One by one, the other dancers left the studio. Mia knew what they were thinking. Another lackluster practice. She shared their sentiment but, as the ballet troupe’s leader, had only herself to blame. For three months, something had been missing, but she couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
Last week, her therapist had given her the key. “You just need to find your muse.”
Terpsichore. Muse of dance. Mia had combed through her music collection and the internet, looking for a hint of the Muse. And now, as she placed orange candles around the empty studio, their flames duplicated by the array of mirrors lining the walls, she began what was purported to be a centuries-old ritual for summoning Terpsichore.
She had selected unconventional music. Some Finnish operatic metal band her ex had loved. But the song was “Terpischore,” and the rhythm worked. She’d considered translating the lyrics but decided it didn’t matter. She wasn’t a singer, so the music would be her voice for the summoning.
Candles lit, she located the song on her iPod and hit Play. As the music began, she danced–nothing spectacular, but perfect in form. Her movements became more graceful, the song suffusing her limbs with inspiration. But none of the troupe would dance to a piece with Cookie Monster vocals accompanying the operatic female singer.
When the instrumental section began, Mia spoke as she danced. “Terpsichore, come. I beseech you to grant me a fraction of your inspiration. I offer myself to you. Fill me with your light.”
The words flowed from Mia’s tongue in a way they had not when she had practiced them. But nothing felt different as the song neared its end, and her movements became leaden. Mia shook her head as she struck her final pose, her back to the mirrors. She glanced over her shoulder and jumped when she saw another woman standing to her right, watching her.
Mia whipped her head back around. No one else stood in the studio. She looked at the mirror again. The other woman was pale, with tangled white-blonde hair hanging past her waist, wearing a simple, modest white dress that reminded Mia of old photos of Swan Lake performances from more than one hundred years ago. The lowest inches of the dress were mottled with black and green.
“What the …?” Mia asked, backing away from the woman in the mirror.
“You wished to summon Terpsichore, did you not?” The woman’s voice had an unusual burbling quality.
“You’re her?” Mia gasped.
“It is one of many names I have been called.”
Mia frowned. “That’s not entirely a yes.”
“It’s not a no, either,” Terpsichore said. “You want inspiration for your dancing. I can provide that.”
A gnawing in Mia’s gut damped down her excitement. “What’s the catch?”
“Catch?” Terpsichore asked.
“I’ve seen enough movies to know when mysterious women offer you things, it’s never what it seems. There’s always something they’re not telling you.”
“Ah. Well, you will have to come to me for a time. But time passes differently here. You will not be missed.”
Mia’s throat grew tight at Terpsichore’s words. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes. The Muse was right. No family, no girlfriend, and few close friends. It still sounded too good to be true, but Mia wasn’t sure that mattered. If she were gone for a month, only the troupe would notice, but they wouldn’t care. And if she came back with the inspiration she sought, all the better.
“What must I do?” Mia’s voice was flat now.
“Douse the candles, but bring the last near to the mirror and place your hand on mine as you blow it out.”
Mia moved through the studio space, doing as she had been instructed. She considered leaving a note, but didn’t know what to say. Grabbing her iPod and tucking it into her waistband, she carried the last candle to the wall of mirrors and held her hand up to the mirror. Terpsichore matched her movements. The scent of brackish water overpowered the melting wax as she blew out the last candle.
Frigid water chilled Mia’s legs all the way to her knees, soaking the hem of her skirt. She hadn’t been wearing a long skirt. But the white dress with the mottled hem clung to her knees in the green water.
Mia looked around until she spotted white-blond hair, illuminated by the light of a dozen candles. The same candles Mia had blown out. Terpsichore’s hair shortened and turned the dull brown of Mia’s own hair, and her features shifted to mirror Mia’s. The Muse made flesh smoothed her short skirt and brushed across Mia’s iPod tucked into the waistband. She pulled it out and turned it over in her hands a few times before she dropped it and slammed her bare heel into the glass and metal. Each stomp distanced Mia from the warmth of the studio, even as shards of pain crept into her heart.
When Terpsichore spoke, it was with Mia’s voice. “You’ll be famous, Mia. That’s what you always wanted, isn’t it?”
Mia wanted to scream, to beg Terpsichore to get her out of the cold water, but a faint, wordless keening was all that escaped her mouth. Bubbles formed in her throat, turning the keening into Terpsichore’s strange burbling voice.
Terpsichore shrugged. “I’ll let you watch it all, Mia darling. You’ll always be with me.” Terpsichore raised her hand and snapped. The candles all went out, leaving Mia in cold, wet darkness on the wrong side of the mirror.
Dawn Vogel has been published as a short fiction author and a fiction and non-fiction editor. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business, helps edit Mad Scientist Journal, and tries to find time to write. She lives in Seattle with her husband and their herd of cats.