It was night.
There was no way for Christine to know this for sure . . . down here, in the cellars deep within the heart of the opera house, time did not seem to exist at all. The passing of days and nights was monitored by nothing more than her own sensations of hunger or drowsiness. The days spent down here seemed to possess a dream-like quality, in which the worries and responsibilities of the outside world did not exist. In fact, nothing existed except Erik, and the music that they shared; the music that echoed along the walls of the cavernous cellar as their voices rose as one into a haunting melody, the music that seemed to envelope her mind in a mist of ecstasy.
But it was Erik's own, secret music that she heard now, and that told her that her desire to hear a Persian tale from him was to be unfulfilled. She recognized the strange, otherworldly notes emanating from his room to be one of the few parts of his Don Juan masterpiece that she had been permitted to listen to; the rest of the composition, she was told, was not meant to be heard by human ears. When Erik became enveloped in his music, nothing and no one could wake him from the trance that the melody induced in him.
Christine pushed back the silken sheets of her bed, shivering as the cold air touched her skin. She considered burrowing once more into the warmth of the covers, but decided against it; she knew, after an hour or so of sleepless turning, that she would not rest well this night. Lighting a candle, she quietly tiptoed out of her room, careful not to disturb Erik's concentration. She paused outside his door for a moment, letting the breathtaking notes surround her, sending tingling chills down her spine and to the tips of her fingers and toes. Nothing would have pleased her more than to stand outside his door for hours, listening to his strange song. But she could not shake the feeling that she was eavesdropping; Erik had allowed her to listen to this part of his composition before, but what if he was to begin playing a melody that she forbidden to hear, thinking she was asleep? No, it would be better to leave him to his music . . .
Instead, Christine decided to walk alongside the still waters of the underground lake. She had walked this path many times before with Erik, discussing upcoming operas or just enjoying the silence. Sometimes, she would simply watch Erik as he walked beside her; she was always amazed at the smooth grace of his gait. His arms and legs were long and remarkably thin; he was at least a head taller than she was. And yet, his body seemed to move to a music just as beautiful as the music that he wrote; she sometimes wondered if, as he moved with his rhythmic grace, he was walking to the steady beat of a new song in his mind.
Before long, Christine found that she had walked quite some distance from their rooms. Erik's music had long faded into the distance, and the only light she could see was that which shined from her candle. The rhythmic lapping of the water mere inches away from her bare feet lulled her into a sleepy peacefulness. Her thoughts began to wander as confused, mixed images filled her mind's eye; visions of Erik's catlike movements, the scrawled red notes of his compositions, the reflections that glinted off of his mysterious, white mask as he sat before candlelight. . . As the thoughts swirled around her, she began to absentmindedly pick up the little pebbles that pressed into her feet and throw them into the lake, watching as they disappeared into the black waters.
Gradually, a voice began to rise around her. She could not tell when it had started; perhaps it had been there all along, and she had just now noticed it. Perhaps it was only in her mind? But no; as the song slowly became louder, she realized that it was not just a product of her sleepy thoughts. The beautiful, haunting melody rose up all around her, causing the soft hairs on her neck to stand up and her fingers and toes to tingle with an emotion akin to desire. It was like nothing she had ever heard before; if the words were in a foreign tongue, she did not know it, for she did not even know if they were words at all. The voice seemed to whisper in her ear, and then echo from the stones a few feet behind her, and then emanate from somewhere far above her head. Oh, whose heavenly voice was it? What untold beauties was it singing of? All thoughts flew from Christine's mind save one; where could she find the source of that exquisite melody?
Suddenly, she knew. For the first time since it had begun, the voice seemed to still in one point: the black waters a few feet from where she was standing. Her eyes glazed over as she was drawn, like a moth to a flame, to where the source of the voice seemed to be. She did not even notice as the cold waters of the lake wrapped around her bare toes, or as her white nightdress became heavy with wetness and floated out around her calves. Slowly, she reached out her fingers to the surface of the water where she was certain that she would soon see the face of some heavenly creature emerge . . . she tried to stare past her own reflection, flickering in the dim candlelight . . . for something wondrous must be just beneath . . .
Christine was so transfixed by the strange music that she did not notice when her toes slipped over the slimy edge before her; did not notice, that is, until she plunged into the cold, dark waters beyond. The last thing she heard before the water closed in over her head was her own scream . . . The last thing she saw was the darkness encompassing her as the light of her candle was snuffed out as the water engulfed it . . .
Christine kicked with all her might, trying to propel herself back towards a surface that she could not see. But it was in vain; she did not know how to swim. Water filled her mouth and throat as she tried to cry out again. Fear overwhelmed her; fear of drowning, and fear of the unnamed, slimy creatures of the deep that she knew would be wrapping around her ankles at any moment. Her eyes were open, but all was blackness around her. She frantically kicked and thrashed about until she did not even know what direction the surface was. Resigned, she gradually eased into stillness, allowing the water to drag her still limbs deeper, deeper . . . white lights like fireflies began to swarm in her vision as her mind began to sink into unconsciousness. . .
Suddenly, her brain stirred into wakefulness when she heard something move in the water beside her, and a dim vision began to form in the blackness above her. A great black form loomed above her and billowed out across the surface of the water like the wings of some dark angel; a pair of golden embers gleamed before her eyes. Suddenly, leather-gloved hands grasped her own, and a pair of arms, apparently much too strong for their abnormal thinness, encircled her waist. She was pulled upward, upward, until she broke the surface. The cold air blasted against her wet skin, and she gasped desperately for air. She felt herself being pulled into a warm embrace . . .
"Breathe, Christine. You are safe now." The voice, both commanding and caressing, soothed her fear. Her frantic coughing slowly changed into deep gasps for air, and then to steady breathing. She buried her face into the black figure that was holding her to him, and sobbed into Erik's chest.
"Shhh . . . You are going to be fine, Christine," Erik whispered into her ear, holding her to him. Christine's sobs began to abate.
"But, the voice . . ." she gasped, "The voice, Erik! It was calling to me . . . it was so beautiful . . ."
Erik sat her down only long enough to take off his black cape and wrap it around her, and then lifted her back up into his warm embrace.
"It was only my voice, Christine," he sighed.
"No, no!" Christine cried frantically, "It was all around me! It was by my feet, then above my head, and then in the water. Oh, Erik, there's something in the water!"
"It was only me. I heard someone; I thought you were asleep, and that someone had wandered into the cellars . . ."
"Until you heard me scream . . ." Christine finished for him, the pieces beginning to fit together. She had known of Erik's miraculous skills of ventriloquism; he had used it multiple times to delight her, making the flowers she was holding or the book she was reading sing to her. Somehow, the thought of it being used for anything but good unnerved her . . . Still, she leaned her head against Erik's chest as he carried her back towards their rooms, allowing her racing heart to slow.
"You need to put on some warm clothes quickly, before you catch a chill," Erik said as he reached her doorway, "I will start a fire as you change."
Christine nodded. Her legs felt weak, and she was glad that Erik placed a hand on her shoulder to steady her as he sat her down. She was beginning to feel the chill on her wet skin, and her teeth chattered as the water dripped from her hair and soaked nightgown.
A few minutes later, Christine emerged from her room in warm, dry gown. Erik knelt before the fireplace, stoking the flames with the poker. He turned to look at her, the reflection of the flames dancing off of his white mask. His lips curled into a slight smile as he rose to take her hand.
"Warmer now, isn't it?" He laughed, "You've had quite a night. You must not wander around alone again, agreed?" His face became suddenly stern, and Christine nodded. "Good. Would you like for me to read to you? Perhaps a tale from Persia?"
"Oh, yes!" Christine answered, sitting in the velvet chair closest to the one that Erik sat in, "I would like that very much."
Erik strode over to the oak bookshelf beside the fire, and with a smooth, elegant movement of his hand, selected a thick, well-read book bound in leather. Settling down beside Christine, he began to read. Christine's mind was filled with visions of the exotic, far-away places that he spoke of: of the gleaming, white palaces, the stinging desert sand, the majesty of the shah's jeweled throne. He spoke with a voice that relaxed her tired muscles, a voice that echoed with the splendor of foreign legends . . .
. . . a voice that seemed to emanate from the dancing flames themselves.