Disclaimer: Of course I don't own the original story. Nor do I wish I did. I'd be dead if that was the case!
Constructive criticisms – not flames – are welcome. It's one of the ways I can get closer to perfecting my writing. If all you're going to say is "this story sucks" or something of the sort, don't bother reviewing. Those types don't help me any unless you tell me why it sucks.
I hope you enjoy. If it hadn't been for my Muse this story would've never taken place.
Keeping time, the chorus girls stepped delicately into their first pirouettes, thin sprouts of blossoming children twirling easily into their next steps as the gauze of their pink taffeta skirts billowed around them. Fragile arms lifted in perfected unison as their instructor, Madame Giry, stood watching from behind the accompanying piano. Her icy gaze befell each and every one of the girls, scrutinizing each arch of the back as a single frail leg lifted behind this girl and that, barking out commands such as 'Limber up, girls!' or 'Watch those pointes!' She demanded nothing less than absolute perfection, on stage behind the glare of the foot lights, or off.
One specific creature, Giry's inspection found, was less than remarkable and sorely lacked the depth of her art. Little Christine Daae, the bright-eyed and oft painfully shy excuse of a dancer whose equally unremarkable voice peeved Giry, had fallen out of step. To conceal her mistake, she struggled quite clumsily to maintain her composure. The child's brimming eyes darted from companion to twirling companion before Giry's calm snapped and she went to tapping that staff upon the stage surface persistently. "Christine, step to the side immediately!" With a brief curtsy, Christine drifted away from the flanks of the ballerinas to do as she was told.
Giry counted above the pounding of her staff to again instruct the girls through the moves.Christine observed the section of the recital where her flaw had become apparent, her cheeks flushing as lithe arms folded behind her back.
The Monsieur Lefevre's nervous tics had become commonplace around the Grand Garnier House. He had often been compared to a long tailed feline in the middle of a room of rocking chairs, especially as of late. He didn't have to speak of his reasons, they were revealed quite well enough through various...accidents that happened here and there. Especially during the mid of his term, when he had refrained from abiding by the warnings he had been given.
First it was the comment from the older woman of the corps de ballet, then the notes. The notes that appeared out of no where. Lain on his desk so primly behind a locked door. A locked door. The notes were ever so polite, yet the pure menace could be 'heard' within them. In a way, the old man was grateful for them. This ghost had an eye for art and an ear for music, and often let him know – quite curtly – where the operas needed fixing. Immediate fixing.
One of the said notes lay within the man's shaking hands. He was too afraid to open it. Especially after mentioning to a friend off handedly that he was soon to retire. Somehow...this specter knew. 'Of your retirement' was written in blood colored ink on the front.
It was in either disgust or amusement that one's silent regard was held. The ballet was no better than last year's. Most of the dancers had the grace of two legged cows while others had their heads so far up in the clouds they wouldn't be able to see the earth. It was appalling. And it needed to be fixed.
Giry sent Christine a look of disdain, brows lifted as if to accentuate her point that the young dancer most certainly needed immediate attention to her study. Christine, however, had fixed her attention upon Lefevre as he had entered the room quite in haste. She watched, curiously, as he spoke with Reyer before leaving all together. A note had been settled upon Reyer's piano, informing the musician that it was to be delivered to the Madame as soon as possible; a note detailing the specter's displeasure.
Her mistress had moved to scold the child for being less attentive when she, too, had noticed Lefevre. The single tap of her staff against the stage surface brought each remaining dancer to a halt. Little legs and arms began to stretch, the bustle of fabric and feverish whispers filling the silence that the absence of the piano had created.
Picking up the parchment, Giry unfolded the letter and absorbed the red inked scrawl slowly, strangely accustomed to the familiarity of the simple gesture. Fortunately, no one seemed to notice. The girls were too concerned with the gossip that filtered in from the lounge. They really were a pea-brained lot, all save for Christine and her own daughter.
Christine stood still in her place, observing Giry with mild interest as the instructor's daughter, Meg, approached. The blonde, all aglow with some sort of news, was quickly cut off, however, when her stern mother turned, folding the letter as she spoke. "Girls, you may retire for the evening. Monsieur Reyer, thank you for your accompaniment, but I'm afraid I must end rehearsal early this evening."
"Are you sure, Madame? There is plenty of work that needs to…be– … As you wish." Reyer was quick to cut off any further protests, not wishing that icy gaze to be leveled upon him. Truly, it was the cane that made him leery.
Gathering the parchments scattered upon the piano's stand, top, and stool, he placed them in some semblance of order and settled them into his satchel, its strap resting over his shoulder. Departing from the piano, he soon vanished back into the labyrinthine bowls of the house's back rooms with a detesting glance cast toward one scruffy fellow carrying coiled ropes toward the stage's backdrop.
The man took his own sweet time in moving, rather ignoring the more proper pianist, while he got himself an eyeful of the young morsels gathered upon the stage. Wiping his nose with a not-quite-clean sleeve, the scene shifter gave a toothy grin when one of the ballerinas glanced over. She promptly made herself as invisible as she could.
Joseph had a habit of frightening the girls by either telling them ghost stories, or just giving them looks that hinted he could eat them alive. Climbing upon one of the high ladders he eventually made it to the rafters and, thumping the rope down, settled upon the beam with a surprisingly accurate balance.
As the girls hurried off into the wings, their puffs of pink and cream gauze gave them the appearance of a candy cloud. Various stage hands and instructors met them there, frazzled over the upcoming performance of Hannibal. This musical promised to be the reigning Prima Donna's triumph; the crowning jewel of her overpowering stage career. And, speaking of the devil, Carlotta arrived in the wings, flanked by her entourage. The motley crew was compiled of dressers, wig makers, make up artists, and the scattered admirer lucky enough to get into the diva's good graces.
Her booming voice lifted above the chattering chorus girls, and as she moved towards the stage, she brushed past Christine, her powdered expression twisting into disdain. "Move, Toad,"she snapped before a guttural laugh pursued. Of course, the entourage followed suit and laughed at the meek chorus girl in turn. Eyes cast downward, Christine willingly took the hand of little Meg, who was urging her away from the gathering. "What troubled your mother so, Meg? We've never ended rehearsal this early before."
Poor Piangi. He followed that bloated peacock around as if she was the pride of all Paris, all of France, even. He was not even her husband, yet he sang her praises more loudly than anyone else. Often it was wondered if the woman even felt a sliver for him, or what she had to offer that kept him twittering at her heels.
She was a beautiful woman, perhaps, if one got past that demeanor that made a pit bull look harmless, and all that damned make up. And her voice! If it wasn't for the fact that she brought in the audience, coinage gained to pay salaries as well as the upkeep upon the house, she would have been discarded last season. Soprano? More like a screeching parrot.
'Move, Toad.' Just those two words alone were enough to irk, and a loud cry came from above. "Bloody 'ell!" The curse was followed by a solid thump as a tight coil of rope, with its attached sandbag, landed but an inch off to the right of the makeup artist. A few seconds earlier and it might have landed on Carlotta herself. Shaken, Joseph stared off into the shadows, where he swore he saw something dart past him. Then, clearing his throat, he called down. "I didn't do that! T'was the ghost I tell ya. Bloody haunted..." and off his voice trailed into sore grumbles.
Wide eyed, the mousey blonde suddenly picked up speed, her hand clinging tightly to Christine's as if she was her life line. An equally mousey squeak of voice was left in their wake. "Not here. Mother will hear. She has ears like a bat."
Ghost. Christine was familiar with the myth. A tale Joseph oft told behind the folds of velvet curtains between rehearsals to frighten the girls out of their wits. Or, to simply garner the clutching of their hands on his coat sleeves as they begged him to walk down a shadowed corridor with them. Her eyes lifted warily to the catwalk above the stage where Joseph's empire seemed unreachable and deadly. A chill went through her small form that she quickly sought to shake as she looked to her companion.
"The dressing rooms then?" She led Meg by the hand through the scattered throngs of people, towards the back corridor leading to the corps de ballet members' dressing rooms. The individual cubicles were pitiful excuses for rooms, the walls thin as sheets, tattered boudoirs that served as their only means of changing in private. Some girls were lucky to even attain a wash bowl and rag, or a chair to relieve themselves from standing on aching feet.
Joseph did his best to ignore the glares that were cast up in his direction. Working off the shakes, he made his way back down to collect the thick rope that now lay harmlessly upon the floor, although he approached it as if it was a snake ready to strike. Soon, he went back to the abyssal height to work upon the curtain that was for the throne room in the upcoming production. There he worked in near-silence once the stage and auditorium were cleared, watching briefly until interest was completely lost.
Positions shifted. Meg took the role of the follower while she and Christine traveled through the passages. Coming at last to one that was far enough away from the stage, and her mother's office, Meg stopped with a settling of talc dusted heels and drug Christine into a cubicle. Leaning out she glanced to and fro then placed a free hand to her chest as if that would help get rid of the repeated pounding of her heart, or cease it from trying to beat out of her chest.
Where to start? The ended rehearsal. "Oh!" she exclaimed, then dropped her voice to a whisper as she drew close. "You mean you haven't heard? There's a rumor that the Monsieur Lefevre is retiring and that we're soon to get new managers. Perhaps she has to meet with him to find out who?" A bit of a frown crossed her young face, and she finally released Christine's hand as she stepped over to a chair to sit, glad to be off of her feet for the first time in two hours. "Oh, she's going to dance us to death. It seems no matter how hard we try, we just cannot satisfy her demands."
Christine shared her frown. Her porcelain complexion fixed into a most serious expression, her brow knit as she pondered on this. New managers? But why? Monsieur Lefevre had been with the Opera House for as long as Christine could recall, and though he was indeed aging, she could think of little reason for him to retire now. Not when such promise of improvement lay in the upcoming production.
She turned from the door to follow Meg's movements with her heavy eyes, her drained form slouching forward towards the wash stand. A peal of laughter came then with her friend's lament, an agreement she shared, though she was amiable when voicing it. "Perhaps, though I suspect it is something in that letter, and the way Monsieur Lefevre has been acting lately, that has more to do with her temper."
She would say little of her further fears that the talent of the troupe had a hand in the retirement. Half of the girls sounded as if their vocal chords had been replaced with a rusty hinge, even her own. Meg gave some thought to the fact that her mother's usual extended patience had been more like a lit fuse lately. And with it, the manager's nerves were being frazzled. But why? Was it because of this extensive production, one they'd been practicing on for months? Or maybe Carlotta's voice was finally driving him up the wall.
With her thoughts her lips pressed thin, quirking in a bit of a wry smirk as she slid one ballet shoe from her foot and kneaded at her kneel and toe. The door slammed against its hinges and she whipped her head around so fast that blond hair clouded her vision before she darted upright. Her hands slipped back quickly, hiding the shoe she had just taken off. Christine, too, had all but jumped out of her skin, turning swiftly to find Giry eyeing down the pair with impatience. A huff followed her untimely entrance, arms shooting into the air from her sides. "Meg Giry, at last...Ugh! To the carriage!"
Christine was wise in the presence of authority and thus bowed her head cautiously while mother and daughter exchanged the brief dialogue. Order given, Meg gave a shallow curtsy and a mumbled 'yes, mother' before heading past Christine. "We'll speak later," she whispered hurriedly, continuing on before a cane could find its way smartly against a tutu cushioned backside. Only when Meg offered a hurried smile did little Christine respond, a soft smile climbing to her delicate features before dissipating all together when left alone with her instructor.
A sheet of ice had settled over the older woman. A singular finger tapped against the silvered head of the cane as she regarded Christine directly. "You, child, need to get your mind back upon your dancing. If ever you had your mind there to begin with." Such scathing remarks weren't common, but her patience had worn quite thin.
She took the verbal slap humbly, her curtsy short as she spoke a clear and gentle "Yes, Madame". Her arms folded behind her back, a sliver of a darkened curl fell into her view. She lifted a single hand to push it aside before her eyes lifted skittishly to Giry.
"If you are still traipsing about in an hour's time, there is a metronome beside Monsieur Reyer's piano. I dare say you should take it into your employ. Learn some timing, child. Perhaps without others about, you will be able to concentrate upon your own steps instead of those around you. I will be placing you through paces tomorrow, before the others if I must."
If it wasn't for the fact that finding those that could dance and sing with some talent was difficult – though in this case, the note mentioned, it was a very thin amount of talent – many of those upon the line would be removed, including the little woman standing before her. Though she knew she was being harsh, she dared not lighten on the girls. Accidents were the last thing she desired by angering the mercurial specter. "I trust that I'm understood, Miss Daae?"
The young line girl bore the weight of her instructor's harsh demands, radiant eyes lowered to humbly observe her cream pointe shoes. During regular intervals of Giry's speech, she nodded her head in acknowledgment. And surely it must be said of little Christine Daae that this somewhat demeaning advice would be taken to heart. After all, was she not the child of a man who instilled in her delicate heart the thrill of dance and song? Again, a curtsy bent the wry tutu'd form. Again, the obedient sincerity of an eager, though oft flighty, pupil; "Yes, Madame."
Thin lips pressed even more into a set line as Madame Giry regarded the young woman for a few silent moments. While she knew the note giver was doing well for the house's operas, the manager was being sent into a nervous breakdown, casting more duties upon her. She didn't mind helping, to bear the weight, but even the stone shouldered Madame needed rest. "I bid you good evening, Miss Daae." No further words stated, she turned around with a rustle of gray skirts about her ankles and stepped out of the cubicle.
Christine's pure eyes stayed occupied with memorizing the tiny intertwining lines of her gauze skirt until Giry left her, closing the door to the cubicle and leaving the child alone with her thoughts and an hour looming over her head while the house emptied. With rehearsals over, most were going to their respective homes.
It seemed almost a punishment to leave her there. As a rebuke to her for her earlier mistakes, she must endure the creeping, disarming silence of the emptying Opera House. There were thousands of tiny noises that she took in during that solemn time, from the settling of the plaster and boards that framed the dressing hall to the muffled stir of voices far away, perhaps even above her in the dancers' lounge.
She lowered herself into the chair her companion had only moments before occupied, mimicking the way in which her little friend had removed her shoe to knead at the tightness of muscles at the arch of her dainty foot. Heavy sighs escaped from her pink lips.
Seconds turned into minutes; minutes accumulated toward the hour. That lone hour was going to be slow to pass what with the silence that was languidly creeping over the expansive house. By the time it had passed, only a few would remain within the building, mostly dancers waiting for the next series of taxi coaches that would take them home.
The manager lingered, drinking away his troubles with plenty of brandy, as did Joseph who was drinking also, but with an untroubled mind. For a drunk he did an amazing job at keeping to the rafters and beams. The Chief of Flies had the balance of a cat, more so when he was inebriated. The flicker of the few electric lights betrayed that the main ones were being turned off; though the lights near the stage, the hallways near the office, and the cubicles remained on with a gentle hum.
Even the candles seemed to shudder with that thrum of cut lights.