”Talk about a roller coaster.”
“I come within a hair’s breadth of winning Golden Intentions, spend far too much time feeling sorry for myself, had an amusing encounter with Ataxia and a stupid fight with my boyfriend.”
“I’m feeling okay physically, but bottomed-out mentally as I get to the arena, have a good match and pull out a victory against Ataxia. Get clocked from behind by Stupid McFuckstick.”
“And now I’m sitting in the trainer’s room, getting seventeen stitches in the back’a my head, all because’a Stupid McFuckstick. On the other side of the room, my good friend Tara Robinson is getting her neck examined because Stupid McFuckstick decided he was such a pathetic piece’a shit wrestler that the only person he can actually look in the eye before attacking is a non-athletic, buck-ten-at-most announcer.”
“To sum up, Caledonia accepts my request for a World Title rematch that the whole world’ll be watching at Evolution 25.”
“Roller coaster. Fuck.”
“Wow, this was a pretty lucky shot.”
MJ Flair doesn’t feel lucky. She’s entered the room with her head down to keep the blood streaming from the back of her head from soaking any more into her hair than it already has. The Fridge had helped her in since she couldn’t exactly look up, but her head was throbbing and her neck was stiff from holding it in an uncomfortable position for the past twenty minutes.
And now Dr. Leggett tells her she was hit with a lucky shot.
MJF: Wow. So I should be thanking Silas, then?
He holds up his hands in defense.
DOC: No, no. I’m sorry. I mean you-- Do you part your hair much? Down the middle?
MJ’s eyes dart left, even though she doesn’t move her head and can’t see him.
MJF: I… usually put it into two braids when I work out, or when I don’t feel like washing it?
While putting in another stitch, he taps her between the shoulder blades.
DOC: That’s it. This gash is right in the middle of your part; there is literally no chance that we’d have to cut any hair to put any of these stitches in. Like I said - lucky.
A moment of silence, while that sinks in.
MJF: Are you saying I should be saying thank you to Dumbass?
DOC: What? What, no, not at all.
He’s so awkward. Despite her evening, MJ smiles.
DOC: I just mean, you shouldn’t get hit in the head ever, anyways. But if you have to, you couldn’t’ve had a better place.
Resisting the urge to look up, MJ rolls her eyes to the right instead, but still can’t see anything but floor.
MJF: Hey Tara… can we do this later?
Tara: What happened?
MJ considers this. Tara Robinson is 100% on point with getting her facts in order before she comes up for an interview… therefore, she’s not here for an interview. It’s at that point that MJ feels the sting of the needle leave her head, and she dares to look up. Tara Robinson looks a bit haggard, and she’s holding an icepack on her neck.
MJF: I could ask you the same.
MJF: … Likewise.
They look at each other, and start laughing.
MJF: I just finish up with ‘Tax, I say my thing in the ring, and he hits me from behind with that stupid bird cage.
She spins around and shows Tara the back of her head.
MJF: Look. Fifteen stitches.
DOC: Turn around, my dear. Two more to go.
MJF: Sorry. Seventeen.
Tara: I was asking him about his recent streak of bad luck, he grabs me and breaks a table under me.
MJ laughs again, despite herself.
MJF: Go figure. Only person Stupid McFuckstick can beat these days is the backstage interviewer. And I’m willing t’bet it’s because you weren’t ready.
Tara laughs again.
Tara: We need a night.
MJF: Absolutely. Where are we going again outta here?
She thinks for a second.
Tara: Evo 25 is coming to you live from Columbus, Ohio.
MJF: It’s a date. Ow!
DOC: All right, you’re done. Keep the bandage on overnight, and don’t get the stitches wet for at least two days. Have you taken the concussion test?
MJF: I don’t drive either, so it’s cool.
Tara: You don’t drive?
MJF: I’m a New Yorker, more or less.
MJ stretches her neck out and joins Tara as they exit the room. Not two steps out, however, MJ’s phone buzzes. She stops and checks the message, all the while Tara notices her eyes light up.
Tara: What’s up?
MJF: You like Goth-Industrial music?
”I always swore to myself that no matter what happened in any aspect of my life, I’d never lose myself. It’s a noble request that lots of people make and lots of people fail at.”
“In that regard, I’m just like everyone else.”
“I’ve had several passions in my life. Music. Art. Fitness. Wrestling. They make me happy and I’ve spent countless hours indulging in them all; though never together. Fitness curtails art, because when I’m mentally charged but physically spent I don’t want to stand for hours in front of a canvas. Wrestling curtails music, with the simple logic that carting a guitar around through airports is a terrible idea.”
“Being in a dysfunctional relationship has really sapped the enjoyment from all of those activities, regardless. Taking a break from said relationship might free some mental and physical time, but it doesn’t repair the damage.”
“Until I got a text from my friend Roy. He’s a drummer, he and I played together in high school in a Type O Negative tribute band called Bloody Kisses. We were good: our singer, Chris, was as short and dumpy as Uncle Pete was tall and muscular - but he has the voice perfectly. We had a handful of paid gigs but Chris’ voice (and my existence as the child of a musician) was enough to get us some notice. But it was really just for fun: something for us technically talented but soulless musicians to do to feed the need.”
“Cincinnati, Ohio is hosting the second annual (continued, we hope) Tribute Fest, an econo-priced festival of decent tribute bands to famous acts. My friend Gee, an amazing drummer who plays in several local groups, including Guns ‘n Hoses, an all-female GnR tribute group, broke her hand this past weekend and, unable to find a decent replacement in time, the girls had to pull out. They suggested Bloody Kisses to the event organizers, and the rest is history.”
“The only issue, as far as I can see, is the fact that this gig is the night before Evolution 25 and my World Title rematch with Caledonia. Where’s my focus? Is it on stage? Is it in the ring? Should I be MJ Flair, the Eye of the Storm, the former CWF World Champion? Should I be Mariella Flurstein, chica just hangin’ out with her friends and playin’ music?”
“Is there a difference?”
Tara Robinson is biting her tongue at the moment. She sits at a table with MJ Flair and Adrian Evans in the Cambod-Ican Kitchen; the only place in Pittsburgh still open after the two women finished in the med room and got themselves ready to be out amongst the general public.
She’s hungry. Adrian is hungry. The only thing delivered to the table so far has been water and coffee. Tara and Adrian are both ready to order their food, but MJ keeps waving them off.
MJ has been on her phone since before they arrived, taking down information from a member of her old Type O Negative cover band, Bloody Kisses, about a gig they’ve fallen backwards into, two full years after they last played together.
MJF: Good, good. Okay. Awesome, that works.
Tara: Are we supposed to be following this?
Adrian: I haven’t even made the slightest attempt.
Even still, Tara doesn’t recall a time that MJ has looked this excited. When she won the CWF World Championship, the moment was dulled a bit by Jay Mora’s immediate ambush. Her subsequent successful defense against the Marksman did not close out Unhinged, and the fact that it took place in Japan, at the end of a long foreign tour had worn on her a bit.
Everything since then… well, it hadn’t been perfect, therefore MJ considered it a failure.
MJF: Yeah. I’ll be home tomorrow afternoon, and we’ll figure it out.
Finally, she hangs up the phone and looks at her companions.
MJF: What’s up? Did we order?
She looks earnest, while Adrian and Tara look at each other.
Adrian: Not even remotely.
The server returns, and their orders are placed. MJ only half pays attention, still writing in her notebook.
Tara: So, the band is back together?
MJF: What? OH.
She smiles, and her face flushes a bit.
MJF: I’m sorry. I just really miss this.
Adrian: What are you writing?
MJ turns the paper around and slides it in front of him.
Adrian: Isn’t that jumping the gun a bit?
MJF: Naaah, we can play this shit backwards and forwards.
I Don’t Wanna Be Me
My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend
We Hate Everyone
The Profit of Doom
Blood and Fire
MJF: So you’re coming, right?
This catches Adrian off guard.
Adrian: To the gig? I… suppose so?
MJF: Great! You too?
Tara: Absolutely, MJ.
She writes some more.
MJF: Two on the guest list… no, four.
MJF: I’m gonna invite Caledonia and Eris.
Adrian raises an eyebrow.
Adrian: She’s your opponent, you remember?
MJF: She’s also my friend, and I know they could both use a bit’a distraction. Anyways, I’m gonna invite, and worst case scenario they say no. Right?
Tara: Exactly right.
As they get their food, and MJ begins to tell Tara and Adrian about Bloody Kisses and the history of how they all met each other. Tara smiles, and listens, and nods at all the right moments. But she’s also making mental notes.
She is a reporter, after all.
”Inigo Montoya said it best in The Princess Bride: when the job went wrong, you went back to the beginning. For me, that’s not wrestling. It’s not even art, even though I’ve been painting and drawing far longer than I’ve been doing anything else except walking.”
“It was freshman year of high school. Music theory class. The teacher left the room and, being eternally curious and sorta sneaky like that, I picked up one’a the guitars and started messing around. I’m not sure why I started pickin’ away at the bridge to ‘Christian Woman’ by Type O Negative, but I attracted a few turns’a the head.”
“I was good but I wasn’t amazingly amazing: usually you hear someone with a modicum of talent picking up a guitar, they’re either gonna play Stairway or Smoke on the Water. A goth rock band from the 1990s doesn’t really come into play.”
“A few others who finished their quiz early joined in: that’s when we found that Chris had the deep Peter Steele baritone voice.”
“That day, we all got detention for jamming, after school, on a song called ‘Unsuccessfully coping with the natural beauty of infidelity,’ because of the chorus that involved Chris singing as loud as he could, ‘I know you’re fucking someone else,’ and me backing him up with ‘He knows you’re fucking someone else.’ The dean’a students got booed when he broke it up, but it was the first time in my life that I ever performed in front of an audience.”
“It felt good. That’s the feeling I’ve been chasing ever since, and I’ve found it, here ‘n there, in the ring and in the arenas.”
“Last time, though?”
“So the place where we look for it, it’s on the stage, instruments in hand.”
“Is the beginning.”
“I’m just hoping it’s the beginning of something more.”
Adrian holds up a copy of the flyer for Tribute Fest: it advertises Judas Priestess, The Iron Maidens, Bloody Kisses, Schism, and the headliners, Sabbra Cadabra.
Before he can, Tabitha Ubetcha takes his photo. She’s there in an official capacity as a writer for the CWF Magazine, doing a feature on the ‘outside lives’ of their athletes. Tara Robinson was initially insulted by her presence, and rightfully so due to the relationship she has with MJ, but MJ reminded her that this means she can just relax and have fun.
‘Fun’ at the moment seems to involve a lot of work, as the bands are attempting a pre-doors sound check.
MJF: Adjust the EQ on the synth, Tommy? Like… half a step?
The keyboardist makes some adjustments on his stack, and he and MJ each play a note.
MJF: Little bit more.
She listens closely as they repeat the step once, then twice, and holds up her hand to stop. Tara remembers a detail from her first in - depth interview with MJ: how, when she was a child and on tour with her mother, she had the ability to help the band adjust their sound and equalizer levels by ear alone.
It’s a useful skill.
MJ stands up and plays a few notes, then starts to test her pedals.
Tara: Have you seen her play before?
Adrian: Not with this actual band, but she’s sat in a handful of times at TC’s. Her mother always said she’d be able to make a very good living as a session player, and I think she’d enjoy it.
He looks from Tara to the stage.
Adrian: Not as much as wrestling, though.
It takes Adrian and Tara a moment to realize she’s speaking to them. Tara approaches quickly, and actually gets a decent look at MJ besides being peripherally aware of what she’s doing. In a tank top, short skirt, and rainbow striped knee length socks, she looks possibly the most ‘feminine’ that she has in the time they’ve been friends.
Tara: You sound good.
MJF: Thanks, we’re getting there. Any word from Cali and Eris?
Tara: Eris texted me; they said that the two of them were running late but based on the schedule you sent they’ll be here before you guys start.
MJF: Awesome. Hope they get here before, though… I appreciate the support but Judas Priestess--
Tara: We saw them, didn’t we?
A smile grows on MJ’s face.
MJF: Yes! You remembered!
Tara points to the lead singer’s wild afro.
Tara: It’s hard to forget that hair and that voice.
Adrian and Tara both look across the room at her.
MJF: Seriously, guys. Don’t stare.
Tabby: Excuse me, Mariella? I don’t want to get in the way but I’m hoping we can sit for a few minutes before the fans come in?
Everyone’s attention moves to Tabby Ubetcha. Tara bristles a bit, but maintains her composure.
MJF: MJ, please. Two minutes?
Tabby nods, while MJ returns to conversation with the rest of her group. Tara grabs Tabby and pulls her aside.
Tara: Listen, let me give you a bit of advice. I like your stuff, you’re a good writer and you’re a good interview.
Tara: I especially enjoy the things you’re doing with Jace Valentine. Real in-depth work, and I think you should be proud of it.
Tabby: ...Okay… thanks?
Tara: Do not, under any circumstances, mention Jace to MJ or she’ll shut you down completely.
Tabby’s expression moves from disbelief to skepticism to understanding, all in about one and a half seconds. She’s trying to find signs of professional jealousy in Tara’s face; one of the reasons Tabitha has made it to this point is her ability to read her marks - but there is none with Tara right now.
That’s partly because Tara wants her friend MJ to be portrayed in the best possible light, and partly because Tara herself is an expert on getting what she wants out of her marks.
But that’s a discussion for another day.
”I’ve missed this. I don’t know if I can appropriately articulate how much I’ve missed this.”
Please don’t dress in black
When you’re at his wake
Don’t go there to mourn
But to celebrate
I don’t wanna be
I don’t wanna be me
I don’t wanna be
“We’re announced, we get a nice round of applause from these guys who haven’t heard of us - some of whom might be miffed that they don’t get to see Guns ‘n Hoses play this spot. The hugely huge cheers, I can clearly pick out as Tara, Caledonia, and Eris.”
“Adrian’s not a cheerleader type, and that’s cool. And Osiris bless the other three for their enthusiasm. But the second I I started the feedback on the first song, the crowd was into it. This is literally the most like me I’ve felt in weeks. Ironic, based on the song title.”
They keep me warm on cold nights
We must be quite a sight
In our meat triangle
All tangled, wow.
My girlfriend’s girlfriend
She looks like you
My girlfriend’s girlfriend
She’s my girl… “too.”
“For some reason, while playing the bridge of the second song I looked into the crowd and noticed Caledonia rolling her eyes at Eris. It’s probably smart’a my crew t’hang near the back - these kids are doing some serious moshing - but in hindsight, Eris is clearly gonna get some shipping ideas. They’ve apparently been bringing such things to Caledonia’s attention for longer than I could tell ya, and since Cali and I have become friends I’ve apparently been looped into this.”
“Yeah, my E-Mail filter has been weird for weeks.”
As a spark still I knew
I’d be lured, be consumed.
She’s a pyre incarnate, Incinerate
An inferno, turned to flesh.
You are the first to be my last, will be my final words.
“I wonder what would’ve happened if anyone in my family followed their true desires. My mom loves being a singer; she loves her fans, she loves being able to tour the world and see everything: I think that’s why she’s so incredibly hard to bullshit. But I can tell when she’s in her zen room, she would be so much happier going for the anonymous poet lifestyle. She’s a total feminist, literary, goth pagan icon, and I know she feels a responsibility to her fans, but you take away the five albums she’s written and sang and played on - she’s got at least three times over that amount of non-musical poetry that I believe is truly her passion.”
“Aunt Ivy? She’s Mama Bear to everyone she meets except for me, because she knows my mama. Between the diner and the bar and her less - than - above ground investigative work, she’s happiest when she’s looking after everyone.”
“Shit, Mr. Knox is possibly the best wrestler in the history of wrestling, and he’s literally given no fucks when it comes to saying ‘This shit ain’t fun no more, I’m out.’”
Left: They say I’m a fascist.
Right: calling me a communist.
Hate, hate, hate, hatred for all: one and all.
No matter what you believe, we don’t believe in you
And that’s true, yeah.
We hate everyone…
“My dad might be the only person in my particular orbit that has literally no pretense of any kind, in any way. He wrestled nonstop until I was born, then he decided to start pulling back t’help raise me, then as Mommy was able to settle into a rehearse-record-tour schedule he was able to give his wrestling career an appropriate finish through the second Ultratitle season and the FWO’s resurgence, and I think it’s a fucking amazing thing that the literal last match he ever wrestled saw him winning a championship. He deserves it.”
“But since then? He’s found joy in being Mommy’s head of security when she’s on the road, and in being an absentee bar owner when she’s not.”
“Literally nobody has earned his happy ending more.”
So now the star has fallen
Washing away the seas
The seventh seal now opened
It’s raining your fears
Are you paranoid?
The coming asteroid
Has got your name tattooed on it.
This stone’s called Apophis,
It brings Apocalypse.
The Profit of Doom!
“I love playing music. I can entertain a crowd and feed my creativity without getting stitches in the back’a my head. If I do it right, that is. I wonder what would’ve happened if I’d pursued this instead of wrestling as my real passion.”
“The fact of the matter is, we all have our place, and we all have that one talent that puts us on another level. I’m a competent musician, but as a wrestler I’ve done some things that I dare say have never been done before.”
“Not only am I potentially the youngest World Champion in wrestling history, but my very existence has changed the conversations about what it means to be a woman in this industry.”
“Just like my mom changed the conversation about what it means to be a woman in the world of metal.”
“Just like my dad changed the conversation about what it means to be a Champion in general.”
“Just like aunt Ivy redefined the role of the manager.”
No more nights of blood and fire.
No more nights of blood and fire.
All those special memories
Now I bleed for you - burn for me.
Perhaps I was just dreaming
When I think these things had real meaning.
You don’t know what I’ve been through
Just want to put my love in you.
“Maybe that’s the point. We don’t always end up where we’d be happiest.”
“But we always end up where we need to be.”
No more nights… of blood.
No more nights… OF FIRE!!!!
“And we earn our standing ovation.”
There are hugs all around backstage after Bloody Kisses finishes playing. The musicians in Schism, the Tool tribute band, give brief props as they move onstage as the quickest amount.
Caledonia: Wow. I knew you could play, but I didn’t know you had that in you.
MJF: Thanks, champ. Thanks so much for coming!
Caledonia: It’s the least I could do for my number one contender. But I’m off to get some sleep before the even bigger show tomorrow.
She pokes MJ in the chest with her finger.
Caledonia: I suggest you do the same. We’ve still got a two hour drive in the morning.
MJ nods and gives the CWF World Champion another hug before Caledonia and Eris leave the area. Carl takes that opportunity to show up.
Carl: Hey. Hey guys. MJ, we’re all packed up.
MJF: Aces. You got your room keys?
He holds up a small handful of cards.
MJF: Cool beans, guys. Honestly, definitely try to get down to Columbus tomorrow for Evo, that would mean the world to me.
Again, hugs are spread around as Bloody Kisses disburses, potentially for the final time. Besides the rest of the musicians backstage, we have reduced to the core trio of MJ Flair, Tara Robinson, and Adrian Evans.
Tara: I dunno about you two, but I’m beat. Gonna catch up with Cali and Eris and see if they wanna split a cab to the hotel. Big drive tomorrow.
Another hug, another departure.
MJF: Well, I’mma hang out until last call, you’re good for whatever.
Adrian: Don’t forget what Caledonia said: long drive tomorrow, and remember that it’s the biggest match of your career so far.
MJF: Oh, I know. I’ll be ready.
She knees down to hug Adrian.
Adrian: So let me ask you, Ms. Flair… are you ready?
MJ stops to think about it. Physically, she’s pretty much the most prepared wrestler on the CWF roster every time out. Mentally?
Adrian: Then own it.
In addition to the hug, Adrian offers his hand to shake. She does, while Adrian smirks.
Adrian: You know, as far as getting ready for a World Title match, this might be the worst idea you’ve ever had.
MJ laughs, and she nods in agreement.
MJF: Maybe, Adrian… maybe. But don’t forget the ace in the hole.
He raises an eyebrow.
MJF: I’m a Flair… we don’t do things the easy way.