[Flash Fiction Friday] Avon Gale presents “Risk/Return”

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Hello Internet! Please welcome newcomer Avon Gale to Flash Fiction Friday! In today’s tale we meet tag-team wrestlers looking to better themselves for life outside the ring. Even Dwayne Johnson dropped The Rock he carried and didn’t look back.


Risk/Return

by Avon Gale


The risk/return tradeoff is the balance between the desire for the lowest possible risk and the highest possible return.

On Saturday nights, when the lights fall like hot like summer rain around him, swathed in a trench coat and collared by spikes, with his arms stretched up in the sky bellowing like a storm…his name is Scourge.

But on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:15 to 10:00, he’s Jason Devlin, Intro to Finance Student, at a local community college.

Jason walks into the classroom with his head down, book and notebook clutched tight in his hands. Seeing the classroom makes his heart sink. The desks are chairs with half-moon-shaped tables built into them, and they are not made for men of Jason’s size. Professional wrestlers are supposed to dominate spaces, but the desk wins this particular match hands-down.

Jason takes a seat in the back and is shifting around uncomfortably when he spies a familiar face across the room.

On Saturday nights, David Thornton is called The Wraith and he’s Jason’s tag-team partner. He is six-foot-six, all height and angles where Jason is broadness and bulk. His fair hair is bleached blond, along with his eyebrows, and he usually wears contacts that make his eyes look all white, like a zombie.

Today, he’s in jeans and a t-shirt, his hair is hidden by a Royals cap, and he’s wearing glasses instead of contacts. He makes eye contact with Jason and smiles, then unfolds himself in his own awkward way from his desk, and comes to sit next to him.

*  *  *

“So,” Jason asks, when they escape their first class and make their way outside, to the open air where there is plenty of room for them both. “What are you doing here?”

David shrugs. His schtick in the ring is that he never talks, just screams. He’s got a good scream, high and loud without being shrieky. Jason’s always wondered how long it took him to get that down, and how he practiced without having the cops called on him by concerned neighbors, but he’s never asked.

“Don’t want to end up like Bryce,” he says, looking around furtively, as if Bryce Lawson (stage name: Shadow Slycer) will somehow materialize next to them. “Figure if I get some kind of degree, y’know. It’ll give me something to do. After.”

Jason nods. He knows what David means, about Bryce. He also knows exactly what David means about after. They are not due for long careers. Even Dwayne Johnson dropped The Rock he carried and didn’t look back.

There’s only so much attention to parcel out in the United Wrestling League. Jason and David are a relatively new team, and like all new teams, they start off as heels. If they capture the elusive adoration of the audience they may become bona-fide villains, or do the impossible and become heroes. Bryce Lawson started out as part of a tag-team, made his way up to villain and was, thanks to his crowd-appeal, promoted to hero. But he left and took his celebrity with him, and decided to make a movie with two former Saturday Night Live alums. The movie tanked, and took Bryce’s career down into the cold depths of relative obscurity.

The last anyone heard, he was doing House of Harsh Reality on the Reality TV Network, living with a bunch of other so-called “celebrities” who weren’t even good enough to qualify as D-list. They didn’t have a letter. They probably weren’t even on a list.

Bryce made good money — not a lot, but enough — and then it was gone, thrown away on tacky McMansions and cars and whatever else people indulge in when they suddenly have more money than they really need.

Before his stint with the UWL, Jason was a bouncer at a few bars around town. An endless parade of girls in short skirts, shivering because they refused to wear coats, arms wrapped desperately around themselves as they waited in line. Inside, the club was stifling and looked like a shithole with the lights on. But if anyone was still there when the lights came back, they were too drunk to care.

Jason wants Scourge to be popular, though he doesn’t know how he’s going to be a hero with that name. They might change it. They do that, a lot, slide names on and off people like clothing that can be discarded on a whim. He provides the body and the bellows, and the UWL provides the rest.

“What’d you do before?” Jason asks. No need to clarify before what?

David shrugs. He’s got a nice smile, shy and sweet. “Not a lot. Worked at haunted houses, mostly. You know. Creepy undertaker guy in a suit, that kind of thing.”

No wonder he’s so good at screaming.

They sit down next to a fountain, watching the few students left on campus meander by. Intro to Finance is a summer class, and not a popular one. One student, nineteen if he’s a day, walks by in a UWL Matomic Power shirt. The front has Bruiser’s face plastered all over it. Jason can see himself and Wraith in the far background, his own crossed-arm countenance decked out in chains, Wraith a blurry smudge of white hair and freaky eyes.

The kid passes by and doesn’t recognize them.

*   *   *

Saturday nights are when they perform, but there’s a lot of down-time. Scourge and Wraith take to the mat with their usual villainous flair when they’re summoned to the ring, and receive a good amount of boos and cheers as befit their personas.

When they’re out of the lights and away from the crowd, they find a quiet place to sit together at a table, heads bent over their finance books, pencils scratching on paper.

*   *   *

The key to becoming Somebody in the UWL is to become a headliner, like Bruiser. Someone pictured in the forefront of the shirt, not crammed indistinctively in the back.

Wraith and Scourge are good enough for action figures and some trading cards. Jason always thinks about sending one of the figures to his nephews, but he never does. The little plastic figurine bears little resemblance to him, anyway.

Besides. Wraith’s is a lot cooler, with those eyes.

All the wrestlers receive monthly scripts for the show, which are generally guidelines of how the brass want the matches to go, with room for improvisation. Jason and David are allowed one win a month, usually, to see how they test with audiences. Improv isn’t easy for Scourge and Wraith, considering they spend most of their time in the ring yelling and screaming, respectively.

But somehow, this month they’re going to win twice.

“Guess we’re impressing them,” says Jason that Monday in Finance class, trying unsuccessfully to arrange himself in the small desk next to David.

David’s glasses are dirty with spots. He pulls them off and wipes them on his t-shirt. “Must be,” he says, and smiles.

*   *   *

On their first test, Jason gets a 78, David, a 79. Not too bad.

The next month’s script has them involved in a plotline featuring Bruiser, which is something. Something important.

They met at Jason’s apartment to study, with House of Harsh Reality muted in the background.

*  *  *

In the next Matomic Power pay-per-view special, Scourge and Wraith are scripted to take down Bruiser.

Jason and David both score in the high eighties on their next Intro to Finance test.

The new t-shirts hit stores a few weeks before Matomic Power airs. One of the kids in their finance class asks for their autographs and snaps a few selfies.

While they’re studying for the final, David leans across the expanse of books and papers spread out on his kitchen table, and kisses Jason. Shyly, eyes wide behind the cheap frames of his ever-blurry glasses, like he’s waiting for the crowd to react to this very unexpected moment of improvisation.

His eyes are blue. Jason closes his own and kisses him back.

Unexpected it may be, but it’s definitely not unwanted.

*   *   *

Their tag team is officially no more when the ratings propel them into different roles, different costumes. Better action figures and better t-shirts. Neither of which, Jason thinks, look any more like him than the last. But that’s all right.

He and David each get an A-minus in Finance. It’s worth it.

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