Katarina stood nervously in high heels and a sequined red dress. The room, which would normally be filled with the warmth of hundreds of people, was both empty and cold. High above her, the ballroom ceiling loomed in the darkness, and she could feel all of the empty space between her and the walls. There was little light, cast only from 25 candles, spaced apart in five groups of five, a pentacle made of pentacles, circles drawn in chalk on the floor, Katarina only one step outside of the largest one.
She concentrated on her breathing while she waited, in and out, one breath after the next. He would show or he wouldn’t, she would be a sacrifice or not. But there was no point in dwelling, no point in second guessing, not anymore.
It was within the space of a breath, while Katarina was inhaling, that he appeared, stepping out of a portal made not of fire, or smoke, but of LED lights, and pulsing fiber optic wires. He was average height, not much taller than Katarina herself, and dressed all in white: loose fitting pants, a long sleeve shirt, and tennis shoes. He stood waiting for her, looking more relaxed than she had ever felt in her life: one foot slightly in front of the other, right hand in his pocket, left hand resting on his stomach, a ghost of a grin on his lips. His eyes had fire in them, but ice as well. They challenged her. Would she step forward or back?
As she crossed the circle, it felt almost as if she were stepping through into warm water. She took his hand when he offered it; it was slightly warmer than it should have been, like he had a fever, or he had been warming it by a fire. Music started to swell, all warm strings and soft percussion; a waltz. It was slow at first, but as her muscles warmed, the music sped up. A regal dance, full of grace, and curves. But they were the curves of a sculpture, and the grace of the snow as it swirls on the wind. His restraint was a physical thing in itself, rather than a mere absence.
With the addition of horns, and an extra beat, and no warning at all, the waltz was transformed within a few short bars. He lead her through it with skill and speed, while she stumbled and tried to keep up. As they moved from dance to dance, the iron bar between them grew stronger and stronger. Even as he held her close, he was stiff, his hands unyielding, commanding rather than inviting. But it didn’t show in the dance. Never in the dance. In the dance he was transcendent, while she followed like a frog; like a monkey in a dress.
And as they went, it got worse and worse, his eyes losing their fire, his smile losing its warmth, until, in a moment of desperation and cheek, Katarina took the lead. And he followed like he was born to it. She pulled him in close, and spun him around away from her, and not once did he falter, nor fail to add his own flair. She loosened up then–he was not just another partner, and this was no ordinary dance, but it was still dance–and Katarina knew dance.
They passed the lead back and forth from then on, pulling each other to be ever more ambitious, more creative, more passionate. They glided through steps, they shimmied, and shook; with every spin, sweat flew from their hair and outstretched arms. And when the music stopped, with no audience to bow to, they faced each other. The fire was there in his eyes, fiercer than when he had first appeared, but still the ice remained. He kissed her then–not with hot fire, or cold ice, but gently, as a kitten. She closed her eyes, and remembered her first kiss, just as tender, but less self-assured. She opened her eyes again and he was gone. She shivered from the sudden cold and rubbed her hands up and down her arms.
The candles were burned low; Katarina hurried to fetch her flashlight. She took each candle off it’s brass stand and blew them out before stowing them all in her backpack. Then she used an old yellow bucket and fraying mop to clean up the chalk. She left them in the middle of the room, the only clue that anything had happened at all. As the door closed behind her, she wondered: had she passed?