08/15/2015: A revised version of "Shadow Government" is now available on Amazon in both paperback and digital form. The new title is "Shadows Over Eden" A Phantom of the Opera Inspired Tale–by L.M. Bird. For those who are concerned, I will try to keep the original version up. I will only remove it if I run into plagiarism or other unanticipated problems. Thank you!
This story is a little different, but it's also the type of story I love to write, somewhat plot-heavy and suspenseful. It takes place in the near future (more because I needed to create a certain type of society than for technological or sci-fi reasons), and I hope it's a fun read.
Here are three notes/warnings that I'd like to add now that the story is nearly complete.
1. Like all futuristic stories, this one will eventually start to date itself. Present day refers to 2012/2013. The main story takes place in 2038.
2. This story is not anti-religion. It is anti-theocracy. No one ever had any complaints or said that they were offended, but I thought I'd state it clearly right here.
3. Some people did find this Erik too dark for their tastes. I can't really say much without giving away spoilers, but he is a political villain at times. In his treatment of Christine, however, his actions don't really go past anything that happened in canon final lair.
All that said, I hope you enjoy this story :)
Disclaimer: I do not own The Phantom of the Opera. All characters and themes belong to ALW and Gaston Leroux.
The fate of the country changed in a single moment.
It changed when Jennifer Henderson made her decision at 5:13 AM on a cold Saturday morning in February, two days after Valentine's Day. Still wearing a pair of black yoga pants and an oversized New England Patriots sweatshirt, she stared down at her sleeping husband, a frown tugging at the corners of her mouth.
I can't stand this anymore. I really, really can't. I'm tired of you. Maybe I even hate you.
She packed her clothes and toiletries into a black leather suitcase, hurling them in as fast as her perfectionist tendencies would allow. The big stuff would be moved later—and soon. She'd be damned if he got her grand piano or the thousands of dollars' worth of equipment in the exercise room. She rubbed a hand over her face, and her fingers brushed against the tips of her nostril. At least there was no way in hell he was getting the nose job back. The thought almost made her laugh out loud. Mrs. Henderson, the divorce court orders that you have surgery to get your old nose back. Of course, your husband will be performing the operation. Hahaha.
Finding a notepad with Dalmatian spots in the corners, she jotted a quick message.
I'm sorry, but I can't do this anymore. There's someone else and has been for awhile. You should be with someone more worthy of you than me. You know that I've always been a mess. I'm sorry for any pain I've caused.
P.S. Cuddles is with me. I know you never liked her.
With the dog carrier in one hand, and a suitcase in the other, Jenny took a deep breath. The Pomeranian yipped from her carrier at a passing car, and Jenny shushed her. She tiptoed down the stairs and out the front door, a cold breeze blowing her short blonde hair. Without a glance back at the enormous three-story home, she climbed into her car, started the engine, and drove away.
Craig Henderson found the letter at 6:45. After reading it twice under the light of a solitary lamp, he balled it up in his hands as silent tears rolled down his cheeks. Maybe he'd always known it was coming. But Jenny…how the hell could you do this to me? After everything I've done for you? Everything we've been through? He went through the house and kicked every object that reminded him of her, from the two thousand dollar elliptical to the silver dog food bowl for that annoying squeaking animal. At least she'd taken Cuddles. Stupid excuse for a dog.
And then he got mindlessly drunk for the next few days. Wine bottles littered the house, and he ignored the tsks of his Russian housekeeper as she picked them up and dropped them into a black trash bag. The bartender at his closest pub would offer a few words of sympathy and then cut him off by midnight. The world became a hazy blur, the alcohol numbing the pain just enough to keep him from finding the nearest bridge.
Eventually his vacation time ended, though, and it was time to go back to work. The scheduled surgery was way too high priority and no one could take his place. He wouldn't let anyone take his place. At least he could be someone's hero again.
The sounds of the hospital flooded his ears, intercoms and beeps and depressed murmurs. He could feel the eyes of his surgical team on him as he approached the pair of blue double doors.
"How was your time off, Dr. Henderson?"
"Do anything fun?"
"How's Jenny? You two still training for that marathon?"
He answered the questions with single syllables.
"Are you feeling well?" asked a pretty anesthesiologist that he'd known for over ten years. She was eyeing him closely, and he looked away from her. "I know there's been a bug going around."
"Feeling just fine," he curtly replied. "Ready to get to work."
I can get through this. I'm just fine. I'm not letting that bitch ruin this for me.
Male. Severe congenital defect. And one of the youngest face transplant candidates ever. Local Channel 4 had already done a feel-good story about it. CNN was going to be following up.
"You're sure you can fix this?" the mother had asked behind the privacy of closed doors. "Please say you can. I know some doctors thought he was too young, but you can do this, right? I have a trust fund and will pay whatever insurance doesn't cover. Because if you can't do it…I…I might just snap. You don't know what it's like, being stuck inside all day trying to home school him. I don't have any friends left. I can't take it anymore. I'm going to snap. I mean it."
I'm going to snap. Snap!
The room tilted for a moment, but Craig Henderson took a deep breath and entered, the rest of his team behind him. In a swirl of an awful mess of a face, he could only hear the letter, repeated in her voice, in his exhausted mind: I'm sorry, but I can't do this anymore. I'm sorry, but I can't do this. I'm sorry, but I can't.
Twelve years later….
Green icky mush.
Raoul stared down at his sandwich and wrinkled his nose. "Eww." He wrapped it back up and stuffed it into the crinkled brown lunch sack with a disappointed sigh.
"What's that?" asked a red-headed boy, standing behind him as they waited in the gymnasium for the first day of school to begin. Raoul knew he was in the fifth grade and a bit of a bully. Not the kind who beat you up and took your lunch money, but the really annoying kind who just wouldn't shut up.
"Turkey and avocado," he muttered. "I told my mom not to make it anymore, so Enid must have made it."
"You have a housekeeper?" the boy asked. "You rich or something?"
"Um. I don't know." He really didn't want to talk about it. The first day of third grade was shaping up to be bad enough without bringing his famous dad into it.
"Hey," the boy continued to Raoul's displeasure. "I know who you are! You're the Senator's kid. Yeah. I saw you on the TV. My dad said he'd cut off his right hand before voting for your dad."
Raoul shifted uncomfortably. "Whatever." He ignored the boy. Enid hadn't even put in chips or a cookie or an apple. All he had was this sandwich. Stupid sandwich. Stupid fifth-grader. Stupid third grade. Stupid—
"You can have mine. I don't like peanut butter."
He turned to his right, not having noticed that a girl was now standing right beside him. Her strawberry blonde hair was done up into a messy braid that went down her back. Freckles dotted her pale nose, and she was missing one of her front teeth.
"How can you not like peanut butter?" he asked once he was over his surprise.
The girl blushed, but her blue eyes twinkled. "I dunno. Just don't. It's sticky and icky!" She giggled at her own rhyme.
Raoul couldn't help but smile. "Do you like avocado?"
"Um, I dunno. I never really tried it."
They traded, and she opened his sandwich and bit into it. "Mmm!" One of the monitors frowned at her for eating outside of lunchtime, and she quickly wrapped up the sandwich and put it back into the bag. "What is…a Sen-a-tor?" she asked after swallowing.
Before Raoul could reply, the fifth-grader interrupted. "He goes to Washington and makes all the laws. And my dad says they do nothing but raise taxes!" He turned to Raoul. "Why don't they stop raising taxes?"
"What's a taxes?" asked the girl.
"Don't you know anything? It's when you pay money for nothing!"
"Just ignore him," muttered Raoul with a glare. "My name is Raoul. What's yours?"
"Christine," she replied. "I'm in second grade!"
"I'm in third. That means we'll have recess together."
"Good because I don't wanna play with the kindergarteners again!"
"Yeah," he agreed. "They throw up a lot."
"Well, I'm glad I'm not stuck with you guys," said the fifth-grader, obviously annoyed that he'd been excluded. "Your dad is a tax raiser."
Raoul didn't tell him that the feeling was mutual.
It was almost a match made in heaven, and third grade wasn't so terrible after all. He and Christine played together many times that year. She was the first girl he'd met that didn't have cooties, although sometimes it was still hard to convince the other boys of this. Raoul loved how the sun shined off her hair and how her pale face acquired a pinkish glow when she was happy. She was a little shy and quiet sometimes, but when she laughed it was almost musical. At the winter assembly, he even got to hear her sing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and it became obvious just how talented his new best friend was.
Although they usually didn't get together outside of school, he did bring her over to his house a few times. Christine told him that it was 'ginormous' and 'really fun'. She loved rolling around on the floor with his Golden Retriever and letting the dog lick her face with his giant, wet tongue. Then, in the springtime, she and Raoul would jump and wrestle around on his trampoline until his mother stepped outside and told them to calm down or they were going to break their necks.
Over the summer, he didn't see much of Christine. He was sent off to camp with other boys whose dads apparently did important things. Most of them went to private boarding schools, but Raoul's dad always said that "it sent an important message to the people" for him to attend public school. Raoul wasn't quite sure what that meant. As long as he had Christine to play with, he didn't really care.
Fourth grade arrived, and Raoul had grown a whole inch. He felt a little more confident as he walked through the familiar halls of his elementary school. Only one more grade to go and then he would be the oldest! His good mood vanished the second he saw Christine.
Even before they spoke, he noticed that something was different. She murmured a soft "hello" and silently ate beside him at lunchtime. The familiar gleam was gone from her eyes. It was still summer, but she was wearing a plain white turtle neck and a long jean skirt. Raoul shifted uncomfortably as he eyed her.
"Is everything okay, Christine?"
"Oh…yeah," she murmured, staring down at her folded hands.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Just—well, my mom died. She had cancer." A tear formed at the corner of her eyes, and she brushed it away with the back of her hand.
"That's awful. I'm really, really sorry."
"Thanks. And then my dad…he…"
"He what?" Raoul pressed as a heavy feeling formed in his stomach.
"He changed everything."
"What do you mean?"
"I dunno. Never mind." She looked up, eyes dry now. "Wanna trade your ham for tuna?"
"Uh, sure." He didn't like tuna, but he wanted to make her happy again. And, for a moment, she smiled.
Christine was never quite the same, and he felt a distance form between them over the next few months. She would laugh, but her eyes held a sadness that he was still too young to understand. Then, one cold day in November, she came up to him at lunchtime. Fresh tears were in the corners of her blue eyes; it was the first time that he'd ever really wanted to hug a girl. "Raoul." She was wearing a plaid skirt that reached her ankles, hair combed into her famous long braid. "My dad says we're going away."
"Oh no! You're moving?" he replied with a groan. He'd had a friend do that to him in first grade.
"Yeah. Daddy says we have to give up the world."
She shrugged. "I don't know. But I'm leaving. Today is my last day. I don't know what to do."
"Oh…." His head drooped. "Well, maybe we can…. Do you have e-mail?"
She shook her head.
"Well, maybe…." His voice tapered off, and his palms faced helplessly outwards. To his surprise, he felt her arms wrap tightly wrap around his shoulders. She kissed his cheek.
"Find me someday," she whispered into his ear. "No matter what happens, find me." Before he could hug her back, Christine ran away, leaving a few wet stains on his navy polo shirt.
Very upset, Raoul went home and told his father everything. Ethan Chagny finally agreed to give her dad a call and find out where they were moving, but Raoul was unable to tell what had happened based on the brief one-sided conversation. That night, though, he put his ear to the door of his parents' bedroom and heard them speak to each other in low voices.
"But they seemed like a decent family," said his mother. "I can't believe it."
"The country is changing, and people are afraid," replied his father. "Things like this will continue to happen, especially to trusting people who are down on their luck. Her father lost his job, his wife, and his pride, and he took his only option. I've seen more of it over the last few years. People giving up on life like this."
"But it's no better than a cult!"
"They don't see it that way, Judy. They see it as their salvation. Let's hope that none of these wackos ever get another power to influence the government."
"How sad," she murmured. "That poor, poor little girl. So many awful things could happen to her."
"I know, honey. But the authorities will keep an eye out. They know what goes on."
"Still. It's so sad."
Raoul barely slept that night, eyes wide as he lay on his pillow and tried to figure it all out. Why had someone taken his best friend away? What bad things were going to happen to Christine? Could he save her? This wasn't fair at all!
"What's no better than a cult? What do you mean by cult? What happened to Christine?"
His father was reading the morning paper but started as Raoul practically jumped into the kitchen and bombarded him with questions. Ethan dropped the paper on the table, right into his plate of scrambled eggs, and frowned. "What have I told you about eavesdropping?" Raoul lowered his head. His father sighed, and his expression softened. "I guess you're old enough, aren't you? A cult is…it's when a bad person or group of people trick other people into believing and doing whatever they want."
"How do they do that?"
"By telling lies and making false promises, usually about going to heaven. Things like that." Raoul squinted. "Like what if I told you, if you clean the house, I'll give you a hundred dollars and take you to Disney World."
Raoul hesitated. "Would you really?"
His dad smiled sadly. "No. But you almost believed it. That's what a cult does. Except a lot worse."
"Oh." Raoul paused, suddenly feeling sick. "Well, what's going to happen to Christine?"
"I don't know. Maybe she'll be okay. I'm sure her father will keep her safe. I would try to make some new friends, though."
"But I don't want a new friend. I want Christine. Can't you bring her back? You make laws!"
"It's not that simple. I don't have that kind of authority, son. I'm sorry."
Raoul sat down and stared at the table, suddenly feeling very helpless. "This really…sucks." His older brother said that all the time, and his mother always told him that it wasn't dignified language. But, at that moment, it was the only phrase that summed up the situation.
His father rested a hand on his shoulder. "Well, hey. Maybe we should take that trip to Disney World soon. We've been talking about it, right? And I won't even make you clean the house."
"Yeah. That'd be cool."
It was a very brief distraction. Still, Raoul never forgot about the little blonde girl. Sometimes he'd look for her in the crowds, but she had completely vanished. As the awkwardness and excitement of adolescence came upon him, Christine slowly became a ghost of his childhood. It would be thirteen years before he saw her again.