It all had started with an obsession for talk shows in my teenage years. I couldn’t get enough of them. The audience, the mundane topics, the drama, it was terrific.
It was years later, on a studio tour, that I found out about audience extras. I signed up for the program almost immediately.
Being an audience extra means, that you are invited to sit in shows to fill up empty seats. There are quite a few shows that invite in audience extras for free, to give the impression of being packed.
It was back in 2008 that I sat in the audience of a talk show for the first time. Being there and seeing everything first hand was an exhilarating experience.
At first, I only acted as an audience extra a few times, every few months. Those few visits were all that was needed to rekindle my teenage obsession.
After a while, I tried to get a seat in the big and famous shows as often as I could. I encountered two problems though. First, there are not always empty seats. Second, if there are, it is never enough for all audience extras interested. Instead there is a complicated system of rotation and first come first serve.
In time though, I found out about other, smaller productions. It’s the type that is recorded for pay-per-view programs, niche channels or online distribution.
The biggest difference was that here empty seats were always available. At times these programs have a hard time filling up half their audience seats.
It was not seldom the case that they invited participants of studio tours to sit in their audience. If they were in dire need, they’d even send someone to ask the pedestrians passing by the studio.
That’s how I became a regular these types of shows. When I learned how often they needed to fill their audience, I started to hang out in front of the production studios regularly. Many times I was invited to sit in shows.
While many of these productions weren’t as exciting as the popular ones, they had their very own charm.
I sat in quite a few test or pilot runs for shows. They were pretty hit or miss, but either way, they could be fun, if only for how terrible or ridiculous they were.
It is because of what happened in one of these productions that I often find myself awake at night. What happened that day still haunts me.
The day began like many others. By now I knew when productions would start for the day and where the audience acquisition, as I called it, took place.
I hadn’t been there for long when some poor devil came outside. He was trying to find people to fill up as many of the empty spots as possible, for the show they were shooting.
That day the number of people was quite large. It was most likely going to be a new format or show of sorts.
The man ushered us inside and placed in strategic positions in front of the cameras. It was to give the impression that the studio was packed and not half empty.
As the host stepped in, he introduced himself. He was a self-proclaimed self-help guru and influencer that no one had ever heard about. The show was going to be the pilot for his new self-improvement talk show.
Fabulous, I thought, sounds like they are trying to cash in on the current self-improvement hype.
I was right, of course. I readied myself for what would most likely be a couple of hours of boredom. I sighed. Wasn’t there enough stuff on the topic already?
After this, the host introduced us to the first guest, Amy. She was an Instagram model and yoga trainer. Her whole demeanor and way of talking made it clear that this girl thought she was hot shit. I half drifted off as she ruminated facts about fitness, vegan diet and the importance of a positive mindset.
The second guest was Tylor. He was all about spirituality and entrepreneurship. He went on about how meditation, finding inner peace and some sort of Feng Shui. He said it helped him improve his business and productivity throughout the day. Oh yeah, he also worked out a lot.
The topic of the discussion shifted from dieting to exercise. Then to spirituality versus creativity and then back to dieting. It was mind-numbingly boring.
There were some questions from the audience. Everyone could tell though, that the people asking were either part of the production team or paid to do so.
It was things like:
“This one is for Amy, how are you able to find the time to work out, look so amazing, but also run your yoga business?”
“Tylor, how is finding inner peace related to the successful launch of a product?”
I couldn’t wait for things to be over. Once you joined a production though you can’t walk out. The worst part? You have to smile and seem enthusiastic to be there. That means applauding when needed and uhhhing and ahhhing when necessary.
Finally, the host introduced guest number three. That was when things started to get a bit more interesting.
Quinn was a stark contrast to Amy and Tyler. The two of them were well dressed and fit. Quinn, on the other hand, was scrawny and unkempt and seemed to be quite a bit older than them. What little hair he had on his head was long and greasy, barely able to hide the many bald spots. He wore a pair of old, used up denim jeans that were at least two sizes too big for him, except around the gut. The outfit was completed by a button down shirt that seemed to be as greasy as his hair. His skin was pale and unhealthy, suggesting that he didn’t go outside often. Even from where I was I could tell that this guy hadn’t showered in days.
I could see Amy smile in disbelief as Quinn made his way over towards her. As he sat down on the seat next to her, I could see her inch away as far as possible from the newcomer.
The host too smiled awkwardly but kept to the protocol. He asked Quinn what he thought about self-improvement.
“These people are full of shit,” he exclaimed, pointing at Amy and Tyler.
“Diet? Exercise? Spirituality? Ridiculous!”
So they finally brought in the counter. It was a typical thing in talk shows or similar productions. At one point you always brought in someone with a different opinion to steer conflict. Maybe this guy could create some trouble and make the rest of the show bearable.
The first that started to lay into Quinn was Amy.
“Well, one can tell that you aren’t into exercise and fitness,” she said cackling.
Tyler regarded the newcomer with a smug smile. Who the hell is this guy, it said.
As Amy continued to belittle him, Quinn sat there, listening to her. Finally, as 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, then 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 the true potential of humanity… or how to unlock it.”
By now even Tyler couldn’t keep from making a snarky comment.
“And of course, someone like you knows all about it, right? That what you learned in your mom’s basement?”
It was after Tyler’s comment that the host intervened. He made a quick little joke himself before he tried to move the discussion to a new topic.
Everyone went with it, except Quinn.
“All of this is so utterly useless. You talk so high and mighty. You are so sophisticated with your social media accounts, your blogs, and all that other bullshit. It is all worth-”
“Worth a couple of hundred grand my friend,” Tyler interjected.
“All worth nothing. Empty talk.” Quinn finished without even looking at Tyler.
“Then what is the real way to improve? Aren’t you full of it yourself? You are just here to get a rise out of us, because you 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 to continue making a fool of himself. Instead, Quinn smiled. He now turned towards the audience.
“Do you want to see what true improvement is? Do you want to see the potential that is hidden deep within men?”
At this, many people in the audience roared with laughter. Others proclaimed they wanted to know.
I looked at the host who stood there, somewhat uncomfortable in his position. This wasn’t going the way he had expected at all.
“Now, now, shouldn’t we,” he tried to intervene once more but gave up when he noticed that 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 how the host gave a short nod to someone off camera. Must be the signal for security to intervene if necessary. For now, though, even he seemed intent on letting this whole thing play out.
I could see Amy with a “What the hell is he doing?” expression on her face.
“You truly want to see?” Quinn asked once more.
Of course, the audience agreed again. Some were telling him to stop wasting time and get a move on. Most were laughing about the crazy guy on the stage. I was pretty sure that most of them found this new development much more interesting than the rest of the show.
I watched as the guy raised his thin arms high into the air and started to murmur to himself. As he became louder, I first thought it must be Latin, but then realized it was something different. It was guttural, more a mixture of sounds than a language.
People around me laughed, and even the guests couldn’t help but join in.
Was this whole thing planned to garner initial publicity, I wondered, or was this guy insane?
“The hell’s he doing?” I heard Amy, who looked first at the host, then at Tyler.
I could see that security was already on standby at the edge of the stage, ready to intercept. I guess I had my answer. This wasn’t planned at all.
“Come on now, I think we saw enough of your little act.” the host said, taking a few steps towards Quinn, motioning him to sit down again.
“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 put his hand first into his pocket and then against one of his arms. He was holding a small knife now. Before I could call out and before anyone could react, he moved the knife down the length of his arm. It left behind a deep, long cut and only moments later the blood started to gush from it.
“Holy shit!” Amy screamed.
The noise and laughter in the audience had gone quiet. In a second the whole scenario had changed completely. This was not wacky or funny anymore. I saw security rush towards the man in the center of the stage.
They were only a few steps away when everything went dark with a loud bang.
Only seconds later, a new light filled the stage. Every pair of eyes in the studio was now resting on its source. Where Quinn had been just moments before, was now an entirely different figure.
Standing there now was a glowing, tall, muscular, naked man, whose body looked as if it was cast in gold. All below and around him I could see blood, organic matter and long pieces of skin. They reminded me of the skin shed by a snake. What had just-?
“This is humanity’s true potential,” I heard a deep voice say that echoed through the studio. As he said these words, I couldn’t do anything but look at the figure ahead of me. I felt instinctively drawn to it and thirsted for more of his voice.
As the power came back on, I saw the security staff get back on their feet. They too stood there and looked at the imposing figure. They seemed to have no idea what was going on either.
Then all of a sudden Amy started to scream. She was out of it, cowering in sheer shock on her chair. Without saying a word, the figure stepped towards her. It was towering over the girl. Before it had seemed the size of an average person, but now it was so much taller. I couldn’t tell how tall it was anymore. Reality itself was shifting and changing in its vicinity.
In a swift motion, the golden giant grabbed the girl by the neck and lifted her from the seat. Amy’s eyes grew wide. Her hands were reaching forward, trying to free herself. I could see how she was scratching, clawing and finally biting the hand holding her. The figure should now reaction at all.
There was only one more guttural word the figure said:
As soon as the word passed the figure’s lips, Amy’s face distorted. It was bulging, her eyes almost popping and then blood was running from every orifice in her body. Only moments later, she fell apart as if the flesh was melting off her bones. Finally nothing but a heap of organic matter, guts and blood remained.
I was in shock. I sat there in my seat, not able to move even an inch. Around me, people screamed and ran towards the exit. I saw them crash into each other and topple over one another, as they fought for the door.
Tyler was now in utter panic as well. I saw that security was still there, but they slowly backed away from the stage. Afraid of whatever that thing in front of them was.
I heard the figure repeat something, letting the whole studio resonate with a few more words.
Then, with a few steps, the 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 was finally able to rip myself from my seat.
Any moment I was prepared for a golden hand to grab hold of me, but I made it to the exit door. Only seconds later I was out of the studio, rushing through the hallways of the complex. In my panic, they had changed into a labyrinth. I can’t remember anymore how long it took me to get out of there, but I never felt so happy to be out in the open. More and more people streamed from the building. The police and firetrucks arrived only minutes later.
Security escorted everyone from the premise to a nearby open area. Most people had no idea what was going on because they’d been part of other productions. I heard there was now a full-blown evacuation.
Once things had calmed down a bit, I tried to leave. A sturdy security guy stopped me and informed me in a few short sentences that I had to stay a bit longer.
In the end, I got the whole show. The production company deeply regretted what had happened and that they’d reimburse any damage. After that they told me what had happened in their eye:
A man had come to the production studio pretending to be a guest for the show. Once they realized he didn’t belong it was already too late. They made the mistake of running with it. Around the time of the power outage, the guy snapped and got out a concealed weapon. He first harmed himself, attacked the other guests and the host. Finally, though police restrained him.
They didn’t say anything about the golden monstrosity or the people who’d been killed.
When I raised my voice in protest, they informed me, that it would be better for me not to spread any silly rumors. It would be best to keep my mouth shut and sign the statement they had prepared. The production company would take care of the rest of the matter.
I knew it was a threat. I signed right away and left.
There was nothing about the incident on the news. It was by sheer accident that I found a short article in the local paper. It consisted of a few sentences. It talked about a fire in the studio complex and the subsequent evacuation. The whole thing had been quickly and quietly swept under the carpet.
To this day, I still can’t explain or make sense of what happened that day. What had Quinn done? Had this weird man found a way to evolve to a higher form of being?
If so, what had become of him?
Had the police stopped him? Had they killed him? There is one part of me though, that can’t believe that. I doubt guns could stop a being that could kill with a single word. I doubt it can be stopped at all.