A performance, a tragedy
The voice of the choir faded into the background as the lights on the stage dimmed and the Opera came to an end.
Ann stood very still as she listened to the sea of applause around her. Excitement pulsed in her so strongly that she felt tears tickle behind her eyes.
"Well," Mme du'Fleur said next to her, "now that was something wasn't it?"
"It always is the last evening." Another voice behind her whispered as the curtain was dropped. "It's as if... Well, Magic is all I can say. It's sad to think that none of us will probably ever sing this again."
The choir began to move.
In the distance Ann could hear Monsieur Giles Andre thank the audience for their continuous support and invite them to the banquet prepared for staff and audience alike. It was a tradition to hold one at the end of each running.
"All the cast will the there." He said. "Please, feel free to talk to them."
Ann started to move down from her position.
"Well, I don't think it's magic at all." Sophia's voice rose up above the rest of the commotion. "I'm so glad we can finally put this behind us. This has been a terrible Opera. I must say..."
Ann rolled her eyes as she felt the usual anonymous pair of hands help her down. She nodded in the person's direction and moved to the group.
"If you think it was so terrible Sophia." She replied. "Then why didn't you leave? Nobody's keeping you here."
The buzz of the choir died down a bit.
"Well," Sophia's voice was calculated, "I didn't say all of it was bad. The costumes were great. Oh Ann," she felt hands on her shoulders and a faint, faded smell of perfume that alerted her that Sophia was close, "I wish you could've seen it."
Ann wasn't fazes as she smiled.
"Oh, I wish I could." She said in the same, phony sincere voice. "At least I would've appreciated it more than you."
The hands left her shoulders.
"You little... You are nothing but a..."
Sophia cut off what she wanted to say.
Ann twisted her head to the side as another hand rested on her shoulder.
"I believe I saw you're father in the audience young Sophia." Mme du'Fleur's voice was brisk. "He must've been disappointed not to see you in the /corpse de'ballet/..."
"You old hag."
Sophia stormed off in the wake of Mme du'Fleur's soft chuckle.
Ann grinned and joined her.
"What's that all about?" She asked as she felt the older woman slip her hand into the crook of her arm and lead her in the general direction of the mass.
Mme du'Fleur chuckled softly. "Sophia originally came here with the intention of joining the ballet just a few months before you." She said, her tones amused. "But Mme Giry thought that she wasn't good enough. According to her if the Opera's standards were dropping as the people are claiming, she wasn't going to give them a reason to point finger at her."
Ann laughed softly to herself. "Must've been quite a shock to perfect little Sophia." She said then shook her head. "But no, Mme. We should not speak like this."
The older woman laughed.
"From the person who started all of this." Ann felt her arm squeezed warmly. "Ann, you should just be careful around her. Sophia's father is a minor patron of the Opera. Not big enough to frighten and intimidate your Aunt per say but... He might have a lot of influence up above. I'm not sure how much your Aunt can intimidate the managers but... Well, just be careful. You might not be worth the financial risk in some people's eyes."
Ann blinked and frowned. Her light mood became a heavy heart.
"Don't let it upset you now child." Mme du'Fleur tried to assure her. "Let's go to the banquet. There's no telling that it might even happen..."
Ann shook her head and patted the woman's arm. "I know." She said and stepped back away from the flow of people. "It's not that. I just... I'll come around later okay? I know where it is."
She felt the skeptical look.
"Are you sure?" The woman asked. "I can stay with you..."
Ann shook her head determined.
"I've been wandering around here for long enough." She said. "I'll see you in a moment."
It was the politest dismissal she could think of.
Helena du'Fleur sighed softly and nodded.
"Don't stay away too long." She said softly. "You deserve this more than anybody else..."
Ann didn't answer her, but she smiled and headed back to the stage.
There was something magical about an empty stage.
Ann stood very still at entrance as she listened to the Opera breath around her. In the two months that she had been here she had started to think of it as a living, breathing being.
The Opera was alive - and waiting for her.
She pushed the chain of her cane to the crook of her elbow and slowly walked forward. Her hands trailed over the curtains, causing the chains that weighed them down to jingle softly.
By now, there was nobody around. Everyone from the stage hands, to the salient patrons were being entertained in one of the halls.
She was alone.
Or, not alone...
There was the sense. That feeling that has been shadowing her since she came here. Her Watcher, her Wraith - her Guardian Angel was out there - observing her.
Not watching over her, she had realized but, watching her.
In the beginning she had thought that this presence was good. There was suddenly always somebody around to direct her in the right direction when she lost track of where she was. The plumber, the rat-catcher, the cook, the violinist... Every time she was made to believe that it was a different person, with a different voice and accent but always the touch was the same.
When she came to this realization she set out one day to test her theory.
Ann laughed softly as she remembered how she had faked a fall on the stairs to try and lure out her bystander. She had allowed her cane to roll down the stairs and fumbled around aimlessly and determinately for the better part of half an hour waiting for her escort. When she finally came to the realization that he wasn't going to show she spent the better part of an hour grudgingly searching for her cane which had rolled away further than she thought...
She got the distinct feeling that somebody was laughing at her.
Needless to say she didn't attempt to embark on such ventures again and dismissed any thoughts or plans as childish gestures.
The phantom presence continued to haunt her.
Ann pushed away her thoughts and took her cane up again.
Cautiously she made her way across the stage, mindful of the props and dÃ©cor that came in the way of her cane. At some point she stopped, turned and slowly walked to the front of the stage. Reaching the barrier she took three steps back and listened top the expanse before her.
Ann very rarely wished that she could see.
Being blind was... Normal. Being treated as blind was interesting, at the best of times, and being mocked because she was blind was a minor affair.
If she could survive two brothers at home then she could survive Sophia CarrÃ©.
That pompous girl was the last thing that bothered her.
Ann sighed and rubbed over the angel on the handle of her cane.
What she wished for, was for people to stop seeing her as being nothing but blind. What she wished for, with all her heart, was to be given the same chance as everybody else.
That was all.
She sighed and carefully put her cane down.
She took a few more steps down and sang a low, test note. Listening to the sound naturally travel around her she took three measured steps to the left and closed her eyes.
"Act three. When Marguerite finds the small chest that Faust left her," She began to recite, "with the help of Mephistopheles off course, she opens it and is completely enchanted by the jewels. Wasting no time she puts them on, whilst singing..."
Ann opened her eyes, took a deep breath and started in a soft soprano voice:
"Ah Je ris de me voir
si/ belle en ce miroir! .../
Est-ce/ toi, Marguerite?"// /
Oh, I laugh when I see how beautiful I am in this mirror, is that you Marguerite?
As her confidence grew she dropped her shoulders, strengthened her voice...
"Ah! S'il Ã©tait ici!
S'il/ me voyait ainsi!"// /
Oh, if only he was here! If only he could see me now!
The Opera moved around her. Something was...
/"Dieu!/ C'est comme une main qui sur mon bras se pose!"
Oh, like the hand that touches my arm.
Iron shifted and screamed.
The cry came from everywhere and nowhere at once.
Ann's world slowed down as she dived forward. Even before she hit the ground there was a loud thud behind her.
Ann rolled forward and pulled herself into a fetal position. Her breathing was like a storm wind in her ears.
"What happened?" She shouted above it. "What happened?"
There was no reply.
Ann bit her lip hard and slowly pushed herself up, her arms nearly buckled underneath her but she swallowed her fear and stood up.
Again there was no reply.
Ann shook her head to rid herself of the noise and try to orientate herself.
She went down on her hands and knees and slowly did a sweep of the floor.
Her heart leaped with relief as her fingers brushed over the familiar surface of her cane.
"I'm never letting you go again." She whispered to it as she slipped the chain around her wrist. "Are you okay?" She called out. "Who had called? Please..."
Something had hit the ground.
Ann stood very still and hugged herself. It couldn't be...
Slowly, with her hand shaking so much she couldn't hold the cane properly, she moved forward towards where she had previously stood.
The cane's sweeps of the floor was erratic.
Please don't let it be...
The unfamiliar object made a soft, dull sound as her cane hit against it.
Ann swallowed and slowly traced her cane over it.
It was too small...
Feeling faint with relief Ann sank down next to it and explored the unfamiliar item.
The identification was fairly easy.
It was a sand bag.
Running her fingers through the spilled dust Ann frowned and looked up.
Things still didn't feel right.
She stood up and turned a 360 degree circle.
Unfamiliar sounds taunted her from above.
"Monsieur?" She called. "Monsieur, are you still up there?" There was no doubt in her mind that the speaker had been a man. "Monsieur?"
A soft, strained grunt... A creak from an iron pulley...
"Think Ann think." The young woman reprimanded herself. "What is it? Come on... /What is it?/"
She closed her eyes.
The strain of taunt rope...
Blue orbs flew open as she gasped.
"Monsieur? Are you stuck? Have you fallen? The walkway, did it break?" She began to feel frustrated. "Are you even conscious?"
She waited for a reply as the ropes creaked and moved above her. Occasionally she heard a soft human strained grunt but the person refused to respond to her calls.
She moved across the stage, turned around and moved back.
"I'm going to get help." She said out of the blue. "Just... stay there..."
She turned in the direction that she came and moved toward the entrance of the stage in a brisk walk.
Ann stopped and turned around.
"I do not... Need help."
The voice was stained.
It was him.
Ann went back to the stage.
"How high are you up?" She asked. "Are you alright Monsieur?"
There was a quick sound of a rope shifting, Ann instinctively jumped to the one side as she heard another weight swing above her.
"I'm fine." The reply was short. "Go to your banquet, your assistance is not needed."
Ann frowned and slowly walked back to the bag.
"I think it is." She said, straining her hearing to try and determine what was happening above her. She stayed silent for a while as she moved around on the stage, slowly turned around a few times and finally stopped right below him.
Keeping her head slightly twisted to the side she lifted up her cane and started poking in the air.
"You're stuck higher up." She said more to herself than to him. "Monsieur..."
"Don't go for help."
Ann sniffed and snorted.
"Fine." She snapped and turned the other way.
"Then I'll do it myself..."
Watching her search for the ladder that was right in front of her was almost painful.
"Stay there!" He snapped and tried to pull himself up. "Foolish child, you will be of no help to me!"
He heard a soft snort from the bottom.
"If you tell me what's wrong I'll be the judge of that." She said. "I'm coming up to give you a hand."
It was just what he needed he realized, but he wasn't going to tell her that. Dangling between two walkways with his one arm painfully twisted into the ropes and the other the only thing keeping him from plummeting to the ground he had come to the early realization that he wasn't going to get very far if he tried to do this on his own.
But, he didn't want to expose himself to anybody else and she couldn't be of any use.
Somehow the phrase: "Being stuck between a rock and a hard place." Didn't come close to describing his position.
He turned his attention back to the girl as she let out a triumphant cry and started scaling the ladder.
"Be careful with that cane." He snapped as he realized that it was dangling from her arm. "It might trip you on the way up. Imprudent child!"
Ann Leroux paused for a moment to push it higher up to her shoulder. Her face was tense and determined as she resumed climbing.
"How far am I from a walkway closets to you?" She queried at some point and looked hopefully in his direction.
He chose to remain silent. He hoped that, if he didn't encourage her, she would stop this foolish venture.
Ann waited for his response for a while but gave up and muttered something he didn't hear and got a better grip on the bar. She maneuvered the cane from her shoulder and, when it was securely in her hand, swept it vertically behind her. When the cane hit the walkway a little bit above her, she shouldered the cane again and climbed up.
The cane came out again as she judged how far and how wide the strip was. With a touch of pure luck she had managed to get onto the right one.
Despite himself he found that he held his breath as she removed her one foot from the ladder, bite her tongue between her teeth and hop lightly over to the walkway. Her hand immediately grabbed the guard rail on the other side as her momentum carried her forward.
She stood still for a moment or two then turned around, her face flushed with excitement.
"I don't know what all the fuss is about." She said to the world in general and, with her one hand on the railing and the other keeping tabs of the open side with her cane she slowly walked towards him.
Ropes and sand bags brushed her hair and face.
He couldn't take in any more.
"Child, stop now!" He commanded her. "Keep your hand at level with your eyes!"
She paused and frowned, uncomprehending.
"Keep your hand at level with your eyes." He said again. "There are a lot of loose ropes hanging around. If your neck snags on one of them..."
Ann paled for the first time and nodded. She removed her hand from the guard rail but hesitated, a desperate light in her eyes as she tightened her hand on her cane.
He understood her predicament immediately and sighed softly.
He had not wanted to get involved or encourage her...
"Put your cane down or put it over your shoulder." He said his tone softer than before. "Keep your one hand on the railing, the other in front of you. I will tell you where to walk."
He expected her to hesitate, to turn around and say that it was too important a task to entrust a stranger with. He expected her to show fear.
Instead she tightened her mouth determined and nodded. The cane went to her shoulder, the hand before her eyes.
She took two steps forward before a noose slipped around her arm. Ann stopped and let out a slow breath as she detangled herself from it.
He saw that it was rather loose. An idea formed.
Before she could walk away he told her to stop.
"See whether you can pull the rope loose." He told her as he judged the distance from the broken walkway to him. "If it's just hanging there without a sand bag in means it's unused. All I need to get up is somewhere else to hold on to. Can you get it?"
Ann frowned, uncertain for the first time. She looked up, squinted and closed her eyes. He wondered whether the reaction was instinctive. A small shake of her head told him that she didn't understand with what she was faced but, she swallowed, grabbed a hold of the rope with both hands and pulled. The rope came down smoothly but snagged before it came down. Ann frowned; looking almost offended, and jerked it harder.
He experienced a heart wrenching moment when he saw her balance buckle underneath her but she shifted her hip against the railing and jerked harder. The knot that had held the rope captive came loose and allowed the rest of the rope to drop down over her. He thought for a moment that she would panic with the unknown entity coiled around her but Ann only searched around for the dropped end, looped it over her shoulder and carried on. She didn't say anything until he bid her to stop.
Ann's face was concerned as she peered ahead of her and slowly sat down.
"How long can you still hold on?" She queried, took the end and slowly started rolling the rope into a bit more manageable coil.
"As long as it takes you to give me that rope." Was his only reply. "You'll have to listen to me very carefully. You will not be able to hold my weight so you will need to twist the end round the railing and keep free a long enough part for you to hold onto. Can you do that?"
Ann nodded, once again showing pure trust and no hesitance as she stood up.
"Just tell me where to fasten it..."
She tried, and failed, more than five times to throw him the rope.
Ann was more frustrated and angry with herself than she had ever been in her life. She never minded when she couldn't do something for herself, she had steadily gotten use to the idea that some things were just a little bit further than she could grasp and, she learned to do without. But, standing there - openly failing a person that she had set out to help was heart shattering.
She rolled the rope back up.
"I'm going to try and get closer." She said determinedly. "You said you almost caught that one?"
The voice was silent.
"I told you before, the walkway is dangerous ahead. I think it is time you leave."
Ann shook her head vehemently.
"One more time." She snapped. "And, I'm moving closer."
He had snapped that at her so many times that she didn't even pay his tone any mind.
"I'll try it once more from this distance then." She said and swallowed. "Please, just try one more time. I won't leave you here."
Again, an earth shattering silence.
Ann tightened her hold on the loop and closed her eyes.
"Turn your body a little bit to the left. Just a little."
Ann nodded and readied the rope. "I'm going to throw it harder this time." She said. "On three..."
Ann kept her eyes closed and silenced everything inside of her. Knowing that he probably couldn't hold on any longer she found it realistic to presume that this was one of her last chances.
If not her last.
He was very tired.
She swallowed and, as she started her slow count down reached out with everything that she had. The Opera moved around her.
She let out a slow breath.
"Help me, help him." She whispered to the Opera around her. "Please. Three..."
She threw the rope and grabbed a hold of the other end in her other hand. There was a few heart beats of nothing then a cry of exertion.
Although she expected it, Ann did not anticipate the sudden amount of weight that pulled on the rope. The coils around the bar twisted tightly as her arms were jerked away from her.
"Hold it!" The command came just as she threw her weight back against the rope. She kept it tightly against her chest as she heard several dull thuds of more sandbags hitting the ground.
The weight on the rope was still too much.
"My grip is slipping!" Ann warned her companion as she strained to keep a secure grip on the coarse rope. "It's too heavy..."
There was a little relief on the rope and seconds later two more thuds. Ann bit her lip and leaned against the rope, trying to twist the short piece around her arms.
She felt as if she sat there for an eternity when...
He guided her down from the ladder. Not quite touching her, but he kept his hands in such a position that, if she did slip he'd be able to catch her.
Ann was very pale as she dropped down the last few steps. With shaking hands she slipped the cane from her one shoulder and hugged her arms close to her chest.
He watched her in an awkward silence and turned to leave.
She reacted immediately.
"Please... Waite." She said quickly and managed to grab his wrist.
He jerked and stared at her hand before turning his gaze on her face. Ann opened her mouth to say something but cut herself short and slowly removed her hand from his.
"I... I'm sorry." She said. "I... use touch to... See people. Sorry if I act too quickly I..." She laughed suddenly. "I don't respect other people's space I'll admit that. Please, don't let it drive you away. I... Will try to refrain from contact."
He found himself staring at her as her eyes searched around for the face she will never see, bright hope shining from them.
"Here's an idea." She said suddenly. "Let's go to the banquet together. I'm sure they've only just started with the feast. They always have so many speeches to deliver... And the patrons to thank. These people take so long to get organized..."
She trailed off and grinned embarrass, her eyes searching hard for his face. "I... talk too much as well Monsieur." She said honestly. "Please, I... hate it if people are silent in my company. I need their voices to tell me how they feel... What they think... You..." She bit her lip again and blushed. "Please, will you come to the banquet with me?"
He sighed and shook his head as he looked in the opposite direction of the hall where she wanted to go.
"I wasn't planning on going." He said softly. "But I will take you there."
Ann's face fell, disappointed.
"That's... Not necessary." She said with a sigh. "I wasn't really into going either really. I didn't really want to go alone and I just thought that if..." She smiled and shook her head.
He felt almost guilty at the disappointment in her tone.
He sighed and glanced over his shoulder.
"I will take you to your apartments then." He said and placed a hand in the crook of her arm.
Though subdued, she nodded her thanks.
The hand brushed over hers as he placed it on the wall.
"Do you know where you are now?" He asked her, his tone soft.
She allowed her fingers to trail over the smooth surface. Whether intentionally or unintentionally she took a step back towards him and glanced back over her shoulder. This close to her, he could smell her perfume as surely as she could probably smell his cologne.
"I know who you are." She said suddenly, her tone steady.
He started back and stared at her.
She touched her bottom lip with her tongue and turned around so that she could face him.
"Or... I know who you are not Monsieur Erik." She said a little more assured. "I know that you are not the rat catcher, the physician, the plumber, the organist, the organ tuner, the secretary or any other members of the staff, including all of those you told me you were."
When he didn't reply she smiled.
"I knew it was you every time." She said. "I'm not stupid Monsieur Erik. I make a living out of identifying people from their voice and presence. You're voice may have changed every time but not your..." She trailed off and balled a fist to place over her heart. "I can feel you watching me. Always. Why?"
He didn't answer her, instead choosing to step away from her completely.
She began to look desperate as she turned her face from one side to the other, trying to pinpoint him.
"Don't disappear again Monsieur, please..."
It was too late.
Feeling upset and emotional Ann slowly turned around and walked down the deserted corridors to her room.
How is it that, the moment she felt she gained some ground with this phantom presence she'd turn that around and drive him away.
Who was he really?
She didn't know and she had a feeling she couldn't ask any one.
Finding their living apartments she unlocked the door and went inside. She stopped in the middle of the room and listened to the silence around her.
Sometimes, her darkness was very lonely.
She went over to the piano, played a few rifts but found that she couldn't focus.
Restless she stood up, when to her bed and sank down.
He was gone. She couldn't feel him even now.
Ann closed her eyes and rubbed the angel on her cane...
She felt as if she sat there for an eternity when the weight of the rope finally disappeared. She experienced a few heart wrenching moments where she waited to hear the sickening thud on the stage floor but then she heard the heavy breathing next to her. A hand touched her in the small of her back.
"You can let go... I made it."
Nearly crying with relief she let the rope slip from her hands and placed them on her face.
They sat in silence for a very long time. The hand remained in her back.
"Thank... you. Thank you very much."
The words sounded foreign and strange on his tongue, as if it had never been spoken before.
She looked up, futilely searching for the face she would never find.
"It's my pleasure." She said and swallowed down unwanted tears. "I'm Ann by the way."
The silence stretched.
"You can... call me Erik, young Ann. I will help you get down."
AN: I AM SO SORRY!!! I completely forgot about this, until I got a little memo that I left on my desk for myself this MORNING. Gosh, lol, such an idiot. A hard working one, but an idiot none the less. Hope you enjoyed this!! I've put up two chapters for making you wait.