Saturday, December 7, 2013

Golden Shorts Contest: Paranormal Romance Winner

Congratulations to Music Box Dancer by Julia Long for winning the Golden Shorts Contest: Paranormal Romance. Good luck in the overall round!




Music Box Dancer
Rahs, dva, tree!
Rahs, dva, tree!
Natasha could still hear her old teacher at the Imperial Ballet School screaming the beat. Although many years had passed, whenever she danced, it wasn’t the music she heard but her teacher’s barking voice. At times, she almost missed those days, but she wouldn’t give up the strength she had now for anything.
Suddenly, the smell hit her. The coppery and heady scent she knew so well. She paused and slowly turned her head in the direction of the smell. Her friend, Amanda, was pulling off her pointe shoes and wincing. Amanda had joined the company roughly around the same time she had joined. They’d auditioned together in a room full of gangly teenagers. Everyone wanted to be in the New York Ballet, but not everyone was worthy.
“Jesus Christ. If I ever thought ballet would be this hard, I never would have started,” she said. She flung her shoe to the floor with a thud and inspected her toes.
Natasha laughed. Her friend was pure American. Bright red hair pulled into a loose bun, skinny without being gangly, violet eyes. The girl was rubbing her foot. A new blister had popped on her big toe. It was bleeding. That was where the smell had come from.
Natasha closed her eyes. She couldn’t let herself go here. Not like this. Her placement in the company was too important. Everything hedged on her keeping her secret. If she wanted her plan to work that is.
Plan besides, it would do her no good to out herself. She might be okay if it was just Amanda in the room. That girl wasn’t easily shaken. The others? That was the problem. She couldn’t afford to kill the entire company. She needed them too much.
“Are you coming or what?” Amanda asked.
Natasha looked up. Amanda was looking at her like something was very wrong. She had already put her shoes back on and was motioning toward the barre. Natasha needed to keep her head in the present more often. If she started appearing odd, that increased her chances of being found out. It wasn’t something she could afford to risk.
“Oh, right,” Natasha said. Better to appear to be ditsy than to seem and odder than they already believed her to be. She stood up and followed her friend, forcing the smell of the blood from her mind. Food would come later. Now was the time for work.
#
After class, sweat pooled between her shoulder blades. Her heart slowed quickly, much faster than the creatures around her. Even in her current form, ballet still brought out the sweat. She chuckled to herself about the movies and books she read that said that her kind sweated blood. How silly. Blood existed in the veins. It made no biological sense for it to come out through other means. It was true that her body changed through the transformation, but it didn’t change that much. Contrary to popular belief, she was not immortal. The demise of her lost love had taught her that.
If her body started secreting blood through all of her orifices like it had with Mishka, the end was near. The silver nitrate had spoiled his blood so that even she could not salvage it. Damn that ignorant doctor. Instead of binding the bullet hole from the duel Mishka had just won, the doctor had poured silver nitrate into the wound. It had done something to Mishka’s body, rendering the blood into something different. Something foul. Instead of Mishka simply dying, the blood stopped clotting and leaked out from everywhere. Even his eyes. Now that she thought about it, she didn’t even remember what had been done with his body. Natasha had dispatched the doctor posthaste. His body she’d left lifeless in a ditch. It still wasn’t good enough of a death for him. Just thinking about the food made her mouth water. Natasha stilled herself. She could not break “character” as it were. The more she thought about blood, the more of a chance that she would turn. It was time to think about something else.
Leaving the classroom, she was able to nod to her compatriots. Some she merely waved. She could not seem stuck-up. The last thing she needed were rumors to spread about her. Rumors were the devil. As she passed amongst the people, she held her breath. Less of the smell the better. She managed to keep her composure until she made it to her dressing room. It had been sheer luck that hers was at the end of a hallway with no other doors. There was no reason for anyone to go there unless they wanted to meet with her and that was how she liked it.
She knew she now had time to herself. After class was lunch. Of course, her lunch was not normal, and many times, she spent her lunch hour reading in her dressing room. Sometimes, she did miss the camaraderie, but she couldn’t risk the questions. Any unusual stomach condition would prevent a human from dancing. She needed to dance. She needed to appear normal.
She threw open the door to her dressing room, stepped inside, and locked the door behind her. Then, she let loose. Her ears became pointed. Her teeth grew elongated. Natasha didn’t have to look. She knew what she looked like, and it wasn’t pretty. Monstrous was as good a word as any.
She turned her attention toward her dance bag, careful to not look into the mirror. She methodically unpacked her pointe shoes and unwound the ribbons so the shoes could dry properly. Unlike the others, her feet never bled. She never had blisters. After forcing herself to sit down in the chair in front of the mirror, she made herself calm down and felt her body return to its normal state. There was no reason to make herself more upset than she needed to be. She didn’t need the reminder of what she was able to do. Now, she could look in the mirror.
Dark eyes stared back at her. Finely arched brows, paper-white skin. Her black hair was pulled back into a severe bun, not a strand out of place. She remembered the old days when she used to pinch her cheeks to give them a hint of color, but ever since the change, that didn’t work anymore. But, it helped that she was Russian. She was expected to be pale.
She grabbed a new pair of pointe shoes and put them to her nose and sniffed. The smell of horse hide glue and leather pulled the scent of blood from her nose. She smiled. Even as a young girl, she felt there was something magical about the smell of a new pair of shoes. They meant accomplishment and dreams.
Knock. Knock.
She looked toward the door and set down her shoes. Of all the days to have a visitor. She swallowed hard. “Who is it?” she asked.
“Miss Natasha. It’s Becky Lambert.”
Natasha grunted and got up from the chair. She remembered the youngster. The new girl in the company. An apprentice she thought they called them. She vaguely remembered watching the girl dance. If she was lucky, she’d make coryph√©e. Nothing more. What she wanted, it was anyone’s guess.
She unlocked the door and opened it. “Yes?”
The girl was rather short. Shorter than Natasha and that was saying something. She hadn’t remembered the child being so small.
“Miss Natasha. I…I was wondering if you would have time to coach me,” the girl squeaked. She was quivering, shaking almost.
Natasha forced herself not to smile. Opportunities like this did not come across very often. She was not the type to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Why don’t you come inside? I am not sure what I can help you with, but we can discuss it.”
Natasha stepped back from the door long enough to allow the child to enter. She closed the door and pressed her back against it.
“Please, sit,” she said, motioning with her hand toward the chair. “I find that if I sit too long, my muscles get too cold.”
The girl complied. Natasha quietly felt behind her and slowly closed the lock so that it would not make a sound. This one could not get away.
She crouched down in front of the girl and stared into her eyes.  She stilled her heart and let forth her power. Once the girl was mesmerized, she let her teeth grow, leaned forward and bit deeply into her throat.
#
Natasha felt energized. The rush of energy she felt made it hard for her to stand still, but she forced herself to do so. She didn’t even notice that the studio was chilly. The more food she had, the less she could sense things around her- at least until most of it had left her stomach and been transformed in her system. A full stomach wasn’t the optimum way to start a rehearsal, but she had to take her feedings where she could get them. Even back before, it was best not to eat before dancing. Too much activity irritated the stomach. It was hard to dance with a heavy stomach. She could just imagine what a horrific site it would be if she threw up all over her partner. Worse yet, the ballet master- the man she had joined the company for and had yet to work with.
The man, holding her high up above his head and with his hand placed against her stomach, whirling her round and round. Then, just as suddenly, her mouth would open and a river of blood would spray all over his face and down his body. The others in the room would look on in horror. That would be when the straightjackets would come.
She could not allow that to happen. After taking several deep breaths, she calmed herself again. There was no sense in getting worked up over something that hadn’t happened. She’d never thrown up in a rehearsal and there was no reason to start now. Besides, today was to be the first time she got to work with the ballet master. Now that was something to look forward to.
It had only been last year in San Francisco that she’d seen his face on the cover of a dance magazine. He reminded her of a Romanov- strong and elegant. And yet, there was something mischievous about his eyes that she liked. That was when she knew she needed to dance for him and who she was to dance for. She imagined dancing her favorites: Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Swan Lake. It was a wonderful dream.
She’d had to take some extra classes. She hadn’t danced in over a hundred years. Technique had changed drastically since she’d been in school. It had been another time and place. A period where she had almost been a star. The accident had changed that.
The carriage had come out of nowhere. Natasha had been rushing through the snow on her way to the theatre. It was to be her first soloist performance- the dew drop fairy in The Nutcracker. Her mind was on her steps and not on watching the street. A star is just a light in the sky.
She’d heard a crack, the frightened whinnies of the horses, and suddenly the side of the carriage slammed into her. She fell to the ground in a heap, her legs splayed out from underneath her in the ice. She didn’t even remember screaming but she must have. The unbroken wheel ran over her legs.
She felt her life slipping away in the snow along with her blood. And, then, he came.
#
Natasha shook herself out of her memories. The past meant nothing, and yet, she still couldn’t stop thinking about it- dwelling on it. Voices carried from the hallway. Quickly, she sank to the floor and began stretching her legs. With her body, she didn’t actually need to, but it was better to keep up appearances. All the human dancers stretched all the time. So, she had to as well. Better to not seem out of the ordinary. Her perfect technique already made her stand out enough.
He came through the door talking to another man Natasha guessed was the accompanist. They were both motioning wildly over a large book. His eyes were full of excitement. He didn’t even know that she was there. Natasha cleared her throat.
Both men looked up in unison like a couple of cats watching a laser pointer. Then, the ballet master stepped over to her. “Natasha, darling.”
It was good and right that he knew who she was. She leaned in for the expected air kisses. Once he was done, he took hold of her arms and leaned back.
“Let me take a look at you,” he said. He stared at her body for a moment, and then looked at the accompanist. “She will do, don’t you think?”
“It’s your call. Dancers look all alike to me.” He walked over and sat down at the piano. With his bald head and body like a slight spring, he had room to talk. Natasha laughed.
“Don’t mind him. He is grumpy without his coffee.” He let go of her hands and bowed. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Michael Langdon.”
Natasha nodded. “I know who you are.” She smiled smugly. “You are the reason I joined this company.”
He laughed. “Now, what is it that I did to deserve that honor?”
He seemed almost bashful when he spoke. How interesting that he was not used to flattery.
Natasha bowed her head. The way he carried himself brought her memories forward even more than they had been. He was making it hard for her to forget. “You remind me of someone.”
“Are we going to get started or what?” the accompanist finally asked.
Natasha fought not to roll her eyes. The man was really beginning to get on her nerves. If he continued, he would need to be replaced and she knew just how to make that happen.
“Sorry, George,” Michael said. He looked at Natasha. “Shall we?”
“We shall.”
#
The rehearsal was just how she imagined it would be. His artistry was amazing. He would have her take a few steps, then suddenly be inspired and go off in a completely different direction. He’d had her body doing things it didn’t know it could do. He worked her like a demon- which is actually what she was, but he didn’t need to know that. Not yet. The most important part was that he now knew she wasn’t afraid to work. That was the first step in becoming his muse. Like Balanchine and Suzanne Farrell. Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. If things happened the way she wanted, it would be Langdon and Markova.
Even she could not completely delude herself. Michael was not Mishka. He was not her lost love, not the man that saved her- gave her this new life. But one look at his face, and her mind immediately went to Mishka. Perhaps Michael was a descendant. Perhaps she was wishing so hard that she was imagining things. Perhaps none of it had happened at all.
She shook those thoughts from her mind. The past did not matter. If she wanted a chance at happiness, she needed to take what life gave her. Not wish for the things she could not have. She needed to concentrate on the things she could.
With no performance that night, she packed up her bag, arranged her pointe shoes for tomorrow, and left her dressing room. It didn’t take long for her to get through the maze of hallways. On her way out of the building, crossing across the large atrium, she heard a voice.
“Natasha!”
She stopped and turned around. Michael was running toward her. She tilted her head to the side just slightly. This was a new development.
He stopped and panted. The scarf he had wrapped around his neck as askew. His brown hair mussed. He was ever so charming. “I am glad I caught you.”
“What is it you need?” she asked. Natasha forced herself to seem aloof. Whether she liked him or not, it wouldn’t do to seem too friendly. It was too soon for that.
He rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. “I was wondering if you’d like to grab dinner with me.”
“Do you think that is appropriate?” She had to ask. It was better to make sure of his intentions than to assume something and risk her getting angry. Not to mention that dinner was… difficult for her. She would need to expend extra energy to hide the food that she could not eat. That would mean that she would have to find another to feed on tomorrow. She almost grinned, but she stopped herself just in time.
He smiled shyly and pretended to pick some lint off the sleeve of his coat. He looked back up at her. “It is only dinner.”
She bowed her head. “Well, if that is the case. Lead on.”
It was going to be interesting to see what it was that he was going to propose. It usually took longer than that for a master to out his muse.
#
He’d taken her to a Chinese restaurant. The rice and meat had a nice smell, and Natasha wished she could have eaten it, but she had to settle for using her powers to make the food disappear. It was too bad it had to go to waste, but there was nothing else she could do. After dinner was over, the snow started blowing. Outside of the restaurant the wind was whipping around, not unlike that night a long time ago. Natasha closed her eyes and let the small ice crystals beat against her face. It reminded her of St. Petersburg.
Suddenly, she felt the wind stop some. She opened her eyes. Michael stood next to her, his body blocking some of the wind.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked. His head was bent down just slightly.
She smiled at him. “Home of course. Class is early tomorrow.”
He leaned forward. “No, home is right here.”
A sliver of silver flashed over his eyes. He leaned forward. His hair brushed against her forehead. When his lips touched hers, she felt something she hadn’t in a long long time. Peace.

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Thanks for reading "Music Box Dancer" by Julia Long in the paranormal romance genre. To read the winners in the other genres, please click the links below:

Contemporary Fantasy "The Giant Project" by Kirstin Pulioff
http://maerwilson.com/golden-shorts-contemporary-fantasy-winner

Horror - "The Only Safe Place" by Joshuo Osto http://danielledevor.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/the-only-safe-…by-joshuo-osto/

Historical - "Him" by S.R. Mallery

http://www.christophfischerbooks.com/short-story-competition-golden-shorts-winner-historical-fiction/

Paranormal Romance - "Music Box Dancer" by Julia Long
http://www.tinamoss.com/2013/12/golden-shorts-winner.html

Romance - "The Personal Ad" by Ceci Giltenan
http://constancephillips.com/golden-short-romance-winner-the-personal-ad

Young Adult - "Turning Point" by Momoko Oi
http://www.lindseyrloucks.com/2013/12/golden-shorts

Mystery - MAMA CHIN’S LAST GREAT BEAR HUNT by Conda V. Douglas
http://lyndeewalker.com/2013/12/06/golden-shorts-mystery-winner/

Click here to vote for your favorite! ( http://maerwilson.com/golden-shorts-poll/)

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