Updated: Jul 7
If you would like to see the results of the previous spins on which this chapter is based, you can click on the image below to watch the Live selection video. I have also listed the spin results at the bottom of the chapter (to prevent spoilers for those of you who would rather read the chapter itself first without knowing the spin results).
Note: The chapters are posted mostly unedited, as I try to get them each out in a timely fashion each week. Please overlook any typos or errors! I'll be editing the entire book once it's completed. :)
Spinner Story: Chapter 1
Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall.
Jay focused her eyes on the curly-haired back of the head in front of her. Seriously, how does she get her hair to look like that? Mine always looks like someone tied bows on a mop.
“The finalists for the Miss College Town Belle Regional Pageant!”
The curtains split and Jay was blinded by spotlights as big as a car. The straps of Jay’s high heels bit into her feet and she forced her lips into a wider smile as she pivoted into her rehearsed pose—hands on hips and right knee popped forward just in front of her, torso twisted enough to face the audience without elbowing the women on either side of her in line.
The audience was a dark blur beyond the spotlights, a roaring mass of faceless cheerers. The host, Former Miss College Town Belle of 1993, swung her now-flabby arm wide, proudly presenting the contestants to the audience.
Her arms were probably completely toned once, Jay thought. Bet she was a body-builder or someth--
“Miss Jayana Merryweather from Tampa, Florida!”
Jay sucked in a quick breath and stepped out of line, making the same sashayed path across the stage as the women called before her—not that she’d been paying attention. At least she hadn’t missed her own name. Jay had a tendency to zone out, but spacing out on stage in front of hundreds of people was new. Being in front of hundreds of people was a new thing, period. I should have stayed in my garage.
But what was done was done and the important thing in this moment was not face-planting on the stage. Jay concentrated on each careful step while trying to make it look effortless, as if she was floating across the stage like a glorious, evening-gown-clad phantom, light as a feather. She hoped it wasn’t obvious that her teeth were clenched and she was just barely keeping her balance on the heels and she probably smelled like B.O. and… I hate this; why did I ever decide to do this? Oh yeah. The money.
Jay completed her sashaying circuit and slipped back into her spot in line, pasting her smile in place as the next girl took her turn prancing across the stage.
This is horrible. I should have – oh no, is she about to fall? The girl who was currently prancing had gone stiff mid-step and nearly lost her footing. Panic had flashed over her face but by the time her heel hit the stage she was completely composed again, like it had never happened. Impressive. Jay would have fallen flat on her face. These girls were like bronzer-covered goddesses in all skin tones and combinations of features, but every one of them perfect – Jay didn’t belong here, and she knew it.
Genetically, she had managed to blend in. Her long legs – inherited from her father, but quite a bit less hairy than his – and her striking green eyes with thick, dark lashes from her mother had gotten her past the initial rounds of this competition. But how she’d ended up here, at the Regionals three rounds in, she wasn’t sure. Long legs and lashes could only take her so far, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that any moment she would be exposed for the fraud she was and the entire line of goddesses would spin to her with fiery condemnation flaming in their irises and jab their fingers in her face while screaming chants of You aren’t one of us, you don’t belong here. Or something like that. Maybe a little less dramatic, since the girls actually all seemed pretty nice – or at least the ones who had forced themselves into her personal space and ignored all her desperate signs that she wanted zero conversation. About the others she couldn’t really say either way.
Jay was not a pageant girl. Except... today she was. And last week. And the week before that, at the initial selection rounds. Oh my word, I’m a pageant girl. It hit her like a slap in the face, as though the stage lights and audience and gowns and all the things leading up to now had been separate entities, not at all connected to this moment. Something inside her died a little, not because she hated pageant girls – she could respect the skill set, especially having had to learn a bit of it – but because she wasn’t one, had never meant to be one, had never wanted to –
“And now for our final event... the talent competition!”
Jay’s stomach plummeted as she followed her fellow bronzer-laden floating goddesses off the stage and into the wings. The talent competition. Jay’s real talent was inventing – research – sciency things. Maybe some art; she was decent at graphic design. But today... today she would be doing something different, something that might actually win.
Jay needed money, and the prize for winning was lots of it. So she would be doing something she had only previously done in the privacy of her own home... and maybe once in elementary school when her mother forced her: She would be singing.
It didn’t matter how many times she did it or what praise she received for doing it well, singing in front of an audience always evoked true, goosebump-raising, muscle-quivering dread. Jay forced a deep breath. You can do anything for... How long was her song again? Two minutes and twelve seconds. You can do anything for two minutes and twelve seconds. Suck it up, get through it; you cannot die from singing a song in front of hundreds of people. Could you? No, probably not. Just get through it.
The first girl had already taken the stage. Jay was next, slotted second to perform by some random selection or act of fate or merciful panel judge who knew that any more anxious waiting than that would possibly actually kill her. Jay felt the urge to pace, but – high heels. So instead she slid back against the nearest wall and stood like a statue, petrified. Maybe I can fade into the wall and disappear.
The music flourished and Jay gasped. That was... it sounded like... My song. How was that possible? Didn’t they screen the acts? Why would they let two girls sing the same thing one right after the other? Dread clenched Jay’s stomach. Jay was good, but this girl was good too, and following right after her would only make Jay’s act seem like a copy, forgettable at best and perhaps even pitiable. That wouldn’t work. She needed to win.
“You’re going to have to do it,” a voice murmured over her shoulder.
Jay let out a little squeal, then stifled it as soon as it emerged. But the other girls had heard it – they glanced her way, eyes questioning.
“Stop it, go away, stop it,” Jay whispered.
The girl closest to her cut her eyes over then took a step away, as though Jay’s crazy might be contagious.
“Look at me, little Jayana, look at meee,” the voice cooed.
“No, stop it. Go away.”
“Need I remind you you’re here to win? You have to do it. You know what I mean. You have to.” The voice was coming from her right side now.
Jay took a shaky breath and slowly turned her face to her right, fighting back the urge to run at the spectral eyes that stared back at her.
“Oh, there you are. Nice to see you.” The ghost laughed.
“I would say the same but it’s not,” Jay hissed.
“At least you can see me. That is a special honor.” The ghost flicked back non-existent bangs with a translucent hand, probably a gesture leftover from its living days, though from its current form it was clear at some point in its life it had gone bald and seemed to have forgotten that.
I wouldn’t exactly call it an honor. Jay hesitated to say anything more than absolutely necessary out loud; the other girls were already staring and whispering.
“Go away,” Jay growled through clenched teeth.
“If you insist, dear, but you know what you have to do. That song isn’t going to be enough now. You’re going to have to go for the other act. You know the one.”
Jay sighed. The ghost was annoying but it was right. “Fine, whatever. Okay.”
“What did you say?” The girl nearest Jay turned to her, looking almost offended.
“Oh, nothing, just...rehearsing my lines.”
The girl gave Jay a half-smile and looked away.
“Science kit’s in the back, Jayana; you know what to do! Make it a bang!” The ghost shouted as it faded away.
Stupid ghosts. They used to only bother her at home but now it seemed they followed her everywhere.
Jay pushed off from the wall and strode past the line of staring girls to find the Talent Act Coordinator.
He turned to her with a look of annoyed concern, hand over his ear-microphone. “You’re next. Why aren’t you in line? Is there a problem?”
“I – I need to change my act.”
“But the girl ahead of me sang my song.”
“Then sing it better,” he responded. “Get back in line; you’re up in twelve seconds.”
Jay hurried back to the front of the line as quickly as she could safely move in her heels.
Applause erupted from the other side of the curtain as the girl on stage finished her act. Oh no oh no oh no...
“Up next, Miss Jayana Merr – “
A deafening crash from the stage shredded the air, followed by a chorus of panicked screams.
The Talent Coordinator rushed past Jayana and whipped the curtain open.
The auditorium was in chaos. Massive wooden beams from the ceiling had crashed down onto the stage, taking one of the giant spotlights with them. Its shattered glass sprayed across the stage as it spun and swung on its cables like an eye-searing pendulum. Its blinding swath of light swept across sections of the room, revealing new bits of chaos with every sweep. Swing – people stampeding for the doors in the back corner. Swing – people rushing through the seats in the front rows. Swing – glass like bits of scattered diamonds across the stage. Swing – the bleeding leg of a –
Oh no. Jay shoved past the panic-stricken Talent Act Coordinator and out onto the stage, heading for the front row where she’d seen the injured person. She had only gotten a glimpse, but she’d definitely seen blood. Please let them be okay.
“You see what you’ve caused, Jayana?”
The familiar voice and accompanying laugh made Jay stumble. She steadied her footing and headed for the edge of the stage, high heels crunching glass with every step. “Stop it. Go away. Stop it!”
She reached the end of the stage and leaped down, catching her balance on the edge of the stage as her ankles faltered on the high heels. The rows of seats had been mangled by the falling spotlight in its initial swing stageward, and Jay had to crawl over some of the broken seats to get to the person she’d seen; from this angle he was barely even visible. She felt and heard her dress rip as she stepped high over part of a broken chair, but she reached the guy and dropped to her knees beside him. “Sir, can you hear me? Are you alright?”
The guy was trapped partially under one of the seats, and there was a small pool of blood beneath his left leg. It seemed to be stuck beneath the chair and had been cut from some the metal and glass, but it didn't seem so bad. Jay breathed a sigh of relief and moved around another seat to get a view of his face.
He looked up at her from the ground. “I’m stuck.”
“I know, I – I’ll try to get you out.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” that familiar voice sang again.
“Why not?” Jay asked.
“Why – what?” The guy looked up at her, his large brown eyes focused and intense despite the fact that he was clearly in pain.
“No, I – not – “
“His leg is cut badly, but the chair is keeping pressure on it. Better wait for the EMT’s to move him. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” A maniacal laugh drifted away, as though moving into the distance.
Jayana nearly cursed under her breath. She wasn’t the kind to curse, though right now she felt like maybe it would have been appropriate.
“Can you... can you help me? I’m still stuck,” the guy said.
“Oh! I’m sorry, I – “ Jay looked down at the guy’s leg. The ghost could be messing with her, but... what if it wasn’t? “I’m sorry. I don’t think I can move you. I think we should wait for help.”
“Better get moving, Jay!” an echoey voice called from the distance. “More is coming.”
“More what? Why are you doing this?” Jay yelled back. “Can’t you see you’re hurting people?”
“Uh – why am I – are you okay?” the guy’s voice sounded alarmed.
Jay took a shaky breath and looked back at the guy. “Look, I want to help you but– I just have a feeling that moving you right now might make it worse. Okay? I’ll... I’m sure someone called for help by now, or maybe I can check if – “
“Everyone stay calm!” Miss Former College Town Belle of 1993 yelled out. “I have called the authorities and an ambulance is on the way. Is anyone hurt?”
Jay stood. “Someone’s hurt here!”
Jay jumped as a firm hand closed around hers. She looked down to see the guy staring up at her.
“Will you wait with me? If I can’t move, I just... it might be easier if I had someone to talk to while I wait, you know?” He dropped his hand.
“Of course.” Jay swept away the shattered glass as best she could with the edge of her dress, and lowered herself to sit beside him. She had seen enough television to know that people went into shock in these sorts of situations, and he’d lost some blood – she needed to keep him calm, awake... or at least probably. Either way, it was best to be safe, right? “I’m Jay – Jayana. And you are...?”
“Kyle.” He gave her a smile that was more polite than joyful. But his eyes looked glad to have her there.
He was kind of attractive, Jay realized now that she was truly looking at him, and seemed to be about her age. But what 20-year-old guy frequented beauty pageants? “So what brought you here?” she asked, partially to keep him conversing and partly because she was curious.
Kyle grimaced as he half-sat, leaning back on his hands. “Oh. Ouch. Yeah, that feeling sucks.” After a moment he looked back at her, his face a shade paler from the pain. “Just here to see all the hot chicks, you know?”
Jay tried to refrain from glaring at him but apparently the look still came through.
Kyle laughed. “Kidding. I was here for a school project. I’m doing a report on cultural beauty perceptions and the ways in which unrealistic beauty standards harm the mental health of adolescents and pre-adolescents, especially females.”
“I’m a Psych major.” Kyle shrugged. “But mostly I’m doing the project because it needs to be talked about more, you know?”
Jay stared at him. He was clearly still in pain, but there was something intense in his eyes now. This project mattered to him.
“So why are you here?” Kyle asked. “I mean, you don’t seem the pageant type.”
Jay bristled, though she wasn’t sure why. “What?”
“You’re gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but you didn’t want to be up there. Anyone paying attention could have seen that. You were grimacing.” He laughed. “I’ve seen a lot of fake smiles in my life but yours just might be the funniest. Points for valiant effort, but I don’t think you’ll be winning any Oscars.”
Jay felt her cheeks go red, but he was right. She’d never been good at faking emotion; no matter how she tried, hers were always plain on her face. A small chuckle escaped her. “I actually practiced in the mirror. I hoped it was good enough no one would notice. Do you really think it was that obvious?”
“Absolutely.” Kyle’s smile was genuine now. “But you didn’t answer my question. Why do this if you hate it so much?”
Jay took a short breath. “Money.” She hated how shallow that sounded, but ghosts would be a far worse answer.
Kyle narrowed his eyes, and Jay wondered if she was being silently psychoanalyzed.
“Get them out, get them out, save them now if you dare; something far worse is coming, so Jayana beware!” a voice whispered in her ear.
“What is it?” Kyle asked.
“Nothing, I – “ Jayana pushed herself to her feet, then turned away from Kyle. “Stop it,” she whispered as softly as she could manage. “Go away. Why are you doing this?”
“You were supposed to win, Jayana,” the voice answered. “But singing a copycat song wasn’t going to cut it. I’ve done you a favor. Now you get to try again.”
Jay’s heart lurched. “No. No, stop it. You shouldn’t have done this. I could – “
“What, you could have won anyway? I think not, little Jayana. And you must win. You promised us.”
“I know, I know, but this – you’ve hurt people. You have to stop. I – “
“Who are you talking to?”
Jay felt in a sudden lightening of the air as the presence vanished, though she knew it was still nearby. She dropped back down next to Kyle. “No one. I...”
“Watch out, little Jayana. The worst is yet to come!”
Sunlight spilled into the auditorium as someone burst in through the exit doors,. “Everybody out! Quickly!”
“What about the ambulance?” Miss Former College Whatever 1993 called out.
“They can’t get through; the roads are blocked. The interstate that runs right over the building is backed up bumper-to-bumper. There was some kind of – “
“Hurry! Everyone out, now!” Another person burst in through the other exit door on the opposite side of the auditorium. “It’s an avalanche!”
“Avalanche? But we’re in Florida!” Jay yelled back.
The ghost’s hollow laughed echoed from the distance.
The person waved his arms in panic from the doorway. “It’s the interstate overpass above us! It’s collapsing – it’s about to come down right on top of the building! Everybody run!”
Screams erupted outside the building, and once again it was chaos, Former Miss Whatever and Talent Act Coordinator rushing for the exits along with the rest of the contestants and few audience members still inside.
Jay looked down to see Kyle’s wide brown eyes staring up at her.
“Go,” he said. “Get out of here. Please. Go!”
Jay glanced up at the open exit doors and then back down to Kyle. This whole building was directly under the overpass. If it collapsed... “No, I won’t leave you. We’ll just have to–“
“To what, little Jayana?” the voice sang, sounding amused.
“Save them, save them, save them aaaalllll,” another voice chimed in, singing. “If you dare.”
“Jayana? Go,” Kyle grabbed her arm to make her look at him. “Go.”
Jay shook her head. “No. I can’t.”
A chorus of shrieks burst from outside. The chilling creak of bending metal sang out from somewhere beyond the roof.
The building caved in on top of them.
END OF CHAPTER 1
Spin Results for Chapter 1:
(spun on live video prior to writing this chapter)
Basics of story:
Female main character
20 years old
Tall with green eyes
Chapter 1 plot:
Goal: win a pageant