For a moment she stood listening, listening for the Voice, but there was only a wintry silence.
“My feet are so cold!” she thought.
“And beautiful dresses,” she heard the stranger saying, “and jeweled gowns. You will be the loveliest dancer of them all!”
She made a slight movement forward. From deep inside her a still, small voice seemed to say, “Stop!”
“My mind again,” she told herself.
The stranger’s smile continued unfading. She hesitated. Then she took a step toward him. Then another and another. With each step the still, small voice inside grew fainter and her movements became easier. At last she reached out and took the shoes from his hand.
“Beautiful!” he whispered as he bound the laces up over her calves and tied them just below her knees.
“Now dance!” he shouted with a laugh – a triumphant laugh that sounded in her ears with the ring of cold steel.
She tried to ignore the feelings his laugh brought up from within her. She looked again at her feet.
“They are lovely shoes,” she thought. “The loveliest I’ve ever seen.”
Then, poising herself once more, she began to dance.
The stranger danced too, but not as her partner. Instead, he came behind her, pushing her, driving her down the glen, up through the trees, over the tops of the green hills, and down the other side toward the city. On and on they danced until she felt she would drop.
They danced until dancing became for her a terrible, almost unbearable burden. Yet still she fought to keep her spirits up.
“Though dancing has become such a burden,” she told herself, “to dance in shoes such as these is a great delight, and it has also become my life.”
They danced into the city as the first snowflakes of winter began to fall. They danced down dark streets crowded with nameless faces, step after weary step, her feet jarring against the pavement, her limbs trembling with fatigue. He drove her through a litter-strewn alley where lean cats howled and the snow was gray with ash, then down a narrow corridor that stank of dark and damp.
They danced until her legs were numb as two sticks; until her lungs felt as if they would burst; until her fevered head throbbed with the pounding of the blood behind her ears. They danced until the grim, gray buildings rocked and reeled before her eyes; until blackness overwhelmed her and she fell in a heap upon the cold, cold pavement.
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