Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chapter 17

Chapter Seventeen:
A Feast for the Rats
The ride back to the Garnier was silent and quick as the horse could maneuver far more easily than a cumbersome carriage. Erik made sure to keep his eyes firmly on the horse as he helped Christine down, knowing the jacket she wore did little to cover her luscious body. He guided her into the tunnels beneath the opera house and up the stairs instead of heading for his home. When they came to an opening, she understood; they were outside of Madame Giry’s room. Silently he slid open the well-oiled mirror and gestured for her to stay in the darkened tunnel. 
“Angelique?” A quick search revealed the room to be quite empty so he reentered the tunnel and closed the mirror behind him. Taking her hand, they began their descent towards his home. 
Christine followed quietly and as quickly as she could. She stumbled a few times after stepping on a particularly pointy rock until Erik realized the problem and picked her up to carry her the rest of the way. Her protest sounded feeble even to her own ears and she wasn't surprised when he ignored it. He had yet to speak to her or even look at her since they left the warehouse, and greatly feared their time together was soon to come to an end. Why else would he have gone to Madame’s room first? 
When they finally reached the house on the lake, they discovered a visitor awaited them just outside the door. Madame Giry had negotiated the tunnels immediately after the performance and had been pacing ever since. The relief on her face was palpable when they entered the circle of light cast by her lantern. 
“Erik?” Her voice was hushed believing Christine to be sleeping. “Is she…well?” 
“I hope so, Angelique,” he answered softly. “Will you stay with her tonight?” 
At her nod, Erik carried Christine straight to her room and bade her to bathe and dress for bed. She desperately wanted to ask him to stay with her but feared what he’d think if she did. As he quietly closed the door behind him, she hoped he couldn't hear her heart breaking. With a muffled sob that threatened to totally dissolve her tentative hold on her emotions, she entered the luxurious bathroom. Christine shook at the effort to maintain control while she ran the bath as hot as she could tolerate it. Once she had sank into its scalding depths, she could hold it back no more and wept as she scrubbed her skin until it was raw. She knew from experience that mere soap would never remove the feeling of that man’s hands from her body and, as she scrubbed, she remembered his words and felt a greater shame. The knowledge that he’d been right; towards the end she had felt her body respond to him. That realization had her leaning over the toilet to empty her stomach. She truly was a whore to have obtained any amount of pleasure from his evil hands. 
Christine slowly rose from the tub and dried herself with a fresh towel. She couldn't stay knowing what she was; he deserved so much better than she could ever be. Madame Giry knew the way out; she would beg her to lead her out of the tunnels once Erik was asleep. Searching through her clothing, Christine found the simplest dress and donned it quickly. Her sobs were becoming harder and harder to control and, as she was braiding her hair, there was a knock on the door and Erik’s sweet voice requesting entry. To hide her clothing, she quickly jumped into the bed and pulled the sheets all the way to her chin before calling for him to enter. 
Erik stood silhouetted in the doorway, a calm yet powerful presence. “Angelique will sit with you while I’m out in case you wake in the night and need something. I must check on the warehouse but should be back before dawn. Good night, Christine. You are safe now.” He stepped back before she could say anything and was replaced by the ballet mistress. Just before the bedroom door had closed, she heard Erik leave the house and with him rode her last thread of control. She accepted the motherly comfort of Madame’s embrace as she finally succumbed to tears she could no longer keep locked inside. 
“Christine, child, why are you dressed instead of in a nightgown?” Angelique’s soft murmur was accompanied by a tender hand stroking her hair. 
“Madame, please. You must show me the way through the tunnels. I need to be gone before Er…Monsieur Devereaux returns.” 
“Whatever for, child? Erik would never hurt you or turn you out.” 
Carefully extracting herself from Angelique’s arms, Christine brokenly relayed the entire dreadful story. She began on that night two years ago, confessed her feelings for her masked host, and ended with what had occurred earlier as well as her disgusting and sinful reaction. Barely coherent by the time she was finished, she begged her one more time to help her leave. As she listened, Madame encouraged Christine to drink some cold, soothing water to ease her parched throat. Slowly, the girl’s eyes drooped until she finally gave in to the laudanum that’d been placed in the drink. She and Erik had much to discuss as soon as he returned.


          Riding the carriage horse once more, Erik made his way back to the warehouse while fueling the murderous fury towards Gachot. Once in the alley containing the building he sought, he dismounted and silently approached to ensure all was as he’d left it. Satisfied, he guided the horse back inside, hitched it to the carriage once more, and closed the bay door before advancing on his prey. A vicious grin tugged at his lips as he stared at Gachot’s bleeding body as it provided a meal for a large rat and a horde of insects. The man was either dead or unconscious for he never moved even though the animal scurried up his leg to gnaw at the gaping wounds scattered along his body. 
          Shooing the rat away, Erik examined the body closely and discovered a weak but steady heartbeat. Chuckling in anticipation, he produced smelling salts from his pocket and waved them under his captive’s nose. With consciousness came the pain and Gachot’s screams were muffled against the gag as he jerked against his now-bloody restraints. Amused as he was, Erik didn't want to be constantly reviving the man and so injected him harshly with a mixture of morphine and cocaine to stave off both pain and sleep. Thrashing turned to twitching and screams turned to moans. Erik removed the gag and smiled at his captive. Now the real fun began. 
          “Well, well, well, Monsieur le Comte, you seem to have attracted several guests in the small time I’ve been away. How impolite of you to start the party without me.” 
          “You bastard.” Gachot was riding high on the drugs but retained enough sense to attempt to goad Erik into killing him quickly. 
          “I fear I must correct you, Monsieur. My parents were, indeed, married before she spat out my hideous self from her womb. Can you believe it? She called me a monster, Monsieur! A monster for merely being born with this face.” Pulling off the mask, he watched with fascinated amusement as Gachot recoiled in horror. “What she didn't know,” he continued, “was that the true monsters of the world hide behind a pleasing countenance and pretty words. Very much like yourself, wouldn't you say, Monsieur?” 
          While he was talking, Erik had laid a bag upon the discarded chair and opened it to reveal hypodermics and vials, knives and saws, and a variety of powders and pliers. All the essentials he’d need. Even in his drug-numbed state, Gachot recognized implements of torture when he saw them. Renewing his struggles against the restraints, he tried to reason with the Opera Ghost. 
          “I’m not a monster, Monsieur. The little whore was of the lower class, and what else are they good for if not to service their betters? If it hadn't been me, it would have been someone else and I paid her well for her time.” 
          “How dare you!” Throughout his long and violent life, Erik had never heard someone be so casually cruel to another and feel it was their right to do so. “She was a grieving child that you very nearly destroyed with your twisted, perverted lusts. No one, no matter what her station in life, deserves that.” 
          Shaking with fury, Erik shoved the sock back into Gachot’s mouth and chose a pair of pliers. Gripping the edge of the chewed skin on his thigh, he viciously tore away a large chunk of flesh while his victim screamed and thrashed violently against his restraints. Before he could pass out from pain again, Erik sprinkled the powder from one of the packets in his kit which rendered the wound numb for a time. He hated to provide relief for the man, but hadn't realized Gachot’s pain tolerance was so very low. He hadn't brought enough cocaine to keep him awake. And he definitely needed to be awake. 
          Wiping the pliers with his victim’s own shirt, Erik chose a pair of tin snips and held them up to Gachot’s face. Deliberately taking his time, he started with the right hand, the hand that had been so vilely touching his angel, and snipped off first the pinkie, then the ring finger, continuing with each until he reached the thumb. Once he was finished, he started on the other hand. His movements were slow and methodical, allowing enough time for the pain to dim slightly before the next digit was removed. The gag had long since fallen from his lips and the warehouse echoed with his tortured screams. Only twice did Erik have to jolt him awake with the cocaine; he was actually quite impressed. 
          “Kill me,” Gachot’s voice was harsh as he pushed the words painfully through a throat raw from his screams. Erik ignored him and calmly cleaned the snips before returning them to the kit. “Please God, just kill me.” 
          “Oh, I shall, Monsieur le Comte, but all in good time.” 
Glancing around the warehouse, Erik retrieved a length of rope and some small iron bars. While Gachot watched, he used the body of the man’s jacket as a bag to hold as much of the iron as possible. The Phantom hummed the aria from Hannibal as he cut a piece of rope to bind the bundle securely. His captive’s eyes watched every movement with a fear compounded by the unknown. He had no idea what the heavy bag was going to be used for but knew it couldn't be good. Unraveling a shorter length of rope, Erik took one thin segment and tied one end to the ropes that held the bag closed. On the other end, he made miniature noose. 
“You see, monsieur, killing is like any other skill. One must practice it often to perfect it. While I have kept a fairly low profile since my return from Persia, some things become so ingrained that you never forget them no matter how long you wait between performances. It’s called muscle memory, monsieur, and is integral to perfecting such things as sword fighting or playing a piano.” Holding up the thin piece of rope, he estimated it was about a foot long, maybe less. Satisfied, he took another strand and tugged to see if it would withstand weight without snapping. “I must commend you, monsieur, on choosing this warehouse. The quality of rope in such a decayed building is surprisingly excellent.” Erik executed a small, mocking bow while tipping an imaginary hat. 
          “I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know I’m preparing the finale, monsieur. While I’d love to keep you with me for weeks, I fear your screams will soon bring the gendarmes and that simply will not do.” As he continued in his conversational tone, Erik had removed the needle from one of the hypodermics already filled with a thick, golden liquid. “Honey, monsieur. You seemed to have so much fun while I was away. I've decided to let your friends return to keep you company.” He set about squirting a small amount of the sweet, sticky substance into every wound on Gachot’s body. Once he doused the lights, the vermin would swarm for a taste. 
          “My God, you are a monster! Just kill me, you bastard. Don’t leave me to the rats.” Erik ignored the man’s terrified pleas and packed his kit of everything but the honey filled syringe and the Comte’s own dagger. For the first time since he’d entered the building, the Opera Ghost’s golden eyes burned deep into Gachot’s panicked ones. 
          “You aren't fit to feed the fleas on the rats’ filthy hides, you pitiful excuse for a human being. You nearly destroyed one of the world’s only angels and for that I am pleased to be the one to usher your filthy soul to hell. Do wait for me, Monsieur le Comte, for I know I will join you there when my time comes and then we shall continue this little game.” 
          Before he knew what was happening, Erik had looped the small noose around the bulbous head of his victim’s now-flaccid organ and dropped the bag of iron. Gachot’s screams echoed throughout the warehouse and increased in volume when a long slice was cut into the tender skin and filled with the remainder of the honey. Erik doused the lights and retreated into the shadows to wait and watch. It didn't take long for the sweet scent of honey and the acrid tang of blood to entice the rats that lived within the warehouse’s walls. After less than two hours, it was plain to see that Gachot was dead. Now, he could return to his angel.

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