“Giiiiiiiiive it up for our five contestants!”
The Crowd complied.
“Contestant number one is Bull!” The Commentator’s voice was smooth like butter.
Cheers and hoots from The Crowd.
“Contestant number two is Oceanic Whitetip!” The excitement in The Commentator’s voice was palpable.
The Crowd’s volume increased.
“Contestant number three is Shortfin Mako!”
Several screams and whistles.
“Contestant number four is Tiger!”
Thunderous applause, hands clapped against hands.
“Contestant number five is—” the commentator chuckled “—well, you know who contestant number five is, don’t you, folks?”
The enormous response told that they did, indeed, know who contestant number five was.
The Commentator allowed The Crowd to have their 30 seconds or so of riotous noise he resumed control. “All right, folks, simmer down! Simmer down! Now, I’m sure you all know the rules, but I’m gonna repeat them here for those of you who are joining us for the first time. If you are here for the first time, welcome, my friends… to The Tank!”
Foghorns blasted through the speakers. Celebratory music boomed across the stadium. Confetti shot out of cannons.
The Commentator wasted no time. “Five tanks, each an identical size, 50 metres long, 25 metres wide. 2,500 litres of water in each! Separated from each other by a chain-link fence. But that’s the boring part — onto the exciting stuff!” The Crowd begged for the exciting stuff, and The Commentator was happy to deliver. “Our five contestants must swim from one end to the other. That’s all they gotta do! If they manage it, we’ll make ‘em millionaires!”
The Crowd all but erupted. They knew what was to come, and The Commentator knew that they knew what was to come. It was a game — a tease. Foreplay, if you will.
“Ah, but you know it’s not that easy, don’t you folks?” The Commentator laughed. “No, no sir! For our contestants — ha! — well, they won’t be swimming alone, now, will they?”
The Crowd indicated that they knew the contestants would not be alone in the water. Why else would they be here?
The Commentator surged on. “That’s right, folks! Our contestants will be sharing their respective pools with a different species of predatory fish.” He let The Crowd build up to a frenzy before he dropped the bomb: “Otherwise known.” He punctuated his words. “As.” Each syllable a bullet to their hearts. “SHAAAAARKS!”
The Crowd went nuts. People jumped. Feet stamped. Foam hands waved. Streamers soared across the throng. An inflatable ball — nobody knew from whence it came — bounced over their heads. Those lucky enough to reach it punched it into the air.
“But of course, we’ve gotta make it even spicier than that, don’t we folks? Haha, yes sir!”
The Crowd begged for the spice. They wanted it, needed it, would die without it.
“Which is why each contestant has their palms cut!”
The Crowd swallowed the spice whole, hungry and starved. It burned their mouths, chapped their throats, and they couldn’t get enough of it.
“Did you know that sharks can smell a single drop of blood from over a mile away?” The Commentator baited them. “And — heh — there’s gonna be a lot more than a single drop, and it’s gonna be a lot closer than a mile!”
The five contestants shifted on their pedestals, faces drained of colour. Some wore lycra bodysuits, some wore ordinary swimming clothes. Bull’s full-body suit was black, whereas Tiger’s was bright neon, with many reflective stickers. Oceanic Whitetip even had chainmail on. A few had swim caps on, others didn’t. Shortfin Mako had brought a motorcycle helmet with them but discarded it at the last minute. All but contestant number one had a pair of goggles. The plastic domes stuck to their foreheads like demon horns, ready to pull down. They all had chainsaw resistant gloves on.
So many different theories about the best method, technique, and equipment. Every week there was a new expert on for the after analysis. They always touted something contradictory, or something expensive.
“Well, without any further ado, let’s—”
The Crowd joined in with The Commentator, they all knew the catchphrase.
“SEE. HOW. FAST. YOU. CAN. SWIIIIIIIIM!”
Lights flashed on and off, foghorns blasted, more confetti. The Crowd was on its feet. It undulated like one giant organism, a hive mind. The thunder vibrated the floor underneath. The smell of sweat and chlorine tinged the air, stung the nostrils, burned the backs of throats.
Music came through the speakers, muffled and tinny. It was upbeat. It was joyful. It was triumphant. Bass thumped too loud, felt in bellies and bowels. The cacophony drowned out the trebles and mids, but nobody cared. The Crowd felt the tribalistic rhythms nonetheless.
“And here come our referees now — all contestants get cut at the same time, so loss of blood is equal amongst them. Each referee uses the same hunting knife, a Leatherman OHT Multi-Tool. Available for purchase now. Get 15 per cent off with your Tank ticket! While stocks last, terms and conditions apply, knife may not protect you from actual shark attack.” The Commentator said the last lines without pause for breath, with machine-gun rapidity. He cleared his throat.
The Crowd and The Commentator hushed, the music died down. “Quiet, please,” said The Commentator. He needn’t have, as the explosions of sound had fallen off the cliff into oblivion. The silence deafened, juxtaposed with the bear’s growls moments prior. Reverence. “The referees will now slice the palms open—” awe hushed his voice “—diagonally, upwards, left to right.”
The Commentator took in some air. “Lay-deeeeeees and gentlemeeeeeen! The. Blood. Has. Been. SPIIIIIILLED!”
The Crowd was euphoric, they could not contain their energy. It bubbled up and out of them like shaken champagne. The cork burst from the neck of the bottle, rocketed away, ricocheted off the walls.
“ON YOUR MARKS.” The Commentator wasted no time, he pushed on. He would not allow the excitement to wane, would keep the beast riled.
The pressure rose. The energy built up.
Microseconds tick-tick-ticked by. The Commentator sucked in a breath, the grin on his face audible in that whoop.
The Crowd roared — an uncaged lion. The volume increase was exponential — the boom of an atomic bomb. Blast. Shockwave. The mushroom cloud rose over the stadium.
The five contestants dived into the water.
1st November 2020
Written for Reedsy’s Weekly Writing Contest