This is a non-profit work of fan-fiction based upon The Phantom of the Opera novel. All related characters, places, and events, belong to Gaston Leroux, and are used without permission. This story, and all original content, belongs to the author, © 2005.


What Cold Embrace Lies Below?
by Orianna-2000

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One of my entries to PFN's Second Morbid Story Contest. Tweaked slightly from the actual contest version. Not especially disturbing, but you might not want to go swimming afterward...

Dedicated to Phantomy Cookies for inspiring the Giant Squid of Lake Averne.

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Christine found herself on the edge of the underground lake, one sultry summer afternoon. Above in Paris, the temperatures reached record heights. Madame Giry canceled ballet practice, fearful of the girls dropping from dehydration or exhaustion. In this sort of heat, one should be resting in an airy, dark room, not dancing. The petite rats had scattered, each to their own means of keeping cool. Left alone, Christine could think only of the steady temperatures of the lowest cellar. Like a cave, the area grew neither hot nor exceptionally cold, but stayed a chilly constant. And surely her maestro would welcome a visit.

So she changed from her practice outfit to her lightest linen shift and gown. Using the secret passage behind her mirror, she descended five stories with haste, and finally found herself at the edge of the icy black water. The endless heat from above lingered with her in a delicate layer of perspiration.

Despite the eerie mist which floated above the lake, she found the idea of a swim strangely enticing. A longing compelled her to immerse herself in the chilled water, to feel icy fingers wrap around her body, embracing her completely.

She knew that Erik already knew of her presence down here. His alarm system would chime if anyone approached the underground lake. Likely he'd already begun the journey to meet her in the little boat, and would find her shortly. Still, she did not waver. After setting her candle down on the sand, her fingers quickly unbuttoned her gown; the thin fabric fell to the ground in a puddle of pale blue. Her shift followed, and she took several deep breaths to brace herself for the cold.

Bravely, she took quick steps to the water's edge, then buried herself in the frigid darkness. The cold shocked the breath out of her. She surfaced and gasped for air, treading water until her limbs could accustom themselves to the temperature.

Slowly she grew more comfortable and began to glide through the water. It surrounded her, touching every inch of her body, yet she didn't feel exposed. Rather, she welcomed the icy caress like a lover long absent.

When she rotated onto her back to float, the mist covered her modestly. She felt free and unrestrained, happier than she'd been in months. With leisurely strokes, she swam further from shore, until she could barely see the candle she'd left burning beside her clothes.

There she floated, content and peaceful, until she realized that she could no longer see the little light on the shore. She could see nothing at all, no matter which way she turned. Only an infinite stretch of black, lit by the pale phosphorescence of the mist.

A whimper of fear escaped her throat. She had no way of knowing which way to swim! If she chose wrongly, she might never find the shore or Erik's house, but be condemned to float endlessly on this sea of eternal night. Her breath rose in her throat, and she struggled not to panic as she treaded in place.

She could not stay there forever, paralyzed out of fear. Surely it would be better to pick a direction, any direction, and swim in hopes of finding a shore. The decision made, foolishly or not, she chose at random and began to swim.

Something brushed against her toes. She froze, not knowing if what she felt might be land beneath her, or something living. Had she encountered a denizen of this underground lake? Too afraid to stretch her foot out again, Christine began to panic. The darkness overwhelmed her.

A distant splashing fueled her hysteria, and she flailed about in the water, terrorized. The light which appeared as a round glow seemed as the harsh eye of a sea creature, approaching to catch its prey. She cried out in fear.

The glow moved, turning toward her. Frantic with horror, she splashed about uselessly. When the light grew closer, she screamed.

"Christine?"

His voice. She screamed again, this time for desperate for him. "Erik!"

The menacing light turned aside to reveal the little boat, an oil lamp hanging cheerfully from the hull. Erik sat in the rear, oars in hand. The moment he spotted her, he guided the boat right up to her, then leaned over the side with an outstretched hand.

She clutched his arm tightly, getting the fine wool wet, but wouldn't let him pull her into the boat.

"Christine, what on earth are you doing in the middle of my lake? Have you any idea how far you are from shore?" He stared at her with consternation and concern.

"I... I just wanted to go swimming," she stammered. "But the candle must have gone out, or else I drifted too far. It's so dark..."

His mouth twitched. "Yes, it is rather. Why did you scream?"

She glanced away, into the mist. "I thought something touched my foot. And then the light... I thought... Well, I suppose I shouldn't have been reading Jules Verne so late at night. My imagination ran away with me, I'm afraid."

Erik laughed. "My dear Christine. I don't know what touched your foot, but even I am not brave enough to swim in this lake. Now, come inside the boat. It may be hot up above, but you'll catch a chill in that freezing water. Your teeth are even chattering."

He leaned over to help her into the boat, but saw her shrink back. She flushed and wouldn't look at him. Only then did he notice her bare shoulders rising above the dark water. Rather daunted, he sat back. Naked? His Christine, mere inches away, her innocence hidden only by a thin mist and a layer of water?

Erik cleared his throat and transferred Christine's grasp to the edge of the boat. Once she held on securely, he stood and took off his cloak, intending to wrap it around her. "I shall keep my eyes closed," he promised.

Extending his arm, he waited until she gripped him firmly, then shut his eyes. He felt the boat lean to one side as Christine began to pull herself over the side. Weighed down by the water, she struggled to lift herself. He reached out blindly to her, felt a smooth, wet expanse of skin beneath his fingertips, and drew back awkwardly.

"Erik!" she gasped.

He opened his mouth to beg forgiveness, but before he could find the words, he felt Christine's arm wrenched from his grasp. A wave of desperate chagrin caused him to bow his head, but the boat rocked violently. His eyes flew open.

Christine did not lay at his feet as he'd hoped. When he looked over the side of the boat, a massive churning disturbed the water. White bubbles frothed the surface, like a teakettle boiling. His heart pounded with sudden fear. "Christine?"

A pale hand broke the surface, thrashing desperately. Without hesitation, Erik leaned out and grabbed. He entwined his fingers with hers and pulled, but something pulled back. The small boat nearly capsized from the motion!

"Christine!" he called passionately. "Christine!"

He tumbled into the water, heedless of the danger. The water splashed alarmingly around him, and he could feel frantic movement below. What sort of monster could be stealing his precious diva? Who knew what lived in the depths of this black lake?

Unable to see, he dove blindly. His hands encountered writhing shapes, immense and sinuous, rubbery, and as cold as ice. Not Christine, but a creature! Some sort of hellish beast from myth or legend, with life-stealing tentacles wrapped around his beloved.

He pulled a knife from his boot and struck out, trusting he wouldn't hit Christine. Something coiled around his wrist painfully. He jerked his arm, but could not free himself. The knife floated away harmlessly, and he fought against the burning pressure in his lungs. He'd only been underwater for a few moments! "Imagine how Christine must feel..."

Savagely, he kicked out, only to have another tentacle wrap itself around his ankle. The creature dragged him deeper below the water, until he could no longer discern up from down. Still, he fought, if not for himself then for Christine.

Something soft brushed past his face. Her hair, he imagined, as a searing pain shot through his body. The water abruptly became warm, and he dimly wondered if the creature had torn away his limbs. He could not feel his arms or legs, could not even move. Everything began to fade.

"I'm so sorry... I should have saved you..." As he died, he tried to keep the image of his beloved Christine clear, but could not. A final, ironic thought drifted across his mind. "It would seem the cellars are haunted by something after all..."

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Sated at last, the giant squid propelled itself down to its lair. Why did prey fight so fiercely? Surely once caught, they should know there was no escape and embrace their destiny. At any rate, the hungry squid had eaten one victim fresh, enough to fill its belly for days. The other it dragged along with it, still intact. Soft and plump, this one would keep well in the freezing water. Meals were rare enough in this dark place. It would consume it later, and not have to hunt again for a long time...