Chuck wiped the back of his hand across her mouth. They didn’t even realize how close they were to the end, how little time they had left. The executives would be calling any minute, or any hour, or maybe any day, to let them know it was over, to tell them they “had a good run, but it just wasn’t working out.” They had no idea, not a god damn clue. Oblivious didn’t even come close to it. Naïve, unaware, ignorant, stupid, retarded—he could go on and still never explain it. They just sat there, crowded around their barbecue, cooking some mundane, boring steak. Or maybe they were burgers. It didn’t matter, it was bland, unoriginal, contrived, clichéd. They were on their way out, and it seemed only Chuck knew it. Everything he did was to save them, to save him. Chuck closed the door and stepped outside.
He’d been a secondary character in their sitcom for so long now, since back when he first moved into the neighborhood. There was disembodied clapping on the day he arrived, an invisible audience responding to the “Applause” sign lighting up overhead. Laugh tracks played when he slipped and fell, a synchronized “aww” following him when he first saw their daughter, Caroline. He’d been a part of it for so long now—a year, maybe two, he wasn’t exactly sure—the hilarious jester of their aging sitcom. As soon as they woke up in the morning, there was Chuck, ready to do what he could to make sure something went awry and kept the show fresh: borrowing items and never returning them, screaming vulgarities at the children, “accidentally” breaking their windows in the middle of the night. He was the comedic relief, the escape from the “typical American life.” He was one of the few reasons anybody even watched anymore.
They had no idea how close they were to being cancelled. They hadn’t the slightest clue. They threatened him with violence, called the police on him, recently even got a restraining order. They did everything in their power to keep Chuck away, to keep him from saving them from an almost unavoidable termination. They had no fucking idea that in just a few minutes, or hours, or weeks, a man in a suit would be calling them to tell them their run was over. He was the only thing keeping them from their assured demise.
Chuck walked over to the fence and crouched down, closing one eye and peering through the small hole in the wood. They were talking and laughing, blissfully unaware of the cameras and audience watching and discussing their every move. Bruce was flipping whatever-the-fuck he was cooking, with Martha talking to some one-sided, flat character they’d introduced this week. Probably a cousin or family member once removed. Bland, boring, unoriginal. It wasn’t good T.V.
Chuck scanned their backyard, searching the perfectly green grass for Caroline. She was the only redeeming factor they had going for them, the only other reason they hadn’t been cancelled. The audience loved her, craved her, needed her around. If Chuck hadn’t been there to keep the show fresh, to spill gasoline in their pool and hilariously toss nails onto their lawn, only her beauty would keep the show running. Of course she wasn’t there.
It was hard being the only logical, sensible person on the show. It was as if they couldn’t see the cameras, couldn’t see the lights of the stage that rose with the sun and again with the moon. Either that or they wanted to be cancelled, wanted to finally see the end of their show, to meet their own demise. But what about Chuck? They didn’t care about him. If the show ended, he was gone too. He was over, done for. He and Caroline would never get the life they deserved, never get to kiss under the stage lights and bow before the audience. They’d just go down with the curtain, fade to black. Chuck would have none of it, not a second of it.
“Caroline?” Bruce yelled. “Come down already, your aunts are waiting to see you.”
Yes, bring on the act the audience demands, restore a little bit of entertainment to this dying sitcom.
“You didn’t see Caroline today, did you?” Martha said, turning to Bruce.
“She was in her room, I think,” Bruce said.
Such ignorance, such naïveté. What if they were just knowingly committing suicide by cancellation? Then they were just fucking selfish. They didn’t care about Chuck and his life, about the efforts he went through to keep the show fresh and entertaining. They didn’t care that he bled, cut, and cried for the program. They didn’t laugh with the audience when he threw a rock at Martha’s head and instead shattered her car window. They didn’t care when he poured paint all over their brand new tennis court. It was all rude and pointless to them, meaningless acts of a deranged man. They either couldn’t see, or chose to ignore, the crucial role he played.
“I’ll go get her. Be right back,” Martha said, turning to the bland, shallow character they’d just introduced this week. Clichéd blonde hair, stupid heels, an uninteresting skirt. She’d be gone by tomorrow’s episode, cut from the cast for good.
Chuck was saving their lives. He was keeping them in the spotlight, keeping their ratings up—and god damn were they up. He had to go to extremes to keep them and everyone else alive. Even if they wanted to meet their own end, to see what the closed curtains hid, he wanted none of it. What he wanted was fame, to live and be recognized, to know that people loved him and what he did, even if he was just a secondary character.
Chuck had waited until the studio lights were dimmed and the moon lights had risen, waited until the audience numbers were at their lowest—he wanted it to be a surprise, even to the regular viewers. He walked into their home while they slept, climbed in through an open window by the now-crowded barbecue. The audience had perked up when he did, soft gasps and giggles filling the air around him. He’d quietly crawled through their home, stopping momentarily to stare at their sleeping, corpse-like bodies. There was nothing interesting about them, nothing even remotely unique. White skinned, brunette hair: typical 40-something, middle class Americans. He hated them, despised them for how little they knew. He spat on the floor beside them, then quietly slithered through their house until he reached Caroline’s door.
He knew it was hers, he’d seen it through the window before. Sometimes he’d tap on the glass in the middle of the night, causing her to jump up from sleep and stare out at where he no longer was. It was a huge ratings booster, an incredibly popular stunt, the air filling with prolonged, natural laughter. He pushed open the door and stared down at her motionless body. They had been so close to being cancelled, just a few seconds from their own termination. Chuck could only keep the show going alone for so long, at some point even his own antics would have become stale. He knew he had to get more radical in his humor, to do something truly unique.
Martha returned to the lawn with a confused look on her face. “She wasn’t in her room,” she said, almost as if speaking to no one.
The audience gasped, a smile spreading slowly across Chuck’s face.
Writing Prompt: You are the crazy next door neighbor in a real-life sitcom. You sabotage your neighbors’ lives in order to keep them from being canceled.