The atmosphere, it’s electric.
The stage, it’s set.
The arena, it’s packed.
Red and white pyro EXPLODE out of the stage, the lights go nuts, and the patrons of the Star of the Desert Arena get real loud, real fast.
Once all that dies down, the lights in the arena go all the way down to black.
The arena is hushed.
The cameras cut to backstage to an empty locker room. A single metal folding chair is sitting in the middle of the area, and in it is one Azraith DeMitri. His head is hanging down and his eyes are intent on his work, his long black and blue hair tied up into a messy, taut bun.
“Elgin Blair. We’ve done this before, right?”
Az clenches his left fist in the taping, making sure it molds as best it can to every curve of his fingers and wrist.
“I apologize if I don’t sound sure. The good ol days have always been a bit…fuzzy.”
He looks up to the camera, a small grin curving his lips.
“Not that it really matters. I was so far up my own ass during most of my runs in SHOOT that I could’ve been the first fully inverted championship holder in wrestling history. I guess I still am, to an extent. I mean…we all gotta have that ego, right? That naked ambition to just fu…wait can we swear here?”
Silence, one would assume the cameraman or producer gives a pantomime answer of some kind.
“Err…that’s right. The naked ambition to just fuckin’ KNOW you’re better than everyone else you face. Anyone who says they don’t feel that way are definitely more up their own asses than I am. They’ll talk about worthy opponents, they’ll smile and nod and give the respect that’s due and shake hands at the beginning of the match, but deep in their lizard brains there is a voice that is yelling. Clawing at the walls. SCREAMING that you are going to take this person across the ring from you and decimate them. No matter the skill gap, no matter the size difference.”
Azraith stands from the chair. His form has gotten no less imposing during his absence. He was never what you could call ‘toned’, but every part of the man’s body oozes violence. It radiates out from him like an aura, one that if you just squint your eyes, or turn your brain a certain direction, you’re sure you could see.
“Once your music hits and you step out from behind gorilla…once you hear that crowd, whether it’s 25 rowdy drunks at the local hall or thousands in a stage like this, it doesn’t matter. All’ve those niceties, the waving and cheering and playing for those people, it doesn’t matter. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from doing this as long as I have is that the only thing that matters is your ability to inflict your will upon your opponent.”
DeMitri takes a few steps towards the camera, and even in this professional atmosphere you can visibly see the shot shake somewhat…and move several steps backwards. The grin grows.
“I’m not gonna bullshit y’all…I feel good. I mean gooooood. The metal in my head hasn’t ached since I got off the plane last night. I’ve been training without the brace on my left knee and fuck if I can tell the difference one way or another. Tonight, heh, Elgin…you and I are gonna make history.”
Az lunges at the camera and in one swift movement grabs the side of it, pulling it inches close, as if he’s looking for someone on the other end of it, his voice nothing by a low snarl.
“…and I’m gonna take what I want.”
…and like that, Az steps out of frame, a quiet chuckle heard off-camera.
“There ain’t no dreams comin’.”
“I see you, Buck Dresden.”
Jonas Coleman smiles to himself, having seen his Brother in Badassery knock-off his first round tournament opponent. He looks down at his phone, the bracket displayed prominently. The name Valentine Lionheart leers back at him and draws a smile across his face.
“I’ve got goosebumps, ladies and gents,” he says, holding his arm up to the camera.
“I always wondered what it would be like to square off against you, Lionheart. Would you be the competitor that everyone said you were or would you be another notch in my rise through this organization?”
He leans back, reminiscing.
“It kinda bums me out that we never really got the chance to dance back in the old SHOOT Project days, but I gotta be real with you, Val. I’m excited to tie up with you in the year 2020. First round, final round, doesn’t matter. I fully expect the two of us to take it to the edge.”
“We were never friends, and I don’t expect that to change. I need you to know though that my path to the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship starts with you. Win, lose, or draw, I’m going to accomplish that goal. Win, lose, or draw, I want to hold that prize. I need it, Val. Need it.”
He stands up and walks towards the door.
“I’ll see you at 134, Lionheart. Butcher out.”
The chyron on the screen reads “The Deserts of Clark County Nevada”. The black screen gives way to an image.
The view behind the figure that we have shows an illumination in front of them. The chyron, the flannel, the long scar along the right arm, the soundtrack of wind and animals and far off civilization: We’re looking at Charlie Jay Hitchens, a ways away from the familiar climes of Out Oakvale. As she grasps another collected stick to toss in the small campfire she’s built, we can see that the webbing of her left hand between her thumb and pointer finger is home to a faded, blown out, likely home-made tattoo of a cross. The fire flares up, and we can notice something off in the distance, shining in the pitch black of the desert like a jewel of neon: Las Vegas.
There is movement to her right—a snake winding in the sand. Quick as a wink, the snake is impaled—not on a knife, per se, but on a sharpened section of deer antler, its curved spike rasped down to a fine point. The animal gives out a few shakes before shuffling off, giving Charlie pause enough to close her eyes and clasp her hands, muttering a quick prayer that’s almost unintelligible under her rasp and drawl. One word is clear, however.
She picks up the spike again and regards the relatively small amount of blood leaking from the snake’s impaled head, before gathering it with her fingers rubbing a single line down her face—starting at her hairline, all the way to the tip of her nose.
CJH: They speak of battle, sometimes. I hear it when I’m about. Battle was something we had in the holler, a way to resolve our differences and taste the blood and sweat in the air.
She pulls the spike from the snake and jams it into the ground before pulling out a pocket knife—she begins a surgical skinning of the snake’s flesh while still talking, the deadpan affect of her tone making it seem all the more that it’s just a stream directed toward no one in particular.
CJH: Poppy said we needed that. Needed to have a little taste of the forest in us once and a while.
Stripped clean, she drapes the meat over her shoulder without much ceremony and gathers a skinnier stick from her small woodpile. Slowly, she begins to whittle it down to a point.
CJH: In the forest, sweat and blood are God. We humans seen it fit to move past that. We accepted the love and fury of the real God and accepted the mercy of his only son. Religion begat progress. Progress begat civilization. And being civilized is a good thing.
Quickly the snake is impaled on the stick and hung over the fire. No longer busy with work that forces her to look down, We see her face illuminated from below. Frown lines frame a mouth kept shut with something approaching determination. The eyes are sleepy, with significant bags underneath, but the gray of their gaze shines bright. Small scars and abrasions seem littered across her skin. The fire dances in her pupils.
CJH: But make no mistake, we are creatures of the forest. We learned to build structures and hide our shame, but aint no escaping the forest in us. The sweat and the blood. He told me, but I was headstrong. Plumb full of salt. In those days Poppy was just my Poppy, an old man who liked to talk.
A small smirk, lifeless. The dead imitating life.
CJH: But I saw. We all do. We all see the battle, we taste that blood. The sweat stings out eyes and leaves our skin sticky and smelling like something that lives in the leaves and the dirt. Because we cant escape.
A twist of the stick, ensuring an even cook.
CJH: Most of us…we seen it fit to taste that battle and go back to being civilized folk. Clock in. Earn your keep. Change your oil. Wear your dress to Sunday service and cotillion.
The eyes drift from the snake to the horizon, and the glow in the distance.
CJH: I was born to be his red right hand. Which means I had to be closer to the forest than most. Had to stay there for days. Take the forest inside of me and let it become part of me. Until the beasts of the wild couldn’t smell where the human began, and I was disgusting in the eyes of our great society. This is the Lord’s design.
The eyes are glassy at this point, almost giving the impression of a trance. The words come slowly but without measure or consideration, consciousness streaming.
CJH: I fed on battle and I grew strong like a babe grows plump at the teat. Now…now it’s time to feed again.
A bite, chewed thoroughly. Serpent is not known for its tenderness.
CJH: Maybe you did, too. Maybe you did not. Suppose it doesn’t matter. The forest will claim us all and turn us into dirt again.
She stares off to the distance, to Las Vegas, the city of sin shining in her eyes. The song and sound of her voice is a bellows under a gravel driveway.
CJH: “Undertaker, undertaker, don’t drive so fast…Seem like every minute going to be my last…”
A lone howl in the distance. The breeze. The crackling fire. A black screen.
We cut to the back where we see Buck Dresden pacing. He is still in his ring gear, a towel draped over his head. Once he sees the camera, he stops himself, composes himself, and looks directly into the camera.
Buck Dresden: I just took…the best Japan has to offer…an’ I sent him PACKIN’.
Buck pauses, letting that fact sink in.
Buck Dresden: Me ‘n’ Tadakatsu tore the goddamn house down out there an’ there ain’t nobody in this business that I’d rather go to war with. But…s’far as I know…there’s some serious competition in this still to come. I don’t care. I don’t care who you are or where you from. This tournament belongs to me. That title belongs to me. You wanna stop me?
He smirks, wiping the sweat from his brow.
Buck Dresden: Please. Try.
With that, Buck walks away from the scene, leaving the camera and the cheers from the fans.
“Classic” by Kanye West, Nas, and KRS-One kicks in, bringing the fans to their feet. They haven’t heard this song in a very long while, but they know very well who it belongs to. The pop gets a little bit bigger when out from the back comes none other than the pretty half of Instant Heat…OUTKAST. He saunters down to the ring, grinning and slapping hands with a few fans as he does so dressed in his ash grey three piece suit and Aviator sunglasses. He steps into the ring and looks over the audience as “Classic” dies down. He pulls a microphone from his pocket and holds his hand out to the audience in an attempt to bring their attention to him and to quiet them down. He curls his pinky and thumb in on his free hand.
OutKast: Three things. Three things in my life I never could have seen coming.
He holds up one finger.
OutKast: That I’d see the SHOOT Project arise from the dead.
The fans pop as he holds up his second finger.
OutKast: That I’d see myself standing in a SHOOT Project ring.
The fans pop once more as he holds up his third finger.
OutKast: That I’d be lacing my boots up again to FIGHT in a SHOOT Project ring!
The fans grow even louder in their approval.
OutKast: Now, ladies and gentlemen, I’m not one to lie to you. When I compete, I compete to be the best. I compete to dominate whatever division I’m in. So when I tell you me an’ Real Deal are back and we’re coming to give the audience the best damn tag team division in professional wrestling, then you’d better believe that…
Before the fans can react, a song kicks in.
“Get my people out them chains nigga
I mean handcuffs, time to man up
Put my hands up? Fuck you sayin’ bruh
Cause I’m a black man, in a Phantom”
“Ali Bomaye (Rock Remix)” by The Game kicks in. The fans are somewhat puzzled as smoke emanates from the entrance. Out from the back emerges none other than…
King stands on the entrance ramp dressed in a blue jeans and an unzipped hoodie, his Crown insignia airbrushed on the back. He walks down to the ring, slapping hands and nodding his head to the beat of his song. He rolls underneath the bottom rope and immediately wraps his arms around OutKast in an embrace. The two men whisper to one another and smile, King chuckling as he calls for a microphone. “Ali Bomaye” dies down.
Donovan King: Let me…let me tell you I’m sorry. I ain’t mean to interrupt you but man…you back?! IN a ring?!
OutKast nods, laughing at King’s shock.
Donovan King: Like…you, Josh Johnson, Instant Heat, in a ring. Like…y’all tryna bang once again?
OutKast: More than try, actually.
King mouths the word “Wow” as he looks at the cheering crowd.
Donovan King: Yo, so…that’s insane. You turn 50 this year, right? An’ you finna really step in the ring an’ change the game again, huh? Instant Heat…movers an’ shakers. That shit is crazy, man. Just crazy.
OutKast nods, still smiling at his top student.
OutKast: So hey, man. I appreciate you coming out here and showing love, I do. But really, man, why are you here? What’s up, man? Last the world heard from you, you were kinda going into retirement yourself.
King nods, mouthing the word “Yep, yep, true.”
Donovan King: You right, homie. I took things a bit far an’ needed to recuperate. But I gotta tell you, man, knowin’ you and Real Deal are back in this taggin’ up, tryin’ to rejuvenate the tag division, it got my mind overflowin’ with thoughts…ideas…dreams.
King nods, looking over the fans in attendance. Then, he holds a finger up.
Donovan King: I thought long an’ hard about what it’d take to get back into a SHOOT Project ring.
He holds a second finger up.
Donovan King: So I developed some ideas on how I was gonna do that.
He holds a third finger up.
Donovan King: An’ all I’ve dreamed of…ever since I first stepped into any ring…was ending…your…career.
The fans start to boo as OutKast’s smile fades.
Donovan King: I’ve proven I can beat Real Deal. Hell, I might even be able to beat you. But Instant Heat? Man, that’s the marquee right there. The brand name. I manage to end that…I go down in history. More than that, man…I show the world that two 40 or 50-somethin’ year olds don’t belong in this ring with the likes of me.
OutKast points to King as the fans continue to boo.
OutKast: Don’t mean to rain on your parade, Donnie, but I only see you. I only see you and I know you don’t have any friends, so tell me. Tell me how you’re gonna beat a tag team comprised of two of the best that ever did this damn thing?
King nods in agreement as the fans pop for Kast’s insult.
Donovan King: You right. Yo, when you right you right. I don’t have any friends. But, that’s the thing about tag teams, Sean. You don’t need friends. You just need…a partner.
The fans suddenly buzz and erupt into boos as OutKast is CLUBBED from behind by a behemoth in a faded dirty black trenchcoat. OutKast goes to pick himself up as the monster of a man grabs OutKast by the throat and SLAMS him down with a chokeslam! The fans are booing mercilessly as the man lifts OutKast up for an inverted powerbomb that allows King to grab OutKast by the head and throat and NAILS a Kingbreaker! OutKast is FLAT on the mat as King is kneeling over his body. The monster slowly peels back his hood to reveal who he is…
King picks up the microphone and puts it to his lips.
Donovan King: Welcome back to SHOOT, mother fucker.
He bitterly drops the microphone on OutKast’s head and gets to his feet. He shakes Obsidian’s hand and rolls from the ring. Obsidian stands over OutKast for a long and quiet moment, save for the booing from the masses. After he is sure the Hall of Famer isn’t moving, he steps over his body, over the top rope, and exits the ring.