Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Dream Descends

Part 1 of 16

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The hostelry was nearing empty as midnight settled in Paris, France. Satiated drunkards lumbered out onto the streets, their intoxicated calls echoing in the subdued silence. Barmaids were rhythmically wiping down the counters and tables, the dramatic rouge painting their cheeks eerie and distorted in the shadows of the dimming candlelight.

Few men were left, gulping down their ale. They had stayed, for tonight was one of the Mask’s, and they could not bear to miss it.

These men were men haunted by their pasts: by rejected and lost loves, by unspeakable crimes, by war and bloodshed. They stayed because the Mask understood them; spoke to them, and in the Mask they found, for a time, forgiveness and comfort in a life that had none otherwise.

The Mask, as regulars of the bar had titled him, was a man who arrived one night a year ago, and had been returning habitually since. Sometimes he would miss a few days, or even an entire month. Other times, he would come every evening for weeks on end. And all he did when he came was sit at the piano and play.

The usual pianist had at first been offended when he had returned from a short interlude to find a complete stranger in his seat; but, like every other man or woman in the tavern, he had learned to respect the mysterious visitor. Now, whenever the man appeared at the door, he immediately rose from his seat and made way for the ominous figure swathed in black.

Even if the man had not the incredible skill on the piano, no one would have dared challenge him. He towered over them all, shoulders broad and a gaze that stung like fire. He was certainly handsome, as the barmaids immediately noticed, with an expressive mouth and startlingly bright blue eyes. If only, they often said to each other, he did not have that curious white mask covering the right side of his face.

And the music he played, mon dieu, the music. It was sin, and heaven, and all the elements bound and controlled by human hands, told in music to absolute perfection. The very essence of death, life, hate, and love had been captured and rediscovered, then at last exposed with the keys of a piano.

What had this man seen, lived through, been granted that gave him such power and knowledge, the ability to hold existence in his grasp, to caress it and manipulate it to do his bidding? Those who were blessed enough to hear his melodies could hardly imagine.

That night, he had come in earlier than usual, shoving the door open with an unexpected bang and causing a sudden hush throughout the tavern. With a grand flourish of his dark cloak, he seemed to glide across the room as though made of shadow, reaching his destination just as the pianist was scrambling from his bench.

The first chord he struck sent everyone into a stunned stupor, and as the evening wore on, people spoke rarely, and then only in whispers, as though they were witnessing something sacred, a divinity sent from above.

Now, as the last of the guests departed for home, the Mask played for an audience of none, filling every contour and cranny in the rotting building with his soulful, palpably eloquent song.

But, at the farthest table, one had remained; one who was there without any other’s knowledge, for he was still considered too young to see this supposedly filthy, corrupted side of the world. Something in the eccentric musician provoked him, stirred something in him that had never been touched on. He felt himself inexplicably drawn to him, not frightened like the others, but eager to move closer, to discover if it was apparition or mortal before him.

He got to his feet, and, as noiselessly as he could manage, moved across the room to stand next to the piano. The man’s entire form convulsed as he played, his eyelids pressed shut to conceal the dim sparkle of tears. To see such human emotions in such an unearthly man startled the onlooker, but he did not move away.

As though a lever inside the man had been pulled, the Mask suddenly shot up stiff as a board, his hands stumbling to a halt over the keys with a horrible tuneless thunderclap. The young observer leapt backward in surprise, balling his hands into anxious fists as the stranger turned on him with a stare of cold fury.

“Leave me be.” The words were no more than a whisper, in a voice deep and surprisingly hoarse, as though it was out of practice.

The youth clamped his teeth down on his tongue, the traitorous muscle willing him to stutter. With a slow, shaky breath, he replied, “I didn’t mean to intrude, monsieur. I was only curious.” He began to turn away, his pride forbidding him to appear hasty.

“Curious? Hah!” The older man collapsed back into the seat, hands trembling. “Of course, one cannot help but be curious—the devil’s child—certainly, an audience would not be hard to come by…”

Mad, the younger man thought, a stab of pity striking the pit of his stomach, a raving lunatic. The pianist went on muttering in a mimicking tone, until a feather-light hand on his shoulder made him start. He barely glanced back as the onlooker spoke to him.

“Can I help you somehow, my friend?” When no reply came, he continued, “My name is Dion Marchand. I could find you a doctor, or shelt—”

“I don’t need a doctor,” the Mask snapped, but his rigid shoulders had slumped a little. “Your charity is futile here, foolish boy.”

“Not charity, then,” Dion quickly agreed. “…Work. If I offered you work?”

The Mask chuckled humorlessly. “You’re the Baron’s son—I’ve heard your name. Your diplomacy is not quite as polished as his, is it? I’m not a stable hand, nor a chauffeur. Leave me in peace.”

A sensible man would have left it at that. Dion may not have had the sense or the tact of his father, but he had compassion in abundance. “A tutor,” he blurted out abruptly. “I can offer you a job as a tutor—my tutor.”

The masked face cocked to the side, only slightly. “A tutor,” the man repeated blankly.

Dion continued hurriedly, “In music, of course. My music tutor.”

There was a crackling silence for a moment. Dion felt his chest swell with irrational pride as he saw the interest flutter over the man’s half-concealed features. “You don’t know who I am,” the Mask murmured finally. With a note of dour amusement that Dion did not understand, he added, “You could be hiring a convict; an outlaw.”

“Perhaps,” Dion agreed, dismissing the idea. “But I believe in kindred spirits, monsieur. I have found one tonight—I am sure of it.”

The change in the man was subtle, and yet once it was there it gave cause for Dion to shake his head in disbelief. The Mask got to his feet, raising his chin and flexing his fingers at his sides. He was abruptly a gentleman.

“I accept your proposal. You may call me Erik.”


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Dream Descends

Part 1 of 16

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