The Light and the Nothing
Time was immeasurable...Like ripples in a pool that eventually disappear when so long has passed, Christine's words faded away, back into the black nothing from whence they had come...As if they had never existed. What are words spoken if they are not heard? And if such words are spoken and the listener does not respond—Behaves as if he were not there to hear them... Do they matter? Did they exist?
Perhaps Erik was just simply giving them that much thought. Perhaps he was thinking about something else entirely. Or perhaps he was only toying with her mind. But whatever it was, there had been an adjustment. A difference had been made. Something made him change his mind.
The silence that pressed in on Christine as she pitifully resolved herself to her fate of darkness during this time was broken by the smallest scratch of sound that seemed earsplitting in comparison—But even more startling was the light. It took her several moments to understand that Erik had lit a single candle on the other side of the room. She could see him over there...between the fingers that she still had pressed over her eyes...And he was simply standing there, turned away from her and watching the flame.
She did not speak as she moved her hands from her face and smoothed back her damped hair. With shaking hesitation, she slowly looked about the edges of the dark for any sort of way out of the room... But Erik's room was as it had always been—There was no door. And it was still so dark... As dark as a funeral chamber five levels below ground ought to be.
But Christine was not about to take for granted the illumination he had granted her, and she was still much comforted by that one candle. From where she still kneeled on the floor, she edged closer to the circle of light and away from the black looming shape of the coffin behind her in the outer darkness. She turned her eyes back to Erik where he stood, still intently focused on the tiny flame above the black wax.
Why was he so still?
Her hands were shaking and she felt pinpricks of sensation come back into her drained limbs in this calmness. Her flesh was slowly coming to life out of the numbness that had claimed her, and the ache in her chest was spreading, distributing its intensity throughout the rest of her body.
She was sitting still again, and fighting her apprehension to disturb the very motionlessness of the air, she brushed one trembling hand across her face.
Erik remained in the small area of radiance, but drew his eyes from the engrossing light and slowly turned his head to instead focus on Christine with the same intensity.
She could not meet his gaze and lowered her forehead to rest above her knees, curling into a pathetic ball of tresses and silk. What did he want from her? What would she have to give him in return for letting her out of that coffin... She had promised to do anything he wished...Anything in exchange...Anything to be released. But she knew only too well that in exchange for being released from that temporary prison, she was now most eternally trapped. What would he do with her? What did he want from her?
He lifted the candlestick from where it stood with a delicate grace that was almost sickening in its irony, and he moved towards her...Steadily... And as he moved, the flame above the wax wavered in the lifeless air.
She sensed his movement and looked up with dull recognition. He was coming closer. She only distantly wondered at herself as she did not move away, did not shrink back as she waited truly without dread for what he might say...What he might do...What he might take. Her gaze dropped, and she watched the shine of the light on the merlot carpet glow closer and closer...And she waited for him.
His feet appeared and halted just below her downcast eyes, but he made no further move other than to lower the candle so that it was right in front of her face. He merely let the light illuminate her features for several moments of a silence that progressively drilled into her anxiety. Her breath quickened with each passing beat and she silently fretted that she might again begin to shake.
He indicated the flickering light and in a low tone, he spoke, "Do not breathe too heavily...Or you shall be in the dark again."
Christine lifted her shoulders and pressed her lips together, immediately softening her breaths. For a moment of vulnerability, her eyes flitted from the candle up to his in the darkness above her. She was still afraid. She could not deny it. So afraid...And she did not understand...
With slow and gentle deliberation, Erik knelt down before her so that their eyes were at the same level. The candle was the only thing in the space between his mask and her face, and its flame danced gently between the current of their two breaths.
He spoke again with the same softness. "I had better not breathe either..." And then again with deliberate poignancy, "But I do not mind the dark." The flame shuddered dangerously.
A moment of fear—Christine did not breathe at all...But the light did not go out. She stared across the candlelight at Erik. At his golden eyes set afire by the blaze in front of them...So unbearably eerie. But she could not tear her own eyes away. She kept her breath soft, terrified of blowing out the candle and once again allowing the darkness to descend.
He seemed to float closer to her, tightening the space between them and bringing the fire dangerously near to her face now. "Be careful, Christine," he whispered. "Do not move. Light may be relieving...But it brings pain. Relief is burning, Christine. It burns."
She did as she was told and remained frozen, staring at the flame in silence...Practically holding her breath now...Not daring to take her eyes off of it...
Erik was equally silent as he slowly lifted his hand between them as if in preparation to put out the flame.
Christine's eyes widened in initial fear of the prospect of losing the light, but she made no move to stop him and spoke no word of protest. Truly, she was not sure if she was more frightened by that prospect of darkness or by the alarmingly close proximity of the flame so near to her face...Its warmth was beginning to become difficult to bear as it radiated into her skin.
Erik's hand paused in the air and hovered, a wraithlike shadow just above the flame. He spoke again. He was giving her more time...But what could she do?
"The light can be as frightening as the dark, Christine...You can see...But at a price..." The heat of the fire pulsated tormentingly against her flesh, as he continued, "In the cold of the dark, there is nothing to harm you..." Then he moved the flame even closer to her face. "But I will leave this choice up to you. What will you have?"
Her eyes flitted to him and then back again to the candle. What could she do? She feared that if she chose the light, he would move it close enough to burn her. But she did not want to be in the dark again...She could not be in the dark again! And so alone. Her wary whisper was almost inaudible. "I am always left by myself...In the dark..."
Erik's eyes watched the flame as it flickered back and then closer to her when she spoke. "Hush...Be careful..." Contrastingly, his melodious voice did nothing to disrupt the sway of the fire. "Always, Christine?"
She was hesitant even to speak less her utterances waver the flame any closer...And with a shudder of restraint, she realized now that the only thing she was afraid of was being burned by this flame. So she shut her eyes slowly...Hesitated one final time...Then made her choice and blew out the light.
Erik lowered the quieted candle from between their faces, but he did not move away. And even though the danger was gone, his voice remained just as cautious. "It is dark, Christine...Are you alone?"
She could not see him. But heard him...So close...And she also did not move away. She did not want to be alone. Her answer was a soft realization, "No..."
Erik set the dead candlestick down on the floor beside where they knelt. His words were even softer, but they held a quiet, firm resolve...A finality:
"No...And you will never be alone."
Christine's gaze fell blindly. It did not matter where she looked. In the dark, everything looked the same. But even as she tried to dread the fact that she could not see, she truly felt that this—This was better than a coffin...And that thought gave her a wash of consolation.
Erik continued, "Even if nothing existed outside of this room, you would never be alone, Christine."
She felt his voice; it wrapped itself around through her mind and heart. He was there. And she knew it. She knew she was not alone.
She nodded slowly and clasped her hands together tightly in struck silence, exhaling shakily before speaking. "...Thank you, Erik."
Regardless of all that he had done, through all her tangled thoughts and aching pain, she truly felt it—That with him, she was not alone.
Touching her in a way that was somehow curiously suitable, he settled his hands on her arms, lightly—With the downy comfort of wings. He spoke with conviction, "But you know what Nothing means now. And Nothing exists outside. Nothing that matters."
And somewhere in the mind that had once belonged to her, the muted recognition of his touch registered. But it was so dark... And even her mind's eye could not keep its focus. She slowly tilted her face up in the direction where his must be. And she gave him no initial answer. But there was something...In that voice of his...That made her once again nod her head in absolute agreement.
Even Erik's cat eyes could not see the lost child in this dark, but he was close. So close that he could feel each and all of her slight movement.
His cold hands glided down her arms to take hold of her lonely fingers in an enveloping fold as he spoke his last words, "Absolutely nothing."
And somehow she simply felt it...She knew what to say...She knew how to agree. She would show him that she understood. She was not alone. With Erik, Christine would never be alone. And nothing else mattered.