“PICK UP THE PHONE, YOU STUPID BITCH!!!!”
Hayleigh winced as her co-presenter gave up trying to get through with a strangled cry. Erin had always been one to let her emotions get the better of her. Still, even by her standard, leaving her boss a voicemail calling her a ‘stupid bitch’ was not a bright move. As they pulled up outside the office space that housed their base of operations, Erin exited the vehicle at a run. After taking just a moment to make sure her makeup looked okay, and that her rich blonde hair was sitting straight, she followed behind her. Hayleigh, who pretty much refused to run anywhere on general principle, made do with a walk, although her long legs were going at quite some pace. She wasn’t freaking out or anything, but she was concerned. First, the stream had gone live at 10.15am, approximately forty-five minutes earlier than scheduled. Secondly, the stream had gone live without either of the two hosts being there to do the planned introduction segment. Thirdly, while the girl currently on stream certainly bore a resemblance to the chosen contestant, she was unmistakably the wrong girl.
She caught up to Erin at the security door just inside the building, who was fumbling in her bag for her pass. Rather than wait, she smoothly pulled out her own and swiped them both in.
“I don’t know how you can be so calm right now,” said Erin, sounding breathless. “You do remember what happened the last time we got caught up in one of Larissa’s little whims, Hay?”
Hayleigh supressed a shudder.
“We’re almost there. And for heaven’s sake watch what you say to her in there. I don’t want us both ending up on her shit list because you can’t control yourself.”
Although the two presenters weren’t particularly friends outside of work, they shared a look of complete and total empathy as they took places outside of the door to the room where the show was being run from. After a moment, Hayleigh decided empathy needed to be abandoned in favour of self-preservation and gave her easily-led partner a nod to enter the room first. Better Erin stepped into the lion’s den ahead of her, she reasoned.
Hesitantly stepping in behind her meat shield, she looked up to see screen after screen arrayed on the wall in front of her. Most of the screens were deactivated right now; a few held a bustle of activity as members of the public, completely unaware they were being filmed, went past going about their day. On one of the screens, a girl wearing an orchid purple t-shirt and denim shorts was fussily going about a medium sized bedroom picking up various items of clothing strewn around the place haphazardly. Judging by the irritable look on her face, either she had been forced into cleaning up her own mess, or she’d taken it upon herself to clean someone else’s mess up for them. Hayleigh already knew which, since she knew that this room belonged to Rachel Bardsley. Judging from the resemblance, it was reasonable to say that this must be her older sister Claire.
The two sisters weren’t identical; both she and Erin had recognised as soon as they noticed the stream had started that they weren’t looking at the right girl. Rachel’s hair was dyed blonde, while Claire’s was a fresh medium golden brown worn straight. Claire was quite a bit shorter, she’d noticed, petite even without the comparison. Mousier too; that was the key distinction, she realised. Definitely pretty, no doubt, with doe-like eyes, a light smattering of freckles and a cute little button nose that screwed up quite adorably with disgust as she looked upon a half-eaten banana that was peeking out from underneath the bed. That she left lying there, instead making her way over to the dresser where several books had collapsed in a heap. She gave a very satisfied nod of the head, and smiled once she’d arranged them neatly on a nearby shelf. Although to Hayleigh’s mind this made her an absolute dork, she would concede that the smile transformed the girl from cute to really quite stunning; the girl had a smile to die for.
Larissa Johan Lurinsky was leaning forward slightly in her chair looking up at Claire with eyes that were glowing with an energetic mischief. As Hayleigh and Erin approached, she turned and gave them a smile that showed a perfect set of teeth.
“Larissa,” said Erin, sounding nervous. “You didn’t answer your phone. I left you a message butyoucanjustdeletethat, no need to listen to that now… um, you do realise that the stream is live right? Everyone can see that girl poking about in her sister’s room.”
“I was just testing out the equipment,” said Larissa sweetly. Her voice sounded melodious, pleasant. It always did; in all the time Hayleigh had known Larissa, she’d never once heard her get angry. “Honestly, look at the two of you, running out here making quite the fuss over nothing! Three hundred people are logged in already, you know. Just to watch that girl clean up her sister’s pigsty of a room. Oh, she’s an adorable one, don’t you think?”
Larissa’s voice still sounded pleasant; to most people she would have sounded as soothing as chimes in the wind, but to Hayleigh, they sounded like warning chimes. The problem with Larissa was that she really liked people. Which didn’t sound like a problem, until you began to get a grip on how Larissa saw people. After she’d spent a certain amount of time around her, Hayleigh had begun to realise that there was something about the way the twenty-four year old woman was with other human beings that reminded her of how a child might play with her dolls. If a child had only one doll, then they would be inclined to take great care of it, treating it as something both special and delicate. If however, a child realised that the world was in fact full of dolls, then they might start to grow curious as to say, how far they might be able to twist one’s arm before it snapped off, or how high they might have to drop it before it smashed into pieces.
No-one would have believed such base cruelty could have existed within such a beautiful young woman, however – her appearance was every bit as sweet as her lovely voice. That wasn’t to say she looked innocent like the girl on the monitor; there was definitely a flirtatious edge to the clothing she wore, with her vibrant, orange summer dress with the off the shoulder top that clung to every curve of her shapely body. It wasn’t only her clothing that consisted of bright colours, with her long, flowing hair a sensuous copper red. Two long pigtails, worn high at the sides of her head, ran down past her shoulders. Her full, well-defined lips were complimented with an intense bright red lipstick that went perfectly with her hair. The bright colours were actually a nice contrast with the pale smoothness of her skin, which had a beautiful natural look about it even to Hayleigh, who had been lucky enough to be given a few tips as to the spa-treatments and lotions which helped maintain it.
Standing up now, Larissa practically skipped over to Erin. She thrust her face up close to Erin’s, a coy smile appearing on her lips. Although Erin was looking down on Larissa, she couldn’t meet her gaze. Her eyes awkwardly moved from one side to the other; while Larissa’s head bobbed from side to side to force her to see her, pigtails bouncing as she did.
“So what’s this about a message you want me to listen to?” Larissa asked cheerfully, suddenly snatching her phone up from off the desk.
“No no,” said Erin quickly. Pure instinct overwrote the woman’s common sense as she reached out to try and take the phone. Larissa, smile never leaving her lips, leapt backwards just as nimbly as a deer, holding the phone back out of reach. “You DON’T have to listen to it, I said.”
Tilting her head to one side, looking to Hayleigh much like a bird eyeing a particularly juicy worm, Larissa – completely ignoring Erin’s protests – hit a few keys on her phone. The opening message to her voicemail played. As Hayleigh already suspected, it announced that Larissa had no new messages. And one saved message, which Larissa played on loudspeaker for the room to hear.
“PICK UP THE PHONE, YOU STUPID BITCH!!!!”
Silence hung in the air. Hayleigh had never met anyone who could do uncomfortable silences quite as well as Larissa. She really never had seen her get mad before, and that always made her silences seem that more ominous somehow. They seemed to hold the promise and threat that they really, really might not like what happened if what came out on the other side wasn’t perpetually bubbly, happy Larissa anymore.
“You should see your face right now! Oh, come on Erin. How long have we known each other? Look at me. What’s all this now? Did you really think I’d get upset over you calling me a bitch? Do you have any idea how many people have called me that over the years? It’s like… it’s just what people call me, at this point. I don’t know why mind you; I must just rub people up the wrong way I guess, but I’m used to it. I answer to it just as easily as if it were my very own name! It’s not like I’m going to take offense to it or anything.”
Erin looked relieved.
“But ‘stupid’ on the other hand, now ‘stupid’ is another matter entirely.”
Erin looked considerably less relieved.
“Now I’m not mad. I don’t consider myself just your boss, you know? You and Hayleigh, I consider you my friends, and I hope that you feel the same way…”
“I do!” said Erin quickly. “Larissa, I do, I just, I just, I’m just so stressed out with everything, you know…”
“…which is why I’m so very disappointed that you would speak to me that way.”
“I’m sorry!” Erin blurted out desperately. She looked over to Hayleigh, imploring her to help. Hayleigh averted her gaze.
Leave me out of his, you stupid girl!
“You know what the punishment is, sweetheart.”
Erin’s eyes looked ready to pop out of her head. Her pretty features were pulled back in a rictus of horror.
“NO! Larissa please, anything but that! I’ll do anything! It’ll never happen again I swear!”
Larissa shook her head, her smile widening. She waggled a well-manicured finger back and forth at her.
“Larissa… p-p-please… punish me, yes. Spank me again! Dock my pay! Even… even put me in the gunge tank, if that’s what you want… but not that. NOT THAT!!!!”
“It’s ‘The Blackening’ for you I’m afraid!”
“NOOOOOOOOO!!!” cried Erin, horrified. “NOT THE BLACKENING LARISSA PLEASE…”
Grin threatening to split her face, Larissa reached up and cupped Erin’s chin in the palm of her hand, forcing her to look at her now, and also holding the woman’s trembling lips close to her own.
“Oh, ‘The Blackening’, sweetheart!” cried Larissa cheerfully, giving her cheek two quick gentle slaps with her free hand. Two smartly dressed security guards appeared to either side of Erin, each placing a hand on one of her shoulders. Erin didn’t even acknowledge them as they escorted her from the control room; she knew there was only one person worth talking to in this equation, and that was Larissa, who turned her back and walked over to her chair.
“I’ll be with you shortly,” she said sweetly, ignoring Erin’s protests and resting her hands on the back of the chair. “But first…”
Hayleigh didn’t even have time to react. Larissa’s hand slammed down on a button on the control panel in front of her.
Someone had to be the responsible one, Claire told herself as she ran a finger over her sister’s dresser, pleased to see it now cleared of dust. She dreaded to think how long it would have been until the room had any kind of proper clean if not for her. Of course, Rachel should have been the one to do it, but instead she was sitting out back in the garden, soaking up the sun, having completely ignored Claire’s very reasonable attempts to convince her to pull her weight. Their parents jobs kept them both so busy that Claire always made sure to pick up as many chores as she possibly could. Someone had to be the responsible one. She just wished that sometimes that didn’t have to be her.
The fact that her sister was skipping out on her university classes today didn’t help earn her any sympathy. Claire too had classes today; but not until the afternoon. This was her second year on her Illustration Animation degree. Normally she would have went in early in the morning anyway and went straight to the library to study or work on her projects, but it was still early in the term and she didn’t have all that much going on at the moment. So today her plan was to tidy up the house, enjoy a quick lunch in town with her friend Ethan, and then catch the first afternoon bus up to the University. Technically she had time to get a later bus, and therefore take more time to enjoy her meal, but Claire was extremely meticulous in her timekeeping; she’d never been late a single time in her life. She always got the bus before the one she needed to get, so that in the event that the bus broke down (which had never once happened), she’d still get to the campus just in the nick of time to be nice and early for her first class.
She stepped back and did a final inspection of the room. Certainly much better, she told herself, with the exception of that disgusting half-eaten banana, which she certainly wasn’t going to be touching. She should have insisted that Rachel clean that up herself, but for all her protests at constantly having to pick up for her younger sister, Claire took a great deal of satisfaction at being the person her parents could depend on, so she couldn’t leave the job unfinished, so instead she pulled a selection of tissues out from the box on the dresser and carefully wrapped them around the gross remains before depositing it in the wastepaper basket at the corner of the room. That she would arrange to empty later.
There, she told herself, pleased with another job well done. It wouldn’t last, but for now her sister’s room was as meticulously clean and tidy as her ow-
Claire jumped out of her skin.
Claire had always loathed jump scares with an absolute passion. Occasionally Ethan would invite her to the pictures to watch the latest horror movie, and she went, partly because she was definetly crushing on Ethan, but also because ever since she was a little girl, she’d thought the cinema was the absolute coolest place in the world. But she hated horror movies. The gore, despite the fact that Claire was perceived by most as a delicate flower, didn’t really bother her that much. Monsters didn’t frighten her. But any time she went to see a horror movie, she immediately slumped down in her seat, tense as a pigeon thrown in with the cat, nervously awaiting the one, two, twenty times there was a bang on a window or a cat leaping out of a bin or someone turned around and someone unexpected was right there…
“Whoops! Sorry about that – I didn’t mean to scare you! Claire, I’m sure there’s a lot of things going through your head right now, so before you get all bent out of shape, let me tell you that right now, you have been chosen to be a contestant in a live game show that’s being streamed all over the world.”
Claire’s mouth hung open, eyes wide with horror. Her brain was completely unable to process anything that was happening. Claire was a painfully shy girl; the thought of people watching her was an utterly horrifying one. The thought of people watching her when she hadn’t even known they were watching her was even worse. She would never in her life have applied to be on any kind of game show. She dimly recalled one evening at the University when they’d held a raffle for charity, and the winners had to go up on stage to collect their prize. She’d shrunk in her chair when they read her number, almost as if she was trying to disappear under it, and in the end she’d convinced her friend Heather to go and collect it for her rather than face being on stage in front of all those people.
She completely froze up, apart from her hands, which were trembling.
“Ohmygod!” squealed the woman who was talking to her through a speaker hidden somewhere in the corner of the room. Her voice sounded very much like she had just seen a cute little puppy perform the world’s greatest trick. “You are just the most adorable girl I’ve ever seen in my life! Oh, it’s okay Claire, I know you must be so nervous right now, but I’m going to take care of you. We have cameras hidden throughout your house – with your parent’s permission, I might add – but don’t worry about that. There’s only a few hundred people or so watching – only a select number of people who contributed to the show have access to the stream. First things first – if you open the middle drawer in your sisters dresser there, you should find an envelope hidden away at the bottom. Inside the envelope is a tiny earpiece; now only your sister is at home at the moment, and she can’t hear us right now, but I want you to find that earpiece and place it in your ear. That’s going to be my main way of contacting you.”
Claire looked at the drawer. She took a step back towards the door. Claire’s body was not at all in the grip of Claire’s mind at the moment, but she had a vague idea that she was going to run right out of the house and not come back until this woman and all her hidden cameras were long gone. In fact, the only reason she hadn’t was that, despite initially almost giving her a heart attack, there was something very soothing about the voice coming from the speaker; it was so pleasant-sounding as to be almost hypnotic. Her concerns were obviously not lost on whoever it was watching her through those cameras.
“You can choose to opt out of the game, if you so desire. But you should at least hear what I have to say first. Naturally, since this is a game show, there is a prize on offer here. If you succeed, you stand to win fifty thousand pounds.”
Claire stopped backing up.
“Fifty thousand pounds!?” she blurted out without thinking.
“That’s right!” said the woman, sounding pleased. “Now that caught your interest, didn’t it? So if you want to hear the details, all you have to do is put in the earpiece. If not, then you can leave the room and I’ll take that as your refusal. We’ll turn the cameras off, come and collect them later, and we’ll move on to one of the other possible contestants we have lined up.”
Nervously licking her lips, Claire opened the drawer after only a moment’s hesitation. It helped that – other than the owner of that pretty voice – it really didn’t feel as though anyone was watching her. She hated being in crowds, never mind being in front of a crowd, but somehow the idea of people watching her through their screens was something she couldn’t quite process. Fifty thousand pounds was a life-changing sum of money, at least to her. Claire was well aware that many art graduates struggled to find employment in their chosen field and had to take menial jobs to pay the bills. The truth was, for all that she was very much a responsible person, she viewed her life after University with a sense of dread; it was a future filled with a whole lot of uncertainty. At nineteen years old she was an adult of course, but she still had yet to really step out into the real world. Still lived with her parents, never had a real job, had her core group of friends that she was comfortable with and struggled when it came to meeting new people. With that kind of money under her belt, so many of her worries would simply disappear – she’d at the very least be financially secure.
And yet… and yet she had an awful feeling about this. Even though this mystery woman hadn’t explained any of what was to come yet, Claire already instinctively knew what the show would be about – her humiliating herself for money. The weird set up with the cameras, and especially the very peculiar notion of this being streamed over the internet to a select group of people, made that readily apparent. Didn’t that seem especially suspicious? Still, there was no harm in at least hearing the woman out, even if this did end up just being some dumb prank. She fished out the envelope from the bottom of the drawer. On the front was a drawing of a smiley face along with the helpful instruction ‘Insert Earpiece’. The ‘i’ in earpiece was dotted with a little heart symbol. The envelope did not tell her where to insert the earpiece, Claire thought wryly, but happily she was able to figure it out.
“Can you hear me?”
“I can hear you,” said Claire.
“Perfect! Time to fill you in on what’s going on then. So, always assuming you decide to proceed Claire Bardsley, you will be the first ever contestant on our new game show. This is a show with few boundaries or limits. You’ll be playing all around town, and you’ll be playing along with unsuspecting members of the public. My name is Larissa, and I’ll be in charge of the game. I’m going to give you seven tasks to complete, all based around a particular theme. Easier to show you than to explain it. Inside the cupboard behind you is a box: take a peek inside and I’ll tell you what the first task will be.”
Pushing open the cupboard door, Claire moved a row of Rachel’s clothes out of the way so she could pull a large white box out of the cupboard. Sizing it up with her hands
(oh god what if it’s full of spiders or bugs or…)
she gave it a gentle shake. She could hear something sliding around inside. It didn’t appear to be anything alive, she thought with considerable relief. Placing the box on top of Rachel’s bed, she slowly lifted the lid off the box, instinctively recoiling in case something inside leapt out at her. When nothing did, she opened one eye and cautiously took a peek inside the box.
Inside was a large chocolate cake, topped with vanilla buttercream. There was a little love heart on top which was completely lopsided.
“I made that myself!” said Larissa, sounding very proud of herself. “What do you think?”
What Claire thought was that Larissa had slavered the cake with so much buttercream that it was a completely inedible disaster, but she was too polite to ever speak so bluntly. Besides, she didn’t particularly think she was really looking for constructive criticism of her baking.
“Um…. Am I supposed to eat this?” asked Claire, raising a sceptical eyebrow. There was no way she could manage to do that; even without Larissa’s over-enthusiastic topping she would puke all over the place before she could get a quarter of the way through this thing.
“Nope! I’ll give you another guess.”
Claire considered for a moment what one might do with a cake if not eat it. Her pretty features screwed up with disgust.
“It’s not going in my face, is it?”
“Actually, no, but now you have the right idea: this is a messy game show, and all of the tasks you’ll be asked to complete will involve an individual or individuals getting covered with all manner of unpleasant things indeed. Let’s get the rules out of the way: as I’ve mentioned, to win the game you have to complete seven tasks. In order to win the money, you have to succeed at all seven tasks: fail at any point, and you get nothing I’m afraid. If you’re in this, you’re in it to win BIG, or not at all. The game will run across two days. You have a mobile phone, right?”
“Sure,” said Claire. She was a little surprised at how easy she found talking to Larissa, but then, it was easy to talk to someone else when they did ninety-nine percent of the talking . Considering how utterly terrified she’d been mere moments before, however, this seemed like a minor miracle.
“We’re going to exchange numbers,” said Larissa, reading a number aloud to her. “And just in case anyone in the stream gets any ideas about calling me in the middle of the night and breathing down the phone at me: one, that isn’t my real number, and two I get enough people doing that to me as it is. Now here’s a very important rule, Claire: at times when you’re not wearing the earpiece, I may call you at any point during the next two days. You can miss a call one time only, no more. And keep the earpiece with you at all times – you’ll need it. Fail to answer after your first missed call and the game will come to a rather anticlimactic end. Other than that, there’s one main rule you’ll want to keep in mind: you can never tell anyone else that you’re playing the game. Only myself, my team, our select group of viewers, and your parents know. Once we’re finished talking here, you can call your father who’ll be able to confirm that the game is legit – but that’s ALL he can tell you, I’m afraid. Beyond that, your parents are under strict orders not to involve themselves in any way. So, before we go any further, it’s time for you to make a decision.”
“Why me?” asked Claire suddenly. She’d been mulling it over the entire time Larissa had been speaking. She hadn’t been selected as some random bystander from the street. Larissa, and whoever else was behind all this, had specifically approached her parents about this.
“A fair question,” said Larissa, sounding thoughtful. “In truth… your sister put her name forwards to take part. She wouldn’t have known exactly what the show entailed, mind you, but she did apply to be a contestant. But when I saw you in here cleaning up her room for her while she lazed about outside in the sun… well, on a whim, I decided to offer the opportunity up to you. Unfortunately now that I’ve given you all the details, I wouldn’t be inclined to hand her the shot back, so don’t let that influence your decision. Now I’m sure you have further questions, but I won’t answer them. Call your father, take a couple of minutes to think it over, and then tell me what you want to do.”
Claire pulled out her phone, scrolling down to her father’s number. She removed the earpiece while she waited for him to pick up.
“Claire?” he asked, clearly surprised to be hearing from her. Larissa’s words still fresh in her mind, she cut right to the chase.
“Dad… this game show… is it for real?”
There was a moment’s silence.
Her father abruptly ended the call. Claire tapped her finger to her lips thoughtfully. She was not a fan of reality TV, nor was she comfortable with the idea of people humiliating other people or themselves for money. Yet now that she was dealing with real money, rather than hypothetical money, it seemed, well… it seemed somehow almost TOO moral to turn it down. The idea of a messy game show sounded a bit weird, not to mention embarrassing, but it wasn’t as if she was being asked to do anything cruel or anything. It was… just a bunch of practical jokes, really, although she was concerned over just how much of the joke would be on her. The idea that she might have to get messy – an idea she had never before contemplated in her entire life – in front of an audience numbering in the hundreds sounded exceptionally humiliating to her. Under any other circumstances she would have said no way… but this was an amount of money that would take her years to save on her own. She would plainly be staying clean in the first task at least; she was pretty sure she knew what that one was going to be already, and Larissa had said that the cake wasn’t meant for her. She wished she had that reassurance for future tasks. Still, wasn’t it better to take the risk than to walk away and forever wonder what could have been? If it really came to it, if she was really placed in a position where she would be forced to humiliate herself or someone else in a way that was simply too much, she could always quit then. And she would too. She was the responsible one, after all.
And that thought gripped Claire almost as tightly as the thought of all that money. All her life she’d held the belief that the world worked a certain way. When it came to religion, she wasn’t entirely sure what she believed, but one thing she had always believed in was karma. If you sent positive energy out into the universe, the universe would give positive energy back. If you did good deeds, you would be rewarded. Claire had been a good person all her life. She’d never gotten detention at school, never been grounded by her parents, never caused trouble for people. She always did more than her share of work around the house, she was always willing to give her time and money to charity, and she always took the time to help her friends if they had problems. And because of this belief, she couldn’t escape the feeling that this was the universe giving her something back. Larissa’s words almost seemed to prove it to her, how she’d acted on a whim to give this to her.
“’I’m in,” said Claire, wishing she sounded more confident. Already she could feel butterflies in her stomach, but something had been handed to her here, she knew, and she couldn’t just throw it away. If Rachel had only went and cleaned up her own room like she should have, it would be her sister competing to win fifty thousand pounds right now. And Claire realised, it would be her who would be getting cake splattered all over her face, yuck!
“Yay!” Larissa squealed. “I’m so glad you’re up for this! We’re going to have so much fun, I can already tell. You might have already worked out what your first task will be, but just to make sure we’re on the same page: in just a moment, I’m going to start a timer. Once it begins, you’ll have five minutes with which to take that cake I’ve given you and put it in your sister’s face. And remember, she can’t know that this is part of a show.”
“But she’s the one who signed up in the first place!” Claire protested, feeling this was enormously unfair. “She’ll figure out right away what’s going on.”
“Highly unlikely – as I’ve said, she didn’t really know what she signing up for. All we put out was that it was an internet game show with a fifty thousand pound prize. There was nothing about what it entailed whatsoever. Anyway, enough talking – time for a caking! Clock starts NOW, Claire. Good luck!”
Claire licked her lips nervously, trying to stop panicking long enough to think. Her sister almost certainly wouldn’t catch on if what Larissa said was true. However, Claire was the absolute last person you would ever expect to play a practical joke on you. It would be tremendously out of character for her to simply walk up to someone and throw a cake into their face. Rachel would certainly know something was up, and then she’d be asking all sorts of awkward questions, and Claire was such a terrible liar she was afraid she might end up giving the game away. She had to make it look like an accident. She closed the door to the cupboard and lifted the box with the cake still inside it; she didn’t want her sister finding it and asking any questions as to why it had been in her room.
Five minutes was plenty of time, but she went down the stairs at a run. Whether it was a university assignment or caking her sister in the face, Claire liked things do be done in a timeous fashion.
“Sorry to be disturbing your train of thought, Claire, but I should point out that in addition to the overall rules already set, each task may have it’s own special set of rules that have to be followed. I make the rules, and I have the final say on what the tasks are, and whether you pass or fail. However, rest assured that I do have to play fair – so no say, telling you to get to Paris in an hour to gunge the Prime Minister or anything.”
When she made it to the kitchen, Claire placed the box on the counter and removed the cake, sizing up how it felt in her hand. If she put her hand on her heart, she would have to admit that she was an unathletic nerd; she couldn’t exactly place much faith in her throwing arm. The idea of her completely missing her target and limply throwing the cake onto the grass was a pretty mortifying one, especially when you considered it would cost her fifty thousand pounds.
After taking a moment to try and compose herself, she opened the back door and stepped out into the garden, holding the chocolate cake at arms length in front of her as if it were a bomb that might go off at any moment. Although it was still early in the day, they were in the peak of summer and it was already blisteringly hot outside. With absolutely no sense of decency or consideration for the neighbours, Rachel was lying on her back on an outdoor chaise lounge wearing nothing but a white bikini and shorts, revealing plenty of pleasantly tanned, smooth skin. Claire did envy her that much; any time spent in the sun caused her own skin to burn, although many parts of flesh on display were parts that Claire would never, ever have exposed to the sun unless in an entirely closed off space, and maybe not even then. In a sense, she actually admired her sister for being such a free spirit, but in another sense, she wished her sister would put some goddamn clothes on before one of the neighbours next door looked over the fence and actually saw her.
She winced as she came to the sudden realisation that, if the caking was taking place here, then there must be cameras planted all over the garden as well. Everyone watching could see her sister stretched out on the chair with virtually no clothes on whatsoever. What if someone reported her for being a public nuisance or something!?
Completely oblivious to all this, and her impending sticky fate, her sister lay with her eyes closed; a content, clueless smile on her pretty fox-like face as she soaked up the sun.
“Hey Rachel!” cried Claire, moving towards her sister at a rapid pace. “You remember how I helped Heather out with her assignment last week? Take a look at what she made for me as a thank you!”
With a yawn, Rachel slowly started to sit up. Pretending that her excitement was getting the better of her, Claire excitedly bounced over towards her sister and just as Rachel opened her eyes, she pretended to stumble awkwardly over her own feet. Claire fell forwards, lifting the cake upwards and depositing it as late as possible to make sure she didn’t miss. With a shriek, Rachel jerked forwards and the cake splatted into her face with a loud smack. Her arms flailed wildly while her legs kicked in all directions, obviously in complete shock over what had just happened. Claire watched as the bottom half of the cake dropped off her chin and deposited itself between her smooth, bronzed young breasts, her white bikini now stained with dark chocolate and sticky white cream. The rest of the cake stuck perfectly to her fox-like features for just a moment, the top of her blonde hair now covered with white cream. Then the bulk of the cake slimed it’s way down her face, exposing a grimace of disgust underneath, before dropping and landing smack on her lap. She whimpered, looking up at Claire, who had caught herself from falling by placing her hand on the side of the lounge chair. Her face was just a chocolate and buttercream disaster.
Beautiful, musical laughter echoed inside Claire’s ear. There was something utterly infectious about it, and as her sister spat a smattering of that surely sickeningly-sweet cake from her mouth, Claire slapped a hand over her mouth to stop herself from joining in. For a moment, she felt exhilarated, almost liberated in a way. There was something almost arousing about the fact that she’d, for just one moment, forgotten about her inhibitions and morals and just done something brash and impulsive. To, for the first time in her life, actually get one over on her sister who never lifted a finger to help her, or cared about how she might feel. As quick as it came, it was gone, and she felt ashamed of herself for those feelings.
“Oh my God!” said Claire, pretending to have covered her mouth with shock, and not to stifle her own laughter. “Rachel, I am so sorry! I… I totally didn’t mean for that to happen…”
“Look at what you’ve done!” spat Rachel, wiping her face first with her hands, and then once those were all covered in cake, trying with her elbows. Neither of these made any headway in clearing up her extremely gooey face. “Honestly, you’re so clumsy it’s unreal. Thank god no-one can see me right now.”
Despite everything, Claire still had something of a mother within her, and she reached out to try and brush some of the crumbs off of Rachel’s hair. She got her hand slapped away angrily for her trouble.
“You’ve done plenty, thank you very much,” said Rachel. “I’m going inside to get cleaned up, and if you were you Claire, I would just stay out of my way for the rest of the day.”
As Rachel stormed into the house, leaving a trail of crumbs and icing behind as she went, Claire breathed a sigh of relief. Rachel might not be at all happy, but she completely bought that her caking had been an accident. Of course she did; Claire would never deliberately pull something like that, after all.
“Congratulations, Claire,” said Larissa. “You’ve passed your first task, but we still have a long way to go. And I will warn you that they’re going to get harder from here. You don’t have time for a break I’m afraid, and we’re going to start with the second challenge… right now!”
Claire closed her eyes, but opened them again as Larissa explained what the second task would be. Absolute dread filled her, and she could feel a blush starting to envelop her face. The first challenge had been simple, almost fun, if just for a moment.
This one was going to be an absolute nightmare.