The Dancers of Phantom – Part 01
—Mechanical Turk 1—
I found myself in the theater.
I’ve gotten used to coming here now. After sleeping all day in my shabby lodgings, I get up in the evening and walk down the usual hill to get here. When I enter the green room, I’m greeted by my colleagues, all of whom look just as sleepy as I do. I put on my fancy make-up, change into my costume, and rehearse under the orders of the finicky manager. The alcohol I’ve been drinking until morning starts to wear off. I laugh with my fellow dancers.
The dancers say that once the show starts, it’s a whole different world.
There’s no business like show business. We dress up in fancy costumes, jump off the stage, and run through the audience. We sing and dance. Our hearts are empty. We have nothing. We left our home, we have no one to rely on, we have no reason to live. We just have meaningless fun every day. But that’s okay.
Sing and dance.
A fellow dancer pokes me offstage. “Have you seen that young, red-haired man who’s been coming a lot lately. Isn’t he charming?”
I peek out from behind the curtain. I spotted a man, too young to be coming to a theater like this. Our eyes meet, and he smiles back at me shyly.
My cheeks flush. “He’s just a kid.”
“So are you.”
“Actually, we’re supposed to meet up tonight. He said he has something to tell me.”
“Maybe he’s going to profess his love for you.”
“I don’t think so. He says he came from the same village as me, which can’t be true. The village I came from was located deep in the mountains, and I knew all the villagers. But he says he’s the descendant of a villager who came to the city. When he first saw me, he knew that I was one of them.”
“What kind of village did you even come from? But I can totally see it. You both have the same eyes. A deep green, frightening yet somewhat sad. It’s like you’re not young at all.”
“Now that’s just rude!”
“Ahaha, don’t tickle me. What I’m saying is, you have this wise air about you. You’ve seen some of the old people who come here, right? Scholars who look out-of-place in shows like this. They wear dusty old suits, and they have these profound eyes behind their unkempt gray hair. That’s the kind of vibe I’m getting.”
“Oh, we’re up. Life in rosy hues!”
“Crap. Life in rosy hues!”
We rush to the stage, wearing a sheer dress, almost like an undergarment, with a deep slit and roller skates.
We sing in unison.
We have no cakes, nor any muffins.
But we do have stale bread!
We have no prince on a white horse, nor an Arabian king.
But we have a lover!
Listen, you’re not alone.
So stop crying.
Life in rosy hues!
I glance at the red-haired boy as I dance wildly. He’s smiling while clapping his hands to the beat.
He was here yesterday and he’s here again tonight. I wonder what kind of work he does that allows him to come every night.
I am about to slide towards the boy when someone grabs my arm tightly.
He was a very rough guest. I put on an amiable smile and glance down at him.
A man of noble birth, who looked to be in his late twenties, with his blonde hair tied back, is looking up at me. His cruel, green eyes catch mine.
“Excuse me, Sir. You can’t touch a dancer. Not right now, at least.”
“Hmm? I can’t hear you.”
My false eyelashes are too heavy.
The nobleman lets go of me. I skate away from him and dance among the audience. I glance at my wrist. It was red. He had grabbed it with tremendous force.
I thought he asked me if I was a Gray Wolf.
I shake my head. I’m hearing things. I dance up to the red-haired boy and playfully perch myself on his lap.
“I’ll be waiting by the backdoor,” he whispers in my ear.
I nod, and look at his face.
His eyes are alarmingly serious. As my colleague had said, there was a deep and melancholic glint in them, like some old beast.
I get up and resume dancing.
The music ends.
The dancers glide through the audience and back to the stage.
So stop crying!
We point to the face of the dancers next to us and call each other’s names. We then grab the hem of our dresses, skimpy as to be almost half-naked, and lift them up like a flower.
“Life in rosy hues!”
Giggling, we tug at each other’s dresses, waving to the audience as the curtains come down.
The red-haired boy is on his seat, clapping his hands.
I look to the side.
The nobleman with the cruel eyes is no longer there. On the empty table sat a glass of cheap wine, still filled to the brim, shimmering an ominous blood-red.
Later that night.
I left the theater alone, ahead of my friends. I saw the red-haired boy standing behind the wooden door and waved a purple handkerchief at him. The boy noticed and turned to face me.
As I started walking, someone jumped out of the shadows and pulled a black cloth over my head. I saw the handkerchief fall softly onto the street.
There were three men, maybe four. They carried me in their arms without making a sound, like they were used to it, and pushed me into a carriage that was likely parked nearby.
I heard the red-haired boy calling my name, followed by hurried footsteps.
A dull thud, like someone being hit.
None of my kidnappers said a word. It seemed as if they were used to this sort of thing.
I was hit on the face several times, drugged, and then I fell unconscious.
And when I came to…
…I found myself here. Now.
I’m wandering the theater.
A familiar place.
As usual, I slept through the evening, got up and went down the hill. I enter the green room to the sound of my colleague’s laughing.
But when I stepped inside, no one spared me a glance. I tried calling to them, but my voice was stuck in my throat. The dancers had changed; I didn’t know any of them. They were using my mirror stand like they owned it, put on their costumes. Annoyed, I tried to disrupt them, but my hands touched nothing.
I looked around, panicking.
I found one familiar face. The dancer I was closest to. She teased me that night about the boy who kept coming to see our show. The friend I spent every day laughing with.
I called their name. Her gaze went to the ceiling, then around the green room. Could she not hear me? I strained my voice even harder.
A moment later, she reached for her face powder, perplexed.
“I thought I heard the voice of a girl I used to know.”
“Used to know? How long ago was it?” someone said.
“About a year ago.”
“A year is not that long.”
“Ahaha. True. There was this girl I was good friends with. She had a rather pitiful upbringing. She came out of the mountains to Saubreme all by herself. Apparently, she had lived like she was still in the Middle Ages, and didn’t know anything about the city. She was a pretty girl, so she managed to find work as a dancer. She had no family, no relatives, no friends, no lover.”
“My. What a poor girl.”
“Indeed. And apparently she was banished from her home for a crime she didn’t commit. She was a good-natured girl, though. One night a little over a year ago, she suddenly disappeared.”
“Wait, what happened?”
“I actually have no idea.” She shook her head sadly. “She said she was supposed to meet a boy who was a regular at the theater after the show was over. She didn’t show up the next day, so I went to her lodging house, but there was no sign of her coming home. The red-haired stopped coming to the theater as well.”
“That sounds bad. What if the boy killed her? It has to be murder!”
“He didn’t look like a bad kid. And you know how the cops are. She was just a dancer, so they didn’t do a proper search. I never saw her again. The poor, pretty girl vanished like smoke.” She wiped away her tears.
I looked around in horror.
Has it really been a year since that night?
What happened to me?
Am I already dead?
Did I become a ghost wandering aimlessly around the theater?
Saddened, I call out the name of my fellow dancer.
But my voice couldn’t reach her anymore. She wiped away her tears and reapplied her face powder.
I bolted out of the green room and onto the stage.
To the guest seating.
The theater was empty. There was nothing but deathly silence and a ghost—me.
I look around.
I glance at my own hands.
I can see the floor through them.
I’m a phantom!
I woke up with a start.
I could move. I realized then that it was just a dream. There was a clatter.
The next nightmare… No, the horror of reality came flooding back into me like a pool of blood.
With a hazy mind, I recalled the night a year ago when I was kidnapped in front of the red-haired boy, taken away in a carriage, and brought here.
In this stone tower.
A lot of terrible things had happened to me here.
Fear and loathing surged in me like a tidal wave. The night wind pounded on the walls of the tower. Everything outside the square windows was frozen in snow. My lips parted, and I howled.
I will not wake from this nightmare.
Because it’s real.
And no one knew I was here. No one would help me until I was dead.
The chains dug into my wrist, and warm blood dripped. I remembered the pain and disgust I felt that night in the theater when the nobleman—Albert de Blois—grabbed me.
I closed my eyes.
My consciousness instantly faded, and my mind began wandering through time and space in search of the peaceful days when we sang, danced, and laughed together in Sauville’s Phantom Theater.
Snow was falling softly outside.
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