The red sun balances on the highest ramparts of the mountains, and in its waning light, the foothills appear to be ablaze. A cool breeze blows down out of the sun and fans through the tall dry grass, which streams like waves of golden fire along the slopes toward the rich and shadowed valley.
In the knee-high grass, he stands with his hands in the pockets of his denim jacket, studying the vineyards below. The vines were pruned during the winter. The new growing season has just begun. The colorful wild mustard that flourished between the rows during the colder months has been chopped back and the stubble plowed under. The earth is dark and fertile.
The vineyards encircle a barn, outbuildings, and a bungalow for the caretaker. Except for the barn, the largest structure is the owners’ Victorian house with its gables, dormers, decorative millwork under the eaves, and carved pediment over the front porch steps.
Dorian Hawkhurst looks down upon the house, his daughter Chloe at his side. In his head, he has thoughts of succulent, sugar-laden bunches of pinot noir and grenache with translucent purple skin. He can actually taste the phantom grapes as he imagines them bursting between his teeth. There is a certain irony to the fact that Dorian dreams of owning a vineyard.
As it slowly sinks behind the mountains, the sun sprays light so warmly colored and so mordant that, where touched, the darkening land appears to be wet with it and dyed forever. The grass grows red as well, no longer like a fireless burning but, instead, a red tide washing around his knees.
“What do you think, baby girl?”
“I like it, Daddy. But what’s wrong with where we live?”
“I just want to get away from it all. I want to slow down.”
“Do I get to ride the horses?”
“Of course. I’m just waiting to find out if the bank approved my loan.”
“But, I won’t be able to study under Sensei Odinson.”
“We’ll find you a new school. San Francisco isn’t that far. There’s plenty of schools there. Maybe I’ll take some classes myself.”
“Well, daddy. Round things roll."
“C’mon, smartass. We’ve got to get going.”
He turns his back on the house and the vineyards, grabbing his daughter by the hand. Still savoring the steadily intensifying taste of grapes in his head, he walks westward into the shadows cast by the high forested ridges.
He can smell the small animals of the open meadows cowering in their burrows. He hears the whisper of feathers carving the wind as a hunting hawk circles hundreds of feet overhead, and he feels the cold glimmer of stars that are not yet visible. “The Demon of Sobriety” gets the feeling that something major is about to happen.
“Sometimes in life, we come upon moments that define us.”
A grainy black and white version of Dorian Hawkhurst tapping out to Caledonia Highlander plays.
“Sometimes in life, we fail to achieve our goals.”
The clip continues, focusing in on the dejected look on Dorian’s face in the brief moment before Ouroboros made their way to the ring.
“And sometimes in life, we find the rare chance for redemption.”
Various clips of CWF battle royals play, with several superstars getting unceremoniously dumped over the top rope. The picture fades, with Dorian standing in front of the camera. Conspicuous by her absence is young Chloe Hawkhurst.
“You see, man, Golden Intentions is my chance to prove that I belong. Last week, Caledonia did what no one else her in CWF has done. It might have flown under the radar, but no one I have faced before has managed to pin or submit me. While I came up short, I feel I showed the world that I belong.”
“What defines a man is how he responds to a set back, how he responds when things don’t go his way. Legend has it that way back in the early 1900’s, there was a newspaper that condemned the Wright Brothers. They questioned how the Wright Brothers could create a machine, heavier than air, that would fly. It defied the laws of physics. The newspaper questioned the Wright Brothers’ intelligence. One week later, them Wright boys were in the air. Guess they showed them newspaper folks.”
Dorian paces back and forth a little bit, stroking his beard in thought. It seems and epiphany strikes him as he claps his hand, turning back at the camera and pointing directly at it.
“Then you’ve got that Albert Einstein fellow. Einstein did not speak until he was four. Homeboy didn’t read until he was seven. His teachers, hell, even his parents thought he was mentally handicapped, slow, and anti-social. He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. I guess you could say he had a slower start than many of other kidlettes. But, man, I’m sure you’d agree that he did pretty damned good for himself. Today the man’s name is synonymous with genius.”
“Now, I ain’t gonna sit here and pretend that I am as smart as any of those men. In fact, when it comes to book smarts, I ain’t at even half their level. You know it. I know it. But, what we have in common is that we don’t, or I guess they didn’t since they’re all dead. But what we have in common is that we don’t give up, regardless of what people say about us.”
“Caledonia did what no one else has done. Now, at Golden Intentions, I ain’t got to worry about getting pinned or tapping out. What I have to worry about is 29 other guys or gals picking my fat ass up and over that top rope. Not exactly and easy task. And while I’m not booksmart, I got smarts of my own. I’m not going to rush at anyone in that match, so they can drop that top rope and then I fall over onto my fat ass. I’m not going to put myself in a situation where I am vulnerable. I do that enough outside the ring, I ain’t gonna be dumb enough to do it in the ring.”
Dorian cuts out. The scene cuts back to the beautiful California mountains. Hawkhurst walks westward into the shadows cast by the high forest ridges, his daughter in tow. Hawkhurst can smell the small animals of the open meadows cowering in their burrows. He hears the whisper of feathers carving the wind as a hunting hawk circles hundreds of feet overhead, and he feels the cold glimmer of stars that are not yet visible. He is completely immersed in his surroundings. It was such a change of pace from the city streets of Philadelphia. A man could get used to it.
His serious look starts to fade into a smile as he walks over to his green and silver Mustang. It is not so much the vehicle causing the smile, but the driver. He walks over and opens the door, and smiles to Morgan, who has been waiting patiently in the car.
“Are you ready for your match at Golden Intentions?”
“I'd better be.”
Chloe Hawkhurst climbs into the passenger's side and gets buckled, as her father plops down into the actual passenger’s seat. As soon as both are settled, Morgan throws the car into gear. She has a lead foot, to say the least. In the strange sea of shimmering red light, the black shadows of overhanging trees flickered shark-swift across the windshield. On the winding two lane blacktop, Hawkhurst sits uncomfortably as Morgan handles his Mustang for the first time. She drives with an expertise that he admired, but still, this was his pride and joy, and the fact that she opened it up made him feel a little uncomfortable.
“You have a heavy foot.”
Morgan smiled at Hawkhurst, her honey brown hair flying in the wind.
“Better than a big butt.”
“You're gonna get us killed.”
“Mom has rules about being late for dinner.”
Yep, he was on his way to meet the parents. Things were going well with Morgan, but time on the road seemed to take away from his focus every now and then.
“Better than being dead for dinner.”
“You've never met my mom, she's hell on rules.”
“So is are the State Troopers.”
“Sometimes you sound just like her.”
Hawkhurst braced himself as Morgan took a curve just a little too fast.
“Well, one of us has to be a responsible adult.”
“Sometimes I can't believe you're only three years older than me. Thirty, huh? You sure you aren't a hundred and thirty?”
She began to laugh as Hawkhurst shot her a look of mock anger.
“Yeah, I'm ancient.”
“Man, I love speed.”
“I hate it.”
“I love to move, streak, fly. Hey, maybe I was a gazelle in a past life.”
“Maybe you were a madwomen locked away in Bedlam.”
“Or a cheetah. Cheetahs are really fast.”
“Yeah, a cheetah, and one day you were chasing your prey and ran straight off a cliff at full tilt. You were the Wile E. Coyote of cheetahs.”
The three of them shared a laugh as Morgan sped along.
“You know it's a load of crap what Ouroboros pulled, right?”
Hawkhurst did a double take. In the few months they had been together, Morgan hadn't even mentioned she knew anything about his career outside of the fact that he was a professional wrestler. As far as Dorian know, she only knew about Golden Intent because he had been talking about it. Caught a little off guard, Hawkhurst smiled in spite of himself.
“I saw that thing they did, coming down after the match. That was messed up.”
“That's the nature of the beast. What can I say? My life's a war.”
“Yeah, but still…”
“You gotta realize, It's kind of one of those try to get the advantage over your enemies kind of thing. And this Elisha, man, he knows how to get the advantage. He's the fly in our soup, the pebble in our shoes, so to speak.”
“So, you gonna tear his head off or what?”
“I mean, that’s the plan. Getting past Ouroboros won't be easy, that's for damned sure. But he's going to have to learn, the same way everyone else did, that the "Demon of Sobriety" Dorian Hawkhurst he saw before has gone through a metamorphosis. The "Demon of Sobriety" Dorian Hawkhurst he used to know was soft. The most important thing to remember now, is that he hasn't seen the change inside me. But, he knows what I, I should say we, are capable of. I'm going to adapt to that and do whatever is necessary to win this Golden Intentions match. They can put Elisha in front of me. They could put Caledonia in front of me. They could put God himself in front of me and I would show Him no mercy. In my business, it's all about winning, and I will do whatever I need to do to do just that.”
“Just do me a favor?”
“Don't get killed?”
“Well, I was thinking don't kill anyone, but that works, too.”
Morgan once again comes up on a turn too fast, causing Dorian to instinctively grab his 'Oh Shit' handle.
“I'm a good driver.”
“Daddy doesn’t know how to relax.”
“Sorry, just a little on edge. Sunday is my chance to prove that I belong at the top. I just don't want to blow it.”
“Don't worry, Dorian. You'll be fine.”
“Thanks. What if a tire blows?”
“The tires won't blow.”
“What if one does?”
“Then we're just jelly in a can. They won't even be able to separate the remains into two distinct bodies. It will be a total amorphous mess. They won't even need coffins for us. They'll just pour our remains in a jug and put us in one grave, and the headstone will read “Morgan Dorian Chloe Murante Hawkhurst. Only a cuisinart would have been more thorough." Seriously, relax.”
“You think your parents will like me?”
“Thought you were worried about a blown tire?”
“I'm a multichannel worrier. Will they like me?”
“Of course they'll like you. You know what I worry about?”
“Apparently not death.”
“You, silly. I worry about you.”
"Aw... she likes you, Daddy."
“I'll be fine. I'm like a cat, I always land on my feet.”
Morgan pressed down the accelerator harder.
“Hate to be late for dinner.”
“Just don't get us killed, alright.”
Dorian took a moment to appreciate her concern, before placing his hand on the gear shift. Morgan smiled back and took Dorian's hand. They rode in silence. They were late for dinner.
The scene cuts back to Dorian, who is standing right where we left him.
“Now, after I got back to the locker room and everything got sorted out with that little party we had with Ouroboros, I thought about what had happened with Caledonia. I thought about where I was at and why I lost. It’s not that I think that she’s better than me, even though she was that night.”
“You know Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job as a news anchor in Baltimore. After that she could have given up. But, she didn’t. She decided she needed to do her own show and do things her way. Now, I realize that I need to do the same thing. Not start my own show or anything like that, but I need to go about doing things my own way. Thomas Edison once said “I have not failed; I have found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” So, what I need to do is approach things differently. I should have devoted my full focus on Caledonia. That is where I failed.”
Dorian scowls, a look of anger across his face.
“The hardest part of this, is knowing that I failed. Not that I failed to beat Caledonia, but that I have failed… rather, I am failing, to forgive myself. Every single person I have mentioned has forgiven themselves for their shortcomings. I have to learn to do the same. So, I didn’t win my first battle royal. That just means I need to do things differently. I need to do things better.”
The anger has vanished away from Dorian’s face.
“What defines a man is not the problems he comes across. No, man, it’s how he deals with those setbacks. I am not going to dwell on this. What’s done is done. If I want to give my daughter the life she deserves, then I will put what has happened behind me. For here on out, I look only towards Golden Intentions. I look to the future.”
Dorian Hawkhurst could not sleep well in strange houses. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, his father had dragged him from one end of the the country to the other, staying nowhere longer than a month or two. Because of his father’s business travels, so many terrible things had happened to him in so many terrible places that Dorian had eventually learned to view each new house not as a new beginning, not with hope for stability and happiness, but with suspicion and quiet dread. Now, he had been freed of his troubled father and free to stay only where he wished. These days, his life was almost as stable as that of a cloistered nun, as meticulously planned as any bomb squad's procedures for disarming an explosive device, and without any of the turmoil on which his father had thrived. Still, he worried that all of his travel was negatively affecting Chloe. That was why he brought her with him now. If where he was staying could not be stable, his presence in her life would be. Perhaps his bid on the vineyard would be accepted.
Nevertheless, this first night in the Murante's house, Dorian was reluctant to undress and go to bed. He sat in the darkness in a medallion-back armchair at one of the two windows in the guest room, gazing out at the moonlit beaches alongside the Pacific Ocean. Morgan was in another room, at the far end of the second-floor hall, no doubt sound asleep, at peace because this house was not at all strange to her. Dorian stared out the window, longing for the warmth for Morgan's body next to his. Between that and Golden Intentions, he seemed to be the most restless person on Earth at that very moment. Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that he had a chance to defeat Caledonia, he was still on edge. Despite the goings on with Ourobors, he had made Caledonia his number one priority. He pondered a lot of what he was saying and experiencing, weighing the pros and cons of each and every decision. Caledona was not the enemy. Perhaps making her the priority was his mistake.
Going into Golden Intentions, Dorian knew he would be a tough opponent, for anyone in the match who wanted to step up. Hawkhurst knew that from the wars he had waged previously. Since his loss to Caledonia, the fire that burned inside him was a blazing inferno, engulfing him with hatred Ouroboros as a whole and most importantly, Elisha.
The seagulls cawed in the night sky, floating over the harbor even at this late hour. It was amazing how this house seemed to offer the views of so many things. If it wasn't for the waves of the ocean, he would feel totally out of place. The clouds stretch across the sky, obscuring the view of the moon hanging in the air. A shiver racked his body as the night air continued to pass through the open window. He knew this feeling. The rain would be coming soon. His attention shifted back to this Sunday, and the colossal shadow of Golden Intentions that loomed overhead. He could not shake, in that moment at least, the doubt running through his head. The last time he was in this kind of match, he would be one of the last three men remaining before getting eliminated. He was not good enough. Would he be able to free himself of this burden? Even he himself could not be certain. He had a chance to become the number one contender to CWF's heavyweight title. His train of thought was split, unfortunately between that and the war being waged with Ouroboros.
Hawkhurst stared off into the distance. The rain had begun falling. Before his mind could wander, the gentle feeling of Morgan's breath caused him to break his concentration. She had apparently not been asleep as Dorian had surmised. In his trance like state, Hawkhurst himself had not noticed her enter the room.
“What's wrong, babe?”
“I couldn't sleep. Something told me that I should check on you.”
“What's on your mind?”
Morgan laughs to herself then settles her head on Hawkhurst's right shoulder.
“I brought you something, although I doubt it will help you sleep.”
“Milk and cookies?”
Morgan playfully hits Dorian in the arm. He smiles in spite of himself. She reaches behind her and picks up a cassette, and hands it to Dorian.
“You might want to pop this in the VCR.”
“Your parents still have one of those?”
“Yeah, this isn't exactly the 'Center for Technological Advancement' in case you failed to notice.”
“Let me guess, it has something to do with the very thing I'm trying to escape?”
“Yeah, it does.”
Hawkhurst nods silently. His mood turns somber.
"You know where to find me if you need me.”
Morgan starts to get up to leave, but Dorian gently takes her wrist.
“Wait, stay... please.”
“Are you sure?”
“If you're serious about this... about us, then you need to know what kind of things I deal with. I'm not asking you to like it, just to understand it. It's a part of who I am.”
The rain outside began falling gently. Morgan took the tape and popped in the VCR and turned on the television before pressing play. She settled back in behind Dorian, wrapping her arms around his torso.
Hawkhurst sat transfixed, carefully taking in every word, every expression, every tone spoken with every word. As the tape turned to different matches, he watched the wrestlers’ every move. Each one of them would be a foe come Golden Intentions. There was not a moment that Dorian wasn’t taking everything in. At the end of the tape was a highlight reel of Dorian's various victories.
As the tape ends, Morgan gets up and shuts everything off.
“What’s bugging you?”
“There's no shame in losing. You know that.”
“That depends on what is lost. Is there shame in losing a match? Hell no. But to lose an opportunity to gain that which you truly desire... that's the greatest shame of all.”
“A shame that you don’t have to live with. You will learn from this. You will come back stronger.”
There is a momentary, but poignant, pause.
“Will you be OK?”
“That depends, 'Lead Foot', are you driving me and Chloe to the airport?”
“I know I am.”
“Listen, Dorian, all kidding aside, there's a couple things you need to know.”
“First of all, you know you aren't the same man you were when you faced Caledonia. You fought the champ and you will come out better for it. You’ve been doing this, what, six months? You’re doing amazing considering where you are at in your career. Secondly, you need to stop questioning everything. I know that's what you're doing. You tend to get all quiet and contemplative. There is no answer that you will find before your match this Sunday. Beating yourself up won't accomplish anything... ziltch, zero, nada, nothing. The fans won't think any less of you because they will know that you gave them everything you could. And the last thing you need to keep in mind, is that win or lose, I love you.”
Dorian paused caught off guard by Morgan's last three words. She walked over to the front of the chair, and gently put each hand on the appropriate side of Dorian's face.
“Dorian? You OK there, champ?”
There was no way that Dorian could verbalize what he wanted to say. He pulled Morgan in slowly, kissing her slowly, gently, passionately. It was the first time in almost 8 years that he had let a woman get this close to him. Truth be told, it felt pretty damned good.
“I love you, too.”
The rain continued to fall. But to Dorian, the only thing that mattered in that moment was the woman in front of him.
The scene again cuts back to Dorian. This time, however, he is somewhere different. He is dressed in robes, reminiscent of those that would be worn by a Catholic priest. Emblazoned on his collar is an insignia of a hawk.
“The time for self-reflection is over. Now, it's time for the main event. I tried to punch my ticket by taking on Caledonia Highlander head on. And while I may not be at the pinnacle, I am most certainly not in the pit.”
“Caledonia stepped up and proved to the world why she holds her championship. She showed the world that she is the best, at least the best for the moment. I gave her everything I had and it was not enough. Does that mean I failed? Hell no. What it means is next time I need to bring more to the party. I was a fraction of a second from doing the unthinkable. I was a fraction of a second of pinning Caledonia and getting the pictures. Next time, I come harder. I come faster. I come with a ferocity that I should have come with before.”
“Here’s the thing. I don't mean the next time I faced Caledonia. I mean that next time is the next time I step into the ring next time is Golden Intentions. What I'm going to do is I am going to step into that ring and I'm going to start throwing bastards over the top rope. The only two people who are safe will be Ataxia and the Shadow. And Goddess forbid if any of Ouroboros are dumb enough to step in front of this freight train, they will be run not over, they will be run through.”
Dorian pauses, looking into the camera with an intensity that smolders in his eyes. Slowly, he raises his arms to form a cross with his body.
“I wear the robes of men who serve the God that has forsaken me. I wear these robes not because I serve that God. I will not bow down to the one that has abandoned me. I do not pray to him anymore. I do not ask for his guidance. I control my own destiny. I will do as I please. When I step between those ropes, for all intents and purposes, I am your God.”
“I'm not trying to blow smoke up your ass. I ain't even trying to be rude. I'm just trying to warn each and everyone of you motherfuckers that I was serious when I said I would do what I need to do to win. There is no one that holds me accountable other than myself. The ends will justify the means.”
“When I step into that ring, you can hit me as hard as you want. I will hit you harder. You can make me bleed. I will make you bleed more and I will wear your blood as warpaint. You can lower yourself to breaking the rules and I will find a new low. And, the beautiful part of all this, is that I will make sure you live to tell the tale.”
Dorian lowers his arms and continues speaking in a slow, measured cadence.
“I don't have time to run down everyone in this match. And I'm telling you, man, that's because other than my forsaken family, each and every person in this match is nothing more a nameless, faceless sheep. In that ring, we will have the Forsaken and 27 sheep that J.Rish is leading to the slaughter.”
“More than anyone else, I have something to prove. More than anyone else, I have a chip on my shoulder. Since I joined CWF I have gotten everything I have wanted, even when I haven't asked for it. I have been blessed. My blessing has been CWF’s curse.”
“Caledonia, you still have what I want... for now. If nothing else, I'm going to show, not just you, but the entire wrestling industry that I did fall into this by chance. I was made for this. I live, breathe, sleep this business. As I've said before, I don't do this for myself. I do this for my daughter. I do this for the Forsaken. And if nothing else, I want to win this match at Golden Intentions so that I can make sure that Elisia and his cronies don't benefit from this opportunity.”
Dorian removes the collar and throws it at the camera. He struggles to find the zipper on the back of the robe, but eventually finds it and sheds the robe as well.
“We all know how this works. I'm just a man, just like each and every person in this match. But I am a man who has scars that cannot be seen. I am a man who has faced more struggle than most people can even imagine. I am the toughest sumbitch in this match, you can believe that. I thrive on chaos. Look at my track record, it speaks for itself. As we get closer and closer to Golden Intentions, time slips away. Tick tock... Tick tock... Tick tock... When the clock hits midnight, you're all going to turn into pumpkins. And this man right here,” Dorian points to himself for effect. “He's going to smash you.”
Dorian walks out of the frame and the scene cuts out.