“Are… you… ready?” the announcer screamed over the squeal of an electric guitar.
The thumpa, thumpa, thumpa of the backbeat punctuated the crowd’s response: “Yeah!”
“I… can’t… hear… you!” teased the announcer.
The crowd screamed louder. Again the announcer prompted them, over and over, until eleven thousand voices merged into one gigantic sonic tsunami that rolled down the aisles and crashed over the raised platform in the middle of the arena.
Nineteen year-old Barney Velvet heard the cheer from inside of the locker room, and though he tried to remain serious, he couldn’t resist smiling. The sound was a welcome contrast to the hum of fluorescent lights and the incessant beeping of the cash registers at the supermarket. His day job at the Food Giant was a completely different world.
Barney stretched a purple mask over his head and tied the laces on his matching purple boots. A percussive sound seeped through the brick walls of the locker room. Now the crowd was clapping in time to the music. Barney closed his eyes and let the sound waves spill over him. It was relaxing and invigorating at the same time, like a hot Jacuzzi.
The promoter poked his head into the locker room. “Three minutes kid.”
Barney had curled dumbbells the size of truck tires. He had bench-pressed stacks of weights that bent the steel bars they rested on. He had worked out until beads of sweat danced on his forehead like butter on a hot skillet. The promoter had noticed the results. He had rewarded Barney, letting him win nearly all of his carefully choreographed matches. Though Barney knew that the outcome was prearranged, he still relished every victory. The crowd acted like the contest was real, and so, to Barney, it was.
“Tonight,” the promoter promised him with a wink, “the TV Wrestling Federation crowns a new champion!”
Barney adjusted his mask until his pupils glared out from the center of each eyehole. The bumpy surface of the faux alligator skin tickled his fingertips as he tucked the edges under his cape.
“Mystery match tonight,” said the promoter. He threw open the doors and the full force of the crowds cheers blasted into the locker room. “Show time!”
Barney took a deep breath. As he walked into the rush of noise, he remembered the softer, sweeter voice that had set this eventful night in motion just over a year ago.