The Following is a poem and a story from Jared Morningstar’s new book “American Fries”
Take a seat right here, sir;
care to take a look at the menu?
Today’s special is deep fried.
Deep fried what, you ask?
There’s enough grease in this shit
to make your arteries explode and
to make you forget about the future.
It’s okay; the dream is a lie;
it’s been one for years.
Yes, even if you are a WASP,
if you’re straight, a man.
We can’t get you a piece of that pie
if you didn’t inherit it.
But that’s cool right?
Live humbly like Jesus wants you to
and enjoy some of this
Star Spangled Awesome;
the salt alone
will make your heart pound so hard,
you’ll think it’s the damn fireworks
your redneck neighbor has left over
from his Month Long 4th of July Celebration.
Freedom tastes good, am I right?
Just like racism, misogyny,
homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism,
fat-shaming, and age discrimination.
Oh, and don’t forget classism. Go Capitalism!
Be a patriot like your friends.
Don’t think about it;
thinking isn’t your strongest suit,
and it isn’t theirs either.
Who needs an education?
Not me. Not them. Not you.
You can’t afford one anyway.
So go ahead:
order that triple cheeseburger;
you’ve been eyeing it
since you picked up the menu.
It comes with a Coke and a side of fries.
To hell with that!
We serve American Fries here:
All-American, all that matters.
A Slice of American Pie
“Is it ready?”
“Yes, Mr. Price. Everything is in working order this time.”
“You better be damn certain.”
“If anything goes wrong, it’s my ass. I get it.”
“Then let’s roll. Guards, bring him in.”
The door opened, and the guards escorted the condemned into the death chamber. The prisoner swallowed hard and took a deep breath before sitting in the electric chair. The guards quickly fastened him in. They attached the electrodes to his body and began to fire up the fatal apparatus.
“Logan Anderson, electricity shall now pass through your body until you are dead. Do you have any last words?” asked Price.
“Damn right I do, you son of a bitch. This was no accident. You set me up to lose, Christopher Price. You set me up—“
Price motioned to the guards, who quickly placed the hood over the condemned prisoner’s head. The executioner flipped the switch, and the prisoner’s body lunged forward in the chair. He groaned loudly, and smoke started to rise from the chair. Before long, it was over. The combined stench of burned hair, cooked flesh, and the vomit of those in attendance with weak stomachs filled the room. When enough time had passed for the body to cool down, the physician approached it and checked for any signs of life. After he decided that there were none to be found, the physician pronounced the man in the chair dead.
The room went dark. Within seconds, two spotlights turned on. One shined upon the dead prisoner; the other shined upon Price, who was dressed exquisitely, with his hair slicked back as always. The audience rose from their seats and gave the execution staff a wild ovation
“Another man meets his end in the electric chair and loses his fight for freedom. Now only two prisoners remain,” Price announced as he pointed to two men standing off to the side. “Brothers Darryl and Johnny Turner will compete in the final survival test in order to determine who will walk out of Burnett Prison a free man and millionaire and who will be the chair’s final victim. Tune in next week to see the shocking finale of Surviving Death Row.”
The cameras turned off, and people in the audience slowly started to file out of the death house toward the massive gates surrounding the prison. Years before it had been converted for its current use, the prison had been used as a television studio. The network used to tape sitcoms there before that style of show had completely fallen out of favor. Even though sitcoms had been evolving into something more realistic and violent, ever since reality television started to hit its stride, after a time, the format could not compete. There simply wasn’t money to be made in stories about fake people living fictional lives.
Although its security was second-to-none, the prison was very small. It only consisted of a cell house, which held the ten contestants, a dining hall, an exercise yard where all of the survival tests took place, a couple of lookout towers, and, of course, the death house auditorium, which was now being cleaned up by the crew. While the clean-up took place, Price felt a hard slap to his back. He turned around to see the show’s creator, Wallace Griffin.
“Brilliant work as always, Price. Brilliant work.”
“Thanks, Mr. Griffin. Pretty amazing finale we’re going to have on our hands. The two brothers made it to the end. Couldn’t have planned it any better! I wonder how many ratings records we are going to break next week.”
“Well, if the ratings for our past episodes are any indication, we should shatter them all,” said Griffin, with a slight chuckle. “And that’s not an exaggeration.”
“You deserve all the credit. It’s your baby,” said Price.
“The show still needed a host. And you were just the man for the job. I could have gone with some well-known, hotshot bastard, but you know those Hollywood types. Cowards. You have real brass, Price. Real brass. You’re special.”
“Damn kind of you to say that. I’m thankful to be a part of this. And the finale will be quite a moment for all of us.”
“Yes, of course.” Griffin paused for a moment. “The first live televised execution. Damn it, Price, I hope nothing goes wrong. The rest of these were taped. We’ve only botched one so far; I know odds are that it won’t happen again. But the screams, the flames coming from that poor bastard’s head. If it happens next week, we aren’t going to have the ability to edit anything out. I’d hate to piss the sponsors off…”
“Don’t worry. Nothing like that will happen. Just go home and relax. The finale will be a huge success, and the network will be throwing a huge amount of money our way for a second season.”
“I can smell the money now,” said Griffin.
“Kind of makes you forget about the smell of burnt flesh, eh?”
“You sick son of a bitch, you kill me,” Griffin laughed. “I’ll see you later.”
He turned around and walked towards the exit while Price summoned a couple of the guards to the two remaining contestants. They were brothers, but their appearances certainly didn’t suggest it. Darryl, the older brother, was 28, a mountain of a man. He stood 6’3” and weighed about 240 pounds, not an ounce of which was fat. Even in his orange prison suit, one could tell he was in incredible shape. He had been the show’s star, winning every survival challenge that involved any physical element, and his good looks, dark hair, and dark eyes made him a favorite with the female viewers. His brother Johnny, on the other hand, was the show’s surprise. The 24-year-old hardly looked like either Darryl’s brother or someone that would have survived a show such as this for as long as he had. He was a good eight inches shorter than Darryl, his frame was rail thin, and unlike his brother, he was consistently edgy.
“Okay guys, time to go,” said Price.
With that, the guards led the brothers to the cell house, Price in tow. Outside, the cell house was 2031, but inside, it was a century prior. The building was made of dark red brick, and even though there were plenty of lights inside, it was never bright enough for the contestants to feel comfortable. The guards led the brothers into the cell house, and once inside, opened the creaky cell doors. The brothers entered their cells, and the guards slammed the doors behind them.
“You two sure have become big stars,” said Price.
“Fuck you,” muttered Johnny.
“You’ve got a smart mouth. Enjoy it while you can,” said Price. “I’ll see you both soon.”
The guards settled into their usual night watch duty, and Price headed towards the parking lot. He got into his brand-new dark red luxury sedan and started home. It was a fairly long drive home for him, a good 45 minutes, and the busy day’s activities had made him a little hungry.
That’s right, he remembered. We’re having Italian tonight. He was immediately in a good mood. Life was good now, especially since Price could remember the times when Italian night meant Spaghetti-O’s instead of spaghetti. Ever since he decided on a career in television, he had dreamed of making his mark. He ignored the advice of his family and friend, who warned him that he’d be living a life even less profitable than even that of a starving artist. In college, Price met his future wife, Julie, who fell in love with both him and his big dreams. Those dreams were just big enough to help Price stay the course, even when the only entertainment jobs he could get in involved running errands for studio executives. Eventually, he managed to secure a couple of small-time, local game show hosting opportunities, but even then, he wasn’t exactly striking it rich, and since Price had taken out so many loans just so they could continue to live in the area, he barely managed to make enough money for he and Julie to live on, especially after their two sons were born. Julie had tried to convince him to leave Hollywood and that they could make a better life elsewhere, and if not for his pride, he would have given up years before Wallace Griffin finally noticed him and gave him the chance both to live his dreams and prove his doubters wrong.
Pulling into his long driveway, the sight of the mansion he had recently purchased for his family was more welcome than usual. The mansion was white, three stories high, and had large windows. For some reason, Price had always loved large windows, especially now that he could afford them. Compared to those owned by the major actors and actresses, his home wasn’t that large, but it was more than Price could have ever hoped to have.
I can’t believe this is all mine, he thought. No one can take this from me, and things are only going to get better for me, for us.
With a huge smile on his face, Price got out of his car and walked to the door.
“Babe! Kids! I’m home!” he shouted.
Within seconds, his two sons ran out from the entertainment room, both with disturbed, angry looks on their faces. David was 9 and Jake was 7. They were both the spitting image of their father.
“Hey boys, what can Dad do for you?”
“Dad, this piece of shit won’t let me play the fuckin’ game!” yelled David. He shoved his younger brother to the ground. Jake quickly got back up and shoved him back.
“Dad didn’t just buy the game for you, motherfucker!” Jake shot back.
“Shit, kids, just take turns okay?” asked Price as he began to walk towards the kitchen. Julie was standing in the kitchen doorway.
“Glad you’re home, dear,” said Julie.
“Yeah, me too. I’m hungry as hell,” said Price.
“Well, dinner is waiting. I fed the kids early.” She led the way to the dining room table, and both she and Price took their seats. A delicious lasagna dinner awaited, complete with garlic toast. A wonderful aroma of tomato sauce, parmesan cheese, and garlic filled the room.
“This is delicious, dear,” he said.
“How was your day?”
“Oh, it was a day. You know how it goes,” she said.
“Yeah, I hear you. Those kids are something else. They take after me.”
“And I know you are proud of them, I do,” she said, smiling.
“So, want to hear about my day?” he asked.
“Yes, of course, I—“
Julie paused. Her smile collapsed and her stare fell to the table. Great, he thought, she’s having one of those moments. He stood up and walked over to her chair.
“I know what will make you feel better,” Price said as he began to massage her shoulders. He noticed she had more tension than usual.
“Julie, what is wrong with you?”
“We really have to talk.”
“The kids,” she said
“What about them?”
“Seriously,” she said. “doesn’t it bother you at all to hear them use that language?”
“Oh hell, Julie, not this again. They’re just words. They hear those words on television or when they’re at school all the time. It’s not like they’re going to kill someone by saying them.”
“It’s not just their language,” she said. “These games that the boys play are unreal. I remember a time when the most violent thing you would see in a game was blood, and yeah, there was prostitution. But I was watching David and Jake play that game you bought them last week. Bodies sliced open, the blood, the organs, everything. For God’s sake, a guy ripped someone’s heart and ate the damn thing.”
“Yeah?” he said, laughing. “Look, it’s a game. It’s not going to hurt anyone. I talked with everyone I know, and all of their kids have it.”
“Listen to me,” he said. “I get it. The shit bothers you, but you have to realize that the times are changing… hey, what time is it?”
“6, why?” she asked.
“Shit, almost missed it. They’re talking about the show on the news tonight,” he said.
Price and Julie headed for the living room, and he called for the boys to join them. They all sat down and on their big, comfortable couch, and he turned on their 100-inch 3D, high definition television. Luckily for him, he hadn’t missed it. The segment he had been hoping to catch was just beginning.
“Tonight’s lineup includes the last regular episode of the new hit reality show, Surviving Death Row, with host Christopher Price,” said the reporter. “Next week’s live finale will feature the first ever nationally-televised live execution. The show gives ten people serving life sentences without the possibility of parole a chance to not only earn their freedom, but a million dollars as well, if they are willing to put their lives on the line. The show’s creator Wallace Griffin stated in a recent interview that he and the network made sure to give all ten contestants rigorous psychological testing to prove they had been completely rehabilitated. This revolutionary show…”
Julie did not wait to see what else the reporter would say. She stood up and walked out of the room. Price jumped off the couch and began to follow her.
“Is another one of those fuckers going to fry tonight, Dad?” asked David just as Price was leaving the room.
“Yes, son, and one will next week too!” he said proudly.
“Yay!” screamed Jake.
Julie headed into the kitchen. When Price came in, he found her holding her hands to her face. Tears welled in her eyes. He took hold of her arms.
“What in the hell is wrong with you tonight?” he asked.
“The show, Chris… just the show I guess.”
“What’s wrong with the show? Things have been going so well,” he said.
“I just wish you hadn’t signed on,” she said.
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Julie. Don’t you realize what this show has given us? Look at this house. Look at the cars we drive. Look at all the wonderful things we have been able to buy David and Jake. You have a problem with the show? Everything we have is because of the show!”
“I know, but sometimes I wonder if the money is really worth it,” she said, lowering her head.
“Well, I’m sorry you feel bad for these damn murderers, Julie. All of them deserve to fry. You can feel sorry for them, but I’m looking out for me and my family.”
“How do you know they are murderers?” she asked. “Witnesses said that Johnny was involved in that robbery, and they know he shot the guy. But they don’t know that Darryl was there. Someone that looked like Darryl, but they never knew for sure it was him, and he’s always denied it.”
“Well, Johnny says otherwise. He said that Darryl was with him that night, and that he helped him kill the clerk,” said Price.
“Yeah, but Darryl also slept with Johnny’s girlfriend shortly before the robbery. Johnny admitted that on the show,” she said. “He was obviously furious. You cannot tell me you haven’t considered the possibility that he was lying.”
“You worry too much. Besides, Johnny is a sawed-off little runt compared to Darryl. Next week’s survival test is an obstacle course. There is no way in hell that Johnny will win, so if Darryl is innocent, he’ll get off anyway.”
“I guess,” she said.
“Good,” said Price. “Now let’s enjoy the rest of our night. Imagine all the wonderful things you’ll be able to buy when the network gives us that big contract for the next season.”
The week passed quickly. Price slept well the night before the finale, ready for the big day. He fixed himself breakfast and hurried to get dressed in his black suit and his favorite red tie. Before leaving the house, he told Julie and the boys to have a nice day.
“I know you aren’t comfortable with all this, but whether you watch or not, make sure that the boys are tuning in tonight,” he said.
“I will, Chris,” she said reluctantly as he walked away.
The drive to the prison seemed faster than it ever had. The sun was shining, not a dark cloud in the sky. This is going to be a good day, he thought. Upon arrival, he parked in his usual spot and headed to the cell house to retrieve the prisoners for the obstacle course survival test, which would be taped and aired before the execution. He entered the cell house, and approached their cells.
“It’s time,” said Price. “One of you is about to win your freedom, and the chance to begin your entire life anew. You both are the envy of so many prisoners right now that are serving the same sentence as you are. I hope that you both take this very seriously not only as though your lives depend on it, but also knowing how many others would trade places with you. You are both very lucky.”
Their cell doors were opened, and Price and the guards led Darryl and Johnny to the exercise yard where the obstacle course was set up. The cameras were also set up, and ready to begin taping. Price cleared his throat and found his perfect television grin.
“Welcome to Surviving Death Row’s final survival test,” he said to the cameras. “In a few moments, either Darryl or Johnny Turner will earn the right to become a free man and millionaire. The other will be the chair’s final victim tonight. You both have survived the competition provided by your fellow contestants and the grueling survival tests. You both have been incredible competitors and contestants, but only one of you can survive our death row: the winner of our final survival test. Over the past few weeks, you’ve both had to endure a variety of rigorous tests combining physical, mental, and emotional elements. Your last survival test is fairly simple in concept, but very physically demanding, and that is this obstacle course you see before you. First, you must complete a 100-meter hurdle race. Make sure you jump over every hurdle or you’ll have to begin again. You’ll then proceed to our monkey bars, where you’ll cross them from start to finish without falling off. Next, you’ll move over to the third leg of the course, where you will scale a ten-meter wall, using the rope provided to help you climb to the top. Once you are there, you will dive into the pool below and complete the 25-meter swim to the other side. The course is divided into two lanes, and both of you must stay in your own lanes. Anyone that doesn’t will be disqualified. The first to the end wins. Get ready… GO!”
With that, he pulled out his pistol and fired it into the air. Both Darryl and Johnny started fast, but it wasn’t long before Darryl began to take the lead. The first two legs of the course were a breeze for him and he was already approaching the wall while Johnny was struggling to even make it through the monkey bars.
Damn, this is anti-climactic, thought Price, laughing.
Then he heard an ungodly scream. Price couldn’t believe his eyes. Darryl had fallen from the wall; his grip on the rope had slipped, and he appeared to be badly hurt. When Johnny caught up to him, he stalled for a minute, but then climbed his side of the wall and swam the distance of the pool.
Well, everyone loves a surprise ending, Price thought to himself as he motioned for the camera’s attention and for the guards to get the cart to retrieve Darryl’s soon-to-be corpse.
“We have a winner: Johnny Turner!” he announced to the cameras. “Johnny is a free man, and this country’s newest millionaire! When we come back, we’ll be live, and we will present Johnny with his key to freedom, and show you our final execution, the very first live execution in the history of television! You won’t want to miss this!”
The cameras turned off. Price shook Johnny’s hand, and began to leave with the crew to prepare for Darryl’s execution at the death house. Suddenly, he heard a voice calling him from behind.
“Mr. Price, Mr. Price, can I talk with you for a second?” It was one of the guards who had helped load Darryl on to the cart.
“Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“Yes, sir, I know, but I have to talk with you about Darryl.”
“What about him?”
“Something happened to him on that rope. On the ride back to the cell house, he kept asking us to check the rope, check the rope. So after we took him back, we cut it down to look at it. About three-quarters of the way up, it was all slicked up, sir. Real slippery. Then we checked the rope Johnny used. Dry as a bone.”
“What are you trying to say?” asked Price.
“I don’t know sir, but me and the boys, we sure think this looks like a fix.”
Price remembered what Logan Anderson had said before he had been executed, and he suddenly felt out of breath, like someone had slugged him in his stomach with a cocked fist. Quickly, however, he managed to shake it off.
“Bullshit,” said Price. “Mr. Griffin and his executive crew set this course up personally. They wouldn’t fix something like this, not without telling me first.”
“Sorry, sir,” said the guard. “Just bothered us is all.”
“Don’t you have a job to do? Well, I do. Get the hell out of here!” said Price as he walked away. He couldn’t shake what the guard told him, and Julie’s comments about Darryl’s possible innocence crept into his mind. He began to sweat as he approached the death house. Griffin was waiting for him.
“Damn it, Price, could we have ever asked for a better final result?” asked Griffin. “Not only do we get the two brothers in the finals, but that little bastard wins. No one will see this coming.”
“It has been perfect, Mr. Griffin!” Price said. “I can hear the phones ringing now with calls from the network. Money’s in the bank!”
“Just make sure you and the boys get through tonight okay,” Griffin said. “I don’t want any fuck ups.”
“Didn’t I tell you not to worry?” replied Price. “We’re on it.”
Griffin started to walk away, and Price almost let him.
“Hey Mr. Griffin…”
“Can I talk with you a second?”
“Sure, but only for a second. We have to get things finished.”
“It’s about the obstacle course,” said Price.
“What about it?”
“Someone told me that Darryl fell because his rope was tampered with. That’s not true, is it?”
“Oh Price, you crack me up!” laughed Griffin. “You got me. Yeah, we fixed the course.”
“And you didn’t think I should know about this?”
“I meant to tell you,” said Griffin, still laughing. “I’ll find out who failed to give you the message and fire his dumb ass. Satisfied?”
Price couldn’t answer. It was as though he was paralyzed.
“What else is bothering you?” asked Griffin.
“Mr. Griffin, Wallace, for God’s sake, we’re playing games with someone’s life here. You know the story of Darryl and Johnny’s case; we could be killing an innocent man!”
“What the hell is wrong with you, Price?” asked Griffin. “Who the hell cares about either of them? Ratings are what we need to care about. This result gives us that.”
“But what? What?!” Griffin shouted. However, he quickly calmed down. “Chris, you’re a good guy, and I’m proud to call you my friend. That’s why I want you to keep your priorities straight. No matter what happens, I’m doing fine. Hell, I’m doing damn fine. But you, well I have seen how happy you’ve been lately. You have a great family, a great family, and I know how much it has meant to you that you have finally been able to give them the life they deserve.”
“Yeah, and I thank you for that, Wallace.”
“Don’t thank me. You’re one talented son of a bitch, and you deserve it all,” Griffin said. “I’d just hate to see you lose it. I get it, you have a conscience, but so do I, and I will feel terrible if you lose everything you deserve. So ask yourself, Price, who is more important to you: your family or that stupid motherfucker in the cell house?”
“That is not a question that needs asking, Mr. Griffin. Sorry that I bothered you.”
“Hell, don’t worry about it. Let’s just get back to work. This guy is going to fry in a few hours.”
“Yes, sir. Let me know if you need anything,” said Price
Griffin nodded and went about his business while Price helped the crew with the tedious task of setting up the electric chair, and making sure the lighting and cameras were set. By the time they were finished, the audience was beginning to file in, and it was time to retrieve Darryl and Johnny. Price walked to the cell house where one of the guards was waiting for him at the door.
“How are they doing?” asked Price.
“Darryl’s actually pretty calm considering his ass is about to cook,” said the guard. “But Johnny’s a little more anxious than usual.”
“Probably just anxious to get his hands on the money,” said Price, and he and the guards approached the cells and opened the doors. The guards lifted Darryl up and carried him to the cart outside, while Price led Johnny out of the cell house. During the walk to the death house, he noticed Johnny begin to shake.
“What is wrong with you, man? It’s your backstabbing brother that’s dying, not you.” Johnny didn’t reply.
When they arrived at the death house, Price directed Johnny to go and stand by Griffin. The guards lifted Darryl from the cart and carried him to the stage where the electric chair awaited him. As soon as he became visible, some in the crowd cheered, some booed, some hollered obscenities. The guards sat him in the chair and shaved his head, preparing him. Johnny looked ill as he watched from the background.
9 PM. Show time. Price, still trying to force the fix to the back of his mind, walked on to the stage, and the cameras turned on.
“Welcome to the finale of Surviving Death Row,” he said. “You just finished viewing the final survival test, taped earlier today. Johnny Turner beat his older brother Darryl in the obstacle course, and he has won his freedom and one million dollars. We’ll get to him in a second, but first, you at home and those of you here in the audience are about to witness the first live televised execution in American history.”
Price approached the electric chair and shook Darryl’s hand.
“I’m sorry that it has turned out this way, Darryl. You were an incredible contestant. Do you have any last requests?”
Darryl simply shook his head
“Okay,” said Price. The guards began to get the chair ready. Two of them fastened the electrodes while another made sure the electricity was turned on.
“Did you check the sponge?” whispered Price to the guards. “It better be wet, or this son of a bitch is going to be on fire in seconds. If we mess up, it’s your asses.”
“Yes, sir,” one of them answered.
Good, he thought. Price turned to face Darryl again.
“Darryl Turner, electricity shall now pass through your body until you are dead. Do you have any last words?” Price asked.
Darryl uttered nothing. The hood was placed over his head, and the executioner flipped the switch. Darryl’s muscular body convulsed and violently shook when the electricity hit him. Within seconds, though, it was over. After the body had time to cool down, the physician approached Darryl and pronounced him dead. A clean electrocution. Price was elated.
Absolutely perfect. Relieved, he turned to the crowd.
“Now let’s bring out our winner!” he said, motioning for Johnny to approach the stage. Johnny wouldn’t move, so the guards pushed him out.
“Johnny Turner, on behalf of everyone involved in Surviving Death Row, the network, and our wonderful sponsors, we would like to present you with this key to your freedom and this check for one million dollars,” said Price.
Johnny’s shaking hand accepted the key and check, turned around, and began to walk off stage. Price looked at Griffin, who had a huge smile on his face that shouted dollar signs. He then noticed, though, that Johnny had stopped and turned around, heading back towards him. Johnny faced the audience.
“Are you all happy now?” screamed Johnny. “You all just watched an innocent man get murdered. Is this really the kind of shit that entertains you all? You’re all fucking sick! I don’t want your money or your freedom!”
Price felt the color drain from his face. He started to back away when Johnny turned and looked at him. He was frozen in fear.
“I know I’m as much to blame as anyone that this happened. I can’t believe I’ve lied all this time and said he was guilty,” said Johnny, dropping his head. “I let my brother die for something he didn’t do. I deserve to be buried right along with him.” He raised his head again, his eyes fixed upon Price.
“This is your spectacle, you bastard.”
He lunged at Price, knocking him down. Johnny wrapped his hands around his neck and choked him as hard as he could. The guards quickly pulled out their guns, but then Griffin quickly motioned to them, and they lowered their weapons.
As life slipped from Price’s body, his last thoughts were of his children, who he knew were watching at home. The last sounds he heard were Griffin’s maniacal laughter and the audience’s wild ovation.