Continuing Tales

Binary

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 12 of 64

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Binary

Erik walked into his kitchen and looked at the phone with distaste for a few minutes before picking it up. It was an older touch-tone model from the early nineties. It was the most basic model available and there was no answering machine. Who would ever call him? And when was he ever away from home to miss a call? He quickly dialed a number and listened to it ringing on the other end. After five rings, a voice-answering service picked up and a manís voice with a light Middle-eastern accent said, "Hello, this is Nadir Khan. I am not answering my phone right now, but..." Erik pressed the receiver button, listened for a dial tone and called again. And again.

"Dammit Khan! Where are you?"

Erik dialed one more time. This time, there was an answer on the third ring. The accent was thicker; the voice was sleep-drunk and annoyed. "Hello?"

"Nadir, itís Erik."

There was a pause, the sound of a chair creaking, and Nadirís deep sigh. "Erik, itís past midnight. You better be sick or arrested."

"It is neither of those. Iíve met a girl, Nadir."

"And that warrants interrupting an old manís sleep in the wee hours? Can this possibly wait until tomorrow?" Nadir was actually happy to hear from Erik; he only wished Erik kept the same hours as the rest of humanity. "Is she pretty?"

"Not even the tiniest bit, but sheís the most beautiful girl Iíve ever seen."

"This does sound serious." Erik heard Nadir get up and start shuffling around the house. "Where did you meet her."

"Online."

"Oh, the internet. Never been there myself. Iíve heard itís an interesting place. How old is she?"

"Mid-twenties." Erik knew Nadir would take issue here.

"Too young Erik, too young! Youíre an old man of thirty-eight winters. You should try to stay within your decade."

"Itís not exactly like I get my pick." Erikís voice held bitterness for a moment, before returning to what passed for a conversational tone in his mind. "But Nadir, that doesnít matter. You should hear her play. Sheís only had one lesson now, but you should hear her sing! Sheís a genius..."

"Just like you, eh, my young friend? An unbeautiful genius." Nadir chuckled. "If you met her online, how do you know any of this about her?"

"We have microphones. Itís a thing called voice chat. She has a camera that transmits streaming video over the web..."

"And you, Erik. Do you have one of these cameras? Has she seen you?" Ever perceptive, the old man knew the answer before Erik spoke.

Erik could hear the knowing tone in the old manís voice. "No. She has only heard me."

"You drew the girl in with your music without telling her the whole truth. Youíve found that you like her, and she likes you. And so you call your old friend, the Khan, to tell you what to do next because she is a wonderful girl and you would like to know her beyond the internet, but you are afraid of scaring her off forever? Hmm? Is that about right?"

"Yes. Iíve bought myself time, but eventually she will have to see me, wonít she." It wasnít a question, so much as a lament.

"Bought yourself time?" Nadir took a sip of his coffee, trying to summon the energy to hear his terse friend out.

"Tonight, I guess she got tired of not knowing anything about me. She asked a flood of questions - some of them silly, some of them not. I told her that I would answer one question per day, if she did well with her voice lessons."

"A modern Scheherazade. One story per night to put off the death of your romance. Fascinating. And when you have answered all her questions and purchased your camera, which will you show her: the mask? or the face..."

"The mask, Nadir. But even that will not be easy." Erik was quiet for a moment. "For either of us. How do I prepare her?"

Again, Nadir sighed. "You always have made things difficult for yourself..."

"I, Nadir? Iíve found that others do more than their fair share."

"Hence locking yourself up in that apartment for...is it ten years now, Erik? Eleven?"

"Nine. Itís better than prison. Itís better than contempt and whispers and fear. Besides, I go out. I go for walks, I drop things off in the mailbox..."

"All at night, and always alone, would be my guess."

Erik growled. Nadir did not agree with his reclusive lifestyle. He was forever pushing Erik to leave the house and "do something worthwhile." When Erik spoke again, his tone was chilled and starkly threatening. "My problem, Khan. How do I prepare her?"

"Donít try that voice with me, boy." Nadir laughed, a warm and forgiving sound. "Iíve seen you in diapers and out of them, and Iíve seen you gobsmacked on morphine. Iím not afraid of you. As to your problem...Now that youíve begun this Scheherazade act, you must play it out. But if you get the chance while you are answering all these questions, tell her the truth. None of your sideways games. Just tell her that your face has been disfigured by bad surgery and bad luck. If sheís a good girl, sheíll deal with it. Thatís sage advice from your age-wizened friend, who desperately needs his sleep."

"Nadir, Iím frightened."

Nadir Khan had heard those words from this man before; before surgeries, before they removed the bandages from his face for the final time, before he attempted to attend college the first time. Each time Erik said those words, the event ended disastrously for him. Nadir rubbed his tired eyes and put down the coffee, which could not banish his fatigue. He was an old man now, and needed his rest. Erik had no other friends; there was no one else to call. "I, too, was frightened when I met my wife for the first time. If I had run away then, I would have missed many years with a wonderful woman. All I can tell you is be brave and be truthful. And if you need to talk -during the daytime - call me. I hear far too little from you as it is."

"Goodnight, Nadir. I am sorry I disturbed you."

"Goodnight, Erik.

Erik hung up the phone slowly. He had no real hope that the old manís advice would work, but it was the best advice available. On his way to bed, Erik glanced back over his shoulder at the computer. They would just have to wait and see what the next six nights would bring.

Binary

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 12 of 64

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