The Phantom’s Stage
The city only had one prison.
There was a new batch of criminals who were sent there today. The prison guards were standing guard at the entrance, the masked people were also standing guard at the entrance.
The weather was a little hot and humid. Using their hands to fan themselves, both sides started to complain.
“Why is it not here yet?”
At First People’s Hospital in the city.
“Wait up, wait up!” A big fellow ran towards the elevator with his old mother on his back.
A clean and slender hand pressed on the open door button, the elevator door that was about to completely close opened up again.
“Thank you, thank you.” The big fellow rushed into the elevator and told the owner of the hand.
“You’re welcome.” Wen Yu retracted his hand and smiled at him politely.
The elevator door closed. After an instant of weightlessness, it started to rise.
The elevator doors that were as smooth as a mirror reflected Wen Yu’s expressionless face.
At first, he had told Shi Zhong Tang he would go to the prison.
Indeed, he would go there, but not immediately.
“The prison is hard to get into and hard to get out of, but the hospital is different.” Wen Yu thought, “Among people who are going to die, I could definitely find a couple of scoundrels who are hated, are unwilling to accept death and would rather become the doorman.”
The hospital. A place of birth, old age, illness and death. There were countless people there frowning with concern, countless people who were crying out in anguish and countless people who were struggling to stay alive on the hospital beds, all for the sake of living for one more day. Here, he would definitely be able to find a suitable candidate.
…Wait a minute.
The things he could think of, did Big Brother really not think of as well?
The elevator door slowly opened.
The big fellow beside him exclaimed, “Who did it? Why did the door open for no one?”
Wen Yu stared at the empty elevator entrance closely.
Was there…really no one there?
The big fellow mumbled, the door closed back up. The elevator started rising up again, it only got up one floor before the doors opened again.
A woman with a child stood outside the elevator. She looked around the inside of the elevator, then looked back at her sickly daughter and said, “It’s full, let’s take the next one.”
Wen Yu was taken aback, he rushed out of the elevator in an instant.
Just as his front foot stepped out of the elevator, his other leg was pulled back.
Amidst the screams of the woman and the little girl—ding, the elevator door closed again.
At the same time, at <<Phantom of the Theater>> set.
Although there had been a few ups and downs, filming had finally arrived at the last scene, <<The Phantom’s Stage>>.
The scene narrated how the male lead had finally become the most popular actor of the time due to the teachings of the phantom and the full support of the rich young lady. Attention followed him wherever he went, he truly had a bright future.
But at the same time, wherever he went, death followed.
Those who dared speak ill of him behind his back, those who secretly played dirty tricks on him, those who had designs on his good looks—all of them met a violent end. As time went by, some things began to surface. In the end, an old man from the theater revealed a secret of the past—below the theater, in a place that was covered in complete darkness, lived a woman, a woman named Phantom.
This woman had been killing for the male lead.
That day the male lead got on stage to perform again, he was to sing the song that shot him to fame <<New Peony Pavilion>>. There were no empty seats. Amongst the audience was of course the rich young lady, the numerous audience members around her were discussing excitedly on who would be the one to die next. The rich young lady beckoned her confidant to come to her, she covered her mouth and said, “I’ll be the bait. The phantom had wanted to kill me a few times already, there wouldn’t be an exception this time. You guys get ready, catch her the moment she comes out, dead or alive!”
An applause roared out all of a sudden. She turned her head and gazed over, her eyes sparkled. Clap, clap, clap—she started to clap.
She was a distinguished guest who sat at the best and most conspicuous seat. Chen Shuang He tilted his head and found her, the two of them exchanged looks.
“The trap is ready.”
“Understood, I will coordinate with you.”
Without needing any words, they knew what the other was thinking.
Chen Shuang He liked that kind of feeling. Although a lot of people said that the rich young lady was a shallow person, it was because she was shallow that he was able to see through her with one look. Unlike another person, seeing through him completely, controlling him like a puppet master with their fingertips.
He was tired, weary and scared. He wanted to break away from the phantom, to get married to a normal woman, to live a normal life.
“We have no idea where our love began,” Chen Shuang He started to sing a little absent-mindedly, “but we will be devoted to a lifelong love.”
By his ear, a moving voice followed up, “The living could die, the dead could live.”
Chen Shuang He was stunned, he looked over.
They thought she would act the way she always had, hiding behind the scenes, stabbing people in the back.
No one expected a beautiful singing voice to ring out behind the scarlet curtain. In the entire vocabulary, there was no word to accurately describe her voice. They only knew that once she started singing, the entire theater turned silent. Everyone had forgotten to blink, forgotten to breathe, even their blood had forgotten to stop flowing, each of their organs had stopped functioning, only their ears were still in use. Even the rich young lady who most hated the phantom raised her hand uncontrollably, stopping her confidant from leaving. However, she did not have to do that, the confidant themselves was also enchanted by the singing, they did not notice her new instruction at all.
“Love from within a dream…” The scarlet curtain slowly opened. With a mask on her face, wearing a costume, the phantom made an appearance on stage, she sang to Chen Shuang He, “Why take it seriously?”
Why take it seriously?
He looked at the rich young lady seated on the VIP seat with the corner of his eye. Ning Ning cracked open a mocking smile. That smile woke the rich young lady up. She gave her confidant a slap to wake them up, they covered their face and left in a hurry.
Ning Ning looked back, her eyes fixed on Chen Shuang He who had an uneasy expression on his face.
Chen Shuang He frantically waved his hand behind his back.
Dancers dressed in white entered like a river, there were bamboo embroidered on their white costumes. They circled the two of them with their dance, it looked like the two were surrounded by sticks and sticks of bamboo, deep in the courtyard.
“Ah, Miss !” Chen Shuang He pretended to be surprised. “So this is where you were, I was looking for you everywhere.”
He suddenly looked to his left and right. He plucked a branch filled with bamboo leaves from behind him and smiled shyly. “I just chanced to break off this branch from a weeping willow in the garden. You are so deeply versed in works of literature, I should like you to compose a poem to honor it.”
Originally, she should have been secretly pleased and turned around to say in a low voice, “I have never seen this young man in my life, what is he doing here?”
Ning Ning gazed at him calmly instead, looking as if she was smiling, “Who are you here for?”
Chen Shuang He was taken aback for a moment. He glanced at the rich young lady in the audience with the corner of his eyes, then told Ning Ning with a gentle tone, “I am here for you, Lady, I am dying of love for you!”1
A rendition of <<A Walk in the Garden>>2 enthralled the audience, like they had fallen into a dream. It felt like Du Li Niang3 and Liu Meng Mei4 had gone through time and space to appear in front of them and reenact their eternal love.
Even Chen Shuang He’s eyes were getting blurry. He seemed to have forgotten his original intention as he indulged in the play, indulged in his role.
“I am the partner born of the fairest line, for whom you wait as the river of years rolls past.” He sang affectionately to Ning Ning, “Everywhere I have searched in compassion for you, secluded in your chamber. Lady, come with me just over there where we can talk.”
That was an expression she had seen before, it looked extremely like how Shi Zhong Tang looked at her whenever she looked up.
Ning Ning was stunned for a moment, she felt some admiration and some gratification: You have already acted out the essence of Lu Yun He.
Lu Yun He was a mediocre person. After working hard, he had not achieved anything, he did odd jobs in the troupe for many years. He was already a senior by their standards, but he was still making mistakes in the little things, which resulted in him getting scolded by the troupe leader and mocked by the newcomers. Life was so painful, his only joy was to act, his only obsession was acting.
…Hold on, isn’t that me?
Ning Ning was taken aback for a moment, but she did not show it on her face. She turned to her side and let out a laugh. “Where do you mean?”
At this moment, Chen Shuang He’s Lu Yun He had been completely possessed. He had completely forgotten about the rich young lady, every movement made by the lady in front of him strung his heart along. He hastily twirled up to her, the willow twig in his hand pointed to the right. “There, just beyond this railing peony, lined against the…”
Compared to the mortal world, a person like Lu Yun He was more suited to live in a play. He was better at living in a play, because life was simply too bitter and tiring for him. He could become another person on stage. A pauper or a noble, someone old or someone young, someone attractive or someone ugly—he could become anyone on stage, fall in love with a person and also be loved by everyone…be loved by the audience. He loved the stage, it was the only place in which he could lose himself and find happiness…but isn’t that me?
Then who am I?
“Against the…against the…” Chen Shuang He stammered suddenly, then shouted at her, “Run quickly!!”
At the same time there was a commotion among the audience seats.
“It’s a gun!!”
The rich young lady’s confidant had led a group of people in, the muzzles of their guns were aimed at the stage.
Most people had already scattered, but the rich young lady remained on her seat. Both her hands were clenched tightly into fists, her voice had a trace of of a sob as she said to Chen Shuang He who was on the stage, “Get over here quickly!”
Chen Shuang He shook his head. He stretched his hands out and stood in front of Ning Ning to protect her, shouting at her with his back to her, “Get out of here quickly!”
A chuckle, a pair of hands reached out behind him and wrapped themselves around him.
“You love me.” Ning Ning said behind him.
Chen Shuang He’s body stiffened for a moment, then he relaxed, as if he was accepting his fate. “…Yes.”
“You chose me.” Ning Ning said again.
“No!!” The rich young lady screamed and ran towards the stage, but she was held back by her confidant from behind.
“…Yes.” Chen Shuang He slowly turned his head back, the face was his, but his expression was that of Liu Meng Mei gazing at Du Li Niang, it was like a dream, a fantasy, it was like he had been bewitched. “I choose you.”
Ning Ning gazed at him, the trace of a tear sparkled at the corner of her eyes.
This was a victory that belonged to the phantom.
Because she understood him. He was a person of the plays, once a play began, he would turn into the person he was portraying, then fall in love with another person from the play. If the play hadn’t ended, the love wouldn’t have ended. They would become Du Li Niang and Liu Meng Mei, living in <<A Dream in the Garden>> forever.
Ning Ning slowly looked towards the audience seats. Most of the extras were gone, most of the masked people were gone as well, her eyes fixed themselves on Shi Zhong Tang…she knew what he had told the masked people now.
—That was not Chen Shuang He’s shout.
A crew member rushed in as he coughed, thick smoke followed him in, he said anxiously, “Cough, there’s a fire.”
Just as his voice droned out, a masked person quickly walked in behind him. With a click, the lighter in their hand was lit up, then with a forceful toss, the lighter was thrown towards the stage.
Red curtains, red flames, screams rang out on and off the stage. Afterwards, there was the sound of a flurry of footsteps.
Chen Shuang He also started to run, then he looked back. Seeing Ning Ning who was still standing on stage dumbfounded, looking straight at Shi Zhong Tang.
Shi Zhong Tang held the armrests of the chair with both his hands as he slowly stood up, he sang, “I am the partner born of the fairest line, for whom you wait as the river of years rolls past.”
The world’s most moving voice, the world’s most affectionate voice, singing for her alone.
“Everywhere I have searched in compassion for you, secluded in your chamber.”
“There, just beyond this railing, peony lined against the mound of weather Tai-hu rocks...”
Accompanied by his singing, he slowly walked from the audience seat up to the stage, walking up in front of her.
Ning Ning closed her eyes for a moment, then with her trembling lips she said, “The masked people did not immediately kill me, because you told them…”
She opened her eyes and stared at him, “Today, I will become one of you.”
1This entire play was an actual Chinese play The Peony Pavilion, I basically took the translation from page 47 and 48 of this book.
2An act of the play. Wiki article
3Du Li Niang is a fictional character from Tang Xianzu’s play The Peony Pavilion. Wiki article
4Liu Meng Mei is the main fictionalized character within Tang Xianzu’s play The Peony Pavilion, “Liu” meaning ‘willow’ and “Meng Mei” ‘dream of plum’. Wiki article
E/N: Hi guys, a little announcement. Seeing as there are only 3 chapters left (and we loathe to make you guys suffer the long cliffhanger), we will do mass release of all three chapters on Sunday! But, there will be no release on this Friday. Look forward to Sunday!