Chapter 3

The Phantom's home was a disgrace.

Holding his new son with stiff, awkward arms, Erik took a few cautious steps, stopping where shards of looking glass covered the floor. Turning his face from the broken mirrors, he began to inspect the damage. His instruments appeared to be the mob's main victims; a snapped cello string lay useless on the floor; organ pipes pointed at odd angles like broken fingers; two halves of a violin clung together by a few splinters. An all-too-familiar moisture crept along the Opera Ghost's yellow cheek. And he was the brute?

Before the Phantom could voice his disgust, a tear fell and shattered on Christian's cheek, waking the child. In a split second, the silence vanished beneath the infant's bawling. That tiny face that had been sleeping so soundly before now howled and whimpered and sobbed and wailed...

"Quiet!" Erik hissed, unheard over the noise. "Stop!" The screaming continued. How was it that a creature barely half the size of a cello could wail twice as loud? Lowering his voice, Erik threw a pleading look at the child in his arms. "Please stop crying, Christian."

Unfortunately(as any parent will tell you) a baby will happily quieten down simply because you ask him politely, and so the screaming symphony continued for what seemed like hours - long enough for the Opera Ghost's ears to ring and loud enough to make his skull rattle. Setting the baby down, he took a step back. Taking a deep breath, he tried to concentrate. A newborn couldn't be that complex.

Any human being has a few basic needs; warmth, food and contact. Picking the infant up, Erik set himself down on the bench by the organ, his withered brow creasing like old, wet paper. It had never really bothered him, but a slight breeze tended to run through his home from time to time. Was that the trouble? Without a word, he unfastened his cloak and spread it over the wriggling baby, tucking the cloak around the baby's back. The cloak was velvet, heavy, more than adequate for protecting the little boy from the cold, but it did little to quiet Christian. His little arms wriggling about under the cloth, the baby continued to cry, grizzling to the point of half-exhausting himself. Gentle shushing and attempting to comfort him did nothing, and that a single possibility: hunger.

Of course! Now, what did a new-born baby eat? Erik glanced between the screaming child and a bowl of two-day old bread but, catching sight of the baby's bare gums, he realised this was little good. Chiding himself, the opera ghost dropped the bread. Water, perhaps? No, that offered no nourishment. It was a shame that Antoinette Giry had been turned away from the Opera Populaire, though her daughter had been allowed to stay. Perhaps she might have known, but in the mean time he was alone in the matter.

The best way to simplify a problem is to put it on paper. Having placed the tucked-up baby on the bed, at the centre to prevent him from falling off, the Opera Ghost drifted to his desk and lifted his quill. He tried not to look at the small stage or the two dolls looking down from the bridge, instead focusing on his own swirling script:

Sources for study of children

Park? (May not find child of C's age. Use new mask.)

Rooftop? (Does not allow much detail. Somewhere closer to subjects.)

House? (Possible. Use new mask. However, would require finding a woman and child to follow- time consuming and undesirable)

Hospital? (Possible, but may contract disease from patients. Use new mask.)

Mlle G? (Possibly unreliable/unwilling given situation with Mme. G)

Orphanage? (Use mask.)

His yellow eyes glowing, he crossed out the first three options; finding someone with a baby in those situations could take days if not weeks, and either way that was far longer than he wished to spend in the open where those shallow, awful things that called themselves human were hunting him. Marguerite Giry was also struck from the list. Why would the ballet rat ever want to help him? At best, he was the reason for her mother's dismissal. At worst, he was... well, he could imagine what she might have to say. Another line darted over her name, leaving only two options.

Would there be many children in a hospital? Perhaps, but there would likely be far more adults. Then of course there came the matter of finding whereabouts in the building the children were, which could take even more time, and furthermore, a hospital was a place of disease. Did he honestly want to risk typhus or some other horrid illness? How far away from the Opera Populaire was the hospital, more importantly? He knew that the orphanage was nearby; he was less sure about the hospital.

Of course, he did have the added security of his latest project, which would prevent him from frightening children in an orphanage. Not that anyone would believe an orphan should one wake up and see a skeletal man in a mask in the dormitory- what child didn't see monsters in the dark? After a little more deliberation, he decided on the orphanage as the best place to gather information- and test his latest creation.

His lips, if he'd had any lips, would have stretched into a smile as he walked over to a small, mahogany box with a young man's face carved into the top as decoration. Inside lay an artificial face, with lips, smooth cheeks, a nose and perfect porcelain skin, fitting from the base of the neck to the forehead, which he would cover with a wig. Hands trembling slightly as he lifted his masterpiece, he closed his eyes and lifted the mask onto his deformed face. It fit perfectly, as he'd known it would, and for a moment he felt a pang of regret for smashing the mirrors. Had he seen himself, he'd have known that he looked remarkably average now. Handsome, even. The Opera Ghost could be handsome! Adjusting his wig, Erik glanced over to check Christian, who by this point had exhausted himself with his bawling and was sleeping soundly again, then darted down the tunnel, painfully aware that the golden silence might not last long.

In decades to come, Florence Nightingale would denounce places like the orphanage in disgust. Even in the moonlight, Erik could see cockroaches scrabbling about over the windowsill, and an odd smell a little like sour milk hung in the quiet night air. An attempt had been made at hygiene- a scrubbing brush floated in a basin in the corner of the half-scoured wooden floor- but it was nowhere near enough. About a dozen cradles lined the wall, each contained a blanketed baby; scrawny, squealing things that didn't have Christian's puppy fat. Others were as red as if they had been scrubbed raw. Were children meant to look like that? Like sun-baked worms? Surely not. Christian did not look like that. Christian was a beautiful child. No matter. Quiet as the night, Erik moved forward to the closest crib and nudged the child inside to wake it. Nothing. He nudged the child again and it stirred. A sharp poke later the child was bawling.

Sweet Heaven above, the noise! In its cot the red-faced, shrivelled thing screamed in a way that Erik could have reached in and shook the thing had two nurses not bustled in. Ducking away from the moonlight, the ghost found a safe hiding place in the dark, cobwebbed corner.

"My goodness, he could wake the dead," muttered one, a woman of about thirty.
"Let's just hope he doesn't wake the others up." the second replied, grabbing something from the table. Within seconds, the crying stopped. Gently holding the baby to her and patting its back, she cooed. "There we go. He only wanted a bit of milk."

Observing from his corner, Erik thought back to the mother's white breast and nodded to himself. Milk. He would have to find some, since he himself lacked the anatomy to feed Christian in the natural fashion. How long would it be before Christian could eat the same food as Erik? Would cow's milk be enough until then? Glancing at the bookshelf a few feet to his right, he strained his yellow eyes to see the titles; Caring For Your Child From Birth To Two Years, Caring For Infants, Raising A Happy Child, A Family En-

"Adéle?" There was a note of terror in the younger nurse's voice that made Erik look up. Between him and her was a stream of moonlight that brightened as the clouds began to disappear. A drop of yellow starlight slipped towards the Opera Ghost, outlining his black shoe.
"Yes?" The older woman asked, dropping the silenced child back into its cot.

The younger girl's blue eyes flickered between the window and the corner, fear pinning her to the spot as she caught sight of a pair of glowing yellow eyes watching her from the corner. The veil of clouds drifted away from the moon, spilling moonlight into the room drop by drop. Staring, the young nurse's mouth opened as she caught sight of the black trousers, the spindly body, the bony neck, the strangely smooth, oddly handsome, expressionless face.

"What are you doing in here?" the girl squeaked, trembling like a rat dangling from a cat's paw. Silence seeped through the room, heavy with fear.

"Lisbeth, what are you gawping..." No sooner had the older woman caught sight of the Opera Ghost than the words perished in her throat. Her mouth wide with fright, her eyes skimmed the line of cradles before darting back to the masked man, then to Lisbeth, then to him. Adéle had not forgotten the tales of her childhood... Tales of men who came in the night... Men who feasted on flesh... Murderous, yellow-eyed men. The children in the cribs were only gutter brats. They would not be missed. Her and Lisbeth, on the other hand...

"Please, Monsieur," the woman whimpered. "Take whatever you want." Ripping her eyes from the man for a moment, she glanced at one of the wretched infants and stepped back from the cribs. She did not dare lift her eyes from the floor. "Take whatever you wish, but please, Monsieur..."

Monsieur Fantôme glared at the fat woman. Was every woman as pitiless as his mother? Was there only one good woman in all the world? One kind woman, one sweet woman who kissed him and left him and married someone else. It appeared to the him that he had saved Christian from a world worse than even the phantom had believed. Reaching for his lasso, he advanced forward and stretched a hand out to the closer of the two women- the scrawny, blue-eyed one. The chill that clung to him could be felt by the girl even through his glove as a hand curled around her neck. The voice, to Lisbeth's shock, came not from the man's mouth, but from behind her. The girl's heart thumped.
"Get out," the thrown voice ordered as the man loosened his grip around her throat. "And her," it added, shooting into Adéle's ear. Neither woman needed telling twice. They were gone within moments and did not go back inside all night, though the children cried. Eager to leave, the phantom snatched books from the shelf and vanished through the window.

From the books, Erik learned of the millions of wants and needs of a new baby. Of course, these were special circumstances, leaving the phantom to do what he was so very good at: improvisation. A cello case served as Christian's crib. Each morning, the child was taken to the roof for a few hours to prevent rickets. A drop of whisky for teething. Soft lullabies composed for sleepless nights.

A child with a cello case for a cradle would surely love music, his father hoped. Would he compose? Sing? When the baby's hair grew, would it be the pale saffron colour of Christine's? Oh, the phantom did hope so. Surprising, how a man who had never known a parent's love could be so devoted to his stolen son. Each milestone brought joy the opera ghost never believed to be possible, and he could barely contain his delight when he noticed the first wisps of saffron curling on little Christian's forehead.