Behind the Curtain

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
January/February 2010

Dylan J. Sauder

The old, worn curtain loomed over the stage. Chairs covered in faded, red velvet cushions were scattered throughout the theatre. A piano that had once been played in the most famous of performances now housed a family of mice. The theatre was falling apart, yet it still contained a certain beauty and elegance. If you listened closely, you could faintly hear the soft, sweet sound of a violin coming from behind the dark curtain. A single candle on the glamorous chandelier that hung from the ceiling of the concert hall flickered to life. The violin was joined by a flute, clarinet, cello, and then a viola. As the instruments grew louder, the chandelier became brighter. Soon, the music of an entire orchestra floated throughout the theatre, and the hall was filled with the soft glow of candles.

Famous pieces by Tchaikovsky, Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven, and many others were performed, yet the curtain never rose to reveal the mysterious musicians who played for an invisible audience. Just as soon as the music began, the harmonic sounds began drifting into the darkness, until only the lone violin could be heard; that, too, soon grew quiet.

Behind the Curtain surrounded by candles

Who were the mysterious performers whose music was so captivating?

Who were the mysterious performers whose music was so captivating? Who were they that hid behind the curtain of the abandoned concert hall? They were not of the human race, for they left no trace of their presence. Was it possible that they were beings who had once been of this world, but no longer were? If so, what reason did they have for returning to the theatre? The only answer I can give you, my friend, is to come with me, for they are what this story is all about.

*          *          *

Late one night, as a light snow fell over all of Paris, a boy slowly crept towards the theatre. Finally, he had made it; he was away from that orphanage he had so long called a home—an orphanage that should never have been his home. True, his parents had died when he was just three years old, but he wasn’t the only surviving member of his family. Somewhere in Paris, he knew, his grandfather was still alive. He didn’t know where in Paris his grandfather was, or even what his grandfather’s name was, but he knew that his grandfather could give him the loving home he had never had. He just had to find him first. And while he was searching, he would need to make sure the orphanage people couldn’t find him.

The old, abandoned theatre would make the perfect hideout.

With a quick glance over his shoulder, the boy slipped inside through a broken window. There, he found himself standing in front of two large, charred, heavy wooden doors. As he pushed them open, they creaked loudly. The boy looked around the huge room that he had just entered. It appeared that it had once been the concert hall of the theatre, and it looked strangely familiar to him, but he didn’t know why.

Well, he thought to himself, I guess this is home.

Suddenly, the hall was aglow with hundreds of candles, and music was coming from behind the curtain on the stage.

The boy was out the doors and through the window in a flash! He tripped as he flew out the window, landing face-first in the snow. Breathing heavily, he stood up and brushed himself off.

What— or who—had been making that music? he wondered. Was it just his imagination? Could it have been… ghosts? The boy shivered at the thought.

No! his mind screamed at him. He would not be afraid. He, Gabriel Campeau, wouldn’t let a bunch of musical ghosts scare him away. He escaped the cruelty of the orphanage, traveled all the way here to Paris; he was brave, smart…

And he had nowhere else to go.

The curtains in an apartment across the alley fluttered, and Gabriel quickly sneaked back into the theatre.

A middle-aged woman appeared on the apartment’s balcony, her shadow stretching across the moonlit alley. Once again, music that sounded as if it were just outside her bedroom window had awakened her. It was so familiar, and it brought back many memories of her days spent in the theatre. She stared longingly at the theatre’s faded walls. It had always held a special place in her heart, but even though it contained so many happy memories, the haunting memories of a night many years before kept her from ever reentering the theatre. If she had, she would have realized that the music she heard was much more than a dream.

*          *          *

On the other side of the city, an elderly man tossed and turned from the nightmare that he had relived every night for the past ten years. It was so vivid; there he was, bowing as he was introduced to the biggest audience for whom he had ever performed. He turned around, and his wonderful orchestra began playing. Just as the song was ending, a blood-curdling scream came from somewhere backstage, and smoke poured into the concert hall. Panic and terror ensued as everyone attempted to escape the burning theatre. The most horrifying part of his nightmare was when he looked back into the theatre and saw people struggling to get out. People who were his friends, his co-workers, his family; people who, when the smoke had cleared, were gone.

The man wiped away a tear that slid down his face. Most of his orchestra had died in the fire, and the few who survived had left Paris soon after. He had gone from being the man in his dream, Alexandre Mierceles, the greatest conductor and composer in all of France, to nothing more than a frail old man with no friends, no family, and hardly anything left that was worth living for. His only daughter and her husband had perished on that tragic night, and their young son disappeared in all of the chaos. All he had left was his music, but he feared that that, too, would soon be nothing more than a memory.

For the next few days, Gabriel adjusted to his new, independent life. During the day, he would wander the streets, looking for someone kind enough to feed him. He also searched for a job, but this was challenging; not many people were interested in hiring a thirteen-year-old boy.

At night, Gabriel explored his hideout, everywhere from the box seats to the burned-out dressing rooms. In an office-type room, which had somehow survived the fire, he found a desk whose drawers were filled with scores of music! Each one was composed by a man named Alexandre Mierceles. At the very bottom of one of the drawers, Gabriel found an old, tattered photograph of a man and what appeared to be his daughter. The girl, who Gabriel guessed was about his age, looked, oddly enough, much like himself! Same dark, curly hair, same small, rounded nose, even similar elf-like ears. The only difference he could find was the eyes. While the girl’s were big, round, and gentle, Gabriel had a mischievous gleam in his sharp, narrow eyes. Looking at the composer in the photograph, Gabriel saw that he, too, had that look. On the back of it, written in small, fancy letters, were the words “Alexandre and Jeanette Mierceles, Paris, France, 1908.”

Gabriel’s heart skipped a beat. His mother’s name had been Jeanette, and he knew that she been a violinist in the most famous orchestra in all of Paris. There was no doubt about it. His grandfather was the infamous Alexandre Mierceles!

“But where is he?” Gabriel asked himself. “Well, a famous composer can’t be too hard to find. I’ll start searching first thing in the morning!”

Gabriel was extremely excited to have discovered his grandfather’s identity. A composer! And not just any composer, but the most renowned composer in all of Paris! All of France! All of Europe!

However, he would have to contain his excitement until tomorrow. Now, he had a concert to attend.

Gabriel curled up in the chair he used for a makeshift bed, notebook and pen in hand. All he had to do now was wait.

Every night, Gabriel spent some time writing music. He wrote for every instrument from the cello and bass to the piccolo and trumpet. He composed piece after piece, and after he finished for the night, he would blow out his candle, say his prayers, and listen as the mysterious orchestra began its performance. Some songs he recognized, and some he couldn’t quite place, but they seemed very familiar, as if he had heard them long, long ago.

Tonight, though, he was tired, and he fell asleep as the ghosts played lullabies all around him.

*          *          *

While reading the newspaper in his favorite cafe one morning, Alexandre Mierceles spied a headline that intrigued him:

Ghostly Happenings in Local Theatre

Neighbors of the once popular Leroux Theatre have rumored that ghosts are current inhabitants of the theatre. They have reported seeing lights flashing on and off inside the building, shadows of human figures moving around late at night, and the most mysterious of all: music of an entire symphony orchestra being played for half the night. One neighbor, Madame Loretta LaGue, said in an interview that she recognized a large amount of the music as that of composer and former conductor of the Leroux Theatre Orchestra, Alexandre Mierceles. No one has yet entered the theatre to verify or disprove the rumors, but Mme. LaGue says that she “will not tolerate this disturbance much longer, and if it continues, I will take action in discovering its cause by all means.”

Mme. Loretta LaGue was a performer with the theatre before it closed.

“My word!” Alexandre cried. “Ghosts in the theatre, and little Loretta calling my music a disturbance? What is this world coming to?” A smile slowly crept over his face.

“Why, I haven’t seen Loretta in over ten years!” he said to himself. “I think I’ll arrange to meet with her. Then we can figure out what all this ghost business is about.”

A mischievous gleam that had been absent for quite some time came into his eyes. He smiled again, then went back to his newspaper.

*          *          *

Alexandre Mierceles wasn’t the only one who saw the article. Gabriel Campeau read the article, too, and he became worried. He figured that he would have to be on the lookout at all times in case someone did decide to investigate. Whatever happened, he could not let anyone find him, for fear they would send him back to the orphanage.

Behind the Curtain reading the newspaper

“My word!” Alexandre cried. “Ghosts in the theatre… what is this world coming to?”

That wasn’t the only part of the article that caught his eye. It also said that Mme. LaGue once performed in the theatre, and that she lived nearby.

“I’ll bet she’ll know where my grandfather is!” Gabriel said to himself. He made his decision: the next day, he would find Mme. LaGue and come one step closer to finding his grandfather!

As Gabriel waited for the orchestra to begin playing that night, he realized something: he hadn’t yet looked behind the curtain; he had just assumed that the music was being played by ghosts. Gabriel’s mom had been the lead violinist in the orchestra, and if the musicians really were visible ghosts… Gabriel took a deep breath… he would be able to see his mother again!

So when the orchestra began, Gabriel walked onto the stage and poked his head behind the curtain. Disappointment met him. The instruments were all being played, but the beings that played them were invisible. Despite this fact, he still felt a special warmth and comfort, a tranquility he had never felt before, in knowing that the violin that was hovering over the first chair was being played by his mother. Gabriel finished listening to the performance, then sank into a peaceful sleep.

*          *          *

Loretta LaGue anxiously waited at the window of her apartment, excited and nervous about the infamous conductor’s visit. It had been so long since they had last seen one another, and he had been like a father to her during her days in the theatre.

She predicted that his time in her home would be bittersweet; it would be great for them to see each other and reminisce about “the good old days,” but discussion of the fire was imminent. After all, the main purpose of the visit was for him to find out more about the “ghosts.” Loretta felt sorry for him because, while she had lost only her job after the fire, his most prized possession, his daughter, Jeanette, had been taken from him. He probably hoped that Jeanette was one of the “ghosts,” and that he would be able to see and talk to her again.

Loretta sighed. There were no ghosts, she strongly believed. She hated to think of Alexandre’s disappointment on discovering that, but it was the truth, and he would have to face it. All of her neighbors had spread those rumors, but she knew that there was some logical explanation for it.

There was a knock at the door.

“That will be Monsieur Mierceles himself,” she said, and after a quick glance in the mirror, she went to greet her caller.

Much to her surprise, however, the person at her door was not the composer but a young, shabby boy. You and I know him as Gabriel, but Mme. Loretta LaGue had not yet met him, so she looked on him in disgust.

“Can you not see, boy, that this is the home of a proper lady and not a place that welcomes beggars?” she snapped when she saw Gabriel at her door.

“Madame LaGue,” he calmly replied. “I have not come to beg; I only want to know if you have any information on how I might contact Monsieur Alexandre Mierceles.”

“Why?” she asked suspiciously.

Gabriel hesitated, but then answered, “He is my grandfather.”

A look of shock spread over Mme. LaGue’s face.

“He is to arrive at any minute,” she stammered. “Won’t you come in?” she added nervously.

Alexandre Mierceles came very soon.

“Oh, Loretta, it’s so good to see you again!” he exclaimed upon his arrival. After greeting each other with a hug and a kiss to both cheeks, they walked into the parlor, where Gabriel was waiting.

The old composer froze the moment he entered the room. His eyes met with Gabriel’s.

Impossible! was Alexandre’s first thought.

I knew it! was Gabriel’s.

He has everything like her: same nose, same hair, same mouth, everything! Alexandre’s mind was racing.

In a stunned silence, they walked slowly towards each other. Overjoyed, Alexandre embraced Gabriel, and their eyes—their sharp, mischievous eyes— began filling with tears, and soon everyone in the room was crying.

“Gabriel,” Alexandre whispered, “Gabriel!”

And Gabriel’s lips formed the word of a long-forgotten memory. “Grandfather.”

EIGHT MONTHS LATER

Conductors and Composers
M. Alexandre Mierceles and
M. Gabriel Campeau
present
The Leroux Theatre Orchestra

After eleven years, they have finally returned to give us what was meant to be the most spectacular performance of their time Please join us on Saturday, September 22, 1935 for this masterpiece concert

It had taken eight months of long, hard work, but the theatre had finally been restored to its former glory. Now, conductor and grandson stood onstage, batons in hand, with both of their music ready to be performed.

The theatre was just as it had been eleven years before; the bright chandelier, red velvet seats, a new curtain, and an extremely large audience. Only this time, it was even better. Now, there were two composers, two conductors, and two people who agreed that they were the happiest people in the world.

With the help of Loretta, they had managed to find most of the surviving orchestra members, and many children of former musicians had returned to play as well.

The Mierceleses had formed a whole new orchestra, and they were determined to give the best performance of the century.

Behind the Curtain violin and candles

The lights dimmed, and as it had at the beginning of this story and on that dreadful night so many years before, the audience heard the soft, sweet sound of a violin, not played by Gabriel’s mother, but by Gabriel himself! The violin was soon joined by the entire orchestra, and it was the most spectacular performance Paris had ever heard!

*          *          *

So there you have it, my friend. You have discovered who the mysterious performers were and seen many lives changed along the way. It was the ghosts of the orchestra that had called Gabriel towards the theatre when he had nowhere to go. They played not only because they wanted to give the performance they never gave, but because they wanted Gabriel to feel at peace while he hid from the world and searched for his grandfather. They wanted him to be comforted by their music. If the orchestra hadn’t begun to play, Alexandre Mierceles would never have read the newspaper article, Mme. LaGue would never have given the interview, and who knows how long Gabriel would have spent searching for his grandfather.

So you see, the ghosts were not only behind the curtain of the theatre, but behind everything wonderful that happened in this story: Gabriel feeling safe in the theatre and having the chance to compose music that was almost, if not just as good as his grandfather’s. And Gabriel was given a home, a home with family, a home with love, and a home filled with music.

Behind the Curtain Dylan J. Sauder

Dylan J. Sauder, 13
Raymond, Wisconsin

Behind the Curtain Stanislav Nedzelskyi

Stanislav Nedzelskyi, 13
Keller, Texas

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