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P. Keith Boran

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wheel2.jpg
Art by Eleanor Leone Bennett 2012

“The Wheel”

By P. Keith Boran

I

“And let’s us all welcome our host,” the announcer yelled, “Roddy Rogers!” The crowd clapped enthusiastically to the programmed music and lights as a man emerged from the curtains. “Oh, thank you” he said, “you’re too kind!” His jacket glistened in the stagelights, his tight pants hugged his body, allowing his white socks to peek just above his polished leather shoes. “We’ve got a great show for you tonight, folks,” he continued, “we’ve got murderers, rapists, thieves, we’ve got ‘em all!” The crowd clapped. The lights beckoned on and off for a moment, creating the illusion of excitement, of anticipation.

          Roddy walked to a ball filled with bits of paper. After spinning the ball several times, he selected one while the crowd cheered him on. “You know,” Roddy said, “I’ve been doing this for some time now.” The audience provided an indulgent applause, sympathetic in nature. “And I have to say,” he continued, raising both hands up to stifle the applause, “this is the moment where justice is truly served.” And as the lights danced around Roddy, blinking to the beat of a tacky electronic song, Roddy unfolded the piece of paper. “And tonight’s contestant is,” he yelled, “Buck Matthews!” 

II

          Wanting a smoke, Buck filed out into the alley. He set the butt between his lips and lit it. And as he breathed the smoke into his lungs, it felt like a tired and worn muscle being stretched at last. He heard the groan on his exhale. Curious, he walked along the alley. Behind an old dumpster, Buck found a young lady lying in a pool of blood. It was clear that she had been beaten, and judging by her torn clothing, Buck thought she had been sexually assaulted too. “Miss,” he asked as he bent down, “can you hear me?” She groaned again. He took her hand to check her pulse. And when he did, she spit blood down the front of his shirt. “Miss,” he said, “I’m going to get help.” But before he could leave, she grabbed his hand. “Don’t,” she whispered, “don’t leave me.” And so he stayed.

III

          “Well, let’s meet tonight’s star,” Roddy said into his tiny microphone, “shall we?” The programmed music and lights danced for another man, one that emerged from the curtain. But instead of a flashy jacket, he was wearing an orange jumpsuit and chains. His mouth was covered with tape, and he wore a sash with “murderer” emblazened down it.

          “ARE YOU READY,” Roddy yelled. The crowd cheered and some resorted to stomping the floor with their feet, a clear indication of their excitement, of their anticipation, of their loss of patience. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Roddy said softly, “it’s time to spin, it’s time to  see what he will win, in the THE WHEEL OF DEMISE!” And the crowd roared as Roddy spun the wheel. The crowd chanted. It eventually stopped.

IV

          And so Buck stayed. Her breathing became shallow, as they both waited for her to die. She clutched his hand tightly at first, but her grip began to fade away. She looked at Buck through her big brown eyes, fighting to breathe, fighting to speak, fighting to stay alive. And after some considerable time had gone by, she passed. It was not a sudden death, but one that took its time taking her away. For a moment, Buck sat there, holding her in his arms. He used his free hand, the one she had held so tight, to close her eyes, vacant and brown. And just as he began to lay her down softly, he heard a voice he recognized yell his name, asking just what he had done.

V

          Since the commercial break, Roddy was sitting on a stool. A large screen was located directly behind him. “Welcome back folks,” he said with gusto. “He spun it; now it’s time we done it.” And the crowd cheered, for they were ready to witness Buck’s death, the one chosen by the spinning of a gameshow’s wheel.

          “Let’s check in with our correspondent, Pete,” Roddy said, “you there Pete?” The screen flickered on. A man with spiked hair and a tight black blazer appeared; he was holding his ear piece. “I’m reading you,” he replied, “loud and clear.” Behind him stood Buck. He was still dressed in an orange jumpsuit and chains, his mouth still covered with tape, his body still adorned with the sash. “Let’s get this show on the road,” Roddy yelled into his mike. “Roger that,” Pete replied, “I’ll just need a little help from the audience.”

          The camera panned out to show the inside of an airplane. Two individuals were opening a door. “You know what to do,” Roddy yelled to the crowd, “help us count down for justice!” And so they counted down from twenty. And despite Buck’s looks of terror, a fear that had been evident during the entire production, it didn’t become audible until they removed the tape from his mouth at the count of three. And when they reached one, Buck was tossed out the door, and into the sky.

His fall was documented by two flanking skydivers. He flailed his arms, his legs, and screamed, terrified of reaching the bottom of the ride that would end his life, that would bring justice and peace to his young victim, that would help protect other young ladies from being beaten and raped behind a dumpster, that would surely entertain. And when he hit the ground, a camera was ready and waiting. But instead of landing flat, Buck bounced like a rubber ball, falling back to earth with a splat.

“You know,” Roddy said when it was all said and done, “I really expected more blood there.” And everyone laughed as they cheered.   

 

 

P. Keith Boran teaches writing at the University of Mississippi, where he's happy to be married to his best friend. His stories have appeared in Postcard Shorts, Down in the Dirt, Eclectic Flash, Fringe, Speech Bubble, and Dew on the Kudzu.

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