The smell was overpowering again.
Dan Ryan looked down at the box as he lay the glass-covered wrap, now hardened into a shell the size of his left wrist and fist from the dried adhesive, down into it, little bits of crusted over flesh and dried blood still there — some old and putrid, some newer, fresher. But the scene of rotting flesh lingered in the air.
He set it down inside the box, but there was no sound of it hitting the bottom as it rested on top of something unseen, and he closed the lid, latching it tight and twisting the knob into the locked position.
He shoved it back into the corner and stood, looking on it for one last moment and then turning away to the door of the shed.
Exiting the metal-framed door, the bright sun of the early morning hit him in the face, causing him to squint his eyes. He focused on the house up ahead and started forward, his eyes slowly adjusting to the light.
He saw someone in the window up ahead, the office off to the right of the main back door. He knew who it was.
He made his way up the path, and he considered the aches and pains coursing through his body after Rumble at the Rock. Two weeks out and it still hurt. This was happening more and more. And he thought, for the first time, about how fortunate it was that the days of working six shows a week were over. Once a week, pour everything you have into it.
Will that be enough to hang with Mike?
He didn’t know.
He opened the door and stepped inside and Phyllis was there to meet him. He glanced in her eyes and they looked back at him. They were more rested today. Assumedly life is much less stressful when the boss is away. The energy bar had been replenished so to speak. He looked away and kept walking, and she fell in step beside him.
“I told you about staring at me through the windows. It’s creepy. Don’t do that.”
Her heels clicked on the wooden floors as they walked along and she nodded.
“I didn’t realize you were so easily spooked. I’ll make sure not to do it again.”
He walked on, stepping out into the sunken main living area, then stopping to face her directly.
“I put the box back in the shed…”
She shuddered. She hadn’t been prepared for what she’d seen, and the lasting mental image, she was afraid to admit, had stuck with her ever since. It had come to her in her sleep, and she closed her eyes involuntarily even now as he brought it up again.
“Do make sure it isn’t disturbed.” He looked at her sternly, an expression as serious as they come, and any thought of levity dropped from her face at once as she nodded in response.
“I’ll take care of it.”
He smiled, and he placed a hand on her shoulder.
“I know you will.”
He looked at his own hand there, and his smile faded. He pulled it back, wiping it on the side of his jeans and an annoyed sigh crossed his face — annoyed at what, we don’t know.
He considered her for a moment more, then turned, sharply and without a word, and crossed the room into the far hall, disappearing around the corner.
Phyllis followed him with her eyes, watched him go, and breathed in finally, exhaling and doing her best to keep her cool. It flashed in her mind again, and she closed her eyes, pushing it away.
Best not to think about it.
I dreamed it, you know.
I was younger, much younger.
I was with her alone, and she was younger also. Not even a toddler. She sat in her high chair and I fed her while she slapped her hands down over and over on the tray in front of her.
I smiled as I looked down and scooped some pureed something to feed her, and as I raised the molded plastic spoon up, my eyes rose and everything had changed. She wasn’t smiling anymore, and I ran cold inside. Her face was contorted, twisted, eyes flashing in some demented, unnerving grin. She snarled and bit in my direction, cackling in a peal of disgusting, terrible laughter. Her head danced side to side in some demonic shaking causing the chair to wobble from side to side, leg to leg as if feeling pleasure in her display.
I sat there and looked at her as she did this, and I felt the unease diminish. I watched the transformation from innocent to horrifying, and I became more and more comfortable with it as the moments passed. I felt… right, somehow. It all felt right and normal and fine.
It was then that my eyes opened and I stared up at the ceiling, pondering the images in my mind.
They hung there in the air like a cloud.
I never remember my dreams, but I remembered this one. I remember it to this day. It changed everything. That day, a switch flipped and I settled on a final truth. My eyes opened. I knew who I was again – who we all are, those of us who allow the truth to seep into us and take root.
I knew then that she was meant to be with me, to come along on this journey, me as a father to her but her as a teacher to me somehow. We’re so much more together than I ever was alone.
How strange to think on how a child can become my teacher, my muse, without even meaning to.
I thought I might be losing my mind.
Actually, the problem is that I can’t lose my mind. It’s inescapable.
I realize now that I’ll do anything to reach my goals, hurt anyone, and feel no remorse. I have no shame, no sense of justice left. I would murder my own parents, be convicted in a court of law, then argue for mercy on the grounds that I am an orphan.
There are nights that the most ingenious torturers could not have invented. We emerge from them in pieces, stupid, dazed, with neither memories nor anticipations, and without even knowing who we are. And it is then that the day seems useless, light ruinous, even more oppressive than the darkness.
I feel this intensely now. I long to inflict it.
Who are you to deny this if this is what I want?
How sad for you that chance put you in my path.
Scott, we all know what we think is about to happen.
I’m sure you’re expecting me to parse through your history, to travel down the well-traveled road of picking you apart and mocking you for your inadequacies. You’re used to it by now probably. You come on screen with all of your shit talk, but you know who and what you are.
It isn’t even fun anymore.
You’ve talked your way into some epic ass-kickings in your career, Scott. It starts out small, but that Texas pride gets to you and you just can’t keep your stupid mouth shut. Just a match, just a match, until suddenly it’s for so much more — the World Championship perhaps, or custody of your son.
Your overdeveloped sense of self has created the broken-down shell of a man you’ve become, and I think that the worst thing about all of this is the way you’ve foisted yourself into an unintentional role of pity. People pity you. They chuckle about you when you talk. They mock you without repercussions because you don’t have the ability to do anything about it. They say the way to stop a bully is to punch him in the mouth. But your punches have lost their sting, your bite is more like the playful nibble of a rambunctious kitten. You don’t even break the skin anymore, Scott, and isn’t that just sad?
You’re a former World Champion here two times over, and yet the most common response, when someone finds that out, is ‘really?’.
I realize I’m taking the cheap route here, rubbing these things in your face the same way everyone else does, but I want you to know deep down from one man to another, I intend to take you as seriously as if this were ICONIC itself, and you were the World Champion now, and beating you would mean ascending to the top of High Octane. I don’t want there to be any doubt that there is a method and an end to all of this, that there is a purpose, and that you of all people hold a special place within that purpose by way of being booked for this match. Thank Lee Best the next time you see him for making you part of my story.
This match could mean a lot to you. I honestly don’t know. I’m not sure. Maybe it does. If so, so be it I suppose. Doesn’t mean that much to me to mean that much to you.
I won’t be asking for custody of your son or fighting over something you love to amuse myself. It doesn’t suit me, you see, the way it does Mike. I’d just as soon not be tied to you. I have my own situation and my own life to take care of, and it’s been something of a trying time recently.
Maybe I can help you, though.
Perhaps all you need is a gentle shove from a good friend.
My match with Lindsay was physically demanding. She’s as tough as they come, and if her only crime is not being quite as good as I am, it’s a small offense to be sure. Do you know what a mess the glass on my hand was after the match? More blood, little bits of skin… picking little bits of Lindsay Troy’s curly hairs out of it. Mike Best knows what I’m talking about.
I recently lost someone very important to Mike, and it’s all been very upsetting. Come to mention it, wasn’t Max your hero, Scott? That’s somewhat suspicious. I know I’d knock myself off if I was your hero. What would that say about me?
‘Scott Stevens thinks you’re great.’
‘Oh no. Got a free IV stand available?’
I blame you that I even thought about that. You and your punchable face, with your stupid hair and dumb tattoos, standing there looking like someone dipped a shaven bear in a vat of pee. At a time when Mike is mourning his brother, you have the indecency to be alive. How fucking dare you, you churlish hedge-born drate-poke boboline. Now I’m angry. I’m mad, irked, peeved. You, still breathing. Max, not.
And to think, I was almost taken in by the alliterative music of your name, the charm of your incapabilities in the ring, the child-like innocence of your uneducated words. I almost felt sorry for you.
But you… you and your hero worship of Max made him kill himself.
I was wrong. Lindsay isn’t the cunt. YOU SIR… are the cunt.
So now, I want you to die. You idolized Max so much. I want to make you just like him. Maybe I’ll wait before putting the glove away, or I’ll just elbow your soft-skulled head until its silly putty-like consistency gives way to the little jellyfish brain inside. Or maybe I’ll just claw your eye out so you can replace it with a mechanical one, only in your stupidity you’ll just amble away into the swamps of extreme East Texas, put an eye patch on and start talking like a pirate. ARRRR! Don’t touch me buried treasure, matey! I buried me self-respect down thar!
How do you live with the knowledge that you no longer matter, Stevens? How do you exist in a world where no one would notice if you were gone? Every loss, every mistake, seared into your soul, creating a different kind of tattoo, one made from rage and abandonment, heartbreak and tears — a permanent reminder of the someone you never were, a bravado born of emptiness and shallow facades of importance. This is the truth of your existence: this yawning emptiness, scantily clad in brave words and hopeless yearning for past greatness. This is the great sadness of you: Was it ever really there all along?
In reality, it was someone else’s life, and you were the birdshit on its windshield.
Pity may be the worst thing you can give to a person, but I give it to you, wrapped up in a pretty bow. It’s the only emotion you remain capable of evoking in others, and if you’ve become content to just be here like a bad stain on the wallpaper, a remembrance of a great party everyone had once, why don’t you simply grab the door, open it and go?
There will be nothing pleasant about any of this for you, Scott. I have no feeling for what you’re going through or where you’re going. It all seems irrelevant to me. But I have a purpose, you see, and I will see it through.
I am a good friend.