Stephanie squinted under the brilliance of the spotlight. She shielded her eyes and tried to see out into the audience. It was hard to make out anything beyond vague shapes but the thunderous applause told her it was a full house in the theater. The noise fell off into a soft rumble, then quiet. Down in the orchestra pit the band started to play. The stage was all hers. It was time for her to dance.
The ruffles of her skirt billowed up around her in a pink cloud as she twirled on the points of her toes. With practiced poise she floated across the floor in time with the string quartet accompanying her. Every movement was perfectly choreographed, one smooth gesture flowing into the next. Her feet moved deftly and her arms swayed in elegant arcs.
She had trained endlessly for this moment. It filled her with elation and lifted her spirits so high that she could fly. She leapt up high and soared through the air, weightless for that exhilarating moment. Even her descent was graceful as she touched down gently back onto the polished stage.
Something had happened to the floor to make the surface sticky, and as she raised her feet up the soles of her shoes made a terrible noise like ripping Velcro. It tore through the sweet sounds of the orchestra like a record scratch. Stephanie stumbled to a halt in the middle of the stage and the band droned to a standstill, leaving her in silence.
The faceless masses coughed and murmured. Stephanie lifted her chin and struck a new pose, determined to keep going. But when she tried to spin into the next step of her dance the floor sucked at her shoes again. Every time she pulled her feet free it made that horrible noise, rip rip rip rip-rip-rip-rip— and the stage pulled up under her steps like hot tar, warped beyond recognition.
The audience stirred and rumbled, growing more disturbed. The spotlights glared down on Stephanie and made her sweat, pricking her skin so that it felt hot and tight. They seemed to shine brighter than before and she could barely see anything through all the spots.
Stephanie's heart pounded hard in her chest and her pulse hammered against her eardrums but it couldn't drown out the boos and hisses from the crowd. Her eyes stung with sweat and the threat of tears. Above her the spotlights kept getting brighter and brighter, shining so strongly it felt like she was burning under the force of that illumination and the discrimination of the spectators.
All the while the floor kept getting more sticky and tacky like she was trying to run across a carpet of flypaper, pulling up in distorted peaks. Finally with one last turn on her heels the ground grabbed hold of her shoes as quick and firm as rubber cement, holding so fast that she almost fell over herself. She swayed and wobbled and threw out her arms to keep her balance while the audience jeered and booed.
She heard one voice over all the rest, a distinctly deep and raspy heckling. It burned Stephanie as strongly as the spotlight.
"Looks like you still need to learn how to stick the landing."
The man stood high up on the catwalk, a stark shadow against the spotlight. His lanky silhouette contrasted sharply against the bright bulbs and Stephanie could barely stand to look at him but she couldn't see anything else. He leered down at her with a big toothy sneer.
"Too bad, Pink-Girl. It's curtains for you."
Something directly over Stephanie's head rattled. It clanked loudly and made the spotlights waver. The heavy curtain was crashing down, dropping fast and hard, cutting off the brightness and plunging Stephanie into a terrible roaring dark. She couldn't pull her feet free of the stage, couldn't move out of the way of the plummeting curtain. She shielded her face with her arms and let out a scream.
Stephanie screamed and thrashed herself out of her bed. She landed in a heap on the floor and her eyes popped open. Her bedroom glowed a bright pink with the morning sun filtering through her window. She struggled to sit up on the floor and found her blanket had wrapped itself around her feet, tightly binding them together. With a cry she clawed at the fabric to untangle it.
Mayor Meanswell flung open the door and rushed inside to see her. "Stephanie! I heard shouting, is everything okay?"
"Uncle Milford," Stephanie squinted up at her uncle. "I just had the most terrible nightmare!"
"Oh my," the portly man said. "Whatever was it about?"
"I was dancing," Stephanie recalled, "but then my feet… This man…" she jerked the blankets off of her feet at last and wiggled her toes. There was nothing sticking to them now. She shook her head. "It was just a dream. I'm okay now."
"Well, if you're sure," Milford said. "I'm making some toast, why don't you get dressed and come have breakfast?"
"Okay," Stephanie said, and her uncle backed out of the room to give her some privacy.
Stephanie took her time making her bed and changing her clothes. Memories of her dream distracted her even as they faded into the recesses of her mind. She'd been practicing too hard, that was all. Trixie always said that Stephanie didn't need to practice her dancing so much, and maybe she was right. As she slipped into her favorite pink dress she decided to take it easy that day.
Hair brushed, bracelets on, tights and leg warmers pulled up. Stephanie reached for her shoes last, right where she'd left them the night before at the side of her bed. But when she tried to pick them up they held fast to the floor.
Her brow furrowed. Stephanie pulled harder on the shoe until at last she tore it free of the carpeting.
She dropped it with a gasp. The bottom of her shoe was warped and melted. Staring downwards she saw the sticky tar outline from the sole of her shoe where it had fused with the floor.