The Perfect Prom
by Kat Otis
Everything was going perfectly. My prom dress was a shimmery hunter-green ballgown that matched my eyes and I’d spent over an hour at the salon, getting my usually frizzy red hair tamed into elegant ringlets. Theo’s jaw actually dropped at his first glimpse of my transformation from scruffy tomboy to fairy-tale princess. We were officially going together as friends, but he was as flatteringly attentive as a real date all throughout dinner and the dancing that followed. A few people even proclaimed us a “cute couple.”
In short, it was as magical a senior prom as any girl could want, right up until the moment the prom queen spontaneously combusted.
Theo upended our table, grabbed me around the waist and yanked me down to the floor. It was an adorably chivalric moment, in which he’d clearly forgotten I was as impervious to flames as Lorraine – my superhuman twin sister and the aforementioned prom queen.
“Are you okay, Jeanne?” Theo had to shout to make himself heard over the panicked screams of fleeing teenagers.
“Fine, other than you nearly spraining my ankle!” I pulled up my skirt – and the half-dozen layers of crinoline underneath – so I could unbuckle my kitten heels. They were comfortable enough shoes for dancing, but not something I wanted to be wearing if we decided to make a run for it. I might be safe from Lorraine’s flames, but Theo wasn’t and neither was the building around us.
Theo ignored my grousing and peered over the edge of the table. “Where are the chaperones?” A jet of fire streamed above us and he hastily ducked back down.
It was a good question. Most of the chaperones were plain vanilla humans, as clueless about the existence of the Kinfolk as our fellow students, but a few had powers of their own. One of the latter should have quenched Lorraine the instant she went up in flames. Or failing that… I craned my neck to frown up at the metal spigots on the ceiling. “Maybe they thought the sprinklers would take care of her?”
Theo risked another glimpse over the table. “I’m not sure the sprinklers are going to go off – she’s being pretty careful not to hit them directly.”
“Great. Just great.” I chucked my shoes aside and tried to shift around into a crouch. It was a lot harder than I expected. Ballgowns aren’t exactly designed for crawling around on the floor. Theo wisely refrained from helping, except at one point when I nearly toppled out from behind the shelter of the table and he grabbed my arm to steady me.
“So should we run or can we stay here?” Theo asked.
If no one was going to stop Lorraine any time soon, running away really was the most sensible option. I could see one of the ballroom’s three doors from where we were crouched and it wouldn’t take us that long to reach it. Unfortunately, the exit was jam-packed with fleeing students. Lorraine clearly had no intention of hitting any of them with her fireballs – whatever insanity she was up to, she hadn’t taken complete leave of her senses – but I still had no desire to get stuck in that crush of humanity.
Before I could make up my mind, thunder split the air. Theo and I both jumped, then covered our ears as more bolts of electricity shot across the room. I might have emitted a girly little squeak, but any noise I made was drowned out by the second clap of thunder and renewed shrieks of terror from the students who hadn’t yet managed to escape the ballroom.
“Crap,” Theo mouthed, silently.
I nodded agreement. Bad enough that Lorraine had been throwing fireballs around, but now someone was adding lightning bolts to the mix? None of the chaperones would have been so blatant with their powers, which meant it could only be the handiwork of either Derek – Lorraine’s boyfriend and the prom king – or Marjorie – Lorraine’s best friend and co-captain of the cheerleading squad.
Now things were starting to make sense. It was probably some sort of twisted senior prank. Okay, maybe it was a little funny, but only in a mean sort of way that wasn’t Lorraine’s usual style. Marjorie had probably put her up to it, but would deny responsibility when it came time to pay the piper. And there was going to be hell to pay when this was all over – we weren’t supposed to use our powers in public.
My ears were still ringing from a third round of thunder when one of the sprinklers finally sensed all the heat Lorraine was generating and started spraying water everywhere. I waited for more thunder, but whoever had been tossing around lightning bolts must have stopped because an eerie silence descended on the ballroom. When I lowered my hands, I couldn’t hear anything other than our own breathing.
Cautiously, I peeked around the edge of the table.
The ballroom was in shambles – tables overturned, purses and wraps abandoned, cups spilling their contents all over the floor. The water pouring from the ceiling was rapidly forming into an expanding puddle that couldn’t be good for the parquet dance floor. Lorraine lay sprawled in the middle of that puddle, no longer on fire and no longer a danger to anyone. If anything, she was the one in danger now – a side-effect of our power was an allergy to water.
Almost all the rest of the students had fled, except for the handful that had taken shelter behind the nearest pieces of furniture. Marjorie was nowhere in sight, but Derek was just emerging from behind the smoking ruins of the DJ’s sound equipment, so he was the most likely source of the lightning. He was almost as much of a mess as the room, rubbing his cheek and oblivious to the fact that his chintzy crown was about to fall off. He paid no attention when some of the last remaining students made a break for the now-clear doors out of the ballroom, so I took a chance and stood up. His eyes flickered to me and he nodded, briefly, before returning his gaze to Lorraine.
“Is she okay?” Theo asked, as he scrambled to his feet beside me.
“She’ll be fine. We’ve both had worse, and anyway it serves her right for going off in public like that. Someone could have been hurt.”
I headed for Lorraine, regretting my bare feet as I made my way across the sticky floor. Theo hurried to follow and Derek came to meet us. The lone sprinkler was still raining down on us, stinging my bare skin, so I grabbed Lorraine under the arms and hauled her away from all the water. Her tiara was now a blackened lump of metal and only a few burnt rags remained of her dress, giving me an unfortunately clear view of the water-induced welts rising on her skin. Only my opera gloves saved me from a matching set of welts on my hands.
Once she was clear of the puddle, I dropped to my knees beside her and patted her cheek. “Come on, Lor, shake it off.”
She didn’t so much as twitch.
“Ha, ha, funny.” I upgraded to shaking her shoulder. Sure, getting quenched hurt like hell, but there was no reason for her to be unconscious. She was just hamming it up, for the attention. “No sympathy from me – you started this.”
“Jeanne? Jeanne, I don’t think she’s breathing.”
I stopped breathing for myself, a moment. No. No, it wasn’t possible, not from a little dunking…. I frantically tried to remember my CPR. Breathing… no, airway first. I tilted her chin back a little, then checked to see if her chest was moving. Nothing. I started searching for her pulse, but my hands were trembling so hard that Theo finally had to kneel down beside me and do it for me.
“Why’d you electrocute her?” Theo demanded. “She wasn’t hurting anyone!”
The words skittered across the surface of my mind, not sinking in until Derek snapped back. “Wasn’t hurting… did you miss the part where she nearly burned down the building? I did what I had to, to stop her.”
I fought down sudden fury, feeling flames burning just beneath the surface of my skin. Stop her. What a polite way of saying he’d tried to kill her. I closed my eyes and drew in a deep breath, firmly reminding myself that losing my temper and taking up where Lorraine had left off wouldn’t help matters. Save Lorraine first, everything else could wait.
“One of you call 911.” I opened my eyes again, traced out the line of Lorraine’s ribcage, then tried to get my hands positioned correctly.
“I’m on it,” Theo snapped, making no effort to hide his feelings.
I winced, internally, as silence stretched out above me. I was pretty sure Derek wouldn’t fry Theo, but then again none of Lorraine’s friends had ever liked my friendship with Theo. They tolerated us, for Lorraine’s sake, but only just barely. There wasn’t a good reason for their attitude, just plain and simple arrogance. They could command the elements, which put them at the apex of the Kinfolk hierarchies. All Theo could do was shapeshift into a sambar deer, which put him barely a step above ordinary humans.
Just to be on the safe side I deliberately broke the silence as I started chest compressions. “One… two… three….”
Derek snorted. “I’ll go find where the chaperones are hiding.” A moment later, I heard his footsteps squelching on the floor as he walked away.
“Four… five… Live dangerously, much, Theo? Six… seven….”
“He’s a jerk,” Theo said. “Calling 911.”
I finished my first set of compressions then discovered another thing ballgowns weren’t designed for: rescue breathing. The corset stays pressed into my ribcage, making it difficult to bend over and impossible to get a full breath. After two tries, I gave up on the whole breathing thing and just concentrated on the chest compressions.
My whole world narrowed down to those compressions, so it came as a shock when someone grabbed my arm and hauled me away from Lorraine.
I fell over on my back, rolled, and came up to my feet spitting mad with red-hot hands. Then I recognized Mr. Thompson, Derek’s dad, and quickly hid my hands behind my back. Belatedly, I remembered that he shared Derek’s power and was a trained EMT. If anyone could help Lorraine, it was him.
Mr. Thompson checked her pulse, his hands a lot steadier than mine had been, then flattened his palms on her chest. “Clear.” I instinctively took a step back, even though I wasn’t in touching distance. Theo and Derek did the same, so I didn’t feel too stupid about it.
A moment later, Lorraine drew in an audible breath and Mr. Thompson had to stop her from trying to sit up. “… rat bastard…”
I was so relieved, I nearly burst into tears – and wouldn’t the resulting welts have been fun to explain to the rescue workers that came dashing into the room less than a minute later. Derek grabbed my elbow and tugged me out of their way… then kept going, guiding me back towards the nearest upright table.
Since I very much wanted to hear what Derek had to say for himself, I yanked my arm free from his grip and stalked the rest of the way on my own. When I reached the table, I boosted myself up to sit on it, so that I would have the height advantage. Given my poufy ballgown, I felt a little bit like a queen, dispensing justice from her throne. Only a queen wouldn’t have been barefoot and her hands wouldn’t have been shaking.
Derek stopped a little further back than he needed to, looking uncertain and rubbing his cheek again. “Look, I’m sorry, but I had to stop her before someone got hurt.”
“Like you?” I asked, gesturing at his face.
“What this?” Derek looked surprised and dropped his hand to reveal a reddish mark on his cheek. “Oh, no, I’m fine.”
I’d thought it was a burn mark, but now that I had a chance to examine it more closely I wasn’t so sure. If anything, it looked like someone had slapped him. Someone… like Lorraine?
Pieces started to fall in place and I glanced around the room, wondering where Marjorie was. Theo had followed us at a discreet distance and now caught my attention by nodding his head at the ruins of the DJ’s equipment. Was he thinking the same thing I was? Only one way to find out.
“So, how long have you been cheating on Lorraine?”
For the second time that night, a guy’s mouth literally dropped open as he stared at me with wide eyes. Only this time, it wasn’t nearly as amusing. “How-?”
“Lorraine found out about you and Marjorie, didn’t she?”
Derek choked, then started coughing. I ignored him as I jumped down off the table and went to find Marjorie, hiding behind the DJ’s equipment just like Theo had indicated.
“Hey, Mars Bars,” I said, using Lorraine’s pet name for her.
Marjorie straightened, eyes darting from me to a point behind me – probably Derek following me over – and back again. She was clearly trying to figure out what their story was, so I made it a moot point.
“You and Derek are going to march over to his dad, and take full responsibility for this. In fact, you’re going to make sure Lorraine’s doesn’t get so much as a slap on the wrist.”
She looked me up and down, a slight sneer coming to her face. “And why would we do that?”
“Because Lorraine is the twin who cares too much about other people. She’ll probably forgive you the moment she gets over her shock and be embarrassed she even got angry.” I looked around pointedly at the mess. “Whereas I am the twin who holds a grudge.”
Marjorie paled a little and Derek hastily spoke up from behind me, “Don’t. You’re right, it’s our fault. I’ll tell him everything, right now.”
I followed them over to where Mr. Thompson stood, a little ways away from the EMTs, and listened long enough to make sure Derek really was going to keep his word. Then I noticed the EMTs were loading Lorraine onto a stretcher.
“I’m coming with you,” I said, catching at the sleeve of the nearest EMT. “She’s my twin.”
Since the proof of my claim was written all over my face, the woman just nodded. “But anyone else will have to drive themselves over.”
Theo. I spun around to find him a half-step behind me, the way he had been all night. The way he always was. He even had my shoes dangling from one hand, so I wouldn’t have to go barefoot.
“I’ll meet you over there,” Theo said, before I could ask. “I can call your parents, too, and let them know.”
“Thanks.” I took back my shoes. Then, before I could think too hard about it, I went up on my tiptoes and kissed him.
After a surprised second, he did a really good job of kissing me back.
We broke apart as the EMTs began to roll the stretcher towards the ballroom doors and I hurried to catch up. Lorraine reached out for my hand and squeezed it. “Finally. Took you two long enough.”
The absurdity of it all hit us both at the same time. Luckily, none of the EMTs asked why we were laughing.
By human standards, the night was an unmitigated disaster. But Lorraine and I later agreed that, all things considered, it still was my perfect prom.
About the Author
Kat Otis writes speculative fiction – everything from historical fantasy to urban fantasy, with a bit of science fiction thrown in for good measure. She lived a peripatetic life for almost two decades and is now rather bemused to be living in one place; she’s not recycling her book boxes just yet!
You can find her on the Codex Writers forums when she’s probably supposed to be writing and she has also been known to log into her SFWA account when she’s hard-core procrastinating. On twitter she’s @kat_otis and she answers email at: k a t o t i s (at) m e (dot) c o m
About the Narrator
Mur Lafferty is the co-editor and sometime-host of Escape Pod.
She is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She is the host and creator of the podcasts I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers. Her books have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and Scribe Awards. In the past decade she has been the co-founder/co-editor of PseudoPod, founding editor of Mothership Zeta, and the editor or co-editor of Escape Pod (where she is currently).
She is fond of Escape Artists, in other words.
Mur won the 2013 Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly the John W. Campbell Award), and the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Fancast for Ditch Diggers. She’s been nominated for numerous other awards and is always doing new things, so check her website for the latest.
About the Artist
Barry is a game developer based in Bournemouth, England making freemium games for clients such LEGO and the BBC. His latest game is breaking all records on iOS, not surprising with a title like L”. It’s for younger kids, but if you fancy blasting alien brains check out LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack.
All this game developing has meant that Barry hasn’t been as active in the podcasting and fiction world as he used to be. He still does the occasional narration for other shows, such as The Drabblecast, and appears on Cast of Wonders from time to time.