By Geonn Cannon

Disclaimer: People, places, things... all nouns belong to me!

Feedback: Constructive criticism and feedback welcome at

The Rose Theatre, 1946 -

Bianca Sutherland killed herself at midnight, just as she had every night for the past week.

The clock on the mantle chimed quietly as the rope was looped around the beam. She stood on the hope chest at the foot of her bed, still wearing the gown her father had spilled wine on at dinner. There were tears in her eyes as she slipped the noose around her head and turned to the vast darkness that made up one side of her bedroom. When she spoke, her voice was a loud whisper. "Momma was the smart one," she said. "I'll show them."

Someone coughed and Bianca Sutherland became Maura Hunter. She resisted the urge to frown - Bianca wouldn't frown here; this was her big moment - and thrust her chin out. Tears glittered in the corners of her eyes and helped blur the reality a few yards away. She blocked out the audience, blocked out the spotlight shining on her face and mentally created a fourth wall.

Once again, she was in Bianca's bedroom. Once again, she was standing on Bianca's - on her - hope chest. She closed her eyes and said, "I'll show them." She stepped off the edge of the chest and felt the rope dig into her throat.

Blocked by the heavy velvet curtains, the director watched as Maura began to swing. His arms were crossed over his chest and he grimaced as Maura clutched at her throat. He leaned back and whispered to his stage manager, "She's milking it."

The stage manager nodded.

Maura kicked her feet and gaped, twisting her body and hitting her shins against the hope chest. "Damn it," the director hissed. "Just act. Make a note. The understudy goes on tomorrow night. I'm not having any more of her theatrics."

"It is the theater," the stage manager whispered.

The director glared at him and turned back to the stage in time to see Maura fall still. "About damn time." The spotlight went down, signaling the end of the scene. The audience applauded and stagehands dressed all in black rushed out to clear the set. In the shadows, the director saw one stagehand wrap his arms around Maura's hips and hold her as the harness was released from the catwalk above.

The shadow started to move, but something kept Maura in place. The director hissed, "For God's sake..." He hurried out onto the darkened stage, ticking off the seconds in his head. The longer it took to get Maura off-stage, the longer it would take to set up the next scene. They were already running long due to her tantrum before the show.

"Maura, this is it," he hissed into her face. "You may be the star, but you are not the only person in this production."

"Something's snagged," the stagehand whispered.

The director pushed Maura's shoulder forward and ran his hand over the harness. His hand closed on the latch and felt that it was empty. He frowned and moved his hand over the shoulder straps. If the harness was unlatched, then she should have fallen straight to the ground. There was no way she could be...

He froze and grabbed the rope. It was pulled taut, bearing the weight of a hundred and twenty pounds rather than lying slack against her shoulder. "Oh, dear God. Lift her. Lift her!" He'd raised his voice, no longer worrying about the audience hearing him.

The stagehand wrapped both arms around Maura's waist and lifted. The rope went slack and the director slipped the noose over her head. Together, they carried her off-stage.

As they lay her on the concrete, the lights came back on behind them. The director heard the next scene progressing - Leah and Alice sobbing after they discover their sister's body - but the play was the furthest thing from his mind. "Get a doctor," he whispered to the stagehand. He felt Maura's pulse, but the angle of her neck left little doubt what had happened.

He covered his mouth with one hand and looked up as the doctor ran towards him.

It looked like the understudy would be going on after all...

Continued in Chapter One...

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