Variations on a Theme of Leroux
"The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers, the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade."
So wrote a journalist named Gaston Leroux, whose classic story of love, obsession and redemption was called The Phantom of the Opera. Phantom told of a genius - a man born so terribly deformed that he was shunned by society and took refuge beneath the Paris Opera - his obsession with the beautiful opera singer Christine, the heroic Raoul de Chagny, and the redemptive power of love. For nearly 100 years, this story has captivated the imagination of millions and has been transformed into beloved stage and screen productions. But…what if Leroux got the details wrong?
In Variations on a Theme of Leroux, we take this tale of Gothic romance and put it on its head. Within the pages of this book, the reader is presented with a story of romance, suspense and passion, but with a twist. It is the Phantom's story as it might truly have been.
Copyright © 2006
H D Kingsbury
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, or by any information storage and retrieval system -- available today or in the future -- without permission in writing from the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
1881, date unknown
Somewhere outside of Paris
The room was one of desolation and filth. Dirty, soiled straw was the only thing available for bedding, while a wooden bucket, unemptied for several days, served as a toilet. An untouched bowl of rancid food lay on the floor, its contents too nauseating for even a starving man to want to eat. The windowless room was dim and murky, its darkness broken only by the small amount of light that filtered in through the barred window in the heavy metal door. It was a place of hopelessness and misery, its inmate chained and beaten as if he were a wild beast.
Huddled on the cold, hard floor, shivering and in pain, lay Erik. Awareness was slowly returning to him, and with it came another wave of black despair. His eyes were swollen shut from the blows to his face, his breathing pained and labored from bruised and broken ribs, the metallic taste of blood in his mouth from lips split open and teeth loosened. He tried to move, to shift his weight in order to find a more comfortable position in which to lie, but even the slightest movement brought more spasms of pain – in his back, in his abdomen, in his chest. There didn't seem to be a part of his body that was without hurt. He knew he was suffering from shock, that this latest beating had nearly killed him. Voices were fading in and out…
"Oh! It looks more like an animal than a human being!" It was a woman speaking, her voice tittering with a pretense of fear.
"Oui, Madame. That's why we have to keep him chained like this. We wouldn't want him to attack you, would we, my pet?" That second voice was a man's, one Erik recognized immediately. It was the voice of his hated tormentor. No doubt the bastard had brought one of his lady-friends to this place, to impress her with his manly prowess by showing off the latest sideshow freak.
Erik tried to listen to their conversation, hoping one of them might drop some kind of hint as to where he was being held. Was he in a prison? A dungeon on some estate? An asylum? But the effort proved too great and once again he allowed the blackness to overwhelm him…
Consciousness slowly returned. He had no idea how long he had been insensible; it could have been minutes or hours…or days. The voices were gone, so Erik assumed he was once again alone. With nothing else to occupy his mind, he tried to estimate how long he had been in this place. Was it four days now? Five? A week? More? How many beatings had he endured? But no matter how hard he tried, his attempts at calculation were thwarted by his pain-clouded mind.
Is this how my life ends, alone and miserable, the way it began?
He unsuccessfully tried to quash such self-defeating thoughts.
That way lies madness, his inner voice kept telling him, urging him to grasp something else to focus on. Christine! Yes, think of Christine.
But thinking about Christine proved just as agonizing. He knew there was little chance he would ever see her again, that he would never again hold her in his arms or tell her how much he loved her. A painful reality was becoming clear – this was where he was going to die.
Hopelessness washed over him. Christine would never know what had happened, would never know that this was where he would breathe his last. He agonized over the thought that she might believe he had abandoned her.
No, his voice kept saying to him, prodding him to keep hope, she would never believe that. She knows you too well. She knows something terrible has happened. Surely, she is out there now looking for you.
Out where, he wanted to scream back. If he had no idea where he was, what chance would Christine have of knowing? No, it was better to abandon such thoughts; they only emphasized the bleakness of his situation.
He curled up on the floor, the restraints his keepers had burdened him with biting into his flesh. He wanted to cry, but found that he could not. He was beyond tears, beyond hopelessness. There was nothing left but to give in to unconsciousness…and oblivion.
Revised July 15, 2006