I’ve only ever been good at one thing.
No heart-wrenching displays of honor or heroism, no rousing sport victories. But I can tell people what to do and where to stand. And if I do my job right, see the potential in their expressions and their movements, what I’m really telling them is how to charm the audience. How to make someone cry.
When I came to LA, it was to see if I could hack it as a screenwriter, but nobody would even look at my scripts. I was a nonentity, a complete unknown, so I started production on one of my own stories. It was a heist drama, shot in a warehouse on a shipping lot, with no big names and no budget.
None of us really thought it would take off, no one expected it to be the next big thing. Except, that’s not quite true. Maybe no one else knew, but Elizabeth always kind of did.
“You’re going to leave me,” she says now on the phone, her voice buzzing with bourbon and panic. “You’re going to hook up with some hot little starlet and that’s it. I’ll be history.”
It’s two a.m. Three, where she is.
“Come on,” I say, pinching the bridge of my nose. “You know that’s not true.”
The raw sore on the inside of my elbow is oozing a little, leaking yellow droplets. Pus, maybe? Hard to say. It itches.
In high school, I’d been nothing special. I’d been that guy who puts together the video announcements. What they didn’t get is that sometimes, when you spend your whole life behind the scenes, that becomes its own kind of skill. You get good at being the watcher without ever realizing it.
“You’re lying,” Elizabeth says. “You’re not alone. I know you. I know you can’t sleep alone. I dreamed that you were with another woman.” She draws a quick, shaky breath and her voice spikes up. “Oh, God, she’s there right now, isn’t she?”
“No,” I say, with my hand against my face. “No one’s here.”
In the corner of the hotel room, a woman sits staring, but not like Elizabeth thinks. The woman is thin and ugly, with gnarled hands, huge ragged wings. Her face is gaunt and she trembles with excitement and hunger. Someday, I’ll write a horror flick and direct it, and I will use my dark muse as fodder for the creature shop.
I need her, but not like Elizabeth wants me to need the nameless Other Woman. The woman who will destroy us. I need her like I need sunlight or oxygen.
“You’re a bad liar,” Elizabeth says. “You always were.”
She’s miles off the mark, though. All great stories are lies, but when you flash them on the screen, people believe you anyway. They come to the box-office and slide their money through the window, knowing it’s fake, knowing it’s staged, because they want to believe you.
Of course I’m a good liar. It’s what they pay me for.
On the floor, the woman fidgets and sighs. She smiles and it’s ravenous and greedy, wanting to eat anything she can get her hands on. She wants my resolve, my dignity. She wants my freewill and all that keeps me breathing, but in return, she gives me vision, dedication. She makes the magic happen.
“Elizabeth,” I say, and even to myself, my voice sounds very tired. “Go back to sleep.”
“You’re leaving me,” she says. She’s crying now, and I hear the sharp hiccup of a sob before the phone cuts off.
I flip my own phone closed and collapse back onto the bed. My arms are spread wide, leaving my body open to the woman in the corner, nearly inviting her.
She flops forward on the carpet and crawls across the floor. I can’t see her floundering approach, but I can hear it. A trick that every B-movie god knows: sometimes hearing it is worse. When she reaches the bed, she clambers up onto the mattress and crouches over me.
“Come love me,” she whispers. Her teeth are jagged, bared in a smile.
Above me, her face is not so ghoulish now. In the recessed lighting, it’s almost tender, right up until she sinks her teeth into the festering bend of my elbow.
The pain is familiar, necessary, and then there are only the ideas, glorious and inspired, every one of them a money-maker.
“Love you,” she whispers, voice thick and sticky with my blood.
I nod just once, just barely, before my eyes roll back.
No one’s here.
Photo by martian favourites
*As our common prompt this week, the lovely nataliesee has drawn us three tarot cards at random. They are the Devil, the King of Pentacles, and the Queen of Cups, all of whom make (rather loosely interpreted) appearances in this story.