Applause exploded within the theatre as the audience rose to their feet, eyes focused down upon the singular figure, offering a neat bow in the middle of the floor.
"Thank you. Thank you." Slowly Doctor William Wright edged backwards, gesturing towards the door. "It has been a lengthy lecture and I thank you for your attendance. There are refreshments provided, if you will follow me."
A general buzz of conversation filled the surgical theatre that had been used as a lecture hall, disgorging the crowd comprised mostly of finely dressed men. As this had not been an actual surgical procedure demonstration, a few men had brought their wives to listen to the esteemed doctor speak.
Just outside the door, Wright stood amongst a crowd of gentlemen engaged in a discussion concerning the lecture. He did not notice as a solitary figure hovered in silence on the edge of the crowd. Minutes ticked by until at long last the gentlemen excused themselves for refreshments just down the hallway. Only then did he glance to his left to discover her presence.
"Doctor William Wright." The gaze of her bright blue eyes was strong, but he detected a note of weariness as she took a step toward him. "I am to understand through your lecture that you are a man who discovered success with a good percentage of, shall we say, challenging cases. Am I correct?"
Flashing her a smile at the compliment, he rubbed the fingers of his left hand on the lapel of his dress jacket. A man married to his work, the only ring on his finger was an inherited signet ring. He had slicked back his hair with a little gel, adding a sheen. Everything about him was polished and refined. "It seems I have an admirer in you, young miss … "
"Madame." She corrected him quietly, her eyes momentarily dropping to the impression of the wedding band concealed by her gloves. "I assure you, Doctor, my interests venture only in so far as your expertise in the medical field."
Straightening up, he took a step back from this strange women, to evaluate her with his eyes. She was of moderate age, perhaps approaching her late thirties or closer to forty. It was difficult to tell. Dressed in a finely tailored gown that followed her trim figure to the waist, the fabric exhibited that she came from a household with significant money. The brocade was a shimmering tone-on-tone in a midnight blue trimmed with black lace and intricate bead work. The tailoring was a masterwork and the labor fee must have been exorbitant. Wearing her blond hair bound up high, she let a few tendrils curl out from the jeweled binding. Whomever had managed to wed this lovely women was indeed a lucky man.
Wright cast his eyes out into the crowd, searching for the husband. However no one seemed to be hovering around. Settling his gaze back upon her, he cleared his throat. "My apologies. Madame, it is. Tell me, what is it that interests you so in my work?"
Glancing over her shoulder, she gave a quick surveillance of the room to ensure that no one was listening before she replied keeping her voice as low as possible. "I wish for a diagnosis."
"Madame?" His eyes widened before he laughed at the request. "You seem quite healthy to me. My expertise is in neuroscience. I can tell by the blushing upon your cheeks that you are in fine health."
Clasping her hands in front of her, she grew rigid and studied the floor for a long moment before she dared to raise her head. The eyes, which before had been so strong, trembled with the weight of a great burden. "It is not for me. I implore you, Doctor Wright, to accept the challenge that I have to offer you. You will be well compensated for your time away from Massachusetts General Hospital."
Wright lifted a hand to brush against his mustache in thought. "What precisely are you asking? Where would I be going?"
A bout of laughter left him. No wonder she seemed so weary! The cities of Boston and Manhattan were over two-hundred miles apart. That was quite a long way, even by train. "Manhattan? Oh my, what a nice little day trip. That is an amusing request. Where is that husband of yours who put you up to this little jest?"
His words only stiffened her. Grasping the fold of her dress, she did not look away from him. Instead her head lifted in a firm resolve. "My husband was unable to attend. A journey from my home to Boston is assuredly not an inconsequential trip to take upon a lark. What I offer you is a chance to unravel a mystery none of your colleagues have managed to begin to understand. I am under the impression that I have chosen the wrong man of science, you appear to be disinclined to the inconvenience."
"Now, now, Madame." He held out his hands placating her. "Pardon me, I meant no disrespect. I don't often get requests of this nature, as the majority of my patients come here to me by manner of an appointment … you have however, peaked my interest. A mystery you say? Others have tried and failed?" This was sounding interesting. Wright's career had found its rising surge when he oversaw a number of exploratory surgeries right here at Massachusetts General Hospital. He enjoyed surgery as a process, but the cases that pushed things to the next level, the cases where he was doing that which had not been tried before — that was what he lived for. If he could resolve what other fellows in his field could not, well now … that was just one more stroke to his growing genius.
"Not here." She shook her head resolutely. "I will tell you more once we reach Manhattan. If you agree to accompany me, I will make the arrangements for the train straightaway. We can leave tonight."
Raising an eyebrow he brought his hands together before him. "Tonight? You are in such a rush … is there a reason?"
"I have been gone too long already."
"Well?" Wright stretched his legs as far as the brougham would allow. The horses pulled through the cobblestone streets at a brisk pace. "You said you would tell me more once we arrived. We're in Manhattan. Will you at least tell me your name?"
Her eyes remained locked outside the window as the buildings of Uptown Manhattan flew past. It was a beautiful April day with the budding trees along the boulevards casting a green hue to the world. Winter had been so cold and dreary. She shivered at the memories when Wright's voice broke the turbulent silence. "Madame Christine Daae." The train ride with Doctor Wright and her manservant had been long. The entire time she had remained locked in silence, not out of rudeness but because she could not seem to find any answers for his endless string of questions. It seemed so much simpler to sit as a statue locked in stony silence. Soon enough they would arrive, soon enough he would find his own answers.
Rounding the corner, the brougham carried them past the east side of Central Park. South a few more blocks and, once they turned the corner, she would see it again. Home. Clef de Voute Manoir. The stone mansion dominated an entire block on the corner of 57th street and 7th avenue. The Beaux Arts building stood three stories and stretched into two wings adorned with elegant carvings. Both the second story balcony above the entrance and the entrance itself were guarded by immense gargoyles arching their heads into the sky.
Trotting past the main entrance, the carriage carried them toward the stable entrance. When the door opened, Christine dropped down and hurried towards the servant entrance. "Follow me, they will get your things."
"Madame Daae," Wright glanced about the unusual debarking. "What is the meaning of this? Is there a reason not to use the front door?"
"Yes." She waved a hand, conducting him inside with haste. Once he was inside, she glanced out the door before shutting them into the more confined space. "Good, no one saw. Please follow me."
Wright narrowed his eyes as he watched his peculiar hostess open a cellar door. Curiosity got the better of him, he was forced to follow her down the servant's staircase. This was beginning to feel like he truly was the subject of some extremely elaborate prank, "I must ask where we are going. If this is some kind of a joke … "
"It is most certainly not. Now you must heed my words," she called over her shoulder. "Keep your distance. If you enter, it is completely at your own risk. It would be better if you didn't this first time. Keep your voice down. And if you hear us tell you to run, just do it without question."
His eyes opened wide for a moment as he saw her pause before a thick iron door with a hefty bar locked in place. What in heaven's name was something like this doing in an upper class cellar?
A strange intermittent tapping echoed through the corridor, stealing his attention. The flicker of a shadow cast against the wall by a swaying lantern was just one more bizarre element in this strange adventure. Though it appeared these people were well off, he began to question what manner of mansion this place was. Perhaps, a madhouse? At last the mystery of the tapping presented itself when a short gaunt man came around the corner on a pair of crutches. His lower right leg wrapped securely in a single thick strip of wide linen with the evidence of a splint on either side. He put no weight on the injured limb as he slowly made his way towards them. A set of keys hung from one hand and the lantern handle from the other. The poor old man was struggling to maneuver the crutches at the same time, but managing it. Straggling strands of long gray that escaped his partially bound hair at his neck dangled into his face.
"Finally," he gasped. "It's about damn time you got home."
"How has today been, Nadir?" She reached out a hand and gently took the lantern from him.
Nadir's shoulders sagged despite the crutches. Bloodshot eyes bagged from exhaustion stared blindly at the door. "Bad. Very, very bad." At last he spied the new arrival. His eyes slowly drifted up and down the doctor's figure. "So, this must be the esteemed Doctor Wright. Has she given you the warnings?"
Mutely, he nodded. There were no words to describe what he was feeling. Apprehension? Suspicion? Dread? What were these people up to? What had happened to this man's leg?
Hobbling over to the lock on the door, Nadir sighed as he lifted a key from the ring. "Then, let's get this over with." The lock opened with a heavy clank. Removing it from the latch, he required Christine's assistance to slide back the bar that kept the door from pivoting on its hinges. When at last it was free to move on well oiled hinges, the foot thick iron door swung into the room.
The large chamber at one time had been a storeroom and now appeared to be empty. The light cast by the lantern only reached so far. Wright was about to berate them for this ridiculous joke when he heard the sound of a metallic scraping from inside the room.
"What the … " Deep in the shadows, was there something in there? His eyes adjusted to the dim light, There was the outline of some object lurking in the shadows. He heard it again, the scraping of iron across the floor. A clinking like … like the links of heavy chains.
"Doctor Wright." Christine held up the lantern gesturing toward the door. "Meet my husband. Erik."
Nothing prepared him for the sight. The moment the dim lantern cast its rays over the figure, it shrank back, covering eyes with two heavily shackled hands. Under the ragged clothing that hung in disrepair on his frame, he was emaciated, bone thin with a pale cast to his flesh that eerily reminded Wright of cave dwelling creatures entirely unaccustomed to the exposure of the sun. Bare foot, around his ankles another set of heavy shackles bound him to the wall on short chains. Each of the four chains that held him fast to the wall were a meter in length, secured with a thick ring bolted directly into the stones of the cellar itself. The figure wasn't standing so much as half crouching against the wall. Slowly he lowered a hand, revealing the second shock for the poor doctor as he laid his eyes upon the deformed face. The man had no nose of which to speak of. From below his overgrown silver hair, the skin that covered his face down to the malformed upper lip was extremely thin, leaving the contours of the skull visible. As the mismatched eyes, filled with hostility, stared up at him he had an eerie feeling there was a demon lurking behind them. Wright wasn't particularly a religious man and yet he wondered if calling for a priest would be a far better solution.
"Good God!" He gasped out. "What have you done to him?"
Nadir lowered his head murmuring. "I assure you, all this is necessary. We have had no choice but to continually strengthen his bonds as he found ways to escape from them."
Daring to glance around the room, he noted there was nothing in it. Just the strange man in his iron restraints. "Where is his bed? A blanket?"
Christine shook her head sadly but it was Nadir who answered. "Anything left with him swiftly becomes a weapon."
A low maniacal laugh echoed in the chamber. Wright looked up with a start to realize the chilling sound came from that man. He was smiling, a strange twisted smile infused with that crazed glimmer dwelling in his eyes. There was something very wrong with this man, but he could not look away.
The lips opened, it was like watching a skull speaking some other language, a haunted voice from beyond the grave.
Wright shook his head. "He's spouting nonsense. Complete and utter nonsense."
Tensely, Nadir shook his head, his own eyes locked upon Erik. But he was not entranced by what he was seeing. He was watching every slow move the chained figure made. "That is not nonsense, Doctor. He is speaking Persian … though it is slurred, it is still distinguishable. He bids us welcome."
"Persian?" Wright took a step over the threshold watching as Erik's eyes followed him.
He lowered a shackled hand to the floor leaning on the arm with the cold smile. He spoke again, lower this time and the tone much more sinister.
"Erik!" Nadir snapped. "I will not translate that rude suggestion! Have some manners! I wish you would stop this game."
Erik's reply was a grim mutter with a forefinger flicking up at the doctor.
"That's it, I'm tired of this." Nadir was about to turn and leave when Christine laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Please. Ask him."
Sighing, Nadir hobbled back a little closer to the door. "Want to see something that no one can explain, Doctor? Listen to this … Erik, speak English."
To which Erik began to laugh and continued to interject his bouts of insidious laughter with Persian snippets that only Nadir was privy to.
Taking a deep breath, Nadir shifted his gaze towards the doctor "And now, in Persian." He barked out another short phrase in the language that Wright couldn't understand.
Erik crouched a little lower against the wall, the chain securing his wrist swinging in the shadows. "But, Daroga, where is the fun in that?" His words were halting, labored, and slurred.
"You have a visitor." Nadir pointed to Wright. "Now, behave."
"Since when has that request done anyone any good?" Erik chuckled before turning his hostile eyes to Wright. "So, the Daroga has brought a fresh offering for the Angel of Doom in his pit of horrors. Very well, very well, my patron of the art of death. Step closer and we can commence."
Wright involuntarily took another step into the room. "Remarkable. But I must give you full disclosure. I am primarily a neurosurgeon not a psychologist."
Shifting his leg, Nadir let a breath out wryly. "A lot of good that consult did … Erik drove him into becoming his own client. I believe he is still a patient at Manhattan State Hospital. You are familiar with their psychiatric ward?"
Freezing, Wright cast a worried glance over his shoulder before once more returning to Erik who was now rocking back and forth on the floor, setting the chains to clink in a wild rhythm as he giggled sinisterly. Those cold mismatched eyes—the right of an almost pupil-less brown and the left an icy blue—were utterly consumed by a blazing madness. But his body looked so emaciated, he could hardly get far with those heavy chains. "He's clearly delusional … locked in some made up fantasy."
"Delusional, yes." Nadir confirmed. "However, it is not a made up world. I can assure you I am well aware of precisely the point Erik's mind has latched onto in his personal history. It is what makes him the most dangerous. For whatever reason, he is convinced he is back in the courts of my native Persia. He does not recognize his wife or his own son … only me, and only in the role I played back in those courts. The danger comes from what his role was."
Taking another fascinated step forward, Wright watched as Erik reached and tugged on his own silver hair almost forming a forelock. Every motion the man made was beset with a series of tiny tremors leaving each gesture to be executed in a jerking pattern.
Laughter filled the air as he pulled hard on the hair. "Death awaits all who enter my kingdom! Come and meet your end in a dance of writhing agony at my hands. These hands … these hands … oh how skilled and gifted! The darkness will come and take all of humanity away, drowned in the filth of what comprises it … will you try to glimpse the monster? Will you try and outwit him? Oh come, please come! Come closer … "
Wright leaned forward, drawn in by the whispered taunts. He stared with his mouth open as Erik's hand slowly untangled from the silver hair. Stretched between his fingers was a single shimmering strand. The iris of his blue eye rapidly broadened, pushing his pupil to near a pin point. It was too dark in the room to see how the deep brown iris was performing. But his lips … the corners of his lips contorted into a shivering grin the moment before he lashed out!
Erik slipped the strand of hair around the doctor's wrist. Away from the wall, the weight of the shackles drove his body to the floor. But the moment the startled doctor tried to pull back, he found a sharp pain constricting against his flesh. Thrashing, Erik pulled back on the strand, indentations showing where he had twirled it around his fingers. He was laughing! Evil and filled with malice, he was laughing as he watched the doctor struggle to free himself from a simple strand of human hair.
Christine darted into the room, pulling back the hood on the lantern. The moment the full force of the light hit his eyes, Erik scrambled back against the wall, covering his head with his arms. Wreathed in his chains, he continued to rock back and forth, laughing uncontrollably to himself.
The moment he felt the tension released, Doctor Wright flung himself out into the corridor, panting for breath. He tore the strand of hair from about his wrist and flung it away, staring in horror at the huddled figure inside that room. There was no sympathy for the man's plight now, only terror at what he had just experienced.
Wordlessly, Nadir and Christine shut the door, pulled the substantial latch into place and reset the lock. Their heavy eyes at last turning to the doctor on the floor. She offered him a hand helping him to his feet. "Remember, I told you entering the room was at your own risk. Come, the staff will have prepared tea for us in the study." Stiffly, she turned to head up the stairs.
Wright cast a hesitant glance at Nadir as he adjusted his grip on the crutches. Casually, the Persian replied, "You are far from the first doctor to have met him. The staff has grown accustomed to how this proceeds. Let's hope it fares better for you than it has for the others."
"I am sorry, but that man is completely psychotic!" Wright stuttered, huddled on the couch before a warm cheery fire. But he felt neither the warmth nor any cheer. He was rattled to the core.
Christine held out a cup of tea for him. "You are fortunate, his attempt to hurt you was nothing more than him toying with you. It amounted to a prank."
Taking a sip from the tea, he placed the cup aside, not wishing to embarrass himself by spilling it with his shaking hands. "Prank? Madame, your husband tried to sever my hand from my arm."
He would not have succeeded." Nadir had settled himself on the full sofa, propping the splinted leg up on a pillow. He rubbed his thigh absently. "Fortunately the strand would have snapped long before it had done any real damage. Sometimes it's like he just wants to scare people. But I do believe you see why he cannot have access to much of anything. A strip of fabric in that fashion and you might not have a hand, dear Surgeon."
Flicking his eyes to the injured leg, Wright did not have to the ask question. Nadir offered the explanation with a weary sigh.
"Yes. This was the result of a careless visit of mine. As I repeat, feeding him is a challenge on its own, nothing can be left in the room with him. He managed to trick me into turning my back on him for just a second. The chain looped around my leg and in one savage pull I heard the bone snap. Fortunately, I never go down there alone. The stable master, Jacques came to my aid with the lantern or I assure you, remembering me or not, Erik would have killed me."
Wright shuddered as he reached for the tea. Taking a very long sip he stared at the broken limb. "Has … has he always been this way?"
"Good heavens, no. Erik is a highly skilled genius. This mansion was designed and built by him." Sitting down beside the doctor, Christine blew on her cup of tea to cool it. "It's been a spiral downward. We noticed he was having some difficulties with hallucinations, hearing voices around the fall of 1896. He managed to keep things moderately under control well into the next year, only a few rough moments here and there … " The tea rested forgotten in her lap as she shut her eyes. "Then, the following winter the incidents grew more and more troubling. By the spring of last year, he lost complete control … we knew we had no choice but to do as you have seen for everyone's safety. Throughout the year he has been confined, we have gone through so many attempts to help him … no one has been able to reach my husband. What you see down there, that is not him."
Shifting in his seat, Nadir lowered his head. "Even in Persia he was never quite this erratic. He still had command of his faculties. But he served the court in various ways, the most troublesome to us now being magician and assassin. Keeping him securely confined has been a constant race to defeat his skilled fingers. If he does manage to get loose, the damage that ensues is … well, that is why we try to prevent that at all costs. Erik believes himself to be the Angel of Doom, lurking in the fighting pit for his next victim. If we go down there now he will have no memory of having met you, I will be required to request him speak in English, everything resets the moment that door shuts on him. We have found no way to effectively penetrate into his state of mind, nothing reaches him."
Wright sat up a little straighter, curiosity overcoming his fear. "What has been tried?"
Christine placed her cup of tea aside. "Psychotherapy."
Added Nadir blandly, "He's in the State Hospital's asylum ward, as I mentioned."
"There was that gentleman," she scowled at the word, "who claimed he was on the verge of a breakthrough with his experimental electrical treatment."
Nadir shook his head, "That poor fellow, he should have been watching the wires. Erik sent him to the burn unit before even one successful treatment."
"A variety of medications administered by the doctors."
"Let's see … one retired after his second attempt to get Erik to comply, another had his nose broken when Erik bashed it in with the shackle, and the third is still in traction ."
By now Wright had lost a fair amount of color and was absently rubbing his nose.
"Shall I go on?" Christine asked dismally. When his only reply was the widening of his eyes, she looked into her lap, fingers caressing the plain gold wedding band. "As you can see, we have sought out various methods in an attempt to bring him back to some form of stability. They have failed. Erik has remained a prisoner in his own cellar out of necessity. I have tirelessly chased down the best that medicine has to offer." Her eyes rose, locking firmly with his. "I want my husband restored to me, Doctor Wright. I want you to figure out what is keeping him from remembering his loved ones, his life. You have to solve this mystery. You have to bring him back to me!"
The fire crackled in the silent room. The penetration of her desperate eyes added to his already peaked curiosity. What was driving this man so deeply into madness? Science always holds the answer when the right question is asked. That must be it, these other learned men had failed to ask the right question.
"Alright." He replied with a determined light in his eyes. "Tomorrow morning I want another chance to get into that room with him. Is there a way to get close to him without risking injury?"
Nadir rubbed his chin with an age-gnarled hand. "I can try to sneak a sedative into his drink tomorrow. There is no guarantee it will work. If he suspects it, he has been known to fake unconsciousness, lying in wait. But if it works, you will have a short period of time to examine him. Use it wisely. He is extremely furious after being sedated. No one should enter the chamber for a full day afterward."
Nodding with consent, Wright let his eyes drift to the now hopeful eyes of Christine. "If sedation is essential, I will take that chance first. If you will show me to my room, I should like to rest before tomorrow."
Christine waved in the manservant who had accompanied her. "Would you show Doctor Wright to his room please."
The moment he had departed, Nadir reached down and gripped the bandage just below the knee. "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get up and down that many stairs like this? I can't keep this up!"
Coming to his side, she pulled out a basket with some fresh linen and a few important supplies. "I am sorry, Nadir. I wish there was another way to keep Erik talking so we can understand him. Just a little longer. Perhaps Doctor Wright will prove wiser. When was your last bandage change?"
"Two days ago," he muttered. "It hurts like hell even with the medication the doctor gave me. I am tempted to try Erik's pain remedy."
Gently unwrapping the binding, Christine eventually bared the swollen and bruised flesh beneath. Two straps, one just above his ankle and one just below the knee, held the splints in place. On the inside of his leg, a set of stitches held the flesh together from a long laceration. It looked healthy enough, no angry red streaks or pus. But there was no doubting evidence that the bone had punctured the flesh before being reset by a doctor. "It doesn't look too bad. Thank goodness." Gently cleaning the stitches, she did her best not to cause him any further discomfort. "It will heal in no time."
He sighed, his head sinking down into his hand. "Christine. How long are you going to keep this up? He hasn't been lucid in nearly a year. You're endangering everyone. This isn't fair to Erik, either."
She stiffened as she kept wrapping the linen around the damage her husband had wrought. "What do you expect me to do, Nadir? Hrm? Would you end it for him? I know the answer to that! Would you send him away to some asylum, where there isn't a chance in hell anyone would understand what he's saying? Not to mention the dangers that would pose! Can you imagine the average staff of an asylum trying to keep him contained. Dear Lord, it would be a blood bath on the first night!"
Peering between his fingers, he flinched at her statements. They were trapped by this horrific affliction that plagued Erik. There was nowhere safe to send him … nothing they could do but push onwards in trying to find a cure … trying to identify why he was so deranged. It did not change how incredibly draining and dangerous every day had become, just trying to administer the basics to a man who insisted on trying to kill everyone who opened the door. They had been forced to abandoned all but the most basic care. The once fastidiously clean gentleman would have been appalled at the dirty rags he was left in.
"Well, Nadir?" Christine tied the knot of the binding. "I'm waiting. Do you have any other brilliant suggestions?"
"No." He sighed. "You know, given his previous attempts, it's only a matter of time before he figures his way out of those bonds. Anyone in his path will undoubtedly die. What if it is you?"
She couldn't suppress a shudder.
In the silence Nadir continued, "but I still think the conditions of that chamber are incredibly inhumane. The Erik I know would not be happy with that sort of confinement. I swear he would rather die."
Flinching, she rose to her feet staring down at Nadir. "You and I both know him better than anyone else in this world. I can't disagree with your words … but Nadir, what choice did we have? Look what he did to you while restrained! Imagine if we let him out again!"
Closing his eyes, he sighed. "I wasn't suggesting releasing him in that manner. But you are right … I could never do it. Even as he is now … I could never force my hand to end his life."
Christine's head fell forward onto his shoulder. Without any sound she just rested there with tears dripping down her cheeks. Nadir took her hand, gently rubbing it. The crackling of the fire in the room was the only sound until she spoke. "I know he tried to kill you, I know he hurt you badly when he broke your leg. But I won't give up on him! Erik is still in there. We just have to figure out how to reach him."
Nadir sighed, "I hope you are right. You don't know how much I hope you are right."