They say there are ghosts at the ice rink.
The rumour has existed for years, longer than he can remember. He was told about them the day he first arrived, young and eager and utterly in love with the ice. ‘Every skater sees them’ he was warned, the group of older skaters that had come to greet him nodding along in agreement as their leader spoke. ‘It’s nothing to be worried about. You just have to know that they’re there.’
He hadn’t really believed them then, assuming it was some kind of joke pulled on the newly recruited skaters. It didn’t faze him, he knew that he could easily put up with a little bit of good-natured teasing from his new rink-mates. It was a small price to pay for being allowed to train at such a prestigious rink.
Legends had been made there, right at the heart of St Petersburg and on the ice of the rink he now stood on. So many skaters had trained in the halls where he now trained and gone on to make history. Viktor Nikiforov, the skater still holding the longest consecutive winning streak in figure skating history. Yuuri Katsuki, the first skater to ever land a clean quad axel in competition. Yuri Plisetsky, who’s world record was still yet to be broken. They and so many others, their legacies the reason he had chosen to move across the country and train at the rink where a lifetime ago, they had once been.
It was only a few weeks however, before he first met the ghosts.
It was a quiet night when it happened, long after hours when the whole building was almost deserted. Staying late at the rink had always been a habit of his, he enjoyed the quite peace when the rest of the skaters had left and he found that he could always concentrate better alone.
That night, he had the rink entirely to himself. For a few hours he simply skated, running through his routines and enjoying the peaceful solitude. The room was bathed in a strange half-light from the few bulbs still glowing and there was no sound around him apart from the scraping of his skates against the ice.
When he eventually grew tired he paused, skating over to the boards to rest and wiping the sweat from his brow. It was only then, when his own skates were motionless and the ice before him was bare and empty, that he heard the noise. The snick of a blade landing on the ice after a jump, the soft scraping of skates across a rink that was completely and utterly deserted.
His first startled instinct was too look down, wondering if his own blades were somehow making the noise without him even being aware of it. When his feet remained predictably motionless and silent beneath him and the sounds of two pairs of skates gliding across the ice continued, he looked wildly around the room, trying to find the source of the noise and yet still seeing nothing.
There was nothing to see. The ice was empty. And yet the sound persisted against all reason and logic, the scrap and slide of two pairs of skates moving across the ice echoing around the room as he listened and stared, confused and more than a little frightened.
The direction of the noises changed, gradually sliding closer and closer towards him and he bolted, stumbling to the exit of the rink and hobbling off the ice, reaching down to pull off his skates and sprinting for the door. His heart refused to stop racing even as he dashed out of the building altogether and it was only once he was safe at home and hidden under the covers of his bed that he could bring himself to breathe again.
That night, he dreamed of the sound of blades cutting through ice and the dark emptiness of a rink that was entirely deserted.
When he mentioned the incident to the other skaters the next day, they only laughed.
“I see you’ve finally met the ghosts,” one of them smiled, clapping him firmly on the shoulder in a friendly show of solidarity that did nothing to ease the apprehension that was still coiling in his gut.
The group around him must have noticed the expression on his face because another cut in, voice reassuring as she spoke.
“Don’t worry about them, nothing will happen to you when they’re around. They’re friendly ghosts. They bring all the skaters here luck.”
“That’s just a superstition,” another skater added with a roll of his eyes, although the corner of his mouth was twitching up in a small smile. “But really, there’s nothing to worry about. Strange things happen around here sometimes, especially after hours. Weird noises, music playing when it shouldn’t be, things like that. Some people even claim to have seen them. But nothing bad ever happens. You don’t have to be scared.”
It wasn’t the most reassuring thing that he had ever been told but it gave him a slight form of comfort all the same. He wasn’t a superstitious person and ghosts were a little hard to believe but he couldn’t dismiss what he had heard the night before.
Something had been there in the rink with him, something had been making those sounds. Maybe the rink really was haunted after all.
The second time he saw the ghosts was a few days later.
Again, he had chosen to stay in the rink after hours, wanting more time to practice away from the hustle and bustle of the working day. The residual fears from the previous incident might still not have truly faded but he refused to let a ghost or a superstition or whatever those noises had been stop him from practicing when he wanted to.
This time, he didn’t just hear the ghosts. He saw them.
The rink was mostly dark, the overhead lights turned off after the training day was over and the ice lit only by the dim safety lights on the walls and the shafts of clear moonlight falling through the arching windows. The ice was illuminated by stripes of the silvery glow, areas of dark and light evenly interspersed across its length.
The sound of skates was what first alerted him to their presence, a brief lull in his own practice allowing him to hear the faint noise that warned him that he was not alone out on the ice. As soon as he heard the sound he glanced around, although the rink seemed to be just as empty as it had been the time before.
Suddenly, a flash of silver caught his eye, a streak of moonlight that wasn’t moonlight, there and gone again before he could blink. A few seconds later it appeared again, a streak of silver whipping through the air, illuminated by the moonlight streaming in through the windows before vanishing into the shadows again.
The third time it appeared, the image was clearer, silver locks of hair spinning around as the noise of skates leaving the ice echoed around the room, hair that was framing a face that he could almost see. Before any of the features became visible however, the translucent figure’s skates hit the ice again and they disappeared into a section of darkness, fading from view as if they had never been there. He waited, breath held and heart racing, but even though the moonlight still shone clearly through the windows, they didn’t appear again.
For a few minutes he simply stood there, feeling the pounding of his heart in his chest and the pulsing of the blood through his veins. But the longer the silence stretched on, the more he realised that whatever had once been there, be it ghost or trick or figment of his own imagination, it was now gone.
Although the figure itself had vanished, the eerie feeling running through his vein that had accompanied it still lingered and he quickly decided to call it a night, skating quickly over to the exit of the rink and putting on his skate guards as fast as he could.
It was only when he was at the very edge of the room and almost through the door that something compelled him to look again, some kind of innate curiosity that even the unease making his heart pound and his palms sweat couldn’t fully extinguish. Stopping at the doorway he glanced back over his shoulder, eyes flickering over the empty ice and noting that it was completely devoid of the ghostly figure he had previously seen.
Curiosity sated, he turned away again, only to be stopped by the flash of something else out of the corner of his eye.
There was a man standing by the rink, back turned to him and leaning on the boards, as if speaking to someone out on the ice. Black hair shining in the moonlight and the blades of his skates glinting softly as he shifted. As translucent as the other figure had been, there and yet not at the same time, almost fading into the moonlight surrounding him.
He couldn’t help the gasp that tumbled from his lips as the sight, staring at the man that he knew for sure hadn’t been present mere seconds before. Turning around, he took half a step forward, wanting to get closer, maybe even to try and touch the figure, although he wasn’t quite sure why. Before he could do more than blink however, the man had vanished, gone in the fraction of a second when he had closed his eye.
He stood there for a few more moments, staring out at the rink where the two ghostly figures had been. Barely able to believe what he had seen but being unable to deny it all the same.
There were ghosts at the rink. They were real.
After seeing them for himself, accepting the existence of the rink ghosts wasn’t as difficult as he had first imagined. The other skaters mentioned them briefly from time to time, it seemed that everyone who trained there ran into something strange happening at the rink at some time or another. Figures seen out of the corners of eyes, there and gone again in an instant. Strange noises out on the ice, two ghostly sets of skates cutting through the surface but leaving no trace. Music ringing out and the sound of two voices raised in laughter echoing down the empty halls.
The next time he encountered the ghosts was a few nights before his first competition of the season, when his nerves were at an all-time high and he had stayed behind well after the other skaters had gone home to practice his routines over and over again. His ranking was acceptable but it wasn’t anywhere near what he dreamed it one-day would be and though he had stood on the podium before, he had never done so with a gold medal around his neck. Wherever he placed in the next competition would prove to himself whether he actually deserved to train under Russia’s best in the rink where their legends had been born, or whether his dreams to make history might remain forever as a fantasy.
That night, the longer he skated the more nervous he became, running through the same moves over and over again as his mind raced. All he could think about was the challenge ahead and he had almost forgotten about the existence of the ghosts completely when the faintest of sounds met his ears, stopping him in his tracks.
It was music, the faintest echoes of strings drifting around the room, a Latin sounding melody that rose and fell as he breathed. For a second he wondered if there was someone else in the rink, someone playing their own program music in the distance that was drifting through the deserted halls to his ears. But the sound didn’t seem to be coming from far away, faint as it was. Instead, it seemed to surround him, drifting from every part of the room at once and yet coming from nowhere.
The music was upbeat, lively, and yet he felt something in him calm at the sound, the nerves fading from his body in a rush as it hit its crescendo. There was something strangely familiar about the piece, something comforting that seeped into his bones as it played and lingered long after the sound had ended, fading into the silence as if it had never been there at all.
Less than a week later, he stood at the top of the podium after the competition had ended, a gold medal draped around his neck and the memory of the strange ghostly music still lingering in his mind. Some of the skaters believed the rink ghosts brought them luck, were the reason for so many skaters finding success after training in the rink where they existed. Even while standing at the top of the podium for the first time in his life, he wasn’t quite sure if he believed that. But he felt like maybe he should thank they mysterious ghosts all the same.
As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, he stopped really thinking about the ghosts at all. Something that had once seemed so strange and disturbing to him was now just a normal part of life. There were ghosts at the rink. They didn’t do anything or hurt anyone, they just were. Sometimes they could be a kind of strange comfort, on late nights at the rink when he was practicing alone and the faint sound of two more pairs of skates dancing across the ice met his ears and he suddenly wasn’t alone anymore.
One night, he had stayed again to practice late, as had become almost a habit now. The rest of his rink-mates were familiar with his preferences for staying after the official training day was over and they all waved him tired goodbyes as they exited the rink, until he was the last one left. Briefly, he retreated into the locker room for a short break before making his way back out into the deserted ice rink, ready for some peaceful practice now that the day was done and the rink officially closed.
The first thing that he noticed when he stepped into the room was that he wasn’t alone. There was a man sitting in the front row of the stands that surrounded the rink, hunched over and staring out at the ice. Not a strange half-figure, ready to disappear at any moment but real and solid and very definitely breathing. It wasn’t unusual for non-skaters to be hanging around the sides of the rink during a training day but seeing one so late when even the skaters themselves had left for the night was a surprise to say the least.
The man was old, back hunched and hair sheer white, ancient hands gnarled as they tapped out an impatient rhythm on his thigh. His face was deeply lined, betraying the many years that it had seen and there was a sharp glint in his eye, bright despite the clear signs of age worn into his face. The old man looked vaguely familiar but not in any way that he could place his finger on, just the slight tug of a distant memory.
“Shouldn’t you be at home by now,” were the first words out of the man’s mouth, voice laced with irritation. “It’s late. I thought everyone would be gone.”
Startling a little, he looked around, wondering who the stranger was talking to. When it was clear that there was no-one else in the room he took a step closer, balancing on the blades of his skates and trying not to feel too intimidated by the steely glare that was now fixed directly on him.
“I’m here to skate,” he stammered awkwardly, still not sure why the old man was there in the first place. It was after rink hours and none of the public should have been allowed to remain, let alone a stranger sitting at the rink-side and staring intently out at the ice. “I have permission,” he added, feeling a little defensive.
“Well go on then, I’m not stopping you,” the stranger replied with a roll of his eyes, jerking one hand towards the empty expanse of the rink.
Feeling incredibly awkward under the stare he could feel directed at him but not sure what to say, he pulled off his skate guards and stepped out onto the rink, wanting to ask the man to leave but not quite able to work up the courage. Instead he skated, trying to pretend the stranger didn’t exist but being very aware of the eyes fixed on him all the same. The man’s gaze never wavered from him as he went through some simple steps, gradually working his way up to the more advanced moves before running through his routines for real.
As he practiced, he couldn’t help but speculate on just what the stranger was doing in the rink at such a late hour. If he hadn’t been thrown out when the rink was closed to the general public then the old man clearly had the right to be there but it was a mystery as to why.
Eventually, his routines came to a close and he was forced to stop, skating over to the boards to grab his water bottle and take a few long swigs. As he did so he glanced to the side, noting how the stranger’s piercing blue-green eyes were still fixed on him and the rink behind him.
“You’re good,” the man said unexpectedly, voice gruff but sounding sincere. “Your free leg is sloppy and your step sequence needs work but you’re good. I can see why they chose to accept you here.”
“Uh…thank you?” he replied, a little unsure of whether to take the compliment or be offended by the unsolicited critique of a stranger. “But…um…if you don’t mind me asking? Who are you? And why are you here?”
The man barked out a laugh, eyes glinting with mirth.
“Nosey, aren’t you?” he asked, raising one thin white eyebrow. “Can’t an old man sit in an ice rink in peace without having to explain himself?”
He opened his mouth to apologise, feeling even more awkward than he had before and ready to slink off away from the mysterious stranger and any more thoughts of practicing late when the old man spoke again, cutting him off.
“But in answer to your question, I used to train here,” the man explained. “A very long time ago.”
“You used to skate?” he blurted out before he could stop himself, then snapped his mouth shut at the amused expression the man shot him in return, as if the question hardly needed answering. There was something familiar about the gaze, something in the sharp blue-green eyes that tugged on the corner of his memory before the realisation finally hit him like a freight train. “Wait a minute, are you Yuri Plisetsky?”
He had seen the man’s face on posters at the rink and in recordings before, although much younger than it was now. Still lined with age, a seasoned coach that had shouted many young aspiring skaters to fame before eventually retiring and passing the mantle on. And before that, grainy old videos recorded with ancient technology of a blond man gliding across and ice rink, historical videos still shown at the rink despite their age. Yuri Plisetsky’s face might have grown far more lined in the years since but his eyes were still the same, sharp and blue-green and piercing.
“Observant, aren’t you?” Yuri shot back sarcastically, although there was a slight smile of mirth twitching at the corners of his mouth as he spoke.
“You were amazing,” he breathed without thinking, gazing up at the man before in in awe before blushing furiously. Yuri Plisetsky was a skating legend but he had never expected to meet him here, in the dark of a deserted skating rink with no warning or explanation. No matter how much he admired the old skater’s impact on skating history, making a fool of himself was definitely not the way he would have imagined their meeting to go.
“Damn right I was,” Yuri agreed, looking proudly smug as he spoke.
For a few seconds, he could do nothing but stand in shock, a mixture of awe and embarrassment coiling within him. But eventually, the question that had been burning in his mind since he had first spotted the old man in the stands became too much and he couldn’t help but ask again.
“But why are you here?”
“This rink holds a lot of memories for me,” Yuri replied cryptically, although his voice had taken on a far more serious tone. Blue-green eyes flickered over the rink, something deeper and far more personal hidden in their depths as Yuri gazed out at the ice again.
He waited, but when it became clear that Yuri wasn’t planning on elaborating any further than that he turned away, feeling suddenly as if he had intruded on something private. The look in Yuri’s eyes as he spoke had sparked his curiosity but Yuri’s face was guarded and it was clear that the short conversation was over.
Instead of pushing further, he retreated back to skating, trying not to be thrown off by the living legend from a time long past watching him as he did so. Meeting an ex-skater as famous as Yuri Plisetsky was the dream of any young skater but he didn’t know quite what to make of the brief meeting, or why the old skater was even there at all. Yuri didn’t speak again or offer any more explanation, only stared out at the ice, eyes alert and focused, almost as if he were waiting for something.
Eventually the sky began to darken, blue fading into black and he began to tire, the exhaustion of a long day of training finally catching up to him. A quick glance over his shoulder showed him that Yuri was still there, seemingly unfazed by the late hour or the amount of time he had been sitting motionless in the stands. The old man still seemed to be lost in thought so he left the rink quietly, slipping on his skate guards and making his way back to the changing rooms without another word.
He was packed up and almost ready to leave when he heard it, the faintest echo of music trickling into his ears, distant and soft yet audible all the same. The same phantom echoes he had grown used to during his time at the rink, music that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once.
Remembering how terrified he had been when he had first encountered the mysterious goings-on at the rink he rushed back through to the main arena, intent on warning the old man who had still been sitting there when he had left that there was nothing to fear.
What he saw when he burst back through the doors stopped him short however.
Yuri Plisetsky was still sitting in the stands, motionless and seemingly undisturbed by the music that was now soaring all around him. A duet, two voices melding into one as the notes echoed in the empty room. The old man’s face didn’t seem to be showing any sign of shock or concern at the sudden appearance of the music but nor did he seem to be the source of it. Instead, there was a small smile on Yuri’s face as he gazed out onto the ice, eyes fixed on a point somewhere in the centre of the rink.
For a second, the ice seemed to be deserted. Then, the faintest sound of two sets of blades joined the music still dancing through the air, the scrape and slide of two sets of feet moving together. A flash of blue appeared in the centre of the rink, there and gone again in an instant, a blur of colour twirling as the notes soared. A few seconds later, a flash of pink appeared, traces of gold glittering within the colour as the fuzzy image spun and faded before his eyes could fully focus on what it was.
The music continued to play and Yuri Plisetsky continued to watch, eyes never once leaving the ice. He watched too, trying to focus on the images at the centre of the rink, flashing in and out of existence as the music continued to surround them. Blue and pink twirling around each other, two figures who were not quite whole and not quite real fading in and out of view as they moved together. Dark hair and silver flashing under the rink lights as the sound of their skates melded with the notes of the song.
It was by far his first time seeing the ghosts but he couldn’t help feeling a strange kind of awe as he watched, eyes not quite able to focus on them, the details of their faces obscured from view, but their outlines clear all the same.
The sound of the door swinging shut behind him echoed loudly in the room and Yuri’s eyes snapped to him, breaking from their trance staring at the ice. The music continued but softer now and he approached the older man curiously, eyes still flickering occasionally to the images out at the centre of the ice.
“Did you know about the ghosts?” he asked Yuri in a hushed whisper, still surprised by the man’s lack of shock at the scene that was going on around him. The ghosts were common knowledge at the rink but it was generally considered bad luck by the skaters to mention them to any outsiders, even one as famous as Yuri Plisetsky.
“Know about them?” Yuri’s voice was sharp as he barked out a laugh but there was a softness to it too, heavily concealed but there all the same. “I knew them.”
“Who were they?” he breathed, feeling excitement bubble in his chest at the new discovery. The ghosts might be an accepted part of rink life but they were still a mystery, more a folk tale than a proven fact. People heard them, occasionally they caught glimpses, although never clear enough to make out more than a blur, but no-one knew exactly what they were, or who. And yet here was Yuri Plisetsky, claiming to have known the mysterious ghosts in life.
“Two people who loved skating and loved each other very much,” Yuri replied cryptically, an answer that brought up far more questions than it resolved.
For a few seconds the old man was silent again, eyes flickering back to the rink where the flashes of the ghostly figures still danced, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were being observed. Then, Yuri spoke again, eyes never leaving the figures out on the ice.
“What you see there, they’re not ghosts,” Yuri murmured, eyes still soft as he spoke. “Wherever those two are now, it isn’t here. They’re gone, they moved on together.”
“So what are they then?” he asked confused, nodding towards the centre of the ice and the ghostly figures still visible there.
“Impressions,” Yuri replied as the figures shimmered in and out of view, the music ebbing and flowing as they did so. The moonlight now streaming through the window seemed to shine through them, almost ethereal. “Memories.”
At his confused expression, Yuri elaborated, eyes flickering towards him and then back to the translucent skaters again.
“I’ve never seen two people love each other and love the ice as much as they did,” Yuri continued, voice soft. “When you love something and someone that much, it never really fades. Something of it always lingers, in the places that you loved the most.”
The music around them soared, reaching its last crescendo before gradually beginning to fade, the ghostly figures fading with it, still entwined with each other.
“A love like that, a love like what they had together, it never leaves completely.” Yuri spoke again, eyes still staring out onto the ice, lost in memory. “There are always echoes.”
The last few notes of the aria rang out, both voices soaring as they sang their last together, lingering over an empty ice rink and filled with nothing but love.