UNTITLED ART by Josephine Sharpe
BREAD AND CIRCUSES by Samantha Liu
The best part of anyone’s day was always the four o’clock broadcast. For an entire hour, watchers could enjoy with bloodied fascination the plight of the humans that the station had picked out for the day. At exactly four o’clock, the host stepped onstage and began his rousing introduction. It was always the same speech, but you know what they say about announcer voices—clear as a bell, enchanting as a forest. By 4:05, the audience would be bouncing on the edge of their seat.
Next, some miserable chained human would walk onstage while onlookers jeered from the comforts of their own home. For an allegedly egalitarian society, perhaps this just goes to show that everybody needs someone to lord over, even if that someone is naked and cowering and sentenced to be ripped apart from lung to liver. I’d love to continue to examine psychological power complexes and hierarchy, but that discussion wouldn’t be nearly as interesting the four o’clock broadcast.
Anyways, next the host would spin a neon-lit wheel and the top arrow would bounce tick tick tick over each ridge. Soon the ticks would slow and the audience would lean closer like a pack of night animals, preying with their eyes instead of their teeth, rocking on their sofas instead of their haunches. Finally, the arrow would overcome its last ridge and click into place. The the audience would almost always cheer and the human onstage would almost always recoil at the wheel’s flashing words—Poison-Tongued Lizards! Russian Boar-Wolf! Lion Tarantula Swarm!
Some poor interns would wheel out a terrible iron-clad cage holding whatever atrocity the wheel had chosen. The prisoner would have ten seconds to choose a weapon and scramble to a strategic location. Then the cage doors would open and the massacre would ensue.
It would never last more than ten minutes. The current record goes to a woman who scaled the stadium walls within the first ten seconds. She performed an awfully impressive balancing act as she clung to the light fixture with her lower body, hiding herself in the framework of the wiring. For six minutes, she shot arrows into the skin of the six-foot lizard as it searched blindly for its enemy. In the seventh minute, the producers decided that there wasn’t much entertainment in watching a stumbling reptile with impenetrable skin be pierced over and over again with rubber-tipped arrows. They pushed a couple of buttons and snapped the light fixture, tumbling the woman back to the concrete floor.
The struggle that ensued, on the other hand, was entertainment at its finest. The gargantuan lizard scrambled to exact its revenge on its victim. She fought valiantly, but her resolve had already crumbled with her earlier fall from grace. In the eighth minute, the poison had gnawed through her right arm up to her elbow while she flailed with her bloodied leg, a pathetic attempt to repel the lizard from making its final blow. In the twentieth second of the eighth minute, lizard stepped onto her chest and, unwinding itself into its full length, sank its teeth into her neck.
But for the most part, the fighters hardly lasted that long. Within three minutes, their flirt with death met its end as twelve-foot snakes strangled their windpipe or red-eyed wolves scratched out their eyes. Naturally, the question arises of how this four o’clock broadcast could possibly continue for an hour—after all, acquiring humans to kill was quite difficult and the beasts needed their rest too. And so, the second and arguably more exciting half of the broadcast involved the animals feasting on the spoils of their fight. The audience cheer as tigers tore off the raw leg of long-dead fighters or as wolves snapped corpses’ ribcages and gnawed on their bones like dog toys. For a secular society, perhaps this just emphasizes how everyone worships death at least a little, whether out of fear or morbidity or passion, since what is religion but a construct to explicate mortality? But of course, that tangent is not nearly as exciting as the four o’clock broadcast and so it must be omitted.
Frankly, the second half of the broadcast was quite ingenious on the producers’ part from a utilitarian standpoint. It meant that they didn’t have to hire janitors to clean up the bloodstains and mangled remains, nor would they have to spend money on food for their animals. By the time the beasts had their fill, the stage would be quite clean, in fact. Then the curtains were drawn and the wheel waved a big “SEE YOU LATER!” as the audience retired home, nothing left to do but await tomorrow’s broadcast.
The worst part of anyone’s day was always the kidnappings. But they happened quietly and discretely enough that nobody really cared much for them. Take, for instance, the following incident of the Brooks household.
Mr. Brooks was quite ordinary except for a missing eyebrow. Honestly, he found this defect a bit irksome, but at least Little Arthur Brooks could derive joy from drawing on an eyebrow with his fat purple marker and announcing that “Daddy’s fixed!”
On this particular day at 3:45, Mr. Brooks was sitting at his swivel chair and scratching his head when he heard a knock at the front door. He mumbled something about civility, evidently irked that his head-scratching and chair-swiveling had been disrupted. Mr. Brooks was an easily irked man.
But when he opened the front door, he was promptly struck by a wooden club.
“Hey, hey, what’s the big idea?” he demanded to his masked attacker before collapsing to the ground with a staggering thud.
By the time the rest of his family ran over, Mr. Brooks was already being dragged out the door leaving a trail of blood. His head was lolling to one side and bruising purple. When he saw his wife, he opened his mouth to speak but, promptly, collapsed again, this time with a bullet shot straight through his left knee.
The moment was so surreal that Mrs. Brooks could only gape in helplessness She stood immobile as the masked man pulled her dead or alive husband over the door ledge, as his head bump bump bumped down each stair, as she realized that her feet were completely soaked with his blood, as she wondered if this was all a dream.
It was only when Little Arthur came crawling to her side and squeaked “Daddy?” that the brunt of reality slammed Mrs. Brooks. And all of a sudden, she was sobbing, burying her face in Little Arthur’s shoulder and clutching at his shirt. She felt her heart being squeezed and stretched in rhythm with her wracking chest. Now she howled, a horrible sound interrupted only by shallow gasps for breath. When she ran out of tears, Mrs. Brooks resorted to retching quite loudly. Little Arthur pulled away instinctively, leaving her to lurch forward and crumple to the ground in a puddle of her own tears. Now she choked in heavy trembling breaths with her forehead pressed against the wet floor while Little Arthur looked on, quietly wondering how long this was to last.
But the human biological clock is a miraculous thing. At promptly 4 o’clock, as the sound of the TV drifted down the hallway, Mrs. Brooks rose in curious wonder. Her eyes were dry. They flitted around nervously and focused on a single entity—the TV set, where a voice, clear as a bell and enchanting as a forest, rang forth.
“Ma?” whispered Little Arthur.
She walked to the family room as if waking from a dream. Her eyes were still glazed over. The host was spinning the wheel already. Tick tick tick. She leaned forward and the last tick resounded decisively. Tick.
Brazilian Boa Constrictors!
Mrs. Brooks was recovering her senses now. She cheered from her seat. From the back of the stadium, the man groaned. It was quite a weak groan. He wasn’t going to last a minute. His head was already bruised and he walked with a limp. Somehow, he was missing an eyebrow.
“Ma—” Little Arthur tried again.
She barely looked at him. Her eyes were still trained on the screen. “Shush, honey. The fight is about to start.”
With that, she propped her feet up on the sofa and watched a nine-foot snake strangle Mr. Brooks to death.
After all, the best part of anyone’s day was always the four o’clock circus broadcast.
Samantha Liu is a fifteen-year old aspiring writer and matcha enthusiast from New Jersey. Her work has been recognized by the New York Times and Alliance for Young Writers, and is forthcoming in The Blissful Pursuit and The Eunoia Review. When she is not devouring a book or pretzels, you may find her taking a nap.
Josephine Sharpe is a writer and aspiring filmmaker living in London. Her writing has been published in Ellipsis Zine, Stone of Madness Press and The Remnant Archive, among others. You can find her on Twitter @Josephin_Sharpe.