Fade Out


Chapter One


Eve Rosser's high-pitched scream rang out through the entire house, bouncing off every wall, and, like a Taser applied to the spine, it brought Claire out of a pleasant, drowsy cuddle with her boyfriend.

"Oh my God, what?" She half jumped, half fell off the couch. Mortal danger was nothing new around their unofficial four-person frat house. In fact, mortal danger didn't even merit a full-fledged scream these days. More of a raised eyebrow. "Eve? What?"

The screaming went on, accompanied by thumping that sounded like Eve was kickboxing the floor.

"Damn," Shane Collins said as he scrambled to his feet, as well. "What the hell is wrong with that girl? Was there a sale at Morbid R Us and nobody told her?"

Claire smacked him on the arm, but only out of reflex; she was already heading for the hallway, where the scream echoed loudest. She would have moved faster, but there wasn't panic in that scream after all.

It was more like . . . joy?

In the hallway, their roommate Eve was having a total fit - screaming, bouncing in hoppy little circles like a demented Goth bunny. It was made especially strange by her outfit: flouncy black sheer skirt, black tights with neon pink skulls, a complicated-looking corset with buckles, and her clunky Doc Martens boots. She'd worn her hair in pigtails today, and they whipped wildly around as she jumped and spun and did a wiggling victory dance.

Claire and Shane stood without saying a word, and then exchanged a look. Shane silently raised a finger and made a slow circle at his temple.

Claire, eyes wide, nodded.

The screaming dissolved into excited little yips, and Eve stopped randomly bouncing around. Instead, she bounced directly at them, waving a piece of paper with so much enthusiasm that Claire was lucky to be able to tell it was a piece of paper.

"You know," Shane said in an entirely too-calm voice, "I kind of miss the old Morganville, when it was all scary monsters and dodging death. This would never have happened in the old Morganville. Too silly."

Claire snorted, reached out, and grabbed Eve's flailing wrists. "Eve! What?"

Eve stopped bouncing and grabbed Claire's hands, crushing the paper in the process. From the jittery pulse of her muscles, she still wanted to jump, but she was making a great effort not to. She tried to say something, but she just couldn't. It came out as a squeal that only a dolphin would have been able to interpret.

Claire sighed and took the paper from Eve's hand, smoothed it out, and read it aloud. "Dear Eve," she began. "Thank you for auditioning for our production of A Streetcar Named Desire. We are very pleased to offer you the role of Blanche DuBois - "

She was interrupted by more bouncing and screaming. Defeated, Claire read the rest silently and handed it on to Shane.

"Wow," he said. "So, that's the town production, right? The annual?"

"I've been auditioning forever," Eve blurted out, dark eyes as wide as an anime character's. "I mean, forever. Since I was twelve. Best I ever got was one of the Russian dancers for the Christmas performance of The Nutcracker."

"You?" Shane said. "You dance?"

Eve looked offended. "You've been to parties with me. You know I dance, jackass."

"Hey, there's a difference between shaking your ass at a rave and ballet."

Eve leveled a black-nailed finger in his direction. "I'll have you know I was good on pointe, and, anyway, that isn't the issue. I got the part of Blanche. In Streetcar. Do you know how wicked huge that is?"

"Congratulations," Shane said. He actually sounded like he meant it, to Claire's ears at least, and she was pretty sure he really did. He and Eve yanked each other's chains hard enough to leave marks, but they really did care. Of course, Shane was a guy, and he couldn't leave it at that, so he continued. "Maybe I should go out for it. If they picked you, they'll love my Marlon Brando impression."

"Honey, nobody likes your Brando. He sounds like your Adam Sandler. Which is also terrible, by the way." Eve was calming down, but she was smiling like a lunatic, and Claire could tell she was on the trembling verge of another jumping fit - which was okay, really. Eve excited was quite a show. "Oh my God, I've got to find out about rehearsals. . . ."

"Page two," Claire said, and pointed at the paper. On the back was a neatly printed schedule of what looked like an awful