I’d never been a fully-fledged sceptic – always believed there must be something more than this, a place to go on to, somewhere to explore.
But, as the first of them appeared, I shuddered at the thought that maybe this was it, that we were destined to play out our lives over and over, day after day, night after night, doing the very same things we had done in life, in death.
The old opera house was the ideal place for my photo shoot, full of history, packed with atmosphere but, as it turned out, also pretty damned full of the damned too.
As she made her way towards me, the first of many to descend the staircase from the dressing rooms, I could barely glimpse her beauty before the shimmering form grew close enough to fully form in all its horrific decomposition. And then she was gone, like smoke, evaporating before my eyes, just at the moment I feared her spectral hands would grip my shoulders, her ragged lips lock onto mine in a grisly kiss.
Directly behind her, another dancer quickly formed, followed by another and another, a long procession of apparitions who, with each that passed, appeared to be getting older and older in time, their clothing appearing less contemporary as they approached and then went to dust before my eyes.
I thought I was unable to move, frozen behind my camera tripod. But then the voice came and shocked me into movement.
‘Beautiful, aren’t they?’
A male voice. I turned sharply. The grey and haggard face that greeted me was rotting away before my eyes, but enough of it remained that Lucas Thomas, the founder of the opera house from the 1850’s, was still somehow recognisable.
I could only nod my head slowly, willing myself not to speak to the wraith-like figure. To do so would surely only accept the madness I was witnessing.
‘It’s okay.’ Lucas said, reaching to stroke at his long moustache, his fingers absently sinking into the torn flesh at the side of his mouth as he did so. ‘You can leave, you have nothing to fear here, and you can take your images of their beauty with you to puzzle the wider audience.’ He gestured to the camera.
‘But, they must stay. My ladies of the hall remain here, they stay always.’