"A Dream Come True"
. . . . .
I bang my hands on the keys of my organ. Why can't I do anything right? My muse seems to have escaped me tonight. I sigh wearily and drudge into my depressing cavern of a bedroom. I plop down onto the side of the bed ungracefully and put my face in my hands. I lift my head up again, and reach up for my mask shakily. I gently and slowly lift it off and set it next to me. I put my face down once again, warming it with the unblemished flesh of my hands. I run my hands over the many crevices and deformities, but don't pay much attention. I am used to it by now. I must be, or I shall go completely and utterly insane.
Despite this, I must admit that I have indeed questioned my sanity several times lately. Questioned the absolute insanity of falling for an angel when I have accepted the fact that I am a demon. Christine is undoubtedly the most beautiful young woman I have laid eyes upon. And I would know—I am a connoisseur of beauty, so lacking in it myself. She is light, I am dark. She is beauty, I am ugliness. She is kind, I am cruel… Yet I do not feel cruel when I am with her. I want to lavish her with tenderness and love.
I lay down on the bed, crossing my arms under my head. My elbow bumps into my mask and I throw it aside. I lament the fact that I have never revealed myself to Christine. For all she knows, I am an unseen angel, speaking from above. I want to show myself to her, share my world with her. But I know that is impossible. If that happens, I will never see her again. And that is merely if I finally approach her. God forbid she ever sees my actual face! No, I must be satisfied with my unrequited love, passion, and ever-adoring gaze. I pull up the covers, turn onto my side, and fall asleep with images of Christine flitting through my mind.
. . . . .
I waken, but I do not open my eyes. I can see bright sunlight through my eyelids. What the hell… I hate the sunlight. Why there even is sunlight in my underground home, I cannot imagine. I throw my arm over my eyes and open them a tiny bit, still squinting. After a few moments of acclimation, I lower my arm and open my eyes more. Then, my eyes widen in shock. Why the hell is there a white carved ceiling above me? I sit up and am immediately faced with a gold-gilded mirror on the opposite wall. I instinctively cover my head with my arms, screwing my eyes shut, burying my chin into my chest.
Then my eyes open again, my mind in a stupor. I don't move for a cowardly full thirty seconds or so, then slowly lower my arms and lift my head. My gaze meets that of an almost beautifully handsome man. I cock my head to the right, and his head follows mine. I cautiously lift my arm, lower it numbly, nod my head, shake my head—and his movements all follow mine! I get out of the luxurious white-clothed bed and walk to the mirror. I run my hands over my face. I feel no bumps! No gorges! There are no discolorations, no deformities! My nose is no longer partially collapsed and askew, but straight and strong. I crane my head around, but see no splotches trailing down my neck, shoulder, or upper back. I see a few stately lines fanning from my eyes that look ironically like laugh lines, my skin certainly isn't dewy like a young man's, and there is still a bit of gray starting to streak through dark brown around my temples, but this man is undoubtedly and irrefutably handsome. I run my hands through my ridiculously luxuriant hair. It is visibly thicker, and shorter than I usually wear it, the better to show off my new face.
No sooner than when I finally accept that this handsome man in the looking glass is in fact me, I hear a rustling coming from the bed. I whirl around and my jaw drops. Christine is in the bed. Christine! My love, Christine! She sits up, the coverlet falling, exposing one beautiful, full, white breast. She yawns, then smiles at me and lifts her arms to me. "Darling, come back to bed. It's early yet." I pause for a few moments in wonder, then figure what the hell and dart back to the bed. I throw myself into her arms, pushing her back amongst the plush pillows. She squeals and laughs in joy—joy!—and wraps her silken arms around me tightly. Her skin is softer than I ever dreamed it could be. "You are quite enthusiastic this morning, my love."
I draw back and look into her eyes. "Say it again." My voice is a peculiar blend of pleading and demanding. She looks at me questioningly. "You called me 'love'. Say you love me," I repeat.
"I love you more than I treasure my own life, Erik. You know that."
I give her a beatific smile. "Not nearly as much as I love you." She raises one elegant eyebrow at me and proceeds to pull my head down by my hair and kiss me senseless. After a microsecond, I respond with much fervor. After all, I have imagined this at least a million times before in my mind. But this surpasses my wildest imaginings. These new, symmetrical, perfect lips mesh with hers flawlessly.
She lifts her hands to my face and strokes my cheek while nipping at my lips with her pearly little teeth. My eyes water while I turn my face into her hand and nuzzle it. I stroke her lovely golden curls and move my mouth down to her neck, then to her breast. She is trembling by now, though I sense not in disgust, and the instant my mouth captures her there, she gasps and arches up. After some time, I proceed to lavish her other breast. As I move my way down, she clutches me to her, almost yanking my hair. I accomplish my goal at that most intimate of places with her shuddering climax, relieved that I was able to pleasure her with enthusiastic alacrity and ardor, if not with adept skill and experience. She lies limply on the bed, panting, while I look at her with wonder and astonishment. Who would ever guess that a woman could achieve such a thing from my touch?
After a few moments of catching her breath, Christine opens her eyes and gives me a smile filled with so much love and desire that my heart seems likely to burst. "Erik," she murmurs, "I need you inside me." And what can I do for my lady love but oblige her? The moment I enter her, I realize she is ready for me, her passion already renewed. My eyes drift closed as her body envelopes me tightly. She captures my mouth with her own again and we mimic the movements our bodies are making with our tongues.
As I begin to reach heaven, I lift my head up and look deeply into Christine's eyes. "I love you," I gasp.
"I love you, too." She caresses my cheek.
I pause in my movements, and Christine whimpers in protest. "I'll love you forever. Angel, tell me you won't leave me. Tell me you'll never leave me alone. Be with me always."
"I'll never leave you," I swear. She gives me a quick but ardent kiss in response.
And I renew my previous movements with vigor and a deeply-driven desperation. Just as I reach my climax, I feel her sheath begin to convulse around me, and my eyes fall closed in ecstasy. Then my vision behind my eyelids shatters. I see fireworks of color and light and can indistinctly hear Christine's murmurs of love in my ear. I fall on her, then gently roll off of her and lie unmoving. I smile lazily and open my eyes, only to cry out. My eyes are met with the unwelcome sight of the funereal black canopy above my bed, under the rough stone ceiling of my subterranean home.
I sit up and desperately look all around me. Christine is gone! The sunlit room is gone! I frantically rub my hands over my face. I am deformed again! I am devastated, but I am surprised to realize that I don't care quite as much as I would have thought. The true core of my anguish lies elsewhere.
I jump out of bed and run around my bedroom, upending furniture as I go. I look everywhere for Christine, even as I know it is useless and foolish. It was all a dream. But no! It was not! I can still feel the aftereffects of our passion. I can still hear the echoes of her whispers of love. I can still feel the warmth of her hands upon my face… My wretched face. I groan in shame. But the pain of my curse doesn't sting as much as the loss of my lover, the fall of paradise. I sink back onto the bed and curl into myself, hugging my knees as my body is wracked with violent, self-loathing, pathetic sobs.
. . . . .
My footsteps are ominous and unusually loud. I trudge along the stone passageway leading to Christine's room, thinking that I am indeed truly masochistic for visiting her tonight. My heart aches hollowly in my chest and my throbbing body now stirs at the mere thought of her. It is degrading—contemptible! I approach the mirror and espy her brushing out her long golden hair, the hair which I now know for a fact is as soft as silk. I struggle to suppress a painful groan, biting my once again distorted bottom lip painfully. I want so much to reach out and stroke that hair again. I satisfy myself by pressing my hand to the cold mirror. A wretched excuse for a lover's warm caress.
She rises from the dressing table and walks over to the mirrored portal behind which I lurk. She studies her image in the glass then turns and looks up. I could swear I saw tears swimming in her mesmerizing violet eyes before she turned away. Now she seems to be studying every crevice and corner of the ceiling and upper walls. "Angel?" she whispers. "Angel, are you here?"
Ah, she is looking for a hint of her Angel of Music, then. But she will never catch a glimpse of him. "Yes, Christine. I am here." She will, of course, hear the seraphic, soft voice coming from everywhere and nowhere. "Why do you cry? Has someone upset you?"
"No… Yes… I don't suppose it's actually someone." She bows her head and continues quietly. "I had a disturbing dream last night. Actually, it was a wonderful dream. Magical beyond words. But I was so unhappy when it ended. I know this sounds foolish, but I wished that I could go back to it and never wake up."
"Do not ever wish that, Christine," I say sternly. "There are many who would miss you."
Christine smiles halfheartedly. "Yes, Angel." Her innocent, exquisite face takes on a pensive look. "Angel… please… I have tried so hard to be obedient, and I have never disobeyed you. But could I please see you? I'll never ask another thing of you again."
"No, my child. I am afraid not." I almost laugh at my obscene use of the word child. I could never again in my life think of my passionate Christine as a child. But I am far too depressed to laugh. Instead I yearn for the possibility of revealing myself to Christine. I ache to—it is almost a compulsion. Yet I know that I cannot. Her ultimate feelings toward me would be repulsion and disgust. Abhorrence and loathing. Perhaps pity at best. No, I must be satisfied with speaking to her through an invisible barrier, heard but not seen.
Christine chokes out a sob. I jolt and realize that she has been silently weeping on the floor while I have been mulling over my own selfish problems. I instantly feel a stab of remorse. "Christine, my dear. Do not cry. You may not see me, but I will never leave you." This vow seems to strike a cord in her. She sits up straight and wipes her eyes. It grieves me that she could never honestly return that promise.
"Swear to me you'll never leave me. Please never leave me alone," she whispers.
"Never," I somehow get past the thickness in my throat. I realize too late that in my anguish I did not bother to disguise my location with my vocal talents. Christine promptly jumps up and looks around at the mirror. She takes a few quick, fervent steps toward me, but then slows. Her last few steps are halting and nervous.
"Angel?" she asks shakily. I cannot answer. I cannot breathe for apprehension. Perhaps she will not find the hidden latch. But of course, she reaches up to the mirror, and within moments her fingers flutter over the latch that opens the mirror-door. Fate has a way of tormenting me, after all. The mirror swings inward and I move out of the way, so as not to be hit. I instinctively meld into the shadows.
I know that Christine cannot see me now, as her eyes are still adjusting to the darkness. I think to use this opportunity to retreat before her eyes adjust, but I fear that movement will draw her attention. I can see her clearly; she is squinting her eyes, trying to discern my palpable darkness from the natural darkness. My garments are mostly black, so she might not have made me out at all, if it weren't for my damned eyes. The golden irises are like twin beacons, glowing in the dark like a cat's. I consider closing them too late.
I can see the exact moment that her eyes fall upon my face, or rather my mask. It is not just the direction of her gaze, but her expression also betrays her. It's always the expression. Hers is not really any different from everyone else's. Shock. And fear. But then, strangely, it changes again. "E-Erik?" she whispers. I am shocked; I actually jerk back from her.
"How do you know my name?" I know my voice is menacing. Soft, but wary. She looks at me with something oddly akin to tenderness. Apparently my warning tone has no effect on her now that she has seen me. Perhaps she thinks herself above me.
"It is you," she continues breathlessly. "I knew when I woke up this morning that I had heard your voice somewhere before. Then, while I was brushing my hair tonight, it came to me." Her voice becomes excited. "You are my angel, and the man in my dream. I know you." Then she blushes. I can't help but wonder if that demure blush indicates that she had the same dream as I. How strange… strange and extraordinary.
Now I remember the momentarily overlooked detail on my part: my appearance. "My dear, whatever you conjecture from this dream of yours, you do not know me as you think you do. Of this, I can assure you."
"No, I do know you. You are exactly the same." I raise my eyebrow sardonically—not that she can see this, of course. "Your voice is the same. Your eyes are the same. Your hands are the same hands I know so well now." She blushes even more furiously. "You are just as tall as I recall, built just the same."
I simply close my eyes and sigh. My Christine seems very sure of herself. It will be very hard to disentangle myself from this mess without disgusting her. "I am very sorry, ma cherie, but I am not the same man of whom you are thinking."
"No, you are!" She is now quickly becoming upset. "You are the man in my dream! You are my Angel, come to me in my dreams and now in the form of a man. And I love you!"
Again, I am utterly floored, and almost disarmed by her misplaced assertion of her love. But I still attempt to deconstruct the child-like fantasy I myself reinforced. "Christine, I did not come to you in your dreams. You do not know the real me. You cannot love what you do not know. I know this dream, I know this man, and believe me when I tell you that this man was not me," I asserted, gesturing to myself.
"But it was you! You admitted that your name is Erik; your name came to me in my dream. And you just said that you know my dream; you could only know it if you came to me there!" She is weeping now in desperation, and I feel the deepest regret and self-reproach for her fruitless longing for a nonexistent angel. "The only difference… Now you… you are wearing a mask. Why do you hide from me, Angel—Erik?"
I ignore the last question. "Exactly. I am wearing a mask." I speak firmly and pragmatically. "Therefore, you cannot know that I am this man, since you cannot see me." I immediately perceive my mistake, but before I have time to backtrack or protect myself, Christine acts on my unintended, tacit challenge. Apparently, knowing me intimately has made her bold. I am caught unaware and my attempt at deflecting her is too late as her hand shoots up toward my face. "Christine, no!"
But my shout is left unheeded. By the time my words leave my tongue, my mask is already off. She is so quick. Her reflexes are much better than I give her credit for. There is not much I can do to prevent the sequence of events now underway. I am loathe to push her away; I would never hurt my Angel. So the moment after I feel the first cold fingers of stale air touch my face, I spin around, spreading my hands over my pitiful features. Of course I am too late, though—for pity's sake, I was almost too shocked to react at all! As I run back down the passageway, I can hear her appalled cry echoing in my ears.
Mon Dieu, the agony! My heart is being rent in two. I let go of my face and clutch my chest. One level down, after several twists and turns, I stop and lean against a cold, damp wall. I am usually able to run for a long time, quite quickly. But my heart… it almost feels like what I imagine a heart attack feels like. But I know that Fate will never be that merciful to this cursed creature. My mind is not at all dizzy as I have heard is common during a heart attack; what a relief that would be. No, my mind is racing and tormented, reliving every nuance of Christine's horror and revulsion. Every thought that runs through my head makes my chest ache even more.
Oh, Christine! Why did you betray me? I gave you everything! And somehow I know, in the end, I will give you my life. For now I have no reason to live. Perhaps I seem melodramatic, but every reason I might have had to live has flown away out of my grasp. Every hope died with Christine's treachery.
But wait. What is that? Oh, merde—footsteps! Someone has found me! Maybe… but no, it cannot be Christine. After all, why would she chase after a monster? Surely she ran in the opposite direction.
"Angel! Erik!" I lift my head. It is Christine! Her angelic voice reaches out to me through the dark, calling me to her like a candle in a window. The scurrying, desperate footsteps come closer. She sounds as if she is running. Could she have come after me? Has she come to bestow mercy on me? No! She must have come back to get a second look! She cannot believe what she saw the first time, and has come to feast her eyes on the travesty of what she imagined was her beloved.
I hear her approach the last corner behind which I wait. I pull myself up to my full height, ready to confront her and give her what she wants. A good laugh, perhaps. She rounds the corner and comes face to chest with me. She almost barrels straight into me, but draws back at the last second before touching me. Of course; what else could I expect? I don't bother to hold back an irritated, wounded growl.
She backs up a step or two and clutches my mask to her breast. She slowly raises her face to mine. I can see the tears swimming in her eyes and streaming down her lovely, pale, unblemished face. She meets my eyes and sniffles pitiably. Devil take it, she even cries prettily. She has locked her eyes on mine, probably too frightened to look anywhere else.
"Well?" I demand in a cold voice. Truly, I just want to pull her into my loving embrace and make her forget my face, but I do not dare. I could never make her forget, no matter how hard I might try. "Have you satisfied your vulgar curiosity, Miss Daae?" Her eyes widen with hurt, but I only lash out in defense and upset. She doesn't answer, frozen in terror, and I am angered further. I lean down and press my face within inches of hers. Still, she does not remove her eyes from my own.
"Look! Look at me!" The girl refuses to obey! I reach down and grab her hands, forcing her to drop the mask. Although I am hurt and angry, I take care with her delicate hands. I press them to my face, one on each cheek. I bear down on her hands, forcibly but gently. "If you will not look, then feel! Feel the face you so lovingly caressed last night! Then, it was smooth and perfect. Handsome!… It was a lie!" I thunder. "I am no angel. This is not the face of an angel, or of anything heavenly or good, but of a demon. I am a deceiving gargoyle, nothing but a vile monster. Do you understand?!"
I know that I am forcing her hands on my face, that she is not touching me willingly, but it still affects me. The feel of her hands on my deformity breaks me. I am ashamed—I start to cry in her presence. I am a pathetic creature, wracked with silent sobs. Know that I do not cry nearly as prettily as Christine. I fling her hands away and turn, covering my face with my own hands this time, raking my nails down my cheeks.
Just as I take a stumbling step back down the passageway, I feel a small hand on my shoulder. "Angel," she sobs, "Erik… Please. I love you," she whispers. I halt uncertainly and I can feel my shoulders and back tensing. Keeping her hand on my arm to stay me, she comes around to face me. She lowers my hands and finally, finally searches my face. Her already wet eyes fill up again. She wipes away her tears carelessly. Her hands slowly come up to carefully touch my face. I can hardly feel anything but the lightest touch of a feather. She closes my eyes with gentle strokes of her thumbs on my eyelids. Before I can do anything but take a quivering breath, I feel her warm, soft lips gently pressing against my cold, rough ones. I moan and impulsively wrap my arms around her. She softly caresses one distorted cheek while her other hand rests lightly on my chest. She opens her mouth and proceeds to kiss me with a desperation that shocks me. "You said you would never leave me," she murmurs forlornly against my lips.
"I must leave you before you leave me," I respond despondently. She pulls back a bit and looks me in the eye.
"I told you last night that I will never leave you. I do not go back on my promises."
"I cannot hold you to a promise made in a dream, and to a different man."
"Oh, Erik. You are that man. How else would I know your name? How else would you know of my dream? Because you were there. It was you."
My heart contracts and I look away. "Yes," I finally admit. "I was there." I briefly glance back and see her blushing again in remembrance. "But… Surely you see I am not really that same man." I turn away and laugh humorlessly. "Not a man at all, but a monster."
"I know you are a man. A monster cannot love. And I know that you love me… and that I love you."
I shake my head and cannot look at her for shame. "Even if you do, I could never force you to lie with me as I truly am. Or to spend your life with me. It would be perverted—at odds with nature."
"Don't say things like that. Being with the one you love and spending your life with them is what is right. I want to be with you forever. I promised to never leave you, as you promised me. I want to marry you…" she lowers her voice to a shy whisper, "and be with you as we were last night, every night, for the rest of our lives."
My breath catches and I look at her in awe, inexorably moving closer to her.
Likewise, she steps closer to me. "Come into the light with me, Erik. Let us be happy. Let us live in the sun-filled home I saw last night… Please… Ask me to marry you." I hesitate for a few moments. How do I know she won't grow tired of me? How do I know she won't cringe in distaste when we lie together? How do I know she won't grow to hate this face? But when I see her face fall in disappointment and sorrow after a few moments of silence on my part, I make up my mind. I close the final step that separates us and take her hand.
"Marry me, Christine?" She throws her arms around me in response and kisses me again. I hold on to her tightly and vow to myself that I will never leave her or let her go. I vow to myself that she will never regret following me.
. . . . .
3 Years Later
I hold my child in my arms and know that I am the luckiest man in the world. Dominique is the most beautiful child I have ever laid eyes upon. She has nary a blemish on her face. Her hair is dark brown like mine, and her eyes violet like her mother's. They have not changed in the few months since she was born, so I know this is her true eye color. She smiles at me and stretches her tiny arms, grasping at the space between us with her tiny fingers. I place my finger in her hand, and she holds it tightly. I cannot help but smile back at her. I am still astounded that she does not seem to even notice my deformities. I am especially grateful for this, since Christine refuses to let me wear a mask in our home.
"Erik, dear?" Christine's melodic voice calls from down the hall.
"I'm in the nursery."
Moments later she glides through the door and smiles fondly at the sight before her. She loves how I dote on our child. She comes over to me and wraps her arms around my waist, so Dominique is warmly cradled between us. She lifts herself up on her tip-toes and gives me a loving kiss on my lips. She then leans down and gives Dominique a loud, sloppy raspberry. Our daughter gurgles and Christine and I both smile at her. I've found that I've been smiling more times a day for the last few years than I did for well over thirty altogether.
"It's time to set her down for the night, darling." I frown, but comply to her motherly instincts and schedules.
After several minutes of a softly sung duet, Dominique finally settles into a peaceful slumber. I wrap my arm around my once-again diminutive young wife, and lead her out of the room. "Soon enough, you'll be singing arias again for a much larger audience than one small child. Are you glad?"
She tilts her head and smiles up at me. "Of course. It will be wonderful to be back on the stage singing for my Angel and all of Paris again. But Dominique is just as gratifying an audience as the most revered critics." I smile at her noble philosophy, and lean down to kiss her soundly, already impatient for later tonight. We both still cannot seem to bear not touching each other for long periods of time.
Christine yawns dramatically. "I think I'd like to go to bed a little early, Angel."
I frown, disappointed. "Have I worn you out with our lessons? I'm sorry, my dear, if I've been careless."
She laughs softly and shakes her head, twirling out of my arms to dance down the hall. "No," she murmurs coquettishly. "I'm not tired yet."
I laugh and smile mischievously—admittedly, what others might perceive to be positively diabolically. Oh, how sadly I am misunderstood. How often have my amusing opera house pranks been mistaken for villainous, nefarious misdeeds? Even now as resident composer and unofficial musical co-director, my droll antics go unappreciated. I'll never comprehend why people startle warily when I laugh. I am glad Christine at least has grown to appreciate my delightful sense of humor. Indeed, she certainly has become a cheeky little vixen.
Before the bedroom threshold, she turns to smile impishly over her shoulder, then enters the room with a saucy skip. I race after her, grinning widely. My life is wonderful, an absolute dream come true.