I shared on Friday about the new anthology I’m in, Plot Twists, a collection of short stories about people entering into the books they read. I wrote two short stories for the collection, and I thought I’d share an excerpt from one of them, “Ghosts on the Page.” A ballerina in New York wanders into Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, without realizing that seeing the Webber play is not as much preparation as she thinks!
Enjoy the excerpt below, and read the full story by getting your copy of Plot Twists here!
I plucked The Phantom of the Opera off the shelf and carried it over to the bookstore owner. “How much for this one?” I asked. “There doesn’t seem to be a price tag.”
He glanced at the book in my hand. “An interesting choice. And do you think this is what you need? Are you prepared for an adventure in a French opera house? Ballet, and ghosts in the shadows?”
Oh great, now he was trying to be dramatic. “Sure,” I said, “that’s why I picked it up. So the price…?”
He smiled. “I don’t think you understand what I mean. My books are an experience. For the right person. Open the book, read a line, and you will find yourself in the story. Quite literally. To return, open again to the page you began with.”
And this had crossed us into seriously weird territory. “Okay,” I said, backing up a step. “I think I’ll just go on to my date now. Never mind about the book.”
“Surely,” the bookstore owner said, with a new glint in his eye, “you’re not afraid of an adventure?”
Not of an adventure in a book, no. And in spite of myself I felt a little stung. I had nothing to prove to some weird bookstore owner with delusions. And yet… “All right. Fine.” I lifted the book, opened up at random, and read aloud. “With his face in a mask trimmed with long, thick lace, looking like a pierrot in his white wrap, the vicomte thought himself very ridiculous.”
I had barely pronounced the last word when the text blurred in front of my eyes. I blinked, but that didn’t help. It wasn’t just the text either. I looked up, and the entire bookshop had gone out of focus, indistinct—and had the lights just taken on a blue tinge? I closed my eyes, dragged in a deep breath. Was I fainting? Was I hungrier than I had thought? I didn’t feel light-headed—I felt fine, it was the world around me that was going to pieces.
My eyes opened again, and everything but the book in my hands had changed. I clapped the volume closed and clutched it to me as I reeled with sudden sensory overload. Music and voices filled the air, while everywhere I looked I saw a swirling crowd of people in elegant garb and glittering masks, almost outshone by the marble and gold all around them. A high ceiling soared above us, marble pillars holding up an intricate mural. I gasped, trying to lean back to see the ceiling better, and felt an unexpected stiffness restricting my ability to bend. I looked down and gawked anew. My blind-date outfit of a cute skirt and blouse had been replaced by a dress better suited to one of the more elaborate ballets, all lace and ruffles, with tight sleeves, a full skirt, and, yes, a corset, one not designed with ballet or even bending over in mind. Although I had to admit, my cleavage had rarely looked so good.
I was still gaping at the scene around me when a man in a white mask trailing lace, with a long white cloak wrapped around him, pushed past me. Maybe he expected me to step aside, but I was too overwhelmed to react and he jostled me as he went by.
“Excuse me,” he said, with an odd doubled-quality to the words, as though very faintly behind them I could hear “Excusez-moi” as well.
“That’s all right,” I said automatically, though he didn’t wait for my response. I watched the figure in white push through the crowd because in this moment of madness I needed something to focus on, and thought that he was wearing far too much lace. It looked ridiculous—and with a new jolt I looked down at the book in my hand. The vicomte—his mask with white lace—looking ridiculous in his wrap…
The bookseller wasn’t insane. I was in the story.
I needed to sit down.