Story written by Franklin Rayeski – Please do not use without crediting me
Whilst France was tearing itself apart at the seams, a young maiden, Marie Dammia Annette, a poor proletariat, mopped the floors of a local, run-down opera house. The parlor was in pretty bad shape and was almost always empty—people in town were more amused with beheadings than plays. All the actors and actresses, as well as directors, producers, stage managers, staff, orchestra and costume designers fled the place long before Ms. Marie. The only things that stayed were the mice and all the ripped cloaks and masks in the back. The velvet curtains that hung from the ceiling were stained and many rows of chairs were missing altogether. Most of the windows were boarded up and the whole lot reeked of wet wood and mice droppings. None of these things, however, stopped Ms. Marie in her daily visits.
Marie had no affiliation with the parlor, to be frank. She only started visiting long after the place was put out of commission for good. Marie would’ve been in tremendous trouble for trespassing, but the officers had more important duties to attend to. The doll Marie came by the small opera house and tidied what she could since she was about thirteen; she was now nineteen and un-betrothed.
Why was she there? Well, the answer depends on which gossiper you ask. Some say she is taking advantage of the socio-economic changes and is going to renovate the place and create a business, thus leaving the lower class. Others claim she is a delusional witch who goes to the lot and performs rituals and summons demons that stalk the streets at night. Other accusations flutter hither and thither but the rumors were nothing but shallow small talk that rarely surfaced in every day conversations.
Marie, despite all the accusations, was there because she gained a certain joy from scrubbing the beautifully crafted stage, from dusting all the statues and washing all the costumes. She would often stand tall center stage and outstretch her frail arms like a gifted dancer. She’d twirl onstage and swing her legs wildly. She’d frolic from left stage to right, skipping through meadows in her mind. She’d jump and reach her arms towards the old wooden ceiling and then roll on the ground. She’d swoon and sigh and grieve and fly all around that gilded stage of hers. She’d dance for her audience, curtsy to accept her flowers then continue the ever long task of cleaning the muck off the floors.
Today, however, was her big debut; she was going to perform a recital. She had uncovered a music box in the back of a costume closet and was inclined to put it to use. She set the box down on stage—all cogged and ready—and she stood close to it in a white lacy dress, tall white laced stockings and soft pink ballet shoes. Her hair was pinned up in a sloppy bun and her violet eyes were outlined in black. With her toe, she opened the box and quickly got into formation.
The tune of “Salve Regina” began playing softy in a melancholic, yet beautiful, tune as she began her interpretive dance. Her feet were close together and her eyes were staring downward. She lifted her head solemnly and stretched out her arms. She crossed her ankles and leaned forward, then back, then returned to her original stance. She lifted one leg to her knee and then pointed it outwards. She swayed her body with the music and let her arms move in unique motions. The music began to pick up and that began her daring twirl. She swung her body around balancing on her left toes with the other leg at her knee, one arm above her head and the other at her chest. Then she pointed her leg outwards mid-spin and then placed both hands above her head. She stopped for a moment and then flung herself in the other direction, twirling and whirling in violent spheres around before her crowd. She kept dancing in her faux ballet style until the music box ceased, she curtsied and let the audience applaud her.
This performance, unlike the rest, was not applauded by a sea of adoring fans, instead, only one, young man, applauded in a standing ovation. He was not in Marie’s imagination, however, he was a bourgeois man adorned in a dark coat and standing in one of the opera’s isles. Marie bowed again and then proceeded to collect her box. The mesmerized man quickly ran to her side.
“Have you practiced that?” He asked her in a strangely exaggerated voice. She shook her head. He gasped in amazement and clapped again. “What talent! You are exactly the thing France needs! You are the cirque the people desire! Mademoiselle, what is your name?”
“Marie Annette,” she answered calmly but on the brink of delight. He took her delicate hand and kissed it softly. “Monsieur!”—she took her hand back—“What is your name?”
“Eylar Manette Ayis,” he bowed, “I am so humbled to be in your beautiful presence.” He knew all the right words to compliment the maiden. Her cheeks lit ablaze and she could barely contain her content. “My dear, Marie Annette, I need you and your artistry. See, I am a business man with no business. After seeing your performance, I had a spectacular vision of a business: a whole stage and you to dancing on it in front of thousands!”
“Oh my,” Marie gasped, “this has to be a dream!” It was as if this man had peered into her mind, pulled out and presented her biggest wish to herself. “Where? And how will people come? No one likes recitals like they used to. How will you pay for it all? What would I do? What will I wear?” The man shook his finger with a clever smirk.
“Do not worry, my doll,” he softly explained, “I have all the means, but, until now, have had no ends. You will be able to dance in front of thousands, in the same fashion as you did when I walked in here. I will pay for all the sets and costumes and stage. I will handle attracting a crowd—I may hire an artist to paint you for a poster. And, where better to have you perform than where you first started?” He gestured towards the worn out stage.
“No, no,” she smiled, appreciating the idea, “that’s all well and good, but this stage is ready to fall apart. Not to mention I’ve been cleaning her for years and she still is as grimy as ever. How would this be flattering to anyone?” He smiled again.
“Hush, darling, you worry too much.” With both of his hands he took one of her’s and kissed it again. “I know we have not met long, but have faith in me, dear. I will make you a world renowned star. You’ll own all the fame and all the glory.”
“Oh, I hope it doesn’t go to my head!”
“Doll, you are such a humble woman, doing so would simply be against your nature!” Marie smiled and nodded her head.
“I’ll do it.”
“Splendid.” With that, he tipped his cap and walked away.
“Mr. Ayis!” She called for him, “What now?”
“Go home and rest.” He responded without looking back, “By this Friday, you should be ready for your first show.” After he finished talking, he continued walking forward far from Marie until he faded in with the dark corners of the opera house.
Marie’s face lit up with excitement. She stood up and leaped towards the stage and twirled around for a bit. Dancing and acting in front of thousands had been a dream of hers ever since she first laid eyes on this place. They breathed when she stepped onto their boards and while she was cleaning the floors, they were alive. It was always as if she was cleaning after a big show and she’d imagine desperate fans trying to catch a quick peak of her after the performance and adore her and ask for acting tips. Marie would get all humble and say that anyone can do what she did and that whatever she said to them would be inspiring. Now, this man, this angel, will make those fantasies become a reality.
Two days passed and Marie stepped inside what seemed like a whole, new gilded opera house with red, velvet carpets lining the entry way and rich candles lighting the walls. A gold aura shimmered throughout all the corridors and accentuated the doorways straight into the theater. Before the beautifully dark stage, rows upon rows of crimson cushioned seats flooded the theater. Marie guided down that sea towards the stage. She got up there and placed her ear against the floor—the stage had always been warm blooded and had welcomed Marie with cheery creaks and moans. Now, the stage was cold and indifferent to her presence. She had hoped the revitalized opera house, with all the new gold and glamour, would breathe deeper and become livelier. Instead, it was deader than before.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Eylar Ayis stated as he emerged from backstage. Marie sighed and shook her head.
“What have you done to my poor girl?” She spoke to the hardwood stage.
“You wanted to dance and you shall. You wanted fame and I shall provide.” He responded to her hindrance. “You said I could revamp the parlor and I did. I was not told I couldn’t replace the creaking stage floors.” At first, Marie was going to leave and be done with this faux fantasy, but then she started to make sense of things. The place was falling to bits, she thought, he only meant to make it more appealing to the audience. Surely some sacrifices will have to be made to make my dream come true. I am not giving up because of this.
“It is fine.” She stood up tall above him, “Tell me: what and when is the performance?” He smiled and slithered behind her.
“It will be tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? I’m not prepared at all!”
“Worry not: I have prepared a costume for you back stage. Your natural talent will be enough, and if not, I will guide you. This performance will reflect the melancholy all the people of France are enduring. The stage will be dim and the music will be bone-chilling and the dance you will be dancing will be both grim and suave. Go backstage and change and we will discuss the dance.” Marie did as she was ordered.
She went backstage and outlined her eyes again in a heavy black. She tied up her hair and let her right side fall against her pallid skin. Her dress was a royal purple with black cross hatches running down the front and back. She was adorned with a black choker wrapped around her neck, long fish net gloves covering her forearms and black lace stockings crawling up her thighs. She walked back to the stage to see it had completely changed. The stage was set with a light grey lighting shining over a checkerboard floor and violet damask wallpaper. Antique furniture and broken doll parts littered the stage in a macabre manner. Eylar was center stage; he was winding a different music box than before.
“This is quite dark,” Marie remarked, “are you sure the French won’t be appalled?”
“With all the blood flowing down the streets,” Eylar replied, “I’m sure this is a breath of fresh air. Do you like it?”
“It is fancy,” she admitted, “but…it’s all black and brooding. I don’t know if I’m comfortable dancing here.”
“Too bad,” he smiled over his shoulder and looking back at her, “the show is tomorrow, you can’t back out now.” Marie became defensive but quickly broke those defenses down. Some sacrifices will have to be made, some sacrifices will have to be made, she repeated to herself in her head.
She did what he instructed and danced how he told her to dance. It all felt unnatural, but surely, it looked beautiful and that’s all that mattered. Eylar Ayis controlled her movements to his desire and couldn’t wait for the show the next evening. Of course, Marie should’ve had more time to practice the routines, but it seemed that Eylar was so quick to rally the folk, that he forgot dancers needed time. Instead of letting her go at her own pace, he pushed her to work harder and made her practice until it was hours past the sun’s decent.
The next morning, the weak and weary Marie Annette scrambled to the theater. Eylar greeted her at the door and guided her to the costume room. He dressed her, making her look exactly how he had envisioned her to look like. They parted and readied themselves for the audience to arrive. Unfortunately, they were shorthanded, for Eylar had to take admissions and usher citizens to their seats. Marie, however, had to preserve herself and stay hidden until her performance. While the curtain were down and she was unseen, her limbs were heavy and unresponsive. She wanted to practice but her body was too tired and too weak.
The chandelier above the audience was extinguished and the crowd hushed. The curtain rose and the stage became ablaze. Marie, sitting on the floor, stayed still; she didn’t know what to do for her body was too heavy to move. The music box, housinng the tune to “Ave Maria,” began playing and echoed through the corridor. The music was soft and light, but, given the stage and setting, had a strong dark undertone that filled the crowd with fear. Under those lights and with the music playing, Marie moved.
First, her right hand lifted and then her whole body followed. The music began to pick up and the dance Eylar had taught her transpired; she preformed it perfectly. Every step, every sway, every twirl and thrust and sigh was there. Her fear had vanished and she adorned her natural talent of dancing. It felt like she wasn’t even putting any energy into it. The whole dance just happened and Marie could’ve fallen asleep and her body would’ve continued performing. The dance was dark and macabre, yet soft and arabesque. Marie danced and danced until the music box fell silent and the curtains fell.
Marie nearly fainted flat on her face for, when the dance ended, her instinctual dance ceased and she had to force herself to move. She caught herself and stood proud and tall and curtsied for the roaring crowd. They loved it, every second of it, and some were even in tears. Sure, the theater wasn’t completely full, but the men and women there were in absolute awe of Marie.
After the majority of attendees left, Marie and Eylar were on the stage picking up the roses that were thrown to her. Two younger women lingered and approached the two with severe delight. Marie acted natural, in assumption that the girls would ask her for tips and tell her how much they idolize her. She did her best to stay humble and looked away from the girls and waited for their approach. Marie waited and waited and waited, until she finally turned and saw the girls giving praise to Ayis.
From that night on, recitals became a normality with each night bringing in more spectators than before. There was one performance per week with a different theme each time. Every night Marie would dance with that reclining feeling from the first night; Marie would twirl and swirl for her beloved fans. Gilded Marie with her painted body and gorgeous gowns would dance along to melodic tunes that echoed through the corridor. The beautiful doll Marie became a sensation that many people knew and loved. Her previous gossipers would claim: “Oh, I had always known she was destined for greatness.” Roses and lilies would always fly onto the stage during a standing ovation after every show. Marie, the dancer, was a muse. Marie Annette, the marionette, suddenly became the most gifted dancer in all of France.
Her fame, however, was short-lived. One performance in particular was almost set up for failure. The theme was of rococo aristocracy and Marie Annette was dressed as Marie Antoinette. The French people were disgusted and immediately began leaving as soon as the curtain rose. Although Marie’s dance was impressive, focusing on delicate hand moments since her legs were hidden under a large crinoline gown. The unruly people became more and more agitated as the performance persisted. Soon, some citizens who had left came back! Was it because they saw their folly and knew the performance was just that: a performance? It was not satire, nor a political statement, nor anything else. Perhaps they set aside their feelings for a moment to adore the beautiful dancer that had been enamored with for months? Unfortunately, this was not the case.
One by one, filth was flung at the stage and masked its previous golden glow. The white ornate wallpaper and pastel furniture as well as Marie’s wig and light blue dress all became a dirty mess within minutes. Marie tried to stop and run away but she could only continue to dance. She tried deflecting the rotten food but her hands were still moving without her control. As a result, her face was bludgeoned and stained. Marie cried and tried to escape but she couldn’t stop until the music box ended. By then, the whole stage was more stained than clean and Marie was more tainted than pure.
After that horrid evening, there were no more recitals. Marie never saw her angel of a man again. The stage slowly rotted back and all the gold and candles and velvet floors were stolen, ruined or just seemed to vanish. All of Marie’s pretty costumes were laid to waste and they lost the pure glow they had once held. Marie’s dreams died as the stage and opera house returned to shambles. No matter how much Marie danced, or how much she cleaned, or how hard she worked, Eylar Manette Ayis never came back. He had given life to her dream, only to corrupt it and watch it die.
Marie still returned to her stage afterwards, cleaning off the rotten fruit from the floor boards every day. She still had her own recitals with that one melancholy music box she danced to when that man found her. However, as France became dictated by a new regime, no one ever stopped by to watch her. And no matter how much make-up she wore, or how decorated she, or her stage, became, she always returned the next evening to scrub the floor.