April 21st 2016: Inspired by The Gift of the Magi
The Necklace
, by Mark Steele

The Necklace
by Eric Lysarus

translated by Mark P. Steele

Several years ago, while doing research for my writing projects, a strange journal came into my hands. Written in French, it appeared to be over a hundred years old, and was penned in a fine, elegant script. On looking over the volume it claimed to be the work of the man called the Phantom of the Opera, the end of whose life was scripted in Gaston Leroux’s novel of that name.

Since then I’ve translated sections of this book and submitted various parts to other people. Whether this book is truly what it’s claimed to be is uncertain. But this man’s life is worth reading about regardless.

The following tale is from the manuscript’s early part, set during his younger years.

Mark P. Steele

~

My wife and I lived in Paris for a while after our unusual marriage. She never came to me with love, or allowed me to kiss her… my damaged visage, cursed from my birth with features not even a mother could love, kept us apart. But she respected me… found that living with me was better than some places she’d been forced to dwell during her upbringing in the gypsy camps.

At that time I had found the provisions of my father’s will, through means I will not disclose. He’d been a builder–a master-mason, brought up in Rome’s Italic schools in the building trades, and his knowledge and skills made him invaluable to the Parisian gentry. His business, established early in the century, prospered even after his untimely death. My mother had a pension arranged for her upkeep but my father’s will left me sole owner.

Of course I didn’t know this till long after leaving my mother’s house. My trust had been built up by successful investors my father had known. When I discovered this and pressed my claim there were difficulties. But it was well-known among many that I had been born disfigured, and though my upbringing’s exact nature had been kept concealed eventually… through both fair and foul means… I was able to make my claim.

As I had done almost since birth I used masks to hide my deformity… some times ones designed to simulate, as best as possible, a human face… at other times ones merely used to cover my true likeness. Though most considered such things an affectation of eccentricity, there were some that were aware of my problems, and were discreet enough… at least within my sphere of awareness… to keep silent about the issue. Others….

We managed to acquire a dwelling, one modestly suited to our needs, within an outlying areas around Paris. I endeavored to work upon as many of the construction firm’s projects as possible, learning quickly the builders’ ways within this city. I became especially fascinated with constructing the cellars and foundations the edifices of the city’s structure rested upon. Those platforms… those chambers… those sources of unfounded, hidden secrets that the dwellers within this twisted realm of humanity were my refuge… my solace… my source of strength. I joined with the common workers the company used to bring these edifice underpinnings into existence and lent my strength to their creation.

My wife, sad to say, became bored and languid away from her people’s travels. The disfigurement she herself had suffered at the hands of the mad musician whose life I had saved by taking her as my bride lingered upon her face. She wore veils and tried, in vain, to find proper facial paints to hide the scar she bore. But it was never good enough for her.

We went to musical performances and theatrical mimes around the city, taking a carriage I arranged to use during certain hours. Our eccentric, hidden-faced appearances caused many rumors and gossip among the gentry that saw us, but largely we kept to the shadows… shunning the world of the bright, pampered elite that believed that they owned this world. I myself had no use for them, and had no desire to subject my bride to the affronts such would make upon her personage. I had no wish to have to eliminate any that might insult her.

Eventually the wheel of time spun round to Christmas… the holiday where the presumed birth of a child whose fate was honored by many is celebrated. I myself had always found that there was little use for these tales in my life… the so-called miracles ascribed to this child in his adult days were the stuff of myth, of superstition, of the wild fancies of those whose place in life was so dreary that they had no conception that hope could exist within their lives.

I knew how terrible life was… of the obscene, rude depths to which the human spirit actually plumbed.

But my wife…. ahh… she was far different than me in her attitude toward this time. She decorated, using her sense of style and design to her utmost, making the house look festive, bright, in ways that I never would have considered enjoying in my past time upon this earth. We had never celebrated this holiday… or at least not with me present… during my upbringing, and the circus where I had run to generally celebrated in ways I could ignore. A few had gotten me gifts… but they were rare.

Realizing that this was an important event to her… and, perhaps, an important step in our nascent relationship… I haunted the city, looking and searching for something for her. Though I had not gained presents during my life, I still knew that this was the time for such things… and that it would be my gift to her, not anything I might get in return, that would show to her what may be my true feelings.

Finally I found it. In a small shop in one of the hidden Rues there was a jewelry shop. And within it a necklace… one that would hang exquisitely upon her slender neck, and whose gems would offset her shining green-hued eyes to the point where thrills of ecstasy might come upon her as she gazed at the gift within a mirror… drawing her eyes away from the tragedy which life had invested upon her beautiful countenance.

The gift was not inexpensive, but with skill I bartered… and paid a price I considered well worth the investment. And then I took it home on this special eve.

Upon entering she was sitting in a window niche, staring out at the falling snow.

“Leondra,” I said, looking over toward her, “I’m home.”

She sighed, barely sparing me a glance. “And has the time you spent with your people gone well, Eric?”

“Not as well as I’d like… this city is not noted for politeness toward those such as us.” I stepped toward her, slowly, hesitantly. My paces brought me closer, but there was fear in my heart… an anticipation within that brought forth feelings of which I was uncertain.

“And your day… this day before Christmas? Did it go well?”

“As well as can be expected. The days are long… the house is quiet… there are none I may visit, nowhere I can go to dance, as I did within my people’s caravans. These Parisians are….” She put her hands to her face, hiding what I believe were tears beginning in her eyes.

“We will make it better… I know we can.” I stepped nearer toward her, in a hesitant fashion. “I have something for you.”

She looked at me quizzically, a confused expression on her face. “For me?”

I nodded, and presented the small, gift-wrapped box to her. She opened it and pulled out the necklace, a gasp coming from her throat.

“Oh no, it’s–you shouldn’t have, it’s–”

“It’s yours.” With a swift motion I took it from her hands and fastened it around her neck, then turned her to a nearby mirror, brushing her long locks over her face where the scar lie. She looked at herself and smiled, then turned and caressed my mask.

“I don’t have anything for you….”

We made love that night… one of the few times we overcame our own inner demons and allowed our inner essences to join together. She almost kissed me.

When I was nearly asleep she leaned over and whispered, “I didn’t get anything for you….” I reached over and brushed a lock of her hair back.

“Shh… you’ve given me more than I would ever have dreamed.”

Several nights later she came to me with a box.

“Open it.”

Inside was a pocket watch… one that kept time with Swiss precision, one that I knew would have cost her dearly. I looked at her, stunned.

“Where–how did you get this?”

She smiled. “I’m a gypsy… you know we have our ways.”

Just then there was a loud pounding upon the door. “Open up!”

I went to the door, unlocked it and peered out. Immediately a gendarme shoved it open and bulled his way in. He looked around and saw my wife.

“There you are! Thought you could get away with stealing, did you, gypsy wench? Well… you were seen. We traced you back here.” He brought shackles from his belt and started moving toward her. “It’s the prison for you, woman!”

Immediately I picked up a statue sitting on an end table and smashed it into the officer’s head. He grunted, then fell limply onto the floor. Not knowing or caring if he survived I grabbed Leondra’s hand.

“Come! We have to act quick!”

We left the house and found a horse nearby. Taking it, we fled and were soon out of the city. On a hill overlooking it we paused, exhausted, and slid off the horse onto the grass.

Lying next to her, I looked over. “Why?”

She was crying now. “I had to… I had to get your gift with my own skills, not with the money you’ve given me.” And with those words I reached to comfort her, knowing that now, because of this, not only did we have to leave Paris… but the entire country of France might not be a place where we could dwell.

And so we left, turning out backs upon the city without a backward glance.

*

Mark Steele has been involved with comics, SF and other such literature most of his life. He attended a liberal arts college at the age of 16 and soon entered the health care field. He’s spent much of his time since then doing that. His published accomplishments have included: writing and some inking on a comic book adaptation of Shea and Wilson’s ILLUMINATUS! Trilogy (the 1st, self-published issue now available on-line) from Eye-and-Apple Prods. and Rip Off Press; and a translation of “Daughter of Fantomas”, the 8th book in the pre-WWI series, from French to English for Black Coat Press. Most recently, Mark has developed a comics series set in the late 1930s and a series of internet TV shows for a company. Mark has also been a Pastor for an Earth Spirituality Church filed with the State of Michigan. His current upcoming prose works include publication in the online InfectiveINk web site, SF for Lillicat Publishers, adventure for Visual Adjectives, Lovecraftian for the First United Church of Cthulhu and Weird Hero for Pro Se Publications.

FNORD


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