It’s Tuesday morning and Estelle climbs out of bed and goes to take a shit because that’s what she does every morning, Tuesday or otherwise. As soon as the toilet seat gets warm and she shifts her weight to maximize toilet-comfort, the timer dings and an announcer booms out, extra echoey because the acoustics in the bathroom aren’t great, YOU HAVE 10 MINUTES TO CREATE AN APPETIZER WITH THE INGREDIENTS IN YOUR CURRENT ROOM! BOTTOM 2% OF COMPETITORS WILL BE EUTHANIZED. READY PLAYERS? GO!
Estelle sighs, because ten minutes isn’t very long and she isn’t sure if she ought to keep shitting for the next minute or if that one minute might be the difference between life and death. She figures some people are in a hallway or a foyer and if those people aren’t carrying a backpack of snacks, they’re probably fucked. She tries to shake her butt around and presses on her abdomen, but there’s nothing. She wipes up, dry and needlessly, and flushes. Figures she’s only lost twenty seconds and is still very much in the game.
In the medicine cabinet are three different colors of toothpaste: white, blue, and sparkly. All the tubes are twisted up like they’ve been gripped by their middles and they’re at least half empty. Estelle works at the bottom ends, pushing the paste up toward the top, and she squeezes the three colors out. She uses the handle of her toothbrush to shape a swan swimming on a blue lake atop some plies of toilet paper she’s spread across the bathroom floor. She tries to decide if she ought to float the swan and lake in the toilet or maybe the sink, but the announcer comes back on and says, TIME’S UP CONTESTANTS! There are some clicking and buzzing noises and Estelle doesn’t die or quit existing in any noticeable way, so she assumes her swan and lake were up to snuff. She leaves it all on the floor so her roommate can admire it later and they can still use the toothpaste. Toothpaste isn’t cheap and Estelle doesn’t have many credits left for the month. She wonders if toothpaste has any nutritional value. It’s minty and mint’s a plant, right?
She steps over the swan, turns off the lights and fan, and as soon as she opens the bathroom door, she hears Sam wailing.
Fuck. Well, this isn’t the first time Sam’s pitched a fit about something or the first time Estelle’s found Sam laid out in hysterics. Once, Sam smashed every jar in the apartment because she couldn’t get the lid off the sauerkraut. The thing is, Sam doesn’t even like sauerkraut. She said she just wanted to know she could open the jar. Said she felt uncomfortable having a container in the house she couldn’t open. It was like being in a house with doors or windows she couldn’t open and it made her feel trapped. Sam’s shrieking louder now and Estelle feels a little trapped herself and definitely amped from the excitement of the latest round of competition. She stops for a second in the bathroom doorway and holds onto the doorframe, trying to steady her breathing. At least she knows that if Sam’s wailing, Sam hasn’t been euthanized. She’s had worse roommates than Sam.
Estelle fastwalks down the hall and finds Sam in the front foyer sprawled across the floor. Blood is streaked on the linoleum and there are red smears on the walls. Typical Sam. Always extreme. What was the point of smearing her bloody hands on the walls? What the hell did that do for anybody, except make the room look gross? Sam’s body is folded over itself on the floor and she’s sobbing and making small noises, like some kind of animal, shot down and struggling to get away.
Estelle sighs. Bandages? she asks.
Sam nods without moving the rest of her body or lifting her head enough to see Estelle. Her shoulders hunch up and it makes Estelle feel exasperated.
Estelle gets alcohol and bandages from the hall closet. Good thing they still have some left over from last time. She pours the alcohol over Sam’s arm and Sam shrieks and tries to thrash away, but Estelle straddles her and wraps some gauze and bandages around Sam’s arm. By the end of it, Sam’s quieted down and still again. She lies there while Estelle swipes at the mess and scoops up the hunk of flesh that used to be part of Sam’s arm. Now it’s just meat, bloodied unattractive meat. Estelle’s surprised this jagged hunk was good enough to move Sam forward in the competition. There must be some real cowards left in the game. Maybe some people who refused to participate at all and got euthanized, willingly through their inaction. Estelle thinks that her toothpaste swan is definitely more appetizing than this piece of Sam’s arm.
Stitches? Estelle asks, kind of laughing, like they have access to that kind of medical care.
Sam shakes her head and tries to sit up, but she puts too much pressure on her bad arm and it trembles beneath her until she flops back down on the floor. She cradles the arm against her and shields it with her other hand, as though the pain is coming from somewhere exterior and she can ward it away with this hand.
* * *
The sound system crackles.
Again? Sam asks.
I guess last week was light, Estelle says. They’re hitting us hard this week to make up for lost time.
YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE NOTICED, the announcer’s voice booms out. BUT THERE ARE ONLY 100 PEOPLE LEFT IN THE GAME. CONGRATULATIONS. YOU ARE ON YOUR WAY TO BECOMING CRACKERJACK CHEFS. YOU ARE DEFINITELY FINE HOME COOKS. ELITE, REALLY.
With her good hand, Sam wipes at her face, smearing the blood in so at least it doesn’t feel wet, doesn’t seem like it’ll run down into her eyes. Bloodeye is a weird thing. She’s had it happen a handful of times. She figures everyone has. It didn’t burn like she expected, but she could see the bit of red in her vision. At first, she could see it moving around her eye like a red worm, crawling and spreading and slowly diluting until she had a rose tinted lens that didn’t make anything look good or rosy. She keeps her eyes squeezed shut while she smears the blood into her skin. Maybe it works in reverse. Maybe she looks kind of cheery. Estelle will look at her and feel cheered for a change.
BUT NOW, the announcer says, WE ARE LOOKING TO UP THE ANTE. EACH OF YOU IS IN A ROOM WITH ONE OTHER PERSON. DO NOT LEAVE THE ROOM. IF YOU ATTEMPT TO EXIT THE ROOM YOU WILL BE EUTHANIZED.
Of course, Sam says. The announcer’s voice goes fuzzy in her head, but she can tell he’s still talking. She uncurls her body and strains to sit up. She can’t get herself off the floor, but with all the exertion, she farts. Estelle doesn’t even look at her, doesn’t register the sort of wet flapping sound. Sam grimaces because it hurts. Her hemorrhoids feel blistered and burnt by the quick burst of air. Everyone has hemorrhoids, but hers are finely tuned. Before this whole competition started up, she won awards for them. Oh the days of fancy hemorrhoid shows are far behind her now.
Sam grew up pretty much on the hemorrhoid circuit. Her mom had been a hemorrhoid queen and her grandmother before her. Both Sam’s aunts were hemorrhoid runner-ups and this caused a lot of tension in the family. They each thought Sam’s mother had gotten a little too big for her britches, but this was likely a convenience factor. She needed extra large britches to accommodate the hemorrhoids. Sure, you want to chafe them a fair amount to keep them raw and swollen, but that doesn’t mean you need to wear tight clothing. A good ol’ chafing cloth will do the work without resorting to a restrictive wardrobe. But Sam’s glory days are behind her now. No one’s looked at her in that special way for years. Her roommate doesn’t even know about her celebrity past. She and Estelle have never talked about hemorrhoids. They don’t talk about much. Estelle leaves passive aggressive notes if Sam is late on the rent or if Sam isn’t contributing enough to their nutritional and hygienic needs.
She can’t afford to move to a new apartment, but she’s been nervous since the time a few months back when Estelle sawed off part of Sam’s leg. Sure, Estelle shared the legmeat with Sam and they both advanced to the next round and kept existing, but it seemed like Estelle was too eager to remove Sam’s limbs. Estelle didn’t even have to think about it. Whipped out a handsaw from under her bed and knocked Sam out with the handle. Sam woke up and it was done. And now that Sam’s missing a foot and part of her leg, she’s less productive at work and has been earning fewer credits to apply towards their nutritional and hygienic needs and Estelle’s passive aggressive notes have gotten less passive and more numerous.
What did the announcer say? Sam asks.
You were here, Estelle says.
I zoned out, Sam says, trying to sit up and trying to steady her vision and ignore the throbbing in her arm as it travels across her shoulder and then up and down her spine.
We have twenty minutes, Estelle says.
To do what exactly? Sam asks, but her head’s fuzzy and she really has to work to get the words out.
Same as every other time, Estelle says, shaking her head.
Yeah, but what are the constraints? Sam asks. They wouldn’t do two easies in a row.
No, they wouldn’t, Estelle says, and pulls the filet knife off her belt.
* * *
I’m sorry, Sam, Estelle says. She sits on Sam with her full weight and Sam tries to push her off with her good arm, but Estelle sits comfortably and rests her knife against Sam’s neck.
Please, Sam says.
If you had a backpack of snacks this wouldn’t happen, Estelle says.
We ate all the snacks, Sam says, shaking her head so hard that her ears smack the floor on either side of her.
Because you fucking didn’t buy any and you’ve been eating all mine, Estelle says. So really, I’m just getting my money back. It’s all about fairness. You like fair play, right? You like it when shits all fair? Because you’re the one who said it’d be fair to split the snacks. You’re the one. You’re the one, Sam, and doesn’t it feel good? Doesn’t it feel fucking fantastic?
Estelle runs her hand up Sam’s bloodied face and over her forehead and the top of her head so she can grip Sam by the back of her hair and pull her close.
The front door swings open and a man with a megaphone says, PUT DOWN YOUR KNIFE.
What? Estelle asks. It’s not Friday. What’re you here for? I’ve only got a few minutes left.
Sam relaxes her body and closes her eyes. Estelle isn’t sure if Sam’s even awake anymore. She wonders if she could slit Sam’s throat before the man gets to her.
STEP AWAY FROM THE FUTURE HEMORRHOID QUEEN, he says into the megaphone. OR I’LL HAVE YOU EUTHANIZED.
If I don’t come up with a fantastic protein-filled meal, I’ll be euthanized anyway, Estelle says. The challenge was protein, she says. She shakes Sam a little, but Sam doesn’t wake up. And what the fuck’s a hemorrhoid queen? she asks. My hemorrhoids are pretty all right.
WE’VE SEEN YOUR HEMORRHOIDS, he says. THEY AREN’T REALLY THAT APPEALING OR INTERESTING. PLEASE LET HER GO AND STAND AGAINST THE WALL WHILE I REMOVE HER.
You don’t have to use a megaphone, you know, Estelle says. I can hear just fine.
THAT’S JUST WHAT MY VOICE SOUNDS LIKE, he says.
But I can see you holding the megaphone up, Estelle says. I can see it in your hand.
NO, he says, THAT’S JUST WHAT MY HAND LOOKS LIKE. THAT’S WHAT MY MOUTH LOOKS LIKE. YOU HAVEN’T SEEN MY HANDS OR MOUTH BEFORE SO I CAN UNDERSTAND HOW IT LOOKS NEW TO YOU. BUT PLEASE GO AHEAD AND DO LIKE I SAID, OR I WILL NEATLY AND CAREFULLY RIP OUT ALL YOUR INTERNAL ORGANS AND ARRANGE THEM IN A FASHION THAT SUITS ME.
Estelle slides off Sam and backs up against the wall.
The man keeps the megaphone up to his mouth and hisses into it while he drags Sam out. He pulls her by her shirt and when it rips, he takes her by her good arm and drags her that way. She doesn’t react, remains limp, probably blacked out. The man stops once he’s outside and says, HAVE A GOOD DAY, before shutting the door behind him.
* * *
Sam wakes up groggy.
HI SAM, a man with a megaphone says. HOW ARE YOU?
What? Sam asks. She’s on a sofa, something nice, something plush. It feels good on her skin. She resists the urge to lean down and rub her face against it and settles for strumming her fingers along the material and stopping every few seconds to really dig her hands in and moan a little under her breath.
HOW ARE YOU? the man repeats.
My arm doesn’t hurt, she says.
There are some bright lights shining on her and a series of video cameras set up at different points. People are all standing around staring at her. One guy points and says something to the woman standing beside him, but Sam can’t hear it.
WE FIXED YOU ALL UP, the man says. GOOD AS NEW. BETTER THAN NEW.
Um, thanks, Sam says. Did I win the game?
There’s audience laughter and Sam squints, but she can’t see a crowd. She can’t see a live studio audience, but she can hear them. She knows that sound.
NO YOU DIDN’T WIN. WE REMOVED YOU FROM THE GAME, he says. WE DECIDED TO CAST YOU IN A NEW SHOW.
What happened to Estelle? Sam asks. What happened?
YOU’RE GOING TO BE ON A FABULOUS NEW SHOW, SAM, he says. DID YOU HEAR ME? YOUR OWN REALITY BASED SHOW. SO DON’T WORRY. YOU WON’T QUIT BEING REAL. YOU’RE THE REALEST SAM. YOU’RE GOING TO BE OUR HEMORRHOID QUEEN.
But what about Estelle? Sam asks. Was Estelle going to kill me? Oh god, Estelle was going to butcher me wasn’t she? Am I okay? Are you sure I’m okay?
SAM I DON’T THINK YOU’RE LISTENING, he says.
Menacing music with a painful amount of treble starts playing and Sam covers her ears and nods at him. Ok, ok, she says.
BUT I UNDERSTAND YOU’RE CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR FRIEND, he says. YOU’RE A GOOD PERSON. THAT’S PART OF WHY WE SELECTED YOU TO BE OUR HEMORRHOID QUEEN.
There’s a chorus of awwwwwws and a splattering of applause from the studio audience that Sam can’t see.
WHY DON’T WE CHECK IN ON ESTELLE AND SEE HOW SHE’S DOING? he says. WOULD YOU LIKE THAT?
Sam nods and he points at a giant television screen to their side. The television blinks on and Sam can see Estelle sitting in their front foyer.
* * *
Where’s my knife? Estelle asks, on all fours and scrambling across the floor. What am I supposed to do, tear out my flesh with my teeth? Dig up chunks of it with my nails? Come the fuck on. It’s not my fault my knife got dragged outside with Sam’s body. That’s interference. This isn’t fair.
Estelle stands up and beats on the front door with both hands.
I know someone out there can get me a knife, she says. I just need a knife. I can do it. I can be a winner. I can be such a winner. I’ll be whatever you need. Come on. Please. A knife. Come on. This isn’t fair.
There are some clicks and buzzes and then a sound like a whirring fan coming to a stop, and Estelle screams.
* * *
Sam can’t see Estelle in the room anymore. No one comes to take Estelle away. She doesn’t die or burst into flames. She just isn’t there. There one instant and then gone. Body completely gone.
What happened? Sam asks. Where’d she go?
There’s more laughter from the studio audience. Sam thinks the laughter is higher pitched this time, kind of manic.
Sam stands up and shields her eyes, but there’s nowhere for an audience to be. The room isn’t big enough to accommodate an audience who could produce that kind of laughter and it’s no canned laughter she’s ever heard before.
ESTELLE WAS EUTHANIZED, the announcer says. SHE DID NOT WIN OUR COMPETITION. WE WON’T HAVE A WINNER UNTIL EARLY MARCH, BUT WE’LL LET YOU KNOW WHEN WE DO.
The audience applause nearly knocks Sam off her feet.
NOW, the announcer says. WOULD YOU LIKE TO BEND OVER AND SHOW US THAT GLOSSY LADY? SHOW US THAT LITTLE SWOLLEN NUBBINS? SHOW US THAT FANTASTIC FANNY? WHY DON’T YOU SHOW US WHAT YOU GOT HEMORRHOID QUEEN? SHOW US WHAT YOU DID WITH THAT CHAFING CLOTH.
The audience cheers so long and loudly that Sam can’t respond. She stands on her one foot and hops to turn around and face her chair. She pulls off her belt and drops her pants. Finally, some recognition. Finally someone cares. But she worries any misstep might blink her out of existence. Might blink her to wherever Estelle is, and then what?
I’ll do whatever you say, Sam says. However you want me to do it.
The announcer pats her on the fanny. I know, he says, holding the megaphone away from his face. Me too. VIEWERS WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT SWOLLEN CHERRY, THAT FULL BALLOON, THAT CHEEK FULL OF STRAWBERRY JAM? WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT?
Sam holds onto her chair so the applause won’t knock her off her feet.
Brandi Wells is the author of Please Don’t Be Upset (Tiny Hardcore Press) and This Boring Apocalypse (Civil Coping Mechanisms). In the fall, she’ll be a PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California.