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Rebecca Fraser

A roar of approval rips through the studio on the other side of the wall. Inside the green room, contestants seated on hard plastic chairs absorb the noise in different ways. Some are stoical, their emotional state betrayed only by the tightening of a jaw, or a glistening forehead. Others react more viscerally, jiggling legs, a gabbled prayer, the telltale patch of darkness spreading down a razor-haired woman’s jeans-clad leg. Some make an elaborate display of getting out of their chairs, stretching calf muscles, circling arms. Limbering up. Their eyes dart from the floor to the ceiling to the walls…anywhere but to me. Because I’m next.

“Carnegie,” the skirt-suited network assistant looks up from her clipboard. “You’re up.” She pulls her lips into a perverse smile. There’s a smear of crimson lipstick on her teeth, like blood on snow.

I rise from my seat on legs that feel carved from wood. Two goons melt from the room’s shadowed corners and position themselves behind me. Just like they’d done with Wilkins, and Clements before him. As if we were going to renege or rebel…or run. As if we could.  

“Showtime,” the goon on my left says. His pincer-grip steers me toward the door. I see the short corridor that leads to the studio. Hear the audience stamping their feet in unison beneath the theatre-style rows of seats—the world’s sickest drumroll.

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