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Gemma Campanini

The objective of the gameshow was simple. The guy who could get slapped in the face the most times in two and a half minutes got to take home thirty thousand dollars.

            I had been dreaming of being a contestant since I was seventeen, the first time I really got slapped, and realized it wasn’t half bad. Happened twice in January of that year alone. First by a girlfriend at the time, and then by a random guy at ALDI whose toes I accidentally ran over with my shopping cart.

            Getting slapped was super easy, and if it could make me money then I was all about it. From that moment on I knew I would do whatever it takes to be on Ready to Get Slapped.

            And when I finally stood on that stage… the camera men dressed in black circling us with their equipment on wheels… the aggressive music blaring through the speakers and rattling my ribcage... I was absolutely ecstatic. It was a dream come true.

            The famous show host, Gory Williams, held the microphone, shouting, “ARE you READY… to get SLAPPED?!”

            Inside my fists, I dug my nails into my palms, my whole body swaying with reckless enthusiasm.

I could feel the crush of flesh against my face preventively. The sting of small finger bones slapping me repeatedly. The throb in my cheek. But it hadn’t even happened yet.

            “And for thirty grand… let’s see which man can get slapped… THE MOST!”

            Gory Williams was a dainty, toothpick of a man. A human teacup. The show host seemed like the opposite of a man who would have garnered the nickname “Gory.” As someone who’d been watching the show for years, including some backstage commentary, I knew his real name was Robert or something, and Gory was just a nickname. Pretty badass nickname though, honestly.

The line of men on stage was long, somewhat. Twelve of us. Twelve bastards ready to be destroyed for the thirty grand.

            What a prize, and what a price. Who, after all, wants to be slapped for two and a half minutes straight?

            I do. Give me my fucking money.

            I was the best man to be slapped in the entire city. I really was! I was more qualified to win the contest than any of those other eleven guys. I was goodat being slapped. I had been slapped by every single girlfriend I’d ever had, including one fiancé, who is now an ex because the first time she slapped me, I just said, “Do it again, bitch!” and she moved out the next morning.

            I felt a rush of adrenaline as the powerful gong sounded, and out came our Professional Slapper, ready to slap each of us twelve men for two and a half minutes each.

            The Professional Slapper was known as Fast Nancy: a frail woman in her lower eighties with a cloud-like puff of gray hair and translucent skin riddled with bluish spider veins, skin tags, and a few dark blue tattoos… though her skin was too wrinkled for me to ever make out the actual images and shapes.

            Tough as nails, Fast Nancy was. She even wore diamond grills on her dentures.

            After Fast Nancy’s arrival, out came the Professional Slap Counter. This Professional Slap Counter was a slender, sultry woman in her late thirties with black hair in a bun, and I did not know her name. Unlike Fast Nancy, who had been there since the very first year the show aired, they had to get a new Counter every single year, probably due to the trauma that the job always gave them. After the competition, the Counter always had a cloudy, dissociated look… like she was never quite the same after that experience. I hope this one stayed on the show, though. I’d let her slap me, on or off set, as much as she wanted.

            “Gentlemen, prepare your faces!” Gory Williams boomed. “Fast Nancy, prepare your hand!”

            Fast Nancy let out a mischievous giggle, cracking her bony knuckles.

            Another loud gong, and the crowd totally lost their shit. The song “Smack My Bitch Up” by The Prodigy blared through the enormous stadium. My entire body was shaking. My chest was heaving.

That year, I was the first man in line to get slapped. Nancy turned her stare onto me, her wilted eyelids hanging over her grayish eyes, turning them to aggressive slits.

            I ripped off my shirt and smashed a fist into my chest. “Come and get it, Fast Nancy!” I screamed, throwing my shirt into the front row of the crowd.

            Fast Nancy slapped me, hard. Then again. Repeatedly. Over and over. God damn. Her hand just looked like a blur on the enormous monitors that were casting the moment across the gigantic auditorium for the thousands of cheering fans. The two-and-a-half-minute timer was going off on a screen in the back of the stage, with red numbers that stretched far taller than me. (Even though I am pretty tall!)

            Two minutes twenty-seconds… two minutes three seconds… one minute, thirty-nine seconds…

            And a sort of dense fog came over me. I couldn’t even see or hear for at least a minute. It was like the stage dropped out from under me and I was suspended in the air, held in place only by a net made of pure adrenaline and testosterone.

            Forty-eight seconds…

            Fast Nancy’s battle yell as she slapped me reverberated through the stadium as she screamed into her tiny headset microphone. The crowd roared with enthused passion. The music felt like it was splitting my eardrums down the middle as Fast Nancy leaned forward, one hand firmly clutching her walker, the other making an absolute mockery of my face.

            Thirteen seconds…

            I couldn’t feel anything at that point. My face, and the rest of my upper body, had gone completely numb. Fuck yeah.

            Five… four… three… two…

            But I didn’t win.

            James Bluehead. That was his name. The bastard received one hundred and thirty-two slaps, only three more than me.

            He took home the thirty grand. I will never forgive that son of a bitch.

            It was all I wanted… to win that contest. I’d been dreaming of it for years. And I could have won,     I should have. I had been slapped by every single girlfriend I’d ever had. And I had been slapped by the guy in ALDI. That was my thirty thousand dollars, but that stupid son of a bitch took home my prize money.

            “You fucking pussy,” I yelled at James as the show staff escorted the competitors out of the stadium. “You were the last in line, and I was first! Her hand must have been tired by the time she got to you… so you knowI got slapped way harder than you… pussy!”

            “Fuck you!” James called back, fanning himself mockingly with the thirty-thousand-dollar check. He ran his other hand through his girly, shoulder-length curls. “You’re just mad because, it must have hurt real bad when you got slapped, huh? Need your boo-boo kissed by Mommy? Do you need a tampon?”

            That bastard. One hundred and thirty-two slaps... three more than me. Well how about one hundred and thirty-three, James? I lunged at him, swinging one final, horrendous slap across his stupid pussy face.

            James held his face, wilting forward dramatically.

            In only mere seconds, security guards were rushing toward me, seizing me by the shoulders and pinning my arms back. They were immediately reporting into walkie-talkies what I had just done to James with calm, professional urgency.

            The fans nearby gawked and whispered, some of them pointing.

            Not long after, Gory Williams himself appeared in front of me, and the security men continued to hold me still a few feet away from him.

            It was so cool to see him so close to me again in person. I felt another rush of excitement.

            “Ladies and Gentlemen—keep on moving, nothing to see here,” he said pragmatically, and the curious crowd continued to shuffle obediently toward the exit.

            I fought against the grasp of the guards for a few moments, but soon I determined that there was no use. These were some big guys, pretty strong. One of the guards even had a neck tattoo. I think it was a Chinese dragon. Pretty cool tattoo.

            Gory Williams crossed his tiny arms, staring me down. “Sir, you are hereby disqualified from competing on Ready to Get Slapped again. If there is one thing we will not tolerate on this show, it is violence against fellow competitors.”

            My eyes started watering. There was some kind of annoying draft in there, with like, chemicals in the air that were burning my eyes and making them water.

            And in the distance, I heard Fast Nancy’s gravelly voice drawing nearer. I turned to see her: one hand pushing her walker, the other lifted to her lips as she took a drag from a cigarette. “Good show, Johnny!” she said, coughing a little and puffing out a dramatic cloud of smoke.

            One of the men who had competed with me, presumably Johnny, had a hand placed on her upper back, guiding her through the hallway.

            “Good show, indeed. You free tonight, Fast Nancy?” He asked her in response, eyeing her shyly.

            Fast Nancy laughed at that, her lips twisting at the edges. “Get in line, pal!”

            And that was the first, and last, time I competed on the annual Ready to Get Slapped show. James Bluehead—that pussy. Only three more slaps than me. Fuck off, James Bluehead. That was my check. Totally unfair. But it was really a dumb show, anyway, so it doesn’t matter that I didn’t win.

The guards let go of me after that, throwing me forward slightly, in the direction of the exit.

I thought about turning around to savor that moment in the legendary stadium one last time. But I didn’t. I just puffed out my chest and walked out the exit and into the pinching December air, never looking back.

            I smiled, the vague sting of Fast Nancy’s fingers still lingering on my face.

Gemma Campanini is a graduate student and teaching assistant pursuing a Master of Arts in Communication at Missouri State University. She aspires to become a professor of Communication. Gemma’s work has appeared in Waxing and Waning: A Literary Journal.

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