Author's Note: This series of vignettes was inspired by Madame Giry's flashback in the movie, which raised a couple questions for me. How long had the Phantom been in that cage? What finally made him snap? What shaped him into the person he became? Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine but the story is. Please note that this first vignette is over two years old and is in need of (and will eventually receive) revision.
The boy was awakened from his sleep by the rattling of the cage door.
"Wake up, brat!" a voice yelled at him. "No one's paying to see you sleep!"
Erik tried to ignore the voice of the man, upon which he found himself doused with a bucket of water. He uttered a startled cry; the water had been freezing cold.
"Serves you right," the sideshow manager snarled. "Look alive, will you?"
Look alive? Erik thought, derisively. How can I, when I've never had the chance to live?
He paused to reflect on the first dozen years of his life. No, he hadn't had the chance to live yet; his mother had hated the sight of his face and had given him no love at all. When Erik had been seven, a traveling fair had come into town. The manager of the sideshows had spoken to his mother.
"Let the boy travel with us; we'll look after him," he had said. "That face could prove useful. We'll send you a fair percentage of the profits, as well."
And she had agreed. She never told him so much as "goodbye" or anything a mother should have said; she didn't even meet his gaze as he was led away.
Five years later, he was still a sideshow exhibition. Today, he was in Paris; he been amazed initially to see the Eiffel Tower with his own eyes, but that moment of happiness had been soon eclipsed as he was once again put on display.
This can't go on forever, Erik thought, trying to reassure himself. They have to let me go sometime…
His thoughts were diverted as passersby pointed at his face and laughed among themselves. Erik steeled himself, not wanting to show how hurt he really was. He merely gritted his teeth, trying to blink back the tears that were forming in his eyes.
Soon, he assured himself. Soon, I'll be old enough to be on my own, and they can't keep me then…
A couple of young girls glanced at him, not sure of what to make of him. Their thoughts soon turned to a parrot that was on a perch next to Erik's cage. They cooed over the little creature, which obligingly sang for them, as it had been trained to do so.
He sings, and he is loved… Erik thought. Is that what I need to do? Will they love me if I sing?
It was Erik's best kept secret that he loved music. He wasn't about to let anyone know; they might shove a piano in his cage and force him to play. But if music would endear him to at least someone, it might be worth it.
A new wave of people came by, most pausing to taunt him for his face. Erik turned his thoughts to music, his last link to a happiness he longed for every day.
Night didn't bring Erik much relief; people still came to look at him and the other exhibits. The singing parrot had been allowed to sleep, but not Erik. No; he had to endure the taunting and the laughter until the fair closed, which was always around one in the morning. Then, he would be rudely awakened at seven in the morning for the next wave of people to come by.
But as the night progressed, he knew that crowds would be a little smaller. Sometimes, if he was lucky, he would find some time alone, to lose himself in his own thoughts of a life of freedom, perhaps a life where he could incorporate his love of music.
Tonight was such a night, and Erik's hope for the future was particularly bright.
I'll be thirteen soon, he thought. They'll have to let me go then! I'll finally have my own say in my life!
He was in the middle of trying to decide where he was going to go upon being released when a voice addressed him.
"Nice place you have there," he said, sarcastically.
Erik glanced through the bars of the cage to see a figure standing outside the cage. But the man was standing in the shadows, so Erik could see who it was.
"All you need to do is hire some sort of decorator; the place will seem so much more like home," the man went on.
Erik frowned, but he had long since known that retorting to passersby would lead to harsher conditions than he had at the present; he remained silent.
"How long have you been here, Boy?" the man asked.
Why do you care…? Erik thought.
"Can you even speak?"
"Of course I can speak!" Erik replied, unable to hold back his tongue any longer. "I've been here for five years, not that it's any business of yours!"
"Five years? And never once did you consider trying to leave?"
"Of course I considered it!" said Erik. "But I am hardly ever allowed out of this cage; and whenever I am, there's always someone to prevent me from escaping!"
"One person? You are under the thumb of one person?"
"I'm not under anyone's thumb!" Erik retorted, his anger rising. "Anyway, when I turn thirteen, they'll have to let me go!"
The man laughed, only increasing Erik's rage.
"Are you finding me amusing?" Erik asked, sarcastically.
"You aren't amusing, but your naivety is!" the man replied. "Do you honestly believe that you're going to be let go so easily?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" asked Erik.
"Because you're one of the highest-grossing attractions in this fair," the man informed him. "They'll find ways to keep you here."
"They can't do that!"
"And even in the unlikely event that you are free, where do you think you'll go?" the man asked.
"I'll find somewhere," Erik said, confidently.
"And how will you live? No one will take in a boy with a face like yours."
Erik growled in anger.
"You can't hold onto false hopes," the man said. "I learned that all too well. The light is not for you, Boy. You need the darkness. You are one with the shadows."
"I am not!" Erik retorted, indignantly.
"I can see you trying to hold onto the light," said the man. "That is also the way I used to be. You are so intent on waiting for a happy ending to your story. It will not come. Do you hear me? You will be waiting for eternity, and hope will abandon you."
Erik didn't want to believe it, but the man made sense. Erik's life had been filled with nothing he could enjoy; even the singing parrot was treated better than him!
"What can I do…?" he asked, more to himself.
"For people like us, hope can only remain in darkness. Darkness shall guide you, Boy. Then you actually have a chance at a happy ending. You think about that."
The figure turned and walked away, leaving Erik behind.
When the crowds of people started coming by the next morning, Erik wasn't even listening to them as they dealt him insults. He was busy waging a battle of light versus darkness within his own heart.
The man had been right about one thing: light hadn't done a thing for him during his entire life. He had never considered turning to the darkness that he knew was dormant within him. Yes, he knew he had darkness; no one could go through a life like his and not have any. But he had always suppressed this darkness. This darkness would always seem to advise him to carry out actions that he knew weren't ethical.
But what about what's happening to me? he asked himself, as his attention turned to the crowd. That can't be ethical, either…
Light would not accept him, he realized. The light would only go on to treat him the same way as he was being treated now. But he felt compelled to try to give the light one more chance.
The day progressed with Erik deep in thought through most of it. The night crowds that evening were particularly larger than normal; it was the fair's last night in Paris, so everyone was seizing the opportunity to enjoy it.
The manager in charge of the sideshow exhibition noticed that Erik's mind wasn't in the present that night, and he found that to be less profitable. After all, if Erik was shamed enough into blushing, it would mean a better show for the crowd when they saw the red hue augment his already disfigured face.
"Brat!" he snarled at Erik. "Find that lost mind of yours, Brat!"
When Erik was still out it, the man proceeded to strike him through the bars of the cage. Erik suppressed a cry of pain, gritting his teeth as he was forced to listen to the unfriendly crowd.
So much for light… he thought to himself, bitterly.
The pain and suffering within him was pushing him further and further to his breaking point. And at last his inner darkness was released.
He waited for the crowd to disperse, and then he made his move. The manager had opened the cage only for an instant, and he never found out what hit him. Only one other person had seen what Erik had done: one of the girls who had been enthralled by the parrot the previous day. She had come back, and was stunned into silence by what she had seen.
Erik froze for a moment; he wasn't sure if she'd end up giving away what he had done. As angry yells erupted from all around, she decided to help him.
Several minutes later, Erik found himself in the cellars of the Opera Populaire, trying to catch his breath from having run all the way. The girl had disappeared, but she had assured him that she would provide him with food as soon as she could.
The darkness had helped him escape his fate, he realized. But at what cost? There was no possible way he could return to the light now; they would be after him for he had done to the sideshow manager. Erik began to regret what he had done, but he realized that he would never have gotten out of there otherwise.
He would have to live the rest of his life in darkness, now; there was no turning back. But he was well hidden down here; there were passageways everywhere. If he could learn to traverse them, no one would be able to find him. No one would be able to bring him back to the light to make his life miserable again. But he would have to spend the rest of his life down here.
But will it really be that terrible? he thought. Here I am, beneath the biggest opera house in France… Perhaps one day, my own work will be performed here…
It was a hope that he could see happening; even here, in the darkness, he could still have hopes. And perhaps in the darkness, they would come true.
And this place could prove to be the safest of havens. He could live here, unknown to anyone, and become a legend in his own right. He could be a being of the shadows, unseen by anyone, but always there… always watching… always waiting for the day his hopes finally became fulfilled. This place was now his domain, and would always be.
So be it, Erik though to himself. I shall claim this place as my new home. From now on, I am the Phantom of the Opera.