We open to a black screen, the soft intro beginning to play.
I thank you for all the lives you’ve led
Against the black backdrop, sparks begin to fly as a curved line begins to carve into the darkness in gold.
I thank you for every word you said
The carving continues along its path, straightening and curving again as it goes, beginning to form a familiar shape.
I thank you for walking away
The sparks stop as the rudimentary carving of the SHOOT Project helmet glows red-gold against the black background.
I THANK YOU
The screen flashes brilliant white, almost blinding to the naked eye.
I thank you for the promises you broke
We cut to the Mojave desert, outside of Las Vegas, the fabled Epicenter just barely visible in the distance.
For always watching, watching while I choke
We cut to the inside of the Epicenter the backstage halls empty. The camera transitions to a first person view, beginning to travel the halls.
I thank you for teaching me
The camera begins to move further on, through the curtains to the empty arena, the ring at the center. It is empty, pristine, untouched.
Yes, I thank you for your hurting
We move down the entrance ramp to the empty ring, and just as we reach it…
(I BITE DOWN) a little harder
The Unholy Cyber Army explodes out from a desert rock formation, the SHOOT Project World Tag Team Championships around their waists. Nate Robideau steps out just behind them, the calm to their fury.
(MY BLADES) a little sharper
We jump-cut to Jacob Mephisto crawling out of a desert canyon, the Sin City Championship hanging around his neck like some twisted medallion.
My roots, my roots
Run deep into the hollow
We flash to Buck Dresden cradling the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship surrounded by darkness, a single spotlight shining down on his moment.
(STRIKE BACK) a little harder
Cut back to a completely packed Epicenter, pyro exploding all along the stage in shades of red and white.
(I SCREAM) a little louder
Back in the desert, Buck Dresden stands atop a mountain, the World Heavyweight Championship raised above his head defiantly.
My roots, my roots
Run deep into the hollow
We cut to a rotating shot of all three SHOOT Project championship belts against the darkness with the helmet logo carved into it.
I’m stronger than I ever knew
Fade back to the empty Epicenter, this shot taken from above.
I’m strong because of you
The scene flashes to a packed Epicenter, the lights flashing various colors, the atmosphere tense with excitement.
(I HIT BACK) a little louder
Jacob Mephisto snatches the Sin City Championship from the referee while standing on wobbly legs.
(FUCK YOU) a little harder
The Unholy Cyber Army raise the World Tag Team Championships high over their heads in victory, surrounded by the steel cage that became their playground.
My roots, my roots
Buck Dresden stands tall, covered in sweat, and hoists the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship in the air on the entrance ramp, ticker tape falling around him before we cut to the SHOOT Project helmet logo.
Run deep into the hollow…
We flash quickly, as the song fades, to the new number one contender to the World Heavyweight Championship, C.K. Butcher sitting in darkness with his head bowed. The glow of perhaps a campfire illuminates his face as he slowly looks up, a smirk forming on his lips before we abruptly cut to…
C.K. Butcher has Avarice locked up and flings him over his head with a perfectly executed suplex. Avarice lands onto the mat with a hard thud, crashing on his shoulder and then he slides underneath the ropes so that he lays in pain on the ring apron.
Eryk Masters: Butcher with a beastly suplex to Avarice…
Other Guy: Wait, he’s got Robideau!
Eryk Masters: He’s guiding him toward the ropes – could this be it? Will C.K. Butcher eliminate Robideau!?
The Blue Ridge Butcher, now calling himself Lord of the Flies, has immediately turned his attention to Nate Robideau. He has the palm of his hand suctioned to the back of Nate Robideau’s head. X-Calibur, Adelaide Ainsworth, and a recovered Avarice battle each other in the far corner. C.K. grabs the top rope and with a sadistic smile he wastes absolutely no time. The crowd’s vociferous uproar is a mixture of shock, and awe, as Robideau’s body flies over the top rope, misses the apron, and falls to the outside.
Other Guy: N…NO! Butcher eliminated Robideau! You couldn’t have asked for a more shocking Rumble moment, and we’ve had plenty so far!
Eryk Masters: I cannot believe it! Butcher, the final entrant to the rumble, is starting to clear house. First Judy-E, and now Robideau! Who’s next?
Butcher grips the top rope with boths hands and begins to emotionally shake them up and down. He beats on his chest and lets out a loud roar. Robideau sits on one knee, his eyes focused on the ground below him, and he slowly shakes his head realizing that C.K. Butcher got the best of him.
The elder Butcher brother hurries back to the scuffle happening behind him. He attempts to get in X-Calibur’s face, but is instead disrupted by newcomer Adelaide Ainsworth. Butcher grabs a chunk of her hair, and with zero hesitation, sends Ainsworth flying over the ropes!
Eryk Masters: Jesus, he’s done it, again! Butcher just eliminated the one person who was racking up one of the best performances in the Rumble!
Other Guy: Butcher is possessed, Masters. It helps that he was the last entrant, and it also helps that the rest of these competitors are just about as gassed as it comes; but Butcher is possessed!
The rumble continues with three men left. Avarice gets a quick dropkick in on Butcher, and the Blue Ridge Badass falls face-first into the turnbuckle. Sadly, Avarice’s offense is met with a quick and decisive X-Calibur, who decides it’s time to send the mysterious Avarice over the nearby top rope where he’ll meet his rumble fate!
Eryk Masters: Avarice is gone! Avarice is out of here! We’re down to two!
Other Guy: And, look at the two that are left. This moment was basically manifested. It’s the past, present and future of SHOOT Project…
Eryk Masters: One-on-one. One is a former Redemption Rumble winner and world heavyweight champion and the other is perhaps what’s in store for SHOOT’s future…
Other Guy: It couldn’t get any more poetic. What’s happened leading to this moment, and the two we see in-ring…you can’t make this stuff up, Eryk…you just can’t…this is a magical moment in SHOOT’s history!
X immediately begins the duel with a belly-to-back suplex that segues into a submission locking CK’s arm behind his head and drastically choking him. Unfortunately the hold does little for the veteran. He let’s go and watches the young star quickly return to his feet; they exchange blows but Butcher nearly knocks X-Calibur’s lights out, disregarding the turmoil his arm just took in submission.
Eryk Masters: Butcher’s offensive is slowing down X-Calibur; the veteran has been battling in this match for some time, and the signs are there: he’s getting tired…
Other Guy: Your body can only take so much, Eryk.
Eryk Masters: Butcher is on the top rope….and ELBOW DROP! But, it’s not enough! He missed X by mere centimeters! Rookie mistake!
Other Guy: X is up, X is getting up and…
Eryk Masters: …crossface! He’s taken Butcher down with the crossface!
Other Guy: X doesn’t keep it locked long, and both men are back up…
They’re back on their feet, breathing heavily, eyes locked, and Butcher instantly sends a vicious right boot directly into X-Calibur’s gut. The veteran falls to the mat in a heap as the Blue Ridge Madman jolts toward the turnbuckle and climbs to the top. He leaps, aiming to land a better elbow drop, and he lands it dead-center into X’s spine! The crowd is going wild, especially once Butcher peels X off the canvas, hooks his arms, and then executes a powerful double-underhook powerbomb! X-Calibur’s neck slams against the mat with a tremendously haphazard bend and he sells the move with a dramatic backward roll!
Other Guy: OH my GOD! Someone X-Calibur’s age should not see his body bend that way!
Eryk Masters: Yet, Butcher isn’t letting up. C.K. has X-Calibur on his feet. Butcher…is he…is he going to end this!?
Other Guy: MEATHOOK!
Butcher lifts X-Calibur up into a powerbomb position, with X resting on Butcher’s shoulders. Suddenly, Butcher twists, and brings X down to the canvas with a disgusting hook to the neck. The veteran is motionless. Butcher spins to his feet and immediately grabs X to try and set up an elimination…
Eryk Masters: X is out. X is out!
Other Guy: We’re about to see Butcher take the 2020 Redemption Rumble! Wait! X doesn’t let up!
Eryk Masters: X-Calibur just nailed a cutter! He just brought Butcher down to the mat!
Other Guy: This crowd is going WILD! How does X even have any gas left in the tank!?
X-Calibur immediately spins Butcher around on the ground and applies the cattle mutilation! Butcher shrieks in pain, and referee Clark Feldman slides onto his knees. The ref is pleading with X-Calibur to let Butcher go.
Eryk Masters: Damnit, X! Eliminate him! Quit trying to lock him into submission!
Other Guy: He let go! Maybe it’s time he shows this Butcher creep what the SHOOT Project is all about?
X-Calibur grabs a chunk of Butcher’s long black hair and slowly the Blue Ridge monster rises. X locks him up, and spins his opponent toward the ropes, but Butcher reverses it! Butcher throws X-Calibur toward the ropes…the crowd is on their feet…
Eryk Masters: NO WAY!
Other Guy: HOLY SHIT!
Eryk Masters: X nails the ropes, and flies over top!
Other Guy: HE HITS THE APRON!
Eryk Masters: He’s gone! HE’S ELIMINATED!
Other Guy: OH…MY…GOD…
Butcher takes a few steps back on spaghetti legs. He wipes his hair from his eyes. He then realizes what he’s done. The bell rings. Clark Feldman points at C.K. Butcher as the winner of the 2020 Redemption Rumble. The Lord of the Flies’ eyes open wide, and a sadistic smile begins to form from ear to ear as he scans the crowd in the Epicenter. He is as surprised as everyone as he stands in the center of the ring, nodding his head slowly, the smile of a man possessed the last thing we see as Eryk Masters and Other Guy end the replay…
Eryk Masters: C.K. Butcher has done it! C.K. Butcher is the number one contender! C.K. Butcher has won the rumble!
Other Guy: This is the dawning of a new era in SHOOT, Eryk, and it begins with C.K. Butcher. The torch was immediately passed as X-Calibur left the ring…we’ve just witnessed history!
REPLAY TRANSITION FADES…
…into the gruesome visage of an unkempt C.K. Butcher. He stares at his dirty, blood crusted reflection in a bathroom mirror. Dried creeks of blood paint the contours of his face. His eyes are dark, and empty. His beard is wiry, uncontrolled, and unshaven. He guides a needle nose pliers to his forehead and digs the tips into the staples that secure the skull and bone crown that he’s secured to his frontal skull. The sound of the compact staples tinker into the sink below. He leaves remnants of staples behind as some have fused into the wound, so he breaks them off with friction as they clank in the porcelain sink. He winces, and grinds his teeth with every pry, but the crown made of his mother’s remains is now removed. His forehead is moist, wrinkled, bloodied, wounded, and skin shriveled after being contained for a long period of time. His hair is greased back, and pressed. Blood begins to empty from various wounds, and travels the maze of visceral self-mutilation that’s become his face.
The door to the room swings open. Entering are five suited men representing the SHOOT Project security team. C.K. watches them through the mirror as blood drips from the tip of his nose, off his chin, and into the sink. He turns around and steps toward the doorway of the bathroom, and then leans against it. The security team stops in the middle of the dressing room. One officer, a clean cut brunette with a flat top, tugs at the lapel of his black suit jacket and then removes an envelope from the inside pocket.
Head of Security: We’ve been sent by Mr. Johnson to deliver his response to your negotiation.
He removes a sheet of paper from the envelope, but seems concerned. He keeps his eye on Butcher while slowly unfolding the paper. C.K., calmly leaning against the bathroom door frame, is bleeding all over himself. Bags engulf his empty, dark eyes. He’s breathing awkwardly slow, but heavy. His chest has become an abstract spatter of crimson. His face is almost covered with his blood.
Head of Security: Mr. Butcher – are you OK? Would you like medical attention?
But the Lord of the Flies says nothing. His eyes continue to stare through the security team as blood continues to slowly creep from each wound on his forehead. The head security officer takes a few steps forward and extends the unfolded letter. C.K. retrieves it, and slowly begins to study; all while blood drips and drops on the message.
Head of Security: The Real Deal wants me to express his thanks for your cooperation, and he has decided that your brothers do not need to wear protective equipment for the time being. You’ll find the details laid out in the orders given to you. Have a great night.
And the man turns to his team, then signals for the door. The men do not hesitate to depart, but their leader pauses behind them as they exit. He looks over his shoulder at the bloodied Butcher.
Head of Security: I almost forgot! Mr. Johnson wanted me to specifically direct you to the final paragraph of the order. He was adamant that you soak that in. Now, now you can have a great night.
The security team exits, and closes the door on their way out. C.K.’s eyes are glued to the bloodied communication. His grip tightens. The tips of his fingers dig in, and slowly crinkle the letter. His eyes slowly look up and directly into the camera. Silence. Emptiness. No emotion. The letter is then used to wipe the blood from his face as he peels his shoulder from the door frame and turns back toward the sink.
Eryk Masters: What on earth could that be about?!
Other Guy: With Josh and how he’s handled this Blue Ridge Butcher situation, there’s really no telling… What I CAN tell you, though, is that CK Butcher will be in ACTION TONIGHT against Nate Robideau, but FIRST, we take you to the ring where Avarice, Adelaide Ainsworth, and NEMESIS, who is making her Revolution debut will square off in a triple threat match!
Eryk Masters: That’s coming up right now!
Avarice Vs. Adelaide Ainsworth Vs. NEMESIS
I see you, avatar of greed.
The music abruptly cuts off as the cold, calculating, familiar voice speaks over the Epicenter’s speakers. The big screen comes to life as the face of Jacob Mephisto appears on the screen, his pale, grey gaze looking down at the ring.
Jacob Mephisto: I see you, Avarice. I’ll admit, when you first arrived here in the SHOOT Project, my interest was piqued. You walk, dripping in gold. You wax poetic about atrocities and disaster that is set to befall this bastion of combat we call the SHOOT Project.
His head cocks to the side curiously, those eyes positively bright with… something? Wonder? Awe? Malicious intent?
Jacob Mephisto: At Redemption, I was… otherwise indisposed. But, I saw the glorious formation of The New Vanguard. I witnessed the utter annihilation of Jonas Coleman. And, I must say, you’ve piqued my curiosity.
There’s a rustling sound and a swift movement off camera before Mephisto holds the gleaming SHOOT Project Sin City Championship in view of the camera.
Jacob Mephisto: Gold. No, more than that. A symbol of the SHOOT Project. How deep does your avarice go, I wonder?
The crowd begins to cheer, prompting a brief, but telling sneer from the champion. His eyes flit from side to side as if looking to the crowd.
Jacob Mephisto: This is no act of chivalry on behalf of the so-called faithful. I do not stand for the honor of the SHOOT Project. My sights are not set on The New Vanguard. I have other matters that are not yet finished. But, for you, Avarice, I can make some time. You see, I am contractually obligated to defend this symbol. And, as it is mine to defend, I choose you, golden one.
There is no malice in his words. On the contrary, his words brim with excitement. The smirk forming on his lips never quite meeting those eyes.
Jacob Mephisto: I offer you the chance to live up to your namesake. I offer you the chance to take a step, no, a leap towards your goal. Come and take the Sin city Championship as your first real trophy. If you can.
He laughs, more a chuckle than anything else.
Jacob Mephisto: You see, avatar of greed, I’ve been around for a while. Do you know what I’ve learned? Do you know what people want most? Something that somebody else has. I have this.
He pushes the gleaming title belt closer to the camera.
Jacob Mephisto: Are you curious enough to come for this, golden one? Do not fear your curiosity. For, it was not curiosity that killed the goose that laid the golden egg, but an insatiable greed that devoured common sense.
More laughter, colder this time.
Jacob Mephisto: At Revolution 146, meet me in the ring. See for yourself how your Avarice defines you. Come. And. See. But remember, everything, even all things golden… everything… rots. It’s only a matter of time…
The screen bursts into static, leaving the live crowd murmuring in anticipation.
What we see is a closeup of the forearms and hands of a man. The skin is tanned, the scars and blemishes increase in frequency as our eyes move closer to his knuckles. The light is single-source, throwing everything into a hard chiaroscuro of almost sepia light and rich, inky black shadows. The arms flex, the hands stretch. Very few men, even in the SHOOT project, are built like this. Rough hewn stone with almost no refinement. The brawn primordial.
What we hear confirms what the eyes suspect: the steady, rumbling baritone of Nate Robideau, speaking in voiceover.
“I know how I am perceived.”
Methodically, his massive hands—veins running along the back and the multiple scars thrown in sharp relief by the sparse lighting—begin taping each other. Strips around the wrist. Across the grip.
“You will not see me wearing a skull of bones. I am not a religious fanatic, twisting scripture or cultish belief to justify my existence. My desires.”
Hands complete, almost in slow motion, the wrists are rolled. We can faintly hear joints popping, as the clublike forearms are flexed.
“I would even debate if I am particularly likable. I think of a man I have the utmost respect for, Buck Dresden—people like him. Perhaps that is not my path, to be liked. At least not for my charm. I spent too much time alone to remember much about how to be charming. But too much charm can be a lie. A smokescreen.”
The camera cuts to the back of his head, sitting atop his thick neck. His taped hands begin the process of braiding his undone mohawk, the motions not hurried, the confident pace of an experienced set of fingers.
“I am not one for smokescreens. I trade in a truth that words often fail to imitate. Real truth. A truth we are all experienced in, even if we pray every night to be good at anything else. But that acumen will never come. No, this is our lot. Gladiators. And Gladiators know only one concrete, universal truth. The truth of bones, joints, muscles and blood.”
Hair done, the image cuts now to Nate’s eyes. They flash under the shadows is his heavy brow.
“To know pain is to strip yourself of all pretense and to give in to your primal thought patterns. Fight, or flight?”
The eyes narrow, shining with a real fire, and the slight crinkle at the edges gives us the impression of a smile.
“It is not even a debate.”
A guitar riff hits and immediately you hear some wild pipe organ hit the arena, and the Epicenter crowd starts to stir, not recognizing the song.
“ALL I WANT IS WHAT’S MINE I DON’T CARE WHO I HURT!!!”
At this point, all eyes have turned to the entrance ramp, and as white strobes dance across the stage, the crowd IMMEDIATELY begins booing emphatically, once they see who’s coming out.
Eryk Masters: This fuck goes from J.S. Bach to the Power of Zeus, really?
Even though he’s masked his face in white, the mask was designed specifically for his face, and now gives a porcelain visage that belongs to the one, the only… James Johnson.
Other Guy: I was wondering when we’d hear from him, or well, anyone in the “New Vanguard” so, you know, of course… we get it right at the start. I’d expect nothing less from this narcissistic asshole.
Scion has a microphone in his hand and he holds his arms out to his side, as if bathing in the boos that are being thrown his way. His music dies down, and he pulls the microphone to his face.
Scion: Fucking great, right?
The crowd continues booing.
Scion: Short of some real diehard fans, nobody saw THIS coming. The fortunate son of the SHOOT Project, his father’s son… The Joy of Man’s Desiring.
Scion: What a dumb gimmick, but it did what it was designed to do, and that’s get me right here. On this stage. After pulling off one of the most epic beatdowns and swerves in SHOOT Project history.
The crowd continues booing and someone shouts “YOU’RE DELUSIONAL”.
Scion: That’s not delusion, that’s a fact. Did you see my dad’s face when I clipped him in his knee? Did you see THE DEFENDER OF FAITH’S face!? God, thing of beauty. But you know what’s more beautiful than all of that? The best thing about all of this? The thing that really… really, you know, helps me lay my head down at night?
Scion: The MEN who decided to stand with me as we embark on this journey together. A journey that has been foretold by the one, the only, AVARICE.
On cue, Avarice makes his way out onto the stage, his pace languid, his features hidden behind his emotionless golden mask.
Scion: Our journey was also foreshadowed by a guy who, heh… man I can’t believe you guys don’t see it yet… MALICE.
Malice steps out onto the stage.
Scion: And finally, a journey whose success rests on his tall, broad shoulders… VOID.
Void steps out, smiling. His face is now adorned with a menpō, an ebony samurai half mask covering the lower half of his face, with sharp teeth grinning to allow for his mouth to be seen.
Scion: You see, when we executed our plan to perfection, we started MONTHS ago. We knew exactly when and where we’d need to strike, and of course… it’d be on one of the SHOOT Project’s most monumental and LARGEST events of the year. Sure, Charlie Hitchens was kind of a wrinkle that we didn’t plan for, but she helped out immensely, in her own way. So, thanks Chuck. Hashtag big thanks.
Scion: Big thanks. And a big thanks to Jonas Coleman, for once again playing the PERFECT rube. You are but step one to the whole thing, and we are very much looking forward to continuing our insurrection with you as the primary target. You see, you and those like you? You are why the heart of this place keeps on beating, and it’s… well, it’s time to really stomp that and stomp you out. You’re alone now. Your typical help will no doubt be preoccupied by our new pal-not-pal Charlie, so it’s just going to be you and us.
He stops and motions to the three men that are flanking him.
Scion: So, with that said… let me just put this out there for the rest of you. Void, Avarice, Malice, and myself? It’s open season.
If you are loyal to the SHOOT Project.
If you are one of its faithful fans or its soldiers.
Understand what you’re staring down the barrel of, too. It’s not a loaded gun, it’s the just… well, it’s borrowed time, friends.
The SHOOT Project is officially on notice.
After all, all we want is what’s ours, and pals… we don’t care who we hurt.
Eryk Masters: I’m looking forward to seeing this chucklefuck get his comeuppance ALREADY.
Other Guy: You and me both, man. I still can’t believe what he and the rest of them pulled off. It’s disgusting. They are disgusting.
Eryk Masters: You know what’s not disgusting? Our next match, featuring two rookies to the SHOOT Project, Shadow Dar, and BLACKHEART. Dar made her debut in the Redemption Rumble, but this will be BLACKHEART’s first voyage into SHOOT Project waters. HERE WE GO!
SHADOW DAR VS. BLACKHEART
“Church of Execution” by Fear Factory hits and out walks, with a fury to his stride, X-Calibur.
Eryk Masters: Well, we all knew that this was inevitable. You don’t poke the dragon like Dan Stein did without expecting some fire.
Other Guy: It was a little more than a poke, Eryk. It was more like… a stab with a samurai sword?
Eryk Masters: Fair enough. Be that as it may, X looks like a man on a mission here and, I for one, would not want to be in Dan Stein’s shoes.
Other Guy: You wouldn’t? I mean, not even a little bit? Dude knows how to party.
Adorned in his purple and black ring attire, X-Calibur slides under the bottom rope and into the ring. His short mohawk looks to be freshly cut, with the sides shaved right down to the skin. His short-boxed beard remains well-groomed, with patches of salt ‘n pepper scattered throughout. A t-shirt with an X taking the place of the Spartan SHOOT helmet reads “X-Calibur EST. (And You’re Not) #OWOA” on the circular portion of the emblem.
Motioning for a microphone, it isn’t long before he is handed one. Pacing around the ring like a hungry lion let out of his cage, X seethes into the microphone. His entrance theme quickly dissipates.
X-Calibur: You know, Dan. I respected you. Going back to our LEGACY days at Belote Enterprises, I fuckin’ respected you. Probably more than anyone else did in this goddamn business. Did we share car pools? Nah. Did we sit together and share road stories at catering? Nah. Did we text each other to see how the other was doing when we weren’t employed in the same promotion? Nah. But the fact of the matter is that we didn’t have to do any of that superficial bullshit with each other. There was this unspoken level of respect there from me to you. At one point, I thought this respect was reciprocated from you. Dan “The Lights” Stein. The future of our business was a bright one, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Continuing his pacing, the audience listens intently.
X-Calibur: Fast forward a couple years. You went on to do some pretty good things here, didn’t ya? Had an, as of now, undocumented run with the Iron Fist title. Maybe even a couple of them, I’m not really sure. Became the longest running Sin City Champion: a record that still holds up to this day. Then you really did it, Dan. You went on to become SHOOT Project WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION by defeating one of the absolute best this fuckin’ company has ever seen.
He stops pacing. While facing the audience, his neck slowly turns so that his narrowed eyes face the Epicenter’s entrance. The inferno raging behind them was palpable as the night is long and dark.
X-Calibur: And now you’re just fapping off to Smark Nation while streaming incoherent babbles during Fortnite excursions in your boxers on TWITCH. Or Twitter. Or WHATEVER the FUCK. Parading around these hallowed halls as nothing but a Donald Trump gimmick infringing PUNK. ASS. MILLENNIAL. BITCH with a herd of douchebags in tow to shield you from your reality induced woes.
The crowd “OOOOOOOH’s” at this as X stands there, smirking.
X-Calibur: I could run you down into the ground all day, motherfucker. Bury you in the fuckin’ Nevada Desert with the rest of the frauds who came before you, tested me, and were once dubbed to be the “future of this business”.
And there lies Dan Stein. The only waves he’ll be seeing henceforth are from the sunburnt sand that rests atop of him blowing in the cool night air.
He shakes his head.
X-Calibur: I don’t know who you think you are fuckin’ with, boy-o, but I’m in the best shape of my goddamn life and I can fuck you up on a moment’s notice. So your little attack you orchestrated on me at Redemption? Expect a receipt for that shit. But I’m a realist, Dan. I know you wouldn’t dare to put yourself in a situation where you have to face me one on one. So here’s what I’m proposing to happen. Check that, here’s what I’m TELLIN’ you is gonna happen.
He makes the motion of drawing an invisible line in the sand with his boot.
X-Calibur: While I respect Real Deal for giving me the night off, I need to remind him, while he convalesces from those other dimestore mask wearin’ punks, that I need no such thing. My head is good. I’m rarin’ and ready to go. I got an ass kickin’ I need to get out on someone, and I don’t care who the fuck it is.
As long as it is one of YOU.
ONE of you get the fuck out here RIGHT NOW so I can show you the meaning of “You can’t stop what’s comin’.”. And Lorenzo? You might want to come out here to officiate this thing.
He drops the microphone to a thunderous ovation. He continues to pace back and forth, cracking his neck once in a one-two, side to side movement. He throws a couple jabs, and a roaring elbow before hitting the ropes.
Other Guy: As much as I can’t stand the dude, I’ve always loved the fire and passion he brings to the ring.
While warming up, the massive, six-foot-eleven-and-three-quarter-inches Russian Assassin, Yuri, emerges from the back. Over his shoulder is Johnny Patriot, kicking and screaming.
X mouths “Seriously?” at this and just shakes his head with the expected disappointment etched across his face.
Eryk Masters: Can’t say that I’m surprised that Dan Stein isn’t the one coming out here answering X’s challenge. I don’t think there’s a soul on this roster that would want to be on the receiving end of a pissed off X-Calibur.
Tony Lorenzo makes his way down to the ring, shrugging at the fans the whole way. Sliding into the ring, he looks at X-Calibur and asks him if he really wants this match to happen.
X nods his head.
Yuri literally dumps Johnny Patriot over the second rope and into the ring. Showing at least a modicum of professional respect, X waits in his corner for the MCGA member and former Tag Team Champion to get to his feet. Lorenzo asks Johnny Patriot if he wants to do this, and he shakes his head no.
Lorenzo looks at X.
Lorenzo looks at Johnny.
Lorenzo looks out at the sea of fans all clamoring for this to happen, and simply shrugs.
Eryk Masters: And just like that, folks! We have an impromptu match on our hands!
Other Guy: Well, I didn’t think I’d be witnessing X-Calibur Vs Johnny Patriot tonight, but… here we go!
Utilizing his monster-sized reach, Yuri reaches into the ring and pulls Johnny Patriot to the outside by one foot. The audience rain down the boos HEAVILY, as X-Calibur rolls over for the pin only to be met with the canvas. Looking at Lorenzo, X asks him, “What the fuck!?”. It doesn’t take long for X to realize what had happened. Eyeing Yuri, X snarls with contempt.
X retreats into the opposite ropes, picks up some momentum, and slides out with his feet extended. Yuri sidesteps the baseball slide attempt, however, and X BLASTS Yuri with a series of European Uppercuts that rock the Russian Behemoth. Going for an X-Terminator, Yuri sees it coming and pushes his former comrade forward right into the ring post! The force of which sent X flipping into the air in a corkscrew motion!
Eryk Masters: Oh my GOD! That was sick!
Other Guy: Looks like this Tony is calling this one off! Probably for the better, given that it wasn’t even supposed to happen in the first place.
The bell sounds after Lorenzo calls for it. Yuri approaches X-Calibur, grabs him by his tights, lifts, and throws him over the second rope much like he did Johnny Patriot at the start of the impromptu match. Yuri checks his mouth, smirks, and wags his finger at X, realizing he nailed him pretty good with some of those expert European uppercuts. Grabbing the top rope, Yuri pulls himself up and climbs over the top rope with one leg, big man style.
Bleeding profusely from the forehead in the same spot that MCGA cut him open at Redemption, X woozily pulls himself to his feet. Seeing Yuri about to come at him, X lets out a guttural roar and blasts Yuri with a Yakuza kick that sends the Russian Assassin up and over the top rope. Realizing his situation, X slides to the outside, reaches under the apron, and pulls out a metal chair that has a laminated print out of Dan Stein’s face duct taped onto the seat.
Eryk Masters: Hey, wait a second… did he PLANT that chair there!? Did he see this, or something like it, coming?
Other Guy: X is a seasoned veteran. There’s not a doubt in my MIND that he saw this coming.
Wiping away the blood from his forehead, he cracks the chair on the mat a few times, inviting Yuri to come back into the ring. As Yuri gets to his feet on the outside…
YOU’VE GOT THE TOUCH!
YOU’VE GOT THE POWAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
Dan Stein: Hey, hey, hey, whoa whoa whoa, cut the music, cut it. I paid good money for Yuri’s services, and if you think I’m going to just sit in the back and let you assault a poor, innocent man like Yuri, well, X, you must know me very well.
Eryk Masters: I think the saying is “Must not know me”.
Other Guy: Yeah, but I think it’s safe to say Dan meant what he said.
Stein paces the stage near the entrance.
Dan Stein: Sorry, man, I was in the back watching something more entertaining and didn’t catch what you’d said earlier, Molly had to fill me in on the way to the ring. “Receipt for that shit,” you say. To that, X-Calibur, I say…
Stein pauses for a moment, looking down at the ring with his finger in the shape of an L on his forehead.
Dan Stein: Duh. (hand goes away) That’s the point. The point of this whole…shebang, as it were? To get you to want to chase me. To get you to NEED to chase me. You’re doing everything I wanted you to do the moment I enlisted your old pal Yuri’s help, Eryk.
Only one thing hasn’t gone as planned, really, and I’d blame you for losing the Redemption Rumble to CK Butcher, but…we all know I cost you that glory.
Dan Stein: It should be obvious to you, and to everyone in the back, and to all the nerds that watched Redemption – I wanted you to win that Rumble, my dude. I said as much when you were lying on the ground, spitting chicklets onto the floor. I won’t hold it against you, X, but I literally said the words, “I’ve got my money on you winning the rumble tonight,” verbatim. I said that. I literally had money on you winning it all. I wanted you to become the number one contender. I wanted you to get back to the top of SHOOT Project one…more…time. Maybe you would want to make up for losing the Primus, and, thus, the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship in record breaking time. I wanted to make sure I was right there with you, X. I wanted to make sure my name was at the top of the marquee. So I picked the person I thought had the best shot, and I targeted them.
Between you and me, though? Even without the beatdown I (finger quotes) “orchestrated” that night? It looks like you were the wrong horse.
X becomes enraged, begging Stein to come down to the ring.
Dan Stein: Ugh, see? You’re making my point. You’re so angry, so much rage. It’s offputting. Without you having that number one contendership, though…not much in it for me to do battle with a future SHOOT Project Hall of Famer.
Eryk Masters: Stein just openly admitted that he organized a hit on X-Calibur to ride the man’s coattails to the World Heavyweight Championship.
Other Guy: No shame in Dan Stein’s game, Eryk!
Eryk Masters: Well, now Stein is saying he’s got nothing more for X-Calibur – but lets see if X feels the same way.
Stein sighs for a second, lowering the microphone just a bit.
Dan Stein: Hey, thanks, by the way, for knocking some sense into my cousin for me, though. Pretty sure his going overboard is what cost you the match, so…that’s a pound of flesh I don’t have to collect myself. Yuri?
Stein snaps his fingers, motioning to Patriot. As Yuri leans down to grab Patriot’s still unconscious body, X-Calibur swings the chair at Yuri. Yuri, wise to X’s movements, ducks the chair, and quickly pulls X down to the mat by his ankles, pulling him out of the ring. X and Yuri begin to exchange blows! Stein moves forward slowly excitedly as the huge Russian beast stands toe-to-toe with X-Calibur. Yuri side-steps one of X’s blows and grabs him back the back of the neck, THROWING HIM into the turnbuckle. X collapses onto the apron. Yuri grabs the dazed X-Calibur and rolls him into the ring…
Eryk Masters: DAN STEIN’S IN THE RING WITH THE CHAIR!
Other Guy: And X-Calibur is dazed by that ring post!
X-Calibur starts to stir! Stein tries to stay out of X’s view as he stirs to his feet. X spins on his heels…
Stein drills X with the chair across the back, bringing the man to his knees near the ropes. Stein takes a moment to admire his work, throwing the chair with his face on it to the mat. As X-Calibur shakes the cobwebs, Stein races to the ropes across the ring from X, bounces off of them, and SNAPS one of his trademark #LightsOut top rope enziguris, laying X-Calibur out cold.
Eryk Masters: It doesn’t look like Dan Stein is as done with X-Calibur as he wants us to believe!
Yuri slides the still unconscious Patriot into the ring, then himself. Yuri picks up Patriot and throws the huge American over his shoulder with ease. Stein bathes in the reaction from the fans, holding up two fingers to the camera, for twice now getting one over on X-Calibur.
TADAKATSU VS. ARTHUR PLEASANT
Arthur stands up, sweating profusely, clearly exhausted from the banger of a match with Tadakatsu. He wipes away the scraggly, long hair away from his face to reveal a toothy grin. Laughing, he motions for a microphone to be tossed in his direction. A microphone is indeed thrown in his direction, but instead of catching it like a cold brewski, he headbutts it in mid-air and watches it fall to the mat.
Arthur Pleasant: Did I win?
He laughs, rubbing his head.
Eryk Masters: This guy is not right.
Other Guy: Yeah, no shit. What was your first clue? Him carrying the head of his dead dog on a spear or, well, just everything that comes out of his mouth?
Arthur picks up the microphone and taps into the foam cover.
Arthur Pleasant: Ahhhhh. To speak into a microphone in the middle of a SHOOT Project ring. I was told it’d be like seeing Paris for the first time. Or smelling the salty breeze from a beach. Or the first time you witness that gnarly Bud Dwyer suicide video and all that blood comes gushing out of his head after he shoots himself with a .44 Magnum . ALL THAT BLOOD! Hehe. Just, what an exhilarating moment captured on live television!
The audience works itself into an awkward whisper from this. Some even pulling up their phones, no doubt googling “Bud Dwyer Suicide Video” to see what Arthur is talking about.
Eryk Masters: Did I mention this guy is not right?
Other Guy: Yes, but I don’t think it can be overstated.
Noticing some of the people in the crowd on their phones, he chuckles to himself.
Arthur Pleasant: Oh, I’ll wait. This is gonna be GOOD.
The first fan who sees it covers her mouth in horror. The second fan, a boy no older than 12 and no younger than 10, who had been leaning in on what his Father was watching, immediately begins crying as he clutches his Father’s arm. A third fan, a teenage girl in the middle of a row of teenagers, squeezes off the plastic lid to her medium soda and throws up in it.
Arthur Pleasant: HAHAHAHAHA. I told you it was gonna be good. Now then, back on track. I was told that speaking to you all in the middle of this ring would be the equivalent of something magical. But as I stand here, before all of my beautiful friends, I must say that I am just a smidge disappointed.
The booing showers down around him.
Arthur Pleasant: Now, now, my adoring friends. Let’s not be rude. I’m just being honest. And if I may continue to be honest? Can that production truck please give me that thing I talked about earlier? Earl Rifkin, I remember your name and still have your wallet on me so, if you wouldn’t mind? Be a good friend and… GIVE ME MY FUCKING LIGHTS OR I’LL PAY A VISIT TO YOUR FUCKING FAMILY AT- (his voice goes from screaming to normal at the blink of an eye) – 4545 Rushing Creek Road, Henderson, Las Vegas, 89014! Now do the right thing, Earl! I know when your precious little pumpkin comes home from basketball practice.
There is terror in the eyes of all the Fathers and Daughters in the audience who can relate to this Earl Rifkin fellow. Suddenly, the lights go out as if on a threatened cue.
Eryk Masters: What the hell!?
Other Guy: WHOA. What is THAT!?
There are four giant boxes, wrapped up like presents, suspended from the rafters. A spotlight shines on one that bears the mark of four distinct pieces of punctuation.
“?” on the far left.
“;” on the inner left.
“#” on the inner right.
And finally, “!” on the far right.
Creepy funhouse music echoes throughout the Epicenter as all four massive presents are slowly lowered down to the ring. Arthur, meanwhile, dances with an invisible partner to the unsettling Funhouse jam.
Eryk Masters: What in the actual fuck.
Other Guy: Yeah, no words, Eryk. No words.
The lights snap back on with a loud pop and the Funhouse music ceases immediately.
Arthur Pleasant: Okay, bros and hoes, littles shits and snotty brats, financial burdens of ALL ages! Gather ‘round and witness… history. For I, your BESTEST of BESTESTESTEST friends, will choose someone from the audience to come into this very ring and pick a prize! A prize for what you ask? Well, why does it have to be for ANYTHING!? CAN’T A PERSON JUST WANT TO GIVE!? IN A FUCKED UP WORLD WITH FUCKED UP PEOPLE DOING FUCKED UP THINGS, CAN’T A PERSON BE NICE AND SIMPLY… give back?
Scanning the audience, he sees the Father, sitting front row, who had looked up the Bud Dwyer video with his son crying on his arm. Motioning for him to come towards him, Arthur’s eyes narrow.
Arthur Pleasant: YOU! Come here, friend!
With the microphone in hand, Arthur rolls to the outside of the ring and THROWS himself head first into the guardrail with extreme force so that the front of his skull nails the edge of the railing. Laughing for a moment, he shakes off the cobwebs and continues.
Arthur Pleasant: Oh… gosh that hurt. Ugh…
Arthur checks his forehead and noticed that he had busted himself open. Wiping it with one hand, he looks out at the Father he motioned for and smiles. Extending his bloody hand, with blood dripping down his own face from the self-inflicted wound, Arthur chuckles.
Arthur Pleasant: Sorry about that, I tripped. Hehe. I can be such a klutz sometimes! Anyway. How do you do, friend?
The man refuses to shake his hand and holds his son behind him, away from this lunatic.
Arthur Pleasant: No? You don’t want to shake my hand? Well… that hurts my feelings, friend. I thought… I thought we were gonna be friends to the end.
He drops the microphone, grabs the man by his ear lobes and pulls him towards the ringside area, causing him to trip over the railing. Forcing him to stand up by wrenching the man’s ear lobes, Arthur tosses him under the bottom rope and into the ring. As this innocent fan scurries to his feet, SHOOT’s resident Provocateur takes a few steps back, and puts his arm around the man’s son.
Arthur Pleasant: There there, little boy. All will be well in a moment. Your Daddy just… well, he has to make a decision now. Which one will it be, friend?
Arthur points out with his free hand at all four of the giant presents.
Arthur Pleasant: OR THIS LITTLE BASTARD HERE!!!
Arthur squeezes the kid close to him. He cries out for his Daddy, who is helpless in the ring.
Arthur Pleasant: I’m going to count to three. And, full disclosure here… I’m not so good at math.
The Father holds up his hands.
Arthur Pleasant: Three. Wait, I feel like I missed a few numbers. Did I? Oh well. I told you I wasn’t so good at math. Say goodbye to the innocence of youth, you little fucker.
Arthur grabs the kid by the back of his hair when the Father dashes towards the giant present marked with a “?”.
Arthur Pleasant: Now THAT’s the spirit!
Arthur releases the little boy and slithers into the ring. Remaining on the mat like a snake, he grins from ear to ear as a red-gloved arm BURSTS through the package, grabbing Our Hero Daddy by the shoulder!
His eyes bug out as his body is pulled into the box, before the whole thing collapses!
Eryk Masters: NO!!
Other Guy: GODDAMMIT!!!
A red-clothed blur drops him to the mat with an inverted Russian leg sweep, causing wrapping paper and foam board to fly all over the ring! The assailant stands up, dressed in a red suit with a black tie, and scoops a red fedora from off the mat. He looks at the audience, in a skull-shaped mask the color of blood, a pair of horns peeking out from above his eyes! Some of them are in too much shock to react, while the rest shower them with boos and concession stand waste.
He smiles through scarred and burned lips as he places the hat back on his head!
Eryk Masters: Is that…!?
OG: You’ve gotta be shitting me. I thought he was dead or in a coma or something, Eryk. What the hell is HE doing in a SHOOT Project ring?!
He takes a microphone from Arthur, who is laughing while on his back and his feet kicking the air. What is left of the man once known as Sean Boden surveys the destroyed present and the man left crumpled in its remains. The crowd continues to respond with hellacious boos as they finally realize who they’re seeing. He speaks with a voice that sounds like gravel through a woodchipper.
Milton: Aw, did you miss me?
Various fans all tend to the little boy who just witnessed his Father endure a heinous attack from Mr. “?”.
Milton: It was… three years ago, in the Staples Center, when Sean Boden died. All you lovely fans booing out there… you remember it, don’t you? As this body plunged through a cage into an inferno of burning tables… for the THIRD TIME… all of you likely breathed a sigh of relief, because finally… FINALLY, the monster was gone. The plague that haunted the EWA, the killer that once stalked these very halls, he was drowned in a sea of fire and would threaten the world no more.
And as the flames licked the flesh from these bones, there was a part of me who almost believed it, too. After all, how could Sean Boden come back from something like this? How could anyone?
And as I laid unconscious, trapped in my own bodily prison, I had a lot of time to think about that very question.
And when I woke up, I realized the answer was simple: he couldn’t. But I could.
I, the voice in his head, spurring him on to deeper and darker cruelty. I, the specter, the imaginary devil on his shoulder, was still here.
And even with this ruined husk, I was alive.
He called me Milton, after the author of Paradise Lost, a reference I’m sure is lost on most of you imbeciles, but it’s a serviceable enough name. And in the future, it’s the name you’ll be whispering in fear, crying about how I laid your everyday heroes low.
Today it was the Father of a little boy. Tomorrow? Who knows what tomorrow will bring. But it doesn’t matter.
Because I realized something else during my long nap… I learned that this body is indestructible.
You can break my back.
You can cut my skin, bleed me dry.
You can set me on fire and scatter the ashes.
But I will always… ALWAYS come back. Angrier, meaner, and with even more of an axe to grind.
And unlucky for all of you that this man is the one who found me… and gave me a focus.
Arthur Pleasant is the future of the SHOOT Project, because I say it is so. Woe to anyone who thinks otherwise. We will take down your champions who stand against our cause, we will bury your contenders who fail to understand our goals, and we will fight tooth and nail until the World Heavyweight Championship is around his waist. And when it is, when the pillars that hold this company together have been reduced to cinders, he and I will fight for the right to rule this wasteland.
Until then… we are the collective consciousness for a dying world.
I am… unbreakable.
And we are… the Collective.
SHOOT Project… will feel the wrath of both.
Boden drops to his knees with both arms extended. After a moment, he retracts the arm with a microphone and whispers into it.
Milton: For The Collective. We… Are.
He releases his hold on the microphone, letting it fall to the ground with a smile as Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” begins to play, barely audible over the rage of the audience. Arthur prances around Milton in a circle, occasionally stepping across the abdomen of the fallen Father who made the unfortunate decision to unleash this man.
The lights cut. With a flash of neon lasers befitting a planetarium Led Zeppelin showcase, the opening build of “Body Hammer” by Fear Factory is heard, and the crowd erupts at the heralding of the arrival of the Unholy Cyber Army!
Eryk Masters: The new champions have arrived, OG!
Other Guy: I cannot fathom how you stan these two freaks, pal. Can’t fathom! Unfathomable!
They finally emerge from the back, and the crowd noise breaks into a full on din as the music volume mixes with them. Clad in newer, fancier tights bearing designs of flame shapes, both men also are wearing leather motorcycle jackets. The shoulders have been customized with epaulets bearing a collection of 2 inch spikes—the sleeves littered with smaller spikes by the wrist. The back of the jackets read in stitched red Megatdeth font “UNHOLY CYBER ARMY” –beneath that, an arrangement of 3 B’s in an inverted pentacle—and beneath that, in a scroll patch: “DEMONS OF CYBER ROPPONGI”. Around their waists? The SHOOT Project World Tag Team Championships.
AS OF NOW
I AM A TOOL
OF SEVERE IMPACT…
They clamber into the ring, taking a moment to bask before clutching offered microphones. “Body Hammer” dies down, and Superbeast bellows
Superbeast: SHOOT Project Faithful …WITNESS!!
On cue, the crowd responds with a roaring “WITNESS!!”—The Unholy Cyber Army both drop their arms and hold their heads back, grinning at the noise. Power Devil paces the length of the ropes, waving his hands upward, egging them on. Finally he rushes Superbeast and headbutts him—hard—and the two men embrace in a manly, back slapping hug. Seperating, Superbeast hollers into the mic once more.
Superbeast: We could talk at length about how the pretenders have fallen—about how they have tarnished these fine belts with their cowardice and trickery, avoiding the sweet lust of battle for TOO LONG! But!!
Power Devil: Would you rather hear us gloat?!
The crowd provides a mixed reaction to this proposal.
Power Devil: Or would you rather hear us make you a solemn promise of blood and fury?!
To this, the crowd pops, getting caught up in the enthusiasm of these behemoths. Power Devil scales the turnbuckles, standing tall on the top one, towering over the camera’s view.
Power Devil: We are not here to call out names because whoever faces us is meaningless! All can attempt—and all can fail—to strip these from our possession! ‘Call someone out’?! No!! We are CHAMPIONS. We now stand astride the mountaintop!!
Power Devil hops to the middle ropes, taking a seat on the top turnbuckle. Superbeast clambers up the opposite corner, addressing the rafters as much as the crowd.
Superbeast: It is up to you to knock us from our thrones! Your names are unimportant until you are etched into the back of the leather of this title, a record of our conquests!!
He undoes his belt and holds it up for the camera. True to his word, the words “MCGA—DEPOSED” are etched into the back of the leather with the date of Redemption next to it.
Superbeast: Will you try for glory? Will you live your lives of anonymous desperation and dream of this moment upon your death bed, surrounded by loved ones that you have always disappointed because you never attempted to achieve?! Wake up! Destiny calls the lot of you!! Grist for the mill of blood and glory!!
At this he puts the belt back on, slapping the metal proudly. Power Devil stands, scanning the crowd.
Power Devil: These other teams are formless, anonymous shapes in the abyss! Why should we concern ourselves with who? They have no purpose and have done nothing of note until they try for immortality at our hand!! Death stalks us all—will you stand before him at your time of judgement and tell him you were no better than a common cur?! Or will you stand tall with a firm spine and face your demise like a true warrior!?!
They both hop to the center of the ring, staring at each other and nodding. Superbeast is the first to speak.
Superbeast: You only get a scant few chances for immortality, dogs! If you have the stones—if you have the gumption? The Fortitude? The tenacity?! Then stand at the foot of the mountain and make your request!! And we will gladly leave you Bowed!!
Power Devil: Bleeding!!
“Body Hammer” cues back up, and both men toss their mics to the crowd, causing a screech of noise and feedback before they’re cut dead. They stand in the ring, raising their arms, screaming, brothers in battle.
Eryk Masters: Well OG, you heard it as well as I did —
OG: Who couldn’t with the way those walking biceps scream everything?!
Eryk Masters: –The path to Tag Team immortality starts and ends with the Unholy Cyber Army! Fans, we have more action coming up for you, including a tag match between the New Vanguard and Martial Law, and you’ll not want to miss our main event where CK Butcher takes on Nate Robideau! That’s all coming up next!
THE NEW VANGUARD VS. MARTIAL LAW
Eryk Masters: Austin Linam doing some good work ever since he took off the referee shirt and settled into a journalist role, and he’s been rewarded, because THE NEXT EDITION OF BEHIND THE STRIPES WILL HAVE AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE REAL DEAL!!!
Other Guy: Will this be Josh’s first public comments since Redemption?
Eryk Masters: YES, yes it will. I’m sure he’ll have a LOT on his mind that he wants to discuss, too, so stay tuned for BEHIND THE STRIPES.
The lights go out in the Epicenter. Fans turn to the stage as mellow drums begin to beat through the speakers. The volume steadily escalates. “Drums of Drakkar” by Amoebacrew thunder throughout the Epicenter as a single spotlight is directed near the opening underneath the big screen. Out walks C.K. Butcher with a methodical stride, wearing the crown made of his mother’s skull, the cape made of her burial gown, and a modified scepter that incorporates her femur. He wears his wrestling gear underneath the facade.
Eryk Masters: The SHOOT Project Redemption Rumble winner is heading to the ring, and you’ve got to imagine he’s riding high after eliminating X-Calibur and realizing he’s heading to the promised land in just a handful of months.
Other Guy: Absolutely, Eryk, and a guy this green taking the company by storm is something to be marveled. However, there’s something enigmatic about him. He’s a tad off his rocker.
Eryk Masters: Speaking of people off their rocker, he’s joined by both his barbaric brothers who slowly follow his lead. C.K. cleaned himself up after we last saw him.
Other Guy: He took a shower. Bathing before work is the number one rule of proper hygiene.
The drums set the tone for a man who is set for battle. Many fans boo as the Blue Ridge Butchers inch closer to the battle ground. The letter given to C.K. Butcher earlier in the evening is stapled to his chest.
Other Guy: Is that the letter Security delivered to C.K. earlier tonight?
Eryk Masters: Based on the fact it’s covered entirely in blood, and stapled to the man’s chest? I’d imagine so. I’m certain he’ll cover that topic in just a moment.
Other Guy: I wonder who he’s going to choose when he loses?
Eryk Masters: When he loses? You’re talking about the number one contender, OG.
Other Guy: No, I’m talking about a guy who talks a lot of shit, puts on an act and thinks he’s got the fortitude to go against one of the best wrestlers in our company. He’s been lucky, to say the least. Tonight won’t be his night. Everyone in Vegas knows that at some point…luck runs out.
The lights come back on as the Butcher Brothers enter the ring. The Lord of the Flies steps into the center. C.K. signals for Alden and Elvis to exit the ring, and the Brothers follow suit. Tony Lorenzo walks over to the Lord and hands him a microphone. C.K.’s eyes scan the crowd for a brief moment. He strokes his long, black, goatee. His face is pale white. His eyes are bagged, and masked with exhaustion. Clean, or not, he’s reaching a tipping point. He looks down.
C.K. Butcher: Am I ok? …No.
He looks back at the crowd, and smiles. His uncharacteristically pearl white teeth glisten. His eyes pan right and left. His excitement overtakes him and his body language mimics his dialogue.
C.K. Butcher: No…I am great. I’m the SHOOT Project Redemption Rumble winner! I am the number one contender to the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight championship. I am the Lord of the Flies. I am woke; and my eyes see that you can see right through me. I am translucent. I am the window. You see through me to view the outside. You need me to let light into your darkness. The window can only hold you back if you cannot open it, if you cannot escape the darkness and enter the light outside. Sadly, you will never open this window. Which only means that you are required to break it. Tonight, you’re in for a real treat.
He begins to pace back and forth as he examines everything going on in his head. He doesn’t often look at the crowd, his eyes focused on the canvas at his feet.
C.K. Butcher: You all will witness the breaking of a man. You have the pleasure of seeing the public display of Kafkaesque metamorphosis. A man will break, and a man will transform. I…will…be…embraced.
He stops in the center of the ring, opens his arms, and closes his eyes. After about five seconds of closed off contemplation – his eyes pop open, and his arms slowly lower to his side.
C.K. Butcher: There are moments in life when you have to take drastic measures to maintain control. You ask yourself: what haunts man? Critical…fatal…remorse. Guilt haunts every man. What are you guilty of? What haunts you? I have all the answers. All will be answered at the end of this match.
He walks forward toward the ropes, and then rests his left forearm on the top. His eyes are piercing, focused, into the hard camera.
C.K. Butcher: The ultimate remorse is letting go, and undoing the knot. Don’t let go. Never let go. Because, as soon as you release, regardless of the outcome, the haunt will begin. The hunt will consume you. A man will break. A man will transform. I…will be…embraced. Don’t let go.
He takes enough steps back that he’s center ring. He looks down at the blood covered letter stapled into the flesh of his chest. He rips it from the staple and holds it out in front of him. His eyes glance over the text until he looks back up at the hard camera, and then the crowd. He smirks.
C.K. Butcher: Mr. Johnson, thank you. I’ll discuss your…discourse…at another time; but you’ve motivated me. You’ve inspired me. I’ve soaked it all in, and I know now what I need to do.
And that’s when “The Fall” by Ministry hits the speakers. The crowd goes wild! C.K. Butcher patiently walks to the far end of the ring and begins to remove his costume. Nate Robideau is heading toward the ring.
Eryk Masters: Here he comes! Robideau looks determined, OG.
Other Guy: Your damned right he’s determined. He’s about to do what every member of the SHOOT roster is going to line up to do. He’s going to shut this pissant up once… and for all!
C.K. BUTCHER VS. NATE ROBIDEAU
The bell rings. The fans are going wild as Nate Robideau pounds his chest and stands over the fallen body of C.K. Butcher – a victim to the dogshank. Tony Lorenzo calls the match.
Other Guy: HAHA! I KNEW IT! I KNEW NATE WOULD DO IT!
Eryk Masters: Unbelievable! The Dogshank knocks C.K. Butcher out and Robideau’s excitement is on display!
Other Guy: That’s my boy!
Tony Lorenzo walks over to Robideau and signals to raise his arm as the Epicenter erupts. Below both men lies C.K. Butcher, eyes closed, and motionless. The Lord of the Flies is out cold. The referee grabs Robideau by the wrist and immediately lifts his arm in the air as the crowd’s vociferous acceptance nearly takes Nate by surprise.
Eryk Masters: You can see it in Robideau’s face – what he has done is what the fans wanted from the moment X-Calibur was thrown over the ropes at Redemption. You were right, OG, Butcher’s luck…
Other Guy: Look out, Nate!
The celebration is cut short as Alden and Elvis Butcher quickly slide into the ring. The wise Robideau doesn’t stick around and he instead brushes quickly past Tony Lorenzo and slides out of the ring. He jogs up the ramp but stops halfway and turns to look at the Brothers. Elvis rushes toward the ropes, but Alden grabs him and pulls him back.
Eryk Masters: Nate knows better. Nate has seen what Alden and Elvis can do. There’s no need to open an old wound. The veteran is smart to know when to retreat. He’s already done what he set out to do. Wise choice.
Other Guy: I mean, I wouldn’t mind seeing him open up a can on tweedle dee and tweedle tourettes…but, you can’t get everything you want. I’m satisfied with watching him extinguish C.K. Butcher’s flame. Show’s over, C.K. And, what a show at that…
Robideau back peddles slowly up the ramp and watches Alden and Elvis help up their older brother. C.K.’s eyes slowly peel open and he shakes his head as he regains consciousness. Nate stops at the mouth of the stage and glares down at the ring as C.K. Butcher, driven to spaghetti legs, gains composure. The Lord of the Flies stumbles out of his brothers’ grip. Alden and Elvis take a step back as C.K. stands up straight, contains himself, and smiles.
C.K. Butcher: You shouldn’t have let go!
The Lord shouts across the Epicenter. Robideau slowly shakes his head and watches with concern as his opponent starts a vociferous chortle in the center of the ring. C.K. chokes trying to catch his breath, an after effect of being wrapped up in the dogshank. The Lord catches his breath, and slowly guides his empty eyes directly at Nate. No emotion. Strictly anger. He speaks to himself, but the microphone picks it up.
C.K. Butcher: You should not have let go…
I…AM A MAN…OF CONSTANT SORROW…
I’VE SEEN TROUBLES ALL MY DAYS…
“Man of Constant Sorrow” by Charm City Devils kicks in and out from the back emerges the BRAND NEW SHOOT PROJECT WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION…BUCK DRESDEN. Buck stands at the entrance on stage, dressed in a black pair of jeans, a Bad Ass Brotherhood t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, a Bad Ass Brotherhood baseball cap, and on his shoulder the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship. He locks eyes with C.K. Butcher, who continues to make his way to the back. C.K. mouths the word “soon” at Buck before disappearing off of the stage.
Eryk Masters: Can you believe it? I’m so excited for this man. He finally accomplished what he set out to do.
Other Guy: But at what price? He was attacked immediately after his match, he had to lie there as his best friend and former World Champ Jonas Coleman was essentially left for dead after a ruthless assault, and now here he is and he looks…PISSED.
Buck walks up the steps and sets foot in the ring. He looks around the arena and motions for a microphone. He is handed Samantha Coil’s microphone and removes his baseball cap, bending his head over to show the top of his head. There are staples in his head. “Man of Constant Sorrow” dies down as he puts his cap back on and stares dead at the camera.
Buck: I did it.
He looks down at the World Championship on his shoulder.
Buck: I came down to this ring, I put it all out there, an’ after fightin’ my brother fer somethin’ like fifty-eleven times, I can finally come out here and say to each an’ every person watchin’…I am the World Champion.
He pauses, looking down at the mat with a sigh.
Buck: I should be happy. I should be proud of myself. I should be out here with my brother an’ we should be celebratin’ puttin’ on the matches of our lifetimes fer each an’ every person out there. But here I am…an’ ain’t a happy bone in my body. Ain’t a single part of me that’s content.
He shakes his head.
Buck: Here I am, at the head of the table, an’ I should be eatin’. I shouldn’t be hungry, right? This is the pinnacle. But nah. Nah. Because a cowardly bunch of pieces uh shit ruined it fer both of us. Jonas Coleman is beaten an’ battered an’ left fer dead by these moody ass Destiny fucks callin’ themselves the New Vanguard or some shit. So now here they are an’ all that darkness they bring.
He stops for a second and turns his head to the camera.
Buck: An’ then there’s Charlie Jay Hitchens.
Buck: Y’all might have short memories an’ y’all might have forgotten, but Charlie ‘n’ me…our history’s not long. It ain’t crazy. She faced me on the way to the World title finals…an’…I beat her. That was it fer me. She was nuts, she was a religious zealot an’ fanatic, but that was it. We faced off, we disagreed on some things, an’ fer me that was it. Unfortunately for me, it ain’t all about me. Naw, fer Charlie…she’s been waitin’. She’s let me stomp around her nest like it ain’t no thang an’ when she saw the right moment…when I was at my happiest…she struck.
Buck pauses, looks down at the title, and the back to the camera.
Buck: Charlie, I know you’re listenin’. Maybe I’m too thick headed. Maybe I’m too foolhardy. Maybe I’m a goddamn idiot. But the fact of the matter is this. You wanted my attention? You wanted to step to me when I wasn’t ready because that’s what your God does? Well, Charlie, you wanted to play the prophet, you wanted to play my messiah? Well, young lady, here I am. Prophesy to me. If you back there, an’ I know you are, an’ you wanna screw with me some more? Let’s see how hard you hit when I’m facin’ you.
There is a long pause, while the crowd buzzes in anticipation of a possible confrontation. After about 20 seconds of inactivity, soft acoustic guitar begins warbling from the soundsystem, a rip of an old cracked vinyl. The boos of the crowd begin to drown it out, but the ghostly wail of the words cut through like a trumpet through fog.
Hard times here and everywhere you go…
These hard times are harder than ever been before…
As “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” continues, a figure finally emerges–not from the gorilla position on the ramp, but from a service door next to it. Charlie Jay Hitchens looks about the arena, her eyes shining underneath the battered brim of her work hat. Her tank top is relatively clean, only sporting a few copper spatters of dried blood. Her jeans and boots leave tracks as she walks toward the ring, the caked sand and dried mud falling off in flakes. Rolling into the ring, she stands, staring at Buck for a long while before she begins to speak–and stops short when a production assistant hands her a mic and scurries off. The song cuts abruptly and she waits a moment before speaking into the mic with her rock tumbler rasp.
CJH: “The idols of the nations are silver an’ gold. The work of human hands. They have mouths but don’t speak, they have eyes but don’t see, they have ears but don’t hear. There is no breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them.”
Dresden scoffs and shakes his head.
Buck: We been over this, you don’t–
CJH: Ain’t no messiah, Buck Dresden. If you’d been listening like you say you were, you’d know that already. I’m no second coming. I’m nothin’ worthy of a following. I’m just a conduit. I’m rebar on a live fence, boy. “Certain people have crept unnoticed who were long ago were designated for condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our Lord“…Don’t stand there gobsmacked actin’ surprised at what I did. And don’t lie to these people and tell them you didn’t see this coming. I told you how many times, Buck Dresden? There’s sickness in you that needs to be removed. Like it or not, He speaks to me, day and night. Tells me about you. Tells me you need salvation.
She fixes him with a hard stare.
CJH: And his love and light have been cast aside. Which is why I’m here. Kicking and screaming if you gotta, but you will see.
Buck: Have you got a single nugget in yer head that’ll explain to you that I don’t fucking WANT you or whatever you worship? Because whatever that is ain’t no gods I know about. You wanna thump yer damn Bible at me? You wanna show me where it says you attack the people you wanna save with a goddamn hammer?
He shakes his head, smirking at her.
Buck: Because all I see right now is a psychopath. A crazy sumbitch what decided to shit all over my three course meal moment. I see a looney ass that waited until I became the World Champion to make her move. Now tell me…don’t that seem convenient.
His smirk turns into a scowl.
Buck: You never cared when I told you I didn’t want yer help. I don’t want yer salvation. You just kept comin’. You ignored me. You never listened. Welp, little lady, you come to me with yer religion, I’m here with my scientific fact. And that fact is…Buck Dresden’s put you down before. Buck Dresden’s ended you before.
He holds his arm out, holding the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship title and flexing his bicep.
Buck: An’ I will definitely do it again.
Charlie considers this for a moment, then strides across the ring. Though they’re now in swinging distance, she makes no move of attack. Buck remains stock still, his eyes unwavering, waiting for the slightest hint of action. Charlie tilts her brim up slowly, matching his gaze with her pale grey eyes.
CJH: Not about what you want, Buck Dresden. There are higher authorities than you, no matter what rich man’s accolades you sling across your midsection.
She takes a moment and leans in closer, closing her eyes and sniffing near him like an animal. She reveals her crooked toothed grin, a corpse’s rictus.
CJH: See I can smell how bad you wanna smash my face in. I know you hear that drum behind your ears, boy. The wild is still in you–you might have tamped all your learnin’ down under booze and whores and piles of money, but it’s in there good and deep. And I know you’re thinkin if you lay me out real good, just one real good stompin’, then I’ll slink back into the sands and leave you be. But see…the Lord’s love is eternal. And His desire for your salvation is unyielding. You could snap my arms in two and I’ll be back. Blind me, I will be healed and return. Because the Lord God loves you so, and wants to welcome you back home.
She takes off her hat, tossing it outside the ring. She inches a bit closer.
CJH: Go on ahead, Buck Dresden. Destroy me. Rebuke salvation. Take that shiny golden calf and bash my brains all across this pristine mat.
She holds her arms out, her eyes never leaving his. Buck suddenly…averts his eyes. He looks down as if almost in shame. It brings a smile to her face.
Buck: I know.
His voice is small, weak.
Buck: I know if I attack you right now…you’ll just come back. I know there’s no point in it. You’ll just come back.
Buck lies the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship on the ground and stands back up again, his head still down.
Buck: I know I’m weak fer my primal urges. I know no matter what I’ll do…you’ll heal.
He lifts his head and locks eyes with her.
Buck: So I’ll be ready for you when you do.
Without any further warning, Buck SNATCHES CHARLIE UP AND NAILS THE BUCK SHOT. Buck stands up, his cap falls off of his head and he’s bleeding from his stapled wound. The crowd is ROARING with approval as Buck falls to a knee, obviously in pain from the concussion she’d given him at Redemption. He shakes his head and lifts her up, grabbing her cheeks firmly in his hands so she can look at him. She is dazed and spittle is sputtering from her mouth onto his hand. It is noted she tries to force a weary and beaten grin. He takes the microphone again.
Buck: Thing is…the thing is…I might be weak…
Suddenly, he drops the microphone and ABSOLUTELY SLAUGHTERS her with ANOTHER BUCK SHOT. She flips over and falls, limp to the mat. He lands next to her after the murderous Lariat on his hands and knees. He is breathing heavy, dizzy from the attack. He slides his hand over to the microphone and pulls it to his lips.
Buck: …but I still can knock…you…the FUCK…out.
“Man of Constant Sorrow” kicks in and the fans in attendance lose their ever loving minds. Buck grabs a hold of the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship and rolls from the ring, falling to his knees in agony, clutching his bleeding head. EMTs scramble to him, but he pulls himself up and shoves them away, refusing any help. He turns to the ring where EMTs are checking on Charlie, who has rolled to her side and stares blankly in his direction. The two of them lock eyes again.
Drool running from her mouth and fog in her eyes, she grins at him.
Blood pouring down his face, dripping off of his chin, he offers her a middle finger in response as Revolution fades out.