CH. 01 – Ghost Story (Origins Revisited)
By: James Raven
Writing Prompt: Yes
Date: 7th Nov 2021
RAVEN ORIGINS REVISITED
The YouTube wheel spins slowly, the rotating white and gray dots the only source of light in an otherwise pitch dark room. A video finally begins, VHS scan lines rising slowly up the screen as the fuzzy image begins to play with the accompaniment of canned trumpet sounds. The trumpets whimper out in a sad sputter as we see a small toy wrestling ring on a wooden table, faded logos painted onto the hard plastic ring skirt and peeling stickers lifting off the solid mat. Two children sit on opposite sides of the table, their faces masks of boredom as they balance their chins in their hands.
“Hey there, kids!”
The children’s eyes light up as the disembodied voice speaks to them from off screen, smiles spreading from ear to ear.
“Is your home booking getting a little stale? Are you sick of battling your friends with the same combinations of Prestons and Montouris and their supporting casts that you’ve been recycling for years?!”
“Gee mister, it sure has gotten dull!”
We cut away from the children with their toy ring to a small wall made out of hollow plastic bricks.
“Well the good people of FIGHT! Figurines have heard your call, and are proud to kick off their ‘Season Two’ line with the most exciting new face on the roster!”
A hand punches through the plastic brick wall, fingertips wrapped around an action figure and presenting it to the camera. The abs look painstakingly sculpted, each hair perfectly in line with his models natural coif.
“It’s The People’s G.O.A.T.! The only toy on the market that might make your mothers inner thighs sweat! James Raven comes with twenty-four points of articulation, which will be a shocking change of pace for some of you Sahara fans who’s favorite plastic toy can barely articulate at all!”
We cut to one of the two children, holding a FIGHT! Figurines Season One Sahara toy which is for all intents and purposes a blowup doll. The child sticks his finger absently into Sahara’s open mouth and then frowns at the camera.
“Now YOU can control the action as James Raven punches, kicks, and flirts his way through The Tower to save New Status Quo’s ass! New Status Quo figurines are sold separately but you can get Shawn Warstein at a significant discount! This James Raven figurine comes with advanced magnet technology, drawing all female figurines in close!”
We cut to a James Raven figure being held on one side of the screen, and an Atara Themis toy being held on the other. One hand lets go of the Themis toy and it quickly flies across the screen, its face sticking to the Raven figures crotch as the children’s eyes widen in shock and the camera quickly tilts off its axis and cuts away.
“Uhhhh… Anyways! James Raven can be the deadliest member of your roster,and all you have to do is find a way to get him some Blood Money so that he can actually do something! Or you can leave him in the box for thirty years like some sort of weirdo and hope he ends up being more valuable than your retirement accounts! WHATEVER!”
“What’s a retirement account?”
“Don’t worry about it, kid! Just grab your parents credit card and ride your bike to the nearest toy store before these action figures Ravensault off the shelves and into someone else’s shopping basket this Christmas season!”
“Does James Raven fit in my Batmobile?”
“I don’t fucking know kid, I’m just reading the script…”
“Does James Raven come with a kung fu grip?”
“Nope, that’s G.I. Joe, but The People’s G.O.A.T. DOES come with an ‘overhead toss’ motion and a miniature Miss Michelle figure that he can eliminate from any structure they meet up in!”
We cut to a shot of the FIGHT! Figurines James Raven toy with Miss Michelle over his head. A hand squeezes his legs together and his arms fly forward, launching Michelle off the screen. Pricing info flashes on the screen, and a small disclaimer of all the toys that need to be purchased separately scrolls across the bottom.
“The James Raven action figure, the closest thing to being in a FIGHT! NYC ring with him, but this way you won’t risk catching whatever trash disease Paul Montouri keeps smearing all over the canvas…”
The children high five, using their new James Raven toy to pin an old and tattered Allison Riggs-Preston doll for the three count.
The commercial ends.
Saturday, November 6th
“Ravens Nest”, The Tower
The sensation of falling wakes him.
He kicks his feet wildly on the sofa, arms windmilling through the air in front of his face as he snaps back to the world of the woke. He gasps for breath, trying desperately to slow his heart rate as he fights through the disorientation. Where was he? How long had he been asleep?
He peers through the darkness for clues, and the details trickle back to him slowly.
The Tower. He had come to New York early and asked to be shown to his suite; he had a vague memory of throwing clothes into some nearby drawers but everything outside of that was fuzzy. He had been running on fumes for weeks, and when everything imploded at OCW he had lowered his head and poured himself into training for the Tara Fenix Charity Cruise and his mercenary role at Ascension as a distraction.
His cell phone lays on the couch next to him, YouTube blaring retro commercials for old Star Wars action figures on an endless autoplay. He must have dozed off watching some nostalgia for comfort. He fumbles to swipe the app closed and slips the device clumsily into the pocket of his jeans before sitting up slowly and swinging his bare feet down to the plush carpeting.
He rubs his eyes, yawning through cotton mouth as he stands and heads towards the kitchenette for a glass of water. He stops in front of the window, turning slowly to study the flickering lights and bustling activity of the city… alive in its darkest hours. There was symbolism to be found there; some sort of inspiration to be drawn. He’d mine it eventually.
He continues to the kitchen, trying to keep his mind clear so that he can fall back asleep without too much of a struggle. Good rest had eluded him lately, and he needed every minute of it that he could get before his Venom debut on Monday. There were some people in the company that claimed to have high hopes for him. He’d hate to disappoint them just because he couldn’t get a handle on himself mentally…
Who could blame you though, right? You’ve got a lot on your plate.
James whips around on the kitchen tile, eyes darting around the corners of the room for an intruder. Nothing. Nobody. Not that he can see through the darkness, at least. He can’t remember where the lightswitch is. They had shown him when they brought him up to the room, but he was basically a zombie at that point. He had been too preoccupied with thoughts about where things were at with Betsy, whether NSQ actually wanted him around, and Druscilla…
It’s across the room, next to the doorway.
James spins around once more. He wasn’t imagining things, someone was definitely talking to him from inside the suite. He turns to glance across the room, the switch right beside the doorway and illuminated by moonlight from the window. He darts across the suite and slaps the switch, flooding the room with a glow so bright and jarring that he needs to squint through it.
Still nothing. Still nobody.
He shakes his head from side to side, trying to wake himself up. He must still be dreaming, or something. There must be some hazy spectre’s of his subconscious lingering as he stumbled for his late night refreshment, right? He feels his body coil just in case, ready for a potential fight if he needs to be.
Oh, relax. Nobody wants to attack you. Besides, I don’t care if you became “The G.O.A.T.” or not, I was never worried about you beating me and I’m not going to start now.
The voice sounds vaguely familiar, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. It’s someone he hasn’t heard from in a long time, that’s for sure. He grabs a small statue off the marble countertop, brandishing it at his side just in case as he makes his way out of the kitchen and heads towards the bathroom. He peeks behind the door and rips back the shower curtain, but sees nobody. He even opens the medicine cabinet and closes it again, half expecting to see some deranged face behind him in the reflection.
No Betsy? You guys make a habit of sleeping in separate beds? Ha, I’m just kidding. I know she’s gone too much for you guys to have any sort of established sleeping patterns. That girl is EVERYWHERE, huh? More companies than you these days. More galaxies and timelines, that’s for sure.
James opens the closet door, poking his head inside cautiously. He uses the statue to push aside a few dry cleaning bags, but finds nothing. With a sigh he slides the door shut again, turning back into the suite and trying to identify potential hiding spots. It occurs to him that it could be some sort of bluetooth set up, a pre-recorded message left by someone who knew which insecurities could be played with.
You think I’m an iPod and speaker? C’mon that’s insulting. Have you really forgotten me already? What the hell did I do to deserve that?! Sure, I died, but it’s been what… twelve? Thirteen years since then? Talk about holding a grudge.
The blood runs cold in James’ veins, heartbeat thumping overtime. Suddenly it hits him; where he knows the voice from, why the memory was so distant. He drops the statue to the floor with a loud thud; it’s not going to help him. He pinches his own forearm between his fingertips until the flesh turns purple, but he doesn’t wake from this suddenly shifting reality.
He has to be asleep. He HAS to be. There’s no way this could be happening otherwise. He mutters under his breath then darts back up the hallway towards the bathroom, spinning the faucet to release a torrent of cold water and plunging his face underneath it.
I never thought you’d forget me, James, not after everything we went through together. I knew you’d replace me, that much was obvious; Aidan Collins, Centurion, Big Shank, Shawn Warstein… you always needed someone to look up to, and to use as a canary in the coalmine, right? Let them do everything first and pass their knowledge down to you, so you can come in behind them and try to pitch the perfect game. Haaa! I’m on to you. They may not be, but I am.
He pulls his face from underneath the faucet, water running through his stubble and spilling onto the floor.
Shut the fuck up.
HE SPEAKS! Thank God, I was starting to think Betsy had your tongue in her flying fucking phone booth along with your testacles. Let’s play a game: imagine that I was some sort of attacker, and you managed to call your circle of friends for help… do you think they’d show up?
He storms out of the bathroom, checking around every corner and shining light into every shadow for the source of the voice. It can’t be what he thinks this is. It can’t possibly be who it sounds like.
I don’t think they would. They’ve all got other things going on. Dickie and Aidan are PWS champions, and have their own lives. They’re only working with you because of Shawn, and Shawn? He’s so distracted by Kasey Winterborn that he literally forgot you existed until you went all crazy and tried to ghost the industry over it! Betsy might be the only one… but you’d have to hope it’s the one night a week where she hasn’t prioritized some company or tag partner or global adventure ahead of you… and those aren’t good odds.
He makes his way back to the bedroom, and sees the familiar figure standing near the window. He’s clad in his signature black ring garb, a trench coat dangling low enough to scrape the floor. Black gloves rest on the windowsill as moonlight pours in on the man’s face, painted white with black striping that spiderwebbed from the center. His hair is slicked back, combed neatly.
He grins as he turns to face James.
Nah. You’re dead. This is a dream.
Hello, little brother.
Contain your excitement and change your panties folks, because the moment you’ve all been waiting for has arrived! The People’s G.O.A.T. has entered the chat and his silver tongue and razor wit are ready for liberal use on the finest that FIGHT! NYC has to offer!
The hottest free agent entering The Tower for season two is here, abs popping and crosshairs dialing in on the top stars that are sure to be presented before me. Surely, after coming through as the MVP of Ascension, the top brass would want to test me against one of their top stars!
I, uh, wasn’t expecting to see you here first.
I like the new hair. Brunette looks good on you, and so does losing. I’m nobody’s slump buster, cupcake, and sure as shit not somebody who’s only wins came months ago over some guys that don’t even fucking work here anymore. You’re a sacrificial lamb, Allison, and I hate to be the one to explain it to you. I’m sure that despite six consecutive losses or whatever the fuck it’s been, you’re walking into Venom dead set on shocking the world.
You are not a good wrestler just because you’ve been injected by a couple.
You are not a contender because you’ve swallowed one.
I hate to be this vulgar about things, what you do on your personal time is your personal business, but what you do on camera is EVERYONE’s business and I watched Joe Montouri lick your plate like he was a kid trying to get all of the spaghetti sauce off of it. I’ve watched week after week of your promotional material, tip toeing the line between Real House Wives, Jerry Springer and straight up pornography. You told Dane that you had a want, a need and a desire to be in the ring?
Why don’t you develop a want, need and desire to be respected by your peers in this industry? Why don’t you care about being taken seriously?
I watched you with tears in your eyes, swearing your love to Dane and vowing to find the strength of your relationship, when not two minutes earlier in the same goddamn video you were begging Joe for his cock and making Paris Hilton look like a choir girl. Don’t you dare play the victim when people bring it up, either. “Waaah poor me people can’t stop talking about my sex life” when you literally released it to them!
If we all worked at a Best Buy and one of the cashiers slept with the homeless looking guy from receiving, we’d all be talking about it! AND YOU DID IT ON TV!
I’m not trying to call you a whore, Allison, but I will point out the hypocrisy in the way you present yourself and the way you claim to want to be treated. I will tell you that you’ve allowed yourself to become nothing more than a prop to two men who don’t deserve you elevating their story, and a pokemon card swapped between children whenever one of them gets himself a better deal.
You want to be a contender to the Bronx title? You want to be treated like some boss bitch in her big girl panties? Start fucking acting like one. Joe dropped every line in the book and you feel for them hook, line, and sinker before deepthroating the worm he dangled in the water. Dane is a far more toxic partner than anything FIGHT bookers could throw at you, and you continue to tolerate it… and… it’s… all… you… talk about.
Break out the ol’ pad and pencil, and start jotting down some notes because the strategy you’ve been using is getting you nowhere. Here, start this week! With me! I might be the first opponent you’ve ever had that hasn’t fucked you, fucked your husband, tried to fuck you, or tried to fuck your husband! None of your greatest hits apply to me!
I can’t wait to see what sort of fresh material you can come up with.
I’m not like the people you’ve faced before, Allison. I’m not even like the rest of New Status Quo. I’m my own breed, my own class, a bird of my own feather… and I’m not sure you’ve been properly lubed up to handle it. You couldn’t even handle little old Michelle. Not when she caved your shit in at BLOOD MONEY or when you spent a week talking about her obsession with fucking your husband, and she bottomed you out for a second time in front of everybody and proved in 4K that you weren’t ready for the Bronx belt.
You couldn’t handle Kasey when she beat you senseless at Ascension.
You couldn’t handle teaming with Sahara, you couldn’t handle the situation you created for yourself with Paul and Joe, and you couldn’t handle the pressure that came with the Islands title. Hey! We have something in common, we both won an important match for #NSQ! Fistbump.
I’m here for a reason, Allison, and it’s not to lose to you in my promotional debut. It’s not to be your first important win ever. It’s sure as fuck not to be subjected to graphic details of the next quasi-talented wrestler you allow inside of you. Tell Sahara and your husband that I’m coming for them. Tell the Montouri’s that their continued pursuit of #NSQ will earn them shattered dreams and broken hearts. Tell anyone else that questions you exactly what happened here.
“James Raven has entered The Tower”.
“He eviscerated me, and he’ll do the same to all of you”.
“We shall fear him… forevermore.”
This was just me cracking my knuckles. Don’t catch me once I’ve warmed up.
Moments pass, but the shock doesn’t fade. No one should expect it to.
James Raven studies his brother for the first time in well over a decade, as the man he had watched be lowered into the ground poses and does a little twirl to model for him. TJ takes a step towards James, but James backpedals in response.
What the hell is going on? How are you here?
You’re focused on the wrong details, baby. I’m here. Let’s just fast forward to the part where you accept it. Besides… Your girlfriend is a time travelling jedi, wizard, super detective, Dark Phoenix-in-waiting. This is hardly the strangest thing you’ve had to wrap your pretty little head around, get over yourself.
Are you… real?
Who’s real? What’s real? You’re talking to me, aren’t you?! I’m not going to be here forever, so if I was you I wouldn’t waste all our time trying to work out the logistics when we could be talking about something a little bit more meaningful.
James shakes his head and turns out of the bedroom and back towards the living room, but when he reaches the couch he had been sleeping on earlier he sees TJ sitting comfortably and patting the empty cushion next to him.
Like listen to you criticize me and all of my friends? No thanks, I think I’ll pass on that.
Your friends?! Ha. Need I remind you that they wanted to do this little FIGHT! run without you? Or has that horse been beaten to death and buried yet? As for you, if anyone has the right to criticize it’s me. You are who you are because of me, James, I don’t think I need to remind you. I should at least be allowed to tell you about how I feel you’ve handled MY career.
James practically explodes in a rage, swinging his arm wildly to point at TJ.
YOUR career?! YOUR CAREER?! You were a fucking developmental prospect, TJ! You were a walking gimmick ripped from a cult classic movie! You were a failing experiment, a built in glass ceiling!
You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, James.
I took over your contract when you died, but every contract I signed after that was my own. Every title I won and ally I made, that was all MY career and I don’t give a fuck what you think about any of it!
TJ nods his head slowly, standing up from the sofa and pacing towards the window.
All those allies. All those stand-in big brothers to help you out. I don’t love that. I was always set on walking my path alone.
And it got you fucking nowhere. Aidan Collins got me out of the minor leagues, Centurion showed me how this business worked, Big Shank pushed me to be the best version of myself in the ring, and Shawn-
Doesn’t give a fuck. He doesn’t give a fuck about anybody, why would you be any different? If you’re watching his back, fine, but if you’re not he doesn’t miss you. Are you kidding me? He’s FUCKING FUZZ! A new coat of paint doesn’t change what’s underneath, and you know exactly who he’s always been.
James says nothing. He wasn’t going to waste the breath on an argument that he’d already had a thousand times with a hundred different people in a dozen different companies. He trusted Shawn, and he knew all of the reasons that other people didn’t. It didn’t matter to him.
Whatever. We both know you’re going to wait around for him to put a knife in your back and a hypodermic needle in your neck. Just none of this whiny victim shit when it happens, OK? It’s pathetic. We get it, kid! Our family sucked and you’re bipolar! The XWF left you in the dust and you got divorced once. Boo hoo. Plenty of people have it way worse than you. I’M FUCKING DEAD, REMEMBER?! So if your “friends” forget to invite you to a party, or you lose a match once every four months… DEAL WITH IT! Going all emo on social media isn’t helping you, me, or anyone else.
It feels like the room is spinning as the apparent visage of TJ Raven berates his younger brother from beyond the grave, and James stumbles out of the living room and back to the kitchen for the glass of water he had gotten up for at the beginning of all this.
He pulls a Britta pitcher from the fridge, filling a tall crystal glass and draining the contents quickly. The cold liquid soothes a parched tongue and eases a strained throat. He refills the glass, and turns to look at his brother. He studies him intently, still trying to figure out what’s happening as TJ rolls his eyes.
I can’t believe my scrawny little brother became the hottest thing in wrestling. The fuck is this shit? Wrestling was MY way of sticking it to mom and dad, you dick!
You were supposed to be an actor. Maybe a lawyer or something, with the way you argue. When I asked you to fulfill my contract I never thought you’d make a career out of it. It’s the abs. I couldn’t have predicted those abs. Those alone must have picked up, like, eight world titles for you.
James scoffs noticeably.
I earned all my titles the hard way, thanks.
TJ throws his hands in the air suddenly, as if just remembering something he had noted earlier.
And the WOMEN! Oh my GOD! I picked up a rat or two back in the day, but you’ve got the top shelf beauties in the business practically throwing themselves at you… AND YOU SHRUG THEM OFF! It’s insanity! If I was still alive-
You’re not. You’re not alive. You’re a dream, or sleep deprivation causing hallucinations, or- or something. I don’t know. What I do know is that I watched you for a long time, growing up. I learned a lot about what not to do, and when it was my turn to be a man in the world or a fighter in the ring I carved my own fucking path, so just GO AWAY!
James spins around, and TJ is gone.
No lightning strike and no puff of smoke. He simply vanishes from sight.
James takes a few tentative steps around the room, and suddenly TJ reappears with a cackle.
Can you imagine if it was that easy? HA!
James groans, dropping his head into his hands and ready to break down. His nerves are worn thin, every cell in his body buzzing and vibrating like an engine about to burn out. TJ steps closer to him, a calming tone to his voice for the first time.
We could bicker all night, little brother. We’ve got more than a decade of finger pointing and name calling to catch up on. We’ll save it for later, and I promise you we’ll talk later. Consider me the devil on your shoulder for now.
I hate everything about that.
Don’t dismiss me, James. Whether you realize it or not I have your best interest at heart, I always have. DON’T fall in with #NSQ when any one of them would drop you to save the others. DON’T defer to Betsy when she would leave you in a heartbeat if she could find someone else capable of what you’re capable of. Nobody in FIGHT cares about you, but you. Nobody in The Tower can be trusted.
James says nothing.
Renegade Raven has a nice ring to it.
The lights in the suite cut out, plunging the two brothers into darkness.
James’ eyelids feel heavy.
Wait, is he laying down again?
He opens his eyes, finding himself sprawled on the sofa with his phone next to his head. YouTube videos play on the cell phone, classic advertisements for old Star Wars action figures. James reaches and clumsily swipes the app closed.
He looks at the clock.
He sits up and blinks several times. His throat is dry. He considers getting up for a glass of water, but ultimately thinks better of it. He lays back down and closes his eyes.