Good Karma (Part 4)

Claire Bardsley looked behind her, and then looked down again. Neither of the two options laid out before her were remotely acceptable, but short of a helicopter dropping a rope down out of the sky – and she certainly didn’t see one – there was no finding a third way here. Although come to think of it the helicopter sounded like a terrible idea as well. The pretty voice that concealed an extremely devious mind behind it continued to coax her.

“You’re going to have to trust me, sweetheart. Everything’s going to be fine. I know that you can do this.”

Stop calling me fucking sweetheart!” shrieked Claire. No-one who knew Claire would have ever recognised such venom in her voice, but she was about to die, and it was all this stupid woman and her stupid show’s fault. Well, the twins could take a portion of the blame as well. She certainly wished she’d never met the twins.

Jump, Claire,” said Larissa. There was no more gentle coaxing. There was no time for anything other than a command. It really had come to this. Just thirty minutes earlier she’d been in that restaurant more horrified than she’d ever been in her life. She practically longed for that kind of comparative boredom right now. Oh, how she wished she could go back and do this morning over. She’d have ran from her room as soon as that sweet, sweet voice startled her, and never looked back. Then her life could have went on as normal, with no slime, no pies and no Bolognese unless it was pasta night in the Bardsley household, which even then would be an entirely civilised event (apart from her father’s slightly too loud chewing) with absolutely nothing getting tossed onto her hair whatsoever, thank you very much. And absolutely no stunts that were like something straight out of a James Bond film. Although she supposed no matter what happened to James Bond, all he ever had to do was straighten his tie and he was perfectly presentable again.

Unfortunately, for starters, Claire Bardsley had no tie.

With a cry of terror, she jumped into the slime below.


Some thirty minutes before Claire’s horrifying leap into the freezing slop, she’d been running under the pleasant, bathing warmth of the sun. This was about the only good feeling she could grasp from her current situation. The street that she was jogging along, leading away from the restaurant, was terrifyingly crowded. She tried her best to pay no mind to what was going on around her, yet every laugh, every scream, every voice whether yelling or talking in hushed tones was clearly being directed right at the ludicrous sight of her covered in all kinds of horrible slop. The slimy custard that had thoroughly drenched her cute Orchid purple top was soaking against her upper and lower body. She dreaded to think of what condition her skin would be in by the time she finally would be able to clean this… this gunk off of her. Her head bobbed as she moved, occasionally sending some nasty surprise or another dripping from her head and down her face or trickling onto her body. A generous dollop of Bolognese that had managed to bury itself deep in her brown – although now largely creamy white – hair ended up dislodging itself and slithering down the front of her face. Her pretty nose twitched like a delicate rabbit’s; it remembered that overpowering smell all too well (and indeed still held more than a trace of it) and wanted nothing more to do with it. Claire’s hand rose frantically to try and clean her face, although her hands were already so messy from her futile efforts to mop off some of the slime that this was more of a hindrance than a help. She did at least manage to grasp a few pieces of beef that were covered in very slimy sauce and toss them off her face with a small, frustrated cry. Her tongue peeked from her mouth with revulsion, though her nose was thankful for her efforts, even if did still complain about the fact that it was currently being completely overwhelmed by the scent of sweet jam and cream.

Claire wasn’t happy. Everyone and everything was getting on her nerves. Suddenly, at the time of her life when she wanted it the most, she could no longer rely on being invisible. That was how they always got the invisible man or woman in those old sci-fi horror movies: as soon as something like mud or paint got all over them everyone could see them for the first time. All she wanted – other than to be clean and dry, and for the memory of this whole horrible event to be washed away along with the goo that covered her, of course – was to be left alone. That of course, wasn’t possible. Apart from the fact that she was an incredible spectacle to everyone who caught so much as a glimpse of her, Larissa was in her ear at all times. The earpiece itself she barely noticed; it was tiny, hidden away nicely and entirely uncumbersome (indeed the only thing about her ear that bothered her was the fact that freezing cold cream was dripping along the back and side of it), but Larissa was a persistent nuisance of perpetual bubbly energy. She was cheering Claire on all the way. While Claire thought that there were plenty of guys who would probably die of happiness to hear this heavenly voice squeeing and squealing in support like some rabid fangirl, it did nothing to improve her current mood. She was living her worst nightmare right now, having been completely humiliated and now being paraded around town where everyone could see her. This had supplanted even the spider in the shower incident – wherein she had opened the bathroom window while taking a shower only to have what to this day she swore was the biggest, nastiest spider in the history of the universe drop casually down onto her wet, naked breasts – as the most mortifying event of her life. The Bardsley household well remembered being awoken by the sounds of Claire’s horrified screams. She sincerely hoped her parents couldn’t see her right now.

“That’s the way, Claire, keep it going! You’re setting quite a pace – I wonder if you can keep that up the whole way? No need to push yourself if you’re feeling tired, although I daresay you’re looking forward to getting to the University, yes? I’m guessing they have showers on site, huh? So as soon as you get there we’ll let you go and get cleaned up! I’ll even arrange for some fresh clothes to be laid out for you when you arrive. Would you like that, sweetheart?”

I’d like to wring your damn neck. Sweetheart.

“Oh yes,” Claire blurted out instead, feeling pathetic as she completely failed to disguise how wonderful this sounded.

“What is it that you study, anyway?”

“Illustration Animation,” said Claire, sounding awkward. She always tended to whenever she had to talk about herself, and it was even worse now, as being made to answer Larissa’s questions made the fact that she was a contestant on a game show being broadcast over the internet seem somehow much more real than it had up to this point.

“Interesting! You did strike me as something of a creative type. I’d love to check out some of your work. I bet our viewers want to see too! I’ve been checking the stream chat throughout the show, and you’re proving to be amazingly popular as a contestant. You have yourself quite a few admirers out there, let me tell you! (And between you and me, I’m one of them!)”

Claire felt another bush explode across her face. She took a little solace in the fact that so many cakes had exploded over it already that no-one watching would be able to see it. Admirers!? All she’d done this whole time was make a complete and utter fool of herself. Larissa was obviously teasing her.

“So how are you enjoying the game so far?” asked Larissa.

It’s a delight! I’m just so glad to be on your awful show for morons, getting gunged and paraded around town you stupid, stupid woman!

“Uh… I don’t know… it’s certainly very… intense,” said Claire lamely, trying not to let her bitter thoughts creep through. “How did you even come up with something like this in the first place? How can you possibly afford to do all this?”

“Well, as I’ve mentioned, everybody watching has contributed a little something to the show (thanks again all!), although I admit, I cover most of the expense myself. My father’s a big-shot television executive. I did all kinds of work helping out on TV shows when I was around your age, but I always felt that there was way too much that got in the way of my creativity. Like, one time I helped out on a show that had a gunge tank segment at the end, and the woman in charge kept insisting that the gungee wear goggles and a showercap, no matter how many times I told her they’d be just fine without. You’d have thought she’d be grateful when I locked her in to demonstrate, but nope, she just screamed and squealed and threatened me, then she booted me right off her show and told my dad she would never work with me again! TV was just too restrictive, too many people getting in the way, so I jumped to the internet. I started way smaller than this show of course, but I’ve built up a small loyal fanbase that just laps this stuff up!  I also set up a Youtube partnership network, where we promote and support Youtube stars in return for a share of their ad revenue. You’d be surprised how much revenue we actually generate. So together  with my fans and supporters we’ve worked to come up with bigger and better ideas; really this show is the kind of thing I’ve always dreamed of doing – and I’m so happy we’ve got such a great contestant for our first run at it! Hopefully we’ve got a lot more to go with you, though don’t think I’m going to go easy on you just because I like you! So let’s stop taking about me, and get to know you a little better…”

Even in her current mood, Claire had to admit Larissa was a tremendous conversationalist. Ever a shy, quiet girl, Claire was used to putting other people’s social skills to the test. Most people when striking up conversation with Claire for the first time would struggle through a few awkward responses and then typically give up and move on with their lives. Her friends would attest that once you got to know her, she really was a nice, personable person, it was just that it took a while to get her to open up to you. She was almost tempted to lie, to try and make herself sound much more interesting than she really was – if Rachel had ended up on the show as originally intended, she certainly would have – but in the end, she was essentially an honest person. She’s rather just be herself, boring though she may be. Besides which, Larissa really did seem rather interested in her responses,  as she bounced effortlessly from topic to topic, asking about her likes (movies, doing charity work, reading, drawing), her ambitions (to work in animation, obviously, along with how she would like to take forward her charitable goals, and in something she was surprised to admit to Larissa, since she’d told almost no-one this before, how she dreamed of writing and illustrating her own children’s book someday) and, causing her to blush, whether she had a boyfriend (no… maybe there was someone she liked. Maybe.) She supposed part of it was that talking helped take her mind off of her current predicament, but Larissa definitely had a certain… charisma about her. She seemed way too friendly and charming to be at the helm of such an obviously mean-spirited game show. Although she did seem genuinely interested in her, Claire wondered whether really Larissa saw her as nothing more than a patsy. As soon as she thought this, she regretted opening up to her as much as she had.

Despite this, the pleasant conversation, along with Larissa’s soft silvern voice had helped her relax just a little when she turned a corner into an outdoor market and ended up squeaking with horror at the sheer number of people in front of her.

No way!

A few heads were turning towards her as she quickly spun on her heel and, in a complete panic, scurried off towards a deserted side street like a frightened mouse heading for the nearest hole. Halfway down the street, she found herself slowing to a crawl and finally, she had to pause and rest an arm against the wall. Her other hand went instinctively to the stitch in her side, getting soaked in some gooey custard that her orchid-purple top hadn’t been able to absorb. Claire really wasn’t athletic at all, and it didn’t help that she was trying to run after just eating a full meal. She looked at her watch and saw she had over twenty five minutes left to complete her challenge. Even though she was going to have to cut her pace dramatically, that should still leave her plenty of time – if she went by the main routes. The problem was, for one thing, she couldn’t face anything like that crowd she’d just seen. Mortifying though it had been, she’d been able to rush past the people laughing and shouting at her so far. The market on the other hand, was packed, and didn’t offer her room to just run around. She’d practically have to push her way past people, and she wasn’t sure that even the motivation of fifty thousand pounds could give her the courage to do so. That meant she’d have to try to make her way around all the crowded areas using streets like this one, and as she got closer and closer to the University, that would get increasingly more difficult to do and take her increasingly out of her way. It was going to result in a far longer route, and given that she’d already had to slow to a walk, was going to make this challenge much tighter than it should have been. And there was another problem, one that tightened her chest with fear: as she approached her destination, she risked being seen by somebody she knew. Randos over the internet and strangers in public were unbearable enough, but to be spotted running around gunged in public by her friends, her lecturers, her classmates or… anyone really, however they knew her, was unthinkable for Claire. There was no way she could ever face anyone who’d seen the events of the last couple of hours ever again. She would just die! As she walked down the street, occasionally using the wall for support, she could feel her muscles tightening, and not just from the rare exertion she’d just placed on them. They were tightening from the stress this whole ordeal was putting on her. Claire rarely let herself be taken out of her comfort zone but ever since Larissa’s voice had scared the living daylights out of her this morning, she’d been rocketed beyond it and was still going.

The truth was that Larissa taking Claire’s phone away for this challenge had been completely unnecessary. The last thing she would have ever done was called someone she knew to help her if it meant them seeing her in this state. Of course, drawing even more attention to her was the crew in the bike that followed her every move. Occasionally (and very deliberately, although she hoped Larissa didn’t notice) she dropped down a street too narrow for them to follow her, but they always popped up again, no matter what. There was no sign of them right now, but no doubt they’d meet her on the other side.

Her mind was filled with the horrors of what lay ahead once she came back out into the open, but just before she got there, she was started by a cyclist turning into the street and heading in her direction. Instinctively she threw herself against the wall behind a dumpster, to let him past for one thing, but also in the hopes that he might go past without seeing her at all. To her horror, he’d noticed her move and stopped in front of her. Now she was pressed up against the wall with a stranger blocking her path. She felt so nervous and embarrassed as he looked her up and down with a quizzical look on his face. She could feel her legs shaking beneath her, and it wasn’t just from the cold custard that had invaded her shorts.

“Geez! What on earth happened to you? Is that… Bolognese in your hair?” he asked. Then he seemed to notice the first thing most people usually noticed about Claire (perhaps understandably relegated to second today given that you didn’t typically find anyone running around town covered in custard, cream, cake, jam and yes, Bolognese): that she was obviously a very timid and shy girl. His expression softened.

“Is everything okay?”

Claire tried to stammer out some kind of reply to this when a sudden thought managed to cut through her awkwardness. Her eyes lit up. This was perfect! Larissa had told her she couldn’t call for help… but that didn’t mean that she couldn’t ask for it, and right now the universe seemed to have handed her a sympathetic soul. More importantly, it might just have handed her a bike.

“Could… could I borrow that?” she asked timidly. “I really, really need to be somewhere right now, and I can’t bear all these people looking at me and laughing… you’re seriously, like the first nice person I’ve seen this whole time… I know it’s a lot to ask but please, if you could just help me out…”

The biker gave a reluctant grimace. He turned his head to take a look at Claire’s custard-covered backside. She pressed herself up against the wall to put an end to this, fidgeting awkwardly. She left a slimy trail up against it, as if she were some kind of disgusting slug.

“Uh, I’m sorry,” he said with a shrug. “I can’t let you have my bike, but I do have a phone you can use. I can wait with you if you want to call someone to come pick you up, or…”

“Uh-Uh,” said Larissa into her ear, a quiet reminder of the rule she’d put in place.

“No!” cried Claire in a panic, as though he might get her disqualified simply for offering.

“What’s the matter!?” the biker replied, startled by her outburst.

“I don’t want anyone I know to see me like this,” said Claire truthfully. This called for desperate measures. She didn’t use it often, and she didn’t like using it – she wasn’t like her sister, who always had to get her own way – but Claire knew she had a winning smile. When she really, really wanted something, like the last cupcake from her mother’s latest batch, or for Ethan to go with her to see a film he wasn’t the least bit interested in, or when Rachel was trying (unjustly, of course) to pin the blame for something on her, she broke out her best weapon. She didn’t have confidence in many things about herself, but her smile was tried and true.

Claire gave him the most charming smile she could, trying to ignore the cream that ran into her mouth.

“Please… look, I promise you’ll get it back. I-I can bring it to you, or tell you where to come find it, I… I just need fifte-no, just ten minutes, that’s all!  Look at the state of me, I’m begging you, just let me borrow your bike.”

The biker gave her what was intended to be a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Instead he winced and they stood staring awkwardly at each other for a moment before he pulled his slimy hand away from her and gave it a good shake.

“I’m sure you’re a very nice girl,” he said. “And I’d like to help you out, really I would, but this isn’t just any bike, you know? Do you know what this is?”

Claire shook her soggy head, her winsome smile slowly beginning to wilt.

“This here is a Merida Scultra 400. Does that mean anything to you?”

Larissa’s heavenly voice spoke up, although only in her head, to say: blah blah blah BORING!

“Uh, yeah, it’s awesome, and I’ll be so, so careful with it…” began Claire. Feeling the precious bike slipping through her (admittedly slippery) fingers, she reached out and touched the handlebars. She was certainly not by nature an assertive person, but she was absolutely determined to get this Merida whatever-it-was.

“Hey… HEY!!! Don’t touch that, geez look what you did, you’ve got goop all over the place, get out of here kid.”

Forcefully taking his bike back, the man gave her an angry look that caused Claire to shrink backwards. She wasn’t used to being chided. It took her a moment to recover, by which time the man was back on his bike and picking up speed.

“WAIT!” Claire shouted, hating how whiny her voice sounded. She couldn’t see the crew at the moment, but she knew she must look like such a loser to anybody watching her. She gave a forlorn sniff, a decision she immediately regretted as several severe and definitely conflicting smells hit her all at once. Right now she felt so horrible and miserable that she really wanted to just tell Larissa that she quit, but even if she did, she’d still have to make her way home, and that was further away than the university was. Besides which, even though this was only her third challenge (of… oh god… seven, if she made it the whole way) she’d already been through so much of an ordeal that she really felt she couldn’t quit at this point. And that was really quite a scary thought; who knew what on earth else Larissa had in store? Pleasant or not, there seemed to be an imp of mischief in the woman. Who else could have come up with this bizarre internet game show where she was being watched by…

Was being watched by-

Claire looked around. For the first time since the show began, she actually did feel like someone unseen was watching her, and suddenly it was a really uncomfortable feeling, because really, the people watching at home were just like the people she saw all over the streets. Maybe worse. These people were paying to watching her humiliation, after all. She’d felt detached from it all this time, but there was something so creepy about the whole set-up.  As she turned she found herself face to face with a bright orange tabby cat that advanced towards her. Instantly she relaxed. The cat brushed up against her slimy leg, and with no hesitation, began licking at the cream that covered her shoe. She tried to shoo it away, though she never could bring herself to be all that admonishing to animals, at least not cute ones like this.

Claire stood miserably for a moment, then jerked up straight as though slapped. She didn’t have any time to waste! Failing this challenge would be exceptionally humiliating – the whole point of it in the first place was clearly just for her to suffer through the embarrassment of everyone seeing her in the completely ridiculous messy state she was in, so she’d be a complete and utter failure if she actually didn’t make it to her goal in time.


While at least she was no longer ‘blackened’ when Larson brought Erin back to the control room, the perky young presenter was, well, still looking far from presentable, Hayleigh thought, inspecting her colleague from head to toe. Her impressive mane of brown hair was looking very bedraggled, with many strands looking damp, frizzled, or just plain out of place. Getting all of that nasty black treacle out of it would have been no easy task; indeed she caught a pungent sickly-sweet smell coming from it even now that caused Hayleigh to instinctively back away from her, drawing air through her teeth and hissing with disgust. She picked up her bag from the table next to her and quickly produced a small bottle that she sprayed into the air around her, giving her co-host a charming smile to say that she meant no offense. Hayleigh had a very low tolerance for unpleasant smells. The lovely strawberry fragrance now surrounding her was considerably more to her liking. She placed the bottle within arm’s reach in case she needed it again, although the delightful smell from the linen spray she used on most of her clothes, including the lovely emerald skater dress she was wearing today, soon made her forget all about it. Since Erin’s own clothes had been completely ruined beyond all hope, she was now wearing a neon yellow wrap dress. Given that she didn’t like the colour yellow or wearing dresses at all, Larissa had probably selected the new set-up for her. She gave a nervous look over at her boss to make sure she wasn’t going to be overheard. Fortunately Larissa was far too caught up with Claire to be paying her any mind. Larson, changed into a fresh suit, stood next to her holding a bunch of grapes. The man, who had once punched a gentleman who’d lunged towards Larissa so hard he’d knocked his front teeth out, now held the grapes above Larissa’s mouth whenever she tilted her head towards him. She rose up and bit off grapes one at a time, as though she were a shark.

“Are you okay, Erin?” she asked softly. Erin just glared at her. Hayleigh pouted, summoning up all of her presenter’s charm to try and get back into the girl’s good books. “Oh, please don’t be mad at me. You know nobody can change her mind once she’s set on something. She would’ve only ended up gunging me too, and that really wouldn’t have helped anything now, would it? We wouldn’t have had anyone left to present the show!”

Hayleigh tilted her head and gave her co-host a pleading look. She looked completely unmoved.

Whatever, she thought to herself, although she made sure not to show her annoyance. Erin could be such a brat sometimes. It wasn’t as though any of this was her fault. She’d come around in time, she always did once she’d had her little ten minutes of defiance.

“Don’t try to make out like it was about the show, we all know you were only out to save yourself. You always get away with it…”

“Get away with it? Get away with what!?” asked an incredulous Hayleigh. “I’ve done nothing to get away with. I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you ever putting your neck on the line to help anyone else around here when she gets up to tricks. You were running straight for the door during that whole ordeal with Annalise and the bucket of cockroaches…”

“Couldn’t get out the door though could I, ‘cause you were already outside it holding it shut!”

“Annalise was a fuck-up Erin, just like you. I’m not the one leaving our boss voicemails calling her a ‘stupid bitch’, for heaven’s sake, what did you think was going to happen? You know I like you, Erin, I do, but do you see the position you’re putting me in here? I’m not going to take responsibility for your mistakes. Just because I’m careful not to make any blunders doesn’t mean…”

“The only reason you’re even here in the first place is because you got yourself neck deep in debt after daddy cut off your credit card! She owns you. You mark my words – your time is going to come. You think just because you run around grovelling to her all the time that you’re safe? Ha! You know, Hay, when you’re best friends with the tiger, that just means you’re last in line to get eaten.”

Hayleigh’s eyes burned with anger, partly because she never liked being reminded of the fact that – although the two of them would never, ever say such a thing aloud – she really was owned by Larissa. Also, however, because that last remark hit much too close to home for her liking.

She turned away as though struck, then span back round to make an angry retort when there was Larissa standing right in front of her smiling.


Aaaah!” screamed Hayleigh and Erin in unison.

“We have a lot of fun together, the three of us, don’t we?” asked Larissa. Hayleigh and Erin resolutely agreed, although Hayleigh popped a few strands of blonde hair in her mouth and started to chew on them, a nervous habit she’d had dating all the way back to the few times she’d gotten in trouble at school. “I like to do things a little bit differently from the norm. That’s why, when someone who works for me slips up (as we all do from time to time!) I like to, you know, get a little playful about how I handle things. Keep things light, you know? Fun. We all know each other around here, we’re all friends, practically family, so no-one’s going to get the wrong idea or misconstrue anything that might go on between us. Isn’t that right, Erin?”

On this point, Erin also resolutely agreed, as did Hayleigh, who hadn’t even been asked. Hayleigh had visited Larissa’s home on a few occasions, and locked in a glass cabinet in her living room sat a grand display of magnificent porcelain dolls. Right at this moment she felt every bit that she was one of those dolls, and she’d been found lying in a different part of the room than Larissa had left her, and she was now desperately trying to manoeuvre herself back towards her expected position before she was taken apart in order for her owner to discern just what previously undiscovered component was powering such independent action.

“Splendid!” said Larissa brightly. “Because I hate the idea of there being any uncomfortableness around the place. I mean, I would never want to go around shouting at my employees, because that would- FOR FUCK’S SAKE HAYLEIGH STOP CHEWING YOUR FUCKING HAIR RIGHT NOW!!!!

Hayleigh leapt out of her skin in a way that made even Claire’s reaction, when the unexpected Larissa alarm clock had went off earlier in the day, look dignified. She cowered before the twin-tailed beauty. Her sudden outburst had genuinely shocked her. Not only was Larissa losing control of her temper, at least in any visible or audible sense, unheard of, there was something about that sweet voice suddenly bursting into rage that was insanely upsetting. It was like a cute little puppy dressed up in bows suddenly leaping forwards savagely to bite you. And then just as suddenly the anger that had been contorting Larissa’s pretty features evaporated leaving behind her usual soft, charming demeanour.

“Because that would be unpleasant, wouldn’t it? Relax, Hayleigh. Relax! I was just joking, just demonstrating why no-one wants any shouting around the place. (Don’t put it back in though!)  A nasty business, that’s what I think that would be. That said, though, as much as we enjoy having fun, there was a little bit of a serious point I was sort of hoping you might take away from this morning’s festivities, and it wasn’t that Erin’s going to be getting married again tomorrow!  Let me make it clear (although I don’t know why it wouldn’t be already!): the next couple of days, with our new show and everything, are very important to me, and to you, and to our company. So I think it would be just great if we could all get our acts together, get on the same page, and not be screwing around fighting with each other. Do you agree?”

They did. Resolutely.

“Now with all that said, there’s nothing more important to me than my two best friends. So if there’s some issue between you both that needs to be worked out, I can just stop everything. I’ll stop the show, I’ll tell Claire to just stop running, we’ll stop the timer and she can just stand there in the middle of the street covered in mess (hopefully she doesn’t need to go to the bathroom! I did forget to tell her to go before she left the house this morning!) until we’re all ready to continue. I can’t bear the thought of there being any tension between us. I know you both wouldn’t take me away from monitoring the show without good reason. So what’s the problem, here, exactly?”

“N-nothing,” said Hayleigh, resisting her gibbering mind urging her to flee the room immediately, just as she had when she’d seen those nasty cockroaches. “Erin’s just a bit overemotional at the moment, with everything that’s happened. She’s upset that I didn’t stand up for her this morning.”

Erin’s teeth were practically grinding together at her good ‘friend’ Hayleigh’s attempt to make sure, if wrath was about to be brought down, then it would be brought down on her. Her eyes, however, were flickering nervously in Larissa’s direction. Hayleigh forcibly reminded herself that she was still the tiger’s favourite, although she didn’t like Larissa’s thoughtful pause.

“I’m sorry about before, Erin,” said Larissa finally. “I have a… kind of twisted sense of humour. Or else I never would have come up with the concept for this show now, would I? It’s just that… we’ve been friends for so long I think we’re okay having fun with things like that, but then I take it too far, and you get all upset… I promise, I never meant to make you cry, Erin, and I so don’t want to lose our friendship over this…”

“It’s okay,” said Erin, who just sounded defeated. Even Hayleigh felt kind of bad for her, hearing her sound like that. Erin knew what the score really was; she just didn’t want an argument. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I never should have left you that message and said those awful things.”

“Friends…?” asked Larissa hopefully.

“Friends,” Erin agreed, holding out her hand. Larissa looked at it with an amused smile.

“Might still be a bit sticky for my tastes, sweetheart! But yay, friends! So now to sort out things between you and Hayleigh: would you like me to put Hayleigh into the gunge tank? Would that make up for her not taking your side before?”

Hayleigh froze, her stomach filling with butterflies. She deliberately hadn’t sided with Erin because she was certain if she had she would have ended up getting gunged along with her. And now Larissa was talking about gunging her exactly because she hadn’t!

Last to be eaten, she thought, licking her lips, her eyes pleading with Erin not to condemn her to the same messy fate she’d had to endure.

“No,” said Erin finally. Hayleigh wished she could have been a bit quicker in saying so – oh, how she must have just loved watching her squirm! – but she breathed a sigh of relief. “She didn’t do anything wrong. I was just… being childish about the whole thing. I got what I deserved. Hayleigh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t being fair to you.”

“That’s okay, Erin,” said Hayleigh. “I’m glad we’ve gotten this straightened out. Larissa, we’re both really sorry to have distracted you with this. I promise it won’t happen again.”

“Then let’s hear no more about it,” said Larissa. “Sorry to have had you dragged out of the shower Erin, but a lot of people in the stream chat were asking where you were earlier. You missed all the action with Claire! Boy, was that food fight something else!  She’s onto her third task now; a messy run across town to get to her University site before time runs out. And wow – for a girl who seemed so shy and quiet at first, she has been swearing up a storm. Under her breath mind you, but her microphone’s picking it all up just the same. Oh, but I almost forgot the whole reason I brought you here in the first place. As I said, our deeelightful contestant is on her way to her University as we speak. This is a pretty easy one, so I’m expecting her to make it through, and I want the two of you to be there when she does, to give her this.”

Larissa reached over to Hayleigh and handed her a golden envelope.

“What’s this?” asked Hayleigh. On the one hand, she was glad to be getting sent out of the studio – she was typically much happier the further away from Larissa she was. On the other, the envelope was a surprise, and she wasn’t in the mood for any more surprises today.

“Claire’s to open it when she passes the challenge. Don’t look inside it beforehand!” said Larissa, before giving both presenters a few other instructions. Hayleigh listened attentively, nodding all the while. She’d gotten almost used to being Larissa’s doll, by now. She didn’t like it, but you had to learn how to adapt. Erin never would, and that was why she would always keep slipping up and making mistakes like she had this morning. Hayleigh had worked long and hard at becoming Larissa’s favourite doll, and that was a position she meant to keep, no matter the cost.


Claire took the long way round, hoping to avoid anywhere too crowded. To her surprise, the cat actually ran along with her, perhaps in the belief that the cream all over Claire Bardsley would provide a never-ending source of food for it. Eventually she managed to make it to the riverbank. From here she was railroaded, since she had to make it across the footbridge to the other side. Any other route would take her well over her time limit. Here she made only one slight detour to avoid running through a massive mud puddle at the side of the road from the rain a couple of days earlier. Her feline companion ran on ahead of her. Once she was about half-way along it, she suddenly heard the bike following her rev up sharply. As she turned to see what was going on the bike suddenly tore through the muck, sending a huge muddy spray into the air. Claire screamed and leapt backwards away from it. Her reaction time was good but unfortunately this did absolutely nothing whatsoever to shield her from the massive wave of mud that showered over her front from head to toe. She looked down at the thick slushy mud that covered her already ruined, soggy clothes and the bare skin of her arms and legs. The mucky spray had succeeded in dislodging most of the remaining spaghetti from her hair, although she could hardly consider a cold mud shower to be an improvement.

“Did you really have to do that?” she said, talking to Larissa.

“You think the driver did that on purpose?”

“I’m not stupid, Larissa. I know you told him to do that.”

“Oh? What makes you say that?”

Claire stamped her foot. Her patience with this woman had plain worn out.

It’s so obvious it was you! Why are you even bothering to deny it!?”

“Oh my, you’re so smart, sweetheart! Aren’t you smart?” said Larissa, in tones suggesting that she was talking to a dog that had just demonstrated it was capable of shaking hands. “We’d better call the Crown Prosecution Service! I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to learn of that particular prosecuting technique – ladies and gentleman of the jury, it’s just so obvious that this woman did it! Case closed! You don’t think it’s possible on this messy game show that my staff might see a chance to get you covered in mud and act on their own initiative?”

Did you ask him to do that?” asked Claire, deciding to change tack.

“Yes, of course I did,” said Larissa happily. “I noticed you trying to lose our crew a few times, so I thought I’d send you a bit of a message in hopes that you’ll stay on track from now on. We appreciate your co-operation!”

Claire wrung her muddy hands, fuming. She wanted to rip into this vile woman, but for one thing she would probably look quite the fool (not like she did now, ha ha) and for another, she could do without Larissa having any more bright ideas. Only just then she had one of her own. It seemed so obvious now that it came to her, and better yet, there was nothing Larissa could do about it. There was nothing against it in the rules she’d set for the challenge, and it would save Claire a TON of hassle. And, she thought, if Larissa dared to try and change her rules midway through, she’d get her own arguments about fairness thrown right back at her. So instead of continuing along the muddy bank to get to the bridge, she took a right turn.

“Hmmm? What’s this? You’re not giving up, are you? You seem to be going back the way you came,” said Larissa.

“I know what I’m doing.”

“I’m sure you do. I’d keep an eye on your time though, if I were you!”

Looping back a couple of blocks brought Claire to the best sight she’d seen since this twisted show began: the car wash. A girl out front with dirty blonde hair (not dirty in the same sense as Claire currently had dirty brown hair) and brown highlights was currently waxing a car. Inside, a gentleman was patiently reading a book while he waited. The girl looked up as she saw her approach, raising a curious eyebrow as she examined the whirlwind of mess that was Claire.

“Yes, I know,” said Claire, instinctively raising her hands to try and keep things calm. She was quite concerned that she might come off as a lunatic. “It’s a long story! Look, I don’t mean to bother you, but I don’t suppose you could do me a MASSIVE favour and… hose me off a little? I don’t have any money on me, but I swear, I’ll come back and pay you whatever you want. Please please please help me out here, would you?”

Before she could attempt to seal the deal with her wholesome smile, she felt something hard smack the back of her head. Her smile contorted with shock, and her jaw fell open. She didn’t know what on earth had been thrown at her, but it had been pretty sore. It wasn’t until she felt something soft and slimy run down her neck and onto her shoulder that she saw she’d been hit by an egg!  As she turned, she saw the girl she’d just been looking at was behind her. Or at least, her twin was: this girl, while her face and body looked just the same, had brown hair with blonde highlights. Cute, she thought dryly. Before she could notice any other differences, the girl stepped towards her and raised another egg. Her feline companion hissed at the girl.

“Waitwaitwaitwaitpleasewait!” said Claire, attempting to retreat backwards. Unfortunately for her, while her messy appearance might have rendered her visible for a change, apparently everyone was still completely incapable of listening to a single thing she said. The second egg was cracked off the top of her head, yolk dribbling down through her hair and dripping from her fringe onto her face. There was so much mess there already that she was surprised she could feel it under all the layers, but she did, oh how she did, and it was distinctly unpleasant having that egg goo sopping all over her scrunched-up nose . Egg slime dribbled into her ear, where she also heard Larissa waxing lyrical about how good eggs were supposed to be for your hair and skin, the loathsome woman!  Large slivers of yellow goo trickled across her face, while the white seemed to be staying put in her hair.

It hadn’t been a good day for Claire, and it was fair to say that at this point she snapped. She’d had more than enough of constantly getting messy, and she was NOT about to be on the receiving end of the four remaining eggs in the carton the smirking twin was holding. She grabbed at the carton, but the girl was too quick for her and held them back out of the way. She was about to get another egg ready when she suddenly gave a sharp, shocked scream. The cat had decided to sink it’s claws into her bare leg. This gave Claire the opening she needed to wrest the carton away. The other girl was struggling to control her laughter.

“You think people getting hit with eggs is funny? Well, I bet you’ll love this then!” shrieked Claire. Even in her current frenzied state, a more rational part of Claire’s brain that was observing all this and thinking she was acting quite the buffoon was at least relieved she hadn’t yelled “WELL, YOLK’S ON YOU!!!” It was perhaps, the last tiny bit of dignity left to her at this point.

She spun and threw the egg at the twin behind her. Sadly her earlier pie-throwing success was not replicated – her aim was actually fine, but the twin squeaked and jumped out of the way, leaving her egg to splat, and shatter, against the male customer’s car window. Claire gasped and froze. Her neck tried to sink into her body, turtle-like. Her shoulders stiffened. She couldn’t see the man’s reaction behind the egg-goop covered window, but if she had held any cautious optimism as to whether he might somehow be pleased by this turn of events, it was dashed as soon as he got out of the car and stormed over to her.

“What the hell’s going on here!?  Is this some kind of joke!?”

“A-actually, it’s a yolk,” stammered Claire, and gave a nervous, panicked giggle. The last part of her rational mind sighed and left her to it.

“Do you think this is funny? Why the fuck are you throwing eggs at my car?”

“W-w-w-well, Imean… uh, er… well, you’re in the right place for it, at least!” said Claire. She tried busting out her smile, but unfortunately a big slimy egg yolk smile did nothing to defuse the gentleman’s temper.

“We’ll get that cleaned off right away, sir. This girl doesn’t work here, by the way. I think she must have uh, escaped from some hospital or something,” said the dirty blonde twin.

“I think she came from the swamp, from the look of her,” offered the other, who’d finally managed to free herself from the cat.

The man turned to the girls and began ranting, although Claire didn’t hear any of it, as Larissa began talking in her ear. She wouldn’t say the woman was panicked, but she was speaking more urgently than she had up to this point, and that definitely caught her attention.

“Um, Claire?” said Larissa. “I have a tiny confession to make. I was aware there was a car wash a few blocks from the restaurant, so I made a something of a deal with the twins just in case something like this came up – this is a messy game show, not a wet and messy game show. What I didn’t know though, was that one of the parties you had so much fun with during lunch works in that building across the street there. And, well, that woman that ran out of the restaurant – Holly, I think her name is? – she may have been lurking around outside and overheard part of the conversation we had. So I have good news and bad news!”

Claire’s hand went to her mouth. No, she thought. Nononononononono.

“The good news is she doesn’t seem to know that you’re part of a messy game show, so you’re not disqualified! Phew! Uh, but the bad news is that the restaurant staff were pretty much trying to pin the blame for the whole thing on her, and she used that conversation to well, finger you for the whole thing. And my spies tell me that they are just about to turn the corner and…”


“GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! No!” screamed Claire, standing bolt upright with complete horror on her face before turning on her heel and sprinting for her life.

“Ah, yes. There they are,” said Larissa.

“Here,” shouted the gentleman whose car she’d inadvertently splattered. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Claire risked a look behind her, heart pounding in her chest. The man and the twins had joined a group of about a dozen people, Holly included, in hot pursuit of her. She could hear the noise of the bike somewhere in the distance: their priority right now appeared to be to remain incognito. The cat, probably the only friend she could ever hope to have during this awful contest, decided that Claire was far too dangerous an individual to be associating with, and ran off in another direction.

“Larissa, please!!! You have to help me!” screamed Claire. “Send your team in!”

“My team’s good, sweetheart, but they can hardly hold back the tide!”

“You’d pay them a bunch of money, you said! They’d all have a good laugh about it, you said! I’m going to go to jail! I’m going to die!”

“No no no,” said Larissa calmly. “There’s solid legal precedent for public acts of gunge. Don’t you remember that case where that vigilante group went after those dirty politicians and gunged them on camera? That case dragged on, but in the end, largely I believe due to an expert’s testimony, it was ruled that gunging or pieing someone, even in public, no matter how important they may or may not be, is perfectly legal. It was a controversial ruling to be sure, but hey, it worked out well for us, didn’t it?”

Now that she came to think about it, Claire did seem to recall something like that. She didn’t really know much about slimy politics or slimy… slime, so she wasn’t sure of the details. Clown Court, this must have been!  It sounded to her a pretty shockingly bad decision – the start of some nightmare future where people in the streets pelted her with pies, Bolognese rained from the sky, and slime… washed her house away, or something – but she probably was in the clear. As far as criminal charges went.

“I’m going to die!”

“Now everything’s going to be just fine!” said Larissa cheerfully. This confidence did not appear to be shared by various people surrounding Larissa, wherever she was. She could hear quite a bit of panicked shouting in the background through the earpiece. “I have a plan already in motion.”

“Thank God,” said Claire. She was starting to run short on breath. She had a good lead start on the mob pursuing her, but she was worn out from all her earlier exertions, and she really didn’t do much in the way of exercise.

“You just have to make it to the bridge,” said Larissa.

“The what!?” screeched Claire. “I can’t make it that far! Even if I could, what am I supposed to do when I get there!?”

“If you’ve got the energy to shout at me, you have the energy to get to the bridge – you’re so close. We’re all rooting for you! Go, go, go!”

Claire really didn’t know how she managed to make it – her poor muscles, such as they were, were crying for mercy – but finally the bridge came into view. Her lead had been cut drastically though. She could feel her pursuers closing in, but she didn’t dare turn around again.

“Okay, I’m at the bridge,” Claire barely managed to gasp. “What no- oh no no no no no, wait a minute. I am so not jumping into the river, no way!”

“I would definitely not recommend doing that,” said Larissa. “You need to run to the other side. By the way, no offence, I mean this in the nicest possible way, but you just have an absolutely hilarious way of running. Everyone’s telling me I need to just give you challenges where you run all the time!”

“What!? What’s wrong with the way I run!?” cried Claire, cursed to remain self-conscious even up to the last moments of her life.

“Nothing! Nothing at all! Forget I said anything. Now the bridge continues past the river over the traffic. That’s where you need to be, because you’re going to jump down from there.”

Claire didn’t consider herself a violent person, so even though she understood where they came from, so unhelpful was Larissa’s plan, she was rather shocked at the violent images of what she wanted to do to Larissa that ran through her head.

“I so am not!”

“Relax, we have a tipper lorry sitting just under the bridge with something soft waiting to break your fall.”

If Claire had just a little less on her mind at the moment, she probably would have twigged before she actually looked down and saw the lorry. It had something soft for her to jump onto – or into – all right.

“You couldn’t have gotten a mattress or something!?”

“Picky, aren’t we? Sorry Claire, but I’m running a messy show here. I’ve got all the mess you could ever want, so it’s the best I could do on short notice. If you want to wait while I try to get something more suitable, your majesty, by all means!”

Damn it!

Bracing herself, Claire awkwardly clambered over the railing as carefully as she could. Slippery as she was, the last thing she wanted to do was slide off the side of the bridge and bounce off the road below and have to wait for Larissa to send out an ambulance made out of jelly, or whatever. Grimacing, she looked at the tipper lorry below. Usually she might expect to see construction tools or some such sitting in the open container in the back. This one was filled with what looked to her to be pretty pink strawberry pudding. She could hear urgent shouting very close by now. From the corner of her eye, she could see Holly had pulled in front of the pack and was closing in. Well, she’d fled the restaurant quickly enough – it seemed distance was no barrier to her either.

“Don’t worry, the earpiece and microphone will be fine,” said Larissa helpfully. “The only thing not pudding proof here is you!”

Claire Bardsley looked behind her, and then looked down again. Neither of the two options laid out before her were remotely acceptable, but short of a helicopter dropping a rope down out of the sky – and she certainly didn’t see one – there was no finding a third way here. Although come to think of it the helicopter sounded like a terrible idea as well. The pretty voice that concealed an extremely devious mind behind it continued to coax her.

“You’re going to have to trust me, sweetheart. Everything’s going to be fine. I know that you can do this.”

Stop calling me fucking sweetheart!” shrieked Claire. No-one who knew Claire would have ever recognised such venom in her voice, but she was about to die, and it was all this stupid woman and her stupid show’s fault. Well, the twins could take a portion of the blame as well. She certainly wished she’d never met the twins.

Jump, Claire,” said Larissa. There was no more gentle coaxing. There was no time for anything other than a command. It really had come to this. Just thirty minutes earlier she’d been in that restaurant more horrified than she’d ever been in her life. She practically longed for that kind of comparative boredom right now. Oh, how she wished she could go back and do this morning over. She’d have ran from her room as soon as that sweet, sweet voice startled her, and never looked back. Then her life could have went on as normal, with no slime, no pies and no Bolognese unless it was pasta night in the Bardsley household, which even then would be an entirely civilised event (apart from her father’s slightly too loud chewing) with absolutely nothing getting tossed onto her hair whatsoever, thank you very much. And absolutely no stunts that were like something straight out of a James Bond film. Although she supposed no matter what happened to James Bond, all her ever had to do was straighten his tie and he was perfectly presentable again.

Unfortunately, for starters, Claire Bardsley had no tie.

With a cry of terror, she jumped into the slime below.

Holly grabbed her shoulder.

“You’re not getting awAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!”

To the deep regret of Holly, Claire had very much just committed to going, and even though she flailed desperately and tried to wrap some part of her squirming body around the railing, by grabbing Claire, so inadvertently  had she. Drivers and pedestrians below who were in the vicinity of the lorry were quite astonished to see two screaming girls dropping from the bridge above into a container filled almost to the brim with messy pudding. Pudding splashed outwards over the edges as they went under. Claire could feel Holly hugging her body tightly, pressing her face against her back as though somehow this might shield her from the goo. Of course, she could also feel pudding everywhere. The universe had it in for Claire Bardsley, and the universe was pudding. Unfortunately, despite the questionable delights of her unexpected pudding bath, she was at first unable to get to the surface thanks to Holly clinging to her for dear life. The poor woman had obviously just had quite the scare. Eventually she managed to get herself to a vertical position, and with a sullied Holly just about managing to finally do something resembling co-operating with her (but not letting go of her, oh no), two blobs of pudding managed to bob up above the surface. Claire panted for air. She could feel Holly’s breath (pudding scented – the screaming woman must have swallowed a good mouthful) against her neck. The woman’s damp nose was pressed up against her.

“I really, really am terribly sorry about all this – more than you’ll ever know,” said Claire softly once she’d had a moment to recover. “But could you maybe please let go of me now?”

Holly didn’t appear to hear this, continuing to use Claire as her own personal life-raft in the middle of the pudding sea. Her head slumped forwards, her slimy blonde ponytail, which was now flopping around and the only part of her hair that had any kind of existence independent of pudding (the rest of her head was an indiscernible blob), sweeping against Claire’s face like a damp paintbrush. This was quite enough for Claire, who began squirming and pulling at Holly’s hands to try and extract herself from the woman.

“Get off, I mean it, get off right now!”

Finally she managed to get away, sculling away through the goo to put some distance between them before Holly could get all clingy again. The lorry was moving by now, sending more and more freezing cold dessert to slosh against the bodies of the two unrecognisable gunky ladies. There was pudding in places Claire didn’t even want to think about. Holly looked distraught, or at least as distraught as a blob of pudding could look. Her beautiful magenta-lace blouse was done for. She hoped Larissa might offer her some sort of compensation. Maybe she’d give her a lot of money, but she sure doubted Holly would be sharing many laughs about this.

“Don’t say a word,” Holly said finally. “Not one word.”

“I’m so sorry,” Claire began. She couldn’t help it – she’d never really had anyone be mad at her before, and much like the over-encumbrance of pudding, it made her feel uncomfortable. Even if her poor body had to be raked through the slime, she’d at least like her otherwise good name not to be.

“WHAT DID I SAY!? WHAT DID I JUST SAY!? LOOK AT THE STATE OF ME! MY GOOD CLOTHES! MY HAIR! I’M SUPPOSED TO BE BACK AT WORK! I HAVE A DATE TONIGHT! OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!!! I DON’T BELIEVE THIS! THIS IS SO GROOOOOOSS! AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!” screeched Holly, splashing her hands in the pudding furiously.  Claire winced. The lorry took them a couple of blocks before the driver came and, with the help of a vehicle access lorry, helped them both out. By this time Claire had absolutely stopped attempting to say anything, and was on the whole just glad to be free of both the pudding and this horrible shrieking gargoyle. It was hard to believe that it was Holly’s annoying laugh that had started all this rolling; that laugh was heavenly compared to everything she’d had to hear in the last few minutes. Holly had now turned her not inconsiderable fury onto the driver. This seemed to Claire to be a good time to make a speedy getaway. Once she was out of sight (but oh dear god, she wasn’t out of earshot, and Holly was still going) she looked at her pudding-covered watch, and after her attempt to clean it with her pudding-covered hand failed, she wiped it on a patch of grass nearby until she could just make out the time. While she was going to have to seriously evaluate whether she should continue on with this utterly horrible show, she’d come too far to fail this particular challenge now. And, she sternly warned the universe, the worst was definitely over.

Less than ten minutes left!

Claire got moving as quick as she could after all the exertion she’d put her poor body under. She desperately needed to start exercising properly… not that she intended messy running through town to become a regular thing, of course. Hopefully everyone had given up on their pursuit of her: if they hadn’t, they would have a very clear trail of pudding to follow. Perhaps that explained how the crew on the bike managed to catch back up to her again, having had to take a longer route around. With six minutes to spare, she made it to the street her university campus was on. She’d ended up cutting it way closer than she should’ve, but she felt a considerable burst of relief that her current ordeal was finally almost over. God, to be clean again! Her relief ended as the entrance to the site came into view. Her heart leapt into her throat. She stopped moving. She’d lost. The challenge was over. Fifty thousand pounds blew away into the wind.

Ethan and Heather were at the front gates handing out flyers. Ethan must have gotten roped into doing it once she dropped their lunch plans earlier. There was no way to get past without both of them seeing her, and even if she could there was a huge crowd of people milling around the front of the campus. She threw herself down another side street, planting her back against the wall and breathing heavily, both from all the running and from the fear of almost getting spotted by her friends. She closed her eyes and slowly sank to the ground like she was deflating. After all this, she was close, so close, and now she couldn’t bring herself to go in.

Not even five minutes left.

(I have to go in!)

(No way!)

(Don’t think about it! Just do it!)

(Oh no, I’m not listening to you again, that’s what got me into this literal mess in the first place!)

(Fifty thousand pounds!)

(It’s impossible though! It’s been bad enough already and it’s only going to get worse! I don’t want any of them to see me like this!)

(They’re your friends, for heaven’s sake! They’ll be nice about it!)

(But everyone will see. I’ll be a laughing stock for years! I’ll never live it down! I’m smart and responsible, not a girl who goes on some clown show, jumps off bridges into pudding, and just all-round gets made a fool of!)

Claire took a deep breath. She called herself smart, but she wasn’t really being all that smart right now. She had to stop panicking and think about this. There was more than one way into the university… and actually… if she remembered right, there might be a way in where if she was really lucky, she might not even be seen at all.

Four minutes.

She had to run again, running away from the main entrance now and slipping round the back. A storm had hit the town hard a few months back and damaged one of the walls that were erected around the campus. It was too high to climb over, but as she looked up, she smiled at what she saw. Part of the wall had been rebuilt, but there was still a hole there that she could slip through to get into the campus.

“I made it!” said Claire happily. “I just need to get through there and I’m finally done with this.”

Claire leapt up and hauled herself through the gap. It was a tight squeeze, but thanks to her slimy body, she slipped through with ease.

Apart from her butt.

She panicked again. Frantically she wriggled and squirmed to try and get through. When that didn’t work, she tried desperately to force herself back out through the other side, legs flailing wildly in the air.


She was stuck!

“Oh no!” Larissa cried, although the mirth in her voice was obvious. “Now I hate to be such a stickler for rules Claire, but I’m going to be firm on this: your whole body needs to be on campus, including your big old lumpy butt! Let’s get a close-up of that for the viewers watching at home!”

I don’t have a lumpy butt!

After a horrible moment where she envisioned herself simply being stuck here forever while everyone came to laugh at this stupid, messy, trapped girl, Claire dug her hands into the wall and tried with everything she had to push her perfectly normally-sized backside through the hole. Her efforts bore fruit, although unfortunately she managed not only to tumble out of the hole but out of her denim shorts as well. If she’d thought her sister a spectacle in the garden earlier this morning, that was nothing compared to her now: here she was at a place of learning, covered in gunk and in her cute white daisy lace underwear – or at least what was left of them given that they were completely soaked in the custard and pudding that had also wrecked her shorts.

Karma had it in for her, clearly. She was surprised she hadn’t fallen down face first into a giant pool of mud. As it was she’d fallen onto the grass and gotten a little dirty, which wasn’t going to bother her at all after the day she’d had so far. Was she being punished for her greed in accepting Larissa’s offer in the first place and taking part in this horrible show? For her arrogance in believing that this (or rather, the prize money) was actually some reward owed to her? But that wasn’t fair at all! She’d been a good person her whole life, for heaven’s sake! Surely she had some karma to burn? Didn’t she?

“Bardsley! What on earth is going on here?”

Her head jerked up to see one of her lecturers, local celebrity Rosalind Darlington-White – so beloved to her students that she was (secretly!) known even to Claire as Rosalind Darlington-Shite – striding purposefully in her direction. Frantically she got to her feet and grabbed for her shorts. To her great dismay, she found she’d ripped them almost in two in her struggle to get free. While they were obviously no longer going to be fit for purpose anyway, it would have been nice to have been able to put them back on until she could get a replacement. Desperately she grabbed them and held them in front of her sodden underwear. It was a decent as she could possibly hope to appear right at this moment. With no other tricks up her sleeve, she went back to her winning smile, which froze halfway up and started twitching at one of the corners.

“Uhhhhhhhhhh… let me explain…”

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7 Responses to Good Karma (Part 4)

  1. euston says:

    Great to see another installment in this series!


  2. TG says:

    Glad to see this series return. I must admit, I was quite confused at the beginning, and as it had been a while I went back to the previous part to check I hadn’t forgotten something, but that was no help. It was only after reading on a bit I realised it was a flash-forward, and a very intriguing one at that!

    Excellent installment that really kept me on the edge of my seat, and great to see Claire developing as a character and adapting to being so far out of her comfort zone. By the end of her ordeal she might be a match for Larissa!


  3. wolf324 says:

    Thanks folks – glad to have a few people still following this despite the hiatus!


  4. briff1es says:

    As I said in another thread – TG’s comment (last year!) about some of the stories which had perhaps had a high amount of effort lavished upon them and gone largely ignored struck a chord with me. (Side note, that lack of feedback is why I didn’t publish anything for 10 years or so until recently). As such I’ve been making a point of trying to catch up on some stories I may have skipped over, and as you’ve been so kind as to give feedback on every installment of mine, I made a point of reading yours again.

    All your work is really high quality, so I think we strive for a similar standard of detail and quality in our storytelling, but I’m sure by now you’ve noticed compared to you I’m much less comfortable with writing humiliation and perhaps too comfortable with writing more overt sexual context… You characters are always so well defined and detailed, I’m impressed by how you always managed to keep all your characters “wound up so tight”, twitching, on the verge of snapping. It makes for quite… tense reading in my case, but as I’m not a humiliation fan I’m not the target audience. I struggle so much to give any kind of criticism that isn’t founded in difference in tastes, and I hope you take that as a compliment.

    The Dancer was fantastic – I must admit until the end I was unsure as to whether Elena was going to get that comeuppance that you’d made oh so irresistable, or whether more humilation was to be heaped upon Alicia. You know I loved The Bitch Bites It as well already.
    Once I reread Good Karma, had I read that before The Dancer I would have been even less sure, with the laser-focus on Claire being the subject of the vast majority of the mess and misfortune. I really didn’t expect that food fight in chapter 2 to turn out the way it did. I won’t lie, I was disappointed Claire was the only recipient, but again, not the target audience… Your relentless humiliation of poor Claire is amusing and compelling reading, but I don’t know if I empathise too strongly with her and as such whether I’ll be able to take much more. Oh, and I thought I’d made a decent fist of my first unlikelable character in Jo – but hoo boy… Larissa. Jo wouldn’t last a second. And Larissa would convince Jo she was her friend, Jo really wanted all the humiliation and mental torture Larissa dished out to her, and get her to ask for more even afterwards. I think reading your stuff has convinced me I can’t compete on that front, I can’t write that level of mental torture, I need to stick to ploughing own furrows.

    TL:DR – Amazing body of work, can’t wait to read what you write next and boy, are you ever good at writing cruelty and humilation. The comedy definitely works as well mind.


    • wolf324 says:

      Hey, thanks very much. I appreciate you taking the time out to do that and share your thoughts, especially since my stories aren’t really your thing. Good Karma’s a series I enjoy working on but I struggle with it at times, so it’s always nice (and helpful) to get someone else’s perspective on it.

      I’m curious if your lack of empathy for Claire is a result of anything in her character or actions, or if it’s because you feel like she’s too much of a victim/patsy for the author for you to be able to get behind her?

      Thanks again, and I hope it’s not another 10 years before you post any more stories!


      • briff1es says:

        Hmmm… it’s difficult to put a finger on why I can’t sympathise with Claire. This comment may be a bit waffly so feel free to ignore while I work out what I’m thinking while I type, and of course, this is only my opinion 🙂

        I guess she was thrust into the situation of taking part in this game, she was as I saw it the shy goody-two-shoes who seemed tailor-made for heaping humiliation on as she’d not *yet* asserted herself. I get that she’s doing this for 50 grand, but at the moment it seems to be her pinballing from one mortification to another. Maybe it’s because Larissa is so strongly characterised that at the moment I find she completely overshadows Claire and to me as the reader Claire feels no more important than another one of Larissa’s disposable dolls. I feel at the moment I’d prefer Erin or Hayleigh to bite back at Larissa, as at least they seem to have a stronger reason to do so.

        It may be down to my personal rhythm as well – if a character goes too long *for me* being beaten down or trodden on, I tend to just give up on them. And at the moment it seems like Claire has endured this humiliation conga and no end seems in sight, so I don’t empathise with her. For me, there has to be a “hope spot” every once in a while, even if it’s a vain hope, as otherwise as I say, I’ll tend to give up. That’s likely to be my problem as a reader rather than anything wrong with what you’ve written.

        Please don’t feel I’m being too negative, your stuff is exceptionally well written, and I’m enjoying the parts involving Larissa, Erin and Hayleigh, I guess I’m just enjoying those way more than the main plot.


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