by Shane Steven Smith


Shane Steven Smith aug 2004

It was my turn but I didn't want to go.

You can see everything from where I am: the crowds, the guards, everything, and you couldn't really tell who was screaming at who, anymore. The guards would push them back a little, but the fence was so thin and people hung over. They laughed crazily and threw things like beer bottles, shouting the whole time for more, more, more. But it was never enough; the crowd always needed more.

That was the game. You could hear them screaming, I mean almost to the point of insanity, The Host egging them on all the while, and then he would say: Alright folks, now listen... And they would all hush. Crouch down to listen. I mean, the whole fucking house on the tip of that man's tongue. And The Host would go on: Here's the Deal: twenty thousand dollars if you make it! That's all you gotta do! Then, the BIG BUCKS! if you make it to Fiiinaaal Rooooouuuunnnnnd!!! He would scream, and then they would start howling again and it started all over. It was like a cycle, and that was the game.

That was true too: you did make the big bucks in the final round. A million of them actually, and that didn't seem too bad for a day's work. At least, back home it didn't. I don't think I would do what they wanted me to do for a hundred million. But that's what had gotten me here: the cash. That's what had made me keep Kara up all those nights watching. That's what got me to call the eight-hundred number on the tube. And that's certainly what got me through all the tests and tredmill running they put me through when I first got picked. Money.

There were three of us left now, standing there like before a firing squad. Everyone was waiting for The Host to scream Fire! but he never did. He was a cat toying with us. We just stood there, waiting our turn, waiting for whatever The Host decided to dish out. And the crowd waited too. Waited to watch.

But now it was my turn, and I didn't want to go. No, I most certainly did not. Not after what happened to Jessie. They had burned Jessie.

Turns out that a long, long time ago, down in Delaware, Jessie's daddy had been a bit or a racist. Jessie's dad had worn a white robe, and burned crosses. And as it turned out, Jessie had too. Don't ask me how I knew this; we all knew. Because they knew, and they told all of us. Millions around America tuned in eagerly to Channel 66-- LIVE!-- to watch Grand Prize tell the story of Jessie and Jessie's daddy.

They brought him out to the circle (that's where The Host talks to Contestants, never by the cage we called the Firing Squad. He never came that close.) and told him to take off all his clothes. So he strips down to his boxers, and man, he's really shaking. The whole time The Host is there yelling, gearing up the crowd. Did they want MORE? he asked. They most certainly did.

And then two of the camera guys, dressed all in black, wheeled out the cross, and that's when Jessie really started to have it. I mean, he was standing there screaming, naked, and they just kept pushing them back, the camera guys, never letting him out of the circle. He was wailing and crying and screaming: Oh God! How did you know How did you- but you could barely hear him at that point. When the cross came out, the fucking crowd went nuts. They had heard all about Jessie's daddy. They were looking for blood.

Me and the other two just stood there, back in line, and watched while they strapped Jessie up there. It took seven cameraguys told hold him up there when they tied his arms. The Host is telling Jessie: Okay. Are you ready? Ready to win twenty thousand DOLLARS? But Jessie was just blubbering at that point.

Then they lit it.

The crowd roared. Yeeeeeeeaaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!

Jessie didn't stay up there long, not long at all. And not long enough, to win. You're supposed to make it three minutes. Three minutes in whatever nightmare they bring out for you. They even have a giant billboard on the wall that is a huge digital clock. Right next to the clock is the even bigger building-sized movie screen that hangs down, making sure everybody gets a good view. If a Contestant makes it through the end, the crowd will count the seconds. In unison.

But no one counted anything that time. Except maybe Jessie, counting his counting his ball-hairs. He got free from the cross (they leave it pretty easy: you're supposed to try to stay)and nearly got out of the circle, until two of the cameraguys caught him. No one leaves the circle. That's rule number three. They dragged Jessie out of sight. Jessie was DISQUALIFIED. And that was bad. I don't know what happens if you're DISQUALIFIED, but I know they don't send any of the Contestants home. Not unless you're the WINNER.

Ready? The cameraguy in black asks me, in a way that's more like telling. He's a big dude too, jacked all the way up. I'm not even thinking about starting anything with him when he walks me out to the circle. I was thinking about Jessie, and what he was screaming. I was trying to remember absolutely every question they asked me on all of those tests. What I might have told them, you know? But it was too much; there had been pages and pages.

I wondered if Kara was watching. No way she'd come, she said. And she didn't want me to go either. But I didn't listen, you know: the cash. I wished I had. I hoped she wasn't watching.

Vaguely I was aware that I was stripping down. I felt light-headed.

I hoped I made it. I hoped I wasn't DISQUALIFIED. I didn't want to be brought out back.

When The Host asked me Are you ready to take your turn? I told him I was.

But I wasn't.

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