A/N: Marbles did exist during Erik's childhood. As did matches: the form of matches common from the 1820s-1830s were very long and gave off a very odd stench when lit. Therefore I am historically accurate! Also... this was inspired by the math section of the PSATs, as they had a question like, "Erik had 50 marbles. He loses x number of marbles...." And so inspired me, to not solve the problem, but rather to think, "Wow! I didn't know that the Phantom of the Opera played with marbles!" I think I failed that section....

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, but I do own the situation, I suppose. If you want to steal it, I suppose you could go ahead, since I can't copyright it, and I'm infringing on copyright as I type.

It was a sunny, though windy, day, and Erik was feeling optimistic, something that happened rather infrequently. The morning had been auspicious, as Erik had remembered to put on his mask, and his mother had smiled at him.

Erik had treasured that smile for the rest of the morning. He was very rarely smiled at, and he wanted to take that smile and lock it in a golden chest, so that he could take it out on rainy days and marvel at its beauty. He didn't even mind when his mother shooed him outside in the afternoon and told him to remember to never take his mask off.

Instead he went up the hill towards the town, taking his prized bag of marbles, and made a little house for them out of mud, from a nearby puddle, twigs, and leaves. Then he decided that the marbles looked awfully cramped like that, stuck in a bag, and that they deserved their own houses. So Erik calmly crafted a little town, just for his marbles to live in. His made each house different, so that the marbles would be able to figure out which house was theirs, but made sure each house had a door and some windows.

He carefully placed each marble into its own home, though some marbles lived together, like he did with his mother, and examined his handiwork.

"The marbles will get very bored like that," he declared, placing his mud-stained fists on his thin hips. "They need an opera house, or a palace to have balls in."

"They need a marketplace," commented another voice.

Erik whirled around in surprise, nearly crushing one of his houses in the process. "Hunh?"

A girl, in a white apron and a plain brown dress, pointed a pudgy finger at Erik's marble town. "They need a marketplace, or else they can't eat."

Erik nodded. The girl had a point. "They do need a marketplace."

Humming, Erik scooped up another handful of mud from the puddle and began to make the town a marketplace.

"Can I help?" the girl asked, watching Erik with keen interest.

"No," Erik replied. "You'll get your apron dirty. Mothers don't like it when girls get their aprons dirty. I read it in a book."

The girl looked put- out. "My mother doesn't care. She's dead."

Erik considered that a moment, mud dripping between his pale fingers. "Who do you live with, if your mother is dead?"

"You're silly," the girl retorted, sticking her tongue out at him. "I live with my stepmother. Who else would I live with?"

"Stepmother?" Erik questioned, carefully returning to his intricate work. "Is she evil?"

"She always makes me eat my vegetables," the girl replied in a solemn, unhappy tone. "Papa lets her."

Erik felt very foolish, but he didn't know what a 'papa' was. In the book his mother allowed him, there were many evil stepmothers, and dead fathers, and damsels in distress, and handsome princes, but no 'papa's. Yet Erik would feel very silly asking anyone what a 'papa' was.

"I'll let you dig the well," Erik offered in a long- suffering tone of voice. "But only if you don't mess it up!"

The girl smiled. "I won't!" She immediately found a twig and began to dig a little ways off from Erik. "Why do you wear a mask? I can't see your face, except for your eyes."

Erik self- consciously touched his mask. "My mother makes me wear it. Don't you wear a mask?"

The girl shook her head firmly. "No! Your mother is very silly, to make you wear a mask." Then she paused, stick jutting out of the ground tipsily, as if it would fall over in its shallow hole. "Is she punishing you?"

Erik was caught off guard by the question. He nearly crushed the roof of the stall he was building. "I... I don't know."

"How old are you?"

"Five and three quarters," Erik answered, feeling relieved at a question he knew the answer to.

The girl nodded sagely. "You wouldn't know. You're not old enough. I'm seven, so I can tell." She began to dig once again, splattering her apron with dirt. "Your mother is punishing you for being bad, so she makes you wear the mask."

Erik felt crushed. The only thing he'd ever wanted to do was please his mother. "I don't remember offending her. I'm sure that I haven't made her unhappy."

The girl looked a bit confused at the word, 'offend', but then declared, "It's because you're a boy. Boys are stupid, so mothers have to punish them to keep them from being stupid men."

Erik did not think that that rationale made any sense at all, but asked, "Do you go to the Opera house?"

"No. My papa says it's immortal."

"Do you mean, 'immoral'?"

"I don't know. You're awfully silly. Why should we go to the Opera?"

"My mother works there. She works there until very late. She sings there."

The girl frowned. "Can you sing?"

"I think so."

"I can't sing."

Erik began constructing an Opera house for the town. "I could teach you to sing. Sometimes I follow my mother to the Opera house, and I watch the performers sing."

"Marie!" a voice called. "Marie!"

"That's my stepmother," the girl sighed. "I don't like her." Marie, otherwise known as the girl, continued digging with the stick.

A woman, her cap askew on her head and her hair sticking out at wild angles, came up the girl. "Marie! What are you doing here?"

Marie looked at her stepmother in utmost contempt. "Digging."

"I can see that Marie," the woman replied, leaning over to catch her breath. She then paused, and examined the town that lay in front of her. "Oh, Marie! Did you build this?"

"No," Marie replied, continuing to dig, "the boy did."

"Oh, it's wonderful! It looks so realistic."

Erik, feeling slightly uncomfortable, turned and looked at the woman. The woman, previously beaming happily, was now regarding him in slight surprise. "My dear, why are you wearing a mask?"

"His mother is punishing him," Marie explained, now building a wall around the pit she'd dug. "His eyes are a funny color, aren't they?"

"They're very unusual," the woman remarked, in an effort to be polite. The woman then looked around her and paled. "Marie. Come. We're going home right now."

"I don't want to," Marie replied snootily. "I'm having fun, and the marble town doesn't have a palace yet."

"Come right this instant," the woman snapped, in a tone that booked no refusal. The woman grabbed Marie by the hand and pulled her up. "Marie, it's not safe to be here. That woman in the house is the lowest of the low, and her child is said to be a monster." The woman looked at Erik as if he were some sort of vermin that needed to be eaten by the cat. "We are leaving." The woman marched determinedly off, dragging the squawking Marie along behind her.

Erik looked down on his mud city, and felt hot, shameful tears welling up in his yellow eyes. It was not long before a group of boys came, and with their usual carefree thoughtlessness, crushed the buildings Erik had created, scattering Erik's marbles everywhere.

"Sorry," one of the boys called, not looking as if he meant it.

Erik, feeling wildly jealous of the boy's golden hair (his own hair was dark and very sparse) and normal features (Erik often missed not having a nose), shook his head stubbornly and attempted to gather what he could of his precious marble collection. He felt an increasing anger against the world, when he realized that several of his beautiful marbles had gone missing, and he felt his 'funny colored' eyes narrow into slits. The marbles were his prized possessions, his only toys. Those people would pay.

Erik took care to clean up, placing his remaining marbles in their bag, and in their proper place inside. He washed his hands in the stream, and sat on the ground underneath a tree. He pondered his revenge against the boys a moment, trying to find them a fitting punishment. Erik skulked outside the house for a while, until he heard the church bells ring out the hour. It was then that he was struck with a brilliant idea.

Smirking, Erik dashed into the house when his mother wasn't looking, and wrapped himself up in his dark winter cloak. He stole some of the very old matches by the fireplace and snuck out of the house, hiding in the shadows. Soon he reached a field where the boys who had wrecked his town were laughing happily, trying to catch each other.

They were calling out loudly to each other in rapid French, and got closer and closer to a tree near Erik. Erik felt himself smirking again. His plan was working too perfectly to be imagined. He crawled along the ground until he got to the tree, and carefully climbed up in the back, after sticking the matches in the band that held his mask to his face.

Erik grimly crawled out onto the lowest tree branch, and waited for the boys to get closer. Once they were scarcely a foot away, Erik carefully removed his mask, briefly thinking how odd it felt to have the wind on his cheeks, and scraped a match against the bark of the tree. It let off a foul stench as exploded into light, drawing the boy's attention towards the tree.

Erik threw the match at them, and they scattered in confusion, only to return and stare upwards at the tree. Erik struck several more matches, and raised them up to his face.

"Behold! The Angel of death has come for your souls!" Erik flung the matches at them and cackled in what he hoped was a maniacal way. He let his dark cloak billow about him in the slight breeze, then covertly struck more matches (he let his cloak hide one of his hands, as he scraped the match against the trunk of the tree) and flung them at the boys.

The boys screamed in terror, and ran back to the village as fast as they could, pushing each other out of the way in their haste to flee.

"Go!" Erik screamed at them, twisting his misshapen mouth into a sneer. "Go, but you cannot escape your doom!"

They ran until they disappeared from sight. Erik crouched on the tree branch in satisfaction, a hand against the trunk. Revenge was sweet.