The Man in the Mask

Submitted into Contest #190 in response to: Write a story about a fandom... view prompt


Coming of Age Fiction

Benny and I like to crush out the cigarette butts. We trudge round and round, alternately smashing cigs and kicking up the sugary sand that seeps out from under the squared circle that's been brought in special for tonight and situated smack on top of the Oakville Leafs pitcher's box. I am eleven and he is nine and we are waiting for Dad to come down from the announcer's booth on the flat roof of the ball stadium. 

           Elvis croons "It’s Now or Never" over the loudspeakers where only an hour ago Dad had been calling the Mighty Wonders of the World Wrestling Throw-Down. Now, the crowds are gone and he's sealing the announcer’s booth window with a tube of caulk. He's worried that he's going to knock it out the next time he gets excited and bangs on the glass with his fist at The Evil Avenging Aldo when he cheats and pulls Jumpin' Johnny James's hair when the ref's not looking. The packed stadium loves it when Dad bangs his fist on the booth glass calling for justice. We go wild, raising our balled fists and bang, bang, bang, shake them in the air. But Dad's afraid he's going to hurt somebody when all that rickety glass decides to fly, out from the plywood shanty broadcast booth, and down like razor-edged rain on all of us screaming right along with him, begging the ref to turn around and see what’s happening, just turn around and see, for Pete’s sake. 

           Benny accidently stomps an upturned Dr. Pepper bottle cap and it cuts right through his flip flop and into his heel. “Jesus Christ,” I yell and jump up and down and wave my arms at the sky. Not for God. For Dad. Elvis's voice drops and Dad's voice crackles on--his real one, the one that's soft and tired, brittle like the glass he's sealing and not blustery and bigger than big like his on-air booming yell.  

           "What happened?" Dad's words echo over the loudspeakers along the empty seats and down the concrete aisles and in and out of the shuttered concession stands and finally across the grass to me. When Dad is worn out, his accent shows. His A’s get long and flat in the back of his throat and his O’s float up to the top of his palate. He sounds like he’s from Oxford, North Carolina, which he is.

           "Benny's...cut...his...foot." I yell slowly in a deep growl. Dad's taught me that fast shrill voices over-modulate into ringing squeals that can't carry the way a good baritone can. 

           "Take him to a dugout and see if anybody's left who can get you a Band-aid. I’ll be down in a minute." Elvis comes back full throttle in time for the chorus and I help Benny hop to the closer guest dugout, the one where we always put the bad guys when they come to town.   

            We wait outside for a minute, me listening and Benny bleeding. I can't understand the low voices of the wrestlers. I figure they're griping over the resounding and painful loss at the hands of the good guys, headed up by my personal hero, Jumpin' Johnny James. I don’t want to go in, me being a member of Jumpin’ Johnny’s fan club, with a shiny picture of him taped on the wall of my bedroom. The stadium is empty, the sweepers have finished up, nothing’s left but the salty-sweet smell we love of the peanut-vendor’s hot box. Benny isn’t hopping anymore; he’s sagging against me and whining. So, I push my hair behind my ears, tug at my shorts, and pull out my little autograph book that I've been filling with the names of heroes and villains since Dad started working at the stadium on weekends: Chief Squawks-A-Lot, Gorgeous Gene Parker, The Bulgarian Bull, The Villainous Vipers with a little note underneath that says "Hi from Val and Van". Then I hear a laugh, one that stops me cold. It’s an evil laugh, nasty, spiteful, and oh-so-familiar. I peek in. The naked bulb swings on its chain a little, surrounded by crepe-papery moths up top and half-naked men in brilliantly colored tights below.  

           The Evil Avenging Aldo is unmasked. And he's swinging, right at Jumpin' Johnny, the strongest, the wronged-est, most honorable wrestler in the ring today, as Dad always says. It’s clear to me Jumpin’ Johnny has been lured to this dug-out–maybe even kidnapped–for some unfinished business. After all, Johnny won the grudge match earlier this evening, despite getting a chair to the side of the head. Aldo was after revenge, plain and simple, I figured. Dad, I have to get Dad. I wheel to run but trip over Benny, who’s already running the other way, towards the clot of wrestlers, fists up and mouth twisted. We fall in a heap in the dugout dirt just outside the pool of light. All we can do to warn Johnny is “oomph” at the same time. 

            He hears it and turns—but not to us. Instead of side-stepping the punch and pulling Aldo over into a classic headlock, Johnny catches the punch and turns it into a handshake. They poke each other in the belly, shadow-punch again, and laugh. Aldo lips two cigarettes out of a hard pack, strikes a match off his ill-gotten-from-low-down-dirty-cheating championship belt, lights the weeds with a long appreciative inhale, and offers one to Johnny. I watch them smoke together for a long minute, then get to my knees, pull Benny up, and hop him away from the men. Dad is on the field now, looking for us. The wrestling ring is gone, and he looks puny somehow on the pitcher’s mound, one fist on his hip and the other pinching the bridge of his nose, one of those things he does when he’s dog-tired. But in that moment, as the stadium lights zzsst out one-by-one with a loud zap and hum, his shadow stretches long and dark and bigger than life across the field towards us, with the rising of his arms in a wide-open hug, and you can see that, on the inside, he just might be Superman.

                                                                      The End

March 23, 2023 21:01

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Marty B
21:19 Mar 29, 2023

Good story about a boy who comes up against the thought that 'Good' and 'Bad' are not as easily definable as in a pro wrestling ring. Except his Dad of course- he is truly a superhero! I like this line 'But in that moment, as the stadium lights zzsst out one-by-one with a loud zap and hum, his shadow stretches long and dark and bigger than life across the field towards us, with the rising of his arms in a wide-open hug, and you can see that, on the inside, he just might be Superman.'


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Kathryn Kahn
21:02 Mar 29, 2023

What a fun depiction of this very specific world.


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