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The Shadow Behind Me
« on: October 23, 2017, 09:33:27 AM »

Chirping. Always the chirping of the birds. Those fucking birds.

Natalie’s vision shook with every movement, like a small tremor on repeat. Every sound was a drill right through her skull. She wanted to scream and tell the birds outside to shut up, but Natalie knew that’d only bring more suffering. After all, it was forgetting the suffering that put her in this situation to begin with. Not that it made a difference. Natalie couldn’t remember the last time she woke up and wasn’t nursing some type of ailment or hangover. Just a way of life.

She sat up on her couch, her hands clutching her throbbing head as she surveyed the damage in front of her. On the end table, a bottle of water and two Tylenol tablets. A gift given to her from the sober Natalie. It’d take some time, but it was enough. As she her vision started to become less foggy, the first thing she noticed was her tipped over coffee table, empty beer bottles along the edge of the couch, but what truly caught her eye was the light burning a hole in her retina. Natalie reached back to shut the blinds and as she looked back, there was the cause of the issue.

The F2W Championship.

She wasn’t sure how it got there, but to be fair, she wasn’t sure how she got back in her apartment. Everything from the night before was just a blur. The match Natalie had against Alfie was the last thing she remembered. And the stench. Gagging as the smell of her dirty clothes finally hit her. She practically ran to her bathroom to hop in the shower and wash away the reminisce of the “Tunnel of Love”, making a mental note to throw her gear and clothes away. On the corner of the black countertop, Natalie saw the residue from the night before.

The idea of a hit right away was tempting, but she knew better of it. The devil on her shoulder made a convincing argument that it’d ease the pain in her head, but that was just another trick his kind brought. She left the bathroom and fetched a fresh pair of clothing before heading back out to the living room. Natalie fixed her coffee table before sitting down and staring at the F2W Championship resting on a chair across from her. Dumbfounded by its appearance, she studied it from afar; as if it was some science experiment.

“Did I...did I win that?”

“Yeah, you did.”

Natalie jumped to her feet; instantly bracing for a fight, but dropped her guard as Joey walked out from her kitchen with a apple in hand. She didn’t even want to know how he got in. She let out a big sigh in relief as she sat back down, her eyes still locked on the championship.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Joey...could you at least have knocked?”

He shrugged.

“I did. You didn’t answer. Thought maybe something happened. I came in.”

“Yeah...I was in the shower. But sure, make yourself at home.”

Another shrug as he took a bite out of the apple. He picked up the championship and handed it over to Natalie, who took it and inspected it closer. A first for her. Not even in her MMA career had she managed to pick up gold, but in her second wrestling match...or whatever it was, she became the face of a company. Natalie had only known the belt for less than twenty minutes and she loved it. It marked something she never thought she’d have: Success.

But Joey’s presence was a healthy dose of reality. Even if it was poisonous in nature. Without him, she’d be able to celebrate her title win. At least, celebrate enough to remember it. But that’s what Joey does, reminds everyone of where they’re supposed to be in life and what they’re supposed to be doing. If he was there, it meant time for work. And sure enough, it was time. She looked at her phone: 4PM. Sunday. The start of a new work week for Natalie.

“Boss is real proud of you. Wants to talk to you and discuss the next steps. Got it?”

“Got it, Joey.”

He smirked and winked at Natalie before taking another bite out of the apple and opening her front door.

“You know how he is. Don’t be late, kid.”

And just like that, he was back out. The enjoyment that came with clutching the belt was soon replaced with the fear and dread that came with a meeting with the boss. She still had time. Time to just sit back, digest everything, and let the dread fester inside of her until Natalie had to leave. For now, she just wanted to sit alone in her apartment and continue looking at the F2W Championship.

Her F2W Championship.

It still all seemed so surreal. The thought came into her mind of, “What if Natalie hadn’t gotten herself in such a situation?”, but she had to push that to the side. No more what-ifs. She couldn’t just enjoy her championship just like she couldn’t just enjoy anything. There was always someone watching over her and policing her. Always on someone else’s leash and at least this owner was generous enough to let her walk around and act like she had some personal freedom. And she had no one to blame. Only herself.

But too many months had been spent thinking like that. Natalie knew who she was now. What’d she have to do for them. But one day out of the month, she could forget about it. If only for a few hours. She hugged the championship tight to her chest and felt like crying right there, but she had to hold it together. At least until later in the night when she’d get back home.

Natalie had spent so much time fawning over the belt, that she had forgotten her original question: How did it end up in her apartment? In her bag by the couch, Natalie pulled out her laptop and searched for the replay of Melee 1.

Time to do it all again.



“A spaceship?”

“Or...something like that. I don’t know...I don’t really remember.”

“Think that’s cause of some alien technology?”

“No...it was just a set...I think. But it wasn’t alien. I just got hit on the head is all, Glenn. Though...I don’t even know how I got home. And don’t you dare say-”

“Aliens.”

The owner of The Old Whale shook his head and laughed as he cleaned out a glass with a rag that had probably been soaked in some dirty water. Not that Natalie cared that much as she took a drink from her own glass. Beside her on the bar top was the belt, she looked at it with such a bright smile.

“Told you that you’d be able to do it, Nat.”

Now it was all about keeping it. Natalie looked over her shoulder at the rest of the bar and envisioned a wrestling ring placed right in the center of it. By the end of the month, she’d be competing and defending her championship there. Against the man she beat for it no less.

Blackstar.

There was something about just thinking of him that creeped Natalie out. Then again, she knew that there wasn’t anything about Blackstar that was normal. Especially when she thought of their match. The setting, the people, the opponent, but most of all...the lights. It was hard to deny the fact that she wouldn’t be staring at the F2W Championship without the shenanigans going down. As much as Natalie wanted to believe it was her skill and talent that got her there, it wasn’t the entire truth.

Even in victory, there was defeat. She tried to hold her head up high and act like a champion, but it just wasn’t meant to be for Natalie. In a way, she was grateful there wasn’t any press that came with F2W. No pressure of carrying herself a certain way or having to present something that wasn’t her. That was the silver lining in it all. At the end of the day, she was Natalie King. Who she was in F2W was the same outside of it. And even if she wasn’t proud of herself most days; questionable or not, she was the champion.

And no one could take that away from her.

Not Blackstar.

Not anyone.

For as long as she could, she’d prove that. Natalie finished off the last of her beer before grabbing the title and heading out to the back of the bar. She leaned against the back door and waited for her ride. As she waited, all she could think about were the questions that came with being THE person. Could she handle the pressure? Everyone would be gunning for her now and even if she did beat Blackstar, who would be next? How many would be next? Could her body hold up?

Sure, it was just one a month, but what if it changed? And how many times could she use “just once a month” as an excuse after going to some other shithole to wrestle and possibly get injured at? Her match against Alfie was a good first test. Sink or swim. Natalie definitely swam, but for how long? The sharks were in the water and it’d only be a matter of time before she’d tire out to join them beneath the water.

She didn’t have much more time to think of it was she watched a black SUV pull up to the back of the bar. Natalie opened the back passenger door and was greeted by Joey’s emotionless demeanor. The two up front she didn’t recognize, but that was just the nature of the beast. Always seemed like the drivers and side guys would come and go. But she didn’t like to think about how deep it all ran. They only served as a reminder of how replaceable everyone was.

Natalie glanced over to Joey and thought the same thing for him. Then she remembered who she was, where she was, and the situation she was in. She was just as replaceable as them. If anything, she was beneath the driver and bit players. How hard would it really be for them to find another screw up and enlist them? The list must be endless.

“Right. We’re here.”

As Natalie got out of the SUV, the clinking of a metal bat could be heard knocking baseballs into a cage. There she saw him. Seated with a couple of muscle not too far from him and another occupied in the batting cages. When he saw Natalie, there was a smile on his face. The smile of the Devil himself. As she got closer, he rose up from the bench, and extended his arms.

“Natalie, I’m so glad to see you.”

This was new.

“Take a seat.”

And she did. Irving, the boss, took the F2W Championship from her and looked at it with the same childlike wonder as she did. But not for the same reasons. Like everything with Irving, they were sinister reasons. He’d say something seemingly harmless, but the implications that carried were just as dangerous as the acts themselves. He patted the face of the belt before handing it back to Natalie and looking at it.

“You know...this thing? This F2W thing? It’s going to do you a lot of good, kid.”

“And why’s that?”

He chuckled.

“I didn’t get to where I am without seeing business opportunities everywhere I look. This? This is gold. And I’m not just talking about the metal. Invest a little...make some money. Think, Natalie, of who I could meet with this...the connections I could make? We could go international.”

The thought brought another smile to Irving’s face. The idea of his enterprises corrupting anymore made her skin crawl. Even if she was part of the problem, she didn’t want it spreading any further than it already has.

“Even if this dies in a month and I lose all the money I put into it...it’s all about networking, Nat.”

“Don’t you think you’re...putting yourself at too much risk?”

Any jovial mood Irving was in suddenly took a turn for the worse and his tone became defensive.

“Risk for what?”

He squinted his eyes; shooting daggers right at Natalie for asking such a thing.

“Nat, how stupid do you think I am? Risk...you know, Natalie, you should just let me do the thinking, alright? There’s a reason I’m here...and a reason you’re there.”

Irving inched his face closer to Natalie’s, trying to intimidate her, but she wasn’t backing down. Even if it meant a death, she’d at least go out happy knowing she got a few strikes in. Maybe it was that fearlessness that kept her around. Or the recklessness. He pulled back and looked away into the distance, letting out another chuckle.

“How do you think you won, Nat?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean. You think you’re blessed with some fuckin’ good fortune?”

Another laugh from Irving and he was joined by the henchman next to him.

“You don’t have to thank me, kid, you do enough as is...so do me a favor and keep that for a bit. Keeping you around is gonna pay off in the long run. Who would’ve known?”

Irving looked back at Natalie with a smirk. He looked back at the belt once more and then back to her.

“And if anyone asks...I’m your agent. Now get going, Nat. Got some training to do...and Joey will have a job for you.”

A pat on the back that made Natalie want to grab Irving’s hand and snap it. She stood up and was escorted back to the SUV by Joey. Though, something felt different this time. Natalie had to think about it exactly, but she figured out what changed. There was a sense of purpose. An opportunity had presented itself. And the F2W Championship was the catalyst for it all.

“Gonna need you to go down and pick up someone tomorrow.”

“What for?”

“You know. Get to the payphone by the deli and I’ll give you the address.”

Natalie didn’t say anything in return, but just gave a nod. Just like that, back to grunt work. But maybe that too would change. Although she hated to think of it, she knew Irving was right. It was an opportunity. Business for him, but personal for Natalie. A chance to prove something to herself. A chance to be better than whatever it was she was doing in life. If she wanted to see that change, she’d have to do what the boss said.

It was about realizing her worth. She had to hold onto the F2W Championship. Without it? She was nothing. With it? It kept her above the drivers. It made her important for once. Irreplaceable. Maybe that was just a delusion, but she needed to believe it. A chance to pay her debts. Work she could be proud of for once. She thought of what Irving said or rather, what he didn’t say. Somehow, he was involved in her title win. She knew he was. And now she had the belt. The one item saving her from sinking any lower.

Maybe she didn’t earn it.

But Natalie will sure as hell fight to defend it.



In the back room of The Old Whale, there was a white sheet nailed to the wall; an attempt to somehow make the setting look more professional. It didn’t. But that didn’t matter as Natalie King walked into the frame with the F2W Championship resting on her shoulder. The muffled rumblings of music and the bar crowd could be heard, but Natalie’s voice cut above it all.

“Here I stand...the F2W Champion. Something I didn’t think was going to happen right away...certainly not something I anticipated winning on my first night. But now I’m here. There’s no going back. When I came to F2W, my fighting experience was minimum. Sure, I did my MMA, but this? This whole thing is a new world...one I didn’t think I’d be ready for. When I saw what I had to do against Alfie...it woke me up. I saw something I didn’t know I had in me. And that’s why this is here.”

A quick readjustment of the championship.

“Now a target is painted right on my back. You can say whatever about me beating Blackstar...I’ll admit it was unbelievably good timing, but you can’t discredit the fact that I beat Alfie and I was holding my own against Blackstar. Take whatever you want away from me...but you’re not taking this championship. I was put into the spotlight and I’m determined to stay. I know that each show, I’m going to have to go out to wherever I have to go, fight, give it my all, fight some more...and hopefully be able to walk back home with the F2W Championship around my waist.”

“So I don’t intend this month to be the exception to that rule. I have to step up once more against Blackstar and I have to repeat what I did last month. There’s no going back for me now. When I thought I was just dipping my toe into the pool...I was diving in head first. That kind of thinking? It’s why I’m the champion and it’s why I’m going to fight as hard as I must to stay champion. I know Blackstar is going to bring a challenge...he did before and now with a chip of his...intergalactic Scientology shoulder? I don’t expect anything different.”

For a brief moment, there’s a slight smirk on Natalie’s face. The absurdity of the situation breaking through, but she tries to suppress it and continue on.

“But we’re fighting on my turf. Yeah, say I’ve got a home field advantage, I’d love to say that was true...but come on. Do you really think a bar crammed with drunks are really going to care who wins or who loses? All they came out to do was drink and see a fight! So that’s what we’re going to do, Blackstar. We’re going to fight. I’m not going to host any debate or play along with your games...I’m going to do what it takes to stay the F2W Champion.”

“Let me ask you...what are you going to do, Blackstar? Maybe I’m playing the fool. Maybe I’m entering this a bit too ignorant because I’ll admit...there’s something about you that makes you different. Aside from the preaching and the makeup...you’re something else. And that unpredictability makes you a killer. That’s why I think The Old Whale is such a great neutral site. Who knows what’ll happen here? Maybe someone throws their drink at you...maybe the ring will fall apart...or maybe everything will go as planned and we repeat the same thing from the first Melee.”

“Don’t get me wrong, regardless of what you do or think...I respect you, Blackstar. I respect you for simply willing to step into a ring and fight for what you want. Or for what you believe in. Unfortunately...I’m here to do the same thing. You got a chip on your shoulder...you’re a damn wildcard. That’s real dangerous. But there was a lesson for me to learn last month when I first faced Alfie. He was a wildcard...I didn’t know anything about him or what to expect. So when he told me at face value what he intended on doing...he delivered.”

Another smile; this time one purely out of respect for her previous opponent.

“So I can’t let him down for teaching me that. I won’t know exactly what’s going on in that head of yours...but I at least know now that I’m strong enough to fight it. Granted, you’re a touch above Alfie and probably everyone else in F2W...but that doesn’t scare me. If it did, I wouldn’t even be here talking to you. I’m not going to back down. No matter what you do...I’m here to win it all over again. My win may be tainted...but you better believe that I’m going to do everything it takes to disprove everyone that have doubted me.”

“Step up. Let’s fight. We’ve both got something to prove. It’s the old cliche of who wants it more. And I’ll tell you something, Blackstar...I’ve only got a taste of what it means to be the F2W Champion...and that’s an addiction I’m not letting up on. I’m giving it my all, you’ll give it your all...it’s going to be an ugly brawl and what better way than a place where I’ve had hundreds of ugly brawls? Let’s not disappoint. If this is what you want, Blackstar…”

She pauses as she unhooks the F2W Championship and holds it up for the camera to see.

“You’ll have to kill me to win it.”

A wink from Natalie before putting the belt back on her shoulder and walking off from the scene.