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A Twist of Fate
Background

Background

While living in the fifth cellar of the Paris Opera House, Erik discovers a magnificent white horse by the name of César in the third cellar of the opera’s sthisable. He falls in love with him instantly and manages to take him from the stable in the wee hours of the morning and ride him along the Seine River often. But, despite him being cautious, over the years he’s seen from time to time, and these sightings arouse the curiosity of a reporter.
 
In this scene, Oded has just shown Erik one of that reporter’s articles written about his clandestine rides, and he is now walking away from Oded’s home and back to the opera house. While his thoughts are tied up in that article, making him angry, what happens to him next will soothe his angry spirit and take him down an unexpected path. Read on and find out how his love for a horse led to his love for a woman; the first in his 44 years of life.

This scene is the inspiration for the cover of the Through Phantom Eyes series.  
A Twist of Fate

A Twist of Fate

My days had taken many twists and turns during the 45 years since I began walking life’s path, but none of them could compare to what awaited me during one evening in February 1881. The night was cold, with fresh snow covering the cobblestone roads and icicles hanging precariously from the naked trees. I felt the cold as I walked the deserted streets alone, even though I was still hot with anger because of that newspaper article about my midnight rides. It was tiring to watch my every stride just to remain unnoticed, and, with Paris now on the alert, I knew I would have to be even more cautious.
     Consequently, I walked quietly through the dark passage beneath the stage, grumbling because of that exasperating reporter. He’d searched for my whereabouts before, and his boldness was becoming troublesome to me. It was bad enough that I had Oded to contend with, but now I had this writer also. Again, I grumbled. Why can’t they leave me alone?
     Then, to make matters worse and to push my patience beyond its boundary, I heard Buquet’s voice. I shook my head, ground my teeth, and turned to leave before I did something I’d regret. But I’d only taken a few steps when he began telling out-and-out lies about me. I growled quietly. How I wanted to give him a piece of my smoldering mind. The final shove to do so came when the girls gasped and cried out. He was enjoying frightening them, and, as I charged back toward their location, I saw red.
     Once there, I opened the trap door on the stage just enough to throw verbal assaults at Buquet. When I saw him and heard his fabrications in detail, my pulse quickened even more. So, with narrowed eyes, I waited for the right opening to direct my voice to that foolish man’s ears. When it came, I slowly repeated his name—in a deep, threatening tone.
     “Buquet!—Buquet!”
     Then, from my hidden location, I watched the scene as it unfolded. When he heard his name resound in his head, he twisted in circles, and his eyes bulged as they darted beyond the props and backdrops in a futile search for the mysterious ghost of his imagination. His sloppy mouth gaped open, and he flung his hands over his ears in an attempt to shut out my intimidating voice. He might have momentarily prevented my words from entering through his ears, but he couldn’t stop their tone from flooding through his frightened mind.
     With delicate hands placed over painted lips, the silly girls in their lavender tutus giggled, perhaps believing Joseph’s actions were part of the entertainment. Well, in a way they were—entertainment for me, that is. After all, we were in an edifice designed with enjoyment in mind, so shouldn’t one of its builders also receive his due amusement? I believed so. Therefore, I continued to watch the hilarious movements of that superstitious idiot, the one responsible for my displeasure. While I maintained that cold and menacing manner he feared, I struggled desperately to restrain my hysterical laughter.
     Once he removed his hands from his ears, I began again. “Joseph Buquet! Why do you spread these lies about me? Do you conjure up these falsehoods because of your dull and boring existence? Won’t these frivolous girls give you attention without bizarre stories? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You should be extremely careful, Joseph Buquet, or these lies about my past could become fulfilled prophecies about your future!”
     After speaking my mind, I released my control over him. In his attempt at a hasty retreat, he groped backward, stumbled over a prop, and landed with a loud thud on the stage floor. With the color completely drained from his distorted face, he struggled to get to his feet and run away, to where I don’t believe he knew or cared. I will forever be amazed at how terrified someone could become at only the sound of my voice.
     Instinctively, my hand pressed against my lips to prevent laughter from escaping, but by the time he managed to flee behind backdrops, nothing could have prevented me from expressing my amusement. Watching his desperate plight was better than any comedy script ever written, and, before long, I couldn’t suppress my sense of humor any longer. As a result, my booming laughter joined the shrill pitch of the girls’ giggles.
     Within moments, I became aware that my voice alone was reverberating through the nearly dark house. The ballerinas huddled together, resembling a group of porcelain figurines thrown on a young maiden’s bookshelf. They had a death grip on each other in an endeavor to protect themselves from their own over-active imaginations, fueled by the power of my imposing voice. As the last thunderous waves of sound gradually subsided, a chilling silence crept over the stage.
     Out of the stillness, a small familiar voice dared to mutter, “It’s the Phantom—I know it!”
     The familiar voice belonged to little Meg, who began chattering like a frightened baby bird. With a smile and shake of my head, I watched her scurry, with another young chorus girl, behind the dark red stage curtains. Curiosity about what stories she might relate regarding the infamous Paris Opera Ghost gained control, so I quickly and quietly rose up through the trap door. As I made my way into the shadows of the backdrops, I heard another voice.
     That sweet, soft, and unfamiliar voice questioned, “The Phantom? Who’s the Phantom, Meg?”
     Meg responded with the sound of excitement, fright, and intrigue in her voice. “The Phantom is who Joseph calls the Opera Ghost.”
     “You mean he actually exists?” the new voice asked. “I thought Joseph was only toying with us.”
     Although scarcely above a whisper, Meg’s voice showed the extent of her stimulated emotions as she began her version of the legendary Phantom.
     “Yes, he exists! I’ve seen him! He’s extremely tall and always wears a black hat and cloak that flows along behind him. He doesn’t have legs, so he glides effortlessly and silently through the corridors and walls—and also through mirrors!”
     With another shake of my head, I pondered. I definitely liked Meg’s story better than Joseph’s. Perhaps she’s in the wrong profession. Perhaps she ought to be a mystery writer.
     Meg raised her thin arm and looked toward the catwalks hovering high above the stage; then she continued her unbelievable description.
     “Sometimes he makes himself invisible, but he can still be heard up there somewhere.” Her voice quivered as she looked back at the fledgling dancer. “Then sometimes he can’t be heard or seen, but you can somehow feel him all around you.”
     “Meg, you must be joking! That isn’t possible! Anyway, I don’t believe in ghost stories,” the tiny voice responded, with false bravado and growing fright.
     Unknown to me at the time, I was about to become warmed in a way I’d never known before. That night, fate had cornered me and blocked me from riding César, a necessary activity if I were to maintain control of my temper. But then it mercifully granted me one perfect moment. I grasped that moment like a love-starved orphan and used it to catch a glimpse of the most radiant eyes I’d ever seen—and the young woman possessing them.
     I, at first, opened my mouth to calm her fears, but, when I saw her clearly, my words stumbled in my throat. I tried a second time, but my vocal cords adamantly refused to obey my simple instructions.
     The soft footlights behind her silhouetted her frame like the aura of an angel, and my breath fled completely. As I stared in amazement at her elegance, I was left without intelligent thought or the capacity to leave before I was detected. While they murmured about the Opera Ghost, I dared to move closer, close enough to hear their rapid breathing.
     Meg, little-by-little, pulled the heavy curtain back and peeked behind it, not realizing she was looking in the opposite direction from where I then stood. Then a whisper, coming from the angel’s glow, broke my dizzying daze.
     “Meg, can you see him now?”
     Meg replied softly, “No—I don’t see him, but I know he’s here—I can sense him.”
     My eyes stayed fixed solely on the new ballerina as she clutched Meg’s arm. She was probably about Meg’s age, perhaps 20, but, other than that, she was in stark contrast to Meg. Meg’s eyes and hair were coal black, and she was much too thin for my liking. I could see clearly every bone in her chest and shoulders.
     The new ballerina had thick golden hair that framed her perfect features and then cascaded in curls over her bare shoulders. Only smooth porcelain skin covered her lovely neck and chest, and her face looked so soft, with a petite and slightly upturned nose. Her eyes, wide with anticipation, were like a clear eastern sky at dusk, the deepest blue possible. Her cheeks had a rosy hue while a deep shade of crimson kissed her lips.
     Those lips—how full and soft they looked. I recall imagining how it might feel to have them caress mine, but my resourceful imagination didn’t come close to the eventual reality.
     I’d seen many alluring women during my travels, especially in Persia. The women there had hair as black as ravens’ wings and eyes that put the most luxurious polished jadestone to shame. Their smooth olive skin could only be compared to the finest Persian silk. But nothing could compare to the wonder I felt as I gazed at that angelic creature before me.
     It might have been her physical appearance that first captured my attention, but what was stirring in me was deeper than any physical attraction—much deeper. Regardless of my intellect and varied experiences in life, I couldn’t explain what was happening within my heart and soul.
     Who was she? Where did she come from? How long has she been here? Could she sing? Oh, please, my pounding heart whispered, please let her delicate throat carry the sounds of a nightingale—no—the sounds of an angel!
     No matter how stunning she might have been, if her voice couldn’t match her physical perfection, I couldn’t tolerate it. On more than one occasion, I’d had to turn a deaf ear to an attractive woman because of the sound of her speech, let alone the sound of her singing. Even the Opera Populaire’s prima donna, Signora Carlotta Guidicelli, had forced me to leave my seat in Box Five during one of my favorite arias because of her squawking. The beauty so close to me right then just had to sing with an excellence to captivate multitudes. Who was she?
     I was only faintly aware that most of the girls had scampered away, leaving only Meg and the new ballerina on the stage. After releasing the curtain, Meg turned to the fledgling dancer and resumed her unbelievable tale.
     “Every word I’ve said is true. He even talks to mother in her office. You can ask her if you don’t believe me. Sometimes his voice is like thunder, so loud and powerful it makes the scenery shake and the chandelier sway.”
     As if being choreographed by an invisible director, they both turned and looked at the grand chandelier, cloaked in darkness high above the seats. Slowly, they clutched each other, causing their fingers and arms to resemble intertwined grapevines. At first, they remained perfectly still, and so did I. Then in unison, they turned back and stared into each other’s wide eyes. Gradually, the new ballerina released one hand to cover her parted lips and a soft gasp.
     “But, at other times,” Meg assured her in a calmer tone, “his voice is so soft, so gentle, and so caring—like an angel’s voice. Please trust me. It’s true, Christine.”
     Christine! Christine! What a beautiful name for a beautiful young woman.
     “Christine!—Christine!
     Without thinking, I’d spoken her name aloud, and the two startled ballerinas turned their attention toward me. As they peered into the shadows, they increased their hold on each other and caused me to press my body back against a huge prop and lower the brim of my hat.
     They held their grip on each other as Meg started again. “That’s him, Christine! He spoke your name. Never have I heard him speak anyone’s name in such a way.”
     Christine began to speak softly, almost trance-like, as she broke her hold on Meg’s arms and took a few mindless steps in my direction.
     “Meg, his voice is the most enchanting sound I’ve ever heard. It can’t belong to a ghost. It must belong to an angel. He must be an angel. Yes—a magnificent and beautiful angel.”
     A deafening silence fell over the empty house, allowing the faint hissing of the gas lamps to be heard among the shadows. My heart was beating so loudly that I feared it would unquestionably betray me if I remained there any longer. Therefore, I tried to move further out of sight, but I couldn’t persuade my legs to obey that uncomplicated and familiar command. Hence, we stood there only a few paces away from each other, like two granite statues in a shady park.
     While she searched for the man behind the voice who’d captivated her senses, I searched to understand the effect her nearness was having on my usual logical and controlled mind. My active curiosity wasn’t what controlled my actions that particular evening. There was something about her and the way I felt that I couldn’t comprehend.
     Directing my voice to stage left, I spoke her name once more, and then I waited for only an instant until she turned away from me. After her sight followed my voice, I had the opportunity to slip further into the darkness. Once behind a curtain, I removed my hat and mask, not wanting my sight to be hindered in any way. I slowly parted the curtain and watched, for one more brief moment, that angelic creature searching for my voice among the curtains of stage left.
     Yes—just one more look at the exquisite young woman who adorned my stage. I had to know all about her—this feminine beauty who’d taken control of my lonely heart and soul as none other.