Come up with me to the lonely places
Come run with me out in the empty spaces
We'll find the pieces of life
That the rest of the world just ignores

Will you come down with me to the deep dark places
Stick with me through my empty phases
Life with me will be crazy
But I promise that you'll never be bored…

-'Take a Ride', mine

Chapter Sixty: Empty


They were empty and cold as the grave.

Joseph's eyes stared up at me lifelessly from the dusty floor of the corridor, a rough gouge around his throat from where he had obviously been strangled.

I fell to my knees in disbelief, and numbly tried to wake him from his unblinking sleep. Loss echoed painfully in the gapping wound of my heart like a tolling bell as I cradled my friend's limp head to my chest and tried to believe that he was still breathing.

"No, Joseph." I croaked unsteadily. "Don't go. Please don't be dead."

How I wished that tears would come!

"Cry, damn you! He is dead, and you can't even shed a tear for him? Joseph, come back!"

That was how they found me.

It was as though I had been sprung upon by a pack of wolves, for their horrified squeals and chittering cut into me more deeply than the sharpest of teeth ever could have. I could not have imagined a worse group to come upon me in my frazzled state of grief.

Nearly a dozen nattering little girls from my classes, headed by none other than Margosha and little James, the most hopeless of all my unwanted students, came around the corner followed by Philippe and Sorelli themselves. Even after all these years, the only ounce of forgiveness I had for either of those backstabbing fish-gutters was the tiny amount of gratitude that I owed to Donatella for procuring my booze. Though I had no idea where the woman obtained such things, I sometimes speculated that she did so in order to somehow gain my forgiveness, as though she felt slightly guilty for what she had done.

And well that she should!

Yet forgiveness and betrayal were the last things on my mind. The pain and shock that radiated through my body had overwhelmed any other sensation or thought. I blindly sought whatever solace was closest at hand, falling into the arms of a woman that I despised and gibbering uncontrollably.

Even Philippe, bastard that he was, could not bring himself to sneer down his nose at me in superiority as he was so often wont to do.

Instead, he quickly took command of the situation and began ordering the hysterical ballerinas to locate various opera officials and bring them to the scene of the crime. By the time that the inspector had arrived and Sorelli had pried me away from Joseph's cold, dead body, even le Comte de Cheney had found it in himself to wrap a comforting arm around me as I shook silently.

Once it was clear that poor Joseph had been dead hours before I had found him and that I could not possibly have been involved in his demise, the inspector released me into Sorelli's care. She and the little twits from the academy sheparded me back to my quarters, whispering all the while in horrified tones that the 'opera ghost' had struck again.

By the time that I was left alone in my dark little room, rage boiled through my veins.

After vomiting all of my dinner into the washbasin, I sought out my faithful bottle of gin and went at it with a will, trying with all my might to imbibe enough of the throat blistering stuff so that I would pass out before I could do something that I would regret.

How I longed to avenge my friend!

As I stripped down to my shift and attempted to find a drunken state of peace, similar scenes of violence ricocheted inside the emptiness of my heart and only served to inflame my fiery temper. Others had been executed in much the same manner in the past, and each death had always had a connection to the opera ghost.

Had I known what I was doing, I would never have left my frigid bed to wander out into the halls in naught but a thin shift.

Had I been in my right mind, I would have been terrified by the idea that I shared my home with the despicable creature that had murdered poor Joseph.

Had I been thinking clearly, I would never have dreamed of doing what I did next.

Gin, however, is rarely conducive to logical thought, and an empty bottle lay next to my thin cot.

With a belly full of booze and Henry's faithful dagger in my fist, I scurried off –none too steadily- to the fifth cellar, in search of a once hidden door.

Ok, this was really short, so I'll try to have the next ch. up sooner to compensate.

Fish- My poor, poor bedraggled fishy-poo! (takes fish out of her non-existent tank and begins to pet her and feed her exorbent amounts of cheesecake in an effort to assuage her pain) I remember some of my high school choir classes, and therefore you have all of the pity I possess. Just remember though, not ALL high school choirs are that bad. The year that I was in honors choir was one of my favorite classes ever, and the people in it were phenomenal to work with and to get to know. Keep your spirits up!

JPT- I am so happy that the dual personality thing is coming out like I hoped it would, as I am joyful about everybody's response to Leah's slow emotional changes. You guys make me smile.

Tigger- Yay! Everybody likes my alterations! Yay! Thanks for reviewing. Whenever someone reviews, an authoress smiles.

Empress Kipper- Ick indeedy. School is greatly impeding my ability to write. That, and now I have a gym class at eight in the morning.

And I am not a morning person.

Needless to say, I commiserate with you about the school dilemma. I still can't seem to contact you with my facebook stats, but if you have AIM, my screenname is BackrubGoddess13. As for story based topics, since you seem to like 'pissed off Leah' I think you will enjoy next chapter… antz in your pantz anyone?

NativeDreamer- New reviewer! (Throws official new reviewer party) I'm glad to hear from you again. I do really need to update on aria, don't I? Ah, so much to do, so little time. But I'm glad to see you again either way, and thanks for the review. Keep it up, and I'll give you cheesecake!