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Picture it: the Hampton Inn in Emporia, Virginia, 5:45AM, January 1st 2014. There is, perhaps, no lonelier scene than this. The sleepy hamlet, known by this writer for its not-unfriendly motel staff and smooth asphalt on stretches of I-95, was about to take an unexpected detour…to the extreme. For at that time and in that place was reported the latest descent into the more unsavory parts of human experience by our old friend Matt Hardy; by the end of the imbroglio, both Hardy and his wife Reby Sky were arrested for assault and battery. (Their mug shots, for those interested in celebrity mug shots, are in the TMZ story. As an aside, a friend of a friend used to make coasters using celebrity mug shots as a decorative craft project; I was never quite sure if this was an ironic comment on celebrity culture or an unironic indulgence in it.) To really appreciate how sad this whole situation is, let’s set the scene with a little more background: Emporia is the second-least-populated city in the Commonwealth of Virginia; depending on which direction you’re driving on I-95, it is either the last stop in Virginia before you cross into North Carolina, or the first stop after you leave North Carolina, so the Hampton Inn where our fight took place is typically home to road-trippers and other such weary travelers. Consider the date — this is taking place on New Year’s Day, in the age of the Polar Vortex, and so not during a typical hot period for road trips. So one would presume that the itinerants populating the Hampton Inn in Emporia, Virginia at this point would mainly be an assortment of lonely drivers with various personal reasons for their travels and truckers trying to get their half-hour of sleep before jacking up on NoDoz(TM) and getting back on the road. These truckers and other guests — and leave us not forget the poor front-desk staffer who wound up with the graveyard shift on New Year’s — were particularly unlucky to be in the Hampton Inn in Emporia, Virginia on this New Year’s Day, as they received their rude violence-induced introduction to 2014 at 5:45 in the AM; even if most of them merely squinted bleary-eyed past the faded pink curtains in their rooms before disregarding the approaching police car, they must surely have been frustrated at the impossibility of getting back to sleep before it was time to grab their complimentary continental breakfast and get back on the road. Nobody in this situation was starting the year off right, most of all Hardy and Sky, who hopefully will be able to leave such conflicts behind them as thoroughly and as happily as most people leave the Hampton Inn in Emporia, Virginia.
At the Hampton Inn in Emporia, Virginia, a dark and ancient spirit awakens. Through the shadows it slithers. In the minds of the motel’s itinerants, lining up for their complimentary continental breakfast, it finds purchase. Its horrible mouths open in their dreams, repeating a simple message that takes root in their psyches. Perhaps you too have fallen victim to its clarion call: Daniel Bryan did not win the Royal Rumble.
There are beings so alien and abstract from a human perspective that a chance encounter can drive your sanity from you. Our languages can only grasp, finding no purchase, our minds beating fruitlessly against their shores. They move in space, they move in time, they move in ideas — they can enter your mind with words & feelings and burrow deep — yet still they rarely deign to acknowledge your existence. Thus far their power is unimaginable, their aims opaque, their values obscure but for one. They are very, very upset that Daniel Bryan did not win the Royal Rumble.
There is a faction of beings with power unimaginable. You know this. Their aims are unknown, potentially unknowable, but by their howls of fury they seem to have had quite a lot of plans predicated on Daniel Bryan winning the Royal Rumble, and had been shaping events to cause this to come to pass. You know this too. What you may not know is that there is one man leading an effort to keep these beings at bay, not knowing what vile punishment may be his before all is said and done. He is known only as The Swaggering Man. He was recently seen alienating and dismissing his only son, saying: “Your mother was right. I came here hoping otherwise. Hoping that my son might stay to honor me…like Bob Orton’s son.” And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward New Orleans to be born?
Is there any hope? Are we all of us infected already? Can a society of the mad identify its mania? And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward New Orleans to be born?
Investigating Them makes you vulnerable; even thinking about Them makes you vulnerable. The danger only increases when you chance upon one of Their keywords, their shibboleths, like if you start talking about Daniel Daniel Daniel Bryan did not win the Royal Rumble. Daniel Bryan did not win the Royal Rumble. Daniel Bryan did not win the Royal Rumble. Daniel Bryan Daniel Bryan Daniel Daniel Daniel Bryan Bryan. Daniel Bryan Daniel. Daniel Bryan Daniel Bryan Bryan Bryan. Danielson? Bryan. Daniel Bryan did not win the Royal Rumble. Boo-tista. Courage.
You may well consider me mad. You may wonder why I know so much about Them, or why I’d keep pushing, keep risking a total mental break just for uttering the name of Daniel Daniel Daniel Daniel Daniel Bryan did not win the Royal Rumble.
But I know They’re here, and I know They’ve taken something from each of us. Look deep enough and you’ll see it in your own life: a gap, a hole, a need you don’t want to admit. People fall out of the world sometimes, but they always leave traces, little things we can’t quite account for: faces in photographs, luggage, half-eaten meals…rings. Nothing is ever forgotten, not completely. For me it’s my brother — I’m not sure exactly how they took him, but I think he was getting too close to exposing a servant of theirs, Mr. Johnson. My brother’s not been seen in his home in the Cenation for almost two years now. They’ve been at this longer than any of us, and we’re not ready.
Look deeper. Deeper still. You will see. From near and far come tales of tassels and sad tidings — you cannot ignore them all. Do you not feel their weight (and Their weight) bearing down on you? You can’t hide; you cannot merely hope the seas will swallow Them. If only our seas could!
There are interpretations of quantum mechanics that theorize the existence of an infinitely large multiverse. The many-worlds interpretation holds that for every event, there is at least one universe in which each possible outcome takes place. Imagine a tree with infinite branches shooting off from the main trunk, and infinite branches shooting off from each branch. The multiverse contains realities in which everything you have ever known, everything you have ever experienced, everything you have ever been aware of, happened in any possible way and had any possible result.
There are interpretations of alchemy that embrace the ancient art not only for base metallurgy and personal transformation, but comprehensive transmutation and transcendence of the limits of our physical world. There are those who believe that the physical limitations we experience are as curable as the psychological limitations that plague so many of us. Just as you can spend a lifetime studying and practicing the formation of healthy mental habits and healing of past trauma, so too can you devote time and effort to the study of the magickal sciences, ultimately unlearning, undoing and understanding the limitations of mere appearance. Solve et Coagula: Dissolve and Coagulate. (Alchemy also teaches that red is the best color to ward off danger, while grey is the color of knowledge, lore, and wisdom.)
When we combine the teachings of quantum mechanics, that all possible outcomes occur somewhere in the multiverse, with the teachings of alchemy, that physical limitations are fungible rather than set in stone, it stands to reason that there is some universe, somewhere, where Daniel Bryan won the royal rumble. But it is not this one. We are in the wrong universe.
Huddled deep in the dungeons beneath the Towers of Titan, The Swaggering Man and The Prodigal Son-in-Law collude to shape the future: “We offered Them Randy Orton. They did not want Randy Orton. We offered Them Batista, but They did not want Batista. They want Daniel Bryan. But Daniel Bryan didn’t win the Royal Rumble.”
Can the combined forces of these two powerful men shatter the boundaries between realities? Can they propel The Erstwhile Main-Eventer into the position of prominence he possibly earned in another reality, but has not in this one? What will they sacrifice along the way? And even if they succeed, will They be appeased?
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward New Orleans to be born?
Those who shape the future have two choices: give in, or burn. They have tried to withstand the consequences of resistance thus far, but Their vengeance is undeniable. One cannot hold back the rising tide by force of will. The rest of us are not mere bystanders: many of us are pieces of the mechanism by which these punishments have been meted out. Should They meet anything less than full cooperation with Their magickal crusade to create a universe more to Their liking, we can be co-opted to deliver these punishments anew. There is no deus ex machina coming to save us. We have no Moses coming down from the mountain. We know not what we do. And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward New Orleans to be born?
Dark energies manifest in unseen spaces. Dark matter moves in ways mysterious to our science, which can only quantify it through supposition. Plans are laid within plans, plots within plots. Wrongs darker than death or night pass us daily. The dreams of a thousand conspiracies come to fruition, put in place by forces the full extent of which is unknowable to our minds, but which all revolve around one mere mortal.
Heisenberg uncertainty means that, at the smallest possible level, probability rules over destiny in a sea of quantum foam, but on a macroscopic level the fact remains that Daniel Bryan did not win the Royal Rumble. This was a desperate attempt by those who shape the future to deny forces beyond their control, which has now placed all they’ve worked for in jeopardy along with our own lives on a scale we cannot predict. The effort to place him in the main event despite this blunder has left deep wounds in the fabric of our reality. What sacrifices must be made to heal them? What energies will be expended in the effort to give the people what They want? They will travel round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition’s Flame before They give it up. All the Majicks of Megas-Tu could not stop Them. Their agents on this plane are ubiquitous. The line has been drawn here, this far, no farther, and They will make you pay for what you have done. And if They destroy the fabric of reality in the pursuit of these goals? Sauce for the goose. Savor the time you have left with your hopes. Enjoy every sandwich, for you may yet be doomed.
Fractal plots converge on singular events. The waveform collapses. And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward New Orleans to be born?
For the last eight weeks, mysterious forces have converged upon The Crescent City. Powerful forces have colluded to shape the future. A group of once-powerful men have watched helplessly as control has slipped through their fingers, usurped by an entity or entities known only as Them. Glenn Butler has done his best each week in The High Spot to chronicle these events, events that no mortal can truly comprehend, risking his own sanity in the process. Earlier today he burst into a conference, screaming “Rapture! Locusts! But I must continue!” before falling into a catatonic state; clutched in his hands was this final report.
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And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way
The time for speculation is nearly over. Dread will soon be replaced with a building panic. The avalanche has already started; it is too late for the pebbles to vote. Let bygones be bygones, and fall where they may; this will be a dirty day. It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for.
Look to the sky. Fire streaks the heavens. Battle has begun.
Silence is golden. Words are vibrations. Thoughts are magick. Alchemical tradition holds that the circle in the square, the square of the circle, is an esoteric symbol of the union of opposites: the road up and the road down; clarity in conspiracy; the spirit in the flesh. Our evolution is a process of order arising from chaos, a mystery, full of changes no one sees. Unforgiven, unforeseen.
Time is the fire in which we burn, and our time is running out. Even now, at the hour of scampering, can an offer be made? Perhaps we have a chance. Perhaps They are not infallible. Perhaps Their logic is uncertain where the Royal Rumble is concerned.
All the world’s a stage, and the players take their places upon’t.
At the Hampton Inn in Emporia, Virginia, Their agents on our plane share secret signs and messages. Their leader, Mr. Johnson, looks to an obelisk and performs ancient rites. Nearby, unwitting itinerants line up for their complimentary continental breakfast. At Mr. Johnson’s behest, the obelisk turns sideways and a portal opens between Emporia, Virginia and Parts Unknown, howling into the dawn for but an instant. Some of Them have been working in our corner of the multiverse for longer than we know, but now They have all arrived to witness Their plots within plots come to fruition. Mr. Johnson relays a signal: “‘What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward New Orleans to be born?’ Trending worldwide.”
The Prodigal Son-in-Law–Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and King hereafter–sheds his suit. His collar has been cut. Once again he has been drawn into battle. “We go forward, we go back,” he intones. “On your knees, dog.”
The Hated Hero, freed from the necessity of defending golden honorifics, is now besieged by zealots and unable to take a role in cosmic events. Bravado serves him well, but still doubt occupies his mind. Long has he proclaimed others’ time to be up, but has his own time now passed? Can he no longer hold his place resolutely, a stone face against the sea? Is the end here? Can there be no more pretending?
The Deacon of the Deep meditates on his place in the universe. The would-be conquering hero finds himself reviled, inside a pit of danger, but one of the many victims of Their fickle allegiance. As he swallows down a thousand years of anger, he spins in existential crisis, asking himself: Who is he? What does he want? Why is he here? Where is he going? Whom does he serve, and whom does he trust? Certainly not Them.
The Paul Heyman Guy observes events from the sidelines, a self-imposed exile. He finds beauty, in the dark. There is nothing for him here: he is the one who was. His role in this story has ended for now, but always in motion is the future.
Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy also watches from afar. He has no role in these events, but your author always wanted to use the phrase “Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy.” Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy. Tamp ‘em up solid.
The Erstwhile Main-Eventer sits in his locker room, contemplating his destiny. He may not have won the Royal Rumble, but he has done what he always does: turn death into a fighting chance to live. He knows we have to create the future or else They will create it for us, and that true strength sometimes comes from the most unlikely places, yet still he wavers. He asks The Immortal One what is right.
“You know something, brother, I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. It’s come crashing down. It hurts, inside. You must take a stand; you mustn’t hide! They’ve hurt your friends, and They’ve hurt your pride. You’ve got to be a man. You can’t let it slide. You’ve got to ask yourself some questions, dude. How do you feel about right and wrong? Will you take trouble? For how long? You’ve got something deep inside of you. They say the truth will set you free, but that’s wrong. It’s courage. Courage is the thing that keeps us free. Fight for what’s right. Fight for your life!”
The Erstwhile Main-Eventer pauses to consider this advice. “I choose the danger,” he says, finally. “Hell of a time to ask.”
The Swaggering Man sits in his lair, reciting a dark incantation and assembling an evil concoction: hair of newt, eye of a frog, jean shorts of The Hated Hero, trenchcoat of The Undead Man, bandana of The Immortal One. “Ancient spirits of evil, transform this decayed form into WrestleMania Thirty!”
And this is WrestleMania. And this is WrestleMania.
POSTSCRIPT: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
The Immortal One returned to his glory days at the Pontiac Silverdome…in his own mind, at least. Elsewhere, he has regenerated into a new form.
Mr. Johnson found that his fortunes turned sideways and the adulation They lavished him with when he fought The Hated Hero turned to ire when he attempted to endorse a new hated hero. No longer under Their employ, he now finds the very earth opening beneath him.
The Prodigal Son-in-Law continues ascending the rungs of power, shaping the future more distinctly by the day. In a public-relations coup, he has convinced the masses that any popular move is his scion, while any unpopular move was an edict from The Swaggering Man.
The Paul Heyman Guy remains in isolation. All of this is nothing to him but a pain in the ass.
The Hated Hero regained some of Their favor as he resumed the defense of golden honorifics.
The Hampton Inn in Emporia, Virginia remains a liminal space, ever waiting. The continental breakfast remains complimentary.
Daniel Bryan never won the Royal Rumble.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Jerry World to be born?