by Bill Richter
Bill Richter writes from San Rafael, California. His fiction has appeared in Catamaran Literary Reader, Typishly, So It Goes, The Ocotillo Review and The Molotov Cocktail. I liked the sense of the absurd and the risk-taking in this piece.
“Dennis, for $1000, here is your question: where do bad folks go when they die?”
“What the hell? What kind of question is that?” I thought as I stared blankly into the face of Brain Trust Smackdown host Chip Stevens as he stood behind his podium with his gleaming white teeth and ridiculous purple suit. In my peripheral vision I could see the moronic grin of defending champion Dean who had just passed the $1000 “Random” category question to me. If I botched this I’d go to a negative point total and be all but eliminated from the game in the opening round. Why had I done this? Here I was once again unprepared for something big in my life, whether it was passing the test for my driver’s license or when Regina took off her clothes and waited for me in bed the night of my thirtieth birthday party.
Just as I started to consider the question in the few seconds I had, that jackass wearing nothing but a loincloth was out on stage jumping up and down about five feet in front of me again. I didn’t know if this was a worse distraction than Geri the Flatulent Cheerleader who came out and bent over and started letting them rip right in front of poor Doreen, the third contestant, as she tried to answer her $1000 question.
I was ready for questions about things I’d learned in college, like Africa’s history and political systems, basic economic theory, and the date of Lee Harvey Oswald’s attempted defection to the USSR, but something more philosophical in nature like this I’d never considered. This show is idiotic and clearly one I should have watched a lot more of ahead of time, but I thought knowing facts and dates would be enough. The lure of easy money brought me here and my friends kept telling me I would do really well and that I could get some real money. I’d finally be able to get my belongings out of storage. I’d be able to get my keytar out of the pawn shop and start hitting the open mics around town again. I really thought I’d be able to get myself re-started this time.
Instead I’m standing around looking like an idiot and I feel the cameras on me as Chip Stevens is about to press the buzzer before I can even get a completely crappy answer out of my mouth. I ask my brain to dig deep, to not fail me in this moment, the exact kind of moment it has failed me so many times before, when the answer suddenly strikes me.
“They go to the lake of fire and fry,” I answer.
Ding! Ding! Ding! goes the bell and the loincloth guy claps three times right in my face and Geri the Flatulent Cheerleader runs out and lets a few more go.
“You are correct!” Chip calls out. “And you are now in charge of the board.”
The cheers from the studio audience erupt, it feels deafening. I audibly exhale and try to relax and let it all soak in. It is a moment that I am going to enjoy.