“You brought me down and doomed this town, so when we blow this scene,
back we will go to my kindom below, and you will be my queen…”
– What You Feel
Based on the novel Phantom of The Opera by Gaston Leroux
© 2005 by Lejindarybunny
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced by any means, except for brief quotations in review or promotion.
It is with certain reservations that I lay down this text which I assure you is completely factual. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Erik. Yes, that Erik. Enchante, etcetera. Now, if you will, allow me to continue.
It amazes me to this day how eager the masses are to take the writings of a sensational journalist at, shall we say, face value. That is not to say that the novel of Monsieur Leroux is wholly inaccurate, his little “Interview with the Persian”contains within it both some truth and some literary merit. I will refrain from saying just how much of either it possesses in my mind.
Whatever its faults The Phantom of the Opera laid down the bare bones of something that is extremely important- the fact of the matter. For all its overblown details, nervous ticks, and various other artistic shortcomings the basic events are there, if one can look beyond the philosophy and moralizing of our friend the Persian, and the ridiculous ‘please buy my books’ additions of Leroux.
Who am I, you ask, to pass such judgment on a classic tale? A literary critic perhaps? I’m qualified, to be sure. But, allow me to introduce myself. I am Erik. Yes, that Erik. Enchante, etcetera. Now, if you will, allow me to continue.
It took me several years after its publication to discover the tome, and when I did, I assure you I was something less than pleased. I had half a mind to have a little talk with that rat the Persian, but he was difficult to find at that point, so I settled for a chat with the author of the tale.
The chat ended rather successfully, with a piece of the residuals (which never amounted to much I’m sorry to say) and some odd marks round dear Gaston’s neck which convinced his wife he’d taken up the unpleasant sport of bar fighting.
He had meant, Leroux assured me, not character defamation, rather to cast pity on what he called, and occasionally I am inclined to agree with him ‘my sad life’. The fact that he had no right to set down my biography without permission seemed to totally escape him. After some convincing he promised never to do it again. This unfortunately wasn’t much consolation, and I was rather miserable for a time.
During the conversation I asked him why he’d chosen to tell everyone that I had died. It couldn’t possibly have been an attempt to lend me privacy. The answer, which I had quite nearly forgotten in the intermittent years, was that everyone thought I was dead. I had, after all, told the Persian quite emphatically that I was going to.
When I had come to speak with him, I was fully prepared to demand that Leroux release a new version of the book, as edited by myself, with all of the inaccuracies and exaggerations removed. I realized however, that this was not going to be sufficient, mostly because interest in the book had already waned, to the annoyance of both the author’s ego and my own.
Resignedly, I left the man in relative peace.
I brooded on the subject for a great while, and felt generally maligned by the public eye once more. What a dreadful thing it was for a man as private as myself to have his inner demons dragged out onto the stage of unlicensed biography! At least I could take solace in the fact that due to a great many bibliographical errors on Leroux’s part everybody took it as a work of fiction.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that I must write my own novel, a sort of companion piece to the original. But again my artistic side was bothered by the fact that it would seem I was merely rewriting Leroux’s work, and adding my own commentary. This was not satisfactory. There was only one solution, not only would I have to set the original work straight, but I would also have to tell people what happened afterwards.
So it is with certain reservations that I lay down this text. I assure you that it is completely factual, allowing for lapses of memory, and personal interpretation. Turn the page, dear reader, and learn the truth behind the Phantom of the Opera.
Chapter the First
I fully expected to perish dramatically that night. There was simply no imagining a day to come after- to come after Christine. After that earth shattering, sense shattering moment. A kiss to destroy all the lines between what was real and what couldn’t possibly be. Tears to bring from their deepest wells all the hidden and glorious sorrow of my heart. Truly my spirit wanted nothing more than to curl up and wait for death in that strange and melancholic ecstasy.
I had had her. For one magnificent day I had had a beautiful, living wife at my side. My Christine. But by the same token that I had won her, I knew she was not mine to keep. I had allowed her to leave, with her precious viscount. Why had I done it? I still ask myself that question. She was mine! Mine I tell you! She’d have stayed with me all my life had I asked her! She would have! She would have…
God, would she have?
Something, something in her love broke me that night, just past the stroke of eleven. Until that time I’d been perfectly happy to keep her chained to me, even as Von Rothbart kept Odette. But she gave her love to me freely. She loved me for myself. How could I force her to spend her life with a monster? And worst of all, I wondered in my mind how long it would last, before she loathed me once more, for all the misery I had caused her.
No, better to let her go then and cement in my mind the dream that she’d have loved me all my life, than to watch that love waste away into bitterness. Better to grant her my rare mercy, and die with the touch of her lips still in my mind. For I knew without her I surely would die.
And yet there was another part of myself, fierce and resilient, that made its will to survive known. The Opera Ghost would die with dignity at the very least, or not at all. Christine had promised to return to me, when I was dead, but there were a few affairs that had to be looked to before I could rest. So it was with a heart heavy with every emotion that I rose; casting once again my dark shadow in the soft candlelight.
There were many exits from my house on the lake, and I took the one that was closest, and the one that was the best hidden. It led through deep, catacomb-like sewers, pitch black and rather damp. It was not the darkness that blinded me, as I have eyes like a cat. It was instead raw emotion that upset my usual grace, and I am sorry to say, I stumbled somewhat as I made my way.
I am not certain how long it was that I spent there, beneath the streets, or whether it was the same night or the next one, when I finally arrived on the surface again, in a cemetery near the bank of the Seine. The sight of it, still and peaceful, made me long for my own coffin, if only for a few moments of the sleep that I so rarely allowed myself. But I knew that if I allowed myself to do so, I would not awaken, and Christine would not come. That was why I had fled.
I stood beneath the branches of an ash tree on the hill of Montmartre cemetery. It was raining, cold, but hardly more than a mist, really. A gentle breeze tugged the cloak that hung on my shoulders. I didn’t know why I was there, or what I had hoped to achieve by leaving my home in the first place. I was fragmented; I was undone. It took so little it seemed, to break an Opera Ghost, in the end.
I didn’t sit, so much as I collapsed, there beside the grave of someone I didn’t know. Or maybe I did know them. Maybe I had killed them. What did I know? So much, and then? Nothing whatsoever.
I was a man spent by a life of hide and seek, I could manage it no longer. I leaned my head back, staring at the gray-blue clouds behind which there must have been a full moon. I wore no mask. Had anyone been in the cemetery that night, they’d have seen a ghoul raised from his grave. Leroux exaggerated very little in his description if my figure, there were some horrors in my tale that needed only slight embellishment, it seems.
Mirrors have never been my friends, but I have chanced upon them unguarded enough times to have my distorted visage etched forever on the back of my eyelids. Shall I tell you then? Shall I delight and disgust you with the details, just as the patrons of the gypsy fair once begged to see? Will men retch? Will ladies need smelling salts? I’ll go on then. However, I shall certainly not think the less of you, should you chose to skip the next paragraph.
I am as gaunt as a skeleton. My hands are unnaturally long, and talon-like. My skin is tight and sallow. Little hair grows on my piebald skull, and what does is coarse and white. But, as you’ve no doubt heard, it is my face that strikes terror in the hearts of mortal men. If you saw me from the left you might think me merely extremely ugly, with lean, wizened cheeks, yellow skin, painfully thin lips, a overdone forehead, and lines of what would seem to be scar tissue intruding across my understated nose and jaw. The rest of my face though, is truly monstrous. Bluish ‘scars’ consume most of my visage, the major veins all-apparent through my porcelain thin hide, skin sagging flaccidly beneath my eye, which is sunken deeply, almost cavernously, into my skull. My lips are grossly twisted into a permanent grimace, where the flesh is puckered around my jaw. Truly my face is a tale with which to frighten small children, and grown men alike. A living corpse, part of me only dead, the rest completely rotted. like the Norse Loki’s daughter Hel.
Still with me, dear readers? Or have you tossed this book half across the room in fright and revulsion? I wouldn’t blame you. I’ve tossed myself across the room in abhorrence more times than I might care to count. I’ve very nearly thrown myself into the river, so deep is my loathing for the monster I am. As I said, anyone in the cemetery might have come upon me that night, and might have done my work for me with a blade or a pistol. But then the thought did not cause me undue disquiet, and I rested there, in peace that was relative to the turmoil in my mind. Exhaustion, physical and mental crept up upon me, and I was overtaken by a fitful slumber.
If there is a reason, beyond obsession with my work, that I allow myself so little sleep, then it is the dreams. I do not have pleasant dreams, and if I did what mockery they would seem in the cold morning light! Better to forget them. I rarely have nightmares. What more nightmare than that life which I already possess? But I remember, and that is bad enough.
That night my sleeping mind recalled an incident that occurred in the eighth year of my life. I recalled that stuffy little windowless room which had once been my only firsthand knowledge of the world…
Chapter the Second
I remember that cramped room well, cluttered with things that the rest of the house did not want, and lit continually with a single gas lamp and a smattering of stubby candles whose use had already been long availed of before I ever got them. From time to time I look back and wonder why I was given such a luxury as light at all, when my father, such as the man was, was dually convinced that I was both witchspawn and bastard.
They were shouting again, my parents. They shouted continually, and I used to imagine, had they not, I’d have never learned to speak; except that, when I was very small, I remember my mother used to come and sit beside my cradle. She never looked at me, not once, but she would read to me, and occasionally she would murmur things I did not understand.
‘Oh my baby, why did you have to die? Oh my poor dead Erik…’
And sometimes she would croon lullabies in her soft motherly way. Once, just once, I lifted my juvenile voice with hers.
It took her a moment to understand the source of the new sound, but as she did she fled sobbing from the room, and did not return for days. It only took me the once, to learn to hold my tongue.
My father, it seemed however, had no such inclination for he would shout, it seemed, whenever it pleased him to do so. It pleased him quite a bit.
As was often the case that evening I was the topic of his nightly tirade.
“God, Nicole, why didn’t you just let the doctor do his work?”
There was no reply from my mother, the never was. Or perhaps she simply spoke so softly that I could not hear her. Nevertheless my father continued eagerly.
“You visit his grave often enough! Would it even make a difference if it were a bundle of blankets up there? Blankets don’t eat as much!”
“This is madness, keeping a monster in my house! Whose is he, Nicole, what beast did you take to bed to produce that thing? Tell me and I’ll kill him.”
For some odd reason towards this part of his diatribe I always began to feel a bit nervous. Perhaps this was because he had a tendency to dash up to my room, clutching my mother to his wrist, pull my mask off and beat me while shouting ‘Look, look Nicole, look at our beautiful son!’ while she curled sobbing in a corner. Occasionally he would bring a mirror with him.
I strained my ears, already sharp from practicing the same, to listen for any indication that my father might wish to pay me a visit. Fortunately there was none, he merely continued on his merry lecture.
“It must have been a corpse. Only a night with a cadaver would produce such a beast! Or was it Satan himself! Tell me Nicole, tell me and I might show you some mercy!”
Now I quite nearly wished that he had come upstairs. The sounds of a scuffle and my sobbing mother were as always, too much to bear. I had seen him do it one night, undoing the lock on my door and sneaking to the stairs. I saw him, and, unable to contain my fury and dismay, he had of course, discovered me.
I often wonder how much of my ugliness is natural deformity and how much was beaten into me during my formative years. It doesn’t much matter, but I wonder just the same.
I would not be spying on my parents’ marital bliss this evening however. I stood up, no longer huddling against my small bed, and crossed the room. I had tripped on the loose floorboard a few times, before prying it up in a fit of anger. That anger dissolved quickly however, when my child’s mind decided what a wonderful hiding spot that board might be. I had often sneaked down to my father’s library in the middle of the night, full of fear of discovery, but after that I had sneaked the books back up with me and immediately found the long and silent days alone much more bearable
It wasn’t merely books that spot held though, nor were they what I had gone to fetch in my flight from my father’s caterwauling. Escape into books was one delightful thing surely, but lately I had been working on a retreat of a more physical sort. Finished the night before, I had been planning to wait for a more opportune maiden voyage, but I simply could not stomach my father’s voice that night.
The room in which I was kept had once been, and I suppose in a sense still was, used for storage. That meant there were boxes of things like clothing, which people had long forgotten about. I’m not certain anymore just how I was inspired to tear that clothing up and make a rope of it. It was really more tied than woven, and looked like some sort of patchwork snake that had been eating rats, but it would, I judged bear my young weight, and it was finally long enough to reach the ground.
The room I lived in was windowless, but the room beside it was not, and was never used for anything in particular. I might have been able to sneak downstairs and out the front door without anyone noticing, but I might not. And besides, by child’s mind was drawn to the adventurous notion of escaping down a furtive rope, just as normal boys might play at being pirates or robbers. In the midst of the quite real situation of my virtual imprisonment, there was still an element of game in my mind.
And so I picked the lock of my room with a hairpin dropped long ago by my young mother, and crept with rodential stealth into the room across the hall. In the next room I gazed longingly out the window at the night. I so rarely saw the outside. Tonight I was going outside.
I wound the rope several times around the doorknob of the closet, opened the window as silently as I could manage, and with some due ceremony, tossed the rope outside. I knelt on the windowsill, and fought back a small wave of vertigo as I peered downward. I took a breath, and taking hold of my rope, began to lower myself down the side of the house.
It was precarious business, but I, as I am told most small boys do, picked up the knack for climbing quite quickly. It thrilled me a breeze blew across my shoulders. Before I had only felt musty drafts. I felt giddy with then liberty I had stolen for myself. And then I came to a nasty realization.
I had forgotten to account for the fact that there might be other windows, that my rope might dangle in plain view of my father, and also, that I would have to leave the rope where it hung while I had my adventures, and that anyone might easily come across it and discover what I’d done. Should I go back, then? Climb right back into the window and hide in my room, where I was marginally safe?
I thought that I ought to, but my logical mind could not convince my heart to return. Not yet. Not when I had only just gotten my first taste of fresh air.
It was great luck that my rope did not, in fact, attract any unwanted attention as I climbed down. Such windows as I did pass were covered by drapes, and the rooms seemed empty. I couldn’t even hear my father shouting from outside. The rope also, was only the slightest bit shorter than I had hope, and I let go and dropped the last foot or so, landing crouched.
I stood, and adjusted my mask, making certain that it completely covered my features. I was well enough informed that my face would make babes cry, women weep, men hit me with things, etcetera, and had no desire to see this happen on my first evening.
And so it was that I set off down the road.
Chapter the Third
I woke as the first hazy light of false dawn began to touch the eastern horizon. In the first moments, my mind muddled by sleep, it seemed to me as though I was still a boy, with all the long years of my life before me, and that the sordid business that became my story had not yet occurred. This blissful ignorance, like the birds that scattered as I roused my mangled body, were frail and had dissipated entirely before the focus had fully returned to my eyes.
Paris too was already beginning to awake, and I knew that I must seek some seclusion, unless I wished my death to be the public sport of Her noble citizens. I stood, my formal attire much maligned for my recent adventure, and sought out some familiar avenue to safety. Was I to return then to my Opera House? I thought not, for there I should surely loose hold of what senses I was in possession of, and then I would die and Christine would not come back to me.
I must speak with the Persian directly, that was what I had to do. But I needed my mask, and my mask was in that damnable cellar where I cowered like a rat for the last years of my life!
It couldn’t be helped, I would have to go back to the Opera House and retrieve my mask, to make myself presentable for the public eye.
Now, Leroux reports that I told Christine I had invented ‘an ingenious mask’- one that would create the illusion that I was a man like any other, and in fact this was not entirely false. It is true in that Leroux was correct, I did say it, and it was also true that I had invented such a mask.
I simply had not yet created it. In short, the mask in question was currently only theoretical. The fact that it would remain theoretical indefinitely, owing to my impending death was definitely beside the point.
What sort of mask was it, you may ask, to let me walk among strangers unnoticed? Well to begin with it was hardly a mask at all, in the traditional sense; it would have to be nearly remade every time I put it on or took it off. Bits of rubber it would be, tailor made to smooth my visage, and cunning paints to complete the illusion. I wondered, after years of watching Opera costumerie why I had not thought of it before when it might have been of better use.
But there was not time nor purpose for that stroke of genius now; my normal one would suffice.
I stood up, steadying myself on the trunk of the tree that had been the bed I so rarely sought for that night, and then I dashed off along the still-quiet streets, and down the first grate he saw. I was steadier on my feet this morning than I had been the previous night.
‘A moment of sanity,’ I noted clinically as I made my way, ‘in my battered mind, which has no doubt been completely broken by recent events.’
The trip seemed to take no time at all, and the sight of my home, the phantom’s august lair, was both a relief and yet somehow quite painful. There were my flowers, dying as I, but the familiar arm chairs, and my papers and instruments were all there quite as I left them, and I had another of those moments of memorial vertigo that couldn’t quite believe that everything had changed.
As I went around lighting the many and varied candelabras that brought a flickering illumination to the room I wondered…
If I sat down at my desk, could I compose? Could everything be as it was, before Christine? Could I fall back into my meaningless life of wasted genius? Of composing, and pick pocketing and frightening little ballet rats? Not now, surely, not after all that had happened. My chairs looked so inviting with their velveteen maroon plush and gilt inlay, my coffin even more so besides. Could I lay in it again, as a bed, and not as a place of final resting?
Surely not now.
My mask lay discarded on a scarlet draped mahogany writing table from which it stood out brilliant in the golden flickering light.
Leroux took so little care with the description of my mask that I must believe it has been imagined in a hundred different ways. But who can blame him? He never saw it himself, and the Persian took little care with details.
It was bone white, ovular, coming to a point where it met my chin, and spreading out to points where it met the top of my forehead. It had two staring eyes and a point at the nose, and an impassive mouth. It was tied with a black ribbon. It looked like the mask of comedy or of tragedy, but removed of all expression. This was exactly as I had intended.
I lifted it in my hands and traced a black-gloved finger over its smooth surface and then I fastened it on. I no longer felt so naked and exposed. It was always like that when I put it on; sometimes it even seemed to infuse me with a demonic vitality. Without my mask I was only Erik, disfigured, aging Erik, poor Erik. With my mask on I was the phantom again, powerful and mysterious and sly. You can guess whom I felt more comfortable as, I’ll wager.
Now fastidiously aware of my rumpled attire, I changed my clothing. It was more of the same of course, evening wear mostly in black, but now I chose a cape lined in deep blue rather than red, with its collar turned up; my vest was charcoal gray, and my cravat matched the lining of my cape. I donned a top hat.
There were few mirrors in my little world below the cellar, but I knew how I looked, and I thought it was quite dashing. If only, if only my features had no been so cursed, I could have been the greatest of men! I didn’t even care if I was handsome, though I won’t deny I wished it. I longed, oh how I longed even to be ugly, with piggy eyes, and great ears and a squashed nose. Christine would have loved me had I been ugly! Any number of women would have! If I had only been born ugly! But no, alas! I was a monster, a beast, a disfigured terror to make the victims of pox look pristine, a fiend compared to whom the flesh of a cadaver was a heavenly sight!
I brought my hand down with sudden force upon the surface of the table with a great “thump”. The inkwell that sat there shuddered. My fist closed around papers and I threw them forcefully away from me. I turned on the heel of my shining black boots, my cape billowing its breeze extinguishing a candle as I stalked again from the cellar that was haunted by the ghost of my misery.
I didn’t bother with the sewers, but stalked the streets in broad daylight. Let them seem me! Let them stare! Let them goggle and wonder at the man in the mask who walked like a jungle cat on the prowl.
As I made my way to the residence of the Persian and saw all the people going about their business and the lords riding with their ladies, and the men in their shops, the eye in the cyclone of my sanity began to blow away again and my anguish uncurled and poisoned my thoughts.
I would die! I would die in this cape and these gloves and this hat! In this hat I had ridden with Christine in a beautiful carriage, when I thought I could keep her. This cloak had been draped on my chair as I sweated out notes of Don Juan while Christine slept in the other room. In these gloves I had stroked her face!
Tears obscured my vision.
I would die and I would lie in my coffin surrounded by silk more beautiful than my tortured face, and while the fires of hell consumed me the one woman who had kissed my horrid face would stand by my side for a moment. Would she weep, would she weep for poor Erik? Would she mourn my passing?
Oh I was a fool, a fool to have loved her! Why had I dared? I should have stayed away I should have flown from that voice, trembling and untrained, but so, so pure. I should have fled that golden hair and creamy skin! The beast should have fled before beauty could wound it so!
All at once I found myself at the Persian’s apartments a wreck of a man again.
Mask or no mask, Erik was dying.
I flung myself against the door, banging and making a spectacle of myself. I didn’t care, I wouldn’t live to be ashamed of myself I had decided. I all but collapsed in front of the Persian’s servant, Darius, when he opened the door. I just sank to my knees there on the carpet of the man who had been my friend.
“I am dying, Daroga!” I announced, when his boots were before me and he had exclaimed in surprise at my presence, “I am dying of love!”
I felt myself being hauled inside the room proper, and allowed myself to be ushered a seat as Darius closed the door, and I was offered a drink as I sprawled myself there over the Daroga’s good green armchair with its clawed feet and I sobbed.
“I am dying, I tell you!” I announced again without allowing him to inquire as to my health, “If you knew how beautiful she was, when she let me kiss her…Why, Daroga, why did I do it? I knew, knew it would end this way, and I let myself love her!”
I found myself gibbering like an idiot unhinged, my tears falling in the Daroga’s brandy, and I remembered. I didn’t mean to, but all the same I couldn’t help it. My memories went back to the pace where I had met Christine and began my all to brief career as the Angel of Music.