riley was still around. The rest of his followers had grown disillusioned with Shane’s deteriorating mental state and random outbursts – both during his fugue states and without. As a result, they had steadily departed for parts unknown or resigned themselves back into various mental health facilities. Not Riley, however, she had remained, as stalwart as ever, by his side. As such, she was sometimes able to fill in the gaps. There were still occasions Shane had given her the slip, even in his subconscious state, but it was still better than nothing.

One such filling of the proverbial blanks came in the wake of a Chaos show. Though she’d initially lost track of him, Riley discovered Shane’s whereabouts when she switched on High Octane Wrestling to keep tabs. To her surprise – and, later, his own – she witnessed Shane wrestling against Scott Stevens. She equally watched him lose. Somehow, he’d made it all the way to Des Moines, Iowa…competed in a math…and travelled back. All without a single memory of the experience.

To say that Shane was surprised by this fact would be an understatement. In fact, he scarcely believed it until Riley begrudgingly showed him the footage. The outburst that followed could only be described as epic in nature. He went through the building, tearing it apart, throwing everything he could to the floor and pulling pictures off the wall, leaving a trail of broken wood and glass in his wake. All the while, he repeatedly yelled Scott Steven’s name and lamented how such a thing could happen. It was hard to disagree with and console him. After all, it was Scott Stevens. Even Riley knew enough about HOW now to know that Shane should have steamrolled over him.

Instead, Shane retreated both into his room and into himself. He fortunately had no more dissociative episodes in that time, but Riley feared he was heading towards something worse. He barely ate. He barely slept. Every time she checked on him, he was either watching yet another new TV show – most recently the latest season of American Horror Story – or playing Grand Theft Auto V. Other than that, he frequently returned to his match with Scott Stevens, reopening the wound that was that unremembered yet painful defeat.

The last time he did, he insisted that Riley sit with him and watch – that he had something to show her. “There, you see,” he said, pausing the footage and pointing.

“What?”

She squinted, but remained oblivious to his point, even as he dropped forward onto his knees and touched the screen over the image he’d been gesturing towards.

“There!” He insisted, tapping the screen.

Riley leaned forwards and, between his taps, saw a man wearing some kind of sports jersey with the number 4 on it. “Who is he?”

“The who doesn’t matter,” Shane snapped back, with a wide-eyed frenzy. “It’s the what.”

Riley glanced at him with a blank, confused expression.

“The number 4!” Shane enlightened her, though it did nothing to ease Riley’s confusion. “It’s all over the place. Not just during this match but the whole show. It’s following me, like a curse.”

Riley clearly remained unsure but Shane didn’t care. He had clearly already convinced himself of this perceived fact. He moved rapidly away from the television, though he remained on his knees. This time, he dropped then in front of Riley. Gripping her knees in his hands, he stared up at her with no less of a wild-eyed intensity.

“That loss to Scott Stevens,” Shane continued. “Guess how many losses that means I’ve had?”

“Four?” Riley replied with the tone of a question, though she already knew the answer.

“Exactly!” Shane confirmed. “And how many fugue states have I had, according to you?”

Shane didn’t allow her to answer this time.

“Four!” He blurted out, answering for himself. “And what bus route runs along outside this building? Four! And now I’ve said it four times. See! It’s everywhere, I can’t escape it.”

Shane suddenly turned his head and glanced over his shoulder.

“Shut up!” He snapped.

“What?”

“Nothing!” Shane answered, turning his attention back to Riley. Although behind him, unseen by Riley on account of her not being insane, the figures of John Sektor, Dan Ryan, Charles De Lacy, and Scott Stevens loomed in the shadows of the darkened room. Shane literally haunted by not just the number four but each defeat in a more psychologically disturbed way. He tries to hide with with a smile that manages to do the opposite of comfort.

It’s official, Riley thought to herself. Shane Reynolds has lost his damn mind.

“It’s official,” Charles De Lacy said, crouching down next to Shane’s ear. The spectre of John Sektor crouched down in a similar fashion on the opposite side. “She thinks you’ve lost your mind!”

*****

Days later, Riley sat at the downstairs table. Surrounded by various kitchen utensils and appliances, the air was heavy with the scent of meals past. Not that Shane had even so much as sniffed at them. She took in a deep breath and then sighed just as heavily; her eyes remained fixed on the iPad laid between her palms. It was open on the High Octane Wrestling website and the announced card for the next show. She took another deep breath and unleashed another sigh, before pushing the chair back. Its legs scrapped awkwardly against the tiled floor as she stood.

By the time she made it to Shane’s bedroom door, she’d gone back and forth over a dozen times on whether or not to show him. Ultimately, she lifted her clenched fist of a hand and knocked on the door. He’d never forgive her if she kept yet another thing from him. And that would go double if she was the cause of another defeat in his loss column – though that might steer him away from his irrational fear of the number 4.

“Sir?” Riley said softly as she knocked again.

Although he didn’t respond, she opened the door anyway. There was a chance that he was asleep, but, more likely, he had his headphones on and couldn’t hear her. That turned out to by the case. Even from the doorway, she could hear the sounds of Seether’s Words As Weapons blasting from the earbuds. She glanced towards the TV to see that Grand Theft Auto was paused and Shane was on his phone. Her heart dropped for a moment, wondering if he’d seen the news already. However, she saw, as he noticed her and put the phone down, that he was checking his Pokemon Go account.

Shane lowered his headphones down around his neck as she moved into the room. The floor was littered with drained cider bottles and advent calendars, each of the windows open and the subsequent chocolates already consumed. All except for number 4, of course. Shane swung his legs around and moved into a seated position. Riley dodged the aforementioned mess as she moved to join him, wondering, not for the first time, whether she had become his mother.

“Uh oh,” the imaginary Sektor muttered, an extension of Shane’s thoughts – which was wondering the same thing. “Mommy’s here!”

Each of the others laughed at Sektor’s moronic comment. Shane blinked, silently urging them them all to vanish back to wherever they came from. It was all in vain, however. They were still exactly where they were before he lowered his eyelids. Still, he tried to focus on Riley as she sat on the bed. And the numbers.

“I saw five more today,” Shane suddenly announced, turning his phone screen towards the wall. The light from it illuminated that tallies Shane had been keeping of every number 4 he’d seen. That he thought were stalking him as part of some curse. Next to it were a list of names of whom may have cast the aforementioned cursed, headed up by Bobbinette Carey but also including the real-life versions of those who had spent the past week tormenting him.

In this moment, Riley found it always best to distract him with a question about the past. On this occasional, she plucked one randomly from the ether. One that she hoped would evoke a positive view of his life and career. One that reminded him that he had actually achieved something and had known success during his lengthy tenure with High Octane Wrestling.

“When was the last time you enjoyed wrestling?”

It appeared to work, Shane rushing to the forefront of his mind, no longer trapped beneath bad memories and self-imposed torment.

“You wanna know the last time I truly enjoyed what I do?”

Riley nodded.

“I can’t even remember.”

Riley refused to accept that. “Nope, come on. You must remember when you last felt joy for it. Though it may get lost in the shuffle, it never really goes away.”

“When I faced off against Jatt Starr,” Shane answered, so suddenly that he even surprised himself with the words. Though he immediately tried to conflate it with negative emotions, Riley considered it to be progress. “Hatred comes from history and experience. All of these newcomers and unfamiliar faces simply don’t do it for me.”

“Then you are going to hate the new card that was just released.”

Shane caught Riley’s sarcastic emphasis on the word “hate” and the smirk that followed.

“Very funny.”

“I thought so.” Riley’s expression suddenly turned serious. “I can just shut it down, if you want? We can just hope on a plane and go to shadowy parts of Iceland and forget HOW even exists. Just drink and fuck and leave it all behind. Heck, we can even find a new group of followers, less fickle ones this time.”

“No,” Shane eventually replied. “As pleasant as that all sounds, I can’t do that. Lee may be a tyrannical asshole but I can’t knowingly let him down like that. Not after all the chances and opportunity he’s given me over the years. The name Shane Reynolds wouldn’t be worth even a shred of a damn if it wasn’t for him. Despite my efforts to squander and diminish it, Lee Best is the reason I even have a legacy at all. No, I’m not going to disrespect him again. I’m not Max Kael.”

“Okay,” Riley said, pretending to know what even half of that meant. She lifted the iPad that had been pressed beneath her palm on the bed and held it out to her master.

Shane took it from her and scrolled through the card. He didn’t need to scroll far to see his name – booked in the first match – but he wanted to see who else would be in attendance that night.

“Oh look, there I am.” Scott Stevens cajoled.

“And me!” Dan Ryan added in. “And you’ll get to watch me crush your boyfriend!”

Without a thought, Shane snapped his head in Dan Ryan’s direction. “Okay, there’s no need to be homophobic!”

The amassed group of imaginary figments merely laughed as Shane’s outburst and how it must have looked. Shane turned back to Riley. She tried futilely to hide her bafflement and worry.

“Sorry,” Shane offered, for what little that was worth to a loved one watching their partner actively lose their mind in real time.

“It’s fine,” Riley gestured back. “Even invisible people shouldn’t be homophobic.”

For the first time in what felt like forever, Shane laughed out loud. The noise was so sudden and surprising that Riley was joining in before she even realised it. As they laughed together, Shane felt each of those that had been tormenting him shrink somewhat. He leaned sideways and lowered his head onto her shoulder.

“I love you!” The words left Shane’s mouth between ongoing chuckles and before he was even consciously aware of them. The moment they were out in the open, he snapped back upright. He glanced at Riley from the corner of his eye. “Uh. I mean… Uh!”

“It’s okay,” Riley consoled, reaching out and touching his once again masked cheek. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel the same way…”

She then glanced around the room at the mess Shane had accumulated. Once again, she questioned about the potential motherhood situation that may be forming…

“…which is also why I am not going to clean this mess!”

“Understood!” Shane acknowledged, hardly able to blame her.

“So, who are you facing?” Riley already knew the answer, obviously, but wanted to steer the conversation back to its previous track.

“Nobody I know,” Shane said, recalling his previous statement about history and experience.

“More importantly,” Charles De Lacy interjected. “What date are you facing him?”

Before Shane could ignore him and avoid the answer to the question, Shane glanced up at it and saw that it was on the 4th of December. Dread immediately took a vice-like grip on his heart.

“And December is the 12th month, right?” Scott Stevens asked, surprising even Shane with his ability to even count before recalling that they were all figment of his own mind. As such, it made sense, even if it diminished the believability of that particular figment.

“Indeed,” Charles responded, “and what does 12 perfectly divide into?”

John Sektor took up the cause that was suddenly flowing between them, side-eyeing Shane in a cocky manner as he answered. “I do believe its 4.”

Dan Ryan rounded out the psychological team-up that was being unleashed upon Shane. “That’s a lot of 4s for one event…and you haven’t even got there yet. Are you sure you shouldn’t just stay in bed? Those Pokémon won’t catch themselves.”

Shane suddenly felt the grip of Riley’s slender but strong fingers against his chin. Given the extended silence that had fallen over the room, as Shane’s eyes darted back and forth between figures unseen by her, she’d ascertained what was going on. And she immediately sought to rectify it by redirecting his attention to her. To her own emerald green eyes.

“You can do this,” she stated matter-of-factly as their eyes remained locked on each other’s. Shane suddenly wished that he had the same confidence in himself that she visibly had in him. He tried to absorb and feed off the confidence that brimmed in her eyes but he could already hear the tutting and muttering from the others in the room.

“But the 4s—” Shane started…

…but was immediately cut off by Riley. “Fuck the 4s! Worst case scenario, you lose and that 4 becomes a 5 anyway.”

Riley could feel Shane start to ready a response, a counter argument, but she refused to allow him that opportunity.

“But you aren’t going to lose,” Riley instead continued. “You’re going to win. You’re going to make an example of this Drew Mitchell and remind people that you are Shane fucking Reynolds. You are going to beat him like nobody else in HOW has so far and break this supposed curse. No, fuck that too. You are going to show everyone that there is no curse hanging over you. YOU ARE THE CURSE! A curse on the entire roster and especially those who have come to underestimate you. This match against Drew Mitchell is going to be the springboard to your former glory!”

“You can’t know that,” Shane managed to shoehorn into the conversation.

At the same time, he attempted to turn his gaze back away from her. The figments in the room encouraged him to do so – arguing as to the validity of Riley’s statements. Each of them in unison informing him that he was destined to fail and that losing to Drew Mitchell would be the biggest humiliation yet.

“A veteran hall of famer losing to a relative rookie?” Charles De Lacy spat at him from by the shuttered window. “There’s no coming back from that!”

“No!” Riley interjected, once again feeling Shane pulling away from her – both physically and mentally. “I don’t know what those bastard voices in your head are saying, but you can’t let them win. If you let them distract you or steer you towards another no show and another defeat, you are letting them beat you all over again.”

Riley tightened her grip on Shane’s face, holding him in place.

“So, you are going to go to Chaos and by beating Drew Mitchell you are going to defeat all of them! And you want to know how?”

“How?” Shane questioned, once again transfixed by both her eyes and the confidence burning brightly within the emerald sparkle of them.

“Because when you win, you’ll have won 8 matches,” Riley informed him. “Yes, you’ve lost 4 but 8 is twice as many as that. And it’s twice as powerful. If you give up now, you will lose in oh so many ways. You give up now and you let them…”

Riley swung her arm to indicate to the forces she can’t see but that Shane believed are in the room.

“…and everybody who isn’t here win. Do you really want to let that happen?”

“No,” Shane answered, with more conviction than he’d felt in weeks – nay, in months.

“You say that hatred is the key to victory for you,” Riley continued. “Well, use the hate you feel for each of the assholes present to fuel you in the match against Drew Mitchell. These bastards you are seeing are clearly tormenting you. So, take out that rage out of Drew Mitchell. Beat him within an inch of his career and so both them and their real-life counterparts just what you are still capable of. Show them that their defeats of you – especially Scott Stevens – was an utter fluke. Besides, by beating Drew Mitchell, you’ll immediately shoot back up the rankings. You’ll go straight above Charles De Lacy…”

“OI!” The imaginary Charles yelled, trying to interrupt a Riley that he already knows can’t hear him. “Stop right there, wench!”

Of course, Riley didn’t at all stop. Instead, she barely even took a breath as she pushed onwards with her pep talk for the ages.

“…and you’ll be one step closer to not only usurp Dan Ryan and John Sektor’s placements…”

“Hell no!” The figments of John Sektor and Dan Ryan immediately yell in argument, albeit to mostly deaf ears.

“… but position yourself to be the first one to finally defeat Michael Best,” Riley concluded. “Maybe what you think of as a curse was merely a series of lesson from which you can learn, from which you can improve your technique.”

“Maybe,” Shane muttered.

“No, no, no,” Scott Stevens interjected. “If you believe that, you are a—”

Shane suddenly held up his finger in a gesture telling Scott Stevens to shut up. To both Shane and Scott’s surprise, the latter actually does. In the wake of that moment, Shane closes his eyes and takes a few deep breaths, in….and out…in…and out. When he opens them again, he’s relieved to see that Scott Stevens, John Sektor, Dan Ryan, and Charles De Lacy, figments though they were, are gone. Shane immediately inhales and exhales his deepest breath yet.

“But I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Shane eventually said, clearly still battling his own doubts even after the enforced vanishing of his recent psychological tormentors. “I haven’t so much as lifted a weight in over a month.”

“Then we change that,” she replied. “Right now. We may only have a few days, but it’s better than nothing.”

She stood up, now radiating not just confidence but authority. The kind of authority she usually reserved for other people, but it was now directed at him. Shane was surprised to find that he was buckling under the sheer force of it, of her suddenly powerful.

“Come on,” she continued. “Get up and get changed. We’re going for a run.”

Shane felt the urge to snap back, to argue, to regain control of the situation. Primarily so he could get back to his game, watch new Doctor Who, and perhaps have a nap. But, surprising himself yet again, he swallowed that urge. Instead, he smiled from beneath his mask as he pushed himself up and onto his feet. Maybe the curse could be broken after all. Maybe with the breaking of Drew Mitchell, Shane could overcome it and once again emerge from the shadow he had buried himself within. Maybe there was still time, to show the world who Shane Reynolds really was and just what he was made of.

As he stood, all he could say was, “Yes, ma’am!”