Published: November 6th, 2014
Ashley Williams is a high school student who studies creative writing at Harrison School of the Arts in Florida. She's had several poems published in various anthologies, and has won "Best Teen Poet of 2012".
I had always dreamed of being a prima ballerina. When I was younger I imagined myself dancing the lead, Clara, in The Nutcracker Ballet. I practiced day and night, sometimes even until my toes bled. It’s sort of funny how quickly dreams can become nightmares. One day can change everything; beat you until you're black and blue and can't move, don't want to move.
It was a really nice night, a cool night, the night it happened in southern Florida. I was performing a self-choreographed dance to Yiruma's River Flows In You. As far as my opinion carried, it was the best piece I'd ever put together, and to say I was proud of myself was an understatement. My sister was a softball player who just so happened to have her kick off game the same night as my recital, but I sucked it up. My parents had seen me perform at least one hundred and fifty times, and besides, I was a big girl.
I was standing in the lobby accepting compliments and saying thank you's when he approached. He was a tall man with neatly combed, gray hair parted to the left with silver stubble on his chin to match. The suit he had on was like one you saw celebrities wear; tan and expensive. He wore a smile like a proud father, and his demeanor was one that was oozing confidence.
"Never in my life have I seen such a graceful body take that stage," he said, voice a little too loud than necessary.
"Thank you! I can't even begin to explain how much that means to me, sir." It was my generic line, the one that made people feel momentarily special, like they'd said something that would change my entire life.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but did they say you choreographed that yourself?"
"I did, actually. I'm kind of a 'my way or the highway' kind of girl, so I've been choreographing my own pieces for a few years now," I replied with a cocky smile. It was always nice when people took notice of my hard work.
"I could use that kind of talent in my company." This particular line caught me completely off guard. I knew talent scouts and the likes of them frequented these shows, but I never thought one would ever approach me.
"Really. How old are you?"
"Nineteen," I lied. Not many places took in sixteen year olds with open arms.
"Great." He smiled again. "If you’d like to hear more about my company and talk details, I have fliers and business cards and all of that in my car."
Don't tell me; I already know. It was a stupid decision, a thoughtless decision. Don't talk to strangers, and certainly don't walk to their cars in the middle of the night. The only problem is that I was young, and impulsive, and this was the first step to making my dream a reality. Besides, he wasn't like those freaks you hear about on television who kidnap little girls. He could afford a really nice suit, his teeth were professionally whitened, he wasn't an unattractive guy, and he was really nice. I had absolutely no reason to believe he had malicious intentions; that is until I woke up in a basement with his soulless black eyes the only thing to bear witness.
"Good morning, Clara. Did you have a nice sleep?" His voice was like poison that'd been coated in sugar.
"That's not my name," I choked out, voice no louder than a whisper.
"I'm aware of that, but it is the name of the main character in The Nutcracker, and isn't that who you aspire to be?" What could I say? He wasn't wrong. It was all I ever talked about, all I ever thought about.
"I don't fit her mold." That was true enough. Clara was pretty, and delicate, and not to mention twelve. I was tall, and busty, and in no way, shape, or form a child.
"That’s obvious, but don't worry. We're going to fix that." Fix it? How do you fix the unfixable? The no-need-to-be-fixed-able?
I didn't have to wonder for very long, because soon enough there were tight fists in my hair, pulling me to my feet. He had one large hand holding my both of my tiny ones together. The other was tracing the outline of my face, sliding slowly to my shoulder. He grabbed the cotton of my leotard and pulled...hard. My main shelter fell, and I was exposed, and he pushed me back down. The pretty pink nylon tights weren't too difficult to tear apart. I feared what came next, knowing what was bound to happen....only it didn't. His hands were off of me and he disappeared, if only for a moment.
Upon his rearrival, he carried this gorgeous little dress. One that a child might wear to a Christmas party she'd been dragged to.
"This is for you," he said, voice soft. He held out the gown for me, patiently waiting for me to take it.
"Thank you," I said, clutching it in an attempt to hide myself from him.
"Put it on," he demanded, and I obliged. As I did so, a wicked smile took form on his lips. "Now stand." Once again, I listened. Then he left. And still I stood. And I stood. And I remained standing until he came back many hours later.
"Good girl. Sorry I was gone for so long, Clara. I had adult things to do, but your hard work wasn't for naught, my dear. There's method to my madness. You're building lower body strength, something that's essential to a good dancer's work out." What a load of crap. Leg exercises help build lower body strength. Standing just hurts, and it hurts a lot.
"Now dance," he said, taking a seat on the stairs. I would have danced, only I didn't feel like dancing. What I felt like doing was crying, and falling, and even dying. He gave me a few seconds before repeating himself, "Dance for me, Clara." I couldn't move. I didn't want to move.
My disobedience was not well accepted. Whether I liked it or not, I was going to dance for this monster. He stood up and headed upstairs, and for a second I honestly believed it was over. How naive. It's never over.
He returned with a bag of coals, and dumped them, all of them, on the floor in front of me. Then he pulled out a lighter and the black rocks turned red. There was no doubt in my mind that I was in literal Hell.
"I told you to dance, damn it!" He then pushed me onto these flaming coals of death and took hold of my arms, forcing me in place. I hopped, and I cried, and I danced for this devil. He laughed as my feet cooked from the outside in. I begged and I pleaded with him to stop, and only after at least five minutes did he listen.
"Oh no," he said, pouting as he threw me on the bed. "These aren't the feet of a dancer." My hands were above me, handcuffed to the headboard. He had grabbed my charred feet and examined them closely, like a doctor would do to his patient. With a face contorted in a look of disgust, he pushed my legs out of his lap and made his way to a tool box in the corner of the room. When he came back, I knew, I prayed, that this was going to be the end.
"I suppose these are useless now," he said, gently running a saw blade against my ankle. "And besides, Clara was much shorter than you are."