When you're alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go... downtown.
Four dim fluorescent lights flickered over the mirror, cut horizontally through the middle by a ballet barre. A single CD player wedged in between a small locker and a portable fan blared "Downtown" by Petula Clark through the long room. All of the windows were open, letting the warm night air waft in.
When you've got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know... downtown.
Poised in the center of the room, toes pointed and slender hands held aloft, Ophelia Ford focused on the space in front of her. She took deep breaths as the music continued, wracking her brain for the first movements of the combination she had learned just hour before. Why could she not remember? They were so simple.
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?
"Five, six, seven, eight," Ophelia breathed, her memory suddenly snapping back to attention. In a series of fluid movements, she leaped and turned, gliding through axel turns, barrel leaps, and handsprings, one after another. But then her bare feet slapped onto something wet on the floor, and her legs flew out from under her. She cursed, landing hard.
"Again, again," she hissed, hardly noticing the sticky wetness on her feet, hands, and now all up and down her back and legs. She started into the routine again, her brows furrowed and the bun atop her head beginning to unravel. A few specks of the stickiness flew from the tips of her fingers and toes and splattered onto the mirror. The room seemed to get darker, as if the four lights over the mirror were beginning to give out. It was, after all, the middle of the night. Sirens screamed to life in the distance.
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
Ophelia cried out in wordless protest as she slipped in the puddle again. She pressed her stick hands over her face and screamed, the sound barely muffled. Taking another, deeper breath, she wiped her hands down the front of her tank top and hoisted herself back up.
"Axel, barrel, axel, handspring... lunge?" Ophelia smacked her palms against her forehead, trying desperately to jumble her brains into order. Her face was now almost entirely covered in the sticky residue, but she didn't notice. Ophelia nervously clenched and unclenched her fingers, smacking them against her head again, as if she could pound the memory into her brain.
"Come on, come on..." Ophelia hissed at her reflection, "Remember."
The sirens were suddenly very close and very loud, and blue and red lights flashed in the windows of the studio.
So go downtown
Things will be great when you're downtown
No finer place for sure, downtown
Everything's waiting for you
As Petula Clark's voice crescendoed and the chorus of the song echoed through the room, the door flew open and a stream of men burst through, clad in head-to-to black, with helmets, bulletproof vests, and militaristic black boots. Ophelia fell to the floor again, but this time from fright. The men swarmed her, brandishing long guns in her face and shining flashlights in her face.
"Get on the ground! On the ground!" the men roared, drowning out Petula Clark and blocking the lights from Ophelia's view.
Ophelia cowered on the floor, below the undulating sea of men, her hands held up before her face. Her legs curled underneath her, and her eyes clamped shut as tight as she could make them. She could hear shouting. She could feel the heat of their breath all around her. And she could smell iron.
Suddenly, Ophelia was extremely aware of herself. The stickiness on her hands, legs, face, and back, and that had dripped onto the floor and flung onto the walls and mirror. A few droplets had even found their way to the CD player, which now seemed rather far away.
Ophelia looked down at the shiny redness that covered her skin and clothes. Her breath hitched in her throat as the rusty, metallic smell hit her full-force for the first time. It had begun to dry around her cuticles and beneath her fingernails. Dark red footprints criss-crossed the floor, all convening in one, central puddle where she had stood just minutes earlier.
But before her eyes could register the twenty-odd guns that were pointed at her face, her head hit the wooden floor and she was unconscious.