Saving Carla by J. H. Otterstrom

Understudy Stephanie looks out for diva Carla while the University campus seems to be conspiring to harm her; by J. H. Otterstrom.

"You have to help me with the lines."

The girl looked up from the book she was reading. "Huh?"

Carla looked down at her from beside the bench. "You're the understudy, right?"

The girl looked around and Carla felt her anger rise another notch.

"God, don't be so pathetic! No wonder you didn't get the part. Can you even speak?"

"Um... Yes."

"Then answer me, are you my understudy?"

"Yes, I'm Stephanie Collins," she flashed a smile that made Carla want to puke.

"I'll be sure to remember it," she replied, the name already thrown out of her mind.

"Do you know the fucking lines?"


"I need help memorizing them."


"When would be good for you?" Carla snapped back. Christ, the girl thought she was serious and was about to answer the question! "Right now you stupid shit!"

"Um... Okay," Stephanie closed the book she was reading and slid it into a mid-sized tote bag. "How about the library?" she asked, getting up from the bench.

"No. I'm hungry. We'll go over to the food court."


Carla grunted with disgust and started walking down the path toward the University Center. She soon heard the scuffing of her flat-heeled shoes shuffling quickly against the pavement as the understudy tried to catch up.

"If I don't have these lines memorized by rehearsal tonight, Jack is going to dock my grade. God he is such a prick!"

"Doesn't seem that bad," Stephanie mumbled.

They were walking through a small archway. Above them was a closed walkway that connected the Fine Arts building with the campus' Performing Arts Center. Carla stopped and looked at her, eyes narrowed. "You're a freshman?"

"Junior. I transferred from Central Community College this semester."

That explained the dumbfounded expressions and mindless conversational ability. "This is the first time you're working with Jack Learson?"

"Um... yes."

"Then you don't know what the fuck you're talking about. I've had to take six different classes from the asshole, and worked on five other productions with him. He is an egotistical prick. The only reason he even gave me the lead was because that slut Mandy got herself knocked up by her boyfriend over Christmas."

"You did well at the audition."

"Don't be such a fucking idiot. Of course I did well. I have more talent than anyone else at this fucking school, but this is the first lead I've gotten because I won't bow down in worship of him. Come on, I haven't got all day," she said. They reached the crosswalk. Though pedestrians had the right of way anywhere on campus, the university had made sure to put a stop light. The girl pressed the switch and stopped at the curb as if she was going to actually wait for the goddamned light to change.

"Forget about it," Carla snarled. "I told you I was in a hurry! I have class in two hours. Rehearsal right after that. Now come on." She had gotten two steps when her shirt constricted around the front of her throat, jerking her backwards. She heard the blare of a horn and the squeal of tires as a red Corolla slid past where she had been about to step. The force of being pulled back ripped her feet out from underneath her, and she sat down hard on the concrete. The impact her ass made on the ground wound its way up through her body to her jaw, and her teeth made an audible click as they smashed together.

"I'm sorry," the understudy said from behind her, "but you didn't..."

Carla was on her feet before the other girl could finish, her rear end sore, but quickly forgotten. Her teeth would throb later, but for the moment they too were forgotten. Her gaze fixed on the red Corolla. It was pulling into the visitor's parking lot next to the Prater Microcommunications Building. Her target found, she marched across the street cutting away from the University Center.

The ECU Baseball team was holding its bi-annual fund drive for the Santucket Little League Association which consisted of selling engraved baseball bats. They had set up a booth in front of the UC like most campus organizations, and samples of the engraved bats stood propped up against the table. Carla swerved slightly from the straight line she was making toward the Corolla, which had stopped, and snatched a bat from the booth.

A member of the baseball team shouted and started off after her. The driver of the Corolla had parked his car, and was getting out. He was talking on a cell, oblivious.

It was the obliviousness that saved him from a trip to the hospital. Carla raised the bat over her right shoulder, like a samurai readying himself for a killing stroke on one those terrible anime cartoons her younger brother loved to watch. The driver, still oblivious, had walked around to the trunk of his car and ducked his head into the open trunk just as Carla reached him and swung the bat. It missed his head by inches and caught the edge of the trunk, causing it to open all the way up and rebound down on his shoulder.

Carla howled as she swung. She was completely unprepared for missing, and was carried around from the force of the swing. She tripped as she was twirling and would have fallen to the ground for the second time in three minutes if the car parked next to the Corolla hadn't stopped her fall. She regained her balance and brought the bat up for another swing. The driver of the Corolla straightened up out of the trunk in time to just barely step back out of the way of Carla's second swing, which caught the flat of the trunk.

"Hey!" the driver said.

"Why don't you fucking watch where you're going!" Carla yelled at him, pulling the bat back for another swing. The driver's phone had dropped from his hand. As he backed up, his heel stepped on it sending him sprawling to the ground. Carla lunged forward ready to swing the bat, this time certain to split his head open. Before she could start the swing the bat was yanked out of her hand from behind. A pair of arms wrapped around her from behind and lifted her off the ground.

"Get off me!" Carla yelled.

"Settle down!" the commuter that had taken the baseball bat said, throwing the bat behind him. It hit the pavement of the lot with two light thunks and rolled under a car.

It took another fifteen minutes before they were able to resume their journey. It would have taken less time, but the parking lot attendant, the one who had in her words violated her by wrapping his arms around her, called campus security and insisted that they come out and take a report. Carla was lucky in two respects. First, because the damage done to the oblivious driver's car was minimal, so the driver didn't feel there was any need to file a vandalism claim against her. Second, because Stephanie backed up her story about almost being run over by the young man. She left the parking lot with a ten dollar disturbing the peace ticket, which she could pay at the business office, and a promise that the report on the incident would be reviewed by the Dean of Students.

"Who gives a fuck about the Dean of Students!" she hollered over her shoulder as Stephanie steered her away from the officer who was still talking with the young oblivious driver.

"Shh," Stephanie said.

"They can't really do anything to me anyway." She didn't turn around. "Come on, I still have to work on those goddamn lines."


"Yes, now, I told you I have to be ready for rehearsal."

"Oh," Stephanie mumbled. "I thought you had class."

"I do, but fuck it. This is more important, I can skip and get the notes later."

"But, I have class at two also."

"I don't think you get it," Carla said turn around and facing the younger woman. "You're going to help me memorize these lines or I'm going to make your life at this school miserable. I'm the star, you're the understudy. Now let's go." Carla walked past the younger woman not bothering to wait for a reply. She passed the bicycle rack, which, while sometimes full, now only had two or three bikes. There was a scaffolding that had been erected for a pair of student workers that were washing some of the University Center's second floor windows. A caution area complete with yellow tape and traffic cones had been set up in a ten foot area around three sides of the scaffolding. Carla had to move around it, muttering "fucking bullshit" under her breath. She took another two paces when she was pushed from behind sending her flying off her feet once again. Something clanged on the ground behind her, and there were several shouts. Carla hit the ground, using her hands to break her fall, peeling the skin from the palms when she hit. She came to a stop in a heap in front of a trash can set in front of a concrete pylon, feet resting on the lid of the receptacle.

Stephanie rushed over to her side stammering. "I'm sorry."

"What are you doing to me psycho bitch!" Carla yelled from her position on the ground. She rolled over, removing her feet from the trash can.

"I didn't mean to hit you so hard, but..." the understudy's hand reached down to help her.

"I don't care, I'm going to knock you into next week!" Carla shouted pushing away from Stephanie.


"Everyone okay?" one of the student workers called from up on the scaffolding. "I don't know what happened. My hand just kind of cramped up and I couldn't hold the squeegee any longer. Did it hit anyone?"

Carla look past the stammering understudy and saw something lying on the sidewalk just outside of the caution area surrounding the scaffolding. It was a long metal pole about five feet long and maybe an inch and half in diameter. It was attached to a window squeegee. She looked up at the scaffolding and saw the other worker holding another pole about the same length.

"I saw it was falling toward you," Stephanie said.

"Watch what you're doing," she called out to the worker. "That goddamn thing could have killed me!"

"Nah, It would have given you a good knock on the head, but it's not heavy enough to actually hurt you bad."

"Get your ass down here and I'll hurt you bad!"

"Oh quit your bitching, I missed. It's not a big deal," the worker said in dismissal.

Carla stepped toward the roped off area ready to either climb up it to the smirking young man, or shake it and throw both of the student workers off their perch.

"Wait," Stephanie said grabbing Carla's arm. "Don't you still want to rehearse the lines?"

Carla pulled her arm out of the young girl's grasp, but didn't continue toward the scaffolding.

"Come on," she said, walking away.

They pushed through the glass door of the University Center, and turned right to go down the staircase that led to the food court. Carla remained silent. Five steps from the bottom of the staircase she stepped on a Starburst wrapper that had been dropped. It had landed on the edge of the stair, the perfect place for Carla's heel to hit it causing her foot to slide right off the edge. Her arms pinwheeled as she tried to keep her balance. Stephanie rushed forward and grabbed her arm, steadying her before she tumbled down the stairs.

"Jesus Christ!" she yelled and several other students turned to look at her.

"Almost seems like life's got it in for you today."

Carla turned and saw the small half smile that had appeared on understudy's face. Her own face softened with the beginning of a smile. "You might be right. Come on, I want to get my food and sit down before something in this shithole does manage to kill me."

"Why don't you go and sit down? I'll grab whatever you want and bring it back."

"Why the would you want to do that?"

"Why not? I've got meal points. Besides, do you think it is safe?" The corners of the girl's mouth curled up again.

"I'm a big girl. I don't need any charity, and I sure as hell don't need a fucking babysitter," Carla replied. Stephanie shrugged and walked over to one of the tables.

"Aren't you coming along?" Carla asked.

"No thanks. I'm not hungry," Stephanie said, sitting down at the table.

A couple of minutes later Carla carefully carried a tray filled with baked bite-sized pieces of chicken and a box of waffled potatoes back to the table.

"I don't usually eat this shit, but it sounded better than a dried burrito from the taco stand over there," Carla said sitting in the chair across from Stephanie. "Are you sure you don't want anything to eat? I've got meal points too. I don't mind getting it for you since you're helping me out and all," she said, taking a waffle fry from the carton and popping it into her mouth.

"No, thank you," Stephanie replied.

"It really is the least I can do, after all the help you've given me," Carla said opening up the box of chicken pieces and picking one up. "Jesus! You pulled me out of the intersection before the car could hit me. You spoke up for me when I was going to get in trouble in the parking lot. You helped calm me down. You pushed me out of the way of that pole that fell from the scaffolding. I mean, I think you saved my life three times in the last half hour!" She threw the piece of chicken into her mouth and started chewing.

"Oh, I think you're making too much of those things. They wouldn't have killed you."

Carla always chewed her food carefully. Years ago, she had been eating a hotdog when a piece of it had lodged in her throat. Her father had to perform a Heimlich in order to get it out. She didn't remember the restaurant, or even what was on the hot dog, but Carla still remembered how it felt to open your mouth and take a breath only to find that there wasn't any breath to take. The feeling of helplessness as you realized that you would never get another breath. She had learned her lesson well, over chewing her food. So it took her by surprise when she swallowed the piece of chicken in her mouth, and instead of feeling it slide down her esophagus into her stomach it switch tracks and lodged into her windpipe.

Carla opened her mouth and took a breath, realizing immediately that the reflexive action had only pushed the piece of chicken deeper down her trachea. Her hands involuntarily went to her throat and with rubbery legs she kicked at the floor. She tried to take another breath, her lips quivering around her open mouth. Her eyes bulged and panic set in. She looked at the calm woman sitting before her. Didn't she see her choking?

Carla's face twisted in pain and she pushed herself up from her chair knocking it to the ground in the process. She clawed at her throat and staggered over to the table next to them, bumping into it. It was empty, most of the students gone to other classes or finished for the day. She tried to take another breath, but found nothing there. Her lungs began to burn, and spots appeared before her eyes.

"Oh my god!" she heard someone, Stephanie, yell. Carla bounced off the table and staggered backward, bumping into another chair and sending it skittering across the floor. She turned around in a circle looking for help.

Someone grabbed her from behind, and she felt strong arms wrap around her like those in the parking lot not so long ago. She felt a two handed fist ram into her just above her diaphragm to perform a Heimlich like her father had all those years before. Her legs kicked as the strong arms thrust upward just underneath her ribcage. On the third jerk a loud crack sounded, and pain shot through her chest as one of her ribs broke. The spots in her vision were getting bigger. The strong arms weren't thrusting any longer.

"It's not working!" a male voice from behind her yelled.

"Lay her down!" someone shouted. Her heart pounded, a rapid boom that echoed throughout her head almost drowning out all other sound. She wondered if she would have a heart attack before suffocating. Her legs kicked as they laid her on the floor and she stared up at the ceiling. A crowd of faces looked over her as her legs beat against the ground. The black spots continued to grow as she stared up at those faces. One, the understudy's, caught her attention. Tears were streaming down it, and the mouth cried for help, but the eyes... They weren't scared, Carla realized as the black spots got bigger and bigger, engulfing everything.

It was dark by the time Stephanie unlocked the door to her dorm room and walked inside. She would have been home earlier, but of course the incident had prevented her return. There were questions from the police. The Dean of Students had brought her into his office, expressing his sorrow and condolences. She had thanked him for his concern and told him that no, she wouldn't need to take the rest of the semester off. Yes, it had been frightening, and she was a little shook up, but she had barely known the girl. She had walked out of his office fifteen minutes later, promising that she would make an appointment with one of the university's counselors in the morning.

Rehearsal had been canceled, but she had still gone by the playhouse, finding Dr. Learson and the others sitting around talking. A few had tears in their eyes, and they were all talking about how much they would miss Carla. It was amazing how death changed people's opinions about a person. Dr. Learson expressed his remorse and with concern in his voice asked her if she would be alright. He had then told her that she would have to take over Carla's part in the production. He had even suggested they cancel the production. Stephanie had assured him that though she was shaken up she would be ready to step in. Then they had all wanted to go out and talk about the dead bitch.

Stephanie had gone with them out of politeness. She left as soon as she could, explaining that the events of the day had left her very tired, and she needed to go home and get some sleep. She refused all offers of an escort home.

She closed the door to her room and walked over to her bed, not bothering to turn on the light. A lamp from the street outside shone through the blinds, covering the window. She opened up the nightstand and pulled out the baby doll nestled inside. She had received it a long time ago for Christmas. She couldn't remember how old she had been. She had kept it through the years, because even though it was worn and missing one of its eyes it was her favorite. The best part of this doll was the mouth. Plastic food could be spooned into it and then removed by the child playing with it. She opened that mouth now and stuck two fingers inside to fish out the small piece of chicken she had taken yesterday from the food court.


  1. Creepy! Nice development of Carla. I hated her just a few paragraphs into the story.

  2. Nice twist at the end. I enjoyed the story very much.

  3. Nice twist at the end. I enjoyed the story very much.

  4. very nice indeed, Carla was pretty despicable, but what about Stephanie? Excellent Twist.

    Michael Mccarthy

  5. Good point! I guess I "choked" when it came to mentioning Stephanie...

  6. I didn't see that ending coming. Nice finish.

  7. Thanks for all the comments everyone. I had a lot of funny writing this one. This is also my first publication and I'm glad everyone enjoyed it.

  8. Good job Joe. Look forward to reading more in the future. Bill H.