I remember it was cold that night. I had taken care to wear a woolen cloak even when inside. The cellars were typically frigid, but the icy temperature very rarely caused my teeth to chatter. Perhaps I was used to it.

Life and I have never been on the best of terms, you see. I find that, were it not for the saving grace that I shall discuss later on, I would rejoice in death. It may seem unfathomable but on that day, several years ago, I was actually worse off than I am now. And that is saying something.

I was dead in most senses of the word. My heart was beating, of course, but seemed to be so black and shriveled that it hardly mattered. I was younger man of, oh, thirty-something...but I had lived a thousand years.

Those first few years at the opera are one long, indecipherable blur of numbness. The final days in Persia left me a monster incapable of feeling. I wanted to forget, to simply dissolve within the shadows of the cellar, every trace of my existence gone. Even music ceased to exist. I simply sat, hardly sleeping lest nightmares arouse my fearsome personality. Yes, this was me: absolutely and irrevocably dead.

At least, that is what I thought.

The first time I saw her, I thought little of it. She was a gawkish little thing of no more than fifteen, very pretty, but painfully shy. I watched absentmindedly from my seat in Box Five as she took her place in the very back of the chorus and sang along quietly, looking at the floor all the while. She was quickly forgotten.

Then came the night that proved to be my resurrection. It was very late, perhaps one in the morning or so, and I was strolling through the deserted theatre, my mind dormant as per usual. After half an hour of mindlessly meandering through the rows of plush velvet seats, I settled in the comfortable shadows of the orchestra pit, reminding myself to drop the managers a note about the dreadfully loose floorboards.

And then I heard it...the Ave Maria.

It was an ethereal soubrette soprano that soared through the empty auditorium on angels' wings. I remember actually sighing in ecstasy and closing my eyes, so lovely was the sound. It wrapped itself around me and carried me to the heavens, and I was lost to its grace. Never had I felt so alive, so vibrant!

And yet, there were flaws: a flat note here, a hasty gasp for air there, hesitant vibrato and several wavering high notes. Worst of all, there was no passion, no sense of motivation, no feeling. The voice sang, and that was it. It forcefully reminded me of myself.

But it was an incredible instrument, and I could not even imagine what it would sound like with proper training. Unlike anything mere mortals would ever hear, I thought.

Cautiously and with a boyish, burning curiosity, I peered over the stage to see just exactly who was the source of such a voice. Imagine my surprise when I caught sight of the awkward little chorus girl standing upon the stage! A billowy white nightgown was draped over her lanky frame, and she wore nothing but stockings upon her feet. A mane of wild brunette curls fell to the middle of her back and bounced as she moved. She was nearly as pale as her dress.

Something about her enormous hazel eyes haunted me. They were ringed with dark circles and held a heartbreaking sadness.

For the next hour (it could have been longer; I had completely lost sense of time) I watched and listened. Every once and a while I would wince at a discordant note, or frown as she attempted to soar above her range and failed miserably. Most disturbing was that complete lack of soul in her voice, the utter numbness it seemed to evoke. How could someone with such a divine gift sound so utterly lifeless?

But for all her pitiable shortcomings, she was a joy to watch. Every once and a while, she would abandon her shy facade and play the diva, twisting her face into a contemptuous sneer and prancing about the stage pompously. Her nose would tilt in the air, and she would leap across the enormous expanse of stage, landing gracefully and twirling to a stop. I laughed for the first time in God knew when as she put on a false Italian accent and ordered make-believe managers about, complaining all the while that she was "much-a too fat to fit into-a mah costume!"

Apparently I wasn't the only one who detested La Carlotta, the company's dreadful prima donna.

Her singing was devoid of emotion, but by no accounts was she. There was one point when she stopped in the middle of a lovely Swedish folk tune and began to quietly weep. I had been caught up in the lilting melody, mentally composing harmonies when her silence startled me. She was furiously wiping away her tears, very nearly scolding herself for daring to cry.

"You stupid, useless girl," I heard her say to herself angrily, "Papa is gone. He is gone, and he isn't coming back. You're alone, so you might as well bite your lip and get used to it!"

That comment just about undid me. I remembered seeing her in the chorus, positioned at the very back and looking like she wished to disappear forever. How could she not know what immense talent she possessed? Did she not see the enormous potential in her voice? Did she not consider, even for the briefest of moments, that with proper training she could one day capture the hearts of Paris with her siren song?

It was at that very second that I refused to let that marvelous instrument out of my sight. I could not sit by and idly watch it fade away. I would mold it into something divine, something that would make the angels themselves green with envy. I did not know how, but I would show her that she was not alone, that there was someone-or more appropriate, something-out there who cared for her, who would not let her whither away as he once had.

This girl had awakened something in me more powerful and terrible than I could have ever imagined: the will to live again.