The Music of the NightBy: Amanda Ashley
It had always been one of her favourite scenes, one that had never failed to move her to tears. This performance by some unknown actor was no different. With a sniff, she wiped the dampness from her cheeks . . .
. . . and found herself pinned by the gaze of the man on the stage. Even through the darkness, she could feel those black eyes burning into her own.
Her mind screamed at her to leave, to run from the theatre as quickly as possible, but try as she might, she couldn’t move, couldn’t tear her gaze from his.
It took her a moment to realize he had left the stage and was walking rapidly towards her. He moved with effortless grace, the long black cape billowing behind him. His feet made no sound; indeed, he seemed to be floating towards her.
And then, abruptly, he was leaning over her. The half-mask gleamed a ghostly white in the darkness.
“Christine?” His voice, filled with hope, tugged at her heart.
She shook her head, her eyes fixed on the mask that covered the right side of his face. No, it couldn’t be. He wasn’t real. He didn’t exist.
He took a step closer, and then he frowned. “Forgive me, you are not she.”
Christie tried to speak, but fear trapped the words in her throat.
“You are very like her,” he remarked, a note of wonder in his voice.
His voice was mesmerizing: a deep, rich baritone, haunted, tinged with pain and sorrow and a soul-deep loneliness.
Caught in his gaze, she could only stare up at him, her heart pounding a staccato beat as he reached towards her, his knuckles sliding lightly over her cheek.
“Who?” Her voice was no more than a whisper. “Who are you?”
“Forgive me,” he said with a courtly bow. “I am Erik.”
She swallowed hard. “Erik?”
A slight nod, filled with arrogance. One dark brow arched in wry amusement. “Some people know me as the Phantom of the Opera.”
Christie shook her head. No, it was impossible. She was dreaming. She had to be dreaming. Soon, her alarm clock would go off and she would wake up in her room at the hotel. And she would laugh.
She looked up into his dark, haunted eyes and wondered if he had ever laughed. Wondered if she, herself, would ever laugh again.
“And your name?” he asked.
“Christie,” she said, and fainted dead away.
He caught her before she slid out of her chair.
She was quite lovely, he thought, light as a feather in his arms. Her hair was a rich auburn, soft beneath his hand. What was she doing here in the Opera House long after everyone else had gone?
A soft laugh escaped his lips as he carried her down the aisle, turned left and disappeared through a secret door.
Down, down, down, he went, until he reached the boat by the underground lake.
He placed her gently in the stern, then poled across to the other side.
“Christie.” He spoke the name softly – reverently – certain it was short for Christine. He wondered if, this time, he might be blessed with a happy ending.
Christie woke to the sound of music. Sitting up, she glanced at her surroundings. She didn’t have to wonder where she was. She knew. She had seen it all before: the organ, the masked man sitting behind it with his head bowed over the keyboard, the boat rocking gently in the water beyond, the flickering candles.
She was in the Phantom’s lair.
He continued to play, seemingly unaware of her presence. The music was darkly sensual, invoking images of sweat-covered bodies writhing on silken sheets. The notes poured over her, making her skin tingle.
She studied his profile, though she could see little but the ghostly mask. Was he as hideous as he was portrayed on stage and in the movies? If she were Christine, she would rise from her bed and tiptoe towards him. She would wait for the moment when he was so caught up in the music he was composing that he was oblivious to everything else, and then she would snatch the mask from his face.
But she wasn’t Christine and none of this was real. She had to be dreaming. It was the only answer.
The music ended abruptly and she found herself staring into his eyes.
He inclined his head in her direction. “Welcome to my abode, my lady.” His voice was like warm whisky, smooth and intoxicating. Would he sing for her if she asked?
Feeling suddenly uncomfortable at being in his bed, she threw the cloak aside and gained her feet. “I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I must have fainted.”
“Would you care for breakfast?”
“What? Oh, no, thank you.” She forced a smile. “I really must go.”
In a lithe motion, he rose from the bench and glided towards her. “So soon?”
She nodded, struck by the beauty of the unmasked portion of his face. And his eyes, they were dark, so dark.
He gestured towards a small table. “You may as well eat.” He lifted a white cloth from a large silver tray revealing plates of sliced ham, fried potatoes and soft boiled eggs. The scent of coffee wafted from a silver carafe. A crystal pitcher held orange juice; a white basket held a variety of muffins and croissants.
Her stomach growled loudly. She hadn’t eaten since early last night, after all. “Well, I guess it would be a shame to let it go to waste.”