Valentine’s Day Prompt

Well, I didn’t end up writing over the weekend but something good did at least happen. I did some work on some uni related things and have been ticking a few things off my to-do list, such as finishing some more seminar revision reading for my end of year exams and something even Bigger and Better.

At today’s Creative Writing session I decided to do a Valentine’s Day prompt so set up two envelopes filled with names in little hearts, with the intention of writing a story featuring those two characters. There was then a packet of love hearts with the text on the sweet you got to be a designated line of dialogue within your story.

I chose one character from the male envelope (Mr. Darcy) and one from the female (a stuntwoman) and my Love Heart — well, the second one, I ate the first without checking — said ‘Keep Cool’.

So, this is what I came up with…

“It’s really simple,” he drawled, pointing over at the lake in the middle of the gardens, “you just have to step into the water and then walk out again.”

“Isn’t it going to be a little cold? I mean, I’m not paid for anything that’s going to make me, like, suffer. I was really more hoping for a kind of skydiving gig.”

“It’s not cold at all.”

“Really? Then why is that guy,” she jabbed her finger in the general direction of the man, who had just been freed from the humiliation of standing in the middle of the lake while sappy music played, “standing there shivering? And he’s wearing a jumper.”

“He’s shivering because he’s pathetic. It’s not the most difficult job you’ll ever have. Just get on with it,” his sentences were getting shorter and snappier as time moved towards his first scheduled coffee break of the day. A grande soy latte with cinnamon. It wasn’t as if she was going to have to actually say or do anything. He’d much rather be doing her job, the assistant mused, then standing here talking to all of these primadonnas. He sipped his coffee absentmindedly, reminding himself what a great job he was doing, before turning back to the woman.

“You’ve got thirty seconds of screen time. That’s it. So make it count.”

She turned away slightly, looking over at the lake again. “I’m not taking off any clothes. You get that?”

“No, no, no! This isn’t that kind of a gig,” he backtracked furiously, even though he had to admit he thought she was one of the most attractive contestants they’d seen that day.

“Well, what is this then? My agent tells me I gotta come here and try out, next thing there’s T.V. cameras everywhere like the tryouts are the show. No script, no info, no nothing. Just tell me if I’m wasting my time.”

“It’s a reality show. You’ll like it. I swear. There’s no funny business here.”

“Just wading through a freezing cold lake?” She squinted, to see that calling it a lake was really far too generous. It was a pond at best, little more than an oversized puddle placed in the middle of an overgrown garden a few miles out of the nearest city. She could tell that it was supposed to replicate some show of opulence but she didn’t have the general knowledge to quite work out what it was supposed to be. The props set out casually around the venue, like a few oversized umbrellas and a hat box, didn’t fit with the Tudor period she’d learned about at school but nor were they modern.

It was all a bit ridiculous really.

She’d only been persuaded to come along because her friend had sworn it was a good idea, that there would be casting directors there and maybe, just maybe, she’d at least come away with a few blurry freeze frames of herself on TV to stare at on a lonely Friday night. If anyone ever told her that her dream wasn’t going to come true then she could point at the screen, sit right up close to it as if she could feel heat and comfort coming straight out of the TV, and say: “Look, that’s me.”

Watching the successive line of Lake Walkers head into the water and back out again, she could see that there was a pattern. For everyone who swore and shouted in response to the water, there was a swift handshake and a shove in the direction of a waiting bus. It was unmarked, without any form of identifier apart from the helpful sign stuck up in the front window BUS. Not that it would be missed, it was the only modern thing on set apart from the cameras and their crews.

She didn’t want to go in the bus. It was obviously the losers’ coach, intended to get rid of the no-hopers before they could infect anyone else with their lack of talent. Even if this wasn’t the job for her, then she didn’t want to lose. No, if she wasn’t going to get the job then it should be because she had chosen to turn it down.

The queue shuffled forward, towards the lake, with each actor or actress standing close to their assigned staff member. It was too surreal, the way that no-one was allowed to go near the lake unattended and had to just continue their slow walk forwards until every so often the chief cameraman would shout MOVE and the person at the front of the line would sprint forward. Water going everywhere, they’d spread their arms wide and stride through the water towards the shore at the other side.

After a few awkward seconds of watching grown adults sludge through the water the camera was turned off and the participant, their task completed. For the last few metres towards their only audience was the balding man holding out towels and telling them which way to walk, with the next contestant already in the water by the time the previous one had got on the bus.

“Do you think I’ll be getting on the bus?” she asked the man assigned to her. He took a big gulp of coffee and then shook his head.

“You’ll be fine. Just do exactly what they tell you and it’ll be great.”

“Just move?” She copied his exaggerated drawl, wondering where exactly he was from and what exactly had made him think it was a good idea to put on that fake, exaggerated accent. Almost as if he was an actor himself.

“Simple, isn’t it.”

He turned back to watch the people jump into the lake, their journeys being quicker and quicker as the cameraman seemed to be getting more and more fed up. MOVE and MOVE and MOVE and MOVE. At one point two men dived into the water at the exact same time, not spotting the other, both striding forwards with a confident smile before being told that if they couldn’t even follow a simple order then how could they possibly be the star of a big budget movie. It was a valid question: to the bus with them.

It was almost her time to shine. She was ready, waiting for her moment in the spotlight.

“Any advice?” she asked the man beside her jokingly, seeing how seriously all of the other actors and actresses seemed to be taking their short lived role.

“Keep cool,” he said with a smile, looking away from the coffee long enough to watch her journey into the water. MOVE – and she was off. Striding forwards, her supermodel long legs carrying her forwards so it seemed that she was barely in the water at all before she was out the other side.

She looked around, turned back towards the cameraman on the opposite shore, who made some kind of grunting non-committal noise and then focused on the next contestant. And, MOVE, and so on.

Taking the towel from the man in front of her, she rubbed at her hair, surprised at how itchy she was. A quick look down at her shirt, at the muddy water covering her, before being shoved to the left.

She stumbled down the track, slightly disorientated from the cold, not quite sure whether she had been put in the direction of the bus or not. Not that she really cared, not at this point. After all, if the crystalline lake had turned out to be so muddy and smelly she wasn’t even sure that it wasn’t swamp or sewer water, whatever was coming next couldn’t be a good thing.

The line was much shorter here and she shuffled forward obediently, itchy and freezing, towards an outdoor ballroom set. Standing on one side of the room were an array of fancily dressed men and women, all exceptionally attractive and all in their early twenties. It was clear what the other side of the room was for. Five at a time, the contestants had to step forward and try and keep up with the awfully elaborate dance steps, while all the while a flashing neon sign pulsed up above.

It was the only thing out of place in this whole arrangement, the massive sign proclaiming THE NEXT MR. DARCY telling her that this wasn’t the commercial she’d thought they’d be filming. Nor was it the low-budget thriller that she could hear the man behind her talk whistfully about, how he’d been so close to final callbacks and now he was here.

No, this was something else entirely. And all she could do was keep the advice of that coffee slurping oddity, and try and keep cool….

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