The Next Step

The Next Step

Posted on August 25, 2022 at 11:30 pm by Clay Byrd

June 23rd, 2002
Plainview, Texas
BYRD RANCH
 
A father and son sat quietly on the back porch. They both drank Coors Light from the can, the mountains would have been #0097FE blue if GOD had allowed for such cans to exist at the time. Instead ‘the silver bullet’ was being ingested at a leisurely pace. As the sun continued to set, the silence on the ranch was slowly engulfed by the sounds of dusk. Crickets chirping, somewhere in the distance a coyote howled. 
 
“So…” Robert Byrd said, he didn’t need to finish his question. His son Clayton knew the conversation, the two men had been sitting on the back porch having the same conversation each night for weeks
 
“Nothin’s changed,” Clay mused. He was clean shaven, his Texas Longhorns t-shirt draped off of him loosely as was the style at the time. He looked over at his father, Robert’s mustache twitched as he was about to talk again. Clay had dreaded this conversation each night, but each night they sat here, watching the sunset over the ridge on the ranch. At some point, something had to give. Robert took a big sigh, as he reached down for his Marlboro’s sitting on the arm of the wooden deck chair. The cigarette was in his mouth and the lighter sparked and brought it to life. He took a deep drag, and exhaled with a sigh. 
 
“They ain’t callin’ Clay,” A fathers job was to be realistic. You let your children run for their dreams, as hard as they can, you help them, you coach them, you guide them, you pick them up when they fall. And eventually, when the dream is over, you have to be the one to tell them. Clay took his Longhorn trucker cap off and sat it on the arm of his own deck chair. 
 
“I know,” the only thing Clay had ever wanted to be was a professional football player. He lifted weights, he ran, he practiced like a demon, but sometimes, well sometimes you want what you can’t have. And this was definitely the case for the young man. The two sat in silence, Robert Byrd ripping through Marlboros, and Clay ripping through his feelings
 
It was hard to be twenty two years old, and told that the career you had always envisioned for yourself, that the dream was over. Done. Gone. That the one thing you loved your entire life, you couldn’t do it anymore. Sure, Canada, or Arena League, or Europe, they could all call. But when you’ve competed at the top, at the highest echelon of the sport, it felt impossible to take a step backwards. To go from flying on private chartered planes, to riding a train or a bus to a game? That wasn’t the answer, that wasn’t going to motivate the twenty-two year old. 
 
“What do I do next?” 
 
The question hung in the air between the two men. Just like the “So” had earlier, just like the truth Robert Byrd needed to tell his son. The old man mused over it, the smoke wafting off of the barely burning but lit cigarette. The ash had built up into a cigarette shaped column that was on the precipice of a cliff. At any moment, it would careen off, onto Robert’s pant leg, or harmlessly onto the deck. But Robert didn’t notice the drama happening at his fingertips, he was distracted by the drama that was happening in his own mind. How to word it precisely, to measure the words so they didn’t come off as hurtful, or too critical.
 
As Robert adjusted himself, letting the cigarette ash fall to the deck. The young man across from him reached for his can of Copenhagen. Whatever wisdom his father was about to part with, Clay felt like he needed nicotine to handle what Robert was about to say.
 
“You put your left foot, in front of your right foot, and you keep movin’ Clay.” 
 
The look from his son showed Robert Byrd he needed to elaborate. 
 
“You might not know the direction yer goin’ in life Clay. You might not know what you’re fighting towards, you might not know what that next step looks like. It might not be safe, it might not be where you want to go. But you keep pushin’ through, ‘cause this world is gonna always give ya setbacks. It’s goin’ ta challenge ya in ways ya can’t imagine. But ya keep puttin’ that left foot in front of yer right one, then yer right foot in front of yer left one. ‘Cause sometimes son, that’s all we can do…” Robert took a long drag off of his Marlboro, he exhaled letting the cloud of carcinogens flow out over the edge of the porch
 
“And one day Clay, you just hope ya find the thing that makes ya happy. Ya hope ya find the thing that makes it easier. But no matter what ya do in this life son, ya keep that left foot movin’ in front of the right one, and the right one goin’ in front of the left. And ya keep pushin’ and ya keep tryin’, and ya hope ya find somethin’ that makes it easier.” 
 
Clay nodded his head knowingly
 
————————————
 
I’ve been doing this a long time Scott. I’ve been at this for nineteen years now, nineteen years I’ve spent in some sort of ring, working, striving, honing my craft. In the HOW ring alone,I’ve smashed young upstarts, ending careers before they could even get started. I’ve smashed legends from other promotions without batting an eye. I’ve gone to war with the best this company has ever seen. 
 
And when I won the HOTv championship, the very first singles championship of my HOW career. I told every single person in the back, all them in that locker room, that they could come try to take it off of me. They could walk out that ramp, say the magic words, challenge me to a match, and come try to take this fucking title. Because I was going to be a fighting champion, I wasn’t going to be the guy who ran off to the smaller ponds to get in my defenses. I wasn’t going to be the guy who broke down and lost the title right away. I was going to go to war, and if you thought you could step up to my level, you could come try to fucking take it from me. 
 
But they aren’t there yet Scott, the men in the locker room in High Octane Wrestling, the ones that see this title as their ride to the promised land, they haven’t reached out and become what I think they can be. They haven’t made the attempt, they haven’t put in the work, they don’t have the drive. 
 
And Lee knows that. 
 
He’s known that all along, that Clay Byrd, fighting champion, wasn’t going to work. He’s known that I could waltz out here with the green belt over my shoulder, tell everyone in the locker room that they are all steaming, heaping, piles of human excrement, and not a single one of them were going to step forward. They’d stay in their lanes, they’d stay where they belong, they’d scrape the dregs of the roster looking for the next opportunity
 
I want to inspire someone Scott, I want to find someone who wants this big green belt more than anything else in the fucking world. I want someone to come in, ready to put in the effort, ready to take this championship to heights it hasn’t seen in its lifetime. I want someone to be looking at home, and see this green title, and see what I’m trying to make it stand for. I want them to feel attached, I want them to see how hard Clay Byrd is willing to fight for a cause. I want them to see how hard I’m willing to fight for a principle, and I want them to ask if they’re willing to do the same things. Are they willing to make the same sacrifices I’ve made, are they willing to dig down deep like I’ve had to. Are they willing to put themselves through the punishment, and the demand of this title? 
 
Are you that guy, Scott?
 
Let’s talk about my time in High Octane Scott, let’s talk about my career. I’ve fought like a demon to get to this point, I’ve fought my way through this roster. Up and down, top to fucking bottom. I’ve dragged myself through unimaginable pain to get here, how many times have I wanted to quit Scott? How many times would it have been easier just to pack it all up and walk on? Take a journey to another federation? Start over? Scott, I’ve never been that guy. I’ve always pushed forward, I’ve always kept my nose to the grindstone. 
 
Even when I worked for Lee Best, I still tried to persevere. When Teddy Palmer had my neck placed across his leg in the triangle choke, I still tried to push forward and finish Teddy. When Sektor had me locked into the Stretch, I still fought like hell trying to get his shoulders on the mat. I’m a fighter Scott, I’ve always been a fucking fighter, and I always will be a fucking fighter. And I’ll fight for this championship with everything I have. You think I don’t want this fucking thing? Fuck you. It’s not the prettiest, it’s not the one I intended to win. But it’s mine Scott, it’s fucking mine. It’s not yours now, and it’s not going to fucking be yours for a long fucking time. 
 
Are you the guy that’s going to be able to fucking take it from me? 
 
Three people, three fucking people Scott. That’s how many men have been able to stick these massive shoulders to that canvas. That’s how many people have been able to keep me down for a three count. In two years, in over twenty five matches, three fucking people. Mike Best, Conor Fuse, and Christopher America. 
 
You think you’re the guy that gets to join that list? 
 
Two of the greatest wrestlers this promotion has ever fucking seen, and Conor Fuse. A two time world champion who will have his hall of fame ticket punched eventually. You think you’re the guy that’s gonna be able to do it? You think you’re the son of a bitch that’s going to fucking join them? 
 
You know who else thought they were gonna join them? People like Bob fucking Grenier. Some outsider who’s a fucking Hall of Famer in his home promotion waltzed in here, and thought he was going to be able to stick my shoulders to the mat for a three count. People like Jace Parker Davidson thought they were going to be able to walk all fucking over me, thought I’d just be another stepping stone on the way to greater riches, to more fame
 
Ask them how it went. Ask them how crossing The Monster from Plainview, Texas went for each of them. Jace Parker Davidson won’t even say my fucking name, that’s how fucking scared he is. I slammed STRONK Godson through a flaming table so hard, he started his road to financial security. I powerbombed that big dumb goofy fuck so hard he had to come face to face with his own mortality. 
 
And you think you’re the fucking guy that’s gonna come take this from me? 
 
Scott, Lee Best and all of the PWA brass can buy you all the bullshit on the planet. They can buy you a bus, they can buy you a new house, they can get you a polar bear instead of a regular bear. It ain’t gonna matter none Scott, ‘cause I don’t think you’re the man that’s going to be the one to take this championship off of me. I’m keeping it right here at home, I’m keeping that belt right here in High Octane.
 
‘Cause I told everyone when I first got this title Scott, this thing is for the boys in the back. This thing shows who’s willing to go out here night after fucking night, week after fucking week, and put it all on the line. That it’s for the best wrestler in this company to carry week in, and week out, to defend against all comers.  
 
I’m bringing this title to the forefront of High Octane Wrestling. I’m dragging it, kicking, and screaming. I’m dragging it through the blood of every fucking challenger I’ve left in my wake. I’m the fucking Behemoth of High Octane. I’m the god damned Colossus of Chaos. 
 
And this title belt, it’s not the next step for you Scott. Not until I’m fucking done with it. ‘Cause it’s the thing that keeps me fuckin’ goin’ right now. It’s the thing that makes me fuckin’ happy. It’s the reason I wake up in the mornin’, it’s the thing that makes it all worth it. It’s the thing that keeps me puttin’ my feet one in front of the other. Through this fucking hell hole. Keepin’ this thing away from Lee Best, keeps me moving forward each and every fuckin’ day. 
 
And I ain’t done movin’ forward Scott. Not by a fucking long shot. 
 
—————————————-
 
August 26th, 2022
Plainview, Texas
BYRD RANCH
 
Clay stood behind the pile of rubble that was now the Byrd Ranch. The building he’d made his home for the majority of his life sat behind him. Charred, burnt pieces of metal stuck out of the pile. The backside of the home had sat looking towards the west, Robert Byrd had built it that way because he and Clay’s mother had loved watching the sunset. The Behemoth had never met his mother, he’d only ever seen her face in pictures. 
 
Every photo he’d ever seen, had been taken inside of the home that sat behind him. Shannon Byrd’s parents had never wanted her to run off with a professional wrestler, they’d wanted her to find a lawyer, or a preacher, or a policeman. Someone who could be respected, someone they could tell their friends at the country club that their little Shannon was dating. Someone they could show off at the family reunions, someone they could take to dinner parties and brag about
 
Not a professional wrestler. 
 
So Clay had never seen a photograph of his mother as a child, he’d never seen a highschool yearbook, he’d never seen her smiling around a Christmas tree. There was never that moment where he sat at his grandparents the night before a major holiday giggling and laughing. There weren’t any family movies, there was nothing. He didn’t even know what she sounded like. 
 
And now Clay had made sure that he himself would be seen as a similar enigma as Shannon Byrd. There was no history for him anymore, what had existed, what Robert had saved, laid inside the burned husk of the bulldozed home. There would be no childhood memories shared around hot chocolate on holiday evenings. 
 
The past was gone. 
 
All the photographs of him with different trainees that had made the barn their home. The numbers and addresses of the men his father had trained for decades had been stored in a filing cabinet in the barn. It too, like the photographs, was nothing but a pile of bent and twisted metal and ash. Everything that tied him to this place was gone, everything that tied him to this land had passed on. 
 
He smiled, he didn’t think coming home to deal with this would ever make him smile. He expected days, and weeks of agony. Pain like he couldn’t imagine as he watched his entire world put into a giant pile. But looking at it now, it felt liberating. It felt refreshing. It felt like the yoke of being Robert Byrd’s son had finally been ripped from around his enormous neck. The decades of pain, of anguish, of hatred, of confusion. All of it stood in an enormous pile in front of him. 
 
He held a piece of paper in his hand, he needed to see everything one last time before he signed it. He needed to see his entire life stacked up before his eyes. His entire existence laid out before him, he had to make sure this was the next step he wanted to take. He had to make sure this was the next step that was going to make it easier. That was going to bring him joy, that was going to make the world more tolerable. He placed the document on the hood of his F250. He clicked the pen in his hand, and scribbled his name across the bottom. 
 
He looked down the document, he was selling the land for a quarter of it’s value. But that wasn’t what was important to Clay. The family down the road had been the same family that had sold the land to Robert forty odd years ago. They weren’t going to try to put a Wal-Mart on it, they weren’t going to try to pave it and make it into a shopping mall. They were going to use the land as it was intended. They were going to graze cattle, they were going to take care of it. It was going to be handed down with the rest of their property, from family member, to family member. Like it was originally meant to be. 
 
He put his left foot in front of his right foot, and stepped into the door of his truck. 
 
“That one felt pretty good.” Clay mused to no one in particular as he turned the key, firing the engine up and heading off to Tampa, on a collision course with GREAT SCOTT