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.”
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…