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Background
 
As the 5th volume closes, Erik has determined that the world, and particularly Christine, would be better off without him. After nearly taking down the Paris Opera House and part of Paris with it, he fears what further harm he could cause Christine and mankind. He’s spent four days plotting how to end his life in a dignified way, and then he carries out that plot by taking a lethal dose of morphine. However, before he can inject all of it, he has a change of heart and mind and removes the needle, but, no matter how hard he fights the effects of the drug, he slips into unconsciousness. This sixth volume opens with Erik struggling to fight off the influence of the drug flowing through his veins and threatening to take his life. Read on and see if Erik will reach his 46th birthday. 


Chapter One

A Mistake of Universal Proportions
 
Paris France
July 13, 1881
 
I’d spent a lifetime with my father’s words echoing in my mind, but it took giving total control of my life to a drug before I could actually sense the meaning of his words in my heart. That evening in July, his guiding words burned like a fire through my soul.
   You’re trying to feel with your mind, Erik. Your mind can do wonderful things, but it will never be able to feel for you. When you’re playing your music, you’re not thinking with your mind; you’re feeling with your heart because you let your music into it. When it comes to relationships with people, you need to feel with your heart, and don’t try to analyze the situation with your mind. Allow people in, and stop finding fault with their reasoning and motives.
   When you can take and keep that mask off your heart and allow it to feel, not only your music but also the love that others will give you, then and only then will you fill that void in the center of your chest. Accept yourself, and don’t be afraid to let others accept you for who you are. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life in that void, you have to keep your heart unmasked.
   As never before, my mind was alive with my father’s uncluttered words filling it, but my senses were nearly dead. I could remember clearly my last act—sliding to the floor and fighting to stay conscious. With no light, movement, or sound around me, I felt I must surely be dead. Is this what it’s like? Is death nothing more than a mind full of thoughts?
   The darkness and silence pressed in on me, and I began to feel apprehensive. Without the sensation of eyes to see with, ears to hear with, or arms and legs to move, I felt helpless. Where was I? Was I still in my home? Was I in a hospital? Was I in Doctor Leglise’s office? Was I buried in my grave? I wasn’t burning, and I didn’t hear harps, so was I in a silent heaven or a cool hell? Maybe I was in limbo.
   I tried to open my eyes, but I either didn’t have any or my eyelids weighed too much to respond to my wishes. I tried moving something—anything, but there was nothing to move and nothing to feel; I couldn’t even feel my heart beating. The only explanation—I must surely be dead.
   An eternity of silence and darkness was sure to be my destiny; with that thought, I felt the resurrection of fear awaken within me and, with it, a heart that began to beat. At first, it was barely discernible, but it was for certain there. Since I felt my heart beating, perhaps I was still on earth.
   My vocal cords were the first muscles to respond to my needs but worked only enough for a soft moan. I tried again, and a long groan removed the silence. Another try turned my groan turned into one whispered word.
   “Christine.”
   Little by little, I moved my fingers and felt what I hoped was the Persian rug beneath them. I again moaned and repeated Christine’s name. Once more, I fought to stay awake and not give into my body’s desire to sleep on and on. Eventually, my eyes opened, and I tried to focus on blurry shades of blue and lavender. Gradually, I recognized Christine’s brocade quilt only a meter away, and I sighed, knowing I was alive and in my home.
   I blinked again, and then I saw the syringe on the rug close to my outstretched arm. I kept blinking until I saw the rose petal still in my palm. The minutes ticked away before I could reach for the syringe, but my fingers and arm still felt as if they were made of melted butter. I kept blinking and straining to focus on the liquid in the syringe. My first deep breath came when I saw it was nearly empty, and I wondered if I might be hallucinating. How could I survive that much morphine?
   My body was slow to catch up with my awakening mind, causing frustration. I tried to reach for my watch, but my normally skilled fingers only flopped around my lapel in a feeble attempt. With such a helpless feeling, I became even more anxious.
   I listened carefully for any sounds in my home. Without knowing what time it was, I had no way of knowing if the announcement about my death had appeared in the Epoque or if Raoul and Christine were on their way to bury me. If I’d had the strength, I would have shivered, realizing they could have come to bury me already. I’m sure I appeared dead. If they’d come before I’d regained consciousness, I would have been buried alive.
   I kept trying to get up, but I felt as if an army of knights in full armor was holding me down, so I tried to do what was nearly impossible for me to do—be patient. I knew I had to wait until enough of the morphine wore off; therefore, I stayed there with my eyes closed and thought about our fragile and precarious human nature. Some people seemed to go through life without any mishaps until old age brings them to their end; others never make it out of the womb alive. What or who determines which ones have what destiny? A question I wished I could answer.
   I would say my life had been wracked with hazards. I believe for an ordinary citizen, if that’s what I could be considered, my life had hung on the thin thread between life and death more than most. That is excluding politicians, military commanders, dictators, or the like, who lived in the public eye and carried the scrutiny of the populous. Their lives are at risk on many occasions, perhaps just waiting for an assassin’s bullet or a goblet of poison to stop their hearts.
   But for someone who’d spent nearly his entire life trying to stay out of the public eye and was even in hiding most of that time, my life had had attempts made against it all too often. So it was truly amazing that I still existed, especially considering I was the last person who tried to end my time on earth. All those before me had failed miserably—and, evidently, so had I.
   But failure wasn’t my first feeling as the fog began to lift from my mind that day. Heartfelt thankfulness is what I thought about first; second, my beautiful Christine; then, my faithful father.
   It frightened me to think I had to live again and try to correct and control all my erring ways. I felt like a small child trying to tame a wild lion with nothing more than his bare hands. I was something to be feared by many people, but I don’t think anyone feared me more than I did. I knew what I was capable of doing. I knew my thoughts and actions and my struggle to control them. But, then, I also knew what I could do with my mind or what others chose to call my genius. I wanted—no—I needed to use my gifts in a positive way—a constructive way.
   I’d been given another chance to change the path I was walking, and I only wanted to create, to teach, and to build; just as that small child told his father. I felt optimistic and refused to listen to that frightening and harsh voice within me that spoke about destruction and ruin everywhere I went. I knew I could master the darker side of my personality if I used my skills in the right way—the way Oded believed I could and the way my father had instructed.
   As I tried to gain mastery over my limp body, I had to believe Oded’s and my father’s words about never giving up. Therefore, as time moved on, and I struggled against the effects of the morphine, I started to design my new life; a life that would make my father proud of me and one that could win Christine’s complete love—if it wasn’t too late.
   My father had told me repeatedly about the dangers of masking my heart, and while I believed him and sincerely tried not to live my life that way, I didn’t know how to live without it masked. No education or genius mind could help me know how to live with my heart exposed. No superior intellect, or psychologist, or wise man, could help me do what was evidently impossible for me to do—that is, up to that point in my life.
   The one I came the closest to unmasking my heart in front of was Christine, but I failed there as well. Some of the last words I spoke to her were lies. I didn’t tell her what was in my heart, even though I thought I was. I lied to her about my impending death, thinking I was doing her justice, while, in reality, I was refusing to let her make her own decision based on who I really was inside.
   The most brilliant mind in the world couldn’t help anyone who persisted in living a life hiding behind something, and that included me. I was always hiding; behind my mask, behind a façade of anger, behind my arrogance, and even behind my sarcasm. I hid literally in the darkness and underground, and, even though I hated to admit it, I hid emotionally behind my music, and, yes, behind my love for Christine. While I remained crumpled on her bedroom floor, I could see it all clearly for the first time.
   I was 45 years old, and I still wasn’t sure I could live a life without hiding, but, at least, I did realize I had been hiding. I can’t speak for others who might have had a similar problem; I can speak only for myself. Perhaps what helped others to come out of hiding was the right word spoken by the right person at the right time, or the right piece of music with the right lyrics, or perhaps an inspirational painting or opera, I don’t know.
   But, for me, it took looking at death, real death that I believed I’d never wake from, to help me realize how wrong I was in living behind all the masks I’d spent a lifetime creating. I didn’t necessarily see things differently—I felt things differently—deep inside. There was no question or wavering in my thoughts. I knew what I was feeling in my heart was the right way to feel.
   That’s what I went through while in Christine’s room, slipping away and waiting for my last breath and then struggling to wake and take a deep breath with a new chance at life. It was an incredibly liberating sensation; it was like being free to breathe fresh air for the very first time; free to see the beauty of a new day for the first time since my father’s death. A gigantic weight was lifted from my heart, and I was free to strip off all my masks and experience life to the fullest.
   The main realization at that time involved control. Never allowing anyone to hurt me was the real reason for the control I desperately strove for at all times. It began when I was only five and escalated from there. Not only did I have to control those around me but I also had to control myself. I was an expert in the art of manipulating the actions of others, but it was a bit more difficult for me to govern my own actions.
   That disposition became like a firm wall—a fortress—that I’d formed around myself for protection. My first wall protected me from being hurt by my mother and those in Perros, and my second wall protected my father and others from being hurt by me. The rest of the walls were many but consistent in their design. I was actually so good at building those walls that I didn’t realize I was building them, and I never saw them or the hurt they caused—they simply existed.
   I finally realized that my father wasn’t ignorant when it came to my actions. He knew exactly what I was doing, and that’s why he tried so desperately to reach my heart. At last, his words made perfect sense as they rushed through my mind, coming in on me all at once. It was as if he’d been speaking a foreign language and I’d just then learned it. Every single word or anecdote he told me was correct, and, at long last, they’d penetrated that cold wall around my heart.
   I’d become so unbalanced during my life, just as he said I would if I didn’t pay close attention to the sand being washed away by the waves at my feet. My entire life had been spent trying to control the people around me; my mother, the people in Perros, the spectators across my circus bars, people in my gypsy tent, the shah of Persia, the managers of the opera house, and my innocent and unsuspecting Christine.
   Just as it was an exhausting and impossible task to try to control the sand being washed away from under my own feet, it was an impossible and exhausting task to try to control the lives and actions of those around me. It was a repetitive and losing battle, and my sanity was the main casualty in that ongoing war.
   How much easier it would have been to step aside to sturdier ground and enjoy the surroundings while allowing those around me to do the same, if they were so inclined. While I did manage to stay in that position of total control for a time, it was emotionally draining, and I was missing out on the bigger and more important picture—life.
   When I thought back to those minutes while I lay there alone and perhaps dying, unable to move and then unable to see through the white fog around me, I had to let go. For the first time in my life, that I could remember, I had no control over what was happening to me. There was absolutely nothing I could do to change what was taking place, and my walls came crashing down, allowing me to feel—really feel.
   I couldn’t take more of the drug to ensure my death was complete, and I couldn’t stop my death if it was going to happen. I had to let go of my cherished control, so I did. I let go, and, after surrendering, I was freed as never before. My life rested in the hands of who knows what; perhaps a god, or perhaps fate, or destiny. I didn’t know, but it was out of my control.
   During those few moments, with the heavy weight of responsibility off my shoulders, I was able to feel the truth about myself. I loved Christine, and I was giving my life for her, so to speak. I pictured her eyes and what they told me during those last few hours before she left that fateful night; they told me a beautiful story about her heart’s desires, and I wanted to be a part of her story.
   At that point, I knew for sure that, if I didn’t die, I would fight for her in the right way; not with power plays, or threats, or putting her in situations to force her to decide what she wanted. I would show her the dignity she deserved as an intelligent and loving person. If I survived the ordeal I was going through, I would allow her to make up her own mind and heart as to how she wanted to spend the rest of her life—with Raoul or me.
   No longer being in control of my own life helped me to realize that I had no control over other’s lives either. In addition, I had no right to even try. I would lend Christine support where she needed it, but the decisions had to be hers. If I was hurt by them then I would be hurt by them. It was that simple. Definitely, she had to make those decision herself—if it wasn’t too late.
   With arms and fingers of little more than mush, I pulled my watch from my pocket, but it wasn’t much help. It had stopped, so I still didn’t know what time it was or what day it was. But, considering Christine and Raoul hadn’t shown up to bury me, I felt safe in assuming it hadn’t been more than a day.
   Eventually, I managed to push myself into a sitting position against the armoire, but I was unsuccessful when I tried to get to my feet. I looked toward the parlor door and pictured Christine in sobs when she was told I was dead, so I felt a desperate need to reach her before she heard that bit of premature news. I felt certain Oded had placed the announcement in the paper by then; the only unknown was if the paper had hit the streets or if Raoul had read it.
   I struggled one more time to get to my feet, and if it wasn’t such a serious moment it would have been quite humorous. A baby’s first steps were better than mine. Physically, I felt horrible. My skin was clammy and sticky, my mouth and throat were as dry as a summer desert, and I had a horrible headache. I wanted to soak in a tub, but then I also wanted to get to Christine quickly, so I opted for a quick bath, but not before quenching my thirst.
   On my way to the kitchen, I looked at my tall clock that had stopped, confirming I’d lain there for over 24 hours. I managed to make it to the sink, after bumping into two doorframes and a few chairs along the way. I drank down several glasses of water before staggering into my bath. When I removed my clothing, I noticed another massive bruise where I’d injected the morphine. I leaned on the basin, hung my head, closed my eyes, and groaned over my stupidity.
   I bathed quickly and thought about one of my father’s favorite sayings: You never know what tomorrow will bring. For me, that had never been truer than that day. The prior day, I was prepared to die, but, right then, I was prepared to live as never before.
   While I dressed, I readied what I’d say to Christine. There would be no trickery, no trying to control her mind with persuasive and cunning words; I’d open up my heart to her with nothing but the truth. If she’d give me just enough time to explain everything to her, that’s all I’d ask.
   In a short time, I was dressed in my second finest evening attire, since my finest one was damp and crumpled in the corner as a silent witness to my horrible experience. Once complete with mask, cloak, and hat, I unsteadily hurried through the music room passage. Then, with tools in hand, I made myself keep moving and started repairing the latches I’d dismantled. Once done, I headed for the dock to see if my boat was still there or if Raoul and Christine were at that time in it and on their way to my home.
   With delight, I found it right where I’d left it, so I turned around and headed for Christine’s dressing room. With a restless heart, I approached the dark mirror to her room, which meant she wasn’t in the house. As I stormed back through the passageway heading for the stage, I feared she hadn’t kept her word and had already left with Raoul.
   My fears were partially relieved when I found the stage without lights as well, meaning it was a dark day for the theater, and none of the performers were in the house. Once I stepped outside and into the dark, I again feared Christine had been told I was dead. The darkness confirmed it had been over 24 hours since I’d left Sari’s box at Oded’s, so he had plenty of time to place the announcement and for the paper to be distributed.
   I whistled for a carriage and gave the driver Madame Valerius’ address, instructing him to hurry. While he obeyed my instructions, the frantic ride didn’t help my ill stomach or throbbing head. But what was worse was my trepidation, realizing that just because I expected Christine to keep her word and not marry until I was dead didn’t mean she had. That last night in my home she was so distraught, confused, and vulnerable. I knew Raoul loved her terribly, and I knew she loved him as well. It wouldn’t be hard for him to convince her not to wait. I guess I couldn’t blame either of them if they hadn’t.
   My stomach started to turn even more as we headed down Madame Valerius’ street and then stopped in front of her residence.
   “Monsieur, I got you here by 9:30 as requested,” the driver said as he opened the carriage door and moved aside.
   I froze, staring at the dim light in the entry for a few moments before I stepped down and faintly responded, “Please, wait.”
   The tap on the door met with no response, but my heartbeat responded with a faster beat. I tapped a bit harder. Finally, I recognized the harried elderly maid coming down the hall. She looked through the windowpane, and, with a quick breath, her hand covered her open mouth.
   “What do you want?” she asked, without opening the door.
   Not caring about her reaction to me, I almost pleaded, “I need to speak with Mam’selle Daaé. Is she here?”
   “No, Monsieur. Go away!” she rebuked while backing toward the hallway.
   With a frown, I questioned, “Madame, please. When will she be back?”
   Continuing her backward retreat, she snapped, “I don’t know. She’s gone away. Now, you go away!”
   With that, she waved her hand at me as if she was dismissing a servant; then, she turned and left. Normally that action would have infuriated me, but I was too intent on finding Christine to care about her rudeness, so I ran down the steps toward the coach.
   As I approached, the coachman opened the door and asked, “Where to now, Monsieur?”
   “Quick! To the Chagny estate!” I ordered as I jumped inside.
   The ride there was torturous, physically as well as emotionally, especially considering the hour. I could have told the driver to take me to Raoul’s favorite restaurants, but, if they were in his home, I had to talk to Christine before anything happened that couldn’t be undone—namely, him taking her to his bed.
   The evening had been terribly reminiscent of the night Raoul shot me. I was once again hastening through the city in search of Christine, but my motives were entirely different. I wasn’t being driven by jealousy, suspicion, or murderous hatred. I was being driven by love and hope that it wasn’t too late to talk to the woman I treasured. But I no longer practiced my words for her, since I feared the script had been rewritten while I was unconscious.
   Again the brougham stopped, and I was halfway to the front door and had told the driver to wait for me before he could get down. I wasn’t about to sneak around and look in windows as I’d done in my past; instead, I walked up the path with determination and a purpose in my steps. My heart was anxious when I knocked on the well-lit door. Within a minute, it was opened by a short dark-haired man with a small mustache, who lost all color once he looked up at me.
   Trying to sound polite and not nervous, I glanced around the foyer. “Is the vicomte at home?”
   Then, right before he told me no, I spotted Christine’s tapestry bag at the foot of the stairs. My thoughts began bouncing off the trembling walls of my heart. Why was her bag there? Had she spent the night? Was she planning to spend the night? Was she preparing to leave with Raoul and get married? Had they already married?
   Fearful of the answer, I questioned, “May I ask when he’ll return?”
   With a bit more composure and staunch demeanor that befit a butler in his station, he responded, “He didn’t say. He’s on his honeymoon.”
   Those words pierced through what remained of my heart, and it fell at my feet in pieces. I lowered my head and shook it slightly.
   “No,” I whispered. Then I took a deep breath and sighed, “No.”
   I raised my eyes once I sensed the door was closing, and then I quickly placed my foot in its path. My first thought was to question him further to make certain I heard him correctly, but, then, my sight fell on the small entry table by the door and an envelope with Oded’s unmistakable handwriting across it. Without thinking, I put my palm on the butler’s chest and pushed him out of my way. At the same time, I reached for the envelope addressed to Raoul.
   As I picked up the opened envelope, the butler’s words about getting the police were hardly noticed by me. I quickly took the letter out of the envelope, with the butler still trying to dissuade me.
   “You have no right to read such personal correspondence. Put it down!” he demanded while grabbing my arm.
   Waving the letter in his face, I glared at him. “I have more right than anyone else has to read this. I’m certain it’s about me. Now let go of my arm before I break yours.”