The orchestra played and a million lights flashed. The stage slowly rotated revealing two cosy armchairs, a glass topped table and a tall bookcase filled with leather bound volumes of encyclopaedias. A vase half filled with glass pebbles and three single stems of bright red flowers stood on one shelf. The main feature of stage was a large television screen.
"And now…the man we have all be waiting for…. our host…Silas Wiseman."
The audience had been thoroughly wound up and well tutored to whistle, clap and stamp their feet as Silas made his entrance. The screen lit up with bright lights that swirled around in frantic circles as the cameraman launched into his opening sequence.
"Good evening…welcome.." Silas was reading the autocue at the back of the studio with practised ease. He smiled confidently at the camera that displayed the red dot, then deftly swung his head to catch another camera showing different angle of his face. "Tonight we are going to hear some amazing stories, and meet the people involved. And then you the audience are going to decide…..
The music swelled to a crescendo, the camera swung around the audience catching glimpses of faces as the spotlight swirled around them.
"THE NEXT STEP"
"Yes, you get to decide what happens next. These are people who are out of options, out of ideas and…some would say…OUT OF THEIR MINDS!"
The audience joined in with the catch phrase, clapping.
"For our first guest…..a man who knows the bottom of the barrel intimately. From the dizzy heights of a much loved son, he fell…watlzed out of a life of luxury and wandered into a pig sty. Put your pegs on your noses for,,,,the PRODIGAL SON."
It had been Silas' idea to keep the young boy in his pig-sty state. It was these kinds of stunts that had kept the show fresh and vibrant. However, the smell was overpowering and unpleasant. Silas was a professional though and sidled up to him placing a fatherly arm about his shoulders.
"Luke, why don't you tell us your story…" Silas invited the boy to speak, the camera drawing close, showed in detail every facet of his tear stained face and downcast eyes.
The story wasn't unusual. Young people leave home all the time and end up living on the streets. Not all of them, however, start off their journey with a bag full of money. Not all of them let their money slip carelessly through their fingers, wasted on late nights, long drinks and loose women. When a famine hit the land, his friends deserted him and he was forced to find employment. Working on a pig farm, he realised that the pigs were being treated better than he was. Coming to his senses, he was thinking about going back home.
The camera spanned the audience, catching a frowning face and zooming in. Another person shifted in his seat as he crossed disapproving arms.
There was a silence at the end of the story while the audience digested what they had heard, and started to think about the next step. They clutched remote controls in their palms, ready to press the button once they knew the alternatives.
"Now it is your turn. Your decide ….THE NEXT STEP" The lights twirled in stomach wrenching circles and the orchestra played the show's theme tune.
"Our experts have heard the same story and here is their list of options. Let's... CHALK UP THE CHOICES…. The large screen on the stage thrummed into life with a riot of swirling patterns, settling down to just three numbers.
"CHOICE NUMBER ONE… learn to like pigs. In two weeks, with intense counselling you will love the little creatures.
"CHOICE NUMBER TWO…fool your father into thinking you have made it big. Our make-up department will dress you in a designer suit and our helicopter will fly you home to your doorstep - for one day only.
"CHOICE NUMBER THREE…make your own way home and grovel on his doorstep. And our cameras will be there to watch every move.
"Audience, press your remote controls….NOW!"
Luke had already made his choice and the audience didn't matter. The stupid contract he had signed didn't matter either. He was going home. He had lost everything he thought mattered to finally find out what really did. He wanted, but did not expect, his father's forgiveness. He wanted, but did not expect, his father's love. With nothing in his hands, Luke was going home.