It was too dark.
Livi stood in the park wearing a black coat, leggings, and a pair of flip flops that left her feet frozen in the cool October air. Her red hair danced around her shoulders, the one spot of color in the night, and she clutched her dance bag to her chest like a lifeline.
Claretta, Claretta, whispered the leaves, and she shivered.
Something drew her here every night, on her walk from the studio to the three-bedroom apartment she shared with her mother. At first, she'd tried to walk away: but with every step away from the swingset, something tightened around her neck, squeezing harder and harder until she could no longer breathe.
Livi squeezed her eyes shut. "I'm not Claretta," she said into the pitch black, shoving her gloveless hands under her armpits to stay warm.
Claretta, Claretta, dance for us, Claretta.
"Who is Claretta?" she asked, trying to keep her voice from wobbling.
I'm insane, thought Livi. I'm insane and the trees are talking to me and I'm talking back. I'm insane and the wind wants me to dance. She squeezed her eyes shut, and listened, to the creaking swingset behind her, the rush of cars on the street, and her own breath, warm against the cold night air.
"She danced the dance of flames and fire, and the dance of swords and spears," said a voice behind her, and Livi froze. "She danced the dance of the stars and the dance of space, and then she danced the dance of flowers in the wind."
Livi took a deep breath, and spun around. "Who's there?" she called.
Something- someone- took a step forward. "Claretta," he said- it was a he, Livi registered, a he with a deep voice, like warm velvet sheets and an almost burned out candle. "It's been a long while."
"I'm not Claretta," she said. "I don't know any Claretta. Who are you? Why do you keep bringing me here?"
The man said nothing for a second. Then: "Not Claretta?" There was a frown in his voice. Livi heard him take another step forward. "My apologies."
"I don't want your apologies," snapped Livi, sounding more childish than she'd intended. "I want to go home."
"Tell me your name." Another step.
"Why?" challenged Livi.
Another step, and Livi could feel his warm breath. "Tell me your name, and you can go home."
"If you're trying to flirt," said Livi, with a choked, hysterical laugh, "let me give you a bit of advice: girls don't like being blackmailed in the middle of the night by strangers they can't see."
"My name is Vincent," said the man.
Livi pressed her lips together. "Well, it's not very nice to meet you, Vincent."
Vincent laughed, and though Livi couldn't see him, she could feel it on her cheeks. After three seconds, he went silent, and so did everything else. The swings no longer creaked, the leaves no longer whispered, and there was not even the sound of a car.
"Your name," he said again.
"Livi," she replied, and the moment she spoke she felt as though a weight had lifted from her shoulders. She shivered. "Now I'm going home."
"By all means," said Vincent, and the world was no longer quiet. Livi blinked, and she could see again. Vincent was ten feet away, at least a foot taller than her, his face obscured by shadows. "Stay safe."
Livi pressed back an automatic "Thank you" and walked off, taking a deep breath, making a point of not looking back. She kept her head high, her steps confident and purposeful, and then, as soon as she rounded the corner and was out of Vincent's sight, she ran like hell.
The trees laughed at her as she went by.