Act 1: Setting the stage
The Phantom of the Opera had died that night.
He had lost his opera house. The Opera Populaire had all but burned to the ground. With it, it took his stage, it took his scenery, it took his costumes, and it took his chandelier. It took the beautiful woodwork, it took the red velvet seats, it took the gold enameled furnishings. It took all of the upper passages he had known so well, it took half of his home.
He had lost the rest of his home to something infinitely more fierce and more destructive than fire—human hands. The mob had nearly found him as they rushed through the caverns under the opera house. They flooded his home with their boots and their beings, they ruined the air with their shouts and their curses. Everything they touched came to destruction. His organ smashed to beautiful ivory pieces. His hangings torn to shreds. His drawings ripped and scattered, his music burned, his clothing tossed to the murky depths of the lake. All that was left unscathed by their hands were his mirrors, and he had seen to those himself before any of the others had arrived.
They had not found him, though. He had watched their every step from behind one of those mirrors—their images cracked before him as they destroyed his every possession. He could hear the mob coming for him and he had almost let them find him but the memory of Christine's kiss lingered on his lips. He could not let that die. Mere moments before he would have been visible in the torchlight, he shut himself away and watched as his home was torn to pieces. The yells and the thuds and the crashes echoed throughout the dark caverns and in his mind each and every one was a physical blow to himself. Everything he had worked for, everything he had made with his own two hands, it was all gone in a matter of minutes to the vengeful nature of humanity.
He watched as they gleefully set fire to each page of each copy of Don Juan Triumphant. He watched as his carefully inked sketches were smeared and smudged and balled up to be tossed around the room like so many scraps of paper. He watched as a young blonde girl slipped away from the crowd, toward a darkened corner it seemed no one else would approach, and when she reappeared in the light she carried in her small hand what he had considered his most prized possession. His mask. The torches gave it an eerie glow. The flickering orange light brought it to life, it seemed to move even as she held it firmly in her hand. The shadows around it nearly gave to it a single gleaming eye held darkly under a ghostly forehead. It looked like it could have been the perfect flesh he never had. Behind his mirror, the Opera Ghost nearly wept again at the sight, one hand pressed to his face in an effort to imagine his precious mask resided just there, as it should.
"The Phantom of the Opera is dead" she had proclaimed in a somber voice he had never heard from her throat before. His throat had gone dry at the statement. An immediate hush had fallen, and she raised the mask high. "The Opera Ghost is dead," she repeated, more firmly than before. "He drowned. I saw his body taken by the current. This is all that is left." Resolve burned in her eyes and in her face as the tiny girl stood frozen in place, the mask held high above her pretty blonde head. For yet another time that night he felt like a monster—there to witness this girl become a woman.
Her words rippled through the mob. "Dead? But—" "—dead already he—" "—sure, he could—" "—he is dead then—" "—dead—"
Their words and hers echoed in his mind as he watched them slowly take to their torches and leave their destruction behind them. The once-Phantom of the Opera did not know why little Meg Giry had lied so—had lied to save him, it seemed—but it filled him at once with both relief and regret, and both for the same reason: he had lived. A part of him refused to die and that part won out over what wanted nothing more than sweet oblivion. To die, he though, would complete this night. To die alone.
He had lost the one beautiful thing he had ever had. He had lost the light in his darkness. He has lost his Christine, his Angel of Music—he had lost her to the young, handsome, dashing, charming Vicomte de Chagny. He had lost her to a man who was everything he was not. What she had wanted was not him, what she had wanted was the opposite of him and that knowledge tore at what remained of his soul.
He had never loved anyone as he had loved Christine. He had long thought himself dead to the world, but she warmed his cold heart and taught it to beat once more. Then just tonight, she had taken that beating heart in her hand and torn it from him as his boat carried her into the murky darkness. She went willingly with her vicomte and with that last look she had nearly killed him. His Angel of Music disappeared into the blackness over the lake—he knew he would never see her again.
No one really knew much about the man who lived on the corner. Within only the weeks since his arrival, he had already become a figure of neighborhood legend. The house itself was said to have been haunted and sat on the market for nearly a decade before he took it without a backward glance. They said he cared not a whit for ghosts. They said he laughed in the face of ghosts.
The more daring said that he himself, that tall man in black, was a ghost. That he left his house only under the cover of darkness to wander the streets of Paris in the night, haunting the blackest of corners. That his footsteps fell with no sound, that his long dark cape did not rustle, and that not even his breathing could be heart. They said that under the brim of his blackest hat, his face shone with the blinding white of the undead and no one was ever to see it and live to tell the tale.
The man on the corner had lived in that house for only days when the stories began to circulate as they must in the upper crust of Paris society. Not a week had passed since his arrival when mothers began to warn their children to behave, lest the ghost of the corner find them in their sleep. Whispers flitted through doors and eyes peered through windows but the most anyone ever saw of their mysterious neighbor was no more than the swish of a cloak and the movements of the shadows not even the dead could hide from the living.
The ghost was no ghost. The ghost was a man too used to living in darkness to ever live anywhere else. For the past six years he had traveled all of Europe—the creature of the night perfectly at home in the cities across the continent. Months in Madrid, a year in Venice, another year flitting across Austria. Time spent traveling from Rome to Sicily and back again was time well spent. And always he had traveled in style for nothing less would suit the former Phantom of the Opera.
In the decades he had haunted the opera house, he had always demanded a bribe—a bribe he called his salary. The managers always had their patrons and had their money, money to spare. And when he knew the opera house better than any other living creature, when he could call to them from the walls of their own offices and let them hear voices in their sleep, the bribe was willingly paid. As the stories grew, so did the money delivered to Box 5 once a month. He lived on as little as possible, stowed the rest away behind one of his many mirrors where it was safe from the destructive mob. He was a wealthy, wealthy man.
But when the Opera Populaire had burned nearly to the ground, he had thought his soul burned with it. He did not dare venture into Paris—his first outing into the city had been his last as he made for the train to Barcelona. All of Europe had been open to him as it had not been for decades and he had lost himself in the cities of the night. Drowned himself in expensive wines and even more expensive travels and all the while tried to bury the man he had once been.
That man was not to be buried so easily, however. Time and time again he broke free and the Phantom broke down. He would spend days, weeks, eventually even months in utter solitude. He wouldn't move, wouldn't eat, wouldn't sleep for hours upon hours until he fainted on the floor and came to weeping. He had sins to atone for and a past he could not run from and the slightest part of his soul that had survived the fires begged for that atonement. He knew that simply being there would be enough-he had to go to Paris.
And so he had returned to haunt the city that had haunted him so.