Me and Crater Face are the final two on Suicide Island. I’ve done my best to forget her name. She isn’t a person. Only an obstacle. I’m not old by the standards of the time I was born into, but who knows how to calibrate such things by today’s statistics, today’s ever-shifting norms. I was a child when reality TV began in earnest, with real people competing under contrived circumstances, forming alliances and grudges and telling all in cut-away interviews. I couldn’t imagine a show like Suicide Island then. We were rounded up. Twenty people on suicide watch, bound together on an island—not a tropical one, just an island—for a television audience to see us go, one by one. The winner is the last remaining survivor, but the rule is we’re not allowed to kill each other—homicide is grounds for disqualification. The prize? None of us know what it is, but we’ve been assured it’s worth not dying for. Early on, the producers asked me if I thought being a woman would make it harder to survive. They asked Crater Face the same. The producers don’t like me very much now. I’ve heard them say it. They don’t like that I’ve found the blind spots where there aren’t any cameras and they can’t watch me sleep or cry or cut my legs (old habits die hard). It took them weeks to find my key hideaway, enmeshed in the curtains on the makeshift studio where they do most of their interviews. Where I listened. Early on, Crater Face explained that, yes, she was suicidal, but she was also homicidal. The producers reminded her of the no-kill policy. She said there were always multiple means to an end. I pictured her wide-eyed and smiling with her yellow teeth, staring directly at the camera. Crater Face facilitated. She broke into Long Braid’s room and hung makeshift nooses until Long Braid used one, fashioned out of an extension cord. Crater Face pulled the blades from her shaving razor and left them beside my pillow while I was sleeping. She went on a smashing spree around Gimpy Leg’s room and tore up all of the family photographs he’d brought with him. She managed to seduce Big Beard and then she broke his heart. It shored up her spot as the villain of the show and gave the producers some blurry sex footage to tantalize the audience, besides prompting him to dive off a cliff. It’s just the two of us now and we have one of our contests. Like the grand prize, we never know what we’re competing for, but at least the payoff is quicker, the prize awarded immediately after victory. This time, we wait outside a metallic structure I’ve never seen before—a cube, two yards by every dimension. They call it The Room. The challenge is to see who can stay inside the longest. We flip a coin and I lose. Crater Face says I have to go first, so I step inside. It turns out to be a plain dark room. I keep waiting to feel something slimy or pointy. To hear a rattle or feel a pulse of heat. But there’s nothing. Silent blackness. I sit. It’s metal flooring, but perfectly smooth. Not exactly comfortable, but not unpleasant either. I lie down. With nothing to distract me, I fall into a deep sleep. I wake when the door opens, when a producer comes in. He calls my name and I wait for the third iteration to answer. It’s been hours, he says. Get out of here. They take me aside. I can hear Crater Face coming, but I’m still blinking away the dark, adjusting to the light. I finally get to do this? Crater Face asks. Thank you for your patience, the producer responds. The room is ready for you now. The room is ready. Maybe Crater Face doesn’t know I’ve been in there this whole time. Maybe they told her there was a technical difficulty, or maybe she thought they were only keeping her waiting to make her nervous—they do that sometimes. She goes inside. One minute passes. Two. Then the screaming and sobs and the pounding on the metal walls. When she gets out, her pimpled cheeks are streaked with tears.
A producer stands us side by side. The one who’s always picking at his teeth. Crater Face is still shaking. Teeth Picker says that, because we’re the final two, we each get a prize, but because I won, I get to pick first. The options are a bottle of Prozac and a two-hour session with a therapist. I like Prozac. My first anti-depressant and the one that still feels like home to me, the one I depended on in my old life. But I know Crater Face. I know in one of her first interviews, she told the producers that she would most miss her therapist. And I know that over the course of the show, she’s visited the studio more than anyone to talk. I make my choice. Crater Face rattles the pills in her hands. I can’t take these. They make me throw up. She offers me half the bottle for half my time with the therapist. Then the whole bottle for fifteen minutes. There are three cameramen in the room with me and the therapist, in her makeshift office, little bigger than The Room. She’s a very neat woman. Short hair and ruby-red lips. A blazer and a skirt. She asks me how I’m feeling. I lie on her couch—it’s only a little more comfortable than the metal floor in The Room. I block out her questions and get another two hours of rest. I dream of what’s to come.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York, and is currently an MFA candidate in creative writing at Oregon State University. He won the 2014 Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction from the University of New Orleans and has previously published or has work forthcoming in over thirty journals including The Normal School, Bayou Magazine, and Weave Magazine. Visit him online at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.