For those out there who believe Orphan simply another lunatic out to remake professional wrestling in his own, twisted image, his war room might, at the very least, give slight pause to that concept.
For a decade, whether as the virtuous Seymour Almasy or the hateful fal’Cie, Tournament (for Orphan/Almasy, it is a proper noun, no particle needed) has meant that the man has devoted a room of his current residence to the event. Be it Primetime Central’s Golden Turnbuckle Tournament 3, his first ever tournament, the never-finished Wrestle God 3, or the ULTRATITLE Tournament itself, there has always been a room that looks something like this one.
And what a room it is, too. The walls are plastered with posters, containing brackets for each of the four sub-brackets, and the tournament itself. A huge, sixty inch television sits perched in the corner, with a PlayStation 3 serving the role of DVD player showing a constant stream of ULTRATITLE tournament matches.
But it is the table in the room’s center that is perhaps the most eye-catching. It is weighed down with piles upon piles of paper, dossiers for the tournament’s once 128 competitors. Most of the paper has been shoved off to the far side, leaving but sixteen smaller stacks for the Orphan himself to peruse.
He sits at the far end of his table, laptop computer plugged into a power strip beneath that is veritably groaning with all of the plugs stuffed into it.
ORPHAN: Pete Whealdon. You know, I might have been wrong in my initial assessment of you, just a little. You’re still one of the many reasons that I exist in the form that I do, one of many people who can’t be content to allow pro wrestling to be the sport of kings that it once was and not the chamber of horrors that it has become, but you have done something that should earn you a Congressional medal of honor. By simply grabbing a pair of tights and advancing onwards in the ULTRATITLE tournament, you, my mustachioed friend, saved Chris Hopper’s life.
The fal’Cie grins. It’s not a pleasant one by any stretch, but it DOES look almost a tiny bit disappointed.
ORPHAN: For, if he’d done what he’d wanted to do and beaten you, he would have faced me here, instead of you. And for everything he has ever said against both my Party and I, I would have torn him apart. Ripped him asunder. There would have been nothing left; and as much as my All-Star Championship Wrestling brethren may loathe me, for one day at least, we could have all united under the joy of no longer having Chris Hopper in our locker room writing checks that his mouth cannot cash.
For a moment, it’s as if Hopper is his opponent, not the King of Sleaze. Orphan’s hands rub together gleefully, and then the light goes on, and a crumpled glower writes itself across his face.
ORPHAN: But, enough about Mr. Hopper. Let’s talk about you, Pete. More importantly, let’s talk about our little date with destiny coming up in Greensboro, North Carolina. Now, you’ve built up a thimbleful of good will with me for saving me the effort of annihilating Chris Hopper on ESEN for the world to see – fun as that would have been – so I’m going to give you a piece of advice right off the bat. Something for you to keep in mind as we gear up for this titanic collision between Man and Mustache.
Orphan reaches down to the pile of printouts bearing Whealdon’s name, scanning over it quickly Written over the information and data printed on the page in bright, red ink in the fal’Cie’s hand is one four letter word: “LECH.”
ORPHAN: I’ve noticed you have a trend going in this tournament of taking what could be nice, simple wrestling matches, and making them very personal. Your favored method of doing this seems to be targeting those close to your opponents. After all, in the very last round, you pissed on Chris Hopper’s grandfather’s grave. Honestly? I thought it was a little tacky. Sure, I laughed, but it’s Chris Hopper-related misfortune. Easy laughs for all. But really, Suite Pete? We both know the reason you did that was for a lack of any female in Chris Hopper’s life for you to shamelessly hit on. After all, both Gideon and Jason Murray had lovely females in their life that you were more than willing to offer mustache rides to. Now, you barely beat Gideon – quite frankly, I think if it had been you against his sister Nadia, you’d have been out in the first round. She verbally handed you your ass, my friend. But regardless, you won that match. And then, you hit on Jason Murray’s lovely Bronte, and guess what? You won again! Against the guy who beat the tournament favorite, no less!
Mocking applause follows. It makes even golf clapping look sincere.
ORPHAN: So, I’m sure by now you’ve decided that it gives you an edge, hitting on the ladies closest to your opposition. It gets them angry. Flustered. Maybe throws them off of their game for a second or two, just enough to give you victory. And so, my sleazy friend, I’m here to give you a few words of advice: don’t try that **** with me.
Just that fast, his eyes harden, into the look that Space God, Leyenda de Ocho, and Spooky Doom have all been faced with over the course of that tournament.
It is a cross of determination and anger, the sort of look that makes a man who weighs one hundred and seventy nine pounds and stands five feet seven inches tall look damned near unbeatable.
ORPHAN: I’m sure the idea’s crossed your mind. After all, I have with me not one, but three lovely ladies. My Party is my closest confidants, my fan club, and my occasional lovers. Sure, Julia might be a little overweight, and sure, Chihiro might be adorably shy, but all in all? I couldn’t ask for anything more. And I *know* what thoughts are going through your sleazy little mind when you look at them.
Digging into his pocket, the Spirit of ACW emerges with his wallet. After a moment of rummaging through it, he comes up with a picture of the three of them, standing side by side outside the ACW Arena in happier, pre-Orphan times.
ORPHAN: Look at them. Cute as buttons, right? Everyone watching this on ESEN knows what’s going through your mind, because you, my friend, are a one note joke. The King of Sleaze, sure, but in your own mind, the Epitome of Manliness. You are trapped by your own invention, Pete. You can’t resist. You know you can’t. You’re the sort of asshole who has to push things that one step further. You want to imagine the look of horror on my face as you insinuate something with any of them. You want to make me grimace. You want to make me go out to that ring ready to kill.
It’s not a difficult thing to inspire these days in Orphan, though he’s more than willing to take any inspiration he is given.
ORPHAN: So, hitting on them seems like a good plan, right? After all, I mean, I’ve made it blatantly obvious how much I care about them. They’re three red, blaring buttons, just waiting to be pushed by an unscrupulous fellow such as yourself. And, well? If you push them? I WILL get angry. I WILL want to hurt you. But the problem for you, Pete? That won’t throw me off my game. There’s a reason that I spend a lot of my time in a hoodie that reads “CHOOSE HATE,” after all.
Though he’s not wearing it today, a picture on the far wall of the war room, framed in black oak, depicts the fal’Cie and his partner, Keith Scott Zimmerman, both wearing the white hoodies with the two-word slogan emblazoned on the front.
ORPHAN: Thus far in the ULTRATITLE Tournament, I’ve mostly behaved myself. Sure, I wanted to kill Spooky Doom deader than he already was and send him back to the realm of the avant-garde, but when he stayed down for three after I punted him in the skull, I was content enough to go home. And he’ll be able to go back to the IWF and continue to bore his home audience, so really, it works out for everyone in the end. Spooky only annoyed me, Pete. Hitting on my girls won’t annoy me, though. It’ll anger me. Enrage me. And when I’m that mad? I start treating you and this tournament like I treat every single night I step into an ACW ring these days. And that, Whealdon? It means YOU’RE getting ****ed. Not me. And not in the way you enjoy, either.
Whether the entire tactic is an earnest warning or a bit of reverse psychology is hard to tell. At times, the Orphan is frighteningly lucid, at others; he seems off in his own world.
It is, however, almost certainly a mind game of some form or fashion.
ORPHAN: If you take that course, this doesn’t end when I punt you once in the skull. It means that I smile after that first punt, step back, and do it a second and third time, “just to make sure.” More importantly to you, it means that, even if by some miracle your brilliant, oh so obvious plan to rattle me works? It means that I get up after you’ve cheated me out of what is rightfully mine and I make sure that you are watching the Bracket Two final from a hospital bed, Pete. If you screw me out of this tournament AFTER making me mad it will be your LAST achievement in this business or in your bedroom. I will kick you in the dick so many times that Eli Roth will think it excessive.
Were the contest under Orphan’s Rules, the one-sided no disqualification stipulation that his holding of the Spirit of ACW Championship affords him in title defenses, he would probably start the match off with that particular tactic.
But the ULTRATITLE Tournament is not ACW, a fact he seems alternately grateful for and irked by.
ORPHAN: But it doesn’t have to be like that, Pete. Round four in Greensboro can be two proud warriors going to battle for the right to advance to the finals of our bracket. For the right to be one of but eight competitors left fighting for the prestigious ULTRATITLE. And honestly, Pete? I’d rather it be that way. I expend enough bile and hatred in working to tear ACW off of its foundation. This tournament has really been a lovely break from that. But I will not sit here idly like Chris Hopper did and allow you to mock those whom I love and that which I stand for. I am no spineless coward who speaks in catchphrases.
The fal’Cie glares into the camera’s lens, his stare boring into the homes of hundreds of thousands around the world…and more importantly, into the eyes of one “Suite” Pete Whealdon.
ORPHAN: The choice is yours, Mr. Whealdon. Pray that you make the correct one.
She sat at a forward angle in a grey stiff bus seat, looking one moment as though she would want to jump out of the bus, and then the next staring intently at the ipad in her lap. The Bus raced through the lower Eastern Seaboard. Trees passed the window beside her of little material consequence. Catching her eye occasionally, as she continued to stare at the craigslist ad in front of her. The Bus’ driver intoned mechanically as they came rolling in to stops. People came and went as they crested a hill. Her gaze lingered again on the same craigslist ad, on an ipad that wasn’t hers.
It had seemed a fairly simple proposition. The phone call came in from one of her good friends. Hey, I just noticed this on craigslist, I think you might be interested. Oh yeah? she had said, Why do you think that? Her friend replied by saying, paying well, looking for a slim woman, that’d be you, she quipped easily, and they are looking for someone with your full name specifically. She thought that was strange, but she said it paid well, and all of the expenses were going to be covered, and it was a chance to be a star.
She nervously ran her fingers over the ipad screen, the interview process had felt incredibly brief. Do you watch wrestling? She didn’t. Fine. How tall are you? five-foot ten inches. Perfect. Can you please confirm your name? She had hesitated, why was this important. If it is, we can use you, if it’s not we can’t. Well it is. Great.
Details had been exchanged. The next day she got the ipad from UPS, with a greyhound bus ticket to Greensboro, North Carolina, and she was on her way. She told her parents what the plan was, so far as she knew. Where she would be staying. These types of important details. Even though she had talked to someone over skype. Uneasiness lifted the fine hairs along her spine. The man sitting in the background would’ve been more striking if his hair had been less greasy, or if he hadn’t been wearing sunglasses in a not entirely luminous room. He stroked his mustache in a way that seemed unsavory.
He didn’t wear a shirt. Just a sleeveless denim jacket. A cigarette had hung from his mouth. His hand wrapped around a mostly empty bottle of hard liquor. She hadn’t recognized the label. Him not using a glass seemed to be an important detail to her at the time. She couldn’t entirely place why.
When the bus finally pulled into her final destination, the sun had begun to sink below the horizon in a dying rust of oranges and reds poisoning the sky. Shouldering a modest bag she pulled up some directions on her ipad and began walking down the sidewalk, her flats clacking softly against the concrete. The reassurance of GPS kept her on the path she sought.
The fluorescent haze of a diner’s sign illuminated the requested mid thigh white dress that fit her snugly, she brushed the hair from her face as she looked down at the device. Looking at the address on the brushed aluminum exterior, and checking again, disappointment marked her face.
Pushing the door open, booths of hard red vinyl sheltered a row of round bar stools and a wide pass. Which behind perched a cook of considerable girth looked up, sweat rolling in beads down his forehead. A quick scan revealed the entire place was almost entirely empty. The Cook thumbed to her right, quickly returning to whatever order he was likely burning.
She walked down the space quickly, clutching at the ipad, and holding it against her chest. A mess of bags shambled into the booth. It all landed with a dull thud and crash. She pursed her lips in annoyance at her clumsiness.
Across from her was the man she had seen earlier. Sunglasses. Mesh Hoodie. Mustache. Cigarette. He was drinking a non-premium mexican beer, and he wasn’t alone. Next to him sat a fidgeting young man, preoccupied with an SLR. Gaunt, Pale from a lack of sunlight.
She looked at the booth beside, pointing at the sign.
“There’s not smoking here.”
He smiled as his lighter struck a spark. Smoke began to idly drift from his mouth. He cleaned his mustache as was his habit with his forefinger and pinky. He offered it across the table to her. She shook her hands in polite discouraging.
He had started slowly, letting the words ooze forward across the table at her. the tendrils of slime forced her to fidget. Maybe this is why his counterpart with the camera seemed so uncomfortable. A thumb across his nose seemed like an attempt to fill space on his part.
The box of marlboro reds felt the idle rap of finger across it, as he stared at her. Sizing her up.
His eyebrows scrunched down as he squinted behind sunglasses. He liked the way she had done her make up, just for him, heavier on the eyeliner, lip gloss. A little glitter.
“What does the name Seymour Almasy mean to you.”
Her eyes darted up and left. She had no idea who Seymour Almasy was, how could she, she had been chosen partly because she didn’t know a good deal about wrestling. Smoke drifted slowly out of the now open diner window.
“I’m not sure.”
She said it slowly, with hesitation. A sly smile broke across his face. He adjusted his sunglasses. Taking a long plug on the beer.
“You’re not sure.”
He ashed his cigarette out of the window. The tip glowing a bright orange as he sucked more air through it. He continued to tap the marlboro box, looking at his fidgeting cohort next to him. Cleaning his mustache. The sly smile spread to reveal of all things a grill. She frowned at its revelation, but it went unnoticed.
“Think she’s lying?”
Not waiting for a response, he turned back to her. His intern had raised a useless finger as though he was going to answer.
“Heard of Ultratitle? Don’t answer that. Not important. If I wanted someone familiar with wrestling, there’s an entire gaggle of useless slits I could’ve called on.”
“Well. I have. But I don’t watch wrestling.”
He was only idly listening. A quick rap across the marlboro box and a thumb across the nose, and he had hopped up. Adjusting his sunglasses he offered her his hand. Pulling her up, She dropped her purse and bags. A single hand placed against the table braced her from fumbling with them nervously.
“He’ll get those.”
Following, his intern dutifully grabbed the bags, while still managing the camera. They assembled outside of a Nineteen Seventy Dodge Challenger. White. Dark interior. Shoving his intern into the backseat, he allowed a hand to the lady, to let her gracefully slide down in the passenger seat.
While she didn’t know about wrestling, she did know about car movies. His eyes perked at the reference as he threw his current cigarette away, and lit another one, cracking a bemused smile before wiping his mustache and ashing the cigarette out of the window. The thought of cracking another beer appealed to him.
Rolling out of the parking lot at what would be considered an alarming speed, the drive went without incident. Downtown Greensboro melted by in a mess of pale yellows, blues ,and reds.
Pulling into the lot, he cast his cigarette out of the window towards the pool, parking in front of it. He leaned back in the car, rapping his fingers impatiently on the wheel. She felt a pall on her skin as the hair stood up on the back of her neck again. She felt sweat roll idly down her arms, and she tried to flick it away. He inhaled deeply.
Slithering out of the car, he took her bags from her lap, and again offered his hand to her, his eyebrows tensed above his sunglasses. She accepted the hand, noting that it wasn’t nearly as sweaty as her, she shook her head as he shouldered her bag, and handed her, her purse. Which she clutched like a security blanket. His intern followed behind.
“I’m going to tell you a story.”
She said it timidly, as they walked down the taupe painted hallway. Taupe of course being very soothing. He slowed his gait to keep stride with her. She was about his height. Pulling a cigarette from his pocket, he lit it as they walked on, ashing it on the hallway floor. He offered her the cigarette, but she had politely declined. He again seemed to find this amusing.
“It’s the year two thousand and five. Two very different wrestlers, are on two very very different paths, and at that point, the idea of any kind of divergence is... unlikely, lets say that.”
He stroked his mustache in amusement, letting his fingers idle at the corner of his mouth for a moment before continuing.
“One man, Seymour Almasy is trying to desperately recapture the fire that has brought his nickname of the tournament god. The other, Pete Whealdon...”
“Yes, Me. The Other is Pete Whealdon a promising scruffy young rookie, delivering thunderous kicks and putting on the kinds of matches overweight slobbering nerds on internet forums enjoy. I’m sure you know the type.”
“A lot of time has passed since that year. If I gave a shit about fate, this would probably resemble it.
Almasy decided that year would begin his descent from being a wrestler that other younger wrestlers look up to, to being an empty husk barely resembling the man he was. All because of one event.”
Whealdon blew smoke in a large cloud behind them. Reaching the door, he unlocks it quickly. his intern following him. She hesitated for only a moment before following him, looking over her shoulder to make sure that his intern was following, it gave her very little comfort.
“So we both entered Ultratitle. He is the same addict, and probably a couple of years away from stealing televisions and robbing siding from construction sites. Just so he can sit on the rotten mattress of tournament wrestling telling the same stories about aught-five and how he caught the big one once.”
It wasn’t asked so much as a question, but put forth as a statement. Whealdon cracked a grin. Two double beds. A bathroom. A closet. A nightstand full of open bottles. A notebook, likely filled with broken vows.
“Because, Almasy thinks hiding behind some face paint and pretending like he’s not a nice man, it gives him carte blanche to pass judgement on others, as though I needed or wanted validation for putting Chris Hopper’s entire career out to pasture. It’s been a recurring theme. This one, if it had been Chris Hopper, If It had been Sean Stevens, if it had been anyone else, Almasy might have a chance. But I’m not Sean Stevens, and I’m not Chris Hopper.”
Whealdon, forgetting for a moment that he was talking to someone both young enough and not a part of the world of professional wrestling, looked at her, big soft eyes. Whealdon cleaned his mustache trying to put together the words on how he had put Chris Hopper’s career effectively to rest, how he had taken a shot at the heart of what Hopper had believed in, how he had eaten the best that Hopper had been able to muster, and how he walked away with his hand raised.
But he thought that would be an overstatement, and he didn’t want to give her the wrong idea yet.
“Chris Hopper was a previous opponent of mine. Beyond that to you, he’s nothing more than a foot note. names like Jason Murray, and Gideon will also be mentioned, and you may not be familiar with them as well.”
The doors lock clicked shut loudly.
“Here, this is for you.”
He tossed her a hooded zip-up sweatshirt. It was ivory, with annoyingly loud red letters on it, “CHOOSE HATE”.
“If you would put that on. I think we’ll begin.”
Sliding it over her bare shoulders, she let her purse go to the floor. Whealdon ran his hands through his greasy hair standing shoulder width apart.
“There’s another thing about Seymour Almasy, I think you should know about.”
Turning around, his hands went against her shoulders jamming against the wall. A small shriek erupted from her lips.
“He’s got me pegged all wrong. Right now, he’s thinking about how I’m going to hit on his fan club, how I’m gonna take all the right shots at them. The truth is, They’re completely inconsequential. Just like this whole Orphan facade.”
He blew smoke in her face, hand going around to the back of her head, near the roots, pulling her down by her hair to her knees. With his free hand he tore his sunglasses off.
“I know it’s a facade. He won’t even get rid of those silly Final Fantasy references. He thinks calling himself after one is going to take away his loss, his humiliation at having not won a tournament of note in over half a decade. He thinks branding himself a god machine makes it so. Almasy overreaches himself. ”
Whealdon looked in her eyes. Those big doe eyes.
“Almasy wants to make it seem like he’s this mythic figure passing judgement cooly from his perch in ACW, and while that stunt might’ve worked with more names of no consequence to you, I paid attention to Almasy. I know what makes him tick. And it’s one event, before that event. He was a different man, bouncy, just as fake. After this event, Well, it’s convoluted, but when he’s not thinking about this, he’s blaming his every problem on other people. it’s always someone elses fault in Almasy’s world. Any ideas what happened to him?”
She was oddly not struggling.
Whealdon glared at her for this, pulling her hair back, forcing her mouth open and spitting in it.
“What’s your name.”
She looked at him, tears starting to swell in her eyes.
Whealdon winked at her, as the tears began to drain the mascara on to the white hoodie.
Whealdon sneers. Another wad of spit goes in her mouth, a little more willingly.
”He laid in her chalk outline and cried like a little girl. All he had to do was give up the pipe and the tinfoil, and he wasn’t strong enough to do it. Then he wasn’t strong enough to pull out another victory. And now here we are. He’s wagging his finger, thinking I give a shit about some inconsequential women in his life.
If Almasy want’s to get mad, good. I will still gutterfuck him just like I did Chris Hopper, if Almasy thinks he can throw around his softball threats in a hardball tournament, well maybe he can just go back and watch his riveting victories over wrestling luminaries like Space God, and he can go back and watch his successive failures in GTTT, King of Ages, and everything else put in front of him. Maybe Seymour Almasy can start to consider his legacy in the greater scheme of things. Couldn’t hack it under pressure, Couldn’t hack it when his wife wanted him to come home. Couldn’t say or do anything when it really mattered.
Because Seymour Almasy isn’t a tournament god, he isn’t a fictitious creative force in a video game, He’s just a small scared little man who misses his whore of a dead wife.”
Whealdon pulls her hair back further and smears the mascara across her face, turning estuaries in to dry lake beds.
“But me? I like whores. With pretty big eyes, and designs on doing anything they can to make it. That’s what Almasy doesn’t understand, he can lob threat after threat, and it doesn’t mean anything. Jason Murray had a generation on his side.”
“Chris Hopper was a better wrestler.”
“And now, what can Seymour Almasy offer me? Nothing. He isn’t the voice of a generation, He isn’t a ring luminary. He’s a man who throws one kick. One inconsequential kick. If he thinks that I’m scared of getting kicked in the head. If he thinks I’m scared of contact, he’s getting in the ring with the wrong man, He can keep posing, trying to make every one of his five foot nothing height seem imposing. He can keep trying to make those sneers look like he isn’t terrified I’m going to stick a fork in his forehead, and listen to the blood drip on the mat, that pitter patter. Maybe I’ll just laugh off his best shot and put a lit cigarette out on face. ”
Whealdon pulls back on her hair more, sneering. Flicking his fingers at her face. Sweat dripping onto her face.
“Maybe, when I send Almasy back to the bench, he can pop in Final Fantasy, and try to tear his next incarnation out of there. ”
Whealdon licked the mascara painting his own tongue black. For her part Laura didn’t try to bite him or resist.
He awoke. Running the palm of his hand over several days worth of stubble, and the low murmuring hum of the window air conditioning unit driving a cool breeze. Pulling the sheets off of himself and quickly sliding into a pair of dirty jeans.
Sitting back down on the bed, he looked over, and she was laying there, rolling away from him now, pulling sheets and covers with her. Running both of his hands through his greasy mange, leaving it all askew, he reached over to the nightstand pulling the days first cigarette out. Standing and stretching with it hanging from his mouth, he cleaned his mustache, trying to shake the cobwebs.
On top of the window unit, condensation ran down an open bottle of beer. Giving it a shake, he replaced it uninterested. Walking through the condo, he pushed through the double doors, grabbing a denim vest and throwing it on, a large yellow dolphin had been spray painted haphazardly down the back. Standing on Wilmington Beach, he smoked the cigarette slowly, watching the surf come in. The sound of seabirds drawing his attention over the dunes.
The condo had been taken care of by DEFIANCE. He scoffed at the notion that he wasn’t providing himself with the adequate provisions for success. The motel had a mini fridge, stocked with non-premium mexican beer, and Pappy Van Winkle. His intern was still at the motor lodge. This condo had been retrofitted to catch all of the action. Something he found amusing.
Wandering back in, he heard the shower running. Leaning against the open door, he peered into the bedroom, knocking sand from his feet. The sheets were a torrent of disarray. Walking to the fridge, he pulled out a bottle of Pappy, removing the cork, took a slug off of it, sweeping his hair hard to one side, long bangs dangling in his face.
He also pulled a white two quart deli container, placing it unceremoniously on the bleached wood counter.
She came out of the shower toweling her hair, dark circles under her eyes and a yawn forming on her lips. She had pulled on the mascara smeared “CHOOSE HATE” hoodie, as well as the same mid thigh length dress.
He sneered at her. She had become attached somehow. She saw his as her chance to become known. She hadn’t been keen on the method.
But she didn’t care.
He did like that.
He produced a single piece of chalk from the pocket on his vest. He set it down next to the Deli Cup.
It had been quite the week, between DEFIANCE feeling the need to upgrade his living accommodations, there had been this. She was putting on his sunglasses as he stared at her, from behind his own bloodshot, sleep deprived eyes. For all of his talk, He had never been consumed by a woman, let alone so quickly. She drank with him, going drink for drink. She had spent a week straight with him. She didn’t even mind a house as panopticon.
He squinted as the blinds were pulled open. This was the other unexpected thing. She had taken control in some ways. He mused about this as he pulled a cigarette out of the box in the other pocket. It hung limply from his lip as he patted his pockets, looking for a lighter.
She walked up and handed it to him, casually reaching into the same pocket pulling out a cigarette. He lit his, and then hers.
“You don’t smoke.”
“Maybe I do now.”
He cleaned his mustache, rubbing his stubble covered chin. She coughed as she tried to inhale too deeply. He patted her on the back. Cracking a sly smile. She kept at it though. Coughing every time.
He bothered her. He saw it clearly. But she wore his clothing. His sunglasses, first she was drinking his whiskey, and now she was smoking his cigarettes. He was not the kind of man shy about putting himself into danger, and giving himself the threat of having his teeth put down the back of his throat.
Though as of yet, he hadn’t come across that person yet. He didn’t even feel a threat.
She bothered him. She saw it clearly. He was not used to having someone around. He needed her. He would never admit it. Had he felt the need to send her away, She’d have gone. It was licking the mascara off her face, tears and make up, black sea salt. He was something to bank on. He was willing to do whatever it required. In the past week, she had been trying to familiarize herself with the intricacies of professional wrestling.
What she had deduced was there was a lot riding on this tournament for him. More than he was willing to admit. She had seen what he said to Jason Murray, To Bronte Lake, to Chris Hopper. About raping it. Raping the glory out of it. She had seen him thrust, and gyrate. Seen him clean his mustache as he was wont to do, frequently. She had watched the matches, the latest being a bloody, gruesome spectacle. She had seen him brandish a fork, and she had seen him drinking more, throwing bottles, leaning over a precipice.
She was attracted to it. What she hadn’t told him was that she was bored. Long Island hadn’t been the worst place to be from, but she was bored of Manhattan, and she was bored of parties where she sat around much like the furniture she reclined upon. He was dangerous. He was real in a way that drinking martinis and aperitifs would never be.
He hadn’t had to rape her, like he was this tournament. She had been more than willing, even initiating.
And now she wasn’t leaving. Maybe he didn’t get it, the way he glared at her, or refused to shower or shave. He’d even stopped wearing his hooded mesh shirt, when he came back to the room and that was all that she was wearing. He’d bought that atrocious denim jacket, and chopped the sleeves off that same evening.
But he’d never turned her away. She didn’t think he would. She looked at the nightstand of open bottles. And all she saw was images in her head of broken vowels. He was glaring at her even now. A small smile broke upon that look. She didn’t think he’d abandon smoking, or his sunglasses. She had tried to wear his grill the other morning. It hadn’t fit. But she liked the colors. He had washed it voluminously. Later when she kissed him with it in, he hadn’t gone to brush his teeth.
The entire premise of why she had been there was absurd. It was a name. She understood her name held some sway over him. The same way pissing on the grave of a dead man had. These were the symbols a child carved under a desk during school days. She liked his initiative. All he had done was watch Almasy, again and again. Talking, looking for ticks, looking for things to rail on. Almost an entire day. Empty boxes of cigarettes piled next to the couch. She had slept on his chest while he watch for what appeared the thousandth time, a match with Almasy, They had become a blur to her.
She knew he liked the dress and the hoodie, and things he had chosen for her, she would continue to wear, in the state he had left them. Reflecting images. She frowned looking at the deli cup, and the chalk. She had seen enough to know what was going to happen.
It was her. She had convinced him to buy the revolver.
She was going to push him to do this. He wanted to. But he needed her. Even as his fingers tapped in erratic patterns on the counter. He did this often around her. Always fore, ring, middle pinky. He had also been murmuring in his sleep. About being the Intrepid traveller, being fearless.
She also didn’t particularly like Seymour Almasy, He had made her watch her namesake as it was, over and over again. They didn’t really look a like. She thought he was weak then, and weaker now. She didn’t like him trying to bait him. She took is oddly personal, predating her existence in his life.
She didn’t like his group of women. Thinking them tacky. Thinking them all clucking hens who weren’t strong enough to take the lead. She could see them lost in the woods, clinging together for warmth, clueless the lot of them.
What had bothered her the most, was his silence. When she watched him talking about Space God, Spooky Doom, and the mexican luchador, whose name she could never quite remember correctly. She saw him gloating his superiority, quick to the jab, and talking down to them.
As though he were less of a joke. She looked down at her hoodie, bearing the same words as his face. Hers were stained. The red mingled with the black. Tears, forced. She thought he was the exact same as Space God. The exact same as the Luchador video game guy. The exact same as Spooky Doom. He was a joke. Sure he wasn’t a tiny Grim Reaper. But he had played to his overblown dramatics, pounding the grave of his dead wife, With hollow fists and prostrating himself with false bravado as he actually he cared. He saw how hollow his words had rung. He saw his duplicity as he played video games when there were games, and he prostrated himself when it served his purposes.
Almasy was a fraud. Watching him lay in his wife’s chalk outline, She saw he had always been a fraud. His words had always been hollow. She had seen his eventual successes, and his having been cast out as so much garbage. She saw his rage as more hollow prostrations. She saw the gravesite switched out for whomever or whatever Almasy felt suitable.
The image he wanted to make wrestling in to. Never had existed. She knew, that he knew this. It would never exist. Almasy could paint his face as red as his false anger. Almasy could spew when it felt appropriate, or try and intimidate when it suited him. He would put on every mask he could find, and he would have his flock of groupies parroting their approval before screwing his brains out.
She hated him for his inconsistency. She hated him for his empty words. She hated him for his empty threats. She hated him for his silence.
She snapped out of it. He was wagging the chalk at her. Willingly, she lay supine on the wood floor. Slowly, the sound of the chalk drug around her body, twisting her legs to her side. A huff of annoyance as the chalk stopped momentarily. As she lay on the cool floor, a respite from the afternoon sun still baking the condo. She saw him take a plug off of the bottle of whiskey. He leaned over and pulled his sunglasses off of her.
He didn’t clean them as he put them back on. She smiled.
She didn’t respond, and she didn’t stop smiling, he huffed. But dutifully returned to drawing with the chalk. Soon enough she was completely outlined. He handed her the pistol. She let her hand fall back to it’s previous position. The pistol thudded against the wood.
Opening the deli container, He looked inside of it. He looked at her, and she nodded.
Pork blood cascaded over her. Her skirt stained scarlet. The darker red contrasting against the bright letters of “CHOOSE HATE”. Running over her face, and through her black hair. She coughed, blood splattering through the air, as her hair began to matte as the blood began to congeal against the warmth of her body.
He circled her, inspecting his handiwork, looking up at one of the camera’s. His face a blank expression.
Looking back at her, running his fingers over her eyes, rubbing the blood off of her eyes. She spit blood all over his face. He took his sunglasses off smiling and shook as much blood off as he could.
“Almasy, doesn’t seem so scary now does he?”
About to answer, he put a finger to her lips.”
“Wonder what happened. Almasy comes out, talking about how I shouldn’t do this, How I shouldn’t do that. How I should do what I can to stay clear of him. He’s a dangerous man Laura. I know you’ve seen him say it a thousand times. I’ve watched it a thousand times.”
She nods his finger still on her lips.
“What does the big bad Fal’Cie do? What does Almasy do? What’s his best shot?”
Picking up the revolver, gripping it while sliding his finger over the trigger and staring at it askew as her hand wraps around his.
Dropping the gun beside her.
“All I’ve done is watch Almasy’s hollow words. His empty actions. If you ever needed to know what kind of man Seymour Almasy is, this week is everything you need to know Laura. He’ll pick on Leyenda De Ocho, He’ll make light of the Space God. He’ll use his histrionics against Spooky Doom. He’ll degrade my opponents. And then when he’s faced with even a modest challenge of his lifestyle. Of the facade that covers his face as thinly as his life.”
His free hand waves idly back and forth in front of his face.
“He folds his card and heads for the hills. Rightfully so. I’m a bad guy. No. I’m not a nice man. I’m not anything he’s ever faced before. in PTC. In ACW. In whatever big brand circus tent bullshit he’s done. Almasy couldn’t handle it. He’s likely training. He’s likely getting his work together like he did against Space God, and playing his portable video games. He’s being coddled by those three insignificant flies that circle his **** like it’s the only turd in the world.”
He tried to wipe the dried blood from his mustache. Unsuccessfully.
“Maybe this is his ultimate form. Hiding. Cowering. Look at him, he’s saying. He’s a beast. He’s a dog. He’s a virus. I’ll take him out to the jakes and do things to him that not even Cormac McCarthy would reprint. I’ll give his career a funeral march worthy of being the foe of Chris Hopper. An asterisk on my unstoppable march to the end of the Ultratitle. He doesn’t get that I’m rotting this tournament out, one layer at a time. Every round. Same story, different name. This guy’s going to be the one to send Pete Whealdon home. I’m going to send the King of Sleaze home for the honor of the Ultratitle. I’ve even got a wink and a nod from a woman. Who Almasy is under the impression would’ve been better suited to end my quest.
Better than he is anyways. Nadia at the very least had some real spirit. She didn’t need to brand herself with silly titles from video games. She didn’t need to give herself, the kind of self important nicknames a man in hiding now carries. And That thing Almasy seemed to overlook. She had a chance to save her brother and She chose Sleaze.”
Still holding his hand, she started drawing under his sunglasses in blood.
“And Almasy isn’t even as good as her. It must drive Almasy insane, knowing that my biggest challenge was a woman, months ago. And I still marched on. I marched through Jason Murray and his lying slit of a whore. Almasy thought I hit on her. Almasy isn’t smart enough to deduce the intricacies of a story being told. I’d say that makes him unique, but Chris Hopper similarly stared sunglasses clad derp face at the obvious. Maybe Almasy would like to peddle his group again. Maybe I’d take the bait, and Maybe he’s here. Spitting his practiced venom. Red Faced Rage, and threatening to punt me in the head. Maybe he’s going all soundbooth metal anger on me.”
She continued drawing as he lit a cigarette, he put it to her lips and she inhaled, coughing it back, blood on the filter as he smoked it.
“Once, I told a different man. That he’s feeling that twinge of legacy starting to creep up on him, that hair standing on the back of his neck, the realization that when he opens those curtains and starts walking down the aisle. I’m standing there. I’m not intimidated. I’m not buying the hype and the bull****. I’m clawing and gnashing my way through the Ultratitle. Righteous and Merciless judgement has no bearing me. I deliver ends. I have the means. I will do whatever it takes to win the Ultratitle. I don’t have petty personal quests in the way, I don’t have false anger. I don’t have the last real shot to mean something hanging around my neck like so many flagstones. I don’t carry the past on my back like a sack of shit.”
Smoking. She finished, her fingers pausing on his mustache, cleaning it. He huffed, and smiled small.
“The Huntable Surplus in Ultratitle is shrinking.”
getting up from her chalk outline, she wrapped her arms around his neck, flecks of dried blood falling off of her like confetti. Beneath her congealed blood has begun drying on the faux bamboo. The chalk outline smearing as she sits up.
“And someone like Seymour Almasy can’t even take his first real hit of the tournament. What’s he going to do when he slides under those ropes. He won’t be able to hide behind the skirts of his group.”
He shrugs. She cleaned his mustache with reverence.
“That’s when that tingle is going to start going up his spine. The small hairs on the back of his neck will go stiff. The sweat will start to run through that facepaint. The letters will smudge, and then I’m going to take what little luster still lives on the name tournament god. I’m going to crush that spirit. I’m going to pull the plug on the final fantasy.”
His hand went around to the back of her head. Cradling the blood sticky hair and her head. Her nodding.
“I’m going to give Almasy’s quest, the final absolution he craves so completely.”
She kissed him, his face reading in smeared, smudged letters browned with dried blood.
A hotel room in Greensboro, North Carolina, site of the ULTRATITLE tournament. What’s in it is unimportant save for one thing. One person. All that matters is the man stretched out on the coverlet, head bowed, long, platinum hair hanging over his face, obscuring it from view.
To say that the Spirit of ACW is unhappy, well, that doesn’t even begin to cover it.
ORPHAN: He thinks he’s won, doesn’t he?
The question is rhetorical, in theory, but the man behind the red face paint has a clear answer to it.
ORPHAN: Pete Whealdon thinks he has me. He thinks he’s figured me out – as if I can ever truly be figured out. The terrifying part of everything, Pete? I haven’t figured myself out yet. But he thinks he knows everything, and by Yevon, he’s convincing isn’t he?
The words are clipped, hurt more than angry.
ORPHAN: That’s why I sat here in this room for day after day, after seeing what you said. I sat here in silence, wondering if maybe, just maybe…you were right. After all, you aren’t the first person to write me off. You won’t be the last, either. But of all the people who’ve written me off, I’ve never quite met anyone who did it so…
ORPHAN: I’ll give you credit; I didn’t expect that in the slightest. I didn’t expect to come all the way out here to Greensboro and the ULTRATITLE and find anyone who’d be so willing and thorough in their homework. Maybe you got the tapes. Maybe you did a Google search. I don’t know. Regardless, though, I’ll let everyone know out there watching on ESEN that a lot of what you said? All true. I can’t deny it; if anyone such as you wants to look it up out there, it’s there.
In a way, he’s almost flattered – Space God didn’t bother. Nor did Leyenda de Ocho or Spooky Doom. It means that he doesn’t have a nice clean wrestling match – but it also means that what he does have is a fight.
For everything he ever cared about.
ORPHAN: All of that it is fact. Me becoming a choke artist, not having the courage to off myself when it came right down to it…every last word. I can’t change a single bit of it. The problem is that Pete Whealdon seems to think that all of these facts mean that I will roll over and play dead in Greensboro. He thinks that just because he knows what I am and how I got here that I will suddenly and magically shrink before the spotlight, like the Emperor who has lost his clothes. He thinks that, to borrow one of those silly Final Fantasy references he loves so much, he’s just going to Vanish/Doom me in the middle of the ring and that’ll be that. It’s cute, really, that someone who’s done as much research as he has doesn’t really understand a Yevondamned thing.
There’s conviction in those words, a funny thing from a man who claimed mere moments ago to not really understand his own self.
ORPHAN: You just went back through my career, my life in professional wrestling – Hell, my life in general, and hit me with everything in one fell swoop. You put all your eggs in one basket and thought that you’d reduce me to a quivering, helpless mass so obsessed with my own failures that I’d be powerless against you. I wouldn’t dream of trying to sit here straight-faced and tell you that it did nothing, Pete, but I’m still here. I’m still standing. When I finished watching all of that, the first thing I did was take out my wallet and look at the other picture in it. The picture of the real Laura Marie Winters.
Almost without thinking about it, he fetches his wallet from his pocket and opens it, to the picture of his dead ex-wife there where most people would store their driver’s license. It’s obvious that she and Pete’s actress aren’t the same woman – but there’s more than enough in common to make someone think twice before making that assessment.
ORPHAN: You got a reasonable facsimile of her. At a glance, I was almost fooled. And really, Pete? That’s what proved to me the kind of man you are. How many people watching on ESEN know what Laura looks like? Not many, I’d wager. But you went all-out and got someone who could pass for her from a distance. That wasn’t for everyone watching at home, Pete. That was for me. That was for me because you wanted me to look at her and remember.
Nothing else Whealdon could have done – nothing anyone else could have done, no horrific act committed against him, no amount of pain, no nothing – could have made Orphan cry.
That had made him cry. That fact is evident in the streaking in his usually immaculate face paint, red and white swirled together in a dark pink color beneath the Orphan’s eyes.
ORPHAN: What kind of man does this, Whealdon? What sort of man hires a woman to play the part of his opponent’s deceased wife, knowing full well that it’s the one single event that shattered his spirit forever? A sleazy man, you might answer, and you are certainly that. I might answer a dead man, once I get my hands on you, but the real answer is a desperate man. Confident people do not stoop to your depths. They do not piss on graves or engage in publicity stunts. For this entire tournament, you have done every single thing that you can to rattle your opponents and make the impending contest anything but a wrestling match. I give you credit. It’s worked. Up until now.
The memories dredged up by Whealdon might have been negative – but the past of the Final Fantasy is full of triumphs that were somehow not mentioned.
The Orphan was once called Primetime Central’s Tournament God for a reason, after all.
And remembering those triumphs brought an irrevocable truth to mind.
ORPHAN: Because I’ve heard it all before. Every last word. You may be the first to put it all together so succinctly and completely for the world to see. You may be the first to hire an actress to play the role of my dead ex-wife, but you are in no way original, my friend. If you’d only managed to include a tasteless gay joke, you’d have hit for the Insulting Seymour Almasy cycle, which also includes cracks about Final Fantasy, telling me that I’m past my prime, and calling me some variation of an emo-*****. If you think that I will be offended by your efforts, please, PLEASE think again. The most offensive thing you said to me was that Chris ****ing Hopper was a better wrestler than I am, and if you truly believe that, Pete, you should be in a mental institution, not the ULTRATITLE Tournament.
The corners of his mouth didn’t turn up, not even at the jab at “Too Cool.”
ORPHAN: For the entire tournament you have thrived on being the underdog. You have survived by getting into the head of your opponents to make up for the fact that, when the bell rings, you are at a distinct disadvantage against even the likes of Chris Hopper. You take every slight against you, real or perceived, and you put it up on your bulletin board because you KNOW that you need every last bit of inspiration you can find to triumph against your superiors. You barely beat Chris Hopper, Pete. By the skin of your teeth, and Hopper tried so damned hard to not let you get to him that it cost him this tournament. As for me? You’ve gotten to me, Pete. But not for the reasons you think. Not because I’m going to sit here and deny every word you said, because your research is pretty solid. No, you’ve gotten to me because you’re right.
It hurts to admit, but then, Orphan has learned the Five Stages of Grief better than most.
ORPHAN: I’m not the voice of a generation. I’ll never go down as one of the greatest in-ring performers this industry has ever seen, no matter how many excellent matches I have. I am not Troy Windham, nor am I Sean Stevens or Castor Strife or Jack Harmen or any of the other luminaries either in or out of this tournament. I am none of those things; I have none of those accolades.
Really? He’s okay with that.
Because rather than being the next Triple X or Troy Windham 2012, he’s always been concerned with being the first Seymour then, and the first Orphan now.
ORPHAN: What I am is a sacrificial lamb. That day in 2005 I lost everything. I stole money from promoters for five years after that, because while the body was willing, the mind was dead. I came back to ACW and won the World Title for a second time as a hollow shell. And then I got put out of this sport by a man who thought he’d done the job permanently. And I sat at home and watched Khristain Keller thrive. I watched every asshole in this business climb to the top with little more than a gutter mouth and a willingness to **** with anything, no matter how sacred. And I knew that I had to come back. For myself. For everyone else skull-f***ed into submission by how this industry had become.
The names come to mind easily. Coral Avalon. Brandon Youngblood. Jesse Ramey. His partner, Keith Scott Zimmerman. Some of them were friends. Some were enemies. All, like himself, had been ****ed over by people who thought anything was fair game.
ORPHAN: Because if I do nothing, the cycle’s going to continue on. This industry will cost us our lives. Our bodies. Our families. Our worldly possessions. And then, when we’re broken and decrepit, needing to do this just to survive another *******ed day, there’ll be another schmuck there. Just like you. To make fun of me. To make fun of me for having the gall to TRY AND MAKE A LIVING!
It’s perhaps ironic that Orphan, for all of his horrifying faults, isn’t trying to destroy lives any more than necessary. The only life truly ruined at his hands belongs to Khristain Keller, and even the most hardcore fan of the King S of F Mountain would be hard-pressed to say he didn’t deserve it.
ORPHAN: It’s not your fault you’re an asshole, Pete. You’re just following in the footsteps of the assholes that came before you, and the assholes that will come after you. I know that I can’t change the world. I know that, no matter how much I do, no matter how hard I fight, the wrestling industry won’t change forever. But while I’m here, I can change the present. When this tournament is said and done, I will be the man raising the ULTRATITLE high and proud above his head in the center of that ring. I will be the man who defends it honorably and with pride against the best this sport has to offer. If that costs me my career, I accept it. If it costs me the ability to walk when I’m fifty-five, so be it! For everyone who calls me evil now, I am far, far nobler than I ever was as a man who thought the world was one giant RPG. I have a mission, a quest, just like the old days. And I have the terrible resolve and force of will to see that quest through to its end at any and every cost.
That’s not to say that Orphan’s nice, or anything, but it’s a fact; one that Pete Whealdon might be testing the future veracity of.
ORPHAN: So think long and hard about whether this is all worth it, Pete. Think long and hard before you decide to trot out that poor woman you hired to call herself Laura Winters one more time. Think before you act. I do not make threats, Pete. I make promises, and I promise that you are going to lose to that guy who couldn’t get it done in GTT5. You are going to lose to that hopeless coward who couldn’t even work up the thimbleful of courage he needed to off himself while lying in his dead wife’s chalk outline.
The memories hurt in ways that he couldn’t even describe if he was asked, but they motivate him. If being the underdog made Pete Whealdon function, what would having his existence verbally assassinated do for the fal’Cie?
ORPHAN: You’re not going to lose to me in spite of your precious facts, Pete. You’re going to lose to me because of them, because without those events? I’m retired somewhere with Laura and wrestling is a distant memory. There is no Seymour Almasy for you to kick around because Jason Seymour Wilson is living a *******ed fairy tale on Long Island and you could HAVE the ULTRATITLE!
It’s not the reminders of his professional failings that truly cut to the quick. Orphan, Seymour Almasy – he’s lost before. He will lose again. It’s the nature of the business.
But being reminded that he couldn’t keep the one person in his life that he ever loved?
Yeah, that’ll piss a guy off, in a way that no half-baked insult ever could.
ORPHAN: I will do so, so much more than punt you in the head. I kept the name for a little while longer, but Seymour Almasy effectively died that fateful day in 2005. I’m what’s left, a man just trying to get by, day to day, with the knowledge that he’s ****ed up more times than any one man should. That’s fine, I made my bed, I’m lying in it – but I don’t need a scumbag like you to sit there and point out every one of my failures. I DON’T NEED PETE WHEALDON AS MY *******ED BIOGRAPHER!
It’s the first time his voice has raised since he started speaking; the anger and bitterness in his voice made even more obvious by the quick jump from matter-of-fact speech to spat-out rage.
By the time he speaks again, though, it’s gone – whether the emotional moment has passed or whether he simply doesn’t want to give Whealdon any more jollies is anyone’s guess.
ORPHAN: Don’t worry, I’m not going to go digging into your personal life, Pete, because I might find out you’re a family man with a wife and a son behind the sleazy façade. And if you are, I don’t want to know that. If I did, I might feel a thimbleful of regret for what’s going to happen in Greensboro. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the exact moment that you realize that I AM a broken shell of a human being. That I AM a guy who pissed away everything in this world that he ever truly cared about, and is on the road to doing the same damned thing with his beloved Party as we speak. That I’m not the best wrestler to lace up the boots. It’s all true, and you’ll see it firsthand. Realize it firsthand. And I will smile when you do.
He lacks Gideon’s single minded focus. Jason Murray’s momentum. Chris Hopper’s vaunted mouth.
What he has that all three of those men don’t possess, though, is the will to fight when all is lost. The courage to do battle against insurmountable odds.
The fal’Cie is heroic, even if he’s not a hero.
ORPHAN: Because the moment you truly realize that you were right, Pete Whealdon? It’s the moment you also realize that you’ve made the gravest mistake of your professional career. It’s the moment you realize that you have absolutely nothing in your arsenal that you can use to put my shoulders to the mat for the count of three because you made the “intelligent” decision to make this personal.
Even now, with his body practically trembling with rage, his voice doesn’t raise again. It’s low, and quiet – and angry as Hell, of course – but still low and quiet.
ORPHAN: I warned you not to **** with me. You chose to take my outstretched hand and spit in it, just like you spat down the throat of my erstwhile wife. Like you’ve spat all over my career and every single one of my accomplishments.
Is he Seymour Almasy, or is he Orphan? It’s a question ACW’s asked for a long time. Perhaps for the first time, the answer is terrifyingly clear.
Almasy is Orphan. Orphan is Almasy. The crusading hero and the vindictive fal’Cie have become one and the same.
ORPHAN: Everything from here on out, Pete? It’s on your head. Because if you think that you’re going to walk through me to the bracket finals after everything you’ve just said?
For the first time since the camera found him, there’s a smile on the Seymourphan’s face.
It’s that smile, and it’s perhaps broader than ever.
ORPHAN: You’re living in a bigger fantasy world than I ever was.
For once, though, the camera doesn’t awaken to the sight of a face-paint wearing “madman.” Orphan, in fact, is nowhere to be found in the shot. What greets ESEN viewers worldwide, instead, is a much more pleasant image, a cute, petite Japanese girl – woman, really; in her early twenties.
CHIHIRO: Um, is this thing on?
A nod from off-screen indicates to her that it is, and she brightens instantly, a cheerful grin lighting her features.
CHIHIRO: Oh! Good! So, I guess that means Pete can see me, too, so…hi!
It’s an awkward introduction from an awkward girl at the best of times. She’s almost amazed that she’s on television at all right now, let alone about to talk to the man who’s promised to bury the object of her fangirlish affections.
CHIHIRO: Seymour’s done talking to you, Pete. At least, that’s what he told me when he woke up this morning. But, well, I’m a kinder person than he is. So I wanted to at least show you what you’re in for. What you should be getting ready for when you step into the ring with him in just a few short days. Come on, Mister Cameraman, follow me!
Subtleties like “don’t acknowledge the cameraman” are lost on her. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Party is that the entire thing happened organically. They aren’t plants, nor are they trained wrestlers – even if Jennifer is being trained for the ring by Seymour now. When the entire thing began, they were what they claimed, four fangirls who bonded over their slightly obsessive love for an RPG fanboy.
CHIHIRO: Come on, already!
Faux pas be damned, the cameraman gave up and just followed the Japanese woman. It was clear that we weren’t in Orphan’s Greensboro hotel room. As Chihiro wound her way down the hallways of...wherever this was, she opened a door just a tiny crack, revealing a man who could only be Orphan sitting there, playing his PlayStation 2, in the midst of his eighty-fifth playthrough of Final Fantasy X.
CHIHIRO: You’re in trouble now, Pete. Big, BIG trouble.
CAMERAMAN: How the Hell do you figure that?
The statement Chihiro made is ludicrous enough that even a professional cameraman, who’s done this sort of thing a time or two, couldn’t quite keep silent. The look Chihiro shoots him in return is equal parts annoyed and hurt puppy, with a side order of “aww, don’t you believe me?”
CHIHIRO: Because, Doubting Mr. Cameraman, this is how it used to be for Seymour. Before the red face paint and grandiose speeches. Before he took Sephiroth classes. Back when he was…dreamy.
CHIHIRO: Back when he was Seymour then, okay? You can’t let a girl have her daydreams? Meanie!
Recognizing that this is a battle he can’t win, the cameraman shuts up.
CHIHIRO: Back then, Mr. Mustache, Seymour had fun doing this. He smiled. He laughed. He enjoyed going out there and giving it his all. And that’s what he wanted to do against you, really. That’s all he wanted. He held out his hand to you with no ill will, and you decided to laugh in his face. That made him angry, and it made me angry too, because I want him to be happy, damnit!
Perhaps the greatest tragedy that the Party feels is being able to do nothing to truly help Orphan. Moral support, after all, can only go so far, especially when, well, Pete Whealdon dredges up entirely accurate and traumatic history.
CHIHIRO: I…I know how the story ends, for Orphan. I know what happens at the end of the book, because he’s going to drive us all away. He’s going to become obsessed with his revenge, and nothing else will matter. That’s how it happens to every good, noble man who takes a turn to the dark side. Jennifer, Julia and I aren’t idiots. We see it coming. There used to be a fourth of us, Erica. She left because she saw it coming even before I did.
If Orphan can hear his friend and once-lover speaking outside of his door, he doesn’t acknowledge it, continuing instead to plug away at FFX, grinding his way up sacred Mount Gagazet.
CHIHIRO: We can leave whenever we want. Erica says we should have…but we know who the real Seymour is. The real Seymour is the man who spent three hours talking to us on a night he’d been beaten to Hell and back because he knew it would make our year. The real Seymour is the person that I’ve had the pleasure to call my friend since 2009. That Seymour’s still in him, yearning to get out. It can’t come out in ACW – the wounds there are too fresh. The company as a whole betrayed him. He may never forgive All-Star Championship Wrestling, but this isn’t ACW – this is the ULTRATITLE Tournament.
The beam on her face as she turns to watch him play through the cracked door is radiant, and indeed, her entire posture and manner is light as a feather as she spins back on a heel to the cameraman; if nothing else, she’s learned from watching other wrestlers to look into the camera, but hasn’t learned the more advanced technique of looking past it so it doesn’t look like she’s boring two holes with her eyes in the lens.
CHIHIRO: We don’t want to leave him, Pete, and he doesn’t want us to leave him, either, but if that’s what it takes to achieve his goals…we know he’d leave us in a heartbeat. That’s how hurt he is. How wounded. How broken. The three of us will do anything to avoid seeing him like that. And that’s why, Pete…we have to thank you. I didn’t think I’d ever say that after hearing all of those horrible things you said about all of us, but, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
The smile on the girl’s face is a tiny bit mysterious. It’s as if she knows something we don’t – considering she just thanked the man who has made her favorite person’s life a living Hell, she probably does, now doesn’t she?
CHIHIRO: Because, Pete, what you said to him woke him up. He came back here from Greensboro to New York City, to the apartment that he’s had ever since he made his name as a wrestler. He plopped himself down in that room, his game room, and he’s been playing the games that he used as inspiration between his workouts and training. We only see him at meals, and you know what? We’re thrilled.
Thrilled or not, there’s still a tiny pout on that lovely face at the lack of Seymour interaction.
Counterbalancing that fact, though, is the fervent hope that it’ll all be worth it in the end.
CHIHIRO: Because, no matter how much he believes Orphan’s coming to Greensboro to fight you, he’s wrong. Seymour Almasy is coming to the fourth round of the ULTRATITLE to fight you. He might still punt you in the head like Orphan will, and he might be wearing red face paint, but trust me…it’s not the bitter fal’Cie who’s going to bounce you from this tournament. It’s going to be the very man that you denigrated so thoroughly.
She nods her head. If she’s sure of nothing else about her future with the Spirit of ACW, she seems pretty damned sure about this one fact.
CHIHIRO: And that makes me smile, because you deserve it. You deserve it for every single trick you’ve pulled throughout this tournament, for every horrible thing you’ve said trying to get that extra inch of advantage. You deserve it for making all of us, Seymour included, cry and cry and cry the past few days. He’s been an emotional wreck, but now, he’s starting to see clearly again. He knows what he has to do. And the three of us, The Party, will be there, front row in Greensboro, to watch it happen.
That was really about all she’d planned on saying. But with the camera still in her face, she gives in to one of her vices: really, REALLY terrible wordplay.
CHIHIRO: Victory, Mr. Whealdon, is going to be…suite.
The cameraman’s wince is audible. Even Orphan, inside the room, lets out a pained groan as the final word reaches his ears.
CHIHIRO: Hey! It wasn’t that bad, right? Right?
Getting no affirmative response from the cameraman, she throws the door open, and Orphan instantly pauses the game and freezes, as if hoping that by not moving he won’t have to answer the question.
CHIHIRO: Right, Seymour?
Another pause. The seconds tick away until the man who will in just a few days do battle for his honor and the right to advance to the Bracket Two Final works up the courage to admit the truth.
ORPHAN: Actually, Chihiro, that was Yevonawful.
Both of them cringe at the same time.
CHIHIRO: Like you could do any better!
ORPHAN: It’s sort of my job to do better, you know.
CHIHIRO: Fine, go ahead!
ORPHAN: But I told you, I’m done talking to—
A sigh escapes his throat, as he realizes that he’s on camera at this very moment, thus meaning he’s already violated his vow not to speak to Pete Whealdon anymore.
Well, then, as the Brits say, in for a penny, in for a pound…
ORPHAN: Fine, fine, Chihiro. I’ll show you how I’d do better.
Mister Cameraman moves in to capture a close-up of the fal’Cie – or Seymour Almasy, judging by his lack of face paint, almost happy demeanor, and the paused, powergamed to holy Hell game of Final Fantasy X on the TV screen behind him.
ORPHAN: The time for insults and pithy catchphrases is over, Pete, as is the time for getting your rocks off with a woman designed to be my ex-wife. The part where we actually step into the ring is at hand, and I’ve been stepping into the ring to defeat people who’ve claimed I can’t hack it for years now. What that means is that your time is over, Pete, and mine is at hand. You had Gideon, Murray, and Hopper already beaten by now. You had their minds filled with your rhetoric, desperate to deny your every word when only they could get their hands on you in that ring…and you took full advantage. Congratulations. You earned those victories -- but the road ends here and now.
The corners of the fal’Cie’s mouth turn up in a grin; not his usual malevolent smirk, but an honest to goodness smile.
ORPHAN: You’ve given me everything I need to beat you. Every last insult you hurled at me has made me take a long, hard look at myself and realize that this isn’t the fal’Cie’s battle. My lovely young friend was right about that. This is Seymour Almasy’s fight. You sling petty insults at the fal’Cie; your greater bile and hatred is reserved for the man I once was. That is the man you wish to fight, not Orphan. Very well. Never let it be said that I am not a giving soul. You will find Seymour Almasy across the ring from you in Round Four; the fallen hero that you have tried to drive to the depths of despair will write your ticket out of this contest of champions.
There’s no anger in the words, nor is there bitterness. The hallmark bitterness of the Orphan is gone, replaced with…conviction? To those listening closely, it’s almost as if another person entirely is talking…
ALMASY: You’ve tried hard. Fought well. Talked a good game. But your hope ends here. It isn’t my story that will come to an end in Greensboro, but rather yours. The Story of Sleaze will come to an end at the hands of the Final Fantasy. And if you’ve still deluded yourself into believing otherwise, into thinking you can end my decade-plus odyssey?
His final words are paraphrased from Maester Seymour Guado in the very game that he was playing minutes ago. From the man from whom he took his first name all the way back in 2002 when he began his career.
Driving around at night. A city he is not entirely familiar with. Looking for the CSWA offices. A call to the DEFIANCE office went unanswered. Having been there once during the day, when he was staying elsewhere had all thrown him off. The last few nights had been nearly sleepless. And not because she was sitting in the passenger seat again. Circumstances completely different from the last time she was there. His hand rapping at the shifter knob. He shot a look back to his intern, dutifully holding his camera.
He shrugged at him. Sitting at a red light, rubbing his nose. The decaying remains of CHOOSE SLEAZE slightly visible even at night, and partially obscured by sunglasses. Looking over to the passenger seat, he saw the black knee length skirt, and the disgusting blood covered choose hate hoodie. Those big brown eyes stared at him. His annoyance was more noticeable to her, or at least she thought so.
Storming down the street. The car came to a stop in a gas station parking lot. She was the first one out of the car. Though she had become accustomed to him opening the door and offering a hand, She assumed this was not going to be the case. As he sat behind the wheel, staring into the neon lighthouse.
Popping out of the car and slamming the door, He walked past her as if she didn’t exist. Despite wearing pants dirty and stained with blood, and a sleeveless denim vest, similarly disgusting with a yellow dolphin spray painted roughly on the back, did not phase as him as purchased a pack of cigarettes, and a six pack of non-premium mexican beer.
He tossed his intern a beer, who deftly managed to open it while still holding a camera, the crack of the can releasing effervescence into the muggy night air.
“Almasy thinks I’m going to listen to one of his jap sluts, just because he’s parking her in front of the camera?”
Animated and pacing, his sunglasses reflecting the streetlights, a gutter constellation.
“I’m going to put a black festering wound on his legacy, at Ultratitle. I’m going to scar him more and more and when he wakes up the next morning, He’s going to know he was in the ring with Pete Whealdon. His fingers will trace skin I’ve torn on his face, and then all four of those sluts can all cry because I destroyed another pretty boy.”
He’s now pointing at the ground, while speaking. She is lighting him a cigarette, taking the virgin hit off of it herself, crossing her arms beneath her breasts. Holding the cigarette, which he plucks and takes a deep drag off of.
“Does he think I’m bothered by the fact he put that useless ****ing slut up like gideon had Nadia do? Is he so ****ing stupid that he thinks I’m not gonna see that correlation right off the bat? does he think she’s humanizing his litany of failures, and that I’m not going to cap it? I bet she thought whole bit about fun and love was precious. I’ve got a news flash for the ****. It wasn’t. The fun Almasy she wanted back never existed. it was always a lie. You think because he’s dusted off Final Fantasy whatever, I’m supposed to be ****ing impressed? That all of a sudden Ohhhh Almasy is the old Almasy and All he ****ing did was prove me right. He’s a shallow hollow piece of **** begging to be put down. And you know what. I’m not feeling charitable. Thumbs down *****, you sealed his fate. ”
Cracking a can of beer, he takes a chug off of it before throwing it at the chain link fence. If she is concerned by his behaviour she is playing it close to the vest.
“No. This isn’t right. You know what should be bothering me? That Almasy thinks he can give me what I told him he’d give me, and then try and play it off like I don’t matter. Because he ran back to his house, and started playing role playing games again?
Like this isn’t exactly I was asking for? If Almasy thinks I’m not in his head, crocodile tears ruining his mascara. Throwing out the exact same threats he’s been passing off as promises for the last three rounds, and then switching it up, like suddenly he’s a different person. ”
Kicking a trash can. She drinks off the can watching. He continues pacing feral, and unrepentant.
“Almasy thinks that I’m going to be intimidated? Because he’s going stop pretending to be the god of creation from the exact same ****ing video game he was playing while he left Chirizo Jappyslit to ramble? ”
She had seen enough of this, She walked up behind him and leaned against his back, feeling his heavy tense breathing, leaning her head on his shoulder, he handed her the cigarette. She took a long drag off of it, before handing it back.
He looked annoyed, running his hand through his greasy hair, back over his head. Her arms wrapped around his shoulders and neck.
“He sacrificed everything. And he still lost. What does he have left to give up.”
Her voice streamed out in soft undulating syllables, barely audible. She licked his neck.
“I don’t need you to speak for me.”
Ignoring him. She pulled his hand back and took another drag off of his cigarette, her lip gloss leaving glitter on the filter. She knew why he was annoyed. If she had her way, she’d say something. It wasn’t the right time.
“ All he does is back up everything I say, and then tack on “But this time it’s going to be different.” He should’ve kept his mouth shut, and he shouldn’t bring that slit down with him, because I had no interest in them, they were ancillary. They didn’t matter, they were useless, but now, I’m going to show them why I can bring any man down into the gutter, and why I can get inside their heads and I can get to them in exactly the ways that I want.
I want to see his blood on the mat, and hear the pitter patter of rain coming from his forehead, and I want to lick it off of the mat and spit it back down his throat, because Seymour Almasy is my whore. He’s more my whore than you, I want to spit in his mouth, and I want ruin his make up, and I want to watch Almasy, the real Almasy, the one I’m getting to look up in horror, at those lights, as I’m covered in blood and sweat, as my hand is raised high, and I’m moving into the bracket finals.”
He pulls off his sunglasses, she takes them and covers her eyes, veins angry and red run through pinkish white, and the blue iris’ look wild and feral.
“I want to see those groupies of his in tears, after I’ve raped Almasy, and I’ve broken him, and I’m drawing a chalk outline around his career. Then he can go back to lobbing his threats, Then he can go back to telling people how he’s a god, how he’s Orphan, How he’s a Fal’Cie, how his delusions are real. And then I can show them H-File. I can show them the scene photographs. I can show them the forensics.
Almasy gets off on the idea I think he’s some kind of sub punk scene long hair girl in tight pants crying about his ex-girlfriend. I get off on the idea that the death of his wife, is exactly how I’m treating it, as a means to an end. The only thing is, and Seymour noticeably has been shy admitting this, Even as his wife begged him at the end to step away, to leave this strange mix of vaudevillian mortal combat, All he saw was his chance to move forward.
And he lost. Not in the finals. Not in the Semi-Finals. Not two rounds from the event that came to define his entire career.
That round. To that man. That man who never amounted to anything more than being the first person to expose the Tournament God, And it’s always followed. Every Year, Every Tournament. Almasy chokes. First as Almasy, He couldn’t see what Kheller was lining up. Then as Orphan. He couldn’t get the job done in the King of Ages. He couldn’t get the job done when the tough got going.
All I’ve done, every round, is face someone everyone else had fingered to advance. And **** them up and out of their spots. And Almasy is the exact same. How many times did Chris Hopper say I wasn’t in his head? How many times did Jason Murray. But now, it’s different because I hit Almasy where it really hurts?”
He lights another cigarette. Holding it back for her to take a drag.
“Sure, I believe that. Every single word of it.”
He takes a drag, cleaning his mustache.
“I want Almasy’s head on a stick. I want to put the Orphan face paint on it, and I want to roll it down the street as a warning to each and every single wrestler left in Ultratitle. I want every single one of the angry. I want them to all look at Pete Whealdon like he’s a monster, because I’m willing to do anything to win this tournament. If I think that pissing on a grave, or dressing up my newest slut as someone's dead wife is going to get me to put whomever I’m facing in the headspace I want. I’m going to do it. I’m going to continue to do horrible things.
and these honorable men, let them stop me.”
Fuming still. She nuzzled into the back of his neck, The warmth irritated him. Even if he didn’t want to get rid of her, This was getting bothersome.
Sensing he wanted to move, she got off of him. He didn’t bother to take his sunglasses back, he sauntered back to his car, and everyone piled back in. Leaning back in the drivers seat, starting his Challenger.
He cracked a beer as the engine, Idled. She lit a cigarette.
“I got the Almasy that was always there. I exposed the lie. The time for bull**** is over. The time for me to wound him in a way that will feel more permanent than Laura’s death is near at hand. I’ve mind****ed him into silence and switching up. And now I’m going to put it all to bed. ”
Throwing the car into reverse, He tore out of the parking lot. She gripped his hand on the shifter, his thumb her hand.
There was a part of her that felt bad about what was about to happen to Almasy. She pitied him in her own way. She hated him, but only because he was weak. When she stared at the television in their suite, all she saw was the endless cyclical nature that had reduced him to his current state.
But watching him desperately playing video games again, while his young useless japanese fan girl did her best impression of whatever it was, caused her to sigh heavily. There was a part of her that wanted to see Orphan march to the ring, Trying to prove the lie. Instead Almasy had done exactly what Pete had said he would. She didn’t like his predictability. There was nothing noble about Seymour Almasy, he had sacrificed his wife for nothing. He had sacrificed his career for nothing. His last stab at glory was a hollow action.
Whealdon was shifty. They were driving very fast down the highway, not anywhere in particular. She was concerned about his outburst earlier. She wasn’t certain if it was the sleepless nights. If it was the alcohol. But this is what he wanted. Every last little bit of it.
Her hand rubbed his. He’d never admit to it, but he liked having her around. Whether or not it was because he knew it bothered Almasy wasn’t something she was certain she wanted to ask. She was nervous about having to go back home after this. She had wanted to ask, how far she was going to go with him.
But that was the strange thing about him. He had eyes for nearly every woman they came across, and she accepted it immediately. He looked at her differently. Whatever he was thinking, he didn’t share.
She wondered what kind of man Almasy really was. Seeing him with his groupies, she saw glimpses. But of what? His eyes never seemed to be trained on anything. Whealdon pulled her hair. Did Almasy pull Jennifer’s hair? Whealdon never ignored her. She found it amusing to be tender with him, even though it ran in complete contradiction of everything he stood for.
Streetlights became linear blurs. She casually looked at the speedometer. The number would’ve alarmed her at one point. But she felt alive. She knew he felt alive too. That’s what all of this was about she thought. About doing something dangerous. Walking the razor's edge like a slug and surviving.
He wanted to be a slug. He wanted to walk the edge between exquisite failure, and glory.
And the blade he walked down, seemed to be getting thinner. The margin for error smaller. She knew someday, Someone would deliver his comeuppance. She hoped she wouldn’t have to see it. Signs could’ve been written in cantonese, she could not read them fast enough anymore. He had told her he wanted to put Almasy on the string. He wanted to reel him in slowly, he wanted to feel him fight, and feel his lungs stop processing oxygen, gasping and thrashing for the last remnants of oxygen.
And now he was acting differently. Had he really wanted Almasy to just collapse? His hand lifted off of the shifter, and she replaced his with hers. He put his hand over hers. still in control. She looked at him behind his sunglasses. Eye staring ahead.
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