A terrible plague swept across the earth. It was a great sickness that fell across most of Europe, a sickness whose roots extended far beyond the Atlantic Ocean and even stretched as far as the United States of America. It was a plague that murdered millions of people of all races, genders, and ethnicities. It was a plague that was embodied in the figure of a single man. It was a plague of hate. This man, this awful, tyrannical man, had grandiose plans for world domination that bordered on madness. Capitalizing on the weakness of the masses, his wave of hatred towards minorities washed across the earth, and, in the blink of en eye, eradicated six million Jews, homosexuals, blacks, and countless other peoples. This man was a man named Adolph Hitler. His brainchild of Nazism was looked upon by most in Germany and Austria, and by followers in many other European countries, as somewhat of a religion. Placing first the Fürher and therefore the country, the people of Germany looked down upon their families and friends, ready to betray any sign of disloyalty. Their suffering economy, extending from the First World War, had made them desperate for a scapegoat to their woes. And Adolph Hitler provided for them in der Jude, the Jew. Like lambs to the slaughter, they blindly followed their leader to the very limits of heaven, prosperous and powerful, only to fall back, back into the darkest depths of hell… Nothing. Darkness. Suddenly, we see a great flash of light. This enormous burst resembles a gargantuan flashbulb igniting in the darkness of a windowless room. It is followed by a strobe of colors; red, yellow, purple, green, blue…each of the colors of the rainbow flashes brilliantly upon the white, fluorescent background. Hazily, the colors subside, and we see a picture begin to form. Slowly at first, in shades of gray and white, devoid of color. Shapes form, fluid shapes that are moving like a great sea of dull gray tone. All is silent, deathly silent, eerily silent… The picture is slightly out-of-focus; we cannot quite see what the picture is of, but a great commotion is happening beyond the haze. Finally, the last shades of black melt in and the picture begins to focus, like the lens of a camera. Then it is clear to us: a great throng of people, their numbers bordering on the hundreds of thousands. Heads span the horizon as far as the eye can see. And each pair of eyes is focused on a single man in front of them. To the immediate left, a man is perched menacingly on a podium. His garb is a starchy military uniform, his chest is adorned with metals. His jet-black hair is combed neatly to one side and his simple block mustache is trimmed neatly at the sides and above his upper lip. His long, pointy nose seems to jeer at the crowd as a pair of needle-sharp eyes pierces into their very souls, inflaming them. Angrily, he shouts in silence, pounding the wooden podium dangerously hard with a clenched fist. The breeze disturbs his hair, as well as his frantic motions. His words, whatever they may be, seem to be having an effect on the crowd. Their faces are locked on his. There is a strange looked shared by all: their eyes are focuses strictly and their mouths are clenched tight, a small smile playing at the corners of their lips. Each and every chest is swelled with a kind of dangerous pride, as if at any moment one might burst through one’s buttons. Their looks were hungry and patriotic, ready to fight and ready to die, if need be. And they stared at the man on the podium. Still, he pounded the wood with a furious emphasis on certain words. To either side of him, hanging from long flagpoles, two bright flags brandished the hellish symbol of Nazism, the tilted swastika. The swastika, an ancient symbol dating back to early Babylonia, was originally a symbol portraying peace between peoples and rest and harmony among nations. But the bastardized symbol printed on the flags portrayed anything but peace and harmony. Instead, it represented the staples of the Nazi platform: hatred, lust, and greed. It represented the very things the man before the flags now preached to thousands of men, women, and children. Perversion of the innocence was a primary component of this man’s agenda; it was the only way to truly procure for himself a future laden with power, to breed and raise an army of loyal followers, followers who by the age of nine were all but prepared to betray their very parents at the first sign of disloyalty to their great leader…their Father…their Fürher. He was insane man, but he was intelligent, and a brilliant pusher of propaganda. He knew the weakness of the country after their previous military defeat. They were desperate for a leader, a beacon of hope and a symbol of strength. This man gave that to them and more. He was their knight-in-shining-armor, and as he courted their loyalties with a golden tongue of deceit, he slowly took a foothold in the political ranks of the country of Germany. The people were desperate for a leader, and they got one. The people were desperate for hope, and they got it. The people were desperate for strength, and they got that too. The people of Germany were desperate to be shown the path. Like sheep, they blindly followed their Shepard’s commands, cowering only under his hooked staff of death when they refused to heed to his biddings. Like lambs, they merrily followed their leader to the slaughterhouse, blind to the consequences of their actions. Our view slowly changes. We close in on Hitler’s barking, red face. His eyes are crazy with passion, his mouth flies with the speed of a swallow. Our view shows Hitler’s face, angled, and beyond him, Nazi Germany of the early 1940’s. It begins to pan around his face. As it moves from his right side and rounds in front of him, his features begin to change. They begin to melt away into different facial features. His nose changes, his hair changes, his mouth changes, his mustache changes…it happens swiftly and fluently. No longer is the howling man in front of us Adolph Hitler…no, as out view comes to rest on his profile, we recognize the sharp facial characteristics of Shawn Michaels. He continues to shout madly, passion and fire in his eyes, his hands gripping the sides of the podium with the tenacity of iron. Our view pans back. We see that his clothing has changed as well. No longer a ass, a really big suck up to these fans. The flags behind him have changed as well; instead of the American flag it's the wWe flag and performing for the fans. Our view continues to pan back, and the crowd is captured. The crowd has changed as well. Equally as large, they are now men, women, and children of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. Many hold signs supporting Shawn Michaels, his name scribbled quickly on posterboard in their haste to see their favorite wrestler. Suddenly, Shawn Michaels pounds the podium hard with both hands, shouting his last few words in the air. The crowd silently erupts around him, tossing various objects into the air and cheering with the thrill of victory and patriotism. Shawn Michaels sits back on his heels, a smirk on his face. It is a knowing smirk, a confident smirk. It is a smirk that is underscored by the equally-as-knowing look in his eyes. He knows. He knows that he has them, now. Whether they like it or not…he has them… Mike Sanders sat, waiting in a chair on the small soundstage on one of the middle floors of the massive communications building. He sighed exhaustedly and bowed his head deeply, closing his eyes and rubbing the corners with his thumb and forefinger. He had been sitting for hours, waiting for the stage director of WwE's television staff to arrive. Apparently, there had been a hold up at the airport and it was unclear as to when he was to arrive. Therefore, Mike Sanders sat and waited. The fact that his night had been restless had not helped a bit. Suffering from jet lag and his accursed nightmares, he had about two hours of sleep in him. Earlier that morning, he had large gray bags underneath his eyes, a trademark sign of sleeplessness. But the artful makeup lady had skillfully covered his baggage with concealer. Now he cheap stage makeup, and, as he scratched at his cheek, pulling away a thickfelt hot and itchy under the line of the paste covering his face, he reveled in the fact that it was not often he had to give a scheduled promotional speech. Also known in the business as a “promo.” Suddenly, his cellular phone rang shrilly from the pocket of his long, azure denim shorts. He sighed and cursed to himself, taking out the folding phone and opened it, holding it to his ear. “Hello?” he said. “Mike. This is Max,” Mike’s long-time friend Max Michaels from the other end of the line. “Hi. What’s wrong?” Mike Sanders asked suspiciously. “Nothing’s wrong. Why do you automatically assume something is wrong?” he asked irritably. Mike Sanders frowned. “Because you don’t often call me on my cell phone unless something is wrong. Are you in jail again?” “Come on, man. Give me more credit than that. That only happened…” he paused, thinking. “…Like twice. Maybe, even.” “Then what does this pertain to?” “I just wanted to call you and tell you congratulations on getting in the King of the Ring tournament over John Cena, now it's Shawn Michaels,” he said. Shane shook his head slightly. “Congratulations for what? Beating a jobber that barely shows up for work. On the contrary, actually: I think something underhanded is going on behind-the-scenes.” “Shit, Sanders. You’re the only man I know who would look a gift horse in the mouth. Why question a miracle? Win this and your on your way to Summerslam. That’s all that matters.” “I don’t know. I still feel hesitant about this one; there is something at work here, I will prove myself with my match against Shawn Michaels. There is definitely something strange going on in the WwE Sadistic boardroom. I just don’t think you should expect anything clean this Sunday. Especially knowing the people I know.” “Who?” Azrael said, confused. “All the guys in this company are trying to make names for themselves, anything could happen” Mike said, trailing off. He cleared his throat. “I’ve handled things like this in the past on my own, and ended victoriously. But don’t you think it’s a little odd that my rival is doing promos in unknown places, he could be in the locker room, at the mall, or in Asia. He'll be at the Pay-Per View? I’m telling you, Max, there is a higher power at work.” “I think you’re being paranoid. Listen, just take it for what it is. That’s the best advice I have ever given to anyone: just take it for what it is. Don’t think yourself into a corner, boy. You’ve done that in the past and, as experience shows, it didn’t turn out well for you then and it sure as shit won’t turn out well for you know.” “I know that. But there is nothing wrong with being cautious. Something will happen, Sunday, you can’t deny that. I will be ready for it when it does.” “Whatever you say. The only thing I see happening is you pinning Shawn Michaels and going on to win the 2003 King of the Ring and you will be on your way to face Chris Jericho at Summerslam!” “Then look past your nose.” “Fuck you, Mike. Listen, I have to run. Anyway, congratulations on the win. And call Pamlea. She has something she needs to talk to you about. She didn’t tell me what.” “Fine. I will talk to you later, Max.” “Adios,” Max said before the line went dead. Mike Sanders pressed the phone off, and then turned it back on, quickly dialing Pamela Paulshock’s work number. The phone rang once. “Pamela Paulshock,” she said quickly and professionally. “Hi, Pamlea,” Mike Sanders said. There was a slight pause. “Oh, Mike! Hi!” she said. He frowned. “What’s wrong?” There was another pause. “Uh, Mike Sanders. We kind of need to talk about something.” He furrowed his brow and bit his lip. “I’m listening,” he said from the side of his mouth. She drew a sigh. “Mike…Michael asked me to marry him again.” Mike Sanders held his breath. “Oh, that host of Blind Date you were dating? Your ex-fiancé?” “Yes.” “And…?” There was again a pause, longer this time, tenser. “I said ‘no.’ I had to tell him I married you. Now the wrestling world's going to know but it won't be that big of a deal, they might remember me from wCw too.” His heart dropped. He was silent for a long while. “Mike?” she said tenderly. “What?” “Say something.” He was quiet again for a minute. “Why?” “Because I love you.” “Well damn we will have all the wrestling sites calling us now. Mike Sanders and Pamela Paulshock are married! Wow!” “It will be fine, just stop overreacting…” she said, quietly. “Yes. Yes, I know,” Mike said, a bitter edge to his voice. “Mike…” she said pleadingly. “I’m so sorry.” “I’m sure you are.” “I am! Mike, I care about you.” “I know. And I love you. Do me a favor, though.” “What?” she asked eagerly. “Fly home to Georgia and after King of the Ring I'll meet you, we need to talk, your interfering with my job.” “Mike-” she started. But he didn’t hear her. He pressed the “off” button on the phone and folded it quickly, replacing it in his pocket. It did not ring again. Mike Sanders frowned, an absent expression on his face. He felt as if a white-hot spike had just been rammed through his chest and into his heart. At the same time, he felt empty. It was an odd feeling that wore away at the edges of his mind, fraying them and making them ragged. He dwelled on it…the woman he had never really stopped loving had messed everything up, what to do? It was a story as old as time, he knew. And it never got any easier. He did not notice when the makeup lady came by, shouted at him for messing up his makeup, and painted another thick sheen across his cheek where his fingernails had raked tiny tracks through the base. He did not notice when the stage director arrived and began to have the cameraman set up the equipment. His eyes and ears were dead to the world, turned inward and looking upon his wounded heart. Suddenly, a sound penetrated his solitude. It was a beautiful magnificent sound that echoed through his ears, leaving behind a pleasant residue of overtone. It was the sweet sound of opera, floating distantly from down the hallway on his left. Perhaps the most beautiful opera song that had ever caressed his ears, he was wrenched from his grievance and turned in the direction of the music. The singer’s angelic voice floated and danced about the crashing orchestral chords and dipped down into a low baritone before rising high in a magnificent crescendo of first soprano. She narrowed his eyes and slowly stood, his eyes focused on the hallway. He followed the magical notes down the hall to a small office. The music became louder and more intoxicating as he approached. It emanated from a small red CD player on a vacant desk. The office’s occupant had stepped out for a moment. He leaned against the doorframe, closing his eyes and soaking in the flagrant notes and allowing them to entrance him. After a long while, the song came to a brilliant end and he opened his eyes, looking down at the stereo. The CD case laid on the table next to it and he picked it up. On the cover was the face of the woman whose voice had so intoxicated him. Her face was perfectly shaped, with beautiful blonde eyebrows that matched her long, flowing locks. Her hair, perfect in its design, was a picture of brilliance. Her lips were soft and luscious, pink and slightly parted. But her eyes…her eyes are what drew his attention. Deep pools of bright blue, they seemed to stretch for infinity into her soul. They were everything Mike Sander's were not, and at the same time, everything they were. They were beautiful and divine. He swallowed, staring at her face with the slightly sensuous look on it. On the bottom right hand corner of the cover was the title of the album: Stephanie Maddux– a compilation. Suddenly, a hand grabbed his shoulder from behind. He wheeled around and glared. The short stage director, holding a clipboard, jumped back, startled. He swallowed. “We’re ready for you, Mr. Sanders.” Mike Sanders stared at him angrily for a moment in silence. Finally he nodded. The short, squat man turned and almost fled down the hall, walking quickly. Mike Sanders took a last long look at the beautiful face on the album cover and memorized the title. He replaced it piously on the desk and turned, following the stage director. The man motioned him to a chair in front of a white backdrop. Shane seated himself while the lighting stagehands fixed the spotlights shining down on him and the director helped the cameraman polish the shot angle. Finally, they were ready. “Mr. Sanders? Start on my mark. Ready? Five…four…three…” he said, before motioning the last two number silently with his hand. Mike Sanders bowed his head in thought as the man pointed to him, the small red light on top of the camera blinking on. Mike Sanders was silent for a moment. Finally, he looked up. Peering into the camera from the tops of his eyes, a wicked smirk spread across his face. “Shawn Michaels…my opponent: the champion of the people. It is no wonder why this man is the hero of hundreds of thousands. He has what so very few people in this business have: power. He has power, power that endows him with the clout to throw his weight around as he pleases, power that is derived from the alchemy of the ten pounds of gold he wears around his waist as do I. Why would the masses not look up to a man who has what so have as well? After all, its human nature to covet what one doevery few of them s not have. Shawn Michaels is the flesh and blood embodiment of their menial desires; of course he is going to exulted and placed on a pedestal. Shawn Michaels…the champion of the people…” Mike Sanders shakes his head. “Shawn Michaels, the leader of D Generation-X is a successful man in the public eye, no doubt. He has wrestled his way to the top and has won numerous titles. He has won the adoration of the public and is currently one of the most beloved members of the WwE roster. Of course, that alone hasn’t made him what currently is. No…Shawn Michaels is a man of his own design. He has learned what so very few men learn, and that is how to capitalize upon the weaknesses of others.” Mike Sanders smirked. “The people covet power because it is what they do not have in their boring, inane, blue collar, Joe blow lives. Shawn Michaels knew this. So, artfully, he squirmed his way to the top, not through his technical abilities or his brawling skills…but through the public psyche. The people needed an icon to look up to, to give them hope that they don’t go to work for ten hours a day, six days a week only to die an unknown death in the back wing of the county hospital. And that is what he gave them. He gave them a pillar of hope. He gave them a monument of power to look up to. He gave them a leader, because that is what they wanted. And they love him for it. “There have been a small handful of other men throughout history who have uncovered this method of mobility,” Mike Sanders said, smirking. “One of the most notorious of these men was a man who, in 1940’s Germany, established a union known as the Third Reich and conquered half of Europe, infecting the populous with his poisonous ideas of greed and hatred. He too capitalized on the need of the public for a leader. Much like Shawn Michaels…the people blindly followed his fabricated grace, not giving a thought to the consequences of their actions. To them…their leader was the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the ending. To them…their leader was God. And that is the same way it is contemporarily, to the hundreds of thousands of ‘HBK is God’ fans who worship every suplex, every clothesline, every drop toe hold their idol performs on a daily basis. “Millions worshipped Adolph Hitler and his Gestapo. And millions perished for their adorations. They followed their Fürher, in spite of the evils that he caused. To them, he was doing only what was necessary to preserve their wholesomeness and promoting their race across the face of the earth. The were blind to his malevolence and saw only the kind, giving man who provided them with the Volkswagen, the education their country lacked, the organization their country needed to replant themselves in the soil of world power. They saw only their messiah, their Christ. The people of 1940’s Germany were blind to the six million people who wasted away in concentration camps, who burned in the hellfire of the ovens, who suffocated on the gases of the showers, who melted in the pots of oil, and who dined on a bullet for the good of the country. Of course not! Their great leader would never do such a thing! And even if he did, it was a necessary occurrence!” Shawn Michaels spat bitterly. He was frowning now, a deep look of intensity rooted in his eyes. “And like lambs to the slaughter, they followed their leader to the bitter end. When their great holy war came crashing down around their ankles, everything they had worked so hard for came toppling down thanks to the Russian, American, and British devils, only then did they realize the horrors that their blind stupor had caused. By then, their ‘great leader’ had proven himself nothing more than a coward as his body was discovered days later, a gaping, smoking bullet hole in the back of his head the only epitaph to his name,” Mike Sanders said. He paused. “Shawn Michaels…you could do to take some lessons from the example of Adolph Hitler and his damned Third Reich. As every historian is taught in his preliminary classes, history has a nasty habit of repeated itself. Not since the example of Nazi Germany have I witnessed a more blind and doltish group of people than your fans. They don’t look past your obvious faults, Tony. In fact, they can’t even see them. They don’t see your failures, Tony. All they see is the gold around your waist. They see not your terrible propensity for underestimation, as I have. They see not your downfall as a repercussion of your silly pride, as I have. No, Shawn…they see my success and your body. “This coming Genesis, I hope you will take some time and study the inner workings of World War II. As history tends to repeat itself…Hitler fell for his lack of strategy in the face of adversity, so will you. This Sunday, Shawn, I will awaken your fans from their drunken stupor as the allies awakened the Germans from theirs. I will pin you and continue on in the tournament and keep my pride, proving that you, like Hitler, are not invincible,” Mike Sanders smiled wickedly, steepling his fingers. “Hitler was a sick man, Shawn Michaels. But he took his medicine in the form of a bullet. This Sunday…you’ll be given your medicine as well.” The camera fades on Mike Sanders cruel, leering, steel-gray eyes.