Chapter 1: A GHOST? LIKE, SERIOUSLY?! The terror had been steadily building for weeks. But that chilly January evening marked the turning point no one had anticipated. Of course, you are no doubt here for the now-legendary tale of a particular pig and her fearless frog. Rest assured, it's a tale you'll get in full. But as with all stage-worthy dramas presented inside the fabled Paris Opera House, it's traditional to have a brief bit of scene setting in order to build anticipation for the leading players to step into the spotlight. I must confess that while I'm not exactly traditional, I am indeed a sucker for a soupçon of suspense. So it was on that night, just days after the start of the new year, Monsieur J.P. Grosse was throwing a final gala performance to celebrate his retirement. The gruff impresario, with his plump, pear-shaped head and caterpillar mustache, had been for the last thirty years the manager of the Opera House. But Grosse said that putting up with the fragile egos of the renowned institution's persnickety performers was "durn near exhausting" and he'd had enough of walking on eggshells--literally. "Someone's got to start sweeping up after the Swedish Chef, y'all," he fumed. Well, that would all be another manager's headache now. He was rightly relieved that his days of coddling were nearly over--but there was one little lady he would miss: Janice Sorelli, the day's reigning diva of dance and one of the Opera's biggest draws. Her performances as prima ballerina left the normally verbose Grosse blissfully speechless. Ditto for Johnny Fiama, the Opera's leading baritone, with whom she frequently shared the stage but whose romantic intentions she barely noticed. The free-spirited Janice paid no mind to the public's praise, or to the adolescent crushes of her costars. She was focused on higher planes of existence. Besides, she already had her eye on a debonair society guy: a handsome frog named Constantine Philippe Georges Marie Comte de Chagny, who had the, like, cutest Russian accent and an adorable mole on his right upper lip. Ironically, Janice's infatuation with the amphibian made Johnny Fiama green with envy. Tonight, as the gala progressed onstage, Janice was in her serene and spartan dressing room purifying the air with a white-sage smudge stick. The floor was covered in overlapping Indian rugs, and several beanbags were strewn about for seating. On her dressing table she displayed a collection of multicolored crystals, a Chianti bottle with a candle in its neck, and a "Save the Whales" petition she'd been circulating. Clad in a denim miniskirt, flower-print poncho, and macramé choker, her blond hair pulled into a jaunty side pony, Janice waved a feather to spread the smoke from the smoldering herbs into all the corners. She'd performed a groovy improvised farewell dance as the gala's curtain-raiser and was ready to mellow out. When she was done smudging, she gently tamped the bundle into an oyster shell on her dressing table, snuffing it, and took a seat in lotus pose on her yoga mat. Content in her solitude, she breathed deeply and began to chant "om" on her way into meditation. Suddenly into her dressing room flocked half a dozen svelte young chickens that had come up from the stage after dancing La Pulcina Piccola . They flapped in amid great confusion and a flurry of feathers, some breaking into forced nervous laughter, others letting out sharp squawks and bawwwwwwks of fear. Behind them was brash Johnny Fiama, in his doublet and tights, who'd followed their act with an aria, as well as Pepino Rodrigo Serrano Gonzales, a suave king prawn from Milan. Tireless Pepé had first made his name as a stage manager in the opera houses of Spain, where his multiple limbs had proven essential in such a multitasking role. Startled out of her becalmed state, Janice exclaimed, " Ooooommmmmmm -my gosh!" She staggered to her feet and took in the excited mass. "Like, wow." The young chicks of the corps marveled at the space, for they were accustomed to being lodged in cramped crates where they spent their time clucking and quarreling, snacking on gnats and the occasional gravel pebble until their nightly half-hour calls. As for Johnny, he was happy in any room with a mirror. Currently, he was staring out from beneath his thick, expressive brows into the looking glass over Janice's dressing table, smoothing his black hair back from his prominent widow's peak, and trying to entice the bohemian babe to glance his way. But Janice was deliberately ignoring him. She was very superstitious, as were many theater folk, and one of her beliefs was that if you looked into a mirror for too long, it could steal your soul. She didn't want to risk witnessing something that grody. It was Camilla--the little chick with the forget-me-not eyes and fetching rose-red wattle--who in a trembling voice finally gave Janice the explanation for the kerfuffle. "Bock bock BEGOWWWK," Camilla squawked. Then, with a fouetté rond de jambe en tournant , the dancer swiftly leaped for the dressing-room door. When she landed, she extended a graceful wing and locked the door. " Muy bouncy, Camilla," said Pepé in his charming Spanish accent. "What month were joo hatched?" Camilla told him April. "Sí, of course--a spring chicken." "Bock bock BEGOWWWK," Camilla squawked again. Janice swept aside her long blond bangs, peered at the petrified chick, and said, "Like, what do you mean you actually saw a ghost?" Janice wished she could laugh off Camilla's creeped-out peep, but she shuddered when she heard it. "So, like, rilly?" she queried. "You've, like, actually eyeballed this phantom you're all going on about?" Breathless little Camilla nodded. Her twig-like legs were at that moment giving way beneath her, and she dropped with a moan onto a beanbag and promptly laid an egg. Pepé scooped it up with one of his four hands, since J.P. Grosse had been on everyone's cases about the shells (plus the prawn could use it to whip up a nice flan later). Once Johnny was satisfied that he'd found his best angle in the mirror, he said, "Personally, I feel kinda sorry for that ghost. He's so homely, he should be listed in the Guinness Book of Ewwwww ." Janice turned to Johnny. "So you saw him, too?" "Correctamundo," he said, bestowing upon her his most devastating grin. Hoping to impress her with the bravery of his close encounter, he added, "It was like he walked straight through the wall. It's witchcraft, I tell ya, crazy witchcraft. And I've got no defense for it, the heat is too intense for it . . ." Janice had tuned him out, though. She was thinking of how the story of the Phantom had inexorably taken hold of the entire Opera family. Everyone was obsessed with the masked figure in a brocade jacket who stalked about the building, from top to bottom, like a shadow; who spoke to nobody, to whom nobody dared speak; and who vanished as soon as he was seen, no one knowing how or to where. Most of the chicks had run across the supernatural being at some point, or so they claimed. After all, it was hard to say who had actually seen him and who hadn't--there were so many overdressed oddballs at the Opera who were not ghosts . . . The truth is that the idea of the Phantom first came from the description given by Beauregard, a dim but diligent janitor at the theater who really and truly had seen the ghost. He had encountered it on the little staircase by the footlights, the one that led down to the underground floors known as "the cellars," which were five in number. To anyone who cared to listen, Beauregard explained in his slow and plodding way: "I'll tell you--it is terrible to behold, you know? Because the thing's skin is blue. Blue!" Hitching up his already high-waisted khakis even higher, he'd go on to describe the creature as something vaguely reptilian, with a pair of horns, each a foot long, that curved off the back of its head, and a thick, kangaroo-like tail that reached all the way down to the floor. Beauregard marveled time and again at the smoke he recalled curling out of its pronounced snout. "And the teeth--sharp as little knifepoints. That's all I could see because a hockey mask covered the rest of its face!" As he drew his tale to a close, he'd always take off his cap and, befuddled, scratch his furry head. "But the eyes --even with that mask I could see the green eyes, like little glowing peas floating in pitch-black oil." Two things were certain about Beauregard: He always wore a plaid shirt, and he never joked around. So his words were received with interest and amazement. And soon there were others who said that they, too, had been accosted by a vaguely reptilian, green-eyed, blue-skinned creature in a brocade jacket. But the mask it wore to cover so terrifying a face was always different: the Lone Ranger, a sinister clown, an inscrutable King Tut, and so on. Sensible folks thought that Beauregard may have been the victim of a prank played by a beanpole stagehand named Beaker. But when they asked the guileless ginger if it was true, he frantically proclaimed, "Meep meep meep!" in passionate denial. And then one after the other came a series of happenings so curious and so inexplicable that even the most skeptical Opera employees were reconsidering. For instance, few are braver than a firefighter, agreed? They fear nothing, especially not fire ( obvi! ). Well, the fireman in question was an intrepid, floppy-eared elephant named Seymour who could put out even the most raging conflagration with just one trunkful of water. The pachyderm had gone to make a round of code inspections in the cellars, a routine occurrence to ensure that the building's safety was up to snuff. It seems Seymour had descended to levels he normally didn't. A short while later, he reappeared on the stage, pale and trembling, and practically collapsed into the outstretched arms of Johnny Fiama's mother, Mama Fiama, a deeply dedicated usher at the theater. And why was Seymour so shaken? Because he had seen coming toward him, floating in the air, a head of fire without a body attached to it! "Maybe it was Grosse," Pepé suggested at the time. "He ees known for being a hothead, okay. Hot head . . . ? Anyone . . . ? No?" Try as he might, Pepé couldn't lighten the ominous mood that permeated the Opera. The corps de poulet was thrown into consternation. This flaming head in no way matched Beauregard's description of the masked blue-skinned lizard freak. But the young chicks soon accepted the preposterous explanation that the ghost must have several heads that he could swap as he pleased. And let's face it, once a firefighter fainted, all the creatures of the Opera House had plenty of excuses for the creeping fright that made them quicken their pace when walking down a dark corridor or rounding some blind corner. You could find the fear even in the Opera's tough-cookie star singer, the powerhouse Yolanda Rat, a no-nonsense rodent who made up for her lack of height with oversize talent and a huge attitude. On the day after she helped revive Seymour alone in her dressing room for about three unforgettable hours (others may have found him chunky, but she found him hunky), she placed a horseshoe on the table by the stage door for everyone to touch before setting foot on the first tread of the staircase, a customary jinx fixer. But to return to the evening in question: Camilla had seen the ghost, and she was jittery in the extreme. An agonizing silence now reigned in Janice's dressing room. Nothing was heard but the hard breathing of the chickens and a robust burp from Pepé, who muttered in apology, "Escuse me. The Swedish Chef's Stroganoff, she ees a real repeater, okay." Johnny was about to offer Janice a shoulder rub when Camilla, flinging herself into the farthest corner of the room, eyes wide and beak chattering, whispered: " Bgark! " And everybody did indeed immediately shush just as the chick had implored. All eyes followed her terrified stare toward the closed dressing-room door. In the stillness they could hear a faint rustling outside. It was like heavy silk sliding over the door, perhaps the sleeve of an embroidered jacket making gentle contact with the wall's smooth wood . . . Then it stopped. Janice was determined to show more pluck than the birds. Fighting her fear, she went to the door and tried to sense an aura on the other side of the wood. But getting no vibes, she boldly reached out and turned the key. Johnny quickly stepped to her side. "Whoa, you don't wanna go out there." " Aplauso! " cheered Pepé, clapping with all his hands. "Brave Johnny does the chivalry!" "You got the wrong idea, sea bug. The bird 's gonna go first." Camilla squawked as Johnny drew back the door and, overlooking her protests, nudged her out into the gloomy hallway, his pinkie rings glinting with reflected light from the bright dressing room behind them. Beyond Camilla's quivering comb, the baritone saw that the passage seemed to be unoccupied. A gas lamp cast a suspicious light into the surrounding darkness but didn't succeed in dispelling it. All that could be heard were the incongruously upbeat strains of the singing duo Wayne and Wanda warbling a song far away onstage at the ongoing gala performance. "Fair warning, weirdo," called Johnny to the unseen specter. "Don't make me throw this chicken at you!" But after a few moments of waiting, Johnny gave up and returned his petrified hostage back inside, closing the door behind them. "There ain't no one there," he announced to the room. "So here's the deal: I'm gonna escort you down to the foyer, and then I by myself solo can bring Janice up here again after. You know, to protect her so she don't have to be alone--capeesh?" Camilla wasn't convinced. Still quaking, she whispered an appeal to Pepé, who shared her concerns with the group. "She say she ees too afraid she might see him again, the blue demon Beauregard described, okay." " Beauregard? Come on, Peps. That dude's three layers short of a lasagna," scoffed Johnny. "I mean, he clearly forgot to pay his brain bill." Janice bristled. "Like, what makes you say that?" "One time I come across him frantically painting a scenery flat. I go, 'Why are you moving so fast?' And that brainiac says, 'I wanna get the job done before I run out of paint.'" "No, ees a fact Beauregard is not the brightest bulb on the shed, okay," agreed Pepé, "but my assistant stage manager, Scooter? He say the story ees true." He told them how the day before, Scooter, alone in the office they shared, had looked up to see the Great Gonzo standing in the doorway. "Gonzo?" asked Janice, puzzled. "Joo know him, okay," replied Pepé. "Ees a big opera patron--blue-like-Gatorade fur, eyes that do the bugging out, nose like a dipper gourd?" Janice nodded in recognition, and Camilla brightened--she had been positively pining for this intriguing gent since she first laid eyes on him. "So anyways," continued Pepé, "Gonzo, he creep out pretty much everyone cuz they think he has the evil eye, which in his case ees both of them. And Scooter, he ees as superstitious as he ees orange." Pepé described how a look of fear appeared on Gonzo's face as he swiftly backed away from Scooter, in the process hitting his head on a hat peg, stumbling backward out of the office, and tumbling down the staircase. "Just a blue ball of fur rolling down the whole first flight," the prawn said, shaking his head. "I'm passing by and I help Gonzo up, because I am the nice guy, okay." Expecting the worst, Pepé was actually surprised by Gonzo's reaction. "He shout, 'That was awesome! I wanna do it again!' Porque he live for the dangerous daredevil stuff." And here he lowered his voice, recounting how at that point he asked Gonzo to tell him what had just frightened him so, but the blue dude refused. Then they looked up to see Scooter at the top of the stairs and--here he couldn't suppress a shudder--right behind Scooter stood the ghost . "The lizardy ghost with the glowing green ojos , okay!" A series of churlish chirps from Camilla prompted Janice to respond, "But, like, why do you say Scooter and Gonzo and Beauregard should hold their tongues?" "Aww, that's not her opinion," replied Pepé. "Ees her father's. He think the ghost might want to, how joo say? 'Swim under the radar,' okay. He think the fantasma does not want the attention." The bird explained haltingly that she had promised her father--who was at the gala on this very night and who might be popping backstage any minute--that she would keep her beak shut on the matter. But this reticence further stoked the curiosity of the young chicks, who crowded around Camilla, begging her to explain herself till finally, burning to say all she knew, her eyes fixed on the door, she spilled it with two clucks. "The box?" repeated Janice. "What box?" Camilla told her she meant a private box at the Opera. Balcony Box Five on the Grand Tier, to be specific. "Oh yeah," said Johnny, "that's the one my ma's in charge of." Camilla told them that her father had a season subscription for Box Six, right next to Box Five. But here she broke off and insisted that they all pinkie-claw swear that what she was going to reveal would not go beyond this room. When they had done so, Camilla whispered the remainder of her tale to Pepé, for fear she'd be overheard in the hallway by her father, and the prawn relayed it to the rest. "She say that Box Five ees the ghost's box, and for as long as anyone can remember, nobody but the ghost has had it. The box office was told not to sell the seats to anyone else." Thereupon little Camilla began to sob, blubbering that she should have said nothing, that if her father found out, he'd have her filleted and fried. She insisted that Beauregard, Scooter, and Gonzo should never have talked of things that didn't concern them and that surely it would bring bad juju to them all. Just then there was the sound of hurried and heavy footsteps approaching in the passage and an out-of-breath "Bgark buk buk bgark !" Camilla nearly crumbled as her imposing dad opened the door. The normally refined rooster bustled into the dressing room and dropped, groaning, onto a vacant beanbag. The others all cried out in concern, and Camilla went and roosted next to him. Her flustered father clucked mournfully, saying something dreadful about a janitor. "Do you mean Beauregard?" ventured Janice. "He ees muerto ?" asked Pepé, incredulous. The room was filled with astonished outcries and scared requests for explanations of Beauregard's demise. The rooster continued, fanning himself lightly with one wing tip and explaining that the body was found in the third-floor cellar, apparently quite sandwiched between two scenery flats. " Heavy ," Janice said with a sigh. Johnny wondered if now was the right time to offer her the shoulder massage. But before he could propose it, general pandemonium struck outside in the hallway. For the horrid news had quickly spread throughout the backstage area. The dressing rooms emptied, and the corps , a frightened flock crowding around Janice, made its way en masse through the ill-lit passages and staircases toward the foyer, scurrying as fast as their little chicken feet could carry them. Chapter 2: THE MAGNIFICENT "MAHNA MAHNA" On the first landing, Janice and the petrified pack ran into Comte Constantine de Chagny, a respected amphibian aristocrat with the string of names to prove it, bounding up the stairs three at a time. Though he was resolutely French, Constantine had been very close to one of the nannies who helped raise him; she hailed from Saint Petersburg, and her charge had somehow picked up her Russian accent and passion for pierogi. Typically quite stoic and collected, the intriguing society frog was now grinning and greatly excited. "Vas just comink to praise your dance," Constantine said to Janice, politely taking off his top hat. "And my brother, Monsieur Viscount Kermit de Chagny, was deeply moved by song of Piggy Daaé." "Piggy Daaé? No way!" said Johnny, who was shamelessly competitive with his fellow performers at the Opera. "Six weeks ago she had a voice that sounded like silverware in a garbage disposal. I mean, her singing is so shaky, she'd have to perform in Key West to know for sure what key she was in." Janice placed a hand on the frog's forearm. "Listen, I'm rilly sorry, Connie, but we're on our way to find out how our janitor Beauregard bit it." Sam Eagle, the Opera House's by-the-book business manager, who boasted fine feathers everywhere except his head, was hurrying by when he heard this remark. He stopped and exclaimed, "I beg your pardon! How did you hear the secret?" "'Secret'? Oh please," said Pepé. "It ees all over the Facebooks already, okay." "Well, do forget about it for tonight--and above all don't mention it to J.P. It would upset him too much on his last day and ruin the party. And that would be positively unpatriotic." "Upset J.P.? I do not think that ees gonna happen," said Pepé. "Paying one less salary will make that pincher of pennies muy, muy happy. Am I right or am I right, Baldy?" Sam continued on his way, waving a wing dismissively and calling back, "Just keep it to yourself, you rapscallion. Have some dignity." "Oh, I have the dignity," called Pepé, piqued. "And while eagles may soar, Señor Sam, we prawns do not get sucked into jet engines! So there!" But the big bird had already turned the corner. They all proceeded into the foyer, which was full of patrons milling around, buzzing about the impressive program they'd just seen. Comte Constantine de Chagny was right: It was clear that no Opera House performance had ever equaled this one. Still, the evening's unanimous triumph was Mademoiselle Piggy Daaé, who had astonished the audience. Clad in a red satin strapless gown, her lustrous honey-blond locks in bouncy barrel curls, the Scandinavian songstress had wowed the crowd with the superhuman notes she hit on "Mahna Mahna," which she sang in the place of Yolanda, who on this evening was inexplicably ill. No one had ever heard anything like it. Piggy revealed a new splendor, a radiance hitherto unsuspected. The whole house went mad, cheering, clapping, holding their lighters above their heads. Over the din Kermit de Chagny, the handsome younger brother of Constantine, had blissfully yelled, "Yayyyyyyyyyyy!" He and Piggy had known each other long ago as children, and he'd watched from afar as her star had begun to rise at the Opera. Onstage, Piggy basked in the crowd's adulation. Finally, when they hushed to hear her speak, she took a pause in the charged silence and finally declared, "You like moi ! You really like moi !" Then she fully fainted into the arms of her fellow singers and had to be hoisted to her dressing room by the crew of penguin stagehands. It was a perfect star-is-born storm. And it had required Yolanda Rat's incomprehensible and inexcusable absence from this gala night for the up-and-comer, at a moment's warning, to deliver the goods. Constantine had stood in his box with his younger brother, joining all this frenzy by loudly applauding. The siblings were the source of much society interest, which dated back to the sad passings of their father and mother. Constantine was now the head of one of the oldest and most distinguished frog families in the marshy Le Marais area, on the banks of the Seine. Finding themselves suddenly parentless, Constantine had become a father figure to his sibling. Although Kermit was now a little over twenty-one, he still looked younger, thanks to a robust skin-care routine and daily application of SPF. He was above average height and in excellent physical health, owing in no small part to a strict diet of organic bugs and cold-pressed swamp juices. He had kind eyes sitting atop his well-shaped head along with a fetching chartreuse complexion, and, if you squinted, you could maybe make out a peach-fuzz mustache. Both the Chagny brothers, already amphibious by nature, exhibited a taste for the sea. At Constantine's urging, Kermit had entered the French Naval Academy, finished his courses with honors, and was now preparing to take his required voyage to the North Pole. Each year the graduates sailed and each year the graduates failed in their mission to find Kris Kringle's home and base of Yuletide operations. So they kept trying, year after year. Until then, Kermit was enjoying a long six-month furlough. Constantine took advantage of Kermit's leave of absence by doing some manly-man bonding with him at all the most macho spots in Paris: the boxing matches, the billiard halls, the racetrack, and, of course, the opera. Which is where we pick up with them again, applauding Piggy's perfect performance of "Mahna Mahna." Constantine turned to Kermit and saw that his green face had paled from chartreuse to sage. "Don't you see," said Kermit, "that she has fainted?" "Vat is goink on here? Is lookink to me like you yourself are almost faintink," joked the count. "Let's go backstage and make sure she's okay," Kermit pleaded. "She never sang like that before." It now dawned on Constantine why Kermit was sometimes absentminded when spoken to and why he always tried to turn every conversation back to the subject of the opera: His little bro was gaga over the gal! The siblings soon passed through the door leading from the audience to the stage, making their way through the crowd of stagehands waddling about and performers awaiting their cues. Kermit led the way, feeling that his heart no longer belonged to him, his face set with passion, while Constantine followed with a big smile. They had to pause before the cacophonous, clucking inrush of the corps de poulet , who blocked the passage they were trying to enter. The count was surprised to find that Kermit knew where he was going. He had never before taken him to Piggy's dressing room, and he came to the conclusion that the little sneak must have gone there alone on past evenings while Constantine himself had lingered to flirt with that hot hippie Janice Sorelli. Postponing his usual tête-à-tête with Janice for a few minutes tonight, the count followed his brother down the passage that led to Piggy's dressing room and saw that it was crammed--the whole audience, it seemed, was as excited by her success as by her fainting fit. Everyone parted as Bunsen Honeydew, the house doctor for the theater, arrived. Kermit trailed into the room in the doc's wake, and as luck would have it, he caught the zaftig singer in his arms as she swooned yet again. Honeydew seemed surprised that the frog's sticklike legs didn't buckle--that pig was not petite. "Don't you think, Doctor, that these admirers should probably clear the room?" asked Kermit pointedly as he rested Piggy on a settee. "There's no air in here." "You're quite right," said Dr. Honeydew, his eyes behind his black-framed spectacles inscrutably small as he concentrated on what he was hearing through his stethoscope. "Her heart is about to beat right out of her chest." "Um," said Kermit, "that's my heart." "Yes! Quite right again," said Honeydew, switching the chestpiece from Kermit to Piggy. After a moment, he said, "Well, her pulse is also elevated." "It's elevated?! What could that possibly mean ?" "Up," explained Honeydew. Then he sent everyone away. Constantine departed with a wave and a wink to Kermit, who remained in the room, cradling the singer as she slowly returned to life. The frog watched as the doctor set up an easel, placed a canvas on it, and took out some colored pencils. "What are you doing now?" "I'm preparing to draw blood." Just then Piggy uttered a deep sigh, which was answered by a little ribbit. She turned her head, saw Kermit, and started. She looked at Dr. Honeydew, then at Kermit again. " Pardonnez-moi ," she said, in a voice not much above a whisper, "but who are vous ?" "Hi ho, mademoiselle," replied Kermit, bending one frog leg to kneel on one frog knee and press one fervent, frog-lipped kiss on the back of the budding diva's hand. He was searching for the right words, but not finding them. He finally uttered, "I can't feel my face when I'm with you . . . and I love it." Piggy began to giggle. Though he was embarrassed, Kermit wasn't about to give up. "Piggy," he said firmly, "I am the little froglet who went into the sea to rescue your Jet Ski!" She didn't respond, so he persisted, changing his tack: "I'd like to say something to you in private, something very important." She shook her head. "How about a rain check?" "Yes, you better go," said the doctor, sternly but with his pleasantest smile. "Leave me to attend to mademoiselle." "No," Piggy suddenly protested, standing up. "I'm fine, I'm really fine. Watch this." With a half-hearted " hiiiiii-YA ," she executed a wobbly karate chop to the air. "See? I'm feeling so much stronger now. All I need is some carbs and I'll be back to normal. You boys go ahead and hit the road. Go on." She poured it on: "Pretty please avec une cerise sur le dessus ?" The doctor made a short protest, but, perceiving the pig's evident agitation, he thought the best remedy was not to thwart her. He departed, ushering out Kermit as well and saying to him with concern when they were outside in the hallway, "It's very disconcerting. She is absolutely not herself tonight." "Because she's pained?" "No, because she's polite." Then he said bonne nuit and excused himself. Kermit was left alone. The whole of this area of the theater was now deserted. Though Kermit knew the farewell ceremony was continuing onstage, he found it curiously quiet. He thought Piggy might return to watch the remainder of the performances, so he waited in the silent solitude, hiding in the shadow of a doorway. He closed his eyes and felt a terrible pain in his heart. It was about this in particular that he wanted to speak to her. "So joo wait for the autograph, sí ?" Kermit looked up to find a king prawn standing in front of him, holding costumes. "I beg your pardon?" "Joo wait here for Señora Piggy to sign her John Hancock on joor Playbill , no? That ees why joo do the lurking around like the stalker?" "No, no, you've got it wrong, my dear crustacean. I am no stalker. Piggy and I, well . . . we are in love," confessed Kermit. "Oh, well, if it ees the love, que romántico . I love the love. And she loves joo, too?" "She . . . does. At least I think she does," Kermit said, his brain beginning to work again. "She asked to be alone. She wanted everyone to leave, even the doctor. Because--because . . . because she wanted to be left alone for me ! Didn't I tell her that I wanted to speak to her privately? And hey--she cleared the room!" "Well, knock joorself out, amigo, and leave this with her, por favor ," said the stranger, handing him a costume he had hemmed, then hustling down the hallway humming a hymn. Hardly breathing, Kermit tiptoed to the dressing room and, with his ear to the door to catch Piggy's reply, prepared to knock. But he dropped his hand. Because he heard--could it be?-- a male voice inside, saying, in a posh English accent, "Are you sleepy, my pet?" Kermit heard Piggy sigh and reply, "Seriously?!" She paused to crunch on something, surely her snack, then continued. "Tonight I gave you and that audience my whole soul, and I am freakin' wiped out!" "And I thank you, my dear. That is a gift that I treasure. And the Koozebanians surely treasure it, too." Koozebanians? Where have I heard that word before . . . wondered Kermit. He returned to his dark corner, determined to wait for this interloper to leave the room. Piggy soon emerged alone, dressed in a tailored trench coat, black beret, and modest five-inch stilettos. She closed the door behind her, but keen-eyed Kermit observed that she didn't lock it. She passed his hiding spot and he didn't dare follow her, even with his eyes, for his focus was fixed on the door, which did not open again. When Piggy was long gone and only the fragrance of Corn Nuts lingered in the passage, he slipped into the dressing room and shut the door. He was in absolute darkness--until the glowing screen of a smartphone lit up the room. Kermit jumped and saw that it was Pepé holding the device. The frog whispered, "Where did you come from?" "Spain." "No, I meant just now. You move really quick." "I have the many limbs," said Pepé, ostentatiously displaying them. "Are joo looking for something? Because I do not think joo are supposed to be in here." "Neither is he !" "Who?" "There's someone in here!" "Yeah: joo. And now me, too." Pepé took the costume from Kermit and draped it over the chair. "And someone else! I heard him." Kermit addressed the room in a quavering voice. "All right, come out and put up your dukes, you hear!" They stood for several long moments listening to the silence of the empty room. "Maybe he feel embarrassed, okay, because he leave his dukes at home?" "Good grief," Kermit said, "am I going out of my mind?" "I think where joo are going ees home , okay," ventured the prawn as he ushered Kermit out of the room and locked the door behind them before disappearing down the hallway. Kermit was stumped. Where could his unseen rival have disappeared to? Did he imagine the whole thing? Finally, he started walking, not knowing what he was doing nor where he was going. At one point in his aimless wandering of the mazelike hallways, an icy draft struck his face. He found himself on a staircase, up which a procession of paramedic sheep were carrying a mound covered with a white sheet on a makeshift stretcher. "Which is the way out, please?" he asked one of them. The shaggy ram answered, " Baaaaaaaa -ck behind you, boss. The door's open. But let us go by first." Pointing at the stretcher, Kermit asked, "What's that?" Another sheep replied, " That is Beauregard, who was found in the third cellar, deceased." "How horrible!" exclaimed Kermit. "What was the cause?" "Squishing." Added the ram, "It seems he was smushed right between two flats painted with scenes from Death in Venice." Kermit took off his hat and brought his hands to his face, shaking his head. "Goodness gracious," he said, looking somber. "That is just . . . so terribly . . . meta." Then he fell back to make room for the procession, which continued on its grim way. Excerpted from Muppets Meet the Classics: the Phantom of the Opera by Erik Forrest Jackson, Gaston Leroux All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.