Hello! I know it's been awhile since I posted something new for you guys, but I have been hard at work, publishing a collection of my Phantom stories! I'm excited to say that it is nearly finished and will hopefully be out next week! Updates will be on my Facebook page as well as my website as soon as it is available. It has been quite a task, but it will be 10 stories previously posted and 2 that you guys have never read from my personal archive! Yay!
More news! Anyone living in or around the Colorado area, I am going to be out there in July performing and signing books! July 25th in Golden, Colorado! There is information on my website for that as well, and I would absolutely love to meet any phans able to come. I'm going to be performing a full recital, and afterward, "Opera Macabre", "The Devil's Galley", and my Phantom story collection will be sold and signed. Seating is limited, but the recital itself is free!
Anyway, onto the story!
SUMMARY: Told in Erik's POV, a stolen pleasure and its inevitable guilt.
"Kiss Me Alive"
I am haunted by angels.
An angel I want, an angel I want to be. Angels with golden voices and beauty more than God allows. Such blasphemy when I have no belief in God. But angels… An angel's existence made me wish I had faith.
Christine is an angel trapped on earth's surface. I have no doubt in such an assertion. An angel with wings clipped and flight stolen. No, she cannot fly, not her mortal body, but her voice… Yes, her voice flies. It soars up to heaven and makes a God I refuse to believe in weep with its gloriousness. Eternal, inhuman, flawless, and for a man obsessed with possessing perfection when he cannot have it on his own, she is meant to be mine. Perfection deems it so.
Love is a potent emotion; mixed with infatuation, it can consume. I loved Christine in a way that frightened me. I didn't reason beneath the power of my heart. I was supposed to be better than that. I was the omnipotent Opera Ghost, but she made me a pathetic worm crawling in the dirt under her shoes for one grazing of her life.
It finally became too much, and I could tolerate it no longer. I was not a man used to denials and disappointments when I set my mind to something. The world was cold and cruel; I'd learned to bend it to my will and take. But where Christine was concerned, I faltered. No more. I was about to change the course of our story.
She was staying with me, sleeping so trustingly beneath the opera house as if it wasn't the hell I typically dubbed it. She belonged in sunlight, outside heaven's door, and through my voice and our sordid connection, I kept her chained to the underground like Persephone carried off by Hades. She was my goddess, and I was as undeserving of her presence as any lord of the dead.
As per our typical routine when she was my guest, she retired early after her lesson. She did not linger and prolong conversation as she once did when an angel had been her ally. Now she chose distance and confining herself a door away from a monster. I missed candid talks and smiles, but as I kept reminding myself, I'd only been worthy of such tokens with a mirrored doorway stood between us and she believed me above her. Demons were granted frowns and walls.
Silent stealth was one of my talents; playing the resident Opera Ghost for so long required it. Employing its masking device now, I crept to the threshold of her bedroom and loomed outside its sanctuary. I longed to be allowed access, but only fools made wishes that had no chance of being fulfilled. Permission would never be mine, and I was through waiting for it like a pathetic, unrequited lover. It was time to take.
She was asleep. I was confident in my assessment before I dared turn the knob. Unlocked… Practically an invitation if not a real request, and I clasped subtext with both hands and quietly slipped inside.
She'd turned out all the lights, nothing but thin strips from the hallway sconces creeping in about the door's shape, but I thrived in darkness. It was my natural habitat. For a creature of the light like my Christine, dark was hindering, blinding; for me, I saw better with its protective shield.
My eyes sought her out, and I stifled a sigh to gaze upon her without the usual weight of suspicion hanging between us. She was curled on her side upon her lush, canopy bed, her dark curls randomly strewn upon her pillow and delicately resting against her temples. Porcelain features too fragile for reality were relaxed and soft, dark lashes curved in crescent shapes upon her cheeks. How the image of her glorious beauty alone made me ache!
It amazed me that there were people in the world who wittingly chose to be without these feelings. It was usually those hell-bent on insisting the transcendental power of God. They chose to live in such denial, embracing celibate lifestyles, but they had their God to fill the unmitigated void left behind. They did not require touch and kiss because they believed they had something better. But I… I did not choose a life without human contact; it was forced upon me. Before Christine, I had accepted it as my cross to bear, unfair but a sacrifice to make. Now to look upon her and realize how many of mankind's inherent gifts I had lived without, I finally felt anger and a need to petulantly cry and dub it unjust punishment. Was it not enough that I was ugly and suffered the repercussions of possessing a horror for a face? I had to lose everything that constituted a real mortal existence as well?
My eyes fixed to Christine's pink, full lips, and I unconsciously crept closer to her bedside. A work of art. I'd spent countless minutes fixated on their shapes. When she grinned, their fullness thinned out and spread wide; when she sang, they puckered ever so slightly, depending on the vowel. Now in peaceful slumber, they looked soft and tender, calling to me with a more mesmerizing siren song than even when music poured from their cavern.
A kiss… They begged for the kiss I longed to bestow with nothing more than their perfection. My desire leapt like sparks beneath my skin for that very thing. A kiss…, and I could steal one now as she slept and she need never know.
The idea made my blood race and heart pulse deafeningly in my ears. To dare such an indiscretion upon the woman I adored? It was a sin greater than the murder I'd willingly committed before. This meant to defile something so pure that her God should smite me for the idea alone. But…temptation had a taste, and it was as intoxicating as wine, twisting better judgment with the insistence that if she didn't know, it would be only my sin to carry.
Shivering down every limb, I reached a yearning hand to that beautiful angel face. Touch was just as damning when it was taken without consent, so I did no more than graze the air above her mouth. I didn't touch, but her soft breath brushed my fingertips, and I shuddered. It was almost a caress, and considering that she would never knowingly grant me a single touch, it was bliss.
Steal a kiss… No one need know… It would fester on my conscience alone. The need churned in my gut because I was terrified that this purloined pleasantry would be all I'd ever have.
My trembling hand lifted from the blessed air above her lips to my mask and fumbled uncharacteristically with its lacings. A kiss meant I had to be vulnerable without its protection. If I dared leave it in place, it would press into her skin and surely awaken my sleeping beauty and alert her of my condemning act. So for the first time since she had stripped me of its presence, I stood before her with my deformity on display. Of course in the dark, I was no more than a silhouetted nightmare grown out of shadows, but I still kept my paranoia in my violently shivering hands.
My face was a horror, my mouth a misshapen, pathetic creation. Sense arrived if only to taunt me and make comparisons between Christine's perfectly-sculpted lips and my distorted ones. Ugly, demented, deformed, unworthy. Such insults played in the forefront of my mind along with a seemingly irrational fear that if I kissed her, my ugliness would leave a stain behind and tattle upon my transgression. As if should I kiss her asleep, she would awaken the next morning and find her lips tainted with the residue of my internal disease. Ridiculous, rationale argued, but I couldn't quite let go of the conjured thought completely. One kiss could be her destruction even as I dubbed it my salvation.
But…no, I wanted, and I was tired of giving up every desire because of this face. Why should I not love like any other human being? Why did my tragic curse make me unlovable, untouchable, not good enough to exist on the same plane of life as every other man? It wasn't fair.
There were the irrational fears my deformity spurred, but then there were the rational ones my inexperience equally ignited. A kiss was a foreign contact to me; I wasn't even sure how to do it. Lips to lips. That was my only knowledge on the subject, learned from constantly being a silent observer to life. Lips to lips…
Holding my breath for fear its exhalation would warn her of my presence, I slowly bent to her. Timid and with a terror that gripped my heart like a steel vice, I hovered above her mouth, watching her at every chance. Had I ever been so close? Dear God, she was even more beautiful so near where imperfections could be found: the almost imperceptible freckles at random spots, the off-set alignment of her features, every detail that made her surpass beauty and become unique and extraordinary. How had I not noticed glorious flaws before? I suddenly loved her so much more for every one.
Delicate and ever-afraid, I touched my misshapen mouth to hers. Oh God! Fire shot through my body at first contact. Perhaps it was half-induced by the knowledge that this was forbidden and taboo. Ugliness claiming beauty. But I shuddered hard and fought to keep control as I kept my lips gently against hers, never too much pressure, never taking more than a taste of paradise.
All at once, I jerked back. …Oh no. I'd felt the subtlest change in her breath, a random erratic beat in the pattern of her heart.
Jerking my mask back to my face in a scuffle of motion that no longer knew what stealthy meant, I prepared for the worst. She shifted beneath the covers. Those lips I'd just soiled with my own parted to free a soft sigh, and I froze in horror and berated myself for my indiscretion.
My mind concocted the most awful scenario imaginable: Christine awaking, knowing I was there in her room when she'd been vulnerably asleep and stealing what wasn't mine. I'd lose every chance, every dream, and all because I'd dared to sin against the woman I loved.
No sound, no breath, nothing to betray, and to my relief, my effort worked. She did not stir beyond a new position, and within seconds, she calmed back to sleep. And my sin was unknown and clasped in fisted hands as I crept backwards to the door and abandoned a place I did not belong.
Within seconds of closing her away from my evil intentions, the guilt arrived, heavy and thick in my lungs, regret the likes of which I'd never known. Oh God, I truly was a monster. To steal from my beloved, to take affections that were not allowed, to think I had any right to caress her lips with my disfigured excuse for a mouth… I deserved hell's flames for my attempt, and she deserved heaven where she could fly free. I'd thought to alter the course of our story, but I was a fool. No amount of confiscated abuses would change things. A kiss was not a kiss if it was one-sided. I now saw the truth. I couldn't call what I'd taken anything but a violation, and I hated myself for it.
Night dragged on, but I never slept. I sat in my throne-like chair before the dwindling embers in the hearth and was swallowed in guilt's chasm. Nothing ever felt so condemning, and worse because I could still recall the warm softness of her lips against mine. Not a real kiss, and yet it branded far more permanently. Ah, her perfect lips… How could I look upon them now knowing their sweet texture and refrain from wanting more?
The guilt sickened me, but tears felt pathetic. No, I couldn't cry for being a monster when I'd known my role all along. Nor would I cry for the dreams I'd broken. …Dreams were too hope-filled for a man like me anyway.
I did not note time's passage as I dwelled and suffered. But soon enough, I heard the click and whisper of her opening door and hastily checked that my mask was in place and concealing, terrified she'd see my heinous mouth and read its sins in its malformed places.
Christine… Her approach was tentative, always hesitant and with that undying undercurrent of fear. She was afraid of me, and I suddenly called her intuition just.
Her silhouette came into view in the sitting room doorway before she timidly joined me, blue gaze always laden in questions she never voiced. She was…exquisite, and I abhorred her for it. Beautiful, young, a brilliant angel contained to the underworld. She should be allowed to fly.
"Good morning, ange," she greeted, and yet her words were devoid of readable emotion. Distance like an abyss extended between us and reminded me how far beneath her I was.
My eyes ran feverishly over the features of her face. In sleep, there had been innocent peace; now there was anxiety to tighten every detail. Apprehension was not pretty at all.
But my attention locked on her mouth and pink, full lips, and guilt twisted its knife within my chest again. They were as sculpted as remembered, and yet I sensed my mark upon them like an invisible ink stain bleeding into her pores and damaging her forever. And she was unaware; she'd remain unaware until it finally destroyed her. My kiss was as much a poison as my love.
"Is…something wrong?" she posed, and I was riveted to the motion of her mouth, the way every letter rippled to a new shape and reminded me of kissing. A kiss should have motion to be a valid caress, shouldn't it? I'd probably done it all wrong, but I had no basis for comparison.
My focus abruptly shifted to blue eyes, and a flush of heated embarrassment burned a path beneath my skin. Staring at her mouth like a dumbfounded fool? She was anxious enough in my presence, and now I was making it worse! Giving my crime away with my own eyes as my betrayer!
I cursed softly beneath my breath and had to look away from her image if only to create words. "Why do you keep coming back to me, Christine?" I dared to ask before sense could catch up and stop me. "Why do you put yourself so trustingly beneath my roof? You know what I am, what I've done, and yet you continuously return as if to tempt the devil to sin. Surely you realize it is a losing battle. Sin is Satan's pleasure, and you wave it before me and goad me to give in."
"I…it isn't my intention," she stammered, and out of my periphery, I noted how she shifted apprehensively on her feet. So afraid…always so afraid of me.
"No?" I retorted doubtfully. "You sleep down here a pathetic wall away. Do you perceive a closed door as an impenetrable barrier? This is hell, and you traipse through it and believe its flames will never burn you."
"Erik… I don't understand," she attempted, and I could not stop my fiery glare from landing upon her again and searching her beautiful face. I looked for malevolence, for a reason to pin blame upon her shoulders instead of my own, but…all she could be held accountable for was being too exquisite and that was not her fault.
I couldn't blame her for my weakness and a stolen kiss that tore at my insides, but perhaps this was God's fault instead. I would believe in God if only to have a scapegoat. By her faith, God made her; perhaps He knew I would succumb to something so elegantly crafted. He was the one to gift her with that angel's voice, and I had yet to decide if that was to bring me salvation or damnation. That voice made me certain she was mine.
"Why won't you love me, Christine?" I demanded, and the question felt logical and imperative. I was already in a masochistic frame of mind, but that question was at the core of everything, the center of my every action and every feeling.
My forwardness shook Christine, and I saw her blatant surprise before she lowered wide eyes to the carpet and hid the malaise of musings in blue depths. "Erik, …you're my teacher and…"
"And I am also a man. How quickly you forget that fact! You choose to deny every implication attached and continuously put yourself in my care as if desire is irrelevant and my love is an abomination. You trample upon my heart at every second because it is ugly and unwanted, and yet you return to me and take." Realization poked through the haze, and I found my exact point to accuse and nodded frantically as I insisted again, "Yes, you take from me and never give even hope in return. So now tell me, why do you come to me? What is the driving force keeping us connected together?"
She was lost to a tremble, hesitating perhaps with the lingering knowledge how quickly my mode of confrontation provoked my temper, and I made it no easier for her. I was angry; granted, it was primarily with myself, but should she not carry equal weight? She tempted me to steal a kiss; she was living, breathing temptation. Perhaps she deserved my anger and retaliation. I'd been passive for too long and patient when patient was not my strong point in hopes of regaining her affections. A fool indeed…
"The…the music," she stuttered, her little hands fisting at her sides; I knew she was trying to conceal how violently they shook and was oddly pleased. "You are my teacher, and I return to you for the music."
"The music…," I repeated distantly, and for the first time, music was my enemy. It vied for my place in her life and was as much a rival as her precious Vicomte. "Is that all I am to you? Am I to believe that you come to me and sleep so willingly under my roof only for the music? And if I left you and went away, would the music be the only thing you'd mourn? You'd give no care or concern to your Erik? Not even a twinge of sadness in your frivolous heart? No. You'd only worry for your career and your stage dreams. But I built those dreams for you, Christine, and I was more than teacher then. I was your angel and ally, your only confidante in the world. I was everything to you once, and am I now to believe that I am nothing but pitches on a piano?"
Anger was alive and well with every twist my meandering trek of accusation took. I had wanted someone to blame for my guilt, but it was a cruel reality that as I looked for faults, I found them.
"That's not true," she quickly defended, and yet the waver in her tone left me unconvinced.
My hands clenched tight against my armrests until knuckles were white and taut as I harshly demanded, "What do you see when you look at me, Christine? A creature to be pitied and tread upon at every turn? Or do you see that beneath the mask beats the heart of a man with the same desires as every human being? I ache and I love, and you turn a blind eye and let music be your saving grace. You give me your voice and believe it will be enough of a substitute for your heart."
She did not reply, and I averted my enraged glare back to the fire. So perhaps I hadn't been as wrong as I'd thought in taking a kiss if that was the only way I'd have anything…
"Erik, you were once an angel to me," she softly bid, and I hated her hinted hurt to speak the deception. It seemed she'd never forgive it. "I cannot be blamed if that is still the dream in my mind. An angel is far above a mortal man."
"And the Opera Ghost is far below, isn't he?" I taunted back. "You don't see man or angel in me anymore; you see monster."
But before she could give excuses I couldn't abide, I leapt to my feet and approached in two strides, placing my mask in her line of vision as she cowered meager steps into the doorframe.
"You must see a monster," I concluded in a snap. "Otherwise you'd love me. Why won't you love me, Christine?" I demanded it again and felt the pummel of every letter to my soul. "Is it because of my face, because it is appalling and repellent and disgusts you?"
"No, no," she whimpered, but I wasn't sure I believed her as she recoiled further and sought unfettered air.
"Then prove it." My gaze locked on her quivering lips again with flickering memories of their softness as I desperately begged, "Kiss me."
A kiss stolen unaware was a sin, but if she kissed me, if she invited such a transgression, there would no longer be guilt to bear. One kiss would take it all away and construct me a dream in such a meager contact.
My command was obviously unexpected. She shrank away another step, and without pause, I caught her shoulders between my hands and kept her in place with a fear that she'd flee now that I'd crossed lines.
"You claim my face doesn't cause you disgust but will not prove your own words?"
Her lips were my focus, their incessant tremble, their pink fullness; they were slightly parted with her shallow breaths and I had the perverse urge to slip my tongue between and taste her. Perhaps I should have taken that liberty as she'd slept as well and have a real sin to burn for instead of a mediocre one. One kiss, and it wouldn't be a sin anymore, and then I would learn her flavor. This time I would have more.
"One kiss," I pleaded the words in growing desperation, and keeping a fierce grip on one shoulder, I lifted my other hand to my mask.
She immediately slammed lids shut and winced before I even unlaced its clasp.
"No disgust?" I abruptly spat as her lie struck with brutal force and made my temper explode. "No disgust, Christine? You foolish child! No different than the rest! And I could spread my heart before you, bow down and worship you like the proverbial virgin goddess, and still you won't love me. You don't consider my heart. It is unworthy and a degradation because I am so ugly to you. I am an embarrassment, and my love is shameful!"
Every allegation grew in heated intensity, pouring from the gaping wound she'd caused without a single strike. Nothing but dropping lashes, and they'd delivered a deathblow and scarred me inside as horrific as I was outside.
She was a mass of shaking limbs in my grasp, tears leaking from shut eyes and almost beautiful in their descent over her pink-flushed cheeks, like a diamond glaze and so ethereal. I'd made an angel cry…
"Look at me!" I suddenly roared, regret as half my aggression, and though she whimpered, she lifted wet lashes and showed me regret in return.
"I'm sorry, Erik! I'm sorry!" she gasped between a sob, but I shook her hard with the bruising hold I still had on her and resisted the urge to shatter and sob with her.
"One kiss," I begged all the more urgently. "Can you not give me even that? It isn't such an unbearable sacrifice, is it?"
"Then show me. Use your lips. Put them to mine. That is all a kiss is. Lips to lips. Mine are misshapen, but they can still form a kiss. They can still be worthy. One kiss, and you will inspire life in this corpse before you. …Kiss me alive, Christine."
I couldn't stop the rapid succession of my thoughts as they streamed out and seemed on the brink of insanity. But I was desperate. I felt so sure this was my only chance at her heart. If she cowered now and fled me in terror, I was certain I'd never have her back. No, I'd breached too many boundaries to be entitled second chances.
I spoke my beseeching again, but she sobbed. I knew I wouldn't have what I longed for. Taking it from her like this was little different than stealing it unaware. One kiss… Why was it something so forbidden to me? Why, when it wasn't difficult? It wasn't earth-shattering or dangerous. Compared to the fires of desire in my veins, a kiss was simple. …But I'd managed to make it into a punishment. She'd never willingly consent now. Not to a kiss, not to a love story…
"Christine," I cried, tears finally breaking beyond my resolve to spill beneath my mask. They were trapped and soaking the fine leather of its makeup. I knew I'd have further regret later when all that would remain of them would be chapped burns.
"You ask why I won't love you," she whispered, broken and laden in a pain I hated myself for causing. "You press your heart upon me whenever I look and try to see more than the music, and it is suffocating and heavy. It is a burden when I don't know what you want of me in return."
"Love," I replied, plain and honest. "Only love, …but an ugly man doesn't deserve love, and a sinner does not deserve the heart of an angel. Isn't that so?" Tears, pain, regret for a stolen pleasure, and I put my self-hatred upon her weak heart. "Ah, don't worry, petite. You've put me in my rightful place. You've reminded me that gifts like kisses are not meant for imperfect lips. Mine are cold and deformed and would be clumsy in an act so delicate and refined. Will you call me a monster for asking to be ordinary for once in my miserable existence? Does this incident only condemn me further in your eyes?"
She didn't speak, but I knew what her answer would be. It was written in rigid muscles beneath my hold and blue eyes that were full of dubious suspicion. Perhaps she was afraid I'd fall back to temper and take. She was fortunate that by the light of fire-glow, a kiss was as heinous as my face, and taking off my mask to form its atrocity was no longer even a consideration. Not out of the darkness.
"I must get to rehearsal," she stammered as a credible excuse, and with a begrudged sigh, I released her and backed away, watching a shiver overcome her with my distance and arms curl tight and protective to her body. She felt violated; if only she knew this wasn't the first time, that I'd violated far worse with shadows on my side…
"Yes, yes, go to your rehearsal. I shall not have our work be squandered with my selfishness. If the music is all I'll have of you, then I will make your voice soar. Perhaps in the pitches, you'll be able to love and realize all I've given and done for you."
One last look was all we shared before she turned and fled my home as if the hounds of hell chased behind.
Regret and guilt and more tears. I hated myself; I hated Christine; I hated the dream I wanted and was denied at every turn. I should let her go; sense insisted again that angels did not belong in hell, but…the heart was powerful. It beat life and overruled the body and mind with its omnipotent desires. It told me not to give her up, that she would be mine no matter what.
One kiss was what I'd taken; one kiss was what I'd asked for. But it was given away, and its shoddy construction was revealed. I'd thought a kiss was transient and redeeming, but two nights later, I had to watch my Christine allow the Vicomte to take my place. She permitted his kiss when mine had been abominable, a complication when I watched them make it look simple.
My heart's determination to lead my course brought me instead to a chandelier's anchoring cables. It reminded me that angels belonged in heaven again. Not on earth, not in hell, and if I killed my betraying little love, I was only sending her on a path home. I would rather be haunted by ghosts than angels anyway…
I cut the cables, dropped the chandelier, and the only thing that prevented her from being a dead body beneath was a last second reprieve. Guilt and a wish to die at her side instead of suffer without her. And that was the reason the chandelier barely missed her.
Whatever our fate would be, I was suddenly adamant that we would suffer it together. Death, life, every world and its planes of existence. I would play the devil, and she my trapped angel love, and she'd learn that though God might be merciful, the devil was not. She'd be mine, one way or another…