The guy to Tonya’s right had elephant ears and the woman to her left a beak of a nose. Her own hands appeared swollen and clumsy yet they retained their dexterity. She held her eyes closed as the room rocked and the surrounding crowd rivaled a mosh pit. The music echoed in her head with nearby voices mixing in a cacophonous orgy.
A metal bell signaled the beginning. The announcer called the crowd to order. “Are you ready to see the Feast?” The gleeful sound of the people made Tonya’s stomach lurch. “Ladies, bring out the first course!”
Two women dressed in black leather barely covering their monetized assets each carried a black five gallon bucket with the Arena Games logo on it. They came and stood back-to-back in the middle of Tonya’s circle, then held up their buckets for the crowd while concealing the contents.
The man onstage said, “Okay, people. Here is how it works. This is where we test the contestants for will power and nerves of steel. If they refuse to eat, they’re out. If they lose it in a can, they’re out. Once we get twenty-five pansies out of the way, we can end this madness. Let’s eat!”
The two women offered each contestant their share of the bucket’s contents. Tonya knew it was coming as the woman beside her said, “Ohhh…that’s disgusting.” Tonya cracked her eyes when the woman touched her knee to see the bucket in front of her. Her breath stuck in her throat. The woman tilted it enough that Tonya couldn’t see inside, but scratching sounds from something crawling could be heard.
Tonya reached into the bucket and her finger brushed against something damp. Her hesitation brought heckling from the crowd. She pushed her hand towards the bottom until something sticky touched her palm. Her fingers squeezed too hard and the thing screeched. Tonya brought her hand out, but didn’t know what she looked at.
It resembled a grub with the thickness of a young cucumber and around eight inches in length. The head bobbed sporadically as the six legs hooked through the air. Its body was covered in a sticky slime, reflecting the lights as it twisted in her hand. The legs seemed to grow longer the more Tonya looked at it. The large claw-like mandibles opened as the white grub focused its attention on her.
Once everyone held a grub, an official came into the middle of the circle while the two women left. He gave everyone a thumbs up then blew a whistle. The guy beside Tonya shoved his in head first and she heard the squelching of it between his teeth. She didn’t waste a moment to follow.
The inner fluids that burst from the grub were warm and thick. Tonya’s teeth processed the first half and she chased it down with the rear. A gritty film coated her teeth and tongue. One could mix chalk and mud and get a similar taste. Her mouth was dry and she wanted water, but none could be seen. A woman sitting opposite Tonya threw her grub in the trashcan and walked away. The official pulled a radio from his belt and spoke into it.
Tonya couldn’t see the other two groups from where she sat, but knew they were experiencing the same. On the giant screen in full view of everyone were the numbers 72/50, the standings for the event. Three already dropped out.
Again the women came and distributed the contents of the buckets, lifting a lid to allow the contestant to reach inside. This time, Tonya gripped a giant beetle the size of her palm. The large mandibles were open in defense and the wings buzzed. The official blew his whistle and the screams ensued. Several people pried their beetle off their lips or tongue, leaving behind cuts and scratches.
Tonya removed the head with a loud pop and placed it in her mouth. The exoskeleton cracked and splintered, cutting her gums. The hardness of the shell surprised her as she forced her teeth to reduce the head to mush. She removed all the legs and ate them like uncooked spaghetti. The green fluid coming from the leg holes of the beetle was bitter. The guy beside her tore the wings off his with Tonya doing the same a split-second later. The wings sounded like tissue paper used to wrap gifts, except this wasn’t a gift well received. With only the main body remaining, the two bite theirs in half. It was like she put a handful of tarnished pennies in her mouth. He finished before her and put the last bite in his mouth. Once he finished, he took deep breaths and rubbed his stomach. Tonya finished hers as well, ignoring the metallic aftertaste.
The women returned with their buckets heavily perfumed of salt and supported by a wheeled cart. The first guy pulled out a rippled tube that was stark white, three inches broad and twelve inches in length. A woman and another guy saw it and put their hands up. The official escorted them out of the circle. Everyone held their tube between a few fingers. It was cold even though a pulse thumped between her fingertips. It reminded Tonya of an intestine with a pale blue vein running the full length. The whistle blew and Tonya bit off a meaty mouthful and it writhed in her hands, coming back to life. Her mind raced as she focused for control and reminded herself that she was still hallucinating.
A woman across the circle covered her mouth and held the limp tube out from her. Someone a few seats to her right rushed forward and wretched in a trash can. He wiped his mouth and walked away. The crowd chortled like a pack of hyenas at the defeated man.
Tonya changed tactics. She took a bite and forced herself to swallow the salty mass without chewing. This strategy brought her second place in her circle. She pressed on her stomach and released a slow breath. Tonya swallowed trying to soften the salty aftertaste and burn in her throat.
A buzzer sounded as the lights all switched to red. Someone onstage dressed in baggy clothing spoke, “You know what that means? It is now time for the options to come into play. Will the contestants continue eating, or will they push their luck with the options? Let’s find out!” Two scantly dressed blonde women came and stood on either side of him holding large signs with the numbers one and two on them. “Contestants, you will tell your official if you would like to take an option. Otherwise, more food is coming your way.”
The guy with the elephant ears next to Tonya stood, “I’ll take one!”
The official acknowledged him and pointed to a tall, dark-haired woman on the floor holding a matching number one sign. They guy ran down and stood in front of her. Asking each contestant in turn, a few more chose to take an option. When he pointed at Tonya, she shook her head.
After everyone had made their choice, the two women led the groups up to the stage, joining with the other groups. Eight people stood on the first option side and three on the second. “Wow! I’ve never seen this many people scared of a little food.” He laughed as the crowd joined in. He turned to the first group. “You chose option one. You will have two minutes to escape the room behind you. If you don’t, you are eliminated.” A spotlight lit the doorway behind them. “Take them in, boys.” A group of staff members filed on either side of the line as they went through the doorway. “Once they are set, we will start the clock. Now, on the other hand, the other group chose option two. One of you is guaranteed a place in the top fifty. But, you will have to earn it. Last one standing, wins. It’s that simple. Head on in.” Officials escorted the three contestants in a room behind them as well.
A large timer over the first room started its two minute countdown. “Here we go, people. Let’s watch and see if anyone makes it out of the room.” The music beat out a heavy rhythm as women danced onstage keeping all eyes attentive.
One minute passed with no one coming out.
Thirty seconds left…the spotlight on the doorway still vacant.
A red mass flew through the doorway as the buzzer sounded.
“I don’t believe it! He made it out! Make some noise!” He walked over and helped the person stand. It was a blonde male wearing a red jersey with a large number four on it. “Make some noise for my man!” The crowd roared at a deafening rate.
“Damn.” Tonya said through clenched teeth.
A few minutes later, a female contestant emerged into the spotlight from the second door. She was holding her shoulder as she walked. “We got our second winner, people. Let me hear you!” Tonya held her ears from the noise. The man held his loose jeans and raised one hand overhead, calming the crowd. “Since these two are guaranteed to the next event, let’s adjust those numbers up there.” The numbers on the big screen changed to 55/48. “The next seven will determine our top fifty people. Let’s do this!”
All attention was on the three circles of contestants. The warped and grotesque features of everyone no longer affected Tonya as the two women brought out the black buckets of fate.
When the bucket came to Tonya, she reached in and felt a round object warm to the touch and wet. As her hand cleared the rim, a baseball size eye stared unblinking from her palm. She didn’t know if what she saw was real. Turning it over, blood dripped from the piece of optic nerve and ran down her arm. The crowd voiced Tonya’s disgust as she looked away.
Whistles sounded from the other two circles. People were dropping out.
The woman beside her said, “I don’t think I do this.”
Closing her eyes, Tonya spirited her mind away and allowed her body to take control. She didn’t taste the eye, nor feel the wetness trail down her neck. She was a thousand miles away when she swallowed the last bite and the metal bell rang, signaling the end of the Feast.
TO BE CONTINUED…