While writing this story, I was struck by how lonely and dark life would be for someone who had to make the journey without friendship. Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero once said,
“What sweetness is left in life, if you take away friendship? Robbing life of friendship is like robbing the world of the sun.”
So, to my two dearest friends, Bethany Crandell and Jessica Nelson, thank you for being my sun—for warming me when the chill of personal tragedy strikes, and for illuminating my footsteps when I take a wrong turn and find myself in the shadows. I love and treasure you both. May we light one another’s paths for years to come.
“The opera ghost really existed . . .”
Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera
At home, I have a poster on my wall of a rose that’s bleeding. Its petals are white, and red liquid oozes from its heart, thick and glistening warm. Only, if you look very close, you can see the droplets are coming from above, where a little girl’s wrist—camouflaged by a cluster of leaves—has been pricked by thorns as she reached inside to catch a monarch.
I used to wonder why she risked getting sliced up just to touch a butterfly. But now it makes sense: she wanted those wings so she could fly away, because the pain of trying to reach for them was more tolerable than the pain of staying grounded, wherever she was.
Today, I embrace that child’s perfect wisdom. What I wouldn’t give for a set of wings . . .
On the other side of the limo’s window, a gray sky looms above thickly woven trees lining the country road. The clouds heave like living, breathing creatures, and raindrops smack the glass.
Not the ideal Sunday afternoon to be driven along the French countryside, unless I were here for a vacation. Which I’m not, no matter how anyone tries to spin it.
“The opera house has a violent history. No one even knows how the fire started all those years ago. That doesn’t bother you?” I mumble the words beneath the hum of the motor so our driver won’t hear. They’re for Mom’s benefit—at the other end of the backseat.
Mom bounces as the tires dip into a deep puddle while turning onto a dilapidated road of mismatched cobblestones and dirt. Mud splashes across the window.
“Rune . . . you’re understandably predisposed to hate any building that has suffered a fire. But it’s a fear you need to outgrow. The eighteen hundreds were a long, long time ago. Pretty sure by now, all the bad ‘karma’ is gone.”
I stare at the privacy screen separating us from the uniformed man at the steering wheel, watching the wipers slash through the brown muck on the windshield with a muffled screech as they clear a line of vision.
Mom uses the term karma like it’s a four-letter word. I shouldn’t be surprised at her cynicism. She’s always had a different view on Dad’s heritage than I have. She thinks my anxiety stems from Grandma Liliana’s impact on our lives. That my grandmother’s actions and accusations compounded the gypsy superstitions my dad had already imprinted on me, and they’ve affected how I see the world. Mom’s partly right. It’s hard to escape something so deeply ingrained, especially when I’ve seen proof of otherworldly things, having been possessed most of my life.
“Six weeks till the end of October,” I continue to bait. “And I’ll be spending it at a school haunted by a phantom. Things don’t get any more Halloween than that.”
“A phantom?” A tiny wrinkle bridges Mom’s furrowed eyebrows. “Are we on that again? Your life isn’t a Broadway musical. This place isn’t anything like the one in the story. Leroux’s Opéra Populaire was fashioned after the Palais Garnier in the city. You should know that, considering you’ve read the book at least three times now.”
I grip the door panel to brace myself against another dip in the road. If she thinks I’m going to just ignore what I found on the underground RoseBlood forums, she’s wrong. It’s the whole reason I checked out Gaston Leroux’s novel from the library a few weeks before we left in the first place. Although my reading the book so many times had more to do with the story itself—a mysterious composer using his unnatural gift of music to help a girl find the power in her voice.