Five minutes until eleven o'clock.
Tick Tick Tick.
The clock on the mantel ticked mockingly by the casket containing a brass grasshopper and scorpion, which were to decide my fate.
He sat calmly in his chair across from me staring at the fire's shadows of light flickering on the Persian rug.
"It is almost eleven o'clock my dear. You will soon have to make your decision. Stay here and marry Erik, or die along with all others in this opera, and I daresay, everyone on this city block as well." His voice had lost its angelic timbre and a chill ran up my spine when he broke the silence.
My mind had gone numb. I had very little sensation left in my body save for the pounding of my heart inside my chest. My mouth had gone dry. I could only stare at him, loathing, fearing, and against all odds, pitying this frightening man who claimed me to be his living bride.
Blood that had dried on my forehead from the gash I rendered when I tried to bludgeon myself to death against the wall of my room itched incessantly. I longed to scratch at it, but my arms did not work.
"Erik is growing impatient. How dramatic of you to wait to the very last moment," he commented dryly.
I felt my stomach turn inside my body as if to vomit from anxiety, but alas, there was nothing inside it. It painfully reminded me that I was still alive, after being held prisoner since the night before. Had I been here since the previous evening, or was this the same day? It did not matter anymore.
Four minutes until eleven o'clock.
Tick Tick Tick.
I began to pace the floor. I could still hear Raoul and the Persian clawing to find an opening inside the torture chamber.
I had to think. I forced my brain to work once more. Perhaps a bargain could be struck. I had gained his confidence once before when I promised to leave and come back to him. Perhaps in a few days time, I could leave again and simply disappear.
"Please give me the key to the torture chamber, Erik," I begged softly. "I promise to stay here and be your bride, but please just let them go."
He raised his eyebrow at me. "Another act perhaps?" he said. "Why should Erik believe you? You have deceived Erik before. Why should he believe you now?"
My hopes were dashed and yet I still clung to the possibility that we could all escape this alive and unharmed. His manner was unnerving. He was not the Erik I had known.
"Erik, why do you speak as though you are another person?" I hoped to change the subject. I could not think of the decision that was to be made.
He looked up at me strangely and said, "Because Erik is not here right now."
My tired brain could not comprehend the meaning behind his words.
Three minutes until eleven o'clock.
Tick Tick Tick
My heart began to pound as I willed the clock's ornate hands to move slower.
"What do you mean, Erik? You're sitting right here." I feared the strain had finally snapped his last thread to sanity.
"Erik has better things to do than deal with lying Delilah's who break his heart. The siren must be controlled and the opera must be conducted according to Erik's wishes. I have many names; the Angel of Death, the Trapdoor Lover, the Angel of Music," he spat the last as though to fling an insult my way. "All of whom must be obeyed," he finished with satisfaction.
"Erik I never meant to hurt you, please believe me!" I cried out desperately. I could see there was no reasoning with him now.
His face twitched slightly. If I didn't know better I'd think he found my admission amusing; something from a dramatic play.
"Who is the siren? What do you mean she must be controlled?" my mind frantically tried to grasp the meaning of his nonsensical ravings.
"If only you read more. Have you not heard of the Sirens before? They are mythical creatures that lure men to their deaths with their beautiful singing. I had the good fortune of having a better singing voice than they and lured one to my private lake," he said with an air of haughtiness.
What was he talking about? I could feel my forehead sweating hot beads of salt that trickled down the sides of my face. The uncomfortable room grew smaller the more I realized how far gone Erik's mind was. I had to escape. There was no other choice.
Two minutes until eleven o'clock.
Tick Tick Tick.
He would be back very soon. What decision could I make that would not condemn me either way?
"You must make your decision to stay down here forever, a living bride in a tomb for your poor Erik," he replied, ignoring my plea for answers.
"A living bride in a tomb? So you want me dead then? Are you going to kill me if I agree to marry you?"
He started to laugh. He laughed so terribly I threw my hands over my poor ears to shut out the noise of it; the horrible sound of his laughter.
"Why won't you answer me?" I yelled at him.
"And what answer would you have?" he said mockingly. "Do you want to be a living bride to a corpse? Or would you rather be a dead bride to one? If you do not decide soon, I shall decide for you," his bony pale hands clawed at the arms of his chair and he gnashed his teeth as he spoke.
"Please tell me what you want of me!" I screamed. The moment I raised my voice to him, I cowered; knowing that to upset him would be to push him over the brink.
"Christine, my dear, why are you hiding your face like so? Do you think I would harm you now? Now, when we are so close to the final curtain? Wouldn't you like to see how this little tragedy ends?" he asked as he walked toward me.
One minute until eleven o'clock.
Tick Tick Tick.
I cannot do this. And yet I must. All our lives depend on it.
All sound seemed to have ceased save the beating of my heart and the pounding in my head as the blood echoed in my ears.
"Here is the bronze key to open the casket on your mantelpiece inside your room. You will find an ornate brass scorpion and grasshopper inside the little casket which is currently locked. I will give you five minutes to decide. If you turn the grasshopper, then you have answered 'no'. Turn the scorpion and you will have answered yes,"
"Yes to what; to life, to death?" I pleaded with him one last time, "Please, Erik. Just let them go and I will do anything you ask. We don't have to do this. Not like this."
He ignored me. "Beware the grasshopper. It does not turn, but hops. It hops jolly high!" he exclaimed with a sort of glee.
I tried to comprehend his words. Grasshoppers hopped, but a brass one surely could not. What did he mean? Was I to make it hop rather than turn it?
The clock began to chime eleven.
Suddenly the Persian's voice rang out asking me where I was. I replied that I was by the mantel. "Don't touch anything!" he cried. "It could be a trick. If you turn either, it could blow up the opera and us with it!"
I became even more alarmed.
Then I heard the doorknob turn. Erik entered the room silently. He silently glided towards the mantel; his cloak falling from his thin, bony shoulders as he went. He paid no attention.
"Erik, do you hear me?" the Persian called out.
"Yes," he replied with such calm that it was unnerving, "and I see that you are not dead. If you could please be quiet; do not speak or I will blow everything up."
I heard the Persian start to protest but Erik cut him off, "Don't say a word or we are all dead. That honor belongs to our Mademoiselle Daae."
His face grew grimly still as he stared at the untouched casket.
"You have not turned the scorpion," his hand drifted, caressing the side of the casket. "You have not turned the grasshopper either."
I could not breathe. I ceased to think. I could still feel the key resting in my sweaty palm, hot with the heat of my fist clenching it tightly. I thought madly, as long as I keep the key from him, then nothing can happen. Neither of the insects can be turned.
To my horror and surprise, he opened the casket without needing the key.
"I will give you two minutes, precisely. If you do not decide by that time, then I will make your decision for you."
In a wavering voice, "And what decision will that be?
"I will turn the grasshopper. For it jumps JOLLY HIGH!"
What if it's a trick I thought? What if the Persian was right and Erik was deceiving me?
"But Erik, why would a deadly scorpion be the one to show us the ending that does not end in death? Surely, the grasshopper means to hop to safety. A scorpion only stings its victims to death in its defense," I stammered.
"Ah, what an astute hypothesis, my dear," he said derisively. "Perhaps you can enlighten me on how you think this tragedy should end?"
"Erik," I cried at him, "Tell me that you are speaking the truth. Tell me that the scorpion is the one to turn!"
"That all depends on how you would like this to end? Your two minutes are up! Erik has grown impatient. Time for the grasshopper to hop!" and he started towards the casket that contained the long-legged insect.
"Wait!" I started towards him and grabbed his arm to throw it away from the casket. "Do you swear that it is the scorpion to turn?"
He smiled at me and said, "Why yes, to hop at our wedding!"
I started fearfully, "Ah! You said 'hop'!" I felt close to fainting at his feet but I dared not, lest he choose to kill us all. "Which is it? Which do I turn?" I demanded.
He still stood there smiling that odd smile. "Erik does not reveal his secrets. Not even to you my dear."
It was when that I realized. There was no way to win. He never planned to let any of us go. As he stated earlier, Erik wasn't here. He never let me have control over the situation at all. I recalled that he had once said to me, that if Erik could not have me, then nobody could. Little did I realize until now, that 'nobody', included himself; the monster; the Angel of Death. He had only played us as his pawns in one last gruesome game of chess, where even the king himself is check-mated.
I slowly turned towards the mantel. I could hear my beloved and the foreigner's pleas behind the wall. I could feel that monster's evil gaze hotly upon my back.
I reached up toward the casket.
And I turned them both at the same time.
There was a blinding spark, and then all went black, silent, and cold.