Hi all! Thanks so much to those who reviewed!!!
Just to clarify before we continue, for the most part, we prefer to stay true to Leroux, however, as you shall see, there are occasional parts of this that are particularly influenced by Susan Kay.
Much fmeek to you all! Enjoy!
As I remained immobile for some long minutes until my heartbeat regained regularity, the perspiration that glazed my flesh cooled into a stiffness that sent chills down my spine, and I shuddered with a revulsion stemmed from more than one source. There was so much to be done…and I felt ill. One thing at a time. I slipped the suspenders from my shoulders, then my fingers ran down my shirtfront to unfasten the remaining buttons, and the damp fabric peeled away from my skin. I must have been more affected than I had realized, for the simple relief that came to me as I dropped the ruined garment over the top of a chair was the weight of a thousand burdens lifted from my back.
I took my time as I moved to enter the luxurious bath that accompanied this antique bedroom, a useless memorial I kept to the normal human life I had forsaken. The bathroom was comfortable, yes, but certainly had no mirrors. Instead, the walls were papered richly and accented with delicate artwork of charcoal and pastel. Mirrors had always been very useful to me, but in my own home, they were forbidden. The torture chamber was the exception of course, and I had fully intended to avoid those, but what was necessary had to be done.
Enough of mirrors. I opened the tap at the sink and let the cold water run first over my hands, then I brought it to my parched face and let it wash over my hair. I drank too, but not much; I did not want to make myself sick. Then taking one of the soft azure towels with me, I returned to the bedroom and opened a drawer in the writing desk to retrieve a sheet of paper. Choosing a gilded pen from the bracket, I jotted down a note to remind myself to get some sand. Then resting the pen on the blotter, I lifted the thin slip of paper to study it more closely. I had become so used to writing in the color of blood, my own infamous illegible handwriting seemed almost unrecognizable in this black ink…Did I need ink too? No, I had enough. I dropped the paper back to the desktop and turned to sink into the comfort of the quilted chaise against the wall that faced the steps leading to the draped window.
I did not want to think about the torture chamber at the moment, nor its mirrors, so I kept my eyes away from the steps and allowed them to take in the rest of the furniture of the room; the mahogany bedstead, the lamp on the marble top of the Louis-Philippe chest of drawers, the writing desk and stool... I sighed again to myself as the image of the room this furniture used inhabit returned to my mind. My mother's room.
Did I despise it? No, not completely. But how could I help but recall those bitter moments of my youth spent in a room just like this one…On this same couch…In that same bed. It was where I had been born. I often wondered why I had done all this, kept this bed when my family's misery had been born in it along with me. But then lately I was wondering why I did a great many things… That chair where I had discarded my white shirt, I could see her sitting there, my mother. She was the most beautiful thing in the world to my child's eyes; she had the face of an angel and the delicate frame of a goddess, but her heart had been a stone of ice. I had crept upon her slowly as she sat there in the sunlight that filtered through the lace over the balcony windows… All I wanted was a kiss…Or even an embrace…Or if my courage failed, to spend only a few moments with her in the forbidden Eden of her boudoir. But just as every other time, I was sent away by a pointed finger and heartbreaking cringe…And my mask thrown after me.
Yes, mother, you cold-blooded child of a woman, I remember you. My father on the other hand…The only memory I can gather of him is a dim, distorted silhouette I glimpsed once by chance opportunity between broken banisters, and the deep vibrations of shapeless chastisement. It was only once, and that was all. He never stayed; he did not care. Why ought he? Heaven or Hell or all the forces in between had condemned him with a monster of an only son. I ran away for me and for them, to end their horror, to end my agony.
And yet my mind was never free of them! I stood abruptly from the chaise, unraveling the towel that had become twisted about my hands and whipped it across the room. It plummeted into the nightstand, forcing the small clock to the floor where it landed in pieces. I left it there. Let my parents clean the mess. And then I almost laughed to myself, but the sound was caught, choked by the painful dryness of my throat. I bent to put a hand on the banister of the bed for support, and as I tried to even my breath, I felt the burning of desiccated, would-be tears that tore at the back of the deep black sockets of my eyes.
The images of my parents haunted me as much now as they had in those early years as I traveled from fair to fair, only intensifying as I had begun my career as an architect, a master-mason, just as my father had been. If he knew, would he have been pleased, my father, that I had followed on his footsteps? If I had not been as I was born…who I am, they would have never had reason to hate me. But then a great many details about my life would not be as they were now. So many details…and what had I to show for it all? Or perhaps the more appropriate question was who had I to show?
I had a tomb. An underground house filled with sadistic memories and now a false forest of brutal death for my yard…And not one living soul even to chide me for such voluntary self-torture. It was irrational to bring those mirrors down here. My gaze returned to the velvet curtains above the steps and the warm glow about their edges reminded me that I had left the chamber in motion. I straightened and crossed to the controls to turn off the lights. The wall at my side was even hotter now, and the paper had begun to curl slightly at its seams. I could only imagine what would have become of me had I remained in that room…and the mental picture almost made me smile. Almost.
I moved to the door and opened it fully to let the heat out and the temperate air in, and I waited, certainly with no inclination to enter immediately. Once the temperature had become bearable, I reentered the forest, pointedly avoiding my reflection, the vision that had been my parents' disgrace, and was distantly grateful to have some excuse to momentarily exit their cursed bedroom alive with dead melancholy and horridly unmerciful memories. Misery and weakness bore down upon me with the remainder of the heat, and I barely found the strength to pick up the scattered clothing I had abandoned there earlier.
I left again before any of the mirrors had the chance to get the better of me, but reentering the bedroom offered no escape from the agonies piercing me from within. Before I began my work on that chamber behind the wall, I never entered this room. Months would pass when I forgot it even existed. I had designed it as a guest room, for what decent home was complete without the means to accommodate a guest? But it had served for years as only a lodging for dust and the occasional wayward spider. It would never be used. Just as the torture chamber would never be used… I had built it with my own hands; I had perfected it creatively, mechanically, and scientifically far beyond my model in Persia from years past…But why? It was a trap with no bait. No enemy of mine knew where to seek me. No poor misguided fool would fall through the trapdoor above it. And I certainly had no intention of carting men down here in order to watch them suffer in vicious anguish before making their own use of the noose on the tree. I personally had no taste for the observance of intricate displays of death. I had always preferred those methods that were much more to the point. So why had I done it? Was this truly what my monstrous life has come to?
With limp fingers, I picked up my discarded shirt from its resting place on my mother's chair and slowly left the room without having bothered to shut any doors behind me. I needed to be someplace where I belonged, a refuge, my own room. Charming of me, wasn't it, that I had spent laborious years to design and build this house so that I could escape the barbed brutalities of the world above, and I still saw each of my denied fears, childhood nightmares, and masked regrets in the very pieces that made up my own home.
The sight of my generally venerated coffin on its presumptuous bier as I entered my room did not particularly ease my current frame of mind, and so for the moment, I chose not to look at it either. This room, I had designed to be the very representation of death, the exact opposite of all I had known in life that had eternally taunted me from unachievable distances, and for that, this chamber was both my sepulcher and my sanctuary; my shrine to eternity. But just now, it instead chose to mock at me, each of its jeering death's heads recalling just how far removed I had become from the green fields of the human race…how far I had always been…
Crossing the deep, dark carpet, I dropped the clothing I carried onto a wrought iron rack and turned to face my glorious pipe organ.
"But there is always you, isn't there, my friend?"
I approached it, moving in front of the bench and slowly placed my hands down upon the staved leafs covered in red notes on the stand.
"Twenty years…" I breathed. "Twenty years, and for what? For whom? For Erik?" I shook my head, letting my hands fall to one row of keys as I eased into my seat. "What does Erik matter? No one but Erik will ever hear Erik's music…And when Erik is dead…"
I squeezed my eyes shut…These thoughts of death were inescapable. But music would deliver me. My fingers tensed over their places on the ivory keys. My life's work wove the acoustic tapestry of eternal life…One man's triumph over the limitations of the human form… My dear Don Juan was most Faustian in that way.
I was ready to begin, but as I arranged my hands, I was suddenly aware that I was quite not certain where to place my fingers. I stared down at the keys in momentary stupor, but then shaking my head, I rearranged my placement and pressed down. The cacophonous noise that blew from the pipes shattered what was left of my frayed nerves, and I shot up from my seat.
Where was my music! Had it abandoned me too? Shakily, I sat again, but my wrists had no will to rise and I could only stare in dumbfounded impotence at the silent organ that refused to obey me.
That whole world five levels above me had begun to crush down upon my shoulders, and I could never have the strength to support it. I lifted my hands in wracking despair to my face, but as soon as they touched my malformed features, I was filled with the bile of rage, and sprang up violently, grasping the first object at hand and hurled it across the room into my coffin. I remained frozen, quivering with fury as I glared at the shattered pieces that tumbled down the steps, and it was several vehement moments before I realized what it was I had just destroyed. It had been a little sculpture of the black elephant of Persia, the guard of the door to their spiritual world…The life after death.
And then the last of my strength was gone. The next thing I felt was floor hitting my knees, and my entire being overwhelmed with wave after wave of weary rage, frustrating desperation, wracking pain…Oh, misery…Would it never cease! No, as long I lived, the very world was my torture chamber! As long as I lived…Life…But life could be easily remedied.
"Death…" And a shuddering sob was the only reaction my body could offer to the decrepit rasp of my own voice.
My voice…Even my greatest weapon had turned against me now as dehydration peeled away at my throat. I needed water. But as I meant to stand, no part of me had the will to obey.
"Something to drink? Poison, perhaps…A libation to the Gods?" Ah, Plato…I wanted to laugh, but another sob was all that surfaced to my lips and the burning tears of internal ache flowed freely now down my hollow cheeks.
I fell back where I knelt to rest against the end of the bench.
"Why don't we jam the locks on the torture chamber while we're at it? No sand and no shoes."
My head rolled back languidly.
"Oh yes…Or tie weights to my ankles and take a dive in the lake."
I had not noticed those rings of soot on the ceiling before…above the candelabra…
"But what has become of our imagination? Should I not be shattered into a thousand pieces?"
I lifted my head again to look across at my beloved coffin.
"Hmm? Little elephant of death? Where are the knives and the razors? Shouldn't my blood flow until my veins are dry and the carpet is soaked enough to grow mold? Or shall it be pistols? At dawn? A duel between one man and one monster and both of them are Erik. To the death. Who would win? Isn't that the question."
A laugh finally found ground deep in my throat, and pushing myself up by the bench, I managed to stand in my pathetic condition.
"How many pieces could I slice myself into before I hadn't the strength to continue? And where would I begin?"
At the bottom, I suppose. It made the most sense. And I would have to do it sitting down.
I moved to a bureau, opening a drawer.
Pain…Was that what I wanted? Or numbness? I slowly lifted the glass syringe from its silver box.
"Is this what has come of this twisted brain of mine? It is a simple decision, and I cannot even make the choice…"
The needle trembled in my one had as the other unearthed the prepared morphine from the stores in the drawer, but I managed to steady it enough to fill it to its usual capacity, and then I lifted it to my eye, checking for air in the vial.
"Once more, questions are left unanswered and dissolved in delirium…"
Or was this the answer? My gaze returned to the bottle of morphine, and then I took it up again and filled the needle now to its fullest, more than twice my initial dose. Would that be enough? Perhaps if I injected this much twice…or three times. That would be more than enough.
I took the things to my coffin, resting comfortably upon it. Still undressed, there was no need to roll up my sleeve and little to prepare. It would be easy…so easy.
I put the tip of the needle against my right arm among the telltale tracks of countless years. This would be my last mark. I would slip away into peacefulness…I would not even feel the pain of the contortions my body would experience.
But as I stared down sluggishly at the needle against my arm, my thumb had not the power to pierce my flesh, and as I meant to inject, the liquid spurted out pitifully and dripped over my forearm and onto the floor. Had I truly become so weak? I reached for the bottle, but it too slipped from my hand and rolled down the steps out of my reach.
Nothing left…My eyes returned to the now empty syringe and I pulled up the stopper, to draw nothing up into it…To fill it with air.
Yes…Nothing…That is how I would die. I would be killed by absolutely nothing. I pressed the needle again to my vein, making sure to pierce deeply before I made the additional effort to inject. And when the bubble of air reached my heart, it would be painful, but then it would be over.
One more push, and then it would be out of my hands. I would only have to wait. One tiny push of my finger…One last act on my part…My final act…If only I could have done it.
My left hand went limp and slid away. The needle fell from my arm, still drawn, following the bottle down the steps, and I collapsed back into my coffin.
Up next!! Chapter 3: Symphony of Death