“Hey Yuki. Ooh, popcorn–nice! This have anything to do with what we’re having a look at today?”
“Mhmm. Still loading here, but I took a bit of a peek while you were on your way here. Sold out arena, looks like we’ve got some wrestling matches.”
“Sweet! You got any soda?”
“Pepsi’s in the fridge; should be cool now.”
“Get me one, too?”
“Alright, thank you! Now that we’re ready, let’s jump on in!”
I remember the screams that night…the gasps and the panicked calls for help at the 1980 Summer Rumble. But mostly, I remember the smell of charred and burning flesh not ten feet away. I was down and facing away from what had just happened, and I dared not get up to look, lest I give myself away. As the clamor dropped to an eerie hush and murmurs, I groggily lifted my head from the mat and let shaking limbs attempt to bring myself upright. A few inches up…and I dropped back down.
Someone made their way to me and a hand came to my shoulder. A raspy voice whispered, “Been an accident; the doc is here and medics are on their way.” It was Vic, our ringside trainer. “I’m gonna stay over here with you. Keep the double injury angle going; sell the recovery a bit.”
“No problems here,” I whisper back with my eyes still closed. “Bastard thumped me good. The fuck happened?”
I felt Vic move around me, still trying to keep up the appearance of giving me some medical attention.
“Nah, it’s okay, I got him,” he addressed someone else, “he’ll be alright.”
“Like hell,” I replied, feeling him move back down to the side of my face. “Gonna need an ice pack or somethin’.”
“I’ll getcha whatever you need…just don’t look at the other side of the ring, okay?”
I furrowed my brows, eyes still tightly shut. “Rick hurt legit?”
“…Yeah, Billy, it’s really bad—pyro went wrong or somethin’. Just start sliding out this way, me n’ Jack will help you out the back.”
I did as told and slid and crawled to the ring apron. My legs dangled over the side and I shook the cobwebs loose. Vic took to my right side, Jack, the left, and put my arms over their shoulders to assist me around the ring and up the walkway. A chorus of boos rose as I got up onto shaky legs. Half-full cups and wadded-up hot dog wrappers bounced off me. As we walked around the perimeter of the ring, I snuck a sideways glance to my opponent.
Between the shuffling bodies, he lay prone, facing away from the dirty turnbuckle—tattered and blackened—and ring post. His back was still, no indication of breathing. Flecks of ash and skin peppered the canvas. Limping up the walkway, I dropped all my weight to my left side, going down to one knee, bringing Jack to the ground alongside me. This got a pop from the fans, who started booing again as I regained my composure. The jeers faded as we passed through the curtain, out of the small arena, and into the concrete labyrinth behind the scenes.
Rick’s dead; one of the road agents told me some minutes later, handing over a bag filled with chopped ice. I sat back with it resting against the growing lump on the side of my face, appearing to take the information in. My eyes filled with tears as the information was relayed to me.
He was probably the biggest babyface the territory had ever seen. But he was a fucking train wreck outside the ring: alcohol abuse, cases of domestic violence and attempted rape—all swept under the rug to protect him and our livelihood. Even on the canvas he couldn’t work safe and crippled many opponents in his time (luckily they were all commie heels and the fans ate that shit up). The facade he put up was brittle and inconsistent and sooner or later he’d end up exposing us and kill the business.
A bit of an extra charge his celebratory sparklers after he beat my big dumb monster persona was all it took. A freak accident, that’s all they said it was.
See, that’s the thing about crafting layers to a persona, if you did it well enough, even your closest friends and colleagues started to believe your gimmick. And to them, I was just a big, quiet dummy…one who couldn’t possibly have an education in science and chemistry.
“Ripping” Rick Robertson was dead, and we were all safer that way.
“What is it with you and death?”
“Hey, I don’t vet these little excursions. C’mon, you know this. It’s a shitty world out there. Bad things happen…humans are just awful. Anywhere they go, you’re liable to find destruction and pain somewhere in their wake…That’s not making you feel any better, is it?”
“You wanna rewind and at least watch all the undercard matches?”
“Yes…Yes, I do.”