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Rage to Black

January 18, 2014

“Why can’t I remember that not once have I ever seen a coin, whether grimy copper or bright gold, that had but one side.”
Andrew Levkoff

What was especially puzzling was why he had, rather than try to woo the audience (granted that would have been difficult being a mere guest on the show rather than it’s famous host) he had instead chose to actually make them angrier. Rather than present his own case, rather than garner sympathy, he had instead remained aloof, cold even. In the face of a half dozen people getting way too close to him for physical violence not to be the obvious next step in escalation, he had ignored them, practically smirked when they shouted bitch, punk, motherf—er, and other provocations while exhibiting body language that clearly indicated that the slightest move might bring fists to his face or a chair down upon his head.

The host and the producers, of course, loved most of this. They hoped for the need to send in portly, white-shirted security guards to break up fights. It was what always got the attention of people who had no real hope of improving the lot given them, made for the best promo spots during the soaps before the show to see two people going at it with the audience going wild over it combined with a fast-pan to make it seem as though this ritual somehow caught the camera man by surprise.

It was a carefully nurtured evolution resulting in what must happen. Once the lion grabs the ibex by the neck it inevitably drags it down. Whether that takes ten steps or half a mile to achieve merely added mystery to the familiar.

Or it was a simpler chemical reaction? One of merely adding water to sodium? An explosion always resulted, but how loud and bright the flash was, which way the sparks flew, the colors left in your eyes afterward, those parts differed every time.

Maybe it was a catharsis. Poor people given the opportunity to rail against and knock down the scarecrows set up for them by the studio. The modern day gladiatorial arena; public shaming and execution; a witch trial designed as much to give people the sense that they were, if only for a moment, in control. And even if the party on the wrong end of the thumbs down–or the thumb screws for that matter–didn’t really have it coming, or maybe especially when they didn’t, the value of having given a community the power of life and death for that moment was a priceless service.

The host knew all that. He was helping society and was loved for it. It was entertainment and in its own way as satisfying as the wildest evangelical revival.

At the same time there was something disturbing about this particular guest and his reaction to it all. He acted as though he knew something that no one else did. The smirk worked wonderfully, though, in helping to focus the passions of the audience against him, so Rick saw no reason to alter the formula. This was just going to be a different kind of explosion than they’d seen before. Maybe not better or bigger, but there was always the incest and under-aged relationship shows to provoke the really big conflicts. This one was just a nutty he-said, she-said, that couldn’t be proven either way regarding some crazy medical experiment. Without another person to play the villain, to place the burden of guilt upon, it had to be the guest himself. Rick had used some hokey pseudo-psycho terminology designed to sound impressive but to “feel” right on a gut level at the same time. To be blunt, Rick accused the guest of being either mentally ill or a liar at the same time. The audience had devoured both inferences with relish, swallowed it all like the dozen prescriptions the average American had filled every year, and both asked for more and were now devotees proselytizing exactly what the doctor ordered.

The shouting was just about to come to a lull, Rick could feel it like a professional comedian knowing just when to hit the next punchline after a laugh had peaked. He needed to keep it going.

“Why?!?”

Rick shouted it, in his Southern drawl that made it sound more like “wah.” He blurted it testily into the microphone then paused to look around at the audience for dramatic effect, seeming to gauge their sentiments while actually determining the proper emotion for them. Seeming to follow while actually leading, that was an art and a science and Rick was a master of both methods.

“Why? Why should we believe this…this crap!…that you’re spouting?” Rick paused again perfectly, then “Wahh?” further drawn out, this time imploring.

The answer was so quiet, and the crowd still shouting their yeahs and other things that would require bleeping when the editing started, that Rick didn’t hear it. He looked quickly at the control booth, saw his producer shrugging. They hadn’t heard it either.

Rick was a pro. He smelled blood after the meek reply, maybe he could bring the guest to full tears and start the shaming process.

“Whuuh-at? Couldn’t hear ye. Come agin?”

The guest didn’t whisper this time. He said it, and when he did there was a strange quiet in the room. His words seemed to echo off the walls and inside the heads of the people there.

“I said, ‘Remember the Tuskegee airmen.’ Or for that matter Robert Stone and Eugene Saenger. Notice that, Rick?”

“What’s that?” Rick wasn’t really listening, his producer was about to give some direction from the booth.

“It’s all affluent, white doctors experimenting on poor black folks.”

Rick didn’t even see the chair coming. Security did, but they were too slow to stop the first one. One guard tried initially to stand between the crowd and Rick who was being taken off stage by two other guards, holding the mic and a handkerchief to his bleeding head.

The camera men realized they were next and when the first one broke for the door the others did likewise, heading for whichever exit was closest.

The last image cam #1 saw was a chair being banged against it. The feet of the chair were partially visible around the edges as the picture lost cyan and then after another glancing blow and another better aimed, went blank altogether.

Later analysis of the video would show what appeared to be a face for a fraction of a second. Eventually, through computer imaging, they would match it up with a mask. Precisely why and how it got there was marginally harder to determine.

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From → NKINTRA, Short Story

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