by Angela Teagardner
The entire audience responded, eagerly taking up the command until the one-word chant reverberated like a migraine in Jim’s ears. He stood halfway up a huge vinyl tree, a sodden rope in his hands. The chasm before him was filled with unnaturally blue water, and the platform on the far side – same vinyl-coated foam, this time shaped into a rocky outcropping – was even higher than where he stood. There was no way to swing, Tarzan-style, that high. Instead, there was a metal bar bolted to the cliff’s face. All he had to do was swing over, grab it, and haul himself up, chin-up style. Easy peasy. Then he’d win a spot in round two.
Round two. Jim couldn’t fathom doing any of this again. His whole body demanded to lie down, right where he stood.
“You got this, Jim!” He recognized Brianna’s voice over the crowd. Brianna, the goddess who’d lured him there.
She drank appletinis with friends, her long legs clad in nothing but glorious skin. Face First was on the television over the bar, and she laughed as a middle-aged teacher launched herself off a giant pickle into a vat of red gelatin.
“I’m going on that show.” The words were out before his brain could consider the ramifications.
She looked him over, appraising. He wasn’t a gym-nut or anything, but he thought he was fit enough to survive the hokey obstacle course. Maybe enough to win. “Yeah?” She sipped her drink, smiling. “Soon?”
“Filming tomorrow.” Again, without the input of his actual brain.
“I’d like to see that.” She nodded for him to sit. “I’m Brianna.”
Jim’s cousin Chuck was married to the daughter of Dick Diamond, the semi-celebrity host of Face First. It had taken flat-out begging, but Chuck got Jim into the line-up. In the audience, Brianna cheered him on, “All or Nothing!” scrawled, lipstick-red, across a cardboard sign.
Jim scaled a replica Empire State Building, toy airplanes pelting him with raisins. He ziplined into a Mayan ruin and ran across a flimsy rope bridge while a boulder pursued him, Indiana Jones style. That led to a lake where a rowboat shuttled back and forth, the huge maw of a shark following close behind. Jim dove away from the boulder, realizing almost too late that he would fall short.
“He missed the boat!” Dick Diamond crowed, but Jim, perched precariously on the shark’s head, sprang onto the far shore, avoiding the disqualifying water. By then, breathing was painful. Muscles burned. But there was that tree to climb, and he didn’t dare hesitate.
Jim had a new understanding of pain. He was too exhausted to slam face-first, too worn down to climb. He wasn’t sure he could even swing over, let alone yell like Tarzan.
“Do it!” Brianna’s voice promised what a night of dancing had only teased. From the corner of his eye, he saw the red of her sign.
All or Nothing.
Numb hands gripped the rope. Jim closed his eyes. He jumped.