The Devil Never Sleeps
It was far too sunny. Funerals were never meant to be sunny. It was supposed to be somber and overcast, reflective of the mood. Perhaps even rainy. She would much prefer to clutch an umbrella than to shield her eyes from the blinding sun. And yet, here she stood, gloved hand hovering at her forehead to keep from squinting, hating herself for being distracted by the weather. No, funerals were supposed to be different.
"God is celebrating a new angel today. That's why he brings out the sun," one elderly guest had offered, but the sentiment didn't bring her any hope or tranquility. She would never curse God, but she didn't want him to have a new angel—she hadn't been prepared to give her father up just yet, and all she wanted was to wake up the next morning and find him there. But, such a dream was an impossibility, and as she stared down at the freshly dug grave, it seemed to sink in all at once.
Loneliness. How very keen it was.
What struck her most was how many people had come to see her father—people she had never met in her life, but whom all insisted that they knew her father well. People of his past and present flocked, all speaking fondly of their memories. And how ashamed she had felt when she was unable to even speak two words about him, too fearful that her voice would fail her halfway through her speech. And so, she let others take the reins, speaking the words that she could not muster, telling the tales that she could not find.
Even more odd was how exceptionally quickly the entire affair went by. She thought it would feel long and drawn out, but it all went by at breakneck speed. She had even wished to stop time as she looked into the casket one more time before they closed it, painfully aware that it would be the last time that she saw her father with her own eyes. That is, until she joined him in death. But even those last moments with him seemed eons away as she stood, now alone, eyes boring into the gravestone. Beloved Husband and Father. The former title seemed odd in her mind given that she had barely known her mother, but it seemed fitting.
Christine wasn't sure how she pulled herself away from the gravesite, but on instinct, she found herself making her way towards the iron grated gate that signaled the graveyard's exit. She would be there tomorrow—she was quite sure of it. Perros would become a second home, for the thought of leaving her father here seemed far too unnatural. She had to come and keep him company, even in death.
It was a long walk home, but she barely felt the distance as her mind went obligingly numb. She had been so overridden with emotions over the course of the past few days that she felt the rational switch in her brain flip on, blocking out the pathos that weighed on her.
It was when she activated this practical part of her brain that she began to think of what the next day would hold. And then the next week, and then the next year. She had spent an exorbitant amount of money on the funeral, unwilling to cut any corners on the final event of her father's life. But now, as she thought back on her assets, a new fact hit her—that she would not be able to sustain herself for very long. She had never had a job of any official sort, for she had only helped her father out in his ventures, delivering packages and writing letters. But now, all she had were their house and their meager possessions—hardly enough to survive on for much time.
When Christine finally made her way back into her house, she did so with a newfound understanding, and all at once she felt far less childish. Her mind was suddenly clear, and she knew that she could not continue to live on her own. She needed to find a job or a benefactor. No one would look out for her or pay the slightest attention if she starved to death in this little house, after all. Now that her father was gone, she was utterly forgotten by the world around her, and the thought made her stomach sink. But, before she could upset herself over the thought, she found the discarded newspaper that she had overlooked that morning and opened it up, her eyes scanning for employment opportunities.
Perhaps she had hoped too far, for all she saw were unsuitable for her gender, her age, or her experience. She felt tears finally welling up in her eyes as she continued to search the small print, hoping to find something that she was capable of doing. And then she saw it:
Seeking Caretaker and Housekeeper. Must be available to live-in. No previous experience necessary. Must be unobtrusive and must not be bothersome.
Christine wiped away the tears and looked down at the address, completely ignoring the odd requirements. It was less than a thirty minute walk away, which made her heart jump in hope. The daylight was still lingering, and when she looked up at the clock she leapt up. Perhaps it was too late in the day to inquire, but she feared losing the opportunity if she didn't take the chance. And so, pulling her cloak back on and ignoring the ache in her feet from her long walk, she made her way outside, newspaper in hand.
The street wasn't easy to find, and she found herself stopping every few blocks, asking passersby to guide her in the right direction. Despite being relatively close to her home, she found that she could not place the precise location, and even as she turned onto the street, she found herself bewildered.
And then she saw it. The house was enormous, clearly having been around for some time. Ivy crawled up the walls and every window was covered in dark curtains, shielding its contents from any prying eyes. Its immensity almost made her turn back, any thoughts of being employed utterly forgotten, but she forced her feet to continue on until she was at the front door. A lion-faced knocker adorned the wood, and she struck it against the door three times, her heartbeat beginning to accelerate in anticipation.
There was silence within the house for some time, and she was almost prepared to turn around and leave. But something made her stay, and before long, a wooden slat opened on the door and two golden eyes beamed out from behind it, looking down at her piercingly.
"May I help you?" came the cold voice, somewhat muted from behind the door.
For a moment, she couldn't find words, and she stood mesmerized by his gaze. Finally, she cleared her throat and looked down at the paper, holding it up slightly for him to see. "I saw your advertisement," Christine stumbled, looking back to him automatically.
"It's a bit late to be calling," he mused, and she swallowed hard, unwilling to break her gaze, unwilling to appear weak.
"Forgive me, Monsieur—I didn't want to miss the opportunity," Christine said with some semblance of strength. She had come this far and had risked this much—she would not be turned away so easily.
"Go home, girl," he scoffed, and her lips parted wordlessly, not wanting to be sent away without any consideration. "I do not need a child taking care of my home." He began to close the wooden slat and she spoke rapidly to stop him.
"I'm not a child, Monsieur," she insisted, taking a step closer to the door as he looked back out at her.
"What is your name?" he asked slowly after a pause, though she could sense the impatience slipping into his voice.
"Christine," she responded with a bright smile, thinking that she had made headway.
"Christine," he repeated, and she nodded rapidly. "Go home, Christine. I'm sure your father is very worried for you," he growled condescendingly, and her heart sunk.
"My father's dead, Monsieur," she said before she could think otherwise. "He died two days ago. And I need a job, quite desperately." Christine tried to keep her voice steady, hoping not to sound like a sniveling mess to this stranger.
And indeed, he seemed to stop at this, studying her closely. "What was your father's name?" he asked warily, and she suddenly wished she could see his facial expression in the darkness, frantic to know what he was thinking.
"Charles Daaé, Monsieur," she replied, the name seeming unworldly on her lips as names of the dead always did. And abruptly, she saw his eyes change and he didn't appear so very severe behind that door. The man said nothing for several moments, his eyes boring into hers incessantly until she finally heard the locks on the door turn before it creaked open slowly.
"Come in," he commanded sharply, and she hesitated a moment before stepping in quickly, listening as he closed the wooden door behind her. Immediately, she was caught up in the splendor that was the front entrance of the house. Tapestries depicting stories of gods and demons alike lined the walls, countered with elegant sconces that lit the hallways. The wooden floor, though dusty, was covered in an elaborately dyed Persian carpet that looked like something out of a Shah's palace. She had never seen such elegance or antiquity, and it nearly took her breath away. But it wasn't long before she felt his eyes on her, and she finally turned to look at him for the first time.
Menacing. That was the first word she could use to describe him. His amber eyes still glowed in the dim room, and to make things even more mysterious, a half mask covered his face, molding his expression into one of permanent contempt and obscuring her view of his full façade. She quelled her desire to ask about it, all too aware of how rude such a question would be. He was dressed to the height of fashion and looked as if he was ready for an evening at the opera. And all the while he stood there, scowling at her shamelessly.
"You are prepared to start work immediately, then?" he asked with an unapologetic air, his restrained voice careful to give her no hints as to what he was thinking.
"I would live here permanently?" Christine asked tentatively, suddenly feeling very small as she took in his full stature.
"I believe the advertisement indicated as much," he snapped, and she clenched her jaw to hide her instinctive flinch.
"Well, my father died only two days ago—I haven't sold our home or gathered our possessions," she offered, refusing to bring her emotions into her words. "And I don't have any other clothes, so I will have to return for those," she continued on delicately, hoping not to lose the job simply because she had come unprepared.
"I will take care of it," he replied automatically, and she furrowed her eyebrows.
"Why are you being so kind to me?" she asked quietly, and his eyes narrowed on her silently. "I apologize—I don't mean to be ungrateful."
"It has little to do with kindness," he replied, his cryptic words only causing a new wave of bemusement to wash over her face. "Shall I show you your room, then?" he asked, and she blinked away her confusion as he turned and began down the hallway.
She followed closely behind, keeping tabs on every right and left turn they took, already aware of what a labyrinth his home appeared to be. He had a large stride, and she had to jog a few steps to keep up, though he didn't seem to take notice.
Finally, he came to a halt at an innocuous door, turning back to her with a grim expression. "Your room, Mademoiselle," he intoned as he pushed the door open for her. With a few ginger steps, she made her way into the room and looked around silently.
It was an unassuming space, yet it still surpassed her room at home in luxury. Home. The word made her stomach knit together in the anguish that she had been pushing aside for so long. She swallowed hard, turning back towards the door to thank the nameless man, but he had already disappeared without a sound.
With a deep sigh, she closed the door and turned around once more to take in her surroundings. But, within a mere moment, she was feeling contemplative and vaguely ill at the thought of what had occurred that day. Rather than try to push the thoughts aside, though, she made her way to the bed and crawled under the sheets, not bothering to change out of her dress before she forced herself to surrender to sleep.
And thus do I begin a new story! It's been a while, but inspiration has hit once again and I find myself writing insatiably, so here we go! You can look forward to lots of twists and turns and a cast of characters that you know and love, as always. Please let me know what you think, and expect the next chapter soon!
Until next time,