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The Show Must Go On

by Piper 11 months ago in Horror · updated 6 months ago
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Exploitative consumerism never dies.

The Show Must Go On
Photo by Altınay Dinç on Unsplash

“Ah- sorry! I’m so sorry, Captain Yuen!”

Maxine coughed and wiped her eyes with the backs of her white gloved hands. The pale pink setting powder accidentally spilled by April, the newly hired makeup artist, now ornamented Maxine’s freshly pressed Show Uniform; such a grievous error was unprecedented with the collegiate artists normally employed by Corpol for major events. Maxine took a deep breath and sighed, vowing to take up her issues regarding Debt Reliefers working for Corpol with the Major after the Show.

Maxine opened her eyes slowly to avoid staining her brown irises and found that April had already left the room, hopefully in search of new clothes for the rapidly approaching Show. Shows were rather gruesome business, but they had to be done. Plus, Maxine was happy to be the one to take responsibility for street cleanup.

“I’m going to be late,” Maxine grumbled to herself as she rose from the chair and began discarding her ruined clothes. Throwing them into a bin behind one of the chairs, Maxine noticed that her normally dark chocolate hair was covered in pink. Cursing, she settled onto a stool in front of the large stainless steel sink and gently washed her hair while making every effort not to ruin any of the already shoddy makeup she was going to have to live with.

April returned to the lavender room out of breath and carrying a sloppily folded uniform as Maxine finished blow drying her hair. “I’m so so so sorry, Captain Yuen! Here’s a replacement!” Maxine forced a smile as the two sped through the normally long process of Show preparation. April pulled Maxine’s hair into a tight donut bun as Maxine buttoned up all of her clothes and transferred her decorations and sponsor patches to the temporary jacket. A minute and half after she was supposed to take the stage, she was finally ready.

Maxine rushed over toward her Enhanced Targeting Automatic Rifle (ETAR), checked the magazine for a final time, and opened the door. Major Flaherty stood in the hallway and made no effort to disguise the annoyance on his face. His barrage of questions began as soon as he started escorting her through the maze-like halls toward the courtyard. “What the hell took so long? You were supposed to go on two minutes ago! Jack’s stalling for as long as he can, but- wait, the fuck’s wrong with your eyeliner?”

Maxine grimaced and bit her lip at the Major’s comment. “Blame the new girl.”

“New girl? Who the h-”

“April,” Maxine shot back, interrupting the Major in frustration. “She’s a new makeup artist and one of those Debt Reliefers. Maybe you should start screening who you trust with the Shows, huh?”

The Major's face flushed a fiery red. He opened his mouth to chew Maxine out for insubordination, but they arrived at the heavy double doors to the courtyard before he could. “Sorry Major,” she started, preemptively cutting him off, “I’m running a bit late.” She turned without another word and stepped into the sprawling courtyard.

The lights nearly blinded her as all of the spots and attention were drawn to her unfashionably late entrance. “Yes!” Jack, the announcer, exclaimed with obvious relief. “Ladies and gentleman, please give Captain Maxine Yuen a very warm Corpol welcome!”

Like trained dogs, the crowd immediately erupted into a roar more deafening than the stealth bombers of two decades prior. Maxine flinched at the noise, but forced a beaming smile toward the crowd and cameras all the same. She walked forward and directed her wave and smile toward whichever camera crew accosted her on the way; the gentle rotation of her hand was perfected years ago and was generally pleasing to the auspicious crowd.

As she reached her position in the center of a group of four other captains, Maxine channeled the image of a schoolgirl by smiling, bringing her pointer finger up to her lips, and winking at the crowd. Many swooned as the large group fell into the obedient silence expected of the C-Tier civilians that attended the Shows.

She scanned the crowd as she turned around and settled into place. The civilians were meticulously placed according to Corpol’s latest internal demographic polling. The women and men of all ages and observable qualifiers stood in the perfect silence demanded of them. Advertisements for various soft drinks, fast food, and sexual stimulants that survived Rapture hung from many of their necks and adorned all of the open wall and floor space.

Jack’s squeaky voice cut through the silence like a dull blade. “Ladies, gentlemen, and all other Saved Ones, please lower your heads for a moment of reflection on those that deservedly lost their lives many years ago. May our fortune always be greater, our air cleaner, and our faith stronger than those cowards and their sympathizers.”

Faith. Stronger.” The crowd mimed the prescribed words back to the faceless announcer and began quietly murmuring amongst each other. A few of the Corpol bigwigs thought anxious chatter would be a great way to drive home a sense of authenticity by playing into the pre-Rapture nostalgia of how crowds behaved, though Maxine didn’t really see the point; it was common knowledge that everything was rehearsed, so she figured it was a lot of effort for no gain. Though, she’d also frequently been scolded by the Major and told she wasn’t in charge for a reason. She shrugged.

The staged conversations abruptly ended as darkness began to shroud the courtyard. So it begins. As the lights fell, the courtyard’s ceiling receded to reveal the artificial moonlight projected from the top of the Envirosphere’s ceiling. Maxine still wasn’t used to the fake sky, but she couldn’t help but appreciate the clean air.

“Please turn your attention toward the main event! Introducing…” A canned drum roll began as the crowd’s previously artificial tension rose to an unsettlingly authentic place. On cue, a beam shot forth from the center of the programmed moon and landed squarely on the platform reserved for the Guest of Honor. “The orphan: Rachel!”

“Fuck you!” she screamed back at Jack’s disembodied voice from the darkness, “I-”

SMACK

Two petty officers appeared in the spotlight with a teenage girl no older than fifteen between them. With another slap, the officers stretched Rachel’s arms for suspension; her shoulders nearly burst from her skin as she was pulled and latched onto poles much too far apart for her to have been able to reach on her own. Before leaving the stage, one of the officers punched Rachel in the stomach, grinning all the while. Her eyes went wide and then hazy, as if the last bit of fight had just been knocked out of her.

Maxine winced and shook her head. Dirty business. The treatment of the Guests of Honor always seemed senselessly barbaric. As is, the tattered clothes barely hanging from her bruised and bloodied body were enough shame; leaving her in the same lice-ridden rags as the previous Guests of Honor felt like little more than brutality for show. Maxine felt her gaze fall to the ground instead of Rachel. Dirty business.

“Well, well!” Jack’s blustering voice began again, now with an almost frightening giddiness. “Would you believe what this one did?”

The thoughtless crowd shouted back in bloodthirsty harmony: “TELL US!”

Jack took a deep breath and paused, no doubt savoring his words before he said them. “She spat on an officer when he came to collect her debt!”

The crowd turned expectedly ravenous behind Maxine; metal harnesses that had been resting behind all of their seats sprang into action to restrain the crowd now frothing at the mouth. They thrashed and fought against the harnesses, all desperate to get to Rachel and tear her apart themselves.

“Now, now, everyone,” Jack continued, “You must be patient! Rachel will receive judgment shortly. In fact...” he stalled again, drinking in the twisted anticipation as the horde calmed, “prepare your earplugs! Ahaha!” His laughter sent a shiver up and down Maxine’s spine. “Without further ado: Firing Squad, ready your weapons!”

Immediately snapping back to reality, Maxine and the four other captains raised their ETARs in unison in the direction of the Guest of Honor. Aiming down her rifle’s sights, Maxine saw Rachel’s eyes go wide with panic.

“Three!” The countdown began.

“Two!” Maxine could feel the loud and painful thumping of her heart in her ears.

Within another of Jack’s signature pauses, silence fell over all in the courtyard but Rachel, whose screams echoed across the gravel. Maxine’s eyes narrowed in, ready to receive her order, as she caught a glimpse of silver through Rachel’s erratic thrashing. A small heart shaped locket, far cleaner and much better kept than its wearer, swung wildly as the girl fought her restraints. Maxine smiled at the sight of it.

Maxine was in elementary school when the bombs fell. The day started like any other: she went to school, went out to eat for dinner with her mother on the way home, and was put to bed earlier than she wanted to be. While tossing and turning, as was habit by that point, a bang louder than Maxine had ever heard made her jump out of bed. She ran to her window and saw a fire in the distance. Scrambling away, she raced off to find her mother.

BANG!

Maxine tripped and fell down the stairs as a much closer explosion shook her entire house, scraping her knee and twisting her ankle on the way down.

“Maxine!” her mother shouted, running down after her from the second floor. “Oh my god, Max, are you alright?”

“Mom!” Maxine started, “Mom I’m scare-”

BANG!

The house rattled and started to crumble. Maxine looked up and saw cracks in the ceiling that were spilling dust and chips of wood. Across the street, a tree fell through the roof of one of Maxine’s neighbors. “Maxine, please, can you walk? We have to go!” Maxine’s mother pulled them both to their feet, but a sharp pain shot up through Maxine’s leg as she tried to put weight on it.

BANG!

The foundation started disintegrating. “Go!” Maxine’s mother picked her up and ran to the front door. Desperate to hold on, Maxine clawed at her mother’s neck and latched onto her silver chain.

BANG!

Another explosion rocked the house. Maxine’s mother, losing her balance, threw Maxine from her arms and through the open front door as a bookshelf fell from the second floor, crushing her.

Maxine rolled on the grass, still hanging onto the silver chain necklace. A final explosion was all the house could take, and Maxine watched her childhood home fall from the front yard. Thick, tar-colored smoke rose from hers and every other home on their block.

With tears in her eyes, Maxine looked down at her bloody hands and saw her mother’s now broken heart shaped locket between them; inside was a now crumpled and slightly torn picture of Maxine, smiling for her first day of school. Maxine wept as she clutched the broken necklace to her chest in her ruined front yard.

Maxine pensively smiled as she bathed in a rush of nostalgia. Her mother’s final gift, a loving and accidental sacrifice, fresh in her mind for the first time in many years. The orphan girl in front of her may have been an irredeemable criminal, but Maxine couldn’t help but be grateful for the reminder of how far she had come; she had persisted for almost twenty years all thanks to her mother’s doting oblation.

The girl in front of Maxine too must have had someone she cared deeply for; a care so strong that it needed to be manifested into physical form. The love imbued in the locket around Rachel’s neck transcended flesh and bone. After all, love: love was eternal. Maxine smiled reassuringly at the frightened child on the stand, sending one clear message: Everything would be okay.

“One!”

Maxine opened fire.

Horror

About the author

Piper

22 | Linguist and aspiring author

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