Leaves rustled as a wind swept over the city. As it blew and twisted its way through the city square, the residents of said city shivered and bundled their coats around themselves, bustling alongside each other in hope of possibly getting home that little bit faster. Not that it was a harsh wind but a hollow one. A wind that no doubt reminded many of a dark hollow time in their lives. But alas, this story is not about such people.
Our scene begins, instead, in an old performance house in the middle of this town. An opera house, to be precise. Despite its old age, though, the spectacle has not lost any of its grandness. Despite the dust that covers every statue and the cobwebs adorning every corner, there is still a certain presence and flamboyancy to this old forgotten place, with the extravagant detail being just as impressive as it no doubt was all those years ago.
However, on this particular day, there was a feeling of disturbance residing inside. A large sign billowed outside along with the wind, one that read; 'Vente Publique Aux Encheres. Public auction today!' The wind travelled inside the open door, in which a betting auction was currently taking place. Despite this, there were only roughly ten people standing inside. The auctioneer stood up to his podium, his stance telling of a man who had been standing there too long. All joy and enthusiasm was drained from his face, telling that all he wished to do was leave this drafty old place and retire to his home. A woman looked at him from the stage below in distain, her own face telling a different story entirely. Sighing as he looked upon her, he cleared his throat.
"Lot 663, ladies and gentleman."
He motioned for the man next to him – he honestly couldn't remember his name – to hold up the item he spoke of.
"A poster from this houses production of 'Hannibal' by Falemo. Showing here. Do I have ten francs?"
The reaction from the gathering was less than enthusiastic. Not a hand was raised, the expressions of several telling him that they were less than impressed with the starting bid. Curse it, he thought, I'm getting too old for this.
"All right, five then?"
That seemed to garner a more positive response, as a hand was deftly raised rather highly from the back, so as to be seen.
"Five, I am bid."
"Seven, against you sir. Seven?"
Another from the left side.
"Eight from you sir, eight. Going once…twice…Sold, to the sir in the left wing, thank you."
As the next lot was announced, the woman from before, who had clearly made her feelings known concerning the attitude of the auctioneer, turned her head and her breath stopped for a second. To her right, she saw an old man, though granted not as old as herself, sat in a wheelchair. He didn't look out of place in the setting at all. In fact, he looked as if he had been there all his life, a sad forgotten man that no one had bothered to check on, despite his grand appearance of his coat and hat placed upon his head. A man that had seen and experienced too much that no one had ever bothered to ask about. She felt her dry lips pull into a small, sad smile.
I wonder, she thought, if he remembers me at all? Almost as if fate had it planned, the man raised his head and the two pair of eyes connected. Almost immediately, though, as quickly as it happened, the man looked away. I suppose, she mused as the next lot regained her attention, he doesn't want to remember.
"Lot 665, ladies and gentleman. A papier-mâché music box, in the shape of a barrel organ. Attached, the figure of a monkey, in Persian robes, playing the cymbals. Discovered in the vaults of the theatre, still in perfect working order, ladies and gentlemen. Showing here. Shall we start at fifteen francs?"
She looked back and saw a flash of recognition cross the old mans face. He motioned to the woman beside him, who raised her hand in his place.
"Fifteen, I am bid."
Subconsciously, she felt her own hand rise.
"Twenty francs, Madame Héderváry, thank you."
She looked over at the man, watching his eyebrows narrow in pain as the music box began to play, its sweet sound carrying through the old halls of art that used to sport so much more music than the simple sweet sound dancing around them.
"Twenty-five francs, I am bid. Going once… twice… Sold, to Monsieur Bonnefoy. Thank you sir."
She sighed to herself, watching as the auctioneer motioned for the man beside him to carefully bring the music box over to the lucky bidder. Who was, of course, the old man whom she knew recognised her but did not wish to acknowledge it. As he took the old box that was still emitting that sweet sound, he grimaced.
A collector's piece indeed, he thought to himself, every detail exactly as he said. I wonder, will you still play when all the rest of us are dead?
He raised his head slowly, as the next lot was announced.
"Lot 666, then. A chandelier, in pieces.'
The gathering of people looked behind them, noticing, for the first time, a large cylinder container, the numbers 666 adorned in bold letters on its left side. The auctioneer smiled to himself. He could tell, by the looks on several faces as they saw it, that they remembered that time. The time when the chandelier, now in pieces, was dropped into the audience and crashed onto the seats of the theatre. He decided to speak.
"Many of you may recall, the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera. A mystery, never fully explained. We're told, ladies and gentlemen, that this is the very chandelier which featured in the famous disaster. Our workshops have repaired and rewired parts of it with the new electric light."
His eyebrows narrowed, as he saw the old man in the wheelchair, clutching the music box close to him, bow his head, as if in pain.
"Perhaps we can… frighten away the ghost of so many years ago. With a little… illumination."
He snapped his fingers and it felt as if the theatre had burst into life as the years came flooding back, in all their colourful and musical shades. The dust lifted and reduced the statues to their former splendour of so many years ago. Yes, back so many years ago, when this long forgotten old relic was full of life, as dancers flew backstage, trying to fix their costumes, and sopranos vocalised in the mirrors, oblivious to the world around them.
And as the old man, Francis Bonnefoy, let his eyes close, he saw the years play back to him all the pain, joy, heartbreak and tragedy of that unfortunate incident involving the Phantom of the opera.