Prologue has been left out, you guys know the backstory. Please do not redistribute or repost the material in this chapter, thank you! If you want to read more, just ask, the novel is written and as this time in editing mode.
A burgundy hue hung like a pall on the storm torn horizon. Hours ago the sun's harsh rays descended below the jawline of the city, the buildings that lined the avenues were broken teeth jutting up into the sultry night air. Utterly denying their earlier promise of relief parting clouds had framed the death of day. The humid streak that pervaded late April had not been deterred by the powerful storm that had rumbled through late evening. Indeed the evaporation only produced more of the unwelcome accompaniment to the typical warmth of New England's spring. Beneath my right hand I could not help but sense the cruel remnants of the lengthening days that lingered as residual heat in the stone balustrade of my dwelling above Manhattan. Gazing down upon the flickering gas lights of the bustling city the weight of the punishing years that had comprised my journey thus far pressed upon me. My birth not being cause for celebration, I could never be certain precisely how many years it been since had I arrived as a curse to my poor mother. By a rough count I could safely assume the sum was around six decades by now, give or take a year.
All at once it seemed the tragic events occurred yesterday even though time counted just shy of a decade since I had fled Paris, desperate to leave behind me the horrific past I had penned in the blood of many. In a smoldering shamble I had left my beloved lair and creation, the Paris Opera—and not singularly that creation alone.
Not now. With a shake of my head I turned my eyes toward the future. Just within my gaze dwelt the corner of my newest legacy to the world. No glance over my shoulder at the plans had been required to have witnessed her promising splendor, the structure was now nearly complete. The ornate stone facade a beloved tribute to all the beauty of the old world spirit I had left behind. The most spectacular splendor that architectural studies from my travels encompassing the whole of Europe and Asia could produce. And the acoustics, oh the acoustics! The shiver ran up my spine anew just as it had when first I had penned out the auditoriums within this blessing to the new world. America was a new canvas, a new place that had yet to find a unique voice. How could I but resist the urge to gift it with a temple to experience every nuance of the grandest art known to man—music.
The truth was, I couldn't resist.
However, this time I vowed it would be different. The tragedy of the past simply could not be repeated. Rubbing my hand upon the stone I felt it anchoring me once more to the present. None of it could be repeated. There had been no more sulking in shadows, no hidden lairs, no phantoms pulling strings. Employing some forethought I had been able to avoid the issue of intrusive neighbors forcing me to move on as they had in my prior attempts to live above ground. The solution had been exceedingly simple. I owned the entire block that held Clef de Voute Manoir, my Beaux Arts mansion. Located in what was considered the outskirts of town on the block of seventh ave and Central Park south street with three stories at my disposal, I chose to dwell nearly entirely in the upper stories of the eastern wing that held everything I found essential: my private chambers were comprised of an oversized study, bedchamber, library, laboratory, solarium, and the rooftop garden. I only required brief sojourns to the main floor to conduct business before the hearth of my sitting room or sessions in my music room. For some reason I had constructed the western wing as a collection of various sized rooms that might some day come into use. However, I rarely if ever roamed through the vacant halls.
Whenever my unusual presence gained unwanted attention it took but a few slams of my door in nosy faces before the vast majority of society learned to leave me to my eccentricities. As I had once been a reluctant captive of the gypsy's I felt there was a striking similarly about the entire human race. Regardless of how much I attempted to overcome my instinct I could never completely abandon the distinct impression that I was a prisoner of human society. A victim of the obscure definition of what it was to be normal. Only through confidence in my ability to control and manipulate the weak human will did I find the courage to walk amongst a species whose vile actions time had taught me to despise.
I felt a small tug at the corners of my mouth as a smile formed. It had been no meager amount of effort to keep all my handiwork and tricks within the sight of those I worked with. Somehow self control had won, and to my relief had continually rewarded me with silent patronage of this grand project under my construction company, Shadowcrest Industries. Well, mostly silent. Most of this past year had been spent overseeing the crew on the building site, working closely as adviser to the public patron and his eager public architect. This project had progressed with significantly more ease and grace than working with Garnier on the Paris Opera. Of course it was largely due to not having a lengthy revolution and a troublesome government constantly interrupting. Armed soldiers attempting to demolish a construction site in a drunken riot while one is trying to hide from persecution does cause for some significant delays. Fortunately for my unbending pride, both Carnegie and Tuthill had been gracious in accepting my eccentricities. Such were my obsessive tendencies when passionately invested in a project that rarely over the past year had I spent a night in my home during the whole of the construction phase. I had only done this the past three nights of late.
“Good travels, Nadir?” As he entered the study he could not possibly have seen me yet with my back to him out on the second story balcony, but I had heard his muted footsteps on the carpet. Even now I perceived his halt in sudden surprise. Though I had strictly banished the servants from wandering my private rooms, Nadir was permitted in the whole of my dwelling. I owed this man too much.
“Erik?” The alarm in his voice was unguarded. “I thought you might be sleeping.”
Without turning to face him I chuckled. “My friend, your puerile efforts after all these years to sneak up on me are truly charming in their entirely unavailing fashion.”
A small laugh escaped him. “You must have eyes in the back of your head the way you can sense things.”
“Nonsense. People are just noisy oafs.” I remarked with a wave of dismissal. “Did you secure the contracts?”
The shuffle of papers hitting the mahogany desk that resided just within the open balcony door was the only answer I required, but it was accompanied by a weary sigh from the aging Persian. The man was slightly older than I, however in our past together I had inadvertently ignited a great love of travel in him. Despite his years, he seemed ever eager to experience a new part of the world. “Indeed. I was left to chase after many a signature, but my efforts were at last rewarded. Erik, was all this essential?”
Decades ago in Persia this man had foolishly proclaimed himself my conscience. People often profess a need to kill their conscience. For me to do so would involve an act of murder. When the nagging voice, that for most existed inside their heads, grew entirely too burdensome for me I had the luxury of sending my conscience on business trips with ulterior motives.
“What are you going to do wi … ” He respectfully cast his eyes down, his words abandoned him as I slowly turned from the outside world to face him. A stiff breeze blew in to caress my naked face, it was only then that I had recalled my mask lay upon the desk. As I had been left to my own devices for some time I had taken the liberty of going unmasked within the sanctuary of the upper floors of my home. A few steps carried me back inside to the edge of my desk buried in sheet after sheet of architectural drawings haphazardly flung about amidst the throws of creation. My right hand gracefully arched down and collected the shield of my dignity. A nervous tremor struck his voice as he tried to cover for the embarrassment. “All these years, I am sorry Erik. I was not expecting you without the mask.”
“Enough of that. I do not ask for sympathy.” An edge of old acid clung to the words despite my vain efforts to quell it. A lifetime of being reviled for my deformity had lead me down some rather dark and unwanted paths. I understood human nature sufficiently by now to have accepted human reaction as ungovernable by any form of logic. In truth, it was as uncontrollable as my temper had been known to be. Somehow knowing this still did not make such situations any easier.
Nadir swallowed and glanced away, clearly scrambling for some safe topic of discussion. We were both well aware though the years had blunted the edge from my temper it was still lurking in the dark waters of my undeniable past. His eyes wandered about the familiar walls of my study which was never known to be neat and organized. Lit by a variety of gas wall sconces and candles, I preferred the softer hue over the garish burn of the newer electric light, the shelves of my unkempt workroom were overflowing with a vast variety of my tinkering and compositions. The notes of musical strains carefully penned out upon vellum draped over the mechanical devices my hands created when they desired to not be idle. This was a constant state, sliding from one project to next, often simultaneously employing my attentions to more than one art form at a time. Which was precisely how one of my automatons in process had wound up in pieces spread across the top of the Steinway piano I had purchased years ago. When the grand piano had been delivered I had been forced to break open the second story wall to admit the crane access to lift the instrument in. The stonework had slid back into place masterfully enough and the newer mortar hidden by a tasteful cut of the Merlot hued curtains that concealed the breach from my sight. As with the rest of my household, there were no mirrors within this room. Upon the black leather sofa before the great hearth various musical scores were scattered from a task weeks ago to assist in the selections for the opening gala. At last his eyes settled onto the drafts, the moment he found his safe conversation written upon his olive-toned features. “How is the hall coming along these past weeks?”
This was why I kept him around, my precious friend Nadir. Time had taught him how to navigate the treacherous labyrinth of my moods. He would not be alive now if he had failed to learn. Welcoming the inquiry with a relieved smile I knew he would observe from below the cut of the white mask I replied, “On schedule. So much simpler than the last one. A year, only one year. I had hardly conceived such a time line given the years it took to construct in Paris. Honestly, it has been entirely too simple from the groundbreaking up.”
Returning the smile, his frame abandoned a bit of the tension it had carried. “Than the original grand opening is also on schedule?”
My answer was a simple nod.
“Fantastic. How many nights of music was it they had planned?”
“Five. Five days with a culmination of six concerts worth of glorious music rising to the heights in the acoustical genius of my musical hall. Those attending will be immersed in such a spectacle only previously known in Europe's grand halls. And in truth, not even there!”
One eyebrow rose ever so slightly. “Then … ” He began tentatively. “Whatever is wrong?”
I cocked my head to the side feeling the sensation of my own eyebrows brushing the back of the mask in my surprise. “Wrong? What brings you to such a suspicion, dear Daroga?”
A scowl abolished his previously intrigued expression. “I told you never to call me that.” At one time the word was his title in Persia, a position of honor—or royal abuse, depending upon the whim of the court. In my years serving in Persia the poor man had most certainly undergone an abundance of the latter.
“And I told you never to play games with the master.” I quipped, “Now answer the question, you suspicious old goat!”
Pointing to my left hand he observed. “It's the only time you have your magician's orbs out, when something is bothering you and you're trying in vain not to think about it.”
Indeed, he was right! How long had my fingers been tossing the three crystal balls into a tireless array of patterns? By the tension in my left arm it had been some hours since I had subconsciously taken up the activity.“You know me too well.” I sighed, forcing my hand to still and return them to their place in a silk lined box. Almost intolerable was the sensation of trembling that followed. Or was it the uncomfortable silence as I slowly drifted my eyes from him, contemplating refuge in some safe corner of the contents of my new life. Inexplicably my eyes were drawn to the Stradivarius violin I had cast aside last night after assaulting the fine instrument in an impotent fit of rage. So furious had I been with the bow that not one, but several of the strings had been savagely rent in twain. Every string would require replacement in the aftermath of that unsuccessful session. The grand piano in my study was not enough, I longed to have my pipe organ once more, pounding on those keys always seemed to ease my tortured soul. I had yet to use my clever tricks to conjure a method to install one in my home. Thus far I had always drawn the conclusion the structure was entirely unsound for such a grand instrument. Of course, I had not spared sufficient time on the dilemma, so oft distracted by my various projects. Only recently did I gain the promised access to a pipe organ; though not my personal property, the Music Hall had installed one in the main auditorium. I had yet to hear her as there always seemed to be activity in the hall. My eyes were drawn back to the aged figure before me who waited impatiently for my reply. The same ploy he had successfully used utterly failed me. There was nothing I could dredge up that would convince Nadir that all was well.
“Erik. Answer me.” The firm reply was more suited spoken to a child than a silver-haired man of my assumed age. However, I could never overlook just how much I owed him. The man who on more than one occasion sacrificed everything to help the ungrateful wretch that I am.
I tried to conjure up something, but the words would not come to me. How could I tell him? My mouth was dry even as I opened and closed it wordlessly, unable to even glance in his direction.
The silence stretched for eons, so it seemed, before I heard him inhale to the rasp of a single sheet of paper sliding across the desk. “No … Erik no.” His hushed voice held a chill, one born of dread. “Tell me you had nothing to do with this!”
There would have been no hiding it, his nosy nature would have uncovered that list eventually. A tremble stole through me, one I failed to suppress as my hands came up in slow motion to catch my falling forehead. “Nadir … ” damn that tremble! There was no way it was undetectable. “I swear to you I had no knowledge of this. No influence … ”
“Not again!” Desperation clawed into his voice as he flashed the paper in the air. “You swore to me never again!”
“I did not arrange this!” I retorted, feeling a surge of anger beginning to build. Unburying my face I glared directly into his eyes.
He shook his head in disbelief. “Of all the singers in this world—”
“Why her?” I finished for him with my fist slamming down on the desk. “It was not my doing. I was not even consulted! My attention had been fixated on finishing the structure on time! Ask the crew whom I have been whipping on a daily basis what a relentless task master I have been!”
The Persian's shoulders fell as he tossed the paper aside. “Now I see it. The plague hiding in your eyes. You did not just learn this, Erik. How long have you known?”
I let my frame collapse into the chair in sheer exhaustion. At least now I would not bear this news alone. “That the ghost of my past was coming back to haunt me?” The jest had fallen abysmally short at the attempt of mirth I had intended to cover my raw emotions. I let my eyes rise to the ceiling to study the fine gold leafed moldings with little interest. “Three days ago.”
“Three days? Have you eaten? Slept?” There dwelt unbridled concern in his words.
I tried to smile, but knew it was merely a flicker of one, all I could muster in my melancholy. “No. Not since I learned Christine was to sing here … ”
“Dear Allah, for three days you have not slept nor eaten?” He crossed the room in short purposeful strides and placed his hands on my shoulders, forcing me to look at him. His tone firm and clipped. “She thinks you dead. You must remain so, Erik! For your own sake and hers. Remember, we both agreed it was for the best.”
“I know.” It had been but a timid whisper. “I know, Nadir. Yet, how can I stand in the wings and hear my greatest creation without revealing I am there?”
Sorrow bore into me from his eyes. “You will have to find a way. She must not know we both deceived her that night on the shores of the underground lake. It has been ten years, Erik. Ten years! We agreed that leaving her with Raoul was better for the poor girl.” Beneath his hands I stiffened, the anger threatening to build once more. My jaw tightened, but not as much as Nadir's grip on me. He narrowed his eyes and stated firmly. “She was never yours.”
Will power can only hold back the dark waters of the past for so long, I fought desperately to quench the fire that threatened once more to consume me. It was a war I could never have hoped to win. Nadir knew enough to release his hands and step back, I trusted he had felt the muscles in my shoulders tense like a cat coiled for the spring right before I exploded out of the chair like a raving lunatic. “Never mine!? Her heart always belonged to me! She did not love that insolent fool, Raoul!” Even now after all these years I could not utter his name without a sneer. “I should have killed him when I had the chance! How could I have let you talk me into leaving her to his care? You and your insufferable bleeding heart!”
He waited only for me to steal a breath before interjecting calmly. “Because for a moment in your life you were rational enough to see that her adoration for you was destroying her.” I stood there, mouth hanging open with words once more failing me, trembling with the rage I still felt even though I knew he was recalling the night in question correctly. I had consented to the entire plan to let her believe I had died, even to the point of instructing Nadir in the proper dose to reverse the effects of my morbid illusion. Let her move on without guilt over her feelings, make it clean. “It's been ten years, Erik. How much time do you need to dull the edge of that knife?”
“How long has it been since your son Reza was helped to his grave? Has time dulled that pain? At least yours is truly dead and gone! Christine Daae still lives!” I snarled before I was able to rein in my temper, far too late.
Nadir's eyes closed tightly in visible anguish. The verbal knife had been cast, my skill at naturally harming others once more executed in reckless abandon. Why had I said that to him? The silence in the room was only broken by his ragged breathing, a man on the verge of tears. Long ago he had been greatly inconvenienced, orders from the Persian shah sent him on a mission to locate me, at the time a renown traveling magician with a Russian fair. I was to be a special request of the court lured by the promise of wealth and power. This task took precious time away from his ill son, Reza. In my obstinance I had taken great pains to delay him at every turn on our path back to his home, unaware of the damage my selfish indulgences were inflicting. Once I had met the boy it was readily apparent he would never recover. Gifts of every kind I had showered on the boy, hoping to make his last days as filled with wonder as possible. Automatons of all kinds I created and laid before him around my courtly duties. When at last the day came where the boy's fate was undeniably revealed I ordered Nadir to leave the room. I had rendered it merciful and quick, more graceful then his disease would have allowed him. Dignity I left for him fully intact. I was truly the Angel of Death back then; this was the only passing I could attribute to kindness.
Yet there was a greater edge to this slight, the young boy was rumored to have favored his mother, Rookheeya. Though the custom of the Persian culture allowed a man to take more than one wife, Nadir was so devote to the memory of this woman that with her death he never took another as wife. Many an evening we had sat beside the hearth as he spoke longingly of her beauty and grace; to the cadence of his wistful narrative my memories would drift back to traverse the nights where Christine had dwelt by my side. He would never confess it, we were not so different after all.
A silent tear rolled down his cheek before he turned from me, his head fallen to his chest. “Daroga … ” I uttered softly, trying to mend my careless mistake.
“Don't call me that.” The reply was soft, and overflowed with bitter pain. “It is because of you that my life in Persia ended, or have you forgotten what I did for you.” He took a few shaking breaths before continuing, piling on due shame to my already epic blunder. “I sacrificed everything I had and spent time in prison for losing you on the road. I swore by letting you escape certain execution I was preserving a genius of such scale it would have been a shame to destroy. And here you dare to throw at my face how you murdered my son. I had hoped you had grown beyond such immature slights by now. Beyond the selfish boy I once followed around Persia like a well-trained dog.”
He flinched as I laid a hand on his shoulder. Age had taken none of my abilities to move with complete silence, usually I performed this little trick as a game. The skill had been invaluable for the Opera Ghost, highly effective in convincing the company of my ethereal presence. However today there was no premeditation, no motive. Moving silently was simply something I did naturally. “You cannot fathom how much I long to unspeak those words, my friend. You know my temper and I fear that exhaustion has brought us to this folly. Please, forgive me.” I bowed my head finding it difficult to utter the next words, “Please help me find a way through this situation … three days of my ceaseless plotting has produced no viable solutions.”
The nod was almost imperceptible as I withdrew my hand from him.
“Thank you, old friend. I knew you would not abandon me.” With a weary sigh I sank back into the chair, Nadir remained still for some time recollecting himself before he crossed the room to pour himself a drink from the decanter of whiskey, his vice. The vice I had driven him to over the years despite his former religious devotions which strictly forbid the consumption of alcohol except under certain conditions. I had been a bad influence; under my constant grating I had worn those conditions down to include a daily ration to calm his ragged nerves. Just as I had my addiction, so he had his.
His eyes locked onto the violin before he took a stiff swallow. “Erik, did you do that intentionally?”
I shrugged, attempting to shed the tension still contained from my latest surrender to my primal rage. “Yes and no. I had hardly intended to be so harsh when I picked her up. Tell me, Nadir, how do you think a pipe organ would look downstairs?” I pondered the previous train of thought. “I would of course need to remove a good deal of the existing music room. And the fireplace might require relocating. The larger pipes require venting up here on this floor, but that remedy is simple enough by placement of a hole in the floor … what?”
Had I gone completely mad he may have stood there in a similar fashion as he did now; drink in frozen hand, posture rigid, expression of one completely astounded. “A pipe organ?” He blinked and let the silence extend between us. “A pipe organ next to my room? You cannot be serious. Have you lost your mind?”
“No. That is right here where it belongs.” I gestured idly to my head. “And I have been contemplating the addition for some time. How much I miss the one in my old home beneath the opera house. Of course the sounds would never be as rich as they were in the echo chamber of the underground lake. There is simply no recreating that, not even the Music Hall can accomplish that effect.” With one hand I issued a dismissive wave. “The organ itself would nest in the inner walls of this sanctuary quite nicely with a little work.”
Downing his drink in one gulp, he immediately refilled the glass with a more generous portion. “Now, this is what I am used to. The conversations that twist and turn at such a rapid pace as to be untraceable. I will never be able to figure out precisely how your mind bridges the unspoken gaps.”
“Best not to even attempt such an improbable feat. Sometimes … ” would it reveal too much? Not to the man who knew me better than anyone on this earth. “ … it is like the dance of a flame. If you hold a substance close enough to be touched by the light you risk burning it. A brief glimpse may be all we can afford before dashing back into the safety of the shadows.”
“You truly are at a loss of what to do.”
I could only nod. Would I be able to resist seeing and hearing her once more? I could not possibly avoid the grand opening of the new Music Hall. I had to be there, at least in spirit. This time I had been compelled to do things right. I longed to stand in the illumination of the stage lights and bask in the glory as one of the contributors. But my heart warned me I demanded far too much of my own delicate willpower. Was it a gamble I would risk? Would I truly be capable of leaving well enough alone?
“How long before she arrives?” He asked gently, swirling the glass in thought.
“Tomorrow the rehearsals are set to begin. She is scheduled to arrive in the morning direct from France.” Idly my fingers inched their way to an ornately carved box. Opening the lid I removed the ivory pipe and prepared the sweet opium that had brought me some relief these past days.
In observance of my actions Nadir frowned. “How much have you been smoking lately?”
“Not enough.” Lighting the pipe from the gentle candle light I preferred, I inhaled deeply and began to feel the tension ebbing; a wash of deceptive euphoria coated my raw nerves. “I have not even indulged enough to have had a proper sleep.”
“Take care, Erik. You need your wits about you.” He warned.
Laughter escaped me regardless of my futile efforts to suppress it. A false sense of well-being wrapped me in a blissful blanket as I lay back in the chair. It didn't matter that I knew the effects were all a shameful facade, a temporary escape from the ticking trap that once more threatened my world. I needed this, and though I would never admit it I appreciated the company watching over me.
“You should have eaten something. Gotten some sleep, first.”
I clicked my tongue and smirked lopsidedly. “Oh Daroga, shall I fetch you an apron? If you truly insist upon acting as my nursemaid you really should dress for the part.”
Placing the now empty glass beside the decanter, Nadir shook his head trying to hide the smile that threatened to betray his scarcely concealed amusement. “I need to unpack while you indulge yourself here. My friend, please try to get some sleep. We will talk in the morning of how to handle the grand opening.”
“Grand opening of a grand house.” I giggled, if there was but one way to kill my damnable pride truly the breath of the dragon was capable of it. “Nadir . . . do you like magic tricks?” Suddenly one of the orbs appeared in my hand from a puff of sweet smoke. “Oh look . . . I am quite upside down.”
An amused smile spread across his entire face. “Erik. Get some rest.”
“Ahh … there is my old friend.” I grinned into the surface of the orb, my distorted reflection grinned back upside down. “Phantom of the Opera. Hehe! Now you see him … now you do not.”
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