Chapter 1: The Bridges are Burned
Under terrible duress Christine made a choice.
"Erik! I have turned the scorpion!" she said. For a brief instant she believed that this decisive action-the first of her life-would save her lover, even if it finished herself. But at that moment, as she stood confident in her conclusion, the water noise began. Slowly at first, it could be heard to flow around her, the sound filling the room and growing louder until it obscured even the frantic calls of help that emanated from the torture room. It was obvious what was happening, and it occurred to her suddenly and painfully that Raoul and his mysterious companion would soon be drowned.
"Erik, do stop the water," she cried, "I've turned the scorpion. They can live now."
"Oh, but my dear, you've agreed to be my wife, and you do not need to have two men engaged to you?"
"I'll send Raoul away. I can give him back his ring. He'll never bother us again, but please, don't let him die. Please! I've promised to be your wife."
"Oh, but not my living wife. You see, I am very generous! I give you a reason to dispatch with life before the living corpse can touch his cold bride."
"No, no, I'll give you whatever you want…" but there was no conviction in her voice. Hysteria was mounting and this time Christine couldn't control it. Terrible ideas crowded into her mind. If the water came from the scorpion, then it was her hand that brought it. How could she live if Raoul perished by her own action? And could she fulfill her promise and endure Erik's touch? She was totally ignorant of intimacy, and her mind filled with wild lewd images that repulsed and frightened her. Her pleading turned to frenzied nonsense and she trembled as she dropped to the ground in tears. But Erik was beyond pity, blinded by jealousy and disappointment, and he only bitterly mocked the loss that loomed above her. What could she do to save Raoul? What reason would Erik listen to? Overwhelmed with terror at the deadly outcome of her choice, afraid to make another decision, she could not rouse herself to any action. Reality was too much! She must turn away or a fit of madness would surely seize her, she must bury her face in her hands, she must block out everything. She couldn't look at the monster anymore. She couldn't think of her fiancée gasping his final breaths in the swirling waters. It had been too much and the cracks that had been developing in her innocent mind since her father's death splintered deeply. But Erik wouldn't be ignored. He stood over her, enraged by her retreat, and screaming like a madman.
"But you still cry for him!" he shouted, "He shouldn't matter to you now. But I will be your husband and you can't even look at me," he paused to laugh horribly. "But how could you? I'm only a monster, only a savage animal to be caged and humiliated and beaten, even in your eyes…" and the insane rage subsided as his voice became broken and miserable. "Even in your eyes, Christine. And yet you are the world to me. And I shall never be loved for my own sake." Erik too bent down; kneeling at her feet and gathering the skirts of her dress he buried his face in them, wiping his tears with their soft warmth and dreaming that it was not silk, but a soft body that comforted him.
Indecision is paralyzing and so too is unfulfilled longing. The pair remained frozen in the grip of their personal horrors for far too long. Perhaps the sound of the water no longer penetrated the fog in their minds. Perhaps it did and they simply could not or would not find the will to recognize it. But it was not until the water seeped out from the top of the door of death and pooled around Erik's feet that he moved.
For the first time in his life, he was dumbstruck. All of his life, he had been in control: of himself, of the actions of others, even sometimes it seemed that he controlled nature itself. But in this one moment of neglect, he had lost all power-Raoul-his tool of coercion-was lost, and his grip on life and death broken. For he knew that the men in the torture room must be dead, and there was nothing he could do to change it.
There was no going back now. He was all Christine had now; even if she wanted to run from him, there was nobody to run to. He was the only one left that could comfort her, nurture her, bring her soul forth from its withdrawing sadness. Even now, she lay helpless on the floor, unmoving in a dazed stupor. She needed him, she had nobody else to run to, and so she must not be allowed to run. But while the boy's death removed competition, it also destroyed any hope of attaining her submission and love. So she must be made to think he lived but went away. She must be made to think she fulfilled her promise and saved her friend. She must never know he was killed.
Erik came quickly to his conclusion, and with impossible speed he set to work. Within moments he placed a handkerchief over Christine's face, putting her to sleep with the Mazenderan scent. He pushed a button on the mantelpiece, stopping the water and sending it back into the lake. By now, though, the pool had reached Christine and it was clear that the most important thing was to move her before she became soaked and risked illness, before she became soaked and was left with the dampness to tell her, when she awoke, that the torture room had filled entirely. He collected her limp body, and couldn't help feeling delight as he carried her into her room and laid her on the bed as gently as a lover. The rigor that had marred her face had receded and she once more radiated the naïve beauty that he found so alluring. How could he not kiss her? She was a temptress too enchanting to be denied. And a kiss was such a little thing after all. He had seen her kiss the boy on many occasions. It would be a mere trifle to her and yet it would mean everything to him. Those lips, pink and moist, were even parted, as if waiting for his touch. His touch! How could he forget? It was his touch that drove her to hysteria, his touch that she would run the length of the world, even perhaps into death, to escape. And wasn't she was right in doing so? If he could, he too would run from his own sickening body. But, even after everything, couldn't she still be made to forget his ugliness? Wasn't there still hope?
Such useless thoughts! There was nothing now that would change Christine's fate or his own and there was no point dwelling on it. Important business was waiting, impatient to be dealt with. The water that had spilled from the torture room now seeped to every low point in the room. The antique silk carpet that covered the floor was soaked and clearly ruined. The image of a garden was woven in the fabric, a thing of pure beauty delicately crafted with love. It bothered Erik to look at it, as the colors bled into each other, and the rosy birds faded from existence, to think that this was another unfortunate victim of the boy's stubbornness, of that damned Persian's nosiness, and of Christine-poor Christine-who could never be honest and who didn't have the force of mind to see past his abhorrent face. Not yet. But water evaporates, and time mends wounds. Christine had no choice now but to accept him. There was still hope, as long as she remained with him and what would take her away now? There had to be hope.
The torture room was drained and its victims lay on the floor, lifeless and staring when Erik opened the door. The boy was as he had imagined him in countless fantasies-lifeless and non-threatening-and it almost made him happy. But the Persian was next to him and his eyes bulged horribly. For once, Erik suffered from a trick of the mind-he imagined that his dead friend could speak. "You killed me!" those eyes seemed to say. "You are surely damned!" Wretched, he bent and closed the Persian's eyes, and began the arduous task of moving their bodies. The enormous stress of the day had taken its toll on him, and he found it difficult to drag the two water laden men to the gondola, one by one, and row them across the lake. The body of the Comte remained on the far bank of the lake, by the Rue-Scribe entrance, where Erik had left him not five hours before. How appropriate that the brothers should enter eternity side by side! There is only one thing worse in human fate than to die alone, as Erik knew only too well: to live alone! And the young Vicomte had nobly put an end to both tragedies. His brother now had a companion in death and Erik had one in life.
A companion! It was more than he ever dared hope for. Christine had agreed, in turning the scorpion, to be his wife. And now she lay, waiting for her husband to return, in the bed that would one day, with perseverance and luck, be theirs to share.