The jovial sounds of a few dozen smiling parents filled the small theatre as their children finished their performance. As the eight year olds bowed to overwhelming applause, a thick, crimson curtain lowered itself, hiding them from view.
The ballet recital had been unsurprisingly amateurish, and on more than one occasion a child had made a blatant mistake, yet as the parents rose from their chairs, there was a distinct air of pride. Something about the mere act of trying was enough for the children to sate the humble expectations of their parents.
A few minutes after the concert had concluded, an excited horde of kids came rushing into the vestibule, quickly hugging their loved ones, and smiling as they received words of encouragement.
“Daddy!” A young girl called as she raced toward her father.
Douglas, a tall, dark-haired man lowered himself to sweep his daughter up in his arms. He nearly toppled over as the surprisingly strong little girl dove into him.
“Did I do good, Daddy?” She asked, hugging him as hard as she could.
He looked at his daughter. She was the most distinctive child he had ever known. Her hair was grey due to a genetic anomaly, and her mind was as sharp as a razor’s edge, but these were merely the most tangible aspects of the girl who he considered to be the most special child in the world. “You did fantastically, Tara. That was the best performance of Swan Lake I’ve ever seen.”
Tara’s face bunched up into a cute facsimile of annoyance. “You’ve never seen Swan Lake before.”
“True. And I’ll never have to see it again, because I’ve now seen the best performance of it ever.”
“It would have been better, but the other kids suck.”
,” the man put a distinct tone of warning into his voice, “I’ve told you before, don’t look down on other people.”
Releasing her father and taking a step back, the youngster planted her fists on her tutu-clad hips. “I wouldn’t if they weren’t so clumsy. They don’t even understand the concept of their centre of gravity.”
Douglas tried to hide his amusement. “Hey, I barely understand it myself.” He reached out and grasped his daughter’s hand. “Come on, let’s go home.”
Midafternoon sunlight washing over her, Tara followed her father out into the car park, a frown quickly forming on her face. “I wish Mum had come to see me dance.”
Opening the passenger door of his dark blue sedan, Douglas helped his daughter into the car. “So does she.” He ducked around to the driver’s side, and quickly seated himself. “She has been looking forward to your recital for months, but you know what it’s like when you have the flu.”
Tara crossed her arms. “Stupid micro-organisms.”
Again Douglas tried to hide his amusement. “I really wish I knew how you got to be so smart. You didn’t get it from me.” He started the car’s engine, and slowly drove out of the lot, soon making his way to the main highway of Stoic City.
The trip progressed in uncharacteristic silence, many minutes passing before Douglas spoke again. “Why are you being so quiet? I would have thought that you’d be chattering away. Aren’t you exited? You were been practicing for this recital for ages.”
Tara looked out the window, watching as the cityscape drifted by. “I don’t want to do ballet anymore.”
“What? I thought you liked ballet.”
“I don’t like the other kids. They’re mean. They make fun of my hair.”
Douglas glanced at his daughter. In this light her grey hair looked almost silver. It didn’t make her look older, it didn’t make her look like she was suffering from a progeria-like disease, it merely set her apart. “They’re jealous of you. You’re a special young woman.”
Tara crossed her arms. “I hate being special.”
“Well I won’t force you to keep doing ballet, but you shouldn’t be ashamed of being special.”
“I’m not ashamed, I’m just sick of the other girls never shutting their fucking mouths.”
It took all of Douglas’ restraint to keep from slamming on the brakes. “Tara Susanne Poise!” He yelled. “If I hear those words come out of your mouth again, you won’t see dessert again until you’re twenty-two. Where did you pick up that language?”
The girl did not respond.
“I asked you a question, young lady.”
Her eyes darting around the car as though searching for a distraction, Tara finally slumped her shoulders and released a sigh. “The Shadow Man says that sometimes.”
“Jesus.” Douglas hissed. “I thought we’d settled all of this Shadow Man nonsense. I don’t care if you have an imaginary friend, but you can’t blame them every time you do something bad.”
“He’s not imaginary. He was sitting right next to you the entire time you were watching me dance.”
“Tara, the only seat next to me was your mother’s, and it was empty.”
“No it wasn’t! He was there!”
Douglas took a few calming breaths. “I’m very proud of how well you did today, but don’t think for a second that I won’t send you to your room when we get home.”
A look of utter malice crossed the girl’s face. Sneering at her father, she muttered the words, “I hate you.”
At that moment, from outside the car came the sound of screeching wheels. Tara looked in her father’s direction just in time to see another car collide with theirs. Everything went black.
Her ears ringing, Tara slowly opened her eyes, flinching when she saw the blunted steel rod hovering just a few centimetres from her face. She reached out and tried to push the rod away, but it was very solid, and quite unmovable. That was when she noticed that her hands were coated in blood. Looking down, she saw that her entire body was covered.
Panic quickly consuming her, the girl ran her hands over her arms, her shoulders, her stomach, trying to find a wound that would explain the blood. She found none.
Her hands shaking as shock settled in, she tried to undo her seatbelt, her fingers twitching too much for her to free herself. “Daddy.” Thoughts of her father quickly filled her mind.
Jerking her head to the side, she immediately released a scream of absolute horror. Her father’s airbag had clearly deployed, but the scraps of fabric which hung limp from the steering wheel showed that it had somehow ruptured.
Firmly planted into the wheel was the lower half of Douglas’ head, the top half being spread around the car in a random pattern of blood and bone.
Tara’s jaw began to tremble. “Daddy? Daddy!”
The inside of the car sudden grew cold, and a low, hissing voice could be heard from the ether. “If you had only stopped dancing back when I told you to, this never would have happened. I was trying to stop this. Congratulations, you just killed your father.”