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Christine
Background
 
Erik has told Christine that she has to make a decision between Raoul and himself before a disaster strikes them all. He tells her to go away for two weeks and think over her choices. He only asks that she return to him and let him know her decision. He also asked that when she returns that she give him his ring or give him her heart. She leaves, and he follows her. The night before she’s to give Erik her decision, she’s on the roof of the opera house with Raoul. Erik watches them and believes Christine has betrayed him. He's first hurt, and then that hurt turns to anger that sparks a monstrous revenge plot. Read the account and see if Erik can follow through on such a devastating plan.
 
The Point of No Return?
 
I’d turned my suffering into a cold resolve to rewrite the last scene, but, with this new evidence of her betrayal, that cold resolve moved easily into uncontrolled anger. I cursed God for my pitiful plight, and I beat on the frigid stone that surrounded me. Then I cursed myself for being brainless and allowing another human to have that much control over me. But then my worst fear moved in and started a steady path toward the surface—my controlled anger.
     It was that anger that had allowed me to plot against Franco and then to carry out my desire to kill him. I would have succeeded at that young age of ten if it hadn’t been for the loving care of a father. My mind and heart could plan such a murder because of my controlled anger.
     It was that anger I’d carried with me during my 17th year when so many lost their lives because of it. It was that controlled anger that nearly got Christine killed once before, and with the way I was feeling for her right then, I feared where my thoughts were going. But as it began to take over my mind and heart, I once more became a spectator, merely watching myself from another sphere somewhere.
     I was no longer cursing, my voice was silent, and the air on the rooftop became tranquil once more. My heart slowed to a strong, steady beat as I looked out over the rooftops and into the distant hills. I looked to the north and wondered if Raoul had bought their tickets yet. I pictured both of them smiling, thinking they had it all worked out so nicely.
     I huffed. She’s broken her last heart. She’s trifled with both of our hearts, Raoul’s and mine, long enough, and she won’t be permitted to do it any longer. No longer will I be the gentleman she’s known. I’ll take from her what I’ve wanted, what she’s refusing me. I’ll take that first kiss and much more. I only asked her to be my living wife in name only. Well, her little game of betrayal is going to come thundering back on her.
     I felt my eyes narrow as I began envisioning my plans to make her completely my own. My lifelong dream of living within the walls of an opera house had been ruined, and I was then being forced to leave my piano and almost everything else I cared for. Everything was ruined because of that tramp, so she would be made to pay for her folly.
     She’ll either marry me for real or she won’t live long enough to marry anyone. She thinks she can play a game with the master of games and win. Well, I don’t think so. This master always wins—always.
     As I walked slowly and deliberately down from the roof, I worked out the details that would put an end to the game we’d been playing. This will be the end of my lonely and tormented life one way or the other. I’d only asked her for my ring or her heart, and she thought that was too hard a decision to make. Well, she’ll soon come to realize what a simple decision that was; simple, in comparison to my next demand.
     She’ll either lie with me in my bed as my real wife or we’ll both be dead and buried within two days; one day to maneuver my plans, and one day for her to make her decision—my wife or death.
     With my heart no longer in pain, I walked slowly through the empty corridors, probably for the last time. I went to the stable, rendered the grooms unconscious, and took César for a ride along the Seine for one last time. I didn’t care who saw me, and those who did received my icy glare as a warning. I took him to the lake, kissed him goodbye, and left for my home, all the while knowing exactly what I was doing, and I was doing it grimly.
     When I knew the city was awake, I left my home and set out for the dress shop, and there I purchased the last dress for my deceitful wife; a bridal gown. It was a beautiful dress and such a shame it couldn’t be worn on a more festive occasion. Its white satin was overlaid with delicate Venetian lace, and small pearls were scattered throughout the bodice; truly a piece of art.
     The shopkeeper smiled warmly at me. “It appears the other dresses you’ve purchased for your lady friend must have paid off.”
     Coldly, I responded, “Perhaps,” and nothing more.
     I next went to the pharmacist and bought a bottle of chloroform. Once home, I checked the connections to the two boxes on my mantle, both the grasshopper and the scorpion. Then I went down to my wine cellar and checked the connections to the gunpowder. Finally, I checked the connections on the barrels of gunpowder around the foundation of the opera house. I had no intention of doing the job halfway—I never did anything halfway.
     Once that was completed, I poured myself a glass of brandy and sat calmly in my chair by the fire, while I wrote what I imagined would be my last words in my journal. After that, I played all my instruments: organ, violin, cello, Spanish guitar, and French horn, thinking it could be the last time I’d hear their special voices. Once finished, I played my piano for a long time, fearing it would be my last musical experience.
     Then I dressed properly for the opera, and, once the second act of Faust started, I entered Box Five through the marble column. Casually, I took my cloak off, laid it over the back of a chair, and sat down. Then I proceeded to glare at Raoul and his brother across the auditorium from me. Christine appeared on stage and sang Marguerite beautifully, and I could tell she was pouring her soul out, and I knew it was my swan song.
     Once more her voice almost broke through my demented hatred, so I moved my sight back to Raoul and pictured the train tickets in his pocket. That’s all it took to revive my anger, so, along with my glare, I silently told him to tell her goodbye, because that was his last chance to do so.
     The time for the prison scene approached, so I was up, replaced my cloak, and entered the column again, heading down to the lighting organ and the two men in charge of raising and lowering the lighting for the stage. With a chloroform soaked cloth in each hand, I stood in the shadows, waiting for the prison scene to start, but, before it did, a man came out of a door beside me. So I quickly grabbed his head with the cloths, dragged him back into that room, and left him there unconscious. Then I again waited in the shadows until just before Christine was due to be the closest to the trap door in the stage floor.
     Then I was around the corner, with those same cloths in each hand. I put one hand over each of the two men’s faces, and pressed their heads against my body until they went limp. Then I listened to the music and waited for my cue, while I pictured the players moving around the stage. Then, just as Marguerite began invoking an angel for guidance, I threw the switches and darted up the stairs toward the dark stage.
     There were a few screams and a rumble of voices by the time I reached Christine. Then my hand, still with the chloroform cloth in it, went over her face, and within moments she went limp in my arms. Instantly, I tossed her over my shoulder, and we were both down through the trap door, and it was shut before the lights came back up. I carried her through the maze of beams and gears until I reached my passageway. From there it was only a matter of minutes before we were in my home.
     I took her to her bed, or, should I say, my bed, and laid her down with cold indifference. Any other time in our relationship those moves would have been a dream come true, but that night I wasn’t even tempted to stroke her cheek. I didn’t allow myself to be moved by her beauty or my love for her, and I didn’t even cover her. I was too angry for those niceties.
     While trying to rub the pain out of my injured right shoulder, I glared down at that temptress, that liar, that cheat. Knowing she would be out for several more minutes, I headed for my kitchen, and, when I returned, I was swirling brandy in a glass. Setting the glass on her dressing table, I locked her door and dropped the key in my vest pocket. Then I took the wedding dress from its box and spread it out over the bed beside her. Smirking, I thought, how foolish for anyone to try to outsmart me, especially a flirtatious and insensitive woman such as she.
     Next, I went to the trash where I found the last two roses I’d given her, which were by then dead and dry. Hoping she’d remember what her roses stood for, her future, I crumbled them over the dress, making the silent statement that her future was dead.
     After pulling out her chair, I turned it toward the end of the bed, sat down, and then, with disdain, I propped my crossed ankles on the bed’s railing. I slid my ring off my finger and put it in my vest pocket so it could wait for its cue to take its place in that night’s drama.
     Taking my glass of brandy in my hands, I took a sip and prepared to wait. I relaxed as I placed my elbow on the arm of the chair, my chin on my knuckles, and my eyes on my soon-to-be wife. Then I watched her and waited for her to wake and for the first scene of the real last act to begin for us both.
     While I waited, my eyes wandered around the room and landed on her music box, the last gift I’d given her. I set my brandy glass down and picked up the box, reading the inscription: Music has joined one angel to another forever. My eyes narrowed, and I squeezed the box as hard as I could. I visualized it disappearing into dust under my grip, but it didn’t.
     Then I read the inscription again and thought, no, don’t destroy it, this is perfect. She is joined to me forever, and there’s nothing she can do about it. I smiled and replaced the box on her table. Then, with repeated sips of my brandy, I continued waiting.
     It took her nearly ten minutes to wake, during which time her beauty and my love for her almost took control of my hate-filled plans. To force their control away, I replayed the rooftop scene over and over in my mind until my anger pushed my love for her away.
     When she started to stir, I watched her with narrowed eyes and a silent tongue. Another few moments and her eyes fluttered open and she looked around. Once it registered where she was, she jolted up and gasped.
     I looked at her and snidely smiled. “Well, my dear, here we are again. Welcome home.”
     “Erik? What am I doing here? What happened?”
     “Oh, my dear, you look confused. Don’t you remember?”
     Her hand went to cover her open lips. “You? You did this? Why?”
     “I did what, my sweet? Rescued you? Why, yes I did. You see, you fainted right in the middle of your aria. You were praying for angelic help, so, being the upright angel that I am, I couldn’t leave such a lovely Marguerite sprawled out over the stage that way, now could I?”
     “No—you …”
     “I what?”
     “I felt your hand on the back of my neck and a cloth over my face.”
     “My hand? Oh, I don’t think so. It must have been a pigeon’s wing. You know how they like to roost on the rafters.”
     She looked down at the floor and began shaking her head. “No, it was you I felt.”
     “It couldn’t have been me. Perhaps it was the Opera Ghost. Oh, no, wait a minute. It couldn’t have been him, because he and I are one, right? So I would have known it.”
     She swung her feet off the bed and sat on its edge, waiting, I’m sure, for her equilibrium to return. “Erik, I demand you stop playing with me. This isn’t funny.”
     “You demand?” I parroted with raised brows. “Oh, is this the part where I’m supposed to crumble at your feet and cry and dry my tears with your hem? I don’t think so, my dear. You see, while I’ve been tutoring you, I’ve also been learning. I learn constantly—did you know that? I soak up information like the dry desert soaks up the morning due. I’ve learned much from you.
     “I’ve learned not to let my heart be moved by a traitor’s tears or smooth tongue. There’s nothing you can say or do that will influence my decisions. My plans are in motion and so solidly set that they might as well have been played out already. Nothing can change them, so, save your breath.”
     She huffed and headed toward the door, scowling at me. “Plans? You’re talking in riddles again, Erik, and I’m not in the mood.” She was halfway across the room when she stopped and put her hand on her forehead. “What did you do to me? I can still smell what you put over my face, and it’s giving me a headache. Oh,” she grumbled, “I’m so tired of you men treating me as if I were a rag doll between two dogs. I’m fed up with it! I’m fed up with both of you!”
     “If you feel that bad, then you shouldn’t be wasting your strength walking around, my sweet,” I said snidely, as I held the key to her door out toward her and twisted it between my fingers. Stubbornly, she jerked on the door handle several times anyway.
     “Erik, let me out of here! They might be holding the act for me.”
     “Oh, I don’t think they can wait that long. I’m sure your understudy has finished the act for you by now. But, sad to say, you don’t have an understudy for your current role, do you?”
     She rubbed her forehead again, frowned at the floor, and looked at me angrily. “Erik, please stop playing this game with me. You know Jolene is my understudy. Will you just let me out of here?”
     “Why? So you can catch a train with your lover and leave me with nothing but a broken heart? Tell me—why should I do that? Why should I make it easy for you? That’s what I’ve done since day one, and how do you repay me? By leaving without a goodbye or an explanation? No, I don’t think so. You were about to run out on our contract, and …”
     “Contract?” She cut my words short with defiance. “I have no contract with you, so quit talking this way and let me out of here.”
     “Oh, but you do have a contract. Have you forgotten so quickly? Remember—in your more appreciative days—when you pleaded for me to stay by your side, and you asked how you could repay me for what I’d given you?”
     “I spoke those words to my angel,” she rebutted.
     “Yes, but that angel and I are one—you know that. I was the one who gave you your talent, so the contract is with me and still binding. Nonetheless,” I continued, nonchalantly, as I flicked a speck of dust from my knee, “remember what I told you to do? I only asked you to stay true to the course I’d started you on. At that time, you willingly agreed—you signed a verbal contract with your promise.”
     Her eyes narrowed, she shook her head slowly, and I continued, “You know that in some cultures, if you renege on a contract, you could lose your head. Should I take your pretty head as payment for your betrayal? Yes, perhaps I could have it mounted on the wall above my mantel like a trophy. Perhaps that would fill the void after you’re gone.”
     That last statement removed some of her confidence, and she took a step back and a deep breath. “That’s a sick thought, Erik. Have you gone mad?”
     I laughed wickedly. “Yes, I presume I have. But this isn’t the face or the posture of a madman. I’ve kept my insanity from you. You might have seen a glimpse of it the first time you were down here and tried to take something that belonged to me, but that was only a glimpse. If you’d seen it completely, it would have been the last thing you saw.”
     I shook my head. “Believe me, I’ve kept that monster hidden deep inside here,” I said as I thumped my chest with my fist. “No, what you see right now is not insanity, but,” I continued as I rose slowly to my feet, “if you try to take something else that belongs to me, namely you, then I fear you might see the full extent of my insanity.”
     As if testing her senses, she tried the door again. Then, when she looked up at me, I could see the fear in her eyes being.
     “What do you want from me, Erik? Are you threatening again to keep me locked down here to sing for you forever?”
     “No, my sweet. The stakes have changed, thanks to your deception.” I motioned to the wedding dress lying on the bed. “I want you to put that on.”
     She looked at it and moved closer to it. Then, as her fingers covered her open mouth, she exclaimed, “That’s a wedding dress!”
     I laughed again. “Why, yes, so it is. Now that you’ve proven your fine knowledge of women’s fashions—put it on,” I slowly growled.
     Her head barely shook. “Erik, I don’t understand why you’re doing this. You keep talking about deception. How have I deceived you? I don’t understand, and you’re frightening me with all this crazy talk.”
     “Yes, you have a right to fear me now, my dear. You never had a reason to fear me in the past, but you changed the script, and now you have every reason to fear me.” I motioned toward the bed. “Please, sit down and conserve your strength. You’re going to need it.”
     “Erik, please, what are you doing?”
     “Just playing out the scene as you wrote it.”
     “What are you talking about? What did I write?”
     “I believe we’ve had a similar conversation, don’t you remember? Although, at that time, I promised I wouldn’t hurt you and that I’d be a gentleman, didn’t I? Well, I can’t guarantee the script is written exactly the same way this time around.”
     She frowned, and her hand went to her throat. “I don’t understand.”
     “Oh, come now, my sweet, don’t try to play the innocent with me. Don’t you know by now that this is my domain, and I know all that goes on within it? I know when there’s a casting change. I know when new sets arrive or when old horses leave.” Then slowly and deliberately, I added, “And I know when the trap doors are opened and closed. I know all, Christine.”
     With my last words, she started putting the pieces together. With my next words, she lost all her color.
     “I have eyes and ears all over my realm. They’re in the props, they’re in the curtains, they’re in the catwalks, and they’re in the stable. I know everything, from my home in the fifth cellar to the highest pinnacle on the roof. I even know when train tickets are purchased and what time the train leaves the station. I’m very well informed. Oh, speaking of trains, I believe you’re going to miss yours tonight, since you have a most important wedding to attend.”
     She hadn’t taken her eyes off me the entire time, so I gestured toward the wedding dress again. “You didn’t tell me how you like your wedding dress. Do you like what I picked out for you? I know it’s not conventional for the groom to pick out the wedding dress for the bride, but, then, I think you probably realize by now that I’m rather unconventional in most of the things I do.”
     Without a word, she stared at the dress, and I went on. “Do you like the accents of scarlet roses? I do apologize for their condition though; I would much rather give you live roses. But, on second thought, perhaps their condition is perfect, considering they’re supposed to represent your future.”
     Her eyes took on more fright and she shook her head. “Erik, what are you saying?”
     I sighed slowly. “Don’t you know by now, my dear, that everyone has to die sometime? And didn’t you tell your young lover that you feared I would kill you? Didn’t you tell him that, if you came back down here, you wouldn’t be able to leave? Well, what can I say, my sweet, you set your own future in motion with your ill spoken and treacherous words, and they’ve been indelibly entered into the script.”
     She shook her head. “Erik?”
     The look she gave me almost broke through to me. So I rushed toward her, towering over her.
     “How could you, Christine? Why? I told you to tell me what you wanted—Raoul or me. I was prepared for you to reject me. I was ready for that, Christine. But, no, you were going to sneak away from me, without giving me so much as a ‘thank you, Erik, for my voice and my career, but I don’t want to marry you, and I’m going away with my childhood sweetheart and leaving the stage and all your hard work behind.’ No, you couldn’t give me the decency of being honest. You were going away without even a goodbye, Christine. How could you? How could you?”
     I charged toward the opposite side of the room and nearly slammed my fist through the wall, and then I turned back toward her with my voice raised even more and out of control. “I gave you everything I had. I gave you my heart. I gave you your voice. I gave you my music. Why couldn’t you give me just a simple goodbye? You liar—you cheat—you traitorous, deceitful wench.”
     She shook her head. “That’s not true, Erik. What’s wrong with you? You have to have gone mad.”
     “Mad? You ask a second time if I’m mad. You must really think I am, but I don’t believe so. You see, I was born this way. Everything else you see, the voice, the music, the intellect are just a façade, much like my opera house. She’s made from bricks and steel, but the fancies in Paris wouldn’t consider sitting on dirt surrounded by unsightly iron and rock. They must have the niceties of arches and angles and gold and plush red velvet to enjoy music. It’s not necessary, you know. They don’t have to have the colorful costumes gliding across the stage like a gigantic kaleidoscope to enjoy her music. It’s just what they prefer.
     “I’m much like her—my opera house. At the heart of me, I’m unpleasant to look at, and I’m not talking about my missing nose. I’m talking about my heart and mind. Without the smooth and carefully chosen words, my heart is as cold and frigid as her bricks and my mind is as unyielding as her iron. So, mad? No, I don’t believe so. What you see now is who I am.”
     “Erik, stop this. I know this isn’t you. For some reason you’re putting on an act for me.”
     “Putting on an act? You honestly think this is an act—a simple illusion? While I am a gifted illusionist, what you see right now isn’t an illusion. What I’ve allowed you to see up to this point has been an artfully crafted illusion, but the illusion has vanished, the curtain has closed on that act. Now you have to come back to the real world. This is real, Christine—deathly real.”
     “Erik, stop this. You’re frightening me.”
     “Oh, am I now? Well then, my sweet Delilah, you should have considered the consequences of betrayal before you betrayed me. If you had, I never would have stripped my appealing façade and revealed my true structure to you. You would have remained innocent, and I would have remembered you as an innocent—not as the Judas you turned out to be.”
     “What are you talking about? I didn’t betray you. Why are you accusing me of such a thing?”
     I laughed loudly. “Now you’re teasing me, right? I heard it from your own lips, so don’t lie to me. Lies make me quite irritable, and I sometimes do things of a most unpleasant nature.”
     “What are you talking about?”
     I shook my head. “Remember my last words to you? Remember all I asked for?”
     She frowned. “Yes, to give you your ring or my heart. And that’s what I was going to do.”
     “If I didn’t know you better, I’d almost believe you were telling me the truth. But, as I said, I heard it from your own lips, spoken under the stars and the wispy clouds. You were going to fly away on those clouds and leave me without a goodbye—without giving me my ring.”
     “No, you’re wrong. I wasn’t, Erik. I wasn’t leaving with Raoul. I was coming back to you.”
     I leaped toward her and growled. “I warned you! Don’t lie to me!”
     “I’m not lying, Erik. You don’t understand. I wasn’t going away with him.”
     “That’s not what I heard.”
     “You were obviously listening to our conversation on the roof. Well, what you heard was my confusion and fear. Yes, I told Raoul I would go away with him, but I knew I needed more time to think. I couldn’t think with him being so demanding. He was pushing me, and you’d pushed me into a corner, and I didn’t know what to do. I was out of time, and I was frightened of making the wrong decision.
     “With the way you looked and what the Persian said, I was so confused; I felt I didn’t even know my own mind or heart. I was about ready to leave without either of you knowing about it and disappear completely. I was going mad. So I went home to think about everything. I didn’t even sleep, and my final decision was to find you after tonight’s performance and talk with you. I knew for sure I had to talk to you before I did anything.”
     “Nice try, my sweet, but it’s too late to throw the blame on Raoul or me, much too late. You’ve been fickle from the start, and you’ve driven both of us, Raoul and me, crazy. Well, no more.”
     “But, I was coming back, Erik. You can even ask Raoul. We had a huge argument this afternoon about it. He said he refused to let me come back down here, but I told him he had no choice in the matter, and that I couldn’t do anything unless I talked to you first.”
     I nodded slowly and moved toward the door; then I spoke softly and deliberately. “So, are you sure you want me to ask him? Well, let’s see.” I started going through my pockets and watched her face in the process. Then I took out a lasso and said, “There it is.” I held it up between us. “Do you still want me to ask him?” She just stared at the lasso. “Well, what will it be—yes or no?”
     She slowly shook her head.
     “That’s what I thought. Your time is up, Christine, and the hour is late.” I looked at my watch. “It’s now 10:10, and if you don’t make the right choice by 11:00 tomorrow night there won’t be any more choices for any of us.”
     “What are you talking about? What choices? What are you planning?”
     “Plans. Let’s see. You know, my first plan was to find Raoul and end his pathetic life before this scene we’re now playing even started. But then I thought, no. If he isn’t destroyed when the Opera Populaire comes down, then he’ll have to spend the rest of his life with the knowledge that I had the last laugh.
     “My word is law around here, and he’ll have to concede to it. He’ll know he was powerless against my forces and couldn’t protect his love from the fate I’d given her. For him to lose to me will be a fate worse than death.”
     “Bring the house down? What do you mean? Oh!” she exclaimed when the pieces fell into place. “The gunpowder—the black boxes. Erik, you wouldn’t!”
     “Remember, I told you I left them connected just in case there was another twist or turn in my life when I might need them. Well, here we are, and I need them. I never expected you to make the decision you did, so you created this twist and my need for those boxes. This will be my final act—and yours.”
     “Erik, you can’t do this. Think about all the people above us. All the innocent people.”
     “Innocent people! None of them is innocent! They all scorn me! They’re all the same!”
     She shook her head and faced me. “But, Erik, I was doing just what you wanted me to do. I was coming back to talk to you. I was even considering going away with you, not Raoul.”
     “Well, well. I’m a much better teacher than what I’ve given myself credit for. That was excellent, my dear. You’ve learned how to think on your feet and present a convincing lie. But it won’t work on me. Not anymore.”
     Seriously frowning, she shook her head strongly. “This is all wrong. You’re not being logical. There has to be an explanation for your actions. What has happened to change you? Have you been drinking?”
     Laughing again, I replied, “I have no need of alcohol to fuel my sanity, or insanity if you wish.”
     Once I stopped laughing, I became very serious and almost lost my composure. My hands pressed into fists and my jaws clenched. I even slammed one of them into the doorframe before I calmed myself and took a deep breath.
     Her lips were parted, and her eyes were wide as they stared at me, silently. I walked back to her, lifted her left hand, and stroked the back of it gently, while moving my glance between her eyes and her hand. My voice was tender and charming as I started my next taunt.
     “You have such lovely hands, my sweet, very smooth and slender. But they look so terribly naked now. I liked them much better when this one was adorned with my ring. By the way, where is the gold band I gave you? You know, the one I asked you to be careful with; the one that holds sentimental value to me alone? You remember, don’t you, Christine? The one you wore for several months as my living wife? Where is it now? Don’t tell me you’ve misplaced it? Or did that young man of yours remove it for you?”
     I squeezed her hand to the point of pain, and I’m sure my voice was just as agonizing. “You could have had the decency to return it to me. Was that too much to ask? How could you treat it with such apathy? But then, why should I think you would be careful with a ring when you weren’t careful with a living, beating heart?”
     I gave her hand a stronger squeeze until she moaned. “You’re hurting me, Erik.”
     “Oh, really? Is your heart bleeding yet? No, you say. Well, until your heart bleeds, don’t talk to me about hurt. You know nothing about hurt.” I gestured to my chest. “Can you see my heart bleeding? I know you can’t, because it’s bled itself to death. It’s now dead and feels nothing, no more joy, no more hurt, no more empathy for the desires of a diva.
     “Did you know its death was slow and painful? Well, it was, so be thankful you weren’t looking on as it died. It was most unpleasant. Your compassionate heart wouldn’t have been able to withstand its torture. Oh! But, wait a minute, there was no compassion in your heart while mine was dying. Yours had only one agend; to fall into the arms of your lover and let him kiss away your compassion. Am I right?”
     I let go of her hand with a shove, and walked back to the chair and sat down. “My ring,” I said softly. “Do you know where my ring is, Christine? Perhaps I can remember seeing it somewhere if I try hard enough.” I started going through my pockets as if I was confused. “Now, where is it? Where did I put it? Oh, getting old is such a bother. I can’t seem to remember anything these days. Don’t get old, my sweet, it can be most unpleasant. Oh! Here it is.”
     I pulled the ring from my pocket and held it up between us. I held it to my open lips and huffed on it, and then I took a handkerchief from my pocket and polished it. “There, good as new. It sure is a good thing I’m a magician. If I wasn’t, my precious ring might have been lost forever. Oh, I can tell by your expression that you’re wondering how I found my ring. Well, I just told you. I can make things appear and disappear—like this.”
     I held my ring up in the air between two fingers, and then I closed my fist and turned it in a circle. When I opened it, my ring was gone. I did the same thing in reverse and then my ring was back.
     “Fascinating, isn’t it? People have always loved watching my hands and fingers as I’ve made things appear and disappear. But, you know what I love? I love to watch their faces and eyes while they watch me. It makes me laugh inside. They’re so dimwitted. They can’t figure out such a simple trick with a ring or a note. And then when I do something really big—oh, my, you should see their faces then.
     “I have to admit that some illusions are a bit more difficult, like the appearance of a toad in a diva’s throat or the disappearance of a white stallion from a stable or how about a diva disappearing from center stage right in front of thousands of people? I wasn’t around to see or hear the reaction to that accomplishment. That would have been fun to see.
     “However, even that one didn’t require too much thought. But there are those that require a great deal of expertise, such as taking down a section of a palace with my hands tied behind my back. Now that was quite a feat, and you should have seen the Shah’s face. It was worth a thousand laughs. But large or small, it doesn’t matter to me. I can handle whatever challenge is put before me.”
     I sighed loudly. “But, sad to say, I don’t think there’ll be any laughing going on in the hours ahead. Too bad. Too bad.”
     Christine was silent and almost seemed to be in shock, while I casually studied my ring and put it on my finger. Then I sighed again and started walking around the room slowly, looking at and touching different objects as I went. I began twisting the ring on my finger and glancing at her as I traveled through the room that once held the calming fragrance of lavender and so much promise.
     “Oh, Erik, I’m sorry. I tried to look for it. I … ”
     “Never mind the ring, my dear,” I growled low. “It’s now back where it belongs.”
     “Erik, please let me explain.”
     I huffed and growled loudly at her. “Save your breath, my dear. You’re going to need it.”
     By then, I was close to her again, and I once more raised her hand, but, that time, I kissed the back of it and whispered, “So sad. So sad. Such a lovely hand, and to think it will die naked.”
     Her eyes began to fill with tears. “Erik, please don’t talk like this. Let me explain.”
     “Talk? Is that what you think this is about?—Just talk? Oh, my dear, how could you possibly think you could get away with being so traitorous?”
     “Traitorous?” she questioned, as I started my tour of the room again. “You’re not making any sense, Erik. How was I …”
     “You don’t understand? Well, then, let me explain. I see all, Christine, and you never should have forgotten that or underestimated my scope of knowledge. So, because of your lack of foresight, you’ll now pay for your traitorous deceit. All traitors are executed you know. No one has ever crossed your—poor Erik—and escaped being eaten up with worms—no one. Well, no one except your young lover, and the only reason he’s still breathing is because of my love for you. But that is all in the past now. No more love, and no more deceit, and no more sparing lives for you.”
     By then, tears were streaming down her cheeks, meaning she was acting very well or her acting skills were slipping away from her. In either case, I kept up my taunts.
     “Do I execute you, my dear? Is that what I should do to my traitor? No, I don’t think so—not just yet anyway. I get everything I want, my dear sweet Christine.” I spread my arms out around the room. “I wanted this home down here, and do I have it? Yes, I do. I wanted to become your Angel of Music, and did I become your Angel of Music? Why, yes, I did. I wanted you to sing center stage, and have you sung center stage? One more time, the answer is a resounding yes.
     “I wanted you to come down here and stay with me for a few days, and did you come down here? My, my, yes, you did. And I wanted you to come back of your own accord, and did you? Again, yes, my dear. Are you getting the picture? I get everything I want.” Then I said coldly and deliberately, “Once I go after it.”
     I walked slowly back to her and placed my knuckles under her chin. “Now follow me, if you can, you foolish woman. I asked you to play my living wife, and did you? Yes, you did. What’s left, my dear?”
     I moved to the other side of the bed and ran my hand over the dress. “Oh, you can’t say it out loud, now, can you? I want you to marry me for real and be my real wife; my real living wife. Do you doubt that I can also accomplish that feat? Oh, I see in your eyes that you’re now following me, aren’t you? Can you see where this is going? You’ve often told me I should sleep in my own bed, remember those times? Well, depending on the outcome of certain decisions, I will be sleeping in my bed shortly—but I won’t be sleeping there alone. Are you still following me?”
     “Erik, please don’t do this,” she pleaded. “I can explain everything if you’ll just give me a chance.”
     “A chance?” I yelled. “Is that what you gave me? A chance? A chance to say goodbye?”
     I went back to the chair, leaned back in it, and propped my foot up on the end of the bed again. “I wouldn’t be doing this, my dear. I would have let you go if you had been honest with me and given me a chance. It would have torn my heart apart to see you go. But if that’s what you wanted and that’s what would make you happy, then I wanted you to be happy, more than I wanted happiness myself. I would have let you go.
     “I would have cried, yes, but I would have let you go. But then you said you couldn’t bear to see me cry. Well, let me tell you something. It would have been much easier to see me cry than to watch what I’m about to do, much easier than what you’ll have to bear in the hours ahead.”
     She tried her plea again. “Erik, this isn’t you. Please, don’t do this.”
     My tone was harsh as I responded, “Don’t do this?—It isn’t me?—In case you’ve forgotten, you senseless creature, it was you who broke our agreement. It was you, remember? I promised I’d never hurt you, but you broke our agreement, not me. So I’m no longer under any restrictions to comply with what I said I would or would not do. I don’t need to let you go now because you tried to deceive me. So now I can do whatever I like with you. I’m free to do whatever I want.”
     I lowered my foot and leaned in toward her, speaking softly. “Do you know what I want, Christine? I want you as my wife. Therefore, you must dress for your wedding day, my dear. The chapel waits, as does the pastor. And we mustn’t keep our guests waiting, so you must dress quickly.”
     I got up and moved next to her, holding out my hand for her to take, but she looked away from me and refused her hand. “Oh, come now, my dear. We’re not going back to that place, are we? We’ve been through too much together for you to refuse to give me your hand.”
     Her breaths were coming quickly when she glared up into my eyes, so I shook my head. “Then have it your way, my sweet.” I grabbed her arm and brought her to her feet. “Our guests await the bride and groom, my dear sweet betrothed, and your groom waits for you. So dress quickly.” I put my fingers under her shaking chin and lifted her face to mine. Then I lowered my face to hers and whispered slowly, “Your groom awaits, Christine.”
     I started backing out of the room, watching her. There was true fear in her eyes, but she didn’t move, so I walked back to her.
     “Now, come, my dear, you’re not moving very fast. Do you need my help? I’ll be more than happy to help you dress, if that’s what you wish. I’ve never played the part of a wardrobe assistant before, but I’m always willing to learn new roles. This should be fun—don’t you think?”
     I reached for and released the tie on the bodice of her dress, but she grabbed it out of my hand and backed away from me.
     I smiled, and said softly, “Remember, Christine, I always get what I want. You’ll be in that dress. Whether you dress yourself or I dress you, the end will be the same. You’ll be in that dress and you’ll be my bride. So make up your mind. Do you dress yourself—or do I?”
     Her jaws tightened. “You can’t force me to do this.”
     I smiled, sighed, and took another step toward her. “Oh, I could force you easily enough and enjoy it as well. But I won’t force you. You’ll put it on willingly.”
     She looked at the dress again and then at me. “No, I won’t.”
     “Perfect, Christine, you’re playing right into my hand, just the way I’ve scripted it. I knew you would refuse; in fact, I was counting on your refusal. I’ve pictured this moment—you refusing.” I took another step toward her and then reached out and placed my fingers gently
under her chin. Then I said, barely above a whisper, “I would prefer to undress you myself.”
     Indignantly, she shoved my hand away and stepped back, which put her back against her armoire. “You wouldn’t dare.”
     “I wouldn’t? You accused me of being mad. Don’t you think a madman would enjoy undressing his bride? I think he would.” I turned and stepped away from her, and then I looked at her coldly over my shoulder. “I know I will.”
     Her chest rose rapidly several times, and then she darted for the door again. Fruitlessly, she shook the door and whimpered, while I took out my watch and looked at the time.
     “Time is wasting, my sweet. We don’t want to be late for our nuptials.”
     As she turned and looked at me, the amount of fear in her eyes began to penetrate my hardened heart, and I again questioned what I was doing. I couldn’t hurt my Christine—not my Christine. Buying time to think, I slipped my watch back in my pocket and then looked at the gown on her bed.
     My thoughts fluctuated between my choices, and then I looked back at her. But when I saw a tear slowly roll down her cheek my heart broke completely, and the only choice I could make became clear. I stepped closer to her and removed that tear with the back of my fingers, ready to apologize and beg for forgiveness. Then, out of nowhere, she slapped me across my face. It stung, but not nearly as much as her words.
     “Don’t touch me! You’re evil—all the way through! I hate you, Erik! I hate you! Raoul was right! You’re evil. He’ll come for me. He’ll find the passage I use and come for me. Then he’ll kill you for what you’re doing to me.”
     That was all I needed to erase my benevolent thoughts, and I came back at her with cold indifference. “You think you can stop me or hurt me with your little slap? You have no idea what others have done to get me to bend to their wishes. Remember all my scars, Christine? Remember what happened to all the ones who gave me those scars?
     “Your slap means nothing to me. Your attempt is nothing more than an irritating mosquito bite. It can’t begin to compare to the others. And I hope your lover does come for you. But if you think your precious Raoul can stop me from attaining what I want, you’ve been reading the wrong script.
     “I’ve taken down those who were much more numerous and mightier than he will ever think of being. I took them down without ever laying a finger on them, and I’ll take that simple aristocrat down without laying a single finger on him. Trust me. It will not turn out well for him when he arrives. I’ll have a very, very warm welcome waiting for him. I stand here today as living proof that no one, no matter who they are, can outmaneuver or outsmart me. I always get what I want, Christine, and I want you.”
     I looked down into her fearful eyes with pure venom in mine. Then I gently began to unbutton the top button of her bodice. Once more, she raised her hand, preparing for another slap, but I grasped her wrist quickly.
     “I don’t want to play rough, my dear. Please, don’t make me.”
     With her wrist still in my hand, I prepared to unbutton her bodice again with my other hand. But she raised her other hand, forcing me to grasp it. So there we stood, with both of my hands holding her wrists back against the door. I shook my head and smirked.
     Then I lowered my face, placed my cheek against hers, and whispered in her ear, “Have it your way, my sweet.”
     Instantly, I let go of both her wrists and ripped the front of her bodice open in one quick move.
     “All right! All right! I’ll put it on!” she shrieked, while grasping her bodice closed.
     I stepped back from her and bowed low “I know you will, my dear. Didn’t I predict you would?” Then I spread my hand out toward her wedding gown, and, after she walked toward it, I went to the door. I opened it and looked back at her, giving her some final instructions.
     “I know you’re an expert at changing costumes quickly, so don’t try to play me the fool again. Your bridegroom will be waiting, impatiently, for his bride.”
     She silently glared at me, and I smiled and bowed low again.
     Then, after rising, I said, “Yes, you’ll make a most beautiful bride—and wife.” I took my watch out of its pocket and looked at the time. “I’ll be back through this door in five minutes sharp, my dear, so either be ready for me or—well—let’s just hope you’re ready.”
     I started to close the door when she whimpered, “Erik, please don’t do this.”
     I cocked my head. “Erik? Who is Erik? I remember you calling me a madman. From now on you can call me Monsieur Folle if you like, but no longer call me Erik.”
     I closed the door and turned the key in the lock, ending the first scene of our final act.