The Dark

One rule: you must use the words, “you can’t fight what you can’t see.”

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The darkness presses around him, like a physical weight. A chill creeps into his skin, damp against the curve of his spine through the shirt on his back. A headache pulses in his temples, sharp, violent pain creeping behind his eyes.

What is this? How did I get here? 

He plants a palm against the icy wall at his back, supporting himself as he pushes up off the ground. His hand comes away wet, and the empty thwack of a drip hitting the floor sends his heart pattering in his chest.

His eyes widen, attempting to see something, anything in the inky blackness which stretches around him. The empty grey outline of a door emerges through the fog. He stumbles for it, adrenaline flooding his veins with dizziness.

Where do you think you’re going, my pet? 

The words slice through his head. He crumples to the ground, pressing his eyes shut and clapping his hands against his ears. He recognizes the voice, sweet but deadly, like ethylene glycol.

Where is it coming from? Where is she coming from? 

He jerks his head on his neck, though he can’t see his hand before his face, never mind a form in the darkness. He glances forward again, struggling to make out the faint edge–the hint of light beyond his cage of cold black. He gets up slowly, legs shaking beneath him. The voice has gone silent. He makes the short journey to the door, his shoes scuffing the floor beneath him, the only noise. Sccccrrrrfff. Scccrrrffff. Scccrrfff. 

The door rattles as he plants both palms against it. His body shivers and shakes, faint bruises and scratches screaming in the silence. He fumbles for a knob or handhold, his fingers grasping against the mottled surface, finding nothing.

Mason.

He feels her breath brush his ear, and spins, arms flailing through empty air.

“Where are you?” he shouts, and the darkness swallows his words.

A frantic desperation fills his chest, and he grasps for the door, fingernails grinding between the thin edge where the grey light seeps in. He manages a hold, and reefs on the heavy slab. It gives a little, enough to give him hope. He pulls harder and the door opens, only to catch after an inch. The heavy clank of chains rattling together sends his stomach into his feet.

The cold hands clamp around either side of his head from behind, paralyzing him, feet freezing to the spot. A chill drips down his spine like ice water, his breathing catching in his chest.

“Oh Mason,” she says, her nails biting into the flesh at his temples. “You can’t fight what you can’t see.”

The deep violet clouds fill his vision, seeping through his skull, making his head swim with disorientation and darkness. He feels himself slipping, his body growing weak, the violence of her spirit consuming him. The chorus of screams echo in his ears, and his are the loudest.

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GasLighting

The lovely Ms. Radina Valova is a talented screenwriter, photographer, and author friend of mine, who hosts a writing prompt every week (feel free to check out her website here). She gives a photo to inspire us, and adds required lines, phrases, props, etc. to incorporate into our writing piece. It’s a lot of fun, and open to anyone who is interested! Look for it on twitter every Thursday with the hashtag #PhotoStoryPrompt.

This week’s challenge: Write the start or part of a story based on the image below. One rule, you must use the words “truth is a cold mistress, but steel is colder.”

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The night is dark, the only light coming from the harsh white fixtures embedded in the aluminum canopy over the gas pumps. The streets lay empty and quiet before him, the occasional swoosh of a distantly passing vehicle, the only thing to break the silence.

Mason’s heart does an unsteady dance in his chest, sweat rolling down the back of his neck as he stands in the humid hours of the early morning. His eyes flicker to the road, and he knows he’s waiting for something, but that’s the only thing he knows.

He barely remembers crawling out of bed in a daze, hours ago, his body moving of its own accord. But he does remember. Like sleeping walking, he’d watched it happen through groggy, squinted eyes. At first, he figured he must need a drink or something. He often switched into autopilot, trudging through the night to lumber through the kitchen and run himself a cold stream of water from the faucet. He’d duck his head into the sink, swallowing a few mouthfuls until he was satisfied.

But he hadn’t done that. Not in the murky hours of this early morning. He wrestled into a dark pair of jeans and a shirt, mismatching his socks, and slipping on shoes. The fear still hadn’t started, not then. Not until he grabbed his keys by the door, and slipped into the dingy hallway of his apartment. Then the pulse itched at the back of his head, a need to satisfy some desire he couldn’t identify. And with the pulse, the panic.

Turn around, he told himself, but he didn’t.

He got in his car, and drove as though he knew where he was going. Inside, his thoughts spilled, incoherent lifts and falls of fearful intonation.

What is happening, where are you going? Turn around, Parks. Turn around and go home.

But he didn’t. He drove, not checking his mirrors, not checking his speed, not checking his shoulder as he drifted into another lane. If the streets hadn’t been empty, he would’ve killed himself, undoubtedly.

Standing here now, he knows he should go home. He wants to go home, to crawl back beneath the covers and slip into a dreamless sleep, though he knows the thought is fanciful. The world is not kind enough to let him drop into oblivion. He will crash into another nightmare, with swirls of deep violet, and shrieks of the dying. He will toss and turn, waking up with sweat soaked covers, and trembling hands.

Maybe that’s why he stays, his back ram-rod straight, his eyes focused on the road. Maybe that’s why he’s left his car without bothering to close the door behind him, and stands out here in the middle of an abandoned gas station parking lot. Because it’s better than the alternative.

And yet, his pulse pounds in his throat, and he feels dizzy.

What are you waiting for, Mason Parker? What are you waiting for?  

The response in his head shakes with the voice of a child, terrified.

I don’t know, he thinks.

When the car pulls up, the windows tinted, the lights flickering off the ebony paint, a rush of relief sweeps through him. He’s not crazy. He was waiting for something.

The sensation is soon overcome with horror.

He was waiting for something…

A woman slips out of the back seat, and his heart beats harder. Run. Run. But he doesn’t.

The woman’s hair spills in dark waves over her shoulders. As she stands, taller than him, dressed like an actress at an awards ceremony, her eyes flicker in his direction. They’re darker than the night around them. His heart seizes, and he can’t breathe, but he doesn’t move.

She smiles faintly as she clatters up to him in stilettos. Her legs, long, pale, exposed through a slit up the side of her dress, are all he can look at. He can’t bring himself to look up. To look into her eyes.

“Good evening, Mason,” she says.

A flash, and his heart is beating again, far far too quickly. He’s not just standing straight anymore, he realizes, he’s standing at attention. His eyes stay on the ground, submissive. He says nothing.

The gravel and dust swirls around her feet, clouds of deep violet that crawl up her legs, revealing glimpses of her true form beneath. Shimmers of interlocking silver scales, reflecting the light from the canopy.

“Look at me.”

His gaze creeps up at her insistence.

Her eyes are entirely black, her teeth sharp slivers of bone. As she grins, dark, shimmering wings beat behind her back, and he feels the grip of her power crush his heart. He fights for a breath.

He hadn’t known when he’d fallen in love with her. Corrine.  In his chest, the stab of her betrayal works further and further in. The pain of surrendering his will to her lights through his memory. She only lets him recall the truth sometimes, and she does it to hurt him.

As though reading his thoughts, she reaches out a hand, her cold palm against his cheek. Inside, he shivers. On the outside, he does nothing.

“Truth is a cold mistress,” she says, then drops her eyes. She reaches into the clutch at her side, pulling out a silver six-shooter, which she plants in his hand. “But steel is colder, and you have a job to do for me.”

His fingers curl against the pistol grip. Bile creeps up the back of his throat, but he swallows it. He’s nothing more than a pawn for her in this world.

And he had loved her so much…

“Of course,” he finds himself saying, glancing up at her once more, looking for some hint on her face that she feels something. Anything. Though her glamour, the illusion, has settled back in place, there’s nothing human in her expression.

“Don’t get caught,” she says.

He wakes in the morning, having slept through his alarm. He grumbles, rolling over, and throwing the covers off himself. He’s going to be late for work. As he stands, his body protests, stiff and sore. He feels like he’s been crushed beneath a steam-roller. He wonders where it comes from. He hasn’t been to the gym in a few days, and he can’t figure what he could have done yesterday to make him feel like this.

He simply can’t remember. He never does…

 

 

My Muse is a Jerk

My friend, Brian Buhl, wrote an incredible piece about his muse (you can find it here). The idea of personifying that ineffable quality that us, as writers, wrestle with in order to put out words on a page, was intoxicating. I had to try it. I meant to finish some editing I had been working on first but, lo and behold, I couldn’t even wait for that. I had to write this piece. And here it is. Hope you enjoy!

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“Come on, kid,” he says. His grin comes slow and easy, my scowl comes hard and fast. “It’s not that difficult.”

“Sure, okay, you say that,” I start, but he presses a finger against my lips, effectively shushing me.

My face flushes, the heat rising into my cheeks, and up to the top of my ears. My heart drums faster in my chest, pulsing in my throat. If I didn’t know I need him, I’d tell him off.

My eyes dart, up and to the right, where I can glower at him. His pale skin flickers now and again, revealing flashes of his veins of varying hues of color, weaving dizzyingly beneath the surface. Sometimes I catch the dance of teal around his throat, sometimes it’s the spark of purple in his eyes, sometimes it’s the yellow in his fingertips. Sometimes I see them all at once, rainbows of magic. It comes as easy to him as breathing.

Sometimes I don’t see anything at all. Just another man.

“Look,” he throws an arm over my shoulder, waving out at the expanse before us. Off the edge of the roof beneath us, there lie rows and rows of high rises, reaching endlessly in every direction. They clamber to the skies, lit up as though with fire in the drizzly night. The streets below are empty, no cars, no people, no sound but the gentle up and down of his voice, and it’s eerie. “You have whatever you need at your disposal. It’s all in here.”

He reaches back to me and gently taps my forehead with his index finger. I swallow hard.

“It’s not that easy,” and I know I’m whining, but I can’t help it.

“It’s not that difficult either. You’ve done it before.”

“But what if—”

He hisses, “Shhh.”

His eyes flash with amber, then it fizzles, and dies, leaving them the same green as my own.

Tears bristle, and I try to bite them back. I’m always afraid if I show weakness, he’ll leave. Only the strong can do this, and I’m not that. I just pretend, and it doesn’t always work.

“Look, Scrittor—”

“Don’t call me that,” I say. “I don’t know what that means.”

It only makes him smile wider, and I swear I could punch him in his perfect face when he does that.

“Not everything is about understanding, love. And what you want to do? That certainly isn’t about understanding. It’s about feeling. It’s about emotion. It’s about trust.”

His fingers wrap around my wrist, and I can see the excited dance of crimson flashing across his knuckles. My eyes widen, snap up to him, my heart stutters. He’s walked to the end of my arms-length. My elbow is locked, turned up to the sky. He glances back, and his eyes swirl with a rich tapestry of color.

“No,” I say, tossing my head violently.

He takes another step forward, and I dig my heels into the loose gravel on the roof.

“I thought you said this was what you wanted,” he says with a laugh that echoes off the surrounding buildings.  

With the prominence of the red glowing in his irises, it doesn’t take much imagination to picture him killing me. Rationally, I know I’ve survived him before. He seems—mostly—to have my best interests at heart. But he’s also wild, unpredictable, untamable. A mystery to me, even after so many years.

I grab his fingers in my own, trying desperately to pry them off from around my wrist. It’s effortless, the way he pulls me to the edge. Already, the dizziness swims in my head.

“I’m scared of heights,” I squeak, as though he’s forgotten.

“Trust me, Scrittor,” he says.

“You? The one who won’t even stop calling me some name I asked him not to?”

“It’s not about what you want.”

“Isn’t it?” I quirk an eyebrow.

His eyes slip back to normal, and I see my reflection look back at me from his black pupils. He doesn’t answer, his gentle grin causing a hum of familiarity to grow in my chest. No. It’s not about what I want. It’s about something bigger. For a minute, I’m comforted, peace running through my veins like water. This is right. Somehow.

Then I see the pavement below, dashed with white lines, empty, so so very far away. My vision bugs in and out of focus, my stomach lurching into my chest.

“I can’t,” I say, not even realizing the words are leaving my mouth.

“Trust me, Scrittor.”

“I don’t,” I shriek, grinding my short fingernails into his flesh. He doesn’t bleed, not the way I do, but licks of ink mix with the misting rain, and drip onto the rooftop beneath our feet. His grip remains firm, and I scream, tears building pressure behind my eyes.

“Hey,” he whispers so gently I stop, looking up into his eyes. He uses his other hand to brush damp strands of brown off my face. “It’s going to be okay.”

As though lifting a heavy duffel bag, he leans forward, grunts, and hefts me over the edge. My desperate cry is snatched away in the wind, and I don’t hear my voice come back to me. The sick sensation of falling wrenching my insides. I writhe, my fingers grasping uselessly at the air as it passes so quickly. My eyes press shut, and then I feel it stir within me. Something. Something I didn’t know was there. I fight against the rush of wind, and then I work with it. It swells beneath me, and I’m not falling, I’m soaring. My raucous laughter echoes off the buildings, and people start to spill out from the doors, craning their heads to look up at me. I take note of each one of them, a manic smile splitting my face. I see a man in a patchwork jacket, a woman with wrinkles of worry creasing her eyes, a thug with a tattoo inked into his skin.

And I smile as I rush up, up, back towards the rooftop, where he sits, his feet swinging back and forth as they dangle off the edge. He gives me a quick, two-finger salute. I told you so, is written all over his face.

“Jerk,” I say as I rush past him with the breeze, but I can’t keep the laughter from bubbling up with the word.  

“You’re welcome!” he cries after me, but I’m already off.

There’s so much to see. There’s so much more to discover. The next story is waiting.