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Thread: Michelle von Horrowitz.

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    Meltdown Michelle von Horrowitz.

    Character name: Michelle von Horrowitz.
    Nicknames: MvH, Dreamer.
    Height: 170cm.
    Weight: 57 kg.
    Place of Birth: Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
    Date of Birth: 1st January, 1990 (age 32).
    Alignment: Heel (face in Europe).

    Style of wrestling: Brawling with high-flying and hardcore elements.

    In the ring, Michelle utilises a large number of strikes, usually in combination. Mule kicks, stomps, forearms, chops (knife-edge, Mongolian, overhand), and European uppercuts are employed, but very rarely straight hands of any variety. Against lighter opponents, Michelle likes to use a vast array of suplexes, but this part of her arsenal will be taken away from her against any combatants weighing much more than 80kg (176lbs). Against larger foes, Michelle will seek to use their weight and momentum against them, with strikes becoming a much larger part of her focus, along with the use of her environment. Michelle likes to use the turnbuckles and the ring ropes, and will freely take things to the outside to use whatever she can find around the ring as a weapon. Steel ring steps and posts, barricades, the ring apron, and announce tables are brought into the fray frequently and without remorse. MvH tends to get a little more leniency from the officials in this regard due to the well-known FWA bias towards her. Against opponents who far out-weigh her, Michelle will focus her attention on the knees and legs, grounding them for large portions of the match before honing in on the head or neck towards the finish.

    Michelle will stretch any rule she can at any point regardless of what alignment she's currently assigned by the audience. Rope breaks will rarely be adhered to until the four-count, and her matches will often be punctuated by lengthy periods on the outside. Ref bumps are common in her matches and routinely followed up by uses of weapons (steel chairs, the ring bell, or a championship belt if one is at ringside, hers or otherwise - if both her and her opponent have a belt to hand, she'd rather use her opponent's). She can be vindictive in the ring and in the build-up to matches, and will take any opportunity to hurt her opponent and doesn't really limit this against most of the roster. There are a few exceptions: Gerald Grayson, Danny Toner, Alyster Black, Ryan Rondo, and the Nephews would escape any attempts at legitimate injury, but the rules would still be bent as far as possible in matches against these characters.

    Michelle doesn't really care for tag team wrestling and most matches of this ilk will be characterised by an antagonistic relationship with her partner (with the exception of Grayson only).

    FWA accomplishments:
    World Champion (x2
    ).
    2021 Carnal Contendership Winner.
    X Champion (x1).
    2022 Meltdown Tag Warz Tournament Winner (w/ Gerald Grayson).
    Non-FWA accomplishments:
    2015 CWA Wrestle Royale Winner.
    CWA High Voltage Champion (x1).


    Move-set:

    1. Finishing moves:

    - Psycho Driver #2 (pump-handle version) - against smaller opponents (90kg/200lbs and less).
    - 450 splash.
    - Burning hammer (protected and rare last ditch finisher - ask me before using, please).
    2. Signature moves:

    - Busaiku Knee Kick.
    - Double underhook DDT (through the announce table is a favored spot).
    - Brainbuster (avalanche brainbuster in big matches only).
    - Tiger Driver '98 (double underhook piledriver).
    - Stretch Muffler (with stomps).
    3. Suplex variants (utilised only against smaller opponents, 90kg/200lbs or less):

    - Northern lights suplex.
    - Tiger suplex.
    - Dragon suplex.
    - Belly to belly suplex.
    - Belly to belly overhead release suplex (sometimes top rope).
    - Sleeper suplex.
    - German suplex (sometimes top rope).
    - Regal-plex.
    - Saito suplex.

    4. Submission moves:
    - Cattle Mutilation.
    - Cross-face chicken wing.
    - Ankle lock (grapevined).
    - Bow and arrow.
    - Camel clutch.
    - Sleeper hold.
    - Abdominal stretch (only to smaller opponents, usually female).
    5. Power/grapple moves:
    - Death Valley Driver. (only to smaller opponents).
    - Running Liger Bomb (only to smaller opponents).
    - Drop-toe hold (sometimes into second turnbuckle, which she will often expose, or a folded out chair).

    - Russian leg sweep (sometimes into second turnbuckle, which she will often expose, or a folded out chair).
    - Swinging neckbreaker.
    - Hurricanrana.
    - Poisonrana.
    - Dragon screw leg whip.
    - Reverse DDT (sometimes onto a folded out chair).
    6. Aerial and dive moves:
    - Frog splash.
    - Springboard crossbody.
    - Lionsault.
    - Moonsault (from the top rope to the floor in big matches).
    - Elbow drop (from the top rope to the announce table in big matches).
    - Suicide dive (through first/second or second/third ropes).
    - Springboard cross-body.
    - Springboard shooting star press from inside to out (big matches only).
    - Swanton bomb (often from ladders, scaffolding, stages, etc).
    7. Baseball slides:
    - Baseball slide.

    Favored weapons: ring bell, exposed turnbuckle, steel steps, steel chair, announce tables.

    Base pic for your character: Carey Mulligan.
    FWA/CWA theme music: 'In Dreams' by Roy Orbison - link!
    Warehouse theme music: 'Dreamer' by Low Roar - link!

    Tag Team:
    Michelle von Horrowitz and Gerald Grayson.

    Tag Team Name: "The Grayson and von Horrowitz Connection".
    Colloquially known as: "Cthulhu's Nephews: Meltdown Branch".

    Entrance Music: “Cochise” by Audioslave - link!
    With FULL firework display as depicted in the above music video for EVERY tag team match.

    Tag Team Record:
    11-2-0.


    Tag Team Offense:
    Finishers:
    Combination Grapevined Ankle Lock (MvH) and 'Sky High' Double Jump Moonsault (GG).
    Combination Figure 4 Leg Lock (GG) and 450 Splash (MvH).
    Signatures:
    EVERYthing Springboard: Michelle and Gerald set up on adjacent aprons to hit, simultaneously, springboard clotheslines or dropkicks (or some variant thereof).
    East Berlin Violence Party: GG will hold the opponent in a rear waist lock for MvH to connect with a mule kick, forearm strikes, European uppercuts and a step-up enziguri or super kick, followed by a high-angle German suplex (with bridge) from Grayson.
    Alice the Camel: Combination stretch muffler (Michelle) and camel clutch (Gerald).

    History, in-ring style and team dynamic:
    Originally put together as part of 2020’s Elite Tag Team Classic, the two got off on the wrong foot thanks to Gerald Grayson directly benefiting from the lead pipe attack on MvH, as he managed to capture the FWA X Division Championship after she vacated it. This led to a rocky start for the pair, though over time they developed into an odd couple with a shared purpose. They came up just short in the tournament, losing in the final match at Mile High 2020 against Golden Rock, who would go on to feud with TxR and later the Gang Stars in widely applauded tag team matches whilst Gerald Grayson and MvH quietly went their separate ways.

    This was, of course, thanks to their separation in the brand split, with Grayson going to Fallout and von Horrowitz finding herself on Meltdown. Grayson’s trade to Meltdown as part of the Mile High 2021 show, and their subsequent reunion at the climax of Michelle’s match against Cyrus Truth, indicated that they would soon reform to again hunt the FWA World Tag Team Championships. This was confirmed by Jon Russnow’s announcement of ‘Tag Warz’ later in the evening, for which the Grayson and von Horrowitz Connection will reunite. The duo have also declared their entry into the forthcoming Tag Team Classic, a cross-brand tournament with the Clique Wrestling Alliance.

    As mentioned, von Horrowitz and Grayson are a bit of an odd couple, with MvH always looking to bend or stretch the rules as much as she can, whilst Gerald Grayson acts as the voice of reason and justice, and will often talk her out of some of her more dastardly strategic decisions. For instance, Michelle might get a table out, set it up, and then turn back to her desired victim, only to find the table has been put away by the time she returns to it. Turnbuckle covers will be reattached, steel chairs removed from ringside as a pre-emptive measure, etc etc.

    MvH still relies on her technical-brawling style but highlights the high flying aspects of her in-ring style, with Grayson sticking to his speed-based offense.


    Record:
    CWA record: 18-3-0 (2015-16, 2020 special appearance).
    FWA record: 40-10-1 (2016 special appearance, 2020-present).
    Overall record: 58-13-1.


    2015-16 matches: [18-3-0]
    key:
    ** match not counted in record (storylined outcome).
    *** results unfinished.
    vol. Date Match Stipulation Result
    2

    10/15

    Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Anna Malikova
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Singles Match

    WIN

    3

    10/15

    Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Johnny Adams
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Singles Match

    WIN

    4

    11/15

    Michelle von Horrowitz vs. WOLF
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Singles Match

    WIN

    5


    11/15


    Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Harrison Wake vs. Elijah Edwards [c]
    (CWA: Wrestle Royale)
    CWA High Voltage Championship
    Triple Threat Match

    LOSS
    **

    5


    11/15


    30-Person Battle Royale
    (CWA: Wrestle Royale)
    CWA World Heavyweight Championship #1 Contender
    Battle Royale


    WIN


    6 12/15 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Jonathan McGinnis
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Singles Match WIN
    7 12/15 Michelle von Horrowitz and Phillip A. Jackson vs. Bell Connelly and Jon Snowmantashi
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Tag Team Match WIN
    8 01/16 Michelle von Horrowitz and Johnny Vegas vs. Jonathan McGinnis and Jon Snowmantashi
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Tag Team Match WIN
    9 02/16 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Johnny Vegas
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Singles Match WN
    10 02/16 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Jon Snowmantashi [c]
    (CWA: Five Star Attraction)
    CWA World Heavyweight Championship
    Singles Match LOSS
    11 03/16 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Enigma
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Singles Match WIN
    12 03/16 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Drew Connor
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Singles Match WIN
    13 03/16 Michelle von Horrowitz and Enigma vs. Drew Connor and Ethan Connor
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Tag Team Match LOSS
    14 04/16 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Jon Snowmantashi [c] vs. Harrison Wake vs. Jonathan McGinnis vs. Johnny Vegas vs. Enigma.
    (CWA: Retribution)
    CWA World Heavyweight Championship
    Steel Roulette Match. LOSS
    15 04/16 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Harrison Wake
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Singles Match WIN
    16 05/16 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Dustin Dreamer
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Singles Match WIN
    17 05/16 Michelle von Horrowitz and LIGHTBRINGER vs. Dustin Dreamer and Harrison Wake
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Tag Team Match WIN
    19 05/16 Michelle von Horrowitz and Anzu Kurosawa vs. Taylor Toxic and Raquel Wednesday
    (FWA: Back in Business)
    Tag Team Match WIN
    18 06/16 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Harrison Wake
    (CWA: World's Strongest)
    2 out of 3 Falls Match WIN
    20 06/16 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Ariel Justice
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Singles Match WIN
    21 07/16 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Mark Merriwether
    (CWA: Adrenaline Rush)
    Singles Match WIN
    22 07/16 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. LIGHTBRINGER [c] vs. Mark Merriwether
    (CWA: Kings Reign Supreme)
    CWA High Voltage Championship
    Triple Threat Match WIN
    24 07/16 Women's Classic Tournament
    (BWW: Women's Classic)
    Tournament ???
    ***

    2020 matches:
    [15-3-0]
    key:
    ** match not counted in record (storylined outcome).
    *** results unfinished.
    vol. Date Match Stipulation Result
    26 01/20 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Dominick Dust
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    Singles Match WIN
    27 02/20 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Anzu Kurosawa
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    Singles Match WIN
    **
    28 02/20 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Jason Randall vs. Kevin Cromwell vs. Eli Black vs. Gerald Grayson
    (FWA: Back in Business XIV)
    FWA X Championship
    X Rules Six-Way Match WIN
    29 03/20 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Gerald Grayson
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    Singles Match WIN
    30 04/20 Michelle von Horrowitz [c] vs. Kevin Cromwell
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    FWA X Championship
    X Rules Match WIN
    31 05/20 Michelle von Horrowitz and Kevin Cromwell vs. Cyrus Truth and Nova Diamond
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    Tag Team Match WIN
    32 05/20 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Humanity.
    Michelle von Horrowitz vs. XYZ
    (CWA: One Night Only)
    Tournament WIN
    33 06/20 Michelle von Horrowitz [c] vs. Jason Randall vs. Kevin Cromwell
    (FWA: Payback)
    FWA X Championship
    X Rules Triple Threat Match WIN
    35 06/20 Michelle von Horrowitz and Gerald Grayson vs. Krash and Mike Parr
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    The Elite Tag Team Classic
    Tag Team Match LOSS
    36 07/20 Michelle von Horrowitz and Gerald Grayson vs. Nova Diamond and Kevin Cromwell
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    The Elite Tag Team Classic
    Tag Team Match WIN
    37 08/20 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Ty Johnson
    (FWA: Division's Rules)
    Singles Match WIN
    39 08/20 Michelle von Horrowitz and Gerald Grayson vs. The Affliction [Michael Garcia and Kayden Knox]
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    The Elite Tag Team Classic
    Tag Team Match WIN
    40 09/20 Michelle von Horrowitz and Gerald Grayson vs. The Division [Trevor Ocean and Noah Stocke]
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    The Elite Tag Team Classic
    Tag Team Match WIN
    41 10/20 Michelle von Horrowitz and Gerald Grayson vs. Mike Parr and Krash
    (FWA: The 15th Anniversary Show)
    The Elite Tag Team Classic
    Tag Team Match WIN
    42 10/20 Michelle von Horrowitz and Gerald Grayson vs. Eli Black and Cyrus Truth
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    The Elite Tag Team Classic
    Tag Team Match WIN
    43 11/20 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Michael Garcia
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    Singles Match WIN
    44 11/20 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Bell Connelly
    (FWA: Mile High)
    Singles Match LOSS
    45 11/20 Michelle von Horrowitz and Gerald Grayson vs. Golden Rock [Randy Ramon and Devin Golden]
    (FWA: Mile High)
    The Elite Tag Team Classic
    Tag Team Match LOSS
    46 12/20 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. The New Breed [Damian Lynch and Shawn Hughes]
    (FWA: Fight Night)
    Handicap Match WIN

    2021 matches: [16-4-1]
    key:
    ** match not counted in record (storylined outcome).
    *** results unfinished.
    vol. Date Match Stipulation Result
    48 02/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Uncle J.J. JAY!
    (FWA: Fight Night - Valentine's Day Massacre)
    First Blood Match WIN
    49 02/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Mike Parr
    (FWA: Desert Storm)
    Singles Match WIN
    50 03/21 30-Person Battle Royale
    (FWA: Carnal Contendership)
    FWA World Championship #1 Contender
    Battle Royale WIN
    51 03/21 10-Person Round Robin Tournament
    (CWA: Gold Rush Nights 1-5)
    CWA World Heavyweight Championship
    Tournament LOSS
    **
    52 03/21 Michelle von Horrowitz and Gerald Grayson vs. The New Breed [Damian Lynch and Shawn Hughes]
    (FWA: Fight Night - Lost Treasures)
    Tornado X Rules Tag Match WIN
    53 04/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Mike Parr
    (FWA: Fight Night - NOLA)
    60 Minute Iron Man Match LOSS
    54 05/21 Michelle von Horrowitz and Chris Peacock vs. Saint Sulley and Uncle J.J. JAY! vs. Mike Parr and Konchu Hao
    (FWA: Fight Night - Sin City)
    Triple Threat Tag Team Match WIN
    55 05/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Gerald Grayson
    (FWA: Fight Night - Curtain Call)
    Singles Match WIN
    56 06/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Saint Sulley [c] vs. Mike Parr
    (FWA: Back in Business XV - Night Two)
    FWA World Championship
    Three-Way Dance WIN
    57 06/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Lilith
    (CWA: South Pacific)
    Heart of Darkness Match [Cinematic] ???
    **
    58 07/21 Michelle von Horrowitz and Dan Maskell vs. Devin Golden
    (FWA: Meltdown 1)
    Handicap Match WIN
    59 07/21 16-Team Trios Tournament [w/ Bell Connelly and Shannon O'Neal]
    (The Warehouse Trios Tournament)
    Tournament ???
    ***
    60 07/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Dan Maskell
    (FWA: Meltdown 2)
    Singles Match WIN
    61 08/21 Michelle von Horrowitz [c] vs. Bell Connelly
    (FWA: The 16th Anniversary Show)
    FWA World Championship
    Singles Match WIN
    62 08/21 Michelle von Horrowitz and Chris Kennedy vs. Saint Sulley and Jack Severino
    (FWA: Meltdown 3)
    Tag Team Match WIN
    63 08/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Devin Golden
    (FWA: Meltdown 4)
    Singles Match WIN
    64 08/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Cyrus Truth
    (FWA: Meltdown 5)
    Best of Five Series: Match I
    Singles Match LOSS
    65 09/21 Michelle von Horrowitz [c] vs. Chris Kennedy
    (FWA: Lights Out)
    FWA World Championship
    Japanese Death Match LOSS
    66 10/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Cyrus Truth
    (FWA: Meltdown 6)
    Best of Five Series: Match II
    Singles Match WIN
    67 10/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Cyrus Truth
    (FWA: Meltdown 7)
    Best of Five Series: Match III
    Singles Match WIN
    68 11/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Cyrus Truth
    (FWA: Meltdown 8)
    Best of Five Series: Match IV
    X Rules Match TIE
    69 12/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Chris Crowe
    (FWA: Meltdown 9)
    Singles Match LOSS
    70 12/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Cyrus Truth
    (FWA: Mile High)
    Best of Five Series: Match V
    Singles Match WIN
    72 12/21 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Krash
    (The Warehouse: NYE2)
    Singles Match WIN

    2022 matches: [9-3-0]
    vol.
    Date
    Match
    Stipulation
    Result
    73 01/22 Michelle von Horrowitz & Gerald Grayson vs. Chris Kennedy and Cyrus Truth
    (FWA: Meltdown X - One Night in Texas)
    Tag Warz Tournament - Pool Stage
    Tag Team Match WIN
    74 01/22 Michelle von Horrowitz, Chris Kennedy, Cyrus Truth, Devin Golden, & Saint Sulley challenge Krash
    (FWA: Metldown X - One Night in Texas)
    FWA World Championship
    24/7 Open
    Challenge
    LOSS
    75 02/22 Michelle von Horrowitz & Gerald Grayson vs. Deathswitch Initiative [Tommy Bedlam and James Douglas]
    (FWA: Meltdown XI - One Night in Raleigh)
    Tag Warz Tournament - Pool Stage
    Tag Team
    Match
    WIN
    76 02/22 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Uncle J.J. JAY!
    (FWA: Fallout 012 - Valentine's Day Massacre)
    First Blood
    Match
    WIN
    77 02/22 Michelle von Horrowitz & Gerald Grayson vs. Gold N' Roses [Devin Golden and Lizzie Rose]
    (FWA: Meltdown XII - One Night in New Orleans)
    Tag Warz Tournament - Pool Stage
    Tag Team
    Match
    WIN
    78 03/22 Michelle von Horrowitz & Gerald Grayson vs. Krash & Cyrus Truth vs. The Stocke Market [Noah Stocke & Sean Hughes]
    (FWA: Meltdown XIII - One Night in New York)
    Tag Warz Tournament - Finals
    FWA World Championship & FWA World Tag Team Championships #1 Contender
    Jailhouse
    Blues Match
    WIN
    79 03/22 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Nova Diamond (c) vs. Gerald Grayson
    (FWA: The Grand March)
    FWA World Championship
    Triple Threat Match WIN
    80 04/22 Michelle von Horrowitz (c) vs. Thomas West
    (FWA: Carnal Contendership)
    FWA World Championship
    Singles Match LOSS
    81 05/22 Michelle von Horrowitz & Gerald Grayson vs. Lizzie Rose & Joe Burr
    (FWA: Meltdown XIV - Homecoming: Brooklyn)
    Tag Team Match WIN
    82 05/22 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Gabrielle
    (FWA: Meltdown XV - Homecoming: Pittsburgh)
    Singles Match WIN
    83 06/22 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Reagan Cole
    (FWA: Meltdown XVI - Homecoming(?): Tampa)
    Singles Match WIN
    84 06/22 Michelle von Horrowitz, Uncle J.J. JAY!, Thomas West, and Gerald Grayson vs. Danny Toner, Chris Peacock, Devin Golden, and Nova Diamond
    (FWA: Fallout 016 - The Atlantic)
    4-on-4
    Tag Team Match
    LOSS
    85 06/22 Michelle von Horrowitz vs. Chris Kennedy
    (FWA: Back in Business XVI - Night One)
    Singles Match



    ** graphics credits: Commie Jobber (top), CBK (bottom) **

    Posters:

    Spoiler:


    ^ LIGHTS OUT 2021 ^
    [JIGGY]

    ^ LIGHTS OUT 2021 [alternate] ^
    [JIGGY]

    ^ BACK IN BUSINESS XV ^
    [JIGGY]

    ^ FIGHT NIGHT: VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE ^
    [SULLEY]

    ^ DESERT STORM 2021^
    [SULLEY]


    Last edited by SpecificSecretary; 06-26-2022 at 02:22 AM.

  2. #2
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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

    AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

    AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

    MARKING OUT.
    Last edited by An Original Name; 12-22-2019 at 02:28 PM.
    The most amazing thing about this recent conversation is that I've learned AON is even more of a waste of space than I thought he was previously

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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    Aaaaaaaand the rumors are true!

    Welcome back!

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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    Hell fucking yes son


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk


    The only time WWE came close to a good story line post Attitude Era was Undertaker/Mordecai - Dakstang
    [06:01 PM]Dakstang
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    Yeah I guess you are right. And I only want to be Daddy to my own kids. Sorry.

  5. #5
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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    Shit


    3X World Tag Team Champion (w/Christian Quinn, w/Randy Ramon & w/Ryan Rondo)
    1X Gauntlet Champion



    JOIN THE FWA!

  6. #6
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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    This is awesome, welcome back SS. Great to see you back and I love that you’re bringing Michelle in to FWA, Michelle was definitely one of my favorites to write for in CWA and I can’t wait to see how she fairs in FWA.
    Rest in power, Flock U
    Rest in power, TCON

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  7. #7
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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    Thanks for the warm welcome. It's good to see a few familiar names still around! Looking forward to getting started.

    Looks like I'm a little late for the current card, so would it be okay for me to put a segment together for the next show?

    Sent from my I4213 using Tapatalk


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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    You are more than welcome to do that!

    Also, shoot either me, Devin or Jimmy a PM tomorrow with any potential ideas you have! Bear in mind, Back in Business is 3 shows away, and we'd love to have you a part of it! There is one minor snag in that alot of our stories have already been set in motion, but we can make something good work for ya, Im sure.

    Its soooo great to have ya back on board, mate.

  9. #9
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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    yoooooooooo


    ~
    ~ THE KING OF KINGS ~~
    Spoiler:






  10. #10
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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    PROMO HISTORY
    PART I.
    September 2015 - February 2016.

    Volume 1: "My Spring" (09/20/2015).
    Spoiler:




    Drip.

    The room is dim, and if there had been any features of note inside of it you wouldn’t have been able to see them. As it were, the dull, dark paper peeled back from the walls, the concrete floor worked on building its already-thick layer of restless dust, and a single door – its hinges rusting and its paint faded with age – stood slightly ajar and allowed a prism of light to illuminate a corner hidden from the camera’s gaze. In another corner, next to a tap that ceaselessly dripped into the stained, cracked basin waiting beneath it, a woman sat, knees beneath her chin and her eyes open but vacant.

    Drip. Drip.

    You would be forgiven for thinking that the woman was asleep, or a waxwork, or dead. She gave off no indication that she inhabited the realm of the living, and the soft motion of her breathing – reminiscent in its softness and tempo to the rhythms of the sea – was obscured by her long, defined legs. She wore a long, racing-green t-shirt, three large gold letters spelling out ‘NOW’ across her chest, as well as old-gold boxing shorts. White, knee length wrestling boots sat unlaced next to her. Her perma-bedhead rested atop a calm, pale face, ends dyed green and the rest an untidy golden crown.

    Drip. Drip. Drip.

    Droplets of dirty, hard water continued to make their way out of the faucet and into the rusting basin, and – eventually, in a subtle move only noticeable because of the stationary nature of the rest of the scene – the woman blinked, twice, and her head tilted towards the incessant noise’s origin. She was not surprised by it or annoyed by it, but she observed it nonetheless.

    Drip. Drip.

    “Good morning, my darlings,” she said, not acknowledging the camera or the state of disrepair that her living quarters were in. It was, in the objective sense, the late evening, but all minutes belonged to the morning for Michelle von Horrowitz. “Welcome to my humble abode. It’s nothing if not humble. And humble is my word of the day, tulips.”

    Her accent was laced with the Dutch homeland, but Americanisms were quite easy to find. She had been living here for years, in her little hole hidden away in the suburbs of New Orleans, and going home was not at the top of her list of priorities. There was very little for her in Europe now, and even that was too much.

    “They, and by they I mean the mamas and the papas and the teachers and the bosses, will always tell you that humility is a virtue. That if you are humble, if you pay your dues and work hard and keep the arrogance inherent to our species in a little box, eventually you will be rewarded. You plug away, you slowly place hand before hand and foot before foot as you climb up the side of some steep hill, and the summit will glide slowly and resolutely into the forefront of your visage. It’s like this here faucet, tulips. The basin will get more and more full, drip by drip, drop by drop, until eventually it will overflow.”

    Drip.

    “They, the mamas and the papas and the teachers and the bosses, are undoubtedly correct. If you overcome your ego and keep on climbing, you will reach the summit and you will fill the basin. You may even win the respect of your peers, or – if you’re able to earn them a handful of loot – even those who decide your matches and the level of your opportunity. This is the correct way, they will tell you. ’She has deserved this,’ they will say. ‘He’s earned a spot at the top.’ And when you arrive at the summit, and you look down at the other darlings clawing their way up the slopes behind you, you will realize that your knees and your elbows are shot, and your head is dizzy, and the mind that was once resolute has begun to slip. You will stand on the summit and you will know that you are too old to stay there, that you must quickly descend again if you are
    to endure.”


    Here she paused, removing her eyes from the drip-dropping of the water and – finally – allowed her gaze to fall onto the lens of the camera. Her thin mouth, surrounded on either side by pursed lips drained of color, refusing to allow emotion to escape.

    “You see, tulips, last night I had a dream. It was a short dream, but it returned to me three times in the same night, and that can only mean one thing. My dreams are no more important than yours, darlings, but I am more important than you, and so I have been blessed with the skills to remember them and to interpret them. The skeptics will tell you that I am delusional, or a charlatan, or both, but you’ll just have to decide for yourself.”

    Another drip. A sinister smile.

    “I dreamed of a garden, thick and luxurious grass stretching out like an ocean in all directions, flat and vivid and glistening with the morning’s wetness. So full of promise, so sheer and vast and imbued with life. I walk in the grass, feeling the moisture against my feet, watching the greenest green of the grass appear between my white toes, the sun driving its heat against the softness of the skin on my back. The new day has started there like it is about to here and it is clear and bright and beautiful.

    “There is one, small break in the unending sea of green, and before long I find myself standing in it. Around me are flowers, dark red and deep blue and a purple so purple it’s almost black. Angry colors. They are arranged in a circle, and around the circumference runs the rose bushes, the fuming red petals fighting for prominence among the dying leaves and the thick, proud thorns. It is now that I realize that I am standing in the thorns, that my feet are bleeding, that I can’t see the division between the red roses and my blood.”


    Drip. Drip.

    The girl yawned a huge, overly dramatic yawn, stretching her arms up above her and letting her short finger nails scrape against the mold on the walls. Her eyes involuntarily closed as her mouth opened wide, pearly whites peering around the corners of her lips. With something resembling effort, she pushed herself up, back scraping against the wall until the vertical is reached. Bending over with her hands on her knees, she let out three deep breaths amid the incessant panting, almost overwhelmed by the grim reality that the day is here and her dreams are over.

    Another drip.

    “I reach where the plants are tallest, and a wall of thin but strangely erect stems stretch around my face. The petals of these flowers are dying, wilting in their final minutes, all droopy-like and pathetic. When I touch them I only want to help them but as it draws level with my eye-line I find that the palm of my hand is all ablaze, and my fingers are charred and crumbling. I’m absorbed by it – the oddness and the glory of it – and before I know it the sorry excuse for a garden is absorbed by it too.”

    At last, she felt herself able to support her own weight, and stepped cautiously away from the wall. Opening her eyes and placing her hands behind her back, the room seemed smaller still now that she had grown out of her corner. She stared at the camera, her face still calm and plain, anything that could be said to resemble emotion kept in its proper place, a place that she had succeeded in firmly fastening shut.

    “The humble man waits for the basin to be full, one drip at a time. The humble woman waits for the ugly flowers to die before planting the pretty, young ones. All of this can take hours. Weeks. Years. The humble grow old and grey and, as they lie infirm and turgid on their death beds and look up at the reaper’s cold, slender fingers, they wonder why they were never rewarded. Why their meek nature didn’t bring them the joys that were promised. They have not and will not inherit the earth, because bold men and women model and re-model it into the world they wish to inhabit.”

    A final drip. Michelle’s bare feet padded against the concrete floor, the light sound echoing in the tiny, dank room. She lifted an arm and placed the fingers on the faucet.

    “When I pass out, in the heat of the garden, I can still feel the flames. I can taste them and smell them as I tumble through the darkness of my own subconscious, faces screaming into sight, dissipating as I reach out to touch them. It feels like hours before I am lucid again, but I know – and it is something that only I, with the gifts that I have been given, would know – that only seconds have ticked by whilst I slept. I place my fingers against the soot, on my body, and well I pull it away the blackness comes with it, leaving a white hand-print above my waist.

    “The flowers are gone, but there are still flowers. The lame and the old have burnt themselves away into nothingness, but the ones growing through now are bold and hopeful. There are tulips of yellow and green and orange, the colors of youth and promise. The colors of the new Spring. Their stems are thick and strong and without thorns. I lay back among them, the coarse blades of the grass and the soft yellow petals marrying their disparate styles against the soft purity of my skin. This is my doing. The Spring is mine.”

    With a delicate twist of her wrist, the faucet is turned and the drips cease. Instead, the water gushed out into the basin, violently splashing out onto the concrete and hissing its roar in the camera’s direction.
    Volume 2: "The Box" (10/18/2015).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Anna Malikova (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:





    The lights weren’t on. You could peer into the darkness until your eyes hurt, but it was thick and strong and not for permeating. But you could feel that there was someone – or something - there, lurking in a corner, quite conscious and breathing delicately against the silence. You could feel this even from the other side of your television screen.

    “Good morning, tulips,” she said, in little more than a whisper. It was enough within the confines of solitude to feel commanding, the small voice reaching out into each corner of the modest room and echoing softly around the chamber. “This is quite the morning, too – you join me on the eve of my return. For it is a return, even if the curtains marked with a C, a W, and an A haven’t been drawn back by my hands. Tomorrow I climb through the ropes again, I hear the babble of the crowd again, I smell the sweat seeping into the mat again. For it will be the same: it’s always the same even when it’s different. Even the booking is identical. Keep us away from the mannetjes, through tradition and laziness and maybe a bit of fear, and perhaps we’ll go away.

    “I’d like to share with you a story that came to me in my night, some point between Monday and Wednesday. I slept for forty hours and saw many things, some of which I can’t even begin to describe, but most of it vivid and bright as if I were walking through the world under the sun. I stepped out of my body and into others, into the bones of trees and the beds of rivers. I won’t bore you with details. I want to take you with me into a small box, not unlike this one, and a darkness, and all darkness is exactly the same.

    “The lid of the box was opened, and into it were poured the two smallest snakes, for they had proved violent and unsociable. Across the room the rest of their kind slithered and crawled amongst each other, soaking up the sun’s light through glass, climbing the manufactured landscape of their pit. In the box there was none of this; only the darkness and the other. For a time they would sit in opposite corners, waiting for the seconds when the lid would be lifted and the day’s meal dropped in by gloved hands. And each time she’d catch a glimpse of the other across their prison, its red eyes gleaming back at her, the occasional hiss.”


    Here there was a brief suggestion of activity, the sound of a sigh breaking the rhythm of the woman’s soft breathing and comfortable, rolling accent. The souls of feet rearranged themselves onto a concrete floor, and the mattress of a makeshift bed squeaked underneath the woman’s shifting weight. Footsteps padded into the silence, along with the thin hiss of a metal ring being scratched against a hard wall.

    “Until one day, of course, the snake killed the other in silence whilst it slept, and then crept back to its own corner to wait. When the lid was lifted for the food that day, she lashed at the hand, small, delicate teeth slicing through latex and then flesh. The last thing she saw of the box were lifeless red eyes peering back at her, and the reflection of her green ones inside of them, all illuminated by a prism of light allowed in by the hastily dropped lid. And then, I was out of the box, crawling back towards the pit.”

    The lights were turned on, and Michelle von Horrowitz stood next to the switch, dressed in black biker shorts and a baggy, shapeless t-shirt. Her hair was riddled with the negligence of sleep, its green ends shrouded in a mass of untamed blonde curls that fell to her shoulders. The room wasn’t much. The walls were mostly uncovered but for a few scraps of wallpaper that had been reluctant to her efforts at peeling, and the concrete floor had a frameless mattress as its only company.

    “Tomorrow’s match is full of adorable little elements, tulips. Not least of all is the booking. Anna Malikova, some green Soviet girl, is hired at around the same time as three male competitors and myself. Of course, we are fastened away in a singles match, a women’s match, whilst the big, butch men duke it out in a triple threat. The disconcerting nature of this match-up doesn’t stop there, little ones. Things only get more mind-boggling when you consider my opponent. Last week, Annie wanted to show that us women folk can hang with the boys, and in the next breath was calling for the return of the Women’s title. This is either hypocrisy or ineptitude. Either is contemptible.

    “Annie wants to emulate her inspirations, her idols, like Alexis and Ashley Adams. Annie wants to take the company by the throat. Annie yearns for a day when the ominous they come to understand that women play as much of a role as the guys do here. And then, when we’re done recovering from the flagrant hurling of clichés, Annie begs the big boys to give us back our Women’s Title, so we can be content in The Box and play on our own.”


    Von Horrowitz let out something between a sigh and a giggle and shook her head, almost in disbelief. She turned away from the entrance of the small room and back towards the bed. Again, she scraped the silver ring on her right index against the wall as she went, the steel whining in friction against the concrete. She took a seat, reaching for her shorts, kneepads, and boots. Setting to work in putting them on, the day seemed to loom ominously ahead of her; the morning in the gym and then ten hours on the bus to Memphis. It was doable, and she could sleep on the Greyhound. Soon enough she’d be taking her life into her hands on planes again, so she had decided to make the most of keeping two feet on the ground.

    “So, Annie, I’m afraid you’ll have to take the fight to the powers that be over restoring some kind of Women’s Gold Award all by your lonesome. And then you can fight jobbers flown in from wherever you can find them every week. I want no part of it. I don’t want to turn back the clock on women’s wrestling, and I hope that you’ll put your own misplaced desires over such gold to one side. You’ll have more fun if you follow me into the boys’ pit. All you have to do is put your fear to one side. There’s nothing to it.

    “But for now, I’m afraid I have a debut to make. And one only gets a singular chance at a first impression, tulips. I would love to carry you into the men’s division on my shoulders, Annie, but it’s been decided that I must instead drag you into it kicking and screaming. Tonight, I’m afraid, will not be pretty for you, but you should find comfort in the notion that you are playing a small part in something larger. Instead of martyring yourself for some segregated championship, you’ll be propelling me head first into my run. Again sticking primarily in your mother tongue of Soviet-draped Cliché, you say you’re here to walk the walk, not talk the talk. I’m afraid that, at least this week, you will end up doing neither.”

    Volume 3: "The Bird Eats Itself" (11/05/2015).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Johnny Adams (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:





    The smell of communal books was as distinctive in the New Orleans public library as it was anywhere else. The space was large, partitioned by low shelves filled with tomes of varying age, tone, and quality, and Michelle found herself sat in the quietest corner of the square room. Across from her, an elderly homeless man slowly nodded off to sleep with a half-eaten pastrami sandwich sitting unattractively in front of him. A young man paced an aisle, picking up the odd book, flicking through it, and putting it back invariably in a different spot. She could hear the faint din of student chatter away across the room and the buzz of the lights overhead. The library was the only public space that didn’t make her want to kill people.

    Her face was framed by a set of borrowed, plastic headphones, the computer in front of her playing the same clip she’d been watching for half an hour. The building would be closed soon, her homeless friend turfed out to find a soft patch of concrete, and this would have to be her last watch. On the screen, Johnny Adams stood morbidly, staring at an old tombstone with a complex combination of emotions on his unremarkable face.

    “I have to do this for you,” he was saying. She sighed and sat back in her chair. Why would you film this?

    Across the room, the frumpish librarian was circulating, informing the patrons that the doors would be locking shortly. She had been here for hours, and the chair had moulded beneath her to match the shape of her thighs. Her eye lids were heavy and her limbs ached with every slight movement. She hadn’t slept in almost ten hours and the effects were making themselves a nuisance.

    “… I’ll make everyone proud of me, I’ll make mum and dad proud of me. And I’ll make damn sure I make you proud of me! …”

    Pathetic.

    She had watched his match from the previous week twice earlier in the afternoon. He’d done well for a green child who, in truth, was little more than a fan. His top rope C4 was almost beautiful, but you could see it coming from a handful of kilometres away, and his two opponents – who were greener still than Adams himself – had exposed some of his weak points.

    But the match was not really what interested her. The action was stuttering, the competitors doing their best to find their feet, and as a result it was a bit of a mess. This promo, on the other hand, was telling. The desperation on the boy’s face was clear, giving way at times to what she thought was guilt or maybe even shame. The latter was close to the shame she owned herself, but his guilt came from a different place. It wasn’t the direct guilt that came from culpability, she thought, but rather the misplaced feelings of ’I should’ve been there’ that could drive a weak man insane. And this Addams boy looked weak.

    A hand was placed on her shoulder, and when she looked up it was the frumpish librarian, thin-rimmed spectacles balanced precariously on the end of her nose. She looked familiar. Michelle nodded without saying a word and began to stagger towards the bus station, past the city’s drunks and homeless (or both) who were fighting for benches in Duncan Plaza and towards the bug-ridden hotel bed that waited for her in Knoxville.

    ***

    On the bus, she slept and she dreamt.

    She dreamt of many things, but there were two images that stuck with her as she traversed the boundary into the land of the awake. They were images that she’d seen before, hundreds of times, and she sensed that her unconscious form had wriggled and writhed in the regrettably leather seating of the Greyhound. She didn’t feel for her neighbours. These dreams were always uncomfortable, and so was her chair, so why should her fellow passengers expect better than her?

    At first, she dreamt of an elderly woman, pottering around her kitchen. She was dropping knives and forks, smashing plates and glasses with her careless hands. At one point, a pan was knocked from the side and free-fell to the tiles below. It didn’t bounce. When the old woman stood on it, the metal folded and crumbled beneath her feet like it was paper.

    She watched from the doorframe, flitting between the state of a child and that of a woman, both being her own at a different stage of life. Her hands felt the familiar wood of the doorframe, the paint chipping, the occasional splinter poking against the delicate skin on her pale, white finger. The room itself was a disaster zone; the aforementioned crockery strewn around the space, uneaten and possibly inedible food garrisoned on the kitchen table, mould and damp climbing the walls around the ugly, European curtains. Outside it was snowing. It was Rotterdam in winter

    “What are you staring at?” the woman said, her harsh shrill voice escaping without any movement of lips.

    You, she wanted to say. You, you stupid old woman. But she didn’t say anything. She hadn’t back then and she couldn’t now.

    The old woman was turning, staring at her with a foolish, painted face. Their tiny, third-floor flat had fallen into this oaf’s control four weeks ago, and she wasn’t coping with the pressures of home ownership. She was the sort of working class woman who felts, who knew, that she’d one day break the glass ceiling and make her way into society’s upper echelons. She’d spent her life preparing for it, speaking English or French or German (much more fancy) rather than her native Dutch, insisting they pray before eating, in possession of knowledge surrounding social etiquette even if the actual performance of such norms was beyond her classless form.

    Her name was Aunt Maude and she was terrible. She was Mother’s sister and had agreed to look after Michelle whilst the matriarch took her younger daughter to Berlin for the month. Auditions at the conservatoire, whatever that was. Little Bella had packed her cello and a month’s worth of clothes and off they’d driven, without a thought or a care for the poor soul they had left with this half-mad, half-cruel woman.

    Maude had finished her one hundred and eighty degree spin, which seemed to take minutes. And then she lumbered forward, walking straight through Michelle as she always did, into the front room to watch her dramas.

    Much later in the journey, she dreamt of the nest again. The white, speckled bird was sitting atop her eggs, eyes pointed at the sun. There were no clouds in the sky. There were no cars on the road. Only the bird.

    The scene was motionless for a while until the bird’s neck began to crane around, its long, slender neck forming almost a perfect circle. Its beak scratched at its chest, and when its neck was re-extended a thin stream of blood began to run from the gash. Again, the beak reached down, this time to its stomach, beginning to nip away at a little flesh. This continued, the bird insatiable in its hunger, until the beast’s frame looked like a violent and vivid Jackson Pollock painting. Some of the cuts were deeper than others, but all of them brought a thin drip of blood, splattering down onto the eggs or the branches or the grass below.

    Eventually, long after the bird’s lifeless form had succumb to loss of blood and gravity, landing with a thump on the ground below, the eggs began to hatch.

    ***

    She was sitting in the corner of the ring, the empty seats of the empty stadium lining the scene around her. Both of her hands clutched the middle rope and, as the scene opened, she pulled herself up onto her feet. She was dressed in full ring-gear; black biker shorts with a green stipe on one thigh, black knee-length boots, a green, loose-fitting t-shirt, knee and elbow pads. Her match wasn’t for hours but she was ready, had been ready for days.

    “Good morning, tulips,” she began, arms reaching out onto the ring ropes, back leant against the upper turnbuckle.“I am going to assume you watched this little Adrenaline Rush program last week. I am not one for boasting, so there is no real need for me to commemorate my crushing win, the first of many in a long, storied CWA run. I assume you all saw the manner in which little Annie was vanquished. I assume you all saw the beauty and majesty of my four hundred and fifty degree splash. I assume you all saw whose hand was raised when the final bell was rung. These points need no analysis. They are only facts.”

    She stepped forward into the middle of the ring, the souls of her boots lightly padding against the mat. The springs of the ring gave slightly with each step, the structure almost squeaking as she moved to centrality. The camera was stationary, the entire ring framed in its picture. When the journey was complete, she placed her hands behind her back and stared into the lens.

    “You are only interested in what I will do this week. And you should be. A hundred competitors have come through these curtains, walked down that ramp, and climbed into this ring to opening day victory. It is easy to start well. But they all begin to stammer when they’re expected to perform on a weekly basis. No staying power. These people are worthless, to be considered only for your contempt. Talent will only take you so far, tulips, before training and conditioning will have to pick up the slack.

    “Which brings me, rather neatly, to Johnny boy. Mr Adams fought last week also, in a match that I have commented on before. Whilst Annie and I were locked in the box, consigned to a Women’s ‘proving grounds’ match, he and two other green boys fought in a Triple Threat directly afterwards. Many of you will think the manner of his victory impressive, most notably his finishing move. But this was little more than dancing. An elaborate choreography that takes longer to set up than to complete. Johnny boy has sacrificed impact for showmanship – substance for style.”


    The woman walked forward, placing her forearms on the top ropes and continuing to stare at the camera, the hypnotism only broken fleetingly for the occasional blink.

    “I would like to tell you all a story that came to me in dreams. I want to take you away to the sea. Not the sheer, blue oceans you have here, but the smaller, livelier seas that lap up onto our European beaches in autumn. The foam formed with each wave before being destroyed by the jagged rocks they were thrown into, and two forms rummaged in the sands of the beach. They were at opposing ends of the space, either unknowing or indifferent to the other’s presence. The closer whistled an upbeat working tune as he went, whilst from afar the hushed tones of a hummed funeral dirge permeated the occasional note. When it did the two songs clashed and clanged and then died.

    “On the beach, behind the figures, flowers began to grow. Behind the closer figure the suggestion of roses, thorns on the stems beneath stunted, red petals. The further shadow had produced tulips of all colours, yellow and purple and red. The green stems were strong, the leaves large and resistant to the wind. As the shadow stood, it observed the sprouting of the latest bud, before returning to the sand to sow more seeds. But the roses were not taking, and they limped towards adolescence before beginning to wither.

    “The closer figure would pace from side to side, stroke a dying flower, pull out strands of his thick hair in frustration. Occasionally, he would stare across the beach, at the tall, strong flowers that his counterpart had brought forward, the line of trunk-like stems getting closer and closer. Ever more frantic, ever more a failure, he forges a small chasm in the sand with his hands and pours the contents of his seed bag into it, screaming at the skies a prayer that reads more as a thinly-veiled threat. But nothing happens. The seeds are content in the ground and their brothers flop forward to die pathetically.

    “Eventually, the tulips have grown higher than their planter, a horticultural success with no equal, and more of them appear organically, immaculately. They swallow the far shadow whole and eat up the beach, the malformed roses disappearing entirely in the tangled mass of colours. The sea comes in around them, watering the roots, the flowers climbing out of them like proud, leaping fish yearning for a taste of sun.”


    A pause. A smirk.

    “If you will suffer it, I will have to make one more assumption. I believe I do not have to explain these images, even to you, Johnny Boy. The symbolism of my dreams are obvious, but they never lie. The ring, Mr Adams, is no place for fans. It was made by greater men than you, and needs the tending of greater ones to remain strong. Your sweat and blood cannot nourish it. Your hopes and dreams cannot sustain it. This little venture, which you have lived out a million times on tacky British furniture, can only end one way. Desire can only bring you to the dance, and your talent is not equal to its rhythm.

    “Way up high, beyond even the rafters, your brother has the best view in the house. When we are done, Johnny boy, he will shake his head in shame, and turn away in disbelief.”

    Volume 4: "Burns Right Through" (11/25/2015).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Wolf (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:





    When the drink had arrived, transported from bar to table by a young, well-groomed man wearing a white shirt and one of those ridiculous slender ties, she noted that the ice had been formed into perfect cubes that bobbed like buoys on the amber surface. Over time, the heat of the room and the warmth of the alcohol – a warmth that roared into her chest in song with each sip – had begun to erode the blocks. First the vertices lost their sharpness, and then the edges were gradually contoured. Bit by bit, molecule by molecule, the ice melted away and diluted the rest of the drink. The process was slow and Michelle looked on impatiently as the volume in the room leapt and then lulled and then leapt again around her. Gradual but incontrovertible. Each sip less strong than the last.

    Michelle had taken up residence in a booth set away in the corner of the room. Behind her and in front, wooden boards separated her own silence from the excited chatter of her fellow punters. Each dialogue would take its turn to rise into prominence, a few snippets straying into the loner’s ears before fading again, another unrelated exchange taking its place.

    Behind her, a young couple were eating noisily, their steel blades slicing through the meat and scraping at the plate below. After a couple of minutes of silence, the man would ask a banal question about the woman’s day, and she’d return a one word answer before returning to her food. In front, two fathers were doing their best to control four rowdy children, all of whom were intent on competing for the prize of most obnoxious sprog. A waitress brought a glass of wine to an old man by the window. Three men in football jerseys raised a toast at the bar. Others pushed beer mats around their tables or sipped lethargically at overpriced drinks or let their food go cold in front of them.

    Michelle was reasonably fond of bars and extremely fond of drinks. Her natural impediments – primarily a distinct lack of interest in human interaction – meant that she would never get quite the experience from these places that they intended. But this is where they kept all the alcohol, so Michelle was reasonably fond of bars.

    “But you have to go into work tomorrow?” the young man was asking behind her.

    “Yes,” his partner replied, bluntly. These people were everywhere. She imagined that their conversations had been more elaborate – or at least more interesting – at an earlier stage in the relationship, but relationships have a short half-life and this was the husk that was left. The bird eats itself and the eggs begin to hatch.

    She sipped at her drink, allowing it to work its oesophageal magic, closing her eyes to maximize the sensitivity of her taste buds. It was good whiskey, especially for Michigan. She had been to the state once before, and although Grand Rapids was less dilapidated than Detroit (what wasn’t?) she still felt uneasy here. She yearned for the comfort of the South, an ease bred from familiarity and anonymity. The North was different somehow. Harsher. Less forgiving.

    “Chantelle-Marie, would you please just stop eating the salt?” one of the parents was saying, ever-frantic.

    “It’s no use. That one’s just wild,” his husband replied. “Maybe if she keeps eating the salt her heart will explode and she’ll finally sit still.”
    When her glass was empty (but for the now crumbled remnants of ice) she caught the eye of her waiter with the ludicrous tie, and soon enough the reinforcements arrived.

    “How’s the whiskey?” he asked.

    “It burns right through,” she replied.

    As she poured a mouthful of the amber down her throat she let the tip of her tongue rest upon a cube, its cold, smooth texture contrasting and complementing the music of the whiskey. Outside the moon was ascending and occasional groups lumbered unsmiling in front of the windows, pulling their jackets tightly around themselves to shield from the cold. She wondered if they knew the drabness of their own city, the source of their discontent. Occasionally someone would laugh or shout out in excitement and the effect was jarring, even startling.

    “Are you who I think you are?” a meek voice said. Michelle dragged her eyes from the window and placed her glass down on the table. In front of her stood a young woman – perhaps twenty – clutching the straps of her rucksack. She stood close to the ground and was dangerously slender. Her hair had been cut short and slicked back, a quiff giving her two much-needed additional inches, and a pair of circular glasses were fixed on her face.

    “Who do you think I am?” Michelle replied.

    “You’re Michelle,” the girl replied, almost giddy with excitement. She wore a pair of black jeans and a white Jonathan McGinnis t-shirt. The t-shirt looked homemade. “Michelle von Horrowitz!”

    “Indeed,” she said. Michelle opened her mouth to continue but didn’t know where the natural extension of this was, so she stopped short and closed her mouth.

    “Oh my goodness,” the girl said. Staring around at the others in the bar. She greeted the room’s apathy with incredulity. Why weren’t they fawning, too? “I’m such a massive fan. Of the CWA and of you especially, of course. Please, please –“ as she pleaded she whipped her bag around her torso and began to root through its main compartment. “Would you sign this for me? I already have Jonathan McGinnis… Snowmantashi… Craig Owens… a few others. I would love to add yours to my collection.”

    The girl handed over a notepad. The cover had an image of a yellow crocodile on a blue background. Inside were frantic notes on every imaginable topic – recipes, diary entries, calculations, formulae. Michelle took the book from her and realised she didn’t have a pen. Or a signature.

    “So, do you think they are going to bring the Women’s title back?” the girl asked, desperate for the conversation to be prolonged.

    “I hope not,” Michelle answered. She was trying not to sound blunt but she was out of practice. “I don’t have a pen.”

    “But you’re going to enter the Wrestle Royal, right?” the girl continued, returning into her bag for something to write with. Michelle just shrugged. She didn’t know anything about the Wrestle Royal, other than that it was happening soon and would involve thirty competitors. She didn’t know the process. She didn’t know the prize. She didn’t need to know. Either in the fast lane or the slow, her destination remained the same.

    “You were so good against Johnny Adams last week,” the girl continued, picking up the conversational slack. A perma-smile was plastered on her youthful, pale face. “I was really worried about you, going against a man and all. Who do you have this week?”

    “Wolf,” Michelle responded blankly, taking a pen out of the girl’s hands and beginning to scratch ‘MVH’ onto an empty page of the notepad. When she looked up to return the book, the girl’s face had changed.

    All remaining colour had been drained, the size of her eyes and the shape of her mouth depicting the sort of desperation and misery usually reserved for recently-neutered dogs.

    Wolf?! she replied. She hadn’t taken her book back and Michelle was left holding it out rather pathetically. “But he’s… he’s an animal! What are you going to do?”

    “I’m going to wrestle him,” Michelle replied.

    “But surely you need some strategy?”

    “That is my strategy,” Michelle replied, with some sense of premature triumph. “I’m going to wrestle him.”

    ***


    Michelle von Horrowitz sat in the corner of the ring, the empty stadium rising up around her and the expectant mat below her. Her head rested against the second turnbuckle, her legs stretched out in front of her, one calf propped up atop a shin. She had her arms wrapped around the bottom rope, the coarse material scratching softly against her palms. She had donned her ring gear; baggy green t-shirt, black biker shorts, knee and elbow pads, long, unlaced boots. All that she needed now was an opponent. And an audience.

    “The scene opens and all at once it’s majestic. Vast. Impenetrable. Away in the distance stars dance heel and toe. In the forefront, taking up perhaps a third of the image, a barren, dying planet looms ominously. Its rotation reveals a patchwork of brown rock and fire, burning vividly and violent against the sheer black of space. This is the scene that waited in my dreams. This is the scene I wish to tell you about now, tulips.”

    The camera had begun to move towards the woman, steadily and slowly. As she concluded her opening gambit, the camera had traversed perhaps half a metre, the speaker still positioned across the ring. She continued, staring straight ahead, straight past the camera.

    “Tomorrow I face a FWA Hall of Famer. Tomorrow I face Mr ’Gold and Glory’. Tomorrow I face the Beast, Wolf. Over two metres tall, almost a hundred and thirty kilograms. Calves the size of tree trunks, arms the size of my body. He cuts an impressive figure, without a doubt, and his history in the ring is both well-documented and highly regarded. A hardcore legend, if you’ll excuse the overused terminology, and a brawler. A loner, fixed in place. Solitary and impenetrable.

    “It must have been hard for the Big Bad Wolf to finally jump ship, tulips. A hero in his own habitat, he’s stumbled his way through the opening weeks of his CWA career. A few wins, a few losses. The very definition of mediocrity. Consistency is king in this business and the Wolf-man has been consistently inconsistent. One big win at the pay-per-view does not alter the fact that our legend has already been beaten twice. Shoulders down for a three count, twice. You shall have to tell me what that feels like some time, Mr Wolf.”


    We had traversed maybe a third of the ring, and it had become clear that the woman’s eyes were closed. Her head was tilted back slightly, allowing the harsh, bright lights of the arena to shine down upon her pale skin.

    “The planet continues to spin against its black canvas as, from beneath my visage, a small meteor appears, tumbling and turning on its direct path towards the surface. Its speed is such that it scratches the sky. I watch it as it gathers speed, hurtling through the darkness in silence. As it hits the atmosphere it somewhat crumbles, chunks of rock crumbling away and diverted this way and that. But for the most part it remains, faster and hotter than ever, scorching the sky red as it prepares to land.

    “And when it does it burns right through. It hits the surface and we see before we hear. Dirt and rock and whatever else are thrown up around the point of impact, and then we get the thud, the crash, and the roar of uplifted earth. The planet’s wildfires envelope the crater before tumbling into it, biting away at the body’s wounds. A few moments later, the meteor reappears out of the other side, hurtling onwards towards its next target. The tunnel left rumbles and moans with the pressure. When the holes at either side begin to expand, huge bodies of rock breaking off into the atmosphere surrounding it, it looks to be devouring itself, spawning ten thousand new meteors to spew at ten thousand far-flung planets.”


    The camera crawled over the CWA logo in the centre of the ring as the woman paused. She allowed her head to fall forward, away from the turnbuckle, but her eyes remained fixed firmly shut. She used her left hand to muss up her hair, which sat lop-sided towards her left.

    “You see, Mr Wolf may be the number one contender for the High Voltage Championship. He may have ripped through the competition in some other small pond away across the horizon. You may have won a six-person circus at last month’s pay-per-view. You may be big and you may be strong. But you are still a lumbering, feeble-minded, weak-willed individual who has been floundering for months in an angry, semi-coherent mediocrity. You’re too well regarded, your history too storied for you to open the show, but – and how can I say this tactfully – nobody cares enough about Wolf to put you in the main event. And so you just go on floating, because you can’t swim but you refuse to sink.

    “You see, my little tulips, the Big Bad has blown any momentum he may once have had with just a pair of lacklustre performances. He can win as many clusterfucks as he likes, he will still be the man who was pinned twice in consecutive weeks. To me, anyway. I have spoken to some who seem to hold the Wolf-man in reverence. He’s big, they say. He’s strong. But he is a man and he is fallible.

    “Some of you may wonder what authority I have to speak like this. Two wins, you might dare to say, and already I speak like a champion. And you would be right to say this, tulips. My crushing victories against little, darling Annie and sweet, green Johnny are only worthwhile as statements of intent. Tomorrow, with Wolf in my sights, these statements become actions, intentions become reality. And the night’s sky runs red as the Wolf howls at the moon in pain.”

    The camera slowed to a halt around a metre from Michelle’s face, and it was here that she finally decided to open her eyes. They glistened deviously beneath the unnatural blue arena lights as she teased a smile.
    Volume 5: "Interview" (12/05/2015).
    Michelle von Horrowitz wins the Wrestle Royale.
    Harrison Wake def.
    Michelle von Horrowitz, Elijah Edwards ** [Triple Threat Match, CWA High Voltage Championship] (CWA: Wrestle Royale).
    Spoiler:




    Everything about her surroundings had Michelle von Horrowitz experiencing pangs of discomfort. First, there was the lighting, unnaturally bright and producing enough heat to force the occasional bead of sweat through her pores. Secondly, there was the room itself, dressed up neatly like somebody was trying to rent it out, with no peeling wallpaper and even a window. The camera was different, too; more imposing, staring at her with its large, round eye in deep expectation. And finally there were all these people. Two men behind the camera - one staring at its small, square screen whilst the other held a comically large boom - and a woman sitting next to her, flipping idly through a pad of notes and avoiding eye contact in what seemed a deliberate fashion.

    “You ready?” the man behind the camera asked. The woman placed her notes out of the lens’ sight, fixed on a smile, and nodded in lieu of a starter’s pistol. “And… action!”

    “Good evening and welcome to CWA.com’s build-up coverage of one of the most anticipated events of the year, the Wrestle Royale. I’m Michelle Kelly, and I’m joined now by the undefeated Michelle von Horrowitz. Three matches, three wins, but zero interviews, until now. Michelle, it’s wonderful of you to join us.”

    There was an uncomfortable pause, during which von Horrowitz shuffled awkwardly in her chair. She looked at the camera, and then to her interviewer, and then back at the camera. She said nothing. The uneasy effect was only half-deliberate; the wrestler didn’t really know whether a response was expected.

    “Erm, so, it’s been a few weeks since your debut victory against Anna Malikova,” Kelly pushed on, keeping her gaze on her continually shuffling guest. “And since then you’ve amassed a small collection of scalps, first seeing off Johnny Adams and then FWA Hall of Famer Wolf. But no interviews. What has caused you to break your silence now?”

    “Well,” the wrestler started, still confused as to whether her attention should be directed towards the interviewer or the camera. She took the average and stared off idly towards the floor. “They told me I couldn’t keep talking into a camera every week, so here I am.”

    “I see,” the Interviewer replied, momentarily flustered. She stared once at the man behind the camera, who shrugged, and then at the gormless soul holding the boom. He didn’t offer a response. “In just two days you return to the ring in a Triple Threat match, the winner of which will go on to face the High Voltage Champion, whoever that may be after the pay-per-view. A Triple Threat match will place you out of your comfort zone. How have you been preparing for the new challenge?”

    “I’ve been in Triple Threat matches before,” Michelle said, a little bluntly. This isn’t going well, she thought to herself, but what were they expecting? She had told them this would happen, whether she desired the event to be awkward or not.

    She recognised the man behind the camera. He’d spoken to her after each of her victories, offering timid congratulations as she escaped from the arena and from the mindless troglodytes lining the bleachers. She’d seen him again shortly after arriving in Detroit, whilst she drank in the corner of a dive bar and stared at the passing traffic. The cars in Detroit were as tainted and worn down as the people. It was a disgusting city but not one without charm.

    “Michelle?” he’d said to her as she swirled the amber liquid around in her glass. “It’s me, Jasper. We work together.”

    The wrestler had nodded. She had thought she’d smiled, too, but looking back she couldn’t be sure either way. The cameraman was there with some more of her colleagues, he’d said. They’d got a list of bars from the concierge at their hotel, he’d said. She was welcome to join them, he’d said. When Michelle had politely declined he’d looked at her as if she’d just killed his dog with a shovel. People didn’t understand that loneliness wasn’t always to be avoided. To some it was meant to be embraced. Most are so desperate to fill their life with the inane chatter of others that they refuse to even consider those that shun it.

    It had always been like this, though. When the boys and girls in Holland had asked her whether she fancied the pubs or the coffee shops she’d chosen neither. She declined offers to walk along the canals with acquaintances even if she liked the idea, deciding instead to go alone. She’d refused to play with her sister’s new toys so often that their mother had eventually bought the younger girl her cello, ’something you can enjoy without relying on Michelle’s company’. And now Belle was playing with orchestras in Berlin and Paris and Madrid. Everything she had she owed to Michelle’s sullen insistence on loneliness.

    “Let’s try a different avenue,” Michelle Kelly continued, persistent as ever. “As well as your Triple Threat match, Detroit will be the setting of the Wrestle Royale contest, where thirty competitors will climb into the ring to vie for a world title shot. First, will we see Michelle von Horrowitz amongst the thirty? And if so, what’s your strategy? Most of the field will have the size and power advantage over you, two important attributes in an over-the-top match like this. And please, Michelle, more than a sentence in response. You owe the viewers that much.”

    The wrestler raised an eyebrow, looking sideways-on at her counterpart. She wasn’t sure whether she enjoyed her directness. It was bred from a mistrust of anyone who took their job as seriously as she did, especially when their job wasn’t as serious as hers to begin with.

    “The Wrestle Royale match will indeed be graced by my presence, tulip,” she began, looking properly at Kelly for the first time. She was beautiful in the most conventional of senses, refusing to stray even an inch from society’s picture of what a woman should be. “It would be ludicrous of me to pass up such an opportunity. I would be lying if I claimed that the World Heavyweight Championship wasn’t my ultimate goal. Anyone in the locker room who says otherwise is a charlatan. Size and power will only get you so far though, darling. Just look at the Big Bad Wolf, quivering in pain after a DDT and a 450 splash last week on Adrenaline Rush.

    “But that is different to a battle royal, you will say. Technical skill and speed can win out in a one-on-one wrestling match, but perhaps not in an over-the-top contest. But strength and mass are no guarantees of victory, either. In fact, the biggest man paints the biggest target on his chest, and my fellow minnows will be clamouring over each other to shoot down a prize buck. I maintain that the key in any type of match is intellect. And I think you’d agree, Michelle, intellect is a rare trait to find in our industry.

    “But as for strategy? The same as always, tulip. Take them as they come, one-by-one.”


    “Take them as they come?” Kelly replied, seemingly smelling blood and beginning to circle. “For someone who claims ownership of great intelligence that doesn’t seem the most well thought out strategy.”

    “You’re right, darling,” von Horrowitz answered, without shame. And then, with unintentional candour; “I’ve had a lot on my mind this week.”

    And that much was certainly true. In a good week, Michelle’s nights would stretch out until they met each other in middle of the day, and she’d amass close to a hundred and twenty hours of shut eye. This week she’d had maybe a tenth of that, and it was beginning to show. The cubes of ice in her glasses clinked ferociously with the shaking of her sleep deprived hands. The tar from many frantically smoked cigarettes clogged in her arteries. The weight of bastard consciousness hung heavily on her eyes.

    It was not for want of trying, either. It was down to the dreams. Not the good dreams that placed her in the souls of beings thousands of miles away or lost in leagues of harsh, drastic landscapes. These were the bad dreams. Dreams of her childhood, either direct or analogous, that had her waking suddenly at half-hour intervals. Many would call them nightmares, but she tried not to. All offerings of the night are gifts, no matter how painful, and she wasn’t usually one to flee from them so pathetically.

    It had primarily been the bird that eats itself, played over and over again on a sadistic loop. The branches of the tree bled with it, dripping down onto the vivid grass below and hanging there like violent dew drops. Without fail, the bird would eventually flop over, out of its nest and into a sorry heap on the floor beneath. And always, with a sense of great horror and something close to sorrow, the eggs would begin to hatch, and she’d wake before she could observe what had been left behind.

    Maude was prominent, also, as she always was. Her stupid, fat aunt stomping around in the kitchen with her stupid, fat face, crushing and crunching crockery beneath her stupid, fat feet. She’d watch her young self watching this woman, hating this woman, seething with a yet unnamed rage that she’d only come to understand in adulthood. Maude often visited her in the night, and it was usually in the same despondent guise, going about her messy business with complete disregard for any observers. But sometimes other events would creep amongst these dreams, usually at times when Michelle’s fears and anxieties were beginning to build. And that was the case this week, which was lamentable but, of course, explainable. It was perhaps the biggest week of her professional career.

    It had begun to affect her on the bus ride across from Grand Rapids, where she’d walked in the night through their deserted family home. She pushed open each door and observed the stillness within. Every sense was hyperactive. She could see the dust building upon the surfaces; smell the mildew building in the corners of windows; almost hear the day turn into night and then back into day. Every room but one. She’d been into the small box that Aunt Maude had made her home a few times since The Night It Happened, but soon enough it had lost its thrill. Now the bedroom seemed to contain only dread and doom. She would walk right up to it each time the night placed her in this scene, reaching out for the brass door handle which hummed and then screamed as it waited for her. And then she’d awoken, thrashing about in her chair and causing quite the scene. Her fellow travellers stared at her in something resembling indifference. It was the Greyhound, after all, and they were quite used to it.

    The next night, though, as the moon crept up above Detroit and cast its white, otherworldly light on a city in ruin, the dream she feared most had come back to her again. The door – Maude’s door – was pushed open by a hand that didn’t quite seem her own. It creaked on its hinges, dust popping upwards from the carpeting as new oxygen surged in to replace the stale air. Her Aunt lay in a mound on top of her bedding, face pale even for a von Horrowitz, eyes staring up at the light fixture fastened to the ceiling. Spittle bubbled in the corners of her mouths. She blinked, and her subconscious removed her two yards from her previous perch, Michelle now finding herself staring over the shoulder of herself at the very age that she was on The Night It Happened. And then again, so that she could observe her teenage self observing the child. And again and again, a human Russian Doll unravelling itself, compounding the fact that this event had played on her mind at each and every stage of her life.

    She’d awoken in a Detroit hostel with her forearm pressed against the throat of a poor, unsuspecting British boy who occupied the bed opposite. Fear flashed and somersaulted in his eyes, and it had taken her perhaps thirty seconds to gain control of herself and the situation, retreating first across the room and then out of it. Even the night wasn’t safe for her now. A place she’d seen as a refuge had taken the first opportunity to turf her out.

    Instead, she had sat on the bank of a large hill, staring at Ford Field. She’d run her hands over the long grass that the city couldn’t afford to mow and regard smashed windows that the city couldn’t afford to replace. The night was cold and she’d wrapped her coat around her, waiting for the morrow, when Michelle Kelly would sit beside her with her notepad and her boom. She smoked cigarette after cigarette, watching the thick plumes of smoke escape from her lungs and tumble upwards towards the stars. It would’ve almost been beautiful, if it wasn’t so fucking cold.

    “Um, Michelle?” Kelly was saying, pushing a finger into the wrestler’s shoulder to snap her out of a self-inflicted daze. “Are you still with us?”

    “It would appear so,” von Horrowitz answered, shuffling in her chair in a failed attempt regain something close to comfort. “I’m afraid I lost myself, tulip. Where were we?”

    “We were discussing strategy for the Wrestle Royale.”

    “Ah, yes!” the wrestler replied, almost in triumph. “The Wrestle Royale. No strategy necessary, really. We can all pick an attribute that we believe to be most important in over-the-top matches. Some will say the power to throw another out of the ring gives you the edge. Others, that the speed to evade a larger opponent will keep you alive. Some will pluck for brains, others for technique, and yet more will tell you that self-preservation is the key. Of course, all of these things are helpful in their own way, but it is equally true that one can possess each of them in bucket-loads and still be dumped out of the ring within a minute. Would you like to know the one, fool-proof strategy or the Wrestle Royale match?”

    A slight pause, for effect.

    “Luck, of course. If one is lucky, this match is his. Or, of course, hers. This is the biggest clusterfuck available in the CWA. We could re-run this match every night for a month and get a different winner each and every time. If the Lady smiles on me kindly, you can be sure that I’ll seize the opportunity with both hands, but it doesn’t really matter either way. All roads lead to Rome, as they say, and my destination is fixed on the gold trinket around Mr McGinnis’s waist. It could take a month or it could take a year; it makes no matter to me. The cream rises to the top, my darling tulips.”

    “Another match in which luck is sure to count towards the result,” Kelly continued, concerned that she’d exhausted the Royale and pressing on to a new thread. “Is your triple threat match, the winner of which will go on to challenge for the High Voltage Championship. One of your opponents, Elijah Edwards, debuted on the very same night as you, whilst Harrison has stalked these halls for weeks. Do you agree with some who are saying that Wake’s experience gives him something of an edge?”

    “Some? Who is this ominous some?” von Horrowitz replied, almost beginning to enjoy herself. “Experience, my darling Michelle, is yet another buzz word, spouted out by a unique combination of has-beens and wannabes drowning in the ineptitude of their own punditry. Wake has been in this specific organisation for a handful of weeks longer than me, it’s true, but I have waltzed in the rings of Europe and Japan and From Sea To Shining Sea. Whilst he was scraping up roadkill for his momma’s dinner I was lifting gold across the pacific. The only experience that this man holds over me is that of losing. The same goes for ‘Lijah, too. I know that they can be beaten, and they can only hope the same is true for me.”

    “Do you worry,” Kelly put in, chin placed delicately between a finger and thumb; her best affectation of thought. “That with this attitude towards your opponents, a Triple Threat could quickly mature into a handicap match?”

    Michelle indulged in a smirk. She was used to handicap matches. Her entire childhood had been one.

    “Worry is for people like Edwards and Wake,” she replied, turning her attention back toward the camera. “Tough Guy Harrison has shown his weaknesses to the world and to me. He was the first eliminated in the mess of a match that elevated the Big Bad Wolf into new realms of delusion. He looked on flaccidly whilst El Pecado drove a flag in the ground in Lexington. A six-man tag loss to the Vanity Brigade. Harrison has a long history of watching on whilst other people win matches, which is almost fortunate. Because as much as I dislike Harrison Wake as a monotonic vacuum of a primate – and I do so very much dislike him – it cannot compare to the feelings of blood-boiling rage that I feel every time Elijah Edwards steps through those ropes.

    “Elijah Edwards is a man blinded by hypocrisy, floundering in the torrid guidance dished out to him by his manipulative little pipsqueak of a manager. Rollings is a cretinous leech driven by money, and a man like that is to be neither trusted nor admired. Edwards’ association with this creature only highlights the magnitude of his double standards. He paints a mundane picture of himself as a respectful, honourable soul. A general solid guy. Yet he buys into the spin of a squalid little runt like Rollings, eyes wide and starry at the merest suggestion of accolades, wealth, and power. Edwards is full of the ugliest of lusts, and unintentional vanity is just as bad as deliberate.

    “Double E, as we are expected to call this odious little man, has been equally as uninspiring as Tough Guy Harrison in his short tenure here. A pair of wins, one in a thrown together six-man and the other thanks to a dubious finish. A loss to my old friend Johnny Adams, a green boy that I myself pushed aside as if he were a feather in the wind. ‘Lijah has plodded his way through the month, up and down but never too far either way. He speaks of prestige and titles but he dreams of the coin. I see it in his manager’s ugly black eyes.”


    Von Horrowitz paused momentarily, and the camera crept inwards along with the interviewer. Michelle Kelly had fallen silent, sensing the natural build to the climax.

    “But Tough Guy Harrison and Double E are two more names that could be replaced by any others, eventually just statistics lining the foundations of my reputation. In a year’s time, your two names will be appendices to my ascendency, alongside the twenty seven others I outlast in the Wrestle Royale match. But that is for the future, and I do like to keep at least one foot in the present, tulips. And so, I will endeavour to enjoy the inevitable warm-up victory, boys, and I don’t doubt for a minute I will enjoy pinning the one so unfortunately known as Double E. And it will be you, ‘Lijah, don’t doubt it. So when you’re staring at the lights on the arena ceiling, counting along one-two-three with the referee, I want you to put your ambitions of championship gold to one side. The shadow I’m casting needs occupying for the time-being.”
    Volume 6: "Saviour" (12/21/2015).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Jonathan McGinnis (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:




    As she gripped the arms of the seats tightly, feeling the edges of her fingernails permeate the fabric, she wondered to herself; why is this a thing? As the stale, unventilated air filled her nostrils, occupying her lungs with a stubborn insistence, she asked herself; why is this a thing? The baby three rows in front of her gave the first signs of its intentions, and they were loud. The digitalised sounds of a mobile gaming device clicking into life resonated from a row back. No, three mobile gaming devices. The feet of the little boy directly behind her began to prod into her spine, as if trying to count individual vertebrae. And, as the flight attendants came forth into the aisles to perform their piece, and the ‘fasten seat-belts’ light flicked into action with a familiar sound, and the pilot’s voice announced its presence with a southern drawl and a prognosis of it’s gonna be a windy one, she openly murmured the words; why is this a thing?

    Of course, it shouldn’t be thing. It’s a metal box, suspended high in the air by a force all-to-easily explained away in the name of science, whizzing around the globe from an exact, pinpoint location towards an exact, pinpoint location. There was no reason for it to work, but she was willing to accept that it did at face value. But beyond that, she didn’t understand why something so majestic and so precise was carried out in a way as if to make it seem both mundane and suffocating. Knees pinned mercilessly beneath her chin, sucking at someone else’s air, eyes fixed on the grey, endless runway through the miniscule, plastic window, Michelle von Horrowitz was filled with nothing but dread for the two hour flight that lay ahead of her.

    It was nobody’s fault but her own. By the time she’d left the arena on the night of the Royale, she’d not slept for almost four days, and even that had been a few hours of forced and stuttering unrest. As her arm had been raised in victory and she surveyed the somewhat disappointed, partially confused faces of her adoring public, she had decided upon one thing; drink until you sleep. It had taken almost twenty hours, but she’d managed it. After checking into a cheap hotel in the city centre, she’d occupied a series of bars within a hundred metre radius. And then she’d slept, for almost ten hours before the night terrors came again. But that almost ten hours had been bliss, and so she’d spent breakfast picking the prior day’s best bar before heading towards it. Five days of this can wear on a person.

    In the end, she’d left it too late to travel from Detroit to Albany by bus and still manage to study McGinnis’ tape, cut a promo, and squeeze a few hours in at the gym. A flight it had to be, and all the joys that came with that; the arduous journey to the ‘just outside the city’ spot that airports invariably occupy, the interactions with the port’s employees who were so far gone in their contempt for the repetition of their jobs that they utterly resented the fact that you needed to travel somewhere, and then the journey itself. The journey itself was the worst bit, and that was still to come.

    The pilot had made his announcements and the supposedly reassuring safety precautions relayed, clearing the way for the engine to begin its roar. Before long, the plane was sliding forward down the runway, a constant and sluggish pace adhered to whilst the final checks were made. The tarmac through the window was only creeping away beneath them, but Michelle found it dizzying. She closed her eyes and placed her head against the cushion, just in time for the vehicle to begin accelerating. Her breathing sounded uneven, unnaturally loud, and she became hyper-aware of the force with which she was locking her eyes shut. The engine roared louder still, the whole vestibule shaking under the pressure of its motion. And then the floor disappeared from beneath her, and her stomach endeavoured all of a sudden to migrate upwards.

    She opened her eyes to see the city beneath her, shrinking into obscurity as they climbed towards the blue. The ascension was sheer and unnerving. She felt as if she were standing atop a ladder, her fingers a few inches from the clouds, reaching a little too fast and a little too early to feel the wisps against her skin. The earth began to stretch out before her and she felt, if only for a moment, that they were flying with enough speed such that she should see its curvature at any moment. And then they hit the clouds, and plunged onwards.

    “Are you okay, my dear?” he asked, he being the man sat two seats down. The place between them was empty, and he peered through a furrowed brow at his counterpart by the window. She shuffled uneasily and pulled her coat around her.

    “Fine, thanks,” she said, pushing the fringes of her hood over her eyes. She attempted to flatten her hands, giving the arms of her chair some much needed respite. “I’ll be alright; it’s only a short flight.”

    “You should have one of these,” he said, offering her a tube of what looked like mints, individually wrapped within a green cylinder. She looked at the man’s face; wearing its age plainly as age had worn him, pockmarked and freckled and ridged deeply with wrinkles. Some white hair stubbornly clung on around his ears and on his neck, and he was obviously quite proud of it. “I got them on prescription from England, for some acute angina problems I was having back then. Really quite the ticket, as they say in London. Or, at least, as they should say in London.”

    The man then smiled, revealing a mouthful of chipped, yellowing teeth.

    “Truth be told,” he said, checking around him for any snooping attendants. “I’m higher than the rest of you by a good few thousand feet.”

    Michelle couldn’t help but return the grin. She took one of granddad’s sweeties and carefully unwrapped it, popping the capsule into her mouth and forcing a swallow.

    “There really isn’t anything to worry about,” he said, sitting back in his chair and staring forward at the upcoming in-flight entertainment. “I’m sure you’ll agree, in roughly five to eight minutes.”

    In roughly five to eight minutes, she agreed. The opening scenes of ‘Paul Blart 3: Blart Harder’ were playing on the shared screen that hung a few rows forward, flight attendants walked in slow motion down the aisles of the plane, other travellers seemed to be having silent conversations that she couldn’t decipher. Michelle caught her reflection in the small square of plastic that substituted as a window. She was smiling, apparently.

    “You should try and get some sleep,” the man was saying without looking over (or moving his lips). “You’ll wake up in Albany, most probably.”

    “Can’t sleep,” von Horrowitz replied, waving him away haphazardly with the back of a hand. “Shouldn’t sleep.”

    “As you will,” he said. One of the attendants had stopped next to him and was busy pouring a small bottle of clear liquid into a plastic cup. Michelle thought she caught the old man staring into the young boy’s eyes, a playfulness evident within the rich, deep blues of his irises, transfixed by either his youth or his beauty. The boy moved on to the next row, disappearing as quickly as he’d arrived. “But, if you don’t mind me saying, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in quite so much need of sleep as you right now.”

    A long period of silence seemed to follow, but the linearity of time is often broken by Kevin James movies. And then, Michelle said, rather suddenly; “Sometimes, when the plane is taking off, I worry that it’s try to climb too high too quickly and it’ll just snap in two.”

    “You worry too much,” the old man said. “And it would most likely be far more than two pieces.”
    Michelle didn’t appreciate his sense of humour.

    “The bags under your eyes are heavier than my luggage,” he continued, regarding her as a doctor might a patient before diagnosis. “And you’re whiter than Trump. You really should try and get some sleep.”

    “It wouldn’t be peaceful,” Michelle said, staring down at the bleak clouds that masked their velocity.

    “Ah, a dreamer?” he replied. “I have another pill for that back at home.”

    Another elongated period of silence followed, which was eventually broken by the announcement of upcoming turbulence. As the vehicle punctured the air-pockets it skidded and bumped over nothing in particular, the whole metallic tube creaking and moaning under the strain. An unfamiliar feeling housed itself in the pit of Michelle’s stomach. She felt - cocooned as they were in their own little corner of sky, higher than any point on earth but far below the stars - as if she was slightly abstracted from it all. The planet below seemed like someone else’s problem. The temporary haven-in-the-clouds was a world of its own. Its population was listed on the flight manifest. Its leaders wore blue dresses or ties and greeted their subjects with safety precautions.

    It was this alien feeling, this sudden bout of otherness, that placated Michelle to the point where talking didn’t seem quite as arduous and unnecessary as in everyday life. With a sigh at her own insistent conventionalism, she began.

    “It’s the same scenes each time. Snippets from my childhood, memories of family members, that sort of thing. But then there’s one little montage that crops up more often than all the others. Sometimes three or four times in a night. There’s a large tree with thick, gnarled branches and no leaves, and beneath it a sea of grass that extends all the way to the horizon. And on the tree there’s a nest, and a large white bird with brown speckles that stares at me for a long time. An unnaturally long time. When it next does anything it’s pecking at itself, scratching and gnawing at its own body, removing chunks of its flesh and feathers until the blood is dripping thick and fast. Eventually, of course, it dies, and falls out of the tree, leaving two large white eggs in its nest. The sky gets bluer and the grass gets greener and the blood gets redder, and then they start to hatch.”

    The two sat quietly for a while, the old man with his chin between index and thumb, staring listlessly at the ceiling of the vestibule.

    “Do you know what it means?” he asked. Michelle nodded. “Who’s the bird?”

    “The bird is lots of people,” she answered with a shrug. “The bird is me. This bird is my mother. The bird is my aunt.”

    The man nodded and turned away from her, staring back at the screen. He folded one leg beneath the other and exhaled heavily.

    “This movie is terrible.”

    ***


    Michelle von Horrowitz stood, back propped up against a plain, white wall, arms folded across the baggy, creased t-shirt that covered her torso. Her gaze seemed to be directed beyond the camera. The heel of her right boot tapped rhythmically against the wall behind her, a wall that had as its only feature a large flat-screen television showing footage from last week’s pay-per-view. We join the Royale as it’s gaining momentum, the clock counting down to the entrance of number thirteen.

    “We all wait, holding our breath, inching forward in our seats, for something to happen. Some people will wait for years, others for three short weeks.”

    The screen showing the match was muted, but Michelle herself appeared at the top of the ramp and began to walk down towards the carnage in the ring. She checked the tape on her wrists, staring intently at the sea of humanity before her. Little did they know. Little did she know.

    “I realise it’s been a while since I’ve treated you to one of my night-time narratives, my dear tulips, and so I wish to regale you with a tale that came to me for the first time yesterday evening before we talk about my riotous, thrill-a-minute victory. Our scene opens in a lounge. An entirely ordinary, suburban, Americana lounge; a little tarnished by age but well-managed and well-kept. Lying on the ordinary couch of this ordinary lounge is a young woman – perhaps thirty or forty years old – who would herself be considered quite ordinary, if it wasn’t for the fact that she was dead.

    “Beneath her, clamouring for attention that just isn’t going to come, is a gaggle of fur-balls who are themselves extraordinary in their diversity and their quantity. Thirty – no, thirty one, even – each of which are tackling each other, burying their head into another’s sternum and attempting to barrel roll them away from the prize. Slapping with weak paws and nipping with brittle, malformed teeth, they eventually converge into little more than a frantic mass, tumbling and pulsating and folding in on itself. Except for one; the smallest and the whitest, sat on its haunches a few metres from the melee, its tail raised high in the air behind it and gently swaying with a peculiar brand of excitement.”


    Here she paused, choreographed to coincide with a spike in the action. Michelle was hurled over the top rope by Eddie von Gunner, only to hold on for dear life as the countdown clock towards Gabrielle’s entrance begins. She sighs and continues.

    “Obviously, before long, the disaster-zone is cleared. All of the little runts have expended themselves, more through their own giddy excitement and rampant but unfulfilled blood lust than anything else. When the dust settles and the last combatant gives up the fight, our hero stands, elegantly padding her way through the carnage towards the trophy. Clambering up onto the couch, she bears her teeth and claws, scratching the first scrap of meat away from the young woman’s face.”

    On the screen, Jonathan McGinnis entered the arena, the tone in the ring shifting towards one of anticipation. The former heavyweight champion of the world; the saviour of the company.

    “Of course, the little beasts are myself and the other thirty, less successful Wrestle Royale combatants, that is plain enough. But I have had some trouble determining who lies in waiting on the couch, having sucked their last breath of air and shed their final tear. The natural assumption is Mr Snowmantashi, my opponent-in-waiting at Five-Star Attraction. But he is more alive now with the gold around his waist than he has been in years. Also, our deceased protagonist was once young, and beautiful, and not even vaguely Japanese. This does not fit. Perhaps, then, it would be Darling Jonathan; withered and stagnant as he is, ripped down from his perch by a man he thought was his friend. This could work. But, of course, nobody would put themselves through the bother of fighting for a shot at McGinnis anymore. He is a champion without a championship, and that is no champion at all.”

    A sideways glance at the screen as the pixelated version of herself dumps a distracted Gabrielle over the top rope and out of the match.

    “And then it dawned on me, a few hours after I’d awoken. The woman is not a person. The woman is this promotion. You see, before my debut, before I’d even been announced as an employee of CWA, I stood before you on tape at Global Collision and stated my intentions. This company has become rotten. It has devoured itself with half-baked gimmicks and cataclysmic booking decisions. I told you that the revolution was coming, and that the impure and the desperate and the just plain bad would be cast out. I told you that it was time for a real rain to come and wash all the scum from the streets. The boil must be lanced before the pain becomes too much.

    “The only place from which this eradication can be administered is, of course, the top. Which, coincidentally, is the place I have just earned a direct ticket to. You see, this is the difference between myself and Jon Snowmantashi, and the difference between myself and Jonathan McGinnis. The latter, our renowned, former World Heavyweight Champion, wanted his place on the top for very different reasons. He saw the frame of CWA – once beautiful and proud, so full of hope and promise for the future – and knew just as well as I know that its final breaths are on its lips. But, of course, Hero McGinnis wanted to save it; to save our company and to save us. He would show the world that a ridiculous gimmick and muscles the size of bowling balls weren’t necessary for success. And he did show that, which was nice. Until he lost.”


    Behind her, Jonathan McGinnis is eliminated – along with Johnny Vegas – by a face-painted figure skulking around amidst the chaos. Shocked faces are panned to in the audience as McGinnis fumes on the outside, staring up at Shade. And still, Michelle sits in a corner and waits, watching it all transpire before her.

    “Mr Snowmantashi seeks the top spot for different reasons. He has no interest in saving the company. He’s more interested in saving himself; saving a career plagued by mediocrity and disappointment. He wants the top spot for honour and for renown. These are all valid reasons to desire the belt, or at least they are more valid than McGinnis’ motives. But this is selfish. McGinnis climbed the mountain to save the company. Snowmantashi climbed the mountain to save himself. I have the precipice in my sights, and I do it to save all of you.

    “Yes, my tulips, I do this for you. I do this to spare you from the worst excesses of this company, from Snowmantashi’s self-indulgence and McGinnis’ self-importance. I do this to reward your patronage with an at least vaguely interesting champion. I do this to give hope to those in wrestling schools who aren’t eight foot tall, for those who don’t own a face painting manual, and for those who don’t look like a four hundred pound Japanese man-baby. I do this so this vile company has a chance of not offending our collective sense of truth when it calls itself a wrestling promotion.”


    … the Echo high five in glee as Shade plummets out of the ring …

    “But tonight isn’t about all of that. Tonight is about Jonathan McGinnis, and proof of credibility. Darling Jonathan likes to speak about his craft, about his many years scraping out a living in backwoods promotions. He talks about ‘leaving it all in the ring’. He talks about this a lot. He talks about this almost every week, in fact. But this is the very essence of his problem. Darling Jonathan, and many others like him, can’t grasp a simple fact of this industry. If you leave it all in the ring every single week, soon enough you don’t have anything left.”


    … Harrison Wake manoeuvres into position behind the Echo, ready to strike and bring about their elimination …

    “Jaded, cynical, going through the motions… Jonathan McGinnis is not the man that he once was. And the man that Darling Jonathan once was is not the woman that I am today. ‘A McGinnis on his game’, he enjoys saying, ‘is a McGinnis who can’t lose’. Of course, this pre-supposes that our Darling Jonathan very often falls well short of his best. And tonight, old man, it’s about time somebody told you that this isn’t your game.”

    The video footage ends with a drop kick.
    Volume 7: "Passion - Part One" (01/09/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz and Phillip A Jackson def. Bell Connelly and Jon Snowmantashi [Tag Team Match] (CWA-FWA Supercard).
    Spoiler:





    Kevin DuPont Building, New York City, NY, US

    30th December, 2015


    The two sets of eyes had only one thing in common, and that was that they seemed to be slowly burrowing into her skin. The larger, brown set, belonging to the huge faux-Soviet man with the greying-black beard, were dull and lifeless. The smaller, blue eyes, the possessions of the thin, short man with only thin tufts of white hair around his ears and above his top lip, danced with deviousness, almost in accusation. They had been sitting there for almost thirty minutes, whilst the thin man played with various dials and buttons on the panel in front of him and the big man leafed through notes written in a childish scrawl. Michelle hadn’t said anything important. Michelle didn’t have anything important to say.

    “You said a lot about Jon Snowmantashi last week,” Black Bear said, stroking his beard in an affectation of intellect. A career plagued by mediocrity and disappointment, for one thing. A four hundred pound Japanese man-baby, for another.”

    “Yes?”Michelle said, tapping idly on her knee with a pair of finger tips. She couldn’t find the question in the Bear’s statement.

    “Well,” Hank Microphone cut in, leaning forward in his chair and examining the small, fidgeting woman in front of him. She had dressed down in black skinny jeans and a loose green t-shirt, although Michelle didn’t really own the clothes necessary to ‘dress up’. “This is a man who has been all over the world, proving his name and proving his ability in a variety of different promotions on several continents. He’s the current CWA World Heavyweight Champion. These don’t seem like things that you could say about a mediocre, disappointing, Japanese man-baby.”

    “Well he is a four hundred pound Japanese man-baby, that much is plain to see,” Michelle responded, slowly and thoughtfully. “But the title histories of many companies are riddled with mediocrity, and you don’t need a Wrestling God Card to perform in Japan. I’ve been there myself, and to Europe, and Mexico. That doesn’t prove anything. Mediocrity, my dear Hank, does not necessarily mean that Snowmantashi is without talent. He would not be able to get a contract with this company if he didn’t possess some skill. But Snowmantashi is not a lion; he is a jackal. McGinnis too. The carcass of CWA has been left to rot for too long, decomposing in the open air, and it’s only logical that the vultures would circle eventually. McGinnis was first in, picking off whatever scraps he could. And now Snowmantashi has run him off.”

    “Well, you face the vulture twice in the next week,” Black Bear interjected, turning a page in his notepad. “Both in tag team matches. Let’s forget about McGinnis for the time-being –“

    “I wish we could,” Michelle put in.

    “Beforehand, you and the FWA’s Phillip A Jackson will take on Bell Connelly and the current CWA World Champion. Have you spoken to Jackson?” Bear.

    “No,” Michelle.

    “Well, why not?” Hank. It always seemed to be Microphone who framed the questions, whereas the Bear just seemed to stumble through meandering statements. It was his show, after all.

    “We have nothing in common,” she answered. “I’m not really sure what we’d say to each other.”

    “What do you mean, you have nothing in common?” Hank.

    “Well,” Michelle started, sighing heavily, more through boredom than anything else. “He has his way of climbing to the top, and I have mine. He’s surrounded himself with powerful men. Men who can carry him on their shoulders to whatever end they decide is the correct one for him. I am physically repulsed by this idea. He is a man of plenty, who enjoys the finer things in life. I’m not particularly sure that fine things exist. I guess, if I’m pushed to it, I would admit that I share Jackson’s ambition. But he has very different ways of going about his business, and he wants the prize for very different reasons. As far as tag partners go, though, there are worse. My team-mate for Adrenaline Rush, for instance…”

    “But getting back to the super-show,” Bear interjected, doing his utmost to drag her back on topic. “There’s another person involved, besides yourself and the two champions…”

    “Indeed,” Hank interrupted, shaping up for another question. Michelle began to predict just how inane this one would be. “Bell Connelly, another champion. She is the current holder of the FWA Women’s Championship, after successfully defending it at last week’s Trial By Fire pay-per-view. We’ve heard you speak about Snowmantashi rather extensively. He seems to be your specialist subject, in fact. But what about Connelly?”

    “What about her?” Michelle asked. She disliked open-ended questions even more than direct ones. “She’s one of the most insubstantial people I’ve ever come across in my life, if that’s what you mean.”

    Bear and Hank looked at each other, and the smaller man raised a bushy, white eyebrow.

    “What do you mean by that?” he asked.

    “Well, I’ve spoken a lot about the women’s division, and the lack of a need for one in modern professional wrestling. There is no such thing as the CWA Men’s Championship, nor in FWA as a matter of fact. But still the Fantasy Wrestling Alliance persists in boxing up their female talent – she almost spat out this last word in derision – “in a division all to themselves. I’ve always thought this was mostly through fear; a fear that one day soon the patriarchy of pro-wrestling will come tumbling down. But that day is never going to come when people like Bell Connelly are still sucking my oxygen. As long as she, and the rest of the FWA shills, buy into this bullshit partitioning, we’re never going to see women regularly main-eventing pay-per-views. The only reason I have such an opportunity is because I have earned it. But, I guess Bell has her reasons to hold onto this 1950s nostalgia circus. The gold comes with prize money, of course, and perhaps she’s saving up for a second brain cell. The one she has now must get so lonely, rattling around inside that massive head.

    “But Bell is only the beginning of the problem,”
    she continued, leaning back in her chair and placing a boot on the edge of a table inside the rented studio. Above her, the word ‘RECORDING’ was lit up next to a small, red circle. The show wasn’t live; it wouldn’t be aired until after the supercard. That fact made the whole event seem all-the-more pointless. “I don’t think people like Snowmantashi and Jackson have even stopped to consider that a woman might strip them of their titles, and thanks to Austerio we know exactly how much respect for women Jonathan McGinnis has. Johnny Vegas reduces his wife to little more than a valet, polishing his boots and leading his cheers. But I know what I am capable of – what we are capable of – even if the rest of them need their faces pushed up against the glass to really see. I see it now. That’s what sets me apart from the rest of these people.”

    A long silence followed, and Michelle felt she could almost hear Black Bear rolling his eyes.

    “Another thing that sets you apart,” he started, placing his notepad to one side for the time-being. “Is passion. Nobody can doubt McGinnis’ love for this industry and his desire to succeed. Snowmantashi and Vegas, too. I had a guy on my show the other week who spoke about his love of the competition, of the music he hears as the battle crashes around him. With you, all I get is a peculiar contempt for, well, everything and everyone. You’re clinical… abstracted… I don’t see the same passion as I do from those guys.”
    It was Michelle’s turn to raise an eye-brow. Such big words for such a stupid man. She wondered how long he had been practising that outburst for.

    “Passion?” she said, and then she drifted off, into the past, taking refuge within her head.

    ***

    Shibuya Junior High School, Tokyo, Japan
    4th March, 2009


    She remembered being surprised by the noise that such a small group of people could make. It wasn’t necessarily the volume, which was moderate but never overwhelming, but its sustained nature was alarming. They were the main event, owing to the night that they’d stolen the show down the road in Roppongi, and the eighty or so punters that sparsely lined the bleachers had been braying from the first minute. They’d been going for thirty already. She was nineteen years old.

    Iwao was coming at her again, lumbering across the ring with arms stretched out at his sides. It was an odd, unsettling stance, forcing you to confront the large man’s power head-on. He was twenty centimetres taller and forty kilograms heavier and he’d been letting her know about it. She was rocked by a blow to her right temple, followed by a forearm, and finally a knee into the midriff. She remembered vividly the fans counting in Japanese after he’d hoisted her up for a delayed vertical suplex, words she didn’t readily understand but could easily work out. For twenty six seconds, Iwao Karasu had let gravity slowly drain the blood through her body and into her head, before dropping her on it with a brainbuster.

    Karasu was her first great rival. They’d fought up and down the Japanese archipelago, twice more in Europe, and once in Pittsburgh. Eleven bouts in total, this being their third, and she was yet to score a victory over him. He was a relentless foe, always stumbling forward at you on the front foot, all grapple and cheap shots and power moves. They had always put on a great show together, and she was fond of remembering this particular occasion. She fancied it as their best.

    He continued to work her with blows, even whilst she lay helpless in a head scissors or a bear hug or an arm bar. Each submission hold, held until she could inch and claw her way to the bottom rope, was punctuated by a suplex – a t-bone or a fisherman’s or, at one point, a nasty full nelson throw that dropped her on the top of her head – and a cover. Each time she’d throw a shoulder up at two and he’d stay on her, locking in the next rest hold.

    Eventually she’d managed to reverse an attempt at a headlock into a standing arm bar, and although he was too big and powerful for her to hold it in she seized the shift in momentum. She remembered the next ten minutes better than the rest of the match. She must’ve kicked the big man close to forty times, peppering his legs and abdomen with her boots. After throwing him through the middle and top ropes into the steel post, she’d exposed the opposite middle turnbuckle whilst the referee checked on her opponent’s condition. A brutal drop toe hold had followed, drawing a thin line of blood from Iwao’s forehead.

    She’d managed to lift him up and over the top rope with a big back body drop, and followed it up with a suicide dive. When she’d risen to taunt the crowd, to offer them the spent body of their hero, she’d found herself unable to raise her right arm. It was the first of a trio of times that she’d break it, and if the adrenaline hadn’t been pumping through her veins she’d have fainted from the pain of it. It took all of her effort to pick the big man up and throw him back into the ring, the blood now flowing thick and fast from above his left eye. When she rolled in after him, her weight shifted over the broken bone, and she thought the darkness would take over.

    Iwao was on her in a flash, stomping away at her torso, throwing her throat onto the bottom rope and standing on her back. She could still see the faces of the crowd as she stared out, Karasu atop of her and the air being driven from her lungs. There were so few of them. There was a world championship match at the Korakuen Hall, so she imagined she should be grateful even this many had come. Obviously, all of this thinking was retrospective; at the time all that she could consider was the pain searing through her right arm.

    The next thing she knew, she was hoisted up into the air in a torture rack. Iwao folded her up with his trademark Burning Hammer, and she didn’t even remember being covered. She didn’t really remember kicking out, either, though she must have done, because the match continued, and her opponent began to hoist her up onto his shoulders again, looking for a second verse the same as the first. More though instinct than anything, she slipped through the big man’s grasp, and – as he turned – she nailed him with a Busaiku Knee Knick. Iwao lay spent on the mat as she climbed up to the top turnbuckle, leaping off with a 450 Splash.

    The referee must have then counted the three, but all that Michelle remembered was passing out on top of Karasu, clutching her arm in vain.

    Iwao had come to see her after the match, as a pair of doctors chatted away in Japanese. Michelle couldn’t understand a word of it.

    “They are saying it’s broken,” he’d told her. “In two places.”

    She’d stared down at her arm and nodded – it made sense. Her opponent had explained that he’d needed eight stitches in his head, and she’d almost felt compelled to apologise. With some effort, she managed to resist. He had a small scar above his eye. She’d be out of action for months. Swings and roundabouts.

    Generally speaking, though, Iwao was one of the good ones. She would hardly say that she had friends in the industry, but there was a handful of wrestlers that she’d enjoyed working with. You could form a bond with someone if you danced with them often enough – where the freedom existed to shout usually unspeakable things at a rival down a microphone before throwing him on his neck for forty five minutes in a wrestling ring. She built that bond with Karasu, eventually. This wouldn’t be the last time she put stitches in his head, or the last time he’d break her arm. And they would apologise, eventually.
    Volume 8: "Passion - Part Two" (01/11/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz and Johnny Vegas def. Jon Snowmantashi and Jonathan McGinnis [Tag Team Match] (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:





    Staatsoper Unter den Lendin, Berlin, Germany
    8th November, 2005


    It had been two years since Belle had moved to Germany’s capital, and this was the first time that Michelle had been allowed to travel with her mother on a visit. They’d spent the day drinking coffee in cold, dour cafes adjacent to tourist spots. The Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate. The evening had brought them out to the State Opera House, and mother had insisted that Michelle wear a new dress that she’d picked up from a boutique on Kurfu ̈rstendamm. It was green with a gold neckline, and it had that ’simple elegance’ about it her mother was always talking about. Michelle hadn’t put up too much protest through fear of being left in Marseilles next time Belle invited them out.

    Their seats were excellent, Michelle thought, although the quality of vantage points in opera houses was hardly something she could claim to be an expert about. The orchestra had taken the stage, her baby sister sat far out on the left lank with another pair of cellists. They began to play and the audience sat, a thick anticipation laying in the hall. Michelle surveyed the faces in the auditorium and placed their nationalities; the solemn, quick-to-age Germans, the angular, Gallic French, some pasty, unfashionable English. The music floated over them as they traced their eyes across the orchestra, inspecting each instrument and musician in turn. She thought it an odd event. It was striking in its passivity.

    The music was pleasant at first but, to Michelle’s uneducated ears, it seemed only to repeat and build rather than re-invent or start afresh. Two hours of it was about a hundred and eighteen minutes too many. She clapped when her mother clapped through politeness. When it was finished, she watched the older woman next to her beam with pride as her youngest daughter took her bow. It seemed to Michelle that the whole thing had been a success. She would later justify that it was only a student performance from the junior class at the conservatoire, so they were hardly going to heckle. But her mother was in an inexplicably good mood. Perhaps it was the wine.

    They’d gone to a reception afterwards, where she’d watched her mother and sister speak to the teachers about her progress. The matriarch was doing her best to sound professional, and Michelle shuffled uncomfortably, waiting for the event to see itself into the past. There was an obnoxious deference to it all, as if any modicum of excitement had been drawn away in the refining process. She squirmed each time one of the faculty members addressed her, either to enquire where she schooled (“Rotterdam.” – Michelle, “But she’s off to Marseilles soon enough.” – mother) or if she played music herself (“no.”), and would eventually retreat into a reasonably unoccupied corner of the hall, waiting for the ordeal to run its course.

    She was fifteen years old. It had been two years since the incident with Aunt Maude, a tragedy that she did her best not to think about. Their mother, though, had always associated it with Belle’s acceptance into Berlin’s College of Music, and having Michelle accompany her to the city brought awkward connotations. For twenty four months, the woman had point blank refused to take her elder daughter to Germany. Eventually, she’d relented, and Michelle had enjoyed some of today. The history of the city spoke for itself, and she enjoyed the bleak quality of its people. But tonight had been nothing but a stark reminder of the leagues between Michelle and her family.

    She drank her third glass of wine, the last that her mother had rationed for her young body, and stared up at the high, elaborate chandeliers. Beneath them, some of the students and teachers had fetched instruments – mostly brass and percussion – and were beginning to play some generic twenties American swing. Some of the others were beginning to dance. Michelle went outside, bumming a cigarette from a seedy looking French man, and sat on a bench across the street. She waited, patiently and dutifully, for her family to come outside.

    ***

    Kevin DuPont Building, New York City, NY, US
    30th December, 2015


    “Um, Michelle?”

    The voice was meek, unassuming, but enough to break the spell of her memories. She’d been swimming in her mind as of late, all-too-ready to dive out of the now and spend some time with Bell back in Berlin, or Iwao in Tokyo, or Franz in Marseilles. Now was no different, even if she was still sitting in Hank Microphone’s rented studio, talking with the host and his guest, Black Bear, about her upcoming tag matches.

    “How long was I away for?” Michelle asked, leaning back in her chair and lifting her heels onto the seat, clutching her knees beneath her chin.

    “Five minutes or so,” replied Hank. “It’s okay, we’re not live, but this studio is expensive. You ready to carry on?”

    She nodded, lethargically, bored.

    “So,” Black Bear began again, picking his notes up once more and finding his place. “Next week, you team up with Johnny Vegas to face off against Snowmantashi and McGinnis. Your opponents are long-time friends, occasional tag partners and frequent opponents. They will obviously know each other very well. They’ll be used to each other’s styles. But you and Vegas have never come across one another before. Do you think that leaves you at something of a disadvantage?”

    “Tag team matches are inherently unfair, I’ve always thought,” Michelle started, tapping a couple of fingers idly against the arm of her chair. “I like to rely on myself, and myself alone. If you bring in another variable like a tag partner, you find yourself thinking about them and whether they’re going to hold up their end of the bargain. I’ve managed to avoid tag matches so far in my short tenure here, and that’s probably the biggest contributing factor to the success I’ve had. It’s made all the worse by the fact that my opponent is a man like Vegas.”

    “What do you mean by that?” Microphone asked with a sideways glance to his co-host. “Vegas has had his share of victories in this company, too, not to mention a pin-fall victory over then-champion Jonathan McGinnis.”

    “Yes, yes, yes,” von Horrowitz replied, a derisive tone evident in her voice. The Man Who Beat The Darling, as he so often tell us. But he’s not the only one who’s done that, and any semblance of prestige has since disappeared from such statements. Snowmantashi crushed the champion at Wrestle Royale and stole his title. I myself held Darling Jonathan’s shoulders down for three last week. McGinnis is on a downward spiral, and whether Vegas was the catalyst for that or just took advantage, I can’t say.”

    “So are you telling us that you aren’t confident in your partner?” Black Bear asked, rather pointedly.

    “I don’t know very much about my partner, and I’m not particularly bothered about him either, to be honest,” Michelle began, waving a hand as if to throw away the question. “I’ll be concerned about myself, and self-preservation, mostly. If Vegas climbs into the ring and does some damage to either of the Dive Squad, then so be it. Good news, hey presto, and all that. But I’m not relying on Vegas. I’m not relying on anyone. Next week’s Adrenaline Rush is just a second opportunity to get my hands on the Man-Baby, to weaken him before Five Star Attraction. If Darling Jonathan gets in the way, or my partner for that matter, then… what’s the term? Collateral damage?”

    Black Bear placed his notes down in front of him and leaned back in his chair, folding one leg over the other. He exhaled deeply as if in frustration before picking up his earlier line of questioning once more.

    “It sounds to me like you’re not overly concerned with this match,” he started. “Do you think it’s wise to be so flippant about your opponents, let alone your partner? It probably won’t inspire his confidence in you.”

    Michelle looked at the clock above the hosts, watching the big hand creep towards the eight. She had things to do, tape to watch, champions to study. These things didn’t seem to matter. They never had. She opened her mouth to answer two or three times before closing it again. Her mind began to drift once more. Later, looking back, she could never be sure if she’d answered Black Bear or not, and she certainly hadn’t listened to the podcast back. She was constantly pulled back to Berlin, to Japan, to France, as if some gravitational force was commanding her into the past. The hands crept around the clock, charging forwards towards Five Star Attraction, but Michelle was forever drifting, receding, into memories that were hers and hers alone.

    ***

    Acade ́mie des Phillipe Lacroix, Marseilles, France
    4th February, 2007


    She sat in the library, a book open in front of her, turned to a page on the Siege of Leningrad. Next to it was a pencil and a notepad, disused for the time-being and slowly being forgotten about. Michelle sat on the low chair, slowly tilting it onto its hind legs with a foot pressed against the edge of the table. It was getting late, and away at the counter the librarian was making his final checks for the evening. Winter was still stubbornly clinging on, refusing to let Spring take the helm.

    Isobel returned from the hunt grasping a trio of text books. The only one visible was on differential calculus, which was probably the primary cause of the look of sheer woe that had latched onto her face. She dumped the books down onto the table and took a seat across from Michelle, leaning back on her chair and rubbing at her heavy eyes.

    “It’s time to go,” she said, tapping her fingers against the front cover of a book on the Algerian War of Independence that sat atop her pile. “The Russkis can wait until the morning.”

    Michelle had a coffee rested on her knee, housed in a cardboard cup. She took a sip at the bitter, lukewarm liquid, and then surveyed her notes as if they were lost relics.

    “I don’t think I’ve read a thing since you left,” she said, picking up her pencil and using it to push long strands of brown hair away from her eyes.

    “It’s late,” Isobel replied, looking over at the librarian. He was sitting at his desk and staring back over at the pair, his last unwelcome guests. He waited patiently for them to get up and go. “You taking anything out? It’s Sunday tomorrow so this place’ll be closed.”

    “Just this Soviet bullshit, I guess,” Michelle said, squinting at the thought of a Sunday wasted with the German army. “Maybe one of those snazzy calculus tomes you got yourself, too.”

    “We’ll drop them off at the dorms, and then to le Cavalier?” Isobel asked, standing from her chair and picking up her books. Michelle followed suit, packing her notes away into a rucksack and picking up the history book. Margot continued. “They have some band on from Munich. Mathieu and Pierre are going, and that English boy from le e ́cole d’e ́glise.”

    “I can’t,” Michelle said, with not a hint of disappointment. She followed her dorm-mate to a specific aisle on the ground floor, where the girl from Lille pointed at a maths book bound in purple. She picked up a copy and turned away from the spot, heading towards the exit. “I’m meeting Franz. In fact, would you mind taking my books back for me? I’m late already.”

    ’The mysterious Franz’, how delightful,” Isobel replied, passing her tomes over to the employee. He began to scan them through. “If you insist. But bear in mind you’re consigning me to an evening with Jeanne, if I can even persuade her to sign herself out.”

    “You will overcome,” Michelle offered, handing her rucksack over to her counterpart after the librarian had finished with the books. After reaching the exit the two went their separate ways, and von Horrowitz pressed on towards her bus stop. It was an unnaturally cold night, so she pulled her coat around her tightly and smoked one of the six cigarettes she’d managed to save for the evening. She was banking on Franz having some spare.

    The ride through the city was short in terms of distance, but the roads were choked with the Saturday night revellers, the people flowing in and out of the centre for the festivities. She watched large groups of youths, usually single-gender packs, waiting for taxis and sharing the dregs of cheap bottles. Eventually, the bus pulled up at her stop, and Franz was waiting for her across the street.

    Franz was a Hungarian boy who went to the university in Marseille. He was eighteen and he’d moved to the city from Budapest the previous summer, studying literature and working in a bakery in the village near Michelle’s school. He offered her a cigarette upon approach and lit it for her, too. He pointed away to the north, towards a large building that a few dozen people were hovering around.

    “Did you manage to get the money?” he asked, stuffing his free hand in his pocket in a vain attempt to conceal some warmth. His voice was thick with a Hungarian accent. Michelle shook her head. “I guess it’s on me, then.”

    “It would appear so,” she said, watching a group of young men filing into the small gymnasium in front of them. “Who is on, anyway? And how much is it?”

    “The main event is le Boucher de Bordeaux against L’Guerrier des Irises’,” he replied. “And it’s fourteen euros, but I can cover it. I think it’ll be quite the evening.”

    The two filed up the street towards their destination, where the boy paid through a small hole in the wall before entering via a narrow tunnel into what was a gymnasium of a public secondary school. It was reasonably wide, and all around a small, old wrestling ring sat bleachers, a steep ascent from floor to ceiling. It was already near full, punters of all ages moving towards their seat as the ring crew made their final checks. Franz was beginning to move down towards the ring, spotting a patch of seating only thinly populated on the fifth row back. When they’d taken their seats, Franz lit another cigarette and stared over at the top of the ramp, attempting to spot any wrestlers that may be sneaking a look at the night’s environment. He pointed at a smartly dressed woman and explained that it was Delphine Heracles, the owner of the promotion that was running the event. Michelle stared at her and took Franz’s cigarette from his hand, taking a drag before returning it to the boy.

    Eventually, the lights were dimmed and a man in a tuxedo took his position in the middle of the ring. He raised a microphone to his lips and introduced the capacity audience to this live Full Pro France event. The fans roared with anticipation, staring at the makeshift ramp and the small entrance at the top of it. As a small, stocky man came out to a chorus of boos, Michelle found herself staring wildly around herself, eyes fixated on each individual face and ears absorbing each individual sound. His opponent came next; a taller and more slender man, pale white and in gold tights. He high-fived a few audience members at the top of the ramp and shouted something in Italian, which was cheered even if it wasn’t understood. His hair was closely cropped and a thick, greying goatee grew around his thin, pursed lips. Around his waist was a small, gold belt, the words ’Champion National de France’ engraved across it.

    The two stood in the middle of the ring and the referee took the belt from the taller man, holding it high above his head and presenting it to the boisterous audience. The announcer lifted his microphone up again and introduced the combatants; the small, conceited Fracois Bellatroix from Lille versus the larger, older veteran from Florence. Finally, the bell rang, and the two jockeyed for position around the middle of the ring, a collar and elbow tie up kicking off the match.

    She was seventeen years old and the music was sweet.
    Volume 9: "The Silent Kingdom" (01/30/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Johnny Vegas (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:




    “The hills roll into the horizon, white-grey tufts of cloud forming and disintegrating overhead, the walls of the palace rising sheer in the foreground. An old, diminishing king walks alone amongst the trees… stares out over vast knolls from high windows… sleeps without partner in an oversized bed. These are the things I saw last night, from afar and in close. His sons and the occasional daughter walk amongst him, and the kingdom without subjects is alive with discontent and accusation. But it is silent. It is always silent.”

    Michelle sits alone, naturally, in a plain room. The walls and floors are bare concrete, one tall, metallic locker positioned in a corner. A rucksack, filled with ring gear, a fistful of bills, and a half-full bottle of Jameson’s is propped up against it. The camera is positioned in an opposite corner, offering a hardly-expansive wide shot of the basic locker room.

    “When the king and his offspring are together, he sits above them, out of reach and aloof upon his throne. He surveys them carefully, checking their movements, their schemes and plots obvious and evadable. Some stand at his side, subservient and safe. They tend his table, serving his drinks and delivering his food. They circle the throne like reverent jackals around wounded prey, ever hungering and ever hoping.”

    Her back is leant against the cold wall, one foot lifted up onto the wooden top of the bench and the other stretched out in front of her. She is wearing black skinny jeans and a baggy red t-shirt, her hands stuffed lazily in her pockets.

    “But there are others in the grand hall. The Silent King watches them, sat comfortably in his excessively lavish chair. They are the hunters, and they regard both the scavengers and the prey carefully, mistrustfully. And each time one approaches his father, he is pulled back by the pack, equally uneasy around each other as they are their prize. They fear the next son along; that he will steal their place in the line, their chance to approach the throne. And the King reigns on supreme, unchallenged by a mob of rivals too busy quarrelling amongst themselves. These are the things I saw last night, from afar and in close.”

    She leans forward on the bench, crossing her legs in front of her and staring into the camera. Heavy bags, the sign of uneasy nights, sit unhappily beneath her eyes. Her short, blonde hair is untamed in more of a mass than a style, the green highlights an oily bundle of split ends.

    “Mr Snowmantashi,”she begins anew, for the meantime ignoring her next opponent and taking the long view. “I speak to you now, and only now, in the hopes that you can watch this little video in whatever five-star, downtown hotel you’re checked in to. I also hope you’re finding it restful, and that you’re enjoying life as a part-timer. When we finally meet at Five Star Attraction, it will be your fourth match since Wrestle Royale. Your fourth and my seventh. But I guess you must enjoy the champion’s advantage whilst it lasts, and the view is surely enhanced by arguably three of your top contenders – the two Johnny’s and myself - fighting amongst themselves. I imagine it’s quite the picture out of your palace, whilst your man-servants fan you with palm leaves and feed you grapes.

    “But believe me when I say that whatever it is that you’re currently doing is not within the remit of the champion that I am going to be, once I beat you for a third time at Five Star Attraction. Running scared and living a peaceful life do not have a place in my plans. The CWA will never be saved if its champion is not waving its banner each week. Our Hero is showing his true colours, revealing himself and his self-interest. This company deserves better.”


    Finished with the champion for the time being, she leans back against the wall and shifts her focus. As the subject moves along to Johnny Vegas – her competitor in tonight’s Adrenaline Rush main event – her body language transforms along with it. When discussing Snowmantashi, she appears uncharacteristically on edge, as if the weight of the match lay uneasily on her shoulders. Vegas appears less of a concern, for better or for worse, and she places her hands back into her pockets as if there is no need to defend herself.

    “But between myself and the Man-Baby stands yet another rival… another pretender to his throne. Johnny Vegas, the Man Who Beat the Darling, propelled forward by a misbelief in himself and the first taste of momentum he’s had in his sorry little career. Twice last week he revealed himself as a petulant little boy, first when he whined and wailed in despair at a situation which he himself has steered into, and then again after I dragged him through the main event intact. He believes himself to be as much of a contender for the belt as myself, thanks to… well, I’m not quite sure, actually. A sixth place finish in the Wrestle Royale? A pin-fall victory over a once-champion who has since been beaten by half the roster? He is either delusional or reaching. Perhaps both.

    “But, my little tulips, I am more than happy to give Vegas an opportunity to prove himself. He was part of a winning team last week on Adrenaline Rush, after all, which is more than can be said for the last two champions of this company. And I can even see why Johnny might feel a little bit hard done by. If Vegas had defeated the world champion any week other than the one directly before the night he lost his title and a number one contender was crowned, he probably could expect a title shot. But, with all due respect – and I say that in the knowledge that very little respect is due – it would’ve been a dark day for the CWA if these two midcarders were competing for the company’s biggest prize.”

    Here, Michelle affords herself a small, smug smile. Perhaps an allusion to Vegas’ demands that his match be added to a double main event at the next pay-per-view.

    “And then there was the little... fracas… at the culmination of Adrenaline Rush’s tag team main event last week,” she begins once more, dispelling all emotion from her pale face. “Little Johnny is getting too big for his size six-and-a-half boots. He’s not happy, apparently, that I carried his useless carcass through the biggest match of his career and earned him a victory. He wants the glory for himself. He’s desperate, my little tulips, to show you all that Johnny’s Big Night wasn’t a fluke. And I agree, it couldn’t have been. And do you know why, Vegas? Because – had McGinnis been on his game – you wouldn’t have beaten him. What they’re all thinking, what they’re all saying, there’s truth to it all. And you’re beginning to fear this yourself.

    “I’m not sure why Darling Jonathan was only half-present for your encounter. Perhaps Austerio was right about his… extracurricular activities. Maybe the worries of finalising his new multi-million dollar contract were still over him. Or, quite probably, he already had more than half a mind on his big title match at the Wrestle Royale. Part of you probably thinks that you can do the same tonight; that another scalp is yours for the taking because your opponent is already focusing on the Man-Baby. Dispel such thoughts. They will betray you to your downfall. The Wolf-Man couldn’t stop me; Darling Jonathan couldn’t; thirty other wrestlers including yourself at the Royale fell at my feet. Even Bell Connelly, the great hope of the FWA and of the people, tapped and screamed as I broke her ankle in two. Why do you think you’ll be any different?”


    Another brief pause. Michelle leans forward again, closer proximity to the camera allowing it a better view of the glint in her eyes. Her hands have come loose from her pockets and she massages each wrist in turn, as if loosening herself up for the battle to come.

    “I admit that you weren’t even a blip on my radar screen two weeks ago, but the ridiculous claims that you make for yourself have forced my hand. Not only is your little… grudge match… not worthy of main-eventing such a prestigious event as Five Star Attraction, but the fact that you think for half a second that last week was anything other than my win makes your delusions plain. I will turn you into a statement, and then a shell.”

    The screen fades to black, Michelle von Horrowitz propping herself against the wall and lifting a boot up onto the benchtop once more, as if this promo has been nothing more than an interruption in her busy day of sitting and thinking.

    ***

    Michelle could hardly believe that this was all happening, and that it wasn’t just another one of her subconscious visitations. If it wasn’t for the fact that she hadn’t been sleeping enough to dream anything this creative, she wouldn’t have accepted the reality of it. But here she was in a small Brooklyn coffee shop, sat across the table from Bella von Horrowitz, the sister she hadn’t seen in nearly three years. It could’ve been longer than that, for all Michelle knew.

    She looked much the same. Black hair - long and straight - framed her youthful face, and she still dressed with the sophistication and class that their mother had hoped they’d both gravitate to. Michelle had made some effort; she’d borrowed an iron from someone at her flea-ridden hotel and pressed her favourite green t-shirt. Black, rectangular-rimmed glasses perched on the end of her sister’s small nose, and some artificial colour had been added to her pale cheeks. The only real clue that the two were sisters were their eyes; the same violently piercing green, large and knowing and clear as the ocean.

    The wheels had been set in motion by an employee at the Barclay’s Centre, who had cornered her after she’d finished with the camera. Michelle had thought it would just be another useless, overlong interaction, where some underling thought – with a bit of luck and a lot of charm – they could manage to break down the wrestler-crew barrier and become her new best bud. When he’d thrust Bell’s letter into her hand and explained that it had arrived that morning to the ticketing department, she’d considered it carefully and with apprehension. It was only upon noticing the beautifully crafted handwriting with its delicate and deliberate cursive strokes that she’d come to realise who it was from.

    ’I know that you must be extremely busy,’ it had said, towards its culmination. ’But I will be at Fowler’s Café in Midtown Manhattan at five on Saturday, if you’d care to join me. It would be wonderful to finally see you again, sister’. Bell always wrote like this. Loaded with melodrama, hopeful and precious and begging for approval. Every few years they seemed to find each other, and – as much as she enjoyed the sweet, tandem refuges of secrecy and solitude – Michelle felt it best to keep at least one final bridge to the distant past intact.

    “Why are you here?” Michelle asked, and in retrospect perhaps a little bluntly. They had been in the café for just over half an hour, whilst Bella ate her way through a Caesar salad and Michelle forced down half a bowl of soup. The moon had taken over for the nightshift whilst they’d been inside, and a steady string of custom lined the coffee shop’s cash register. Michelle, the older of the two by a pair of years, stared with resentment at the coffee in front of her. It was dark outside and she hadn’t moved onto the harder stuff yet. Still, she thought, looking over at the glass of water in front of her sister. It could be worse.

    “My orchestra’s here for a few performances,” the younger girl replied, idly pushing the last few leaves around her plate with her fork. “We’re doing two weeks in New York City, then up to New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine.”

    They’d mostly been talking about Bell’s life back in Europe (frequent touring around Germany, France, and Italy, and then three bi-weekly residency performances in Berlin when they were at home), the English fiancé she’d picked up six months ago (tall, handsome, rich, the classic catch), and her thoughts on – not to mention critiques of - the Wrestle Royale match (’Giles insisted we buy the thing…’). Usually, they didn’t really mention their mother or the Netherlands, a country in which neither still lived and only one still visited. It had always been a comforting arrangement, but now, with the memory of Aunt Maude’s lifeless lump of a body never far from Michelle’s mind, it felt like something of a barrier.

    “Are you seeing him while you’re here?” the older woman asked, sipping at the bitter, lukewarm coffee and staring out of the window. The city revellers were beginning to replace the haggard, day-worn tourists, choking up the sidewalks whilst taxis and buses streamed alongside them. Michelle was awkwardly attempting to shift the dialogue around to family.

    “I might as well,” Bella replied, setting her fork down at long last. She seemed to half-shrug as she spoke, readjusting her glasses before she continued. Michelle judged them to be nervous tics. “He’s only in Montreal. It’s more of a short jump than a flight, really. He is our step-father, after all.”

    “He's nothing to me,” Michelle answered. “The one sensible thing our mother ever did was ignoring that old fool, after all these years.”

    Bell flinched a little at her mention, setting her water back down and staring directly at her sister for what felt like the first time in years. She still spoke to their mother on a regular basis, calling her three times a week at timetabled points and writing once a month for the novelty. And there were frequent visits back to Rotterdam, too, where their mother still lived in the house that Aunt Maude had died, whiling away the hours knitting scarves that nobody would wear and launching rambling rants that nobody would hear.

    It had never been the same between Michelle and her mother since Bell’s first successful interviews at her music school in Berlin, which had also been the summer that her sister – Aunt Maude – had come to Rotterdam. She’d been meant to watch Michelle whilst mother and daughter travelled to Germany, but had seemingly given up on the task halfway through in favour of dying. She’d been gone for two weeks, apparently, by the time the musician and her mother returned and finally called an ambulance, though Michelle had only found her ten days ago.

    The relationship had strained almost immediately, and had always been close to breaking point for a couple of years. Michelle felt mother blamed her for the whole affair, or at least wondered why a girl of her age hadn’t thought to check on the elderly woman, or call someone once she had found her. Michelle often wondered the same things herself. It had seemed to get better for a while afterwards, when time had its chance to lessen the memory. But then their father had arrived with apologies and demands, both of which had been turned down, and the drinking had begun. And all the old resentment and mistrust slowly seeped back into their relationship.

    “She does ask about you, every now and then,” Bell said, carefully treading through the dialogue’s minefield. “Maybe once a year, but more recently as of late. I think she was worried that I hadn’t heard from you in a while.”

    “I’d tell her not to waste her worry,” Michelle offered. “She has so little of it to go around.”

    “I think she’s mellowed a little, recently,” Bell answered, as if in negotiation. Michelle raised an eye brow, having none of it. “She’s a little more passive, at least. Not drinking nearly as much. I don’t think she’s quite herself sometimes, though. When I mentioned that I was coming here for a month, she said ’make sure you see Michelle’. And I caught her watching a re-run of Adrenaline Rush last time I was in Holland, too.”

    “Well, you can tell her I’m fine,” Michelle said, feeling inexplicably angered by news of her mother’s vague attempts at concern. It was a little late.

    “I can see that,” her sister interjected, sensing the rising temperature and seeking a shift in topic. “Is it that big one next?”

    “Not yet,” Michelle asked, quite easily pinpointing who she meant. Vegas was many things – a confused, self-interested, pompous, egotistical punk, for instance – but he was hardly big, in stature or significance. “Soon.”

    As they finished their drinks, they spoke briefly about Bell’s upcoming performances (‘We start on Sunday at the Lincoln Center, if you want me leave you some tickets for collection?’ – left unanswered), Michelle’s decision to return to the ring (‘I thought you’d just disappeared, and then eighteen months later you pop up again in the biggest promotion on the earth?’ – received a non-committal response), and about the food (you can say nothing interesting about salad or soup), before drifting their separate ways.

    Their goodbyes were always subdued and a little nervous, though this evening was sustained by an amiability to the meeting that Michelle neither expected nor remembered. She stood on the corner of an adjacent street, smoking a cigarette and staring down the road, patiently waiting for the bus that would take her back to the hotel and another night of bastard consciousness.
    Volume 10: "(up)Stream" (02/12/2016).
    Jon Snowmantashi def. Michelle von Horrowitz [CWA World Heavyweight Championship] (CWA: Five-Star Attraction).
    Spoiler:





    She sat, her knees together and feet apart. Her back was craned into a crooked arch. A camera sat idly in front of her. Her head was in her hands, and she ran her fingers through her short blonde hair, pinching the green ends with her finger nails. She stared down at the murky grey concrete beneath her black boots. Around her, the sounds of some mid-card match permeated the walls of Madison Square Garden, the time counting down towards the main event. Jon Snowmantashi. Michelle von Horrowitz. Five-Star Attraction.

    So much of her life in the past month had been little more than a gradual build to this encounter. Now, thirty minutes sat stubbornly between her and the match, and the aches that roared through her body – aches from the sport and aches from the lack of sleep – were beginning a crescendo. Her sister, Bella, had put it well, as the two of them sat in some Manhattan winery after her performance and she described her emotions before it. ”When your stomach’s a storm and all of your weight has sailed across it into your limbs.”

    She picked up her rucksack, rummaging through it for the bottle of Jameson’s. Empty. She made a mental to-do list for the remainder of the evening; win world championship, get a new bottle. Setting the thing aside, she stared at the lens of the camera, which sat unused and accusatory. Sighing, the young woman tried to imagine her sister – younger still – going through the same thing in whatever the backstage areas of a place like the Lincoln Centre were like.

    Michelle had sat in the auditorium the weekend before, feeling the warmth, luxury, and comfort that surrounded her and regarding it with suspicion. She’d leafed through the program notes, stopping at a random page where the composer – some middle-aged German man named Bram – wrote about his creation. ’My ‘orchestral sonata’ is a piece in which several movements of the same music fight and struggle against one another, but through this forge a collaboration both sweet and sombre’. She slammed the book shut when the musicians began to take the stage, her sister the foremost of a group of three cellists, themselves only a small portion of the string section.

    The music had begun with them, the violins rising softly over the deep cellos, whose notes were long and drawn. Violas stirred and a fiddle leaped behind it all, the baritone violins joining the cellos in framing the piece. Each instrument sang a variation on a similar theme, almost waltzing through the opening throws of the song. Michelle stared around at the suited New Yorkers, stroking their chins or holding tiny binoculars up to their faces. Their mood, one of anticipation and longing, matched the direction of the music.

    She watched the rest of the musicians, thirty or forty of them, who in turn had their gaze turned on the strings. They were inactive and docile, holding their instruments limply. The whole scene – the slow build of the music which promised more to come, the anticipation etched onto the faces of the punters, the impatient surveying of the rest of the orchestra – dragged her back. She found herself, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, sat high in the bleachers of the Tokyo Dome. It was early 2015 and around her thousands of wrestling fans sat in expectation, eyes directed to the ring positioned centrally.

    Within it, two men were standing in opposite corners. One, huge and focussed, rocked from his left foot to his right. The other, taller but much lighter and considerably older, was in good shape for his age. He wore a flamboyant ring robe with the Japanese flag as its focal point and sat coolly on the top turnbuckle. Michelle was perhaps a hundred yards away from them, in-between people she didn’t know, her handful of possessions stuffed into the rucksack between her feet. She’d been in the capital for two months now, and out of the ring herself for twenty four.

    This was it; the main event, what they were all here to see. The larger man was introduced as Snowmantashi and the crowd entered their most raucous state of the evening (though everything is relative, it must be remembered). Streamers were thrown into the ring. The man only stared at his opponent, methodically rocking from foot to foot. When the taller man was introduced there was only silence. He was older, less imposing, a man bred to lose. The crowd watched on impatiently, the champion waited for his cue, the strings went on singing. No streamers were thrown, and Snowmantashi stared straight through his opponent as the bell sounded.

    In 2016, in her locker room at the Garden, Michelle von Horrowitz hit record on the camera.

    “Tulips, the hour of reckoning has arrived.”

    A long, deliberate pause. Michelle was still seated on a bench positioned in the corner of her locker room, which was larger than usual. The benefits of being in the main event, she supposed. It seemed bigger still with Michelle’s rucksack, a tall locker, and the bench on which she sat as its only contents.

    “But not my hour of reckoning. Nor that of Jon Snowmantashi, though he will feel like it has been when the final bell tolls. Rather, the hour of reckoning for the CWA has finally come. And not a second too soon, either, for we find ourselves in the darkest of days. Our champion will not wave the banner, except for contract signings and knowing glances from the stage, and we rely on has-been’s and never-be’s to sell pay-per-views. But all is not lost. Tonight is the night on which things begin to change.”

    Change
    . The music seemed to transition abruptly, horns colliding with strings like waves crashing themselves against the rocks. But, by some strange device, after a few moments it seemed as if it had been this way since the music had begun. Bella still bowed away at her cello, drawing out her longing notes as the horns marched and rallied against the calm shores. Michelle sat and watched in her borrowed comfort in the Gods at the Lincoln Centre.

    The first battle cries of the horns were echoes of the first bell in the Tokyo Dome, with Snowmantashi charging down his opponent as soon as he’d had half a chance to remove his robe. A flourish of clubbing forearms and stiff kicks followed, the sickening thuds resonating around the arena and accompanied by the audience recoiling in unison. After ten seconds, the serenity and anxiety that had accompanied the introductions was a distant memory. After ten minutes, Michelle refused to believe there had ever been any calm about this man. He was huge, savage, unrelenting. Fists, elbows, shins, and headbutts. The old hand could do nothing in response. He could barely stand.

    “Some of you may wonder what I know of waiting,” Michelle continued, in her locker room at the Garden. “Six editions of Adrenaline Rush and the Wrestle Royale are all you’ve seen of me, and already I sit here, waiting to walk out in the main event of the biggest show of the year. But my journey did not begin on the night I defeated Anna Malikova. In 2007, I stepped into the ring for the first time, in front of a dozen people in some decrepit little Marseille gym. For five years, I scraped out a living in France and Germany, in Britain and Russia, and of course, in Japan. Whether there were ten people watching on or a thousand, when the final match ended and they made their way down dark streets towards lonely homes, they’d each agree on one thing; that night, they’d seen the Michelle von Horrowitz show.

    “And then nothing. On the cusp of the fame and success and respect that I’d slowly earned, I walked away from it all. Through injury, fatigue, and general dissatisfaction, I left the squared circle, and retreated into the shadows. For two and a half years, I watched as undeserving fools held up little gold belts, calling themselves the best in the world and squabbling over nonsense whilst the sport bled out around them. The fans began to value a stiff kick and flashy ring gear above strategy and success. The titans of the game became covetous, and they sought out the gold for their own glory rather than the good of the sport. And I watched on, I said nothing.

    “I sat in my corner whilst the music died. There was nothing I could do, I told myself. The fate of my beloved sport was out of my hands. Even if I relented, and came to the States and fought in the big leagues, there was nobody who shared my ideals; my vision for this art. I could not wrestle myself every week. And so I kept on waiting as the silence took hold, and no sound stirred but the screams of my discontent.”


    She paused, straightening her back, gaze still intent on nothing besides the lens. Her mind should’ve been fixed on the immediate future and the kaiju that waited that night, but it was intent on swimming back into the distant past. The sounds of Madison Square Garden – the jeers and fawns of the fickle audience, the occasional signals of the bell, the muffled entrance themes played by way of introduction or celebration – seemed distant and insignificant, replaced instead by her sister’s sonata. She was dragged into the Lincoln Centre once more, as the plucked strings entered the fray to accompany their bow-borne sisters.

    The horns had dominated the piece for a handful of minutes, trumpets charging in elaborate flourishes whilst half a dozen trombones bombarded the violins from across the stage. A pair of tubas underscored their smaller, brass companions, whilst a lone saxophonist tied them all together, beckoning them onwards in the assault. But, slowly at first, as if with trepidation, a duo of harpists stirred into life. One re-enforced the drawn notes of the bowed string section, whilst the other danced amongst the domineering trickery of the trumpets, as if in mockery. They were flanked by a rumbling double bass and a sad mandolin, providing respite and beating back the horns.

    “And then, after two and a half years, I realised it was time,” she continued, fingers playing with the bottom of the baggy green t-shirt she’d wear to the ring that night in New York. “It was time for me to come here, to the mecca of professional wrestling, to rip out the festering tumours from the heart of the sport. This is their hive; they gravitate towards these shores. Seven weeks and seven wins later, all that stands between me and The Cleansing is Jon Snowmantashi. A road bump of a champion.”
    She would be the respite that the sport needed, just as the harps had been for the violins. She only hoped it would not be too little, nor too late. She had seen this before, been this before. In 2002, she’d sat on the front step of their suburban, Rotterdam home, watching her mother drinking from the bottle through the open kitchen door and waiting for the ambulance to arrive for Maude. They should’ve called the morgue directly but nobody had the number. That had felt helpless. In the Tokyo Dome in early 2015, when she’d watched the veteran choose an eye rake over a clean break, she had known it to be futile. He only managed a couple of European uppercuts before Snowmantashi threw him into a corner and reeled off ten headbutts, before hoisting the old man into the air and slamming him back down with a sit-out powerbomb.

    Michelle had sat in the rafters, almost able to feel the ring-rust sinking into her ill-conditioned body. She’d travelled around Europe for the best part of eighteen months, before returning to Japan as a tourist rather than a worker for the first time in her life. She’d seen a few events during the hiatus, but nothing like this, and never a man like Snowmantashi. He was strong, and had a focus and motivation that was hard to fathom. She had come to recognise nobody as unbeatable, but he thundered around the ring in a storm of vicious unpredictability. When the old hand had slid out of the ring, trying to catch a breather, the big man had instantly crushed him against the steel barricades with a suicide dive.

    Some things were futile. Certain. Pre-determined. Snowmantashi beating an aging star in a show-match so some promoter could double the price of the tickets. Aunt Maude being pronounced deceased and wheeled out of the bed in the spare room, where she’d waited patiently breathlessly for two weeks. Ms von Horrowitz, Michelle’s mother, spending the majority of the years between 2002 and 2007 staring through the neck of a bottle and pinning all of her hopes on Bella. These things were certain. Some things were still to be decided. The future of the world heavyweight championship. The future of the CWA. The future of Jon Snowmantashi and Michelle von Horrowitz.

    She had, of course, been running away. In retrospect, she had realised this as she sat there in the Tokyo Dome, watching Snowmantashi endlessly stomp the veteran’s head on the outside as the referee began his count towards twenty. Her decision to fly to America and accept some bookings on the east coast shortly afterwards was no coincidence. She had a tendency to run from things, but those days were as dead as Aunt Maude. When she’d found her, lying limply and lifelessly in a mound upon her bed, she’d closed the door to the spare room tight and pushed the discovery from her consciousness. She had run away from it despite never leaving the house.

    She had thought all of these things in her comfortable seat at the Lincoln Centre, as she’d stared down at her sister’s pale face. Bella had the von Horrowitz eyes, deep green wells that told stories with no words. Only the loud, sudden entrance of the drummers had broken the spell, and dragged her into the present. They pounded heavily and furiously, hammering the strings into submission. The violins faded and the cellists died. The harps remained, stout and proud, but their spell was diminished, their music was twisted. The drums were the bringers of doom, and they were unstoppable.

    They drove her back into the Tokyo Dome, where Snowmantashi heaved his lifeless opponent beneath the bottom rope. His Hailstorm followed, a devastating fireman’s carry into a cutter, and the Moonsault that came next was nothing but redundant. As she watched the lateral press, Michelle considered this champion as inevitable as the resulting three count.

    When she’d stood in the ring with him, just over one year later, he would proclaim himself a force of nature. She had come to realise that there was truth to this. She’d hit him with the chair half a dozen times, and cut him open against the exposed turnbuckle, but still he’d asked for more. He’d stumbled out of the arena on his own two feet, refusing aid from the EMTs in an impressive fit of pride. And then he’d made his wordless statement, standing on the stage after she’d seen off Vegas, reminding her of what he’d said he was; more than just a man.

    But she had to believe this wasn’t all futile. She had to believe in what she was doing. That it could be done.

    “After Snowmantashi had taken the world championship from around his best friend’s waist, and I had outlasted thirty other competitors to earn the next chance to approach the summit, he stood in that ring and spoke as if he knew me. As if he knew my motivations and my ambitions and my methods,” she began again, in her locker room at the Garden. “Over the last month, I’ve made my opinion of our champion perfectly clear. I have called him simple, one-dimensional, mediocre. I call him ‘Man-Baby’, not only because he looks like an oversized toddler, but because his thought process is straight-forward, limited by his oh-so-finite intellectual capacity. And I stand by this. But I have no specific hatred for the Man-Baby. He is one of the few that I respect.”

    She paused, allowing this last declaration to linger in the air. The sound of a huge pop from the crowd crept in through the walls as the McGinnis-Vegas bout drew to a close.

    “The saviour of this company must hold its prize, and there is only one wrestler fit to drag its fading body away from the precipice. I had once thought, in fact, as I picked up my first wins against Sweet Annie and the Wolf-Man and the Green Adams boy, that perhaps I was not alone. You roared and blustered your way to the top, and McGinnis was blown away by your focus. But since, you’ve stalled and stagnated. Your reign has been propped up by protective bookers, your record blemished by a string of tag losses. You’d rather sign contracts than defend your belt.”

    The picture that she’d painted of Snowmantashi evoked Bella, sitting on her corner of the stage, the music that she’d coaxed out of her cello silenced for the time-being. She looked impotent, a neutered appendage to the orchestra, the rest of the battle still raging around her.

    “The Man-Baby’s response to this has been written for him,” she went on, massaging each wrist in turn, loosening up in preparation. “But he can’t hide behind blame for the bookers. Our champion should demand to compete, not be dragged kicking and screaming into each match he graces us with. And, when I prove that this kaiju is in fact just a man, when I hold his prize up before your eyes and your television screens fade to black, you will see that I am a woman of my word.

    “Over the Bringer of Light and the Embodiment of Shade… the F’s Bell of the Ball and all of Humanity… whoever is deserving of stepping through my ropes and dancing my dance will get their opportunity. Whether they’re Indy darlings or Puro titans, all will come to pay their tribute and play their part in the rebuilding. But all will fall, and all will fade.”

    In January of 2016, in the grand hall of the Lincoln Centre, Bella’s cello spurs into action once more. It drives those around it, the violins steadily falling into its rhythm, fiddle and viola bounding ahead. With it, a pianist awakens for the first time, answering the horns’ march. The trumpets flourish once more, but the harps and the mandolin are quick to subdue them. The drawn out notes of longing have gone from Bella’s music, as if it had been corrupted by the silence. It has made concessions, drawn to the power and the force of the horns and the drums and the mighty roar of their rhythms. The resulting finale is harmonic, truly, for the first time in the piece, building through themes introduced earlier by both sides of the battle. The conductor spirals and struggles to keep to its frightening pace. Its final note, shared by Bella’s cello and her opposite number amongst the ranks of the trumpeters, rings out for an unnatural length of time and the crowd is on its feet. But the two musicians are stifled by their submission. Neither are truly happy. Neither are truly themselves.

    In July of 2002, on the front steps of a suburban Rotterdam home, she is joined by her sister. The body-bag left the scene an hour ago, and their mother hadn’t moved away from the table or her bottle. The moon hides behind the clouds as if in shame.

    In February of 2015, at exit J5 of the Tokyo Dome, she stares back into the ring at the kaiju. He lifts his belt into the air and the crowd lap it up, though no championship was on the line in the one-sided bout. She rolls a cigarette hastily, her pale, usually-dexterous fingers a bundle of knots as the adrenaline rushes through her extremities. She knows it is time. Time it all began for real.

    In February of 2016, in Michelle von Horrowitz’s locker room, a camera stands on its tripod, abandoned and switched off. The room is empty, the roar of the crowd rushing in through thick walls. The handle of the door creaks and then turns, the frame pushed open, a young man in a black CWA staff t-shirt entering. He’s under strict instructions to collect the camera from the locker room of the number one contender and post the footage after the final bell has been rung. Through the open door, Roy Orbison can be heard singing about a candy-coloured clown they call the sandman.
    Last edited by SpecificSecretary; 11-27-2021 at 10:50 AM.

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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    PROMO HISTORY
    PART II.
    February 2016 - June 2016.

    Volume 11: "Mountain" (02/26/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Enigma (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:


    It wasn’t until she had boarded the train, taking a seat as removed from the rest of the travellers as she could find, that she had chance to properly think about it. Three nights earlier, she had stood in her locker room at Madison Square Garden and told the world to expect change. She had stared at the world heavyweight champion from across the ring and thrown everything she could muster into his path. He’d just kept on getting up, swinging at her in a flurry of limbs and intensity. As she stared up at the lights, the sound of the referee’s hand thudding against the mat drowned out the screams of nineteen thousand people.

    The train glided towards Edison NJ, its wheels rolling forwards over the rails, Raritan Bay stretching out towards the Atlantic on her left. Her body was little more than a collection of bumps, bruises, and aches. A constant, dull pain plagued her neck and shoulder, the aftershock of two Hailstorms. A massive top rope superplex had turned her back into a piece of abstract art, purples and blues and blacks swirling against the canvass of her pale skin. Her core throbbed with the memory of the Snowfall. A two hundred and ninety pound Man-Baby landing on you with a moonsault often did that, she’d found. But it was the three-count that hurt the most.

    She had sat in her locker room afterwards, unwinding the tape from her wrists and staring idly at the tiles in front of her. Drifting back to the Autumn of 2009, she found herself walking amongst visions of her first championship match. Le Marteau and a fresh-faced Michelle von Horrowitz danced around the ring in Toulouse, the ALF National Championship hanging in the balance. She’d lost that one too, after le Marteau had dropped her on her head with his top rope brainbuster. The referee could’ve counted to a hundred.

    That had been her first sniff of gold, and she’d never been able to shake its scent from her nostrils. In truth, this one didn’t hurt any more or any less than Toulouse. The stakes were higher now, and Snowmantashi was already more of a rival than le Marteau ever was, but the feelings of eternal insufficiency that came with defeat were identical. The reaction to failure, though, would be different. In the Autumn of 2009, she had cut her ties and run, looking for another challenge in Germany. She’d never wrestled another match for l’Alliance de Lutte d’France or competed for its National Championship again. Another dance with Snowmantashi lay somewhere in her future, she knew, and this golden belt wouldn’t elude her forever.

    From Madison Square Garden she had found a bar, and in that bar she’d found a bottle. The amber liquid had roared down her throat, its music bounding within her chest. She sought comfort from the three-count within its green glass confines. The place was dingy, unstylish, almost empty. It was perfect. She would’ve happily stayed there until closing time (it never closed) if it wasn’t for the entrance of three young men, emboldened by the drink and the adrenaline built by a night at the Garden.

    Two of them wore the same Johnny Vegas t-shirt whilst the third, a big bastard with a dirty ginger beard and blackening teeth, was hugged by an XXXL ‘KAIJU’ t-shirt that was too small for him. They played pool and drank cheap beer, their half-coherent, entirely-mundane conversation crashing against the quiet that had previously lain thick in the bar. Every three or four minutes one of them would shout ’HAIL THE CLUB!’ and the other two would guffaw wildly. The barmaid, a frumpish woman with thick-rimmed spectacles and a salmon-pink blouse, regarded them suspiciously as she ran a cloth around the rims of glasses.

    It was only a matter of time before they noticed Michelle and, when they did, a formality that they’d approach. The big bastard had walked over with his bottle, taken a large, supposedly impressive gulp of its contents, and told her with the utmost sincerity that Bryant Park under the starlight was breath-taking and that he’d like to show her. She’d laughed in his face, been dismissive, hurt his feelings. The three had childishly chanted ‘KAI-JU’ in retort, much to the chagrin of the barmaid and three old men who sat around a circular table by the door, their sanctum butchered.

    The big bastard had returned an hour later, the courage of three more pints of piss-water lager roaring within him. He still had his pool cue in his hand and, through drunken carelessness more than attempted intimidation, he’d thrust it into her face as he slurred something about Bryant Park at night looking like a fairy-tale. She’d swatted the stick away and thrown him through the optics that sat behind the bar, leaving before the barmaid could tell her to.

    Michelle had waited in a small, grassed plaza across the street, and sure enough the three of them had followed her out, the big bastard cradling his back and flanked by the smaller two. It had taken them almost half an hour to get sick of the taste of their own blood, gingerly stumbling away into the night as aches seared through their bodies. She had nothing against them specifically. She had even tried to imagine Snowmantashi as she took each one down in turn and found it was useless. One cannot easily picture wrestling a bear when throwing kittens into the river. But slamming her fists into their torsos had proved somewhat cathartic. Every now and then, as the four figures danced in the shadows of tall buildings, people would pass by, ignoring them and skipping onwards towards their destinations.

    When the three men had crept away, she took up a seat on a bench adjacent to the scene of her latest, pointless victory. As she lit a cigarette, Michelle von Horrowitz stared up at the pale, crescent moon, which seemed to stare back sadly.

    ***

    As the sun set in the background of the picture, the last splinters of a deep red light broke over the landscape. A line of tall, thick trunks stretched upwards to conical formations of branches, naked with winter. They obstructed the view of a long, narrow lake, its surface still and black, and on the ground before them a thin layer of snow had been blemished by many boots. Dead leaves were trodden into the moss and roots. Michelle von Horrowitz sat against the thickest trunk, bare feet turning blue in the cold, a baggy t-shirt and drainpipe jeans - both in mourning black - adorning her body.


    “As snow pelts the rock and the wind swirls confusedly, a young girl plants her ice axe into the mountain’s side. The face she climbs is almost vertical. The cold and the altitude conspire to make her head swim. Her senses are as frozen over as the rock-face. The blizzard occupies her entirely. Slowly, with apprehension but also resolve, she lifts the other axe and plants it half a foot above the first, dragging herself another few inches towards the summit. It is close, now; a handful of yards from her grasp, and she can almost feel it. This scene I watched last night, as I stole an hour of elusive sleep, perched on the young girl’s shoulder and waiting for the fall.”

    She patted the snow around her with numbed palms, eyes focussed downwards on the white powder shifting between her digits. Only a slither of a segment remained of the sun behind her, the cover of darkness preparing to shield her from the camera’s persistent, penetrating gaze. She stifled a sigh, staring up at the camera with green eyes beleaguered by fatigue and defeat.

    “The sky rumbles and roars with thunder, lightning molesting the newly laid snow on lesser peaks below her. She wrenches the lower axe free, but as she drives it into the sheet of ice that sits on the mountain’s face it notches and falls from her grasp. She hangs there, fingers on her free hand stretching impotently towards the ledge, mind focussed only on the plateau she has spent her entire, subconscious existence creeping towards. But it is useless; the solitary pick cannot hold her slender form, its angle lessening until eventually its handle runs parallel to the mountain. Sweat is forming on the girl’s brow in spite of the cold. And then it comes loose, and she falls.

    “Her slender body drifts downwards, caught up in the wind like the falling snow but driven by gravity’s inevitability. At the mountain’s feet, the shadows howl into the storm. They stare up at her falling form, sensing her fragility, waiting impatiently for her to cast her skinny body down. The shadows, tulips, they circle like braying jackals, preparing to pounce on the carcass and enjoy their ill-gotten spoils. They sense the time is now. The young girl is prone.”


    Standing up, Michelle leant against the trunk and stared into the camera’s eye. A long, violent arc of sunlight clung on, biting into the lake’s surface, its reflection rippling gently with the water’s motions.

    “As I watched these images, their meaning struck me with clarity and force, as I’m sure it does all of you. Snowmantashi is our inevitable mountain of a champion, and for the time-being he remains insurmountable. But seasons change, and conditions relax. Five-Star Attraction will not be the last time I plant my axe into the rock, but for now I cannot think of this. The peak is too far away; the storm rages too strongly. The shadows and the braying jackals. These are what I must confront first.”

    In the blackening sky, blue stars drifted slowly into focus and began their nightly dance. The scene glowed as it bathed in their pale light. She adjusted her position against the cedar, and as she did a large, purple bruise on the small of her bag ran itself against one of the trunk’s knots. The pain of it rumbled through her body, a cruel reminder of Snowmantashi’s onslaught.

    “Next week on Adrenaline Rush, the first of these scavengers approaches. Mr Enigma enters the fray, tulips, and he smells blood in the water. The battle scars of Madison Square Garden are fresh on us both. I cannot - and will not - claim any physical disadvantage. Snowmantashi and I went through a war at Five-Star Attraction, but Mr Enigma and Shade almost killed each other. There is only one difference; he won, and I lost. That brings with it a psychological edge.

    “I’m sure that, as I say this, you assume my attitude to be defeatist. That I am making excuses for a loss that hasn’t yet occurred. But I do not give the edge to Enigma. I’m not speaking of the momentum and confidence that comes with a victory, nor am I setting myself up to fail. The edge is mine. To a certain type of person – the only type of person that really matters – failure is nothing but fuel. Edison’s teachers called him an idiot child. Disney’s first editor fired him because he lacked imagination. Newton failed as a farmer before he discovered the force that drags the young girl from the rock-face. I have stood on the brink before, and I stared into it with indifference.”


    The last glimmer of sunlight disappeared into the horizon, its glow now distant and subdued. The woman’s image became less clear, her surroundings dimmed. All around, the once silent woodland began to stir, as if heartened by the hidden sun.

    “Mr Enigma is a master of mind games, which he plays in search of a psychological advantage. He takes his opponent and, by stalking and whispering and snarling, drives him from comfort. His rhetoric is sculpted with one intention; to infiltrate the nightmares of his adversaries and run with their darkest thoughts. But Enigma must realise one thing, tulips. He will not drag me to the brink next week. He cannot force me to face my shortcomings. I seek them out willingly, and his humbling will bring with it their exorcism.”
    Volume 12: "Eight Years No Change" (03/10/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Drew Connor (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:


    Marseille, France

    December 14th, 2007

    Stood in her corner of the ring, a tight black t-shirt wrapped around her tiny frame, a seventeen year old Michelle von Horrowitz felt suddenly quite alone. Amongst the fifty or so fans that lined the bleachers in the gymnasium, there were at least two people who knew her name. Franz was there, as he had been at all of her matches. Tonight, she’d even asked Margot to come, more because she’d been threatening to buy a ticket anyway than anything else. Even so, in that small, stuffy room, staring across the huge mat at the man walking down the ramp, it felt as if every pair of eyes was fixed upon her in mistrust.

    Her two-strong fan club was situated a few rows behind the ring bell, a quiet anticipation settling upon them. Franz brooded with his trademark confidence. Margot was more apprehensive. She stared solemnly across the ring at the masked man that Michelle was supposed to fight. He was over six feet tall, and easily more than two hundred pounds. Average, for a male wrestler, but standing a few yards away from von Horowitz he seemed a giant.

    This was her eighth match for the promotion, the largest regional outfit in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, but her first against a man. She’d torn through her first set of female opponents in minutes, the bookers eventually relenting and feeding her this guy. Le Boucher, he called himself, and she could almost smell his seedy smile from beneath his black mask. He had been less than charming on the microphone for weeks, flinging every gender-based insult his second-class mind could generate in her direction and hoping some of it might stick. He lumbered in a cumbersome fashion from left foot to right. He was slow. Unprepared. Complacent.

    Before the bell rang, le Boucher thrust his pelvis in her direction three times, eliciting a large round of laughter from the audience. He put his hands on his hips and stared down at his opponent, chuckling to himself at the whole situation. She simply stared back, reminding herself to savour it. To take her time.

    When the bell rang, she couldn’t help herself.

    He charged in at her, as she knew he would, and she took him down with a drop toe hold, his face slamming against the second turnbuckle. She could still remember the three crunches that resonated as she repeatedly curb-stomped him against the pad. The crowd was silenced, a shocked awe descending on the gymnasium. A thin line of blood spilled out from beneath the man’s mask, and she did him a favour by ripping it off and giving him some air. Throwing the piece of leather into the crowd, she stalked le Boucher from the opposite corner.

    Even this early on in her career, she knew that she had made the right decision. Margot had questioned her motives, even her sanity, both before and after she’d witnessed this match. Michelle had offers from universities, in France and England and Germany, but she’d chosen instead to take a few bookings around Marseilles. Her crowds hadn’t yet reached a hundred, but she’d been winning. That was probably more important. When her opponent was up to his feet, she revelled in the sweet sound of his face colliding with her knee, the Busaiku kick sweeping him off his feet.

    He’d tapped almost as soon as she’d applied her ankle lock, but she’d held it in anyway, applying a grapevine and wrenching on the joint. As the time ticked on, she leisured in recalling every insult, every slur, every attack on her womanhood. The narrative drifted through le Boucher’s monologues and then, as the grand finale of his hip-thrusts were played back, the bone shifted in her grasp and he screamed in agony.

    ***

    Atlantic City, New Jersey, US
    March 10th, 2016

    Near the Steel Pier, a young couple steps onto the boardwalk. Their arms are linked with the giddiness of a third date, their heads swimming with infatuation. The sun glides into its early afternoon position, the ocean stretching out sheer and immeasurable before them.

    On a bench in front of Boardwalk Hall, an old man sits with a newspaper. The front page features a collage of presidential hopefuls, each putting on their best election-smile and waving at nothing in particular. He is immersed in the sports section, unable to tear himself away from a story about his beloved 76ers and their ill-fated visit to the Heat. He sighs and looks over the paper’s edge, watching a young family of tourists pointing at the hall. The father takes a photograph. The mother looks bored.

    Traffic stutters and starts down the thirty as people stream in and out of the city. Airplanes lurch into action from AC International Airport, darting towards spots on the other side of the globe. The water of Absecon Bay slowly drifts towards the ocean.

    And, in her locker room at the arena, Michelle von Horrowitz sits in front of camera, a small red light willing her to speak.

    “Upon the side of a grassy hill, an old pelican surveys the horizon. His feathers have greyed to the point that you can no longer see the divide between white and black. His eyes hang heavily, a sad expression on his pockmarked face. Around him, the predators circle, parading their youth like an insult. The old bird looks on, rooted to the spot, not precisely going backwards but watching the world advance around him, slowly forgetting about his once-relevant existence. This scene was presented to me, my tulips, as I stole an hour of sleep last night.”

    Michelle von Horrowitz sits, a tired face staring at the camera. She is alone, naturally, and he legs are folded in front of her, arms resting on her knees. She speaks plainly, composed, as if all she states is fact.

    “At the foot of the hill there runs a river, and from it two peacocks emerge. Their feathers are obscenely bright, shimmering in the golden glow that the sun throws out over the land. When they approach their old friend, he walks among them, as if he’s found his place. But it is all lies. They know that they are not the same, and that one is clinging onto days that are still to come for the other two. And ahead the snake pit looms, hidden from sight but never from mind.”

    She pauses for a moment, letting her words settle in front of her. Finally, she continues, still unmoving and abstracted, eyes focused on nothing but the lens.

    “I want to talk about last week, tulips, and the events of Adrenaline Rush. In my first match since Five-Star Attraction and the defeat to Jon Snowmantashi, Enigma and I had quite the war. A battle worthy, perhaps, of even my respect. But after our match had run its course, two party boy punks decided to hit the ring and lay us both out with super kicks and crotch chops. Bro’ Drew and Bro’ Ethan took it upon themselves to get involved in my business, and this week they have to face up to the consequences of that.

    “When this little Indy Club nonsense began, a Clique within the Clique, I had no particular interest in its ambitions or its deeds. The tag division, where The Echo apparently reside, is of little concern to me, so I’ve never cared much for the juvenile actions of the Brothers Connor. McGinnis would get his rematch, no matter what I said or did. He’d lose to Snowmantashi, though, and I’d be knocking on the door the next month. I was ready to let them cut their silly promos and thrust their hips to their heart’s content. But last week, I’m afraid things changed. The peacocks have stumbled into the snake pit.”


    She stands from her bench, gently pacing back and forth in front of the camera’s gaze. She is dressed in a baggy, dark green t-shirt, black shorts, boots, and pads on both knees and elbows. In three hours she would compete on Adrenaline Rush again. The week seemed to roll around quicker each time. The bruises on her back and neck, badges of honour from her battle with Snowmantashi, had been built upon by Enigma and the Connors. If this match didn’t seem suddenly so personal she’d be inclined to ignore it entirely.

    “The Indy Club, as they so adorably call themselves, have stated vague aims. To hold all the gold. To dominate and control the company. In truth, their ambition is as half-baked as their ability, as has become desperately apparent these past few months. The Moment have prized the prize away from The Echo. Darling Jonathan may have beaten Vegas at Five-Star Attraction, but what does that make it for 2016? One win in five? This banding together of fading stars is not the momentous event they seem to think it is. The world looks back and it yawns.

    “When I lost at Five-Star Attraction, tulips, I looked on as this little Club formed around me. I watched as McGinnis arrived on the stage, jumping to the front of the line. Beforehand, I witnessed the Connor brothers, at the time having no clue which one was Drew, laying waste to Johnny Vegas. These are the sorts of actions that I’ve spoken about in the past, tulips. The actions of desperate men, kicking the limp carcass of this organisation along, fuelled by their own base ambitions. Before my match with Snowmantashi, I spoke about saving the CWA from itself… From the tumours that were festering and multiplying from within… And now, we have the Indy Club, the latest and the worst.”


    She was sluggish, tired, slow. Her arms weighed her down, the effects of training and lack of sleep lying heavily on her body. She throbbed beneath the pain of a now semi-permanent hangover that had seemingly taken up residence in her skull. Her nights were plagued by terrors, of the mountain and the house, of the bird that eats itself, and of the golden wall stretching out before her. The Connor Brothers were nothing but roadblocks. Impediments. Bait.

    “But, as I’ve already said, I would leave them be. The patriarchal structure of the CWA would have to be torn apart, no matter what form that structure took, so it mattered little to me whether Snowmantashi or McGinnis sat on the throne. Until, of course, you boys decided to drag me into your little conquest. A statement of intent, no doubt. But I fear that you haven’t thought too deeply about all of this. Not content with taking the fight to Snowmantashi and the Moment, three worthy adversaries and champions nonetheless, you decide to involve Enigma and myself. These are not the tactics of master strategists. These are deeds of petulant children, lashing out in all directions because their favourite toy has been taken away.

    “But this, my tulips, is what the Echo have proven themselves to be time and time again. Even when they were on top, they still spent their lives whining about everything their feeble minds could consider. They weren’t getting the respect that they deserved. They were misunderstood. They were the greatest tag team in CWA history and didn’t get the credit. And now, the belts ripped away from them, the intensity of their bitching is only amplified. Everyone else is blamed for the defeat. The inability to own up to one’s failures is a characteristic of the weak.”


    She sat back down on the bench, picking up the roll of tape that sat beside her. Time was wearing on, the battle on the horizon becoming clearer. She began to run the tape around her wrists. The bell was waiting to be rung.

    “But tonight, on Adrenaline Rush? Oh, my tulips, Drew Connor will have no choice but to face up to things. I will push his face against the glass, and at long last his eyes will be wide open. His glory days are, as he fears, dead and gone, and all that remains now is this last gasp effort, this Hail Mary, this Indy Club. He is flailing in the wind, digging his heels into the mud and declaring himself still relevant. Tonight, the bell rings, and the facade dies. My hand has been forced, and if I’m compelled to pick a side, I find myself in the correct corner of the ring tonight.”

    The Club arrives as abruptly as a tidal wave, crashing over the establishment of the CWA and destroying all in its path, but the water of Absecon Bay still slowly drifts towards the ocean. Planes still leave the airport and cars still choke the roads. The old man still sits on his bench, and his beloved 76rs have still lost. The chaos that the Connors and McGinnis bring to their sport has little effect on the young couple, as they steal a kiss at the end of the pier beneath the late afternoon sun.

    The Indy Club kicks out at the world, and the world looks back and yawns.
    Volume 13: "Trust" (03/25/2016).
    Drew and Ethan Connor def. Michelle von Horrowitz and Enigma [Tag Team Match] (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:




    “For once, tulips, I wish to speak about nothing but reality. I mean this absolutely. A sort of State of the Union address, if you will, for you and your fellow viewers. Times in the Clique Wrestling Alliance are strange indeed. The once silent kingdom is now without rest. The Club runs amok, doing as it pleases with few consequences, its leader demanding a title shot he believes he’s entitled to. Meanwhile, our champion descends from his throne each week to fight lesser champions, which I guess is at least a step up from his part-time role in January. And the contenders circle the king’s castle permanently, as interested in each other as they are the man himself. You can see this with your own eyes.”

    The camera is still, a sign of its independence. No cameraman is permitted entrance into her domain. Nobody at all. There is only her, alone with her thoughts and the lens, sat upon the bench with her knees beneath her chin. There are signs of life from without, the suggestion of fans willing on the start of the show with their cheers. She waits impatiently too, her ring-gear donned and her words loaded.

    “There will be no shortage of contenders, that much I can say for sure. Obviously, we have Jonathan McGinnis but, if you don’t mind, we’ll save him for later. Then there’s my tag team partner, Enigma, who surely feels he’s owed something for his hard-fought victory over Shade, not to mention his long and storied career in this promotion. Maybe Johnny Vegas is watching on some hospital television, the date of Retribution circled on his calendar. The variations within this field are clear to see, but they do have one thing in common. All three of these men have been pinned or tapped out by me, my tulips. There is nobody in this company more deserving of a title shot than Michelle von Horrowitz. You can see this with your own eyes.

    “Darling Jonathan will no doubt tell you a different story. He’ll talk about Wrestle Royale, and his right to a rematch after he was crushed by Snowmantashi. In my eyes, he forfeited that right when I pinned him in two straight weeks. So, he beat Johnny Vegas. Who hasn’t? He thinks that now he has a pair of lackeys flanking him his prestige has been restored. What is it that Snowmantashi said, even before this little Club popped into existence? McGinnis is not the man he was. Or something less grammatically sound. About this our champion is in the right. You can see this with your own eyes.”

    Clearly, she begrudges giving Snowmantashi credit for anything, but at least it comes at McGinnis’ expense. She stood from her bench, beginning to pace from side to side, staring down at the floor as her black boots padded gently against the tiles.

    “But McGinnis has inserted himself into prominence with his ill-advised antics. Along with his lapdogs, for that is all that the Echo are, Darling Jonathan has involved himself in other people’s business for weeks. It’s fitting that, as our little travelling circus makes its way through the state of New Jersey, Adrenaline Rush has turned into a string of mob-style vignettes, the Club injecting themselves wherever they see fit. Bro’ Drew tries to get involved in Bro’ Ethan’s match with Enigma. Ethan returns the favour when Drew faces me. The Echo are there to write off McGinnis’ match with Lightbringer. And, of course, we see them again after two of our champions have worn themselves down in their own bout. These are not the actions of strong men, though they are so obviously the actions of men. Darling Jonathan continues to bark his orders, the Brothers Connor asking how high. What exactly are the Echo getting out of this? It is hard to imagine, my tulips, that they wouldn’t get their tag title rematch anyway, and either way The Echo versus The Moment will be the second or third match of Retribution. An association with a jaded former champion in rapid decline, both personally and professionally, changes nothing for the Connors.

    “Another thing that just doesn’t change is the extent of Drew Connor’s idiocy, and his ready willingness to flaunt it. Last week, he posted some lengthy diatribe about me, and my womanhood, and how much he was going to enjoy destroying me. He went on and on about how it was no concern of his that people thought it wrong for him to hit a woman. It is no concern of mine, either. I willingly signed my CWA contract, and have beaten better men than you every week since I did. But let’s get one thing absolutely clear, Drew; you shouldn’t lay hands on a woman, or at least this woman, because I am your physical superior. He played tough guy and told some story about his old dealing days, no doubt shaking those tail feathers and preparing to measure his penis. I am from the Netherlands. Your drug laws are stupid. I am not impressed by this, or you in general. And what did Drew proceed to do on Adrenaline Rush? Lose, of course. Like they all do.”


    She has stopped pacing, and now stares only at the camera as if the Echo are deserving of her full attention. Or, at least, their butchering is.

    “I’ve read somewhere that the Echo have the edge in this match-up, because they’re tag team specialists. Tag team specialists are just wrestlers who aren’t good enough to be singles specialists. This is nothing to brag about, tulips. I’m sure that even they feel their long but ultimately doomed title reign entitles them to the status of favourites. And sure, they’re brothers, that’s meant to mean something. I imagine they think the trust - -“

    Here, Michelle paused, the final word falling out of her mouth and hitting the floor like broken glass. Her mind was pulled in many directions at once, to Rotterdam and to Berlin, Marseilles and Tokyo. She flew through the downstairs window of her childhood home, a grey terrace in the suburbs of Rotterdam. She watched as a young girl sat alone with her cello, a slightly older girl withdrawn on the stairs with a book on her lap, and her mother sat beneath the kitchen window, a glass of white wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The three of them were detached from another, isolated and unconcerned about it. Nothing was being built here except resentment.

    She was borne away on the wind, over many leagues to Marseilles, where she had competed in some ball-room against a bearded bald wrestler who called himself Carrow. He was from the North-East of England and lumbered from left foot to right with the grace of a rhinoceros on ice. He had the turning circle of a Boeing 777. She had crushed him in about six minutes and retreated into the locker room, where some crew monkey had handed her a note from Franz. He’d been conspicuous by his absence that evening, but his letter made it clear why. His mother was ill and he had caught the train back to Budapest. She’d died like a selfish bitch three months later and Michelle had never seen him again.

    Taken across seas and mountains, she arrived in Tokyo, as she and Iwao sat in the corner of an empty coffee shop. She was twenty three, which made it early 2013, and the two of them occupied their spots gloomily and burdened. They were working for a few independent promotions in the south and west of Honshu, and had faced off for the eleventh and final time just a few weeks before. Michelle had won, which was special for more than just taking her record against him to 4-6-1. It had been a champion versus champion match, after she’d been crowned the Okayama Senshuken Resuringu Regional Heavyweight Champion the month before. Iwao had held the Honshū Puroresu National Heavyweight belt for over a year now, and was cementing himself as the finest wrestler in the province. For once, all was good, at least going into that match.

    Afterwards, though, things had gone to shit. HPW was shown all around the island on a number of different regional networks, whilst OCW had just negotiated a deal with a network based in Okayama, starting in the same timeslot as HPW and a natural competitor. The two had received the same chain of correspondences from both companies. First from HPW, who told the talent that they could not compete for any other televised promotions if they wished to keep getting booked on their shows. Three days later, OCW responded with a similar decree of their own, but specifically naming Honshū Puroresu as the forbidden pastures.

    HPW was the bigger company, for sure. The two of them had main evented their last sell-out show the month before, which had also featured a strong undercard including Anzu’s homecoming match. But Michelle always had a soft spot for OCW. She and Iwao had spoken longingly of building it up, until it could compete with the biggest promotions in the region, or perhaps even the country. When she’d heard about the deal with Okayama Television, it had seemed like that was finally happening. But now, this. The pair of them agreed that they’d try to negotiate their way out of it, and Michelle had spoken passionately about her desire to side with the underdog. Three days later, she’d heard that he’d packed his bags and left Okayama, signing a new contract with HPW for more money and less fights. She would never see him again either, not in the ring or outside it.

    Finally, she was carried back across the Pacific and dropped with a clunk in her locker room. Outside its confines, the Newark fans were screaming for the show to begin. They’d been waiting for hours. She’d been waiting for days.

    “I imagine they think the trust they’ve built over the years matters. But it doesn’t. This match means nothing. I have no interest in the Connors, or in their ambitions to hold the gold after Retribution. I am involved with their Club only as a temporary measure, tulips, to climb the ladder of chaos towards Snowmantashi’s throne. I know full well what a competitor Enigma is, and what he can do in the ring. We stole the show in Trenton, and the aches have hung around long after the bruises disappeared. But I trust nobody but myself, and I believe we’ll meet as opponents far more often than we will as partners.

    “Tonight, Enigma and I form a partnership of necessity, more than anything. Another win before Retribution will strengthen our respective cases before Richman’s announcement. But it is not a partnership that either of us will enjoy. I’ll be forced to find my enjoyment elsewhere, tulips, and I know just the place. The Connors are two of the most intolerably obnoxious people I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting. They parade like peacocks, as if this world were theirs, when in reality they sit and wait for the orders of a second-rate has-been. Sure, they spur into action whenever Darling Jonathan decides he doesn’t want another pin-fall loss on his record, but when was the last time they actually won a fair fight? They are a sideshow and sidekicks. Irrelevant. Superfluous. You can see this with your own eyes.”

    Volume 14: "Somebody Else's Plaything" (04/08/2016).
    Jonathan McGinnis def. Jon Snowmantashi, Harrison Wake, Michelle von Horrowitz, Johnny Vegas, Enigma [Steel Roulette Match, CWA World Heavyweight Championship] (CWA: Retribution).
    Spoiler:





    As she stepped down from the bus, the familiar image hit her suddenly and with force. The New Orleans Greyhound Station was a vision, and not even in a sentimental, nostalgic sort of way. Anybody that had seen the stations in Atlanta or Omaha or Nashville would agree that New Orleans was like a palace. It was huge for one thing, with large glass windows separating the waiting passengers from their buses and otherworldly yellow lights illuminating the clean, white tiles. In the early morning light it was almost beautiful.

    Michelle von Horrowitz waited patiently by the bus, staring at the bags slowly being collected from its innards. With each minute, the façade of beauty began to fade, the smell of the place beginning to hit her along with the realisation that her rucksack wasn’t in the same place that she’d left it back in Newark. The employee panted heavily as he lowered a massive suitcase from the bus, wiping a film of sweat from his forehead as yet another customer refused point-blank to acknowledge his existence. He seemed miserable, but at least he still had his belongings.

    Eventually, the emptied bus was empty and reversing out of the station, retiring for the night and heading into hibernation. She watched it with antipathy, the large metallic vestibule almost mocking her as she stared back, impotent and bag-less. With a heavy sigh, she headed into the station and to the amusingly named customer service desk.

    The Greyhound staff were on their eternal go-slow protest, taking what seemed like hours to print off tickets and check in bags for the handful of future-passengers ahead of her in the line. Above, the sound of an airplane could be heard, dropping its cargo off quickly and luxuriously in Louis Armstrong Airport. She resented them for their willingness to pay ten times as much for the same journey, as well as their acceptance that a metal box could safely fly thousands of feet above the earth’s surface. She fucking hated airplanes.

    “Can I help you, mam?” the employee said over her spectacles as Michelle approached the desk. She was middle-aged and overweight and miserable, with hair that seemed to be painted onto her sweaty head and a name-tag that read ‘BERYL’.

    You’ve lost my bag,” Michelle responded, rubbing a few granules of sleep from her eyes and tapping the surface of the desk with her free hand.

    “Mam, I haven’t lost your bag,” Beryl answered. She didn’t do anything.

    “Well,” von Horrowitz started, doing her best to stifle a large and accusatory exhalation of breath. “The Greyhound Bus Company has lost my bag.”

    She handed over the baggage tag she’d been given in Newark and waited patiently. Beryl didn’t say a word, she just tapped lethargically at the keyboard, thinking very carefully about each motion before she saw it through. Michelle tapped the floor with the soul of her boot impatiently. She was beginning to regret her impromptu trip home (she used that word in the loosest possible sense). Over twenty four hours of bus travel seemed to lie heavily upon her body, and her four-hour layover at the Atlanta station had been an experience she would never forget. The last time she’d seen her bag was in New Jersey, and she was about ready to accept it had been lost to the ether.

    “Your bag is in Richmond, Virginia, mam,” Beryl said rather suddenly, snapping Michelle out of her malaise. “It was taken off the bus by mistake. I can have it forwarded here for you?”

    “No,” Michelle said quickly. The idea of waiting here for days on end, with all the familiar sights and familiar people – along with the promise of another conversation with Beryl on the horizon – was too much for her. “Send it to Boston. I’ll meet it there.”

    Beryl lowered her glasses even further. They seemed to defy gravity on the end of her nose.

    “Mam, do you think that’s as easy as you just commanding it?” she said, her voice dripping with open disdain for Michelle and every other lowlife that caught buses from her station. “If you take a seat, I’ll try and sort that for you, mam. It shouldn’t take too long.”

    After two hours, Michelle was ready for a drink. After four, she had finally been dismissed from the station with nothing but a slightly-unbelievable promise that her bag would be waiting for her in Massachussets. After five, she’d managed to find some old, ill-fitting ring gear in a corner of her sparsely decorated apartment. It was bright green with white lightning bolts stitched down the side of each thigh. The image of it filled her mind as she walked from her place to Larry’s, the worst and therefore the best bar in all of Louisiana. Her hands were forced into her pockets, her eyes directed towards the paving stones in an attempt to avoid staring at her dilapidated surroundings. This place was down-trodden… depressing… She couldn’t remember why she’d come back in the first place.

    As she walked, a picture of herself gradually occupied her mind. She was wearing the offensive ring gear she had just managed to dig out a trunk; lime green shorts, boots of the same colour, black pads for the elbows and knees, and a tight-fitting black t-shirt with ‘NOW’ stitched on it in green lettering. She had worn that garb in Japan, during the early years of her travels there. In 2010, she had stood in the Osaka Dome, staring across the ring at three men, all of whom were dressed in plain black trunks. She was a bright green blaze against the monochrome monotony, and she felt ridiculous.

    That night she had lost, as she often did in her early years in Japan. She had thrown herself over the top rope whilst Toshiro Matsui, Hideo Suzuki, and Koji Kagawa had traded blows on the outside, only for them to disperse and the hard concrete to rise up and meet her at an alarming pace. She could still hear the dull thud as it collided with the back of her head, and the shocked gasps of the audience. That was it for Michelle von Horrowitz that night. It was her own fault for trying to put on a show.

    The first Jameson’s seemed to slip down her throat without touching the sides, and she sent the second in after it to check if it was alright. As the amber liquid started to have the desired effect, she found herself pulled back to Japan again, to the Osaka Dome and the Fatal 4-Way match. Koji had won that night, she remembered. He was a veteran, and had been knocking on the door for a National Championship match for years now. He had paid his dues and deserved it, they’d said. It didn’t make it any easier, watching from the outside and clutching her head as he covered Hideo for the three. It never was.

    She’d spent a substantial part of her career watching from the outside as other people recorded a victory. Last week she’d done the same, watching as the Connors descended on a lonely Enigma and turned him into their play thing. It had happened on a monthly basis back in Japan. Hell, it had happened today, as the eternally damnable Greyhound Bus Company had stolen away her bag in the middle of the night. Back in the Netherlands and in Marseilles, she’d watched on as her life took shape around her, other people sticking their meddling fingers into the narrative to shape it. She found herself wondering exactly when her agency had deserted her.

    The fourth and fifth Jameson’s were even better than the first three, although they couldn’t stave off the memories. The future didn’t promise to be any different. A Steel Roulette match, they were calling it. Five men and her, all vying for the same prize. The format was different, sure; an elimination match meant that she’d have to be beaten outright, not left to suffer and watch on as others decided the outcome. But she imagined herself, sitting in her pod and observing Snowmantashi or Vegas or McGinnis, and all of the memories flooded back to her. Mother taking Bella to Berlin and leaving her with Aunt Maude. Iwao taking his contract with the biggest promotion in Honshu without even consulting her, leaving her to stew in the independents for another pair of years. Franz departing from Marseilles to spend time with his dying mother. Koji pinning Hideo and moving on to his title match. Harrison Wake pinning Elijah Edwards in their Triple Threat as she desperately, unsuccessfully tried to break it up. The Connor brothers picking Enigma apart. Her bag abandoned and lonely in Richmond. The list went on.

    She had no say in any of these things. Why should Retribution be any different?

    As the eleventh glass of amber was placed down in front of her, she began to notice a group of men sitting in the corner by the window, half-empty glasses of piss-water lager in front of them. They were staring across at her as groups of men often did, either through lechery or recognition. It was always a toss of a coin, really, whether they wanted to fuck her or fight her. Even if it was the former, she’d insist on the latter.

    “Michelle von Horrowitz, as I live and breathe,” one of them began, the biggest and ugliest of the bunch. He had stumbled over as she was working through Amber #13, the effects of intoxication and his own intellectual deficiencies plain on his face, and placed the palms of both hands next to her on the bar. She waited patiently for the follow-up but, of course, he had planned no further ahead than this.

    “Yes?” she asked without looking at him, signalling to the barman – not Larry, as far as she could tell nobody by that name actually worked at Larry’s Bar – to bring over another drink. He placed it down next to her empty glass, a few useless ice cubes left within it.

    “Me and my comrades in the corner would like to politely request your magnanimous presence this evening,” he said, thinking about each word carefully and deliberately, as if reading from a script. In the corner, the rest of his coven watched on hopefully. She sighed heavily and took a sip from the fresh glass.

    “Not if you were the last men in New Orleans,” she said, placing the glass back on the bar and staring around the empty room. “Which it seems that you might just be. But I’m a woman of my word.”

    She stared at the man’s face, which was mostly obscured by a beard, bits of food and foam hanging from the follicles. He looked wounded, like a dog being left at the kennels. He simply asked why?

    “Well,” she began, looking into his small, beady eyes so he could read nothing into her countenance but honesty. “I have no interest in hearing what you have to say. About anything. Ever.”

    There were a few moments of silence, during which the barman stared at the pair whilst wiping the remnants of lager from a tall glass. Michelle could almost hear the mechanical cogs rotating in the troglodyte’s head, a look of dejection beginning to take hold on his unremarkable face. Eventually, he lumbered forward, stumbling through an utterance of now wait just a moment missy and placing a massive, sweaty palm on her shoulder.

    From there, things seemed to progress in a blur of sound and vision. She picked up one of the glasses – unfortunately the full one, wasting good whiskey in the process – and slammed it with full force against the man’s temple. The shards and the amber flew across the bar, almost in slow motion, a thousand tiny fragments of glass propelling themselves into walls on the other side of the room. A few moments later, the guy hit the floor, and already the barman was on the phone. They were on the scene only moments later, Michelle waiting patiently on her stool as they arrived in a torrent of blue lights and deafening sirens. There was no point leaving, really. The bar staff knew who she was and she’d only be delaying the inevitable.

    When she arrived at the station, they seemed almost surprised that she had no possessions other than her ID, three cigarettes, and a few crumpled bank notes. They put her in a cell, alone, the battle-cries of the other caged beasts permeating her walls and bastardising the comfortable solitude. The walls were plain, thick, inevitable. There were no windows. No hint that the world continued outside of this cell. She had to assume that it did, despite her best wishes.

    She took a seat on the bed, her head propped against the wall behind her and her hands folded on her lap. Retribution was hurtling towards her as suddenly as the floor in the Osaka Dome, and she felt equally unprepared for its impact. One of six, all gunning for the same prize, all attempting to make their own impact on a structure that had its own ideas. And here she was again, out of luck and down and out because some other fucker had different ideas for how her evening should turn out.

    When she woke, a familiar face was standing at the door. Officer James Parish – no, Sergeant James Parish, now. He looked at her knowingly, partly in admonishment but mostly in acceptance. She had known him for over a year now, since she first took up residence in his city, but it’d been a handful of months since she’d seen him last. Not since before her CWA debut, at least. His face looked the same, just a little older and a little more tired.

    “You still check for my name on the night sheet?” She asked, standing up from the bed and moving towards the door. She was still dressed in the same clothes as the night before; black skinny jeans and a baggy red shirt. Parish looked formal in his uniform.

    “Every morning,” he said, with a sigh. Parish was the sort of man who enjoyed looking out for a woman, and then letting her know how much of a ball-ache it was. He moved out of the way of the open door and let her walk ahead, towards the familiar back exit. He was silent for the most part, handing over her belongings at the door and unlocking it lethargically, as if it were becoming more and more of a chore each time. She walked out into the pale morning light and lit a cigarette.

    “Thanks,” she said, turning back to him and taking a long, rewarding drag.

    “You know, Michelle,” he started in his best fatherly tone. “A bar fight, I can deal with. That can disappear in an instant. But you’re AWOL for months and then you come back to glass a guy? Why are you even here?”

    There was more accusation in his tone than usual. She stared at him without response, sucking at the filter of her cigarette and blowing thick plumes of smoke up at the sun.

    “You know why you’re here right, at the station?” He went on, hands in his pocket as if he didn’t enjoy dispensing this advice. He did enjoy it, obviously. “You’re here because you can’t help yourself. You can blame that man, but he’s not the first and he won’t be the last, will he? You’re here because you do your best to fuck things up for yourself.”

    Still no reply.

    “I’ve read about this Steel Roulette thing. ’The biggest match of her career’, the article said. And less than week before it you’re throwing whiskey at some punk in some dive bar?”

    Silence.

    “You let these people rile you, and when you hit back you’re only lashing out at yourself. You’re somebody else’s plaything, Michelle. And you can complain about that all you like, but I know that you love it. It gives you an excuse when you fail.”

    She just stared into his tired, old eyes. Her cigarette was finished. She flicked it onto the tarmac of the parking lot. Parish shook his head, exhaling through his nose, a wordless acceptance that all he had were words and they weren’t going to be enough.

    “When do you go to Boston?” he asked, giving up on his lecture. Michelle turned away from him and began to walk towards the Greyhound station, her mind already made up. She didn’t look back as she answered.

    “Now.”

    ***

    “At the start of 1941, things were going rather swimmingly for Mr Hitler,” she began, somewhat out of the blue. She stood alone, as you might expect, within her plain locker room. She spoke slowly and with purpose, the scene entirely stationary for the duration of her monologue but for the deliberate, methodical movements of her lips. This was no time for frills. No extravagant, metaphorical orchestras or sunsets by way of foreshadowing. All she needed was her voice.

    “I will elaborate, as I’m aware of the standard of public education in your country and thus the state of your personal grasp of history. Mr Hitler was progressing nicely through Central Europe, his domain now encompassing Belgium, Austria, Poland… the list goes on. Even my own home country of the Netherlands was occupied by his men. His borders ran from the large swathes of French land he’d captured, all the way to Stalin’s Soviet Union. He’d made many enemies, but friends still existed. In the south was Mr Mussolini, and in the Far East Emperor Hirohito was poised to enter the fray. Mr Hitler knew the importance of such men, even if he didn’t care for their characteristics. What he underestimated was the benefits of neutrality.

    “You see, closer to home, Mr Stalin and his red army had pledged non-aggression with the Germans. The three people in this country with even a vague understanding of politics and international relations will know that this wouldn’t have been easy for either leader, what with the inherent contradictions of a Fascist-Communist agreement, but it was a necessary evil. Without the reds involved, Mr Hitler was free to run rough-shot over the rest of Europe, planting his flag in whichever bit of land he liked that day.

    “But then came Operation Barbarossa, and German boots roared over almost three thousand kilometres of Soviet border. But Mr Hitler wasn’t prepared for the war of attrition that Mr Stalin inflicted on them, and in time he was beaten back. And that isn’t even the biggest flaw in the plan. With the Soviets’ hand forced, they entered the wider war on the side of the Allies. Germany were slowly stretched over too much disputed land, distracted them from their efforts in the West and obliging them to fight upon two fronts. In time – and it did take time – he was defeated, and Barbarossa’s shadow lay over his grave.”


    Here, she allowed herself a brief pause, but sudden movement was still unnecessary. She slowly adjusted her elbow pads slightly, pulling the black material into position over the joint.

    “Lessons are learned not from the successes of history, tulips, but from the mistakes. Take the month leading up to Five Star Attraction, for example. When I was embroiled in war with Jon Snowmantashi, desperate to prize his prize away from him, you did not see me debasing myself by throwing stones at the minnows. When I faced Jonathan McGinnis, Bell Connelly, Johnny Vegas… I simply defeated them and moved on. Only with the champion did I set off fuses. But when it was time for McGinnis to cash in his re-match clause? His vision became blurred, obscured by a latent sense of injustice and a tantrum thrown in repeated failure. He has lashed out in every direction at once, and now? He finds himself surrounded.

    “Now, don’t get over-excited and start shouting ‘Goodwin’ at me – I am not comparing Jonathan McGinnis to Adolf Hitler, though I guess it’s nice for the Darling to have aspirations. But at Retribution, Jonathan could have quite easily been staring across the ring at Snowmantashi, without a care in the world for the rest of the arena. Now? There are four others he must stare at too, each with their own ambitions and their own grievances with the Darling. He does not have eyes in the back of his head, and – with a fence of steel between us and them – he does not have his pathetic little club either.”


    She was dressed differently, lime green trunks and boots an unusual dash of colour. She felt uncomfortable with it, as if she was highlighting herself, emerging from the crowd to be picked off. Usually, she blended in, like at the Wrestle Royale, preparing to seize a chance when it presented itself. Things were different, now. Everybody knew Michelle von Horrowitz, for one thing. The background was no longer open to her.

    “In one direction, we have Harrison Wake. Finally, some might say, Tough Guy Harrison has been given the nod and is stepping up to the adult’s table. His achievements in lesser battles are the only supporting evidence. An unsuccessful match for a mid-card championship. First runner up at the Wrestle Royale. These losses are not things to be proud of. The Backwoods Badass, as he so hilariously calls himself, will no doubt be telling everyone that he has beaten me before, in some Triple Threat match. This is technically correct, but only a thin slither of the truth. Unable to defeat me, Wake pinned somebody else – Eleanor Woods? No… Eli Ward? No… It’ll come to me later. And then, later in the night, when it really mattered, Tough Guy Harrison found himself staring up at me, the winner of the 2015 Wrestle Royale, from outside the ring.

    “After Wake is Enigma, a man I once regarded with something vaguely close to respect. I look back on our match together as a war, but a war from which I emerged victorious nonetheless. But last week on Adrenaline Rush? Enigma was personally and wholly responsible for scarring my record. Thanks to the endlessness of his ineptitude, the Brothers Connor can now claim a victory over Michelle von Horrowitz. I find this unacceptable, and he is now less than nothing to me.

    “Finally, there’s Johnny Vegas, another man that I’ve beaten. We can excuse the fact that Johnny-boy has been MIA for the last month, can’t we? He’s been injured, viciously assaulted, et cetera. We can excuse the fact that in his last match he lost to Darling Jonathan, can’t we? McGinnis is one of the best in the world, et cetera. We can excuse the fact that in the match before that he lost to me, can’t we? I’m the best in the world, et cetera. We can excuse the fact that in the match before that he looked on impotently as I pinned McGinnis again, can’t we? It’s a tag match and he was on the winning team, et cetera. But the excuses run out eventually, Johnny-boy, and you’ll find yourself asking when these anomalies begin to become the trend.

    “So, some standard of competition, yes? You might even begin to feel for Darling Jonathan, if only he wasn’t such a colossal, gaping ass. Have any of them even won a match cleanly since Five Star Attraction? But, the thing is, you can include the Darling in that question and get exactly the same answer. There is only one person in this match that can feel hard done by Richman’s announcement, and she’s speaking to you now. Nobody in this company is as consistent as me, as good as me, or as deserving of a one-on-one championship match as me. Tonight should be Snowmantashi versus von Horrowitz II. You all know it. Harrison Wake, Enigma, and Johnny Vegas know it. And, deep down, McGinnis knows it, too.”


    She allowed these words to settle in a moment of silence. They felt important.

    “But, in spite of Richman’s bizarre decision, the world will get the match it wants eventually. When these four pretenders lie vanquished and sorry, the true re-match will take place. Only one man in the CWA can claim to have beaten me, fair and square. Only one man can say he has pinned me. That man happens to be the one I must go through to start the dream I have for this company. I know it must be that way, Jon. I think that you do, too. I think that you would agree that you underestimated me before Five Star Attraction, and that’s probably true in reverse as well. Now I know what I know. I have already said that lessons are to be learned from the mistakes of history. Tonight, we’ll find out how true that is.

    “I want to finish with a history more recent. There is a reason, my tulips, that I have main evented every single pay-per-view that I’ve been a part of in CWA. This is not new ground for me, nor has it been even before I walked through that door and broke Little Annie’s ankle in two. I am used to the occasion. What is new is only superficial. Four glass pods and a steel fence. These are not important things. The music that begins with a bell rang three times is the same in any auditorium, in any ring, in any match. It is fitting that tonight we hear the song at Retribution. But the five of you should not fool yourself that the retribution will be yours, gentlemen. It belongs only to me, and the wounds of Madison Square Garden will begin to heal tonight.”

    Volume 15: "Deluge" (04/20/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Harrison Wake (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:





    Karasu Resuringusukūru, Tokyo, Japan.
    4th October, 2012.

    She stood beneath the entrance, set back from the main road by a narrow alley and a short flight of steps, thin strands of smoke ascending into the Tokyo air from her tightly-packed cigarette. A few metres away, vibrant advertisements lined tall buildings, shining down upon the streets and giving them an unnatural, electric glow. Her alley, though, was hewn in dull browns and shades of grey, but for the argon-blue light that read ’GYM’ above the door and the handful of colourful A4 sheets that had been fly-posted next to it.

    Amongst them, Michelle noticed the familiar sight of the official poster for her upcoming HPW show at the Nagoya Dome. The small, yellow sheet had followed her everywhere, through Metro stations and libraries and wrestling gyms, to the point where she could describe each pixel of it from memory. The most dominating feature was the figure of Osuushi, a three hundred and fifty pound mountain of a man, all rage and theatrics in his stock photograph. He roared down the lens, fists lifted as if the camera-man was about to pounce, eyes ablaze with a wild wrath. His championship belt – dwarfed by the sheer size of the man – hung proudly on his right shoulder. He was Osuushi, or The Bull, and he was a serious man.

    Across from him stood a twenty-two year old woman, dressed immaculately in almost-entirely black ring gear, pulling her best uninterested pose with arms folded, an affectation of apathy upon her face. Her hair was cut neatly above her shoulders, blonde roots giving way to dyed green ends, the same colour as her bright, piercing eyes. The letters MVH were stitched onto her tight, black shirt in green thread. Beneath the pair, Japanese lettering hyped The Bull vs. Michelle von Horrowitz for the Honshū Puroresu Television Championship. The date was a cruel reminder. She had twelve days and she wasn’t even slightly prepared.

    Michelle flicked her cigarette towards a drain and took one last deep breath of the clean, evening air. Inside, six men waited with the same impatience as the rest of the city.

    Forty minutes passed, during which she’d already rolled around the mat with the brawler and the technician. Now it was the grappler, a giant lug of a man standing at six and a half feet tall. He wore a baggy t-shirt to conceal the mounds of fat and muscle that ran unregimented around his torso, tribal tattoos sketched upon his biceps and hands. His hair was a tangle of sweat and knots, and when they came together the smell of him was like a high impact move all on its own. He staggered forward, lumbering from left foot to right, and the small woman slid through his legs, pushing his hulking form towards the turnbuckles. He grasped the ropes to keep his feet and she was on him in an instant, clubbing the small of his back with her forearm. She rolled him up in a schoolboy and the referee was down in an instant, his palm slapping the mat twice before the big guy drove his shoulder up.

    The brawler had been a similar size but leaner, tight skin wrapped around bulging muscle, quick as a dart but with enough power to make it count when he caught you. He’d knocked the air out of her more than once, his hammer-like fists raining down on her like a storm, cornering her against the turnbuckle and driving knees, elbows, and forearms into her torso. The technician had looked to wear her down. As soon as he’d caught her once he refused to let her go, dragging her down to the mat, tearing and gnawing at her joints, working them loose like an engineer at a machine. And now there was the grappler, throwing her around the ring like a rag doll, clumsy suplexes and stiff power slams painting her back with bruises.

    He came at her again, taking her in a bear hug, squeezing the oxygen out of her lungs with his trunk-like arms. She took the point of her elbow and slammed it against his head, the hold loosening for just enough time for Michelle to throw a forearm into his jaw. The brawler stumbled backwards, a couple of metres of separation forming between them. She roared at him with a Busaiku Knee Kick, the big man crumbling into a heap on the deck. He rolled onto his front and she wrapped up his legs around hers, pulling his chest away from the mat with his arms, before slamming him face-first into it with a curb stomp. The referee counted the three, which incidentally was the number of the big man’s teeth that had spilled onto the canvas.

    She took her seat on the stool they’d set up for her in a corner, her body a chorus of screams and aches. The big man was sliding beneath the bottom rope, his haggard trainer helping him to his place on a bench alongside the other two fallen giants. Iwao Karasu climbed onto the apron next to Michelle, a towel draped over his shoulder, staring beyond her at the three men sucking oxygen the other side of the ring. Iwao had agreed to help ready her for Osuushi, despite his own preparations for a number one contender match at the same show. They’d grown close over the years. Beating the shit out of each other for forty-five minutes every now and then did that for a relationship.

    “These are the best three you have?” she asked, taking a long, laboured pull at the water bottle. She’d expected this to take twice as long.

    “The best three willing to work at this time,” Iwao said, watching his head trainer patch up the three journeymen he’d assembled. Above them, the slender hands on the clock drove on towards midnight. “If you’d only train in the morning like a normal person we could get you some proper competition. These bums won’t prepare you for Osuushi.”

    “Maybe later. These’ll have to do for now,” she said, standing up from her stool and loosening her shoulders for another round. “Get them up, I want to go again.”

    “Maybe you do,” Iwao replied, glancing at her opponents. The brawler was sat on the floor, his back propped up against the wall and his head between his knees. The technician’s tight muscles were being massaged by the aging trainer. The grappler had a large ice pack pressed against his face. “I’m not so sure about them.”

    She had felt more than their body’s bruising beneath her blows. Their pride was hurt too. “They want to go again.”

    ***

    Caledisi Island State Park, Dunedin, Florida, USA.
    17th April, 2016.

    “Last night I dreamt of a family, and a village. These things came to me as I slept, vivid and clear, as real as anything I see now. I would like you to listen carefully. You see, my tulips, these images are not for nothing; they are messages, and they do not lie.”

    The scene is dark, a red glow visible on the horizon, the light a promise of coming sunrise. Michelle von Horrowitz sits upon a beach, feet in the white sand, the sea stretching immeasurably before her. The last, dying efforts of the pale moonlight dance across its surface, stars fading into the blue morning’s sky high above.

    “Beneath the Spring light, the villagers would build their houses and plant their gardens deep within a crevice of a mountain, the Sun shining on their backs as they work. The settlement grows up around them, a living being in its own right, bathing in the morning glow as it rears up under its own weight for the first time. A mother and her daughter watch as their home breathes, and unfolds, and grows, the intricate work of their people building up the city until it reaches out to touch the sky itself. And then comes the deluge.”

    The camera watches on over Michelle’s shoulder, the clear sky unremarkably blue, kissed by the suggestion of sunlight that peers over the horizon. The sea is calm, folding over itself with the rhythms of the tide. The shore stretches towards us, each gentle wave reaching out a few centimetres further than the last, sinking into the dry sand as it relentlessly marches on.

    “The winter arrives, and the villagers retreat into the higher reaches of the mountain. Our young hero watches on from within her mother’s arms, the cruel waves marching into their corner of the world and tearing at the foundations of the city. Their lives had been lonely, their toil long and their burden heavy, but they had been building something. It was their own vision. Their own. But nature has other ideas, and they watch as the water comes to wash the paint from the canvas.

    “After the deluge, the villagers climb down into their canyon once more to survey the damage. They see the destruction not as a setback, but a clean slate. When they start to build again, the old designs are humble and modest in comparison to the glory they have planned now.”


    There are a few other souls on the beach, but it is vast enough and early enough for them to pass by one another like boats in the night. A man walks his dog in the shadow of the southern cliff. A young couple recline on a beach towel a hundred metres upland, a dozen or so empty beer cans discarded around them. They are only interested in themselves, in their morning, their latest sunrise. Michelle felt alone, stranded and insignificant beneath the fading stars.

    “At Retribution, I was pinned by Jon Snowmantashi again. The memory of Five-Star Attraction was already raw, and the KAIJU ripped open the wound in Boston. I am acceptant that, for now, McGinnis and Snowmantashi must be left to finish their battle. Eventually, these wounds will need to be answered for, and I know that I must take this up with the Man-Baby himself, regardless of whether the championship belt sits upon his sweaty, disgusting shoulder. But the deluge has just destroyed weeks of work, and I must go down into the breach to rebuild before I dance in the pale lights with Snowmantashi again.

    “And so, my tulips, the endless march of the CWA travelling circus brings us to Flordia, where I must once more climb into the ring with the Backwoods Badass. You see, Tough Guy Harrison and I have something of a history – he was present for my greatest victory, as well as my first and last defeat. He pinned Elijah Woods during our Triple Threat match, putting him next in line for a High Voltage Championship shot, and just last week he fought on with the Man-Baby and Darling Jonathan after I’d been eliminated. Harrison Wake has watched me fail, twice.”


    A brief pause. The day is beginning to take over, a fresh promise warding off the oppressive night. An early morning breeze rolls in across the sea front, a respite from the dry, humid air that will only get worse with the day. A thin fog hangs out to sea.

    “It’s also true, my tulips, that Harrison was the last to fall during my successful Wrestle Royale effort, but these are now just historical footnotes. People like Elijah Edwards are right to point out that my momentum has stalled since that night. I’ve had just two truly important matches since then, and in both my night was finished by the KAIJU. Winning on Adrenaline Rush each week does not satisfy my hunger. But I’d remind you, whilst this is true of me, Harrison Wake finds himself within a glass house with a useless pile of stones sitting next to him.

    “Whilst I was putting on match-of-the-God-damn-year with Jon Snowmantashi in New York City, Tough Guy Harrison was demoted to the side-lines by Elijah Edwards and Craig Owens, impotent in his attempts to break up Double E’s championship-winning submission. Since then? Whilst I’ve been dealing with The Echo, refusing to let them get in the way of my head of steam, Wake has allowed each of his matches to be disrupted by Darling Jonathan. He couldn’t even get to the opening bell with Shade, and he’s lucky McGinnis saved him a pin-fall loss by getting himself disqualified. But it’s his contest with Dustin Dreamer that reveals most about Tough Guy Harrison. With victory in his sights, he allows rage to cloud his vision, and he chooses to pander to his bloodlust rather than concentrate on the result. These are the actions of a weak, stupid man. They should not be rewarded.”


    Behind her, the city is beginning to wake up, and birds can be heard in the distance beginning their morning song. In the background of the shot, a boat is visible through the fog, sailing past the bay and towards the docks. Buoys slowly bob above the surface, listlessly following the whims of the sea. The day is new. The slate is clean, ready to be drawn upon again.

    “This week, Harrison Wake and I will battle one-on-one for the first time, and I am glad that it is him. He has often been compared to the KAIJU. The similarities are plain for all to see. His heavy strikes are like a beating war drum. His focus is relentless. He is a force of nature in his own right. But he is not Jon Snowmantashi. He is merely like Jon Snowmantashi. He is preparation. Harrison, do not think of yourself as the deluge. You are not the destructive force that wipes clean the work that I have done. You are only the rebuilding, and the day is new.”
    Volume 16: "Twenty Four Hours in Orlando" (05/05/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Dustin Dreamer (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:





    The bar rested on her shoulders, the chromed steel cold even through the thick, baggy t-shirt that covered them. A film of sweat was quickly building on her back, pinning the black material to her skin. Once more, she slowly squatted toward the ground, her back straight and her thighs burning. In the corner of her eye she saw three men standing in a huddle, sneaking glances at her, counting the one hundred and twenty kilograms that rested across her shoulders. She cleared her mind of the distraction. The gym was a solitary experience for her, a time for reflection as much as training. She stared only at the wall. She thought only about Harrison Wake.

    Her neck was still stiff, from what seemed to be well over a hundred headbutts and a piledriver on the ring steps. She hadn’t been able to work for three days, and should probably still be taking it easy now, but another match was already on the horizon. The injuries to her back were mostly her own doing rather than Wake’s, the obvious outcome of a botched elbow drop through the announcers’ table. Her arms ached from holding them in front of her face as Wake wailed away at her. Her brain throbbed, memories of forearm smashes and lariats (not to mention the headbutts and the pilderiver) refusing to dissipate. This is what going life and death for fifty minutes with Harrison Wake the week after a Steel Roulette match will do to a person.

    Yet here she was, three more squats to go, sucking in oxygen, her eyes wide open but registering nothing more than a notice pinned up in front of her. Please put weights back after use. Her mind was occupied, playing back the final moments of her match with Wake. The failed elbow drop, the failed 450 Splash. She’d been lucky when Wake nailed her with a superkick, the referee still unconscious thanks to her Busaiku Knee Kick and his Throatbuster. The match was riddled with her mistakes, and she almost felt that a loss would’ve been deserved.

    She hated this sort of training, but for a woman her size it was important to work on strength, and thankfully – as she had no interest in bulk - this type of workout was infrequent. Her ring-style was constructed so that her power was only needed in short bursts, for the odd suplex or the Psycho Driver. These squats were for her Burning Hammer, mostly, though she had found no use for her last resort finisher in the CWA so far. She imagined – or hoped, perhaps knew – that she would find herself in the ring with Wake again, and it was important to be prepared. It had taken everything to beat him on Adrenaline Rush, perhaps she’d finally have to dust off the Hammer again soon.

    Her mind raced back, trying to pinpoint a match that had driven as much life out of her in one fell blow. Osuushi, maybe. When she’d tied it up with The Bull (雄牛) in 2012 at the Nagoya Dome, the three-hundred pound man had run right through her with more than a hundred kicks and what felt like a thousand chops. It was a different sort of match to the one with Wake – shorter and slower, owing to the deliberate tone and pace that The Bull had inflicted on it – but the effects on her muscles had been the same.

    It hadn’t been the one fight in the Nagoya Dome that had aged her in 2002, but rather the weeks surrounding it. There was the ‘FIRST BATTLE (初陣)’ show in Yokohama, during which she’d lost to Toshiro Matsui, the Nagoya opponent of her oldest friend Iwao Karasu. Matsui had liked headbutts, too, wearing them as some sort of self-damaging badge of honour. Iwao was meant to wrestle the Bull that same night, and then the four of them would have a tag team match at the ‘SECOND BATTLE (第二の戦い)’ show in Shizouka. Finally, the road lead to Nagoya and ‘FINAL BATTLE (最後の戦い)’, where she’d find herself alone in the ring with The Bull at last. At least, that’s how it was meant to go.

    When The Bull had walked out in Yokohama, the first of three bouts on the week’s tour, he had no interest in warm-up matches. He bruised five of Iwao’s ribs, cracked three more, and placed a break in his ulna, another in his humerus, and two in his radius with an arm bar. If the big man had wanted to send a message, it had come through loud and clear. If he’d just operated in the heat of the moment – well, that was a message all of its own. Iwao had pulled out of their tag match, obviously, and she’d had to draft Anzu in as a replacement. She still owed her that favour.

    She placed the bar back on its notches, relieving her shoulders of its weight. Closing her eyes, she tried to force the memories of Harrison and The Bull away from her. Now wasn’t the time for reminiscences. She had another match, another opponent; Dustin Dreamer, the number one contender to Lightbringer’s High Voltage Championship. A dangerous man in his own right, having won the Lower-Card-Battle-Royale at Retribution. He was more King of the Foothills than King of the Mountain, but at least the lad had won at the event. That was more than she could claim, at least.

    And through it all, visions of Wake and Dreamer and Osuushi, the large form of John Snowmantashi danced clumsily. The only man to have pinned her in this company, and he’d done it twice. Dustin and Harrison suddenly felt like stops on the tour towards another 最後の戦い.

    ***

    She hadn’t received hostility like this for a while, and as the Orlando crowd – no more than two thousand, for a change – rained down the hatred upon her she felt the whole experience refreshing. It was like being greeted by an old friend.

    You couldn’t blame them, really; she’d just taken six minutes to beat some stalwart from the local shit-stain promotion that used this hall twice a month. He was from the city, working some surfer gimmick that went some way to hide the fact that had a bit of talent buried down deep. He was surprisingly swift when it came to chain wrestling, and two or three times in the early throws she’d found herself in a rear waist lock or hammerlock that she didn’t see coming.

    Class showed through, though, and soon enough the kid was on his back following a Busaiku Knee Kick. She’d dragged him up by his hair and, slender thing that he was, hoisting him up for the Psycho Driver had been relatively straightforward. A four-fifty and a three followed, and then came the boos.

    Michelle collected a microphone from Lindsay Monahan (who had climbed into the ring to begrudgingly announce that the next wrestlers came to you tonight from your Mother’s bedroom) and waited patiently for the Floridian to be rolled out of the ring. Her breathing was a little laboured, owing to a forearm the boy had managed to fit through her guard, reminding her of a deep, tender bruise that Harrison Wake had given her four days prior.

    “Trogs, your disdain is nothing but fuel, these local heroes you offer up to me only a sacrifice that feeds my strength!”

    The hostility was re-doubled. Winding up a house show crowd was one of Michelle’s favourite things to do.

    “You should be grateful, boys and girls, that my travelling circus decided to pass through this city – a city only famous for fascistic animators and hexagonal wrestling rings – and that your lives have been brightened if only for one solitary evening. For I do bring the light, boys and girls, and you have seen that it is good. You see this week in, week out on Adrenaline Rush, where I provide you with classic matches each and every time I climb through those ropes. I elevate weak men like Enigma and The Connors, and when given a warrior like Harrison Wake to work with I serve you match of the god-damned year. This is the revolution that I warned you of. The Deluge. I wanted to lead the CWA into this new dawn as its champion, but – for now at least – this circus must be dragged through the night from beneath.”

    Michelle pauses, realising that she’s been pacing across the ring. As she continues, she wonders towards a corner, taking a seat with her head propped up against the second turnbuckle.

    “But next week, when we pitch our Big Tent in Jacksonville, I am not given a warrior like Harrison Wake, who himself is only a warrior like Jon Snowmantashi. Instead, I am fed a lamb like Dustin Dreamer. Dreamer versus Dreamer, I read somewhere, but these comparisons are only surface level. I have been following the short but tumultuous career of the so-called King of Chaos, my dear trogs, although it must be said his work in the independents is patchy and, if I may be so bold, insignificant. Here, where it matters, he has shown momentary glimpses of skill and a certain talent for violence. But, nine times out of ten, Dustin Dreamer has come up short. He is not a winner. Hurting your opponent means nothing if you can’t pin his shoulders to the mat. Winning is what separates wrestlers from fighters.

    “Pinned by Charles Murphy. A Club-gifted DQ victory over Harrison Wake. Submitted by Lightbringer. A laundry list of almosts and nearlys, getting closer each time but always finger tips away from the mere scent of victory. And then, at Retribution, the Dreamer could stop dreaming, that elusive victory finally handed to him by a quartet of underachievers and novices. I almost hope he does beat Lightbringer for the High Voltage Championship, if only so the Kisai can stop wasting his time with it and join us at the adult’s table.”


    A small ’Dustin Dreamer’ chant begins to build towards the back of the small arena, spawned from nothing more than antipathy towards the woman in the ring. She didn’t perceive it as affinity with the King of Chaos himself, but there was enough disdain for his next opponent to hand him begrudging praise.

    “Now, before I find myself rambling on about inconsequential things like Dustin Dreamer –“ she almost spits out his name in derision. “- I took this microphone and debased myself by speaking to you people for a very important reason. You are all journalists and voyeurs. Many of you are holding phones up in front of your faces as I speak, and the word will get out. I want Harrison Wake, one more time. I don’t care where, and I don’t care when. I don’t care if I need to clear it with Richman. I don’t care if I must go through his puppeteer Mia Walsh. I want Harrison Wake. Any time, any place, any match.

    “I see Dreamer for exactly what he is. A stepping stone. A message waiting to be sent. He has his own path to tread, his own opponent to worry about, but next week he must put all hopes of glory out of his mind. He walks in my shadow! On Adrenaline Rush, my dearest trogs, the King of Chaos will learn to observe order, and to accept his place within it.”


    Dropping the microphone, von Horrowitz climbs out of the ring, the hostility following her up the ramp as Roy Orbison begins to sing.
    Volume 17: "Wake Up" (05/20/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz and LIGHTBRINGER def. Harrison Wake and Dustin Dreamer [Tag Team Match] (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:





    Nagoya, Japan.
    October, 2012.

    The match with Osuushi, or The Bull, was coming toward her with all the subtlety of a double-decker bus. She was a rabbit in the headlights, blinded by the man’s intensity and ferocity. She had watched him tear the great Iwao Karasu - a man who’d taken her to the limit no less than eleven times - limb from limb just two days prior. Osuushi was no less than a beast, without mercy or honour. Usually, that was exactly the sort of man she would relish the idea of dancing with. But now, with eight days between her and her first opportunity at the Honshū Puroresu Television Championship, it was looking more and more unwinnable with each passing hour.

    After the events of ‘FIRST BATTLE (初陣)’, when Iwao’s bones had been cracked and bruised at will by the three hundred and fifty pounder, she’d found herself floundering in search of a replacement for him. Karasu was meant to be her tag partner at ‘SECOND BATTLE (第二の戦い)’, but they could hardly wheel him down to the ring in his hospital bed. She almost regretted her hard-headed, isolated nature, a nature that had won her very few friends in the back. Potential substitutes had slammed doors on her, laughed in her face, or launched into rants about why they wouldn’t tag with her if she was the last woman on earth. The idea of a handicap match against The Bull and Toshiro Matsui – Iwao’s supposed opponent on the night she was to face Osuushi – was not a pleasant one. She’d lost to Matsui a few nights prior, after all, and the memory of his headbutts still stung her brain and her pride.

    All that was left was a fool’s hope. She’d had a partner in the early stages of 2011, when she’d been rising through the ranks and happily latched onto somebody else’s star to help the ascent of her own. They’d only had a few matches as a team, and both of them knew it wasn’t really going anywhere, but Anzu Kurosawa had been there for her before. The only remaining issue was that Anzu was half the world away, wrestling in Mexico or Cuba or some other Latin American stink-hole. Contacting her was the easy part. Convincing her to fly back to her homeland to confront a beast and a lunatic would be more difficult. But Michelle had no other option, if she intended to even make it to ‘FINAL BATTLE (最後の戦い)’.

    When Anzu had picked up the phone, von Horrowitz found herself stumbling through what she’d thought was a carefully planned soliloquy. After exchanging some pleasantries (a social skill she’d never enjoyed or been particularly good at), she’d meandered her way through the events of the last week. Each time she approached the question, she veered away from it again, as if part of her was ashamed that she was asking somebody – anybody for help. She still mistrusted the idea of a teammate, and showing vulnerability had never been something she’d favoured.

    Eventually, Anzu had to cut her off.

    “When do we fight them?” she asked. It was the first thing she’d said in about ten minutes. Michelle smiled to herself, safe in the knowledge that – with the Pacific between them – Anzu wouldn’t know how happy she’d made her.

    I owe you one.”

    ***

    Tokyo, Japan.
    June, 2013.

    She found her seat with difficulty, hidden away as it was in the far reaches of the massive Dome, and scanned the scene. It was like nothing she’d ever seen before. A sea of humanity, to use the old cliché, and it was a stormy one. Thousands upon thousands of people, crammed into every crevice of the arena and alive with activity, all here for the same reason. She’d heard him called ’the greatest Intercontinental Champion in SPJ’s history’, a history that was long and storied and full of great intercontinental Champions. And there he stood, in the middle of the ring with his hands at his side, not an ounce of vulnerability about him.

    She’d heard other things, of course. He came from wealth, and there had always been unfounded rumours that his father was paying for his success. She couldn’t comment on the claim’s veracity until she’d seen him in person, and tonight was the first chance she had to do so. The year had been a busy one. She’d left Honshu Puroresu (HPW) after they’d demanded she give them exclusivity, and when Iwao signed a contract with the island’s goliath promotion she’d turned her back on him, too. She was still wasting her time in Okayama Senshuken Resuringu (OCW), a small-time, regional promotion that she’d once had faith in. Now, looking around at the sheer quantity of souls piled into the building, she realised her faith had been misplaced. OCW would never fill a place like this and – as a direct consequence – neither would she.

    These sorts of thoughts had been plaguing her mind for weeks now. It wasn’t all about winning championships and filling arenas, of course, but visions of insignificance had been draining her drive for most of the year. She was only twenty-three years old, and had beaten some of the biggest and baddest that Japan had to offer, but what was it all for? Her arm, broken four times already in her short career, seared with pain constantly, and she’d begun to forget what muscles felt like without the accompanying aches. It didn’t seem worth it, for a few hundred people in some abandoned warehouse or high school gymnasium. And now, as she surveyed the Tokyo Dome and all its luxury, these feelings were only compounded.

    When the match started, the man they called LIGHTBRINGER was everything she’d been promised. His offense was unparalleled in its versatility. His opponent, some up-and-comer who’d won a contenders’ tournament earlier in the year, couldn’t seem to get into the match. It was more likely that LIGHTBRINGER wouldn’t let him into it. They danced for a few minutes, the Star of Tokyo encouraging chain wrestling and subsequently schooling the young pretender. LIGHTBRINGER seemed to throw him down and drag him up at will, wrenching at each of his joints in turn. And then came the power moves; a fireman’s carry neckbreaker, a tombstone piledriver, and finally a top rope Samoan driver. He was quick, too – aggressively so. His moves were fluid and elegant, his technique flawless. The boy was spent ten minutes into the match. The LIGHTBRINGER lariat had sealed the deal. The cover was academic. This man was for real.

    When the three count was made, the crowd erupted into euphoria. The man himself wanted little of the fanfare. There was something about him that suggested he didn’t do this for the fans. She liked that in a man. ’He’d make a hell of a tag partner’, she thought, in spite of herself. She despised the idea of tag team wrestling. The idea of being reliant of beholden to anyone or anything but herself was repugnant to her. Even when she’d tagged with Anzu, someone she certainly respected and almost even liked, the concessions that had to be made and the compromises that had to be absorbed were too much. She redrafted her initial thought. ’He’d make a hell of an opponent’.

    ***

    Orlando, Florida.
    May, 2016.

    A candy-coloured clown they call the sandman…

    The reaction was mixed, as it often was nowadays. The cheers were as unexpected as they were unappreciated. She hadn’t changed one bit – she still looked upon these people with the same blind hatred as she had the week after Global Collision. But, as she’d told Jon Snowmantashi, the cream rises, even in the eyes of the trogs.

    As Roy began to warble about his dreams, she made her way down the entrance ramp. About half way down, she stopped to survey a sign, a large, bearded man shaking it in front of her face. The childish scrawl read ’MARRY ME, MVH!’ Her eyes drifted slowly from the placard to the man’s hopeful face, and then back to the text, and once more to the trog. Suddenly, and rather unpredictably, she burst out into wild, uncontrollable laughter. She held her gut, her diaphragm expanding and contracting at a tremendous rate. She sank to her knees, raising a hand to point a finger at the man’s unremarkable face, the hope slowly draining away and replaced by embarrassment. Finally, she pulled herself back to her feet, stifled a few remaining chuckles, and ripped the sign away from him. She crumpled it into a tight ball and continued on her way down to the ring, shaking her head as she went.

    After Lindsay Monahan had given her a microphone, she waited patiently for her music to die down and allowed herself a moment to soak in the atmosphere. There were still boos – many boos – but now they had to compete for prominence. She didn’t quite know how to feel about that. Eventually, remembering herself, she lifted the microphone to her mouth to impart her wisdom on the mindless, still throwing the crumpled paper-ball up and catching it in the same hand as she mused.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight is not a special night,” she began. “Tonight, your beloved puppet masters have decided to team me with a man I have no interest in and no affiliation with, against two men that I have already beaten. If I were you, paying so much for your awful seats in this stuffy arena, I’d demand my hard-earned green back. But no, you lap it up like nodding dogs, chanting this is awesome and the like when all you’re getting is recycled garbage. Variations on the same uninspiring theme.”

    The cheers subsided a little, the tide not necessarily turning entirely against her but the derision winning out for the time-being. She paused and she smiled. This was familiar. This was comfortable. She threw the ball of paper up once more, catching it again with a flick of the wrist, allowing herself a sideward glance at the announcers table. She meandered over to the ropes and, somewhat unexpectedly, threw the ball at Tim Coleman’s head. It bounced off his temple, causing him to slap at the air as if defending himself against some invisible attacker.

    “But, I’m not here tonight to talk about the shortcomings of bookers. These are inherent, and do not need further analysis. No, tulips, I’m here tonight to address the matter at hand. I’m here to talk to you about Harrison Wake. Two weeks ago in Florida, Tough Guy Harrison and I put on quite the show. A Match of the Year candidate, they’re calling it, and although such plaudits are nothing in comparison to the sweet scent of victory. We pushed each other to our limits, and – through piledrivers onto steel, missed elbow drops onto wood, and botched 450s onto canvass – when the dust had settled and the smoke had cleared, my hand was once again raised. You may have earned my respect, Wake, but that’s all you earned. The spoils were mine.

    “It is my understanding, though, that one defeat is not enough for Tough Guy Harrison. No, the idea of taking a step down in the pecking order is not appealing to our resident Backwoods Badass. And nor should it be – people who accept losing will continue to lose. I expect nothing less from a man so tenacious. So, after another defeat, Wake stood in this very ring, microphone in hand, and confidently challenged me to a rematch at World’s Strongest. I don’t know if Marcus Bennet dropped him on his head enough times to forget what happened the last time, but I fear that the unhinged has finally lost the plot entirely. There will be no redemption, only further disappointment.”

    A small ’BACK-WOODS BAD-ASS’ chant could be heard, but a duelling ’M-V-H’ call rose to meet it. Michelle couldn’t help but think her audience was struggling through the decision as to which wrestler they disliked less.

    “If you want a match, Tough Guy, you’ve got one. But I don’t want any doubt left as to who the better person is. I don’t want to give you any room to negotiate your own position after yet another loss. That’s why my acceptance comes at a condition; two out of three falls. Beating you once is old news. I’m not interested in re-treading the past. When I’ve pinned your shoulders to the mat twice without reply, there’ll be no debate. Cold, hard facts are exactly that, Harrison; cold and hard. But you must confront them regardless.”

    Michelle paused again, realising she’d been pacing, meandering in both thought and action. She forced herself into a stationary position, leant on the top rope and staring directly at the lens. Mockery crept into her town, in spite of the respect that Harrison had earned. It was only her nature.

    “I’ll even give you an out, Wake,” she said, unblinking and unflinching. “After all, when does a sour patch become normality? First runner-up at the Wrestle Royale. An unsuccessful challenge for a secondary title. Second runner-up in the Steel Roulette. On the losing end of a Match of the Year Candidate. You may decide, when I’m done showing you and your partner why I’ve never been pinned on Adrenaline Rush, that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew at World’s Strongest. That’s nothing to worry about, Tough Guy; it takes a big man to recognise his own shortcomings. If, when you’re staring up at these very lights on this very ceiling, you begin to have second thoughts, all you need to do is say the word. I’m sure Captain Klappton would be willing to wrestle you next week, even at such short notice. Now, let’s get this thing over with.”

    After throwing the microphone in the general direction of Monahan, Michelle took up her favoured position in the corner, almost horizontal with her head against the bottom turnbuckle. She waited patiently for Harrison Wake. LIGHTBRINGER didn’t matter. Dustin Dreamer was irrelevant. There was only Harrison Wake and Michelle von Horrowitz.
    Volume 18: "Grand Stage" (06/03/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Harrison Wake [Two out of Three Falls Match] (CWA: World's Strongest).
    Spoiler:





    The scene is still. Dewdrops hang from the vibrant, summer leaves. Clouds are tinted grey. A slight breeze rolls through the picture, branches dancing and whistling and creaking. The largest - an old, proud oak - sits alone on top of a gentle hill that dominates the foreground, casting shade over one of the slopes and the eight men that walk through its long grass. Their heads are bowed, their backs sheltered from the peeking sun by the dense mass of wood and leaf.

    Slowly, the camera glides over the scene, until the figures meandering up the hill become clearer. They are dressed in black, hooded cloaks, and their faces are obscured by masks of the same colour. Some represent tragedy, others comedy, but at this point the opposite sides of this duality march together, in time and as one. On their shoulders is a casket without a lid.

    They stomp ever-upwards, the long, untamed blades of grass gently waving in the wind, towards two women stood at the trunk of the oak tree. They too are dressed in mourning black, with veils hiding their faces. One is tall and young, her long, black hair thrown back by the breeze. The other is old, short, and fat, grey hair sitting in tight curls atop her head. Both stand stoic and emotionless. In front of them is the grave.

    When the bearers arrive, they slowly lower the coffin into its pit, thick arms controlling the structure until they no longer have the strength. It falls with a thud. They turn away wordlessly, marching back in the direction that they've come, a solemn danse macabre in the silent, summer light. The two women creep towards the hole, bending over to pick up a handful of dirt. They reach over the gaping earth and allow the soil to fall. They don't speak. They don't cry. They only turn and leave.

    The camera creeps towards the grave, peering into it and blocking the rest of the scene from the viewer. All that is left now are the walls of the hole, brown and cold and unforgiving, and Michelle von Horrowitz staring up at the lens.

    "I wanted to speak to you all about a vision I was afforded in dreams," she begins, her eyes open and unblinking. "But I have done this many times. I fear that my word alone is no longer enough. It is not being taken for what it is worth, and my word is worth everything. So, I thought it might be an idea to show you."

    The camera slowly inches downwards, into the earth, narrowing in on Michelle. Her hands are resting on her abdomen, her fingers interlocked. She looks comfortable. Almost relaxed.

    "These images, of a hill like this one and a tree like this one and a grave like this one, have come to me a number of times in the past week. Ever since Adrenaline Rush, in fact, when I almost single-handedly defeated both Dustin Dreamer and Harrison Wake. The King of Chaos and the Backwoods Badass. But both Kings and Badasses fall to the one, true Dreamer, and the night through which she dances. Almost every evening I have watched the coffin brought up the hill to be placed in the grave, and each night I observed my own eyes staring back at me, open and alive but contained in this hole. These are not empty visions. I understand this better than anyone."

    Still we are meandering down towards the buried, the hard soil creeping past the camera as it silently glides. There is no other movement. The hole a self-contained universe with Michelle von Horrowitz its only inhabitant. Nothing else mattered, nothing else existed, but her and the words that she spoke.

    "This scene does not foreshadow my death, tulips. I am not checking each direction twice before I cross the road, and I still go out in thunderstorms. When Death comes for me I shall greet him like an old friend, but I know that this day is in the distant future. No, tulips; this scene symbolises stagnation. It is the slow rotting of a corpse that relates to me and my mission. When the body is buried, it is fresh, and only the deadness of the eyes lets you know that there is nothing behind them. Over time, the forces of nature erode and devour, until what is left is nothing like the thing that once was."

    She pauses for effect, allowing her audience to find their way through the maze of language she's just laid for them. The edges of her lips curled upwards, a mere suggestion of a smile creeping onto her countenance. She enjoyed picturing the trogs struggling through the CWA.com upload. Fuck them. She wasn't speaking to them. She spoke to Wake, and to Snowmantahi and McGinnis, and to Richman.

    "And like time erodes the integrity and the familiarity of a corpse, my missteps have eroded the integrity of my mission. When I arrived in CWA, I spoke about the company's new dawn, a dawn that I would usher into being. The revolution needs a figurehead, and I had appointed myself as the one to don the white armour and go once more unto the breach. But, alas, each defeat has dragged me closer to the grave. Each failure has subjected me to another squandered month. I cannot drive the train from its rear. Nobody can. The world looks on to McGinnis and Snowmantashi for direction whilst I must prove myself against lesser men. This is stagnation and it cannot be explained or excused.

    “My opponent for the World’s Strongest pay-per-view is a man I would almost say I admire. He and I did go to war three weeks ago, and it took everything I had and then a bit more to finally put him away. My limits were reached, my respect was earned. A rematch with Tough Guy Harrison is the best I could hope for; the most impressive message I could sign my name to at this juncture. We have been evenly matched throughout much of our CWA career, though it’s true that he’s walked these halls longer than me. The final two in the Wrestle Royale, where I emerged triumphant. Third and fourth in the Steel Roulette, where he outlasted me. Our battle on Adrenaline Rush three weeks ago. The question asks itself, the answer needs to be given at World’s Strongest. Who is the better wrestler?”


    She allows herself a stretch of the arms - to suggest that signs of life still yet remained - as the camera glided on regardless. It was as if it were trapping her, almost crushing her. She refocuses on the lens, doing her best to eliminate these fears.

    “But this question comes with caveats, my little tulips. You begin to ask yourselves about the circumstances of these encounters. Third and fourth in the Steel Roulette, behind who? Snowmantashi and McGinnis, of course. The final two in the Wrestle Royale, but only after Snowmantashi and McGinnis had beaten the shit out of each other for the World Championship. A match of the god damn year candidate on Adrenaline Rush, but the episode doesn’t end with Michelle von Horrowitz standing tall over Harrison Wake. No, it ends with Darling Jonathan and the Man-Baby making eyes at each other. Let’s face it, Harrison; we play third and fourth fiddle in a band of two.

    “The opportunity that comes with this is obvious for all to see, I trust. Jon and Jonathan cannot dance forever, one would have to assume, and soon enough another challenger must emerge. We enter the coliseum this Sunday, not so much as enemies, but rather as rivals. Claims must be staked, Harrison, and at World’s Strongest I intend to make mine at your expense. I am aware, of course, that your answer to this almost writes itself. Even you must see it, Tough Guy, and if you don’t I’m sure that Mia does. It’s true that I’ve lost at every single pay-per-view that I’ve fought at. Five-Star Attraction, Retribution, even Wrestle Royale, though the phoenix did rise later that night. Nobody is more consistent than me week in, week out, but I’ve yet to prove I can win the big one.”


    She expected Harrison to throw this in her face because it had been so a number of times before. As far back as in France, working at some two-bit Marseille promotion, she'd managed a single championship reign totalling eleven nights. She'd earned an opportunity at the promotion's top prize, nothing more than a regional heavyweight belt, after a handful of weeks tearing her way up the card. The man she was due to face, Le Bourreau, no-showed the event and she was handed the title by default. Less than two weeks later, the former champion had decided to show for his rematch and she'd choked, crashing and burning from the top with an attempted 450 before offering herself up to his Death Valley Driver finisher. The pain of being dropped on her head was nothing compared to the pain of being a champion without a single defence.

    The accusations - that she would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when it really mattered - had hounded her from Europe to Japan. It had come to a head in Nagoya in October of 2012, the night she was due to face Osuushi, or The Bull. She had peeked at the arena during the opening bout, a sea of people rocking back and forth like the tide. They were intimidating in their quantity alone. She had vowed that day to never again look before it was time. No good could come of it. The people were there for many reasons, but for the first time in her career she was the main attraction. The call had been sent down with a runner mere minutes before the show began. They were to go on last. The weight of expectation hung heavily on her shoulders.

    The people were only so interested because of the build, and she had contributed very little to that. They had come to watch the latest matador stand in the way of The Bull. His tear through Honshu Puroresu (HPW) had reached almost legendary status. He was unbeaten since entering the company, a total of eight months, and he'd beaten forty six different men in that time. Eleven by knockout. The advertisements had taken the narrative up of a beast that no man could defeat, so a woman had been offered up instead. The Bull's manager had dredged up memories of Marseille, and similar crushing defeats in Berlin and London, and judged Michelle - among innumerable, unrepeatable things - a secondary player. It had stung, but the onus was upon her to correct him.

    Within the grave, the camera finally reaches its destination. The shot is taken up by Michelle von Horrowitz’s profile, unblinking and solemn. The brightness of her green eyes offset her ghostly pale skin, staring at the lens with clarity and intent.

    “It all changes tonight, Harrison. A two out of three falls match favours conditioning and technical prowess, two things I proved I have over you in Jacksonville. You can huff and you can puff but you can’t blow the house down, and if it takes an hour again then it takes an hour. I have all night. This stagnation must be stayed, a message must be sent, the ceiling must be smashed. Regardless of respect, even admiration, Harrison, these things can only come to me if they are denied to you. There is no luck that can be wished to you on Sunday, no glory waits in Miami. It has already been decided.”

    When she walked out beneath the lights in Nagoya, the audience ceased to exist as individuals. They had become one, all sound produced combining into a ball of energy and adrenaline that seeped into Michelle. She must have walked down the ramp, but she couldn't remember doing so. When she climbed through the ropes, thirty thousand people screaming for the opening bell, it had seemed like she'd always been standing within its ropes.

    The Bull lumbered to the ring more slowly, but with an intensity that she couldn't place and had no hope of describing. He wore black trunks and black boots, fat rolling over stubborn patches of muscle, and his eyes were alive. There was no malice in him, save that felt towards a thoughtless animal that rips into its prey. He was only what he could be, what nature had made him. As he rolled into the ring and got to his feet, eyes only for Michelle, the ominous nature of the event's name became more real. The ‘FINAL BATTLE (最後の戦い)’ was here.

    The match had started in the way she had hoped. He was quick for a man his size, as Iwao - her oldest friend in the industry who found himself on the shelf thanks to his tussle with Osuushi at ‘FIRST BATTLE (初陣)’ in Yokohama - had warned her, but she was quicker. She danced around him, retreating to the outside at any opportunity, giving him reasons to be frustrated. She thought that eventually her superior conditioning would begin to show, and then she could tear him apart. But she needed to be patient, and careful; one or two power moves from The Bull and it was all over. She limited him to a few scoop slams here and there, and a vertical suplex at the twenty minute mark drove the air out of her, but for the most part she was evasive. When he tried to throw her up into a fireman's carry she would slip out the back after a pair of hard elbows (with a loaded pad) and return to the leg.

    Weakening the base had been her staple for years, especially when she'd haphazardly come across someone with skill in the ring in Europe or Asia. It had brought down dozens of huge men. But The Bull was carved out of granite, and she kicked herself stupid against his sturdy base. He kept on coming at her, stubborn and brainless as an ox, and sooner or later he'd hit something big. She decided it was time to go all in - that he was as weak as he'd ever be - and floored him with two Busaiku knee kicks and a drop toe hold into the exposed turnbuckle. It was enough to keep any normal man down. But her 450 had missed, the big man rolling out of the way at an impossibly late instant. She had fought to her feet, only to be thrown back down with a power bomb. She could just about remember the second, but she left the scene before the third and fourth.

    Le Bourreau in Marseille and Osuushi in Nagoya had played on her mind for months afterwards, and the thought that the same thing was happening in the CWA had not escaped her. It wasn’t just important that she beat Harrison Wake. It was essential. The integrity of the remains depended upon it.
    Volume 19: "Old Debts" (06/16/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz and Anzu Kurosawa def. Taylor Toxic and Raquel Wednesday [Tag Team Match] (FWA: Back in Business).
    Spoiler:


    As she tore another handful of bread away from the loaf and threw it onto the surface of the lake, she was only partially aware of the myriad of everyday scenes going on around her. A few yards to her left, a family did its best to restrain their youngest from diving head-first into the pond. Behind her, a boy tried to steal a kiss from a new girlfriend, though she was having none of it. Away across the lake, a pair slightly further on in their relationship ate sandwiches from a picnic basket, staring off into slightly divergent directions as if they'd ran out of things to say to each other. A man walked his dog along the western path. A youth bought a shit bag of shit weed from a muscular, bald man in a grey hooded sweatshirt. As a half-dozen ducks circled the latest crust that had been deposited into their lake, she was only partially aware of these everyday scenes. Michelle von Horrowitz was alone, but for her memories and the birds.

    She watched each ripple expand, gently forming a series of concentric circles that were propelled outwards towards the banks. They would die away before getting to their destinations, but the next piece of bread would form another set of hopeful waves that would eventually fade into nothing in turn. Each ripple was its own life, short and pointless like the rest of them. Concentrated into a few moments, they would rise and fall again like each human would over decades. Staring into them, with the cold, Berlin air pressed in tight against her skin, scenes of her own life began to disturb the surface of her mind.

    She was here for Anzu, of course, and nothing else. She had a sister in Berlin, but they'd seen each other a few months prior, when Bella von Horrowitz had visited New York during the weekend of CWA's Five-Star Attraction. She wasn't one for superstition, but she associated Bella's face and Bella's voice with the crushing defeat she'd been handed by Jon Snowmantashi. This visit was not to tighten familial bonds, but rather to pay old debts. Harrison Wake and the World's Strongest PPV would be waiting for her in America, but for now all thoughts lay on Anzu and Berlin.

    They had met back in 2008, when Michelle was just starting out in Japan. She didn't know anybody, not even Iwao, the man who'd guide her through life on the islands. She'd been working on the European independents for about eighteen months, and had been offered the opportunity to fly out to Nagoya to work a few shows for a regional promotion there. She'd won her match on the first night against some weak, green girl from Osaka, and was reclining in her corner of the large, communal locker room, basking in the glow of her glorious self. Suddenly, the great Anzu Kurosawa had barged in, screaming and blathering in her native Japanese.

    Michelle lit another cigarette in the Berlin park, watching the birds peck away at the last remaining crumbs. A larger, cleaner, almost prouder bird floated a few yards from the pack, refusing to debase herself in the scramble for food. Her mind was drawn back to Nagoya and 2008, and her first impressions of Anzu. As a veteran wrestler who had fought all around the world, Anzu was afforded her own private locker room with all the seclusion and comfort that came with it. She was visiting Japan on a homecoming tour, culminating in an appearance for Honshu Puroresu, one of the nation's biggest promotions. These dates in Nagoya for this shit-stain company were little more than warm-ups.

    Anzu had a tag team match scheduled, where she was due to team up with some newcomer to face Tsuki no On’nanoko, the promotion's 'Women's Champion', and her hench-woman Kurētā. According to a nearby wrestler who happened to speak French, Anzu's rookie teammate had failed to show up, and Kurosawa was ranting in pursuit of a replacement. Anzu didn't have the most ingratiating personality back then, so nobody was forthcoming and the veteran quickly disappeared again. She had a match against Tsuki for her championship in three nights time and something about her manner suggested she didn't like the idea of a handicap match. Michelle had quietly sauntered to Anzu's private locker room, knocked three times, and casually offered her sword. She wasn't usually one for allies, but she'd seen Kurosawa fight. Some allies are worth having.

    They'd won the match in about eleven minutes, Michelle hitting a 450 on the champion before the legal woman - Anzu - leapt on her for the cover. It's wasn't victory-theft or anything; the veteran had expressed nothing but gratitude, and had even gone as far as to offer Michelle her championship shot. She'd politely declined. Even that far back, Michelle saw little point or use in women's championships.

    After that night she didn't hear from Anzu for six months, until February of 2009. Michelle was still scrubbing out a living in her Nagoya backwoods promotion and making occasional appearances for Okayama Senshuken Resuringu (OCW), a company no bigger but with at least something resembling ambition. It was whilst at OCW that she first fought Iwao Karasu, in the main event of one of their fortnightly shows that sold two thousand tickets, her biggest audience to date. But Honshu Puroresu was always the eventual aim, and it was Anzu that helped her achieve it. She needed a tag partner for a series of five matches for a HPW tour, and Michelle was only too happy to escape the gymnasiums of Nagoya and Okayama.

    She'd been given a full time contract with HPW off the back of it, and had even been allowed to keep her OCW dates for a while. The partnership with Anzu had gone nowhere particularly exciting, and they sort of drifted apart when Kurosawa left again for Mexico or Colombia or whichever dessert she was set to appear in next. They had one more tag match in 2012, when Michelle had been desperate. She'd bitten off more than she could chew with a three hundred and fifty pounder named Osuushi, or the Bull, and her only option had been to call the closest thing to a friend she had in the business. Anzu had flown across the Pacific to help her that night, even in a losing effort. It felt only right to repay the favour; the Atlantic was the smaller ocean, after all.

    Inside the ring, the duo had never accomplished much. Outside of it, though, they could fill a library with memoirs. Most of it would only be interesting or even intelligible to those that were involved, but to Michelle it seemed that most of her Japanese memories took place during that four-week HPW tour. Anzu seemed to collect mugshots, and whilst Michelle was no stranger to a bar fight herself, their attitude towards them differed drastically. Michelle preferred solitude, especially whilst drinking, but was more than willing to defend herself if someone recognised her and fancied a pop or refused to take no for an answer. Anzu, on the other hand, openly courted confrontation.

    Michelle thought back to a night in Nagano, where she and Anzu had been drinking in some quiet bar near the arena after the fourth match of the tour. They'd decided to head into the city centre, and hit a place that had been recommended by a youngish barman who seemed to know what he was talking about. It was quiet (late on a Thursday), but a group of young, Japanese girls had gathered around a thirty-ish looking Latino with a pot belly, a greying beard, and sweat patches. He was holding court on some topic or other, and Michelle had attempted to drag Anzu into a quiet, shadowy corner of the room. Kurosawa had waved her off and taken position on a bar stool within ear shot of the group.

    "And when you're there in the ring, chicas," the man was saying as Michelle sheepishly sidled up next to Anzu at the bar. They ordered a pair of Jameson's as he's continued. "And you stare into the eyes of the bull? That is the only time a man can truly feel alive. At all other moments he is a ghost, a shell! When you are in the ring and you stare into the eyes of the Bull, that is when a man is a man. We matadors are a- -"

    Here, Anzu took her first sip of the amber, and instantly blew it back out of her nose onto the bar. She let out a thin, high giggle, and then shook her head. The man had stopped talking to stare over at the two of them.

    "You are not a matador," she declared triumphantly.

    The man blinked at her, and stood from his seat. Only then did Michelle notice the two younger men either side of him.

    "I was the matador," he insisted.

    "I have lived in Mexico and Brazil and Cuba," she began, draining her glass and placing the empty in the bar. "I have watched the bullfights in Spain and Santiago. I have known matadors. I have loved matadors, and I say that you are not a matador."

    The young Japanese women that surrounded the man shuffled uncomfortably from foot to foot. They moved a lot faster when he lunged at Anzu. His friends followed, and Michelle was forced into the fray. Thirty seconds later, Anzu was sat on the matador's back, waving a red serviette in front of his eyes.

    "Michelle, my sword," she was shouting. "I've left my sword in the hotel!"

    In the park in Berlin, the ducks had lost interest in Michelle. She had no more bread to give them and they began to paddle away. The sun was creeping towards the horizon. Evening was beginning to take hold. With a sigh, she pulled her coat tightly around her and meandered off towards the address she'd been given. It was a small office space a few hundred yards from the park, and Michelle took one last deep breath amongst the greenery before she plunged out into the concrete maize that the city had become.

    ***

    She’d be forgiven for thinking that she’d come to the wrong place. The building looked unspectacular and unoccupied, as if it had stood without being noticed for centuries. She pushed open the door, expecting nothing but an ocean of cobwebs behind it, but what she saw was a clean, almost-sterile office space. There were a few unfortunate souls working away their Saturday afternoon, filing things away and standing at photocopiers, and when she asked at the desk for Anzu she did so with a sense that this was the wrong place. ”No,” she imagined the receptionist saying. ”We sell boxes, not anzus.” The old, sort of frumpish woman nodded and smiled, though, and led her to a room at the end of a short corridor.

    Inside the office, four people sat around a table. One of them was an old, white guy, face riddled with wrinkles, pockmarks, and the other clear signs of a long, hard life. The second was slightly younger but no less haggard. He was Japanese and the only one to look up when Michelle entered the room. There was also a younger, Chinese woman with a stern face and an ash tray full of cigarette butts in front of her. She was quietly working her way through another. Anzu was the fourth, sat in a bright, purple tracksuit with a foot propped up on the desk in front of her.

    “Ah, Ms. von Horrowitz,” the oldest one said, still staring down at his newspaper. He waved his hand in the vague direction of his counterparts as he introduced them. “My name is Ethan Rose. This is Tatsuo Kawaguchi and Hua Ji-Shen. I believe you know Anzu Kurosawa. Please, take a seat.”

    Michelle did as she was asked. She exchanged a sheepish smile and an awkward wave with Anzu. She hadn’t expected this many people. She’d seen the handlers before, though they’d never formally been introduced. Tatsuo, the Japanese man, had been with Anzu when they’d met in Nagoya, and had translated their first conversation. Hua had been there during the HPW tour, and both of them had come to watch their confrontation with Osuushi. They hadn’t seemed to do much but skulk around the ring and take notes, but now – sat in what was essentially a conference room, complete with a spreadsheet chronicling Anzu’s matches, a flipchart listing audience trends, and a screen with a video paused on the FWA logo – she began to realise that Kurosawa’s relationship with them was a little more intricate than that.

    “I assume you’ve been told who you’re here to fight?” Ethan asked, turning over the page of his newspaper. Michelle noticed that it was written in German.

    “Yes,” she said, meekly. She felt uncomfortable and shuffled her weight uneasily around her seat. “Taylor Toxic and Raquel Wednesday.”

    “And what do you know about Taylor Toxic and Raquel Wednesday?” he asked.

    “That their names are Taylor Toxic and Raquel Wednesday,” Michelle answered, deadpan. Anzu smiled, but the others continued without response. Ethan read, Hua smoked, Tatsuo stared.

    “They are members of a stable with Dinorah Redgrave, a former FWA Women’s Champion and the number one contender to Bell Connelly’s title,” Ethan continued. Michelle had heard of Redgrave, and of course she remembered Connelly. No doubt Bell remembers me, too, she thought, the memory of an ankle lock and three taps on the canvass flooding back to her. “They are not afraid to break the rules, and aren’t above sneak attacks. They have a gang mentality about them. Toxic is the brawler, though Raquel is a vicious striker as well. Wednesday is more of a submission specialist. Toxic will just try to bludgeon you into defeat. But the most important thing about them is their loose morality. They won’t think twice to bend and break any rule that they can. And what do you think is the best strategy against such women?”

    “I’m sure you have some ideas,” Michelle answered, sitting back in her chair. She intended to watch some of Toxic Wednesday’s matches later on in the day. She didn’t need some old man to tell her about strategy.

    “Taylor Toxic and Raquel Wednesday may be submission specialists who hit hard and play dirty,” Ethan replied, looking up from his newspaper for the first time in the conversation. His eyes were big and black, like a frog’s.But so are you. Anzu’s career is at a critical point where messages need to be sent. You will confront Toxic Wednesday head on, fighting as they fight. You will wear them down and beat them at their own game, and when they are broken, then you can do as you will with the remains. Our strategy is simple; to do exactly what they do, only harder, more often, and better. Do you understand?”

    Michelle blinked. It was hardly an intellectual tour de force. She was sure she could keep up.

    “I understand,” she said. There were a few moments of silence, during which Ethan continued with his newspaper. “That’s it? No pre-match promo? No backstage interview?”

    “We have prepared a video package,” Tatsuo began as Hua stubbed out her cigarette. She opened her packet and lit another. “Chronicling your history with Ms Kurosawa and her battles with Ms Toxic and Ms Wednesday. It ends with Anzu’s demolition of Olga the Ogre last week on Fight Night, and the narrator discusses that assimilation with the barbarians is the best path to victory. It’s from the Art of War. You know, Sun Tzu? We’re really rather proud of it. Would you like to watch?”

    Michelle stole a glance at Anzu. She had gone whiter than Ethan.

    “No,” Michelle said, a little abruptly. “No, thank you.”

    “Well, I think all that needed saying has been said,” Ethan interjected, rising from his chair and stretching out his hand. “Ms von Horrowitz, I’m sure that we can rely on you. We shall see you tomorrow.”

    She shook his cold, clammy hand and regretted it immediately. Anzu stood too and accompanied her from the room, and the two shuffled uncomfortably outside of the office as people filed their files and copied their copies. A fat, sweaty man waddled right up to them to use the water cooler that Michelle was leaning on. It seemed to take forever to fill his cup, the water dribbling out of the drum as she stared down at his reddening bald patch. Eventually, he took a sip, smiled at them both, and left.

    “Will you have time for a drink before you leave?” Anzu asked, her hands in her pockets. She didn’t seem happy. “After the match?”

    “Of course,” Michelle answered. There was always time for a drink. They shared a nod and Michelle turned to leave, getting a few paces before Anzu called her back.

    “One more thing,” she said, opening the door to the office as if intending to make a quick getaway. “They want you to do Fan Access tomorrow.”

    Motherfucker.”
    Last edited by SpecificSecretary; 12-07-2021 at 09:33 AM.

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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    PROMO HISTORY
    PART III.
    June 2016 - September 2016.


    Volume 20: "Meet the Press" (06/19/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Ariel Justice (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:



    Michelle von Horrowitz had faced her fair share of what you might call hard times. Struggle, worry, and anxiety often greeted her like old friends, usually when she felt most comfortable or on the verge of personal or professional development. Standing outside the door of her Aunt Maude’s living quarters as a small child, knowing that the woman lay dead within the walls. Climbing into the ring with Osuushi and staring into his big, black eyes as he lumbered from foot to foot. Sensing her world championship match against Jon Snowmantashi slowly slipping away from her. All of these moments had been brutal, crashing like waves against the calm shores of her being. But this was different. She was about to conduct her first press conference.

    Michelle had been trying to compose herself next to an exit, warming up her lungs with a Camel and watching a thick, grey cloud temporarily obscure the yellow sun. She sucked hard and long at the filter before throwing it away, exhaling a thick plume of smoke, and pushing her way back into the corridor through a fire exit. She stopped before the only other door and took in a deep, anxious lung-full of the hallway’s stale air.

    The fact that she’d never been asked to do anything like this before was no accident. Her natural habitat was below the radar, and for the first couple of months here she felt certain that management, not to mention the established veterans, had no idea who she was or what she did. That all changed with the Wrestle Royale, of course, and since then there’d been a steady request for interviews from various journalists, bloggers, and podcasters. She’d managed to ignore them until now, but finally management had begun to insist. Her star (or, rather, their star) was rising and, for some reason that always escaped her, dancing to the press’s music like a cymbal-wielding monkey went hand-in-hand with a place on the upper mid-card.

    The room itself was rather large, with tacky, 1970s carpeting the dominant feature; discoloured and worn out in various patches, vile in its insistence on browns and oranges and yellows. There were no windows, leading to a stuffy, enclosed atmosphere. She stared at the men and women who were garrisoned with notepads and recording devices, all of whom turned around to stare at her as she entered. She counted them up; sixteen in total, plus a couple of security men and some CWA officials making twenty three. Apart from arenas, she couldn’t remember the last time she had been this close to this many people. Silently, staring down at the haggard carpeting and stuffing her hands into her pockets, she moved around the mass of writers, giving them a wide berth, and took a seat alone on the raised stage before them.

    There was a moment of silence. It’s the deep breath before the plunge, as Gandalf once said. And then it began.

    “Michelle… Gary McGary here from PWOutsider,” a man in the third row started. He had a Hail the Club t-shirt on and raised his pencil as he spoke. “Last weekend at the World’s Strongest pay-per-view we saw you and Harrison Wake battle for almost an hour once more, this time in a two-out-of-three falls match. There was something about that match that suggested closure. Are you done with the Backwoods Badass?”

    “I think he’s probably done with me,” she replied, tapping her fingers on the desk and staring at Gary McGary. “There’s only so many times you can lose against the same woman and retain your credibility as a, how did you put it, a badass. I can fight Tough Guy Harrison again, and I can beat Tough Guy Harrison again, if that’s what they decide is best. But there are plenty other men to beat, plenty other statements to make.”

    “Jonathan Basingstoke-Fontlewinkle of The Gentleman Smark podcast,” a second man began, a black suit on his back and a sort of spiv moustache on his face. He stood up as he spoke and held his recording device up towards the dais. “It sounds to this humble reporter as if you have something in mind. Or someone in mind. Care to elaborate?”

    “Well, Jonathan,” she began, leaning forward and regarding his pale, thin face. He was gaunt in spite of his youth. “That’s no secret. I’ve said it every single week since the last time I faced him, and – if you insist – I’ll say it again today. Jon Snowmantashi. But my ’prized whale’, if you’ll forgive the rather literal metaphor, is busy for the foreseeable future. There is only one man that I’ve faced and haven’t beaten. More importantly, there is only one man who has pinned me. I want Jon Snowmantashi, with or without that championship belt on his shoulder, but it appears I must wait until he is finished with his hard-headed, futile crusade against McGinnis and his goons. And so I wait, patient as ever, treading water and tearing through whatever they give me in the mean-time.”

    “Jared Cunté, Total-FWA.com,” another man – young, heavy-set, perspiring slightly under the moderately bright lights – interjected. “In the last two weeks we've seen you twice on FWA programming, once to save Anzu Kurosawa from Taylor Toxic and Raquel Wednesday on Fight Night, and then again in a successful tag team outing at Back in Business. Can we expect to see this again? Do you have one eye on a move to the Clique Wrestling Alliance’s biggest rivals?”

    “No,” she replied, rather simply. There was a pointed silence, in which the reporters stared back at her, almost in demand. She sighed and leant back, tapping the heel of her foot against the chair and watching the hands of a clock move solemnly, inevitably onwards. “Look, I have no interest in the FWA, or its champions and their championships. I went to Berlin to help out an old friend and to pay off an old debt. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve already beaten the best of FWA, past and present. In my third match in CWA, I pinned an FWA hall of famer. The very next week I snapped their Women’s Champion’s ankle and watched her tap the mat in desperate defeat. No, I have no interest in the FWA. The CWA is my home and the CWA is my battle.”

    Total-FWA.com’s Jared Cunté nodded and then sat down, a look of vague disappointment on his face. Several others raised their arms or stood up or spewed out their vapid questions. Who is your dream opponent? What’s your locker room ritual? When did you decide to move to America and join the CWA? They were questions she had no interest in answering, and that you have no interest in hearing the answers to, I’m sure. Things like this – press conferences, interviews, and the like – they only distracted and confused her true purpose. This was The Circus, and she had no real interest in any of it, but she’d yet to find employ in a promotion that didn’t insist.

    Take this press conference, for instance. It was creeping onwards towards the twenty-five minute mark – about half the time it would take her to have match with Harrison Wake, or to beat Anna Malikova four and a half times – and not one of these pen pushers had thought to ask her about the immediate future. They knew as well as she did that her next match was against Ariel Justice, and that she’d agreed to give them half an hour of her time, but - as she meandered her way through her answer to which OCW, HPW, or SPJ wrestlers would you like to see make the jump to American soil? – none of them had even brought up her name. Perhaps she’d make it through the entire thing without having to address her. Or perhaps not.

    “Marianne Yeltzov, from the Rosie the Wrassler podcast,” a woman began, clearing her throat and holding her pen and notepad to the ready. “Next week on Adrenaline Rush you go head-to-head with Ariel Justice, in your first all-female match-up since your very first contest in CWA. What are your thoughts on Justice and the match? I assume you see the inherent similarities between yourself and your opponent?”

    “Well, of course,” Michelle began, looking over at Yeltzov whilst the rest of the reporters began to pack away their things. They didn’t seem interested in Michelle von Horrowitz versus Ariel Justice. Why should they be? It was throwaway and thrown together, and she hadn’t given them any reason to care. Truth be told, there was no reason to care. Justice was nothing but a stepping stone.

    “Justice is a figure that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently,” she continued, ignoring the other, disenchanted reporters and focussing entirely on Yeltzov. “And I’ve been watching her matches carefully, too. When I first began to wrestle the way I wrestle and speak the way I speak, I hoped that this would happen. In fact, I knew it would. Women remained an untapped resource in our sport, and promotions continued to limit their roster pool to half of the population, until I proved in one night in the Wrestle Royale match that this was a bullshit, patriarchal position. I applaud Ariel’s ambition, and I even respect her for following me unto the breach. But this won’t stop me from destroying her. More women in wrestling is a great thing, but if one should come between me and what I’m trying to do here? Well, I guess you can all watch for yourselves next week.”

    “But what about the differences?” Marianne continued, fully aware of her peers checking their watches and rolling their eyes, but ploughing on unfazed. “The contrast between yourself and Justice is plain to see, both in the ring and outside of it.”

    “I have noticed this, yes. At least inside the ring,” Michelle responded. “She is taller than I am, probably more powerful, too. She may think that this gives her an advantage, but I am used to going into matches in such a position. My whole strategy, everything that I do within those ropes, is predicated on going into the match as the smaller wrestler. Perhaps even the weaker wrestler, if we’re talking about strength alone. But Justice is stubborn. She refuses to adapt her style for the environment that she is entering. She thinks she can apply the same skills that made her a fierce competitor in the world of women’s wrestling to her life in the CWA. This is almost admirable, but I fear for her. I really do.”

    “And outside of the ring?” Marianne Yeltzov went on, insisting on this becoming a one-on-one interview. “You speak at length about your opponents… You indulge in a certain… psychological warfare… You’re fond of telling us that you’re the best in the world… We haven’t really seen very much of that from Justice. Do you think that makes her something of an unknown?”

    “Yes, of course it does,” Michelle responded, checking the clock. She still had two minutes to fill, but that seemed like too much time to address Ariel Justice in her entirety. “As I’ve said, I’ve studied her tape, watched her matches, and listened to her interviews. And what do I have to go off? A couple of losses to Elijah Edwards and a fifteen-second interview before her first match. Ariel Justice says nothing because she has nothing to say. You’ve all seen what I’ve done here. I beat the entire roster on my first pay-per-view. I’ve pinned our current World Heavyweight Champion, not once but twice. I’ve tapped out Bell Connelly, I’ve pinned WOLF, and I’ve destroyed Drew Connor. I say I’m the best and then I back it up, each and every week, not just when it really matters. And Ariel knows this. When you face Michelle von Horrowitz, you face all of her, whether it’s a house show, Adrenaline Rush, or Five-Star Attraction.

    “This is not the week that Ariel Justice arrives. This is not the week that she announces herself. This is the week that she realises just how far she has yet to go.”


    With that, she stood up to leave, nodding at Yeltzov before she went. At least she was tied down to the here and now, unlike the rest of the reporters. Michelle didn’t like to look backwards, and her future planning was generally focussed on what could be done in the present. Jon Snowmantashi was always standing upon the horizon, blocking out the sun, she knew there were miles to go before she could face him once more. She had to keep winning, and winning well, no matter who they put in front of her, if the late-blooming flowers of her Retribution were eventually to come through.
    Volume 21: "Half-Eaten Sandwiches" (07/05/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Mark Merriwether (CWA: Adrenaline Rush).
    Spoiler:




    The painting was old, unimaginative, stained by both age and a lack of care. The yellows of the sand were patchy and uneven, the whites of the waves stark and unreal. The blues of the sea, though, still stood firm, untouched by the years that the painting had been hung upon this wall. She assumed it had been there for years, but seeing as this was the first time that she had regarded it she couldn't say for sure. She didn't know whether the tide was coming in or going out, but that didn't matter. The coming and going off the tide was just a game, pointless and zero-sum, limited to a strict set of boundaries that the sea had no will to push past.

    Michelle asked herself how long she'd been staring at the old painting of the older sea, and had no answer. Michelle asked herself how she'd got to this corridor in the first place, and had no answer. Michelle asked herself where she was, and had no answer.

    She stared off towards the north end of the corridor, the rest of the walling bare and a ninety degree left turn visible perhaps twenty metres in the distance. She began to walk towards it, running the knuckles of her right hand against the wall as she did, the concrete coarse against her pale, white fingers. The carpeting, wallpaper, and ceiling were all the same deep red, constricting and contracting around her as she moved down the corridor. She seemed to be travelling upwards, too, dull aches in her calf muscles hinting at an incline. When she reached the turning she placed her hand on the angle, feeling the need to suck in a couple of deep breaths before she moved on.

    Around the bend, she found a man sitting at a table, leant back in a relaxed and comfortable manner in a high-backed chair. He tapped his fingers idly on the surface of the makeshift desk, and as she approached he slowly moved into focus. He had no eyes and no nose, but the thin, pursed lips of a small mouth occupied the normal position. His head was hairless and a sleek, black suit fitted him well. On the table sat three objects; a small, unused notepad, a pencil, and a large platter of sandwiches, each of which had been bitten once and then placed back into the pile. When she reached the desk, she stopped and stared at the man. For a moment he did nothing, but eventually, with a sigh, he leant forward to retrieve the pencil, proceeding to scratch 'Michelle von Horrowitz - 07/03/2016 - 08:58:21'. Afterwards, he placed the pencil back down, continuing to stare at Michelle with no eyes.

    "Where am I?" she asked, staring off at the far end of the corridor, where another left turn waited.

    “Don’t you know?” the man answered, his voice meek and unassuming but still dominated the corridor. Then, he motioned towards the sandwiches. “Are you hungry?”

    Michelle shook her head, and something within her suggested she should get away from this man. Without another word, she moved to the end of the corridor, turning left and finding another hallway exactly like the last. Hanging up half way down was another painting, again of the moon shining down upon the still sea. She couldn’t be certain, but here it seemed that the waves had invaded further up the shore, the white foam waves encroaching on the foreground. The frame seemed to be older, more worn by age, but the artist stayed the same.

    She moved onwards, turning another corner, and waiting for her was the same eyeless gentleman that she’d just abandoned. Or, a second exactly the same as the first. She looked down at the pad as the man began to scratch a second entry into the log, exactly the same as the first – ’Michelle von Horrowitz – 07/03/2016 – 08:58:21’.

    “Where am I?” she asked again. She would’ve still refused him eye contact, even if he had eyes to make contact with.

    “You used to know,” he replied. Again he nodded towards the platter. “Please, take a sandwich. They’re good. I’ve tried them myself.”

    She stared at the man’s blank countenance for a few beats before pressing on. Around the corner, she found exactly what she expected to. Another framed picture was pinned to the wall, and in this image the waves had forced their way to the top of the beach, to the point where the sand was no longer visible. It looked tumultuous, the indifference and treachery of the sea captured well in the brush strokes. It gave her a headache. She turned another corner, ever onwards and ever left-wards, and her old, faceless friend awaited her once more. He lifted his pen, writing ’Michelle von Horrowitz – 07/03/2016 – 08:58:21’ beneath the two pre-existing, identical log entries.

    “Where am I?” she asked for the third and final time.

    “You will know again one day, I’m sure,” he answered, with finality. There were more sandwiches on the plate than before, as if they were reproducing. “You should take some food for your journey. You’re almost there.”

    She stared at the man for a few moments, tracing her eyes from the greying crown of hair around his ears, passed his feature-less face, over dishevelled clothing and finally to hands worn by age. He was unremarkable and without authority. She had no reason to trust him, or to follow his instructions, or to respect his pointless words. She turned away, walking back in the direction that she’d come, seeking only escape. As she turned the corner, the inner wall began to fold and give way, collapsing into nothingness, revealing a vast, drastic landscape before her.

    And, in the far distance, a lonely mountain reared up from the earth like a stallion. It dominated the horizon, massive and inevitable.

    And then she awoke.

    ***

    The camera pans across the faces of audience members as we return to the arena, anticipation and excitement upon their faces. The masses of Canada were here to see their favourite stars, the men that they pinned their hopes on when their own lives were hopeless. The heroes of this world would descend the ramp and they would scream their name, the bright lights of the ceiling reflected from their suits of white armour. They waited, and they watched, and they listened, ready to pledge themselves to the man who would be King.

    ’A candy coloured clown they call the sandman…’

    For the most part, this was not one of their heroes. Michelle von Horrowitz wore no suit of shining white armour, and inspired no love from the people. Instead, the reactions she evoked were generally bred of mistrust, filled with mixed emotions and trepidation. They could cheer her, but she resented giving them something to cheer her for. They could boo her, but she had shown them too much talent for that to be done sincerely. Whenever she spoke within a CWA ring, which was admittedly quite infrequently anyway, she would stare out at the faces of her audience as they filled with wild frustration. They knew the words she spoke were true – perhaps even more-so than the words of proper heroes – but she said them in such a hateful and spiteful manner that a crowd would look for any reason it could to dismiss them. Today would be no different. Every day is the same as the last; long and hard and like Sunday.

    As a small ‘MvH’ chant began to circulate, she climbed through the ropes and listened carefully. She could make out the form of the three initials that they chanted, fighting desperately for prominence amongst the overwhelming hostility like a child held beneath the waves, reaching for the surface. They did not anger her, or disappoint her, or sustain her. The chant was as irrelevant as the people that produced it. She did not speak for these people or to these people - they were as dispensable and interchangeable as her opponent for the evening.

    “My silence can be kept no longer,” she began, after collecting a microphone from Lindsay Monahan. There was no need for elaborate metaphors or dreamish narratives. She had something to say, and it needed to be blunt. “My tulips, for as long as I can remember I’ve done precisely the same thing, week in and week out. I am bored of it. I am sick of it. So God knows how you all feel. I come to this ring, or I stand in the back next to Michelle Kelly, or I go to a nearby park to cut a soliloquy in the twilight. I declare myself the best physically, the best psychologically, the best full fucking stop, and then I climb through these ropes and I prove it. They feed me a different man to emasculate, a different hero to cut down. Whether it’s Harrison Wake or Jonathan McGinnis or Johnny Vegas or Mr Enigma, the result is the same. I come, I win, I leave. And then I wait. I wait not for recognition from my peers, and not for the love of you people. Your love is unclean. I do these things because I have a duty, a god damn right, to lead this company into the new age. An age where we don’t rely on stupid men and old men and fat men. An age where we can look at our champions, and the lineage that they’re a part of, and say with confidence and clarity that the Clique Wrestling Alliance is the premier wrestling organisation in North America. No, the God-damned world.”
    The crowd are on her back already, the standard ’BORING’ chant climbing above the woman’s supporters. A lazy ’WE WANT WRESTLING’ chant rises up in answer, quickly gathering momentum before it is all that can be heard within the Toronto arena.

    “You want wrestling?! YOU WANT WRESTLING?!” she continues. The volume of the repetition is so sudden and uncharacteristic that the chant is broken up, only the most ardent von Horrowitz detractors daring to continue. “Who do you think it is, you fucking trogs, that gives you wrestling?! When Jon Snowmantashi decides that he needs a night off, AGAIN, who is here to pick up the slack? When the Tag Team Champions spend half an hour running their mouths about something that literally nobody cares about, who is next up to put on a match of the fucking year candidate? When Jonathan McGinnis refuses to let one of his matches reach a proper conclusion, who reminds us all that the CWA can be a true sanctum of sporting competition? FUCKING ME, that’s who! I’ve wrestled on every single episode of Adrenaline Rush this year, and we’re half way through it. And why do I do this? Because it’s the right thing to do, obviously. And you tell me that you want wrestling? The fucking gall. You people make me sick.”

    There is some applause, particularly in lambast of the Indy Club, but for the most part the Canadian crowd grows quickly defensive. Only her most loyal supporters remain, but that was more than she wanted, anyway.

    “Last week on Adrenaline Rush, Isaac Richman came down to this ring and decided to make a match. He put Elijah Edwards and myself in a triple threat for a championship. And, to be honest, on the surface that sounds agreeable. As much as I hate to commend such a person, Elijah Edwards is maybe the only other person on this fucking roster who has competed with as much consistency and regularity as myself, albeit against weaker opponents. He’s earned a shot at the top prize, more-so than the Man-Baby, who doubtless will get yet another opportunity to wage his impotent war upon the calm shores of the Indy Club. But no. NO! Elijah and I are not to be in the world championship match next month, as he could argue he deserves and as I know that I deserve. You all know it, too. Each week I’m out of the championship scene is another week that McGinnis slides towards being a paper champion. He is not the best until he has defeated the best. I am the best, and he has not defeated me.

    “Instead, we are given a chance at the High Voltage Championship, held by that proud, arrogant man who calls himself LIGHTBRINGER,”
    she goes on, her rage still palpable but a little more focused. She is openly pacing the ring, now, irritated by the company and the crowd, a bundle of energy just waiting to be let loose on Mark Merriwether. “The undefeated LIGHTBRINGER, I should say, and my one-time tag partner. The time will come when my words are pointed at the Tokyo Kisai, but that time is not now. The same goes for Elijah Edwards. I don’t even wish to talk to Mark Merriwhether, whoever the fuck he is. I speak only to CWA management, and my message is clear. Next month, I’m taking this second-rate belt from the waste of your new poster boy, and I’m walking straight through the fucking exit with it. I’m done with the disrespect, the underestimation, the blatant, festering misogyny. You don’t deserve Michelle von Horrowitz. You deserve the slow, pathetic death that you’ve been sliding towards for years. I’m taking your belt and I’ll defend it wherever I choose. Whether that’s HPW or SPJ in Japan, or PAW in Mexico – hell, even FWA. Anywhere but here.”

    The crowd are close to silent, perhaps even dumbstruck. From the back, a scream of ’JUDAS’ is heard, and then all hell lets loose. The hatred comes on like a tidal wave. Plastic cups begin to hit the ring. The CWA faithful chant the company’s initials in accusation. Michelle stands unfazed, unmoving, a smile on her face and the microphone raised for the final blow.

    “You know my plans. They will not change. I am taking your belt and I am leaving this piss-hole. And if you want to stop me? You’ll have to send better men than Mark fucking Merriwether to do it. Let’s get this over with.”

    She throws the microphone at Lindsay, taking a seat in the corner with her head propped up against the bottom turnbuckle. She waits once more, the animosity gathering and building around her as if she were stood in the eye of a storm.
    Volume 22: "The Edge of the World" (04/08/2016).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. LIGHTBRINGER, Elijah Edwards [Triple Threat Match, CWA High Voltage Championship] (CWA: Kings Reign Supreme).
    Spoiler:





    MvH
    VOLUME 21

    "THE EDGE OF THE WORLD"


    July 11th, 2016 – Air Canada Centre. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

    “You know my plans. They will not change. I am taking your belt and I am leaving this piss-hole. And if you want to stop me? You’ll have to send better men than Mark fucking Merriwether to do it. Let’s get this over with.”

    She throws the microphone at Lindsay, taking a seat in the corner with her head propped up against the bottom turnbuckle. She waits once more, the animosity gathering and building around her as if she were stood in the eye of a storm.

    14th July, 2016.

    Dear Ms von Horrowitz,
    CWA-NW Talent Office. Seattle, Washington.

    We are writing in regards to your recent appearance in Toronto, Canada on an episode of ‘ADRENALINE RUSH’ for ‘CLIQUE WRESTLING ALLIANCE’ (CWA). Specifically, we write in response to your plans to defend the CWA High Voltage Championship on our programming at ‘PAN-AMERICAN WRESTLING’ (PAW), should you be successful in your challenge at the forth-coming ‘KINGS REIGN SUPREME’ super-show.

    The pro-wrestling audience here in Central and South America would welcome you with open arms, should you decide to go through with your plans. We were surprised to hear that you have never performed in Mexico, or in Latin America in general, and we have a series of challengers that we think are worthy of stepping into the ring with you, pending your approval.

    We do, however, find it highly irregular that you are not contactable by phone or by email.

    Regards,
    Raoul Almodovar.
    (Chief Talent Scout, PAN-AMERICAN WRESTLING)
    I.
    17th July, 2016 – CWA North-Western Headquarters. Seattle, Washington, US.

    It was the first time I’d had cause to venture into the corporate swampland of our dear little promotion. The executive wildlife – malignant suits who filed and networked and photocopied without ever making eye contact – generally did their best to ignore me, which was a mutually agreeable arrangement. I sat behind the desk, staring through the huge windows that made up the western wall of the office. We were high up, looking down upon the Seattle sprawl. The Space Needle jutted out proudly in the distance, a gaudy, phallic sentinel standing guard over the city.

    In front of me, a man whose name I couldn’t remember – Gregory? Graham? Something oh-so-vanilla like that – paced in front of the window, muttering his way through a soliloquy regarding responsibilities and contractual obligations. He was heavy-set and balding, and had removed his jacket to cower from the heat some time ago. Gentle patches of perspiration had formed beneath his arms. He had a funny habit of placing his thumbs behind his braces as he spoke, flicking them against himself as he finished each of his dull, unremarkable points. I wondered if he’d ever had an original thought in his life, if any measly morsel of his being wasn’t manufactured.

    “It’s just something you have to realise, Miss von Horrowitz,” he said, picking up his coffee cup and placing it down again without sipping. “You can’t always do whatever you like. You have a contract here. You can’t just up and leave whenever you like.”

    I thought about this in silence for a moment.

    “I think you’ll find,” I began, carefully. “That I can do whatever I like.”

    Gregory/Graham looked as if he intended to start his response a number of times, but on each occasion he’d climb back down before the first words passed his lips. Eventually, he sat down and looked over at the other man behind the desk. He was thinner, gaunter, with an entirely bald head and a sinister-looking beard. Like Ming the Merciless. Never trust a man who looks like Ming the Merciless.

    “Miss von Horrowitz,” he began, leaning forward in his chair but remaining seated. His eyes were piercingly blue. “I think what my associate is trying to say is that, should you fail to appear in the weeks following Kings Reign Supreme, the company will sue. Yours isn’t the most lucrative contract in CWA, sure, but you will still be in breach of it, and I doubt you can afford to buy yourself out. I know how much you earn, after all.”

    “Well, Mr Whatever-the-Fuck,” I began, yawning and placing my hands behind my head. In fairness to Ming, he didn’t flinch. “You may know how much I earn, but do you know how I live? Of course you don’t. If you did, you’d know I was a woman of simple pleasures. A bottle of Jameson’s, a box of cigarettes, and I’m happy. You pay for hotels, travel. No extravagance required, besides a return trip to Berlin earlier in the year. But the FWA gave me a huge cheque to make up for that, anyway. I haven’t cashed one of your cheques since February. I have them in my bag, if you’d like to see. And as for my contract, I signed for one year. That only leaves a couple of months after Kings Reign Supreme. I can afford to buy myself out and still have more money left than I could ever spend.”

    “Miss von Horrowitz,” he said again, his grating formality as deliberate as the rest of his demeanor. “Even if what you say is true, we still have the moral argument. Just think of everything the CWA has done for you. You’re a household name. To leave with the High Voltage Championship, should you take it from LIGHTBRINGER, would be to bite the hand that feeds you. You’d be spitting in the face of your fellow wrestlers, the Board, the fans…”

    “What the CWA has done for me?I scoffed, louder than I intended. The larger man recoiled, nervously rotating in his chair as I continued. Ming remained resolute. “What about everything I’ve done for the CWA? I’ve plugged holes bigger than the one in the o-zone layer for months. They asked me to waste my time with Enigma, with Wake, with the Echo, just so there was something worth watching on the show, and I went along with it. The people wanted to see McGinnis and Snowmantashi. I understood. But they’ve been at it for months, and literally nobody cares any more. You should have thought about all of this before you spat in MY face, asking Michelle von fucking Horrowitz to slum it in the midcard in some thrown together triple threat. You’ve made the match, you’ve sold pay-per-views on it, and now you can’t just cancel it. You have to lie in the grave you’ve dug for yourself.”

    Ming reclined in his chair as I stood, nodding his head and interlocking his fingers. He was the type of man who prized himself on being unflappable, but I could see through it. I saw his soul through his eyes, and a storm was raging. All that needed to be said had been said. Well, almost everything.

    “And it’s Ms von Horrowitz, you fucking troglodytes.”

    20th July, 2016.

    Ms von Horrowitz,
    CWA-NW Talent Office. Seattle, Washington.

    ‘HONSHU PURORESU (HPW)’ was pleased to hear of recent developments on ‘ADRENALINE RUSH’, a production of ‘THE CLIQUE WRESTLING ALLIANCE’. The HPW board are unerring in their desire for Michelle von Horrowitz to return to the promotion for her potential forthcoming defences of the CWA High Voltage Championship. HPW is confident that Ms von Horrowitz, a student and graduate of our school, will have the number of Elijah Edwards and LIGHTBRINGER, who came through the ranks of one of our rival promotions.

    This being said, HPW would request that Ms von Horrowitz agree to exclusivity in the great nation of Japan. It is our understanding that you have also expressed an interest in defending the championship in SPJ, and you spent many years in your early career performing for OCW. HPW would hope to be the only company promoting Michelle von Horrowitz in the country. In return, the HPW board of executives would negotiate appearances or title defences in our sister promotions in Russia (CZB – Чемпионат железа борьба) and China (WSW - 冬季風暴), as well as our partners ’London Brawling’ in the United Kingdom.

    As we did many times whilst you were under contract with our company, we yet again request that you provide us with a phone number or email address. It is good, professional practise.

    With thanks,
    Kyuzo Kimura.
    (Head of Talent Relations – HONSHU PURORESU)
    II.
    25th July, 2016 – The Stampede Corral. Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

    The show may have finished, but the fun goes on. As Michelle lurks within one of the exits, surrounded by CWA fans with her hood up to conceal her identity, a special attraction “dark match” is reaching its conclusion in the ring. With the Women's Wrestling Classic fast approaching, management has decided it prudent to showcase some of the talent that will be involved in the tournament. Georgie Calloway, some local heroine who had given an emotional speech about her dead Daddy and how the tournament provided some hope of redemption for her, had been put up against Beth Sokurov, a Soviet nobody. Calloway seemed to have the advantage, teeing up her trademark Spear… but as she charged, Sokurov utilised her ‘Now You See Me’ technique, evading the attack and sending poor Georgie face first in the turnbuckle. Sokurov dragged her to her feet by the tights, booted her in the midsection, and nailed her with the pedigree. The three count was academic.

    It was at this point that Michelle hopped the barricade, just as Beth Sokurov took her leave and stamped up the entrance ramp. She rolled beneath the bottom rope and waited patiently for the Canadian to rise. Calloway was ignorant to her presence, more concerned with coordinating her feet into a position where they could support her weight. She turned right into the Busaiku Knee Kick, crashing back to the mat once more. The crowd soured on the scene instantly, the cameras – sluggish after the culmination of this week’s Adrenaline Rush – perked up to focus in on a close-up of the assailant. Michelle von Horrowitz stood, a rare smile on her face and her arms raised either side of her, her trademark ‘Pro-Wrestling Jesus’ pose.

    After barking at Lindsay Monahan, she is handed a microphone and a steel chair, the former of which she places in the corner for later. Throwing the chair down on the mat, she hoists up Georgie Calloway’s dead weight, executing a double arm underhook DDT, sending the local hero’s head crashing into the steel. With the rookie lying face down and motionless on the mat, she nods in a contented manner at nobody in particular, before retrieving the microphone and taking a seat upon the top turnbuckle.

    “You know, I used to think that the Clique Wrestling Alliance, and those in positions of authority here, just don’t listen to the things that I say,” she begins, staring around at the assembled audience. Some, her most ardent detractors, have got up to leave, whilst others have stayed to boo. “But now I know the truth, and that’s not right at all. They do listen to the things that I say. They just choose to disregard them, and do precisely the opposite. How many months have I been here? Ten? Eleven? And how many times have I called Women’s championships and Women’s tournaments utter, contemptible bullshit? To be the best in the world, you need to be able to stand with anyone that could be put in front of you. Heavyweights and cruiserweights, male and female. If you cordon yourself off in your own little division, craving safety over competition, you end up with silly creatures like this one tripping over her own boot laces. This is not a petting zoo. It’s a jungle.”

    She hops down from her turnbuckle, walking across the ring to stand over her fallen prey.

    “But I shouldn’t expect anything more from the cretins that run this place. They are, after all, the same people who put me in this afterthought-extravaganza with LIGHTBRINGER and Elijah Edwards next Sunday. I’ve spoken about my problems with this booking at length, and others have spoken about it more, so I don’t see the point in re-hashing my plans. You know what they are. They haven’t changed. All that remains to be done is to rip that belt away from its paper champion. This Sunday is the precipice, my dear tulips.”

    To her credit, Geogie Calloway shows signs of life. Her limbs have gradually become responsive, and at length she begins to make her way to her hands and knees. Michelle, unmoved by the effort, simply scrapes the sole of her boot against the local’s head, sending her back to the mat. She repeats the motion whilst continuing her monologue.

    “I call LIGHTBRINGER a paper champion because, well, that’s what he is. He may be something somewhere else. In Japan, the name that he uses is regarded with respect and with honour. This means nothing to me. All he has done here is graciously accept the meager offerings being fed to him. Dustin Dreamer? Johnny Vegas? These are victories that we are meant to take seriously? This man beats Elijah Edwards a couple of times and all of a sudden he’s the second coming? Let me remind you, boys and girls, that I defeated the entire fucking roster on my first pay-per-view. I’ve pinned WOLF, I’ve tapped out Bell Connelly, and our current World Champion succumbed to me on two separate occasions. I went to war with Mr Enigma and Harrison Wake, and both bowed down to my will. We’re meant to respect that little charade you call an undefeated streak? Come back when you’ve beaten somebody, anybody, worth beating.”

    She allows her words to sink in whilst busying herself in removing the middle turnbuckle cover. She places the microphone on the top one so that her words are still audible.

    “At least Elijah Edwards challenges himself. I mean, his crusade against the Club is doomed to fail, of course, but it shows a sort of charmingly futile ambition. He refuses to play it safe. I once thought I could respect a man like LIGHTBRINGER. He wasn’t the worst tag partner I’ve ever had, not by a long shot. But in truth? He allows himself to be used as a pawn, without even realising it. I see it all now. Clear as day. LIGHTBRINGER fits the corporate mold perfectly. In some ways, he is the second coming. Of Snowmantashi. The Man-Baby’s heart hasn’t been in it for a while, and it doesn’t surprise me to see the powers that be lining the Kisai up to take his place. Krash and Cyrus have joined the queue, too. Throw in Darling Jonathan and you have five men that are variations upon precisely the same theme, competing in matches that we’ve all seen before, even when we haven’t.”

    After placing the microphone on the mat she lifts Calloway’s dead weight, pulls her over to the corner, and plants her face-first onto the exposed steel with a drop toe hold. She turns her back on the rookie to retrieve the mic, refusing to further acknowledge her presence in the ring.

    “But I mustn’t neglect Double E. I want to quote to you what a very wise person once said about Edwards, less than a year ago. ’Elijah Edwards is a man blinded by hypocrisy, floundering in the torrid guidance dished out to him by his manipulative little pipsqueak of a manager. Rollings is a cretinous leech driven by money, and a man like that is to be neither trusted nor admired. Edwards’ association with this creature only highlights the magnitude of his double standards. He paints a mundane picture of himself as a respectful, honourable soul. A general solid guy. Yet he buys into the spin of a squalid little runt like Rollings, eyes wide and starry at the merest suggestion of accolades, wealth, and power. Edwards is full of the ugliest of lusts, and unintentional vanity is just as bad as deliberate.’”

    She pauses at the quote’s climax, lowering the microphone to unleash a wicked grin. Georgie Calloway lies forgotten about and twitching in the corner.

    “Do you know who said that? That was me, my dear tulips. The week before the Wrestle Royale, when I stamped my name on this company by sheer force of will. I repeat it now because it is still true today, and Elijah Edwards is not worth wasting original thought upon. He has many qualities that one might deem admirable. He is relentless, and, as I’ve already discussed, ambitious. But he is also deluded. He did not keep his championship because he could not keep his championship. He hasn’t torn apart the Club because he cannot tear apart the Club. And he will not defeat Michelle von Horrowitz because he cannot defeat Michelle von Horrowitz. I present these things as facts because they are so.”

    After checking upon Calloway and content that she’s incapacitated, Michelle moves to the opposite corner and climbs to the second turnbuckle. She extends her arms to either side of her and allows the crowd’s hostility to wash over. She smiles, as if refreshed by the waves of angst and mistrust. The silence endures, and then lingers, and then stagnates. Eventually, with the camera focused upon her euphoric face, she concludes.

    “I’ve already said that to be the best you need to show yourself willing and able to confront all foes. Heavyweight, cruiserweight, male, female, brawler, technician. LIGHTBRINGER has shown himself unwilling and Elijah Edwards has shown himself unable. I am the only competitor on this roster to consistently do this, week in, week out, for almost a year. No weeks off. No vacations. No excuses. And yet I’m still told to eat scraps at the kid’s table. And so, I’m leaving, with your precious High Voltage Championship, along with its holder’s reputation. And there’s not a god damn fucking thing any one of you can do about it. We’re standing at the Edge of the World. Throw yourselves over, tulips. You haven’t got a chance.”

    The FWA.com footage fades to black with Michelle still atop the second turnbuckle, her eyes closed, soaking in the atmosphere. The next day, it would be announced that Georgie Calloway had withdrawn from the Women’s Wrestling Classic.

    27th July, 2016.

    Ms von Horrowitz,

    We are writing to express our interest in your recent comments with regards to the CWA High Voltage Championship. However, it would of course be our ultimate goal to retain your services on a full-time basis, as is the case with all of our talent. We would hope to honour your status as High Voltage Champion and, in time, potentially unify it with one of our own championships.

    However, all of this would be contingent on you providing our offices with a phone number or an email address. It is unprofessional and archaic to have to communicate through the mail.

    With regards,
    Mike Mundane.
    FWA Talent Officer.
    III.
    29th July, 2016 – Ellesmere Island, Qikiqtaaluk, Nunavut. Quebec, Canada.

    The snow was thick on the ground, and she held her coat around her as tightly as she could. The man who’d agreed to bring her to this place – Onatok, a middle-aged inuit man from the nearby settlement named Griese Fiord – sat nearby, eating the raw beans that he’d carefully wrapped up before they’d left the village. The snow pressed through the thick trousers she’d bought especially, leaving her damp and cold and genuinely dissatisfied. But the mountain that reared up ahead of her was everything she’d thought it would be.

    She’d seen a picture of it in the bus station upon arrival in Montreal: Barbeau Peak, a lonely and dominating pyramid of rock, covered with snow, hostile and unforgiving and inevitable. It was the one she’d seen many times before, in her dreams and nightmares alike. She was sure of it. And now, sat at its feet, damp and cold and genuinely dissatisfied as she was, she felt, well, at least she felt something…

    Truth be told, the shadow of the hill engulfed her, and – as she shivered with her back propped against Onatok’s tent – she felt as if the mountain knew she was cowering from it. It had been this way in her dreams, too. Each time the formation of rock had reared up before her like some angry stallion she’d been feeble and deferential. It seemed eternal, and now that she sat upon its foothills that feeling was only compounded.

    Michelle was snapped from her malaise by a bark from one of Onatok’s dogs. Another pissed against the side of his sled, ricocheting down to cut through the snow. She must have jumped at the noise, the first to break the utter silence in a while, for Onatok let out one of his strange, low giggles.

    “The dogs are bored, Shivers. They don’t know why they’re out here, either,” he said, in his monotonous fashion. He’d taken to calling her Shivers, which she wasn’t crazy about. “Up past the mountain there is a settlement named Alert. Five people live there, left over and forgotten when the Cold War petered out. Alert is the northernmost settlement on Earth. That’s where you are, Shivers; the Edge of the World. You’ll find nothing here.”

    “That is here,” she said, nodding towards the mountain. It didn’t acknowledge her. It didn’t need to. “I mean to climb it.”

    Onatok let out another low giggle, unable to contain himself.

    “You have a match. In two days’ time, I believe,” he began, slow enough for her to understand. He clearly didn’t think she was particularly intelligent, and – when it came to mountaineering – he was probably right. “Even with dogs, sled, the Barbeau Peak cannot be climbed so quickly. If it can be climbed at all. The snow is deep and cold, and you have been shivering for hours already.”

    Michelle stared at the peak, as insurmountable now, sat just a few miles from it, as it had been in her dreams.

    “Not today,” Michelle conceded. “But soon.”

    Volume 23: "Wilderness Champion".
    i. Part One (08/12/2016).
    Spoiler:


    MvH
    WILDERNESS CHAMPION

    July 11th, 2016 – Air Canada Centre. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

    “You know my plans. They will not change. I am taking your belt and I am leaving this piss-hole. And if you want to stop me? You’ll have to send better men than Mark fucking Merriwether to do it. Let’s get this over with.”

    She throws the microphone at Lindsay, taking a seat in the corner with her head propped up against the bottom turnbuckle. She waits once more, the animosity gathering and building around her as if she were stood in the eye of a storm.
    July 31st, 2016 - Centre Bell Arena. Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

    LIGHTBRINGER collapses to the mat after the lariat as Michelle rolls over still clutching her ribs. She fights the pain, bent over in the corner, lying in wait... LIGHTBRINGER rises up... BUSAIKU KNEE KICK! LIGHTBRINGER falls on his back but Michelle isn't through yet... BURNING HAMMER! Michelle drives LIGHTBRINGER to the mat and slowly drapes her arm over him for the cover...

    ONE ...

    Tim Coleman: "Please kick out!"

    TWO ...

    Elijah begins to slightly stir...

    THREE!

    Lindsay Monahan: "The winner of the match, and the NEW High Voltage Champion...MICHELLE VON HORROWITZ!"

    All three competitors lay in the ring, completely spent, as "In Dreams" by Roy Orbison rings throughout the arena. It seems like an eternity before Michelle moves. She rolls over and is handed her championship by the official. She's on her knees now, cradling the belt as if it were newborn baby...

    Jim Taylor: "What does this mean for the High Voltage Championship?"

    Tim Coleman: "I couldn't tell you, Jim, but I'm disgusted by this and for once I share these fans' feelings."

    Michelle hugs the championship belt as if there was nothing else in the world at that very moment as the fans shower her in hate and trash. She eventually exits the ring and walks up the ramp cradling her championship, while the fans continue to litter the ring. She doesn't turn back and disappears behind the curtain
    -- i --

    Update on MvH title "defenses"; Noah Hanson Adrenaline Rush announcement.
    5th August 2016
    By Johann Jerberger

    The internet has been abuzz this past week with news of the High Voltage Championship, which was “stolen” from the company last Sunday by its new holder. Michelle von Horrowitz, after emerging triumphantly from a war with LIGHTBRINGER and Elijah Edwards, left Montreal with the gold and caught the first flight off the continent. Von Horrowitz has been promising to do as much for the last month, leveling accusations of disrespect and undervaluing against CWA management and creative. It’s unclear what the promotion plans to do with the championship, although we are expecting an announcement from Noah Hanson next week on Adrenaline Rush. In the meantime, though, von Horrowitz is now competing as the “Worldwide High Voltage Champion”, and already has two successful ‘defenses’ under her belt.

    Obviously, CWA.com doesn’t recognise these matches as official High Voltage Championship contests, but that hasn’t stopped MvH from declaring them as such. Mere minutes after the culmination of the triple threat match at Kings Reign Supreme, the Honshu Puroresu [HPW] promotion in Japan announced on their Twitter feed that von Horrowitz would be competing on the Champion’s Feast supershow [チャンピオンの饗宴 – Chanpion no kyōen] in Nagoya. It’s obvious that the appearance was arranged in advance of Kings Reign Supreme, contingent on von Horrowitz winning the championship. Michelle had competed for the company for four years between 2009 and 2013. Her biggest match in HPW saw her go up against The Bull [雄牛 – Osuushi] for the promotion’s Television Championship, again at the Nagoya Dome in October of 2012. There wasn’t much talk of a rematch back then, when The Bull pretty much steamrolled von Horrowitz in just over thirteen minutes, but almost four years later the pair returned to the same stadium to fight for a different championship.

    The match, which you can see on HPW’s website for free, went on second to last behind the HPW World Championship match. The Bull’s age was certainly a factor, and von Horrowitz looked surprisingly fresh considering the battle she’d been through with LIGHTBRINGER and Elijah Edwards just a few nights before. MvH picked up the win over the Japanese veteran in just more than twenty minutes, after a Dragon-Style Curb Stomp and a 450 Splash. It seems that almost a year in CWA, wrestling men like Harrison Wake and Jon Snowmantashi, has taught von Horrowitz a few lessons about larger opponents. After the match, Michelle asked for a microphone and took her trademark position seated on the top turnbuckle. The HPW.com footage cuts out here, but grainy camera videos are already on YouTube.

    “I used to think that a company in America, a company named Clique Wrestling Alliance, was the greatest and purest version of my beloved sport on this Earth,” she begins, to an audience that only half understands. “Week after week, month after month, I would climb into a CWA ring and, almost always, I would climb out of it a winner. I’ve left CWA without ever having been pinned on Adrenaline Rush. I beat the best the company had to offer – McGinnis, Vegas, Wake, the Connors, LIGHTBRINGER – time and time again. Everyone except one man. Jon Snowmantashi has pinned me, fair and square, and he’s the only man at that company who can say that. But nobody had proved themselves more worthy of another shot at the World Championship than me. Snowmantashi had lost to McGinnis, twice, and should've gone to the back of the line. As far as I can see, there was nobody in front of Michelle von Horrowitz.

    “And what do they do? They offer me this,”
    here she holds the High Voltage Championship high into the air. “This secondary championship. This child’s toy. This placeholder. They expect the great Michelle von Horrowitz to be happy with this? Please! So, I took the nuclear option, and left their shitty little company with their shitty little belt. And by doing so I've elevated it further than any number of hollow wins on Adrenaline Rush ever could. It is now a symbol of my victory over the machine. It is a golden horse with a black rider,. A harbinger of the Clique's demise. Now, as you might expect, my dear tulips, this has caused a little bit of a stir back at home. The CWA has been quick to distance itself from me. Many keyboard warriors have declared any defenses I might have out here invalid. Or so I’m told. I don’t have a computer. Idiot boxes. But these peoples’ opinions matter not, tulips. All that matters, at least now, is this.”

    Of course, by this she means the championship belt. Again she raises it, and the gold seems to glimmer beneath the bright ceiling lights. She holds it proudly above her head for the remainder of her monologue.

    “But word from America has not escaped my ears. I have heard, just like the rest of the world has heard, that Noah Hanson – offender-in-chief amongst the troglodytes in CWA management – has a special announcement regarding the CWA High Voltage Championship. But Hanson is mistaken. There is no CWA High Voltage Championship. I stand before you now as the first and only Worldwide High Voltage Champion. No empty words or hollow threats can rip this belt from my grasp. For that you’ll need a three-count.

    “Hanson can stand in whatever shit-tip of a city his circus rolls into next, and he can come to any conclusion that he wants. He can put together some sort of battle royal or tournament and give some nobody a replica of my belt. He can claim that the championship reverts back to its previous owner and adorn LIGHTBRINGER with a tarnished crown, as I’m sure he’d like to. He could even bury the High Voltage moniker entirely and institute some new award. But the facts will not change. I stand before you as the lineal champion, the one true holder of this prize. Any new torch-bearer that they wheel out on stage will be little more than a sham. You all know it. Even you, Noah.”


    Finally, she hops down from the turnbuckle and walks into the cente of the ring, the belt upon her shoulder.

    “I started tonight by telling you what I once thought: that the CWA was home to the purest form of wrestling imaginable. I began to question this last month, and tonight I disregard the opinion entirely. Tonight I’ve seen more ambition, more talent, and more passion than in ten months at that sink-hole of a promotion. It’s a big world, and it’s selfish of America to demand all of Michelle von Horrowitz.”

    Two nights later, MvH competed for China's 冬季風暴 [Winter Storm Wrestling – WSW] on their Red Alert supershow [紅色警報 – Hóngsè jǐngbào]. The High Voltage Championship opened up the show as MvH successfully defended against 太陽的女兒 (Tàiyáng de nǚ'ér), a rising star in the promotion. Her position on the card, and a lukewarm reaction from the Shanghai Indoor Stadium crowd, pointed out the Chinese audience’s unfamiliarity with western wrestlers and von Horrowitz specifically. MvH won the fast-paced, high flying affair after a combination that saw her hit a devastating Regal-plex before grinding 太陽的女兒 down with a cross-face chicken wing plus bodyscissors, finally floating over into the Cattle Mutilation for the submission.

    Von Horrowitz left Shanghai almost immediately, but since a further appearance next week has been announced for Russian promotion Чемпионат железа борьба [Chempionat zheleza bor'ba (Iron Championship Wrestling) – CZB]. Nothing’s been confirmed as of yet, but it’s rumored that von Horrowitz will be facing “Knockout” Vladmir Kruschev at the Summer Snows IV show in St. Petersburg. You may recognize the name; Kruschev is a former amateur boxing world champion, and the man who ended the FWA’s Jean-Luc Watkins’ hopes of turning professional in that sport.

    Cynical commentators have pointed out that The Bull, MvH's Nagoya opponent, is now forty-one years old, whilst von Horrowitz – little more than a rookie in their first encounter - has entered her peak years. It’s also true that太陽的女兒, her Shanghai opponent, was a teenage prodigy who’d been wrestling for less than a year. MvH’s most ardent detractors (who also happen to be the CWA’s most fervent supporters) have suggested that the challengers being lined up for her are heavily vetted, and that we should expect to see more green boys and old men. Regardless, PWOutsider will keep you up to date with developments, both overseas and here at home.
    ii. Part Two (08/17/2016).
    Spoiler:


    --- ii ---


    on LIGHTBRINGER.

    “The essential conflict was between the tradition of the nineteenth-century asceticism and the actual existing luxury and snobbery of the pre-1914 age. On the one side were low-church Bible Christianity, sex puritanism, insistence on hard work, respect for academic distinction, disapproval of self-indulgence; on the other, contempt for ‘braininess’, and worship of games, contempt for foreigners and the working class, an almost neurotic dread of poverty, and, above all, the assumption not only that money and privilege are the things that matter, but that it is better to inherit them than to have to work for them. Broadly, you were bidden to be at once a Christian and a social success, which is impossible. At the time I did not perceive that the various ideals which were set before us cancelled out. I merely saw that they were all, or nearly all, unattainable, so far as I was concerned, since they all depended not only on what you did but on what you were.”


    She finished the passage and set the book down, her eyes drifting onto the high peaks that the train snaked effortlessly between. A woman came past with a trolley full of drinks, Michelle shaking her head politely but distantly. Her hand was in her bag, fingers tapping idly against the glass bottle within. She wanted a drink, almost needed one, but it wasn’t yet midday and the journey ahead was still long between here and St Petersburg. You can drink yourself to ecstasy and to ruin when the boredom of travel sets in. Scenery is beautiful for a second, a minute, sometimes even an hour, but eventually everything becomes repetitive. The woman disappeared into the next carriage, and Michelle took the opportunity to take one deep pull of Jameson’s, placing it back in the bag and hearing the satisfied clink of the glass against her championship gold.

    She picked up the book and read over the same paragraph for the fourth or fifth time. She saw within its convoluted phrasing and snaking structure a truth that had thus far escaped her. It explained the dichotomy of LIGHTBRINGER. Maybe even the reason that he had failed. You had to squint your eyes, and replace the context of an early 20th century boarding school education with an early 21st century professional wrestling promotion, but the comparisons were there to be found. For instance: that money and privilege are the things that matter, but that it is better to inherit them than to have to work form them was the assumption of the CWA Universe. The silly little troglodytes that paid to see LIGHTBRINGER or Elijah Edwards or Jon Snowmantashi but went away talking about Michelle von Horrowitz. Kisai may have won a few matches against various low level gate-keepers, but he’d been protected through a laborious undefeated streak. She had no doubt about this. The people bought into the hype and the company patted itself on the back as their hot new signing fulfilled his potential. Their audience, Michelle believed, lauded LIGHTBRINGER’s championship run because it was expected whilst they scoffed at hers because it was inconvenient.

    The dichotomy of LIGHTBRINGER was becoming clearer by the day. He’d even alluded to it himself before their match at Kings Reign Supreme. Michelle had watched him often in Japan when he’d wrestled for SPJ. The man was ruthless, calculated, ambitious. He climbed the ladder to earn both championships and prestige for himself and his school. He would do anything to win. Since coming to the CWA he’d displayed none of this, or at least very little. A few glimpses in the Triple Threat Match, maybe, but Michelle had watched as he was constantly drawn back to the trogs and what they might possibly think of him should he bend the rules. And, at Kings Reign Supreme, there were no rules to bend, the No Disqualification stipulation playing into her hands. She’d made use of steel chairs, ring steps, and – albeit ultimately unsuccessfully – the announcers’ table. He had been hampered by a lack of conviction. An inability to do what needed to be done.

    LIGHTBRINGER, she concluded, had fallen into the trap set for him by CWA management and CWA fans. They wish their heroes to be both gallant and successful, two things which are often mutually exclusive. And LIGHTBRINGER intends on being a hero, so he must at least attempt to bridge the impossible gap between the two. This desire to be both a Christian (in the vaguely positive, pre-war British sort of sense) and a social success had, eventually, led to his failure.

    She closed the book again, amusing herself with the scenery that had meandered past her window for the last handful of hours. She couldn’t be sure how long they had been going through the Ural Mountains, but it had been enough time for the scene to become stale. The snowy peaks were a way off, and instead the serpentine track weaved its way around the foothills, occasionally darting up into the higher reaches to provide an endless panoramic of the surrounding land. In her dreams there was only one mountain, sheer and bleak, rearing up from the earth like a wild stallion. It had seemed insurmountable, and she’d likened it to Snowmantashi within her thoughts. How romantic of her. She’d seen the Barbeau Peak in the northern reaches of Quebec, a single pyramid of rock casting its shadow over its snow-white foothills. But now, as she found herself surrounded by the Urals, she felt that this was closer to the truth. There wasn’t only one mountain, solitary and abstracted from the pack. There was a cluster of peaks stretching out before her, each summit progressively higher and more arduous than the last.

    I merely saw that they were all, or nearly all, unattainable, so far as I was concerned, - she had read and re-read, the words now ingrained upon her mind – since they all depended not only on what you did but on what you were. She knew what she was, much like she knew what Snowmantashi was, and LIGHTBRINGER. Even McGinnis, though now he was little more than an artifact of the past. They were draws, brought in to boost ratings or sell t-shirts or ‘get the internet community buzzing’ (whatever that meant). They were the heroes and the flag-bearers. She was just a grunt, a cog in the machine, slowly throwing away the best years of her career, grinding out results at the kids’ table whilst the adults talked business elsewhere.

    But, so long as she had their belt, she was also a champion.
    iii. Part Three (08/24/2016).
    Spoiler:


    -- iii –
    MvH defends 'Worldwide' High Voltage Championship in Japan, Russia; Reaction from LIGHTBRINGER camp; von Horrowitz on forthcoming Hanson announcement.
    17th August
    By Johann Jerberger

    As we roll towards Adrenaline Rush and Noah Hanson’s big announcement regarding the CWA High Voltage Championship, Michelle von Horrowitz has again been popping up all over the Far East. Last week, we reported on successful ‘defenses’ (not recognised by the Clique Wrestling Alliance as such, of course) against 雄牛 [Osuushi] for HPW in Nagoya and 太陽的女兒 [Tàiyáng de nǚ'ér] for WSW in Shanghai, and the last seven days have seen her wrestle two more matches on foreign soil.

    Most interestingly, von Horrowitz was in action two days after her appearance for 冬季風暴 [Winter Storm Wrestling], this time in Tokyo for the Women’s promotion P E A R L S. This was notable for three reasons. Firstly, von Horrowitz has spoken frequently and at length about her disdain for women’s titles, tournaments, and promotions, so her appearance for P E A R L S was out of the blue. Secondly, it was common knowledge that von Horrowitz’ HPW booking carried an exclusivity agreement, blocking performances in Japan for a period of six months. It has since become clear that this was little more than a verbal understanding, executives at HPW trusting the word of a former long-term employee and in return organising matches for MvH in China, Russia, and Britain.

    Of course, von Horrowitz had already completed her China booking by defeating 太陽的女兒 in Shanghai. In addition, the Russian promotion Чемпионат железа борьба [Chempionat zheleza bor'ba (Iron Championship Wrestling) – CZB] – as well as London Brawling in the UK - had announced forthcoming matches involving the Worldwide High Voltage Champion. It appears that both of those organisations are going forward with the matches (indeed, the Russian match has already happened at the time of posting), creating some tension with Honshu Puroresu in Japan. This also represents a burned bridge between Michelle von Horrowitz and HPW – some thought that MvH would end up there when she was finished country-hopping with the belt, but there seems little chance of that now.

    The third interesting factor ahead of the match, and possibly the one that explains the first two, is the opponent. The match was set up after a challenge laid down by Himawari, shortly after she’d defeated “Super Girl” Sachi Arai at a show in Kobe. Of course, Himawari was, at least up until very recently, the manager and close ally of LIGHTBRINGER, the man from whom von Horowitz took the High Voltage Championship at Kings Reign Supreme. The opportunity, apparently, was too much for MvH to pass up, and the match was made official only two days later, for the promotion’s 7th August supershow ユリとシャクヤク [Yuri to shakuyaku].

    The encounter, main eventing the Osakajo Hall, was a twenty-six minute showcase of both competitors’ aerial and technical ability. The opening exchanges of the match were primarily mat-based, the only pin-fall attempts coming from roll-ups. Things took to the outside when MvH gave Himawari a big back body drop over the top rope, von Horrowitz proceeding to utilize every moment of the twenty-count and get the most out of her environment (steel steps, ring post, and barricade all came into play). Himawari showed resiliency, though, kicking out and surviving an Ankle Lock, managing to roll through and propel von Horrowitz into the turnbuckles. She followed up with her Sunflower Kick X finisher, only for the Dutch competitor to get a foot on the ropes. The finish came when MvH ducked a wild lariat from Himawari, proceeding to bounce off the ropes and nearly take her head off with a Busaiku Knee Kick. A 450 splash and a prompt three count followed, much to the chagrin of the fans. The Osaka audience had been firmly in Himawari’s corner throughout the match, as you’d expect against foreign opposition.

    Never one to pass up the chance to voice her opinion, Michelle stood on the stage after collecting a microphone, her Worldwide High Voltage Championship draped over her shoulder. She spoke as Himawari came to in the ring, no doubt intending to goad a reaction from the LIGHTBRINGER camp.

    “A woman debases and reduces herself to arm candy – hidden beneath the professional guise of ‘manager’ but arm candy nonetheless – and clings firmly onto the coat tails of The Next Big Thing,” she begins, keeping eye contact with her fallen opponent as she does. “Said Next Big Thing promptly loses his newly won championship to the most undervalued, oft-disrespected, and outright ignored wrestler working today. Aforementioned arm candy thinks she can avenge The Next Big Thing’s crushing defeat. It’s an adorable premise, isn’t it, tulips? Compelling… dramatic… hopeful… with just a hint of poetic justice about the whole thing. But it is also naïve, as I have just shown. If your boss couldn’t beat me, what makes you think that you could? Your challenge was brave but doomed, little one. And if your master and commander is watching let it be known that he will never get another chance at MY Worldwide High Voltage Championship, or at Michelle von Horrowitz. At least until he wakes up and follows me out of that stagnating cesspool of an organisation.”

    Himawari would give a post-match interview backstage, and had the following to say in response.

    "It is disappointing to lose the match. I felt that I had a good showing and that I was close to winning. I could have done more and I'm sorry that I let my team and the fans down - small errors on my part contributed to my downfall. It's unfortunate. I wish Michelle had not spoken after the match as her words were not kind or truthful, just ignorant. I didn't want the match to have anything to do with Kisai - I was the one who made the challenge... for myself. I thought I could win, that was all. It is wrong that Michelle thinks I followed Kisai to America just to be 'arm candy' when I was in retirement and was the only available SSD member to travel. It is wrong that Michelle discards my achievements and thinks I hang onto my teammate's coat tails. She has a high opinion of herself and she will find that will lead to her downfall one day. If she wants to use this victory to try and get at Kisai then she will end up regretting it. I have not seen him for a long time but I know that he is not someone you should try to force into action or throw jibes at. It is telling sign that she is the one trying to talk up a rematch and not him. Isn't Michelle supposed to be the star attraction in her mind? What does she need him for? I would stand here and say that I respect Michelle from our match but her actions mean I have no respect for her at all. She is a talented individual but deluded to the highest degree. If Kisai does not feel the need to reappear and challenge her then I would like a rematch... with no rope breaks to save her. But now, my focus will turn to facing Mika-chan in her return match."

    LIGHTBRINGER was confirmed to be in attendance for the event and was spotted backstage along with new SSD acquisition La Volpe III. He was approached but did not give any comment worthy of note - he shrugged his shoulders and simply stated: "Tonight's match was about Himawari and not me. If Michelle von Horrowitz wants to face me then she knows where I am."

    It seems clear to this writer that many issues between Michelle von Horrowitz and LIGHTBRINGER remain unresolved.

    Regardless, the procession of the WorldwideHigh Voltage Championship did not stop there, MvH flying into Beijing for the six-day journey to St. Petersburg on the Trans-Siberian Express (von Horrowitz is reportedly a bad flier, and most of her travel in the States was by bus). Her 16th August booking for Чемпионат железа борьба came and went with less fanfare, most likely due to her opponent. “Knockout” Vladmir Kruschev may have been a world class amateur heavyweight boxer, but in a wrestling ring he is slow and clunky. Last night, von Horrowitz made short work of the 6’11” veteran in front of his home-town crowd, earning her no supporters amongst the St Petersburg audience. The match finished after von Horrowitz slipped under a hefty but lazy right hook, taking the big man down with a drop toe hold into the middle turnbuckle. Kruschev kicked out at two, but MvH quickly manoeuvred into the Cattle Mutilation, the big Russian quickly tapping and the bell accordingly rung.

    Thanks to a rapidly and progressive more hostile crowd, von Horrowitz made a quick exit from the Petrovsky Stadium, but did stop to give an interview with the promotion’s Igor Gorbachev. After flippantly dismissing Himawari’s comments (“I try not to listen to anything that woman says”), Michelle discussed the upcoming announcement with regards to a new High Voltage Champion, but couldn’t help herself from straying onto the topic of LIGHTBRINGER.

    “I don’t know what Noah Hanson is cooking up, serial crackpot that he is,” she began, Gorbachev holding the microphone in front of her after asking his question in broken English. “I imagine a placeholder will be put in place until he can put something more long term together. I don’t really care, to be honest. It is irrelevant. Any champion that is crowned on Adrenaline Rush, or on pay-per-view, is a fraud. I am the lineal champion, that much cannot be denied. For as long as I clutch this belt, this symbol, my credentials cannot be questioned. To be honest, Hanson’s plans were derailed the moment the referee counted the pin fall, LIGHTBRINGER staring up at the lights and his championship transferring to me. It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s where the crackpot ends up placing his bet, once again. But I’ve said it before and it’s still true now: any champion, or championship, that the CWA invents is nothing more than a sham.”

    Von Horrowitz said little else about her former employers, and is probably awaiting Hanson’s announcement like the rest of us. Tonight’s episode of Adrenaline Rush will feature the first round of the annual Ruler of the Ring tournament, as well as the General Manager’s decision (if he’s come to one) with regards to the High Voltage Championship. Meanwhile, MvH is looking ahead to two further bookings; the first on the 19th August for Marseille championnat de lute [MCL], the promotion for which von Horrowitz made her professional debut, and then at London Brawling’s “Horrorshow” event in Whitechapel, London. There have also been whisperings of a potential FWA appearance, which – according to our sources within the promotion – is being openly courted by the Worldwide High Voltage Champion.

    More, doubtless, to follow.
    iv. Part Four (09/06/2016).
    Spoiler:


    -- iv --
    on the Fantastic Five.
    Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
    August 18th, 2016. 2:36 AM.

    ”And then, when Adrenaline Rush goes off the air next week, we will once again have a champion that we can be proud of, that we can believe in, and not a petulant child who takes her ball home when she’s not getting her own way. Savage, Humanity, Connor, Truth, Edwards – the very best of luck to you all. May the best man win…”
    The young woman stared up at the screen listlessly, idly rotating the glass of amber on the bar in front of her. The amber contents were slowly becoming more and more diluted by the melting ice cubes, but at this point in the night (morning?) that didn’t seem overly important. Noah Hanson was finished, his monologue completed and a smug, satisfied smile on his face. The Sacramento audience were applauding politely, Taylor and Coleman (fucking Coleman) were selling the five-man cluster-fuck as best they could, and Hanson went on smiling with a replica of her High Voltage Championship on his shoulder. She finished the drink and signaled for another, looking away from the screen in disgust (not despair).

    The sports bar that she’d occupied for a handful of hours was dark, dingy, and empty. There was no discernible charm about it. No feature could be described that would differentiate it from a sports bar in New York or London or Tokyo. This one happened to be in Rotterdam, her home city. She’d decided to stop over for an evening in-between bookings in Saint Petersburg and Marseilles. It wasn’t too much of a detour and it seemed like the conventional thing to do. It hadn’t taken her long to regret the decision. Her mother was still living in the suburbs, probably, but she had no intention of going to see her. There was little else for here in the city. So she had come to this bar, because it was anonymous and nondescript and un-Rotterdam. And it was always open.

    She stared around the room, taking in each of the screens that lined the walls. A Kenyan was pacing away from the chasing pack in Rio. Footage from a training camp of some football team was showing on ESPN. Celtic had just put their fifth past some Israeli minnow. And, tucked away in a corner, a re-run of FWA’s Red, White, & Bruised was reaching its climax. Ryan Rondo was standing on the stage, his two championship belts on display and his challenger already waiting in the ring. Another glass of Jameson’s arrived and she threw it back greedily.

    Forcing herself to stare at the CWA product directly in front of her, she saw Elijah Edwards making his way down to the ring. One of the fantastic five. Probably the one that she knew best. He had debuted at roughly the same time as her, quietly proving himself and slowly climbing the card. She had stolen the headlines with her victory at the Wrestle Royale, but Edwards had a similar win-loss record, a High Voltage Championship reign, and a pin-fall victory over then World Champion Jonathan McGinnis. People were beginning to speak about him now, and for good reason. She shuffled uncomfortably on her chair, the thin line of bruising that ran from her waistline to her right clavicle burning as it tended to do periodically. She’d received it when Edwards had dived out of the way of her elbow drop, sending her crashing through the announcers’ table. It had only been exacerbated by the Excellent Execution, which he’d locked in later in the match. She had no intention of finding herself in that predicament again.

    Regardless, she didn’t fear Edwards. Perhaps she respected him, at least as much as she did anyone else in the promotion, but she didn’t fear him. Familiarity brought comfort. She had watched him, or his sniveling runt of a manager, take to the stage in order to run through Elijah’s credentials. And each time it happened there was a growing sense that his accomplishments were hollow. Before their match at Kings Reign Supreme, he had proudly boasted that his win percentage was nearly as good as hers. But when you did a little basic maths (though undoubtedly beyond the capacity of the troglodytes lining up for tickets to Adrenaline Rush) you realized that 67% didn’t really compare to 81%. He had won the High Voltage Championship, sure, but had dropped it the very next week against that self-aggrandized poser LIGHTBRINGR. He had beaten Jonathan McGinnis, but by the end so had literally everyone. Some list of achievements.

    She had been in the ring with Ethan Conner before, too, and had watched on as his brother secured the pin fall victory over Enigma in a tag match back in March. Tag matches mean fuck all. The week before she had defeated Drew, but Ethan had been absent from ringside thanks to the general manager’s decree. The younger Conner probably felt he had an advantage over her, given that his team had triumphed over hers. Maybe he did, but he was distracted. Krash and, more imminently, Cyrus Truth still wait for him, fists raised in both vigilance and rage. The Conners are young, brash, obnoxious, and intent on stamping their own repugnant prints all over the promotion. Good luck to them. That’s not to say one single fiber of her being respected (let alone liked) either of the brothers, but at least they stood for something. Krash and Cyrus Truth are the status quo, standing only for the continuation of a broken formula. The clash between old and new was a re-tread of an overused cliché, but it was also a smokescreen. She didn’t believe either man could put aside their hatred for the other, even for the sake of championship glory.

    She stared back over at the screen showing Red, White, & Bruised, the main event coming to its climactic throws. Truth had the Long Road to Nowhere – his patented neck crank submission, undoubtedly dangerous – locked in on Rondo, the then-current, now-former champion forcing the challenger’s shoulders down to the mat. Cyrus kicked out, but the hold was released, allowing Rondo to fight to his feet and attempt an RKO. Truth pushed him off into the turnbuckles, landing the Journey’s End and following up with the pin fall. She sipped at another Jameson’s that had arrived as if by clockwork. Truth celebrated with confetti and two belts. How lavish. She should like two belts. She should have two belts.

    Truth could, of course, be a threat to anyone. He was the current Undisputed FWA World Champion and a two-time CWA World Heavyweight Champion for a reason. But even a legend cannot afford to spread his focus so thin. Amidst keeping hold of his belt in the F’ and plaguing the Echo in the C’, it was impossible to see Cyrus mounting any serious challenge for Hanson's faux-championship. He could be disregarded. Humanity and Savage could not be so easily reasoned away. At least not yet. She had always been careful to fear the unknown. One should approach a precipice with caution. But they would have to show their hands soon enough. Hers could remain close to her chest.

    On the screen in front of her, Snowmantashi evaded Edwards’ Kick of Fury before nailing him with a jumping axe kick. The Hailstorm was all that was needed to secure the three-count. Edwards had shown heart, she was sure (well, not sure, she hadn’t been paying much attention), but he had come up short once again. She smiled to herself. Part of her knew why this was: she hadn't pinned or submitted Elijah in her near-one-year run in the CWA, despite being given several opportunities. He was wily and evasive, if nothing else, and the only comfort she could take was in his misfortune. But his time would come, as would Snowmantashi’s and LIGHTBRINGER’s alike. Time waits for no man.
    v. Part Five (09/14/2016).
    Spoiler:


    -- v –-
    MvH runs in on Nate Savage following Adrenaline Rush fatal five-way; “Worldwide” High Voltage Championship defending in France and the UK; Challenge laid down to Savage and CWA Management.
    September 5th, 2016
    By Johann Jerberger.

    It’s been an eventful few weeks for Michelle von Horrowitz, the self-proclaimed Worldwide High Voltage Champion popping up on two more continents to ‘defend’ her title and steal a new one. We last reported on her travels as she left Asia, heading west for a successful defense against “Knockout” Vladmir Kruschev in St. Petersburg. Since then, MvH appeared on Marseille championnat de lute’s anniversary show at the Roucas-Blanc City Gymnasium in Marseille. The assembled audience of three hundred people witnessed a rare treat and a match of particular significance for von Horrowitz: MCL and the Roucas-Blanc City Gymnasium were where she made her professional debut back in 2007.

    Von Horrowitz defeated a veteran local wrestler named L’Guerrier des Irises, a man almost twice her age, in just under eight minutes. The match wasn’t a particularly good one, and is available for free on MCL’s website, but von Horrowitz took to the microphone afterwards to thank the fans and speak briefly about the forthcoming fatal five-way to declare a new CWA High Voltage Champion. Her tone was softer than usual, playing to a hometown crowd and the first to have been firmly in her corner on this tour. Of course, that didn’t continue as she progressed onto the topic of Noah Hanson’s replacement champion:

    “All of these five men are interchangeable. Anybody who wasn’t good enough to make the semi-finals of the Ruler of the Ring tournament shoved into the ring together and told to have at it. Truth and Conner will be blinded by their hatred for one another. Edwards has been falling from grace ever since he beat a fading champion. Savage and Humanity are near non-entities. It doesn’t matter which one of them manages to lose slowest next week. Their championship belongs to me.”

    MvH was cheered out of the building, and spent a week apparently reveling in the adulation of Northern Europe before catching the ferry to the United Kingdom. She did not receive the same reception during her defense at London Brawling’s event in Whitechapel, London. Von Horrowitz would be challenged by British HOSS at the promotion’s “Horrorshow” event, the patriotically named wrestler receiving the unbridled support of the assembled audience. He also represented the biggest threat to von Horrowitz’s championship since the challenge of Himawari, and the match went twenty eight minutes before MvH managed to duck beneath a Super Kick attempt. She caught HOSS and hit an exploder suplex, before locking in the Stretch Muffler, eventually eliciting a tap out with a series of vicious stomps to the back of the head. With the fatal five-way on the horizon, von Horrowitz was all business, leaving the arena amidst hostility and begrudging respect to prepare for the events of
    Adrenaline Rush.

    It was thought that MvH was heading to Central America, where she is scheduled to appear on two PAW shows in Mexico and Cuba. However, at the climax of the fatal five-way match, when the dust had settled and Nate Savage stood alone as the new champion, von Horrowitz stormed the ring with a Busaiku Knee Kick. She skipped away with Savage’s belt, a team of security in pursuit, before exiting the arena flanked by a team of security. Since, the CWA has sent very mixed signals about their former employee. On the one hand, they have invited MvH to appear on the next episode of Adrenaline Rush, presumably for a dressing down from Noah Hanson. On the other, the company has opened legal proceedings against von Horrowitz, accusing her of breach of contract and theft. Von Horrowitz was asked for comment on the events of Adrenaline Rush, and sent the following hand-written statement to PWOutsider:

    “The CWA can make as many legal threats as they feel are necessary. I can weather the storm. I have the resources and the time. What they really want, what they need are my championship belts. And they are both mine, for I am the lineal champion. That is verified fact. Nate Savage isn’t fit to clean my boots, and Noah Hanson knows that full well. It is why he has invited me to appear next week on Adrenaline Rush in San Diego. It is because he knows that his puppet Savage couldn’t defeat me out here, in a neutral setting. So he must stack the deck. He wishes to blindside me, to take MY titles from me. I am no idiot. One doesn’t need powers to see what would happen if I walked into The Valley View Centre next week. I would walk out without my championships, should I walk out at all. But I will appear… by video link. If only to tell Hanson face-to-face what he’s probably already realized: that whatever surrogate champion he installs stands firmly in my shadow.”

    MvH is still set to honor her bookings for Pan-American Wrestling, before returning to the states for the satellite-enabled encounter with CWA general manager Noah Hanson. More, as always, to follow.
    Volume 24: "The Women's Classic" (30/09/2016).
    ​Michelle von Horrowitz enters the Women's Classic [Tournament - results unfinished] (BWW: Women's Classic).
    Spoiler:





    In a well-lit corridor of an unnamed stadium, a woman of classical beauty walks slowly. There is something unsettling about her – a vacancy in the eyes, a lack of imperfection, wisps of white smoke that seem to rise from her clothing. She remains silent as the night for a few moments before beginning.

    “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Beth Sokurov. At least, that is what I have been known as since I came to this place. And I have been here for longer than you think. The truth is, I have been known as many things: Bethesda is the name that my parents gave me… The Lonely is the name that I chose… The Unbroken… The Second-born… The Outlaw… The Chained. My names are these and many more, but they will not tell you who I am and where I am from. I was formed almost at the point of singularity, when the universe was flung out into existence. In that Chaos, the Planet Khal’ed was formed, and on it the great continent of Har’hoth, from which rose the single, giant peak of Mount Zharro. In its highest reaches which reached out into the Chaos itself, the First-born inhaled their first breathe, formless and ethereal and wild. Two of them came together and a third was formed, and that was I – Bethesda the Second-born. And the halls of time stretched out before, and I saw it all. The birth and the death of the universe, and everything in-between. Including this tournament. I have seen the women who will climb into the ring with me. I have seen them all fall, and fade, and I will remain the Unbrok- - -“

    Out of nowhere, Beth is bowled over with a massive chair shot! She slumps to the concrete floor and the camera retreats a few metres, following the assault from afar. The steel is brought down onto Sokurov’s shoulder four times, five times, six… The perpetrator throws the weapon down and turns to the camera, a grin spreading across her face as she flicks her hair from her eyes. It is Michelle von Horrowitz, wild-eyed and excited, and she nods at the camera before turning back to Sokurov. The victim has rolled onto her front and is heavily favouring her shoulder, and Michelle looks to capitalise with a full nelson, perhaps hoping to follow up with the Cattle Mutilation… but as she lunges at Sokurov the ceiling lights begin to flicker and Michelle finds herself falling through Beth’s form as if it were thin air, and eventually she is sprawled on the floor.

    The camera picks Beth up again, looming above MvH, who is still wrestling with the afterimage effect. Von Horrowitz begins to disentangle herself, but she’s taken down with a spear. Sokurov reels off some rapid fire forearms before MvH throws her off, and the two race to get to their feet. Michelle is slightly quicker… allowing her to take Beth down with a Busaiku Knee Kick! Von Horrowitz reaches around for the chair, proceeding to nail Sokurov’s shoulder a total of seven times with the steel. A Dragon-Style curb stomp follows before a security team arrives on the scene, separating the CWA High Voltage Champion from the newcomer. A series of doctors arrive, and eventually Beth Sokurov is placed onto a stretcher.

    Michelle turns to the camera, which has been watching the scene from over her shoulder. She beckons it to follow her around a corner, leaving the medics to attend to Beth.

    “We don’t need to watch that,” she begins, the camera struggling to keep up with her. “Just like you didn’t need to hear that. Absolute drivel. Circus tricks and lighting effects – that is the sum of Beth Sokurov’s parts. She claims to be some sort of God, but she is fallible, just like all humans. I’ve just shown you that this is true. But why, I hear you ask… Well, because I had told the organisers of this little tournament that I wasn’t interested in it. That women’s tournaments were beneath me. And rest assured, tulips, they still are. But I am here, and this feels… I don’t know, important. Like we are standing at the precipice, staring out into a new frontier.”

    She pauses and collects a bag from the ajar door of a nearby locker room. From within it she retrieves two identical championships: her ’Worldwide’ High Voltage Championship, complete with LIGHTBRINGER’s name on its plating, and Nate Savage’s official CWA High Voltage Championship. She throws the ruck sack into the locker room, closes the door, and places the championship belts on her shoulder.

    “You see, we are at the start of something. Shannon O’Neal is talking big, predicting an all-woman main event for next year’s Back in Business. Bell Connelly, obnoxious little runt that she might be, has been deserving of a championship shot for months now, and is finally being given what she has earned. Anzu Kurosawa and Eimi Sanada are poised to leave their mark on the Fantasy Wrestling Alliance, and it is quite possible that we will see an all-female final in this year’s Quest for the Best. When I spoke about an uprising, I didn’t mean that the quality of the women’s divisions in each promotion – if CWA had one, of course – would gradually increase until women’s championship matches were as looked forward to as men’s. No. This would not be an uprising at all, and has been happening for years all on its own anyway. What I predicted was that we would replace the men altogether. First we would take their titles, and then their main events, and finally their pay checks. Overrated has-beens like Cyrus Truth and Krash would be relegated to their rightful place, at the foot of the card, staring up at the likes of Anzu, Eimi, and the great Michelle von Horrowitz with envy and regard. I’ve been speaking about it for nearly a year, and finally it is happening.”

    MvH continues to walk, the cameraman back-pedalling as she rounds various corners, continuing down identical corridors. She sporadically runs the knuckles of her left hand against the coarse walling. The light plays on the faces of her title belts.

    “Just think about where we will be after the next CWA and FWA shows are in the books. I will have defeated Nate Savage and will be the official and final CWA Worldwide High Voltage Champion. Bell Connelly will be the FWA World Champion. Anzu Kurosawa will have won the Quest for the Best and, if she’s a team player, will challenge either Parr or Watkins and take another of their crowns. The only credible contenders for the FWA Tag Team Titles are Bell and Shannon O’Neal or Anzu and Eimi Sanada. It is a new dawn, ladies and gentlemen. And I am here to lead it, as I always have. Hell, maybe after Global Collision I’ll take this belt to the FWA too, and offer to unify it by beating whatever remnants of the patriarchy is still left standing. And how does one lead an uprising? One shows that they are worthy. That they are the best choice. That they are the only choice. This tournament will place a sword in the hand of a champion, elected by force. I mean to finish what I started.

    “Beth Sokurov purported to be some sort of God, but the glories of divinity is in their creations. And what did Beth ever create? I have given you all of this…”


    She spreads her arms out either side of her, motioning to her surroundings.

    “… not these bare corridors, with their stagnant smell and drab demeanour, but rather this idea. This very notion of an Uprising was planted MY win at last year’s Wrestle Royale… the belief that the time is right for the deconstruction of an entrenched hierarchy was supported by MY year-long Adrenaline Rush undefeated streak.MY victories… MY hard work… MY blood and MY sweat… Bell Connelly can talk about her wins, but she’s played it safe for months. Only now has she stepped up. Shannon O’Neal can talk all of the fine, brave words that she wants to, but nobody has taken her seriously for years. Nobody saw the true significance of Gabrielle’s elimination from the Wrestle Royale, brought about by these hands…”

    She offers up her palms to the camera, and a devious little smile along with it. There’s a glint in her eyes as she re-adjusts her belts before continuing.

    “She alone can claim to have truly lead this industry, but I mean to go one further. First, I created the conditions for our Uprising, with months of hard work. Now, tonight, I have created the opportunity to lead it. When I called Mister Cage and told him I’d win his tournament after all, he told me that the field was full. But if there should be any injuries and subsequent drop-outs, my name would be on the top of the list. Beth Sokurov had to be sacrificed, but I’m sure she’ll understand. Who else in this roster of misfits is in any state to take up command? Nobodies like Dreyer, Kavvanagh, or Carter? Kurayami, another joshi whose arrival well after the likes of Anzu and Eimi is no accident? The impressively named but inexperienced Phoenix? You could make a cogent argument for Gabrielle, I imagine, but who honestly believes that the Caramel Princess will still be around in three months’ time, in any other capacity than Eyesnsane’s strumpet? A woman who debases herself to the point of being an auxhiliary character for a perennial mid-carder is in no position to lead. Nikki Albarn may have the pre-requisite experience, but she also has weak wisdom teeth. These people are not leaders. They follow.”

    The lights flicker again.

    “Some people will think of this tournament as a natural end. The finale of a stage in their careers, the culmination of years of hard work. Others see it as a beginning. The point when they become something… when they fulfil some abstract, nearly forgotten idea of potential.For me, it is neither the start nor the end. One year ago, a video heralding my arrival played at Global Collision. I debuted the next week, defeating Little Annie Malikova in a ’Women’s Proving Grounds Match’. How quaint… how patronising. Two weeks later, I was pinning Wolf, and the week after that I out-lasted every man on the roster. That is when this all began. And it will not end for a long time yet. But this tournament is a platform, and only one will emerge on the other side of it. And who else could it possibly be, but Michelle von Horrowitz?”

    Finally, she arrives at a large set of glass doors, a green sign reading ‘EXIT’ illuminated above it. She pushes her way through them and into the streets. Night has taken over. It starts to rain.
    Last edited by SpecificSecretary; 11-27-2021 at 10:52 AM.

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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    PROMO HISTORY
    PART IV.
    December 2019 - June 2020.

    Volume 25: "The Lost Years"
    (12/22/2019).
    Spoiler:





    May 9th, 2019.
    Тверская улица. Moscow.


    She sat in her ridiculous chair - the seat so high she couldn’t touch the floor with her feet , the back towering above her, painted gold with a lime green cover, seemingly made of a faux-velour - and stared out around the coffee shop. The walls were covered in red and white squares, and she imagined a giant chess battle carrying itself out in front of her. The corners of the wallpaper were peeling, its colour dulled with age. Idly, she tapped her fingers against the table, not out of impatience but rather of boredom. It was almost ten. She should be here by now.

    Suddenly, an old waitress loomed above her, hair tied up and wrapped in an ill-fitting white apron. It was speckled with dried food, and a large coffee stain sat above her left breast. Where her nipple would have been twenty years ago was a name tag. Hello, it said it Cyrillic. My name is Sonia.

    “Здравствуйте, добро пожаловать на Вареничную Номер Один. Вы готовы сделать заказ?” she said, quickly and presumptuously.

    "Я не говорю по русски." It was the only Russian she knew: 'I don't speak Russian."

    "Ah, хорошо," the waitress said. The old, pie-faced woman became less friendly, if that was possible. And then, in perfect Slavic English, almost as a statement rather than a question: "you are ready to make order."

    "Coffee, strong and black," she answered, her eyes wandering to the window. The people were beginning to choke the streets. There would be a parade that afternoon. Tanks and torpedoes and tall, young soldiers marching up and down the wide city streets. It would be a glorious, sunny day. The government had made sure of it, cloud-seeding earlier in the week to rid the heavens of their moisture before the biggest event of the year. Schools and offices were closed, and all of Mother Russia was united behind the symbol of the tank and the memory of their grandfathers' bravery.

    "Молоко?" the waitress asked, dragging her back into the room. Michelle shook her head, playing with a sachet of sugar anxiously. She stared down at her fingers, gently tearing at the paper, dirt and general grime accumulating beneath her fingernails.

    "Нет, чёрный." Michelle answered, waving the woman away. She waddled off, writing on her notepad and mumbling inaudible complaints beneath her breath.

    The young woman threw the sachet to the other side of the table, beginning to tap its wooden surfaces impatiently with her fingers. From her seat at the window she could see the Kremlin poking its head above the rooftops at the bottom of the hill. Tverskaya Street was pedestrianized for the day, security men with large guns and larger shoulders erecting metal fences between themselves and the Patriotic Russians eagerly awaiting the first signs of military hardware. It was her second year here, and it had been exactly the same last May. The snows had begun to retreat and temperatures had reached the right side of zero, and the people were ready for a party. What better excuse than the memory of German surrender? The parade would be slightly bigger and slightly more well organized than the previous years, and everyone would go home safe in the knowledge that they were utterly invincible.

    "Looking for a nice soldier?" a woman said as she dropped her bag on the seat opposite Michelle. "A big, strong, brave one who'll write to you as he's storming Kiev?"

    "I'm just waiting for the tanks," Michelle said, her coffee arriving just after her companion. "You can rely on a tank."

    "Привет," the newcomer said, taking her seat and surveying the scene on the street below. At length, she turned to the waitress, who had just placed a large jug of milk next to Michelle's coffee. "Можно повторять, пожалуйста."

    "Mhmm," the waitress said, turning and leaving them again.

    "I'm sorry I'm late," the Russian began, taking her phone out of her bag and flicking through a series of unread messages. "Sergey is mad at Oleg, who won't speak to Nastia until she talks to Masha about last Wednesday. Petyr wants new contract, Vlad will only work Saturdays and Tuesdays from June, and Sasha is talking about retiring to start family with stockbroker husband. They are all children, with egos like ballerina at Bolshoi. But I am here now."

    "You are," Michelle said, sipping her coffee and watching the street below. The volume was rising, and in the distance you could see the first column of soldiers, a flag raised high above the man at their head. The white, red, and blue of Russia blew proudly in the wind.

    " Да, I am," she said, her thick Russian accent belying her Siberian youth. Her features were striking and sharp: tall and pale, with thick black air and piercing blue eyes. "But your secrets are your secrets, even now. Am I here only to watch parade with you? I have apartment overlooking Red Square, I can watch from balcony with Matvey or Misha and big glass of водка."

    "No, of course not, Elizaveta," Michelle said, rearranging herself so that her back was pressed against the window. Baba Yaga returned with the second batch of coffee and a second jug of unrequired milk. "I've come to a decision."

    "Hasty decision, I imagine," Elizaveta answered, pouring a third sachet of sugar into her coffee and beginning to stir. "And this couldn't wait until tomorrow? When all force of Soviet Union isn't matching proudly through city?"

    "You told me," Michelle said listlessly, beginning to turn the pages in the menu. None of the classic Russian fair - meat and dumplings and meat - appealed. "As soon as I'd made a decision, I should call you."

    "And this morning, you made decision," the woman replied, sitting back and sipping her coffee. "Okay, go on, what is it? Where are you off to next? China or Antarctica? Or maybe North Korea to liberate nation? Or perhpa you'll go to moon? Where next for the elusive Michelle von Horrowitz, explorer of new worlds, proud owner of itchy feet?"

    "You know too many English idioms for a Russian," Michelle answered. Elizaveta just gestured for her to get on with it. "I'm going back to America. I don't want any more bookings here. I'll work what I've already agreed to, but in six weeks I go."

    Elizaveta, four years older than the other but still vibrant and youthful, shook her head and laughed. Those around her were momentarily distracted from the parade - now a series of large green armored trucks flanked by uniformed young men blowing long trumpets - by her outburst. Michelle stared off at the waitress, unenthused and growing bored. The waitress just poured coffee.

    "And what of Pavel? And Ksenia?" the Russian asked. "Are you meeting those for terrible coffee on public holidays to let them know?"

    "No," Michelle said, almost vacantly. "Only you."

    Her counterpart scoffed again.

    "You have ties here," Elizaveta said. "You can just cut them like that?"

    "I have no ties here, or anywhere else." The younger woman remained passive. "Nothing I couldn't catch a train away from before the end of this parade. Except for my bookings with you."

    "Michelle, I expected this day to come," she said, firmly but not unkindly. She took a long draw from her cup and placed it down in front of her, and our hero was surprised to find it had already been drained. The Russian continued.

    "You have been here for, what? Eighteen months? And before that Germany, and France, and the Netherlands. The United States for two years, and then Japan, Mexico, and wherever else before that. This is not the history of someone who will settle down in Moscow for thirty years. This is why you are never booked in championship matches, or advertised for shows in six or ten months time. When you want to go, you go. But why America? You left that place for a reason."

    Her last sentence was delivered delicately, but it stlll carried weight. There was truth there. She had left the continent as abruptly as she had arrived, and for all her promises she'd achieved very little. A lot was left undone. Lingering doubts about fights she had turned her back on plagued her sleep. Nothing was keeping her away except for her own stubbornness.

    In this little shit-stained coffee shop, quiet on Moscow's busiest day as a testament to the lengths of its shortcomings, the last three years were laid out in front of her as if they were images seen through a kaleidoscope. The warehouse in Rotterdam. Jean-Luc's apartments on Rome and Paris. The motel outside of Warsaw. All of them behind her, looming symbols of cowardice reminding her of flight.

    "I've no reason to run anymore," she said, as another round of trumpets rose up in unison outside. Elizaveta shrugged her shoulders and began to ready her bag. She had no intention of getting caught up in the flood of nationalism congregating in the city centre.

    "You have five advertised bookings with me, Michelle, and after that you're free to do as you wish, as has always been our agreement. Coffee is your gift to me, да?" The Russian woman stood up, pulling her fur coat around her shoulders. "And what of Isobel?"

    "Isobel is coming with me."

    Half an hour later, Michelle stood outside of the coffee shop, battling against the wind to light a cigarette. She looked at the ragged mass of people that had assembled along the paths. Old women carrying bags of shopping, others with a handful of flowers or, very occasionally, fresh vegetables. School children with their parents, boys buying into the heroism of war and the men that wage it. Students and tourists took photographs of a passing fighter jet. There were different norms here than America. More smokers and less vegans. But the Russians and the Americans were tied together by their mutual love of their own weaponry, and a belief in power.

    She understood it. She'd had this belief in herself, last time she'd been to the States. Right until the very end. But circumstances had worked against her, and she had been weak. It had been a long time, and things there would be different. But eventually, she'd find her. Of that she felt certain.
    Volume 26: "Slumber" (01/16/2020).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Dominick Dust (FWA: Fight Night).
    Spoiler:





    “That’s the problem with everyone now,” she said her ill-fitting clothes wrapped tightly around her as she walked on under the moon’s pale light, “With everything, with everywhere."

    The sand was wet, the tide gently breaking into foaming crescents beneath her odd shoes. They were both black, at least. The wind was out for her tonight, incessantly bombarding her ghostly white skin. She shifted her hands around the bundle she was carrying, trying in vain to keep its contents warm. She herself was used to worse, but that was another story.

    “Nobody really knows who they are anymore. And it’s because they aren’t really anyone or anything. They define themselves only by the things they consume.”

    The moon had already climbed high, but it was weak and cowardly and seemed to shy away from the task. Its only task. The stars were distant and sparse, the city lights forcing some of them into retreat and overpowering the ones that remained. Before her, the Chandeleur Sound spread itself toward the horizon, a shimmering column cast by the moon presenting itself like a road to the very edge. Beyond that was the ocean. She shivered at the thought.

    “All they talk about is things they’ve done - the films that they watch, the countries they’ve been to, the books that they’ve read and didn’t understand. They talk about these tepid experiences so much that it’s become what they are. Consumers. Mindless and insidious and spawning at an alarming rate. All-the-while taking whatever they can, whatever they want. Using and watching and clicking and scrolling. A world of knowledge is at our fingertips, and we choose to swipe left.”

    She had been here before, on this very beach. It must have been five years ago, and a little closer to Summer than it was now. The sun had been higher and brighter than the moon was tonight. Tourists and residents alike swarmed around it. Fat old men read books about sports stars. Young lovers poured suncream on their hands and gently stroked it into each other’s skin. Children ate ice creams. All of that shit. She preferred it as it was now. Except for the cold. Again she pulled the bundle tighter towards her, quickening her pace and beginning to turn inland.

    “You’ll learn this for yourself soon enough.”

    She lit a cigarette, looking around to find her bearings. Everything was unfamiliar. Street names, landmarks, people. She couldn’t remember the short time, five years back, that she called this city home. It was an uncharacteristic bout of nostalgia that had caused her to get off the bus. New Orleans lay right on the Greyhound route between Lafayette and Mobile, and she felt that she needed a break from her makeshift travel companions. Greasy-handed American pigs shovelling fried chicken into their fat fucking faces, offending her by their mere presence, or rather their lack thereof. At one stage on the journey, a young girl had managed to lock herself in the bathroom, and a man with a shaved head and tattoos where his hair should have been was required to break her out of it with a credit card. ’There ain’t a lock in America that I can’t get through,’ he had said, a huge smile plastered across his shit-eating face. An odd thing to be proud of. She had heard once that, upon release from prison, criminals in this country were given a free Greyhound ticket to get home. The result was a cross-section of America’s underbelly hurtling across its highways, the limit of their ambitions being to get home without committing any more crimes. Still, it was better than flying. Fuck flying.

    Eventually, she found what she was looking for. Beneath an illuminated gold sign advertising fried shrimp, to the right of the smashed window of a pawn shop, she found the staircase that led to her motel. She climbed the steps, sucking at her cigarette, dragging the last few draws out of it before she reached the door. The old fat man on reception nodded at her as she pushed through the door. He didn’t bother smiling, but this wasn’t a problem. She’d caught a glimpse of the few yellow teeth he had left when she’d paid for the bed, and had no great desire to see them again.

    She reached her room and closed the front door behind her. The sign on the back of it advised her to keep this door locked for your own safety. She drew the dusty, off-white curtains (she assumed they had been white at one point, perhaps decades ago) across the single-glazed window and sat on the end of the bed. The duvet was stained in various places with various fluids, as was the sheet beneath it, and the mattress itself beneath that.

    “Home sweet home,” she said, to herself and to the bundle that she still carried. “What more could a girl ask for?”

    At length, she lay back onto the mattress, being careful to avoid the largest and most unidentifiable of the stains. From the cabinet next to her bed she retrieved a small bottle and emptied a handful of the little white pills into the palm of her hand, throwing them down her throat and swallowing with only her saliva to lubricate their passage. Closing her eyes, she waited for them to do their job, and for her body to be transported to another world. A better world. There, her dreams awaited her, and she stretched out her arms to greet them like an old friend.
    ***

    Michelle ran her hand through her short blonde hair, her back to the camera, as if she was pondering the images before her. She wore plain, black clothes - skinny jeans and a hoodie at least four sizes too big for her - and surveyed the polaroid pictures that she had arranged into neat rows. She was barefoot. To her right was a waste basket, and low but strong flames were flickering above its rim. The sounds of the city could be heard through the open window: the low rumble of exhausts, a murmur of conversation, the occasional siren. More close by, the slow crackling of the fire permeated the silence of the room. But Michelle just ran her hand through her short blonde hair, her back to the camera, as if she was pondering the images before her.

    “It’s almost funny, the place we find ourselves in now.”

    The place we find ourselves in? Her words concerned the men and women that populated a locker room she intended to infiltrate, but her mind was concerned with only herself. The place she found herself in would be closer to the truth. And where was that? Back in America, the same country she’d fled three and a half years ago. For months or maybe even years after she had left, she’d convinced herself that she had no other choice. But when the phone call had come, beckoning her away from the Land of Opportunity, she had welcomed it with open arms. She had a reason to leave, she’d told herself. A reason she had to leave. But the reality was that she was looking for an excuse.

    She attempted to re-focus. Dwelling on the past would do her no good, especially in this very moment. It was time to think about the future.

    “And yet this is where we are, my estranged tulips,” she continued, reaching out and taking one of her photographs off the wall. It was from the top row, where four pictures became three. She turned and faced the camera, holding it up towards its lens. Nova Diamond stood in the ring, celebrating his victory in the Carnal Contendership. “A relative unknown debuts to little fanfare, gets a few wins under his belt, and then shocks the world by winning a battle royale. He will go on to face the champion in the main event of the biggest show of the year. Sound familiar? I am not impressed by this, and neither should you be. Diamond’s victory in the Carnal Contendership match proves only this: that the old crop is dying fast, and that the new one is weak. It exposed the soft underbelly of the FWA. But you can thank your novus Diamond for one thing: I am drawn to an ending like a moth to a flame. His victory, and the doom it foretold, was what brought me to your beloved little sinkhole. I have come to peer over the edge.”

    She turned back to the wall, but as she did, she reached out with her right hand and, with a deft flick of her wrist, the photograph fell into her makeshift firepit. For a moment, the flames seemed to grow as they devoured it, yet the room seemed to darken. Michelle reached for a second photograph.

    The Fallen Goddess, she calls herself, and make of that what you will. I understand what she’s trying to do. An idiot would understand what she’s trying to do. A fall from grace. Lost divinity. But that moniker is certainly an eye raiser. It suggests that Gabrielle had some grace to begin with, but the lady is protesting too much. I’m using the word lady in the loosest possible terms, and that isn’t the first or even the millionth time the word loose has been used to describe Little Miss Caramel. I remember the first time I was in this nation, with one eye perpetually roaming to the other company from my home. At best, Gabrielle was already a part-time attraction, a shadow of her alleged former self. But there came a time when I didn’t have to watch from afar. You might not remember, but Gaby came to me at the end of 2015. She showed up at the Wrestle Royale to great fanfare, and I dumped her over the top rope like the washed up punk that she is. She will not save you. She cannot save you.”
    Gabrielle joined Diamond in the fire, and Michelle resolutely turned back to the wall. She collected two more photographs: Devin Golden holds the FWA World Heavyweight Championship aloft in one, whilst Cyrus Truth has the same belt around his waist in the second.

    “And then we have our ‘first time ever’ extravaganza. You know, last week, after I’d bludgeoned a trio of pretty little skulls with my pretty little chair, I made a throwaway comment about this pairing. Competing over their legacies and longevities, or something like that. Maybe I should expand on this. Both of these men are perceived legends, one born elsewhere and the other here. Both former world champions, both fierce competitors when operating at their peak. But both of their primes are long behind them, retreating into the distant memory of their nostalgiac fans. They are still here, and still near the top of the card, but they themselves know that they are only waiting for their replacements to arrive. Well, she’s here. It’s time to move on.”

    Truth and Golden joined the main eventers in her flames, and for a second she found herself transfixed by their movements. Ever since she was a child, she had been fascinated by dancing fire. Until this day, she felt certain that there was nothing else like it. Nothing that moved, sounded, or devoured in quite the same way. It took great care to master it, and even those who knew its ways could just as easily become its victim.

    Suddenly, she was no longer in her New Orleans hotel room. She was back in Rotterdam, and the year was 2016. It had been one week since she’d left the United States, beckoned by a single phone call from her last living relative. Since she’d run away. The drab walls of the motel were replaced by the sterile, white walls of a crematorium. Slowly, two rectangular holes opened up in one of them, and the two wooden boxes were slowly sucked into them. For a moment, the doors remained open, and she watched as the fire began to gnaw on the wood.

    “What will you do with the ashes?” her cousin had asked. Michelle didn’t remove her eyes from the fire.


    “I don’t know,” she said with a shrug.“What do people usually do with them?”

    The holes in the crematorium wall closed once more, and just as suddenly she found herself back in New Orleans. She sighed audibly, before taking the next series of photographs down from the wall. She moved to the second row, collecting three images that were arranged next to each other. The first was Dave Sullivan, a shit-eating grin on his face and the FWA Championship held proudly above his head. Next to him was Mike Parr, his newly won North American belt slung over his shoulder. And on the third were the Undisputed Alliance, on their way to the ring with the Tag Team straps clutched tightly in their hands.

    “Championships everywhere!” She declared, with a knowing grin emerging onto her face. “The belts certainly look the same as when I was last on these shores, but are these the same championships? It’s been a while since I paid attention to the exploits of our self-appointed King, I must admit, but this is the man that leads your company? An impetuous, pompous fool with an ego so heavy his body cannot support it? He is a poor man’s Atlas, and the world that he carries upon his shoulders is barely worth the effort. His star shines the dullest, and we are all quite aware that he is not the man to drag us away from the doom. But who else? Parr? A man so wildly inconsistent that, even as champion, he enters every match with a look of sheer uncertainty plastered upon his uninspiring face? Or perhaps the Alliance? Felix is a nobody, and I proved my dominance over Savage on a weekly basis when we both plied our trade elsewhere. These bottom-feeders are fortunate in only one respect: that they carry the most insignificant trinkets, and I have no reason to challenge them.”

    She shook her head and sort of shuddered, as if the thought of these men rising to the top of any company was giving her convulsions. They joined the others in the fire, momentarily smothering the flames until they too were consumed. She addressed the third and longest row, removing the images one by one. The Elite and the Cheshire Cat Clan, the Valanders and the New Breed, the Wave, Cromwell, and Princeton. All of them were posing, throwing up signature taunts as they came down to the ring. Before saying a word she tossed the pile into the bin.

    "Nobody likes tag team wrestling," she declared with a roll of her eyes. "Friendship is weakness."

    Once more, she turned to the board, and this time she paused. Eight pictures remained, and she began to collect the six that lay in a neat row above the final two. All of them were clutching foreign objects: chairs, kendo sticks, ladders, or tables. Some of them had blood on their faces. None of them were particularly memorable.

    “These men, these six, they sit towards the bottom of our card. Their matches will be quick, they will be brutal, and they will be oh so much fun! It’s amazing that, two weeks before the biggest show in the calendar year, the most interesting thing under our big tent is six disparate nobodies bludgeoning each other with various steel objects. This is why I find this whole situation almost amusing. I speak for you all when I say that I’d rather watch Jason Randall throw Kayden Knox through a table than see Mike Parr attempt a wrestling hold. I would give up a month’s salary to watch Eli Black fold a kendo stick around Izzy Van Doren’s head instead of Cyrus Truth’s psuedo-intellectual and oh so serious mumblings. Who wouldn’t sooner see Captain El Franko diving off a ladder onto Donovan Moore’s prone body than yet more of Dave Sullivan’s sanctimonious and repetitive bullshit?

    “Now, don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that any of these men deserve to be any higher up in any self-respecting company. Franko is about the only one worth even an ounce of your respect. The others are a combination of unproven boys like the Man of the Minute and never-have-beens like Randall. But who doesn’t love a bit of the ultra-violence? You may not know very much about me, but my reputation is one built on the blood of shallow men who didn’t see their future coming until it was throwing a steel chair into their faces. These pigs overlooked me. Underestimated me. But they found themselves unable to withstand. I find it almost laughable that my own match, against Dominick Dust, will not be contested under the same rules. One of two things is true. That the string-pullers see me as a weak little girl and want to protect my delicate frame, or they know what I am and want to protect whoever the fuck Dominick Dust is.”


    Almost in disgust, she threw the six images into the bin. The smoke that now emerged from it was black, and she felt it fitting. Only two remained. One was of her opponent, a pretty boy with rangey limbs and a slender frame. In the photograph, he was laid on his back, staring at the ceiling lights as the referee counted three. Next to him was her own image. She was clutching the CWA High Voltage Championship, a title that she had only stolen and never truly earned.

    “You see, Mr Dust and I do share a few things in common. We have both only ever had one match in an FWA Ring, although mine was three years ago and his only last week. We can both only really talk about things we’ve done somewhere else. We have both declared our intention to carve a new path for the Fantasy Wrestling Alliance. But that’s where the similarities end. Our match count may be the same, but our solitary result is quite different. I watched Franko drop him on his head and then pin him for three. The Captain could’ve paused for a cigarette before hooking the leg and the result would have been the same. We may both talk about our prior accomplishments, but mine have more relevance to my new adoring audience. Search the backs of your minds, my tulips, and you’ll remember that I made Bell Connelly tap out live on pay-per-view. I pinned WOLF clean in the middle of a CWA ring. The only reason I haven’t maimed and emasculated more of your heroes is because I haven’t yet had the chance.”

    The corners of her mouth curled up, the suggestion of a smile only amplified by the widening of her eyes. The crackling of the flames was interrupted by the thin sound of a child crying. She continued, unmoved and resolute.

    “Dust, you are, quite unfortunately for you, almost entirely replaceable. I have been insulted by the people who control your destiny. They have judged me unsuitable for their little X Rules warm-up matches, and as such a point will have to be made at your expense. I intend to show the Blackbird why my name belongs on his championship belt. You have declared your greatness, and your intention to carve out a new path for this company, but you have quickly receded into the background. Two weeks after you were announced to the world as the prettiest little debutant in the FWA, you will be forgotten about entirely. I do not intend on suffering the same fate. The pen is mightier than the sword, they say, but you appear to have lost both. And now the sword that hovers above your neck must surely fall. In time, you will turn to ashes, and then to Dust.”
    She drops his image into the flames. It is swallowed almost instantly, and the infant’s moans immediately abate.

    “You are only the first. Soon, the others must be shaken from their slumber, too. The time for rest is over. It is time to wake up.”
    Volume 27: "Berlin" (02/07/2020).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Anzu Kurosawa (FWA: Fight Night).
    Spoiler:


    September, 2017.

    She stood on the steps of the driveway, clutching a cigarette and peering as best as she could through the darkness that had begun to descend. The summer - or what meek offerings of Summer were to be had in the German capital - was just beginning to fade, the leaves tinged with an autumnal brown and the sun a little less forthcoming than she would like. But the evening was pleasant, a gentle breeze rolling in from the north and soundtracking the scene with the soft rustling of branches. It was almost half nine, the suburban streets beginning to empty as all of the worker bees retreated into their hives for the evening. She enjoyed the quiet.

    She flicked the cigarette towards a drain and, with one more longing glance towards the lonely moon, she walked towards the apartment block. The reception area downstairs was bare apart from the moderately sized pile of litter that had accrued in a corner. The floor tiles were a black and white grid, and as she moved across the chessboard her eyes traced the various cracks and chips that riddled the slabs. On a weathered white wall opposite the front door, someone had scrawledTÜRKEN GEHEN NACH HAUSE’ with black spraypaint. Below it, in smaller text, a different artist had graffitied ‘WIR SIND ZU HAUSE’. The lift arrived and she stepped inside.

    She listened to the mechanisms as she was carried up towards the heavens, her mind meandering slowly back through the events that had placed her year. It was over a year since she had left the United States, but it felt like far longer. First she had been in Rotterdam to see her Mother and her Sister off on their next trip, their final trip, but she had deliberately spent as little time in her hometown as possible. Too many memories and not enough interest. Then it had been Paris, where she had managed to remain for a handful of months, and where she had met Jean-Luc. He was a serious, solemn boy, verging on sullen, and he was mostly happy to sit in perfect silence, reading a book or listening to the radio.

    When he did offer some sort of conversation, it was either functional or nostalgiac. He had no interest in analysing the present day beyond a pressing need for shelter or sustenance, but he could talk at length about a match - boxing or wrestling - that he’d had five or ten or even fifteen years ago. About his friends from school or university or his old workplace he had lots to say, both good and bad, but about himself he remained quiet. She didn’t press him. She didn’t see the point. There’s was a relationship of circumstance and mutual benefit, and the less he wanted to open up to her the better. But she couldn’t help consider his psychology. It was clear that he had once been a proud man, full of hopes and dreams and all of that worthless shit. She wasn't sure if he'd ever been happy, but the manner in which he spoke about the past suggested that he at least believed a state of happiness was possible. But now he was a little hollow and dry, and had come to the understanding that this pursuit of happiness was nothing more than naivety.

    He wouldn't tell her why he had left the States, but come to think of it she had never asked, and she'd never given him all of her story either. There was an understanding between the two of them that they were both in exile, be it self-imposed or otherwise, but the exact nature of their situations remained unspoken. Their relationship was rarely sexual, and when it was Jean-Luc was often functional and uninspiring. After Paris, they had traveled east because neither of them relished the prospect of heading west, and so they had come to Berlin.

    For him, the benefit of the relationship was the companionship he didn't really want but so desperately needed. He had become self-destructive, and she saw her role as almost protective without the associated judgment. She knew that he thought very little of her, and that is why he was happy to have her around. He wouldn't do the sorts of things he did to himself in her presence if he was worried about what she thought. In return, she could rely on him for food or shelter or drugs, if she needed to. The money that she had saved in the States had long gone. The only way she knew to earn more was to fight, and that was the last thing she wanted to do right now.

    The lift stopped and the doors opened up, placing her in a long, dank corridor. The light bulb halfway down it was smashed, and the only window had a series of thick cracks in its bottom left corner. She opened the door into room 312, finding Jean-Luc exactly where she had left him. He was sat in his underpants, one hand lazily down the front of them and the other cradling a large measure of whiskey. A lit cigarette perched on a nearby ashtray, and the small television screen was showing an old Tom and Jerry cartoon. The cat was reaching through a hole, a series of mousetraps greeting his fingers on the other side. Jean-Luc watched on dispassionately. She took a seat on the sofa beneath the window, staring down onto the driveway below. The cars seemed small and abstract.

    "You can smoke inside, you know?" he said. He began to busy himself with a small mirror and a mound of white powder. He took a cancelled credit card from the arm of his chair and began to prepare a short but thick line of the substance.

    "I know," she answered. "I like it outside."

    "It's cold outside," he replied. He collected a banknote from the nearby table and began to roll it into a tight cylinder. His nostrils sounded like a vacuum cleaner. Afterwards, he offered her the plate and the card. She shook her head.

    "Not tonight," she said, her eyes drifting back to the world outside. Jean-Luc shrugged, his attention returning to his drink, his smoke, and his cartoon. After a pause that could have been anything between one minute and ten, she continued. "You know, we've been here before."

    "In this room?" he asked, without looking at her. He was more interested in Tom's attempts to seal up the mouse-hole with glue. "Unlikely. I only rented it last month."

    "No, in this city," she corrected.

    "I've been to Berlin many times on business," he said, his tone very matter-of-fact and almost bored.

    "Business is the right word," she answered, growing tired of his tiresome nature. "Back in Business, 2016. You remember?"

    For the first time since she'd returned to the room, he looked at her briefly, as if searching his memories for the night in question. She could see straight through him. He remembered his match from the night in question, she felt sure. It was the night he had won the X Division Championship from Dave Sullivan. He had spoken about this night often and at length, as if it was his proudest accomplishment. He always neglected the part of the story where he'd lose the title on his first defense. Ask him to name a single match-up other than his own on that card, though, and he would stare at you blankly. Perhaps he had convinced himself that no other contents took place, and he alone sold out the Allianz Arena four years ago.

    "I forgot that you were there too," he said at length, turning back to the television. "Who did you face?"

    "Toxic Tuesday or Radioactive Wednesday or Nuclear Thursday, or something like that," Michelle replied. She could picture their faces as clear as day, but there names honestly escaped her. "They were just goons, I think. Henchwomen for Dinorah Redgrave. I only did is as a favor to Anzu."

    "Anzu?" he asked, distantly and without any real, discernable interest.

    "Kurosawa," she said. He nodded listlessly, but didn't reply. She remembered the match well. It had been several years since she'd seen Anzu, and several more years had elapsed afterwards. In the match they had worked almost entirely as individuals, despite Anzu's best efforts at coercing Michelle into attempting some double-team offence The Dutch woman was having none of it: she abhorred tag team wrestling and all of its proponents. But Anzu had been there for her once, back when Michelle was first in Japan, and Michelle was at least capable of loyalty and had a half-hearted sense of duty.

    They had won the match, of course. Quality will always triumph over youthful exuberance, and the two of them had quality in bucketloads. They may have been older but they were stronger, faster, and better than their opponents. Toxic Weekday (or whatever they were called) were weak bullies, relying on the numbers game to overcome their obvious and extensive individual shortcomings. It was this idea, more than any other reason, that bred her mistrust and downright antipathy towards tag divisions. The very idea of requiring four hands to make your point was alien and repulsive to her.

    In Berlin, in 2017, in Jean-Luc's rented, scummy apartment, her companion's phone buzzed. He checked it instantly, eyes tracing the blurred message that had appeared on its screen. With a sigh and a strain he stood up, avoiding a fall by steadying himself on the arm of his chair, before picking up his huge, fur-lined coat. It was barely even cold but he always was.

    "I have to take this," he said. "It's work."

    She nodded and stared through the window once more, thinking about Jean-Luc's fall from grace and wrestling and Anzu and Berlin. Mostly she thought about that night in the Allianz Arena only a handful of months ago. When Jean-Luc spoke about wrestling, it was as if he was musing on a promise that had been made to him. One that was broken. His victory over Sullivan at Back in Business 2016 had been his proudest accomplishment: everything that he'd worked for finally landing in his lap. But the money, the fame, and the girls that had come with his win were empty, and nothing new for him anyway. The dream was a lie. She watched him appear in the parking lot below, striding across the concrete towards a black Mercedes. A tall, stocky, bald man stepped out of it, an impatient look on his stern, Germanic face. It was always the same man in the same car at the same time. Every week.

    To her? Even the half-forgotten memory of walking down the ramp in an unfamiliar arena, for a promotion she didn't work for, to face opponents she barely knew… In a non-title, tag fucking team match, no less… Even given everything that happened since that night and everything that she'd left behind… Well, that was about as close as she had ever felt to being alive. Every time Roy Orbison hit and it was time for her to emerge onto the stage, she felt the same way. In Japan, in Europe, or in the States. The thought churned at her stomach and clawed at her brain. Despite her best efforts to convince herself otherwise, she knew the day would come when she would climb through the ropes once again.
    Volume 28: "When nothing is pleasing and everything that happens is an excuse for anger" (02/24/2020).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Kevin Cromwell, Eli Black, Gerald Grayson, Donovan Moore, Jason Randall [6-Person X Rules Match, FWA X-Division Championship] (FWA: Back in Business).
    Spoiler:





    She was here again. Back home in Rotterdam - not that you’d be able to tell, if you didn’t know it already. She was surrounded by the same four off-white walls that she had seen a hundred times before. They seemed to gradually press in around her, intent on suffocation. In front of her were two large wooden boxes, the lids absent but their contents just out of view. She was fine with the blind spot. She had no inclination to peer inside.

    “What will you do with the ashes?” her cousin asked, as he always did when they came here.

    She shuffled from right foot to left, adjusting stance through nothing more than awkwardness. A vague sound could be heard through the wall, as if motors and mechanisms were awakening in some unseen room. Gradually, forebodingly, two rectangular holes appeared in the wall, and through them Michelle could see the flames licking their hungry lips as the caskets glided towards them.

    “I don’t know,” she said. She shrugged dismissively: the very idea of this being her problem confused her. “What do people usually do with them?”

    The boxes had both entered their pits, and Michelle suddenly felt a great urge to pull them out again. To force herself to confront the bodies. But it was too late: this burst of curiosity would bring her only anguish and third degree burns. She turned to her cousin instead, awaiting an answer. She was yet to discover any use for him, so she didn’t hold out much hope.

    “People usually scatter them,” he said. It was then that she realised he was crying. She felt no pity. “You know, in a place of significance.”

    The suggestion hung in the air for a moment, but before she had the chance to think about it the main door to the room threw itself open, revealing a hallway. She stared down the corridor, noting how sterile and unfamiliar it appeared. She couldn’t quite remember how she’d arrived at the crematorium. Something told her that this was the path she was meant to take and she dutifully obliged. One foot in front of the other. As she made her way down the hall it seemed to grow dim. The walls became more distant. She felt an odd sensation in her finger tips, and when she lifted her hands she noticed that thin streams of smoke were emanating from beneath her fingertips. She was close to the end of the corridor, another open door only a few metres ahead. The lights were off, but through the open frame she could hear the low, persistent cries of a child in need. The room smelled like death.
    The library smelled of life. Old books and homeless people and musty furniture. There was nothing quite like the distinctive smell of a public library at almost midnight. In a corner, three old men with no hair and dirty clothes sat around a copy of And the Sun Also Rises, the oldest and baldest of the three reading aloud to his garrisoned audience. He struggled with the polysyllabic words, but at least he was giving it the old college try. One of the other men was transfixed with the bottom of an empty coffee cup, whilst the third was struggling to stave off sleep.

    She wrenched her eyes away from her homeless comrades, focusing her eye-line and her energy on the computer screen in front of her. She scrolled through the news updates on FWA.com, reading the latest dross that had been posted on twitter or whatever it was called. The tag champions and their latest challengers were having a banal spat. Sullivan and Diamond went through the motions promoting their tepid Back in Business main event. Garcia was throwing shade in every conceivable direction as if he was having a seizure at his keyboard, much like he had been doing the last time she’d competed here (and, most likely, for the intermittent three and a half years). Since Gabrielle had tossed a few condescending words in her direction on the platform, Michelle had made more of an effort to keep up to date with what her new adversaries were saying to each other. For a split second, she had even considered setting up an account. But less than a minute trawling through the inane nonsense that her new colleagues were spewing was enough to know that this wasn’t for her. Still, at least they were saying something...

    Her primary purpose here, though, was to educate herself on the group of degenerates and misfits that had been thrown together in her upcoming X-Division Championship match. She had been doing so for the past handful of hours, watching some combination of her five competitors trading blows and victories in a pointless series of zero-sums matches. She shook her head, the words beginning to form on an internal projection of a page. As she closed her eyes her head was filled with a vision of her standing inside a wrestling ring within a large arena, discussing the men that were lining up at her door, a steel chair or a kendo stick in their hand in place of a bunch of flowers. Her mind fought with itself, unable to decide whether this projection should have an assembled audience or not. Eventually, she removed the fans from the picture, and the projection of her began to outline the series of wins and losses - other peoples’ losses - that had led to this moment.

    “Back in Business.” She would start, she assumed. It seemed only right. The name seemed to evoke something resembling gravitas in the FWA locker room. The ants that scuttled those corridors regarded the event with great reverence, going the extra mile on their costumes or entrances, pointing at inanimate signs like that was meant to mean something. The more inexperienced would begin to quiver, the very mention of those three words enough for them to piss in their boots. Maybe a repetition next? She imagined herself saying ”Back in Business” again, but decided it was too much.

    “We’ve all come so far over the past few weeks, have we not?” No microphone would be necessary in an empty arena, and her focus could remain solely on the camera that existed only in her mind. “And now here we find ourselves, ready to go into battle in Lord Vincent’s mad playground, throwing ourselves like willing victims into his horror-show vision of our industry. And so, we have been locked in this little game, where each of us strives to out-do the other five, embroiled in an ever-escalating procession of daredevil stunts and sado-masochistic displays. Headed, irrepressibly, towards our macabre playdate in Orlando. Bring along your favourite toys.”

    The vision of Michelle lifted a hand, and found it empty. Only now, she realised that the promo would improve with a prop, and the blood-splattered steel chair that she had been swinging freely over the past few weeks suddenly materialised in her outstretched hand.

    “Jason Randall drops Kayden Knox through a table… Eli Black throws a steel chair into Izzy van Doren’s face… Donovan Moore builds some momentum at the expense of El Franko, Gerald Grayson, and the ridiculously-named Orion... and Amadeus realises he has no dancing partner for Sunday and absolutely nothing better to do with his time. Each week, one more name is added to the list of men who fancy themselves extreme enough to emerge from this bloody danse as the champion. Black beats van Doren, Randall beats Black, Cromwell beats Randall…”

    Michelle thinks about this line, disliking the formality of it. She takes her mental eraser and deletes the previous few seconds of the monologue. She tries it again.

    “Eli beats Izzy, Jason beats Eli, Kevin beats Jason. And we go round and round on the carousel, leaving a few more brain cells behind each week…”

    At the mere mention of a carousel, the scene of her imagined soliloquy is transformed, and Michelle now finds herself in a fairground. The large, white horses of a merry-go-round ploughed onwards on their circular, pointless path, the bright lights and confusing soundtrack of a carnival in full swing swarming the viewer. She pictured herself slowly walking around the circumference of the attraction, barefoot in the grass, tracing a hand across the supporting poles of the tent surrounding the ride.

    “And now, after this merry-go-round of mediocrity, we find ourselves virtually back at square one. In any other industry, where competition is abundant and thriving, this win-trading wouldn’t be rewarded. But in the Blackbird’s madcap interpretation of what qualifies you to challenge for championships? Well, anyone is welcome, it seems. Each of the men that dares to present themselves to me on Sunday have had the pathway to success closed in their faces, repeatedly and firmly, and - even more confusingly - by each other. But when one door closes, another opens, right?”

    She forced herself on down the corridor towards the opening in the distance, each step harder than the last, only for the door to slam shut as she reached out towards it. But when one door closes, another opens. And sure enough, to her left was another door and another room. She strode into it with purpose, as if presenting the notion that she had no fears would be enough to allay them. It stank of stale tobacco and marijuana. It was sparingly decorated: an expensive-looking but weather-worn portrait of an old man with a red coat and a hunting rifle hung next to the only window, the light from which was obscured by ancient floral curtains covered in a thick layer of dust. Only one of the sun’s beams was visible through a tear in the curtain, and particles of dust and smoke danced with each other in the column of light. A handful of cupboards sat in corners, drawers and doors open but nothing of note beyond old scraps of paper inside. An armchair sat in the middle of the room, its material worn and ripped and the colour faded. Next to the chair was a small table, and upon it were the remnants of a recent binge. An ashtray overflowing with cigarette ends and black powder. A small, circular mirror, upon which was a modest but enticing mound of nondescript white powder alongside a rolled up bank note. A bottle of Jameson’s, tipped onto its side, contents spilled onto the tabletop and slowly dripping onto the carpet below.

    Sitting on the chair was a young man - late twenties, perhaps - dressed only in a pair of black, silk underpants. Despite his disheveled look, he still possessed striking features and natural charisma, and his body had retained some of its old athleticism. Draped over the arm of the chair was a woman’s sweater, a blood-like substance arranged in randomized droplets around the collar and down the right sleeve. She recognised both objects instantly: the man was Jean-Luc and the sweater was hers. In front of him, on the floor, sat a small television set, playing grainy footage of a private encounter between the two of them. He stood behind her, arms on her shoulders, lips on her neck. The televised Michelle closed her eyes, as if in a rare state of serenity. He moved his hands down her arms and to her waist, pulling her sweater - the same item of clothing that sat on the arm of his chair, only without the blood - over her head. Her skin was pale and unblemished, and she turned towards him, her body pressed tight against his. She was surrendering.

    She remembered the scene on the television screen. Berlin, or maybe Frankfurt. Late 2017. But the one in the room was alien, familiar only in how often Jean-Luc would find himself in this state. His eyes were glazed over, his motions sluggish and uncertain. He was dead behind the eyes. It was exactly how she remembered. She felt sick.

    As if on cue, the same door that she had entered swung open, but the corridor revealed to her was almost the exact opposite of the one she had traversed earlier. It was brightly lit by wall-mounted candles and grand chandeliers on the ceiling. The wallpaper was bright and decadent, the carpet luxurious, the many locked doors on either side of the hallway promising lavish scenes behind them. Only one was open, at the opposite end of the corridor, and within that room all was black. Above it was a clock, and just now she noticed that a second hand had been clicking solemnly and persistently since she’d been in the crematorium. Only it wasn’t constant: the deliberate and predetermined movement of time seemed to be quickening. She stared up at the clockface, watching as all three hands came to rendevouz at ‘12’.
    She found herself staring at the clock, away from her screen and the gradually diminishing number of people that still inhabited the library. It was midnight, and through the window she observed the streetlights, the moon, and the stars conspire to throw an odd, unnatural glow over the scene. Two of her three homeless friends were now fast asleep, but the third continued reading his story aloud. Intermittently, the fattest of the three would let out a snore, causing the librarian to turn and scowl at them, or whisper in disgruntled tones with one of her colleagues. How long was long enough until she could turf them out onto the cold streets but still keep her conscience clean?

    Michelle forced her eyes back onto the screen in front of her, listening carefully to Jason Randall going through another of his poorly lettered monologues, this time focusing on Kayden Knox and some perceived lazy similarities between the two of them. It was late and she was tired. She squinted through her fatigue, scratching her head and searching desperately for an angle. Closing her eyes and taking his words in, she returned to her planned promo, expecting to find herself back within the fairground that she’d only just left. Instead, she was still inside the library, only in full ring gear and standing atop one of the desks, talking in an animated fashion before an assembled crowd. There were the three homeless men and the library staff, each sat in a reading chair and listening attentively to everything that she had to say. She held a copy of And the Sun Also Rises, the book that the men had been reading, aloft in her right hand.

    “It transports us back to a time when to be young and to be intelligent and to be American was impossible. When they banned and burned James Joyce in the streets of New York, they sent men like Hemmingway - and those that he wrote about and for - to Paris and to London. Europe promised them the respect that they required. The low culture that you and your countrymen prize leads to men like Eli Black experiencing moderate but ultimately meaningless success. Who is this safely-extravagant artiste, who never passes on an opportunity to remind us of his name, - no doubt because he's fully aware of how forgettable he actually is - and graces us with his presence roughly once every two months? A man who balances out wins and losses as if he is taking Newton’s third law of physics a little too literally. Wins against El Franko and Thomas Princeton do not hide his weak underbelly. It was exposed by Jason Randall, of all people, and if our oh-so tepid Wildcard can find your weaknesses he mustn’t have had to look very hard.”

    She threw the book down onto the desk on which she stood, and the thud with which it landed startled two of the homeless men, fending off their slumber for a little while longer. She continued, the provisional plan of her speech beginning to take a firmer shape within her mind.

    “Or Gerald Grayson, a man whom I fortunately know next to nothing about. He likes doing sports. He’s scared of hardcore matches. He is at least, I guess, smart enough to realise all you had to do to get into this match was, well, get in someone’s face and ask for it. Sure enough, it matters very little that his only in-ring experience is a loss in a triple threat match to Donovan Moore. The ’Man Of The Hour’, as he calls himself literally every other fucking sentence. We’ve listened to Donovan for a few weeks now, as he rambles on and on and fucking on about the clock and the time and the Hour and the hands on the clock and how they tick as the Hour elapses and so on and so forth. I mean, please: the metaphor is already worn out. And what exactly are you telling us? Are we ticking towards the start of YOUR time, YOUR hour? Or is the hour your career, and we’re already in its opening throws? I’m not sure you even know. It’s clumsy and tired and it all falls down when you realise that every hour ends. And after that, then what? What will be remembered of your hour when we move on to the next? I’m no oracle, and all I know of time is that it marches on regardless of how often you pine on about it, but I will hazard this guess. When the final seconds of your hour tick by, I imagine the next one will start, and the world will feel much the same as it did before you left your meagre stamp upon it.”

    The homeless men and library staff that her projection held court over immediately began clapping. No, she thought to herself, growing as tired of her imagined scene as she was of the actual library that she sat in with her eyes closed. The setting was too passive. Almost dormant. Slowly, she removed each of the furnishing that her imagination had strewn around the room. Out went the desks, the reading chairs, and the bookcases. Soon, she was surrounded only by blackness. Her mind reached, floundering desperately for something to populate the place-holder background with. The first thing that came to her was a gym, and quickly the scene was populated with punching bags and skipping ropes, Michelle sat on a bench next to a loaded bar, two hooded figures sparring in a training ring behind her. She hated it even more. She’d gone too far the other way. She deleted it all once more, the image of herself again surrounded by nothing, her speech paused as she pondered a new setting. Eventually, she declared there no need for one, and continued to plod through her soliloquy with no distracting props or clumsy metaphors to distract her.

    “I've mentioned the Wildcard, our rough-and-tumble antihero. And I must say, I'm impressed: in-between throwing Kayden Knox or Eli Black through tables, Jason Randall even finds the time to dispense life advice. He and Kayden, they’re the same, you know? He and Kevin Cromwell, guess what? They’re the same, as well! Each week, Randall steps up to the microphone and into the shoes of a new opponent. He tells us that he knows how this adversary feels, how he’s been through the same shit, and how it made him a better man. For an off-the-wall lunatic type, our beloved Wildcard sure is in touch with his feelings. And I’m sure the sage advice you feel fit to dish out has steered many young padawans in the right direction. So long as they do the exact opposite of what you have done, and disregard every insight you fumble around for, they’ll grow up to be fine, well-adjusted members of society. What more could a young boy wish for?

    “Take Cromwell, for instance. You talk about how he and you have both had your grubby little palms on the X-Division Championship, and how you’ve both fallen on tougher times since that cheery interlude broke up the monotony of your disappointing day-to-day lives. And then your big close-up, Jason, as your eyes well up and you consider what you’ve considered only on your darkest days: that’s you almost gave it all up, and thought about hanging up your wrestling boots. Well, of course you have. Nobody is surprised by this. A win or two don’t change the facts. Your tepid rage against the machine act isn’t fooling anyone: the only man that’s holding you down is named Jason Randall. You are a victim of your own normality. Your spot in this match is only a reward for your persistence, for your odd satisfaction in making up the numbers.

    “Which brings us, at last, to Kevin. So very serious, so very dependable, and so very, well, boring.”
    In a laboured fashion, she stares around herself at the imagined blackness, the lack of furnishings to accompany her musings suddenly seeming the perfect metaphor for Cromwell’s character. “What to say about a man who approaches his job as if he is a craftsman, fulfilling a duty to the art that he has practised for the entirety of his useless existence? We all know the truth about you. I’m sure you’ve even worked it out yourself, Kevin. Because when we finally let you know that your act is about as interesting as a recently painted wall, and you realise that you’ve dedicated every molecule of yourself to something that literally nobody wants to watch you do, what happens then? Do you crack like so many of the FWA’s bright young stars? Do we find you in the asylum, in the next ward along from Bell Connelly? Or do you wallow away what time you have left on an industry that is, well, bored to fucking tears by your contributions to it?”

    She was brought back to the ’real world’ with a crash by the soft tones of the library’s PA system. She jumped slightly, in unison with the startled half-snore of one of the more soundly sleeping vagabonds, and turned to see the mousey librarian huddled over a small microphone at the main desk. Michelle blinked at the woman, her edges blurred by her fatigued eyes. Her mind played tricks on her, the features of the woman’s face retreating to nothingness. Michelle squinted hard but she couldn’t hold her image. The librarian chewed and swallowed the first bite of a sandwich that was carefully placed in front of her, cleared her throat, and made her announcement.

    “Your attention, please. The library will be closing in approximately thirty minutes. Would you please make your preparations to leave the building.”

    Half-way down the lavish, decadent corridor was a desk. Sat behind it was a man in a tuxedo, scratching away at a piece of paper with a sharpened pencil. He was entirely ordinary in every way, other than that he had no eyes, nose, or ears, and he was completely bald. His notes were simply a list of names: her name, to be precise. ’Michelle von Horrowitz’ was typed over and over down the left hand side of the page, and next to every entry the man had marked either a tick or a cross. She studied the pattern but found none. To his right was a plate of sandwiches, each of which had been bitten exactly once and then returned to the pile.

    “It’s lovely to see you again,” he said. His thin, pursed lips were the only feature on his entire head. “It’s been years! Do you have your invitation?”

    “I don’t have an invitation,” she replied, suddenly feeling very underdressed. She wore baggy grey sweatpants and one of her Aunt Maude’s knitted jumpers, which was easily big enough to house three of her.

    “Oh, I see.” His tone was still polite, but she could sense his disappointment. “Well, I’ll have to send for someone. Feel free to take a sandwich whilst you wait. They’re rather good. I’ve tried them all.”

    She shook her head.

    “Do you know that your hands are on fire?”

    She nodded her head.

    The open door still sat at the end of the corridor, and from it - far behind the man’s desk - the sound of a baby crying out returned, more incessantly, as if its need had become dire. Not far behind it was the familiar stench of death, filling her nostrils and choking her. She felt an urge to jump over the man’s desk, throwing him backwards on his chair, and darting to the end of the corridor. But once she was settled on the idea the door slammed with a thud, and another door to her immediate left opened with a creak that resembled a howling wind. She looked down at her hands: they were still smoking, and her fingertips were blackened and charred.

    She inched to the new passage and peered into the void, but her eyes found nothing in the thick darkness. She turned back - her intention being to remonstrate with the doorman - and found that he and his desk and his sandwiches had gone. Where there had once been a door there was now only concrete. She sighed and stepped through the new passageway, robbed of all agency, finding herself in a dark, narrow stairwell. Each step brought more light, and as she reached the bottom it opened out into a large ballet studio. The floor was laminated and, directly ahead of her, one of the walls was lined with a huge, floor-to-ceiling mirror. Along this mirror, perhaps a metre from the floor, was a wooden handrail. She could see the entrance reflected in the glass, but as she stepped forward it swiftly closed itself behind her. Another door, ahead of her and to the right, opened, and through it strode a tall, elegant woman in a black leotard. Behind her came a string of children - perhaps eleven or twelve - dressed identically and walking with equally immaculate posture.

    “Okay, children, warm up," instructed the instructor. Each of the girls were lined up next to the handrail, stretching out their limbs and joints in unison. The third from the front was familiar. The girl placed a foot on the rail and then reached out to her toes with outstretched fingertips. 'Isobel,' Michelle thought. 'My sister'.

    “You can’t be here,”
    Michelle tried to say. Her voice sounded as if it wasn’t her own. “You’re dead. I watched them burn your body.”

    Nobody heard her. Or, if they did, they ignored her. The instructor eyed up her proteges, walking along the line of infant dancers and critiquing their technique. She began to run them through their drills. As she watched Isobel attempt a pirouette, the door behind her opened up once again, but the staircase she’d descended was no longer there. Through it came a middle-aged man with pockmarked skin and a balding crown. He was dressed in white robes, as if ready to fight (or at least teach others to fight). Behind him came a girl, fourteen years old, with short blonde hair and a dirty face. It was herself, a decade and a half ago.

    She turned around to see them with her own eyes, instead of their reflection in the mirror. The dancers disappeared. There was only a young Michelle assembling mats on the wooden floor, and the older man, his hands on his hips, keeping a close eye on the girl. When she had assembled the makeshift arena she stood on the edge of the padding, lifting two fists in front of her face as a guard. The man smiled, joining her on the mat.
    One of the homeless men, the oldest and the most alert of the three, was staring at her. His smile was kindly enough, and she didn’t feel threatened, but it made her uncomfortable. The only noise left in the ever-emptying library was the soft, incessant ticking of the clock. She had fifteen minutes until they’d turf her out, her next destination the bus station. Many kilometres sat stubbornly between her and Florida. The idea of meeting more of America’s migrants on the road was a tiresome one. She tried to focus on the screen, which was playing clips of her own match from two weeks ago. Dominic Dust surrendered quickly and meekly, as she knew he would. They hadn’t seen enough of her to know what was coming, but it had been a good start.

    When she closed her eyes again, she was stood outside of the Greyhound station in New Orleans, her next and final port of call on the way to Orlando. The moon would be peering over the lip of the city, the twilight hour beginning to bathe her surroundings in an odd glow. She would stare out towards the street-lights, visible over the densely wooded park and the now ever-present roadworks that littered the memories of a city she once lived in. Of all her ideas for settings, each working in their own limited manner and speaking to only a fraction of her audience, she hated this one the most. The metaphor of her walking along the dilapidated streets of the city’s suburbs, remembering the time in her life that she had last called America her home, was clumsy and unoriginal. And it relied on this being home - in itself an alien concept, and one that she wouldn’t associate with this corner of Louisiana. It was a city whose prime was far behind it, entering its twilight in more ways than one.

    Still, it was late, and this would have to do. Her internal monologue continued, the picture was of Michelle stalking the streets of New Orleans and addressing the non-existent camera. She refused to throw the towel in before she’d got the bare bones of a promo manically scrawled upon the page.

    “I suppose, my tulips, there is one question that I would like each of you to ask yourself. And by each of you, I mean both those who plan to step through the ropes with me on Sunday and those that will watch them do so. What will a win mean to each of them? To Randall, it will be confirmation that there is life in the old dog yet. It may delay his final exit from the public eye for another year, even. For Cromwell, it would at first seem as if things are getting brighter for our stoic professional, but soon enough we’d realise it is only further evidence that Amadeus has ’found his level’. Would this one trinket be enough to hold the interest of men like Eli Black and Gerald Grayson, the short attention spanned thrill-seekers? Or do they only desire accolades and additions to their trophy cabinets? What would they do as champions that you haven’t seen a million times before?

    “No. It cannot and will not
    be. Each of you knows what fate has in store for us all on Sunday night. You know that this is a match that I am meant to win, and that championship belt is meant to be around my waist, for it is the only way forward for a company so intent on dragging itself backwards. And really, in the long run, what is best for you? For the ultimate realisation that you’re simply not good enough to throw hands with Michelle von Horrowitz to be delayed a few more months? Or for the truth to be revealed in all its glory, so that you can best determine which direction to take your sorry acts next? It’s time to wake up, boys, and realise that the woman shaking you from your slumber is not your enemy. No. I am your salvation.”


    Unsubstantiated bravo, for sure. But she was ready to provide the evidence in Orlando. Of course, she had been fed only minnows until this point. The organisation didn’t want their newest commodity to be eating a loss so early, and as a result she would waste her time at the bottom of the card for the foreseeable future. Her dealings with the Blackbird had one clear and obvious purpose: to fix a nameplate reading ‘Michelle von Horrowitz’ onto the X-Division Championship. This would at least give her early efforts here some semblance of purpose. A gold belt around her waist would be the perfect distraction, both for herself and for the trogs in the audience. Her real purpose could wait. Fortunately, she had been taught patience.

    ”You seem impatient.”

    The man in white robes stared at the young girl, and particularly her guard. It was defiant but sloppy.

    “You remember where we left off, then?” he asked, his smile beginning to resemble a smirk. “Okay, we will continue. Hit me.”

    Up until this point, the young girl had been passive, almost indifferent. She had raised her hands in expression of duty, not anger. But, in the moment she lunged towards her teacher, a flash of pure wrath crossed her face. She feigned a forearm, but he telegraphed it and refused to even flinch. He was unblinking. She followed up with two jabs and a hook, but the first strike only glanced across his chest and the other two he easily parried. She thrust a palm at his stomach, only for him to swat her hand away with a thick, strong forearm.

    “Slow,” he said, shaking his head. “Slow and predictable.”

    Unhappy at being simultaneously schooled and taunted, she let out an involuntary wail and threw a wild kick at his midriff. He caught her leg, his hands seeming to linger uncomfortably around her thigh. Almost in desperation, Michelle threw an elbow at his ribs, but he absorbed the blow before easily throwing her to the ground.

    “No control. No discipline.”

    He walked away from her, and Michelle watched as her younger self rolled over onto her front, struggling to suck hasty lungfuls of oxygen into her body. With one hand clenched tightly to steady herself, she began the unenviable task of climbing to her feet. The young girl lifted her fists once again, an expression of sheer intensity resolutely fixed upon her face.

    And then the mirror behind them broke. Smashing into a million shards, it crashed onto the laminate flooring, the shards spreading themselves across the entire room. The teacher and student recoiled backwards, throwing themselves to the ground, exiting the scene as they left her eye-line. Without thought, broken by unseen puppeteers and malleable to their will, she moved towards the broken glass. What used to be a wall was now a wide passage into a dense thicket of woodland. The glass crunched beneath her bare feet, but she felt no pain. As she reached the wood a sense of dread and foreboding surrounded her, the trees seeming to creak and murmur as a stale, cold wind passed through them. And they whispered: through the branches she could hear snippets of long-forgotten memories. She stared at her hands, plumes of smoke now rising from her palms, her fingers alight with thin, flickering flames. She stuffed them into her pockets, stepping between the trees and wanting nothing more than to pass through them unmolested.

    “We all wait, holding our breath, inching forward in our seats, for something to happen.”

    Her own voice: little more than a whisper but commanding none-the-less. She was confronted with her own mockery and disdain, parroted back at her by an unseen adversary.

    “Nature cares not for what these people deserve. Nature does what is natural for it.”

    Now another spoke. Low and rumbling, calm like the sea before a storm. A third and final voice:

    ”The snow is deep and cold, and you have been shivering for hours already.”

    And all-the-while, seemingly from beneath her, she heard the sharp wails of a discarded infant, and a corpse smell fogged her head. She paused, and the trees seemed to sense her hesitation. They pressed in around her, probing her weaknesses. In nothing more than defiance, she bradished her hands and the fire that she carried. She scorched a nearby branch, gaining respite, but found her foot tangled in a root. She fell into a bed of autumnal leaves, the crackling sound of them burning immediately surrounding her. As she sat up, she found herself enclosed by a ring of flames. They quickly climbed higher than her head, encroaching upon the small patch of land that she occupied, dominating and intimidating her. The woods shrieked in terror, the ground shaking under their useless protest. She lifted her arms in front of her face, her forearms now entirely alight, the fire wild and dark and deep. In desperation, she closed her eyes.

    And then there was silence. She thought burning to death would be more painful. Certainly louder. When she allowed herself to glance upon the world once again, the burning leaves were replaced with an entrance ramp, and the forest by a huge stadium. Her forearms were still raised in front of her, but there was no sign of any fire. She stood up, taking in her new surroundings, glancing at the rows upon rows of fans. Tens of thousands of them, packed into every corner of the four-tier arena. All were sat on their hands, and their mouths were closed zips. Hesitantly, she stepped onwards towards the ring and climbed the ring steps. The referee held the ropes open for her, a smirk on his familiar, smug face. Time ticked onwards solemnly. She wasn’t in her ring gear. Her feet were a bloody mess. She didn’t even know who she was meant to fight. But here she was. Her opponent turned towards her, a steel chair in hand. Michelle was looking at a mirror image, pale and unnerving and dead behind the eyes. It was only at this moment - as she watched a flash of anger pass over her own face - that she realised she was dreaming. The lucidity washed over her like a calm, cleansing wave. Some people might even say that this wasn’t real. But they are shortsighted, and not worth your time.

    Michelle watched as her carbon copy lifted up the chair, and brought it crashing down onto her head. And then she woke up.
    Volume 29: "(down)Stream" (03/15/2020).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Gerald Grayson (FWA: Fight Night).
    Spoiler:





    She couldn’t focus on what he was saying. Her eyes were tracing the detail upon the gold plating of her championship belt, and specifically the sharp points at each vertex of the large ‘X’ on its face. There were granules of white powder clearly visible within the crevices, remnants of a recently consumed and thoroughly enjoyed line of cocaine. She’d done the same with her CWA High Voltage Championship four years ago, and it had become something of a tradition. She wanted to enjoy the moment. Her fourth match in the FWA. Her second at Back in Business. And her first taste of this company’s silverware. It tasted almost as good as the cocaine.

    “You see, you’re a champion now,” he repeated. She wasn’t listening particularly carefully, and couldn’t tell you with any great certainty the finer detail of his points, but she felt sure that this was a recurring theme. “You have certain responsibilities to the company now, you know? More is expected of you when you have that gold around your waist. I mean, tonight, sure. Why not celebrate? Let your hair down. You’ve earned it, after all. But from tomorrow you’ll need to really think about how a champion conducts himself. Herself, sorry. Ahem.”

    He was nervous, and after clearing his throat, she actually could have sworn that he repeated the word ‘ahem’. He was sweating under the hot lights of the club, and he leant in close so that he could be heard over the music. She could smell his dinner when he spoke. Something with garlic, and lots of dill. She refused to meet his glance for fear of him revealing his true demon self. He wore a suit. They always wore suits.

    “So, Michelle,” he continued, nervously leaning back in his chair and placing his hands on the arms. It seemed an attempt to convey a casual air, but his anxiety was plain. He didn’t want to be here any more than she wanted him to be here. If only he would fuck off so she could let her hair down. “You’ll be there, right? I can tell them that you’ll be there?”

    “Tell who I’ll be there?” she said, before realising she has other, similar questions. “Tell them I’ll be where?”

    “You know, the board of directors? The head of marketing? Have you not been listening at all?” The little fat man in the suit was beginning to panic. She wanted to stroke his head and tell him it would be okay, but if nothing else he was far too sweaty. When the pause lingered for a little too long, and he realised that she probably hadn’t been listening at all, he leant forward once again. There was a sense of urgency about him. He was almost frenetic. “You have certain media responsibilities now, Michelle. You have three radio interviews in Florida to sell the next show. And then there’s television tomorrow for NBC. Some daytime thing. The Fight Night press conference is on Wednesday, and then there’s a fan Q&A session that evening. We can get into the weekend appearances nearer the time. I think the Make A Wish people want to meet with you, and we’ll have to talk about podcast opportunities. That’s a huge new market. And you’ll need to do some joint marketing with Gerald Grayson.”

    Michelle stared past the man for a moment and at the dance floor. They all seemed so young. When she realised that the pause could be construed as her pondering the future he had planned for her, she replied.

    “No.”

    “No?” he asked.

    “No,” she repeated. “I don’t really want to do any of those things.”

    “But, that’s not really the point, Michelle,” he said. He lent so far forward in his chair that she thought he might fall off the front of it and into her lap. He hadn’t touched his drink in quite some time. “You are an FWA employee. And these things are not only expected of you. They are contractual obligations. It’s a legal issue, more than anything.”

    “Well,” she said, carefully, picking up her own drink and draining it. “The way I see it, I wasn’t being asked to do any of these things a week ago. And back then? You could get rid of me at any moment. You could pull the plug on me and my contract with very little effect on anyone or anything at your company. But now, I have this.” She lifted up a boot and placed it on top of her X Division Championship. “Now, the effect that my release would have is rather huge, isn’t it? I think you know my past. You know what happened when I left the CWA. The chaos I left behind, and a recovery that never came. So, I don’t think I will be doing any radio interviews tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next two hundred and forty four days, during each of which I will hold this championship and, therefore, all of the cards.”

    The man’s jaw was open. He stared at her for a moment, and then leant back in his chair. He was awkwardly playing with his tie, passing it between his fingers. He shook his head in disbelief.

    “Are you going to leave now?” she said, looking around for her own personal bartender - something offered gladly to the X Division Champion and her new-found friends - and signalling for another drink. When she finally succeeded in making an order, she turned around to find an empty seat where the fat man had just been.

    To her left were a group that had latched onto her at the last bar. She had been in the mood to celebrate, and had always liked the idea of walking into a fancy cocktail place - still bruised and cut from a hard night’s work - and slamming a championship belt down onto the bar. She’d order a White Russian and watch all the suits watch her drink it. Three hours after lifting her belt aloft in the Citrus bowl, green and gold and black fireworks exploding in the night’s sky high above the arena, she had done exactly that. Rather than watch her, they had gravitated towards her, overcoming social norms in the name of curiosity. The most interesting of them she had humoured, and accepted drinks from. She hadn’t a single cent with her and no intention of paying for anything even if she had. These places were rife with scum. But education was important, and you didn’t win the X Division Championship every day, darlings.

    The oldest of the group was Merrick, whose younger brother - currently away on business in Europe - owned the club that they were in. It was his tab and his cocaine and his word that had got them their VIP room. His boyfriend, Pablo, was twenty years younger than Merrick and sixty kilograms when soaking wet. Pablo was a Portuguese model and currently going through the process of applying for permanent residency. It was never made clear what Merrick did for a living but she didn’t feel the need to pry. Pablo was with a Russian girl named Aleksandra and a German boy named Lars. Neither of them spoke very much and generally sat in the corner of the booth, conspiring over a bag of ketamine. Merrick’s other friend, who was in his late twenties and claimed to be a local artist who went by the name STORM (the capital letters were, he insisted, necessary), spoke with a heavy French accent despite being from Michigan. When they had been for a cigarette, Merrick had told her his real name was Barry Trent and that his father worked in the Detroit car factories, welding bumpers. STORM’S (the capital letter for the possessive ‘S’ is also, STORM assersed, necessary) latest work had been a performance art piece in which he enclosed himself in a glass box, naked, with the complete writings of Leo Tolstoy (which, incidentally, he wasn’t allowed to read) and a trough of quinoa that was filled each morning. He would stay in the box for three days and two hours before being taken to a local hospital with a bruised ego and severe dehydration.

    Buoyed by the chemical imbalance that their narcotics had brought about in her brain, she had valiantly told them she was a professional wrestler, and that she was the new FWA X Division Champion. She needn’t have bothered, really. It was written on her belt.

    Tonight?! STORM asked, his face an affectation of surprise, his ridiculous faux-French accent teetering on the edge of credibility. This had happened back at the cocktail bar, before they’d made their way to the club. “You had a match tonight? How long ago?”

    “Two hundred minutes,” Michelle answered, draining her glass and summoning another. “They finished taking the thumb tacks out of my back and stitching up my head half an hour ago.”

    They seemed to think this was a hoot. She knew this because they said numerous times that this was a hoot. Two of them Googled her and found fan-filmed clips of the match, passing their phones around the circle to give everyone a chance to watch. They winced and whined as Gerald Grayson powerbombed her from a ladder through a table. They exclaimed in terror as she hit her Tiger Driver ‘98 on Kevin Cromwell, driving him through the announcers’ desk. And they looked away in horror as she was thrown onto thousands of thumb tacks with a huge back body drop. Afterwards, they’d asked her half a thousand questions about professional wrestling, as if they’d never even considered the sport before and now found it the most fascinating topic of conversation imaginable. It kept them away from more personal questions, and it kept her in White Russians, so she was happy to field their questions and satiate their curiosity.

    On the way from the cocktail bar to the club, a handful of people had recognised her, and a subset of those had approached and asked about the match. Usually, they held phones, pointed at her with a bright, unblinking light that seemed like an overbearing eye. With her new belt proudly sat on her shoulder, and a new-found, ready-made, and disposable entourage leading the way to their next destination, she failed to fight the urge to have her voice heard. It could have been the victory, or the drugs, or even her firm belief that most of her matches were won before the opening bell rang. Whatever it was, she gave Orlando’s revellers the answers that they desired. In due course, these responses were uploaded onto the internet, edited together, discussed, parodied, and over-analysed by clickbait peddlers. She assumed that was how the FWA representative had found her in the club. Such was now the way of the world.

    “I enjoyed every second of it,” she declared, when asked by one particularly handsome young fan about her match earlier that night. “As I’m sure you did, tulips. Anyone familiar with my previous work knows what I do. Not only do I routinely put on the match of the fucking night, I invariably win the match of the fucking night. Regardless of what you ask for - a brutal death match or a technical clinic - I’ll supply it and have my hand raised in victory when the bell is rung. You saw that tonight.

    “I’ve told you before. I’ve warned those that pull the strings. Stop feeding me minnows, like you have been on Fight Night. It doesn’t matter if there is one inferior athlete in front of me or five, the writing is on the wall and your fate is already sealed. Tonight, I survived steel chairs, tables, and thumb tacks, missed dives and failed ideas. I went through hell, and needed forteen stitches in my head to sew me back up. I had one hundred and twenty three thumb tacks painstakingly removed from my back. And I still fucking won. Tonight was about attrition, about stamina, about the will to win and the ability to deal with the worst of our industry. Well, I am the worst of our industry. This was just the beginning.

    “Gerald Grayson?”
    she had asked, when another of them had told her who waited for her on the next episode of Fight Night. Her question wasn’t entirely rhetorical. “I still have next to no idea who he is. I mean, have you ever heard him speak? Other than the handful of words he spat at Donovan Moore? For which, I might add, he was rewarded with a spot in the X Division Championship match. Perhaps he should try talking a bit more? I’ve heard he writes in a notepad, and speaks to old guys in parks after going for a long cycle. What am I meant to do with that? Steal his pen? If you search for this guy on the internet, you know what comes up? Videos of him sky-diving, or jetskiing, or GoPro footage of him cycling really really fast down a hill. What the fuck is he even doing here? Is this an adrenaline junkie thing? Is jumping out of an airplane over the Grand Canyon just not enough for this guy any more?

    “Well, I guess Gerald should be careful what he wishes for. Earlier tonight, he got a taste of what the future has in store for him, for however long he intends to keep alive this silly dream of his. For as long as I hold this…”
    Here, she tapped the face of her championship belt with her free hand. “... he walks by my grace, in my division. Looking back, do you think Gerald regrets asking for a place in the X Division Championship match at Back in Business? Do you think, as Kevin Cromwell toppled over the ladder that he had climbed, and he flew through the air, trapped between two tables and Eli Black’s free-falling body, he began to realise what I could have told him weeks ago. That he should’ve stuck to his bicycle, and his parachute, and his waterskis. He can control those things. Nature is an enemy that Grayson is capable of facing. He is not ready for me.”

    A reasonable crowd had gathered around: her fellow travellers through the night, bathing in unnatural light from the streetlamps and flickering bar signs. They cast a pale glow over the city streets, stars few and far between in the sterile night’s sky high above. She took in her surroundings. Every building seemed to be a bar, music spilling out through open doors and merging with the sound of nearby sirens to form an oddly placating white noise. She still moved slowly towards Merrick’s club, smoking a cigarette and doing her best to control her jaw. It was approaching three in the morning, but she felt as though the night was only just beginning.

    “Don’t make that mistake,” she began, addressing an older man who’d shoved his phone in her face and suggested she hadn’t proved herself in a singles match. Her contest with Grayson, according to this amateur journalist, would not take place under X Rules, which apparently put her at a natural disadvantage. “Do you think that a month ago, when I defeated Dominick Dust in two minutes flat, was my first ever time in a wrestling ring? If you don’t know who I am - where I’ve been and who I’ve beaten - then it’s because you have chosen to bury your head in the sand. I will not tell you how to think, or assure you that I’m no flash in the pan. I’d prefer to show you. The next time that the FWA is in your shitty little city, come find me. If I don’t still have this championship belt, I’ll move to this hellhole. That’s how certain I am that nobody in this division can touch me.

    “The fact that each of my matches have been contested under X Rules is only down to circumstance. My debut here coincided with the Blackbird’s announcement of his demented plans for the division. In almost a year with the CWA, I competed on every single episode of their weekly television show, and on every single pay-per-view, and all but one of my matches were contested under traditional rules. The means do not matter. Whether it takes a collar and elbow tie up or a steel chair that gets me there, it’s the ends that make a difference. The fact that I stand before you as a champion after three matches should be all the proof that you need.

    “I’ve answered this question many times,”
    she told a fourth fan, who’d asked who she wanted to face next. “I told Gabrielle before Back in Business, and I’ve addressed each and every person on this roster. I am not here to waste time on men like Gerald Grayson, who would require intensive training before he was fit to shine my boots. I want to face the very best that this company has to offer. I want to defend my championship belt against anybody who thinks they’re man enough to take it from me. I want Truth, I want Diamond, I want Krash, and I want Sullivan. I am asking to prove something that you’ll all come to accept: that this championship, only by the virtue of sitting on my shoulder, is the top prize in the world of professional wrestling. Sullivan talks about this prize as if it was stolen from him. Well, King Dave, it’s right fucking here. I don’t even want a shot at yours. Not yet, anyway. But when you’re ready to try and pry this away from my hands, I’m ready and waiting. But you know what, Dave? I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. The longer you can put between the day that you have to climb between the ropes and face off against Michelle von Horrowitz, the better, right?

    “I am not going to go away. You can be sure of that. You can lock all of your top challengers in whatever steel structure you want, but you can only keep them away from me for so long. Your salvation is coming, ladies and gentlemen. You might as well throw yourselves in. You haven’t got a chance.”


    The club that they had escaped into was loud, filled with rich young things, and a safe haven from the prying eyes of camera phones. Three hours later, after evading FWA representatives and hammering enough cocaine to impress a Colombion drug lord, she found herself staring over the barrier of the VIP area. The lights intermittently illuminated the revellers, who were unaware of her gaze as they allowed the night to swallow them whole. Whatever they had done through the week, however much of their souls they had willingly offered up to whichever part of the machine they were a part of, could now be forgotten. They would sacrifice a few of their brain cells at the altar, and would be rewarded with a few hours respite from the dull monotony of their day-to-day existences. The people that she had come here with had gradually, inevitably gravitated away from her, until she was left here with just Lars, the friend of the boyfriend of a man she’d latched onto for a handful of free drinks and an evening of escape. He was a good looking boy, maybe twenty but probably younger, and he had joined her to survey the dance floor and those that were swarming it, engaging with momentary interactions with perfect strangers before moving onto the next one. Lars’ ketamine was good and had her head swimming in a good way but his conversation was bad and had her head swimming in a bad way. His English was reasonably good albeit laced with an obnoxious German accent that made his words sound harsh and blunt when he intended the opposite effect. He was running through what seemed like a pre-rehearsed speech designed to make him sound somewhat intelligent, bemoaning the effects that the modelling industry that paid his rent had on him and others like him. He was a tortured soul it seemed and he wondered if there was some other way that he could contribute more and feel less reliant on his body and complicit in the unrealistic idea of beauty that his generation was force fed through the mass media that he piggybacked on. She did her best to zone him out and focus on the people before her, watching as Pablo danced with a group of young boys in suits whilst Merrick watched on from the shadows, seemingly engrossed by his much younger boyfriend and his new dancing partners. Aleksandra was with STORM but she looked thoroughly disinterested in the artist and instead watched on as Pablo took one of his young businessmen friends by the tie and pulled him closer, Pablo’s spare hand roaming freely beneath his jacket and causing Merrick to drain his drink in excitement. Lars asked her if she wanted to dance and she said no because she hated dancing and found that the same qualities she most prized in herself were the ones that held her back here and now when the time had come to let go and let loose and let your hair down and that dancing was just something that other people did. He asked her if she wanted to go back to his apartment and she said that was fine as long as he stopped talking and it seemed that he took her literally because he simply stared out of the window as the two of them rode through Orlando in the back of a cab so she did the same and found that she struggled to focus and the lights were too bright and there were too many colours and the people on the streets all seemed too loud and too aggressive and too obnoxiously present and she felt that she could only be safe if she closed her eyes and held onto the door handle tight and she remembered that she hadn’t put on her seatbelt and the music was sooooo relaxing and she imagined what would happen if the driver fell asleep and the car gently glided towards the sidewalk and towards the passers by and she knew would happen to her without her seatbelt and the pattern she might make on the paving stones and she closed her eyes tighter and tighter and tighter and felt the car gliding and she steadied herself ready for the impact and for the end and then the car stopped. She opened her eyes and they had arrived at Lars’ apartment block and they went through the large, sliding glass doors that opened readily for them as if beckoning them in to the little concrete coffin that he paid $620 dollars a calendar month for the privilege of rotting in. They went up up up to the eighteenth floor and he had a fantastic view of the city and she thought she could see Disneyland in the distance but the German assured her that it was just some factory that made dog biscuits and that Disneyland was in the other direction, out past the city. The sex wasn’t great and Lars’ system was full of various things that made it difficult for him to sustain, and when he finally got there he didn’t last very long and ended up pulling out to finish on his bed sheets before quickly falling asleep next to her. She found the rest of his ketamine and a handful of pills and put them in her pocket because she felt sure he could get more and he owed her something in the absence of even a modicum of sexual satisfaction and she collected her clothes and her championship belt and sat down as the elevator made its slow descent down the eighteen floors she’d climbed only forty minutes before. Her head was swimming but the drugs were wearing off and all that was left was the sense of dread that accompanied the tail end of a night like this. When she reached the ground floor, she realised that there was a security guard watching her with a judgemental look on his fat fucking face. She hadn’t noticed his existence when she’d arrived but she felt that he was acutely aware of hers. She quickly shuffled out of the building and flagged down a taxi, drifting in and out of consciousness as her white knight carted her back towards her motel room and the safety that it promised. The sun was beginning to peer over the lip of the world. She felt exposed.

    The ascent up the stairs to her room seemed to take a lot out of her, and the aches and pains from her match eight hours before - which adrenaline had done a good job of masking up until now - began to incessantly throb. Her head was fogged. Opening both eyes at once was an impossible task. Eventually, she managed to jab her key into the lock, and emerged into her disgusting little abode. She threw her keys on the table, and then her championship belt, before looking around the apartment for the television remote. She dug around in a nearby draw and retrieved a DVD, placing it in a tray that she’d summoned to open with a click of a button. She pressed play on the remote, watching as a picture of herself, four years younger, filled the screen. Toronto. She was pacing the ring in a familiarly vitriolic fashion, a loud, obnoxious chant of ’WE WANT WRESTLING’ beginning to circulate around her.

    “You want wrestling?! YOU WANT WRESTLING?!” the recording continued. The volume of the repetition was so sudden and uncharacteristic that the chant was broken up, only the most ardent von Horrowitz detractors daring to continue. “Who do you think it is, you fucking trogs, that gives you wrestling?! When Jon Snowmantashi decides that he needs a night off, AGAIN, who is here to pick up the slack? When the Tag Team Champions spend half an hour running their mouths about something that literally nobody cares about, who is next up to put on a match of the fucking year candidate? When Jonathan McGinnis refuses to let one of his matches reach a proper conclusion, who reminds us all that the CWA can be a true sanctum of sporting competition? FUCKING ME, that’s who! I’ve wrestled on every single episode of Adrenaline Rush this year, and we’re half way through it. And why do I do this? Because it’s the right thing to do, obviously. And you tell me that you want wrestling? The fucking gall. You people make me sick.”

    Back in the present day, she threw the remote onto the top of the television. Naturally, it wasn’t a flatscreen. She fell backwards onto the bed, listening to herself lament her positioning in the middle of CWA’s card, fighting with Elijah Edwards and LIGHTBRINGER for the High Voltage Championship. It all seemed like so long ago. Her eyelids suddenly felt very heavy. Her words began to blur into one another. The room span. Consciousness was hard to sustain. With her own monologue swimming in her head, she surrendered to the oncoming sleep.

    Volume 30: "Storyteller" (04/13/2020).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Kevin Cromwell [X-Rules Match, FWA X-Division Championship] (FWA: Fight Night).
    Spoiler:





    The odd glow of several hundred light bulbs made her reflection seem brighter and more vibrant than she herself felt. Before her, encompassing the entirety of one of the dressing room’s walls, was a mirror, and she peered into it with a dispassionate curiosity. Even if she had wanted to appear more animated, her eyes were incapable of life. They were tired, like the rest of her. Heavy bags hung beneath them, and her hair was a dirty blonde mess of tangles and knots. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d showered. After the initial adrenaline of her championship victory had worn off, she’d found herself the not-particularly-proud owner of a menagerie of bumps, bruises, and as of yet untreated wounds. Sleep was impossible, and the idea of being separated from her dreams - her dreams in which the only ‘people’ she encountered were projections of her own subconscious and therefore, by definition, better than their counterparts in ‘reality’ - for the foreseeable future was both very real and thoroughly depressing.


    With a grunt and a groan, she began to pull away at the edges of the large bandage that covered her right shoulder and most of her upper arm. It had been white when she’d first applied it, but now it had become discoloured and browned by old, dry blood. Beneath it was a large bruise that looked like purple-and-black camo print. She stroked the discolouring, wincing at the pain, briefly transported back to the moment where she had thrown herself off the stage at Back in Business, tumbling through the air and crashing through a recently vacated table. Back in reality, she turned around, craning her head to see her back in the mirror. The bruise covered the top right quadrant of it, and the regions of her rear torso that it hadn’t yet spread to were riddled with small cuts that were only just beginning to heal. As she surveyed each of them in turn, her mind relived the moment when she had tried to hook Kevin Cromwell’s arms, going for a second Tiger Driver ‘98. He had thrown her over with a back body drop instead, and she’d crashed down onto thousands of thumb tacks. At the time, she hadn’t felt a thing. But when she’d taken them out each one had hurt more than the last. She remembered watching her own fingers grasp the head of each tack before the point was yanked from her flesh. Each removal was a badge of honour.

    From her bag she fetched a few lengths of fresh bandage and a roll of surgical tape, along with three bottles filled with tiny white capsules and a fourth half-emptied of amber liquid. She poured three pills from each bottle onto the table, scooped them up and threw them into her mouth, forcing herself to swallow them back and give her aching body at least a little reprieve.

    She climbed into the shower and tried to focus on something other than the hard Penssylvanian water (which was intent on being either far too hot or far too cold). She reminded herself of what she was here to do. It hadn’t been a particularly enjoyable day. No day that features a lengthy conversation with any executive - least of all an FWA executive - can be considered enjoyable. But it had been productive, or at least would be by the time it was through. She had always been one for a grand gesture, so long as she was the one who stood to benefit from it. Tonight was no different.

    The executive had been running through a similar instructional stream of consciousness that she’d heard before. This guy, at least, was better put together than the fat, sweaty man who’d accosted her on the night of Back in Business. He wore a blue pinstripe suit with a white shirt and a red tie, his posture immaculate as he sat in a high-backed chair behind a large, mahogany desk. He was eloquent enough and seemed at least outwardly confident in what he was selling, but his fruit was as rotten as all the others'. When he'd finished, she quickly dismissed him and his perception of the inherent responsibilities that the X Division Champion bore. He had seemed surprised, bordering on outraged.

    "You know, a lot of people on this roster dream of doing these things," he had said, whilst trying to affect a casual air. His nerves were belied by the idle tapping of his fingers on the surface of his desk. "Appearing on interviews on national television… Representing the company in our various charitable endeavors… These are opportunities that other performers would kill for."

    For a moment, she had stared at the young, handsome executive, weighing up his words. It seemed he felt her ungrateful, and was attempting to guilt her into appearing on The Late Show.

    "Well, all they have to do is beat me, and take my belt, and then they can fill their boots," she said, leaning back and crossing her legs. The movement, though small, caused ripples of pain to travel across the network of bruises on her upper body. "My own dreams are grander."

    The executive shook his head, somewhat exasperated.

    "You could at least set up a Twitter. Or an Instagram. Your fans want to know what you are doing. All of the time. It's the way the world works now."

    "I don't have a phone," she answered, quite honestly. He couldn't help but scoff.

    "Michelle," he began. She felt he was being overly familiar. She elected to allow the peacock his moment to spread his feathers. "I’m not really sure why you are being so difficult. You could at least do a little bit of promotion. Self-promotion, if nothing else. I mean, you’ve asked for this Open Challenge next week, and we’re only too happy to accom--”

    “That I can do,”she interrupted. She had grown tired of the monologue in its infancy, and reached down to retrieve something from her rucksack. She produced a half-finished bottle of Jameson’s, placing it to one side so that she could find what she was looking for. Eventually, she retrieved a handful of pieces of paper and a USB stick and placed them on the executive’s desk. “I don’t need your ironically-named creative department, or any of your enhancement talent. I’ve arranged for all that myself. I only need your cameras, and people to point them at me. Send them to the address I’ve written down here at eleven tonight. My voice is on the USB stick. I hope that you can remember how to use one. I need that back, by the way. I borrowed it from a librarian."

    The man picked up the papers, his eyes beginning to trace the words that she had scrawled across them, illustrated by the occasional diagram or storyboard. The edges of his lips curled, suggesting something resembling satisfaction.

    Back in her dressing room, she turned the water off and retrieved a towel. She dried herself, and then gently reapplied her bandage. Her war-wounds made each minor task an ordeal. She had hung her ring gear up opposite the mirror, and pulled on each item with the growing sense that even getting ready for what she had planned would be too much for her. She took one more pill from each of her bottles and washed them down with a pull of Jameson’s. Her reflection seemed to shake its head at her as she left the room.

    After traversing a long, narrow corridor, she pushed open a door and stepped out onto a stage. She was in the Byham Theater, and staring out into the auditorium she saw rows upon rows of empty seats. Stood half-way down the central aisle was a man with a camera upon a tripod, and behind him were two more stage-hands pointing spot-lights towards her. On the stage was a wrestling ring. It loomed ominously before her, oddly hypnotic in the vivid glow of the spot-lights. She nodded at a fourth man
    who waited in the wings, dressed all in black, and he pulled on a rope that gradually drew a curtain between her and the seats. Two others nearby adjusted their cameras, pointing their lenses at the woman who grew more and more alone. When it was just her and the ring, she climbed through the ropes. A deep breath. Her favoured kokutsu dachi stance.

    -*-*-

    As she lowered herself slowly into her fighting stance, she watched the man pace back and forth a few metres from her. His hands were behind his back, his eyes more interested in surveying the ground in front of him than the twelve year old girl who awaited his attack. He was not threatened.

    "You stand as if you're ready to fight," he said, slowly. It was 2002. They were in Rotterdam. Around then, young boys attended to punching bags or sparring partners. "But I know that you're not. I don't have to look at you to sense it."

    They stood within the ring in the middle of the dojo, and although - from a framing perspective at least - they occupied centre stage nobody paid them any attention. She didn’t bother speaking. He had a way of scoffing at her words, and throwing them back at her in derision. She had no intention of giving him the satisfaction.

    “You look tired, and still hurt,” he said, finally refraining from pacing and facing his young protégé. “It has been three days since you were last here. Rest is important.”

    Finally, he took in a deep breath, and moved into his own kokutsu dachi. His stance was firmer, more resolute and self-assured. They were ostensibly mirror images, but the picture told the story of a student and a master.

    “Very well. We will begin.”

    Silently, she lunged towards him, aiming a spin kick at his midriff. Almost nonchalantly, he caught her foot and threw her to one side, before driving a palm strike into her side. Instantly, like an old building on the receiving end of a wrecking ball, she crumbled to the ground. The bruises existed before her last visit to the dojo. Her master and the older boys had certainly added to them, and so had the seventy two hours of every-day life since then. She couldn’t remember the last time that her body hadn’t been angry with her.

    “You’re just going to lie there?” he asked, his voice laced with surprise and amusement. “Perhaps you’d be happier in your sister’s dancing classes?"

    With her eyes closed, she placed her palms against the ground and forced herself onto her feet.

    -*-*-

    The picture is encompassed by heavy, velvet theatre curtains, deep red in colour. They are drawn tightly together, the classic tragedy and comedy masks embroidered in gold and ivory on either side of the divide. They show no sign of opening and are accompanied by no soundtrack. After a few moments of silence, large silver text appears in the center of the screen.

    MICHELLE VON HORROWITZ
    IN


    We are, of course, used to lo-fi, grainy, hand-cam footage from our new X Division Championship, if we are given any footage at all, and so the obvious high production values are at odds with the name that has appeared. It is soon replaced by the title of the piece.

    “STORYTELLER.”

    Finally, the silence is permeated by the voice of our beloved narrator.

    “Why do you all keep coming back, my dear tulips?”

    We can faintly hear the mechanisms responsible for the slow opening of the curtains, the two spot-lights that had been previously focused on the red velvet now highlighting a woman standing alone in a wrestling ring. She is dressed in black, and around her waist sits the FWA X Division Championship. The camera begins to slowly pan out, revealing the empty orchestra pit and, gradually, the first few rows of unoccupied seats. The shot shifts and now we observe the woman from one of the turnbuckles, and behind her the entire auditorium is revealed. It is not completely empty. Sat in various seats in the stalls are a half dozen masked men. One of them stands up, dressed in black wrestling trunks and a black jacket. Slowly, unsure of himself, he begins to move towards the end of the row, the image of the woman in the foreground blurring as we focus on this newcomer. In the corner of the shot, high above the stage, two shadowy figures occupy one of the opera boxes.

    “You keep coming back, of course, for the stories,” the narrator continues. The camera sits low in the central aisle, the spotlights positioned behind it and illuminating the back of the first masked man who dares approach the ring. “Everybody loves a story. Even if you’ve heard them all before.”

    As the masked man rolls under the bottom rope and deftly rises to his feet, he whips off his jacket and throws it over the top rope. The camera transitions smoothly to ultra slow-motion as he does this, the jacket momentarily blocking out the entire picture before revealing her masked opponent in square wrestling stance. As this happens, silver lettering introduces him.

    'THE WRESTLER.'

    We move to a wide shot of the ring, the man and the woman locked in a stand-off. Slowly, without taking her eyes off her counterpart, she removes her championship belt and lays it in front of her.

    “Every week, you switch on your television. You slide closer to the edge of your seat as Gabrielle and Truth burn each other with words and with fire. Your eyes widen with wonder as the latest mental breakdown of some young, fresh meat unfolds in episodic form in front of you. You roar with laughter as the never-ending comedy that is the career of the Monster of the Midway continues. And, most importantly, you wonder which of the noble heroes are going to stake their claim to Sullivan’s prize. These white knights, these men that you’ve painstakingly convinced yourself are worthy, they will go to war with our resident big bad, and things will turn personal and bloody and violent, and you’ll let yourself believe again that this is the man who will restore order to the FWA. If he does win, it’s a happy ending. We all love a happy ending. And if he doesn’t? Well, it only delays the inevitable another month, and makes the pay-off all the sweeter.”

    The woman and the masked man come together in a collar and elbow tie up. Instantly, The Wrestler transitions into a rear waistlock. The camera picks up the pain that roars through the champion’s body. She manages to manoeuvre into a hammer lock, but The Wrestler is quick to roll out of the hold. She attempts a wild lariat that is easily telegraphed. He moves back into his rear waist lock, and attempts to throw her overhead with a German Suplex. She flies through the air, over-rotating and landing on her feet. After catching her balance, she lunges forward with a chop block. She’s up in an instant, throwing herself off the ropes and taking the masked man down with a busaiku knee kick…

    “Each of these stories are variations on the same theme. In this day and age, it’s all about adversity. Our hero’s eventual victory is only worthwhile if it is hard-fought. We yearn for character growth, for an arc that leads us through a logical string of cause and effect and results in our boy learning a whole lot about himself. For you, my tulips, it is all about the chase, and the obstacles faced along the way are as important as the end goal. This is what you demand. And you demand it because it is what you’ve been given, in some form or another, for centuries. You have been told that the men worth believing in are the ones that can pick themselves up after a defeat, and brush themselves down, and continue down their path. These men are just like you, and their victories are, in part, your own. And why wouldn’t you believe it? It’s a comfortable promise, and it justifies the baron spell of inadequacy that we find ourselves in right now. Eventually, he’ll ride in on a huge white horse, and he’ll lead us into a bright future. The darkness will soon blow over.”

    The woman has put her prone opponent in an ankle lock, wrenching at the joint as he screams out and reaches for the ropes. In a flash, he finds himself in a stretch muffler submission, and the recipient of a series of savage stamps to the back of the head. In a stylistic flourish, she transitions once more into the cattle mutilation, The Wrestler struggling to even tap out under the strange contortions that she is forcing upon his body.

    “And so you keep waiting.”

    The first masked man rolls out of the ring, and the woman is back up to her feet, taking her familiar stance and waiting for the next of them to step up. We cut to the box, within which we see the figures of a man and a woman. They too are masked, and dressed all in black. The man sits with his eyes on the stage, his right hand balancing a large glass of red wine on his knee. Upon his head sits a crown. Behind him and to his left, a woman in a long black cocktail dress has a glass of champagne in her left hand and a revolver in her right. As the man lifts his cup to his mouth, the woman raises her gun and points it at his head. Once more, the footage slows down, until each moment stretches on for seconds. As she stares down her revolver at his golden crown, their roles are revealed to the viewer.

    'THE GODDESS.' ............................................................... 'THE KING.'

    In the ring, the woman has returned to her kokutsu dachi stance. Over her shoulder, a new masked man paces upon the apron. He is wearing black jeans and a vest, and in his mouth perches a half-smoked cigarette.

    “And eventually, after watching other people tell their stories for so long, we want to have our own. In February of 2017, James Guildford woke up in his suburban home in Sacramento and decided that he wasn’t content with hearing other people’s stories anymore. And so, in his limited idea of what adventure means, he determined that he wanted to stand on the top of the world. Such a concept, of course, can be measured, and he flew to India, so that he could stand twenty eight thousand feet above sea level and see what all the fuss was about. This was his story. What could possibly go wrong?”

    Eventually, after convincing himself that it’s a worthwhile endeavour, the new masked man climbs through the ropes and steps towards the champion. He lifts an arm to feign a right hand, but instead takes his cigarette out of his mouth and throws it towards the camera. It rotates towards the lens and time once again slows to a crawl, and he is introduced to the viewer.

    'THE LOOSE CANNON.'

    As we transition back to real-time, the woman is able to throw herself out of the way of the masked man’s projectile, but he is quickly on her with a series of lefts and rights. She stumbles back towards a corner, and The Loose Cannon leaps onto her, biting her forehead and clubbing at her bruised shoulder. She is forced into a seated position against the turnbuckles, the masked man proceeding to stomp a mudhole in our poor narrator’s chest.

    “As James Guildford left base camp and climbed the foothills of Mount Everest, he breathed in the Himalayan air and felt the past pains of adversity slowly wash out of his system.
    On the ascent, he was sustained by the fact that he was no longer a peripheral player. He was an adventurer. A conquerer. He was on centre stage, creating a story of his own.”

    When The Loose Cannon finally affords her some respite and backs off, she begins to tear away at the second turnbuckle, deftly untying its knots and revealing the devilish steel ring that lurks beneath the cover. As he charges at her again, she grasps the top rope with both hands, pulling herself to a vertical base in time to throw him down onto the exposed steel with a drop toe hold. Instantly, blood oozes from a fresh gash on his forehead and onto the mat below.

    “And when James stood at the top of the world, and stared down upon the planet that had thrown so much adversity in his direction, he did indeed see what all the fuss was about. He was contented. He’d found his peace. Or so I like to think. We’ll never know. He died less than eighty metres into the descent. His body just sort of gave up.”

    The woman has dragged the man back to his feet, and holds him up in the centre of the ring with a front face lock. As blood splashes onto her boots, she takes a deep breath, and mercilessly drives him down with a double-arm underhook DDT.

    “But these stories are stories that you’ve heard before. And I’ve promised you, my tulips, that my story is going to be different. It already is different. This adversity that you prize, that you demand, from your heroes: you see a lack of it in my own brief story and that is a ready-made accusation. You point a finger at me and my championship belt and you demand further proof that your saviour is worthy. You struggle and kick and scream when you should simply take my hand, and let me lead you into the future that you've always dreamt off. The one that you thought lay at the end of the path of adversity. But it is here, my tulips, and it is now. You only have to follow me.”

    We cut to the opera box once more, where The King looks on. His expression is unknowable through his mask. Behind him, The Goddess slowly steps back towards the shadows, constantly staring down her revolver at his golden crown. The King leans forward, his hand loosening its grip on his drink, allowing it to fall over the railings. It lands in the middle of the ring, the sound of smashing glass reverberating around the theatre. The red liquid spills onto the mat. We stare over The King’s shoulder as three masked jesters begin to circle the ring. The first wears a singlet with large red hearts embroidered on the chequered black and white lycra. The second has a cat’s face painted on his mask, complete with long, wire whiskers. And the third - whose mask is adorned with large black rabbit’s ears - holds a comically large croquet mallet above his head.

    “Your resistance is both futile and understandable. I am not the hero that you have been programmed to accept. But you should not let yourself be blinded by the Machine. I have spoken of my division as a land of opportunity, where one only has to ask for their shot at the Queen of the X Division. This week on Fight Night, you will see my vision for yourselves, and you have a choice. You can choose to accept me for what I really am, and greet me as you would an old friend. Or you can continue to bury your heads in the sand. This is not a choice that I can make for you.”

    Before this trio of jesters can climb into the ring, the woman takes the rabbit out with a step-up enziguri. The other two leap over the top rope in unison. As the cat steps forward, his legs are taken from beneath him by a monstrosity of a man on the outside. This masked giant unceremoniously dumps him off the stage before effortlessly climbing over the top rope. As the huge masked man steps forward, the third of the thwarted clan charges at him. He grabs him by the throat, lifts him into the air, and throws him down with a vicious chokeslam. The giant lifts his head to face the woman in slow-motion, his hand still around his downed foe’s throat, as his moniker is revealed.

    'THE MONSTER.'

    “But these are the stories you’re used to. It’s much easier to cheer for a thwarted hero than one that is chosen. When we begin to look at things more closely, and we draw back the curtain, we even find a ready-made hero to challenge me. A champion, unbeaten and proud, has his prize ripped away from him. It may have been the merest of his trinkets, but it was his, and it was taken unjustly. But this wronged man is the man you hate, and so none of you people - who so often proclaim to be driven by only the purest of motives - will add your voice to his. And now that this trinket, this merest of trinkets, sits proudly around my waist, even the King himself will think carefully about what he claims is still his.”

    She allows herself a sidewards glance at the opera box, before The Monster charges forward with a roar. His moves are comical and bumbling, and the woman is able to evade his attempts at grappling. When opportunities present themselves, she kicks at his thighs, trying to chop the old oak down. Eventually, she manages to duck a lariat, hit the ropes, and take The Monster down to one knee with a basement drop kick. She gets to her feet, clasps her hands together, and brings a Double Axe Handle down over the big man’s head. When he slumps to the mat, she fishes beneath the ring for a steel chair. It is already stained with blood: the blood of Dominick Dust, and of Gerald Grayson, and Eli Black and Kevin Cromwell.

    “It does not matter in the slightest who steps through the curtain to face me on Fight Night. The Open Challenge is merely a symbol, and my opponent is just a pawn in much greater plans. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that it’s probably Amadeus, and we’ve seen how that story ends before. That’s how we got here in the first place. But whoever it is, and however many Open Challenges I have to issue before someone can even come close to prying my championship away from me, what this match stands for, what it really means, is the elevation of the X Championship beyond the carnival sideshow that the Blackbird wants it to be. And each week that our King looks the other way, and defends his big golden belt as infrequently as he can, more and more of his kingdom will belong to the Queen.”

    The woman rolls back into the ring and walks back over to The Monster. She stares out around the theatre, and over her shoulder we see that there are now a few dozen masked men sparsely occupying the stalls. Two more of them approach the stage. She allows her eyes to wander back towards the box, expecting to see The King’s golden crown glinting beneath the spot-lights. But all she finds is an empty seat.

    She lifts up the chair, and brings it crashing down over The Monster’s head.

    “You all want to think that you are the main character of this story. That you will fight and crawl and drag your way up to the top of the mountain. You wish to return to the summit, or to make it there for the first time. The view from the top will be dizzying, and all of the adversity that fed into that moment will justify the chase. But you don’t think about the descent. That is why you die less than eighty metres from the summit. The chase is not important: it is only a formality. Now, as I stare down from the mountaintop, and turn away from those that slowly climb towards me, I find upon the horizon only taller mountains yet to be conquered. The story is only just beginning. Throw yourselves in. You haven’t got a chance.”

    The curtain is drawn. We fade to black.
    Volume 31: "A Day in the Life" (w/Kevin Cromwell) (05/19/2020).
    Michelle von Horrowitz and Kevin Cromwell def. Nova Diamond and Cyrus Truth [Tag Team Match] (FWA: Fight Night).
    Spoiler:





    06:02.


    The video starts with the generic rock music mix, accompanying the FWA’s digitalized logo. We’re taken inside the hotel where (
    almost) all the FWA talent are staying this weekend . But, of course, the focus of this video is Kevin Cromwell. The cameras fixate on room 258, the door swinging open as they focus on it. There, sitting on the edge of his bed, as if he has just woken up, is Kevin Cromwell. He is wearing nothing but a pair of white underwear. Due to the magic of video editing, we are back following a jump cut, and the wrestler is leaving his hotel room wearing a grey t-shirt and a pair of workout shorts. He is holding a duffel bag in his left hand and a clear shaker cup full of a brown liquid in his right. Chocolate protein shake, we can only assume. He takes a sip and forces it down.

    He starts walking down the hallway and makes his way to the elevator. He presses the [1] button and awaits the elevator to come up. He’s quiet, maintaining his focus on the elevator, taking another swig of his protein shake. He forces the chalk-flavoured chocolate down his throat. The elevator makes a "ding" noise as the doors open. The doors close behind Kevin and the cameramen. Inside, the wrestler looks down at his feet and clinches his duffel bag tight. When they reach the lobby, many people are walking through the doors to check in, but we immediately head to the right to read a sign that says "GYM | POOL | LEISURE". Kevin approaches a door and grabs his key and swipes it. We enter the hotel gym and, surprise surprise, there is no one there. He sets his duffel bag on the bench near the smith machine. He rolls his neck and reaches into his duffel bag, pulling out a pair of black lifting gloves as well as his wrist supports.

    Another day.
    9:36.

    10:18.

    Kevin stands up and walks towards the Smith machine. He puts four 45 pound plates on each side and proceeds to do some deep squats. His face is turning red, sweat pouring from his skin, each rep slower and deeper than the one that preceded it. A few jump cuts. Shoulder Press. Deadlifts. Calisthenics. Afterwards, we meet up with Cromwell again, his workout finally complete. The camera crew took Kevin's request and didn't show much of his workout, but it was a long one. He had started his deep squats around 6:40 in the morning and now? It was a little after 10:00. He is drinking from a bottle of water this time, not his protein shake. Kevin, with his hands on his hips, was visibly out of breath and tired. His morning workout was over three hours long, and it shows. His face is beet-red, he is out of breath, and the grey t-shirt that he was wearing has turned almost black with sweat. Kevin picks up his towel and wipes the sweat from his face.

    One workout down.

    13:12.

    She was awoken, as she frequently was, by the sun’s cruel rays. The time that she rose was dependent on the direction her window was facing. She opened her eyes one at a time, allowing each to independently acclimatise to the harsh reality of morning. Or at least what was morning to her. She yawned and stretched, and decided it was probably time that she inspected the second body in the bed. Pulling down the cover revealed a man of about forty with a highly unattractive puddle of drool beneath his half-open mouth. His chest was a mat of curling, greying hair. She felt sick just looking at him, let alone thinking about what course of events lead to him being here. She stepped off the bed and inadvertently onto a second unidentified body. This one was female, with short black hair, wrapped in what looked like one of the curtains and using a poorly rolled ball of clothing for a pillow. Abandoning the mystery permanently, she kicked the sleeper on the floor and threw a shoe at the one on the bed.

    "Out," she barked, pulling back the remaining curtain and allowing the rest of the sun's harsh light to find its way into the room. The point had been to rouse her comrades, but she had only succeeded in half-blinding herself. "Both of you. Whoever you are."

    She stumbled over a half-drunk bottle of Jameson’s and then bashed a knee off the side of the bed on her way to the bathroom. The shower was filled with mildew and somebody else's hair. Might as well jump in the fucking river, she thought, turning to the sink instead and slapping some cool water onto her face. As she did, she stared with curiosity at the reflection looking back at her in the mirror. It was her: that was beyond doubt. But the bags under her eyes were blacker and broader than usual. Her eyelids were heavy enough that she struggled to lift them fully. Her back was arched. Her hands were shaking. She was a mess. She turned away from herself in pity and disgust.

    Walking solemnly and tenderly back into the bedroom, she was pleased to find that her impromptu guests had removed themselves. Perhaps today was going to be a good day, after all. They had left the door wide open, and she soon lamented the force with which she slammed it. The unwholesome noise echoed around the room and around her head. It was only just afternoon, and she had almost two hours before she had to meet with management. Throwing herself back onto the bed, she allowed herself one more hour of sweet slumber before facing the reality of the day.

    14:12.

    Kevin is in his hotel room, eating a plate of cod, white rice, and asparagus. He’s shoveling it down. Not even tasting it, really. Then again, who would want to? When he is finished he puts the plate in the sink and sits down on his couch. He is still in his hotel room, and we can hear a television playing in the background. Kevin is leaning back on the sofa, relaxing for the first time today, it would seem. He is wearing a Manchester Utd jersey (Cristiano Ronaldo, Number Seven) and a pair of black shorts and white socks. He is in a relaxed position, his legs up on the couch with his arms draped over the back.

    As the camera pans around to behind his back, watching the television from over his shoulder, we see a familiar scene playing out on the screen. A tape of a Cyrus Truth match is playing. As Truth lifts up his opponent into an Argentinian rack, perhaps looking for his Exile’s Edge signature, Cromwell picks up a nearby pencil and scrawls a note into a pad on his lap.

    15:26.

    She pulled the straps of her rucksack and adjusted its weight, marching on around the south-west corner of the graveyard. The sun was smothering her. Her breathing was haggard, the gentle incline along the western edge of the cemetery too much for her in this compromised state. She pulled a crumpled box of cigarettes from her back pocket and, after tossing away two that were broken and inspecting a third, lit up and contemplated the scene.

    She was outside Maple Hill Cemetery, staring through the bars at dozens of white tombstones arranged in neat lines. Beyond them was a park, and Michelle imagined the stones multiplying in regimented fashion, spreading out over the green space until they dominated the horizon. It was only a matter of time. She inspected the nearest of them, and found a group inscribed with the same three words. The proclaimed the young man buried beneath to be a Confederate Soldier, and his name to be unknown. As her cigarette burned away, she contemplated the reality of that. Were they identified as Huntsville dead and shipped home for eternity? Or was this just the hill they died on? Somewhere, decades ago when these graves were still fresh, were there old women or young lovers who matched a memory to a tombstone? And now, with history looking back on them unkindly, would any of these Graybacks want their identity assigned to their corpse? These were pointless questions. What did it matter now anyway?

    She was on her way to meet with her least favourite subspecies of humanity: an executive. Once every so often, a middle-aged white man in a suit would sit her down and run through the latest list of opportunities that awaited her.

    “This is the idea,” a fat man with a red tie had started in her last such meeting. His face suggested he was excited about breaking the news to her. “An FWA.com camera crew follows you around for twenty four hours, so we can get an insight into how an FWA wrestler, a champion no less, lives. What do you think?”

    Michelle blinked twice. Her dissatisfaction was plain.

    “Well, Michelle, I have to tell you: if you don’t do this, we’re going to offer it to Kevin Cromwell.”

    She had to stifle a giggle. She pictured this pioneering moment in documentary film history. Kevin Cromwell’s day-to-day routine. She imagined grainy hand-cam footage of him reacting to his 5am alarm call, eating a big bowl of muesli, and saying his prayers before bedtime.

    “Literally nobody in the world will watch that,” she had said. That was the end of her last meeting with management.

    17:12.

    Roundhouse, roundhouse, left, right, backhand, spin fist, jab, jab, big roundhouse.

    Kevin repeats the sequence over and over again again. A note on the bottom of the screen tells us that he’s at a gymnasium in the Von Braun Centre, working on a speed bag. It swings wildly and he steps aside, grabbing a towel and wiping his face. Been here a while now, working on the craft. He has a dull smile on his face when he thinks to himself: if you want to be the best in the world, you have to live the life and walk the walk. Any man who thinks they can sleep through life is not on that level. Not yet anyway. You can’t just do whatever you want, and call yourself the best. The life of a Professional Wrestler is a tough one to live, and only the strong survive.

    And sometimes that means fighting when you don’t particularly want to.

    Nova.

    God damn it.

    They had both been waiting for this day, and they both knew it was coming since Nova had first appeared at the Carnel Contendership. One day they’d stand across from each other in an FWA ring, and - just like every time they had stepped into any ring in the past - they’d do two things:

    1. Steal the show.
    2. Make sure no one remembers what the “main event” is. As far as the wrestling world was concerned? They’d make themselves the main event.

    There was no one in the world he’d rather wrestle the Nova Diamond. Win, lose, or draw. That shit was fun.

    … or it would be ....

    If it wasn’t for the two other pricks they had to worry about.

    MVH and Cyrus Truth.

    Wankers.

    18:14.

    She watched on as the cameraman set up his tripod, patiently standing in a concourse somewhere in the Von Braun Arena. They were a few metres away from the office where she had just met with some pig in a grey suit. It had been the usual nonsense. It opened with a reprimand for poor punctuality, before quickly turning into a direct order: don’t take your FWA championship to that CWA event. She had offered a smile and a nod in response. A discussion of her upcoming match on Fight Night had followed. The pig had been apprehensive, fully aware of the woman’s opinion on tag team wrestling. When she had told him it was a great idea, and that she couldn't wait to have the honor of teaming with the renowned Kevin Cromwell, he almost fell backwards from his chair. Her acquiescence made him bolder. As a final gambit, he told her that it was the opinion of management that she needed to - as he artlessly put it - 'produce more content' for her adoring fans.

    "Whilst you are here," he had said, gathering up his papers as if he wanted to finish the meeting whilst he was ahead. "I have arranged for one of our cameramen, our very best, to come and film you saying a few words about your opponents. Or your partner. Anything, really. He's outside and ready when you are. Thank you for your time, Miss Von Horrowitz."

    And now here she was, watching the cameraman fiddle with his tripod. He looked vaguely ridiculous, playing with various screws, buttons, and levers, and trying to get the thing to stand upright. Each time he placed it on its three legs, they would involuntarily slide away from each other until it was about knee-height.

    "I think a screw is loose," he said nervously, before disappearing to find a replacement. As she awaited his return, she mused upon the man that she would share a corner with tomorrow night. Amadeus, they called him, no doubt in an attempt to suggest some form of artistry. She almost pitied the man, having for weeks watched him flapping about like some fish out of water. In the last two months, he had competed in a barbaric X rules six-way at Back in Business, a brutal Elimination Chamber match, and a doomed but spirited hardcore brawl for her championship. When she had interrupted his match with Jason Randall the week before, it had been in part a kindness to Cromwell. No amount of muesli could prepare Mr Wholesome for the ordeals that the Blackbird was putting him through. And yet, here he still was, fighting for his life each week, no matter how many steel chairs he’d had thrown in his face. It would almost be worthy of respect, if he just wasn’t so dull.

    “I found another,” the cameraman announced upon his return. Michelle nodded impatiently. He began to fiddle with the new tripod, erecting it at chest height and collecting his camera. As he played with its settings, Michelle saw the events of last week’s Fight Night in her mind. The outcome had been a rushed and ill-conceived judgment from the Blackbird: she was to defend her championship belt against both men at Payback. On the surface, the idea seemed an agreeable one. She had come to this company demanding competition. And here it was, in the form of two men that had stood where she now stood. One of them: a respected locker-room leader if by no virtue other than his longevity. The other: a technician renowned for his professionalism, his drive, and his love of the sport. But this wasn’t the same X Division that either of them had succeeded in before. And an uncomfortable fact remained: she had beaten both of them. That this was the best management could offer up was a pitiful comment on the state of the roster.

    The man in front of her was trying to attach his camera to the tripod, but was struggling to guide it onto the stand. First, the camera simply fell off, and he was lucky to clumsily catch it before it hit the ground. He smiled in relief, and again went back to fiddling with the set-up. When he finally had everything in the correct position, he took a step back and watched on as the entire thing - tripod, camera, and all - crashed down onto the concourse floor. Michelle turned away and shook her head, muttering about fucking amateurs as she looked for the exit.

    21:18.

    Kevin is his car, driving back to hotel from the arena. In a robotic, feminine voice, the GPS says aloud, "you are 6.8 kilometres from your destination." Kevin has his eyes focused on the road as the dying sun shines brightly. Once again, the time appears on-screen, telling the viewers what day it was and what time it is. It’s the night before Fight Night and, in a matter of twenty four hours, it will be time to put up or shut up. We drift in on some kind of phone conversation

    - Hands free! -

    Anthony Cromwell: “Cyrus Truth… He’s the one that thinks he’s a King?

    Kevin Cromwell: "No, he’s the bloke who talks like he’s in in Game of Thrones and poses for an invisible camera."


    Anthony Cromwell: "Oh right. Now I remember. The one that likes to break necks?"

    In his car, Kevin shifts the gear stick forwards, sliding into fifth and allowing his foot to creep closer to the ground. He glided across the highway as the moon began to peek above the horizon.

    Kevin Cromwell: "Yup. That’s him."

    Anthony Cromwell: "Americans: all barking mad. Wasn’t like this back in my day. Everyone over there, all flash and no substance. It’s about who makes the more dramatic entrance, fannyin’ around, not about who hits hardest. Let me tell you; We’ll see how far that guy lasts calling himself a King down the back end of Manchester."

    Kevin Cromwell: "Not enough wrestlers here. Too many wannabe stars."

    Anthony Cromwell: "Had a feeling you’d say something like that. Let me guess, not feeling the pressure? At all? With that Michelle lass? Cyrus? Nova? And Randall waiting on the edges, of course."

    On the opposite side of the road, the occasional headlight passes him by, but nobody seems to be going in the same direction that he is.

    Kevin Cromwell: "What makes you say that?"


    Anthony Cromwell: "Because I’m your Dad, I know you better than anyone, and you got kind of an ego..."

    Kevin Cromwell: "Oi --"

    Anthony Cromwell: "Mate, you call yourself Amadeus and the best wrestler in the world. Don’t mess me around."

    Kevin Cromwell: "Well, why should I feel any pressure facing someone I KNOW I can tap out?”


    Anthony Cromwell: "Mate, I know you can. You can probably tap out the Ghost of George Best if you wanted, but…."

    Kevin Cromwell: "But what?"

    There's a pause. It's punctuated by the GPS telling him to "turn left in two kilometers".

    Anthony Cromwell: "Well. You know what..."

    Kevin Cromwell: "Are we seriously going to do this again?"


    Anthony Cromwell: "For God’s sake, Kev…."

    Kevin Cromwell: "Don’t you dare say it…"


    Anthony Cromwell: "It’s ok to lose from time to time."

    Kevin Cromwell: “Oh, not this again.”

    He shifts down a couple of gears, indicating left and moving off the highway. As he snakes round into Huntsville, his head hits his backrest, settling in for the oncoming deluge.

    Anthony Cromwell: "You put WAY too much pressure on yourself kid. You’re twenty-one years old! I don’t think you realise how amazing that is. You’ve done more than I’ve ever done. And so many wrestlers like me: and you’ve just started. Be proud. Take the time to enjoy that. You move on to the next match and put so much pressure on yourself to live up to your own expectations. You keep doing the same thing over and over again. Repetition leads to learning and knowledge. Knowledge and understanding lead to becoming skilled. Skill leads to perfection. And perfection leads to complacency. As does winning over and over again, despite success rate on previous attempts. And these tasks are incorrect based on how little effect they have and therefore, they're easily classifiable as failures. And failures are mistakes. And at this stage of your career, you’re going to make a few, and that’s ok. If you keep trying to be perfect, you’re going to burn yourself out by the time you are thirty."

    He doesn't answer straight away. Instead, he comes to a halt at a red light, weighing up his next move.

    Kevin Cromwell: "I will pay you a hundred dollars if we change the subject right now."

    Anthony Cromwell: "How much is that in pounds?"

    Kevin Cromwell: "I got a D in maths, remember? But probably a lot."


    Anthony Cromwell: "Well, you kept bunking off for those Judo tournaments. Fine. So, your buddy Nova... I mean, I thought the buzz around here was big when you got the call. But two local boys done good fighting each other? That’s big news."

    The lights turn green. Go.


    Kevin Cromwell: "Can I call you back dad? I have to vomit…"

    His father laughs, breaking the tension, as Kevin takes a left turn.

    Anthony Cromwell: "Alright, alright, I forgot you and your boyfriend had….that thing… Cyrus and Nova? l, well… that’s another match I have to keep your mother from watching. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a great wrestler, but he’s very... very…"

    He trails off. Kevin picks up the slack.

    Kevin Cromwell: "American?"

    Anthony Cromwell: "Exactly. All brutal attacks and more hardware than an Ikea sale."


    Kevin Cromwell: "Sounds about ripe for a good wrist lock if you ask me."

    Anthony Cromwell: "You think he doesn’t have counters for basic holds like that?"


    Kevin Cromwell: "Only one way to find out I guess. But… this is Cyrus Truth… if anyone is going to have some tricks up his sleeve, then it’s him."

    He comes to a stop at another red light. He seems to be hitting every one this evening. And this close to sleep, too. After another pause, as if considering the option, his father comes to a conclusion.

    Anthony Cromwell: "So… ol’ reliable then?"

    As he begins to move again, he notices a graveyard through his window. He reads the sign: Maple Hill Cemetery. The white tombstones peppered the foreground of the picture, and darkness loomed behind them. It was fortunate that he didn't believe in omens.

    Kevin Cromwell: "Keep him grounded, tire him out and when I see an opening, lock him up tight and don’t let go."

    Anthony Cromwell: "That’s my boy. And that also describes me and your mother wedding night."

    Kevin Cromwell: "Fuck's sake, Dad."

    His father laughed once again as Kevin took a right turn, the hotel coming into view at the top of the hill.

    Kevin Cromwell: "To be honest, Cyrus is the worst case match up for me this week."

    Anthony Cromwell: "How do you mean?"

    Kevin Cromwell: "As good as Cyrus is, he’s not on my to-do list, I’m totally focused on Nova and Michelle. That’s all I’m thinking about. If I want to beat MVH, I have to be at a hundred per cent. And Cyrus? He gets off on hurting people. He’s dangerous. He doesn’t want to win. He wants to maim people and prove that no one is more violent than him. And he might even be faster than me…. With the way things have been going for him… with all those losses… he’ll be desperate to prove it."

    Anthony Cromwell: "So, you’re worried?"

    He pauses to sigh. He drives into the parking lot of the hotel, guiding the rental into its reserved spot near the reception doors. He turns off the engine and removes his phone from the hands free, bringing it to his ear.

    Kevin Cromwell: "Of course not, because Cyrus has to make an effort to look dangerous. I actually am. I don’t have to attack people from behind or hit them with weapons; I am the weapon. I don’t need to hurt people to justify who I am, and if he tries to break me down like I’m just another of his toys, he’s going to be in for a surprise. Because I hit hard and I fight hard, and nothing will ever change that."

    Anthony Cromwell: “Hey, Kev?”

    Kevin Cromwell: "Yeah?"

    Anthony Cromwell: "Win, lose, or draw: I’m proud of you."

    Kevin Cromwell: "Thanks Dad. Give my love to mum."

    Anthony Cromwell: "Great talking to you son. I’ll be watching. Always."

    23:42.

    She sat on the bridge, her bare feet dangling over the edge, eyes roaming across the surface of the silent water ten or fifteen metres below. A cigarette was perched between her lips, her chest slowly rising and falling as she inhaled the tobacco. The smoke got in her eyes. She squinted hard at the moon. It seemed distant this evening. She collected the bottle from the floor, initially struggling to open its cap with her hands whilst balancing on the side of the bridge. She took a hearty swig, allowing the amber to roar down into her chest and sing its music. She held the bottle out behind her to see if her new companion wanted any, but he was now sat with his back against a wall, nodding off to sleep. She tried to recall his name. Charlie, she felt certain. Well, as certain as she was of anything.

    Nearby, a woman in her fourth floor apartment opened a window. She leant over it to take in a lungful of cool evening air. From her room, the sound of the Cardigans singing about a monster growing in our heads and a great divide between us now came rolling and rumbling into the night. Michelle closed her eyes, allowing the air, the music, and the litre of vodka sitting in her stomach to tussle it out for supremacy.

    Two men were on her mind, and neither of them were Charlie. The first was named Nova. She didn't want to fall into the old cliche of considering the career of a rival and seeing herself in his woes, but here it was unavoidable. He was still picking up wins since he had choked on the grandest stage, but they were meaningless. She knew this. She had known this. He had already lost the big one, and now he was sundered in purgatory. She almost felt sorry for him. Of course, he had nobody to blame for his current situation other than himself, just as she was responsible for her failure to otherthrow Snowmantashi four years ago. When she had walked out at Five Star Attraction to face the kaiju, she had agreed to fight the match on his terms, as if in tribute. In a strong-style, hard-hitting match, Snowmantashi had inevitably emerged the victor. Nova had made the same mistake. He fancied himself devious and calculating in his own manner, but Sullivan had proved himself a master of these arts. How else could the man she had seen four years ago, sniveling and luckless and pathetic, have climbed so high in such a short period of time? Whatever Nova had been trying to achieve with those handcuffs, all he accomplished was allowing Sullivan to out-maneuver him. This will to win on your opponent's terms was born out of arrogance, and she had since grown out of it.

    She had watched Nova’s three matches since Back in Business from her favoured spot in the rafters. Looking down upon the ring, she watched on with indifference as the Mancunian made light work of Donovan Moore. To be expected, really. The next week was more impressive, and we will get to that in time. But the week after, he competed in an ultimately doomed match against the FWA’s resident goddess. From high above, she saw Gabrielle nail the Caramel Coated DDT, and the fans eagerly count along with the three.

    One thing that stood out to Michelle in that scene, when Gabrielle stood on the second rope and held her briefcase in the air: the audience did not have a single thought for Nova. This was the man they once hoped would end the dark days of Sullivan’s reign. They were cheering and hollering for their new chosen one, as their old one was ushered away into the back. They didn’t seem to see the significance of the match: Gabrielle had cancelled out one of the last unblemished accolades that Nova claimed. And the fans ate it up, throwing their old hero - a hero of convenience and nothing else - to the wolves in favour of their new Goddess.

    As strange as it was that she would be teaming with Kevin Cromwell, a man she had gone to war with twice in the last two months, she could only imagine what Nova Diamond thought about his tag partner. She felt sure that many would call it an honour to tag with The Exile. Personally, she would call it an afterthought. What purpose could this pair possibly have together? What on earth do they have in common: a penchant for losing matches to Gabrielle? A lack of other plans for this particular card? As she stared out over the face of the water, watching as the current slowly moved eastwards, she found herself unable to comprehend what this team of Diamond and Truth represented.

    The solipsistic answer was that they represented opportunity. This interpretation only applied to Truth and Nova from her perspective, though. And perhaps from that of her partner. For all of his faults, it was undeniable that Cromwell was a serious man. When he thought about retirement, which the rag-sheets assured the public that he regularly now did, she had little doubt that he was sincere. The chance to compete against two of the company's chosen top stars this week, and then challenge for a championship the week after, would no doubt present itself as an opportunity to him. Perhaps his last. For her, it was the same and it was different: this was her first.

    She took another healthy pull from her amber bottle and then placed it between her thighs, spreading her hands either side of her to assure balance on the edge of the bridge. She checked her companion, who had now tipped over onto his side, happily sucking his thumb as the world went on without him. It was drawing close to midnight, and her cigarette had smoked down to the filter. She allowed it to drop from her lips, but the wind took it beneath the bridge, and she could not see the splash.

    Truth. He was a strange animal. Elusive, isolated, and revered. She was not delusional enough to draw parallels between his past and her own. Beyond the fact that they had both competed in CWA, having main event runs that did not overlap, there was very little to tie them together. She had not accomplished one tenth of what he had in his storied career, and it would be foolish to contest that fact. But another fact was unavoidable, and this one gave her more hope. Truth’s star was falling, whilst her’s was on the rise. His absence last week was notable, and felt like a taciturn admission that regrouping was needed. Compounding losses had left the former warrior a frail shell. He would deny it, no doubt. But only the beaten man flees the battlefield.

    She had been begging for the chance to share the ring with these two men. They represented the past and the future, both of which she intended to place under her dominion. No better had that been displayed than two weeks ago on Fight Night, when Nova had managed to earn back his win over The Exile. It was an uneasy and uncomfortable passing of the torch, and she had little doubt that Nova intended to use that torch to light Truth's funeral pure. And perhaps, just maybe, she would be there to see it…

    As she drained the last of the Jameson's from the green bottle and allowed it to fall onto the concrete, she turned so as to have her back to the water. At that time, an old man in a bathrobe and a swimming cap walked past. He gave her a polite nod, a smile on his face, and then proceeded to come to a halt a few meters away from her perch. He removed his robe to reveal a pair of swimming trunks, and then kicked off his sandals. With a grunt and what sounded like the cracking of old bones, he bent over and attempted to touch his toes. Coming short just below the knees, he gave up and instead stepped up to the edge of the bridge. After a deep breath, he climbed onto the side, and turned to Michelle.

    "It's later than you think," he said, and then he dove into the river.
    Volume 32: "East Coast Odyssey" (05/16/2020).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Humanity.
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. XYZ [High Voltage Tournament] (CWA: One Night Only).
    Spoiler:



    MVH.
    VOLUME 32.
    "East Coast Odyssey."

    ---

    PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA.
    20th MAY, 2020.

    I will never step foot in that place again, even if it rises like a phoenix from the flames and is the only wrestling promotion on this or any other planet…

    She was struggling to keep her eyes on the reporter who was asking the question. He was a young man, not unpleasant to look at, but with wild hair and sleep-deprived eyes and ragged attire. He looked as if he’d spent the entire night waiting to ask his question, unable to sleep with excitement like a toddler on Christmas Eve.

    “I’m sorry,” she said, leaning back in her chair and squinting, as if that would wash the sleep from her eyes. Her body throbbed with a thousand dull aches. “Did you have a question? Or are you just reading me your favourite Michelle von Horrowitz quotes?”

    Her head was pounding. Her head was always pounding. An unopened bottle of water sat in front of her on the table. Its contents looked clean and refreshing, capable of washing away the sins of the previous night (and, hopefully, the dozen nights before that) upon contact with the host. But the idea of wrestling the lid off whilst simultaneously answering the loaded questions of pretend journalists, faux-analysts, pseudo-pundits, bloggers, vloggers, and listiclers was too much for her. Instead, she just stared at the colourless fluid, dreaming of its salvation.

    “The question is implied,” the journalist continued. One of his legs was folded over the other in a casual affectation. “These are your words, not mine. And from only two months ago. The question is obvious: what has changed? Why are you here?”

    Why am I here? She thought to herself, as she resisted her brain’s incessant throbbing. It felt as if her cortex desired fresh air and was attempting to spill out of her skull. She hadn’t even begun to think about why she was here. She was more concerned with figuring out how she was here.

    ---

    NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA.

    FOUR NIGHTS AGO.

    She sat in the corner of a bar off Frenchman Street, sipping idly at a glass of Jameson’s and staring out of the window. On the nearest corner, the one connecting her backstreet to the renowned tourist trap, a large ram-shackle band of about fifteen musicians regaled anyone that would stop and listen. She couldn’t hear them, of course. Her bar had triple glazed windows, which was only fair to the four-piece that performed on a stage in the corner. They were mid-way through a rendition of ’My Indian Red’, upbeat enough but comparatively lo-fi. A heavy-set man happily plucked away at a double bass whilst three shorter, thinner men sat around him. One with a trombone, another with a trumpet, and a third tapping at a drumkit. Intermittently, the man at the front would lower his trumpet to sing a verse in a handsome voice. Before them, scattered across the large dance floor that dominated the centre of the room, a couple dozen young people danced in twos or threes. Those that weren’t grinning from ear to ear were focusing on their foot work. It was late: eleven or twelve. She drained her glass and signalled for another.

    She had been up at five that morning to catch her bus from Huntsville, Alabama. It had only been a handful of hours since the events of Fight Night, and her tag team match with Kevin Cromwell, Nova Diamond, and Cyrus Truth. She hadn’t been able to sleep afterwards, of course. The manner in which that match-up had unfolded, and particularly the fashion of its climax, had left a lasting impression on the young woman’s mind, rendering sleep impossible. And so, she had packed her rucksack and headed for the bus station, intending to snake her way towards Philadelphia, Pennsylvania over the next four days.

    The first stop was New Orleans. It felt only appropriate. Back in 2015, when she had first entered a CWA ring, she had called Louisiana a ‘home’ of sorts. Fighting out of New Orleans, Louisiana, Lindsay Monaghan used to say. Michelle had asked her to change it to currently residing in. It felt more accurate.

    Another Jameson’s arrived, and Michelle tore her eyes away from the revellers within the bar, focussing them instead upon the revellers without. Today was quickly disappearing into the past and being usurped in the present by tomorrow. She would not need to sleep for many hours. She had done that on the bus. The people on the Greyhound were too much for her, and instead of engaging she had retreated into sleep. As always, she dreamt of a crying baby and a bird that ate itself.

    She had come here a few weeks prior on duty for the Fantasy Wrestling Alliance, but hadn’t been able to sample - or at least enjoy - the parts of New Orleans that she did remember fondly. It had been nearly four years since she had been to the city, and the memory of fleeing it so abruptly was still fresh. She had won the High Voltage Championship at King’s Reign Supreme 2016, beating the current champion LIGHTBRINGER in a triple threat match that also involved Elijah Edwards. The next day, when the coroners had called from Rotterdam with news of her mother and her sister, she had vague intentions on returning with the belt at some stage in the future. But then it was stripped from her, and handed to Nate fucking Savage, of all people. What was the point in returning and defending your honour, when her hard work was rewarded with oppression and misogyny at every turn?

    Until the present, of course. In the bar just off Frenchman Street, Michelle took her cigarettes out of her rucksack and contemplated the journey to the door. Her head was already fogged, and the live music coupled with the stale odour of a couple dozen overdressed dancers was dizzying. The usual respite provided by a cigarette was unavailable thanks to the ever expanding street band outside. She was caught in a pincer movement. Out of nothing more than habit, she forced herself outside, and sat on a stack of crates on the opposite side of the road.

    From across the street, a young woman - a handful of years younger than herself - broke off from her pack and meandered across the road. She wore a long dress with a plunging neckline and no sleeves, and her black hair fell behind her in thick, wild curls. Her skin, imbued with youth, shone under the moon. She sipped her drink as she stepped up onto the sidewalk next to Michelle.

    “Excuse me,” she began, politely and with a thick Louisiana accent. Her eyes were big and bright and brown. “Do you have a cigarette?”

    Michelle allowed her eyes to wander to the group across the road, who were closely observing the interaction. Tentatively, she offered the box and a light to the young woman, who took one and placed it between her lips. She held it delicately to the flame. The wrestler feared some sort of lampoon. Young people loved lampoons. But when she looked at the woman, the glint in her eyes did not suggest unkindness.

    “Could you settle a bet for me?” the young woman asked, pulling at her cigarette before and after her question. Michelle motioned her onwards without speaking. “Well, me and my friends over there, we noticed you in the bar. We were wondering… what’s in the rucksack?”

    “What do you think is in the rucksack?” Michelle asked. Sitting upon her crates, her foot idly tapped the bag in question.

    “Well…” she began, sharing her attention between her cigarette, her drink, and Michelle. The effect of this, of an aloof charm, was deliberate. “One of my friends thinks it’s drugs, another said guns. I went with books.”

    “Boring guess,” Michelle said. She had finished her cigarette and discarded it into a nearby drain.

    “That’s what they said,” the young woman answered. She finished her drink and placed the empty upon the sidewalk, before taking a seat next to Michelle on the crates. “So, go on… what’s in the rucksack?!”

    Michelle smiled, and reached down for the bag. She retrieved the FWA X Division Championship and placed it between them on top of the crates. After what felt like a respectfully long pause, the young woman began to run her fingers over the gold, eventually tracing the letters on the engraved name plate. Michelle von Horrowitz. As if to break the spell, the wrestler picked the belt up once more and placed it back in her rucksack.

    “Do you dance?” the young woman asked. Her smile made her cheeks blush, dimples appearing beneath them on either side of her mouth.

    “No.” There was no point delaying this truth. “I only sit and drink, and sometimes I talk.”

    “Okay,” her new friend replied. “I can do that, too.”

    ---

    ATLANTA, GEORGIA.
    THREE NIGHTS AGO.

    She opened her eyes, and was horrified to find herself still in the club. Next to her at the bar, three men who seemed to be dressed in identical clothing with identical haircuts tapped their shot glasses against the bar and then threw the contents down their throats. All three of them roared with laughter. Two of them even embraced, as if overwhelmed by the feelings of comradery brought about by twenty five millilitres of whiskey. In unison, they turned and meandered through the crowd towards the dance floor. They were content. Simple pleasures.

    Michelle shook her head and took a sip from her own whiskey, staring up at one of the four podiums that sat at each corner of the dancefloor. Upon it, a woman with an elaborate outfit seemingly comprised entirely of feathers danced suggestively around a pole. She was young and looked like the good kind of filth, vacantly staring out into the distance and refusing to make eye contact with either her fellow dancers or the revellers at her feet. Every so often, the DJ would mumble something over the end or the beginning of a song, and she found it very hard to distinguish the individual words in his doubtlessly enlightening analysis of the night. The only thing she was able to decipher was that he was saying ’HOT-LANTA!’ a lot, and that the assembled disciples approved of his word play because everytime he said ’HOT-LANTA!’ she could hear a half-dozen of them repeating ’HOT-LANTA!’ within earshot. Each time it happened, she shuddered. She didn’t think she was better than them. She fucking well knew she was better than them. She finished her drink and, when placing her empty glass down on a table, retrieved a full one from under its owner’s nose as she passed by.

    Before the victim had clocked on, she had disappeared into the crowd, making her way across the dance floor in order to find the boy that had brought her there. He had a lot to answer for. As she went, she began to reflect on the one other occasion that the Great Puppet Master had brought her to this city. She had only been nineteen years old, but the events of her childhood had forced her into a woman before it was time. That day, back in 2009, she had come to Atlanta from her sister’s dorm in New York with a singular purpose. The Greatest Show on Earth had rolled into town and pitched its big tent around the Philips Arena. She could still remember them: The Ultimate Pain, Nickolas Kennedy Arsen, Rich Stone. Early pioneers of a great organisation that was still only in its infancy. When she had seen the arena, and the eighty-foot banner that was hanging from the rafters promoting ‘CWA: Adrenaline Rush’, she had almost been overwhelmed. A couple of years fighting has-beens and nobodies in gymnasiums around Central Europe had taught her to expect very little respect for her craft. These men - Stone and Pain and the like - they were being worshipped. And this was their temple.

    Back in 2020, Michelle found her boy in the corner she had left him in. On the wall behind him was a painting of a man holding a small dog up by its tail, a shotgun in his free hand. There were no windows in the room. The only lights were shards of unnatural blue fluorescents projected by large machines either side of the stage. Upon spotting her approach, he made a concerted effort to look alive, leaning forward and wiping the perspiration from his temples with a sleeve. He was dressed - overdressed, of course - in a pair of black jeans and a black shirt buttoned up to the top. He wasn’t unattractive, but he had come poorly equipped for this dungeon bar. It was only one o’clock, and she feared he wouldn’t last much longer.

    “Do you come here often?” she asked, staring out over the vacuous faces on the dance-floor. They had little control of their limbs, and seemed to move like one pulsating mass. He didn’t seem the sort to go in for this. She’d found him in a dark corner of a quiet wine bar, and asked him to take her somewhere fun. Two hours later, for better or for worse, they were here.

    “No,” he said. “I’ve never been here before.”

    She nodded. She was beginning to lose interest in the boy and the night. He lacked conviction.

    “Do you want to leave?” he asked, turning to face her. When his eyes weren’t rolling back into his head, they were filled with a vile lust.

    “Yes,” she answered, draining her stolen drink. “But not with you. I have to be at the bus station in three hours.”

    “Where are you going?” he asked, in between failed attempts to drain his own drink. Most of which ended up on his shirt. “I can drive you.”

    “I don’t know,” she answered, reaching around for her rucksack. “Atlantic City, maybe. That’s a long drive.”

    “Okay,” he said, his fist clenched and raised in defiance against oncoming slumber. “We’ll drive to Atlantic City.”

    She couldn’t help but smile at him.

    “If you’re not awake in three hours, I’m taking your keys and driving there myself,” she warned. He nodded in agreement, and then struggled to his feet.

    When they had finally reached his apartment, he had taken three drags of a joint before falling face-first onto his bed and passing out. For three hours, she stared out of his window on the twenty third floor, watching as the sun gradually began to show its cowardly face. When he didn’t wake up, she took his keys, and drove to Atlantic City herself.

    ---

    ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY.
    TWO NIGHTS AGO.

    Her left hand stroked the green felt that covered the table, whilst her right played with the black chips stacked high in front of her. Her eyes were directed across the table at the fat, stupid Texan who leant back on the hind legs of his chair. He tapped idly on the side of the table with the green chip in his hand as he observed the young woman. Between them, five cards were turned over:
    two red aces, the three of hearts, the seven of clubs, and the nine of spades. The look of extreme focus on his face, which was growing more red by the second, only made his cowboy hat and bolo tie look even more ridiculous.

    She had spent the paycheck she was given after the last edition of Fight Night in its entirety on a little black cocktail dress, having asked a shop girl which one she would buy if all of her income was disposable. She was quite plainly a wolf in sheep’s clothing: her hair remained a tangled mess of knots, whilst the soft, pale skin of her face remained untouched by make-up. The dress was a token gesture, and even if she liked the way the material felt against her skin beneath, this wasn’t something she intended to make a habit of. At the poker table, Michelle took a slow sip from her amber drink. Either side of her, men in suits watched on as she mulled over her hand. They had lost their own chips some time ago, but had stuck around to watch her play. She must have seemed exotic to them, and not just for her accent. She was a stranger to their world, and they to hers, but she had come visiting with open arms.

    “You ain’t got shit,” the fat cowboy said, throwing a few chips into the centre of the table. The croupier dealt with them and announced the bet: he’d seen her $600, and raised her the same. Michelle was amused. Her opponent was anything but.

    The last and only previous time she’d been here she had wrestled at the Etess Arena. Her opponent had been one of the Connors. She was sure that at one stage in her life she could tell the difference between them, but now, four years on, they were almost clones of one another. Ethan, if she had to guess. What was the other one called? When she had returned to America, part of her had been worried that each city would bring back memories of her doomed first run with the Clique Wrestling Alliance. Each new town, each new arena, would be accompanied by a snippet of that woeful tail. At least, that’s what she’d feared. It hadn’t been true. Every city in America blurred into one. Only the history books reminded her which foe she’d fought in which stadium. All that waited for her was a clean slate.

    “She ain’t got shit,” the fat cowboy repeated, this time to the wiry companion that sat to his right. They had continually called each other brother throughout the game, but they were so disparate in their frame and demeanor that Michelle assumed it was only a term of endearment. The wiry fellow smirked and nodded. He didn’t think she had shit either, it seemed. The fat cowboy hated her. She could see it in his eyes. It’s what was driving her on. Slowly, she tossed another six black chps, one by one, into the pot. The croupier announced it as Michelle drained her drink: a raise of $600.

    The East Coast tour took place during the first half of her year in the Clique Wrestling Alliance, when each match had been a new hand. The Wrestle Royale had propelled her into the spotlight on a night in Detroit, Michigan. The thought of wasting more time in the undercard, competing in Women’s Proving Grounds Matches or against has-beens who showed up half-drunk and half-forgotten? This concept was repugnant. She would not sit in a corner, rubbing chips together in the hope that they spontaneously reproduced. She had gone all in. It had paid off, and each week brought with it new gambles, with stakes even higher than the last.

    The fat cowboy watched her over his ever-dwindling pile of chips. His eyes were alive with suspicion. Eventually, after the silence seemed to stretch on a few seconds too long, he pushed his remaining funds into the centre of the table. The croupier announced it and began counting up. He arrived at a total of $950, a raise of $350.

    “You aint got shit, honey,” he said, once again. She raised an eyebrow at the informality of it. She would have objected to it more harshly, if she wasn’t about to take all his money. He’d have to abuse another army of cows on his ranch to rake it back. She leant back and deftly tossed three black chips and two green into the centre of the table, nodding flippantly at the croupier as a fresh drink was placed down in front of her.

    “And seen. The pot is six thousand and two hundred dollars. If you will…”

    The croupier passed the floor over to the players, and the fat cowboy was eager to flip. Perhaps he felt it would dispel some of the tension.
    Two red nines were suddenly revealed in front of him, and both of the brothers seemed quite happy with the reveal. A full house. How adorable. She lifted her glass with her right hand and, whilst sipping at the amber, flipped over her two cards with the left. Two black aces stared up at the world, joining their red brothers in the center of the table. The assembled audience gasped.

    “Four of a kind takes it,” the croupier said. He began to shovel the chips onto Michelle’s half of the table. The fat man seethed, rocking slightly in his chair, clenching his fists, his face turning a shade of scarlet beneath the hot casino lights.

    “She didn’t have shit,” he said again, as if trying to convince himself. Michelle smirked once more as she took a handful of chips from the fresh pile and began to stack them with the rest. “Where are you hiding those cards? Up your snatch?”

    Michelle paused for a moment, her hand outstretched towards the plot. Her smile dissipated. If anything, she seemed to grow even paler, as if the blood in her body was slowly cooling towards freezing point. She continued to reach for the chips, and, when a dozen of them were between her fingers, she flung them across the table at the fat cowboy and his wiry brother. They both recoiled, the plastic projectiles peppering them, momentarily throwing them off their guard. In an instant, she threw herself across the table, following the chips’ trajectory. She took the fat one and his chair backwards, crashing down on top of him and onto the ground, throwing rights and lefts as gravity took its toll. The wiry one had gained some sense of himself, and was attempting to drag her off his brother... but as soon as she felt his cold, clammy hands on her skin, she turned and bit him on the forehead. Her mouth filled with his blood.

    This brought back memories. This was America.

    The next thing she knew, she was being flung onto her back on hard concrete. Her rucksack landed next to her body with a profound thud. She was in the parking lot and three large men were looking down at her. One of them had a black eye, the product of a stray elbow thrown in his direction during the brawl.

    “Where’s my fucking chips?” she asked, dragging herself to her feet. Away from the table, her expensive cocktail dress proved a stark contrast to the battered Vans that adorned her feet. “Give me my fucking chips!”

    Your chips?” one of the security men - the biggest and loudest - couldn’t stifle a laugh as he spoke. “You’re lucky we’re not calling the police…”

    And with that they turned on their heels and marched back into the building. They left Michelle on the outside, kicking the door and branding them thieves until she tired herself out. Only then, as she turned and spat someone else’s blood from her mouth, did she realise that she’d left her whiskey inside. She cursed and kicked the curb.

    A few metres away, one of the bar staff smoked a cigarette.

    “Where can I get a drink?” she asked.

    ---

    PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA.
    20th MAY, 2020.

    “Why am I here?”

    She repeated the question out loud. A hush descended, the assembled media awaiting what seemed like (to her at least) the twenty fourth answer of the press conference. Amplified as her senses were in this delicate state, she felt she could hear each flash and click of every camera. They were leaning in closer, demanding what they’d come for.

    “The answer to that question is shorter than you might expect. But, no doubt, longer than you will hope. I can summarize it in two words: Jon Snowmantashi. The kaiju, as he was when I knew him. Inhuman, as he is now. Perhaps that means the same thing. I don't know, I don't speak Japanese. But the truth remains that the failures of my CWA run can be traced directly back to that man. It has been reported often that only one man pinned my shoulders to the mat for a three count whilst I competed in this company. It is a harsh truth, but he did it twice, and it would be foolish of me to claim that this was luck. Snowmantashi knows something that nobody else on this lousy continent knows: he knows how to beat me.”

    The journalists were enraptured once again, and she felt as though she could hear the sounds of their pens scrawling against their notepads echoing in her ears. They loved to hear about failure. It was their favourite theme.

    “I was invited onto this show a month ago, and I left the invitation hanging in the air for as long as I could. I did not, for a moment, expect that I would be drawn against the kaiju on this card. I thought the chances of him accepting his invite were low, and even if he did it was unlikely that I'd get to face him. I have been fucked over by CWA management once too often to expect any favors. But if he was going to be here, then I would be, too. The one blemish on my record must, in time, be wiped clean. I know this in my heart. I feel it in my bones. Tonight, I will see the kaiju for the first time in four years, and I intend to make it my business to find him. Don't expect me to throw out any wild challenges in his direction. I will save those for Bell Connelly, and for the other place. Knowing what kind of a man Snowmantashi is, a public challenge will no doubt fare worse than a private one. But I can be quite persuasive, and we both know that one more dance is in the cards before we both hang up our boots."

    As soon as she could finish, a spotty young writer with a white man’s afro spoke up. He sensed that their time was running out, and wanted to make sure he got his big scoop.

    "Ms von Horrowitz. Lenny Stephenson from Power Slam Weekly. Are we to believe that this is the only reason for your presence here? I don't feel this is likely. Some would point to other failures, like the manner of your exit, as your real downfall in the organisation…"

    She almost winced at the question. They had no right to her motivations.

    “There were many failures besides Jon Snowmantashi, this is true. The fact that, for the entire time that I was employed by this company, Jon Snowmantashi occupied the main event of every single pay-per-view. And in all but one of them - the month that I managed to commandeer that spot thanks to sheer hard work in the Wrestler Royale - he was joined there by Jonathan McGinnis. This: I would call a failure. And who could forget when, after winning match after match, week after week, beating and emasculating every top guy outside of the kaiju, I was rewarded with a shot at the company’s secondary championship. Wasting the talents of the world’s foremost purveyor of violence: I would call this a failure. The god damn gall of a company that strips me of a championship belt a day after I win it, after weeks of being the highest rated goddamned motherfucking segment on our television show? Yes: this story is riddled with failure.

    “But let us talk of the most relevant of these failures: that surrounding the CWA High Voltage Championship. When the puppeteers asked me to be a part of this gay parade, a natural question was what they had planned for me. I was surprised, of course, to hear that I would be competing in the High Voltage Tournament. Not because of any misgivings about my position on the card. I gave up any hope that the people in charge of this company would do the right thing years ago. I will find my vindication at the other place. I was surprised because you only have to look at the CWA’s history books to surmise a simple fact: that my contributions to this division are so de-valued that they have been eradicated from the record books. And now, I am to compete in the High Voltage Tournament? Interesting choice.”


    Her headache began to dissipate as the rage swelled up inside of her. Nothing got her going like a healthy portion of perceived injustice.

    “Despite, as I’ve mentioned, my chase of the title being the very best thing on Adrenaline Rush for months, you will not find the night that I pinned LIGHTBRINGER to claim this prize written down anywhere. I still remember it well: my beautiful Burning Hammer, and then a man in black and white counting to three. I stood in the eye of the storm, clutching my newly won championship belt to my chest and soaking in the derision of the troglodytes that surrounded me. And now? It simply says ‘TITLE VACATED’ between the reigns of Elijah Edwards and Tokyo Kisai. Granted, I left with their belt, and I paraded it around Europe, but I had business to attend to. Business that I will not discuss with you or anyone else from your sordid profession. And now? That moment is forgotten. I am here to right that wrong.”

    As a few more cameras flashed, she felt signs of perspiration on her forehead. She didn’t know if it was exhaustion or withdrawal. Either way, as she let her words sink in, she reached for the bottle of water. Her hands were shaking, and rather than grasping the bottle she simply knocked it onto its side, sending it rolling from the table. She closed her eyes, and hoped that when she opened them she’d be somewhere else… anywhere else...

    “You will no doubt have seen the tournament bracket,” another reported began, bringing her crashing back down to this unfortunate reality. “Your path to, as you say, righting a wrong, is blocked by none other than Humanity. A former High Voltage Champion and a two-time Tag Team Champion, and a man whose run in the company overlapped with your own. What can you tell us about Humanity, your history with him, and your strategy for tonight’s semi-final match?”

    “All I know of Humanity is reputation. And, in essence, his reputation has now dwindled to the frail list of accomplishments you just recited. But let me tell you the one story that I do have about our resident creeper. The 7th of December, 2015. A long time ago, my tulips. My most ardent fans will be aware of this date: the Wrestle Royale. I bring this up not as yet another reminder that I am the only female winner in this match’s history. Though it is, and I am. I was waiting behind the curtain, only four matches into my CWA career, and with the taste of my first defeat - which, I must add, featured a pin-fall that I was no part of - fresh in my mouth. I cannot say I was my usual picture of confidence and gusto.”

    This was a rare candid admission. She allowed a few moments of silence, staring out over the sea of pundits before her. They hung on her every word. It was almost too easy.

    “Instead, I watched a small monitor at Gorilla as Humanity was dumped over the top rope by his partner, Nightmare. The crowd’s count-down hit zero, and my music hit. A tepid reaction, as you might imagine. This was my first pay-per-view appearance, and the audience was yet to be sold on my talent. You may have noticed, but I don’t exactly present a positive first impression. But, as I walked through the curtain and onto the stage, and stared around an arena that didn’t even care that I was there… that was the first moment I believed I would win. Hell, I had already won. But what should have been my moment in the sun was trounced upon by some second rate cliché between two tag team wrestlers. I stared down the ramp at the ring, and in front of it was Humanity, laughing at his partner’s betrayal. Jovial at the idea that he had failed. And the fans were more interested in this menial character progression than my introduction to the match. Please.

    “Of course, the people in the audience knew no better. I was an unproven under-carder. But Humanity should’ve known better. As he passed me on the ramp, he refused to yield the centre, forcing me - the soon-to-be goddamned winner of the match he’d just been dumped out of - to circle him. A small thing, you might say. And I would agree. But that slight show of disrespect has stuck with me. As I slid under the bottom rope, preparing to take the fight to a veritable who’s who of CWA, I lamented that I wouldn’t be able to eliminate that big oaf from the match myself. It feels fitting, in a small way, that I will be able to right the biggest wrong committed against my person by the CWA puppeteers, whilst simultaneously tying up this loose end.”


    Her eyes flitted down towards her FWA X Championship belt, which sat proudly on the table in front of her. She felt that it added weight to her words, which otherwise would be hollow. Almost as a reflex, the fingers of her left hand were stroking the gold plating.

    “And who comes after Humanity? Does it really matter? Whether it’s Vanilla Hardcore or Vanilla Androgenous, I’m willing to bet the house on tonight’s outcome. You know, all of these questions - why are you here?, why did this company erase you from its history books?, how have you prepared for this tournament?, what qualifies you to preach these truths? - they each have the same answer. It seems you have forgotten what you used to know. But you will know it again soon enough. Your answer: I am Michelle von Horrowitz.”
    Volume 33: "Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum!" (05/30/2020).
    Michelle von Horrowitz def. Kevin Cromwell, Jason Randall [Triple Threat Match, FWA X-Division Championship] (FWA: Payback).
    Spoiler:


    MVH
    VOLUME 33
    “Life is a cabaret, old chum.”

    She sat alone, as usual, in her motel room. The sound of two men having an argument drifted through her open window, and had been doing so for some time. By this point, they were screaming at one another, irate that their point of view was falling upon death ears. When she had looked out of the window at them, it was obvious that they were on meth and this would go on until one of them finally decided enough was enough and violence would win the day.

    “THAT SHIT BELONGS TO EVERYONE!” one of them roared in a deep, commanding, but slurred voice. “MUSK IS TRYING TO OWN THE FUCKING STARS!”

    In her room, Michelle stared at the lens of a camera. It wasn't yet recording. She had nothing to say and too much to say. The expectant electronic eye carried with it an accusation that Michelle didn’t feel she could hide from. In shame, she took another pull from the bottle of Jameson. Her mouth filled only half-way before the bottle was empty. Horrifying. She threw it to one side and returned to staring at the camera.

    “Where is your sense of WONDER?!”

    The battle outside continued to rage. Michelle sighed and leant back against the bed. She tried to organise her thoughts on the events that had led her to this point. They could be arranged neatly, she felt, into five primary points of interest, as enumerated below.

    1. Listing all of the names of people who have been handed an opportunity to fight their way for the FWA World Championship since her debut would be a long and tedious exercise, but she planned to do it anyway for effect. Nova Diamond (twice), Cyrus Truth, Gabrielle, Michael Garcia (three times? four times?), Mike Parr, Krash, Kevin Cromwell, Kayden Knox (twice), Orion, Gerald Grayson, Alyster Black, Ashley fucking Bell, and Eli Black. Was that even all of them? She couldn’t feel sure anymore. Her point would be obvious. She wouldn't need to elaborate (but, of course, she will).

    Some might argue that she was only just off the boat. A ridiculous argument, considering she’d had more matches in an FWA ring than Orion, Gerald, Alyster, and Ashley combined. Some might argue that it "wasn’t her turn". A ridiculous argument, considering that multiple men have had multiple chances to dethrone the King. That Michael Garcia, a perennial also ran with all the wit and tact of a damp dish cloth, would be rewarded time and time again for his persistent failure with yet more opportunities made her blood boil. Some might even argue that she was already a champion. A ridiculous argument, considering the North American Champion was handed one such opportunity as a prize for their impotent and fucking endless war with, well, another North American Champion. There was no good reason to deny her what she would end up demanding anyway.

    Most obnoxious was the fact that she had beaten six of these men, and still she was seen as a more long-term contender (if she was even seen as a contender at all) than these troglodytes. The last edition of Fight Night exemplified the problem in microcosm. After she had pinned Nova’s shoulders to the mat for three, and finally dragged Cromwell to a victory over Truth, what did the Blackbird deem a worthy next step? Rewarding the losers of the match with a potential World Title opportunity! Ludicrous. Michelle could see it plainly, and she felt certain that her tulips would see it as well. The X Division was the bright light of the FWA, and she was at its forefront. The wrong triple threat match carried with it a shot at the company’s biggest prize.

    “Sense of wonder?! Have you seen the images of the SpaceX satellite train?! This vanity project is a blot on the night sky.”


    2. The indignation of being passed over for a World Title opportunity in favor of Ashley fucking Bell would, in time, pass. She had finished her business with Strangelove a few hours before. The trap had been set. It was only a matter of time before the most beautiful little deer would skip into her crosshairs.

    OUR night sky, I might add!”

    3. There was, of course, more pressing business at hand. She had come to know Kevin Cromwell better than anybody in the world would want to know Kevin Cromwell. He had put her through hell at Back in Business, along with the aptly named Wildcard. Again, they had gone to war two weeks later on Fight Night. They had brawled through parts of arenas that she didn’t know existed, but the previous week they had… co-existed. If you wanted to push the boat out, you could argue that they had even flourished. She felt it absolutely imperative to draw the proper conclusions from this affair. Amadeus was still the same Amadeus that he was before they had shared a corner: dependable, serious, and ohsovery dull. He was a conduit for her necessary victory against Truth and Nova, a victory that - as already illustrated - amounted to nothing in the Blackbird’s backwards understanding of fairness.

    In truth (lower case ‘t’), she felt comfortable enough to say that Cromwell was an interchangeable cog in that wheel. Well, perhaps that was not true. Give her Jobber Jimbo, and even she might have struggled to overcome those two opponents. She estimated that Cromwell possessed around the minimum amount of skill - no, capability - to play his part. Wrestling savant or otherwise, he spent most of the match in the ring and on his back, allowing her to lick her lips on the apron.

    She had seen the announcement from FWA management. Their little tag team circus that they had planned would usually have repulsed her. But plaudits were plaudits, and there were more scalps to be had along the way.

    ”But we’re one step closer to going back to the moon. And I don’t mean we as in humanity. I mean me and you! Commercial space travel is just around the corner!”


    4. Jason Randall's antics had so far more bemused than riled her. He had crept up from behind to sucker punch her with a Snake Eyes a few weeks ago, and since then had elected to watch on from afar. His efforts on commentary last week had been pitiful. He'd managed to utter around thirty words as he watched her single-handedly dismantle two of the designated top guys in the company, and spent the rest of the time with his lips firmly closed and his finger up his nose. She could only hope that it was stunned silence, which was understandable, even if a little worrying. They were expected to put on a show this Sunday, and she desired no dead weight or awe-struck tulips.

    She had, of course, been asking for competition. And this is what the Blackbird thought he was giving her. But there was a difference between 'competition' and 'stacking the odds'. She would happily wrestle anyone on the roster, one on one, each and every week. Title or no title. X rules or traditional. The Blackbird was constructing matches designed to see her fail. Her tag match with Mr. Muesli last week had been structured in the hopes of implosion, gifting the random pairing of Nova and Truth an easy (and much needed) win. Tomorrow night, she faced two men with an unfathomable blood vendetta against her, and could lose her championship without even being pinned. And next week? Another grueling X Rules match, with another two blood-thirsty opponents.

    Of course, she would mention none of this. She didn’t want to give the Blackbird the satisfaction of hearing her complain. She would continue to pile the bodies at his door, until he had no choice but to offer her more than scraps.

    ”Oh, please! You think you’re gonna scrape together enough money for a return ticket to space?! Shit, you can’t afford a return ticket to Charleston! And what you gonna do - take enough meth for the journey?! They don’t let you do that shit on a space ship!


    5. She was out of whiskey. Get more whiskey.

    ”But what about Mars?! You hear the way old folks talk about the moon landing. Experiencing something like that first-hand would be… life-changing... life affirming, even.”


    ‘This is good,’ she thought to herself. ’Start recording’.

    But she couldn’t, because she was already asleep.
    ...

    ...

    ...

    ...

    ...

    She stood on the beach, barefoot in the sand, staring out at the horizon. The edge of the world. The bay was empty. The sea calm. The sun had reached its apex, smiling down upon her. She knew she cast no shadow. Above the water, a flock of heron were flying in V formation, skipping upon the breeze. She sighed deeply, and looked down at the infant she held in her arms. It began to cry. It always began to cry.

    "And your child?" a voice asked from afar, buried deeply in the recesses of her memory.

    “It’s not my child,” her own voice answered. “It’s his child”

    “You are responsible for this child now,” the first voice answered, laced with a Russian accent and a Russian bluntness. “If he is gone, then the girl has nobody else but you.”

    On the beach, one of the herons broke away from the group. It made a wide circle, close to the water, and then headed for the coastline. Michelle clutched the child to her chest one last time, and then threw it as far as she could into the sea.

    “I’ll be back in the morning. You worry too much.”

    A different voice this time: Jean-Luc’s. It was the last thing he had said to her. The newborn had been crying then and she’d barely stopped since. She found herself unable to picture that last interaction. It wasn’t particularly painful, or distant, but a noxious cocktail of cocaine and painkillers had left much of 2019 a fog. Instead, she focussed on the bird as it landed on the shore, a few metres from where she stood. It stared back at her for a few seconds before arching its long neck and biting a chunk from its own wing.

    Michelle tried to turn away from the bird and from the sea, but something clasped her ankle and dragged her backwards. A hand had emerged from the sand and had placed its fingers around her, dragging her back towards the bird. The heron tossed the piece of meat around in its beak and then swallowed. The baby that she had discarded washed back around her feet, crying as loudly as ever. She kicked hard against the hand, watching it crumble and wash away in the sea, and then marched onwards.

    In front of her was a plastic table, small in size and circular in shape. On one side was an image of herself, and on the other was Elizaveta, the promoter of a local Russian federation she'd been wrestling for. She knew it was Liza because of the table, and its usual setting in their cafe. But her face had been lost like many others, and now her features were blank.

    "You have ties here," Elizaveta said. "You can just cut them like that?"

    "I have no ties here, or anywhere else." The younger woman remained passive as a batballian of soldiers, flanked by a pair of tanks, passed by on the beach behind. "Nothing I couldn't catch a train away from before the end of this parade. Except for my bookings with you."

    Behind them, a pram rolled through the scene. The two women continued to speak, but their volume was lowered until muted, and all that could be heard was the slow creaking of the pram’s wheels as they rolled across the sand. When it disappeared from view, her hearing returned to her.

    "You have five advertised bookings with me, Michelle, and after that you're free to do as you wish, as has always been our agreement. Coffee is your gift to me, да?" The Russian woman stood up, pulling her fur coat around her shoulders. "And what of Isobel?"

    "Isobel is coming with me."

    Michelle had been here before, and didn’t want to be here again. She strode forward, towards the table, intending to knock it over as she passed. But the entire scene - the coffee, the deck chairs, and the two women - vanished with a pop as she approached.

    Twenty metres ahead of her and above her, on the lip of the cliff that overlooked the bay, was a large but unimpressive building. It was four storeys tall and just as wide, and felt older than the beach itself. Its windows were dim but the silhouettes of children slowly walking this way and that were visible none-the-less. Above the door, a small sign read ‘LAFAYETTE CONGREGATE CARE’. She approached the building, but as she did the first of the roofing tiles fell from the house and onto the beach below. The ground began to rumble. The bricks on the top floor began to crack and eventually crumble, small pieces of concrete landing at her feet. And then, in the front left window of the house, a light was switched on, and from inside the room a young girl stared down at the woman on the beach.

    Michelle tore her eyes away from the orphanage, and when she re-centred them in front of her she noticed a grey door in the cliff wall. Debris from the house continued to fall, thudding against the sand and throwing chunks of powder into the air. Slowly, cautiously, the door began to open. The torso of a young woman appeared through the opening, and Michelle again found herself looking at a mirror image of herself. This one was smiling, and staring directly at her, as if she could see her. This wasn't normal. None of this was normal. Michelle, our Michelle, walked towards the door, but the other Michelle shook her head, and mouthed silently:
    ”you’re not ready yet”.

    She reached the door as it closed in front of her.

    She pushed the door open.

    And as she pushed the door open, and stepped over the threshold, there was no more debris. No more falling roof tiles or crumbling brick. No smashing windows. No crying baby. No bird feasting on its own flesh.

    All that there was, was a grand ballroom. She had stepped directly onto the dance floor, as big as a football field, spreading out before her until it reached a stage. Heavy red curtains hung in front of it. Beneath it she could see a handful of musicians sitting with their instruments, inactive but ready. To the right of the stage was a spiral staircase, leading up up up to nowhere in particular.

    She began to step forward, the steps of her bare feet echoing loudly around the room. She found herself walking towards the foot of the staircase, aware of the presence of a man with his back to her. Fifty meters. He had one foot on the floor and one on the first step, and was leaning upon the railing. Forty meters. He made no noise and no movement, even if he was aware of the young woman and her approach Thirty. She allowed her eyes to glance towards the musicians in the pit, and found their heads bowed. Twenty meters. From here, she could see the slow, deliberate breaths that the man on the staircase was sucking into his lungs, as if in anticipation. Ten meters. Her pace slowed. Five. He turned towards her.

    Wearing a tuxedo and a warm smile, hair finely coiffed and clean shaven for the event, Dave Sullivan stared back at her. He stepped down from the stairs, extended a hand, and began to sing.

    "What good is sitting alone in your room?... Come hear the music play…"

    As he took a step towards her, showing his pearly whites and offering a second hand to her, the orchestra sprang in to life. They played a series of slow, deliberate notes, accompanying the King's baritone croon.

    "Life is a cabaret, old chum…"

    Once more, she looked away from Sullivan's sparkling brown eyes and to the pit. She recognized the musicians. At their forefront was Bella, her sister, playing her cello. It had been four years since she'd passed away, and five since they had spoken. But she had seen her most nights, within dreams that were beyond her control. The other faces were equally familiar, but she had never known any of them to show a proclivity towards music. Next to her sister was her mother, running a bow across a violin. In front of them, Jean-Luc Watkins had a flute in his mouth, and her Aunt Maude sat at a grand piano. Her old fighting master was ready at a drumkit, dormant for the time-being. In the brass section, her father held a trumpet, Bell Connelly a trombone, and Roy Orbison a French horn. Dave Sullivan continued to smile at her sing…

    "Come to the cabaret!"

    Suddenly, the music changed tempo and volume and proceeded full throttle. The red curtains that masked the stage flung themselves open, revealing two figures stood in its centre, waiting to begin a foxtrot or a waltz or something along those lines. Michelle squinted at them, first at the man in the brilliant white suit. It was Jason Randall, but not in his usual ragged demeanor. Instead, he looked immaculate: his hair waxed into a tight quiff, a black tie contrasting his suit, beautifully polished white leather around his feet and his waist. Opposite him, in a frilly red cocktail dress and with fruit and feathers in his hair, Kevin Cromwell stared deeply into the Wildcard’s eyes. They kicked into action, beginning a fast-paced lindy hop around the stage in time to the orchestra’s music. The King still had his hand outstretched to her. Finally, she took it, and he twirled her once, twice, three times, staring longingly into her eyes, before releasing her and watching her spin away . When the rotations ceased, she found Gabrielle in a long black dress, waiting to catch her and continue the song and dance.

    “Put down the knitting, the book and the broom… It’s time for a holiday...”

    As Gabrielle began, three doors on either side of the room swung open, and through them came a procession of dancers. They all wore variations on the same theme: men in black tuxedos and women in brightly coloured cocktail dresses. At the head of the first column, Orion led Alexandra Marie into the centre of the dance floor. Behind him, the Connor brothers - each in an identical, slightly undersized suit - strutted hand in hand, grinning from ear to ear. She spotted faces from her past and her present: Ashley Bell flanked either side by a member of the Wave, XYZ with a carbon copy of XYZ, Humanity and Nightmare, along with people whose names she had forgotten. Old school acquaintances, half-remembered faces from cities she used to live in, people she’d met in coincidental circumstances who she had not thought about in years. She wanted to place each of them in turn, but Gabrielle dragged her into the centre of the dance floor. She tried to turn back and find Sullivan in his tuxedo, but he was walking towards the staircase, and her path to him was closed off by the encircling dancers. There were perhaps eighty of them in total, and they formed concentric circles around her and the Goddess. Gabrielle simply smiled at her, and fluttered her eyelashes, and continued to sing…

    “Life is a cabaret, old chum… Come to the Cabaret!”

    Gabrielle leant in close to kiss her, and then disappeared into the melee of dancers. On the stage, a Japanese barbershop quartet filed into view, Cromwell and Randall lindy hopping around them as they began to sing.

    “Come taste the wine… Come hear the band…”

    Michelle walked towards the quartet, evading the spinning dancers as she went. Dominick Dust and Anna Malikova pirouetted into her, knocking her towards Hannibal Crowe and Alice. She checked her momentum as they swirled around her. Each of the quartet wore a red jacket, white trousers, and a straw boater with red and white ribbon around it. They had their right hands extended, singing with ear-to-ear grins, as if it filled their hearts with joy. There was LIGHTBRINGER, and Anzu Kurosawa, and Eimi Sanada, and finally Jon Snowmantashi, who was the happiest and the loudest of all.

    “Come blow a horn, start celebrating… Right this way, your table’s waiting…”


    On the stage, three men in clown make-up rode unicycles whilst juggling flaming batons. They circled the lindy hopping pair, keeping a safe distance and roaring in laughter as they did. Through one of the side entrances, Michael Garcia appeared and fully extending himself on his thirty foot stilts. He wore a green suit with tails that stretched almost to the floor and an orange top hat.

    "What good's permitting some prophet of doom… To wipe every smile away…"


    Sullivan and Gabrielle were visible again, having climbed halfway up the spiral staircase. They had added their voice to the quartet on the stage, arm in arm and with their free hand outstretched as to project their voice. The clowns, Nova Diamond at their head, dismounted the stage and came towards her. They rode between Garcia's stilts as the auxiliary dancers separated to form an aisle. The unicyclists circled her, continuing to juggle, and Michelle identified Alyster Black and Cyrus Truth as the remaining jesters. When she saw the Exile up close, she realised that he was not smiling.

    "Life is a cabaret, old chum… So come to the cabaret!"


    At the end of the line, the three clowns dismounted and passed their torches to passing dancers, who carried them away. They picked her up, and launched her through the air, where she was caught by Gerald Grayson. He wore a black suit with white gloves and a white bow tie, and he took her by the arm like a faithful guide and began to lead her across the floor.

    “I used to have a girlfriend known as Elsie… With whom I shared four sordid rooms in Chelsea…”


    A wall of dancers separated, and suddenly blocking their path were three life-size puppets: Eli Black, Kayden Knox, and Mike Valander. Grayson smiled and hopped with excitement, as if he hadn’t expected to find them here but was pleasantly surprised he had.

    “She wasn't what you'd call a blushing flower… As a matter of fact, she rented by the hour…”


    High above them in the rafters, Lord Vincent frantically pulled at a seemingly infinite number of strings. He wore all black so as to arouse no suspicion. Beads of sweat ran down his face as he moved from one system of strings to the next. Grayson continued to sing.

    “The day she died the neighbors came to snicker:... ’Well, that's what comes from too much pills and liquor!’


    The result of Lord Vincent’s efforts was a seamless, elegant jig, each of the three puppets moving perfectly in time to the music. Garcia passed by on his stilts, bowing low and doffing his hat to the marionettes. Nova Diamond and his clown troupe rode by, smiling in admiration at the Monster of the Midway as he went.

    “But when I saw her laid out like a Queen… She was the happiest corpse I'd ever seen…”


    The dancers laughed along with the singer, who snapped his fingers at the puppets. As if on cue, the puppets began to file towards an exit. Grayson pointed to the ceiling, and Michelle noticed that two trapezes had descended from it. A North American Champion swung happily on each of them, dressed in an ultra-tight singlet and with heavily chalked hands. Now they had an audience, they each released their own trapeze, somersaulting through the air and catching their counterpart's.

    “I think of Elsie to this very day… I remember how she'd turn to me and say…”


    Grayson pushed her forwards, the line of dancers only just managing to get out of her way before she fell into them. She put her hands out in front of her, catching the rail that separated her from the orchestra pit. When she looked more closely at the musicians, she noticed that all was not as it had originally seemed. Although each of them was exquisitely dressed in black, the defects that had defined their demise were still plain to see. All seven singers - the quartet on stage, the King, the Goddess, and her beloved Gerald - continued their song in unison.

    "What good is sitting all alone in you room?... Come hear the music play…”


    In the pit, she saw the effects of her sister’s car crash still evident in the cuts and bruises around her left eye. Her hair was matted with thick, red blood. Her Aunt Maude was asleep, as she always was. Water was running freely from her father’s mouth and nose and pooled around his feet. Her fighting master, now tapping away merrily at his drumkit, had a hole in his chest that you could see right through. Jean-Luc was translucent, her mother’s skin was dry and drawn, and Bell Connelly’s brain was leaking out of her ears.

    “Life is a cabaret, old chum… Come to the Cabaret!"


    Her train of thought was interrupted by Cromwell and Randall, who had danced their way to the front of the stage and were offering a hand each to Michelle. She gave them her own and they lifted her smoothly onto the stage. They sang to her, alternating lines, as they continued their lindy hop.

    “And as for me, and as for me… I made my mind up back in Chelsea…”

    They spun Michelle around so that she could observe the dance floor once more. The dancers were working through the crescendo of their orchestrated, synchronised routine. The clowns were cycling in figure eights around Garcia’s stationary stilts. Behind them, The Elite rode across the dancefloor on the back of an elephant...

    “When I go… I'm going like Elsie…”

    Giant confetti cannons were set off around the room, millions of pieces of brightly colored paper beginning to rain down over the performers...

    “Start by admitting from cradle to tomb… It isn't that long a stay…”

    Those on the dance floor began to strut in time to the music towards the staircase. Upon it, Sullivan and Gabrielle had begun to climb - dancing as they did so - towards the ceiling, giving room for their fellow dancers to join them on the structure. Only the King and the Goddess continued to sing...

    “Life is a cabaret, old chum…”

    The clowns were the first to mount, beginning their slow, melodic ascent up the steps. The auxiliary dancers were quick to follow. More confetti was released into the hall...

    “It's only a cabaret, old chum…”

    The remainder of the performers - the barbershop quartet, Cromwell and Randall, the trapeze artists - had filed towards the stairs too. Garcia stomped to join them, one stilt either side of The Elite and their elephant. The entire cast joined their voice to roar out the climax...

    “And I love a cabaret!”


    The music stopped, and the performers froze in position, over a hundred of them arranged upon the spiral staircase, each and every one of them with their arms outstretched towards her. Their breathing was heavy with the exertion of the dance. Suddenly, from behind her, Michelle heard a roar of applause. When she turned, eight billion people sat in neat rows, stretching back as far as she could see.
    Volume 34: "Meanwhile, in the Past..." (06/21/2020).
    Spoiler:



    MVH
    VOLUME 34
    "Meanwhile, in the past..."

    Have you ever been inside an MRI machine? They make you take off your shirt and put on these huge, obnoxious headphones. Next, they lay you back on a big board, making sure that you have your head positioned correctly in between two small beams. Then, a plastic mask that resembles hockey equipment is attached, locking your head in place. There are plastic bars across your eye-line that resemble an extraordinarily ineffective prison cell. They give you a panic button and they tell you not to press it. And then it begins.

    You’re slowly sucked into this off-white metallic tube, the headphones that you were given doing very little to mask the hum of the machine. For a moment, you can imagine yourself a cosmonaut about to launch, but when the scan starts for real you realise that a rocket ship would probably be much quieter. There’s a low, ominous, intermittent buzz at first. Chug… chug… chug… You were asked beforehand if you have any metal in your body, any left-overs from previous surgeries that the white-coats left inside of you before stitching you back together. You were assured that fillings don’t count but there’s still a significant portion of your brain that is picturing them being sucked out of your head and God knows where. Whichever part of the machine that is magnetic, I guess. Chug… chug… chug… The pace of the machine is quickening, the volume increasing, and you begin to question the point of the headphones. They are doing very little to mask the soundtrack, and at times you question whether they are actually responsible for the noise… that perhaps the machine is silent and the nurse is playing a practical joke on you. The idea that we can make a car silent but we can’t make a brain-scanner that doesn’t sound like a faulty washing machine makes you feel a bit ill. Chug chug chug… The most you can do in terms of movement is flick your eyes from left to right, and that is utterly pointless, as the inside of the machine looks essentially the same from all angles. You daren’t close them, because this machine is not to be trusted and you don’t know what it might do should you let it out of your sight. Chug-chug-chug… The sound is almost deafening, now, the gaps between chugs essentially nonexistent. It’s just all one noise, a pulsating crescendo of invisible and indescribable machinery. Your breathing becomes uneasy, your heart thudding against your chest in time with the Metal Machine Music, and you realise that your eyes are involuntarily darting from one side to the other, your movements as frantic as they could possibly be whilst your whole body is strapped down to a board. Chugchugchug… The noise is resolute and unflinching and louder and higher. If this were a rocket shop, it would be time for lift-off now, but it’s not a rocket shop and you’re wondering why there’s this much hysteria, this much panic, this much commotion. Something is wrong with the machine. Something is wrong with the machine and your thumb brushes over the panic button. But if there’s nothing wrong with the machine then the problem is with you and if you push the button for nothing they will just have to start again. You assume the nurse knows what she is doing but you haven’t verified her qualifications and what if she doesn’t know that something is wrong with the machine? Chugchugchug… Finally you close your eyes and throw yourself in because you haven’t got a chance and the machine can do whatever it wants to do and you’re a part of it now and...

    And then it stops, and you are moved to a slightly different position, and it starts again.

    I was fourteen years old when I had my first and later on, when I had learned more about life and what to expect from it, I realised how similar it was to an MRI scan. Just hear me out. I sometimes wonder whether I’d have made the realisation in reverse had I felt the ominous and slowly (persistently) building sense of dread that accompanied life before the less metaphorical humming of the machine.

    As I sit here and write in a Richmond cafe, a black and now cold cup of coffee in front of a ragged stack of papers and a pencil, I note that I am certainly in the early stages of one such cycle. I have the panic button, and am aware that if I push it this will all be stopped before it can lead to anything of note. But they would just adjust the headphones and the mask, and then it would all start over again. Delay tactics do nothing for me. Instead, I would have to ride it out, through the days or months or years of build until the machine resets itself.

    The first time it had, I was fifteen. I don’t want to go into the circumstances again. You’re my diary; you know all about them. Check your records. The important thing is that the child shrink had recommended I write down my thoughts as a form of therapy. As she suggested it, I had a vision of her recommending precisely the same thing to a thousand troubled teens before me and a thousand after me, and couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Still, I tried it, because I had to try something. As I’d feared, it was useless to stop the noise that was slowly beginning to build again, but documentation of one’s thoughts is often an enlightening and clarifying experience none-the-less. And I was, of course, rather good at it. But you already know that, because you’re just under a thousand words into this particular entry.

    I’m not writing today to report anything particularly noteworthy that his happening to me in this moment. Things are ticking over at around the pace that I expected. Already, after only three victories in championship matches, my reign with the X Division title is considered dominant and irrepressible. The defense that sits upon the horizon is as uninspiring and unimaginative as the two men that inhabit it. Of course, there’s a meatier morsel a little further in the future, when The Mother of Ravens will have to confront me face to face. There will come a time when she will be unable to hide behind light tricks and poisoned mists.
    The other show, the blast from the past, went by in an otherwise satisfactory manner. Even the kaiju took the bait. No, this entry is not about the present. Instead, I want to write to you about the past. The Lost Years, if you will.

    MONTREAL, CANADA.
    August 2016 - November 2016.

    It started (well, not really, but otherwise we’d be here all day) when I hit the panic button after Kings Reign Supreme in Montreal. It was meant at the time to be a momentary respite from a situation that was becoming too much to bear. I had just won the CWA High Voltage Championship, pinning LIGHTBRINGER and then pledging to turn my back on the company for the time-being. I had allowed the disrespect, the injustice, and the misogyny to fester for too long, to the point where I found myself competing for (and, of course, winning) some mid-card trinket. I appreciate the irony, sitting here in 2020 as the reigning and very proud FWA X Division Champion, but right now my path to bigger and better things is clearly laid out. Back then, I was trapped, surrounded by yes men and sycophants and (worse still) career main eventers. This sort of environment breeds apathy. And so, I left, and headed north.
    I climbed mountains, befriended sherpas, and looked over the edge of the world. I wandered westwards, across the Pacific and back to Japan, and then further west still until I came upon the eastern borders of the continent that was home. And all the while, anticipation for my eventual and (surely) inevitable return to a CWA ring built and built.

    I think I was in Kyiv or Odessa or one of those Ukranian shit-heaps when I got the call from Lucas, my cousin. He was the pitiful sort of boy who would help his father (the brother of my own father) on the family farm, until one day the father died and the boy had his own children. And thus the cycle continued. But I digress. Lucas never went to the city. I wasn’t entirely sure if he hated the city or if the city hated him, but the fact remained: Lucas never went to the city.

    “I’m in the city,” Lucas began. His voice was even more strained and weak than it usually was (which was, if you’re wondering, excruciatingly strained and weak).

    “Which city?” I asked. I knew which city he meant, but sometimes the boy needed to be reminded that Rotterdam was not the only city in the Netherlands, let alone the world.

    “Rotterdam,” he confirmed. And then he waited. During the silence, I tried to remember the last time that Lucas had called me. I quickly came to the conclusion that Lucas had never called me, and I (obviously) had never called him. I had been provided with a cell phone by the company I’d taken a few bookings with in Kyiv or Odessa (or one of those Ukranian shit-heaps), and assumed he had got the number through them. The treasure hunt that poor Lucas must have gone through to get those ten digits…

    “And?” I asked, growing impatient. If he was calling, it was doubtlessly important, and I had no time for his stammered riddles. “Why are you in Rotterdam?”

    “I’m in Rotterdam, because…” Another hesitation. Lucas cleared his throat. “It’s your mother. She’s…”

    “Dead?” I asked, almost immediately. It was only a matter of time, really, and I'd been half expecting a call or a letter to this effect ever since she had first been taken away in 2007. Since then, she had spent every day of her life in some sort of institution: rehab facilities, hospitals, and then eventually the hospice that acted as a waiting room for the grave. Isobel and I had left Europe a week after my older sister had been declared my legal guardian. Lucas didn't answer immediately, weighing what few words he had very carefully before they fell out of his mouth.

    "Yes, she passed last week," he offered, inanely. "They say it was dehydration."
    I appreciated the irony: that a woman who had spent the last fifteen years continuously looking for answers in a bottle would meet her end through thirst was too good to be ignored.

    "The poor woman could never hold her drink," I offered, somewhat passively. "Does Isobel know?"

    "Yes. She is flying back on Thursday for the wake."

    "Okay," I said, my mind made up. "I'll come too."

    ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS.
    November 2016 - January 2017

    Of course, things didn't turn out as I'd expected. They never do. On her way from the airport to our old family home, Isobel's taxi hit a curb and flipped over. She'd died instantly, which I'm always told is the best way. The end result seems the same to me. I arrived a day or two later, just in time for the toxicology results to tell us that the taxi driver had been drinking. The whole event mirrored father’s demise in an eerie manner. The key difference was that Isobel had placed her trust in someone else, whereas he had placed his in himself. Both were wrong to do so.


    And so the funeral had as many dead guests as it did living, unless you counted the priest. I'm not really sure which side he would count towards. Mother hadn’t really gone in for any of that religious stuff
    since Aunt Maude had died and her interests had shifted to a different Four Horsemen. Isobel was smart enough to mistrust the concept from childhood. But the arrangements had been left to Lucas (fortunately), so their final send-off wasn’t quite in line with what they would have asked for. Looking at the boxes, and thinking about the inanimate bodies lying within, it didn’t really seem to matter.

    “What will you do with the ashes?” Lucas asked as we stood next to the coffins. I have had this conversation a hundred times. I have always been taken aback by how sterile it seemed. How practical and functional. Perhaps it was our surroundings: in a little white room, clean walls and clean floors and clean ceilings, staring at two boxes slowly being pulled by invisible mechanisms into a hole in the wall.

    “I don’t know,” I answered with a shrug. He had dealt with the arrangements until now, and it didn’t make sense that this responsibility should suddenly shift onto me. “What do people usually do with them?”

    “People usually scatter them,” he said, through pitiful tears. “You know, in a place of significance.”

    When we had left the room, he had told me that a few of my friends from school had been in contact with him, and had asked about the wake. Fortunately, the event itself was kept to just the two of us, his presence a necessity considering everything was in his name. But he had arranged for a celebration of their life, as he so artlessly put it, in a bar in the city. He listed some names that I didn’t remember: people who claimed to have known Isobel or I or both Isobel and I back when we were being “educated”. Of course, tulips, I'm a local celebrity back in my hometown, and I understood their game immediately. I told him that I’d need to shower first, and then I hit the panic button. The train to Marseilles took around six hours and stank of stale sweat. I scummed around there and in Paris for a month or two, before eventually deciding on Berlin.

    BERLIN, GERMANY.
    January 2017 - May 2018.

    I spent the best part of a year and a half in the city, but for a few weekends in the countryside and a week here and there back in Marseilles, and it was there that I met Jean-Luc. We had interacted once before, the previous year, when our paths had happened to cross at Back in Business 2016, but I got to know him in the Fatherland. Well, as much as I could and wanted to get to know him. We met in a bar, because where else would you meet someone? There was recognition there but it’s not like we exactly ran in the same circles, and as such there were no formal introductions or greetings. We just happened to be at the same bar, at the same table, and Jean-Luc just happened to have a seemingly bottomless wallet. He loved to drink but wasn’t such a huge fan of talking. This arrangement was essentially ideal, and so I decided to let it play out.


    I spent the night at one of the three apartments that he owned in and around the capital, and then spent much of the following four months in his company. Company and money was all that he was willing to give,
    and the few snippets I learned about his life back home could’ve been just as easily acquired from Wikipedia. He came from wealth, but you could tell that just by looking at him. His father was still working on Wall Street, but there had been some disagreement between the pair and as a result Jean-Luc had left the family firm. He had holed up in Central Europe for the past year, hopping from city to city, sniffing his way through his nest egg in the sort of carefree manner that you only see in second-generation rich kids. He refused to accept the finite nature of anything, and that extended to his cash reserves as much as anything else.

    He would spend days watching the television: at first sports, and when the sports seemed too frivolous he’d move on to the news, and when the news seemed too ominous he’d move on to the cartoons. All-the-while he would drink. I would stare out of the window of his fourteenth floor apartment, or watch as it gradually turned from a bachelor pad into a hovel with each day’s binge, or go on long walks around city parks. Sometimes, I would go to Marseilles for a week for nostalgia’s sake, and when I’d return he’d be in the same chair with a different bottle next to him.

    Inevitably, the money eventually dwindled away, even if Jean-Luc tried not to think about it. This particular tree still made a sound when it fell. His coke guy suggested that he make a few euros on the side by slinging a few ounces to his rich friends, obviously unaware that whatever friends Jean-Luc had left were far from rich. The boy was an excellent consumer of cocaine but, after a couple of weeks of trying his hand at selling it, he turned out to be a lousy dealer. From my perch on the old chaise sofa beneath the window, a slightly-bent Camel hanging from my pursed lips, watching as Jean-Luc waddled out of the building towards whatever shiny black car his guy showed up in that week. His anxiety was plain to see: that was one of the main problems. He was nervous with the wholesaler and nervous with the junkies, and as a result he was mistrusted by both. Of course, there was also the issue that he snorted a significant proportion of his supply. That’s never a good sign.

    The concept of not having money was utterly alien to him, but the idea of owing it to someone else was an insult. After he’d (rather predictably) fucked up his second package, we laid low in a hotel under a fake name in Frankfurt whilst Jean-Luc made frantic and furious phone calls. He contacted everyone he could think of, except the one person that we both knew could bail him out in an instant. He screened any calls that he flagged as even remotely suspicious. He took to sleeping with a baseball bat under his bed, and he only left the building for short walks, usually to pick up or check on a suspicious looking car that had parked itself on our street.

    Eventually, he called his father, but only after I discovered him sitting in the bathtub, immersed in freezing cold water, cradling his bat and muttering endlessly to himself about eyes in the walls. His pecker was shriveled and metaphorical. When he'd sort of sobered up, he sat in the bedroom and spoke to his old man for almost three hours. He returned and declared that he'd had a job offer in Moscow, and that I could come with him if I wanted. My curiosity was piqued, and we hit the panic button together.

    MOSCOW, RUSSIA.
    May 2018 - August 2019.

    Moscow is a city built on lies. All that you need to do is to look upon the majesty of one of Stalin’s ‘seven sisters’ - pristine and immaculate palaces constructed around the city - before taking in the disgusting and poorly-kept high-rises that surround it, and the hypocrisy of this city’s history is laid bare. It’s people were born and were raised and died under the impression that the deception and oppression that they endured was normal. And what sort of a people do you expect to be cultivated in this environment? You reap what you sow.

    Jean-Luc started working at one of his father's offices. It was being run by a woman he used to work with back in the States. He alluded to her being at least partially responsible for the fissures in his relationship with his father. When he'd loaded his tank with enough cheap vodka he'd meander through slurred monologues about this woman running him out of town. That didn't stop him from fucking her. Don't misunderstand me: there was nothing faithful or exclusive about our 'relationship' (to use a hideously misleading word, for ours was more of an understanding). But it became harder and harder to listen to his hateful diatribes when he routinely stank of her sex.

    I busied myself with exploring the city, which generally was a great disappointment. The old people are sad and the young people are scared. There are barely any men in the final third of their life, owing to the country's aggressive foreign policy, and the male half of the gene pool had been depleted to the point where marital mis-matches were par for the course. Cocaine was hard to come by and carried with it cumbersome penalties (which, I concluded, was why he'd been sent to this particular office), and Jean-Luc's presence became more irritating in this new sobre world. All of this had me feeling a familiar itch. I began to take a few bookings for the first time since Lucas had called with news of my mother. The woman who had booked me back in Kyiv or Odessa, Elizaveta, had relocated her promotion to Moscow when relations between the Ukraine and her Motherland became more complicated. She had the bluntness of her people, which I appreciated, and wouldn't fuck you around if you didn't fuck her around. But this story is not about Elizaveta. Maybe some other time.

    That Jean-Luc was fucking some woman from his past was not really an issue. When he arrived home one evening with a four-pack of cheap Russian lager and a baby, it was sort of a red flag. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the proud, well-bred businesswoman that had expunged his offspring from her womb. Instead, it was some low-born Siberian who cleaned his office. When Russian Orthodox girls get pregnant, Russian Orthodox girls stay pregnant. In a cruel twist of fate, she had rather selfishly died in childbirth and - considering her one living relation was sixty eight years old and living three and a half thousand kilometres away near Novosibirsk - Jean-Luc had been saddled with the sprog. I didn’t question it. It’s not like he asked me to do anything. He hired a Kazakh woman to sit in the apartment and tend to the little Prince’s every want and need, and for a month things continued as they had been. The only addition to the soundtrack was the unfamiliar and perpetual whining of a human new-born.

    Things took a turn for the worse when I returned to Moscow after a week in St Petersburg, to find the Kazakh woman alone with the baby. The thing was kicking up a fuss about God only knew what, scrunching up its ugly little face, throwing back its ugly little head, and letting out is uggly little screams. The nanny yelled at me in what I assumed was Kazakh (but what actually turned out to be Russian) for around fifteen minutes, and when it became clear that she wasn’t going to stop, I finally called Elizaveta to translate. Jean-Luc had gone to work as normal on Tuesday and not returned. She had been looking after the baby for the past five days, buying food and whatever other items a baby needs with the eighty thousand roubles that he had left on the bedside table before his disappearance.When she’d finished the information dump, the Kazakh woman placed the baby into my arms, and then stormed out of the apartment with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp.

    After she had gone, I held the baby uncomfortably in front of me, regarding its fat and slightly bulbous features. It occurred to me that this was the first time I’d properly regarded her. Held her, even. It became clear that I felt nothing for the child. To be expected, really: it wasn’t mine. It had nothing to do with me. I had the suspicion, however, that this empty feeling would be the same regardless of my biological connection to the thing that I uncomfortably held in front of me.

    What followed was a blur of a fortnight, which also happened to be my last in Moscow. Of course, they wouldn’t let me through the lobby in the building that Jean-Luc had reported to work each day for the last eighteen months. I mean, why would they? I showed up dressed the way I dressed (in the same black skinny jeans I’d been wearing for the past three years, which had essentially become a patchwork of rips and stains, and a black hoodie that had been bought in a charity shop back in Berlin) hold out a baby, and tell them it’s the CEO’s grandson.. They took one look at me and threw me back out of the door.

    The few people whose opinions I listened to, even if I stopped short of taking them seriously, would all say a similar sort of thing. Words like duty and responsibility were bandied around frequently, as if they were meant to mean something to me. When I had spoken of my plans of going back to America, of hitting the panic button once more, the accusatory tone had only become more fierce. Elizaveta had led the charge, but others had joined their voice to the cause.

    "And your child?" Svetlana, the little old babushka who ran the bar at the foot of my Moscow apartment building, had asked.

    “It’s not my child. It’s his child”

    “You are responsible for this child now,” Svetlana replied. “If he is gone, then the girl has nobody else but you.”

    A Russian orphanage seemed too cruel, and so I settled upon an American one. It cried all the way from Moscow to New Orleans, in cars and lorries, on trains and in ships. When I close my eyes, it still cries now. The past is always with us.
    Last edited by SpecificSecretary; 12-11-2021 at 09:07 AM.

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    Re: Michelle von Horrowitz.

    PROMO HISTORY
    PART V.
    July 2020 - November 2021.

    News Story: "WHODUNIT?!"
    (07/07/2020).
    Spoiler:





    WHODUNIT?!
    Who attacked Michelle von Horrowitz?

    We have a new FWA X Division Champion! Michelle von Horrowitz's short but dominant run as champion came to an end on last week's episode of Fight Night. And who is responsible for her spoiled fortunes?

    Well, the answer to this question may be more complicated than you think.

    An hour before she was due to compete against Eli Black and Gerald Grayson in an X Rules Three-Way Dance Match, Michelle von Horrowitz was found unconscious in the backstage area. Surrounded by a host of officials and paramedics (along with General Manager Lord Vincent Takaab Blackbird), MvH was stretchered out of the building and taken in an ambulance to Huntsville General Hospital. Left behind at the scene was her championship belt, along with a blood-stained lead pipe.

    Despite losing a lot of blood and suffering a concussion, we here at FWA.com have learned that von Horrowitz discharged herself from the hospital the morning after the attack. It is currently unknown if she will even compete in the ongoing Elite Tag Team Classic, or whether the injuries sustained will leave Grayson without a dance partner. And, even if she does appear on next week's Fight Night, will her priorities be divided? Will vengeance — for both her lost championship and the unexplained assault — stop her from focusing on the tournament?

    Either way, this mystery will have to be solved at some point in the future, and so we've decided to take a closer look at the potential suspects.


    Bell Connelly
    Despite being officially retired from in-ring competition, and having not appeared in an FWA ring for over a year, Michelle von Horrowitz has made it her personal mission to goad Bell Connelly into an impromptu return. So far, she has had no success, and has received only occasional and unsatisfactory retorts from the former Women's and World Champion. Most recently, MvH revealed private and personal information regarding Bell's psychological treatment, owing to a leak from her psychiatrist's office. Believing Michelle to not only be responsible for the reveal of this information, but also the leak itself, Bell threatened to sue both von Horrowitz and the Fantasy Wrestling Alliance. Of course, Michelle's reply was flippant and derisive, citing her first amendment rights as her primary defence MvH has been consistent in one thing, and that is demanding Bell return to the FWA to face her. Could this assault be Connelly's way of answering this call? It seems unlikely, but von Horrowitz has a manner of bringing out the worst in people.

    Gerald Grayson
    It is obvious to even the most unobservant lay person that Grayson gained the most from MvH's absence in the main event. One week after recording his first FWA victory, Grayson competed for (and won) the X Division Championship. Having gone one-on-one with von Horrowitz a couple of months ago, perhaps Grayson had come to terms with the fact that beating her fairly would be a tall order, and decided to take matters into his own hands? This would indeed be very out of character for the fan's favourite, and obviously jeopardizes his own chances of winning the Elite Tag Team Classic, but Grayson's newly won belt will be a stark reminder to his partner of the chain of events that led to his coronation.

    Eli Black
    Although unsuccessful in his attempt to win his first championship in FWA that night, the attack on MvH could be laid at Black's door for the same reasons as we listed for Grayson. Having come up short in the six-person match for the X Championship at Back in Business, perhaps Black was looking to stack the odds in his favor? He is, after all, known as “The Artist of Chaos,” and the events of last week were nothing if not chaotic. Eli Black is a man that von Horrowitz will be looking very closely at during her hunt for her assailant.

    Kevin Cromwell
    Cromwell came up short in his attempts to win the FWA X Division Championship last month, and anyone watching closely will have noticed a slight change in “Amadeus”'s attitude as of late. An accomplished technical wrestler and a former champion, Cromwell will surely not have taken kindly to playing second fiddle to MvH. Maybe the assault was, in essence, a revenge plot, or even an attempt to take out a rival that he has struggled to defeat within the squared circle? It is true that this assault would be somewhat out of character for Amadeus, but anybody that has seen Cromwell in the ring will know he has a pragmatic ruthless streak that one must be wary of.

    Jason Randall
    Similarly to Cromwell, Randall had two attempts (one at each of the last two pay-per-view) to supplant MvH and reclaim his position as X Division Champion. The Wildcard is certainly a fan favourite, but he is not afraid to take matters into his own hands, or to go extreme when it comes to levels of violence. Furthermore, Randall took the pin in both of those matches, and has been the target of MvH's long diatribes for months now. Could a combination of defeat and derision have led to “The Wildcard” seeking to remove the champion from the equation? It is more than possible.

    Krash
    The FWA North American Champion had a tense, uneasy conversation with Michelle von Horrowitz towards the start of last week's Fight Night, and delivered what many would consider a thinly veiled threat. Words carry far in these halls, he told her, as she began yet another verbal attack on The White Wolf. The other two singles champions (more on this later) have been a frequent target for MvH's insults, clearly indicative of her ambitions in the company. Perhaps realizing this, Krash decided to take pre-emptive measures? It is also worthy of note that Krash and Mike Parr will face off against MvH and Gerald Grayson in the second round of the ETTC, adding more weight to the at-first tenuous claim that the fan favourite could be responsible for this assault.

    Alyster Black
    If there is one man who has spoken most frequently about his ambitions to topple von Horrowitz and take her championship, it is undoubtedly Alyster Black. Believing himself to be tailor made for this barbaric division, Black has the title in his sights and will stop at nothing to earn himself a championship opportunity. Although there is no such match announced, the attack could act as a statement of intent from Black. If we know anything about Michelle von Horrowitz, it would certainly garner the intended reaction.

    Mike Parr
    As mentioned earlier, Krash and “The Prodigy” Mike Parr — thanks to their victory over Danny Toner and Donovan Moore — will take on MvH and Grayson in the second round of the ETTC, and a weakened Michelle von Horrowitz yields obvious benefits to “The Prodigy” and his new strange bedfellow. Such an attack is certainly not out of character for Parr, and the disappointment of failing to defeat Krash for the North American Championship — and therefore a re-alignment of focus to another singles champion — may also have contributed to a hypothetical Parr assault.

    Lord Vincent Takaab Blackbird
    Michelle von Horrowitz has had more than a few choice words for the Fight Night General Manager over the past few months, and it is quite possible that the Blackbird - dissatisfied by one of his champions perpetually questioning his decisions and his authority - decided to take matters into his own hands. Behind the scenes, there have been mumblings about MvH’s place in the X Division, particularly amongst other wrestlers who have an eye on that championship belt. Perhaps this assault was a simple way of removing that particularly championship belt from the waist of a woman as covetous as she is stubborn? Those with even a vague knowledge of the Blackbird’s history will know that he isn’t afraid to make bold, sudden, and dangerous decisions, and that he thrives on chaos … but would an acting General Manager be so bold as to order the attack on one of his active and current champions? This particular writer thinks almost certainly not.

    Dave Sullivan
    Although Sullivan and von Horrowitz have had no face to face interactions thus far in her FWA career, his name has never been too far from her mouth. MvH has made it perfectly clear what her eventual goals in this company are: to confront Bell Connelly and lure her out of retirement, and to win the richest prize of them all. A strategic mastermind who isn’t afraid to make bold moves, perhaps von Horrowitz’s assault was an early message from the King to a future would-be challenger.
    Volume 35: "We Will Commit Wolf Murder" (w/ Gerald Grayson) (07/10/2020).
    Krash and Mike Parr def. Michelle von Horrowitz and Gerald Grayson [Tag Team Match, The Elite Tag Team Classic] (FWA: Fight Night).
    Spoiler:




    GERALD GRAYSON
    and MICHELLE VON HORROWITZ
    in
    "WE WILL COMMIT WOLF MURDER"
    _click me_

    ***

    X-Division Champion… that’s me. I still couldn’t believe it. Everything happened so fast. I saw that Michelle was attacked earlier in the night, and then - all of sudden - Eli and I are doing battle for the X-Division Championship. Believe it or not, I felt bad about Michelle not being in the match. But when Lord Vincent made the match for the X-Division Championship, this was my golden opportunity and I had to take it. Three seconds. Those three seconds were all it took for me to gain the biggest win in my career. Gerald Grayson: FWA Champion. Ahh. It has a nice ring to it.

    Despite the glitz and glamour of being champion, there was more to it than the TV side. There was also the business side. Everything changed when... well, you know the story. My phone was blowing up non-stop. But due to contractual obligations, I had to let it do it’s thing because who knew when an important message would come through. I kinda feel bad about it because if my phone was blowing up, that meant Jay’s phone was blowing up as well. But he has a ton of clients so I’m sure this isn’t something new to him.

    I was in the arena getting my pay - my champions’ purse. I traversed the backstage area of the Norfolk Scope Arena and finally found the FWA Executive I was looking for, Jake. He was one of the FWA's “suits” and one of the people in charge of handling the pay for talent. I walked up to him and it soon became clear that he wasn't too impressed by me. In fact, he held up one finger as he was talking to someone on his phone.

    “Sorry about that. Now, I’m guessing you’re here for your pay?” he asked.

    “I am,” I replied, wanting to get this meeting over with.

    “You know, a lot of eyes are on you now. Not many people can handle this type of pressure. You went from being on a losing streak to winning a title. Two matches. That's all it took. I hope you’re ready, kid," Jake was nonchalantly warning me of the horrors of being a champion. I knew what he was trying to do and didn’t appreciate it, but I listened intently nonetheless. “Not only that, but you’ll be doing a lot more for the FWA. We scratch your back, and you scratch ours. Radio shows, press conferences, autograph signings, talking with the press - the fun stuff.”

    “Listen, I get you’re not my biggest fan. But you don’t have to worry about me, Jake. I appreciate the concern, but I’ll be fine. Trust me,”
    I said, clearly annoyed.

    “Suit yourself.” he retorted. Emphasis on the suit. He reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a white envelope and put it out in front of me. “Your win bonus. Cash okay?”

    I wasn’t sure how to respond. This seemed unprofessional in a business setting. As far as I knew, it wasn’t standard practise for any organisation to pay their staff with a cash-stuffed envelope. I looked at him, and it appeared that he was dead serious. Of course, I went ahead and retrieved the envelope. Seeing the look on my face and seeking to clarify, Jake began to speak.

    “Yeah, I know it’s a little unorthodox but Michelle demanded her pay be in cash and well, you’ve seen how she is when she doesn’t get what she wants. I wasn’t going to tell her no.”

    He was right. If her destruction in the ring was any indication of her demeanor backstage, I’m sure she’s a handful to deal with.

    "And to be honest, well…. we didn't expect you to win."

    I said nothing, and pocketed the envelope.

    “You're welcome, kid. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got other matters to attend to, so I’ll be on my way. Good luck with everything… champ,” he said as he walked away. That emphasis on champ dripped with sarcasm, which made me feel glad that the meeting was over. If an FWA executive didn't believe in me, then there had to be more doubters out there. And that’s okay. I just have to deal with it. Considering the circumstances, I didn't blame them.

    ***

    Walking back to the parking lot, I recognized a vaguely familiar face, and overheard another cameraman calling him Nick. Michelle’s name was mentioned in their half-heard conversation, so I headed towards them, giving them a friendly wave from afar. There was a lack of recognition in Nick’s eyes.

    “Hey Nick! Remember me? Thanks for your camera last time.”

    Nick awkwardly looked at his colleague, and then back to me.

    “No problem, man,” he replied, with uncertainty.

    “Remember at Back in Business, I was backstage looking for catering. I passed by and asked to borrow your camera.”


    The wheels began spinning in Nick’s head as he attempted to overcome his confusion. After a few moments, a lightbulb popped above his head.

    “Oh yeah! I remember. Don’t mention it. And congrats on the win, champ.”


    Aww -- my first compliment. Not too many people were congratulating me on winning the X-Division Championship, so it was good hearing it out loud. I couldn't help but wonder if some of that was due to the circumstances of my victory. Rod Sterling had called it a cloud hanging over me, but for now I tried not to think about that.

    “I appreciate that, man. Thank you very much,”
    I flashed a stupid grin at them. “Say, were you guys talking about Michelle Von Horrowitz? Any chance you guys might know where I can find her?”

    The two colleagues looked to one another once more, wondering if they should answer my question. After a few moments of awkward silence, Nick finally spoke.

    “Yeah, I was actually surprised to see her at this bar. I’d gone there last time we came to Virginia. It’s called the Prancing Pony. She looked like a mess and was kind of frantic, but you know how she is. No one in hell would confront her in that bar, no matter how many tough guys frequent it.”


    Michelle was a mess. Gah. That’s probably on me, but still… the night before our first round match?! I needed to find her immediately. We are tag team partners, after all.

    “Thanks for the information, Nick. If at any time you want to snag some tickets for some buds, hit me up. I’d be happy to help you out man.”


    With a joyful look on his face, Nick nods. I return it and walk away, retrieving my phone to open up Google Maps.

    ***

    From the outside, the bar didn't look like much. As I entered the bar, the inside wasn’t anything to write home about either. The windows were covered in a film of dust and a system of cracks adorned their corners. Above the heavy door, the bar's name - THE PRANCING PONY - was written in large black lettering, but both Ps and one of the Ns had succumbed to the elements or to time. In a neat line next to the sidewalk were six Harley Davidson motorcycles, and a pair of pick-up trucks were parked up in the adjacent alley. Before I'd even entered, I had a strong, nagging suspicion that this wasn't the sort of bar that the current X-Division Champion would usually be found in. The former X-Division Champion, though? That did seem more likely…

    The inside was much like the outside, only dimmer. Let me tell you, it needed a lot of work if it’s goal was to attract any customers. The wallpaper was peeling, it smelled of sweat and beer, and only a handful of the light fixtures seemed to work but I had a feeling that was intentional. To my left, the owners of the vehicles outside could be found, chugging down beer after beer. In front of me was the bar, and behind that was a bald man in a denim, sleeveless jacket. He had tattoos everywhere: up and down his arms and on his hands and where his hair should've been. He was sizing me up, running an old rag around the top of a glass. I walked towards the bar, walking around a pool table (noticing not only the blood stains on its surface, but also the broken cue that had been left against a cushion) and took a seat in front of the bartender.

    "So," the man said, eventually putting the glass down and placing both palms on the surface of the bar. "What'll it be?"

    I looked through the bottles behind him and the pumps in front of him, not really knowing where to start. It was the day of Fight Night, after all, and having any alcoholic drink at this time was no doubt a recipe for disaster. I settled on an orange juice. The bartender scoffed, shook his head, and went to the back to get one from the fridge. Moments later, he came back with a small glass of orange juice and placed it aggressively in front of me.

    "I'm looking for a woman," I said, taking a swig of the juice. I was almost sure that whatever it was made of (definitely not oranges) had gone bad, but I drank it anyway.

    "Look around you, boy," the bartender said, returning to his rag and his glass. "There aren't any women in here. You'd be better off trying one of those wine cellars or juice bars in the center. I hear there's plenty women for your sort round there."

    "No!" I said, a little too loudly, angering the bartender and catching the attention of the other patrons of the bar."I'm looking for a specific woman. Average height, slender build. European accent. She was in here last night, I've been told."

    Suddenly, the expression on the bartender’s face turned sour. It seems he knows exactly who I’m talking about as his demeanor changed in a hurry.

    "You her friend?" he asked, weighing me up carefully. "Another wrestler?"

    "I don't know if we'd be considered friends, more like acquaintances I guess," I said as I took another gulp of my orange juice. The atmosphere in the room had quickly become tense and uncomfortable. "But yes, she is a colleague. Was she here?"

    "She was," he said, his eyes moving tellingly to the blood stains on the pool table. Just then, things were starting to make sense.
    "You can see for yourself what that girl did to my bar. She won't be coming here again, I promise you that."

    "She did that? Damn. Do you know where she went?"


    "Are you going to buy me a new pool table?" he said, abruptly.

    "How much would that cost?" I asked, scratching my head as I attempted to remedy the situation.

    "Five hundred dollars," he said, without thinking. I cocked an eyebrow, as if in accusation, but he stood firm. Five hundred big ones was a hefty price. But I feel like I wouldn’t have made it out without providing some sort of compensation. Reaching into my bag, I retrieved the envelope that the executive had given me earlier in the day. I pulled five one hundred dollar bills and placed it on the bar.

    "For the table," I said, before taking an extra fifty out and placing it next to the five hundreds. "And for your time."

    He picked up the bills, examined them carefully, and then placed them into his pocket.

    "She was playing pool with a pair of truckers that were passing through, and a boy who works down on the dockyard. Harris, his name is. Pete Harris. A good kid, but I don't think he knew what he was getting himself into. There was some disagreement when it came time to pay up on the evening's bets. She'd taken the truckers for a few hundred each and they either didn't want to pay or couldn't. She broke the cue over the big one's head, and the small one quickly paid up. You should've seen that big fucker, laid out and unconscious on top of the table."

    Here he smiled, and shook his head.

    "Would've been funny if he hadn't been bleeding out over the covering. But hey, that's paid for now, so I can see the comedy in it. She left with Harris. I don't know where.”

    "Where would he be right now?" I asked.

    "At the docks, most likely. He's a working man."

    "Okay, thanks," I said as I took one last gulp of the orange juice. "How much for the OJ?"

    "Don't worry, kid," the bartender said. "You've given me five fifty already."

    I nodded, and left. Time to head to the docks.

    ***

    "Yeah, I was at the Pony," Harris was saying. He hadn't been hard to find. I simply asked one of the men in hi-vis jackets and was pointed in the direction of Pete Harris. At first I found Pete Harris Sr, who seemed a little old for bar brawls, but he took me to his son. The amiable young working man was only too happy to talk to me. "So she's your colleague, huh? Man, that girl is pretty far out. Can't imagine what your workplace is like…"

    "It's really… something," I admitted. "What did you do after you left the bar? Any idea where she is now?"

    "Well, she asked me to film her," he said, whilst opening the door of a container and pulling a pallet truck loaded with boxes a little closer."But not in the way that you'd want her to. She just spoke, mostly. About other guys. Krash and Parr and something about a Blackbird. Oh, and GiGi..."

    Ah crap. I could already tell this was going to be bad.

    "That's me," I said hesitantly.

    "Oh?" he said, cocking an eyebrow. "Well, if it's any consolation, she doesn't seem to hate you as much as she does those other dudes."

    "I guess that's something," I said, with a hint of sarcasm. "You say you filmed this?"

    "Yeah," he answered, taking the first of the boxes from his truck and beginning to load it into the container. "She asked me to put it on the internet, but I've been working. You want to see it?"

    I nodded, and he found the clip for me on his phone. It was eighteen minutes long, because of course it was.

    Click!

    When I hit the play button, his phone began to show gloomy footage that looked as if it had been shot in the dead of night. The person holding the camera was on ground level, pointing the lens upwards at two shipping containers, stacked one on top of the other. And on top of those was a woman, sitting with her legs dangling over the edge, and a half-finished bottle of whiskey at her side.

    “Who attacked Michelle von Horrowitz?”

    Her voice carried easily, even if I could only just about make out her silhouette against the night’s sky. Directly behind her, as if by design, sat a full moon. This was not a good start to our partnership at all. I’d seen the article that FWA.com had published where they listed the prime suspects. I wasn't surprised to see my name on there. If you really thought about it, I’m easily the #1 suspect. Surely Michelle could see through that, though? I think we’ve had enough interaction for her to find it out of character for me to commit such a heinous attack. If I wanted to, I would’ve done it earlier. Wait. What am I saying?! I wouldn’t have done this! That’s not the kind of person I am.

    “Ridiculous, really, isn’t it? You thought that you were tuning in to watch the finest athletes from across the globe compete in a legitimate sporting endeavour. What you have found is a soap opera, complete with a little whodunit? and a host of colourful suspects, each of which has both motive and opportunity. I have told you, my tulips, that there comes a time when you have to throw yourself in, and it appears that this time has come for even me. I cannot stem the tide any longer, boys and girls. They are dragging me down with them, and now I must engage.”

    There was a brief pause as she clambered up to her feet, stood atop of the containers, and reached down to collect her bottle. She struggled with the cap and then flicked it away, watching it fall fifteen or twenty feet to the concrete, and then took a hearty but joyless pull.

    “I’ve seen their list of suspects. Mine is fuller, and longer, and riddled with both more logic and more scorn. FWA.com, of course, will tow the party line, but I am not naive enough to think that all of the people who might want to do me harm are employed by the same company. It’s just as likely that the Mother of Ratbirds or Snowmantashi - either Snowmantashi - decided to Solid Snake their way into Huntsville with a lead pipe and a can-do attitude. I do not intend to run through a list of names right here, right now, weighing up each person's likelihood as my assailant. It is inevitable that this person will, in time, come forward to reveal themself. They only stand to gain from the act if they put their name to it. Of course, that is, unless the profit has already been had. And if nobody comes forth? Well, Gerald, then things don't look too great for you."

    She stopped and stared directly at the camera, and even through the night's gloom it seemed as if she was looking right at me. Through me, even. She took another glug of the whiskey: the fact that she had a match less than twenty four hours later seemed to mean nothing to her.

    “Despite this, there is one man whose blame in this is without question, even if I cannot be sure that he himself swung the pipe. I’m talking, of course, about Lord Vincent. A man that was present on the scene at the time of my incapacitation, and a man who - I don’t doubt - would enjoy nothing more than to see me dethroned. I have spoken repeatedly and eloquently about our general manager’s insufficiencies, not to mention his disdain for his winners and his champions. Regardless, even if his hands are clean in a literal sense, the Blackbird has cultivated an environment in which it’s not only acceptable to attack a champion from behind, it is encouraged. With each passing day, as speculation continues, Lord Vincent continues to rub his hands together, enthralled by the ever-increasing hit count on his website and each new article declaring next week’s Fight Night to be must-see television. And all of this success is off the back of MY suffering… a by-product of the theft of MY championship. It’s enough to make you sick.”

    Of course, she’s not sick, and instead the young woman just shakes her head reproachfully and drinks some more. Michelle was really going after the man and I was both scared and impressed by it. Impressed because she was right. With Blackbird in charge, there had been nothing but chaos in FWA. The word “order” seemingly didn’t exist in the General Manager's vocabulary. No one had really called him out on it… until now. And scared because it was a dangerous game to play, even if it was one that must be played. I’m glad Michelle was at the forefront of it. She seemed perfect for it.

    “Speaking of MY championship, that beautiful golden belt now sits upon the shoulder of the man who I am meant to team with this week. Much has been made of this fact. How could these two possibly co-exist?! Surely, when I see that boy walking down the entrance ramp with my championship, the red mist will descend and I’ll be ripping out his throat with my bare teeth. These are the musings of the most ill-informed troglodytes. Assume, for a moment, that GiGi is guiltless in my attack, and then ask yourself this: if Michelle von Horrowitz was in Grayson’s boots, what would she have done differently? When the Blackbird appeared to tell us that the champion had been felled, and that the odds of victory had just risen dramatically, would I have played the white knight and refused to compete? Of course I fucking wouldn’t. GiGi played the cards that were dealt, and he played them well. Unless, of course, he was the man who dealt them…”

    Another hard, piercing look at the camera. As she continues, she begins to pace back and forth across the top of the container. I was fearful of what may happen to her. Like, what if she tripped and it all gets worse from there?

    “You see, tulips, I am in the unfortunate position of second guessing my own opinions, as if my thoughts must now be clarified by an asterisk. My opinions on GiGi occupy two separate and often contradictory plains, considering him as my attacker and as a somewhat innocent profiteer. I have no such issues with Krash. My opinions on this sniveling dog remain constant, regardless of whether he swung the pipe. In fact, I might think more of him if he'd managed to find some huevos and follow up his vague threats with direct action. But this dog has been fixed, and I fear that he'd rather lick himself than bite me. Do not think of this as exoneration. I rule no avenue of investigation out. But the idea of this meek company man - whichever company he decides is his home that week, that is - acting in such a forthright and decisive manner seems unlikely. But stranger things have happened."

    I could see that a major part of her monologue was going to surround the attack. I understood that, even if it did worry me a little. This tournament, after all, brought with it a chance to challenge for the FWA World Tag Team Championships! The idea that, after losing my first half a dozen matches, I could potentially become a double champion in just a few short weeks! I wanted a teammate who was going to focus on that goal, and not finding out who it was that stole her championship… my championship. But still, at least she was talking about one of our opponents now…

    "And, of course, many strange things have happened to you recently, Krash. Haven't they just? First, a face from your past emerges and immediately proceeds to place you in his shadow, very nearly accomplishing in a matter of weeks what you have failed to achieve since you arrived in the FWA. This must have been a bitter pill to swallow. Humiliating, even. And then there's your troubles with Mike Parr. I derisively and poetically deemed it a glorified tug-of-war last week, and you seemed to take exception to this. But how can it be called anything else? This hotbed of mediocrity that you have recently been occupying… this race to the middle... it has accomplished nothing for either of you, except wasting your time for a handful of months, giving the loyal midcarders something to sink their teeth into whilst Sullivan continues to run amok upon the dais. And… you seem almost proud of the very little that you have accomplished in this program. Elevating the status of the North American Championship, you would doubtlessly argue. But, so long as this belt is freely passed around the four abjectly average shoulders that it has carouseled through over the past few weeks, such an ambition is impossible."

    I remember being the subject of this type of character assassination myself, just a little while back on Fight Night. The way she picks you apart on the microphone is just a prelude to what she does in the ring. In fact, our paths had crossed a number of times during our short FWA careers. There was that strange meeting backstage, where she showed me the scars I'd given her in our two previous meetings. I guess that showed something like respect. She had come out on top in both of those contests, first in a six-person at Back in Business, and then the very next week. But those two fights had done nothing but light a fire beneath me, and when this tournament was first announced? I had a good idea of who I wanted in my corner. I just wasn’t sure Michelle felt the same...

    "So, what did you achieve? Well, you wasted a few perfectly serviceable light tubes, and you abused a few poor, innocent fish, but I can't say either of those plaudits are particularly useful to anyone. I may have lost my own championship, but the fact remains: the most interesting part of this show, each and every week, is when I deign to wander down that ramp and take up my rightful position in the spotlight. No amount of Japanese death matches or steel cages will change this, tulips."

    You know, I really had no problems with Krash or Parr. These dudes had never wronged me in any way. Or, well, none that I knew of. However, their paths had crossed mine and that’s when you have my attention. With Michelle seemingly not focusing entirely on our match, you’d think that meant good things for Krash and Parr, right? Part of me believed that if Michelle does show up, we’ll come out with the victory. Why is that you ask? Because Michelle works better when she’s angry. And by the looks of this video, Michelle is pissed. She’s a legit human tornado and I’ll be there to pick up the slack. I’ll be there for the tag when she needs one. When a double team move will mean more than an individual one? I’ll be there. That’s what makes a good tag team partner - being there. Kind of ironic, huh? With me not being able to find Michelle. Krash and Parr, you are the definition of what a tag team SHOULD NOT be. You are not there when needed. You are only there to save face. Deep down, the animosity between the two of you will boil over and everything will implode. But maybe that’s why Blackbird “randomly” put you in a tag team - to see you guys implode. Just like you did in Japan, and in the cage…

    "And let's talk about that steel cage debacle for a moment, if you'll indulge me. It still boggles my mind that you are both rewarded with prominent positions on the card for competing against each other in matches that, somehow, you BOTH managed to lose. And you did both lose, regardless of how often you called yourself co-champions. But, if we think about this with anything resembling clarity, only one of you should have viewed this arrangement as an affront. And that's not our resident sniveling dog. It's you, Parr. I watched that match, of course. I am nothing if not a student or the game. I saw it as clearly as anyone else. Your feet touched the ground first. It doesn't matter if Krash was caught by one of those fuckwits you trapse down to the ring with - "

    A devious smile flashed over her face. It seemed that the shot was growing lighter, as if the sun was beginning to rise. I could see her more clearly now, and she took up her perch once again, sitting on the corner of the shipping container with her legs over the edge. The bottle of whiskey was almost empty, but it didn’t seem her tank was...

    "Sorry, I'm sure the wounds are still fresh. That should read: one of those fuckwits that you USED to trapse down to the ring with. This fact is not relevant to the discussion. At least where I am from, steel cage matches are contested with no disqualifications. Mike Parr won that match, and should have been given back the North American Championship. But that belt, already stained by the mediocrity that surrounds it, was further sullied by a series of inept decisions and a would-be champion who could not or would not stand up for what was his. This is not something that you would see from Michelle von Horrowitz. If I encounter injustice, I route it out. If I encounter bullies and misogynists, I confront them. These things are non-negotiable, and the fact that you gladly accepted a rematch under death-match rules shows how little the puppet masters think of you, and your own lack of self-belief and self-worth."

    I had to admit, I’d never seen self-belief as a problem for a man like Mike Parr, but it was true he was no stranger to complaining. But he never seemed to get his own way, which said something about the way he was viewed by management. It was part of the reason why I tried to keep a positive outlook on things. Misery loves company, and all that. Michelle went on, seemingly building towards her big finish.

    "I have not promised you that Gerald Grayson and I are going to win this match-up. I will not promise you that, either. I'm not really sure I need to. The losing team will blame each other, and the winners will claim that they bore the lion's share of the burden. In the end, it will all cancel out to nothing. That is not the point of this tournament, at least not for me. I want all of you, the three of you in this match and those that are patiently waiting for me in future rounds, to finally confront what, in your heart, you already know. The only way for you to keep your reputations, and your championships, and your manhoods, is through avoidance and evasion. If it was one of you three that decided a lead pipe was needed in order to successfully attack me from behind, then so be it. That is not what this match is about. This match, this tournament, is about something more than that. I want you all to have your first taste of the poison that is eventually going to kill you."

    I couldn’t make that promise either. Despite Blackbird being a poor leader, the FWA was still filled with some of the best in-ring performers in the world. Michelle and I are part of that group. We are both at the top of our game. Now that we’re partners? Everything doubles. Our ring awareness doubles. Our precision doubles. The damage we are capable of? DOUBLES. So even if we couldn’t promise a win, we sure as hell could promise that Krash and Parr won’t be the same after their match with us…

    if she shows up.

    "Drink up, boys. It's almost time."

    And with that, the footage ends. I looked up at Harris, who had continued to load boxes of whiskey into one of the shipping containers. One of the boxes had been ripped open, a rucksack’s worth of bottles pilfered without a second thought. When Harris realised that the video had finished, he took his phone back from me.

    "That woman sure can talk," he said, with a wry smile and a glint in his eye.

    "So…" I asked, getting a little impatient. "What happened next?!"

    "Do you want me to draw you a diagram?" he countered. "Eventually she got bored of drinking and of me, and fell asleep on top of the cannister. I asked if she had some place to go, or if she wanted to stay at mine, but she said she was fine there. I think she liked the stars. Anyway, when I arrived for work this morning, she was gone, along with half a box of whiskey."

    "And you have no idea where she could’ve gone?"

    "No," he answered, matter-of-factly. "Look, I've got to go soon, it's nearly six. I finished an hour ago.

    Nearly six?! The arena was across town, and I still had to get ready. Hoping that perhaps she had gone there already, I paid Harris for the whiskey that she'd stolen and headed North.

    ***

    Gorilla position was the usual Monsoon of activity. To my left, two men in headphones sat behind screens and carefully adjusted dials and buttons, speaking sparingly to each other in favor of listening carefully to the sound levels. Near the door that led to the backstage area, local enhancement talent - I believe preparing to face off against The New Breed - soaked up the atmosphere and shared exciting and hushed exchanges. Next to the curtain was Alexandra Marie, standing near a producer and exchanging notes ahead of her debut and potentially recurring chat show segment. A Chardonnay with Marie, it was called, and this edition was to feature Michelle von Horrowitz as its guest.

    Alexandra turned away from the producer and approached me. She had already expressed her surprise and disappointment in the fact that I had been unable to find my partner, even after the show had begun. She was probably going to question me again about it and I was not in the mood.

    "Do you think she is going to show?" she asked, not unkindly.

    “Honestly, I don’t know.” I shrugged. “But I’ve been mentally and physically preparing myself as much as I can to go at this match alone. Might not be the brightest idea, but what can I do? I was thinking of finding another partner, but I had no time. Either way: I’m ready for this. I’m the freakin’ X-Division Champion! It’s time to show everyone why that is.”

    I patted the X-Division title on my shoulder, pumping myself up even more.

    "Well," Marie said, beginning to turn away from me as the muffled sound of Charlie XCX came in through the curtain. "It's now or never."

    She turned around and walked out into the arena, leaving me to pace back and forth once again. I began running through the scenarios in which I planned to attack Krash and Parr. I’m faster than both of these guys and I’d like to think my stamina is out of their league. So I’d need to use those things to my advantage. I’m obviously at a disadvantage, where I won’t be able to tag out, so I’d need to pick my spots and focus on my breathing whenever it’s possible. Slow and steady wins the race, Gerald. Slow and steady. I began doing some breathing exercises to calm myself, probably looking like a fool to those around me.

    In the arena, another entrance theme began to play. The sound of Roy Orbison was unmistakable, and it meant only one thing.

    And then, without a word in my direction, without even a glance, she walked straight past me and through the curtain.

    I couldn’t help but smirk. I knew she’d come.
    Volume 36: "Before Sunrise" (w/ Gerald Grayson) (07/28/2020).
    Michelle von Horrowitz and Gerald Grayson def. Kevin Cromwell and Nova Diamond [Tag Team Match, The Elite Tag Team Classic: Redemption Bracket] (FWA: Fight Night).
    Spoiler:




    GERALD GRAYSON
    and MICHELLE VON HORROWITZ
    in
    "BEFORE SUNRISE"

    She found herself in gorilla position, remembering very little about the climax of her match or how she had escaped the arena. But here she was, sitting in a corner with her hands on her knees, her breathing haggard and sweat emanating from each individual pore. Soon, she would need a drink and a cigarette, but for now she just needed to compose herself. The closing moments of the match, and specifically the mat rising up to meet her during her failed and fateful 450 attempt, were little more than a blur. She had barely felt the impact at the time, but - when the sound had returned to her ears along with the feeling in her body - there was a searing pain bursting through her torso, and the air had been knocked from her lungs. Parr’s rolling cutter was only half-remembered and essentially irrelevant. He could have landed a snap suplex and that would’ve been enough for three.

    It was at this point that he appeared through the curtain. She hadn't seen a look like that on this boy's face since… well… she had never seen a look like that on this boy's face. He was fresher than her, but she had nobody else to blame for that other than herself. She had refused to tag him in for the entire match, confidence or arrogance (or perhaps the three glasses of chardonnay she'd partially enjoyed earlier in the show) getting in the way of peaceful coexistence. But it wasn't his levels of fatigue that she was interested in. Instead, it was the look of frustration and disappointment, perhaps even verging on anger, that was poorly hidden within his eyes.

    When he clocked her sitting in the corner, he marched over with something resembling purpose. She didn't get up. He was holding the belt - her belt (his belt) - by one of its straps.

    "We need to talk," he said, looming over her. If he was attempting menace, he fell well short. She thought about the proposition, and decided that although she didn't want to talk, they probably did need to. Unless she wanted to carry on losing, which - obviously - she did not.

    "Okay," she said, rather simply. She begrudgingly forced her way up to her feet, meeting his eyeline. He was a little closer than she would've liked.

    "D'you want to go to your locker room?" he asked, wanting to go past the point of no return before he lost his nerve.

    "No," she answered.

    "D'you want to go to my locker room?"

    "No."

    _-*-_-*-_-*-_

    An hour later, the two found themselves sitting on high stools at the counter of what she would derisively name a trendy cocktail bar. It was the sort of place where your drink would arrive in a watering can on a tray of turf, or delivered in a series of smoking test tubes by some lab-coat wearing waiter, or some other ridiculous fucking gimmick for the Instagram generation. She looked around herself, at the young revelers who seemed to enjoy photographing their beverages more than they actually enjoyed drinking them. It made her feel a little ill, but bringing him to one of her usual haunts would've proved disastrous. It didn't seem like he had the stomach for it. As it turned out, it didn't really seem like he had the stomach for this place either. He had looked at the dozens of optics and handful of pumps with a countenance of utter confusion. Eventually, she'd had to order for him. Light beer. He looked like a light beer sort of guy.

    "So?" he started. She didn’t plan on going first..

    "So," she answered. And then, after a beat. "So what?"

    "What happened out there?!" She was impressed by his sincerity. He had this sort of earnest look about him, especially when he dared to be direct.

    "I could ask you the same question," she fired back, in-between sips of Jameson. "But my questions are all about last week. Where's the belt? I half expected you to bring it here with you."

    She could picture the title clearly. It hadn't been out of her sight or her grasp since she’d won it at Back in Business, and its image was imprinted upon her mind. She vividly remembered the grooves between the large red X and the gold plating. The leather was worn but still smooth to the touch and a deep brown in colour. Her favourite part was the nameplate, obviously. She had watched them engrave Michelle von Horrowitz onto it almost passively, savoring the moment. Her moment. Her first taste of FWA gold. And now it was gone.

    He broke the silence.

    "Do you think I attacked you last week?"

    An uncomfortably long pause. She sipped her drink and stared directly ahead. She hoped to give him enough rope to hang himself.

    "Because… you know… I didn't."

    She finished her drink and signaled to the bartender for another.

    "That's exactly what you'd say if you did."

    The reinforcements arrived. She could feel her cigarettes in her pocket, stroking her thigh impatiently.

    "It’s not hard to figure out why we lost,” he started. She could tell he was frustrated, but also that he was trying to hide it. “If we just, you know, acted like a semi-normal tag team… at least present the illusion of functionality and cohesion… I assure you that we wouldn’t have had to work as hard as we did losing to win that match."

    She thought about his words for a moment, watching a cube of ice as she twirled her glass in her hand. He had an uninspiring turn of phrase, but she couldn't argue with his content.

    “Whether you’re right or wrong about that isn’t exactly important to me. What’s important is the quality of the person sharing my corner. How can I team with you, if I do not trust you?”

    “It would’ve been nice to have heard this earlier today, before the match,” he responded. To his credit, he was standing his ground. “You should’ve seen the trouble I went through to find you.”

    She was only half-listening, and she rotated one hundred and eighty degrees so that she was facing away from the bar. Her eyes drifted across the room until they landed upon the pool table. A large, rotund bald man was finishing off the current game with a long pot into the corner bag.

    “Do you play pool?” she asked. He followed her gaze, and then sighed. Perhaps he’d have to exhibit more patience if he wanted a proper discussion this evening.

    “I do play pool. I have played pool.” He stood up from his stool, picking his jacket up in a surprisingly game gesture. “But you have to promise me I won’t end up like that last guy you played with.”

    Another fresh drink was delivered, but she found herself looking up at her counterpart instead. She was momentarily taken back to the Prancing Pony, twenty-four hours prior. She could see the big bastard once again, standing next to his friend with the gaps in his teeth, his grip on the neck of his glass bottle tightening. Her own hands did the same around the end of her cue, readying herself for whatever ended up being necessary.

    “How do you know about that?”

    “Let me tell you,” he began. With her drink in her hand, she wandered over towards the pool table. The boy followed dutifully. “I visited that little bar you went to and saw the damage you did. Yeah, you might not want to go back there because… yikes.” He paused to shake his head, and she couldn’t help but smile. [color=darkblue]“I ended up going to the docks, and speaking to the guy you kidnapped. Harris, or whatever his name was. Nice guy.”[color][/b]

    She looked at the boy for a moment. This declaration, this recounting of his minor odyssey, inevitably caused her to think about her assault. Everything now had to be viewed through this lens, and his human scavenger hunt certainly said quite a lot about the young man that she was currently drinking with. She felt that these actions - this cross-city chase to find someone for the sole reason of firming up team strategy - somehow did not feel like the actions of the man (or woman) who had hit her with a lead pipe. She felt that this person, her true assailant, would probably be doing all that he (or she) could do to steer clear of her warpath.

    After beholding him for quite some time, she put a dollar in the pool table. The mechanics woke up, and spewed out fifteen coloured balls from one end and one white ball from the other. She began to rack up, contemplating her next move.

    “Okay,” she said, rather carefully. When he broke, a stripe and a solid went down, and as she continued to speak he weighed up the two options in front of him. “So let us hypothesize for a moment that you didn’t attack me last week. Let us put that issue to one side. For now. What would you have done differently? With Parr and Krash.”

    He had made his decision, and he went for the blue-striped ball, playing across the table to a corner bag. It wasn’t a long pot, but the angle was tight, and the boy didn’t look too confident as he addressed the cue ball. He managed to put it in the hole, though, which was - after all - the object of the game. He moved onto his next shot with renewed confidence.

    “Being as competitive as they are, there’s no way Parr and Krash were satisfied being co-champions. Each of them thinks that he’s the better man. That could’ve been exploited.” He crouched down again and went for a longer pot, back up the table towards the balk area. His line was well off, and his yellow-striped ball bounced off the cushion a good fifteen centimetres from his target pocket. He winced slightly, and then continued to speak as she approached. “If we had isolated one of them during the match, the other would’ve gotten frustrated. They are proud men. Perhaps too proud. The man on the apron would fancy that, if they were in that situation, they’d be able to get out of it. That’s how competitive they are. We should’ve thought about this more. Used it to our advantage.”

    Whilst he laid out his retrospective masterplan, she cleared three of her solid balls from the table. The first she dropped gently into the middle bag so that she could hold the cue for the next, and then rifled that into the opposite pocket. The third was a tough cut into a corner bag, and she’d ran on a little too far for her next shot. The best she could do was a long safety, leaving the cue ball back in the balk area.

    “But that’s the specifics of it,” he went on as he addressed the table. He attempted to hit the pink-striped ball into the bottom left pocket, missed that shot, but clipped another of his balls into the middle bag. Beginner’s luck. “I heard meeting up before matches and actually tagging in your partner can help out a ton. We might want to try that to start with.”

    She cocked an eyebrow, pleasantly surprised at the boy’s blunt and bold response. He continued to focus on the table, attempting to cut one of his four remaining balls into a middle bag. It hit both jaws before ending up almost precisely where it had started.

    “Well, I don’t think we will ever be at the point where we’re having regular team meetings with agendas and minutes and the rest of it. You should probably curb that desire right now. But…”

    She paused, crouching down over the table to strike at one of her two remaining balls. It was only twenty centimeters or so from the pocket. The cue creamed the centre of the solid-red ball, the white kicking up slightly from the carpet with the force of it. It hammered off the jaws of the pocket before bouncing back out. She grimaced at the miss and kicked herself as she walked away.

    “But… I guess we can work on the other thing. Frequent tags, or at least more frequent than we had last week, probably isn’t a bad idea. Unless, you know, we’re happy to keep losing.”

    She stood motionless and chalked her cue. It was quite clear that this was the closest he was going to get to an apology. The white had remained stubbornly between the jaws of a corner pocket, and all he could do was run into one of his stripes on the cushion, knocking it out into the open for the future.

    “I’ll take that,” he said, retreating from the table. She was quick to address her ball, knocking an easy shot about a meter into the corner bag. The boy continued. “You weren’t doing too bad actually. But the second you decided to wrestle this tag team match as a handicap match? That was your downfall. And for the foreseeable future, your downfall is my downfall.”

    She allowed herself a roll of the eyes before playing her last remaining solid ball. It smoothly glided across the table and parked itself over the pocket, blocking his natural next shot.

    “Tag team matches have never been my strong point. But… your advice is good advice. Next week, I might tag you in.”

    She waved him onto the table, and he took his shot with apprehension. He played a long double, and the line looked good, but his length was short and his ball came to a halt around half a metre from the pocket.

    “The fact that you’ve acknowledged that is enough in my book.”

    She knocked her final solid ball, the one sitting up over the pocket, and it dropped in. The white nudged the cushion and then ran beautifully on for the black. Without a second thought, she addressed the table and slammed it into the middle pocket.

    “One more?”

    He offered a smile.

    “Yeah, I’m gonna pass. In fact, remind me to never play you at pool again. Let’s go do something else. Some team building, yeah?!”

    _-*-_-*-_-*-_

    The pair found themselves walking along a straight and relatively nondescript Norfolk road. She was a few paces ahead, sucking away at a cigarette and trying to pick a path across the city. His walking was less sure and swift than it was when they had left the arena, even if his wounds from the match were fresher back then. Then again, he hadn’t really done much in the match to earn any wounds. Perhaps the pair of light beers were beginning to take their toll. Amateur.

    “That guy that follows you around backstage. Looks like you. A little older, maybe," she said as she took a left turn onto a main road, high street lamps illuminating the tarmac and the handful of cars that were still out and about at this hour. “Who is he?”

    Maybe older? He’s definitely older. That’s my brother, Jay. He takes care of the business side of things for me. Overall cool dude. Love him to pieces. Why do you ask?”

    She didn’t answer immediately, electing to just shrug instead.

    “You have lots of family?” And then, without turning to face him. “You like having them around?”

    The moon had climbed high by now, casting out its dim and almost otherworldly glow over the rather sterile city. She’d been here for almost three days and by the time she’d climbed into bed on the first of them she’d seen enough of the place to last her a lifetime.

    “Yeah, I guess. I mean, it’s good to have someone watching your back.”

    She stopped at a set of lights, giving him an opportunity to catch up. For the first time in their journey, she stared directly at him. He was an unassuming sort of boy with impeccable posture. The kind of man that you could happily pass on the street and have no desire to find out anything more about. She didn’t think this in a derisive or a demeaning manner: she found the attribute quite appealing. He had his hands in his pockets, and he did his best to match her gaze, but when she exhaled a thick column of cigarette smoke in his general direction he flinched, and choked back a cough.

    The lights said WALK, and they went on.

    “You know,” she began, pressing onwards against the wind. “I used to have this Uncle. Well, he wasn’t really an Uncle. He was a relation on my mother’s side: her sister’s second husband’s brother, or something like that.”

    She paused to flick her cigarette into a nearby drain, turning right as they reached the other side of the road.

    “But anyway, he was this ageing Dutch bachelor, maybe in his late thirties or early forties. And he’d always come with the sister and the second husband for holidays. Easter, Christmas, New Year’s. All that sort of shit. He was always a bit of an insomniac, and would often sit up in front of the house to watch the stars. He was okay: he was the only one of those miserable bastards who ever let me bum a cigarette. But each time he arrived for the next holiday he would’ve gotten progressively more strange. At first, it was just little things, like needing to leave a light on when he was trying to sleep, or a television or a radio or something like that. But soon enough, that matured into something a little… odder.”

    They skirted around a dumpster and headed west down another alley way, the smell of the ocean now beginning to reach them on the back of a breeze. They were near the docks, but she had no real intention of going back there tonight. There was always something vaguely intimidating about open water. The boy did his best to keep up.

    “He started having to sleep with the curtains slightly open. When he was asked about it, he would fall silent, but I remember one time my father, before he died, pressed him on the subject. He said it helped anchor him to the world, as if seeing that it was still there outside his window was enough to keep him from floating away from it. When it was just my mother, my sister, and I, it went far beyond that. He would set alarms for himself throughout the night, three or four of them at two hour intervals. Once, when I was fourteen or fifteen, we shared a cigarette whilst he sat out on the porch one night. I asked him why he did that, and he explained this overwhelming feeling of anxiety he experienced whenever the sun went down and it was time for him to attempt sleep.”

    Finally, they emerged into a small city park, and she knew that they were almost there. There was even a look of recognition in the boy’s eyes, though it was vague and he couldn’t quite place it.

    “He said that he was worried that something was going to happen whilst he slept. He felt sure of it, but he wasn’t sure of what. Sometimes he would be worried about the Sun imploding, or the Earth dropping out of orbit, or asteroids hitting the Netherlands. Occasionally he feared that the Russians or maybe the Germans would come in his sleep, dropping bombs from way overhead that he wouldn’t hear land. Most often, though, it would be heart attacks or brain aneurysms, or something along those lines. Can’t blame him, really. Fucking terrifying when you think about it.”

    She paused as they passed by a particularly large, particularly old, and particularly gnarly trunk. She reached out and touched the bark, and ran her fingers over a cracked opening where spots of sap had oozed out to the surface. The boy only pulled the lapels of his coat more tightly around him, and exhaled a breath of cold, clean air into the dark.

    “Anyway. Things progressed, and soon enough he’d only sleep in the day, if he managed to sleep at all. That way, he could rely on his mother if he was back at home in Eindhoven or us if he was visiting in Rotterdam to check on him once an hour, and wake him every three. Of course, these habits eventually fucked him up. Although, thinking about it, he was pretty fucked up to begin with. His focus went to shit, and he struggled to pick up new concepts to the point where the same ones were endlessly being recycled around his increasingly fragile head. He lost weight, became gaunt. He sometimes struggled to hold down his food and always struggled to hold down his liquor, but that didn’t stop him trying.”

    They emerged on the other side of the park and, after maneuvering herself through the cast iron gate she came to a halt. She led them across the road and up the first side-street, starting to move towards a trot as they got closer to the second bar. The boy struggled to keep up with her once again.

    “So?” He asked as they came to the end of the side-street. At the end of the alley it opened up onto a quiet road with a handful of motorbikes parked near the curb. She reached into her pocket and pulled out another cigarette, struggling to light it against the ever-gathering evening cold. “What happened to him?”

    “What happened to who?” she asked absently, staring across at a pick-up truck parked outside of a sort of sorry-looking bar.

    “Your Uncle,” he reminded her. She took long, impatient drags at her cigarette.

    “Oh, yes,” she said. “He died. Eleven years ago, I think. He went out into his mother’s back garden with a hunting rifle he borrowed from his sister’s third husband. I guess he couldn’t take it anymore.”

    The boy stopped walking at the climax of the story, allowing her to cross the road and come to a stop in front of one of the motorbikes. She placed her shoe on it, balancing the cigarette between her lips as she tied her laces.

    “Did you go to the funeral?” he asked, as he crossed the road.

    “You’re missing the point,” she said. He had come to a stop half a metre away from her, waiting impatiently in the cold. He thought about it for a moment, watching the way that the smoke danced through the column of dim light from the street’s only lamp.

    “It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said, by way of interpretation.

    “Sort of. If you spend your time worrying about whether someone’s got your back, you will most likely end up on your back. And if you don’t worry about the bomb, it’s the same end that still awaits you. It’ll just be a lot less stressful whilst you wait.”

    She pointed up at the sign above the door, and just now she noticed the look of realisation on the boy’s face: the Prancing Pony. She had been there the night before, ruining a perfectly good pool table, and he had gone earlier today to clean up her mess. It seemed like longer ago than that. The boy read the sign, and then looked back at his partner. She raised her eyebrows suggestively and sucked at her cigarette.

    “You think they’ll let you in?” he asked, in earnest. She just shrugged and threw the cigarette towards a drain. The filter hit the curb and then bounced up onto the pavement.

    “Are you not at all intrigued to find out?” she said. She wasn’t wearing a coat, but had her hands stuffed into the front pockets of her oversized black hoodie. “Look. The morning of our match with Krash and Parr - yesterday morning, if you can believe that - I woke up with an unshakeable feeling that this would not be the only time that the four of us climbed through those ropes together. I knew that there would be a second time, and probably a third. This isn’t based on delusion, or hallucination, or whatever. It’s based on the facts, as I see them. They are the strongest team in this tournament, make no mistake about it, with the possible exception of the champions themselves. With how the brackets lay, it was more likely than not that we’d have to defeat them twice if we want to win this thing. That hasn’t changed, even with the loss.”

    He made a gesture that implied he wanted to try his luck in the bar, as if he’d plucked up the courage and feared the moment might soon pass. She stood her ground, making it quite clear that she wasn’t done just yet.

    “And if we don’t meet them again in the finals? If we or they fall by the wayside before that day comes? Our respective paths to where we want to be, they will still pass through Krash and Parr along the way. We are all capable of obsessing. Our emotions, by their very nature, are animalistic and volatile. That is to be human, tulip. But to think that your emotional interpretation of a situation will have any bearing on, say, whether or not you will get into this bar? Or whether someone will choose tonight as the night to take you down with a lead pipe whilst your back is tuned? Or whether or not we will meet and indeed defeat the Parr-Krash Car Crash when the time is right? That is just childish. Some things, you can’t control.”

    Finally, she walked past him, and into the bar.

    _-*-_-*-_-*-_

    "You wanna hit?" the young girl in the red dress with the rucksack asked, holding out her key along with the nondescript lump of white powder that clung onto the end of it. The bathroom here (wherever here was) was small, and the main door had a lock on it as well as the individual stalls. Perhaps that's what made the stranger so forthcoming and comfortable. This wasn't an effect that our protagonist usually had on people.

    "What is it?" she asked, staring from the key to the girl in the red dress with the rucksack. She smiled an American smile: all pearly white teeth behind painted lips, pre-rehearsed and sterile. Her skin was tanned and unadorned by age, her hair falling in tight black curls to her shoulders. She was pretty, there was no denying it, but there was something about her that felt slightly off. Perhaps she was too young, or too open, or too forward with her gifts.

    "A bit of this, a bit of that," she replied. "I call it the American Nightmare."

    She tried to retrace the steps that had led her from the door of the Prancing Pony to the bathroom of a different bar in a different part of the city, but found that already - after only half an hour - her account of it had been reduced to snippets and highlights. She remembered entering the dive bar, and seeing the same bald bastard in the same sleeveless denim jacket stood behind his pumps. A black tarp had been placed over the ruined pool table, and manual laborer of various descriptions had parked their drinks upon it. In the corner were th