Bittersweet and Strange

Disclaimer: I do not own Beauty and the Beast or Phantom of the Opera.


René Badeau did not lift his head until the third resounding knock echoed throughout the large country manor. He glanced at the wonderfully crafted grandfather clock which stood at the far side of his study. It was nearly midnight. When the thunderous boom of yet another knock reached his ears, René stood with a sigh of exasperation and marched heavily toward the door, enraged.

He had been sitting alone in the room for hours, immersed in his work, as usual. His light brown hair was unkempt, dark circles surrounded his cold blue eyes, and he hadn't even bothered buttoning his wrinkled, unwashed shirt. Already fuming over his lack of progress and the wave of exhaustion that threatened to overtake him, the last thing René needed was to be disturbed at this hour. But he supposed such frustrations were not uncommon in the life of an artist.

For as long as he could remember, René had displayed an uncanny ability for music. By the age of five, he had mastered the violin and piano and was an accomplished composer by his tenth year. As time wore on, however, René's amazing gifts began to consume his life. He had no friends and spent little time with his family. For hours at a time, he would lock himself in the dark confines of his study, alone with his music. He rarely slept and often went days without eating. His obsession had turned him into a cold and bitter recluse, desiring only the company of his beloved music. His parents tried desperately to voice their concerns, but their words fell on deaf ears.

Now, at the age of seventeen, René lived alone, with the exception of a timid young maid who visited every-other week. His parents had passed away two years before in a fire while visiting relatives. René had written their Requiem Mass. Without the burden of his parents hanging over his head, René had found new freedom in his music. He could sit in his study, composing or playing, for as long as he desired and venture outside when he wanted to, which was not often. On those rare occasions when he fancied a walk through the gardens or a stroll about the streets of nearby Paris, he went alone and spoke to no one.

This was why the arrival this late-night visitor was so unexpected. René had no friends, or acquaintances, for that matter. Who then, would have reason to call on him at such and hour? At the time of his disturbance, René had been working on his newest project. Knowing that he was an amazingly gifted singer, René decided to blend his greatest talents and compose a musical masterpiece…his opera. The task had been far more challenging that he had expected. It had been nearly a year since he began work on his opera, and yet he had composed a mere three pieces. Each night, he longed for an inspiration, for a muse… yet none came. This particular evening had been no different.

René approached the large oak doors of his home hastily and threw them open, feeling the gush of a harsh winter's wind sting his cheeks. Squinting against the rush of wind that beat relentlessly against his weary visage, René glanced down at the old woman who stood before him. Her wrinkled face was scarred and bruised and a pair of milky blue eyes blinked unevenly at him. Her back was terribly hunched and her hands were twisted and arthritic. She wore a tattered green cloak over her filthy dress, which smelled of pigs and manure. Enclosed in her hideous hands was an ancient harp. The edges were worn with use and the finish was chipped in several places, yet René could saw that, despite its condition, it was a fine instrument nonetheless.

"Please, monsieur", the horrid old woman's shaking voice reached his ears. "I come asking for shelter." She paused, as if waiting for a reply, but the man before her simply stared. "I have no money, but if you allow me to stay the night, I will play for you." Her long, yellow fingernails began plucking at the harp's strings, playing a haunting melody. After a few bars of this refrain, her fingers ceased and she stared hopefully into René's eyes. He stared back with repulsion.

"You, stay here?" he was on the verge of laughter. René valued beauty above all else. After all, if a song were not beautiful or a painting not attractive, who would want them? He certainly did not want this hideous old woman under his roof. A hint of a smile played on her twisted lips. "Do not let my appearance deceive you, monsieur, for true beauty lies within." René could no longer control his cruel laughter. "What would you know of beauty? Take your worthless instrument and leave at once." He turned his back and retreated into the house. Before he could slam the door behind him, however, he was knocked to the ground abruptly by another gush of wind. He rose, frustrated, and turned to close the door once more…but he found himself unable to move.

The old woman's twisted form had begun to glow a brilliant white as a flurry of divine wind seemed to encase her. Before his very eyes, the woman's ugliness had begun to melt away. Within mere moments, René was standing before the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. An exquisite dress of green satin wrapped around her slender form, accenting her beautiful porcelain skin. Her shining blonde locks fell in delicate ringlets over her bare shoulders. The worn harp she had carried had transformed as well. It was now a breathtaking instrument, crafted from beautifully engraved silver.

Unable to speak, René fell to the ground before the woman, nearly weeping at his grave mistake. The enchantress glanced down at his shaking form, her eyes devoid of pity. The coldness in her voice as she spoke shook the young man to the bone. "You have failed yourself, René. Your infatuation with beauty and perfection has poisioned your soul. It is you, not I, who know nothing of beauty. It is time you were punished for your grievous crimes against yourself and your family. From this day forward, you will be doomed to live deep within the catacombs below the Paris Opera, alone with your precious music." He glanced up at her in horror. "Is that not what you've always hoped for, René?" She paused, placing the exquisite instrument before him. "This harp's song will cease in four years time, on your twenty-first birthday. If you are able to find true love and earn her love in return before the last note is struck, you will be free. If not, you will live out the rest of your days in solitude." She lifted her beautiful crystal wand, prepared to seal this man's fate, but did not move her hand. The enchantress stared thoughtfully at René's breathtakingly handsome features. Such a truly ugly being does not deserve such beauty, she thought. "Until you are able to learn the true meaning of beauty and love, the ugliness in your soul will emanate into your physical being. Do you understand?" René could scarcely believe what was taking place and could simply nod his head for fear of further wrath. The woman raised her wand a second time. "And so, it is done."

When René opened his eyes, he found himself lying on a cool, hard surface. As he surveyed his surroundings, he realized that he had not been dreaming the events of the night before. He was sitting in a cavern of sorts, obviously far below the ground. Before him lay an immense room while behind him stretched an immense underground lake. Candlelight flickered off the damp walls of his new home. From what he could see, he had been provided with a beautiful piano, innumerable sheets of parchment, and enough quills and ink to last for quite some time. A small fireplace burned in the corner of the large room and a dimly lit hallway trailed off to his left. Despite the comfortable furnishings he had been provided with, René could not help but feel uneasy in these new surroundings.

There were no windows or any natural source of light. His candles and fireplace were all he had been left with. The air was damp and smelled of mold and with every step he took, the walls echoed around him. The only sounds that met his ears were his own harsh breathing, the crackling of the fireplace, and the soft plucking of the enchanted harp, which came from somewhere down the hall. Suddenly remembering the mysterious woman's enchantment, René raced towards the lake and glanced hesitantly at his reflection in the rippling water. Staring back at him was the face of a hideous beast.

René's entire body was covered in thick, brown fur. He had grown to a height of at least eight feet and had a set of clawed paws. His face resembled a lion, hard, fierce, and with immense fangs. A pair of twisted horns sat atop his boulder-like head and the enormous hump of his back trailed down to a coarse, hairy tail. A deep roar of agony and disbelief echoed throughout the cavern, unheard by human ears. René collapsed to the floor, lost in his grief. "No one will ever love me… I'm a monster…"

Author's Note: Hi there! Hope you guys liked the beginning of my story… at the end, it should be novella-length (50-100 pages) if all goes as planned. I really think this story has the potential to be pretty good, but I'll only write more if I get REVIEWS! Constructive criticism is appreciated, but flames are not. Thanks for reading! hugs Now, review! ;)