True Human Potential

It had all started with an obsession for talk shows in my teenage years. Back then, I couldn’t get enough of them. The audience, the mundane topics, the drama that unfolded in each show, it was terrific.

It was years later, during a studio tour, that I learned about audience extras. I signed up for the program instantly.

Being an audience extra means that you’re invited to shows with a live audience to fill up empty seats. It’s a common practice. There are quite a few shows that invite audience extras, to give the impression that they are packed.

Back in 2008, I was part of a talk show audience for the first time. Being there and seeing everything first hand was an exhilarating experience. Needless to say, it was enough to rekindle my teenage obsession.

I often tried to get a seat in the bigger and more famous shows. There were two problems, though. First, there weren’t always empty seats available. Second, if there were empty seats, it was never enough for everyone who’d signed up for the program. Instead, they relied on a complicated system of rotation.

In time, though, I found out about other, smaller productions. They were recorded for pay-per-view channels, niche programs, or online distribution.

The biggest difference was the number of free seats available. Many of these shows had a hard time pulling in people, and often half their seats were empty.

It wasn’t rare for them to invite participants of studio tours to their shows. If that didn’t do the trick, they’d sent out a member of the production crew to ask pedestrians passing by the studio if they were interested.

That’s how I became a regular in these types of shows. When I learned how often they needed to fill up empty seats, I started to hang out in front of the production studios. If I played it right, I was almost always invited.

While many of these shows weren’t as exciting as the popular ones, they had their very own charm.

I sat in quite a few test runs or pilot runs for upcoming shows. They were pretty hit or miss, but either way, they could be fun, if only for how terrible or ridiculous they were.

What happened in one of those shows haunts me to this day.

The day began like so many others before. By then I knew when production for the day would start and when ‘audience acquisition’ as I called it, took place.

I’d been there for five minutes when some poor devil was sent outside. He went around asking me and many other people if they were interested to be in the audience of their new and upcoming talk show.

I could tell this show wasn’t upcoming in the slightest by the number of people he’d gathered. It was most likely a niche program.

The man ushered us inside and placed us in strategic positions in the audience. It was to give the impression that the studio was packed while it remained half-empty, even with all of us audience extras.

It wasn’t long before the host stepped in and introduced himself. He was a self-proclaimed self-help guru and influencer that no one had ever heard about. The show would be the pilot for his new self-improvement talk show.

Fabulous, I thought, sounds like he’s trying to cash in on the current self-improvement hype. I groaned as I readied myself for what would be few hours of utter boredom.

After he was done talking about himself, the host introduced us to the first guest, Amy. She was an Instagram model and yoga trainer. Her entire demeanor and way of talking clarified that this girl thought she was way more important than she really was. I half drifted off when she ruminated facts about fitness, vegan diets, and the importance of a positive mindset.

The second guest was Tyler. He was all about spirituality and entrepreneurship. He went on about how meditation, finding inner peace, and Feng Shui had changed his life. It had helped him to not only improve his general productivity, but also his business mindset. Apparently, he also worked out a lot.

Discussion started with dieting and exercise, shifted to spirituality versus creativity, only to return to dieting. It was mind-numbingly boring.

There were some questions from the audience. Anyone could tell the people asking were either part of the production team or paid to do so.

‘This one’s for Amy, how are you able to find the time to work out, look so amazing, but also run a yoga business?’

‘Tyler, how is finding inner peace related to the successful launch of a product?’

I couldn’t wait for this show to be over. Once you’ve taken your seat in the audience though, you can’t walk out, at least not as an extra. The worst part? You have to smile and seem enthusiastic about being there. That means applauding when needed and uhhhing and ahhhing when necessary.

Finally, the host introduced guest number three. That’s when things got a bit more interesting.

Quinn stood in stark contrast to Amy and Tyler. The two of them were well-groomed and fit. Quinn, on the other hand, was scrawny, unkempt, and at least a decade older than them. What little hair he’d left on his head was long and greasy, barely able to hide the many bald spots. He wore a pair of old, worn denim pants at least two sizes too big for him. A button-down shirt that seemed as greasy as his hair completed the outfit. His skin was pale and unhealthy, suggesting he didn’t go outside a lot. Even from where I was I could almost smell the guy and knew he hadn’t showered in days.

I could see Amy smile in disbelief as Quinn made his way towards her. When he sunk in the seat right next to her, she inched away as far as possible from the newcomer.

The host smiled awkwardly, confused about Quinn’s appearance, but kept to the protocol. He turned to Quinn and asked him, too, what he thought about self-improvement.

“Well, these people here are full of shit,” he exclaimed and pointed at Amy and Tyler.

“Dieting, exercise spirituality? Give me a freaking break!”

So they brought in the counter. It was a typical thing in talk shows and other, similar productions. At one point you introduced someone with a differing opinion to steer conflict and spice things up a little. Maybe this guy could create enough trouble to make the rest of this show bearable.

The first who lay into Quinn was Amy.

“You know, one can tell right away you aren’t into exercise and fitness,” she said cackling.

Tyler regarded the newcomer with a smug smile but said nothing yet. Still, one could tell what he was thinking.

As Amy continued to belittle him, Quinn just sat there, listening to her. Finally, when Amy’s little rant was over, Quinn talked again, this time right at her.

“If a little stretching, some bending and an Instagram account dedicated to your fat ass are what you call an improvement than I don’t want to know what you were like before.”

While Amy’s face reddened in a mixture of surprise and outrage, Quinn continued.

“None of you know anything about true human potential… or how to unlock it.”

By now even Tyler couldn’t keep from making a snarky remark.

“And someone like you knows all about it, right? That what you learned in your mom’s basement?”

After Tyler’s comment, the host tried his best to intervene. He made a quick little joke before he tried to move the discussion to a new topic.

Everyone went with it, except for Quinn.

“All of this is so useless. You all talk so high and mighty. You’re so sophisticated with your social media accounts, your blogs, and all that other bullshit. It’s all worth-“

“Worth two hundred grand, my friend,” Tyler interjected.

“All worth nothing. Just empty talk,” Quinn finished without even looking at Tyler.

“Then what’s the real way to improve? Aren’t you full of it yourself? You’re here to get a rise out of us because you’ve got nothing to show for yourself, right?” Amy asked with a triumphant smile.

I knew she expected the guy to either back paddle or to keep to his rants and continue to make a fool of himself. Instead, Quinn smiled. He now turned from her towards the audience.

“Do you want to see what true improvement is? Do you want to see the potential hidden deep within man?”

At this, many people in the audience roared with laughter before they called out they wanted to know.

I looked at the host who stood there, uncomfortable. This wasn’t going the way he’d expected it would at all.

“Now, now, shouldn’t we,” he tried to intervene again but gave up when no one gave him any attention.

By now Quinn had jumped off his chair and taken a few steps towards the center of the stage. I noticed the host giving a brief nod to someone off-camera. Was this the cue for security, I wondered? As it looked though, he seemed intent on letting this play out, given the audience’s excitement.

I could see a ‘What the hell’s going on?’ expression on Amy’s face.

“You truly want to see it?” Quinn asked again.

Of course, the audience agreed again. Someone went on, telling him to stop wasting time while others were still laughing at the crazy guy on stage. I could tell that everyone found this new development much more interesting than the rest of the show.

I watched as Quinn raised his arms high into the air and murmured to himself. As he became louder, I first thought it was Latin, but then realized it was something entirely different. It was guttural, more a mixture of sounds than actual words.

The entire audience was laughing now, and soon even the guests couldn’t help but join in.

Had the production team planned this entire thing to garner publicity, or was this guy insane?

“The hell’s going on?” I heard Amy, who looked first at the host and then at Tyler.

I could see that security was already on standby at the edge of the stage. Guess I had my answer, I thought. This wasn’t planned at all.

“Come on now, I think we saw enough of your little act,” the host called out to Quinn and took a few steps towards the man.

“Careful there, he might show you his true potential,” Tyler joked.

Then Quinn’s performance came to an abrupt end. He fell to his knees, his arms dangling at his sides, his head resting on his chest. Heavy beads of sweat fell from his face to the floor.

The host had almost reached him when Quinn’s hand vanished in his pocket. When it returned, he was holding a small knife. Before anyone could react, he moved the knife down the length of his arm. It left a deep, long cut behind and moments later blood gushed from the wound.

“Oh my god!” Amy screamed.

The noise and laughter of the audience had died down. In a second, the entire scenario had changed. This was not wacky or funny anymore. This had become very real and very dangerous.

I saw security rush towards Quinn. They were only a few steps away from him when everything went dark with a loud bang.

Only seconds later, light returned to the stage. It wasn’t from the floodlights, though. No, this light had a different source and now every pair of eyes in the studio rested on it.

Where Quinn had been mere moments ago, stood now an different figure.

It was a glowing and muscular naked man whose body looked as if cast from gold. Blood, organic matter, and lengthy pieces of skin covered the ground all around him. It reminded me of the skin shed by a snake. What had just-?

“This is true human potential,” I heard a deep, raspy voice echo through the entire studio. As the figure in front of me said these words, I could only stare at it. I felt drawn to it almost at an instinctive level and thirsted for more of its voice.

As the power came back on, I saw that security was still there. They, too, couldn’t help but stare at the imposing figure with no idea what to do or what was happening.

Then Amy screamed. She was out of it, clutching on to her knees and rocking. Without saying a word, the figure stepped up to her. It was towering over the woman, almost twice her size. Before it had seemed the size of an average person, but now it seemed much, much taller. As I stared at the figure, I couldn’t tell how tall it was anymore. It was almost as if reality was shifting and changing in its vicinity.

In a swift motion, the golden giant grabbed Amy by the neck and lifted her from the seat. Amy’s eyes grew wide. Her hand shot forward, trying to free herself. I could see how she clawed, scratched, and finally bit at the hand holding her. The figure showed no reaction at all.

There was only one guttural word it said:

“Dâku.”

As soon as the word had passed the figure’s lips, Amy’s face distorted. Her eyes popped from her face and blood gushed from every orifice in her body. Only moments later, she fell apart, the flesh melting from her bones. All that remained of her was a heap of organic matter.

I was in sheer and utter shock and sat there not able to move a muscle in my body. Around me, people screamed and dashed for the exit. I saw them crash into each other and topple over one another as they fought for the door.

Tyler, too, had retreated from the stage and joined the fray. Security was still there, but they still didn’t rush forward. Instead, they backed away from the stage, the fear visible on their faces.

I heard the figure say something else, and the entire studio reverberated from these few words.

Then, with only a few steps, the golden abomination crossed the space between itself and the host.

The man wasn’t able to do anything as the figure picked him up. When I heard the word ‘Dâku’ again, I could finally tear myself from my seat.

I was prepared for a golden hand to close around my neck, to be killed, but somehow I made it to the exit door. Only seconds later I was out of the studio and rushing down the corridors of the complex. In my panic, they had transformed into a sprawling labyrinth. I dashed here and there, from one dead end to the next, without knowing where I was even going.

I don’t know for how long I’d been running when I made it outside.

As I fell to the ground, panting and shaking, more and more people streamed from the building. Minutes later, the police and multiple ambulances arrived.

Security soon escorted everyone from the premise to a nearby open area. Most people didn’t understand what was going on, but I heard the entire studio complex was being evacuated.

Once things had calmed down, I tried to leave. A sturdy security guard stopped me and informed me in a few brief sentences I had to stay a bit longer.

In the end, I got the entire show. The production company regretted what had happened today. They would reimburse any damage I’d suffered because of the incident. After that, they told me what had happened in their eyes.

A man had come to the production studio pretending to be a guest for the show I’d been seated in. Once they realized he didn’t belong, it was already too late. They made the mistake to run with it. Around the time of the general power outage, the man snapped and got out a concealed weapon. After harming himself, he’d then attacked the other guests and the host. Thankfully, though, the police were quick to restrain and apprehend the man.

They didn’t say a thing about the golden abomination or that people had been killed.

When I raised my voice in protest, they informed me it would be better for me to not spread any silly rumors. It would be best to keep if I kept my mouth shut and signed the statement they’d prepared for me. The production company would handle the rest.

I knew it was a thread and so I signed it right away.

There was nothing about the incident on the news. It was by sheer luck that I even saw the brief article about it in the local paper. All it talked about was a fire in the studio complex and the subsequent evacuation. The entire incident was quickly and quietly swept under the carpet.

To this day, I still can’t make any sense of what happened that day. What had Quinn done? What had he become? Had this weird man found a way to evolve to a higher form of being?

And if so, what had he become? Had the police been able to stop him? Had they killed him?

I try to tell myself that this is what happened, but part of me can’t believe it. Somehow I doubt that guns would’ve been able to stop a being that could kill with a single word.

I doubt it can be stopped at all.