I do not own the characters; they come from various versions of the Phantom of the Opera.
Hello, all! Back from vacation, and here is something that I actually wrote a long time ago. I hope that you like it. It is set sometime after the unmasking scene and is told from Christine's point of view.
SUMMARY: Sometimes it's better to believe a lie when the truth turns angels into demons. Christine must face the horrible consequences to reality and the questions of her own heart.
"The Bliss of Ignorance"
Ignorance is a precious thing; it is an idyllic state of mind brought about by innocence that once gone, cannot be returned, no matter how desperately it is yearned and prayed for. How many times over the past weeks had I cried myself to sleep because of that very loss? How many times had I silently begged for its reinstatement, to fall back under the magical spell of the unknowing? It's sad, isn't it? I would have rather been the naïve, trusting child fed a mélange of lies than the woman I now was, no longer blind to the truth. The lies were so much more pleasant, so much more comforting, and yet I was now seeing what a fool I had been to believe in them. After all, which was more realistic: an angel sent from heaven or a man with a corporeal body a step away from hell?
Christine, you foolish girl! My mind was my most agonizing tormentor. It consumed me with vivid recollections of every detail I had neglected to notice, every clue to reality, and it chided my gullibility at every chance. And yet beneath the layers of a child's willingness to trust in even what it should have known was impossible, I had unavoidably suspected the real, blackened truth; I had simply chosen to ignore what could have been plainly inferred in favor of the bliss of ignorance. I hadn't wanted to know the truth! I hadn't wanted to let my rationality destroy the fantasy, not when those very lies had healed the deep rift in my heart and had filled the consuming loneliness that I had been victim to for so long. Peace! I had actually known peace for that short time! And anticipation and happiness and an eagerness to live! All of which had been denied to me since my father's death. What wouldn't I now give to have them again? To be lost back under that illusion so carefully spun around me? The truth was bitter and cold. I would have rather returned to being a victim of the lie. Maybe that made me pathetic, that I would want to be lied to, but I couldn't help myself. I was mourning an innocence so quickly lost. If I had known at the time that one small, seemingly insignificant action on my part would shatter my whole world and cost me those exquisite illusions that were sustaining me, I would have been more careful; I would have tread softly in that world and denied truth for as long as I could; I would have chosen the web of lies.
I was never the same after that night, not after I had succumbed to my childish greed and had stolen away an angel's façade only to find the face of the devil himself beneath. In the blink of an eye, I had been viciously ripped from my childhood and thrown unceremoniously into the world of adults, a world lacking in magic and blissful dreams and composed instead of disappointment, cruelty, and bitter irony. To have made my glorious, golden angel into a disfigured murderer…, a most bitter irony indeed.
And now all I knew was loneliness…, loneliness, pain, deception…. He had been not only a teacher to me; he had been a friend, a companion. I had told him everything, a full score of details to my life, and he had listened so intently to every word. He had laughed with me at my stories and had grown sad when I had spoken of my father. And when I would grow modest and insist that I was speaking far too much and must be boring him, he would so genuinely bid me on, saying that he could listen to me speak forever and never grow tired of my tales. And I had been so candid, so open with him, speaking at length of my dreams and desires as I would sit there in my dressing room believing to be conversing with a heavenly essence. I hadn't been the Christine who flirted with gentlemen and played the part of shy lady then; ladies held their tongues and let the men do the talking. I had allowed my emotions to be exposed, my innermost thoughts to be shared, which left me at present to feel embarrassed and vulnerable, realizing that all that time I had been speaking to a flesh and bone man. He must have believed me to be ridiculous! How could he have let me go on and on like that? It was…inappropriate, to say the least.
I no longer acted that way. I still met him for my nightly lessons, yes, but he remained the voice behind my mirror, not daring to materialize again, and I constricted our roles to only teacher and student. I was quiet and sullen, devoid of emotions, unsure how to feel or how to view my angel phantom. Most surely, my new attitude hurt him, but I couldn't care about that now, couldn't do much more than be lost in an internal anguish and a growing fear of what sort of creature I had allowed into my life.
Murderer, they called him, phantom, freak, madman. I was well aware of the tales, the terrifying stories spread through the company of his suspected past and the various atrocities against anyone who crossed him. Up until I had learned his identity, my angel had always treated me with kindness and tenderness, but once angel had become man, more and more I was being given visions of his temper, his anger, his bitterness toward the world. I had little doubt that I had brought some of it upon myself by suddenly treating him so differently and becoming just another person who snubbed him because of his face. He had perhaps assumed better from me. But I had disappointed him, and he was inclined to let me know it.
Rehearsals had just begun for a new production that put La Carlotta back into her rightful throne as diva soprano after my short-lived Gala night success. The reigning prima donna had made it quite clear to my managers that her return held the unarguable condition that I once again be pushed into the background and virtually forgotten, and only too willing to please her, my managers complied. But even though I was back in the chorus with the memory of the Gala night seeming only to have been a dream, Carlotta was determined not to allow me to forget the 'injustice' I had done her and took it upon herself to dole out her own form of punishment. Where as before when only a chorus member, I had been faceless, nameless, and ignored, I now took on the role of Carlotta's favorite scapegoat and abused marionette, constantly under her watchful eye lest I make even a single, minute fumble. She always had a handful of insults and belittlement ready for me as well as a very detailed list of chores that I was to be assigned to do for her and could not refuse to obey, ridiculous errands that if not done to her satisfaction resulted in a vicious and vindictive berating.
At the present moment, I was on just such an errand, sent to one of the many cellars below the stage in search of a fan that Carlotta had used in a previous production that she insisted was 'perfect' for her current role. Though I had wanted to argue that she had a whole case of fans in her dressing room to choose from as well as a very dutiful fan maker who would design anything she liked, I curtly nodded to her instructions and set off to do her bidding. By this time, rehearsal was drawing to a close, and as the members of the cast who were not in the last scene were gathering their things to leave, I hurried in my task. My impetus was not on the lesson I had once the theatre was empty, but on a ridiculously irrational fear of being alone in the cellars.
With wary glances to every shadowed corner and crevice along my path, I held my solitary lantern high and crept soundlessly through the stone-walled corridors. In my mind, I was recalling the dark, dank passageways my angel had taken me down on our one and only face to face meeting; they were similar and yet they existed beyond these cellars, their mysteries known only to him.
With a dull shudder that tickled my shoulder blades, I continued onward to where the corridor parted into the first cellar's storage space. Above my head was the theatre, and I could clearly hear the shrill notes passing La Carlotta's lips as she concluded her final aria. It was an exquisite piece that I myself would have loved to sing, and almost naturally, I found myself humming those last lines with her. In my very vivid imagination, I could put myself on the stage at that exact moment, rehearsing the leading soprano's role and singing the beautiful aria with all of my cast mates pausing to listen, my stage director Reyer smiling with satisfaction at my achievement, my voice blossoming out to fill the theatre to its every box and rafter. If only…, if only….
My reverie shattered with an abruptness that stole my breath as I heard Reyer's muffled call of dismissal, and I hastily returned to my purpose, rushing over to the haphazardly labeled crates of stored props. Setting my lantern atop a tattered piece of scenery, I began the hopeless task of searching for the fan.
For a little while, I worked steadily with my purpose to drive me onward and occupy my mind, but then, suddenly, with no clear or reasonable explanation, I halted, my hand pausing midair over the top of yet another box. Staring at my hovering appendage distractedly, I noted the way it started to tremble, shake really, before I even realized the reason for my body's discomfort.
"Erik." I formed the word on my lips, though no sound emerged. Erik…, the name, that name he had called himself…, not angel…; no, he was no angel…. But Erik…, a mortal man's name, …his name.
He was there. I felt him watching as if his very shadow was overcoming and suffocating me. It was possible that he had been there all along, spying my every movement, but it was only now that I felt his presence…like a plague of death that could steal my soul if I dared yield to it. He was the very darkness surrounding me, coming at me on all sides, locking me in, …swallowing me whole.
My head began to spin, my heart fluttering madly against my rib cage, and to my horror, I could discern not a single noise from above. I was alone in the opera house, …alone, abandoned, forgotten…; well, forgotten by all except one, one who wouldn't let me go.
I wasn't breathing; I didn't realize it until I suddenly knew the terrifying sensation of drowning without water. In a straggled gasp, I sucked in a saving breath, …and I ran.
Thought did not impede my actions or my rashness, nor did reason. Pausing only to grab my flickering lantern, I simply ran, ran as if the hounds of hell were nipping at my ankles. I did not slow in my pace until I emerged into the theatre, only to find it indeed vacant and dark. Onward I went; onward to my dressing room, as if it was some sort of sanctuary, where I would be safe from him, as if he could not touch me there. Foolish, I know….
Bursting into the small room, the very last one down the offstage corridor, I hastily locked myself in, fumbling with the key, before, at last, I leaned in exhaustion against the wooden doorframe, desperately trying to catch my breath.
My lantern was unneeded; my lamps were already lit; perhaps that should have been a clue, but I was too weary to consider such a thing, to consider anything other than the temporary safety I believed I had. Setting the lantern on my dressing table, I slipped in a heap of skirts to the carpeted floor, my weak knees unable to support my weight any longer.
Long minutes ticked by where only my breaths could be heard in the room surrounding me, and gradually, I was composing myself and finding some semblance of calm. But it was short-lived….
That voice! I could hear him singing to me in echoes from a distance at first, like the beautiful wailing of a ghost. As it grew closer and more brilliant with each line, I felt my body begin to tremble all over again, my heart leaping madly, my breaths returning to shallow gasps. This time it was all the more terrifying because I knew not only fear, but also something else, something that I could not control or contain. This foreign, unnamable emotion was even more frightening to me because it was reminiscent of the euphoric waves of exhilaration I had known the very first time I had heard his voice like some sort of spell by a master magician. But now it was deeper, rooted in the very essence of all that was me, and even as my fear of him rose with equaled fervor, it was no match for this other emotion and if anything, the fear only made it all the more exciting.
The eerily beautiful voice was surrounding me in its pure, rich tones, and I found myself closing my eyes to savour it as it made a path down the length of my spine. Before Erik, I had never known music could be so potent, …so dangerous. It could burn….
His golden notes drew to an end and faded away to silence, and I knew that he stood on the opposite side of my mirror, hidden by his magical glass from my sight. How often had he used that trick to spy on me? The question had haunted me hundreds of times since I had learned of his earthly substance and made my stomach twist with a mixture of revulsion and violation. I wanted to ask him, to learn how many of my most intimate moments were no longer my own, but I was too terrified of what his answer would be, choosing this time not to know the unsettling nuances of the truth.
"Christine…." He breathed my name as if it was a prayer, a saving grace. That was how he perceived me, as some sort of a goddess who could save his soul, …and how I loathed it!
"Erik," I stated softly, emotionless. I had learned in the past weeks what walls were and how to construct them around my heart. Maybe he could still plainly read me, but I was not about to make it easy or to continue on as before when he had been an angel….
"I am sorry to have kept you waiting," he went on. "I had a small detour to make first. Have you been here long?" He was far superior to me at building walls. We both knew where his detour had led him. He didn't like to acknowledge things that were not exactly to his plans, …when I was not behaving like the Christine of his fantasies.
I shook my head mutely and stumbled to my feet, smoothing my skirts with hands that could not remain still.
"Ah, good, then shall we begin?" He was falling into his established role as teacher, accepted and comfortable to us both, and I willingly slipped into my own as student.
This time between us was easy; it bore no sort of pressure, no awkwardness. These were roles that we understood; it was going beyond them that hurt us so much.
For over an hour, we worked under that guise of comfort. And the music stole my breath away and with it, any remaining shred of fear for this man, this angel. How could I fear him when he was imparting his genius upon me, creating the most incredible sounds to pass my lips? He was such a wonderful teacher even as he constantly challenged me to strive for perfection, never to settle when it could still be better. It was during our lessons that I was assured a million times over that I could never leave him. I may have even respected him, …loved him; his face, his crimes, none of those things mattered anymore, their existence not even a fraction of a thought in my mind. And maybe he knew this; I couldn't be sure. Maybe he knew that through the music, he would always have me, eagerly, willingly, no longer restrained. I even smiled and beamed with satisfaction beneath his praises for my progress. And I didn't possess the strength to doubt his intentions and question his motives for taking up the role of my teacher. I didn't want to. Ignorance is bliss….
Our lesson was ending, and my mind silently screamed protests. No. No. No. To go back to the true state of things between us…. To remember…. It was entirely unappealing when things could be so wonderful.
"Tomorrow we will rework the ending of the aria," Erik was saying. "I want a little bit more in the cadenza."
I nodded once, and in that same instant, reality returned like a sharp knife driven to the gut. My eyes wandered down to distractedly study the pattern of the carpet as the emptiness became a gaping hole within me once again, an agonizing void of darkness that I didn't want to face.
"Christine," he called, but my downcast eyes did not dare rise to my reflection in the glass, terrified how much would be blatantly on display without my permission. "Tell me of your day."
Every night, he made the same request. When he had still been called angel, I would have spoken volumes, but now that he was Erik, the phantom, a stranger, I rarely said more than a sentence. But still he asked.
True to form, I gave a bit of a shrug and quietly replied, "It…it was exhausting…. I really should return home; it is quite late."
If he truly heard my pathetic excuse, he chose to ignore it. Instead, he said, "You never speak to me anymore of yourself."
I could hear the restraint he was desperately fighting to keep on his emotions, the very edge of the pain tightening that beautiful voice. To my horror, my initial impulse was to beg forgiveness, to fall to my knees before my mirror and cry for the pain I was causing him. But I didn't move or reply; I kept a somber expression and an apathetic stance. No, he would not receive sympathy from me! How could he deserve my sympathy after what he had done to me and considering what he was?
He was silent for a long time, perhaps trying to read my pretense and search for faults; I couldn't say for sure. But then with a deep sigh, he coldly accused, "You are such a cruel girl."
"Cruel." I said the word, testing it in my mouth. Did such an epitaph suit me? Was it the proper title for my hurt-laden actions?
"Yes, cruel." His tone was sharper now, louder and angrier by the breath. "You have no compassion to be so cold to me. And certainly no sense of gratitude!"
"Gratitude?" This time I could feel a bit of his anger reflected in myself, rising with his in paralleled streaks, but I fought to remain detached and aloof.
It was as though I could hear his abrupt nod. "I teach you every day, spend hours working with you, molding your voice, and I have never asked anything in return. The very least you can do is treat me like a human being."
" A human being," I retorted without the hesitation that should have been imparted by walls. "Is that what you are…? I thought you were an angel, but I was sorely mistaken. I apologize for not being grateful for being lied to and manipulated."
Where had such words come from? I could hardly comprehend that my voice was speaking them! I was meek; I was timid; I did not dare talk back to anyone. What sort of influence was he having on me to behave in such a bold manner? And yet it wasn't that difficult at all; had he been standing before me with those eyes bearing into me and that mask glinting off of the light, I knew that I would have become nothing more than a tongue-tied idiot, willingly taking his verbal lashing without protest, but out of my sight, he was only the elusive threat in the darkness.
"I will not justify my actions to you," Erik bitterly stated back. "Because I don't regret them. I only regret that you ever learned the truth."
My anger subsided. In the back of my mind, I was mirroring that sentiment as I had been every moment since I had lifted off that mask. If only we could go back in time….
Softly, dully, I asked, "Would you have carried on your charade forever then? Would you have been my faceless, intangible angel for the rest of my life and continued to watch me from the background?"
"You know I couldn't; that's why I brought you through the mirror in the first place." I could hear him sigh, like an agonizing exhalation of a breath that was too painful a burden to bear. "Had I had any idea what would happen, how my so meticulously planned actions would turn to work against me, I would have taken precautions. I would have been more careful to keep your curiosity at bay and my face hidden from you."
"I would have learned eventually. You couldn't cower behind a mask forever."
"Don't you think I know that?" he suddenly snapped, making me jump with a start that jolted every limb. "I am not a fool, Christine! I know the power of a woman's infernal curiosity and the inability to deny it. My plan wasn't to keep you from ever seeing. God knows that never would have worked. No, I had only wanted you to know me first as a man, to confess that I was no angel, but that the man and the angel were one in the same, that they both adored you and would do anything for you…. If you could have learned to care for me…, if you could have had the chance to learn compassion towards me, …then maybe when I showed you…. Well, we'll never know that outcome, will we?"
I couldn't speak, couldn't think, my mind playing and replaying his every word. I didn't know what I was feeling or what I was allowed to feel in this situation. Should I pity him? Should I curse the circumstances that had led us down this very path? Should I hate myself for destroying Erik's intentions and plans? Had we gone through with them, would our ending be different? I had to wonder if his face would have indeed been a less horrifying reality had I learned to care for the man first, if the image of it had not been tainted with his rage to make it into a blazing horror. Such brutally torturous musings that had no definitive answers, only an unending bagful of questions to sort through and dwell upon.
More to myself and my own introspection, I insisted quietly, "I deserved the truth, no matter how unsettling and painful it was. All you did was lie to me from the very first instant."
"I didn't lie to you!" he practically shouted at me. "I gave you what you wanted, an answer to your prayers. Maybe the details were unreal, but the heart of it was. Every word, every sentiment, every emotion; those were real and true. You wonder how I could have deceived you in such a manner; well, here, right now, that is exactly why I did it. Because you would have treated a masked man with a tainted past coldly and fearfully just as you are treating me now."
"You don't know that for certain," I challenged back. "It's a much less disconcerting reality than a man who hides behind a mirror and spies on every moment of a person's life as if it is acceptable to do so. You stole everything from me with your lies. You hid the truth with you behind that mirror so that you could deceive me, and you are still doing it now, playing the coward. Your lies were never for me, Erik; they were for you."
My words struck a nerve within him; I knew it instantly, and I cursed my unrestrained tongue and my lack of consideration to the consequences of my blunt accusations. …Oh God, what would he do now?
I didn't have long to wait to find out. I heard a small clicking, and before my confused and addled mind had the chance to register where the sound had come from, the mirror's glass was swinging open. I gasped sharply at the sight of Erik, the form of him that I had only ever seen once with that gleaming white mask and eyes that shot fire at me. His very expression was laden with his fury and an unearthly hellish glow that made my entire body go numb, limbs frozen in place, too afraid to stay yet too afraid to run. I felt my breath trembling in my lungs and was unable to exhale and take another, my heart beating like a wild drum, and for a brief moment, in one semblance of a coherent thought, I actually prayed for death rather than to face this man.
Erik had become the equivalent of a ferocious animal, and I was the terror-struck prey half a step from the lion's claws. His rage was so tangible that I almost thought I could reach out and touch it with my hand. To feel fire…, it was about to burn me in its flames.
"Erik," I breathed, half in a whimper, pleading mentally with my legs to back away yet without success as they remained rooted in place. "Please…."
He forced a cruel laugh. "You were full of so many words a moment ago, yet now that the coward has chosen to face you, that is all you can come up with?"
Before I even had the chance to guess at his intentions, he glided across the existing distance between us. His every step closer suffocated me more and more until I couldn't breathe, as if I was sinking to the very bottom of a lake with black waters closing in all around to bury me from life.
Run! Run! My mind desperately begged my feet to comply, but they wouldn't budge. He was too close! Too close!
And then before my widened, fear-filled eyes, he grabbed me with his gloved hands on each of my shoulders and dragged me abruptly to himself, crushing my body against the hard wall of his chest. I gave a small cry of despair, but could not form a scream or even a protest as he clutched me so tightly.
"Why do you do this to me?" he harshly breathed near my ear with a violent, tormenting passion, so powerful that it rattled me to my core and left me all the more terrified. Rage was interwoven so intricately with passion that it was nearly impossible to discern one from the other. "You tempt me to insanity!"
For a long, excruciating moment, he did not speak or move. He simply continued to restrain me in a viselike grip against himself, every muscle in his body its own rigid plane. I could feel his heart beating so erratically and so hard as if it was a constant pounding thunder attacking him rather than sustaining his life, and his aberrant, rather spasmodic gasps of breath ruffled my falling curls and brushed my ear, creating shivers that seeped into my blood stream with their intensity. What I could manage to glimpse of his masked face as I dared to peek was twisted with a pain that I couldn't fathom or ever hope to.
Finally, shaking his head with a jerk, he demanded, "Why is it so wrong for me to know these things? These simple pleasures? …To hold you?" There was the edge of tears upon his fervent whisper, barely held back from an appearance. "Why am I denied this? Why am I doomed to live this way? I don't deserve it; I've never deserved it, and yet this has always been refused to me, this touching, …this contact. It hardly seems fair. I am a human being just like any other, and yet you fear me. You are terrified of me simply because of my face, because I…am ugly and…repulsive to you. I have never given you reason to hate me; I have always treated you like a goddess, …like an angel…, and yet you run from me. You fled me today in the cellar as if I was the devil himself."
A twinge of guilt pinched my spine. I knew he was right; he was right about all of it.
There was a slight catch of his breath, a hint of a sob that he was repressing as he went on, his grip loosening on my shoulders with every utterance. "I will not lie to you now that you know the truth. Yes, these hands have killed. Yes, they are stained in blood, but have they ever touched you with malevolence? Have they ever treated you as anything other than a treasure made of porcelain?"
No, they hadn't, but I could not locate my voice to speak the answer aloud. Even in these past minutes, his grip on me, although firm, had never been painful or abusive. He didn't want to shatter the porcelain in his hands.
I felt a tingle against my hairline, a tear that had fallen unnoticed from him and marked my flesh with its branding proof. He continued, "You've never thought that maybe I hide myself away behind that mirror to spare us both, …because I can't bear to see the look of terror on your beautiful face, …the look I was just given. …It is too much…to know how I frighten you…, how you abhor me when I adore you so much that it's killing me." His voice was twisted with such an intense longing and a desperate fervency that I could feel it seeping into my own body, as if through our closeness, his emotions were becoming my own.
I could have drawn away; his grip on my shoulders had relaxed enough that I knew I could escape…, but I didn't. Could I explain why? Did such reason exist? All I knew for certain was that I couldn't pull away from him anymore than I could have stopped singing…or my heart from beating. This moment was real; it was vivid; it was necessary.
As if knowing the same truth, Erik's hands moved from my shoulders to lightly trail down and back up the length of my spine, his breaths so harsh as they passed his lips. Even without my rational consent, my body was only too willing to surrender and yield as his hands made the same path down my back again and molded the softness of my curves into him, pressing us flush together.
I was suddenly petrified with fright. My God, what was I feeling? These emotions, these sensations had to be wrong! Had to be evil! They were so strong, so controlling that I barely possessed the ability to fight them…or the wanting to. The planes of his body against mine, the muscles, the hardness of him, were making my head spin and cloud.
He turned his face until his lips were buried in my curls, and glancing up at him, I saw his eyes close with the desperate need to savour what was happening between us, to cling to its details with fisted fingers.
Erik's hands trailed again down my back, slowly pressing against the arch of it, and as they languidly returned up the same trek, he hoarsely whispered, "I would never hurt you, never. No matter what you think of me, know that at least."
I nodded a bit, barely comprehending through the fog overcoming my mind more and more with each passing second. Through that haze, I felt him press a hesitant kiss, no more than a mere brushing of his lips against my hair, so tentative and hardly perceivable almost as if he didn't want me to know that he had done it, as if it was a sin I would never condone.
In a voice that now held that same timid gentleness, he softly bid, "Have you any idea how many times I've envisioned holding you like this?"
"How many?" I whispered back, afraid to test my voice, certain it wouldn't sound.
He smiled, and though I couldn't see it from my viewpoint, it was as if I could hear it. "Hundreds, millions even. At every possible moment…. I had created such fantasies of what you would feel like in my arms, how soft you would be…. I could only ever imagine such things…. I had no idea that it would be this way…, that it was possible for you to be even softer than I expected, that your scent would be so deliriously intoxicating, …that giving in to this sinful temptation would be so blissful…. I thought I was strong enough to resist and be content with fantasy alone, but my God, Christine, I am still a man."
I was poignantly aware of that. If I had ever doubted his mortal, corporeal existence, then these past moments would have assured me of it. Was this really the 'sinful temptation' that he called it? Should I feel wicked for permitting it? For not struggling and dragging myself away? I was the moth being drawn to the flame, knowing it would burn but enthralled by it just the same. While these new sensations were disturbing, at the same time, they were addicting and intoxicating. They seared me to the core like that flame inevitably did to the moth, and what scared me most was that I liked it.
One of his hands traveled into my mass of curls, his gloved fingers deliberately delicate as they weaved an intricate path, parting the locks from his way so that he could lower his face toward mine. My knees shook beneath my weight when I felt his lips lightly graze my hairline and then my brow, a caress more than a kiss, and as his other hand wandered up the length of my back again, it brought along with it a violent shivering, leaving me to bite back the small cry that very nearly escaped.
This was wrong and evil…. It had to be…. And I never wanted it to end.
I could feel the warmth of his breath on my brow, contrasting with the smooth coolness of the exposed skin of his jaw, and the surface of my flesh sang with life and sensation. It was as if I had never known what a touch was before this, as if I had never been touched. That was how new and intense every contact was. It was too much…, so severe that I wanted to cry and beg him never to stop at the same time, to never cease touching me because I wasn't sure that I was living until this moment, because I wouldn't truly live again without his touch upon my skin.
Imagine if I had done just that…. How different would my story have turned out?
He was lowering his face even nearer to mine. Perhaps he meant to kiss me then, and at that exact second, he would have found my lips parted, only too willing and too eager. But in the next moment, all of that changed. I felt it then, the unnatural material of the mask as if cold reality had intruded into our warm cocoon.
Mask! Face! Phantom!
With an abruptness that startled us both, I leapt out of his grasp and stared up at him with wide, accusing eyes. The mask blazed bitterly at me, as if taunting me, even though the man behind it looked too hurt to utter a single word.
I wanted to yell; that was my first impulse, to scream and berate him for what was really my own lack of judgment. I couldn't help but feel violated, manipulated yet again. No, no, I would never behave that way; I wouldn't let him, a disfigured murderer, touch me. I had more sense than that!
The words would not come, would not even form beyond a string of unspoken syllables that played dully in my brain. I felt guilty and shamed at the very same time as I felt I had suddenly been cut off from living again, devoid of true sensation without his fervent touch to cause it. It hardly seemed fair! Why was it that only this man caused such feelings in me? This lying, murdering demon? Why did it seem that it was only to him that my body responded? Was it meant to be a bitter irony? I was terrified of this man, maybe even hated him, and yet I felt the acute craving for him torturing my trembling body. And at the height of it, I couldn't decide if what I really wanted was to run or to fall back into his embrace.
Erik regained his composure before I did, and he met my arresting stare with his adopted air of formal dignity. "It is late, Christine; I will not keep you any longer. …Until tomorrow."
With that, he turned his back on me and haughtily strode to the open mirror and the doorway into his world. As an afterthought, he called over his shoulder even as he disappeared into the darkness of the caverns, "And I have no apology for my actions. You brought them upon yourself. Perhaps this shall teach you not to tempt the devil. Goodnight, Christine."
I remained stuck in that spot for a long time after the mirror closed again, staring blankly at my own reflection in the glass. My still quivering arms came around my waist to hug my cold body. I had never felt a chill like this one, one that was fueled from the inside of me and wouldn't seem to loosen its hold.
One of my hands reached up to absently brush over my hairline and my brow, those betraying places that had delighted in Erik's kiss. He was right; I had brought all of this upon myself from the very moment I had allowed my consciousness to believe in angels with golden voices. I had believed, and then I myself had been the one to destroy the fantasy. I had transformed the angel into the devil, and now I had to come to terms with the consequences of my ignorance. But what was worse: to be ignorantly lost in a lie or to be ignorant enough to learn the truth?
Sliding to the floor, I curled up into myself, burying my face against my knees, and I sobbed and mourned an angel and a blissful lie.