Well, it appearst that either no one is reading or else no one is commenting. Given that, as soon as I finish the bloopers, I'll go ahead and post the part referenced in the last blooper bit so MadameFaust can view it. Everyone else, you've been given ample warning if you don't like that type of stuff (or if you don't want to see this version of Erik so engaged.)

Here goes!

At length, we reached the third cellar and the place where Erik had re-hanged poor Joseph Buquet.

I considered convincing Raoul to drop through, then going a different route with Erik to avoid any explanation. Let him reach a conclusion that Erik and the Persian worked together to capture him, I didn't care. Until a moment later I realized he would have to be set free sometime, and he would be more apt to tell the angrier he was with us.

I dropped first into the treed foyer and held out my arms. A startled yelp from Erik suggested that Raoul had pushed him into the opening. I caught him and Raoul in turn, again forcing myself not to let the annoying boy fall to the floor on his own.

Raoul moved the beam of the lantern over the wall. "The wall is a mirror," he said.

"Isn't it delightful," Erik asked.

"It's horrific," I answered. "Let's get out of here." I pushed the wall to the Louis Philippe room and staggered into it.

***(the story derails again right here. Suppose Erik had locked the doors when he went out rather than when Christine arrived. All THREE of them would be trapped in the torture chamber until Christine found the pouch with the keys in it! Should I write that version, too?***

"Christine?" Erik's voice said with surprise.

"Erik!" She sounded gleeful. "Oh, Erik, I've changed my mind. I'm so sorry about every—"



Raoul glanced at Erik and then at me.

"Christine!" I said inanely.

Christine's eyes turned dark as she turned to Raoul. "The Persian," she whispered.

"Christine!" Erik said in vague wonder.

Christine bit her lip. "Oh… Erik," she said with great worry.

"Enough!" I screamed, or they might stand there repeating one another's names all day. "Enough, enough! This way!" I ushred everyone toward the door to the parlor. Raoul wrapped his arms protectively about Christine and proceeded in the direction I indicated. Erik stuck his tongue out at me and make ridiculous faces until I flicked his ear with my finger. Then he proceeded into the parlor grumbling under his breath.

It took some time to sort out the details, especially as Erik and I were making up parts of them as we went along. To further complicate things, Erik's additions to my story were not at all helpful as he had apparently doubled his laudanum dose and added some opium to deaden the pain of his gunshot wound and in addition made himself ridiculously silly. I'm fairly certain Raoul recognized Erik's yellow eyes in the tunnel as being the same yellow eyes on his balcony the night before, but to his credit, he did sit quietly and allow us to attempt to explain. I indicated that Erik had been following Raoul for several weeks (it wasn't actually a lie!) to determine whether he was worthy of Christine. I claimed that ultimately Erik had concluded that Raoul and Christine deserved to be together (again, not even a lie!) and had come to Raoul's home the night before to let him know this (it's so much easier to tell the truth sometimes!) and to assist him in persuading his brother to allow it so they couple did not have to run away and marry in secret. (See? Simple.) When Raoul scoffed that Philippe would not allow himself to be convinced in such a manner even by his own father, Erik interjected "I thought of that, actually," but I silenced him with a poke to the ribs. I was filling up the time with a lot of nonsense to deliberately delay the point at which the boy might ask questions I did not care to attempt to answer, such as why, if all that were true, I had described Erik as I had on the way here, and why I had armed him with a prop pistol and led him to believe it was a real one. The last thing I wanted was to open a god-damned dialogue with the boy that would trick me into revealing still more of the truth than I already stupid had!

I admitted that the plan had gone terribly awry when Raoul saw Erik before he was supposed to and fired his gun at Erik.

"I knew it!" Raoul cried out triumphantly. "I knew it wasn't just a lousy cat!"

"Would that it had been," Erik mused quietly.

"But, but why didn't you show yourself then? Why didn't you simply explain? We could have sent for medical attention and you could have attempted to convince Philippe while we waited for the doctor!"

Christine's rapt attention to the story had been broken, however, at the admission of the shooting. She got up from her place beside Raoul on the sofa and moved to perch upon the ottoman by Erik's chair. "Oh my poor Erik," she murmured. "He shot you? Where? Show me where?"

Raoul was so engaged in argument that Erik should have explained himself immediately from the rooftop or the drainpipe that he scarcely noticed Christine's fawning. She hadn't yet noticed the inconsistency of Erik's willingness to go barefaced before Raoul and before me and was instead simply cooing to Erik, "Let me take care of you. It's all right. It's all right, dear, it's only Christine."

"All right, here it is," Erik announced, bolting up from his chair so suddenly the movement caused him pain despite his many medicines. He winced and sucked in his breath and gripped his shoulder over the bullet wound. Christine cooed and reached for him, but he brushed her hands aside. "Christine feels sorry for me," he gestured, "as you can surely see. First it was sorry that I live in such a place as this, and then it was sorry that I look like this, then sorry for this thing she'd done and sorry for that thing as well. Now it's," he nodded at his hand, which he had been unable to keep Christine from grabbing hold of, "sorry my fiancé shot you. If we continue in this manner, I fear her guilt will prevent her from ever marrying, so, my boy, I recommend you take her immediately and hurry to the first church you can find."

"But Erik!" Christine protested. "Who will care for you?"

"The Persian, Christine. The Persian knows a great many folk remedies from the time he traveled with the gypsy side show."

What? When had the Persian had anything to do with the gypsy side show? I turned so rapidly to look at him that I strained a muscle in my neck and involuntarily yelped.

Erik's eyes glittered at me dangerously. "He is sometimes reluctant to admit to his twisted past. Never mind, Daroga." He turned his eyes back to Raoul. "I understand Raoul is the most trustworthy of men, isn't that so, Monsieur? No doubt the Persian fears I shall tell you his secrets. I will not, however. I, too, can be trustworthy, dear Monsieur. But I must caution you, his methods are strange, his ingredients horrific, and the stench quite sickening. It would not be at all appropriate for such a dear young lady as this one to remain and be subjected to the Persian's medicine, even by observation. Please," he said imploringly, "take good care of her for me." He directed his attention to Christine. "And perhaps the two of you will return to visit Erik when he is properly healed?" he suggested.

"Of course!" Christine cried, throwing her arms around Erik, who bit back a yelp of pain when she squeezed him about the shoulders.

"Come, Christine," Raoul said, carefully unwinding her from his rival.

We were all startled by the ringing of an electric bell.

"Oh dear," said Erik. "Who might that be?" Who indeed? It could be almost anyone! Only Jacques, Pierre, and Darius knew of Erik's condition, while the rest knew only that he needed the evening off owing to a family emergency. Likely everyone expected his mother was ill and we were visiting. Any of the boys might take advantage of Erik's presumed absence to use the House on the Lake for himself! I weighed the possibilities. It would be a terrible mess in any event. How would I explain to Raoul Jean-Claude, Charles, Michel, and François roaring into the parlor with liquor on their breath and depravity on their minds? On the other hand, it wouldn't be any easier to explain away Jacques and Pierre bringing morphine and chocolate to appease Erik who can get a bit cranky when he's gone a full day without sweets. I considered not opening the door at all.

"I shall go and tell the siren to open up," Erik said.

"Like hell you will," I told him. "You stay right there." These words were uttered with the authority of the Persian Daroga. Chief of Police, I mean. Not liar. It was my intention to open the door, step outside, inform whichever of our friends was there of what was going on and ask that they come back shortly after Christine and Raoul had left. So shocked was I, however, when I opened the door, that I merely yelped out a name and stood there with the door and my mouth ever open. "Philippe!" I said.

"You!" he responded.

"Philippe?" Raoul uttered behind me.

I heard the scuttle of footsteps across the room.

"Erik?" Christine said.

"Raoul?" Philippe exclaimed.

"Philippe!" Christine trilled.

Where the hell was Erik, I wondered.

"I knew I would find you here with her," Philippe said.

Just then, the House on the Lake went dark.