04 | The Nitty Gritty

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I glanced at the grinning man below before looking at the faces of the other prisoners. Expressions varied from outright disbelief to complete blankness to scorching rage.

If this was a joke, none of us were in on it.

Filtering through the last moments of my life, things started to become clear. The memory loss. The bolted windows. The ankle monitor. The cages. The televisions and cameras. Who would invest all this money into a practical joke?

No one.

No one that was sane anyway.

Slick beads of sweat formed on my hairline, sliding down my filthy face until they dripped onto the steel floor of the cage. This was real. All of it.

My face must have reflected my realization because the flamboyant man below smiled at me, spreading his cheeks so wide that I swore they would pop off at any second.

"I'm Jookie!" the man said, spreading out his arms. He wore a peacock colored jacket with tight skinny jeans and blue diamond cowboy boots. "And I'll be your host." With hair the color of fresh ash, he slicked it up into a high pony-tail as he paraded around below.

"Welcome — " Jookie started.

"What the fuck is this?" a masculine voice barked from one of the cages. "Are you fucking with me?"

Jookie cleared his throat, raw irritation coloring his purple eyes. "Silence, contestant. Questions will be — "

"Fuck you, dude! Do you know who I am?" the guy said from the cage, the bass in his voice harsh.

Jookie didn't even seem fazed by the outburst. Instead, he let out a high-pitched chuckle.

This angered the guy even more. "Listen, you ugly freak — " A low-pitched yell released from his throat, cutting off the rest of his words.

Jookie pulled a black phone from his jacket pocket, tapping on the glass screen several times. Each tap brought upon another yell from the rude guy.

"Threats and insults will not be tolerated," Jookie said, losing his creepy-happy demeanor. "If you disobey, you will be punished." This time he held his finger against the phone.

The rude guy screamed this time, long and high until Jookie released his finger.

"The anklet attached to you is pierced into your skin — a direct connection to your nerves," Jookie said. "If you get out of line, I will send bolts of electricity through your ass. Got that, dude?"

The rude guy yelled again, breathy and low this time.

Jookie's creepy smile returned. "Your punishment might not always be electricity. Death is an option as well." His eyes danced under the fluorescent lights. "With just a simple tap, that anklet can inject a lethal dose of poison into your system, which can kill you within seconds."

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