full screen background image
  Table of contents Issue Seventeen LOSE EVERYTHING!!!



o you want everything you ever wanted?!" demanded the screen embedded outside Arena 7. The election ad had repeated so often I didn't hear it anymore, but I couldn't shake the stare of those sagging bloodshot eyes drooped over a silvered city skyline, every window blinding white with productivity.

"The campaign prop should have stopped by now."

Sylvia shrugged, waiting with the rest of us to go live. "There's still an hour left before the polls close. Who's winning?"

"Dunno. But they just teased an update." The Unspeakables had been gaining on the Reprehensibles among the slice of the population who could vote.

"Do you–" and then every screen in Competition Arena went dark, right before Lose Everything!!! went on air. Solomon took a futile whack at the unresponsive polycarbonate rectangle.

”Who's Leader, then?" A collective shrug from the five other competitors.

Sequestered several stories below street level, without devices, in a 50,000-square-foot cinderblock box apparently cemented with sweat socks, we only got the one feed, and for the last month it had been filled with campaign prop. At least I wouldn't have to stare into those creepy sleepless eyes anymore.

"Are you a stakeholder, Bryan?" Sylvia asked.

"Not a bit," Lola replied. "You've got more privilege points than he does, and you're a foreigner."

"Isn't this part of some behavior modification scheme for you in lieu of prison?" Ice had formed on Sylvia's tongue. "So says Solomon." Sylvia had the voice of a British ballerina and the body of an offensive lineman (a running back by now).

"Solomon can stuff his phone back where he found it," Lola said feelingly. She was coated with freckles, and her ubiquitous cowboy hat, kept on even during weigh-ins, had shockingly failed to make her America's sweetheart, if Solomon was truthing about his news feed. He'd smuggled his phone in by sticking it where no one would dare look. No one asked to borrow it, either.

"And wasn't I supposed to be out on my 'bum' four weeks ago?" Lola was smirking. "Sylvia always sounds convincing but she's always wrong, Bryan. Is it the accent?" Lola's resembled a can opener cranking out dog food.

Sylvia’s smile was unfazed as she glided away, as if floating on imported air.

Lola punched my arm. "She's not your type, Bryan. She plays classical piano, for goodness sake."

I stared her dead. "There's only one winner, you know." Lola's face flushed to match her freckles as she stalked away.

Percentage of weight lost is how the survivors will be judged, and I'm down 41%. Twelve days to go and I'm leading. I think. I'm definitely working hardest. There are no screens in the gym, no devices, just shitty boom-boxes for workout music. No matter. I just hang on to the handles, shut my eyes, and play 360-degree shooters in my head. After I Win Everything!!! (SWIDT?) I can complete my collections. Dr. Nihilus IX, your days are numbered. Hit the treadmill once a week for the sake of Crissy, the show announcer and my gorgeous future ex-wife.

The women, Lola-Sylvia-Melanie, are my real competition. Crazies like Solomon and Ranford impress for a few weeks, but they always burn out or blow up before the Finale -- crack under the pressure of concealing their real selves.

Melanie arrived, quietly. She smiled. That's what Melanie did. So much for Melanie.

We lined up before the arena entrance. I tapped the Integrity Wins poster. "They always go crazy before the final weigh," I said, being civil to Little Miss Melanoma. "Remember the Wheel of Torture?"

Lola rolled her eyes as the door parted into Arena 7 and what was this medieval shit? Straight outta 8th grade History (my last grade), not wooden but steel, big red buttons on the side and steel crock pots bolted underneath. "The stocks," Lola whispered in a faux-Sylvia accent.

"Pillories, actually." Sylvia, of course.

"They throw tomatoes, right?" Melanie said brightly. "'cuz I'm starving."

"Hope they're organic. The ones from the store would kill." Which was actually kind of witty from Lola but no one chose to laugh.

Crissy, the announcer, was dressed in purple. Very nice. After I won she'd be interviewing me, and I would tell her she looked ravishing in purple. Because I'm just that smooth.

We were forced into the contraptions by a new crew of black-shirted, unsmiling enforcers. "Hey, this is still hot!" Lola shouted as her neck was pressed onto the steel bar. I stayed stoic, even when my neck folds got singed.

"How tacky," Sylvia said, spreading her curls so they didn't catch as she was yoked in and her head pushed into the bucket. "Ooh, french fries," her voice echoed. "However did they know?"

"This is nothing," Melanie said, flexing her fingers cheerfully in the holes. "The spider pie, that was gross."

"The pizza was the worst," I said. Fish-eye toppings, cow-bile crust, blood paste for sauce...." And then my head was down the bucket: Lasagne.

So they'd read my psych profile. So what?

"Tonight on Lose Everything!!!, we're going medieval! Our final Starving Six defaulters are trapped with their favorite foods." Crissy's trembly voice was making a sad mockery of the script's bravado. For the first time I felt queasy, and not from hunger. (What was a "defaulter," anyway?) "How long can they resist the temptation to chow down? If the longing gets too much, our contestants can hit the red button and chow down, but will be eliminated."

Lasagne with basil, that herbal, almost Christmas smell?

Then I was back at Nana's house. Fat sniffles in my nose trickled into my eyes. And though I knew it wasn't Nana's lasagna, the knowledge didn't stop the tears, dripping and sizzling among the chemicals at the bottom of the pot. At least no one could see my face.

A banging sound -- a head against a metal backboard. A tiny little head, by the sound -- Melanie's? I snorted up my tears. Sure enough the alarm sounded and the buckets dropped; we were released automatically.

Little Melanie was already being manhandled into the shadows by the men with sticks, protesting: "No, where's the chicken? I hit the button. Where's the chicken? Where are we going?" At last she'd dropped the omnipresent cheer. She was marched past a tall shadow with folded arms and a hidden face.

"That's cold," Solomon said, kneading his neck, as we were shoved off stage. I looked back to see Crissy standing stock-still and wide-eyed, finger hooked to her lips like a caught trout.


Screenwatchinggoddess review of "Lose Everything!!!" SE9E11

Medieval torture comes to screens – and that's just for the viewers! Seriously, the discomfort of the final six contestants, tormented with food smells in medieval pillories (not stocks you guys -- pillories) was mean-spirited and, worse, unedited. And the mockery on the scroll soon grew boring. ("Useless eaters," really?) And what's with the creepy "red eye" overlay? So THEY "won" (?!) an election, we get it -- or are about to, evidently, good and hard.

It's a shame, because Lose Everything!!!'s current personality layout -- three male psychos, three (relatively) level-headed women -- offers fruitful cherry pickings for a "reality" show. But this was live, and no matter what any new production code guff says about virtue, there's not much drama in six people with their faces hidden in buckets waiting for someone to get hungry. No Bryan-Sylvia beauty-beast dynamic, little to recommend the change of tone save Bryan bawling like a big brat over his Mamaw's Special Sunday Lasagne.

At least Melanie's gone, the nice little nobody who, as the old critic would have said, fit in like a cheerleader at a crap game. But let the poor girl have her fried chicken, mkay?

(And where, exactly, was she whisked away to so swiftly?)

Screenwatchinggoddess grade D

[Posted 9:35PM]

[Deleted 3:35AM]

Day 2

I cupped my ear and gestured to the dumb waiter, which once had provided sustenance.

"Aural tea leaves?"

"Sylvia talk pretty. What does that sound like to you?"

"Rain and mice."

"That's what you hear with your trained ear?"

"Rain and mice, Bryan," she repeated, her arms folded.

I let my eyes spin. "Great. Maybe one will run down the clock and we'll have something to eat."

"Patience, Hungry Hank."

"They're not coming. Even Ranford knows. Listen. He's tearing his room apart looking for snacks he hopes he hid from himself."

Sylvia shook her head. "Nothing's changed. All part of the plan. Raising the metabolism a bit this season, that's all. Although technically, lack of food should lower–"

"Sylvia, they're starving us."

"Think what you like, Bryan."

Ten more days.


But the men with sticks summoned us that very night, dragging us away from cold oatmeal.

"What the fuck!" Solomon spit. "I need something in me, man."

We were frog-marched into Arena 8. Crissy appeared, not in colorful tights, but black leather. Hair piled in a rat's nest atop her head, face clownish under several beds of makeup, lips thin as a folded razor – a dominatrix outfitted by someone alien to sexual pleasure.

Five parallel treadmills stood in a hub-and-spoke arrangement, a movie space-ship layout approached by a steel catwalk that spanned a narrow moat filled with green stuff on the bubble. No handles, no speed or incline controls, nothing to even look at, just the rubber belt shitting out from underneath the wall. I'd have taken it all more seriously if the water had been less horror-movie colored.

The show's rampaging theme music had been slowed, so that the individual notes oozed out of the speakers like a zombie waltz. "Larghissimo," Sylvia whispered.

By contrast, words tumbled out of Crissy in a torrent: "Can the defaulters survive a stint on the Treadmill of Justice? Or will one of our Final Five cleanse themselves in a final bath? Welcome to the new, more exciting -- pardon, more exacting and ethical format of Lose Everything!!! Keep your eyes open...for Arresting Television!"

Before her last shaky syllable had dissipated, Crissy was clicking off-stage in an undignified scamper, swerving past a sharp bald head which swiveled to track her retreat.

What was she scrambling not to see?

The treadmills started up without warning – so fast I almost slipped right off the bat. The unseen game master rapidly clicked up the incline, from ridiculous to sheer to impossible, until we were running a marathon up a mountain. Damn! I clawed reflexively at the empty air, as if handles would materialize.

A single brute fact kept me going one more step, one more step, even as my legs melted: I didn't have to outlast everyone. Just someone. Who? Solomon had lost his fire. Sylvia was in the worst physical shape of any of us, but she'd survive, somehow. Ranford...who knew? Lola? Yeah. Hideous buck-toothed Lola, running directly opposite me, thrusting her ugly mug out with each tortured stride.

Contempt washed over me, unreasonable, undeniable. I glared at Lola and kept glaring, trying stupid ESP shit to make her look at me, and then abruptly she did, the same moment she slipped and flew backward into the bubbling green pool, her shocked scream lingering, rising, sharpening....

Then a sizzling sound.

Lola tried to hurl herself out; the men with the prods shocked her back in, sending crackling arcs of electricity darting across the pool. My gaze was rooted to the vividly saturated colors on screen, watching pink sprays of flayed flesh flying from her arms as she thrashed wildly about, streaks of white already showing through the red liquefying limbs, her live screams battering my exposed ears. I kept my eyes on the screen, not on Lola, in case I caught her looking back at me.

After an eternity they fished her bones out of the thick pink-green stew and displayed them for the camera. Lola's cowboy hat still bobbing jauntily on the surface.

She'd liked me and I'd hated her.

As we were returned to our rooms the ice baths were being hauled away by the muscled foremen, their faces clenched and pale. "What the fuck!" Solomon shouted, rattling the tin floor with his size 17s. "What the actual fucking fuck!"

"The regime grinds fast and fine," Sylvia whispered, as we were bolted in.


Nana, did I make Lola die?


Review of "Lose Everything!!!" S1E1

Lose Everything!!! has certainly become a different kind of show but that's not a bad thing. Perhaps a necessary change in these evolving times. The edgier format may seem harsh but has Lose Everything!!! not always been about public disgrace and justice? Lola's dramatic exit got tongues wagging but perhaps this new method of contestant elimination serves as a fitting symbol of, dare we call it, societal justice, along with the updated work hours and new productivity centers? Are we not all in some sense getting what we asked for?

Keep Your Eyes Open!!!

Grade: A++++

[Posted 3:35AM]

Day 3

"It was murder. Murder is illegal."

"Is it illegal now, Bryan?" Sylvia replied. "Do you know that for a fact? Is it even murder?"

That gave me a headache, and they hadn't fed us, so I laid back down, trying to knead the knots out my head (the bastards had taken the Advil), listening to Solomon kicking on the thick steel plate that led to the elevator.

Would I follow him up?


Another summoning. Arena 7. No Crissy, just an empty stage, a disembodied announcer, the pillories (four) now equipped with sharp shiny things at the top and long knotted ropes of...meat? dangling alongside.

"A cruel twist of fate for our undisciplined defaulters," the announcer droned as our necks were forced under the blades and the meat jammed into our mouths. "Can they avoid chewing through the succulent steak that holds back the Blade of Justice? Keep Your Eyes Open!"

The blade was raised and readied. Two glorious bites, and it would slice through my neck like melted butter. Two bites, and I would be sealed off forever from fear and ache and want and shame and the ceaseless stabbing in my stomach.

Then came a sound like a mewling dog.

A quiet whoosh.

A splurge.

The thick black neck spurting gouts of blood.

Solomon's enormous head, perversely calm, on a tray in front of the roving camera. How I envied it.

We were released; I spun my head about, dizzily alive, fingers hot around my own throat, amazed at its continued connection to my skull. I fancied I saw the Shadow in the hall, a blur of darkness within the darkness.

Day 4

Lights off everywhere but Competition Arena. Alarms seconds or hours apart, the sound pitched into my running hallucination as squealing seals, a UFO invasion. I wedged the dumb waiter open, listened to the rat-a-tat of the rain three stories above, the shrieks of trapped mice. But there was no rain, and there were no mice.

I followed a clanging noise into Competition Arena.

Solomon's head mounted like a hunting trophy, dead phone stuffed in his mouth. A posed portrait of Melanie sitting in a plush chair, hands and feet in shackles, head shorn, somehow achingly lovely now. Lola's bones under glass, alongside a bad "Before" picture. I kissed it, my cracked lips leaving bloodprints.

I stood in the middle of the empty arena and shut my eyes, listening to a half-billion hushed breaths.

Day 5

I ransacked my bed and swallowed the feathers, craving the fantasy of meat still attached to the ends. They came back up, puffing out of my mouth in hiccups. A cartoon wolf, drunk on chicken, spun into my fractured brain, and the universe went cartoon.

The Tasmanian Devil sank his fangs in my intestines. Yosemite Sam shot holes in my stomach. Horned demons in 1980s QuadraScan rose from the pit of Hell and I zapped them with a prod. Then I was Mario, chasing the Shadow as he dragged a weeping purple flower. I pursued, running on imaginary calories down dark halls, jumping acid pools and dodging razor blades. Somewhere in the dark I caught him, pinned him down, twisted his head off to see the face.

Dr. Nihilus???

The eyelids sagged grotesquely over half the face, revealing the rust red pools of diseased gelatin beneath.

Day 9?

"Because I'm a human," I rasped defiantly to the mountain of fallen flesh in the bathroom mirror, shaving paint flakes off the wall with a carving knife and crunching them like popcorn in my mouth.

From somewhere in the Arena I heard the thin shrieks of a larger blade being sharpened.

Day 10??

"We should have filled the sinks with water."

"I did."

"I need it!"

Sylvia shook her head, not sadly enough.

"I'm dying!" My shout was a thin rasp.

Sylvia put her finger to her cheek. "Did someone say there would be only one winner here?"

I lunged, she dodged, and I was staring up at the dark. She stood over me.

"You have a good heart, Bryan, but you lack integrity."

Day ??

"Where does he get the energy?" Sylvia marveled.

Ranford had perked up and was chasing us with an ax. We drew him into the dark, back into Arena 8. He crashed in after us, disoriented, slamming into things, the ax blade shrieking along the steel floor. "I'm hungry, Bryan."

"Talkative, too," Sylvia added.

I grasped Ranford's plan: Cut me up for food, then go after Sylvia, kept alive for something else.

"Ranford, we're in here, you fat cunt!" Sylvia cried, loud as her thinned voice could register.

Ranford rambled over; when the scrape of the ax muted, Sylvia gave me the signal.

Weak as I was, I wouldn't fail her.

I pulled hard on the cord; the tarp covering the acid pool flew from beneath Ranford's feet and he toppled in; I hugged the wall to avoid the splashback. He made noises like a weeping pig, but lacked Lola's joie de vivre, and after a few proforma splashes began quietly dissolving.

"The ax!" Sylvia rushed away. I flopped against the wall.

Then she was standing over me, ax in one hand and a jug in the other. She placed the jug beside me. She patted my head. "Integrity."

I waved off the water. "Do what you gotta do."

"I can't." She held up the ax -- just the handle. "The blade sank."


"What's that, Bryan?"

"The guillotines."

"Yes. Oh yes. Bryan the Brain." She bent down and kissed me with cracked lips, the fruity scent of starvation on her breath. "In France they would say gey-yuh-teens."

I sat chugging the jug of bath water. Living for Sylvia. I would be what she needed me to be.

Day 12 - The Finale

Death came for me in the dark -- a tunnel of light. My body rose, winnowed thin enough to squeeze through the pearly gates. But the illusion burned off; only the floodlights, kicking back on for the Finale. No men. No prods. No Shadow.

In Competition Arena, Sylvia was slumped in the shadow cast by Lola's reliquary (her word). "No one's here," I croaked.

"It doesn't matter," she replied, even weaker. "We're live."

Thin green arrows in the floor laid out a path to the scale, its digits reading a fat red zero, swollen with anticipation. A voice, strangely human, spoke of infinite plans, of accomplishments beyond end, a litany delivered without pause, each word equally weighted as if any betrayal of emphasis would mean the end.

The live feed rolled on without graphics, revealing nothing that hinted at human handiwork. A digital voice, an old familiar one, summoned Ranford Aquino, Lola Belmont, then Bryan Deckel up to the scale.

Shaking out of my loose jeans, I heaved myself up the steps, skinfolds dragging roughly against the cold concrete floor, and flopped down, waiting for electrocution, a trap door, spikes through the floor.


"Bryan Deckel lost 54% of his bodyweight. Well done, Bryan Deckel. Melanie Mason to the scale....Solomon Pierce to the scale....Sylvia Reynolds to the scale."

Naked Sylvia was sagging from every part, dragging a hunk of meat and leaving a trail of blood. My mouth watered even as I realized it was no ordinary chop. She laid it aside, almost daintily, before collapsing atop the scale.




"Sylvia Lawrence lost 67% of her body weight. Congratulations Sylvia Reynolds, you are the Lose Everything!!! Champion. Claim your prize! One mill–"

The droning endured echoless in the yawning space.

Sylvia raised to a sitting position. She was showing everything, but all I could look at was the part that was no longer there.

"I was thinking just an arm, but I had to be sure. You were looking pretty skinny." She grinned bloodily through her remaining teeth, bony fingers shoveling the familiar meat into her maw as blood pulsed from her truncated thigh. "Integrity wins."

The live feed pixilated into pink and red, smearing across every screen.

Sylvia slumped backward, a smear across her face.

Eyes wide open.




Clay Waters has had short stories published in The Santa Barbara Review, Liquid Ohio, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Abyss & Apex, Big Pulp, and Morpheus Tales. His website is claywaters.org.

The authors published at HelloHorror retain all rights to their work. For permission to quote from a particular piece, or to reprint, contact the editors who will forward the request. All content on the web site is protected under copyright law.