They kept the Ricardos in absolute darkness in preparation for their appearance in the arena. They had to stand there, feet conforming to the neon footprints on the ground, and wait for the wall before them to rise. The whole family had been dragged into it: Mom, Dad, the teenagers Mark and Philippe, and little Selma who was just nine. Philippe was most familiar with this place; he’d seen it before, granted it was only in videos. He was surprised they didn’t snatch up their goldfish as well and put a stupid helmet and knee pads on it.
“Aaaaare we ready folks?” a voice asked through the wall, but it wasn’t asking the Ricardos. A crowd roared its approval, clapping their hands or slapping elongated balloons together. “Who wants to seeeee… some dirty laundry hung out to dry?” They roared again. “Let’s hope there isn’t any raaaaaaiiiiiiiiin!” The noise grew so loud that the Ricardos feared it would tear the wall down on its own.
“Remember everybody,” Philippe told his family, “They’re going to laugh, but it’s only going to get worse if you show them it hurts.” He turned to his parents. They nodded. His dad didn’t have much of an obvious personality; he boiled down mostly to a mustache and an extensive knowledge of wine and coastal food. His mom liked books from around the year 2000, when all this internet stuff really started getting out of control, but before it had elected its first buffoon president. Nothing objectionable there. The worst they would have to face would be unflattering photos they were tagged in from their friends’ social media.
He worried about his little sister, but she was tough. She was born in a year when the internet really raged and frothed. She had multiple media pages in her name, made by various entities, many entirely digital, before she was a year old. Shell companies, viral things existing in name and code only, only for ten minutes at a time, had made pages in her name and somehow found pictures of her to plaster all over them. When she was old enough she could adopt them as her own… for a small fee. Or they could shut down and stop spreading false information about her… for a small fee.
The wall opened. Light of all colors poured in. The crowd could see the Ricardos now, drink in their embarrassment before the show even started. The stagehands had forced them to don violet helmets, elbow pads, and knee pads. They said it was for safety, but nobody who worked for the game show was interested in safety. The gear just made for pictures that were that much more embarrassing, like adults getting ready to try out a child-sized bike.
They stepped out onto the platform. It really couldn’t be called a stage; the floor was made up of a blue stretchy material, like a trampoline that lacked thirty percent of its bounce. It was flat for the moment, but that would change as soon as the announcer said…
“Uh oh! Looks liiiiiiike rain!” Clouds instantly formed over the Ricardos. They cast no shadows though, as they were simply projected light. They were holograms, much like the ones hovering over the audience and picking random faces to magnify and cast in different colors. Those over the Ricardos were loaded with flashing images and words: information pulled directly from their phones, computers, and private digital records.
It was America’s third buffoon president who had really opened the floodgates, telling every advertiser and entrepreneur on the web that they had unlimited rights when it came to digital information. Identity theft had run wild. Every person now had a thousand versions of themselves presented there, none of them accurate. Many of those false versions had the right to make legal decisions. They had the social security number, the phone number, the passwords from all the games and mail accounts, so how could they be fake? Your signature was your signature still, no matter where it came from.
“Goooooo!” the announcer declared. Philippe took note of where the man stood, on a small column just to the left of the blue platform. He would stay there, because it was the highest place around. It would be such a tragedy if people saw less of him. Philippe thought so too. His plan would have to wait though, because the game show was now in full swing.
Virtual rain fell from the clouds. Everywhere it struck the ground deformed, courtesy of the machinery underneath. Droplets of their lives struck, sharing information with the mechanism, and building an obstacle for them to scale.
That was the central premise of the gameshow Looks Like Rain! The show’s algorithm was a bloodhound for drama and raw emotion. It targeted your greatest shames and moments of humiliation. It rained them down on you and built the land out of them. All the Ricardos wore special gloves, goofy like oversized catcher’s mitts, that could interact with the holograms. They needed to scale their shame, pluck the information out of the clouds before it could form, and hide their lives before time ran out.
If they won, collecting enough shame to fill the giant plastic Blush Bucket on the side of the stage, there was a cash prize. They didn’t want it. They hadn’t wanted to be on the show at all, but the fake versions of them online, siphoning pennies and permissions all the time, had signed them up. They were contractually obligated. The blood-sucking network could go after them, their house, their reputations even if they refused to appear.
Philippe was forced to grip the ground as it rose. It took the shape of a basketball hoop, but it was broken and crooked. He knew this one. He’d lowered his school’s hoop years ago in an effort to show off and wound up breaking it and his tailbone in the process. A friend with online glasses had recorded the whole thing. Now the audience saw it as he tried to balance on its thin pole and reach the juicy details above. He faltered and fell back down without a drop of light in his gloves.
Selma was the only one who was ready. She was already on her way to the bucket with two armfuls of private data. She dumped it in and ran back, quickly scaling a representation of a boy’s head. It blinked unnaturally as she scurried across the brow on all fours. Philippe thought he remembered Selma trying to kiss that boy back in kindergarten. Somebody must have seen it. Now everyone saw it. The boy probably saw it. Yet, his hardened little sister did not shed a tear.
Philippe didn’t care about himself. He wasn’t on a sports team and he didn’t have the best grades. He liked wandering around in the little bit of woods and cold creek left in his neighborhood. His hooting peers could have the footage. They could have the drafted love notes that were never actually sent. He ignored his own obstacles and went to help his brother Mark tackle his mountain: a mold of him vomiting into a children’s tea cup ride.
They almost had all of that data in their gloves when something horrible formed. It was so large that it squished the other obstacles off to the side. Philippe’s mouth hung open, as did Mark’s, as did Selma’s. Their data rained into their open mouths. Their parents. The floor had molded into the shape of their parents awkwardly making love against a shower wall. The real versions, as red in the face as they probably were back in that shower, clawed their way across their own buttocks to try and snag the data. A sex tape. Somehow, some way, all the dark forces of humanity had converged and forced the children to see this.
His mother was crying while she reached for her privacy. Philippe had had enough. This needed to end. There was two years’ worth of high school shame between him and the host, but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t on a sports team, but he could’ve been. He sprinted forward, using the giant mold of a cake he’d once dropped as a ramp.
The host never saw it coming. He was too busy playing to the crowd, arms wide. Philippe reached out and snatched the phone out of his back pocket. The crowd roared again; it didn’t matter who got red in the face, as long as it wasn’t them. Philippe threw the phone straight into the clouds.
The algorithms had been targeting the people, but now they had a treasure chest with no need to scan a face or eye. The clouds exploded with new red data, the host’s life turning into a downpour. His parents’ bodies sank back in and were reshaped. The whole world saw.
Philippe was not surprised at how evil he’d turned out. Only the worst would be willing to host a show like that. The crowd stopped silent. They didn’t want to see this. The host’s crimes, actual crimes, were numerous. In fact, it was a crime to simply watch what happened to the platform as the Ricardos scrambled free, threw off their safeties, and rushed out the back door.
They were going to be a family for a while, and pretend no one else existed. They would pretend that each other was all they had and there was no life to them beyond the moment, in either direction.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by dayallnash during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!