Disclaimer: I don't own The Phantom of the Opera in any way, shape, or form.

The Hayfield Times

Chapter One

Christine Daae was nervous. Hayfield High School was the biggest school she had ever seen. She was used to being the new kid by now, as she had moved around a lot with her father, but she was feeling more nervous than usual. Perhaps it was the fact that she was sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the main office, watching a strict-looking secretary frown at her records. She had been sitting there for a long time. Finally the secretary looked up at her.

"All right, Miss Daae, I need you to chose your electives," she said, handing Christine a pamphlet. "You can have two full-year electives, one full-year and one half-year, or four half-years."

Christine skimmed through the little pamphlet. Chorus and Theatre caught her eye, but she skipped over them, remembering what had happened the last time she signed up for music-based electives. She decided to take a full year of Latin, even though she knew she would never use Latin in the real world. She was having trouble deciding what to choose for her second elective. None of the classes seemed to interest her. Then she saw a little paragraph titled "Journalism". Write articles for the school's famous newspaper, The Hayfield Times. Reporting, editing, and creative writing included. Students will also help make the yearbook. That certainly sounded interesting. Christine had never tried writing before. She circled Journalism with the pen she had been given and handed the paperwork back to the secretary.

The secretary, whose name was Mrs. Willis, entered Christine's choices into her computer and printed out a schedule. She handed the sheet to Christine, along with a late pass. "Your homeroom and English room is trailer F-1," she said. "Many of your classes will be in trailers since the school is undergoing renovations. Your fellow classmates will be able to direct you to your other classrooms, but here's a map just in case. Welcome to Hayfield."

"Thank you," Christine said. She picked up her backpack and exited the main office. She noticed that on her schedule was a locker number and combination. She decided to look for her locker later, as she was already five minutes late for homeroom.

Trailer F-1 was Christine's English classroom. The other kids turned to look at her as she walked in late. Christine suddenly felt even more nervous. Knock it off, she told herself. You're sixteen years old. Stop being shy and nervous!

"Hello…are you Christine Daae?" the teacher at the front of the room asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Christine answered politely.

"Have a seat anywhere, Christine," the teacher said. "I'm Mrs. Flipski. Class, say hello to Christine."

A general mumble of "Hi" filled the air. Christine sat down in an empty seat in the back.

"As I was saying," Mrs. Flipski said, "the auditions for the school musical have been cancelled because our poor theatre teacher, Mr. Opperly, has broken his arm. He will make an announcement when the auditions are back on."

"Madame Flipski," a blonde girl in the front called out in a thick French accent. "What eez ze reazon for Monsieur Opperlee's eenjury? Was eet ze ghost?"

The room was very quiet. Christine was puzzled. A ghost?

"I don't know what happened to Mr. Opperly," Mrs. Flipski said nervously. "It might have been the ghost. But it isn't right to gossip about it. You can all go early. If anyone stops you in the halls, tell them that Mrs. Flipski couldn't stand having you in her class a moment longer. I'll see you all in fourth period!"

The sniggering class rose from their seats. Christine looked at her schedule. She had Journalism first period. She looked at the map to see where she was going, but found that it was poorly drawn and very confusing. Christine sighed and got up. She could tell already that this was going to be a long day.

Somehow, Christine found her way to the Journalism room before the bell rang. She expected to see desks, a few computers, and a chalkboard. What she didn't expect to see was a vast labyrinth of cubicles, several telephones, forty stacks of newspapers, and a big whiteboard with a deadline chart on it.

"Hey! Are you the new kid?" a girl sitting at a large desk in the front of the room asked. A large sign on the desk said "EDITOR".

"Yes! I'm Christine Daae," Christine answered, walking over to the desk and shaking the editor's hand.

"Hi, I'm Sandy. Nice to meet ya'," the editor said. "All right…ever been in a journalism class before?"

"No," Christine admitted.

"Good!" Sandy said briskly. "Fresh meat." She dug through her desk and pulled out some paperwork. "We take Journalism really seriously here. We issue newspapers every Wednesday, so we're pretty busy. Here's last week's paper." She brandished a thick paper in front of Christine's nose.

"It looks like The Washington Post!" Christine commented, examining the newspaper. It looked like a real newspaper!

"I know it does," Sandy said shortly. "You're going to have to work hard to do well in this class, kid. This isn't just a class. It's a business. Half of our profits go to the Student Council Administration, and the other half pays for our materials. I hope you're up to scratch on your writing skills."

Christine was rather intimidated by Sandy's attitude. She was afraid to say that she had no experience at all in writing.

"Here, you'll have to fill this out before you're issued a Press Pass," Sandy said, shoving the pile of paperwork into Christine's hands. She pushed a button on the telephone on her desk. "Meg?" she said into the speakerphone. There was no answer. Sandy tried again. "Meg, pick up." She got very angry. "Meg Giry, pick up the phone! I know you can hear me! Don't pull that 'technical difficulties' crud on me again!" The phone was silent. Sandy huffed. She got up from her desk and marched over to the cubicles. "MEG!" she bellowed into the aisle.

"What?" The blonde girl from Homeroom poked her head out of a cubicle. Her French accent was gone.

"GET YOUR BUTT OVER HERE!" Sandy yelled.

"Okay." The girl sounded completely carefree. She walked casually up to the seething editor.

"Why didn't you answer your phone?" Sandy snarled.

"My phone never rang," Meg said with a smart-alecky kind of tone.

Sandy rolled her eyes. "Here," she said, pushing Christine into the aisle. "Have an apprentice."

"Oooh, goody!" Meg said, clapping her hands. "It's Christine, isn't it? You're in my homeroom."

"Yeah," Christine replied.

"Get back to work," Sandy grumbled. She was already back at her desk.

"Come on, Christine," Meg said happily. "I'll show you around." She poked her head around the wall of another cubicle. "Hey, guys! Come meet Christine!"

Meg introduced Christine to everyone in the class and then proceeded to show her around the room. Behind the vast labyrinth of cubicles was a lounge complete with vending machines, a room that contained a printing press, and an enormous closet where every single edition of The Hayfield Times was archived. Christine learned that Meg was an aspiring actress, so she sometimes spoke in weird accents. Her impressions of Sandy the Editor were a favorite among the other journalists.

"So…is there actually a teacher in this place?" Christine asked when she and Meg arrived back at Meg's cubicle.

Meg shrugged. "Somewhere," she said nonchalantly. "Ms. Goermann, or Ms. G., as we call her, never seems to be anywhere. I personally think she stays at home and telecommutes or something."

"How very strange," Christine mused. She looked down at the slightly-crumbled paperwork in her hands. "I guess I'd better fill this out…"

"Come in, I'll find you a place to sit," Meg offered. Her cubicle turned out to be very messy. Meg, like Sandy the Editor, had a large teacher's desk, but it was covered in paper and rubber bands. Meg unfolded a folding chair and set it in the corner. "You don't get a cubicle of your own until you get promoted," she said apologetically. "For now you'll just have to sit in here with me."

A telephone rang from somewhere under a pile of old newspapers. "I thought you said the telephone didn't work," Christine said suspiciously.

"You believed me? My acting skills are getting better!" Meg said mischievously before pulling a receiver out of the mess and saying, "Hayfield Times." She listened as the person on the other end spoke. "Really? What did he do this time? Dang. That's not gonna be cheap to fix! All right, I'll get Joe to go cover it. Thanks for the tip." She hung up.

"What happened?" Christine asked instantly.

"They're having some trouble down in the Drama department," Meg informed her as she shoved a pile off newspaper clippings off the phone. "The ghost knocked down a bunch of old set pieces and broke the curtain mechanisms, the lighting, and the Drama sub's arm."

"What's all this nonsense about a ghost?" Christine asked, wrinkling her nose. "Is Hayfield haunted?"

Meg looked up at her mysteriously. "You bet, sister," she said, one eyebrow raised. "Hayfield is definitely haunted…by the Phantom of the Fine Arts! More commonly known as the Drama Ghost."

Christine felt a shiver go down her spine. "You…believe in him?" she asked quietly.

"Of course I do!" Meg said, looking almost offended. "You'd be crazy not to! The Drama Ghost has been haunting this school for, like, forever! I can't remember when he started…must've been about a year and a half before I came here. But he's still here, and he runs the school. He breaks things, breaks people, hacks into Hayfield's private info, all the good stuff."

"Why haven't the police gotten involved?" Christine asked, completely ignoring her paperwork now.

"They have!" Meg said. "They can't find him. He disappears without a trace. It's like he was never here to start with. I think he lives in the school, in all those nooks and crannies and corners that no one knows about. But I'm just guessing."

"How very strange," Christine said, bending over her paperwork again. "So you're going to go check out the Drama department scene?"

"I was going to get Joe to do it," Meg said thoughtfully, scratching her nose, "but then again I haven't covered anything important in a while. Maybe I should do it. Yeah, I will. You can come with me and start your training. Are you finished with that form yet?"

"No," Christine said. She started writing again.

"Faster, woman, faster!" Meg roared. "Write! Write! Write! Come on, time stops for no reporter! Hurry- oh. Done? Good, come on!" She dragged Christine over to the back of the room, where she shoved the paperwork into a filing cabinet and grabbed a slip of paper from another drawer.

"What's this?" Christine asked, accepting the paper from Meg.

"It's your temporary press pass," Meg told her. "The only one who's technically allowed to issue them is Ms. G., but since she's not around, it's okay. Let's go!" She raced toward the door. "Let's move, Christine! We've got to get there before the Journalism Club does!"

"What's the Journalism Club?" Christine asked, panting in her efforts to keep up with Meg.

"Our mortal enemies," Meg said dryly as she turned a corner. She jumped onto the railing of a staircase and slid down it. Christine took the stairs. "They meet after school and put together this cruddy pamphlet called The Hayfield Connection. It's not as good a newspaper as ours is, but they sell it for fifty cents less than ours! We've done really bad financially in the past 'cause the JC sold better papers then we did. But this year they got a really big budget cut so the school could pay for the renovations. We're back on top!"

"Then why are we running?" Christine gasped.

"So we can rub it in the JC's faces!" Meg shouted. She opened a janitorial closet and stepped inside. "Come on, in here!"

"Why?" Christine puffed, totally out of breath.

"See for yourself," Meg said mysteriously. Christine entered the closet, and Meg shut the door behind them. "Come on, this way!" Meg started moving to the back of the closet. Christine followed, wondering why on earth Meg would want to be in a smelly closet like this. Finally Meg stopped, and Christine almost bumped into her. "Welcome to the stage, my dear Christine!"

"Wow…" Christine whispered. The closet led straight into the wings of the stage.

"That's Mr. Henfricks, the principal of the tenth grade," Meg said, pointing to a man with a walkie-talkie, who was watching what appeared to be the Drama class. "He's the one we need to talk to. You stand back a little bit; people get uncomfortable when reporters crowd around them." She marched up to Mr. Henfricks with a charming smile on her face and asked for some information. Christine couldn't stop herself from giggling when Meg shoved a tape recorder under Mr. Henfricks' nose.

Christine took a look around the auditorium. It had just been renovated, so everything was brand new. Rows upon rows of purple chairs lined the audience. The stage was painted black, and it slightly reflected the bright lights that shone onto it. Christine smiled. She loved stages and reveled in the limelight. She found herself wishing she had signed up for theater instead of Latin, but she caught herself. She just couldn't go through another episode like that…

A creaking sound overhead made Christine look up. Suspended above the stage were catwalks that swayed slightly as though someone had just walked over them. They were accessible by a tall spiral staircase that she longed to climb.

You should be listening to Meg, a guilty voice in Christine's head said. She turned back to watch her new friend, but couldn't help looking up when the catwalks creaked again.

Somebody out in the audience shrieked. Christine jumped.

"He's here!" the girl yelled, pointing towards Christine.

Meg wheeled around. "Oh my God!" she screamed. "It's him- the Phantom of the Fine Arts!"

Christine jumped around to see a tall, cloaked, hooded figure behind her. She stepped back quickly, her legs turning to lead. She hadn't believed in the Drama Ghost before, but she was certainly a believer now! She couldn't see the ghost's face, but she was sure that red eyes were glaring hungrily at her from beneath that hood.

The ghost took a step forward. Then he took another step. Soon he was right in front of Christine, who was too petrified to move. "Hello," he whispered. "You must be Christine."

...

A/N: Thanks for taking a look at The Hayfield Times! Just to let you know, this is my second phic ever. I'd appreciate it if you took a peek at my other story, The Phantom Angel. I would really, really appreciate your reviews! Feedback is important- it motivates me to write more! So if you ever want to read the end of this phic, please review! If you think it's a dumb story and that it should go down the toilet…just don't review. Don't flame me, please! If I don't get any reviews I'll take a hint. Thanks for reading!