Advent Ghosts 2020 -- Swan Song

Every year I participate in Loren Eaton's 'Advent Ghosts' event where a bunch of different writers virtually gather together to swap dark and disturbing stories.

Really the rule is that you're supposed to write a drabble -- that is a story that is exactly100 words long. I always break that rule. This year is no exception.

What follows is my dark and hopefully disturbing contribution:

Swan Song

“I’ve heard about you,” Randal said, his breath a cloud in front of his face—they didn’t heat this room. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

She smiled, her entire being suffused with pleasure at recognition. “You’ve heard of me?” she asked, looking at him in the mirror which covered the wall in front of her.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” he repeated.

“Mademoiselle knows I’m here,” she said, transforming from warm and welcoming to cold and bitchy in the way only a teenage girl can. She pressed play on the ghetto blaster at her feet and returned her gaze—expression soft, performance ready—to the mirror. As the opening notes to the Swan Theme wafted through the air, accompanied by a slight crackle from the static in the speakers, she began to move. And he watched. Transfixed.

She was beautiful, ethereal. Her lines long, perfect. Her steps sure, practiced. She was the swan princess, embodying her beauty, her tragedy in a way he’d never seen before.

And then she was still, standing at the barre once more, eyes unfocused, gazing through her own reflection at something he couldn’t see.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” he said a third time.

She looked at him in the mirror, her gaze suddenly sharp, her face pale as the feathers in her headpiece.

“Who are you? How dare you disturb my practice.” She was imperious. Not a princess but a queen. A queen would not be questioned, least of all by the likes of him.

He stepped into the studio, heard something crunch beneath his feet but when he looked there was nothing there. When he looked up at her once more she was no longer looking at him, still focused on where he had been in the doorway.

“If you don’t leave this moment I’ll—”

“I’m supposed to be here,” he said. “It’s my job. Cleaning up over the holidays while everyone has gone. It’s how I pay my tuition.”

She was stretching at the barre again, ignoring him. Oblivious to him. “I’ve heard about you, though,” he said. “People have warned me about you.”

“You’ve heard of me?” she said,

He nodded.

“Mademoiselle knows I’m here,” she said stiffly, pressing play on the ghetto blaster at her feet and moving, once more, through the steps of the dance. Transforming into the swan princess once more before stopping abruptly in the same place as before and glaring at him in the mirror. “Who are you? How dare you disturb my practice?”

He said nothing but moved closer to the mirror, choosing an obtuse angle that meant though he drew closer to it he didn’t close the distance between himself and her. Near enough to the barre that his breath fogged the mirror in front of him—though the glass before her remained clear and perfect. Like her dancing.

“If you don’t leave this moment I’ll—” And then the back of her head smashed into the mirror. A crimson flower bloomed in the center of the break, against what bits of mirror continued to cling to their place, tenacious even under duress while other pieces scattered across the floor. And then she was gasping for air, her face turning pink, then red, and then purple. Her eyes, her once beautiful eyes, bugged out obscenely, veins bursting like red lines, one after the other until the red overwhelmed the whites.

She clawed and scratched at something he couldn’t see, her perfectly tapered fingernails leaving blood trails on her own throat. Marking it, scarring it. She toppled and was supported at an obscene angle—half standing, half falling—and flailed and choked.

But the worst part was the sounds. The wet, gurgling, choking sounds.

And ever more heinous was when those sounds slowed, fading and turning into gasps. Then whimpers.

In the end she lay on the floor, a broken swan in a lake of blood and glass.

And then she was standing at the barre, smiling at someone in the doorway. “You’ve heard of me?” she said.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” he said. “You’re supposed to have gone into the light.”

After the murder, before his time, they’d turned the studio into a storage room. No one wanted to dance in here any longer, and they certainly didn’t want to be in it alone. He’d heard the whispered stories—about how her last moments replayed over and over like a skipped record, or how they’d never managed to get the blood out of the wood. But he’d seen the pristine floor so assumed the other stories were as false as those about its perpetual stain.

Foolishly, as it turned out.

“Mademoiselle knows I’m here,” she said.

Looking around the room in which he stood he saw buckets and pails, the coiled hose for central vacuum system, old bits of scenery and racks of old costumes. But looking in the mirror there was only her. In a studio by herself, addressing a shadow in the doorway.

She pressed play on the ghetto blaster at her feet, the song crackled forth and she began to dance…

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