The boys were being stupid, as usual. Singing “Ninety-nine bottles of”—long pause—“pop on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of”—longer pause—“pop,” because Mr. Shaffer had yelled at them for singing about beer.

Marnie and the rest of the drama club were on a chartered bus headed to Toronto for the weekend to see The Lion King, but even the most avid theater fans in their group were much more excited about the peripherals: crossing the border (even though the customs official had just waved them through without even checking their passports), visiting a foreign country (even though the highway on this side looked much like it did back home), staying in a hotel without their parents, and having whoever they were crushing on see them at their dressy best.

In the wider ecosystem of their high school, individual niches were sometimes malleable—a chunky girl got thin over summer break or the gawky sophomore got his limbs together and started sinking baskets—but in drama club their roles were pretty fixed. Eva and Tim were the stars. After them came the supporting actors, who got their own bows at curtain but no love stories; then the bit players; then the stage directors with their own titles, like Rob, the lighting director; then the extras; and finally, the stagehands, whose only work was wearing black and skittering around, moving scenery.

Kate Norris

Kate Norris lives and writes in Cleveland, Ohio, where she is at work on a young adult sci-fi novel set in World War II-era New York City amid the backdrop of the quantum revolution. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Iron Horse Literary Review, The Threepenny Review, and Annalemma. She received her MFA from Ohio State University.

Patrick Ryan on “Dress Rehearsal”

When I was in high school, the only thing better than a field trip was one that involved staying overnight somewhere away from home. The possibilities for adventure seemed endless! Of course, I was never brave enough to leave my room and sneak out in the wee hours and, as far as I know, neither were any of my friends.

That was part of what drew me to “Dress Rehearsal.” A bus full of high school students—in drama club, no less—on their way to a foreign place, eager for adventure. Cliques, crushes, the chance for new and unexpected encounters. But embracing the unknown means taking the bad along with the good, and in this story, something bad happens. It happens fast, it happens out of the blue, and it changes everything—in a heartbeat.

We’re honored to be presenting you with this moving, funny, and ultimately chilling story. Kate Norris’ “Dress Rehearsal” will have you on the edge of your seat, thankful you’re in the audience and not up on the stage.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
KN: I started with two things: the location and the plot details of the climax. The first came from real life, the second came from asking myself, “Well, in this scenario, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen?”
PR: The story begins belonging almost equally to Marnie and Eva. Did you ever consider a point-of-view that gets into both of their heads? Or was the story always going to be Marnie’s?
KN: For me, the story was always Marnie’s, although the dynamic of Marnie and Eva’s friendship is an important driving force. It would be an interesting experiment to get inside Eva’s head, though, since I think she’s much more popular and adored there than she is outside of it!
PR: Tell us a little about the setting. You start us off on a bus bound for a Canadian production of The Lion King, but we end up somewhere completely different. Did you ever encounter a place such as the one you write about here?
KN: I did, although it’s so strange in my memory that I have trouble believing it was real. I was an exchange student to India my senior year of high school, and went on a month-long tour of Northern India with a group of twenty-five or so other exchange students from around the world. One night, we stayed at a place like the camp Marnie encounters. It didn’t have any religious affiliation, but the pastel pre-fab cottages and defunct rollercoaster and carnival rides are real. Thankfully, we avoided any similar trouble.
PR: Your rendering of the accident—the actual moment of it—is alarming, to say the least. It’s also realistically out-of-the-blue (the way accidents happen). Is there an earlier draft of the story where you toyed with the idea of foreshadowing, or slowing-down of the pace?
KN: Initially, the story had a frame of an adult Marnie recounting what happened, so the reader knows about the accident from the beginning. The accident itself was much quicker initially, and it took a couple drafts to get it slowed down!
PR: Was the jump forward in time at the end always part of your plan?
KN: Oh yeah. The ending was actually the first thing I wrote, driving home to Cleveland from St. Louis in a blizzard. I worked the sentences out in my head, then jotted them down in my phone at a rest stop.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”?
KN: Tragedy. That was the task I set out with: write about something real heavy without (hopefully!) letting the sentiment get trite.
PR: What are you working on now?
KN: I’m feverishly revising a young adult historical sci-fi novel about a girl who is able to see when alternative realities split off her own. It’s WWII; she’s a German immigrant; she’s got this “gift” that makes her a person of interest to certain parties. Trouble ensues, as it always does.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
KN: I’ve been really fortunate to have many wonderful writing teachers, and I’ve received lots of great advice. It’s impossible to pick the best, but here’s what was most helpful to this story in particular: When you get to the climax, you’ll want to speed up. You need to slow down. Instead of moving forward, move deeper. It will still end up reading fast!