In this re-imagining of Phantom of the Opera, meet a Christine Daaé you’ve never seen before…
Christine Daaé sings with her violinist father in salons all over Paris, but she longs to practice her favorite pastime—illusions. When her beloved Papa dies during a conjurer’s show, she abandons her magic and surrenders to grief and guilt. Life as a female illusionist seems too dangerous, and she must honor her father’s memory.
Concerned for her welfare, family friend Professor Delacroix secures an audition for her at the Opéra de Paris—the most illustrious stage in Europe. Yet Christine soon discovers the darker side of Paris opera. Rumors of murder float through the halls, and she is quickly trapped between a scheming diva and a mysterious phantom. The Angel of Music.
But is the Angel truly a spirit, or a man obsessed, stalking Christine for mysterious reasons tangled in her past?
As Christine’s fears mount, she returns to her magical arts with the encouragement of her childhood friend, Raoul. Newfound hope and romance abounds…until one fateful night at the masquerade ball. Those she cares for—Delacroix, the Angel, and even Raoul—aren’t as they seem. Now she must decide whom she trusts and which is her rightful path: singer or illusionist.
To succeed, she will risk her life in the grandest illusion of all.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)|
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I inhaled a breath and released a final high note. My voice shattered the stillness of the audience, and applause ruffled through the room. I beamed as I glanced at Papa, who lowered his violin and bowed. Smiling, I followed his lead and bowed beside him, proud to be his musical partner. He had trained me with singular vision since Mother died; I needed a skill to survive should anything happen to him, and my talents in music grew by the day. I wanted it, too, more than air — at least, I told myself this practice after practice, year after year.
"Remember: Head high, shoulders back, and project," Papa instructed. He turned to our small audience: Madame Valerius, Claudette the maid, Albert the footman, two cooks, and a coachman — our benefactor and her staff. "Christine is guided by the Angel of Music, is she not?"
"Hear, hear!" Madame Valerius cried.
Papa insisted an ethereal being had watched over me since Mother died. Though he assumed the image soothed me, it made Mother's absence feel more pronounced, more final. Countless nights I had cried for her, my child's heart raw with loss, until her scent and the warmth in her eyes faded from memory. The Angel of Music stayed beside me, yet my own Mother did not. I didn't understand this disparity; and now, after all of these years, I didn't believe in spirits at all. I forced a smile and rubbed the rose brooch at my neck; the only thing left of Mother.
A thick cough rattled in Papa's chest. When it passed, he wiped his lips and scarlet drops seeped into his handkerchief.
"I'm going to call on the doctor," I said firmly.
The bleeding had become more frequent.
He held up his hand. "There is nothing a doctor can do for me." His eyes softened when he saw my expression. "There's no sense in wasting money. We won't have many more opportunities to work together, min kära, and I intend to save every centime for you for when I am gone."
Again, talk of his death. A familiar rush of fear squeezed my chest. My companion and protector, Papa dictated my every move and I followed him without question. When I dared to disobey, I paid the price in chores and endless singing drills. Though Papa was unbearably strict at times, I couldn't imagine my life when he was gone. He was my partner, my only family. My dream of being onstage would dissolve without him; no one would host a lowly sixteen- year-old without family or connections.
I cast my gaze to the floor to hide the sudden flood of tears. I hated to admit it, but Papa's final months were in sight. His frame withered more each day, his vivacious spirit waned, and even the passion in his music dimmed. I choked back a clot of emotion.
Desperate not to cry, I drank deeply from my water glass while he launched into a rendition of his favorite piece of music: "Lazarus." I'd heard it so many times I hummed the melody without thinking.
Papa cradled his instrument's burnished amber face in his hands as if it were his child. The violin, a masterpiece crafted by Jacob Stainer, had cost more than two years of performance earnings, but he insisted on the finest quality for his music. I didn't blame him for our sacrifice, despite a lifetime of moving through the outskirts of Paris from one abandoned barn or hovel to the next. We hadn't lived in a proper home since leaving Sweden so many years before. Not until now.
When he finished his song, he twirled his finger in the air and said, "Do your exercises once more."
He relinquished his violin to its case and sat down to nibble a wedge of apple.
Relieved to see him eating, I smiled. "Can I bring you some tea?"
"You mean, can you ring for tea." Madame Valerius folded her hands in her lap. "You're not going to wait on anyone, Christine," she reminded me. "I like to think of you as family. What once was mine is now yours, too."
We had met the elderly woman one perfect summer in Normandy four years before, and she had never forgotten Papa's music. When he called on Madame Valerius for help — to request that she adopt me when he passed — she opened her home to us on the rue Notre-Dames-des-Victoire. Relieved, we moved into her modest apartment overlooking a park, complete with a gurgling fountain and burgeoning flowerpots. Madame lived exclusively on the first floor for ease of use with her wheelchair, and generously gave me the largest room on the top floor. All was tidy and warm. For the first time, I didn't choke on the odor of rotting hay and animal droppings but instead relished the faint scent of roses perfuming the air.
"Of course, Madame," I said, softly. "Thank you."
Though not luxurious, Madame's home seemed abundant with her maid, footman, and carriage, not to mention ample firewood. I couldn't get used to the new privilege of a full belly, much less someone else pouring my tea. To hide my discomfort, I fished a deck of cards from my oaken box, a gift from a long-lost childhood friend, Raoul de Chagny. Papa taught him to play the violin the summer we'd spent in Normandy, the very same summer we met Madame. When not practicing, I enticed Raoul to play card games and indulge my interest in small illusions. He looked on as I tinkered endlessly with an assortment of brass knobs and twisted springs, and built simple machines that produced some special effect. Somehow, Raoul understood that my hobbies made me feel closer to Mother. She had enjoyed trifling with such diversions, too, even though they did not suit our sex.
I hadn't seen Raoul since that summer, yet I thought of him still. With the constant moving, I had no other friends.
I shuffled my cards, their worn edges yielding to my hands.
"Your affinity for card tricks is rather astounding, I must say, Christine." Madame touched her gray chignon, a nervous habit I often noticed. "Such a clever girl. I thought ... Well, I thought you might enjoy seeing a real conjurer. Your father needed a bit of prompting, but I think I won him over."
"I don't understand." I stacked the cards into two piles.
"I have taken the liberty of purchasing tickets for you."
"You mean it?" I squealed, first embracing Papa and then Madame. "Oh, thank you! I have always longed to go."
"Well, min kära, isn't that wonderful," Papa said, in Swedish, his lips pinched.
His tone quelled my enthusiasm. He seemed upset, resentful even.
"Madame Valerius" — he nodded at our hostess, changing to French once more — "has been very kind." He smiled and his wan face softened, reminding me of his once-jovial nature. "The show is this evening."
I squealed again, in spite of Papa's poorly veiled chagrin. I didn't understand his disdain for my favorite hobby, but I could hardly wait! How I wished Mother were here. She would share my delight, without doubt.
I kissed Madame on the cheek and she smiled widely, pleased she had made me so happy.
Plopping into my chair, I chose a card from the stack in front of me. A magic show! I could hardly believe it. With my thumb, I covered the plump heart floating beside the Queen of Hearts. The image blurred as I lost myself in memories of a summer evening years before — the only occasion I'd seen a conjurer. Papa and I had performed at a nobleman's salon. As luck would have it, a conjurer presented directly after us. I recalled how the gentleman wore a regal dress coat with winged collar and navy foulard, and a curious smile throughout his show. Rapt, I stared in awe while he commanded everyone's attention with the smooth authority of his voice. When he transformed silk handkerchiefs into a pair of doves and coaxed carnations from an empty pot, applause thundered through the room.
For me, the world had tilted then, taken on a new hue as if before, all had been coated in a gray residue. Now everything appeared awash in color and light. My fingers tingled and an awakening blossomed inside of me. I understood why Mother had found illusions so enchanting.
After his act, the conjurer approached us. "You enjoyed my show, as I enjoyed your daughter's."
Papa nodded stiffly. "Thank you."
"You sang like an angel." The conjurer smiled at me. "You look like one, too, with your golden hair and white dress."
I looked down at the scuffed toes of my boots, suddenly timid. "Merci, Monsieur. I hope to be a real singer one day, on a stage."
His lips twitched with amusement. "Continue to practice and you will."
Emboldened by his faith in me, I risked an impolite question. "Will you show me one of your secrets?"
His eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"Christine, mind your manners," Papa said.
I ducked my head in shame. "I'm sorry. I —"
The conjurer reached behind my ear and produced an orange. "For you."
I smiled and accepted the gift, stroking the fruit's leathery skin in anticipation. I had never tasted an orange. "How did you do that?"
"I can't share all of my secrets." Delight danced in his eyes. "I will, however, show you this." He gathered a deck of cards from a box on the stage and directed me to a side table away from the crowd. "You hold the cards like this." He palmed the entire deck and wrapped his fingers around the sides of the stack with the exception of his index finger, which crooked over the top edge of the cards. "Watch closely."
From that day forward, I practiced what the conjurer had shown me and attempted illusions of my own. Noticing my enthusiasm, Papa scolded me if I spent too much time "learning tricks." It seemed to anger him, though I tried to make him understand. To be able to step inside a world of make-believe — to escape our poverty and simple existence, and the anguish I'd suffered losing Mother — imprinted on my heart that day.
"Magic," I whispered. It did exist.
The clock in the salon chimed and I refocused my gaze on Papa's slight frame. He flipped open his pocket watch and looked pointedly at the deck in my hand. "We need to move along, or we'll be late."
"I can't wait, Papa!" We were going to see a conjurer!
After a light supper, Albert the footman helped us into the carriage, and we set out for the Theatre Margot. Papa coughed the entire trip, enflaming my guilt for dragging him from bed. I knew he didn't want to go, but humored me just the same.
I rubbed his back to comfort him. "Are you all right?"
"Fine, fine," he said, though he couldn't hide the worry in his eyes.
When the carriage deposited us outside the theatre, Papa's anxiety deepened. I frowned, both bemused by his attitude and annoyed he would hamper my amusement at my first real magic show. I couldn't let it ruin my night.
"We're here!" I clapped in delight, and exited the carriage.
A sign spanned the front of the building with curled red lettering that read: The Master Conjurer. Beyond the sign, the building lacked frills of any kind; it had no ornate gilding, no imposing entryway. It was a nondescript structure; the only oddity was its proximity to not one, but three sewer holes in the street. As we approached the door, steam rose through the grates, carrying the odor of waste drowning in a watery underground. I wrinkled my nose in disgust. I would never have chosen such a location for a theatre.
As we filed in behind the crowd, I studied the patrons who, despite their numbers, remained mostly silent.
"Why is everyone so solemn?" I asked.
Papa leaned into me. "They have come to see the conjurer contact the dead. The papers claim he caused a riot in London when he toured there last. The spiritualists clashed with those who don't believe it's possible to summon ghosts." He pressed his lips together. "You know how I feel about spirits."
I knew well. He spoke about Mother at times as if she were there, or at least could hear him speak. Yet spirits seemed unlikely to me, silly even.
"If there is the slightest concern, we will leave immediately." His expression mirrored the drawn faces of the audience. "I will not put you in danger."
"I understand." I kissed him lightly on the cheek.
Once settled in our seats, I studied the audience. Weren't they excited, at least a little, to see the show? One woman's eyes shifted, and she turned to look over her shoulder as if she expected a ghost to sneak up behind her. I snickered at her expression. It was an illusion — all of it. Every act had a logical explanation, though the crowd seemed to believe differently.
Perhaps it was I who was missing something. Maybe spirits lived among us after all, and I was foolish to doubt.
Papa squeezed my hand and brought it to his lips.
I rewarded his gesture with a smile. After, I gazed at the pair of rich black curtains draping the stage. Two balconies nestled against the wall on either side of them, and along the ceiling, a frieze of instruments popped from the upper casing. Lanterns lined the proscenium, flickering brightly in the otherwise dark auditorium.
Just then, the curtain twitched and shivered and a gentleman emerged from between the center of its folds. His silver beard consumed most of his face, and his round middle straddled his legs.
My heart leapt into my throat. This was it!
"Good evening, ladies and gentleman." He folded his hands and placed them on his belly.
The last of the murmurings died away.
"I am Monsieur Pichon, owner of the Theatre Margot. Tonight, I am pleased to present the greatest illusionist Paris has ever seen." The audience gazed at him, captivated by his words. "He will enthrall you with bodiless musicians, amaze you as a woman disappears before your eyes." The man lowered his voice, and slowed his words for effect. "He will astound you when he raises the dead."
Deep silence enveloped the theatre.
"Never before has anyone seen such feats on one stage," Pichon continued. "Please welcome the Master Conjurer!"
A trio of latecomers climbed over the audience and seated themselves directly in front of us, the largest man blocked my view of the stage. Frustrated, I leaned to my left. The brim of my hat brushed the gentleman next to me and he glared. I couldn't miss the show! I leaned to my right, toward Papa. He smiled and allowed me to crowd him. Still, with the other person in front of him, much of the stage was obstructed from view.
As the curtains opened, a smattering of applause rippled through the room. The stage was empty, save for one small table and chair in the middle of the platform. Two torches sparked to life on the recessed wall, revealing a figure standing on the left side of the stage. Still, shadow obscured most of his body. As the illusionist stepped forward, the crowd murmured. I couldn't make out the gentleman's features; between his hat, the lighting, and my position, it was impossible. Furious, I crossed my arms over my chest like a petulant child. I could hardly see! Then I remembered Papa. Quickly, I dropped my arms and folded my hands in my lap, hoping he didn't notice my frustration. He didn't feel well or want to be here at all, but he had come for me. I sneaked a glance at his face. He looked as if he might faint. His brow scrunched into a frown, his pale lips quivered, and perspiration dampened his forehead.
"Should we go?" I whispered, covering his hand with mine. "We can leave if you're not feeling well. Return another time."
The crowd gasped.
My head jerked toward the stage. What had I missed? A blond woman in bejeweled clothing and mask, and a top hat with mesh, bowed and backed away until she disappeared behind the curtain. His assistant, I assumed.
"Do we need to go?" I slipped my hand under Papa's elbow.
"No, min kära. Enjoy the show. I can endure."
For the following hour, I shifted between worrying over Papa as his body curled into a half-moon, and studying the conjurer's performance. To my dismay, I could only guess two of the illusionist's secrets.
I glanced at Papa again. His skin had taken on an ashen hue.
"I insist we go," I whispered in as firm a tone as I could muster.
"I insist we stay." He placed his hand upon my knee. "I don't want to disappoint our hostess, or you, my dear."
I longed to watch the show, but not at the expense of his comfort. Madame would understand, and I could return another time ... someday.
Papa raised his eyebrows in a question, waiting for my consent. At last, I nodded and trained my eyes back on the stage.
Each illusion grew more complicated than the last: sleight of hand, birds escaping their cages, and a disappearing act. I shifted to see better, but with Monsieur Blockhead in front of me I despaired at how much of the show I lost.
"This cabinet is empty," the illusionist's voice boomed. "Mademoiselle Cartelle will now step inside."
The assistant reappeared in a showy ensemble of sequins and gold beading. She flourished her hand to present the empty cabinet.
I shifted to my left and peeked between the two seated in front of me.
The assistant climbed inside the cabinet.
I gazed intently, examining every detail. The structure sat on four legs, about a meter off the ground. No one could disappear from its bottom, and no curtain or fixtures were attached to the top of the box.
Excerpted from "The Phantom's Apprentice"
Copyright © 2017 Heather Webb.
Excerpted by permission of Sonnet Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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