Why So Silent
Among the bustle of Opening Night, the strange engine was unheard.
Out of the mysterious box came a man at once proper and extravagant. His sweeping tailcoat was of course sleek and shiny black, yet he traipsed around as if he were wearing street or work clothes, having no regard for the welfare of his suit at all. His tall crisp hat identified him as one of the refined upper echelons of society, yet he bounced about and rambled on with the unbefitting excitement of a raggedy schoolboy. He spoke with intelligence and enthusiasm as naturally if they were one and the same, and didn't seem to even recognize the slightest difference of class between any given people. His demeanor and his appearance clashed so overtly that he would befuddle all who met him.
Unless, perhaps, they were too concerned with other matters to wonder at him.
When he found his way backstage he was at least wise enough not to engage anyone in conversation. Everyone was hustling to and fro, herding the dancers to the wings, wrestling with costumes, announcing that the overture was to start in precisely two minutes' time. In fact, he was barely noticed-quite the contrast that was to his reception in the lobby! But down here there were only cast members, and cast members are only concerned with their production. Nobody had any time to stop and chat with the strange fellow amid all the hubbub.
But it just so happened to be that the one person who did was not in the mood for conversation.
Being a venerable bloodhound for the nonconform, his curiosity was inevitably drawn to the one person who just did not seem to fit in. Her angst wasn't entirely out of place, given the scenario of opening night, but her gloominess was. It was one thing to be nervous, but entirely another to be melancholy. Although it was just as coated with makeup as any other choir face, her drooping countenance stuck out to him like a flare. Furrowing his eyebrows and subconsciously jutting out a sizeable chin, he made a beeline for her through the crowd.
It seemed that the closer he got, the more unright she seemed and the stronger his feeling of deja vu became. For a man like him one would think that such a sensation would be common, but not so. Her face wasn't familiar to him, but her expression was. Though her eyes glittered with the contrast of her eyeliner, she refused to cast them upon anything but the ground. Her rouged cheeks seemed out of place when her hands looked so pale and cold. Her expertly stenciled eyebrows proved useless, as her countenance withheld any discernible mien in favor of dreary blankness. Ostensibly she was beautiful and vibrant in her makeup and costume, but he knew better. He had seen it too much.
None of this she comprehended until he spoke.
"Stage fright, eh?"
She started with a greater vitality than would be expected at first glance, but once she saw its owner she relaxed a tad. Against the wall behind her next to a doorjamb was a high-class man in a casual slouch, leaning on a simple cane with green eyes twinkling as if he knew a secret. Mistaking his query for sarcasm or worse, she politely averted her eyes and gave a little curtsy.
"Forgive me, messieur," she mumbled meekly. To her surprise he waved away her apology with a mild scowl.
"None of that, please, I highly doubt I am what you think me to be," he said in explanation. Her brows furrowed in confusion at the uncommon statement. "Unless you're a mind-reader or a really good guesser, the former of which I know is not the case courtesy of my mind-reading abilities and the latter of which, I'm guessing, you're not."
She blinked and tilted her head at him in a complete lack of understanding.
"Pardon, messieur?" she inquired, daring to look at him for want of a clue. He mistook her plea for another attempt at subservience.
"I told you, no apologies!" he reproached again. She gave a small sigh at the repetition. "Or goodbyes, if it comes to that. I hate both of them, giving as much as receiving. I'm not sure why I'm telling you all this, but I know it's for a good reason because you, Mademoiselle…mm, come on, give me a name."
"Not just any name, your name! Besides, that's a rubbish name, it better not be yours, I refuse to call you that."
"Much better! That's a fantastic name! While we're at it, I'm the Doctor, pleased to have met you. Now...erm, where was I?"
"Ah, yes! Because you, Mademoiselle Christine," He emphasized his words with a poke in her general direction. "are someone, or something, special. I don't know exactly what yet, but I know it's very, very…cursed?"
At the strong word caught by his inquisitive ear, his attention was stolen by a little blonde dancer with wide eyes.
"Did you say the opera house was cursed?" he echoed in a deliberately careful tone.
The dancer stepped back and held her hands behind her back shyly, reddening past her makeup at the cries of 'Come on, Meg!' and 'Go on, tell him!' that the other dancers assailed her with. After a long pause, she worked up the nerve to blurt out the taboo knowledge that she gladly gave to anyone but those who would do something about it.
"The opera house is cursed by the Phantom!"
A hushed silence followed a chorus of gasps. To everyone's astonishment, the strange man smiled.
"A ghost?" he inquired wryly. Little Meg nodded furtively. His smile grew into a grin.
"Love me a ghost," he mused, before whirling on a befuddled Christine. "Do you know anything about this Phantom, Christine?"
She shook her head, the look in her eye making it clear that she was beginning to think him a madman.
"Nothing more than anyone else does, messieur," she replied simply. "The Opera Ghost is very mysterious. He may not even be real."
"Lots of things that would rather have you think that they aren't real actually are," he murmured half to himself, his joviality fading for a moment to what could have been fear. A chill ran down Christine's spine. But then he brightened again, turning to the milling ballet girls.
"Don't fret, girls, I assure you that tonight's production will be 100% ghost-free! I'll find the bloke for you, with the help of the wonderful Miss Daae, and then you'll see that there is nothing and no one to be afraid of except, perhaps, me. And, If I'm not mistaken," Here he paused to listen to the airy music wafting in from the stage. "That is the overture and you are all late. Go! Run!"
The troop of dancers stampeded away with assorted shrieks and exclamations, while the Doctor took Christine by the hand and began to lead her away.
"Wait," she hesitated, stopping so suddenly that his hand was pulled from hers. "I'm very sorry, monsieur, but I have a production to put on. I cannot possibly accompany you, and so I must bid you adieu."
"Nonsense!" protested the strange man, his face falling in disappointment and mild confusion. "Don't you want to come with? Why wouldn't you?"
"I have an obligation to perform," she reiterated, sticking her chin up and assuming a manner of semi-polite indifference. "an obligation that far outweighs goose chases after things that may very well not exist. Goodnight."
"Do you?" he asked after she had turned to leave. She paused. "I've seen and been in many performances myself, and I know that a performer's first obligation is to the audience. But is there anybody out there? Anyone who knows your name, who can pick out your voice in the ensemble? Anyone who's waiting for you?"
Christine was silent. Her hands closed in on themselves anxiously as he occupied her mind.
"Perhaps, but you do have a second reason to go on, and that would be your own joy and self-meaning in performing. But do you really have that in you right now? Because I don't see it, and I know you're expecting yourself to just get better if you forge through whatever it is that's blocking you, but that doesn't work. You know this."
His voice had become very quiet and old. She stood stock still.
"If you want to get better, you'll follow me."
She counted his footsteps in their allegro tempo, glaring behind closed eyelids.
"I must be completely mad," she grumbled under her breath as she turned to follow him.
"Where are you going?"
At the familiar timbre of the indignant voice behind him, the Doctor smiled.
"Anywhere ghosts can be found!"
At the capricious enthusiasm of the figure escaping before her, Christine scowled.
"The Phantom roams the opera house freely," she called after him, rounding a corner and descending some stairs on his trail. "He could be anywhere!"
"Aha!" cried the Doctor, whirling on Christine with an accusatory finger. "So you do know something about it! Him! Ghosty...thing!"
"I said that I know as much about the Phantom of the Opera as anyone else," retorted Christine, hands akimbo. "No more, no less. And why on earth would you want to encounter him?"
"Because that's what I do!" he explained, proceeding down a further corridor as if willing himself to become hopelessly lost. "Christine Daae, you must realize that monsters do exist, and that's what I'm here for!"
Christine stopped dead in her tracks, watching his shrinking form down the hallway with wide eyes.
"Are you saying that he's a monster?" she asked apprehensively.
"Well, perhaps not in the sense that you think," he clarified in a rather ambiguous way, snatching a lantern off a wall as he went. "Do you remember what I said earlier, about things that want you to think they're not real?"
"Yes," she replied before verifying the truth of her statement.
"Then think of this," he prompted, stopping and turning to her to gesticulate through his elucidation. "Those things that don't want you to think they're real, they want that because your imagination conjures up images more terrifying than anything reality would allow for. So whatever you think they are is infinitely more scary than what they really are. Which is why they don't want you to know what or that they really are, because then the jig is up and you know better than to be afraid. Does that make sense?"
"Sort of," she half-truthed, quelling the questions rising within her for fear of being made the fool.
"Good!" he extolled, beaming again. "You're following rather well, given your earlier mood. Whyever were you so despondent in the first place? Opening night, you should be bouncing off the walls with excitement, or…dread, or something."
"It's complicated," she sighed, avoiding his eyes and brushing past him into an unknown section of the opera house. Yet he would not be deterred so easily.
"Not to me, I'm sure," he reasoned, his footsteps following her down the hall. "And anyways, I've got time."
She paused to stare at the wall, cradling her chin and mouth in her hand as she thought of a way to simplify the mess preoccupying her mind. Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, she finally relented.
"There is a friend," she began, the word tasting wrong in her mouth in description of the one for whom she fretted. "a teacher. He is wonderful, and very dear to me, and every night he comes and gives me lessons...except for tonight."
The Doctor had drawn closer to her, holding up his acquired lantern to peer into her fallen face. When she looked up at him, she saw a remarkable amount of concern written in his furrowed brows and empathetic eyes. They'd only been acquainted for the space of minutes, and yet here he was looking as sympathetic as a friar.
"How long has it been like this?" he asked softly, without a trace of guile. His calm invitation to confidence was nigh-irresistible, especially to a girl who didn't trust anyone else to speak to about this.
"Only about a month," she began, her trickle of volubility soon growing into a torrent. "But he's a wonderful teacher, gentle and kind-most of the time, anyway, sometimes he gets a little cross with me when he thinks I'm being belligerent. And his voice! You've never heard anything like it. Ever since we first met he's always been there for me, guiding and consoling me, and he's there whenever I call him. I know he cares very much for me, so I can't help worrying for him. I don't know where he is this night, or why I haven't heard him. If I didn't know better, I would think that something's gone wrong. I couldn't bear it if-"
"Hey," He took her head in his hand, tilting her chin up so as to force her to look him in the eye. She was taken aback by the age in his emerald gaze, the wisdom that far excelled his youthful face. "Whatever this is, whatever's wrong here, I'll fix it. I promise. Perhaps not the way you would want it, but no matter how things turn out I will do everything in my power to help. In fact, I bet you that I can expose the phantom, find your friend, and cheer you up all in one night!"
"How?" she inquired. Such a tall order seemed nigh-impossible to her, but even now she was beginning to suspect that this man was more than he appeared. Her eyes widened in anticipation of a wonderfully laid-out plan to dispel her fears and right every wrong. She believed in the Doctor.
Instead he held the strangest contraption she'd ever seen up to his face.