I’ve been occupied with the Horror Writer Association’s online writing workshop I’ve been taking. One of the assignments we’ve been doing are known as “still lifes.” Like a painted still life, we look at something someone else created and try to copy it into words.
A few weeks ago we did a study of the old Thriller video by Michael Jackson. I watched it a few times back in the 80s. Our assignment was to narrate the first four-and-a-half minutes and detail the events of 0:20 to 3:40. We were to put our own spin on what we saw, including what creature we thought Jackson had transformed into.
I really dreaded this assignment, but once I got started it turned out to be one of my favorites. It turned out to be good exercise. Here’s how my assignment turned out. Try a still life of your own—it’s great practice for learning to see all the details rather than passively watching.
Here’s the video for reference.
Thriller Still Life
Crickets and frogs compete with each other for dominance of a park at night. In the distance, an older model car drives into view past an old chain link fence meant to keep the natural surroundings contained. Soon, the sound of the car adds to the cacophony of natural noises, the ill tuned engine growling along the road. It drives down the battered asphalt ribbon slowly, sputtering to a stop. The dim headlights make a feeble attempt to illuminate the surrounding darkness before going out.
In the car, a young couple sit. The male forces the grinding gears into park while the girl looks on. Dressed in 50s era pink sweater, her slim neck is cut off by a pristine Peter Pan collar. A matching white scarf accents her black hair, pulled back into a ponytail. Pearl stud earrings grace her earlobes. Her large eyes look on the driver questioningly with an air of innocence. By contrast, the male has a roguish air with a red letterman jacket and greased up curls.
“Honestly, we’re out of gas,” he says defensively. He smiles, white teeth gleaming in the dim light. His manner seems light. He’s not worried about running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere late at night.
She looks away, pursing her lips and initially seems displeased and suspicious of his claim that they are stranded. She thinks about their situation for a few seconds, gazing through the windshield and past the hood of the car before her attitude changes.
“So, what are we gonna do now?” she asks.
Her voice is soft and seductive and the innocent air she wore a moment earlier bleeds into the night. She cocks her head as she turns to him with a coy expression. He says nothing, but looks up at her with a smile, his eyes hopeful.
Soon, two sets of feet are crunching along the deserted road. Her saddle back shoes are neat with laces primly tied in bows. Pristine white bobby socks show off plenty of her legs beneath her swinging purple skirt. He marches beside her wearing brown penny loafers and white socks as prim as hers. His jeans are neat and rolled into cuffs that almost seem ironed with their crispness. They walk along in silence, the only sounds interrupting the natural symphony are the crunching of their steps along the road.
There is an appropriate space between them as they walk. Any chaperone watching would approve of the demure way she clasps her hands in the folds of her skirt. He keeps his hands shoved firmly in the pockets of his red jacket. They are following the protocol of the day for unmarried couples alone on a date, but the air between them is charged with tension. Their gazes stay fixed on the road ahead, but their attention is focussed on each other and the space between them. She breaks the span by reaching out to lightly touch his elbow.
“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you,” she says. While she plays the part of innocent girl, the artful swivel of her shoulders show off her natural curves in the soft light. He turns to her in obvious surprise. He was calculating how to bridge the distance between them. Now that she has made the first move, his awkward boyishness shows for a brief moment. Despite his confidence, it’s obvious who is calling the shots between them. He isn’t complaining. He seizes the opportunity.
“Can I ask you something?”
“What?” She bats her lashes at him coquettishly and smiles.
“You know I like you,” he says.
“Yes,” she answers, her smile broadening. She smells victory here as the conquering female.
“And I hope you like me the way I like you.” He speaks hesitantly, his face serious with worry.
“Yes,” she says again. He smile grows bigger as she senses opportunity for a killing blow. His heart is about to fall completely under her dominion. She waits for the kill.
“I was just wondering if you would be my girl,” he says. The tables have turned and now it is the male that wears the expression of innocence. His heart is overwhelmed by feelings of love inspired by her soft, clinging sweater and artful swells. He has become prey.
“Oh, Michael,” she says breathlessly. She bares her teeth for the briefest of instances before she moves in to claim him. She embraces him, performing the ritualistic act of female dominance, and scents him with her perfume. Oblivious to his peril, he grins foolishly in the shadows, confident that he has won a prize. She allows him to think this because it suits her.
She squeals in victory, allows him to feel her softness pressing up against him just long enough to set her hooks and then pulls back. She knows he will remember the moment where her flesh pressed against him and it will haunt his nights. This memory will serve as her leash to keep him as her prisoner. It’s his turn now to show his adulation with a gift.
When her embrace breaks she steps back with an expectant air. He is prepared. Though young, he understands the small rituals of 50s era coupling. From his pocket he pulls a small object. Weighing less than an ounce, this small circle of metal serves as a reminder of his new subservience. He willingly places it on her finger as she utters more soft victory squeals. She has set her snares well. The male belongs to her. She holds the symbol of her conquest to the light, admiring the gleam on her finger.
“It’s beautiful!” she says.
“Now it’s official,” he says, oblivious to the perilous trap he has stepped into. He grins foolishly and seems happy to be pledged to this queen. He exists in the moment, burning with young desire that clouds his mind and smothers the warning whispers that sound in the back of his consciousness. He buries them in the smolders of his passion.
“I have something I wanna tell you,” he says. His eyes are worried that his new queen may be displeased by what he is about to reveal.
“I’m not like other guys,” he confesses.
“Of course not!” She knows he is not like other guys now, because he is her guy. Little does she know, in her inexperience, that sometimes the hunter becomes the prey even as victory seems assured.
“That’s why I love you,” she reassures him.
“No, I mean I’m different,” he insists. If this is to be a proper match, he feels he needs full disclosure between them.
“What are you talking about?” she asks dismissively. Her immature mind can’t conceive any reality where she is not the victor in this situation.
Overhead the clouds peel away from the face of the moon, revealing its face. It shines down upon the couple, bathing them both in a bone white glow. The male becomes twitchy in the light, his body convulsing as it touches him. He groans and collapses to kneel on the road as wolves howl in the shadows. She is appalled as she realizes perhaps she has been chasing damaged goods.
“Are you all right?” she asks. Her mind struggles to understand what is happening to her recent conquest. In the back of her mind she becomes aware that they are alone.
“Go away!” He snarls and looks up at her. His eyes have changed to those of an animal. His pupils have become black slits against gold. His mouth has become full of dangerous looking, jagged fangs. Appropriately, she screams.
He stands upright, uttering guttural complaints to the moon that has revealed his true nature. Her eyes bug out in terror as it dawns on her that she is not in control of the situation as all. All her mother’s warnings about being alone with boys chase through her mind. She continues screaming, her feminine wiles suddenly insufficient.
He screams with her as his body undergoes the wrath of puberty within seconds. Hair sprouts from him, his body is overtaken by unwelcome bulges he can no longer control and his nails grow into talons. His ears grow into feral points as sporadic whiskers sprout from his upper lip. He transforms, to the chorus of her desperate screams, into a were-lion.
That is enough to break the spell of terror that has kept her rooted. She runs, flailing her arms foolishly in a last attempt to exercise the power of her femininity. Pausing for a moment, she presses a hand to her bosom to still her racing heart, but a growl behind her prompts her to continue her flight. She no longer worries that she will muss her dress or break out into a full sweat rather than a delicate perspiration. She is full on fleeing for her life.
Behind her, the were-lion springs into action. He is angry that she would try to tame him and incensed at her coquettish tricks. He is intent on claiming her now as his conquest, tearing her delicate limbs apart and consuming her perfumed flesh. His tactics aren’t as artful as hers, but much more efficient. He races after her, aggressively killing an offending tree as he passes.
The chase progresses through the dark woods. He gives frequent roars to herd her where he pleases. His roars alert the forest that a new king has arrived to this jungle and all of nature falls silent to escape his notice. The only sound that breaks the night are her panicked footfalls and the ominous music that accompanies them.
Having herded her precisely where he wants her, the were-lion leaps from the shadows directly in front of her. He roars and she tries to step back, falling to the ground backwards. Her seater will surely be ruined from the damp leaf litter. She lays in the dirt, oblivious to the peril of her clothes, and looks at him helplessly. A small part of her hopes that her natural good looks may stay the beast like the fairy tales she grew up on, but as he descends upon her. His talons spread to rend her flesh and, like many young girls, she realizes the handsome prince sometimes is just a beast.
All her aspirations of being the coveted princess disintegrate as he prepares to dismember her dreams, limb by limb.