by Carl D. Orr
"We are going live in three, two, one." Run wacky music and flashing lights. Announcer: "Hello and welcome to America's favorite game show, Bread and Circus! Where convicted criminals are forced to participate in exciting on-stage competitions, for the chance to win cash and prizes, or be tortured horribly. Here's your host, Bob Folderol!" Audience: wild applause. Standing ovation as Bob emerges from backstage. He looks to be about 40, but everyone knows he is pushing 70. The slicked-back, dyed hair and multiple face lifts maintain his heartthrob status, after so many years.
"Well, good afternoon. Wow, thank you. Thank you, please. Hello, good afternoon, and welcome to Bread and Circus. Glad you could join us. Bear with me while I present the standard disclaimer: Bread and Circus was established by the Entertainment and Punishment Act of 2045, in an effort to deter crime and amuse the masses. All games you see are presented live. Parental discretion is advised. That being said, LET'S GET TO THE MAYHEM!!" The crowd goes wild.
"Our games today are particularly twisted, as created by our clinically insane staff. Johnny, let's meet today's contestant!"
Announcer: "Well Bob, from Baltimore, Maryland, meet Al Ridenhour!" The crowd applauds as a non-descript man, 40 years of age but looking significantly older, is ushered on stage. He wears a white jumpsuit. He walks forward willingly, because he knows if he resists the men will come out with their nightsticks and make him continue.
"Hello, Al, good to meet you. And what did you do to get an appearance on our show?"
Al answers reluctantly, "I crossed the street in the middle of the block, Bob." The crowd boos. Bob looks at Al with a mixture of disgust and pity.
"Well Al, you should have known better than that. As you know, ladies and gentlemen, in this day and age, serious criminals are summarily executed. Most minor criminals are simply brutally beaten. However, a few are chosen, at random, for a chance to appear on our show! Al has the opportunity to win some cash, or feel incredible pain!" The crowd claps enthusiastically. "Follow along at home, and remember, today's lesson is obviously, don't cross the street in the middle of the block!"
The crowd cheers as the first game is brought forward. Bob plays to the audience. "Now remember folks, none of our games our rigged. Some of the games are fiendishly difficult, tricky, downright cruel even. But in every case, our contestant does have the opportunity to avoid injury and win something to take home. What's the first prize, Johnny?"
Announcer: "It's a year's membership at Bally's electro-shock clubs!!" The crowd oohs and ahs. The audience at home sees shots of attractive people, grinning inanely, going about their daily business, and entering a chrome-and glass club. "Bally's, the finest electro-shock clubs on the East Coast. Get your mind in shape, what are you waiting for?"
"Thank you Johnny. Al, the first game you'll be playing is Wall of Velcro." The topless models have wheeled out a black, eight-foot high section of wall, and a table with items indiscernible from the camera's point of view. "We give you three items, and all you have to do is get them all to adhere to the Velcro wall here. You have thirty seconds. Stick all three, and you win the Bally's membership. Fail, however, and a thousand pounds of each item you fail to stick will be dropped on you. What are the items Al has to stick to the wall, Johnny?"
A topless model displays the items in turn. "Well Bob, first up is the K-9000 basketball shoe from StarCleave. Put on StarCleaves, or you will suck. Next up is a wool sweater, from Snyder Outerwear. Hydroponically grown sheep provide genuine wool, finely hand-crafted by Snyder. And finally, Brookwood Farms pork chops are just one of many partial meat products available at stores everywhere. Serve your family Brookwood, because you care as much as we do."
The crowd claps on cue. Bob is fired up. "Are you ready Al?"
Al is suspicious, but says "Yeah, I guess I'm ready."
"Then GO!" Obnoxious edgy music begins playing, and the crowd shouts out suggestions. Al is surprised to find the sneaker has Velcro bindings. This can't be that easy! He simply undoes the binding and attaches the correct side to the wall. The crowd applauds. The second item is the wool sweater, which also presents Al with little problem. He spreads it out on the right half of the wall, and it holds quite nicely. The crowd cheers him on. "Good work Al, twenty seconds," encourages Bob. The final item, surprising Al even more, is a thinly sliced pork chop. Al smashes it against the Velcro, but it drops. He tries again, but to no avail. No matter how hard he tries, he can't get the meat to stick. "Ten seconds Al." Dammit, it has to be possible! They said it could be done! The crowd is counting, "Seven, six, five..." I'm just not pushing hard enough... it can be done, can't it? What did they say they were going to do to me? "Two, one..." The buzzer is deafening. Some of the spectators "awwww" in sympathy, others cheer. "Oh Al, too bad. Nice effort though."
"But Bob, you said it was possible! This just can't be done!"
"We had a feeling you would ask that, Al. Allow me to perform what I would call an 'Inspiration Stick.'" Bob hands his microphone to the closest topless model. He takes the pork chop from the floor where it has fallen, and also picks up a six-inch long spike, painted black, that had been sitting at the base of the wall. With one powerful thrust, he pierces the meat and the black plastic of the wall, and it holds. The crowd cheers insanely.
Al is blubbering. "But you didn't say there was a nail there!"
Bob chuckles. "True, but you could have found it."
"But it's Velcro! I was supposed to stick it to the Velcro! You didn't say I could use a nail!"
"Oh, but we didn't say you couldn't." Bob is backing away. "You know folks, I think the contestant's desperation may just be my favorite part of the show. Face it Al, you didn't make it. And you know what that means." There is a sound from above, and suddenly Al is showered in slightly spoiled raw pork. The force of it all knocks him to the floor, but it is not dropped in one mass, so it doesn't knock him out or kill him. The crowd is on its feet. "A big thank you to Brookwood Farms for providing the product here. Right now we'll go to a commercial, get Al out from under this pile, and we'll be back with more Bread and Circus."
"Breaking from commercial. We are up and live in four, three, two, one."
"OK, we are back, here with today's contestant, Al Ridenhour, on our show for crossing the street in the middle of the block. We pulled Al out from under the thousand pounds of Brookwood Farms pork chops, got the stage cleaned up... how are you feeling, Al?"
"I think I broke my collarbone."
"Ha ha!" Bob slaps Al on the shoulder, nearly sending him to the floor. The audience laughs appreciatively. "Well, you'd better play with the pain, Al, because there's two more games to go. What's up next, Johnny?"
Announcer: "Al, you're going to need that arm, because you're going to play... Balloon Bust!!" The crowd applauds. A plexiglass dome, ten feet in diameter, is wheeled on stage. Inside is a table holding three partially inflated balloons, and a device like an old fashioned bicycle pump.
Bob is enthused. "This is one of our favorite games. Al, you can see the three balloons inside the dome here. One of them is filled with five thousand dollars in small bills!" Applause from the audience. "Now, have thirty seconds to pick one of the balloons, attach the pump device here, and inflate it to bursting. If you pick the one with the cash, you'll be showered in money and get to keep whatever you grab! If you fail to inflate a balloon within the thirty seconds, all three will burst at once. Now, that will release the cash, but... I won't say what's in the other balloons, but I assure you the cash will be totally ruined." Bob opens the little door to the dome. "You ready Al?"
Al winces with pain, but he knows he has no choice. He has a one in three chance... of course, it's probably well nigh impossible to get the balloon inflated, or something; it can't be that easy. "Sure, ready."
"Then GO!" Al is pushed inside the dome and the edgy music starts. He selects the balloon on the left, and begins pumping with his good arm. The balloon is slow to inflate, but the crowd begins clapping to cheer him on. "Fifteen seconds Al." He gets a sudden surge of adrenaline and begins inflating the balloon at high speed. It approaches the size of a large loaf of bread, just before bursting.
The liquid burns his eyes and skin. Mace, possibly sulfuric acid. The balloon cannot have possibly held that much liquid; it is obviously implemented by a spray from beneath the table. Al is unable to scream as he attempts to wipe his face clean; fortunately the jumpsuit protects him somewhat as only his face and exposed arms are in agony. As he is not screaming, he is able to hear the mixed "awwwws" and cheers from the crowd, and the ancient "wonk wonk wonk wonnnnnk" consolation sound.
Bob is protected by the plexiglass dome. "Let's give Al a hand for a great effort. He didn't pick the cash balloon; just bad luck there. But he did get one of them inflated in thirty seconds, which is more than a lot of contestants do. And with a busted collarbone, too! Do you work out, Al?"
Al is scratching at his eyes and chin. He mutters a strangled "hahhhhh?"
"Al's having some problems right now, folks... Balloon Bust is brought to you by Monolith Bank One. We can afford to have five thousand dollars eaten away by acid, because we control most of the money in this country. Monolith Bank One: what choice do you have? We'll be back with our final game of the afternoon, after this message."
"We are back from commercial and going live in three, two, one." Wacky music up. Audience applauds on cue. Announcer: "Promotional considerations paid by Capitol Polysterene, the finest in styrofoam for twenty years. And, Dynamo Films new feature, 'Stark Naked Killers,' starring the Olsen twins. Bob Folderol's wardrobe provided by Syntho-Fleece Incorporated. And now, back to Bob for the final game of the afternoon!"
"Thank you friends! Al, that was some splash. How are you doing?"
Al is able to see out of one eye; the burning sensation is now a minor annoyance. They haven't broken his spirit yet, however; he is able to be sarcastically enthusiastic. "Let's get it going, Bob."
"Hey! That's what we like to hear! We're up to the final game, which you know usually has a big payoff. What can he win Johnny!"
The announcer nearly has a seizure. "A NEW CAR!!" The crowd is beside itself. One of the topless models, smiling from ear to ear, drives the small, bubble-like vehicle stage from the wings. "It's the '49 Armadillo, with full climate protection, eight speaker stereo, and the best fuel economy in its class. Two hundred miles on a full charge! The Armadillo, from Ultra Motors, because in the auto business, you lead, follow, or get run over by UM."
A billboard-like display is wheeled out from the other wing. It has seven large black squares across the top, with small numbers 1 through 7 below them. A black leather sack on a three foot high stand is wheeled out as well. Bob is at his best. "We went back in the vault for this one. Back in the late twentieth century, a game show had a game called 'Three Strikes.' We've adapted it, and our game is called 'One Strike.' Now you see these little discs here with numbers on them: one, two, five, six, eight, nine, zero. Each one of these numbers appears in the price of the car." Bob drops the plastic discs into the sack. "Now Al, you pull them out one at a time, and if you pull out a number, you guess which digit it is. If you get it right, we'll light it up. If you miss, it goes back in the bag. Get all seven numbers lit up, and the car is yours!" The crowd cheers frantically. "Let's give it a go."
Obviously, there is something they aren't telling him. But the thought of the guards and their nightsticks and cattle prods leads Al to shuffle up to the bag on the stand. Nervously reaching inside, his hand feels a warm tingle. The bag is full of warm water. He grasps a plastic disc and pulls it out. It's the zero. "OK Al, where's it go?"
Knowing car prices, this will be the only easy choice he has. "The last one, Bob."
"Gentlemen, can you give us a zero at digit seven?" Ding! The number lights up in the last box. The crowd erupts. "Nice work Al, go in there and grab another number."
Al is wondering what the "one strike" could be as he reaches back into the bag. He jumps as he feels something moving, brushing his hand. He quickly grabs a number and pulls it out. A six. "Where's it go?" prompts Bob.
Oh, who can tell. "Number four?"
"Gentlemen, light up that six!" Buzz. Wrong. Bob takes the number six and drops it into the bag--he does not touch the bag in so doing. "So the six does not go at number four. Remember that, if you draw it again."
Al reaches in, feeling around for the "right" number for effect... when horrible pain shoots up his arm. Al shouts and pulls his hand from the bag. The "one strike" is an African vampire piranha, a horrible species discovered in the twenties which latches onto its victim with razor sharp teeth and drinks their blood. A fine, six inch long specimen has attached itself to Al's right hand. The crowd is in a frenzy. Al wheels in pain. Bob is standing a bit too close, however, and he is knocked over by Al's outstretched arm. Although they are not normally known to do so, the evil fish lets go, landing on Bob. Deprived of its meal, the creature attaches itself to the next available: Bob's neck. The guards rush the stage, dragging Al away, and trying to pry the creature from the prone host. The crowd is on its feet. The network cuts abruptly to commercial.
The staff's efforts were in vain. Bob's age caught up with him, and he did not recover from the piranha attack. Al was never heard from again; it was assumed that he was hauled into the alley behind the studio and shot. Fans of Bread and Circus agreed, that aside from the guy who won an Australian vacation playing "Wrestle the Dingo," that Al Ridenhour was the biggest winner in the show's history.
All rights retained by the author, thank you very much.