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, 2008.
Because of Her
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
That defiling and disfigured shape
The mirror of malicious eyes
Casts upon his eyes until at last
He thinks that shape must be his shape?
– William Butler Yeats
I. Unmask the Monster
Ugly. Disgusting. Abomination. Monstrosity. These are the first words I learned, thanks to a mother who could not even bear to look at me. My mother destroyed all of the mirrors in our house before I could see my reflection. To save me the nightmares sure to come after seeing the hideous creature staring back at me? Perhaps, but more likely to prevent—even for a fragile moment—the existence of two of me.
My earliest memory is of my mother's face screwed up in revulsion as she dangled measuring strings near my head. Not long after, I received the only gift she would ever offer me: a mask. The kid leather felt soft against my baby cheeks, but the constricting material soon left me with raw marks of chafing and a suffocating feeling of claustrophobia.
How much of a child's life is irrevocably set within the first few years? How much influence does a mother truly have? Before I could walk, I learned to steal; if I didn't take what I needed, I would be left in solitude to suffer, to starve. Before I could talk, I learned to be silent and unobtrusive; if I called attention to myself, invariably I drew pitying gazes from those who hadn't seen my face, and expressions of loathing from those who had. I grew to love the darkness, for then I could wander out of the cramped confines of my nursery and into the mysterious outdoors without fear.
In the darkness, I watched and learned the true nature of mankind. "Man has dominated man to his injury," wrote a famous wise king. Nothing had changed in the thousands of years since Solomon penned those sobering words. I recognized that man cannot tolerate anything weaker than himself, or different from himself. A man may woo the woman he desires with gentle words and tenderness, but he truly wishes only to posses her. Once he does, he treats her as he sees her: a weak, useless vessel. And as for someone like myself, someone whose very face is a reminder of what awaits us all in the end—I am treated no better than a corpse, something to be shunned and avoided, lest the unwary become unclean by my very gaze.
Even as an adult, I clung to the traditions that childhood taught me: stay in the shadows; draw no attention; avoid mirrors and places of still waters; and the utmost imperative: do not yearn for what cannot be.
Desire is a sin. It must be, for nothing else causes such pain. Man will do anything to achieve what he desires—steal, lie, murder. I have but one overwhelming longing, and I have committed many deeds of evil in the pursuit of Christine.
Her name falls from my tongue like a prayer, as though merely thinking of her will cleanse my soul. I would do anything for her. The one thing she would require of me, however, is beyond my control.
You see, Christine has heard my voice. She has listened to me sing, she has seen my shadow upon her wall, and she has viewed her own reflection in the mirror, knowing I am nearby. She has touched the delicate petals of a rosebud, feeling the silky velvet beneath her fingertips in exactly the same manner as I did before leaving it for her. She knows I exist, and has seen proof of it in every way imaginable—except for one.
She has not seen me.
I have never felt the desire to have a normal face. What good is normal to me? I would much rather lurk in the darkness and be myself! If it were not for Christine, I would long since have faded away. For her alone, I would wish upon myself the features of a proper, commonplace man, only so that she might look upon my face without terror.
But it is no use. One cannot turn a gargoyle into a prince, even when one dares to dream of such lofty things as winning the love of a beautiful maiden.
What have I done?
I am foolish, indeed, to have even thought of bringing Christine to my home. Now all of my carefully-wrought plans have dissolved into thin air. Yet, how could I have resisted? She wanted to meet me. She wanted to spend time with her maestro—not talking to a voice that floats from the walls. I cannot blame her for wishing to be with me, when that is all I have dreamed of since I first saw her.
Truly, my idiocy knows no bounds. Not only did I bring her to my house, my secret haven, but I also warned her never to touch the mask that hides my gruesome face. I should have remembered that women cannot be counted upon to obey that which is strictly forbidden! Literature is full of those given a trust in which they promptly broke because of their infernal feminine curiosity: Pandora and the box of evil spirits, Eve and the tree of knowledge.
I heard her footsteps, so light and gentle upon the Persian carpets that adorn my study. She wanted to listen to my music, or so I thought. Believing myself safe, I allowed the melody to envelop me. Who could resist the power of such music? For Christine, though, the desire to see my face overwhelmed the force of enthralling harmony.
Before I realized that she'd even crept close enough to touch me, cold air struck my cheeks, stinging my fragile skin. The deformity that rendered me less than human in the eyes of all who saw it—exposed in the space of a heartbeat. A layer of thin silk and linen is scant protection, but until that moment, I hadn't realized how desperately I depended on that mask!
I turned, roaring in anger and despair, clutching my fingers to my face in a frantic attempt to hide from Christine. I could not let her see! She would scream, or perhaps even faint. She would run, she would hide from the gruesome visage of her maestro, and I knew I would never see her again, for she would hate me as deeply as my own mother hated me.
In my abrupt, desperate movements, I must have knocked her to the ground, for Christine knelt beside the organ with her skirts spread about in colorful contrast to the dark tones of the rug. With my hands still stretched across my face, I lowered my head and allowed my hair to fall forward, hoping it would conceal some small part of my monstrous features. Hot tears of shame ran from my eyes, between my fingers, blurring my vision. I blinked furiously and cast my gaze about.
I had to find my mask!
"Erik?" she said softly. She hadn't seen yet, or else hadn't understood, for I heard no panic in her voice. Still, the sound cut into my heart like a blade. I knew it might be the last time I heard her sweet voice in anything other than a shriek of condemnation.
I spread the fingers of one hand to cover as much of my face as possible and searched blindly with the other. Where had my mask gone? The bench upon which I sat? The floor nearby? I had to find it!
"Erik. . . ?"
A gentle hand touched my questing fingers. I pulled back in startled dismay. Hardly daring to look, I saw the black curve of my mask resting in the last place I expected—Christine's lap. If I lunged for it, she would have a clear, if brief, view of my face. Pride would not let me ask for it, so I turned away, grasping a semblance of dignity. I squared my shoulders and wiped the moisture from my scarred cheeks. A few more moments and I would be strong enough . . . either to request the return of my mask, or to allow her to leave. Either way, I knew my pitiful heavenly dream had ended.
(To Be Continued. . . .)