Greetings, darklings and user poets. It is with a heavy heart that I write this post. The boys all tell me I’m the leader of Valerian’s Garden, and while I will only admit to twenty percent of that, the fact is, as the singer, I’m the voice of the group, and so I suppose it is my responsibility to announce that we are officially canceling the remainder of our 2018 Winter Tour.
I apologize for the radio silence for the past few weeks, but you can appreciate our need for privacy when in the heat of the moment. At the same time, we’ve always been honest with you guys - as honest as we can - so here’s all the deets, straight from the Angel’s mouth.
TJ’s wonderful, saintlike, awesome mom recently suffered a stroke. She’s making some great progress but her left side has been nearly paralyzed and is currently unable to care for himself. TJ’s dad is a capable man, but he was left in a wheelchair after a car accident several years ago.
Let me make this clear: without David and Morgan Johnson, there is no Valerian’s Garden. Period. TJ’s parents were our first - and remain our biggest - fans. Their support has meant more to me, personally, than anything else. I would trade in every song recorded, every ticket sold, every award won (shut up, we have one!), if it meant they would be a hundred percent healthy. To make it even more clear, when I told a toddler Mariella that her grandparents were coming to a gig, I was talking about TJ’s parents, not my own. I haven’t been back to Trielee in a decade, but when I go home, I go to the Johnson house. When I need to talk to someone who’s been there who cares, I talk to Mama and Papa Johnson. The musical lessons I learned from TJ and Rob are less important to me than the emotional support I received from their parents. Think about that.
TJ has suggested that we continue the tour without him; that we can get a session guy, or we can get one of our techs to fill in for him on bass. He even suggested that Mariella herself join us on tour: she certainly knows all the songs, and she can play the basslines and leads without any learning curve whatsoever.
Well. We’re not doing that.
I’ll be honest with you, the idea of sharing a stage with my daughter is a tasty one. Ever since MJ was six years old, I’ve been faced with a terrible choice: tour during the school year and miss her, or tour only in the summer and miss all of you. I find both choices distasteful, but we’ve made it work because MJ deserved as normal a childhood as we could give her (especially with a musician and a wrestler as her parents), and I needed to see you guys.
… I don’t just ramble with a microphone in my hand, do I?
Anyways, beyond all that, I have never, ever, ever, ever played a gig without TJ to my left, and I’m not starting now. If I’m the voice of Valerian’s Garden, he’s the heart and soul, and I know it’s selfish but we can’t go onstage in front of you without being at our best, and going onstage without TJ isn’t our best. Also, you may or may not be aware, but my daughter is currently kicking ass and taking names as the World Champion of the Championship Wrestling Federation.
So she’s also pretty busy. I’m not a wrestling fan but I’d consider it a personal favor if you’d go out and support her.
January, darklings. January, user poets. We will see you soon. I hope you had a blessed Samhain, and have an equally blessed Thanksgiving and Yule.
Love and kisses,
MJ Flair exits the web browser on her phone and flips to text messages. She types a quick note to her mom, then another, longer note to TJ.
There’s movement in the bed next to her and she eases out of it, taking care not to wake Shannon. Hiding the glow from view, she types a third text message to her aunt Ivy: “Shannon’s doing fine, he can stay with me as long as you need.”
A loud snore from Shannon cuts through the quiet darkness like a knife. MJ smiles.
At least, whatever happens at Northern Crown, she’s got them booked for separate rooms in the weeks to follow.
”Here we are again.”
“It’s probably not a shocking revelation that I’m not happy about it. Strictly speaking, I’m not afraid t’face anyone - but I look at a Championship reign the way my dad does: defend it as often as you physically can, against as many opponents as you can. That’s how you claim legitimacy.”
“Or, you can go the James Milenko route and, on gaining some semblance’a power, throws his entire entourage at me in the hopes’a getting the title off me.”
“One Jimmy Allen or another, one Tobias Devereaux or another. But that’s cool, you’ve got Loki Synn in your back pocket.”
“Except… we already saw this movie.”
“I’ll be honest - and I’ve been honest - that was possibly the hardest fought match’a my life. That was a harder win than the sixty minute match against Silas, if for no other reason than I spent that entire match concussed… and I don’t really remember the specifics.”
“Over and over again, I’ve endured my peers telling me about how I got my ass handed to me. How Loki had my number. How she really won and I really lost.”
“Well. Let’s put our cards on the table.”
“I had nothing left. I’d taken Loki’s best shot, again and again and again.”
“When she picked me up by the neck, with her hands covered in razorwire, I’ll be honest… if the match called for it, it’s possible I would’ve tapped out. I could feel the razor enter into my neck. Think about that. Sharp metal puncturing your neck. How many people can say they’ve experienced that without there being an attempted murder charge doled out somewhere?”
“My tank was empty, Loki. Congratulations. When I cracked your scepter against your melon and you dropped me, and I sank to my knees? That was it. That was the end of my title reign.”
“Except, when your tank is on E, you can still go like twenty miles before you break down.”
“I had nothing left, and Loki - somehow you had even less.”
“Your handler and your boys are so angry at the result of that match, because I cracked you in the head with a foreign object, forgetting that you introduced the scepter t’begin with, and that the match was a fucking barbed wire match with no fucking rules.”
“Maybe Jimmy Emm thought he could tip the scales in your favor by...adding...rules?”
“Doesn’t he know the rules about sequels? The body count is always bigger. The death scenes are always much more elaborate, and you never, ever, under any circumstances, assume the killer is dead.”
“I’m a wrestler, Loki. But if I need to play the Final Girl again, I can rise to the challenge.”
“Chloe’s coming in.”
MJ paces in the side room. She catches a glimpse of herself in a full length mirror, and for a second, she is shocked by the way in which she is emulating both her parents.
She looks like her mother with the black button down sweater, black knee - length skirt, black spiderweb stockings and knee-high black boots. Of course, underneath the boots are a pair of tie-dyed bright pastel socks. Her father is reflected in both her black leather trench coat and World Title belt.
‘I am my father’s daughter,’ she often said.
MJF: She okay?
Shannon Stevens peeks out the crack in the door.
Shannon: More or less. There goes Loki.
It was a grand idea that was clearly doomed to fail: a joint, call-and-response press conference between MJ and her number one contender, Loki Synn. Clearly, James Milenko was hoping to start a brawl - and that’s just been shot to heck.
James Milenko: FINE! Just go! And now, let me introduce to you next… You love her, you respect her as champion for some reason… Mariella Flair!!!!!
“Goodnight” by The Birthday Massacre plays over the sound system. MJ looks down, takes a deep breath, and looks at Shannon.
Shannon: You’ve got this.
He holds up his fist, and MJ bumps it.
MJF: We’ve got this.
The World Champion pushes the door open and is greeted, immediately, by a chorus of cheers and a roll of the eyes by James Milenko. She walks out to the main platform and leans over to slap as many hands as she can reach while the music dies down.
James Milenko: Yeah, yeah… whatever. So, Flair - you think you’re--
He’s cut off as MJ takes the microphone from him and stares him down. With a crowd of die-hard MJ fans, without the backup of anyone in the Hostile Takeover, James wisely steps back under MJ’s glare.
MJF: I only caught a little bit’a that with Loki, but she seemed… really angry. And not at all interested in doing what a press conference is s’posed to be. So why don’t we take some questions?
A few hands shoot up; MJ sits down on the edge of the stage area and leans into the fans.
“Do you think you can beat Loki again?”
MJF: I mean, I hope so. What can she do t’me that she didn’t do already?
“Chloe Hawkhurst was just out here and called Loki ‘Mia.’ Thoughts?”
MJF: I… really don’t know what to say about that. I mean, any hesitation is gonna cost me dearly at Winter Crown, so I have to put all those thoughts outta my head at least until then.
“This match has rules, where your last one didn’t. Do you think James Milenko is plotting something?”
With a smirk, MJ looks back at the sulking James Milenko. He notices after a second and raises his hands in protest.
James Milenko: I’m innocent!
MJ turns back to the crowd, a smile on her face.
MJF: I always think anything’s a trap… which is why I’m still alive.
A few fans who know, laugh. From the back, someone yells out “Inconceivable!”
“Do you have any comment on Jace Valentine’s passing?”
And she pauses again.
MJF: That’s kinda tough, cause I mean… he was a total ass in life. I don’t have any good memories of him. At the same time, dude, honestly - you never wanna see anyone end up like that. My sympathies are with his family - with Tabby and all that - because they’re the ones that are suffering. Actually doing the deed yourself, though? Cowardly.
After that statement, nobody seems to want to follow up. MJ shrugs.
MJF: Sympathy for the devil? I dunno.
That breaks a bit of the tension as someone else leans forward to ask a question.
“Can I buy you dinner?”
He gets a right round of applause for that. MJ looks down, a smile on her face.
MJF: No… but I’ll buy you dinner.
Another round of applause at her forthrightness. Behind her, Milenko rolls his eyes.
James Milenko: Can we wrap this up? Some of us have places to be.
She looks back at James, then forward to the crowd.
MJF: Fair enough. Who wants to wrap this up, send the cameras and Jimmy Emm home, and turn this into a less formal thing?
With that, she gets everyone to cheer.
MJF: Go away, James. See ya Sunday.
Milenko looks insulted, but he wisely doesn’t say anything. He starts to - twice - but the words die in his throat.
”Here’s how it goes, Loki.”
“I took your best shot. Over and over.”
“And over and over.”
“On more than one night.”
“What can you do to me that isn’t a scepter to the back’a the skull? That isn’t razorwire against my flesh?”
“You and I inflicted more cruel and unusual punishments on each other in one match than most wrestlers do in the collective’a their entire careers. And while you gave me all I could handle… you took… more than you could.”
“You’re a monster, Loki. I don’t deny that or shy away from it.”
“But, in the same vein as the Childlike Empress, or the Jacehole, or the rest’a the Hostile Takeover, you’re a monster without teeth.”
“You’re the ‘Scary Movie’ of the genre, Loki: an affectionate parody, to be sure - but a parody. Certainly no longer a monster to be feared.”
“Which suits me just fine: I’m the monster slayer.”
“The slander against me always goes back to the same things: my parents. I’m a paper Champion because my father was the real deal. Or I’m only given opportunities because my mom, or my aunt, or my uncle are all still active in entertainment.”
“How does that even work?”
“But let’s pretend it’s true. Let’s pretend that I am where I am because I’m a second generation.”
“How does that even work?”
“I was a semi - finalist in Modern Warfare.”
“I was a former World Champion when the qualifying matches for Wrestlefest were announced.”
“Whether I earned the spots I made it to, or was handed ‘em… I still need t’win the matches.”
“You know, like Colton Mace didn’t. Like Jimmy Allen didn’t. Like Tobias Devereaux didn’t.”
“Like you didn’t.”
“Nobody fights for me. I lost to Jacehole in Modern Warfare and had to earn a title shot. I lost to Caledonia, and the only rematch I was given was marred with the cast of Nineteen Kids and Counting bustin’ down the door.”
“The CWF itself didn’t want me in the spot I’m in; I’m an outsider. After nearly a year in this company, I’m still an outsider. Because I cut my teeth elsewhere. Because I could leave this company tomorrow and do something else with my life. Because I don’t owe the CWF nearly as much as the CWF owes me.”
“And yet, here we are. We’re off the edge’a the map, Loki.”
“Here, there be monsters. And I’m the Monster Slayer.”
MJ has spent the past hour struggling with an urge. The man that asked her to dinner, his name is Carl - and she has been fighting the desire to tell him to get in the house.
And to call him ‘Coral,’ with an exaggerated accent.
Because he’s a nice enough guy. He was, of course, a bit put out by the fact that Shannon was tagging along - not exactly the date he expected. But he hasn’t said a thing about it.
Carl: The duck is great here.
MJ nods her head, looking over the menu. The prices are insane, but the Champion needs to be seen in the finest locations.
Outside the ring, it’s all about the optics.
MJF: It looks it. And it’s all sustainable dining?
Carl: Absolutely. Forage is the best place.
The waitress chooses this moment to return with their drinks, putting down a ‘Fat Tug’ IPA in front of Carl, a dry cider in front of MJ, and a sparkling water in front of Shannon.
Waitress: Nothing else for you to drink, hun?
Shannon shakes his head.
MJF: He’s on a health kick.
The waitress smiles and nods as a reflex.
Waitress: What can I get you?
Carl gestures to MJ, who gestures to Shannon.
Shannon: I… guess I’ll get the gnocci?
MJ shakes her head.
MJF: Dude. Get what you want.
She takes the menu out of his hands and gives it to the waitress.
MJF: He’ll have the scallops, too. So will I, for that matter. And the bison steak, rare.
The waitress writes this down, nodding.
Waitress: Excellent choice. And you, sir?
Carl: Halibut, please.
MJF: For the halibut?
He’s caught off guard, but laughs after a second.
Menus are handed off, the waitress writes her notes, and the three of them are left alone once again.
Carl: How long are you in Vancouver?
MJF: Umm… just until Monday, I think. Our parents are having Thanksgiving at my house as a quick break, then it’s back to it.
Carl: Shame. I was hoping you’d stick around for a bit. Could show you the sights.
MJF: I appreciate that, but I’m here to work - and after the job, family comes first.
MJ’s eyes lock with Shannon’s, and, feeling self-conscious, he looks away again.
Carl: Of course it does… but there should be time for personal time as well.
MJ shifts uncomfortably in her seat as Carl finishes his drink in one gulp.
Shannon: She’s headlining a pay-per-view, man--
Carl: Dude. Stop cockblockin’ me.
And now it’s awkward. MJ raises an eyebrow, and takes a sip of her drink.
MJF: I was here to be nice, man. I told you my cousin was coming. I literally travel for work.
She stands up, and despite being smaller than him, towers over him.
MJF: The fuck did you think was gonna happen?
MJ picks up her bag and digs through it. She drops a handful of bills on the table.
MJF: Dinner’s on me. Stiff the waitress on her tip and I’ll find ya and yank your sac off. Ass.
Shannon slowly gets up and, with a shit eating grin on his face, follows MJ away from the table. From across the restaurant, the waitress watches this unfold, trying (and failing) to keep from laughing.
”I’m all in on this, Loki.”
“You’re bigger than me. You’re stronger. You’re more vicious.”
“I can say that about all my opponents, and nobody’s been able t’keep me down.”
“It’s mind over matter, Loki. I believe that I’ll persevere, and I do. I believe that I can outlast any opponent, and I have. Even Tobias - we hung in there to the time limit, but I don’t have t’beat my opponents: my opponents have t’beat me.”
“You’re bigger than me. I take your knees.”
“You’re stronger than me. I hit ‘n run.”
“You’re more vicious.”
“Actually, that one’s up for debate.”
“It’s mind over matter, Loki. How’s your mind these days? All the power in your hands, and ya couldn’t beat me. Hand Silas Artoria an overwhelming advantage after something like twelve seconds, and he couldn’t beat me.”
“Put your boys in the ring with me, and they couldn’t beat me.”
“When you tell me how you’ve got the power, Loki? When ya tell me that my time’s runnin’ out?”
“Which one of us are ya tryin’ to convince?”
Shannon Stevens picks up a french fry, and dips it in a large pool of gravy.
Shannon: I really thought you were exaggerating about the bullshit you put up with.
Sitting in a brightly lit diner, sipping coffee and eating poutine, the duo have found anonymity amidst a restaurant filled with regulars.
MJF: Most’a the creepers are subtle enough - or have enough tact - t’be just like those guys in Calgary and stare or leer. Guys like that, they’re thankfully rare.
She takes a large mouthful of coffee, makes a face, and adds more sugar.
MJF: Of course, they’re the only ones that seem to approach me anymore.
MJF: Not really. A lotta guys are intimidated for some reason. Nowadays I don’t think it’s Daddy so much as it is, I’m on TV, I’m an athlete who beats people up for a living.
MJF: You need a certain level’a ’my shit don’t stink’ to have the confidence to walk up to someone like that.
Shannon: I don’t find you intimidating.
He shrugs, saying it so nonchalantly that MJ starts to laugh.
MJF: Dude, I was still in diapers when we first met. There’s something disarming about that, no?
And now he laughs.
Shannon: Fair enough. Maybe you need a personal assistant to manage your social life? Vet the losers? Make sure you’re not wasting your time?
MJF: You volunteering?
Shannon: Oh, hell no. After this month? Every guy that approaches you would get a blanket no.
MJF: It’d save me time instead of me havin’ to say it myself after a terrible date.
They eat in silence for a few seconds.
Shannon: You nervous about the show?
MJF: Man, I’m nervous about all of ‘em.
MJF: Yeah, I don’t relish getting punched by her again. But more than that. The whole show’s important, right?
MJF: Everyone matters, and I get that. But this show - it’s being sold on the tournament, of course, but a big-ass part of it is also bein’ sold on me and Loki’s rematch. If there’s not a lot’a money comin’ in, that’s on us. And I’ve got an ally, sort of, with Commissioner Stewart as long as I’m good for business. That drops, he’s got incentive t’stack the deck against me t’get one or more people t’beat me.
Shannon: So? You can beat anyone. You have.
MJ shakes her head no.
MJF: Maybe one on one. But what’s t’stop Milenko from bookin’ me against Loki, Tobias, and Jimmy in an elimination match? They triple team me and I’m gone, and fight for the belt among themselves. Talent wins ya matches, but marketability is what wins ya opportunity.
She shrugs again.
MJF: Me? I’m all in. I can’t beat Loki, I don’t want the opportunities t’begin with.
Another fry, this time loaded with cheese.
Shannon: You’ll beat her.
He holds up his coffee. She does the same, and hits the cups together.
MJF: Or die tryin’.
”And so. Here we are again.”
“You’re a monster, Loki. But this is the sequel, and the sequel’s almost never as good.”
“There’s Aliens, of course. Different genre, of course.”
“And Ripley still took down the monsters.”
“There’s The Godfather. Michael still wins.”
“There’s The Dark Knight, where you either die a hero or live long enough t’see yourself become the villain.”
“Not just pretty words, are they? What’s hiding under your mask?”
“I’ve heard reason after reason after reason from you, from your entourage, from everyone else… why it is that I’ve already lost this match. You’re terrifying. You’re relentless. You’re unstoppable.”
“You were all those things a month ago at Hellbound, too.”
“But maybe I’m naive. Maybe you’ve got a plan. Maybe Milenko does. Maybe the clock’s about to tick fifteen on me. Maybe.”
“But that’s up t’you t’prove.”
“The clock’s tickin’ for one of us, Loki. One way or another, this match is gonna decide a bunch’a things. But what it won’t do is destroy this company. I might be the face on the marquee, but…”
“Knock me off, someone else’ll be right there. The Shadow. The Smokin’ Aces. Even Jarvis King.”
“We’re all the CWF, Loki… and that’s why, win or lose, I’ve already won.”
“You’re a nightmare of an opponent, Loki… there’s no way around it. And that’s perfectly fine with me… the fastest way out of a nightmare is t’go through it.”
“Because Freddy’s dead, Loki. This is the final nightmare.”
“And I’m wide awake.”