After being laid off during the pandemic, Alex responds to an online ad to be a contestant in a spaceship-themed reality TV series with game show challenges. Unbeknownst to Alex, they learn one of those challenges is to stay alive.
I should’ve known there would be a catch to being a contestant in this reality game show. Like millions of others, I lost my job in April due to the ongoing pandemic. Shortly after I made a post on Facebook about looking for a job, an ad appeared seeking contestants for a new reality TV series. The advertisement asked for people out of work to pay five thousand dollars a week with possible bonuses. I was a little creeped out by the algorithms’ accuracy, but it wasn’t the first time my personal life was the target of an ad. With no job prospects and out of morbid curiosity, I clicked on the ad. After all, they did offer more money than what I used to make in a month.
The website was rather vague about the show. The page said the show was based on a hit video game and would be a mix of reality TV with game show challenges. I assumed they didn’t want to leak too many details. There were a ton of legal conditions, which I skimmed over, and in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t. Auditions were happening that day not far from my apartment, so I grabbed my bike, hoodie, and a face mask and then made my way to a run-down warehouse building downtown.
There were a series of printed signs with the word “auditions” and arrows leading the way. I thought there would be a long line of people, but I never saw anyone. I began to think I came at the wrong time until I entered this massive empty warehouse space when these two people directed me to stand under a light beam. I wasn’t sure if they were the producers or casting directors, as I never did get their titles, but they were an odd pair. One of them was this tall man in a white suit with pink accents, and the other was this woman in a red dress with a tablet I’d never seen before. Hollywood types, am I right?
From their metal folding seats, they asked some basic questions about me, including some health questions. Then they asked me some weird questions.
“How do you feel about spaceships?” the woman inquired.
“I think they’re pretty neat,” I stumbled to answer.
Not a second after I answered, the man demanded to know, “What would you do if a big scary alien jumped out in front of you?”
“Uh, I would probably scream and run away.”
“How many times has someone tried to kill you?” the woman quizzed.
“None, I think….”
The audition ended with them informing me that they would call me tomorrow morning if selected. I left, not feeling too confident. My mind spent the evening replaying various should-haves for the interviews. I also wondered what the show would be like, what I would do with the money, if that couple was related as they looked like siblings, and other racing thoughts about the audition. I calmed myself with some home renovation shows.
I was shocked when I received a call at 9 am the next day. They said they thought I “would bring a much-needed personality to the show.” They then asked if I could start on Friday with the quarantine process, and I enthusiastically replied yes.
When I returned to the warehouse, a construction company filled the audition space with unfinished wooden walls. The experience was like being behind a movie set. The woman I met from the interview introduced herself as Raven and one of the show’s producers. She wore the same sparking red dress with a keyhole cut top as before with a matching face mask. She led me to a sizable boxed structure with a door covered in a black number seven. Inside was a fully furnished studio apartment with a modern white sci-fi spacecraft theme. On the opposite end was a locked sliding octagon metal door. She informed me they were still building the stage and pointed to the headphones hanging next to the wall-mounted flatscreen TV if I needed them.
I signed a mountain of legal documents while she explained I would have to stay here for two weeks as I’ll be living with the six other contestants. However, I would have internet access to keep me occupied. Plus, I was getting paid $10,000 to do nothing for two weeks. Awesome, right?
With the paperwork done, Raven walked me over to my uniform, a white spacesuit costume. The outfit didn’t look bulky or uncomfortable like an actual spacesuit–more like a jumpsuit or something one would wear underneath a spacesuit. Raven showed me the craft supplies to decorate my uniform however I wanted.
There were drawers of gray sweatpants and t-shirts for me to wear for the show. Above the drawers and TV was a twin bed. The bathroom was tiny, with a standing shower, toilet, and sink. If I wanted privacy, the bathrooms were the only place without any cameras. There was no kitchen other than a water dispenser and a dumbwaiter for food. Raven told me to change out of my clothes and put them in the dumbwaiter after she left. After the tour, I was left alone.
The clothes they provided were comfortable and fit perfectly, which I was worried wouldn’t be the case. I learned to sow because I had difficulty finding outfits that worked for me.
About seven days through, time started to drag. I dyed my suit yellow and wrote my name, Alex, on the name patch with a marker. I worked out and did yoga to keep myself in shape. I started to watch shows I was less excited to check out. Thankfully, I was allowed to FaceTime and text my friends and family. The producers didn’t mind as they said this would “build hype.” Talking to real people was better than talking to the camera above the TV, which I might have had several rants for that camera. In my defense, conversation topics would pop up on the screen when I wasn’t watching anything. The whole quarantine process made me sympathize with the astronauts training to go to Mars.
On the morning of day 14, I put on my spacesuit as instructed by the TV. Right at 8 am, the internet went off, and the sliding door opened. I jumped up from the couch and walked outside into the bright white hallway with an octagon shape. The six other contestants stepped out from their rooms. I have to admit, the producers selected a diverse group of people with three girls and three girls, although everyone was probably in their 20s or 30s. We greeted each other, and then Raven spoke over a speaker.
“Good morning, crew!” Raven greeted with an authoritative tone of leadership. “As a member of this spaceship, there will be random tasks for you to compete to keep this ship flying. Successfully complete the task to win bonus cash. At the end of every day, there will be an elimination round. Survive to continue. Good luck and enjoy breakfast in the dining hall.”
With a charming ding, the transmission ended.
“Let’s go eat!” shouted the tallest contestant. He was the only one who didn’t decorate his spacesuit other than writing his name, Jake, in the name badge section.
A woman with the name tag of Sari in a sky blue spacesuit and raised her hand. “Where is the dining hall?”
No one said anything. I think we all half expected Raven to tell us, but when she didn’t, we all awkwardly scattered. I took the left hallway, walking alongside Maro. Out of all of the spacesuit designs, his was by far the most detailed, with drawings of flowers and dragons. During our walk, I learned he was a tattoo artist, and his parents moved to America from Spain before he was born. When the pandemic hit, he and his husband owned a tattoo parlor together, putting them both out of work.
Before I could say anything about myself, we wandered into the dining hall about the same time as the others. The octagonal room had four entrances that were also octagon-shaped, like the hallways. In the center of the room stood a large, octagonal white metal table. It was becoming apparent that the set design team was obsessed with octagons, so from here on out, if I talk about anything, assume it was octagon shaped too.
Scattered along the walls were seven numbed dumbwaiters. I walked over to number seven, slid up the door, and my breakfast sandwich wrap was inside. I brought the tray over to the table and sat next to Maro. A curly blonde-haired woman with a fruit smoothie sat next to me. She decorated her spacesuit with numerous multicolored hearts.
“I love your hair,” she complimented. “You got this whole artsy half buzzcut superhero thing going on.”
“Thank you,” I replied, sliding my hand through my hair.
“Oh, I’m Kate, by the way,” she introduced. “She/her.”
“I’m Maro,” he said with a wave. “He/him.”
“I’m Alex. They. So, Kate, what did you do before the pandemic?”
“Well, I am a singer slash songwriter, and I was planning this big tour, and well, here I am. Granted, I would’ve been couch surfing with some strangers because I was going to do the tour self-funded, so maybe it’s for the best this all happened.”
“Trying to see the positive side of things,” I said.
“As best I can,” Kate exclaimed before taking a drink.
We chatted over breakfast, with mostly small talk and how we lost our jobs. I couldn’t help but feel how weird and refreshing it was to be around people physically during the whole conversation. I missed in-person contact.
About the time we finished eating, Raven spoke over the intercom. “Reminder: You have work to do. Explore the spaceship for tasks to complete and bonus rewards.”
Jake bolted up from the table and ran out through the north door, hollering along the way. The rest of us casually got up and returned our trays to our dumb waiters, with the guy that sat next to Jake taking care of his tray too. We went our separate ways.
I knew the warehouse space was huge, but I didn’t expect them to utilize as much space as they did. I was away from everyone on my path in no time. I stumbled upon a door marked with three blue cylinder tubes. The door slid open as I approached. Inside was a ball-pit the size of my bedroom filled with clear balls. In front of the pit was a pedestal with one blue cylinder tube with a sticker that said “fuel-cell” and holes for two others.
“I assume my task is to find the other two fuel-cells hidden in the ball-pit?” I spoke into the room.
No response. I shrugged and carefully dipped myself into the pit. The balls went up past my waist. As I swam around, I became awash with joy. Although there wasn’t a live studio audience cheering me on, I felt like I was on some old Nickelodeon game show. I wasn’t sure how long I was in there before I banged my foot on the first tube in the bottom center. I pulled myself out of the pit and placed the object in the slot. The fuel cell lit up, and a robotic voice announced, “One more left.”
This time, I returned to the pit doing a cannonball dive. I went to the furthest corner, where I found the third one. I raced out and put the device in the slot. The room lights turned green.
“You’ve received a bonus of $342,” the robotic voice congratulated in a monotone. “Please exit the room.”
As instructed, I left the room. I inspected both ends of the hallway. There was something different. I could’ve sworn the air vents were toward the ceiling and not toward the floor. The spaceship’s design was modular enough that perhaps the TV crew could move things around in an attempt to confuse us, or maybe was I just mistaken?
The question was a moot point, so I went left, and at the intersection, I nearly ran into Flint, the guy who cleaned up after Jake. He was the opposite of Jake in appearance. Jake was tall while Flint was short, Jake was muscular while Flint was heavyset, and Jake was White, and Flint was Black. Flint also took the time to dye his spacesuit orange. He apologized, and I said it was all good.
“Did you find any challenges?” I asked him.
“Yeah, I was walking down a hallway when this panel slid down, and there was this clear tube sticking out. I was starring at the contraption for a moment when this green ooze started to flow up, and a green light started to flash in a corner with another tube, and then a bunch of tube pieces fell on me. I figured I had to connect them to get the ooze to go to the other end.”
“What did you win?”
Flint gestured to the green gloop on his arm. “I don’t think I won.”
I covered my mouth as not to laugh. “Well, I found a ball-pit room where I had to find two fuel cells.”
“That sounds fun,” Flint said with amazement.
“Yeah, it was,” I admitted. “Anyway, good luck on the next one.”
We traveled in opposite directions. I kept my eye out for the same ooze puzzle, but instead, I found a door with a thin black line symbol. The room was about the same size as the previous challenge room. On the opposite end of the room was a large red button, but there was a balance beam over a foam-padded pit to get across. I think I managed three steps before I fell. The moment I hit the ground, the lights in the room went red.
“Failure,” the robotic voice announced without any emotion. “Please exit the room.”
I climbed up the metal ladder and left the room. I didn’t get the same hallway shifting vibe that I did last time. Either the crew didn’t have time to move things around on me, or I imagined things. I explored the hallways without encountering any more challenges when I ended up in the dining hall for lunch. I found the three girls, Kate, Sari, and Alyssa, enjoying lunch together.
“Yo, Alex, come sit with us,” Kate shouted.
I grabbed my lunch, a turkey sub, and joined them. Kate introduced everyone. I learned that the pandemic caused Alyssa to get furloughed from her nonessential medical job. Sari couldn’t complete her art historian dissertation with everything closed.
I asked them about the ship’s challenges, and all agreed we felt like we were on a Nickelodeon game show. Although we had to explain what that meant to Sari – complete with examples of Double Dare, GUTS, and Legends of the Hidden Temple – she ended up agreeing with us.
The guys entered the dining hall, laughing and flinging green gloop at each other, which they were all drenched with on their spacesuits.
“What happened to you guys?” Alyssa asked, concerned.
“We found this room where we had to work together and throw balls at these cardboard aliens,” Maro explained.
“Those ‘aliens,’’ Flint commented with air quotes, “also had cannons that fired this green goo at us.”
“But we each won $500,” Jake enthusiastically added.
The guys grabbed their lunch and joined the group. I discovered Jake was a personal trainer who lost most of his clients when they lost their jobs. Jake certainly had the energy of a trainer, and I bet he was great at it.
Flint was a bouncer, and with all the clubs and bars shut down, there was nothing for him. Although he admitted the downtime was giving him a chance to reevaluate his life because he only started his job because people thought he would be good at keeping order. I also found out that he dyed his jumpsuit purple for his favorite football team, the Baltimore Ravens.
Before we could finish eating, the lights flashed yellow.
“Danger,” the robotic voice announced in a high pitch tone. “The ship is under attack. Press the ten yellow buttons throughout to repair our shields.”
We all jumped out of seats and raced throughout the hallways as the voice repeated itself, and a perpetual alarm followed. After a few turns, I found a lit yellow button the size of my hand mounted on the wall. I pressed it, and the panel flipped, disappearing the button.
I ran down the hallway and made a right turn. I couldn’t hear anything over the alarm, and no one was around. I found a second button. I pressed it, and this time the alarm and flashing lights stopped.
“I guess I found the last one,” I boasted. “Good job, Alex.”
I half jogged my way back, trying to remember which way I came. After a few wrong turns, I found everyone gathered in a circle in the dining hall.
“Hey, what’s going on?” I asked.
Maro stepped to the side to reveal Kat on the floor with a knife in her back. “Someone killed Kate.”
“This isn’t really Kate,” Jake stated. “This is clearly a dummy.”
“This isn’t a dummy,” Alyssa corrected.
“How do you know what a dead body looks like?” Jake snapped.
“I’m a fucking nurse,” Alyssa snapped back. “I know a dead body when I fucking see one.”
A flashing red light filled the area.
Raven came on the intercom. “Everyone, return to your rooms. Return to your rooms.”
We all looked at each other, and Raven repeated herself a third time. We walked back to our rooms. The light was normal. Once I was inside, the door closed behind me. Raven was on my TV screen.
“There is a killer among you who killed Kate,” she coldly revealed. “We offered one of you triple the weekly reward to kill one of your fellow crewmates. I will give you 12 minutes to reflect on your day. Share your thoughts into the camera above your TV and type your vote on who should be eliminated. Choose wisely.”
The screen switched to a red countdown clock, leaving me with my thoughts. Who should I vote to eliminate?
* * *
I starred into the lens. Am I honestly expected to share my thoughts on who among us could be a killer? I let out a frustrated sigh and let myself rant, hoping that talking out my day out would help me think.
“Honestly, I have no idea who would’ve killed Kate. She was so warm and friendly from the little time I got to know her. From the motive of money, we’re all hurting, but who could be hurting the worst? Jake has been really into winning, so maybe he’s in more finical trouble than what he’s lead us to believe. But, I can’t also disregard his accusations that perhaps Kate isn’t dead. That’s a weird thing to say if you were trying to cover your tracks.
If I look at this puzzle from the perspective of who I would expect the least, I would have to vote for Maro. It’s never the obvious answer in any murder mystery, and Maro has been so kind to everyone. Of course, if he were a back-stabbing murder, he would use kindness to be deceitful.”
I put my hands over the keyboard. They froze, unsure of the consequences.
“Plus, if it isn’t Maro, eliminating him from the game would spare him from getting killed,” I reassured myself. I typed his name. “Done. Let’s see what happens next.”
When the clock reached zero, the screen went blank, but nothing else happened. I paced my room, waiting. I tried to entertain myself, but they turned off the internet. Approximately five minutes later, my door automatically opened.
I cautiously stepped out, just as everyone did. The highway lights were a vivid blue and had a movement pattern that pointed down one way. I didn’t see Maro.
“Are we supposed to follow the lights?” Sari asked.
“I think so,” Alyssa replied and started to follow the lights.
We all followed in silence. My throat was tight from the awkward tension vibes everyone was giving off. I don’t think they expected this part of the show either.
The hallway opened up into a brand new room with three white couches, a wall-mounted tv with how much money everyone’s earned, and a glass door with Maro on the other side. I assumed the tiny room Maro was in was supposed to represent an airlock.
Maro started pounding on the glass the moment he saw us. He spoke, but I couldn’t hear him. His face was red with anger. The airlock room filled up with smoke. We all watched in silence as the smoke cleared out. Maro was gone.
The intercom dinged.
“Carry along with your day,” a friendly robotic voice inspired.
The message repeated itself and concluded with a ding.
“So, did Maro do it?” Flint asked the room.
“I found him in the room first,” Sari revealed. “I saw him wiping his hands clean.”
“It’s always the person you least suspect it in these murder mystery things,” I chimed. “I voted for him.”
“I voted for him for the same reason, too,” Alyssa added with a tone of happiness that someone else had the same idea.
“Well, I voted for Jake,” Flint confessed.
Jake laughed. “I voted for you!”
“I guess we get to play some more games now,” Alyssa said, clapping her hands together.
We all agreed and split up. I was positive the tv crew moved the hallways around while we voted as no route was familiar. I found a challenge room door with two squares side by side, just as Sari did.
“I think you found this one first,” Sari shied away.
“Wait!” I interrupted. “Maybe it’s a room where we have to work together.”
Sari nodded with a smile. “If you want, let’s give it a chance.”
The door slid opened, and we stepped inside. The center of the square room had a ten by ten grid of light-up squares on the floor. Some were blue, and some were red.
“Any idea what we’re supposed to do?” Sari said.
I stepped on a red square, and it turned blue. I stepped on a blue one, and it stayed blue. “I think we’re supposed to turn all the squares blue.”
Sari nodded. “Let’s do it then.”
We started walking on the red squares, turning them blue. After some time, we noticed some of the tiles reverted to red. We started running to keep pace with the squares, working together to get all of the same color. Sari stepped on the last one, causing all of the squares to flash purple.
“Congratulations,” the monotone robotic voice reported. “You each won $347.”
We high-fived each other as the room went dark.
“Did we cause a power outage?” I joked.
“This game did use a lot of lights,” she pointed out.
“That’s true. Hold my hand. I think I can get us to the door.”
I led us back to the door. We only managed to step on each other twice, so I count that as a success in my book. The door opened automatically to a lit hallway.
“Must’ve had an outage in just that room,” I commented.
“I think so,” Sari agreed. “Hey, weren’t the air vents toward the bottom?”
I looked around the hallway for any differences. “Yeah, I don’t remember. I had the same feeling the air vents were in a different place after one of the challenges I did earlier, but I shrugged it off.”
After a moment of silence of Sari staring at a vent, I told her I would look for more challenge rooms. I went down a hallway while Sari kept staring. After two turns, I found the same tube puzzle Flint first found. Since I knew what to expect, I worked fast to connect the tubes to allow the green ooze to flow to the other end. When linked together, a screen covered the puzzle with $100 written on it.
I did a victory dance, but my celebration was interrupted by a scream. I bolted to the source to find Alyssa – still alive – against a hallway wall holding a hand over her chest on her red jumpsuit.
“Are you okay?” I asked as I jogged up to her.
“Yeah, I thought I saw something in the vents,” she explained.
I looked at the vent in front of her. “Nothing now.”
“Yeah, I think I’m just hungry,” she consented. “You think dinner is ready?”
“We can go look,” I reassured her.
We made our way to the dining hall together. Along the way, we talked about the challenges we faced. I also told her about how I believed the rooms were moving.
“Okay, so it isn’t just me,” Alyssa said, relieved. “I thought I was going crazy the first time I thought the path was different.”
“Me too,” I said without any enthusiasm. My mind got hung up on another topic I wanted to asked Alyssa now. “So, about Kate. Do you think she was really dead? Like it wasn’t a fake body?”
Alyssa was quiet for what felt like an eternity. “It looked so real, but at the same time, they’ve put a lot of effort into this show, so maybe it was all fake.”
“They didn’t give us time to inspect things,” I mentioned.
“True. Kate could’ve been in on the whole thing too.”
We turned the corner and ended up in the dining hall.
“I wasn’t expecting to get here until a few more turns,” I remarked.
Alyssa playfully punched me on the shoulder. “Don’t mess with me.”
We opened our respective dumbwaiters to find dinner ready. We sat and talked about our favorite movies. Flint was the first to join us, followed by Sari and Jake. Thankfully, a friendly message from Raven came instead of a surprise challenge that concluded our dinner time.
“Please return to your rooms when finished,” Raven kindly directed. “Get some rest as you’ll have a busy day tomorrow.”
One by one, we went back to our rooms. When I went to my room, all alternative routes were closed. Once inside, the door automatically locked behind me. I turned on the TV. The producers returned Internet access, so I watched some movies until I got tired and retired to my bed.
I woke up at my usual time, and the door was already open. Although I was still in my sweatpants and t-shirt, I popped my head out. The hallway lights were dim, and the producers opened all the doors. I jumped in the shower, put on some fresh clothes, my spacesuit, and went to the dining hall.
“Good morning,” I greeted as I stepped inside.
Alyssa, Flint, and Jake looked up and glared at me.
“You look awfully fresh,” Jake accused.
“What?” I muttered, taken back by the harsh comment. “Why would you say–”
My eyes noticed Sari’s body with her head cut off. I covered my mouth. I could feel the room getting smaller as everyone stared at me. I wanted to vomit.
Alyssa crossed her arms. “You were the last one to arrive last time.”
A flashing red light filled the dining hall.
“Everyone return to your rooms,” Raven ordered over the intercoms. “Return to your rooms.”
Without hesitation or having Raven repeat herself a third time, we all walked back to our rooms. When I got back to mine, Raven was already on the TV. The doors closed.
“Maro was not the killer,” she informed. “Now Sari is dead. Vote to eliminate the right person this time if you want to leave this ship alive.”
A 12-minute countdown clock replaced the feed of Raven.
“What the fuck,” I blurted out to the camera. “Does everyone think I did it now? Fuck. Who could it be?”
I sat there, contemplating my choices. I reevaluated who could be the most desperate for the money, but nothing new came to light. Then I started to think about who could physically be able to cut off someone’s head.
“It has to be Jake. He’s the strongest. He could do it.” I typed in his name. “I hope he didn’t convince everyone else it was me.”
The timer disappeared. This time, my door opened immediately with three faceless people in bright orange hazmat suits.
“You have been eliminated,” one of them ordered through a voice box, confirming my fear. “Come with us.”
I got up, and they led me to the airlock room where they left me. About a minute later, the rest of the crew came into the room to witness me go. I tried to scream that I was innocent, but I knew no one couldn’t hear me. The room filled up with smoke, and I felt two pairs of hands guide me out of the room.
The smoke cleared away, bringing me behind the film stage. The two guiding hazmat personnel left me in front of a cheap folding table with a box of my belongings, minus my original clothes, and a check of my earnings. Before I could ask any questions, they left through a metal door. I followed the series of arrows out of the building. I tried to get back inside, but they locked the doors.
I waited around for a few minutes, expecting Raven or one of the other producers to debrief me or do some final on-camera interview, but no one came. I walked back to my apartment. If it weren’t for the pandemic, I would’ve called a friend or a Lyft. I had been inside so long I kind of forgot what the sun and wind felt like, so I embraced the walk. Surprisingly, I didn’t get any attention for my outfit, or at least none that I realized.
When I got home, I called my friends and family and told them about the show. They all had a good laugh. Everyone believed that the deaths were fake. I didn’t disagree with them as I leaned toward the same opinion when I was on the ship. I asked everyone to keep an eye out for the show because I was curious about the outcome.
About a week later, I landed a new job. I searched online for the other contestants, but I couldn’t find any details about anyone. I contacted practically every tattoo shop in the area, thinking someone would know Maro, but no luck. Did he lie about his profession? Was he an actor? Or maybe he lived out of state? I guess I didn’t have enough information about anyone to be able to track them down.
Months later, nothing new surfaced. I still haven’t heard from the show’s producers or any of my crewmates. Now, I’m sharing my story online with you. Does anyone know anything about this show?
Thank you for your patience with this story! I meant to have part one out a week earlier, but as you can read, this story became my longest yet this year and it’s only part one! I had to set the scene, figure out the characters, and the whole process required more time.
When I published part one, I posted on my social media asking people who Alex should eliminate. It was a tie between Maro and Alyssa, so I broke it and eliminated Maro in part two, which I published on October 17. 2020.
This story was inspired by a writing prompt about a reality show where the crew abandoned them, the Among Us video game, and r/nosleep. (In a divergence from the prompt, the crew is very much involved with the show.) I also thought it would be fun to have people vote on who should be eliminated, doing a mini-series for October. I ended up concluding it by having Alex eliminated in the second round.
Thank you to Henry Yusman for bringing the murder scene to life!
Thank you for following this story!