Disclaimer: I do not own The Phantom of the Opera, nor any character or place, etc. mentioned therein by Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera.
Author's Note: This story was written for a morbid/dark fiction contest hosted on PFN. It was heavily influenced by Leroux's original work, and does invoke some disturbing images, as fair warning. Also, it is my first time in many years trying out first person voice again, so please forgive my clumsy attempts.
I watched him through the small window, his lean officer's physique shifting under every swing of the axe. The blade crashed down, chopping the wooden block into two neat halves, pausing only long enough for another block to be placed in its path. The sun was just fading from view when he stopped. Resting the axe against the stump, he wiped his forehead with a dirty arm.
I moved to the chair before the fireplace when my husband entered through the low door. Mamma Valerius ambled up to him and patted the sweaty cheek. He gave her a kiss, and walked over to the corner of the room to free his arms of the firewood.
I wondered if he knew I was watching him. Those arms once clothed in fine silk and dress suits were now adorned in the simplest of commoner's shirts, rolled up at the sleeves. His breeches were worn, and mended countless times by Mamma Valerius. The fair face was browned, his hair a shade lighter. No one would have recognized him as an aristocrat upon first glance. No one would have believed it.
"You must be cold, darling. Here." He put a generous piece of kindling in the dying fire, gently prodding it until the flames took hold.
I said nothing.
He knelt at my feet, those deep eyes searching me. "I am glad to see you out of bed today, Christine." He paused, and those soft lips trembled. "Do the dreams still plague you?"
I nodded, shivering.
The boy reached for me and I stumbled back, the chair falling to the floor. He stood very slowly, watching me crumpled on the ground. Mamma Valerius hurried to my side and helped me up. Raoul looked down at his hands, the beautiful face stricken. "Perhaps because they are so dirty," he told the old woman softly, "perhaps that is why she would not let me."
I do not know why I could not let him. My husband had never raised a hand or a scolding tone at me in all the months of our marriage. He was faithful and good to us. We stayed in a poor cottage in a lonely country, but never had he spoken ill of it. He worked hard, very hard at tasks I did not think a man of breeding could compel himself to do. I do not know why I hated him so.
That night, Mamma Valerius brought me downstairs to sit by the fire. She sat on a stool across from me and read out loud. My husband returned sometime later, a long parcel under his arm. After greeting us, he placed a kiss on Mamma's gray head, and then knelt before me, laying the parcel in my lap.
"Go on," he urged, his blue eyes hopeful. I obliged him, setting aside my teacup. My pale fingers slowly unwrapped the string and brown paper to reveal a small, black case.
"It's a fiddle," he said, opening the case. I could only stare at it, unmoving. Raoul gently lifted the small, wooden instrument and held it up for me. "I thought perhaps you might want to sing again if accompanied…"
"What a splendid idea, my dear boy!" the old woman exclaimed, "it would do us much good to have cheer in this house."
I said nothing to him. With a quiet sigh, he took the fiddle and bow and arranged his calloused fingers on the strings. The notes were soft at first, wavering in the air. My breath caught in my throat. Such music haunted my dreams…
My father had taught the boy well, and he played his heart out for me now. I could not help but listen, my fingers clenching my skirt. It was a tune that my father had played many times before, and I knew it well. Without thinking, my voice joined the quiet notes until it alone filled the room.
Mamma Valerius had tears in her eyes, and Raoul stood quietly, the fiddle resting at his side. Lowering my head, I stopped.
"You sounded lovely, Christine."
His smile melted as I threw my teacup against the wall, shattering it into a thousand tiny fragments. The blue eyes went wide. I did not care. Could he not hear the flaws? Could he not sense the slow degradation of my voice since my angel had parted from me? I hated the sound that sprang from my throat! It was vulgar, coarse, unworthy.
I needed my angel to return. I dreamed, I dreamed so much…and still he would not come.
Mamma Valerius suddenly cried out, and fell to the floor, shaking. Raoul dropped the fiddle and ran to her side, holding the thrashing, old body against his chest. He yelled my name, but I could not move. Mamma's eyes rolled back in her head, a hideous sight, and it was long before she stilled. The boy was drenched in sweat, and he took the old woman into his arms and carried her upstairs.
I knelt before the fire, and pulled my legs up, shaking. My eyes were screwed shut, unwilling to look at the splintered fiddle lying before me.
Mamma Valerius did not leave the upstairs again. Her speech was gone, her face strangely blank. Raoul checked on her often, bringing her drink and food. Without her aid, I felt useless and inept in the small kitchen, my long life spent at the opera never necessitating greater culinary skills than preparing tea.
Raoul took charge of this burden. He was equally inexperienced, though his quick mind had remembered enough from Mamma's cooking to effectively mimic it.
We always ate in silence, but it was shattered that night by a mumbled cry. Lurching himself from the table, Raoul hurried upstairs. In his rush, the only candle lighting room blew out, leaving me in the unbearable stillness and dark.
I rose slowly, trembling hands feeling through the shadows. Mamma Valerius kept matches in the old buffet, the only other sad bit of furniture that adorned our small home.
The wooden piece shuddered as I blindly ran into it, the few china cups and plates shuddering. We did not dare use them. They once belonged in Raoul's family, and were quite valuable. It did not sound like much of the dining ware remained.
My hands fumbled through the drawers, feeling my way. At the topmost drawer, my fingers brushed against the matchbox, and something else. Quickly lighting the candle, I reached my hand back inside, pulling out the yellowed clipping from the Epoque. I did not need the light to remember those simple words, the terrible message meant only for me.
To my everlasting torment, I had kept my word. I returned to that dungeon that had once been my home, knelt beside that miserable corpse. The body was dressed in a suit I had never seen, a mask unlike any I had remembered covering the head. It lay there, so helpless, subject to the ravages of decay. This could not be my regal Erik, my beloved and hated tutor! I held that cold, thin hand, and remembered the sweet voice that had lulled me to sleep, the correcting gaze of those yellow eyes during my lessons. This putrid carcass could not be my angel! No, he waited for me still…he must be waiting. I could not leave his gold band with this thing, this mockery of my tutor. Placing it back in my pocket, I pressed a shaking kiss against the mask's cold forehead, and departed.
The clipping fell to my feet, and I turned to look at the worried, handsome face.
"It is late. Perhaps you would like me to sit with you before you go to sleep?"
I shook my head.
The boy nodded slowly, and with great care, approached me. He leaned in to press a kiss to my brow, but I turned my head away. With a quiet sigh, he bid me goodnight, and disappeared to his room. It was not long before I saw the glow of the lamp die out.
Stooping, I picked up the clipping again. Erik is dead.
No! He couldn't be…angels, even dark ones, were not subject to this mortal life! He would not have abandoned me…I was his voice, his song…
For what cause did he ignore my pleas? Was it punishment for failing to leave the gold trinket with the corpse? Even now, I kept it in my pocket, always on my person, day or night. I would give it to Erik when he returned to me.
Perhaps his reluctance was for my unwitting disloyalty? Dear, sweet Raoul! There was some part of me that shuddered at the thought of my poor, unoffending husband, the man that had tended Mamma Valerius and I with such care. Raoul had been so patient with me—gracious even. We spoke our vows many months before, but he had not taken me for fear of upsetting my tenuous condition. I denied him even a kiss.
Yet I had to make him leave…I had to make that beautiful boy leave and never return. Surely then my angel would come back, he would have to…
I slept in an upstairs room with Mamma Valerius, though thankfully I never woke for her gurgling fits. Only Raoul would rouse me, a candle illuminating his flawless features, and ask me to fetch another blanket, or to heat water for a broth. I would follow his commands wordlessly, anxious to leave the tormented, dumb woman quaking in her bed.
Many nights went like this; my dreams interrupted, stolen away…but not this night. I awoke with my nightgown clinging to my body, soaked in sweat. I could hear my angel's voice calling…
I moved slowly downstairs, my feet unusually sure in the darkness. My hand felt for the desired object, and grasped it with care. I was calm, so terribly calm! Silently, I entered the dark room of my husband, watching his quiet form shift beneath the covers. Even in the dark, even in sleep, he was a beautiful creature.
I had never before touched his bed, though the fact did not stay me now. Hovering over his peaceful form, I pressed the blade's edge deep into the soft flesh of his temple, running along the handsome cheek. I do not know how many times the sharp point ripped across my husband's face before he leapt away, a hand pressed tightly to the wounds. Dark blood seeped through his fingers, dripping onto homemade rug.
We stood at distance from each other, the bloody knife still wrapped in my small hand. I had never seen him so lovely as the moonlight painted him at that moment—it glowed around him. Angel…
Crimson flowed down his covered cheek, spilling down his neck and onto the pure white shirt. I shall never forget the look in his eyes as he lowered the protective hand.
Raoul did not seek a doctor. With quiet groans, he tended to his own wounds, like an animal. I do not know how severe the damage was, as his likeness had been one glistening pool of red, but now his face was haplessly bandaged, only his blue eyes and a few strands of blonde hair visible. He watched me warily now, but he did not inflict restraint. Weeks and weeks passed, and he did not speak to me. How I hated the silence!
I never thought I would be grateful to hear it broken with that sound. Just that once, Mamma Valerius' cries stirred me from sleep. I sat on the edge of my bed, blinking. Raoul came quickly, hovering over her thrashing form, holding down her arms. The old woman's eyes were wide as she gazed at the horrid, cloth-masked face. She fought him, her fingers reaching for the bandages, tearing them away. I have never heard such a scream! Not even from my own lips! I closed my eyes and begged it to stop. A moment later, the quiet returned, save for Raoul calling her name, gripping her limp body with urgency. His voice was so gentle, so beautiful…so desperate. I smiled at the sound of it, even while watching him press his bare forehead against Mamma's still form, his body trembling from the sobs.
No priest came. Raoul's voice read the scripture impassively, its tender quality lost. His eyes were fixed upon the grave he dug that morning, adorned by a simple, wooden cross. There had been no time, no money for a proper gravestone. I hung my rosary over the marker, and crossed myself.
My husband had not replaced the bandages since the night before, but all the same, he refused to look at me. He always managed to keep half angled away, hidden by the shadows.
Raoul closed the book and gave one last look at the fresh grave. I reached for his arm, but he pulled away.
"No, Christine," he said miserably, "you cannot wish to see what you have done." He disappeared into the darkness of the house, and did not leave the solitude of his room. I sat alone on the floor before the unlit fireplace, rocking myself. My angel, he was so near…I could sense him. Surely I had not done wrong if he would grant me this!
My knock was soft on the wooden door. To my surprise, it opened. The lamp was lit, and my husband standing before it, only his profile revealed. My hands kneaded into my skirt.
"Are you going to leave me?"
Very slowly, he turned. His forehead was crossed over and over in raised, bloody scabs, sections of his cheek and nose missing, gouged away, the remaining gray and crimson skin barely gripping his skull. His right eyebrow was no more, thin, ruined flesh covering bone. Beneath it, the lid was scratched, his eye narrowly spared. It was so beautiful in the shadows, almost golden…
My gaze fell to his lips, those torn, swollen blushed lips, augmented by the gash running through both, parting the flesh and continuing down his chin. He took a labored breath.
"No, Christine…I will not."
That was the first night I came willingly. In the darkness of the room, his heated breath over me, I touched his death's face, and lost myself in it.
The next morning I woke him, carrying a platter with hot tea and freshly made bread. My husband gave me a surprised smile and reached to take it from me, pausing in mid action.
I did not understand why his smile fell, why alarm entered his quiet, fair eyes as he looked strangely at his hand. My angel had returned to me, and I had only kept my word!
The gold ring rested upon his finger.