Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 12 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
Stay By My Side

"The Vicomte is in box five!" Meg whispered to Christine as they waited in the wings for the final adjustments to the scenery for the first scene. "They've sold every seat even though it is Carlotta. Christine, box five!"

Christine winced, glanced around to make sure nobody was paying attention to them. "I heard," she admitted. It was perhaps the least of her worries tonight. It was only yesterday that she had kissed Erik, a move so life-altering she wasn't sure how she'd found the courage to do it. Only yesterday, and when at last they had parted, when he had taken her back to her dressing room, she'd tried to ask if he had plans for Carlotta, but he had evaded her questioning easily.

He was planning something – she was certain of it – and whatever it was, it would surely now happen on the stage before the entire audience. She was certain he planned to embarrass Carlotta, to pay her back for the scorn and ridicule she had heaped on Christine during rehearsals.

Box five would simply be the last nail in the coffin, she suspected.

"Be as normal," she said to Meg then. "I'm sure something will happen during the performance, but we must…we must continue." She smiled, weakly. "Our teachers would expect no less." Meg nodded, knew Christine referred to Madame Giry as well as Erik.

"Alright," she said. "But be careful, Christine." She pressed a kiss to Christine's cheek and then scurried forward to her starting position. Meg had gained an individual role in this opera, elevated from leader of a line in the ballet corps, and Christine was so pleased for her, hoped Erik's pranks and maliciousness wouldn't affect Meg's future.

But Erik knew how much Meg meant to her; that, she hoped, would be enough to keep her safe.

"Christine?" Madame Giry appeared beside her, and Christine looked up, found her guardian pale. "Take your place," she instructed. "We begin soon." And she patted Christine's shoulder, lips pinched tight – as if she too suspected some disaster would occur tonight.

"Yes, Madame," said Christine, and she hurried onstage, took her place among the others and tried to calm her nerves. She would not give less than her best – Erik would expect nothing less than perfection, even in a role with no singing – and she would not give Carlotta any leverage over her by a mediocre performance.

The orchestra began to play; a moment later the curtain rose, and Christine pushed aside all thoughts of Erik, of disasters, and focused on being the page boy.

It didn't take long though – the opera had scarcely begun when Erik's voice came from somewhere above them, came booming out, echoing across the whole auditorium.

"Did I not instruct that box five was to be kept empty?"

Christine started, looked up at the chandelier, at the roof of the auditorium, as if she could see him somewhere.

"He's here!" Meg hissed from stage right. "The Phantom of the Opera!" Christine glanced across at her, nodded once and looked upwards once more. Of course he was here, of course he was angry about box five. Christine couldn't recall a time when it had been sold – always it had been empty for his use.

"He's here," she murmured, and Carlotta turned to her, scowled.

"Your part is silent," she snapped. "Little toad!" Christine bit back a retort, would not sink to Carlotta's level – on stage in front of an audience, no less.

But Erik had heard; of course he had heard, but he must be closer than the ceiling, Christine realised at once.

"A toad, Madam?" he goaded. "Perhaps it is you who are the toad."

Carlotta was shaken, but she gestured to the conductor to begin the bar again. Christine fumbled a little – the line called for her to remove the outer costume, Serafimo's disguise – but a moment later it didn't matter.

Carlotta croaked.

There was simply no other word to describe it, and Christine's horror was reflected by the other actors onstage and by Carlotta herself. Her hand went to her throat, her eyes were wide, and Carlotta tried again, her voice trembling and weak with nerves – and she croaked again.

"Behold!" cried Erik, his voice amplified once more. "She's singing to bring down the chandelier!"

And then the chandelier, the chandelier which was regularly checked for safety, began to swing, just enough to scare. Christine stared up at it – Carlotta fled the stage – and abruptly the curtain closed, sealing them off from the audience.

Meg darted across the stage at once, clung to her arm and almost shook her. "He wouldn't – he couldn't really bring the chandelier down?" she gasped, and she was pale, paler than Christine had ever seen her. Christine couldn't speak; she shook her head, sure he wouldn't – sure he could.

And then an arm came through the curtain, and Monsieur André grabbed her, pulled her through and presented her to the audience.

"The role of the countess will be sung by Miss Daaé," he announced, and Christine bit her tongue, knew this was what Erik had been planning. At least she was prepared for it, she told herself, at least he hadn't hurt Carlotta – although she didn't know, of course, whether the croaking meant he had damaged Carlotta's voice irreparably, somehow.

"In the meantime, ladies and gentlemen," André continued, and he released her, let her slip back behind the curtain, "we shall be giving you the ballet from act three of tonight's opera."

"Come, Christine, you must change," said Madame Giry, and she grasped Christine's forearm, pulled her from the stage and through the wings, through the crowd of people who had gathered when word had spread of the Ghost's interference. "The ballet only lasts fifteen minutes, you must be quick," she said.

"I – I can change very quickly," said Christine, and she followed Madame Giry up to her dressing room. The costumiers had prepared all the countess's costumes for her, on Monsieur Reyer's instruction, and she was used to quick changes. "Madame – surely he wouldn't?"

Madame Giry shook her head grimly. "I warned you he was dangerous," she reminded Christine. "But he has what he wants, now." Christine nodded, shut the dressing room door, began to strip as Madame Giry went to pick up the first costume. She changed quickly, stripped her trousers off as Madame Giry pulled her hair loose, ran a brush through the curls.

"My God, the wig," Christine realised. "It's not here – it must be down in the wings!"

"Then you'll simply have to put it on there," said Madame Giry. She checked the fastenings on Christine's skirt, made sure the bodice was laced tight. "Where's your wrap?"

"Here," said Christine, caught it up and put it around her shoulders.

"Hurry, then," Madame Giry said, and led her from the dressing room, back down to the stage through the frenzy of activity and then left Christine in the wings with Meg, went to find the missing wig.

"Christine, something's happening," whispered Meg urgently. "Look at them – they're terrified!"

Christine looked, and nodded slowly. The dancers were out of synch, they kept glancing at the backdrop – no, she realised, at the shadows that appeared against the backdrop and then disappeared, only to return a moment later. A cloaked man, somewhere up in the flies, taunting dancers and audience alike.

"But what he is doing?" she murmured, more to herself than to Meg.

And then, from the flies above the stage, something dropped down, dangled at the end of a rope and the dancers screamed.

Joseph Buquet, quite dead, danced like a grotesque puppet. The ballerinas scrambled off the stage – stagehands moved in, tried to reach Buquet down, and Christine covered her mouth with a hand, felt sick.

"Oh God," Meg whispered. "Oh God, he's killed Buquet!"

"Christine! Christine, are you alright?"

Her head was spinning; she couldn't think why Raoul was here, why he'd come down to the stage. He grabbed her shoulders, shook her a little.

"Christine, come with me," he said. "We'll go somewhere safe while this is…while they…"

"No," she said, and tore herself away from him. No, she could not go to safety, could not cower in the shadows with Raoul. She felt sick, had to swallow against it, but there was only one place she could go now.

She had to find him, had to ask him, because Buquet – Buquet was dead, and if Erik had done it – God, she thought, if he killed Buquet, could she love him? How could she move past that?

"Christine, please," Raoul said, entreating her. "Please, you can't stay here."

"Please leave me alone," she muttered, and she turned, forced her way through the crowds, away from the stage, went up the passageways and staircases to the deserted dressing rooms. She almost stumbled along the corridor, and her hand shook as she opened her door.

But he wasn't there, the room was empty, and the passage behind the mirror was empty too, she knew that without needing to look. She collapsed on the stool before the dressing table, put her head in her hands and tried to breathe, tried to keep from being sick.

It could have been an accident, she told herself. Such things had been known, although since her arrival at the opera house, eight years before, there had been no deaths. And Buquet was often drunk, she knew that – drunk and lecherous, he leered after the dancers and they all knew better than to allow themselves to be caught in a dark corner with him.

It could have been an accident, but she was sure it wasn't. She was sure Erik – the Phantom – had killed him.

There was a glass of water on the dressing table, and she lifted it to her mouth, sipped slowly, took deep breaths. She needed to calm down, she knew. If the performance went on, if the managers smoothed it over somehow, she would need to be poised, controlled. Would need to show everyone that she could perform this role just as well as she had Elissa.

She closed her eyes, but images of Buquet assaulted her; images of what must have happened, up there on the flies, a struggle perhaps – or perhaps, she thought wildly, perhaps it really had been an accident. And after all who could prove otherwise? The Ghost didn't officially exist, despite the salary he extorted from the managers, despite the rumours and gossip and speculation among the employees of the opera house.

A noise made her jump, startled her so much her heart started pounding, blood roaring in her ears. She turned automatically to the mirror, but the sound had come from the corridor outside, and in a moment Madame Giry came in, her mouth pinched, her eyes tired.

"They will continue," she said tersely. "Are you able?"

Christine finished the water in a gulp, wiped her mouth indecorously with the back of her hand.

"Yes, Madame," she said. "I – I can do it."

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 12 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>