I can’t spend all my days just sitting around on my ass, watching “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” I’m surrounded by people who are constantly writing their hearts out. I’m sometimes a little reluctant to get going, as getting those creative juices to flow can take some brain calisthenics, but I never regret getting to work.
Lately, Phil’s been inspiring me to make words by being really diligent with his blogging efforts. He’s been making themes for each day of the week. For instance, Tuesdays are reserved for interpretations of the “High Fidelity”-reminiscent “top 5” list format and Friday posts are centered on the theme “In My Brainholes,” in which he talks about the thoughts and weird, artistic dreams he’s had throughout the week.
At the conclusion of last week’s Friday blog, Phil Hornshaw challenged his readers to take a stab at a short-story prompt of his own devising. The only rules were that the story had to be rooted in the horror genre and that the first line had to begin with: “Snapping awake, she’s oppressed by the intense darkness of the room. Slowly, a shadow unfolds itself in the corner.”
Writing fiction has never been one of my strengths, but I so badly want it to be. Practice, practice, practice.
I wrote a very early first draft in response to this prompt. It still needs a bunch of work—the characters need more fleshing out and the story needs more development— but because it’s been so long since I’ve written any kind of short story, I’m too happy not to share it.
So this is what I came up with. Again this is a first draft, but feel free to leave your criticisms in the comments.
The Girl in the Mirror
Snapping awake, she’s oppressed by the intense darkness of the room. Slowly, a shadow unfolds itself in the corner.
The echoes of her own voice startle Lillith. Her courage is unexpected, likely residual feelings from a dream she’s already forgotten.
She pulls her down blanket to her chin for comfort. All is silent for a moment–but, suddenly there’s a high-pitched hiss, followed by a faint clicking on the wooden floorboards.
Fear leaves her and she is overcome with rage. Unleashing a dramatic groan, Lillith snaps on her bedside reading lamp.
“Fucking cockroaches,” she mutters aloud. As her eyes adjust to the blinding light, she searches the ground for one of her slippers.
Weapon in hand, she looks to the corner of the room. No pests in sight, she scans the remainder of her nearly immaculately clean room before hopping back up onto her bed. A quick glance under the bed verifies that the bug or bugs aren’t there, either.
They must have gone through a crack in the wall?
She gives the room one last once over, grabs up the latest issue of VOGUE from her bedside table and sews herself back in between the blankets of her bed. There’s no going back to sleep now.
At 130 pounds, Lillith’s body still needed a substantial amount of work.
Standing before the department store’s ceiling-to-floor-length mirror, wearing a red and white striped bikini, Lillith could pick out every single flaw on her body.
Not counting her tiny breasts and witch-like nose, the parts that the yogalates and running couldn’t fix, she still had a lot cellulite on her thighs and a bit of jiggly tummy fat that refused to go away.
Twirling and posing in the mirror, she scrunched up her nose in disgust as every angle only seemed to make her look less attractive.
Lillith was reluctant to admit that she was in the best shape of her life. It took persistent urging on her friends’ behalf to get her to see that all of her dieting, exercise and concentrated positive thinking was paying off.
But what did her hard work matter when sleek dresses, short shorts and sexy bathing suits were still so far out of the question?
Frustrated, she pulled her loose fitting clothes back over her boney limbs and left the suit on the floor for the sales associate to pick up.
It took approximately 8 minutes longer than usual for Lillith to find a parking spot on Hollywood Boulevard. It was shortly after 11 a.m. on Tuesday and she was late for her weekly appointment.
Slamming her car door, she nearly spilled her non-fat iced latte all over the front of herself. Clumsily digging through her change purse, she found three quarters and then dropped them through the coin slot of the neighboring parking meter. Her heels rapidly clacking on the pavement, Lillith rounded a corner and ventured into an alleyway tagged with decades of layers of graffiti. Even in the daytime, the almost hidden passageway still felt dark and mysterious.
There was just one door in sight, a crimson red metal passageway. Stenciled on the door in black spray paint read DORTHEA GOLDSTEIN: SPIRITUAL MEDIUM, LOVE SPECIALIST AND GODDESS PRIESTESS.
There was no knob, just a small, white, electronic pushbutton attached to the brick wall on the right side of the door. Lillith firmly pressed the circular shaped button and a few seconds later, an alarming buzzer sound seemed to prop the door open.
The office, if you could call it that, wasn’t what Lillith expected on her first visit. There were no hanging beads, talismans, crystal balls or tarot cards to be seen anywhere. With its cocoa walls, cushy couches and fireplace, the place felt more like a sophisticated and comfortable living room.
“I’m sorry I’m late, Dottie. Parking was a nightmare.”
The woman named Dottie looked up from her worn, olive-colored leather bound book, removed the glasses from her face and smiled. Lillith tried not to look her directly in the face. Her corneas were faintly coated with white fluffy clouds, a chilling visual that still made feel uncomfortable.
“Nonsense. It’s not even 10 after.”
Her fading, curly red hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail, as it typically was. She was wearing the same teal sweater that she often did and matching eye shadow.
Dottie was older—the wrinkles and mild case of cataracts gave that away—but Lillith couldn’t quite guess her age. Dotti gave Lillith the impression that she had once been a very pretty girl—one with a tiny waist, thick and shiny hair, a bright smile and sparkling sapphire eyes.
The only thing about Dottie that even remotely resembled a stereotypical psychic was the jewelry that she wore. The woman wore a lot of gold bracelets, rings and necklaces, all encrusted in colorful jewels.
“I know you don’t like to wait,” Lillith said, clamping her hands together, nervously.
Dottie smiled again. “I was just doing a little leisure reading–the works of a long-forgotten playwright.”
“Were you once an actress, Dottie?”
Dottie pursed her lips before giving her hard-lined reply: “You may be the only woman in this town who hasn’t at least tried.
“Please, sit down and let’s get started. Did you bring the things I asked?”
Lillith nodded and pulled from her purse a bundle of her own strawberry blonde hair, a locket that once belonged to her grandmother and a picture of a very beautiful, bikini-clad woman from a magazine ad. Dottie opened the drawstring on a large black felt satchel and indicated for Lillith to place them inside.
Setting the small sack aside, Dottie pulled a very old, small, gold-framed mirror from a drawer and set it on a stand on the table between them.
“Now,” said Dottie. “I want you to look in this mirror and concentrate.”
It didn’t seem to matter how much makeup she applied to her skin. The dark circles under her eyes would not go away. In fact, they only seemed to be getting worse.
“I’ve done everything I can think of,” said Lillith to her friend Sandy during their afternoon lunch date.
“I’ve laid out different powders, gels and traps—and when that didn’t work, I actually came up with the money to hire an exterminator.”
“Really? And the exterminator didn’t work?” Sandy asked between bites of salad.
“Well, he said he couldn’t spray because there was no proof of an infestation.”
Lillith studied her friend’s face, wondering if Sandy thought she was crazy. She was beginning to think that maybe she was. Sandy broke the awkward silence.
“Maybe you should come spend a night at my place,” Sandy said, “because you look like shit.”
The first time Lillith saw her new face in the mirror, she thought she was dreaming, again. Only this time, she must have been having a nightmare.
Her body was fatigued, even though she had just woken from a long night’s rest. It was the first time that the cockroaches hadn’t bothered her in weeks.
It was very difficult to see and so she had to haul her heavy, aching body directly up to the mirror and even then, she had to strain her eyes just to look at herself.
A familiar thunderstorm appeared in her eyes. Windy gray swirls of storm clouds, banishing her from her dreams of a life of unalloyed perfection.
Touching her hands to the unfamiliar flesh, Lillith’s long fingernails could snugly fit inside of the crevices of the wrinkles—the lines and gaps that eroded away the skin over the course of a lifetime—someone else’s lifetime.
Her hair was stripped of color and her skin–all over her hands, face, forearms and shoulders–were covered with flat black-brown spots.
She removed her nightgown, no longer a wispy, elegant sleep dress, but an uncomfortably tight shirt. Her underwear were so tight, they restricted blood flow had to be ripped away using all of her strength.
Staring at herself, now nearly naked, her cloudy cornea’s filled with tears.
Just as she feared, her body, too, like her face, was no longer hers. Her breasts, now swollen cantaloupes, sagged down past her ribs nearly to her naval. Well, at least where Lillith estimated a belly button should be. Her once only slightly imperfect stomach was encased by the flab of three enormous spare tires.
Green, blue and red varicose veins covered her legs, more closely resembling a road map of all the interstate highways in the state of California than her own limbs.
Even her biggest hooded sweatshirt wouldn’t fit her new body and so it took Lillith two days, with some wardrobe and transportation aid from her incredulous, pity-eyed friends, before she could make it out of the house.
The first place she headed was Hollywood Boulevard to see Dottie.
Sandy dropped her off at the curb and Lillith lost all peripheral vision. Holding a rather unattractive pair of drugstore glasses above the bridge of her nose, she walked as quickly as she could. Lillith found that her new body’s best equated the slowest speeds performed by her old one. When she rounded the familiar corner, she found a solid brick wall where the dark graffitied alley used to be. She ran her hands over the molding between stones before collapsing to the ground in a fit of tears.
It was nearly a year after Lillith stopped trying to track down the woman named Dorthea Goldstein that she first saw her on the cover of a magazine.
The vibrant actress Dottie Lee was pictured laughing, wearing a flattering red and white bathing suit. She couldn’t have been older than 25: she was skinnier than a rail, had flaming red hair, sparkling blue eyes, ceramic skin, flawless make-up. In the photo, she sat kneeling with her hands on her hips, a position that reminded Lillith of a 1950s pin-up girl.
The cover’s corresponding main story, “Inside: How to get a banging body like Dottie Lee.”
In that moment, Lillith was too shocked to be angry. It was incredible how much better Lillith’s body looked on Dottie than it ever did on her.