by Steve Carr
At midnight The Morten Binken Show came on.
Chester sat up in bed with two pillows supporting his back, and with his bedroom lit by the glow of the television he ate barbecue flavored potato chips and drank canned root beer through a metal straw. When Morten threw a bucket of fish on one of the contestants, Chester laughed out loud and nearly choked on a chip that got caught in his windpipe. The contestant was a petite blonde with a shy demeanor. When she burst out crying, Chester could hardly breathe from laughing so hard. The audience on the show applauded, stomped their feet, and hooted and hollered uproariously.
Standing next to the contestant, Morten kicked aside a dead catfish and put his stubby arm around her thin waist, and then stared into the camera.
‘Now look what we’ve gone and done,’ he said in a singsong tone.
He wriggled his pencil thin moustache and ran his free hand over his oil-slick hair that was parted down the middle, and said, ‘This little lady deserves a great parting gift for being such a good sport.’
She stopped crying, and with the back of her hand wiped away the snot running from her nose and the tears on her cheeks, and smiled expectantly at him, and then the camera.
He quickly pulled a water balloon from out of his suit jacket pocket and smacked her in the face with it. Part of the popped balloon stuck to her nose and forehead.
Soaked with water, she let out a cry of surprise and crumpled to her knees on the stage and hid her face with her hands.
The audience went wild.
So did Chester. He spit out chips and knocked over the can of soda, spilling it on his sheets and blankets, and nearly fell out of bed. He righted himself just in time to watch the ending of the show, which always ended the same way, with Morten turning around and lowering his pants and displaying a pair of boxing shorts covered in images of puckered red lips.
‘I’m Morten,’ he said over his shoulder in a singsong voice.
Chester brushed the chips from his bed, put the soda can on the stand next to his bed, and then shut off the television. He scooted down under the covers and gazed at the darkness beyond the window. He heard his father’s shuffling feet as he went down the hallway to the bathroom.
Sitting at the kitchen table, Chester said, ‘The Morten Binken Show is the best live television cable show produced and aired just in the tri-state area.’ He then shoved a spoonful of Lucky Charms into his mouth. He wiped off the milk that dribbled down his chin with the back of his hand.
His father opened the door to the birdcage and poured birdseed in a plastic cup attached to the bars of the cage. On a wooden perch, the parakeet squawked loudly as it turned its head from side to side, fixing its eyes on Chester’s father. The man withdrew his hand holding the box of birdseed, closed the door and walked across the kitchen to the cupboard and put the birdseed next to a box of dog biscuits.
‘The man is a buffoon and he humiliates the people on his show,’ he said.
Chester picked up the bowl and put it to his mouth, tilted it and poured the last of the milk into his mouth. He then stood up and carried the bowl to the sink and placed it on top of the stack of dishes sitting in a dishpan. ‘Contestants on the show are seen by practically everyone. They become celebrities. Being on the show can lead to bigger things.’
‘Like what?’ his father said as he went to the closet and took out a broom.
Chester picked up a dishtowel from the sink drainboard and blew his nose in it, then returned the towel to where it had been. ‘Doing commercials, being a product spokesperson, becoming a model.’
‘You, a model?’ his father said with a boisterous laugh.
Chester went to the kitchen doorway. ‘All I’m saying is that once people see you on a show like The Morten Binken Show you become instantly famous.
His father began sweeping into a small pile the birdseed that the parakeet had knocked from the cage and scattered onto the floor. ‘If they accept you to be on the show and you do it I think you’ll be sorry,’ he said.
‘There are so many people who want to get on the show I don’t think I stand a chance,’ he said.
He left the kitchen and walked through the living room, passing by Teddy who laid curled in his bed, his sides fluttering from his labored breathing.
He stood at the front window and watched the mail truck pull up in front of his house.
‘Please, God,’ he said aloud as the mailman leaned out of the truck and put mail in the mailbox.
Sitting cross legged on the floor, Chester’s father ran his hand over Teddy’s head as the dog laid its head on the man’s knee. ‘Poor old boy,’ he said.
Teddy was panting hard, his watery eyes fixed on Chester’s father’s face.
Chester sat in the barcalounger gobbling popcorn from a large plastic bowl. ‘The Morten Binken Show will be on in a few minutes,’ he said. ‘It’s almost midnight. Do you mind if I watch it in here instead of in my bedroom?’
His father didn’t answer. He held a dog bone in front of Teddy’s nose.
The dog licked the bone then turned his head away.
‘It should be a good show tonight,’ Chester said. ‘I saw a clip of it earlier and the reaction on the contestant’s face to some prank played on him is hilarious. Just imagine, so many people seeing your eyes bug out like his did. He’ll be recognized wherever he goes from now on.’
His father bent down and laid his head on Teddy’s side. ‘I guess it’s about time, huh old boy?’
Chester set the empty bowl aside and picked up the envelope on the stand next to the chair. There was a shiny bright red The Morten Binken Show logo on the front left side of the envelope. He kissed the envelope. ‘I can’t believe I was selected to be on the show,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow I have to call everyone I know and make sure they see me on the show.’
‘Are you sure you don’t want me to go in with you?’ Chester said.
Carrying Teddy in his arms, Chester’s father gave a brusque ‘no’ and then walked into the veterinarian’s examination room. The vet tech closed the door.
Chester sat in the waiting room next to a woman holding a small plastic and metal pet carrier on her lap. The kitten inside it stared at Chester through the side window of the carrier. The kitten meowed incessantly.
‘He doesn’t seem very happy,’ Chester said to the woman as he tapped on the top of the carrier.
‘She’s a very young kitten,’ the woman said. ‘She’s a little frightened.’
The woman gazed at Chester. ‘Is your pet being seen by the doctor?’
Chester stuck his finger in the carrier window and winced as the kitten clawed it. He quickly withdrew his finger. ‘I’m here with my father. His dog is being euthanized.’
‘How sad,’ the woman said.
Chester put his finger to his lips and licked the scratch. ‘I’m going to be on The Morten Binken Show tonight,’ he said.
The woman’s eyes opened wide. ‘As a contestant?’
‘Yes,’ he said, beaming. ‘I’ll be seen all over the tri-state area.’
‘I wouldn’t be caught dead on that show,’ she said. ‘What he does to people is disgraceful.’
‘He makes people famous,’ Chester said defensively.
‘Famous for being covered in cow manure or being fed live sardines,’ she said.
At that moment the examination room door opened. Chester’s father walked out accompanied by the veterinarian, a very tall man with unruly bright red hair and wearing glasses with thick lenses. The vet had his hand on Chester’s father’s shoulder.
Chester stood up. ‘Is it over?’ he said.
Visibly shaken, with tears streaming down his cheeks, his father said, ‘Yes. It happened so quickly.’
‘Where’s Teddy’s body?’ Chester said.
‘Your father has left Teddy with us to be cremated,’ the veterinarian said.
Chester grinned at the doctor and said, ‘I’m going to be on The Morten Binken Show tonight.’
The vet glared at Chester, his eyes magnified twice their size by the glasses.
Chester walked into the kitchen wearing his best gray slacks, a dark blue sports coat and a red and black striped tie. His hair was combed back and held in place with pomade.
His father was standing at the birdcage making tongue-clicking noises that were repeated back by the parakeet.
‘How do I look?’ Chester said.
His father looked him up and down. ‘Like a man about to go to his own funeral,’ he said.
Chester chuckled. ‘You’ll be singing a different tune after you watch me on the show in just a few hours.’
‘I’m not watching the show.’
His father opened the cage door and stuck his hand in. The bird climbed onto it as it turned its head from side to side as if surveying everything within sight.
‘Chester, you’ve never been a smart boy, which is okay because God made you just the way he wanted you to be, but agreeing to go on that show is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done.’
His face red with anger, Chester turned and left the kitchen. As he passed Teddy’s empty bed he kicked it and then went out the front door.
Standing in a narrow corridor outside Morten Binken’s dressing room, Chester watched through the slightly ajar door as Morten Binken sat in front of a makeup mirror and put spirit gum above his upper lip and then pressed a fake pencil thin moustache to the gum. Morten stood up and grabbed a toupee parted down the center from a wig stand and placed it on his bald head. He took the towel from around his neck and threw it on a chair, straightened his wide, bright green tie, and then pushed the door open and walked out of the room, nearly colliding with Chester who stared at him, mouth agape.
‘What are you looking at?’ Morten said derisively. ‘I saw you spying on me. You some kind of perverted peeping Tom?’
‘No. Sorry,’ Chester stammered.
‘Two minutes to show time,’ a man with headphones on yelled from the edge of the stage.
‘Don’t try to upstage me in any way,’ Morton said to Chester. ‘I’m the star of the show. People come to see me. You got that?’
Morton shoved Chester aside and rushed out onto the stage and stood there as the show’s theme song played and then the curtains opened. The applause and hollering from the audience was thunderous.
‘It’s The Morten Binken Show and I’m Morten Binken,’ Morten said as he blew kisses at the camera lenses focused on him.
‘Without further adieu, let’s bring on tonight’s contestant,’ he said, reading from the cue cards. ‘He’s a young man from right here in Dayville who’s only ambition in life is to be the before model in a weight loss commercial. Let’s bring out our hefty contestant. Come on out Chester.’
Pushed from behind, Chester stumbled onto the stage.
‘You win five hundred dollars if you get through tonight’s pranks without crying like a baby,’ Chester said. ‘Do you understand?’
Chester stared at the cameras and nodded.
‘Chester, are you a marshmallow or a man?’ Morten said.
‘A man,’ Chester said hesitatingly.
Sirens went off and Morten yelled, ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire.’
Two burly men rushed in from off stage and tackled Chester to the floor and ripped off his pants. They threw the pants to Morten, and then ran off stage.
A can of lighter fluid was dropped into Morten’s hands by a wire from above the stage. He poured the fluid on Chester’s pants, dropped them on the floor, and then lit a match and dropped it on the pants. They went up in flames.
At that moment marshmallow fluff began to pour onto Chester from a bucket above the stage.
The audience stomped their feet, clapped their hands, hooted and screamed with laughter.
Chester cleared the marshmallow from his eyes and peered into the camera and smiled.
He had never been happier.
Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 200 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. He has two collections of short stories that have been published; Sand, published by Clarendon House Publications, and Heat, published by Czykmate Productions. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Twitter @carrsteven960. His website is https//www.stevecarr960.com.