Jerry Seinfeld once performed a comedy sketch entitled “Olympics” for which he wrote a joke about “Involuntary Luge”. That joke was the inspiration for this story.
stood in line awaiting his fate. He still couldn’t believe this was really happening. The black guy in front of him, a stout 6′, 250 lbs, was doing a poor job of holding back his tears. The young white girl behind Davis wasn’t even trying, she just laid her fat face into her fat hands and wept, he could see her skin folds jiggle inside the orange lycra suit all the “contestants” were made to wear. He tried to ignore them both and remind himself that injuries were actually quite rare. He straightened up his slender (a polite word for frail), 5’9″ 140 lbs frame, brushed back his thinning orange hair, and recited the stats in his mind, only 1 out of every 200 contestants gets injured. Only 1 out of every 300 of those are fatal. 10,000 compete every day. He knew how that math worked out, but it didn’t make him feel any better to think about the solution, so he just ignored it.
All he had done was steal some milk. And some cereal. And some cookies. And some napkins. Alright there may have been some toilet paper and toothpaste and garbage bags in the mix as well. But the kids stomachs don’t wait for payday, so… But the manager pressed charges, and so here he stood with the other petty thieves, whores, and vandals. No need to waste jail space or try and fine poor people, when society could just scare the hell out of them. An effective tool, while first offenses hadn’t decreased any, recidivism rates were dramatically reduced since the introduction of “The Race”.
Guards walked the line dressed in thick, blue, winter gear. They were more focused on keeping an eye out for medical issues (fainting, heart attacks, etc) than escape attempts. After all, no matter how scared of the punishment you may be, whose going to turn a misdemeanor into a felony by running? Still, they carried stun batons and cuffs, no chances being were taken with this herd of minor league criminals.
The line moved forward 2 steps, telling Davis that the next 2 contestants had been selected. A moment later he heard the starter gun fire, followed seconds after by the roar of the crowd filling the stadium on the far side of the ridge. Every time he heard that roar, it sent his stomach sinking into his groin. The man in front of him sobbed out loud, just once.
Davis Mitchell! Track 2, Brianna Terrell!” The tiny, balding guard bellowed from atop a mound of snow between the 2 track heads. A burly guard was posted next to the front of the line, where Davis now stood after 4 excruciating hours, and a pair of tall, skinny guards bookended the track heads. He trudged through the slush to the top of track 1, nodded to the guard and looked down. Immediately, he regretted that decision.
The first length dropped precipitously about 50′ on what he was sure was at least a 65º angle, and then turned sharply off to the left and through a tunnel. He looked to his right and saw Brianna, apparently the name of the fat girl behind him in line, step up to the track. She looked down and began crying again. He didn’t blame her, he felt like crying himself.
The guards offered no sympathy. The Skinnies grabbed the Contestants by the arms, and Shorty slapped a numbered helmet on each of them. Then they were turned towards the track where a sled, which was actually a thin piece of 5′ long plastic with handles on the side and rusty blades beneath, was laying. They were directed to sit, roughly pushed onto their backs, had their hands, feet, and heads properly positioned, and then given a brief list of instructions.
“Keep your elbows in and steer by pointing your toes.”
“Resist the urge to look, feel the track with your mind.”
“Don’t lean with your body in the turns.”
“Keep your head centered over your pelvis.”
None of this or the other verbiage tossed at the terrified competitors actually sunk in. Before they could ask any questions, the guards stood and stepped back, each grabbing a lever. Davis heard Brianna shout, “No, wait!” and then the starting gun fired. The guards pulled the levers, and the 2 Luge sleds were shot, ballistically, down the tracks.
was really all Davis could see at first. Snow on the mountains above, snow on the track, snowy white clouds in the sky. For just a moment, he actually thought about how beautiful the variety of shades of white were. As the ground dropped out beneath him and he hurtled downwards, at ever increasing speeds, without any mechanism for manipulating the speed or direction he was taking, entirely at the mercy of gravity, momentum, force, and sheer luck, he was more terrified than he had ever been in his entire life. He forgot all about the pretty snow.
He pissed himself in mere seconds. The warmth of it filling the underside of the lycra suit around his pelvis and belly fat was both bizarre and oddly comforting. Then he vomited into the helmet, which, of course, has a closed face mask. Luckily the fluid dynamics involved dragged it all up into the top of the helmet, so his vision was only blurred instead of completely obscured as he watched the mountain side rapidly approach. Just as his testicles were shrinking into his abdomen, that was when he turned the corned for the tunnel, rapidly.
It would be more accurate to say, the sled took him around the corner, since he didn’t do anything to cause it to happen. At 80 mph, he only stayed on board because of ext-ropy. Into the pitch black tunnel he was plummeted. He could not see his own feet, let only the tunnel around him. He screamed liked a little baby girl the whole way through.
Another turn in the dark, and then bright light from the exit, which he hurtled through at 90 mph, and suddenly he was an airborne projectile. The tunnel had ended on a cliff, he was launched 20′ out and 30′ down before landing on track again. He could feel the cold wind pressing through the lycra suit and spreading the pooled urine evenly across his body. Out of the periphery of his left eye, he could see Brianna in the air, just slightly ahead of him, wildly swinging her oversized, orange, arms and legs. He could not hear if she was still crying over the crowd screaming at their dramatic entrance into the arena.
Just before landing, Davis was able to get a glimpse of the stadium through his vomit stained visor. 10s of thousands of people, bundled for warmth, sat in stands built into the mountain side looking down on the valley into which the tracks ran. Giant monitors above the tunnel entrance displayed everything they couldn’t see in brilliant detail. Then he landed, his trajectory meeting perfectly with the angle of the track, and he felt barely a bump as he continued on his hell route. For a moment he worried about Brianna’s landing with all that wild gesticulating, but then he was onto the next terror and she was forgotten.
Like a roller coaster, the track twisted over itself, and Davis found himself speeding across the mountain, upside down. Some positive might be said for him slowing down, except the decrease was from 95 to 85 mph. He then flew out of the loop and into a quick, sharp dip, which curved up onto a ramp, launching him over a gap that had no apparent bottom.
Again he heard the crowd’s roar of appreciation as he soared through the air, helpless and horrified. When he landed on the other side, on just a single rail for a moment, 2 things happened; 1) the crowd went wild and 2) Davis shit his pants at exactly the same moment the second sled rail touched the ground.
It occurred to him that he didn’t see Brianna just as he realized why his legs and butt had become warm and squishy. He could feel the urine and feces mixing at his waist into a soupy concoction of human waste. As Davis paused to consider that, he realized his throat was sore, which was when he first realized that he’d been screaming the entire time, until now. Somehow, the complete body fluid dump had been therapeutic, and Davis seemed to reach a Zen-like state. The sound of the crowd, the sense of danger, the smell inside his suit, all dropped away. He found himself floating inside a fog bank, warm and calm.
hovered in a semi-circle above him. Davis smiled as his helmet was removed.
“Is he alright?”
“I think he might be in shock.”
“Is he happy or crazy?”
“Hello? Mr. Mitchell? Hello? Can you hear me?”
Davis looked at the grey haired guard in the middle, “Of course I can hear you. You’re standing over my head and shouting.”
“He’s okay. Why are you still laying there? Get up.” The guard appeared severely disturbed by this unusual behavior.
Davis, still half in his Zen daze and stinking like a bus station bum, rolled off the sled onto his knees and struggled up onto his feet. He faced the group of guards who seemed unusually excited to see him. “What’s going on?”
“He doesn’t even know.”
“How could he? He was practically catatonic.”
“Well tell him.”
“Mr. Mitchell,” the old guard began, “Now that you have completed paying your debt, I want to be the first to congratulate you for having set a new world’s record on the Penal Luge.
“I did what?”
“The thing you just did? You did it faster than anyone in history. Well done.”
“But all I did was lay there, scream, and crap myself, till I lost my mind.”
“That must be the trick, then.”
Then the group was on him; shaking his hand, patting his back, asking for autographs, the whole bit. He was having trouble focusing on any thing in particular when he suddenly remembered, “What happened to Brianna?”
“The girl who was on the other track when I was going down.”
“Oh.” Everyone stopped and grew quiet. “I’m afraid, I’m sorry, I didn’t know you knew each other. I’m afraid the young lady did not succeed.”
“Did not succeed? What is that a euphemism for?”
“Because she did not follow directions about keeping her arms still, she lost too much speed, and failed to cover the distance of the second gap.”
“You’re saying she fell to her death?”
“What crime did she commit?”
“She was a prostitute. A temptress most foul. Now, our society is rid of her.” With that, the guard spun on his heels, and then he and his entourage stomped away in a very superior fashion.
Davis shook his head and turned to leave, only to find himself beset by cameras and microphones and people wearing too much makeup.
“Mr. Mitchell, how does it feel to hold the world record in Penal Luge?!”
“Mr. Mitchell, how did you prepare for today?!”
“Davis, can you describe how it feels to Luge for the first time?!”
“Sir, do you think the punishment fits the crime?!”
He was trying to ignore them and just push past towards the locker rooms, where he could change back into his street clothes and head home, but he heard that last question and got angry.
“Does it fit the crime? Is that what you asked? I stole food for my kids because honest work don’t pay the bills no more, and the government cut food stamps again. And for that you terrorize me? A women died here because you don’t approve of how she uses her body. And We the People? They just gathered around to watch us suffer in this ridiculous pop-justice system we have concocted. Meanwhile serious murderers and corrupt politicians walk free because they have money, and everyone knows it. You want to know if I think the punishment fits the crime? If this is fair? What the fuck does that even mean anymore? Our justice system is a god damn myth. A fable for children. We tell them hard work has rewards and being bad has consequences. We give it a dogma and ritual called capitalist market and justice system, and then tell everyone to believe. Anytime someone points out the lies, we call them traitor or criminal. Fit the crime? By what metric?”
The cameras ate up every moment. The reporters held out their mics to soak up every word. None of them really comprehended what he was telling them, but they knew he was passionate and that was always good TV. That night millions of homes would see that speech, subtitled, “Con Remains Unrepentant”.
There would be no mention of the death of Brianna Terrell.