The night sky, bathed more in electric city lights than the natural ambience of the stars, spans out before 17 year old, Zachary Vaughn as he lay on the roof of the main building of his high school. Lying next to him is his close childhood friend, Leona Gainsborough. He gives her an awkward and uncertain look as she pulls herself in closer to him.
“Dude. It’s cold.” She states matter-of-factly.
There is no denying that since Zach’s conscious decision to defy his dad and get involved in the ever-evolving community of backyard wrestling, young Zach’s life has drastically changed. Not only does he feel vindicated and validated, but he has made a new friend and mentor-figure and grown closer to Leona. In new ways he finds…confusing, to say the least.
“Leona…I’ve been thinking.”
“There’s a first.”
Leona giggles and the two friends exchange playful jabs, which escalates into a tussle, both youths rolling and struggling around the roof until Leona somehow ends up sitting atop the surprised and flustered Zach.
“Ha! Pinned ya!”
Trying to ignore the deluge of mixed thoughts and feelings running through his head, Zach refocuses on the important matter at hand.
“Oh come on dude, why so serious? It’s not THAT bad losing to me is it?
“No, it’s not that.”
“Good, cause you do it enough.”
“No it’s-it’s just I’m planning to leave Philly.”
An awkward silence falls between the two.
“Yeah, I figured.”
“There’s a place, the Academy or something, in the UK which is a well-known Wrestling School. Seems as good a place as any.”
“The UK?! Zach, I know your serious about it, but that’s a bit far!"
“I have to get away from this place, away from my dad.”
Zach isn’t sure but he believes he sees a brief look of hurt on Leona’s face.
“Philly isn’t THAT bad is it?” She replies, somewhat hopefully, and trying hard to make the hint as obvious as possible.
“No of course not.” Her hope rises. “But this is something I gotta do.”
Only to come crashing own again. But she keeps her composure and returns to her position next to Zach, giving him a playful punch in the shoulder.
“I know. You wouldn’t be the Zach I lo-, ah, you wouldn’t be you, if you didn’t at least try. Once you set your mind to something…you don’t budge.” The silence returns as the two stare off into the night-veiled distance. “Just promise me one thing Zach.”
“When you become a big superstar, name in the papers and all, promise you’ll come back for me.”
“I’d like to experience that at least once…Promise me? Please?”
“Ah…I promise you…”
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (2018)
As it happens young Zach Vaughn chooses the perfect time to return to his home town, with events transpiring within the CWF that thrusts the promotion into a chaotic spiral. Though it is strange, almost surreal to be back after all this time. Not that he has returned to his ‘home’ proper. With things the way they are he knows he wouldn’t be the most welcome. Not to mention the tension. He has enough problems going on, without having to add family drama to the mix. So, as difficult as it is, he keeps himself away from the Vaughn household.
Besides he is not without old friends or acquaintances and other, far happier memories on which to reminisce.
Zach makes his way through the city, passing countless houses and buildings. Very few of which he hasn’t climbed, jumped off or broke into. That is another reason why Zach decides to return and stick around, hoping to sort out the clutter in his head and return to the very beginning of his grand quest, the long-abandoned Frankford Chocolate Factory. Inside things are as he remembers, the impressive space of the factory repurposed as the primary site and headquarters of a growing community and sanctuary for wayward individuals, youths to adults, who also wish to indulge in fight-club like exhibitions of backyard wrestling. Like a true prodigal son returning he clings to the shadowy corners, content to just watch and embrace the spectacle. The solace is not mean to last as Zach unknowingly falls victim to the preternatural ability of people picking out a recognisable face from the crowd. A pair of arms wrap around him from behind.
“Well hello stranger.”
“You’re damn lucky I don’t put you in a chokehold for leaving like that.”
Wouldn’t be the first time…
“I did give you a heads up.”
“Yeah…” She releases the embrace and the two dear friends reunite, laying eyes on each other for the first time in several years. “I just didn’t think you’d actually do it…And no phone call or anything?”
Her voice trails off, as she is caught in nostalgic reminiscence. Leona Gainsborough had always been an up-front and strong-willed individual, with quite a fire hidden beneath her short light brown hair and emerald eyes. Her adage within the backyard wrestling circles as ‘The Lioness’ is well earned and Zach is relieved to see that hasn’t changed.
"Leona. I'm really sorry."
For more then they both possibly realise.
“I’m happy to see you Zach. I missed you.”
He wishes he could say the same, but the truth is, at the Academy his thoughts had been laser focused on training and when he left unceremoniously, coming to work for the Lockhearts in their English tavern, he realised she hadn’t popped into his head once. Celia on the other hand…
“It’s great to see you too.”
THAT at least is the truth. Though for the moment the conversation seems to hit a dead end, both at a loss for words. Or at least uncomfortable to continue that partiular course of dialogue. Luckily nearby there is some fight club-esque in-ring action going on to draw their attention.
“So, you gonna get in on the action? Maybe show some of the new blood how its done?”
“Not today. I’m…not really feeling in-ring action lately.”
Having been friends for so long Leona doesn’t miss the melancholy in the comment.
“Why don’t we meet up at our rooftop later and we can talk more then?”
Seeing Leona again evokes memories of the time before Zach left, of their growing up together and growing closer as friends, sometime with benefits, though neither had ever had the courage to explore that further and when a life was potentially on the line, the life of someone dear to Zach, there wasn’t time to try and unlock the chains of those memories.
“Sorry Leona, the rooftop will have to wait.”
A hint of hurt comes upon Leona’s face, but she hides it with a swift change in topic. She mentions that with Zach in town he would have to catch up with his other friend, and backyard wrestling mentor-figure, “The Philadelphian Nightmare” John Irvine, lest he hunt them both down. Zach readily agrees. Adopting a position of surrogate leader and authority figure of the circle, John Irvine is not hard to find. He double-takes as they approach and when realisation dawns he breaks out into the world’s biggest smile, enveloping them both with a powerfully warm embrace.
“MY ZACHY BOY IS BACK!” He booms.
Several years their senior John reared many of the youths in the backyards of Philly.
“This calls for a drink!”
Leona is more than happy to accept the offer. Trust the outlandish boisterous of John Irvine to outdo any awkwardness.
“Health Potion for me thanks.”
Which is Zach’s way of asking for a simple glass of water. John and Leona shake their heads in mock disbelief and consternation.
“The shit you are willing to do in and out of a ring kid. And you’re worried about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.”
“Hey, I live life on the edge…sure it’s a straight edge, but an edge nonetheless.”
The trio find their own space within the Chocolate Factory to catch up and regale each other of their exploits over the years. Zach doesn’t resist the feelings of comfort and relief, sitting there chatting with his closest and dearest. They are feelings he hasn’t experienced for some time and he finds himself eagerly revealing everything he’s been through of late. Their conversation goes well on into the evening.
“Holy shit!” John exclaims as Zach finishes bringing them up to speed. “I heard about Paradise, but never realised how bad a number they did on you…the arseholes!”
As worried as Leona is for the wellbeing of her childhood friend, a few questions pop up in her mind surrounding the importance of this Celia person, questions she finds herself unable to ask and instead errs for a different tact.
"So what are you doing back here then?"
John Irvine is taken aback by the edge in her voice, albeit unintentional. Zach waves him down.
“No, no. She’s not wrong. It may look like I’m running, and if I’m honest, in a sense I am. But I gotta find some way to prepare myself for Xander at Summer Games. I figured what better way to try and reconnect then here. Where it all started. I mean I got a match coming up, against some dude named Mikey Unlikely. Not a name I’m familiar with, but he’s got some credentials, so definitely not a Noob to the game.”
“A good warm up for you then? Get you ready for Xander?”
“Hard to say. As it is, I may not even get my chance at Xander anymore.”
“If he wins his match this coming week he may get a shot at the World Title. Leaving me in the lurch and Celia’s fate uncertain.”
“You could always make sure he doesn’t win…”
"Anything you do to that guy in response would be justified."
“Getting into some dangerous territory here. I reckon you don’t have to worry, may tough right now, but these things have a way of working out. Let’s just focus on getting you psyched up for the coming match and deal with this Mikey guy.”
Zach seems to only be half paying attention, nodding his head along absent-mindedly.
“Oh right…The guy may be Platinum Tier for all I know. What I can say about him, is that Charisma is clearly not his dump stat. The guy’s a movie star, a literal celebrity, and is not want for confidence in his own abilities. He claims to be exactly what the CWF needs. So just on that alone the guy’s got an advantage over me. I’m pretty sure I could lose a match to a mannequin at this rate.”
“I wouldn’t joke about that. I heard a myth about some store mannequin coming to life and becoming a wrestler. Shit’s crazy enough without evoking anymore of that nonsense.”
“Thing is, I haven’t won a single match with the CWF, despite my…’best efforts’. I’m barely a blip on anybody’s radar and this guy’s been in movies, even released a frigging album. Who am I compared to that?! The best I can come up with is a spectacular beatdown that left me in hospital thanks to Ouroboros. And they’ve managed to No-Clip their way out of this scot fucking free.”
Zach stares into the clear depths of his ‘Health Potion’.
“Dude. You ain’t nobody. You’re the Zach Attack! That’s all you need to be. You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone, or try to change and pretend to be something you’re not just to fit in. The pro-circuit should be changing to make room for YOU!”
“Is that going to enough? There’s someone’s life on the line and I gotta deal with that, and I will. With every cheat-code I know, every fibre of my being, everything I can muster. But I’m feeling like it won’t cut it, like I’m severely Under-Levelled for all of it. I thought I could make it in the wrestling world, only to find out the wrestling world isn’t the place I grew up believing it to be.”
There is a moment of silence shared between the group of three, each gingerly sipping away at their respective drinks. Finally John Irvine, speaks up.
“Zach. I won’t pretend to know what you’re going through, or pretend to have any clue of what the pro-world is like. Outside of these walls, hell, outside of Philly I’m a lost, little boy. But I can tell you one thing. You’re an incredible athlete, an incredible competitor, the shit I’ve seen you do. Leaping off rooftops, balconies, taking hits like a motherfucking Tank…you got the right stuff in you. What’s more you got your own style to it. And you’re a dogged son-of-a-gun. Just cause you’ve hit a snag right now, doesn’t mean it’s game over.”
“Besides, you gotta make it big. You have a promise to keep.”
“No buts. If you truly felt the way you say you do. You wouldn’t still be hanging around, questioning yourself so. Here’s what I think is gonna happen. Take the cartridge, blow the dust and cobwebs out, plug it back into the CWF and march on down to the ring at the next show. Thank Mikey Unlikely for the opportunity and then…well…you’re gonna…what?”
John and Leona look to Zach expectantly, waiting in suspense.
“What? I don’t know. Do my best?”
They visibly deflate with drawn-out groans.
“No!" John and Leona say together.
"You’re gonna kick his arse! Make HIM see stars for a change. You’re gonna show him, the CWF, and the rest of god damn world that Zach isn’t going anywhere. He just needs a chance to defrag. And then…Well watch out! And after you’ve gone through Mikey, you are going to kick the living shit out of that arsehole Xander Haze AND John Kreese and save the day. Cause that is who you are. And NO ONE fucks with the Zack Attack!”
Somewhat surprisingly Zach feels himself smiling again, vindicated and affirmed in his decision to return home for a brief time.
Maybe…just maybe there is hope for him after all…
The three erstwhile companions eventually say their farewells and go their separate ways, with promises of future-plans. John Irvine makes his way to the front door of his quaint suburban apartment, intent on cracking open a cold one to end a day well spent. He feels more than hears broken glass underfoot and notices a hole in the glass window by the door. The door itself is left barely ajar, so subtle it would be easy to miss.
Someone has broken in.
Slowly and cautiously he slinks into his own home, back against the wall as he searches for the light switch. There. The first thing that hits him is the strong scent of a most repugnant cologne. The second thing that hits him is a crowbar, swinging straight into the face. A figure stands above the unconscious John Irvine. Though the figure is covered completely in black, with a balaclava over the face and gloves covering his hands, it is clear the attacker is an individual of a more rotund physique. They search through John Irvine’s pockets for his phone, finding it and using it to send a text message to one Zachary Vaughn.
With the message sent, the figure drops the phone next to John Irvine, along with a small envelope labelled 'Zach'. Then, despite their paunch, the figure slinks away into the night.