The Spot Writers – “Follower” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to use these five words in a story/poem – esophagus, carrot, pigeon, lily, moustache. Today’s story comes to us from Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers mystery series (among other works). You can find out more at www.CorgiCapers.com.

Follower by Val Muller

Author’s note: I read recently that the YMCA I frequented as a kid was purchased to become an extension of the nearby hospital (the hospital where I happened to be born, in fact), but that the building stands abandoned years later. The news story mentioned that a group of youths was recently caught trespassing there after dark with a camera, prompting my imagination.

Lily swallowed over the boulder lodged in her esophagus. The evening sounds—chirping crickets, distant train whistle, slowing whir of traffic—provided none of their usual comforts. Instead of settling in for one of her last few cozy evenings at home, she stood out here in the parking lot like a criminal. The chill of the Connecticut August made her shiver with its hint of Halloween. Even so, the camera and tripod felt clammy in her hand as she waited for Harold to get the lighting right.

“Ready?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

“It’s hard to test the lighting when we have to keep it dark until go time,” he said.

A siren blared in the distance, and Lily froze, as did the others, trying to determine whether it was headed toward them. The sound faded, then disappeared altogether.

“We’ll have to enter from here,” Harold said, briefly illuminating the bright lamp. It was blinding—a genuine lamp from the state university film department—on loan to sneaky Harold for the evening.

The light shocked everyone, and a flutter from a window of the abandoned building made him snap it off. The blinding light was replaced by his phone’s built-in flashlight, revealing the intruder to be only a pigeon startled from its perch.

“Get a grip,” Lily told herself. Then, she raised her voice. “I hope you appreciate this, Margie. We’re all going to have criminal records by the time we’re done.”

Margie peeked from behind her phone, permanently set to “selfie” mode to serve as a mirror. “We won’t have criminal records,” she said. “No one cares about an abandoned YMCA. And I do mean no one.” She flashed a smile and raised an eyebrow. If she were a male, she would have stroked her moustache contemplatively. Everything about her was calculated, from the inflection of each word to the choice of sentences and facial expressions. Calculated the way soap operas are calculated.

Which was exactly the point.

Margie had orchestrated the whole thing to serve as her audition video for a prestigious and competitive film program in New York City. The video they were filming was designed to be one of those hunting-for-ghosts shows, and Margie was the host. The abandoned building, she argued, showed her resourcefulness, while the premise allowed her full range of emotions to be put on display.

And here Lily was, as usual, being dragged along just because Margie was cooler than she was. She longed for college—a mere nine days away. It would be a fresh start, a chance for Lily to be Lily, not just Margie’s friend.

Harold’s expertise, and his use of state university film equipment, further allowed Margie to remind everyone that not only did Margie have a boyfriend, but she had a college boyfriend at that. She was eons cooler than Lily would ever be.

The door to the building opened, and a frazzled Emily poked her head out.

“The props are ready,” she said. Then she looked around at the shadows surrounding them. “I heard sirens.”

Margie shot her a look.

“I know, I know,” Emily said. “But my prints are all over the place now. What if they, you know, revoke my scholarship? Or deny my admission?”

Harold laughed. “It’s not like they have everyone’s fingerprints on file. And besides, that whole ‘colleges will revoke your scholarship or admission’ is more like an old wives’ tale. It’s something teachers use to scare seniors into behaving during the last months of high school.”

Lily sighed. “But we’re not in high school anymore. This is the real world. We’re trespassing. Technically, a college could—”

“Technically, you all need to man up,” Margie said, pausing dramatically. She smiled. “Besides, in exchange for helping me, I’m giving you all a nice chunk when I make my first million.” She paused, dangling the imaginary money in front of them like a carrot. “Except you, Harold. We’ll be married by then, so we’ll have to work it all out in the pre-nup.”

In the darkening evening, the look on Harold’s face glowed. The look on his face said there were so many things he wanted to say, but his twisted lips said he was going to keep quiet. As if controlling him, Margie put her hands on her hips and threw out her chest, accentuating all her curves.

Yes, in her imagined glamour of living the Hollywood life, she had Harold captivated. The same way she had captivated Lily and Emily into jeopardizing their records to give her dream of acting in the big-leagues a shot in the dark.

Speaking of dark, red and blue lights lit up the distance, overpowering the streetlights as they approached. Their sirens remained silent, but their destination was more than clear. Two sets of police cars sped toward the abandoned building.

Emily ran off first, disappearing into shadows. Harold was next, leaving only enough time to secure the expensive equipment he’d borrowed. Lily was frozen to the spot, staring at Margie. If Margie was going to stay and confront the cops, so was Lily, the same way Lily always followed the ringleader. She had flashes of following Margie through terrifying dodge ball games in elementary school, to play auditions in middle school, to awkward dances and boring football games, to nothing Lily had ever wanted to do.

Margie turned dramatically, the colored lighting illuminating her face. “Oh well,” she sighed, pausing to let her eyebrows shift into resignation. “You win some, you lose some.” Lily could just picture the scene fading out on that resigned brow—until Margie took off in an unscripted run, Lily trailing at her heels.

***

The Spot Writers:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

 

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