PAY YOUR DUES ------------------------- As she walked through the dark locker room, Leah Malone remembered all of the brighter locker rooms that had made up so much of her childhood. She had grown up on the sunny beaches of San Diego, and spent most of her life pursuing the dream of world-class gymnastic fame. She was raised to nurture both a competitive spirit and a hunger to be the best. “15 MINUTE CALL, MALONE VERSUS BALUT.” Leah found a solitary bench and began to stretch. Everything she had been groomed for came to an end as she discovered that her coach only had room for the best, and she was merely among the top three of her peers. As she turned 17, she was informed that it was time for her to retire from everything she had known, and move on with a normal life. “Coming through,” said a half-hearted facility staff member, making way for a stretcher upon which the previous match’s loser was laid out. Leah caught sight of a fit male competitor, foam spilling from his lips as he twitched irregularly on the stretcher, at least one arm clearly broken. There was no way for her to turn off all of the instincts and desires that had been drilled into her since she was a toddler. Leah knew the strengths her body still contained, and decided to follow a different dream that had lingered with her for much of her life. She began to seek out different kinds of training, cutting her family out of her new path as she learned how to win a different kind of contest. “10 MINUTE CALL, MALONE VERSUS BALUT.” One of her sparring partners had told her about the Wrestletorium, an underground arena that catered to those who sought the fame and spectacle of competing not just as fighters, but as wrestlers who battled to a pinfall count of three. Leah was a little shaken to see that same sparring partner brought by in a stretcher, but continued to warm up in her once-prized state team tracksuit. “ON DECK, MALONE VERSUS BALUT.” After pulling off her canvas sneakers and peeling down her tracksuit pants, Leah unzipped her jacket and added it to the small pile of clothing in the nearest open locker. Clad in a blue swimsuit leotard with a golden sash belt, she walked towards the nearest mirror. Her simple routine make-up and glittering eyeliner had become her warpaint, looking back at her as she pulled her brown hair into a simple ponytail. ------- “Making her way to the ring, from the gymnastic mats of sunny California, to the bloody mats of our Wrestletorium...the lovely Leah Malone!” Leah came out running, performing a series of forward flips on her practiced and bare hands and feet until she rolled smoothly into the ring. Kipping up in one lithe motion, she raised her arms and pushed her heels together in a gymnastic salute. “And her opponent, the Turkish man-mountain...brutal Baba Bulut!” Lumbering out to the ring at a much slower pace than his opponent, Baba Bulut’s short and matted hair was only slightly greasier than his skin. His large body was practically spilling out of the confines of his yellow singlet and matching boots. With her hands on the ropes of her corner of the ring, Leah bounced lightly to get used to the feel of the ring underfoot. She chewed her lower lip as she watched her opponent, trying to figure out if his build was closer to that of a power lifter or a sumo wrestler. The booking liaison guaranteed her an easier match than her sparring partner’s, given her lower level of experience, and all she could do to keep the butterflies out of her stomach was wonder who on earth HE had to fight before HER match. At the sound of the bell, Leah approached Baba and shifted from foot to foot. The turkish wrestler slapped his pecs, causing the flesh of his chest to jiggle. He seemed unthreatened as his opponent circled around him, raising and lowering her legs as she tried to figure out how to begin. Leah finally threw a kick, and her bare foot practically bounced off of Baba’s body. Keeping her balance, the gymnast continued to try and put a dent into the turkish wrestler, until her legs grew tired and she quickly retreated. Regaining her strength, Leah was easily able to outpace her opponent, but also had not been able to phase him. Deciding to aim higher, she ran an arc around the ring to build up speed, before performing a beautiful cartwheeling somersault. At the height of the maneuver, she slammed a kick straight into Baba’s jaw, finally causing the big man to stumble. With a slightly surprised look of victory on her face, the gymnast ran across the ring, bouncing off the ropes to repeat the maneuver with even more flair. The second kick caused Baba to turn around in place, his legs still keeping him upright. As she closed in for a third acrobatic attack, Leah did not notice her opponent step towards her while she was in mid-air. Instead of connecting with a kick, the gymnast’s body was halted as Baba caught her in his arms and held her across his chest. Leah was stunned for a moment, before realizing her vulnerable position. She kicked her legs wildly as she tried to find the purchase to throw a knee strike, while beating uselessly at Baba’s body with her fists. Leah braced herself as she felt her opponent begin to pick up speed, deciding to take whatever came next in order to regain the advantage of her agility and distance striking. Baba ran her back-first into one of the brutally solid ring posts, letting her fall messily onto the canvas of the corner of the ring. Leah was winded, finding it difficult to get back up despite only taking one attack so far in the match. As she began to try and roll away, Baba’s hands grabbed hold of her body and pulled her into a clinch that she absolutely did not want to be a part of. Pushing Leah back into the corner, Baba’s large body pressed against her hard enough to force some of the wind out of her lungs as she found herself trapped against the post. Rearing back, Baba proceeded to give Leah three slow headbutts, taking his time as her wriggling body was completely unable to escape. Completely stunned and nearly cross-eyed from the hat trick of skull-shaking impacts, Leah half-stood and half-leaned in the corner even after Baba took a few steps back. The gymnast made a few confused noises, before briefly shrieking as she realized his massive form was running straight towards her. Baba’s body splash proved the solidity of the ring post as it stood firm, Leah’s body crushed between both it and her opponent. The turkish wrestler paused to catch his breath, and then stepped away. Leah flopped forward violently, gasping for breath as she writhed in pain on the mat. She told herself that all she needed to do was regain distance and take back control of the match. Leah’s plan manifested as her managing to crawl forward a few inches, before her opponent sat his weight down on the small of her back. Her arms and legs slapped against the mat as her breath was squashed out of her body once again, and she gave an agonized groan as Baba grabbed her head and began to twist. After a few painful moments, Leah’s face was slammed into the canvas, leaving her stunned and prone as Baba stood back up. He kicked the gymnast over onto her back, and circled around to her head. Then, Baba simply sat down on top of his opponent’s face, ignoring Leah’s sudden wild thrashing to begin clubbing his fists into her stomach. Smothered by the turkish wrestler’s massive posterior as her belly was being pounded, clawed and slapped at Baba’s legs while her feet kicked in every direction they could. Her muffled shrieks began to weaken as her limbs grew slack. Baba stood back up just as she went limp, and Leah’s prone form spasmed back to life as she sucked in mouthfuls of air. Using the gymnast’s ponytail as a handle, Baba made Leah stand back up before grabbing her in a standing bearhug. He squeezed a loud noise out of her as she threw her head back and coughed up some spittle, and then whirled her around before delivering a thunderous belly-to-belly slam. Leah was laid out on her back, staring up at the lights as she tried to will her body to move. When she saw Baba’s legdrop coming down towards her, she managed to lift a foot off the mat before her opponent’s tree trunk of a limb dropped across her throat. Leah flopped in place, blacking out for a few seconds before groggily coming back to life. The gymnast began to realize that she felt one hundred times heavier as Baba once again pulled her back to her feet. She tried to fight back, and managed to weakly kick the side of one of her opponent’s legs. Baba responded with a much harder kick to her gut, doubling her over before he lifted her into position for a piledriver. Leah looked up at the floor, and shook her head in denial as she began to comprehend the situation. The piledriver nearly folded Leah in half, and the ringing noise inside of her aching head was enough for her to know she had been denied the mercy of unconsciousness. And yet, as she lay facedown on the mat, she could not move her body beyond softly spasming her hips. Her ponytail had come undone upon impact, and her hair was messily splayed out all over her face and shoulders. Leah thought about the sight of her sparring partner, and began to see herself in his place on the stretcher. Baba grabbed her head in both hands and forced her up to her feet, standing behind her as he began to squeeze his palms together against either side of her skull. Leah’s tired and defeated expression twisted in agony as she began to howl, grabbing and pulling at Baba’s hands as her screams grew louder. The gymnast sank to her knees, tears running down her cheeks as she tried to tap out and surrender. She was ready to pay her dues as a fighter, but her willpower and strength were beyond spent. Baba continued to crush her head, and Leah gave a final panicked struggle to get free as she began to fear for her life. Her eyes snapped wide open as she made an unintelligible noise, and then rolled back and half-closed as her arms fell limp at her sides. A long trail of drool fell from her mouth, spattering on the mat before she was finally released. Leah crumpled facedown onto the canvas, and her body gave no resistance as Baba dragged her to the center of the ring and flipped her over onto her back. The turkish wrestler bounced off the ropes, and then splashed his weight down into his prone opponent’s chest. Leah flopped beneath him as a spray of foamy spittle erupted from her mouth, falling still until Baba delivered another splash. A small trickle of blood came out of one side of the gymnast’s mouth as she flopped again, an audible crunch coming out of her chest. Baba hit the ropes one more time, and gave his lifeless opponent a third splash. Leah spreadeagled form flopped a final time, more softly than before, and was completely motionless after the impact. Finally accepting a 3-count pinfall victory with his opponent’s body crushed beneath his own, Baba then stood to celebrate as the beaten gymnast lay unmoving on the mat. Leah’s body was transferred to a stretcher and carried away, breathing unevenly as an oxygen mask was placed over her gaping mouth.