Anna woke to the bell screaming — time to go! She shut her eyes just a little bit longer and covered her ears, hoping the moment wasn’t now, wasn’t so soon. Reality caught up with her desperate mind.
She began this routine, this dance, not with a delicate footstep, but with a violent spring on the mat. She wasn’t the first — no, the crowd was already abuzz; every stomp, clap, even whisper reverberated, echoing in an endless, incoherent torrent of noise. Her pounding heartbeat set the rhythm of the moment and was felt by the crowd, who took it as their own. Pounding hands… pounding feet… pounding hearts.
A second step forward. The pressure was immense — the foundation groaned under the strain, the crowds roared louder, canines barked in the distance. A squeezing wall of bodies encircled her and pulled her closer, then pushed her away. Moving in time, in and out, pressing until all air was driven out of the room and all thought driven from her mind. The floor began to move under her, and she gasped.
A third step. The flashing lights of the cameras blinded her, amplified in the sequins rippling down her body, the glitter, the sheen of sweat that had formed in an instant. Waves of vibrant color washed over the dome above, electric blue, neon orange, lime green at first, moving faster and faster — BLUE! ORANGE! GREEN! BLUE! — rushing to become one color, sickly and pale. Then there were only shades of red.
A fourth step, yet — she slipped! Rumbling voices of disapproval swam around the room, but for the first time she could hear her own jagged breathing, feel the stillness of the mat.
The moment was gone. The crowds slowly filed out; her fans, her family returned to their slumbering quiet. She gathered herself and rose from the mat. The imprint of her agonizing defeat she carried until at last, the pain faded, and the dawn warmly welcomed her once again.