Slow steps took her through the muck and mirth that always follows where ever one finds the worst dregs of humanity. Gloved fingers wound tighter over the new indigo wool of her dress, lifting it to above her ankles as if she was sure that some of the filth would cling to her skirts and mar it forever. The sorrow of the assorted oddities filled her head, as if coming through her bloodstream singing of the pathetic half-lives these people possessed. Some small part of her wondered if this hastily-arranged visit would leave haunted shadows in her dreams during her sleep.
Mirelle hated this. She hated the sadness of the people around her. If one could call the victims of the macabre that the gypsies displayed people anymore. It seemed more likely that they were chattel, dying from the laughter of the "finer" people around her. Slowly she walked up to Aimee, the unofficial leader of the "petite rats" as the silly little girls of the ballet were called.
She spoke softly, those ebony eyes pleading with the girl who was just slightly older then she in years, but volumes in life. "Aimee, please can we go? I hate seeing these poor, pitiful creatures like this. It surely would be a kindness simply to go." Her voice was soft, and beseeching as she clasped the other girl's hand tightly in her own.
But Aimee wouldn't have that. The hand was pulled away as if it were scorched, but it was nothing but the scorn and aloof voice that was cast upon her friend disdainfully like a stone. "Mirelle Giry, sometimes you are the saddest little bore. After all, we decide to be nice and include you in this little trip of ours and you repay us by whining almost all the way through it. I know you are new to our ranks, and that you are not used to Paris yet, but grow up a little bit. Stop wrecking all the fun."
And with that Aimee left with a swish of her trendy skirts and her cavalier attitude. Mirelle stared after her, doing her very best to keep her mouth from coming agape. The hand she has used to touch the other girl was till extended before her, and she glared at it before brushing it roughly over the fabric of her jacket. In that instant, the muck she had touched and talked to became much worse then the sludge of the place. That little twit enjoyed seeing the people being used like this.
In a rare fit of temper, she started to stalk after the girls, twisting her way through the roughly-hewn iron cages, settling into the mud about the burnt nub's of cigars and smashed flowers of old popcorn. The mud gripped her boots and released with a sucking aggression, the elegant turn of heel stabbing back as her steps took her towards her intended target.
Aimee and her little court of dancers were standing in front of a larger cage, rimmed with more people. The lighting was better here, and she could see that this cage was not in a state of desperate disrepair. No, the bars to this cage were bright with their newness. Bright and stout. No sticks nor pieces of paper would be thrown into this cage, that much was certain. Not with the thin links of iron that encased the inner square.
Steps slowed as she reached the group of people, and the first thing that she could see was a large sign, painted red against the grimy stained once white. "Ne le touchez pas, N'l'alimentent pas it. Tu ne pas parler au monstre, ou vous serez maudits au dela de l'imagination." The words made her gasp and she wondered how horrible it must be to have the words used for shock value. The poor man. A sigh was issued from her throat as she stepped closer to Aimee, the crowd protecting her from the vision that was the thing in the cage.
Finally she stood directly behind Aimee, and saw what the crowd had been gasping and murmuring about. There was a man there, but he appeared more monster then man. How does one describe such a cruel deformity of one so horribly cursed? The soft leather of the jet gloves was raised to her forehead then down to her chest, the prayer ringing silently through her head. Not for the feeling that her soul was cursed, but for the feeling that his was.
No one deserved such treatment.
He was sat up, rigid with barely leashed fury and indignation, contempt for all of those who had come to gawk at him. The bounds that held him upright in the coffin were thick and stout, making her think of the magician she had once seen try to escape when she was a child. When she was a child, a laugh. She was barely fifteen now. She swallowed once more, the lump of guilt from paying the enter fee weighing against her heart like his chains. His face... it was almost no face. Merely the bones of a cleverly carved stage prop. And yet she knew it was not. A perfect marring of the beauty of the other half of his face.
His nose was gone, as if someone had tore it from him in an effort to illustrate the old adage of "cutting your nose off to spite your face." And his lips were twisted into a gruesome sibilance of a smile. The smile sent a cold finger sliding over her body, touching her in places where she never felt she would be warm again. But the smile was nothing compared to the naked loathing in the eyes that peered from deep sockets.
Pure malevolence. There was nothing that could fully describe the loathing, the anger and the threat of danger from those golden pools. It was as if someone had given the hunted lion permission and knowing to slaughter those who hunted him. 'And that's what we are to him.' She thought, the idea filling her stomach and making the acid twist withing it. 'We are hunting him within this cage to amuse ourselves."
Aimee's voice, harsh and grating cut through the melancholy path that her thoughts were winding through her mind. "Well, look at the freak. Such things should be killed before they draw breath. Something as ugly as that has no right to live. It's so ugly God forgot to give it a soul..." Her words were met with the tinkling edge of laughter, sharp and cutting. Cronies burst with it on cue like well trained puppies.
The laughter was taken up by the leering crowd, who passed it on as the best jest they had heard all day. But what captured Mirelle's interest was not the cruel cutting giggles that mocked the little girl voices. No, her sight was captured by the glare that the man within the cage was sending over them all. If looks could kill... if looks could kill then he would be a mass murderer by then.
Muscles twisted, flexing within the thin arms. But they were strong, that much was without a doubt. Tensioning and relaxing with a malicious intent. The heavy-set man behind him, saw and fat fingers ensnared the worn leather of the whip, caressing as if waiting for the act of defiance. An excuse, any excuse for the knots to kiss flesh crimson. But as quickly as that anger flared, it was killed, sucked deep within the man, leaving his eyes as vacant as one who was truly as dead as he appeared to be.
Bronzed, weathered parchment twisted into a mask of pure fury, this had obviously happened before, and the gypsy was not happy with it. Guttural tones rose, falling from beyond the blackened, decayed spaces were teeth should be. Anger rang out, and then collided, the arm stretched above his greasy head as if taking aim. Before she knew what was happening, Mirelle cried out, her hands flying to the iron that encased the picture before her as if framing a picture.
"No, stop it! Don't hurt him!" But the words were whisked away on the shouts of blood-thirsty anticipation that the crowd was making. Leather cut the air, the finality of it tearing through Mirelle's soul as if it were her flesh rather then his own. The crowd was now applauding wildly as if the poor man's face wasn't punishment enough that God had bestowed upon him.
But Aimee's voice was the loudest, laughing as if it was the best joke in the world that this man's life should splatter the grate that "protected" her from his fury, that the crimson should mingle with the sludge of waste under his cage like a dogs. "You see! No soul! It doesn't even feel it! You see how it doesn't even cry out? There's no soul in there!" God help her, she sounded almost disappointed that the poor man wasn't crying out in pain.
Mirelle couldn't stand it any longer. Her hand reached up of it's own accord, flying towards flesh with a silent careen. The palm found cheek with a resounding slap, the force of it jarring Mirelle's arm back before she swung again, this time her fist closed. But her force was nothing compared to what hit the head of the petite rats. Aimee fell forward, falling into the mud that was turning almost jet with the blood.
Tenseness entrenched every part of Giry's body, as she hovered over the girl who was in the mud, her skirts scattered around her. One hand was clasped over the other one as she spoke her voice cold. "If that man doesn't have a soul, Aimee, then you certainly don't either. Because you are far uglier inside then he is out."
Startled by the emotion that rocked Mirelle's voice, Aimee's dirty hand reached up to touch the rapidly swelling jaw. Her voice was soft and rigid, even more so then the person who had now become the nemesis in her eyes. "You are going to regret this, Mirelle Giry. I've hoped you've enjoyed your time at the Opera."
While the companions stood by, watching the two girls like some morbid tennis match, a slow heavy rain started to tumble down over them. The people started to move away from the cage, suddenly feeling as if the rain was some punishment for what they had done. The crowd was gone and Mirelle turned her back to Aimee, and the curses she was spewing underneath her breath. Instead she turned back to the man who was in the cage.
He seemed the same as he was before, the vacant stare, but she knew better. She could feel that he was watching her like a bee that was hovering just beyond swatting range. Wondering if the attack would come at the same time as waiting for it. Her fingers lightly touched the cage, her eyes starting to swim as much as the rain coming around her. She was always far to rash then what was good for her.
And she wasn't quite sure why she was doing this, but she spoke softly. "I'm sorry for paying to see you. I didn't know how awful they treated you. Please forgive me."
Without waiting for a reply, because she knew one wouldn't be forth coming anyway, she turned and started to walk out, the cloak being pulling over her chestnut hair, now already quite soaked. For a moment she considered her career. If she had a career anymore. Well, she knew that the new opera house was nearly finished with completion. If nothing else, she could find a job elsewhere at a theatre. The opera wasn't the only one in Paris. A soft sigh was made before a single word caught her in her tracks.
"Wait." The sound that one could insert into a single syllable. All of the grief in the world seemed to be in this voice. The sound of an angel, nothing more. And yet to say nothing more about an angel seemed almost...sinful. She had never known that a man's voice could be so beautiful. That anyone's voice could be so. Mirelle had to turn around to make sure that it was indeed the same man there that was before.
She had to be sure that he wasn't Saint Peter in disguise.
The golden orbs studied her once again, blurry through the sheets of chilled wet that fell with a fierce velocity around them. She met them head on, suddenly feeling as if she was out of place, out of world. Misery had met her eyes, and yet it didn't dim the sound of the voice that only God could grant. He spoke the words softly, as if the manners they had tried to drill out of her were coming back in a valiant assault. "Thank you for saying that, Mam'selle. And for doing what you did."
She was taken back. Her hood was pressed from her face as if she was trying to get a better view of him. But it seemed that the shadows conspired against her, and he was hidden in them as if they were coming at his beck and call. "I had to. I had to do what is right...."
"What is right..." He interrupted her with a chilled laugh. "What is right?! How do you know what is right, little Giry? Maybe I deserve to be locked in this cage."
"No one deserves such things as this! For God sakes, they treat you like an animal..."
"For God's sakes indeed! Little Giry, He gave up on me a long time ago. If he is even there! What sort of God does this?!" He was laughing now, laughing as if he was a man in an asylum for the criminally insane. "There is beautiful churches, there is beautiful music, but there is no God. He is an invention of mere mortals, my dear."
Mirelle's voice broke though the tirade of his mirth. "Do not say that Monsieur! God watches his flock always!"
"Really, then why does he not unlock the door to his cage? Why does he not reach down from heaven and set me free?"
"Because sometimes we have to help our fellow man first. That is what God teaches!"
"Help our fellow man. How truly amusing, surely you are not that naive my dear."
"I believe it. How can you not?"
At this point, his lips twisted into a smile. "Really, little Giry? If this is so, why don't you help me escape from this?"
The words tumbled out of her mouth before she even thought about stopping them. "I will prove that God does exist for you, Monsieur. I will prove it by helping you be free."
To be continued...
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