“The dominant feeling of the battlefield is loneliness.”
“Hard times create STRONK men.
STRONK men create good times.
Good times create Conor Fuses.
Conor Fuses create hard times.
It’s, like, a circle? Kinda?”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (allegedly)
Seven straight victories. Twenty points. Number one in the rankings. May’s Wrestler of the Month. Current High Octane Television Champion.
A bombardment of happy, self-actualizing thoughts to wake up to every morning.
When the naysayers nay, you remind them of the cold hard facts. Men lie, woman lie—numbers don’t.
And STRONK GODSON has the best numbers. The best.
All you need to do is check the standings.
Newspapers call for interviews; they wanna chat-up the current reigning and defending undisputed HOTv Champ, but Shelley stonewalls them, treats them like little bitches, says hurtful things about their families—really out-of-pocket-type shit—makes it all needlessly personal and outright adversarial.
Radio shows beg—they beg—for a five-minute in-studio sit-down. They crave that STRONK demo, want to suckle at its majestic teet. But radio sucks. So Shelley tells them all to pound sand and go fuck their mothers.
Hollywood’s a fickle bitch. It just is. It knows what it wants and it knows what it offers in return. It knows its relative worth and is real uppity about it. A careful dance ensues, both sides posturing and scheming for just a sliver of advantage… and, at the end of the day, everyone goes home with blue balls.
STRONK needs to—must—nut… but nobody wants to open up wide and say aah. Nobody wants to hop aboard the STRONK Express and roll coal down a one-way street in a two-lane truck while tin-can ‘music’ blares from a set of secondhand Bose speakers duck-taped to the flatbed.
Nobody wants to get into bed and experiment these days, just call it in the ring, figure out what a TV show might look like eventually… like, after six months of expensive dinners and luxurious courtship, box seats at playoff games in top markets and VIP tix to fancy-shmancy galas. After all of that.
No, everybody wants an idea right this second all of a sudden. A plot for the show you’re pitching. To know who STRONK is and why he matters—is he a fitness influencer? An all-in budget estimation and some talk of expected terms. How you got into their office and corralled them into an impromptu meeting in the first place. That kinda shit. They all want ideas.
Shelley’s got so many ideas crashing around inside his head it’s like a veritable battle royale knife fight. His ADHD affliction is a raging sea, the waves jostling him to-and-fro amidst a vastness that both terrifies and exhilarates, but just over the horizon is a small island rife with fruit and shade and fresh water—STRONK is that island, his saving grace, his one true purpose in life as he presently sees it. The reason he cares so much and tries so hard.
STRONK’s idea-bankrupt; the decision between a sirloin and a ribeye is enough to give him a migraine. He lacks creativity, empathy, compassion, or guilt, for the most part. Shelley points him in a particular direction, instructs him on what and what not to do while hoping he stays the course and doesn’t succumb to distraction, and STRONK marches forward like the Terminator. This clarity of the simpleton is both a blessing and a curse.
And for the past few weeks there’s only been one thing on his mind: to win War Games and capture the HOW World Championship.
Well, at least there should have been only one thing…
STRONK AND SHELLEY’S HOUSE
SOMEWHERE IN MINNESOTA
SOMETIME BEFORE WAR GAMES
STRONK walks into the living room, clad in his signature camouflage bike shorts, oiled up like an expertly-maintained F1 car, holding a towel. His skin is sunbaked, slow-cooked, the colour of Nashville hot chicken. He looks like a man that has ignored every warning ever published or broadcast about the side effects of exposure to harmful UV rays and flat-out has never heard of skin cancer before. The king of blissful ignorance.
He’s well-done and lovin’ it.
Shelley looks him up and down with a tinge of concern in his eyes.
Greene: Stronky Baby, the Coppertone is a friend. Consider it an honorary member of Team Best. Tag that motherfucker in. You’re Sizzler medium-rare right now, bro.
STRONK: BABY OIL IS THE ONLY BODY CONDIMENT STRONK TRUSTS.
Greene lays back on the carpeted floor (still no furniture—continuity!), fiddling with his Android phone, listening to his meal ticket and roommate.
Greene: Now, you look—would it be weird for me to say?—PEC-tac-u-lar. Those pecs don’t quit—they sit at their desk ‘till they’re sixty-five then collect government pension ‘till they are cold and dead in the ground. … But let’s take it easy on the sun for a few days, eh, bappa? Don’t wanna be shedding like an old snake, again.
STRONK: YES. THE SUN HAS GAZED UPON STRONK’S IMPRESSIVE PHYSIQUE LONG ENOUGH.
Outside, the abandoned dog kennel looms, beckoning STRONK’s attention subconsciously. It’s just on the edge of his peripheral; he knows it’s there, and he can’t stop thinking about it.
His head turns. He looks out through the patio door, seeing the shed in the backyard containing the dog kennel. Strange as it may be, STRONK feels a preternatural pull toward it at least once a day; he stands within its four malformed walls and gazes transfixed upon the oddly familiar cage hidden inside like a ghost from his past. It usually takes a second or a third knock at the shed door, or the call for dinner, to snap him back to reality.
“GET IN THAT DANG CAGE, BOY! ‘ER ELSE YOUR PA GON’ HAFTA WHIP YA RILL GOOD! WHIP YA RILL GOOD! ALL RIGHT!”
Shelley stands up and waves a hand in front of GODSON’s face.
Greene: Hello? Anybody in there? Earth to STRONK!
The three hundred pound behemoth blinks rapidly, registering his surroundings and swatting Shelley’s hand away instinctually.
STRONK: HOW ARE STRONK AND SHELLEY GETTING TO WAR GAMES? IS THIS A CAR RIDE SHOW OR A PLANE RIDE SHOW?
Greene: Well, it’s in the Ukraine.
STRONK: YES. THAT IS NOT IN MINNESOTA. WILL STRONK AND SHELLEY DRIVE? STRONK WILL PROCURE JERKY FOR THE ROAD.
Greene: Stronky Baby, it’s not even in the US of A. It’s a country. A country that’s not America.
STRONK: THERE ARE PLACES THAT ARE NOT AMERICA?
The HOTv Champion is genuinely flabbergasted; before he began traveling as part of the HOW roster, he’d never left the state of Minnesota. He’d never paid attention in school, never read a book, never watched a documentary, nothing. Finding out there are countries other than the USA is much the same as when he found out that other places exist outside of his home state.
Greene: Many. There’s a couple hundred countries in the world. They’ve got these things called continents, too, which are large land masses on which there may be many, many countries. For example, Japan exists within the much larger Asian—Asia is a continent; Japan is a country.
STRONK: JAPAN EXISTS? STRONK THOUGHT JAPAN WAS WHAT AMERICA USED TO BE CALLED HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO. AND A HUNDRED YEARS BEFORE THAT THERE WERE APE PEOPLE. AND A FEW HUNDRED MORE YEARS BEFORE THAT GIANT LIZARDS AND MERMAIDS RULED THE LAND. IT IS THE STORY OF AMERICA. A STORY OF PRIDE.
Greene: What did they teach you in school?
STRONK: STRONK DID SMALL ENGINE REPAIR AND DID SPORTS VERY WELL.
Greene: Your teachers undoubtedly earned every nickel shat their way by the state government.
STRONK: AGREED. TEACHERS ARE IMPORTANT. THEY SHAPE THE YOUNG MUSCLES OF OUR FUTURE AND SHOW KIDS HOW TO PROTECT THE QUARTERBACK.
Greene: Uhhh, let’s get back on topic, shall we? To answer your question, we’ll need to fly. Need to. No way around it. There’s an ocean between where we are and where we need to be come War Games. Still figuring out the logistics.
STRONK: OBTAIN A BOAT. STRONK WILL ROW TO THE UKRAINE.
Greene: How’s a boat better than a plane? We’ll never get there in time.
STRONK: PLANES CAN ONLY GO AS FAST AS PLANES GO. THE ARM POWER OF STRONK KNOWS NO LIMITS. ALSO YOU CAN SHIT OFF THE SIDE OF THE BOAT AND CATCH FISH WITH YOUR HANDS.
Greene: Ideally not at the same time. Anyway, no, we won’t be fucking rowing to fucking Ukraine.
STRONK: DO YOU HAVE A BETTER IDEA?
Greene: Oh, big man… I’ve got the best idea.
The first step to focusing STRONK and removing all distractions is to purge the traumas of the past, as much as one realistically can, starting with the innocuous-looking shed in their backyard. The same toolshed that has proven to be so vexing to GODSON over the past several weeks.
Shelley likes the shed, to be honest. Sometimes he goes in there alone, does some hard drugs, and admires his growing collection of women’s panties in peace and solitude. It represents an escape from the oftentimes oppressive nature of his current living arrangement; a cohabitation with an intellectually-stunted tyrant who only speaks in short punchy shouts. But he knew when he woke up that morning that it had to go; he found STRONK standing in a fugue state in front of it, holding a bag of dog treats… where he got them Shelley has no idea.
Printed photos (found on Google Images) of each member of Team Fuse & Byrd line the exterior walls of the weathered structure.
Shelley clutches a pump-action shotgun that he bought at a seedy pawn shop in town.
Reminder—they live in the suburbs. Neighboring houses in close proximity, bordering all sides.
Greene: I don’t know what it is about this shed that’s got you all squirrelly-headed, but we’ve gotta bury this body once and for all.
He hands the shotty to GODSON.
STRONK’s never held a gun before. Doesn’t understand trigger discipline or any of that, and so the first thing he does is flip it around and stare directly down into the barrel. Shelley, sensing danger, quickly snatches the end and redirects it away from STRONK’s face.
Greene: First thing to note, don’t point it at anything you don’t wish to maim.
STRONK immediately points the gun at Shelley.
Greene: Funny. But that includes your boy Shelley.
Greene gestures to the photos.
Greene: Whether it’s this stupid fucking shed that’s got your mind all a mess, or the prospect of fighting all these people in a cage in some war-torn country, I don’t care—we must eliminate that which lessens our probability of success.
Without so much as a prompt, STRONK unloads several shotgun bursts into the faces of Conor Fuse, Clay Byrd, and their merry band of idiots. Save for Bobbinette Carey; she is spared.
STRONK takes her photo down off the pockmarked, splintered wall and holds it in his hand.
STRONK: YES. ELIMINATE. IF ROBERNETTE IS SUCCESSFUL IN WINNING THE BELT THAT IS NOT AS GOOD AS THE STRONK BELT, AND CHOOSES TO FIGHT THE STRONK MAN AND HIS BEST FRIENDS—
GODSON’s hand closes, crumpling the photo, before tossing it into the brush.
STRONK: ROBERNETTE WILL CEASE TO BE THE OBJECT OF STRONK’S DESIRES AND WILL BECOME STRONK’S ENEMY FOREVER AND ALWAYS. STRONK WILL BEAT THAT WOMAN LIKE SHE HAS HUMAN MAN GENITALS AND LEAVE HER IN THE STREETS TO BE FED ON BY DOGS AND HUNGRY HUNGRY HOBOS. AND SHOULD SHE SURVIVE AND DRAG HER BEAUTIFUL BUTT BACK TO AMERICA SOMEHOW, SHE WILL PINE FOR STRONK’S MEATY FLATULENCE BUT STRONK WILL NOT LOOK AT HER THE SAME WAY EVER AGAIN. SHE WILL DIE OLD AND ROTTEN AND ALONE WITHOUT THE LOVE OF A REAL MAN.
Greene: I love it! No remorse! No hesitation! Fuck bitches; get titles. That’s good to know; I was worried you might hold back if Carey tries to come at you in the cage.
Turning on his back foot, Shelley walks over and grabs a can of gasoline. He pours it all over the side of the shed and sloshes some up onto its roof. He chucks the gas can to the side, and produces a Zippo from his pants pocket. He ignites the flame and hands the lighter to GODSON.
The flame dances atop the wick.
“FUCK YOUR TEARS, PRETZEL-BOY! CRYIN’ LIKE A LITTLE FAGGOT!”
Greene: Torch that motherfucker, Stronk Daddy. Watch it burn, baby, burn!
STRONK tosses the lit Zippo at the shed, igniting the gasoline coating it. Within seconds, the entire thing is set ablaze; old cans of paint burn and emit noxious fumes from within. The visual of the shed engulfed in flames reflects in his pupils, while Shelley moshes in place, flailing his arms and screaming encouragement at the fire. The walls buckle and give out and the roof caves in on itself but remains propped up off the ground by the rusted steel dog kennel inside. That doesn’t burn, of course, but it’s concealed underneath the rubble.
A neighbor peaks their nosy little head over the wooden fence separating their yards, shocked and alarmed at what they’re seeing.
Neighbour: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Has someone called 911!?
Greene cranes his head around, with a look on his face that says, ‘What the hell for?’
Greene: Mind your own business, Bob. This is mental health-related. Stronky Baby’s in treatment. It doesn’t concern you!
As the shed continues to burn, STRONK and Shelley turn and walk away back toward the house.
Greene: How do you feel? Cleansed?
STRONK: STRONK DOES NOT FEEL ANY SORT OF WAY.
Mid-stride, Shelley scratches his chin, deep in thought.
Greene: I figured that wouldn’t do it. Too easy. That’s why I had a Plan B all along. You probably aren’t gonna like it, but when I say it’s absolutely necessary, super necessary, you’ve gotta believe me. We’ve got someone we need to visit before we hop a plane to Ukraine, win War Games, and take Conor’s fucking title.
STRONK: OKAY. BUT IT BETTER NOT BE YOUR WEIRD COUSIN AGAIN. STRONK DID NOT LIKE THAT MAN ONE BIT. HE WAS A VERY STRANGE MAN.
Greene: No, not him—I think he got arrested a few weeks back for mail fraud… Typical Lowell… But it is someone you know…
Time for a bit of an interlude—STRONK has some shit he wants to get off his big ol’ chest…
PEOPLE THINK BECAUSE STRONK DOES NOT KNOW A LOT OF WORDS THAT STRONK IS STUPID.
BIG STUPID STRONK. ENFORCER OF TEAM BEST. HUGE AND SHINY AND BELOVED BY ALL HE HAS NOT CRUSHED.
NOTHING MORE. NOTHING LESS.
STRONK IS SIMPLE. YES. THAT IS GOOD. ONE GOAL—ONE PURPOSE. NO DISTRACTIONS.
UKRAINE IS A COUNTRY THAT IS NOT AMERICA AND THEREFORE IS NOT A GOOD PLACE. IT IS NOT-AMERICA.
STRONK WANTED TO BIRD CALL THIS FACT BUT SHELLEY SAID IT COULD BE SEEN AS ZEBRAPHOBIC—STRONK IS NOT AFRAID OF ZEBRAS SO STRONK DOES NOT UNDERSTAND HOW IT COULD BE THAT, BUT SHELLEY KNOWS BEST.
STRONK DOES NOT LIKE LEAVING AMERICA. ARE THE HOTDOGS IN NOT-AMERICA AS GOOD AS THE HOTDOGS IN AMERICA? DOES THE WATER CONTAIN AMPLE SIZE NUTRIENTS? DO HUMAN WOMEN IN NOT-AMERICA HAVE DUMPERS THAT JIGGLE WHEN THEY JOG? STRONK HAS QUESTIONS THAT MUST BE ANSWERED.
STRONK LOOKS AT THE OPPOSING TEAM AND IS UNIMPRESSED. STRONK HAS CRUSHED MANY OF THEM ALREADY. STRONK HAS NOT FOUGHT CLAY BYRD, BUT CLAY BYRD HAS KNEES THAT CALL OUT TO THE SEA AND LONG FOR SOMETHING NEW AND DIFFERENT. STRONK HAS NOT FOUGHT CONOR FUSE, BUT CONOR FUSE IS SMALL AND PUNY AND DOES NOT HAVE THE BODY COMPOSITION TO WITHSTAND STRONK’S HEAVY ARTILLERY.
WINNING WAR GAMES WILL BE THE GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT OF STRONK’S LIFE. BIGGER THAN THE BIGGEST WEIGHT HE HAS EVER LIFTED. BIGGER THAN WINNING THE GREEN BELT THAT NOW LIVES COMFORTABLY AROUND STRONK’S WAIST. BIGGER THAN EACH AND EVERY HUMAN THAT STRONK HAS SMASHED UP TO THIS POINT.
BUT THERE ARE MANY UNKNOWNS.
STRONK DOES NOT LIKE UNKNOWNS.
STRONK HAS NEVER FOUGHT IN A CAGE AND HAS NEVER FOUGHT MORE THAN ONE HUMAN AT A TIME. STRONK DOES NOT KNOW IF HE CAN LOOP HOLD SEVERAL HUMANS AT ONCE—STRONK HAS NOT TESTED IT.
PAPA BEST WANTS STRONK TO WIN. BUT PAPA BEST ALSO WANTS STRONK TO MAKE SURE TYLER BEST DOES NOT DIE IN NOT-AMERICA. STRONK IS CONFUSED BECAUSE WHAT IF STRONK HAS TO LOSE IN ORDER FOR TYLER BEST TO SURVIVE? WHAT IF TYLER BEST HAS TO DIE IN ORDER FOR STRONK TO WIN?
WOULD TYLER BEST DYING IN NOT-AMERICA AT THE TENDER AGE OF YOUNG BOY MEAN STRONK GETS ALL THE PAPA BEST LOVE AND ATTENTION? WOULD MIKE BEST SHRUG IT OFF AND TELL STRONK TO MOVE INTO HIS HOUSE AND THEN STRONK AND MIKE BEST WILL WORK OUT TOGETHER ALL DAY EVERYDAY? STRONK CAN SHOW MIKE BEST WHAT A DEADLIFT IS AND MIKE BEST CAN TEACH STRONK WHAT BOOKS ARE AND HOW TO WEAR A SUIT JACKET.
STRONK WOULD NOT BE HAVING ANY OF THESE THOUGHTS IF IT WERE NOT FOR SHELLEY GREENE. BUT STRONK HAS THESE THOUGHTS AND STRONK DOES NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH THEM.
STRONK BURNED THE SHED TODAY. IT SMELLED LIKE BURNT SHED AND DOG FUR. VERY NICE.
BUT STRONK STILL FEELS A TIGHTNESS IN HIS CHEST THAT IS DIFFERENT THAN THE USUAL TIGHTNESS. STRONK’S HEART BEATS VIOLENTLY, WHICH IT ALWAYS DOES, BUT IT IS NOT THE SAME LATELY.
SHELLEY SAYS HE HAS A PLAN B. STRONK DOES NOT KNOW WHAT THAT IS, BUT STRONK AND SHELLEY ARE GOING ON A ROAD TRIP TOMORROW. SHELLEY WILL NOT TELL STRONK WHERE THEY ARE GOING.
HOPEFULLY IT IS A STEAKHOUSE.
SOMEWHERE IN MINNESOTA
SOMETIME BEFORE WAR GAMES
Shelley used STRONK’s Ukraine danger pay advance to turn his Cadillac Deville into a convertible. And down the road the car went, weaving recklessly in and out of traffic, at a speed greatly exceeding posted limits.
Greene: I think we hit a truck stop, like, twenty miles from here. We’ll get some grub.
STRONK: WHERE ARE WE GOING?
Shelley’s grip tightens on the steering wheel, his knuckles whitening, as he sucks in a deep breath. His eyes do not leave the road in front of them as he prepares to spoil a rather uncomfortable surprise.
Greene: Your pops. We’re going to see your pops, alright?
STRONK’s teeth grind together.
STRONK: THAT IS A MISTAKE.
Shelley knows that the last person on the face of the planet that STRONK wants to see is his father, the man that emotionally and physically abused him as a child. Shelley doesn’t know the half of it, though; he only knows what he’s pieced together and surmised on his own. GODSON is not someone to share his thoughts and feelings with others, and may not even possess the self-awareness or vocabulary to convey his issues to another person even if he wanted.
Gordon Godson, to STRONK, is simply a man from his past that he wishes would die in the most brutally painful and embarrassing way possible… but he wasn’t a bad father, right?
All dads psychologically torture their sons, right?
It’s called child rearing, right?
He hasn’t seen his father in close to a decade. Not since he left home abruptly and began competing in the independent, unregulated, Minnesotan underground bodybuilding circuit before ultimately meeting Shelley Greene late last year.
Greene: Just a quick visit, you’ll vanquish some demons, rise above it all, dust yourself off, go home, get right, shower, jerk off, and head to Ukraine to fuck some fools up and win War Games like I know you will. Brand spanking new Stronk Daddy! Version two-point-oh, baby!
STRONK dead-stares forward, hard-to-decipher thoughts bouncing around inside his head, nothing clear, everything murky and obscured by long repressed memories.
STRONK: UHHHH. OKAY.
…TO BE CONTINUED…