Penny Lemming stared. Her eyes bugged cartoonishly, hand frozen in front of the poster she was reaching for. She couldn’t believe it. Standing before her was the fantastical form of none other than self-assured, socially adept Violet Lockwood. Violet’s eyes were an average brown—but they were piercing and hypnotising anyway, and Penny couldn’t take it anymore. She swung her gaze towards the floor. Their feet were framed by the traces of a fading winter.

But anyways, how did she do that the other day? The way her words trembled their way out of her mouth like she was actually sad? And of course she agreed that that assignment about Romeo and Juliet was terrible. And of course the new play was so exciting. Meerkats? Did the school even have the budget for that? The audition was in a week. No way, she wasn’t going to audition? She would undoubtedly get the lead part. She didn’t know, maybe she would just be one of the extras.

And that’s it, folks! Here we are now three months later, the four ascending the stairs like a puzzle who’s missing piece was finally found underneath the couch. They had a meet-cute, Chloe liked to say as she picked disdainfully at her soggy sandwich, a forlorn pickle dangling between her chewed nails. Yvette always laughed at this like it was supposed to be an inside joke, but Chloe’s tone was more like the bitter taste of burnt food.

Normally, she would turn her head to intercept the haphazardly hidden glare that would invariably be sent her away, but with all three identically tall girls in identically preposterous costumes covering up everything that wasn’t already identical about them, she didn’t know where to turn. Besides, recent events were buzzing through her brain, and not even the poise of the person next to her could silence them.

It all started on the audition day. The pair had spent an afternoon in a tree practising their lines. It wasn’t sunny and picturesque or anything, in fact it smelled like a shade of expired petrichor if petrichor could expire and the bark was slightly damp, leaving traces of dirt and moss on their hands. She wasn’t planning to be there, she really wasn’t. Performing and communicating and all the excitement—it was more agitation than she could handle. But Violet Lockwood could convince anyone to do anything, whether it was climbing a tree or sitting in the middle of the cafeteria for the first time in their life. Still, it took three days of constant badgering to convince her to show up there, choosing a seat on the fringes of the theatre and running her hands along the rough fabric until she reached a tear that exposed the rusty metal underneath and decided to stop.

A familiar figure flung itself into the seat next to her, arriving just in time to hear Penny’s name echo through the room, offering a touch of encouragement. And as she tentatively made her way to the stage, feeling the cool air replace itself around her hand, she could’ve sworn she caught a murderous stare trained on her from a few metres away. Although of course, she felt her surroundings blur, noise reaching her as if she was underwater, and her feet were shaking, and the lights were making her kind of dizzy, so it was probably just her imagination acting up.

Except these strange occurrences continued. She didn’t know what to think about it. It was to be expected in a way, because, well, any good drama requires it. On the other hand, it was confusing, because Yvette worshipped Chloe, and Violet tended to look like a minor planet wandering vaguely in the vicinity of a planet and its moon. Penny and Violet both liked to talk about things like how much Daybreak: Making Dusk sucked, and Chloe preferred to inspect the perfect patterns highlighting Yvette’s piano-playing hands. The four split perfectly into pairs. So really, a green-tinted motive of any sort was incomprehensible. Mostly though, they stayed within the realm of curious glares and slightly too aggressive elbowing, nothing some epic ignoring skills couldn’t handle. Until the cast was revealed and everything escalated real fast.

Being on the cusp of needing eyeglasses, she leaned forward with her head just inches away from the yellow thumbtack pinning the flimsy paper to the board perched petulantly between calls for tutors and choir signups. The results sent her hurtling away into a crowd of conspiratorial whispers and craning necks, and as she mumbled apologies to those unfortunate enough to be in her way, she noticed two things. One, the results were expected by everyone with the exception of not one (that one person being herself), but two people. Chloe’s face fell as her eyes made their way further and further down the list to find herself as the understudy, in addition to joining Violet and Yvette as “Extra 2”s. Two, as Violet congratulated the leading actress, something caught her eye that caused an odd expression to flicker across her face. Immediately, she was by Chloe’s side, comforting her, and for a second, she looked less self-assured and more like Yvette.

On the first day of rehearsal, her script went missing. It was unfathomable, she knew. It was nestled safely in between her math and history textbooks, which she hadn’t touched for a week. Therefore, it had to have been someone who had access to her bag. Yvette, she suspected, had it in her to do someone’s dirty work. By then, after several pieces of graphite were stuck in her eraser, she was making a conscious effort to keep both limbs and possessions away from Chloe. She found it later in her binder, crumpled and covered in coffee stains, but not before stumbling her way through a shaky rehearsal that left her cheeks a vibrant shade of tomato. Even Violet’s contagious confidence couldn’t quell the nerves caused by the condemning looks of disappointment.

A week later, on her way to the washroom, she felt a hand yank her close for a whisper, too quiet to hear otherwise. A shiver slithered up her spine. It was occurring to her that if something were to happen, she wouldn’t know which of the two did it.

This morning, her day started with what she thought was yet another unpleasant present in her locker. A snarky remark, perhaps. A juvenile scribble. What she ended up holding in her hand was a photograph. It appeared to have been taken from somewhere in the parking lot outside her apartment, and was just clear enough to make out the unmistakable form of herself reading behind a window.

She talked herself out of saying anything about it, though. It’s not like there was a threat attached or anything. It was clearly just the work of some jealous, hormone-y teenager who was trying to unsettle her right before the most important rehearsal: the dress rehearsal.

Instead, here she was, pretending to be perfectly comfortable with the presence of two people she wouldn’t be surprised with seeing trying to stab her with a pencil or push her off a cliff.

Moments later, she found herself looking down at an eerily empty lobby. The school tried to justify its sky-high tuition by planting a bootleg of the Titanic’s Grand Staircase right at the entrance, where it could easily intimidate any unsuspecting visitors. It was spring now, and no footprints marred the pristine face of the checkered vinyl floors.

As she turned her head back, she felt herself being grabbed and pitched into empty space. Her heart plunged with horror and her arms windmilled fanatically, desperately searching for the railings. Her arms screamed from the pain of a moment’s hesitation.

Penny Lemming stared. Her eyes bugged cartoonishly, her hair whipping around her unbelieving face as she fell. Because she knew exactly who did it.

Photo: cottonbro on