It is 1992, and in a Bosnian town a small family cowers in their basement. The Serbian militia is coming – an assorted rabble of malcontents given authority by a uniform and inflamed by the idea that they’re owed something, big-time, and the Bosnians are going to pay. When they get to the town they will ransack the houses, round up the men and rape the women. Who’s to stop them? Who’s to accuse them? Who will be left, to tell the tale?
Meanwhile, in a nondescript northern UK town a group of contestants make their way to the TV studios to take part in a radical new Game Show. There’s money to be won, and fun to be had. They’ll be able to throw off their inhibitions and do what they want because they’ll all be in disguise and no-one will ever know.
In a disturbing denouement, war and game meld into each other as action and consequence are divided, the words ‘blame’ and ‘fault’ have no meaning and impunity reigns .
Game Show asks whether the situation which fostered the Bosnian war, the genocide in Rwanda, the rise of so-called Islamic State in Syria and the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar could ever happen in the West. The answer will shock you.
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Game Show represents escape and freedom for the participants, a chance to throw off inhibitions and leave all their insecurities and hang-ups at the door. They all make special preparations for the show.
In this extract, Barry, an ordinary man with a humdrum job and a failed relationship behind him, gets ready to face the wild and taxing challenges of Game Show.
He had planned his Game Show preparations through weeks of lonely eventless evenings. He had sensed, somehow, even then, it was important to set the scene, to manufacture a reality into which he could enter and conquer. All inhibitions, all restrictions could be left behind. He would be a new person, a character created and groomed for this night. His whole self would emerge like a butterfly from a chrysalis; he would flutter towards the sun leaving the outer shell shrivelled and useless – he would not have need of it again. The whole thing had taken on, in Barry’s mind, a flavour of ritual. It was to be a ceremony, quite formal, with quasi-religious symbolism on an epic scale, of decay and regeneration, death and rebirth.
First, as the opening stage in his ceremonial purification, he ran a bath, stopping en route to insert a CD into the machine. This choral accompaniment to his rite was to be a medley of the New Romantics of the Eighties; the nearest Barry could come to the swashbuckling days of chivalry when men were men, with courage and style. He turned the volume up just a little louder than he would normally allow himself, so he could hear it in the bathroom; this was his rebellion; an act of repentance from the old ways of cringing consideration. He made the bath much deeper than he would normally have done, with a good squirt of ‘Vlad’, the masculine bubble bath Auntie Evie had sent him at Christmas; a foretaste of extravagance and dissipation, but, curiously, a sense, too, of cleansing and anointing the flesh. He soaped himself liberally under his arms and around his genitals, and decided to risk shampooing his hair, intoning the solemn incantations of Duran Duran; ‘The wild boys are calling on their way back from the fire…’ quite without regard for the lady upstairs who would be watching Neighbours. Later, enrobed in his towel, his skin steaming and glowing, he prepared a light microwave meal to fortify him for the night ahead, checking the ingredients on the pack, (it wouldn’t do to contaminate the sacrificial body at this stage). He set the table carefully, cutlery and cruet on a white cloth; the utensils of the sacraments on an altar. Then he opened another beer. This time he deliberately turned his back on the tumbler perched on the draining board, and drank from the neck of the bottle, putting to the back of his mind how unhygienic this was with an irresponsible determination quite alien to him. He consumed the burnt offering with a gravity suitable to the occasion; it didn’t take long, the portion was minuscule. Finally, having washed and dried the crockery, the warm food and the beer making a comfortable glow in the pit of his stomach, Barry went through to the bedroom to assume his disguise.
The tailor had done his work well. The trousers fell in a flattering line to his heel, the fine threads of silver glinting bewitchingly in the electric light. They were comfortable around the waist and roomy around the seat, perfect for the physical demands of Game Show. Barry experimented with a few dance steps across the bedroom floor, conservative at first and then with increased vigour and exaggerated pelvic gyrations. With more daring, he fell to his knees once or twice, lunged and grappled the end of the duvet, rugby tackled the legs of the bedroom chair and finally did a commando-roll out of the bedroom and into the hall, knocking over the wrought-iron jardinière with the dead spider plant whose crisp leaves disintegrated into ash on the carpet. The trousers survived this punishment with equanimity. Barry buttoned up the white sheeny shirt he had bought at, for him, unusually large expense, and shrugged on the jacket.
He scrutinised himself carefully in the mirror. Something was wrong. His hair had dried back into the attractive new style, he had shaved without cutting himself, his shoes were clean. He undid two or three of the shirt buttons and tried a nonchalant slouch with one hand in his pocket. Yes, better, but still something… Something to do with his face. He peered intently at his image. He just looked too worried. With a massive effort he relaxed his face muscles and tried for an expression of strength and confidence. He was nearly there. Then, with a flash of inspiration, he removed his glasses. Yes. There. He sighed with a mixture of heavy satisfaction and released tension. The ceremony was concluded, the transformation complete. Gone was the redundant delivery driver; the inadequate lover had fled. The grey and insubstantial figure that had lived in Barry’s shoes and occupied this flat and gone through the motions of his life was transfigured and there was no limit, in Barry’s perception of the significance of this change, to what could now be achieved.
For the person in the mirror was not Barry. Barry had been reduced to a shadow, shrinking and insubstantial and the man in the mirror took no notice of him. This was a new creation. Tall, imposing, confident. The figure stood motionless and stared with composed detachment out at the Laura Ashley bedroom. The frilled duvet, the sticky trousers in the corner were nothing to him. They were foreign to his existence. He didn’t belong there. What had he to do with microwave shepherd’s pies or jars of pickled gherkins or delivery driving or any of the futile, mundane ingredients that made up Barry’s life? They were alien and irrelevant to this man, who lived on a higher plane, in a different dimension. This man had potential; this man had a destiny.
Slowly, deliberately, the man beyond the mirror collected his wallet and keys from their reflection on the other side of the dressing table, slipping them into his inner jacket pockets. Then, without a backward glance, he strode from the room, switching off the light as he went. As the door of the flat closed behind him, the wisp of shadow, all that remained of its previous occupant, dispersed and was gone.
About Allie Cresswell
I have been writing stories since I could hold a pencil and by the time I was in Junior School I was writing copiously and sometimes almost legibly.
I did, however, manage a BA in English and Drama from Birmingham University and an MA in English from Queen Mary College, London. Marriage and motherhood put my writing career on hold for some years until 1992 when I began work on Game Show.
In the meantime I worked as a production manager for an educational publishing company, an educational resources copywriter, a bookkeeper for a small printing firm, and was the landlady of a country pub in Yorkshire, a small guest house in Cheshire and the proprietor of a group of boutique holiday cottages in Cumbria. Most recently I taught English Literature to Lifelong learners.
Nowadays I write as full time as three grandchildren, a husband, two Cockapoos and a large garden will permit.
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Website – www.allie-cresswell.com
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