The Ghost Light

    I stepped through the woods, pulling my cloak around my frame for warmth. I listened to the light pitter patter of the rain as it poured down on me. I pulled the hood further down over my face, wishing I had a horse to keep myself out of the mud. Or you know, a car. At least I had boots. The bag on my back rattled and the glass bottles underneath my cloak clinked together quietly, barely audible over the rain. I shuddered as thunder crackled in the sky. I needed to find shelter from the storm. The trees of the forest offered very little cover especially as the wind blew their branches around. Droplets hit my face, chilling me to the bone. I started to hurry despite my weariness, desperate to get out of the rain. I hurried through the fog, narrowly avoiding trees as I struggled to keep the rain from my eyes. My quest would have to wait, this storm would be the death of me if I wasn’t careful. Thankfully in this weather, the monsters of the night wouldn’t be out.
After some time of walking, I yelped as I stumbled. The soft and muddy earth had turned to a hard gravel path overgrown with weeds and grass. I frowned, deciding to follow it, hoping it would take me somewhere, a building to take shelter in or even a small town. I shivered as I walked, pleading to whatever forces were out there for somewhere to hide from the elements. The hood of my cloak blew off as a particularly strong blast of wind threw water into my eyes. After I wiped my face, I threw the hood back on. I looked up as I felt the weather let up a little bit and found myself in the shadow of a tall building.
I stared at a pair of doors and boarded up windows. A sign was bolted to the wall, ‘Now Playing:’ it read. The fliers that had been tacked up under it had long since been removed by the weather.  The lawn was overgrown and there were weeds and flowers growing everywhere.
    “Abandoned,” I muttered to myself as I tried the unboarded door. I sighed with relief as I was able to pull it open. I stepped inside and took off my soaking wet cloak. I waited for a few moments as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. 
    I found myself in a sort of small lobby. There was a wooden desk with a thick coat of dust on it, dusty, cobweb filled chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Their bulbs were cracked and full of cobwebs. It looked like there weren't very many bugs in them and the spiders had moved on. I made my way behind the desk and plopped down in a dusty but comfortable chair that looked like it had seen better days. I set my gear down and settled in on the somewhat comfortable chair, looking around the room again. I laid my soaked coat on top of the desk to air dry and hugged myself. I was wondering how long the storm would last as I shivered from the cold. 
    Above the noise of the rain and wind, I heard something that made a chill run down my spine. A voice? I stared at the second set of double doors. Cautiously, I stepped towards them and leaned closer, pressing my ear against one of them. It definitely was a voice. A lady too, I figured. She was saying something. A time would pass then she would say something else only with her voice pitched down a little bit. Nervously, I grabbed the handle of the door and pushed it open. I gazed upon a creature most beautiful. Slightly glowing blue in the dim light was a woman. She was obviously some form of ghost, parts of her form shimmered and waned as she floated about the stage. She wore the most gorgeous dress of lace and folds, like black lilac and nightshade intertwined in a beautiful mingling of ebony and violet that accentuated her ghostly curves and made her shapely bosom into a bountiful bouquet. I watched in awe as she recited lines from memory.
    She gazed down upon a spectral form on its deathbed that glowed like she did. Atop the deathbed was a mostly featureless body, “Ah, dear Juliet. Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe that unsubstantial death is amorous, and that the lean abhorred monster keeps thee here in dark to be his paramour? For fear of that, I still will stay with thee,” I easily recognized her rendition of Romeo and Juliet. She continued her lines and I continued approaching the stage as if entranced by her charms, “O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. With a kiss I die,” She produced a little bottle and pantomimed drinking the poison then kissed the ghostly body by putting a hand to its face and kissing the back of her hand before falling to the ground without a sound. Slowly, she rose from the ground. Her beautiful face contorted into a frown before a sigh escaped her lips, “These weary lungs just do not give the same performance they used to,” She pursed her lips as she began to think.
    I wanted to speak, to say something to her. Her performance had been quite good. I opened my mouth and found the words stuck in my throat. I was too nervous to say anything. I took a few more steps towards her, I wanted to see and hear her better. I yelped as I tripped on something, sending me crashing to the floor. With a quiet groan, I picked myself up from the floor, “My, my… I do not receive many visitors here,” I looked up in fear as I saw the ghostly woman was right in front of me. She was even more elegant up close. The upper half of her face was concealed behind a black mask like those they might wear at a masquerade; her eyes sparkled through it, a beautiful blue and green, like a yet unseen pair of opals shimmering in the dark, their pupils pierced through my very soul. She brushed aside one of her golden locks of hair, long and fine like the strings of a harp belonging to an angel. I found myself wishing that I could run my fingers through those golden harp strings of hers, that I could caress the head of her harp beside my own. I wanted this woman more than anything. Then I recalled she had spoken to me and that I had been gawking at her.
    “I-I’m sorry to barge in,” I apologised, “I was trying to get out of the rain.”
    She offered me her hand, “Do not be sorry. I have not had a guest-- living or dead, in so very long!” I took her cold, incorporeal hand and let her pull me to my feet with a surprising amount of strength. Her hands brushed over my body as she wiped the dust and dirt from my clothes, “The storm is quite dreadful tonight,” She complained, “Completely killing my concentration!” 
    I chuckled, “I thought your performance was quite good.”
    “Oh, you are too kind, stranger. May I know the name of my number one fan?” She smirked at me as she started to float towards the stage again.
    “Aiden. Can I know yours?”
    “Victoria Juliet Verentia!” She told me in an extravagant and overblown voice before bowing for me, “Victoria will do just fine. Oh! You are completely soaked! Come right this way into the back, please, Aiden. Allow me to give you what little hospitality I can!” 
    I nodded, “Who am I to decline a most gracious host?” I gave her a little smile and let her guide me. I was brought into the back and shown to what at one point was most likely dressing rooms. She showed me to one that looked somewhat lived in. This room, as well as the stage didn’t seem dusty-- Even if I could hardly tell with no light. I could make out the silhouette of a couch and a rack with various costumes on it.
    “Welcome,” She paused for a bit of dramatical effect, “To my humble abode!” She spread out her arms and spun around for a few turns as she acted overly dramatic, “Oh, my humblest of apologies. You cannot see in the dark, can you?” She raised her hands to the air and snapped her fingers. In a flash, light appeared as if from stage lights, bathing the room in a soft ghostly glow, “Lighting befitting of our little stage play, hm?”
    I nodded and looked around a bit more. There was a table covered in papers that looked like they had been written on multiple times over and scratch out a dozen more, a little table with two chairs at it, and most prominently was a wall that was plastered with brochures and posters for various plays and musicals that the theater had produced before, “Wow,” I gasped as I looked at the wall.
    “Ah, my mural? It is a wonderful collection is it not?” She sighed dramatically as I nodded, “How I long to see these performances,” She threw her head back and put the back of her hand to her forehead. Once she was done, Victoria took one of the seats at her table and gestured for me to sit in the other chair.
    “I’ve actually seen a few of these in theaters,” I commented as I scanned the various fliers, “But--”
    “YOU HAVE!?” The ghostly woman cried as she lurched across the table, “You must tell me all about it!”
    “W-well, it's been a really long time,” I admitted.
    “Oh?” Victoria touched her chin, “What is going on in the outside world? How long have I been here? I have been trapped in my theater for as long as I have been cognizant.”
    “Oh, you own this wonderful theater, then?”
    Victoria scoffed as I said the word ‘wonderful.’ She glanced at me sadly with her gorgeous eyes, “Well, I suppose I am the owner. I have been here as long as I can remember, Aiden. No others have stepped forth to claim these hallowed halls and I alone care for it. Admittedly, some portions of it have fallen into disarray. I am quite embarrassed that you have seen them like this. You may be only the third who has arrived here during my long, lonely existence,” She let out a long, drawn out sigh. 
    “Your theater is most wonderful, Victoria,” I assured her.
    “You are much too kind my friend,” She smiled, making my heart race, “Please, tell me why you have not seen any of these productions in a long time.”
    “Well…” I grunted, “I doubt you will believe me, but for a time, I was a thespian.”
    Victoria gasped, “A kindred spirit of the theater!” She swooned, “How I have yearned to meet another! You are a professional then, no?”
    I chuckled sadly, “Unfortunately fate had a different plan for me. I became an engineer and got a cushy yet boring office job. Then destiny came knocking once monster girls showed up in this world. I ended up leaving my job to travel and find someone to settle down with. I’ve been looking ever since.”
    Victoria nodded, “Such a sweet story! A tale that could bring even the greatest of play writes to tears! You have wrenched my cold heart into something anew, something warm and hot that beats with desire!” She took my hand, pulled me to my feet, and floated a few feet above me. All the lights in the room focused on the two of us. I blinked and suddenly felt like I was on a massive stage with just Victoria and I on it, “I shall help you in your pursuit of love! The power of theater and the stage shall help you find your beloved! With our powers combined we should be able to find the love of your life! I will be fulfilled by aiding you and finally be able to write the plays of my dreams!”
    I laughed, “I’d be honored.”
    “Wonderful!” She clasped her hands together and beamed at me, “The theater needs a bit of work and we require a script! One for two actors! Allow me to look through my scripts!”
    “You’ve written your own?” I asked as I watched her scramble through her papers.
    “Of course! I grew tired of the tragedies of the past. I yearn for a story with a happy ending. Romeo and Juliet but the two run away with one another and live long and happy lives where they have tons of beautiful children!” She posed dramatically, “The Greeks had too much death in theirs as well.”
    “They used to have actual convicts in the plays and kill them on stage,” I explained with a smirk.
    Victoria looked disgusted by this revelation. She pondered for a short moment, “I suppose it does add to it. But not in a particularly tasteful way.”
    “So what's the issue with the plays you’ve written?”
    “I can only base my plays on other plays. I have no reference for true love and interactions. Plenty of love, but how does love REALLY feel!? How can I capture it in mere words upon paper that individuals then act out?” She swooned dramatically again, “I yearn to see it. You will get your love, and I will see what true love looks like.”
    My heart ached as I wondered if she considered a relationship between the two of us a possibility. But I could not say anything to harm her beautiful smile. I nodded, “Alright,” I yawned, “I should rest. It’s late and I’m still only human.”
    She nodded in response, “Yes. Rest. I shall collect your things and bring them here. On the morrow I shall try to get another room set up for your personal use. Hopefully it is not too much trouble for you to sleep in my quarters tonight.”
    “Not at all, thank you for your hospitality.”
    She grinned and left the room, opening the door and going through it as if she was a real person with a physical form. I sighed and sat on the couch, settling in as I thought about Victoria’s gorgeous form. I struggled to push it from my mind. I watched as she returned to the room, floating gracefully with my things. I grabbed my now miraculously dry bed roll and blanket and tried to get some sleep. Victoria stayed awake, furiously writing a script for our play. 

    I finished screwing in the new light bulbs of the lobby. Victoria threw the light switch, bathing the room in a soft yellow glow. Thankfully the furniture and wall paper was all in good shape, “What a beautiful, warm glow,” Victoria mused with a long sigh, “With the dust and cobwebs removed this will be a wonderful reception room!” 
    I nodded, “Yeah, it will. We had better start cleaning then, huh?”
    “Of course, Aiden,” She materialized a feather duster and a french maid uniform and began to dust every surface. It was quite easy for her to get to the hard to reach places as she floated through the air. 
    “Can I ask you something? Stop me if it's insensitive or what have you, but what exactly are you? I’ve heard of ghosts and the undead, but you're able to conjure things out of thin air. What… Uh…”
    “Ah, you ask what I am?” She floated over to me, “To be honest, I did not know for the longest time. I could not and still can not remember who I used to be. Perhaps I am the pseudo physical manifestation of this theater’s spirit! The show must go on, afterall!” She giggled to herself after tapping me on the nose, “I only learned about monster girls, humans and myself when a wandering scholar and his robot came by to check out this abandoned theater. I am…” She paused, leaning close to me, “A phantom!” For dramatic effect, thunder boomed as the phantom of the theater cackled. Eventually she calmed down and smiled at me, “Does that answer your question?” 
    A deep part of me wondered how long she had been here or how old she really was. It had been two years since monster girls came into this reality, but had she been here before that? I pushed it from my mind, it would be rather rude to ask such a gorgeous lady her age, not that she seemed to know. I nodded, “Clears it up completely.”
    “Tell me more of the theater,” Victoria pestered, “You were a thespian, what happened to that?”
    “Well, it was all through high school and a handful of other places. If I had to pick a favorite play I was in, well I always liked playing Scrooge in The Christmas Carol. I was Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet as well as some other minor characters throughout highschool. Never was a singer though so I stayed out of a lot of productions,” I prattled on as I swept the floor, “I tried joining some smaller productions or theaters because I just enjoyed doing it but I had bad experience after bad experience and eventually I just gave up. Decided it wasn’t worth it. That Broadway or Hollywood just aren’t worth it. Kinda wanted to get ripped and get into WWE. But they went under when Monster Wrestling Entertainment came around. No way I can go toe to toe with them. Plus that wrestling is real. I wanted to act, not fight.”
    “Ah, how tragic! A man torn from his passion and left to wander alone!” She swooned again, “The perfect start to our play! What shall it be titled?” She pondered for a moment, “What shall I play, Aiden?”
    “A phantom?” I suggested, “You want to base this off of me, why not base your character off of you?”
    “A self insert!? How self indulgent! I could never, I am much too plain to be put on the stage in such a fashion!”
    I shook my head, “No, no,” I approached her, “You are so… Mysterious. Your past is a mystery, you don’t know who you are. Imagine the intrigue you would bring out of the gallery! It’s perfect.”
    She eyed me as her cheeks turned red. She smiled, “You are just so sweet, Aiden. Alright, I will not argue with you. Man Meets Ghost?” She spitballed a name, “I must work on this tonight. I hope you do not mind me spicing up your back story a tad. I shall take as few liberties as possible, friend.”
    “Do whatever you need to do.”
    She nodded, “Oh, I must finish cleaning. I am so excited to get started!”
    “I’ll go into town tomorrow. I gotta get some food for myself and some other supplies.”
    “Oh! Here, to ease the strain on your wallet,” She floated behind the front desk and produced a small metal lockbox. It was full of bills, mostly ones and fives but there were a few tens.
    “Thank you, Victoria. I’ll put it to good use.”
    She closed the box as I reached for it, “Y-you’ll come back, right?” Victoria looked at me with worry shimmering in her eyes.
    For a moment, all of her dramatics and pageantry was gone, fallen like a mask and in its place was genuine fear and hesitation. I nodded at her, “Of course I will. We’ve got a performance to put on, right?”
    Her sparkling opal eyes shined behind her ever present mask as a beautiful smile spread across her lips. It was more intoxicating than the finest of wines, “I will hold you to that, Aiden. For now, we should finish our chores.”
    “Right,” I found myself staring at her elegant and graceful form as she went back to work. 
    She quickly took notice and smiled at me again, “Aiden? Is something amiss? A wardrobe malfunction?” She grabbed the hem of her skirt and pulled it down.
    I shook my head, “Nah. You look great,” I flashed a little smile back then forced myself back to my cleaning.

    I went about town getting my grocery shopping done. I had food for myself and things like bulbs and cleaning products for the theater. It was going to be a lot of work, but I’d get to do it with Victoria. I just wished I could do something about the seats that needed to be reupholstered and some of the old carpet could do with being torn up and replaced. I didn’t have the money for it, even with the stuff Victoria had given me. 
    I decided to take a detour to town hall out of curiosity. I just wanted to know who owned that theater. I could only hope it was miraculously in Victoria’s name. I walked in and went to the front desk and quickly inquired about the property.
    The man at the front put in the address, “I think it's currently for sale. Not many people are interested in an old haunted theater in the woods,” The man told me.
    “Huh. Well--”
    “I have an interest in such things,” A female’s voice chimed in. I turned and stared into the bright emerald eyes of a cat woman in black robes and a cone shaped black hat with a thin brim, “I just happened to purchase that area. What interest do YOU have in that theater?”
    “You smell quite strange. What is that on you? An undead? No, some kind of spectre,” She guessed.
    “A phantom. Victoria. My friend. She lives in the theater,” I explained.
    “A phantom? Operas or plays?”
    “Plays. She’s writing her own right now,” I told her.
    “Oh, thank goodness. I cannot stand operas,” The witch childishly stuck out her tongue, “What is your name?”
    “Aiden,” I answered quickly, “I know the theater is run down, but we’re working on fixing it up,” I desperately explained.
    “Well,” The woman smirked, “Seeing the theater restored is in my best interest. While not an actor, I do enjoy plays. Movies do not do it as much as the stage. And a phantom running the theater and putting on plays? It is perfect! Oh, where are my manners. Maxine Hamilton. I will give you both the theater and help you fix it up.”
    I was stunned, “R-really?” I suddenly realised what kind of wealth and power I was dealing with, “Lady Hamilton, I don’t know if I can accept.”
    “You can and you will for Victoria’s sake,” She smirked.
    “Can I pay you back in any way? I don’t have much money, but there has to be something!” 
    She nodded, “Save a seat for me, front and center in your theater.”
    “Of course! I hope you don’t mind us naming the theater after you as well.”
    “Oh, I would be honored! Now, we should discuss what needs fixing. Come, I will give you a ride back to the theater!”

    I had spent a week in the theater now. Every day I was graced by her beauty and mere presence. Lights had been replaced, seats had been repaired and various other fixes had been done to restore the building to as close to its original glory as me and the phantom could get it with a little help from the workers that Maxine had sent. I was living comfortably in a second room and sleeping on a couch or my bedroll at night. I was starting to feel like Victoria was watching me when I slept, but I couldn't be sure.
“Here, I finished a draft,” Victoria placed a pile of papers in front of me. 
    I swallowed my peanut butter sandwich and picked up the first page. After I cleared my throat, I read the title aloud, “My Undying Love? I like it.”
    Victoria beamed at me and grinned, “Wonderful! I am glad you like it! I picked it out this morning, the final touch to my first draft! We should read through it together on the stage! We can act out my work together!”
    “Alright,” I nodded and followed her to the stage. She used her magic to bathe us in a somewhat cold blue light, “Give me the quick run down.”
    Victoria started talking quickly and excitedly as she laid out her story, “Man, you, Aiden, is beaten down by his acting career and leaves his home to pursue his wanderlust. He travels from place to place, here I will come in and sort of circle you as I put on different garb from different cultures and say things in their native tongues. Then he, you, seeks shelter from the storm and meets the love sick phantom, me, Victoria, and steals her heart by selflessly helping her repair her rundown theater! But, as cruel as fate is, just as the love for theater was snatched from the man, you, the love of her life is snatched away from the phantom by the human’s love interest! Tragic yet bitter sweet as the phantom has accomplished her goal! Slowly, the theater falls into disrepair as no one comes to watch the phantom’s plays. Then, the show ends as the phantom vanishes, her last thoughts of the love she lost!”
    “I thought you didn’t want to write a tragedy,” I frowned at her.
    “Well, I did not. But this is a mirror of real life. Or my interpretation of what will happen, I suppose,” She frowned sadly to herself, “Well. It also mirrors his struggle, but he lost his drive for acting and was looking for love while it is sort of the opposite for me-- I mean, the phantom. It is poetry, it is symmetrical?” She didn’t seem so sure of herself, “Anywho. We should begin.”
    “Right,” I nodded. My heart was aching. I knew hers was as well. But I played along. I had to. I turned to the first page and began. 
    We ran through it, making edits and changes as we went. I didn’t have many complaints about the parts at the beginning that told a dramatised version of my ‘fall from grace’ when I left the theater. Next came the portion where I wandered the world. The entire time, Victoria’s magic created props and costumes for herself. She just guessed places I had been but she was mostly right. I only then realised how far I had backpacked only to end up in this little worn down theater. The parts that took part within the theater didn’t deviate much from what really happened, but there was emphasis on small interactions that made Victoria fall deeper and deeper in love with me. I felt pain as the ending came around. 
    “O, Aiden, my sweet,” Victoria monologued to herself as I stood in darkness, “The woman of your dreams is here to snatch you away from me, to yank you from my clutches,” I wasn’t sure if the pain on her face was real or acting, it felt so genuine that it tugged at my heart, “A woman with a body most warm, her smile most beautiful, her pockets lined with gold, and her heart… Could it really be full of as much love as I have for you?” She sighed and swooned dramatically, “How I wish to tell you how I really feel. How I yearn to feel your embrace once more! O, what cruel fate! Most malicious destiny! My heart thumps for the first time in my life as I think of you and your most handsome of faces!”
    I stepped towards her, out of the darkness with all my travelling gear one, “Victoria?”
    “O, Aiden,” She swallowed the words in her throat, choosing her words slowly, “Your carriage is here. Your love awaits you.”
    “I…” I stared into her genuinely sorrowful expression. I looked at my script as I tried to bring myself to say the words for it, “I suppose this is goodbye.”
    “She will take good care of you, Aiden,” Victoria said slowly without looking at her script, “A wealthy woman with the love of the theater.”
    “I am aware. She came to our performance of Hamlet,” I struggled to put on the smile the script called for, “She is a… Gorgeous woman. I shall always remember the night that she stole my heart. A bouquet of flowers most beautiful placed into my arms as she grinned and praised my performance.”
    She placed her hands on my shoulders, “I am so happy f-for you,” She struggled to smile, “The true love that flourished between you. I can feel my magnum opus brewing within my aching heart,” She pulled me into a hug. We embraced for a long time, neither of us wanted to stop, “Aiden…?” She broke character for a moment, “Does… this part sound alright to you?” 
    I nodded, “I think it’s exactly what you were going for, right?” We both finally let go of the embrace.
    She blinked at me. Her opal eyes shimmered with tears before she wiped her eyes, “This despair. It feels real. Let us continue,” She cleared her throat, “Your line. ‘And so with…’”
    “And so with this embrace, I go. My life on Broadway and in Hollywood awaits me. I shall not forget everything you have done for me, Victoria.”
    “I shall not either, Aiden. Alas, I can hear your chariot to ferry you away. Goodbye, my sweet,” She put on a very pained smile.
    “Farewell, Victoria,” Without a smile, I exited stage left.
    Victoria remained alone on the stage. I came back out to watch her, “O, my love. My pained heart, be still as I am left here to mourn the loss of my love. I shall write my magnum opus. A story of true love that I will perform for all to see. Goodbye, Aiden. I shall never forget you and the story you have helped me tell,” Slowly she faded away. She appeared near me after the lights dimmed, “Then the crowd will applaud us and we will come on stage and bow.”
    “Are you sure this is the story you want to tell?” I asked quietly.
    The phantom brushed the back of her hand against my stubble as she thought of something else. As my eyes locked hers, she pulled her hand away, “Well… I think it is. A history about the most wonderful man I have ever met. The bittersweet tragedy and heartbreak. I understand some of it needs work, but we will fix it up a little bit.”
I could only nod, yearning for her touch again. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her to change the ending, “Alright. If you need me, don’t hesitate to say so. I’ve got a few more fixes to do around here.”
    “Of course,” Victoria took the script from me and stared at the cover with a frown, “I have much work to do,” She left and went into the back.

    I stepped onto the stage. Victoria’s ghostly lights bathed the stage in a blue glow. My heart pounded with the pre show anxiety. I could see a little bit into the audience. There wasn’t too many people who had shown up, maybe twenty or so, “Thank you all for coming,” I put on my big acting smile, “My name is Aiden. I’ve been here helping with restoring the theater for about a month now. I probably would have dropped dead from all the work I had to do if it had not been for our most mysterious and beautiful benefactor, Lady Hamilton, stepping in and lending a hand, including donating the deed to the Hamilton Theatreto us. So once more, thank you for that,” I gave my best, most theatrical bow as the theater politefully clapped for the emerald eyed cat woman sitting smugly front and center of the gallery. I could barely make her out in her dark dress. Her purchasing of our small theater and the subsequent gifting of it had been the work of the heavens. She gave us the theater and helped us fix it up with her immensely deep pockets and in return she gets free entry. Even then she still had paid for herself and her husband as well as the few she brought with her to ‘help spread the magic of theater’ a while longer. That, and to keep the lights on.
    “Yes, yes! Thank you very much!” Victoria joined me on stage. She was wearing a gorgeous dress like when we first met. Her golden hair fell fashionably on her shoulders, “The play will be starting momentarily, the maiden voyage if you will of a play I wrote myself with help from Aiden here. A tale of love and loss! I hope you all will enjoy it, despite its somewhat short length. Presenting, My Undying Love!” The audience clapped as the curtains were closed, “Are you ready?”
    “As ready as I can be,” I smirked. Victoria brushed off my shoulders and fretted over my hair for a moment, “What about you?”
    “I am well. I am prepared. My script is as perfect as it can get. We have practiced and practiced. It will be perfect.”
    I nodded, “You’re right. Let’s give it our all, hm?” I was ready to act my heart out.
    “Of course. Whenever you’re ready. Break a leg!”
    I turned to her and watched as she moved off stage. I was left alone on the stage as the curtains were drawn by some unseen force. I began my beginning monologue, “O, woe is me! For ten long years I have toiled with my craft! But no longer will I, Aiden, train to fulfill my lifelong dream of being an actor!” I cried as I started to pick my travel clothes up off the floor. I prattled on and on about the woe and strife trying to be an actor has caused me. It wasn’t entirely accurate, but exaggerations were necessary for the sake of the show. I shortly detailed monster girls taking over, “Then I wandered, lost in this world with no direction!” The scenery changed with the help of Victoria’s magic as I walked from one side of the stage to the other, images of towns and roads I had walked passing me by. At one point I even ‘boarded’ a ship and traveled over seas until finally I reached Japan. Victoria appeared on stage, eager to play her parts as various props sprung up around me showing the vast and beautiful countryside shrines I visited.
    “A lone, handsome man!” She called, dressed in a kimono, “He wandered the world, stealing the hearts of all single women he met, both man and monster alike! But fate continued to call him onward, backpacking across country after country!”
    The play continued. In a strange meta way it encapsulated everything up to this point, including the play we were currently putting on. Eventually the third character of the play showed up. A wealthy dragon woman that Victoria was able to materialise with her phantom magic. She showed up after each performance before I would speak with Victoria to try and pull me away from her, away from the theater. I had already turned her down twice but the allure of her wealth and connections was getting to be too much for the character I played. Soon, I would break and become hers, “Ah, Aiden,” Victoria spoke in a purring voice. She was somehow able to throw her voice despite being on the opposite side of the stage, forced to watch as I was charmed by the apparition, “Wonderful performance as always,” The ghost handed me a spectral bouquet.
    “Madam Karry,” I took her clawed, armored hand and kissed the back of it, “Always a pleasure to see you.”
    She grinned, “Have you thought of my offer, Aiden? You, on the big stage in front of thousands of eyes, your dreams coming true...” My eyes shifted towards the audience. Glares bore into the spectral figure. The audience hated the dragon, a mere figment of imagination that they all detested so. 
    My line came, I was supposed to say yes. To give into the dragon’s demands. I could not bring myself to. Even if it was just a play, I could not betray everyone, the crowd, Victoria and even myself. I couldn’t let this villain be the victor of this story, because I definitely wasn’t if I said yes. I turned and looked back at Victoria, a confused look was spread across her most delicate and gorgeous face. I turned back to the dragon. My mind was made up, even if it was off script, “I… I don’t know if I can. Give me more time to decide, would you.”
    Victoria hardly missed a beat. The elegant dragon woman grumbled, “Fine. But I will not be yanked around like this much longer.”
    The figure left and Victoria approached me, “What are you doing?” She whispered, “You were--”
    “Roll with it,” I told her.
    She nodded, “What did Madam Karry want with you?” 
    “Asked me once more to become her personal plaything,” I sighed.
    “And you agreed? That woman could give you everything you want!”
    I shook my head, “No. She can’t give me one thing.”
    “What is that?”
    “True love,” I told her before exiting the stage.
    Victoria was left alone to lament, “O, Aiden. Do…” She trailed off, “Madam Karry could give you the world and yet you refuse her? What could you have in mind, Aiden? Or is your head merely empty? Is mine empty and you are taking me for a fool? Could this perhaps be a jape, most foul?” She shuddered, “I fear I may find out soon,” Victoria joined me on my side of the stage, “Aiden? Where are we going with this?”
    “Play along. Start the next scene like normal. You’ll see.”
    She nodded, “I trust you, Aiden.”
    The next scene started. It was supposed to be one of the final ones. The climax where a sorrow filled Victoria was to watch Aiden leave. I took my place as I heard the noises of the carriage as it arrived. The phantom stood, staring out a window, “O, Aiden, my sweet,” Victoria monologued to herself as I stood just off stage, “The woman of your dreams is here to snatch you away from me, to yank you from my clutches,” I still wasn’t sure if the pain on her face was real or acting, “A woman with a body most warm, her smile most beautiful, her pockets lined with gold and her heart… Could it really be full of as much love as I have for you?” She sighed and swooned dramatically, “How I wish to tell you how I really feel. How I yearn to feel your embrace once more! O, what cruel fate! Most malicious destiny! My heart thumps for the first time in my life as I think of you and your most handsome of faces!”
    I stepped towards her, out of the darkness with all my travelling gear on, “Victoria?”
    “O, Aiden,” She swallowed the words in her throat, choosing her words slowly, “Your carriage is here. Your love awaits you.”
    “I…” I stared into her genuinely sorrowful expression. I looked her in the eyes  as I tried to bring myself to say the words for it, “Is this where we have to say goodbye?”
    “She will take good care of you, Aiden,” Victoria said slowly, “A wealthy woman with the love of the theater. Your destiny awaits you on the big stage with your name up in lights!”
    I paused for a long time, as if deep in thought, “Nay. I cannot. Send her carriage away.”
    “But Aiden!”
    “Victoria, my sweet,” My things fell to the floor as I took her hands in mine, “That woman would not know true love if it bit her hand! She thinks my love can be bought! Do you believe wealth and power is all it takes for me to love someone? My heart already belongs to a woman! That draconian woman will never have it!” I explained loudly, my voice full of a dramatic power. 
    “But who, Aiden? Who could snatch your heart like this?”
    “Can you not see? Is the love in my eyes not as plain as the love in yours? Yet you wear a mask to conceal your face!”
    “Y-you do not mean…” Her eyes started to well up, “So all this time… O, what a fool I have been!” She could hardly hold back her emotions.
    “I did everything out of my feelings for you and my love of the art. My love for theater was never as strong as my love for you, my dear,” I explained, “From the first moment I gazed into your opal eyes, I yearned for you to be mine. When I first saw your golden locks fall gracefully from atop your head I desired to caress them. Your face most beautiful has entranced me from the beginning, your voice like a siren’s song and--”
    Victoria stopped my rambling by pressing her luscious lips to mine. The audience cheered-- mostly the monster girls in the audience-- as we kissed passionately. We slowly separated and she stared into my eyes, “I understand now,” She told me, “I understand what true love really feels like.”
    “I told you I’d show you, didn’t I?” I smiled, neither of us really acting at this point, “With all my heart, I love you, Victoria.”
    “Through life and death, I will forever be by your side,” She smiled at me, “I love you too,” She said, the final words before the curtains closed. We stood together as the audience clapped with thunderous applause, “Thank you for saving my play.”
    “Isn’t that what I’m here for?” I smiled, “Come on, we gotta bow, right?”
    “But I wish to stay here and smooch you!” She chuckled as she took my hand, pulling me to the front as the curtains opened again. We bowed for the cheering audience, big smiles upon our faces. We were showered with roses, magically created by the witch’s magic most likely. We laughed and smiled, both overjoyed with how our first ever production had gone. 
    The theater lights came on. As exhaustion started to take me, I sat on the edge of the stage with Victoria next to me, also a bit out of it, “I cannot believe you didn’t tell me sooner!” The phantom teased me.
    I shrugged back, “I never really knew how to say it.”
    “Well, you still did it perfectly,” She kissed me on the cheek as most of the audience filed out, monster girls swooning about the play to their husbands or boyfriends.
    “You two were wonderful!” A small group approached us. I jumped up as I saw Maxine’s emerald eyes smiling at us. 
    “Ah, Lady Hamilton!” I smiled, “Thank you so much for coming.”
    “Yes! Thank you!” Victoria shook her hand rigorously.
    The witch laughed. She was joined by her husband, a large jinko woman with an eye patch and a fluffy weresheep with a small dragon. The small dragon looked like she was ready to fall asleep, “The ending was superb. I honestly thought Aiden was going to go along with the dragon woman. Even Kimiko here got misty eyed when he picked his true love.”
    “My lady--” The jinko grumbled but stopped herself. 
    “I agree, you two were spectacular. Naturals on the stage,” The weresheep grinned and her eyes sparkled.
    “I knew I made the right decision when giving you both the theater!” 
    “And neither of us will ever be able to thank you enough,” Victoria smiled again, “The theaters doors are always open for you, I’m sure the two of us can whip up another story for your entertainment.”
    “Oh, I will most definitely take you up on that!” Maxine grinned, “Ah, but we must be off. You two love birds have a long night ahead of you, I am sure. Please, tell me when you plan on showing this play again. I would very much like to see it! Have a wonderful night you two!” 
    The last of the audience left and I was left alone with my now wife as we locked the front door. The phantom turned to me, “Let us rest, my dear. Perhaps a drink as well?” I nodded and let her pull me along by the hand and into the back. I got to pouring drinks. When I turned back, Victoria had stripped down to something a little more risque. She took one glass of whisky from me and took a swig, “Get on the couch, Aiden. We have lost time to make up for~” I did as she commanded and took a seat. The phantom sat on my lap facing me. She kissed my cheeks and lips, “I love you, Aiden.”
    “I love you too,” I smiled as her warm, ghostly arms wrapped around me. I was in total bliss, the love of my life no longer just a phantom of my dreams, but a reality.

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