The Lady in the Dark
The Époque came today. Still no news. It's been two months and I do not know what has become of Erik. Is he dead? He said that he was dying that night that he sent me away. He said that it was a matter of days. Was he lying? Was it another deception to trick me into a false sense of security? One can never be certain with him and I'm slowly beginning to realize what this means: I've come to doubt everything.
I thought, that night, that I had escaped-broken out of his terrible web. Free at last. But sometimes I can still feel his hands-those grasping hands of death. They do not touch me, he would never dare! But I feel them over me, hovering, and I shiver from the cold. And sometimes, in the dead of night, when I am alone and afraid, I can hear his voice, and he is angry. Perhaps I'm dreaming. I don't know. I only know one thing now: that the uncertainty makes me doubt my own sanity. It is one week to wait until the next paper arrives.
I wonder: could the advertisement have run, but I did not see it?
How can I be so far from Paris and yet still hear the crowds and the rush of the Seine? The sun is high above me now, and the light sparkles in the leaves of the aspen trees in the garden. It is two weeks past midsummer, and the nights are only a few hours long here, where Raoul has brought me. These trees have a sound of their own, when the wind blows in their branches, far more peaceful than the rivers current in the city that I've left behind. I am remembering my childhood, when I would play in the woods, not far from here, in the soft Swedish countryside. But the memories fade, and I am back again in the darkness, not on the streets of Paris, but deep in the ground; in a cellar that is like a grave.
The Époque came again today. Still no news. The light wanes more and more each day. The world is turning to night again. It will make him happy, when he can crawl out of the earth and find me again in the darkness. I know it will happen. I know he will come. And I am always afraid.
I have to go back. I can not bear this any longer-this uncertainty, this terrible sense of doom. My nightmares are getting worse, becoming more vivid. I awoke last night screaming. Screaming! In my dream, I couldn't breath. I was trapped under water, under a sheet of ice that I couldn't break through no matter how I beat at it. And I searched for an opening, feeling the overwhelming desire for life, and I saw it! A circle of light in the murky waters and I swam towards it with all the strength left in my body. I reached for it, my hand was almost there, I could almost feel the air on my skin but his arms found me! Reaching out of the blackness below me, he found me, encircling my waist, like a lead weight, and dragged me with him into the abyss.
I have to go back. His mind is on me-I can feel it. He is angry that I've forgotten him, that I've broken my promise to return. But I did not break my promise Erik! I have not come because you haven't called me yet. You can see I still wear your ring on my finger. Secretly I am terrified that he will find me without it again. I cannot continue to live like this. I will go back tomorrow.
The train is unbearably slow. I met a traveler coming from Paris and he gave me his copy of the Époque. It was two issues later than the last one I received-the post is always slow between France and Sweden. Still no word. I asked the man if there was any news. He told me of something-I didn't listen. I asked if there was any news of the Opera. I must have worded it rather strangely, for he looked at me as if he thought I was mad and answered "No". He did not look at me again. It doesn't matter. I am not a part of this life anymore. I am beyond this society, beyond this compartment on a train. I am outside-Erik brought me here-and I can't seem to find my way back in.
I travel alone. Raoul did not want me to return. He argued for an hour about why it was dangerous, why it was foolish, what a terrible risk it was to take. I didn't pay attention, I thought only of the terror that seizes me every night, of the fear that Erik is in my room, watching me, that I am only a collared beast and that my reins are still in his hands. He doesn't understand that I must find out if it is true. I don't know anymore what is real-I must find out.
In the end, I think he would have accompanied me. I feel as if my mind is muddy, polluted and impure. I don't want him to see me like this, so early in the morning I boarded the first train alone.
The Opera is still standing. Perhaps this shouldn't surprise me, but it does. It seems strange that everything has continued in my absence, as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever occurred beneath its floors. I can see now that they wouldn't have noticed if I had never returned that night, that they wouldn't notice now if I descend to never rise again. Only Raoul would care, but he would never find me, not if Erik is there to hide me. I shouldn't go down; I can feel in my bones that it is a terrible mistake. But I must know. In my heart I realize that for good or evil, I must go down. I will go down. The lock is rusty, I was afraid that the key would break. Afraid, but hopeful. But now the door swings open and I'm in the darkness once more.
I brought a candle and some matches on my journey. It is dark and draughty-the light is often blown out. Why didn't I bring a storm lantern? I'm such a fool! I believe he is watching me struggle to find my way to the boat-watching but not helping. I can hear the water, but my little light is too dim to see very far. Why doesn't he help! But, oh God, all of a sudden, I imagine his hand on my shoulder and I shudder, turning around quickly. My candle is extinguished again and it is dark. I'm shaking as I light another match, as fast as possible-I think I'll die if he touches me in the blackness. There, I can see again, and at least I know that it wasn't his breath that I felt on my neck.
I walk a little farther and at last I see it. The boat is moored and I clumsily begin my trip across the lake. All is quiet, save for the eerie lapping of the waves. There is no voice, no siren, and I'm startled. Before I left, Erik told me to find him by the well, where he first touched my face, but I didn't believe him. Now I wonder if he isn't there, for things are too still here. I can see the house. I've reached the other side. The front door is unlocked and every room is dark. I search, as quietly as possible, for a lamp. I don't want to attract attention. Who knows what is there in the darkness. I am afraid, and despite myself, I wish that Erik was with me. How could I have lived in this house? If the door swung shut and trapped me here, alone, I would go mad. I hurry out before this can happen. The boat is where I left it, but Erik is not here. The well? Such a terrible place for a reunion-It was there that I first felt the horror of his touch. That cold, remote well on…what did he say?...I remember now-the communists' road, deep in the belly of the Opera, beyond the sight of any human soul.
I remember the road now that I see it again, though I was overcome and bewildered the last time I traveled it. It is cold, and there's a strange smell lingering in the air. It is another trick of Erik's, he is trying to make me think there is no life here, that he isn't waiting for me in the crack of a wall, that he won't steal me away, pull me into the abyss as he does in my dreams.
The smell is stronger now, and I see a figure lying by the well. It is him. He will wait until I have put the ring on his finger before taking me. I approach him quickly-I cannot bear the suspense. I close my eyes when I bend over him. The hand is stiff and colder than I remember and when the ring slips on the finger, I can feel that the skin is strange, loose and spongy. I drop it and back away with a sudden scream. It echoes loudly and I move to put my hand over my mouth-I do not want him to hear. But I stop myself. I can smell the death on my hand where it touched him. It is all around me, that putrescent stench. It is in my hair, and in my lungs! It is inside me-he is inside me, choking, killing! Erik, you're suffocating me! His clothes are in tatters, chewed by the rats. I can see his arms, his legs, his chest. It is too personal, half-naked like a bride groom on his wedding night. He's inviting me to our wedding. I've put the ring on his finger-I am his bride. I can see the holes in his mask where his eyes should be. Those empty holes turn to look! He's looking at me, watching me, waiting for me to lie down and take my place beside him for eternity. I can see his yellow eyes-they are in my head and I cannot bear it. They see me, see the horror, the repulsion; I cannot hide it from him. Dear God, don't be angry Erik, I cannot help it.
I must escape, I must run and keep running and this time I'll never look back. But I cannot leave him here, or he'll follow me, and he's faster than I am and stronger-he'll catch me one day. The well is behind him; it is deep. He could not climb out. It does not feed into the main water supply. He will rest there in peace, and nobody will find him, and he will not catch me. I try to lift him, but he is heavy. I grab his jacket and lean forward, with all of my weight. He is rising off the ground, he is drawing level with the edge. What is that noise? It is ripping, the jacket is tearing like silk and I'm falling forward, into the blackness.
The water is cold and I can't stay up. I scratch desperately at the walls, I feel my nails tearing and his eyes are above me in the darkness. But I look again and they aren't there at all! It is only in my head, yet I see them always, watching me, burning like the inky darkness, like my fingers as they slowly lose their grip, like the icy waters that surround me, that fill my mouth and lungs, that choke my screams and pull me down.