Author's Note:

I was actually pondering this for a while, and I even searched to make sure that no one else had written one like this before. A pre-meeting. Don't worry, Christine will appear eventually...be patient with me! I want to spin this out =).

~*~

The day was cool and crisp, and a soft sigh floated in the air as a gentle voice of forthcoming dusk. The sun was disappearing slowly behind tall mountains, shadowed in the distance by the fog...an element that would make the day seem foreboding, but the mood was far too light, happy, and joyful as the crowd mingled about and laughed with one another. The flames of the torches rose higher, and were brought away from the tents to provide more light. Dancers took most of the space in the center of the camp, and many times stray visitors would find themselves taken inside the circle of girls by accident. Mostly men gathered around them, and the women would scorn, whether in jealousy or disgust was not always obvious, but more times than not, it was a mixture of both. The younger boys hung back, embarrassed and unsure, and among those was a small amount of of aristocrats, in a tight circle and whispering amongst each other excitedly.

It wasn't typical for an aristocrat to attend gypsy fairs. Fourteen-year-old Raoul de Chagny was always warned that he would be disowned if he ever so much as looked at an advertisement. This was all said in good teasing, but the young viscount knew better than to tempt his brother. Philippe may be easy on him, but now that he'd become head of the house in the wake of his father's death, and things had become a little different. This was on account of Philippe's desire for himself and Raoul to live up to the late Count Philibert's expectations. His sisters were aiding in Raoul's upbringing, but it was very likely that he'd have to go stay with his aunt as well. She was a surrogate mother since his own was lost in the consequence of his birth. This was not something that was only recently brought to Raoul's knowledge, as his sisters and Philippe both did not wish to hurt him. The two sisters wanted to bring him up properly, despite Philippe's protests that they babied him far too much...but he was relieved, at least, that his brother was learning the correct lessons of propriety.

This was the brother who, at the moment, was thrilled at the prospect of being included in an adventure of impropriety.

"I want to see the magic show!" Edward had been insisting on this since they arrived, and now repeated it with extraordinary vigor. He was shy, like Raoul, but not so much around his friends, who were all twelve or thirteen.

Raoul was the oldest one out of them all; he decided that he should rightfully be in charge. "We can see the magic show later, they're scheduled for every hour...don't you want to see the freakshow?"

"The what??"

Henri, a buck-toothed green-eyed boy, grinned and came close to whisper. "The freakshow is where they keep...strange...things..."

Nervousness was in the poor, tormented Edward's voice, and his eyes widened. "Strange? Strange in what way?"

Raoul looked at Henri, feeling pity for Edward and so quickly chimed in: "Not very strange...it's interesting. They have the Bearded Lady and different things like that."

"A lady with a beard?"

Realizing that Edward was starting to become intrigued, Raoul continued. "Yes, and the two-headed snake. But they keep it in a cage, so it can't hurt you or anything. And-"

Before he'd even finished, a man dressed in gypsy garb came around behind them. He smiled, in a crooked sort of way...his breath smelt of rot and tooth decay, and his hair was tied back in long, greasy strings. "And the Living Corpse."

Ever so polite, Raoul looked at the man. "Excuse me, Monsieur?" His younger friends cowered behind him.

"We have the Living Corpse. Tickets are only a few francs...if you're interested. He plays; he sings...he's the best that we have, and our most popular attraction. You'll be getting your money's worth. And the end...if you have stomach enough to handle it...you'll really get a surprise. Do you, boys?"

A chorus of indigent 'yes's answered him, and the man's vulgar smile widened. "We'll see." He held out his palm, which was immediately filled with shiny coins. Each boy stuck his hand out only far enough so that the man could take the money, they were still too uneasy to come away from Raoul.

But Raoul was the one who hesitated. "How is he a Living Corpse?"

"You will see...at the end. But don't worry...he provides good entertainment for the entire duration of the show."

In accordance to his friends' encouragement, Raoul dropped his money into the grimy hand.

The man's smile did not disappear as he gestured for the boys to follow, and they were lead to a tent at the very corner of the fairgrounds. A small crowd had already gathered, and there was an elevated platform where the tricks would be, so that everyone would be able to see. The gypsy left after the boys found a place among the specters, and disappeared into the tent.

"Do you think that this'll be any good?"

Raoul shrugged, but he was looking off towards the tent, waiting for the performer to emerge. "I suppose so. None of the other shows had this many people..."

The chatter became louder as moments passed, in anticipation and eagerness. Raoul was able to pick up bits of conversation…most of them seemed to have heard of this "Living Corpse" already.

"With a face like a skull's..."

"He is supposedly the Devil's apprentice...he learns Black Magic...he could kill us all if he wished!"

"No one knows where he came from. He isn't actually a person like the rest of us...he's a mixture...more like a ghoul, or a dark spirit seeking revenge..."

Beginning to be a little antsy, Henri leaned towards Raoul. "When is it going to start? I have to be home in an hour."

"I don't think that it should be that long anyway."

Philippe would murder him if he knew where he was. His sisters would be disappointed in him as well...for the briefest moment Raoul felt guilty, but...there wasn't any harm in seeing a show. It was only a fair, and everyone attended!

Raoul did not have much time to dwell on it too much, for the show suddenly started. He nearly missed the beginning act, since he was still waiting for someone to appear out of the tent. The crowd's startled gasps made him look back at the platform.

A figure had appeared there, and a fine mist swirled out from a cape that was black, swirling with a material that Raoul had never seen before. The man was tall, his hands gloved...in fact, there was not a part of him that was not covered. The mask was black as well, and Raoul saw two eyes beneath it...shining yellow, though of course that must be an illusion. No one had eyes that color! For a few moments the tall, dark man was still, and then his hands rose, gracefully, moving as though he was guiding an invisible force. The air around him seemed to ripple, with heat, and a fine line of fire started with his gesture, dim at first, but slowly magnified until high flames surrounded him. The crowd's responses were awed, and Raoul found that again all of his friends had flocked behind him and were peeking around him with wide-eyed wonder. He had never seen magic tricks like these. With just a simple gesture, things disappeared and reappeared again...fire and air...all of the elements moved in accordance to the magician, completely in agreement to his wishes. Perhaps what he heard was correct, perhaps this was the apprentice to the Devil! Raoul believed in the Devil, without a shadow of a doubt. He was a good Catholic, and his hand sought his pocket where his crucifix safely rested.

As his fingers grazed it, the masked man raised his eyes...and he and Raoul's gaze met, across the heads of the crowd...just for a moment. There was a sardonic mockery that Raoul could see in his eyes. And, almost with guilt, he released the beads in his pocket and bravely did not look away. It seemed like infinity before the yellow eyes finally left his, and Raoul realized that he had not breathed even once in those moments.

The show did not last long, or didn't seem to. After only a time, music came from nowhere and yet everywhere... It was the figure that was playing, and Raoul was surprised that it was the same instrument he'd been trying to learn. The violin.

He listened, and knew right away that he'd never been able to play in a way that came close to matching what he heard now. Raoul was not a musician, but he did not have to be to know the flawlessness of the man's talent...and the mesmerizing quality. Time passed and yet did not seem to. He found people around him weeping, even reaching out towards the music as if to find something tangible. None of the boys were speaking now, no one was... He only heard the soft cries of women and the wrenching, heartbroken tears of men. It was their defeat now presentable before them, to show the helplessness of what they lost in the world and what would never be theirs again.

Raoul saw his mother, and he realized that he'd been shaking.

The music ended so abruptly that it took a moment for the spell to break, but the man did not wait that long before he lifted the mask, and the hatred was so visible underneath that it made Raoul shudder all the more.

His face was horrific. Skull-like, Death himself...and living! It mattered, as all the features came alive, and reacted with the horror and screams of the shocked crowd. Raoul barely had time to see, but he saw the yellowed drum-like quality, the lack of a nose, and the all-seeing eye sockets with menacing, yellow pinpoints. He took all of it in, in only a matter of seconds. Yet there was also an air of triumph, among the abhorrence...he'd destroyed their dreams first...it was his revenge.

Appropriately, the man disappeared in smoke and fire...just as he had appeared.

At first there was no applause. Then it was slow, deliberate, and intensified until everyone was laughing and smiling. Forgotten is adults' sadness...it lingers in children's minds for far longer, despite the wishful belief that children have always been able to overcome such things. But the music...it touched their hearts in such a way that it could not be forgotten. They were pure, and some of it was taken away and given to the masked man with their new, unfathomable emotions that children were not meant to feel.

And so Raoul was still shaking.

Henri was the first one to speak, and the lightheartedness that is in all young boys was oddly absent. "I need to go home now."

Raoul didn't speak, and as the rest of the boys moved away...it was only his friend Henri who hesitated. "Aren't you coming with us?"

"No. You go ahead." Raoul was still staring at the platform.

There was no answer, but he heard the sounds of his friends leaving. The rest of the crowd was thinning and moving away in groups to find their entertainment elsewhere, and Raoul was soon left alone.

The two tent flaps were still closed, and Raoul could see no light. But where else could the man have gone? There was some odd desire to talk to him...to see if he was the Devil's apprentice...or to simply see. It wasn't so much rebellion than curiosity. Raoul was unnerved by the feelings that the performance left him with. He hadn't thought of his mother in a very long time... Not since Philippe had let it slip about the circumstances of her death, and felt so guilty afterwards that he took Raoul to every park in Paris to try and make up for it. Raoul had forgotten...or thought that he had.

But he felt compelled to talk to this man. He had to know how the man knew, because Raoul believed that he must. It did not occur to him that the power lay within bringing out the deepest miseries of the human heart.

And so he went towards the tent, resisting the urge to turn around and run the other way, back to his friends and to where he knew it was safe.