Hello, everyone! I hope you are all well; I know it's been quite awhile! Those of you who are on my Facebook author page know that I just had to put my cat to sleep last week, so it's been a rough time around here. I do have some good news: I've had 2 new novels come out this week. "The Pirouettes that Angels Spin" is part 2 of my angel series, and "Daydreaming Roses and Fairytale Monsters" is a vampire love story with a Phantom-esque feel to it. If you are looking for something new to read and a romance to immerse in, please check them out. Links to amazon are on my website and my Facebook page. I'm also putting together a second collection of Phantom stories to be out before this baby gets here.
Onto the story! I wrote this for a phan who asked if I would write a story using one of her poems as inspiration. She asked to remain anonymous, but her message meant a lot to me. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to give her something that meant so much. This is dedicated to her.
"The Ghost's Demise"
Curiosity was always her downfall…literally this time, it seemed, as she found herself at the bottom of a hole. That little voice within would tug its chain, and she'd follow like the gullible child she'd once been with wide-eyed intrigue and an insatiable need to know. It churned within her until she could endure it no longer and buried consequences in the backdrop of its velvet curtain. She was practically curiosity's victim.
With a huff of unease, Christine lifted eyes to a dozen variations of herself on every side. Mirrors… Erik had a peculiar obsession with their makeup, so it didn't surprise her that he'd chosen their revealing surfaces to line his torture chamber. It was just; she saw guilt all around, reflected in her own blue eyes. The inability to escape its colors could certainly drive a person to madness. …Oh God. Erik was never going to realize she was trapped in his little cage; he was going to assume the worst: that she'd finally reneged on every love-laced vow between them and abandoned him.
Six months of marriage to the Opera Ghost had hardly tamed his rampant doubts. Never mind that she had been the one to return to him after the last night he'd let her go. Never mind that she'd professed the true whispers of her heart… "Love me always for my heart beats for yours…" With those words, she'd soldered herself to Erik without a second thought, and even though she'd dove into love heart-first, he'd always kept a foot back in the realm of doubt. He loved her, but he seemed to carry a premonition that it would one day shatter and reveal a shoddy foundation. And now…he was going to return to their underground home, find her gone, and assume he'd been right.
"Oh, Christine, what have you done?" she muttered beneath her breath and heard every consonant bounce of glass and spiral in echoes. How many times had Erik insisted she remain on the known path through the catacombs? Never venture off its trail, no matter what… But she'd grown tired of secrets and the details he refused to give, always applying the walls of his Opera Ghost persona when she longed to destroy every one at its source. She'd let curiosity overtake and convince her that if she only learned the nuances herself, she could have answers and finally be able to decipher the internal paranoia of her chosen husband, the facts he longed to keep to himself, the pains of a past he never discussed that she caught hints of in haunted eyes. Perhaps she was naïve to conclude figuring him out would be as easy as following an undisturbed path through the dark catacombs, but curiosity played a game of whys and wondered why it was forbidden. She obviously had her answer.
Desperate to avoid the blame cast in her own reflected eyes, she crouched low on the stone floor, smoothing shaking hands over her skirts. She was as trapped as a fly in a spider's web and was unsure if she was more afraid of rotting in a mirrored hole or being found by a husband who must be enraged and call her a betrayer. If only she'd obeyed and not allowed curiosity to yank its strings and draw her like a mindless puppet after its desires…
Tears felt close, threatening to well in the corners of her eyes, but she couldn't reason watching herself cry in a dozen mirrors and swallowed against their possession. No, she needed to keep her senses. If she did not devise a way to save herself, she was going to remain unfound and leave a husband with a broken heart. She refused that outcome wholeheartedly.
Only one idea came to mind and peering up to the top of the hole, she began to hum, listening to the reverberation of every pitch on the mirrored walls. She should have known her musical husband would build an acoustically impressive chamber as if he longed for sounds to echo out into the catacombs, and she now used it to her advantage, swallowing back another rise of tears and turning them into a wordless song instead, anything to carry light through the darkness.
A plaintive lament… Every note burned Erik's ears as they encircled his dark shape. His little songbird…but he'd known where she was even without a legato requiem rising from despair. From the instant he'd returned to the underground house, alarms had been sounding, alerting him of a presence in one of his many chambers. His first rash conclusion was the bastard Vicomte had returned and tried to carry Christine off, falling into a trap on the escape. Anger had fueled his hasty retreat back into one damp cave, seeking intruders with a murderous glow on his masked face, but then a song had soothed the wild beast and returned the man he preferred to be where she was concerned. His goddess of inspiration, his heaven-sent muse, the very thing he held most dear in his existence. As anger drained out of every tensed limb, the true terror set in. He'd thought he'd lost her…
Racing the stone floors with frantic steps, Erik followed the siren call, desperate to have her little body in his arms, pressed to his chest like an inseparable limb. He couldn't imagine existing without her; she made him worthy to be alive.
The music sustaining his trek suddenly broke off, and sobs echoed instead. As his heart lurched in his chest, he peeked down into the mirrored chamber and fought his own tears of reply. His beautiful girl was curled in a bundle of skirts and curls, her back pressed to one plait of glass as she wept into bent knees, fisting hands that gave fear validity in their violent tremors.
Without a thought, Erik leapt into the chamber, landing agile and easy on his feet and gazing at his wife with adoring eyes. She had yet to notice his presence, her shoulders quaking with every sob burrowed into her skirts, and he delicately whispered her name, savoring the murmur of every consonant in the air.
Blue eyes darted to his shape, shimmering and brilliant with their crystalline coating, and he was frozen by her beauty. Memory swallowed him in its encompassment and ignited images of the girl he'd fallen in love with at first sight, weeping for broken dreams and a prayer for an angel's presence. The rest of the world would have dubbed his initial swell of emotion as compassion, but he'd known without a doubt that it was love. He'd seen in her blue eyes everything he'd ever longed for from the world: innocence, purity, beauty, but also a creature whose heart was a mirror of his own, wishing for dreams when none existed. He'd sought to answer her prayers and never thought twice because he loved, and through his impulsiveness, he'd almost lost her.
Without a word, Christine stumbled to her feet and never hesitated to rush to him, hugging him tight with quivering arms and a body that wouldn't cease its shivers. He never protested and lost a sigh against the silken web of her hair to be melted by a mere touch. Every yearning he'd ever had was satisfied with her in his arms. She clung to him as if he was her safe haven, and he never felt so blessed.
"I'm sorry… I'm sorry," she whimpered, rubbing her cheek against his leaping heartbeat. He felt tears soak through clothing and brand the spot beneath.
Still, he demanded with a terseness he couldn't quite quell, "What were you doing in these tunnels? I made it clear you were not to wander off the main route. …You could have been killed."
The reality set in with a shudder he shared, and he wasn't certain if he should indulge relief or anger.
"I…wanted to know why these places were forbidden," she stammered. "We are married, and you've yet to drop defenses and let us live our life."
Christine felt him stiffen with her softly-spoken accusation, and as he caught her shoulders in his palms and guided her back to meet his fierce stare, she went willingly. It was too late to take the words back, and…she wasn't sure she wanted to, not when it was the masked Opera Ghost glaring contempt at her, the persona he could never quite disengage.
"Would you rather we be taken unaware the day of an intrusion from the un-accepting world?" he demanded, and she fought to hold her ground and never waver beneath the power radiating off him in ripples. "These traps are meant to keep us safe, not to imprison my always curious wife. That is the reason I commanded you never to wander naively unaware. You could have been killed."
He stated it again, and she glanced to the many reflected Erik's and Christine's around the circumference of the room. "What is the trick of this chamber?" she dared to ask, unsure she truly wanted to know.
"Illusion, of course. A desperate, captured man need but look about and see everything he'd rather hide from himself. It is a key to madness. After all, one's worst enemy is oneself. I've learned that lesson dozens of times over. When all one has for company is one's own mind, you'd be surprised how quickly masochism ensues and brings insanity on its heels."
She noted that her husband had yet to glance at the surrounding images, fixed entirely on her, and she tentatively posed, "Have you been victim of a chamber like this one before?"
More parts of his life he'd refused to discuss, but the mention left a rush of transparent musings she was sure he didn't want to share. Finally, he said," I am a victim of such internal torture every day and do not need a series of reflective surfaces to initiate my torment."
It was more telling than anything he'd ever spoken in her presence, and she finished her own thoughts, "And it's easier to adopt the guise of Opera Ghost and never have to face yourself if you are your own enemy."
"Christine," he huffed a breath and quickly reasoned, "Yes and no. It was easier…until you appeared in my life, and now…it's difficult to love you and hate myself at the same time. One must give up the reins and let the other overrule."
"And yet the Opera Ghost lives and breathes in our midst. Look in the mirror, Erik." It was a gentle command, but she noted his uneasy hesitation to comply, as if a mirror could attack as brutally as a sharp-tipped sword.
Finally, mismatched eyes cast a glance at the multitude of masked faces surrounding, and she felt him tense and give his fear away. Her husband was as afraid of the Opera Ghost as she had once been. And why…? Christine could speculate an answer and knew she was right. Because he was every part of himself that Erik loathed. The killer, the epithet that was larger than life and could react in rash impetuousness, the Opera Ghost couldn't be loved…and yet he still put the façade on every day and hid behind its power.
"Take off your mask," she quickly pleaded. "This isn't you, not the man I gave my heart to. I trusted you to hold it and keep it safe, not the Opera Ghost, and yet…you still question my love."
She prayed temper was not the only thing she inspired when a masked face was the one looking back, but he softly concluded, "I question every second if today is but a dream, and tomorrow will bring only sorrow. You made promises, but I've had so many broken. I've been ripped to shreds and shattered to shards a million times over for that flimsy tie called trust. You must forgive me if I can no longer do it blindly. But…you hold me in your arms and touch the face that condemned me from birth. You whisper sweet nothings in my ears as I fall asleep beside you and clutch me as if you'll never let go, and…I panic and suffer terror that I've imagined you into existence, that I've devised a love story that doesn't have a pulse."
Christine shook her head, adamant and with a conviction she'd lacked in every other aspect of her life. How many times she'd run from the same love he gave, terrified to accept, to love back, to feel, and now she had it and he was the terrified one.
In tender breaths, she beseeched again, "Take off your mask, Erik. Show me the face of the man I love, and let me show you the true beat of my heart."
He trembled, and she considered it odd when the mask was no longer the same insurmountable barrier it had once been, but…she wouldn't be the only one to see its revelations this time. As predicted, the instant his fingers guided it free, he wouldn't look at the mirror, locking eyes on her and presenting his disfigurement like a cross to bear.
"There's nowhere to hide in this chamber," she reminded. "Your device to torture others, but it need not torture you."
"Why? I deserve it," he stated so plain and decided that it hurt her. "I'm a monster."
The word struck harsh and cold, reverberating off sheer plaits of glass and prolonging its torturous sound through every echo. She'd never called him such a vicious appellation, and yet a lifetime of hurt left it embedded in his mind, the basis beneath every loving adoration she'd sought to conceal it. He believed monster held more credence than any other, and she was desperate to prove him wrong.
"I see no monster," she bid. "I see the man who has always held my soul in his hands. Erik, …just look. Please, ange."
Erik hesitated, preferring the emotions in deep blue pools to the stark malformations that must stare back when mirrors abounded, but her delicate hand cupped his chin and guided his stare to the nearest telling surface, leaving him no choice. He hated what he saw at first glimpse. Ugly, damaged, the residue of an eternally condemned soul. He saw a demented palette formed by a merciless God and hated himself for living up to the vision. He was the monster picture; why didn't Christine see that?
But her gentle hand guided a caress along his sallow cheek, her gaze focused on a reflection, one of a dozen corpse faces standing beside her, and she showed nothing but pure love. It astounded Erik. Of course she'd touched him in such ways before, always tender, always adoring, but when his deformity was out of his own regard, he could trick himself to forget its heinousness and imagine a real face to give her instead. He pretended he was ordinary, but now with the truth vibrantly on display, he couldn't play any façade but what he already was. It erupted a rush of tears he couldn't hold at bay.
"Christine… You can destroy me to pieces with merely a touch," he whispered, fighting those damning tears at every letter.
"And yet I cannot seem to fully annihilate the Opera Ghost. His infamy is immortal and reign eternal."
"Perhaps," Erik exhaled as her soft fingertips crossed the open cavities from which breath flowed and never even quivered. "But one touch has him as your willing and devoted slave. Why is that not enough?"
"Because I did not marry the Opera Ghost," she stated, and as he watched with a perverse sense of fascination in the mirror glass, she leaned close and brushed her lips to his cheek, gentle and claiming. "I married Erik with every flaw upon his soul, and occasionally, I lose him when he chooses to pick up the ghost's abandoned role. I don't want to give him up anymore. Look at the man in the mirror's glass, Erik. He is not perfection, but he is my choice and the only love of my life."
"But he is weak," Erik insisted, and yet it was difficult to present arguments when her soft lips rubbed against his cavernous eye socket and savored every act. He gazed at the seeming sin in the mirror and was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty she could convey in a single motion. His Christine, and as she loved him so tenderly, she made him feel extraordinary. She acted with a strength he'd never given her credit for, and he suddenly felt like the coward between them.
"I don't want to be weak," he revealed and leaned into her every caress. "How can I be strong for you, love? Tell me what I must do. Hold my hand and guide the way."
She drew back and met his intent gaze, the love in her own so thick and tightly woven that he shivered to witness its glory. "Just love me, Erik," she beseeched and cupped his damaged face between her palms. "No more masks, no more roles, end the Opera Ghost where we stand, here in this chamber of torture and death. Let him be trapped within a mirror's glass, never to emerge again, and walk at my side as only Erik, my husband, a mortal and fallible man who loves me more than he wishes to control our world."
Her commands made it seem so simple, but doubt was a loud voice to silence all at once. "Christine-"
"I love you, Erik," she bid. "It's time to let go of nightmares and embrace dreams instead."
A tender grin touched his misshapen lips at her words, and he wove his arms more firmly about her, secure and unbreakable. "I'm already doing that. My dream held in my arms. With you holding me tight, I have no other craving. Let the world fall down about us and cease to exist; I am content simply to feel your heart beating against mine and know you choose to be in this place. You choose to embrace me in return, to love me, …to touch my face as if it is worthy of your blessings."
"It's more than worthy, and I want to spend our lifetime proving it. Let go of the ghost, and let me love the man."
Trust was never inherent; he'd learned how easily lies could hover in the background, but no one had ever loved him before. Christine was granting him his first taste of bliss, and he was afraid to lose it.
"You mean more to me than anything in this world," he whispered and adored her smile. "If ghosts must die, then they die by your hand tonight. I will willingly lay the Opera Ghost in his grave to love you forever."
Never a hesitation, she learned near and pressed her lips to his as if he'd given her a gift, and as he eagerly permitted her to coax his fervent surrender in her incessant motion, he opened his eyes and watched the scene play on in the mirror. A kiss, and it was not contrived or fabricated. He did not fixate on his face or the contrasts between his ugliness and her beauty. He looked, and he only saw love pouring from every passionate gesture. Love in her hands holding his cheeks between her palms, love in the sculpted lips moving against his own malformed variation, love in her little body pressed to his as if she could not get close enough. It was an outside view of a love story he'd been terrified to live, and it was real.
One kiss became a desperate series, and as he broke contact with a reluctant groan he could not suppress, he captured one of her hands in his, weaving fingers as if engraving every endearment spoken into flesh and bone. His mismatched eyes revealed desire for him, and even though he watched her grin in invitation with that sweet blush he adored upon her skin, he cast one more glance into the mirror to witness the same vision and make it vivid and alive. She loved him; she wanted him; mirrors couldn't lie, and here was his proof.
"Come, my beloved wife. That's enough torture for one day; I long to give you pleasure instead." Dragging her hand to his lips, he set a cherishing kiss to her knuckles before drawing her to one of the mirrors. It was constructed just like the rest, but one well-hidden trick made it a door that opened and dissipated the reflections that had been staring back of a man and woman in love.
Erik pulled her through the doorway and into the darkness, remembering the very first night he'd done the same and went from angel to man. Now he went from Opera Ghost to husband and could not regret it when a sweet giggle of delight escaped her lips to eagerly follow him into their future.
The Opera Ghost was suffocated from existence in a mirrored torture chamber. His demise went without ceremony, no mourning or weeping, another victim lost to the bowels of the earth. All that remained to proclaim his demolished reign was a stark white mask sitting unthreateningly on the stone floor, reflected a dozen times over as if to insist its lingering power. It spent eternity a step from hell's threshold, and when the light of the world above was only brilliant and the future of love only blissful, it was forgotten, another show over, another curtain closed.