Phantom of the Theater
“What?” Chen Guan Chao ran over suddenly, his hair was in a mess, you could see that he had been scratching his head with one look. He was usually dressed smartly, the only reason for this to happen would be that—he was short on inspiration, or that he forgot his lines.
Without waiting for his answer, Ning Yu Ren suddenly rushed over from the side and pushed him down to the ground. He got up, she pushed him down again.
“What are you doing?” Chen Guan Chao shouted angrily at her from the ground.
“Could you stop caring about your movie at this time?” Ning Yu Ren’s hair was all over the place, she opened her arms and stood in front of Ning Ning and Wen Yu.
“People will eventually die!” Chen Guan Chao raised the paper in his hand, he had the fanatical expression of a martyr. “Only the Phantom is eternal!”
Ning Yu Ren snatched the paper that was crammed with words from him and threw it on the ground, she stepped on it continuously with both feet. Chen Guan Chao shouted and jumped in to protect his script.
As the two of them were fighting, Wen Yu lowered his body and placed his ear near Ning Ning’s lips.
Ning Ning slowly moved her lips and shouted in her heart, ‘Quiet down, you two!! Let me finish my last words!!’
Ning Ning’s vision was turning dark. Wen Yu was right in front of her, but she was slowly losing the sight of his face, she frantically shouted…
“I have no regrets!”
The drink by her hand spilled onto the floor, the juice within flowed out and suffused at her feet.
Ning Ning stood from the audience seat and stared blankly at the giant movie screen in front of her.
“…Ah!” She slapped herself on the forehead, “Why did you not let me finish my sentence!”
Maybe she was hit too hard, a wave of dizziness suddenly came over her. The screen looked like it was moving, the floor felt like it was moving. Ning Ning swayed as she lost her footing, her butt went back onto the seat, then she bent over and vomited, “Urghhh.”
The movie started playing, voices came from within the movie, but Ning Ning did not pay attention to what was being said. After she recovered from her dizziness, she started to lose her hearing, it sounded like countless bees were buzzing in her ears.
“What is going on?” Ning Ning covered the pit of her stomach, her heart was beating as if she had just finished a marathon, she felt scared. “I came back after dying last time as well, why does this time…feel so awful?”
She vomited again, then fell back limply on her seat, unable to move.
After around two hours, the gentle ending theme started playing like seawater crashing into her ears, she reopened her eyes and looked up.
On the screen, the credits had just finished rolling.
A few snow white words appeared in front of her.
<<Phantom of the Theater>>.
“Why is it Phantom of the Theater?” Ning Ning murmured as she looked at the words, “Wasn’t it Abandoned Child?”
The movie had ended, but the theater did not turn its lights back on. Were the lights malfunctioning, or was it due to the theater not having enough customers that they are saving on expenses? Ning Ning continued to sit for a while, then slowly stood up while holding onto the arm rests. She stumbled towards the exit, suddenly she looked back. “…What are you guys doing?”
Clomp. The staff with the court lady mask stopped in her tracks and looked at Ning Ning silently.
Clomp, clomp, clomp. Countless staffs stopped in their tracks beside her and behind her, they looked at Ning Ning silently.
“…Is something wrong?” Ning Ning asked, but no one answered her. She was getting goosebumps from getting stared at. She could not help but turn around and take a step, behind her the sound of footsteps rang out again. She turned back abruptly, “What do you guys want?”
As before, no one answered her. Those mask-wearing staffs silently stared at her for a short while, they suddenly took a step and walked towards her.
Ning Ning hurriedly turned around and ran towards the front door.
Clomp, clomp, clomp. Footsteps rang out behind her. They were getting closer, they were getting faster. Ning Ning turned around to take a look, but all she saw within the theater was darkness. The bodies of the staff members had disappeared as if they had melted into the darkness, becoming part of the theater, only the masks on their faces were trying their best to preserve their colours, their shapes.
Those masks, the smiling ladies, the crying old women, the pale-faced scholars, the monkeys and Ba Jie1 were chasing after her one by one.
Ning Ning dared not look again, she was afraid that she would scream if she took another look.
There was no time to scream. Ning Ning ran towards the front door for her life. It was just a few steps away, but the wave of dizziness was back. The door started to move, the ground also started to move, her body swayed and she fell to the floor on her side. Just as she fell to the floor, countless numbers of hands reached out towards her from behind.
One hand grabbed her.
“Quickly get out!” The Doorman with his snow-white mask growled at her as he lifted her up from the floor.
Ning Ning finally came back to her senses after being dragged by the Doorman for a few steps. She hugged his solid arms with both her hands, like a drowning person who was hugging a piece of log, struggling to paddle towards the shore, towards the entrance.
The pathway was short, but it was also very long, on the way out she started dry-coughing non stop again.
“Hold on.” The Doorman encouraged her gently. He suddenly reached out and pushed her back. “Go out!”
Ning Ning was pushed out of the door.
Behind her, the Doorman did not follow her out. He stopped in his tracks and turned back slowly, looking at the staff members that were still relentlessly chasing. He slightly lowered his head. When he looked up again, a fiery flame pattern had appeared on his snow-white mask, even his eyes shined red with the blaze of fire.
“Get back!!!” He roared at them with a scary and murderous expression.
The staff members stopped in their tracks and looked at him from a distance, they didn’t want to leave but they did not dare to walk up to him.
The sound of someone retching rang out, the flame pattern on his mask started receding a little as the Doorman turned around. He was wearing a snow-white mask again, looking at Ning Ning who was squatting by the door and vomiting a lot.
He reached out a hand hesitantly, only to retract it a couple of times, finally he carefully placed it on her back.
“…I told you not to get close to that Wen Yu.” He gently patted her back and said helplessly, “Kindness never begets kindness, in the end you will be the one who gets hurt.”
Ning Ning was stunned, she turned and looked at him. This sentence was so familiar, where did she hear it from?
“…Go home.” The Doorman raised his hand. A taxi stopped in front of them. This time, he did not help her into the taxi, instead he guarded the entrance and told her sincerely, “Don’t come back here again…This place, is not as good as you imagine it to be.”
How could she go back just like this!
“What was going on with those people just now?” Ning Ning got back to her senses and asked him agitatedly, “Why were they chasing me?”
“They won’t chase you if you don’t come back.” The Doorman said.
Ning Ning stared at him blankly and asked herself, would she come back?
Her conclusion was…yes. The first time she came here was because of Mama’s last words. The second time, she came here so that she could act well as the Phantom. She didn’t know what the reason would be for her to come here the next time.
Young people might not know, successful people might not understand either. Only talentless people like her who wanted to be a professional and people who were in their thirties or forties and yet to succeed, would understand the need to brave the danger and to hold on, else what would they have to hold on to? Nothing at all. This was the only chance, the chance to change her fate.
An opportunity was still an opportunity even if it was a bad one.
“…What happens if I get caught?” Ning Ning asked.
The Doorman’s tone changed and he sounded a little annoyed, “You intend to come back?”
He looked a little scary when angry, Ning Ning took a step back. The taxi driver behind her shouted, “Do you want to go or not?”
“Yes.” Ning Ning turned back and shouted before looking at the Doorman with a complicated expression.
He stood at the entrance of the theater like a mountain. Countless people, countless masks stood behind him.
Ning Ning did not take notice of them in the beginning because they didn’t speak, but looking at them now, she felt scared for a moment. Especially with how their heads move along with her footsteps, and how their masks were always facing her silently, staring at her.
“…I’ll come to look for you next time.” Ning Ning felt a little frightened, added with the fact that her body was giving out, she opened the taxi door and entered.
The car engine roared to life and drove off in a puff of smoke from the entrance as if it was getting chased.
The Doorman watched as the taxi left in the distance, his hair was a little messy from the wind, the poster beside him also rattled in the wind.
If Ning Ning had looked back at the poster now, she would have been surprised to find out that it had changed.
A big red curtain, an old-fashioned stage, two coffins were placed on the stage.
Two people walked out of each of the coffin, one on the left and the other on the right. On the left was Wen Yu, on the right was a woman wearing a stage costume, they were walking towards each other, hugging each other.
As they hugged, the woman’s figure slowly disappeared from his embrace, like a spirit diffused in the sunlight.
Title: <<Phantom of the Theater>>.
Starring: Ning Ning, Wen Yu.
On the other side, Ning Ning had reached home.
The first thing she did when she got home was to rush to the toilet and to vomit non stop. When she was done, she had cleansed everything out from her stomach and her brain. She sat on the floor gasping for air for a while. Chills were running down her body, her stomach convulsed and made her shout in pain, “Wen Yu, help me fetch water for me to wash my face with…”
After a while, no one answered.
She struggled to get up and turned on the tap herself. She washed her face and feet using warm water with difficulty, then she drank a full glass of hot water before returning to the bedroom and wrapping herself tightly in her blanket. She lied on her side and mumbled to the air beside her, “I have to get better, you have to get better too, the both of us have to get better.”
I would take good care of myself in the days without you, you would also have to take good care of yourself in the days without me, never ever give up on yourself.
These words, these meanings, these promises were meant for him…She should have told him earlier, just in case she lost her chance to do so.
It was to the extent that Ning Ning was hammering her pillow in her sleep while sleep talking, “Quiet down you two!! Let me finish my last words!!”
When she woke up on the following day, she had no time to continue to look at the information her manager had sent her, neither did she have the time to look at Director Chen’s first version of <<Phantom of the Theater>>. Why would she look at a piece of work he was not satisfied with? On this day, Ning Ning ordered food delivery a few times, she continued to order one after another as the previous delivery was not enough to satisfy her hunger.
Scalding hot chicken soup went down her stomach, piping hot dishes went down her stomach. The warmth started slowly spreading from her stomach to her limbs, Ning Ning rested for the entire day comfortably. On the next day, she received a phone call from Director Chen.
“Do you have an answer now?” Director Chen asked in a direct manner, “What is love?”
Ning Ning closed her eyes then answered after a while, “I don’t know.”
“Is that so…” Director Chen’s voice sounded extremely disappointed.
“The answer is in my heart.” Ning Ning said, “But as of now I…cannot find a suitable phrase to describe it.”
After a short pause, she suddenly said, “But I can act it out for you.”
There was only silence on the opposite end of the phone call for a moment.
“…It is 2pm now.” Director Chen’s voice resounded after a long while, “I will give you 3 hours of preparation time. I will wait for you at my house at 5pm, give me your answer with your acting skills!”
1 This is a character from the famous story Journey to the West, thus the monkey masks mentioned along with it are most probably Wu Kong masks. Wikipedia link for reference