It had been one full cycle since HOWsville had performed the ritual known as “The Invitational”
The town villagers believed that by performing the ritual, they were assured a bountiful talent harvest for the following year – after all, that was what their wise and all knowing Mayor had always told them.
For four years prior they had not performed “The Invitational” and the talent land was barren – for many of those years it was a desolate wasteland where none survived and many thought that the village of HOWsville would never recover.
The cautious Mayor was unhappy, displeased even, and more importantly than any of that, bored. So he went to work. He scraped and clawed and dug and mudded until he managed to make the HOWsville land fertile once more. The villagers were hurting and he needed to be their hero, their distraction. The Mayor had breathed new life into what had been a pitiful village, it had a sense of being renewed, rejuvenated… refueled, some said.
And so December rolled into January and the village seemed plush with talent once more. The Mayor though, he knew that should he not arrange “The Invitational”, he would incur the wrath of GoD.
On a brisk March morning, all of the villagers lined up in the town centre to participate. The Architect to The Father, The Catalyst to The Catalyst they stuck their hand deeply in The Mayor’s box and wiggled around, grabbing the slither of paper that was soon to decide their fate on this mortal coil.
Last to the box was a man who had become something of a town hero, the former village drunk who had reformed himself into a promising minstrel career. Barking out all the melodies that swelled the hearts and calmed the minds. Surely for bringing such joy to so many, the Invitational would smile warmly upon him.
“All must play”, declared The Mayor.
Nodding at the instructions, The Minstrel knew he could not escape, none of the village could. He too had his part to play to ensure the bountiful harvest. The Minstrel dug deep into the box, clawing around until he pulled out the final slip of paper that sat within.
At the count of three, the whole village unfurled to discover who had been marked as the victor. The Minstrel looked down and came eye to eye with GoD. Relief swept through the rest, for they knew they were safe for another year. The Invitational came but once per year after all.
The ceremony was complete and The Minstrel was left holding the proverbial bag. As the music man scanned the crowd’s ecstasy that their cards were unmarked, he grew ever confused. He was new to town and had learned little about HOWsville’s way of life.
“Surely it was the desire of all to win?” The Minstrel thought to himself, his concern growing deeper as he saw hugs, tears and dances of celebration breaking out spontaneously around him.
Confused by the curious world in which he found himself in and a town he knew little of, he sought the council of The Mayor.
“Mr. Mayor, what did I win?” purred the curious one man roving band.
The air between The Mayor and The Minstrel was thick with tension. The Mayor looked down from his podium as if viewing a lamb about to head to a slaughter.
“You see Minstrel… The Invitational had nineteen winners and one single, solitude loser.” The Mayor crowed with delighted glee.
“So, what’s next? You stone me?” bleated the recovering town drunk.
“Oh no, the fate is much worse for thee. The Invitational is designed to give the beast its feed and tonight… he dines.”
So what happened to the poor Minstrel, the winner of The Invitational? Well, this story is not yet at an end… but it soon will be.
The Roman grey clouds hung around the sky like a very unwelcome fart, giving the entire colosseum a rather morose feeling to the grandiose stage that was being set up. It’s a few days before March to Glory and HOW’s eager beavers are hard at work constructing what many would consider the unconstructable – an entire wrestling area in a decrepit old structure, and I’m not talking about Andy Murray’s dementia riddled brain!
We hear the clattering of steel beams and the banging of hammers as the stage hands to and fro from the trucks pulled up behind The Colosseum entrance, back to the magnificent stage that has the beginnings of being put together. We follow the camera along as it slowly begins to pan inwards and upwards to the upper bowl of the stadium and that is where we find our one true hero, the HOW World Champion, Cecilworth M. J Farthington.
Clearly trying to get some cardio on the go after a few days of intense travel back to his home country and tidying up the affairs as required, Cecilworth is running up and down the steps in the upper bowl, carrying his father’s urn as a training weight – the only thing he has to hand. Every so often, a stage hand walks by to place another row of cushioning. After all, given its current condition, paying patrons would be asking for stone shards up their behinds if they sat down in the bowl without any protection. It had been some time since The Colosseum had last seen a renovation.
Cecilworth reaches the top of the stairway and is just about to begin what could be his 20th, 30th, 40th run… he lost count some time ago… but he was about to add another descent to the tally. This is sadly stalled by an interaction with one of the crew setting up the seating. The cushioning slaps the back of Cecilworth’s arm, sending his father’s urn crashing to the ground.
The ancient container, no doubt part of the family for several centuries crumbles against the stone of The Colosseum floor and the ashes spread far and wide across several rows. Cecilworth’s head snaps back to a “pissing pants” level of terrified member of the HOW stage crew.
Stage Crew Man: Mr. Farthington… I’m so, so sorry. These cushions are way heavier than you would expect and…
Cecilworth holds his arm up to silence the young oik, his eyes darting back and forth between the ashes and the outstretched arm of the stage hand. Back, forth… the cogs start to twist, the rage inside starts to boil as Cecilworth tilts his head and smiles. The poor stagehand takes an instinctive step backwards as The HOW World Champion licks his lips.
SCM: I really didn’t intend to…
The stuttering apology is interrupted by a high pitch screech…
The World Champion cackles a powerful laugh as he looks down at the moistened under area of the poor team member.
Farthington: No worries, sport!
Cecilworth gestures to the various clumps of ashes across a vast number of rows.
Farthington: It was always my father’s wish to have his ashes spread across the grounds of the Roman Colosseum. He used to always say “Cecilworth, when I die, I would like you to haphazardly toss my urn to the ground in Rome somewhere… The Colosseum would probably do the job. I really don’t care, much like I don’t care about you”.
Cecilworth glares at the ashes with rage.
Farthington: WHO’S CARING NOW DAD? WHO’S CARING NOW?
The Champ is quick to shake off this moment of internal processing for it is not befitting of a man of his stature. He looks at the shellshocked labourer whose moist undergarments are beginning to leak from the bottom, the fluid intermingling with the ashes.
Farthington: It was also my father’s dying wish to be pissed upon by a poor. Please… continue.
The HOW World Champion turns back around to continue his jog down the stairway leaving a rather bewildered production crew member in his wake.
Farthington: That’s what I needed… not to cling on to him. To let him go, to piss in his eye… or what remained of it. Sure it wasn’t my piss and sure it wasn’t his eye, but it’s metaphorical anyway. I have everything I’ve ever wanted now. I’ll never give it back.
A small slither of daylight begins to peak out from the clouds high above the sky. The sun plays a game of peek-a-boo announcing it’s arrival by shining directly in the eye of the World Champion, right in the middle of his cardio session. CM!JF looks up to the sky and smiles, his entire body looks lighter than it did mere moments before. Pausing for a second to admire the beauty of The Colosseum in the ever growing daylight, a sense of contentment sweeps over him.
Farthington: I’m free now.
It’s later in the day and the grey clouds above The Colosseum have lifted away, producing a clear night sky, the moon lights up some of the stands from above. Down below, the March to Glory set is mostly fully constructed and the flood lights are being tested, the ring clearly visible in a blinding light.
Sitting above is the HOW World Champion, now seated in the upper bowl of which he was jogging around earlier in the day. The moonbeam allows us to make out his form rather clearly, giving a shiny reflection to the 97Red World Championship that sits atop his shoulder. Cecilworth looks down at the ring from his view from the top as a relaxed smile crawls across his chiseled face.
Farthington: It’s hard not to get caught up in the history of the place. I look down from my view in the sky and think about the roaring crowd during the Olympics. It must have been something truly special to behold. Men in their prime proudly displaying their athletic worth for fame, money and power. You have to wonder what was going through their heads…
Cecilworth gestures down towards the ringside area, or as he best he can from his point up on high.
Farthington: Those marathon runners… spending years training for a once in a moment life experience. They round the corner back into The Colosseum as the tens of thousands tightly packed bray and cheer and jeer. They try to put all the noise out of their mind because they have their eyes on the prize. The finish line, it’s right in front of them… all they have to do is cross it first and their victory is assured.
Cecilworth’s head bounces as he listens to the words of which he himself speaks. There is a deep tone of admiration that can be clearly heard for those viewers listening close enough. The history of The Colosseum has swept him up. The Olympics, the gold, the glory… something spectacular to behold.
Farthington: I wonder how the leader of the pack felt as he picked up speed for his final dash, putting every ounce of his entire being into trying to force himself across that line. Looking behind him, he knows he’s in the lead, he just needs that final push to get him through. That final push to cross the finish line and claim glory. To become legend.
Cecilworth looks wistfully at his World Championship.
Farthington: I know a little bit about marathons, about that final push. I have wrestled in a ninety seven minute man iron man match and came out the victor. Yet, I don’t think I can claim that I know the same feelings that those Olympians did. After all, I had but only one man to better… the marathon runners of old… they had to best… well… who knows how many.
Cecilworth mimes counting on his fingers but is quick to shrug his shoulders to put an exclamation on his point.
Farthington: I’m sure Teddy Palmer will look to claim he just ran a marathon… after all he outlasted 19 others, 19 of the best wrestlers on this goddamn planet. Yet he would be hard pressed to claim that he has crossed that finish line yet. Sure, he’s ran through the city of Rome and he’s certainly led the pack. He’s turned the corner and arrived in The Colosseum but he’s not quite there yet.
Cecilworth rolls his shoulders a few times as he cracks his neck. Lost in thought, he tilts and swings his arm back and forth, imagining the battles of old that had happened in the very colosseum that he now sits.
Farthington: Perhaps instead though, considering we are a combat sport, people will harken back to the days of the gladiator. It’s a nice metaphor, an easy one really. Sure, the marathon has a more tangible concept. We all know what marks the winner of that, the finishing line is physical and visible. So then, that begs the question, what is the finish line for gladiatorial combat?
Cecilworth leaps up out of his seat and begins to slowly walk down the steps of the bowl.
Farthington: Gladiators fought to impress The Emperor. Fought for their families, fought for their lives. A bloodsport with a death rate far higher than that of High Octane Wrestling. Yet in a few days time, The Emperor lives again and many will be looking to earn his praise and love. He will look down from his special box and judge. Some will found to be wanting, some will survive, some will be cast to the pits to die alone and forgotten, some will claim ultimate glory, tokens of their courageous battles. Tokens like this…
Cecilworth pats the World Heavyweight Championship as he glares down at the Emperor’s Box that has been set up in the centre of The Colosseum for Lee Best to enjoy the festivities of the evening. There’s a clear sneer on the face of the Champion as he envisions the majority shareholder of High Octane sitting looking out from his one eye, smugging it up from on high.
Farthington: A lot of people are going to discuss March to Glory and indeed the main event, the actual LBI Finals… and they are going to say that the two best gladiators of The Glorious Octane Empire are going to battle it out… they’re mistaken.
The camera continues to follow Cecilworth as he continues his descent from the upper bowl. He walks with purpose down the steps leading him towards the thick planks of floorboard that have been set up to allow the ring construction in the centre of the stadium.
Farthington: Teddy, I am legitimately happy for you. You’re trying to live a clean life now, you have some wise asian stereotype there to help you do so, that guys as magic as far as I can figure out. He always has the EXACT advice you need. It’s fucking weird. I tried therapy for a few years back when I had those “daddy” issues and it got me nowhere. Turns out I just needed to watch someone piss in his ashes to really free me up from that problem. Still, you have shocked the world, no one saw you as the warrior who would be rolling into The Colosseum as the champion of the people. You’re shaking all the right hands, smiling all the right smiles. Hell, I hear you’re in the podcast game now. Good for you sport, your brand is really skyrocketing.
Cecilworth begins to climb the rigging at the side of the special viewing box that has likely been set up for either Lee or the special guest host of the event, Michael Lee Best. His own personal sense of superiority cannot be buried down as he holds his arm outstretched, as if asking an imaginary capacity crowd for their love and approval.
Farthington: So… what is the finish line for a gladiator? I don’t think you’ll like that answer Tedward. See, right now, you’ve won endless battles of combat and the crowd, oh the crowd is going to be roaring your approval. If this was ancient Rome, their cheers would be enough to wake the gods. You even slayed The Emperor’s former favourite child to get to where you are. Now… now you stand and look up and wait for Augustus Best to give you untold riches. You look up at the box and the One Eyed Emperor holds his fist out…
Cecilworth mimes tossing his fist out and lifts his thumb in the upwards direction.
Farthington: Teddy, you stupid son of a bitch. This is Rome, this is the god damn Colosseum. You should know what the final event of the evening is. Let me spell it out for you, nice and clearly so it can penetrate that thick, foggy skull of yours. The plebian class, they love an underdog, they love to feel your heart warming story is their story. They get caught up in the moment and who can blame them, you’re something quite special. The people, the hoi polloi, they have chosen you as their champion, they have given you the energy and courage that it takes to beat The Emperor’s Son. They have so little in their sad, pathetic lives that you give them something to believe in. Yet, deep down, I think you know what I’m about to say…
The Thumb of Farthington is now fully extended in a downwards position, firm and unwavering.
Farthington: The people come to cheer the underdog but they pay for their tickets to see the lion.
Cecilworth drops the thumb and extends his index finger, turning inward and pointing to himself.
Farthington: I AM THE LION. I AM THE FINISH LINE. YOU. WILL. NOT. CROSS. ME,
Cecilworth points his finger and nods his head with a hint of anger and rage at every syllable of the preceding sentence.
Farthington: Did you really think this was going to be gladiatorial combat? I’m surprised. After all, I’ve heard that you are proclaiming that you know me better than anyone would. Such a fascinating little statement, meaningless but fascinating. I suppose you saw me snap Benny Newell’s arm and thought that perhaps I like to prey on the weak and elderly. I don’t like it, I LOVE it. It’s just so. much. fun.
The normal smug demeanour of Farthington has glazed over, replaced by a wide eyed sense of mania.
Farthington: Yet, I am more than a simple lazy man. Maybe you should talk to a few people who have stood in my way in my quest for glory. Why don’t you have a little sit down chat with EM JAY EFF Teddy, ask her why those burns around her neck have yet to heal. She stood in my way and I’m not going to rule out the possibility that I would have choked her to DAMN DEATH if it was not for LITERAL human invention. Someone had to cut the damn rope because I sure as hell wasn’t going to stop. Think about that Tedward, I know you’re feeling pretty cocky right now but… are you willing to KILL for this? I’ve shown that I am. You’ve made a brave display, yelled out to the heavens that you will not tap but… how do you stop me? How do you stop me batting you around like a big cat’s ball of yarn? Resilience got you to the dance, it doesn’t win you Prom King.
The champion cannot help but hide his total glee recounting his moments of deadly and dangerous
Farthington: Maybe you should go talk to “Average” Joe Bergman, the former HOW World Champion known as Halitosis who… hell…he isn’t even on the battlefield for March to Glory. Why don’t you ask him how I beat a GODDAMN NEW PERSONALITY into him because I wanted to be World Champion. Ask him what the doctors said as I beat his face over and over and over against that metal prison toilet. The referee handing me what was rightfully mine was the only reason that he lives out his mundane, pathetic life right now.
Farthington looks down at the ground, snapping himself out of his blissful trance. A look of disgust sweeps over his face instead.
Farthington: Ted, you don’t know a single thing about me. You have truly no idea what I’m capable of. You rolled in here and thought you can finish the five thousand piece jigsaw with three bloody pieces. I guess the gladiator has to convince himself that he’ll finally be the one to defeat the beast. Sure, there’s evidence of bones scattered throughout the stadium, even more buried deep in the pits of The Colosseum but they have to tell themselves they will be the one to do the unthinkable.
Cecilworth hops from the side rigging of the Emperor’s Box back down to the ringside stage, a satisfying thunk reverberates through the stadium in the cool night air.
Farthington: The village is calling out for its sacrifice Ted. The lion is hungry again, he’s filled up on a lot of empty carbs as of late but your flesh… oh it is juicy and succulent. You’ve made it so clean and pure with your healthy new lifestyle choice. Oh, the lion is licking his lips that the will of GoD has brought him such a tasty treat.
The World Champion’s tongue rolls around his lips in a matter most unpleasant. He lifts his upper lip to bear fangs towards the camera that continues to follow his stroll around the stadium.
Farthingtin: The LBI victory was your death sentence and you were too stupid to realise. So much time thinking about yourself, discussing yourself with your tag team partner, discussing yourself with your Mystical Asian. You didn’t spot that the other gladiators smiled when you conquered them. You didn’t spot their relief as they were allowed to fight another day. Sure, they had to lick their wounds in the pit but they got to live. You allowed them to live Teddy. You’re a good guy, you’re a hero. That’s why you are cheered and celebrated. Now? Now they hide, they hide in the shadows of The Colosseum and they wait… they wait for the lion to do what the lion does.
Cecilworth rolls into the middle of the ring, the four cornered flood lights shining down upon him, giving him something of angelic glow.
Farthington: The lion is the constant of the Colosseum. The lion is the finish line.
Farthington unzips his training hoody, underneath we see a t-shirt peeking out, clearly something that Farthington has manufactured himself for this event. The bright lights reflect off the slogan, making it very easy and clear to see. “Mr. Finish Line”.
Farthington: The village thanks you for your sacrifice. Now, go with GoD, my son.
The camera fades on the HOW World Champion, palms outstretched and pointing towards the heavens. Farthington tilts his head up and basks in the glow of the moon.