So – I am completely obsessed with the Phantom of the Opera. Ever since I was a little kid, when my mom took my grandmother to see the play and brought home The Highlights of the Phantom of the Opera on CD and I heard it the first time – I fell in love.
I would listen to the album over and over again – having never seen the play – I would just focus on the swell of the orchestra – the voices of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman – and I would recreate this world in my head.
I listened to this play over and over in my head until I could recite it word for word.
Then I found a copy of Gaston Leroux’s work and read that only to find Susan Kay’s novel and read through that. (Although, admittedly, some of the content I didn’t understand until I was much older) I felt Erik through the pages. His obsession. The darkness that surrounded him. I felt Christine’s fear and admiration for him and confusion.
And even though Raoul was lovely – I felt myself not liking him very much.
Because Erik was who Christine was supposed to be with.
I’d recently revisited Susan Kay’s work Phantom, once more, and like all the time’s I’d read it, I loved every moment of it. She’s a master storyteller and that’s a beautiful novel. She tracks Erik’s life from cradle (literally) to the grave with such compassion for not only the characters in the story – but compassion for Erik as well.
But as an author myself – I want a shot at The Phantom of the Opera story.
Yet, I do not want to give readers the same story. I want them to have something different and I wondered how I could deliver that.
Then the answer struck me.
Alternative history. Steampunk.
Go back to the drawing board, wipe the slate clean, and while the cast of characters are all present – the circumstances are all different.
Also – since I am totally in love with Erik myself *side-eyes Raoul* I wanted him to be gay. Because I am.
I wanted him to be gay. Because I am. Because I empathized with him. I felt like – in some way – that I understood him. Especially in Susan Kay’s novel.
(I don’t want to hear it. Phantom was on freaking Broadway)
Because I empathized with him. I felt like – in some way – that I understood him. Especially in Susan Kay’s novel.
The Phantom of the Opera wasn’t bad all by himself. There was nothing wrong with him. He was turned into what he was by the world around him – because of the way people treated him because of his face.
Not too long ago I was reading poetry and happened upon Paul Laurence Dunbar’s The Mask and I wondered, “What if everyone wore a mask not just Erik?”
I am currently 20 thousand words in. The story is something I write a little bit and let it go, write a little more, let it go but I want to share some of it with you. This is an excerpt from my story. I hope you like it.
To set the scene up for you. Christian Daae has lost his father and best friend and he’s brought his body back home to be buried. After the initial shock of it all – Christian finds himself back in his childhood home, alone, as that shock begins to wear off.
“Would you like a bath, sir,” Gustav asked, his usual gruff voice now gentle. He was helping Christian take off his clothes.
“Would it be too much trouble, Gustav? I know you must be tired as well,”
“Nyet, I think you’ll sleep better. It’s been a long day. There is a copper bathtub in here, and running water. The servants have put your clothes away. Finish undressing and I’ll get what you need.”
Christian felt for his bed and leaned against it. Removing his shirt, he folded it the best he could and then removed his undershirt. The sound of a crank being turned and the sudden rush of cool air on his skin let him know Gustav had cracked a window. It was followed by the sound of water running.
“There’s a heater attached to this tub! It has a pilot light and everything. You should see….oh. Forgive me.”
Christian barked a laughed as he unbuckled his pants and balanced himself by holding onto the bed, “It’s quite alright, Gustav. I’m glad you’re excited for it.”
“My mouth goes off before my brain has a chance to catch up, sir.” The sound of his voice was getting closer and Christian reached out a hand and placed it on his shoulder as he lifted his left foot to take off a sock and then his right to do the same.
Christian was still chuckling, “You didn’t offend me at all Gustav. I know I need more help than others, but I’m far from fragile.”
“No. As a matter of fact, from what I’ve seen, you are rather robust. Are you sure you are not Russian?”
Christian chuckled gently and blushed deep scarlet. That hadn’t been the first time he’d heard that, despite his infirmity. Mostly from women at the various houses he’d attended for dinner with his father when they asked about his future marriage plans. It was a subject that he’d learned to deflect. And he knew it himself, as late at night when he couldn’t sleep…he’d…Christian shook his head. That would be too embarrassing right now. Instead he focused on the cold air as he stripped out of his undershorts and let them fall to the floor as he stood back up.
“Let’s get you into that water quickly before some old lady comes crawling in that window wanting to make you her lyubovnik.”
Christian laughed again as Gustav walked him over to the tub.
“Okay, lean into me. Raise your right foot. That’s it.”
Christian’s toes hit hot water and he hissed and withdrew it as Gustav’s hold on him tightened.
“Is it too hot?”
Christian shook his head and eased his leg in, and then the other. It was hot, but not unbearably so. Gustav instructed him to reach for the sides of the tub, and lower himself in. Christian took his time, but once he was settled, he was thankful for the heat of the water. He tentatively sat back until he was flush with the tub and then sighed out his pleasure.
“Here is soap and a rag,” Gustav said from beside him and Christian raised his hand to take it. Gustav placed both items in his palm and folded his hand so they wouldn’t drop.
“Shall I leave you? I can be back in twenty minutes or so.”
“No. Stay. I wouldn’t mind the conversation.”
“As you wish, sir. I picked up this evening’s post. Shall I read you something?”
He thought about the awkwardness of having a grown man keeping him company while he bathed.
Christian sighed and shook his head as he began to wash himself, “On second thought, I’m not ready to dive into the world yet. Come back in ten minutes. I’ll be ready.”
Christian took to scrubbing himself as quickly as possible. He didn’t want to hear about the outside world tonight. He wouldn’t last through the first article and would probably have to be awakened after nodding off. Fatigue wore at the edges of his mind and the hot water was making it worse, quickly. But with the bar of soap and a rag he cleaned himself starting with his face and then working its way down. He’d started to grow a beard, and would need to shave before the funeral.
James Daae’s face appeared in his mind in the form of a memory. There were plenty of those to choose from at Christian’s age, but only a few of them still contained sight. It had been when he was a child and had come bounding into the house from their courtyard dirty from head to toe and his mother escorted him into the sitting room where his father was practicing with his instrument.
He stopped mid note as Isabella barked at him in angry Italian to look at the condition of his son. James spun away from the sheet music before him with a roll of his eyes and was probably going to admonish him both for interrupting him. With bow in one hand and violin in the other he spun on his stool and opened his mouth. But when he caught sight of young Christian standing in the entrance to the room covered head to toe in mud his eyes grew large with shock.
“Mon dieu, you look like a little demon,” he said shocked before bursting into laughter.
Isabella gave a disgusted sound, “You are only encouraging him!”
His eyes grew sympathetic as he stood up and laid his equipment down, “Oh, momma. He cannot help himself he’s just a boy.”
Christian grinned from ear to ear, which he remembered was harder than usual since the mud had begun to dry on his face. That only made his father laugh harder. Isabella swept out of the room cursing in Italian as she made her way back down the hallway.
Christian remembered him kneeling in front of him shaking his head, “You know how much trouble I am going to be in?”
“Why would you be in trouble, papa? You have no mud on you.”
James had laughed again and swept him up in his arms, “Well, now I do!”
He had been smiling the last smile Christian remembered. And now he was dead.
“Perhaps I should have had Gustav read to me,” he whispered aloud as he washed himself.
Papa is gone.
Christian swallowed hard and he bit down on the inside of his mouth as he took the soap down his legs, the sound of the water sloshing around as the only thing he could hear. His mind drifted to when he’d lost his sight. Not long after, his mother and he had come down with a terrible fever that nearly killed him and did in fact, kill Isabella…
The shouting had been the worst. As his fever raged he was taken up in the arms of his father and carried across this room. He was screaming at the hallucinations, the figures crawling out of the shadows after him. Everything that touched him threatened to drive him mad with pain and then the submersion in what felt like a tub of a thousand needles.
He remembered screaming for his mother.
His father’s face above him weeping as he scrambled to try and free himself, scream after scream tearing from his throat. Christian remembered looking up, seeing then Father Distefano in the background and hearing the last rites and then everything faded to black.
“Hush, ma belle enfant. Ce sera bientôt fini,” he heard him choke out as Christian slid from consciousness.
Hush, my beautiful child. It will be over soon.
Whenever his father spoke to him from that day forward, in Christian’s mind he always looked as he had when Christian was a boy. As the illness that nearly killed him succeeded in taking his sight, his father never aged a day. There were no laugh lines around his eyes. No gray in his hair. His voice hadn’t changed. He’d been constant as the rising of the morning sun. Always within calling distance and now Christian was in the home he once knew. And the pain skewered him in the heart. His friend and companion was gone. The music he played. The years spent together traveling the world was all a distant thing.
Christian found himself clutching the side of the tub and weeping. His father was gone. His eyes, his hand, his calm voice. The sound of his violin. His light in the dark. The world was cold now without the assurance of his voice. And his only light had gone out. He could have been in Bucharest for all Christian knew. Not in Artesian. Christian’s life was in the hands of friends, employees.
Panic tore through his beating chest. Although he had the body of a man, the heart of the boy inside his chest was breaking. The heart that wasn’t ready yet to give his father away to heaven. To commit his body to the ground. His father, who’d described to him the Eiffel Tower, and escorted him through the Vatican, describing Michelangelo’s work with detail as he held onto his son’s hand. His teacher…
Christian’s sobs were silent for a moment, but with great inhale of breath his voice tore from him as shattered as the heart that beat in his chest. He couldn’t understand how he could feel so terrible, and yet still be breathing. He wanted more than anything to be swept from the tub as he had as a child. To be rescued from his broken heart. So the only thing he knew to do was to cry out, “Papa! Sera-ce bientôt fini? Will it be over soon? Oh, god, let it be over soon!”
He lay his face on the surprisingly cold side of the tub as the hot tears streaked down his cheeks. “Sera-ce bientot fini, papa?
Maria, Mater Dei, adiuva me! , adiuva me!
I can’t hear him anymore! Sera-ce bientot fini,Papa? Papa!”
From somewhere a door opened and a deep male voice called out his name and suddenly his face was taken in a pair of rough hands. He inhaled sharply. Could it be? Could it possibly be? Christian turned his blind eyes upward and saw nothing. “You are going to be okay, Christian. I swear it. Your father said he’d send the angel of music to comfort you.”
“I hear nothing. Gustav! My prayers are only met with silence! I’m frightened. I’m frightened! I can’t hear him anymore!”
“Shhhh, boy. It’ll be alright. He’ll come. I swear, he’ll come.” Gustav said as he buried Christian’s face in his chest and wrapped his arms around his shoulders as the sound of water splashing onto the floor and tears soaked the valet’s shirt. Christian clung for dear life as he wept, as he called for his father who was now in heaven and for the hosts of Glory to have mercy upon his soul.