Chapter 8: The Life That Never Was
Dinner was over. It was time. Nervously clearing his throat, Erik said, "Christine, I have something to show you." The anxiety in his voice must have been obvious, for Christine looked up, alarmed. "It's a surprise for you," he said quickly. "One that I hope you'll find agreeable." Erik rose from the table and extended his hand to her. She did not take it, but continued to watch him suspiciously. "It is nothing, really," he said, and finally, after several long moments, she hesitantly raised her hand to his, and allowed him to lead her into the drawing room.
The plans were still arranged on the desk, rolled neatly side by side. Erik took the first, a sketch of the exterior and gardens, and opened it. He stood back, gesturing for Christine to look. Moving forward slowly, she frowned in apprehension as she bent to examine the drawing. But when she saw the charcoal willows by the pond, the vines that crept to the leaded windows on the second story, the carved stone bench beneath the perfect hemisphere of a beech in the distance, the utter charm and romance of it all, she smiled.
"Erik, it's lovely," she said, her face bright and lively. "What is it for?"
"It is for you," he said. "I shall build it for you if it pleases you."
She turned to him quickly, the apprehension returning. "I don't understand. If I am to live here…well, where will you be?"
Erik was stunned. He had thought that she would be aware of his intentions, to understand that he wanted to play the role of husband and provide a normal life for them to share. He had prepared himself for the possibility that it might not make her happy, but he did not anticipate that she would misunderstand his proposition altogether. It seemed to him a bad sign. If she did not know what he wanted by now, perhaps she did not fully realize that she had promised to marry him. And if she did not realize this, if she was so cut off from reality, then perhaps she was not aware of what occurred in her room at night after all. Perhaps he was not satisfying her hidden longings, but only taking advantage of her confused state. But these games she played, showing one face by day and another by night, intentional or not, were destroying the tattered remains of his mind. Christine needed to know what he wanted once and for all; it was time for everything to become clear and open.
"I will live there too, Christine," he said pointedly.
"Oh," she said, and cast her eyes to the ground.
Erik unfolded the second drawing, floor plans of the two stories, with a mounting sense of doom. How would she react to the information that was laid out on the sheet before her?
Each room had a little label, written in Erik's scrawling childish script, listing its function. The upstairs consisted of three rooms: the bathroom, a large study, and the master bedroom. Christine's eyes searched the page, both upstairs and down, for some time, reading, rereading, trying to understand. Finally she spoke, and her voice was laced with nervous fear.
"Erik…I don't understand…there is only one bedroom." She pointed at the room in question.
"Yes, my dear," he said softly. "Only one bedroom for a man and his wife."
Her face blanched and her hand rose to her throat in terror. Backing away, her mouth opened, horrified, though she only whimpered pathetically. She hit the wall, and slid helplessly to the ground, and finally she managed to speak. "Oh, no, no, no," she moaned. "I am a good girl, a good girl."
Erik had seen her in this state before, and suddenly he was reminded of the first time her face had filled with horror-the night she snatched his mask away-and he felt burning pain ignite within him, in anger, misery, and loathing. It was terrible to see her like this now, when he had so hoped to make her happy. In a moment, she had torn down all of his dreams and left him bare, only an animal once more, with no right to dream or desire.
"What is the matter?" he spat, "You agreed-don't you remember-to become my wife. Will you reject me, turn your back on me, become the little seductress and betray me when I've always loved you, and would give anything to only be able to hold you in the night." He paused, catching his breath between great gasping wretched sobs. "I've been good, haven't I? I've never taken what I most wanted, though you tempted me beyond measure too many times. I've never harmed you or denied you when you reached out for me in the night."
"I..I would never ask that…I would never let you touch me," she stuttered, hysterical and crying. "I am a good girl, a good girl."
"No, never me. Never consciously, though you throw yourself at a handsome face without reserve!" He suddenly laughed, a disgusting, horrific laugh. "Ha! You stupid girl, you don't know what it is that you want. You deny me because I look like a corpse, though the man you love and desire, who you want to rescue you, and kiss you and make love to you in the night-Why he actually is a corpse!" And his terrible laughter continued, crazed and unaware of anything but the perverted joy that came as he realized, finally, that he had bested the dead young man.
"What do you mean?" asked Christine, and her voice was so small that Erik did not hear, but it grew louder as she repeated. "What do you mean, what do you mean, Erik, Erik?" She rose from the floor, and ran at him, hitting him feebly with her weak hands. "He's dead, he's dead!" she shrieked. But then suddenly she was quiet, and her hands fell limply by her side, and she backed away once more. "You killed him, that night. It was the water, wasn't it?" she asked. "You killed him and you never told me. You let me believe that he was safe, you let me believe our bargain had been met. Oh God, I let you touch me," she gasped. "I let you, I asked you to." She looked down at her arms in horrified disbelief, as if her skin was marred where his hands had been. "I let you, I wanted you to, you murderer, you monster." She ran her hands along her arms, faster and harder, her actions becoming frenzied, her nails digging into her flesh, moving to her chest, scratching, tearing at her clothes and skin. Blood welled in the cuts she made, but her nails crossed the wounds again and dug in further.
She was out of her mind, shrieking incoherently, hysterically trying to tear away the defiled flesh that had relished in the touch of this creature. Terrified, Erik grabbed her by the wrists, holding them down, but she screamed when he touched her and struggled violently to be free. He did not let go, but held fast, desperate to stop this outburst, to calm her, give her the laudanum that would make her forget, and return to the happiness that they had realized. How could he have asked for more and risked losing the only peace he had ever known? Oh, he would do anything to make her forgive him, to forget what he had said, to forget the house, to step back only one hour in time.
"It was an accident, Christine, I didn't mean to kill him." He was crying freely, pressing his face into her hair as he held her from behind. "I love you, it was only an accident. I couldn't tell you, please forgive me, my darling, my angel, my only happiness…"
But she did not hear, for the screaming that began when he first touched her continued, unabated, terribly filling the small house with it's hoarse madness. Erik held her still, crying into her soft hair that smelt like lilac, like a womanly enigma that beckoned to him always but that he would never discover, listening to her screams of insane horror, gathering the fear inside himself with every passing moment, until he could bear it no longer.
"Please, Christine!" he cried. "Please stop, please, I beg you." But no matter what he said, or how he pleaded, she continued to scream as before. "I can't stand it anymore!" he shrieked, "Please, no more, the sound is terrible. I will make you stop if you do not on your own. Do you want me to touch you? I will do it, I will touch your face?" But she only continued to scream as before. He held both her wrists with one hand, and raised the other to her mouth. It was soft as he remembered it, and he could feel the heat of her breath on his palm as she struggled. Images sprung into his mind, images of happiness, of kissing her, of the look she wore when she beckoned him into her bed. He remembered the night he held her as he did now, from behind, and how she had relaxed into him, pliant and trusting. How he had kissed her neck and how it had made her shiver. It was not too late, was it? To reclaim that joy. Slowly, he lowered his head, but his mask was in the way; he could not kiss her.
But, oh, how he longed to, just once more. And love, supreme and passionate, flooded through him suddenly, as he moved his hand away from her mouth and took off his mask. Christine was silent, even when he placed his mouth on the curve of her shoulder, and for a moment, painfully exquisite, he believed that she accepted his touch. But then he looked at her, and he saw that her head hung limply to the side and his arm that lay across her chest no longer moved with her breaths. He fell to the floor, gasping, and Christine collapsed with him. Holding her in his arms, he saw that her face was marked with a handprint, red and deep, around her mouth and beneath her nose. Her blue eyes were open, and sparkled in the candlelight, though they horrified him with their emptiness. All was still. Christine was no more.
Strange, though he never imagined that harm would befall her, Erik knew exactly what to do. He wiped her face that was still wet with tears, and carried her into his room. The coffin was open, the lid propped against the edge. Holding her tightly, he lay down in his bed, and arranged her on top of him. The lid was awkward to move with her weight on him, but with his unusual strength, he heaved mightily and pulled it up. There was still a crack left open and in the remaining light he looked once more on Christine. In this house there was a potion that would hasten him on his way. But he had only a short time remaining with her, and he would not give up one moment for any amount of suffering. He pulled the lid closed, and the light vanished, never to shine upon the pair again.
He had hoped to share her bed, but in the end she would have to make do sharing his.