Home Stories Poems Site Reviews Writing Tips Charlie Fish
FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

The Contest
by Michael Castelli

View or add comments on this story

"Good morning to all you sleepy heads. It's six o'clock, so if you need to be to work by seven, you best be rolling out of that comfy bed of yours and hit the showers. I'm Rick the hit maker Scott, coming to you live from the not so comfy studios here at WPST, 100.2 on the FM I play the songs that get you up and rolling in the morning.

"And hey, in case you forgot, we're still looking for one more contestant to qualify for our big, ten-thousand dollar mega bucks giveaway. Well it really isn't a giveaway now is it? You really don't know what it is, do ya kids? We'll be giving ten thousand big ones to one of you lucky listeners out there, but you have to qualify to be part of it all.

"Ya know what? In one hour from now, just as promised, I'm gonna let every one of you lucky stiffs out there get a chance to be a part of this incredible, one of a kind, not to be missed, mega bucks giveaway. So far, we have ninety nine contestants. We need one more. If you're listening one hour from now, you could very well be on your way to being ten-thousand dollars richer, courtesy of WPST. Just think of what you could do with ten thousand dollars. Could you use it? I know I could. Unfortunately, or fortunately I'm not eligible to enter. Fortunately? Is that what I said? Yes I did because while it's a secret to all of you, it's no secret to me. I know just what you're going to have to do to win all that cash, and believe me it is no picnic.

"So if you got a set of big ones, be listening at seven and I'll select the one hundredth contestant to proceed to the next step. Remember that's ten-thousand dollars we're talking about here. It's not like we're giving away a CD or something, although we do that here on a regular basis too, this is cold hard cash. Ten-thousand dollars, right here, to you, from WPST.

"Speaking of CD's, lets give one away right now, shall we? Let's see, the eighth caller right now will win a copy of Creed's latest CD entitled, 'My Own Prisoner'. Caller number eight, are you out there?" he said, whipping the head phones from his ears.

He was a popular drive time DJ. His casual and straight forward delivery had endeared him with thousands of area listeners - or so the independent poll surveyors had told the station. "He's a hit," Jerry Gross, the poll producer's survey supervisor had said of Rick Scott. "He is well liked by most of the 18 to 35 year old listeners you're looking to amass," he wrote in his final report to WPST president, Ike Philyaw.

Gina Reeves would have agreed, as she wiped the sleep from her eyes. She was just awakening in her second floor one bedroom apartment, located in a one hundred apartment complex that snuggled up against Lake Swoon. She rolled and snatched the cordless phone from its cradle, hitting redial. After two seconds, a busy signal could be heard. "Damn," she said and pushed redial again. After a second helping of busy, she hung up the phone. "Bigger fish to fry," she said to herself and turned her back flat on the bed. She felt herself drifting back to sleep and struggled to remain conscious. "Can't go back to sleep now. I need to be awake at seven."

Gina would normally stay sleeping well past nine on Fridays, her only day off from her job as a deli clerk at the local Foodtown, over on Halsey Place. Not this morning though. For almost a month now, she made sure she was awake early on Friday mornings in order to call WPST. She wanted more than sleep to qualify for the mysterious ten-thousand dollar giveaway contest.

"I got almost an hour. I better get into the shower. That will wake me up," she said to herself. Those words are what she said every Friday in order to keep herself awake for a chance at qualifying for the cash. Every other day of the week she was up by five thirty in order to get to her job by six thirty. On her day off, she couldn't seem to wake up. Maybe it was because for the last three years she had also been working as a shelf stocker every Thursday evening from eleven till four in the morning, in order to supplement her income. She had hopes of saving enough money so that she could get a college education. She wanted to become a veterinarian, had so all her life.

As a child, she rescued a baby robin that had fallen from its nest. That was thirteen years ago, when she was just eight years old. She had nursed that bird until it was able to fly away and live on its own. She was proud of that feat, especially when everyone had told her it was useless, that the robin would never make it through the night, let alone live to be full grown. She had proven them all wrong and ever since that experience she had a love affair with animals.

In the shower, as the hot steamy water warmed her body, Gina thought of how much that ten-thousand dollar first prize would mean to her. 'I could get into school and be on my way to fulfilling my dream,' she thought to herself, as she washed the flowery smelling shampoo from her long straight brown hair.

After showering and slipping into a pair of faded blue jeans and a long sleeved, off white sweatshirt, she went into her kitchen for some breakfast. Snapping on the radio she made sure it was tuned to WPST, which it had been for over a month now. Sheryl Crow was belting out one of her latest, as only she can do, and Gina found herself shaking her head back and forth, keeping time with the music. She filled the Mr. Coffee pot with her specially ground mixture of Hazelnut and Vanilla coffee, taking care not to spill any. The two melded flavors were her favorite and she consumed two cups every morning along with one piece of lightly toasted, heavily buttered, rye bread.

She sat at her small round wooden table sipping coffee and dreaming of better days ahead.

"Okay kids here we go. Are ya listening? I think you are. It's time to play. Time for your last chance at that ten-thousand dollars," Rick Scott said, emphasizing the words ten-thousand in the same manner as that boxing ring announcer says the word rumble before he introduces the two pugilists. "Here's how it all works: You be the, let's see, just to make it fair, the twentieth caller at 555-WPST and you will qualify to win all that loot. Once the last person qualifies I'll be explaining the next step towards the ten gees. So here we go, limber up those dexterous digits. Warm up the redial button and give me a call. Caller number twenty will qualify. Good luck kids," he said and the sound of a Porno for Pyros song filled Gina's small kitchen.

Nearly spilling her coffee, she raced for the phone. Hitting a pre-programmed button that dialed WPST, she awaited a ring. Instead what she got was an annoying busy signal. Quickly she hit the flash button and followed that by pressing the redial. Busy.

"Damn," she cursed and repeated the dialing sequence.

"It's ringing," she said to herself.

"Hi, you're caller number eight," Scott said, "try again." Then he hung up. She went through the same steps of flash, redial, flash, redial. Every attempt was met with a busy signal. "Oh no, he's got to be close to number twenty by now," she hollered, and paced around the apartment, phone in hand. "One more time," she yelled and hit redial. It was ringing.

"Hello... who is this please?" Came a quick, authoritative voice.

"Rick? Rick Scott?" Gina said, and began to tremble as if hit by a sudden blast of cold air. Goose flesh rose on her arms and her voice became shaky. "P-p-please tell me what I... I... want to hear," she said, struggling to get the words out.

"Well, I hope you want to hear that you're caller number twenty, because that's just what you are..." he said, hanging on the last word and waiting for Gina to give her name.

She took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Gina, Gina Reeves. At least I think I'm Gina Reeves. I'm a bit excited right now Rick."

"Well calm yourself down Gina. You haven't won anything just yet. And after you hear what you'll have to endure in order to win, you just might change your mind. I hope not though. Are you all right?" he asked.

After taking another deep breath Gina felt a bit more relaxed. "I'm fine Rick. I can't believe I'm caller twenty though," she said, her voice rising.

"Caller twenty? Did I say caller twenty? Oh, I meant to say, you're caller nineteen. I'm sorry."

"What?" said Gina. Oh this can't be. I thought..." Rick Scott interrupted her. "Just kidding Gina, relax. You're number twenty," he said, laughing.

'That ain't even funny radio boy,' Gina thought of saying but didn't.

"I'm going to hang up now but someone will be on the other end to take down some information from you Gina, okay?"

"Yeah, sure, whatever I need to do," she said with enthusiasm.

"Congratulations Gina and good luck with the next step." Before Gina could thank him, he was gone. His deep voice replaced by softer calmer female tones.

"Hello Gina, this is Sue. Congratulations. I need to ask you a few questions."

"Okay," Gina said.

After asking Gina for her full name, address, phone number, age and how long she had been a listener, Sue asked her for her height.

"My height? Why do you need to know how tall I am?" She asked with curiosity.

"Well," said Sue, "if you're lucky enough to be selected to the next phase of the contest that will explained."

"Oh, all right," Gina said, shrugging her shoulders to no one. "I'm five feet seven. Do you need my weight too?"

Sue laughed. "No that won't be necessary." After going over the information with Gina to make sure it was correct, Sue wished her luck and ended the conversation.

Gina jumped up and down on the kitchen floor yelling, "Yes, yes, yes," over and over.

As she began to calm herself down, Rick Scott returned to the airwaves as an Ash Can Flash song came to an end. "That was Ash Can Flash with 'Johnny'," Scott said, "They're a great new band. Keep listening for more from them. And remember where you heard it first. Right here on WPST, FM 100.2."

Gina went to the radio and turned up the volume. She anxiously awaited for her name to be mentioned.

"Hey we got ourselves the one-hundreth qualifier kids. Her name is Gina Reeves and she lives right here in Woodlock. So congrats to you Gina and good luck in the next phase of our big contest."

Gina smiled to herself, wishing she had someone to share in her excitement. She wondered if her co-workers in the deli department down at Foodtown were listening. There was a good chance they were, 100.2 was the station of choice that the portable radio, which sat atop a storage cabinet, was always tuned to.

"...And speaking of the next phase, why don't we talk about that? On Monday, at exactly nine o'clock, I'll be picking ten names at random from a sealed mayonnaise jar, guarded by two magnificently muscular, mammothly proportioned men. These ten contestants will then proceed to the final phase of the contest, or should I say competition, because that's what it is, sort of," he said, his voice full of mystery.

"These ten fortuitous fun seekers will be asked to meet at Sutton park at six PM, next Friday." Gina raised her eyebrows and smiled, thankful he had said Friday, her day off. "What will happen next may take all weekend," he said.

Gina's smile slipped into a frown. "All weekend? What the hell..."

Rick Scott continued, "Let me explain. The ten finalists will meet at the park. What we have set up is a... well it looks kind of like a clothes line. Two large wooden posts set twenty-five feet apart, connected by a metal bar. The bar is about ten feet off the ground. Hanging from the bar are ten triangular shaped metal rings, connected to the bar by an adjustable steel chain. The kind you might see hanging from a trapeze at the circus. The rings will be set exactly one foot over each contestant's head. From there it's simple, reach up, feet firmly on the ground, and grab the ring using at least one hand and don't let go. The last person to let go, wins the ten-thousand dollars. Sound easy? Not if you're one of the ten holding on for dear cash. There are some other rules and regulations that we'll go over with all of the finalists before Friday, but that's the gist of it. It's like holding on to a strap while riding the subway, but not quite. Be the last one holding on to your ring and you could be ten-thousand dollars richer.

"So, if you were one of the one-hundred who qualified for this little game of ours, be listening next Monday at nine for your chance to be one of the ten to go head to head for that grand prize of ten-thousand dollars. One other thing; If you don't think you can do this, or you just don't have the guts, call the station and let us know, in case we select your name on Monday.

"All right, now you know what it's all about. We plan on having a great time next weekend at Sutton park. We'll be having great giveaways all weekend long or however long it takes to get a winner. Tee shirts, CD's, gift certificates to some of the area's finer restaurants. Food and drink at nominal prices, will also be available. So bring the kids and come watch as ten ring riders try to hang in there in order to win that ten-thousand dollar, winner takes all, grand prize."

As Rick Scott set up the next song, Stand, from The Blues Traveler's CD, Gina Reeves sat staring at the radio. She tried to take in all that was just said. Hanging onto a ring one foot above her head until only one contestant was left sounded like some sort of Medieval torture technique. She scratched her still drying head and wondered, if she were picked, would she stand a chance? She began to rise from the table when the phone rang.

"Hello?" She said.

"Gina, it's Bill," came the voice from the other end. It was Bill White, the manager of Foodtown. "I just heard you were the last to qualify for that crazy contest WPST is having."

"Yeah, how about that," came her reply.

"I just want you to know Gina, that if you're one of the ten, you have next weekend off. On one condition."

'One condition,' Gina thought to herself, 'I'll probably have to work the next two weeks in a row to make up for it.' "Oh? And what is that, Mr. White?"

"If you're selected, all I ask for the time off is for you to wear a Foodtown tee shirt and or sweatshirt. That's it. What do you say?" He said, sounding like a used car dealer trying to make a sale.

"We don't have Foodtown tee shirts, Mr. White."

"We will by Friday, providing you get selected, that is."

Gina thought about it for a few seconds and then accepted his proposal.

"Great," he said. "I'll talk to you more about it on Monday, providing you get in, which I know is against the odds but ten will be picked, no reason to think one of them won't be you."

"Thank you Mister White I appreciate you giving me the time off."

"Don't thank me just yet, Gina. If you don't get in, all deals are off, understand?"

She said she did. "I'll keep my fingers crossed until then," he said, congratulating her for getting this far.

The weekend went quickly. The talk amongst the Foodtown employees was of Gina's chance at becoming ten-thousand dollars richer. It made Gina nervous. She felt as though all this talk would somehow jinx her chances of being selected. She realized just how silly that was. But to someone who brushed her teeth for exactly two minutes each day and always put her left shoe on before her right, and reversed the process when taking off her shoes at night, the superstitious feeling had real meaning.

Many of the customers she waited on from the deli wished her luck and engaged her in conversation about the possibility of winning ten-thousand dollars.

A long time frequent customer, Mrs. Kemptor, who barely said two words to Gina in the three years she had worked at Foodtown, spent nearly ten minutes bending Gina's ear. She learned more about Mrs. Kemptor in ten minutes than she had in three years.

Her fellow employees gave her wide smiles and over the head closed fist salutes as she passed by them on her way to and from the deli, which was located in the rear of the large grocery store. All this attention was beginning to make Gina uncomfortable and she began to wish she had not made it even this far. The thought of the ten-thousand dollars eased that discomfort though.

By Sunday afternoon she was glad it would all come to a head in less than fifteen hours. Come to a head that is, if she wasn't picked. If she was, it would all just be beginning for her.

Gina spent a quiet night alone in her apartment and after watching Sixty Minutes and eating two slices of a frozen pizza she had picked up on her way out of Foodtown, she fell asleep on her queen sized bed. She dreamed of all the people who had approached her in the last two days. It was like she was reliving the weekend in her dreams. That was something that happened on occasion, especially after a particularly busy day at the deli. She would dream of waiting on her customers. She often thought to herself that Foodtown should pay her double for having served all those people twice in one day.

She woke herself up two minutes before the alarm was scheduled to go off. She was groggy and not very well rested from her unsettling night of sleep. She dragged herself to the shower, going through the motions, wishing she could just crawl back to bed and catch up on the sleep she had missed the night before.

Her eyes were still at half mast as she poured herself a cup of coffee. Halfway through that first cup, she began to feel moderately alive. Sleep was giving way as she finished her piece of buttered toast. Rick Scott's voice came through the radio and reminded her that, "Today is the day we pick ten contestants to take part in the great ten-thousand dollar giveaway."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she said, gulping down the last bit of coffee. She wasn't quite sure she would participate even if she was chosen. She didn't want to face the possibility of being the first one to let go of the ring. 'How embarrassing would that be, she thought. Then, the thought of winning that cash made her realize she wanted to be a part of it, no matter what the outcome.

When she got to the store her mood was somewhat improved, but jovial she was not.

"Hey champ." Is what Bobbie, one of the four check out girls scheduled today, said to her on her way to the rear of the store.

"Champ this," Gina said, slapping herself on the rear as she passed by.

"Excuse me," Bobbie said, "someone get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?"

"Something like that," Gina said, turning back to Bobbie and offering up an apologetic smile.

"Good luck Gina," Bobbie said as Gina disappeared down the frozen food isle.

Gina let out a loud, "Thanks," and headed to the deli.

When she got back to the deli she realized that the overhead PA system, which generally played elevator music in between announcements of store specials and employee pages, was replaced by the music of WPST.

Seeing Mr. White sitting on a wooden stool behind the deli counter, Gina pointed to the ceiling, "Nice touch," she said.

Bill White rose from the wobbly stool and greeted Gina. "Yeah, we thought it would be nice for everyone to hear the station this morning. I'm holding all overhead pages, except for emergencies, until all ten people are selected."

Gina walked by Joe Wienert, one of the store butchers, rolling her eyes as she passed him. He gave her a subtle smile and nodded. She then proceeded to don a white apron and begin her duties as a deli clerk. She pulled freshly made salads from the large walk in cooler and placed them in the display case, carefully pulling off the plastic wrap. She lugged large rolls of turkey breast, bologna and salami, and placed them neatly side by side in the cooler, Bill White talking to her all the while.

"I just want to tell you Gina, that I have a tee shirt company, Terrific Tees, all lined up to make me a bunch of shirts if you get in."

"That's nice," Gina said, restocking various sized styrofoam containers underneath the steel table upon which a large deli slicer sat. "I'm not in yet, but like you said; no reason to think I won't get picked."

"That's right," he said, "think positive, Gina." He shook a large beefy fist in her direction, like a football coach to a player before the big game.

"I'm up for it," Gina said, returning the gesture, but with exaggerated vigor.

"Okay, good. I'll let you get to work and hopefully we'll talk later." He smiled, exposing large coffee and tobacco stained teeth. Then he was gone.

By seven Gina was ready for her first customer. At 8:05 he showed up. It was Mr. Jenkins. Jenkins was in his early seventies, a widower and came in every Monday for a half pound of boiled ham and a half pound of American cheese, no more, no less. He was a pleasant man who always had a smile for Gina. He seemed unaware of all the hubbub as he thanked Gina with a smile and then walked away.

At two minutes to nine, Mr. White's voice was heard over the PA system. "Hello. May I have your attention please. Employees as well as shoppers. In just about two minutes WPST is going to announce the ten finalists for their big ten-thousand dollar giveaway," he said, his voice attempting to copy Rick Scott's delivery. "And our very own Gina Reeves is in the running. Gina has been with us for three years now, so let's wish her luck." He finished his short speech by personally wishing her good luck.

When he ended and the PA reverted to WPST, John Mellencamp was finishing up Jack and Diane. It was followed by a batch of commercials ranging from Newton's Steak House and their fine array of exquisitely cooked steaks, to an inane ad about mattresses, the owner choosing to, apparently write and perform in his own spot.

After the commercials and a song by The Smashing Pumpkins, Rick Scott was back.

"It's a little past nine. Do we know what that means, kids? Of course we do. It's time to pick the ten finalists for the big ten-thousand dollar mega bucks giveaway, that's what time it is," he said. "Let's get right to it, shall we?" The sound of a metal lid spinning off of a glass jar top could be heard, followed by a metal utensil banging around the inside of the jar. "Ah, let me be careful not to get my hands full of mayonnaise," Scott said, in his attempt at humor.

"Okay, here's the first contestant. Lisa Simmons, from nearby Westerville is our first person selected. So Lisa, get ready for a phone call to verify that you'll be involved in this, the best contest this side of 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire'."

The next person selected was John Blackman, from Blue Creek. Gina sat in the corner of the deli biting her nails. After Rick Scott announced the sixth contestant there was a loud uproar which could be heard throughout the store, for the sixth participant was, as Rick Scott put it, "Gina Reeves, of Lake Swoon. Congratulations, Gina. Now let's find out who the remaining four lucky contestants will be..."

Gina never did hear who the last four to be part of the contest were, instead she went into the back room and awaited a call from Sue, the calm voiced station secretary she had spoken to last Friday.

Gina sat on a stack of canned tomatoes and began thinking of how she would ever be able to do what the station was asking of the ten selectees. She remembered one time back in the tenth grade, she and her sister had done something almost as strange. Before the start of the last period of school they had both been at the water fountain. For some reason, after taking a drink, Gina refused to take the last swallow, instead opting to leave the fountain water sloshing around inside her mouth. When her sister saw this, she did the same. She remembers going through her English class with the water in her mouth, hoping Mrs. Hopkins would not call on her. She didn't and the water remained in her mouth.

After class she was surprised to find out that her sister Deena, had not swallowed either. They went through the rest of the evening attempting to outlast each other, going so far as to skip dinner. Their mother thinking they were both crazy, spent the evening shaking her head at them and laughing.

Both girls went to bed that night and fell asleep; water in mouth. To this day it was anyone's guess which girl gave out first.

The sound of the short quick rings of the back room phone startled Gina and she nearly fell off the stack.


"Hi. Gina Reeves please."

"This is she. Is this you Sue?"

"Yes it is Gina. Congratulations?" She asked tentatively, unsure if Gina would be up for the challenge.

"Thanks, I think. This contest is going to be difficult to win," she said.

"It's not easy. But we're talking about ten-thousand dollars Gina. You're gonna have to work for it," she said, and laughed.

"Anyway, I need to take down more information from you and give you some details."

'I can still back out,' Gina thought.

"First ,I have to tell you that we need you to be at Sutton Park by five in the afternoon. Bring two forms of photo identification. We'll have some instructions to go over with you, papers to fill out, and a waiver to sign, so you don't sue the station if you drop dead." She laughed heartily into the phone. A laugh Gina had trouble returning.

"Dress comfortably. You can bring extra clothes, a blanket, a chair, water, food and even reading materials if you like."

"What happens when we have to go to the bathroom?" Gina asked.

"We have that covered Gina. There will be ten Port-a-Potties, one for each contestant. Once every four hours you will get a fifteen minute break. Of course you can use this time to do whatever; go to the bathroom, sleep, eat, anything you need to do. At the start of each break, an official, of which there are four, will blow a whistle. Thirty seconds before the break ends the whistle will be blown again. If you don't get back to the ring before the whistle blows at the end of the thirty seconds, you're disqualified. So pay attention to the time during the breaks. All this will be explained again by Rick before it gets underway."

"Sounds like a real fun time," Gina said, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

"It will be if you win the cash," Sue said, sounding a bit perturbed.

"I also need to ask you if you have any preexisting medical conditions that would prevent you from participating in such an event."

Gina said she didn't, but briefly thought of saying she did - disqualification would be an easy way to avoid embarrassing herself, or Foodtown.

"Okay, that's all we need from you right now Gina. Again, congratulations, good luck and I'll see you this Friday at five."

"Thank you Sue. I'm looking forward to meeting you and taking home that ten-thousand dollar prize."

"Now that's the spirit," Sue said, and hung up.

When Gina returned to the front of the deli she was somewhat surprised to see that a crowd was forming. Everyone clapped and cheered as Gina became visible. She began to feel like a prisoner on death row; with everyone wanting to know just how it feels to be so close to frying in the electric chair.

Worming his way through the crowd was Mr. White. He was holding something high above his head as he weaved his way through. As he neared, Gina could tell he was holding clothing.

"Gina, Gina, congratulations," he said, thrusting the clothes in her direction.

'If one more person congratulates me I'm going to put them through the meat slicer,' she thought to herself.

Gina reached out and grasped hold of the mostly white colored clothing. "What's this?" She asked.

"The tee shirts and sweatshirts," he said with a broad smile.

Gina looked perplexed. "I thought you were going to hold off on ordering those until you were sure I was picked."

"I knew you were gonna get selected. Besides, it's about time we had our own tee shirts," he said, holding up one of the shirts and putting it to Gina's shoulders, measuring it for size.

Across the front of the all white tee shirt, in big bold black letters, was the word: FOODTOWN. Directly below it, and in smaller letters were the words: QUALITY FOOD AT INEXPENSIVE PRICES.

"Very nice," Gina said, disappointed with the simplicity of the shirt. The sweatshirt sported the same lettering as the tee. Mr. White told her she could keep one of each but jokingly said she would have to pay for them if she won the ten-thousand.

He suddenly turned to the swelling crowd of employees and shoppers. "All right, let's break this up," he said, "some of you need to get back to work and the rest of you need to get back to shopping." He clapped his hands together in attempt to disperse the mob. Moans and groans could be heard throughout, along with a few boos as the group began to thin.

Turning back to Gina he asked her to wear the shirt as much as possible.

"You never know when the press is going to show up. They just may interview you before the contest. It would be great publicity for the store if the shirt gets into the paper or on the news," he said.

Gina was beginning to think of herself as his golden egg laying chicken. She told him she would wear it starting right now; under one condition.

"Anything," he said and awaited her request.

"I'll need Thursday night off from stocking shelves so I can get to bed early," she said.

"Done," he said and scurried down the frozen food isle, on his way to God knows where.

The rest of the day was spent fielding questions from co-workers and customers. The most frequently asked question was; 'What will you do with all that money?' and Gina had begun to tire of answering it, over and over.

By the end of the day Gina was exhausted. This sudden onset of pseudo-fame had pushed the deli business into overdrive. Her legs ached and she couldn't wait to get home.

At four thirty, welcomed relief in the form of Peter Benson came, and she snuck out of the store through one of the rear delivery bays.

The rest of the week went quickly for Gina. Although no press from either the local paper or television station showed up requesting an interview, Gina wore the Foodtown tee shirt everyday. By Thursday, the excitement that besieged her on Monday had slackened a bit, something she was thankful for. Gina, like most, enjoyed attention, but after a while it became a nuisance. Too many people asking too many questions. For the first time Gina could relate to all those celebrities who, on occasion, would lose their cool and get physically aggressive with a story seeking reporter. Privacy is important and she had taken it for granted all her life, until last Monday.

On her way out of the store that afternoon, she was met by several employees who wished her luck and told her they would be at the park tomorrow to cheer her on. Gina smiled, thanked them and said she would buy them all a beer down at the Sud Shack, a popular downtown pub, if she won.

Once home, Gina plopped down on the couch and had no energy to even think about fixing herself something for dinner. She flicked on the TV, but after five minutes of Oprah, she drifted off into an hour long nap. She dreamed of the contest. In the dream she was holding on to the ring so tightly that all the muscles in her arm ached. She would not let go, however. The money was hers. But it wasn't, someone else was holding on just as loyally, refusing to let their grip relax.

"If I can only keep hold of the ring for just a while longer," she told herself in the dream. "I can win this thing. I know it." Without warning, a large bumble bee circled her head. She swatted at it with her free hand, ducking, as it dove at her over and over. She lost sight of it momentarily and it landed on the hand that clung to the ring. Instinctively, she slapped at it, causing the bee to squash against her skin. Before it died, it ejected it's stinger and sunk it into Gina's thumb. Gina screamed and involuntarily pulled her hand from the ring.

The dream ended and Gina woke with her heart pounding away like a migraine in her chest.

"Whoa, that was not what I needed just before this thing is about to take place," she said, walking into the kitchen and taking a diet cola from the fridge. The carbonated beverage felt refreshing and after a couple of swallows the dream began to fade.

Gina thought it a good idea to pack a few things for tomorrow. So with cola in hand she headed into the bedroom and searched for a small green and white duffel bag she kept on a shelf in her closet. Once located she threw a pair of jeans, a tee shirt, a light windbreaker and a spare pair of high top sneakers into the bag. She made a mental note to take three of the colas, along with a sandwich and pack them into a small vinyl cooler she kept on top of the refrigerator. 'If I need any more food, I can always buy some while I'm on one of those fifteen minute breaks,' she thought to herself. She wondered how long she would be able to last before fatigue forced her into making a mental error.

Stopping in the middle of the bedroom, Gina tried to think of anything else she could use at the park. After a moment she reached back into the closet and pulled a dark blue comforter and a spare pillow she kept there for infrequent overnight guests. She thought this might be a mistake but packed them anyway.

Satisfied she was prepared to take on the rings, she readied herself for bed and fell asleep shortly after her head hit the cool pillow.

No dreams she would remember filled her head as she slept.

Gina arrived at the park just before five. Sutton Park was donated to the city of Woodlock some fifty years ago by George Sutton, a local businessman. Covering just over five acres, the park consisted of a softball field, two tennis courts, one thirty feet by sixty feet picnic pavilion, a softball field (that was mainly used by weekend sports warriors) and a large area that was replete with swings, slides and several merry-go-rounds. The area looked aberrant today. Usually quiet, even with the steady flux of adults, small children and teenagers, today the park had taken on a carnival like quality. A WPZA television truck, complete with a telescoping boom bolted to it's roof, loomed in the rear of the park.

Adjacent to a set of swing sets and a jungle gym that rose from the ground like a massive metal dinosaur, she saw the rings. They were empty and appeared just as Rick Scott had described them; resembling a clothes line, with a thick metal bar connecting each post. As she neared them, Gina could see that above each ring a white index card turned on its end displayed each contestant's number. She looked for number six and judged the ring to be just about one foot higher than her five-feet seven inches. She was happy to see that the rings were under a large, Army green canvas tent. The weather called for lows in the mid sixties tonight with tomorrow being sunny, warm and humid, with a high approaching ninety degrees. Gina didn't remember the outlook for Sunday. She knew that by then she would have already won or lost.

To the right of the rings was the WPST van. The low top conversion van was bright yellow, with the letters W P S T painted on an angle across the broad side. The sliding door was open, making it appear as though the stations call letters were P S   T. In front of the open door was a six foot long rectangular folding table. A yellow table cloth that hung over the edge rose and fell with the gentle southern breeze. A smaller version of the canvas tent that covered the rings protected the table from the sun and elements. Written on a piece of white cardboard and hanging from the front of the tent, in big bold black letters, were the words: CONTESTANT REGISTRATION. Gina's Foodtown tee shirt fit right in with the sign's lettering.

Approaching, she saw two people, one male one female, sitting behind the table on folding metal chairs. The man was talking to a standing thirty-something year old male, that Gina would later find out was John Blackman. He stood over six feet tall, had a muscular build and wore a red tank top over light blue sweat pants. 'Not much in the fashion department, but with that physique he stands to be in good shape for this event,' Gina thought to herself as she stepped up to the table.

Gazing down at the seated man's counterpart, Gina offered up a barely audible greeting. "Hi, I'm Gina Reeves," she said, smiling nervously at the blond, blue-eyed woman seated in front of her.

"Hi Gina, Sue Tierney, we've spoken on the phone a couple of times," she said and offered Gina her hand.

Gina's smile relaxed and she gave Sue's hand a healthy shake.

"First, I need to see some ID,” Sue said, still smiling.

Gina handed over her driver's license and the Foodtown identification badge she was holding onto since leaving the car.

Sue looked at them briefly and then handed them back to Gina. "Yes that's you Gina. You take a nice picture," Sue said, staring down at a batch of papers, trying to locate Gina's file.

Gina let out a timid 'thank-you' and scanned the perimeter of the park. Her eyes made contact with Blackman's. He smiled quickly, said nothing, then looked away.

"Oh, here we are," Sue said, pulling a set of papers from the others. "Look these over, sign on the last page and hand them back to me as soon as you're done."

"That's it?" Gina asked.

"That's it," Sue said, handing Gina a small laminated ID card tethered to a plastic band. "You're not being cleared to dine at the Whitehouse with the President," Sue said with a smirk. "The rules have been explained to you already. They're written on page two if you forgot them. Rick Scott will also go over them again just before six, which is little less than an hour from now." Sue raised her eyebrows and lowered the corners of her lips, looking at Gina like a mother at a child just before she introduces Santa Claus.

Gina thanked her and placed the band over her head, pulling her hair through it until the plastic rested on the bare skin of her neck. She picked up her bag and bedding from the ground and walked over to a large section of the park which had been blockaded by a redwood stained snow fence. Another cardboard sign attached to the fence alerted passersby that this area was for contestants only. A tall thin man in his twenties with his hands behind his back, and wearing a WPST tee shirt and baseball cap, stood guard at the entrance. Noticing the ID dangling from Gina's neck, the man smiled and made room for her to pass through.

"Good luck... Gina," he said, bending down to get a better view of her badge.

Gina returned his smile and slowly walked by him. Once inside the stockade Gina noticed the row of Port-a-Potties neatly lined up against the back end of the fence. Each one numbered. She followed the yellow row of toilets until her eyes rested on number six.

"That would be me," she said out loud, and walked towards it. Her nervousness had put her kidneys into overdrive and the need to pee was powerful.

To her left she could see another large canvas tent. Underneath were several sets of tables and chairs. 'A mess hall,' she thought. Behind the tent and looming ominously was a Westerville ambulance rig. Two paramedics, dressed in dark blue uniforms were leaning up against it and shooting the breeze, just waiting for their chance to deliver first aid to the first poor schmuck who passed out from exhaustion or went insane from this tortuous event.

As she neared her own personal Port-a-Potty she saw that an area of ground had been lined with what looked like lime used on a baseball field, but was more likely flour. Small sections, ten in all, had been lined in the same manner. "My own private space. Isn't that nice," she said, tossing her belongings to the ground before entering the Port-a-Potty.

After she had finished, the overly sweet sterile smell of the toilet lingered in her nose.

Turning her gaze upward she noticed that the sky was deep blue and cloudless. The warm gentle breeze played games with her bangs, sending them scurrying about her forehead. Six of the ten contestants were through the registration process and began setting up camp within the confines of their sectioned off zones. To her right, Gina eyed a short squat brunette unfolding a green plastic lounge chair, presumably to rest upon during the fifteen minute breaks.

She caught Gina staring and offered up a wave and a hello. "Hi," she said, "my name is Darlene, Darlene Culver." She looked away, still smiling, and continued with her domestic chores.

Gina remembered the name. It had been the one Rick Scott called just before hers.

"Hi Darlene. I'm Gina," she said, neglecting to use her last name.

Three other contestants walked in, single file; an older man who appeared to be in his fifties with a large pot belly hanging over a pair of beltless blue jeans, a twentyish dark haired timid looking woman and a thirty something year old man sporting a crew cut and appearing to be the timid woman's opposite. Gina could tell by the way he carried himself that he was not lacking in self confidence.

Gina began to feel the first of many butterflies tickling her tummy, telling her that this might not be such a good idea. It was too late to turn back now. She was here, hopefully till the end.

After all the contestants had entered the 'compound', Rick Scott emerged. He yelled to them all, motioning for them to come join him under the tent near the ambulance.

He was nothing like she had pictured him. His five feet six inch, stocky frame was a far cry from the tall, muscular DJ Gina had pictured when listening to him on the radio. Long dirty blond hair pulled back into a ponytail hung to the middle of his back. Black jeans, a white button down shirt and a pair of white worn Converse high tops rounded out his appearance.

"Hi kids. Glad you could make it. This is it, the big show. Somebody right here, under this tent, is going to be ten-thousand dollars richer when this thing is all over," he said, holding his hands out like a television preacher expecting an amen from his followers.

He proceeded to go over the rules again, as if none of them had been smart enough to understand the simplistic nature of them the first time. When he finished, he asked the group of them if they had any questions.

The man Gina first saw at the registration table waved his hand high above his head and said, "Yeah, when does the winner get the cash?" A nervous rumble of laughter discharged from the contestants, then quickly died down.

Rick Scott closed his eyes and smiled. "The winner... Mr..."

"...Blackman, John Blackman," the hand waver said.

Scott continued, "...Blackman. The winner will get a check at a brief ceremony immediately following the conclusion of the contest. A couple pictures with me and the owner of the station flanking the winner, who will be holding a giant replica of the check. Then we'll give you the real one to cash." Scott started to turn away from them, then turned back adding, "But just don't try and cash it until next Friday." More laughter from the ring riders.

"Okay," he said, looking at his watch, "if there are no more questions, the next sound you need to pay attention to is me calling out your name, one by one, to take your positions at the rings. Sort of like an announcer introducing the starting line up of a baseball team," he said, reflecting on his words with pride. "Lisa, Lisa Simmons, where are you hon?" he asked, scanning the ten of them.

Lisa raised her hand and smiled, her face turning red.

"You were the first to be selected, so I'll be calling you out first," he said winking, and pointed at her with his thumb and index finger. "That's all for now. Good luck to each of you," he said and disappeared into his travel trailer.

The ten of them dispersed, many choosing to converse with one another. Gina thought it better to stand alone. She felt no need to get to know her competitors.

'Friendship breeds weakness,' she thought. 'These people are my enemy. They stand between me and ten-thousand dollars. More importantly, these people are preventing me from becoming a veterinarian.'

Twenty minutes till six, according to Gina's wrist watch. She decided to return to her 'space' and relax before her name was called.

At two minutes before six, Rick Scott's voice could be heard emanating from two loud speakers, perched fifteen feet above the ground and nestled in the crook of a Maple tree.

"May I have your attention everyone," he said, his voice sounding crackly from the speakers. "The ten-thousand dollar mega bucks giveaway contest is about to begin.

First, I want to welcome the contestants. The ten of you all have overcome some incredible odds to be where you are today. Ten will start, one will finish. Who will that be? I have no idea, but we'll find out. All ten contestants are strong and eager. Wills of steel. This could last until Labor Day," he said. The crowd of almost five hundred, laughed politely.

He went on to explain the rules of the contest to the mostly disinterested audience. Most of the crowd was wandering throughout the park, checking out the many kiosks that had been set up to sell food, drink and a variety of merchandise. Little children walked hand in hand with their parents. A group of teen boys had begun a game of Frisbee football, their sleek tanned bodies glistening with sweat as the slowly setting sun reflected off of them. Smoke billowed from underneath one of the two tents that housed large gas fired griddles. The aroma of onions, peppers and sweet Italian sausage wafted through the park.

Gina chose this time to spread out the comforter along the dark green grass and lay down, awaiting for her name to be called. She lowered her head on her pillow and closed her eyes. The butterflies had intensified and for a brief moment she thought she might vomit.

She had never won anything in her life. She was never much at sports, didn't have many friends and for the most part, led a boring life.

'I need this,' she thought to herself, 'need to get back to school and do something that has meaning.' If she won the money, she thought her life would change.

She looked around at the other contestants, except for that jock Blackman and a few of the other men, she felt like she stood a good shot at outlasting them all.

She tried to psych herself up. But how? What do you do to get up for an event like this? "Just hang in there," she said quietly to herself and laughed.

Sue appeared and motioned for the contestants to gather around her. She held a rolled up piece of paper in her right hand and waved it across her body as she beckoned them.

"All right. We're just about to get this shindig underway. Rick will be announcing your names one by one, so when you're called, go out and step up to your ring," she said, unraveling the paper and giving it a brief scan. "Lisa, you'll be first, followed by John Blackman." She smiled at them all and wished each luck.

Gina paced about trying to rid her stomach of those annoying flutters. Darlene Culver approached her. "Hey Gina. You look like you're about to get married or something, relax will ya? It's only ten-thousand dollars," she said and walked away.

Rick Scott's voice once again could be heard through the misfiring loud speakers.

"Okay this is it. Contestant number one, Lisa Simmons, come on out," he said. Lisa jogged through the fence opening and to the rings like an athlete being called by an arena announcer. "Lisa is a twenty four year old high school teacher from Sloansdale. Good luck Lisa." As Lisa stood under her designated ring, one of four judges, dressed in yellow sweatpants and wearing yellow tee shirts with WPST emblazoned across the front, measured the distance from the top of Lisa's head to the bottom of the ring. With a nod of the the judge's head, a second judge marked off something on a piece of paper which was held to a small clipboard. All the while this was happening, the crowd was applauding Lisa. She stood there smiling, looking a bit embarrassed.

John Blackman was called next. He trotted out like the big bad jock he was, raising his hands high above his head, pumping his fists up and down as he neared the ring. The crowd ate it up and erupted in a roar of laughter and high pitched whistles.

After Crystal Workman, 25, single mother of two was called, it was Gina's turn. When she got to her ring and the measuring was completed she looked around at the crowd. She became intimidated and tried not to bring anymore attention to herself than she had already gotten. Looking over the spectators, she saw Mr. White. He was standing up front and wearing one of his Foodtown shirts. He waved at Gina with his free hand, giving her the 'thumb's up' sign. In his other hand he held a half eaten hot dog. Mustard hung off his mustache like small yellow stalactites. Gina gave him a half wave, raising her hand only to the level of her hip. He smiled at her and mouthed the words, ‘good luck.' Gina nodded and turned back to a microphone wielding Rick Scott.

Scott finished up the introductions by welcoming Steven Saltzman, 38, mortgage lawyer, to the number ten, and last ring. Saltzman was a large man. Standing over six feet three and weighing close to two hundred fifty pounds. Gina picked him to let go first.

"May I have everyone's attention please, especially the contestants. I want you all to now grab hold of your rings," he said and looked at his watch. "When you hear the whistle, it will be the signal that the contest has begun. You must be holding on to your ring at that time." He glanced at the judges who were making sure everyone was complying. "Okay," he said, checking the time again and raising his right hand skyward. Begin," he said, letting his hand fall to his side. The whistle was blown.

Gina had an uncontrollable urge to let go and walk away. It would be worth it just to see the look on White's face. The disappointed shock that would take over his features would be priceless. But she didn't. She clung to her ring like a drowning swimmer grasping a tossed lifesaver. She glanced up to see her knuckles had turned white and relaxed her grip slightly. 'Oh, this is going to be fun,' she thought to herself.

At first there was silence among the contestants. After fifteen minutes Blackman broke the ice. "How's it hanging, Stanton?' He said looking down at Joe Stanton, 40, a plumber. Stanton was in the number eight spot and apparently, the two knew each other. "Hi John," Stanton said curtly, obviously not interested in furthering the chat.

"How's the wife and kids?" Blackman said, attempting to continue with the conversation.

"They're just fine John."

Blackman sensed Stanton's desire not to pursue the conversation and shut up.

At the four hour mark, the whistle blew. Gina raced to the bathroom and then laid down on her comforter. After two minutes she reached into her cooler and pulled out one of the colas. Four hours had gone by and none of the ten showed any signs of weakening.

At four in the morning her neighbor to the right engaged her. "Hi. It's Gina right?" Crystal said.

Gina turned to her with a smile, her eyes a bit droopy. The sound of Crystal woke her up a little and she was grateful to her.

"Hello," Gina said and returned a wide smile.

Crystal began to talk about herself. She was twenty four years old, had one son who was two years old and a one daughter who was just eight months old. She was unemployed and had just left her husband two months ago due to his abusing her and the kids.

Gina tried to speak with her but Crystal's story was so sad that she began to feel sorry for her. 'Don't let your guard down.' She kept telling herself. Gina tried to talk about herself but the conversation kept returning to Crystal and her problems. Her husband was a drunk, had a bad temper and the once a week beatings had become the norm. When she finally had the courage to kick him out and obtain a restraining order, she did not realize how much more difficult her life would become. Though abusive, her husband was the sole support of the family. When he left, he left for good. She was on her own. He became a delinquent dad. She hasn't heard from him in two months and suspects she never will. She had no job and no prospects of getting one. She was a good woman but had gotten some lousy breaks in life.

She had a long history of abuse. Her father regularly beat her and her mother. Her mother found a way out though. She shot her husband one night as he came home from a night of drinking. "I was eighteen," she said. "He came home and started beating her like it was his right. My mom went into the bedroom, pulled out a .45 she'd been keeping, pointed it at him and pulled the trigger. She's still in jail," Crystal said, shaking her head "It's true," she added, "girls tend to marry men who remind them of their father."

Gina began to become bored with her story and thought she might just fall asleep if she had to listen to it any more. She felt sorry for Crystal, but what could she do about it?

With two minutes to go before the whistle blew announcing the second break, the contest had it's first casualty. Jerry Phillips, a psychology counselor, just closed his eyes, unable to remain awake. His hand relaxed and he fell to the ground. Startled out of sleep, he jumped up and grasped the ring as if nothing had happened. One of the judges approached him. "What?" He said, acting as though the judges presence was unwarranted.

The judge smiled, cocking his head as he looked at the panicked Phillips.

"You let go of the ring Mr. Phillips. I'm going to have to disqualify you. I'm sorry." The judge could then be seen making a straight line along the paper on his clip board.

"One down, eight to go," Gina said, under her breath.

As the sun began to rise Gina had wondered why she had never taken the time to view this spectacular sight. High cirrus clouds, awash in multiple shades of pink, made for a captivating sunrise. She marveled at its beauty.

One hour before the whistle would blow signaling the 10 AM break, Kyle Jenkins, 21, a college student majoring in Broadcasting, felt his nose itch. So naturally, he scratched it. Unfortunately he used the hand that held the ring to do it.

Shortly thereafter, Rick Scott emerged from his self contained RV. He looked wide-eyed and bushy tailed as he sipped on a cup of coffee. Two young blond girls, no more than twenty, followed him out. He walked over to the remaining eight ring riders. "Good morning all," he said. I hope you found our accommodations adequate." He broke out into loud laughter, looking for the same from his blond associates, who were walking closely behind him. They remained straight faced until his gaze met theirs. Then, as if on cue, each laughed vibrantly.

The whistle blew and Gina ran to one of the food tents. The grills were up and running and she had a craving for a hot dog. She ordered one with mustard and onions and gave a cursory glance at her Timex.

She stuffed the dog into her mouth as if she hadn't eaten in a week, washing it down with a twelve ounce bottle of spring water. She quickly made her way to the Port-a-Potty. She did not have the urge to pee but thought it prudent to empty what was in her bladder before the whistle blew again.

Her body was electric, not tired like she imagined she would be by now. She had been awake for nearly twenty six hours. She felt supercharged, like she could stay awake as long as she needed to.

On the way to the Port-a-Potty she passed by John Blackman. "Hey beautiful," he said, "how ya holding up?" he asked, his eyes wide, his movements jerky.

"I'm holding up just fine, John," she said and craned her neck to keep him in view as the two went in opposite directions.

Five minutes later the whistle blew and Gina was holding on to her ring once more.

At ten minutes till three, Gina heard a familiar voice. "Hey Gina. Over here," came words from the scant crowd. Turning to see who it was, Gina lost her footing. She almost let go of the ring in order to regain her balance but hung on. Her legs slipped out from under her and dragged along the grass, spinning her around and causing her feet to leave the ground momentarily.

"Hang on Gina," came the voice of Joe Wienert. "We're all rooting for you," he said, waving his hand back and forth.

Gina regained her footing and waved back, noticing Joe was standing with several other Foodtown employees. Dale Warren, the produce manager, Wendy Johnson, a baker and George Flansburg, the wise cracking seafood manager had all come to show their support.

"There's about ten more of us over at the beer tent. You know us Foodtown employees, we need alcohol to get us through the day," he said, then looked right and left, hoping no one was paying attention to him.

Gina laughed and returned her concentration to the matter at hand. She flexed her head from side to side attempting to stretch out the kink that had settled in her neck, stopping when she heard a loud scream. It had come from Robert Watson, 54, insurance salesman. He had developed a muscle spasm in his right leg. It had cramped up so badly that the pain forced him to grab his calf with both hands.

'Another one bites the dust. Six more to go,' Gina thought.

At the 6 PM break, Gina walked to her comforter and fell onto it, her head nestled snugly on the fluffy pillow. She was beginning to feel the effects of being awake for thirty four hours. She fell asleep within thirty seconds and woke up ten minutes later, startled. Frantically she looked at her watch and breathed deeply as she realized there were almost five minutes until the whistle blew again.

Just before 9:30 pm, John Blackman yelled down the line to her, "Hey gorgeous, how's it hangin'?" He said, with wide eyes.

Gina decided to talk to him. After five minutes she found out he was an avid bass fisherman. "What's the biggest bass you ever landed?" She asked of him.

Blackman stood straight and swung the ring wildly above his head. Ten pounder," he said, defying anyone to dispute him.

"Wow, ten pounds. That's a big one." Gina looked upward, feigning contemplation.

"Ten pound bass, that would make it what, about a foot long?" she asked, hoping for a heated reaction from Blackman. She wasn't disappointed.

"A foot long," he said, his eyes widening even more as he glared at her. "That hog was more like two feet long," he said, and held out both hands in front of him, in an attempt to show her just how big the fish was.

Gina looked at him, a broad grin slowly forming on her face.

Blackman's brows furrowed as he looked down at his hands. "Oh no!" He yelled and made no attempt to reach for the ring. Instead, he covered his face with his ringless hands and shook his upper torso back and forth, repeating the word, 'no' over and over.

Before he made his departure, he punched the ring, causing it to spin clockwise, briefly, before stopping and reversing direction. As he walked away he gave Gina a stare that sent a quick shiver up her spine.

'Bye-bye macho man.'

At one minute till 10 pm, Steven Saltzman, ring rider number ten and Darlene Culver, ring rider number seven, released their grips from the rings almost simultaneously. They fell to the ground under their respective rings and lay in a heap. A collective sigh escaped the remaining contestants as well as the handful of spectators, most of whom were relatives and friends of the competitors.

The two paramedics on duty each rushed to the fallen ring riders and assessed them. After a couple of anxious moments, both were helped to their feet. Loud but brief clapping filled the air as the two competitors walked away under their own power.

'Now there's only three to beat.'

During the 10 PM break Gina thought seriously about not returning. She was exhausted and her mind was dulled from lack of sleep. She felt that she would make a mental error as did Blackman and be disqualified. "So why bother," she said out loud, prompting attention from Crystal sitting next to her.

"Hang in there Gina. You're strong. You can do this." Crystal said, in a friendly, calm and reassuring manner.

Gina looked at Crystal and nodded. "I'll try. You hang in there too, Crystal."

Gina was somewhat surprised to see just how vibrant Crystal looked. Unlike herself, Crystal seemed wide awake and energetic. Gina was happy for her but secretly wished Crystal would crash and burn - and soon.

At six minutes after three in the morning Gina glanced down at Lisa Simmons. Lisa's eyes were closing and opening rhythmically, and at times she would nod off briefly only to awaken abruptly. She reminded Gina of a drunk hanging onto a light pole outside of some run down dive of a saloon. For a moment, Gina saw Lisa in a black suit and tie. She was disheveled and wore a black, too big for her head, derby. The ring had become the light pole as Lisa twirled around it, nearly falling with every turn. Gina shook her head back and forth several times and Lisa returned to her normal state of appearance.

The crowd had long since left. Two remaining judges stood guard over the four diehard contestants. The air had become cool and Gina now wished she had worn something heavier than the Foodtown sweatshirt she had pulled over her Foodtown tee shirt, some five hours ago. "Maybe it's good I'm cold. The cold air just may keep me awake," she said, shaking off the chill that had invaded her upper body.

Lisa Simmons was the next to go. She simply let go of the ring, walked to her spot near the Port-a-Potty, picked up her belongings and left. She did not say a word to anyone. Gina watched her as did Crystal and the two judges, as she got into her car and took off.

'Just the three of us now. Two more to outlast.'

6 AM. Gina had now been up for forty six hours. Her head was mush. It felt heavy and her ability to concentrate was leaving her. She went to the bathroom and as she left the Port-a-Potty, noticed she had been in the number four toilet, instead of her number six. She struggled to remain upright. She was neither hungry nor thirsty as she stood over her comforter and pillow, afraid to lay down, for fear she would not be able to rise.

She glanced over at Crystal who was sitting in a small green resin chair looking just as dazed and confused. She attempted to smile at Gina but what came over her face was a half grin that left quickly, replaced by a blank, zombie like stare.

The thirty second whistle blew and Crystal rose from her chair and walked towards the rings. Fifty feet later she turned to Gina who was still standing and staring down at the ground, apparently unaware of the whistle.

"Hey Gina," Crystal said, "better hurry."

Gina's head snapped up and she began a slow jog to her ring. She grasped it three seconds before the whistle blew again.

Looking down at the number eight spot Gina was surprised to see Joe Stanton was not there. She looked back over the fence to see a sleeping Stanton laying comfortably in his lounge chair.

'Oh well, just you and me kid.'

Two hours later both Gina and Crystal were on the verge of collapse. A small curious Sunday morning crowd had begun to form. They all marveled at the two remaining contestants, who refused to go down.

Among the onlookers was Mr. White. He had shown up to offer his support. He wore a Foodtown sweatshirt and sipped coffee from a styrofoam cup.

Gina was sure she could not last much longer. Her vision was becoming skewed from lack of sleep. Objects were blurry. She was finding it difficult to focus on anything, so she kept her eyes closed for minutes at a time. But that action welcomed sleep. Her hearing would come and go. Most of what she was hearing sounded like a record that was placed on slow speed. Words melded together like one long run-on sentence. It wouldn't be long now, she was sure of it.

She glanced at Crystal, abused by her husband, single mother of two, trying to make it alone. She was just as tired as Gina. Crystal barely clung to the ring, her eyes heavy and her face sagging. She looked punch drunk and appeared more zombie-like than Gina did. Gina was sure though, as exhausted as she was, both physically and mentally, that she would be able to outlast Crystal.

'Hang on tight Gina, don't let go. You can do it,' she thought to herself, trying to generate one last bit of resilience.

Gina could see Rick Scott sitting on the registration table talking with Sue Tierney and a gray haired man in his mid-fifties. Gina presumed him to be the owner of the station. They conversed with one another, waiting for the last ring rider to give way.

Had it been nearly forty hours since that first whistle had blown on Friday, signaling the start of all this? Gina was unsure. She couldn't be sure if it was Saturday or Sunday. Everything was hazy in the muddiness that had invaded her mind. She looked down at her watch. Five minutes until the 10 AM break.

Looking at Crystal, Gina noticed she was swaying back and forth, her eyes closed.

"Crystal," Gina yelled, "wake up. Five more minutes and you can take a break."

'What am I doing?' She asked herself. 'She's the enemy. It's her or me for the big ten-thousand dollar mega bucks giveaway.' But somehow Crystal wasn't the enemy anymore, but more of a kindred spirit. They were in this together.

Crystal's head snapped up from her chest. She had a brief moment of lucidity as she smiled in Gina's direction, then her eyes rolled up into her head. She was about to let go. Gina knew it. 'I'm going to win this thing. The game is over. She's on her way out,' Gina thought, her own smile flashing back at Crystal.

As Crystal's grip was about to leave the ring, Gina thought of just how important the money would be to Crystal. 'Who needs it more?' she thought, 'me or her?'

She couldn't believe she was asking herself that question, knowing how much she wanted the cash. 'Forty hours hanging on to a metal ring, The prize should be mine. Or should it?'

Crystal's head flopped backward as if being struck by a two by four. The pads of just three fingers maintaining contact with the ring. One more second and it would be all over.

Gina closed and opened her eyes, then without warning to the judges, she let go of the ring and bent down, grasping Crystal by the waist, holding her up. This startled Crystal into wakefulness and she grabbed the ring tightly.

"What the hell are you doing, Gina?" A bewildered Crystal asked.

"What's it look like?' Gina said, as the two judges looked on, somewhat bewildered themselves.

Rick Scott, Sue and the station owner jumped to their feet and raced to the rings. The judge with the whistle, blew it loudly and pointed to Crystal. "We have a winner," he said, after letting the whistle slip from his lips.

Crystal refused to let go of the ring. She clung to it as if the contest was still undecided. "I can't believe you did that, Gina. Thank you,"

Gina smiled and wiped a single tear from her cheek. "You're welcome, Crystal," she said and headed to her car, smiling all the way.

View or add comments on this story

Back to top
Back to list of stories

Web www.fictionontheweb.co.uk


Home Stories Poems Site Reviews Writing Tips Charlie Fish