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.
Buck sits, relaxing in the breeze of an evening’s sunset on his porch. He sips a beer languidly, his posture one of deep relaxation–but his trusty companion’s growl and snap to attention cause him to sit forward, his eyes alert. A rumble in the distance, clouds of billowing dust. Closer and closer, until a familiar blue truck pulls up.
Seeing the vehicle and it’s driver, Buck Dresend stands to full and walks to the edge of his porch, his eyes narrow. As Charlie Jay Hitchens emerges from her beaten vehicle, he nods curtly.
Buck: The hell do you want now.
Charlie eyes him with as much life as a cadaver, slowly pacing to the front of her truck before hopping onto the hood to sit. There has to be an easy 10 feet between them, but Buck looks ready to hop into action if the need arises.
CJH: I always find myself curious, Buck Dresden. The pursuit of this gold, does it sting you, wound you when you fail? I watch you throw everything you can at another man. A man you see as kin. Drums play in my ribcage, but there is a melancholy too. That fight—any other fight than the one we must have one day—is…empty, ain’t it? Paint by numbers picture of the ole homestead in a cheap frame because you sold the land off to some city boy’s bank.
She sighs and pulls her hat off, scratching the back of her head.
CJH: Ain’t right, by my estimation. But you could hear me talk all day and I’m sure the words would echo off your insides like screaming in a cave.
He sighs, takes another sip. Eyes her with suspicion.
Buck: Charlie. Listen. I get it, you wanna spook me or make me question the way I live my life or…well, whatever it is you want out of this. This you and me thing. What is it you want, anyway? You wanna convert me? We been over that. You wanna fight me? Name the show and I’ll ask for us to get a spot on the card. But this is just fuckin’ exhausting, if I’m being honest. I’d rather you blindside me with a lead pipe in the street than keep showing up here at all hours with animal heads or whatever else you decide to bring.
He polishes off the rest of his beer and crosses his arms.
Buck: I’ve seen scary, lady. And you ain’t it by a long shot.
At this, her eyes flash as she almost registers an emotion towards him.
CJH: Do not do that, Buck Dresden.
Buck: Do what?
CJH: Act as stupid as you want everyone else to assume you are. That might play well with these philistines in their neon chapels, but it is an insult to me. I know you are smarter than just thinking that my job is to spook you.
Dresden scoffs and holds his arms out, exasperated.
Buck: Then the hell is all this for? You’re just that evil?
CJH: Evil? Scaring you? Buck Dresden, you wildly, heavily misunderstand me. I do not care if what I tell you frightens you. I do not care if your perception of me makes you see me as crazy or evil or the daughter of some backwoods demon. I am a messenger. How you choose to take that message is your business. Maybe that is why you insist on labeling me in such a way. Easier to write me off if I am just some crackpot ranting into the night. So write off what you will. Ignore the rest. Mock me in your private moments. I am merely the one who tells you what the good Lord has trying to tell you for years. He has become fed up with you pussyfootin’ and ignoring the call to salvation. Now you got a fight coming.
She hops off of her hood and opens the door to her drivers side. Taking a moment, she looks down, then turns back to him.
CJH: I am the flood, Buck Dresden. And you ain’t got no more time to build ships.
Buck: Could you not? I appreciate yer fascination with me, but could you just not? I’m over it, honestly. You wanna be creepy, go be creepy. You got a problem with me, settle it. Like I just said. All this shit about bein’ a messenger? This is why the Postal Service is in the shits if they’re hirin’ fucks like you. Go home, Charlie. Either shit or get off the pot, woman. Speak clearer with yer message next time or just tell whatever master you serve to send somebody just a little bit more decisive to me. Because right now, all yer gonna get outta me is an eye roll an’ a match where I beat yer ass yet again.
Buck leans forward, staring daggers into her.
Buck: Until then, all you come across like is some ass backwards cult cunt tryin’ to grief another player in some computer game. Yer a street preacher with no congregation. A prophet with no future to tell. A dozen disciples short of a dozen. Now get the fuck out of here before you become a martyr to a cause you ain’t even strong enough to herald properly.
There is a long moment, where Charlie and Buck stare absolute cold death at one another. With a silent nod, she finally clambers into her truck. Firing it up and peeling out, she leaves a trail of dust and Buck Dresden standing in the encroaching darkness.
Dan Stein: Flat Earther, Anti-Vax, 5g Windmill Cancer, and now Coronavirus Denier. He’s the Fourhorsemen of the Dipshit Apocalypse, Mol’.
Molly snorted. Stein sat in the back of the limousine with the SHOOT Project Tag Team Championship on his shoulder. Molly took a sip from her Fiji water.
Molly, the Wife: So drop him.
Stein grabs onto the belt, gasping.
Dan Stein: What a ridiculous statement. Lose my gold belt? Do you even understand me at all?
Molly shrugged. The limousine pulled to a stop, and the driver exited the vehicle to open the door for Stein. Tina and Toni, sat along the side of the limousine, exited first. Then Dan. Molly followed behind him.
And then Johnny Patriot, goofily, from the other side of the limousine.
Stein bounced on his feet while looking at the building. He exhaled deeply.
Dan Stein: Let’s get the show on the road, folks.
The posse began to walk toward the building.
Dan Stein: Who is losing to me tonight?
Molly, the Assistant: Ron Barker, we’ve been over this.
Dan Stein: Ah, yes. Might as well be Johnny Canuck.
Stein turns and looks at Patriot.
Dan Stein: You know what I heard, Johnny? In his entrance music? I heard he’s afraid of Americans. Can you believe this guy?
Stein puts his hand on Patriot’s shoulder.
Dan Stein: He’s afraid of us. And you know what we do to people who are afraid of Americans?
Johnny balls up a fist.
Johnny Patriot: We crush them.
Dan Stein: We crush them, right. Now, I’m going to go down there and put on my bi-weekly clinic, but maybe you should go down with me and soften him up – show him that we TRUE PATRIOT AMERICANS are nothing to be afraid of, right?
Molly steps between Patriot and Stein.
Molly, the Assistant: Actually, Patriot is barred from ringside.
Stein steps back, adjusting the title on his shoulder.
Molly, the Assistant: We all are.
Stein looks at the massive Johnny Patriot, then Toni…then Tina. Realization crossing over his face. Stein speaks, dejectedly.
Dan Stein: Shit.
The camera fades as the Tag Team Champions walk toward the arena.
Backstage at the Epicenter, Elgin Blair is taping his wrists. Pacing in front of him, ginger hair pompadoured perfectly, far too full of energy, is one of his partners, Haskell Payne. He taps the side of his head, grinning.
The Colonel: See, I been thinkin’. We got this kinda…hard wired advantage, y’know?
Elgin sits up and regards the much smaller man with a bemused smile.
Elgin: Whatcha mean exactly?
The Colonel: Awright, so we’re pretty much strangers, right? Like I known about you, but we aint friends from the neighborhood or nothin’.
The Colonel: The Cyber Dogs and Nate? Same issue.
The Colonel: But see, they’re all from different places, different walks, dont matter how on the same page they wanna get. Meanwhile? Me, you, Robby fuckin’ Bingo…we got that shared link. Appalachians. People been fuckin beat down for hunnerds of years.
Haskell sits across from Blair in a folding chair, and Elgin crosses his arms, nodding.
Elgin: Shit, if that ain’t the truth. United Mine workers basically went to war with the company in my hometown in ‘73–for a whole year they fought. Nothin’ was ever th’ same after that, to hear th’ old timer’s tell it.
The Colonel: Shit, at least you had commerce, man. Place I was born is so devoid of any fuckin’ thing that we done elected a dog mayor.
At this Elgin laughs, and Haskell joins, holding up his fingers.
The Colonel: Three times!
Elgin: So what’s the point, then?
Haskell levels with Elgin, pointing in the air to punctuate his points.
The Colonel: Point is, we been beat up, slapped around, stepped on, fired, replaced, done away with, stripped to nothing. And we keep standing strong. Pillbillies and moving jobs overseas can’t stop us. And that’s what we got that they don’t. In our blood. Shared. So what if two thirds of em are raving lunatics and the other’n got good at fighting in the clink? They don’t got what we got.
Elgin: Y’know Haskell, when you ain’t poppin off at the’ mouth at anything that moves, you can actually say a few good sentences.
Haskell laughs, giving him the double bird.
The Colonel: Ha. Fuck you, hoss.
At this, busting into the locker room and carrying a box ander his arm, is Robby Bingo. Rarely not hungover, he grins and sets the box down with pride in his chest.
Robby: …Shine off the one that’s gone and gave me bluuues! Hey assholes, I got th’ hats!
Elgin: What hats?
He glances to Haskell, who puts his hands up in innocence.
The Colonel: Don’t look at me, first I’m fuckin’ hearing about ‘em.
Robby: I got to thinkin’ a bit and after them coffees got in me I figured we’re all from Kentucky, right? And them Circuit Demons or whoever always got the matching gear and facepaint, so I figured any good team gotta match. But you try gettin’ custom wresslin gear made for dudes our size at 7pm on a Friday in this fuckin’ town. So I made it work.
He reaches into the box and retrieves a racoon skin hat, replete with tail. He situates it on his head, the back of his hair flowing out from under it. He holds his arms out, grinning.
Robby: What ya think?
The Colonel: So your solution to the fact that we can’t have matching gear like them Cyber Bullies is to get…coonskin caps?
Robby: Yeah! Like Davy Crockett or that mountain man on th’ flag, yknow? Gives us a whaddaya call it…one of them unities of look, yknow?
Blair looks off, scratching his chin, searching for the diplomatic way to put it.
Elgin: I mean Bingo I appreciate the heck outta you tryin’ somethin’ out, but…I ain’t gonna wear a coonskin cap to the ring, man. I’d look like an asshole.
The Colonel: I kinda agree with him on that one, brother.
Bingo looks crestfallen, tossing the hat back in the box and sitting with a huff. Elbows on his knees, he looks at his team.
Robby: Well shit. So what do we got, then?
Elgin: Haskell has this theory that we all are kinda the sons of the same circumstances. Aint none of us born rich or into cities that have a whole lot of offer us. How struggle and scrapin’ by made us tough and resilient, and how since we’re all from the same place–born to the same land–we have an almost shared rhythm and shorthand. That we have a connection deeper’n facepaint and matching tights and bein’ fuckin’ psychopaths. And that makes us tough as shit and twice as easy to underestimate, and that’s a dangerous mixture for them boys we’re about to lock horns with.
Haskell looks genuinely surprised, and genuinely happy, smiling and nodding.
Elgin: Least that’s what he was sayin’. I aint no wordsmith.
Robby Bingo takes a moment and then nods, his eyes intense.
Robby: So what we got is that we’re all three Appalachian skull crackers who are all on the same page, and that’s gonna get us to win?
The Colonel: That’s…that’s close enough, yeah.
He finally slaps his thigh and shoots to standing, clenching his fists.
Robby: Hell yeah then, let’s get out there and stomp them boys good!! Country boys can survive!!
He strides out of the locker room, slapping the walls. Elgin and Haskell look and one another, nod, and follow suit.
The brick wall reading “UNHOLY CYBER ARMY” is familiar–however, it has a new addition: a vinyl banner reading “AND NATE ROBIDEAU” has been taped to the bottom side of the wall. Into the frame stride the flexing muscles and gnashing teeth of the Cyber Army themselves, flanking either side of Nate himself. Superbeast slaps the absolute shit out of Power Devil’s chest, and he eyes the camera directly, pointing at it.
Power Devil: You disrespectful dogs! We are not two demons that you ignore, denigrate, disregard!
Superbeast: You will run screaming back to the grounds of Kentucky! You will seek solace in the bosoms of your mothers and ‘memaws’, but rest will never kiss you again!
Power Devil: You do not know fear?! You will! You will become friends with fear! Fear will be your wet nurse! You will retire after we three are done with you! Weep tears of blood!
Power Devil then strikes Superbeast in his chest with a clubbing hammer fist.
Superbeast: Powder Devil will drive your skull into the mat with such authority that your dreams will wither!! I will slam you into the mat so savagely that your soul will witness the maneuver from on high!! Nate Robideau will…
There’s a moment where Superbeast clearly loses his train, and then they both turn to Nate.
Power Devil: Nate Robideau, do you have a sort of impact maneuver?
Power Devil: Tiger Driver?
Nate shrugs and shakes his head.
Robideau: Oh, I uh…I do not have a maneuver like that. At least not one that I make use of with regularity.
Power Devil: What? Then how do you expect to conquer your enemies and make them bleed?!
Robideau: I lock on a submission. That is what I do, you have seen it. I take an opponent to the mat and put them in such pain as they can no longer bear the thought of continuing.
The Cyber Army look at one another, absorbing this.
Superbeast: So…no burning hammer.
Power Devil: No high angle impact DDT?
Robideau: No. I mean, I could, but these are not things I have an acumen with.
Power Devil goes arms akimbo, walking off of frame and back, his brow furrowed in thought.
Power Devil: So…you hold a man close. Twist his body in ways that were never intended by nature. He screams for mercy.
Robideau: …yeah, that is the way of things with submission wrestling.
There is a long pause wherein the two giants regard Nate with blinking eyes.
Power Devil: Is.
Unison: Very Metal!!
They hold their hands up for a double high five, and Nate slaps both of their palms.
Superbeast: We should have one too! What do you call yours?!
Robideau: The Dogshank, after a knot that has two “arms”. Because I get both of my opponent’s arms.
Superbeast: I would go with something more severe! I will call mine The Angelcrusher!!
Power Devil: Mine will be known as the Blood Orgy!!
Superbeast holds his hand out to Nate’s chest.
Superbeast: But Nate, to really make us gel as a unit, you should adopt something from our methodology as well! Name something, a big impact move that takes the wind from a man’s lungs and the fight from his soul!!
Robideau: Well. Let me think. I used to do a Fisherman’s Buster when I was younger, would that be okay?
Power Devil: Very okay! Great in fact! But it will need a name that strikes fear into the core of a man and makes him weep with dread. Something with severity! Extremity!
Superbeast: A name of power!!
Nate looks down for a moment, considering.
Robideau: The…uh…Lucifuge? Like the second Danzig album?
Power Devil: Go on.
Superbeast: Feel it!
The giants step back, and Nate Robideau steps forward, as his partners punch their palms behind him.
Robideau:…you will know desperation, gentlemen. Desperation is a funny thing. I am confident that we can defeat you, but I am not foolish enough to believe that it will be easy. You count among your ranks violent men. Powerful men. Fast men. Elgin Blair, a mountain of a man who is tougher than old leather. Robby Bingo, a remorseless roughneck. Haskell Payne, lightning itself. Were I alone facing you, I would feel fear. But if you want to talk violence? Power? Skill?
He steps forward, regarding his partners with thumb motions.
Robideau: Cyber Power Devil, shoulders like mountains. I watched this man knock another out with a brainbuster! Cyber Superbeast? Near seven feet of fast moving, body throwing violence! And…heck, Cyber Nate Robideau. Who will counter everything you throw, and twist you in ways that make you suffer. How long can you hope to withstand such an onslaught? How long can one of you hold out—because it does only take one of you to crack—before exhaustion and pain overtake you? Until you’re left…what’s the line, guys?
They step forward, both slapping Nate on the chest–he winces slightly, but the tempo doesnt flag.
Powder Devil: Until You’re left Bowed!
Nate, leaning into their style, takes them both by the back of the head and bigs three skulls colliding in a triple headbutt–they all look fire at the camera and scream.
All Three: BROKEN!!
All three of them storm off camera, all yells of affirmation and growls of warriors.
Following the six-man tag, “Saturnz Barz” by Gorillaz hits and Malice comes out from the back. He’s showered and clean from his win over Bradley Kenneth Holzauer, and apparently has something on his mind. He walks over to the time keeper’s table and grabs a microphone from the table and slides his way back into the ring. Malice paces angrily around the ring, looking like a caged animal. That fire in his step that had been gone for the past month seemingly having returned. Malice pulls the microphone to his face.
Malice: I entered the SHOOT Project a man on a mission. I entered the SHOOT Project making promises to make this my world of Malice.
The crowd is silent.
Malice: I gave everything that I had in the tournament for the World Heavyweight championship. But it wasn’t enough. I left every part of myself out on the mat for the Sin City Championship, but it wasn’t enough. I gave Azriath DeMitri everything I had, but it still wasn’t enough.
The crowd begins to murmur with impatience as Malice continues to pace back and forth in the ring. He barely seems to stop as he bounces from one rope to the next like a pinball.
Malice: I got tired of waiting. I got tired of trying, and failing to make a big enough name for myself to draw that bastard out of his hole in the back, so I demanded that he come down to the ring and face me. I demanded that Trey Willett make his way down to my ring and finally put my hatred to bed. I thought that If I did that, it would finally be enough. I thought that I would finally be enough. I finally got my wish.
Malice suddenly stops, standing at the ropes facing the dressing rooms. He doesn’t acknowledge the audience, who are less than patiently wondering where this is going.
Malice: I thought that it was enough to let you know that I was here. I thought that just by announcing that I was ready for you that it would be enough to light that competitive fire in your gut and you would have to face me, face what you did. But all I got was radio silence. Do you know how hard it is to be ignored? AGAIN!?
Malice’s voice had now gone from it’s normal timbre of barely controlled rage to full out screaming. His voice cracking from the raw emotion coming forth. For their part, the audience sits in silence as the man standing before them has seemingly reached his breaking point.
Malice: I WASN’T ENOUGH AGAIN, TREY. I NEVER HAVE BEEN, HAVE I!?
Malice takes a step back from the ropes, seeming to regain a bit of composure. His voice quiets down to a more reserved tone. The audience creeps backwards in their seats as they have began to get noticeably uncomfortable with the display in the ring.
Malice: So I came out here again. I came out and faced Haskell Payne and I lost. Again. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t defend my actions. I missed RISE. I missed everything. You took that drive away from me. I’ve sat in my hotel room for weeks, wondering if I would regain that fire to compete again after being ignored, once again, by you. Then it dawned on me. I will have to force you to come down here and face what you’ve done. I will have to drag you into this ring to take your medicine. That, Trey Willett, is what I plan to do. Next week, on Revolution, you will come to this ring and accept my challenge. I have to finally put this to bed. For me, for my family, for everyone. You know what you have done, and you’ve ran away from it for far too long.
Malice turns his back to the locker room and begins to make his way back towards the time keeper’s table. The crowd seems confused, but are still visibly uncomfortable. Just before dropping the live microphone back on the table, he pulls it back to his face.
Malice: See you next week, Trey.
The microphone hits the table with a second of feedback before the power to it is cut. Malice walks around the ring and makes his way back to the dressing room, never looking up from the floor.
Following Azraith’s successful defense, “Holy Defender” by Primitai hits, and the crowd comes to their feet for the man known as the Butcher, as SHOOT Project’s Holy Defender, newly minted as its World Heavyweight Champion, Jonas Coleman!
He walks down to the ring and fist bumps the outsides of the pods that SHOOT Project has constructed for the fans in attendance, since, you know, social distancing… He has a microphone in hand, the championship on his shoulder, and with quick motions, he slides the belt into the ring and rolls in behind it on his way back to his feet, picking the belt up all at the same time.
Jonas Coleman: I still can’t believe it.
The crowd pops!
Jonas Coleman: If you’d told me two years ago that I would once again be standing in a SHOOT Project ring, I’d have laughed. If you told me two years ago that I would be standing in a SHOOT Project ring as the World Heavyweight Champion, I would have called you crazy, but… HERE. WE. ARE.
He holds the title up and the crowd cheers for him .
Jonas Coleman: This was the dream, ladies and gentlemen. This is what I thought about when I went to bed at night, how I started my day, and the thing that drove me back here, to this point, in front of you, as your champion.
The crowd hushes.
Jonas Coleman: It was just… a little idea, in the back of my head, and now… now the dream has been realized and I stand before you humbled, grateful, and just… stunned. I fought for nearly an hour against my brother, Buck Dresden, and somehow managed to end up right here, in this moment, and I have to say thank you to him. Thank you, to my brother Buck Dresden, for giving me the best match of my career. I wouldn’t be here without you. Let’s talk about what happens next–
“Man of Constant Sorrow” abruptly kicks in by Charm City Devils. Out from the back emerges the Bluegrass Bad Ass, the Carolina Classic, the King of Southern Style, Dixie’s Favorite Son, basically a plethora of nicknames that you either do or don’t know. Whether you know them or not is irrelevant, because you know exactly who this is. Jonas Coleman does, too. It is the man he defeated to win the tournament that crowned him champion.
He stands at the entrance ramp, microphone in hand, dressed in a black wifebeater and blue jeans with black boots. No merch, no ring gear, just him. “Man of Constant Sorrow” dies down and leaves the two of them staring at one another in silence until Buck slowly brings the microphone to his lips.
Buck: You beat me.
Jonas stares at Buck, saying nothing. He knows there’s more to this, so he waits to hear it.
Buck: We went like a goddamn hour, but you beat me. I was sittin’ there in the back, my man, I was listenin’ t’you talkin’ about how this is the dream or whatever, but let’s be real. You gotta know my dream was never the silver medal. You gotta know my dream, right? You gotta know I would never be content just sittin’ back there with my dream deferred because you snatched it outta my hands fer yerself, right?
Buck chuckles to himself.
Buck: My dream won’t dry up like a raisin in the sun, man. It won’t rot, it won’t disintegrate to nothin’, it won’t be a noose ‘round my neck an’ it fer damn sure won’t stop growin’ just because it took a goddamn hour to put me down.
Buck is full on grinning right now.
Buck: Naw, man. I don’t die so easily. This right here? We walk back behind these curtains, I’m gonna hug yer neck an’ we’re gonna go do what we wanna do but right here? On this stage? In that ring? Boy, I ain’t here to be yer friend. I’m here to be yer challenger.
He points directly at the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship.
Buck: I’m here fer that. An’ to hell with whoever comes next because right now? Right now, everybody knows the top match this company’s seen in ages was the culmination of the Bad Ass Brotherhood at RISE. But don’t get yer panties in a bunch just yet, brother. See, I’m no fool. Logic shouldn’t dictate that I’m suddenly first in line just because I was runner up. I know you got strong competitors in that locker room that can easily step past me to earn a shot at you. So here’s my challenge to you.
He pauses, pacing the entrance stage.
Buck: I wanna face you. One…more…time. I came too damn close to let it end like that, Joe. So I wanna face you one more time. Here’s my thing, though, brother. I just want you. I just want Jonas Coleman in the ring. No worries about the title. Keep that baby shinin’ bright like the star that guides me to yer manger, brother, because I won’t take it from you yet. Nah nah, I don’t deserve that. I gotta earn that. I want Buck Dresden…versus Jonas Coleman…non-title. If you beat me, I’ll go to the back of the line like a good boy an’ earn my way back to the top the old-fashioned way. If I beat you, I don’t wanna hear no BS from the boys in the back because you ‘n’ me? We’ll know. Hell, you might even request it then. I ain’t so arrogant to demand no title shot from you. But I do wanna earn one.
Buck stops pacing and stares at Jonas and his title.
Buck: From one Bad Ass Brother to another…what do you say? What’s one more round between family?
The crowd POPS and the camera pans to Jonas, who smiles.
Jonas Coleman: Don’t even have to think about it, man. I’m in. Revolution 140, Buck Dresden Vs. Jonas Coleman. Let’s fucking GO.
Jonas extends his hand to Buck, who naturally takes it and shakes it, as Revolution fades to black.