Rumors abound, of course. They always do, in a place like this. After all, a building need not be old to collect spirits. There are mysteries aplenty in the Palais Garnier. If poor, unfortunate Erik is the only one whose name we know, well, he is also the only ghost who demands a salary. For a man who fights to hide himself from the world, he is certainly quite vocal about it. And so the stories are ascribed to him. The whispers always taste better when uttered with small, girlish cries of "the ghost!" Hearts bound, slippered feet skitter across polished floors and the desired effect is achieved. They do not know that the shadows lurk all around them, too many to hold only one mortal responsible.
In the immediate vicinity a man waits in the lee of a doorway, watching the ballet rats and listening to what he can catch of their quick, colloquial French. He does not wish to be invisible, but the one to whom he would like to exist is more of a shade than he, and so he walks softly in the hopes that the others don't find him first. He has been taken to the office twice already by shades darker than he, and the befuddled tourist act is wearing thin.
On a floor below him there shuffles in shoes soft, not from delicate craftsmanship but overuse, a figure with a lantern. A peculiar sound pursues him, but he welcomes it, for it means his job is well done. He is happy in this work, that only he can do, and thinks perhaps the divas above are not so lucky if little things like curses can cost them their livelihood. He fancies that the rats fair thrive on such things, and the ghastly light thrown on his face makes him feel, for a moment or two each night, like one of the lords or gods whose voices float down to him from the stage, or up at odd hours from below.
In that dark pool he does not even imagine is below his feet, there lurks another shadow, more a chimera than anything else, who arises only when needed and falls back into imagination once its duty is dispatched. But its feats are real enough, and who's to say that it does not gain some measure of solidity, once it has killed a man? The man in question does not know it yet, but he, too, is a walking shadow, and it would probably comfort him not at all to know that at least his death will enable this creature's reality.
And then the corps de ballet's conversation wanders yet again, to the woman they all hope to be but who someday will arouse only their pity. She sits in her dressing room now, waiting for her Count, a bottle of something strong at hand in case he comes—and even more for those nights he does not. Soon she will be of no more interest to him, and soon after that some other girl, younger, stronger, more supple, will take her place onstage and off, and she will have nothing to show for her years of dedication but her ruined feet and a few sentimental trinkets from a man who, if he loved, loved sedately and without alerting the suspicions of the seamstress.
The step outside her door is not him, though she leans forward in a pose she fancies provocative every time she hears movement outside her door. The step belongs, instead, to an old woman, much older than any of the ballet girls think they will ever be. She was one of them, once, though it is now difficult for her to remember. She remembers other operas as she goes about her duties, and as she pulls each door shut she remembers other doors that she closed long ago. She no longer remembers what was behind them.
Another door shuts quietly as a woman, not much more than a girl, steps carefully into the secret passage from her dressing room. She knows now how the mechanism works, though she is not quite sure what she's doing here now. She has not been summoned. But in the post-performance euphoria that sometimes envelopes her, she is loathe to change out of Siebel's trousers. There is a strange freedom, suddenly, in the part. A wide brimmed hat, an opera cloak, and she can be anyone and no one at once. She sees the Persian but passes him by without his notice—she has done this before and caused him quite a fright—but stops when through a small opening in the wall she can hear the ballet girls speaking. About her. "Scared of her own shadow, she is," one says, and Christine smiles. Not anymore, she thinks. Her smile fades. There are entirely too many real things to be frightened of.