It started at least a couple weeks ago. A rumor. A story spreading through No Man's Landing like pollen in the springtime. A perfect ghost story. I mean seriously, it's literally a ghost story.
The first time I picked it up was last week. I was passing through Urchin's Grotto at half-past seven in the evening, heading home, when I saw five or six urchins, all of which were huddling around a fire with patchy blankets draped over their shoulders.
Well, all except one.
A boy, older than the rest from the looks of it, was standing on a wooden footstool, talking to the other urchins. His voice was clear and loud, and his arms moved about with his words. He looked somewhat like a preacher giving a sermon. The rest of the urchins stared at him with round eyes and open mouths. A couple younger ones even whimpered.
My curiosity was triggered. I stopped in my path for a moment to listen to him.
". . .And when Christine left his lair, the brokenhearted Phantom disappeared from the opera house, never to haunt it again. But. . . it is said that he never left Aethasia. In fact, recently there have signs of him here in No Man's Landing! Roses left on the streets, automatons inexplicably destroyed in the night, disappearances of supreme autofficers and even ordinary urchins like you and me, the sound of a violin playing through the night, or even singing. . ."
At this point, he was too far away to hear. I had lost interest and continued on my way.
At the time, I believed it to be simply a ghost story meant to enthrall and frighten, but it was only the beginning. As the days rolled by, I could still hear talk from the urchins about this mysterious magical being who is supposed to live under our feet. Eventually, I could even hear singing. Choruses of urchins singing haunting songs into the fog-tinted sky.
"The Pha-antom of the Opera is there. . . Inside my mind!"
Now, eight days after I encountered the "preaching" boy, the rumor is reaching beyond Urchin's Grotto. Now I am hearing talk about a "Phantom of the Opera" among townspeople around the main part of town, and even the Business District. It's everywhere!
My opinion? Of course there is no "Phantom of the Opera." That's just an old story, and there's no such thing as ghosts. The destroyed automatons were probably us: The Resistance. Autofficers do shifts so they aren't stationed in one place all the time. And for Pete's sake, anybody could have left roses on the street! As for the bit about the nightly music. . . Well. . . I'm not sure about that one sometimes. More than likely, in a city like No Man's Landing, there's bound to be at least one adept musician somewhere. I'm sure they probably like playing at night. It does give a sort of tranquil backdrop and a mysterious feel. . .
. . .
. . . Why are you looking at me like that?
Cut that out!
Okay, okay, I admit it, I have heard someone singing in No Man's Landing before. I've. . . heard him a couple times, actually. The first time was when I was walking down the street at two o'clock in the morning, on an emergency errand for a needy friend. It was a month and a half ago. I recall freezing in my tracks as the sweet sound began. His voice was perhaps the most beautiful I have ever heard. It echoed off the walls of the buildings and the cobblestone path. I couldn't tell which direction it was coming from. It swirled all around me in a thousand emotions. From his voice, I knew he'd been through a lot. More pain than most can understand.
Chills shocked my spine as beautiful music often does. I turned in slow circles. My jaw was slack, and my breath was shaky and shallow. My wide eyes were darting high and low, seeking out the origin of the song. I blinked a couple times as tears threatened to blur my sight. But before I could find him, the voice was gone, and the usual night noises of crickets chirping and automatons stomping through the streets resumed.
The second time I heard him was about two weeks later while I was camping in the Evergreen Meadows. It was night once again. I was abruptly waken from slumber in my tent by his music which, though faint, I picked up easily. It was coming from the direction of the city, a quarter-mile away. The voice won over the distance like warm air over cold.
The whole time he sang, I was staring at the moon, as if it was the one providing the Music of the Night. It was waning, only half-visible, the other half shrouded in darkness.
It just occurred to me that the other time I heard his voice, the moon was waxing. Two different nights, in which the moon was half-masked in darkness.
Like the Phantom's mask.
. . .
No. There's no such thing as ghosts. The whole thing is only a trend. A fad.
There is. . .
. . .No. . .
. . .Phantom. . .
. . .of the Opera. . .