"Erik, I have turned the Scorpion!"
The monster laughed, and pulled her close. His horrible breath was upon her face, and she could feel the tremor in his grasp. "That was very noble of you, my dear."
"You promise me you would let them go."
"Go! Go!" He rumbled, "They are gone!"
"What do you mean?"
"He is swimming as we speak—you've turned the Scorpion and the water was released! All the gunpowder, drowned, and your suitor, saved."
With tremulous relief, she sank to her knees. "Then, I can marry you."
The monster sank to the floor before her and took her small hands in his large bony grasp. "No, my dear, you shall not suffer. You've proven you love me, and I shall die in peace."
"What are you saying, Erik?" She stopped crying. Grief had replaced the passionate indifference in his eyes.
"You are free to go," he said. "You're choice was enough." His face was wet with tears. "Now go, go with that boy and forget me."
She couldn't believe it—he'd really meant to let her go! Elated and sick, she pulled the monster's face to hers and kissed his ravaged lips. She licked the tears from her mouth and let the rest mingle with his. She pulled him to her breast and held him in that fetal position for a very long time. He wept like a child.
Through the translucent silk of her violet curtains, the soft light of dawn whispered her awake. She scrunched her face, and opened her eyes one at a time.
"Morning," came the voice beside her. Christine rolled to her side and tucked her face in the smooth curve between his shoulder blade and his jaw, and she grunted squeamishly. It seemed much too early to wake.
"We need new curtains," she said into his neck. "Darker, thicker ones."
His arm came around her shoulder and pulled her body just close enough so that she could experience the full intensity of his embrace. He smelled like a man, the way a man should smell, like chopped wood or evergreens or a strong tree in the wild. She let him swallow her.
"What would you like to do today? We have until seven to ourselves before the ballet." He held her as he spoke. "I was thinking we could have a picnic in garden, next to the Medicis Fountain. I can ask the maid to prepare the lunch for us."
"Do you have today's paper?" She asked, her eyes still closed. "Perhaps there's something new to suggest."
He rolled her into her pillow, and she opened her eyes. Batting her eyes playfully at him, she pouted. He kissed the tip of her nose and sat up. "You win," he said. "I'll get the papers."
Christine clapped her hands in glee. "Something new!"
"Yes, my love, something new."
His footsteps made a scrapping noise as he walked. He wore his slippers. She listened for his steps as they grew softer into silence. She kept her eyes closed, and she counted in her head the seconds it would take him to return. Twenty-seven. Twenty-eight. Twenty-nine—
"Anything new in the papers?" She asked.
"No, not really," he replied, his voice soft.
"I don't believe it! Nothing at all?"
"Well," he paused, "The Louvre has a new exhibit."
"What is it of?"
"Nothing," he replied, "Just some bones they found."
And then he was quiet.
Christine opened her eyes and sat up. "Let me see."
He handed the paper to her and sat down beside her, looking away into the sun that was slowly rising through the curtains.
The Skull of the Phantom of the Opera! Special exhibit of the famous
Ghost in perfect condition at La Musee du Louvre! A true travesty for anyone
who has not yet seen this apparition humanized! pictured below
"It's a rather bad sketch," she said. She put the paper down and looked at Raoul.
"Our day is ruined," he said as he looked at her, his eyes pleading. "You'll never stop thinking about what happened."
"What do you mean?" She pulled her legs to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. "I still want to do something new."
"Such as revisiting an old friend?" He snapped, almost too hastily.
She took his hand and kissed the back of it. "He's not a friend."
For a Saturday morning, the Louvre was awfully crowded. The line began at the end of the corridor, around the corner, past the restrooms, and into the grand exhibit room where the triangular glass case of his skull was kept. They had not discovered the body.
But for the first time since their courtship, Christine led Raoul. She held onto his hand tightly, as she had done so through the entire carriage ride over. When their palms began to sweat, she switched hands, and stepped into line together, inching forward dreadfully as if towards some unspeakable execution.
"You would think these people were lining up to see a real ghost," Raoul said.
She nodded, looking forward into the pink ribbon in a little girl's hair.
"It's ridiculous how the power of curiosity controls—"
She squeezed his hands twice. It was almost high noon and the heat was becoming unbearable. Oddly enough, the room remained a distilled silence. Soft, hushed whispers followed by the uneasy giggle of a schoolgirl here and there, but that was all.
The little girl in front of Christine turned around and gave her a wide-eyed stare. She yanked at her mother's hand. "Maman, I know her. She's the new Marguerite!"
"Hush child! Do not be rude." The mother pulled her daughter along.
"You sang beautifully, my Marguerite," said the voice behind the great glass mirror. "All of Paris was at its knees, and the angels wept tonight."
"Maestro, it is because of you that Paris has heard my voice!"
"I will not take credit for your accomplishments," he said. "But you may call me Erik from now on."
"All right, Erik," she said. "I am very tired."
"Of course you are." There was an overwhelming sigh, and following that, a tremulous command. "Christine!" The voice cried, "You must love me!"
"How can you say that? I gave you my soul tonight."
She forgot these words once she saw his face. Not that it was an ugly face because it was much worse than that, for the voice belonged to a face so unattractive from any angle that the very image of his gaping nose sent the juices awry in her stomach. Malformed lips only covered part of his teeth; the rest were exposed like kernels of brown, rotting corn. He had sunken in cheeks which held up two mismatched yellow eyes which were most often filled with passionate indifference. But that tremendous voice! It was almost enough to override his hideousness.
It was Christine's turn, and Raoul let go of her hand. Startled, she turned to him.
He stuck his fingers in his pockets and heaved a sigh. "You go without me…I've seen enough."
She lulled herself slowly towards the display case. She never remembered his face as this handsome. So clean, polished, and glowing! She pitied he who could not rest even in death and lifted a hand to the glass.
"Hello, Erik," she whispered. "I've come to see you."
"Hello my little Marguerite" said the monstrous head. "I knew you would be back."
Christine covered her mouth and screamed into her palms.
"I knew you would come back," it said. Its ivory teeth glowed in a white set smile. It's jaw remained shut. But the voice, she recognized immediately.
"Come closer, my love, let me get a better look at you…ah, you've not changed, still so beautiful. But you look uncomfortable. Is it because you are not happy to see me?"
Christine was trembling from head to foot. She looked about her around the high ceiling room. Columns and people, many many people. It would be impossible to find him, but he was here. There was no doubt of that. Her heart was pounding like thunder in her ear. She breathed.
"Where are you?" She whispered. "Show yourself to me!"
"Why should I?" Retorted the skull, his grim smile dimmed and the empty eye sockets seemed to twinkle, "You have been a very naughty little girl."
"What do you mean?" She pressed her hands against the glass, "You let me go, and I returned the ring, I buried you next to the well, just like I promised."
"Do you love me, Christine?" The voice became soft.
Christine's hands fell limp, and she shook her head. "No. No. No more, Erik."
"That is not the answer to my question," the head said patiently.
She furrowed her brow and pursed her lips angrily, "No, is the answer to your question, Erik. No, I don't love you."
"Then what are you doing here, Christine?" The head spat bitterly, "Are enjoying the show, like the others? Nothing but a hungry pathetic commoner, are you?"
"Are you dead or not?" she uttered a sob,
"I am dead without you, but alive when you're near."
"Stop torturing me like the devil."
"Except I have a soul, my dear. And my love for you has devoured it."
She pressed her forehead into the glass and leaned into him ever so gently. "If I tell you the truth, will you leave me in peace?"
"Of course, Christine, if that's what you wish."
"I wish to be left alone with my husband after I give you my answer."
The head was quiet for a moment. Then, it sighed, "Very well. Now tell me."
Christine brought her hands to her face and leaned into him, like a child, revealing a terrible, horrible secret. "Sometimes, at night, I pretend that I am all alone in your house, and the man who lies beside me is not my husband. Sometimes I wish the silence from the drawing room were mellifluous sound. Sometimes I wish I were safe in the wrong way…but only sometimes, Erik. And that kind of love is not good. It's not good for two people."
She waited for a response, but the head said nothing. It just gazed blankly back, mute as it had been when she first approached it. She felt furious. Her grave truth was wasted. There was nothing looking back through that display case but a mocking, plastic skull.
Christine found her husband, lingering in the corridors with his hand still stuck grimly in his pockets. He smiled at her weakly when he saw her and she took his hand reassuredly. She didn't give a glance back when they turned to leave nor did the crowd seem to notice.
The light through the curtains seeped through the violet fabric and woke her at once the next morning. She turned her face into the curve of his arm and held onto him tightly. She made a squeamish grunt and let him pull her closer into his embrace. Pine wood and evergreen; the safest smell she had ever known.
"Morning." He sat up and stroked her face with the back of his fingers, and getting out of bed, he put on his slippers to get the newspaper. She listened for his footsteps to grow softer, and then louder and louder again. She kept her eyes closed and counted how many seconds it took for him to return. Twenty-three. Twenty-four. Twenty-five—
He stopped in the doorway.
"Faster than yesterday," she said.
She rolled to her side, and rubbed her eyes. She breathed in the scent of winter's first storm. It smelled cool, fresh, familiar. She exhaled luxuriously.
"Good morning, Marguerite."
She sat up at the beautiful voice, and gaped into his yellow eyes. His thin lips twisted into a smile as he approached her, ever so slowly.
Christine recoiled into her bed. His eyes were glowing; he was alive. Her living corpse was not dead, nor was he back from the dead…but breathing, laughing, perversely alive! "You tricked me!" She cried, "You tricked me into going back to the cellars! At the museum! You tricked me into everything so that you could get what you want!"
He grasped his heart with his long skeletal fingers and bowed gracefully to her horror. "Christine, Christine! Do you even know what I want?"
"You want me," she wept somberly, still unable to tear her gaze from his. "You want all of me."
"No, you stupid, vain child!" His laughter shook the room. "I want your love; there's nothing on earth that Erik doesn't have, but a woman's love."
Clutching numbly to her ankles, she pulled her knees up to her chin. She held tightly onto the hint of childhood that had almost escaped her. "Now that you have it, what are you going to do?"
Erik tilted his face to the side and looked at her with a power so intense that she shook under its spell.
"I'm going to take you home," he said.
The curtains let the light in with a cool breeze, and it lifted the violet fabric in an endless float. As the dawn seeped through the translucent silk, Christine pinched her leg, assuring herself she was awake.