Christine felt the air being pushed out of her lungs. The Man in Yellow stared into her eyes, not blinking. They bulged out of his head one moment and went dead the next. His heavy weight dragged her down with him. Christine opened her mouth and screamed. She felt someone pulling her under her arms, trying to get her away from the body. There was the ripping sound as her dress caught under the man and ripped at her knee.
She continued to shriek as Erik wrapped his arms around her and made a shushing sound. He stroked her head and softly hummed a tune. Christine's eyes rolled back in her head, and she went limp.
"Christine?" Erik whispered, shaking her slightly. "She's passed out." He looked at Meg, who stood frozen. "Meg, you saved her life."
"Y-yes," she whispered. "But at what cost to ours?" There were shouts of men that no one had noticed before. "They are coming!"
Erik's father moved to take Christine. "Everyone get into the woods, I'll take Christine. Get Meg as far away as possible."
"Father-" Meg started.
"Now! You have killed a man! They don't know us! They won't hesitate to hang you Meg!"
"No!" Erik thundered. Mr. Giry stopped. "You have to take care of mother and Meg. I am not leaving Christine!"
"The woman's engaged Erik! Possibly to a wealthy man with stature! Do you really think that she would give all that up for you?"
Erik looked down at Christine, who has begun to stir. "I don't care."
Biting back the retort, Mr. Giry looked around for his wife. She came around in the wagon, the horse all ready to go. "Are you all done jabbering?" Everyone nodded.
"Good. Now, all who is coming get in the wagon, or will I be taking this journey myself?"
Meg still didn't move from her spot. She looked at Erik with begging eyes. "Come, Meg." Her father gently pulled her to the wagon. "We'll see Erik soon," he lied. "Catch up to us boy."
The sheriff and Christine's father burst into the small clearing. Gustave saw the man dead on the ground and a stranger holding his daughter. Red lights flared behind his eyes.
"You!" Erik took notice that he wasn't alone at the sound of the angry voice. He saw the man glance at Christine and her torn skirt, knowing what could come next. "Murder! You killed that man! You have defiled my daughter! Seize him!"
Erik fought back as men pulled Christine from his arms and pinned his behind his back. "Christine!" he called. "Christine!"
A gag was tied around his mouth, muffling his cries. "Take him to a cell. He'll hang tomorrow at noon," ordered the Sheriff. Men dragged Erik away. Sheriff moved to the man in yellow and rolled him over. "This one's dead, take him to the coroner's office." Men came and picked him up. "Hold it." He ruffled through the mans' jacket and pulled out the land deed. "Now go."
Gustave gently picked up his daughter and began walking towards his home. "Gustave!" called Sheriff. "What do I do with this?" He indicated the paper in his hand.
"Burn it." Gustave turned on his heel and didn't look back.
Christine sat up on her bed with a look of horror on her face. "Erik didn't kidnap me! I went into the trees on my own, I got lost and Erik and his family let me stay with them! I wanted to be there. He's done nothing wrong, it's me who should be punished!"
Gustave gently pushed Christine back into her pillows. "You've had some hard weeks. Your mind is tired and you need to rest. Raoul will be here soon, so forget about that boy. Raoul will stay with you tomorrow during the hanging here at home."
Christine pushed her fathers hands away. "No! He didn't kill that man! I did."
"Christine," her mother scolded, "you know you aren't very good at lying. Now stay in bed. Dinner will be at five and Raoul will be here to see to you. He's been very worried."
Gustave stood and left the room, Lottie began to follow.
"I don't love Raoul, Mother," Christine called to her.
Lottie paused with her hand on the doorknob. "I know, child."
Christine stood on the porch of her home, eyes closed and breathing in the night air. She missed seeing the stars from the lakeside and smelling the dirt as she tended the Giry family's small garden. The door opening behind her told her she was no longer alone.
"Christine," came Raouls voice. She turned to him. He had the same look of pity and fear that his face held through all of dinner. It was as if he feared she would just vanish again. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes, I just needed some fresh air."
"Ah," Raoul moved closer to her. "Christine, have you ever been to New York? It is an amazing place. The buildings are built up to the sky and there are so many people always moving and going places. The city never sleeps, Christine. When we are married-"
"I have no wish to marry you Raoul."
Raoul blinked in shock. "Christine, our families have already decided that we-"
"Yes," she said evenly. "They decided. No one asked you or even me what we wanted. You are very kind Raoul, but I do not wish to marry you."
"So you would go against your fathers wishes, become a spinster and die all alone? With no one to care for you?"
"No," Christine whispered. "I will never be alone. I will see the world and go everywhere. I will know hundreds of people and when I die they will all mourn me. I will be rich with friends and in knowledge. I may even entertain finding a stage to sing on, even if it's in one of those rough mining towns. And then one day, someone will find me and want me for me, not because our families want it to be so."
Raoul stepped back and looked briefly at the ground. "I see. There is no way I would be able to convince you to take such a journey with me at your side could I?" Christine gently shook her head. "Well then, I will collect my things. I will make whatever excuse to your father and my brother that I can. Perhaps I can conjure up something to occupy me in New York." He gave her a small kiss on the cheek. "Luck is the man who holds your heart, dear Christine."
He went back into the house. A few minutes later he was walking down the pathway to the road. Christine's father stood in the doorway. "He's leaving. Just like that, he's gone." Gustave shook his head. "He said a message came from New York and he must leave. He won't be coming back and asked to cancel our agreement." Going back inside he muttered, "I just don't understand."
Christine gave a small smile.
"Psst! Christine!" a voice whispered.
"Meg?" Christine saw the shadow hiding in the trees behind the fence. She ran to it. "What are you doing here? I thought I would never see you again!" She grabbed her friends' hand.
"It's Erik," Meg pleaded. "We have to get him out. They'll try to hang him tomorrow, and he won't die! They'll find us and lock us up, Christine! We need your help."
Christine thought for a moment. "Tell your father to meet me at the Sheriffs station at eleven. Make him look crazy. I have an idea."
The deputy was asleep at his desk when the young girl burst in the room screaming. "You have to help me! He's after me!"
He recognized her immediately. "Christine, what is the meaning of this?"
"He's come back! The father of that lunatic who kidnapped me!" She pointed to Erik in his cell. "He's mad! He keeps telling me he is going to kill me! Take your gun! Go shoot him before he gets me!" The deputy rushed out the door. "Help me!" Christine yelled after him.
"Christine?" Erik hissed. "What is going on?" He watched her grab the keys from atop the desk and unlock his cell.
"Out the side door. Your mother and Meg are waiting. As soon as your father had frightened off the deputy everything will be all right."
Erik followed Christine outside. "And how do you propose that?"
She motioned him to peer around the side of the building. The deputy shouted at Erik's father and pointed his gun. Mr. Giry lunged at the man. Two bullets hit Giry in the chest. Lowering his gun the deputy stepped next to the body. Mr. Giry suddenly opened his eyes and sat up. The deputy squealed and took off down the road.
Getting up, Mr. Giry bushed himself off as he walked towards them. Mrs. Giry and Meg pulled up in their wagon behind. "Thank you very much Christine. We are indebt to you for your kindness." He got up in the seat of the wagon. "Come on, boy."
Erik grabbed her hand. "Come with me."
"Erik, I can't." She cupped his masked side of his face. She slowly pulled it off, revealing the twisted skin. "If I go with you, you will be marked. My father would never stop looking, we would never have peace."
Erik placed his hand over hers. A few drops of rain began to fall. "The go back to the well and drink the water, I'll come back for you when it is safe." He jumped in the back of the wagon, holding her hand as long as he could manage. Now it was raining heavily. "I will love you, Christine, until the day I die."
Very sorry about the long, long beak. They days just fly by and I lose track of time.
Don't worry though. I the story won't end here. I have one more chapter to do, and then who knows what will happen to these wonderful people?