Never had I seen such destruction. I have played witness to the brutal torture carried out in the prisons back in Persia and have, indeed, experienced said torture myself, but never…

It was as if his house had imploded upon itself. Chairs were scattered upon the floor, lethal-looking slivers of wood jutting out from the legs that had been snapped in half. His fine loveseats had been shredded, bits of stuffing seeping out sheepishly from between tattered burgundy upholstery. Beneath a graveyard of empty and broken wine bottles, the carpets were littered with ominous red stains. The same red liquid had dried to a brown upon the walls, and ran down the stone in serpentine lines. Everywhere I looked, there was devastation. There was no beauty. This place was a wasteland. Everything was gone. Smashed. Shattered. Annihilated. Ruined. Gnarled. Broken, broken, broken!

I very nearly wept when I tripped over something large and gold, the dim candlelight dancing on its poor surface. Upon closer examination, I realized that it was a pipe torn from his magnificent organ, now left to whither in shame upon the floor. It was smeared with bloody fingerprints that seemed to run across the surface in furious, frantic strokes. And in that instant, I heard the howls of pain that must ripped from his throat as he tore at the metal in demonic rage.

His compositions lay in curled ashes in the hearth. Such godlike music, such ethereal splendor gone! I saw amongst the charred rubble his Don Juan, his magnum opus. The title page stood out among the wreckage of sheet music, the lone survivor of a battle to the death between master and muse.

It was wretched to know that such genius had unceremoniously burned into oblivion, and all because of her.

I found him several minutes later, and bile rose in my throat.

His face, that horrible, hideous monstrosity, looked more corpse-like than ever. Its sunken yellow eyes had lost their cunning gleam and now stared right through me, looking at everything and seeing nothing. His body was lying upon the filthy, rancid floor as if haphazardly tossed there. The incredible thinness of that body both revolted and astounded me. The chalky white pallor of his waxy skin was stretched over his jutting bones like a canvas ready to tear at any second. One skeletal hand lay open in front of him, his palm facing the ceiling and his extraordinarily long fingers curled above it, like the legs of a dead spider.

I covered my mouth to guard against the stench and drew closer, not daring to believe what seemed to be the raw truth.

"Erik?" Though I had spoken in the faintest hint of a whisper, my voice sounded like the roar of distant thunder as it cut through the heavy silence.

He did not move.

"Erik?" I said again, a bit louder this time.

Nothing.

I noticed that his mouth was open slightly. That thin, scarred mouth which had once emitted such heavenly song—and such hellish fury—was now powerless.

With a heavy heart, I knelt and began to recite a prayer for the dead. My Farsi language, usually so comforting, rang out like the dismal toll of a bell. I said the words, yet I did not hear them. Speech was searing. The meaning of my requiem was lost. All I could think was, "why?"

Why? Why, why, why? It ran through my head like a mantra, incessant, persistent, demanding.

My old friend, I thought despairingly, you could have been so much more. Your life was scattered to the winds at birth, it seems, but if only…how you would have amazed! How you could have touched-!

What happened next was so shockingly unexpected that I heard a scream echo through the room, and it took me a moment to realize that it was my own.

The hand that I had believed to be eternally motionless, his dead spider of a hand, suddenly reached up and seized my wrist.

My heart took a heaving breath and then rammed itself repeatedly into my ribcage.

"Daroga." It was a terrible rattling gasp, forced through lungs that sounded as if they were laced with knives.

My stomach sank to the floor.

How?

"Alive," I breathed, "Alive! You're—"

"Where is she?"

"Where is—who? Who?" I knew, however. I knew; I simply could not bring myself to say it.

"Gone." His eyes rolled slowly back into his head and he took a painful breath, arching his back. For a moment, he remained frozen there, and I feared the worst, but he soon relaxed and repeated, "Gone!"

Allah above. The girl was nowhere to be found, and yet she still tortured him.

"She left Erik," he rasped, "Gone, gone, gone. But she…she will be…late! For her lesson! Late…Daroga! She has fled. Fled. With…with that…boy..."

"Erik, listen to me," I said urgently, numb with disbelief, "You must leave this place. You—"

"A Vicomte," he said, barely above a pained whisper, "The boy has…a title! Vicomte de Chagny. De Chagny…And I…I have no name to…give her! None. Nothing to…give her. She is…gone."

To say I was astounded that he was still capable of speech would be a vast understatement indeed. He looked every bit a corpse raised from the grave, barely held together with sinews and tendons ready to snap at any second.

"Erik, how long have you been…like this?" I asked, my voice shaking, "When did…did she leave?"

"Christine…"

"Yes, yes, Christine. When did she leave?"

"Erik will…see her again…soon. She promised…oh, she is a good girl. Such…a very good-"

"How long ago did she promise? Erik? How long ago?"

"It was…Faust," came the soft reply, "Marguerite. For Erik. Only for…Erik. Lovely, oh so… lovely. That voice. Her voice…singing…singing, 'Oui, c'est toi…je t'aime!'"

Faust! But that had been weeks ago! Weeks!

"Listen to me," I said hurriedly, "You cannot stay here. We must leave immediately—"

"Leave."

"Yes! Leave! Now!"

"Leave…here?"

"Yes!"

"Erik…cannot. Christine," he said, "Christine is coming for…her lesson. Christine…needs Erik to be…to be there. She…needs…"

I tore my hand down the side of my face in frustration. Surely he realized how dire his situation was?

No. No, of course he did not.

"Your—hands, Daroga!" he wheezed suddenly, causing me to start at the sound of his voice. "Your hands…"

"My ha-?"

"Show them to me."

I blinked, uncomprehending. However, I immediately obliged, fearful of arousing his infamous temper. I did not doubt that it would elude him, even now. It was horrifically persistent.

Erik seized them with his own, examining them with a trembling, unfocused sort of intensity. It was nearly impossible not to recoil from his unnaturally cold touch. Nausea enveloped me in dizzying waves.

"Have these hands…" he rasped after a lengthy pause, "created, Daroga?"

"Yes."

"Created, built…and...and destroyed?"

"Yes."

"And your hands have…touched? Loved?"

"…Yes."

"My hands," he sighed, his speech faint and slurred, "are not so very different than yours. Than…anyone else's. No. Not at all. They, too, have…built and…created. Loved, even…Yes…she let me…touch her. Touch her with these hands that have created…only to destroy. These…hands that only…devastate everything they…touch...

"You shall never know how…beautiful she was when she…kissed…Words cannot describe…"

His words were briefly cut off by a hoarse sob, yet he continued, every word robbing him of precious, dwindling energy.

"She…kissed me! Me! And she…did not shy away…did not scream…she d-did not die! Alive…Daroga…a living, b-breathing…willing bride. All my life, I have wanted… I could never have…and she—Christine, my Christine!

" 'I will stay,' s-she said…. 'Stay with…Erik…' Oh, but I could not. D-did not…want to see her…unhappy. She is happy with…the boy. Erik wants her to be…happy. Always. She will…live…now. Live because I….cannot give her…what she truly deserves...Not this. Not Erik. Never…Erik."

He began to cough, a horrible, wracking sound that shook his frail body. The cacophony was immensely alarming.

"But she is coming for me" he choked, unabashed, "Daroga, she is coming…she gave her word, her…solemn word to…return…to me…"

I could not hold in the terrible statement that I said next, even though I knew it would devastate him. It tumbled out of my lips, pushed by logic and reason and heedless to emotion.

"And…if she does not?"

"Christine promised. Christine," Erik cried, "is a good girl! Radiant! Lovely!...The…most…the most beautiful…she will sing in Faust! In…in an opera is…taking lessons! I will teach…And her voice…She will return…because she promised, heart and soul…but if she does not…if—if she—she is—"

He stopped abruptly, breathing hard, his eyes focused on a point on the opposite wall, his mouth slightly agape.

And then he did the strangest thing.

He began to laugh.

Laugh as if the entire affair was a marvelous joke.

It was quite possibly the most disturbing sound I have ever heard: a mad cackle, at first bursting from its owner in disjointed, tittering spurts and then rising in intensity until it engulfed every part of me. There was absolutely no escape. It rang in my very soul. I wanted to silence that hideous sound!

"Erik," I said urgently, grabbing his twitching hands in mine as he writhed with his own insane laughter, "Listen to me! Listen to me right now! You are ill. Do you understand me? You are very ill indeed—"

"Mad!" he gasped between those disgusting cackles, "You think—think me mad! But she will come! She loves—loves me, Daroga! And she will come and—and—the requiem mass! I will have a requiem mass! And Christine will sing, soaring, soaring, soaring! Unparalleled! Magnificent! And God Himself will tremble!"

"Stop this-!"

"Now! This moment, Death—omnipresent, hovering, here! Ah, but it must wait. I will make it wait! Erik will hear her—hear her voice—the very last thing he will ever hear—and no one else—not this time, never again—she is mine! That voice is mine and—mine alone!"

The laughter intensified. It was like some terrible plague, dragging the listener into a fit of despair as it tumbled further and further into the depths of an endless, insane abyss.

"You are going to die!" I roared above it, "Don't you see? You will die if you stay here! You will die!"

"Let it come, then!" He screamed, "Let it come! Blackness, glorious blackness! The music of silence! I stay! I wait! For her—always! Always and everything for her! He is not dead, not dead, not dead…not yet…not…not…"

His voice faded and his horrible coughs ripped through the air again, tearing through his ravaged body and causing it to erupt into erratic spasms. His pain was immense, I knew, worse than anything he had ever experienced, and yet still he pressed on. He repeated it over and over, grasping feebly at the last gossamer strand of hope that fluttered weakly before him.

"Not…dead…Not…she will come, and I will see her, for I am not…not yet dead…I have…waited. She is coming, Nadir. I must first hear…and then I will…will finally…"

Something within me shrunk and disappeared, leaving nothing but endless despair in its wake. For I knew that he was wrong. I knew that she had fled from his life forever. Perhaps she still thought of him…doubtless she still thought of him. Doubtless he still haunted her thoughts and would remain etched in her memory, a plague of sorts, a macabre sort of enigma. Perhaps she even harbored a fondness for him, strange as it was, and perhaps there existed in her mind pleasant memories and a love of their time spent together. He had wrapped himself about her heart the second she first heard his voice.

But it had been too much for her. She was gone, and she would never return.

"Not yet…dead..."

But I knew he was terribly mistaken. Erik was gone; the last fragments of his shattered soul had fled with her.