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The Phantom Reincarnate: Part 1

Erik and I were the best of friends.
He would stick up for me, and I would stick up for him too. He would share his lunch, and I would share mine. We’d been friends since both of us could barely walk. And now, in our freshman year of high school, that bond of friendship was still there. Many said we’d make the perfect couple, but it just seemed too weird of an idea. Our friendship was normal until . . .
Erik and his family were victims of arson—someone had lit their house on fire for no apparent reason. And since it was the driest part of August, the house lit quickly and violently.
Only Erik survived. His parents, two sisters, one brother, and insane cat did not make it out. Even though Erik escaped with his life, he was horribly disfigured. His body was almost completely burned, except for the left side of his face. The doctors said it was a miracle that he had escaped alive, and they were equally baffled that the left side of his face was completely free of burns.
While Erik was recovering in the hospital, I stayed by his side. I would let no one take me from him. While he was conscious, I talked to him, sometimes making “Phantom of the Opera” jokes. He seemed to get a kick out of those.
“You’d be the perfect Phantom,” I said, smirking.
“Well, our school is doing “The Phantom of the Opera” for the fall musical.” Unlike most schools, we had our musical in the fall and our play in the spring. Erik’s uncovered left eye twinkled. “If I get better, I’ll try out for it.” He didn’t seem so sure, though.
“You’ll get better, I promise,” I replied.
“Whatever you say,” Erik muttered, looking out the window.
If we knew that auditioning for “The Phantom of the Opera” would change our lives forever, I would’ve backed out then and there.

“So, you ready?” I asked Erik, who was leaning against the wall. It was the audition day, September 13, and it also happened to be on a Friday. I just hoped that no one had bad luck.
“As I’ll ever be,” he muttered. It was only a month after the fire, and I could tell Erik was having a bad time. The kids ridiculed him, calling him names. The burns on his face looked like ugly red scars, the skin only a shade lighter. The scars were raised, and I’m sorry to say this, but it looked scary . . . and angry.
“Erik R., Maria J., Anthony A., and Sarah E. you’re up,” the assistant director called out. The four of us walked in through the stage doors and stood in a line. In the audience sat the director, assistant director, drama board members, choreographer, and a few other people I didn’t know. We introduced ourselves, and the auditions began.
First off was the singing. Each person had to do their own piece, with “The Point of No Return” for the boys and “Wishing You Were Here Somehow” for the girls. Anthony was up first. He was pretty good, but not good enough for the Phantom. He could be a different character, though, like Andre or Firmin. When it was Erik’s turn, he walked to the center of the stage and started to sing.
And, oh, his voice! It was a beautiful thing, like a river flowing under a beautiful night sky. It flowed with elegance as the Phantom took over Piangi’s part, and snapped with malice as he threatened Christine. It was so beautiful that it brought me to tears.
When Erik finished, the director was stunned. Who was this freshman who had the voice and the look of the Phantom?
“Maria, you’re up next,” the asst. director called out. I walked to center stage, my Converse slapping the stage sounding unnaturally loud in the silent theatre. I took a deep breath and started to sing.
I poured all my being into that song, giving it a lot of character. The song spoke of Christine missing her father, and missing all the good memories with him. I could tell it struck everyone in a certain way. The director, and everyone else in the theatre, was amazed at my skill.
After I finished, Sarah was up. She had a good voice, but she was too timid and quiet.
Now came the acting. Each actor was required to do either a monologue or a partner scene. Most do monologues, but Erik and I decided to do a partner scene. There were two choices—the Phantom and Christine, or Raoul and Christine—and we had decided to do the one between the Phantom and Christine. It was more suiting, Erik had said.
Anthony and Sarah did their monologues, and then we were up. It was the scene in which Christine woke up in the Phantom’s lair and took off his mask. Our only props were three chairs, so I used two as the bed, and Erik used the other as the bench of the “organ,” which he pantomimed to play.
I started the scene by opening my eyes and blinking tiredly. “I remember there was mist . . . swirling mist upon a vast, glassy lake . . .” I said. These were actually song lyrics, but they doubled as speaking lines as well. I slowly got up.
“There were candles all around. And on the lake there was a boat, and in the boat there was a man . . .” I then noticed Erik, who was still pounding away at his organ, occasionally stopping to make changes in his music book. I walked over to him, my character entranced by the strange man in the mask.
“Who was that shape in the shadows? Whose is the face in the mask?” I whispered behind Erik. He didn’t notice me, and that’s when I strike. I pulled the invisible mask off his face. He stared up at me in horror, but the horror soon turned to hate.
“D*mn you!” he roared. “You little prying Pandora! You little demon—is this what you wanted to see?” He gestured to his face. I backed up, quickly shaking my head. Erik was so in character that I couldn’t tell if he was the Phantom or Erik.
“Curse you! You little lying Delilah! You little viper! Now you cannot ever be free!” The Phantom’s tirade was over, and now he collapsed to the ground. It seemed that this moment was the most sorrowful part of his entire life.
“Oh, Christine . . .” he moaned. The scene was over, so I helped Erik up and both of us bowed. Again, the director was stunned. Was it possible the two main roles could be played by freshmen?
After the acting bit, we did a dance. It was a little part from “Masquerade,” and we did it twice. Once we did it with me and Erik in the back, and we did the same thing again, but Erik and I were in front this time. I think I did pretty well. Erik was spot-on, Anthony was a bit off the beat, and Sarah got confused halfway through.
When the four of us left the stage, we were breathing heavily.
“Wow, you guys were amazing!” Anthony said between deep breaths.
I nodded. “Thanks. You were good, too.” Five minutes later, Erik and I were waiting outside the main entrance, waiting to be picked up.
“I did better than I thought I would,” Erik muttered.
“That’s an understatement. You were amazing!” I chuckled as a joke bubbled under my consciousness. “Do you have an Angel of Music? If you do, I’d like him . . . or her.”
Erik guffawed at my joke. “No, I don’t. But you were really good too.”
“Thanks,” I said, turning away and blushing.
Since the auditions were on a Friday, we would have to wait to find out if we made it on the cast list. To sum it up, it was a very anxious weekend. The only thought going through my head was did I make it? What if I didn’t? What if I did?
On Monday morning, we huddled around the call board to see if any of us made it on the cast.
“Hey, move it!” I cried. I was barely over 5’1’’, so I wasn’t able to see over most people.
Erik, on the other hand, was nearly six feet tall, so all he had to stretch to see over the crowd. “Well?” I asked impatiently. The wait was killing me.
Erik took a moment to gather his thoughts before replying. “We got the lead parts.”

I was stunned. Us? Erik and Maria, the Phantom and Christine? The idea was too strange, too alien. “What?!” I asked, my voice cracking.
“I’m dead serious. Go look for yourself.” And from the tone of his voice, I knew he wasn’t joking.
As people walked away, I was finally able to see the cast list. The first three lines caught my attention. They were:

The Phantom: Erik Roux
Christine Daae: Maria Johnson
Raoul Vicomte de Chagny: Derek Roux

“Oh, god, not him,” I moaned, pointing to the name of the actor who got the part of Raoul.
“What’s wrong?” a haughty voice asked behind us. “Didn’t get the part you wanted?”
Erik and I glanced back. Erik’s spoiled cousin, Derek, walked through the crowd. They parted as if he was Moses and they were the Red Sea. Beside me, Erik stiffened. He hated Derek, and the feeling was mutual.
“What’s wrong, cuz?” Derek drawled. “Didn’t make it on the list?” He usually made all the girls in a ten-mile radius swoon, but his charms didn’t work on me anymore. Okay, yeah, he was good-looking, with the toned body, bright blue eyes, and perfect blonde hair, but he was a brat. No amount of designer clothes can cover up a heart of pure ice.
“Look for yourself,” Erik growled. He looked absolutely menacing with the scarred face. Derek looked at the list, chuckling when he saw that he got the part of Raoul.
“Well, that’s great,” Derek said. “Where are you two on this list?”
“Look at the Phantom,” I said. Then I added, “And Christine.”
Derek stared open mouthed at the list. I could plainly see the shock on his face. “But . . . how . . .?” Derek, who always knew what to say at the perfect time, was at a loss for words now. “How’d you get on here?”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Pure talent,” I replied. “Unlike you. You father bribed the director, didn’t he?” Derek’s father was a multi-millionaire, and Derek would someday inherit his father’s money. And because of this, he was spoiled rotten and horribly arrogant.
“Well, I’m going because I have a class to go to, and I’ve had enough of you low-class peasants.” Derek glided away, his loyal entourage following him.
“I’m this close to killing him in his sleep,” Erik muttered under his breath. He was living with Derek and his family because their fathers were brothers and no one else in Erik’s family wanted to deal with him.
“Well, if Derek had a British accent, and gained about two hundred pounds, he could be Dudley from Harry Potter.” In a false voice, with a British accent of course, I whined, “Mummy, make him go away! I don’t want him to live in my house! He’ll get it all dirty. Please make him go away!”
Erik laughed. My sarcasm could always bring him out of his bad mood. “Yeah, it’s sort of like that. But at least I don’t have to live in a cupboard and wear Derek’s old clothes.”
The bell suddenly rang. “Oh crap,” I muttered.
Erik grabbed my shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go, Maria! We’re already late!”
“Well, it’s only study hall,” I said, trying to keep up with his break-neck speed.
“Well . . . our teacher is Mrs. Starr, remember?” Mrs. Starr, not related to the famous Green Bay Packers quarterback, was a teacher that outdated the Egyptian empire and asked the class to be completely quiet. Even if you coughed, she’d shush you. Now can you see why everyone hated her?
“Great,” I moaned. When we got into her class, Mrs. Starr gave us a verbal beating. It was full of empty threats and things we didn’t really care about. When she finally dismissed us to our seats, I sat down with a sigh. I was still reeling from the shock of getting the part of Christine. This was a major role, and I could not mess it up. This role would either make or break my career, and I vowed that I’d do my best even if it kills me.

The first rehearsal was on Wednesday, and it was a time to get to know each other and do a read-over. We were given out scripts, and had to read our lines from it. When a musical number came up, we listened to the original London cast CD (which, I’m embarrassed to say, is on my iPod). It was fun, and there were many parts where we broke out into uncontrollable laughter when someone commented on the script. For example, one of the actors, Cole, asked, “Are they talking about doing it in “The Point of No Return”?” and we could not stop laughing for a few minutes. It was drama after all, and we weren’t known for our seriousness.
After the initial read-through, the real rehearsals began. First we worked on vocals, then blocking (which is pretty much getting the movements on the stage). After that, they were put together, and there were many points were the director, choreographer, and vocal director stopped us to fix a problem. At first, we had no set, props, costumes, or makeup. But as those individual crews got the things they needed, those things were slowly added in.
“Let’s see how that fits,” the head of the hair and makeup crew, Kim, said. She was fitting Erik’s mask, and five other masks littered the floor. It was makeup evaluations for the main characters, so that’s why I was there. And so was Derek. He was good on stage, but a royal pain in the a** backstage. He thought that the crews were his personal slaves, so he ordered them around a lot, and the stage manager didn’t like that at all.
“I like this one. I think it’s the winner,” Erik said. He then glanced at me. “How do I look?”
It took me most of my willpower to not make a joke. Sarcasm is hard to control if it’s been drilled into your system for years. Instead, I said, “It’s very Phantom-ish. I like it.” The half-mask started above his left eye, crossed his forehead, then dipped down the side of his face. His nose was covered by the mask, and it followed the curve of his mouth. In short, he looked like an amazing Phantom.
Derek, who had been leaning against the table in the makeup room, yawned in boredom. “I think you should pay more attention to me. I’m the one that you pick, remember?” He raised his eyebrows at me, and I rolled my eyes. Sometimes, like now, I wish he would get drunk one day and fall down a well and die.
“Well,” Kim said, breaking up the argument waiting to happen, “this is the ‘Red Death’ mask that you wear during the masquerade ball.” She held up a skull mask. It looked very scary, with empty eyes, no nose, and a leering grin.
Erik took off the Phantom mask off, and put on the Red Death mask. With the first mask, he looked fairly human, but with this one on, he looked like Death. It reminded me of the Phantom from the book, with ‘a Death’s head’ as Buquet put it.
“How am I going to sing in this thing?” Erik asked. His voice was muffled.
“It’s easy. The mouth of the mask is able to move, and both the upper and lower jaw attaches to your face.” Kim glanced at Erik, who was trying to find it. It looked funny, because you could see Erik trying to find it. His head moved to the side and he adjusted the mask with his hands.
“Okay, I think I got it,” Erik said. His voice was no longer muffled. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, the mask following suit.
“Is that good?” Kim looked impressed with herself. “Now, let’s get to you, Maria.” She gestured to a chair and I sat down.
As she experimented with the makeup, I thought about what we were going to do on stage today. We were rehearsing the scene on top of the rooftop, and I knew what that meant. There was a part in which Christine and Raoul kiss, and I wasn’t too happy about that.
After I was done, it was Derek’s turn, and Erik and I gladly walked out of the makeup room. We could hear noises from the tech room, or more precisely, the ‘theatre workshop,’ so we went to find out.
“Uh, hey guys,” I said, peeking through the door. They were working on the Phantom’s gondola. It was only half-built, so it wasn’t much now.
“Welcome, Mademoiselle Daae, and Monsieur . . . um, what should I call you?” This was Chris, a very eccentric sophomore that I was friends with. He stood up and brushed the sawdust from his Dragon Ball Z shirt.
“You can call me Phantom,” Erik replied.
“Well, Monsieur Phantom, what are you practicing today? Only you, Miss Daae, and that arrogant fool Raoul Vicomte de Chagny are here.”
“The rooftop scene,” I replied.
Chris nodded. “Ohhh, I see. So, how far are you going to go, Miss Daae?” For some reason, Chris insisted on calling us by our stage names. So, I was Christine Daae when he spoke to me.
“Just shut up, Chris,” I muttered, pushing his shoulder. He bumped into the unfinished gondola, and almost fell down on it. If it wasn’t for Erik, the gondola would’ve been in pieces.
“What now, Chris?” Katie moaned. Katie and Chris were complete opposites, and they got into arguments all the time. It was actually pretty funny.
“Clumsy me,” he said. They went back to work, and the stage manager, Libby, said the director wanted us onstage.
“Great,” I muttered sourly. “I so don’t want to do this.”
“I wonder what’s worse: kissing Derek or kissing a cactus.” Erik said, rubbing it in my face. He would always remind me of this for the rest of my life.
When we walked on stage, Derek was already there. The director started to usher us as soon as we got on stage. Derek and I headed towards the wings on the left, and Erik headed towards the right. I counted to three and dragged Derek on stage.
“Why have you brought us here?” Derek asked.
“Don’t take me back there!” I was in character even before I said a line.
“We must return!” Derek was also in character. He was Raoul, not Derek.
“He’ll kill me!” I mean the Phantom. And, as if on cue, Erik slid on stage and hid behind an invisible statue.
Raoul took a step towards me. “Be still now . . .”
My character would not be content. “His eyes will find me there!”
“Christine, don’t say that,” Raoul cooed, gripping my shoulders.
“Those eyes that burn!” I looked off into the distance and shuddered.
“Don’t even think about it!” We started to sing the rest of the lines, finishing up the rest of "Why Have You Brought Me Here?/Raoul, I’ve Been There,” which turned into the famous love song, “All I Ask of You.” And as we continued on, Erik kept creeping up on us, sometimes peeking from behind his imaginary statues and echoing our lines once or twice.
But when we sang, “Love me—that’s all I ask of you,” I hesitated. It was the big moment. It’s the time when Raoul and Christine kiss.
“Well? Any time now,” Derek muttered under his breath, momentarily breaking character.
“Maria!” the director called out from the audience. “Get going with it!”
I sighed. Just get it over with, I chided myself. I then took Derek in my arms and kissed him. It was purely a stage kiss. It looked passionate, but it was empty and devoid of anything that you look for in a kiss. Yeah, we weren’t ever going to be a couple. Not even close.
I counted to five and broke away from Raoul. We sang a few more lines, and then exited. The Phantom then walked up to center stage and fell down, stricken with grief. It was a heart-wrenching sight, especially when Erik was fake crying.
“I gave you my music . . .” Erik’s voice was wrought with the worst pain imaginable—the pain of rejection. “Made your song take wing . . .” The Phantom sang a few more lines, and then we sang offstage. Erik glanced at us sadly. He then continued singing.
Now, his voice was edged with malice. “You will curse the day you did not do all that the Phantom asked
of you!” The director decided to call it quits there, mainly because the other actors weren’t there, and we had no chandelier yet.
“Well . . . that was good,” I said after we got offstage.
“Uh huh.” For some reason, Erik seemed really tense. Why was that? I could read his emotions pretty well, but I couldn’t tell what was bothering him. That was strange.
Oh, if I only knew then that digging into Erik’s conscious would impact our lives forever.

As the weeks wore on, the musical came together. It had its kinks here and there, but those were slowly ironed out. As opening night dawned closer and closer, it became a lot more serious. We started having Saturday rehearsals, and those things started early and ended late. In short, it took a lot out of our schedules.
“So, whatcha doing?” I asked Erik during one of those Saturday rehearsals, gnawing on a doughnut. He was slumped over his laptop. From the light from the laptop, I could see the dark rings under his eyes.
Erik shrugged. “Nothing really.” He was bluffing. I could tell. I sat down next to him and saw that he was on eBay.
“Why are you on eBay?” I asked, cocking my head to the side.
“It’s this thing that’s bothering me,” he said, fingering an item with the laptop’s touch pad. It had no picture, just a title saying, ‘1915 Death Mask.’
“That’s odd,” I muttered.
Erik glanced at me. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that death masks were totally out of style in the 1900’s. They were more popular in the 1800’s. Unless this person asked to have a death mask made.” But still, it didn’t make sense.
Erik clicked on the link, and a page popped up, telling potential buyers about the mask. The only thing missing was a picture. “Well . . . there’s no picture. That doesn’t make sense.”
“The world doesn’t make sense,” I muttered, looking away at a random part of the wall. After I got bored with that, I looked at Erik’s laptop, looking for any clues. Five minutes later, I noticed a near-invisible link near the bottom.
“Hey, click on that,” I said, pointing to the link. Erik clicked on it, and the picture of the death mask popped up. And it was not was I was expecting.
“That’s . . . odd,” Erik said. I agreed with him. The mask was odd. It was made out of plaster most likely. But it was the face that unnerved me. The left side was perfect, no blemishes or anything. But the right side was horribly deformed. Large vein-shaped scars crisscrossed across his face. His right eye was smaller than the other, and it also went for his ears. Even though he looked peaceful in death, you could plainly tell he had been through a lot in his life. I would estimate his age at least fifty or sixty.
I glanced at Erik, who had paled. “Hey, you okay?” I asked, concerned. Something about the death mask was troubling him.
Erik shook his head slightly. “I’m not sure. But . . .” He squinted at the mask. “Is it just me, or is there writing on the neck?”
I squinted at it as well, and a few words stood out, etched in the neck of this man’s death mask. “They read . . . Le Fantôme de l'Opéra.”
“Isn’t that French?” Erik asked.
I nodded. “It is. But what does it mean?” I contemplated this for a bit, and then it dawned on me. But the idea was so out there that I wasn’t sure it could be possible.
“Is that was I think it is?”
“Yeah, I think it is,” I replied. “It means . . . ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’”



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