He didn’t care if people saw him stumble into the backyard, that or he was too blasted to notice anyone see him. Such an ugly old man he was, adorned with rags rather than clothes and armed with a bottle of his sweet green fairy. He watched the 20 or so people cheer and jeer as a skinny twerp of a teenager was brutalized in the makeshift ring. His attacker was a hulk of ‘roided flesh, with a gold-painted belt displayed proudly around his large waist, with the words HFWF WORLD CHAMPION scrawled in bleeding black ink and a skull dead center. Some fraternity brother bellowed each play through a microphone that was hooked up to a fuzzy PA system.
“And Johnny Endgame power bombs the Pale Man! This guy, holy fuck, man, Pale Man’s ain’t got a fuckin’ chance! Oh! Oh!! OHHHHH!! Endgame fuckin’ chair shots his ass! Damn, dawg!”
The old man didn’t know what the bro was saying. All those words, just slang filtered through an obnoxious voice. All the man knew was that this was a fight. The ring was just four single mattresses laid out in what could be described as a swastika, its design rounded out with four shovel handles with three electrical cables wrapped around the perimeter. Trashy guys, college students drunk on Kokanees and Bud Lights, cheered on the gladiators, themselves intoxicated but on something much heavier. The large one- he assumed that was Johnny Endgame- picked up the skinny one- the Pale Man?- and threw him against the ring’s center, into a pile of fluorescent lights. The white shards flew about amongst the toxic smoke, but instead of anyone causing alarm, they roared their collective approval. He saw all this before taking a swig from his clear bottle, happily giving in to the green liquid inside. He swallowed, sighed, and watched dizzily as two spectators lit a fold-out table on fire. Johnny Endgame then raised his opponent above his head, his muscles red with blue veins, and threw him into the table-top blaze. Screaming from the Pale Man did follow, and the announcer, after taking his sweet time with his beer, threw the bottle on the ground, picked up a bucket of water and extinguished the loser.
“I…” the Pale Man began to speak in wheezes, “I… for… feit…” When his words ended, he passed out. The guys all cheered and began chanting ‘JOHN-NY END-GAME, JOHN-NY END-GAME’ into the night, as the victor threw up his arms and laughed a villain’s laugh. “And that’s why I’m the fuckin’ champ!” Johnny Endgame roared. There didn’t seem to be anything that could stop him-
The cheers ceased and the celebration died. The lot of them turned to him, who was now waving his bottle about and trying to get Endgame’s attention. “You call that a fffuckin’ fight??” The drunkard bellowed. Endgame looked around a moment before realizing where the voice was coming from.
“Ha! This ain’t rasslin’, old man. Get outta here!”
“I’ll fight ya!” The old man crawled through the top two cords, stood himself up and drank a mighty swig of liquor. He then haphazardly shoved the bottle behind him and into the hands of an onlooker, a guy in a polo shirt, sporting a soul patch, catching and smelling it. It repulsed him, but he sipped it anyway. “HEY!” He looked up and saw the old man pointing a gnarled finger at him. “That’s my fuckin’ drink! Git yer’ own!” The guy lowered the bottle and just held it like some unfortunate trophy.
Johnny Endgame, confused and angered, walked over to the announcer and leaned in so no one could eavesdrop. “What the hell Devin, who is this guy?”
“How should I know?” The announcer shrugged furiously. “Maybe he just stumbled in here? Whatever, just rough ‘im up a bit and we’ll call a cab for him.”
“Ah, fine,” muttered Endgame, as he began stretching. He suddenly heard Devon call out behind him. “Don’t make a mess, we’re already on probation, ya know? Dean’s onto us, man.”
“Yeah, yeah… alright, fucker, let’s rumble!”
Johnny Endgame versus this drunken newcomer. Some crowd members gave disbelieving looks to each other, thinking they weren’t about to see a fight, but an execution. Others smirked and whispered how fucking ridiculous this was going to be. Beers were thrown back in record times, cigarettes were lit, and even a few bets were made amongst the anticipation. The drunkard shifted around, sometimes losing his step and regaining it just as quickly. Endgame, having just essentially annihilated a 16-year-old boy, made little jumps while shaking his hands, pretending to loosen himself up. Devon the announcer began hyping the crowd the best he could.
“Alright, you sickos. Looks like you’re getting one more bang for your worthless buck. The reigning Hellfire Wrestling Champion, JOHNNY FUCKIN’ ENDGAME!” Off went the crowd, hollerin’ up a storm for their man in the ring. “And in the other corner, the strange newcomer… uh… Death! That’s right, old man Death is here to collect! Can Johnny save his soul!?” The fuzzy bellowing poured from the PA system. The bystanders hucked a few beer cans at the announcer, and then booed the drunk.
“Go home, ya’ faggot!”
“Boo! You gon’ die tonight!”
“Fuck you, you worthless shit!”
“Johnny’s gonna fuck you up!”
The old man budged not once, except when he did, twice when he burped up a mighty stench that was felt by the whole backyard. Endgame charged him with intent to spear him in to the chords and maybe out of the ring. Before he could get off the ground, this anonymous barfly threw a hard jab into the face of Johnny Endgame. Fresh blood hit the mattresses and sank into the dried spots of old blood. Endgame fell to the ground and bounced a bit on impact. The crowd cringed collectively, as the old man began kicking Endgame in the head, eventually popping the champ’s forehead and releasing a geyser of blood. Devon soon began growling at the drunkard, “Hey! No blading!” The drunk spun around too quickly for himself and fell, soliciting the laughter of his onlookers. He wasn’t able to return to his feet in time, for Endgame was looming over him with blood dripping down and down onto the drunk’s face. He reached down and, like some victorious Goliath, grabbed the man by his face and raised him upwards off the bloodied mattress. With a bear-like growl, he launched him clear over the chords and on to the ground, onto a pile of beer bottles that shattered under the weight. The man, to the surprise of all, arose to meet his challenge, but not before reaching back and ripping his bottle, by its neck, from the guy who had caught it before. He threw it back and chugged the last of the green liquor, impressing the other drunks who cheered him on, before climbing back into the ring. Endgame was charging again, but the old man swung hard and smashed the bottle on his nose, throwing his momentum off and causing him to swerve leftward into one of the shovel handles, head-first. A loud crack was heard, and everyone went, “Ohh!!” Endgame seemed unconscious. He didn’t move or budge or make a peep or anything. They all watched, waiting for the champ to twitch or something. A bunch of bros exchanged dollars, large wads of the stuff too. A few disbelieving chuckles and awkward laughs rose up from the small crowd, but did nothing to cut the deathly silence that hung in the air like a killer’s victim suspended from the meat hook. Here before these intoxicated young men lay a former champion of this backwoods blood-sport, with his confused and liquor-soaked conqueror stumbling around in the ring. The fight had been short, but the damage and outcome had cast a long shadow. The old man, this drunken mess of a man, had killed the buzz within the span of a few moments.
“Alright,” muttered Devon through the electrical fuzz, “everyone clear out. I gotta get this fucker a cab and clean this shit up.” Soft patters of grassy footsteps was tonight’s exit music, rather than the edgy metal music that typically closed the night. Some bottles and cans were thrown to the ground, leaving a trail behind the last of the crowd, sobering up as they looked at the body of Johnny Endgame, who was just coming to. One guy even chucked a beer bottle at his already bruised head and made him cry out,
“AGH! Fuckin’… fuck you!”
The old man crawled out of the ring and went up to the announcer, who just watched solemnly as his audience-his patrons of sorts-cleared out of the place. He, through eyes shot with blood, threw out his hand towards Devon.
“Pay up, I fuckin’ won.”
“I just kicked that cocksucker’s ass, now pay up. Them’s the rulessss.”
“No, man, this ain’t like that. We just do this for fun.”
“Fun? You faggots fffight f’er fun?”
“Yeah, you degenerate. And for God sakes, it’s not a fight, it’s just wrestling.”
“Ffffightin’, wrestlin’, fuck you! I still won! Pay th’ fuck up, I got me some liquor to buy!”
Devon had no money to give, so he thought up a compromise.
“How about we let you raid our liquor cabinet, and you can even spend the night. That way, you get your drink, but you also don’t have to spend the night out in the cold like a fucking animal.”
“What?! Like Hell!” Johnny Endgame came barking from the far side of the ring from the two men, trying to stand while tripping over his broken self. The old man, upon hearing this offer, buckled a bit. But this could’ve been from the alcohol just as well, but he sloppily composed himself before the announcer.
“Mmmm… mmm… fffmmmffffine,” the drunkard slurred. Devon took a ring of keys out of his polo shirt pocket, selected an ornate-looking silver key and pointed its toothy end towards the bloodied drunk. “The liquor key. Have fun, don’t make a mess, sleep on the couch. Now get.” The old man swiped it with surprising agility before darting inside the house and breaking through the screen door.
Endgame was now on his feet, balance and senses restored. Fuming, he charged up to Devon.
“What the fuck?!”
“You’re letting him in our house? You gave him access to our booze, man! OUR BOOZE! He’s gonna get us kicked off campus! Maybe even arrested!”
“Relax, man. We can use him! I saw the money getting passed around after he kicked your ass, those idiots were loaded and all it took was him to get ‘em to give it up. We can use this low-life, I’m telling ya.”
“Goddamn, the guy’s a stiff fighter. He probably thought this was a bar fight or something. What was he drinking? Shit looked like a witches’ brew.”
“Absinthe. Ugly stuff, probably ratcheted up his pain tolerance. I saw pieces of glass from the beer bottle pile he fell on sticking out of his back. Didn’t see him twitch once, goddamn once! That fucker is tough, and we could use him. And I know he’ll bring in more dough than before. We just gotta pit this guy against the other guys and people will be clamouring to see him wreck some poor shit.”
Endgame huffed loudly and exited the ring by barging through the chords, shaking them and sending vibrations that circled the makeshift ring. Devon merely smirked as he watched the former champ charge through the door, spin his head left then right, and yell, “Hey motherfucker, that scotch is mine!”
The announcer then, in his mind, flipped through the money that resided in the hands of that crowd and tried to imagine them doubling, in his hands, at next week’s show.
. . .
It had been a gruelling couple of weeks, with all the mattresses now a faint red with some spots darker than others. In the upstairs bathroom, through eyes as red as the ring below, the man called Father Death saw well-dressed men drink their third and fourth beers as they clutched their allowances, green-backed proof of bets made and locked in for the night. The old man sighed and popped a few yellow painkillers and drank them down with his dear absinthe. Harsh and nullifying, it was a cocktail that never let him down. He looked at the cheesy black cloak given to him by Devon the announcer weeks before.
The deal he had made with the shit-eating bastard was bad, but not the worst he’d made. He knew he’d been screwed over for bigger things, so this was nothing. The old man overheard a snotty voice from down yonder and listened in.
“C’mon, man. Tell me, how’d you get that sack o’ shit to fight for you like this.”
“Oh, fine, you prick,” went Devon’s voice, “I just saw how he beat the shit outta John and offered him the couch and free booze, as long as he fought at every show we put on.”
“How’d he even get in this backyard? I mean, don’t you always close the gate?”
“Guess I forgot that night. But who cares, I got me a main attraction! We’ve been able to bribe the dean into letting us do this shit whenever we want! We got that stuck-up dick-head to turn a blind eye! You faggots over at Tri-Lambda couldn’t even do that with a stripper!”
“Two strippers. And how were we supposed to know he was married?”
“Well, with our money lining his Armani pockets, he’ll be able to buy that bitch of his a diamond ring!”
The two boys laughed and high-fived as the old man above sighed wheezily. He took another swig of his ‘witches’ brew’ before he slipped on his beaten old cloak. As he clunked down the stairs, he noticed his first competitor had already made his entrance, a buffoonish bodybuilder who dressed like an amateur wrestler who yelled and threw his fists around while hyping the crowd. From the stereo, which had been bought with his earnings, vomited angry rapping and grimy low-end guitars; fortunately, the noise was drowned out by the new noise of the beer-swilling crowd. The man watched through the new glass door, again, paid for with his earnings, and awaited his entrance music. Once the challenger’s music had ended, there came about a funeral dirge and Devon, armed with a smirk, opened the door slowly for the man.
“Heeeeerrrrrre he is! Ol’ skull ‘n’ bones himself, here to collect souls and kick asses! Give it up for the old man Faaaaaather Deeeaaaaath!” The snarls of the ringleader announced the arrival of this being in black robes, encouraging the onlookers to ignore the beaten old man under the cloak. They did so with abandon, worrying not about his well-being but whether or not their bets were going to pay out or not.
Devon kept carrying on. “Tonight, Father Death, our seemingly immortal champion, will take on American Maxwell in a first blood match! You fucks ready for a bloodbath?”
The hooting came fast and loud; it was enough to crack the old man’s senses. God forbidding, he would still have his strength once the chairs were broken and the bats had been swung in his face. Once the man crawled down and into the filthy ring, Devon announced the match’s start on a silver ring-side bell, bought with the old man’s earnings.
The big guy known as American Maxwell charged at the sound of the bell. The cloaked man, under a burden of crossing eyes and failing situational awareness, clamped his hands together and swung down his conjoined fist onto Maxwell’s back; the force was enough to send the bodybuilder to the ground, head first. The crowd cringed on impact. The old man stepped back a few, then ran and jumped up, aiming his elbow at the spine of American Maxwell. When the elbow met the spine, Maxwell screamed out accordingly and sated, for now, the audience’s blood-lust. Another long night it was going to be, Father Death could tell.
Soon, American Maxwell was out of the ring, beaten and bruised and calling the old man a faggot and a stupid old fuck while writhing on the bloodied grass. The old man didn’t say anything; he lacked all the words and slurs he had when he used to fight with piss and vigor. Now he just stood and watched him walk off, before hearing that old sloshing against glass. He turned slow-like to face Devon, who threw him a murky brown bottle that had duct tape slapped on its front with “witches’ brew’ scribbled on it. He uncorked it and looked down that tempting neck at the dark green fairy staring back.
He felt his eyes leak a little, making two small clear streaks down that withered face. The old man, with a strength last seen in his bar brawling days, slung the bottle back at his owner on the microphone, smashing it against the brown wood fence that lined the backyard. Devon shielded himself from the explosion of glass and absinthe and angrily flipped Father Death off, before mouthing ‘do your fucking job.’
The old man lumbered over to a metal folding chair that had been placed outside the ring for the right moment. He picked and folded it up, shuffled back to his still-grounded opponent, and delivered a chair-shot for the record books. American Maxwell screamed and the crowd went off like a grease fire. They cheered and hollered as the old man knelt down to grab the bodybuilder by his blonde afro, raising his head up for the frat boys who were trying not to spill their cheap beers and drop their greenbacks. Soon, a wrinkled yet tough fist began slamming it right above Maxwell’s left eyebrow, eventually popping skin and artery, letting the blood flow openly. The bell sounded off, the money was passed around, and Devon called the match. Father Death, in his old black cloak had won another fight.
“Alright!” Devon began shouting again. “We have first blood! American Maxwell, get the fuck outta my ring!” The bodybuilder, clasping his reddening forehead with his hands, climbed out of the ring and woozily began charging into the house to tend to the head-wound. The old man kept sulking around the ring, realizing that he was fading and his body was starting to buckle under his own intoxication.
Devon was already hyping up the drunken mustering, demanding more of the red stuff.
“Who dares take on Father Death?? Who?? WHO??”
The fanfare stopped in its tracks, killing the mood and the buzz and the fun. A few drinks were stopped mid-sip, and greasy transactions were seized. A large figure in a baggy red hoodie stepped forth from behind a line of five frat boys, split them two and three, and crawled into the ring. Snickers floated up from around the audience as Devon began squinting to see the face under the hood. The old man watched as his dominance was challenged, the crowd calling at him to punch down this new guy and bust his balls something fierce.
But their Father Death didn’t move. He didn’t clench his fists or belch up a gas cloud or even make a move. It wasn’t until a pregnant pause had come and gone that the beast in red threw a quick jab. Its mark, the old man’s face, met the ball of clenched fingers squarely and sent him over the cords and on to the grass. The boys all cringed, then laughed, then shot-gunned some beers. Devon saw green and began calling every blow that was swung while reminding the monster of a crowd to make their bets. The old man slammed his knuckles into the red beast’s face, and for every blood vessel those knuckles popped, the red beast would break a weak old rib. A wrinkled left hook was retaliated with a swift roundhouse kick. The blood was flying, sometimes into the beers of those poor bastards who stared on through beer goggles. Devon started to become disorientated, his commentary tripping all over itself. This wasn’t a backyard wrestling match, this wasn’t even a brawl. This was murder.
In the end, the red beast had pinned the old man. Fists rained down on that leathery face, each hook taking out a tooth or three. A wave of sobriety swept through the crowd and discomfort then took hold. Devon had stopped completely, with his breath eking out of the speaker. Some of the boys puked up fresh beer in disgust. But no one left. No one looked away. No one closed their eyes.
They watched the blood fly and taint the ring floor, creating murky dark patterns and splatters. They watched as the red beast pummel an old man into his own grave.
They watched the distortion of a human face in real time, a bit of recognizable humanity obliterated with each bare-knuckle blow.
They watched as a man left this mortal coil for parts unknown. They just watched.
. . .
The ambulance sped away with its typical urgency. Two frat boys watched down the campus street as Devon got booked by the authorities. Johnny Endgame, who was revealed to be the man in the red hoodie, was strapped up and carted away into an armoured car. A bunch of other guys were taking breathalyser tests and giving testimonies. The two boys began walking away into the night to avoid getting caught by the police and brought in for questioning.
“What do you think happens now?” The first asked.
“Suspension? Prison? Fines? Fuck, I dunno.” The second replied with a dry tone. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his back-pocket and passed one to his acquaintance, lighting up the white tubes with engraved Zippo lighters. Heavy sobriety seeped into their voices as they continued to talk.
“Can’t believe that old fuck is dead.”
“Yeah, the madman could really throw a punch.”
“Yeah, for sure.”
The street lampposts started dying off one by one. As the darkness caught up to the two boys, another question was asked.
“Did you see his smile?”
The second guy thought his answer through before speaking.
“What do you think he was smiling about?”
More silence. Then-
“No fuckin’ clue. But I’d be smiling too if I had fought a hundred matches like that. It was a helluva run, no doubt in my mind. I think I’d be proud too.”
Mason Chennells is a 20 year old writer of prose and poetry currently living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The Man Called Father Death is his first published short story. Mason considers himself a writer of transgressive fiction and am heavily inspired by Charles Bukowski, Chuck Palahniuk and Harvey Pekar. Mason plans to attend university with the intention of majoring in creative writing.
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