The bright lights blinded me as they always had. Twinkling, they filled my vision and refused to allow me a reprieve. It wasn’t overwhelming though, as it once had been. My veins pulsed with the heightened beat of my heart and the ecstatic feeling of nerves and adrenaline running laps around my body. My heart could give the speed of Olympic sprinters a run for their money.
The applause broke the silence as the spotlight tracked me like a spy, forcing my audience to peer thousands of pairs of eyes down my way. No pressure, I thought wryly. I performed a small bow as I prepared for my favourite part of every show, right before the curtain drops and the stage lights die away, leaving the stage dropping in temperature by ten or so degrees. This was the finale, and I prepared for my final illusion with carefully prepared precision, memorised by my mind and muscles ever since I was six years old.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I addressed my audience, the room falling to silence around the grandeur of my tone. “It greatly saddens me that this comes to the conclusion of my illusionary show; however, I have one last surprise in store for you.” My tone was mysterious, fresh and full of wonder. No one would be able to tell with ease that I’d said these words repeatedly for the majority of my short life. Twelve years to be exact.
Sweating slightly, I moved with grace to my small table of props and pulled out a bag of gold glitter, emptying its contents over my sweaty palm. I lowered my hand to the audience, and with a quick exhale, sent gold glitter flying about the room. The closest audience members raised their arms to save their faces from the glitter, but the gold came to life in ways that even I have no understanding of.
Moments later, the room was full of the flying glitter, twisting into shapes of animals and waves, materialising into flowers and musical notations. Small gold fairies landed on the pink-sleeved arms of young girls and transformed into golden dragons that swallowed young boys before disappearing entirely, leaving a fine mist around the awestruck children. Finally, it rose up above the audience and presented it in the form of a storm cloud before a drum sounded, imitating thunder before the gold exploded and fine mist twinkled into nothingness.
Instantly, my audience erupted in applause and the curtains gently fell over the stage, blocking the stage lights from view and a cool chill fell over the stage. A moment later, I was whisked off-stage by my backstage crew and left to myself in my change room, peeling off the golden dress I wore for trackies and a warm, black sweatshirt. I scrubbed off my make-up, the mascara a pain as it left large grey smudges below my eyes.
“Knock, knock!” The door opened and Adeline poked her head inside, smiling with beaming pride as she stepped in and shut the door. “Congratulations. I hear that you’re becoming even more popular in New York than your father and I ever was.” She smiled again, but this time it was pained and her arms were crossed uncomfortably. I permitted a small smile, as sad as ever for his passing. It saddened me even further that I looked so much like him, the same blue eyes and wavy fair hair, causing my mother further grief every time we met.
I hugged my mother tightly, feeling awkward due to her shorter, thinner frame. Her short, brunette hair tickled my cheek as we pulled away.
“Here,” I said, grabbing a large bouquet of white calla lilies from my dressing table. “I want you to have these. I know how much you love them.” Adeline smiled at me, reminding me more of the circus woman I used to know, rather than this widowed resemblance of who she used to be. Of course, it wasn’t easy at all for her. Newly widowed these past sixteen months and unable to return to the circus, my mother lived in a small apartment that I’d paid for. The calla lilies would suit the place very well, helping to lighten it at least slightly.
My mother looked down at the flowers in the crook of her arm and smiled faintly. “Thank you Katherine. I love them. They remind me of the first time your father brought me flowers.” She smiled at me, haunted by the memory of my father. I couldn’t do anything for her without it relating back to their memories together. Still, I smiled in return.
“I should be going,” I told her, my expression apologetic. “I’m sorry.” I shucked on a thick coat and my warm boots. She nodded at me.
“I need to get going too,” she replied. She grinned. “My girls and I are going out tonight. I hear that the Glass Witch is serving a rare cocktail tonight only.” I forced myself to continue smiling, even though inside I was bristling against the idea of her drinking alcohol. She had no limits and led herself to believe that my father was still alive. Then the following morning it would crush her with the feeling of loss all over again, cutting her wounds open.
I followed my mother out of the theatre and walked her back to her apartment, a small building neatly kept conveniently across the street from New York’s famous Central Park. It wasn’t as elaborate as the penthouse apartment that I lived in, but it was certainly popularly sought after. As she stepped inside, she turned to face me on the path and smiled.
“Derek would be so proud of you,” she told me, her tone wistful. “You’re a true MacLaine, Katherine, and you do your family proud.” Her gaze was trained on me, serious and more certain than I’d seen her since my father’s passing. I smiled slightly and nodded, waving my goodbye as she shut the door. Alone, I shut my eyes and breathed in deep, the cool air of autumn filtering deep into my lungs.
The night was welcoming, but despite the vehicles passing to and fro, I could feel the eerie presence of someone watching me. I quickened my pace and tried hailing a cab, but no one bothered to stop. I glanced over my shoulder multiple times, hunching my shoulders and tucking my hair into my coat to make me appear more intimidating than I felt.
I rounded the block, noting that I had many more before I was back in the safety of my penthouse and quickened my pace to an almost-jog. My boots clattered against the pavement and I noticed a lack of vehicles and pedestrians, the world tilting slightly out of the intense fear pulsing through me. I peered over my shoulder once more, noticing a dark van as it pulled close to the curb and the side slid open. Inside, four men dressed in sweaters and jeans leered at me, the fifth unable to be seen through the dark tint of the windows as he drove.
“What do we have here?” the closest to the door said, eyeing me off with shrewd brown eyes. His face was unshaven and sweaty, as though he hadn’t had a shower in weeks. A thin scar marred his cheek and his hair was thinning across his scalp, reminding me of Barney from The Simpsons. He snatched my wrist and pulled me towards the van, the other men laughing as I fought to get away.
“Pretty one, isn’t she?” a younger, thinner man beside him noted.
“Yes,” he replied, his alcohol and cigarette-filled breath wafting unpleasantly over me. “I suppose you’ll want this one, aye Trev.” The thinner man winked at me unpleasantly, grinning with blackened teeth.
“Yeah,” he grunted. “I’ll have some fun before we put her six feet under.” My eyes widened with shock and I screamed, yanking against the older man’s hold like a rabid animal. I screamed, but no one came to my rescue. My shoes skidded and the man named Trev skirted the older man to grab me by my waist, yanking me into the vehicle. The older man released my wrist for a moment, preparing to shut the door and –
The door jolted open, revealing a beautiful blonde woman where I’d once stood. She batted her long, fake lashes at the men and their grip on me loosened, my vision doubling as I clambered out of the van. As I ran, I heard their conversation as clearly as though I’d remained there.
“What’s a pretty lady like you doing all alone on a street like this?” I heard Trev say, infatuated by the woman. She sighed, her shoes clattering as she climbed inside the van.
“I’ve been looking for someone,” she replied, her voice sickeningly sweet. I heard the door shut and the van veered away from the curb. “I think I’ve found who I’ve been looking for.” There was a pause, and I instinctively knew that she was touching his face with long, manicured fingers. Anger coursed through me instantly, and a moment later I heard the sound of someone choking. Just as instinctively, I knew that she was choking him, and a jerk of her wrist later, he was dead.
A chorus of cries erupted in the van as hysteria broke out and the van skidded to a halt before me, cutting off my path. The van slid open and the older man jumped out, attempting to flee the woman. He didn’t succeed though. I watched as the woman finished off the men in the van before chasing down the remaining man, her speed inhuman and lithe. Her body soared through the air in a leap and she pinned the man to the ground, her shimmering red dress untouched by the blood that bubbled from the stub that once held his head to his body.
I stood in the street, unmoving as the woman stood over the man’s body and peered at me with vengeful red eyes. She straightened, smoothing her gown and retrieved a small silver blade from her garter. I shook with fear but she smiled welcomingly and handed the blade to me, the hilt decorated with beautiful amethyst detailing.
“Take care of this,” she told me, folding my fingers gently around the hilt. “This will keep you safe, no matter whom your enemy is. It appears to be inadequate protection, but do not be fooled by its appearance. It is a part of you, so don’t allow it to be destroyed. Protect it with your life and it shall protect you.” She smiled, her hands falling away from mine and her body began to shimmer. A moment passed and I watched in disbelief as she vanished before my eyes.
Shaking, I shoved the blade into my pocket and ran past the idling van, leaving the dead men. I could barely breathe, my lungs wheezing as I ran. Even when I returned to the safety of my penthouse, I felt my skin crawl with the touch of those men, and chills rattled my spine. With all the curtains drawn, I locked myself into the massive expanse of my bathroom and clambered out of my clothes, leaving them in the darkness of my wash basket.
With the hot water cranked to its maximum without scalding me, I crawled into the stream and curled into a ball on the shower floor. My spine pressed against the wall, its coolness freezing in contrast to the heat. I shook even there, my arms pressed around my legs as I kept them against my chest. I rocked back and forth, like a baby being consoled by its mother before being put to rest.
What had happened tonight? Who was that woman? Why could I hear her, even when it wasn’t possible? I balanced the blade in my hand, watching as it twinkled against my pale fingers. Water droplets caught on it, causing the blade to appear even more beautiful. It was entrancing, leaving my body no longer shaking, but nothing could take away the shock I felt or the fact that I had increasing questions with no answers.
I rested my head against the wall, looking through the glass at the wash basket.
Who was she?