It was brilliant.
Oh, it was a horrible mockery of my struggles, of the pain and suffering I'd endured for almost a lifetime to know that the solution was this simple. I would have laughed if I didn't feel so numb; I would have felt relieved if there were any reason left to feel, anything left to do, any chance remaining for a happy ending.
No, this was more like a glimpse of what I could have had, what God had denied me; a sensation similar to the one faced by a dreamer who awakes in the cold of reality. God knows I had felt that terrible jolt myself too many times…
But despite its lack of meaning, now that the story had reached its close, the image in front of me was indeed real.
I stared at my reflection (was it really mine?) with dead eyes, surveying the landscape of my face. I was, undeniably, attractive. There was the irony again, daring me to laugh or cry or react in any way. Instead I just stared, admiring my own artistic skill with nonchalant arrogance.
It was so realistic, so well sculpted, I could have kicked myself for not finishing it sooner. Had I not been so pessimistic when it came to my fate with women, had I not decided long ago to shun all of mankind, I would have finished it before Christine even met me. Still, it made my stomach turn, knowing it would have made all the difference.
I had the same feeling I often did when recalling the name "Christine"- sickening anger combined with extreme tenderness and sorrow. I didn't connect the name to a face or a girl anymore- only with a period of my life, a sort of turning point.
When she left me, I had at first thought it to be the ending of everything: final evidence that my existence on this earth was never meant to be anything but hell. My self-loathing increased tenfold when I recalled what I put her through, when I pictured her fearful blue eyes brimming with tears and her bloody, bruised forehead which she had bashed against the stone walls of my home, preferring to be unconscious rather than face me.
After she and that wretched boy fled, I sat in the cold, damp cellars of the Opera House with a knife, not eating and barely moving for days, and, like most of my life, not being able to work up the courage to kill myself.
I'm unsure of how long it was before I was found. When I heard the footsteps I didn't even bother to look up. I heard voices, familiar voices, but I didn't care. It wasn't until Nadir pulled me to my feet and Madame Giry gasped in horror that I even bothered to look at the faces of the people who had pulled me from my decaying trance.
The knife fell to the floor with a clatter. My legs were weak from lack of blood from sitting so long on a stone floor. I could imagine how repulsive and pathetic I must have looked then to what I suppose you could call my two only friends.
The two of them got their arms under my thin shoulders and managed to half-drag, half-coax me along the tunnels that led back aboveground. I spent the following weeks in Nadir's apartment, lying on a bed in a sort of coma, crying and whimpering like a dog as my two companions discussed what to do with me.
It was almost a relief to be treated as a child- I'd been denied that when of the rightful age. Both decided they could not turn me in for my crimes, which was still, in my opinion, extremely trusting and stupid. Yet I couldn't help but be grateful, even if gratitude was an emotion I despised.
Nadir decided it was best to declare me dead. That way, the Paris police would not be on my tail and they could buy time to decide what to do with their emotionally wrecked fugitive.
Eventually, after weeks of lying around, dead like the corpse I'd always felt I was, Madame Giry couldn't take it anymore and told me to stand up. "Erik," she said, "Despite what you have been told, despite what lies you've been fed, you are a man. I want you to start acting like one, and you can start by going into the washroom and cleaning up." This greatly aggravated and insulted me, but still got me to grudgingly begin to piece the shards of my broken life back together.
As I stood over the basin, muttering curses at the old woman, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. It was old and cracked- it pained me to know that two of the most decent human beings I had encountered lived in such poverty, greatly due to my own doing.
Strangely, the crack in the glass cut down the middle of my face and curved over my nose. The side of glass to the right of the crack was completely destroyed, distorting the reflection of my defect to the point where it was barely visible. All I could make out of my face was the small part that was untouched by the distortion: a sunken, starved- but nonetheless normal- human cheek bone, a thin pink corner of my lips, and an emerald green eye. I was reminded of the night I had told Christine about my plans for us; about my final mask…
I had created so many masks: white leather coverings for dignity, black velvet disguises for seduction, intricate skulls to strike fear into my enemies. But never, until I met Christine, did the idea of recreating the human face cross my mind.
Unfortunately, it was her face that I was focused on. I built a mannequin that resembled her identically, my skill and obsession shocking even myself. It wasn't until one day when I was admiring it and its wedding veil that the idea hit me: I could build myself a face! I laughed, hardly believing the idea had never occurred to me before.
My mind exploded with dreams of walks in the park with Christine, hand in hand, appearing like everyone else. I wouldn't even be afraid anymore; I could live an actual life, I could take her places, we wouldn't have to hide in a cellar. I would be free. I could even be- dare I think it- attractive.
I knew I could create it perfectly: a permanent mask so real that it would match up with the almost half-side of my face that was tolerable. The excitement built up; I wanted to run and tell her. Unfortunately, by the time I got the chance, she was already terrified of my murderous temper and barely heard me.
The idea of the final mask began to resurface again as I stood before that mirror. It would be the perfect disguise- I could go outside again, free to go where I pleased. I did love the French countryside- I hadn't seen anything but cellars, the opera house, and dark Parisian streets in years. Even before I had become "the Phantom," I'd seen little of the world during the day outside of the time I spent in Persia.
I wasn't optimistic enough to believe that I could begin to live a normal life at my age; I was far too scarred internally, far too eccentric and nervous. But perhaps I could at least be free to do as I pleased and no longer feel caged within my appearance.
This mask became my newest obsession. I didn't tell Nadir or Madame Giry about it; I simply closed myself away as I often did, working night and day to complete it, scarcely eating or sleeping.
I ordered supplies and materials through my two friends, and they allowed me my privacy. I took measurements of my head. I boiled a special plaster and rubber concoction I'd invented, shaping it and carving it the way I had with Christine's model. The result was so similar to flesh that it was almost sickening to go at with knives.
I painted and perfected it, carefully thinning the face so that it was flexible, yet thick enough to not cling to the ugly ridges of my deformities. After less than a month, it was finished.
I then did what I was most nervous about. I made sure the eyehole was carefully aligned with my own eye and poured some more of that horrible hot flesh mixture inside the mask. I took a breath and quickly pressed the boiling creation to my face before I could stop to think about what I was doing.
My mind was screaming. Every blood vessel inside me was searing. I fell to the ground, blinded by hot white pain. My mind landed on my victims in Persia, the ones I had sent to torture chambers to fry while under the influence of hard drugs of the khanum. Perhaps my suffering was some twisted form of karma.
I stumbled into the bathroom and ran cold water over my face. I could smell melting flesh, steam rising from the basin. I was violently sick off to the side- surprising, considering how little I had been eating. I kept my head submerged in the cold water, taking breaths now and then to steady myself.
Eventually I passed out on the floor. When I awoke, it was dark, and my face felt completely numb. The lack of pain was such a relief that I didn't care what the numbness meant. I stood and looked in the mirror, then remembered it was broken. I walked into my sleeping chamber, where there was a full-length mirror across from the dresser…
It was brilliant.
I looked at myself, felt the power radiating around me… this was what I was meant to be. My thick dark hair fell into my face only slightly. The black robe I had fallen asleep in hung off me in a tired sort of way. Looking in the mirror, I could hardly tell where the mask ended and where my skin began. I was barely recognizable.
My face was an actual human face. I ran a slender finger over my false nose and across my forever numb cheek and forehead. Still, the shape was beautiful. I had always had a nice bone structure despite my abhorrent appearance, and I could see this now. I let myself feel narcissism; I let myself wallow in it, making up for the years of self-loathing. This was the man I felt like when in the mask. Seductive, powerful, in control.
But no one could take it away this time.