It was exactly a year since Christine left him. He had no calendar, but he could feel the months pass in his heart. He did not eat a single morsel since then, but merely lay like a corpse on the cold wet stone floor, rotating between sleeping, sighing, and weeping tears of lost love. Even a single chord on the organ seemed to cry, "Christiiiiiiiiiiine…"

But now another medium seemed to carry another sound in the distance. Erik lifted his weary head in the darkness. Was it angels singing in the heavens? No….in fact, it was not singing at all, but a low grumbling of sorts…

Was God shuffling his feet?

The blissful buzz now accompanied crescendo-ing creaks, and a great big…

WHEEZE

Now Erik found the courage to fully sit up, lighting a blood red, vanilla musk-scented candle. A great shadow emerged from path to his dank, cavernous home.

"Who…who…goes there…?" He called, fearfully, in a voice that was simultaneously gentle and undeniably masculine.

"I….I'm…" Another wheeze . "My…name…is Gorgonzola du Cobb." She slowly…methodically…eventually came into view.

Not :an: angel, Erik thought, his eyes gleaming with delight, but six dozen angels, all rolled into one! Her grand frame was complemented by a long, flowing muu muu, whose stains no doubt bore the hardships the woman has endured. Her skin shone with body oils, the elixirs of life. On her head were but a few black kinky wires that brushed past her pea-sized eyes.

"Tell me, Gorgonzola," he inquired, rising to give her a hand. "What was that heavenly humming I heard but mere moments ago?"

"Oh…" The luminescent beauty blushed. "It's my chronic flatulence, Monsieur. I hope I did not offend you."

He had to put a hand on his chest, lest his heart leap right out from it. "Offend? Your flatulence, Mlle., rivals the sea breeze of a warm summer sunset and the whispering wind in spring meadow."

The masked man's words were so poetic she could almost cry.

"But now tell me," Erik continued, his strong, chiseled chin, and the outline of rippling chest muscles accentuated by the flickering flame, "What brings you to my humble abode?"

Mlle. Du Cobb looked around and realized that this was not, in fact, the pantry. "Well today was my first day at the Opera Populaire – I, being the lead ballerina – and all the stress made me hungry…so very hungry. I saw a sign that read, 'Pantry,' so I opened the door." She paused a moment to catch her breath. "Inside, I saw only what appeared to be an average dressing room. After checking the drawers for croissants, I bumped my delicate hip into the mirror, and noticed it opened… which brings me here… but now I'm even more confused than before!"

The Phantom thought. And thought. And thought. He pondered for what must have been fifteen minutes, and finally realized what may have been the problem. "My darling cherub," he giggled. "The sign did not 'pantry,' but 'dressing room!'"

"Oh, it is because I cannot read!" She admitted, her beady eyes welling up with tears. "My forever dark secret – revealed!"

"Do not weep," Erik consoled. "For you have come to sweet music's throne!"

"Throne," she gasped. "Goodness, do I need to sit down!"

-end chapter one-